Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Finally, my Picturephone, so cool! And ho-hum.

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

I am a child of the future.  When I was young the future was going to be great! In fact every few years they held World’s Fairs to tell us about the future (and show us quaint glimpses of distant peoples and big corporations).

One of the perennial staples of this future was the Picturephone. (Notice, only one uppercase letter in the name, we were more tasteful then.)

AT&T Picturephone

AT&T Picturephone

AT&T spent many millions of dollars on it, and it failed.  They persisted, but it failed.

I did once get to try a real Picturephone.  There was a bank in downtown Minneapolis that had a fancy corner spot with a very early model ATM.  In addition to the ATM, there was an AT&T Picturephone on which one could talk to a human teller, and I tried it out.  The teller was very nice, I could see her, she could see me, it was cool.  We didn’t have much to talk about, so it was a short conversation.

Now it is here.  Yes, it has been here for awhile (Skype, for example) but I mostly never got around to making video phone calls because it was not really that compelling.  That was one of AT&T’s problems: Cool at it was, was a Picturephone really good for anything? Good enough to justify the bother and expense?  No, it was not even worth the desk space.  Certainly not worth the confusion.  And don’t even think about the toll charges that would have been necessary circa 1970.

But this morning I was doing a video chat between Boston and Los Angeles, in living color, on speaker (itself something from the future), and my mind was blown away to contemplate it.

Nexus 7 Tablet

Nexus 7 Tablet

The goll-darn future was finally sitting on my kitchen table!

For a geezer like me, who was raised on the future, to compare the promise with the reality, was stunning.

Amazing quality, easy to use, and free.  That last part, free, is a really big point.  No, a Nexus 7 is not free, nor are the wifi access points in my house (need more than one, need good coverage at home!), nor the DSL service to connect me to the internet.  It all costs a lot, but this infrastructure is there for other reasons.  Doing video calls is just a side-feature, so it gets to ride along for free.  I might go for months before I have occasion to make another video call, so it is a good thing I don’t need to use video chatting as the justification for all this expense.

The Future Isn’t What it Used To Be

So much of The Future that was shown at all those World’s Fairs was technically doable, but somehow not practical and stubbornly resistant to becoming reality.  Consider the robots that would soon clean our houses. Now, 40+ years after the heyday of The Future, the best we have along these lines is the Roomba!?  The Future has resisted happening.

Yet, that doesn’t mean the world hasn’t changed over these years.

“Data Processing”!

The World’s Fairs had computers, but they were oddly off to the side.  Something to marvel at, but outside of business and science, not obviously useful.

I remember as a teenager learning about early hobby computers and realizing that a computer was a universal machine that could do anything!  Well, anything that had to do with well defined logical operations, but still, what else is there!?  (I was a geek.)

Industrial vs Information Age

The clichés about how the information age changed the world are true.  (Does anyone still remember the “information age”?) But the way it changed the world wasn’t by just using electronics to build new single-purpose appliances, that was an industrial age perspective. No, it was by taking advantage of the universal properties of storing, transforming, and transporting information.  (Miniaturization, plunging costs and power consumption, and increased speed were also important.)

Consider the cell phone.  It started out as a carphone.  Your house had a phone line, your work had a phone line, so for fancy people, why not get a phone “line” installed in between, in your car?  Cool!  But, powerful as that was, it wasn’t worth it for most people.  Over a few years (thanks to miniaturization et al) the phones shrunk until they could fit in a purse or even pocket.  They became less specialized (more general purpose) and so more compelling.  People, not locations, started to have phone numbers.  It was big.  But kind of only the warm-up act.

Enter the “smartphone”. By putting a powerful computer in your pocket instead of just a telephone, things really change.  Yes, my Galaxy Nexus is an impressive “phone”.

Galaxy Nexus

Galaxy Nexus

I use it constantly. But I hardly ever talk on it.

General Purpose

What do I use it for? Everything! Well, Twitter, but lots of other stuff, too.

It is a “transistor radio”, camera, weather station, pocketwatch, newspaper, shelf of paperback books, atlas and world-wide street map, impressive reference library, wire-service news printer, stock ticker and trading terminal, calculator, flashlight, compass, artificial horizon (really: fly your small plane in bad weather), “cassette player”, calendar, address book, chess set, somewhat odd TV set, mail order catalog, bus and plane schedule, airplane arrival screen, GPS receiver (for you time travelers from 1970: “GPS” is a really fancy version of LORAN or Omega; it uses satellites!), constellation/sky map, dictionary, notepad, magazine rack, (small screen) movie player, video recorder, audio recorder, restaurant directory and reservation making machine, credit card, real estate directory, alarm clock, and more.

It does e-mail.  And, as long as I have it with me anyway, it will do video calls.

But sometimes I go for days without actually talking on this “telephone” of mine.

It is the general-purpose nature of this device that makes it compelling.  Most of the things it can do would not be worth putting my pocket, not alone, but the fact that it can do all that stuff, all from the same pocket, that is what makes it worth it.

The teenage geek in me was right, computers can do anything, particularly if you give them really cool sensors and many, many billions of dollars worth of support infrastructure, installed all around the world.

Before we all forget about the “information age”, stop to realize it happened, it is here.  No, you didn’t get a flying car (probably not a pony either), but an astounding change has come over our lives and I think it is damn cool.

Google’s Project Glass: Dies at the Hands of a Smart Watch?

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

As I am trying to understand Google’s Project Glass, yesterday I did something disturbing. As I was leaving work, wondering what temperature I would find as I left the building, I started to look at my watch.

Uh, oh: A “smart watch” might take important wind out of the sails of Project Glass’s acceptance.

Usually when I want to know the temperature I look at my Android phone. Weatherbug keeps the temperature displayed at the top of my screen. I don’t need to unlock the phone (I have a long unlock code, secure but tedious), I just turn it on, glance, also see the time and any alerts, and turn it off again. Works great. But when I am carrying stuff it is easier to glance at my watch and that is what I mistakenly started to do yesterday. (My watch doesn’t know the temperature. Not yet.)

What does this have to do with Project Glass? I am not certain, but it could be bad.

Some people will buy a Glass device for use when jogging, and that’s the only time they will use it.  I don’t think that is Google’s plan here.  I think Google hopes that this product will disappear into eye wear and become part of our lives; they hope we will wear it all the time.

As I mentioned in a previous post (http://borg.org/?p=435), for normal people to keep Glass devices on their faces, there will have to be good reasons.  For focused activity, pulling a phone from my pocket is worth it, and for many focused activities, a phone will be as good or better than a Glass device.

Over the course of my day I might have several predictable activities that would be improved with a Glass device, but will I bother to put it on each time it is useful?

Some might suggest that I leave it on all the time but they are ignoring very real costs to doing so:

  • First, there is the cost of buying a Glass device in the first place, but let’s ignore that.
  • Second, lots of people wear eye glasses occasionally.  I am near sighted and I put on my glasses when I drive, watch a movie, need to see something else at a distance–otherwise I take them off.  My glasses are stunningly light and I still prefer to not wear then.  Conversely, other people are far sighted and put on reading glasses only when they need to see something up close.  We already have a pattern of putting on and taking off eye wear, there are real costs and practical issues in a Glass device trying to get in the middle of this activity.
  • Third, the first version of these devices are said to have a camera and microphone always there and possibly always recording.  There are lots of locations in our world which will not want us recording all before us and will require we take off a Glass device.
  • Fourth, there will be a cyborg geekiness that will dissuade potential wearers.

I suspect that if Google is to motivate us to wear these things all the time it will be for all-the-time tidbits of information.  This is the kind of information that some people in the past have gotten from a pager: financial data, sports scores, breaking news, notification of communication from other humans, etc.

These are asynchronous events that I can’t schedule, they disrupt someone a little to notice them, they might happen while I am using a Glass device for a focused activity, or maybe when it it otherwise idle: but they are not focused activities.

The killer app that maybe makes wearing Glass devices worth it, the thing that makes us keep them on our faces when we aren’t actively using them: asynchronous information tidbits.

Enter the killer Smart Watch.

A wristwatch is really well suited to display tidbits of information.  Traditionally this has been restricted to the time because that is what the watch could economically know.  But if you have a Bluetooth-capable phone in your pocket, a smart wristwatch can relay nearly any information from that phone.  A watch can also quietly vibrate an alert and be felt in a noisy room, phones vibrating in pockets or purses are not always felt.

People used to carry pocket watches, and they worked.  But we moved on to a wearable technology, wristwatches, because they were handier than reaching into a pocket, more convenient than having to have a suitable pocket, and maybe easier than remembering to put the watch in my pocket.  Also, the was no big downside.  Maybe some traditionalists scoffed for a time, but they have been forgotten.

If you want to keep track of the play-by-play of the day-game while at work, a smart watch could do it. It is a bit distracting and rude when someone constantly checks his watch, but only a bit.  Depending on the circumstances I can possibly moderate myself and maybe not keep looking at my watch while my boss is talking to me. It is not as rude as holding a video camera in his face, and that is what a wearer of a Glass device is virtually doing.

If Apple wants to kill Project Glass its best move might be to add an “iWatch” to its product line up.  Similarly, Google would be well advised also add a watch tie-in to Android’s notification system.

What’s Left?

If my logic holds water, there is still room for Glass devices to serve specific, focused activities, but they will have to be powerful and compelling.  But also, build us a good wristwatch.

-kb, the Kent who likes his current watch, but wants more.

© 2012 by Kent Borg

Understanding Google Glass

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Excited by Google Glass, I have been looking for some good analysis on the internet on what it means. Lots of people are willing to say “The possibilities are endless!”, but I am looking for more subtlety than that.

I guess I have to write my own analysis. This is a start at that effort. It is from the perspective of an wannabe early developer trying to understand the technology.

So what good is Project Glass?  I suspect there is some interesting thinking going on inside Google, but so far all they will say in public is “It takes pictures!”. (And, the auto-diary possibilities are certainly intriguing, if also scary.)  And?

Luckily, it is a fascinating question.

It looks like the technical features of initial Project Glass “Explorer Edition” are planned to be a lot like my Galaxy Nexus phone, though in a different form-factor and without any cell connection, and maybe not sharing any system software with Android. Anyway, theoretically my phone can do anything the first Glass can do, more or less, so thinking about smart phones is not completely misleading. [Prediction: To help early developers in need of expensive and rare on-your-face hardware, Google will release a Glass simulator that runs on Android phones.]

Google has said nothing about what a wearer sees, so let me try to understand Project Glass by thinking about information display first. Information display is a nice organizing principle. Here is my list of some interesting items, not everything will fall neatly into one category or another but I hope to cover all the stuff anyone will ever use a Glass device for. Or some of it.

Displaying off-topic information that has nothing to do with the location of the wearer.

This is traditional, low-bandwidth material. These are things that will fit in a “page”. (Remember “pagers”?  Not that long ago people used to carry them around, some doctors still do.)  New e-mail has arrived, stock prices, the ball score, breaking news from far away — or breaking news from around here (which starts to shade into having a local location aspects, where was that bank robbery?).

This can be important information (worth carrying a pager), information worth reaching into a pocket and looking down, but if I am already wearing a Glass device, more trivial status information can be offered. Because battery life is a concern probably the display is not on all the time, something notable will have to happen before it is worth burning the battery and interrupting the wearer.

Assuming that one is already wearing a Glass device and don’t need to reach into a pocket, the effortless availability of really small amounts of status information might be very valuable. Sports fans, market watchers, Twitter addicts, and news junkies are obvious beneficiaries, but normal people might might appreciate it, too.

Reality augmentation, information specific to the wearer’s location.

Examples (these are fun to dream up by the hundreds): Honey and the kids are still in line at Magic Mountain, over there, and will be for another 5-minutes; this place sells good grass-fed burgers and has public bathrooms; the Washington Monument is 555-feet tall and was completed in 1884; the bus is expected in 7-minutes; there is available parking in the garage on 7th (turn right at the next corner); the water is 12-feet deep here; the new Bond film has showings at 6:50 and 7:30; your gate is 36B, down that-a-way, you have 15-minutes, but you are boarding group D so no big rush; those raindrops you feel shouldn’t amount to anything keep weeding.

Where the first category was pager-era, this is smartphone-era information. Some is practical on a phone but much of it is again cumbersome (your hands are full as you get off the plane) or rude (we are eating a nice meal here) or illegal (but officer, I was looking for a parking space–Google is certain to design a reduced distraction mode for use while driving).

Because these are occasional uses (how many times in a day does any one person get off a plane looking for the next gate?), other than tourists sightseeing, it isn’t obvious to me that these uses are compelling enough to make it worth buying and wearing Glass devices. These uses might only be supporting players in the Glass ecosystem.

A technical note: For all augmentation ideas, remember that the first model Glass devices will not have a full overlay display. The display is high and to the side of one eye. There are a ton of good reasons for Google to embrace this compromise, they did the right thing.

Displaying orthogonal, alternate reality augmentation.

There will be a lot of cool games using Glass devices. Expect to see people out in public who are seeing mythical and imaginary things as they walk down the same street as you do. These games will be more social and physical than most current games. Think Wii with less precise motion sensing but a much bigger playing space.

Displaying unrelated, different universe, rich information that has nothing to do with the wearer’s location.

This seems like a variation on the first category, off-topic information, except that earlier category is for old fashioned, low bandwidth information. This is for things that take advantage of the motion sensors and heads-up display. For example, Glass devices could be used as a way to interact with an avatar robot in the office for telecommuting. Gesture left somehow (look left, nod left, point left, paw left–something) and the robot looks or drives left.

Think what Street View could be like with a Glass device interface.

Communication, two-way, with other humans.

We use the cameras in our phones to send pictures to others, and that is pretty easy. If we already have Glass devices on our faces, we might be even more tempted to do so. Live video from phones is just now starting to happen, if the bandwidth holds out, the immediacy and hands-free aspect of video from a Glass device would be pretty cool. This will also be a big evangelizing avenue as others see video from Glass wearers and think “Wow, that Glass thing is cool! I’m getting one!!”

This category of use is not necessarily a clear contrast to my other categories here, but communications is important to humans so it is important to call-out. Every technology gets perverted for communications (radio was for industrial purposes, right?). Communication will creep into everything Glass devices are used for, but also expect to see people wearing Glass devices standing in front of plate-glass windows talking and gesturing to their reflection as they use their reflection in a picture-phone mode.

Crafted vertical applications.

A lot of people have work to do, and could that work might be helped with an app customized for the purpose. For example, the other day I saw two men working with a bucket truck and a power pole. The man up high was reading a long number off a transformer (or something) and yelling down what he read, and the man below was yelling back the number for the man above to verify. I don’t know what they were doing, but I am guessing they could have done it better with Glass devices on their hardhats.

This isn’t the sexy side of Project Glass, but it might be the hidden engine that makes it all work. You might not find tracking the temperature in Paris and Facebooks’s falling price to enough reason to wear a Glass device all day, but if is part of you doing your job and is supplied by your boss and approved for use at work…that is a win.

Writing these apps will include learning about specific vertical needs, but it might be a great way to make money while saving others tons of money and getting the electricity back quicker after that big storm.

Do enough of these and maybe you will anticipate the Big One…

The Big One: a general purpose “Killer App”.

A lot of businesses use desktop computers without any custom applications: spreadsheets, word-processors, databases, web browsers, etc., address what they need without any custom software. I am guessing there will similarly be some general purpose apps for Glass devices that many will find compelling. Who knows what they are, but expect them.

Cloudy Coordination.

I doubt there will be many Glass-only apps. There will almost always be phone, tablet, desktop, or TV set aspects, because there will be data that is easier to input or organize or consume on a Glass device or a non-Glass device, or the other way around. Some cloud-like communication probably glues it all together. Maybe your server, maybe Google’s, maybe Apple’s.

Cross Platform.

Apple’s cloud??  If these eye-wear computers really happen, expect competition. Expect Apple to try more lock-in than Google will, have fun making it all work together. (Will Apple prohibit use of any cloud-backend but theirs?)

Adoption.

We still don’t know that there is a market for this. There are big problems (technical and social). People need to have sufficient reason to pay for and put up with these things. Wearing something on my face is pretty intimate. Will it be worth it?

Those of us in line to buy an Explorer Edition from Google might feel fortunate for the opportunity, but it is Google that is really breathing a sigh of relief that we are interested.  They need some really cool apps available on day-one of retail sale for there to be any hope of these things be worth wearing by regular people.

Objections and Prohibitions.

There are a lot of places where taking pictures is not welcomed. Just wearing a Glass device might make people assume you are recording them. Want to use a Glass device to help you with your grocery shopping?  Many grocery stores do not allow the use of cameras. (I’ve been questioned at Whole Foods for carrying a clipboard; I was using it for my shopping list that day, I think they were afraid I was doing retail espionage.)

In a world where we are on camera in public nearly constantly, using our own cameras, ironically, is not always approved. There are many quasi-public spaces where those in control of those spaces will object.

Consider an airport, let’s pick Las Vegas. People will not want to be photographed on the slot machines, the security check point will object, fly in from a foreign land and customs will object to our recording their work, the restaurants and retail establishments might have the Whole Foods-objection, the newsstand that also sells travel books objects to someone photographing excerpts from travel books instead of buying them, the bar doesn’t want you recording who is drinking, and walking into the bathroom while taking pictures presents more problems.

Even when one is in public and photography is completely legal, people have gotten in trouble with police or security guards from adjacent buildings who object because they think they should.

Google might want to implement some kind of ostentatious lens-cap feature that makes it obvious the wearer is not photographing.

And taking pictures is not the only problem. In the US making an audio recording without the knowledge of others violates federal wiretapping laws. Certainly phones can take both pictures and record audio, but phones spend much of their time in pockets where such recordings won’t accomplish much. If Glass devices are to be used for more than focused activities and worn like eye wear, audio concerns, too, will have to be overcome.

This is not impossible. It depends on the order in which Google does things.

Consider lithium-ion batteries on airplanes. These things are dangerous!  They pack a lot of energy in a small place, and occasionally catch fire. If an inventor had made one and asked the FAA for clearance to carry them on passenger flights, the answer would have been NO. Instead, laptop computers slowly insinuated themselves into air travel, often carried by important and powerful people. Only years later were the original nickle-cadmium batteries finally upgraded to lithium-ion. Try to ban them now and the outcry would be too great.

If Google can get powerful and affluent people addicted to Glass devices, those who object will have to decide between permitting Glass device wearing customers or doing without that business. I don’t know whether Google has this figured out, I suspect they have some strategies but are mostly playing it by ear because predicting these things is really difficult.

Conclusion

“The possibilities are endless!”

This sure is going to be interesting to watch.

-kb, the Kent who is glad he went to Google IO this year.

© 2012 by Kent Borg

Why the Obesity Epidemic? My 3-Part EXPRESS Explanation

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Many have been puzzled over this.  Well, it is becoming clear.  Here is my express explanation, in three easy steps.

These three things came together:

  1. A guy at the University of Minnesota (the inventor of the K-Ration) made a persuasive–but incorrect!–argument: the cholesterol clogging our arteries is caused by eating cholesterol.  Seems reasonable.  Instead of meat–and particularly animal fats–he told us we should eat carbohydrates. If we must have butter, have margarine instead. If we want lard, have Crisco instead.  Turns out this was all very wrong.  Large quantities of refined starches, and particularly refined sugar, are very bad for us.
  2. President Nixon and Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz changed US agricultural policy to encourage grain production, particularly corn production.
  3. Industrialization reached its logical conclusion. This aspect is two part:

First, industrial food was invented. (“Industrial food”, isn’t that an oxymoron?) Clever people looked for something to do with all that cheap corn.  We don’t prepare our own food anymore so we don’t what we are eating.  Notably, high fructose corn sugar was invented, and was cheap.

Second, we don’t labor anymore, electric motors and internal combustion engines do our physical work, and most of us are now sedentary. But we are a species designed to move; getting a lot of exercise will forgive a lot of sins.  For example, a bike messenger is not going to become obese and get type 2 diabetes, no matter what s/he eats.  Heart disease, maybe, but not obese.  Unfortunately very few of us are bike messengers.  Some of us go to the gym, but we drive to the gym, when we get around to it.

That’s it.  Yes, there are other factors (for example, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle set us up to want to believe the worst about meat, and particularly lard), but those three factors were sufficient.  Don’t believe me (as you reach for your non-fat, fructose sweetened yogurt). Start investigating, maybe Google some of the tags attached to this post.

-kb, the Kent who resents that he was lied to when assured that a big plate of pasta is a healthful meal.

Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

I saw the cover of the magazine Fast Company, and it said to lookout, Facebook will beat Amazon, Apple, and Google.

(Clever folks: There were three other covers, each touting how one of the four companies will prevail. They sort of managed to get more shelf space at Whole Foods.)

But far more interesting is the list of four companies:

  • Apple (originally a computer manufacturer),
  • Amazon (originally an online book retailer),
  • Google (originally a web search engine), and
  • Facebook (still a social network).

How do computers, books, searches, and friending end up at each others’ throats? And how did we come to ignore Dell, Barnes and Noble, Yahoo, and AOL??

Dell vs. Apple? Not interesting. (Should Dell just liquidate and give the investors their money back?)

B&N vs. Amazon? Not interesting.

Yahoo vs. Google? Not interesting.

AOL (or maybe Myspace) vs. Facebook? Not interesting.

How did these other companies become such losers? What makes these Big Four so important?

-kb

©2011 Kent Borg

Which Gadgets Do I Need?

Friday, September 30th, 2011

So Many Gadgets

This week Amazon announced new Kindles, both low-power e-book readers that work forever on a charge in ambient light, and the color tablet Kindle Fire.

Fun.  I want.  But what do I want?  What gadgets do I want?  (What do I need?)

Smartphone, notebook computer, tablet, e-book reader, Ipod, Camera, Hiking GPS?

Each has its virtues…

Smartphone

Little, always with me, internet access (when I am in T-Mobile territory).  Hard to be without.

Notebook Computer

Keyboard, real web browser, lots of disk space, multiple windows at once, lot of familiar software.  As a software engineer, needed for nerding.

(My current notebook is wearing out.  Anyone have a good recommendation for a nice sub-notebook? Under 3-pounds, full dimension screen, good trackpad, works well with Ubuntu, tough?)

Tablet

I don’t really know, I don’t have one.  But I want one.  I want something like my phone but bigger.  Even though pulling out my notebook and opening the cover is very easy (sleep to RAM wakes up quite quickly) I want something that is even easier: just pull out the tablet and hit the switch, no lid to open nor surface to sit on needed.

I want a big screen phone with a front-facing camera (my phone doesn’t have that).

I want to be able to read the New York Times better. My phone can read the Times but with such a small screen. My notebook can read the Times, but such a production to open it up and set it down.  (Oh, so much work!)

I also want to use Google Maps on a bigger screen than my phone.  As impressive as maps are on my phone, maps scream for big. Remember paper maps?  They are big for a reason, so you can see where you are, and where you are going, and detail in between.

I want to play Angry Birds on a bigger screen.

I have this idea that a tablet can be more opportunistic, not as omnipresent as my phone, but more casual and available than my notebook.

The Kindle Fire

Is rather tempting at $200. Luckily I am saved for the moment because it isn’t yet available.

But it is rather limited:

  • No cameras.
  • No orientation sensors nor gyroscope.
  • No GPS (Google’s Maps application probably won’t install at all without GPS, doesn’t seem to exist on Amazon’s Appstore).
  • No Bluetooth.
  • No microphone.
  • Probably no apps that don’t come from Amazon’s appstore. (A little like Apple’s closed Ipad ecosystem.)

Still, it is only $200.

Update: Nexus 7!

Same price as the Kindle Fire, but all those things I complained about? Google fixed them all. Okay, the camera is front facing only, but it is there! Nice machine, I am using it to update this post now. Get one.

E-Book Reader

The key features here are long battery life, screen that uses ambient light and is easy to see outdoors, and limited function so I don’t keep looking at what new Tweets have shown up.  The new cheap Kindle is so small and pretty dang cheap at $79 (still only $109 without ads). And so small.  And linked to my reading on my phone’s Kindle app.

I’ve been reading a 400+ page book on the Kindle app on my phone and it is taking forever.  I have this idea it would go faster if I had a bigger, better reading screen.

Ipod

(No, I won’t cooperate with marketing driven fuNNy caPITaliZatioN.) I have a 120 GB Ipod and it is great to have a ton of music available.  It works without any network connection.  It has great battery life.  (Alas, it might be discontinued soon. Constantly listening to things I already own, and free podcasts, doesn’t generate any bucks for Apple.)

I also have the FM radio adapter that Apple used to sell, and would listen to public All Things Considered and Morning Edition on it, but now I usually use my phone for that–it gets better reception in buildings.

I don’t usually have it on my person these days, not like I used to, my phone is the bigger entertainment. Instead my Ipod has been relegated to the larger bag I carry my notebook computer in.  Handy at work, handy in the car, not terribly far away at most other times.

Camera

I like having my little camera with my almost always. I like that “film” is now essentially free, I can use the camera to take notes and document physical stuff (what exact replacement part do I need at the hardware store?, I look the picture I took of the dismantled gizmo at home).

My phone has a camera, but I think it is a lesser device, though I haven’t tried side-by-side comparisons.  I know the phone doesn’t have a real zoom. Swapping new memory cards is easier on my camera than on my phone because the phone has other data on the card I don’t want to swap out.

The usage model is different, the phone wants to upload photos, the dedicated camera wants to transfer them to my notebook.

The camera has a battery that doesn’t need constant charging because it is only for the camera.  The camera doesn’t have GPS and can’t tag photo locations.

Hiking GPS

I have to throw this in.

My phone has GPS, and better maps than does my Garmin GPS Map 60Cx, but I still like my Garmin with the North American maps I bought for it:

  • It has better battery life.
  • It has a display that can easily be read in sunlight.
  • Its maps work when out in the sticks! No need for any cell service. (When there is cell service it is also sometimes nice to have a second opinion for navigating.)
  • It is far tougher than my cellphone, it is pretty happy being dropped and being used in the rain.  Works in cold weather where my phone reboots.
  • I have a nice mount for it on my bike where it is a nice speedometer and map.

I don’t have my hiking GPS with me always, but I frequently have it in my bigger bag, with my iPod and notebook computer.

And the Winners Are?

I don’t know yet.  These are very different beasts.  The dedicated devices are nice in that they are better optimized for their specific uses.  The multi-use devices (phone, notebook) are nice for their general purpose aspects but I am then afraid of dropping it on a hard rock and being out too many features.

I suspect there are some Amazon products to be added to my list of toys in the next few months.

Stay tuned.

-kb, the Kent who always has some tech on him.

©2011 Kent Borg

Google Motorola Mobility Purchase Explained

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

It does make sense, people understand parts of it, but no one seems to get it right.  Let me explain.

Personal Tidbit: Kent’s Market Manipulation

Looking at a down-market, thinking this was a buying opportunity, I bought a few shares of Google. A few days later it fell on the Motorola news.  No, I wasn’t annoyed with myself (I didn’t have any inside information, and wouldn’t trade on it if I did).

Rather I am annoyed that the market doesn’t seem to understand what Google is up to. I need to explain so my stock can go back up.

Google wants Android to succeed.

Google’s Android “partners” don’t particularly care about Android succeeding, they want their own tablets and smartphones to sell.  So they tart up their versions of Android to try to catch an eye (“Hey, big guy! Wanna..touch my tablet…?”).  The other day I was talking to someone who was considering getting an Iphone.  No, I didn’t say “Get an Android!”, I kept my mouth shut because the Android market is a mess, I have no idea what Android phone is good right now.  I think Google is going to tell Motorola to make clean versions of Android.  Like the Nexus One (which I bought).  Once they do that I can recommend people buy a Motorola Android.  People will still be tempted by the trollops from the other “partners” and that is a matter between consenting adults, but at least there will be a clean and respectable baseline you can bring home to mom.

Google wants Android phones and tablets to innovate.

God knows what it took to get Samsung to put a near field communications radio (NFC) in the Nexus S, but I bet there are some cool things Google wants to do but no “partner” wants to bother with.  Google will tell Motorola to add new features.

Google “partners” need not quake.

Much has been said about how the “partners” won’t like Google being in the handset and tablet business, but if Google forces Motorola to do things the “partners” don’t think is smart…well, that might be just the kind of competition they could use: either ineffectual (no problem) or truly innovative (serves them right).  Google is no Apple, they don’t have an “all mine” utopian (dystopian!) vision, they aren’t interested in crushing LG or HTC. They want to sell ads.

Google has a really nice cash cow in their ad business. They aren’t interested in the low-margin hardware business for any reason other than to keep their ad business healthy. Their fundamental interest here is different from that of other Android hardware manufacturers.

Google has patent battles to fight.

Speaking of Apple and Android “partners”, Steve is doing his best to crush the entire Android ecosystem in the courts, some recent decisions out of Europe should have them all deeply scared.  Google to the rescue: Motorola has a lot of patents, many are probably even wireless-related. (What was the Nortel portfolio mix like?)  Motorola, unlike a patent trollhouse, and being a hardware business, might even have legitimate patents.  (I think software patents should be very rare and noteworthy, and that all the other SW patents are garbage.)  By measuring patents by the count, people miss the fact of these might include legitimate and topical patents.

Google is interested in big screens, too.

Google TV hasn’t done much so far, but they haven’t given up.  Motorola Mobility also includes set-top boxes in living rooms.  As much as we all like to poke at our phones, we also like being couch potatoes, sitting in front of a big TV, poking at our phones.  Google wants access to our TVs, Motorola Mobility gives them that.

Sitting on tons of cash is a waste.

Google can afford to buy Motorola Mobility. We now know they are serious about Android and will do what it takes to make it succeed.

Apple is not going to manage to drive a lawyer-hewn stake through Android’s heart. Android is here to stay.  Long live Android!

-kb, the Kent who thinks it all makes great sense and GOOG should go up now.

©2011 Kent Borg

Android Phones Won’t Keep Time Precisely

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Google should use the GPS receiver. They should use NTP. But they trust the cell carrier.

Recently I have been in awe of what an amazing thing my Nexus One is.

For example, with few instances of a little 2×1 widget called myUTC Clock, one of my home screens turns into an 8-timezone pocket watch.  A read-in-the-dark, self-setting, 8-timezone pocket watch.

I am old enough that such a thing would once have been very expensive if possible at all.  Yet I can add it to my phone for free.

So cool.  It must be time to start complaining.

My Android Nexus One isn’t reliable about how it keeps time.  Sure, it is good enough for prosaic purposes, but it could do much better.

In the Settings I have two choices, either “Automatic Use network-provided values” or I can set it manually.

I have it set to use network-provided values.  This means to take the time from the local cellphone network.  Unfortunately, the cell provider is sometimes quite wrong.  There is a lonely roaming section of highway I drive frequently where my phone clock is off by almost two minutes.  At home, on T-Mobile in the big city, my phone clock is set within a second or so.  That seems sloppy and random and prone to wild errors if some technician makes a typo.

My other option is to manually set the time.  I did this yesterday afternoon, and this morning my phone was off by over 20-seconds.  That’s enough to start missing airplanes if not reset frequently.

There are two other options that are not available without rooting my phone and customizing the software:

1. Use time from the GPS receiver.  Yes, the GPS receiver is not always turned on, but when it is it is an exceedingly good source of time.  Pretty much “gold standard” where time still has a “gold standard”.

2. Use time from the internet.  The Network Time Protocol (NTP) works over wireless connections, uses very little data, and can set time very precisely.

In both cases, once the Linux kernel inside my Android knows the correct time it is willing to faithfully honor it to very small intervals.

Google: Please make Android keep decent time.  Possibly someone has already done this nicely and you could just pickup the code, examine it some, and make it part of the official version.

Android phones have the ability to keep excellent and time, it is just a simple matter of programming.

-kb, the Kent who has been a time geek for years, who knows that time is very complicated because of the conflicting expectations we have about time, and who still misses airplanes.

P.S.  One of the complications that Google tries to avoid by taking local phone system time is that of timezones and daylight savings/summer time.  Okay, so it is tricky, but there is detailed timezone data available for Linux, you have location data (from the GPS and, ironically, from the local phone system), the result could still have problems, but they will likely still be better than blindly trusting the local phone system.

©2011 Kent Borg

Sony Passwords: Now do you believe you should not reuse passwords on different sites?

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Sony has been cracked.  Multiple times.  It seems Sony employs nerds who know nothing about security.  Now, sonypictures.com has had a million username and passwords (and other information: DoB, e-mail) scooped up and made public.

Are you on that list?

The Playstation breaks would have been even more users.  It hasn’t been posted public, are you on that list?

Are you an X-Factor wannabe?  That database was also grabbed by the same crackers.

And these are just the public breaches.  The real bad guys–the ones who want to steal money instead of making a political point–are breaking in quietly, grabbing passwords, and moving on to see what other doors these keys will open.

What is the lesson here?  That companies have terrible security?  Yes, they do.  But that isn’t what should keep you up at night.

You should toss and turn if you are one of those people who reuse one password on multiple web sites.  If one site is broken into, then the bad guys have the keys to any other sites you have given that same password to.

Don’t reuse passwords.  Use a different password on every account you have.  And how should you keep track of all these passwords?  Write them down.

Yes.  Write down your passwords.  The advice about not writing down your password comes from way olden days when the number of computer accounts a person had was either zero or one.  It is obsolete.  Write down your passwords.

-kb, the Kent who used to use three different passwords for everything, until he discovered a machine on which he had an account, one he used the “good” password on, was broken into.

©2011 Kent Borg

Python Command Line Arguments

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

For quite some time I have thought I shouldn’t parse my own command line arguments in Python, but each time I looked for the “right” way to do it, I turned back.

Today, I decided to persist.

Now I know why I turned back, the libraries were terrible.

I want to have:

mycleverprog.py mycommand --nifty-option

Where the command is to do one thing or do the opposite.  It is a required thing to say which.

The standard library argparse is a little obscure at first, but with a little reading it starts to make sense.  Cool.

Oh, dang!  It is new in Python 2.7, and I am running 2.6.  Okay, so let’s look at the deprecated optparse, it looks really similar, I’ll convert my embryonic code…

Horrors!  I don’t know the history of the project, but it looks like some “little minds” have been at work on this library.  Because it is called “optparse” it doesn’t support “required options” because the term is self-contradictory.  Come on!  A very common use case is to type a command with a required parameter following on the command line.  Think Unix commands like “rm” or “mkdir” or “touch”, or …, you get the idea.  These commands also have “options” that are optional.  So someone built a library that handles the “options” but makes a point of not handling a required parameter, just because of an unfortunate name for the library!?!  They even waste effort pontificating on why options should be optional?

Bosch!

They do talk about “positional arguments” being required, but it isn’t clear whether they even support that.

My solution?  Download

http://argparse.googlecode.com/files/argparse-1.2.1.tar.gz

put argparse.py in

/usr/local/lib/python2.6/dist-packages

and use argparse.  My little utility will just be for personal use–at least for now. By the time I give it to anyone else, newer versions of Python will be standard.  Or I can include a copy of argparse.py.

-kb, the Kent who is slowly getting better and better at Python.

©2011 Kent Borg