Archive for the ‘Web 2.0’ Category

Microsoft Bob, the spiritual great-grandfather of Siri?

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

The Guardian’s Ben Beaumont-Thomas talks to the team inside Microsoft who developed Comic Sans, and while the big takeaway is that the font was inspired by ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ is this little gem to rewrite history:

My job was to match products to fonts, sort of like a marriage broker. Comic Sans was designed for Microsoft Bob, which in many ways was a precursor to Cortana or Siri – for people who had problems with computers.

Presumably the Office Paperclip heralded Alexa?

SXSW Breakfast, Anyone?

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

I’ve been a regular at Austin’s SXSW for far longer than I care to remember. It’s a heady mix of music, film, and ‘interactive’ stuff and I’ve always met many old friends, made new ones, and had my creative batteries refilled from spending a week or two in Texas.

This year is no different, and I’m flying out today.

The other thing that happens every year at SXSW is Saturday morning breakfast at Magnolia Cafe on South Congress. As usual I’ll be there a little bit ahead of 8am to grab a table and see who else turns up. A few of you have already asked and got the date in your diary, for everyone else reading let me know if you plan on turning up.

And if you want to meet at SXSW for any reason, I’m there for the full duration through to Sunday 19th March.

Why Do I Write What I Think About Technology?

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Tomorrow the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus will be released to the public. For some reason Apple has never offered me the hardware to review ahead of a public launch, so I’ll be very close to the front of the line. After the purchase I’ll start reviewing the handset online, with my first impressions at the end of the day and a more refined review a week or two later.

Thinking about how to review the device has sent me down an interesting mental path, partly because of the reaction to the existing coverage of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. How should a technology journalist report and review a new hardware release?

There is a school of thought that a reporter should be covering just the facts, reporting these fixed details to the reader, and leaving them to make their own mind up. The arguments presented by the company should be taken as ‘the one true answer’ and that the only arbiter of a success will be sales, rather than the analysis of a thousand web monkeys at their Macbeth inspired keyboards.

The other side of the argument is that the facts are nothing more than a starting point. The thinking from the manufacturer and the idyllic view presented should be challenged and questioned. Decisions made in the design process should be questioned, and through this questioning the strength of the device will become clearer to the reader.

Naturally the latter will always input some bias from the writer (or the video producer, podcaster, whoever) because their understanding around the decisions made will colour the article. I have my biases, as do others. Those who are familiar with my writing will know where I see technology going and how that impacts on a device.

For me, covering the technology scene has never been about repeating the corporate line, declaring everything new to be magical, and cheerleading the courageous decisions being made. The comfortable corporate facts are the starting point. I see my role as informing people of those facts, providing context, questioning decisions, conveying how I see this all fitting together in an entertaining way, and allowing my readers to see multiple angles to make educated decisions on a subject if they wish.

Facts are good, but facts are the starting point of a longer journey. That’s what I write about, and that’s how I cover my beat. If you don’t like it, that’s okay. But tens of thousands of people every day are happy to read my words, and for that I am thankful.

And with that said, on to the iPhone 7 review.

Sony Wins The iPhone 7 Content War

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

I’m not sure if Sony’s decision to reveal the new PlayStation hardware today and force a head-to-head with Apple’s reveal of the iPhone 7 family is a suicidal marketing move or a tactical masterstroke, but I’m leaning towards the latter.

Although the iPhone is going to dominate the digital pages (and is likely to make the main evening news bulletins on television and radio around the world) there’s always going to be a hunger for the story that isn’t about Tim Cook showing off a new iPhone that looks and acts remarkably like last year’s iPhone. With the reveal of the PlayStation Slim, the PlayStation Neo, and details on a new DualShock controller and the PlayStation VR headset Sony has put together everything a technology reporter needs for a solid piece of counter-programming.

To take one practical example, I’ve written extensively about the iPhone 7 in the run up to today’s launch. I’ve got a number of angles that I want to explore after the launch, about the ebb and flow of Apple and its iPhones taking on Google and the Samsung Galaxy family, the slowing speed of progress, and the practicality of the iPhone design and the missing headphone jack.

But not today.

Every tech site has lined up iPhone coverage, every second stringer has an opinion hoping to strike it lucky today, every mainstream media publication will become an expert on all things Cupertino, and the fabric of online news will get gummed up. Today is the day to forget about the page views, to have some fun, and let others chase for a single gold medal. I picked up my medals last week and I know there’s a better chance of picking up more next week.

If I really must file some copy, I’m not going near the news from the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

Thanks, Sony.

Apple, the iPhone 7, and assuming Taniyama-Shimura

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

There’s an Apple event next week, but anyone who follows tech news online knows that already. They have also read what Apple is announcing, even though Apple has confirmed absolutely nothing about the event. And the great thing about the tech reporting industry is that everyone is cool with that.

I find it curious that this attitude follows one of the great ‘I hope this is right’ moments of 20th century mathematics. In 1955, a presentation by Yutaka Taniyama and Goro Shimura proposed that every elliptic curve had a modular form. Every mathematician was confident that the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture was correct, even though nobody could prove it. Acres of mathematical theory were built on a foundation that started with the words ‘Assuming Taniyama-Shimura…’, and every accepted that they were trusting a hunch.

For the record, it was eventually proved and is now known as the Modularity theorem.

If everyone believes something, then (a) of course it is true and (b) if it turns out to be wrong then everyone is wrong and nobody suffers any disadvantage. Taniyama-Shimura was a get out of jail card to speculate on something that you don’t have confirmation of is probably true and you want to go ahead and do it anyway.

The same issue crops up when I write about the smartphone industry in general, and Apple in particular. We all know what’s coming, it’s not confirmed, and if we’re wrong, we’re all wrong together and it doesn’t matter.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why my iPhone 7 coverage over the last few months is littered with  phrase ‘assuming Taniyama-Shimura’.

Apple Can Respond When It Wants To

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Early last week a design flaw with the iPhone 6 was published by iFixit and picked up by the media. To my eyes the removal of underfill in the IC board construction along with placing chips along a stressful point in the iPhone cause was causing chips to come loose from the main logic board.

Apple did not explain what was happening.

Then three zero-day exploits of iOS came to light that would allow an iPhone to be jailbroken and have malware installed came to the world’s attention. A n update to iOS was rolled out with the notes that it was about security.

Apple did not explain what was happening.

Now the European Commission has suggested to the Irish tax authorities that it might have worked out Apple’s tax bill incorrectly because it believed it was short 13 billion Euros.

Apple came out all guns blazing.

Good to see that there are some circumstances when Apple will provide comment.

When Silicon Meets Valley

Friday, June 10th, 2016

New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz goes behind the scenes at the TV show ‘Silicon Valley’ and finds out that yet another TV sitcom is based heavily on the real work. It’s just that Silicon Valley is surprised when it gets an accurate portrayal in the media world.

Dotan called his compression expert, Tsachy Weissman, an engineering professor at Stanford. “He spent hours walking me through the very dense history of lossless compression,” Dotan said. “The way I understood it, basically, was that Claude Shannon, in 1948, worked on compressing files from the top down, using coding trees, whereas David Huffman, a few years later, approached it from the bottom up.” He made a PowerPoint presentation about this and delivered it to Judge and Berg. “They thought about it for a while, and then they said, ‘You mentioned top-down and bottom-up. What about starting in the middle of the data set and working from the middle out?’ So I asked Tsachy, ‘What about middle-out? Is that a thing?’ He didn’t say, ‘That’s ridiculous.’ He said, ‘That’s intriguing, actually. It might work.’”

New Yorker.

The VR voice you need to listen to

Monday, March 28th, 2016

You’re going to read a lot about Virtual Reality over the next few months and years. Today saw the Occulus Rift VR headset reach the public (although only those who pre-purchased, don’t go looking on a store shelf for it just yet). Lots of people are going to be exploring this space, many have changed careers to do so, but most people just want a voice that can cut through it all with enthusiasm and joie de vivre.

Like this:

One of the most common criticisms I see leveled against VR is that it’s only capable of delivering vertical slices of games, or gimmicky set pieces. That VR simply can’t provide the complete, polished, and immersive game experiences we’re accustomed to on PC, consoles, and handhelds. Even though modern VR is still in its infancy, there are already a number of games to counter that argument. One of them — Lucky’s Tale — will come bundled for free when the Oculus Rift launches on March 28 [today].

With the caveat that he’s a Forbes contributor like myself, you need to bookmark Jason Evangelho for the new world.

Is it still a blog if the comments are off?

Friday, March 25th, 2016

Amber Bouman on Engadget’s one week trial of turning all comments off:

But we’ve increasingly found ourselves turning off comments on stories that discuss topics of harassment, gender or race simply because so many of the replies are hateful, even threatening. Articles that mention Apple deteriorate into arguments of iOS vs Android, replete with grade-school name calling. Articles that don’t make mention of Samsung often include comments claiming that we are shills for Apple. Some commenters plain attack our writers or editors or other commenters. Some are outright threats. And that’s not even getting into the spam problem.

The thing is, we like having a comments section.

If we’re spending the majority of our days moderating comments, zapping spam and slaying trolls, we’re not spending that time improving the section for you. We want to make sure that our readers are getting the very best experience in our community. A week-long breather will give us the time to refocus our efforts.

Sounds exactly like the fun and games I have over on Forbes. I await the results with keen interest.

The modern day grind of a blog writer

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

TechCrunch’s John Biggs on what he has learned after writing 11,00 blog posts. There’s a lot here that I can relate to:

Nobody cares. Nobody will read you. The only way to make them care is to keep doing it, day after day. Write 1,000 words a day. Don’t stop. This holds true in everything. Can you write more words per day? You can, but start at 1,000. Once you do that, day after day, people will notice. Then people will read. Then people will come back. Then you’ll gain a following. You probably won’t make any money but you will have a marketable skill that you can sell.

If anyone wants an idea of what I do for my job, BIggs has pretty much summed up what I call ‘the grind’.

Kickstarter lessons from the failed Zano drone project

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

Crowdsourcing is still a ‘big thing’ that many people are relying on. Which means when crowd funding goes wrong it can have a big impact. For those of you following the funding merry-go-round the name of Zano will be familiar. If you haven’t heard, it was a semi-autonomous drone that you would control from your smartphone and it would follow you, avoid obstacles, and record HD video.

It was a spectacular failure, burning through funds, promises, and delivery goals.

Kickstarter commissioned Mark Harris to write an investigative report into the failure. It’s chock full of lessons for people running crowd funding projects, and those who support projects on these sites:

Kickstarter tasked me, a freelance reporter, to find out why a highly funded crowdfunding campaign for a palm-sized drone flamed out in order to give backers the full story, and provide lessons for itself and others. My report follows. Kickstarter had an advance look, but wasn’t allowed to make changes.

Fascinating reading.

The reality of living from YouTube earnings

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

It’s hard. Really hard. Unless you can get right to the top of the pile, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to live from social media video views. At least that’s the viewpoint of Gaby Dunn in a sobering article on the business of vlogging:

I’m 27 years old and have been building an online following for 10 years, beginning with a popular Livejournal I wrote in high school. A couple of years ago, after moving to Los Angeles, I made the transition from freelance writing to creating online video. The channel I have with my best friend Allison Raskin, Just Between Us, has more than half a million subscribers and a hungry fan base. We’re a two-person video creation machine. When we’re not producing and starring in a comedy sketch and advice show, we’re writing the episodes, dealing with business contracts and deals, and running our company Gallison, LLC, which we registered officially about a month ago.\

And yet, despite this success, we’re just barely scraping by. Allison and I make money from ads that play before our videos, freelance writing and acting gigs, and brand deals on YouTube and Instagram. But it’s not enough to live, and its influx is unpredictable. Our channel exists in that YouTube no-man’s-land: Brands think we’re too small to sponsor, but fans think we’re too big for donations.

Windows Live Writer lives again

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Really glad to read that Microsoft’s Windows Live Writer has been open-sourced and is being maintained by a group of volunteers. I spent a huge amount of time inside WLW when I was writing on a Windows machine, and while I’ve moved over to MarsEdit on OSX in the last year, my secondary machines are running Windows 10 (mostly for my podcasting and radio software), and its great to have a solid offline blogging client for those machines as well.

You can find Open Live Writer at and the code is at GitHub.

Ninety-nine-one is everywhere in technology

Monday, December 14th, 2015

I’ve always been aware of the 90/9/1 split in terms of creating online content (ninety percent of people consume content, nine percent will interact with content, and one percent will create content) but I’ve never looked to see how it carries over into other areas of the geekerati’s world.

Thankfully Charles Arthur has.

What do operating systems, browsers and search engines all have in common? It seems to be a ratio of 90:9:1 between the key players. One player dominates; then others get a minimal share.

Take mobile OSs: This week the Mozilla Foundation pulled the plug on Firefox OS – the mobile OS which could have replaced native apps with HTML-based apps – a final death throe in the mobile OS wars. There are now three main platforms – Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS and Microsoft’s Windows Phone – for which worldwide shipments are currently running in a ratio of about 85:14:1 respectively.

Now look at desktop OS sales: the ratio stands in the most recent quarter at about 91:8:1 between Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s Mac OSX, and “self-build” machines which probably get Linux.

Boys and girls, can you see which way Twitter went?

Friday, December 11th, 2015

Nothing says Christmas (in the UK at least) than a pantomime. And nothing says innovating online than successfully holding an online pantomime as a piece of performance art. How about a pantomime on Twitter I hear you say-

…traditional wait as you all shout ‘how about a pantomime on Twitter?’ at me…

Been there, done that, it was cutting edge in 2008. Jon Bounds recalls the bleeding edge of comedy 2.0:

 Looking back at the first Twitpanto, which was organised haphazardly and quickly. It stands out for me that it had no commercial or charitable goal. It was purely for the enjoyment and to see if it was possible, and more than that it was able to break across social groupings and filters. A nib in the Birmingham Post the following day reminds me of the cast: some people whom I was friends with mainly online and had never met; some people I had worked with; some journalists, and a cabinet minister. The cabinet minister was Tom Watson, MP for West Bromwich near Birmingham, a ferocious advocate of digital technology’s place in the real centre of social discourse – but this was no demonstration piece, this was for laughs. This era, is sadly over. Could the now deputy leader of the Labour Party play Barron Tweetup today?