Category: technology

Future of cars

This nice video shows the future of cars. Of course, the other part of this future is going to be self driving cars. So we will be able to play with all the dashboard toys while the car will drive itself, no way you can do both at the same time. [via Manteblog]

PS: well… maybe you can play with the 17″ screen while the car is recharging  😉

Email = Publishing

While reading about Groklaw shutting down, Lavabit and Silent Circle cancelling their secure email services, I was thinking that we should all stop thinking about email as a private correspondence tool.

To be honest anyone who had ever been exposed to the inner working of email servers has always known that unencrypted email is not really private. The fact that a majority of users has always been under the impression that there was some significant level of privacy might very well be part of a general scheme to have access to their private information.

Maybe it’s time to change the way people think about email, and start considering it a publishing medium. After all since the beginning email has been used to publish stuff, mail lists predate the web by several years.

Whenever we send an email message we are in all effects publishing a message (i.e. making it public). It might not be immediately accessible to everyone, and by adding some addresses to the “to” field we might even have a some degree of control on who will be reading the message first, but that’s about it.

Maybe once a majority of people will start considering all email public, there will be an improvement in the quality of what lands in our mailboxes.

With the email problem solved, all we have to do now is finding another communication tool designed to be truly private.

New google maps font problems

I’m a huge fan of maps, so I was eager to experiment with the new version of Google Maps. I did for a while, I don’t like it. Mostly it’s because I can’t easily access some of my favorite features (such as shortened URL to share a map, or terrain view).

But the worst problem is that at many zoom levels I could not read street names like in the old version. After some digging and experiments I got to this totally useless point (using the latest version of Chrome).

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 18.30.04

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Keep it short

Euan has some very good advice for “That first CEO blog post“.

I would add: keep it short. It doesn’t have to be an assay. One thought, one paragraph. Come back tomorrow for more. Before Twitter and all the other social media (especially for those of us coming from the Scripting News school of weblogging) most blog post were one liners.

Instagram bots

When I started using the excellent app from vsco to edit photos on my iPhone, I noticed that my posts on Instagram were liked by a significantly larger number of users, usually by people I don’t know.

IMG_3051The thing is that these likes were appearing a little too automatically, and a little too soon after the image was uploaded. I also tried uploading a black square, and I still got a couple of likes within seconds.

After some digging, it turns out that there’s a whole bunch of Instagram bots out there, that users can set up to automatically like images tagged with popular tags (and clearly #vsco is one of them). The theory is that randomly liking images will get you more followers. Given the number of followers that these people have, it might also be true.

While it looks like nobody is hurting anybody in this game, it’s yet another example of stupid behaviour triggered by the quantitive approach to social media.

Fixing things

At 5am of Monday morning, the heart (compressor) of our beloved refrigerator ceased to beat. What a sad moment! The poor thing was shorted, just plugging it in the wall socket would trigger the circuit breaker.

We moved all the frozen stuff to my parents’ refrigerator (luckily they live next door), we called the official REX/Electrolux service number, and started waiting for the repairmen.

He couldn’t come on Monday, showed up on Tuesday. Stated that the compressor was bust, and needed to be replaced. The problem is that our refrigerator is the largest he has ever seen (!), and that who knows if they can find a replacement (!!), and that the cost of the operation will be at least 250 Euros (sigh).

We waited Tuesday afternoon, and then all day Wednesday, no visit, no call.

Quite desperate in the evening I decided to apply my engineering experience to the problem… and just plugged it back in the wall. Instead of leaving us in the dark, it started purring again.

So yes, turning stuff off and then back works with refrigerators. Just wait 24 hours.

PS: the refrigerator has not been this clean since we got it 😉

Word processing in 2013

This morning I played a little with Quip, a “modern word processor that enables you to create beautiful documents on any device — phones, tablets and the desktop”.

I installed the app on my iPad and used it in a browser on my mac. I appreciate that this is only the very first version, that 1.0 is the loneliest number, and all that… but I still found it disappointing.

Introducing his new product on the company blog, Bret Taylor used a screenshot of the first MacWrite, which I happen to have here at hand because it’s the same I use for each and every rant about “modern” word processing. Here it is:

macwrite

Now, you will notice that right next to the expanded “Style” menu, there is a “Font” menu. In 1984 that menu allowed you to choose from a limited number of font faces. For some reason at Quip they decided that in 2013 all this font frenzy needed to stop, that we didn’t need to change font, so all documents have the one and same font (as far as I could find).

Yes, Quip has nice collaboration tools, so far I don’t think that they are good enough to convince me to move my writing to this new platform. But I will definitely keep an eye on this app, it does look like they are onto something.

The truth is that I don’t have a solution for my word processing problems.

I like using Apple Pages for my documents, because it has a set of very simple and precise layout features, and because, at least in my world, documents still need to be printed in many cases (and I come from a design background, so I actually like typography and layouts).

As long as I’m on my own, Pages is great. If I’m working with a colleague who also has Pages, then collaboration is done via Dropbox sharing. Yes, there might be some issues overwriting the document from time to time, but the quality of the final document still tends to be very good.

In cases where I need to collaborate with non Pages users, I end up exporting the document to Word (and loosing some of the nice formatting), or creating a shared document on Google Docs (loosing pretty much all the nice formatting).

From time to time the real-time collaborative editing offered by Google is nice, but honestly I don’t need it that often.

And then there is Fargo. I love outlines, and the whole concept of storing files in my own Dropbox account is absolutely brilliant. So far, collaboration with Fargo can be tricky (but it’s much better than when I had to convince people to download and install applications on their PC), and I haven’t figured out a way to move an outline to a word processor in order to create a page layout when necessary.

The truth is that most of these tools don’t interoperate. They all have their formats, and quite often the only way out is cutting and pasting: not exactly the most efficient way of doing it.

And while many applications are starting to support real time collaboration, I’m still waiting to see applications smart enough to understand what I’m writing and help me out by finding relevant documents (both in my own archives and on the interwebs), images, data, etc. I think that the technology is there, someone just has to figure it out.

I guess that what I would really like is writing in a Fargo outline, with Quip collaboration tools, and be able to export a structured file to a Pages document for some final formatting touches.

It looks like there’s still plenty of room for improvement in word processing.

What happened to “camera phones”?

My father in law wants to upgrade his mobile phone (he has a simple and cheap Nokia phone which is a few years old).

He went to an electronics store, and they sold him a 150 Euros Samsung smart phone.

Of course, he got home and had no clue whatsoever on how to use it, connect it to his Mac to download photos (or even answer a phone call).

So he came visiting with pizzas and beer, and I tried to figure it out. I could not.

I will admit that it was my first time with Android, and it probably was a pretty old version of Android but… what an utterly piece of crap!

The UI is totally confusing, and the very poor Italian localisation doesn’t help. I had to google (on my iPhone) to find even the simplest commands (for example: why is USB configuration in the “Networking” panel?). And even after one hour, I could not get it to download photos when connected with the USB cable (iPhoto would “see” the phone, but there were no images to download).

And once configured with the gmail account, suddenly there were notifications in three different apps: email, gmail and social hub. Why?

For his sanity (and mine), I convinced him to take it back and ask for his money back.

Of course, now I have to find a simple phone with three features: calls, SMS and a decent camera. The less smart, the better. Nokia used to make phones with pretty good cameras, but now good cameras only seem to be available on the Lumia series.

Any recommendations?