Friday, 15 August 2008

Notes from the N95: v4

Another collection of random notes from the new smartphone, composed on the phone:

I must have just about done everything: it's been more than a week now without seeing something new. But I suppose there's always something else:

When using the phone in landscape mode, it is still possible for the display to go to screensaver mode. At which point the strip displaying the time and date, which is just visible in a good light, stays determinedly portrait in orientation. Oversight?

This is an odd one: I am using a very black theme from Taieb, and Dedit uses it's own interface, and a little bit of testing revealed that this problem is entirely a problem between these two: when T9 enters "spell a new word" mode in Dedit, the text is white on white. Which makes life a bit difficult.

More about the red key: I've noted it's frustrating inconsistencies before in these notes. I have just, the other day, had to rewrite a Livejournal entry I was writing in Lifeblog twice, because I accidentally hit the red key instead of the C back-space key, which it's right next to. This is VERY ANNOYING.

The icon for the Settings menu is a spanner. But it's got square jaws, not hexagonal. I hope this doesn't reflect the quality of the programming.

What the frack is a "visual radio"? Apart from, say, a standard radio that does exactly the same job of letting you listen to what is, after all, an auditory medium?

I can not help but notice that the full QWERTY keyboard E71 has a form of learning predictive text. Come on, guys, put this in an update for the N95, please?

When going into the settings for the camera, there is a choice of four different shutter sounds, which is nice to have. But changing the setting doesn't play the sound to let you know what it's like. Which is annoying. You need to actually take a photo to find out. This is not friendly behaviour.

Also on the subject of the camera tone: you can't turn it off. You're not allowed to. This has, apparently, come from privacy concerns. But it's bloody annoying. Not only for the obvious reasons where it's okay to take photos but it's not polite to make noises while doing so, but also because I am now using my N95, with it's nice big 5MP camera, as a scanner, taking photos of text books for reading later. It works quite well, but I'd really rather not be going CLICK every page inside a library.

I an currently trialing Opera Mobile, the made-for-S60 version, next to the java Opera Mini that I already use. Mobile is not free, but there is a trial period of 30 days. Which is good, because I'm not sure that it's actually as good as the free one. The first time I used it it was painfully slow, but I don't think that was Opera's fault.  However the navigation within pages is, although slicker and fancier, not actually as useful. The front page is less useful. Navigation short-cuts are less useful. It doesn't offer you multiple search engines off the home page - just google. It doesn't have a clock. Now, some of this may be me not investing the time in learning it and customising it. But some of it is actually less functions, or more difficult to access functions. Which, combined with not actually loading or working any faster than the non-native java version, in fact working slightly slower, has me scratching my head over why I would want to pay for it. 

This is a little weird: there are fields in different applications where, sensibly, text entry defaults to predictive off. But in the various bits of Contacts, it defaults to predictive on. Come on, what's the chance that the dictionary holds all the names you'll need and, more to the point, email addresses? There are some extremely non-language addresses out there, and many contractions that lead to REALLY non dictionary words. This doesn't seem to me to be the most effective default.

At the beginning of this installment of Notes From The New Smartphone, I noted that I may have just about found everything. In retrospect, I may have been wrong about that.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Things Operating Systems need to be able to do

Force applications to quit, using extreme prejudice if necessary. It appears that XP can not do this.

I have just lost five minutes of my dwindling life, which felt of course like half an hour, because Internet Exploder 7 took 400MB of memory and then froze, and refused to be immediately killed. During this time I couldn't switch to anything else, "else" being the database that I was just having to rebuild, thankfully not before I had put more than 7 entries into it.

Luckily, I get to go home soon.

The grey goo that fuelled, fed, and fixed the world

The history of science fiction is replete with technology big and, over time, increasingly small. Some of the most recognised recent work has been, like Neal Stephenson's steam-punk/cyber-punk crossover The Diamond Age, fundamentally a story about nanotechnology and it's potential uses, with the "grey goo" argument replaced by lung-threatening grey dust when nanobots war with each other.

Bioengineering has not, in my admittedly limited experience, been treated nearly as well. In fact, with the exception of the odd throw-away setup like a branch of homo sapiens engineered for heavy gravity worlds (Anne McAffrey), most of the interesting biological discussions happened decades away with Frank Herbert (across most of his books, not just the Dune epic) and Isacc Asimov.

Which leads me neatly to where I was intending to go: Asimov constructed a world in which the Earth is essentially a giant metal sphere, all living done in built-up catacombs because there's no space on the surface left, and all food produced by - wait for it - yeast beds. Yeast as food found other expression in several of Asimov's books and short stories, including one in which a chef introduced actual garlic into a culinary competition instead of using the several hundred flavoured varieties of yeast available, and was ostracised when he announced it (N.B.: If this wasn't actually Asimov, please correct me).

The problem is that, despite the obvious potential for micro-organisms, which are so efficient at turning food materials into themselves when they don't have to build supporting structures and internal organs that are difficult to make productive (unless they get fed back into the process as food materials, hello prion diseases...), their potential appears to have been neglected by the science fiction community. Maybe the idea isn't sexy or shiny enough.

Actual science, however, now there's another thing entirely! Observe: 10 Ways Genetically Engineered Microbes Could Help Humanity (Discover Magazine). Ten ways is a bit of a stretch - there are four different ways of fighting disease alone - but this is seriously cool science. Constructing microbes to produce medicines is good but not particularly surprising. Engineering yeast that is much better at producing ethanol is interesting and has serious commercial potential in the current climate, and producing petroleum products instead of the corrosive and inefficient ethanol is much cooler again (we can get biodiesel straight from palms and rapeseed [that's Canola, in case you weren't aware] and hemp seeds, can we get biodiesel from random organic material via microbes? Please?)

But I think that my favourite from the entire list is the last one. Microbes have been enginered that can produce proteins that can attach to metals at stress points. I repeat, that attach to metals at stress points. This is seriously cool. A merging of organic and inorganic like this, bio-metallurgy if you will, is much more exciting than doing the same thing with nanomachines, and not much less exciting than producing nanomachines that can detect stress points on airplane wings in flight and enact running repairs in sub-zero temperatures and constantly fluctuating stresses.

Keep it up, I say, keep it up.

Design 1: Content 0.

I am not a big fan of ABC's online news site. They just don't seem to understand the Internet: No external links is the big one, even on stories which are trumpeting a big new free online public health initiative which readers then have to go and find for themselves. They can even spend a page talking a free telephone service without once mentioning the number. All of which is not only a failure to understand online journalism, it's a failure of basic good journalism. The best they do is link to their own related content, including multimedia. Which is a start.

But, although the journalists and editors might be a bit slack, someone clearly has a good idea or two. I just hit the "Print" link on one story with an embedded photo, and got a little dialogue "Print Options: Include Photo" with a check-box and an OK and a Cancel. Which is a rather nice touch. Well done the web developer.

Now can the content developers catch up, please?

Link to ABC News Online

Monday, 11 August 2008

Gadget freaks have a wonky sense of priority

Courtesy of a friend borrowing my car, today I am riding his motorbike. It's a Yamaha TDM900, so I'm not a complete stranger to the bike, having ridden my girlfriend's TDM. But that was a while ago, and every time I get on one of these it takes me a while to get used to the more sensitive throttle, the bigger power, the different engine characteristics, the touchier front brake and, most significantly, the height and the width across the handlebars of an adventure-tourer.

So what is my thought as I'm sliding up the side of crawling traffic, comfortable with the height because it's so stable, used to the throttle and getting used to running the engine at the best RPM?

"Cool, it's got a clock!"

Not necessary, just really annoying

The things that can be done using different technologies available to website designers are incredible. They were incredible with just Java, and with DHTML, but then came Flash ( is still my favourite all-time coolness demonstration for Flash, and one fo the few Flash-only websites I will suffer to not be thrown into the fiery lake of torment when the revolution comes), and JavaScript grew up, and now they're not just building online window-manager demonstrations and email clients and chat clients, but online office suites and even image editing programs. And this is really cool.

But,I would like to point out, it's not necessarily good.

In fact, if I ever go to a website that says "There's a lot to load but it's worth the wait!" Then I know for certain that you, Sony-Ericsson, have failed. If I have a fairly recent installation of most things and, a week after the latest Flash version has been updated, I go to a major company's website and it tells me to upgrade Flash, then I will know that you are a rude pack of incompetent bastards who care more about appearance than providing a service to potential customers.

And if I go to a website looking for basic, simple, textual information and I get a drop-down in my the-bastards-made-me-use-it Internet Explorer saying "The following website wants to install ", I will probably beat my head on the desk trying to work out why, in the name of all that is unholy, it was necessary to exceed basic HTML with CSS, and maybe JavaScript, in order to build a website that is basically a Wiki.

People really do try things for the sake of it or because they don't have to think as much, they really do.

Search This Blog