December 24, 2006

Watches, geeks, Rolex and free tuition.

Link to article, picture is a person adjusting a hairspringLink to article, picture is a person adjusting a hairspring

I dove into watches a year or so ago, and have been enjoying it ever since.

So it was with some amusement that I found this Business Week article about the Lititz Watch Technicum in Pennsylvania. It’s a free school for watchmakers and servicemen, primarily the latter. (Pardon the gender-specific pronoun, but it reflects the sad reality.)

Even more amusingly, the story was posted to Slashdot, which surprised me. Usually my two worlds of computer geek” and WIS don’t overlap.

From the article, it sounds immensely cool:

Located in the small town of Lititz, Pa., in the heart of Amish country, the Technicum is housed in a Michael Graves-designed modern stone barn. The sun-filled interior contains the school’s two classrooms, labs for waterproofing and cleaning, and a library. The stainless-steel cafeteria offers students espresso served in porcelain cups. The second floor houses a Rolex service center.

From the article, a picture of the building:


Wow, free espresso and fifty thousand dollars’ worth of free education. Although they get 1000+ applications each year for a class of 12, most apparently have jobs as soon as they graduate:

Demand is so high for skilled watchmakers that the students are almost all assured employment upon graduation. Starting salaries range from $45,000 to $55,000 a year. The 40 Lititz alumni have gone on to work for independent jewelers, as well as Breitling, Chopard, and Patek Phillipe. Rolex has hired three of the graduates. Mayer says that while the school doesn’t encourage students to go out on their own immediately, preferring that they work with an experienced watchmaker first, about 10% to 20% of the students have opted to start their own shops.

The timing of all this gets even more amusing when you realize that I’m currently wearing a Fortis Aviator (ETA 2824-2, undecorated base grade) that belongs to my neighbor. He’s got my Aviator and I’m adjusting his as a favor.

(-7 seconds in 15 hours, if you must know. I need a timing machine.)

So maybe I’m the vanguard this time, having discovered mechanical watches before the hordes of Slashdot. Somehow I doubt it, but it is damned funny.

For those of not fortunate enough to attend Lititz, check out the TimeZone online watch school. It’s an online course, where you buy parts and tools and complete the lessons at home. It gets excellent reviews in the various forums, and is probably as close as I’ll get to a real education on the subject. (If nothing else, my caffeine addiction would probably be a showstopper!)

The TZ sample lesson makes it sound pretty amusing:

Because the TZWS offers a curriculum designed largely for those who would be amateur watchmakers, it is hoped that the spirit of fun, experimentation, and learning will be maintained throughout. Our early work, on inexpensive movements, is an opportunity to make the inevitable–absolutely necessary– mistakes from which we learn. Mistakes, frustrations, and setbacks will be part of the experience and should, as nearly as possible, be expected and taken in the spirit of learning.

Watches–excluding complex pieces like repeaters, chronographs, and perpetual calendars–are actually very simple mechanical devices. They are, however, very tiny and much of our learning will be in the handling and manipulation of very Watch Bench in the Bermuda Trianglesmall parts. Half the skill of watchmaking is about simply learning how to hold very small parts while they are worked upon without damaging them or losing them. While learning, everyone will do both. The other half is probably about finding pieces once they have flown from your grasp. Every watchmaker’s bench exists within the Bermuda Triangle. There is simply nothing to do about that but come to peace with it. Parts almost never return from the Triangle. Time, practice, and patience provide dramatic improvements in the ability to handle small parts with facility. When work becomes too frustrating at some point, simply walk away from it and return when fresh and in a more recreational mood. Watches never respond to force.

In the illustration below , the author may be observed with a flashlight, magnetic pickup, and an expensive Swiss cigarette searching for very tiny parts (at the red arrows ) that he will never find. After an hour of futility, he left his horological enterprise for another day and had a Cognac instead.

parts searchparts search

So far, I have a decent book, a few tools, and am teetering on trying the TZ course. I’ve a broken Poljot pocket watch as an ideal starting problem (bigger parts = easier) and a desk that could probably double as a bench.

What the hell, it keeps me off the streets…

December 16, 2006

T-mobile coverage information

Coverage map, click for t-mobile siteCoverage map, click for t-mobile site

In posting the previous story, I searched to see if I had posted this before. Surprisingly, I hadn’t.

T-mobile has a website where you can see detailed coverage information, right down to cell tower placement and street-level detail. They are the only cell carrier to do so, and it’s one of the reasons they still have my business.

The website is You’ll quickly find that T-mobile is pretty urban, but if you can live with that I’ve been reasonably happy with them. They’ve also got the cheapest data plans ($20/month, vs $70 for Verizon).

December 16, 2006

Cell phote outages only help terrorists.

Via Farber’s IP list, the news that the FCC has a complete database of cell outages going back for years. This would be an excellent source of information for consumers deciding who to patronize, wouldn’t you think?

Well, you can’t have it. Why? Because telling you when Verizon, say, lost east bay coverage would help the terrorists.

We can’t have that! How, precisely, this helps terrorists is a trifle unclear to this humble blogger, but maybe I just don’t have the big picture.

MSNBC explains:

The same outage data that can be so useful … to identify and remedy critical vulnerabilities and make the network infrastructure stronger can, in hostile hands, be used to exploit those vulnerabilities to undermine or attack networks,” DHS said.


What use would wireless outage reports have to would-be terrorists? Not much, said NBC terrorism analyst Roger Cressey, the former chief of staff of the President’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board.

There is nothing mysterious behind it, it is corporate competition protection,” said Cressey, now a partner in Good Harbor Consulting. The only reason for the government to not let these records get out is then one telco provider could run a full-page ad saying the government says we’re more reliable.’”

Cressey added that he couldn’t imagine a scenario where the reports would be valuable to terrorists.

In October, filed an administrative appeal of the FCCs rejection of its FOIA request. The FCC has not yet responded to the appeal.

In its initial answer to’s FOIA request, FCC officials cited only one reason for the denial: competitive harm” to companies involved.

I believe this matches criterion #9, Power of corporations protected.

I recommend reading the entire story on MSNBC, it’s very well done if more than a little outrageous.

Cellular News Politics
December 15, 2006

The fourteen signs of fascism

Fascism is usually used as a debate-ending insult in American politics, along with any comparison to Hitler. From the Farber IP list comes this interesting tidbit:

Lawrence W. Briit, who have studied the regimes of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia to get some unifying characteristics of fascism. He has distilled it to 14 common behaviours. They are:

  1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.
  2. Disdain for the importance of human rights.
  3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause.
  4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism.
  5. Rampant sexism.
  6. A controlled mass media.
  7. Obsession with national security.
  8. Religion and ruling elite tied together.
  9. Power of corporations protected.
  10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.
  11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts.
  12. Obsession with crime and punishment.
  13. Rampant cronyism and corruption.
  14. Fraudulent elections.

For more detail on Mr Britt’s analysis of each of the points, see At least Keith Olberman proves that point 6 is not valid in the US. At least not yet.

As Pinochet finally bit the dust, it seemed a good time to post this. Any resemblence to current events elsewhere is, well, not good.

News Politics Fascism
December 15, 2006

Uber-sexy laptop case

Clever, this. Conformal polycarbonate, snaps on and off, cut-outs for ports and cooling:

It’s a nice idea; I’ve been using a neoprene sleeve in my backpack but this is much more convenient. I’ve not seen one in person yet, though. Wonder if the extra size would fit in my Timbuktu bag?

Update 12/16: I think I like the red case even better:

case 1case 1

case 2case 2

Macintosh Hardware Laptops Cases
December 13, 2006

RSI, OSX and Time Out


I was talking to a co-worker earlier (this is as close as I’ll get to blogging about work, I promise) when I flexed my right wrist. Small popping noises ensued, as did a short conversation about repetitive strain injury. After a bad scare a few years ago, I try to run software that forces me to take a break. I’m also careful about ergonomics, and try to listen to what hurts or doesn’t.

For Mac, I use and like TimeOut. It’s currently free, works well and is unobtrusive. Though you can configure it to be obnoxious if you want.

One author (Stephenson?) opined that RSI was the Black Lung of the era, and for anyone pushing a keyboard they had a point. You have to take care of your body, or you’ll have no way to make a living. Even uber-hackers like Richard Stallman can get it.

RSI Geeky Macintosh Reviews Recommendations OSX