Gillette's Latest Innovation

Kevin Roose over at New York magazine takes down the ProGlide FlexBall:

By now, everyone knows how razor companies make their money. They sell you cheap razor handles, then burn you later with expensive cartridge refills. On top of that business model, Gillette and other market leaders introduced an arms-race component to the industry – going from two blades to three, then to four and five and six. Each new blade adds only a smidgen of extra utility, but it convinced gullible customers that they needed to upgrade their models every few years to stay current.

I was suckered by Gillette for years. About 18 months ago I bought one of these beauties. I'm picking up good blades online at about 10 cents each (6 of our shiny British pence), and they're good for a week of shaves.


Roland Barthes On "Adventure Time"

Or as near as we'll ever get:

Unlikely as it is that Roland Barthes could have imagined anything remotely like it, his essay “The Death of the Author” exactly prefigured the sense of collaboration informing Adventure Time, which is in every sense “a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture” and “a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash.” It is delightful to find that the basic tenets of twentieth-century French literary theory are the opposite of boring when harnessed in the service of a cartoon about a boy and his magical dog in a fantastical post-apocalyptic Earth.

Wonderful. I adore Adventure Time, and Maria Bustillos' piece is a lovely tribute to its charms.


Galaxy S5 Fingerprint Scanner Also Vulnerable To Print Spoofing

Noting surprising here in itself, as the same spoof has been shown to work on the iPhone 5S, but this should worry Samsung owners:

With Apple’s Touch ID system, users are required to input their password one time before using a fingerprint for authentication. The password must be used again once each time the device is rebooted. This extra step seems annoying, but it prevents the very spoof achieved by SRLabs.

On Samsung’s Galaxy S5 however, no password is needed to access the device. Even after a reboot, a simple swipe of a finger will unlock the phone. And what could be much more alarming is the fact that, even after a reboot, users don’t need a password to access PayPal and make payments through the app if it has been configured for fingerprint authentication.

Of course it hardly matters if the fingerprint scanner rarely works properly, as The Verge wrote:


Even in hardware, Samsung touts capability rather than quality. One of the S5's flagship features is its fingerprint sensor, which lets you unlock your phone and even pay for things with one swipe of your finger. It does work, as long as you hold the phone in two hands and oh-so-carefully swipe your finger down the exact center of the home button, at the perfect angle and speed. If you get it wrong, it falls back on a pointlessly complex alphanumeric password. It's impossible to do in one hand, and I could type the world's longest, most secure password in less time than it typically took me to get the sensor to work. Next to Samsung's implementation, Apple's TouchID suddenly feels easy and consistent. (It's not.) I'll never actually use the S5’s fingerprint security, and I can't imagine anyone else will either.


Apparently, "Good Enough" Is Worth 7.8/10

Heaven knows what The Verge would have rated the S5 if the fingerprint sensor actually worked, or if the system wasn't a "confusing mess".

This is a theme with the S5. Samsung says it refined its focus, but that's not really true: there are still too many features, too many options, too many weird ideas about how we want to use our phones. It's just all been tossed in a pile, thrown under a blanket, and swept into the corner where we hopefully won't notice. The S5's settings menu is 61 items long, and shows by default a grid of all-but-identical circular icons. Good luck with that.

The notification pull-down menu has 20 different options, from Airplane Mode to Toolbox (which toggles a button that toggles a list of apps you might want to open, which is not to be confused with the multitasking view or the multi-window view or the app drawer). And for all the "simplification," there are still 27 options in the camera menu. Samsung's latest version of TouchWiz is layered on top of Android 4.4.2, and it's a lot more cohesive in appearance than before, but it's still little more than a junkyard full of 11 ways to do the same thing you’ll never ever want to do. Samsung says all the right things about cleaning up and simplifying the experience, but the S5 bears few of the fruits of those promises.

Imagine if they'd thought iOS 7 to be a pile of mind-boggling options, and then ask yourself if you can imagine them rating the iPhone 5S this highly. No, me neither.


Behind The Great Firewall

I'm spending a few days in China, and it's proving surprisingly hard to get reliable internet access at the moment. It's interesting seeing which services are completely inaccessible (eg. Twitter), which are very slow (iCloud photostreams), and which are just fine (Squarespace, thank heavens). I wonder how hard it is for the average company or individual to do online international business here, but then I guess China has plenty of home grown services that work just fine. Is that sustainable in the longer term? We'll see.

UK Smartphone Market "Disrupted"

From the department of click-bait headlines: 

The data from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech further showed that the Moto G has attracted a very specific consumer profile, at least in the UK. Almost half of owners are aged between 16 and 24, 83% are male and generally they come from lower income groups with 40% earning under £20,000.

"With virtually no existing customers to sell to in Britain, the Moto G has stolen significant numbers of low-mid end customers from Samsung and Nokia Lumia," said Sunnebo.

So, despite the Moto G disrupting the low to mid end smartphone market, in which Apple doesn't yet operate, and despite no evidence whatsoever to base it on, the article leads with this:

The dominance of Apple and Samsung in the smartphone market is being potentially challenged by Motorola's new budget model which has gained a respectable share in the UK in just six months.


Second Life Revisited


Zuckerberg said Facebook was not interested in becoming a hardware company and did not intend to try to make a profit from sales of the devices over the long term. Instead, he said Facebook's software and services would continue to serve as the company's underlying business, potentially generating revenue on Oculus devices through everything from advertising to sales of virtual goods.

Advertising. Just what virtual reality needed.


Bill Campbell Knows A Good Thing When He Sees It

Interesting insight into the development process for the iPhone. 

For several months, Mr. Christie made twice-monthly presentations to Mr. Jobs in a windowless meeting room on the second floor of Apple's Cupertino, Calif., headquarters. Only a handful of employees had access to the room; cleaning people weren't allowed in.

The day after Mr. Christie's team finally impressed Mr. Jobs with its vision of the iPhone software, it had to repeat the presentation for Bill Campbell, an Apple director and close Jobs confidant. Mr. Christie recalled Mr. Campbell saying the phone would be better than the original Mac.

High praise indeed. He was right too.


The iPad as Clinical Diagnostic Tool

This new profile on Apple's "Your Verse" iPad case studies site highlights something that often gets overlooked when talking about health applications: The ability of great software to turn an iPad into the equivalent of specialist diagnostic equipment costing many thousands of dollars. 

A concussion isn’t like a broken arm. It doesn’t show up in an X-ray or even an MRI. So to accurately monitor the injury, you need to visualize its effect on a person’s cognitive and motor performance. The C3 Logix app uses a hexagon-shaped graph to represent the multiple symptoms associated with concussion. The athlete's normal level of function is shown on the perimeter, with postinjury results inside. During recovery, the inner graph moves out toward the perimeter.

Last year we did some work on ways of using iPad for clinicians to run routine patient tests, but this goes much further. Inspiring stuff.


The Birth Of The PDF

Interesting insight from some of the people who ought to know.

John Warnock had the idea that every document that was ever printed, or ever would be printed, could be represented in a document. This was not an unreasonable idea since Postscript was designed for this purpose and Adobe also had some code from Illustrator that would handle the fonts and graphics and code from Photoshop to display images. So, Warnok started a project (the Carousel project) on his own initiative to pursue his idea that eventually the whole Library of Congress could be represented in an archival electronic format.

PDF really was a breakthrough technology at the time, and it's hard to over-estimate the difficulty we had dealing with file formats for print before it.

Footnote: Back in the mid-90's I was excited enough about the PDF to launch a whole website devoted to gathering together interesting creative uses of the format. PDFheaven (the site no longer exists, and the blogspot site using the same name is unconnected) had origami, art projects, beautifully-designed brochures, calendars, and so on.


Singaporeans Fear Muggings For Google Glass

Google's Glass product isn't available in Singapore, yet this research indicates demand, tempered by fears over personal safety.

Personal safety was another factor, with 38% feeling they would be more at risk from being mugged if they wore Google Glass in public. This proportion was significantly higher in the UK where 46% had such fears.

I've not been to Singapore for over a decade, but when I travelled there regularly I felt safer than I've felt anywhere on Earth. I suspect that if you left your wallet on a park bench you'd find someone running after you to return it. 


How Steve Jobs Got 50% of WriteNow

Great story from Heidi Roizen. I'm glad Heidi made this deal work: WriteNow was amazing, and was one of the reasons I stuck with the Mac through the dark times.

Shortly into my pitch, Steve took the contract from me and scanned down to the key term, the royalty rate. I had pitched 15%, our standard. Steve pointed at it and said, “15%? That is ridiculous. I want 50%.” I was stunned. There was no way I could run my business giving him 50% of my product revenues. I started to defend myself, stammering about the economics of my side of the business. He tore up the contract and handed me the pieces. “Come back at 50%, or don’t come back,” he said.


New York Magazine On 100 Years Of NY Music

Fabulous, wide-ranging article on the eclectic sounds of NYC and the city that gave them life. I really must try to pick up this issue in print.

New York is a place of splendor and squalor, and its music reflects those extremes. The city’s leanest times have produced some of its most opulent music. Think of Cole Porter’s Depression-era ballads, songs like “Night and Day” (1932) and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (1936), gleaming Deco objets d’art that sound like they were airdropped from Porter’s suite at the Waldorf. Or think of Chic’s luscious “Good Times” (1979), written by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards at the height of the disco era and the depth of the city’s 1970s unraveling, as a deliberate callback to another Great Depression hit, “Happy Days Are Here Again.” New York’s deprivations have driven music in other ways. Punk was not just a stripped-down revolt against the excesses of corporate rock, but a reflection of local woes, an ascetic response to ’70s stagflation and crime. As for hip-hop, it, too, grew out of scarcity, and triumphed over it. Hip-hop was music of junkyard recycling: The original South Bronx hip-hop street parties were powered by plugging sound systems into the base of street lamps, and the music ingeniously repurposed cheap technologies, turning vinyl records and turntables from musical-playback devices into musical instruments.

Here's a great cover (I think there's a variety) for the magazine, featuring a young Robert Zimmerman.


Pentagram On What Makes A Great Late Night TV Show Logo

Some of the criteria seem a bit vague ("clean, classic, and simple") or downright subjective ("whether or not you can imagine the president on a given show just by looking at the logo"), but there are some useful observations in there too.

Oberman says that the best late night logos in history have usually been clean, simple, and strong designs that could act as vessels for whatever content a host wants to fill it with. As such, a talk show logo can also too closely adhere to the idiosyncrasies of its host, because a talk show isn't just a showcase for one person's personality. It needs to also feel broad enough to accommodate the personalities of the guests, and be something that a number of celebrities with very different styles can associate with, from Kim Kardashian to the president of the United States.


This Was The First Computer I Used

When my school's first Commodore PET was stationed at the back of my form classroom, I managed to find myself a seat where I could get to it before anyone else and spent breaktimes and hours after-school figuring out how it worked. Since the manual was next-to-useless I had to rely on BASIC program listings in home computer magazines to figure out how to get it to do stuff (the school had a few games on cassette but we were forbidden from playing them). Initially the things I wrote were all simple branching text adventures ("You see a corridor running west to east. Which direction do you want to go?"), but eventually I figured out enough to be able to POKE ASCII character codes into screen memory locations without crashing it. I made some very basic arcade-style games that way, and I still think fondly of those terrible square keys and that green screen.

The first time is the one you remember: first crush, first kiss and first BASIC program. These are the ones that stick in your mind long after those involved are no longer around, and the Commodore PET was the first computer that many people actually touched. Before the PET, computers were big, impersonal things that people worshipped from afar. After the PET, the computer became personal.


Single Serve Coffee Pods Are Evil

I've long admired the ease-of use of systems like the Nespresso, whilst hating how it takes a bulk commodity like coffee beans and packages it up into heavily packaged single servings. Turns out it's even worse than I thought.

Journalist Murray Carpenter estimates in his new book, Caffeinated, that a row of all the K-Cups produced in 2011 would circle the globe more than six times. To update that analogy: In 2013, Green Mountain produced 8.3 billion K-Cups, enough to wrap around the equator 10.5 times. If Green Mountain aims to have "a Keurig System on every counter," as the company states in its latest annual report, that's a hell of a lot of little cups.


Sony Enters The VR Market With Morpheus

Long rumoured, now at least at dev kit stage.

Like the Oculus, Sony's Morpheus project has been a long time coming as well; the company said it has worked on facets of the system for three years. Although the Oculus Rift is already in the hands of beta testers, Sony may have the upper hand in getting its HMD to market first as the company holds substantial sway in the gaming industry. To that end, Sony has already enlisted the help of big-name game devs like Epic and Crytek to work on pilot products that explore Morpheus' capabilities.

I'm still unconvinced. It feels to me like dedicated gaming devices are content to become more specialist and more niche. No matter how light and responsive this kit gets I just can't see it appealing to a mass audience. Nothing wrong with that, and it doesn't mean it can't be a success in certain markets, but it most likely won't grow the current audience for games consoles.

On another note, I notice Appleinsider has this all wrong:

There have been VR analogs in the past, including Nintendo's ill-fated Virtual Boy accessory for the original Game Boy, but a truly responsive HMD with serious developer support has yet to hit market.

I have a Virtual Boy, and it definitely wasn't an accessory but a standalone platform with its own (limited) range of games. Maybe an accessory for the already-huge GameBoy platform would have been a better idea.


iPad 2 Is No More, iPad 4 Is Back

Good move on Apple's part. The iPad 2 was looking rather old as the 'education' model.

CUPERTINO, California—March 18, 2014—Apple® today announced iPad® with Retina® display replaces iPad 2 as the most affordable 9.7-inch iPad at $399 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model and $529 for the Wi-Fi + Cellular model.

I bought a refurbished iPad 4 at Christmas for my daughter, and it's a big improvement on the third-generation model, let alone the pre-retina models. Much happier running the latest apps, and we don't need to keep old dock-connector cables around the house anymore. I'd have no hesitation in recommending the fourth-generation model for schools looking to buy a bunch of iPads and make a saving. 

Prototyping Animated Apps In Your Browser

I've not come across Framer before, but I got my head around it in about 10 minutes. There's an easy route to leverage Photoshop mockups, but you can do it from scratch without too much trouble (and there's a plug-in for Sketch if you–like me–avoid Photoshop).

Many people already prototype in the browser. It's simple and quick. But while html/js/css/jquery gets a lot done it has some downsides:

  • It can get pretty complicated mixing all the different technologies
  • It can be hard to get the pixel perfect control you want
  • It's not always performant, especially on mobile
  • It's pretty far from how it will be actually implemented if you prototype for native

Framer tries to solve some of these problems by providing a very lightweight framework modeled after larger application frameworks. The basic idea is that you only need a few simple building blocks like images, animation and events to build and test complex interactions.

Some useful additional background also in this case study of building Potluck.


One Laptop Per Child Is Over

I have to admit, I'd completely forgotten about this once high-profile initiative.

With the hardware now long past its life expectancy, spare parts hard to find, and zero support from the One Laptop Per Child organization, its time to face reality. The XO-1 laptop is history. Sadly, so is Sugar. Once the flagship of OLPC's creativity in redrawing the human-computer interaction, few are coding for it and new XO variants are mostly Android/Gnome+Fedora dual boots. Finally, OLPC Boston is completely gone. No staff, no consultants, not even a physical office. Nicholas Negroponte long ago moved onto the global literacy X-Prize project.