Adapt or Die

Mike Isaac for The New York TImes:

Regulators in Chicago have approved a plan to create one or more applications that would allow users to hail taxis from any operators in the city, using a smartphone. In New York, a City Council member proposed a similar app on Monday that would let residents “e-hail” any of the 20,000 cabs that circulate in the city on a daily basis.

It is a new tack for officials in the two cities, a reaction to the surging use of hail-a-ride apps like Uber and Lyft.

What a fucking novel idea. When given the opportunity I’ll take Über over traditional taxis (in any city) any day of the week.

Once again, Darwin is more relevant that ever: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

The mutants will survive.




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Windows Phone Schadenfreude #5,782

Ed Bott on the dire outlook for Windows Phone:

If the problems with Windows Phone as a platform were as simple as Microsoft getting their product strategy together, it would probably be easy to fix. But that focus ignores the real problem.

This isn’t an equal partnership between Microsoft and U.S. mobile carriers, except perhaps in the most technical sense.

Thanks to Microsoft’s minuscule market share (small single-digit percentages in the U.S.), the carriers have almost no interest in collaborating with it on mobile devices. And Microsoft has almost no leverage when negotiating with carriers. The resulting not-so-virtuous circle is what stacks the deck against the Windows Phone platform and makes the experience so frustrating for the few who actually use it.
Maybe if Microsoft asks Santa for more customers, they’ll get em.




“I JUST tried that!!!”

I’ve been using computers since I was 4 years old, so I know a little bit about how to use them and how they work. For instance, there’s times I’ll know when my frozen MacBook Pro will unfreeze, or whether the beachball will continue to spill for infinity. This is not black magic, but based on knowing what processes are running and thinking about what could be clogging up the system.
It’s not just that I troubleshoot computers, but I know how to.
Most people who know me know that I’m good with computers so they ask for my help. What usually happens is this:

Broken Computer Person: Mike, can you figure out why [name of broken thing] won’t work on my computer?

Me: Sure, let me take a look.

[I sit down at the computer, troubleshoot for a few minutes and fix the issue]

Me: There. Should work now.

Broken Computer Person: Holy crap. Awesome! What did you do?

Me: I just did [description of solution].

Broken Computer Person: I JUST did the very same thing, but it didn’t do anything!!! Why did it work for you and not for me?!
If I had a dollar for every time a version of the above has happened to me, I’d uh, have many hundreds of dollars.
I needed a name for this phenomenon, so I enlisted the help of my brother Mark. I explained to him how in quantum mechanics, they have the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle–where the observer affects the outcome of the experiment.
What I needed was a name for what happens in situations like the above scenario.
A few days later, my brother replied:
Competency entanglement (n.) The phenomenon of problem-solving success that competent individuals impart on a given situation by the influence of their sheer presence, resulting in outcomes otherwise unobtainable by incompetent agents.
Nice job, Mark. I consider this an early Christmas present.




Moving Off the Grid

Bloomberg: Why Elon Musk’s Batteries Scare the Hell Out of the Electric Company:

Here’s why something as basic as a battery both thrills and terrifies the U.S. utility industry.

At a sagebrush-strewn industrial park outside of Reno, Nevada, bulldozers are clearing dirt for Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA)’s battery factory, projected to be the world’s largest.

Tesla’s founder, Elon Musk, sees the $5 billion facility as a key step toward making electric cars more affordable, while ending reliance on oil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. At first blush, the push toward more electric cars looks to be positive for utilities struggling with stagnant sales from energy conservation and slow economic growth.

Yet Musk’s so-called gigafactory may soon become an existential threat to the 100-year-old utility business model. The facility will also churn out stationary battery packs that can be paired with rooftop solar panels to store power. Already, a second company led by Musk, SolarCity Corp. (SCTY), is packaging solar panels and batteries to power California homes and companies including Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
While the headline is true, it’s unfortunate.
Shouldn’t we instead be thinking how amazing it could be if regular people could generate their own electricity, saving thousands of dollars a year?




That’s Why It’s Called a Myth

Steve Wozniak dispelled a bullshit myth about Apple with Bloomberg Businessweek:

“The garage is a bit of a myth,” Woz tells Bloomberg Businessweek. “We did no designs there, no breadboarding, no prototyping, no planning of products. We did no manufacturing there. The garage didn’t serve much purpose, except it was something for us to feel was our home. We had no money. You have to work out of your home when you have no money.”

Woz says that he did a lot of the hard work of building the computer at his cubicle at HP in the ’70s, where he would spend his time “soldering things together, putting the chips together, designing them, drawing them on drafting tables.”
Full interview here.




Theo Jansen

This past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine had a an incredible profile on artist Theo Jansen.
Jansen creates kinetic sculptures—he calls them beests—that literally walk themselves across the coast:

The calibrations and recalibrations took years, across generation after generation of new beest types and fresh experiments at the shore. ”People talk about how beautiful my strandbeests are as they parade down the beach,” he said. ”But you have to understand: I was never interested in beauty as such. I was interested in survival, so everything was based on a consideration of function, how to make the things function better. The fascinating thing, though, was that — here again, as with nature — the better the functioning, often, the more beautiful the result.
You have to see his beests in action to understand how awesome they are: