sunnuntai 24. kesäkuuta 2012

Personal visionarism and kaizen in life

Kaizen is the philosophy of optimizing a process and increasing quality in something. It comes from Japan, and has been linked often in Western countries to the industrial process (automation) quality improvements, perhaps best codified in Toyota's success.

I woke up today, feeling a bit grumpy, perhaps wanting to sleep further. I turn my systems on: make the coffee percolator grind me some of that black liquid, check out my computer's system messages (26 packages to be upgraded), and log on to news sites, email and so on.

For years I've really been looking for the way that our humane needs, interests, and curiosity could be met in a way that would not interfere the very delicate creative processes of the mind. You see, I think that creativity is a lurking power that doesn't like too much fuzz. On the other hand, if one is locked in a cave, trying to invent something, it might turn out to be a dinosaur already as it comes to light; one should balance being on the cutting edge with that of having personal peace and time to ponder the big strategy. 

torstai 21. huhtikuuta 2011

Androids!

Helsinki preface


Had such a delight of a day. It was about visiting the City, meaning our dear Helsinki (daughter of the - some sea, anyway!) This city and heart of Finland is about 1 hour drive from home. There's an old saying that when it's been more than one month since your last visit to Helsinki, you actually think for awhile that it's a big city! Ok, cutting the jokes - do pay a visit to the city. Only in September through December it's a bit ugly, usually something between ordinary water and snow coming down from the skies, but it never seems to last. Then, as if the Wizard of Oz had waved a wand, Helsinki gets properly frosted over and January to March are cool and beautiful.

Today, in addition to seeing people, actually opening my mouth and talking to some (no worries, I didn't interrupt st-ran-gers!) I was bashing in definitely good karma with my new white ZTE Blade Android phone. It's just sooooo good. I love it! My A seems to love me back, because she took a couple of pictures -- right out from my pocket, without me knowing that! I just discovered the evidence, a zipper jacket, strange point of view, looking into the sky, not focusing on (I think) particularly anything.

I've been a long time phone freak, and the last time this kind of rush with new wild technology happens was - ironically - with the competitor camp, Nokia's e71. Androids are a breed of their own. Everything happens so smoothly. It's almost as if you weren't using a mobile, but a good desktop computer. Software installation is easy, removal is easy and fast; you get about 45000 apps for free, and they can actually be found simply by jacking into a directory called Android Market. The Market itself is an app just as any other (is this power-wielding the kind of recursive joke that every true geek-prone phone has to have? :-)

Because I promised (myself, mostly) to give a review of the Chinese ZTE Blade smartphone within 2 weeks of its purchase, I've gonna puke out a full report here. You can also find this on my other ( Jukkasoft ) blog, which is.. well, will be concentrated more on Finnish original articles on technology, while Psiic blog will be fast, furious, and oh-so eNglish.

The phone has been an absolute delight and definitely worth the low cost (189 eur, as of April 2011, from Elisa). Blade is a full-fledged smartphone, with easy-to-use features – excluding the text messaging: SMS practicality is not the best of Android. I almost managed to get slapped in the face by transmitting mumbojumbo in text to my girlfriend. The phone manipulates the words in search for better ones, according to its twisted sense of the world. This feature is called XT9 (something like extended text message entry method) and may be good to be turned off. Try and find out! Cheek insurance not included.

The phone has a touch screen, and in addition to that 3 physical buttons situated below the screen; in the right edge it has + and – for volume adjustment. There’s three ways to interact with the screen: touching, long press, and sliding your finger across the screen. Touching is for selecting things, long press shows you context-sensitive menus and options. Sliding is for gaming and some obscure applications like the visual screensaver; it’s actually fun idea: instead of a PIN number, the phone unlocks when the correct jigsaw is entered.

The screen is bright and big. Interestingly I found out that more screen real estate makes really a significant difference in the navigability of the phone: you don’t feel so claustrophobic with this one. I have to give Android full points for navigation in general; menu choices are logical and I’ve found all that I need to change very easily. Menus very rarely slow down; sometimes if you've just launched a app that uses a lot of resources and try to access menus, you can see a slight slowdown in response, but it's actually not a big deal.

If you do however enter a very bright, sunshiny place, the phone's screen is left second place against Sun. This is somewhat annoying during spring and summertime. Enter that cozy bar, or get inside, where every nerd belongs, anyway! So far though I've yet to see a phone that could compete Sun...

Google’s personal information management is very easily integrated. Basically you create one account on the phone, which has your username and password, and after that it’s a delight to use every Google service. You have Gmail, documents, etc. Works like charm. The Android supports more than one Google accounts, if you need that.

Installing new software couldn’t come easier. The Android Market is the name for centralized Android software. Tap a program, “OK” the license, and it’s installed on your phone in a couple of seconds. If you have big downloads, you can get it done faster in a fast WiFi (instead of your phone’s data connection, 3G or 4G). 45000 free apps, plus another 40000+ for an average price of 4 eur (cheaper in USA).

Now, looking at the impact that software installation has, it is significant. When I used Nokia’s symbian platform, I was tearing my pants with every installation. Just today I witnessed the pain of a Symbian 5th gen. user; software installation tends to boil down to mindless, tens or hundreds of pages FAQ reading per application. And it's not really about the meat - it's about all the auxiliary stuff, which should in fact be totally hidden from end users. Ie. people are not interested in technicalities, they want action.

When I did installations of applications on Symbian, it was sometimes as much as 15 dialogues worth of waiting, accepting… Really unnecessary stuff. Android has done a great work in this. If Nokia is to get on with competition, one of the most acute improvement sites is all its end-user issues, from ease of installation to web presence. Google’s got a big edge here.

I haven’t had so much time doing tests with software, but do try Ninja Kaka. And ‘Tap Tap 4′ is fun There’s plenty of nerdy utilities available, one of my favorites being SunDroid free. HAMsters can find ‘HamSatDroid’ also interesting.

The Android 2.2 OS is very stable operating system. I got it hanging only once during 2 weeks, and that was partially thanks to a half-baked WLAN offered by a burger joint near me. This wifi had only IP to offer, but no valid gateway. So, Android’s IP stack didn’t find this very much of fun, and I had to zap with ‘droid. That is, a ON/OFF reboot. Normally, you can find handy information about the allocated space for software, as well as how many kilobytes it’s taking in current running session. This turns into valuable information if you happen to be close to running out of space.

perjantai 18. kesäkuuta 2010

Nokia Navigator 6710 - great phone!

Got my hands on Nokia's Navigator 6710, a Symbian-based smart phone launched in August 2009. This is a very nice one!

It isn't just a phone

6710 is actually quite an impressive value proposition: it contains European maps preinstalled in the navigator; it is much better than most in-car navigators, because an Internet access guarantees that you have realtime information available in your hands. You can thus skip buying a "real" navigator. Second thing is that you have a music player in 6710, capable of doing mp3 format - so, why buy an iPod anymore? I found the above facts very interesting indeed.

Back to the purchase plots; it was just before a Stockholm trip, that I was advising lady Maricah in phone related purchases - thus a bit tight schedule. First one to come into my mind was the 5800 Xpressmusic, but fortunately (later on) for us, it had a bulky look in the store compared to the 6710. So, upon checking out the two phones and a couple of alternatives, we decided to go for the 6710.

And man, is it packed with nice features. Carl Zeiss 5 mpix camera is superb! The navigator
software also does a great job. Actually there's not much that I can say negative about
that, except of course a bit more screen real estate would come in handy. The navigator
does take you where it promised, and did not lose GPS locking on our tests. We didn't go
to very extremes, though. Ordinary driving around.

Plenty of toole

There's all sorts of neat software inside the phone. A good quality navigator with voice and improved, smooth scrolling; Internet-based points-of-interest search within the navigator; preinstalled software and web links ranging from Facebook to Youtube; WLAN, 3G support. Did I mention improved Ovi experience, Nokia's answer for phone-web-desktop connectivity?

Ovi got improved

Yes, Ovi is improved - though I can't give Ovi more than a school grade of 8 because it's a little bulky to install and there's something that clicks, not technology-wise but in the aesthetics of finalization and user interface experience. If you're new to the concept, let me explain. Ovi is basically a website plus an application living on your PC, that lets you synchronize your phone with the web+PC. It helps you in searching and installing new software to the phone, and sharing your images and videos of choice to the world.

Beware of roaming costs, as usual

Having been without a communicator-like phone for months, it was thrilling to use one. Our trip to Stockholm was a good testbed. Turning off roaming and using only the onboat WLAN network of M/S Silja Serenade was a good solution for infojunkie like me. I managed to squeeze foreign-turf GPRS access to about 1 megabytes, which will be around 3,90 euros. (Btw. really looking forward to EU harmonization of roaming costs - it will be a new era in practical information society, since then we don't have to be wary of using technology - it's kind of paradoxic now, that you have to remain afraid of really utilizing your most hifi piece of technology in the pocket, since there's a Damoclean sword of excessive cost hanging on your head.)

Downsides?

  • Symbian's operating system does not do well if it runs out of memory. Even basic
    functionality like SMS can be problematic. This is a major minus. Be careful with
    installations.
  • I can't tell much more minuses.. based on 1+ months of use

Overall: Great!


6710 is a phone that I can recommend. I've used Nokia's e71 before this, and several other smartphones - and early 2000s Personal digital assistants. The 6710 is an affordable, feature-packed classic, with a good quality camera.

My rating:
* * * * (4 out of 5 stars)

torstai 3. kesäkuuta 2010

Information shrapnel and format wars

Digital shrapnel - what is it?

I was at home, at my desk, writing a small memo of things, planning the future. I've had a job interview the same day, and in between the possible starting of this work (which was superbly interesting!) I'm going to drive taxi for a month. There was a little bit of this and that, a lot going on, and suddenly I was looking at the paper; thought about my phone calls, text messages, and the urge to read e-mail since I'd gotten information on an SMS about incoming mail. Hey, this was getting chaotic! ;)

I was "talking" to my taxi superior via SMS, and then switched over to email, only to finish with voice. In addition to these 3 aforementioned channels I used pen and paper. So here we go: 4 medium. SMS leaves traces, so does e-mail and paper; SMS is accessible via phone only, e-mail via web, and paper you have to carry. Voice doesn't usually get recorded. The point is that information gets divided and explodes into shrapnels. This is by no means a trivial problem, when the scale is changed. I also discussed the use and proper sharing of a Gmail Calendar with my girlfriend. My point was that it would be used to show incompatible times; hers was that it should also contain information which would never have to be explicitly said after it's written in the calendar. Since I'm a man, I argued my point even though could clearly see she was right! :-) I've always been talking about the need for non-redundancy of information, to make things roll smoothly. Why do something twice, if you can do it once correctly?

When you go from a small, two-party discussions into company-wide (or organization-wide) discussions and information exchange, the choice of medium is very important. In big organizations, there's also a strong questions about backing up others; sharing information, not just storing it, but also making sure that everyone involved get it.

I like to keep stuff concentrated in one place. It's the computer. But even within computer we have several channels: desktop, web (with different browsers and extensions), applications, and so on. It used to be that computers were originally totally incompatible. There were Spectravideo, Commodore, Spectrum, and so on, but these had no common executable format or usually anything at all. Perhaps Amiga and Commodore C=64 could do something together, but that's about it.

This kind of incompatibility was probably caused more by the rush of nerds wanting to get
their own machine done. It wasn't so much planned, strategic competition. Later on came the very costly, annoying strategic battles between giants. Microsoft wanted its own formats strictly covered, and usable only by their own applications softwares. (Check format war on Wikipedia for background on the general topic)

It's partly because software houses don't see any reason to expose their format; exposing means opening up, not using any kind of compression, or at least documenting well what is being used. Documentation should cover the data structures in very detailed format. If the format is documented, there's the benefit of making others capable of extending or amending the format. But this all means that it's also a chance to make competitors.

Linux and the open source movement have given a nice example of what it means to be open (as in philosophical meaning) and documenting the work. Although open source is no means a gurantee for good documentation, it is an invitation for anyone to document or contribute code, and discuss products.

With an ever-increasing complexity of systems and the amount of interconnectedness rising, the openness is evermore important. With open systems I think we can really see a positive net effect rising. Companies have already marched forward boldly in the direction where trivial things are not held as strategic competition toysoldiers. Companies do a lot of co-operation in friendly manner, which is good. The skills and attitude of employees, the analytical skills of designers, bright visions, new efficient products, and user-friendliness are things which drive good technology to the homerun. The platform, and the formats are going to be standardized. They're no longer the competition ground.

tiistai 4. toukokuuta 2010

Back to basics: quantifying the web

I stumbled upon developing a iGoogle gadget. These small web programs are floating in the customizable front page of Google account owners. They can be used to push information to the user, and probably in the near future they develop into real applications.


The point isn't actually about this specific technology. What I started thinking was, is it possible that in the very near future we can test, index and handle the web in a systematical, reliable way? Let's say something along these lines:

if (blog("John Smith") has new content since yesterday) then Display(the content)
or:

find (the best article (about "NASA space mission")) with length of (3-4 pages)
or:
find (a free picture (of "venomous snake") at least (size 1024 x 768))

Not just tech, but vision

What I mean is that instead of the very technically diverse, and sometimes spaghetti-like content what we now see in the HTML source code, we could have content that really could be utilized in flexible ways. The problem is not technical, actually. I am sure there are solutions for this kind of thing. The problem is really at awareness; people's understanding of what openness can mean for the entire world. Just like the common mathematics we use in science, the language of the web could mean a significant step forward if the information content could be used in several contexts, easily.

Origin of WWW

The original WWW architecture was invented (or attributed at least) by Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, a professor in Oxford. When he was doing the research at CERN, Tim felt that the scientific papers and documents in the world were very hard to access. Thus he started to think about platform neutral solution for information access and conversion, and eventually came up with what was known as the World Wide Web. Technically it was the client-server protocol called HTTP, or Hyper text transfer protocol.

Multiple modalities: context counts

What is interesting is to see how the command line fares against graphical user interfaces, and how these two are combined with sensor interfaces like those used in virtual reality glasses. Yet another spice which we are going to be utilizing probably a bit more is context/location sensitivity. You could sort your email based on in which city you are; those requests for a meeting, coffee break etc. would be prioritized first, since you're most likely to be able to tend a meeting which is 5km from your position - not the one across the globe.

Getting the juice out of bits

I've always wanted to develop intelligent filters for email. Email, though is quite aged, is still the strong backbone of our communications and intelligence. It's enhanced by the use of mobile communications and instant messaging, but still there's need for email to kind of carry your "mail" just as in the physical world. I think email is not likely to be completely ruled out by other means of communication.

But, on the backside, I have to say that at least my inbox has become a kind of wild bazaar, where you could sample any 30 consecutive mails and they're probably from at least 27 different contexts. In other words, the email stream has become less coherent and more diversified, which sometimes occludes efficient access to important information. I did have a time when my inbox was filled with over 600 unread mails, and they really did start to press my brain!

Lot of possibilities ahead

So it's a mix-and-match game of picking up important signal from the noise. Automation, learning filters, and precise custom-made filters can probably help a lot. Perhaps also visualization of emails, like a tree, a timeline, or perhaps using unique keywords and drawing a mesh network of how the days' emails related to each other? Time will tell!

sunnuntai 11. huhtikuuta 2010

Science 101 and waste management with probability

Problem: waste!


Waste management


Waste management is often involved in the processing of solid, liquid, gaseous or
possibly even radioactive substances, which are deemed harmful to ordinary life.

The waste management aspect can be approached with varying methodology and classifications.

IN ordinary household evironments, the waste management is often considered sub-"luxury" function, which is however required to make the ecosystem work. No matter how dirty or
outrageously down to earth we consider the management, the fact remains that it has to be done.

It is however a lot of money in terms of business income to companies involved with it.

Certain key problems of the process


How to measure realibly the degree to which a bin is fulled,
ie. F= 0.00 - 1.xx

Where F is the amount of trash that is currently in
a bin. The F may exceed >1 since you can overload the
bin by forcefully stuffing new waste into it.

Statistical method
-relies on average estimates for a neighbourhood of P bins
-waste: time and space
-gains: easy routing of vehicles

sunnuntai 4. huhtikuuta 2010

Learning steve, an AI construction language for "breve" system

Check out spiderland.org for more information. This AI framework allows you to
create creatures, involved in 3-D space of no limits, and evolving into higher creatures. It's fun and really interesting way to understand programming and the blind watchmaker hypothesis into evolution. Not only does breve allow you to make the simulations, but it also renders them in 3-D and includes a physics engine, which are really precious. A physics engine knows about the interactions (in Newtonian framework) between objects; example: a collision causes the objects to either deform and/or move in a new trajectory.

Artificial intelligence is the branch of computing and mathematics which aims to make new kinds of intuitive understanding and realistic simulation of the world possible. AI can be applied in a variety of fields; from economics (behaviour of whole nations and the world economy), to understanding of basically very simple processes like that of a colony of very simple single-cell animals. AI has been a strong disciplinary interest for the academia since basically the birth of computers. Japan's MITI was aiming to produce the 5th generation computers in 1990s, to allow for massive parallelism in a supercomputer grid. Its aims were to produce a better overall power of a networked computer system, compared to an ordinary isolated, high-frequency CPU & memory combinations.

I am looking forward to dedicating a good 30-60 minutes daily to spend playing with 'breve' and
really interested in how the program can help in simulating, say, the actions of a puma in a new habitat. Puma is almost an omnivore feline. Take a closer look at Wikipedia for puma (cougar), if you like.