The other day I was using one of my slide rules while waiting for a train. I was absorbed in calculations until someone interrupted me wanting to know what I was doing. People tend to be mystified when they see an unfamiliar technology.
Slide rules are simple in concept. When you were a kid you may have learned to add by physically laying sticks of different lengths together. A slide rule also adds lengths, but now they are in a logarithmic scale. Now you can make use of the fact that log(xy) = log(x) + log(y) so adding these lengths multiplies and subtracting divides. You end up with sliding rules that allow you to multiply and divide to a couple of digits accuracy - often much faster than keying them in on a laptop or calculator.1
I bought my first rule in the eighth grade. It wasn't of much use in school, but it was perfect for the types of calculations I needed in amateur radio and astronomy. Not only did I learn blow through numbers quickly to get good enough answers, I developed a natural sense of what logarithms 'felt' like along with a good sense of playing with orders of magnitude in my head and mentally approximating ball park answers. In short it was a tool for given a physical sense of approximate calculations - something of enormous value to anyone who goes into the physical sciences.
My best rule was a Pickett N4-ES. I bought in the tenth grade for about $200 in today's money. It went far beyond multiplication and division with special scales for better accuracy, trig functions and so on. It was what real rocket scientists were using up until the point where Hewlett Packard killed the business with the HP-35 calculator. Jet fighters, atomic weapons and moon rockets were designed with the help of slide rules.
I gave my Pickett to a young friend who has a love for calculation. She would have it down the road, but I have a few other rules and this one is a special heirloom - the sort of thing you pass on to someone. It was much more fun for me to tell her the stories and watch her delight as she mastered it to the point where she regularly puzzles coworkers. There are movies with its fingerprints.
It is said that we are experiential beings - that we prefer experiences to stuff. I'd agree to a point. There are some things that are so important that they take on stories of their own. There is a slate blackboard, my father's dress watch, my grandfather's pocket-watch, and a few things I've built over the years. Not a lot, but more important than anything else I own.
Some people collect - my sister is into fountain pens. She's an artist, but does writing and some ink sketches with them. Both of us sketch and both of us give homemade as as important presents. They may not be as nicely executed as commercial art, but they are very personal and carry a story.
Story or a potential story. Personal items become even more personal as we use them and some become part of our style. My grandfather's pocket watch drifts more than a minute a day and is cumbersome. But it feels good in the hand and reminds me of old family stories. I didn't have enough time to know him while he was alive, but I'm getting to know him now - his punctuality and love of machines and precision. It is a container for stories and, like the slide rule, has become part of my style.
Watches are personal items. Consulting them is a movement of the wrist - a natural gesture. They may be beautiful to look at, feel, and can signal others if we choose. They represent a progression of technology as time keeping moved from experts to shared town clocks, to home clocks, and finally to a wearable.
I've been thinking about the Apple Watch and what wearable means for a few weeks and am finding my views shifting. I don't know if Apple's watch will be the first successful wearable, but I think it stands a good chance.
About twenty years ago we started to think about what would happen as Moore's Law progressed and computation moved into the fabric of our lives. It raised a lot of interesting questions and generated a few interesting new questions and answers (a lot of bad answers - a few good ones). The watch form factor seemed ideal for a computer if you could solve interface, communication and power problems. Our belief was that successful watches would concentrate on bits of information and control that didn't require much of an interface, but were things you wanted to do all of the time. A watch gives you the time, but not your full calendar - it is still a very useful tool even though the scope of its temporal information is limited.
I have not touched an Apple Watch and can't be a judge of its style or its price points.2 It is striking that it is not a peripheral, but rather a full fledged computer. Apple is good at design that integrates physical design and software, but they are also very good at chip design that optimizes physical space, task specific computations and power consumption.3 The core of the watch is computer called the S1 that is embedded in resin for durability. Android smart-watches probably have higher power consumption and so far are used as peripherals. This difference is fundamental and needs to be thought through carefully. Apple has created a new platform that will take a few years to perfect, but it may become more important, more personal, to you than the smartphone in your pocket or purse or the laptop on your desk - even though you still have all of them. Many other questions are raised that will be answered with time, but networking is very interesting and a key difference between Google and Apple. It may be extremely important if privacy becomes a major issue.
What the watch will become is the stuff of story and heirloom, at least for some makes.4 I've been excited by a few technical revelations over the years - about five when I think about it. I'm adding this as the sixth.
1 You can still buy used slide rules on eBay. Here's an old manual from Pickett on the use of one. One of the readers of the blog caught the bug and is a collector. (I don't know if I was partly responsible for the affliction - if so, sorry Dave)
2 I've had conversations with people in design and fashion who range from very impressed to 'a computer maker is incapable of understanding fashion' The most enthusiastic were those who design rather than market fashion and two who were briefed by Apple. There are biases that I can't sort out at this point.
3 The A8 system on a chip (SoC) is uses a bit more than half the power than similar silicon in ARM based Android smartphones. A remarkable achievement that is at least as important as physical design.
4 Some guesses. Watches have to last through the generations and that imposes constraints beyond style.
I'm guessing the price points of the three watches will be widely separated. That 16 hours between charging for normal use is close to a target and that the battery is about a half watt-hour at best and capacity will improve slowly over the next ten years. (Predication - watches are probably the first place rechargable metal-air batteries appear). The battery will have to be replaced every two years and some models may also get a S2, S3 or S* as part of normal maintenance - just like a mechanical watch has to have maintenance every few years. If I had to guess I would say the low end aluminum watch only gets battery upgrades and the stainless steel and gold models get battery and module upgrades to make them 'timeless' as capabilities grow. If this is true it would be a fundamental shift in modularity in a tiny high volume device. With careful design this could be done with a small robot - perhaps even in the back of an Apple Store.
Networking is fascinating - the intranet ground fogs I've described and asynchronous communication begin to make a lot of sense - particularly if battery life and privacy are important. Lots of ideas if you're interested .. they were leaving many signals.
There are a lot of fresh vegetables available at the moment. Rather than let them go to waste it makes sense to make vegetable stock. This is usually a long term event - restaurants frequently start the stock pot first thing in the morning and keep it going all day. I'm a big fan of quick stocks when I run low. Pressure cookers are great for this, but you can also through together something much better than any pre-made stock from a store in less than a half hour. The recipe is only a guide - try it with almost anything!
Simple Twenty MinuteVeggie Stock
Ingredients (for about 8 cups of target stock)
° water for the amount of stock you want plus about a cup
° 1 tbl of peppercorns
° a quartered yellow onion
° a few (say three) cloves of garlic, peal and smashed
° 2 sprigs of thyme
° Add the above to the water and let it come to a boil. Reduce to a simmer
° as you prep your soup thrown in left over trimmings from carrots, tomatoes, onions, greens, mushroom bits etc. Don't be too afraid of strong flavors as you won't boil for a long time. This is all about flavor reinforcement.
° Let it simmer away about 10 or 15 minutes, strain and use.