31 July 2011

Robert A. Heinlein - Luna e o doamnă crudă

in Bucuresti, Romania

Robert Heinlein - Luna e o doamna crudaSpre sfârșitul secolului 21, în anul 2075, Luna e o colonie prosperă cu milioane de locuitori, la origine condamnați și nedezirabili de toate soiurile, care exportă în masă cereale și alte materii prime către un Pământ suprapopulată și înfometată. Sub tutela formală a Națiunilor Federative, reprezentate local de Autoritatea Lunară, economia e condusă efectiv de un super-computer cu conștiință de sine și un interes pronunțat pentru umorul uman, deși acest fapt îi e cunoscut doar tehnicianului și prietenului său, Manuel Garcia O’Kelly. El e unul din personajele principale și vocea prin care autorul redă povestea la persoana întâi. Și tot el i‑a dat computerului primul său nume și personalitate, Mike.

După o adunare politică care sfârșește într‑o baie de sânge în urma intervenției forțelor Autorității, Mannie se refugiază într‑o cameră de hotel din Luna City cu una din participante, gospaja Wyoming Knott din Noul Hong Kong. În curând li se alătură și profesorul Bernardo de la Paz, un exilat politic, și împreună dezbat situația politică și economică a Lunii. Ajutați de puterea de calcul a lui Mike, ei ajung la concluzia că starea de fapt, exportul continuu de resurse către Pământ, nu poate continua, ducând în mai puțin de un deceniu la foamete, lupte de stradă și colapsul iminent al coloniei. Împreună se hotărăsc să conducă o revoluție pentru obținerea independenței Lunii, pentru a putea negocia de la egal la egal cu statele pământene.

30 July 2011

My thoughts on the Blogger redesign

With the redesigned dashboard, has joined the growing club of services to enjoy a experience based on focus, elasticity and effortlessness, along with Gmail, Calendar, Maps and, naturally, Search. The update also added some minor features as well, like per-post statistics and the ability to link to any web address from ‘Pages’, not just to internal Blogger pages. But overall, the new look is actually less efficient than the boring old interface; here are a couple of issues I noticed:

  • Many common actions are one extra click away: this begins with the start page, where the new Blogger presents you with a list of blogs you manage, with links to posts and stats; every time you open it up, you need to select you blog, even if you only have one… I obviously don’t have any data on this, by I would venture to guess that most users manage a single blog, so they don’t need this extra step. Wouldn’t it be better for users to default to the individual blog dashboard and somewhere in there to have a drop-down for switching to another blog? There are many other examples:
    • The categories on the individual dashboard (‘Posts’, ‘Stats’, ‘Settings’, etc.) are grouped under a ‘home’-menu instead of the direct links used before – there would be enough space for them, at least on wider monitors;
    • In the post editor, the options in the right sidebar (‘Labels’, ‘Schedule’, etc.) are all collapsed by default, even though, again, there is enough vertical space for at least one (preferably labels) to be expanded – it would remind users to add labels before publishing;
    • In the post list, filtering by a label is also done through a menu – two clicks – rather than a visible list – one click.
    • The ‘Edit HTML’-section of the ‘Layout’ tab is buried somewhere at the bottom of the page; you have to scroll through the entire section of the ‘Template designer’ to get to it – of course you can’t just click to collapse the latter. I can only speak for myself, but it seems to me that one would edit the HTML template far more often than tweak the design. If only just for the back-up links this should be placed in a more accessible location.
    • After publishing an article, you don’t have a link to edit the post anymore; you have to navigate back to the list and edit from there – again, extra clicks needed for something that was easier before.

25 July 2011

Add any link to Blogger Pages using Blogger in Draft

When ’s redesign launched earlier this month, it was all about the looks; there was no announcement about new features. It seems that, buried under the new interface, some useful new tools have been added anyway, specifically a method for adding any web address to the ‘Pages’ widget. It’s a great and easy way to point to your + profile for example, or to feature some of your labels on the front page. I shared a work-around for this sometime last year and it has proven my most popular article to date, both in terms of comments and of views, so there is clearly a need for it among Blogger users. The procedure is simple enough:

24 July 2011

Restore the previous theme in Google Chrome

One of the improvements introduced by compared to other browsers was the ability to install themes and extensions quickly, without restarting the browser. But as extensions evolved and gave birth to apps, themes were somewhat ignored. Even if they are included in the Chrome Web Store, you cannot manage them there or see a list of previously installed themes, like you can with extensions and apps; nor does the browser itself offer a manager for themes like in . They are not logged in the download manager either, even though to install the theme you will download a file. So if you reset the theme and want to get it back, you’re basically out of luck if you didn’t at least write the name down or bookmarked the page where you found the theme.

Orson Scott Card - Copiii minții

in Bucharest, Romania

Orson Scott Card - Copiii mintiiDacă v‑a captivat povestea copilului-geniu care a distrus fără să știe o întreagă rasă extraterestră, fără îndoială ați citit deja următoarele romane din ciclul lui Ender. Eu rămăsesem de multă vreme „dator” cu ultimul, „Copiii minții”, în care trebuie să regăsim rezolvarea pentru problemele rămase deschise la sfârșitul „Xenocid”‑ului: soarta coloniei Lusitania, către care se îndreaptă o flotă cu ordine de anihilare completă; a lui Jane, amenințată cu deconectarea și deci neființa, precum și a celorlalți doi copii ai minții lui Andrew, imaginile materializate ale fraților săi mai mari Peter și Valentine; și să nu uităm proveniența virusului descolada.

Nu știu dacă e din cauză că am terminat primele trei romane din serie cu destul de multă vreme în urmă și am citit între timp multe alte romane de calitate, dar mă așteptam la mai multe de la Card. Restul seriei m‑a ținut la vremea respectivă în priză și mi s‑a părut genial. „Copiii minții” în schimb nu prea trece pentru mine de nivelul mediocru. Evident, cartea se achită de datoriile restante la capitolul povești neterminate; însă rezolvările par de multe ori convenționale, lipsite de surprize, de acel je‑ne‑sais‑quoi care te face să reiei paragraful de la început ca să digeri mai bine informația.

19 July 2011

Facebook Chat moves to the sidebar

Try out Facebook Chat in the sidebarAfter a week of vacation away from desktop browsing, , and the likes, there was bound to be some changes to the applications I use more or less daily. Apart from the introduction of profiles in Canary by default – which is still rough and with very ugly icons, I noticed another small change in Facebook: the chat has been moved to a dedicated sidebar on the right. The update is not exactly new, as it was announced a couple of weeks ago together with the partnership with Skype for video calling, but it’s only now being rolled out to users.

The new sidebar is fixed on the right side, so there’s no scrolling past it – like the sidebars in . The effect can be confusing, because there is a scrollbar to the far right, that doesn’t scroll the sidebar right next to it as you would expect, but instead the main window contents. Also the chat sidebar follows you around everywhere on Facebook – even on help pages – and sometimes it hides the scrollbar completely, for example when looking at photos in ‘theater’ mode. I guess it still needs some fine-tuning. It reminds me somehow of the screenshots I saw of RockMelt, the browser with deep Facebook integration.

Which friends appear in the sidebar? Can I add specific friends?
The list of friends in your sidebar is based on who you’ve interacted with most frequently or recently on Facebook. Since it updates dynamically, you can’t manually add friends to the list.
The list shows both friends who are available to chat and friends who aren’t. Clicking on a friend’s name opens a chat window. If your friend isn’t available to chat, you can still send messages for them to read later. Facebook Help Center

Since you can now send offline messages as well, the sidebar is actually an extension of the New Facebook Messages rather than simply chat. As for the list of friends being based on the people you interact frequently, hmm… I just don’t see it in my own list. Facebook appears to actually choose them more or less randomly and order them alphabetically. There is no support for friends lists on the visible sidebar, but you can set your availability based on the defined lists, for example to show up as online only for a couple of lists; that however won’t stop those friends from seeing you in their chat sidebar or sending you offline messages. You can still search names in the small search box at the bottom, but this can become a nuisance if you have a large list of friends. But then again, people with thousands of friends are unlikely to communicate with all of them on a regular basis.

10 July 2011

M. John Harrison - Lumina

in Bucuresti, Romania

M. John Harrison LuminaSe spune că nu trebuie să judeci o carte după copertă. Dar oare după ce altceva te‑ai putea ghida când trebuie să alegi dintr‑o mulțime de pe un raft? „Lumina” strălucește la acest capitol, cu alăturarea dintre craniu și zaruri sub o lumină dură, reprezentând la perfecție citatul de prezentare a cărții de pe coperta patru. O enigmă pentru cititor, care se vrea rezolvată treptat în cursul cărții.

Acțiunea e împărțită în trei povești paralele, care se succedă cu regularitate capitol după capitol. Prima are loc în Anglia contemporană; fizicianul Michael Kearney ar trebui să lucreze la o soluție pentru o teorie unificată a fizicii, dar autorul explorează mai mult viața lui personală și demonii interiori, viziunile care îl chinuie din copilărie și îl împing să devină un criminal în serie, fapt introdus cu nonșalanță încă din primele pagini. În viziuni e urmărit constant de creatura Shrander, iar Kearney fuge de fiecare dată, servindu‑se de o pereche de zaruri ciudat de similare cu cele de pe copertă ca să decidă direcția pe care s‑o urmeze. Descrierea lui Shrander, cu capul ca un craniu de cal, aduce izbitor cu o figură recurentă dintr‑un alt roman al lui Harrison, „Viriconium”.

Al doilea și al treilea set de scene, cu elemente mult mai pregnante de science-fiction, sunt plasate în secolul 24, după ce omenirea s‑a răspândit printre stele, a întâlnit alte rase și a atins o graniță misterioasă, sectorul Kefahuchi. Seria Mau Genlicher e o simbioză între o navă‑K, programele acesteia de inteligență artificială – „matematicile” – și un corp la origine uman, acționând ca mercenar în apropierea sectorului. Dorința minții umane de a dezlega visele care o chinuie o aruncă într‑o urmărire furibundă printre planete și nebuloase, condimentată cu fascinante bătălii spațiale. Al treilea personaj central, fostul explorator Ed Chianese își duce viața care i‑a rămas într‑un container, cufundat într‑o lume virtuală din care e însă smuls cu forța de atacul Surorilor Cray. Ca și ceilalți doi, își petrece apoi marea majoritate a poveștii pe fugă și încercând să‑și pună ordine în viață.

07 July 2011

Does anybody ‘own’ the social graph?

With the launch of Google+, an older point of contention between the leader and the challenger in the social arena has again rolled into focus: should users be able to freely and easily export their friends emails for use in another network? Somebody built an extension to export friends to contacts and it took Facebook a couple of days to block it – seriously, who didn’t see that coming? Leaving all the possible workarounds and exceptions aside – like importing through the Yahoo! address book, the question arises: “Who owns your social graph — you or Facebook?

Personally, I think the issue of ‘ownership’ is completely misplaced here. We’re not talking about physical property here; email addresses, phone numbers, contact details in general are not economic goods, but information. Think about the meaning of “giving away your email address” as compared to “giving away a pen”: if you give the pen to someone you can’t use anymore until they return it; but the email address is still yours after you give it away. You can turn around, give it to someone else and still get the benefit of contacting the first person. The more you share it around, the more return you get. It’s the foundation of all social media, including Facebook. This is also how information works and what made the Internet so big and powerful: publishing information does not take it away from the author, it enriches instead the community.

06 July 2011

The experimental new tab page(s) in Google Chrome

The “new tab page” was a feature of ever since the launch nearly three years ago. Even though the concept was pioneered by , Chrome managed to make it more popular and slightly modified versions have since appeared in Safari and Internet Explorer. Mozilla is also finally considering it’s own concepts for a more interactive new-tab page, while at the same time running a study on user interaction with the new tabs and offering an experimental extension that suggest where the user might want to go after opening a tab. From Opera we recently saw the introduction of extensions for the Speed Dial, enabling mini-applications to run in the tiles instead of just static links.

Chrome itself is experimenting with an updated design of its own, though not as ambitious as the concept from Mozilla. As with many experimental features, it can be enabled from the internal page about:flags. The main difference compared to the standard new-tab page is that the content is split into several ‘home screens’: one for the most visited sites, another for apps and another two ‘dummy’ tabs: Foo and Bar. The recently closed pages have been moved to a menu in the bottom left corner of the browser window, visible on every home screen. The redesign is clearly focused on smaller screens and mobile devices; there’s more space on each screen for links or apps compared to the classic design, where they shared the same window. And you can drag the mouse to navigate to the next screen, a gesture more natural on a touchscreen. Unfortunately the bookmarks bar is no longer visible when you open a tab and you can’t rearrange the apps with drag-and-drop in this newer version.

03 July 2011

Comment view for Facebook photo albums

Facebook photo albums now with comment viewAfter the last major redesign more than a year ago, adopted a more subtle approach to updates: smaller and more subtle changes instead of one big overhaul. I noticed one such minor update today in the photo albums: a new view dedicated to photos with comments. You can switch between the classic ‘Album view’ and the new ‘Comment view’ with the new small buttons on the top right of the album page. Instead of tiles, the photos with comments are arranged top-to-bottom on the left side of the page, with the comments listed on the right. As far as I can tell, the order is chronological using the upload date of the pictures, not by most recent activity, as mentioned on Inside Facebook.

Since photo sharing is one of the favorite activities of Facebook users, it was a bit odd that conversation around photos was fragmented, with different comment threads for individual pictures and another one for the album. After all, it’s not very social if people cannot follow what others are saying. With this update it’s much easier to have an overview of the comments and to jump into the right conversation. Of course, this still requires you to visit the site and the album page, since there are no global notifications about an entire album.