Westin – Upscale Cheap Trick

I recently stayed at a Westin hotel and was completely underwhelmed. On check in, they asked if we wanted to go green, which of course you say yes to, right? In many hotels, this means that they conserve water and energy by not changing your bath towels every day. At the Westin, this is a trick. It means that they don’t enter your room at all.

There is nothing environmentally green about not making your bed or emptying your trash bins daily. The only green thing about it is the color of the money Westin saves by not hiring the staff to make up your room. It is another name for what the airlines are now calling basic economy.

Speaking of which, I called for a shuttle to the airport, and they informed me that they are not running shuttles “at this time” because they don’t have the staff. Looks like more labor savings to me . . .

Westin charges for the internet at $10 / day for three devices. If you are a couple each with a laptop and iPad, you are going to pay for four devices or $20 / day. Yes, anyone with a certain status at Westin may not have to pay, but why charge more for internet than Motel 6 does? Because they can.

They also had one of those directly overhead ‘rain storm’ shower heads to make the shower seem upscale. Unfortunately, it makes one contort into Cirque de Soleil positions in order shower without getting one’s hair wet or let the hair conditioner soak in while scrubbing the rest of one’s body.

I could go on, but you get the point. I used to think Westin was an upscale treat, but this seemed like more of a cheap trick.

Advertisements

Siri: “You’re Looking A Bit Sad”

With its latest iPhone, Apple introduces Face ID. With it, users can unlock their phones by just looking at them. Microsoft has had a similar feature called Windows Hello for a few years, so Apple is playing catch up here, but Apple has been copying others for a few years now so this is nothing new.

Now that Apple has this capability, the question is how it plans to use in the future. Microsoft has pretty much left it to unlocking devices. But Apple wants to be an innovator and it is hard to believe that is as far as it will take it.

There are already algorithms that can tell your mood from your picture. If you look sad, will Apple automatically open your phone to a happy news story or iTunes song? Or automatically add an emoji to your texts when you are angry? Talk about autocorrect fails – sending a angry by mistake could really hurt!

On the other hand, if the phone detects that you are angry, Siri could pop a warning for you to cool down before pressing send on that email or text.

The algorithms can also make a pretty good guess of your gender, age, weight, etc. Maybe Apple will use this to ‘help’ you shop. Or find a date.

The worst would be Siri automatically sending a text to you parents if it detected something amiss. Who wouldn’t want their mother calling all the time asking what’s wrong?

What if Apple starts making your face, or some data gleaned from it, available to others, like it does with location? It could all get very creepy very quickly, appropriate for a phone with a Halloween release date.

 

Gimme Camera 3. Wait, No, Camera 5

Watching the game and want to see that goal, catch, etc. again? You don’t have to wait for the replay. Anyone with a digital video recorder (DVR) like a Tivo has the ability to replay the action on their own, in slow motion if they like.

What about seeing the replay from a different angle? Well, that only comes from the broadcast, and you have to hope that the director sitting in the truck outside of the stadium plays back the angle you want to see.

But that could soon change.

Broadcasters are always looking for new revenue sources, and they will probably start charging extra for access to multiple cameras so you can see the game from whatever angle you want.

The technology is already there. The issues are likely bandwidth and business. Are the ‘pipes’ that transmit the video data large enough to handle the extra camera angles?  And even if they were (they are getting there fast), is the consumer equipment in place to use it and charge for it?

With the sports associations (FIFA, Olympics, NBA, etc.) looking for more and more money for broadcast rights, it is simply a matter of time before anyone with a few extra dollars can be their own director.

Movies will come next. Take a wild guess which kind of movies will be first.

Microsoft’s Next Device

Microsoft recently introduced a version of Windows called Windows 10 S, with the S standing for streamlined and secure. Unlike the Windows we are all used to, it only runs apps that are available from the Microsoft store. Presumably, the security of these apps has been vetted by Microsoft and they also run very efficiently.

Microsoft tried launching a similar version of Windows that only ran apps from the store 5 years ago called Windows RT. It was a huge failure. So why do it again?

The tech press has focused on Windows 10 S as being Microsoft’s answer to Google’s operating system called Chrome, which runs on a number of inexpensive laptops targeted at students.

There is certainly truth to that. However, it is likely that Windows 10 S is the version of Windows that Microsoft sees running on mobile devices. Cellular connected mobile devices. For example, a phone.

Microsoft does have something called Windows 10 Mobile currently for phones, but it is not clear where that is going. There is very little development happening on it. Microsoft has stopped making phones and its partners have pretty much stopped as well.

My guess is that Windows 10 S will be the version of Windows that runs on the next “phone” that Microsoft comes out with. Phone in quotes, because they have already said that they will not make a traditional smart phone like the iPhone or Galaxy. Microsoft is all about productivity, and while the device might be able to do voice calls, it will likely be more about getting work done.

Right now, most folks carry a phone along with a laptop or tablet and keyboard to actually do their work on.  With its Continuum feature, Microsoft tried to eliminate the laptop/tablet requirement but did not quite get there. But with a new mobile device running Windows 10 S and a keyboard, it just might make it.

 

Apple Goes Mobile While Microsoft Stays Deskbound

Apple took a lot of hits lately in the tech press regarding their underwhelming update to the MacBook line. The thing is, the Apple laptop of the future is not the MacBook Pro, it is the iPad Pro.

First, Google introduced the Chromebooks, a laptop with more or less a mobile operating system. Then Microsoft introduced Continuum, a way to plug your phone into a keyboard and monitor and turn it into an almost desktop. Then HP went one better and started selling a “lapdock” for their phone so you don’t have to find a keyboard and monitor, you can the lapdock with you.

Google is reportedly working on similar technology for Android, and it would be shocking if Apple were not also working on something. The problem for Apple is that they still need to sell proper laptops (and desktops) with their proper desktop operating system macOS because the mobile iOS is not quite ready to do all of the things that a desktop operating system would do. But I am sure that once the mobile operating system has improved enough, they will encourage all of their desktop users to migrate and provide great hardware to help them make the move. Why support two operating systems?

Meanwhile Microsoft is going the opposite direction. It has been doing, and redoing, mobile versions of its Windows operating system for the past decade and none of them have succeeded. So Microsoft is betting big that the mobile hardware will improve enough to let its flagship desktop operating system run on mobile devices with few modifications. From the recent reports about Windows on ARM, they are less than 12 months away from this.

At the end of the day, both Apple and Microsoft will have robust, touch enabled operating systems that work across all manner of devices, one with mobile roots and one with a desktop lineage.

Which approach will win? Well, the advantage of a mobile OS is small footprint and low power consumption. But if the hardware advances to let a desktop OS do the same, then why wouldn’t you want the extra horsepower if it really did not cost that much?

On the other hand, the app ecosystem has been very successful for Apple. Looking forward, one will have to consider future ecosystem needs such as virtual and augmented reality, automobile integration and cloud services. Right now, Microsoft seems to be ahead in these, but who knows what Apple and Google have planned?

Space’s Roadside Service

There are a lot of different commercial reasons reasons for sending people into space. Tourism is one. Private research on space stations is another. But one of the biggest potential money makers is hardly ever talked about: satellite repair and upgrading.

Even if the cost of lifting satellites into orbit is dramatically lowered by companies like SpaceX, the machines themselves cost hundreds of millions of dollars. It is far less expensive to upgrade or repair a satellite than to build a new one. And the ‘reduced cost’ launches of the future will still run in the tens millions.

Right now, satellites are not really engineered to be upgraded and serviced. But they will be. Expect to see teams sent into space or even based there whose primary mission is servicing satellites.Think “Sparky’s Sat Service Station.”

Some satellites in geosynchronous orbits are hard to get to. But they will be engineered to use their last bits of fuel to lower their orbits to where they can be captured and serviced. Or a small robot rocket would go get them and bring them in for servicing – a space based tow truck. Their components will be upgraded or repaired and they will be refueled and placed back in service, extending their lives by years.

This will also drive standardization of certain components, particularly around fuel and propulsion. For example, new satellites might come with a standardized mount for a small aftermarket rocket motor that could be attached to them to help them get back into position faster and bring them down for their next service. Sending 10 of these motors or their fuel into space would be far cheaper than 1 new satellite.

Astronauts get all the glory, but pretty soon space mechanics may be much more valued.

 

The Self-Driving Future: Part 3

Did you save some money by not buying that self-driving car? Not so fast. You’re gonna pay that money and more in the long run.

First, your insurance premiums will eventually be higher because the insurance companies know that manual drivers are not as safe as computer drivers, and anyway, the only people  who want to drive manually are the Fast and Furious wannbees who are more likely to get into accidents.

Secondly, you’ll pay more in gas, because the computer will drive the car more efficiently than you ever can.

Thirdly, you’ll pay more tolls. Let’s say that a lane of highway has a capacity of 1,500 passengers cars per hour. But if all of those cars are in self driving mode they will be able to safely follow each other a little closer and do less rubbernecking, etc. The capacity might increase by 25% to 1,875 cars per hour. On a four lane highway, that adds a whole  lane of capacity.

Highways are very expensive to build. If more capacity is needed, it would be way cheaper to fit more cars on the road by encouraging  people to let their cars drive themselves. At the beginning there will be dedicated lanes for this. Then self driving will become the norm, and there will be dedicated lanes for manual drivers. Finally, on congested roads, they will start charging extra tolls to drive manually.

So all of the out of work body shop workers and auto mechanics that cannot afford the new self driving cars will have to pay a bit more money to commute to their new job at the recycling plant 100 km away.