You can’t learn some things from the Internet…

The Internet is awesome. For instance, this morning I found a link to this amazing Nixie Tube clock, which uses neon bulbs (no transistors or ICs) as the logical elements (clocks are really just fancy counters). I think I might have seen that neon bulbs could be used as logical elements (Alan Yates? Did you tell me about this) but it had slipped my mind.



Very, very cool. Seems to me this kind of logic could have been implemented in the Victorian era. If you need some bonus links, you can try this link, which includes circuit diagrams or Ronald’s page on ring counters, or even a link to Dance’s Electronic Counting Circuits. Clearly, the internet can be very useful.

But it can be really, really annoying too.

In the week, Apple released a couple of new iPhones (the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus). The early reports were that they were astoundingly good sellers: Apple sold 10 million units over the launch weekend.

There were two things that marred this performance. The first was the 8.0.1 update. It turns out that the first update that Apple pushed out to consumers was terrible, and disabled access to the cell network on phones. This update was only available for a few hours before Apple pulled it, but it made people grumpy. The 8.0.2 update followed shortly, which seems better, but there is a lot of general grumbling (some of it from my missus) about stability, particularly with Facebook. As irritating as this can be, there seems to be little doubt that some future updates will get things sorted out, and all will be well.

The bigger issue was bendgate. Some people reported that they had put an iPhone 6 in their back pocket, and later discovered it was bent. As a consumer, I’m pretty shocked. One thing that I like about Apple is make fairly robust phones. My 2 year old iPhone 5 hasn’t got a scratch on it. I’ve had numerous iPhones, and never had any complaints about physical robustness. But hey, the videos don’t lie…

Or do they?

The problem is that it’s actually impossible for us to figure out how significant the problem is by reading stuff on the Internet. Take for instance this “informative” video:



That looks pretty bad, right? Lots of people apparently claimed it was rigged, so he followed up with this:



Shocking!

But here’s the thing. On release, you’ll find people doing all sorts of things to iPhones, like hurl them at the ground and put them in blenders. The reason they do so is that they can make money by doing this kind of thing. If you can get 45 million hits (as Unbox Therapy did for their first video) you can easily buy all the phones you want and torture them in different ways. And, because the “bend” issue was already the wind, with large communities of individuals irrationally supporting Apple or its opposition, YouTubers are strongly incentivized to toss more fuel on the flame. After all, if youo had a video called “Apple iPhone seems sturdy, hard to bend.” I doubt it will get a lot of clicks.

Of course Apple has responded to say that only 9 bent phones have been returned, and had a bunch of the press tour their “we torture test our iPhone” labs. This too, actually doesn’t help. Apple is notorious for carefully crafting relationships with the press, and it seems unlikely that they would have invited the truly cynical to view the process and ask questions. Indeed, the press in this case seemed to be lobbing softballs at Apple, and didn’t actually ask any interesting questions.

The best information released to day is probably from Consumer Reports. They seemed do a pretty good scientific test. But I must admit: I’m not super happy with this testing either. Their three point testing was centered on the back of the iPhone, when it seems pretty clear from most of the other images of “bent” iPhones that there seems to be some weakness up near the buttons toward the top. It seems to me that changing where force is applied might change the results you get.

In the end, it seems virtually impossible to figure out much useful about the bendability of iPhones. I went and handled one at the Apple Store. It seemed reasonably sturdy. I’m not going to make money by mangling a phone, so I didn’t try. By the time my upgrade cycle comes around next year, there will likely be some additional data when the furor has died down (and IOS 8 will probably be stable). But it seems unfortunate to me that with all the ability to exchange information, I’ve only increased my anxiety over this purchase, not decreased it.

It would seem the Internet is only good at finding information that nobody cares about.

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