Turning a page
We are just days away from the Presidential Inauguration of Joe Biden, the 46th President of the United States. He could not be more different than the departing President and while I could spend many newsletters talking about Trump’s faults, I think it’s time to look forward.
I got a tiny glimpse into that policy future during the all-digital CES when CTA President Gary Shapiro held a fascinating discussion
with Biden’s incoming National Economic Council directory Brian Deese. A former Obama administration official, Deese now has, depending on how Biden positions it, a cabinet-level position and the ear of the new president on critical economic matters.
During the chat, Deese reiterated some of Biden’s campaign promises, including a return to the Paris Climate Accord, but I paid special attention to tech policy matters.
Deese told Shapiro they want to help train the next generation of Americans with a wide range of skills with apprenticeships that can start as early as just after secondary school. This is an indication that the focus, though, is not primarily on knowledge workers, but on a wider range of skills. It’s worth noting that virtually all manual labor and trades have a technical element. I think the signal here is that the Biden Admin gets that.
As I’ve written before, the question of tech competition and monopolies is not a right or left issue. Both parties have their issues with major tech companies. Deese appeared to straddle both sides of the issue, telling Shapiro that a level playing field is crucial to a healthy economy. But he added that the Biden Administration still wants to invest in “underlying drivers of innovation.” Then Deese seesawed again, noting that tech companies must address the real and persistent challenges.
Ultimately on tech regulation, Deese said Biden’s guiding star, even on this issue, will be “what is going to be good for the economy. His metric for economic health is whether the middle class is going to have economic dignity and achieve their economic objectives.”
I would not go so far as to say that the incoming Biden Administration is going to be good for the tech industry, but it sounds like they’ll bring a welcome level of clarity to tech initiatives and policymaking.
Samsung Turns over 21
Samsung rolled out its new Galaxy S21 line last week
, including a huge, 6.8-inch S21 Ultra. The 5G devices are packed with new features and have a decidedly new look, shifting the camera array to one side on putting it in what Samsung called a Contour Cut.
Inside the phone feature Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 888, a 5-nanometer mobile CPU that promises power and efficiency. The latter is important for 5G phones promising all-day battery life.
Samsung lavished the new cameras with attention. The base S21 has three cameras, including a 64 MP 3X zoom lens. It even shoots 8K video, though, I don’t know if it’s continuous 8K shooting.
The S21 Ultra has five cameras on its back, including a 108MP wide and a Laser for autofocusing. To offer 10X optical zoom, Samsung did a double fold on the lens, basically giving it the length it needs to achieve a remarkable level of zoom in a mobile device. It also supports Samsung’s S Pen (there are now two versions).
Are these phones better than Apple’s iPhone 12 line? In some cases, they clearly have better specs, but there’s really no way to know without testing them.
Don’t dig it
Mars is a curious planet. It looks dry and dusty but hides multitudes underneath its red surface. NASA has put more than a few rovers on it and learned a lot about the terrain, but efforts to learn what lies beneath haven’t gone so smoothly.
A probe deployed by NASA’s Mars Insight Lander two years ago failed to dig 16 feet into the surface of Mars. In fact, it managed to dig just a little more than a foot before getting stuck
. Now NASA is reluctantly giving up on its "mole.”
It wasn’t a total failure. NASA learned a lot from the mole that couldn’t. Maybe their next digger will have more luck.
The all-digital CES was just as interesting and challenging as I expected. I wrote a bit about it here.
People have asked me how to improve such virtual events and I’m not sure. Aside from donning VR headsets and haptic gloves, I don’t know how to recreate that visceral, in-person feeling. I must assume that there’s a middle ground between the remote, sitting in your home office version, and the full-body digital immersion event.
I’m seriously considering moving this newsletter to Substack. I may even write about that there, check on the feedback, and get back to you. If I do, I’ll make sure to take you all with me.