30 March 2012

What’s new in Chrome 19

A little more than 6 weeks between releases this time, but it’s end of life for the Canary version 19, so let’s see what the user-facing changes are. Following the trend from the previous version, when extensions have been integrated in the ‘Settings’ page - a.k.a. the Uber page - it now incorporates ‘History’ and ‘Help’ / ‘About’ as well. There is not much to say about ‘History’, it’s basically the same design introduced in version 17 only in a new location. The ‘About’ page in web format looks unfinished for now: it can’t check for updates so it hasn’t replaced the usual modal dialog yet. On the other hand it has two handy links for help and reporting issues, the latter being buried under two levels of menus until recently – it should be much more visible here. Google Chrome 19 webUI About page inside Settings

29 March 2012

Remove the ‘0 comments’ label on Blogger

With the recent revamp of the commenting system and a rumored Google+-based solution for sites, there are still some minor tweaks that can make Blogger comments work better on your blog or site. One thing that nagged me was the fact that below each article there is a rather big section dedicated to the number of comments – which is well and nice if there are comments, but completely useless on posts with none (I have a fair amount of those, as most casual bloggers do). So if you want to remove that part of the page, follow the instructions in this article. This involves changes to the HTML template, so be sure to back it up first, just in case.

27 March 2012

The Next Web: “Google Play gets top billing in Google’s black navigation bar”

Now that the Android Market has been re-branded as “Google Play” the company is wasting no time getting it in front of all of its users the best way it knows how, via the black navigation bar that appears on all of its products. Drew Olanoff

Google Play in Google BarYep, I see the link too. This new ‘in-your-face’- is slowly getting ridiculous. How is this link relevant to me as a user if I don’t have an Android device (and probably never will) and the books Google sells aren’t compatible with my Kindle? As I said before, I need a way to kill the Google black bar; unless I can configure which links I see it’s just a waste of screen space.

And what kind of a silly name is ‘Play’ for a site where you can purchase books?! What’s wrong with Google Store?

Oh, it was already taken

More control over the Facebook news feed: show or hide friends

After adding controls for the types of updates in the news feed and the relative importance of individual friends, has introduced more clear controls over who appears in the main news feed: a check box labeled simply ‘Show in News Feed’. The new on-or-off option is available for both friends and the pages you liked, appearing for my account in both the desktop site (hover over a profile picture in the news feed, then click on the button on the lower right of the hover card) and in the mobile site (visit a friend’s profile and click on ‘Friends’ or ‘Liked’) – that’s where I discovered it earlier today. The controls for the types of updates displayed for a given friend have been moved in the same menu under the ‘Settings…’ entry.

Facebook Show in News Feed desktopFacebook Show in News Feed mobile

By default, of course, new friends and pages are shown in the news feed, you have to remove them manually one by one if you want. I haven’t tested it that thoroughly, but I would guess that hidden friends or pages will still be shown in lists. Like other recent initiatives, it’s a move to reduce the noise on the main page, while at the same time providing users with less drastic options than removing those connections entirely.

26 March 2012

Online identity: ‘walled gardens’ are not the way

Behind the social agenda of most tech giants there are other underlying goals. It’s a competition to capture the online identity of users, better and more relevant data, in order to deliver ads and monetize. The problem is this competition is leading to a lot of fragmentation; instead of having one ‘identity’ on the web you have to manage several accounts and social graphs: one for , one on , on , Yahoo!, Windows Live, Disqus and so one. There should be a better way to handle this instead of this multitude of centralized identity providers.

Like an earlier post where I shared some thoughts how social networks compare to our offline interactions, I want to do the same for identity. Offline we generally have a single identity (name, age, sex, address, nickname, workplace, interests), with variation depending on the social context: a business persona, a more intimate and open image for family and friends, a very superficial, general image for the rest of the world. There are of course the outliers, public figures who are more universally recognizable, but you can’t really say you know them intimately, that is also reserved for a low number of people. We carry most of out identity with us and don’t build it from scratch with each new circle we encounter; after all, while getting a new job, for example, you are changing only one small aspect of your identity.

25 March 2012

Alastair Reynolds - Absolution Gap

in Bucharest, Romania

Alastair Reynolds Absolution GapLa două decenii de la finalul celei de‑a doua părți, refugiații de pe Resurgam – acum un sistem complet ostil vieții după intervenția violentă a Inhibitorilor – își refac comunitatea pe planeta Ararat, printre organismele stranii ale jonglerilor minții. Dar așa cum se așteptau încă de la sosire, răgazul lor e doar permanent și o singură capsulă aterizând în ocean semnalează că frontul contra Inhibitorilor a avansat pe nesimțite, amenințând liniștea aparentă a noii colonii. La zeci de ani-lumină distanță, lighthugger‑ul Gnostic Ascension se apropie de steaua 107 Piscium; un membru al echipajului, Quaiche, cercetând sistemul în căutare de artefacte sau orice altceva ce ar putea fi comercializat pe alte colonii, este atras către suprafața înghețată a satelitului Hela de un pod aflat într‑un loc care n‑ar fi trebuit să fi fost locuit niciodată până atunci. Doborât de vechi sisteme automate de apărare, salvarea îi vine de la un eveniment incredibil de improbabil: gigantul gazos Haldora, în jurul căruia orbitează Hela, dispare pentru o fracțiune de secundă, permițând navei lui Quaiche să recepționeze S.O.S.‑ul lui. Pe aceeași lună înghețată și lipsită de atmosferă, adolescenta Rashmika Els fuge de acasă pentru a intra în serviciul unei Catedrale, unde speră să afle detalii despre soarta fratelui ei, recrutat în urmă cu câțiva ani de bisericile de pe Calea Permanentă, și să aprofundeze studiile ei despre specia extraterestră dispărută, probabil tot într‑un atac al Inhibitorilor, ale cărei vestigii se găsesc peste tot pe suprafața Helei.

Ca și în romanele anterioare, Absolution Gap se structurează în trei povești paralele care converg de‑a lungul romanului spre un final comun. Eu nu am fost la început foarte atent la indicii, dar conexiunile se pot ghici devreme dacă urmăriți anii în care are loc acțiunea, menționați la începutul fiecărei secțiuni. De altfel primele capitole nu mi s‑au părut foarte interesante, ba chiar puțin respingătoare din cauza figurii aproape caricatural de grotești a Reginei Jasmina de pe Ascensiunea Gnostică; am făcut până și o pauză pentru a citi o altă carte. Când am revenit însă am început să fiu captivat din nou de acțiune, de idei și de universul creat în roman; ar fi multe de spus, deci...

23 March 2012

David Riesenberg: “Canon Mirrorless Concept”

David Riesenberg Canon AE-D concept
Like many others, I too have been waiting for quite a while for Canon to release its mirrorless system. There are speculations and indications that they may very well do so this year, but I personally grew a bit restless. Because of this, I decided to put to paper, or rather to CAD and rendering software, my vision of such camera. After about a month of learning, debating, modeling and rendering, the Canon AE-D came to life. David Riesenberg

Awesome concept and simple design, maybe a bit too retro for my taste; in any case, looking better than the bulky G1X. But, as the author himself acknowledges, the chances of this even being considered by Canon are pretty slim. It boils down to one major weakness: lens compatibility. As long as the camera has a different mount than the majority of Canon lenses it can never fully benefit from the lens ecosystem like other EOS cameras do. Sure, you could buy an adaptor – but that adds up to the likely high price – or hope for third-party lenses – an unlikely solution. With the market for cameras already squeezed by smartphones and the recent Kodak bankruptcy, the income from the model probably wouldn’t even cover the R&D costs and it’s unlikely the company would risk loosing money with a new product line when it can focus on the already profitable pro cameras.

22 March 2012

Fixing sharing buttons for country-specific Blogger URLs

A couple of days ago I noticed at the office the my blog loaded on a different domain (.de in this case) than the normal .com. I knew, of course, the reason behind the change: it’s a recent Blogger change aimed at protecting content from country-specific laws and regulations that would require some blogs to be taken down. I don’t really have a problem with the idea, but what annoyed me instead was that the sharing buttons built in to my articles no longer showed the correct number of tweets / likes. Moreover, anyone landing on a country-specific domain and using the buttons would be sharing that particular domain instead of the main address. This also seems to affect the way Facebook previews content when a Blogger link is shared there, as one of my readers reported in a comment to a previous article. Blogger’s own native sharing buttons have been tweaked in the background to prevent the issues mentioned above, as they already default to the canonical URL.

The Atlantic: “Why People in Cities Walk Fast”

Most work on urban walking speed dates back to 1976, when psychologists Marc and Helen Bornstein published a provocative paper on the topic in the top-tier journal Nature. The Bornsteins wanted to understand the relationship between a growing human population and an individual person's behavior. So they planted themselves in major activity centers of 15 different cities and towns in six different countries on warm sunny days, and timed how fast a couple dozen solitary, unsuspecting pedestrians covered about 50 feet of space. Eric Jaffe

Interesting study; it would certainly merit revisiting to get more up-to-date data – which I suspect will only further confirm the trend. I also like speeding up, especially when I find myself in a crowd moving along at its own – slow – pace. It’s more about getting in front of them, where I can assume my natural walking rhythm. If I were to speculate about the reason behind the more general trend, I would say people in larger cities have a more pressing sense of their goal – “I am going there to do this and that” – a need for efficient, economical use of time. I think factoring in the purpose of the trip – going to work vs. walking the dog – would yield some interesting correlations.

19 March 2012

The Guardian: “When present self meets future self”

Languages can be divided into those that use grammar to make a strong distinction between the present and the future (linguists say these have strong "future time reference" or FTR) and those that blur the two (weak FTR). Where you'd say, "I'm going to buy a house" in English, which is a strong FTR language, you'd say, "I buy house" in Mandarin, with the timing implied by the context. Chen's number-crunching revealed extraordinary correlations. Weak-FTR speakers are 24% less likely to smoke and 29% more likely to exercise; strong-FTR speakers saved far less money. Chen's argument is that the more you think of the future as a radically different thing, the easier it is not to worry about how too many cigarettes – or too little money – might cause problems in that future. It's not your fault you're a wreck. It's your grammar's. Oliver Burkeman

Interesting idea, although the argumentation is sketchy at best. As always, it’s good to keep in mind that correlation doesn’t equal causation. Be sure to read the last paragraph, it puts the entire article in a different perspective. Correlation

18 March 2012

Going mobile – iPhone edition

I’ve been toying with the idea of buying an iPhone since about a year ago. My previous quasi-smartphone – a Nokia N81 – was starting to show it’s age; after all three years is pretty much retirement age for any phone. I never considered Android an option; it was more a matter of taste than of features or phones. I would see myself instead buying a new Nokia with Windows Phone 7, it looks much more appealing than last year’s version of Android. I had only a small dilemma: I loved the design of the iPhone 4, but didn’t want to buy last years’ model. So you can image I was anything but disappointed when the iPhone 4S was announced, with pretty much the same design, but updated specs!

Long story short: it’s an awesome smartphone, get one if you can! And now for the long story:

14 March 2012

JW on Tech: “Why I left Google”

As it turned out, sharing was not broken. Sharing was working fine and dandy, Google just wasn’t part of it. People were sharing all around us and seemed quite happy. A user exodus from Facebook never materialized. I couldn’t even get my own teenage daughter to look at Google+ twice, social isn’t a product, she told me after I gave her a demo, social is people and the people are on Facebook. Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn’t invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation. The fact that no one came to Google’s party became the elephant in the room.James Whittaker

This story has been circulating a lot on the Internet lately and with good cause. Coming from a former Google who returned to his previous employer (Microsoft), it serves as insider confirmation for the criticism against the direction Google took lately, breaking user expectations, breaking good products, trying to force a new sharing model that simply doesn’t work.

You probably know the saying: If four or five guys tell you that you’re drunk, even though you know you haven’t had a thing to drink, the least you can do is to lie down a little while. Google got drunk on the idea it can do anything and doesn’t want to let it go, no matter how many people tell it otherwise.

13 March 2012

The Atlantic: “How Engineering the Human Body Could Combat Climate Change”

A new paper to be published in Ethics, Policy & Environment proposes a series of biomedical modifications that could help humans, themselves, consume less.
Some of the proposed modifications are simple and noninvasive. For instance, many people wish to give up meat for ecological reasons, but lack the willpower to do so on their own. The paper suggests that such individuals could take a pill that would trigger mild nausea upon the ingestion of meat, which would then lead to a lasting aversion to meat-eating. Other techniques are bound to be more controversial. For instance, the paper suggests that parents could make use of genetic engineering or hormone therapy in order to birth smaller, less resource-intensive children. Ross Andersen

This idea is just wrong on so many levels! I’m not even going to get into the ethical issues. I’m not an expert, but most of the technologies mentioned in the paper don’t seem ready for mass adoption on a planetary scale. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume they are, let’s also assume that the entire child-bearing population of the world will voluntarily submit to these limitations (which, of course, isn’t going to happen, for a countless number or reasons, from cultural to status – “I’m rich/a celebrity, so you must make an exception for me!”) and that the world economy can handle the massive cost of these interventions (IVF for roughly 130 million new babies yearly for a rate of 10,000 USD is definitely not cheap and that’s not even counting the cost to set up the necessary infrastructure in developing counties, to train doctors, etc.), let’s assume that all these unlikely events fall perfectly into place, what will we achieve? We will start making a dent in global warming after a couple of decades, when this hypothetical “energy-efficient” generation will reach adulthood, by which time the global warming will be well under way!

Now that’s what I call a solution…

12 March 2012

Facebook is not blocking Blogger; it just expects Open Graph markup

These past days a saw a couple of people complaining on that posting links on doesn’t show the nice rich preview we are all used to seeing. There was also a report that Blogger links were marked as spam and required word verification to post. While that issue seems to be fixed in the mean time, the previews are still missing. And now that I think about it, it must have started much longer ago, since I noticed it days ago on some links automatically posted to my profile by ifttt.

11 March 2012

Gawker: “Twitter’s Secret History As the World’s Worst Tech or Media Business”

To collect total revenue of $28.5 million in 2010, for example, the company had to spend and write off more than three times that, leading to a net loss of $67.8 million, according to new financial data on the company provided by our source.
And 2011 hardly got off to a more promising start: Twitter posted a net loss of $25.8 million on revenue of $23.8 million through April 30, according to the same source. In that same period, Facebook took in 26 times as much revenue, converting nearly a third of it into profit — and that was only through the end of March. Ryan Tate

That looks bad for . And it’s not like they can strike a deal with the most profitable tech company in history to keep themselves afloat.

Oh, wait

10 March 2012

Ars Technica: “Temporary tattoos fitted with electronics make flexible, ultrathin sensors”

The authors refer to their approach as an "epidermal electronic system" (EES), which is basically a fancy way of saying that the device matches the physical properties of the skin (such as stiffness), and its thickness matches that of skin features (wrinkles, creases, etc.). In fact, it adheres to skin only using van der Waals forces—the forces of attraction between atoms and molecules—so no adhesive material is required. Between the flexibility and the lack of adhesive, you wouldn’t really notice one of these attached.
One of the coolest aspects of this technology is the application method: temporary (transfer) tattoo. Yes, the ones you used as a kid, where you hold the transfer sheet with the design onto your skin then dampen it to dissolve the sheet. Here, they used water-soluble polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) sheets in the same manner. Kyle Niemeyer

If that sounds like something right out of a sci-fi novel, you would be right: Peter F. Hamilton imagined semi-permanent organic circuitry – OCTattoos – for his Commonwealth Saga series. They’re the smartphone/Siri of the future built right into your skin.

On the same note: Nokia patents a tattoo that vibrates when you get a call.

09 March 2012

Charles Stross: “World building 301: some projections”

What do I predict for 2032?

Space: Is a red herring in the short term. China will have a space station and maybe a flag on the moon. The USA will continue to send out increasingly sophisticated robot probes and might still be operating a space station. They might even have planted a flag on the moon (again) and have plans to go to Mars. (On the down side: a major political or fiscal crisis might be enough to do unto NASA what the collapse of the USSR did to the Soviet space infrastructure.) There will probably be continued commercial development in low earth orbit, including an orbiting hotel (for the plutocrats to play bunga-bunga games). And Elon Musk might still be in business and going balls-out for Mars. But by 2032 I don't expect there to be any major breakthroughs.

Let's look further ahead. What about 2092?

I agree with Bruce Sterling: it's going to be a world of old people living in big cities who are afraid of the sky.

Charles Stross

A (long) series of predictions about our world 20 and 80 years from now, respectively, from science-fiction author Charles Stross. While I don’t necessarily enjoy his sci-fi novels, the predictions laid out here for 2032 are mostly common sense and with a high chance of becoming reality in my opinion, even the ones that are undesirable. The future for 2092 is even bleaker, but also more uncertain, like the author himself acknowledges in a follow-up post. Definitely an article to be saved and revisited in a decade or so.

08 March 2012

Less online tracking? Turn off third-party cookies

Last month we saw a couple of privacy scandals unfold, as was caught circumventing privacy settings on the iPhone and in Internet Explorer in order to gather browsing data despite explicit user settings. Right about the same time, Mozilla released an add-on for , Collusion, to visualize the third parties that are tracking your movements across the Web. I wanted to do a little experiment to see what’s the difference between various browser privacy settings. That also gave me an opportunity to try out the newer version of Firefox more extensively – but I’ll write about that later. Some context about the graphs from Collusion:

Sites with a halo are sites that you have visited. Sites in grey are sites you have not visited. An arrow from one to the other means that the former site has set one or more third-party cookies to inform the latter site about your visit.

06 March 2012

Preview related searches in Google Image Search

So yesterday evening I was watching the to-and-fro about an update to tab handling in Safari 5.2. Fascinating stuff, especially for a Windows user who hasn’t touched desktop Safari ever since came out. Even so, I distinctly remembered that, in some iteration of Safari beta 4 for Windows, the browser already tested that behavior for tabs, that is tabs filling the entire width of the window, regardless of their number. And sure enough, I quickly found confirmation in this older article: Apple Safari 4 Beta for Windows.

05 March 2012

Ken Miller: “America’s Darwin Problem”

Significant numbers of Americans have come to regard the scientific enterprise as a special interest group that rejects mainstream American values and is not worthy of the public trust. Governor Rick Perry of Texas spoke to this view when he claimed that “There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data” to their own benefit. Why? Perry was clear about this. It’s personal greed. Scientists cheat “so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects.” Perry is hardly alone in his effort to depict scientists as greedy outsiders, “scamming the American people right and left” in the words of one Fox News commentator. Kenneth R. Miller

I can’t help but draw a parallel between this anti-science movement in present-day America and Martin Luther’s Reformation of the Catholic Church. As theology tries to understand God, so does Science strives to make sense of the Universe around us and man itself. As the Reformation encouraged people to reject the establishment of the Church, the priests and that past status quo and develop a personal relationship to God, so this anti-science trend undermines the scientific reasoning, scientists and their conclusions and promotes the notion that each individual somehow magically knows best, even without any training on the matter. Evolution can’t be true, neither can global warming; and why should I have to inoculate my child against common diseases? Surely that must be some conspiracy to sell those medicines or turn us all sterile! That old reactionary attitude seems to have lived on in modern-day Protestantism; a suspicion that a small group of people will gather to much power and use it to their own ends. Unfortunately, while such reformation can be accommodated on a spiritual level, in the field of science it’s unsustainable. Single persons can’t possibly comprehend the entirety of science, built during centuries of theories and experiments, from quantum mechanics to general relativity, to biology and medicine, let alone turn them into practical applications for every-day use. To continue to benefit from knowledge and scientific progress we must also accept that sometimes somebody else knows best. Just as we have been doing since the dawn of our species – otherwise we wouldn’t have made it this far.

04 March 2012

cdixon: “Warren Buffet on gold as an investment”

A century from now the 400 million acres of farmland will have produced staggering amounts of corn, wheat, cotton, and other crops – and will continue to produce that valuable bounty, whatever the currency may be. Exxon Mobil will probably have delivered trillions of dollars in dividends to its owners and will also hold assets worth many more trillions (and, remember, you get 16 Exxons). The 170,000 tons of gold will be unchanged in size and still incapable of producing anything. You can fondle the cube, but it will not respond.
Admittedly, when people a century from now are fearful, it’s likely many will still rush to gold. I’m confident, however, that the $9.6 trillion current valuation of pile A will compound over the century at a rate far inferior to that achieved by pile B. Berkshire Hathaway 2011 annual report

Short answer to this: Well, d’oh! Anyone with basic understanding of economics knows this.

Long answer: Lets’ look at this from a different perspective: maybe a century from now global warming will have screwed up the climate so badly that those acres of farmland will be basically useless for growing anything other than weeds. Or maybe – to offer some positive prospect as well – we will develop technologies to mass produce food via bioengineering, making traditional agriculture obsolete. And companies come and go in much less than hundred years – just look at Kodak – so those dividends are far from a sure bet. On the other hand, the gold will still be there, in one form or another, millennia from now. It could easily outlive the human race. And that’s what the people are buying with gold: not the prospect of profit, but the certainty its’ value will not suddenly dwindle to nothing like so many other potential investments. Economics is entirely a game of trust and risk: if you are willing to risk more, to trust a certain company, startup or even country through its currency, you can potentially gain more – or loose everything. With gold on the other hand there is no risk – or let’s say, the least amount of risk possible – and that’s what it makes gold so attractive during crises, when the risks of all other forms of saving or investment become more apparent.

01 March 2012

Social networks vs. real-life

At launch, the catch phrase for ’s social network/layer was Real-life sharing, rethought for the web. But then came the spammers, the controversies around requiring the real-name from users and the constant pushing into every aspect of Google, regardless of this created a better experience or functionality. My personal impression was largely influenced by the decision to strip of it’s sharing functions in favor of Google+. At some point I started thinking how Google+ compares with other more successful social networks and here is what I came up with: