The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Blazing 5G

About that new phone, I have to say, I am very impressed with T-Mobile's new 5G network:

Also note that temperature bug in the upper-left corner. Yes, it was 26°C yesterday afternoon in Chicago. For comparison, October 10th has a normal high temperature of 18.2°C. June 7th has a normal high of 26°C. I hope autumn actually starts sometime this month.

New phone, who dis?

After 2½ years and one unfortunate crunching sound last week, I've finally gotten a new phone. I decided to go with the Samsung Galaxy S21. So far, I like it, though with any new hardware you also get new software. Some of the basic apps work differently.

Switching phones got really easy in the past couple of years, though. The only dicey part came when I had to transfer all my multifactor codes over. And I have to keep my old phone handy for a while in case I missed one.

Now my eyes hurt from squinting at all the screens for two hours, though.

You're right, we experts don't know anything

As a follower of and contributor to the Time Zone mailing list, I have some understanding of how time zones work. I also understand how the official Time Zone Database (TZDB) works, and how changes to the list propagate out to things like, say, your cell phone. Most mobile phone operators need at least a few weeks, preferably a few months, to ensure that changes to the TZDB get tested and pushed out to everyone's phones.

If only the government of Samoa knew anything at all about this process:

The sudden dumping of Daylight Savings Time by the Government last week left much of the nation waking up in confusion on Sunday as their phones and other devices automatically updated to show the wrong time.

At the time of writing mobile phones and other cellular-enabled devices and computers were displaying the time as 10 am when, in fact, under the new policy it was 9 am. 

Many Samoans who rely upon their phones as alarm clocks were awoken or arrived at church early because of the automatic update to their mobile devices.

The decision taken by the Cabinet to not activate daylight savings time this year was apparently made earlier this month. 

The coordinators of the TZDB hold their collective breaths each year while waiting for certain religious authorities to decide when to change the clocks in about a dozen populous countries in the Middle East and Africa. But those countries know about the tight timing and work with IANA and their mobile providers to prevent exactly what happened today in Samoa.

It turns out, no one even bothered to tell us that Samoa had cancelled daylight saving time until yesterday, and no one in Samoa's government ever sent us the official notice from 10 days ago.

Nice work, guys.

Nobody ever listens to poor Zathras.

Unfortunate encounter; or why I really don't fear a robot takeover

I have a Roomba. I have a dog. When these two things live in the same house, every dog-and-Roomba owner has the same anxiety: will they interact in such a way that will require a messy cleanup? iRobot, who manufacture Roombas, have a new model advertised (only $850!) to reduce this anxiety considerably.

I do not have this new model. I have an older model. And yesterday, anxiety turned to horror.

Fortunately (depending on how you look at it), Cassie's accident must have happened at least 12 hours before the Roomba found it, so the offending matter had dried up. Unfortunately, the Roomba hit it early in its run. Fortunately, the damage didn't look as bad from out here. And fortunately, I keep a set of Roomba parts on hand just in case.

When I got home last night, Cassie wagged and wiggled exactly to the point of me entering the room where she'd left her present for the robot. Even before I had noticed the mess she tucked tail and ran back to the living room.

Maybe I should buy the $850 model that can avoid small objects on the floor?

Happy birthday, 5150

Today is the 40th birthday of the IBM 5150—better known as the IBM PC:

It wasn't that long before the August 1981 debut of the IBM PC that an IBM computer often cost as much as $9 million and required an air-conditioned quarter-acre of space and 60 people to run and keep it loaded with instructions.

The IBM PC changed all that. It was a very small machine that could not only process information faster than those ponderous mainframes of the 1960s but also hook up to the home TV set, process text and store more words than a huge cookbook -- all for a price tag of less than $1,600.

Well, sure, $1600 for a 16k model with no peripherals. The one my dad bought in 1981 and handed down to me in 1986 had a whopping 64k of RAM and two 360k 5¼" floppy drives. That specimen, with software and a printer, cost about $9,000, or about $27,000 today.

IBM has more:

Don Estridge, acting lab director at the time, volunteered to head the project. Joe Bauman, plant manager for the Boca Raton site, offered manufacturing help. Mel Hallerman, who was working on the IBM Series/1, stepped forward with his software knowledge and was brought in as chief programmer. And so it went. As word spread about what was going on, talent and expertise were drawn in.

Estridge decided early that to be successful and to meet deadlines, the group had to stick to the plan: using tested vendor technology; a standardized, one-model product; open architecture; and outside sales channels for quick consumer market saturation.

About a dozen people made up the first development team, recalls Dave Bradley, who wrote the interface code for the new product. "For a month, we met every morning to hash out what it was this machine had to do and then in the afternoons worked on the morning's decisions. We started to build a prototype to take — by the end of the year — to a then little-known company called Microsoft." The team beat that deadline. The engineers were virtually finished with the machine by April 1981, when the manufacturing team took over.

The $1,565 price bought a system unit, a keyboard and a color/graphics capability. Options included a display, a printer, two diskette drives, extra memory, communications, game adapter and application packages — including one for text processing. The development team referred to their creation as a mini-compact, at a mini-price, with IBM engineering under the hood.

Sure, the Apple ][ gave families an inexpensive computer to play with, but the IBM 5150 gave businesses an inexpensive computer to play with, and that made all the difference. I'm writing this on a Microsoft- and Intel-based computer whose architecture goes straight back to the 5150 I have in my museum.

Tweaking the environment

If all goes as planned, in about half an hour a Comcast technician will make a change to my service here at Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters that will, in turn, result in Cassie experiencing some anxiety. I don't want to cause doggy angina, but if Comcast moves my primary cable connection from the room it's in now to the room I want it in, then I'm going to spend the subsequent two or three hours moving furniture.

Updates and art as conditions warrant.

Third day of summer

The deployment I concluded yesterday that involved recreating production assets in an entirely new Azure subscription turned out much more boring (read: successful) than anticipated. That still didn't stop me from working until 6pm, but by that point everything except some older demo data worked just fine.

That left a bit of a backup of stuff to read, which I may try to get through at lunch today:

Finally, summer apparently arrives in full force tomorrow. We're looking forward to temperatures 5-10°C above normal through mid-June, which will continue northern Illinois' drought for at least a few more weeks.

Douglas Coupland is annoyed with Canada's government

The author (most notably of the generation-defining novel Generation X) wants Canada to follow the science and quit screwing over my generation:

People my age and younger got the leftovers – which is fine. AstraZeneca is a terrific vaccine, people! But people my age are used to leftovers. It’s the curse of being Gen X, and it’s not very often I ever discuss Gen X qua Gen X, but I think it’s called for here. For a generation that has grown up knowing their pensions will magically vanish the moment they retire, vaccine leftovers were yet more evidence that the statistical books never seem to balance in their favour and probably never will. When some provinces began turning off the AZ tap this week, I don’t think there was even one remotely surprised 50-year-old in the country.

The fact that the announcement of AZ’s removal from the medical landscape was driven by politics and ineptitude rather than science bugged me so much that I wrote my first ever comment on The Globe and Mail’s website (which counts as some sort of milestone in my life). It said: What? Vaccines are now suddenly magically à la carte? This whole thing is starting to feel like it’s being run by Grade 11 students doing a science project.

But Andrew Potter sees freedom in our generation getting ignored:

It is commonly argued that a generation is formed by the technological ecosystem in which it grows up, and while there’s obviously something to that, what is important for Gen X is not what our technology allowed us to do, but what it protected us from.

In particular, what we were protected from was surveillance. I don’t know a single person I grew up with who doesn’t thank their lucky stars that there were no cellphones with cameras around when we were growing up, that there was no Twitter or Facebook or YouTube or TikTok. I can’t imagine what it is like to grow up under the glaring distributed panopticon of social media, knowing that all your friends, everyone at your school, and even your parents are watching your every move, judging your every utterance.  

In retrospect, it is obvious that the Gen X obsession with authenticity was anxiety caused by the growing rumblings of a culture in transition. The old technological ecosystem that fuelled the counterculture was gone, but the new web-enabled environment that made authenticity irrelevant hadn’t quite yet arrived. Gen X was the last generation to possess genuine subcultures that were able to remain somewhat unmolested by the digital meat grinder.

That is why when you hear a Gen Xer talk about being the “latchkey” generation, they aren’t really complaining — they’re bragging. There’s another word for the neglect being described here, and that’s freedom.

I've watched that technological transformation from the inside, having had an online presence since 1986. My feeling: they're both right.

Lunchtime reading before heading outside

Today is not only the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, it's also the 84th anniversary of the Nazi bombing of Guernica. Happy days, happy days.

In today's news, however:

I will now get lunch. And since it's 17°C right now (as opposed to yesterday's 5°C), I may eat it outside.

I got this 10 years ago already?

Facebook reminded me this morning that 10 years ago today I got the first digital camera I've ever owned whose photo quality approached that of the film cameras I had growing up. My new Canon 7D replaced my 5-year-old Canon 20D, and between the two I took over 32,700 photos in just over nine years. In May 2015 I upgraded to the Canon 7D mark II, the first digital camera I've owned whose capabilities exceeded my 1980s and 1990s film cameras.

I've updated the chart showing all the photo-capable devices I've owned since I got my first SLR in June 1983, along with other data showing, to some extent, how technology marches on:

Here are four example photos. (To see all the details, right-click the photos and open them in separate windows.) First, one of the earliest photos I took with my AE-1 Program, in Raton Pass, N.M., mid-August 1983:

Keep in mind, this is a Kodachrome 64 photo scanned some 38 years later, with a bit of help from Adobe Lightroom. Printing directly from the slide would make a better-looking photo...maybe. In any event, the resolution of the slide exceeds the resolution of the scan by an order of magnitude at least, so there really is no way without specialized equipment to produce a JPEG image that looks as good as the slide itself.

Jump ahead a few decades. Here's an early photo I took with the 20D on 20 May 2006 in Portsmouth, N.H.:

The original photo and this edit have the same resolution (2544 x 1696) and the same format (JPEG). Other than a few minor burns and dodges, this is what the camera recorded. It almost approaches film quality, but had I shot this image with Kodachrome 64, it would have much more vibrant color and a depth of texture that the 20D just couldn't achieve.

Now from the 7D that I got 10 years ago today, near Saganonomiyacho, in Kyoto, Japan, in November 2011:

With the first 7D, I gave it a 32 GB memory card and switched to the lossless CR2 format. The JPEG above has as much depth and range as a JPEG can have, but the CR2 file it came from finally has as much detail and photographic information as consumer-quality negative film from the 1980s or 1990s. Its 5184 x 3456 resolution comes awfully close to the density of, say, 100-speed Kodacolor VR-G from the mid-1980s, but the 7D's CMOS chip has literally 32 times the sensitivity of the fastest consumer film then available (ISO 12,800 vs. ISO 1600). I shot the photo above with a focal length of 250 mm from a bridge 250 meters from the subject, at ISO 1600, 1/500 second at f/5.6. The same shot on Kodacolor VR-G 1600 would have massive grain, and the same shot on Kodachrome 64 would have required an exposure of 1/15 second—guaranteeing camera shake. (I've re-edited this photo slightly from the quick-and-dirty treatment I gave it in my Tokyo hotel room after getting back from Kyoto.)

Finally, take a look at this photo from my current camera, the 7D Mark II, of the Chiesa de San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice:

I mean...wow. Even cropped slightly from the raw photo's 5472 x 3648 resolution, the detail is just as fine as Kodachrome 64 ever gave me. I shot this at 1/1000 sec., f/5.6, at 105 mm using a borrowed EF24-105 f/4L lens. (I posted a similar shot in June 2015 when I got back from the trip. I think this one has better composition and editing.)

One more thing, which I won't illustrate with a comparison photo but which I do think bears mentioning: these days, I only pull out the 7Dii for serious work. For day-to-day photos and snapshots, my smartphone's camera works better than digital SLRs from 15 years ago. We do live in the future.