We are all just algorithms…

I’ve long joked that “we’re all just algorithms in some engineer’s machine.”

But it’s kind of true.

I recently finished reading Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari, which imagines what the lives of our children, grandchildren, and beyond will be like and how technology will affect them.

We generate copious amounts of data each day and give our personal electronic devices and social networks almost unfettered access to all of it. Everything from how long we sleep, how often we exercise, where we go each day to the types of songs, movies and books we like.

There was one passage from the book that I found both amazing and frightening:

A recent study commissioned by Google’s nemesis – Facebook – has indicated that already today the Facebook algorithm is a better judge of human personalities and dispositions than even people’s friends, parents and spouses. The study was conducted on 86,220 volunteers who have a Facebook account and who completed a hundred-item personality questionnaire.

The Facebook algorithm predicted the volunteers’ answers based on monitoring their Facebook Likes – which webpages, images and clips they tagged with the Like button. The more Likes, the more accurate the predictions. The algorithm’s predictions were compared with those of work colleagues, friends, family members and spouses.

Amazingly, the algorithm needed a set of only ten Likes in order to outperform the predictions of work colleagues. It needed seventy Likes to outperform friends, 150 Likes to outperform family members and 300 Likes to outperform spouses. In other words, if you happen to have clicked 300 Likes on your Facebook account, the Facebook algorithm can predict your opinions and desires better than your husband or wife!

This is one of the main reasons why both Google and Facebook have some of the largest (and most effective) advertising networks on the internet.

They fundamentally know who you are and what you like and know us better than we know ourselves.

Indeed, in some fields the Facebook algorithm did better than the person themself. Participants were asked to evaluate things such as their level of substance use or the size of their social networks. Their judgements were less accurate than those of the algorithm.

Excerpts from “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” by Yuval Noah Harari.

What I’m excited about in iOS 7

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Has it really been seven years?

iOS 7: It’s crazy to think it’s been seven years since the first release of iOS / iPhone OS (and the original iPhone) way back in 2007. If you haven’t seen the original video of Steve Jobs’s keynote announcing the iPhone, I highly recommend watching it. It marked the beginning of a new era in how all of us interact with technology.

During today’s iOS 7 keynote, I tried to lay low and not read too much into what people have been saying on Facebook, Twitter, and the comment sections of Engadget and The Verge. The levels of snark are off the scale on days like this and for the most part, it doesn’t positively contribute to the conversation.

What I’m excited about

Everyone has their own likes and dislikes when it comes to their favorite mobile operating system. For the most part, I’m pretty excited about some of the new features announced in iOS 7. I think this release finally tackles a lot of limitations and features that people on other platforms have harped about for years and it’s significantly mitigated the remaining reasons to jailbreak.

One caveat: I write this without having had an opportunity to download the latest beta. That said, I’m really excited about 3 things in particular: namely, the new control panel (a simple swiper from the bottom of your screen brings up a panel offering quick access to common system settings), improved multitasking (Apple’s implementation is allegedly “smart” — apps know when to wake up, update / download data, and go back to sleep. This is huge for apps I commonly use like Feedly, Pocket, and Downcast), and an improved notification center (it’s something I was so happy with when iOS 5 was announced but it’s always felt so limited — now we can see a list of relevant and important information at a glance, in addition to all the missed notifications we’re collecting).

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What I’m not excited about

My one and only gripe (albeit, it’s minor in the scheme of things) are the default first party icons. (Others have been complaining about this as well.) Their overly simplistic look doesn’t really appeal to me and I’d actually argue that they look bad. I’m not sure what happened in the design process here but it’s something that detracts from the overall polish of iOS for me.

Anyway, its going to be a long wait until fall. But I’m excited about this new direction and can’t wait to see where companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft continue to take us in the mobile space.

Working extra hard for those steps

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I love my Fitbit. It’s easily one of my favorite gadgets that I own. It’s unobtrusive, the battery lasts forever, and its presence subconsciously reminds you to get up and move around a bit more.

In my previous jobs, I’ve been lucky to have the option to walk to work instead of relying solely on public transit. This gave me a chance to get some extra activity in at the beginning and end of each day and reach Fitbit’s lofty goal of 10,000 steps per day (equivalent to about 5 miles). It’s something that I always enjoyed striving for.

With my new gig, I walk around the corner to BART, take that to my stop, hop right onto a shuttle and then get dropped off right in front of our office. This means I lose out on having a built in opportunity to get some activity each day. (The walk from the BART station to the office is a little bit longer that one would want to walk — about 5.5 miles each way.)

Fortunately, our campus has a free gym with some nice equipment. On days where Kerry and I don’t go to the gym in the morning, I try to go here after work and get in those much needed steps. It’s a bit crazy how hard you need to work for them. After a full day in the office, I’ll run 3 miles on the treadmill and feel extra accomplished. At least until I pull out my Fitbit and it says I’m short by about 1,500 steps. Wow.

So, I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to get more steps each day. Make sure I go to the gym in the morning (and / or evening). Do a lap around our campus at lunch time while calling my parents. Walk to the grocery store in the evening when I get home. (Interestingly, recent studies seem to indicate that walking and running have nearly identical health benefits.)

It’s pretty crazy how much I’ve taken things like my simple morning walk to work for granted. But I’m happy that I’ve been able to make a conscious effort to do healthy things.

Fake or not…

Tons of people ripping Mike Daisey to shreds over This American Life retracting their story on Apple’s factories this morning. (I reviewed Daisey’s theatrical review, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” last year.)

When the original 39-minute excerpt was broadcast on This American Life on January 6, 2012, Marketplace China Correspondent Rob Schmitz wondered about its truth. Marketplace had done a lot of reporting on Foxconn and Apple’s supply chain in China in the past, and Schmitz had first-hand knowledge of the issues. He located and interviewed Daisey’s Chinese interpreter Li Guifen (who goes by the name Cathy Lee professionally with westerners). She disputed much of what Daisey has been telling theater audiences since 2010 and much of what he said on the radio

Yes, it’s a huge shame that he outright lied about parts of his story. But some of the other unpleasant facts still remain: worker suicides, packed dormitories, insane and outrageous hours. These are stories that both Wired Magazine and the NY Times have written (and as Alexis Madrigal of the Atlantic notes, neither has retracted their stories).

Whether parts of the story were fake or not, I think there’s a more important take away from this: Mike Daisey made all of us think about where our products came from (and the effect they had on the people who made them) in a way that no one has ever done before.

Extrapolating the screen size of Android mobile phones over time.

  This piece was originally posted on gdgt. Check it out, here.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Abstract: The latest Android mobile phone under Google’s flagship phone line, the Nexus family, currently has a diagonal screen size of 4.65 inches (118.1mm). This follows a trend that Google started with the HTC Dream / T-Mobile G1 — their first Android flagship phone. Released in 2008, it had a diagonal screen size of only 3.2 inches (81.3mm). Since then, screen sizes in Google’s Nexus line have grown at an average rate of 0.48 inches (12.2mm) per year.

I. Introduction
In 2008, HTC released the first Android phone, the HTC Dream on T-Mobile[1]. Known as the G1, this phone kicked off the Android revolution. At the time, it featured a screen size of only 3.2 inches (81.3mm) — which is rather paltry by today’s standards. Since then, subsequent releases of Android phones by Google and its partners have featured larger and larger screen sizes, culminating with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus[2], announced earlier this week in Hong Kong.

II. Methods
For this experiment, we only used specifications data provided by Google and its partners to determine the screen size. We listed each of Google’s flagship phone ordered by release date. Then we divided the total change is screen size by the total number of years.

From there, we’re able to extrapolate the potential screen size of future Android phones.

III. Results
Here is data from all of Google’s stock Android phones.

  • T-Mobile G1 (2008) – 3.2 inch
  • Nexus One[3] (2010) – 3.7 inch
  • Nexus S[4] (2010) – 4.0 inch
  • Galaxy Nexus (2011) – 4.65 inch

We see that over the course of 3 years, Google’s phones have gained a total of 1.45 inches (36.8mm). This factors out to an average growth rate of 0.48 inches (12.2mm) per year. With this result, we can now predict the screen size of Android devices over time.

  • 2012 – 5.13 inches (130mm)
  • 2013 – 5.61 inches (142.5mm)
  • 2014 – 6.09 inches (154.7mm)
  • 2015 – 6.57 inches (166.9mm)
  • 2020 – 8.97 inches (227.8mm)

IV. Conclusion
Over the last few years, it’s clear to see that the market has spoken with regard to its preferences over the size of mobile devices. Google has recognized consumer’s preference for larger devices and has moved toward a “bigger-is-better” strategy for mobile phones. At the current rate of growth for Android phones, by 2022, they will eclipse the 9.7 inch screen (246.4mm) size of Apple’s tablet, the iPad[5].

V. Footnotes

Seeing this post on Gizmodo earlier today made realize something. Android phones are getting bigger and bigger. So, I decided to write this tongue in cheek “research paper” to highlight the increasing “screen bloat” of Android devices. Bring on the 9.7 inch phones, baby! 2022 can’t come soon enough.

My impressions of the Fuji FinePix X100

  This piece was originally posted on gdgt. Check it out, here.

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Alright, I meant to post this awhile ago — here are my impressions of the Fuji FinePix X100 after using it for a week.

Pros

  • The viewfinder displays all sorts of awesome live data.
    Holy awesome, I don’t know why more camera manufacturers haven’t done this yet, but the X100’s viewfinder has a live histogram. For me, it’s totally key when trying to nail a photo. I absolutely love using histograms to try and get proper exposure. Plus, there’s all the usual information (aperture, exposure, ISO, grid view).

    Another cool aspect of the viewfinder is that it shows a rectangle that shows the actual field of view of the image that will be captured. This means you can see outside this area and use it for anticipation, planning, or lining up your shot. I love it.

  • The lens is fast! It’s a fixed 35mm lens with an f/2.0 maximum aperture. The bokeh at f/2.0 is nice. It’s super sharp when stopped down to around f/4.
  • Hybrid viewfinder: So, this camera does something kind of interesting. It has a regular old optical viewfinder, but it also comes with an electronic viewfinder as well that can be manually engaged (or automatically engaged when in macro mode) that shows what your camera sees directly from the viewfinder. Sadly, there are cons to this (see down below!).
  • Design: The design is awesome. I love that retro style, and the camera is comparable in size to most micro 4/3’s cameras. Except it has an APS-C sensor inside!
  • The camera sensor: It’s an APS-C sensor — this is the same type of sensor you’d find in most DSLRs. Micro 4/3’s cameras (which are all the rage right now, and roughly the same size at the X100) have a slightly smaller sensor.

Cons

  • I wear glasses now, so when I put the viewfinder up to my face, I can’t actually see all the information displayed in the viewfinder. I can see the field of view of the image, but that’s about it.
  • Focus = slow: Oh, man. I lost a number of shots while waiting for the lens to lock focus. It’s actually pretty slow! And this is a problem that I notice happens a lot in low light environments (which the camera should actually be really good at shooting in!).
  • Hybrid viewfinder: This camera does something particularly annoying every single time you take a photo using the optical viewfinder. After you take an image, the electronic viewfinder pops up and shows you the most recent image you took. There’s no way to turn this off. Are you in the middle of trying to capture a series of action shots? Too bad! “Snap — view photos for 1 – 2 seconds — snap! — view next photo for 1 – 2 seconds — snap! — oh, my God, just let me take photos and look at things later!”

    The other issue I have with this (and all electronic viewfinders in general) is the general poor quality and low resolution of the image you see.

  • Slow to try and setup for a shot: This might be my limited amount of time with the camera and inability to truly get used to it, but I found it a pain to try and setup the camera properly for shots as I walked around Austin and San Francisco with it. Changing lighting conditions (which normally don’t phase me, even on my DSLR), wrecked havoc on my ability to take photos. There’s not really an automatic mode (for better or for worse) — this camera is for really seasoned professionals who know their stuff (do you know your Sunny 16 rules? If so, you can probably be comfortable using this camera).

Low disk space alert

  This piece was originally posted on gdgt. Check it out, here.

Low disk space

Apparently, my computer is going crazy because I have ZERO disk space left. What in the what?! Turns out, my problem stems from iTunes insane backup system. I have multiple redundant multi-gigabyte iOS backup folders eating all my space.

A few minutes ago, I had 0 bytes free out of 120GB SSD. (After deleting the iOS backups, I now have 12.5 GB free).