First World Problems

You know, that old rotary phone affixed to the wall in my parents kitchen never gets lost.





A Phone That Is Just A Phone

I have an iPhone. I quite like it. Having the web at my finger tips is very convenient. However, it has atrocious battery life. It also is a freaking computer in my pocket, and some don’t like that. Some of us like a phone to be a phone, an email device to be […]


Why Did A Railroad Own a TV Tower?

That, in case you don’t recognize it from this angle, is the CN Tower in Toronto. CN, as you may know, stands for Canadian National, which just happens to be a large railroad operator in Canada. So, why did a railroad build and own the tallest free-standing tower in the world?

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Language, The Second Oldest Technology

Modern English can be considered the second language of the world. It is frequently the lingua franca of business, governance, and popular culture. Cultural tourists notice the American Top 40 song playing in a kebab shop in Majorca, and film scholars notice that all foreigners, historical figures, and many futuristic societies speak with some British accent.

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Communications, Spaceheads, Technostalgia

Project ECHO

Click on the image to enlarge

Good afternoon everyone.

The object resembling a ball-bearing in the photo above is ECHO-1a, America’s first passive communication satellite and the first half of the ECHO experiment. It was a rather large (100 feet in diameter) metalized 0.5 mil Mylar balloon. ECHO-1 was […]

Communications, Free Range Technology

The $30 Cell Phone: Impressively Modest

The Rovan Q2/XP Moon

I recently spent a week using an ultra-cheap Chinese mobile phone I bought off eBay. I have an iPhone 4 that I normally use, and it’s truly a marvel of functionality and interface design. But unfortunately, my longtime cellular service provider is Verizon, whose phones utilize only CDMA network access. That’s a bit of meaningless technobabble if you’re in the US, but the CDMA protocol is nonexistent in Europe, which uses GSM mobile networks exclusively. So if you go overseas, a Verizon (or Sprint or Alltel) phone becomes a very handy paperweight. I spent last week in England. My options for mobile telephony on my trip were to rent a “tourist phone” for a week in the UK, rent a world phone from Verizon prior to my departure, or buy the cheapest unlocked GSM phone I could find. I went with that last option.

My iPhone supposedly cost me $149, but that was subsidized by a lucrative 2-year contract that absorbed much of the phone’s cost. The outright purchase of an unlocked 32GB iPhone 4 will land on the north side of $600. Just to calibrate, I bought the Rovan Q2 for one-twentieth of that cost. I wondered, would it have 1/20th the functionality? Would it drop calls, freeze up, or simply be DOA? It turns out I was pleasantly surprised how much I got for my money. Continue reading The $30 Cell Phone: Impressively Modest


Sever: Tropospheric Communication Soviet Style

Let’s say you have a country that covers more land than any other. It stretches across 11 time zones covering 10,000 km east to west. That eastern part is pretty barren. You don’t even have a paved road going all the way across. Telephone lines are out of the question. So, how do you get your propaganda state-run radio or TV to the little villages out there? You use the troposphere.
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Communications, Tech Theory

The Deceptively Simple Limerick

Consider this humble submittal
Which poses a cumbersome riddle:
What’s rarely discreet
And has thirteen feet
With two shorter legs in the middle?

The limerick is usually derided as a bit of lowbrow, immature fluff. But penning a truly good limerick is actually quite difficult. It must effectively tell a compelling story, preferably one with multiple shades of meaning, within a framework that is so ruthlessly efficient and so structurally demanding that a haiku is a comparative free-for-all.

We don’t normally think of something as basic and non-scientific as a witty turn of verse as “technology.” But in the case of the limerick, it certainly fits the definition: accomplishing a practical task through the deliberate implementation of specific, repeatable techniques or methods. This deceptively simple form of poetry must adhere to a canon of rules that is at once rigid, sophisticated, and remarkably nuanced.

An in-depth look at what a limerick is, where it came from, how identify (and write) a good one follows after the jump.
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