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18 Oct 22:00

A Deeper Blue

by Rui Carmo

I’ve had an Azure subscription for a while, but now that I got an opportunity to go (much) deeper into it, I thought I’d jot down a few public notes and at least one useful tip before my disclaimer kicks in.

The short of it (putting the business issues aside) is that I’m looking into orchestration, much like what I did with AWS a few years back. It’s a nice step up from a little dip into GAE earlier this year and the configuration management stuff I do for my projects at work, and doing it in regular office hours makes it all the more fun, and appeals to my methodical take on all things related to infrastructure.

I’m hesitant to go about calling this “devops”, however, both because it feels like a pointless moniker when you’ve moonlighted as a sysadmin for as long as I have, and also because it all really boils down to laziness — the best way to make sure you’ll get reliable, repeatable setups is to automate everything away, and that is what saves you time, worries — and money.

As usual these days, there are entirely too many options to orchestrate stuff in the cloud1 but for the requirements I’m capturing, using something like Ansible feels like cheating, so I went down a couple of abstraction layers — i.e., straight to the API. Even though I’ve written mostly Go and Clojure(-y) stuff over the past couple of months, Microsoft’s Azure SDK for Python was the natural thing to reach for.

So far, it seems more than adequate for rolling your own orchestration — it took me only an hour or so to read through it and get an instance going from basic principles, and bpython makes for an excellent ad-hoc CLI once you’ve familiarized yourself with the naming2:

So that’s my pro tip, right there — the Python SDK with a REPL going. It’s not PowerShell, but it’s much better for me given that after setting up a few wrappers you can do wonderful stuff like setting up (or tearing down) entire flocks of machine instances in a nice functional style:

>>> map(utils.shutdown, deployment.role_instance_list.role_instances)

To be honest, once you’re on a roll it feels a little like this:

…and then you remember you still need to nail down a lot of details and wrap the whole thing in an ansychronous daemon that implements a bunch of “boring” business logic.

Ah well.

  1. Gosh, how I hate the overuse of the word “cloud”, and all the “as a service” acronyms. Still, it’s a good thing people don’t call them “sausage factories” or something like that — can you imagine having SFAAS all over your product slides? 

  2. To be honest, the thing’s naming is more than a tad inconsistent and the API isn’t very Pythonic, but it does the job. 

Tao of Mac Icon "A Deeper Blue" was written by Rui Carmo for The Tao of Mac and was originally posted on Saturday, Oct 18th 2014. Except as noted, it's ©2014 Rui Carmo and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

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19 Oct 08:47

You can't upgrade the new Mac mini's RAM

by Rui Carmo
Click on the image to zoom in

More info here. What this means, in practice, is that I will likely never buy an Apple desktop again.

Both my home and work office desktops are Mac minis driving identical HD monitors, a setup that works very well for me and that has gone (at home) through a nice, predictable upgrade cycle: buy a new mini, turn the old one into a media server (or pass it on to family), max out the RAM as soon as it’s feasible under €100.

After four generations of iMacs (which I still consider to be needlessly big, bulky sub-par hardware and a bad investment overall, even with the new models), iterating through the Mac mini series was a great, cost-effective way to have a decent (if not stellar) desktop that lasted ages in Internet terms, and a stable niche in this age of planned obsolescence.

And a Pro is, of course, completely out of the question. I’d much rather spend that kind of money on keeping my kids clothed and fed, so I’m going to invest on SSDs for the current batch of minis (which is already maxed out in RAM) and hope for the best a couple of years down the road.

Removing aftermarket expandability in this way is sure to kill the mini, so I’m going to start looking for long-term alternatives – hackintoshes aren’t really my thing anymore and a Linux desktop makes no sense to me, so it’s probably time to start keeping tabs on compact Windows desktops.

18 Oct 22:58

Sea-Level Economy Mapping: A big data project for future equality

by Mitch Ratcliffe

Here’s something that we can use big data for today: Let’s set the socioeconomic benchmark against which society will respond to rising sea levels across all income levels.

Everyone carrying a phone today is throwing off location data that, if anonymized, collected and analyzed, would show what low-lying land is most used today. From that, we can project the potential economic disruptions that will be caused by various levels of sea level change, as many tools do today. We can look at property ownership, travel patterns, rent and home prices that will be impacted by rising water and, like the Dutch when they decided to hold the sea back, make some long-term decisions that will save everyone, not just the privileged, from personal tragedy and economic disaster as their homes, communities and job networks disappear in the waves.

When the ocean rises, and it will rise enough that many low-lying cities in 40, 80 or 120 years will be under many inches or feet of water, everyone’s lives will be disrupted. If we start tracking the use of public and private property, shared-use common areas and investments, such as the the cost of infrastructure that may be destroyed, and that which needs to be created to holds the seas back, can be mapped to provide the best outcome for all. At least, it will give everyone a baseline against which to measure the impacts. Democracy can take care of the rest, with an assist from the market, but a market-only solution will leave far too many losers.

Without some benchmark to measure the social cost of responding to climate change, the wealthiest people will almost certainly benefit disproportionately to others who live and work in flooded areas. We’ll see cries reparations for lost land from every quarter, but the rich will have the loudest voice, as we know from the state of political speech today.

The homes of the rich that line sea coasts everywhere will be lost, but so will many of the homes occupied (not necessarily owned by) the poor and middle class. Who will get the help necessary to relocate? Who will have new public right-of-ways running through their neighborhoods when existing rail and road infrastructure must be moved inland or raised above the rising seas? Will insurers make the rich whole and, like home insurance today, leave most people less than half-whole when the cost of relocation is counted?

I am not arguing that anyone get resources here, only for a measurement so that, when the crisis comes, we will have had many years, even decades to have the national and international conversation about the mass migration of people fleeing the high tide. We may decide it’s time to move past many of the institutions we rely on today.

If we’re going to go through this together, we need the data to understand the distributed social cost of lands and infrastructure — technical, industrial, social and even personal networks that currently provide support to families. The problem with this statement is that it appears naive, because we live in a society where almost everyone thinks they’ve made their way in the world alone. That myth is going to collapse as the world starts denying us land and resources we used to have.

Yet we can get through this, as humans have done many times in history, if we recognize the real costs and opportunities in radical change. Perhaps, with lots more data and people trained to think through these complex issues armed with real-time and historical perspectives provided by big data strategies, we might actually realize we are in this together.

19 Oct 19:08

Mozcaffee @ Bhopal : A sip With Community

by cbaba20

Hii Everyone,

After attended various Events Now This time I planned with my coffee (Mozcaffee) with Our Community. This coffee contains many things in itself (Community Strengthen,Sharing Experiences,Working on Structures of future events etc) but not limited to this only(adding some creams on it by Planning some Fun Activity ;) :D ).

On the Day(2nd October) We get together on Cafe Coffee Day(Famous with Tags ;) ) and start pressing ideas on different event matrices that we have set prior to event. Points that we have done their :

  • Structuring Community on Different aspects.
  • Charging up Inactive members
  • Sharing our experiences whatever we gained through our individual contribution
  • Distributing Task among Members,So We can Recognize them with there works.
  • Adding New Community Members(Newbies,who want to fly ;))

After that we are going through Some Awesome(Actually We love to creativity) To-Do-Things,and This is one of Best part through out the event. We decided to make makes on some festive themes,so We start creating :

20141002_173806-compressed20141002_175840-compressedFinally We get :



This Mozcoffee is one of Best Event I Ever Done Because of Its Necessity. Now we are Running with More structured More Determined with Aim(whatever we set) and We Hope We Really Proved Why We called as Packet of <Do Gooders>.

Stay Compiled,World having need of you :D

19 Oct 19:32

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review

by Daniel Bader

The Galaxy Note 4 is perfect.

It’s not a perfect smartphone, nor a perfect phablet, but a perfect distillation of what Samsung has been working on creating for the past three years. The Galaxy Note 4 is a perfect Galaxy Note.

But as other manufacturers clamber to catch up to Samsung in both device size and market share, does a perfect Galaxy Note do enough to differentiate itself from last year’s still-excellent offering, or those of its competitors? Let’s find out.



  • Android 4.4.4 KitKat w/ TouchWIZ Flat
  • 5.7-inch 2560 x 1440 pixel QHD Super AMOLED display (515ppi)
  • 2.7Ghz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 SoC / Adreno 420 GPU
  • 3GB RAM / 32GB internal storage
  • 16MP rear camera w/ optical image stabilization (OIS), 1/2.6″ sensor, 1.12 µm pixel size, F2.2 lens
  • 3.7MP front-facing camera, F1.9 lens
  • WiFi (a/b/g/n/ac) MIMO, Bluetooth 4.1 LE, GPS {A-GPS, GLONASS, Compass}, NFC, USB 2.0, MHL 3.0, IR Sensor
  • Fingerprint sensor, heart rate monitor, Oxygen saturation sensor (SpO2)
  • 3,220mAh removable battery (Adaptive Fast Charging & QC2.0)
  • 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5mm
  • 176g
  • 3G: 850, AWS, 1900, 2100 MHz
  • LTE: Band 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, Cat 4 150/50 Mbps


Design & Display

We’ve already looked at the metal-framed Galaxy Alpha, but this year’s Note is the first mainstream flagship device from Samsung with a hunk of aluminum.

Both devices share a similar focus on clean lines and chamfered edges, a design element that gained acclaim in 2012 on the iPhone 5. But the Note 4 does not maintain a clean profile, preferring to roll with the hills and valleys of its various ports. Samsung still employs plastic on the rear, but the faux leather exterior not only feels less artificial but lacks the egregious fake stitching found on the Note 3.

In fact, everything I disliked about the Note 3’s design has been updated here. The chrome plastic bezels are now solid white or black metal; the power and volume buttons crafted alloys; the camera bump more gradual. The Note 4 looks awfully similar to its predecessor, but it’s immediate upon picking it up that this is a new generation — a new era — of Samsung smartphones.

The Note 4, while taller than the Note 3, is nearly 2mm narrower, making it easier to grip in one hand. This is still not a one-handed device, though as we’ll see in the next section Samsung continues to maneuver around this issue with mixed results. It’s also slightly heavier, but the heft is necessary — the Note 3 felt awkwardly light for such a large product.

I had no complaints about Note 3’s screen, either — it was, and still is, one of the best AMOLED displays — but the Note 4 ratchets up the resolution at the expense of very little.


I had qualms about LG’s choice to use a 2560×1440 pixel LCD panel on its G3, but there are no similar reservations here. Samsung not only managed to achieve nearly perfect calibration, within the confines of AMOLED’s over-saturated nature of course, but max brightness is comparable to the Full HD display on the Note 3. It’s not quite iPhone 6-levels of brightness — still one of AMOLED’s weaknesses — but in all other ways the Note 4’s screen is incredible.

Samsung admitted to us that the Galaxy S5 was a misstep in design, water ingress protection and all — a misstep that, in many ways, prompted the worldwide release of the Galaxy Alpha. Not only did Samsung do away with the under-utilized USB 3.0 port of the Note 3 and GS5 but the company saw an opportunity to refine nearly every facet of the Note’s design in moving from plastic to metal. What we have is, as I said in the introduction, a perfect distillation of the Note series’ ideology.

The S Pen, which is physically identical to the Note 3’s, communicates with the Wacom Digitizer’s 2048 pressure points, double that of the previous two generations (and ten times that of the original), making note-taking and sketching about as close to natural as you’re going to find on a digital canvas.


Performance & Battery Life

The Note 4 is one of the first devices on the market, and the first to launch in Canada, with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 805 SoC. While the four CPU cores are still based on the same Krait architecture (manufactured on a 28nm process) that debuted in 2012, some improvements have been made, and maximum clock speed has been boosted to 2.7Ghz.

Using AnTuTu benchmark as a base, the Snapdragon 805 offers around a 10% boost in performance over the Galaxy S5’s S801, affected by higher clock speeds in the CPU and a new GPU.

Screenshot 2014-10-15 13.31.44

Delving into the specifics, we find that the Adreno 420 GPU performance is roughly 15-30% better in certain benchmarks over Snapdragon 801’s Adreno 330, thanks to a wider memory bus and faster clock speeds. These performance improvements are not noticeable in everyday use — the Note 3’s Snapdragon 800 is still plenty fast — but through our fortnight of use we found the Note 4 generally more responsive.

We’ve clearly reached the end of a very mature chipset design lifecycle; Krait has been good to us, but we’ll have to wait until next year’s 64-bit Snapdragon 810 before we see hearty CPU speed improvements and accompanying power savings.

I was also concerned that due to separation of the Snapdragon 805’s CPU/GPU/memory from its modem chip — we haven’t seen such a design since the Snapdragon S4 Pro — power consumption would be higher than last year’s model, but thankfully I was wrong. Well, partly wrong.


There is a nominal increase in idle power consumption over an SoC with an integrated baseband, but it is largely offset by the inherent efficiencies of the Krait 450 CPUs themselves, which benefited from serious battery improvements from the second-revision Krait 400 chips found in the Snapdragon 801. Confused? Don’t be: the Snapdragon 805 is, despite consuming a larger surface area, still relatively power efficient.

All this plus-minus has an neutralizing affect on the battery. In fact, battery life is around 30% better than the Note 3, despite having a battery that is practically identical in size. In our video looping test, which normalizes the brightness to 200 nits and loops a video while the device is connected to WiFi, the Note 4 ran just over 11 hours, compared to the Note 3’s 8.5 hours.

In our subjective usage tests, where I used the Note 4 to perform daily tasks, from checking email to refreshing feeds to playing some Threes, the device lasted well over 24 hours. I never quite managed the “two days-plus” some others have claimed, but that’s why battery stats continue to be the most difficult of all smartphone benchmarks to pin down — there are just too many variables. Suffice it to say, the Note 4 will last a whole lot longer than the other QHD device on the market, the LG G3, and should thoroughly beat any other Android device short of the Huawei Ascend Mate 2. The only other phone that beat the Note 4 in our mixed use battery tests is the iPhone 6 Plus, which lasted well over 40 hours.

The victory doesn’t pack the wallop the Note 2 or Note 3 had over its competitors, but that’s due to the general trend of shipping higher-capacity batteries inside larger flagships running more efficient chips. Or, in short, every high-end smartphone has a huge battery and a Snapdragon.

The takeaway here is this: if you’re a power user who doesn’t want to worry about charging your phone even once throughout the day, the Note 4 is a good candidate, alongside the HTC One M8, Sony Xperia Z3 and iPhone 6 Plus.



TouchWIZ still has those awful, awful bubble touch sounds enabled by default. You’ve definitely heard them, likely in the background while sitting on a bus or enjoying a coffee at the local Tim Horton’s. Samsung still thinks people want to hear whistles for notifications or bubbles for screen taps. Well, they don’t.

I’m grateful, though, that the touch sounds are the most egregious of Samsung’s missteps in the software department. In fact, once known for piling on feature after godforsaken feature, the OEM has shown a modicum of restraint with the Note 4. Continuing a trend we saw on the Galaxy S5, this year’s TouchWIZ is flat and, dare I say it, attractive. Screen animations are gloriously smooth, and aside from the multitudinous superfluous menu items, the Note 4 is relatively easy for a newcomer to use.


During our briefing, Samsung told us something that made us exceedingly happy: it is discontinuing its attempts to recreate features Google already offers, such as a separate app store and media hub. While Galaxy Apps will continue to be bundled on Samsung’s devices, it will focus on offering software that has been specifically modified for the Samsung experience, such as Autodesk’s Sketchbook for GALAXY. And you’ll be happy to know that ChatON, Samsung’s failed messaging experiment, is no longer bundled with its devices.

Galaxy Apps houses Gifts and Essentials, two portals Samsung hopes will continue to separate it from other OEMs by offering value on top of just the basic Android experience. Users get three months of free Evernote Premium, for instance, and six months of Wall Street Journal. While these things are not new to the Galaxy experience — they arrived alongside the Galaxy S3 — Samsung is putting more emphasis on them by removing the cruft in the periphery.


A good example of this new-found focus is the S Pen, Samsung’s ubiquitous stylus that now comes with 2048 points of pressure sensitivity. Samsung has simplified the number of features that stare back when the pen is taken out of its holster, consolidating some and revising others. Action Memo is still a clear focus here, allowing users to take a quick note from anywhere and either save it to Evernote or paste it, like a sticky, to one’s homescreen.

In the original two Galaxy Notes, I was ambivalent about the S Pen: while a curious addition, it just wasn’t very accurate, and therefore wasn’t very useful. It was on the Note 3 that I finally began to take advantage of its input precision: taking notes in a meeting, for example, appears far less rude than tapping away, which can be misconstrued for zoning out.

For note-taking, sketches and annotations, the S Pen is extremely useful; those creatively inclined may find it more valuable still. See, fingers are fat blobs of skin, and humans have habituated themselves to rely on prediction and autocorrect rather than enter something right the first time. The S Pen allows me that precision when I want it — on a less fragile, cloud-enabled digital canvas — and the Note 4 allows me the ability to resort to fat thumb typing when I don’t.


Now let’s talk about the Note 4 as a one-handed device. Samsung wisely decided not to increase the size of the Note 4’s screen, figuring that anything over 5.5-inches or so is a two-handed proposition.

But the company has been working to make its larger devices more accessible for some time, and with the Note 4 there are numerous ways to achieve that. Not only can the entire OS be shrunk down, with disastrous aesthetic effect, but individual windows can be, too, merely by swiping diagonally from the top left of the screen.


The scene above is an example of how Multi Window has evolved to fit the needs of Samsung’s user base. Want to scroll through Facebook while watching a YouTube video in portrait mode? You got it. Browse the web fullscreen while keeping an eye on a Hangouts window? No problem.

Traditional bifurcated Multi Window is still alive and well, accessed by holding down the capacitive back button, but it’s no longer the only way to do it.


Further, individual apps can be minimized, Chat Heads style, to sit on top of any window, making it particularly easy to keep track of important conversations. The problem is that these disparate multitasking methods sit in contrast to Android’s perfectly capable bidirectional system of notifications and app switcher. Samsung’s multitasking and one-handed solutions are certainly admirable, but none are particularly innovative, and all potentially foster confusion and frustration, especially when one can easily go from split screen to resizable window to Chat Head and back very easily.

In some ways, this is Samsung at its best, and what made it so popular: give users every choice by showing no restraint at all. And, of course, none of these multitasking or one-handed modes are mandatory, and are easily ignored, but I wish Samsung would pick something and stick with it, rather than maintaining one method and building two more on top.

Contrast this with Apple’s anemic Reachability solution, though, and you have yourselves two sides of a wide usability chasm. Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have a feature that, with a double-touch on the home button, drops the top half of the screen so higher content can be more easily reached. On the iPhone 6 Plus, where it’s needed the most, Reachability doesn’t solve the problem of horizontal content being too far away, and adds two taps to a workflow that many took for granted, by being easily able to reach the top of the display, on the iPhone 4 and 5 series.


Samsung, on the other hand, sees its hack-and-slash engineering decisions pay off with its one-handed mode. Being able to granularly resize both the entire screen and individual apps makes the Note 4 a much more one hand-friendly device.

The difference is that Samsung tries so hard to convince you the Note 4 is versatile that it loses the aesthetic entirely. With Apple, it’s form over function, and with Samsung it’s the other way around. Neither makes the phone any physically smaller, and both methods frustrate more than they solve, but the Korean company fares better.


Samsung’s health push continues by adding oxygen saturation and UV sensors to the existing heart rate monitor underneath the camera. It’s admirable that the company is trying to make more useful a feature that, on the Galaxy S5, I found redundant and frustrating, but the Note 4 is not a medical device, and the inclusion of the SpO2 sensor baffles me.

A healthy, active person’s oxygen saturation level should never drop below 98%; an ill person whose SpO2 levels are below that is certainly not going to be using a rudimentary component in a smartphone over a medical-grade device to measure his or her blood oxygen levels.


If, for some reason, one uses it for fitness, he or she is met with the same usability issues as before: it doesn’t work while moving, or with sweaty digits, or in any situation outside the ideal. More times than I could count the measurement failed and, as seen above, my fingerprint was on the centre of the sensor, I didn’t press too hard and I kept perfectly still.

The UV sensor is slightly more interesting, but the average person doesn’t care if the UV index is five, eight or 10. If they care about protecting their skin against harmful UV rays, they’re likely going to apply sunscreen regardless (at least I hope they will).


To further muddle the message on fitness, Samsung has teamed up with Cigna, a US-based health insurance company (?) to launch Cigna Coach.

After asking a bunch of questions about sleep and daily exercise and stress (and the above one, my favourite, vaguely patronizing query) Cigna determines your Personal Lifestyle Score in a number of categories, after which it lightly impugns you for not walking, failing to stretch or eating that plate of fries.


Unlike Apple’s purely quantitative approach to health and fitness (though the Note 4 still counts your steps), Cigna Coach paints a more naturalistic picture of one’s overall health, but speaks in generalities as a result. It’s less useful than nothing at all, but other ecosystems, from Jawbone to Fitbit, do it better and more consistently. This one feels like a half measure.


Samsung’s software is still mired by strange decisions (why is it so complicated to create a homescreen folder?) and an abundance of choice. By now, though, you’ll know whether that choice is a blessing or a curse.

Features like the Flipboard Briefing, found on the leftmost pane of the launcher, have been improved over previous versions, but lack the granularity of a native app experience. Others, like the ability to hover over a photo to extract a preview, are so much a part of the Samsung software story that neither the company nor its user base likely notices them anymore. Smart Stay, Air View, Phone Call (OK, the last one is a joke) are flashy monikers for features few people use, but remain in the OS because Samsung wants to please everyone.

If you’re willing to ignore everything superfluous and just use Android as it comes, the Note 4 offers a pretty great software experience. Delve deeper and muddy the waters a little and you’ll either be immensely frustrated or immensely satisfied with all that choice.



With the same sensor, optics and lens as the Galaxy S5, I wasn’t expecting much change on the Note 4. The 1/2.6″ 16MP sensor proved itself in daylight shots, coming in ahead of most Android devices, and the Note 4 shares, and modestly improves upon, those positive qualities.

As with Samsung’s AMOLED screen, the company has properly calibrated colours captured through the Note 4’s sensor, similar to Apple’s changes on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. This means more neutral but accurate colours, which translates into some fantastic photos that can be shared as-is from the phone, but benefit from some post-production in Samsung’s competent editing studio.


With double the number of pixels compared to Apple’s 8MP iSight sensor, the Note 4 captures an incredible amount of detail. It’s clear to see that spacial resolution advantage when comparing the street sign captured at 100% in the gallery below. Samsung also does a great job exposing most outdoor scenes correctly, though it does have a tendency to choose a higher shutter speed than the iPhone and slightly underexpose the scene as a result.

In our low-light tests, the Note 4 performed better than the Galaxy S5 thanks to its optical image stabilization, but the extra pixel count is a disadvantage here: the iPhone 6 Plus lets in considerably more light, and its OIS module appears to keep motion blur in check slightly more effectively than the Note 4. As a result, Apple achieves better results by keeping shutter speed and ISO (light sensitivity) lower, avoiding the graininess that creeps into the Note 4’s low-light photos.

The two phones are evenly matched on indoor photos, with colours coming across a little more vividly on the iPhone 6 Plus, but Note 4 users should be very happy with most captures.


Indeed, the Note 4 is probably the best all-round shooter on Android at the moment. The LG G3 shoots better in low light, and the Xperia X3 captures more detail, but the Note 4 finds the right set of compromises.

Samsung also uses the Snapdragon 805 to great advantage, improving autofocus time and discretely adjusting exposure to shoot photos with better dynamic range than its S801 competitors.


Like most Samsung flagships, there is a bevy of potential photo modes, from HDR to panorama to split-screen shooting (which uses the front and back at the same time), and all sorts of excess, like taking a selfie with the rear-facing camera (HTC has that problem solved).

The HDR mode is particularly good, turning a gloomy, underexposed shot of a building into something more usable.

Speaking of selfies, the Note 4 doesn’t quite go all-out, but it still improves things for the front facing-conscious. The 3.7MP sensor is paired with an F1.9 lens, and the quality is vastly superior to anything we’ve seen from Samsung before. While regular selfies generally turn out just fine, the company has also added something called “Wide-angle Selfie” that acts sort of like a panorama for people. It’s weird, but it works. The only downside is that you’ll probably end up annoying people in the process.

On the motion side, the Note 4 captures excellent 1080p video and beautiful 4K video that, for space considerations, is still limited to five minutes per clip.

We took our trusty iPhone 6 Plus to the streets of downtown Toronto for a little OIS tête-à-tête and came away a little disappointed with Samsung’s stabilization. The iPhone simply captures smoother, better video. Each ‘clomp’ of my boot resonated through the Note 4, disrupting the video; with the iPhone you only see unperturbed movement.

Still, the Note 4 takes wonderful video at both 1080p and 4K, and I was impressed with the camera’s overall performance in most scenarios.



Like the Galaxy S5, the Note 4 doesn’t skimp on LTE bands: the device supports 150Mbps in the downlink on Band 7, which is great news for Rogers and Bell customers, and I was able to reach nearly 100Mbps on some lesser-used nodes.

Generally, the Note 4 was a competent phone — you know, to make calls — but its heft and size, along with the sharp chamfered edges, made it uncomfortable to hold for too long. Sound quality from the headpiece was good, but not great, and the anemic speaker in the back continues to be a sore spot for Samsung, especially since smartphone sound is a focal point for competitors like Sony, HTC and Apple.



The Galaxy Note hasn’t encountered much competition in the phablet space until recently, but the slow encroachment of larger flagships has forced Samsung to change its strategy.

The Note is no longer a phone for power users or business professionals, but a mainstream product with a slightly larger-than-average form factor. The introduction of the iPhone 6 Plus will inevitably have a halo effect on the 5.5-inch-and-larger smartphone market in general, and customers will no longer scoff at the Note for its stature, since the iPhone is actually larger.

The Note 4 does a great job showcasing not only the strengths of Samsung’s vertical integration — its screen quality and battery technology in particular — but Android, too. As Apple struggles to adapt iOS 8 to suit a larger form factor, the Note 4 reinforces Google’s open Android strategy, with its apps-on-apps extensibility. iOS still has an edge in app quality, and perhaps it always will, but the Note 4 is nothing short of the poster child for the high-end Android market.

Of course, the Nexus 6 muddies the waters somewhat, as the device marks Google’s entry into the phablet space. Many were expecting a price more akin to last year’s Nexus 5, so the $749 entry point will force customers back to the carrier store, where the Note 4 can be compared side by side with similarly subsidized pricing.

And with Sony about to launch its latest smartphone salvo with the Xperia Z3, and HTC, LG and others pushing their interpretation of flagship, there’s no wrong answer in the smartphone space today. The Note 4 is the best of the big phones, though — Samsung made sure of that.

The major issue is price: at $300 subsidized and $800 outright, the Galaxy Note 4 is expensive, both on contract and without. It’s therefore an investment, which is aligned with Samsung’s strategy of offering decent products in every market segment.

But this is the new reality in Canada: want the best? Pay for it.

18 Oct 17:53

"It’s the even year. I think that’s what it is."

“It’s the even year. I think that’s what it is.”


Buster Posey, the San Francisco Giants catcher, explaining the team’s improbable World Series run.

I’m also starting to think there’s something to this notion. It’s like the *Star Trek* run where where only the even numbered ones were good.

17 Oct 16:03

After watching Gruber's fascinating speech at XOXO, I wonder why don't you consider going full time blogging on your own like he did, so you can maybe write more and focus on what you what?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood… I obviously thought about that in the past, but I chose to take my career in a different direction. And honestly, I could not be happier with my choice. 

That said, I always wish I could find more time to write. And I keep trying to come up with ways to “get back into it” — but it’s honestly hard when you have another full time job.

But I won’t give up. I’ll get to a good place from a writing perspective again eventually. I just need more time :)

18 Oct 16:11

These photos were taken with Google’s Nexus 6

by Jane McEntegart

Google’s new Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 devices aren’t going to be available for a few more weeks. However, now that they have received an official unveiling, we’re seeing little bits and pieces of information about them sneak onto the internet.

Yesterday, we got our first look at the Nexus 9 outside of Google’s official product videos and photos. Today brings us photos captured by the newest Nexus smartphone, the Nexus 6. First spotted by BGR, these photos were uploaded to Google+ by Duan Dao, who according to LinkedIn works for T-Mobile USA.

The camera is one of the most exciting aspects of the Nexus 6, especially for those that endured the less than stellar camera on the Nexus 5. It packs in a 13MP sensor with OIS and an f/2.0 lens with dual LED flash. It’s helped along with HDR+ and Google’s upgraded camera app for Android 5.0.

The pictures in the gallery below are the ones uploaded by Dao to Google+ (though they’re no longer available on Google’s social network).  Judging by this very small sampling of photos, the camera is a little grainy indoors. Still, we’re eager to test the camera for ourselves, and compare it to other smartphone cameras out there.

The Nexus 6 is up for pre-order on October 29th and will ship in early November. It starts at $749 here in Canada. That will net you the 32GB model. No word on how much you’ll have to pay for the 64GB model just yet.

Nexus 6 sample photos

17 Oct 16:45

“All cities are mad, but the madness is gallant”

by pricetags

From Gladys We, who lurks on MetaFilter:


Planned cities are not a new idea (Palmanova, Italy, 1593). From Washington, D.C. (1791), to CanberraAustralia (1911), to Brasilia, Brazil (1957), planned cities have long been an urban dream (from space), perhaps most frequently applied to national capitals. But they don’t always work out as planned.

In North America, some argue that everything settled after the 1871 Dominion Lands Act in Canada or the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 in the US counts as “planned” because it was platted before the settlers arrived.

BroughtonNS (perhaps Canada’s first planned town; current population 24), 
New Haven, CT (the US’s first planned town (1638)),



ChicagoIL, the Burnham Plan and PullmanChicago;


Perhaps consider:
Mexico City, Mexico, which has turned its city planning muscle to green planning
Guadalajara, Mexico, which has an original colonial town plan, a 1950s revamp, and an ongoing reworking

Elsewhere in the world planned cities are often schemes of vainglorious dictators:
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Astana, Kazakhstan
KolmanskopNamibia (abandoned diamond town)
Planned Al-Noor City to build a bridge over the Red Sea

Or they may be very ancient:
4500-year-old planned city in Karachi, India?
Catalhoyuk, Turkey: 9000 years old? 10,000 years old? Really old.

Original article here.


Admit it: Had you ever heard of Broughton, Nova Scotia, before?

And for sheer lunacy:

17 Oct 16:32

Perfect for Price Tags: Architecture and Cycling

by pricetags

This comes from The Guardian (thanks to Penny Coupland for the link):.

Architecture for bikes – in pictures

From Calgary’s space-age Peace bridge to Eindhoven’s floating roundabout and the Copenhagen apartments with a cycle path straight up to the 10th floor, Gavin Blyth’s Velo City highlights some of the world’s best cycling infrastructure..

 A few shots from the book:

Arch 1

Peace Bridge, Calgary


Arch 2

 Arganzuela bridge, Madrid

17 Oct 18:21

Nexus Player now available to pre-order for $109 CDN

by Daniel Bader

Google’s first Android TV product, the Nexus Player, is now available to pre-order from the Play Store.

For $109, a merciful $10 premium over the US version, the Nexus Player attaches to one’s TV or AV receiver and acts as an independent conduit to Google content and Android-based services.

A bunch of app developers have already modified their code for the big screen, including Songza, Netflix, Plex and many others. Users interact with the box with voice or the included remote control, and Android gamers can purchase the optional gamepad ($44.99) to bring compatible titles to the television.

The Nexus Player also acts as a Google Cast conduit, so users can cast content from compatible apps, like Rdio, Netflix and others, to the TV directly.

The set-top box ships in 3-4 weeks from Google’s warehouse.

SourcePlay Store
17 Oct 18:40

Nexus 9 and Nexus Player go up for pre-order on Google Play

by Rajesh Pandey
Beside releasing the final Android 5.0 SDK and updated Developer preview images, Google has also put up the Nexus Player and Nexus 9 for pre-order on Google Play.  Continue reading →
18 Oct 06:24

Announcing Flickr for iPad

by Kay Kremerskothen

Today, we’re extremely excited to announce Flickr for iPad. We’ve heard you loud and clear asking for an official app on Apple’s beautiful, large retina display, which makes it easy and enjoyable to access, organize and share your stunning photos from anywhere. The new Flickr for iPad app will be available globally in eleven languages.


This version of the Flickr iOS app is optimized to take full advantage of the larger screen on iPad, while delivering the gorgeous design you expect of Flickr, our powerful camera, and the versatility you need to manage your photos while on the go. On iPad, Flickr can now display images in high resolution by pushing up to 3,000,000 pixels per photo.


Flickr members can browse their photo feed in landscape or portrait with beautiful iPad-optimized layouts. Photos in the feed display near their original aspect ratio and cascade in a lovely waterfall format. Flickr members can also enhance their profile with an avatar, background photo, introduction, and website links.


In addition, we’ve included the ability to capture photos and videos with live filters on the iPad, allowing you to use our professional editing tools and opening a whole new world of enhancing your images.


No matter the context of your photo adventures — whether you’re socializing with friends, trekking through a market in a faraway city, or capturing the most important memories at a family wedding — you’ll never lose a pixel of the full resolution, uncompressed photos in your Flickr account. And with the 1000GB of free storage, you can upload all your photos not just your favorites!


You’ll find inspiration from Flickr members across the largest photo community in the world and you can share your memories to Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and more. You’ll love our new search functionality, which lets you instantly explore your photos and photos across the site, without the requirement of tagging or adding metadata.

If you already have Flickr on your iOS device, you’ll be prompted to update shortly, or you can head over to the App Store to install Flickr 3.2 on your iPad or iPhone right away. The new app requires iOS 8.0 to be installed as well.

We hope you enjoy the new experience of Flickr for iPad and can’t wait to hear your feedback. So please let us know your thoughts.

18 Oct 10:56

Our streets are too narrow for cycle paths

by David Hembrow
I've lost count of how often people have tried to convince me that their city's streets are too narrow to have cycling infrastructure. The three words "not enough space" are repeated as if they are a mantra. It is often genuinely believed that Dutch towns were built with wider streets and that there is therefore more space here than in other countries. Of course, that's not true at all. If you
18 Oct 12:01

The Best Gear for Small Apartments

by Andrew Kalinchuk

Many of us over at the Sweethome live or have lived in tiny, 250-500 sq. ft. apartments with babies, pets, and significant others. Together with the small-living-space experts at LifeEdited, we put together a list of the best gear to make small-space living enjoyable.

18 Oct 13:35

Announcing Flickr for iPad

by Rui Carmo
Click on the image to zoom in

About bloody time, I’ll say.

17 Oct 19:30

Panel: Photography and the City – Nov 1

by pricetags
17 Oct 19:20

A Look at the New Mac mini

by Federico Viticci

Brian Stucki of Macminicolo:

For home users, the increased Graphics will be a very welcomed upgrade. In a data center, that will be useful for those who process a lot of images and will likely help when screen sharing. (Speaking of screen sharing, these HDMI adapters have been very useful. I’ll be interested to see if they’re still needed for the 2014 Mac mini.)

We've been running MacStories on Macminicolo for two years now – one of the best decisions we ever made. Once properly configured, the Mac mini can be a little beast of a machine – I was so happy with our setup at Macminicolo, I now use a second Mac mini just to automate tasks remotely. And with yesterday's refresh, it looks like I may have a serious candidate for my next Mac.

∞ Read this on MacStories

17 Oct 19:41

Retina iMac Questions Answered

by Federico Viticci

There's a lot to consider about Apple's new iMac with Retina 5K Display. Marco Arment has a comparison of the new iMac vs. the Mac Pro (on paper) – here's what he writes about 4K and 5K displays:

This difference is much bigger than it sounds. It’s the same, proportionally, as the difference between typical 21- to 24-inch and 27- to 30-inch monitors: “4K” computer monitors have 8.3 megapixels, while “5K” has 14.7 megapixels. Without software scaling to simulate higher density, the “right” size for a 4K monitor tops out at 24 inches, while a 5K monitor looks right at 27 to 30 inches.

It’s a huge difference.

Make sure to read the entire post as he makes some solid points with interesting technical observations.

Christina Bonnington also published a great FAQ on the new iMac at Wired, and I liked her explanation of why 5K is actually useful:

For most of us, a 5K display is just an extravagance, a high-end computing machine with specs that make our friends’ jaws drop. But for professionals in some industries, such a high pixel density is quite important.

For example, 5K resolution is great for those working on 4K content. “You can view all of the images at their true native 4K resolution, which is very important, and then have a fair amount of leftover screen space all around it for controls, icons, and even a generous 3.2-inch high text area at the bottom for commands and text input,” Displaymate’s Ray Soneira told WIRED. This actually ends up being better and more efficient than using a second monitor because you can keep your eyes on the images while working on them, instead of having to glance off to the side.

IHS Technology’s Rhoda Alexander points out that in addition to those in graphics-related fields like CAD and CG, healthcare imaging (like radiology) also has need for displays with a very high resolution.

∞ Read this on MacStories

17 Oct 19:39

Badger Beats: The Week In Review [62]

This week we’ve been celebrating our successes from Cycle 1 of the Badge Alliance Working Groups, taking a look at all the great things we’ve accomplished together over the past six months.

Check out this blog post on the BA blog for an in-depth look at the community’s achievements. You can also see an infographic overview of Cycle 1.

Here’s what else happened this week:

  • In the UK, the Duke of York announced the winners of the youth-focused digital enterprise iDEA award - and Digital Me’s Tim and Lucy were snapped at Buckingham Palace during the event!

Got an idea? #IAmIn Are you? @digitalme_ @lucydme @triches #openbadges

— iDEA (@idea_award) October 15, 2014

Thank you to everyone in our community who has helped us move the badging work forward this year with the Badge Alliance Working Groups - we are so proud to be working within such a dedicated network.

Give yourselves a big high-five for everything you’ve accomplished!

17 Oct 21:36

What is the busiest bus route in North America?

by pricetags

A quick Google, and you might think it’s Vancouver’s 99 B-Line:


Busiest 1


NAA closer read, and you can see that there’s a qualification:

As of 2010, the route was the busiest bus route in Canada and the United States,[2] with a 2011 average weekday ridership of 54,350 passengers.[1]

It depends, then, on what you consider “North America.”  Technically, it includes all 23 independent states as far south as Colombia – which means, of course, that Mexico is part of North America.

In which case …

560PX-~1In July 2005, the Metrobus corridor (in Mexico City) began operation on Insurgentes Avenue. It was the first BRT corridor in the city, extending over 20 kilometers (12.4 miles), with central stations. The number of passengers has rapidly increased since then from 250,000 daily in 2005 to 270,000 in 2007, an annual increase of approximately 10%.

In 2008, the corridor was extended nine kilometers (about 5.5 miles) to the south, and by the end of the year, the Line 2 in the Eje 4 Sur began operating twenty kilometers (12.4 miles) from east to west.

In 2009 the demand of the system grew to 480,000 daily passengers. In 2011 with the construction of the Line 3 in the Eje 1 Poniente, Metrobus increased 17 kilometers (10.5 miles), consolidating 67 km (41.6 miles), and 710,000 trips per day.


Maybe Darren Davis of Auckland Transport (who alerted us to these facts) can tell us what the daily volume of the Insurgentes line by itself is today – but one thing for sure: if the B-Line is going to be the busiest bus route in North America, it will need a few hundred thousand more passengers per day.  Even if it feels like it already has.

16 Oct 02:12

‘What The Hell, Facebook?’ Probe Reveals News Feed Surprises

by Paul Scicchitano
Mark Zuckerberg Credit: Flickr /  DonkeyHotey

(Editor’s Note: Facebook originally declined to respond to our reporter’s request for an interview. After publication of the story, Facebook contacted The Open Standard with concerns, and we’ve entered responses and clarifications in the story, in italic. Additionally, responding to a reader comment, we’ve clarified at the end of the story how the news feed algorithm is turned on and off.)

If you’ve been wondering why your uncle or high school crush dropped off your Facebook news feed, brace yourself for a rude awakening — or, as one subject in a recent study put it, “what the hell, Facebook?”

Facebook’s so-called “emotional contagion” experiment may have grabbed the summer headlines and a blizzard of public condemnation when researchers claimed to have successfully manipulated the moods of unsuspecting users. But others say most users may be more shocked to learn their news feeds are routinely manipulated by the social media giant.

The news feed is the constantly updating list of stories in the middle of your Facebook homepage. A little-known algorithm decides from what friends you do and don’t receive updates.

“The majority of people that we interviewed didn’t realize there was a Facebook algorithm,” Harvard researcher Christian Sandvig told The Open Standard. So, if your jaw just hit the floor, take heart. You can always “like” more of your friends’ posts to counter the algorithm to a degree.

But that won’t solve the problem. Some posts don’t lend themselves to a “like,” such as something unpleasant. How could anyone “like” the U.S.-led bombing of ISIS, the Ferguson shooting death of Michael Brown or the suicide of comedian Robin Williams?

Interests not served

“It’s not big brother exactly,” acknowledged Sandvig, who is an associate professor at the University of Michigan in addition to serving as a faculty associate of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. “The news feed algorithm is basically not serving our interests.”

Content recommendations and ad placements based on algorithms sometimes have unintended consequences – and not just on Facebook, but in the search results returned by Google and Amazon. The difference is that these sites don’t shape our online social experience as much as Facebook.

“The majority of people that we interviewed didn’t realize there was a Facebook algorithm,” said Harvard researcher Christian Sandvig. But most users already can toggle between “top stories” and “most recent”

“Let’s say you had a baby and you really wanted people to know that you had a baby. You definitely would get more play if you had a link in there to say Bud Light, because Anheuser-Busch is one of Facebook’s advertisers,” Sandvig asserted.

Responding after the story’s publication, Facebook spokesperson Michael Kirkland said via email, “That is not true. Organic News Feed ranking is not impacted at all by ads. We try to show people the things they will find the most interesting based on what and who they interact with, not who spends money on Facebook.”

The casual user also doesn’t always know when their post is used to sell a product or service.

“Most people have a hard time seeing the difference between the sponsored posts, especially the ones at the top of the feed, unless they’re really looking carefully,” Sandvig observed. “When it’s pointed out to them, users don’t like it at all, but the way Facebook is designed it’s pretty hard to notice because it happens on your friend’s feed, not your feed.”

Facebook’s Kirkland said, “your posts are no longer used in ads.”

‘What the hell, Facebook?’

Karrie G. Karahalios, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Illinois, said only 37.5 percent of more than 40 diverse participants in the recent study undertaken by her and Sandvig understood that posts were being filtered in — or out — of news feeds by Facebook’s proprietary news feed algorithm.

Some Facebook users took the news harder than others. “What the hell Facebook,” opined one, while another canceled their account on the spot, as study participants viewed side-by-side comparisons of their curated and non-curated news feeds.

In all, 62.5 percent of study participants were not aware that Facebook was picking and choosing the posts they would see in their news feeds, in some cases based on advertising.

Karahalios tells The Open Standard that even computer science majors were dumbfounded, something that affected her more than Facebook’s contagion study.

Contagion experiment

Karahalios was referring to the study conducted by a Facebook executive and two Cornell University researchers, who acknowledged manipulating the “emotional content” of 689,003 Facebook news feeds to see if they could change the mood of some segment of unwitting subjects.

In layman’s terms, they wanted to see if they could arbitrarily make people happy or sad. After analyzing more than three million posts containing more than 122 million words, researchers concluded that it was possible to change someone’s mood.

Of course Facebook is no stranger to privacy concerns. “You might have heard the rumors going around about the Messenger app,” the organization acknowledged recently. “Some have claimed that the app is always using your phone’s camera and microphone to see and hear what you’re doing. These reports aren’t true, and many have been corrected.”

Facebook did not respond to a query from The Open Standard.

App distribution planned

Researchers Sandvig and Karahalios plan to distribute an app that will allow a much wider swath of users to receive an unfiltered Facebook news feed. Even without the app, most users have the ability to toggle between “top stories” or “most recent.” All users receive advertisements.

Advice for casual users

So should casual Facebook users “like” everything they come across?

Not necessarily, said Sandvig. The solution may involve a combination of more education about algorithms, government intervention in some cases or even the emergence of information clearinghouses along the lines of Consumer Reports for the Internet.

After participating in the study, participants overwhelmingly reported changing their Facebook habits, according to Sandvig, who adds some participants are now more assertive in teaching Facebook what they “like.” Researchers also said that other subjects experimented with switching their news feed between “top stories” – algorithm on – to “most recent” – algorithm off.


16 Oct 21:23

As Cars Grow Smarter, Automakers Face a Rising Threat

by Kevin Zawacki
General Motors' crash-avoidance system. Credit: GM Media Archives

Shortly after President George W. Bush appointed Richard Clarke special cybersecurity advisor in 2001, the cyber czar delivered a memorable quip.

“If you spend more on coffee than on IT security, then you will be hacked,” he said. “What’s more, you deserve to be hacked.”

Now, as the Internet muscles its way into watches, cars and other devices, industries once thought far-removed from the web are staffing up to boost cybersecurity and avoid fulfilling Clarke’s prophecy. In one particular industry — the automotive realm — cybersecurity has become paramount.

“A car today can be considered a computer on wheels,” Yoni Heilbronn, a spokesman with Argus Cyber Security, told The Open Standard. Argus is an Israeli-based company specializing in automotive cybersecurity.

“Your regular sedan can have a minimum of 60 computer components — the more advanced have 150 or more,” Heilbronn continued. “Each and every one of these computer components is potentially hackable.”

Through Bluetooth, tire pressure monitoring systems or SIM cards, hackers can gain access remotely to swipe a driver’s data or eavesdrop on conversations, Heilbronn said. There are more grievous threats, too — like car theft or car ransom.

Craig Smith is an automotive security researcher with I Am The Cavalry, a U.S.-based organization that focuses on the intersection of cybersecurity and public safety. Smith notes hackers presently have the ability to wrestle physical control of a car from the driver. In an open letter to automotive CEOs, Smith and others at I Am The Cavalry urge leadership to work in tandem with security researchers; the group is also circulating a petition.

Changes from within

Marking the automotive industry’s efforts to thwart hackers is General Motors’ (GM) September hire of Jeffrey Massimilla, who will serve as the company’s new chief vehicle cybersecurity officer.

“[It’s] a brand new role for GM,” Jennifer Ecclestone, a spokeswoman for the automobile giant, told The Open Standard. “Data security issues are complex and ever-evolving. GM and OnStar [a GM subsidiary] are actively working to address these issues.”

Ecclestone noted GM’s cyber security efforts will coalesce under the newly-arranged Vehicle and Vehicle Services Cybersecurity organization, with Massimilla at the helm. This team will work both internally and with outside experts to “reduce the risks associated with cybersecurity threats,” Ecclestone said.

Earlier this year, GM’s OnStar brand introduced in-vehicle 4G LTE, which provides Wi-Fi and allows equipped automobiles to interface with drivers’ personal electronics.

At Tesla Motors — the electric car company helmed by billionaire Elon Musk — vehicle software is updated remotely over-the-air.

These “Internet of cars” technologies boosts drivers’ productivity, Heilbronn said, but at a price.

“All its added benefit bears risk,” he said.

According to Tesla spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson, the company works with security researchers to “identify and address potential vulnerabilities.” Tesla also tapped accomplished hacker Kristin Paget earlier this year to assist with security.

The increasing affinity between the web and autos has also spurred a campaign from the federal government. Currently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is urging private automakers to beef up security.

“Safety is NHTSA’s top priority, and cybersecurity is an important area of concern for the agency in our efforts to improve the safety of motor vehicles,” officials said. The agency is currently asking the automobile industry to form an Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC), a platform to address potential threats.


17 Oct 11:41

An Open System For Keeping Cities in Good Repair

by Paul Brannan
A crumbling alley pinpointed on FixMyStreet. Credit: Flickr/Alan Stanton

“Thank you for calling our customer service line. All our representatives are busy at the moment. Your call is important to us. Please hold why we try to connect you to one of our agents.”

Cue a distorted version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. And welcome to the Fifth Circle of Hell.

Reaching a call center is too often a dread experience, but it doesn’t have to be like this. In the U.K., the not-for-profit social enterprise mySociety has been spearheading change with a web-based, open-source platform called FixMyStreet.

Seven years after launch it’s become the U.K.’s most widely used fault-reporting website for issues ranging from potholes in the streets, to graffiti, broken street lights and dog fouling. It’s based on a technical standard called Open311 and provides a way for people to report the problems they have to the computers of the people who can fix them.

Get it right and the joined-up experience works “incredibly well” according to Chris Palmer at the London Borough of Barnet:

Mobile, transparent, accountable

“Rather than putting you through a ‘customer service process,’ FixMyStreet gives you a clear idea of what’s happening, allows you to contact your council from standing in the middle of the street with your phone, and gets you a quick response.”

mySociety’s communications officer Myfanwy Nixon said one of the organization’s main aims was to serve people who might never have contacted their council.

“The metric we set most store by is the percentage of people who answer our follow-up site survey to say that this is the first time they have reported something to the council. This is consistently over 50%.”

She said there was a general understanding in UK councils now, of the benefits of channel shifting and increased transparency.

The business case for governments

“We tend to promote FMS in terms of its extreme usability… [and] as a proven means to reduce reports made by phone, it saves the council money that would otherwise be spent on staffing the phone lines.”

She added: “The benefits of transparency go both ways: councils typically do a lot of hidden, unappreciated work which FMS can help highlight. Equally, councils can dispel misconceptions in public – by explaining their actions online, they are reaching many people rather than the single person they can talk to on the phone or by email.”

“We built [FixMyStreet] because we wanted nervous, politically inexperienced people to know what it felt like to ask the government to do something, and to be successful”

Making interactions public and social is a key part of Open311’s appeal. Writes mySociety developer Dave Whiteland, “We didn’t originally build FixMyStreet because we wanted to get potholes fixed.

Get that feeling

“We built it because we wanted nervous, politically inexperienced people to know what it felt like to ask the government to do something, and to be successful at that.”

The U.S. equivalent of FixMyStreet, SeeClickFix, provides a similar framework for public action but for the service to really take off it needs the buy-in of local authorities and getting that is an uphill struggle. SeeClickFix for Seattle is a good example. More than 400 issues going back to 2011 have been logged by locals and there hasn’t been a single official response on the site to any of them:

“Street drain grate missing at street end. South side of street partially clogged with debris.”

“This van has been parked in the same parking spot all year and has not moved. It is filled with junk and garbage, not sure if someone is living in it or not.”

Closed app for 311 reporting in Seattle; some testy reviews

Seattle City Council has its own mobile app for citizens to report issues, Find It, Fix It, and it lacks both the public and social elements of Open311. It’s a closed loop interaction between the individual and the city. It’s had some testy reviews from users:

“Even when it did work the city closed the case without taking care of the illegal dumping or communicating with me on the status of my request.”

“City called the case closed without removing the dirty sofa illegally dumped on my sidewalk! I don’t think they look at those requests. Useless apps. Crashed and now I can’t even open it…”

“I reported a streetlight that was lit during the day. The report sat there for months before it expired with no response. What’s the point of this app if nobody responds to reports?”

Repeated attempts to reach Seattle officials for comment were unsuccessful.

Zurich in the thick of it

Community-based effort to get things done has found favor in Zurich, one of the cleanest and most efficient cities in the world, and the open source software that underpins it has also been used for other crowdsourced efforts such as reporting empty homes and tackling anti-social behavior.

The latest initiative to come from mySociety is Collideoscope, a tool for reporting and gathering data on cycle accidents in London which will be used to provide insights into accident prevention.

It’s another example of the way data is being aggregated and shared, and shows how crowdsourcing allied to greater transparency delivers small nuggets of feedback to achieve potentially big results.

More: The Open 311 API, or application program interface.


17 Oct 11:46

From Oakland With Love: Lessons for Cities on Open Data and Preparedness

by Steve Spiker
Open-source web app Soft Story accents seismic risk status of apartment buildings in Oakland. Credit: screen grab, OpenOakland.

It only takes one experience to get someone excited about open data. Hopefully though, that experience isn’t an earthquake.

A couple of months ago the famous wine-growing Napa region of California was shaken by a 6.0-scale earthquake resulting in serious damage to buildings, injuries and disruptions in services to a large area. This is something residents in the Bay Area have come to expect – and we’re all waiting for the next “big one,” overdue according to most experts.  The same week it happened, our OpenOakland team launched a new app in response to the Napa disaster. Thanks to open data.

Housing scarcity in Oakland

Oakland is a city with a severe housing shortage and increasing gentrification. It’s also home to 1,378 large apartment buildings at varying risks of collapse in a quake centered close to Oakland. The City of Oakland and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) have studied this issue and over half these buildings have been screened – but over 550 remain to be screened for risk.

Earthquake could be ruinous for low-income apartment-dwellers

So far, 609 multi-family buildings, housing thousands of residents in apartments, have been found to be at serious risk. These are called potential “soft story” buildings, meaning they have a large open ground level such as storage or garages that will potentially collapse in a quake, rendering those homes uninhabitable. That would be an instant loss of thousands of affordable housing units protected under rent control. Any housing units built to replace them will surely not be affordable, resulting in very rapid push out of poorer residents.

‘Lengthy conversations’ to get data, and a pay-off

We launched Soft Story to help renters and owners to quickly see if they were living in a building at seismic risk, or possibly at risk

One of our members, Dave Gaurino, had been trying to access data on this issue for months with slow progress; the data were in a varying state of currency and completion and were obtained through lengthy conversations over many weeks.

After receiving the data, we were able to determine the quality was sufficient for public display and did not require extensive cleaning. We used county parcel data to geocode the addresses, created custom map tiles that contained the points for display, thanks to Mike Migurski of Code for America, and then loaded those data and tiles into the app.

It was possible for us to deploy a simple web app just days after the quake to highlight this issue, one not being discussed much in the communities most likely to be impacted.

Making open data relevant

We launched Soft Story to help renters and owners to quickly see if they were living in a building at seismic risk, or possibly at risk. Open data itself may not be a topic of discussion, but by making this issue personal for the thousands of families living in such buildings, this simple app made these data tangible and actionable. The code is open source so developers in other cities can build their own versions.

City’s open data initiative has had slow ramp-up

Though Oakland has a law on the books requiring open data as well as an open data website, the efforts to ramp up this as a serious initiative for the city have been slow. In a disaster situation, it’s not feasible to spend weeks trying to convince well meaning government officials to give you some data. The issues are present and the data to help, plan and respond also need to be present, right then and there.

Data leads to question – who pays for seismic retrofits?

For now, our app is live and out there and we are promoting it to raise the issue to a broader audience and to push for thoughtful policy. Who needs to pay for the retrofitting and who can equitably do so? If we aim to be a resilient city, we must ensure that our poorer residents do not suddenly become homeless and pushed out after a big quake. Economic resiliency is as big a problem for us as disaster resiliency.

Public data needs to be open by default

San Francisco has required owners of soft-story buildings to hire inspectors and then in some cases, pay for seismic retrofits. As a first step toward risk-prevention, our East Bay cities should help ensure a stream of real time, updated data on the status of these risk-prone structures. When a building is brought into compliance, our apps and open data should reflect that. Public data needs to be plumbed not just into staff reports and compliance systems, but onto the public web as open data.

Two-way street

And citizens must be empowered to give, not just receive. But we’re not yet seeing heavy acceptance of crowdsourced data for official uses, beyond the SeeClickFix tool for reporting of potholes, graffiti and dumping. Nor are local governments typically seeking digital data from communities on urban planning issues, policies or crime – such as where are safe routes to school, rather than just crime reports.

When governments open up local data, many innovations are possible that can aid in preparedness. Fire hydrant data can leading to the creation of organized community commitments to keep hydrants snow- and ice-free so fire crews can respond to fires quickly. California fires data are updated live on Google Maps, giving others the ability to quickly, freely obtain these raw data, also, and take actions to protect property and lives.

Leveraging the ‘long tail” of government

It’s in the community interest not just to open public data, but to actively engage with local apps developers. If city hall suffers damage and the servers lose power, open data that is in the hands of the people, and accessible, could be truly life-saving. We’re not really leveraging the long-tail of government yet.

Our slow adoption of true open government practices means that our communities are far from used to interacting quickly, digitally and positively with government. This suggests poor responses and communication in a serious disaster. But sustained and meaningful engagement between cities and citizens, enriched with a two-way flow of the public data, leads to connections which are invaluable in crises.


17 Oct 20:05

Assorted Quotes

by Eugene Wallingford

... on how the world evolves.

On the evolution of education in the Age of the Web. Tyler Cowen, in Average Is Over, via The Atlantic:

It will become increasingly apparent how much of current education is driven by human weakness, namely the inability of most students to simply sit down and try to learn something on their own.

I'm curious whether we'll ever see a significant change in the number of students who can and do take the reins for themselves.

On the evolution of the Web. Jon Udell, in A Web of Agreements and Disagreements:

The web works as well as it does because we mostly agree on a set of tools and practices. But it evolves when we disagree, try different approaches, and test them against one another in a marketplace of ideas. Citizens of a web-literate planet should appreciate both the agreements and the disagreements.

Some disagreements are easier to appreciate after they fade into history.

On the evolution of software. Nat Pryce on the Twitter, via The Problematic Culture of "Worse is Better":

Eventually a software project becomes a small amount of useful logic hidden among code that copies data between incompatible JSON libraries

Not all citizens of a web-literate planet appreciate disagreements between JSON libraries. Or Ruby gems.

On the evolution of start-ups. Rands, in The Old Guard:

... when [the Old Guard] say, "It feels off..." what they are poorly articulating is, "This process that you're building does not support one (or more) of the key values of the company."

I suspect the presence of incompatible JSON libraries means that our software no longer supports the key values of our company.

17 Oct 16:42

Apple Doesn’t Design for Yesterday

by Eric Karjaluoto

Last night, I installed OS X Yosemite. After the marathon-length download, I finally saw it in action. My initial reaction wasn’t unlike that of many others. I’ll sum it up with the phrase, “This got hit by the ugly stick.”

Now, before you go all fanboi on me, please allow me a moment to explain my reaction. First off, It’s OK if I’m not immediately wowed by the updated GUI. Change works this way. Within a few days I’ll likely grow accustomed to this very flat, very Helvetica, environment. This was my experience when iOS was flattened. Although primitive seeming at first, after a few weeks, it felt fine—and its predecessors looked clumsy.

The biggest point of discomfort I have with the new OS X relates to type. Helvetica sets wide and isn’t always well-suited to screens. These shortcomings are glaring in Yosemite. I need to expand Finder window columns so they accommodate the girth of this type family; similarly, type in the menu bar looks crowded and soft. Admittedly, these are First World Problems. That said, I’m not complaining so much as I’m observing.

Apple’s decision to make a wholesale shift from Lucida to Helvetica defies my expectations. Criticize the company as much as you’d like, but it treats user experience with reverence. So, this leaves me wondering: What possible reason is there for this shift? Why make a change that impedes legibility, requires more screen space, and makes the GUI appear fuzzy?

The answer: Tomorrow.

Before I elaborate on this point, though, let me discuss yesterday. Microsoft’s approach with Windows, and backward compatibility in general, is commendable. Users can install new versions of this OS on old machines, sometimes built on a mishmash of components, and still have it work well. This is a remarkable feat of engineering. It also comes with limitations—as it forces Microsoft to operate in the past.

The people at Apple don’t share this focus on interoperability or legacy. They restrict hardware options, so they can build around a smaller number of specs. Old hardware is often left behind (turn on a first-generation iPad, and witness the sluggishness). Meanwhile, dying conventions are proactively euthanized.

When Macs no longer shipped with floppy drives, many felt baffled. This same experience occurred when a disk (CD/DVD) reader no longer came standard. I probably don’t need to remind you how weird it seemed for the iPhone to not have a physical keyboard. Apple continues to remove items that seem necessary from their products and line-up.

In spite of the grumblings of many, I don’t recall many such changes that we didn’t later look upon as the right choice. Floppy disks were too small. The cloud made physical media (CDs and DVDs) unnecessary. Better touch screens allowed a more efficient means of input, which made bulky keyboards unnecessary.

“What about this change to Helvetica?” you ask. It ties to the only significant point in yesterday’s iMac announcement: Retina displays. Just take a look at Helvetica on any high-fidelity screen, and you see a crisp, economical, and adaptable type system.

Sure, Helvetica looks crummy on your standard resolution screen. But, the people at Apple are OK with this temporary trade-off. You’re living in Apple’s past, and, in time, you’ll move forward. When you do, you’ll find a system that works as intended: because Apple skates to where the puck is going to be.

18 Oct 00:03

On the new iPads

Apple released its new iPads yesterday and they are totally boring, which is in an of itself not a huge deal. The bigger worry is that the new family of SKUs, covering every price and size from $250 to close to $1000 reminds me of the kind of tasteless shelf stuffing that took place at HP during the years I was there for both PCs and printers.

Here is how it would go: some senior exec from one of the big channel partners (Costco, Staples, BestBuy, Tesco, etc.) would show up with a sales report or market study claiming that the price point between $399 and $499 seemed particularly fertile for some sort of compromised laptop and BAM! a project manager would be assigned to sort out what components to take out of some existing device so that the BOM (bill of materials) would allow a product to exist- totally based on rear view mirror data about sales purchases by the ants crawling through the shelves of the Costco late on Friday night somewhere between the cheeseballs and the lawn equipment.

Apple going this direction is no surprise given their lack of product leadership- adding small features to the rapidly exploding matrix of SKUs and managing product releases to Wall St expectations. The bigger problem though is the way that the ipad third party ecosystem has done so little to invent new experiences in the form of apps that drive the adoption of new and better devices. Almost every developer that I talk to is much more excited about working on the iPhone platform than on the iPad platform and it is a bit sad because in the absence of the iPhone stealing all of the thunder, the iPad would have been, in Alan Kay's words, "what the personal computer should have been."

Without new apps, the iPad will die a long slow death of mediocre corporate decisions filling holes in the product matrix. As I write this on the new version of Drafts 4, with Prompt 2 and Pythonista being the only two apps that have gotten me excited in the last year, I'm not sure we will get there- a purely new class of app targeting the large glass screen, the constant connection to the Internet, and MIPS that are much more about the GPU than the CPU. All of this should make buyers of the new iPad Air 2 feel like those early Apple ][ pioneers who bought it just to run VisiCalc, Star Blazer, and PrintShop.

If you've got one of those apps, I want to talk to you...

17 Oct 20:52

Robert’s Mozilla Stories Blog: Vancouver Hive Pop-Up

by hlee

Chicago Mozilla Rep Robby blogs about participating in the very first Vancouver Hive Pop-Up!

Robert’s Mozilla Stories Blog: Vancouver Hive Pop-Up.

Robby at the Pop-Up Welcome table with our awesome youth volunteers!

17 Oct 19:00

Vancouver Photowalk

October 11th was World Photowalk Day. I attended the Vancouver edition, which was in a place I’d never go looking for pictures; but I got some anyhow.

We started at the Convention Centre and walked to Gastown, which is to say through Vancouver’s maximal white-hot tourist density, where you don’t need to be on a photowalk to be pointing a camera at everything.

Which is why normally I wouldn’t take my camera there. But you know, going somewhere to take pictures puts your eyes in looking-for-pictures mode. Which isn’t my default; I normally lean back in my skull, waiting for something I see to exhort the camera out of the bag. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. Anyhow, here they are.

Vancouver Canada Place

When we started, everything was in maximal high-contrast mode.

Vancouver Seabus Station wrapped for renovations

They’d wrapped the waterfront train/bus/ferry station
for renovations.

Guy with iPad

I’m not sure this guy’s accessories are all working well together.

Gastown wedding Gastown wedding

A wedding was in progress; there was puzzlement at the dozen
amateur photogs milling around the pro.

Canada place, with barbed wire.

The white things are Canada Place,
best-known as the cruise ship terminal.

East-Gastown street scene

As you go east things get sketchier.
There’s a story here but I’m not sure what it is.