Featured on Flickr #

June 9th, 2014 1:43

Late last night I started noticing something funny – I was suddenly getting a stream of Flickr notifications on my phone (I’ve actually since temporarily disabled notifications since they got a bit out of control). I jumped onto the site to see what was up, and to my surprise, there was one of my photos sitting on the sidebar. A click through lead to the blog post (the only CC licensed one!). Even neater, it’s also currently the splash image on the main blog. Here’s the pic btw if you’re too lazy to click:


While I’ve had some links from the dev blog in the past, this is actually the first time I can recall any love from the main blog (after 10 years, finally! :) This also coincidentally coincided w/ hitting 1M views (not sure if this was just counting from when the stats system started) total.

While I rarely look at the stats, I figured this merited some special attention, so after a full day (Flickr’s internal stats segment on UTC), here’s some tidbits:

  • Total traffic was about 25-30K views
  • Less than 100 visits came from the Flickr blog! Most of the rest (~25K) came from the Flickr site itself (sort of makes sense but the sidebar links to the blog post so who knows what’s up)
  • Only 1,088 of the views went to the specific picture. It acquired 233 likes. (21.4% of people who saw it liked it?!?)
  • Probably most interesting, is that over a dozen other photos had 300+ views and over 50 other photos had 200+ views that day – this is an incredibly long tail, and I think while there’s been much bellyaching about the new Flickr design, I think that sort of engagement has a lot to do w/ how quick/easy/rewarding it is to page through streams.

It’ll be fun to see what all these new followers think about my China pics (I’ll be uploading in the next couple days).

The Future of VR #

March 26th, 2014 2:01

I’ve been pretty excited about the future of VR for the past few months (I’ve been gathering notes here). I was an original DK1 Kickstarter backer and have been following Oculus’ growth and development pretty closely lately. While an eventual acquisition was always a possibility (after a $90M B round at the end of last year), today’s announcement of a $2B Facebook acquisition came as a bit of a surprise, if only for the timing.

You can read Palmer Luckey’s announcement on the Oculus sub-Reddit, which doesn’t inspire much confidence, or Palmer’s comment responses, which are is a little more interesting. cliffyb and tycho have written interesting counterpoints/rebuttals to some of the knee-jerk responses.

Notch (Minecraft) has written a pretty insightful commentary, as has Max Temkin (Cards Against Humanity), which do a good job of summing up some of the unease/issues, particularly among enthusiasts and developers, are experiencing. cliffyb wrote an interesting counterpoint/rebuttal.

Rather than write something cogent and expressive, I’ll just collect some thoughts:

  • From Facebook’s perspective, buying Oculus right now for $2B is a steal. As Chris Dixon tweeted, it’s the equivalent of Google’s investment in Android. It’s quite clear that VR is likely the next big computing platform. Honestly, it’s about time Facebook got some ambition about the future. (Google’s been making everyone besides Musk look pretty shortsighted) What’s unclear right now is what Oculus has to gain, especially when there are reports of not just other bidders (which probably would have been much worse for Oculus) but also that investors had offered Oculus more funding. It’s unclear whether “more” in this context means more than the FB sale, but assuming the same $2B valuation, Oculus should have been able to pick up at least another $200M. Beyond the exit price (which goes to investors and the team), the question is, what did FB offer Oculus in terms additional resources to make this worthwhile – $1B? $2B? The Oculus team certainly left money on the table, so the question really revolves around FB’s value add beyond the costs that all acquisitions entail. Hints are being dropped, but we’ll have to see what pans out.
  • Part of the cringing I have reading Palmer’s announcement, of course is how familiar it is. Heck, I remember writing one very much like it about 10 years ago. I don’t doubt its authenticity/everyone’s best intentions, but having seen the cycle play out many times, I do think that the Oculus team may underestimate what the loss of independence means. Obviously enthusiasts will find it hard to root for Facebook, and developers should be justly worried (terrified, really) about Facebook’s developer/platform track record and manifold conflicts of interest, but beyond that, even though Oculus has assembled a fantastic team (the best team of creative technologists in field, and possibly across all of tech), what is the appeal for the best and brightest to work at Facebook? (That being said, I’m sure there are many bright people working at Facebook that would be excited to work on the Rift) While autonomy has been promised, maintaining focus as a subdivision of a large, publicly traded tech company has its own pressures/constraints and maintaining focus and drive requires a huge and different type of commitment over the long term.
  • That all being said, people canceling their DK2 orders are being irrational. The current hardware is locked in. It’s awesome. There will be drivers available, and almost assuredly open alternatives will emerge if the worst happens. There are cross-platform APIs available, and while there’s a concerns with patents (if Facebook is serious about creating a new VR market, a commitment to FRAND licensing, open standards, and open source would do much to settle everyone’s nerves). As of right now, all the components for compelling VR are known/available. Future developments like virtual retinal displays, foveated rendering, inside-out tracking are open to whomever has the resources, vision, and willingness to invest.
  • There’s no question that Facebook, Google, et al will want in on the Metaverse. Owning Oculus will give FB a big advantage and all but guarantees a seat at the table (make no mistake, this is the endgame), but I think everyone’s smart enough to realize that a walled garden will end up leading to AOL, not the Internet. No one wants the former (sorry, Shingy ;) and there’s a lot more money to be made with the latter if there’s enough patience/vision.

Having slept on it, I think a lot of the knee-jerk reaction has merely been about the perceived “cash out”, but also that it feels a bit like giving up before actually taking a shot. While Palmer mentions partnership multiple times, at the end of the day, it’s an acquisition, which carries a lot of existential and practical baggage (and pitfalls) related to autonomy/agency/execution. Here’s hoping there’s enough momentum to carry things through.

Some links:

The Wirecutter Is Always Wrong #

March 22nd, 2014 5:33

A lot of my friends are big fans of the The Wirecutter, and I am too, at least in concept – a site that focuses on doing the research to simply find the best gadget, what’s not to like?

I’m a bit of a gadget-head, and my goal is typically the same (to find the “best” product in a category), and unfortunately, I’ve found over and over again, that in areas where I’ve done personal testing, the Wirecutter’s recommendations have been, without exception, wrong.

This year I’ve instituted a bit of a one-in-one out policy and plan on publishing more on the tools I use (and what I end up replacing). For now though, I’ll just start off with a list of things that the Wirecutter recommends and my personal findings.

  • The Best $100 In-Ear Headphones – The “final straw.” Wirecutter recommends the Sony XBA-C10IPs and commends them for having outstanding audio quality and being quite cheap. They were cheap, however, the audio quality was, to put it frankly, awful. My mind is boggled by their recommendation.

    As background, I enjoy my headphones/IEMs and was looking for a quick/cheap replacement for a pair of
    Phonak Audéo PFE 232′s (these are fantastic, BTW) I lost while traveling. I was looking for a cheaper stopgap replacement, and I’ve owned many IEM’s in the $100 range, so my expectations were set realistically – for that price, you can definitely get very decent sound.

    I picked up the XBA-C10′s unheard due to the recommendation in Taipei’s Guang Hua Digital Plaza, but was pretty much forced to get another pair immediately due to how terrible the sound was. I ended up going to 音悦音響有限公司 in Taipei (highly recommended) later in the evening to audition some headphones.

    Both the HIFIMAN RE-400 and the Shure SE215 Special Editions were far superior at the $100 price level. It wasn’t even close. I bought the Shures because I’m a big fan of Comply Foam tips. Note: the Shures have replaceable cables with standard MMCX connectors. People don’t seem to like their iPhone cables, but using the UE900 cables seem like the cheaper & better way to go.

    Note: I subsequently auditioned a bunch more headsets in Singapore at Jaben Audio (also highly recommended – they have some serious gear) and ended up picking up a $150 pair Etymotic HF3s – typical Etymotic lack-of-bass, but the clarity, isolation, and iPhone controls made it worthwhile. If I lose my saving throw against shiny I may end up picking up a “good” pair of IEMs.

  • The Best Travel Power Strip (with USB) – Wirecutter recommends the Accell D080B-011K. Their recommendation/review is just plain wrong. Do they even travel? If they spent any amount of time in airports/hotel rooms even domestically (not to mention internationally), they’d realize that the cable-less form-factor basically makes it useless in many situations. Which might be fine if you didn’t need the power strip, but if you did, then you are now fucked. They note that the strips they tested weren’t rated for 220V/international use as well, which makes the definition of “travel” pretty limited.

    While they’re a terrible company, I have yet to find a superior alternative to the Monster OTG400 (there is a 3-plug+USB OTG300 but I don’t recommend it since the USB is only 1A and I’ve found that I almost always would rather have the extra plug). The only other cabled alternative is the Tripp Lite TRAVELER3USB – it has the advantage of surge protection, but is also 1A USB and does not have 220V support. It’s also twice as large.

    Here is the uber-compact international travel adapter I use. Besides supporting most countries (basically everything except UK plugs actually UK plugs supported via clever use of EU plug; tested in HK), it also serves as a 2-prong adapter. I haven’t seen this for sale in the US. Note: I’ve also upgraded this in HK to a version that has a 1A USB plug built in.

  • The Best USB battery pack for travel – while we’re talking about power, the Wirecutter’s recommendation isn’t particularly offensive, there are just better options. The Anker Astro 3E 10000mA is 2/3 the price and otherwise equivalent. I’m currently carrying the Anker Astro 3 12000mA which is a bit heavier but has 3 USB ports (up to 4A) – the Astro Pro looks better if I were buying today. (Note: I’ve just bought an Astro Pro and a Limefuel and will write up a comparison shortly).

    In Tokyo, I picked up a cheapie 100g 4000mA battery for carrying around everywhere since my iPhone battery tends to not last at all out here.

  • The Best Mirrorless Camera Under $1,000 – The Wirecutter recommends the Sony NEX-6 (and the NEX-5 before it) even though it has the worst lens selection ever. There are other issues (handling for example), but I wouldn’t recommend a NEX camera to someone unless I hated them.

    While there’s a good argument for the Fuji X-Series (especially w/ the X-T1), but if you want an X, you should know. For people who actually need camera advice, I’d recommend m43 in general, and the GX7 in particular for <$1,000.

My Amnesia Fortnight 2014 Picks #

February 9th, 2014 12:22

Today’s the last day to vote, so figured I’d post my picks for the 2014 Amnesia Fortnight.

It’s not the most ambitious idea, but I think this is the most likely of Pendleton Ward’s pitches that will be a fun game in 2 weeks:

There are tons of great pitches (wish I could vote for more than 3!) but here were the ones I ended up picking, weighted against cool Rift experiences.

byobu on Mac w/ MacPorts #

January 14th, 2014 12:56

byobu has a Homebrew package, but sadly, there’s no MacPorts port. Luckily, byobu is Mac friendly, and only requires a few dependencies (gleaned from an old portfile and crosschecked w/ the homebrew formula):

port install python27 gettext libnewt coreutils gsed

Then it’s just a matter of grabbing the latest tarball, and running a configure && make && make install.

2013 Review in Tech #

December 31st, 2013 10:06

I’ve been a bit under the weather the past couple days (the dangers of hanging out near other peoples’ little germ factories (aka kids)), but I wanted to post some of my thoughts about the year in tech. The last time I did that was probably a few years ago (related).

Over the weekend a friend was going on about how this year was a crappy one for “tech” (echoing the sentiments of those crappy articles floating around, but more along the lines of lack of ambition/innovation) which I strongly disagreed with. I think the kernel of truth there is that the SF/SV tech scene is definitely caught up in a weird spiral of chasing/making less and less interesting mobile/social apps, so of course from that vantage point, it’s going to seem terrible, but from the outside, things are… pretty interesting.

  • NSA Leaks – In some articles, this was cited as some negative development, but Edward Snowden’s leaks revealed (and continues to reveal) how much the world has been changed by technology and hints at some of the implications that both as technologists and end-users, we’ve been oblivious to. It’s certainly the biggest tech story of the year, and has profound/deeply unsettling implications. It’s also kicked off a number of new projects, and made a lot of techies think harder about the things they’re working on. I think that in coming years, the world and the tech industry in particular will be better for it.
  • Bitcoin – Bitcoins, alt-coins, cryptocurrency. While it’s been building up steam, this is the year that it boiled over and it’s another development that’s more than a little world-changing. I mentioned it briefly in a rebuttal comment I made on Charlie Stross’s blog post Why I want Bitcoin to die in a fire (I don’t know about his conclusions, but on just about every point of fact supporting his reasoning, he cited inaccurate/just plain wrong sources), but regardless of what the eventual value of BTC ends up as (which this year was driven mostly by the Chinese, not media hype), whether it’s $10K/BTC or $0/BTC, Bitcoin has not only served as a solid proof of existence for the viability of truly P2P digital currency, but has also laid down a protocol/framework that makes it trivial to create your own. The classes of problems that can be solved by a distributed public ledger are numerous… There’s some more thinking I need to put on that.
  • Tesla – Finally, something out of the Valley. Between Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity, this was a huge year for Elon Musk, and they seem to all be converging into some techno-utopian vision that’s quite honestly, a rather refreshing respite from the totalitarian surveillance state, increasing economic disparity and general grim meathookiness going on elsewhere. If you aren’t excited about what Tesla has been up to this year, maybe you just aren’t that into tech.
  • Robots – Google’s buying spree was pretty well reported, but less well covered was Schaft’s (one of the Google acquisitions) performance at the DARPA Challenge. It scored 27 out of a possible 32 points on the challenges. That’s 84%. This year has shown some tremendous accomplishments in robotics on just about every level, most interestingly/disturbingly in drone-tech. If you haven’t read this recent brief, but intense editorial in the Guardian this past week, btw, please do: I worked on the US drone program. The public should know what really goes on
  • Kickstarter – I’ve been active (maybe a bit too active, seeing as I started getting KS spam this year) on Kickstarter this year. It’s not new, but it’s certainly gained even more steam in 2013, and I don’t see it decelerating. Kickstarter seems to be increasingly, one of the more important tools helping the Maker/DIY movement grow.
  • 3D Printing – speaking of which, another not quite new, but thought I’d mention it, we finally got our Replicator 2 in the office this year, and it’s been incredibly useful. It’s also very close to being consumer friendly/ready. Like, say if the platform would self calibrate and if the prints were a little easier to peel off… But still, getting a 3D printer is now cheaper than an office laser printer was a decade ago.
  • Quantified Self – In some ways, still nascent, but I got my Basis Watch, and I’ve been trying more than a few autologgers/aggregators released this year (Saga, Memoir, Heyday among others), but I think we’re seeing some really interesting first steps into pulling together both the data exhaust we’re already generating and combining that usefully with other things we’d like to track (beyond fitness trackers, things like the Automatic car tracker). One thing’s for sure though, things are just getting started
  • VR – I admit, my Oculus Rift Devkit sat unloved and completely unopened for months. It’s been a hectic year. I did finally get around to break it out and try out about a dozen demos, and it was great, and also left me motion sick the rest of the night (I’ve played FPS/TPS’s for decades w/o problems). Carmack’s full time commitment and the news coming out of the community has me hopeful that they’ll have that problem licked, but it’s been pretty exciting following along. For those interested in what’s going on, I recommend Road To VR
  • Open Hardware – this is an ongoing thing that isn’t new in 2013, and has also been greatly helped by Kickstarter, but there’s just a ton of interesting stuff happening in the cheap microcontroller world akin to the early web days. I’ve been poking around with a lot of this stuff, but this year, got pretty serious about it, doing a fair amount of soldering, exploring/evaluating pretty much every single ARM dev board around, and getting my first PCBs printed. Again, we’re going to see a continued proliferation of interesting hacks/automation/sensors as it gets increasingly cheaper and easier to program the world

I think most of these things point to how wrongheaded talking about these things in context of a year are though – tech is incremental, and it’s hard work. You can bet anything that’s being announced, let alone making a big splash probably took quite a bit longer than a year to get there.

I’ll also link to Some Notes on Labor, Technology and Economics that I wrote about earlier this year. 2013 started out on sour note and what’s been going on in the world this year has definitely given me some pause.

We’re none of us getting any younger, and the pace of innovation continues to increase though, so here’s to the next year. Let’s hope we can make it a better world.

ADDENDUM: Putting this here since it’s related. Not really an innovation per se, but a tech problem that may be reaching a breaking point – we continued to see bigger and bigger data breaches (Adobe, Target, SnapChat) by cyber-criminals. Will 2FA finally replace Passwords? Is there a different security model that can more effectively handle APTs/inevitably compromised networks? Is there a way to expire/invalidate leaked data or will fraud models improve enough that it’s OK that black-hats and script kiddies around the world trade your personal info? In traditional security, the deck is always stacked against the defense, but it makes me wonder if there’s not a way of changing that – after all, the physics of software (if not software engineering) are malleable…

2013 Geek Reading:

Snowdrop Engine #

December 21st, 2013 1:41

I’ve been following game engine development somewhat (keeping an eye out on tech demos at least). The way the Snowdrop engine is being used in the upcoming game The Division, is the closest to photoreal environments that I’ve seen. I’m impressed:

And here’s a “gameplay reveal” from earlier this year:

Pythonista and iOS Automation #

December 8th, 2013 8:17

While in general, iOS is pretty nifty, it has some pretty annoying limitations, particularly in regards to inter-app communications (more specifically, the lack thereof). While Pythonista doesn’t complete fix this terrible situation, it does provide some really interesting workarounds.

I’d heard of Pythonista when it first launched, but mostly ignored it since it just seemed like just another Python REPL. Now, it is a Python REPL (2.7) and editor, and it also includes its own 2D graphics and multitouch libs so you can make simple interactive apps with it. Where it starts to get really interesting is that it also includes a bunch of modules, that exposes the iOS clipboard, contacts, location, notifications, etc.

Mostly importantly, it has urllib and webbrowser module support that supports iOS URL callbacks. Pythonista itself supports its own URL scheme of course, lending itself to being called remotely.

Another useful app to use in conjunction with Pythonista is Agile Tortoise’s Drafts. It’s a text editor built specifically to interface with other apps and can serve as an easy briding tool.

There are a fair number of tutorials/guides/scripts available online.

First, some general reference:

And some useful scripts:

Specific HOWTOs:

Targus AKF001US Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard Review #

December 2nd, 2013 9:16

I just got a Targus Universal Foldable Keyboard for Android Devices, Black (AKF001US) from Amazon (about $50), and thought I’d write a quick review.

First of all, a picture of the keyboard layout. I wasn’t able to find a single image showing the actual key layout, even on Targus’s site (WTF), so here it is:

Targus AKF100US Foldable Keyboard

I looked at a bunch of other folding Bluetooth keyboards, notably the Perixx PERIBOARD-805L and pretty much every terrible OEM/off-label option I could find, but dismissed most immediately due to bad layouts. Actually, there’s one folding keyboard that has a great layout except it’s, um, a full 104-key with number pad.

(The Periboard 805L looked promising, but the combination of shifted numbers (due to a mysteriously oversized ESC key), tiny Backspace, and more seriously, the arrow key in between the a tiny right shift key made me reconsider. There’s a review/unboxing vid online as well as plenty of useful reviews on Amazon.)

The Targus’ layout isn’t bad except for the ‘B’ key which is on the wrong side of the 6mm folding gap. This is mega annoying, although my fingers were able to physically jump the gap without too much trouble, when touch typing I pretty much have to type the key twice – once missing it, and a second time reaching for it. It’s a major bummer.

The keys themselves are smaller than full-sized. They are about 15mm, or ~80% regular size (there is a 2mm gap between keys). With a folding keyboard, I would have much rather traded overall size to get 90% or 95% keys. It’s a bit cramped but I’m able to touch type on this, however people with bigger hands probably won’t be able to. The keyboard/key feel is as expected, rather soft/spongy with limited travel, but it’s better than typing on an 8″ touchscreen.

There’s a button to press to unfold, but there’s no mechanism for locking it in a folded position. You won’t be able to use it without a flat surface for it. In fact, there’s a slight “springiness” so that it won’t stay open when held vertically, although this isn’t a problem when flat. There’s a power switch, which is fine, a light rechargeable battery, and a mini USB port for charging.

This is a Bluetooth 3.0 keyboard and I and despite being an “Android” keyboard, I had no problems pairing it with my iPad rMini. It’s responsive, and seems to work well. Typing on the keyboard will wake/unlock the device. Note, iOS 7 (I’m on 7.0.4) currently has some majorly bad and intense Bluetooth Keyboard issues (see discussion). Basically, some combination of turning on/off the keyboard will cause iOS to hard lock, requiring a Power+Home Button reboot. I personally experienced this once already.

Here’s how it looks with the iPad rMini (the keyboard comes with an external case that doubles as a stand, although it’s quite bulky, so if you already have a smart cover like I do, you’d probably just toss the case):

Targus AKF001US Foldable Keyboard

Besides the terrible locking up issue, it seems pretty well behaved. Just a few notes:

  • Most of the special keys work: Home functions as the home key, Search brings up spotlight, ‘Select Left’ and ‘Select Right’ navigate the cursor, the Menu key also works as a home key (I can triple-tap with the Menu key but not the Home key), and the volume/media keys seem to work as well
  • While most of the regular typing keys work (including CTRL-A, CTRL-E, Page Up/Dwn), iOS keyboard support isn’t fantastic. Most notably, you can’t use keyboard clipboard shortcuts, and it’s often impossible to switch focus, scrolling, or using select boxes without stabbing at the screen. Also, while it has an ALT key which can be used to easily type all the regular extended key shortcuts, I couldn’t find a CMD key equivalent, so you’ll miss out on some shortcuts.
  • There is a real-deal ESC key on the keyboard. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to map it w/ Applidium’s Vim, although testing it in iSSH, it did work on a terminal. Local editing of course sucks without easy access to the filesystem.
  • Right now, I’m not exactly sure if I’ll be keeping this keyboard. I think it may be the best folding keyboard available right now, and if I keep it it’ll be to try to take it apart and improve it (I’m almost sure that I can modify the case to remove the folding gap. And I think I can solve that and the locking issue with a tyvek band or something), but otherwise, man, that B key. That, and the just too small size are the real issues for me. Sometimes you have to wonder what the hell these people are thinking. Do they even use their products?

    One thing I haven’t seen is any Bluetooth Low Energy keyboards (they should be coming soon) which may or may not be relevant. Also, I would love to see more keyboards like Logitech’s K810/K811 that support pairing and 1-click switching between multiple devices.

    Oh, and here’s a size comparison of the keyboard folded up stacked with my iPad rMini and iPhone 5s for a size reference:

    Targus AKF001US Foldable Keyboard Size Comparison

    Targus AKF001US Foldable Keyboard Size Comparison

    UPDATE: I’ve found a portable foldable keyboard that is close to perfect:

    • Almost completely standard (US ANSI) keyboard layout (except for the up arrow key is between the right shift). Importantly, all the middle keys are regular sized and there is no space between the halves when folded out (via a very slick sliding mechanism); also, standard size 18mm wide keys
    • BT 3.0. Bluetooth HID w/ pinless pairing. Can be paired with up to 4 BT devices and searches in order of last found
    • Lockable when opened (also has an optional slideout stand)
    • Turns on when opened, turns off when closed
    • Uses two AAA batteries inserted on the top-right

    So what’s the catch? As far as I can tell, the keyboard, the Reudo RBK-3200BTi is only available in Japan. (I bought it from Amazon.co.jp for ¥6,581 (~$65). It’s made in China, but doing a search, I haven’t been able to find anyone selling the same design.

Blocking Southwest Wifi’s Header Injection With Adblock #

November 14th, 2013 10:38

Since I’m using a new browser, had to re-add custom rules to block Southwest Airline’s obnoxious header injection. (They slap a bar on top of every single HTTP page while you surf – this is *after* paying for it). Here’s the adblock rule I’m using: