Recently, I finally got to ride (if that is the right word) a Segway two-wheeler. Quite fun, actually. But when thinking hard about it, it really seems like a pretty pointless invention. Cool technology, fantastic control system design and programming – but still, it does not solve any real problem. As a product manager, my mind tends to view new things with an eye toward “what is the problem they are trying to solve” rather than how fun, attractive, or well-designed they are. Sometimes, good design is the point, of course. However, in this case, we are talking about a transportation device, and as such, the question is where it fits.
This is another vacation-related post, of the kind that I do every once in a year or so. I recently came back from a family vacation to Gothenburg (Göteborg in Swedish), where I had some time to visit a few great museums dealing with history, and in particular with military history and the history of technology.
When Microsoft released Windows 8 in 2012, the operating system received an incredible amount of bad press. There were lots of good ideas, but also a lot of bad execution, and some pretty drastic changes to the old familiar way that personal computer desktops had worked since approximately 1995. Most people that voice an opinion about Windows 8 dislike it, whether it be on social media or in person. For some reason, I seem to be one of the few people who really like it. When I just recently got a new laptop at work and it came with old Windows 7, I was actually disappointed. Here is why.
Yesterday, I saw the Lego Movie with the entire family. I enjoyed it. Sure, it was a gigantic product placement for Lego – but that was kind of a given from the start, right? The story moved on at a good pace, and both the visual style and the storyline was a bit surprising.
Paranormality – Why we believe the impossible, written by Professor Richard Wiseman, manages to combine four stories into a single book. Wiseman is a well-known name in skeptic circles, and this book does not disappoint in the debunking department. But it also uses the investigation of paranormal phenomena as a way to explain how our brains work. And then some. It all makes for a very satisfying read.
Trust Me, I’m Lying – Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday is a brilliant book about the online media landscape, and how it is driving public discourse in a very bad direction. Ryan has a very interesting background, having worked in marketing and being part of the problem he describes. In his work, he has exploited the weaknesses of the new media landscape to get stories into blogs, press, and often national television. Stories about his clients, to get them attention and ultimately business. In this book, he describes what he did, how he did it, and why we as a society have a big problem. It has changed the way I read online media, and made me a lot more critical of things I previously did not take notice of.
Last week, my iPod Nano (6th generation) stopped working since its power button got stuck and failed to do anything to activate the machine. I rushed out, and got myself a replacement player in the form of an Apple iPod Nano 7th generation. I must admit that I have not found any alternative to an iPod paired with iTunes when it comes to a plain stand-alone audio player. After the utter disappointment that the 6th gen nano was, the 7th gen turned out to be surprisingly good and might even be almost up to the standards of the near-perfect 3rd generation.
I recently made my first acquaintance with Windows 8, having bought a new Sony ultrabook for the family. Including a touch screen. The combination of the touch-based interface and the phone-like look of Windows 8 even on a PC has led me to think about the (unconscious) expectations that I have come to have on how systems behave and how services are accessed, from how smart phones and tablets have come to work in the past few years. In particular, where are web-based services going?
Apple just released their new iPhone 5s, where the biggest news is really the 64-bit processor core inside the new A7 SoC. Sixty four bits in a phone is a first, and it immediately raises the old question of just what 64 bits gives you. We saw this when AMD launched the Opteron and 64-bit x86 PC computing back in the early 2000’s, and in a less public market the same question was asked as 64-bit MIPS took huge chunks out of the networking processor market in the mid-2000s. It was never questioned in servers, however.
It is quite interesting to see how Qualcomm has emerged as a major player in the “processor market” and is trying to build themselves into a serious consumer brand. I used to think of them as a company doing modems and other chips that made phones talk wirelessly, known to insiders in the business but not anything a user cared about. Today, however, they are working hard on building themselves into a brand to rival Intel and AMD. At the center of this is their own line of ARM-based application processors, the Snapdragon. I can see some thinking quite similar to the old “Intel Inside” classic, and I would not be surprised to see the box or even body of a phone carrying a Snapdragon logo at some point in the future. A part of this branding exercise is the Snapdragon Batteryguru, an application I recently stumbled on in the Google Play store.
Adding electronics to systems that used to be mechanical has been the great wave of innovation for a quite a while now. Modern transportation just would not work without all the electronics and computers inside (someone once quipped that a modern fighter is just a plastic airplane full of software), and so much convenience has been provided by automation and smarts driven by electronics. However, this also introduces brand new ways that things can break, and sometimes I wonder if we really are not setting ourselves up for major problems when the electrons stop flowing.
Cloud… I tend to dislike hype and I am honestly quite sick of all the talk about cloud computing and “anything as a service”. Still, it is an intriguing area. Last week, I attended Produktledardagen, a very inspiring product management and product leadership seminar, innovation lab, and social event for the profession of product management. A significant part of the discussion was about the Cloud, and how to think about it from a product perspective. Suddenly, with this perspective, it actually got quite interesting. In particular, trying to define to myself just what a cloud service is.
I am really a great fan of the Rovio games from Angry Birds and on. One of these games is the tricky puzzler Bad Piggies, which I have spent a great deal of time playing to unlock new levels (and as an illustration of deterministic simulation). Playing on my Nexus 7 I have solved level after level… and then I got myself a new Xperia phone. Not that playing on the go is that big an attraction, but if I happened to want to do that, starting over just felt wrong.
Schlock Mercenary is a very funny web (and print) comic that I discovered earlier this year via a list at ArsTechnica. In reading up on back issues and back stories, I came across a nice little gem about simulation.
I just added a new blog post at the Wind River blog, about determinism and illustrating Simics-style determinism is by looking at the game Bad Piggies. Games and simulators have quite a lot in common, actually.
Selling and marketing high technology is what I do for a living. My counterpart is the customer or buyer, and I help design, build, explain, an market these products. In this role, I am most usually the expert on the domain, helping potential customers understand what we sell and why it will help them. Both at the high-level value proposition and the details behind it. Some people focus most of the their energy on the high-level value proposition, but I feel that youoften need a bit detail backing that as well.
I recently had the enlightening experience of being on the buying side instead, experiencing the transition from high-level value proposition to low-level details. It struck me as being quite similar to what the customers for our virtual platforms would experience when coming in new to the field.
I bought a camera.
I just finished reading Society without God, by American sociologist Phil Zuckerman. The book came out back in 2008, but I heard about it recently on a skeptic podcast and I felt I just had to buy it. Phil Zuckerman spent a year in Denmark in 2006, and also visited Sweden during that time to perform interviews with a wide sample of what seems to me to be typical Swedes and Danes, trying to understand their attitude towards god and religion. His conclusion is that the Nordic countries today are a special little area of deep secularism in a world that is mostly religious and apparently growing more religious recently. Even in fairly secularized Western Europe, the Nordic countries stand out (or at least Denmark and Sweden does, in his research). So what? For a Swede like myself this is pretty obvious… but when you combine this with the fact that the standard of living and overall feeling of security and quality of life in Denmark and Sweden is very high, Zuckerman finds a great argument against a certain argument brought forth by Christian conservatives in the US…
I am not in the computer security business really, but I find the topic very interesting. The recent wide coverage and analysis of the Flame malware has been fascinating to follow. It is incredibly scary to see a “well-resourced (probably Western) nation-state” develop this kind of spyware, following on the confirmation that Stuxnet was made in the US (and Israel).
In any case, regardless of the resources behind the creation of such malware, one wonders if it could not be a bit more contained with a different way to structure our operating systems. In particular, Flame’s use of microphones, webcams, bluetooth, and screenshots to spy on users should be containable. Basically, wouldn’t cell-phone style sandboxing and capabilities settings make sense for a desktop OS too?
Where I work, we use Exchange as our email server and Outlook as the primary client (at least I do). We also have an email quota that I keep bumping into, since I have a tendency to attract many emails with large attachments like image-happy PowerPoint files or binary code modules to patch things. I am also an extreme user of email folders. My main Outlook account contains some 650 folders, and my offline archive of all my old emails reaches towards 1300, with many 100s of thousands of emails for a total of almost 20 GB. So, pretty extreme.
My problem is: what do I do when the email system tells me (and it is serious, I can attest) that I am close to hitting my quota and that soon email will neither be received nor sent? I want to find the folders that are very large and candidates for some archiving. The answer has eluded me for a long time, until I stumbled upon a 2010 Youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3skJOd4GIak, from “tech-informer.com” (which now looks pretty dead). With some modifications, this solved my problem.
Once upon a time, I was young man in high school where our little computer club got a new PC with a color screen and a floating-point coprocessor. One fun little program I wrote was a simple gravity simulator, where a number of point-size assigned various mass flew around interacting with each other. We used that program and tried to set up initial setting for sizes, speeds, and directions of bodies that would result in some kind of stable system. More often that not, all we managed to create were comets that came in, took a sharp corner around a “star” and disappeared out into the void again. Still, it was great fun. And when I discovered Angry Birds Space it felt like a chance to try that again. Overall, “space” as my son calls it is a great spin on the Angry Birds idea. However, the way it is sold does not make me too happy.
Ticket to Ride is a nice real-world board game that is generally considered one of the best family and gateway games (and a decent game even for experienced gamers). We recently got it for our iPod Touches, and the weakness of the computer players quickly turned it from “I wonder if I can win this game” into “let’s shoot for the highest score possible”.
Chasing high scores is fairly typical for computer games – playing against human beings you are motivated to win, even if you win by scoring a measly 75 points… while against the computer it becomes about beating your own old scores. Unfortunately, this also turns repetitive after a while, due to some small design flaws that really should be easy to fix.
Is the touchscreen the end-all of user interfaces for mobile devices? There were rumors in early 2011 that the iPad2 would lose all physical buttons (which did not come true, obviously). To me, that sounds like a really good and bad idea. Good, in the sense that a device that is all a big screen certainly looks nice. Bad, since it would be much less user-friendly than a device with some real physical buttons to press.
I have been thinking about this subject lately, after using a BlackBerry Torch 9800 as my work phone for a few months. I like the device a lot, but there are certainly some rough edges and some places where there is a UI conflict between touching the screen and pressing the buttons. At the same time, I am using both an iPod Nano 3G, and a couple of iPod Touches. I used to have SonyEricsson Symbian-based P900, P990i, and G900 smart phones which also were combined touch/press devices with a stylus.
On the very binary date of 11-11-11, my alma mater, the computer science (DV, for datavetenskap) education at Uppsala University celebrated its thirty years’ anniversary. It was a great classic student party in the evening with a nice mix of old alumni and fresh-faced students. Lots of singing and some nice skits on stage. Great fun, and my voice has still not recovered. It also got me thinking about it is that we really do as computer scientists.
This Summer, our travel-away-from-home vacation was spent in Sälen, Sweden. Sälen is normally considered a winter destination, one of the biggest ski resorts in Sweden – but they are working on making it more of a year-round attraction. To be more precise, we went to Lindvallen, which is one of the seven or so separate “villages” that form the “Sälen” area. It was a nice and relaxed place, with little stress from having too many things to do, but enough to keep the kids happy. Seeing the mountains in the Summer was nice.
I often have to create screenshots and screen recordings as part of my job, and to make that look good I don’t want any part of my Windows desktop or task bar to show in the results. Until now, I have done this the hard way by using very few desktop icons and putting them around the edges of the screen.
There is a better way.
I am using TortoiseGit on Windows for a while now, and it works OK. However, today, it just stopped working. The error I got persistently was:
0 [main] us 0 init_cheap: VirtualAlloc pointer is null, Win32 error 487 AllocationBase 0x0, BaseAddress 0x68540000, RegionSize 0x480000, State 0x10000 c:\msysgit\bin\sh.exe: *** Couldn't reserve space for cygwin's heap, Win32 error 0
I recently read the “Cubase64 White Paper” by Pex Tufvesson. It is a fantastic piece of retro computing, where he makes a Commodore 64 do real-time audio effects on a sampled piece of music. There is a Youtube movie showing the demo in action. Considering how hard we worked in the early 1980s to make a computer make any kind of useful noise at all, this is an amazing feat. It is also a feat that I think would have been impossible at the time.
Ever since I got my BlackBerry smartphone, I was annoyed that the display said “My Number: Unknown number” in a number of places. I assumed that this would be automatic, just like everything else information-related on this device. However, I finally worked out how to “fix” the problem by manually setting my phone number.
There seems to be no shortage of bugs that “should have been obvious” and subject to the “how can you not check that your own products work together” phenomenon. Just the other day, I stumbled on another one. This time, it was the Microsoft set of applications and operating systems that do not quite work together the way you would expect them to.
We recently got ourselves an iPod Touch, to entertain our oldest child on long trips. It is a brilliant device in many ways, I can understand why people love their iPhones (even though I am very happy with the very different style of the Blackberry phone that I was given by my employer). However, I have found one weird behavior in the music player that leaves me wondering how it got through into the shipping product.