Monday, 31 October 2011

All Hallows Eve

So the witching day is upon us again, and I'm missing the bonfire and fireworks and dark early nights of a British Halloween (well, and Guy Fawkes night). Bajans dont really do Halloween - bit too heathen for the Bajan spirit. There are parties, but they're mostly private and, in the North American tradition, fancy dress rather than scary dress.

Which makes me miss the ghoulish fun all the more.  Like English ale, I was pretty ambivalent to it when I lived in UK, but as an expat of 7.5 years I've grown to love some of the quirkier British traditions. Perhaps it's a surrogate nostalgia for our kids' sake: I wish they could partake, and enjoy some of the very British traditions that I did. Except the ale. That's just because there's nowhere else on the planet that serves beer that is warm & flat and tastes so good. Except Ireland, and that's Britain's nearest neighbor and only one drink.

So maybe I don't miss Halloween, I just miss sharing it with the kids. Maybe we'll have a small bonfire in the garden on Guy Fawkes night and burn a lolly stick effigy. Not quite the same as those giant medieval beacons that light up big, smokey crowds at playing fields across Britain, but something a little bit different for the kids. Maybe we'll read spooky stories to the kids, try to bring some autumnal chill to the Caribbean air..!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Stunning planet - in HD

The Mountain from TSO Photography on Vimeo.

I've always enjoyed these snippets in nature documentaries, but they're even better segued to music - truly majestic!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Privacy: it's all about the information source

Listening to a presentation from Eric Gertler about privacy, it struck me that the root of the issues with privacy seems to be source definition. Who/what is the source of the information that I, as a consumer, am trying to evaluate?

Sure its about trust, but trust is not very solvable from a technological perspective. Information source definition is very solvable, be it email source validation, social peer review, or genuine twitter accounts. It seems to me that a lot of privacy debate is looking the wrong way: at securing your information assets, rather than providing tools that more readily enable you to validate the sources of information requests. Eg. the UK Data Protection act enables a consumer to obtain any information that a particular company may hold about them. But you have to know that that particular company holds data about you.

A solution that would help to get to the root of the privacy issue would be a non-profit service that tells you (and only you) which companies have information about you. It wouldn't know or tell you what information, only that companies x, y and z have some of your personal information.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Transformers 3: CGI FX porn

I finally got round to watching the latest Transformers film, and came to the conclusion that it's effectively a porno for computer effects geeks. The effects are gratuitous: not only are the models and particle effects staggeringly complex and overwhelmingly detailed, but the film effects are extreme too: the slow-mo's, wide pans, focus shifts... it's like someone just had to use every FX filter in the box.

But the plot is bad. Porno bad. And the music is epic... a bit too epic... over the top, even. It's not slap bass cheesy, just baffled in the same over-emphatic, this-might-get-dull-otherwise way.

Just like a real porn film, with fx instead of sex. A tad more expensive, too...

So, the verdict: Transformers 3 is porno for FX geeks. That's not meant to be disparaging: its the third in the franchise, so there's obviously a market. And, as a techies who used to try graphics on a ZX spectrum, I am still in awe of how far computer graphics have come within my lifetime.

Google (and ex-Amazon) engineer' fascinating insights

 Google Engineer Accidently Shares His Internal Memo About Google + Platform | Unfiltered Opinion From Silicon Valley 

Interestingly, Google didn't censor him they merely suggested he consider how his opinion might be construed outside the organisation (and therefore possibly out of context). He decided to withdraw the post from public view with an  explanation.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Great visualisation!

 Where people don’t use Facebook shows a map of the earth with black showing facebook use. Pretty awesome!

A thought: private libraries

You know those films where there's a big house with a library: either one of those oak-panelled country mansions, with slidey ladders or a nifty little spiral staircase and balcony, or slightly more modern, with shelves for DVDs, CDs and vinyl records. When I was a kid at boarding school, we had similar libraries. At prep school (a converted country manor) the library even had a snooker table, reading lecterns and 19th century Times newspaper reprints. I vowed that one day I would have such a space. A place for contemplation, grazing on information, debating issues with friends with evidence at our fingertips.

Today, as I tidied up my media server, removing duplicates and consolidating different media types onto the one shoebox-sized set of disks, it occurred to me that I had reached my dream, albeit not quite as expected. Over 6,500 tunes, 3,000 videos, 9,000 photos and and small but rapidly increasing collection of ebooks - perhaps 100. Probably enough to fill one of those oak-panelled libraries. In a shoe box.

While the miniaturization is incredible, so rapid an evolution as to be trivial, I couldn't help lamenting the lack of ambience. Sure, I could get the leather chairs and some calm decor and create a 'contemplation space', but I know that it would be superfluous - a nostalgic throwback to a bygone era. With my tablet and headphones anywhere is a contemplation space. And anyone who thinks that's sacrilege should consider which option our forebears would have chosen if they'd had the choice: ipad or all that paper and plastic that had to be stored and indexed and damp & fire-proofed?  Libraries are like boats: really nice as long as someone else has to look after them.

Now, as my sync software finishes its consolidation, I'm pondering online backup options. The photos are already on Picasa. The docs are on Sugarsync. And while I have most of the music/video on CD/DVDs in a cupboard a lot of it isn't. Maybe a Mozy backup to Amazon S3 is what's needed.

Maybe, when I re-read this blog entry in 10 years time, I'll snigger at the archaic media server shoe box backup method and wonder how I ever bothered to manage my own media when its all just there online anyway. As content becomes more and more virtual across all media, so the concept of content ownership become increasingly nebulous.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

OS vs Web vs Apps

Open source Operating Systems (OSes) and the web have effectively rendered operating systems irrelevant.  Microsoft was so busy milking its cash cow Windows OS that it failed to see this and is stuck in a legacy net.  Sure, it profits, but only because businesses (the bulk of Microsoft's profit base) move slower than technology.  Consumers have already forgotten about OSes.  All they need are apps.

Apps are the excellent middle space between OS and web.  OSes are device dependent: you can't run a Windows app on a Mac without some emulation; a blackberry app will not run on an iPhone.  The web is network dependent: you can't run anything unless you are connected.  Apps are a hybrid: beneath that icon is some local functionality and some web-based functionality.  Some apps are little more than a pretty bookmark to a website.  Some apps are mostly offline (like games), with a small online component (eg. posting high scores to Twitter).

If you're going to build an app today where do you start?  Apple has the bigger, more profitable app market, but Android has more devices out there. And what about the smaller players: Windows Mobile and Blackberry? I believe the answer is simple: the web.

Since most apps have an online component anyway (particularly if you're looking to exploit cutting-edge in-app purchasing), you might as well start there.  The technology platform is ubiquitous - every phone, tablet and laptop has a browser - and most web analytics track what browsers are accessing your site, so once you generate a crowd, you can then decide, based on actual evidence, which app channel you're going to develop for first.