30 July 2012

Very Nice Web Site: “Genius ads”

Some people seem to think the ads send a message that Macs are hard to use or require the input of an expert. I don’t think that’s true. The point of these ads is to say If you’re concerned about switching, don’t be. We have these geniuses who make it easier. That’s not a bad message, even if it’s not as good as the Switcher ads which said Macs are so easy, you can just do it yourself.

John Moltz

If someone needs to explain your ads to the audience, you’re doing it wrong.

Apple Mac TV ad - Mayday

10 July 2012

What’s new in Chrome 21

As I noticed before, the odd version numbers in Chrome tend to bring more changes – at least visible changes – than the even versions. In Chrome 21 the first thing that I noticed – and got slightly annoyed at – was the inclusion of Google Docs as a default extension, along with Search, YouTube and Gmail. I promptly removed it, as I use Docs less and less – it’s a very poor replacement for a desktop editor. But moving on…

The biggest potential improvement in this version is a new way to build extensions, announced a couple of weeks ago on the Chromium blog. “Event pages” should help reduce the memory consumption by loading and running extensions only on specific events instead of having them loaded all the time in the background. This would make extensions act more like native browser functions instead of separate processes. Looking at my (rather short) list of extensions, most of them would benefit from being converted to extension pages: ad-blocking could run only on page load, LastPass only when it detects a login form, the couple of extensions I use to open new tabs in the background could kick in only when they detect the creation of a new tab. Even something more complex like SpeedDial 2 could be optimized to run only when the user opens a new tab, since it doesn’t do anything otherwise.

09 July 2012

asymco: “Building and dismantling the Windows advantage”

Although PC volumes continued to grow, they did so more slowly and the Mac grew faster. What coincided with this was the emergence of portable computing. The MacBook became easily differentiable as a “better” laptop. It was not faster, did not have more storage or any key metrics being used to sell PCs. It was just better as an integrated product. The integration manifested itself through a sense of quality and robustness as well as intangibles like aesthetics and “feel”. I wrote about this a few years ago. Horace Dediu

Another article that made some waves recently on the Internet. I find it questionable, to say the least. First of all there’s no mention of the data sources used or the geographical area: it this the US? The World? Silicon Valley? Absolutely no indication in the body of the article. I found a partial clarification later on Twitter, but I still don’t understand why this wasn’t included in the original text.

05 July 2012

Stephen Wolfram Blog: “A Moment for Particle Physics: The End of a 40-Year Story?”

To me, the Higgs particle and the associated Higgs mechanism had always seemed like an unfortunate hack. In setting up the Standard Model, one begins with a mathematically quite pristine theory in which every particle is perfectly massless. But in reality almost all particles (apart from the photon) have nonzero masses. And the point of the Higgs mechanism is to explain this—without destroying desirable features of the original mathematical theory. Stephen Wolfram

With all the news and excitement flying around on the Internet these past days about the discovery of the Higgs boson, I must admit I have similar feelings to Stephen Wolfram. While I’m by no means an expert in advanced physics, the little I know on the subject tells me this doesn’t bring scientists any closer to the Holy Graal of physics and cosmology, the unification of general relativity and quantum mechanics. With the Higgs particle confirmed, there are now two competing models on how mass comes about: the inertial mass is caused by the interaction with the Higgs field (quantum mechanics), while the gravitational mass is generated by the curvature of the space-time continuum (general relativity). Since both are identical (as far as anyone knows at the moment) there has to be some connection – or one of the theories has to be wrong. The most promising explanation would probably be something like quantum foam, a chaotic or fractal sub-structure of space-time, that could explain why some particles are heavier – they interact strongly with the “bumpy” space-time – and also the overall curvature – particles change the foam while passing through it.

04 July 2012

Custom permalinks for Blogger posts

Custom permalinks for Blogger posts now in Blogger in DraftAfter Blogger retired the ‘In Draft’ blog, news about new features being tested are hard to come by. The Google+ page usually posts tips referring to current functionality; for me Twitter has proven a much better source of news as people post their questions and new things they stumble on. This is how I found out a couple of days ago that Blogger now lets you customize the URL of your blog post.

Naturally, as I write this the option is available only in Blogger in Draft: when composing a new post you will see a new section in the ‘Post settings’ sidebar on the right called ‘Permalink’. You can either leave the URL on the ‘Automatic’ setting, so Blogger assigns a URL based on the title just like before, or choose ‘Custom URL’ and type in a different title, to make it shorter or to highlight some terms – after all, this is one of the top requests of SEO-aware bloggers. You can only customize the very last part of the post URL, the structure before it (blog name/year/month/) is still generated automatically by Blogger. It’s worth noting that, once the article is published, the URL cannot be changed anymore, so pick yours carefully.

03 July 2012

Native audio controls in Google Reader

There doesn’t seem to be much going on with Google Reader after the misguided feature cut caused by the “integration” with Google Plus. The latest blog post is from late October last year and they also haven’t updated their Twitter account since then. I only noticed a couple of days ago that they changed the built-in player used for enclosed music files. Instead of the Flash-based solution used until recently, the new player uses native HTML5 audio controls, probably in browsers who support the feature – I currently use Google Chrome and I don’t have other compatible browsers to test. I suppose this move comes in the wake of Adobe retiring Flash support for Android, but curiously the mobile version of Google Reader doesn’t show music files in podcasts at all… Native audio controls in Google Reader

The feature is still work-in-progress and has some bugs as reported by several users on Twitter. For example if you use ‘Popout’, the player doesn’t work in the new window; the controls show up, but are unresponsive. The volume control could use a bit of redesigning as well, because it’s too small and you cannot change the volume without completely muting, except if you go into full-screen mode. In any case, it’s nice to see Google hasn’t forgotten Reader completely…

02 July 2012

Fiat Lux: “Bad Facebook, No Cookie For You”

Today, a co-worker discovered that his contact info for me had been silently updated to overwrite my work email address with my Facebook email address. He discovered this only after sending work emails to the wrong address.
And even worse, the emails are not actually in my Facebook messages. I checked. They’ve vanished into the ether.
For all I know, I could be missing a lot more emails from friends, colleagues, or family members, and never even know it. Rachel Luxemburg

And this coming from the new system who was supposed to revolutionize mail communication!

Well, to be fair it kinda solves the “Inbox Zero” problem: since you don’t get any mail, you don’t have anything to worry about anymore!

01 July 2012

Arthur C. Clarke - Orașul și stelele

in Paris, France

Arthur C. Clarke - Orașul și steleleTrecând de la nuvele noi la romane devenite clasice, am reluat Orașul și stelele al lui Arthur C. Clarke. Publicat în anii ‘50 și bazat pe o povestire încă mai veche, romanul rămâne destul de interesant chiar după ce mai mult de o jumătate de secol a trecut peste el. Probabil fiecare fan SF l‑a citit cel puțin o dată, așa că nu cred că are rost să intru prea mult în detalii privind acțiunea. Avem un oraș – Orașul, cu literă mare, de vreme ce e singurul rămas pe fața îmbătrânită a Pământului – vechi de miliarde de ani, care își îngrijește cu conștiinciozitate populația umană, obișnuită să trăiască în leagănul sigur, păzită și slujită de roboții sub comanda Computerului Central, apoi să moară și să se renască peste milenii, în același peisaj nemuritor, ținută înăuntru de frica ancestrală de Invadatori. Și îl avem pe Alvin, care s‑a simțit mereu un pic diferit, nelalocul lui printre prieteni. La majorat el află de la mentorul său, Jeserac, motivul pentru asta: spre deosebire de restul oamenilor, care au trăit numeroase vieți în oraș, Alvin s‑a născut pentru prima oară. Și de la întâlnirea lui cu stelele într‑un turn de la marginea orașului până la evadarea dintre limitele acestuia nu e decât un pas...

Orașul stătea precum un giuvaer strălucitor pe pieptul deșertului. Cândva cunoscuse tot felul de schimbări și transformări, însă acum Timpul trecea pe lângă el fără să‑l atingă. Nopțile și zilele goneau peste chipul pustiului, dar pe străzile Diasparului era veșnic după-amiază, iar seara nu pogora nicicând.

Valoarea romanului, ca multe altele din zilele de început ale SF‑ului, nu prea stă în personaje sau în stilul literar. Personajele sunt în general șterse, neremarcabile, previzibil de liniare. Chiar și Alvin, care pornește de la început cu mare potențial spre schimbare și o motivație puternică își pierde din elan după jumătate și nu mai pare deloc interesat de rezultatul acțiunilor sale. Povestea suferă din cauza asta, iar finalul e în contradicție cu tendințele din prima parte și dă peste cap toată istoria din spatele Diasparului într‑un mod brusc care nu se integrează în nici un fel cu caracterul personajului central.