Facebook’s Crypto Strawman

This is their first attempt after all…

alexdanco.com

If you haven’t heard already:

Welcome to Libra | Facebook
Facebook announces Libra cryptocurrency: all you need to know | Josh Constine, Techcrunch

I mean, hey, good for Facebook for… going for it, I guess? After two-plus years of being called all sorts of nasty names – a threat to democracy, a nest of lies, a horde of children playing run-the-universe, you get the idea – Facebook has announced their newest plan to get everybody mad at them: they’re launching a new cryptocurrency / payments product for their users around the world. They call it “A simple global currency and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people.” And it’s called Libra.

The actual mechanics of the Libra blockchain protocol are a real Rorschach test: whatever it is you already thought Facebook was doing, you’re probably going to keep thinking that, but armed with more talking points: 

  • Libra is a private…

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How the Model T drove hats out of fashion

Lama Al Rajih

Last week, I came across this tweet from an account I follow on Twitter.

Take a closer look at the picture.

Every single person in this picture, man or woman, was wearing a hat. There isn’t a single person in that picture that isn’t wearing a hat. People even wore broad-rimmed and Panama hats to the beach (unless they were swimming).

Of course, createstreets was pointing out the large sidewalks and tiny roads in the picture, reminding the audience that this was at a time when everybody was walking or riding a horse, and very few people drove cars.

I’m not really sure how my train of thought ended up where it did, but I quickly asked this question: did hats fall out of fashion because of cars?

I ended up getting into a conversation with Andrew, who previously worked in the fashion world, about this particular subject, and…

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First impressions of Spotify in India

The service launched yesterday in India in the midst of the Warner music conflict, but it seems to have a pretty decent catalogue in India. The recommendations engine is also top notch as I experienced it first hand by feeding in my preferred artists across different genres and it right away created a bunch of playlists with some of my favorite songs. Definitely the best experience of all the music streaming services so far for me.

I’m currently on the free tier which doesn’t lose out much other than the highest audio quality and offline storage. The ads are bearable for now. It also seems that Amazon is holding back with their Spotify support on the Echo line in India as seen in this mail from customer support.

The premium pricing is also in line with Apple Music though quite a bit more expensive than the Indian services like Wynk or Saavn. It also doesn’t seem to support in app purchases on iOS as evidenced below.

I’ll probably go for the premium subscription once the Echo support kicks in or I require the offline access. For now, happy with the free tier of Spotify and making do with Amazon Music on the Echo.

Sharing large videos on Whatsapp from an iPhone

WhatsApp has this frustrating limit of 16 MB or about 1-2 min for videos shared from the camera roll on my iPhone. There seems to be a reasonable workaround through the Google photos app wherein you can use the share option on the video of your choice and select the small option which usually compresses most reasonable length videos so that they can be sent in their entirety on Whatsapp.

The quality is of course pretty poor due to the heavy compression but it’s the simplest workaround.

Mi app store induced Whatsapp obsolescence

TLDR: If you are using a Xiaomi phone like the Mi 4 or redmi series then:

  1. Go to the Whatsapp site and download and install the apk (you may need to enable third party app installs in settings)
  2. Disable auto updates on the Mi app store to prevent similar issues with other apps

On opening Whatsapp yesterday (13 Jan), I was greeted by a message saying that the version of Whatsapp was obsolete and had expired on that day. Oddly, there was no update available on the Google Play store and I was not on their beta testing program either.

A bit of searching seemed to indicate that this was a MIUI problem, in particular due to their Mi App Store which seemed to be updating apps automatically. There was however no app update on it either.

Finally read on the discussion thread that downloading the apk directly from the Whatsapp site fixed the problem for most and that was exactly what I did. I also went and disabled the Mi app store auto updates to ensure that other apps don’t end up this way.

Amazon Echo Plus in India – first impressions


Got my first smart speaker, the Amazon Echo Plus yesterday and it seems to be nicely Indianised. It seems to be using the Raveena voice based on Indian English or a variant thereof from Amazon Polly (AWS’s text to speech service). The Alexa app itself is also pleasantly adapted for India with the appropriate command suggestions and services available.

Some of the India specific commands to try

I had pre-ordered the device and it was delivered within a day of the dispatch. The setup process was quite smooth and once done, I promptly went about installing a bunch of skills ranging from the utilitarian to the time pass ones.
As a music player, the sound quality is decent but nothing spectacular as many reviewers have noted. As for the music catalog, it seems to be using Saavn exclusively though it does Amazon music as one of the options in the app. Saavn itself has a decent catalog and Alexa has again been Indianised sufficiently to understand some Hindi song names. I  tried “Play the song ek main aur ek turn” and it actually started playing the song from Saavn though it did pronounce “main” the English way.

Alexa understands Hindi!

The flash briefing skill is quite handy to get a quick bulletin of your areas of interest once you have set it up with your desired sources. It can also give you cricket score updates without any skill installation as I tried out during today’s India – New Zealand match.


I installed the Uber and Ola skills to check the overall utility factor. While Alexa seems to be able to book an Uber including picking up your location, the payment mode defaults to cash which is a dealbreaker for me. Then there’s the Zomato skill I installed and tested. It seems to know your last 3-4 orders and you can reorder as well but didn’t go beyond browsing for the moment.

The alarms and timers work pretty well too and I conveniently set a sleep timer to stop playing the music while going to bed.

Then of course there’s the whole reason why I got the plus instead of the regular model which is the smart home hub built into the device. A solo Philips hue bulb is what I ordered next and setup today. It was again a pretty simple process with the Echo detecting the bulb in a few seconds. Controlling the bulb by voice is also quite easy right from switching it on and off to changing the colour and brightness. The app however has just the on/off switch and brightness control at the moment and as many reviewers have noted, the functionality of the smart devices using just the Echo Plus is considerably limited when compared to using the devices with their respective hubs. This is definitely one area of improvement and given the kind of coverage you see for smart homes on the Amazon Alexa pages, it should improve sooner rather than later.


Apart from all this you can also use the Echo as a Bluetooth speaker and pairing it with my iPhone was quite simple. That said, all the sounds from the phone start getting carried over to the speaker and this interrupts any song or speech playing on it directly. Due to this, I ended up keeping the phone disconnected unless I wanted to play something from my phone.

One thing I couldn’t find is the voice profiles option that lets Alexa identify the person speaking and customising the responses accordingly. Possibly a feature not yet rolled out to the Indian market as it seems to depend on the Amazon app that didn’t seem to have this option in my case.

A smart speaker is a family device but my wife is not very enthused by the idea while my 4 year old daughter would like to play with Alexa but hasn’t yet gotten out of her initial shyness phase to begin talking freely to her. It didn’t help that Alexa couldn’t answer many of her queries and also the fact that she was trying to get Alexa to identify the colours of the crayons she was holding in front of the device – a perfect case for Google Lens and Assistant.

This is of course just what I’ve been able to check out in the first 24 hours with the Echo Plus and I’m sure there’s lots more already available and also coming in the near future.

The social (VFX) lives of Hollywood

vfxblog

MOCAP_V3 Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

One of the toughest things about covering visual effects can be getting great VFX imagery to display with a story. There’s often a lengthy approvals process, and sometimes film and TV distributors just want to keep certain things under wraps. That can make it hard to produce interesting stories; in visual effects, behind the scenes images and videos tell so much of the process.

But lately, I’ve started noticing that many actors, directors and filmmakers have been posting a bunch of fun on-set and often VFX-related pics and clips to their social media accounts. We’re talking actors on greenscreens, in mocap suits, being scanned, or otherwise interacting with the teams behind the visual effects shots they’ve been working on.

What I love about these postings, too, is occasionally they’ll hint at the VFX work to come, often months down the track. It’s fun to compare…

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Bringing IoT to sports analytics

IoT for cricket!

the morning paper

Bringing IoT to sports analytics Gowda et al., NSDI 17

Welcome back to the summer term of #themorningpaper! To kick things off, we’ll be looking at a selection of papers from last month’s NSDI’17 conference.

We haven’t looked at an IoT paper for a while, and this one happens to be about cricket – how could I resist?! The results are potentially transferable to other ball sports – especially baseball – so if that’s more your thing the results should also be of interest. More generally, it’s an interesting case study in embedding intelligence into everyday objects.

Sports analytics is becoming big business – for broadcasters, coaches, sports pundits and the like. Typically the data for such systems comes from expensive high-quality cameras installed in stadiums.

We explore the possibility of significantly lowering this cost barrier by embedding cheap Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) sensors and ultrawide band (UWB) radios inside…

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Outlook for Mac 2016 15.x – Repeated password prompts issue

I have been a Microsoft Office user on the Mac for nearly 3 years now at my workplace and for the last 6-8 months, I have been plagued by repeated password prompts on Outlook 2016 for my Work Exchange account. The sad part is that it just refuses to connect even after putting in the credentials. It seems to happen mostly when connected on the office network and the older Outlook 2011 app does not suffer from this problem. It seems to be a pretty common issue given the number of threads on the Microsoft support forums.

The issue was not present in the initial releases of the Outlook 2016 app and in the last few releases it has started prompting me with the Office 365 sign in page. The issue seems to stem from a conflict with Keychain access on the recent Mac versions, and the only reliable solution I have found is to delete the Exchange related keychain entries as suggested in this thread.

Open up Mac Keychain tool.

Choose “Login”

Remove *ALL* (delete) references to:

“Exchange”

“Microsoft Office Identities Cache 2”

“@<something>” that has a type of “MicrosoftOffice15**”

“Microsoft Office Identities Settings 2”

“MSOpenTEch.ADAL.<something>”

Source: Outlook for Mac 15.x – Repeated password prompts still an issue … – Microsoft Community

Update: Received this tweet from the Outlook for Mac Principal Lead Programmer, Alessio, promising a fix in the 15.31 update in Feb 2017. So, keeping my fingers crossed.