Archive for August, 2014

In “Testing: Traveling Abroad without a Laptop“, Nathan Edwards describes the e-gear he took with him on a week-long trip he wanted to make without his trusted laptop computer. He describes his full kit, including a 7” tablet, a big smartphone, a bluetooth keyboard, a camera, and chargers, plug adapters and cables. Oh, and he included a notebook – a paper notebook, of course – as well. He concludes:

I’m a freelance writer, and even though I still wrote on my trip, traveling without a laptop felt like freedom. Conceptually I was able to accomplish most of the same tasks, but without a laptop I felt physically and mentally lighter. I certainly spent a lot less time staring at a screen.

Nathan Edwards writes about his love for the Logitech K810 Bluetooth Keyboard, and as a fellow owner of the thing I concur: that’s one great portable keyboard, especially since it can easily switch between three devices. When writing, a big keyboard is more useful that a big screen, and the K810 is big enough to be comfortable.

The Logitech K810 BT Keyboard

The Logitech K810 BT Keyboard

Now I read this while being on holiday myself, so let’s compare that with what I used on a 16-day family trip to Slovenia and Croatia. I did bring my DSLR and a total of three lenses, but I had already trimmed off the big flash and several other lenses – I really wanted to limit myself to the small backpack for all the photo gear. Web surfing and emailing in the hotels was done on my 10″ Samsung Galaxy Tab 2. My Galaxy S3 smartphone helped out on the road, where Google Maps proved its worth. WiFi in all hotels was a big help for connectivity, but I also took up my provider’s offer of a sizeable data roaming package that only cost me 20 euro (MobileVikings, if you really need to know the name of my telecom provider).

To be honest, I have to add the Asus eeePC to the list of gear on my trip; I packed it to have a decent keyboard with me, plus enough free hard disk space to backup my photos. But in practice, I never unpacked it – not even once on the whole trip.

So that’s a good lesson learned: modern gear is so powerful that you can easily get by without a laptop while on the road – even if you want to write extensively. I just don’t see myself developing code on the tablet… but perhaps remote computing would have made that possible without too much hassle. After all, that’s what we do more and more at work as well, so why not try that from a tablet?



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From “50 years ago, IBM created mainframe that helped send men to the Moon” (Ars Technica):

System/360 machines were crucial for NASA’s Apollo missions. “Apollo flights had so much information to relay, that their computers had to report in an electronic form of shorthand,” IBM says. “Even in shorthand, however, it took a circuit capable of transmitting a novel a minute to get the information to NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center—now the Johnson Space Center—in Houston, Texas. Receiving this enormous amount of data was a powerful IBM computer whose sole task was to translate the shorthand into meaningful information for Apollo flight controllers.

IBM’s Real-Time Computer Complex at NASA, Houston

IBM’s Real-Time Computer Complex at NASA, Houston

One of the commenters notes the backward compatibility that IBM has built into its System z line, which is still capable of running most System/360 programs “sometimes with only slight modification“. But the reply is just as noteworthy:

Don’t worry. We’ll still have Windows XP in 2051.
You wish I was being sarcastic.

Now that’s funny… and insightful at the same time!

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Jean-Louis Gassée, a former Apple Inc. top exec, gives his views on the Apple-IBM alliance that was announced recently. On one hand, it won’t work, because alliances generally never work; on the other hand,

For Apple’s part, the iPhone and the iPad have gained increasingly wider acceptance with large Enterprise customers: “98% of Fortune 500 companies have deployed iOS devices and more than 90% of tablet activations in enterprise environments are iPads.” Of course, a few BYOD devices don’t constitute wholesale adoption inside a company. Apple doesn’t have the manpower and culture to come in, engineer, deploy, and maintain company-wide applications and fleets of devices. That’s IBM forte.

It’s worth looking at his post; the numbers he cites on earnings and profit per employee for both companies are very relevant. According to Gassée,

Inside IBM, morale isn’t great. Following a series of layoffs, management is perceived as using Excel as a windshield to drive the company.

It remains hard to see how two such different enterprises can work and profit together. But Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs, and the IBM of today is different from the IBM twenty years ago…

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We all turn to the Wikipedia from time to time, whenever we need a bit of authoritative info about a subject. You may not have noticed it, but the “look and feel” of Wikipedia essentially hasn’t changed in a decade. As an encyclopedia the Wikipedia focuses on its content, and the accessibility of that content in terms of search and navigation. “Content” is also the focus you’ll find in most Wiki software, and the basis of the Wikipedia is of course Wiki software called MediaWiki.

Ten years is a long time in the history of the web, and things have changed since the start of Wikipedia. Ten years ago, personal computers were the only way to access the web; today, an ever increasing number of users surfs the web on smartphones, tablets, PC’s and smart TV’s. Ten years ago, producing information for the Wikipedia was essential to get it up and running as an broad encyclopedia; these days, I’m guessing there are relatively much more consumers than writers of Wikipedia content. Ten years ago, there was only a web interface to interact with the Wikipedia; today there are apps on all kinds of platforms to access all or parts of its content in a specific form on all those different types of devices.

Thus it should not come as a surprise that someone decided to apply the user interface lessons of the last decade to the Wikipedia: meet WikiWand.

The Dutch entry for "Thee" ("Tea") in Google Chrome on a Mac

The Dutch entry for “Thee” (“Tea”) in Google Chrome on a Mac

There are two ways to use WikiWand: you can either access the Wikipedia through the WikiWand website (just use the search in the top right corner), or you can install the WikiWand browser plugin (for Chrome, Firefox or Safari) and set it up to be your default way of using the Wikipedia. I’m currently trying out the website, and I must admit: it looks good, on my Mac as well as on a smartphone. The smartphone version is perhaps a bit too visual, putting all the pictures before the text of the lemma. But the navigation menu on the left allows you to jump to wherever you want, so many pictures are only a problem if you access the web over a slow (and possibly expensive) network connection.

The Dutch entry for "Thee" ("Tea") in Google Chrome on an Android smartphone

The Dutch entry
for “Thee” (“Tea”)
in Google Chrome
on an Android smartphone

That’s all good, but a question remains. WikiWand is a commercial enterprise. So how will they be making money, without “ripping off” the Wikimedia Foundation? That remains to be seen: WikiWand says it wants to add “contextually-relevant ads for textbooks, articles and courses”, with 30 percent of its profits being donated to the Wikimedia Foundation – but only the future will tell whether they can stick to that “education only” ad policy…

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The DIY Photography website told me that “These photos of old Iranian mosques redefine symmetry” (they do no such thing), and the pictures are more than just nice. I like the light in the photos, that adds a certain magical quality to them.

Click the picture to visit the website of Mohammad Reza Domiri Ganji

Click the picture to visit the website of Mohammad Reza Domiri Ganji

The young Iranian photographer Mohammad Reza Domiri Ganji does not limit himself to mosques and the like, but does point his wide-angled camera at other subjects as well. Have a look and enjoy!

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Does The Future Freak You Out?

Does the future freak you out? Does reading unnerving science fiction stories make you uncomfortable about what may happen to you or your children or your children’s children? What do you fear most: technology as such, or the way the technology is (ab)used by people?

Dystopian science fiction, from the time it first appeared 100 years ago, grew out of our own preexisting anxiety about technologies we couldn’t control. It appeared because we needed to put a face on the vague yet very real unease caused by the rapid evolution of tech and the dwindling number of people with the power to both create and fully utilize its scope.


That, of course, is what good books and stories do: they make you think about what is and what could be and what should be. So I agree with the author of the above quote: we need dystopian SF (and public debate, of course), to keep us on our toes about our society develops.

By the way, you should remember: science fiction is mostly fiction. Science reports, say about global warming, can be just as scary, and should be taken much more seriously than what creative minds write down.

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In 2012 the word ‘Selfie’ was not part of my vocabulary. While in Italy on holiday in August 2012, I took this picture of my (double) reflection in the top case of a BMW K1200LT. Not my favourite kind of bike, but it’s got a great mirror!

Double Selfie 'Avant La lettre'

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