Gongol.com Archives: March 2024

Brian Gongol

March 15, 2024

Science and Technology An e-ink smartphone

A team is trying to raise $500,000 in pledges by the end of March to underwrite a smartphone with an e-ink screen and a physical QWERTY keyboard. They're calling it "Minimal", and they've made it to the prototype stage, with a pitch centering mainly on the human advantages of the phone's inherent limitations -- it's not for streaming video or scrolling through TikTok. ■ It's supposed to be clean, quick, and non-addictive. It's not meant to be a dumb phone (like a flip phone); it's supposed to be smart but constrained. ■ Whether this particular product takes off will depend upon a lot of factors. But the tactile QWERTY keyboard is a feature that really needs to make a comeback, and the use of e-ink is promising: It's what makes looking at a Kindle e-reader much easier on the eyes than looking at a computer screen. ■ The pitch seems oriented towards people who are looking for a way to moderate their own smartphone usage, but the real market is likely to be with users who would carry it as a second phone, probably as a primary work phone to be carried beside a personal phone with the usual bells and whistles. The tactile keyboard and minimalist interface seem like they are under-appreciated sources of value for people who need mostly to communicate messages rather than to consume content. ■ Some product like this is destined to catch on sooner or later. Particularly as security consciousness is either developed organically or is thrust upon us (probably by some pretty bad events), people are going to be forced to assess the need for multiple devices. The mixing of personal and business devices with lots of capacity and countless ways to be compromised by malicious outsiders has put an unbelievable number of vital systems at risk. CISA has hinted at just how many ways millions of American enterprises are falling short. ■ If the Minimal Co. really can deliver a utilitarian smartphone for power users at a $350 price point, then that might be just the right device at just the right time. Security may well be a much more valuable selling point than self-control.

Threats and Hazards An unconscionable waste of life in a completely immoral war

The Economist: "The data suggest that more than 1% of all Russian men aged between 20 and 50 could have either been killed or severely wounded in Ukraine since the start of the full-scale war."

Threats and Hazards A local government legitimacy crisis with global implications

Until good governance comes to the West Bank and Gaza, it's hard to conceive of a peaceful future

Aviation News Learning from the skies over Ukraine

The United States has held on to a well-earned reputation for air power supremacy since World War II. Control of the skies has proven itself again and again to be a necessary (though not always sufficient) condition for victory in combat. In Dwight Eisenhower's words, "[W]hile air power alone might not win a victory, no great victory is possible without air superiority." ■ But what was good enough up until less than a decade ago may well be dangerously inadequate now, having been rendered obsolete by the extremely fast evolution of fighting conditions in Ukraine, where large volumes of relatively low-cost drones have redefined what "control of the skies" really means. ■ The space the drones occupy has been dubbed the "air littoral" -- derived from the name used for waters that transition into seashore. The air littoral is in the sky, but not very far -- mostly below the space where combat aircraft with human pilots aboard dominate the sky. ■ In the air littoral, high performance is less important than persistence and scale. What has always mattered in air warfare is the capacity to inflict damage upon the enemy and to guarantee the security of allies below. Again, in the words of Eisenhower, "For the delivery, in a single blow, of a vast tonnage of explosives upon a given area, the power of the air force is unique." ■ What has changed -- seemingly overnight -- is that drones have become sufficiently precise at very low relative cost to become effective weapons. It takes a long time to train a professional pilot. It takes far less to train someone to pilot a drone, especially with the help of autonomous flight tools. And when those drones fly both figuratively and literally under the radar, it becomes extremely difficult to stop them. ■ Whether the United States is ready, willing, and able to pivot quickly enough to match the changes being wrought by the war in Ukraine is an extremely important question. The lessons being learned there won't stay within tidy national boundaries -- they're coming at full speed for the very next armed conflict. Surrendering the air dominance characteristics of the past would be imprudent, but we can't take the risk of failing to adapt to the new rules, either.

Agriculture Iowa is the #11 state for honey production

North Dakota, of all places, comes in first -- and it's not even close, with 28% of the entire national output. Meanwhile, Utah, which has a beehive on its state flag, doesn't even produce enough to show up in the USDA reports.

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