It is entertaining — perhaps even pleasing — to watch such tech giants as Apple, Google and Microsoft battle it out year after year. And it is fun to take sides (we always do that). But it is becoming increasingly clear that no matter who wins in the end, and at whatever rate, us consumers will be little more than sore losers.
I must admit, this was neither clear nor obvious to me a couple of years back — and why should it be? I was immersed in the Android ecosystem; and I can say this much for certain: anybody who has not seen outside Android cannot possibly understand the gravity of this situation.
The concept of writing for others and having others write for you are time-tested ones. Around the end of last month, Google’s Matt Cutts spoke about guest blogging and how it might hurt more than it might help if not looked over carefully. My thoughts on this issue are pretty similar, but here are Mr Cutt’s:
A lot of new bloggers end up finding ways to measure themselves and their writing: subscribers, hits, comments, and, perhaps most misleadingly, the number of guest blogging pitches they receive.
Guest blogging has two faces: the submitter’s and the publisher’s. And, while both intend to reach a larger audience (i.e. the other’s audience), they also hope to get noticed by search engines and other such institutions who might end up being a gateway to writing for bigger publishers that actually pay.
But, as Mr Cutts points out, guest blogging can have a more sinister intention in mind: blind SEO. When two or three dofollow links become the reason why the rest oft he article exists, something is definitely wrong.
Every blogger — including myself — has receives at the very least a handful of such requests every few months that state they (the writer/s) have original, unpublished content they would like to offer exclusively to us to publish and yaka yaka yaka. And then they come to the point: could we publish it for them and have at least x number of dofollow links in the body?
Bloggers just starting out are probably the biggest victims to such near-spam and they publish that content quite happily, not realising that they are hurting their own blog’s image in the process.
Today Made’s, Garett Moon, has also written well about how guest blogging has become about the link instead of the ideas. I stopped accepting guest writing except from people I know since mid-2013 and, although my guest articles content has come down, I do not see my visitor count being affected all that much. And since I made this website more personal, I stopped accepting guest blogs altogether unless under special circumstances (often decided on a per-request/submission basis).
With so many people out there fighting to get their content published, it was only a matter of time before some of them found rather lowly means to achieve it. Although Mr Cutts talks of being OK with nofollow links as a sign of a sincere gust writing, I fail to see the harm in demanding dofollow links — especially when you are not being paid to guest blog. So the final decision ought to rest entirely on the quality of writing and the substance.
Further, some bloggers look to mass market guest-authored content they can make an offer to publish; the problem with this — apart from it being rather desperate an attempt — is that it is a clear indication that none of those articles were tailored for your site, so why should you want it at all? Guest blogging should be exclusive in that content ought to be made for your website, not that existing content must be given solely to your website: there is a river of difference between the two.
None of this means guest blogging should be shunned altogether; its intentions are pure and they still exist, but we just have to be a lot more careful about what we publish for our own good.
I cannot complain about today, or yesterday, for that matter, even if I saw a couple of exhibitions of carelessness. On my usual cycling circuit I noticed (apart from other struggling cyclists) this fancy little fire:
What you see here was actually part of a larger fire lit next to an open coconut farm with dried hay and a pub some 200 metres away. Adds up?
And since I had stopped to shoot this, and since I had already breathed in some smoke, I decided to keep doing that while I made this fun shot of a bus passing by (and that photo you see at the beginning of this article too).
Two things struck me: firstly, I was able to accurately capture my artistic intent; and, secondly, phone cameras making terrible night pictures has now risen to plain bad ones. Although that random cheap phone probably still shoots terribly in low light, which is something manufacturers should think about: make better low-priced phones at least this year. A lot of talented photographers out there cannot probably afford iPhones and Note 3s and One Xs.
Materialistically speaking, just a few hours earlier, I had been quite overjoyed when I received a 360MB OTA update on my Note 3. I had no reason to suspect it was anything other than KitKat (Android 4.4.2) arriving:
It took a while, but it soon turned out that I was right.
I think the newest edition just makes me repeat myself: everything is faster, and this time around, I actually mean fast enough for anybody to notice. The camera lag that came like a bane with my Note 3 is almost gone. I’m thoroughly enjoying the dedicated camera lock screen short cut as well.
It has been a day and the phone is still snappy as ever. The next most noticeable feature is that the new font is already here, bundled with 4.4.2 (and thankfully not modded by Samsung).
What you might not notice from the picture above is that there is also the white status bar icon set now by default — something I would force onto my older phones after rooting them.
If you see the screenshot in my Google+ update above, you will notice a flurry of colours with no theme. That was Android with an overlay of TouchWhiz. Else, it was blue; but the white is much better looking now. I only hope app developers will adhere to the new aesthetic and make their apps’ status bar icons white as well (I’m talking about you, TrustGo).
Swiping left brings Google Now, saying OK, Google works like a charm as well. [Update: Several more people than usual expressed a desire to find out about the wallpaper I’m using here. It’s a photograph I made very recently with my phone (so that it would be easy to set it up as a wallpaper and all) which means you can have it if you like. Simply right- or ctrl-click and save image as… .]
Unfortunately, Samsung seems adamant about swapping their bulky icons for KitKat-style slick ones, so that leaves rooting as the only option, which means I’ll be putting it off until we find a way to root without tripping the Knox eFuse. You will never know when you might need it.
But let us look at the brighter parts. Samsung has been nice enough to adopt the beautiful full-screen layout for music album artwork on the lock screen, bringing more of KitKat’s design ideology. (In the picture below, you can also see the camera quick access I spoke of earlier.)
It is interesting that Samsung brought in more of KitKat this time round than it brought in JellyBean in its 4.3 update to my older first generation Note. Perhaps Google and Samsung are growing fond of each other after their recent handshake?
There are other more technical changes, and some user-friendly ones such as an access to default apps management just underneath the regular apps management section of the Note 3’s four-page encyclopedic settings area. Some also complained that third party cases (even with chips inside them) no longer work because Samsung’s own protection enabled metal contacts are missing.
I agree that that was bad marketing on Samsung (or carelessness for not providing support — which is worse?) but I shelled out a little extra to own an original windowed flip case, meaning mine works just fine. But I do hope the others get an update soon.
Oh well, this has been a regular all-encompassing musing from yours truly. Until next time, kEeP L3E7 5PEeK1ng.
(This is a work of satire. Sometimes, satire makes you laugh. Please read it in one sitting for instant therapeutic effects.)
A car is born
Even as congress passed bills to introduce one-way sliding glass halfway through taxicabs in New York to get rid of driver-passenger contact in an effort to decline increasing sexual assault cases on women passengers in taxis, Google decided to splurge its tax money on an alternate solution: getting rid of the driver.
It was most likely how the company’s second most ambitious project came into being. (The first was a backrub.) An alternate story goes thus: a Google employee named Coegi Princeps, in his designated fourteen-hours-a-day leisure time at Mountainview, came up with an idea that he presented to CEO Erikus Schmitdtd. As the story goes, he said the company should improve its car line up with a six-seater sedan. Schmitdtd rightly pointed out to him that Google makes money; GM next door is the one who makes cars.
Princeps then suggested Google should make one as well, just for the fun of it. “A six-seater?” sighed Schmitdtd, as close sources put it. “You’re planning to go with a single, long seat up front to seat two men next to the driver instead of one?”
“No,” said Princeps, who believed he had a much simpler idea, “we get rid of the driver.”
Google hates drivers; both the ones inside computer memories (hence its laptop lookalike, the Chromebook, also a symbol of the company’s obsession with all things chrome) and outside. It is quite surprising, therefore, that the logos of neither the Chrome browser nor the Chromebook are chrome-coloured.
That afternoon, it was decided that Google would build a car that would drive itself. It’s design was partly inspired by the self galloping horse-cart built three centuries ago by Arisptolemy. Schmitdtd and his entourage called Princeps home later that day to hear out his simple idea.
“It’s simple.” Princeps said for the third time. “We use laser radar systems mounted on a rangefinder to map the car’s surroundings, beam it up to our servers, create a three-dimensional map, beam it back, then beam it up again to verify using our Google Authenticator Android app, then beam it back to the car’s Velodyne, compare it to existing Google maps and create models representing all three-hundred-and-sixty degrees and feed that into the AI, tricking it into thinking it’s in a computer simulated environment, condition it to prevent collisions with obstacles in the simulated world and drive like the XBox 360.”
“Brilliant!” Schmitdtd cried (they say).
“But what about server costs?” Somebody asked. “Will our servers take it?”
“I have that prepared.” Princeps said, taking out a folder. “Amazon has cut their server prices by half for Christmas.”
TV gone wrong
Some say the Google Glass started as the Google TV project, but since Apple owned copyrights to all television displays sized 2″ and above in rectangular format of standard, high, retina, 2K and 4K definition formats with HDMI in and out ports, TV/AV cables, thunderbolt, USB 3.0, standard 3.5mm and extended jack, built-in extension cords and wall mounts, Google was forced to create a TV a mere half-inch in diagonals and mount it on spectacle frames so people do not sit on it or lose it within their trouser pockets. They were so engrossed with the TV that they marketed the first edition of their Glass without any glass: a grave mistake corrected in forthcoming editions of the product.
Google’s version of the story is less complex: ‘We wanted to be everywhere.’ The company stated in a press release. ‘But, since we could not embed our product into your brain, where’s the next best place to put it?’
Google’s early efforts with Glass included trying out a Ray-Ban polarising aviator lens. But the lens polarised the Glass display making the tiny TV invisible, thereby hindering Google’s progress greatly.
Glass’ second attempt at total customisation was the introduction of a touchpad on the side of the frame, just above the ear. Since many people are uncomfortable with the three-inch touchpads on their laptops, Google was smart enough to figure the quarter-inch touchpad it provided would prove to be inadequate and therefore included an external mouse option. You could now carry a mouse you never wanted to control a computer you never wanted, a mere inch from your eyes.
The second, latest, iteration of Glass runs on Android 4.0.4 and higher and received rave reviews such as, “The navigation bar is so cool it only covers half my vision!” and “When I blink against the sun, the status shade pulls down and covers my eyes!” and “The device fits seamlessly, I soon forgot it was even on my head.” Which, interestingly, is what old people who’ve lost their glasses say as well.
On the field
The first incident involving the driverless car happened on a date whose specifics are now lost. In fact, you’ll find the specifics of this accident cannot be Googled either. On Sunnyvale Blvd., CA, about 3.7 miles northwest of Google’s Mountainview headquarters, when the self-driving car team had taken a few minutes off to view Mountains (a hobby called piedmontology, also not Googleable), a drunk driver rear-ended the Google Car.
The LA Post then reported that the drunken man, a Chinese, Whu Ray Lee Drives, had this to say: “Like, I press the accelerator when the signal turns red, just like you’re supposed to, and this dang thing doesn’t budge. So before I know, I’ve, like, traveled 300 metres and dug into this Prius. Then I get up, like, to talk to the driver and give him a piece o’ my mind, and, like, it’s like the headless horseman all over again. There was no driver. I musta been drunk, or I’d never have imagined it, so I took out my car and tried to run away before I realised it was a cop car and…”
The same day, Cat Silvia Selfieton decided to make history by taking the world’s first Google Glass selfie without a mirror by forcing the lens to twist inward. The result, she said, was stunning:
By November, Google had started looking to produce the driverless car commercially. Needless to say, drivers did not take this well (both the ones inside computers and out). A law was never passed because congress said it had no laws targetted at driverless cars; specifically, congressman D.A.M. Düd Evenstein was quoted as saying, “We need a scapegoat. Every time a car is in an accident, we need to blame somebody. In a driverless car, only the car is to blame. We can put cars behind bars, but cars take too much more space than men, so we cannot put as many cars behind bars at once as we can men, hence self-driving cars cannot be allowed.”
But Glass was a much easier product to market. Since the government could not come up with a suitable alternative for “do not drink and drive”, such as “do not glass and jive”, no objections were placed with regard to its use. Therefore, now, for instance, looking through Glass and texting, voyeuristically photographing, consistent blinking for no good reason and rubbing the sides of your spectacles are all perfectly sane and legal actions to perform in public.
The real fun comes when a person wears Glass and lets his self-driving car take him around, as Jim Weinerbottom did just last week. As the first person to splurge US$100,000 on a car that came without a chauffeur and spectacles that came without glass, Jim enjoys his daily trips to the office where he neither drives to nor looks around at.
“It’s like the perfect day.” Says Jim. “I get up, put on my Glass, I rub my eyes, freshen up and delete the photographs it took when I rubbed my eyes and freshened up, then have breakfast with the recipe Glass gives me, eat as fast as the Glass clock tells me, walk to the car, sit inside, wait as it drives me to my office at Mountainview where our self coding robot (our next project) does my job while I go watch’mountains behind the Mountainview campus, walk to the automatic coffee dispenser, have a cup of coffee, then toss my can to the auto disposal bin, then use the escalators and conveyor belts to zoom around campus, have my self-driving car drop me back home, then go to pick up the groceries Glass tells me, then use Glass to check recipes, cook, eat, delete photographs I accidentally took by blinking while cooking and eating, and sleep when Glass tells me it’s time and my car has driven itself into the garage.
“I’m living the dream!” Jim says. “It’s so great that I’m no longer needed any more. In fact, I sometimes feel like the obstacle myself. I can now sell my limbs and brain on ebay to buy the next versions of Glass and Car for a more fulfilling Jetsons life.
Glass releases to the world in 2014, while the car is still driving around to senators’ offices with nobody inside to get out and negotiate on its behalf.
This is a work of satire. Like all works of satire, it should be taken seriously for its humour; but an underlying concern about the performance of these products does exist, although not in this author’s mind. Indeed, this author loves Google. He uses nearly every product Google has created (and buried) except AdWords. Because he was banned from AdWords and nobody knows why. Not even Google.
Google is great in many ways and falls back in others: consider, for instance, the back button on devices running Jelly Bean 4.1-2 that seems to have a brain of its own. (I am not the only one with that complaint.) And now its newest product, the note-taking app, Google Keep, is out. Is it any good, though?
The search engine and mobile OS giant — which had the capacity to greedily take over more than 75% of the market — realised it was high time it brought in a note-taking app for all its users. And about five years later, it did; but, not only did it come late to the party, it also came wearing the wrong costume.
Having said all that, I am inclined to believe, as you will soon see, that somewhere under that unremarkable product that is Google Keep is an actual target audience Google may be trying to woo.
What’s new in Google Keep?
If I had to say one thing to any developer out there, it is this: if you have an idea that makes things beautiful but offers nothing new, wrap it in plastic and throw it out the window. Unfortunately it looks like nobody told Google that.
In short, there is nothing new in Google Keep.
Here are some of its most brilliant features: a widget, colour-coding, great looks, auto-syncing, auto-saving, checklist-style notes, and simple, quick steps to use.
Frankly, it is just that last bit you really need to keep an eye out on. Google probably had nothing radical in mind when they designed Keep except perhaps getting people to use more of their products. Another way to look at it would be that Google just wanted to get such an app out and up to present standards before it began innovating. Only time will tell which it is.
Google Keep against other note-taking apps
It is no doubt that Google, with its name and budgets, already has something of a headstart against its competitors. It can, for instance, bundle Keep with newer Android phones and gain an immense lot of users that way. The catch then is to keep those users without giving them a reason to look for alternatives. In its present form, Keep cannot hope to do that.
Keep’s biggest competitor is the veteran note-taking service, Evernote. And Stepan Pachikov’s brainchild can take on Keep in every angle and win: it has better organisation, greater variety of notes, more powerful auto-save, more effective synchronisation across devices, a widget to match Keep’s, and — especially with newer updates — no longer lacks in the eye candy department. (Here is a quick trivia: I recently found out Evernote and I share a common birth date!)
What about other candidates, such as Catch, OneNote or Springpad? It suffices to say they all offer what Keep does and more. Catch has one of the most familiar tagging techniques (in hash-tagging,) OneNote has a huge text formatting palette carried over from Microsoft’s Word, and Springpad is in a slightly different level, focusing on visual satisfaction of its users while also offering at least everything that Keep does.
Where Keep falls short
Keep is, first of all, still not available on all platforms except the cloud and Android. Google’s second slip comes in its merging Keep with Drive. It would be wise to keep (no pun intended) a product like Keep as a standalone offering rather than merge it with a successful product such as Drive, to piggyback on.
With my first few usages, Keep on my phone simply refused to sync with my laptop at the same speed that Evernote would. In fact, the first two times, it did not sync at all.
Keep also (as of the time of writing this article) does not allow what we call audio notes. In other words, inputting a note via the microphone on Keep makes the app treat it as a dictation and converts it into a text note rather than save it as an mp3/wav/mpga audio note like almost all other apps do.
Moving on to photographs, a Keep photo note is restricted to a photograph you would capture from the app and not one you have already captured. That is to say, Keep does not let you import photos from your gallery to attach to notes.
There are also checklists on Keep that are mostly on par with checklist-type notes on other apps. But the colour-coding method of organisation that Keep plays as its main attraction is not all that unique — or useful, for that matter.
Keep only allows about eight colours and in just one layer. In other words, unlike the powerful organisational structure Evernote gives you — stacks for your collections of notebooks, which are in turn for your collections of notes, under which may be collections of tags — or like Catch lets you utilist two layers, notes and notebooks, Keep simply says something to the effect of, “colour all reminders red, colour all shopping lists blue, colour all miscellaneous notes green and so on.” That is, as you can see, not very helpful.
So who is Keep for?
Now we come to an important point. If Google finally released Keep for the public, they must consider it finished up to some standards; which would mean they actually have a target audience in mind. And I can tell you right away it is not researchers. It is more likely your average housewife trying to save paper.
Keep, to put it simply, is for anybody who had been looking for a note-taking app exactly as simple as picking up a pen and sticking a post-it note on their refrigerator. Keep lets you pick up your phone, click exactly one button, write your note and stick it on all your devices at once. There is no categorising, no tagging, no other form of organisation except deciding what colour post-it flag you fancy.
If you are the kind of person looking for something simpler than even Catch, or a no-nonsense note-taking app to help you once an for all get rid of your pocket notebook while being as simple to use as that, then Keep is your perfect answer. Without kidding, Keep is as simple to use as a pocket notebook and a pen, if that is what you always wanted.
If you want anything even infinitesimally more powerful, Google Keep is galaxies away and, hopefully, was not who Google meant their new note-taking product for. Over the years, Google has started and too soon dissolved some of its new products like they were salt in water — and that too after pulling hundreds of thousands of people on board. Let us hope that is not the fate in store for Keep. But in any case, however big a fan of Google I may be, you will not see me using Keep for my notes any time soon. [vhb]
[sws_button class=”” size=”sws_btn_xlarge” align=”sws_btn_align_center” href=”https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.android.keep” target=”_blank” label=”Download Google Keep from the Play Store” template=”sws_btn_black” textcolor=”” bgcolor=”” bgcolorhover=”” glow=”sws_btn_glow_black”] [/sws_button]
Cover Image: Keep on the 5.3″ GALAXY Note with errors. Keep does not spell-check.
The last time we saw, Google was busy playing totally witty pranks at Matthew Inman, but these little surprises — called easter eggs — that Google has hidden for the rest of us are from a while before that. Nonetheless, they are still great places to visit when you are on the internet and have nothing to do, but do not want to leave your computer alone. Get my point?
1. The Easter Eggs Game
Oh, yes, Google has an official game in this regard too. Think the eggs-in-the-basket game we used to play ages ago, only, this time it is reversed. You do not throw eggs into a basket, you catch eggs in one. The aim of the game is to catch eggs that spell g-o-o-g-l-e.
Remember the non-existent, yet fascinating lake monster the Scots speak of? Google has made a pet out of it. And not just that, you can find UFOs hovering around cities and an aurora light up the night sky.
Just change your iGoogle theme and make sure you wake yourself up at 3:14AM (yes, that’s just after midnight) and you can witness one of these different, weird things happening on each theme.
3. Google Paper
Google has an infamous but revolutionary service called Google Paper from where you can print, on paper, the hard copy, of your entire GMail inbox — and it is done using special, if uncomfortable, methods to save the environment.
The best part of Google Paper is that it is free, safe, and does not contain ads. If you have photo attached to your GMail inbox, you can get those printed in High-Res, glossy photo paper; and you can choose to print just one or even all million of the messages in your inbox. Why wait then? Visit Google Paper and experience the awesomeness now!
(Trust me, you will laugh after taking a look at this one!)
4. Google Klingon
If you are a (Star) Trekker like me, you will love Klingon — and probably already know a little of it! Well the good news is that Google’s Mountain View campus is probably filled with nerds like us, and that is why Google has a Klingon search engine, called Google Klingon, that allows you to search in Klingon.
Picasa reached version 3.9 recently, with vast technological upgrades, but there is one little secret Google has not left out of their project yet. If you’d like to see a host of pink bow-tie attired brown teddy bears, hit Ctrl+Shift+Y.
And keep hitting it. Go on. You know you want to.
So that’s our second list of five awesome things you never knew you could do on Google products. If you have not done it already, make sure you read the first list here. And, as Google throws out more such humorous gags hither and thither, I’ll keep updating it right here.
ONE OF THE most common fun things you find people doing on Google is the barrel roll. But let us forget the common stuff for a moment and see what other such cool (but really, the word is nerdy — and I confess it definitely applies to me!) stuff you can do on that seeming innocent Google homepage. Well, nerd or no nerd, I am certain these five things are stuff you will really want to try out as you read along.
Remember, in all these cases — weird as it may look — you can still continue to use the Search page just like normal. Simply try to pretend like nothing has happened.
Update: Sunday, July 1, 2012. It appears that Google has brought back the I feel lucky option even with instant search running. All you have to do is hover over any predicted search result that drops down as you type and you’ll find the link on your right.
5. Google gone askew!
Google simple words and you will find the complete definition with the search engine nowadays also acting like an online dictionary. But search the word askew and you will find a little surprise.
Hitting enter will give you an entire search results page that is askew. Talk about learning with examples.
Did you know Google was once running a project where all you had to do was look at a revolving circle and picture the thing you are looking for. Voila, there you would have it all: perfectly served results and images too!
Try it out. Visit the Mentalplex page, but do not hate me for sending you there.
Alright, this one may not be that much of a trick. It once was, but it became so popular that Google incorporated it as a feature into its product. And it is one of my favourite reasons to visit Google Earth!
If you are a fan of Microsoft’s (only) awesome game series, Flight Simulator, you will be familiar with the transparent, overlaid plane HUD. There is a turn arc to control the rudder and flippers; and an altitude graph to control the elevator so basically if you know how to fly a plane and if you understand how the three plane axes work, this one will instantly appeal to you.
Go to Tools > Enter Flight Simulator and there you are, seated in a cockpit, flying your way around the world. It is coolest in places where full-blown 3D imagery is accessible (i.e. not the middle of the Sahara or Thar, where you will just fly over fake sand. You might even go to sleep.)
You also have many views: from inside the cockpit — my favourite — or from the wing, or even from a 3rd person point of view. And you have a host of places you can land on, including 2D cities to naval ships in the middle of the sea!
Alright, fellow nerds, this one is perhaps the best and reserved for the last.
On May the 21st 2010, to mark Pacman’s 30th birthday, Google launched one of their greatestdoodles ever: Pacman around the Google logo. The doodle was Google’s first of its kind, interactive, and stayed on the homepage for 48 hours and got 505 million unique visitors (and is still getting many; I’m a regular visitor anyway!)
The downside (some call it that) was how the doodle affected the economy. Had the hours people played that game been converted into productive work, we would have earned almost exactly $120,483,800 more! And in the 48 hours that it was shown alone a given user was reported to have spent about half a minute more than the usual four-minute period of time they would otherwise spend on Google. And this money translated to buying the entire Google staff 19,835 strong, including “Larry and Sergei, right down to the jaintors,” as Tom Wright put it, “and get six weeks of their time.”
Gruesome, disappointing numbers apart, know that you can still play Pacman on google; just follow the button below, insert a coin and have a great time! Also, as a side note, if you have two players, just insert a coin twice and play with a. the arrow keys and b. the w-a-s-d key combination simultaneously.
Now that Google has taken away the I’m feeling lucky button from its homepage, there are a couple of such fun things you can no longer do via Google; but the good news is, some other thoughtful blokes have retained those particular versions of Google so you can still access those pages.
Try your luck disintegrating Google completely (a project called Google Gravity) and play around with broken parts here or surprise yourself by simply searching for the word Recursion.