A good friend of mine, Damien George, has been busy this year creating “Micro Python” – an implementation of Python 3.3 for microcontrollers. He has a Kickstarter going here – this is an amazingly cool project, please check it out! I’ve gone for the ‘starter kit’ – can’t wait to play with this and see what it can do.
I have noticed in Silicon Valley people tend to be a lot more collaborative than in Melbourne. I suspect it may be because of the heavier use of open source software, and also the rise of distributed source control like Git. Back in Melbourne most technology companies seemed to use either Java, C++, or C# – when I left Python and Ruby were becoming more prominent, particularly due to a burgeoning startup community, but still pretty relatively rare compared to here. These languages don’t seem to lend themselves as well to open source collaboration – however I will admit my experience was extremely filtered as a developer working in a Windows dev-shop that rarely used a third party library.
I’ve found the many tech blogs about Python and Pyramid extremely helpful when trying to solve problems, and in the spirit of this collaborative effort, would like to give back a little with what I’ve found. I also find that writing up technology discussions and solutions very helpful for refining and consolidating my own thoughts, so even if this isn’t widely read, it’s a very useful exercise.
To kick off, I thought I’d mention something that seems to have caught surprisingly few people out on the web, but had me completely stumped a few weeks back at work. It’ll follow in my next post. Thanks for reading!
Back in 2002 when I started work on my PhD, I remember feeling in awe of all the amazing new devices being released. Bluetooth had just come out, PDAs were getting wifi, and mobile phones were getting cameras.
A lot of the designs back then were kind of clunky, but a lot were pretty amazing. I remember being amazed by the sleek design of the iPaq 3870. The very cool (and thoughtfully ergonomic) T68 from Ericsson. The Sony Vaios were to be the coolest thing in laptops for the next 8 years (I still love the S58GP/B).
Since then I haven’t been nearly as excited about new devices, and I’ve often wondered if it was just a phase I was going through. It was certainly better for my wallet.
This year though has been a pretty amazing year for design and technology. Here are a few of the gadgets wowing me at the moment:
When the Macbook Air came out a few years ago I was pretty impressed from a technology perspective. However from a price/performance balance I was less than enthused. Incredibly high price coupled with middling performance? No thank you. This year Apple suddenly releases an even SMALLER Macbook Air as well as a version of the original with bumped specs and much lower prices? Done. Between the SSD, the higher resolution screen and the lighter weight/longer battery life, the Macbook Air ceases to be a novelty and begins to be a competitor as an every day computer. Looking forward to the 15″ version hopefully some day soon.
The first Kindle was of course groundbreaking, and the second was a worthy successor. However, the Kindle 3 combined an impressive upgrade (smaller, lighter, and with a better contrast screen), with a killer price point – $139. Suddenly the greatest ebook reader was a commodity purchase. Until the Kindle 3, I knew of a single person with a Kindle. Now, at least a dozen of my close friends own one.
There were rumours for years. And tablets were pretty woeful too – so the jokes about a second Newton actually seemed pretty accurate. However Apple did two really impressive things with the iPad. The first is the price – they crammed in a really solid mix of tech in a beautiful device, yet without the design premium. Already they’re ahead – but unlike Microsoft with their woeful tablet version of Windows XP, they successfully redesigned the OS paradigm. They took the best of iPhone and OS X and figured out an all new way to use computers. And it was an immediate success! I’m still in awe that they achieved this, and with a 1.0 product too. I somewhat regret my decision to be a late adopter to the iPad, but I am hoping 2.0 will justify my wait. As someone who dreamed about ubiquitous computing becoming mainstream as an academic, I’m truly jealous of the designers and engineers at Apple for pulling this off.
Volkswagen Golf Mk 6
This seems a little odd. Gushing about the design of a car? Yes, cars are a fairly well-known format, but since having lengthy discussions with the Volkswagen Electronics Research Laboratory I’ve been really excited about the user-centred approach to design employed there. I originally test-drove the latest Golf as one of several possible cars based only on its looks, but the attention to detail compared to the price point is amazing. Subtle touches like a cooling glove box, consistent ambient reading lights, 12V chargers in the boot, and a well-designed “second dashboard” UI, give a suitable wow factor. I’ve never enjoyed using a car as much as I have the Golf Mk 6 (well, except maybe the Audi S5 Coupe).
Canon Powershot S95
I was disappointed with Canon after the apparent peak of point-and-shoots with the Ixus 860IS. I had just planned to get another Ixus, even though I had known there were issues with the latest sensors, however when I went to Best Buy to compare them, I stumbled across the S95. I immediately knew I had to get one. The S95 boasts a very sharp and clear LCD, a large sensor, high quality lens and nearly full manual controls. Since buying this I have retired my Ixus 860IS (apart from for concerts, given its great audio attenuation) as well as my wife’s Rebel XTi. Mr Pogue sums up my feelings pretty well in his love letter.
Ruby on Rails
Yes, I’m kind of late to the party, but I’m traditionally a Java man, having dallied in Struts and used Spring/Hibernate. Writing a web-app used to be kind of a big deal. With Ruby on Rails all the smart decisions have already been made for you. Ruby is a fun language to write in, and Rails takes care of all the hard stuff. This is what programming is meant to be like.
Furthermore, have you noticed how much more it feels like we’re living in the future at the moment? I think the mobile/ubiquitous computing nature of devices is fueling this.
- Identifying a song on the radio using Shazam
- No longer having to plan every detail of vacation. Finding an amazing restaurant using Yelp, booking it on OpenTable and navigating with Google Maps – all on your smartphone.
- Wireless broadband – how did I make do without you before?
- Playing Xbox without any controllers at all – I still remember the weird feeling of just not having a cable and how disconcerting that was.
- VOIP calling anywhere, anytime.
- Fitbit, WakeMate, RunKeeper, Nike Plus – you can monitor almost all your everyday activities now.
- Having applications in the cloud – find any computer, and you’ve got access to all your data and applications.
- A mobile phone with a 960×640 display? The iPhone 4 wows me every time I use one.
- WordLens – realtime OCR/translation and augmented reality for translating text – all on a mobile device.
It’s difficult to make strong predictions, but 2011 looks to be another amazing year for technology, even if it is “just” incremental (the S95 was “just” an update to the S90). I’m looking forward in particular to what Apple do next (of course), and the continued innovation in web applications, particularly in the cloud. Y Combinator continues to be very successful and with nearly 80 new companies likely to emerge next year that will be another exciting scene. It is hard to imagine a strong follow-up to a year which included Xbox Kinect, WordLens, iPhone 4, and the iPad, but I am optimistic.
Gavin Rossdale reports Bush are back together.
Apologies for the long delay. I had worried I would stop updating a blog on my own volition, but instead a nasty Firestats bug shut down my WordPress install. Every time I sat down to try and fix it, I’d get interrupted and never had quite enough time to finish figuring it out. All sorted now though, so back to the usual miscellanea.
About a month ago, while trying to upgrade to Windows 7, I managed to wipe the partition table and in trying to fix it, created a corrupted table.
(incidentally, if you can’t update Vista with the latest service pack, you won’t be able to upgrade to Windows 7, so don’t bother trying without fixing your boot configuration. Turns out my problem was having a dual-boot configuration with XP)
I had backed up my key files, but I wasn’t keen on losing my nice Vista configuration. I posted the whole sordid tale on Superuser.
Happily, I managed to figure out what had happened, what I was actually doing at a low level (sometimes I am a little too lazy and do just blindly run commands, something that Raymond Chen despises), and completely recover. I figured I’d post a link to the solution in case anyone else has their own troubles.
Today I got an email from an Australian company and noticed two things at the bottom of their email. The first was the ever-silly “Go Green – please consider the environment before printing this e-mail.” line.
Does putting this in actually make people reconsider printing an email? I wonder who started this trait? I suspect it was started with somewhat passive-aggressive intent somewhere where a lot of “technically unsavvy” folks were printing emails, and spread from there. It also wouldn’t surprise me if this is the net result most of the time:
(By the way, I really liked the way Google knew exactly what I meant when I searched for [reddit print email irony])
The second thing I noticed, and this is something I’ve definitely seen a lot more of from Australian companies for some reason, was the legal disclaimer.
I’m sure most people have seen this. It’s something like:
“This email and any files transmitted with it are confidential and intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed. If you have received this email in error please notify the system manager. This message contains confidential information and is intended only for the individual named. If you are not the named addressee you should not disseminate, distribute or copy this e-mail. Please notify the sender immediately by e-mail if you have received this e-mail by mistake and delete this e-mail from your system. If you are not the intended recipient you are notified that disclosing, copying, distributing or taking any action in reliance on the contents of this information is strictly prohibited.”
They’re all ridiculously long, nobody reads them, and they break up email conversations in an annoying way. So why do so many people have them (with whole websites devoted to them)?
At first it seems reasonable to believe they do offer some legal protection, which would explain their popularity. But do they? I think it would be reasonable to think that if they offered iron-clad legal protection everyone would have them, yet I rarely see them attached to emails from US companies, perceived as one of the most litigious countries worldwide. Even said website devoted to them, EmailDisclaimers.com says:
If you were to be so unlucky to be sued for the contents of an e-mail, it is not certain whether an email disclaimer will protect you from liability in a court of law.
I’m certainly not the first to question this. Nor am I the first to think the content is generally ridiculous. Slate has also covered the issue. So given its dubious nature, I suspect it persists mainly as a way to reassure the company, without actually doing anything (just like the raptor-repellent I keep in my cube, just in case).
I spotted this article a little while ago, discussing how one man responded to having his house foreclosed.
The front yard of Williams’ home is strewn with boxes, furniture and trash cans. There’s even some of the home’s air conditioning duct work lying on the lawn. That’s not the only part of the property left in shambles. The inside of the house is just as messy.
And just in case anyone needed an explanation for his actions, Williams also allegedly left the bank a big note –– using spray paint. The words painted on a wall near the front door are hard to make out but it appears to declare: “Brought to you by Deutsche Bank… Eat it.”
Makes sense. Milpitas isn’t in the Real Bay Area. Full of savages. I hear they’re starting to eat babies because house prices are so low.