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.
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:
The Earth isn’t yours to wreck
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.
The self-driving car crashed into Google’s own Mountainview campus on its first trial run because the left bumper recognised the right bumper as an obstacle and tried to get away from it. Image courtesy: Wikimedia commons
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:
Image courtesy: Flickr/3X0=3 with no disrespect to the photographer
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.
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.
Try out Google Paper
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. ❖
America seems to have come out with a new (although hardly an innovative) way to censor links it feels violates copyrights–although the fact that they do not have to justify themselves makes one wonder if they will not also ban legitimate links that work against them, as many have begun to see. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is more than meets the eye; following in China’s footsteps–but going one step too far–the US government hopes to pass a bill that, will give them absolute rights to decide what one sees and what one does not, on the Internet.
The Web has often been celebrated analogous to freedom in more ways than one: speech, art and in general expression of almost any form. But, leveraging on a few acts of piracy, and apparently using it as a veil, the government hopes to gain the rights to ban stuff on the internet, and–as giants such as Google, Yahoo!, eBay and Netscape see it–effectively the Internet itself. Either way, SOPA is slowly being seen as a technique to undermine the framework of free expression.
While more and more people around the world are slowly finding out about SOPA–and a number of non-US sites–are writing (read: fighting) against it, there happen to be a much lesser number who know the full implications of this act.
In a nutshell, SOPA is a bill targeted at sites hosted outside the US making them susceptible to be banned, should the US government feel so (which is the catch here, as I see it.) Delving a little deeper into it we find SOPA to list the following clauses ((Paraphrased, read this extract for more details on Section 102)):
Order internet service providers to alter their DNS servers to prevent resolving the domain names of websites in foreign countries that host illegal copies of videos, songs, and photos.
Order search engines like Google to modify search results to exclude foreign websites that host illegally copied material.
Order payment providers like PayPal to shut down the payment accounts of foreign websites that host illegally copied material.
Order ad services like Google’s AdSense to refuse any ads or payment from foreign sites that host illegally copied content.
The main concepts behind SOPA happen to be piracy and copyright infringement. While these are problems to a good extent, SOPA is an immature approach to solving them, following on the lines of the repeatedly disproved procedures of strengthening copyright laws to protect piracy. This, as Mike Masnick puts it ((Read Mike Masnick’s article)), will only increase cases of infringement as the main problem centres on consumers being underserved: it has never been a question of being free.
Historically, infringement has never been about “free,” but about indicating where the business models have not kept up with the technology.
What is interesting to note, however, is that this will not apply to domains ending with .com, .net or .org because they all are hosted under existing US laws, and SOPA targets non-US (or, more specifically, US-directed) websites.
Continuing onto the next section, Section 103, of SOPA, it requires payment processors and advertisors to shut down accounts should they receive the right kind of letter from a copyright owner — a system modeled on the notice-and-takedown provisions of the current Digital Millenium Copyright Act ((This requires a services, like YouTube, to pull down infringing content after the copyright owner complains.)) which has been both used and abused and is retained simply because it allows YouTube to avoid direct responsibility for the actions of its users — it would have been otherwise sued out of existence by now.
(While we are on that topic, it is interesting to note that the film production house, Viacom, which is a major supporter of SOPA is suing YouTube for 84 million in 2010 alone.)
The Anti-SOPA Stance
A number of major Internet players have joined in protesting against SOPA. Google–whose ruling over half the web is arguably the most important voice needed to oppose SOPA–has recently come out with a massive public whiplash stating “the bill would give Washington Internet censorship rights similar to China, Malaysia and Iran.” Google is openly opposing the views of a number of big entertainment companies (which constitute the main supporters of SOPA) such as Viacom, Disney and TimeWarner. And, in agreement with others boasting an equally big presence (such as Wikipedia, Yahoo! and Flickr, PayPal and LinkedIn) are urging Congress not to risk the “tremendous benefits the Internet has brought to hundreds of millions of Americans and people around the world.”
Another idea worth noting is the support Google can give: right now, Google is busy in world domination intelligently buying the most successful participants in every niche of the Internet. Google currently owns services like Android, Picasa, YouTube, Google+, AdSense, AdWords, Maps, Analytics, Docs, Talk, Chrome, Panoramio, FeedBurner, Blogger, Flights, Calendar, Books, Translate, TV, Voice, Local, Goggles, Places and — perhaps their one main product Google is synonymous to — Google Search.
(Courtesy, FORBES/Paul Tassi)
Another important contributor to this opposition of SOPA happens to be Reddit. The social news site has officially laid plans to black out the active website from 8AM to 8PM, for 12 hours, in opposition to SOPA. On their blog, Reddit made their intention clear:
Instead of the normal glorious, user-curated chaos of reddit, we will be displaying a simple message about how the PIPA ((PIPA, is an acronym for the Protect IPA Act, a U.S. Senate version of SOPA.))/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like Reddit. A few months ago, many people thought this legislation would surely pass. However, there’s a new hope that we can defeat this dangerous legislation.
The new hope that the Reddit team mentions happens to be a major flow of stance-shift among both Republicans and Democratics in the Congress with politicians from Ron Paul to Nancy Pelosi openly offering their support to Anti-SOPA activists.
The Lamar dilema
US Congressman Lamar Smith, who perhaps contributed most to creating this entire hullabaloo called SOPA (and whose intentions, to me, seem shady at best,) seems to have forgotten to cover his tracks after he changed the look on his website where he had been using stock photographs without credit, and therefore, by his own bill, would have ended up in places he probably hoped to avoid.
Uri Gellar, the popular psychic who performed spoon bending and other tricks on TV in the 1970s… had YouTube pull videos of him being humiliated during a 1973 appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, when he had no copyright claim to them at all. This is exactly what will happen with Protect IP and SOPA… Give people a club like this and you can kiss the Internet as you know it goodbye… It’s a clear violation of our First Amendment right to free speech… [And] the accused doesn’t even have to be aware that the complaint has been made.[[/perfectpullquote]]
The wonderful sleuthing work was done by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete over at Vice.com when he examined an older, cached version of Lamar’s campaign website and found at least two major cases of copyright violation which, on the one hand Lamar pretends to hate, but on the other, he began using it as his surefire ticket to a seat in the Congress.
Supporting Lamar are a whole bunch of companies who are jumping at the first chance to get SOPA passed. In a letter addressed to the Congress ((You can read the 9-page long, entertaining letter here)), they have pledged their support to the bill. Alongside this, Vice.com has begun its innovative ‘Shop a SOPA’ Copyright Hypocrite Hunt (which you can join) to spot copyright infringements on websites of SOPA co-sponsors (of whom Lamar happens to be the main candidate.) As it turns out, Lamar’s office has conveniently decided not to reply to the letter Vice.com sent them demanding an explanation.
Wikipedia, GoDaddy and others
In a note on Wikipedia, founder Jimmy Wales wrote, “I’m all in favor of it, and I think it would be great if we could act quickly to coordinate with Reddit. I’d like to talk to our government affairs advisor to see if they agree on this as useful timing, but assuming that’s a greenlight, I think that matching what Reddit does … is a good idea.”
Another big issue that arose was against Internet Domain Provider, GoDaddy. In fact the place most of the opposition stemmed from was Reddit. A short time ago GoDaddy was a big supporter of SOPA, but soon Reddit was overhauled with Boycott GoDady shouts and in no time the company switched its stance in a blog post and is now a big Anti-SOPA activist.
Individuals are also making great efforts to protest against SOPA. Paul Tassi made a profile picture (below) urging Anti-SOPA people to move a step further by using this image as their profile pictures on social networks; there is also his Facebook event for people posting censored images (such as the one below, sporting a censored under HR 3261, SOPA banner.)
Courtesy Paul Tassi
The Pirate Bay
Now comes the underbelly of SOPA. To most people–at least to us who are familiar with the ways of the Internet and the laws governing its use–it is quite clear who the main target of the SOPA bill is: The Pirate Bay. The website is, to many, the resource of everything they cannot otherwise lay their hands on; everything that should really be in the public domain but is not: from films to software.
As the trust CNet News recently reported, SOPA is all about going after one website, and because the existing OPEN Act does not provide provisions to bring down Pirate Bay.
Yet, SOPA has equivocated, thwarted and confused itself so much that, as Masnick rightly points out, the provisions in the bill do quite the opposite: they make The Pirate Bay immune! SOPA cannot touch The Pirate Bay’s main website, ThePirateBay.org, which is a .org domain hosted under US-laws (i.e. a US website) while the new bill only targets US-directed websites and as we saw earlier this puts The Pirate Bay out of SOPA’s jurisdiction.
This is an important point to note. As I see it, formulating a complex bill, although consisting solely of alphabets, actually requires good logical and mathematical calculations to see no clause renders another null and void. I do not expect any congressman to have this ability.
To take this surprise further, note that the US Congress statistics of rogue websites getting 53 billion websites that the government still childishly dwells upon is actually unaddressed (or rather addressed once and then once again, rendering it void the second time.) At the centre of this entire argument, apart from The Pirate Bay, were file hosting websites RapidShare and MegaUpload. Both of these are also effectively immune to SOPA.
Am I against SOPA? In a way, yes. The intent of the bill is appreciable, but the lousy way in which it has been formed as it now stands is not. The Internet was the one place on Earth that was never run by a government of people, never constrained by strict laws and never curbing creativity and freedom. In fact, I often quote the Internet as the perfect example of how beautifully people can govern themselves. Do think about this.
However, on the other hand, I could not care less about SOPA because in the pith it is just a bunch of words with no solid execution mechanism. Unlike a common parliament bill, SOPA cannot be enforced on the Internet. We come back to my previous point here, the Internet is run by people around the world, not the US government. In case you failed to understand my point, let me elaborate: As TechDirst points out, even if SOPA is passed, the game becomes the word of the US Congress against everybody with technological knowledge around the world. It is hardly an even match because, at the end of the day, no matter what big blockade SOPA puts up, people can go around that with ease. They can, for instance, adopting a foreign Virtual Private Network system–which, if you are wondering, is absolutely legal! ❖