Yoga 510, Signature Edition

2017-07-30 18.39.57At home, I have been setting up and testing a new, dual-boot Win10/Linux system. Lenovo Yoga 510 is a budget-class, two-in-one device that I am currently setting up as a replacement for my old Vivobook (unfortunately, it has a broken power plug/motherboard, now). Technical key specs (510-14ISK, 80S70082MX model, Signature Edition) include an Intel i5-6200U processor (a 2,30-2,80 GHz Skylake model), Intel HD Graphics 520 graphics, 4 GB of DDR4 memory, 128 GB SSD, IPS Full HD (1920 x 1080) 14″ touch-screen display, and a Synaptics touchpad and a backlit keyboard. There is a WiFi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac) and Bluetooth 4.0. Contrasted to some other, thinner and lighter devices, this one has a nice set of connectors: one USB 2.0, two USB 3.0 ports (no Thunderbolt, though). There is also a combo headphone/mic jack, Harman branded speakers, a memory card slot (SD, SDHC, SDXC, MMC), 720p webcam, and a HDMI connector. There is also a small hidden “Novo Button”, which is needed to get to the BIOS settings.

This is a last-year model (there is already a “Yoga 520” with Kaby Lake chips available), and I got a relatively good deal from Gigantti store (499 euros). (Edit. I forgot to mention this has also a regular, full size wired gigabit ethernet port, which is also nice.)

The strong points (as contrasted to my trusty old Vivobook, that is) are: battery life, which according to my experience and Lenovo promises is over eight hours of light use. The IPS panel is not the best I have seen (MS Surface Pro has really excellent display), but it is still really good as compared to the older, TN panels. Multi-touch also operates pretty well, even if the touchpad is not so much to my taste (its feel is a bit ‘plasticky’, and it uses inferior Synaptics drivers as contrasted to the “precision touchpads”, which send raw data directly to Windows to handle).

2017-08-01 19.21.39The high point of Lenovo Thinkpad laptops has traditionally been their keyboards. This Yoga model is not one of the professional Thinkpad line, but the keyboard is rather good, as compared to the shallow, non responsive keyboards that seem to be the trend these days. The only real problem is the non-standard positioning of up-arrow/PageUp and RightShift keys – it is really maddening to write, and while touch-typing every Right-Shift press produces erroneous keypress that moves the cursor up (potentially e.g. moving focus to “Send Email” rather than to typing, as I have already witnessed). But this can sort of be fixed by use of KeyTweak or similar tool, which can be used to remap these two keys to other way around. Not optimal, but a small nuisance, really.

2017-07-30 18.41.48Installing dual boot Ubuntu requires the usual procedures (disabling Secure Boot, fast startup, shrinking the Windows partition, etc.), but in the end Linux runs on this Lenovo laptop really well. The touch screen and all special keys I have tested work flawlessly right after the standard Ubuntu 17.04 installation, without any gimmicky hacking. Having a solid (bit heavy though) laptop with a 14-inch touch-enabled, 360 degree rotating screen, and which can be used without issues in the most recent versions of both Windows 10 and Linux is a rather nice thing. Happy with this, at the moment.

New Touran: The Era of AI-Human Hybrids Is Here?

2016-04-01 14.58.26Due to some practical reasons, we had to update our personal car this spring. Our previous car was a VW Touran that we got in 2011 (when it was necessary for us to fit three kids or baby seats into the back row – Touran is among those very few cars that are sold in Finland that can handle this). Volkswagen’s reputation got really badly tarnished in the pollution cheating scandal in 2015, and it took us some time to consider our options. Finally we nevertheless ended up with a Touran again – there are just too few car models that get right most of the essential specs that our family needs, in the price range we still can afford. There has been some interesting changes in how cars – or at least this particular, German car model – have evolved during the five years that have passed between spring 2011 and 2016, so here are some quick notes.

Firstly: it is a bit disappointing to notice that the fuel economy, climate control or energy consumption elements of Touran have not apparently been at the top priority of VW’s R&D efforts. The excellent TSI motor of VW group has been around for a long time already (I think 1.4 liter TSI was introduced in 2005), and it was ahead of its curve at the time; the emissions were clearly lower than comparable other petrol motors, the power efficiency was so good that VW could make family cars / MPVs (multipurpose vehicles/minivans) that could be moved with 1.4 or 1.2 liter petrol motor. Coupled with the DSG automatic, VW cars have been easy to drive and provide balanced behaviour with well designed interiors that fit need of families with flexible, separate seat arrangements that can fold completely flat when moving cargo of various kinds – all this kind of details help to explain their success. The 2016 Touran model differs from our previous 1.4 TSI model by delivering a bit more power with same cylinders (150 vs. 140 horse powers) and it also has the start/stop system that automatically switches off the motor when the car is stopped in traffic lights, for example.

The key differences that the Touran driver notices are in the assistive, “smart systems” that have taken considerable leaps and entered regular, mainstream cars during the last five years. I am interested enough in futuristic technologies to order this Touran with most (but not all) available “smart” options; these included adaptive cruise control (ACC, utilizing a radar sensor), Front Assist, Park Assist 3.0, Side Assist Plus, Lane Assist, Emergency Assist, and the Traffic Jam Assist. There is also a Traffic Sign Regocnition system that uses camera to keep track of speed limit signs. The Discover Media infotainment system is also from a completely new era, as compared to the basic car radio we had in our 2011 Touran. This one has large capacitive touch screen, Europe-wide navigation system, support for Apple Carplay, Android Auto and MirrorLink standards for getting smartphones with their apps and services linked with the car (though I think Android Auto is not yet working here in Finland?) We also got some extra fuel economy, comfort and security services installed (DEFA WarmUp Link system, with its apps). On the other hand, the “Volkswagen Car-Net” service with its smartphone apps appears to be a work-in-progress; we have not been able to get either iOS or Android versions working at all.

After a couple of test drives, the new car does indeed seem to combine the traditional German stable driving and quality feel with a more informative and “alive” layer of new technologies. (In the mechanical parts side, though, we had a bit too stiff gas spring holding up the hood of our new Touran, so we could not get the hood closed without some expert assistance – there seems to be some holes in VW quality control.) The “operating system” of the new Touran takes considerably more effort than before to really learn and understand. There are both the mechanical controls and switches, the physical buttons in the dashboard that relate to certain key functionalities, and then the touchscreen controls that go deeper into setup of all those multiple smart assisting functions, as well as into controlling the infotainment system. (There is also Voice Control, but that is not supported in Finland/Finnish.) This car also has a multifunction steering wheel, which our old car did not have, and there are loads of more buttons now to learn in there, too. While driving, one can of course ignore most of all this new tech, and just concentrate on the essentials of traffic, but one will notice that the “Assistants” will every now and then engage with the steering, breaks or launch a warning or notice signal of some kind. If one wants to understand and make best use of all assistants, it is necessary to spend some time reading and testing to learn their abilities and also limitations. Driving in the regular country road, one could in principle use now the combination of Lane Assist to steer the car and keep it on the road, and rely on the ACC with its radars to maintain regular speed and safe distance to other road users. However, the systems will flash warning signs if you try to take your hands off the steering wheel for too long, or if you show other signs of losing control – or even consciousness: the Emergency Assist system can show the car and stop it at the side of the road warning lights flashing, if it fails to get proper response from the driver.

I think we are currently at the early stages of hybrid and symbiotic systems in everyday use, and car technology is at the forefront of this evolution. As the learning algorithms, data analytics and artificial intelligence gets better, it is clear that some things really suit better for humans to understand and decide upon, whereas the speed, sensing range and problem-solving capabilities of artificial intelligence systems suit better other kinds of challenges. Learning how to do this basic task division is the key element that a smart car (or smart house, smart environment etc.) user needs to handle first. The new Touran apparently tries to learn the driving habits of its human partner, and adapt to them – but currently I think the human is the one who needs to do more of the adapting. Smart systems are not yet that smart.

(More info, see e.g. VW pages about ACC at: http://www.volkswagen.co.uk/technology/adaptive-cruise-control-acc )

Talk in London about Hybrid Playful Experiences

I will give a talk about “Hybrid Playful Experiences – Bridging the Physical-Digital Divide” this Wednesday in London, at the Innovations for the Benefit of Packaging and Commercial Printing event. This research is related both the the ‘Hybrid Media COST Action’ (FP1104) that we collaborate with several European partners, as well as research on playfulness and hybrid experiences, carried out in such research projects of ours as Hybridex, OASIS, Ludification of Culture and Society and others. The vacation period is July in Finland, but there is still some work to do – this will be my last work trip though, before the summer vacation starts. More information about the event: http://wcpcswansea.com/events/24-06-2015/Innovations-for-the-Benefit-of-Packaging-and-Commercial-Printing#agenda .