Weekend read: A Brief History of the Wristwatch

On July 9, 1916, The New York Times puzzled over a fashion trend: Europeans were starting to wear bracelets with clocks on them. Time had migrated to the human wrist, and the development required some explaining.

“Until recently,” the paper observed, “the bracelet watch has been looked upon by Americans as more or less of a joke. Vaudeville artists and moving-picture actors have utilized it as a funmaker, as a ‘silly ass’ fad.”

A Brief History of the Wristwatch – Uri Friedman, The Atlantic (27 May 2015)

Read the full piece.

Weekend read: BlackBerry’s home town decline

It’s a little after 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night, and I’m sitting in a freezing rental car outside the BlackBerry headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario, looking for signs of life.

Five years and several billion dollars ago, these buildings would have been full, and the windows would have been dotted with busy silhouettes. But today, it’s a ghost town.

The life, death, and rebirth of BlackBerry’s hometown – Kevin Roose, Fusion (8 February 2015)

Do read the full piece: it’s absorbing and also a little more uplifting than you might expect given Blackberry’s fortunes.

Prepare to feel old: .com is 30

Exactly 30 years ago, on Sunday, March 15, 1985, a computer company in Massachusetts registered the world’s first dot-com domain: Symbolics.com. And with that, the dot-com era officially began.

By the end of 1985, Symbolics.com was still one of just a small number of registered domains. Today, of course, there are hundreds of millions of domains floating around the Internet.

The Dot-Com as You Know It Is 30. This Is How It’s Changed the World – Daniel Howley, Yahoo (13 March 2015)

Read the full piece for more about that first-ever .com and how far we’ve come in three decades.

Weekend read: What went wrong at Motorola?

Apple is the hottest technology firm at the moment but it will die. It nearly did before. They all go. The unassailable get assailed. IBM was the big deal, now it isn’t. Microsoft ruled the world and now it’s more tolerated.

That’s not to say that Microsoft isn’t earning a lot of money. But it’s earning less and the facade that it was innovative hasn’t so much been seen through as turned away from. You don’t expect Microsoft to do anything interesting.

I mean, even if you’re into this stuff, you don’t expect Microsoft to do anything interesting. If you have no taste for technology, I lost you right back on line one anyway.

But I love this stuff and not because it’s technology. All tech does is speed up the process: companies that used to rise and fall over decades now boom up and collapse back much quicker if they are technology ones.

I went to some talk once where a speaker used Dell as an example of a fantastic business success story and a model for anyone who wanted to do any kind of business. Ahem, I said, haven’t you updated your slides recently? Dell really is a fascinating business studies case now because of all this speaker said plus the number of times the company shot itself in the foot and just how well it aimed. It’s no longer the model to follow but it is one to keep an eye on.

Whereas I knew nothing about Motorola. It did phones, I think I had one once, and I knew it made TV sets because there’s a reference to it in A Billion for Boris, Mary Rodgers’ little known sequel to Freaky Friday. Otherwise, zip.

Which makes this Chicago Magazine feature deeply absorbing. How a company became a great success but:

…great success can lead to great trouble. Interviews with key players in and around Motorola and its spinoffs indicate that the problems began when management jettisoned a powerful corporate culture that had been inculcated over decades. When healthy internal competition degenerated into damaging infighting. “I loved most of my time there,” says Mike DiNanno, a former controller of several Motorola divisions, who worked at the company from 1984 to 2003. “But I hated the last few years.”

What Happened to Motorola – Ted C Fishman, Chicago Magazine (25 August 2014)

Do get a coffee and read the whole feature.

Weekend read: the end of in-flight video

At least, the end of those terrible, terrible screens in the back of the seat ahead of you.

Earlier this year, I boarded a United flight from Newark to San Diego. After passing the first few rows, a young boy turned to his mother and asked, “Why aren’t there any TVs?”

“It’s probably an older plane,” she responded — but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The aircraft, a 737-900 with Boeing’s Sky Interior (a Dreamliner-esque recessed ceiling lit with blue LEDs), had only been flying for a few weeks. It looked new, and it even had that “new plane smell” most passengers would only associate with a factory-fresh auto. But despite the plane’s clean and bright appearance, the family only noticed the glaring absence of seat-back screens. To them, our 737 might as well have rolled off the assembly line in 1984.

Why your brand-new plane doesn’t have a seat-back TV – Zach Honig, Engadget (6 August 2014)

You’ve already guessed that it’s because we watch more on our iPads with their gorgeous screens and just about anything we fancy watching. It’s not hard to beat those dreadful airline screens with a limited selection – all of which has been edited. They’re edited to take out material that might upset you as you fly in an airplane – I believe Snakes on a Plane gets shown as a three-minute music video – and they’re cropped to fit the crappy screens.

But what interested me in this full Engadget article is why airlines hate those screens too. That’s what sold me: this is true, this is how it is going to be on all aircraft, everywhere, just as soon as they can pull it off.

Weekend read: How to Weaponise Your Pets

Late last month, a Siamese cat named Coco went wandering in his suburban Washington, DC neighborhood. He spent three hours exploring nearby backyards. He killed a mouse, whose carcass he thoughtfully brought home to his octogenarian owner, Nancy. And while he was out, Coco mapped dozens of his neighbors’ Wi-Fi networks, identifying four routers that used an old, easily-broken form of encryption and another four that were left entirely unprotected.

Unbeknownst to Coco, he’d been fitted with a collar created by Nancy’s granddaughter’s husband, security researcher Gene Bransfield. And Bransfield had built into that collar a Spark Core chip loaded with his custom-coded firmware, a Wi-Fi card, a tiny GPS module and a battery—everything necessary to map all the networks in the neighborhood that would be vulnerable to any intruder or Wi-Fi mooch with, at most, some simple crypto-cracking tools.

How to Use Your Cat to Hack Your Neighbours’ Wifi – Andy Greenberg, Wired (8 August 2014)

I just prefer the title “How to Weaponise Your Pets”. That’s what Coco’s evil mastermind Bransfield has called his talk on the subject taking place this weekend at DefCon. I have no idea where DefCon is, I’ve little clue what it is, I suspect there’s a WarGames reference at play, but I just care about the cat.

“My intent was not to show people where to get free Wi-Fi. I put some technology on a cat and let it roam around because the idea amused me,” says Bransfield, who works for the security consultancy Tenacity. “But the result of this cat research was that there were a lot more open and WEP-encrypted hot spots out there than there should be in 2014.”

Learn more at Wired include a preposterously happy animated graphic of little Coco’s journey around the ‘hood.

Weekend read: How Phones Go Cross-Eyed at Airports

Wired has an interesting piece on what goes on inside your mobile phone when you switch it back on after a flight. If you think about it at all, you think that it’s just sometimes a pain waiting for it to find a carrier. But according to Wired, it’s a street fight:

The average mobile phone is programmed to search out the five closest antenna signals. When you’re driving in your car this system lets you switch from antenna to antenna — usually without losing your connection. But in an airport, things can go haywire, especially as you’re switching from the powerful outdoor “macro” antennas that you’ve connected to on the tarmac to the smaller indoor devices that AT&T has tucked all over the airport.

For travelers, that means that the moments after you walk inside an airport are where you’re most likely to have a dropped call.

Why Your Phone Freaks Out When You Get Off a Plane – Robert McMillan, Wired (22 July 2014)

The full piece has a little interview with someone whose job it is to see that your phone wins the fight.

Late weekend read: the case for CDs

Just an absorbing read, I wish I’d seen this to get it to you earlier over the weekend:

Compact discs may be more out of vogue than ever, but some albums will always sound best with lasers

The CD Case – Steven Hyden, Grantland.com (8 July 2014)

Nip over to it now and have a good read or pop it into Pocket to read next weekend.