For a long time already, pretty much the only comments that my blog sites receive are coming from spammers. I have the setting that all new commenters’ comments go for moderation, and I manually delete them all, so they do not serve any purpose for a spammer, either. The original character of blogs as social sites of discussion have long been replaced by social network services, most notably by Facebook, Twitter and Google+. These days, the comments that a note like this one receives, take place in these various services, where original content is being linked to, “liked” and circulated. This is not a particularly good thing if you consider gathering together the various discussion threads, or would like to return to those comments at some point in the future. All those comments will be lost in the constant status update stream of social media, unfortunately. I am now seriously considering closing the comment function altogether from my blogs, and will most likely implement this change in the near future. It will be possible to send me comments via email, of course, and my preferred social network site for public discussion today is Google+ (there are links to my profile in this blog), but any comments, in any platform, are really welcome.
Category Archives: media
I have been testing two very good tablets recently: iPad Mini with Retina Display (Cellular) and Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition, LTE). In principle I would say that if you already are using a large-screen, phablet-style smartphone (like the Samsung Galaxy S4 I am using daily), and also carry around a powerful and light-weight laptop for the serious work stuff, tablet has a rather tight spot to cover. It is mostly too large to fit into your pocket (maybe a 7″ model like Nexus 7 can do that, however) so it not always available in the same way your smartphone is. And since the tablet does not have a full, dedicated keyboard and multitasking-oriented OS like your laptop has, it is not as efficient in the actual work, either. What to think about the continuing success of tablets, then?
When Apple introduced the original iPad, there were many who were sceptical about the actual benefits of again introducing the third, “middle category”, and there had been previous attempts to implement and market tablet computers and those had not been particularly successful. Apple’s virtue has been in the combination of extremely polished user experience with straightforward access to the key contents that most people actually care about. iPad proved that music, movies, photos, web and email can be rather well be handled also with a responsive, nicely designed tablet device.
iPad Mini with Retina Display continues the tradition of design excellence in Apple products. It is absolutely one of the most beautiful products of industrial design I have ever beheld. The care to the detail is admirable, and it is pleasure to touch and study this mini marvel. I have also been testing the new iPad Air and the new Mini has all the bells and whistles like its bigger brother, and it also boasts the same display resolution, just squeezed into significantly smaller frame. (There are some rather minor differences in processor power and in colour accuracy, in addition to size, to iPad Air’s benefit.) The iOS app ecosystem is the best in the mobile universe, and this concerns particularly the quality of applications. Many of the best iOS apps are just pleasure to use, so most games, lifestyle and productivity apps work best in the iOS environment. The main limitations, however, are at the growingly clear lack of innovation: iOS7, the newest version of Apple’s mobile operating system is prettier and in some areas clearly better than older versions of iOS. But the live titles and more flexible control scheme of Windows Phone provide more information at a glance, and Android is much more flexible and comes in myriad variations, with tools that a power user in particular can appreciate.
Google’s Nexus line of “stock Android” tablets and phones is perhaps the best example of the benefits that a modern mobile OS can provide, but there were important reasons why I wanted to turn my attention to a Galaxy Note this time. Most important of them was the “S Pen” stylus and its associated operating system enhancements.
Samsung’s S Pen is equipped with the state-of-the-art technology by Wacom, long-time leader in stylus and digitizing solutions. It is fascinating to see the fast reaction of tablet to the approacing tip of the small stylus, and writing and controlling of the tablet is effortless with the S Pen. It feels nice to be able to scribble handwritten text into a search box or straight into a document, and see the software automatically recognise and transform it into text. With Galaxy Note 10.1, I can take a PDF contract document, sent my a publisher, for example, and simply sign it with the S Pen, and email it back. This kind of common task has involved frustratingly complex negotiations between the hybrid worlds of print and digital documents, and now, with the help of S Pen and the magic of Evernote Skitch (a premium, paid feature), annotating PDFs is finally made natural and easy.
The downsides of Android’s increased capabilities include that often there is higher threshold of learning all the various features that manufacturers have made available to the user. iPad and its apps usually do less, but do it better. When I want to play games or consume content, I definitely lean more towards iPad Mini or iPad Air than an Android device. But when I today consider which device to pack with me for that next work trip, the choice is much harder. There is much B-quality bloatware and superfluous stuff in Samsung’s tablet, but also some really unique and genuinely useful features that make the life of a power user much easier. It is difficult to say what will be the outcome of the mobile competition in the long run, but the latest generation of tablets provide delightful and great user experiences, making a compelling case for the continuous existence of tablets as a device category.
This week, our “hybrid playfulness” research team is joining the COST FP1104 (“hybrid COST”) researchers around the Europe, and elsewhere to discuss the future of media, both printed and electronic, and particularly the in-between. The first day agenda was fully packed, including invited presentations on topics such as 2D codes, Augmented Reality, innovative printing, rich media mobile advertising, plus keynotes by professor Naomi Baron (American University) on reading in print and digital, and principal researcher Richard Harper (Microsoft Research Cambridge) on reading as writing and collaboration in the era of cloud computing. The Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, appears like a beautiful city, even while I have had little opportunity to look around so far.
[My presentation slides from today's Facebook research seminar in Tampere] Pohdin tässä lyhyessä esityksessäni hieman sitä työtä, mitä Tampereen Gamelabin tiimi on vuosien varrella Facebook-pelien ja -pelaamisen sekä näihin liittyvien tutkimusteemojen parissa tehnyt, että toisaalta laajemmin sitä pelijulkaisemisen ja pelikulttuurin muutosta joka on edelleen käynnissä. Julkaisumallien, teknologiaympäristöjen ja mediaekosysteemien muutokset ovat merkittäviä, mutta niin on myös laajempi kulttuurinen muutos – ehkä aikuisenkin ihmisen on tänään hieman helpompaa olla avoimesti leikillinen kuin vain vuosikymmen sitten?
Our hybrid, playful media, games and toys project Hybridex carried out yesterday a joint workshop in Lisbon on ideating new concepts for future services and products that innovatively combine the strenghts of physical materials with the digital functionalities. Headed by Annakaisa Kultima, c. 40 European researchers from multiple disciplinary backgrounds experimented using the IDECARDS approach – and I think that we got valuable feedback on the method, as well as some very interesting new product or service concepts. Link to the COST Action FP1104 info page is here.
A new Windows laptop with a touch screen is an intriguing proposition. After a couple of days of playing around with my new ASUS Vivobook X202E, I am pretty convinced: there are few obvious challenges, but apart from those, this is clearly the direction our media and information use will be heading in the future.
It is not only about having screen and keyboard and a touchpad as alternative ways of interacting with the same old windows, settings, applications and services. The increased freedom in interaction modalities feels liberating, and having the new (“Metro”) interface and the classic desktop both available is also contributing to the feeling that using a computer is now fundamentally altered. The touch screen is probably just an intermediate step; there are already some systems that come with pattern and movement recognition software that will recognize gestures, and when we are in the millimeter class of precision (see: https://leapmotion.com/), there is nothing stopping developers from coming up with games and utilities that will react to a blink of an eye or wrinkle on a brow. Gestures will feel unnatural in some situations, spoken commands in some others, like mouse, keyboard or touch screen all have their non-optimal use contexts — but all together, all these increasing alteratives will make it more free and more natural to do what we want to do, where-ever we want to do that.
The hybrid interface of Windows 8 is an obvious work-in-progress thing. Sometimes you click something in the Metro tiles and are suddenly taken to the traditional desktop app. Sometimes you will find a Metro-looking UI element stuck in the middle of traditional Windows stuff. It is confusing, to say the least. But I find it exhilarating: finally we have something interesting happening, something new. And it is not obvious what the right solutions to these multiple challenges and problems (of interacting with a plethora of different functionalities, applications and services with multiple different interaction techniques) will be. So: there is going to be interesting times ahead! Already it puts a smile to my face when with a flick of a finger I jump from blog writing to spreadsheet and then into Angry Birds Space, that works beautifully, like many other touch-enabled games that I tested from the Windows Store.
This ASUS laptop itself is also a sort of compromise. If a really optimal, top-of-the-line ultrabook with a fast SSD, touch screen and all the latest bells and whistles costs here perhaps around 1200 euros, this thing was only half of that. The 11,6″ touch screen is fine for me: it is bright, sharp and responsive, even while there is light leaking through from the corners and viewing angles are far from perfect. The processor could be speedier, there could be more memory (there is 4 GB), and the keyboard definitely would profit from backlit keys, but I am not complaining too much. The battery is too small to keep up on the road (it goes for maybe 3-4 hours and cannot be replaced by user), but I will be using this thing in home. The hard drive is larger than your typical SSD (320 GB nominal capacity, divided into two logical drives), but it is of course slower (and makes a bit of noise now and then) as compared to a solid state disk. So, there is one potential upgrade target, if wanted. But reinstalling the OS (and paying for a new licence key, as the preinstalled OEM Windows 8 does not come with a valid, user-accessible product key), all the drivers and all the applications — plus rehearsing all those tweaks and modifications to the OS I have done already — all of that feels too much hassle right now. ASUS has done admirable job in preparing so nice a package to the market in this price. Mechanical construction is solid, keyboard is very good, touchpad also ok, and it is easy to compare this e.g. to Macbook Air, even while I personally would not want to move into using the Mac OS. So, to conclude: small laptop that feels just right for me, right now. An interesting learning and testing environment.
The interesting new book, Lukemisen tavat – lukeminen sosiaalisen median aikakaudella – has come out; good new data and readings about the changing character of reading. You can download the book free as a PDF from: http://tampub.uta.fi/handle/10024/66381.
I just placed an order for Asus Vivobook X202E – a small and affordable, touchscreen-enabled Windows 8 mini-laptop. This will be an upgrade to the Samsung N220 netbook I got in March 2010. Windows 8 does not make much sense without touchscreen, and it’s success will be related to how fast people will move to hybrid, touch-enabled paradigm. Working (at home) with the Vivobook should provide opportunity for some experimentation. Its battery is not good enough for serious on-the-road use, but for home it should be ok, we will see…
X202E is not a high-end device, but if you update the touchpad driver and do a few other tweaks, it should be enough for most things. There are good tips in the Amazon.com reviews: http://www.amazon.com/VivoBook-X202E-DH31T-11-6-Inch-Touch-Laptop/product-reviews/B009F1I1C4/
To say something positive for a change, the single feature that really has impressed me in the new Vaio Z is how fast it wakes up from the sleep mode. Sony advertises this “Rapid Wake + Eco” functionality as an environmental issue (I think it functions like the regular Hibernate function), and the advertised 2 second wake up time really feels to be true. More: http://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/csr/SonyEnvironment/products/lineup/VAIO-Z.html
Sony video ad about the Rapid Wake:
My Raspberry Pi had arrived while I was at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit, and I got finally some hours to test drive it. As far as contemporary PC hardware goes, RPi is of course seriously underpowered little plaything. On the other hand, when you compare it with to some other devices (like smartphones, embedded systems), it does not look so bad. The principal reason for its development should also be taken into account (promoting computer literacy, encouraging tinkering with hardware and software tools, helping kids learn to code). I have been looking for some time for an affordable and functional HTPC system for serving media in our living room, and thus my first test drive involved setting up RPi as a media center PC. The Raspian “wheezy” distro that they recommend on the Raspberry Pi Foundation website was too slow and unresponsive for my taste to do anything. I tried also Raspbmc version of XBMC media center, but I could not get it to install any addons at all. So finally I did find a place that instructed how to install OpenElec, an embedded operating system that has been built to run XBMC – from a Windows PC (http://www.squirrelhosting.co.uk/hosting-blog/hosting-blog-info.php?id=9). Now XBMC was getting online, updating itself and installing addons nicely. It also booted up decently in c. 20-40 seconds.
It turned out that the major issue for me finally was a network infrastructure related one: we did not have a LAN socket in the corner where our TV set is situated. I tried to learn about WiFi USB dongles that could run out of the box, plug-and-play style with the OpenElec/XBMC, but it would had been necessary to know the exact version of chipset and firmware to make sure whether the USB dongle in question would work, so I decided to stay with the wired Internet/Ethernet connection instead, and added another layer to the (rather instesting) network topology of our home by setting up a Powerline Ethernet bridge (using two Zyxel PLA4215 units). While I was at it, I also got a powered USB 2.0 hub (a basic Belkin thing) and wireless keyboard-touchpad combo for comfortable sofa-based media surfing. The latter was a Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400, which is a rattling, plastic thing, but has two important benefits for me: (a) it is cheap, (b) it has an inconspicuous power switch hidden on the side. Anyone with one or two (or, indeed, three) hyperactive toddlers in the house can witness why these are good things. I have already e.g. a broken Logitech diNovo Edge lying around somewhere. Surprisingly, everything seemed to work after a couple of system reboots.
As to the actual use of the OpenElec/XBMC/Raspberry Pi system, I have not yet much experience to share. I can say that the software is still buggy and occasionally rather slow. It is difficult to say what the system is doing when the playback or a menu does not open immediately, whether it is buffering data or whatever is going on. Attempting to stop the playback of a HD video file can suddenly jam the whole system to a complete halt. But yes, I can play music, videos and watch photos in a full HD screen from multiple sources, from both local network and from various online services in a more or less satisfactory manner. There seems to be much potential and room to explore further in this surprising little system. One can only hope that the energy of the community does not die out, but the development of software continues far beyond this early stage. It is, after all, really early in the evolution of Raspberry Pi ecosystem, as some developers have not yet even received the unit they are waiting for. Much of the OS distributions and applications are thus more at ‘alpha’ rather than even ‘beta’ stage at this point. But taken that, this is really entertaining little playground to experiment with, and to fool around.