I’m drinking coffee in a Starbucks next door to an Applebee’s. Tough to tell that I’m in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Mexico is a hotbed for talented software developers, and we’re here to find the next Rich (@rmanalan) before s/he hits it big and leaves the band over creative differences.
Yeah, I’m a little punchy, been a long week.
Anyway, some nuggets from my first trip to the land down under . . . Texas, Arizona, and small parts of New Mexico and California.
Internet is air
The right to internet access movement sounds noble to me, and as soon as I landed, I started to suffocate from lack of connectivity. So, now, I’m fully on board. Internets for everyone!
International data roaming is incredibly expensive, $10-15 per MB according to Anthony (@anthonyslai), so I left the States hoping to get by on wifi and by channeling me from 2007. You remember that guy who carried a RAZR, the pre-iPhone me?
I tried to find a Mexican SIM before I left the US. After all, I’ve been bragging about the international portability of an unlocked GSM/HSPA+ phone like the Nexus S GSM or the Nexus 4 that I currently carry.
Turns out this is easier said than done, at least before you leave home, and at least here, it’s not super easy even after you arrive.
The SIM adventure
All of us were carrying unlocked phones, and we quickly found out that SIM cards were scarce. Of course, we needed two sizes, regular and micro, making our search a bit more complicated. After trying three stores and kiosks, we finally were directed to a Telcel store inside a mall.
Rafa (@rafabelloni), one of the local Applications UX developers who had been guiding us on our quest for SIMs, made what I thought was an offhand comment about avoiding the Telcel store because it would take a while.
It wasn’t offhand. He was right.
The front of the Telcel store was very inviting, like any wireless store, with lots of phones displayed on glass and white surfaces. In the back was where you do the business though, and it looked just like a DMV office.
There was the obligatory maze for queuing people and about 40 counter stations, about three of which were staffed. We first explained what we needed via two interpreters, Noel and Rafa. We then received three SIMs and went to pay.
For the activation. In another line.
Once activated, we returned to the first station to have the SIMs installed, and then went to pay.
Again. For the service plan. In another line.
So, it took four stops to get us online, and even after that, we had issues. My phone and text services never worked. Noel had issues getting his plan working. Anthony ran out of data between the activation and plan steps. The SIMs came with a courtesy 150 MB, and I think his phone ate that up before we could pay for more data.
Or maybe something else. I don’t recall exactly because I was numb to the experience.
Luckily, we arrived at a calm moment, but it still took about an hour start to finish. Even so, Rafa was right. Thanks dude.
In the end, we got a nice deal for 1 GB of data for the week, even factoring in all the wait time. And wow, was it ever liberating to have data flowing to my phone again.
Pics, it happened.
The good news is that I now have a rechargeable SIM should I venture to Mexico, or at least to Guadalajara, again.
I am very lucky to be traveling with a native Spanish speaker, i.e. Noel (@noelportugal). I’ve always meant to learn Spanish. I even bought Rosetta Stone years ago with that intention. Obviously, that never happened.
As soon as I finally got on wifi, Google fired off a suspicious activity email to my Gmail account, which was nice to see.
I’m horrible at metric conversions.
Google Now really shines when you’re traveling abroad, adding cards for currency conversation and translation to the other travel-specific cards, like flight details and tourist attractions. The workflow is still a bit wonky, i.e. pulling out the phone to convert prices and translate, but just wait for Google Glass to see these services really show utility.
Speaking of Google, two-step verification becomes a real chore when you’re using a different SIM. Why? The second step of the verification process sends a text to your phone, but if that SIM happens to be inactive, you’re stuck.
I had to burn an emergency wallet code at first, but then I realized that since my Portland number is tied to Google Voice, I could elect to receive a phone call with the code for the second step. Happily, that automated service repeated the code several times allowing voicemail to capture it. I could then listen to the voicemail via the Google Voice app.
Obviously, this only works because my phone didn’t force me to re-authenticate to Google when I swapped SIMs, which I suppose is an exploitable gap. An attacker could easily swap SIMs and pwn your phone and all its data, assuming the phone is unsecured or its unlock sequence is easily cracked.
I remember having a similar discussion with Matt (@topperge) years ago when he first started using Google’s two-step verification.
Larger point here: This is why no one uses good security practices, too damned hard.
The area around the Oracle office is very new and still under construction, including the structure next door, which is still a shell of steel. Whenever I got a little sleepy, I’d head out to the balcony on the ninth floor, which extends away from the building, to watch the construction workers do their jobs, largely untethered. Scary stuff and a great way to get the juices flowing.
By now, you’ve probably heard the news that Google will shut down Google Reader in July.
This is extremely sad for me, since Reader is an essential tool that I use several times a day to keep up with hundreds of items. I’m not joking or exaggerating; I scan hundreds of items on a (mostly) daily basis. Reader makes this manageable, and I will miss it.
When I read the news on Reader, I took to Twitter to join the hand-wringing and fist-shaking movement. That’s a double irony, reading the news on Reader and using a service that has surely hastened its demise to complain about it.
I’m not surprised by the out-pouring of sentiment. Reader has been on life-support since its neutering in late 2011. Google has given plenty of notice that Google+ is its future for social activities, and the related-but-not news of Andy Rubin’s departure shows that Google continues to narrow its focus.
Anyway, if you’d like to petition Google to save Reader, there are several you can sign over on Change.org. This one has the most signatures.
It’s actually for the best that Reader will be killed, since it was dying a slow death anyway. I think we all knew this was coming. Think about this: how awesome would it be to see Google sell Reader to its users, like I proposed years ago for Flickr?
Win-win for everyone. I would pay to keep it as-is.
So, now what? I’ll be collecting replacement options over the next three months, and they’re pretty easy to find.
Some of the more interesting or funny to me options:
- Crowdfunded RSS.GD
- Digg, yes Digg, you read that right
- The Old Reader, h/t John (@jpiwowar) and J-P (@lawduck) for that one
- Flipboard, duh
Lost in all the weeping for Reader was a possibly bigger deal, h/t to Bill (@btaroli):
CalDAV API will become available for whitelisted developers, and will be shut down for other developers on September 16, 2013. Most developers’ use cases are handled well by Google Calendar API, which we recommend using instead. If you’re a developer and the Calendar API won’t work for you, please fill out this form to tell us about your use case and request access to whitelisted-only CalDAV API.
It’s very murky, but this seems to be a Google-Microsoft tiff. Details are missing, but if Google doesn’t whitelist Apple or Mozilla, Google Calendar becomes orphaned because its users won’t be able to use their preferred clients.
Stay tuned for details.
So, cry about Reader in the comments, but this is a wake, so let’s remember Reader at its best.
News seems to come in inverse proportion to my level of busy, e.g. SXSW is happening now. Noel (@noelportugal) is attending, so here’s to hoping he brings back some content.
Anyway, here are some stories that have caught my very limited attention lately.
Another Applications UX post from Gozel over on VoX details the team’s upcoming trip to OBUG Benelux Connect in Antwerp, Belgium. If you’re going, check out all the AUX activities and find time to participate.
Troy Hunt makes a compelling case for all web sites to disclose their password storage strategies, love the idea of public shaming the properties that don’t take your privacy seriously enough. Troy’s blog is a great read; he describes complex issues in easily readable ways, a difficult task.
Steelcase did some UX research and found new postures that we’ve adopted for our new devices, fascinating stuff. How many of those do you practice?
I’m a big fan of applying interdisciplinary skills to my work, and Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling are gold for anyone making anything for other people.
Speaking of interdisciplinary skills, this brief portrait of Ralph Baer, the father of video games, is strikingly inspiring and sad all at once.
Even before the SXSW Glass session, the possibilities of Google Glass started leaking out into the world. I, for one, am stoked for Glass.
Update: Forgot these concepts from JetBlue for Glass at the airport.
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This has been in the works for some time now, so it doesn’t really feel like news to me. Since I joined Applications User Experience back in November, I’ve been trying to assemble a crack team to follow emerging technologies and create rapid prototypes to investigate what users will be using in the not-so-distant future.
Sounds a lot like what this team was initially created to do back in 2007.
So, it made sense to put the band back together, or as much of it as possible. This particular iteration will have some new members, so stay tuned for that.
Everything old is new again.
A few months ago, I decided to change my personal policy on spam. For years, I just ignored spam, mostly because it was easier to delete messages than to follow the unsubscribe instructions on each of them.
Given the high profile hacks of the last 12-18 months and the nature of spam lists, i.e. lists of email addresses are sold without explicit consent in some cases, it’s difficult to know who has your email address, what they plan to do with it and how good their security is.
So, I started unsubscribing from spam as it arrived, and during this process, I’ve observed a wide range of options, which I’m ranking here for posterity. Unsubs are an odd use case because the motivation of the user is opposed to the motivation of the provider.
While legally, a bulk emailer must provide an unsubscribe function, it’s not in their best interests to do more than the absolute minimum. In fact, some of the implementations I’ve seen make it just confusing enough to persuade the user to stay, or at least, not leave before giving up more personal information.
Without further ado, here are the unsubscribe methods I’ve observed, from best to worst for discussion and humor purposes.
Without a doubt, the one-click, instant unsubscribe link is the best. I’ve found that some links are described as instant in the spam message, but are not in practice. This one functions as advertised, click it and you’re magically removed from the list. There’s usually a confirmation message and sometimes a timeframe listed for the unsub to take effect.
One-Click and Confirm
Sometimes “instant” means clicking the unsub link drops you on a confirmation page, i.e. the page wants to make sure you want to unsubscribe from the list and you haven’t hit your head or fat-finger-clicked the link by mistake. Because the benefits of subscription are so good, it’s likely that you made a mistake.
It’s one extra step, not a huge deal, but a little more annoying, especially if they go overboard on the benefits of their spam.
One-Click, Confirm and Tell Us Why
Quite a few unsubs have an optional step at the end of the process, like the break-up that won’t end. I keep hoping to see the “It’s not me, it’s you” option, but alas, not yet. This one is obviously marketing, and it’s a little sneaky. With unsub function completed, there’s no reason to stay on the site, but this question, usually in form of radio buttons, takes just enough cognitive effort to make you question yourself.
I find myself plowing through this process, hoping to get it done as quickly as possible, and I know I answered that question a few times without even thinking.
Links That Make Me Work
Beyond confirming, some unsubscribes claim to be generic and require you to enter the email address you want to remove because there’s no way they could know what email address you mean, even though those links carry when look like unique tokens in their URLs. Don’t make me do work to unsubscribe, and definitely don’t pretend like you don’t know who I am.
Even worse is the lazy unsub link that actually doesn’t carry any tokens or identification. It’s just a generic unsubscribe page; I’ve found those usually also have the sneaky break-up question too.
Hall of Fail
Now, for the best of the worst.
I suppose the worst should be spam with no unsubscribe offered at all, which is technically illegal, but good luck enforcing that. These emails come from bots that scour the interwebs looking for email addresses, or so I assume, since they never seem to be solicited in any way.
Slightly better, but still highly annoying, is the reply with “Leave Out” or “Unsubscribe” in the subject. Or put differently, please confirm this is a real person and optionally provide more context about yourself in your signature. There’s never any confirmation that these work, and they feel a lot like bait.
I love the unsubscribes that tell you how long you should expect the “process” to take. It’s usually listed in days, sometimes with the hilarious caveat of “business days.” If only technology could automate the removal of a data point from a data store.
And finally, the worst and funniest unsubscribe I’ve seen so far: optionally send a letter. I kid you not. This spam message had a perfectly good unsubscribe link in the footer, and they conveniently offered a snail mail option, complete with a PO Box.
That made my day. Then, I felt a little sad that people might actually try to use that option.
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One of the cool things about the last half decade is the influx of people and technology from acquisitions. You’ll recall that this team’s original incarnation included two PeopleSoft people, Paul (@ppedrazzi) and Rich (@rmanalan).
I’ve found over the years that one cool byproduct of acquisitions is hidden technology gems. You know, projects or products that you didn’t know a company was doing or ones that didn’t seem obvious, e.g. Sun SPOTs, Cloud Office, Endeca’s Information Discovery capabilities, or RightNow’s Natural Language Processing (NLP) engine, Intent Guide.
Maybe you knew, but I didn’t. And if so, kudos for being so well informed.
Anyway, these gems, hidden or otherwise, can help existing applications by injecting new technology into them.
NLP may not grab as many headlines as something like the latest iPhone, iPad or Google Glass, but it can and does help make devices and their software easier for users to use. Many of us have changed our approach to search to suit the tool, e.g. the number of keywords in the average Google search has been increasing for years as users adapt their searches to fit Google’s engine. If you’re like me, you translate your mental question into a keyword string that fits what you think Google will understand best.
These mental gymnastics are common for frequent information seekers like me, but not for the average user, which is where NLP can help. Its goal is to understand a conversational question and provide answers without forcing iterations. If you’ve used Android’s voice features, Siri or have ever crossed horns with an automated telephone system (“I think you said spay my pill. Is that right?”), you’re familiar with NLP and with its decidedly mixed results.
These experiences run the gamut for users, which is why I’m interested in NLP, both good and bad.
I first heard about RightNow’s Intent Guide in a project introduction right after I joined Applications User Experience. After mentally high-fiving myself, I made a note to remember that because a) good NLP is hard to find and b) Intent Guide has RESTful APIs, making it perfect for the type of work we like to do.
So recently, Misha (@mishavaughan) went on a trip to Amsterdam and met some nice people who came over in the RightNow acquisition. She, correctly, assumed that NLP would be nerd-candy for me and was kind enough to connect me with one of those people, Margaret Salome.
Intent Guide uses its NLP engine to help online customers seeking assistance get the most relevant answers possible, quickly. Makes sense, right, but easier said (pun!) than done. Intent Guide has to account for many languages and both long and short queries, some real sentence questions, others Google-style keyword phrases. Oh, and then, there are the inevitable typos too.
But wait, there’s more. There are also industry-specific terms to consider, e.g. cashing a check or drawing money have different meanings in context, and also customer-specific brand names that may overlap with language definitions.
All of this has to happen quickly to give the best experience. Users want answers, immediately. So, relevancy and speed are what they want.
I would go on, but there’s a whitepaper that describes all the inner workings and coolness. However, I’m having one those exact moments with the Google, and I can’t seem to find it.
Update: Turns out, the whitepaper I have isn’t publicly available, which explains why I couldn’t find it. Never fear, there are several whitepapers and data sheets over on the Intent Guide resources page that will give you all the specs and goodness you crave.
Anyway, turns out Intent Guide is used by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, so I had the opportunity to test it out live.
When you hit KLM’s home page, you’ll see a search field with an Ask button, which is where Intent Guide lives. The first question that came to mind was “what operating system does the in-flight entertainment system run?” suitably nerdy, and driven by a conversation Jeremy and I had last week, so top of mind.
Intent Guide results pop over the home page, and it did quite well interpreting my rather dumb question as a query about the in-flight entertainment. Nice. I then asked it a more germane question, “can I carry on a stroller?” which it perfectly identified in its results. It also adjusted for my colloquialism, matching “carriage” and “pram” to my Americanism, exactly like you want an NLP engine to do.
I played around a bit and discovered that KLM has Android and iOS apps; discovery is one of the things you want from NLP. I also tested its tolerance for typos, another must have. It performed well, e.g. “can haz android?” did return mobile-related results, until I tried too many typos, e.g. “do yo hav android” failed. Probably a good thing.
Anyway, after some light testing, I’m impressed and looking forward to finding a use for it in one of my percolating projects. NLP definitely helps bridge the gap between information and seeker, and when applied to datasets and user profiles that are relatively predictable, it can save a ton of time and frustration.
Imagine applying NLP to all the data in an enterprise. Then compare that to a trillion or so indexed web properties, or the Facebook status updates of a billion users. This is another one of those areas where enterprise users can benefit before consumer users.
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Interest is temporal, so I knew my case of the blahs about content would quickly resolve, and the Mobile World Congress has certainly helped.
So, here are some nuggets I found interesting on a Monday.
Mobile News from MWC
LG buys webOS from HP, or some of it anyway, for smart TVs and maybe phones, and an interesting turn of events for webOS, even if LG isn’t sure what to do with the OS.
Samsung is merging parts of Tizen and Bada. That sentence sounds completely made-up, and as a fun experiment, I plan to say it in casual conversation, just for giggles.
Google Glass Review from Joshua Topolsky
This is by far the most detailed review I’ve seen of Google Glass, covering form-factor, operation, data connectivity and usage details. Definitely worth a read.
Ultan (@ultan) and I are alike in seeing a ton of enterprise use cases for Glass, and hey, if you’re wearing them for work, you have an excuse for looking like a cyborg.
That’s what I used back when I carried a pager. “Oh, I have to carry this for work.” Translation, I’m a nerd hiding in the open.
One thing is certain, wearable computing is happening, and it’s going to unleash a torrent of privacy and security concerns.
The Over-Quantified Self
By way of Flowing Data, this story in Wired about one man’s over-quantification of his work and the implications and reasons why he does it is an interesting read. I’d like to know more about the sensors he’s using, and there’s an mashing of services collecting and documenting his actions. Philosophically, it’s scary, but inevitable that information work will eventually be quantified and subjected to efficiencies, just like every other major industry.
Power Tools Retrofitted for the Amish
This is a fascinating story about how the Amish want power tools, not powered by electricity.
And Finally, Missed Connections by State
This map shows the most common location of Craigslist’s Missed Connections by state. On the plus side, it’s probably a map if you’re looking for love. Let’s leave it at that.
Google has been in the news a lot this week, releasing the Chromebook Pixel and giving the World a sneak peak at Glass. Couple these with persistent rumors about Google retail stores, and you have an interesting trail of breadcrumbs leading into Google IO.
The Pixel is a head-scratcher. The Verge has one of the better reviews, especially with respect to the construction aspects, and if you factor in a retail angle, Google seems to be trying to establish itself as a premium brand, Glass, Pixel, Nexus devices, which adds to the caché of its ancillary services and growing selection of hardware.
The Pixel’s cost is very high, given what it does, but that might be enough to get consumers (and enterprises) in the door to buy something else. Glass is similar, at least in cost, and it’s definitely sexy enough to draw people into Google stores.
Techcrunch makes the point that the average consumer will absolutely want to test drive Google’s devices before buying. Even if they don’t buy, stores bring physical presence to Google, which is historically a virtual brand, something you use, but can’t really touch.
So, while the Pixel seems odd, it does feel like a halo play for Google’s online empire and for the Google brand, which will gain momentum when Glass releases. The Pixel may not move a lot of units, but it might get people to buy into the Chromebook philosophy and buy one of the lower cost models.
I read an interesting post about how Google is killing the Android brand. This makes sense from a branding perspective, differentiating Google’s Nexus devices from the right-wrong-indifferent view of Android as a low-cost alternative to the iFamily.
All this makes sense when taken as a whole, and I’m reminded of a debate Justin (@kestelyn) had about Google years ago. Google isn’t just an advertising and search company. They have much bigger aspirations, and I’m intrigued to watch how they evolve.
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I haven’t had much to say here recently, combination of work and general boredom with technology news.
However, my colleagues in Applications UX have been blogging.
Ultan (@ultan) talks about the Oracle Fusion Applications User Experience Design Patterns and Guidelines in his latest post, which includes knitted aliens, always a plus. These design patterns have been tested in the Applications UX labs and in the wild by real users with real tasks, and they are a great way to guide customers and partners who wish to tailor their Fusion experience or build new ones.
Misha (@mishavaughan) who serves as my AUX spirit guide, has a post charting several concepts on the road ahead for us, including simplification, voice, gamification, and tailoring and extending applications user experiences. Check out her summary of each and her thoughts about what’s next.
Disqus aims to aggregate comments across all blogs and web sites by a) providing an easy way for site owners to add the Disqus commenting plugin and b) allowing commenters to create a centralizing profile that can be used on any site that has added their plugin.
It’s a good idea for frequent commenters who participate in discussions on different properties, allowing them to consolidate their comments in a single place. I’ve used my Disqus identity on other sites over the years, and it’s been nice to avoid creating new identities for each site. Having a central profile lowers the bar for discussion, which is, for the most part, a good idea.
This may sound odd to some, but back in 2008, people actually read blogs and commented on posts before Facebook and Twitter consumed all that discussion.
I’ve been happy with Disqus, and their team has been great providing support on rare occasions when their service is having issues.
However, today, I’m turning off Disqus and going back to the standard comments. No worries, comments have been duplicated locally over the years, so I don’t think any have been lost. If any have fallen through the cracks, they’re probably so old, no one will notice.
In December, Disqus began adding links via their plugin, a feature called Promoted Discovery. These links were appearing above the comments in a section called Recommended Content, maybe you noticed. I didn’t, until I read this post.
To be fair, I believe they did notify me of this new feature, but I obviously ignored it. They also provide an option to turn off the feature.
As I said above, I’m happy with Disqus and understand the reasons why they are pushing new features. It’s a business. However, I can’t have any ads here, lest somehow they be construed as endorsement by me or my employer.
Mostly though, I’ve turned off the plugin because I’m a control freak by nature. I’ve learned from the demise and neutering of other services that it’s often better to own my own data, or at least pay someone to manage it.
FWIW, I’ll still keep my Disqus handle, so I can use it on the rare occasion that I decide to comment elsewhere.
Anyway, if you notice that comments are less functional then they were, this is why. I hope that doesn’t ruin your day.
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Having been at Oracle in Applications development for a really long time, I’ve heard about the Applications User Experience Usability Labs.
In the past, the labs have always been a blindspot for me and a bit of a mystery, but now that I’m a member of Apps UX team, I have the opportunity to see the labs in action. Last week, I got the chance to do just that and observe a session.
The experience was eye-opening and is one that I thought was worth sharing.
Bringing users into the design and development process early is critical to ensuring that what you’re building is actually something they want (or can) use. During my time in consulting, I had the opportunity to work side-by-side with users, tailoring their applications to do exactly what they wanted, even down to button position, tab order, field labeling, even color and font choice.
These sessions left a lasting impression on me and have helped guide my later work in development, especially with respect to feeling empathy for frustrated and happy users.
Bottom line, there’s nothing like watching the joy and pain your software causes users.
Anyway, getting back to the Usability Labs, the session I observed was virtual, although users can come into the lab and sit in a room to interact with the software being tested. The labs are very high-tech, with a staged area, designed to mimic a typical cubicle or office setup for the participant, and a control room, where the usability engineers guide the user through the test steps, observe, ask questions and log feedback.
The virtual session ran in much the same manner, using a web conference.
The whole process took just under two hours, with lots of time to talk to the user about impressions, feedback, suggestions, all the important information we need to know about what we’re building.
Although I haven’t participated in the design and development of the product tested, I had several ah-ha moments where the user went off course or was confused due to what I’m pretty sure were design decisions, very useful feedback to get before a product launches. Similarly, when the user was happy or satisfied with the product, I knew that would make product team happy.
Although I only went to one session, this particular product was being tested by several different users over a two-week period, and the aggregate feedback will definitely help the product team understand where their design works and where it could use some tweaks.
All-in-all, it was a very valuable way to spend a couple hours. Thanks to Luke and company for allowing me to eavesdrop.
So, if you’re an Oracle Applications user, I highly recommend signing up to participate in a lab. Apps UX runs sessions at user group conferences and at OpenWorld, plus you can get involved virtually.
Depending on the product, there is some vetting to ensure that you’re a good candidate, e.g. if you’re an accountant, you might not be a good test user for CRM. However in some cases, you don’t even have to use Oracle to participate.
If you’re interested, check out the UX Customer Participation Program for more details, or if you’re at a conference and see Apps UX people there, ask about how you can participate.
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Update: I’ve been informed that the Applications UX labs are also open to other products outside Applications, e.g. Fusion Middleware. So, even if you’re not an enterprise applications user of Oracle or otherwise, you may be able to help Oracle product teams test their stuff as well. Good to know.
I found out today that my old pal Noel (@noelportugal) started a blog, focused on Web of Things, erm things, called WOTLabs. One of his first posts is about the Nike+ Fuelband and how to use its API, whose documentation apparently isn’t complete just yet.
Semi-related, can we standardize on what to call internet-connected objects? IoT used to be just fine, but now I’m hearing M2M and WoT. Confusing.
One more thing, lots of them, specifically the barometers in many Android phones, which are now being harnessed to collect distributed data that can help scientists predict severe weather. An app called PressureNet is following the tried-and-true SETI@Home model to collect barometric data from people’s phones. I love this model.
And the last thing, a nostalgic history of the original hackers, phone phreaks, great stuff.
A brief recap of the issue, basically, the wifi connection dies, despite the toolbar icon showing a full strength connection, which is also a lie. After observing this issue for a long time and doing a lot of research online, the cause seems to be related to waking the machine from sleep, although it does happen while the machine is in use.
To be fair, there are a myriad of reasons why wifi might stop working, which makes this issue challenging to diagnose and is probably the reason why Apple hasn’t ever acknowledged any issue, despite an army of MBP owners reporting it.
In Lion, the issue was relatively easy to resolve. I’d simply reboot the router. However, after my upgrade to Mountain Lion, when wifi drops, everything requiring network becomes totally unresponsive, even Terminal. Open applications cannot be force quit, and the only way to get the machine functional again is to do a hard restart.
After trying dozens of tips myself, I ended up chatting with a senior Apple care advisor who eventually recommended I do a clean install. No guarantees, but that was the next step.
I asked about steps after that, and none of them sounded good. Basically, I’m on my own.
I use my MBP for work, and I’m not too keen to lose it for any amount of time. I had resigned myself to doing a clean install over a long weekend, but when the time came, I decided I’d rather spend time with my family than bury my face in a clean install for an entire day.
During my many searches for ways to fix this issue, I remember reading that people had found success by keeping the wifi connection alive manually via ping.
So, I decided to try that option and save a weekend, possibly postponing the inevitable, but worth the risk.
I quickly found the source for that suggestion and actually found another, setting the DNS servers. I tried the latter for a few days, using Google’s public DNS servers, and that actually worked pretty well for almost a week. Then, the drops returned in a cluster.
I gave in and have been pinging my router every five seconds for a few days, no drops, yet.
I’m using the script method described above by OSX Daily, but I also tried another method, using Automator. Check out Ars for information on how to run shell scripts via Automator. You can create an app for this little script and then add that to your user’s login items.
A couple things I don’t like about this method. First, it runs in the toolbar and shows a gear icon that is constantly rotating to show the app is executing. That bugged me right off the bat, since I couldn’t ignore it. Second, there’s no output to check, and I rather like looking at the ping times every so often, just to see that it’s working and how much latency I’m getting. I know I could hack that all together, but the Terminal method is easier.
Now, it’s on me to remember to start that script whenever I startup.
I’m not ready to declare victory, but maybe this will help you. If it fails, I’ll have to weigh the cost of a clean install, again.
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Update: Although this janky hack has lessened the frequency of failure, it hasn’t solved the issue. In fact, I’ve now seen the network die while the script was successfully pinging the router. So, there goes that assumption. I also tried Floyd’s suggestion to update the Airport Extreme’s firmware, coincidentally updated by Apple just last week. Plus, I’ve now managed to fail while using an ethernet connection at an Oracle office. So, while it’s great to add to the mounting evidence and rule out possible fixes, I’m still screwed and looking for a solution.
Please contribute any suggestions in the comments.
The event was actually several competitions, each with a different focus, and unsurprisingly, Noel joined the Arduino hackathon. While browsing MAKE yesterday, I found a full writeup on all the entries in that category, by Sara Streeter (@saranicole) at Axeda, co-sponsors of the M2M, the latest way to abbreviate IoT, competition.
Anyway, Noel’s entry is described therein.
6. Smart Hackathon
Creating the best way to run an organized and productive Hackathon
What it is: Check into an event such as a Hackathon via RFID or NFC and get real time updates on the stats and skill sets of the other people there.
Why we like it: No one attends an event so they can get stuck listening to the wrong pitch with the wrong people. Getting real-time intelligence at the event about who to meet feels like getting hours of our life back.
Team Members: Noel Portugal
Sensors: RFID / NFC Sensor
- Axeda APIs: Groovy scripts, Expression Rules
- AT&T APIs: SMS
Sara also includes a picture of Noel’s work.
Bit ironic that Noel had to work alone on this project, but it’s definitely a need area for hackathons. While you can assume people have a certain skill based on the contest, e.g. you can bet the Arduino competitors know some Arduino, beyond that there’s no way to know unless you ask.
Of course, polling a bunch of people takes valuable time away from the hack itself.
Given Noel’s implementation, you could reasonably set up a hackathon to include badges with RFID that registered when people arrived and updated a skills market of sorts that people could monitor for potential teammates. Plus, the chip could help you find them in a crowd.
Maybe there’s something bigger here.
Anyway, Noel didn’t win, but he lost to a team with rockets. Tough sledding.
Find the comments.
I can’t seem to find a topic worthy of more than a paragraph, so here’s another post of curated links. Could be worse.
A P2P Wifi Tethering Market
What you say? It’s exactly what it sounds like, a community of users allowing others to tether off their connections in exchange for credit to use when they need connectivity. It’s called Airmobs. Great idea and awesome example of itch-scratching, but one that’s unlikely to last for long, given the carriers won’t be happy.
Pepper Spray That Takes Pictures
From Hack a Day, this modded pepper spray canister fires the flash, snaps a picture (presumably of an assailant), and sends it via Bluetooth to your phone so you can present it to authorities, and can call police upon receiving a picture. It also sprays pepper spray.
Palm’s webOS Kept Alive by Android devices
I love this story about how a devoted open source project, webOS Ports, is keeping the dream alive for the under-appreciated and before-its-time webOS. I actually knew a couple people with Palm Pres (Rich was one), and they both had lots of good things to say about webOS. You can find the influence of webOS in mobile design today, e.g. Google Search’s cards. It’s good to see the old dog still hunts, in a manner of speaking.
Apple Core Rot, a pretty detailed overview of ways that OS X has degraded in quality. I’d add my trials and tribulations with wifi connectivity to the list of things-that-used-to-work-but-don’t-now. Unfortunately, OS X is still the best option for me on a desktop, but it’s not as clear-cut as it was back in 2007.
He said right before that very issue forced the second hard restart of the day and the rewriting of this post. Sigh.
Dan Lyons, he of Fake Steve Jobs fame, has a snarky (surprise) and possibly a bit too true answer to the question Why do Americans Hate Android and Love Apple? The comments and follow-up posts from the bloggers he names will be interesting.
A 23-Year Game of Tag
And finally, a funny story about a group of friends who have been playing tag for 23-years.
I’ve been sick so, here comes another link post. Find the comments if you feel so inclined.
The Verge has an interesting retrospective on how Google has been gradually redesigning its interfaces since Larry Page took over as CEO. This has been happening almost organically, and if I hadn’t bothered to stop and think about it, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Taken as a whole effort, it’s an impressive accomplishment.
The as Yet, Unrecognized Potential of NFC
Fast Company has a piece on NFC that reminded me of NFC, and yes I meant that. NFC remains an untapped technology, largely because there’s so much it can do. Oh, and it’s not on the iPhone yet.
When the Nexus S launched years ago, I remember thinking that the inclusion of an NFC radio would spur development in that area, and I was stoked to try out Google Wallet, which was the first app I had seen that used NFC on the S. The only advancement I can think of in the years that have elapsed is the ability to transfer videos on the Galaxy S III, funny commercial, but no mention of the technology behind it.
I was surprised recently when Noel (@noelportugal) cited NFC as the only reason he would consider a move to Android from his iPhone. So, he must have some ideas in mind.
Socializing the Finance Department
My pal David Haimes (@dhaimes) wrote a guest post over on the Oracle Applications blog about the possibly surprising notion that the Finance department is a social organization. Number-crunching is inherently social, deal with it, but seriously, if you get a chance to see David at Collaborate or OpenWorld, check out his sessions. He has interesting ideas.
Pebble Smartwatches Begin Shipping
I don’t wear a watch, so I missed the whole Pebble thing, but several people in UX, I think Utlan (@ultan) was the first, clued me in to the Pebble. They started shipping last week, and Engadget has a review. The functionality seems a bit limited for now, but there’s definitely potential.
I am interested to see how this paradigm plays out, i.e. the smartphone as a hub for delivering information to other devices on your person. It’s very similar to the iPad as a home automation center, and now that the Nike FuelBand has an open API, it looks like 2013 will spawn a lot of wearable innovation, as the phone stays in your pocket or bag.
ADF on a Raspi
That’s it for now.
Here comes one of those link posts, comprised of topics that are interesting to me, but not enough to write more than a few words.
Facebook launches Graph Search
Wired has the full story of how Graph Search came to be. I bemoaned Facebook’s lost search opportunity years ago, and apparently, I wasn’t alone, given that they snapped up Lars Rasmussen and put him on the task. Yes, the same Lars Rasmussen who hit with Google Maps and missed with Google Wave.
Graph Search looks very compelling, and Facebook has been careful to differentiate it from traditional web search. I expect Graph Search to cause mass panic before it eventually shows value, assuming Facebook sticks to its guns in the face of pressure from users. The biggest problem for Graph Search will be educating its users to use it instead of the Google. Messing with workflow is always precarious.
Graph Search is launching slowly and only indexing profiles, not status, at least not yet. Update your privacy settings accordingly.
Larry Page speaks
I don’t usually read interviews, but this one that Wired did with Larry Page has some interesting nuggets.
Hacking your home, in a bad way
Internet of Things, which is slowly being rebranded M2M, has awesome potential. If you read here, you know I’m a big fan. Troy Hunt has a cautionary post about how connecting all those things to the internets could put you at risk. It’s worth a read, and he covers many of the points that make me nervous about going all-in on IoT.
IoT needs a WC3-type spec and soon. There’s probably one out there, but I haven’t heard of anything gaining momentum yet. Give it 18 months and few high-profile hacks.
Rapidly evolving personal assistants
Expect Labs is pushing the envelope of what device-based personal assistants can do with MindMeld. For now, MindMeld is iOS-only, which seems odd, and focuses on conversations with Facebook friends, also odd, but it shows some pretty interesting technology.
Devices get smarter because, yay, apps!
One big theme from CES was apps for your car, e.g. Ford AppLink, which has opened for developers. I can’t wait to see what comes from that effort, and given that any car with apps will need connectivity, at least intermittently, I hope to see cool projects spawn from the connected car, e.g. using a wireless mesh network of connected cars to improve traffic information and prevent accidents.
Years ago, I saw a proposal for metro wifi based on connected cars. If I remember correctly, it proposed that densely-populated cities could build a meshed network using cars as access points. Crazy, but possible in theory.
You could be another device getting smarter because of apps, if you have a Nike FuelBand. They’ve finally opened up their APIs, something Noel (@noelportugal) has been eagerly awaiting since he bought a FuelBand at SXSW last year.
Find the comments.
Last week at CES, details of Firefox OS, Mozilla’s all-web, mobile OS, began to emerge, and wow has it come a long way since that early build of B2G that I fumbled with on the GSM Nexus S Rich (@rmanalan) sent me last year.
I’ve had great hopes for Firefox OS, since it is built on open, web technologies and doesn’t require learning a new SDK or working within a controlled ecosystem. I’m not alone, as some see it, and other new mobile OSes, as a harbinger of doom for closed app stores.
That may seem laughable now, but so did the idea that nascent Android platform could ever take substantial market share from iPhone. That was less than three years ago, and today, Android is a juggernaut.
Mobile moves fast, and Mozilla’s plans for Firefox OS make good sense, i.e. focus on emerging markets where a smartphone is a computer. Not a companion device, but the user’s primary computing device and window to the all-powerful internets. Turns out that the smartphone, not the OLPC, may be the best way to extend computing to the World.
The focus on devices that are now under-powered for Android is also very smart. I’ve thought for a while now that there is an emerging market of misfit devices, and that market continues to grow as Android advances. Newer versions of Android only make it onto a handful of existing devices, leaving some people on older versions, without upgrades, but still under contract.
Firefox OS can benefit them too, although for the time being, the modding process remains a warranty-voiding dark art.
Even so, Firefox OS turns out to be portable to a pretty wide variety of devices. Over beers recently, fellow Portlander, friend and Firefox OS project manager, Dietrich Ayala (@dietrich) mentioned that he’d combed the XDA-Developers forums and was surprised to find how many people were porting Firefox OS to their devices.
Check out his findings; it’s a pretty impressive list.
So, while porting isn’t an easy option today, I expect that Mozilla will continue to make inroads with Firefox OS, both in emerging markets and eventually through orphaned devices that are stuck on older versions of Android, too under-powered to get the new hotness.
This is all good, and at some point this year, I’ll probably try porting it to the Xoom or maybe the Nexus S so I can kick the tires.
What do you think of Firefox OS? Would you consider flashing an old phone with it to have a new OS?
Find the comments.
Editor’s note: Here’s another post from Mark Vilrokx (@mvilrokx), detailing some hacking he did to help his daughter, who has Dyslexia, read web pages.
This is an awesome idea, and I love hacking for good. I’m not alone, e.g. Marco Arment has added OpenDyslexic to Instapaper. We need more of this. Anyway, read on for Mark’s story and find the comments here or on his original post.
My wife and I recently found out that our 9 year old daughter has Dyslexia so lately I have done some research on solutions that could make her life easier. That is how I stumbled upon OpenDyslexic, “a new open sourced font created to increase readability for readers with dyslexia”. There is some science behind all this, which I will spare you the details of but when I showed it to my daughter, she said it was much easier to read for her, so I decided that all websites should use this font! Since it’s too much work to call all web designers and demand that the make the web more readable with this font, I came up with something more practical. I created a bookmarklet to apply the font, and a few other style changes that improve readability, to any website. It injects some CSS into the current webpage which then gets applied to the current web page, giving me exactly what I need. The CSS looks like this:
Pretty simple, it loads the Web Font from the defined URL into the browser (@font-face) and we then apply this to ALL elements on the page (font-family:opendyslexic !important;). Obviously this screws up some of the layout, so the bookmarklet is best applied on blog style websites or websites with lots of text, but it will work on any website. So go ahead, drag the bookmarklet to your bookmarks and apply it to your favorite website and let me know what you think.
I’ve been using a Nexus 4 for a month now as my primary phone, so I figured I’d drop some thoughts. Read on if you like, if not I won’t be offended.
Since I jumped to Android from iOS in 2010, I’ve carried the original HTC EVO 4G and the Wimax Nexus S. I’ve also played around with the original Droid, the GSM Nexus S and a couple Android tablets, the original Xoom and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.
After messing around with mods on the EVO, I decided to stick with Nexus devices, and when the Galaxy Nexus launched last year, I decided not to switch, given that the Nexus S was still fairly new and would be getting ICS.
By this year, I had Jelly Bean on the S, but the hardware was showing its age, so I watched the coverage of the Nexus 4 and eventually decided to ignore all the hand-wringing about its lack of LTE and endorse Google’s second attempt to disrupt the carrier market by providing an unlocked phone.
So, the timing was right because I needed (ahem, wanted) a new phone.
I wasn’t lucky enough to get one in the first batch, but after many refreshes and much perseverance, I did snag finally snag one in the second release.
Hardware and Network
The Nexus 4 is a phenomenal piece of hardware, beautiful and fast as lightning, thanks to its quad-core processor. I decided to splurge on the 16 GB version due to the lack of SD card storage, another hand-wringing bullet point for many bloggers.
Probably the only really detrimental aspect of the hardware is its glass back, which has already broken for many, including Friend of the ‘Lab, Tim Hall (@oraclebase). Glass on the back of a phone is a recipe for disaster, and I’m resigned to the fact that mine will eventually break. I just hope it won’t shred my hands, given how anti-case I am.
I’m not a fan of encumbrances in general, so I prefer phones that I can pocket. The Nexus 4 fits in my back pocket, but it makes for some awkward sitting. And there’s always that glass back problem to consider. The device is also impossibly thin, and I worry that I might snap it in half if I plunk down on a hard surface, which has the makings of a fun story about glass shards in dark places.
So, I find myself taking it out when I’m sitting, which inevitably means I’ll leave it somewhere. Fingers crossed that it will be found by nice people. If you see me out in the world and find my phone, thanks in advance.
Other than the obscene amount of glass, the device has rubberized edges and a monstrous 4.7″ screen with 1280 x 768 resolution, which is beautiful but makes one-handed operation nigh impossible, unless you have pro-athlete sized hands. Of course, handling this phone with one hand is a drop-disaster waiting to happen anyway. See the too-much-glass issue.
One odd quirk is that the Nexus 4 ships without a SIM card, due to its unlocked nature. Not a big deal, but I got some interesting looks when I went to AT&T and asked for a SIM.
Despite all the moaning about no-LTE, more on that in a minute, I’ve had consistently good, not great, speeds on AT&T’s HSPA+ network, a little slower than the Wimax speeds I had on the Sprint Nexus S, but definitely faster than 3G. Honestly, since speed is an aggregate, I think the quad-core monster may be making it feel faster by comparison.
I would share them, but for some reason, running a speedtest on the phone redirects me to Kansas or Tennessee as the nearest server.
Back to LTE, a teardown reveals that the Nexus 4 does have an LTE radio, and some Canadian hackers managed to get it working. Not a recommended hack now, but I’m sure similar hacks will surface as the device gets into enterprising hands.
Finally, there’s the battery, the bane of all Android phones. Before I finally switched, my Nexus S was fully draining in 6-8 hours of light use, even using Juice Defender’s aggressive setting. Not good.
So, by comparison, the Nexus 4 has good battery life; I’m getting about 36 hours of light use with JD’s balanced setting. Even so, heavy use drains the battery quickly, so I never travel without car and outlet adapters. Not ideal, and given that the battery is glued to the frame, I expect this to be an issue within a year of use.
The Nexus 4 ships with Jelly Bean, Android 4.2. I don’t know know why Google iterated the version number, but not the name, i.e. there are two releases of Jelly Bean, 4.1 and 4.2. Nexus devices are the only ones rocking 4.2 for now.
Ever since ICS, Android 4.0, I’ve thought that Android had parity with iOS, aesthetically and functionally, and the Jelly Bean releases have incrementally improved, thanks to features like Google Now, which is spooky good.
Like all Android devices, setup is a breeze. As soon as I connected with my Google account, apps and setup came raining down from the almighty cloud. There are some oddities, e.g. I had to install some apps, but for the most part, it’s always been easy to switch between Android devices.
There were some data on the device, that required a bit of extra effort. For pictures and videos, I plugged the Nexus S into my Mac, copied the camera directory over, then plugged in the Nexus 4 and copied that directory onto the internal storage. All that media now shows up on the Nexus 4.
For my call and text logs, I used My Backup Pro, a handy little app, to copy them over the Nexus 4.
So, that it. I’ve been very happy with the Nexus 4, and given the scarcity problems LG and Google have had, it’s made for a nice showpiece when I meet nerds like me who care about devices.
One coda, I kinda wish I’d seen this Nexus 7 as a phone experiment before I made the jump. The Nexus 7 is a sweet device, and as the author mentions, if you go big screen, you might as well go all the way. The big issue for me would be the lack of a phone app, although I think Google Voice or Skype could meet that need.
It’s an interesting experiment that I might try the next time I switch. Although who knows what will be available in a year or two.
Find the comments.