Categories
Devices

Jamboard and Surface Studio are hints of our future tech

Have you seen Jamboard yet? Future tech, particularly interfaces with our data, fascinates me. I love the visions we see coming from the likes of Corning and Microsoft’s research teams.

Many of the visions look like something right out of the Star Trek reboot movie series and we could well see that as our reality in the coming years. Two new devices bring those visions a little closer.

Google just launched a product called Jamboard which looks like a step in this direction, for sure. Jamboard is a step forward for team collaboration and data interfaces but it is still rooted in our current, clunky interfaces.

Watch the video from about 01:00 in and you see what I mean. As progressive as the interface seems, the moment you see a person pushing this big screen on wheels with a power cable out of one room and into another, you can see the limitations of the technology right away.

By contrast, take a look at this 2012 Corning video titled “A Day Made of Glass 2: Same Day. Expanded Corning Vision”. Sure, the future tech in the Corning video is probably still some way away in our future but the interfaces are far more fluid and portable.

Jamboard looks terrific. I like the design and I am very curious about it’s capabilities and whether it can support remote teams. At the same time it seems a lot like the enterprise Google Goggles of 2016/2017. It feels very much like an intermediary technology designed to test real-life use cases and inform the design of the next thing.

On the other hand, just look at Microsoft’s latest release: Surface Studio. Isn’t this even closer to Microsoft’s own vision of our future tech? Leaving aside that the Surface studio looks a lot like a really big iPad or slimmer iMac, I love the interfaces in this video:

Realising these future tech visions will probably require big steps forward in high-bandwidth data availability; ubiquitous and smarter interfaces along with a new generation of highly capable and multi-modal devices.

I have little doubt this is on our horizon and both products like Jamboard and Surface Studio, along with visions from the likes of Corning and Microsoft are really exciting peeks of what may lie ahead for us.

Categories
Applications Useful stuff

The Evernote Cloud is moving to Google

Evernote published a post last week announcing that the Evernote Cloud is going to migrate to the Google Cloud Platform. It probably isn’t going to make a significant difference to the average user (well, except if it means the service is faster and more stable).

That said, one paragraph caught my interest:

In addition to scale, speed, and stability, Google will also give Evernote access to some of the same deep-learning technologies that power services like translation, photo management, and voice search. We look forward to taking advantage of these technologies to help you more easily connect your ideas, search for information in Evernote, and find the right note at the moment you need it. That’s exciting to us, and we’re already exploring some ideas that we think you’ll love.

Whenever I think about the features I’d like to see in Evernote, a couple often come to mind:

  • translation; and
  • better search and discoverability.

I don’t know how Google’s capabilities would be incorporated into Evernote in future versions but I can already see how some sort of Google Translate integration could be enormously useful to me.

I don’t use Evernote for simple text notes. I use it to capture and store information for reference purposes. I have all sorts of data in Evernote including:

  • Utility bills;
  • Articles on work-related themes that I may want to reference later;
  • School information for our kids (class schedules, consent forms and so on);
  • Briefs for work projects that expand as projects develop; and more.

More and more of the stuff I capture into Evernote is in Hebrew because, well, we live in Israel and virtually all of our interactions with our kids’ school, utility providers and government is in Hebrew. My Hebrew is improving, just really slowly.

Unfortunately it doesn’t always keep up with my day-to-day needs so having the ability to translate stuff in Evernote will be really helpful! My wife doesn’t use Evernote so I also keep copies of most of our stuff in shared Google Drive folders and often use Google Docs to translate letters we get from the school. It works for the most part so I can see how this capability would be really useful in Evernote too.

My Evernote notebooks are a little cluttered and I have over 25 000 notes. The search function is usually fine but a bit of machine intelligence could make it a lot easier to find stuff I’ve buried in my notebooks.

As for photo management and voice search … well, that could be interesting. Major updates tend to come along fairly slowly and I guess we’ll have to see what happens in the future.

Image credit: Evernote, licensed CC BY-ND 2.0

Categories
Applications Semantic Web

Instapaper sold to Pinterest – at first I was afraid

The news that Instapaper sold to Pinterest shocked me from my early evening domestic routine. At first, it seemed like a mistake. It didn’t even seem like something that could happen but, sure enough, there was a tweet to confirm it:

As I read the blog post, I forced myself to slow down so I wouldn’t miss some vital detail about the fate of my favourite “read it later” app. It was all a bit of a blur, I just couldn’t believe it was happening.

The key paragraph was this one, the rest of the post was mostly filed for later analysis:

For you, the Instapaper end user and customer, nothing changes. The Instapaper team will be moving from betaworks in New York City to Pinterest’s headquarters in San Francisco, and we’ll continue to make Instapaper a great place to save and read articles.

Of course, Pinboard’s Maciej Ceglowski was in typical form with a series of sarcastic tweets about the sale that included a hefty dose of “I told you so” (as you would expect). He made a few good points that concerned me more than a little and prompted me to think more about my investment in Instapaper:

So far, more “I told you so”. And then he raised an issue I hadn’t thought much about:

This next one worried me …

… until someone replied with this:

Abandon ship?

The way the conversation was going, you’d think the Instapaper service was being shut down.

I’ll admit, I jumped to that horrible conclusion. I’ve seen many services that I loved and used just shut down out of the blue or languish after a bad acquisition.

Still, I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.

Instapaper’s CEO, Brian Donohue challenged Ceglowski’s suggestion that Instapaper was in financial dire straits and inspired enough hope to move beyond the panic and start assessing the news more rationally.

Straight and true

Marketing Land published an article that pointed out how this acquisition could actually make a lot of sense. In his article titled “How buying Instapaper could help Pinterest become a media portal like Facebook”, Tim Peterson highlighted the synergies between the two services:

People use Pinterest and Instapaper for similar reasons. The similarity is almost too close for the deal to make sense. Pinterest started out as a way for people to collect content from around the web for themselves and others to check out later. At first, people were mainly saving images, but they’ve also started saving articles, to the point that Pinterest considers that “a core use case.” But saving articles is the same reason people use Instapaper — its “core use case,” if you will. So why would Pinterest buy a company whose product largely duplicates its own?

It’s a fair question and, as Peterson suggests, this could be more about putting two similar services together and using the Instapaper team’s know-how to improve Pinterest. For now, at least, Instapaper doesn’t seem to be at risk of vanishing. According to Peterson:

Instapaper’s service will remain available post-acquisition, and Pinterest has no plans to put ads in Instapaper, according to a Pinterest spokesperson.

Still, so soon after the news I panicked and downloaded Pocket to my iPad. I have an IFTTT recipe running that adds stories I save to Instapaper to my Pocket queue so I wouldn’t lose much if Instapaper inexplicably vanished.

I also created a series of IFTTT recipes that captured my Instapaper notes and highlights into MultiMarkdown-formatted notes after the Great Pinboard Shock of 2016 so I wouldn’t lose too much of that data either.

The big loss, to me, would be the loss of an app that I use daily and really enjoy using. Pocket could be an acceptable replacement (I used Pocket regularly for a while before I decided to switch back to Instapaper). While I’d lose some functionality if I had to switch, switching would be more a matter of installing the various Pocket extensions and apps.

Will Pinterest be a good steward for Instapaper and give the team the tools it needs to keep making Instapaper better? I hope so. Ultimately, if it all goes badly, there are other options. If Pocket doesn’t capture my affection, I could always switch to Evernote even though the reading experience isn’t even close. I’m getting ahead of myself.

For the time being, I don’t need to (or want to) change anything. I pay for my Instapaper subscription for a year at a time and, assuming the service will continue operating as promised, I can keep doing what I’ve been doing (after a quick backup of my links).

Categories
Events and Life Wellbeing

I am now an insulin-dependent Diabetic and that’s ok

I haven’t written about my journey with Diabetes for a while and I thought I’d share some updates because my Diabetes has changed. I am now an insulin-dependent Diabetic but that is ok. Well, it is now but it wasn’t when I made the transition.

The reason why I want to share this post is because I really struggled to find other people’s stories about their experiences with Diabetes which I could relate to. Perhaps my experiences will be helpful to someone else who is going through something similar.

It is scary when your body changes and your Diabetes progresses/deteriorates. It is especially so when you can’t peg it to a particular cause. It helps to know that other people have been through (and are going through) what you are dealing with.

Background

So, as you may know, I was diagnosed as a Type 2 Diabetic a few years ago. It was a shock, initially, but I realised that it was actually a blessing. Before I was diagnosed I was way overweight and not doing much about it.

My journey with Diabetes … so far

Two of the ways I started to take control of my condition were to eat healthier and to exercise more often. I shed about 20kgs of fat in my first year or so and I’ve managed to stabilise at a much healthier weight.

My levels were pretty stable until about December 2015 when something went wrong and my Diabetes deteriorated/progressed (I’m never really sure whether to describe it as a deterioration or a progression – Diabetes is a progressive condition, it will become more advanced over time).

When it all changed

We’re (me and my doctor) aren’t sure what caused the change but my blood glucose levels started to rise dramatically in mid to late December. The main factor that comes to mind is that I was pretty sick. I developed a chest infection that was about a day away from pneumonia (before I saw my doctor and started medication). Getting sick always pushes up my blood glucose levels so I initially ignored the spike when I saw it in my routine self-tests.

That was my first mistake.

Tip: Do your tests regularly, even if you know something is distorting the results.

When my high levels persisted and I still felt sick, I started testing less frequently. I just attributed the high levels to my illness.

This is called “compounding” my first mistake.

Tip: Keep testing regularly so you have consistent data for later.

Then, after I recovered and my high levels persisted, I decided that my tester must be faulty and procrastinated dealing with it for a couple weeks. In the meantime, my levels continued climbing while I focused more on improving my diet.

This was my second mistake.

Tip: Focusing on your diet is great but don’t procrastinate seeking help if you notice a problem. Go talk to your doctor, even if you feel like your habits created the problem.

Although the shock forced me back into a more disciplined diet, it took me far too long to go to my doctor and confess my neglect and seek help. To my credit, I even took a notepad and made notes, determined to fix My Problem and Return to Controlled Diabetes.

The change

My doctor referred me to a specialist (again) and told me to go have blood tests done and my feet examined. Why my feet? Well, one of the warning signs of poor control is peripheral neuropathy – loss of sensation in your extremities, like your toes. That leads to toes and other parts of your body being deprived of blood and falling off. It isn’t the fun part of Diabetes (there aren’t many).

My HbA1c blood test series confirmed my fears. My blood glucose levels had risen dramatically. My spot blood glucose test put me at 258mg/dl – the upper end of the normal range is 140mg/dl. My HbA1c put me at 8.4%. My levels should be under 6.0% or so. The HbA1c is one of the key metrics for Diabetes control which I clearly lacked.

My doctor decided it was time to change my medication. I was previously on a dose of Metformin, twice a day. It was a slightly increased dose but otherwise roughly the same medication I had been on since I was first diagnosed. The change was to switch me over to a pill called Januet which combines 50mg of insulin with the Metformin, twice a day.

When my doctor mentioned adding insulin it scared me. I don’t like needles at all and the prospect of injecting myself wasn’t a happy one. Fortunately, there was a pill option for me!

For some reason my condition progressed/deteriorated to the point where I now needed insulin to control my Diabetes. Initially the Januet was a sort of test run. The idea was to monitor my levels and see if they came back down to a normal range on the new medication. If they did, the new medication would become part of my new treatment regime.

My blood glucose test results over time

Taking steps to regain control

That was a reality check for me and it reminded me of the importance of doing my self-tests regularly, even if I don’t like what I see. The point is to be aware of the problems because that awareness is your first step towards addressing them.

Managing Diabetes isn’t just about the medication although that can be critical. I noticed that my blood glucose levels rose on the days when I ran out of my Januet and returned to just Metformin. I am insulin-dependent and that means that, given my current lifestyle, I need the insulin to stabilise my blood glucose levels. Period.

Something else that makes a noticeable difference is exercise. My mother visited us in April and we did a lot of walking during one of the weeks she was here. On an average weekday I walk around 5 to 6 kilometres. When we were on holiday with her and touring locally, we walked 8 to 11 kilometres. I noticed that all that walking helped bring my levels down, usually to below 120.

Another big realisation was how much of an impact stress can have on my blood glucose levels. It can cause a huge bump in my levels.

What Diabetes taught me about work stress

Where I am now and where I am heading

Diabetes isn’t a disease although living with it can be challenging. It is easy to pick up bad habits and eat the food you know you shouldn’t. I also noticed that my body has less of a tolerance for carbohydrates and eating more than a little pasta and bread can really push my levels up. We have switched to wholewheat breads and pastas but even those seem to be problematic so I tend to avoid them.

Walk more

My morning routine has changed a little since I wrote about it just over two months ago. I now start work at 7am instead of 6:30am and that means that I miss the bus I used to take to the train station. The positive side of that is that I have to walk to the station. That, of course, means more exercise every week day.

Unfortunately I spend most of my working day sitting and that isn’t good for me (or anyone). I put my back out in the holidays and sitting every day probably delayed my recovery by about a week too. I try make a point of getting up and going for a walk out the office for a bit every day. I don’t always do remember to do that, though.

Get out of the office more often

I do make a point of leaving the office for lunch, though. I understand why many companies offer their employees food. They want to keep employees close to their workstations so they can eat and get back to work. I don’t think that is particularly healthy and, if anything, I need to leave the office for lunch just to give my mind a break and get some outside air. It helps a lot with work stress too.

This morning I tested myself: 121. I’ve managed to stabilise my levels in the last two months or so and just need to remain vigilant and disciplined to maintain that. I plan on living a long time and I am constantly reminded of the importance of taking better care of myself as I grow older.

It’s a work-in-progress

I am due to do another set of blood tests in the next week or so, along with my long overdue feet examination. Being Diabetic is very much a work-in-progress but, on balance, it has been a positive thing for me and my family. I am in better condition than I was in the years before my diagnosis and that is just going to be increasingly important in the years and decades to come.

As I wrote in the beginning of this post, I wanted to share my experiences in case there are other Diabetics who are going through something similar. There is a lot of information about Diabetes on the Web but I haven’t seen many stories from Diabetics who face challenges I can relate to. Perhaps my experiences will help someone who is going through something similar and isn’t too sure what to make of it all. It can be scary when your body changes like this.

Image credit: Pixabay

Categories
Mindsets Policy issues Politics and government Social Web

PRISM, Data Driven Marketing and Why Transparency Is Essential

Revelations about the American surveillance program called PRISM have been astounding, not so much because we have discovered that the US government has been spying on, well, everyone both within the United States and internationally, but because of the sheer scale of the program. This story initially broke on The Guardian when Glenn Greenwald reported that the US National Security Agency was collecting information on Verizon customers (Verizon is one of the US mobile networks) –

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

This was followed by a report by the Washington Post about a much broader surveillance and data mining program –

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.

James Allworth, in his article titled “Your Smartphone Works for the Surveillance State” drew a number of parallels between PRISM and the East German Stasi police which used a previously unprecedented network of informers and secret police officers to spy on East German citizens before the Berlin wall fell. One of the more interesting statements from lawmakers defending the program was quoted from the New York Times in Allworth’s article –

The defense of this practice offered by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who as chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee is supposed to be preventing this sort of overreaching, was absurd. She said on Thursday that the authorities need this information in case someone might become a terrorist in the future.

Of course this idea goes, in part, to the right to be presumed innocent and to an array of protections that relate to this presumption of innocence and a respect for a citizen’s privacy. President Obama commented in a press conference that the program was not being used to monitor US citizens, only people living outside the United States. This turns out to be false and emphasises the fact that everyone is exposed to this program and our use of social services on the Web only exacerbates the extent to which people’s privacy is being disregarded, seemingly indiscriminately. We are horrified at the extent to which former East German citizens were subjected to intense and pervasive scrutiny and yet the scale at which modern governments do the same thing far exceeds the Stasi’s hopes. As Allworth points out –

And yet, here we are. In terms of the capability to listen to, watch and keep tabs on what its citizens are doing, the East German government could not possibly have dreamed of achieving what the United States government has managed to put in place today.

At the same time, we are complicit. We generate tremendous amounts of data about our lives and publish this data on the social Web where it can be accessed and analysed –

Think about the proportion of our lives that are undertaken online and digitally. Every tweet, every interaction on Facebook, every photo on Instagram. You search for directions with a myriad of online mapping options. You check in your location on Foursquare. You review restaurants you’ve visited on Yelp. You speak to people all over the world using Skype. Every time you have a question, you type it into Google, or perhaps ask it on Quora. An increasing amount of your purchases are conducted on eBay or Amazon. You back up your laptop to the cloud. Almost everything you listen to or read is there too, or in iTunes. And while you might scoff at these as something that only early adopters use, even late adopters of digital technologies leave behind an incredibly detailed trail of their lives. Every minute you spend on the phone; in fact, every minute you carry it around in your pocket; every email you write; every instant message you send. Every transaction that passes through your credit card is recorded.

One perspective on this is probably fairly represented in Owen Swart’s comment on my post to Google+ this morning:

If I were a US citizen, and the NSA had half as much data on me as Google does, they’d be able to use that data to make a conclusive determination that I am not a person of interest… to anyone. Even my friends wouldn’t be interested in reading my emails. Most people’s lives aren’t interesting.

And if I were the sort of person the NSA were interested in, I should probably be locked up before I flew a plane into a building anyway… my privacy be damned.

I agree with him, to a point. As far as we are aware, these programs are intended to identify and track criminals and if we are living relatively honest lives, we probably need not be too concerned about our activities being tracked, stored and analysed. The problem is that these programs are typically opaque to public scrutiny. To quote Allworth again –

Now, if this was an ideological principle — a deep and profound belief in transparency, and the disinfecting power of sunlight — then, again, at least it would be understandable. But it’s not that, either. Simultaneously, while doing everything it can to watch you, the government is taking another page out of the East German playbook — doing everything it can to stop you from watching it.

Bringing this closer to home, we are still debating the Protection of State Information Bill which was recently passed by Parliament and is awaiting the President’s signature. It is likely still unconstitutional despite changes made to the Bill (read Pierre De Vos’ thoughts on this here). Irrespective of whether the so-called Secrecy Bill passes constitutional muster, the real challenge here in South Africa, as it appears to be in the United States, is an underlying culture of “secrecy” and a severe allergy to transparency even though improved transparency would introduce a much needed counter-balance to this increased scrutiny by governments.

On a related point, I read an article by Michael Schrage titled “When Digital Marketing Gets Too Creepy” which highlights a similar trend in the commercial world. This article focuses on how brands are using increasingly detailed collections of personal information about their customers to customise their experiences. This is the value we, as consumers, receive in exchange for disclosing our personal information and preferences but this question Schrage asks, presupposes that this is beneficial. On balance, I think it is but it does come with quite a hefty price: we essentially forgo privacy as a form of secrecy and we move closer to what Jeff Jarvis referred to as “radical transparency” in his book, Public Parts, in which he explores the benefits of greater publicity as opposed to secrecy (a counterpoint to Jarvis’ arguments is Andrew Keen’s book, Digital Vertigo).

The problem we face, whether it be from government programs like PRISM, legislation like the Secrecy Bill or marketing initiatives driven by more and more personal information which we disclose on a daily basis as we share our lives on the social Web is that we have limited control over the personal information we disclose (probably none once it enters national security databases) and we have even less insights into the many ways our personal information is being collected, used and the conclusions that are being drawn about us as a result. Wide ranging programs collecting our data to prevent terrorism, crime or irrelevant ads have their merits but until we are empowered to make informed choices about those programs, we may as well be back in East Germany or Apartheid South Africa and subject to the whims of over-reaching politicians who have forgotten the old adage that “with great power, comes great responsibility”.

Categories
Mobile Tech Useful stuff

How to enable the Personal Hotspot in iOS on Cell C

I tweeted Cell C a while ago and asked about enabling the personal hotspot feature on my iPad. I bought the R1 299 pre-paid offer where you get 24GB over a 12 month period (2GB per month with no rollover). I bought this because the price is really good compared to contract data prices (I previously had a secondary SIM on my MTN contract in my iPad and I used a lot of data and my bill was enormous) and because I wanted a backup for our office ADSL which is erratic (Telkom can’t give us stable and decent connections). My plan for the office is to switch my iPad’s personal hotspot on when needed. Unfortunately when I looked for the option in my iPad’s settings after installing the SIM, the option wasn’t there.

This presented a challenge because I couldn’t do one of the things I wanted the SIM for so I waited for Cell C to get back to me. This morning I was chatting to Reyaan Boltman this morning on Twitter and did a little Googling and found the answer in this article on MyBroadBand. This article prompted me to check out the data settings on the Cell C site and I figured it out from there. The problem on my side is that I had no APN (access point) details in my settings but didn’t think much of it because my device was connected to the network. The iPad needs those settings to enable the personal hotspot. Before I get to that, it is important to note that only the iPad 3 and iPhone 4 (onwards) running iOS5 and up support personal hotspots!

First, go to your Mobile Data settings:

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Type “internet” into both APN fields in your iPad (the iPhone will probably have similar fields):

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When you type in the details, tap in the next field before moving on to the next item or going back to main settings. I typed in the APN details on the one field and immediately went back to Settings and it didn’t stick. Tapping in another field seems to work a bit like “Enter” and captures the new setting. From there, go back to General and then select “Network”:

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It may take a few moments but you should see the Personal Hotspot option appear (you may need to have your iPad on mobile data, as opposed to WiFi, for the device to pick up on the new settings – guessing at this).

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Categories
Mobile Tech Useful stuff

Wolfram Alpha app can tell you if it rained at your grandparents' wedding

Wolfram Personal Apps - Genealogy & History Research Assistant

I just came across this awesome Wolfram Alpha Personal Assistant app: the Genealogy & History Research Assistant. It helps you find a wealth of information and data associated with your family history. I was hoping the app would also let me build the family tree but it doesn’t do that. Instead, it answers a number of questions including the one I always struggle with: what relation my grandfather’s brother’s grandson is to me?

my grandfather's brother's grandson - Wolfram|Alpha

This app is a goldmine for anyone interested in historical, geographical, meteorological and other data associated with a family history. It is also one of a number of personal, professional, reference (if you are a word game player, you have to check out the Words app) and course assistant (a variety of maths and science apps – to be a kid in school with an iPhone, oh man!) apps. This stuff is awesome, I could spend a lot of money on these apps. You should check them out.