Category Archives: Engineering

Let’s Check In on the State of iPhone and Android CPU Performance

John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

Because it’s not just that Apple’s new $400 iPhone SE offers faster performance than any Android phone money can buy, but that the two-and-a-half-year-old iPhone 8 has better single-threaded performance than any Android phone today — and the iPhone 8 was the phone Apple discontinued for the new $400 iPhone SE. Apple discontinued an iPhone that, if it were an Android phone, would be the fastest in single-threaded performance on the market today.

And on the flip side, what do you get for $400 in Androidtown? Amazon sells the Motorola Moto Z4 for $500. Let’s just spot the Android side $100. The Moto Z4’s single-threaded Geekbench 5 score is about 500. That falls short of an iPhone 6S, a phone from 2015…

What makes our actual situation unprecedented in personal computing history isn’t that one company has maintained a decade-long CPU performance edge over the rest of the industry, but that that one company is keeping those chips exclusively for its own devices.

Seems like The Cook Doctrine is continuing to pay off.

The Most Poisonous Mushroom

Craig Childs, for The Atlantic:

“Poisonous snakes, reptiles, plants, [and] fish have aposematic coloration that shows off that they are poisonous. Mushrooms don’t,” Bunyard said. “The dangerous ones are all mostly drab or brown, green-brown, bronze. There’s nothing in the taste that tells you what you are eating is about to kill you.”

Why Mitch McConnell Wants States to Go Bankrupt

David Frum, in The Atlantic:

If a Republican Senate majority leader from Kentucky is willing to squeeze Illinois state pensioners, why would he care about shielding Illinois state taxpayers? The answer is found in the third of the three facts of American fiscal federalism. United States senators from smaller, poorer red states do not only represent their states. Often, they do not even primarily represent their states. They represent, more often, the richest people in bigger, richer blue States who find it more economical to invest in less expensive small-state races…

A federal bankruptcy process for state finances could thus enable wealthy individuals and interest groups in rich states to leverage their clout in the anti-majoritarian federal system to reverse political defeats in the more majoritarian political systems of big, rich states like California, New York, and Illinois.

…McConnell seems to be following the rule “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” He’s realistic enough to recognize that the pandemic probably means the end not only of the Trump presidency, but of his own majority leadership. He’s got until January to refashion the federal government in ways that will constrain his successors. That’s what the state-bankruptcy plan is all about.

The 20 Best TV Dramas Since ‘The Sopranos’

And speaking of the New York Times, here’s another article I enjoyed this week. While I haven’t seen all these shows, ‘Lost’ had such a significant impact on my opinion of what a modern TV drama should be. To this day, the writing and execution continue to amaze me. The interview from Damon Lindeloff was particularly close to home:

The theory that continues to drive me bonkers is the idea that they were dead the whole time. That makes no sense to me… It definitely creates some brow furrowing. But I’ve decided that on my tombstone it will say: “Here lies Damon Lindelof. He was dead the whole time.”

‘Learning Curve’ as Rick Perry Pursues a Job He Initially Misunderstood

Coral Davenport and David E. Sanger, reporting for the New York Times:

Mr. Perry, who once called for the elimination of the Energy Department, will begin the confirmation process Thursday with a hearing before the Senate Energy Committee. If approved by the Senate, he will take over from a secretary, Ernest J. Moniz, who was chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics department and directed the linear accelerator at M.I.T.’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science. Before Mr. Moniz, the job belonged to Steven Chu, a physicist who won a Nobel Prize.

For Mr. Moniz, the future of nuclear science has been a lifelong obsession; he spent his early years working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Mr. Perry studied animal husbandry and led cheers at Texas A&M University.

To say that Mr. Perry’s background and education are insufficient for the duties and responsibilities required would be a gross understatement.

The Verge: ‘Facebook takes flight’

Casey Newton, reporting for The Verge:

The path forward for Aquila isn’t totally clear, and it’s bound to encounter more bumps along the way. But Zuckerberg is resolute: billions of people who can’t access the internet deserve it. And for Facebook to achieve his long-term vision, everyone is going to need access to more bandwidth than they have today.

Sounds very humanitarian. Until you remember that Facebook makes it’s money through advertising, and can only show year-over-year growth if more users are connected to Facebook than the year before. Once you’ve hit the saturation rate for your population, the only way you can increase revenue is if you can access more population. Facebook has become so enormous, if it wants to continue to grow it’s user base, it has to literally invent the technologies needed to push internet connectivity to the rest of the planet.

Cool plane, though.

NC Senate Proposes Removal of Drinking Water Protections

Jane Porter, writing for IndyWeek:

Scientists regard vegetative buffers as the most cost-effective and fair means of controlling polluted runoff from farms and developments; the Senate budget would have them repealed and would schedule the repeal of state requirements for buffers along the Neuse River, the Tar-Pamlico River, the Catawba River on December 31, 2019— even if no alternative is in place.

“This provision isn’t a tweak, it’s a sledgehammer,” said Molly Diggins, state director of the North Carolina Sierra Club in a statement. “It is as if the Senate has forgotten how important our waterways are for tourism, recreation, and drinking water.”

It’s not that the Republican Senate has forgotten about our waterways, it’s that they just don’t care.

Autonomous Vehicles Are Coming

Cars, trucks, busses, trains, and construction equipment. What does the future hold for these machines? Autonomous navigation and control. Most people would think this technology is far into the future, but the exciting (and perhaps daunting) prospect is that the technology is here and the advantages and disadvantages of it will be a reality sooner than you might think. Continue reading

Bullet Journal

In April of last year, I decided it was time to come up with a better system of to-do’s than the sticky notes and self-emails I had been relying on. With new responsibilities at home and at work, and to-do lists piling up for all sorts of different tasks and side projects, I needed a system that would work for me to keep everything together.

Rather than invent something myself, I spent quite a bit of time researching different methods people use, and even interviewed friends and colleagues for their opinions. While interested in the idea of using something electronic (read: my iPhone), the Type-A personality in me was looking for something with check boxes that could be satisfyingly checked with a pen.

Enter the Bullet Journal. While crediting the many people that have used something similar before, Ryder Carroll presents a take on the Bullet Journal by presenting the concept through website and video tutorials. I made a concerted effort to give it a shot. I started at the beginning of April, 2014 and gave myself a few weeks to see if it would work for me. Weeks grew into months, which continued for the remainder of the year, and by December it was time to order a fresh journal for 2015.

For anyone looking for something similar, I highly recommend it. I think it’s enabled me to be much more effective at getting things done by providing an avenue to track goals for the day, week, and month. I started with the blank Moleskine Classic Large Squared and I like the flexibility this provides.

Below is a comparison picture of my 2014 journal and a new journal, showing how nine months of ink and emotion add significant thickness and weight. The outside shows it’s wear as well, but the binding is very much intact and continues to serve in an archival role on the bookshelf.

Get Started

  • Bullet Journal Tutorial
  • Moleskine Classic Large (black, hardcover, squared)
  • Pilot G2, .7mm Black (my current favorite pen)

The Road on Two Wheels

Though I haven’t written much in the past year, I’ve been logging away thoughts (engineering, and otherwise). One in particular kept resonating with me last summer when looking over some road designs: how can you design a road for all vehicles without having driven them?

Designers rarely refer to books alone, but utilize experiences that back up the numbers. You’d be hard pressed to find a transportation engineer in the United States that has never driven a car; it’s the most prominent personal transportation method here. But you might more easily find transportation engineers that have never driven a motorcycle. Or an FHWA Class 8, four-axled truck and trailer. Yet we design roads daily, sometimes with the use of simulations, sometimes with nothing more than a reference guide and our engineering judgement. But there’s a disconnect there. Last October, I aimed to remedy one part of this problem and have some fun doing it: learn how to ride a motorcycle.

The MSF Course

I highly recommend the MSF Beginner Rider Course. In three days they have you prepped to pass the DMV rider test, without having ever ridden a motorcycle. Kim and I took the course together for fun and we had a blast. Click here to find a course near you.

Road Design

Lets look at a standard road curve. While many characteristics of road design have remained for years, roadway curves changed drastically with the invention of the automobile. Super-elevated roads, for example, were inspired by cant railways, where the two rails are designed at different elevations to accommodate a “banked turn”. As a road designer, it’s easy to check the Green Book to find super-elevation guidelines, but they mean so much more with a bit of experience behind the wheel; anyone who has driven a vehicle faster than 30 miles an hour can recognize the importance of a banked turn. Superelevation can be even more important to motorcycle riders. Leaning on a motorcycle is a fantastic way to appreciate how banked turns work to your advantage and the turns reinforce the importance of getting your spirals, runoff, and runout lengths correct.

Road designers also immediately appreciate other successes and deficiencies of road design while riding a motorcycle. Adequate drainage for sheet flow during a storm, stopping and decision sight distances, pavement cross slopes, the condition of the pavement, and locations of road debris accumulation all become much more apparent. The affect of ANY road condition that could develop into a traffic safety hazard magnifies a hundred-fold, as do the consequences of a collision. Experiencing these road conditions on two wheels can be both humbling and horrifying.

For those more interested in the physics side there is a whole subject on the mechanics of bicycle and motorcycles which explains leaning and counter-steering at high speeds. These, along with the center of gravity of the bike, can be used to calculate the maximum degree of lean possible.

New Bike

You can probably see where this is going. Three months after I took the MSF course, I bought a bike and took a trip with my roommate from college. Here we are on the Blue Ridge Parkway:

Closing

Credit is rarely placed on the experiences many take for granted, so designers and engineers should always be looking for new experiences that share insight into their designs. I highly recommend the experience I’ve had, and I’ll be looking into a class on semis in the future. Perhaps a bit of time behind the wheel of a semi will lead to a better understanding of maneuverability on roads designed without trucks in mind. I encourage other road designers to do the same.

Safe Riding!