30 April 2012

Dev.Opera: “Opera Mobile Emulator build with experimental WebKit prefix support”

Opera, along with Mozilla, announced at a CSS Working Group meeting (minutes) that we would support some -webkit- prefixes. This is because through our site compatibility work, we have experienced that many authors of (especially mobile) sites only use -webkit- prefixed CSS, thereby ignoring other vendor prefixes and not even including an unprefixed equivalent. This leads to a reduced user experience on Opera and Firefox, which don't receive the same shiny effects such as transitions, gradients and the like, even if the browser supported those effects. Bruce Lawson

Another pragmatic, sensible move from Opera.

I saw a lot of commentary on the web and especially on how this decision will break the web and encourage lazy web developers to ignore non-WebKit browsers even further. Personally, I don’t see this happening. For one, Opera is only supporting a small subset of WebKit-specific extensions, specifically those with wide-spread adoption and already supported by Opera, albeit under the –o- prefix. As far as I understand, the way this works is, when Opera encounters a compatible –webkit- property it behaves as if the code used the corresponding Opera-specific property.This shouldn’t prevent designers to test sites in Opera, because a) while some –webkit- prefixed CSS properties will be recognized, the rendering will be done according to Opera’s implementation, which may or may not be identical to WebKit’s and b) once you step out of the narrow selection of cross-compatible extensions the rendering will differ just like before. This is just a defensive move to ensure a better experience for Opera users, closer to the original intent of the designer. Ultimately, the end-user doesn’t know or care about the reason why the site looks nicer in a WebKit-browser than in ; if he encounters reduced functionality he will probably switch and never come back. This way Opera – and presumably and Internet Explorer at some point – will have a better competitive chance.

This article explains the causes and the current problem much better, impartially, I recommend you read it as well.

Regardless of this decision, Opera is doing fine in mobile.

Revision history for Office files synced through SkyDrive

The previous week was full of launches and upgrades in the online storage segment, including the desktop app for Windows SkyDrive and Google Drive – which didn’t impress me much. Since I was a SkyDrive user for a while (probably right after it was launched) I was able to retain my 25 GB storage space, a definite plus compared to the competition. Although I’m not exactly fond of the idea to put all my important files inside a single folder in order to have them backed up to the cloud, I decided to try out the local integration of SkyDrive. I was especially curious whether Office files added to SkyDrive would have some sort of version history. The web version of the Office editors has it of course, but I prefer to work locally for the increased speed and better features.

Opera Add-ons: “Increased focus on Opera extensions […]”

Today we are announcing the beginning of the end for two of our current Add-on platforms. Starting with the upcoming Opera 12 release, Opera Unite and Opera Widgets will be turned off by default for new users. The two Add-on platforms will be completely removed in a later release expected before the end of this year. Arnstein Teigene

Probably the best decision made in a while. I never used widgets nor Unite, they seemed like second class features that never belonged in the browser in the first place. It’s preferable to focus on making the browser faster, more secure, than to maintain legacy code that has no foreseeable future in the current browser landscape.

It always baffled me that Opera couldn’t get a significant market share on the desktop – it does OK in mobile though. It’s in every aspect as good as , maybe even better if you count out the extension ecosystem that Mozilla built. Maybe it’s a case of ‘simple over too complex’ or the lack of press coverage, with Opera not being produced by an American company. I remember my first encounter with Opera pretty well – it was in fact my first experience with a browser other than Internet Explorer. It was back in my college years, circa 2003, when I did my browsing only on the public PC’s available for free to students. I just stumbled on it by chance (it was installed on a single computer) and I was amazed at the speed with which it loaded pages compared to IE6. Unfortunately, by the time I got my own PC and Internet connection, Firefox had stolen the crown of ‘alternative browser’, so I only returned to Opera from time to time as a secondary option when my main browser was acting up.

29 April 2012

Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett - Semne bune

in Bucharest, Romania

Neil Gaiman si Terry Pratchett Semne Bune (editura Tritonic)Cum ați reacționa dacă, după un armistițiu de șase mii de ani, timp în care v‑ați construit o viață de bine-de rău confortabilă pe Pământ și chiar ați ajuns la o oarecare înțelegere cu agenții inamicului, ați fi anunțat de la centru că Războiul Rece se va termina în curând, armele vor fi ridicate din nou pentru bătălia decisivă, la finalul căreia Pământul și tot ce apreciați la omenire vor fi distruse? Dacă ați răspunde că ați lupta să împiedicați declanșarea războiului n‑ați nimerit‑o: nici îngerul Aziraphale, nici demonul Crowley (inspirația pentru personajul omonim din Supernatural?) nu au de ales în această chestiune sau în oricare alta; liberul arbitru e rezervat exclusiv oamenilor. Din păcate pentru micile lor plăceri lumești – Aziraphale colecționează cărți în ediții princeps, savurează muzica bună și din când în când își încearcă priceperea de magician, în timp ce Crowley își îngrijește cu conștiinciozitate Bentley‑ul din anii ‘60 și plantele de apartament și savurează în general decadența secolului douăzeci, nu poate încăpea îndoială că momentul înfruntării finale se apropie. Crowley e însărcinat să‑l plaseze pe Antichrist – botezat paradoxal Adam – în familia unui diplomat american și să se asigure de educația lui demonică de‑a lungul celor 11 ani în care își va descoperi puterile. În ciuda condiționării lor fac o înțelegere – pact sună prea tare în context – să încerce să împiedice trezirea Antichristului și Armageddon‑ul. Dar poate că Dumnezeu are propriul său plan inefabil, necunoscut niciunuia dintre combatanți…

God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players (ie., everybody), to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.

26 April 2012

Twitter web shows rich previews for WordPress links

WordPress rich previews on Twitter Web expandedWith the second major redesign, the web site added inline previews for images and video – it should help turn the site more into a destination for media consumption rather than a simple referral to original content. I noticed a couple of days ago that the rich previews are now generated for some links as well, namely those pointing to the domain wordpress.com; just do a Twitter search and click on the link ‘View media’ under the individual tweets.

The previews include snippets from the blog posts – the first paragraphs by the looks of it – and a picture – again, likely the first. For now the previews appear only in the stream, not on the individual pages for tweets. They look positively – dare I say it? – -like, especially now that open tweets also display interactions (replies, favorites, retweets) underneath! I would prefer a slightly smaller picture, right now they tend to fill up the entire vertical space on the screen, which feels out of place for a service known for brevity. This sneak-peak should help build user trust that the links don’t point to some malicious site and that the page is worth visiting. I didn't discover other domains with similar previews, but it’s reasonable to assume that it will be extended in time for more sites – needless to say, no Twitter client supports this feature as of now, not even the in-house-maintained TweetDeck. WordPress rich previews on Twitter Web

25 April 2012

ReadWriteWeb: “Google Drive Doesn't Go Far Enough - But It Could”

Collaborators can comment alongside any file, just as they could on Google Docs before. But Google Drive doesn’t allow editing of documents. Opening the files just launches Google Docs in the browser, whether on a desktop or mobile device.
We don’t even have an iOS app on launch day, but Google has shown it to us. It’s just a viewer, no different from the Dropbox app. Android users do have native Google Docs, but the rest have to use the browser. On the mobile Web, that experience is severely limited. Jon Mitchell

My experience exactly. The mobile version of Google Docs on iOS is a pain to use, it refreshes constantly (probably to store changes online) and keeps logging me out. From this report it looks like Google Drive isn’t going to improve on that, at least not for iPhone users. Not having the iOS app ready for launch at the same time as the Android version seems to be a trend lately with Google – the Gmail app for example, or the feature to instant upload photos in Google+ – going against what most other developers do, which is launch for the iPhone first. The only explanation I can think of is that Google is trying to support Android, to promote it as the best way to use Google services – an anticompetitive, Microsoft-like, approach, that will only hurt the initial adoption of Google Drive.

24 April 2012

The Atlantic: “Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?”

You have said that your book is meant to describe "the remarkable revolutions that have taken place in our understanding of the universe over the past 50 years--revolutions that should be celebrated as the pinnacle of our intellectual experience." I think that's a worthy project and, like you, I find it lamentable that some of physics' most extraordinary discoveries have yet to fully penetrate our culture. But might it be possible to communicate the beauty of those discoveries without tacking on an assault on previous belief systems, especially when those belief systems aren't necessarily scientific? Ross Andersen
Krauss: Well, yes. I'm sympathetic to your point in one sense, and I've had this debate with Richard Dawkins; I've often said to him that if you want people to listen to you, the best way is not to go up to them and say, "You're stupid." Somehow it doesn't get through.
It's a fine line and it's hard to tell where to fall on this one. What drove me to write this book was this discovery that the nature of "nothing" had changed, that we've discovered that "nothing" is almost everything and that it has properties. That to me is an amazing discovery. So how do I frame that? I frame it in terms of this question about something coming from nothing. And part of that is a reaction to these really pompous theologians who say, "out of nothing, nothing comes," because those are just empty words. I think at some point you need to provoke people. Science is meant to make people uncomfortable. And whether I went too far on one side or another of that line is an interesting question, but I suspect that if I can get people to be upset about that issue, then on some level I've raised awareness of it.

Short answer: No. And it will probably never do.

Long answer: I an wary of people who arrogantly believe they hold the final answer to every question. That’s the root of religious fundamentalism and to see a scientist go down that route is just sad – science should first and foremost be about keeping an open mind about the world around you. And even more wary of people lacking solid arguments and resorting to calling others moronic. More to the point: physics is as far away from an unified theory as it was about a century ago after Einstein introduced general relativity. There are a number of theories that look promising, but none of them has been completely proven or disproven. Even with a final theory in physics and cosmology, does anyone seriously expect that it will answer all the questions humans have been asking themselves since the dawn of civilization, up to the appearance of life on Earth and the emergence of intelligence and consciousness?! Science still has a long way to go and I’m not sure it will ever get there.

Update: An apology to the philosophers (sort of) from the book author, published in Scientific American.

20 April 2012

Sync extra preferences in Firefox and extensions

Syncing to the ‘cloud’ has become one of the major trends lately and for good reason: it can provide both a consistent experience on every device you use and a means to restore your previous setup easily upon reinstall. Browsers like were among the first to offer online syncing; Firefox and Chrome also followed with their own solutions. I recently discovered from a very informative (German language) blog focused on Mozilla products that the sync features in Firefox go a lot deeper than expected: you can actually sync individual preferences as defined in about:config, including those set by add-ons, with some manual work unfortunately.

15 April 2012

Catherynne M. Valente - Silently and Very Fast

in Bucharest, Romania

Cathetynne M. Valente - Sylently and Very FastDezvoltarea inteligenței artificiale e o temă răspândită în science-fiction și în nuvela de față avem parte de o tentativă în această direcție de la o novice a genului, venită dinspre fantasy. Protagonistul(a), Elefsis, și‑a început existența sub forma unui software elaborat de gestionare a unei vaste locuințe pe insula Hokkaido, pe care apoi generații întregi ale familiei care locuia acolo o dezvoltă, conectându‑și mintea și interacționând în spațiul virtual, încercând să‑i ofere toate experiențele umane și s‑o conducă spre punctul inefabil din care poate fi considerată o conștiință de sine stătătoare.

Nuvela e bine scrisă stilistic, plină de metafore, imagini și simboluri, alternând între subcapitole redând amintirile lui Elefsis, interacțiunile din prezent cu Neva în mereu-schimbătoarele corpuri-vis și repovestiri ale unor mituri și basme umane, asezonate cu elemente cibernetice, pentru a se mula pe povestea entității artificiale. Referințele mitologice sunt variate, mergând de la basme arhi‑cunoscute (Albă‑ca‑zăpada, Frumoasa din pădurea adormită) la venerația romanilor pentru zeii căminului, lares – care inspiră versiunea originală a software‑ului de automatizare casnică din care va evolua Elefsis –, o scurtă aluzie la mitul grecesc al Persefonei, de care e legat numele Elefsis, până la unele mai obscure, anticul mit sumerian al coborârii în Infern a zeiței Inanna, cunoscută mai târziu sub numele de Iștar. Nu întâmplător, mai ales din perspectiva finalului, majoritatea sunt legate de moarte și salvarea din neființă prin sacrificiul sau eforturile unui apropiat.

11 April 2012

A simpler, more beautiful Google+ (also, more like Facebook)

The big Google news today seems to be a fresh new design for Google+. The main change is a customizable, dynamic ribbon of applications on the left. The look of individual posts has also been updated along with the +1 buttons, share counts and comments. Most people like it, others don’t – including me. Let’s have a go at it one section at a time:

Home

New Google Plus design Home tabInstead of the actual content, the first thing that catches the eye is the huge amount of wasted space on the right. This only gets works while you scroll down the page. Also weird: the share box ends abruptly, leaving a stretch of white space just above the Trends or Circle members, depending on the circle you are visiting. I can only guess somebody designed this on a tablet in portrait mode and never bothered to check it up in a desktop browser as well.

At some point I noticed that the rightmost side was reserved for the Chat widget, when open. When you maximize your browser window, the same Chat widget will become a fixed, full-height, sidebar. So much for customizability! Maybe I want to use my browser window for something else or – crazy, I know! – maybe I am logged out of chat completely, while at work for example. Does this thing have to take up space if I don’t use it?! Not to mention this design copies the behavior of the Facebook chat sidebar almost identically.

Speaking of customizability, why can’t you choose which circles are featured on the ribbon above the posts? Suddenly Google+ is focusing on ‘Friends’ and ‘Family’ while having a ‘What’s hot’ public section as well?! Is the focus on personal, intimate relationships or public sharing? You can’t be both at once.

Update: It seems changing the two default circles used as stream filters is possible, just hard to discover: go to Circles and drag two of them to the top left, next to the dummy circle with the tip. The order here is the same as in the stream filter menu.

10 April 2012

GigaOM: “Here is why Facebook bought Instagram”

My translation: Facebook was scared shitless and knew that for first time in its life it arguably had a competitor that could not only eat its lunch, but also destroy its future prospects. Why? Because Facebook is essentially about photos, and Instagram had found and attacked Facebook’s achilles heel — mobile photo sharing. Om Malik

Hmm, threatened by a company with no revenues and no plans whatsoever for a business model?! Oh, wait, maybe that was the business model: selling to the highest bidder! Of all the hundreds and thousands of new products launched each year, let’s say, for the sake of simplicity, 90% fail miserably, 9% get acquired by a handful of tech giants and 1% go on to become the next big thing – for a while at least. With so many users, Instagram was already past the point of failure, but I guess they had no real ambition to become more than that. The whole Android launch just days before this news is in retrospect just another move in the negotiation game: Instagram wanted to prove they are hot on a second platform in order to get a better deal – which they have. So no, there was no real danger for Facebook – other than competition like or buying them. I am inclined to think the acquisition is less about talent or users, and more a power move from Facebook, a sign to both app developers and Google: we can and will compete for startups, we have the money to do it.

There is another aspect to this: the public perception of the two communities. Instagram is – or shall I say used to be? – perceived as an exclusivist app, a closed circle of Apple fans and photo enthusiasts. This likely fueled the insane growth on Android, the feeling they were finally allowed in this exclusivist community. on the other hand is the very opposite of exclusivist: like it or not, you have to be there, because everyone else is already on Facebook. Combined with the poor record on privacy, this could spell bad news for Instagram, regardless of the stated intentions to keep it relatively independent. The original, Apple-centric, community already complained about the flood of Android users, being tied to Facebook just makes things worse. In the long run, I don’t see this working out very well – for what remains of Instagram at least…

09 April 2012

Firefox vs. Chrome: all about the looks?

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I started using Firefox extensively to test the Collusion add-on. While I constantly use the stable version of the browser on my work PC, it’s so slow and running Windows XP on top of it that I wouldn’t want to judge software under those conditions. At home I am running the Aurora version (12 back then, currently 13 after an update) and I must say the experience was much smoother than I remembered it. Firefox feels faster, more responsive; it even starts up quicker, thanks to constant tweaks and bug fixes. It most certainly consumes less RAM than Chrome, not that it makes a noticeable difference with 4GB available. It’s very stable for not-yet-beta software. It finally added its own version of a New Tab page – last among the major browsers – and it can sync a lot of browser essentials, including add-ons, more or less on par with Google Chrome. As for rendering speed it’s not something that makes a noticeable difference – there are some crazy reports that Internet Explorer beats other browsers in this area…

08 April 2012

Camil Petrescu - Patul lui Procust

in Bucharest, Romania

Camil Petrescu - Patul lui ProcustDacă ați citit celălalt roman cu titlu imposibil de lung și extrem de potrivit al lui Camil Petrescu, Patul lui Procust e o alegere de neevitat. De altfel cu acesta se și încheie activitatea de romancier a scriitorului. Cadrul și momentul sunt similare: perioada interbelică, cam la un deceniu de la evenimentele din romanul precedent, același București, familiar nouă chiar și un secol mai târziu, capitala pe care „ne place s‑o urâm”, înecată în zăpușeală vara și în noroaie în restul anului, disprețuită de personajele înseși, de unele subtil, de altele vehement – cum putem să citim un articol al lui Ladima într‑o notă de subsol.

Stilul – sau lipsa lui – și modul de prezentare a poveștii sunt și ele asemănătoare, dar mult aprofundate. Dacă în Ultima noapte… aveam în față mărturia unui singur povestitor, aici se întretaie mai multe voci și surse de informație: scrisorile doamnei T. către autor, jurnalul lui Fred Vasilescu cu propriile amintiri, scrisorile lui George Ladima către Emilia și comentariile indolente ale acesteia. Până și autorul se implică direct în roman, un procedeu mai neconvențional și rar întâlnit; el este cel care îi îndeamnă pe T. și Fred să‑și pună pe hârtie gândurile și experiențele, contribuie cu notele de subsol, adaugă comentarii din perspectiva proprie, ne face cunoscut câte ceva din concepția lui despre artă în general și scris în particular, scrie epilogul final. Dacă Ultima noapte… e un râu mai mult sau mai puțin liniar, întrerupt de o cataractă violentă, Patul lui Procust e o deltă cu un hățiș haotic de cursuri de apă, care se întâlnesc și se despart când te aștepți mai puțin, pe care navighezi înainte și înapoi și treci pe nesimțite pe alte canale după cum te poartă capriciile ghizilor tăi.

Un scriitor e un om care exprimă în scris cu o liniară sinceritate ceea ce a simțit, ceea ce a gândit, ceea ce i s-a întâmplat în viață, lui și celor pe care i-a cunoscut, sau chiar obiectelor neînsuflețite. Fără ortografie, fără compoziție, fără stil și chiar fără caligrafie.

05 April 2012

Push notifications for lists and groups in Facebook for iOS

Along with the more significant update for the iPad app, the iPhone version of Facebook’s mobile app has also been bumped up – currently standing at 4.1.1. While not mentioned in the list of new features, I notices a small change on the iPhone: you can now enable push notifications for lists and groups – similar to the desktop version, where you can opt to receive notifications for every new post or posts from friends. You will find the toggle on the top of the page when you visit a group or list that supports this. Apparently push notifications are only available for ‘Close Friends’ (and On by default), although I can’t see any valid reason why it shouldn’t be an option for any list, smart or manual.

  • Facebook iOS app push notifications for Close Friends
  • Facebook iOS app push notifications for groups

04 April 2012

The New York Times: “Google Begins Testing Its Augmented-Reality Glasses”

Google Project Glass concept

If you venture into a coffee shop in the coming months and see someone with a pair of futuristic glasses that look like a prop from “Star Trek”, don’t worry. It’s probably just a Google employee testing the company’s new augmented-reality glasses.

On Wednesday, Google gave people a clearer picture of its secret initiative called Project Glass. The glasses are the company’s first venture into wearable computing.


The prototype version Google showed off on Wednesday looked like a very polished and well-designed pair of wrap-around glasses with a clear display that sits above the eye. The glasses can stream information to the lenses and allow the wearer to send and receive messages through voice commands. There is also a built-in camera to record video and take pictures.

Nick Bilton

They look surprisingly good, simple and unobtrusive. Of course, the software and usability needs to be up to speed as well, otherwise you’ll just have a pair of fancy-looking glasses. It’s certainly a concept that could become a major trend in a couple of years (just wait until Apple releases iGlasses!). Personally, I don’t see myself using one, I’d rather put some distance between me and the Web, having it every minute in your face (literally!) seems a bit on the obsessive side.