Apple’s Sales, Astronomically Speaking

Apple recently announced its results for the three months ended June 25. More than $7 billion in net income for the quarter — not bad. I’ve been thinking about the massive scale of our aggregate consumption, though, so a couple of other numbers were more interesting.

The company sold 9.25 million iPad 2’s in the quarter. And 20.34 million iPhones.

The iPad is 0.34 inches thick. So if you stacked up the sales from that single quarter, you would have a 49.64 mile-high column of iPads. NASA awards astronaut wings to those who fly 50 miles up or higher.

The iPhone 4 is 0.37 inches thick, so their stack would climb to an altitude of about 119 miles. Mount Everest tops out at 5.5 miles above sea level.

The lesson? A sliver (in this case, a very sexy, high-tech sliver) of consumption for man is, on the whole, an astronomical use of resources for mankind.

False crisis turned real, Republican born and bred

When the 2012 presidential election season rolls around and the Republicans try to blame the Democrats for the Great American Credit Default (or near-default, if we’re lucky), remember:

  • The notion that the House bill, rejected by the Senate in a short two hours tonight (with six Republicans and both independents joining all democrats), was a good-faith effort in governance — is a joke. House Speaker John Boehner was asked to bring a main to the national potluck, showed up with a wheelbarrow full of horse manure (sprinkled with Tea Party batshit) and acted surprised when it didn’t pass the even the sniff test. And then he pens a ludicrous op-ed claiming victory like Napoleon on his return from Russia. The “arrogance” of Washington he decries is almost entirely manufactured by the intransigent loon teabag faction of his own party. We have a legislative branch entirely co-opted by the insane right — the sort of faction that would have three seats in the bleachers of a reasonable multiparty government.
  • The most insane part of the Boenhead bill, besides its obvious political motivation with the pre-2012 election deadline, is the nutty demand for a balanced-budget constitutional amendment. Come on out to Colorado, teabaggers, and see what rigid constitutional amendments to government purse strings get you. It’s called TABOR, perpetrated by a reporter-kicking, tax-evading Republican named Douglas Bruce, and it’s a disaster. Hell yes, we need to balance budgets, but it has to be done by human beings and in context, not mandated by mindless, rigid policy.
  • The cuts being thrown together now are going to hurt. Environmental and energy programs, programs to assist the poor, students –a trillion or so in discretionary spending, which is some 35 percent of the federal spending pie, but everything most of us associate with the federal government — the National Weather Service, the FBI, federal research labs, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation (which pays for research that leads to innovative products), the State Department (yes, despite the media being ridiculously focused on the debt talks, the rest of the world continues to exist) and so on.
  • The Republican zeal to pare back government should be met with extreme skepticism by anyone who is not very wealthy. That’s because so much of government spending goes straight back to the people in the form of health care and retirement benefits. A helluva lot of the rest flows back to the private sector to build everything from battleships to spacecraft. The term “government” is a very slippery one indeed.
  • The Republicans are causing all this grief for one of two reasons, or some combination of the two. The first is a religious, ideological zeal against raising taxes, despite their boy Ronald Reagan having raised them 11 times. Because Reagan, while an idealogue, was also a pragmatist. Now, I don’t like paying taxes, either, but I do like living in a reasonably safe, civil society, and taxes are why we have that.
  • The second is a total disregard for the good of the many to preserve the interests of the few and well-heeled. The Republican party, as it exists in 2011, deserves the votes of the top 2 percent of earners, no question. Why the rest would be foolish enough to support them is a product of voters declining to engage their minds and superior electioneering/political skills of the American right.

Post Palm Pre Post

I dig technology, but tend to be a late adopter. One of the few exceptions was in June 2009, when I was quick to jump on the Palm Pre. The iPhone Killer. Sprint’s first real smartphone. It was a revelation, the device.

Just look at that baby. The Sprint Palm Pre, circa 2009.

Slide-out keyboard, cards you could swish into the great beyond with a flick of a thumb, wirelessly synced contacts, the Web at your beckon, Google maps when lost, Asphalt 5… The closest experience I can recall was my introduction to the first Macintosh as a teen in 1984. Just an entirely new approach to technology.

The Pre borrowed heavily from the iPhone, of course, to the point that iTunes, until Apple sued Palm, thought it was an iSomething. I’d been a palm user since the late 1990s, starting with the Palm V. Also had used Sprint for years. So it made sense.

I was happy for a year, year and a half. But a sliding keyboard is a big-time moving part, and moving parts weaken and break. The mobile computing was going fine, but calls started crackling. Still, I waited for the next Palm. Though it would have to be an HP product.

See, Palm’s big gamble with the Pre bombed. They botched the release marketing, didn’t get the SDK out to developers fast enough, and apparently didn’t see Android coming, either. Before the company cratered entirely, HP bought them, valuing Palm’s only true asset, the WebOS running on the Pre, for $1.2 billion.

HP announced their new WebOS hardware in February, a couple of phones (the HP Pre 3, the Veer) and a tablet, but the summer arrival of the phones (the tablet is here) was delayed, and Sprint has been silent.

Two years passed. My brother, an iPhone user, took to saying, Is that a Palm Pre? Whenever the device emerged. I’d dropped it while jogging, so the screen was all scratched up. Call quality got worse. The thing seemed to be slowing down, somehow. I’d bought a few apps — the most important of which was an electronic wallet called jVault, in which I’d put a zillion passwords, which I’d have to port over manually to whatever new app I found on whatever new phone I bought.

I surfed forums of pathetic Pre owners such as myself. But the switching costs were low enough that I bailed.

Spent $200 on the Google Nexus S.

The Google Nexus S, circa now

Am using the free and excellent KeePass for my electronic wallet. Bought Asphalt 6. There are 225,000 vs. 5,800 apps. Android Gingerbread 2.3.4 isn’t as elegant as WebOS. I miss the manual keypad (though not the sliding-out part). It’s not revelational. It doesn’t, as Foreigner sings, Feel Like the Very First Time. Nothing ever does.

But the hardware is way fast, it’s a lovely device, and Android is good enough that I don’t miss the Palm offering at all.

Given Android’s and the iPhone’s momentum, it’s hard to see how HP will ever sell phones. They’re apparently toying with licensing the technology. But this whole episode is starting to remind of the Dvorak keyboard, Beta videotape standard sort of thing. The quality of the OS is higher, but Palm/HP’s dithering has lost the market. Palm Pre, we hardly knew ye.

On a positive note, for those tens — if not hundreds — of Palm Pre users who remain, when you switch phones, you can turn on WiFi in airplane mode and the device is a great little MP3 player/video game machine/web/e-mail client for young children. You may as well: Sprint is buying them back for all of $9.

Health care rationing is good

For a reminder of the big picture issue in health care, former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm’s Sunday opinion piece in the Denver Post is well worth a look. Lamm has been writing about this issue since the mid-1990s, and federal deficit and spiraling costs have moved events increasingly into his philosophical sights.

The piece argues that we already ration health care (“Your health insurance contract is a rationing document setting terms of coverage”), and that, given the conflicting directions of cost curves and budgetary reality, we have no choice but to face some very difficult decisions. Lamm reminds us that federal health care costs now exceed Social Security costs, and that Medicare and Medicaid tabs amount to more than triple the federal defense budget, with no signs of slowing.

For all the talk of resurgent family medicine, the creation of medical homes, and the use of electronic medical records to avoid redundancy/foolishness in care, the monumental cost of end-of-life care is an issue we can no longer skirt. Health care is ultimately a zero-sum game, with a finite basket of resources already inadequate to cover 51 million insured in this country. Whether by “death panel” or a simple refusal by insurers, public or private, to pour tens of thousands of dollars into services that extend a patient’s life for a month or two, change has to happen, and we should support it.