A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘computers

[BLOG] Some Monday links

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  • blogTO notes that the cash-strapped CBC may be forced to sell its iconic downtown Toronto headquarters.
  • James Bow reflects on winter in Kitchener-Waterloo.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper studying the relationship between exoplanets and circumstellar dust discs.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a simulation of the polar atmosphere of Venus and notes concerns that India’s Hindustan Aeronautics might not be able to manufacture French Rafale fighters under contract.
  • Far Outliers notes Madeleine Albright’s incomprehension of Cambodia’s late 1990s struggles and looks at the way the country lags its neighbours.
  • The Frailest Thing notes how human traffic errors reveal we’re not quite up to some of the tasks we’d like.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that Finland’s president has signed a marriage bill into existence.
  • Languages of the World notes the problem of where the homeland of the Indo-Europeans was located.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the often-ignored pattern of lynching Mexicans in the United States.
  • Marginal Revolution notes (1, 2) the problems of human beings with algorithmic, computer-driven planning.
  • Otto Pohl notes how Germans in Kyrgyzstan were forced into labour battalions.
  • pollotenchegg looks at demographic indicators in Ukraine over the past year, noting a collapse in the east.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer looks at deep history, looking at the involvement of war in state-building in Africa and noting the historically recent rise of inequality in Latin America.
  • Window on Eurasia looks at one Russian’s proposal to give a Ukrainian church self-government, notes Russia’s inability to serve as a mentor to China, and looks at rural depopulation in the North Caucasus and South Russia.

[LINK] “In Less Than Two Years, a Smartphone Could Be Your Only Computer”

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I’m as dubious as many of the commenters about the thesis of Christina Bonnington’s Wired article, if only because the power of a smartphone does not translate necessarily to usability. Then again, since I use desktops and tablets extensively for my own purposes, I would be dubious, wouldn’t I?

With each passing season, another wave of mobile devices is released that’s more capable and more powerful than the generation preceding it. We’re at the point where anyone armed with a current model smartphone or tablet is able to handle almost all of their at-home—and even at-work—tasks without needing anything else. We’re living proof: for the last two years, WIRED has been able to cover events like CES almost exclusively using our smartphones.

Only a few years ago, this wasn’t the case. In 2011, the Motorola Atrix paired with a laptop dock for clunky, limited smartphone-based computer experience. It was a great idea, conceptually, but ahead of its time. The smartphones of 2011 and 2012 weren’t quite powerful enough to fulfill all of our computing demands.

But thanks to increased processing power, better battery life, vastly improved networking speeds, and larger screen sizes on mobile devices, the shift away from the desktop is accelerating.

“Will we always need a desktop? No, not all of us will,” says consumer trends industry expert and Kantar Worldwide’s chief researcher, Carolina Milanesi. “Some of us already don’t.”

Chipmaker ARM believes that with its new chips announced last week—a new Cortex-A72 processor and Mali-T880 GPU—we’ll be able to count on our smartphones to do all the tasks we currently need a computer to do. The company is so confident of this, it’s projecting a date when we can go phone-only: 2016. That leaves us roughly 23 months to make it happen. But most of us are already phone-first today, and given the current speed at which the industry is moving, we’ll be rounding that bend very soon.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 12, 2015 at 11:24 pm

[LINK] “Millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the internet”

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Leo Mirani’s Quartz article suggesting that, for an increasing number of people, Facebook so dominates their online usage that they see the Internet as something entirely different from Facebook. This, obviously, has consequences.

Indonesians surveyed by [Helena Galpaya three years ago] told her that they didn’t use the internet. But in focus groups, they would talk enthusiastically about how much time they spent on Facebook. Galpaya, a researcher (and now CEO) with LIRNEasia, a think tank, called Rohan Samarajiva, her boss at the time, to tell him what she had discovered. “It seemed that in their minds, the Internet did not exist; only Facebook,” he concluded.

In Africa, Christoph Stork stumbled upon something similar. Looking at results from a survey on communications use for Research ICT Africa, Stork found what looked like an error. The number of people who had responded saying they used Facebook was much higher than those who said they used the internet. The discrepancy accounted for some 3% to 4% of mobile phone users, he says.

Since at least 2013, Facebook has been making noises about connecting the entire world to the internet. But even Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s operations head, admits that there are Facebook users who don’t know they’re on the internet. So is Facebook succeeding in its goal if the people it is connecting have no idea they are using the internet? And what does it mean if masses of first-time adopters come online not via the open web, but the closed, proprietary network where they must play by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s rules?

This is more than a matter of semantics. The expectations and behaviors of the next billion people to come online will have profound effects on how the internet evolves. If the majority of the world’s online population spends time on Facebook, then policymakers, businesses, startups, developers, nonprofits, publishers, and anyone else interested in communicating with them will also, if they are to be effective, go to Facebook. That means they, too, must then play by the rules of one company. And that has implications for us all.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 10, 2015 at 11:42 pm

[LINK] “The Cobweb”

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The Longreads Blog linked to Jill Lepore’s article in The New Yorker noting how link rot is an increasingly serious problem for the Internet and its historians. (I wonder how many of A Bit More Detail’s links still work.)

Web pages don’t have to be deliberately deleted to disappear. Sites hosted by corporations tend to die with their hosts. When MySpace, GeoCities, and Friendster were reconfigured or sold, millions of accounts vanished. (Some of those companies may have notified users, but Jason Scott, who started an outfit called Archive Team—its motto is “We are going to rescue your shit”—says that such notification is usually purely notional: “They were sending e-mail to dead e-mail addresses, saying, ‘Hello, Arthur Dent, your house is going to be crushed.’ ”) Facebook has been around for only a decade; it won’t be around forever. Twitter is a rare case: it has arranged to archive all of its tweets at the Library of Congress. In 2010, after the announcement, Andy Borowitz tweeted, “Library of Congress to acquire entire Twitter archive—will rename itself Museum of Crap.” Not long after that, Borowitz abandoned that Twitter account. You might, one day, be able to find his old tweets at the Library of Congress, but not anytime soon: the Twitter Archive is not yet open for research. Meanwhile, on the Web, if you click on a link to Borowitz’s tweet about the Museum of Crap, you get this message: “Sorry, that page doesn’t exist!”

The Web dwells in a never-ending present. It is—elementally—ethereal, ephemeral, unstable, and unreliable. Sometimes when you try to visit a Web page what you see is an error message: “Page Not Found.” This is known as “link rot,” and it’s a drag, but it’s better than the alternative. More often, you see an updated Web page; most likely the original has been overwritten. (To overwrite, in computing, means to destroy old data by storing new data in their place; overwriting is an artifact of an era when computer storage was very expensive.) Or maybe the page has been moved and something else is where it used to be. This is known as “content drift,” and it’s more pernicious than an error message, because it’s impossible to tell that what you’re seeing isn’t what you went to look for: the overwriting, erasure, or moving of the original is invisible. For the law and for the courts, link rot and content drift, which are collectively known as “reference rot,” have been disastrous. In providing evidence, legal scholars, lawyers, and judges often cite Web pages in their footnotes; they expect that evidence to remain where they found it as their proof, the way that evidence on paper—in court records and books and law journals—remains where they found it, in libraries and courthouses. But a 2013 survey of law- and policy-related publications found that, at the end of six years, nearly fifty per cent of the URLs cited in those publications no longer worked. According to a 2014 study conducted at Harvard Law School, “more than 70% of the URLs within the Harvard Law Review and other journals, and 50% of the URLs within United States Supreme Court opinions, do not link to the originally cited information.” The overwriting, drifting, and rotting of the Web is no less catastrophic for engineers, scientists, and doctors. Last month, a team of digital library researchers based at Los Alamos National Laboratory reported the results of an exacting study of three and a half million scholarly articles published in science, technology, and medical journals between 1997 and 2012: one in five links provided in the notes suffers from reference rot. It’s like trying to stand on quicksand.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 3, 2015 at 11:33 pm

[PHOTO] Phone reading

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Phone reading #fasa #startrek #orions #whynomrshatnerihavenotkissedagirl

The old FASA manuals can be fun.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 29, 2015 at 4:29 pm

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[LINK] “Mac and me — on celebrating the 31st birthday of the Apple 128K”

I quite liked Dave Bidini’s National Post essay on the anniversary of the Apple 128K. My encounters with this computer were limited–I had a Commodore 64C at home, and only had early-series Apples at school–but I recognize the feelings.

Trundling out of the loading bay in the early morning, its trailers stuffed with square white boxes squeaking with Styrofoam, the trucks hacked and coughed their way along routes leading to commercial zones, none of them — not yet — boasting hulking retail monoliths or other white whales of consumerism. Instead, there were a variety of department stores, RadioShacks, gadget shops and Active Surpluses; maybe a stereo branch breach-birthed into the modern age. An employee with a blue shirt and striped tie blandly stoned and already dreaming of lunch looked at the watch his grandmother had bought him for graduation and, knowing it was time, entered the stockroom smoking a cigarette while walking to the grille at the back of the building, which he groaningly rolled up before waving in the haulage. The truck braked — an awful screaming sound that portended more than just ear ringing and the inevitable I-should-really-get-my-s–t-together employee soul-searching — and the trucker, a clipboard under his arm, climbed from his seat. He walked the length of the loading dock, disappeared into the trailer and started lifting. A transistor radio duct-taped to the wall — not yet infected by the invention of open-line programming — played “Owner of a Lonely Heart” for the third time that day as a sweep of wind moved through the bay, swooshing an old newspaper folio along the floor. Somewhere a phone rang; the chime of its bell finding the two men. The trucker passed the boxes to the employee: five, maybe six, maybe seven, stacked just outside the stockroom. “Better not take too many, eh?” said the trucker. The personal computer. Expensive. About two grand. Besides, who knows what use anyone is going to have for them?

Looking back, the first Macintosh Apple rig — the 128K, born as a consumer thing on Jan. 24, 1984 — didn’t exactly arrive wreathed in the pure beauty of light. Instead, like the spore that it was, its poetry lied in its blockish, unassuming café au grey; mundanely alien, as muted a portal as C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe or what happened when Abbot and Costello accidentally leaned on that sculpture on the bookshelf in that room where they weren’t supposed to be.

It had a small screenface and a mouth open to one side, which is the expression one makes when uncertain about whether to do what someone else has suggested. It looked like a small television for fear of looking too much like anything else. One sensed that its designers — Jef Raskin, Bill Atkinson, Burrell Smith, Steve Jobs and others — had as much of an idea of the exoticism of its impact as those who tried selling it. Even that Ridley Scott commercial that trumpeted the personal computer during Super Bowl 18 seemed to fetch for a vision of the future like two hands reaching to find each other down a dark hallway. There was a woman in red shorts, a hammerthrow and a sea of drones in Potemkin grey drooling in their fold-up chairs. All of this at a time of Night Court and Hulk Hogan and Madonna. A few days later, Michael Jackson was burned on set while filming a Pepsi ad, and people worried about what life would be like if anything ever happened to the King of Pop, proving that, as a species, following the right story has never been our strong suit.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 27, 2015 at 10:05 pm

[LINK] Two articles on the obsolescence of the stand-alone telephone

Wired‘s Mat Honan argues in his “Never Buy a Phone Again” that the rapid progress of tablet computers makes the classic phone pointless.

Think about what a phone is. It’s a device that lets people talk to each other remotely by converting sound waves into transmissible signals. For more than 100 years, phones changed very little. As cell phones took off, our conversations broke free of fixed positions, but we were still using gadgets made to move voices, not files. Then touchscreen smartphones changed everything. According to US government data, 16 percent of American homes didn’t have a landline in 2006. That was just before the iPhone came out. Today it’s more than 40 percent. More and more, when we talk, it’s on our smartphones.

Yet what we really use these devices for, according to network operations powerhouse Ericsson, is to move data—increasingly over the 4G wireless tech called LTE. You might think LTE just means a faster Instagram feed. It does. But LTE is also the main reason our smartphones are getting so large. Power-hungry LTE devices want bigger batteries. Bigger batteries mean bigger phones. It’s no coincidence that Apple, Samsung, LG, and Google have all rolled out 6-inch phonelike flagships since the end of 2013.

I say phonelike because, come on, these are tablets. They barely fit into a front pocket. They won’t fit into a back pocket—or at least not most back pockets. The average Levi’s have a back-stash that’s just 5.25 inches deep.

So is that a tablet in your pocket? Yes. LTE didn’t just change our phones into things that look like tablets; it also changed them into things that act like tablets. Older cell networks, even 3G, used dedicated connections to move your voice, just like a landline. But LTE turns your voice into data packets like the rest of Internet traffic. Until last year, carriers were mostly using older networks and technologies to carry voice calls, but now everything’s moving to voice over LTE, or VoLTE. It’s basically VoIP—like Skype.

So why do we still need voice plans? Dunno. You can get LTE on any decent tablet. And with LTE, you can send and receive calls with Skype and its ilk even, say, on the bus. You can send text messages with services like WhatsApp. You can port your existing mobile number over to Google Voice and continue calling and texting, from the exact number you have right now, on your iPad.

Meanwhile, at NPR’s All Tech Considered blog, Aarti Shahani goes to a tech show, looks at good low-cost Asian phones, and asks a question: “When It Comes To Smartphones, Are Americans Dumb?”.

The vendors at the Asia wing make a good sales pitch, but they’ve also got money at stake. So I wander through the convention in search of experts who don’t — and find Greg Harper.

He’s the kind of rigorous (or obsessive) expert you wish were whispering into your ear while you’re phone shopping. “In terms of smartphones, I have 28 active [phone] numbers,” Harper says. “And I have no idea how many actual phones I own. It’s in the hundreds.”

Harper swears by his Asian phones.

“The [Xiaomi] Mi5 is a very, very good phone, and the OnePlus. Those are the two phones I’m using right now,” he says.

His favorites cost $300 to $400 — about half the price of a top-end, unsubsidized Apple or Samsung, and he says they’re just as good. They run on Android, so you can use all the same Google apps.

Korea-based Samsung is, in fact, taking a beating on its home turf. Because it was so focused on Americans who’ll spend a lot of money, it lost the huge market in Asia. One company called Xiaomi has risen so fast it’s now the third-largest smartphone-maker in the world.

I’ll note that I’ve consistently used Huawei phones for the past several years, with no complaints.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 27, 2015 at 1:00 am

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