Saturday, 30 November 2013

Humus Envy

A few months ago I was approached by a friendly office colleague. I know you like humus, I was told; but have you heard of this food called “ta-hi-ni”?
I was polite and all, even if the scenario was not unlike asking Neil Armstrong whether he heard of this place called “the moon”. What can I say, clearly Aussies don’t know their humus.

A fortnight ago I visited my GP. I am at a critical stage, I was told, where the quality of my diet and other habits will dictate the quality of my latter years. Being that this has turned into a life and death discussion, she moved forward into a third degree as to my eating habits. Unsurprisingly, she identified an issue with my consumption of fruits.
“You [said in a way that sounded a lot like a plural you] like humus, don’t you?”
Well, duh.
“So why won’t you squeeze a lemon over your humus? That’s your missing fruit.”

What am I trying to say here?
I’m trying to show there are indications that humus is breaking into Australian consciousness. It seems to be doing so through two niches: those who have “seen the world” and are happy to embrace the best it has to offer, such as foods otherwise deemed exotic; and those conscious of their health.
However, despite these breakthroughs, Aussies continue to demonstrate abject ignorance when it comes to the matter of the quality of their humus. So much so they are unable to imagine there are higher realms of humus out there. Instead, they settle for stuff that, to me, tastes like it came out of a field ration.

And then my best friend from Israel Whatsapp-ed me the above image.
Allow me to translate the image: he is eating his favourite humus, or at least the humus that used to be his favourite at the time he and I used to visit this particular humus joint (Tel Aviv’s Humus Ashkara) twice a week. Although I doubt my stomach would manage the exercise today, that old habit of ours lasted several years, concluding when one of us decided to leave the country.
He sure knows how to rub it in.


Image copyrights are retained by my friend. Reproduced here with permission.

Friday, 29 November 2013

A Massive New Santa

With Christmas already in sight, we’re at that time of year when the good old Santa question is back in the air. As in, do we lie to our kids and tell them Santa’s coming and all that crap?
My opinion on the matter has been mentioned here, more than once or thrice. However, I’d like to share an angle I’ve recently read from my colleague Sam Harris.
One of the arguments often laid against people like yours truly is that by depriving children of the Santa myth I am making their Christmas less exciting. “Robbing his childhood away” was, I believe, the exact accusation thrown at me by my own parents in law with regards to the way I chose to handle Santa with my son. Because I chose to tell him the truth.
Thus far I looked at things from the point of view arguing that it is better to avoid lying and stick with the truth. Harris, however, goes the other way around: if we are to justify lying with the excitement it creates, then way aim as low as Santa? Why not bring out the big guns, and go with something properly exciting – stuff like fire breathing dragons? In other words, why should we accept the rather boring imagination, when looked upon through contemporary eyes, of those from the era that invented Santa? As in, people who lived before the car, computer or the cell phone? Surely our lies can step up with the times!
I discussed Harris’ arguments with my son and we are both in agreement. This Christmas, children all over the world will be receiving their gifts from Commander Shepard. The piloting skills of Joker and the Normandy's stealth will be utilised to ensure Shepard manages every household on the planet during one night. Garrus will perform all the necessary calibrations while Liara would support Shepard’s gift drop offs through her advanced biotic skills.
And if you happened to be a bad kid, you will get a visit from a Reaper instead.

This Christmas, we will all be going to Mass. Effect.


Image: Frankly, I do not know who the artist I should credit for the Santa Liara image is. That said, it is obvious its copyrights are held by Bioware.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Grey Shopping Warning

It’s that time of the year when many consume themselves into a life of shopping. So I thought this is the right time for me to contribute to Aussie consumerists' awareness through a personal story of mine. The story of how I did not get my Sennheiser Momentum headphones.
The thing about these headphones is that they are stupidly expensive. At the time they were generally selling at Australian shops for $450, although through careful shopping one could cut the price down to $400. However, it became clear through looking around that one can do much better through a grey import. That is, buying from someone who brought the headphones to Australia themselves, instead of through the official Sennheiser importer. In plain English this means buying from someone that made sure I got my hands on headphones originating from Hong Kong.
So off I went to the Internet, looking for a grey importer of choice. That, on its own, proved to be a pain. There are many price comparison websites and online shopping search engines out there, but all of them fail when it comes to price quotation. As in, I’d go into a shop that promises to sell me the headphone for $250 (hooray!), only to find they charge $150 shipping (boo!). And let us not discuss the inclusion of shops that will only accept such esteemed payment methods as Western Union money transfers. So yeah, a lot of work is required till a decent looking candidate is found.

I thought I found one in the shape of ValueBasket. They had a decent price on both product and shipping, they had a .com.au website, an Australian phone number and an Australian address. What could go wrong? As it turned out, a lot.
Two weeks after purchasing the item online I got my headphones delivered by courier. The matter of the two weeks wait aside, the problem was I did not get the headphones I ordered. You see, the Momentums come in two shapes: the original brown colored one, that no one wants to come nearby anymore, and the much coveted red and black one which I had ordered. Guess which color headphones was delivered to me?
Although I cannot prove it, I have a strong suspicion this was not an innocent mistake. Especially when my first query was answered by a “we would be willing to offer you a cleaning kit as compensation”. WTF is a cleaning kit and why would I want one?
Thus started an ordeal of emails and phone calls. After a week or so I thought I had a written agreement from ValueBasket which said I will return the headphones to their Australian address via Australia Post, and they will refund me for both the headphones and the return postage costs. I did my part the next day; ValueBasket certainly took their time with theirs.
After several weeks of emails that always got answered with refund promises but never an actual refund I was fed up. I filed a dispute with PayPal. Yet, how shall I put it? If I were you I would not put my trust upon the staff of this bruised reed that is PayPal.
First, PayPal could only return the funds I had paid through them, which means I was not able to ask for my return shipping costs. Second, and more importantly, it was clear PayPal never bothered reading my complaint in detail: even though by now I had returned the headphones and ValueBasket acknowledged it, PayPal came back to me insisting I provide proof of return. Further, they insisted the return costs are one me, a peculiar and bewildering call: what if, for argument’s sake, I had ordered a toothpick and ValueBasket sent me a battle tank instead? Would I have to return the tank at my own cost, too? Why should I pay the price of ValueBasket's [intentional, in my opinion] mistake?
Anyway, after a bit of bickering PayPal refunded me for my original payment. All that was left was for me to receive a refund for my return shipping costs back from ValueBasket, as per their original promise. Should be simple, shouldn’t it? Especially as we were talking $12?
Well, it wasn’t simple at all. It took almost two months and north of twenty emails from my direction till I got the promised refund. In the process I learned three important lessons:

  • First, I learned an Australian phone number is worthless when it clearly transfers you to some overseas call centre. Especially one that does not always bother to answer calls.
  • Second, I learned a physical Australian address does not really matter. When I looked to have Australian Consumer Affairs authorities involved, and had a deeper look into ValueBasket, it turned out that without an Aussie ABN there is not much that can be done in the way of enforcement. ValueBasket is not an Australian retailer and making it play Aussie Rules is difficult.
  • And third, I learned the only real weapon at my disposal was perseverance. It really did come down to me nagging ValueBasket to the death, which I had successfully done.

What should you take from account?
The lesson is to only deal with grey importers with good track record. While not everyone is as reliable as Amazon, grey importers tend to belong to the opposite end of the scale more often than not. Do your homework; if I had done mine I would have discovered many people complaining in various online forums about ValueBasket sending them the inferior version of the product they had ordered. I might have also noticed articles such as this one, warning consumers that a .com.au website does not in itself guarantee much.
Me, I am going to stick with reputable grey importers. Take Kogan, for example: their own products can be dodgy, no doubt about that; but as a grey importer of, say, Apple products, they are fine. At least until you need to make your warranty claim, an Apple iGadget is an Apple iGadget. Even if it comes with an aftermarket charger because Hong Kong uses different plugs to Australia.
Hope you will learn from my lesson. Happy consumption season!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Costco Special

As sad as it may sound, we are definitely an Aldi family. As testified by Aldi being the first ever brand name my son was aware of, we buy the bulk of our groceries there. We do so for good reasons: the quality is good and the prices so significantly lower that buying at “regular” supermarkets has turned into a vomit inducing affair.
There is more to Aldi shopping than groceries, though. Wander around our house and you will see many an Aldi artefact, from plates to a hammock and a trampoline. These are the Aldi specials, items that come on sale for short periods and then disappear. And these Aldi specials are special: while some proved too lacking in quality, others revolutionised our lives. An Aldi DVD player carried the bulk of our home entertainment duties back when DVD players were expensive; an Aldi set top box had introduced us to digital TV. The list goes on, but the point remains: through their low prices and a very generous return policy, Aldi specials make trying new things out cheap and easy. So much so that more often than not, we choose to fully embrace that new special.

Which brings me to discuss Costco.
This past weekend we visited Costco again, after not doing so for six months. It’s not that we dislike Costco, it’s just that it’s all too hard. Between the crowds and the parking situation, one needs something special to justify the venture. But we did so anyway on Sunday.
As it turned out, we did so in the company of many an Australian. We arrived less than five minutes after the shop opened and already the parking lot was generally full. By the time we made it to the tills, a couple of hours later, the queues were so bad they snaked three quarters of the way back into the depths of the shop.
Probably the result of my experience at Israeli queues, I hate queuing up and generally do my best to avoid the experience. However, this was your classic Aussie queue: people were nice to one another, exchanged jokes and such, and allowed me to both ponder and play with my phone. Just to make it clear, absolutely no one was attempting to pull an overtaking, claim they are only here for a prescription, or pretend they’re unfamiliar with queuing etiquette. Given the hundreds of people involved here, this is nothing short of amazing.
It was while queue pondering that it occurred to me. There is a reason why Costco is as popular as it is in Australia, and that reason is closely to do with our Aldi specials experience: to the average Australian consumer, Costco is a single giant repository of Aldi specials!

With that conclusion in mind, I believe it is clear Australia’s traditional players are in trouble. Clearly, Aussies are growing more aware of the availability of good stuff for less; therefore, the likes of Target and Myer will have to adapt. They can either do it through pricing, specialisation or focus on exclusive brands. However, as long as they’re on business as usual mode while Costco continues expanding, they are doomed.


Image: Two shoppers admire a very Costco sized Teddy Bear (yours for $200)

Monday, 25 November 2013

Breaking Bad


As usual, I am late to the party. But what a party it is!


Image copyrights: Breaking Bad

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Old Man's Throat

Portrait: 260/365 "Down"

After more than six months, I shaved my beard today. Summer is on our doorstep and I thought I'd see what things look like on the other side. After all, at any point in time I'm only four days or so away from having a beard.
So what do things look like from this side? Well, I can tell you that the throat staring at me on the other side of today's shave looks different to April's. Saggy-ness wise, this one is an older man's throat.
On the positive side: my face is so smooth!


Image by Jens Vilhelm Rothe, Creative Commons license

Friday, 22 November 2013

Was it worth waiting for?


Finally, after many months of waiting, I put my hands on the iPad Mini I was waiting for such a long time. Waiting, because I considered a Retina display mandatory (and I do apologise for adopting Apple’s marketing language). So, given all the buildup, what do I make of this new toy?

Since I am who I am, I will start with the negative. And the negatives started with the acquisition of said iPad, which at first I tried to order online through Apple. That turned out to be quite horrific: I tried to order the iPad and have it delivered to an Apple shop, as I read I could do, but was unable to find the option. Then I called Apple to complain, informing them my problem is with their courier services and my inability to dedicate a working day to the pleasures of said courier. So, what did Apple do? They compensated me with a free cover. Only that this cover, too, was to be delivered via courier and require my mandatory presence.
So I cancelled my order and called an Apple shop to ask how I can get an iPad delivered there. After several calls (!) I found this link that worked some times and didn’t some other times. But eventually I got it to work and I got my iPad. I even got that compensation cover, which – despite all the notes about mandatory presence and the need to sign things – was just left at work’s reception. Bad form, Apple.
Having the iPad in my hands made what is by far its worst aspect clearer: the price. This new iPad Mini is exuberantly expensive [yet this idiot went ahead and bought one].
The next thing I can tell you about this new iPad model is to do with its screen. Sure, it’s sharp and all, but being a heavy iPad [3] user already it was also obvious the Mini's picture is not on par with that of its bigger brothers and sisters. In other words, things look dull. I’m rather surprised it took the likes of Ars Technica almost a week to report on this deficiency, given its glaring presence.
Last in this list of negatives, but not least, I would like to condemn Amaysim. This otherwise brilliant mobile provider will not allow iPad users to use its 3G connection (Amaysim does not have 4G) for tethering purposes. I’m quite disappointed there, as I had plans on using my new iPad as a wifi hotspot: while nowadays any smartphone will act as a wifi hotspot, tethering butchers their batteries faster than one can tweet “Jack Robinson” over their wifi. An iPad, on the other hand, sports a much more substantial battery. Bad form, Amaysim.


OK, so now for the positives.
And the positives are simple: this iPad Mini is exactly what I have been looking for!
It is a brilliant tool for work, no doubt about it. Coupled with a good Bluetooth keyboard and some fine software (I will warmly recommend NoteSuite), it does everything I need and does it extremely well. Note taking is a pleasure: not only can I type stuff in, I can also add sketches, photos, audio and video. And it’s all maintained for me in one place, backed up, sorted, searchable and easily retrievable. Add to that the iPad Mini’s ultra portability, and you’d be right to question the need for a work desktop/laptop.
I will expand a bit on the matter of the keyboard. My keyboard of choice is the Zagg Mini 9, which is supposed to act as a case as well as a keyboard. The keyboard part of it is more than fine, it is excellent, allowing for quick and easy typing as well as providing special keys that make playing with certain iPad features a pleasure. I’m talking keys for the home button, cutting and pasting, volume and playback control.
The Zagg's case side of things isn’t that great, though. In fact I find it abysmal. The iPad just won’t fit! I can push it in using more force than I would like to, but even that will only keep the iPad there until the next time I flap the case shut. Then, when it’s closed, it is not 100% closed; and it wasn’t long before I noticed how the slightly opening and closing lead has the iPad turning on and off at an alarming rate. A rate that, surely, does not do my iPad much good.
I looked around for other keyboards but was unable to find one that does better keyboarding without taking me further towards bankruptcy than Apple already did. So I implemented some high tech and used an elastic band to keep the case shut while moving about. Then, however, I received the Apple compensation case, which turned out to be quite good; so now I just carry the Zagg separately and balance the Apple covered iPad on it for typing. Sounds awkward but it works well enough, as the photo shows.

So there you have it. The new iPad Mini has its issues, but it is also a complete game changer for work. As much as it already was a game changer for media consumption.
If you ask me, the real question to ask is whether to get the Mini or go for the larger but now of similar form iPad Air. The latter is something special, as special as the Mini should have been in the first place; I suspect it would be a better choice for most people.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

In My Little Town

Nothing but the dead and dying
Back in my little town
Simon & Garfunkel


We recently learned that the local council run childcare centre my son had attended for four years will be shutting down at the end of this year. This news saddens me a lot.
We have fond memories of the place. It was fairly obvious to us it offered superior quality care to all other childcare centres we have seen (and we have seen some). It had wonderful staff. And, more to the point, it offered us an opportunity to go to work while confident our son is being well looked after.
The latter should not be dismissed that easily: it is not easy to find good childcare nowadays, or even not that good childcare. The closing down of such facilities does not only mean lost carer jobs, it also means parents - particularly full time working parents - will not be able to go to work, too.
As usual, women will be the ones most hurt by this move.

And all for what?
Two years ago, we were told the council cannot afford to maintain the childcare centre.
Parents protested and organised to prove the council wrong. Surprised by the popularity of their plea, the soon to face an election council decided to suspend and potentially undo its previous decision.
The elections came with the childcare centre being high on its agenda. Perhaps because of that very matter, the former mayor was not reelected; one of the new mayor's core promises was to keep the childcare centre running.
Obviously, the new mayor failed. Why? Because, to quote the local council, the local council would have to provide an extra $2000 per child per year to keep the centre running. Pull your calculators out: If we are to assume the centre hosts 40 kids, we are talking about $80K a year. That is probably the cost of a single local council employee; it's a cost that could be mostly covered through marginal fee rises, too.

Clearly, someone is pulling the wool over our eyes.
In other words, it is clear the local council is closing down the centre because of some other agenda. If I were to speculate, I would put my money on them wanting to sell the land to a developer friend of a council member. Regardless, the council's persistence with its agenda of closing the centre down, spanning across both sides of an election, is to be admired.
If only they could persevere that way in helping residents instead of screwing them up.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Crab Juice

Bubble Crab

The sharp eyed amongst thee might have noticed already that my reviews blog has changed its address and is now to be found at www.crab-juice.com. Not only did it change its address, it changed its name accordingly.
Why Crab Juice? It started out with a Simpsons joke, but it caught on. Over the years I found myself using the phrase alarmingly often, to the point it became associated with me. So I thought, hey, why not?
I wanted to get a ".com.au" address, but these turned out to be more expensive. Also, Hover, my domain registrar of choice, does not protect the privacy of ".com.au" domain holders; so I went with a conventional ".com". Alas, crabjuice.com was already taken, so I settled with the clearer crab-juice.
Technicalities aside, I will be gradually revising the themes of my reviews blog as per its new culinary title. I do not intend to change past posts, though, so I guess some confusion will prevail.
For now, feel free to enjoy reading this revolutionary drink's reviews.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Reflections on Reading Glasses

eyeing vernal falls

With the bit of money left in my private health insurance allowance for optical aids this year, $40, I went and bought myself backup reading glasses. In contrast to my primary pair, which cost around $400, this time around I spent – you don’t need to guess - $40.
What did I get for $40 ($6.20 out of pocket)? I got a non branded metal frame and the same lenses as the order of magnitude more expensive glasses had. Thought I’d mention it, in case you  were thinking there is some sort of correlation between the cost of manufacturing glasses and the price we are asked to pay for them. There isn’t.
Also, in case you still harbour positive feelings towards Australia’s tax payer supported private health system, consider that I could have done with much lesser glasses than I initially did. But I didn’t, because it didn’t cost me much out of pocket. Anyone telling you that privatisation is the only way to create efficiencies deserves a lobotomy.

Anyway.
I chose to experiment with these new backup glasses of mine. I went for a thinner frame with narrower lenses that will allow me to easily look the world above them for long range scanning (viewing anything further than a meter or two through reading glasses creates a very fuzzy, headache inducing world). And being that I was on a tight budget, I skipped the anti reflection coating; since that was an expensive item before, I thought it was important to see just how valuable this coating really is.
Now I can report: if you are thinking of using your reading glasses in front of a glaring screen and over long periods of time, get your glasses coated with anti reflection coating. It matters! It matters with the neon lighting at the office, and it even matters when reading on my iPhone in a dark environment. The difference in eye fatigue is so noticeable I could not bear to use the my new backup glasses at work; within a minute I rushed back to my “old” pair. I do have to add a disclaimer, though: my old pair’s larger area lenses meant its coating is much more effective than any coating on the new glasses narrower lenses could ever be.
Where the new glasses work well is normal reading on the train. My Kindle screen uses e-ink, so it’s not glowing; having the advantage of being able to easily look up the station I’m at and quickly go back to reading my book felt nice. Similarly, when paying Lego with my son, the ability to easily shift between short and long ranges matters. Also, at home on my Mac, the new glasses proved good enough for working under our gentle LED downlights and a high quality IPS screen.
So, if you are after some conclusions, here they are. If you seek reading glasses for prolonged work in front of a computer, especially at an office environment, I would recommend larger area lenses (as opposed to the currently fashionable narrow lenses) and I would dearly recommend anti reflection coating. However, for more casual use where you need to shift between long and short range viewing, thin lenses have the advantage.


Image by Thomas Levinson, Creative Commons license

Monday, 11 November 2013

A Note on Flickr

Since I know of many people are not into Flickr simply because they could not be bothered with creating a Yahoo account, I would like to note that for several years now one can put one’s hands on a Flickr account using one’s Google of Facebook credentials. [Indeed, the primary reason most people do not bother with a Flickr account is to do with them using Facebook as their photo album of choice. But don’t get me started on Facebook and trusting one’s photos with them.]
Thus, for example, if you know me and were after access to my Flickr photos that are not public, all you need to do is establish yourself a Flickr account using your credentials of choice and tell me about it. As in, tell me how you chose to refer to yourself on Flickr.

While on the matter of Flickr, I would like to note a recent tweak that made the service much more valuable to smartphone owners (at least iPhone ones; I don’t know if, at this stage, the same applies to Android).
I assume that by now you are aware that Flickr allows any user to have 1TB of photos uploaded to its servers for free. I severely doubt you’d be able to manage a significant fraction of that capacity with all your photos uploaded.
The recent trick is now with this setting available on the iPhone Flickr app. It allows its users to have their photos, all their photos, automatically uploaded to Flickr for safekeeping (you can set it up to only upload via wifi). All photos uploaded this way have their privacy setting triggered so that only you can access them, at least until you go and change that setting on the photos you want exposed.
Think about it: between its 1TB capacity and this auto upload, your smartphone’s photos are all going to be backed up in the cloud. Automatically, care free. That's much better than Apple's iCloud or even Dropbox can offer.
Of course, cloud backup comes with a price: essentially, you’d be sharing your photos with the NSA; but then again, if you backed your photos to the cloud already, any cloud, chances are the NSA has already seen your latest holiday snaps. I suggest swamping them with as much material as possible instead.
And just to make sure this post gets the NSA’s attention and wastes their time: #terrorism #BinLaden


Image copyrights: Flickr

Saturday, 9 November 2013

How to increase office productivity and happiness

Office Rescue

I recently identified the 8 hour working day to be my biggest enemy in life. I intend to be persistent and further pursue the point in another post.

This Monday, the eve of Melbourne Cup day, my office throughput has been about twice that of my normal working day. I can provide the numbers that allow me to make this claim but prefer not to do so in public. The important thing is: I wasn’t even trying to be extra productive! Being the eve of a holiday and the state of mind that brings along, we even went for lunch and schmoozed around.
This increase in work throughput reminded me how much more productive I am when I work from home. Using the same numbers I won’t be citing here, I deliver about three times more at home than I do at the office.
Why is that the case? Why was I so much more productive on Monday and why am I even more productive working from home? The reason is office distractions. This Monday the office was mostly empty, with the majority of people preferring to bridge the Monday so as to have an extra long weekend. That meant I could work without breaking my concentration every time someone passed through the corridor just ahead of my desk; it meant I did not receive emails and phone calls to break my work flow with; and it meant I did not spend my time at meetings, most of which turn out to be redundant time wasting affairs.
Yet whenever I ask to work from home I feel as if others think I’m trying to get an extra day off.

All I am trying to do here is point a middle finger in the face of people who think the normal working day is the word of God, those who twist their noses at people late to work, and those who talk behind the backs of colleagues leaving early early. [Adequate disclosure: as the father of a school child, I am a member of all infringing clubs.]
Office productivity has something to do with the amount of time spent at the office, but not everything to do with the amount of time spent at the office. We could, and we should, revise the way our daily work routine is shaped. For a start, it will help us increase our productivity. And as a side effect, it might help us lead happier lives (not that we would ever aspire for that, heavens forbid).


Image by banspy, Creative Commons license

Friday, 8 November 2013

Crab Juice [The Teaser]

Here’s something to tease you with:


An official announcement will come shortly. Or somewhat later.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Online Relations

#DiceLounge: Take online conversations offline to create depth. via @TheOneCrystal #SHRM12

A lot of people I know do not care about anything online. It seems the attitude is directly related to age, although there are obvious exceptions (yours truly included). Don’t get me started with what I think of people that dismiss the online altogether, out of hand; I suspect their culture will share a similar fate to the Neanderthals’. Yet even I am often taken by surprise when I realise there is more to the online than meets the eye.
The phenomenon that caught me recently is the realisation of just how much I care for certain things online. As in, people with whom my interactions have been limited to virtual means alone.
Asher Wolf has been mentioned here before for different reasons, but now I will state that I follow her personal affairs too. The adventures of this single mother trying hard to get ends meet are touching; just the other week she reported the death of her car, making it clear she could not afford a replacement. I was genuinely worried, but then relieved when a fellow Twitter follower offered her cheaper salvation.
Another Twitter acquaintance went through a personal drama upon flying from Melbourne to Canada with three kids and no adult companionship. That’s agony to begin with, especially given the kids’ age (young); but then her flights were delayed by 13 hours and I found myself thinking about it the whole day. I recently flew through similar distances on my own and it was hell, without delays or kids; doing it with three kids? Kill me quickly.
In the context of this post, what matters is the fact I genuinely care for people I have never met. What matters perhaps even more is the contrast between my feelings towards certain family members of mine who actively shunt the Internet and the(se people with whom I share significantly fewer genes. People who, in all likelihood, will dismiss me or worse) if they were to meet me in person; yet online we seem to have been able to form some sort of a friendly relationship. How can it be that we have been able to form such relationships in the first place?
I do not have an answer. I wonder if it has to do with the same clouding of judgement I used to experience before a blind date, where one good sentence from the would be subject caused a massive rise in expectations but then the balloon would instantly implode upon meeting in person. I strongly suspect face to face meetings with those online people would end in disappointment, at least for one side. I’m not talking of romantic aspects (I am totally disinterested there, thank you very much), just the sort of things you pick off a person when you meet them.
Which brings me to say that, given the evidence at hand, the importance of online relationships is very clear. They represent a fine opportunity to interconnect with the world in previously unexplored ways, opening up new avenues for meeting likeminded people and for learning from others [read here on the importance of interconnectivity]. That said, I suspect I will not be the only one to struggle with reconciling the differences between this type of a relationship and “real world” ones. At least I am given something to think about here, which is always good.


Image by Dice.com, Creative Commons license

Friday, 1 November 2013

Closing on Android

Android DevJam

Some three years ago you would have heard this iPhone user saying it would take something special for me to buy another iPhone. I was a happy advocate for Android. Eventually, though, my views changes and I stuck with the iPhone while getting in way too deep into the Apple eco system. So, what was that special thing that kept me with Apple?
It wasn’t anything in particular that Apple did, for a start. Apple is still a blood sucker of a company that does not do the minimum we all do and pay its taxes. No, my change of heart did not have much to do with Apple but rather everything to do with Google. Since the introduction of Google+ and the twisting of everything Google around it, doubts started creeping. Later, the change in Google’s privacy policies drove me even further towards minimising my interaction with this overreaching, info collecting, monster.
Yet Android still remained a bit of a crown jewel: an operating system that is not as nice to use as iOS but is certainly more capable, more flexible, and much cheaper to put one’s hands on. Most importantly, it was open source – who could argue with that?
Well, Ars Technica did. In this article they strip Android naked and show how, over the past few years, Google put all of its power towards effectively closing down this system. By now it is fully successful: one would be hard pressed to use Android without relying on Google’s own tools. The implication there is simple: there is not much of a difference between relying on Google for Android and relying on Apple for iOS. In effect, both are closed gardens; same crap by a different name.
There is a difference, though. Almost everything happening on an Android phone passes through Google’s servers. For example, this includes every notification sent to you upon receiving a new Whatsapp message. Google collects all this information about its users, probably knowing more about the users than the users themselves. Apple does the same, but there is a difference: Google will exploit this information while Apple, at least for now, regards keeping this stuff private to be an advantage. There is a slight difference there but an important one.
For this reason alone I would recommend iOS over Android to the majority of users. Obviously, there are some applications and there are power users with legitimate counter arguments. In the feudal relationship that is developing between us lowly vassal users and the great rulers of the cloud world, I prefer the lesser evil of the Apple rule. For now.
How I’d love for someone to come and offer us slaves an escape from these Dark Ages into the Renaissance we were promised back in those ancient times, three years ago, when everyone thought Google good and Android open.


Image by Braden Kowitz, Creative Commons license