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17 Dec 16:03

New smaller OnePlus phone rumoured to cost $280 CAD

by Jane McEntegart

OnePlus is a company of ‘ones.’ It’s just barely one year old, it has just one device in its portfolio (also called the One) and it wants to sell one million phones by the end of 2014. Though we’ve heard plenty of talk of a OnePlus Two debuting next year, the company may not be quite ready to leave behind the number one.

The latest scuttlebutt says the next phone we see from this company could actually be a variation of the OnePlus One. The specs and size of this device have launched speculation that OnePlus will follow the now common path of offering a smaller version of its flagship before announcing a second generation flagship.

The rumours come from GizmoChina, which reports that this smaller version of the OnePlus One will feature a 5-inch display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 SoC (this chip packs an octa-core CPU and Adreno 405 graphics), and an 8MP camera in the front and back. The current generation OnePlus One has a 5.5-inch display and runs on a Snapdragon 801 SoC.

Though this device would be smaller, the Snapdragon 615 is no slouch, so it’s hard to really see this as a ‘mini’ version of the OnePlus One when the mini designation so often translates to “smaller and cheaper but also way less powerful.” GizmoChina says this new device will be cheaper than the One at around $280 CAD/$240 USD, so it’s possible this ‘never settle’ company is trying to deliver a truly budget phone without compromising too much on specs. The unanswered question is whether OnePlus will choose to capitalize on the already established ‘One’ brand or if it will skip straight to ‘OnePlus Two.’

17 Dec 15:30

My Must-Have iPad Apps, 2014 Edition

by Federico Viticci

For the past four years, I've been running a series called My Must-Have Apps that, once a year, collects all the apps I find indispensable to get work done on my iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Considering changes to my daily life and workflow, this year will only feature my must-have iPad and iPhone apps. As with last year, I want to start from the iPad.

Over the past two and a half years, my workflow has become increasingly iOS-centric. Changes in my personal and professional life have convinced me that iOS is the best platform for me, with a rich ecosystem of apps that allow me to work faster and more efficiently no matter where I am. This year, my iPad has essentially replaced my MacBook Air, which I now primarily use to watch movies and record podcasts.

There's a few tasks that I still can't get done on an iPad, but the list is shrinking, and, thanks to iOS 8, developers are coming up with new ways to make working on iOS more feasible and pleasant. I don't use my iPad as a computer just to prove a point or because it's a popular topic among readers and listeners of Connected: I need my iPad, the apps it runs, and the workflows I've created to automate what I do on iOS.

It is with extreme seriousness, then, that I take a look at the apps I consider my “must-haves” each December and compile them in a list for MacStories. This allows me to sit down and calmly evaluate how I use my devices, the software I depend on, and how much the way I use apps has changed in 12 months.

This year, I'll only cover iPad and iPhone apps, starting with the iPad. In the list below, you'll find apps organized in eight sections:

  • Work Essentials (apps that I need and use for work every day)
  • Social
  • News & Links (apps to read and discover interesting news)
  • Audio (apps for music and podcasts)
  • Calculators
  • Images
  • Extensions, Widgets, and Keyboards
  • Everything Else

At the end of the article, you'll also find a few statistics about this year's collection as compared to last year's and my iPad App of the Year. Each app has a direct iTunes link, and, where possible, I've included links to previous MacStories coverage as well.

Work Essentials

Editorial. Developed by Ole Zorn, Editorial is the app where I get most of my work done on the iPad. Released in August 2013 and updated to version 1.1 earlier this year, Editorial is, on the surface, a Markdown-powered text editor with a built-in browser and good integration with Dropbox. Editorial's true power, though, lies in the advanced automation features to speed up text editing tasks, web research, and just about any other inter-app communication aspect of iOS.

Editorial pioneered workflow automation on the iPad by mixing Markdown with accessible Python scripting exposed through actions. Reminiscent of Automator, Editorial has enabled me to create workflows that go beyond text editing/formatting and span iTunes integration, Twitter and RSS actions, custom user interfaces, iCloud Tabs, and other services and APIs that aid me in creating, editing, and publishing articles. All my posts are written and edited in Editorial and, at this point, I wouldn't be able to write and work efficiently without the app. By including powerful Python scripting features (based on Zorn's work with Pythonista), Editorial has an astounding depth that can't be even fully explained with a book on the subject.

Editorial is the reason I elected the iPad to my primary computer and it continues to amaze me on a daily basis.

Read the MacStories review and previous coverage.

Workflow. Recently released on the App Store, Workflow has already raised the bar for iOS automation. I started using Workflow, developed by Ari Weinstein and Conrad Kramer, back in August, when they asked me to check out a workflow automation tool inspired by Automator on OS X. Workflow goes way beyond that promise – not too dissimilar from Editorial's – by blending native iOS system features with an easy to use interface and user-friendly approach to task automation.

In Workflow, you can combine actions that support iOS features such as taking photos, accessing the photo library, opening URLs, saving notes to Dropbox and Evernote, and more. I use Workflow to quickly append links to Evernote, open tweets in the Twitter app, generate PDFs, download and share files, and even annotate screenshots. And all this while integrating with iOS 8 through document pickers and an action extension that brings workflows to any app that can share content through the native share sheet.

Workflow is an automation must-have on the iPad, and it shows tremendous potential for future improvements in its mission to make automation accessible to everyone on iOS.

Read the MacStories review.

Drafts. A returning entry in my annual roundup, Agile Tortoise's Drafts was relaunched as version 4.0 for iOS 8 with a focus on making it easier to share text quickly to any app or service you want. Drafts looks like a quick notepad, and it can be used as such; its full depth, though, is only revealed when using advanced functionalities such as action steps (a GUI for combining app actions together), customizable script keys, and a share extension to save text from anywhere. Drafts helps me capture text from Safari and send it to Slack through Zapier, save Markdown notes to Evernote as HTML, and share notes to extensions with variables for dates, location, and more. Drafts is an elegant and automated note-taking app with no equal on iOS.

Read the MacStories review and previous coverage.

Launch Center Pro. Contrast's shortcut launcher didn't go through any major rewrite for iOS 8, but it doesn't matter. For me, Launch Center Pro is still the fastest and most convenient way to launch actions and apps on my iPad. I can type a search query and open it in Google; I set up shortcuts to launch workflows in Workflow, optionally passing clipboard content to them; and, I need Launch Center Pro to open URLs and download files with one tap. Launch Center Pro speeds up my work on the iPad considerably, and its integration with iOS through photos and the clipboard is top notch.

Read the MacStories review and previous coverage.

Evernote. I've been using Evernote for years and I depend on the service for notes that include formatted text and inline attachments. Evernote has become more complex with time, but I still use it for fairly basic reasons: it lets me save screenshots as notes, it lets me annotate them, it supports rich text without being limited to plain text, and it's integrated with dozens of apps that can append content to existing notes (something that I do a lot). These options allow me to save research for my two podcasts in Evernote and ensure that I can always save text quickly using apps like Workflow and Drafts or web services like Zapier.

I also appreciate Evernote's search, OCR support, and collaboration features. I keep various shared notebooks with my girlfriend for home projects and our side business, and, in spite of occasional hiccups and a constant fear of feature creep, Evernote's ubiquitousness still make it the best solution for what it does.

Read the MacStories review and previous coverage.

Todoist. I started using Todoist this year when my professional life got busier, and I was surprised to find a task management app that perfectly suited my needs. Todoist is cross-platform, has collaboration features to share projects with other users, and supports natural language input for quick and intelligent task creation. With a clean design, Todoist hides advanced functionality that is always there when you need it, such as filters for specific views, an open API, file attachments and comments for tasks, and the ability to visualize your productivity over time through charts and points.

Full iOS 8 support was the proverbial icing on the cake, with a widget to complete tasks from Notification Center and an action extension to create new todos from any app that can show a share sheet.

Read the MacStories review.

Fantastical. Despite the fact that I switched from iCloud Reminders to Todoist, I haven't abandoned Flexibits' Fantastical. When it comes to managing and viewing my calendar events, Fantastical still provides a fantastic balance of versatility and understandable interface: the app can add events with natural language, which is the best implementation I've found on iOS; to view my schedule, I'm a fan of the app's Today widget (in expanded mode) and clever use of color and animations in the DayTicker. Fantastical is my favorite calendar app ever made for iOS.

Read the MacStories review and previous coverage.

Google Docs. Like Evernote, Google Docs is the best in its class. We use Google Docs for episode research and notes at Relay: all our episodes start as rich text in Docs, which offers a collaborative editing environment with real-time changes (you can see the cursor moving), support for clickable hyperlinks, and terrific speed and reliability. On the iPad, Google Docs doesn't come with all the features of its web counterpart (chat is missing) and it hides some necessary controls more than necessary (I'm looking at you, indent/outdent buttons), but it works well overall, and I need it on a daily basis.

Pythonista. Ole Zorn's original foray into iOS automation, Pythonista is a Python interpreter for iOS that mixes scripting with native iOS functionalities such as photos, location, the clipboard, or the ability to open URLs – all while taking advantage of Python to let you build real scripts that are uniquely optimized for iOS.

Pythonista reinvented my workflow two years ago, and while many of its functionality has been supplanted by the visual approaches of Editorial, Workflow, and Drafts 4, I still use the app to automate my screenshot generation techniques and upload images to our CDN. When I want more from iOS and extensions aren't enough, I know that I can count on a manual solution in Pythonista.

Read the MacStories review and previous coverage.

1Password. AgileBits's popular password manager speaks for itself, so I'd rather focus on the iOS 8 changes the app went through this year. Before iOS 8, 1Password was limited to its own app: you needed to open 1Password to see your logins and secure notes, which wasn't as fast as using the app on OS X. With iOS 8, AgileBits has built an action extension that you can invoke from any app to fetch your logins and fill required fields with one tap. With Touch ID and extensions, 1Password has gone beyond the restrictions of its app and turned into a system-wide password manager that's natively supported in hundreds of apps. There's never been a better time to start using 1Password.

Read the MacStories review and previous coverage.

Dropbox. My online filesystem and a sharing service for all platforms, Dropbox is where all my important files are stored and archived. All my articles begin and remain in Dropbox as plain text; my PDF documents are organized in folders and available on all my devices; images and videos I want to share live in Dropbox. The iOS app was updated with renaming features, and, while not revolutionary by any means, Dropbox for iOS gets the job done.

Clips. One the best new apps of the year, Clips (developed by the same team behind Dispatch) is a clipboard manager that wouldn't have been possible without iOS 8. I never used clipboard managers full-time before iOS 8 because of the friction they put on saving text and images you copied; with an extension, a widget, and a handy custom keyboard, Clips cuts down the number of taps required to save bits of text and move them between apps.

I rely on Clips when I want to move text around without manually switching between apps all the time. URLs, usernames, quotes, and strings of text that I need to take into other apps or save alongside more snippets go into Clips so I can be faster. I use Clips every day to be more efficient when composing articles and assembling lists of links and notes, and it's a great example of the kind of change that iOS 8 brought to my workflow.

Read the MacStories review.


Twitter. After a long exploration of popular third-party clients for iOS still left in 2014, I decided to promote the official Twitter app to my primary client on the iPhone and iPad. Twitter has changed a lot since the days of Tweetie and the original Tweetbot, and, after giving the Twitter app a fair shot, I've come to enjoy many of its modern features such as Cards, the ability to share multiple photos and GIFs, image sharing in DMs, and more. On the iPad, Twitter could take better advantage of the larger screen, but it's my only choice if I want to have the real Twitter experience.

Read the MacStories review and previous coverage.

Slack. We use Slack for team communication at Relay. Besides speed and reliability, I like Slack because it tries to generate previews for any kind of link or file that is shared in a group chat and because of its integrations with external services and apps. I can connect Slack to Zapier and post links and messages in specific channels or private groups without even opening the app thanks to Drafts, which lets me save time I'd otherwise spend looking at messages and perusing the Giphy shortcut. Slack's iPad app is pretty good, with a sidebar to switch between chats and a share extension to quickly upload photos (I wish it supported text and URLs too, though).

Linky. A supercharged social share sheet for iOS 8, Linky offers more options to users who regularly share links on Twitter and Facebook. I use Linky in Safari and RSS a lot: Linky can automatically fill its compose box with a link's title or text selection from Safari, and it shows a character count to keep tweets under control. There are some great touches in the app's universal share extension: you can opt to enclose text clipped from Safari in quotes and there are buttons to select a link's title or URL.

Linky supports multiple accounts, cross-posting to different services, and it's a much better social sheet than iOS' built-in one if you share from multiple apps every day.

Read the MacStories review.

News & Links

Newsify. I tried several RSS clients for Feedly and Feed Wrangler over the past year (including an excursion into the land of New Digg) and I settled on Newsify, developed by Ben Alexander. Newsify isn't often mentioned by websites and writers I follow, but it offers a good mix of features I value in an RSS reader for iPad: light/dark themes; a sidebar where I can quickly access subscriptions and folders; full-text article search; the ability to swipe anywhere on the screen to navigate; and, a tap & hold shortcut for the iOS 8 share sheet.

Newsify looks good, it's fast and works well with Feedly, and it allows me to process links faster than other apps because it can default to iOS 8 extensions instead of custom sharing options.

MacHash. I go through my RSS feeds every day, but I don't want to add every single Apple blog I follow to my subscriptions. MacHash lets me keep on top of Apple news with a dedicated app: it's an aggregator for Apple news using a variety of blogs (including MacStories) as sources. I've been reading in MacHash for years: I can include/exclude websites from the list of news sources, and the app can send links directly to Evernote or use the iOS 8 system share sheet.

Nuzzel. I don't only discover news and interesting articles through RSS, though. A new entry in my iOS setup this year, Nuzzel is based on a simple and ingenious idea: it shows you links people you follow on Twitter are sharing the most. By counting the number of times a link appears in your timeline, Nuzzel lets you catch up on what's hot on Twitter using filters to select a time period, which is a great way to see what happened on Twitter if you haven't been reading for, say, 8 or 24 hours.

I've relied on Nuzzel to keep up with the Internet when I was on vacation or after a weekend I spent offline, and I open the app almost every day because, besides collecting links from people I follow, it also lets me discover links shared by people I'm not following.

Read the MacStories review and previous coverage.

Instapaper. After a year spent using Apple's Reading List, I went back to Instapaper as my read later app of choice. I missed Instapaper's beautiful clutter-free layouts and its built-in network of recommendations. Instapaper was updated with a share extension for iOS 8, which lets me save articles with a consistent menu from any app.

Instapaper is the best reading environment for me, and it shines on the iPad thanks to the Retina display.

Read the MacStories review and previous coverage.

Pinner. When links don't end up on MacStories, Evernote, or Instapaper, I archive them in Pinboard. I've been using Pinboard since 2009 and I've changed the iOS app I use to save links quite a few times over the years, primarily because of the terrific innovation that happened quickly in the third-party Pinboard client space. This summer, I started using Pinner 3 and I've stuck to it despite the number of Pinboard apps that were updated with support for share extensions (all of them). Pinner is clean, fast, and it lets me browse my account and public bookmarks by other users while keeping the sidebar shown in landscape mode.

Read the MacStories review.


Overcast. Marco Arment's podcast client has become my favorite take on the genre because of its elegant design, recommendation section, and Smart Speed. The latter is a genius addition to the traditional podcast listening experience: rather than playing episodes at altered speeds (that inevitably create audio artifacts and just sound strange), Overcast can make episodes shorter by eliminating moments of near silence. Thanks to this feature – an important technical achievement by Arment – Overcast makes me save time without making my favorite podcasts sound odd or unnatural. Overcast may not have all the features of competing apps, but its audio engine is all I need to keep using the app.

Read the MacStories review and previous coverage.

Spotify. After trying Beats Music for a couple of months as a replacement for Rdio, I moved to Spotify because of its superior iPad app and addition of family subscriptions.

Spotify for iPad is reminiscent of Twitter's original tablet app: multiple panels slide onto the screen and you can tap or hold them to interact with search results and dismiss views. I'm a fan of the panel-based design that Loren Brichter first explored over four years ago, and I still think that iPad apps should be more than enlarged iPhone versions with a sidebar. Spotify is a good example, and I use it to listen to music every day.

musiXmatch. A great way to find officially licensed lyrics for songs on iOS, musiXmatch helps me follow along songs I'm listening to thanks to a beautiful display of accurate lyrics. Even more impressively, musiXmatch added an iOS 8 widget that can display lyrics from songs playing in the Music app directly in Notification Center, loading them in real time as a song goes. musiXmatch is a fantastic app if you want to dive deep into an album and learn all its lyrics, but it works well for invididual songs too thanks to a Shazam-like recognition feature.

Read the MacStories review and previous coverage.

Shazam. The iPad app of the world's most popular music recognition service may not be as polished as its iPhone counterpart, but it gets the jobs done and it was recently updated with Spotify integration for full track playback. Shazam for iPad comes in handy when my girlfriend and I are watching a movie on our Apple TV and we want to know what song is playing: because my iPad is usually on the couch, I can launch Shazam from Launch Center Pro and tag a song. In spite of its obviousness today, I'm still amazed by the fact that Shazam exists and works as advertised – I'll never forget the first time I saw it in action six years ago.

Read our previous coverage.


PCalc. I've never been into advanced calculators because I don't need to perform complex calculations; PCalc, however, is different because it's completely customizable.

In the app's iOS 8 update, developer James Thomson added the ability to create custom buttons that can do almost anything you want – it's your own calculator kit, and it's surprisingly easy to set up. I created shortcuts to convert currencies and units, which has allowed me to consolidate the functionalities of a calculator and converter in a single app I'm using more and more. PCalc can sync custom layouts across devices, and it offers a widget that puts a mini calculator in Notification Center. I'm late to the PCalc party, but iOS 8 provided a good opportunity to start using this historic iOS and Mac app.

Read the MacStories review.

Soulver. Developed by Acqualia, Soulver combines a notepad and a calculator in what appears to work like a spreadsheet but is actually much simpler.

Soulver understands natural language and can calculate results over multiple lines of text, which is handy if you want to jot down details and numbers and create connections later. Soulver can assign variables, convert currencies and units, and it can even convert from multiple units to a single value at the same time. Soulver is an invaluable tool, unique in what it brings to iOS.

Read our previous coverage.


Skitch. Evernote's image annotation tool, in spite of its lack of an update to support iOS 8's extensions, still offers great editing features. Whether I need to add an arrow to call out an element of a screenshot or obfuscate personal information for a blog post, Skitch has an interface that offers just the right amount of controls. I'd love to see a Skitch photo editing extension at some point, bringing the power of Skitch to the Photos app.

Read the MacStories review and previous coverage.

Dropshare. A recent addition to my arsenal, Dropshare was the missing element of my iPad workflow: an app to upload images to Rackspace Cloud Files. Dropshare, previously launched on OS X, can upload to Rackspace and Amazon S3, and it puts the public URL to a file directly in your clipboard.

Dropshare integrates with any image file you can share on iOS thanks to a share extension: this allows me to upload screenshots from Photos and CloudMagic, the only decent email client for iPad I could find that is able to share message attachments with extensions. With Dropshare, I've been able to eliminate scripts I used to run on my iPad and Mac mini server to handle image uploads. I'm faster at uploading screenshots for blog posts now, which lets me focus on something else.

Read the MacStories review.

Sharkie. I take a lot of screenshots on my iPad on a daily basis, and Sharkie lets me scan my local photo library and delete them all with the tap of a button. Sharkie uses new iOS 8 APIs to delete files in the Photos app, which has proven to be a welcome time-saving tool as I don't have to go through my Camera Roll to select all screenshots manually anymore.

Extensions, Widgets, and Keyboards

View Source. For a long time, I've wanted to be able to look at the source code of the current webpage in Safari without relying on bookmarklets or other workarounds that couldn't be as powerful as a real app. iOS 8 has enabled developers to build extensions that can read the full DOM of a webpage, and View Source is a great demonstration: with one tap, I can view source code without leaving Safari with features such as keyword highlight, line wrapping, and multiple themes. View Source saved me on a couple of occasions when I needed to quickly debug errors on the website, and it's an invaluable addition to Safari's extension menu.

Read the MacStories review.

Emoji++. From the mind of the Underscore comes Emoji++, a better emoji keyboard than Apple's. I've been using David Smith's iOS 8 keyboard since it launched, and I can't believe that Apple didn't think of this concept before: you can create favorite emoji, browse by scrolling vertically, and everything is organized in a more coherent and practical structure.

I tried to go back to the standard iOS emoji keyboard, but Emoji++ is simply better and now ingrained in my muscle memory.

Read the MacStories review.

World Time Widget. For my work at MacStories and Relay, I collaborate with people from all around the world and, for this reason, I need to be able to convert time zones quickly. There are hundreds of time zone widgets on the App Store, but I like World Time Widget as it uses a horizontal layout rather than a long list. World Time Widget has a small footprint on my Today view and it's useful to keep around.

Metapho. I often want to share photos publicly without revealing my extra information hidden in metadata, and Metapho is a simple utility to remove that additional data with one tap. By integrating with the Photos app with an editing extension, Metapho can be used on any photo, for which it'll preview metadata (including geolocation info) and offer to remove it. Metapho would have been possible before iOS 8, but it wouldn't have been as easy and integrated as it is today.

Read the MacStories review.

Everything Else

Authy. I always enable two-factor authentication for my online accounts, and Authy is a Google Authenticator-compatible app that had a much better design than Google's official client before it was updated, plus other nice features. Authy lets me quickly copy generated codes, it runs on the iPhone and iPad, and it was updated earlier this week with a widget that displays codes in Notification Center.

Read the MacStories review.

Instashare. In spite of my reliance on iCloud and Dropbox to keep my data and documents in sync across devices, I often want to move bits of text and images between my iPhone and iPad quickly and without uploading them to a web service first. Instashare gets this done for me: the app is able to transfer anything you copy from one device to another over WiFi and Bluetooth. My use case is primarily limited to URLs and other text snippets I need to beam into my iPad for Editorial, and I appreciate the Instashare action extension, which I can bring up from any app to send an item to another device's clipboard.

Screens 3. Edovia's excellent VNC app for iPad turned four this week, and I still use it every day to log into my Macs and control their screen remotely. My usage of Screens increased after I set up a Mac mini at Macminicolo, and I particularly like how Edovia added a new trackpad mode and improved clipboard sharing in the past year. Screens ensures I can always keep an eye on my OS X server, and it's one of the apps I trust the most.

Read the MacStories review.

Prizmo. There are times when I need to quickly grab text from a screenshot or from the App Store, which doesn't let me select app descriptions and release notes. I've discovered that Prizmo's ability to process images and recognize text is what I always needed on my iPad: you give an image to the app, perform necessary adjustments for cropping and increasing readability, and Prizmo turns everything into live, editable text you can copy and share.

Prizmo even lets you select specific regions of an image and copy text from them, and it can switch between multiple languages for OCR. Prizmo never lets me down, and it has allowed me to put together articles more quickly over the past few months.

MindNode. When I feel like an article idea is a tangled mess of thoughts with no apparent order, I open MindNode and start jotting down everything I can think of. MindNode is a mind-mapping app with a beautiful design, iCloud sync, and support for power-user features such as keyboard shortcuts and multitouch shortcuts. I like MindNode because it keeps the focus on content – my ideas and links between them – and it adds useful functionality that doesn't get in the way of mind maps. I can always concentrate on a mind map knowing that, if I need to, I can change fonts, add images, and even export to Markdown. MindNode strikes a great balance of polish and power, which is hard to find.

Read the MacStories review and previous coverage.

Next. For years, I went without an expense tracker and thought that I could manage my expenses just by remembering them. That was silly. Earlier this year, after testing several expense trackers for Mac and iOS, I settled on Next, a fast and functional expense tracking app by noidentity. While I use Next for iPhone to quickly enter expenses with a couple of taps, I prefer the iPad version to review my spending habits and find trends over time. Next for iPad is uniquely designed to leverage the tablet's large canvas and I love how graphs and expenses are summarized for months and weeks. In my opinion, one of the best designed iPad apps of the year.

Read the MacStories review.


After finishing my Must-Have roundups last year, I collected some stats about the apps included in three lists. I'm doing the same this year to see if any interesting trends or changes can be observed.


  • 33 apps. 14 free apps and 19 paid apps.
  • Total cost of paid apps: $116.81
  • Average cost of paid apps: $6.15


  • 39 apps. 20 free apps and 19 paid apps.
  • Total cost of paid apps: $96.81
  • Average cost of paid apps: $5.10

Both iPad roundups roughly mirror each other in spite of app differences, and I attribute the fact that this year has six more apps to my increased usage of the device. It's interesting that new apps like Clips, Overcast, Newsify, and Metapho are all based on a freemium model.

But, we shouldn't be confused by the lower average cost of the same number of paid apps: the cost is actually higher this year if we adjust the number for App Santa. Discounts on Drafts, PCalc, Soulver, Screens 3, MindNode, Next, Prizmo take out $31 from the list, which means that, hadn't App Santa launched this week, the stats would have been:

  • Total cost of paid apps without App Santa: $127.81
  • Average cost of paid apps without App Santa: $6.72

In short, I'd spend more money on paid apps this year and I'm seeing more productivity apps switch to Free with In-App Purchases, which is somewhat reflective of this App Store niche.

iPad App of the Year: Workflow

Since I started using Workflow in August, I've reimagined the way I automate tasks on my iPad. Because it integrates deeply with native iOS features, Workflow lets me automate everyday tasks like no other app. With more features coming soon and a thriving community of new users, Workflow is my iPad app of the year.


Looking back at 2014, it's clear that iOS 8 is changing how I use my iPad and rely on third-party apps for MacStories, Virtual, and Connected.

New technologies in iOS 8 have allowed developers to come up with fresh ideas that have revitalized the iOS platform, and this impacted my iPad usage in unexpected ways. With extensions, custom keyboards, and document pickers, I find my iPad to be a more versatile computer than my MacBook for what I need to do on a daily basis.

Making predictions is always hard, but last year's thoughts on Apple narrowing the gap between Macs and iOS devices weren't too absurd after all. With iOS 8, Apple has given developers tools to make more powerful software, and I expect iOS apps to continue to mature in 2015 as the company figures out where iOS can be taken next.

As usual, let’s check back in a year.

17 Dec 17:17

What if the RIAA had embraced Napster?

Back in 2000 when Napster was raging, I kept writing blog posts asking this basic question. Isn't there some way the music industry can make billions of dollars off the new excitement in music?

Turns out there was. Ask all the streaming music services that have been born since the huge war that the music industry had with the Internet. Was it necessary? Would they have done better if they had embraced the inevitable change instead of trying to hold it back? The answer is always, yes, it seems.

Well, now it seems Sony is doing it again, on behalf of the movie industry. Going to war with the Internet. Only now in 2014, the Internet is no longer a novel plaything, it's the underpinning of our civilization, and that includes the entertainment industry. But all they see is the evil side of the net. They don't get the idea that all their customers are now on the net. Yeah there might be a few holdouts here and there, but not many.

What if instead of going to war, they tried to work with the good that's on the Internet? It has shown over and over it responds. People basically want a way to feel good about themselves. To do good. To make the world better. To not feel powerless. It's perverted perhaps to think that Hollywood which is so averse to change, could try to use this goodwill to make money, but I think they could, if they appealed to our imaginations instead of fear.

17 Dec 18:42

BREAKING: New York Will Ban Fracking

BREAKING: New York Will Ban Fracking:


The state of New York is officially moving toward a fracking ban.

After presenting the findings of an exhaustive five-year study on the potential environmental, economic, and public health effects of fracking, state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Joseph Marten said he would issue a “legally binding findings statement” seeking prohibition of the controversial process.

Fracking is the process of injecting high-pressure volumes of water, sand, and chemicals underground to crack shale rock and let gas flow out more easily.

The study presented Wednesday had few good things to say. It noted that peer-reviewed studies on how fracking affects public health were few and far between; that the process had the potential to pollute New York’s many reservoirs and aquifers; and that the economic benefit to the state would be “clearly lower than intially forecast.”

GO TEAM! | Follow ThinkProgress


17 Dec 19:15

What's The Next Epoch Of Computing Going To Be?

Ben Thompson has a magisterial post looking at various epochs of computing, and concluding that our current era — defined by mobile devices powered by iOS and Android, with sharing economy apps (Uber, Airbnb, etc.) as the work/productivity killer apps, and messaging/chat as the comms killer app — and sketches the timeline out like this:

He mentions wearables and Bitcoin as possible core technologies for the next era, but I think it’s more likely to be virtual reality/augmented reality, which Michael Abrash of Oculus considers the last platform, in this great video.

He makes the case that VR will subsume all earlier media experiences, so we can imagine chatting, editing documents, or writing emails there, but the experience of 3D reality and interconnection with others will come to be the killer comms app of the next 20 to 30 years. Abrash suggests it will be the most social era of computing, in a way that video chatting only hints at.

17 Dec 15:15

The Daily Scot: Adventures in Parking

by pricetags

Scot picks up on another chapter in Surrey’s East Clayton parking saga:

From Frank Luba in The Province:

When Clayton was first designed and developed about 15 years ago, it was meant to be a , walking community,” said Hayne. “It was kind of ahead of its time.”

The intention was to have small lots, just nine metres wide, with small houses — although there was an option for coach houses.

“One of the key things that was to be utilized was public transit,” said Hayne. “The concept sounded great.”

But transit doesn’t fully serve the area, and many homes put in a basement suite in addition to a coach house — so there could be three families on one lot.

“It makes it almost impossible to contain the number of cars on your premises,” said Hayne.




Not everyone has a problem with removing parking.

Clayton Heights resident Mike Wellar thinks the issue is the excessive number of secondary suites in the area.

“You need to definitely enforce the rules in terms of suites,” said Wellar.

Surrey allows one secondary suite per home and charges an annual fee of approximately $500.

But some homes have more than one suite, according to Hayne.

Wellar also thinks the parking problem could be reduced if people cleaned out garages and used them for parking, as he does.

Another solution could be to have permit parking.

17 Dec 15:17

BIV Column: A New Strategy (and Opportunity) for the NPA

by pricetags

My latest Business in Vancouver column:


The NPA has lost the last two civic elections. It’s time for a new approach.

In 2011, the strategy was one of ridicule for the Visionista’s green agenda: chickens in the backyard, wheat in the front. In 2014 it had a more presentable candidate and a more subtle approach: dog-whistling key words to base. With bike lanes, for instance, the requirement for “community backing” could be interpreted as “no more of that annoyance” without actually having to say so.

But Kirk LaPointe did one thing well: he restored the NPA’s credibility. He worked with a good slate of candidates, and they worked well together – with leadership and funding by some key business people. Even if he wasn’t likely to beat Gregor Robertson, he might have taken away the Vision majority. But in the end, the NPA came up short on council, sadly losing the 10th spot. (Ian Robertson, who missed by a narrow margin, might have been the NPA’s next best shot at the mayor’s chair.)

So NPA, what now? (Disclosure: I was an NPA councillor from 1986 to 2002, under mayors Gordon Campbell and Philip Owen.)

First, recognition that the NPA base is no longer big enough, even with a fractured political spectrum on the left. The NPA reflects the worldview of those who mostly have it made – homeowners in particular, whether on the Westside or Southeast. But it doesn’t have an aspirational vocabulary for the young and insecure, who have a different view of Vancouver than those from the aging single-family neighbourhoods.

Second, it has to embrace – not just begrudgingly accept – that lifestyles are changing when it comes to how we get around. Those annoying bike lanes are a manifestation of something that’s neither trivial nor temporary.

The NPA failure to get it was articulated by LaPointe in two words: counterflow lanes.

It was a minor promise in the scheme of things – “create counterflow lanes and utilize technology to reduce congestion on major arterial routes” – and the appeal was understandable, particularly for someone like LaPointe, who lives in the University Endowment Lands and works in North Vancouver, and no doubt has to battle traffic on that route. Why wouldn’t people want an easier way to drive through the city?

He clearly did not grasp that those two words meant the reversal of two generations of policy, mostly by NPA councils, with respect to auto capacity in this city. LaPointe would have been the first Vancouver mayor in memory to say to suburban drivers: Come on back. All is forgiven!

It wasn’t a serious proposal. But it was a kind of code, along with more free parking, that was meant to signal a return to the city that Vancouver was in the 20th century, not the city it was in the process of becoming – albeit with some surprising clumsiness on the part of the Vision council. The NPA, if it expects to govern, has to depart from the comfort and convention of that past.

“Transparency,” “consultation” and “conversation” are not substitutes for a real vision of the this city, one that resonates with the way of life being adopted by the people who want to live here but know that it will be under vastly different circumstances than those who have paid off their mortgages and get to cash out.

When it comes to contentiously symbolic issues, the NPA has to embrace not just bike lanes but the entire strategy of active transportation and lifestyles, with actual proposals and policies to expand their reach.

And fortunately, it has the opportunity.

The NPA now has control of the park board, a traditional place for the next generation of municipal leaders. And it’s the place that will have to finally figure out how to design and build bike routes through major parks, primarily Stanley, and connect to the network that surrounds and joins up its entire system. No park board in the last three decades has provided the political will and funding to resolve it.

And of course, there’s the outstanding question of what to do about Hadden Park at Kitsilano Point.

The NPA park board can now provide leadership; it can demonstrate how it more effectively works with the community – the cyclists, the residents, park users of every kind – to resolve conflict; it can provide vision for the future; it can change its image and back it up with real projects and commitments.

The NPA park commissioners can demonstrate that the NPA itself is the party of an aspirational future, not the declining voices of a begrudging past.

17 Dec 19:05

Why Netflix Offline Mode is Unlikely to Happen

by Jeremy Toeman

squirrel-no-internetFrom TechRadar:

And despite the pleas of the masses (or maybe it’s just us) it doesn’t sound like it’s going to happen any time soon – or ever. Speaking to TechRadar, Cliff Edwards, Netflix’s director of corporate communications and technology, said “It’s never going to happen”.

Now personally, I’d love this to be false. I’ve flown 75K miles a year for quite a while now, and am on planes and in hotels enough that I could’ve powered through all of Luther, New Girl, Broadchurch, and much more by now (those are my current shows FWIW). Heck, I’d have watched Lost by now – but I don’t think I have 200+ hours of connected time I’m willing to sacrifice for lens flare.

But truth be told, Netflix has no reason to cater to me, nor the legions of business travelers who follow suit. Here’s why, in handy list format:

1. Nobody’s Canceling Netflix for a Lack of Offline Access

If the Internet has connected us all together to do one thing, it seems to be to collectively whine about high-class problems. But getting rid of the unquestionably best-bang-for-your-buck TV service because you were inconvenienced en route to JFK makes no sense. And since churn is actually a key factor for Netflix, the lack of this being a “Problem” is enough to shut down the topic.

2. Nobody’s Subscribing to Netflix if they Added Offline Access

Much like the above, it’s pretty hard to imagine a market of people with disposable income (as business travelers are prone to be) who choose not to subscribe to Netflix because of price/features. So it’s pretty hard to argue that adding this feature would generate a wave of new subscriptions. Further, since customer acquisition is again a huge metric for Netflix, if they believed this is an untapped market, we’d possibly see change. Clearly they don’t.

3. It’s a Hard Problem to Solve Well

We could mince words about it, but the fundamental experience around using Netflix is pretty great. Everything about queuing up downloads, archives, and managing storage is a not-great experience. So adding this burden, which would inevitably create customer support overhead, product experience dilution, etc, would have to be well-justified. Again – not saying it can’t be done, just saying doing it really well isn’t easy, and is it worth it? See above.

4. It’s an Expensive Problem to Solve

In case all the above didn’t somehow add up, remember that Netflix, to the best of our knowledge, does not currently pay content owners for non-streaming access rights. And content ain’t cheap. And having worked in this field for more than a decade would lead me to believe adding in offline access would be an expensive negotiation point.

In conclusion…

Combining any of the aforementioned challenges – why does it make sense for Netflix to spend more money to build more product to solve a problem for a small number of users without gaining new paying customers nor staving off churn of existing customers?

It doesn’t.

17 Dec 10:40

ChangeTip Must Die

by Emin Gün Sirer

The title sums up my stance on last month's craze in the Bitcoin world, a new service for tipping people online, called ChangeTip. I mean it both as a statement of fact and a wish. As in, the service is plaintively destined to die if it honestly operates the way it advertises. And we should rejoice when this happens, because we'd all be better off without it, for it is strictly an information leak, a liability and a security hole.

ChangeTip Backstory


Unlike Bitcoin tipping, this jar is honest about its real intentions.

Let me describe what ChangeTip is for those who are not familiar. It's a centralized service by which people can send small amounts of money to people online. In that sense, it's exactly like every other centralized online payment system, like Flooz, Beenz, and so forth. It has a convenient user interface through which one can tip people on Twitter, Reddit, and other social media, designed for tiny tips. You can tweet "have a donut hole" at someone, and they'll get credited $0.10 from your account. There are a few dozen confusingly priced items you can tip (a taco, a beer, an upvote, etc), but most people use the service to tip in fractions of a Bitcoin ("bits").

ChangeTip somehow tapped into the Bitcoin community, which paradoxically saw in it an opportunity to expose the masses to their decentralized currency. People would see the tipping and go "whoa, what just happened there?", which, in turn, would draw more people into Bitcoin. Never mind the fact that the person saying "whoa" was often an accomplice, kind of like those terrible radio ads where a woman asks purposefully dumb questions and a man man'splains an awesome new deal down by the mall.

So they have been tipping fractions of a penny, typically on the order of ¢0.1-¢0.5, in all kinds of venues. I did not mistakenly use Verizon math there. Those are literally fractions of a penny, $0.001 to $0.005 dollars, an amount of money that no one would bend over to pick up off the street because it does not have physical form. Not unless you cut up a penny.

Pinning money on bride

Unless you're pinning substantial cash on the bride or the groom, throwing money at people is considered gauche. Some would say that it is gauche even then, but those people have never gone sniping and don't understand the value of a ghillie suit.

These tips litter online discussions, often in egregious ways. There was one case where someone posted about how his dad passed away from cancer after 6 months of cancer treatment, supposedly subsidized by the son's Bitcoin mining operation, where his last words were "go mine some coin." We can debate whether or not the original post was fake, but we should all agree that the following response was inappropriate: someone tipped him a whopping 3 cents, and unironically said "Mad feels." What is bigger than the mind-numbing sense of loss and vast emptiness that follows the death of a family member? The sense of loss for words at seeing $0.03 thrown to fill that gap. Lest you think I cherry-picked a rare example, google shows that I am not working hard to find this stuff. The ChangeTippers' vision for the future is literally one of people with social disorders throwing penny shavings at each other.

But let's leave the social considerations aside, and let me tell you why ChangeTip is a terrible idea on its own merits.

Destined for A Pivot

According to ChangeTip's own disclosure, after a huge quarter of growth, their cold wallet holds 155BTC. That 155BTC amounts to less than $60K. Which in turn is approximately the cost of a few months' salary for a junior developer in the valley.


Can I tip for a Bitcoin roller coaster ride? Just kidding, I take that ride on a daily basis.

Keep in mind that this is only the money they hold on behalf of their users, so we have to look at their business model to derive their actual revenue. ChangeTip has not started charging their users yet, but they plan to finance themselves with a 1% fee on all transactions that take money out of their system. That means that the maximum revenue they can generate from their current holdings is $600. Note that I am still not using Verizon-math and I did not leave out a "K" or "M" at the end.

To help visualize that, $600 is roughly equal to the average Bush tax rebate per household, which most people squandered on a set of wireless speakers. And that's revenue, not profit. Assuming a multiplier of 20X, the total value of the company is a big fat $12K. Let's assume, wildly optimistically, that ChangeTip will usher in a new era of free-flowing tips, and we will transform from major industrial power that landed a drone on an astroid to a society that runs on baksheesh. Let's also assume new money flows coming in and out of the system, even though one would expect most of the money to churn internally, with very limited cash flow across the service boundary. But let's conservatively double our estimate: that yields a company whose net worth is the same as a low-end Volkswagen, one that will develop electrical problems the day after you roll it off the lot. Yet they raised enough cash to open a dealership through two rounds of funding.

So, what gives?

The only way ChangeTip can command a higher revenue than a measly few thousand per year on their current business plan is by selling our information. And they have two pieces of amazing information that no one else has.

The first one is the linkage between our social network identities and our Bitcoin addresses. Bitcoin is anonymous but traceable, and it would be invaluable to annotate different wallet addresses with twitter/reddit/facebook/google account names. Well, with your tipping help, they can. And that's worth something. Before you claim that you'll create new addresses and tumble your coins or whatever, we all know how lazy people are from the way they install flappy bird apps on their phone with enough privileges to launch nukes. Real people will be readily identifiable.


Tips contain fingerprints, and someone is actively collecting them.

Second, they have the linkage between multiple social networks. Unless you exercise an enormous amount of online hygiene and maintain a separate changetip account per social channel, ChangeTip can connect your identities across services. For instance, they would know that your gag account on reddit, the one whose username includes a garden vegetable and an anatomical reference, is linked to your Google account. Or the Discus account you use to harass academics who found flaws in Bitcoin is connected to your real identity as, say, a failed academic at, say, the National University of Singapore.

Of course, even assuming that ChangeTip can remain solvent, and stick to its current business plan, and maintain the safety of its accounts, and provide its privacy guarantees as promised, there's still the possibility that it will get hacked and have its business data leaked. They have taken measures to protect their holdings by partitioning out a cold wallet, but they need to keep all of their valuable business data online for their own operation. This data stores precious information on which accounts are associated with each other, and it needs to be online, where it's vulnerable.

Tips for Tippers

Crossing sweeper and Victorian woman

M'lady tips the unwashed street urchins; not the other way around.

The real goal behind ChangeTip tipping, of course, was to give Bitcoin extra visibility under the ruse of doing a micro-good act. Let me quickly address why this is a bad idea.

First of all, every time I strike up a random conversation with a stranger, I discover that they have already heard about Bitcoin. Every. Single. Time. I assume this is because the Bitcoin community has already proselytized the word of our Lord and savior Satoshi Nakamoto far and wide. So, my anecdotal evidence suggests that everyone who will ever hear of Bitcoin has already heard of it. Pushing the currency in underhanded ways will just create derision. We need to work as a community to buy advertising like normal people, and perhaps work on our collective image. After years of acting like enfants terribles, perpetrating a prosecution complex, fearmongering about an inflationary collapse that refuses to happen, veering into antisemitic rants about Jewish bankers, blaming Mt. Gox victims, brigading a Nobel laureate, badmouthing core developers, attacking researchers including yours truly (for finding and even fixing a flaw, and making predictions that were later borne out; you know, things that were actually good for Bitcoin), and beating the drums for countless scams, the real barrier to adoption at the moment is the community itself. Clean up that act, and the rest may follow. Or not, because the online payment space is crowded right now, but it's a first step towards not being sociopathically selfish, which is a prerequisite for reaching a wider audience. It's also a prereq for effective tipping.

Tipping is a nuanced act that requires some social savvy, tact, and grace. Here are some quick tips to reduce the cringe factor associated with tipping strangers online:

  1. Selfishness and tipping do not mix. Do not tip because you want something, such as increased exposure for Bitcoin. Do not tip someone to get something later. Tip only because you unconditionally want to give something nice to someone else.

  2. Tip only when there is a service that was rendered that is of immediate benefit to you. Do not tip out of sympathy. Human emotions are not denominated in dollars or Bitcoins. No one wants to know that you feel $1 worth of sad.

  3. The tip must be commensurate with the service performed and the utility received. No fractional pennies, in fact, no pennies at all. If you wouldn't pick it up off the floor, don't give it to someone else as a gift. A tip that has a low net present value is downright offensive.

    And we live in the here and now. No one cares if you believe your measly one ten thousandth of a Bitcoin will be enough to go to the moon some day. Mark it to market.

  4. Do not tip people who work out of love or passion. Do not tip people who are kind to you. Do not tip anyone just for being themselves, especially if they have lived through an adverse event or illness.

    Do not tip people whose accomplishments dwarf yours. Keep in mind that when you're behind a made-up username, you look indistinguishable from the know-nothing-did-nothings and loquacious shills that crowd out social media; "anoncryptoman" is the equivalent of a Victorian street urchin -- do not tip from such an account to someone whose real-world identity is known.

    Do not tip people who have dedicated their lives to what they believe is a higher purpose.

    Do not tip government employees, accountants, military personnel, and financial officers, who need to keep their finances clean of conflicts of interest.

    Do not tip judges, doctors, nurses, EMTs, cops, DAs, professors, construction workers, in fact, any professional of any kind outside the service sector.

    Do not tip members of the Night's Watch.

    And please, and I'm not making this up, do not tip Oprah! Or Bill Gates for that matter.

  5. If you feel that the situation calls for a microtip, do it privately. In cultures with extensive tipping, you always slip the cash discreetly, often through a handshake. Remember, it's a selfless act, neither your ego nor your public perception ought to be involved, so there is no justification to do it publicly.

But overall, it is far better in most cases to organize a charity drive than to drive-by-drop a few penny shavings. These microtips have never made the world a better place, in the same way that those New-Agey emails about how someone once paid for someone else's toll on their commute never accomplished any lasting societal change for the better. As the New Age flakes like to say, not all who wander are lost -- but they sure get in the way of other people. Changing the world is difficult and requires concentrated action. Penny gifts are a dead-end distraction, an easy way to appease one's conscience and justify inaction.

Finally, some people trot out the argument that the online tipping mania is harmless. It's very much not, because the underlying motivations are all too clear and reflect on all of us. It's at best spammy. Tipping penny pieces to increase the value of one's Bitcoin holdings is duplicitous. And yes, even people who were "making it rain in the club" have actually been sued for throwing cash at people. Not everyone is hunting and hurting for dollars, and normal people would like to earn a living with dignity. Penny tipping violates social norms and makes the Bitcoin community look cringeworthy, which in turn is bad for Bitcoin.

Reservoir Dogs Don't Tip.


Back to ChangeTip: on its current trajectory, it is not a viable company. I am certain that the people who work for it are well-meaning, reasonable people. But the lack of a revenue stream is an inescapable fact. The math portends an unsustainable cash flow; they will ultimately have to fold or else change their business model. When the music eventually stops, our identities will be up for sale. Even if the company manages to stick to its current avowed business plan until bankruptcy, there is no telling what others will do with the ChangeTip data.


  • Some people are conflating Bitcoin with ChangeTip. The two are, in effect, totally separate currencies. One of them is decentralized and backed by the blockchain, the other is centralized and backed by a company. It is marketing genius that this centralized currency allows payments to be denominated in Bitcoin, which then creates confusion.

    A good Litmus test to see if a currency is centralized and requires complete trust is to ask the question: "can a single entity create wealth solely by changing a database entry?" The answer is clearly yes for ChangeTip. To their credit, they keep their reserves public, though it is not possible to perform a third-party audit because they do not publicize how much various users have in their accounts.

  • Some people seem to believe that microtipping can bring about the end of advertising. This doesn't quite make sense, because microtip systems like ChangeTip cut out the platform operator: a user directly transfers a tiny amount to another user, leaving out the platform (e.g. Reddit, Twitter, etc). Recall that it's the platform that's serving the ads. So the incentives of the platform operator are not aligned with ChangeTip. One would expect savvy platform operators to push to direct microtips through their own payment mechanisms, such as Reddit Gold.

  • Shirky's thoughts from 2009 on Why Small Payments Won’t Save Publishers are relevant to this discussion even today.

17 Dec 21:47

Study: ‘It’s hard to beat gasoline’ on Air Quality

by Stephen Rees

I saw this on Planetizen and couldn’t resist the video

Now, we don’t have much ethanol around here, and the electricity we use is mostly  from existing hydro. So some of these results from the US don’t exactly translate here. So if you can afford a Tesla, go right ahead and don’t worry about those “electric cars are not so green” articles. The only time we use dirty, coal fired electricity is when our generating capacity is stretched at peak periods. Charge up your car overnight with a clear conscience.

The ethanol they refer to is E85 (85% of the fuel is ethanol): the most we use is 5 to 10%. At one time this was only true of so called premium fuels. Now it is not unusual to see ethanol in regular fuel and you may have to buy premium to avoid it. Most cars, of course, do not need premium fuel.

While hybrid cars do cut fuel consumption, this gets negated pretty quickly if you drive with a lead foot, or use a vehicle much bigger than you need. A smart car is going to use less gas than a giant SUV or truck, even if they are hybrids. And simple precautions like checking your tire pressures and not hauling a load of junk in your trunk will also cut your fuel consumption. Walking, cycling and transit (even if it is a diesel bus) are all better for the environment – and your own health.

Published on 15 Dec 2014

Life cycle air quality impacts of conventional and alternative light-duty transportation in the United States

Authors: Christopher W. Tessum, Jason D. Hill, and Julian D. Marshall

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A.

Full text is openly available at:­3111


Filed under: cars, electric cars, energy, Environment, fuel consumption, greenhouse gas reduction, sustainability, walking Tagged: electric cars, electricity, ethanol, fuel consumption, hybrid cars
17 Dec 22:37

Fido unveils $105 monthly plan with 3GB data

by Ian Hardy

A number of Canadian carriers have recently adjusted their monthly price plans. Rogers, Bell, and TELUS have all introduced a $70/month plans, and WIND and Mobilicity have also introduced some new festive plans. Fido is now joining the fray with a new plan of its own.

Last week, Fido added a 5GB plan to its Standard and Smart Plans options, which start off at $94 and $99/per month. Those interested in signing up for a 2-year Tab24 agreement can now choose a Max plan, priced at $105 per month with unlimited Canada-wide anytime minutes, unlimited international text, unlimited picture/video messages, voicemail, call display, and 3 GB of data (with an overage cost set at $10/500 MB).

Source Fido
17 Dec 00:00

Try Out / Please Break TRU Writer?

Alan Levine, CogDogBlog, Dec 20, 2014

So I like this idea: "The idea of the  TRU Writer is a simple way for faculty, researchers, students to publish web content in a rich, media form without having them create accounts. Rather than try and explain, take a ride on the random example spinner (Randomness is something I nearly always try to toss into the mix)." You can try out the TRU writer here.

[Link] [Comment]
17 Dec 06:26

Samsung vs. Apple – No pay day.

by windsorr

RFM AvatarSmall






A great payments service is not enough to stem the tide.

  • While Apple continues to expand the reach of Apple Pay, Samsung is looking to save its bacon with a competing offering.
  • This would bring Samsung into direct competition with Google Wallet and it is unclear how this relates to the non-compete agreement that the two companies have in the mobile ecosystem. (see here).
  • Apple has added another 10 banks to the Apple Pay system meaning that 90% of US card transactions could be supported by Apple Pay.
  • The piece that is still missing is the merchants where around 250,000 out of 3m retail outlets in US are NFC enabled.
  • Even if Apple Pay is wildly successful, its reach will still be limited as it will only be available on iOS devices which are in the hands of around 13% of smartphones users across the world.
  • This is the most lucrative 13%, but it still leaves plenty on the table for other offerings should they come up with offerings with similar ease of use.
  • To this end, Samsung has been in discussion with a company called Loop Pay and there is the potential for these two to solve each other’s problems.
  • Loop Pay consists of a piece of hardware that wirelessly transmits the data of the card to the sensor in the card terminal that reads the magnetic stripe.
  • This means that any card can be read by any terminal and LoopPay claims that its technology already works at 10m merchants worldwide.
  • LoopPay also includes an app. to manage all of the stored cards and to ensure that the appropriate security is observed when making a transaction.
  • There are two disadvantages:
    • First: The user still has to sign or enter a PIN to complete the transaction making using LoopPay no less onerous than using the original card.
    • Second: It requires the user to have a case on his device that turns it into a brick or to carry around an extra fob.
  • This is why LoppPay sells itself on “leave your wallet” at home rather than a much easier way to pay.
  • LoopPay expects to enable tokenised transactions in 2015E which should solve the first problem.
  • If Samsung integrates the LoopPay hardware into its mobile phones, this would solve the second problem.
  • RFM thinks that the LoopPay transmitter is small enough to be integrated without any impact on the size or weight of the device.
  • Hence, it is not inconceivable that Samsung and LoopPay together could come up with a solution almost as good as Apple Pay but how would this help Samsung?
  • LoopPay prides itself on supporting any card and a very large range of smartphones meaning that this is not going to be a service that is exclusive to Samsung handsets.
  • If it becomes successful, all the others will begin embedding the hardware as well meaning that any differentiation that Samsung would have created will be gone.
  • To keep it exclusive, Samsung will have to buy the company which is unlikely to come cheap given the hype that has been created by Apple Pay.
  • Consequently, I do not believe that this will save Samsung and that far more needs to be done if the Galaxy S6 and Note 5 are not to be yet more flops.
  • I still fear that Samsung’s handset business will test negative territory in 2015E and still see downside to KRW1,000,000 on the share price.
  • Microsoft, Google and Apple are far safer places to be.
16 Dec 02:53

Twitter Favorites: [Stv] If I’m thinking about leaving a café & a see a woman leaving too, I’ll wait so she doesn’t worry I’m following her.

Steve @Stv
If I’m thinking about leaving a café & a see a woman leaving too, I’ll wait so she doesn’t worry I’m following her.
16 Dec 17:13

Instapaper Liked: Where's the IFTTT for repetitive manual text transformation?

Where's the IFTTT for text transformation? — Jon Udell (@judell) December 16, 2014 Tweeted by @judell
17 Dec 13:24

Sketching Scatterplots to Demonstrate Different Correlations

by Tony Hirst

Looking just now for an openly licensed graphic showing a set of scatterplots that demonstrate different correlations between X and Y values, I couldn’t find one.

[UPDATE: following a comment, Rich Seiter has posted a much cleaner – and general – method here: NORTA Algorithm Examples; refer to that post – rather than this – for the method…(my archival copy of rseiter’s algorithm)]

So here’s a quick R script for constructing one, based on a Cross Validated question/answer (Generate two variables with precise pre-specified correlation):


  data = mvrnorm(n=samples, mu=c(0, 0), Sigma=matrix(c(1, r, r, 1), nrow=2), empirical=TRUE)
  X = data[, 1]  # standard normal (mu=0, sd=1)
  Y = data[, 2]  # standard normal (mu=0, sd=1)

for (i in c(1,0.8,0.5,0.2,0,-0.2,-0.5,-0.8,-1)){


g+facet_wrap(~corr)+ stat_smooth(method='lm',se=FALSE,color='red')

And here’s an example of the result:


It’s actually a little tidier if we also add in + coord_fixed() to fix up the geometry/aspect ratio of the chart so the axes are of the same length:


So what sort of OER does that make this post?!;-)

PS methinks it would be nice to be able to use different distributions, such as a uniform distribution across x. Is there a similarly straightforward way of doing that?

UPDATE: via comments, rseiter (maybe Rich Seiter?) suggests the NORmal-To-Anything (NORTA) algorithm (about, also here). I have no idea what it does, but here’s what it looks like!;-)

//based on
#The NORmal-To-Anything (NORTA) algorithm

#NORTA - h/t rseiter
corrdata2=function(samples, r){
  mu <- rep(0,4)
  Sigma <- matrix(r, nrow=4, ncol=4) + diag(4)*(1-r)
  rawvars <- mvrnorm(n=samples, mu=mu, Sigma=Sigma)
  #unifvars <- pnorm(rawvars)
  unifvars <- qunif(pnorm(rawvars)) # qunif not needed, but shows how to convert to other distributions

for (i in c(1,0.9,0.6,0.4,0)){
g+ stat_smooth(method='lm',se=FALSE,color='red')+ coord_fixed()

Here’s what it looks like with 1000 points:


Note that with smaller samples, for the correlation at zero, the best fit line may wobble and may not have zero gradient, though in the following case, with 200 points, it looks okay…


The method breaks if I set the correlation (r parameter) values to less than zero – Error in mvrnorm(n = samples, mu = mu, Sigma = Sigma) : ‘Sigma’ is not positive definite – but we can just negate the y-values (unifvars[,2]=-unifvars[,2]) and it seems to work…

If in the corrdata2 function we stick with the pnorm(rawvars) distribution rather than the uniform (qunif(pnorm(rawvars))) one, we get something that looks like this:


Hmmm. Not sure about that…?

17 Dec 15:00

BlackBerry Classic review

by Daniel Bader

Few tech companies elicit as emotional a response to Canadians as BlackBerry. But the once-quintessential tech giant, stifled and contracted, has eaten crow for nearly two years, and is ready to begin a new phase as a software and services company.

To that end, the release of the Passport in September and, today, the Classic, attempt to meet its dwindling customer base where it already is: the boardroom. The Classic, with its Bold-like aesthetic and reintroduced trackpad, goes right for those long-suffering loyalists, clinging to devices with cracked screens and keys akimbo.

But can the Classic break out of its narrow bubble — and does BlackBerry even need it to? Let’s find out.



  • BlackBerry 10.3.1
  • 3.5-inch 720×720 pixel IPS display
  • 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 SoC w/ Adreno 225 GPU
  • 2GB RAM / 16GB internal storage (expandable)
  • 8MP rear camera w/ F2.2 lens, 2MP front camera
  • 1080p video capture @ 30fps, 720p video capture @ 60fps
  • WiFi (b/g/n/a), Bluetooth 4.0, A-GPS
  • 2515mAh non-removable battery
  • LTE 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 13, 17, 25. HSPA: 1, 2, 4, 5/6
  • 131 x 72.4 x 10.2 mm
  • 178 grams


Few phones betray their creators’ intentions like the BlackBerry Bold. A once-storied brand that has since been reduced to vignetted images of Luddite executives unwilling to abandon the immediacy (and ever-fading light) of traditional email and SMS services, BlackBerry has attempted to reclaim some of that vitriol with the Classic in a way the now-aged Q10 never could.

I admit to being immediately attracted to the Classic’s comfortable, fretted hardware keyboard but, like many now-obsolete technological trends, a hardware keyboard feels less essential than anachronistic. The past three years have seen innumerable improvements to touch accuracy, autocorrect algorithms and, to the benefit of consumers most, screen sizes.

Turning the Classic over in one’s hand reveals a heft missing from many modern smartphones. It is a serious hunk of machine. Like most BlackBerrys it is framed by stainless steel, and though it lacks the subtle finesses of the flagship Passport, it’s incorrect to call the Classic a ‘discount’ or mid-range device.


The front bears more than a passing resemblance to the device many loyalists have clung to for dear life, the Bold 9900. The screen is bigger, at 3.5-inches, and of unmistakably better quality — both higher resolution and comprised of new technology — but the Classic is, for better or worse, not an entirely new product.

There are some important changes to note. Like the Passport there is no removable battery, which will likely irk the moribund masses of Crackberry addicts, but the 2515mAh battery is substantial enough to last a day and then some.

This is no computational powerhouse, either: the internal specs are pure early 2013: a dual-core 1.5Ghz Snapdragon S4 chip (the same one found in the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S3, for context), 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage and an 8MP camera. Remove the trackpad and four-button ‘tool belt’, axe half an inch from the screen and you have a Q10.

So why does the Classic exist? All but the few die-hards waiting for this phone will, along with me, scratch their heads in puzzled bemusement, but I’ll admit, as someone who got his start in this field pushing out BBMs on a tiny BlackBerry Pearl, the Classic brings home the feels.


Device & Display

Like its predecessors, the Classic is a bulky chunk of metal, a 10.2mm slab of smartphone weighing in at 178 grams. Compare it to the Q10, which was nearly 40 grams lighter, and you can tell right away this is a completely different class of device. Most of that extra weight comes from the larger battery — 2515mAh to the Q10’s 2100 — but the materials, including the steel frame and grippy back cover, add considerable heft.


All the buttons you’re familiar with — power, volume, play/pause — are in the same spots you left them, and a change in manufacturer to Foxconn hasn’t sullied the exemplary build quality. Improved is the location of the charging port, relocated from the left perimeter to the bottom centre, where it should be.

The screen, in particular, has been boosted in quality over the Q10. While the 3.5-inch IPS panel is marginally less dense, the technology behind it is far superior. We’re talking about improved viewing angles, more accurate colours and whites, and better touch response. LCD is also a better choice for BlackBerry 10.3’s lighter colour palette, something that hasn’t received a lot of attention since its release.


Around the back, the non-removable rubberized cover keeps the phone from slipping, and contours those long typing sessions. The keyboard is good — really good. Slightly wider than the Q10, the keyboard feels more spacious without, like the Passport, appearing comically so. Though my muscle memory kicked in shortly after turning it on, the Classic has BlackBerry’s best hardware keyboard: the keys are well-spaced, correctly-sized, and studiously ‘clicky.’

And that ‘tool belt’ has returned, along with the trackpad John Chen insisted so many customers missed from the Q10. While I find it difficult to believe BlackBerry’s wolf cry about how customers claim they would have purchased the Q10 if BlackBerry 10 had been less reliant on gestures for navigation — BB10 is nothing if not intuitive — the Classic goes a long way to ensuring the upgrade path of those legacy BBOS users will remain squarely in the family.

Screenshot 2014-12-16 18.31.37

The buttons perform as predicted, which is to say the ‘Call’ button opens the dialer, the ‘Menu’ key activates an app’s context dialog, the ‘Back’ button returns to the previous screen, and the ‘End’ button ends a call or acts as a home button. To me, these additions feel backward and regressive, and stunt the growth of BlackBerry 10 as a platform, but to others they will be like dopamine-enriched mana from the smartphone gods.


Software & Performance

BlackBerry assumes that most Classic buyers will be upgrading from a legacy BBOS device. The Classic’s existence is partly meant to clear up the mess left from the transition from BlackBerry 6 and 7 to BB10, which was not only built on a completely separate underlying platform but did away with the legacy trackpad-menu button navigation scheme.

Questionable learning curve aside, BlackBerry 10.3.1 adds trackpad support to an operating system that wasn’t built to manage it. In many ways it’s the opposite, but similarly senseless, stopgap measure BlackBerry used to tack on touch support to BlackBerry OS.


While it’s possible to entirely rely on touch input (ostensibly recreating a Q10), navigating with the trackpad feels natural — to an extent. BlackBerry has done a commendable job creating ‘zones’ that the trackpad knows to acknowledge with a pleasant blue highlight. Unlike BB OS of past, there is no cursor (outside of the web browser and Maps app), so that blue highlight is all the visual assurance you’re going to get. I found a most effective a hybrid method of navigation, using a finger until I got to an article or email and then switching to the trackpad for casual vertical movement.

Even as an experienced Bold user, I found the trackpad superfluous in all but a single use case: editing documents. This is where the precision of a “mouse” comes in handy, and BlackBerry users will quickly reacquaint themselves with the notion of highlighting text using ‘Shift’ key and then pressing the ‘Menu’ button to copy or paste.


There is no question of BlackBerry 10’s excellence in communications consolidation. The Hub brings all your emails, texts, Facebook, WhatsApp or WeChat messages, Twitter replies and DMs, LinkedIn inquiries and Google Talk conversations into a single place, and after reintroducing my thumbs to the spritely genius of a hardware keyboard I was click-clicking out emails in no time.

But when you look at the siloed nature of the Hub — only apps explicitly supported by BlackBerry show up in there — you realize how limiting it is. Sure, everyone receives emails, texts and Facebook messages, but what about companies that rely on Slack, Asana, Hipchat or any other closed system of communications? What about lovers of Line, Kik, Hangouts or Telegram? Unless they create a native Cascade-built version of their app that integrates with the Hub — and none of the above do — they’re out of luck.


Some of these use cases can be augmented with Android apps, but the experience is subpar. BlackBerry makes it possible for developers to add code to Android apps so push notifications can be relayed through the BlackBerry Hub, but few, if any, apps have been updated to do so. As a result, I can use Slack, Line, Kik and Telegram on my Classic, but incoming messages are invisible until I open the app to check. This may be a first-class communications device, but only if you or your organization sticks to email or WhatsApp.

The other issue that I still can’t quite wrap my head around is the Facebook/Twitter polling issue. With Facebook Messenger or Twitter on iOS or Android, responses come through as push notifications instantly. Because Facebook and Twitter for BlackBerry 10 are built upon the company’s APIs and not by their own dev teams, messages can sometimes take as long as 10 minutes to appear in the Hub. For a communications platform that prides itself on instant gratification, this is unacceptable.


Then there are the ‘This post could not be loaded’ error, which would happen to random Facebook posts without warning. If BlackBerry wants to maintain the social media usability of its Hub it needs to sort out these issues.


As I said in the Passport review (and the reason for such a low ‘Software’ rating), from an ecosystem perspective BlackBerry 10 feels incomplete. That it runs Android apps is a useful coverup for the fact that, to most developers, it is a dead platform, but those Android experiences, especially on the Classic, are often rife with input problems. I acknowledge that it is cute to see Monument Valley running on a BlackBerry, but when you begin rifling through the Amazon Appstore it becomes immediately apparent that it, too, lacks the quality app selection of the Google Play Store. Sideloading Android apps is as easy as downloading and opening an APK file from a web browser or cloud storage service like Dropbox, but then you miss out on the updates.

You shouldn’t have to fight with your smartphone, and unless I go without the basic functionality I take for granted on iOS, Android and even, on occasion, Windows Phone, BlackBerry 10 commits the sin of being frustrating.

That the “classic” BlackBerry user continues to be defined by email largely reinforces the need for a product like the Classic. I still don’t love BlackBerry 10 — its holes are too numerous, and its purported advantages stilted by poor app support — but I understand the loyalty it inspires when I receive ten emails, nine BBMs, eight WhatsApps, seven Tweets, six Facebook messages, five LinkedIn invites and a partridge in a pear tree. It’s stupid-fast for that stuff, and if my smartphone needs were uncomplicated I could see myself being quite happy with a Classic.


The company has also done a lot to improve access to common OS elements through gestures or quick toggles. For example, BlackBerry 10.3 introduced actionable notifications, so receiving a text message or BBM while in another app no longer means going back and forth between windows. Calendar invites can also be accepted, dismissed or snoozed from within a notification as well.

Lock screen notifications have also enhanced the ‘glanceability’ of BlackBerry 10, and because they tap into the Hub it’s possible to see individual pieces of content from email accounts, texts, Twitter and others.

Aware of its fleeing developer community, BlackBerry has attempted to recreate third-party experiences within the core OS experience. Password Keeper is now pre-installed, allowing users to securely save and sync passwords, credit and loyalty cards, notes and other important information between devices. The app uses a BlackBerry account to perform the synchronization, so it’s not possible to share data with other platforms, but family members can share content between BlackBerry devices.


BlackBerry has also substantially beefed up its Microsoft Office support with a new version of its in-house Docs To Go app, which can create Word and Excel and read Powerpoint presentations.

The pre-installed native version of Evernote has also received a nice UI boost with BB10.3, but it lacks newer features, like document and business card capture, from its iOS and Android counterparts. Relying on Android apps to fill in the gaps, too, becomes a game of cat-and-mouse, since an increasing number of apps rely on Google Play Services to run, an element of the Android OS that isn’t available to BlackBerry 10 users. All Google-built apps and third-party software that relies on the Google Maps API will throw an error.


One area BlackBerry is excelling, perhaps beyond even Apple’s Siri, is with its Assistant. Available from the keyboard- or voice-activated universal search screen, Assistant can hook into search engines like Google or Bing, as well as Yelp, Foursquare, Wolfram Alpha and more to obtain results to a multitude of queries. I was rarely disappointed.


And, of course, there’s BrickBreaker. BlackBerry brought the seminal game back for the Classic’s trackpad-friendly release, in the form of a new title called BrickBreaker Bold (#throwback). As always, it’s simple, addictive fun, and it shows that the company still has a sense of humour despite its enterprising proclivities.

Speaking of enterprise, BlackBerry 10 is not encrypted by default, a new measure taken by iOS 8 and Android 5 to improve security overall, but it can be enabled. For enterprise users the number of compatible MDM solutions — including the newly-released BES 12 — plus Balance and Blend make for a compelling argument, but BlackBerry no longer dominates the industry in this regard. Both Android and iOS have made huge strides, and have partnered with enterprise giants, to make inroads into the lucrative enterprise space.

A quick note on performance: running a 1.5Ghz dual-core Krait chip does not seem to hamper the OS much. The Passport, with its 1440×1440 pixel screen, likely needed the beefier GPU in the Snapdragon 801 SoC but the Classic, jumping through apps or loading web pages, never felt constricted. BlackBerry’s improved WebKit browser, still the only means to access a vast amount of content given BlackBerry’s app gap, occasionally stumbles over itself when loading HTML5-heavy pages, but is otherwise performant and stable.


The BlackBerry Classic has an 8MP rear camera with an F2.2 lens that, combined, falls into the good-not-great category. The sensor appears to be identical or slightly improved over the one in the Z10 and Q10, with perfunctory detail capture and colour reproduction in good lighting. But, like most other phones with ⅓-inch+ sensors, it falls apart indoors.

I’ve come to realize something about smartphone cameras: you can either rely on them or you can’t. The Classic falls into the former category, and despite middling low-light results I was generally happy with nearly every photo I took from the device.


BlackBerry has done a good job improving its camera software in the last few iterations, no longer relying on a tap-anywhere-to-shoot paradigm that confused and frustrated for all the out-of-focus shots it took. The 4:3 sensor defaults to 1:1 in order to fill the whole screen, which is absurd if you think about it, but the new ‘Auto Suggest Mode’ feature detects the right scene — Time Shift, Burst, Panorama — and switches to it with little user input.

The Classic can capture 1080p video at 30fps or 720p at 60fps, a limitation of its three year-old chipset. Quality was good, but the lack of image stabilization led to jerky, bumpy movements when walking or panning.


Battery Life & Connectivity

The Classic, like the Passport, represents BlackBerry well for the high-use customer contingent. The 2515mAh cell is not removable, but it’s well suited for all-day use. I used the Classic as my main phone for a week and never once went below 30% in the course of a day. That usually meant getting up at 7am and going to sleep at or before midnight. The low-power CPU coupled with software optimizations make for a pretty tireless smartphone companion.

The Classic doesn’t get quite as loud as the Passport, but its single rear-facing speaker is perfectly capable of delivering a hit of music or guiding a conference call. Headpiece quality is just as good, and holding the relatively diminutive phone, despite its heft, is not cumbersome.

The unlocked BlackBerry Classic can connect to every LTE networks in Canada, including Rogers’ and Bell’s 2600Mhz offering. It also supports 700Mhz connections. It’s not LTE Advanced-capable, but with speeds up to 75Mbps I was happy with the device’s cellular performance.

The version sold on ShopBlackBerry also supports Band 4 (AWS) on HSPA+, which means it will work with WIND Mobile, Videotron, Eastlink and Mobilicity out of the box.



The Classic is a beautiful, nostalgic mess. It’s a good phone with ample battery life to take on the day, and a familiar-feeling hardware keyboard for those who can’t go without.

While I understand the device is, by virtue of its name, a concession to long-suffering BlackBerry loyalists, the company’s inconsistent implementation of hybrid trackpad/touch support makes for a frustrating experience. Lovers of the Bold’s ‘tool belt’ will still need to learn a brand new operating system, and maneuver the compromises therein.

If the Passport is the thoroughbred, powerful and unpredictable, the Classic is the reliable donkey, unwavering and loyal. Software-wise there’s a lot to like, and BlackBerry has modernized BlackBerry 10 as much as it can, but the lack of third-party apps palls, even with rudimentary Android support.

For those who want email, messaging and basic smartphone functionality, the Classic brings the Bold series up to modern standards. For everyone else it is, as BlackBerry itself admits, ‘probably not for you’.

17 Dec 02:30


by Anil

Today I went to MSNBC to tape an appearance on Maria Teresa Kumar's new "Changing America", part of the Shift lineup of shows that the network is trying out. It was pretty fun, and I think I came off okay, talking about how tech helps people organize:

But let me talk about something else. In that appearance, unusual for the times I've been on TV (or in a TV studio, as the Shift shows are primarily designed to be streamed online), I usually get some makeup applied before I go on air. Today, I did not. Makeup's not a big deal for me; I used to wear it anyway in my teens and twenties, and it's pretty much necessary if you want to look halfway human under the weird conditions of television lighting.

Each time I've been in a studio situation, though, the one thing makeup artists tend to do is to use concealer or whatever they have at hand to try to lighten the dark circles under my eyes. Now, the circles have been there my entire adult life, but as any parent can tell you, they get more pronounced once you have kids.

Being close to the end of the year, I have been reflecting on what I learned in 2014. To my surprise, the few moments when I thought I'd be putting on some makeup for today's taping brought me vividly back to one of the most subtle but profound realizations I had this year. It was while reading, of all things, a Buzzfeed roundtable discussion of Mindy Kaling's "Mindy Project". This brief back-and-forth between Durga Chew-Bose and Heben Nigatu:

DCB: Another one: dark rings under my eyes. The amount of people that ask me if I’m tired all the time. I’ve never once covered the dark rings under my eyes, and worse is when white girls are like, “No that’s in”
HN: (You can’t hear me right now but I keep just saying “Mmmm” to myself and feeling all emotional.) OMG the deep-set eyes thing!
DCB: I never get my makeup done. I also barely wear any makeup, but when someone else does it, the first thing they do is put some white stuff under my eyes and smudge.

For years I'd had people work to lighten the circles under my eyes, and never once reflected on the fact that this is the way I naturally look. Nobody said the circles under my eyes looked "soulful" or "wise" or essentially anything other than "the way you look naturally isn't the way people of other ethnicities look, so it's wrong". And for all my ostensible efforts to be culturally literate and self-aware, I'd never caught it.

This was particularly resonant to me because I can look back to before I was even an adult and see its antecedents. This crowd-pleaser of a photo was my senior picture in high school, taken when I was 16.

Yes that purple jacket is awesome

I can still vaguely remember the circumstances; I had an awful bout of the flu, despite it being summer time, and a really bad fever, well over 100 degrees, and I had to be dragged in to the photo session. But I endured it, took the photos and didn't think about them again until they were printed up.

The photographer at the studio had lightened my skin a bit, using whatever pre-Photoshop, pre-digital methods were common at the time. Honestly, that wasn't too much of a surprise — given where I grew up, it's entirely possible I was the only non-white student whose senior photo they took, and they simply may not have known what to do with other skin tones.

But more surprising was that the dark circles that I knew I had under my eyes while fighting off a brutal flu were completely erased. It's hard to tell because this scan isn't that high-resolution, but that correction was even done at the expense of leaving my face in the photo looking a bit plastic and fake. It was essentially decided that it was better I look unrealistic than that I show the appearance that is inevitably, and honestly, my own.

So what?

Obviously, this is hardly some stunning revelation of how a magazine cover model got photoshopped. Rather, it's my own reflection on the fact that I never realized I had completely internalized a way of hating or even wanting to remove or undo something intrinsic to myself. I learned it so young that I had never understood to question it. And I'd certainly never considered that it might be okay, or acceptable, or maybe even attractive.

In truth, it doesn't matter much. My self-image about my appearance these days is grounded in the idea that it's politically radical and meaningful to assert that Indian men are attractive and sexy and appealing, and so that's my official position on the matter. (It helps that we have statistical evidence in the booming population of South Asia that hundreds of millions of people agree.) So having an epiphany about some aspect of my appearance doesn't actually change anything.

a year-end list, but of everything you've unlearned

— Durga Chew-Bose (@durgapolashi) December 9, 2014

Instead, this was a great chance to realize how much I don't know about myself, and my own cultural context. If I were my younger, more fragile self, this might have been an upsetting or hurtful realization. But instead, it was just a bit of an a-ha moment, a realization of how much I still have to learn. Or, put better, how much I have to unlearn.

And the best response I can think of to this realization is to actually share what I've learned and unlearned. Unsurprisingly, Durga covered that, too:

[T]he very desire to write it all down, to trust that my experience and what I might share of it has merit, is a certainty that is a foreign prerogative. Often, I’ll be thinking aloud with friends or deliberating on ideas that have been simmering or on luckier occasions, ideas that have been connecting, and a friend will excitedly chime in, “You should write about that.” But the impulse to write it all down is at most secondary or tertiary, and generally, not even on my radar.

Maybe this year is more about what I unlearned and what I remembered than about what I learned.

16 Dec 20:39

Farewell, Dr. Dobb's

by Rui Carmo
Click on the image to zoom in

I still have a handful of old issues I refuse to part with, simply because the stuff on them is so good. And timeless, to boot. Very sad to see it end.

17 Dec 01:30

Example Of A Successful Brand-Created Community (that's not a customer service site)

by Richard Millington

Jim send through BeThePro, a great example of a branded (or unbranded) community from Bosch. 

A few things to note here:

1) It's unbranded. This means the community can attract both their customers and others. If you make the community about your brand, you immediately reduce the size of the possible audience. 

2) It uses a simple platform. It's build on wordpress using BuddyPress for forums/groups. This allows for full customization of the platform. 

3) Content from members. The majority of community content is provided by members. By giving members the ability to create content (even if it doesn't match the standards of the brand) they give high levels of ownership to the community. 

4) Build a community around the blog. The community began as a blog and only once it has built up a significant following were community features added. By the time they added the forums in 2012 (a year after the site launched), there was a community of people ready to use it. This avoided the big launch syndrome. 

5) Strong relationships with top professionals. To ensure a high quality of content, Bosch has invited many of the top professionals in the sector to contribute their advice. This provides a constant source of content and solidifies their relationships with those they want help from.

Building a community on behalf of an organisation is difficult. Most organisations take a top-down approach. They make the community about themselves. Buy an expensive platform. They drive huge amounts of traffic to the site. They hope that some of it will stick. 

It's always better to make the community about the topic, use a simple platform, start small, and build relationships as you go. 

As a bonus, you can see Vanessa's great list of examples here.


16 Dec 14:44

The charts that show we’re living through Earth’s warmest year...

The charts that show we’re living through Earth’s warmest year on record
Andrew Freedman,

This year is almost certain to become the warmest year the planet has had since instrument records began, and very likely for at least 4,000 years before that.

Even though November was tied with 2008 as only the seventh-warmest such month on…

16 Dec 15:44

Sparsity: A New Way Of Work

It would be a mistake to make leadership — even emergent leadership — the primary topic of a book about the new way of work, when other characteristics are more definitive, like the weaker social connections, greater autonomy and self-determination in the sparse business.The new way of work that I have been writing about for the past few years can be considered a direct response to the accelerating economy. But our adaptation to that sped-up world is not only to move faster: we’ve already done that. That’s what has caused the acceleration. Our next adaptation has to be in some other dimension than speed.

Think about it in the terms of physics: if you add heat to a gas in a closed container, the atoms speed up, and the pressure rises. One way to decrease the heat is to allow the atoms to spread out in a larger space.

So, in today’s world of business, one that is being heated up by an accelerating economy, how can we emulate that decrease in pressure? The equivalent in business to the collisions and connections between atoms in a heated container are our social connections at work. And the new way of work hinges on changing the nature of social connections: specifically, weakening the ties that were strongest in the traditional organization, the ties associated with hierarchic reporting and control. At the same time, people in the new way of work may have considerably more connections, but these will be looser, peer-based, cooperation-oriented relationships.

In essence, the new way of work pivots on creating more room for people, more whitespace outside the traditional organization chart. As Mark Maletz and Nitin Nohria once wrote, the whitespace is

the large but mostly unoccupied territory in every company where rules are vague, authority is fuzzy, budgets are nonexistent, and strategy is unclear.

While that may sound like a condition to be remedied, in fact we are living in an era where uncertainty and ambiguity are increasing. The reality is that we can’t shoo it away by becoming more rigid, creating more rules, or imposing more authoritarian controls. We need to loosen control, make more whitespace, give people more autonomy, and rely on the network of loose connections to influence everyone’s actions. We need a climate of soft power in a social network based on sparsity, not density, where weak and lateral connections dominate. That is the wellspring of organizational flexibility and adaptability.

In the past, I have written about ‘leanership’ — emergent leadership, where people step up to lead when necessary, and then later step down — and considered it as the title of a book I am working on. I recently discovered that term has been trademarked. And I have had other issues with the term: it’s too closely associated with lean and agile development practices, which limits how far I can take it in discussing the new way of work.

So moving forward, I hope to develop the sparsity concept, instead. That doesn’t diminish the need for emergent leadership, but it would be a mistake to make leadership — even emergent leadership — the primary topic of a book about the new way of work, when other characteristics are more definitive, like the weaker social connections, greater autonomy and self-determination in the sparse business.

As a result, I will be rewriting the Manifesto for a New Way of Work, with that shift of reference in the forefront. Stay tuned.

16 Dec 00:00

Skype Real-Time Language Translator Goes Live


Angela Moscaritolo, PC Magazine, Dec 19, 2014

It's probably really bad (though I can't wait to try it) and it's limited to English and Spanish for now, but this is the face of the future: real-time translations of online conversations. How awesome is that? "The Microsoft-owned chat service on Monday launched the first phase of its Skype Translator preview program  first announced back in May. Jointly developed by Microsoft researchers and Skype engineers, the new feature uses real-time speech translation technologies to let you have a conversation with someone over the Internet who speaks a different language."

[Link] [Comment]
16 Dec 18:46

Android Wear notifications come to the Pebble

by Evan Selleck
Pebble is not shy about adding new features to its smartwatch, the wearable that effectively sparked the revolution many companies have jumped on board. Continue reading →
16 Dec 18:15

How BlackBerry blew it: The inside story

by Rui Carmo
Click on the image to zoom in

There’s so much more one could write about RIM, and yet this seems quite enough.

16 Dec 20:54

WIND Mobile on 2015 spectrum auction: It would be really hard to mess this up

by Jane McEntegart

This week, WIND Mobile is celebrating the fifth anniversary of its Canadian launch. The company is officially the nation’s fourth largest carrier with more than 800,000 active subscribers (as of this month) and over 1,400 network sites. To celebrate its first five years in Canada, we sat down with newly appointed CEO Pietro Cordova to talk about where the company is going, where it’s been, and why the carrier still doesn’t have the iPhone.


A large majority of our talk with Cordova was, rather predictably, about the AWS-3 spectrum auction, which is scheduled for early next year. Former CEO Anthony Lacavera has been vocal about WIND acquiring more spectrum; it’s the only way for WIND to achieve the growth it needs to compete as the nation’s fourth player.

At this year’s 700Mhz auction, WIND failed to secure any additional spectrum. Prior to the interview, we at MobileSyrup talked about how WIND could possibly screw up the AWS auction next year. Daniel said they could really only blow it if they didn’t have the necessary capital. I told Cordova about that conversation when I met him a bit later in the morning. That we had basically arrived at the conclusion: “To f**k this up, WIND Mobile would need to not have the money.” (Sorry for the swearing, but that’s a direct quote from the taped interview.) Cordova agreed that it would be hard to mess up now that they have the funds in place to get what they have wanted for so long.

Pietro: “The money is already in the company and I’m not gonna send it back. We would have collectively to come up to the office one day and say, ‘Lets think of a way of f**king this up.’ It has to be an evil plan.”

Jane: “Haha, like it would need to be an effort?”

Pietro: “Haha, yeah an effort!”

As funny as that quote is, Pietro gets more serious immediately after. In his mind, WIND finally has the means to achieve what it wanted a year ago. He recognizes that the company’s path will not be easy, but it is right there in front of them, and he is confident that the company can deliver.

“I’m not saying its going to be an easy ride. But the path is clear. It’s up to us to deliver. But if we keep putting in the effort, with the quality of people we have here but I am very confident that this company will be successful.”


Cordova was just named CEO at the end of October, but he’s been at WIND for almost a decade. He spent the last two years in the role of COO of WIND Mobile here in Canada, working alongside former CEO and current chairman Anthony Lacavera. Before that, from 2005 to 2012, he was Deputy CFO of WIND Telecomunicazioni S.p.A., aka WIND Italy. It’s all of this time at the company that has him so confident about the future of WIND Mobile in Canada. He knows money, and he has spent two years working alongside Lacavera, helping to make the decisions about where WIND Mobile is going as a company. When I asked about how his strategy differs from Lacavera’s, Cordova told me very simply that it didn’t.

“If you look at what the company was doing, I don’t think there’s a need to change any strategy,” he explained. “We were doing the right things before, we’re doing the right things now.”

He also has the added benefit of Lacavera still being around. This isn’t a case of out with the old and in with the new. Cordova says that if he wants to, he can sit down with Tony and bounce ideas off of him. And it’s not just the former CEO that is on hand to offer perspective.

“I have a number of very super qualified counterparts that are willing to challenge what I say, which is what it should be,” he said. “I would say that in the past 2.5 years I have been extremely active in a lot of the things that happened within the company. […] Most of the vision is my vision.”

So, his strategy is the same, but something has to be different, right? WIND has struggled, and now Cordova is so confident that the company will be successful. You see, Cordova is not the most significant personnel change within WIND. No, according to Cordova, what’s different now is the shareholders.

“We have actually added shareholders that are very interested in the company, which is a fantastic change for us,” he explained, clarifying that previously shareholders were interested in the company for different reasons.

“I can shoot an email to my shareholders and say you know what, I think we should do this and they can actually reply and say ‘yeah,’ or ‘no.’ They have an interest.” Earlier in our conversation he described these new shareholders as ‘disciplined’ with ‘rational expectations’ about the company’s profitability and growth. He also referred to them as “Dad” when talking about the company’s finances. As in, ‘Dad has already given us the money, so it’s up to us to spend it wisely.’ (There was also a joke about getting thrown in a lake if they don’t do that.) It’s abundantly clear that WIND Mobile finally has the support it needs, and Cordova seems so grateful for that. He talked about it constantly throughout our 20-minute chat.

Here’s to the crazy ones? Fine, but don’t call us crazy!

We know that the strategy is the same. And we know that WIND can afford the spectrum necessary to execute that strategy. But what is WIND Mobile’s strategy from a consumer standpoint?

According to Cordova, it’s not to be crazy. When we asked about the parallels people draw between T-Mobile in the U.S., a self-designated ‘uncarrier,’ and WIND Mobile, Cordova said, Yeah, if you wanted him to pick one carrier that he could relate to, it would probably be T-Mobile. They come from the same place (minus the shareholders with commitment issues, of course).

“On a relative basis, probably if I had to pick one of the American carriers that I could refer to or relate to, it would be probably T-Mo,” Cordova admitted. “Because they come from the same constraints in terms of having AWS-1 instead of other frequencies, because they come from behind. Clearly they’ve had a different run because of Deutsche Telecom was way more committed to them than our previous shareholders, just to be very clear,” he says, laughing and adding, “They had deeper pockets.”

However, he also said that it is a more general comparison in the way they conduct themselves. T-Mobile, he says, is not about disruption. They just come out with new ideas, which he believes is key to how WIND conducts itself in Canada.

“We came with no contract, we came with no hidden fees, we came with the unlimited U.S. add-on. Are they disruptive? Are they like, Oh my God? No, they’re not, but I think they’re a different way of doing business in Canada. I think this is what WIND is about. We want to bring you guys the new ideas.”

“We are not the crazy guys in the market,” he said in an earlier part of our talk. “We bring innovation, we bring new ideas, we bring a new approach to doing things, but we are not the insane guys that suddenly show up with twelve and a half dollar plans, just to mention something,” he said impishly, referring to Mobilicity.


Earlier this year, Quebec-based Videotron revealed that it was engaged in ongoing talks with WIND Mobile about roaming agreements outside of Quebec. Cordova said that yes, WIND has talked to Videotron, but “that’s commercial, and we talk to everyone in that sense.” So they’re not talking to Videotron about a quid-pro-quo agreement?  Well, WIND could have those kinds of conversations with anyone, really.

“You could have a stronger tie with someone commercially, so if we feel that it is a particularly good fit, maybe we can give them preferential rates on our network and they give us preferential rates on their network,” he responded. “But it’s not a question, to use your words ‘scratching each others’ backs.’ It’s just that if you find a better fit, you use it, but at the end of the day I could do that with Eastlink and we have a great relationship with them and we talk to MTS as well.”

Interestingly, when it comes to being a truly national carrier, WIND doesn’t think it needs Quebec.

Jane: “So, the spectrum auction is one thing. but even if everything goes well there, Quebec is going to be one of those places that’s like the final frontier. If you guys want to be truly national you need to get to Quebec.”

Again he shakes his head. Does he disagree? Apparently, yes.

Pietro: “Not at all.”

Jane: “You’re saying you could be a national carrier without Quebec?”

Pietro: “Yeah, ‘national’ is kind of a misconcept because quite frankly, we are operating in three provinces, right? The rest we cover through the roaming agreements. But we don’t sell there, we don’t have commercial outposts there.

“So, we just want to make sure when our customers turn their phone on Manitoba or in PEI then they have the freedom of using their phone as much as they have the freedom of using their phone in Toronto or Calgary or Vancouver. That’s what we want to do. We’re not planning to open stores in Quebec.”

Cordova’s reasoning for ‘not needing’ Quebec is explained by the WIND Away concept. If customers’ phones work all over the country and the company can offer good roaming rates, they don’t need to have a presence in every provence. Cordova just doesn’t even see much point in trying. Those markets already have their fourth players, he claims. They don’t need a fifth.

“If you look at the map of Canada, and you relate to the words of Minister Moore about the fourth carrier, in each single province you already have a fourth carrier because we are in the three provinces and then you have MTS and then Sasktel and then Eastlink and Quebecor so every single province has a fourth operator. So anywhere I want to go, I would be the fifth, not the fourth, and why would I want to do that? Why would anyone want to do that?”

iPhone and BlackBerry

We already reported that the BlackBerry Classic will be available on WIND next year, but one major hole in WIND’s device portfolio is the iPhone. That doesn’t worry the company’s CEO, though. Yes, people are buying them now in the Apple Store or in the U.S. and sticking a WIND SIM card in there, but how many? North of 40,000 WIND subscribers, according to the company’s CEO.

But Cordova explains that the company has plenty of other fantastic devices, so while he might think that his network is “perfect” for iPhones, he’s not hurting over the lack of Apple devices in his stores.

“Other than the iPhone we have all the other lineups. We have the S5, we have the BlackBerrys, we have the LGs. Anything else we have. So it would be a good addition to us. Are we missing the iPhone? Yes. Is that making a huge difference to our sales? I don’t think so. We have the right plans for an iPhone user,” he said, referencing unlimited data and adding, “We are the perfect carrier for the iPhone user.”

When pressed about future plans to carrier the iPhone, Cordova said:

“I always wanted to carry the iPhone […] We will keep up our efforts to get an iPhone. It’s just that you need to sit down with Apple but you know, honestly, they need to be willing to sit down with us as much as we are willing to sit down with them.”

Apple might not be willing to play ball, but Google and Samsung are a different story. Cordova talked with great fondness about Samsung and WIND’s long partnership with the South Korean company. He mentioned that he just got back from Korea where he got a peek at the Samsung’s 2015 roadmap, so it’s safe to assume that the next flagship Galaxys will be at WIND Mobile when they launch.

Today WIND is giving away Nexus 6s on Twitter. Cordova said this was because they only have a few but they want to reward the people that have been loyal to the company over the last five years. Its relationship with Google is very good, and the company expects a full shipment of Nexus 6 units in the new year. For now, they only have a small number, and some of them are going to customers on Twitter or employees within the company that have remained steadfast in their loyalty through thick and thin.

The Future

When we brought up the future, the next five years, as opposed to the past five years, Cordova said he would rather focus on the present. Five years, he countered, is like four centuries in this industry. He says WIND is lean, and therefore capable of reacting to the market faster than other carriers. This, as well as experience afforded by its operations in international markets, is what gives WIND Mobile an edge over the competition.

“I don’t know whether in five years it’s going to be the same strategy. Definitely today, the continuity factor is important to us. We know where we want to go, and it’s not a difference place than it was five years ago, it’s just that now we have a means to get there.

16 Dec 11:02

Introducing Weaver

by Ayush Dubey and Robert Escriva and Emin Gün Sirer

Graph-structured data is ubiquitous. If you have recently used any of the following technologies --- Facebook, Twitter, Bitcoin, LinkedIn, Google Knowledge Graph, Wolphram Alpha --- you have directly or indirectly created, manipulated, and queried graph-structured data. In fact, Snowden tells us that just about everything we do is tracked in online graph structured databases. We work with graphs in all shapes and sizes, from small data structures that store a family tree to huge social networks.

When Graphs Change

Reachability request.

A reachability request on a changing graph.

A common trait of these graphs is that they are constantly changing. And it is a challenge to ensure that queries return a consistent view of the graph as the graph is being modified underneath. If the graph store is not equipped specifically to handle these changes, queries over the graph might return nonsensical results. For example, imagine a graph store used to implement a network controller that stores the network topology shown on the right. Say, we're a cloud provider and our SLA requires us to ensure that certain highly sensitive data is not exposed to some nodes in the network. Yet when the network is undergoing churn, it is possible for a query to return a path through the network that did not exist at any instant in time. For instance, if the link (n3,n5) fails, and subsequently the link (n5,n7) goes online, a traversal starting from host n1 to host n7 may erroneously conclude that n7 is reachable from n1, even though no such path ever existed. This is because typical graph stores are not transactional and expose partial writes to their clients.

Ideally, we'd like all updates to the graph to happen transactionally, and we'd like every query to operate on a consistent snapshot of the graph. And of course, the graph needs to be sharded across multiple hosts to be able to scale. And it needs to be fault-tolerant to address failures of the distributed components. And it should be possible to take a consistent backup of the graph data across a cluster. Most of all, it should be fast.

Weaver: A New Graph Store

Weaver is a new graph-store we developed to address these challenges. At its core, Weaver is a distributed graph store that shards the graph over multiple servers.

Weaver has a rich, node-oriented query model, similar to GraphLab. Every node and edge in the graph can have associated with it arbitrary attributes. You can then perform queries that depend on these attributes, such as "give me all the nodes reachable from this user following all the friendship relations" or "starting at this Bitcoin address, perform forward taint analysis" or whatever else. If you can express it in terms of nodes and edges, it can be expressed as a Weaver node program.

Social network.

Weaver enables transactions over large graphs like this one.

Weaver is transactional. Updates to multiple vertices and edges happen either all at once or not at all. Concurrent updates are serialized into a coherent timeline.

Weaver can tolerate up to a user-specified number of faults while remaining online. And it can take lightning-fast backups that are consistent across the data center.

Weaver scales as you add more nodes. It dynamically repartitions and relocates the graph across servers to take advantage of locality.

And finally, Weaver is fast. It is 12X faster than Titan on social network workloads and over 4X faster than GraphLab on traversal-oriented workloads.

Weaver is currently in alpha. So it's not quite ready for prime time. And it has some shortcomings; for instance, while it's much faster than GraphLab on traversal-oriented queries, it is slower when it comes to iterative global graph computations. If you are computing PageRank, you should do that on GraphLab.

Regardless, we would love to get early feedback from the community, and are releasing the code to hear your comments.

How do I get started?

The first step is to install Weaver. You can use the pre-built packages on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, you can build it from source, or you can just get the Docker image.

The next step is to setup a Weaver cluster, which is fairly straightforward. It involves deploying a few components, but there is a convenient startup script that helps get it started.

How do I use it?

The Weaver client provides a familiar transactional API for graph update operations. Application enclose graph operations on predefined vertices and edges in a begin_tx-end_tx block. The following code shows how to create a vertex with handle 'ayush':


A graph with one vertex isn't a lot of fun. So let's add a few more, again in a single all-or-nothing transaction:

for i in range(10):

The next step is to create edges between vertices. If the caller does not specify a node or edge handle in Weaver, then the Weaver client automatically creates a unique handle.

follow_edge = cl.create_edge('ayush', 'egs') # weaver creates a unique handle

Vertices and edges may have metadata associated with them, which can be manipulated and read in subsequent queries.

cl.set_node_property(node='ayush', key='type', value='person')
cl.set_node_property(node='egs',   key='type', value='person')
for i in range(10):
    cl.set_node_property(node=str(i), key='type', value='person')

cl.set_edge_property(node='ayush', edge=follow_edge,  key='type', value='follows')

Let's make the people we created randomly be-friend each other in this tiny community we created.

nodes = [str(i) for i in range(10)] + ['ayush', 'egs']
for i in range(10):
    possible_nbrs = [n for n in nodes if n != nodes[i]]
    for j in range(4):
        nbr = random.choice(possible_nbrs)
        follows = cl.create_edge(nodes[i], nbr)
        cl.set_edge_property(node=nodes[i], edge=follows, key='type', value='follows')

Now that we've created a graph, we can ask questions about it using Weaver node programs. Remember, a node program executes as a single transaction in spite of concurrent updates to the graph. So you can issue such queries even while the graph is being modified. In the following query, we obtain a list of friends-of-friends of node 'ayush'.

two_hop_friends = graph.traverse('ayush'). \
                  out_edge([('type', 'follows')]).node(). \
                  out_edge([('type', 'follows')]).node().execute()

That wasn't so bad. Weaver's alpha release includes a number of node programs, such as breadth-first search, computation of clustering coefficient, and n-hop reachability check. And you can always write your own node program as well.

What kind of performance can I expect?

Online performance.

Performance of Weaver and Titan on the Facebook TAO workload.

We evaluated Weaver's performance on an online social network workload that mimics Facebook's TAO workload. Weaver gave over 12X higher throughput compared to Titan, a popular distributed graph store. Weaver also gave consistently lower latency for read-mostly workloads shown in the figure on the right.

Additionally, we also evaluated Weaver's performance on complicated, traversal-oriented graph queries. Weaver achieves 4.3X lower latency on random breadth-first search traversals compared to GraphLab [GLG +12].

What about fault tolerance?

Weaver stores its data reliably in HyperDex Warp, a fault-tolerant, transactional key-value and document store. If a Weaver server fails, a backup server assumes ownership of the data stored on the failed server and restores it. Weaver can withstand a configurable number of simultaneous failures.

Where To Next?

Weaver is open-source under the 3-clause BSD license. You can download it or play with it in docker.


  • TAO is Facebook's distributed social graph cache [BACC+13].

  • HyperDex is a transactional key-value store which is used to provide fault-tolerance in Weaver.


BACC+13 Nathan Bronson, Zach Amsden, George Cabrera, Prasad Chakka, Peter Dimov, Hui Ding, Jack Ferris, Anthony Giardullo, Sachin Kulkarni, Harry Li, Mark Marchukov, Dmitri Petrov, Lovro Puzar, Yee Jiun Song, and Venkat Venkataramani. TAO: Facebook's Distributed Data Store For The Social Graph. In Proceedings of the USENIX Annual Technical Conference, pages 49-60, San Jose, California, June 2013.
GLG +12 Joseph E. Gonzalez, Yucheng Low, Haijie Gu, Danny Bickson, and Carlos Guestrin. PowerGraph: Distributed Graph-Parallel Computation On Natural Graphs. In Proceedings of the Symposium on Operating System Design and Implementation, pages 17-30, Hollywood, California, October 2012.
15 Dec 17:09

Saving Lives with Systems Thinking – Atul Gawande and the 2014 Reith Lectures

by Jim


A three-year old drowning victim is alive and thriving today because someone in Switzerland cares about systems. Atul Gawande, surgeon, polymath, and author of The Checklist Manifesto, recounts the tale as the second of four BBC 2014 Reith Lectures on the future of medicine. The podcast of “The Century of the System” is well worth 40 minutes of your time. 

Gawande’s central point is that the power of design, coordination, and collaboration trumps heroics. This is so terribly hard to pull off because it runs against the stories of heroics that so capture our imagination and our egos. How we get to good designs in a world that honors heroes is the challenge. 

15 Dec 16:10

#OpenBadges for Key Competencies

by Serge

This post is an extract of a position paper, Key Competency Badges, a reflection based on the work done in the TRANSIt project in relation to the acquisition of key competencies.

How to combine Open Badges with key competencies? To what result? One way to approach this question is to recognise that key competencies are just one particular group of competencies, so what is good for the recognition of competencies in general, is likely to be just as good for key competencies. As there are already plenty of Open Badges used to recognise a large range of competencies, then it is just a matter of extending current practice.

What is implied with this approach is that Key Competency Open Badges will need key competency standards similar to the UK key skill 2000 introduced above. While it might seem unproblematic to define standards related to the mastery of mathematics and foreign languages, things might get more complicated with digital competencies and even more with the sense of initiative and entrepreneurship and social and civic competencies. For example, the French authorities decided to remove ‘entrepreneurship’ from the European key competency labelled “sense of initiative and entrepreneurship.” The French version is “autonomie et initiative” [5] (autonomy and initiative).

Here is an extract of the descriptors related to the sense of autonomy and initiative:

Autonomy is the recognized ability of a student to establish principles and rules of conduct, choose their personal pathways in compliance with social rules[1] [highlighted by the author].
To assess students’ sense of initiative, one should highlight their actual motivation for school work[2] [highlighted by the author].

So, the French understanding of autonomy and initiative is about compliance and dedication to school work. As students have no say in the curriculum, the organisation of the school year or even the layout of the classroom, it is normal that the standard elicits the need for compliance. At no place in this standard is there the slightest indication that institutional practices could be challenged, or even simply questioned. Challenging grades, tests, the use of multiple choice questions, exams or homework will undoubtedly be interpreted
as a manifestation of a lack of motivation for school work.

The Facebook incident

Imagine a pupil publishing on Facebook a video capturing the state of total chaos of his classroom who is then disciplined by the school board for this action. The teacher, who according to her colleagues should not be allowed to teach and is well known for letting disarray take over her classroom, is not disciplined.

Whatever one thinks about the value of disciplinary action, what is clear is the lesson taught to the pupils: if something goes wrong with a person of authority, do not report it as nothing will be done to correct it; you might even get disciplined for it. Even when they are wrong, adults are always right!

Anecdote collected from an Open Badges workshop

The anecdote reported in the box above demonstrates that, while a school should be the place for practising democracy, critical judgement, etc. what is really sought for is compliance and subservience.

There were alternatives to disciplining the culprits (the pupil who published the video, those who created the chaos and the teacher who cannot ‘hold’ her classroom). While it is probably true that this particular teacher has “special needs” the incident could have been an opportunity to open a dialogue and invite the pupils to be part of a solution — after all, if teachers have to adapt to learners with “special needs”, why not the other way around? It could have been a great opportunity to empower the pupils and give them a chance to create a different situation, develop some empathy with a teacher who might be great in another context. Why not invite the pupils to create that context? But this would require a different mindset…

Do we need Key Competency Badges?

Another way to ask the question above is: if we want to use Open Badges to support the development and recognition of Key Competencies, does it mean that the title of the badges need to be related to any of the key competencies? For example, do we need to have a (series of) social and civic Open Badge(s)? Or should other badges be used to support and recognise the acquisition of those competencies?

One possible issue with Key Competency Badges is the need to provide a reference to a standard, even a local one, and standards tend to be… normative. The social norm explicit in the French key competency framework is the need for compliance. While it might sound unproblematic with mathematics and science, it could clearly be problematic when addressing issues related to social and civic competencies: is the standard designed to empower learners (giving them the power to act, including to challenge the educational institution) or to enforce compliance to keep the institution safe from any internal challenge?

So, if one does not agree with an institution using Open Badges like cowpeople (boys and girls!) use irons to brand cattle, one should refuse to bear any mark of compliance. No conformist badge for me, please!

Do we need standards?

In any Open Badge, one of the metadata is relative to the criteria for its delivery. Criteria can be imposed (externally defined) or negotiated. They can also be self-defined or co-constructed.

Let’s say that everybody defines his/her own criteria for social and civic competencies, then the collection/aggregation of all the criteria generates a (series of) bottom-up standard(s). New social norms might be revealed through that process — the Netiquette, is one example of such a social norm which is the product of a community rather than imposed from an external authority.

But there is one more fundamental problem with standards, not with standards as such, but with those who think that standards are the alfa and omega of everything, letting standards be the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

Let’s take the four capacities defined in the Scottish curriculum for excellence[3] [6]: “to enable each child or young person to be a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor.” The first attribute listed for successful learners is enthusiasm for learning. Performing a search for ‘enthousiasme’ in the French key competency standard leads to a fail. The second attribute, motivation for learning, as we have seen earlier is also absent from the French standard which is solely interested in “actual motivation for school work,” not learning for the sake of learning.

The second attribute for responsible citizen, is commitment to participate responsibly in political, economic, social and cultural life. How is it possible to demonstrate the commitment to participate responsibly in political life if all what pupils have to demonstrate as stipulated in the French standards is: “The student is interested in general news, whether political, economic, cultural, scientific”,Know the foundations of political democracy” and “List the main actors in the political and social life” [5 pp. 21 & 25 underlined by the author]. How showing interest, knowing and listing can provide even the slightest evidence of commitment to participate responsibly in the political life? That should not be a problem as the commitment to participate responsibly in political, economic, social and cultural life is not part of the French standard, which only commitment it is solely interested in is the commitment to school work. Everyone knows that there is a large gap between being interested and committed[4]: French pupils are solely required to be interested, the Scottish to be committed.

The four capacities
The Four Capacities of the Scottish Curriculum

While the definition of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence starts from high level goals to which are related a number of values and attributes out of which normative definitions might (or not) be elicited, the French key competency standard seems solely focused on normative definitions in order to obtain the desired level of compliance, and subservience, even if compliance and subservience are in contradiction with the goals of a modern, open and democratic society. The subtext in centrally defining norms relative to autonomy and entrepreneurship, is that it is not possible to trust teachers, learners and other stakeholders of the educational system to define norms that are aligned with shared values.

The Scottish Curriculum For Excellence, on the other hand, is primarily focused on values and it believes that the people who will implement the curriculum are confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. The implementation of the (meta)curriculum is the exercise during which the old standards will be confirmed, transformed or dismissed and new standards will emerge. The implementation of the curriculum is a learning exercise, an exercise that never ends.

Alternatives for Key Competency Open Badges

While an agreement on standards for the delivery of Open Badges for Communication in the mother tongue should not be a problem, an agreement on digital competency, social and civic competency, sense of initiative and entrepreneurship and cultural awareness and expression might be.

While normative badges should not be excluded (it is probably better if there is a norm defining what is a competent doctor — and that this norm includes the demonstration of continuing professional development!), normative badges could also weaken the ability to innovate, be creative and take risks: “if all I have to do to get this badge is described here, why bother doing more?” Of course, there are domains where creativity is limited or not welcome (rare are the accountants that would claim a creative accounting badge, unless looking for a job in a rogue business!)

The main risk with normative badges is to enforce compliance — which is not seen as a risk in a society where compliance and subservience are expected. For example, the pupil at the origin of The Facebook Incident, instead of being disciplined could have been awarded a Whistleblower badge. Had he had a chance to work with his classmates and his teacher with special needs towards a solution for working together, they could have decided to create a special badge celebrating a remarkable achievement.

The power of Achievement Badges

Achievement Badges are badges delivered after having achieved something. For example the pupils who have organised an exhibition, or run a science project, receive a badge to celebrate their achievement. The badge does not say anything about the competencies involved (each contributor might have brought in a different set of competencies), it simply states: here is what we have achieved together!

Achievements badges, contrary to key competency badges, do not have to be not normative. Created along the learning pathway, they can be designed with the learners rather than for them. As they can be created post-facto, they do not bear the stigma associated with the use of Open Badges as extrinsic motivators which, as established through numerous researches [7][8], has deleterious effects on intrinsic motivation, i.e. the desire to learn, to be a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor. Using Open Badges (as extrinsic motivators) to motivate learners is the most wide spread infantile illness among learning professionals!

The beauty of achievement badges is that they capture the context of the achievement in the criteria: where, how, what resources, etc.. And the collection of achievement badges creates a fabric of interwoven threads of narratives: one’s own story is interconnected to others’ stories through achievement badges.

Achievement Badges for Key Competency Badges?

Could we imagine an Open Badge ecosystem where learners and teachers instead of being focused on normative Key Competency Badges, would be focused on achievement badges, using those as a means for awarding Key Competency Badges? Another question is: if one already has plenty of achievement badges demonstrating the acquisition of key competencies, should one care about gaining one or more key competency badges on top of those achievement badges? If the answer is yes, who would have the authority to deliver them?

As discussed earlier, one problem with a central authority delivering key competency badges is the risk of enforcing compliance and mediocrity (do what is necessary to get it, not more). Conversely, the problem when there is no central authority, or no shared standard, is the fragmentation: if everyone is defining their own criteria, a key competency such as “entrepreneurship” would have many different descriptors, depending on who is awarding the badge.

One way to escape from this dichotomy would to establish a conversational system, where existing definitions would be public and everyone would be able to make reference to them or derive their own from existing ones. Let’s say that there is somewhere a definition for learning to learn, but that someone believes that learning to learn should be really called learning to teach (or coach), as pupils should not only ‘learn’ in the way described in the standard, but ‘teach/coach’ other pupils, that the definition of a successful learner is someone who cares for other learners and understands that it is his/her social responsibility to help their fellow learners (and teachers! to make reference to The Facebook Incident).

To the conformist, the outcome of a conversational system might look like a mess, to the innovator, as a source of inspiration. One argument against the lack of centralised standards could be that employers will not make head or tail from the myriad of Entrepreneurship Open Badges. But it could be just the opposite: the attention and care brought into crafting a very unique “Entrepreneurship Badge” is not different from the attention and care brought into the crafting of a very individual ePortfolio. What will be of interest to the employer, or the client for the self-employed, is not that all the criteria of the standards have been met, but how the collection of achievement badges convey the richness of the personal experience: I’m not really interested in whether or not you followed the highway code, tell me rather your experience during your trip!

It is from the practice that the standards should emerge, and not the other way around, unless one’s belief is that it is the tail that should wag the dog. Standards, especially key competency standards, when they exist should not be carved in stone. They should be fluid.

Conclusions (provisional): The rise of the reflective rebel

For those who are worried about the compliance and subservience embedded in some of the key competency standards, here is a possible antidote: the rise of the “reflective rebel[5].”

As Alfie Kohn puts it:

The bottom line is that kids learn to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions. If we want them to take responsibility for making the world a better place, then we need to give them responsibilities. That means dialling back our control, whether of the flagrant or the subtle variety.

A reflective rebel is someone who is not afraid to ask why? and say no!

We will not know whether the pupil at the origin of The Facebook Incident, was a wannabe rebel, or a whistleblower. He might just have been a bully looking for immediate gratification gained in humiliating a teacher. That we can’t tell. We will not know either if he did reflect on, or care about, the consequences of publicly humiliating a teacher.

If we do not know it is simply because the school board did not care. While the problem with the teacher was public knowledge, the school authorities, for whatever reasons, refused to face it. Its only focus was to keep order, even at the cost of punishing one of the many victims (of the teacher’s lack of competencies), the one who made public what was supposed to be a little dirty secret (even if it was not a secret at all).

Had the school board reflected on the situation, it would have been a great opportunity to demonstrate a number of competencies and elicit those to be acquired to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors:

  1. Communication in the mother tongue: the analysis of the video could have provided excellent material to reflect on the ability to convey a message, something that the teacher obviously had problems with.
  2. Communication in foreign languages: well, slang is not exactly a foreign language… but the video might have demonstrated pupils’ high level of mastery, and teacher’s need to improve her communication skills with other cultures.
  3. Mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology: the pupil could have done some research into the causes for poor teacher behaviour, why pupils were willing to take advantage of a weakness, formulated an hypothesis and possible solutions asking feedback from peers and other teachers.
  4. Digital competence: the video on Facebook is evidence of his ability to use video and social media. The inability to hide if from the authorities demonstrates a need to develop competencies related to privacy (self and others).
  5. Learning to learn: well, in that case, it is the school board who has demonstrated its inability to learn from an unexpected situation. Instead of exploiting the situation to create a collective learning opportunity, the only response was to punish one of the victims and show leniency with the failing authority.
  6. Social and civic competences: there is obviously a need for the pupils to develop them as bullying and abusing a weak teacher are not exactly something they should be proud of. The school board is no stranger to the need to develop their civic competencies, as being strong with the weak (the pupil) and weak with the strong (the authority) is not exactly the model of justice of an open and democratic society.
  7. Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship: the pupil definitely demonstrated a sense of initiative and risk taking. It is unfortunate that he didn’t pursue his efforts to challenge the disciplinary action and behave like a proper reflective rebel. On the other hand the members of the school board did not show any sense of initiative or creativity: the only response provided was to insure compliance and subservience.
  8. Cultural awareness and expression: having not seen the edited video, it is difficult to comment on that point.

Had the pupil been a reflective rebel, he would have been able to provide evidence from the 8 key competencies defined in the European framework. He would have been entitled to receive the reflective rebel Open Badge! It is unfortunate that the school board did not use this opportunity to support him in that direction, nor to itself reflect on its own values and practices.

If our children have to find innovative solutions to solve the problems we have created, who should we trust more: the conformist looking for the approval of the authority or the reflective rebel? According to The Facebook Incident and the reading of some key competency frameworks it is more likely that what institutions are required is the grooming conformists rather than reflective rebels.



Full position paper: Key Competency Badges

[1] L’autonomie est la capacité reconnue à un élève de se fixer des principes et règles de conduite, choisir ses cheminements personnels dans le respect des règles sociales en vigueur (Livret personnel de compétences Palier 3)

[2] Pour évaluer l’esprit d’initiative des élèves, il convient de mettre en valeur leur motivation effective pour les tâches scolaires (ibid)

[3] It is in face meta-curriculum as the goal is to have it defined with all the stakeholders at local and regional levels, not imposed from a central authority.

[4] Think of an English breakfast: the chicken is interested, the pork is committed.

[5] It is the title of the last chapter of The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting, by Alfie Kohn [7]

16 Dec 00:00

France plans elite top-10 mega-university


Sean Coughlan, BBC News, Dec 19, 2014

I'm not sure whether this counts as education technology (I guess it does, in a way) but France has announced plans to combine 19 separate institutions into one large super-university that will be large enough in scale and ambition to compete with places like Harvard and Oxford. It will be called Paris-Saclay, and according to this article, will have "a campus south of the French capital. The project has initial funding of 7.5bn euros (£ 5.9bn) for an endowment, buildings and transport links." I personally can think of better ways to spend $10 billion.

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