31 July 2013

The Old Reader behind the scenes: “Desperate times call for desperate measures”

We would really like to switch the difficulty level back to “normal”. Not to be dreaded of a vacation. Do something else besides The Old Reader. Stop neglecting ourselves. Think of other projects. Get less distant from families and loved ones. The last part it’s the worst: when you are with your family, you can’t fall out of dialogues, nodding, smiling and responding something irrelevant while thinking of refactoring the backend, checking Graphite dashboard, glancing onto a Skype chat and replying on Twitter. You really need to be there, you need to be completely involved. We want to have this experience again.

That’s why The Old Reader has to change. We have closed user registration, and we plan to shut the public site down in two weeks. We started working on this project for ourselves and our friends, and we use The Old Reader on a daily basis, so we will launch a separate private site that will keep running. It will have faster refresh rate, more posts per feed, and properly working full-text search — we are sure that we can provide all this at a smaller scale without that much drama, just like we were doing before March.

Elena Bulygina & Dmitry Krasnoukhov

Even though has been officially dead for a month now, the drama caused by its demise continues. The Old Reader, one of the earliest alternatives, will (maybe) close down for the public in the coming weeks. I can certainly understand the two developers feeling completely overwhelmed and wanting some proper work-life-balance. I’m somewhat curious if anybody will take up their offer for an acquisition; to me it seems unlikely: the bigger tech companies have no interest in RSS anymore, the competitors already have their own products in place, so there is no reason to keep two RSS readers running, competing for resources and users.

28 July 2013

Bernhard Schlink - Der Vorleser

in Bucharest, Romania

Berhnard Schlink - Der VorleserNu sunt un mare fan al literaturii moderne germane în principal pentru că mi se pare mult prea obsedată de nazism și consecințele celui de-Al Doilea Război Mondial – poate pe bună dreptate, dar asta n-o face mai suportabilă. Totuși cartea de față mi-a fost recomandată de două colege de serviciu și neavând ceva mai important pe lista de lecturi am parcurs-o rapid – și, culmea, în germana originală, un alt lucru pe care nu-l fac prea des. De vreme ce cartea a fost ecranizată în urmă că câțiva ani, acțiunea e probabil destul de cunoscută: adolescentul Michael Berg se îmbolnăvește de hepatită și în timpul unei crize vecina Hanna Schmitz îl conduce acasă. Odată refăcut, e trimis de mama lui să‑i mulțumească Hannei și fără prea multe ocolișuri devin amanți, în ciuda diferenței de vârstă de vreo 20 de ani. Ritualul lor de amor includea baia împreună și o sesiune de lectură, de unde și titlul romanului. Odată cu intrarea lui la facultate se despart pentru a se regăsi peste ani în circumstanțe complet neașteptate: într‑o sală de judecată unde Hanna e acuzată de crime de război împotriva unor prizonieri evrei iar Michael urmărește procesul în calitate de student la drept.

Romanul e relatat la persoana întâi de cititorul Michael într‑un stil destul de simplu și clar, la obiect, ceea ce îl face destul de ușor de parcurs, chiar și în germană. În același timp autorul are destule pasaje introspective, în care meditează pe larg asupra sentimentelor lui și mai târziu asupra moralității și dreptății. Prima parte se ocupă aproape exclusiv de relația dintre cei doi, de la debut la răcire și dispariția bruscă a Hannei, trecând prin toate etapele obișnuite: descoperirea atracției, dezvoltarea intimității, căutarea de ocazii pentru a fi împreună, dar și certuri violente și bruște, din motive care lui i se par de neînțeles, ferirea de ceilalți, rușinea de a se îndepărta de Hanna odată cu mutarea la facultate și găsirea de noi prieteni și ocupații, tristețea după dispariția ei fără explicații.

Dieselbe Weltvergessenheit lag in den Haltungen und Bewegungen, mit denen sie die Strümpfe anzog. Aber hier war sie nicht schwerfällig, sondern fließend, anmutig, verführerisch – Verführung, die nicht Busen und Po und Bein ist, sondern die Einladung, im Inneren des Körpers die Welt zu vergessen.

27 July 2013

Los Angeles Review of Books: “Post-Scarcity Economics”

The most important thing to remember about the faux-prosperity of the last 30 years is that it was manufactured on the basis of paper profits. If my house was worth £3000 in 1973 and £1.5 million in 2012, it is still essentially the same house and gives me the same pleasure to live in. If we could manufacture demand by making bombs and if we could manufacture demand by making houses quadruple in price, then we can manufacture demand in other ways, perhaps more satisfying ways as well. Tom Streihorst

The overview of the last century in terms of economic growth and crisis is great, but the proposed solutions are rather weak. Heavily investing in education will bring very little return in a rapidly changing world where the skill you are training for can become obsolete before you master it; even less if manufacturing is turned over to robots needing minimal supervision. And culture and art are unlikely to become an engine for growth – not unless our attitude towards work undergoes radical change.

23 July 2013

BuzzFeed: “Google Reader Died Because No One Would Run It”

The decision had little to do with consumers – the RSS reader was very popular with a core set of power users – and much more to do with corporate politics. At Google, Chief Executive Larry Page and his inner circle of lieutenants, known as the “L Team”, simply did not view Google Reader as an important strategic priority. Internally, it became obvious that despite Google Reader’s loyal fan base, working on the project was not going to get the attention of Page, several sources close to the company told BuzzFeed. Matthew Lynley

Sad, but not really surprising. When corporate politics start to take precedence over innovation and customer satisfaction, that’s when you know the company’s good days are behind it.

22 July 2013

What’s new in Chrome 29

This version of introduces a number of updates aimed at developers; regular users won’t see the changes until the new features will be integrated into apps. A series of new APIs (‘Identity API’, ‘In App Payments API’, ‘Analytics API’, ‘Media Gallery API’, ‘Bluetooth API’ and ‘Native Messaging API’) will enhance packaged apps bringing them closed to their native desktop counterparts. Other new features for apps not mentioned in the official announcement include the ability to specify which local files can be opened by the app and to keep a list of the 500 recently accessed files, to load a specific URL after being uninstalled – in order to run a survey about the reasons for removing the app for example. The VP9 video codec is now enabled by default, but it remains to be seen if it will be adopted outside . Another developer related change – I’m not going to even pretend to understand what it means – is that Chrome JavaScript engine, V8, now supports ES6 generators.

gedblog: “Watershed Moment”

Perhaps a better way to answer the question might be, how willing would you be to re-purchase your favorite apps if they are optimized for iOS 7? Look at your device’s home screen and go down the list of apps you use most and ask yourself if you could live without it once you upgrade. I think that most users (at least those that matter to developers) would answer that they would gladly pay again if it means having the latest and greatest version of their favorite apps, at least I would hope so. Gedeon Maheux

For me, the answer is pretty easy: no way! In one-and-a-half years since buying an iPhone, I purchased a grand total of two apps: SkyView, which shouldn’t be affected by the OS redesign since it has a custom interface, and Celsius, which can be easily replaced with another weather app. I’m not even sure if I will upgrade to iOS7 anytime soon.

21 July 2013

Hugh Howey - Half Way Home

in Bucharest, Romania

Hugh Howey - Half Way HomeUndeva în viitor, exploatarea planetelor a devenit o industrie profitabilă: țările finanțează misiuni robotice care, odată ajunse la destinație evaluează potențialul noii colonii. Dacă inteligența artificială o consideră viabilă, demarează un program standard de colonizare, inclusiv nașterea și educarea celor 500 de embrioni care vor deveni primul val de coloniști umani; dacă nu, nava se autodistruge pentru ca alte misiuni concurente să nu aibă acces la tehnologie și datele colectate. Dar ce se întâmplă cu o planetă la limita rentabilității, când creierul electronic pornește procesul de colonizare, pentru a se răzgândi după 15 ani, la jumătatea ciclului, și încearcă să distrugă tabăra inițială?

După succesul seriei Wool, mă așteptam la o povestire la fel de antrenantă de la Hugh Howey, dar din păcate Half Way Home suferă de prea multe defecte ca să se poată compara. Însăși ideea inițială, deși interesantă și plauzibilă, e forțată pentru a se potrivi cu scenariul pe care‑l pregătise autorul. Odată ce o navă duce 500 de embrioni, de ce nu două sau trei seturi care pot fi folosiți ca rezervă în caz că primul lot e compromis? Sau pur și simplu pot fi crescuți în faze ulterioare pentru a adăuga gene și cunoștințe noi pe parcursul dezvoltării coloniei? Costurile suplimentare ar fi minime față de șansele crescute de succes a misiunii. E de asemenea greu de crezut că un sistem automat ar opta pentru distrugerea graduală a taberei – oprindu‑se la un moment dat, atunci când doar 60 de tineri mai sunt în viață – în loc de o simplă detonare nucleară care ar fi șters toată prezența umană în câteva secunde.

20 July 2013

Art & Logic Blog: “The New UI Design Playground”

Many designers and developers of mobile apps have since turned their attention to weather apps. App stores are overflowing with different takes on answering the timeless question of “what’s the weather like today?” and just as with Twitter clients, you can easily hop between them either simply by entering your ZIP code or letting the app use your current location. Steven Huey

True, I have seen a lot of innovative design in weather apps – and I even reviewed a couple here on the blog. The problem is… most of them put design experiments ahead of everything else in the app: user experience, performance, available data. Solar for example displays forecasts for only three days; Yahoo! can’t find many smaller cities in Romania and I found it rather inaccurate; Forecast and Sun are beautiful web-apps, but as such lack reliability – I refuse to use an app that requires you to reinstall it every other week. I have tried many and sooner or later I always come back to Celsius, which despite boring design is functional, has accurate forecasts and an extensive city database. Hip design isn’t everything; you have to look at the entire user experience to create a quality product, one that people will be loyal to. Otherwise they will move to another app as soon as the new trend in design comes along.

16 July 2013

The New Yorker: “The E-Book Conspiracy Comes to a Close”

Should Amazon find itself overwhelmingly controlling book sales, it’s unlikely that the Justice Department would act—that is, unless Amazon were to abuse its position. The law is not anti-monopoly, it’s anti-abuse of monopolies, Picker said. And Amazon has shown, again and again, that it has little interest in battering its customers, even if it is more than happy to abuse the industries whose products it sells.

Matt Buchanan

So the effective difference is that Amazon has the power to influence prices on a distribution channel it more-or-less controls, but chooses not to, while the publishers together with Apple formed a price cartel and took deliberate actions to raise prices – and got punished for it. The problem with accumulating power is that it will get abused, sooner or later. Amazon’s size is already affecting the market, pushing smaller players out of business and creating high barriers to entry for other companies. On the other hand Amazon is, for now, carefully balancing their profits, in effect avoiding other tell-tale signs of a nascent monopoly and the possible public scrutiny of their business.

It’s very hard to understand the publishers’ strategy behind this deal, if there even was one. They were simultaneously raising prices – which almost guarantees fewer sales – and reducing their profit margin, because they were paying 30% commission to Apple. So in effect they were hurting both the consumers and their own businesses in the process! It’s almost an emotional reaction, the fear of becoming dependent on Amazon driving them to enter an unfavorable deal.

09 July 2013

Mobile Opportunity: “Google Logic: Why Google Does the Things it Does”

Combine the first two unique things about Google and you get an interesting picture. Most companies have a long, detailed planning cycle in pursuit of quarterly goals. That often makes them very predictable. It also makes it hard for them to get anything done – when your planning cycle is longer than your goal cycle, you’ll often change goals faster than you can achieve any of them.

Google does just the opposite. It has a short, unpredictable planning cycle in pursuit of very long-term objectives. It’s likely to pursue those objectives relentlessly, but its near term actions will look random, because they’re just Darwinian experiments along the way.

In other words, there is probably a method to Google’s madness, but they’re not going to tell you what it is.

Michael Mace

Good, in-depth, analysis on ’s engineering mindset, ranging from the reasons behind the acquisition of Motorola to killing beloved products, to the ever-changing positioning of Google Docs, and the list of weaknesses that come with it. Nothing that hasn’t been said before really, but put together with more logic and consistency.

08 July 2013

Opera Desktop Team: “The vision behind Opera 15 and beyond”

So, starting from this fresh base, we decided to carefully consider how to build up Opera again: over the years, Presto-based Opera had become overloaded with features, a number of them confusing rather than helping our users — you can’t imagine how many reports we’ve gotten from users telling us that their favorite site was broken, simply because they had turned on fit-to-width by accident, for instance.

So, the approach when building the new product has been and still is to cater for various browsing use cases, but at all times, to keep the UI really simple, so that anyone can use it. Sebastian Baberowski

I gave Next a try a couple of weeks ago, but I honestly can’t see any reason to use it at this stage. It’s just a stripped down version of Chrome that doesn’t sync with .

While old Opera had such a huge feature list that probably no one could name them all, the new Chromium-based Opera has an equally long list of features it doesn’t have and will likely never add back, instead referring users to extensions. I was all for removing unnecessary junk from the browser, but now Opera has jumped from one extreme to the other. It’s basically starting from scratch, putting itself many years behind to the other browsers. This would have been a fine decision a decade ago when was just starting or maybe even five years ago when launched… Now, not so much! The new Opera doesn’t offer any reason for regular users to switch to it, neither on desktop nor on mobile (Android to be exact), while at the same time alienating their small and loyal user base by stripping every feature they have been relying on.

To call this a vision is preposterous – at this point I don’t expect Opera as browser to survive the next year.

07 July 2013

Brandon Sanderson - The Emperor’s Soul

in Bucharest, Romania

Brandon Sanderson - The Emperor's SoulCei cinci Arbitrii care dețin puterea în Imperiul Trandafirului au o mare problemă: un asasin a pătruns în apartamentele Împăratului Ashravan, rănindu‑l mortal. Deși medicii imperiali l‑au vindecat fizic, rana la cap i‑a afectat mintea, lăsând în urmă un corp fără suflet. Recunoașterea oficială a stării acestuia ar însemna pierderea puterii și predarea Imperiului unei alte facțiuni, poate chiar celei care a organizat tentativa de asasinat. Așa că cei cinci recurg la o soluție disperată: o șantajează pe Shai, o Falsificatoare talentată aflată în temniță pentru furt, să încerce să creeze un nou Suflet pentru Împărat, dându‑i un termen aproape imposibil de 90 de zile – perioada tradițională de doliu pentru soția Împăratului, ucisă de asasin.

Nuvela este plasată în aceeași lume ficțională ca și primul roman al lui Sanderson, Elantris, dar legăturile între cele două sunt aproape inexistente. Imperiul Trandafirului, evident modelat după birocrația medievală chineză, se găsește într‑o altă parte a lumii, și singura posibilă referire la Elantris este un delegat din sudul îndepărtat, poate din teocrația Derethi care încearcă să distrugă Elantris‑ul. Sistemul magic este și el diferit, deși implică tot grafia: Falsificatorii folosesc sigilii sculptate minuțios pentru a rescrie istoria obiectelor, transformând de exemplu o oală banală într‑o vază antică de mare valoare. Ca de obicei, Sanderson descrie în detaliu magia, regulile și limitele acesteia, inclusiv sistemul ei metafizic care contrazice doctrina oficială, Cei Optzeci de Sori. Ca o paranteză, e interesant că în Imperiul Trandafirului sunt optzeci de Facțiuni și se venerează optzeci de Sori; dacă‑mi aduc bine aminte, o notă la sfârșitul Numelui Trandafirului menționa că „trandafir” provine din greacă unde ar însemna „optzeci de foi”, o aluzie la numărul mare de petale al florii și la numeroasele semnificații ale cărții. Dar mă îndoiesc că Sanderson s‑a gândit la asta când a scris povestirea de față.

04 July 2013

Robert Scoble: “Facebook has a deeper problem than just Vine/Twitter”

If I were an exec at Facebook, like Sheryl Sandberg, I would be VERY troubled by all this. It's not enough to have a hacker culture anymore. You have to have a design culture, too. It's amazing that Google is getting the upper hand at that. Robert Scoble

Hmm, forgive me if I don’t take design opinions very seriously from a guy who used to have as cover photo a picture of himself in the shower wearing Google Glass!

02 July 2013

MapBox: “Mobile Devices & Twitter Use”

More than 280 million Tweets posted from mobile phones reveal geographic usage patterns in unprecedented detail. MapBox

Cool visualization! I’m a little surprised that Paris still has that many users on BlackBerry – StatCounter lists Android and iOS as the top mobile operating systems in France, but Android-green is next to non-existent on the map below.

Map of Twitter users in Paris by mobile OS

On the other hand, Bucharest has a fairly even distribution of Android and iOS users, but overall a much lower Twitter usage compared to London, Amsterdam or even Istanbul!

01 July 2013

Farewell, Google Reader! Hello, …?

With a simple whimper, today was retired, ending a long era. I’m not going to repeat what I wrote as I first heard the news, not much has changed since and I don’t feel the strength to say more. Like many others, I’m going to miss Reader after using it basically every day for the past 7 years. I never did hit the magic mark of 300,000 read items after consuming more than 100 articles a day on average… Google Reader final statistics

I’ve come to rely on Google Reader for inspiration, motivation, education, news and sustenance. And for a long time, I couldn’t imagine life without it. But now that Google Reader’s dumped me (does it hurt more or less that it wasn’t for someone or something better?), what’s next? Kevin Skobac