31 December 2013

A short wish-list for future technology

With 2013 soon to be over, many people look back blasé or with admiration at the new technological developments of the past year; I prefer instead to think of new ideas, things I’m currently missing and would like to see incorporated into future products. So here is my current, albeit rather short, list:

Weather-dependent alarms

RiseAndShine - Weather Alarm ClockJust a month ago, the world was gearing up to watch comet ISON in its full glory – which unfortunately ended up pretty badly for the comet after being burned and shredded by the encounter with the Sun. I was also trying to find the comet in the morning sky before the perihelion passage, but the weather was not on my side. Each morning when I woke up it was cloudy outside, with no chance to see anything on the sky. So you see my problem: rather than having to wake up every time and go outside to check the weather only to discover it’s overcast, wouldn’t it be better if the alarm would only ring if it’s clear outside? Current smartphones certainly have the information required, but as far as I know there is no app connecting the two – feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Maybe IFTTT or Google Now could build something like that. It would be useful outside the circle of amateur astronomers: imagine your alarm waking you up earlier when it snowed outside or when it’s freezing to give you enough time to make it to work or to your appointments!

And apparently someone already built an app like that, for iOS at least! I should try it out at some point.

29 December 2013

Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2011 Edition

in Bucharest, Romania

Some of the Best from Tor.com, 2011 editionApropo de editura Tor, am descoperit în revista Galileo colecțiile lor anuale de povestiri scurte SF, așa că le‑am descărcat pe cele pentru anii 2011 și 2012. Din păcate colecția pe 2011 nu m‑a impresionat deloc – poate doar neplăcut – și dacă astea chiar sunt cele mai bune povestiri ale lor mi‑e teamă că colecția pe 2012 o să rămână necitită…

Charlie Jane Anders – Six Months, Three Days

O poveste despre relația între doi clarvăzători, un el care percepe un singur viitor fix pentru întreaga lui viață și o ea care vede o multitudine de posibilități și încearcă să influențeze lucrurile pentru a obține cursul favorabil pentru ea. Evident, amândoi știu încă dinainte când se vor întâlni, cum va decurge și cum se va sfârși relația; el acceptă pentru că e singura opțiune pe care o vede, ea pentru că se așteaptă la o anumită revelație după despărțirea lor, care n‑ar apărea dacă nu ar trece prin cele șase luni și trei zile de relație. E o modalitate interesantă de a pune față-în-față două perspective vechi de când lumea, destinul și liberul-arbitru, dar cumva povestirea în sine nu convinge, personajele sunt prea fixate în propriile opinii și la final simți că nu ai aflat nimic nou, ci doar ai citit banalități dintr‑o relație eșuată – ba mai rău, una despre care toată lumea știa de la început că nu va funcționa!

There are a million tracks, you know. It’s like raindrops falling into a cistern, they’re separate until they hit the surface, and then they become the past: all undifferentiated.

28 December 2013

The Guardian: “Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?”

Aversion to marriage and intimacy in modern life is not unique to Japan. Nor is growing preoccupation with digital technology. But what endless Japanese committees have failed to grasp when they stew over the country’s procreation-shy youth is that, thanks to official shortsightedness, the decision to stay single often makes perfect sense. This is true for both sexes, but it's especially true for women. Marriage is a woman’s grave, goes an old Japanese saying that refers to wives being ignored in favour of mistresses. For Japanese women today, marriage is the grave of their hard-won careers. […]

Around 70% of Japanese women leave their jobs after their first child. The World Economic Forum consistently ranks Japan as one of the world’s worst nations for gender equality at work. Social attitudes don’t help. Married working women are sometimes demonised as oniyome, or “devil wives”. In a telling Japanese ballet production of Bizet’s Carmen a few years ago, Carmen was portrayed as a career woman who stole company secrets to get ahead and then framed her lowly security-guard lover José. Her end was not pretty.

Abigail Haworth

Highly interesting article, even though there are plenty of other data and opinion contradicting it. I can’t pretend to be an expert on the matter, but I suspect the attitude towards marriage is a reflection of the relatively recent freedom of the society, an exaggerated reaction to the strict Japanese traditions. Now that these traditions are fading, people simply have more room to make their own choices in life, even if for some that choice means staying single and not having children.

The Wall Street Journal: “Do We Want an Erasable Internet?”

Yet, even if it fails, Snapchat will have been one of the most fascinating services to hit the Internet in years. To me, the app’s exploding popularity suggests that society is yearning for a new way to think about data. Snapchat is one of the first mainstream services to show us that our photos and texts don’t need to stick around forever: that erasing all the digital effluvia generated by our phones and computers can be just as popular a concept as saving it. Farhad Manjoo

Personally, I would prefer an Internet where things I share reach only the people I intended to share with, without having to worry that the service we’re using is recording that information to target ads or that the conversation is being scrutinized for possible threats by the NSA; an Internet where if I choose to delete something posted online it will be permanently deleted from all servers and not remain cached in a search log somewhere. But I’m not sure we’ll ever have that, the way things are going now…

27 December 2013

Hide apps from iPhone’s Purchased list

Using a smartphone usually means using apps, trying them out and discarding many as new ones are launched or better ones are discovered. If you need to restore some of the previous purchases, iOS makes it very easy: in the App Store’s Updates section you can click on the Purchased header to see a list of all your apps, and even filter for apps you have deleted by selecting ‘Not on This iPhone’. The problem is, as you try out and then remove more and more apps, the list becomes longer and longer, making it hard to find apps quickly. The list does have a search field, but it’s still annoying to see apps you are never planning to install again because you found better replacements (dozens of weather apps fit that profile), you stopped using the service (Path) or simply because the app has been discontinued (like Wavii).

22 December 2013

Goodreads: “2013 - Your Year in Books!”

Now that we’re nearing the end of 2013, we thought it would be fun to take a look at your year in books. Check out a visual representation of your reading year and reexperience everything you learned and felt over the past 12 months! Suzanne Eskyvara

Speaking of reviews of the almost-finished 2013, Goodreads has a similar feature called ‘stats’ where you can compare the current year with the past in terms of number of books read, number of pages and ratings. Apparently I read 42 books during this year, a notable increase from 30 in 2012, but that’s mostly because I consumed a larger number of short stories. There are some books which I haven’t added here because they weren’t in the Goodreads database, so the numbers could be off by 2-3 books per year. A more accurate comparison of the volume is the number of pages read, where the difference between the two years is less pronounced. There’s no point comparing with 2011 because I only started using the site regularly somewhere at the beginning of 2012, after installing their app on my iPhone.

Susan Krinard - Freeze Warning

in Bucharest, Romania

Susan Krinard - Freeze WarningNavigând pe site‑ul editurii Tor după ce am descărcat de acolo câteva colecții de povestiri, am dat peste una care m‑a captivat prin copertă, așa că am trimis‑o imediat pe Kindle. Știu că nu e cea mai bună idee să judeci cărțile după copertă, dar de cele mai multe ori ăsta e singurul criteriu pe care‑l ai la dispoziție, pe lângă descrierea de pe spate. Freeze Warning e doar un preludiu la o serie mai amplă, un fel de episod-pilot pentru o trilogie inspirată de mitologia nordică. Mist este o valkirie trimisă în Midgard cu secole în urmă de însuși Odin pentru a păzi arma sa supremă, sulița Gungnir, în timp de zeii se înfruntă în bătălia finală, Ragnarok. Ca și suratele ei, după atâta timp fără nici un semn de la stăpânii lor, Mist se simte abandonată, cu o misiune lipsită de sens de vreme ce zeii au pierit probabil cu toții și nu vor reapărea să‑și ia în primire armele. Dar tocmai atunci când se hotărăște să îngroape sulița divină în apele Pacificului se întâlnește la docuri cu o bătrână încercând să se sinucidă și o salvează cu ajutorul unui străin chipeș și nobil, Eric Larsson, de care, evident, Mist se simte irezistibil atrasă.

Miturile vikinge se bucură de un interes larg din partea autorilor, de la benzile desenate adaptate în filme până la scriitori SF consacrați, așa că povestirea nu excelează prin idei originale. Autoarea se complace în câteva clișee care te fac să dai ochii peste cap cu iritare, ca de exemplu accesele de feminism ale lui Mist în Asgard, unde încearcă să convingă celelalte valkirii că merită mai mult decât să servească la banchetele zeilor și războinicilor din Valhalla. Totuși povestea are ceva farmec prin incertitudinea bine plasată față de soarta războiului și deruta perfect umană a lui Mist atunci când își vede scopul în viață pus sub semnul întrebării. Ba mai mult, am avut aproape imediat impresia că sub imaginea perfectă de războinic viking a lui Eric se ascunde Loki, venit să pună mâna pe arma aflată în custodia lui Mist – și din câte am citit mai târziu, se pare că am avut dreptate! Fără să fie o capodoperă, o povestire distractivă, fără pretențiile exagerate ale altora.

Nota mea: 3.0

disponibilă online pe site‑ul editurii Tor

21 December 2013

The Guardian: “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming”

Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. I’m going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. It’s this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair. Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on.This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city, exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things. Neil Gaiman

Beautifully said!

19 December 2013

Facebook Newsroom: “2013 Year in Review”

Your Year in Review

People can also look back that their own biggest moments of the year, including life events and popular posts you’ve shared. This personalized look back also includes the option to see highlights and popular posts by friends. See your year in review at Facebook.com/YearInReview.

Robert D'Onofrio

Facebook Your year in review 2013Pretty cool – and accurate – visualization of your most important moments throughout the year, provided you shared them on , of course! Be sure to check out the similar summary for your friends! And if you’re using friends lists properly, the algorithm will prioritize updates from people you marked as ‘Close Friends’, making the collection of posts more relevant and personal for you.

18 December 2013

The Guardian: “The death of photography: are camera phones destroying an artform?”

Why is digital lazy? It’s a scattergun approach. You snap away thinking, One of these shots will work, rather than concentrate on capturing the image.

McCabe used to take two rolls of 24 exposures on a typical assignment. Now I can shoot 1,000 pictures in one of these sessions on digital – and I give myself a massive editing problem as a result. I don’t think photography’s dead, it’s just become lazy. People are taking lots of pictures but nobody’s looking at them.

Stuart Jeffries

As someone who has lived through the transition from film to digital and reluctantly left film behind, I can relate to this point of view. I can shoot much more with a digital SLR now, without having to worry about changing the film roll or developing and digitizing them afterwards; on the other hand hundreds of photos means more time tagging them, adding quick notes and location and uploading them to Flickr, which is why I am still massively behind on sharing my latest photos. Of course, there are also major benefits to having a camera always with you, even if the quality is not necessarily top-notch:

17 December 2013

MakeUseOf: “Feedly Was Stealing Your Content – Here’s the Story, And Their Code”

Basically, Feedly went about creating a kind of slimmed down reading experience, but the way they went about it — rewriting links to propagate their own service through subsequent social shares was pretty damned disgusting. This isn’t the only bad move Feedly has made recently either – last month, they began requiring log in with Google+ accounts (having seen how well Google+ login is working for YouTube, I guess), but that too was quickly reverted. The lesson is — you might want to start finding an alternative feedreader, unless you were already suckered into paying $99 for a Pro account. James Bruce

One more reason to be glad I didn’t choose Feedly as my Google Reader replacement. As Feedly continues to stumble, introducing and then quickly reverting weird, customer-unfriendly decisions, other feed readers are quietly and constantly improving. Six months later I’m just as happy about my choice as I was back then – if not happier. Feedbin is getting better with each new feature and others have noticed this too.

16 December 2013

Twitter Blogs: “Photos in direct messages and swipe between timelines”

iPhone Twitter client with new account switcher

Swipe to discover what’s happening

Now you can swipe from your Home timeline to the Discover timeline to find trends, popular Tweets and new accounts tailored for you, and then swipe to your Activity timeline to see Tweets and accounts that are popular among people you follow.

Jeremy Gordon

Even if it’s not mentioned in the announcement, the app also has a ‘Photos’ timeline, which is curiously available only for one of my accounts. I can only hope that at some point in the future users will be able to customize timelines to add anything they want to check frequently, for example lists or search results, effectively making the mobile app the equivalent of TweetDeck on desktop, since apparently Twitter has no interest to maintain a mobile TweetDeck app. It would also be nice to see tweets from multiple accounts in separate timelines, skipping the account switcher entirely. Granted, users with multiple accounts are probably a small minority, but they are also the most active users who keep the stream of tweets flowing.

Speaking of account switching, it was also improved in this latest update with gestures and iOS 7-inspired animations: if until now you had to click a button to open the account list, now you can bring it up by swiping top to bottom on the ‘Me’ tab, until the profile picture pops back up and the other profile shows up underneath. Very cool and convenient! Or, as I later discovered, you can long-press the ‘Me’ tab to invoke the same screen.

Update: Unfortunately the new version also removed one useful gestures from the app, swiping over a tweet to reveal more options, for example dismissing promoted tweets. This has now been replaced with a more conventional gesture, tap-and-hold will open an extra menu for the less frequent tweet actions, including dismissing.

Electronic Frontier Foundation: “Google Removes Vital Privacy Feature From Android, Claiming Its Release Was Accidental”

In the mean time, we’re not sure what to say to Android users. If app privacy is especially important to you — if, for instance, you want to be able to install an app like Shazam or Skype or Brightest Flashlight without giving it permission to know your location — we would have to advise you not to accept the update to 4.4.2. But this is also a catastrophic situation, because the update to Android 4.4.2 contains fixes to security and denial-of-service bugs. So, for the time being, users will need to chose between either privacy or security on the Android devices, but not both.

Google, the right thing to do here is obvious.

Peter Eckersley

While one could understand collecting data on Android to better target ads and improve their own services, there’s no reason whatsoever for third-party apps to be allowed the same access to sensitive user information. Yet another reason to dislike Android.

08 December 2013

China Miéville - Perdido Street Station

in Bucharest, Romania

China Mieville - Perdido Street StationÎn tot Bas Lag, orașul New Crobuzon se mândrește a fi cel mai mare, centrul științei și industriei, către care se scurg mereu șiruri de emigranți în căutarea unei vieți mai bune. În realitate însă e controlat cu o mână de fier de primarul Rudgutter și Miliția lui Secretă care se folosește fără scrupule de frică și de forță ca să disciplineze nemulțumiții din păturile de jos, lăsând în același timp suficient loc de manevră pentru o înfloritoare economie subterană manevrată cu abilitate de capi mafioți într‑o continuă competiție. Imigranții sunt tolerați, atâta timp cât sunt utili puterii – și nu depășesc prea mult limitele enclavelor stabilite printr‑o tradiție tacită. La porțile acestui faimos oraș se strecoară pe ascuns un refugiat solitar din îndepărtatul deșert Cymek, aflat în căutarea unui om de știință de o faimă îndoielnică, despre care crede că‑i poate îndeplini cea mai fierbinte dorință: aceea de a zbura din nou.

Like mayors before him, Rudgutter liked to compare the civilization and splendour of the City-State Republic of New Crobuzon with the barbarian muck in which inhabitants of other lands were forced to crawl. Think of the other Rohagi countries, Rudgutter demanded in speeches and editorials. This was not Tesh, nor Troglodopolis, Vadaunk or High Cromlech. This was not a city ruled by witches; this was not a chthonic burrow; the seasons’ changes did not bring an onslaught of superstitious repression; New Crobuzon did not process its citizenry through zombie factories; its Parliament was not like Maru’ahm’s, a casino where laws were stakes in games of roulette. And this was not, emphasized Rudgutter, Shankell, where people fought like animals for sport.

07 December 2013

Quartz: “Starting today, your iPhone can pester you to buy whatever you’re standing next to”

Here’s how it works: iBeacon allows iPhones to locate their position in space with centimeter precision. It does this by using the phone’s Bluetooth Low Energy radio to listen for the radio-frequency cries of various “beacons” that retailers must place throughout their store. With such a positioning system in place, store owners can designate certain areas in their shops — as small as tens of centimeters across — where actions can be triggered, like sending more information or a promotional offer to a customer’s phone. Christopher Mims

Sounds like something right out of Minority Report (the movie that is, not the original short story). And it’s here literally right now, without expensive facial recognition, without embedding microchips in our arms and, fortunately, with the freedom to opt-out whenever we want.

The future of personal advertising according to the movie Minority Report