Monday, July 14, 2014

Boot up: Fire Phone reactions, Track Changes online, Surface Mini lives!

Forbidden Planet movie poster featuring Robbie the Robot Movie poster for Forbidden Planet (1956) featuring Robbie the Robot. Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive

A burst of 11 links for you to chew over, as picked by the Technology team

People misremember the iPhone as some sort of hallelujah moment when it was announced in January 2007. It wasn't. It was panned by a lot of people when it was first announced for various reasons. The 3 aforementioned ones plus it had a poor camera, no MMS, no video recording, no apps and the back looked ugly!

Everyones waiting for these giant leaps. These clear cut "whoa I just witnessed the unveiling of the Next Big Thing" don't really happen all that often. Yet the industry still keeps moving forward, it evolves. I see each of these events as baby steps along the way.

Q. It sounds like you've been using the Fire phone as your own phone. What were you using before, and what's it been like to use this?

A. Well, Samsung. And the thing I've noticed is when I switch back to another phone, I'm still reaching for the gestures that work so reliably on Fire phone, like autoscroll.

For the design team, invention is about stepping back and finding those things in technology that aren't ideal, but you're so inured to them that you don't realize they could probably be improved. Traditionally scrolling is not that good. It's often a two-handed gesture. You're interjecting your finger in front of the screen.

Once you get used to autoscrolling, you'll be trying to do it on another device — and that's a good sign.

First, just take a look at its square display, which measures 4.5 inches with a resolution of 1440x1440. Right below that is a QWERTY keyboard that's shorter and stretches wider than most other keyboards we've seen from the company. It's not entirely clear what BlackBerry is shooting for with the Passport; it's more or less a business class take on the phablet — a really, really square phablet. And it's so wide; even wider than Samsung's Galaxy Note 3. The BlackBerry Passport is due sometime this September, so for now all we can do is look and imagine trying to successfully hold it in one hand. Here's a photo of CEO John Chen miraculously pulling off that very feat.

They should provide a hinge in the middle and call it a laptop. Job done.

This is the document that inspired us to start Poetica. It contains all the feedback that author Maureen Evans received from her editor about the first draft of a cookbook, Eat Tweet, using Word's Track Changes feature.

Maureen's experience of trying to make sense of her editor's feedback was so frustrating that it got us thinking. How we could make something better: more natural, clear and expressive?

We realised that Track Changes frustrates many people, not just writers. It's used by everyone from students to corporate lawyers, and what they're trying to achieve is similar: they want quick, thoughtful and clear feedback on work they've done.

Basically, "track changes" and collaborative editing on Gmail, Gdrive, Word (Word?) and Wordpress.

Mary Jo Foley:

Microsoft made available for download on June 20 a Surface Pro 3 User Guide, meant to assist those buying the third-generation Intel-based Surface Pro 3 tablets, which are for sale starting today in the U.S. and Canada. That guide, as Windows Supersite's Paul Thurrott noted on Twitter, includes several mentions of the Surface Mini.

(My guess is the team writing the Surface Pro 3 user guide did some cutting and pasting from the guide meant to accompany the Surface Mini.)

From the mentions, it looks like the same pen that comes with the Surface Pro 3 also was going to ship with the Surface Mini. One of the handful of mentions, focused on the top button on the new pen, notes:

"Click the top button to open OneNote, even if your Surface is locked. Bluetooth technology links your Surface Pen to your Surface Mini or Surface Pro 3, so when you click the button, your Surface responds instantly."

Carolina Milanesi of analysts Kantar responds: "the market ain't ready for a Surface Mini."

Google has promised to reimburse a rescue helicopter crew for an unnecessary flight after one of their Wi-Fi balloons falling into the sea sparked an emergency response.

Police received a call at 11.25am from a member of public reporting that a plane had crashed into the sea off the Hurunui River mouth, near Cheviot. He mistook the balloon for a plane because a local pilot's aircraft had a parachute attached.

Locals took boats out to investigate, while police, Waimakariri-Ashley Lifeboat volunteers, Search and Rescue and the Westpac rescue helicopter responded.

The balloon was found floating in the sea. Police notified Google, as the balloon was too large for a local fisherman to pull out, and the sea was "quite rough".

Thirty Project Loon balloons were launched into the stratosphere from Tekapo in June last year. The helium-filled, 12-metre-high polyethylene balloons transmit free wi-fi signals. Their purpose is to reach people living in remote areas.

Google aims to have 300 to 400 of these balloons in operation. At this failure rate, that would mean a crashlanding almost every month on average.

Christensen hasn't responded in writing to the essay, but when I reached him by phone Thursday afternoon, it was clear he'd been thinking about it. Consistently described by those who know him as a generous and thoughtful and upbeat person, he is also capable of fury. "Keep asking me questions," he said, "it's helping me."

Bunny report: not happy. Do read through to his explanation of why he got it wrong on the iPhone. (He said it would be a flop.)

Eric Sofge:

The myth of robotic competence is based on a hunch. And it's a hunch that, for the most part, has been proven dead wrong by real-life robots.

Actual robots are devices of extremely narrow value and capability. They do one or two things with competence, and everything else terribly, or not at all. Auto-assembly bots can paint or spot-weld a vehicle in a fraction of the time that a human crew might require, and with none of the health concerns. That's their knife trick. But ask them to install upholstery, and they would most likely bash the vehicle to pieces.

Robot cars, at the moment, have a similarly savant-like range of expertise. As The Atlantic recently covered, Google's driverless vehicles require detailed LIDAR maps—3D models created from lasers sweeping the contours of a given roadway—to function. Autonomous cars have to do impressive things, like detecting the proximity of surrounding cars, and determining right of way at intersections. But they are algorithmically locked onto their laser roads. They stay the proscribed course, following a trail of sensor-generated breadcrumbs. Compared to what humans have to contend with, these robots are the most sheltered sort of permanent student drivers. No one is quizzing them by sending pedestrians or drunk drivers darting into their path, or diverting them through un-mapped, snow-covered country lanes. Their ability to avoid fatal collisions remains untested.

…I've talked to many roboticists and artificial intelligence researchers who were inspired by hyper-competent bogeymen, from 2001's HAL 9000 to the Terminator's T-800. The dream of robotic power is intoxicating. That the systems these scientists create are usually pale shadows of human competence is a mere fact of robotics

Today's must-read. (Thanks @HotSoup for the link.)

The seemingly innocuous appliances — all 224m of them across the nation — together consume as much electricity as produced by four giant nuclear reactors, running around the clock. They have become the biggest single energy user in many homes, apart from air conditioning.

Cheryl Williamsen, a Los Alamitos architect, has three of the boxes leased from her cable provider in her home, but she had no idea how much power they consumed until recently, when she saw a rating on the back for as much as 500 watts — about the same as a washing machine.

A set-top cable box with a digital recorder can consume as much as 35 watts of power, costing about $8 a month for a typical Southern California consumer. The devices use nearly as much power turned off as they do when they are turned on.

35W for 24hr for 30 days = 25.2kWh - so she pays 31.7c/kWH? That compares with over 20 pence/kWh in the UK as a typical consumer price.

A Georgia Tech student, together with two of his roommates, claims to have hacked Yo, the Poke-like app which has set some of Silicon Valley alight (though not others) in the last 48 hours. [See update below: Yo has confirmed it has been hacked].

The student emailed TechCrunch detailing what he alleges is the results of the hack: "We can get any Yo user's phone number (I actually texted the founder, and he called me back). We can spoof Yo's from any users, and we can spam any user with as many Yo. We could also send any Yo user a push notification with any text we want (though we decided not to do that)."

In no time at all, we'll be at the next stage of this cycle, where hacking will be blamed by an MP for an inappopriate Yo to someone else. Penultimate stage: bought by Facebook or Google for $---bn. Final stage: incorporated into some other app and never heard of again.

David Yanofksy:

no amount of nostalgia will change the plane's operating cost on an airline's balance sheet, or its sustainability report. The 747 is the least efficient wide-body plane flying, according to data reported by US operators—it burns more fuel per hour and per seat mile than any other wide-body commercial airliner. Filling these gigantic planes has been a bugbear for some airlines, even on major routes. And as travelers seek more flight-time options, airlines are opting for multiple departures per day with smaller planes.

Introduced in 1969, so it has lasted well.

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