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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Everyday tech tends to stick around...

John Brandon writes in TechRadar about tech we won't use in a decade. It's an interesting read, and some predictions seem fairly safe, but overall I don't think the times are moving that fast.

If you were already using computers a lot in 1999, the striking thing is how little things have changed since then. Maybe we weren't online all the time, but basically we used our computers in much the same way. Web-based email, IM, photo editing, computer-based video editing, etc. all existed and worked reasonably well.

Obviously I don't deny that things are improving. Syncing files between computer used to be a huge pain, and now it's just a little pain. Sharing things online is a lot easier. A home network can now be set up in less than two weeks, and it can be expected to actually work. Laptops are thinner and batteries last longer. Backupping cell-phone data on a computer isn't reserved to top coders and mad scientists anymore.

But, despite numerous predictions to the contrary, the keyboard is still there, the mouse is still there, and the basic concept of the general-purpose personal computer is still very much alive. I really doubt that this will change substantially in as little as a decade.

However, there's definitely one thing missing from the list: TV as we know it, with 100+ channels broadcasting lukewarm reruns 24h/day and a business model that requires people to tune in at 8:25 and not leave the room during commercials. There's no way that can survive another ten years.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Just In: Tasty Food Keeps You Thin

While roaming the web for news bits on the health-care reform debate in the US (which can be hysterically funny or very sad, often simultaneously) I stumbled upon a report on various health care statistics in OECD countries.

For me the most interesting part of this report was the last graph, which charts obesity levels across countries. These seem to inverse-correlate perfectly with how good I find the food there. The thinnest countries are those with either superb meat and produce (Switzerland), awesome cuisine (France), or both (Japan). The fattest are those where good food seems rare and wicked expensive (the UK and US).

Obviously this is just my own perception, but how great would it be if there was some general law hidden in there, so that each time you had a really good meal, you could tell yourself that in all likelihood it must also have been really healthy?

Friday, July 31, 2009

Black Holes are Kewwwwl

Scientists at the Israel Institute of Technology managed to create an acoustic black hole. This is pretty neat in and of itself, but the real value lies in prompting Wired to make all those lists of things they want to throw at it ;-)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

When in doubt, shout louder

I've heard many people say confidently that even in doubt, it's better to act overconfident, because :
  • Who knows, maybe you're right.

  • If not, by the time people find out, they'll have forgotten all about you.

  • Even those who remember will eventually forgive you.

  • Nobody trusts honest, nuanced, fact-based and qualified opinions.

Well, this statement is now supported by honest, nuanced, fact-based and qualified scientific research.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What's in the bag?

This morning I had the privilege of speaking at the GeoWeb conference in sunny Vancouver. The conference looks again very promising, but that is not my subject today. Rather, I am writing about what I did before arriving in Vancouver: just to make this trip a bit more challenging, I decided to fly in a little early, visit Seattle and Victoria, go hiking in Olympic National Park, and try to take a few interesting pictures along the way.

If you've ever done any backpacking, you might spot a little logistics challenge here: I need enough photo gear for serious pictures, enough camping gear to survive a few days in the wild, and clothes that won't look entirely out of place at the conference. Obviously I'll be flying in and out, and once there I'll travel only on foot and public transport, as I'm allergic to cars, so I can't take more than I can comfortably carry on my back for days on end. Not trivial.

Below is my solution: everything I'm packing plus the bags I'm carrying it in, photographed and listed in no particular order. If you've ever had to sit on your suitcase to close it, or felt miserable carrying too much stuff on a long trip, I hope you'll find a few useful things in there.

  • One body, two lenses

  • Spare battery, charger

  • 7x 4GB CF Cards

  • 2x 500GB portable hard drive

  • Laptop, USB hub, VGA and AC adapters

  • Cell phone

  • Wallet, passport

  • Tripod with ball-head and leveling base

  • Day pack: unpadded messenger bag (shown rolled)

  • Sleeping bag, liner, sleeping pad

  • Bivy

  • Lots of garbage bags and ziplock bags

  • Tarp

  • First aid kit

  • Towel

  • Rope, compass, knife/multi-tool, spork, headlamp, water purification tablets...

  • Maps, guide book and Carl Sagan's Demon-Haunted World

  • 2x water bottle

  • Hiking outfit (shell pants + long-sleeved shirt)

  • Town outfit (Slightly classier pants + long-sleeved shirt. Although it doesn't look like one, this is technically also a hiking outfit, and is very comfortable in a variety of conditions.)

  • Spare long-sleeved shirt

  • Light socks

  • Heavy socks

  • Underwear

  • Swimsuit

  • Fleece top

  • Rain jacket

  • Rain pants

  • Hiking shoes (not shown)

  • Hiking poles (not shown)

  • Backpack to hold all of this in

By the way, I am not listing exact model references because I think the general equipment choices are a lot more important than the precise models and brands bought. However, if anyone's interested in exactly what those items are and the rationale behind them I'll be glad to add that information.

The backpack is a 75+10 liters model, definitely on the roomy side although larger ones certainly exist. On planes and city trips, the day pack holds my wallet, passport, photo gear and laptop, while everything else goes inside the backpack. While hiking, I'm using the trekking poles and the tripod gets lashed to the exterior of the backpack, freeing enough space to empty the day pack inside it and carry everything in reasonable comfort -- or at least that was the plan. I'll post a follow-up in a few days about how well it all worked.

'til then, I'll be thinking of my next walk in the woods...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

For web browsers, the future is now

Author's note: I just uncovered a draft of this post, which was written during Safari 4's public beta. It was almost finished, but for some reason I had forgotten all about it. Since it is just as (ir)relevant today as it was then, I'm publishing it now.

Yesterday I read this in a mail from Agile Web Solutions, makers of the beloved 1Password:
Last week Apple released a new Beta of Safari 4 and I’m blown away by how great it is! While it will take some time to get used to the new tabs, I’m very excited about the new features, especially the ability to resize images when zooming the page.

It seems every other year or so I hear someone gushing about how their favourite browser's new version sports some amazing innovative new feature, and each time it's something Opera has had since the nineties. There must be some kind of fundamental law at work here, and I am sure careful analysis of Opera's changelog would yield an accurate timetable of future "innovations" in other browsers. Obviously, "careful research" is way too much work for me, but this being a blog I am allowed to just make it all up. So today, I proudly present you with the future of web browsers:


  • Safari now seamlessly saves open tabs on exit and restores them on restart

  • In Firefox, cmd-z reopens just-closed tabs


  • At Macworld, Apple announces Safari will support mouse gestures "in a future version"

  • Firefox drops the "you are about to close x open tabs" dialog box

  • The major browsers finally figure out the right implementation of History-Back on sites that use POST requests


  • Internet Explorer 9 has a "downloads" window that is not entirely useless

  • Safari now remembers which filetypes to open (and with which application) and which filetypes to save (and where)

  • Firefox finds a way to save passwords without making them readable by anyone who happens to walk by the computer


  • All major browsers now support unified full-text search of bookmarks, history and the web, all from the address field

  • Internet Explorer gets keyboard navigation so good that using a mouse at all is entirely optional

  • Firefox gets auto-fill that works with more than one account per site

  • History in Safari becomes vaguely usable


  • IE's new popup blocker gives you more than .6 seconds to react when you *do* want a popup to open

  • Firefox now requires only three clicks to download all links from a web page (eg. an ftp index page)

  • Safari offers bookmarks syncing across computers. For free.

And finally, circa 2029

  • Mozilla presents Firefox 17, the first version to require less than a dozen plug-ins to be any good

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Top Ten Digital Photography Tips

I've been meaning to write a list of "tips for better pictures" for a while, but this is about as good as it gets, so I think I'll pass:

David Pogue's "Top Ten Tip of All Time" for Digital Photography

My top three would be: get closer, force flash off in low light, force flash on under harsh sunlight. Obviously this list was meant for digicams, and some things change when one upgrades to a DSLR, so maybe I'll write up that list at some point.

Friday, February 6, 2009

What camera should I buy?

You're interested in photography, and you want to buy a serious camera that will not only take good pictures but also help you learn this craft and remain a useful tool as you improve. If you're the kind of person who absolutely has to know everything and can't stand to have anything but "the best", I suggest you go over these review sites, read every single article they have and make your own opinion. On the other hand, if you have anything remotely approaching a life, you might be better of following the decision chart below. This way you'll chose your camera in three minutes, leaving you with all your remaining life minus 180 seconds to actually learn to take great photos — a much more rewarding experience.

(*) "passionate" really is terribly inappropriate here, but I couldn't think of a better word, so please indulge me in redefining this term for the sake of this chart. What I mean by someone being "passionate" is that he's the kind of photographer who would benefit from owning lots of gear, and is motivated enough that one day he will. By that definition, Henri-Cartier Bresson was *not* a passionate photographer. Rather fittingly, he rarely used Canon nor Nikon cameras. In case you're in doubt, if you answer "yes" to any or all of the following questions, you're probably "passionate":

  • You fully expect that at some point in the future you'll own more than three lenses.

  • You're interested in technically challenging photography, e.g.: concert photography, (indoor) sports, wildlife, birds, all of the above.

  • You plan vacations to maximise photographic opportunities.

  • You'd like to try taking unusual photos, e.g. of very small objects or with Fisheye or Tilt/Shift lenses.

  • You actually know what Fisheye and T/S lenses are, or if you don't you plan on looking them up on Google as soon as you're done here.

So here it is! If you're currently on the market for your first (serious) camera I hope you find this chart useful. If you've already made that decision and have anything to say about any of the above, I'd really like to hear from you. In both cases, the comment form is there for you. Enjoy!