24 November 2013

Alastair Reynolds - Chasm City

in Bucharest, Romania

Alastair Reynolds - Chasm CityPe planeta înapoiată și devastată de războaie Sky’s Edge, mercenarul Tanner Mirabel își urmărește ținta, aristocratul Argent Reivich, până la ascensorul orbital care leagă suprafața planetei de spațiul interstelar și de evadarea pe o navă Ultra spre o altă colonie umană. Scopul lui Tanner e simplu: să răzbune moartea fostului său șef, traficantul de arme Cahuella, și a soției sale Gitta, pentru care dezvoltase o afecțiune interzisă și nemărturisită. Cu o insistență ieșită din comun, Tanner îl urmărește pe Reivich până la destinația lui, planeta Yellowstone, unde îl pierde în hățișul urban al capitalei Chasm City. Trezit din somnul criogenic pe o stație a Călugărilor Gheții, Tanner pierde timp prețios încercând să‑și recapete amintirile dereglate de hibernarea lungă de 15 ani, ba mai mult, descoperă că a fost infectat cu un virus de îndoctrinare, una din armele de propagandă ale fanaticilor religioși de pe Sky’s Edge, care îl obligă să retrăiască în momentele de inconștiență viața fondatorului planetei, Sky Haussmann. Și ca lucrurile să fie și mai complicate, Chasm City s‑a transformat radical în timpul în care cei doi rivali au traversat spațiul: o epidemie misterioasă a atacat nano‑mașinile omniprezente, făcându‑le să se comporte haotic, atacând locuitorii și modificând clădirile metamorfice în imagini grotești. În urmă cu doar șapte ani centrul științei și comerțului interstelar, acum Chasm City se luptă să‑și regăsească echilibrul, separat în majoritatea săracă a populației trăind de la o zi la alta la nivelul solului în Noroi și aristocrația dependentă de un drog rar și misterios care petrece decadent sus printre vârfurile clădirilor deformate, în Boltă.

Why do they do it, though? Doesn’t potential immortality make your lives all the more precious?

Yes, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t need to be reminded of death now and then. What’s the point of beating an old enemy if you deny yourself the thrill of ever remembering what it was like in the first place? Victory loses its meaning without the memory of what you’ve vanquished.

21 November 2013

What’s new in Chrome 32

Chrome-32-audio-tab-indicatorChrome’s 32nd version finally adds a small, but very useful feature that has been in the works for some time: an indicator for tabs playing audio! The announcement on the official blog mentions another couple indicators as well, for tabs accessing the webcam or casting content to a TV, but those are rather unlikely activities in a browser compared to listening to music or video. In my experience though the indicator is not full-proof: it works flawlessly with native video players (and most-likely audio), to the extent of live syncing with the audio playback, so when a video segment has no audio, the indicator fades out and returns as soon as the audio track is back! Also very helpful: the audio indicator replaces the favicon for pinned tabs. On the other hand, the indicator doesn’t work at all when the player uses Flash – I suppose this was the reason why this feature was delayed for so long, until someone finally gave up trying to support Flash and shipped a version for native playback only. At least for Flash videos on you can still fall-back to its own in-tab arrow indicator.

Update: As mentioned in the comments, the audio tab indicator works with Flash videos as well, as long as you’re using the built-in Flash plugin, not the older, soon to be deprecated NPAPI version. To enable Pepper Flash, visit the internal page chrome://plugins, look for ‘Adobe Flash Player’ (it should be the first entry on the page), click on ‘Details’ on the left to show all options and then disable the NPAPI Flash plugin and enable PPAPI (out-of-process). With all the efforts Google is putting into moving away from the old NPAPI plugin architecture, I find it a little ironic that the ‘Google Update’ plugin is still using it…

While not mentioned anywhere on the official blogs, this version also enables the new design for the New-Tab page by default, featuring the superfluous Google search box and missing a lot of useful features like direct access to apps and recently closed pages. For now, the flag controlling the Instant Extended API is still available, so users an theoretically disable it and revert to the previous New-Tab page layout.

Version 32 also marks the switch from native rendering to the new UI stack Aura. This will cause an important user-facing change, namely a new visual style for scrollbars on Windows: instead of the native, familiar look they will have a flatter style, without arrows at either end. Personally I don’t mind the visual change, but after updating to the stable channel the new scrollbars behave very strangely: often pages don’t respond to scrolling from the mouse wheel, or even zoom in or out as if I was holding down the Ctrl key! Hopefully these problems will be sorted out shortly, scrolling is almost unusable as it stands now.

This version will also bring a new user-interface in Windows 8, Metro-mode – nothing exciting from the images presented, didn’t spend any time trying to come up with new ideas to match Metro style, relying on the same boring windows as the classic desktop mode. Another minor Windows-related update is that the browser now supports opening and closing drop-down lists using the F4 key – I personally didn’t even knew this keyboard shortcut existed!

17 November 2013

Brandon Sanderson - Firstborn

in Bucharest, Romania

Brandon Sanderson - FirstbornLa comanda unei navei-amiral a Marelui Imperiu, tânărul Dennison acumulează eșec după eșec, în timp ce fratele lui mai mare, Varion, este cel mai faimos amiral al Imperiului, o adevărată legendă de neînfrânt conducând Războiul de Reunificare contra Rebelilor. Atunci când e rechemat înaintea tatălui său, Marele Duce Sennion Crestmar, Dennison speră să i se poată permite în sfârșit să părăsească cariera militară impusă de nașterea într‑o familie nobilă. În schimb Ducele îl repartizează sub comanda Marelui Amiral Kern, care îi comandă să studieze până la epuizare fostele lupte ale lui Varion în speranța de a scoate la iveală în Dennison geniul strategic care pare rezervat doar fratelui mai mare.

Dennison paused, stopping right in front of Brell, then reached out and tapped the man’s chest right in the center of his High Imperial Emblem. But think of this, Dennison continued with a light smile. If I’m an idiot, then you must be pretty damn incompetent yourself; otherwise they would never have wasted you by sending you to serve under me.

Primul Născut, singura povestire scurtă cu care Brandon Sanderson și‑a încercat talentul în lumea science-fiction a fost pentru mine o dezamăgire. Deși stilul e antrenant, cu lupte pe scară largă și câteva scene amuzante, povestea în sine este dureros de previzibilă și încărcată de clișee: rivalitatea între frați, tatăl care își forțează fiul să se muleze pe așteptările lui, un Imperiu amenințat de secesiune, generalul care trădează cauza și plănuiește să preia tronul – parcă aș fi citit un fragment deosebit de prost dintr‑un roman Star Wars. Legile fizicii sunt ignorate și aici cu aceeași dezinvoltură – sau ca într‑un roman fantasy: deși Sanderson e cunoscut pentru rigurozitatea cu care construiește regulile și limitele magiei, la tehnologie se mulțumește să utilizeze soluția facilă a călătoriei cu viteze practic infinite. Dennison se află o zi pe câmpul de luptă, undeva la granițele îndepărtate aproape de teritoriile rebele, pentru ca a doua zi să cineze cu tatăl său în capitala imperiului. Pe scurt nimic remarcabil aici, Sanderson ar face bine să rămână la romanele fantasy unde are experiență și succes.

Nota mea: 2.0

disponibilă online pe site‑ul editurii Tor

15 November 2013

Rorgy: “Facebook’s Brilliant, Boring Master Plan”

Facebook Messenger 3.0 iOS
I don't know if Facebook messages will ever replace text messages for me – it certainly won't right now, because I have no reason to switch away from texting the people I already text. But I've noticed that I write new friends on Facebook much more frequently than I text them: with the exception of people I actually live with, most of my conversations with new friends happen through Facebook, because we don't have much of a reason to exchange phone numbers at all. I could see Facebook gradually creeping up on my social conversations, offering me slightly more fun and functional ways to interact with them, until finally I go full hog and drag iMessages down to the "Bllsht" folder I dump all of Apple's other arbitrary apps into. It's not a flashy move on Facebook's part. But it's a move that I, as a user, can appreciate, and that might keep me using Facebook even as I discover other new social networks to occupy my time with. Rory Marinich

By an amusing coincidence I have only recently installed Facebook Messenger on my iPhone – just this Wednesday – and the next day it was already updating! The only palpable advantage of the previous version was the absence of chat heads, which in the regular app would take up about a quarter of the already crowded display area, leaving very few space for actual messages.

After the update Messenger finally starts to make sense as a standalone app, with tighter integration with the main app – and direct access to the phone’s address book! I have the feeling Facebook is aiming to build a WhatsApp competitor here: cross-platform (as you can plainly see on the Messenger homepage, depicting an Android and an Apple smartphone exchanging messages) and relatively independent of a Facebook account, since you can now message people directly on their phone number. If you can’t beat – or buy – them, might as well launch a nearly-identical offering, try to keep users hooked on Facebook.

Benedict Evans: “Instagram and Youtube”

So buying Instagram certainly looks like a good trade - it would be worth a lot more if it was selling today. But as a strategic move, it's looking increasingly irrelevant. Is FB going to buy Whatsapp, Snapchat, Line, Kakao and the next ten that emerge as well? Sure, some of those will disappear, but it doesn't look like FB will crush the competitors the way it did on the desktop. On mobile, FB will be just one of many.

Just maybe, Facebook might have been better off rethinking the core product instead of buying what turned out to be just one of a swarm of alternative services.

This, of course, prompts comparison with another (in)famous acquisition - Flickr's purchase by Yahoo. There was a period when AOL and Yahoo went around buying up lots of cool new web services as their portal model came under threat. They then generally mismanaged them, but that wasn't really the point. No matter how well they ran these acquisitions, they couldn't buy every great website that there was. Neither can Facebook.

Benedict Evans

Apparently that hasn’t stopped them from trying: Snapchat rejects $3bn Facebook buyout!

14 November 2013

GigaOm: “Why the Chromebook pundits are simply out of touch with reality”

Two recent articles belittling the need and use cases for Chromebooks also belittle those consumers who buy them. It’s a shame that some are stuck in the old-school traditional computing model where the thought of “more is better” overlooks cases where less is more.

Kevin C. Tofel

Apparently less market share is more. And poor quality of accessories is also more.

13 November 2013

Official Gmail Blog: “Attachments in Gmail, now with the power of Google Drive”

You’re probably used to downloading email attachments, but each of those files takes time to download, eats up space on your device, and can get buried deep inside your “Downloads” folder. With today’s update to Gmail, you can skip that whole process. Instead, you can view attachments and save files directly to Google Drive without ever leaving Gmail, making it easy to access them later from whatever device you’re on – computer, phone or tablet. Scott Johnston

Hmm, correct me if I’m wrong, but if you save attachments to Drive while they are still enclosed in the original email body, you’re effectively making a copy of the file in a new location, using up twice the storage space. Since Gmail and Drive share the same storage, doing this will eat into your quota twice as fast than if you were to simply store files in Gmail! As long as there is no easy way to remove the attached file while keeping the conversation text this just seems like a bad plan!

12 November 2013

Lessig Blog, v2: “On the pathological way Apple deals with its customers”

But whether or not these changes are bugs, this is my point: it is insane that Apple doesn’t have a policy of explaining this to us. I am sure I am not the only Apple user that doesn’t have time for this absurdity. Days begin for me in the 4am timeframe already, and I am already perpetually behind. So to confront these problems without there being a simple location on the Apple site where Apple explains what it intends to fix is to add the proverbial insult to injury.

Apple is already spending the money to scrub the comments it doesn’t like. Apple can afford to spend the money to help its users understand which bugs are features, and which bugs will be repaired.

And if Apple doesn’t, then it is a company with an ego that at least I don’t have the time to afford.

Lawrence Lessig

Yet another user frustrated with the recent software updates from Apple. While some of the issues with OS X Mail and Gmail should be fixed, the communication problem remains. Apple doesn’t have a or account to connect to the public, nor does it maintain a blog for regular updates as far as I know. Even this Mail update has appeared only in the support center and people heard about it just because Apple gets huge amounts of coverage for every minor thing they do. Maybe that’s just Apple’s reasoning after all: no need to have a social media presence when their fans do such a good job on their own!

11 November 2013

Getting to know (and maybe like) iOS 7

After upgrading to iOS 7, I was prepared to go on a rant about the horrible things Apple had done wrong in this release: mainly removing web-search from Spotlight and the ever-present, time-consuming animations (but some other smaller annoyances I will return to later). But then, to my pleasant surprise, Apple fixed both of them in a single update, which I installed as fast as I could, faster than any OS update released before. I had grown used to searching the web from Spotlight and it’s probably the fastest way to do so on an iPhone – without it I was left tapping and swiping several times to open Safari, delete the previous address and finally type in the new query. And the zoom animations really gave the impression that the device is much slower than before – which is actually not the case; once you turn them off, the phone feels more responsive than with iOS 6. Nevertheless, having to turn on accessibility settings to have a decent experience on a device doesn’t strike me as a well-tested and user-friendly OS!

I didn’t plan on doing a full review and there is not much point in that when there are more in-depth articles available. But there are some impressions I would like to share about the most important update to iOS since its launch. First of all, despite all the online opinions in these last few months, I didn’t need much time to adjust to the new look; overall it feels natural, fresh and cleaner than before. I didn’t hate the new icons as much as I expected – with the exception of the Camera icon, that one is horrible, plain and simple. I guess it helps that about half of Apple’s apps are tucked away in folders – including Newsstand!

09 November 2013

The Technology Chronicles: “Firefox cookie blocking effort delayed again, as Mozilla commitment wavers”

The Mountain View open source software foundation revealed eight months ago that it was testing a tool that would restrict tracking files by default from companies users didn’t interact with. The early expectation was that it would reach the general public in Firefox version 22, released in late June.

But a few months later, Mozilla halted the patch midway through the testing process. Then it announced it was “committing to work” with the Cookie Clearinghouse initiative at Stanford on a more nuanced approach.

Now that effort is on hold, pushing completion of the project well into next year, The Chronicle has learned. Even then, Mozilla won’t necessarily adopt the feature, an executive said in an interview.

That remains to be seen, said Harvey Anderson, senior vice president of business and legal affairs. Once that’s out there, I think you still have to compare that against the other systems and ecosystems being proposed.

James Temple

Hmm, pressures from advertising interests? Given that the majority of Mozilla’s revenues come from , is there any surprise that these enhanced privacy features are being delayed indefinitely?

08 November 2013

After Google Reader, subscriber counts largely unaffected

I’ve been planning to write this post for months now, but other more pressing stuff kept coming up. After announced it’s shutting down Reader, one of the fears of publishers was that they would loose readers, if they failed to migrate their subscriptions to new services. Some people already investigated the evolution of subscribers on their sites after Reader’s cut-off date, and it seems that people managed to move in time to other services, with the bulk heading to Feedly, and in some cases the subscriber count is even on the rise. I did a similar check for my blog using the data provided by .

Now, my blog is far from most popular, with only a couple hundreds subscribers, and FeedBurner doesn’t exactly provide perfect results, but that’s going to have to do. At least the data is easy to export in an Excel-friendly format. First, you can see below the evolution of subscribers from the time I have enabled FeedBurner until the second half of October. Because it’s a long time frame to display on a graph for daily counts – over four years – I have plotted here only the weekly average for subscribers; this also has the advantage of smoothing out some of the variances in FeedBurner’s statistics. You can clearly see the sudden dip back in 2011 when FeedBurner stopped reporting FriendFeed followers, that cut the numbers for this blog almost in half.

04 November 2013

HTML5 Doctor: “cite and blockquote – reloaded”

Previously in HTML5 it is was not conforming to include citations within blockquote elements. Now it is, as long as the citation content is within a cite or footer element. Citations inside blockquote elements are a common markup pattern (data indicates approximately 60% of blockquote elements include citations), the change to the HTML spec acknowledges this and provides semantic mechanisms to differentiate quoted content from citations.

Steve Faulkner

Couldn’t agree more, that’s how I use them!

03 November 2013

Greg Egan - Oceanic

in Bucharest, Romania

Greg Egan - OceanicPe lângă cele trei povestiri despre care am scris data trecută, colecția Godlike Machines conține și una de Greg Egan, probabil cea mai reușită dintre cele patru citite de mine. Cum am văzut că universul din care face parte Hot Rock e mai complex, extins pe mai multe povestiri și un roman, am continuat citind colecția Oceanic a lui Egan. Deși nu la fel de reușite ca Hot Rock, sunt interesante în special privite în ansamblu.

Lost Continent se desfășoară într‑o istorie alternativă străbătută de ciudate și imprevizibile vortexuri temporale. Într‑un sat izolat undeva în deșerturile afgane, tânărul Ali este forțat de unchiul său să fugă de acasă pentru a scăpa de persecuțiile religioase ale unui grup apărut de undeva din viitor. Din păcate ghidul lui moare după ce‑l conduce prin pol‑e‑waqt, poarta dintre vremuri, și Ali ajunge să ceară azil politic în țara lui de destinație. Ideea e interesantă și începutul palpitant, dar imediat după aceea povestea se împotmolește în birocrația din noua lume și se încheie brusc și fără o concluzie clară. Destul de evident autorul a încercat să critice politica de emigrare a țărilor industrializate față de persecutații lumii a treia, dar rezultatul n‑a fost cel mai fericit.

În Dark Integers se simte mult mai bine geniul lui Egan de a servi un fundal științific complex și abstract pentru o acțiune intensă. Premisa aici este că fundamentul realității este un anumit set de axiome matematice, iar alte universuri paralele ar putea avea un complet alt set de axiome. Un grup de trei cercetători, Yuen, Alison și Bruno, au găsit o metodă de comunicare cu o altă lume și au ținut‑o secretă timp de 10 ani, acționând ca un grup de negociatori cu entitățile de cealaltă parte și păstrând o pace fragilă după ce primele contacte erau gata să degenereze într‑un conflict care ar fi putut anihila complet universul nostru. Acum însă un alt cercetător a descoperit o metodă diferită de a penetra bariera dintre universuri și de a bombarda practic cealaltă parte, fără să‑și dea seama de consecințele grave pentru stabilitatea acestui Război Rece între matematici. Povestirea primește puncte în plus pentru menționarea unui iWatch!

Yuen had proclaimed that the flow of mathematical information did obey Einstein locality; there was no universal book of truths, just records of the past sloshing around at light-speed or less, intermingling and competing.

02 November 2013

The Economist: “The psychology of power”

They argue, therefore, that people with power that they think is justified break rules not only because they can get away with it, but also because they feel at some intuitive level that they are entitled to take what they want. This sense of entitlement is crucial to understanding why people misbehave in high office. In its absence, abuses will be less likely. The word “privilege” translates as “private law”. If Dr Lammers and Dr Galinsky are right, the sense which some powerful people seem to have that different rules apply to them is not just a convenient smoke screen. They genuinely believe it. The Economist

Very interesting study about how people behave when put in positions of power. It seems power doesn’t necessarily corrupt, as amplify our natural tendencies to feel entitled to extra benefits as opposed to playing by the rules. Again, a quote from Dune fits in perfectly:

Power attracts the corruptible. Suspect all who seek it… We should grant power over our affairs only to those who are reluctant to hold it and then only under conditions that increase that reluctance.