Why a speed-loving techie loves slow-moving train travel

Amtrak engine.


The first mountain I ever saw was through the window of a train. I was young, though I don’t remember exactly how young. My family took Amtrak heading west out of Illinois to visit relatives. I peered out as my mother patiently explained that the craggy, pointed thing in the distance was called a mountain. It was quite the sight for a child used to mildly rolling hills and flat corn fields.

I grew up in a railroad town, Galesburg, Ill., my brother and me waving at the man in the caboose as the freights rocked down the tracks. I still love trains. I’m writing this from New York City. I got here from Albuquerque the long way, by Amtrak, by way of Chicago. It’s three days and two nights on a train, sleeping tucked into coach class like a human accordion.

I, too, want faster. I just traded in my Moto G for a more powerful Moto X. I lust after the latest laptop processors and curse my DSL connection when it crawls. I like to watch speedy cars zip around tracks and human beings sprint quicker than ever before in the Olympics. When it comes to travel, however, my desire for speed dwindles. I don’t want to get there yesterday; I want to devour the landscape and revel in the chaos, decay and beauty of this country. I want to go by train.

This latest journey brought me pronghorn antelope, frozen against the golden scrapes of grass in the high plains of New Mexico. Magpies fell from trees, eyes set on some shiny bauble on the ground. Deer dashed away through forest thickets. Century-old factories built from bricks and pride collapsed slowly into themselves, victims of neglect, loneliness and a loss of purpose.

Happy hour on the Southwest Chief, Amtrak’s train from Los Angeles to Chicago, consisted of a strange beverage called a BuzzBallz, a potent margarita-like concoction served in a round, green plastic container. I sipped this in the conversational company of an electrician, an ER doctor and a hoop-dancing performance artist as the blank canvas of southeastern Colorado faded into an orange-flecked dusk. This is not the sort of experience you get while flashing along in an airplane, mere hours from your destination.

The US national rail service began operations in 1971 and currently covers around 21,300 miles on its routes. As much as I would love to idealize train travel as a romantic, throwback way to rove, it does come with its compromises. Sleeper cars are highly expensive, leaving the budget-minded to curl up in coach seats in cars that are often set to either “freeze” or “broil.” The friendly attendants no longer offer you a little white pillow with which to while away the night. You can, however, buy one along with a thin blanket for $8 in the lounge car.

I got into a discussion with my husband about the old factories and warehouses of America’s past. They are so beautiful — aesthetic and practical jewels of industry gilded with copper and statues. Red-brick palaces of work and creation. Today, warehouses are thrown together with metal siding and no sense of artistry or elegance. Why were the buildings of a century ago so handsome while so many modern ones have all the charm of a shoebox?

My husband’s theory hinges on how the companies and workmen of yore wanted to be proud of the structures they built, and to display their skill at construction. Corporations of today just want what behooves the bottom line. It’s the actions of entities versus the labors of people. Corporations demand profit. People demand beauty.

So it was that three days after I boarded the Southwest Chief (later transferring to the Lake Shore Limited), I arrived in New York’s Penn Station with a crick in my neck and my mind rolling with fog-soaked forest landscapes, old cars rusting into the dirt in ravines, bison laying in shaggy piles and rusted railroad bridges weeping red iron from their rivets. Demand beauty. Take the train.

Apple Watch may have shipped to only 22% of US preorder buyers so far




Among US Apple Watch customers who preordered the wearable device, only a small number have so far received one, according to data from research firm Slice Intelli

In a blog post published Sunday, Slice broke down its numbers for Apple Watch preorders and shipments thus far. Two weeks ago, the firm estimated that Apple Watch preorders had hit 1 million in the US. Since then, that number appears to have risen to 1.7 million. Among the first batch of shipments, only 376,000 of people who preordered the watch as of April 10 have received it following its official launch last Friday, according to Slice.

Apple often faces issues of demand outstripping supply when it rolls out a new product. And that’s no different with the Apple Watch. Earlier this month, Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president of retail and online stores, acknowledged that “strong customer demand will exceed our supply at launch.” But the Apple Watch is not just a new product; it’s a brand new category with its own unique parts and components. It also represents a different type of retail experience for Apple and its customers.

Instead of offering the watch for immediate sale at its stores, Apple is allowing only in-store and online orders. That means you can’t just walk into an Apple Store and walk out with the watch. You have to make a reservation at a store if you wish to check out the watch in person. And then if want one, you can order it through the store or through Apple’s website or Apple Store app.

However, you can also bypass Apple altogether. Some luxury stores around the world are offering the watch for in-store sale. One CNET reader said she was able to purchase the watch at the Dover Street Market in London after waiting just one hour in line.

So when will the watch reach others who have preordered it? An additional 547,000 watches are scheduled to ship between April 27 and June 11, according to Slice. But around 647,000 buyers, or 38 percent of those who preordered, are still waiting to receive notification as to a delivery date. Apple’s website currently shows a ship date of June for those who order the watch now.

The Apple Watch is available in three different flavors — the entry-level Sport version, the midlevel Apple Watch and the luxury Apple Watch Edition. The Sport version starts at $349, the Apple Watch at $549 and the Apple Watch Edition at $10,000.

Slice bases its numbers of shipping notifications sent to the firm’s panel of 2 million online consumers in the US.

Apple did not immediately respond to CNET’s request for comment

Google Working on Next-Generation Lithium-Ion and Solid-State Batteries

Google X research lab scientists are reportedly working on next-generation lithium-ion and solid-state battery technologies for consumer electronics. The company is said to have at least 20 battery-dependent projects under works that will have applications for the new technologies.According to a Wall Street Journal report on Friday, a small four member team of theGoogle X research lab led by former Apple battery expert Dr. Ramesh Bhardwaj had started testing batteries manufactured by others in 2012. But later in 2013, the group expanded to look at battery technologies that Google might develop itself.

The team at present is reportedly working to advance current lithium-ion technology and the cutting-edge solid-state batteries for consumer devices, such as Google Glassand Google’s glucose-measuring contact lens.

As per the WSJ report, Dr. Bhardwaj has told industry executives that Google has at least several battery-dependent projects in the works. During a presentation to an industry conference in February, Dr. Bhardwaj described how solid-state, thin-film batteries could be used in smartphones and other mobile devices that are thinner, bendable, wearable and even implantable in the human body, adds the report.

In addition to Dr. Bhardwaj’s team, Google reportedly has other teams working with Chicago-based AllCell Technologies LLC on more potent lithium-ion batteries for four hardware projects, including Project Loon.

Google’s Project Loon is an effort to beam Internet signals from high-altitude balloons. A video of the project from late 2013 shows Google engineers bundling All Cell batteries into the system’s power pack.

Hyundai Aims to Have Autonomous Driving Tech on Market in 2020


Hyundai Motor Co on Tuesday said it aims to commercialize autonomous driving capabilities in some of its cars in 2020, as the South Korean automaker plays catch-up in the increasingly competitive technology.

Car makers such as Mercedes and General Motors Co as well as technology giants like Google Inc and Apple Inc are already developing driver less vehicles which can complete whole journeys without human input.

But some analysts expect self-driving cars will not appear on global markets until the early- or mid-2020s, partly due to regulatory hurdles.

Hyundai Motor, like other automakers, already has autonomous features in premium vehicles like the Genesis, which can be programmed to hit the brakes when a pedestrian steps out.