TMO Background Mode Interview with Amateur Astronomer Mike Weasner

· · Background Mode Podcast

Mike Weasner on Background Mode.

Mike Weasner is a noted amateur astronomer, known for his book on the Meade ETX telescopes, early iPhone astrophotography and work with the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) in Arizona. Very early in life, Mike fell in love with astronomy, and that led to a B.S. in astrophysics. Via ROTC, Mike later joined the United States Air Force, where he served as a fighter pilot (A-7D), instructor (T-38), and a manager in the Air Force’s Space Shuttle Program Office. After his USAF duty, Mike spent 23 years as a program manager with TRW/Northrop Grumman. We chatted about his Air Force days and some interesting flight experiences. In the second segment, we talked about the construction of his observatory, evolution of his telescopes, astrophotography of asteroids, supernovae patrol and his work with the IDA.

This Chat App Combines Multiple Chat Services Into One

· · Cool Stuff Found

There’s an app called One Chat for Mac and iPad that combines multiple chat services into one. The chat app supports WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, Google Hangouts, Twitter, and more. It auto-locks when you’re away, and you can use a password or Touch ID to lock it. You can schedule messages to send to friends, generate “Auto Smart GIFs), customize notifications, and a whole lot more. It also supports file transfer, so you can send and receive photos, videos, DOC, TXT, PDFs, with drag-and-drop support. It costs US$17.99, and you can buy multiple copies in case you have a business.

Phone Calls Are Dead. Is Voice Chat the Future?

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Not many people like to make and take phone calls nowadays. But David Pierce writes that sending text messages removes the humanity from communication. Is voice chat the future instead?

In the swing from calls to texts, we lost the warmth and humanity that made the phone work in the first place. I’m not pining for the days of the loudly spinning rotary phone, though. Better ways to actually talk to people already exist. A few companies are building tools that improve upon what didn’t work about phone calls, making them less disruptive and more productive.

At the same time, a new type of chat is sitting right under our noses. It’s called voice messaging, and it deserves a place alongside text and video as core parts of how we chat in the digital age.

A Cashless Society is a Discriminatory Society

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Tim Cook wants to see a cashless society, but Gene Marks writes that it’s an inherently discriminatory system. Not accepting cash excludes service to people (usually poor people) who may be unable to get a credit or debit card. But a new bill would make it illegal for restaurants to refuse paper money.

However, one city in the US is resisting that trend: Washington DC. In the nation’s capital cash is still king, and a new bill introduced this week wants to keep it that way. The Cashless Retailers Prohibition Act of 2018 would make it illegal for restaurants and retailers not to accept cash or charge a different price to customers depending on the type of payment they use.

What Does Apple Have to Show for its R&D Budget?

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Apple with a big pile of money

Apple sure is spending a lot of money on research and development, but doesn’t seem to have much to show for it. Philip Elmer-DeWitt at Apple 3.0 got ahold of an investor not from Bernstein’s Toni Sacconaghi that states,

Perhaps most importantly, despite R&D spending more than quintupling over the last 6.5 years, Apple’s pace of new product/services introductions does not appear to have accelerated. We note that Apple cumulatively spent $11.5B between 1998 and 2011, a period in which it introduced the iPod, iPad, and iPhone – last year alone, Apple spent a similar amount. We believe that Apple’s R&D productivity has declined (which is not uncommon as companies scale, but may also be attributable to the loss of Steve Jobs). That said, it is also possible that the recent surge in R&D spending could translate into accelerated product and services announcements in the near to medium term.

So maybe Apple is going to surprise us with some huge product announcements, or maybe it’s R&D has just become a giant money pit.

Informal Test Shows New MacBook Pro is Quieter

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One of the features Apple is pushing for its new Touch Bar MacBook Pro is a quieter keyboard. Less clackity-clack will no doubt make a lot of people happy, but is it really quieter? TechCrunch did their own informal test with a previous generation keyboard and the new model. They recorded the results, and there is a difference between the two, but it may not be as dramatic as some were hoping for. Still, it’s quieter, and that’s something.

Waterlilly Turbine Can Charge Your Batteries with Wind and Water

· · Cool Stuff Found

Check out the Waterlilly Turbine, a generator that can charge your devices with either wind or water. Aimed at campers, this device can be submerged in flowing water or suspended in the wind, turning that energy into stored electrical energy. You can charge an iPhone 7 in 2-4 hours, or you could charge a portable charger over a longer period of time. Like, say, while you’re out hiking, fishing, or otherwise getting your nature on. It comes with its own portable 2,600mAh power bank, or you can charge a separate device. It’s 7-inches square, regulates its power output, and is pretty cool. Waterlilly Turbine retails for $159.99, and it’s $159.00 at Amazon.