Shared posts

23 May 17:02

"Often people get demoralized or complacent and stop doing consistent programming. Whatever your..."

“Often people get demoralized or complacent and stop doing consistent programming. Whatever your schedule is, stay consistent to it.”

- Ryan Wyatt, the global head of content for gaming at YouTube, on how those uploaded Minecraft content can get noticed – but really, this statement is true of most things.
23 May 12:35

The Celestial Emporium of #OpenBadges Taxonomies

by Serge

taxodermy

In a previous post (Over 2 millions of badge types…) I explored the typology of Open Badges and the idea of a taxonomy to conclude to the inanity of any attempt at enumerating the different types of Open Badges.

Recently, while discussing with a colleague the ideas developed in this previous post, she reminded me of the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, a fictitious taxonomy of animals described by Jorge Luis Borges in his 1942 essay “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins.” Borges used this taxonomy to illustrate the arbitrariness and cultural specificity of any attempt at categorising the world.

Taken from an ancient (fictitious) Chinese encyclopaedia, The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge divides all animals into 14 categories:

  1. Those that belong to the emperor
  2. Embalmed ones
  3. Those that are trained
  4. Suckling pigs
  5. Mermaids (or Sirens)
  6. Fabulous ones
  7. Stray dogs
  8. Those that are included in this classification
  9. Those that tremble as if they were mad
  10. Innumerable ones
  11. Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
  12. Et cetera
  13. Those that have just broken the flower vase
  14. Those that, at a distance, resemble flies

Reading this taxonomy I wondered how it could be translated into the realm of Open Badges. The result is Open Badge Taxonomy #1.

Open Badge Taxonomy #1 (directly inspired by The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge):

  1. Those issued by someone with more than 5,000 Linkedin connections
  2. The revoked ones
  3. Those related to formal training
  4. Those that have never been issued
  5. Marine-related ones
  6. Those earned by only 10 people in the whole world
  7. Those that were erased from the backpack at Christmas time
  8. Those included in this classification
  9. Those with an animated PNG
  10. Those that cannot be counted
  11. Those which picture has been hand drawn
  12. Et cetera
  13. Those that cannot be uploaded in the Backpack
  14. Those that, at a distance, resemble nothing special

After this first attempt, I wondered whether I could create more of them, let’s say “the behaviourist Open Badge taxonomy,”  and “the constructivist Open Badge taxonomy.” The combination of both gave Taxonomy #2.

Open Badge Taxonomy #2 (the behaviourist-constructivist Open Badge Taxonomy):

  • Those issued by those who believe in the need for controlling others
    • Those issued by those who believe that studying pigeons provides an insight into the human mind
      • Those issued by those who believe in behaviourist theories
        • Those issued by those who believe in the need for doggy biscuits and praise for motivating learners
      • Those issued by those who believe in gamification
      • Those issued by those who think that Open Badges are more ‘chic’ than gold stars
    • Those issued by those who believe that Open Badges should be ‘quality assured’
  • Those issued by those who believe in the need to empower others
    • Those issued by those who believe that only idiots can believe that studying pigeons can provide any insight into the human mind
      • Those issued by those who like to ridicule behaviourist beliefs

Although rather self-indulgent, this taxonomy is perfectly operational to organise the knowledge on Open Badges. Looking at power relationships is a-priori not less valid than any other classification. In the opinion of the author of this post, differentiating between the different ‘types’ of Open Badges, trust vs. distrust, is probably the only valuable taxonomy, if one is needed.

I did not go any further as I rapidly realised that, before building any taxonomy, even a self-indulgent one, I first had to find the answers to  a number of questions:

  • What is the genesis of taxonomies? When do they appear? To fulfill what need? How do they grow and evolve?
  • Are taxonomies an accurate representation of the reality? Are they innocuous?
  • Do we need an Open Badge taxonomy?

It is what this post aims at exploring.

What are taxonomies?

When I looked at Wikipedia for ‘taxonomy’ I was amused to read this warning: “Taxonomy, Not to be confused with taxidermy.” It made me wonder whether taxonomy and taxidermy might not share more than just a lexical proximity, something like the illusion of life associated to rigor mortis?

Taxonomy (from Ancient Greek: τάξις taxis, “arrangement,” and -νομία -nomia, “method[1]) is the science of defining groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics and giving names to those groups. Organisms are grouped together intotaxa (singular: taxon) and given a taxonomic rank; groups of a given rank can be aggregated to form a super group of higher rank and thus create a taxonomic hierarchy. […] The exact definition of taxonomy [in biology] varies from source to source, but the core of the discipline remains: the conception, naming, and classification of groups of organisms. (source)

Corporate taxonomy is the hierarchical classification of entities of interest of an enterprise, organization or administration, used to classify documents, digital assets and other information. Taxonomies can cover virtually any type of physical or conceptual entities (products, processes, knowledge fields, human groups, etc.) at any level of granularity. (source)

Bloom’s taxonomy refers to a classification of the different objectives that educators set for students (learning objectives). It divides educational objectives into three “domains”: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor.

So, taxonomy is just a big word for a list of things, that is not necessarily hierarchical.

Are taxonomies an accurate representation of the reality? Are they innocuous?

To address this issue, let’s take the famous Bloom taxonomy (link) and listen to what Donal Clark has to say about it:

Since then we’ve had dozens of taxonomies which sliced and diced in all sorts of ways. We’ve had Biggs, Wills, Bateson, Belbin and dozens more. The problem with taxonomies is their attempt to pin down the complexity of cognition in a list of simple categories. In practice, learning doesn’t fall into these neat divisions. It’s a much more complex and messier set of cognitive processes.

Another danger is that crazy instructionalists, like Gagne, take these taxonomies and attempt to design learning that matches these categories, destroying much of the more useful approaches which an understanding of brain science brings; such as cognitive overload, working memory limitations, top-down processing and so on.
Source: http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.fr/2006/09/bloom-goes-boom.html

David Didau, the Learning Spy, author of What If Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong?:

One criticism is that it can lead to teachers not really thinking through the different categories of thinking skills each time they’re used which lead students to think superficially. Any classification of skills along the lines of Bloom’s can aid critical thinking but only if it is used critically. I guess my concern is that use of Bloom’s Taxonomy has become wholly uncritical in many cases.
Source: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/learning/challenging-blooms-taxonomy/

Interestingly, Prof. John Hattie says in Visible Learning,

It is intriguing to note that the major revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson, Krathwohl & Bloom, 2001) introduced four similar levels [to SOLO]: factual knowledge,  (how to be acquainted with a discipline or solve problems in it); conceptual understanding (interrelationships among elements within a large structure that enables them to function together); procedural knowledge (how to do something, methods of enquiry); and meta-cognitive knowledge (knowledge of cognition in general as well as awareness and knowledge of one’s own cognition). This is a major advance on the better-known Bloom’s Taxonomy, which confuses levels of knowing with forms of knowledge. 

An example of the dangers of mishandling Bloom’s taxonomy

Bloom's Trajectory

During the 2014 conference of  the Canadian Association for Prior Learning Assessment (CAPLA) Cambridge Professional Development made a presentation on “Bloom’s Trajectory”(link). The idea of the “trajectory” is that people’s knowledge, skills and attitudes start at level 0, Awareness, elegantly named ‘Conscious incompetence’, moving on from one level to the next, one step at a time, until reaching the ultimate 6th level, Creating.

While it can be fine to use Bloom’s taxonomy at some point during an analysis e.g. to perform a lexical analysis to elicit at which level of a framework a specific competency should be attached (classification), the “Bloom’s trajectory” looks like something entirely different. The very notion of “trajectory” in relation to knowledge and attitudes is a complete non-sense. Nobody starts at K0 (knowledge level 0, ‘conscious incompetence‘), then K1 up to K6!

We know from Piaget’s work that children learn by formulating an understanding of the world (“What causes the wind? The leaves moving in the trees!”). Understanding (K2) starts with the creation of an hypothesis (K6) which can then evaluated (K5), etc. There is no path, just a big (self-regulated) mess, as indicated above by Donald Clark.

While children continuously formulate hypothesis, what makes people learn is their desire to learn. This desire to learn is often formulated through goals. Setting personal goals is about setting a context in which meaning is constructed, for oneself and others. Without context, it is difficult to create any meaning. The same fact (or achievement) will be interpreted differently, the colour it reflects might change when the context changes.

About attitudes and values

When someone gives a bit of change to a vagabond, it might be that they expect to go to heaven through good deeds or because they think that the current state of our society stinks and we should do something about it, now, even knowing that it won’t change the system. It’s the same fact (change moving from one pocket to another) but the ‘achievement’ is entirely different. It is the long term goal that indicates that one is an act of egoism, based on extrinsic motivation (going to heaven) and the other an act of generosity based on intrinsic motivation (creating a more inclusive society). The first gives change with the hope of getting something in exchange, the other with the knowledge that it won’t contribute to achieving his main goal, but will, at least, provide some relief. It is the context that tells whether the act is a manifestation of egoism or pure generosity.

Will the first one actually go to paradise? Will the other succeed in changing the world? Somewhat difficult to tell for the first one, and I won’t hold my breath for the second — although it might help to find out about the first one!

From this, I would claim that there is no more a “path” for values than there is a path to heaven (in my belief system). Compliance is not the start of the journey, nor is defiance its end — although it is interesting to note that in the “Bloom’s Trajectory” there is no room for a reflective rebel.

Do we need an Open Badge taxonomy?

While there are probably people who believe in the need for a taxonomy to understand the world of Open Badges, I am one of those who believe that a taxonomy, that would need to be finite to have any practical value, is very likely to provide an over-simplified representation of the world, an illusion of understanding. Moreover, naming something has never provided any intelligence about the thing itself, especially if the vocabulary and the concepts used to describe the new comes from the understanding of the old.

I’ll add that, given the fallacy of the “Bloom’s Path,” we should be wary of any attempt at creating normative “Badge Paths.”

More taxonomies

Open Badge Taxonomy #3 (looking more serious, yet just as inane):

  1. Those issued by individual learners out of their own volition
  2. Those issued by individual learners at the demand of another learner
  3. Those issued spontaneously by a group of learners
  4. Those issued by a group of learners after a long deliberation
  5. Those issued by teachers out of their own volition
  6. Those issued by teachers on behalf of an institution
  7. Those issued by an automaton as the outcome of a single event
  8. Those issued by an automaton as the outcome of an algorithm
  9. Those issued as the result of a faulty automaton
  10. Those issued by a spammer
  11. Those issued as the result of a faulty assessment by a human being
  12. Those issued by someone just to have fun
  13. Those issued by someone who does not know what a badge is
  14. Those that were issued and never reached a Backpack

What I’ll argue here is that it is possibly an entirely different type of badge if it is issued by a learner for herself or for a peer, and if it is out of her own volition or at the demand of the other learner.

Open Badge Taxonomy #4:

  1. Those describing a verified past individual performance
  2. Those describing an unverified past individual performance
  3. Those describing a certain future individual performance
  4. Those describing an uncertain future individual performance
  5. Those describing a verified past collective performance
  6. Those describing an uncertain future collective performance
  7. Those related to the preparation of an event
  8. Those related to the participation in an event
  9. Those related to the contribution to the success of an event
  10. Those related to the impact after the participation in an event
  11. Those based on standards defined by an independent authority
  12. Those based on standards defined by the earner
  13. Those based on standards defined by the issuer
  14. Those based on standards defined by the designer
  15. Those based on standards negotiated between the earner and the issuer
  16. Those based on standards defined by the issuer and endorsed by an indepented authority
  17. Those based on standards that are not endorsed by an independent authority

Open Badge Taxonomy #5:

  1. Those that were never earned
  2. Those earned by one person, and one person only and self-issued
  3. Those earned by one person, and one person only and issued by another person
  4. Those earned by two people, and two people only
  5. Those earned by less than 10 people
  6. Those earned by more than 10 and less than 100 people
  7. Those earned by more than 100 and less than 1,000 people
  8. Those earned by more than 1,000 and less than 10,000 people
  9. Those earned by more than 10,000 and less than 100,000 people
  10. Those earned by more than 100,000 and less than 1,000,000 people
  11. Those earned by more than 1,000,000 people
  12. Those that are not part of that taxonomy

You are invited to create your own Open Badge taxonomy. Don’t be afraid to be wild!

23 May 15:26

The Joy of Coding (Ep. 15): OS X Printing Returns

by Mike

In Episode 15, we kept working on the same bug as the last two episodes – proxying the printing dialog on OS X to the parent process from the content process. At the end of Episode 14, we’d finished the serialization bits, and put in the infrastructure for deserialization. In this episode, we did the rest of the deserialization work.

And then we attempted to print a test page. And it worked!

We did it!

Then, we cleaned up the patches and posted them up for review. I had a lot of questions about my Objective-C++ stuff, specifically with regards to memory management (it seems as if some things in Objective-C++ are memory managed, and it’s not immediately obvious what that applies to). So I’ve requested review, and I hope to hear back from someone more experienced soon!

I also plugged a new show that’s starting up! If you’re a designer, and want to see how a designer at Mozilla does their work, you’ll love The Design Hour, by Ricardo Vazquez. His design chops are formidable, and he shows you exactly how he operates. It’s great!

Finally, I failed to mention that I’m on holiday next week, so I can’t stream live. I have, however, pre-recorded a shorter Episode 16, which should air at the right time slot next week. The show must go on!

Episode Agenda

References

Bug 1091112 – Print dialog doesn’t get focus automatically, if e10s is enabled – Notes

22 May 21:25

Future of iPad: Dual-app viewing mode, iPad Pros, multi-user

by Rui Carmo
Click on the image to zoom in

If the dual-app mode pans out (and I see no reason why it shouldn’t work on current devices), it’s going to be their first sensible take on multitasking, ever.


22 May 21:28

On Apple Watch Ergonomics

by Rui Carmo
Click on the image to zoom in

Good thinking.


23 May 00:55

TC on Apple Watch

by Matt

The John Biggs article on Why I’m Still Wearing My Apple Watch almost perfectly describes how I’m feeling about the watch right now. It is a very personal device, I’ve gotten attached to the little fellow, and I should probably start selling all my mechanical watches.

23 May 03:11

Flickr Robots Auto-Tag Every Photo, Auto-Annoy Users

by Laura Northrup
mkalus shared this story from Consumerist.

(Cambodia4kids.org Beth Kanter)(

(Cambodia4kids.org Beth Kanter)(Cambodia4kids.org Beth Kanter)
Flickr’s survival is a minor miracle of the Internet age: it’s one of the few sites that Yahoo acquired in the last decade that it didn’t kill off or change beyond all recognition. That’s because of its core base of very loyal and very talented users. Unfortunately, that kind of base means a popular uprising whenever anything about the site changes, a minor revolt happens.

We at Consumerist are grateful for the continuing existence of Flickr: thanks to Creative Commons-licensed photos and photos licensed through our own Flickr pool, we populate these pages with original photos contributed by our readers and other talented people.

zoesquirrel This time, what Flickr changed seemed like a really good idea. Maybe if they had made it an opt-in beta test, that could have worked a little better. The site’s innovation was using photo recognition to automatically generate tags for users’ photos.

zoesquirrel In a few minutes of poking around Flickr, I saw a hamster labeled “people.” Here’s another relatively non-offensive example, unless you’re my dog: at right is a camera phone snapshot of my dog plotting her next move while watching a squirrel in my backyard. She’s small compared to the rest of the picture and the picture was taken from the back and at an angle where she isn’t quite so she isn’t dog-shaped, so what did Flickr’s tagging system label her as? A bird. Without any other tags by me to provide context, they tagged the picture with “bird,” “outdoor,” and “animal.”bird

Other examples were a lot less innocuous. Users noticed photos of black people that were tagged “animal” and “ape.” “ape.” Don’t call the robot racist, though: a photo of a white and blonde woman taken at a color run was tagged “ape.” From an evolutionary point of view, we’re all apes, but that is probably not where the tagging robot was going with that.) A photo of the metal fence outside of the Dachau concentration camp was labeled “jungle gym,” since it kind of looks like one if you’re a photo-recognition computer that doesn’t understand context.

Or boundaries. Some users complained that they felt like their privacy had been violated because the tagging robot added tags to photos that had been limited to “friends and family” only. “I can’t help but feel violated that the Flickr auto tagging has invaded my [friends and family] photos,” one user posted. “That is very invasive. Flickr has no place trespassing like that. It is just morally wrong. You were not invited in.”

A Flickr staff member explained to users upset about the change why some of the tags were incredibly generic, like “people” or “indoors.”

The overwhelming majority of searches on Flickr include some very general terms – sometimes alone and sometimes in conjunction with other, more specific terms. When people search Flickr, general tags often help in getting your photos found.

If you have a Flickr account and want to opt out of getting auto-tagged entirely, so far your best option is to turn off search for your account. you can do that here. That does mean opting out of having your photos searched and found by strangers.

Flickr faces complaints over ‘offensive’ auto-tagging for photos [The Guardian]

23 May 10:00

Standards or Interoperability?

by Tony Hirst

An interesting piece, as ever, from Tim Davies (Slow down with the standards talk: it’s interoperability & information quality we should focus on) reflecting on the question of whether we need more standards, or better interoperability, in the world of (open) data publishing. Tim also links out to Friedrich Lindenberg’s warnings about 8 things you probably believe about your data standard, which usefully mock some of the claims often casually made about standards adoption.

My own take on many standards in the area is that conventions are the best we can hope for, and that even then they will be interpreted in variety of ways, which means you have to be forgiving when trying to read them. All manner of monstrosities have been published in the guise of being HTML or RSS, so the parsers had to do the best they could getting the mess into a consistent internal representation at the consumer side of the transaction. Publishers can help by testing that whatever they publish does appear to parse correctly with the current “industry standard” importers, ideally open code libraries. It’s then up to the application developers to decide which parser to use, or whether to write their own.

It’s all very well standardising your data interchange format, but the application developer will then want to work on that data using some other representation in a particular programming language. Even if you have a formal standard interchange format, and publishers stick to religiously and unambiguously, you will still get different parsers generating internal representations that the application code will work on that are potentially very different, and may even have different semantics. [I probably need to find some examples of that to back up that claim, don’t I?!;-)])

I also look at standards from the point of view of trying to get things done with tools that are out there. I don’t really care if a geojson feed is strictly conformant with any geojson standard that’s out there, I just need to know that something claimed to be published as as geojson works with whatever geojson parser the Leaflet Javascript library uses. I may get frustrated by the various horrors that are published using a CSV suffix, but if I can open it using pandas (a Python programming library), RStudio (an R programming environment) or OpenRefine (a data cleaning application), I can work with it.

At the data level, if councils published their spending data using the same columns and same number, character and data formats for those columns, it would make life aggregating those datasets mush easier. But even then, different councils use the same thing differently. Spending area codes, or directorate names are not necessarily standardised across councils, so just having a spending area code or directorate name column (similarly identified) in each release doesn’t necessarily help.

What is important is that data publishers are consistent in what they publish so that you can start to take into account their own local customs and work around those. Of course, internal consistency is also hard to achieve. Look down any local council spending data transaction log and you’ll find the same company described in several ways (J. Smith, J. Smith Ltd, JOHN SMITH LIMITED, and so on), some of which may match the way the same company is recorded by another council, some of which won’t…

Stories are told from the Enigma codebreaking days of how the wireless listeners could identify Morse code operators by the cadence and rhythm of their transmissions, as unique to them as any other personal signature (you know that the way you walk identifies you, right?). In open data land, I think I can spot a couple of different people entering transactions into local council spending transaction logs, where the systems aren’t using controlled vocabularies and selection box or dropdown list entry methods, but instead support free text entry… Which is say – even within a standard data format (a spending transaction schema) published using a conventional (though variously interpreted) document format (CSV) that nay be variously encoded (UTF-8, ASCII, Latin-1), the stuff in the data file may be all over the place…

An approach I have been working towards for my own use over the last year or so is to adopt a working environment for data wrangling and analysis based around the Python pandas programming library. It’s then up to me how to represent things internally within that environment, and how to get the data into that representation within that environment. The first challenge is getting the data in, the second getting it into a state where I can start to work with it, the third getting it into a state where I can start to normalise it and then aggregate it and/or combine it with other data sets.

So for example, I started doodling a wrapper for nomis and looking at importers for various development data sets. I have things call on the Food Standards Agency datasets (and when I get round to it, their API) and scrape reports from the CQC website, I download and dump Companies House data into a database, and have various scripts for calling out to various Linked Data endpoints.

Where different publishers use the same identifier schemes, I can trivially merge, join or link the various data elements. For approxi-matching, I run ad hoc reconciliation services.

All this is to say that at the end of the day, the world is messy and standardised things often aren’t. At the end of the day, integration occurs in your application, which is why it can be handy to be able to code a little, so you can whittle and fettle the data you’re presented with into a representation and form that you can work with. Wherever possible, I use libraries that claim to be able to parse particular standards and put the data into representations I can cope with, and then where data is published in various formats or standards, go for the option that I know has library support.

PS I realise this post stumbles all over the stack, from document formats (eg CSV) to data formats (or schema). But it’s also worth bearing in mind that just because two publishers use the same schema, you won’t necessarily be able to sensibly aggregate the datasets across all the columns (eg in spending data again, some council transaction codes may be parseable and include dates, accession based order numbers, department codes, others may be just be jumbles of numbers). And just because two things have the same name and the same semantics, doesn’t mean the format will be the same (2015-01-15, 15/1/15, 15 Jan 2015, etc etc)


23 May 08:37

Dear Magazines: please quit screwing loyal subscribers

by Doc Searls

When my main credit card got yanked for some kind of fraud activity earlier this month (as it seems all of them do, sooner or later) I had the unpleasant task of going back over my bills to see what companies I’d need to give a new credit card number. Among those many (Amazon, Apple, PayPal, Dish Network, EasyPass…) were a bunch of magazines that get renewed annually. These include:

  • The New Yorker
  • Vanity Fair
  • Wired
  • New York
  • Consumer Reports

At my wife’s urging (for she is more mindful of money and scams than I am), I compared the last automatic renewal fee to the current best subscription rates offered to new subscribers by the magazines directly, or through intermediaries such as Amazon.

All but Consumer Reports offered lower prices to new subscribers. Take The New Yorker for example. Here’s my last automatic payment, from July of last year:

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 6.06.55 PM

And here is the current lowest price on the New Yorker website:

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 6.11.01 PM

That doesn’t give me the price for a year. So I hit the chat button and got an agent named Brad. Here is what followed:

New Yorker chat

This screws loyal subscribers. That most publications do it is no excuse. It’s just wrong. Especially for a magazine with subscribers as loyal as The New Yorker’s.

So I won’t be renewing any of those magazines. I’ll let them lapse and come back, if I feel like it, as a new subscriber.

 

 

23 May 12:10

It’s now possible to create Wunderlist tasks while in Sunrise

by Igor Bonifacic

Sunrise recently took to its blog to announce the addition of cross-functionality between its calendar app and to-do app Wunderlist.

Included in the update are several new features that, while small, will be appreciated by those that use both apps.

First, it’s possible to create Wunderlists tasks while in Sunrise. To do so, create a new event in Sunrise and choose Wunderlist as the calendar. Once created, the task will appear in Wunderlist, as well.

Additionally, due dates in Wunderlist can be changed through Sunrise by simply dragging and dropping a task within the calendar.

Lastly, checking off a task within Wunderlist will also make a checkmark show up in Sunrise next to that task.

To enable the functionality, go to the setting menu within Sunrise, select “Add Account”, find Wunderlist among all the other apps that can be linked to Sunrise and enter your login credentials.

That the two apps are able to work together like this is thanks to the new Public API Wunderlist released last week. The API allows other apps to communicate with Wunderlist and leverage some of its features. Apps that can already take advantage of this functionality include Slack, One Note and HipChat.

This is the second update to Sunrise in as many weeks. Last week, the company, which was recently acquired by Microsoft, released a third-party keyboard for iOS and Android called Meet that allows users to pull up their calendar while they’re in another app.

Grab Sunrise on the App Store or Google Play. Wunderlist, likewise, can be downloaded from the App Store and on Google Play.

SourceSunrise
22 May 20:22

On the Referendum: A Reminder from Richard

by pricetags
From Richard Campbell:
 .
Only a few days before ballots must be received by Elections BC on May 29. They should be mailed by Monday, May 25 to ensure they are received on time.
 .
There are still over 50 percent of the ballots lying around in people’s homes. More than enough to win!
 .
Lots of people will be riding bikes and taking transit to events, beaches and parks this weekend.
 .
So when you are out and about this weekend, please ask people on bikes and transit, “Hi, have you voted Yes yet?”.  Its a great way to meet people and to help ensure that the cycling and transit improvements that we all need happen.
 .
Print out a few of these handy flyers  here to hand out. Or they can be folded and hung on the cables of parked bikes.
 .
More here.

22 May 18:01

Camera-phone shootout: LG G4 versus Samsung Galaxy S6

by Steve Litchfield
I’ve been around the smartphone world since the very beginning (2002, with the Nokia 7650) and have seen cameras improving dramatically year on year. And the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy S6 (here in its Edge variant) each have the very latest camera hardware, itself a surprising leap up from 2014’s technology. Can this space improve any further, into 2016? Oh, quite possibly, there are still some tweaks left to add back in (cough, Xenon flash), but the performance here, in almost all light conditions, is astonishing. However, there’s one obvious question that needs answering – which (G4 or S6) smartphone camera is better? Continue reading →
22 May 18:09

The Changing Face (and Reality) of London

by pricetags

Antje links to this extraordinarily well-illustrated piece in the MailOnline: .

London enters the age of the skyscraper

.

Around 70 tall buildings are under construction, with nearly 200 more planned – despite London’s reputation and history as a ‘low-rise’ city with just a few skyscrapers concentrated in small pockets.

Cheerleaders say the massive change is the only way to deal with London’s housing crisis by increasing the density of the inner city.

But critics insist the new tower blocks are being built to serve foreign investors who are likely to leave the buildings empty – doing nothing to ease the problems of ordinary Londoners who face soaring rents and house prices.

London 2

This graphic shows how the City of London could look when proposed new skyscrapers are built, after a new report revealed that 263 tall buildings are currently being planned for the UK’s capital.

.

Southwark

A projection of how the Southwark area and the banks of the Thames could look when all the new skyscrapers are built.

.

Blackfriars

One Blackfriars, a 50-storey residential tower, pictured from Blackfriars Bridge in an artist’s impression.

.

Many more here.

Says Antje: “Apparently the new residential high rise apartments are sold to foreign investors by the storey. Many remain empty.”


22 May 18:33

Twinning Tweets: British Columbia as Carbon Dealer to the World

by pricetags

We’ve always been an exploiter of our environment; that’s the nature of a frontier province.  But now we’re notching it up: If you can get fossil fuels in a pipe or to a port, we’ll sell it to the world – and take no responsibility for the consequences.

Yes, we have a carbon tax on domestic consumption of carbon, but not on the throughput of oil, LNG and coal, which we are doing our best to facilitate.  As indicated in items that came in today:

Bridge high enough for LNG tankers proposed

Port Metro Van­cou­ver wants the prov­ince to build a higher bridge when it re­places the Massey Tun­nel to al­low taller LNG tankers to travel up the Fraser River, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments ob­tained by an en­vi­ron­men­tal group. …

massey

An internal email between port staff suggests the port’s 65-metre figure is based on the height clearance requirements for the biggest LNG tankers that could turn in the river.

Tunnel replacement, it is said, will also help in shipping coal out of an expanded Fraser-Surrey Docks.

So we both increase the amount of carbon we can ship, and use the wealth generated to build infrastructure that will encourage even more driving and suburban sprawl – the highest-energy forms of urban development.

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Meanwhile … also in the Sun: “Big energy clashes with Kerry on climate change.”

“The call for carbon pricing is unanimous,” Gerard Mestrallet, CEO of the French energy company Engie, said on a panel discussion in Paris. “It’s loud and clear. Carbon pricing is the right signal, the right tool.” …

“We need a robust price of carbon,” Philippe Varin, chairman of the French utility Areva SA, said at the conference. “Necessity is the mother of creativity, and we definitively need a carbon price.”

If indeed that should happen, the economics of the carbon we export, currently without a carbon tax, suddenly change.  And so, presumably, would we – or at least the cost of the debt we incur for the kind of car- and truck-dependent urban region the Province will build, especially in the absence of a commitment to transit and assumption of ever-greater royalties for carbon.


20 May 17:30

Twitter Favorites: [datasociety] Flickr's “advanced image recognition technology” under fire after adding offensive image tags to photos - via @niftyc http://t.co/LbymaaFL47

Data & Society @datasociety
Flickr's “advanced image recognition technology” under fire after adding offensive image tags to photos - via @niftyc buff.ly/1Bck9mO
20 May 18:08

Twitter Favorites: [ReneeStephen] OH: "It’s not you, it’s Drupal."

Renée Stephen @ReneeStephen
OH: "It’s not you, it’s Drupal."
20 May 19:40

Twitter Favorites: [OpenTranscripts] "Bot Culture & the Myth of the Wacky Inventor" @jjjjjjjjohannah at #botsummit on Rube Goldberg(and Heath Robinson): http://t.co/9JqqgaqIbm

OpenTranscripts @OpenTranscripts
"Bot Culture & the Myth of the Wacky Inventor" @jjjjjjjjohannah at #botsummit on Rube Goldberg(and Heath Robinson): opentranscripts.org/transcript/bot…
20 May 20:17

Twitter Favorites: [andreareimer] @Chekistombyl @lizaCKNW980 @CKNW also not true but getting the message that facts aren't your thing. Back to work for me, have a good day.

Andrea Reimer 惠綺文 @andreareimer
@Chekistombyl @lizaCKNW980 @CKNW also not true but getting the message that facts aren't your thing. Back to work for me, have a good day.
22 May 19:34

iOS 9 will reportedly be light on new features, focusing instead on stability

by Igor Bonifacic

With the Worldwide Developer Conference only a couple of weeks away, details continue to trickle out on what kind of additions and improvements we can expect from iOS 9. Thanks to 9to5Mac‘s Mark Gurman, we have good reason to believe that this year’s upgrade to Apple mobile operating system will break with tradition from previous releases; instead of bringing a slew of new features, iOS 9 will focus on stability and performance improvements.

According to Gurman, we have Apple’s engineers to thank for this temporary shift in focus. They apparently petitioned the company’s executives to do a Snow Leopard type release for this year’s versions of iOS and OS X. The publication quotes an unnamed Apple executive who attests to the fact. “I wouldn’t say there’s nothing new for consumers, but the feature lists are more stripped down than the initial plans called for,” says 9to5Mac‘s source.

That said, there are still a couple of noteworthy changes and additions arriving with the update. For instance, the San Francisco typeface that is used throughout the Apple Watch’s operating system will apparently make its way to all other iOS 9 enabled devices. Additionally, as rumoured earlier, Apple’s home automation solution, HomeKit, is set to launch alongside the operating system. Perhaps most interestingly, the iPad will gain a split-screen functionality.

Lastly on the feature front, Apple’s much maligned Maps app is set to receive a comprehensive upgrade that will see it will gain the ability to relay public transit information to users. This feature was reportedly initially scheduled to launch at last year’s WWDC, but a lack of comprehensive transit data for cities in many of Apple’s most important markets made the company decide to delay the feature.

As mentioned earlier, iOS 9 is set to focus on under the hood enhancements. One of the marquee additions in this regard is feature called Rootless. Rootless will prevent even administrator-level users from accessing certain files locked deep within iOS and OS X. Ostensibly, the motivation behind implementing this system is to improve the overall security of the two operating systems. However, it also has to be said that, if successful, Rootless will allow Apple to prevent people from jailbreaking their devices. 9to5Mac notes that it may be possible to disable this feature on OS X, which should be good news to anyone that actually needs root access for legitimate reasons.

Finally, older iOS devices won’t be excluded from this update. According to 9to5Mac, iOS 9 will apparently support devices as far back as the iPhone 4S and original iPad mini. The publication says that Apple changed how it went about trying to bring the new operating system to older devices. As a result, the company was able to get iOS 9 to work with legacy iPhones and iPads without much fuss.

Source9to5Mac
22 May 18:32

Why Twitter is your most important support channel

by Laura Norman

We’ve entered the age of the social customer. Today’s customers have a lot of power, and their voices are amplified on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social channels. Not only do they research brands online, but they’re vocal about sharing their opinions. In case you’re still not convinced that you need to make social a... Read more »

The post Why Twitter is your most important support channel appeared first on Desk.com.

22 May 18:58

When It Comes to Learning, Motivation and Study Habits Trump Technology

by Eugene Wallingford

A lot of people have been talking about Kentaro Toyama's Why Technology Will Never Fix Education, which appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this week. Here is the money paragraph:

The real obstacle in education remains student motivation. Especially in an age of informational abundance, getting access to knowledge isn't the bottleneck, mustering the will to master it is. And there, for good or ill, the main carrot of a college education is the certified degree and transcript, and the main stick is social pressure. Most students are seeking credentials that graduate schools and employers will take seriously and an environment in which they're prodded to do the work. But neither of these things is cheaply available online.

My wife just completed the second of two long-term substitute teaching assignments this year in a local elementary school, so we have been discussing the daily challenges that teachers face. The combination of student motivation and support at home account for most of the variation in how well students perform and how well any given class operates. I see a similar pattern at the university. By the time students reach me, the long-term effects of strong or weak support at home has crystallized into study habits and skills. The combination of student motivation and study skills account for most of the variation I see in whether students succeed or struggle in their university courses.

This all reminds me of a short passage from Tyler Cowen's book, Average Is Over:

The more information that's out there, the greater the returns to just being willing to sit down and apply yourself. Information isn't what's scarce; it's the willingness to do something with it.

The easy availability of information made possible by technology places a higher premium on the ability of students to sit down and work hard, and the willingness to do so. We can fool ourselves into thinking we know more than we do when we look things up quickly, but many students can just as easily access the same information.

We have found ways to use technology to make information easily available, but we haven't found a way to make motivation an abundant resource. Motivation has to come from within. So do the skills needed to use the information. We can at least help students develop study habits and skills through school and family life, though these are best learned early in life. It is hard for students to change 15-20 years of bad habits after they get to college.

The irony for young people is that, while they live in an era of increasingly available information, the onus rests more than ever on what they do. That is both good news and bad.

22 May 10:42

No more limits for Canadian Tech

by mark

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 6.25.14 AMYesterday was a huge day for the Canadian tech scene with Shopify‘s long-awaited IPO finally happening. In its first day of trading the company that began as Tobi’s little rails app gained 51% in market value and is now worth approx. ~ $1.8B.

Having been involved in the Canadian startup scene since the 90s the big thing for me here is that there are no more limits. It was accepted wisdom for many years that we just couldn’t build big technology leaders here in Canada. Yes, we had some exceptions (Blackberry, Nortel, etc.). But by and large our tech companies have been smaller and sold early.

Shopify is the first of several anticipated Canadian tech IPOs. Hootsuite is hinting at going out soon. Point Click Care is ready too. When I first entered this industry, Canadian tech IPOs were thriving. An investment bank that is no longer (Yorkton Securities) was leading the way. I look forward to that day returning soon.

Finally, going back to Shopify. I remember when I first walked into their offices. At the time they all fit on two rooms above a coffee shop or something. From those humble beginnings with the odds against them (no one would have said you could find so many great people to hire in Ottawa) they have done amazing things, and are still just getting started.

I hope this inspires all of us to go big and put the Canadian tech scene back on the global map where it belongs!

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 6.23.47 AM

The post No more limits for Canadian Tech appeared first on StartupCFO : Mark MacLeod.

22 May 14:51

Revisions for Dropbox: Take Control of Your Dropbox History

by Brett Terpstra
Revisions for Dropbox

Revisions for Dropbox

I was excited to discover Revisions For Dropbox, a Mac app for viewing a history of changes for any file or folder in your Dropbox account. I'd been looking for precisely this solution, and it didn't disappoint.

Revisions is a menu bar app you can access at any time. When you connect your Dropbox account, it begins indexing the entire stored history for all of your files. Depending on the type of Dropbox account you have, this ranges from 30 days (free) to forever (business account). Of course, if your Dropbox account is anything like mine – a huge folder with a year of history – it can take hours to index. Fortunately, you can focus on a single folder, and Revisions indexes only that folder and its subfolders. The most recent history is available almost immediately, and you can start using Revisions while it's still indexing the rest.

When you click the menu bar icon, you're presented with a chronological list of all changes in your Dropbox folder, with colored markers indicating creations, changes, and deletions. You can restore deleted files and folders, and revert changes within the app. Alternatively, you can download copies from that revision point.

There's no built-in diff view for individual changes, but you can view details of changes between versions of a file using your external diff viewer of choice (I like Kaleidoscope).

The date span for the change list is adjustable, and the granularity of each chronological grouping of changes can be changed with a slider. A "group undo" button on the right of each group allows you to revert or restore every change within that time period. Revisions will warn you about any files in the group that have been modified since that point to avoid conflicts or overwriting newer work.

Revisions For Dropbox is "freemium." The initial download is free, and completely functional. For most users, it's probably a complete solution as is. Upgrading to Premium costs $9.99 US, and adds the ability to show which user edited a given file, filter what files are indexed and displayed, and receive high priority support. If you find yourself getting a lot of use out of Revisions, I'd encourage purchasing the Premium upgrade whether you require the extra features or not. You can't go wrong supporting great software.

Revisions does everything I wanted, and the interface is nearly perfect. If you have a large archive and long history, indexing will take a long time, but given the amount of information it's compiling this is absolutely forgivable. The only thing I'd like to see added at this point is a Quick Look-style internal diff view.

Download Revisions For Dropbox for free on the Mac App Store.

22 May 16:21

Ohrn: Commute

by pricetags

On my way to HUB’s “Share the Road” Commuter Challenge, I stopped to get a few pix of commuters on the new Point Grey Road at Tatlow Park.

This is a beautiful morning at 7:10 am on May 20, 2015.

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Ohrn commute


22 May 16:30

Housing Affordability: “The time for denialism is over”

by pricetags

A column that only Ian Young could write:

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Young

The realisation that something is grotesquely awry with Vancouver’s housing market has reached a tipping point.

Fuelled by the special sauce of Chinese wealth – and good old Fear of Missing Out – prices have decoupled from the local economy, with an average detached price of about C$1.4 million (HK$8.9 million). So far, so normal for Vancouver.

But the past couple of months have witnessed a kind of awakening. …

Foreign money might be a factor, concede some, but it must similarly influence other markets, right? Not really – since immigration data demonstrates that the influx of rich immigrants to Vancouver (80 per cent of them Chinese) is unmatched by any other city in the world, at least in terms of wealth-migration schemes that clearly define asset benchmarks.

Others seek to frame unaffordability as inevitable, since Vancouver is a city of limited land supply. But plenty of other cities are in the same boat: New York and Singapore spring to mind. Both are expensive cities, but Vancouver has left them in the dust in terms of unaffordability. …

Surely Vancouver has always been unaffordable? A quick check of the stats will show that as recently at 10 years ago, Vancouver’s price/income ratio was in dancing territory, at 5.3.

As for the perennial low-rates argument, pretty much everywhere has low rates. It tells us nothing about what makes Vancouver’s market special.

An exceptional cause must be found for an exceptional situation, and for Vancouver, that can be found quite easily in wealth migration, which exploded in the past decade.

Vancouverites still struggle to grasp the scale of this influx to their modestly-sized city. From 2005-2012, about 45,000 millionaire migrants arrived in Vancouver under just two wealth-determined schemes, the now-defunct Immigrant Investor Programme and the still-running Quebec Immigrant Investor Programme. Let’s put that in perspective. The entire United States only accepted 9,450 wealth migration applications in the same period under its famous EB-5 scheme, likely representing fewer than 30,000 individuals.

So, Vancouver has recently received more wealth-determined migration than any other city in the world, by a long stretch. This, in a city with some of the lowest incomes in Canada. …

Foreign buyers probably aren’t to blame for Vancouver’s unaffordability. But foreign money probably is. And cracking down on the foreignness of funds will prove much harder than dealing with the foreignness of buyers, even if the will to do so exists. …

Another factor often neglected is that a successful “fix” for unaffordability would crush a great many people, probably as many as it helps. In peril would be a real estate and development industry that employs thousands. Anyone who already owns a home would also be at risk. Thousands of elders banking on their homes as a retirement nest egg. Thousands of recent buyers facing the terrifying prospect of negative equity, with mortgages far exceeding the value of their homes.

It’s no surprise the politicians are treading carefully. …

Wherever you stand on the matter, the time for denialism is over. At the very least, Vancouver deserves its long-overdue debate about the root causes of the unaffordability crisis, and what to do about it.

*


22 May 14:18

5 Things That Have to Be In the New X-Files

by David Banks

ufo

Fox has decided to renew X-Files, a series that aired its last episode over thirteen years ago, with a “six-episode event series” that begins this January. I don’t know what an “event series” is but I’m pretty excited. Of course, there’s a lot of new things to distrust the government about, so one has to wonder: from the burning temperature of jet fuel to the Facebook algorithm, what will the writers decide to focus on? I couldn’t help myself and made a listicle.

Aliens are Still Around, Kinda

I’m gonna go ahead and say that alien abductions don’t quite capture the public imagination like they did in the 90s. The reason for this is probably over-determined, but making an educated guess as to why greyskins levitating someone of their bed and out the window went from terrifying to hackneyed, would help us know what to avoid while making a compelling and interesting alien sub-plot.

Perhaps the uniformity of alien abductions makes them no longer eligible for Quality Television. Maybe it was the very first episode of South Park that signaled that it was a predictable trope. In any case I think the classic bright lights, big eyes sort of alien abduction could make a comeback if it were shot immaculately and had some sort of new spin on it. There needs to be a new and compelling reason for the abductions. You can also reimagine the sequence so that the victim isn’t always walking through the forest or sleeping in bed. I think the V/H/S 2 (2014) alien kidnapping is the way to go here.

UFO sightings are harder to make compelling for many reasons that I’ll get into later but one of the biggest hurdles is that the ability to capture so much has diluted the market in unexplainable events caught on tape. There are tons of “Best UFO Sightings 2013 Compilation” videos but so many of them are well-made but obvious fakes. What would it take to convince Mulder and Scully to investigate one of the hundreds of videos uploaded every year? Perhaps the conspicuous absence of video (nine minutes perhaps) would be more compelling than capturing what looks to be a flying saucer. Proof of aliens won’t be shocking and well-documented alien abductions, it’ll just be creepy holes in the digital record.

Slenderman Episode

Slenderman is the closest the Internet has to a legendary folk creature, so naturally it would make sense that someone open an X File on it. Because Slenderman is from and of the Internet, so much about him is out of focus, glitchy, and full of static. A slenderman episode might be a great opportunity to push the genre and, like the X-Files did many times in its later seasons, bring in a guest director to do a feature episode. Bringing in Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli to do a found footage episode would be pretty fun. It’d have to be as least as good as X-Cops.

Slenderman is also suburban: hanging out in municipal parks, cul-de-sacs, and wherever bored teenagers can film their tallest friend in a suit with a sock on his head. It seems like a really appropriate story line give that the X-Files always played off of the same distinctly 90s paranormal of the mundane that also fueled shows like Unsolved mysteries and Sightings. Imagine an episode where kids are filming a slenderman episode but actually film something unexplainable? They’d bring in the Lone Gunman crew and dissect the video. Fun!

A Trip to a Data Center

“Scully, why is it that we don’t have a problem imagining a haunted Victorian mansion but these clean, modern buildings seem somehow immune to the supernatural?”

“I don’t know Mulder. Maybe because ghosts are manifestations of complex anxieties that don’t have a locatable subje–“

“Look, all ghost hunters agree that paranormal phenomena feed off of electrical energy. The largest server farm east of the Mississippi is practically an all you-can-eat buffet of EM waves. Think of it Scully, they’re probably getting second deserts.”

“I just think there’s a rational explanation for why photos of a dead girl are mistakenly showing up on other people’s profiles.”

Etc. Etc.

Fox Mulder Tries Tinder

This doesn’t have to be the plot of an entire episode. But I think we can get a solid ten minutes of Emmy-nominated air time on this subject.

Capturing Creepy Stuff on Camera is Harder, Not Easier.

I really, really need a scene where Mulder is seen standing in line at a pharmacy, disposable camera in hand, waiting for someone to actually come over to the photo center. Maybe a nice old lady would walk up to him and say something about how she still likes to make photo albums and Mulder will say, “Yeah, this is the only way I can seem to hold onto photos.”

Nearly all photography is now taken on phones and those phones have internet connections. Mulder and Scully don’t have more tools at their disposal for capturing proof. They have less. Not only are we more skeptical of what we see on video, there’s also plenty of opportunities for the government to copy, monitor, and delete any photo available to the network. It would be a shame if they ignored this really complicated and relevant topic with an “I use Tor” throw-away line.

The X-Files had already run out of steam by 2001 but one of the final nails in the coffin was the nationalism immediately after 9/11. Suddenly, stories about government cover-ups and shadowy back-door deals was either in poor taste or too real to be entertaining. Today we might say the same is still true –perhaps even more true than ever before– but maybe that’s exactly why we need Mulder and Scully again.

22 May 17:12

A Livability Index: Canada needs this too

by pricetags

Another index that measures livability, but only in the States.  Pity.

From Better Cities & Towns:

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AARP has launched a Livability Index, which is the most comprehensive attempt at measuring quality of life in neighborhoods throughout the US. You can put in any address or zip code in the US and get (like Walk Score), a number from 0 to 100. The index is quick and easy to use.

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Index

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The Livability Index is a signature initiative of the Public Policy Institute to measure the quality of life in American communities across multiple dimensions: housingtransportation, neighborhood characteristics, environment, health, opportunity, and civic and social engagement. …

…  the best US neighborhoods have scores in the mid-to-upper 70s—so 63 is good. The worst performing places tend to have scores in the 40s.   …  the usefulness of the index is limited because of the varying scales of the underlying data–some of which is reported by neighborhood while other data is countywide or from some larger area.


22 May 17:14

Ohrn Words: Choice

by pricetags

Ken Ohrn:

People get around in Vancouver in lots of different (and changing) ways.  In this photo, we see what I think are several types of multi-mode trip.

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Ohrn Choice

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Clearly, people are getting on and off the bus, and walking to their final destination. And one transit passenger has a bike on the bus rack, and will ride it somewhere when they get off the bus, and probably rode it to the bus too.

Meanwhile, across Granville Street at the Vancouver City Centre Canada Line Station, a man walks away from the station after having completed his transit trip. And it is quite possible that one of the bikes parked at the station belongs to someone who made the next part of their journey on the Canada Line.

Lots of ways to get around, lots of great choices.


22 May 15:48

The Phree, and More on iOS Styli

Check out Phree, which is a bluetooth stylus which works with phones and tablets. But there's a difference with this one, which is that you don't write on the display but rather on any surface around you. I think Phree is a pretty neat idea, and I hope it actually works as well as they claim.

I imagine if you haven't used something like a Wacom tablet, you might not quite get the point of Phree. Why would you want something like this, which isn't drawing directly on your screen, over one of the existing styli that do?

Because precision.

The current fat finger styli that work with iOS devices today stink. Using one is like drawing with a sausage, which is obviously a horrible tool to make accurate lines with. Sure, anyone can point to some amazing work that's been made with a sausage, but that doesn't make it a good tool. I can point to some amazing art made with Microsoft Paint, but that doesn't mean everyone should dump Acorn and start using it.

Instead, Phree ignores the crappy fat finger input that everyone is already doing, and has come up with what looks to be a great new one.

But of course, it's on Kickstarter, which means it'll be three years late and won't quite deliver on what it promises. I can always hope though.


I still find it hard to believe that five years after its introduction, we don't have real stylus support for iPads. Rumors pop up every once that Apple will be adding support via an iPad pro or something like that, but my fear is that they will just plop in Force Touch and call it a day. If your stylus doesn't support more than 200 levels of pressure sensitivity, you're not going far enough (for comparison, the Wacom Intuos supports 1024).

Ironicly, the Microsoft Surface has a real pressure sensitive stylus. And MS is even looking to support Objective-C (and possibly Swift) soon. Who would have thought that five years ago?

And it seems to me that having first class stylus support would be a nice boost to the iPad. I'm not going to hold my breath though.

22 May 17:39

Asus ZenFone 2 shines spotlight on burgeoning unlocked smartphone market

by Daniel Bader

Something is happening in the Canadian mobile space, and it’s coinciding with one of the biggest allotments of “free agent” customers in a long time.

On June 3rd, millions of Canadians in three-year contracts will be able to walk away from their plans with no penalty; the Wireless Code of Conduct forgives any remaining device balance. A customer that purchased a phone on a three-year contract from mid-2012 all the way to mid-2013 when the first two-year contracts came into effect will, on June 3rd, be able to use the protections of the Wireless Code to seek out a better deal, or bargain for lower rates with other carriers. All cancellation fees are waived, as the CRTC intends for all Canadians to be protected by the same covenants.

alcatelonetouchidol3review-5728

But there is a problem with this theory, the idea that everyone will be able to renegotiate lower rates with their carrier, or switch to another, to save money. Since the implementation of two-year contracts back in mid-2013, plan prices have mainly increased, as carriers have begun bundling voice, text, voicemail and other former add-ons as non-negotiable tenets wholes.

One of the ways to save money every month is to offset the price of a monthly plan by buying an unlocked phone, often saving hundreds of dollars in the process. Depending on the carrier, unlocked devices garner a monthly plan discount of $15 to $20, and because they are not sold by any particular carrier, can be used anywhere in the world with a local SIM card, avoiding the often-punitive roaming fees faced by Canadians every day.

“We’ve seen consumers becoming much more aware of their smartphone purchasing decisions,” said Steve Cistulli, Senior Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Strategy at Alcatel OneTouch America. “We are slowly seeing ‘cost versus feature-set’ drive purchasing behaviour, a shift away from the traditional brand-numbing effect of products priced at three or four times that of ours with a similar feature set.  The Idol 3 is a great example of how you can now have a flagship experience, without compromise, at a fair and reasonable price, all while being unlocked and unattached to any one carrier plan.”

motognew-03012

The drive to prove that unlocked phones are inherently valuable, outside of their lower price, has been in the response by companies like Rogers in the lowering of roaming prices throughout the U.S. and Europe. As people become increasingly familiar with the term “unlocked,” both as something of practical value and as a market term, companies like Alcatel OneTouch, Asus, Motorola and others are seeking to revisit the conversation.

“By purchasing an unlocked smartphone, consumers are able to enjoy the best of both worlds by avoiding long-term contracts,” Cistulli continued. “With more unlocked smartphone options available to consumers, they are also able to upgrade their devices more frequently, always ensuring they have the experience that fits their needs. This all leads back to more choice for consumers, allowing them to control the decisions about the technology they chose and the services that best fit their needs.”

asuszenfone2-5862

At the ZenFone 2 event this week in New York City, Asus Chairman Jonney Shih said that re-associating the brand with smartphones will help drive the company’s sales throughout North America. “With sales of 10 million devices since April 2014, we already have a very strong foundation,” he told a group of reporters. The company believes that its high-spec, low-price offering, with a mid-range version at $249 CAD and a more impressive model at $379, which features a quad-core chip, 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage, will set it apart. Its partnership with Intel, which Shih calls one of the most valuable in all of technology, likely helped lower the cost, as the Portland-based company has been attempting to push its mobile chips into more smartphones.

One of the more recognizable names in smartphones, Motorola has met with acclaim, both in Canada and abroad, with that very strategy. By marketing high-quality, low-cost phones at savvy customers willing to maneuver around the carrier store sales model, devices like the Moto G and Moto E have become staples in many Canadian homes. Last year, Motorola released the $250 second-generation Moto G, a device that, although lacking LTE connectivity, can rival any device double the price in both performance and battery life.

Then there are the slightly more expensive unlocked phones: though the Nexus 4 and 5 were considered great deals for the time, their distribution was limited. Nowadays, the Nexus 6, though unlocked, costs $749 and is aimed more at the carrier market. Similarly, Apple has been selling unlocked versions of its iPhone for years, but the recent price increase has lifted some of those models above $1,000. Low-cost alternatives such as the OnePlus One, which debuted to great fanfare a year ago, have proven that OEMs can create high-quality smartphones without sacrificing many of the tenets of a great device, such as camera quality and battery life, that we take for granted today.

Unlocked phones provide leverage to mobile customers that can rarely claim to have any in the Canadian market. The response on this site towards the ZenFone 2 is indicative of a larger trend amongst consumers, as an increasing number of people, through education and word of mouth, can comfortably take that step.