Thursday, November 8, 2012

Content Isn't King

Bill Gates famously wrote in a 1996 essay that "content is king" - what people want on the Internet (and in broadcasting) is "deep and extremely up-to-date information". The higher the volume and quality of your content, the more subscribers you will attract. That's a pretty simple formula and it can be applied to almost any business. For instance, the greater the variety of goods on the supermarket's shelves, the more customers they are likely to get.
Graphic: kpis.co
Sounds great, but it's only true to a point. There comes a time when quantity and quality no longer play as vital a role in consumer choices as perhaps they once did. Take, for example, mobile phone apps. As of October 30 2012, both Apple and Android have 700,000 apps. Microsoft is catching up. But who really cares what the numbers are? Once they reach critical mass, another thousand means little. And apps (or their equivalents) on one platform are available on the others. Put another way, more doesn't necessarily mean better.

Perhaps the "content is king" mantra means that consumers value quality above all else. No it doesn't. If it did, there would be no market for cheap Chinese imports. In fact, consumers may view a quality offering with less favor than a volume offering - high quality means high cost; high volume means low cost. Inferior merchandise often does well at the checkouts because consumers are lead to believe it is somehow better than the quality stuff.

So if content isn't king, what is? Why is your product better than your competitor's? What drives customers to your door? What is the secret to product differentiation? The answer might surprise you: nothing.

Nothing is king. And by nothing I mean vapor. And by vapor I mean marketing because marketing is an invaluable intangible - words, sounds and images cleverly combined to convince consumers to buy. The hype, the message and the concept contrived by the marketing department is what sells the product; content and substance is secondary.

Make no mistake, everything is marketing - not just in business, but in all aspects of life. No matter whether what you are selling is fantastic or terrible, the perception you create of your product, service or self is what makes people want it. So, in effect, you win if you can fool most of the people most of the time.

That's all I have to say about the 2012 US presidential election.



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Content Isn't King (Not)

Sorry, folks. In a senseless act of insanity, Blogger decided to randomly delete this post.

(Ironically, it was about content, something this blog post doesn't have.)

I will reconstruct the blog post from an early draft and re-post it.


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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Devolution of the Diary

The question "How many people keep a daily journal" on Askville by Amazon provoked responses that range between "more people" and "less than half". Whatever the real number, people have been keeping diaries for hundreds of years. Wikipedia says that a work called To Myself by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius could possibly be one of the first diaries ever written.

One might think that keeping a diary is a more feminine passtime. However, the appropriately named website, artofmanliness.com, provides a short list of famous men who kept a journal:
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Charles Darwin
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Andrew Carnegie
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Captain Cook
  • Winston Churchill
  • Sir Edmund Hilary
  • Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton
artofmanliness.com gives three main reasons to keep a journal:
  1. Your children and grandchildren will want to read it.
  2. It can bring you to your senses.
  3. Journaling grants you immortality (Woody Allen: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying.")
  4. Journaling improves your health.
There may actually be something to points 2 and 4. According to a 2009 article in The Guardian writing about your feelings tend to make you a happier person:
Brain scans on volunteers showed that putting feelings down on paper reduces activity in a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for controlling the intensity of our emotions.
I googled for reasons why writing a diary could be bad for you, but all I found was this article that provides six reasons why you shouldn't eat dairy. The only down-side I can think of is that your little brother might get a hold of it and publish your inner-most thoughts all over the Internet for the world to see.

As a modern and connected society, where we feel the urge to share our deepest and darkest secrets, we no longer need to keep a physical diary hidden under the pillow. Blogs abound where anyone can say anything about anything [insert self-referential link here].

Ironically, a nielson.com blog post published a graph depicting the increase in the number of blogs between October 2006 (36 million) and October 2011 (173 million).
It’s no surprise that the growing number of blogs mirrors a growth in bloggers. Overall, 6.7 million people publish blogs on blogging websites, and another 12 million write blogs using their social networks.
There is no longer any need for your little brother to expose you to the universe - free tools are available that allow you to do that very easily yourself.

Vlogs (video logs) are less prevalent, possibly due to the effort involved in recording and producing them. However, some vlogs are quite successful, such as YouTube millionaire sensation, Ray William Johnson's Equals Three or the soon-to-be-famous me, my brotherS & my dad (sic).

The problem with written blogs, like their physical counterparts, is that they are long-form. Some people don't have the patience (or, sadly, the skills) to write complete sentences. A Facebook status update or a 140-character tweet is a convenient way to get it all out there. Although putting your emotions into words might make you feel better, it's not all good. The Telegraph described a journalist's stream of tweets from the funeral of a 3-year-old boy as "truly uncomfortable reading":
There's a cold detachment to the messages, caused, no doubt, by the need to condense an emotionally charged event in to 140-character messages. But it demonstrated that even in today's permissive society, where make-ups, breaks-ups and the minutiae of daily life are shared through social-networking sites, some things should never, ever be "live blogged".
However, blogging, Facebooking or tweeting are merely selected outtakes of your day, so maybe it's not enough. Your readers want more detail. Much more detail. Welcome to lifelogging. quantifiedself.com defines lifelogging as the continuous capture of a large part of one's life. Thankfully, thenextweb.com says that it isn't necessary to share your every moment with all of your friends:
Lifelogging in its purest form is done using a gadget to capture all moments throughout your day, and is normally a private practice that isn't shared with others.
In the Robin Williams film "The Final Cut" parents choose to implant a memory chip in their baby's brain. The chip records everything the child sees from that moment on. Williams plays a "Cutter" who's job it is to edit the video of the person's life into a film for screening at his funeral.

There's also a short film I once saw online, which I can't locate right now, in which it is popular to wear a miniscule device called a "grain", which records everything you see. The technology allows you to share your memories with others and display video recordings of your life on a big screen.

Joy to us all, that technology is almost here.

Memoto, a tiny, wearable camera automatically takes one photo every 30 seconds - that's 2880 photos a day. It timestamps and geotags the photo instantly, providing you with a visual, searchable record of almost everything you experienced. And the best bit - the photos are stored in the cloud.


Video: http://kck.st/Uv09u
This device is something only the CIA could love. I don't understand why anyone would want a permanent record of every aspect of their life entrusted to the flawed security of the cloud - I'd sooner trust my personal diary to my younger brother (oh, hi, R.)

Apparently, $50,000 worth of Kickstarter funding in five hours (a total of $157,095 as of writing this blog), and $651,000 of seed funding suggests that there are people out there who would actually use this technology. Would you?

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

[Private] Enterprise: Going Where No One Has Gone Before

In a conversation with the Mars Curiosity team at NASA, US President Barack Obama asked them to call him if they find aliens. Later on he said:
It’s really what makes us best as a species – the curiosity we have, yearning to discover, the pushing boundaries of knowledge.
But these sentiments don't jive with his proposed 2013 budget, which includes drastic cuts to NASA funding. In his opinion, government-funded space research and exploration (even with its valuable tie-ins with military advancement) should not be the government's concern. Despite the obvious advantages to the economy and defense, space is just not a priority.

But Obama has badly misread the landscape. The world is abuzz with space news:
Space is the next big thing and is well and truly in the mind of the public. We can't wait for our stereotypically wild-haired, eccentric scientists to invent some new way to push the boundaries of the possible. We want to see cities on the moon, colonies on Mars and populated space stations in the far reaches of the galaxy.

Our recent heightened fascination with the great, vast blackness might be because we are tired of the incessant flow of depressing news, like failing economies, wars and conflict. I think we want to see what people can achieve, what challenges we can conquer. We want to witness the victory of human intellect over nature. We want to bask in the success of brave pioneering heroes like Alan Shepard, Neil Armstrong and Felix Baumgartner. This is the "hope" that Obama promised in his 2008 election campaign, but something he intends to rip out of the hands of the American people with his proposed cuts to the NASA budget.

There's another reason not to cut the NASA budget. The Washington Post reported in July 2012:
Bill Nye [the Science Guy] has a really good reason for why President Obama should not cut funding for space exploration: Who will figure out how to deflect the asteroid that could wipe out civilization?
“If the Earth gets hit by an asteroid, it's game over. It's control-alt-delete for civilization.”
If the President has his way, NASA will no longer be at the forefront of this important field. It could be that Obama is betting that the Earth will be pulverized by a huge, falling rock, so why waste the money? It's more likely, though, that the President prefers that Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk's SpaceX or a highly populated Asian country will be the ones to dominate this technology.

One way or another, my grandchildren will likely take interplanetary travel for granted, even if the in-flight literature is in Chinese.


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Friday, October 12, 2012

Hyundai i800 CRDi 2012 Review

For the past few weeks I've been zipping around town in my brand new Hyundai i800 CRDi 2012. The nine-seater car was converted from the commercial version to a passenger vehicle to accommodate a pneumatic wheelchair lift. The back panels were removed and tinted windows were installed. A proper floor and ceiling were put in the back, along with air conditioning and seats. For all intents and purposes, you can't tell that this was once a commercial vehicle.

 

Purrs Like a (Large, Overweight) Kitten

The i800's build quality seems very good. The internal fittings are simple, but the car seems to be constructed solidly. The only rattling sounds come from the wheelchair lift, which has so many moving parts, it can be forgiven for groaning a bit when I hit a bump in the road. Road noise is higher than I would have expected, and the diesel engine isn't very quiet, but it's by no means a loud car - at least from the inside.

 

Leviathan

The car is a beast to drive. A veritable tank. I've driven vans before, but nothing as wide or long as the i800. The Hyundai i800 is 5125 mm long. By comparison, a nine-seater Citroen Jumpy (AKA Dispatch Combi) is 4805 mm long. Just to give you an idea of how big this car is, it is almost too wide for, and always too long for, a standard parking space. Sitting up so high above the traffic, you feel as if you are driving a 4x4, but of course, you aren't. If it wasn't for the strategically placed grab-handles, one would have to be quite dexterous when entering the cab. The large mirrors on both sides of the van make up somewhat for the useless rear-view mirror. I haven't yet had the opportunity to try reverse parking, but it would be very difficult to manage without the reversing camera and proximity sensors, which were installed by the wheelchair lift company.

 

Handle With Care

The ride quality is decent, although sometimes it feels like you're driving a truck. That sounds incongruous, but I suppose it's a result of the size of the car. Handling is quite good. The car feels centered when cornering or taking a curve at higher speeds, and I am surprised at the small turning circle relative to the size of the vehicle.

 

Access All Areas

Conveniently, there are sliding doors on both sides of the i800. The rear hatch lifts up high enough, making access to the trunk area very easy. I once drove a friend's Hyundai H1 (the precursor to the i800) and I had to duck underneath the rear hatch to get to the back of the car. So this is a marked improvement.

 

Room Enough to Swing a Cat

If there is one advantage to having a large van, it's leg room, vast expanses of leg room. My eight-year-old son has no trouble standing up inside the car, so there's plenty of head room, too. The only seat where an adult passenger may feel uncomfortable is the front-center seat. The bulge in the center console of the dashboard means that the unfortunate passenger must sit slightly askew. Also, when the front-center seat is occupied, the cup holders recessed in the dashboard become inaccessible. Three front seats are only standard in the commercial models, but the dashboard is standard among all models. The dashboard designer obviously forgot that the front-center passenger needs somewhere to put their legs.

When there is no third front seat passenger, the center seat folds down and provides two extra cup holders and a storage tray. I'm not sure why so many cup holders are necessary, but perhaps they drink a lot of coffee on-the-go in South Korea.

Storage space includes two glove compartments, one smaller than the other, one or two little compartments in the center console and two levels of door pockets. I assume that the designer never had to leave the car because the lower level door pockets are positioned exactly the same height as the step, so when leaving the car, it is very easy to step on the door pocket by accident. Hopefully I'll remember to watch out for that before I get my foot stuck. That would be an interesting excuse for coming late to work.

The standard car tools (the jack, a fire extinguisher, reflective vest, etc.) are stored in a clever little compartment underneath the front passenger step.

 

Likes a Bit of a Drink

The Hyundai i800 can be compared to a high-end luxury sports car. If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it - at least in terms of fuel consumption. According to carleasingmadesimple.com, the 2.5 liter 5-speed auto diesel engine drinks one (imperial) gallon of gas in 32.1 miles (or 11.36 km/liter). Those numbers mean little when filling up - this beast has a tank that easily holds over 500 shekels of petrol. That's a big hit at every fill.

 

The Best Thing

The greatest thing about this car has nothing to do with the car. The dashboard center console houses a touch screen navigation and entertainment system. British male voice "James" guides me when I activate the iGo GPS. We chose this voice just so we can say "Home, James". A DVD system, hooked up to a screen that folds down from the ceiling for the rear-seat passengers is a handy way to keep the kids quiet on long trips. A USB port allows music and video to play from a Disk on Key. The radio is far too confusing, but once you get the hang of it, it isn't too bad. One of the more useful apps is the Bluetooth phone connection to my mobile. I can make and receive phone calls without taking the phone out of my pocket - the system even displays my phone history for easy re-dialing. 
 
Just a reminder: Talking on the phone when driving can be dangerous, even when using hands-free.

There are a couple of things I noticed about the navigation and entertainment systems - they are not meant for the driver to use. Many of the buttons and icons are too small to use quickly, without taking your eyes off the road for too long. For example, the radio interface has a volume slider. Attempting to use it while driving invariably ends in waking up the neighbors in the southern hemisphere. The hardware buttons are far more useful for controlling the volume.

 

The Other Best Thing

After nine years without a car, the Hyundai i800 is still a novelty among my kids, so I am taking full advantage of it, "When you have cleaned your room, done your homework and folded the laundry, and only if you're good, I'll let you wash the car".


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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Time to Let Go?

oldcomputers.net
I was introduced to computing in the 5th grade. My first computer class was in the school's brand-new Apple IIe computer lab. On that first day we had no idea what to expect. Our teacher held up a 5¼" floppy disk and proceeded to demonstrate how not to treat it. He threw the disk across the room, he crumpled it in his fist, tossed it on the floor and jumped on it. He then attempted to rip the disk open with his bare hands. He let loose on the disk with a pair of scissors, dropped it into a metal waste-paper-basket and set it on fire. The folks at Verbatim would have been horrified; we thought it was funny. And from that moment on, the teacher had our attention.

I probably still have a bunch of floppys sitting in a box somewhere. I used floppy disks all through university, so I still may have some assignments I wrote using Zardax, an Apple IIc word processor. Alas, the floppy disk is a relic of a bygone era. File sizes have far surpassed the capabilities of the faithful floppy - a single digital photo today exceeds the miniscule storage limit of a floppy disk. And if you have floppy disks, what would you do with them? Modern motherboards no longer support floppy drives. Your best bet is eBay where you might be able to find a floppy drive that connects to your computer via USB. Look in the "antiquities" category.

The other day I was having lunch with my co-workers and I posed the following question: If you had to replace the classic floppy-disk Save icon with something more contemporary, what would you choose? The rules are that the new icon would have to be:
Intuitive - if an alien was to try to use the software, he/she/it would immediately recognize the save button.
Future-proof - in 20, 30, 50 years we would still recognize this as the Save command.

All of the following suggestions (some tongue-in-cheek) were knocked out of contention:
  • safe (knocked out of contention because it is associated with backup)
  • lifebuoy (knocked out of contention because it is associated with restoring data)
  • elephant (because elephants never forget)
  • hard-disk (knocked out of contention because today we save to HDDs, optical media, flash drives, networks, the cloud, etc.)
  • check-mark (knocked out of contention because it could mean any number of things)
www.psdgraphics.com
After much discussion, we determined that there isn't a better icon. Like the ubiquitous telephone graphic for placing a voice or video call, the image of a 20th-century data storage medium is a universally recognized symbol, dated, perhaps, but culturally accepted.

It's true that an alien wouldn't intuitively know to press the floppy disk icon, but if in 50 years time we still need to save information via a GUI, even earthly humans who have never held a 1.44 MB floppy disk will know what the graphic means.

It seems that the floppy disk icon is here to stay. I don't think it's time to let go. Not just yet.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Yesterday's Champion

After quite some time in an irrationally self-inflicted exile on the bench, I started jogging again. No, really, it's true. Over the last two years it's been an on-again, off-again affair, but I think I'm jogging consistently enough to consider myself back on track.

I recently read through my Jerusalem marathon training blogs from 2009 and 2010. They were very inspiring. I read how I started off on the treadmill at the gym and then progressed to running on the street. I read of how I completed my first 5 km run, my first 10 km run and ultimately how I smashed my PB in the marathon by about 4 minutes. I didn't blog about this, but in September 2010 I took a leisurely 20 km jog around Ramat Beit Shemesh, just for the fun of it.

Since then I lost momentum and added weight. Now I'm back at the beginning - I have to do it all over again.

For the last few weeks I've been schlepping myself around Ramat Beit Shemesh, trying to recapture my former glory. I'm working really hard, exercising almost every night, pushing my body to its (current) limits. I know I'm two years older, but I'm determined to get back to at least where I was before. I'm already feeling stronger, and I've had some success.

New shoes. The first thing about running, like any sport, is to have the right equipment. My Brooks Adrenaline GTS 9s wore out and so I sprung for a black pair of the updated Brooks GTS 12s. They're not as ugly as the GTS 9s and they provide more support. That's two pluses right there. Also, investing money in the sport is one way to get me out of the house and onto the pavement.

I have a regular 10 km route around my neighborhood - the same one I've been running since 2009. I can easily break it up into two 5 km routes - each 5 km route brings me back home. They are both challenging in their own right. The easier of the two includes a 1.22 km steady incline, followed by a stiff 200 meter uphill at about the 3.5 km mark. The more difficult route starts off nice and flat but about 2 km in there's a killer 700 m uphill that taxes each and every leg muscle, and some other muscles I didn't know I had. My goal this week was to run each route in under 30 minutes. At first I failed, completing the more difficult route in 30:09. But, I didn't give up. I really wanted the win, so on the second attempt I pushed myself and ran the more difficult 5 km in 29:59 - just made it! I finished the easier route in a surprising 28:40. It's funny that at my peak in 2010, I considered these times to be slow:
...but I didn't want to push myself too hard, so I completed it in a reasonable, but slow, 28:59.
Another challenge I set myself for this week was to run the full 10 km, which I did on Tuesday night. I wasn't aiming to get a good time; all I wanted was to complete the distance. Having said that, it took me 1:07:03 to complete the 10 km (a respectable 31:30 for the first 5 km and a less respectable 35:33 for the second 5 km). That isn't my worst time (which was 1:10:00) but it's also far from my best time on this route (56:05). I'm nowhere near completing the Jerusalem 10 km marathon within my personal best time of 52:14. If I decide to compete in March 2013, I'd better keep working hard. It's going to take quite a bit of effort to get back to peak physical condition.

I'm also mixing up the running a bit with upper-body exercise. Our local park has exercise equipment that uses body-weight as resistance, similar to these machines. I run about 4.5 km along my regular route and end at the park. I then do a variety of exercises, including rowing, lateral pull-ups, lateral pull-downs, chess-presses and parallel bar exercises. I then take a slow jog back home, finishing off the 5 km. I haven't yet figured out the best exercises to do, how many reps to do or the optimal frequency. But suffice it to say that when I feel the burn, I know I'm doing something.

But the best achievement this week was that I comfortably wore a size L shirt that I haven't been able to fit into for the last year and a half. So my efforts are amounting to something. Problem is, I upgraded all my shirts to XL, so does this mean I'm going to have to buy a whole new wardrobe? I hope so.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It Would Take an Action Hero to Save Music

When I was growing up, an afternoon at the library, browsing through a seemingly infinite number of books, was a common Sunday activity. Mostly, the library was a quiet, air-conditioned sanctuary where everyone had equal access to as many books as they could poke a library card at.

St. Kilda Public Library, Melbourne, Australia
(Click to enlarge)
Considering the number of librarians employed at the local library, it doesn't take much to realize that to own all those books would be an expensive undertaking and an organizational nightmare.

My father once built a huge floor-to-ceiling bookshelf and my mother cataloged all of our books, Dewey Decimal System-style. Alas, with the rest of us kids running (around) the house, maintaining this private library was nigh on impossible. But it was a valiant attempt.

Today, e-books are cheap and sometimes even free. One hand-held device can contain thousands of books, easily sorted according to title, author, genre, subject, date or even publisher. More importantly, there's ample time to read through all of these books. You can take them wherever you go, instantly flip to your bookmark and read a page or two while waiting in line to order your morning latte.

The chilling design on the spine of Stephen King's horror novels need never torment you from the bookshelf again. The teetering pile of unread novels you bought on a whim at Sefer v'Sefel will no longer threaten to topple from the top shelf. You have no need for a physical bookshelf; all of your books are digital. However, the question is, are they really yours?

Ownership of e-media is a contentious and sometimes emotional issue, especially when it requires a sea change in long-held practices and perceptions. In December 2010, Fortune Magazine's Seth Greenstein wrote:
Perhaps it is ironic that the very flexibility that makes digital technology so compelling – the ease of copying and transmission – in the end may deprive consumers of basic economic rights they have enjoyed for centuries. 
Earlier this week it was falsely reported that actor, Bruce Willis is mulling the possibility of challenging Apple's claim that music downloaded from iTunes is rented, not bought. The reports claimed that Willis would like to bequeath his extensive digital music library to his children, but that Apple terms and conditions state that the files are non-transferable.

Like digital music, paid e-books are likely also not yours - they are usually purchased under a licensing agreement (read the fine print). However, as Mathew Ingram of Gigaom wrote in November 2011, there are up-sides and down-sides to licensing media:

"...rental or streaming of content such as books, movies and music has a lot of potential benefits: It can save money and be more convenient, and it can free us from having to worry about where the content is. But at the same time, it also removes certain rights and abilities that we’ve grown used to — just as renting a home instead of owning does — and that is something we are all going to have to learn more about as the world becomes increasingly digital."
Bruce Willis
So, aside from avoiding your Library's "two book limit" rule, accumulating e-books is just a fancy (and more expensive) way to borrow books - although the late-return policy is somewhat more generous.

It's a pity that the Bruce Willis v. Apple story simply isn't true because had he really challenged Apple and won, he would have set a precedent for all sorts of electronic media. Also, the headlines would have read, "Action Hero Saves Music, Books, World", or "Willis Wins: Electronic Media Dies Harder".

For Willis, however, it's all moot. Even if he would sue Apple and win, his kids would never inherit his music collection because Bruce Willis is not the sort of person to die. Ever.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Home Videos: Get in on the Act

In 1927, Warner Bros produced the first talkie, The Jazz Singer, on a rather large budget of $422,000 (about $22 million in 2012 terms) - approximately 1.5 times what most silent films had cost to make until then.

In 1995, the Los Angeles Times reported that the average cost of making and marketing a feature film was approximately $50.4 million. In 2011 it cost around $65 million to produce the film plus another $35 million to market it - that's a cool $100 million. 3D movie production company, False Creek Productions, calculates that 3D movie production will set you back an additional 19% (PDF). Mega-3D-blockbusters, like Avatar, reportedly cost somewhere between $280 million and $500 million to produce (plus marketing costs).

In stark contrast to this, according to NuWire Investor:
The cost of producing indie [independent] films varies widely depending on the project, anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $20 million or more.
Some indie films, while not usually full-length feature films, can be quite compelling. Websites, such as shortoftheweek.com showcase the best indie films, like The Camera, about which filmmaker Ivan Kandler writes:
Then comes a movie like Peter Lewis’s The Camera, a mysterious, intriguing tale that was made with a DSLR, no crew, and about fifty bucks. Perfect in its simplicity, beautiful and haunting in its visuals, The Camera is a reminder that a great film is in everyone’s grasp, as long as he/she has the creative capacity and appropriate willpower to drop pretension, and quite simply, make something.



Today, anyone can literally get in on the act. All you need is a digital camera, a decent PC and some basic free or low-cost editing software (maybe a smidgen of talent and a bucket-load of patience). Because YouTube, Vimeo and other video staging sites are free, it is extremely easy to share your creations with the world. In fact, YouTube says that over 4 billion hours of video are watched on YouTube each month. Where does all the content come from?
48 hours of video are uploaded every minute, resulting in nearly 8 years of content uploaded every day.
My friend, the very talented nothingfunnyleft, operates a long-running YouTube vlog (video-log) called Me, My BrotherS, & My Dad (sic) - a series of adorable videos of the things he and his kids get up to. Most of nothingfunnyleft's 420 vlogs (so far) are about a minute in length - that's 420 minutes of priceless cuteness for the cost of a camera and a few minutes of post-processing work.

Long-time readers of this blog will remember my (very) short film Waiting, which I created for the sole purpose of experimenting with a cloning technique I read about.

video

YouTuber, Freddie Wong, used a Samsung Galaxy SII to record this short film. Freddie is a professional and his special effects are somewhat beyond the abilities of basic video editors. However, Gamer Commute shows that highly accessible, non-specialized equipment can really do the job.



In 2010, the Guggenheim Museum teamed up with YouTube to create an exhibition of home movies. The idea was to showcase the most creative talent "no matter what the technique, the style or the budget". The videos selected ranged from Birds on the Wires, which required a lot of technical expertise to create, to Foods which is simply one woman announcing her food cravings over the course of a month.

If I had known about the exhibition, I may have entered my very first movie, which I shot in 1986 when I was about 12 years old. I filmed Rubbish Collection on a reel-to-reel Super8 - no chance for re-takes and no editing. That was back in the day when film cost money and you had to send it off to Kodak to be developed.


Thanks to my father for digitizing this wonderful piece of nostalgia. After all, unlike most multi-million dollar Hollywood productions, the best movies are those that still make you smile 30 years on.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Call for Links to Home Movies

I am writing a blog-post about home movies. Send me a link to your home-made videos and I may include them. The deadline is Sunday 26 August, 2012.

Send all links to yossi at ykarp dot com.

So be part of it and don't delay!

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Press 1 to Give Up

Without taking any formal polls, I estimate that 99% of the world hates automated answering systems.

There's a dark, dank office in the lower basement of a ramshackle castle atop a spindly hill, in which sits a hunchbacked hermit who rubs his calloused hands with evil glee as he codes telephone-menu software. Once in a while, when the crashing thunder shakes the windows from their hinges and the lightning rips through the eerie night sky, you may hear a prolonged, maniacal laugh echo through the deep, desolate valleys as he releases the next version to production.

http://ittimes.ucdavis.edu/v6n10aug98/ops.html
But we forgive companies because we think that there isn't much of an alternative - it's a busy call center and they have to manage all of the incoming calls somehow, right?

I recently read an article about how companies use a special algorithm to determine if it is worthwhile to answer your phone call or not. The software calculates whether there are others in the queue who are likely to spend more money than you. Less desirable customers are pushed aside in favor of the bigger spenders.

Rafi Karp, Director of Operations at Glassfish (www.glassfish.co.il), a company that helps businesses to increase sales by improving customer service, believes that this system is a PR disaster waiting to happen:
There could be indirect negative effects on their business if it gets out that a company is profiling customers with an algorithm - the average consumer will feel belittled and unimportant and ultimately have negative associations with the company, possibly causing them to switch to a new supplier. A company that champions the consumer, regardless of who they are, is going to ultimately build a better customer reputation as a service provider. This reputation, as extensive research has proven, is one of the most valuable assets to a company.
Put simply, automated telephone answering systems (especially sneaky ones) are the least customer-friendly way to do business because they take existing customers and make them hate the company.

Of course, the average consumer doesn't know that he has been rated, ranked and relegated to the end of the queue. He is left hanging on the line, sentenced to endless repetitive elevator music, advertisements and pleas to hang up and use the Internet. When he finally does get through, his patience and energy have been sufficiently depleted so as to weaken his defenses.

The company wins, again.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is HR the Enemy?

The purpose of every HR department is to practice the HR policies set by the company. HR reps aren't there to represent the employee - unless, of course, the company policies and the needs of an employee happen to coincide (sexual harassment issues, for example). This may seem to be a sweepingly broad statement, but it is the reality of corporate life.

If you haven't already experienced HR's two-sidedness then you probably haven't been paying attention. The benefits, fun and good feelings that the HR department is responsible for are merely part of a wider aim to smokescreen employees from the true company goals. For instance, the purpose of company fun days, parties, food and birthday gifts is to lull you into a sense of loyalty, community and belonging so you won't leave.

Call me a cynic, if you like. I prefer the word "realist". And, yes, I have been burned by HR before, but that was back in the day when I naively thought that HR's job is to help the employee as much as it is to implement company policy. They might be lovely people but, like the rest of us, HR representatives are paid to work in the interests of the company. They are not evil, they're just doing their jobs. To paraphrase my friend, you can't blame a lion for killing it's prey and you can't blame the prey for being eaten - it is merely the way of the wild.

This friend (let's call him Jim) told me an interesting story about a job interview he once had. I assume it was a small and HR-less company because the owner (let's call him Mr. Prince) conducted the interview. Mr. Prince looked Jim dead in the eye and said,
"Let's get one thing straight. I am here to try to negotiate the lowest salary in return for the highest number of working hours, whereas you are here to extract the highest salary from me for the lowest number of working hours. Don't be afraid to start high because we'll find a reasonable compromise somewhere in the middle.
Furthermore, I expect that in three to six months you will be knocking on my office door, asking for more money. I will be disappointed if you don't. You may succeed, but only if you can convince me that you have added to your skill-set, which I can then on-sell as consulting services to clients."
That's called candour, something you'll never get from an HR representative. Mr. Prince laid the cards on the table and said it as it is. No hidden agendas or secret motives. And that was smart because when the negotiation was done, he always got complete buy-in from the new employee. In contrast, HR's modus operandi is to make you feel warm and fuzzy before chaining you to your desk for as many hours a day as they can get away with, for as low a salary as possible, preferably without you noticing. HR has their way of making you feel that you have some control, but no matter if you are a top manager or a bottom-rung worker, it's an illusion. All equipment needs maintenance to keep functioning at peak performance and happy workers are productive workers. Get my drift?

But when all seems bleak, you can rely on my friend Jim to pour a bit of sunshine on the gloom. Jim says that every employee needs to give himself permission to look after his own interests. That's no small thing because first we have to understand and come to terms with the reality in which we live.

There are those, says Jim, who are super-qualified, experienced and brilliant at their jobs, but they remain in lower-paid positions because they haven't given themselves permission to look outside their companies for a job with better conditions. The reasons for this vary, but certainly among them are that these people feel comfortable in their current job and the side benefits (like meals and company outings) seem too good to give up. Perhaps they are simply unaware that their false sense of comfort is a result of years of manipulation by HR. But these people need to wake up. There is no such thing as loyalty when it comes to the employer/employee relationship, even if HR tries to make you believe there is.

I'm not advocating corporate insurgency or burning HR reps at the stake. In fact, like HR reps themselves, your contractual obligation to the company means that you have to do good work. After all, you are being paid to do a job and you are morally and legally bound to uphold your end of the deal. Also, if you want a decent reference for your next job application, you will want to work responsibly and to the best of your abilities.

When you push all the fluff and nonsense aside, HR is but one of the company's many tools that helps them with the only thing they care about - their bottom line. You, as an employee, should give yourself permission to care about yours, too.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Turning More into Less, More or Less


One of the important skills a Technical Writer needs is to be able to take long-winded sentences, cut out irrelevant, repetitive, and useless words to make the sentence shorter, thus making it easier for the reader to understand.

Re-write:

To communicate effectively, Technical Writers must be able to edit text for clarity and brevity.


When editing my own work, I sometimes pretend that the text awkwardly creeps across to the next page. The challenge is to use fewer words without changing the meaning of the sentence so that all of the text fits on one page - no re-formatting allowed. It's often easier to write an entire paragraph than it is to convey the same information in a single sentence, so this little game makes for tighter writing.

Knowing which words to cut and which to keep is a skill. Twitter provides a great training ground for improving in this area. With only 140 characters to get your point across there isn't much room for warbling. Increase the level of difficulty by always using full words, correct grammar and complete sentences.

For example, on 9 August 2012 I drafted this:
My fridge self-destructed. Coincidentally, the bottom 3 drawers of my stand-alone freezer work, but the top 2 drawers are cold but not freezing. Not fixing the freezer until my new fridge arrives.  [198 characters]
But tweeted this:
My fridge imploded. Coincidentally, top 2 drawers of my stand-alone freezer are cold but not freezing. Not fixing it til new fridge arrives. [140 characters]
The tweet, above, the one I eventually posted, says pretty much the same as the original and preserves its tone. Granted, I massaged the grammar a bit and cheated by using the numeral 2 and the word "til". Also, "Coincidentally" is not strictly required, but I wanted it in. Overall, it's still not a bad effort.

Just for the record, according to this article, you should never tweet a 140 character tweet
Because if you write a 140 character Twitter post, nobody can retweet it without editing it. And since people are lazy, you aren’t getting retweeted!
Apparently, the ideal tweet length = 140 - (the @ sign + your twitter handle + one space + RT). So for me that would be 140 - (@ykarp RT), which corresponds to: 140 - (1 + 5 + 1 + 2) = 131 characters.


The joke is that the definition of an engineer is someone who spends 20 years developing a technology that saves 20 seconds. From one perspective, it may not seem like a worthwhile pursuit, but the users of that technology will appreciate it. Just think of all the money spent and energy expended by hardware and software engineers to reduce operating system start-up times from 3 minutes to 30 seconds.

Sometimes, for the benefit of our readers, we have to invest time and effort improving the readability of a document by turning more into less, more or less.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Yelp Me This

According to their website, "Yelp is the fun and easy way to find and talk about great (and not so great) local businesses".

The following two videos, pushed to my Flipbook "Gear and Gadgets" feed, are dramatizations of two reviews, performed by actors. Normally, I would just retweet, but these are just so funny, I felt compelled to share them, Jublerant style.

YouTube summary: Professional actor Chris Kipiniak puts the full weight of his dynamic gifts behind this interpretation of an online restaurant review.

YouTube summary: Award winning audio-book narrator and actress Therese Plummer (The Good Wife, Law and Order SVU) lends her expressive talents to this rendition of a Yelp review.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Virtually You

Zynga reported a $22.8m loss. Its shares plummeting, analysts are forecasting an uncertain future for the maker of the hugely popular game, Farmville, and six other top games on Facebook.

Whoa! Unsatisfactory revenues for the developer of popular games? Yes, because the number of users of largely free games doesn't reflect earnings.

Zynga makes its money by selling virtul goods, like tractors for Farmville. Selling virtual goods for a web-based game is a relatively new business model. No inventory to warehouse, no deliveries to make, and no storefront to pay for. Selling virtual bits and bytes (things that don't exist but that people pay for) sounds great, but is the experiment failing?

I am tempted to argue that paying real money for a virtual tractor in a game that I don't personally own, is a waste. But consider this - we have been trading in virtual goods for quite a while. Some examples:

  • Virtual money (credits) for online stores - eventually you can exchange the currency for physical goods, but you can't hold the cash in your hands.
  • Electronic books - although you can read a book that you bought for your eReader, the book only exists as bits and bytes.
  • Smartphone applications - they are right there in the palm of your hand for you to use, but they are not physical objects.

I'm sure you can think of other examples. The point is that we do readily part with our money for virtual goods - products that we can't touch, feel, or hold. We do so because although the purchased item is only a series of 1s and 0s, it benefits us somehow in the physical reality. So why should buying a nonexistent tractor for our entertainment be any different?

Right now, many of us (whether we acknowledge it or not) live two lives - real life offline, and virtual life online. Countless articles have been published discussing the effect of one on the other (such as here and here and here). In real life a person might be an introverted antisocial. In virtual life that same person might be the most outgoing socialite on Facebook. It's a sort of sanctioned (encouraged?) schitzophrenia where we can be two different people at once.

The more I think about this relatively new phenomenon of living in both the physical and virtual worlds, the more I am fascinated, excited, and a little worried by how far it is going to go.

DARPA has allocated $7m of next year's budget to developing a system for soldiers to remotely control a "surrogate" to do the dangerous jobs, much like in the movie Avatar. That's not a big stretch from using unmanned drones to engage the enemy on our behalf, but it is a far cry from simply living two lives in your online and offline worlds.

But it's not enough.

Gizmag reports that Russian entrepreneur Dmitri Itskov is heading a startling project to enable the digitization of the human mind by 2045. In other words, within three decades a person's consciousness could be downloaded to a microchip. Stuff of science fiction? The author of the article contends that despite that predictions of technological advancement in certain areas (such as AI) have entirely missed the mark, the technology needed for this project to succeed might already exist, or very nearly exist.

This opens up an entire new world of ethical questions. What is a person - his body, his consciousness? When is a person dead - when his physical body dies, when power is cut to his digitized personality? Is it okay to euthanize someone's body if you are going to ensure that he lives on inside the electrical circuits of a robot? If someone is born physically disabled, is it better to download their brain into a fully functioning android, or let them live with the physical disability? It's all too much, but the Russian Ministry of Education and Science and the Dalai Lama don't think so - they support it.

The microchip, Internet and related technologies have sky-rocketed the human race to a place where the rate of change has the potential to outpace our ability to fathom its impact. The consolation is that you now have the next 30 years to play Farmville and contemplate a completely virtual you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Love Your Fellow Shark

Does it get more exciting than this? Shark Week begins on August 12, 2012. If you love these the bone-less, fanged and fearsome kings of the sea, then Shark Week is for you.

If you really want to get into the whole shark thing, why not get yourself a robot shark? Hours of fun and excitement scaring the living daylights out of family, friends and total strangers.


But we really do need Shark Week because, aside from the Chinese who love shark just a bit too much, the ultimate marine predator generally gets a bad rap. But why? All sharks do is maintain the natural balance of nature. If you happen into their environment, its not really their fault if you look a lot like dinner. 

From an early age we are brain-washed educated to stay away from sharks at all costs, just like in this poem:
A Shark is a Pet
A Funny Shark Poem by Kenn Nesbitt
A shark is a pet
that you don't want to get.
There is nothing less fun than a shark.
He doesn't have fur.
He won't cuddle or purr,
and he never takes walks in the park.
Instead he just stares
and intensely prepares,
as he circles and waits in the dark,
to nibble your nose
and your fingers and toes,
for his bite is much worse than his bark.
Copyright © 2012 Kenn Nesbitt
All Rights Reserved
From www.poetry4kids.com
Actually, with respect to the talented Kenn Nesbitt, there are those who voluntarily keep sharks as pets. Here's YouTube proof:


So enjoy Shark Week and  deepen your understanding of these multi-toothed ocean-faring tigers. Visit www.shark-society.com and read about a Great White Shark called Curly (Curly's Facebook page). Embrace the giant man-eating fish - although probably not literally, like this dude in a Mexican aquarium.

(Shark hug takes place at around 1:20)



"Fish-Friendly Shark Pledge: I am a nice shark. Not a mindless eatin' machine. If I want to change this image, I must first change myself. Fish are friends. Not food. - The sharks"
Finding Nemo
This post is my response to a blog-challenge from DA to write about sharks.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pants

I saw a chef walking down the street today. I could tell he was a chef because of his weird-looking pants. Naturally, this got me wondering about who else wears strange pants.

[If you receive this post via email, you will have to visit the website to see all the pictures and get the full effect: http://www.ykarp.com]

Chefs
If you're a chef and you're late to work, wear your pajamas. Nobody will notice the difference.

Golfers
Some golfing pants are handed down from generation to generation, never getting washed so as to preserve the luck.

Clowns
If your jokes are no good, you can always rely on your fashion to make the audience laugh.

Mascots

Wear this, but only if you have the figure for it.

Knights in Shining Armor

Sneak up on the heavily armed castle wearing these metal pants.

Elvis


Don't. Only Elvis can get away with pants like these.



Curlers

Curling is a strange sport as it is, so what's with these pants?

Beefeaters

No pants here. But of course, in England, nobody wears pants...they wear trousers.


Fishermen
There's nothing like these snazzy rubber pants to attract the fish.

Wonder Sauna Hot Pants Wearers



If you want to be accepted among polite company or otherwise, don't ever let anyone see you wearing these pants - not your friends, your family or your neighbors.

Teenager
Don't question the wearer about why he wears these pants slipping halfway down. If you have to ask, you just don't get it.


Scotsmen



Not pants, but better than nothing.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

As Good as a Holiday

I've been using Tim now since Feb 2012. For those of you who missed that blog, Tim is my Samsung Galaxy Note. He has really changed the way I navigate my online life.

Email
Email is now more or less instantly downloaded to my pocket. In other words, if you send me an email, Gmail picks it up from my ykarp.com email server. My phone then syncs with Gmail and the phone whistles that mail has been received. The delay is inconsequential, but I do notice that my daily Dilbert email reaches my work computer a minute before my phone does. I love Dilbert cartoons, and I'll take 'em wherever I can get 'em.

The emails I write from my phone are also shorter than ones I write from a real computer. That's undestandable given that touch-screen typing is slower and less accurate (actually, I'm writing this blog post on my Galaxy Note in portrait view right now!) Perhaps I shouldn't, but I also forgive myself more for grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes and typos for the same reason.

I have freed myself from the tens of email subscriptions to which I signed up over the years. Now the important emails don't get lost among a blizzard of ZDNet, Wired, TechCrunch, and SlashGear emails. This brings me to the next point.

Flipboard
Flipboard is the best thing since wireless internet. Instead of sitting through mountains of subscription emails, all I do now is read them on Flipboard. Flipboard brings news, blogs, Twitter and Facebook to one place. I love browsing the headlines, reading the interesting articles and forwarding the best ones on to my Twitter and/or Facebook friends. The Flipboard "flipping" animation is really cool, and I really like how it finds articles that I would be interested in, based on the articles that I've read and the feeds to which I subscribe. It saves me from opening a bunch of emails and it is also a more fun way of reading interesting stuff.

PC
I found that in the last few months my PC usage at home has dropped considerably. This is both a result of my kids monopolizing the machine and the fact that 99% of what I used to do on the PC, I now do on my phone. Of course there are times that I would like to use a real keyboard and a big screen, but that is a matter of comfort, rather than a necessity. Anyway, the Galaxy Note has a nice, big screen as far as phones go, so there's less of a need to kick my kids off the computer than there was, before.

Contacts
I love that my phone syncs instantly with my Gmail contacts. I no longer store contact info on the phone or on the SIM - if my device is lost or stollen, at least I'll still have access to those details. Somehow I accidentally added all of my Facebook friends to my contact list, so now I feel very popular whenever I have to search for a name.

Calendar
I installed the Google Calendar Sync application on my work PC that syncs my Outlook calendar with my Gmail account. Then, when Gmail syncs with my phone, I have the appointments right there, reminders and all. The reasons for this roundabout method are that I want my phone to remind me about work meetings (a desktop-only reminder is not especially useful when I'm not in my office), and because I don't want the IT people at work syncing my Outlook with my phone. It's a private phone and so I don't really want them messing with it. I also don't want to receive work emails on my phone, which would be very annoying. I'm afraid that if they set the phone to sync the calendar, they will also push email to the phone. So I'm using this rather unorthodox method - but it works very nicely, so I'm happy with it.

Anywhere
Having a phone like this - and it really is difficult to relate to this little computer as a phone - makes it easy to just look things up on the go. I have a 2 GB per month data plan, which sees me through. I love watching TED talks and YouTube clips. I also listen to Internet radio from time-to-time, which also eats bandwidth.

Camera
When I have our little Samsung point-and-shoot, I'm unstoppable. I'll photograph everything and then spend the time at home filtering out the blurry and the embarrassing. But my photography habits have changed with the Galaxy Note. The camera is quite good, and the photos I take automatically sync with Dropbox. But taking photos with this thing is a bit unweildy. First, I have to unlock the phone. Then I have to open the camera app (the icon is on the main screen, so that's pretty easy). Then I have to line up the shot, adjust the zoom and press the shutter button. Unfortunately, the shutter button is located in a place that is too easy to tap by accident, so I end up taking a lot of unwanted pictures. Also, the phone's on/off button is located exactly in the position that a regular camera's shutter button would be. So I often turn the phone off by accident instead of taking a picture. I know that this is just me not getting used to the way it works, but it is frustrating. What this all means is that I don't take as many happy snaps as I would otherwise - to some this is a blessing.

On the up-side, the photos that I do take, and which come out well, are really easy to share. I love that when my baby daughter does something cute and I manage to capture the moment, I can instantly email it to my family so they can all coo and kvell together with me, no matter where they are in the world.

Books
Reading is one of those things I love to do. However, a busy family life doesn't always allow for losing ones-self in the thick plot of a good novel. But traveling between work and home gives me an hour or so where I can enjoy a good story.

I use Kobo reader to read free books published by Gutenberg Press, and I use Wattpad  to read some original material. I would like to read better-quality original stories from Authonomy, but the last time I checked, their site was mobile-unfriendly. The standard of Wattpad stories is often low, they are sometimes painfully cliched and are almost always riddled with spelling errors. But they are still entertainment, of a fashion. And they are free.

Alarm
I know this sounds simple and very noob-ish, but the alarm on my phone is pretty cool. I can set a number of alarms, with different sounds, to go off on the days and times I want. So, for instance, I can set the alarm to wake me at 5.55am on Sunday through Thursday. I can set the alarm to also wake me on Friday, but at 6.30am. On Saturday the phone remains silent and doesn't wake me up. I don't have to remember to set the alarm or turn off the alarm for different days of the week. Let the computer do all the thinking. The built-in app on the phone that does this is really simple. I use it all the time. I am not obsessed with my phone but, yes, I do sleep with it (or next to it...or it next to me...but not in a weird way...)

What's Next?
For the last few weeks I have been carrying around a disk-on-key containing the image file of Android Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). The instructions on the Internet seem easy to follow, and if I don't screw it up, I could have a more updated phone in an hour or two. Apparently there are a number of major improvements in ICS over my currently installed Android Gingerbread. But I'm chicken. I have a feeling that it won't go as smoothly as the Internet says it will and I'll completely mess up my phone's operating system. Anyway, the next version of Android, Jelly Bean, is just coming out now. I don't know if my phone supports it, but maybe I should wait until a JB version becomes available  for the Galaxy Note and skip ICS altogether. But, as the Aussie saying goes "a change is as good as a holiday", and I could do with a holiday...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why Science is Wrong

Leonardo da Vinci was obsessed with manned flight. He never successfully built a flying machine, although he did design a helicopter-like machine that would have worked, had he built it, and he was reported to have successfully tested the first parachute. But a working flying machine eluded him because he was fixated on flapping wings. Had he thought of fixed-wing aircraft, nobody would ever have heard of the Wright brothers.

But you can't blame Leonardo. It is only natural that we look to our environment for clues. The practice of nature-inspired inventions is called biomimicry. Examples of biomimicry abound. Velcro, for example, is an invention inspired by plant burrs. The design of turbine blades is based on the shape of the flippers of humpback whales. Gecko Tape was invented by Manchester University scientists who observed how geckoes are able to climb along ceilings leaving little to no residue.

Biomimicry is a brilliant starting point for inventions. It is a sort of challenge to scientists - can we make something artificial that exists in nature? I recently read an article that engineers have just now managed to construct a set of robotic legs that perfectly mimic the way humans walk. To accomplish this, they used a complicated series of motors and belts. That is truly an amazing feat (no pun intended).

But now comes the "however". Nature is limiting. We need to stop looking at things we see around us for inspiration. It's truly amazing that we can clone a sheep - but we already have sheep. We need to be a bit more creative.

That's why I have invented a new branch of science called 'artaficimimicry'. Artaficimimicry is a challenge to the world's best and brightest to shape nature with our artificial objects. Let's bend nature to our will. Why? Because I want to eat an orange that tastes like Fanta.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Meet TIM

For the past four weeks or so I've been the owner of a Samsung Galaxy Note. The Galaxy Note is my first Android phone (my first smart-phone being the underwhelming Nokia N86, running a Symbian OS).

I really love this phone, which my wife named TIM: That Infernal Machine.

I know my new phone is a new and exciting toy, but there is so much I can do with this thing that I find myself using it at every available opportunity. Twitter, Facebook, email, news, games, and the occasional phone call. I use it to check the train schedule, jot down ideas, read books, watch videos and translate words. There isn't time left for old-world activities, like having a face-to-face conversation (unless Skype is involved).

I bought the Galaxy Note for a few reasons, but mainly because I wanted a smart-phone and a tablet, but couldn't afford both. The Samsung Galaxy Note provides both the portability of a phone and a 5.3in screen, just big enough to enjoy the web and video.

While doing extensive research about this phone prior to buying it, I found that many were concerned about the portability issue. Compared to the Galaxy SII, the Note is gigantic. But I have not found size to be a problem. It fits into my pants pocket without a problem, even when sitting. It's true that I can feel it in my pocket more than I would a standard-sized phone, but it is still not uncomfortable. It's also very thin. There are, however, two downsides to owning a phone this large:
  1. It's difficult to operate with one hand. If I only have the use of one hand and I need to reach across the screen, it does take quite a bit of stretching. This can be annoying, but it usually isn't a problem.
  2. Holding the phone to my ear makes me look a little silly. Also, because the phone is wide, it isn't comfortable to hold up to my ear for too long. This is where a bluetooth headset may come in handy.
Samsung Galaxy Note compared to the Samsung Galaxy SII
Having a phone this big attracts a lot of questions, especially from owners of other smart-phones. I travel a lot on the train and every day at least one person asks me about it. Usually they want to know if its size is a problem. More often than not they are considering buying either the Note or Galaxy SII (the SIII was recently announced).

The screen on this phone is fantastic. The images are crisp and clear, and the size of the screen makes watching video a pleasure - much clearer and easier to view than a smaller smart-phone screen. Reports of the latest iPad are that its screen can't be beat, but you would look pretty silly trying to stuff an iPad into your pocket.

There are three keyboards from which to choose, as well as the pen input. I thought that I would use the pen a lot more than I do. I justified the cost of this device by saying that I would use the pen for note-taking in meetings etc. But I found that pen and paper is still the more efficient (and less nerdy) method. However, the Note is great when documenting hardware - I can snap a photo and annotate directly on the image using the pen. That's a nifty trick.

However much I praise the Samsung Galaxy Note, my very first impressions were less than positive. From the moment I unboxed it I had nothing but trouble. Firstly, the device had not been updated with the latest software patches, resulting in a crash every time the device went to sleep. After trying a bunch of solutions (including attempting to.download the latest software myself, and installing an app that prevents the Note from going into sleep mode - a ridiculous solution) I was forced to send it back to the factory for repair. The device was returned to me with the Android Rocket theme installed, which seemed to solve the problem.

Then, the Note refused to recognize the external SD card. Thankfully this was the SD card manufacturer's issue, not Samsung's. The retailer was very good about exchanging it for a new card (I even scored an SD card-to-USB adapter for my trouble).

To top it off, I kept getting incessant notifications that Google Talk couldn't connect. This error somehow prevented me from downloading apps from the Google Market. After days of extensive research and trying all sorts of options (short of performing a hard reset) I found an obscure post on an Android user forum that suggested clearing the Google Services Framework cache and forcing that service to close. After a restart, I didn't experience the Google Talk or Google Market issue again.

These problems were exasperating and I kept asking myself how a device as expensive as this doesn't "just work“. However, in a weird sort of way, I enjoyed solving the problems because this is my first Android device and it shows that if a newbie can fix the thing, it can't be so bad after all. But it really was frustrating. 

For the past few weeks my Samsung Galaxy Note has been working wonderfully - smooth, fast, flawless. This little machine is so powerful that, for most things, I don't even need my desktop computer. But it has a gravitational force that sucks me in every time, without fail. It's just so good.

The initial frustration over the teething problems has all but faded. I have grown accustomed to greeting TIM every morning with a smile as he wakes me up with a rooster-crow alarm - yes, another reason why my wife calls him TIM. At the end of the day it's difficult to put TIM back in his box. But I know that the next time I unplug TIM from his charger, a whole universe of mobile joy awaits.

This blog was almost entirely written on the Samsung Galaxy Note, somewhere between Beit Shemesh and Rechovot, using the Android Blogger App.

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