Archive for August, 2009

Ten days later

August 28th, 2009 — Wordman

Through a chain of unlikely events, my wife’s iPhone 3G wound up in the toilet ten days ago. Fortunately, this was prior to using said toilet. Even more fortunately, my wife developed cat-like reflexes and managed to grab the phone almost before it hit the bottom, so, it was only immersed for a couple of seconds.

Ten days later, here is what we learned:

  • At the time of the accident, a search for “iphone toilet” discovered over 2.5 million hits. Apparently, this happens all the time.
  • The iphone contains at least two “liquid damage indicators”. These are litmus paper-like strips that turn red when they get wet. Once they get red, they don’t turn back, and this voids your warranty (though this may be changing slightly). One of these is at the bottom, under the device connector. The other is at the bottom of the headphone jack (shine a light in there). In our case, the bottom one is pretty obviously triggered, but the one in the jack seems fine (air bubble saved it, maybe?).
  • People will sell you various ways to keep these openings closed.
  • Water doesn’t damage electronics. Water plus electricity does. So, the usual move is to take the battery out of the device to save it. That doesn’t work so well with the iPhone. In addition, to really turn the iPhone off completely, you must first turn it on. In this case, everything actually seemed fine with the screen on. All icons showed up, time was correct, etc. In a lot of the posts on the net, the screen is borked at first.
  • Next step is to wick the moisture out of the device. People offer a bunch of choices on the net here. Someone suggested using a vacuum cleaner to suck it out. We didn’t try that, but it made me wonder: if I put the phone in one of those jars you see in science class, where the bell stops making noise when the air is sucked out of it, wouldn’t the resulting vacuum make the water evaporate? We didn’t try that either, though. Instead, we threw the phone into a airtight container filled with dry rice. Since the sensor on the bottom was more damaged, we pointed that end downward.

After a day in the rice, we took it out turned it on. It still had a decent amount of battery life left. This is a good sign, as the battery would likely be drained if there was a short in the machine someplace. I backed it up, charged it, even updated it to the most recent patch.

After ten days, the phone has been completely normal and working fine. Looks like we were fairly lucky, but you can find stories of iPhones that seemed more water-damaged that pulled through. And, also some that didn’t.


August 27th, 2009 — Wordman

The BBC World Service aired a 20 minute documentary recently called “Selling cheese to the Chinese”. The title makes it sound a bit like a puff piece, and it even starts a bit like one, but it isn’t. Bits of it have been rattling around in my head for the past few days. If you really want see the power if cheese or, more importantly, predict the future of China and the West, you should give this piece a serious listen to the end.

These five things stand out to me:

  1. Around five minutes in, a woman says “Even though we are in an economic crisis, we see an increase every single of week of Europeans landing here with their suitcases and a dream, and they want to make it.” Has the American dream moved to China already?
  2. “One seemingly innocuous comment surprises me… ‘Only very old people know about Chinese culture’, says one girl.” China has one of the longest lasting cultures on Earth, but the Communists more or less obliterated it from living memory. So the young now have no grounding in in the old ways. This is good and bad for the West, it seems to me. On the one hand, it means that making cultural in-roads into China will meet much less resistance from the youth of China, particularly the rising middle class. On the other hand, it also may mean that China’s historical insularity, which sometimes worked to its detriment on the world stage (and the West’s benefit), may be over. I suspect that the end result will be a much more intellectually agile China, and that will almost certainly mean a much more dominant China over the next century than I have been expecting.
  3. Around 15 minutes in: “The rise of McDonald’s in post-reform China was predicated on the demise of nation wide food rationing, but the consumption of cheese and wine will be more than that.” Instead, it will be the emergence of consumer choice driving a market, largely outside of government influence. In short: capitalism. Which means either Communism doesn’t have much longer in China or it will have to get even nastier.
  4. “People at my age spend all of their salary every month. People from my mom’s generation save as much as they could.” Not sure what to make of that. What do you think?
  5. “‘We trust foreign companies more than we trust local companies, because we have suffered a lot.’ It was a penny drop moment. Curious Jessie may have experimented with pricey Belgian chocolate, but the only European product this family buy regularly is a breakfast cereal…which they trust to be free from chemical additives.” This is probably a short term advantage for the West, but to compete against it, Chinese products will have to get safer, which will make them more expensive. It will also probably increase the standard of living in China, which will probably increase the cost of labor there. That is probably good for everyone, but will dampen China’s ascent slightly.

Health volley

August 20th, 2009 — Wordman

I’m putting together a much longer post to present a tortuous metaphor for the state of American health care, but I keep seeing the same theme in the current “debate” on health that is driving me nuts enough to say something about it here.

Here is an example, this one from Mark Steyn:

I think Sarah Palin’s “death panel” coinage clarified the stakes and resonated in a way that “rationing” and other lingo never quite did.…What matters is the concept of a government “panel.” Right now, if I want a hip replacement, it’s between me and my doctor; the government does not have a seat at the table.

Whatever you may think about Palin or the death panel or whatever, the statement above contains a huge glaring problem. Under the system we have now, while it may be true that the government does not have a seat at the table, if you want a hip replacement, it is most certainly not between you and your doctor. It may be between you and your insurance company, and it may be between that insurance company and your doctor, but if you and your doctor, by yourselves, want to decide on your hip replacement, you are totally fucked under the current state of health care in America.

If you don’t like the current health bills being debated right now, fine, but don’t compare them to an idealized system as if it actually exists when it really doesn’t.

Robert Tracinski makes the same mistake in this piece, when he says (with his own emphasis):

Do the Democrats even understand what insurance is? … Insurance is a form of financing. It is a contract under which a health-insurance company agrees to pay for medical bills that could run into the tens of thousands of dollars, if you are hit by a bus or are diagnosed with cancer, so that you don’t have to pay for those bills out of your savings. For younger people, this means being able to pay for catastrophic care even if you haven’t had time to build up tens of thousands of dollars in savings. For older people, this means not having your retirement savings or the equity in your home get wiped out by an unexpected illness.

It is? Really? Great!

The problem is that while this is what insurance should be, present-day American health insurance doesn’t actually work like this. At all.

You try telling a mother of two “sorry, your kids’ check ups are not covered by your insurance. Insurance is only for unexpected emergencies.” I dare you.

And, likewise, when an actual emergency causes “medical bills that could run into the tens of thousands of dollars”, see how likely the “insurance” is to pay it all.

There is a reason HR departments call it “health coverage” and not “health insurance”: because it is no longer insurance. The “coverage” is now used for pretty much any type of health related expense. The expectation involved is similar to imagining a world where everyone just assumed that their auto insurance would pay for their fuel, oil changes and routine maintenance, instead of just a serious car accident.

While the current state of health care in America isn’t exactly socialized medicine, it is functionally pretty close. Does it really matter that, instead of the bureaucracy of the state that meddles in your health decisions, it is the bureaucracy of a set of corporations that meddles in your health decisions? You (and your doctor) have roughly the same level of control over both of them: almost none.

Decline from Civilization

August 14th, 2009 — Wordman

This is probably a big mistake.

I just bought Civilization Revolution for the iPhone. Past evidence suggests that I’m in for a general productivity decline for the next year or so. At least with the desktop Civ games, I had to be near my computer. Now I can suck time anywhere. Perhaps this 100% accurate graph can paint a picture of how well this series of games sinks its teeth in:


I like Civ so much, I’m even willing to put up with some of the more ridiculous shortcomings of the iPhone implementation of Civ Revolutions. For example, there is no auto-save feature. Some of the reviews claim that getting a phone call in the middle of a turn forces you to go back to your last saved game when you return to the app; however, this is is no longer true (if it ever was). The behavior is a little odd, as the app starts from the beginning, with splash screen and so on, rather just restoring the state like other apps do, but there is a “continue” button that brings you back to where you left off.

Anyway, in an effort to break out of my usual strategy (Greeks for the cultural victory!), I’m going to (eventually) get each type of victory on as many levels as I can. The following grid will detail my progress. On one axis is the difficulty level, on the other is the victory type. Cells will either be empty (no victory) or will contain the name of the civilization used for the victory, in what year it occurred, and the total score.

Cultural Domination Economic Technological
Chieftain Romans
1970 AD
900 BC
1964 AD
1984 AD
Warlord Greeks
2020 AD
850 AD
1970 AD
1970 AD
King Greeks
1994 AD
850 AD
1990 AD
1970 AD
Emperor French
1998 AD
1200 AD
2040 AD
1968 AD
Deity Romans
1998 AD
1780 AD
2004 AD
1998 AD

My guitar hero

August 13th, 2009 — Wordman

Lester William Polsfuss died today. Better known as Les Paul, he’s been a hero of mine since high school, ever since seeing an HBO special in which he demonstrated one of his many inventions, the Les Paulverizer. For being conceived in an era of analog electronics, the Les Paulverizer makes an impressive demo. I can’t find the version of it I saw, but here is one from even earlier:

Unfortunately, the device is fictional, a stage prop. What isn’t fictional are his other inventions, including multi-track recording and one of the first solid body electric guitars. Not to mention his recording career. And beer commercial.

I’ll never be able to give him the tribute he deserves, so I’ll just cut to someone who did in 1988 (on the same HBO special, immediately after the Paulverizer demo)… Eddie Van Halen:

Thanks for the music, Les.