October 28th, 2015

I can't quite make up my mind whether Ulo is a good idea or not.

Ulo is a cute surveillance camera, a pet owl interacting with you through eye expressions.

Cute, for sure. I just worry that the more we let designers encourage us to interact in a playful way with our technology, the more stressful it'll get as we frantically try to remember whether the fake owl in the corner winking at us is telling us that the WiFi is down or warning us that a mad axeman is walking up to our front door.

One more thing: the Kickstarter page notes that because Ulu can be operated via a web page it's compatible with various operating systems, including Linux. I really hope that if they make their Kickstarter goal and go into production the makers offer a special edition of Ulo as Tux.

[Via swissmiss]

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Mirror, Mirror…

May 3rd, 2014

Michael Teeuw has made himself a Magic Mirror:

[…] I started to figure out what was needed: a mirror, a thin monitor, a Raspberry Pi, some wood and paint, and lots of spare time.

The Mirror.

Now, a regular mirror would not work. The mirror needed to be semi transparent. Or to be more precise: it should behave like a mirror when the screen behind it was black, and should behave like a regular glass window when information is displayed on the screen.

This is the same idea how a mirror in a police interrogation room works. When only one room is light, it behaves like a mirror. Otherwise it’s a regular glass window.

What i needed was a observation mirror. Now, believe me when i say you’ll be asked weird questions when you ask a glass salesmen for an observation mirror. They are probably have even more creative minds … Oh well, a dirty mind is a joy forever.


Anyway, eventually I was able to get my hands on a nice piece of observation mirror: let the fun begin!

Me, I'm not so bothered about the mirror part of the equation. It makes for a neat visual effect, but it'd feel as if I was running a desktop PC with a picture of me as the wallpaper, which just seems weird. I look forward to the day when we can buy thin displays in large enough sizes at cheap enough prizes that every room can have a decent-sized 'status display/dashboard', all connected wirelessly to a local web server and displaying the content of my choice.

[Via The Tao of Mac]

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' … the most lunatic thing I've seen on a piece of silicon since I found out the MIPS architecture had runtime-mutable endianness.'

February 17th, 2014

I bookmarked Mike Hoye's Citation Needed weeks ago but never got round to posting a link here. Unfortunately I've forgotten where I came across the link to this piece in the first place, but I can't let that stop me. If this is the sort of thing you like, you'll enjoy this a lot:

"Should array indices start at 0 or 1? My compromise of 0.5 was rejected without, I thought, proper consideration." – Stan Kelly-Bootle

Sometimes somebody says something to me, like a whisper of a hint of an echo of something half-forgotten, and it lands on me like an invocation. The mania sets in, and it isn't enough to believe; I have to know.

I've spent far more effort than is sensible this month crawling down a rabbit hole disguised, as they often are, as a straightforward question: why do programmers start counting at zero?

Now: stop right there. By now your peripheral vision should have convinced you that this is a long article, and I'm not here to waste your time. But if you're gearing up to tell me about efficient pointer arithmetic or binary addition or something, you're wrong. You don't think you're wrong and that's part of a much larger problem, but you're still wrong. […]

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February 15th, 2014

I can't help but think that the Lockitron is a solution in search of a problem:

Lockitron is the first device that lets you lock and unlock your door from anywhere in the world using any phone, all while installing on your door in under a minute. With Lockitron you can instantly share access with your family and friends, on a temporary or permanent basis. Lockitron will even send you alerts when a loved one comes home or someone knocks at the door.

If I want to "share access" to my house with family and friends I'm not sure that using the internet to do it is inherently superior to handing them a spare key or, you know, inviting them to ring the doorbell so I can let them in.

[Via bb-blog, via swissmiss]

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June 26th, 2012

Jean-Louis Gassée's latest Monday Note shares with us an image forwarded by a colleague which neatly sums up how Microsoft's recently announced Surface tablet PC aims to turn the world of portable computing as we know it upside down:


To be fair, you could draw a similar diagram showing how Apple's current iMac designs – the ones with the computer built into the screen, with nothing on your desktop but your keyboard and trackpad/mouse and possible a cradle for your iPod – pulled off a similar shift in weight distribution by comparison with the traditional beige-box-with-a-monitor=perched-on-top desktop PC.

The difference being that you aren't often forced by circumstances to try to balance an iMac on your knees while typing on the keyboard.1

  1. Obviously, sensible people will leave the keyboard off in such circumstances and just use the Surface's on-screen keyboard. But you just know that a subset of Surface users will give in to the temptation to try and get away with using it like a conventional laptop until they learn their lesson.

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Das Keyboard

April 15th, 2012

Based on Justin Williams' review, I very much want a Das Keyboard for my Mac:

[…] The Das Keyboard is a throwback to the days of loud, mechanical keys that came with the computers you used in previous decades. Mechanical keys give this feeling of satisfaction as you're typing. The keyboard itself is insanely large and has a substantial weight to it. It feels really well built and worth the amount of money I spent on it. It's got a full keyboard, number pad and even two full-powered USB ports on the side. The only thing missing from this throwback is the PS/2 or ADB cable at the end.

So… how does it type?

Amazingly. […]

Not that I can justify spending money on a new keyboard right now, but still…

[Via carpeaqua]

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Companion Species

April 8th, 2012

BERG's Matt Jones on the human race's newest companion species:

They see the world differently to us, picking up on things we miss.

They adapt to us, our routines. They look to us for attention, guidance and sustenance. We imagine what they are thinking, and vice-versa.

Dogs? Or smartphones? […]

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The future might be here

March 30th, 2012

LG has started mass producing flexible, plastic e-ink displays.

What we need now is for some consumer electronics company1 with deep pockets to buy a huge quantity of these things, give some talented programmers and user experience types their head, and present the world with a genuine alternative to the Kindle. Just for a start.23

[Via kottke.org]

  1. Preferably not Apple.
  2. Obviously it's nothing like that straightforward. What operating system do you use? Do you fork Android? License WebOS from HP? Do you build an App Store from the start, or concentrate on bundling decent e-reader and web browsing apps and then build a software ecosystem once you've got some users? Where will users get their content from? All excellent questions. But if there are no good answers then we're stuck for the next few years in a world where portable computing for the masses is dominated by Apple's tablet computers and a gaggle of alternatives led by Amazon's Kindle range hoping for Apple to stumble, and that's not a terribly appealing vision of the future of personal computing.
  3. Heaven help me, I'm almost wishing Microsoft would lead the charge, because they at least have deep enough pockets and sufficient bloody-mindedness to persevere. But then I remember the Zune. Oh well…

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Jittering and cheating

March 26th, 2012

Mike Solomon, one of YouTube's original engineers, has learned a great deal about scalability over the last seven years:

Jitter – Add Entropy Back into Your System
[…] Systems have a tendency to self synchronize as operations line up and try to destroy themselves. Fascinating to watch. You get slow disk system on one machine and everybody is waiting on a request so all of a sudden all these other requests on all these other machines are completely synchronized. This happens when you have many machines and you have many events. Each one actually removes entropy from the system so you have to add some back in.

Also (this one is my favourite)…

Cheating – Know How to Fake Data
[…] The fastest function call is the one that doesn't happen. When you have a monotonically increasing counter, like movie view counts or profile view counts, you could do a transaction every update. Or you could do a transaction every once in awhile and update by a random amount and as long as it changes from odd to even people would probably believe it's real. Know how to fake data.

[Via Snarkmarket]

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Portable cathedrals

March 17th, 2012

Dan Hill's review for Domus of the already-defunct Nokia N9 serves both as a requiem for an elegant smartphone and as a reminder that there's more that one approach to designing mobile computers:

Imagine an inverted pyramid representing the Apple mobile product line, with the MacBook Pro at the top, moving down into the Macbook Air, then down again into the IPad, before miniaturizing further into the iPhone at the apex. Each step down the 'computer-ness' diminishes and the 'phone-ness' increases, yet Apple takes its knowledge of building computers and runs it through the entire stack, with iOS simply a version of MacOS. As a result, the flexibility and efficiency of its software is evident at each stage, just as integration is enabled up and down the pyramid. This strategic alignment has an impact on consistency of functions, interactions and integration, yet also the operational requirements of device maintenance, code libraries, and battery life.

Nokia has been effectively starting at the bottom of the pyramid, the phone, and trying to move up. (To be fair, when they started, there was no pyramid above the phone.) […]

[Via cityofsound]

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