J’ai acheté un chapeau USB

bonnet en fourrure polaire noire avec des bordure jaune fluo et une lumière rouge visible

Durant mon dernier séjour aux États-Unis, j’ai acheté un chapeau USB. Techniquement, il faudrait plutôt parler de bonnet USB mais la langue française ne semble pas avoir d’équivalent exact pour le terme beanie, je trouve que chapeau donne un meilleur titre (quelqu’un a proposé calotte, mais ça me semble trop formel).

Le standard USB est apparu en 1996, soit il y a 17 ans. À l’époque, si on m’avait dit que j’aurais un bonnet avec un câble de ce type, j’aurais été très perplexe, surtout que cette connectique n’est pas utilisée pour transmettre des données, le rôle premier du standard USB, à la place elle est utilisée comme source de courant 5 volts.

Durant ce laps de temps, deux choses se sont passées, d’une part USB est devenu un standard de-facto pour des prises à bas voltage, de l’autre les batteries rechargeables sont devenues suffisamment compacts pour être logées dans un bonnet, ce qui me donne un bon moyen d’avoir des phares de vélo sur la tête, et un objet qu’il m’était impossible de ne pas acheter.

L’avantage de ce système c’est que je peux à présent recharger mon bonnet sur n’importe quel appareil doté d’une prise USB, ordinateur, naturellement, mais aussi télévision, imprimante, ou simplement un transformateur doté de la prise idoine.

De fait, charger un bonnet sur un ordinateur peut-être quelque chose de risqué quand on ne sait pas d’où il sort. Il est parfaitement possible de mettre dans le bonnet une puce hostile qui tente de pirater l’ordinateur auquel on le connecte. L’idée qu’un chapeau USB puisse pirater mon ordinateur peut sembler saugrenue, mais nous vivons dans un monde où les bouilloires et les fers à repasser tentent de pirater votre réseau local.

Le XXe siècle nous a amené les objets anonymes, fabriqués dieu sait où, la distance nous affranchissant de la respectabilité morale de leur origine. Aujourd’hui, une question plus pragmatique se greffe sur la question morale: on ne sait pas d’où viennent ces objets, et à cause de cela, ils peuvent très bien être hostiles. Une personne responsable ne saurait porter un chapeau dont elle ne connaît l’origine…

Flag of the USA in front of a blue sky

Portrait of the twentieth century…

One of the tedious aspects of travelling to the USA is immigration check; even though I have a machine readable passport, all my travel data has been collected by the airline company and transmitted to the US authorities, and I have a valid ETSA, which is a visa in all but name, it is quite common for me to wait an hour at immigration.

Someone realised that this captive audience is perfect for some propaganda, so there are always multiple screens playing Welcome: Portraits of America, a movie that presents a sequence of clichés that supposedly depict the people in the US. The main problem of this movie is that it way too short: around 5 minutes. Disney, who donated that movie, should have taken into account the average waiting time in the lines, a longer movie is way better than one that is seen twelve times, after the 10th time, the welcomes at the end seem less sincere…

What I find interesting in this movie, is that this image of the US is basically stuck somewhere in the twentieth century: the most modern element of the whole movie is the space shuttle taking off. What kind of country presents images of a space program of the 80s which has in the meantime been abandoned? Other technological elements in the movie seem to be straight out of the 50s, early on, there is a yellow school bus, then there is a classical, long nosed truck, then there is an old looking tractor, and at the end of the movie, there is a bunch of bikers on old school motor-bikes. There are also some horse riding cowboys and the Canadian view of the Niagara falls…

I know this movie is supposed to depict people, but they are presented in what is allegedly their environnement, and if that movie is the reference, then people in the US live somewhere between the 50s and the 80s.

Unlocked luggage…

Notice of Inspection

When I unpackaged my luggage, coming back from California, I found a crumpled bit of paper in my luggage: a notification of inspection (NOI) by private company Covenant Aviation Security working on behalf of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The paper tells me the obvious thing: somebody went over my luggage, there is a scribble that specifies the number of the screener 6541, my flight number (in case I took the wrong plane, I suppose), a stamp on the back marks the place and the date. The paper goes on to specify that if prohibited items were present, they were turned over to the appropriate authorities. So they might or might not have removed something from the bag. Hard to tell. But if they did, I better not complain, because the stuff was, by definition, prohibited.

The paper contains a web-site reference and a toll-free US phone number, which is kind of ironic for a service that screen people leaving the US. They also claim their web-site offers packing advice, which is not really true, it redirects to the page of packing on the TSA’s website. It would have been cool to put the QR-code of the web-site for easy lookup…

The paper also mentions the obvious, if your luggage was locked with something else than a TSA recognised lock, that something is now probably broken. I always considered the locking of luggage a mixed bag, it vaguely makes sense on a rigid suitcase, but most locks look like they could be forced open with a simple screwdriver. TSA-accepted locks have the additional weakness that they can be opened by the members of a 55000 employee organisation, plus the various corporations it outsourced work to, which is not a very restricted club…

Après Schampooing – the accent is wrong of course

A modest proposal for US marketing…

Bottle of conditioner labelled 'Aprés Schampooing' where it should be

One fascinating aspect of US society is its relationship with the French language: while people who can actually speak French are pretty rare, there are a lot of french words and expressions. Either marketing people are trying to sell their wares in Canada or they are trying to add a certain je ne sais quoi to up the cachet of their product or the image of their restaurant. Bottom line: it’s full of French.

The problem is: French is full of accents, and while people from the US seem to grasp the idea that there are thingies on top of certains letters on certains word, they have a hard time figuring-out which of the thingies to put, as french has four of them (é, è, ê, ë) they usually get mangled. Which looks horrible if you know a bit of French.

The truth is, getting those accents right is hard, I had to learn this in school and it was not really fun, so I would suggest marketing and those who write menus in fancy restaurant use the same technique I used then: fake-it. To be honest, eventually my teachers found out about my ruse, but we are talking about the general public so it should be fine.

The secret technique is to replace all accents with a macron, i.e. a flat bar, e.g. é, è, ê, ë all become ē. This is, of course incorrect, but it can pass for a graphist’s fancy, in particular if you use a sans-serif font like Helvetica, and in today’s world it is much better to look like an arrogant designer than somebody who does not know french…

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The day Bluetooth worked…

Bluetooth Logo

A long time ago, I remember reading an article discussing the advent of broadband, and which technology would dominate: DSL or Cable. The author of the article made an interesting point, technically, cable was better, as a coax cable can carry way more data than a phone cable, yet he predicted that DSL would dominate.

His reasoning was that telecom companies had decades to do any possible mistakes and stupid designs for data transmissions, while the cable companies were new at this. His prediction turned out pretty true, at home I have a DSL connection, and they are pretty common. Optical fibre, which is technically the best data carrier, is still the exception.

People working in software tend to underestimate the amount of time and work to get a new N to N system working in the field. Writing good specifications is very hard, and it takes multiple iterations to get all the implementations to work nicely together and to clean up all edge cases. This is why data formats and network protocols tend to live much longer that software.

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Recently I used the same argument to explain why NFC would not work well for a few years, and certainly not supplant Bluetooth. Bluetooth is now 15 years old, so people have plenty of experience about bad drivers and complicated compatibility issues. This also means that Bluetooth now works: I regularly use Bluetooth HID devices (mice and keyboards), Bluetooth internet tethering on my on-call phone, my iPhone syncs with the stereo system of rental cars and external speakers just work. In contrast, NFC as only been deployed in closed loop systems: public transport tickets mostly, where there is a limited number of suppliers and a single entity overseeing the deployment.

In a sense NFC is not competing with Bluetooth, but with barcodes: most of the contact-less data transmission that I have used these days does not involve radio-signals, but an mobile phone app displaying a QR code to a scanner. Again, this is way less efficient than transmitting a radio-signal, but QR codes are a mature technology that have been deployed widely since the nineties.

Thor – The Dark World

thor-the-dark-world

This was a very rainy autumn sunday, so I went to see Thor – The Dark World at the cinema. Believe it or not, this was the first time I saw a movie in 3D, I had somehow managed to escape this new trend for ages, I also don’t go often to the cinema. I had seen the first Thor movie and found it fun, and I had also liked , so I went into the cinema with reasonably good expectations.

On the positive side, I found the visuals and the costumes of Asgard gorgeous, this movie has given that place more depth than any of the preceding one of the Marvel franchise. It is really a shame that this beauty was sabotaged by the 3D. Basically my position relative to the 3D oscillated between two modes: not noticing it, and noticing it. When I was not noticing it, well it was fine, put pointless, because I was immersed in the story, like in a ordinary 2D movie. When I was noticing, this felt either like a trick, which distracted me from the story. The worst was when the 3D camera plays around with the focus, this felt like somebody was trying to f💣k around with my eyes. I really hate that, in particular when I’m supposed to admire some panorama.

Title Thor – The Dark World
Director Alan Taylor

I found that the movie took ages to get started, with a lot of needless plot exposition, it took half the movie to get the whole story moving, to say that the plot is classical is an understatement (spoiler): dark elves want to destroy the world using a magical thingy. We get the tension between Thor, his father, his mother and Loki, again, nothing ground-breaking. Nathalie Portman’s character plays a very secondary role which I felt was a shame given how fun the character was in the first movie, and this time, she is possessed by the evil magical thing, and… nothing. Tchaikovsky’s Black Swan is darker that the magic thingy. Very disappointing.

The end of the movie confirmed my problem with : the Marvel franchise went to great length to introduce some common elements between the movies of the franchise in the form of SHIELD. In this movie, again, this organisation does nothing, even though one of the physicists of the previous Thor incident runs around naked, there are perturbations in the space time-continuum and spaceships ripping out bits of London. The francise is just an excuse for some stupid cameos.

Clearly Alan Taylor is neither Kenneth Branagh nor Joss Whedon, and the result shows, Marvel’s accountant have just given out this part of the franchise to some random Hollywood director, and the result reflects this.