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The hPhone prototype

Soon after the news that Gizmodo had gotten their hands on the next iPhone, I stumbled on a photo of one of the earliest prototype wireless phones, code-named the hPhone.

The hPhone predates the iPhone by about 105 years.  It made its appearance at the International Electrical Congress in September 1904, held on the grounds of the Saint Louis World’s Fair.

The “h” in hPhone is short for Hutchison, Miller Reese Hutchison, its inventor, the guy who also invented the klaxon, and the first electrical hearing aid.  M.R. Hutchison later became Thomas Edison’s chief engineer.

The hPhone, whose full name is the Hutchison Wireless Telephone, can be seen on page 105 of the St. Louis Electrical Handbook, available here. The Handbook itself is a quirky travel guide that reads like Let’s Go St. Louis tailored for an engineer.  For example, it describes the city boundaries of St. Louis as resembling a “double convex meniscus, with the longer axis running north and south, its eastern boundary being formed by a wide sweep of the [Mississippi] river.”


April 21, 2010 at 8:24 pm Leave a comment

Another dysphemistic retronym

Snail Mail“Snail mail” dates back to the days when bang paths were used for email (this search on Google Groups show examples of the use of “snail mail” that date back to January 1982).  As the Hacker’s Dictionary explains it:


Mail sent via the Postal Service rather than electronically,
sometimes written as one word:  SnailMail. At its worst, electronic mail usually arrives within half an hour. Compare that to the typical three days for SnailMail. If you ask a hacker for his mailing address, he will usually give you his network address for electronic mail. You have to say “What’s you SnailMail address?” if you want to send him a package.

“Snail mail” is both a dysphemism and a retronym. It’s “dysphemistic” because it’s a disparaging expression, and its a retronym because the advent of email meant we needed a term that emphasizes old school mail.   Other retronyms include “acoustic guitar” (needed since the invention of the electric version), “film camera” (the pre-digital version), and “World War I” (before the start of WWII). as well as “first wife” (don’t know who came up with that).

Snail PrintI recently send some email to a couple of friends, telling them about a story I had read in a newspaper someone had left in a restaurant.  In the email, I sent them a link to the online version of the story, and as I began to explain how I found the story, I realized I needed a way to refer to the printed newspaper version.   Since it’s almost embarrassing nowadays to read newspapers (why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?), I called it the snail print version.   After I sent the email, I got curious about how common the term “snail print” was in this era in which a week doesn’t go by without the newspaper industry reporting a layoff or a loss of advertising revenue due to the Internet.

My Internet searches for “snail print” were unsuccessful.  Does that mean no one else has ever called the old school version of news the “snail print” version?  I like “snail print” and plan on using it in the future, but  I am curious whether there’s another term with the same connotations.  Any ideas?

August 30, 2009 at 8:49 am 1 comment

International Design Excellence Awards

Light Lane (prototype)New Scientist picked their nine favourite items from the 2009 International Design Excellence Awards.  They include a cookbook you can taste,  a better cheese grater, and (my favorite of their favourites) a laser-based personal bicycle lane projector.

August 5, 2009 at 8:32 am Leave a comment

Health Care Reform

Health care reform in the U.S. got a rude wake-up call recently. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) looked at a draft of the first substantial health care reform proposal since Obama became president—the Senate’s Kennedy/Dodd proposal—and announced that it would increase the national debt by $1 trillion dollars during its first decade, while covering only nine million more Americans. About 37 million people would remain uninsured.

Health care reformAs supporters of that bill will point out, it was just a draft.  If it were a baseball game, health care reform would be in the first inning.  But the truly eye-awakening reality check that followed was the discovery by the chattering, blogging, and twittering classes of another proposal, one that been in the works for three years, one that provides universal health care in the U.S. while producing, according to the CBO, an annual budgetary surplus starting in 2014.  One that ensures that Medicaid, Medicare, and private health insurance offer benefits that are at least as good as those that U.S. senators and representatives get today.

It’s called the Healthy Americans Act (HAA), and it already has the support of more than a dozen U.S. Senators from both parties.  Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been working on this bill since 2007, with Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT) as the other sponsor, and co-sponsors that include Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Arlen Specter (R/D-PA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

Assuming you agree that our current system is financially unsustainable and a threat to U.S. quality of life and competitiveness, and you don’t approach the subject with any sacred cows in your barn (We must have single-payer!  Only the free market can solve this problem!), reading the details of HAA might make you wonder if the bill is too good to be true.  Here are some highlights:

  • Employees happy with their current coverage don’t have to change
  • All plans offer the same (or more) benefits that Congress gets from their health insurance
  • Portability across jobs (unless an employee chooses an employer-supplied plan)
  • Private health insurance providers cannot deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions
  • Doctors get paid for time spent on chronic disease management and prevention.
  • States provide Consumer Reports-like analysis of the options available to its residents

The biggest change for those happy with their current employer-supplied coverage is that the current system of how that coverage is paid for changes.  The money the company is spending on your health care plan is given to you.  You can then keep the status quo and buy the coverage you already get, or you shop around, using information gathered by the state to help you choose.  You are required to buy coverage somewhere, but if the coverage your employer gives you is not what you want, you can go with an alternative.

Of course there are catches.  Employers, who usually change insurance options each year, could instead choose to just give you the money and make you go on the open market for insurance.  And those employees and union members who get top-of-the-line coverage, with little or no deductible or out-of-pocket expense, will also lose something.  Once the whole system transitions to the HAA one, really expensive plans will cost more than they do today.  That might be unfair in some cases: if you were a union member and gave away some pay increase in favor of that kind of health plan, you’ll be pissed off.  But one of the keys to containing costs is through HAA’s system of making us all aware of the cost of our health care choices.

And like the switch to digital TV, the anticipated pluses identified by the CBO (and private groups like the Lewin Group who have also reviewed HAA) probably have failed to find some other issues with HAA.  The analogy to the digital TV may be particularly apt, since that conversion showed that even after all the warnings and converter box subsidies, there were still millions who didn’t take advantage of the “preventative” services available to them.

So there will probably be a devil we don’t know. But the devil we do know is the current, unsustainable system.  At least the Healthy Americans Act has had more than two years of analysis behind it, and its politically viable.  Even if HAA in its present form isn’t adopted, it sets a standard against which all other options should be judged against.

June 21, 2009 at 12:39 am Leave a comment

Pizza from a vending machine

Pizza ready in 150 seconds

A company in Italy has created a vending machine for pizza.  It’s called Pizzaly, and it’s the result of a 10 million euro R&D investment.   The pizzas?

They are baked over a wood fire in Treviso, then flash-frozen.  The vending machine guy then loads 104 of these frozen 10-inch pizzas in the machine, where they stay frozen until someone buys one.  You can get the frozen pie to take home to bake yourself, or wait 2½ minutes and it will bake it for you in a mini-oven (not a microwave) built into the vending machine.

As of early June, 100 of these vending machines are in use in Italy.  Read more here or see it in action on YouTube.

June 3, 2009 at 2:26 am Leave a comment

Update on the BarackBerry


April 24, 2009 at 5:35 am Leave a comment

Google CADIE, Google Gulp, and April 1st RFCs

Gulp Sero-tonic water
By now, inquisitive Google users will have taken a look at CADIE and maybe even read about CADIE for a bit before remembering earlier Google April 1st announcements like Google Gulp (BETA)™ with Auto-Drink™ (LIMITED RELEASE). or its PigeonRank™ announcement from 2002.

Google’s hoaxes are high-profile continuations of an Internet tradition that dates back to at least 30 years, when the Internet Engineering Task Force published RFC 748, entitled “Telnet Randomly-Lose Option”; PigeonRank harkens back specifically to RFC 1149 (A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers).

April 1, 2009 at 10:40 pm Leave a comment

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