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I wanted to try Android Auto now that I drive a car that is capable of doing so. In theory, that should be simple, no? Unfortunately, no it isn’t simple. First hurdle: officially speaking Android Auto is not available here in Belgium and the Netherlands. But apparently this does not mean that a car salesman has to tell you that: (s)he will tout the availability of Android Auto as an fine feature of the car.

So I downloaded and installed an Android Auto .apk file and installed it on my Samsung Galaxy S7, only to find that the application started up and immediately presented me with the dark message “Google Play services doesn’t seem to be working at the moment“. I tried a few of the “solutions” offered on the internet, but none worked, whether the S7 was connected to the car or not. So I wonder: does this message occur because I’m trying to use the AA mode in Belgium, or is it a Samsung issue?

It’s not really news, of course, but the update stream for the S7 from Samsung seems to have dried up completely. It’s June 17 today, and the latest security patch occurred in March: my machine is still on Android security patch level “1 March 2019”. I suppose an update to Android 8.1 or 9 is completely out of the question…

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I’m a bit older than Brent, and I had to buy my own first computer – a Sinclair ZX-81, in my case. But the feeling was exactly as he describes here:

Then the personal computer came along, and they had the freedom to solve problems on their own — when they wanted to, the way they wanted to.

This was a revolution.

Yes, it was about freedom, about full control over a tiny yet powerful machine, although at the start it was mainly about learning how much was possible with a computer and how you had to control it.

Image by Evan-Amos (CC BY-SA 3.00)

These days, even smartwatches have more oomph than the ZX-81, but they lack something that made the early “home computers” so attractive: they are increasingly closed-off by their makers. Is that good or bad? Personally, I love to tinker and explore and stumble and try again – that’s why I like all those Linux OS’s ;-)

Brent has a point when he says that “it feels more and more like we’re just renting Macs too, and they’re really Apple’s machines, not ours“. If I truly want to “play” with a computer, both in hardware and software, then Macs and portable PC’s don’t come into the picture. (Old) PC hardware or a Raspberry Pi will do, thank you.

My first camera was an Olympus OM-1, and I still regret parting with it when the children became so active that I needed an autofocus camera to catch them on film ;-)

I still remember the build quality of the OM-1, and I loved the fact that the OM-1 plus a 50mm and 135mm lens (plus a bit of small junk) fitted in a small bag that could barely contain the Nikon F-something from my best friend. Olympus takes a top spot in my list of reputable firms, that should be no surprise.

In October, Olympus will celebrate its 100 years of existence, and they have created a website to show the history of the company and some of its products. It includes a nice video documentary about the evolution of the Olympus camera business.

Olympus: “A Great Moment” (click the image to see the video)

There’s a brief history of the company logo as well; that’s where I found the name ‘Tokiwa’.

(via DPReview)

Strange Weather

We spent 6 days in Crete, a week ago, because my wife wanted to experience more sun and better weather than we have had in Belgium the last few months. So where better to go than Greece in May, right?

Well, we actually had two days of grey skies and even a bit of rain. The White Mountains still had lots of snow on their tops. Several locals told us – independently – that we had the bad luck to live through what they called “strange weather“: for them, the steady patterns that bring so many tourists to Crete seem to be disappearing. Climate change was not yet invoked as the cause, but the term certainly came up.

This is not what Cretans want to see on a beach in May…

Crete and Belgium do not have weather in common, but according to our solar panels May 2019 was a sub-par month in terms of solar energy production. In fact, it was the second lowest production number in the history of our setup, and far low the number of last year.

 

I saw this slogan in Chania (Crete, Greece) last week:

When we bought our CNG-powered car, the Audi A3 g-tron, one of the reasons was my conviction that using existing infrastructure would be the best route to cleaner and renewable energy, rather than starting a new power struggle over the resources needed to produce batteries on an enormous scale (where do you get your lithium?).

Scientific American published the article “Europe Stores Electricity in Gas Pipes“, which explains that my conviction might well become a reality:

Moving renewable hydrogen and methane via natural gas pipelines promises to cut the cost of switching to renewable energy. For example, gas networks have storage caverns whose reserves could be tapped to run gas-fired electric generation power plants during periods of low wind and solar output.

“Pipeline” by Alistair-Hamilton is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Original picture)

I don’t want to sound like a unconditional fan of Audi, but their building a factory to convert wind electricity into methane for the cars they produced was one of the elements that convinced me to go the CNG road.

Amsterdam wants to chase all internal combustion vehicles from its territory in the near future in order to get cleaner air. I wonder: what are they going to do about the heating systems of all those buildings, that are probably contributing more to the city’s pollution than cars? Those heating systems also have a longer mean life span than cars as well.

I can understand that the Dutch no longer want to pump up natural gas, since emptying those underground natural gas reserves is causing major damage to buildings on top of them in some parts of their country. So why not replace that with synthetic or “green” methane, given that the distribution and consumer systems are already in place? If there are good reasons not do to that, I would like to learn about them. The article mentioned above seems to indicate that synthesizing methane is rapidly becoming a commercially viable technology in the energy mix of the near future.

Moving renewable hydrogen and methane via natural gas pipelines promises to cut the cost of switching to renewable energy. For example, gas networks have storage caverns whose reserves could be tapped to run gas-fired electric generation power plants during periods of low wind and solar output.

I’m still waiting for major investments in hydrogen distribution networks – because that will likely prove to be the best way to store non-carbon energy (from wind, solar, geo-thermal, … power) in a from ready to be consumed where and whenever it is needed.

When a colleague showed me the first minutes of what was then “a new HBO TV series”, I was hooked: I had to see “Game of Thrones“. The first few episodes that we watched on TV also made it clear that I would have to read the books by George R.R. Martin. if only because I could get to the end (?)of the story faster by reading than by waiting a week for the next episode on TV ;-)

I loved the books very much: the story is compelling and full of surprises, as we all know by now. Equally impressive is the world that George Martin created, and which you discover through reading the story, not because it is explicitly explained. I hadn’t read anything so intense since my discovery of the Dune universe, in the words of Frank Herbert (the more recent additions by his son Brian and Kevin Anderson are not at the same level).

Image credits: HBO

So like many others all around the world we waited for the final season of the TV series… and were a bit disappointed with what we saw in the first three episodes. Many scenes seemed to be stretched out just for the sake of making the episode sufficiently long. Some scenes are so different from what we are used to expect from previous seasons that they are hard to fit into the narrative we know.

Then by accident I stumbled up “The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones“.

Even if the new season had managed to minimize plot holes and avoid clunky coincidences and a clumsy Arya ex machina as a storytelling device, they couldn’t persist in the narrative lane of the past seasons. For Benioff and Weiss, trying to continue what Game of Thrones had set out to do, tell a compelling sociological story, would be like trying to eat melting ice cream with a fork. Hollywood mostly knows how to tell psychological, individualized stories. They do not have the right tools for sociological stories, nor do they even seem to understand the job.

If I understand the article correctly, this is what the author means by “sociological stories”: the story itself is the essence of what’s going on, not the major characters populating the story. That is why GoT gets away with literally killing off so many major characters without losing its pace and attractiveness.

That tension between internal stories and desires, psychology and external pressures, institutions, norms and events was exactly what Game of Thrones showed us for many of its characters, creating rich tapestries of psychology but also behavior that was neither saintly nor fully evil at any one point. It was something more than that: you could understand why even the characters undertaking evil acts were doing what they did, how their good intentions got subverted, and how incentives structured behavior. The complexity made it much richer than a simplistic morality tale, where unadulterated good fights with evil.

Curse you, George R.R. Martin, for not finishing the story yourself in your books!