Shared posts

27 Mar 18:46

Twitter Favorites: [tylorsherman] "Instead of paying for Slack we're going to invest in CB radios for everyone in the office."

Tylor Sherman @tylorsherman
"Instead of paying for Slack we're going to invest in CB radios for everyone in the office."
27 Mar 19:45

Twitter Favorites: [katecrawford] We expect too much of transparency. Revealing an algorithm doesn't necessarily produce accountability, or even clarity.

Kate Crawford @katecrawford
We expect too much of transparency. Revealing an algorithm doesn't necessarily produce accountability, or even clarity.
29 Mar 15:17

Great thing about software

In software you can "drop it in and see what happens" and if it explodes into a billion pieces, you know you have to go back and re-think it. I keep having to remind myself that software is different. There's zero cost to an explosion, if you have a backup copy of everything of course.

29 Mar 14:34

skunkbear: These are “spurious correlations" (created by Tyler...











skunkbear:

These are “spurious correlations" (created by Tyler Vigen) paired with a comic (by XKCD).

Here’s the cool thing: Vigen points out that when we laugh at these correlations we are actually acting like scientists. He explains it better than I can in this video.

29 Mar 19:39

As usual Seth is right

In this piece Seth Godin says that your negative internal voice is a permanent fixture. Nothing you can do can get it to leave you alone. But there is an answer. Surround that voice with lots of love, it's the perfect antidote.

I learned how to do this myself a number of years ago.

I would drop something, and in the instant after, as it's falling, my dark inner voice would judge me. "Idiot!" it would say. Before I learned to challenge the voice, something I never dared do as a child, it would take over. The idea would fester and bloom and become other kinds of negativity.

Instead, as soon as I regain my composure, I call up another voice, my inner adult loving voice. "I love David very much," the voice would say, firmly, almost fiercely, "and he is not an idiot, he's a very smart, good, nice person, and I want you to stop saying that about him."

It works, I'm happy to report. The dark voice is a coward. It only picks on little kids. Confronted with a powerful adult it sleeks off to hide until the next moment of weakness.

I had a teacher who showed us how to do this. There were exercises that included punishment for the dark voice. I would lock mine in a bathroom in the basement of the house I grew up in, and make him pour a bowl of spaghetti on his own head. In my imagination, as I locked the door I'd tell him to stay there and think about it a while.

29 Mar 19:00

Google + 1yr

As of this month, I’ve been an ex-Googler for a year. Sometimes I miss it, but my rearview-mirror feelings are mixed.

What I miss

Most of all, the bug tracker. Any employee can file a bug against any product and be certain that someone on the engineering team will at least look at it. There are certain internal-social-engineering techniques you can use to focus attention on an issue you think isn’t getting enough. Lots of bug reports are feature-requests and others are feature-removal demands, and that’s fine.

Given Google’s global impact, that bug tracker is one of the single most powerful world-changing tools that most people will never have access to.

I also miss the high polish of the internal Google-apps deployment. When you put your working life 100% in the cloud, and have really good sharing and collaboration tools, the notion of “office documents” stored in “hard-drive files” becomes more and more self-evidently insane. This is obviously where the world is heading; I hope Google gets more good competition.

I’m pretty meh on Google’s social efforts, but the internal G+ deployment was incredibly effective for community-building, self-organizing around one thing or another, and collectively laughing at the laughable.

Being paid partly in Google shares in the period 2010-2014 was pretty pleasing. And yep, the food is everything they say; I wonder if the Cloud café is still operating? There are all the other perks and goodies you hear about, but they were a no-op for a remote worker like me.

Working around lots of really super-smart people was nice, but I haven’t had to give that up, thank goodness.

Neutral

I’m broadly in sympathy with most of what Google’s trying to do. Most of the people who are paranoid about Google are mostly wrong. But yeah, individuals in Google’s management (and separately, Product Management) communities have immense power; and at the end of the day, they’re just people. Thus some of them are misguided sometimes, or have drunk too much Google kool-aid. Hint: Just because most of Google’s actions have improved the Internet doesn’t mean that anything that’s good for Google is good for the world, or for the Internet.

Yeah, I thought that a few of the policy decisions I saw when I was in Android, and then in Identity, were some combination of crazy, misguided, and damaging. But at the end of the day, that’s not a gripe against Google; because there’s no company that doesn’t have occasionally-wrong employees.

Google remains ahead of the industry pack on privacy, diversity, and community. But that is damning with faint praise.

The number-one popular gripe against Google is that they’re watching everything we do online and using it to monetize us. That one doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The services are free so someone’s gotta pay the rent, and that’s the advertisers.

Are you worried about Google (or Facebook or Twitter or your telephone company or Microsoft or Amazon) misusing the data they collect? That’s perfectly reasonable. And it’s also a policy problem, nothing to do with technology; the solutions lie in the domains of politics and law.

I’m actually pretty optimistic that existing legislation and common law might suffice to whack anyone who really went off the rails in this domain.

Also, I have trouble getting exercised about it when we’re facing a wave of horrible, toxic, pervasive privacy attacks from abusive governments and actual criminals.

Not missing

I’ve been totally public about my #1 gripe with Google: It’s a highly-centralized organization, based in a part of the world that I don’t much like. I’m not saying that’s a bad idea; it seems to be working for them. I’m not even saying that it’s a bad idea to do your next startup in the Bay Area, if you can handle the lifestyle.

But I do think the Internet economy would be better and more humane if it didn’t have a single white-hot highly-overprivileged center. Also, sooner or later that’ll stop scaling. Can’t happen too soon.

I’ve also talked about the other gripe: The distinction between “user” and “customer”. Yes, I understand why; see above. But in my four years at Google, I talked to an endless stream of developers and end-users — and enjoyed it — but never exchanged a single word with any of the actual customers paying the bills; which is to say, an advertiser. Maybe I’m weird, but that still sort of creeps me out.

But I’m not that weird. Obviously, Google’s managers and owners and employees would all love new, non-advertising-focused, lines of business. The best candidates are Cloud and Docs/Apps. I think their chances are better in Docs/Apps, and yeah, maybe that’s because now I see how ruthlessly competitive the Cloud biz is.

Lucky again

This business has been so good to me. I have yet another gig where I’m broadly in sympathy with what my employer is trying to do, and getting paid well for it.

From my current point-of-view, this gig is a winner. First, I’m in my home-town working in face-to-face mode. Second, I’m working for customers who pay actual money for actual services, and who I can talk to. And third, the customers are geeks just like me; understanding their problems is low-effort even when fixing them is hard.

Oh, another bonus: I no longer have to read the Official Google Blog, or official Google statements on anything; a human being can only take so much relentless sunny-faced cheeriness.

29 Mar 22:50

The need for government

by David Baron

I've become concerned about the attitudes towards government in the technology industry. It seems to me (perhaps exaggerating a little) that much of the effort in computer security these days considers the major adversary to be the government (whether acting legally or illegally), rather than those attempting to gain illegal access to systems or information (whether private or government actors).

Democracy requires that the government have power. Not absolute power, but some, limited, power. Widespread use of technology that makes it impossible for the government to exercise certain powers could be a threat to democracy.

Let's look at one recent example: a recent article in the Economist about ransomware: malicious software that encrypts files on a computer, whose authors then demand payment to decrypt the files. The payment demanded these days is typically in Bitcoin, a system designed to avoid the government's power. This means that Bitcoin avoids the mechanisms that the international system has to find and catch criminals by following the money they make, and thus makes a perfect system for authors of ransomware and other criminals. The losers are those who don't have the mix of computer expertise and luck needed to avoid the ransomware.

One of the things that democracies often try to do is to protect the less powerful. For example, laws to protect property (in well-functioning governments) protect everybody's property, not just the property of those who can defend their property by force. Having laws like these not only (often) provides a fairer chance for the weak, but it also lets people use their labor on things that can improve people's lives rather than on zero-sum fighting over existing resources. Technology that keeps government out risks making it impossible for government to do this.

I worry that things like ransomware payment in Bitcoin could be just the tip of the iceberg. Technology is changing society quickly, and I don't think this will be the only harmful result of technology designed to keep government out. I don't want the Internet to turn into a “wild west,” where only the deepest experts in technology can survive. Such a change to the Internet risks either giving up many of the potential benefits of the Internet for society by keeping important things off of it, or alternatively risks moving society towards anarchy, where there is no government power that can do what we have relied on governments to do for centuries.

Now I'm not saying today's government is perfect; far from it. Government has responsibility too, including to deserve the trust that we need to place in it. I hope to write about that more in the future.

30 Mar 01:25

processingmatter: Programming language paradigm similarity by...



processingmatter:

Programming language paradigm similarity by Philip Johnson. “This dendrogram places languages in a tree that is similar to a family tree. (…). Languages with closer common ancestors are more paradigmatically similar than those with more distant common ancestors. The size of the name represents the language’s relatively popularity”.

30 Mar 07:20

The Next Chapter

by Doug Belshaw

The week just gone was my last as a paid contributor to the Mozilla Foundation. I wrote about that here. It’s been a while coming — I set up Dynamic Skillset on 23rd December last year and had set myself the target of becoming fully independent by this September. In terms of planning, my brain still works in terms of academic years…

Happily, a couple of organisations almost bit my arm off when I approached them about doing some consultancy work. I’ve chosen to work with City & Guilds for five months (in the first instance) helping them with various things— including Open Badges. I’m really looking forward to catalysing meaningful change within organisations.

Although it’s perhaps not appropriate to name here all the people who have helped me over the past few months, you know who you are. I definitely couldn’t have taken this step without them. From encouragement before Christmas when I was considering a change, to practical advice on setting up as a limited company, I feel extremely fortunate to be connected to such a generous network. Thank you all.

As ever, I’ll be working as openly as possible and pushing others to do likewise. I’ve never been particularly driven by financial gain: it’s doing interesting and important stuff with awesome people that’s important to me. Life’s too short to spend doing things just for the sake of money.

“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.”
— Thomas Edison

Please do get in touch if you think I can help your organisation. I’m particularly interested in stuff around digital/web/new literacies, Open Badges, alternative accreditation, open education — you know the kind of things I do.

Remember: I’ve only got so much capacity, especially until September, so let me know sooner rather than later!

"change the world or go home"

29 Mar 22:50

The need for government

by David Baron

I've become concerned about the attitudes towards government in the technology industry. It seems to me (perhaps exaggerating a little) that much of the effort in computer security these days considers the major adversary to be the government (whether acting legally or illegally), rather than those attempting to gain illegal access to systems or information (whether private or government actors).

Democracy requires that the government have power. Not absolute power, but some, limited, power. Widespread use of technology that makes it impossible for the government to exercise certain powers could be a threat to democracy.

Let's look at one recent example: a recent article in the Economist about ransomware: malicious software that encrypts files on a computer, whose authors then demand payment to decrypt the files. The payment demanded these days is typically in Bitcoin, a system designed to avoid the government's power. This means that Bitcoin avoids the mechanisms that the international system has to find and catch criminals by following the money they make, and thus makes a perfect system for authors of ransomware and other criminals. The losers are those who don't have the mix of computer expertise and luck needed to avoid the ransomware.

One of the things that democracies often try to do is to protect the less powerful. For example, laws to protect property (in well-functioning governments) protect everybody's property, not just the property of those who can defend their property by force. Having laws like these not only (often) provides a fairer chance for the weak, but it also lets people use their labor on things that can improve people's lives rather than on zero-sum fighting over existing resources. Technology that keeps government out risks making it impossible for government to do this.

I worry that things like ransomware payment in Bitcoin could be just the tip of the iceberg. Technology is changing society quickly, and I don't think this will be the only harmful result of technology designed to keep government out. I don't want the Internet to turn into a “wild west,” where only the deepest experts in technology can survive. Such a change to the Internet risks either giving up many of the potential benefits of the Internet for society by keeping important things off of it, or alternatively risks moving society towards anarchy, where there is no government power that can do what we have relied on governments to do for centuries.

Now I'm not saying today's government is perfect; far from it. Government has responsibility too, including to deserve the trust that we need to place in it. I hope to write about that more in the future.

30 Mar 07:17

HTC – Blow upon a bruise.

by windsorr

Reply to this post

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HTC needs to do something different.

  • The make or break time is fast approaching for HTC with long term CEO Peter Chou replaced, the head of industrial design quitting after 18 months and a flagship product that is almost indistinguishable from last year’s model.
  • HTC’s Q414A numbers painted a picture of a company holding on by the skin of its teeth with the company just about breaking even on a cash basis.
  • Clearly, patience has run out and the chairwoman and co-founder of the company, Cher Wang will take over.
  • Peter Chou is transitioning to a strategic role as head of its Future Development Lab but I very much doubt if will be long at HTC.
  • This has been compounded by the departure of its lead industrial designer (Jonah Becker) after just 18 months.
  • I suspect that he has been a casualty of the internal struggle going on inside HTC between design and sales.
  • Sales need hardware specification in order to sell devices to specification obsessed customers but this often comes at the expense of design.
  • The wart on the back of the iPhone 6 is evidence of a compromise between having a high specification camera or a sleek and cool design.
  • Chairwoman and CEO must bring this conflict under control if HTC is to have anything resembling a decent recovery.
  • HTC problems are legion:
    • First. HTC was once one of the best companies at writing software for smartphones but over the last 5 years that edge has been competed away.
    • What is left is a company that has nothing with which to differentiate its products from the rest of the Android hoard.
    • Second. It has attempted to differentiate through hardware to the discerning buyer of an Android device.
    • Unfortunately, the highly specified and sleek Samsung Galaxy S6 does a better job of appealing to that segment, albeit at a slightly higher price.
    • Third. HTC is badly subscale. At 3.2% market share it cannot spend enough on R&D or marketing to make a dent in its many larger and better financed competitors.
  • All of this adds up to a pretty bleak outlook for HTC both in the short and the medium term.
  • Branching out into other areas such as activity cameras is unlikely to help much as this segment is already slowing down and is showing every sign of commoditising fast.
  • Importantly, HTC’s stable situation in terms of profit and cash flow gives it some time in which to act but unless something changes soon its market share and its financial position are likely to worsen.
  • I would not go near any of the Android manufacturers as the vast majority of the benefits from their investments end up accruing to Google.
  • Google is the only place I would look at within the Android community.
30 Mar 08:15

Open Badges Community Call, March 25, 2015

Agenda: http://bit.ly/CC15_March25

Audio: http://bit.ly/CC15_March25_audio

This week we heard from the folks at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, who invited BA Executive Director Erin Knight to an event back in January which explored innovations in workforce preparation with an emphasis on digital badging. It focused on new research linking specific work-ready (“soft”) skills to workforce outcomes and explore digital badging as a potential strategy for credentialing these skills. Various stakeholders contributed to the discussions, including young adults, workforce organizations, non-profits, and private industry representatives.

Christine Capota and Chris Shannon spoke about the event and ongoing conversations happening in and around Boston about employer acceptance of badges, which will depend on two things, according to Capota and Shannon: conceptual acceptance, and technological acceptance. Regulation and quality control will help with the former, and technology options that make the badge evaluation process easier will help with the latter.

“What makes badging with workforce unique is that it’s not a contained environment,” they said. “Badges are a currency within a certain environment but from a global comprehension perspective, they appear to be difficult to parse.”

Read the full discussion here.

26 Mar 08:58

Mozilla at RightsCon Southeast Asia 2015

by Robert "Bob" Reyes
Every other year, Access brings RightsCon outside of the Silicon Valley. This year, Manila plays host to the summit with a goal to produce measurable outcomes by convening the most influential voices across stakeholder lines on topical and current issues on the protection and future of the internet. Mozilla is one of the sponsors of RightsCon Southeast Asia Manila 2015. During the “Open Internet” vs. Net Neutrality session on Day 1 of RightsCon. This edition of RightsCon Southeast Asia was… Read the rest
30 Mar 11:28

"The ‘Downton’ journey has been amazing for everyone aboard. People ask if we knew what was going to..."

“The ‘Downton’ journey has been amazing for everyone aboard. People ask if we knew what was going to happen when we started to make the first series and the answer is that, of course we had no idea. Exactly why the series had such an impact and reached so many people around the world, all nationalities, all ages, all types, I cannot begin to explain. But I do know how grateful we are to have been allowed this unique experience. I suspect the show will always be a principal marker in most of our careers as we set out from here, and if so, I consider that a blessing and a compliment.”

- Julian Fellowes, the writer and creator of Downton Abbey, announcing the show will end after its next (sixth) season.
30 Mar 11:42

Tim Cook: Pro-Discrimination ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws Are Dangerous

by Graham Spencer

Tim Cook in The Washington Post today:

There’s something very dangerous happening in states across the country.

A wave of legislation, introduced in more than two dozen states, would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors. Some, such as the bill enacted in Indiana last week that drew a national outcry and one passed in Arkansas, say individuals can cite their personal religious beliefs to refuse service to a customer or resist a state nondiscrimination law.

Cook's op-ed in The Washington Post comes after Indiana's 'Religious Freedom Restoration Act', which allows businesses to deny service to same-sex couples, was signed into law last week.

I encourage you all to read the full op-ed, Cook does a remarkable job at highlighting just why these laws are dangerous. His final paragraph is particularly powerful:

This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings. Opposing discrimination takes courage. With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it’s time for all of us to be courageous.

∞ Read this on MacStories

30 Mar 12:07

"In terms of the internet, nothing has happened yet."

"In terms of the internet, nothing has happened yet.":

Kevin Kelly:

But, but…here is the thing. In terms of the internet, nothing has happened yet. The internet is still at the beginning of its beginning. If we could climb into a time machine and journey 30 years into the future, and from that vantage look back to today, we’d realize that most of the greatest products running the lives of citizens in 2044 were not invented until after 2014. People in the future will look at their holodecks, and wearable virtual reality contact lenses, and downloadable avatars, and AI interfaces, and say, oh, you didn’t really have the internet (or whatever they’ll call it) back then.

I am, of course, late to posting this. Still a great, if obvious, perspective.

26 Mar 17:19

Databaker – making spreadsheets usable

by David McKee

Spreadsheets are often the way of choice for publishing data. They look great, are understandable by people who don’t use databases, and with judicious use of formatting you can represent complicated datasets in a way people can understand.

The down side is that machines can’t understand them. Sure, you can export the file as CSV, but that doesn’t give you a nicely structured file with a single header row, as any other software needs to consume it.

This is a problem that we’ve encountered a few times. We started working on this problem for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), creating a library called XYPath to parse all sorts of spreadsheets using Python, as I’ve previously written about.

The Office for National Statistics currently publishes some of their data as spreadsheets, and they want that data in their new Data Explorer to make it far easier for people to analyse it. This is how the spreadsheets start out:

(Not shown: splits by age range, seasonal adjustments, or the whole pile of other similar spreadsheets)

(Not shown: splits by age range, seasonal adjustments, most of the rest of the data or the whole pile of similar – but not quite similar enough – spreadsheets)

We’ve written databaker, which simplifies the entire process of converting spreadsheets like the one shown above to nicely structured CSV files. The recipe for this one is as follows:

  • Use XYPath expressions to select the numbers you want, then select every set of headers (e.g. Male and Female; all the different dates).
  • Add two words to describe where the headers are relative to the values: the dates are DIRECTLY LEFT of the values, and we want the CLOSEST gender label which is ABOVE the value.
  • Finally, tell it which tabs to run on.

These ‘recipes’ are succinct for the simple cases, and the complicated cases are made possible, either through small snippets of Python or combinations of XYPath expressions.

It’s all Python, openly licensed, and available on GitHub.

And it’s always nice to have happy customers!

Who knew a little Python app spitting out CSVs could make people so happy but thank you team @ScraperWiki – great stuff :)

— Matt Jukes (@jukesie) February 20, 2015

30 Mar 13:14

Microsoft’s Windows 10 Preview for phones is coming to the Lumia 1020 and others

by Daniel Bader

Microsoft plans to considerably expand the reach of its Windows 10 Technical Preview for phones, adding support for a number of older and more high-end Windows Phone 8 devices.

The company launched the test suite, which features the first pieces of a considerably aesthetic overhaul of the Windows Phone operating system, in February. But at the time it was limited to devices like the Lumia 630, Lumia 635, Lumia 730, or Lumia 830 which shipped with Windows Phone 8.1.

Now, the company plans to expand its presence into older devices such as the venerable Lumia 1020 and a number of older devices like the Lumia 625, Lumia 820 and Lumia 925. The full list is below.

The reason for the long wait is an internal feature Microsoft had to develop called Partition Switching, which allows the company to dynamically resize the storage partitions of devices that ordinarily wouldn’t be able to fit the slightly larger Windows 10 codebase.

Microsoft claims that the initial Partition Switching submission has happened, and now it is testing individual phones for compatibility. It will pull the test for certain phones that contain bugs or don’t perform as expected.

  • Lumia 1020
  • Lumia 1320
  • Lumia 1520
  • Lumia 520
  • Lumia 525
  • Lumia 526
  • Lumia 530
  • Lumia 530 Dual Sim
  • Lumia 535
  • Lumia 620
  • Lumia 625
  • Lumia 630
  • Lumia 630 Dual Sim
  • Lumia 635
  • Lumia 636
  • Lumia 638
  • Lumia 720
  • Lumia 730
  • Lumia 730 Dual SIM
  • Lumia 735
  • Lumia 810
  • Lumia 820
  • Lumia 822
  • Lumia 830
  • Lumia 920
  • Lumia 925
  • Lumia 928
  • Lumia ICON
  • Microsoft Lumia 430
  • Microsoft Lumia 435
  • Microsoft Lumia 435 Dual SIM
  • Microsoft Lumia 435 Dual SIM DTV
  • Microsoft Lumia 532
  • Microsoft Lumia 532 Dual SIM
  • Microsoft Lumia 640 Dual SIM
  • Microsoft Lumia 535 Dual SIM

Microsoft isn’t saying when the next “flight” of updates will roll out, but it shouldn’t be long now.

30 Mar 13:24

"I don’t know. His name should still be on the door. That’s just the way it should be. That’s what..."

“I don’t know. His name should still be on the door. That’s just the way it should be. That’s what felt right to me.”

- Tim Cook on the fact that Steve Jobs’ office remains as he left it at Apple HQ in Cupertino.
30 Mar 12:22

2015-03-30

by Ron Walker
2015-03-30

Date: Mar 30, 2015
Number of Photos in Album: 1

View Album

30 Mar 13:47

Amazon testing drone delivery service in Canada

by Ian Hardy

According to a report by The Guardian, Amazon is testing the future of its drone delivery service on Canadian soil.

While Amazon met resistance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the Unites States, the company has received “the full blessing of the Canadian government,” and is testing the service at a secret location in British Columbia just half a kilometre from the U.S. border.

Amazon reportedly purchased a plot of land and started conducting experimental flights in British Columbia with a team that comprises robotic and software engineers, as well as aeronautics experts. The Guardian says that Amazon received its certification within three weeks of applying for an application, and has also been granted “a virtual carte blanche” to test its fleet of drones within the designated airspace.

Amazon experiments have focused on testing things such as “sensors that can detect and avoid obstacles in a drone’s path; link-loss procedures that control the aircraft should its connection with base be broken; stability in wind and turbulence; and environmental impact.”

The Government of Canada recently introduced new certification exemptions for commercial drones. Between 2010 and 2013, the government handed out over 1,500 Special Flight Operations Certificates and the number of certificates issued annually is continually growing as the popularity for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, increases.

29 Mar 04:12

Twitter Favorites: [Crell] Sometimes I think the most important thing a senior dev can do is show their weaknesses around junior devs. It shows it's OK.

Larry Garfield @Crell
Sometimes I think the most important thing a senior dev can do is show their weaknesses around junior devs. It shows it's OK.
29 Mar 04:41

Twitter Favorites: [rygorous] I really don't get how you can be a professional programmer and honestly think that living in a "smart house" is going to be awesome.

Fabian Giesen @rygorous
I really don't get how you can be a professional programmer and honestly think that living in a "smart house" is going to be awesome.
30 Mar 13:54

The purpose of the Internet

Facebook thinks the purpose of the Internet is to be The Matrix. A sort of lifeboat or ark for people whose lives must consume no more than a watt or two of electricity and some protein slurry.

I propose that the purpose of the Internet is to create a place for people of intellect to work together to create a greater consciousness for the species, so we can make the changes we need in order to survive, with some purpose beyond mere existence.

So I think the purpose of the Internet is to save our species from self-destruction.

It's the only tool we have whose purpose is not yet fully decided.

And survival is the only problem we have that we must solve.

A picture named planet.png

30 Mar 18:08

Rogers to provide Fido customers with two years free Spotify Premium streaming

by Daniel Bader

Rogers has inked a deal with music streaming giant Spotify to bring two years of free premium service to Fido customers.

The company announced today that an “exclusive agreement will give Fido customers a free 24-month subscription to Spotify Premium.” We’ve confirmed that there will be no zero-rating, the act of exempting the data from a service or website from a customer’s monthly data allotment, so the deal is merely a value-add to an existing Fido deal.

Earlier this month, we reported that Fido was nearing the completion of a brand and product offering overhaul, with a new logo, strategies and monthly plans aimed at millennials.

This formal announcement between Rogers and Spotify is likely the first of many Fido-related ones in the coming weeks. While Rogers isn’t saying who will be eligible for the new Spotify deal, we can extrapolate from the print that likely only customers on the new Fido plans will be given the opportunity.

SourceRogers
30 Mar 19:33

You’ll need a reservation to purchase the Apple Watch

by Ian Hardy

The Apple Watch is coming to Canada on April 24th, with pre-orders going live on April 10th. There are three models to choose from — Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch, Apple Watch Edition — with prices starting at $449 all the way up to $22,000 CDN.

Those considering lining up might want to have another strategy. According to documents seen by MacRumours, Apple will not be initially selling the Apple Watch to walk-in customers at launch, instead going the route of having those interested in buying the Watch make an online Product Reservation for a specific retail location. The document reportedly notes, “If a customer walks in and wants to purchase a watch, offer the option to try on a watch. Then help them place an order online or through the Apple Store app.”

The appointment-only viewing is reportedly due to low inventory levels of all versions of the Watch. Apple will eventually offer customers the option to immediately purchase the Watch, but at an unknown date after April 24th.

Apple Watch Edition customers will reportedly be able to skip the lines, according to 9to5Mac. The site reports that customers buying Apple’s most expensive watch, which is between $13,000 and $22,000, will have longer private appointments than those buying the Sport and Collection versions.

Edition customers will also be whisked away to specialized areas inside the Apple Store where bespoke stations and try-on mats will be conveyed for those looking for a more premium experience. These high-value clients will also have access to 24/7/365 customer support for two years, as well as a feature called Virtual Personal Setup, which allows prospective buyers to virtually try on a watch over FaceTime (or something similar).

Read More: Hands-on with the Apple Watch

30 Mar 20:13

Messaging and mobile platforms

by Benedict Evans
 

Old: all software expands until it includes messaging New: all messaging expands until it includes software

— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) March 13, 2015

One of the fundamental things that smartphones changed about the internet is that the smartphone itself is a social platform:

  • Every app can access your address book, getting an instant social graph. The phone number in particular acts as a unique social identifier
  • They can access the photo library and camera directly (and location), making sharing easy 
  • Push notifications mean you don’t need people to keep checking your site (or open emails).  
  • Every app is just two taps away on the home screen, which makes switching services easier, and also drives a trend for focused, single-purpose apps over apps that do everything - it's easier to find a feature as an icon on your home screen than as an option in a sub-menu of the Facebook app

So joining a new service from a different company is much easier than it was on the desktop and, crucially, using more than one at a time is also much easier. People can swap apps in and out for different behaviours or content types or social groups, on top of that underlying platform, and they do it all the time. And so there has been an explosion of apps trying to take advantage of this. Facebook bought two of the biggest, Instagram and WhatsApp, but it can't buy them all. 

Looking at all of these apps, I think there are three threads that we can pull out:

  • More or less plain vanilla person-to-person text messaging, with extras like group chat, pictures, stickers and voice clips etc added on. The big global winner so far has clearly been WhatsApp, which dominates outside the USA and East Asia (and is doing 50% more message volume than the entire global SMS system), but Facebook Messenger is doing pretty well too, mostly in the USA. I'd expect relatively little new innovation to happen here now, and most of it to be in the next two categories:
  • New pieces of psychology - new behaviors or attitudes that an app can enable or ride on. Sitting on that underlying social platform, an app that finds one of these can go viral. Examples include Instagram, Snapchat, Yo, Yik Yak, Secret or Meerkat. The challenge for these is to find a behavior that's different and compelling enough to create that growth, but not weird or specific enough to be a gimmick or a fad and flame out, or at least to evolve beyond that specificity once the growth is there, which one could argue Snapchat is doing
  • Platforms - messaging apps that aim to broaden the UX beyond pure person-to-person messaging into a development environment. WeChat is the big example here, with 500m users, almost all in China, while Line in Japan and Kik in the USA are also significant. 

The potential to turn messaging into a platform is the Trojan Horse that drives a lot of the excitement in the sector. It's one thing to sell stickers and quite another to sell users: can you use social to spread content and acquire users, and to solve the problem of app installation? Can it become the third runtime and the third channel on the phone, after the web and native apps?

The first big success here has been WeChat, which has 500m MAUs, almost all in China. WeChat has built a messaging client that's also a development environment, using web views and APIs so you can build services within the app that can access location, identity, payment and other tools from within the app. You can send money, order a cab, book a restaurant or track and manage an ecommerce order, all within one social app. So, like the web, you don't need to install new apps to access these services, but, unlike the web, they can also use push and messaging and social to spread. This is Facebook's old desktop platform, more or less, but on mobile. 

The common criticism of this approach is that this is 'just a portal', and that integrating lots of different services into one app is doomed in the same way that Yahoo on the desktop was doomed to be replaced by more powerful and focused single-purpose products. The more subtle version of this is that WeChat only works in China because the market structure is different - no vertical category killers (Google, Facebook, Amazon) and instead parallel, horizontal competition by large competing companies. WeChat is providing the 'primitives' that you can't get elsewhere. This may be true - but it may also be that WeChat (and similar products such as Baidu Maps, which also has deep service integration) show us what the rest of the world might look like if the big portals had executed better. That is, is this what Yahoo would have achieved if it hadn't gone to sleep for a decade? *

A lot of people thought that Facebook would clone this, but it's actually done something quite different. Rather than trying to turn Messenger itself into a development environment, it's opened it up to become a channel for anything else on your phone and the web. This means that it's addressing both the platform thread and the viral apps thread outlined above, and that rather than WeChat, it's going after the iOS and Android notifications panel. 

First, if you have an idea for a great type of content for messaging - a new piece of psychology that might go viral - your iPhone or Android app can now insert that directly into a thread inside the Messenger app, and your app can be invoked directly from within the Messenger app. Messenger has a list of featured apps (with links out to the App Store or Google Play) and, crucially, each piece of content posted into a message thread comes with a link to install the app - a viral hook. Facebook has made an API for the 'sticker button', and turned it into an acquisition channel for third party apps, and is now letting the entire internet compete for that slot, with itself as gatekeeper.

 The WeChat model achieves some of this, avoiding the app installation problem itself by putting everything into web views within the WeChat app, but that puts a cap on how sophisticated you can get - it's hard to make video clips with web apps. Facebook is trying to square the circle - rich native code to make cool stuff, yet no need for an app installation for it to spread. 

This is a great jujitsu move, and very seductive. Facebook is trying to co-opt the next Snapchat. Yes, the smartphone is a social platform that makes it easy to use multiple social apps, but you still have to get someone over the hurdle of installing the app in the first place, and they have to get all of their friends to install it too so that they have someone to send to.  Facebook is trying to bypass that - you can drop your content straight into the existing Messenger install base (600m MAUs). Now just one person can get a cool app and send messages to their friends even if their friends don't have it, and if it's cool enough they can tap on the link and install it too.

So acquisition is much easier, but they're Facebook's users, and always will be. And since there will be dozens of apps fighting it out for that slot, Snapchat and any other new stand-alone network will be competing against all of those apps - against the whole app store. This means that Facebook is trying to reset some of the dynamics I described at that beginning of this piece - it's trying to avoid the 'whack-a-mole' problem of having to buy cool new messaging companies (Instagram, WhatsApp) by getting those communication forms to happen inside Messenger instead, using Facebook's own social graph instead of the phone's address book.  And as I said, this is seductive - Facebook removes a major barrier to growth, but owns your users and has a history of ruthlessness in dealing partners who build on its platforms. Join, get growth 'easily' and give Facebook control, or stay out and struggle for installs against Facebook and all its partners as well. 

The second part of the Messenger announcement is just as interesting - Facebook will also let websites send messages directly into Messenger, without having their own apps installed on your phone, if you logged into that website with Facebook when you placed the order. So you can order shoes and get a message in Messenger that they're out of stock and be offered an alternative. This is another attack on email (and Gmail) and another attempt to pull your communications and commerce into the Facebook data platform. And again, if you do this you get richer and more engaging communication with your users, and don't need them to install your app, but your access is entirely controlled by Facebook.  

If you take all of this together, it look like Facebook is trying not to compete with other messaging apps but to relocate itself within the landscape of both messaging and the broader smartphone interaction model. Facebook Home tried to take over the home screen and lock screen - Messenger is trying to take over the notifications panel, by pulling those notifications inside its own app, and to co-opt large chunks of future communications developments on the phone.  

This make perfect sense - notifications themselves are becoming that third runtime. That pull-down panel aggregates activity from everything on your phone, and Google and Apple have made notifications actionable and given them payloads. One can already look at an iPhone or Android phone's notification screen and ask - 'where's the algorithm filtering this?' And in a sense, the notification panel fills the 'cross platform compatibility' role that some people would like to see in messaging - all the notifications for all my messaging apps show up there. More and more, one's primary interaction with any app, social messaging or otherwise, is a little pop-up with a button or two. So shouldn't that get a native, messaging-focused UI? Instead of replacing stand-alone apps with light-weight versions built inside a messaging app, is it better for rich, actionable messages from native apps to be aggregated into a notification panel? Once you have that runtime, do you need an actual stand-alone app on the actual phone itself, or can you send those messages - really, little applets, down from the cloud? Do you turn apps into messages and notifications, or messages and notifications into apps?

Meanwhile, smart watches (to the extent that they take off) reinforce a model of atomic units of content with a handful of possible actions, and of glancing at a few key items rather than submerging yourself in a dedicated UI. So after unbundling sites from the web browser into apps, notifications take things further, unbundling each unit of content or action - each verb or noun - into a separate atom. So you can order a car with a flick of your wrist and a tap or two, instead of fishing your phone out of your pocket, unlocking it, loading an app and navigating the UI. 

This obviously leads one to ask what the platform owners themselves are doing. Should this be done by Facebook or the platform owners (the same question as for deep linking last year)? Do Apple or Google introduce an algorithmic filter to manage the flow in the system-wide notification panel, and does that compare to Facebook's lethal power over newsfeed partners? They're some of the way there. Both Apple and Google have perfectly solid mobile messaging apps that are not development platforms in their own right, and have done a lot of work on notifications in their smartphone OSs yet clearly have lots more to do. And Apple already lets websites send push notifications on OS X, while Google is clearly pushing Chrome hard as a development environment and so notifications from the web there would also make sense. 

So we can see some building blocks, but we can also see obstacles. The obvious one is that neither has the kind of desktop social presence that would make it easy for them to drive personalized push motivations for web to mobile - you're not logged into anything from Apple or Google (pace Plus) when you shop on the desktop web. On the other hand, you're always logged in on Android, and Apple has shown plenty of hints that it might see TouchID as a universal identity platform, and of course, they do have your address book. So Apple or Google could easily let an app send a push notification to a friend who doesn't have that app. Meanwhile as mobile devices zoom past half of time spent on commerce sites and a third of the transaction value, a web identity platform might matter less. There are other interesting possibilities too, if one thinks where Now or Passbook might fit into this. 

The core issue across all of this, I think, is how much is still totally unsettled. We spent 20 years in which the mainstream internet experience was a web browser, mouse and keyboard, and over a decade in with Google was the way you navigated. Smartphones ended all that but we haven't settled on a new model, and the idea we'll all revert back to the comfortable, simple model of the web seems increasingly remote. Even within messaging, the  model is still in flux. I wrote above about the search for new psychologies, but there are deeper architectural questions than anonymity or filters, which you can see in SnapChat's disappearing messages or Meerkat and Periscope's use of live. What will the next blow-up model be -  synchronous or not? One to one or one to many? Feed based or thread-based? Algorithmic filter or endless stream? Rich client or rich message? Runtime or deep links? That may be the real problem for Facebook - the next messaging thing may not be messaging at all. 

 

* As an aside, it's challenging for anyone outside China to have a firm view on WeChat given that almost no-one has actually used it - the most interesting features only appear if you run the app with Chinese language settings. I don’t read Chinese myself, and I’m always reluctant to have a strong view on a product I’ve not used, though this is a minority position.

30 Mar 22:08

Google+ photo and video storage comes to Google Drive

by Igor Bonifacic

After hinting that it would separate Google Photos from Google+ at the start of the month, Google has finally followed on through on the promise.

On Monday, the company announced on its Google Drive blog that Google Photos is now available through Google Drive and its accompanying Android and iOS app.

In the past, the only way someone could look at any photos they had uploaded to Google Photos was to go through Google+. Now, that’s no longer the case. Instead, there’s a separate tab in Google Drive that lets users experience their photos and videos.

This will likely come as a welcome change for fans of Google Photos. The service, with its powerful editing tools and smart auto enhancements, is well regarded, but its previous integration with Google+ was seen as a somewhat of a black mark against it.

30 Mar 21:32

Flickr now offers Public Domain and CC0 designations

by Rajiv Vaidyanathan
CRS-4

Flickr supports a wide range of licenses to match the many ways photographers on our site want to share and distribute their works.

We’ve been proud to support Creative Commons licenses since 2004, and we’ve become an important repository of U.S. Government works and historic images from galleries, libraries, archives, and museums around the world (check out The Flickr Commons for examples).

But we’ve heard from our community that we’re missing two important designations: Public Domain and Creative Commons 0 (CC0). Many members of our community want to be able to upload images that are no longer protected by copyright and correctly tag them as being in the Public Domain, or they want to release their copyright entirely under CC0.

So, starting today we’re happy to support these two new options. One of the first accounts on Flickr to change its designation was SpaceX, which has uploaded more than a hundred gorgeous images of its launches. These extraordinary photos are now available for others to freely use, enhance, and promulgate without restriction under copyright law.

As with any license you choose, it’s important to be informed about what the Public Domain and CC0 designations mean. You can find more information about what it means when a work is part of the Public Domain here and you can read up on the CC0 designation here.

The default setting on Flickr continues to be All Rights Reserved, but you can change the default for all your photos in your account settings if you’re interested in using Public Domain or CC0. You can also set the designation per individual photo in a variety of Flickr desktop and mobile experiences, such as the Photo Page, Camera Roll, Organizr, Uploadr, etc.

We know these changes will provide more choice for our community and we’re happy to support them on Flickr.

(We’d like to give special thanks to Ryan Merkley and the Creative Commons team for their counsel and advice through this process.)


30 Mar 20:33

Reminiscing on the Effects of Photoshop

by Eugene Wallingford

Thomas Knoll, one of the creators of Adobe Photoshop, reminisces on the insight that gave rise to the program. His brother, John, worked on analog image composition at Industrial Light and Magic, where they had just begun to experiment with digital processing.

[ILM] had a scanner that could scan in frames from a movie, digitally process them, and then write the images out to film again.

My brother saw that and had a revelation. He said, "If we convert the movie footage into numbers, and we can convert the numbers back into movie footage, then once it's in the numerical form we could do anything to it. We'd have complete power."

I bought my first copy of Photoshop in the summer of 1992, as part of my start-up package for new faculty. In addition to the hardware and software I needed to do my knowledge-based systems research, we also outfitted the lab with a number of other tools, including Aldus Persuasion, a LaCie digital scanner, OmniPage Pro software for OCR, Adobe Premiere, and Adobe Photoshop. I felt like I could do anything I wanted with text, images, and video. It was a great power.

In truth, I barely scratched the surface of what was possible. Others took Photoshop and went places that even Adobe didn't expect them to go. The Knoll brothers sensed what was possible, but it must have been quite something to watch professionals and amateurs alike use the program to reinvent our relationship with images. Here is Thomas Knoll again:

Photoshop has so many features that make it extremely versatile, and there are artists in the world who do things with it that are incredible. I suppose that's the nature of writing a versatile tool with some low-level features that you can combine with anything and everything else.

Digital representation opens new doors for manipulation. When you give users control at both the highest levels and the lowest, who knows what they will do. Stand back and wait.