Winner of Best Design at SWEdinburgh

Team Yavaly at SWEdinburgh
I decided to take part in Edinburgh Startup Weekend (also known as @SWEdinburgh) over the weekend.

The idea is that you pitch a lot of ideas, pick the best ones, form teams and then develop the ideas into viable businesses over the weekend.

I was part of the Yavaly team (to be precise, I was the main developer). Our aim was to create a novel way to match tourists with providers of holiday activities, and we actually managed to create an amazing website over the course of the weekend, together with a really impressive business plan.

We won the prize for best design, which feels wonderful.

We need to do some more work before we can release the website to the public, but I hope that will happen soon.

It’s definitely worth going along to one of the startup weekends — there’s bound to be one near you soon.

Tweeting in many languages

Most of the people I follow on Twitter tweet in English, and so do I most of the time.

However, I often retweet stuff written in other languages, and I do also from time to time tweet in Danish and occasionally Spanish myself. This shouldn’t cause any issues for those of my followers who know the same languages as me, but if you only speak English, it must be a tad annoying to see your Twitter stream filling up with gibberish.

In theory I could set up separate Twitter accounts for all the languages I’m likely to tweet in, but that would be a complete mess. Not only would I need to flit back and forwards from one account to another, but it would appear that I had fewer followers than I do, and many people would only follow one of my language personas, even if they would be capable of following more.

I think Twitter should consider adding languages to the user interface, even if it would make it slightly more complex. This would involve adding language capabilities to the user profiles (allowing you to list the languages you can read) and tagging each tweet with a language (presumably everybody would have a default tweeting language). Twitter would then hide tweets written in languages that you cannot read.

I think this would really make life easier for the multilingual twitterers out there.

Jobs wasn’t there to say no to Apple Maps

Steve Jobs was great at saying no: “Focus is about saying no. And the result of that focus is going to be some really great products. Where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts.”

When I read about the Apple Maps fiasco, I can’t help thinking that Apple’s problem is that their new CEO isn’t nearly as good at saying no. That Jobs would have looked at Apple Maps for five minutes and said “this is shit“, and then the Maps team would have had to go back to the drawing board.

The way I see it, Apple could only get away with having overpriced products because everybody knew they always worked, which was because of Jobs’s perfectionism.

I do wonder what will happen to Apple’s share price if they start releasing products before they’re ready.

Usenet



Usenet World Map by the 90’s
Originally uploaded by Lulobyte

In the days before the World Wide Web, the best way to procrastinate on the Internet was probably Usenet.

(If you don’t know it, it’s basically hierarchical discussions ordered by topic. You can read Usenet newsgroups for instance by using Thunderbird and the Eternal September newsserver.)

At first, the advent of the WWW didn’t really threaten Usenet, but Wikipedia and the social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter caused a lot of people to leave Usenet. I was one of them — I didn’t post anything from 2007 until last month.

However, I then decided to go back and have a quick look at my favourite newsgroup, dk.kultur.sprog, and to be honest it was really nice to be back. It’s actually better than it used to be, because it appears the trolls have mainly disappeared off to pastures new.

However, I must admit using Usenet is a pain these days. Using Google Groups to access Usenet isn’t as good as using a dedicated reader, but using a specialised tool for one social media just feels wrong (and yes, these days Usenet would have been considered a social network). Also, the Usenet is just text, and it’s sometimes annoying you can’t easily attach images and sound files or use HTML tags.

I can’t help thinking somebody should reinvent Usenet, because the discussions you can have there are superior to what you can do on newspaper website comments sections, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter or Branch.

HTML5 metric clock

Three years ago, I added a metric clock to this blog, but I later redesigned the whole site and the clock got lost.

In the meantime, HTML5 has been getting more and more widespread, so I think it’s now time for an HTML5 metric (or decimal) clock:

Your browser is not capable of displaying an HTML canvas. 🙁

(Based on an ordinary HTML5 clock.)

Just in case any readers might have forgotten my definition of metric time and dates, here’s an edited version of what I wrote nearly five years ago:

I think the basic unit should be the day, so that we get some nice units such as deciday (slight less than 2.5 hours), centiday (almost 15 minutes) and milliday (almost a minute and a half). Just a shame there’s no SI prefix for 1/100,000, because this fraction of a day is the closest one would get to a second (0.864s, to be precise). I guess people would just say “second” in everyday speech and mean 10µday, just as “minute” would be a sloppy way of saying milliday.

Looking at longer time scales, the decaday could replace the week, the hectoday the month, and the kiloday the year. It would of course have the slight drawback that holidays wouldn’t fall on the same point in each kiloday (because it wouldn’t be aligned with the solar year), but moslems already have a similar problem with their calendar, so I’m sure we’d get used to that quickly. A ten-day week would lead to different working patterns, I guess – seven days at work and a three-day weekend, perhaps?

To honour the people who introduced the metric system in the first place, I think kilodays should be counted from the start of the French revolution, that is, day 0 would be 22nd September 1792. That would make today (12/06/12) day 80,251 (kday 80, hectoday 2, decaday 5, day 1).

The problem with Siri

Marcel bought himself an iPhone 4S last week, and it quickly became apparent that Siri wasn’t very good at understanding him, and a quick video search reveals it’s a common problem for people with Scottish accents, including me (watch this one, too, if you haven’t seen it yet).

Apple claim Siri will get better at understanding its owner over time, but I’m somewhat doubtful whether it can be true.

I’m sure it can relatively easily catalogue a speaker as west-coast American or Australian or whatever (if those accents have been programmed into it), and within those types it can then store typical values for each phoneme, but given that it never asks the user to type in a word or sentence it couldn’t comprehend, how can it possibly learn anything if an accent diverges too much from its expectations?

I understand Apple want a product that people can just switch on and use, but for people with “strange” accents, surely it would be better to have the option of a dedicated training module rather than being stuck with a useless piece of software.

The Oneiric Ocelot



cat wallpaper
Originally uploaded by SkanD GupT

I recently installed Ubuntu 11.10 – Oneiric Ocelot – on my work laptop, upgrading from Ubuntu 10.10.

I had read about how many people criticised it for making Unity the default window manager, but I had expected it otherwise to be quite a straight-forward upgrade.

It turned out to be quite a nightmare, however. Basically, it seems to be an odd mixture of annoying the power users, while allowing so many errors that ordinary users cannot use the system:

  • My wireless card, which had worked flawlessly in earlier versions, didn’t work out of the box. Eventually I found some advice, namely to remove bcm43xx from blacklist.conf, and it’s now working fine again, but non-techie users would probably not have worked this out.
  • The built-in webcam has stopped working, and I cannot find a way to make it work (although Ubuntu 12 beta testers report it should be working there).
  • After I installed Skype and minimised it, it completely disappeared, and I had to kill it and start it up again to get the window back. It turns out Skype by default is blacklisted in the notification area. It was quite easy to fix, so long as you know how to edit notification area blacklists.
  • Bash autocompletion is broken, and to fix it, you need to make a change to line 1587 in the system file /etc/bash_completion.
  • Different from most flavours of Linux, Ubuntu 11 assumes the computer’s internal clock is set to local time rather than UTC. To fix that, you need to edit /etc/default/rcS.
  • Most of the system preferences have disappeared, so you cannot by default change the default font size, make windows get the focus on mouse-over, or many other small details that were easy before. To get the same options as before, you now need to install either gconf-editor or gnome-tweak-tool, but if you’re not aware of these tools, you’ll be seriously annoyed for a while if you don’t like the default settings.
  • Synaptic is now a separate install – by default you have to use the software centre, which means that many programs are unavailable by default.
  • Also TEX Live is completely outdated – the included version is the one from 2009, not 2011, so if you’re serious about TEX, you need to install it separately.

I’m sorry, Ubuntu people, but this just isn’t good enough. You can’t remove all the power tools but still require users to know how to edit system files by hand.

I’m hoping Ubuntu 12 will be better, but otherwise I’ll be looking for another flavour of Linux next time.