Monday, 05-Jun-17 12:37
Toolalicious 2017 to all!

(So let's see about getting back on the writing train again. Been a bit dismotivated recently to write, but gotta keep flexing those muscles in order not to atrophy them...)

I just want to give a shoutout to a number of tools I am using right now to keep myself productive. I'm not going to get into the actual productivity tools, since those are quite often a matter of preference (emacs vs vi anyone?), but just present a collection of things that I have, over the years, found invaluable for my own work patterns.

RescueTime is the tool I use to keep track of my work. It sits there in the background on my Mac and phone and counts the seconds I use each app. It categorises the applications and web sites I visit into a few rough buckets, and lets me know whenever I have spent too much time on a computer, or too long on social media websites. It also counts any productive tools and sites, which has given me interesting insight into how I work. My rule of thumb is that two hours of real, productive work per day is good; four hours usually means I'm exhausted by the end of it. Then again, four hours of productive work means somewhat like 10 hours of actual screen time, because the machine can't know when I am thinking and stops counting... It's good, but not seeing much development though, so I'm expecting someone to take over this personal time management space.

Amy and Andrew from X.ai are my personal assistants that now take care of my calendar. I don't really do that many meetings, but on those rare occasions there's something infinitely satisfying in sending an email "Hey Amy, can you please arrange a lunch for us next week?" and IT WORKS!

1password stores all my passwords and other critical info that I need. I do still store some stuff in an old-fashioned way in a GPG-encrypted text file, but most of the stuff that I need on a daily basis is now in 1password. The browser integration is excellent, and it's really easy to generate completely random passwords for any website. We also use it at the office, which makes it really easy to share passwords and things like company credit card data to those who need to know.

CrashPlan does my backups. It's a bit slow and clunky (and takes an ungodly amount of memory), but on the other hand, they have a family-friendly licensing scheme that lets me run the same application on my two Macs, wife's PC and my online Linux server. Backups run automatically every 15 minutes to the cloud, restores are straightforward (have tested three times now a full restore), and the whole thing just works invisibly in the background.

Little Snitch for my firewalling needs. I don't like the fact that Apple and other software vendors send all sorts of information out of my Macs without telling me what it is. But with Little Snitch I can selectively block outgoing communication with a nice little popup and watch my incoming/outgoing traffic per application. It's not for the faint-hearted though, since it has an annoying tendency to pop up right when you're typing something and then you end up pressing all the wrong buttons...

Freedome is absolutely critical when traveling. Now, it might not be the best VPN client out there, but it's easy to use and I got it really cheap. Combined with Little Snitch it makes me a bit more confident about using strange Wi-Fi networks.

F.lux changes the color of my screen at sunset to get rid of that blue glow that supposedly disrupts your sleep. I know new Macs have equivalent functionality, but I'm kind of used to f.lux, so I have no reason to switch :). Of course, my evidence is anecdotal, but I seem to fall asleep faster when it's on - but I'll take the effect gladly no matter if it's placebo or not :)

As for browser plugins, Adblock Plus blocks ads on Chrome, Pinboard stores my bookmarks (I've been Pinboard user for years ever since del.icio.us was first sold), Momentum makes my "new tab" -screen more interesting, and The Great Suspender stops browser tabs once they've been idle. Why, you ask? Because sometimes these modern Javascript frameworks and single-page-applications pretty much busyloop and consume all my battery in the background. Now, Chrome does mitigate this somewhat by starving background tabs, but Great Suspender just kills the tab content altogether. Which is very good for the battery.

Tuesday, 09-Aug-16 00:36
Tapestry

One of the reasons that I like role-playing games - even when played on the computer - is that they feel creative. Even when the game has three dialogue options that all lead to the same response, it lets me choose and create my own story, guaranteed to be different from everyone else's stories.

And not only that; it happens on games like Clash of Clans, where epic stories of combat are told every day, even though the sandbox is small compared to story-oriented games. But it's still me and my story and what happened to my village.

Looking back on the TV series I have enjoyed the most, I can always relate them to a story: Babylon 5 we watched on smuggled tapes from the USA and accidentally started a huge SciFi-club on the side. Deep Space Nine we watched with the wife when she was pregnant with our first child. Old Finnish comedy was the talk of the school yard back when we only had two TV channels in the entire country. I don't remember much about the shows, but I do remember the emotions of sharing these stories with others, and the story of watching something is, to me, more important than the story itself. The metastory of entertainment, if you will.

It even touches my work - the best jobs I've ever had were those where we were creating something together. It does not matter so much what it was, but building it was an experience that created a powerful story.

So one thing I'm always trying to do when confronted with new technology or opportunity is - what is the story that this is trying to convey? Can we help you tell more stories? Considering the things being hyped right now - VR _definitely_ lets you tell stories and once tools mature, we'll see an explosion of stories in that area. The AIs will write their own stories, and they will eventually be more beautiful and incomprehensible than anything humans have ever written. Internet of Things... Not sure. I don't care what my fridge tells my watch. It's not an interesting story. It's not even a good joke: "Hey, did you hear what the chair said to the table? { "position": "below", "color": "beige", "speed": 0.002 }."

One of the things that drew me to NFC was its storytelling ability - tagging any object would let people read its story. Rearranging things might change its story. Much of the same idea was continued at Thinglink, which has grown nicely to be a comprehensive VR/360/video/image storytelling platform, used by millions of students, teachers, publishers and advertisers around the world. I'm still having trouble grasping what are the stories of the IoT-connected world, and why should I really care. (Caveat: I'm expecting great things out of Thington, if they don't lose their way :-). I'm also enjoying Pasi Hurri's stories about his IoT connected sauna - though it's definitely on the geekier side of things. And yes, I know, there's great promise in reducing cost in industrial applications yadda yadda.)

Of course, this could just be my inability to understand the greatness that is IoT and that it's supposed to be invisible and Things That Just Work In The Background And Make My Life Easier. But until then it's just an Expensive Thing That Gets Broken In Mysterious Ways.

Sunday, 07-Aug-16 10:32
Timey-wimey thoughts

About twelve years ago I was watching my later Nokia colleague Chris Heathcote talk at O’Reilly Emerging Technology conference on how in ten years, there will be “no concept of lost”. This was a couple of years after US let civilians access very accurate GPS, but a couple of years before the GPS receivers became so cheap that they could be embedded in the phone.

Another thing that we didn’t have back then were global 3G networks and the concept of network time. Phones ran on whatever time you gave them, and even though NTP and the lot were keeping accurate time on the internet, the telecom industry was a bit behind the times on that.

But now we have both - almost every smartphone has a GPS chip and very accurate time information. We’re rooted very firmly in both time and place - sort of a reverse TARDIS, which is neither here or now. We’re no longer “lost”, unless it is our intent or we’re very unlucky. Location-based gaming (Pokemon Go) is something that could not have existed before this, and there’s now a lot of smart people figuring out the next possible avenues that is enabled by constraining us even tighter within a particular box of spacetime continuum. For example, Indoor Atlas locates us within 3 metres inside a building by mapping the magnetic fields. (Funnily enough, magnetic location mapping wasn’t in Chris’ original slides, which otherwise were pretty accurate.)

So yeah, it’s now possible to know well where you are - but it’s also easier than ever to know where everyone else is. There’s a gazillion of applications dedicated to making people meet in places, from the fairly innocuous to very creepy. This is a funny reversal: one thing that cell phones did at the beginning of the century was to liberate us from place and time.

The liberation is now pretty much complete: we can choose to be in different places, but still participate in the same event at the same time through tools like Snapchat and WhatsApp and Periscope; or we can participate in the same location but at different times (Geocaching, Pokemon Go), or we can be completely free of time and place (Youtube, Slideshare), or we can meet in the same place at the same time (Meetup, Glympse).

So I have to ask - is this it? Are all the niches of existence now covered? Is there room for apps somewhere else in the spacetime? Is there something that’s being ignored?

Am I being too human-centric here? What apps will the AIs write for themselves and for us? :-D


Private comments? Drop me an email. Or complain in a nearby pub - that'll help.



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