Shared posts

30 Sep 00:08

BlackBerry is going to make one ‘unconventional’ phone per year

by Jane McEntegart

The BlackBerry Passport is one of the most unique phones BlackBerry has ever released and that alone has been reason enough for some people to buy it. It’s also generated a lot of press for BlackBerry.

We already know that BlackBerry will be releasing a second generation BlackBerry, but it won’t be the only whacky phone in its portfolio of weird devices.

Speaking to Reuters, Ron Louks, president of devices and emerging solutions at BlackBerry, said the company intends to launch one unconventional device per year. Louks stated they already have one such device in the works and carriers have already provided positive feedback.

What’s not clear is if this new device is the next generation Passport or if this is a completely separate device. BlackBerry CEO John Chen confirmed on Friday that there would be a second generation Passport as well as a concept device that is scheduled for unveiling at Mobile World Congress next March. It’s possible this is the unconventional device to which Chen was referring.

As an aside, for fans of the Passport: Louks said that BlackBerry is working on a prototype that is easier to use with one hand. That should appease those that like to email with one hand while holding an extra large latte in the other.


Read More: Blackberry Passport review

28 Sep 01:04

40 Steps To The Perfect Bike Pant

by kai

It takes about 15 steps to make a good pair of jeans. Our new Osloh bike pants employ 40 steps to turn fabric into fashion and function. That's four zero.

There are pants marketed to cyclists, and then there are pants designed for cyclists. These are the latter, and they’re the best fitting and most durable bike pant we’ve seen.

We’ve got four styles for all tastes, each loaded with bike specific features like reinforced seams and pockets, water resistance, built-in waist and cuff adjustment, even quilted chamois seat and crotch. We’ve highlighted just some of the details that make the line special below.

Find the cut that’s most comfortable for you below. You're going to be in them a long time.

Traffic Slim Fit

Traffic is a classic 5-pocket jean in a slim and streamline fit. The cut is modern skinny with low waist, slim hip to knee, and a tapered leg. The cotton/spandex blend means they stretch where expected (ex. the knees) but the skinny taper means no cuff roll or leg strap needed. Here.

Lane Relaxed Fit

The Lane’s relaxed fit flatters all body types. The low waist, relaxed hip to knee, and straight leg are perfect for days when a skinny 5-pocket is too casual. The black twill and roomier cut are ready for the office, and the built-in leg strap will keep your cuff clean. Here.

Crank Cargo

The Crank is a modern cargo pant of unparalleled space and stealth. Two wrap around side pockets (16”x10”) allow stretch when in use but stay tight against the thigh when empty. The clever design means space for your stuff when you need it, without awkward empty pockets when you don’t. Crank shares the relaxed cut and straight leg of the Lane. Here.

Shift Short

Short pants, long on features. They’re cut with the same relaxed fit as the pants: low waist and comfy thighs. A front facing snap pocket keeps your cell secure and out of the way while riding, and of course they offer many of the details illustrated above. Available in indigo denim and black cavalry twill and ready for warm weather riding. Here.

30 Sep 03:04

Motorola’s Nexus device will be called Nexus 6 and have a QHD display

by Jane McEntegart

Motorola has long been rumoured to be the manufacturer of the newest Nexus phone. Tentatively called the Nexus X, previous rumours have pointed to a 5.9-inch display for this phone as well as an aesthetic similar to that of the Moto X.

Now, a few days on from the pictures that appeared to show an enlarged Moto X, Android Police claims to have additional information on the newest Nexus phone. The site says that this year’s Google flagship will be a 5.9-inch device called the Nexus 6. Not only that, but the Nexus 6 will have a 13MP camera with optical image stabilization as well as the new dual-LED flash ring, a 3200 mAh battery, and a QHD 2560×1440 pixel display.

The Nexus 6 is expected to be unveiled alongside the newest version of Android, dubbed Android L, in mid-October. Aside from the fact that the Nexus 6 name is a departure from the much-rumoured Nexus X name, specs rumours pretty much line up with what we’ve previously heard about the 2014 Nexus. Android Police has put together a render based on what it has heard about the Nexus 6. This points to solid signal indicators for cell signal, WiFi, and battery, as well as new app icons for messenger, Google apps, and the Play Store. Strangely absent is Google Hangouts.

30 Sep 03:32

Religious Freedom In India – No Religion is Valid

by Thejesh GN

For last few weeks I have been debating about the religious freedom in India. Even-though its one of fundamental rights. I had my own questions about it. One also doesn’t know about the rights until it gets challenged in the court of law. This week a set of people asked themselves to be free of religious association. They wanted to be part of “No Religion”. A government gazette refused carry out this notification saying “No Religion” is invalid and hence they sought Bombay High court’s help.

The whole case was based upon “Right to Freedom of Religion“. I didn’t know the word ‘conscience’ would play a major role in the judgement. Court favored citizen and said “No Religion” is valid and went onto say none can compel you choose/quote a religion. I think its one of the best judgements that I have read in recent times. I have quote a paragraph below. It gives you the gist.

India is a secular democratic republic. The State has no religion. There is a complete freedom for every individual to decide whether he wants to adopt or profess any religion or not. He may not believe in any religion. If he is professing a particular religion, he can give up the religion and claim that he does not belong to any religion. There is no law which compels a citizen or any individual to have a religion. The freedom of conscience conferred by the Constitution includes a right not to profess, practice or propagate any religion.

The right of freedom of conscience conferred on a citizen includes a right to openly say that he does not believe in any religion and, therefore, he does not want to practice, profess or propagate any religion. If the parents of a citizen practice any particular religion, he has a freedom of conscience to say that he will not practice any religion. There is a freedom to act as per his conscience in such matters.

Bombay High Court

So next time when you are filling up a form you can either enter a religion or leave it blank or enter “No Religion”. Its left to you and none can force you to choose.

30 Sep 04:28

Police fines for cyclists

by Frances Bula

This came to my inbox from reader/resident George Muenz. Anyone else noticed this problem?

Thousands of cyclists go up the Spanish Banks road to UBC in order to get to the cycling paths on Marine Drive and onwards.

I have had reports from several people that police have threatened people with fines and worse if they do not ride on the pedestrian path adjacent to the road. That path is dangerous as there is nowhere near enough room for pedestrians/joggers and thousands of cyclists.

I don’t know why it’s not like any other road in the Lower Mainland where cyclists and cars share the road. I suspect that someone “important” complained about bike traffic on that road, which of course is heaviest on weekend mornings and the police, who one might think have more important issues to address are making this a priority, even if the result is very unsafe issues for citizens.

I created this petition last night

Hope you can spread the word,

29 Sep 23:58

Motorola’s Nexus 6 to come with a 5.9-inch Quad HD display, front-facing stereo speakers and more

by Rajesh Pandey
Over the last week, we have heard quite a bit about the Nexus shamu, which is supposedly going to come with a gigantic 5.9-inch screen. Today, the folks over at Android Police have received more information about the Nexus 6, which corroborates perfectly with what we have heard earlier. Continue reading →
23 Sep 23:03

Gary McKenna: “Do high-density ridings make people more progressive?”

by pricetags

Gary McKenna is a journalist covering municipal politics for The Tri-City News and is a student at Simon Fraser University’s Masters in Urban Studies program. 


Canada’s political parties are already maneuvering ahead of next year’s federal election, but where a voter lives may have more influence over how they’ll cast their ballot than any campaign gimmick or political advertisement.

It is no secret that urban populations tend to vote for more progressive candidates, while conservative politicians fare better in rural and suburban areas.

Analysis I conducted on the results of the 2011 federal election found a statistically significant correlation between a riding’s density and the likelihood its voters selected a progressive candidate. The higher the density, the more chance that a Liberal, a New Democrat or a Green candidate represented the constituency.

Oddly, the same statistically significant correlation could not be found linking rural ridings with more conservative voting patterns. One possible reason explaining this could be that the Conservative Party tends to do well in suburban areas. These mid-density ridings could muddy the numbers and make a statistically significant correlation difficult to determine.

The propensity for more progressive voters to live in higher-density areas is also prominent in the United States.

A map created by Princeton University professor Robert Vanderbei based on the results of the 2012 federal election clearly differentiates between the sprawling Republican red and the more densely populated Democratic blue.

Clearly, the rural-urban divide is prominent in Canadian politics, however there is little academic research into why this difference in voting behaviour exists.

What makes progressively-minded people more likely to concentrate in urban centers? Do larger urban cores make people more liberal?

University of Toronto professor Alan Walks has looked into the issue and believes the answer may lie in home ownership. Owning property, which is less prominent in urban areas, can lead to a restructuring of “one’s political priorities towards balanced budgets, low taxes and protection of one’s property values,” he stated in the Canadian Journal of Political Science.

Patrick Dunleavy, a U.K. professor, suggests that people who are dependent on government services tend to concentrate in urban areas were these services are more widely available. Those who live in high-density ridings favour higher taxes for things like improved transit expansion, social housing and public health initiatives, while in the rural and suburban areas where these programs are not as readily available, the focus is on reducing taxes.

The two authors make some strong points, however their analysis adheres to a notion that urban environments are more hospitable to poorer, property-less people reliant on government services.

As many people in Vancouver know, the truth is more complex. In the Lower Mainland, for example, our urban core has become an increasingly expensive place to live, forcing many families to locate on the outskirts of the region where it is cheaper to live.

People in the urban core may not own the condo they are living in, but the rising rental rates prominent in the city would indicate that they are far from poor.

If Walks and Dunleavy’s assertions are correct, it would seem that the working-class suburbanites would be more likely to favour policies that supported improved public transit and social services, while the wealthier downtown residents would favour lower taxes.

Could this mean there is a shift coming in the political geography of the Lower Mainland?

Perhaps, but so far this does not appear to be the case. Higher-density environments still seem to attract more progressive-minded voters, regardless of income and financial means.

More analysis is required to determine why these political divisions exist, but the 2011 election results indicate that the rural-urban divide does not appear to be in danger of going away anytime soon.

24 Sep 12:37

iPhone 6 Camera Compared to Previous iPhone Cameras

by Federico Viticci

Lisa Bettany:

In the past seven years, each new advancement in iPhone camera technology has made dramatic improvements to image quality. The iPhone 6 is no different. Besides being faster to shoot and easier to focus, the images taken with the iPhone 6 camera show greater detail and are significantly better in low-light.

In this follow-up post to my iPhone 4s and iPhone 5 comparisons, I present an 8 iPhone comparison from all iPhone versions taken with Camera+ including, the original iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, and the new iPhone 6 in a variety of situations to test the camera’s capabilities.

Great compilation. Check out the lowlight and backlit galleries to really get the differences.

∞ Read this on MacStories

25 Sep 12:00

Apple Is More Like a Band than a Company

by Umair Haque

You’d think by now more companies would have learned.

The tech industry still churns out beige boxes. The fashion industry, misshaped sack-shaped objects it calls “clothing” that make adult humans look suspiciously like overgrown toddlers. The food industry…who knows what’s really in the preservative-flavored genetically mutated stuff that’s labeled “food”?

All the endless stuff the developed world is drowning in — that we’re melting down the planet to produce — is, for the most part, as unexciting as it is unoriginal as it is uninspired as it is uninspiring. Nobody wants this stuff. They might settle for it, sure. But that’s why it ends up on sale by the truckload in the discount racks at the big box stores at zero percent credit (where it still doesn’t sell).

But the real waste is not the shockingly short span of time it now takes most of this flotsam to get from factory floor to mega-mall to landfill. The real waste is that we have created this machine of ceaseless plenty, and we mostly use it to make stuff that…sucks.

So how do you make stuff that people actually want? That they don’t just grudgingly reconcile themselves to, but that they’re willing to camp out in tents to be among the first to own?

I have been an Apple observer for a long time, and I know the company is not perfect. But there is one thing they have consistently done really well: make products people love. In an industry where so many products get remaindered, how do they manage to sell 10 million new iPhones the first weekend they’re available?

There are lots of reasons — enough for a doctoral dissertation or a 700-page book — but here are my top three.

Better, Not More. What is innovation? Too many boardrooms listen to the geeks. The geeks contend, as they always and always probably will, that innovation is technology. Does it have the latest quantum state of the art superdupertron?! Does the superdupertron let it have ten billion times more features than anyone else? Will it do my laundry and wash my car? Wait! Does it have a warp drive?

But innovation is not a value meal, efficiently packing in more fries and double, triple, quadruple patties for a cheaper price. Innovation isn’t just the latest technology crammed into in a clunky box. Because if you can’t use the superdupertron…what the hell is it good for?

Innovation is what people actually find useful. Consider a simple example: the bicycle. The bicycle was a tremendously simply device. It didn’t have the latest features, technology, bells, whistles. It couldn’t feed your pets and find you a date. But it was radically useful. Apple isn’t making quantum-nano-biotech-rocket ships with warp drives that no one can figure out how the hell to ride. It’s making bicycles. Simple objects that are radically useful. Innovation isn’t technological narcissism. It is what has an impact on people’s lives.

Taste, Not Just “Creativity.” Look. I didn’t make this one up. Steve Jobs said it as plain as day. And yet, the beancounters of the world seem hell bent on not listening. They’re too busy furiously hiring ad agencies to “creatively” come up with slicker ideas to sell the same old forgettable, disposable junk to people who don’t need it or even want it.

Why do people want iPhones when — as technologists like to point out — there are smartphones made by other makers that are faster, cheaper, bigger, better? It’s not complicated: people want iPhones because Jony Ive and Steve Jobs had good taste. (And Tim Cook has had the good sense not to mess with it.) The iPhone is not just an innovative (read: useful) object. It is also a beautiful one.

Love, Not Pandering. Here’s the truth. Apple is less like a company. It’s more like a band. It makes stuff it loves. It doesn’t care what you think. Not you, critic, nor you, competitor, nor me, analyst, nor you, loyal Apple fan. Not a single one of us. It cares whether what it makes is good by its own standards — good enough to love.

And that’s why people love it.

Most companies do precisely the opposite. They don’t care about what they make. They merely care about what they sell.

And so they pander. They cajole. They bluster. They offer the people they call consumers the lowest common denominator designed by focus-group led committees at the everyday low price in malls full of stores full of shelves full of…other lowest common denominators designed by committee at the everyday low price.

Nobody ever loved anybody who was merely trying to sell them something. Especially not the lowest common denominator.

People love people—and organizations—that make their lives better. Even when those things are as simple as phones.

25 Sep 16:06

The Coming of the MongoDB Document Locks

by Dj Walker-Morgan

We recently looked at the plans to include pluggable storage engines in MongoDB 2.8. That’s not the only major feature planned for MongoDB 2.8 – another is improved concurrency through the introduction of document level locking. To understand what that means, it’s worth looking at locking and MongoDB’s history.

Document Locks Antique Padlocks image by Adam Jones CC-BY-2.0

Contention for resources is the predominant limiter of performance for any database system. Whether it be CPU, networking or disk, if the resource is scarce then any operation that consumes that resource will have to work with that scarcity. One of the most scarce things in MongoDB, and other databases, is the ability to read and write to the database. That scarcity is, though, a deliberate artificial scarcity.

Concurrent access to the MongoDB database is managed by each operation getting hold of the lock. When an operation starts, it asks for the lock. If it’s not available, it waits and asks later. Reading operations can ask for the lock and share it with other reading operations. But when a request to write to the database comes along, the write operation gets exclusive control of that lock – only it can read or write while it holds then lock.

The lock means that no reading operation gets to see partially updated data and things stay consistent. The presence of a lock is not where the performance problem is though. The performance problem comes from the scope of the lock – how much gets locked when the lock is engaged.

Before version 2.2 of MongoDB, the lock’s scope was huge, as in the entire MongoDB process – every database and every collection being handled by the process would be locked for the write to take place. This meant that one database could be locked despite no operations taking place on it while another database was being written to.

Version 2.2 saw the introduction of database level locking which specifically improved that situation. Now the scope of a lock would be restricted to just the database the read or write operation was working with (with the reasonable exception of operations which affected multiple databases which still took a global lock). Now this improves things for a lot of use cases. Where a database is dominated by read operations, the issue isn’t visible. Where there are occasional writes, the lock isn’t an issue.

But where there’s a lot of simultaneous writes or a large volume of writes, then the lock issue comes back into play. Examples of this could include time series data or logging from a number of different clients. The lock is, by design, greedy so if there are a lot of writes queued up, then the readers will be starved of attention. People have tried to work around this in various ways – sharding databases so they all take the load of the various writes, using one server as a write database and then using replication to stream out the updates to other servers or trading write commitment for faster lock release. But the root cause of the problem is that the database is being locked.

That’s where the promise of 2.8 comes in with document level locking. The scope of the lock is pulled in further than ever before. Now, when a write is occurring, only the documents involved in the write operation will be locked. There will, of course, be times when a write operation affects the whole collection, and there should be collection locking to handle that, and there will still be times when multiple database operations will invoke a global lock.

Document locking will improve performance under write loads, so where you have a good mix of inserts, updates and deletes, there will be less contention. But, the arrival of document locking may also reveal some design patterns which won’t benefit from the improvements. For example, if you have a document with details about a device and an array as a time series of samples from that device, then you’ll still have contention updating that document.

We can’t, unfortunately, say much more about MongoDB’s document level locking. With just over 3 months of the year left, the feature ticket has more open than closed sub-tasks. That said, a prototype lock manager arrived in 2.7.3 and the work down to pull the existing global and database locks into the lock manager has been completed. The current schedule sees many of the outstanding tasks due to be completed by the development release of 2.7.7, the next development release which should be soon given that 2.7.8 is pencilled in for mid-October. Around then, we’ll be coming back to see if we can benchmark the new document level locking.

26 Sep 16:10

Faith in Eventually

by Matt Mullenweg

During the development of most any product, there are always times when things aren’t quite right. Times when you feel like you may be going backwards a bit. Times where it’s almost there, but you can’t yet figure out why it isn’t. Times when you hate the thing today that you loved yesterday. Times when what you had in your head isn’t quite what you’re seeing in front of you. Yet. That’s when you need to have faith.

Jason Fried writes Faith in eventually. Good to share with anyone who’s been working on something for a while.

29 Sep 19:23

Uber seeks to return to Vancouver

by Stephen Rees

I’m sorry that this story comes from a paywalled site. The Globe and Mail reports that Uber has had a meeting with Councillor Geoff Meggs who “said there will be a motion to council this week to freeze the status quo for six months while staff study the issues – past the election in November.” He also acknowledged that this will have to be treated as a regional issue even though “each municipality in the Lower Mainland has its own rules on taxis.”

Mohan Khang of the BC Taxi Association knows he can rely on the Passenger Transportation Board. They turned Uber down two years ago and are highly unlikely to do any different next time. Why? The PTB actually controls who can have a taxi license, even though they are issued by municipalities.

Section 28(1) of the Passenger Transportation Act states that the Board may approve an application if the Board considers that

  • (a)    there is a public need for the service the applicant proposes to provide under any special authorization,

  • (b)    the applicant is a fit and proper person to provide that service and is capable of providing that service, and

  • (c)    the application, if granted, would promote sound economic conditions in the passenger transportation business in British Columbia.

So it actually does not matter what any one city decides to do. The provision to “promote sound economic conditions in the passenger transportation business in British Columbia” means that the established taxi operators’ interest overrule any and all other considerations. Uber could indeed try to satisfy the requirements that there is a need – simply on the grounds that there are fewer taxis here per thousand population than anywhere else in Canada. They could also show that they are working in Halifax, Montreal and Toronto. All the BCTA has to do is point to the impact services like Uber and Lyft have had in cities in San Francisco – where taxi use was more than halved – and the PTB will be obliged to reach the same decision as it did last time.

It has become something of a truism that regulators become the client of the industry they are set up to regulate. That is demonstrably the case with the National Energy Board and the oil industry. While other places have sought to deregulate taxis or to operate on the basis that the public interest in plentiful, affordable and convenient access to mobility services is more important than the survival of existing providers, that has not happened yet in BC. It is not likely to change any time soon.

The people who drive taxis are not the people who drive the industry or the PTB. The people who make significant amounts of money from taxis are those who own licenses. Although these are issued by government they can be traded on the market, and thus, due to their scarcity, acquire significant value. The man (and it is usually a man) driving the cab has to rent the license from its owner. He also has to rent the cab and pay for its fuel, maintenance and access to the dispatch system. A cab driver does not start to earn any money until he is at least halfway into his shift and even then will be very fortunate to clear more than minimum wage. He will do better if his cab also has the even rarer YVR permit – which also means the taxi has to be licensed in Richmond as well of the municipality where it is based.

So for Uber – or anyone else – the task is to get the legislation changed. And while there might well be many people who would like to see that, the people who control the industry also have considerable political weight, not just because they are contributors to party funds but also because they claim that they can deliver votes from the people and communities that rely on employment in the industry. So far as I am aware, no politician in BC has ever tried to test the validity of that claim.

The virtues – or otherwise – of Uber do not matter. The public need for greater access to demand responsive transportation does not matter. Political power is what matters. Geoff Meggs can have as many meetings and as much research as he cares to commission. It will not make any difference to the outcome.


I have now seen another post on the same issue from The Georgia Straight – which, of course, isn’t paywalled

Filed under: ride sharing, taxi Tagged: BC Taxi Association, british columbia, City of Vancouver, Geoff Meggs, passenger transport board, PTB, Uber
29 Sep 15:43

Passport, Z30, Q10 & Blackberry’s evolving experience

by Marek Pawlowski

Blackberry Z30 and Q10 sitting next to each other

In December 2013, I wrote about my experiences with the Q10 and Blackberry 10 operating system, a platform I came to as a novice, concluding:

“Why would anyone use a Blackberry Q10 in 2013? The answer, as I’ve found in four months of testing, is simple: speed, battery life, keyboard and the quality of connectivity.”

At the time, Blackberry’s stock sat at about $5 on the NASDAQ, near historic lows, the company had just appointed a new CEO and it was attended by a storm of negative publicity. Despite my overall favourable impression of the Q10 and the innovations of its software platform, the wider strategic problems were obvious:

“…execution has been poor. The new generation of Blackberry 10 devices took too long to reach the market and when they did they were overpriced. To remain relevant, Blackberry must identify the unique qualities which gave its brand such appeal a few years ago and work quickly to direct the engineering talent remaining at the company to expand on these. The Q10 provides hints: a good physical QWERTY keyboard is a standout differentiator. There simply aren’t any other companies offering this experience, which is still prized by those who create content on their mobile devices. The uncompromising quality of connectivity and battery performance. The speed and efficiency of the user experience, particularly in messaging and content creation. Security and reliability. These are the characteristics which stand a chance of making Blackberry a success again within a significant niche of individual professionals and corporate deployments.”

Blackberry’s new CEO John Chen has acted decisively and, as I write this in September 2014, the stock has doubled to over $10 on the NASDAQ as investors have warmed to Chen’s strategy and execution. Crucially, he has refocused the company on its core of professional users, reduced the workforce and cost base to reflect its current market position, shored up the balance sheet and begun to re-invest – through acquisition and internal development – in core areas like security, messaging and enterprise device management. As an example, Blackberry recently acquired our 2010 MEX Innovator of the Year, Movirtu.

I like Blackberry’s new strategy, I’m impressed by Chen’s execution and I am confident about its future product pipeline. In particular, the Blackberry Passport, released in September 2014, may have been criticised by the tech press for its outlandish looks, but it will be well received by Blackberry’s core of professional, demanding customers. It has the characteristics necessary to impress this niche, namely the ability to do real work on the move by virtue of its large screen, innovative keyboard and big battery. Its unusual looks will actually play in its favour, re-establishing Blackberry as a status symbol device in corporate meeting rooms, because it stands out as different and expensive.

I also wanted to share recent findings from my continued use of the Q10 and new experiences with the Z30, it’s larger, all-touch sibling. My original and extensive piece on the Q10 remains for reference and 9 months on I stand by its conclusions.

However, I’ve also discovered new things, which are relevant both to Blackberry’s future and the wider strategy of mobile user experience:

The moment I picked up the Z30, it reminded me Blackberry knows how to manufacture premium products. The weight, material choices and packaging all speak of a certain quality and longevity. Blackberry has an ability to make components which add up to something greater than the sum of their parts. The screen specification of 5 inches and 720p, for instance, does not stand out on paper, but in practice the quality of the slightly curved glass, coating, brightness and pixel type combine to feel superior to others with theoretically better specifications. It’s intangible, but it’s there.

That theme continued throughout my exploration of the hardware. Everywhere I found little touches which enhanced the experience. The inclusion of stereo speakers, for instance, made this the first device I’d actually consider using for music playback on its own, without connecting to a portable speaker. For a smartphone, the sound quality was impressive, and particularly noticeable when holding the device to watch videos. The single speaker on my Q10 is loud and useful for listening to podcasts, but the stereo speakers of the Z30 are far superior.

Blackberry Z30 showing homescreen

When the Z30 was announced a year or so ago, the majority of commentators chose adjectives like ‘huge’ and ‘heavy’ to describe it. The market has changed somewhat since then and the Z30 is now far from being the biggest smartphone. In fact, I found it easily pocketable and a pleasure to hold. Size never really tells the full story when it comes to mobile devices. Instead, usability is determined by a combination of shape, the resulting balance and material choice. In the case of the Z30, it balanced just right for me and the grippy, durable glass weave plastic used for the rear casing meant it never slipped.

I do, however, have one major gripe about the hardware of the Z30: the voice key on the right-hand side protrudes and is irritatingly easy to press by mistake. This might sound like a minor annoyance, but it has unfortunate consequences: the voice key is also used to pause and restart music playback, as well as activating the voice input assistant with a long press. There were numerous occasions on which I started playing music by accident in my pocket (including in meetings!) or found my finger resting on it and starting the voice assistant. It is a simple thing to solve; indeed, the Q10 has almost the same button configuration, but with the crucial difference that the voice key is less prominent than the volume buttons alongside it – this works much better. Simple though it would be to solve, the consequences were infuriating enough that this is one of the major reasons I’d still chose the Q10 over the Z30.

The Blackberry 10 platform, in the 10.2.1 form I tested on the Z30 (10.3, a substantial upgrade is due in late 2014), feels better suited to a big touchscreen. There were moments when I relished the expansive screen, like browsing my RSS feeds in gNewsReader, watching videos with the SuperTube app or opening web pages. For consumption activities like these, big touchscreens work great.

Maps, including Android apps like Google Maps – which can be hacked on to the Z30 with a little patience – look much better on the 5 inch screen, of course. I could just see so much more of the map at-a-glance that it made a tangible difference to the navigation experience compared to the Q10. A note of caution is needed with regard to Blackberry’s own built-in Maps app in its current form. There are occasions when it works fine, but there were also several when it performed poorly as a satnav. Suffice to say I have seen many tiny country lanes I wouldn’t otherwise have discovered. It is a quaint notion if you happen to have infinite time available, but not ideal when you’re in a hurry.

Luckily, the addition of Blackberry’s Android run-time has expanded the selection of alternative navigation apps and other third party software. There are nuances to it being a non-Google Android device – for instance, some light hacking is required to run Google’s own apps and some don’t work at all – but most Android apps ran well on the large screen of the Z30. The situation is set to improve further in the 10.3 release of Blackberry’s platform, which incorporates Amazon’s Android app store and widens compatibility to the newest Android apps.

Once my focus turned to creating content, however, I found myself missing the hardware keyboard of the Q10. The Blackberry 10 virtual keyboard is very good on the Z30, with its intelligent completion engine placing suggested words above where your finger would move next on the QWERTY layout, but there is something about physical keys which seems to compel me to be more productive. It is, perhaps, indicative of how impatient humans have become that the fraction of a second it takes for a virtual keyboard to appear on screen can, in aggregate, add up to enough of a delay that the instantaneous, always available nature of hard keys feels more responsive.

Other Blackberry hallmarks were also present on Z30. Battery life is extraordinary. This is a device you can use extensively for a full working day, rising early and finishing late, across planes, trains and automobiles without worrying it is going to die on you. I still prefer the replaceable battery of the Q10 and the knowledge I can carry a spare with me for overnight business trips, but in reality there was just a single occasion in my months with the Z30 when I actually would have needed to replace the battery on the move.

The Blackberry Hub, with its integrated list of calls, messages and social media, remains my benchmark for reliable communication on the move. On days when I’m in and out of meetings, on subways and planes, there is just this sense that you can reply to your messages, hit the send button and know that the Blackberry will ensure it is delivered when connectivity returns. It is an intangible quality but one which comes, I suspect, from months of usage when I’ve never once had a message fail to send and never once picked up the device to discover it wasn’t up-to-date or suffering from a synchronisation error. Still, in 2014, that remains are rare quality.

Blackberry Z30 and Q10 with homescreens

I will return to the same question I asked about the Q10 in December 2013: why, in the current market, would anyone buy a Blackberry Z30? It comes down to 3 ‘Bs’: build quality, battery life and big screen. My lasting impression of the device is of its solidity, durability and suitability for consuming content. I suspect I will return to the Q10, but those standout qualities of the Z30 remain a tempting draw.

More importantly, perhaps, the Blackberry Passport, which combines a hardware QWERTY keyboard and 4.5 inch square screen at 1440 x 1440 resolution, has the potential to combine the most favourable properties of the Q10 and Z30 in a single device.

I will report back with further long-term observations on the Q10, Z30, Blackberry 10 OS and Blackberry Passport once I’ve had time to really understand their user experience.

29 Sep 17:24

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 launch in Korea marred by build quality issues

by Rajesh Pandey
It looks like Apple’s latest iPhone(s) are not the only one facing build quality issues. The release of Samsung’s latest phablet — the Galaxy Note 4 — in South Korea, which was brought forward by a couple of weeks, has already been marred by reports of poor build quality of the device.  Continue reading →
29 Sep 14:36

I'd never want to buy a $10k watch at an Apple Store. How could Apple change the stores so that I would?

It’s a good question — one I’ve been thinking about as well recently (hat tip to Megan for first bringing it up). While I do believe they will sell the Apple Watch in Apple Stores, it does seem like it may make sense to open some smaller, Apple Watch-specific stores in certain markets. Ideally, these would be situated in the high-end shopping areas where high-end watch stores currently reside. Stay tuned for more thoughts on this.

29 Sep 15:22

David Banks, Ello: The Luxury Bicycle of Social networks

David Banks, Ello: The Luxury Bicycle of Social networks :

Ello, like a luxury bike, isn’t antithetical to capitalism and all of its problems. But it’s a step in the right direction, not just by being politically better than Facebook, but also being more useful and pleasurable than Diaspora. Ello’s core design team desperately needs some diversifying, and hopefully that and many other concerns of its users will alleviated sooner rather than later. This new network certainly isn’t the answer to every problem with have with private social networks, but it responds to some of the worst problems we face today. Ello might be a walled garden, but it’s fertile ground for growing something even better.

29 Sep 11:03

Tips on organizing a pgp key signing party

by mongolie

Over the years I’ve organized or tried to organize pgp key signing parties every time I go somewhere. I the last year I’ve organized 3 that were successful (eg with more then 10 attendees).

1. Have a venue

I’ve tried a bunch of times to have people show up at the hotel I was staying in the morning - that doesn’t work. Having catering at the venues is even better, it will encourage people to come from far away (or long distance commute). Try to show the path in the venues with signs (paper with PGP key signing party and arrows help).

2. Date and time

Meeting in the evening after work works better ( after 18 or 18:30 works better).

Let people know how long it will take (count 1 hour/per 30 participants).

3. Make people sign up

That makes people think twice before saying they will attend. It’s also an easy way for you to know how much beer/cola/ etc.. you’ll need to provide if you cater food.

I’ve been using eventbrite to manage attendance at my last three meeting it let’s me :

  • know who is coming
  • Mass mail participants
  • have them have a calendar reminder

4 Reach out

For such a party you need people to attend so you need to reach out.

I always start by a search on to find who are the people using gpg registered on that site for the area I’m visiting (see below on what I send).

Then I look for local linux users groups / *BSD groups  and send an announcement to them with :

  • date
  • venue
  • link to eventbrite and why I use it
  • ask them to forward (they know the area better than you)
  • I also use lanyrd and twitter but I’m not convinced that it works.

for my last announcement it looked like this :

Subject: GnuPG / PGP key signing party September 26 2014
Content-Type: multipart/signed; micalg=pgp-sha256;

This is an OpenPGP/MIME signed message (RFC 4880 and 3156)
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=utf-8
Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable

Hello my name is ludovic,

I'm a sysadmins at mozilla working remote from europe. I've been
involved with Thunderbird a lot (and still am). I'm organizing a pgp Key
signing party in the Mozilla san francisco office on September the 26th
2014 from 6PM to 8PM.

For security and assurances reasons I need to count how many people will
attend. I'v setup a eventbrite for that at
(please take one ticket if you think about attending - If you change you
mind cancel so more people can come).

I will use the eventbrite tool to send reminders and I will try to make
a list with keys and fingerprint before the event to make things more
manageable (but I don't promise).

for those using lanyrd you will be able to use

ps sent to, end - please feel free to post
where appropriate ( the more the meerier, the stronger the web of trust).=

ps2 I have contacted people listed on biglumber to have more gpg related
people show up.

[:Usul] MOC Team at Mozilla
QA Lead fof Thunderbird -

5. Make it easy to attend

As noted above making a list of participants to hand out helps a lot (I’ve used and my own stuff to make a list). It make it easier for you, for attendees. Tell people what they need to bring (IDs, pen, printed fingerprints if you don’t provide a list).

6. Send reminders

Send people reminder and let them know how many people intend to show up. It boosts audience.

29 Sep 16:00

23 East Pender Street

by ChangingCity

Ming Wo

This location started life in Chinatown as 23 Dupont Street, but by the time these buildings were built the street had been renamed (in 1907) as East Pender. There was a buildings here in 1889, but the existing 4-storey Ming Wo building was built at (or just before) 1913. It was built for Wong Soon King who headed a company that bore his name, but who also controlled opium processor and dealer Hip Tuck Lung. That company operated from the other side of the street at 4 East Pender, but in 1908 they moved to 23 East Pender. Hip Tuck Lung were one of the bigger opium companies; in 1908 the local newspapers reported that William Lyon MacKenzie King was shocked to discover they made a profit of $180,000 in the previous year. (Paul Yee in Saltwater City says their gross income was reported to be $170,000). MacKenzie King was in town to settle claims for damages after 1907 anti-occidental riots, but returned to Ottawa determined to close down what he was surprised to find was a completely legal business.

Hip Tuck Lung, in 1908, were said to have been in business for 22 years (which would put the business founding close to the creation of the city in 1886). They show up as importers of opium in the 1889 street directory. The earlier building shows up in the 1891 street directory, occupied by Miss Della Montague, one of a number of ladies whose business was concentrated for a while on Dupont Street.

In 1900 Wong Sing King was one of the founding members (and recording secretary) of the Chinese Empire Reform Association, a charitable body whose intent, in part, was to be achieved “by promoting and encouraging the general education of the Chinese peoples in the principles of British constitutional government”. He stayed in the city for many years. In 1911 Mrs Wong Song King was detained for two weeks at William Head after a crew member on her cruise from the Orient on the Empress of India contracted smallpox.

The ‘official’ version of this building says it was designed in 1913 by W H Chow for Wong Soon King. There is a permit for $3,000 of alterations to the building that year, but Mr. Chow isn’t mentioned; Wong Soon King is owner, architect and builder. There’s another permit a year later; here W H Chow was the architect for a $4,000 office and store at 23 East Pender for C S Shue, who was also the builder. Then in 1915 there was another alteration, designed by Lee Hing for Wong Sim King for $2,000 of changes to a restaurant. That would be the Kong Hong Low restaurant at 23 1/2 East Pender.

This is a confusing set of permits: we know Wong Soon King owned the property, and clearly made alterations both in 1913 and 1915. So why would a different owner apparently build the building at almost the same time as these alterations? The permit doesn’t seem big enough to pay for the building either: in 1910 the building to the right, (on a similar scale) 29 East Pender was designed by R J MacDonald for ‘Su, Lee Wo Co’ and cost $19,000. That might be See Lee Wo, who sold general merchandise, although the company operating here in 1910 were Lee On and Co, who sold dry goods, and were also at 45 East Pender.

One possible explanation is that the W H Chow permit was for 93 East Pender – W H Chow made some minor amendments to a property owned by C S Shue at that address early in 1914. He also carried out work at 27 East Pender. In 1914 the owners Yuen, Yuen & Co hired W H Chow to carry out $1,000 of repairs. They were tea and rice merchants.

If this building was altered in 1913, it probably dates to around that time or a little earlier. In the 1913 street directory number 23 was vacant (so perhaps new?) and W P Joe, a photographer, was based in 23 1/2. In 1912 there seem to be only two storeys, with Lee On & Co at 23 and Yen Sun & Co ‘upstairs’. There’s a picture in the archives of the 2-storey building in 1906. Whether W H Chow actually designed the 1913 replacement we’re unsure: we haven’t found any permit to confirm that. In 1915 the Hong Kong Club were at 23, and in 1917 Ming Wo moved in to sell cookware – a business still there today.

Next door 27 East Pender was one of the earliest ‘Chinese’ styled building in Chinatown. Before that most Chinatown buildings could have been anywhere in the city. The Chinese Benevolent Association Building built in 1909 was the first with the upper floors featuring recessed balconies and building-wide glazing facing the street. This was probably the second to feature this style, designed by a western architect to reflect local preferences. Hon Hsing, a Chinese martial arts school, was established here in 1938, perhaps the earliest in Canada. Today there’s a store that reflects the changing face of Chinatown; Bombast is a manufacturer of contemporary furniture.

Our photograph dates from 1981, from a collection we have recently been given access to. We look forward to featuring several more from the same source.

Image source: Peter B Clibbon

29 Sep 16:28


I start my new job as a developer at the Omni Group today. You already know them and their wonderful products, and I’ve expressed my admiration for them here on my blog many times.

But, before I talk about how I’m excited for this new job, I’ll reassure Vesper users: Vesper will continue, and I will continue as its developer.

It’s in great shape, actually — we’ve done the heavy lifting of designing and writing an iOS app, writing client sync code (that’s shared between iOS and Mac apps), and writing and deploying the sync server. And we have good work in the pipeline.

Plenty of work — lots of work — remains for Vesper, but we’re over the biggest hurdles, which is great. We’ll keep at it.

I love that I get to work on both Vesper and on Omni apps. Omni is one of the great Cocoa development companies, and they’ve grown slowly and steadily over many years. They write lovable productivity apps — not just great iOS apps but also great Mac apps. They’re generous to and respectful of their users, employees, and the local development community. Their values and ambitions align perfectly with mine.

And for me it’s a chance to do something I’ve never done: to work on a large team with lots of products and lots of users. To be part of something not just a little bigger than me but a lot bigger than me.

I could have shopped around and talked to other companies (including Apple, I suppose) — but I didn’t. I could have considered contract programming as a way to bring in extra money, but I know myself well enough to know I’d hate it.

Instead, I wanted to work at Omni. And now I am.

29 Sep 17:41

Samsung offers a Galaxy Note 4 blueprint for Apple’s ‘iPhone 7′

by Evan Selleck
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 isn’t quiet on sale in the United States just yet, and it’s barely been taken out of the box in South Korea, but that hasn’t stopped Samsung from trying to put more eyeballs on the upcoming handset. Especially if they can try to take a few jabs at Apple at the same time. Continue reading →
29 Sep 00:52

Copenhagen is a paradise for cyclists

by Joe Goodwill

This weekend the Vancouver Sun published yet another article in which business people – notably Mike Brascia of Brascia’s Tailors & Menswear – tear their hair out over a mere two separated bike lanes in downtown Vancouver. Makes me wonder if these kinds of people have ever visited a truly modern city. These dinosaurs need to make way for people of all ages and abilities to bike in safety. It makes me very happy to see parents and children cycling in (relative) safety on Dunsmuir and Hornby. I personally think their safety is much more important than the fact that it is now a little inconvenient for Mr. Brascia to get his Porsche in and out of his private parking spot behind his shop on Hornby.

By way of showing how utterly ridiculous these wailings are, I am publishing here a guest post from a cyclist based in Copenhagen (where they have good cycling infrastructure everywhere, and where a mere two separate bike lanes would not even make the news). As a result, there are five times as many bikes as cars in Copenhagen. Sounds like heaven to me.

Guest post from Mads Phikamphon, author of Copenhagen-based bike site, Cykelvalg

Compared with most cities, Copenhagen is nothing less than a paradise for cyclists. Everybody bikes here – even the members of the parliament and more than half the school children.

Most Copenhageners think that it’s faster to get around the city by bike than by car, so people here don’t only bike because it’s cheaper and healthier than taking the car.

Because most people in Copenhagen love their bikes, there are more bikes in the city than there are people living here. And 5 times as many bikes as there are cars.

Living in Copenhagen, I have always loved my bike and when I started my own bicycle site I decided to make a graphic that shows just how bike friendly Copenhagen is:


The post Copenhagen is a paradise for cyclists appeared first on Average Joe's Cycling Blog.

29 Sep 04:00

A Quick SPRINT Update - 1 Month To Go

by Richard Millington

We're now 1 month away from FeverBee SPRINT.

We have about 10 places remaining for the workshop and a few more than that for the conference.

Once the tickets have sold out, we won't be able to issue any more. If you're planning to go, buy tickets soon. 

If you want the latest innovative ideas about building thriving communities, to connect with the top community pros in the world, and solve the specific challenges your community faces please sign up


Full details at:

Note: We have a lot of special surprises for attendees. We hope you will enjoy the show. 

p.s. Don't forget our terrific referral system.

29 Sep 07:33

Building The Android Runtime (ART) For Mac OS X: Part Six — Once More With Feeling

by Simon Lewis
Removing the dex2oat and dex2oatd executables from the directory out/host/darwin-x86/bin and the object files from out/host/darwin-x86/obj/EXECUTABLES/dex2oat_intermediates and out/host/darwin-x86/obj/EXECUTABLES/dex2oatd_intermediates and restarting the build results in dex2oat getting rebuilt as a 32-bit executable. As expected, at the point dex2oat is first invoked in the build it no longer spins, instead, and not as expected, it crashes. ... […]
29 Sep 05:57

iOS vs Android – Fragmentation bugbear

by windsorr

RFM AvatarSmall






Quality will soon become the most important factor.

  • As the smartphone market starts to settle down, quality of experience will become increasingly important.
  • This is because in order to grow different ecosystems will have to start taking subscribers from each other rather than relying on new users.
  • When it comes to quality, iOS comfortably wins out and even Windows Phone scores better than Android.
  • A great example of this is software consistency.
  • Only 3 days after launching its latest software iOS8, 46% of all iOS devices had made the upgrade to iOS8.
  • By contrast, 4 months after being released 24.5% of Google Android devices had been upgraded.
  • If one also includes the non-Google versions, I suspect the number would be meaningfully lower.
  • Part of the reason for this is that the operators have control over managing Android software updates in contrast to iOS where Apple controls it all through iTunes.
  • This is important because having large numbers of devices with different versions of the code makes life very difficult for developers.
  • It means that their apps are more difficult to write and will behave differently when run on different versions of the code.
  • Furthermore, there are also significant variations in the code between the different handset makers making life even more painful.
  • This is the fundamental problem with open source. Most phone makers have their own ideas about how they want their phones to work and will tinker with the code to achieve that end.
  • In the desktop world open source works much better because when the code fragments, only the best code line survives.
  • History has shown that in mobile this does not happen and a chaotic jumble of different versions and implementations always results.
  • This is why developers will always develop for iOS first and why I believe that they see a higher return from iOS when compared to Android.
  • This is a big problem for Google as its ecosystem is built on top of Android and the inconsistency damages its user experience.
  • Open source has done a great job of getting Android to be the default OS for almost any device not made by Apple but the time is coming where its poor quality will be an issue.
  • This is why I believe that Google is taking more and more control of the Android.
  • The GMS (Google Mobile Services) software that it puts on top of Android contains all of its services and this is the main control point for Google.
  • The fact that it also writes almost all of the open source piece, gives it the ability to manipulate the code in any way it sees fit.
  • It is doing this in two ways.
    • First: Google is slowly removing functions from the open source Android piece and moving them into GMS.
    • In effect, Google is slowly changing an open source OS into a proprietary OS that uses an open source kernel.
    • This will give Google much greater control over fragmentation and also make it much harder for anyone else to make Android devices without Google’s help.
    • Second: The requirements that Google is placing on handset makers and operators who implement its software are getting more and more restrictive.
    • Google is increasing the number of applications that the handset makers are obliged to implement on their devices and getting more restrictive in terms of how they are placed on the device and forcing them to make them default.
  • This strengthens my view that Google aims to take complete control of it’s ecosystem and aims to migrate Android from open source to a proprietary OS.
  • If Google can successfully effect this transition then it will have a much better chance at taking the fight to iOS on quality as well as price.
  • This will take time and at the moment there is an opportunity for Windows Phone to take share from Android if it can get its message right.
28 Sep 18:49

Put the Laptop Away

by rands

Clay Shirky on Medium:

People often start multi-tasking because they believe it will help them get more done. Those gains never materialize; instead, efficiency is degraded. However, it provides emotional gratification as a side-effect. (Multi-tasking moves the pleasure of procrastination inside the period of work.) This side-effect is enough to keep people committed to multi-tasking despite worsening the very thing they set out to improve.


29 Sep 12:32

Samsung’s Gear VR launch games will all be free

by Jane McEntegart

At IFA this year, Samsung offered us a glimpse of its own take on virtual reality. The Gear VR is part of a collaboration with Oculus and aims to bring virtual reality to the mobile gaming masses. As with any new platform, apps are the make-or-break-it feature and there’s money to be made in developing for Gear VR. Unfortunately, developers hoping to have their games ready to sell at launch won’t be making any money at all.

Polygon reports developers “will be forced to give their games away,” as in, for free.  Apparently, devs aren’t happy that the work they put their blood, sweat, tears, and time into games for Gear VR.

What’s interesting is that this isn’t Samsung and Oculus hoping to drive early adoption with a raft of free games at launch. Instead, Oculus’ Nate Mitchell has admitted to Polygon that the lack of monetization at launch is down to the complexities of developing a payments system. “Payments are hard,” he’s quoted as saying. “We have not rolled out our payment infrastructure as fast as we’d want.”

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this is that Samsung isn’t willing to delay in order for the team working on payments to catch up. Though we’ve heard about the device multiple times throughout the year, it’s official debut was at IFA a few weeks ago. Samsung hasn’t given us a release date, but the company has already indicated that it will be available to buy in Canada in the fall. That is some serious hustle, especially when you consider the consumer version of Oculus Rift won’t be available until April 2015.


29 Sep 13:40

Deals: Our favorite streaming box, the Roku 3, is down to $70 (from $90)

by J.D. Levite

Best Deals: Our favorite media streaming box, the Roku 3, is down to a low price, $70 (from $90). [H.H. Gregg]

10 Sep 00:00

The Most Popular Social Network for Young People? Texting


Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, Oct 02, 2014

I can't say I'm surprised that texting would be more popular than Facebook or Twitter - it is, after all, the medium you can use to talk to your friends that doesn't leave a content trail, isn't monetized by advertisers, and won't accidentally become the next internet meme. "Messaging is an everything network. It's identity, it's social,  it's intent ("hey do you want to see Spider-Man"),  it's location ("yo I'm in the theater"). It's the purest form of social network, so simply social that we scarcely consider it a network."

[Link] [Comment]
29 Sep 14:06

Route Master: A Biography of the London Map

by AG

I’m beyond honored to have had this piece — a love letter to London and its maps — commissioned for the launch issue of the revived Journal of the London Society. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. For the record, the impeccable choice of title was theirs.


I very much doubt that there is a city on the face of this Earth better mapped, over a longer period of time — nor more potently associated with the image of the map, as cultural and practical artifact — than London.

I’m sure some of the reason behind this stems from the need to assert administrative control, assess taxation and clarify property rights across a bewildering profusion of boroughs, wards, parishes, liberties, districts and councils. Part of it, certainly, arises from the way in which successive mobility technologies have allowed the city to colonize the land — sprawling its way across terrains and conditions, levering itself ever outward via rail lines and motorways, until the area within the ambit of the M25 subsumed a not-inconsiderable chunk of the British landmass.

But a great deal of this history is driven by history itself. Over the two thousand years of its documented existence, the physical fabric of London has blithely folded everything from animal trails and Roman roads to the Abercrombie Plan and the Westway into its network of connections. As a result, this is, at its core at least, a topologically ornery city. It is a place threaded with byways that admit to no obvious exit, that continue past a nodal point only under some other name (and therefore bear multiple designations within the space of a few dozen meters), that deposit the pedestrian somewhere, anywhere else than wherever reason and intuition suggest they might. Saffron Hill, Newman Passage, Johnson’s Court, the increasingly (and, it must be said, distressingly) salubrious alleys of Soho — you can walk these thoroughfares half a hundred times, and still not quite remember how they link up with the rest of the city. Or even, necessarily, how to find them again the next day.

At the same time, of course, London is a city of roundabouts, flyovers and gyratories, of circuses and viaducts and junctions — a city that was already thoroughly reticulated by bus routes and Tube lines before anyone now living was born. With each new layer, its complexity increases in a way that is not additive, but multiplicative. But if all of this is undeniably the case, it’s also true that you can wake up one morning to discover that the tramways have been pulled up, that Charing Cross Road no longer quite connects with Tottenham Court Road, that someone’s proposing to turn Elephant & Castle roundabout into a peninsula. The confoundments threaten to spiral out of control. So whether they avail themselves of one via the enameled surface of a Legible London plinth, an app on their phone, or for that matter the Knowledge so splendidly immanent in the comparably complex network of neurons in a cabbie’s head, the would-be reckoner with London needs nothing so much as a chart, a guide. A map.


John Snow's map of cholera deaths in Soho

John Snow’s map of cholera deaths in Soho

So equipped, one can finally negotiate the city with relative ease. But navigation is by no means the only thing we use maps for. It’s long been understood that cartographic tools can help us better comprehend some state of the world, and even allow us to make effective interventions.

As it happens, this kind of spatial analysis was born right here in London. When John Snow tallied deaths in the 1854 Soho cholera outbreak on a map, he made manifest a pattern that had previously eluded even the most conscientious ledger-based tabulation: that peak mortality clearly centered on the Broad Street water pump. Armed with this evidence, Snow famously petitioned the parish Board of Guardians to remove the pump handle, which they did the next day, stopping the epidemic in its tracks. It was a landmark moment for both epidemiology and geographic information systems — and it would not be the last time in the history of London that a map proposed an intervention.

Though a great deal more impressionistic than Snow’s fastidious chart, Charles Booth’s poverty maps of late-Victorian London are almost as granular, delineating among seven increments of socioeconomic status as they varied block to block, and occasionally house to house. Though Life and Labour of the People in London, the magnum opus in which they appeared, must be given the lion’s share of the credit — and this is to say nothing of Booth’s apparently indefatigable organizing — it’s generally acknowledged that the maps themselves were critical for catalyzing the sense that something had to be done to redress abject want in the city, perhaps by conveying its true extent in the backstreets and rookeries only rarely penetrated by the respectable classes. (The blithe ignorance these classes nurtured for their own city was truly impressive. In 1855, the London Diocesan Building Society had described the East End to its subscribers as being “as unexplored as Timbuctoo,” which must have come as some surprise to the hundreds of thousands of Cockneys living there.)

In their way, Booth’s maps were as effective as Snow’s in driving change in the world. The response, when it came, may not have been quite as elegant or as precisely targeted as the removal of a single pump handle, but its impact was undeniably felt at a larger scale. When Parliament authorized the first Old Age Pension in 1908, Booth’s work was widely regarded as having been instrumental to the effort aimed at securing its passage.

Here we get some sense of the power of a geographic data visualization. By judiciously folding complex urban dynamics back against the ground plane, maps like these help us comprehend circumstances that may well be transpiring beneath or beyond the threshold of unaided human perception, in space or time or both. They are, quite literally, consciousness-altering.

In all the long history of mapping the great metropolis, though, it’s arguable that no single map did more to change the ordinary Londoner’s perception of urban space than Harry Beck’s original Underground diagram of 1933. In reckoning with the burgeoning complexities of a then relatively new addition to the city’s network of networks, Beck’s map emphasized the experiential truth of urban space over the geographically literal. As anyone who’s ever hoofed it between Angel Station and Old Street can tell you, the overland distance between any two contiguous stations bears only the slightest resemblance to the proximity implied by the Beck schematic and its many descendants.

The distortions pull in both directions. With only the Tube map to rely on, someone unfamiliar with the topography of central London might well conclude that it’s entirely reasonable to take the Tube from Bank to Liverpool Street, or from Borough to London Bridge, when the former is at worst a nine- and the latter a ten-minute walk. (And don’t get me started about vertical distances. At Angel Station, the system’s deepest, it can take the rider a good five minutes just to get from turnstile to platform.)

But these gross displacements, however grievously they might afflict the small but vocal contingent of people who care passionately about such things, are entirely beside the point. For all its compressions, expansions and improbably crisp 45-degree angles, the map is impeccably accurate in reflecting the way Tube riders actually perceive the space of the city, as it unspools a few dozen meters above their heads. Rely on it often enough for long enough, and you too may find — to paraphrase Edward Tufte — that the map organizes your London.


Charles Booth's maps of London poverty

Charles Booth’s maps of London poverty

For someone more than casually fond of both London and maps, it’s inordinately pleasing that these landmarks in cartographic history are all also part of the story of this particular place on Earth. You can go and visit the very places that John Snow and Charles Booth mapped any day of the week, using the system that Harry Beck described with his map.

We are, however, safe in considering all of this history mere preamble, however glorious it may be. I believe that at this moment in time, we are collectively experiencing the most significant single evolution in mapping since someone first scratched plans on papyrus — for one relatively recent and very simple development, made possible by the lamination together of three or four different kinds of technology, has completely changed what a map is, what it means, and what we can do with it.

It’s this: that for the very first time in human history, our maps tell us where we are on them.

Nothing in all my prior experience of maps prepared me for the frisson I experienced the first time I held an iPhone in my hand, launched Google Maps, pressed a single button…and was located, told where I was to within a very few meters. When you realize that, already, some 30% of the adults on the planet own a device that can do this, that this audience already greatly outnumbers all the people who ever consulted an A-Z, a Thomas Guide or a friendly green Michelin volume put together, you begin to understand just how dramatically the popular conception of cartography is evolving. Those who come after us will have a hard time imagining that there was ever such a thing as a map that couldn’t do that.

The fact that such depictions can now also render layers of dynamic, real-time situational information — traffic, weather, crime and so on — seems almost incidental compared to this. The fact of locability, in itself, is the real epistemic break. It subtly but decisively removes the locative artifacts we use from the order of abstraction. By finding ourselves situated on the plane of a given map, we’re being presented with the implication that this document is less a diagram and more a direct representation of reality — and, what’s more, one with a certain degree of fidelity, one that can be verified empirically by the simple act of walking around.

I’d argue that this begins to color our experience of all maps, even those that remain purely imaginary. We begin to look for the pulsing crosshairs or the shiny, cartoonish pushpin that says YOU ARE HERE. The ability to locate oneself becomes bound up with the meaning of any representation of space whatsoever.

And it has profound pragmatic consequences, as well. It means that our maps can do real work for us. Typical of this is the online service Citymapper. Fed real-time information by TfL via a series of conduits called “application programming interfaces,” or APIs, Citymapper constitutes nothing less than a set of keys to the city, accessible to anyone with a smartphone and a data plan. It effortlessly tames what is otherwise the rather daunting perplexity of the street network, divining a nearly-optimal path through all those closes and courts and alleys, or suggesting just what combination of buses and trains you’d need to cobble together to get from, say, Stoke Newington Common to Camberwell Green.

Again, here London is different from other places. Though Citymapper offers versions for New York and Berlin, Paris and Barcelona, the utility of each is hampered by the limitations placed on it by those cities’ respective transit authorities. In my experience, no metropolitan transit agency in the world provides APIs as robust and thorough as those offered by TfL, and as a direct result Citymapper and its competitors are more useful here than they are just about anywhere else.

Happily, buses and Tube trains aren’t the only ways of getting around that are enhanced by the new interactive cartography. The networked maps so many of us now rely upon transform the practice of walking, too. The way in which access to real-time locative information enhances one’s sense of security in exploring the city is beautifully expressed by the London-based technologist Phil Gyford: “I can quickly see that my destination might be only 25 minutes’ walk away, and I know I’ll be going the quickest route, and GPS will ensure I won’t get lost halfway there. Somehow walking now seems more viable and less uncertain.” What this opens up, even for the longtime resident, is the prospect of exploring a city they never knew, though it may have been separated from them more by habit and uncertainty than any physical distance. Gyford now feels free to wander “the overlooked parts of London…the neglected seas between the Tube-station islands”; somewhere, the worthies of the London Diocesan Building Society breathe a sigh of satisfaction before returning to their deep slumber in the earth.


Harry Beck's original diagram of the London Underground

Harry Beck’s original diagram of the London Underground

That we are becoming — that some of us have already become — so intimately and thoroughly reliant on our maps to guide us safely through the urban thicket makes it more important than ever that we regard them critically. Though we know intellectually that the map is famously not the territory, the emotional truth of this can be harder to internalize; we’ve all seen news stories about truck drivers following their satnav directions straight into a lake, or a wall. We need to get in the habit of asking pointed questions about who makes the maps, who chooses the information that is rendered upon them, and where that information comes from in the first place.

We might also attend to the deeper truths about the city we live in that are brought to light by this class of representations. Consider the dynamic visualizations of the Milan-based transportation-planning practice Systematica. In their time-series map of London, peristaltic pulses of expansion and contraction wash across the familiar terrain, revealing what we’ve always known to be the case: that at no hour of the day is the actual city coextensive with its formal, administrative boundaries. Though the human presence must still be inferred from these abstract surges of color, the message is unmissable: for all the grandeur of its physical fabric, the deep London is nothing more or less than the people who move through it, animate it and endow it with meaning.

This, in the end, is not such a bad lesson to derive from contemplating the play of pixels on a screen. If, as the disgraced geographer Denis Wood puts it, all “maps are embedded in a history they help construct,” this is true of maps of this city more so than most. And if we know that London, this gorgeous hypersurface, is forever absconding from the knowable, and can never be entirely reduced to a set of lines and points and paths, this doesn’t necessarily imply that there is no point in making the attempt. Perhaps, as with those of John Snow, Charles Booth and Harry Beck, the maps of Citymapper, Systematica and their descendants may yet help bring a safer, wiser, more just and merciful city into being.

29 Sep 13:00

Ello: The Luxury Bicycle of Social networks

by davidbanks
A Budnitz Bike in its natural habitat.

A Budnitz Bike in its natural habitat. Source.

Paul Budnitz describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur” having created other companies that make artisanal toys and luxury bicycles. He’s also the creator/founder/president/charismatic leader of Ello. And when a social network launches with a manifesto that proudly proclaims “You are not a product”, there’s more on the line than embedded video support. Despite the radical overtures of the initial launch, we shouldn’t expect any more from Ello than we would from a luxury bicycle.

By this I mean that it’ll be well-designed, fraught with race, class, and gender bias, and ultimately formed by the inevitable demands of capitalism. Just as more bikes in the world is better than more cars when it comes to concerns over the climate, Ello is probably better for the world than Facebook when it comes to issues of user control and (perhaps) privacy. Sure we should be concerned with how bikes and social media networks are made, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stick our noses up at an intermediate step. Unlike more pure attempts like Diaspora or Crabgrass, Ello is a pleasure to use and very simple to set up.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of the critiques of Ello rely on comparisons to existing and defunct networks. As Natasha Lennard said, “To describe a site like Ello without referring to already existing social media platforms would be like trying to describe a new color — you couldn’t do it without talking about other colors.” If Ello were a color it would be white. Not only does Ello signal the zenith of the “more white space” design, its designers are white, and even their venture capital comes from the whitest state. That’s why I find it strange that lots of people are incensed that Ello is some kind of capitalist wolf in radical sheep’s (second hand, black wool hoodie) clothing.

Aral Balkan, a designer in the early stages of building a smartphone that “empower[s] users to own their data”, contends that by “taking venture capital you [Paul Budnitz] have made a crucial mistake that is incompatible with the goals you set out in your manifesto.” I really, really love Aral’s work (especially Experience-driven open), but if we’re gonna shit on Ello for taking VC money, we should also shit on his phone project because it says absolutely nothing about how, or where, or by whom it will be made. Just as Balkan doesn’t think Budnitz can make a progressive social network with VC funding, I don’t think Balkan can say his phone will “protect our fundamental freedoms and democracy” without giving lots of thought about sweatshop labor.

Then there’s the argument that Ello isn’t even worth considering because it is a “walled garden” and not a free software paradise where everyone can federate their servers and talk in encrypted emails all day. While I agree, in theory, that something like free software / open source software is the path to making truly democratic social networks, the big players in the free software community aren’t currently up to the task. They certainly aren’t bastions of acceptance or even tolerance, and their products are invariably harder to use. Who would want to spend their spare time reading a tutorial on how to use the thing that is supposed to distract them from work? Free software alternatives seem like a lot of work for not a lot of gain. I’d rather have responsive experts working on users’ concerns about accessibility and harassment prevention in the here and now than participating in an endless discussion of server ownership in service of an abstracted notion of freedom.

Thus, Ello isn’t a radical alternative to existing social networks. It won’t get to the root of our present problems with social media, but it might represent our latest and best hope for a social network that isn’t content with gaslighting their user base, relying on uninspired and exploitative revenue models, and enforcing rules that endanger marginalized people.

To put it simply, Ello is a luxury bicycle boutique, not an anarchist bike shop. Both offer an alternative to fossil-fuel based transportation, only the latter offers an alternative to capitalist modes of exchange as well. Diaspora is the closest thing we have to anarchist bike shop social media, and like the shop, is also a little more intimidating.

It’s pretty easy to dismiss a luxury bicycle boutique as nothing more than an extractive enterprise that relies on greenwashing to sell over-priced bikes to well-off Brooklyn hipsters. It’s all style and no substance. Those assholes are just buying (or getting invites codes for) their politics, they aren’t making the sorts of sacrifices necessary to live their politics. When an anarchist uses a bike as their primary means of transportation they are engaging in what Laura Portwood-Stacer in her book Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism calls conspicuous anti-consumption. Whether its going vegan or refusing to own or regularly use a car, radicals often display their politics in the negative. By selectively but conspicuously not consuming they become living examples that a life without oil corporations and animal exploitation is not only possible, but doable.


An artistic collaboration between the author and Adam Rothstein with creative suggestions by Nathan Jurgenson

Portwood-Stacer is also quick to point out that, “when an individual attempts to put anarchist principles into action in one’s everyday life, one acts on the assumption that one has the capacity to determine the shape of one’s personal experience.” Which is to say it is really hard to live your politics all the time, especially when it requires expertise or control over aspects of your life that most people delegate to companies or professionals. Building and maintaining your own bike is hard enough. Being deeply involved in the active maintenance of digital networks, where rarified expertise and expensive equipment is needed to keep things working smoothly, can be close to impossible. This a big reason why free and open software social media networks like Diaspora always have problems with keeping an active user base. Most people expect to use social media as a reliable means to talk to their friends, not as an ongoing development project.

As Quinn Norton rightly pointed out, with regard to Ello’s success “social networks are like languages — they are only worthwhile when they are broadly adopted.” That means a decentralized network like Diaspora, which asks you to choose among several installations with different features and performance rates, is a huge roadblock.

Beyond the melodrama of the Diaspora name –do we really need to equate leaving Facebook with the inter-generational violence wrought by colonialism, anti-semitism, and global capital?– it is also unclear as to whether Diaspora headaches offer the same benefits as the anarchist bike shop: do people actually feel more in control over the digital aspects of their lives? I suspect many would report “yes” but that seems like a selection bias more than an effect of the network. There’s a clear tension between democratic control, and democratic participation in social media. All of the things that make a social network easy to participate in – e.g predictable experience, user-friendly interfaces– generally come at the expense of user control.

What is largely missing from both the debate and the products that come from the radical software world is the importance of usability and pleasure. For instance, I wrote last week about my attempt to get rid of Dropbox because Edward Snowden told us it had a big open back door to the NSA. The presence of Condoleezza Rice on their board isn’t particularly wonderful either. It was hard to leave Dropbox, not just because the service is really useful, but because the alternatives are poorly designed. Secure services like SpiderOak focus their limited resources on their politics (security) but pay little attention to things like user interface design or documentation.

More times than not, doing something for your politics is a pain in the ass. Maybe you enjoy a good march or you genuinely love to code your own encrypted chat applications, but most of the time living your politics means giving something up or buying a more expensive version of a common good. There are precious few opportunities, especially for leftists, when living your politics means getting something better than everyone else. SpiderOak, Diaspora, and countless other projects seem just usable enough, but rely on your dedication to some other cause to make up for their obvious design problems.

Ello has the opposite problem. It is a social network built by designers for “people like them.” You could read this as “social media by foppish white dudes, for foppish white dudes” and you wouldn’t be wrong, but I think you’d also be missing something really important: Even if you’re not selling your users’ eyeballs the way Facebook or Twitter does, you’re still building a brand that’s mutually shaped by the users and your own marketing. Nothing about social media is “just marketing” because who you attract to use your service is part of the feature set. By making a social network with a manifesto, you get a social network filled with people that are at least attracted to the idea of a manifesto. Here’s where I think Ello can make an end-run around the control/participation tension. Attract people who are, in varying degrees, interested in control, but make a space that is fun and easy to participate in.

Further, and as Portwood-Stacer points out, participating in a lifestyle does not just follow from ideas, sometimes political orientations can be the result of participating in a specific community. Sometimes people engage in a political activity first, and develop a political orientation afterward. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it is probably better than shouting the common free software epithet RTFM (Read The Fucking Manual) at newcomers.

It’s a sort of politics of praxis. Ello as praxis encourages opportunities for behaving online in speculative, prefigurative ways. We can play with the form and affordances of the beta software by making long text posts about long text posts and filling our profiles to the brim with art that problematizes the ban on pornography [Early successes! NSFW content tags are in the works.]. By taking advantage of a network that has yet to become obdurate and institutionalized, and has some fairly receptive and talented people at the helm, I think there’s a very real opportunity for figuring out what we all want from our social media. Maybe then we’d all be a little more prepared to do the real heavy lifting of building a social network that doesn’t just conform to our politics, but actually generates and returns value in a socially just manner.

Ello, like a luxury bike, isn’t antithetical to capitalism and all of its problems. But it’s a step in the right direction, not just by being politically better than Facebook, but also being more useful and pleasurable than Diaspora. Ello’s core design team desperately needs some diversifying, and hopefully that and many other concerns of its users will alleviated sooner rather than later. This new network certainly isn’t the answer to every problem we have with private social networks, but it responds to some of the worst problems we face today. Ello might be a walled garden, but it’s fertile ground for growing something even better.

David is on Twitter, Tumblr and Ello.