29 April 2013

Robert Scoble: “My two-week review of Google Glass: it all depends on the price”

Here's my review after having Google Glass for two weeks:

1. I will never live a day of my life from now on without it (or a competitor). It's that significant.

Robert Scoble

If I had a dollar for every time Scoble said that about a product, I would be able to buy a Glass with no second thoughts.

Blogger Buzz: “Bringing Google+ Comments to Blogger”

Reading and responding to comments can be one of the most rewarding aspects of blogging. Not only do they help you connect with your readers, they can also inspire later blog entries. The challenge, oftentimes, is following all the conversations around your content—on Google+, for instance, as well as on your website. So we're making things a lot simpler.

Starting today, you can bring Google+ Comments to your Blogger blog. Once you've enabled the feature through your Blogger Dashboard, you'll enjoy a number of important benefits: Yonatan Zunger

Actually only two. And with those come some big downsides: only people with Google+ profiles can comment, which can severely reduce your interaction with readers, and you loose the ability to moderate and export comments from – since they are actually Google+ posts, moderation must take place on Google+.

I’m not sure if I remember correctly, but when Comments launched, they added support for third-party logins pretty quickly. I am pretty sure has no plans for a similar move – and as such I’m not going to use this new system anytime soon. As it stands now it’s just another weak attempt to grow Google+ on the back of a service that people actually use.

28 April 2013

John Brunner - Oile privesc în sus

in Bucharest, Romania

John Brunner - The sheep look upDacă posibilitatea apocalipsei în urma unui război nuclear a inspirat numeroase romane în spațiul SF, deteriorarea mediului nu a fost explorată prea des – poate pentru că nu oferă nici o imagine atât de evocatoare ca explozia unei bombe nucleare și nu a captat atenția publicului în aceeași măsură. În romanul da față John Brunner realizează una din cele mai tulburătoare viziuni a unui asemenea viitor, în care Statele Unite sunt sufocate de nori de fum, gunoaie și scurgeri toxice până la punctul în care afară trebuie să circuli cu o mască de gaze, apa poate fi consumată doar în anumite zile, alimentele sănătoase trebuie cumpărate de la magazine specializate și bolile sunt la ordinea zilei – inclusiv malformațiile congenitale la noii‑născuți.

E greu să vorbești despre acțiune în sine și despre personaje, pentru că întreaga carte lasă impresia că ele se află acolo doar ca reflectări exterioare ale problemelor fundamentale și degradării progresive a mediului. În plus personajele sunt numeroase, apărând și dispărând brusc, firele narative încâlcite, deși pe măsură ce se avansează legăturile dintre ele se clarifică și e clar că autorul a gândit totul ca pe un întreg în care fiecare mutare și persoană e o mică rotiță, un pion într‑un joc mortal pe care nu‑l poți înțelege în întregime decât la final. Romanul e împărțit în douăsprezece capitole, corespunzând lunilor unui an – deși nu aflăm niciodată despre care an e vorba. Fiecare e precedat de un fragment de poem vechi care glorifică progresul, triumful omului asupra naturii sălbatice – în mod evident sarcastic, căci lumea de acum nu mai are natură, nici animale sau insecte, nici aer sau apă curată, și asta tocmai din cauza acțiunilor dezechilibrate ale oamenilor. Iar în interiorul capitolelor sunt inserate des fragmente de rapoarte guvernamentale, dând o tentă impersonală, detașată, sau reportaje și scene scurte implicând fețe anonime care întrerup și mai mult continuitatea lecturii, dar în același timp subliniază starea tensionată a lumii, de butoi cu pulbere în pragul exploziei.

23 April 2013

New placement for ‘cached’ links in Google Search

As constantly experiments with new layouts for search results, some features get buried or moved around to awkward locations. This happened some time ago with ‘Cached’ links, currently available only in the ‘Instant preview’ panel. Today I noticed a small interface change in this area: a drop-down menu next to the search result URL holds options for ‘Cached’ and ‘Similar’ results, as well as ‘Share’ as long as you are logged in. The new placement is easier to access than the preview and I like it better than revealing links on hover, but possibly also hard to discover, especially for new users, and poorly fit for mobile devices, where hitting the small arrow would be a challenge. This seems to be just another test for the time being; after spotting this at work in regular (stable channel), I couldn't reproduce it at home except in incognito-mode Chrome and it disappeared again after clearing the cookies. Google Search cached link drop-down menu

21 April 2013

Teru Miyamoto - Brocart de toamnă

in Bucharest, Romania

Teru Miyamoto - Brocart de toamnaAuzind de frumusețea nopților cu stele și a culorilor de toamnă pe Muntele Zaō, Aki se hotărăște să‑i facă o surpriză fiului său infirm Kiyotaka, care, deși înapoiat mintal, arată o adevărată fascinație pentru cerul înstelat. În telecabina care urcă panta muntelui se urcă în ultima clipă un bărbat în care Ali îl recunoaște cu stupoare pe fostul ei soț Yasuaki, de care a divorțat în urmă cu zece ani. O despărțire cu scandal, căci Yasuaki a fost descoperit într‑o noapte sângerând într‑o cameră de hotel lângă cadavrul unei alte femei, Yukako. Rănită de aventura soțului ei și speriată de scandalul care ar fi afectat și firma tatălui ei, unde Yasuaki ar fi trebuit să preia conducerea cândva, Aki e de acord cu divorțul fără să mai ceară lămuriri, deși întrebările rămân în mintea ei în tot acest timp. Iar acum se pare că soarta – sau karma – le oferă amândurora ocazia de a le răspunde.

La prima vedere, Brocart de toamnă seamănă destul de mult cu Pușca de vânătoare, o altă povestire japoneză care mi‑a plăcut, dar fără tragedia sinuciderii unuia dintre protagoniști. Și acolo un cuplu de desparte din cauza infidelității bărbatului și incapacității femeii de a acționa așa cum își dorește, nu conform așteptărilor celor din jur; aici în schimb cei doi încearcă – târziu ce‑i drept – să stabilească un dialog și să clarifice tot ce rămăsese confuz și dureros după despărțire. Acolo trei scrisori, dar pline de amărăciune și dezvăluiri crude, scrise pentru a afirma, nu pentru a întreba; aici ceva mai multe, pline de insistență, de setea de adevăr și împăcare. Ceea ce am găsit mai remarcabil la carte a fost că toate destăinuirile între cei doi foști soți se fac exclusiv prin intermediul scrisorilor. Pentru era noastră e un mijloc aproape complet dispărut de comunicare; chiar dacă au fost într‑un fel înlocuite de e‑mail‑uri, parcă nu e același lucru să‑ți încredințezi cele mai intime gânduri unui ecran de calculator. E un fel de artă pierdută, lucru regretabil, în special pentru că nu pare să mai existe loc pentru așa ceva în lumea noastră grăbită, cu atât mai surprinzător cu cât nu a trecut decât 30 de ani de la publicarea romanului și modalitatea asta de a ține legătura pare complet scoasă din uz acum.

17 April 2013

News Feed Filters in Facebook for iOS

Facebook iOS v6 News Feed filters

Amid the discussions about Facebook Home, from privacy implications to its future role as a possible mobile operating system, some of the key features are being rolled out to other platforms. Yesterday’s update for iOS introduced Chat Heads and a slightly redesigned News Feed. I’m not a big user of Facebook Messenger, so I have yet to see Chat Heads in action, but another change immediately jumped at me: previously you could access your friends lists from the left sidebar, under ‘Favorites’; now they’re gone! Since I had noticed previously how some lists-related features were quietly removed from the iOS app, I immediately thought this was the next step in this direction, one I don’t like at all. I spend the next half hour trying to find the friends lists in the new interface; it would seem stupid to remove them while having dedicated links for such invaluable features as ‘Pokes’ and ‘Offers’. I accessed the mobile site in Safari, where the old layout is still live. I tried rearranging my Favorites on the desktop site, bringing lists to the top, but that didn’t have any effect. Finally I got so worked up about this that I even sent a report back to Facebook.

But, as a perfect reflection of Murphy’s laws, immediately afterwards I discovered the new place for friends list: hidden on top of the News Feed to be revealed when the user pulls down to refresh. The design is the mobile counterpart to the filters in the redesigned desktop feed – I still don’t have it there, by the way – with filters for ‘Photos’ and ‘Music’ – which correctly includes videos now. It seems remembers the favorites previously set and keeps them on top, but the old way to access lists was nevertheless quicker: instead of a swipe-right and click, in the new version you have to swipe down, expand the filter list, search for the filter – which could involve some scrolling, as the list is pretty long – and finally click to load the posts.

Having spent so much poking around the app I noticed some other nice improvements. ‘Find Friends’ lets you manage friend requests – apparently at some point I missed one and found it waiting for me here – and has advanced filters to search for people like the desktop site. The ‘Security’ section lets you terminate active sessions – very useful if you left the office and forgot to log out of Facebook on your work PC, for example. And, speaking of lists, managing friends list is back: when you visit a friend’s profile click on the button ‘Friends’ and choose ‘Edit Friend Lists’.

15 April 2013

Blogger’s mobile app: another sign of Google neglect

Blogger iOS app compose new post

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how generally neglects the development of Blogger to the point a shut-down of the service is not unlikely. I should add something about the mobile app, because this is an area where the lack of interest is most striking, especially compared to the beautiful and innovative apps from competitors. I don’t want to get into the list of missing features, because that would take forever – I find it unacceptable, for example, to ship a mobile app without support for moderating comments. Suppose you travel for a couple of weeks with only your smartphone: posting new articles may not be top priority, maybe you even scheduled some in advance, but how will you approve and respond to comments from this app?!

Instead I want to just highlight something I noticed the one (and only) time I used the app to post on . The compose window has a small button in the lower right corner to toggle the on-screen keyboard on and off – presumably to be able to review the post before publishing. The problem is, while typing, that button obscures some of the text, making it hard to keep an eye on the last words you typed and to select text. If that’s not a sign of a job done in a rush and with no user testing whatsoever, I don’t know what is!

14 April 2013

Alastair Reynolds - Thousandth Night

in Bucharest, Romania

Alastair Reynolds Thousandth NightLa fiecare două sute de mii de ani, membrii Casei Gentian se reunesc pentru a împărtăși amintiri și informații despre cum a evoluat Galaxia și numeroasele culturi umane care o împânzesc de la un capăt la celălalt. O mie de zile pentru o mie de clone ale lui Abigail Gentian și în fiecare seară fiecare visează un vis compus din cele mai semnificative evenimente prin care a trecut unul din ei de la ultima Reuniune. Dar această Reuniune, sub patronajul lui Campion, e un pic diferită: printre membrii Casei circulă zvonuri despre Marele Plan, un proiect imens ce implică întreaga Galaxie și pe un termen îndelungat chiar și pentru viețile lor prelungite de dilatarea temporală a traiului aproape de viteza luminii. Susținătorii ideii, în frunte cu Fescue, privesc oarecum disprețuitor distracția frivolă a celorlalți, și în special relația strânsă care se formează între Campion și Purslane. Nedorind să mai treacă prin complicațiile pregătirii unei alte Reuniuni, Campion și‑a petrecut ultimii două sute de mii de ani admirând apusuri de soare pe nenumărate planete nelocuite, sperând ca relatarea lui să fie suficient de anostă ca să nu mai câștige primul loc la votul din a o mia noapte. Dar tocmai acest capriciu o face pe Purslane să descopere o neconcordanță cu o altă relatare, cea a lui Burdock: dacă ambele ar fi adevărate, cei doi se întâlniseră în timpul voiajului lor, dar cum nici unul nu‑și amintea așa ceva, una din versiuni trebuie să fie falsă… Iar Burdock pare să arate un interes ieșit din comun față de Marele Plan, în ciuda eforturilor susținătorilor de a evita acest subiect. La început doar un mic mister bun să aducă un pic de variație în rutina festivităților, se dezvoltă pe măsura investigației într‑o posibilă amenințare la viitorul Casei.

In little over a year machines would pulverise the islands, turning their spired buildings into powdery rubble. The sea would have pulled them under by the time the last of our ships had left the system. But even the sea would only last a few thousand years after that. I’d steered water-ice comets onto this arid world just to make its oceans. The atmosphere itself was dynamically unstable. We could breathe it now, but there was no biomass elsewhere on Reunion to replenish the oxygen we were turning into carbon dioxide. In twenty thousand years the world would be uninhabitable to all but the hardiest microorganisms. It would stay like that for the better part of another hundred and eighty thousand years, until our return.

10 April 2013

Seth’s Blog: “Neophilia as a form of hiding”

In contemporary art or movies, it makes perfect sense to be focused on the bleeding edge, on the new idea that’s never been previously contemplated.

But when we’re discussing our goals, our passion and the way we interact with the culture, it seems to me that what works is significantly more important than what's new. Racing to build your organization around the latest social network tool or graphics-rendering technology permits you to spend a lot of time learning the new system and skiing in the fresh powder of the unproven, but it might just distract you from the difficult work of telling the truth, looking people in the eye and making a difference.

Seth Godin

While Gruber applies the logic above to Apple and iOS, is clearly a company exhibiting all the signs of neophilia. From the beginning when it used to launch products and keep them in beta for years to the present day when it axes those services indiscriminately while pushing other questionable initiatives forward, the love of new is the very definition of Google. And while this can keep innovation and competition moving in all those areas where the market stagnated before Google – search, webmail and now even broadband access for the neglected United States – what happens when Google gets tired of them and just leaves to pursue the new shiny, unattainable goal?

09 April 2013

Co.Design: “How A Tiny New Compose Window Could Reinvent Gmail”

That said, the new compose offers some other, more immediate UX benefits. For one, it makes multitasking easier, leaving you free to search through your inbox for some scrap of information you might need to mention in the email you’re writing. Kyle VanHemert

On the other hand you could argue that splitting your attention between the compose window and an endless stream of new incoming messages could distract you from actually finishing what you’re currently writing. I personally enjoy the new experience for replies, where I rarely need to edit the recipient list or the subject, but for composing new messages the new style is a step backwards.

08 April 2013

What’s new in Chrome 27

According to the announcement posted on the Chromium blog, version 27 brings a couple of improvements to the overall speed of the browser – a barely noticeable 5% due to optimization of background preloading – and several new features for developers, like a better design for date/time <input> forms and support for the ch CSS measurement unit. The new Sync FileSystem API will allow apps to sync locally stored data and settings through Drive – the equivalent of iCloud or Dropbox for apps.

Google Chrome 27 tab audio indicatorA cool new feature that could prove very useful in many situations is a new indicator for tabs playing audio. It’s just a small animation, but those tabs quickly stand out on the tab bar, so it’s much easier to find the page that started playing something annoying in the background. It can detect sounds coming from Flash players as well – in the example to the left inside Gmail. There are some small quirks with the feature, the indicator shows up sometimes when I load TweetDeck, but overall it’s a very nice idea. Unfortunately this hasn’t made it into the stable release and was also removed from the next Canary version, so it’s unlikely we will see it deployed widely anytime soon.

07 April 2013

Alastair Reynolds - Mini-ciclul “Merlin”

in Bucharest, Romania

Alastair Reynolds este unul dintre scriitorii de science‑fiction care se descurcă la fel de bine cu proiectele mari, întinse pe numeroase romane, cât și cu povestiri scurte și de impact. Undeva la jumătatea drumului între extreme se găsește ceva mai neobișnuit, o trilogie formată din nuvele care se desfășoară într‑un univers complet, deși destul de similar cu Revelation Space.

După ce s‑au răspândit de‑a lungul și de‑a latul Galaxiei timp de zeci de mii de ani, omenirea s‑a fragmentat în diverse facțiuni și culturi, fără ca vreuna să găsească o cale de a depăși limita dură a călătoriei cu viteza luminii. Cei mai avansați, the Waymakers, au reușit doar să împânzească stelele cu o rețea de tuburi în interiorul cărora spațiul însuși se mișcă cu o viteză aproape de limită – o variantă de tub Krasnikov, după cum explică Sayaca în prima povestire – permițând navelor care folosesc Căile să ajungă la destinație în câteva zile în timpul relativ al navei. Dar chiar și așa majoritatea stelelor rămân în afara rețelei și sunt greu de atins. Cu timpul, până și Constructorii Căilor au decăzut și cunoștințele despre Căi s‑au pierdut. Atunci când începe prima nuvelă din serie, singura civilizație galactică umană este Cohorta, care folosește uriașe nave generație – swallowships, asemănătoare cu lighthugger‑ele din Revelation Space – pentru a traversa spațiul. Rolul Inhibitorilor e aici jucat de misterioșii Huskers, o rasă de cyborgi al cărei unic scop pare a fi exterminarea totală a oamenilor.

05 April 2013

Chromium Blog: “Blink: A rendering engine for the Chromium project”

However, Chromium uses a different multi-process architecture than other WebKit-based browsers, and supporting multiple architectures over the years has led to increasing complexity for both the WebKit and Chromium projects. This has slowed down the collective pace of innovation - so today, we are introducing Blink, a new open source rendering engine based on WebKit.

This was not an easy decision. We know that the introduction of a new rendering engine can have significant implications for the web. Nevertheless, we believe that having multiple rendering engines—similar to having multiple browsers—will spur innovation and over time improve the health of the entire open web ecosystem. Adam Barth

A big move by , but don’t let the ‘open’-rhetoric fool you: this was is as much about politics and business decisions as it is about technology. In a way, this is Google’s reaction to being slowly, but surely excluded from iOS. As before with Maps, there are already reports discarding the stated reason for the break-up, the growing problems with integrating a multi-process architecture into WebKit:

04 April 2013

The Mozilla Blog: “Mozilla and Samsung Collaborate on Next Generation Web Browser Engine”

Mozilla’s mission is about advancing the Web as a platform for all. At Mozilla Research, we’re supporting this mission by experimenting with what’s next when it comes to the core technology powering the Web browser. We need to be prepared to take advantage of tomorrow’s faster, multi-core, heterogeneous computing architectures. That’s why we’ve recently begun collaborating with Samsung on an advanced technology Web browser engine called Servo. Brendan Eich

So Samsung is continuing to distance its products from Android and by building a key software component – the mobile browser – for its increasingly likely Android fork. And Mozilla is building a back-up plan for Firefox OS – if you recall Samsung didn’t get on board, probably because they had other plans in mind. Don’t get me wrong, it could still be an awesome browser; also started out by rethinking the browser and rebuilding it on more modern grounds. But Chrome was built in secret and delivered to the public as a (more or less) finished product; whereas this project is so young, the programming language for it isn’t even finalized! A lot can happen in a year or two, Samsung’s priorities may shift, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

03 April 2013

Country codes in Google Contacts

Today, while looking up a phone number, I noticed a small change in Contacts: phone numbers are now saved with country codes. ‘Contacts’ is not one of my day-to-day destinations and these days I use it mostly as the cloud service behind contacts on my iPhone, so this feature may be already old by Internet standards. But the update could be very significant; I’m guessing Google is preparing some international upgrade to the ‘Call phones from Gmail’ initiative? Otherwise the feature is of limited use for regular users; I can understand the need for it in a business environment, where Google would want its Apps customers to call their partners through Gmail instead of relying on the competition (i.e. Skype and Microsoft). Google Contacts country codes for phone numbers

There is also a new setting to change the default country code in the ‘General’ section. For some reason, probably because I access the Internet at work through a French IP address, Gmail automatically selected France for my account. Google Contacts country codes global setting

02 April 2013

Building Feedly: “Announcing the New Feedly Mobile”

We’ve had two crazy, wonderful weeks at Feedly. Over 3 million new users have joined Feedly since the announcement of the retirement of Google Reader. We are thankful that so many Reader refugees have chosen Feedly for their new home, and are adding hardware as quickly as we can to make that transition as seamless as possible. Your Feedly Team

This is one of those rare cases where it pays to read the comments:

Did you remove the ability to search just your own feeds? This is a feature I use all the time to find articles I’ve read or glanced at in the past, and it seems to have gone missing with the latest update. Brad Linder
Where has the ‘send by email’ button gone? :( hazclan13

Silently removing features: not the best way to build trust! Feedly has certainly gained a lot of attention – and users – in the wake of Reader’s demise, but those refugees could be gone the next day if they don’t handle this properly – and if, by some miracle, a viable alternative emerges.

I for one I’m not not moving anywhere yet; there are still three months to go and I plan to try out several services before committing to a migration. I am glad Newsify is planning to stick around, so at least I will have a far better mobile app than Feedly. Newsify had offline reading since the launch (not to mention the much wider variety of sharing options) and recently introduced local search, something that Feedly apparently is just now beginning to work on…

01 April 2013

Use the current sheet name in Excel formulas

A couple of weeks ago I was working on a series of reports at work when I came across an interesting Excel problem: the worksheets – and they were many, a couple of dozen at least – each contained the name of the sheet as title for the current report. So each time I created a new sheet and started a new report I had to change the title in a cell and to rename the sheet with that title. It would seem like a minor thing, but doing that dozens of times is tedious, not to mention you could forget to change the title on some sheets. I soon started to wonder if there is a way to do this automatically…

Naturally, there is no built-in function to copy the name of a sheet in a cell in Excel, but you can build one using Visual Basic. At first I tried using the property ActiveSheet.Name, but I soon discovered that it has an interesting side-effect: because it uses the active sheet, if you were to link to the result from another sheet it would show the name of the sheet you are currently viewing instead of the sheet where the original formula was placed. After some more digging around online I found a solution that works properly. The final code is below: