30 June 2013

Looking for the new Google Reader? You should check out Feedbin

I tested – and reviewed – several apps trying to find the best replacement (or shall we say the one that sucks less) and Feedbin is one of the better options. It was launched just a couple of months ago, almost at the same time announced the death of Reader. Unlike other services I tried, it’s a paid service for either 2$/month or 20$/year, but that seems like a small amount compared to the time wasted searching a new service and migrating (some) data after Google Reader closes, so hopefully this won’t happen here.

The design is very spartan – and that’s a good thing! – with muted colors and a classical inbox-like layout: the subscription list to the left, the items in the selected feed in the middle and the current article on the right. I would prefer the two-column layout of Google Reader and its clones to have more space for reading the article, but on wide screens that’s not such a big issue. You can also resize the columns when needed. As with Digg’s Reader I would like to see more color in some places, especially to highlight active buttons or options (for example stars should be more prominent for starred articles), but this can be easily fixed either by the developer or by myself with a custom CSS style.

28 June 2013

The New York Times: “Instagram Video and the Death of Fantasy”

That’s because Instagram isn’t about reality – it’s about a well-crafted fantasy, a highlights reel of your life that shows off versions of yourself that you want to remember and put on display in a glass case for other people to admire and browse through. It’s why most of the photographs uploaded to Instagram are beautiful and entertaining slices of life and not the tedious time in-between of those moments, when bills get paid, cranky children are put to bed, little spats with friends.

Jenna Wortham

That’s true for photography in general, not only for Instagram. As much as we like to think of photos as impartial reproductions of reality, the truth is life is not a series of static moments, lacking sound, smell or texture, and we cannot go back to relive them the way we can look at a photo again and again. I often find myself looking at old photos and discovering details I overlooked before, stuff I don’t even remember seeing as I pressed the shutter. If someone were to alter the photo, adding or hiding some of these small bits, could I ever know that wasn’t the original? Every photo is an abstraction, at the same time more and less real than our memories, transporting us to a world that never was.

27 June 2013

Allen Pike: “iOS 7: Catch me if you can”

iOS 7 was clearly designed to show off what’s possible in 2013. As a side effect, they’ve embraced conventions that will be hard to emulate with commodity hardware or web tech.

The hairlines and flourescent colours are trendy and easy to copy. On the other hand, bringing to life these blurs, animations, and dynamics with HTML and JavaScript isn’t yet possible. You need the latest hardware and the most efficient software to make something feel like this. Further, you need thoughtful APIs so developers can take it to its full potential. In short, the browser vendors have their work cut out for them. Allen Pike

The first comment sais it all: And what exactly is the benefit for the user? If that’s the real reason behind the radical redesign of iOS 7 (or at least one of them), keeping competitors at bay, then what happened to the famous focus on user experience Apple fans always love to brag about?!

26 June 2013

Digg Reader has arrived and it’s really… beta!

Digg Reader sign in with GoogleWith only a couple of days to spare until shuts down, Digg has finally released their own alternative. Since I was among the people responding to their surveys about how the final product should look like, I got early access this morning. I’ll present some of my initial observations here; a more thorough presentation can be found on TechCrunch.

Digg Reader does a couple of things right, maybe better than the current competition. The design is clean and light, very similar to Google Reader, with lots of breathing space – maybe a little too much. There is a conspicuous white column on the right, but as soon as you move the mouse over there you see the space is reserved for the action buttons, which is much better than clipping article titles and moving things around all the time – the distracting way Feedly does things. The basic actions are found there: digg (like), save (star) – you can optionally configure a read-it-later service as well – and share, although sharing is currently limited to only and . If you digg or save a story, the button icon becomes permanent, so you can quickly scan the list and see which items you saved. On the left side of the date there is a smaller column, where Digg displays the popularity of the story with a couple of orange dots (from zero to three). If this Reader gains more users, the indicators should become more and more accurate and help users select popular articles in high-volume feeds. Digg also migrates up to 1000 starred items from Reader, which is better than most other services – Feedly only manages 250 from what I remember. I probably have a couple hundreds starred items, so this is an area where Digg clearly wins. But I’m still manually migrating them to delicious just to be sure.

The Globe and Mail: “Humanity takes millions of photos every day. Why are most so forgettable?”

This spring, I was an adjudicator of the 2013 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival photography competition. This week, my three fellow judges – all professional photographers and curators – and I announced that we couldn’t find a winner, and won’t be awarding a prize for the first time in 18 years. There isn’t even a runner-up. […]

Like Mary Ellen Mark, the renowned New York documentary photographer who has shot everyone from Don Ameche to Lou Reed, Mr. Richards still shoots on black-and-white film. When I’m shooting film, I have a finite number of images, he said. And I really have to think about what I’m shooting. And this is where I think we’re going: People no longer have to think. Ian Brown

Film certainly imposes a kind of discipline on the photographer and forces him to visualize the resulting shot better – since he won’t be able to see it until days or weeks later, after the film is processed. Maybe what was lost in the transition to digital was a form of selection, the ability to say ‘No’ to a particular photo in order to find the better one. Instead people just push the shutter and upload the result without comparing it with others. I know I am myself very guilty of this.

That could actually be an interesting idea for a photo app – if it hasn’t been done already: an app that limits the number of photos you can take on a given day or week, forcing you to learn to choose between them, to focus on better quality instead of more quantity and applying filters.

25 June 2013

Binary Bonsai: “On Discipline”

However, when I look at a beta I see anti-patterns and basic mistakes that should have been caught on the whiteboard before anyone even began thinking about coding it. I get scared. This isn't a matter of 'oh, it's a little glitchy now and then'; these are things that from the looks of it seem simply like poor design decisions. The bottom of the lock screen, with it's three competing drag areas and strange mixed messages is a prime example. Yes, it's easy to fix, but how did it make it this far?

Most importantly, these are things that work really well in iOS 6. Again, we're talking about the best, most sturdy, understandable set of interface patterns ever put together in an OS. And it is that way because of a level of restraint the likes of which most software never gets to see. A level of discipline willing to actually say no to thousands of things for every yes (regrettably rich Corinthian leather wasn't one of them). The new lock screen alone has four gesture-based functions on it now. How is that saying no? Michael Heilemann

Among the many (many, many!) critiques on Apple’s new mobile OS I think this one is the most valid, since it doesn’t focus on the little details, going instead for the underlying bigger issue. I can’t have an informed opinion on this yet, but from what I saw on the Internet so far I’m inclined to stick with iOS 6 for some time, maybe until the first major update to iOS 7. I think I dislike the new lock screen most – and this author has an article on that too.

Harvard Business Review: “The Great Dereliction”

I'd like to advance a simple thesis: today's leaders are failing on a grand, epic, global, historic scale — at precisely a time when leadership is sorely needed most. They're failing me, everyone under the age of 35, and everyone worth less than about $50 million. I can excuse leaders who are boring, mean, stingy, greedy, uninteresting, self-obsessed, vacuous, and generally lame. I can even excuse lying, cheating, and stealing. But I can't excuse the fact that they've failed.

If I had five seconds with today's so-called leaders, I'd simply, firmly, gently say (and I bet you would, too): You've failed to provide us opportunity. You've failed to provide us security. You've failed to provide us liberty. You've failed to provide us dignity. You've failed to provide us prosperity. So: resign. Quit. Step aside. Umair Haque

Easier said than done. If the current leaders step down, who will take their place and how do we insure they do a better job than those who left?

24 June 2013

Quickly switch between multiple keyboards on the iPhone

iPhone switch multiple keyboardsI’m pretty sure this is nothing new, but I discovered it quite recently and I think it’s a nice tip. On the iPhone you can set the keyboard to work with several languages for different sets of characters and autocorrection – or even add a special keyboard for Emojis. It’s easy to switch between them when you only have two: just click on the ‘Globe’ button in the lower left. But as soon as you go beyond two keyboards things get a little complicated: now you have to cycle between all of them to return to the first keyboard – especially time-consuming if you only want to insert an Emoji and go back to Romanian, for example. By chance I noticed than you can also press and hold the ‘Globe’ button to reveal a menu with all enabled keyboards. The one with blue background is the current one and you can switch them with a single click. This should be faster – and more reliable – than tapping the globe repeatedly.

The New York Times: “Profits Without Production”

As many economists have lately been pointing out, these days the old story about rising inequality, in which it was driven by a growing premium on skill, has lost whatever relevance it may have had. Since around 2000, the big story has, instead, been one of a sharp shift in the distribution of income away from wages in general, and toward profits. But here’s the puzzle: Since profits are high while borrowing costs are low, why aren’t we seeing a boom in business investment? And, no, investment isn’t depressed because President Obama has hurt the feelings of business leaders or because they’re terrified by the prospect of universal health insurance.

Well, there’s no puzzle here if rising profits reflect rents, not returns on investment. A monopolist can, after all, be highly profitable yet see no good reason to expand its productive capacity. And Apple again provides a case in point: It is hugely profitable, yet it’s sitting on a giant pile of cash, which it evidently sees no need to reinvest in its business.

Paul Krugman

I don’t always agree with Paul Krugman’s opinions, but this article is spot on. Also, an interesting argument for calling Apple a monopoly, based more on their profits rather than market share, a point that has been made many times before. Looking at the effects on the market and economy, a monopoly on profits (Apple) is just as damaging as a monopoly on market share ( and Microsoft).

23 June 2013

David Mitchell - Cloud Atlas

in Bucharest, Romania

David Mitchell - Atlasul NorilorDespre Atlasul norilor am citit multe păreri bune și am fost la rândul meu intrigat de descrierea generală, așa că m‑am gândit să o citesc și eu – fără să văd și ecranizarea recentă. Structura romanului e mai aparte, format din șase povestiri din perioade diferite ale istoriei, de la jumătatea secolului XIX până într‑un viitor incert post‑apocaliptic, legate între ele prin temele generale și câteva detalii, precum și de aluzia că personajele principale sunt același suflet reîncarnat, marcat de un semn de naștere în formă de cometă pe umăr. Acestea sunt însă relatate doar până la jumătate, unde firul se întrerupe pentru a începe următoarea – cu excepția celei de‑a șasea; e un pic ca și cum ai urca o piramidă în trepte până în vârf, coborând apoi pe cealaltă față.

The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing deschide seria cu jurnalul de călătorie al notarului american Adam Ewing care se întoarce din Australia la San Francisco la bordul navei Prophetess, în anul 1850. În cursul unei escale în insulele Chatham, Adam descoperă istoria băștinașilor Moriori, cuceriți de Maori într‑o reluare la scară mai mică a colonizării de către albi, se împrietenește cu doctorul Henry Goose și salvează fără să vrea unul din ultimii Moriori de pe insulă.

Peace, though beloved of our Lord, is a cardinal virtue only if your neighbors share your conscience.

Letters from Zedelghem are loc între cele două Războaie Mondiale, când tânărul muzician Robert Frobisher fuge din Londra și de familia care l‑a dezmoștenit pentru a căuta patronatul unui muzician mai faimos, Vyvyan Ayrs, dar care din cauza vârstei și a bolii nu mai poate compune singur. El își povestește aventurile, de la escapadele amoroase la conflictele creative cu Ayrs, în scrisori adresate prietenului și amantului său Rufus Sixsmith, rămas la Cambridge. În conacul lui Ayrs, Robert descoperă prima jumătate a jurnalului lui Adam Ewing, făcând conexiunea cu prima parte. De asemenea, el lucrează la o piesă proprie, the Cloud Atlas Sextet, care are o structură similară cu romanul.

A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.

22 June 2013

Another Google Reader “alternative”: The Old Reader

The Old Reader is a project started about a year ago after the original Reader took its first blow from Vater . Naturally, now that Reader will soon be shut down, all alternatives have gained more visibility as RSS users try to find a new app for their reading needs. Unfortunately the current version is still far away from competing even with a stripped down Reader on features.

My overall impression of the webapp is that the team focused too much on recreating the old sharing in Reader and neglected other aspects that are much more important nowadays. The interface is very similar to Reader, with the subscription panel on the left, a home page with links to recent content, tips and updates from the Old Reader team. It has a no-frills list view for items and a greenish theme I don’t particularly like, but that’s not really an issue long-term, it could be easily fixed with custom CSS in the browser. The bigger problems, as I mentioned, are in terms of functionality:

Wired: “Inside Digg’s Race to Build the New Google Reader”

One thing I’ve noticed playing around with all these other readers is that they’re mostly pretty crappy onboarding experiences, McLaughlin said at a meeting in early April. They needed to make onboarding – just the process of getting your feeds out of Google and into Digg – super easy. Mat Honan

Yes, sadly true. From my own experience searching for a alternative, none of the services I tried (Feedly, The Old Reader, Feedbin) manages to migrate the read/unread status of items from Reader or import the lofty archives of stared and shared items. Even Feedly, currently the best alternative overall has announced that after migration to their new cloud the unread counts will be reset… I’m looking forward to see if Digg has done better on this front, a lot of people are still looking for the optimal solution. And if feels like new alternatives are being announced every week, for example one from AOL!

20 June 2013

BuzzFeed: “Facebook Announces That It’s Out Of Ideas”

As if to justify his baldly hyperbolic statements, Systrom explained that he was excited because 130 million people on day one are going to have access to video in the way that they have access to pictures, which explains both why Facebook supremacists have a point and demonstrates what they don’t understand: that a large audience doesn’t turn someone else’s idea into a big idea, and it certainly doesn’t make it yours.

This represents Facebook’s biggest and most perplexing problem: supreme self-confidence uninhibited by extreme myopia. It’s why it released Home, a product that anyone outside of Facebook, down to a normal user, could have realized was a flawed idea. It’s why Facebook treats users’ data as if they have no choice but to stay – and why it interprets growing user numbers as permission to keep doing what it’s doing, but more aggressively. John Herrman

Replace ‘Facebook’ in the paragraphs above with ‘Google’ and – unfortunately – you get a pretty accurate view of some of ’s recent initiatives, especially in the social space.

17 June 2013

Find HDR photos from the iPhone

After a short vacation where I used my iPhone as my only camera (no sense dragging around a big DSLR for just a couple of days) I found myself with a small dilemma: after capturing many photos, both in regular mode and in HDR, I stared wondering: “how do I recognize HDR photos?” On the device there is a small overlay when browsing photos, but after downloading them on the PC there doesn’t seem to be any way to distinguish them. Sure, the HDR version is always saved after the original capture, so you can look for two identical images and the one with the higher file name will be in HDR. But that only works if the device is set to keep the original version; and there are lots of other ways this can fail, for example if you delete one of them directly on the device or if you rename photos on the computer. Since the iPhone clearly knows which is which, how does it do it and how can I discover than piece of information on the PC?

16 June 2013

The International Speculative Fiction 2012 Annual Anthology

The International Speculative Fiction 2012 Annual AnthologyAm descoperit antologia de față pe site‑ul Galileo și, fiind oferită gratis în format electronic, am descărcat‑o și citit‑o acum câteva săptămâni. Conținând o serie de povestiri din afara spațiului anglo‑saxon, multe dintre ele nu sunt science‑fiction standard, virând puternic spre fantasy, unele cu mai mult succes decât altele, sau punând accentul mai mult pe senzații și emoții decât pe idei complexe – ceea ce funcționează destul de bine în formatul scurt, unde ideile nu au suficient loc să se dezvolte. În mare merită citite, cu unele excepții.

Siren Songs in Deep Time de Nas Hedron are o inspirație predominant mitologică, deși cadrul e plasat în trecutul recent și viitorul posibil. Povestită din perspectiva unei sirene, ne poartă prin patru vieți ale acesteia dintr‑o înșiruire ce pare fără sfârșit, după un tipar ce se repetă fără greș: ea se îndrăgostește, apoi Generalul intră în scenă și moartea se abate asupra bărbatului iubit de sirenă. Dar, așa cum remarcă ea în interludiile dintre vieți, ceva se schimbă, cineva nou se apropie, cineva care va schimba totul… O reinterpretare originală – și foarte plăcută – a vechiului mit.

There is always me, and there is always the General.

I am a siren; I bring lovers to me and carry death with me. It’s not something I can change. But death doesn’t come with a mere facsimile of love; I don’t trick anyone. I fall in love, genuinely, each time.

Aliens de Lavie Tidhar e o povestire de o singură pagină despre extratereștrii care aterizează și temerile că vom fi asimilați ca și alte culturi la contactul cu una mult mai avansată. Complet inutilă după părerea mea, singura idee oarecum nouă e că vizitatorii aterizează în China în loc de Statele Unite.

02 June 2013

Roger Zelazny - The Courts of Chaos

in Bucharest, Romania

Roger Zelazny - Curtile HaosuluiDupă ce au recuperat Giuvaierul Judecății de la Brand într-un duel în Tir‑na Nog’th, Ganelon își dezvăluie adevărata identitate: Oberon, tatăl de mult dispărut al prinților din Amber, care manipulase evenimentele din umbră încercând să-și evalueze potențialii moștenitori. Odată revenit la conducere împarte o serie de ordine criptice și dispare din nou, spre frustrarea tuturor. În schimb reintră în scenă Dara, însoțită de fiul lui Random, Martin, pretinzând că și ea făcea parte din planurile lui Oberon și că are noi ordine din partea lui. Neîncrederea lui Corwin duce la o scenă de duel extrem de asemănătoare cu finalul cărții a treia, aducând un nou grad de ambiguitate în așa-zisa realitate a Amber-ului: dacă aici Tir‑na Nog’th e doar o umbră trecătoare în nopțile cu Lună Plină, repetarea evenimentelor de acolo în Amber poate da de înțeles că altundeva însăși Amber e doar o fantomă greu de atins… Lucrurile se clarifică odată ce frații îl vizitează pe Oberon în peștera lui Dworkin, și ordinele Darei sunt confirmate. Majoritatea armatei va ataca preventiv Curțile Haosului pe Drumul Întunecat ca diversiune, în timp ce Oberon va încerca să refacă Pattern‑ul. Lui Corwin îi revine sarcina grea de a bate lungul drum prin Umbre către Haos ducând Giuvaierul Judecății, pentru ca familia să fie protejată de distorsiunea ce se va propaga în toate direcțiile odată ce munca lui Oberon va fi terminată.

Ultima parte a seriei Amber are o atmosferă aparte. E greu să vorbești de curgerea timpului ca până acum, căci mai bine de jumătate din roman se desfășoară în treceri abrupte între Umbre pe drumul spre Haos, unde timpul nu mai funcționează așa cum ne așteptăm. Nici spațiul nu se comportă normal acolo la capătul realității, cu un cer pe care e în același timp noapte și zi și distanțe amăgitoare, ca într‑o lume supusă unor forțe gravitaționale haotice. Ca o replică la primul roman, călătoria lui Corwin ne duce prin numeroase locuri din ce în ce mai stranii, dar cu destule puncte de reper, câteva mai în glumă, ca atunci când Corwin dă peste un sat miniatural amintind de Liliput, dar majoritatea grave și legate într‑un fel sau altul de miturile eshatologice. La jumătatea drumului în Amber și Haos crește copacul vorbitor Ygg – arborele‑lumii din mitologia nordică se numea Yggdrasil – plantat acolo de Oberon la crearea lumii; undeva pe drum un călător singuratic îl întreabă pe Corwin dacă el e Arhanghelul din Cartea Sfântă în urma căruia sosește furtuna care sfârșește lumea – o aluzie transparentă la Biblie. Însuși sacrificiul lui Oberon pentru refacerea ordinii e o temă mitologică foarte răspândită, la fel de veche ca piramidele și mitului lui Osiris.