Down the memory lane with Digit

My tryst with the modern PCs started in the mid 90s when the internet was almost non existent in India. At the time, software and games were not easy to come by and magazines like Chip which have away trial versions and freeware in CDs along with their copies were quite sought after. Chip later became Digit in India but the freebies continued.

Digit magazine July 2019

It was with this thought that I attended the Digit Squad Tech Day in Mumbai today and it was fun to see all the colourful assembled desktops, consoles and mobile phones placed around the venue and fellow Digit Squad members participating enthusiastically in the different contests. Felt quite nostalgic to soak in the geeky environment.

Didn’t sit around idle of course and instead captured a few videos of the front camera fall detection in action for the smartphones on display. You can catch the video here.

OnePlus and Oppo seem to be catching on quite soon and they flash a dialog on screen while Samsung seems to be partially retracting their module. The Redmi K20 pro is similar in terms of responsiveness to Oppo and OnePlus but it closes the camera app instead of showing any alert. The Asus Zenfone 6z provides an interesting experience where you can see the arc on screen as the module rotates to its resting position.

And here are a few more shots from the event

When smart people get important things really wrong

Technology is but one of the tools to potentially solve a problem:

What’s hard is synthesis – learning to use technology as part of well-designed sociotechnical solutions. These solutions sometimes require profound advances in technology. But they virtually always require people to build complex, multifunctional teams that work with and learn from the people the technology is supposed to benefit.

Source: The worst thing I read this year, and what it taught me… or Can we design sociotechnical systems that don’t suck? | … My heart’s in Accra

Typography for enhanced safety

These are particularly interesting:

NASA’s List of Design Recommendations

  1. Sans-serif fonts are usually more legible than fonts with serifs.

  2. Avoid using a font that has characters that are too similar to one another, as this will reduce the legibility of the print.

  3. Avoid using dot matrix print for critical flight-deck documentation.

  4. Long chunks of text should be set in lower case.

  5. If upper case is required, the first letter of the word should be made larger in order to enhance the legibility of the word.

  6. When specifying font height, or accessing graphs to determine the size of a lower-case character, the distinction between “x” height and overall size should be made.

  7. As a general recommendation, the “x” height of a font used for important flight-deck documentation should not be below 0.10 inch.

  8. The recommended height-to-width ratio of a font that is viewed in front of the observer is 5:3.

  9. The vertical spacing between lines should not be smaller than 25–33% of the overall size of the font.

  10. The horizontal spacing between characters should be 25% of the overall size and not less than one stroke width.

  11. Avoid using long strings of text set in italics.

  12. Use primarily one or two typefaces for emphasis.

  13. Use black characters over a white background for most cockpit documentation.

  14. Avoid using white characters over a black background in normal line operations. However, if this is desired:

    1. Use minimum amount of text.
    2. Use relatively large typesize.
    3. Use sans-serif to minimize the loss of legibility.
  15. Black over white or yellow are recommended for cockpit documentation.

  16. Avoid using black over dark red, green, and blue.

  17. Use anti-glare plastic to laminate documents.

  18. Ensure that the quality of the print and the paper is well above normal standards. Poor quality of the print will effect legibility and readability.

  19. The designer must assess the age groups of the pilots that will be using the documentation, and take a very conservative approach in assessing information obtained from graphs and data books.

Source: How Typography Can Save Your Life – ProPublica

The Empire gets ready to strike back

Intel is finally revealing details for its impending Atom successor launch, named Silvermont. Wonder whether Motorola+Google have some interesting things lined up using these parts. And then of course there’s Microsoft that needs high performing, but low cost Win 8\Blue devices.

Either way, things look really promising both on the power and performance front, which can only mean good things for the mobile industry as a whole:

The mobile market is far more competitive than the PC industry was back when Conroe hit. There isn’t just one AMD but many competitors in the SoC space that are already very lean and fast moving. There’s also the fact that Intel doesn’t have tremendous marketshare in ultra mobile. Silvermont may feel a lot like Conroe, but the market it’s competing in is very different. That’s not to say that Intel can’t be successful here; it’s just not going to be easy.

Architecturally Silvermont is very conservative, and that’s not a bad thing. A side effect of not wanting to make Haswell irrelevant by a far lower cost part is the benefit of maintaining power efficiency. Intel joins the ranks of Apple and Qualcomm in intelligently scaling performance while respecting power consumption. Intel’s 22nm process should give Silvermont a lot of runway to use. If it can quickly follow up with 14nm, Silvermont’s power advantage could end up being akin to Conroe’s performance advantage in the mid-2000s.

via AnandTech | Intel’s Silvermont Architecture Revealed: Getting Serious About Mobile.

Quora: Samsung copying Apple?

A real tongue in cheek answer – at least Apple can’t claim to be the first victim. You definitely can’t accuse Samsung of not keeping with the times or latest trends.

Answer by Glyn Williams:

No Never.

Before Apple, Samsung did not copy the Blackberry either.

This is the Samsung Blackjack II. Notice that the name Blackjack sounds nothing like Blackberry.

And before that, when the Motorola Razr was a top seller. Samsung definitely did not copy it with a phone called the Blade.  The word Blade and the word Razr don’t even start with the same letter.

Reliance Mobile has it backwards

I have a Reliance CDMA post paid connection for which the bill gets generated around the 8th of each month. I have a Rs 500 credit limit & they used to send me an SMS when I used to get close to that limit. However, the incident of over the last day takes the cake:

  1. I get an SMS at 4:30 am saying that my outgoing call facility has been barred, without any warning whatsoever. This in spite of my paying the bills on time (in fact, I make payments in the excess to cushion against the credit limit).
  2. I log on to their site after waking up and make a payment of Rs 1000 against the bill amount of Rs 838 (incidentally Rs 837.53 that they conveniently round off as Rs 838 on their pdf bills) at 8:30 am.
  3. I am duly informed of my payment by SMS at 8:40 am (Thank goodness!).
  4. Another SMS at 8:50 am informs me that my outgoing call facility has been activated (Yippee!).
  5. However, at 9:50 am I get an SMS saying “your account usage is high. Pls pay Rs 873.53 to enjoy outgoing service.” (the amount adds up actually as it’s Rs 837.53 for the last bill plus Rs 36 unbilled usage that I had last checked on their site). I decide to ignore the SMS as I have already made a payment well over that amount.
  6. I finally get my bill for last month by email at 6:40 pm with an amount of Rs 838 due (Rs 837.53 thoughtfully round up in case I decide to pay by cheque… but wait, haven’t I already made the payment?).
  7. But the best part is when my phone rings at 9:30 pm & I hear an automated voice telling me that my usage is high and I need to pay Rs 873.53 to continue the outgoing service.

Somehow, someone, somewhere seems to have written down the design specs backwards or maybe it’s just me. I guess they have changed their support software/interface, or is that an “upgrade”.

P.S. The times have been rounded off to the nearest 10 minutes (not as conventional as the bill amounts unfortunately).

Some origami video to start with

Over the last week, I have been thinking about doing some video content creation, specifically some kinds of do it yourself videos. I have a liking for origami, and thought this should be a good starting point. I did have a youtube account, but there were also numerous other similar services.

I was wondering which service would be a good choice, and this is when I came across Andy’s post on his choices of online video services. He has given a nice comparison of some of the services like youtube, viddler and seesmic, finally favouring viddler:

Viddler is just so easy to use. It accepts a whole range of common video formats and will transcode them for you. You can tag your videos – and even better than that, you can add comments and tags at particular points in the video. I can embed the videos on my WP.com blog (which is not possible with Seesmic). It’s easy to find and connect with friends. There are groups. There are excellent stats which show where hits on your videos are coming from, including when a video is played through an embed on your site or another one…

The viddler features seemed quite attractive. So, I signed up for it and uploaded my first video (a flapping bird origami). I also did some digging to see how the Viddler videos could be embedded into a WordPress.com blog, and it seems there is a tag to do this:

At the Viddler site, if you click on Menu in the lower right of a video screen, a row of menu selections appear at the top of the video screen. Select “embed” and then click on the “wordpress.com” button and it will give you the code that will work with [WordPress].com.

Here’s the embedded form of the bird origami video (there’s also a flickr photo set for the step by step photos):

I’ll be creating more origami videos along with corresponding flickr sets (also an origami collection for the sets). The only problem for me right now is the slow upload speed (64 kbps), due to which I am uploading low resolution videos (320×240) without audio. As for the video creation, I used my digicam, a Canon Powershot A630 mounted on a Gorillapod to shoot the video, and VirtualDub to re-edit the video (re-encoding to DivX and removing audio).

Simplicity is overrated

I just came across Don Norman’s (author of Design of Everyday Things) essay of the same name via a Joel Spolsky post. It gives an interesting perspective on the whole simplicity of design spin.

Why do we deliberately build things that confuse the people who use them?

Answer: Because the people want the features. Because simplicity is a myth whose time has past, if it ever existed.

Joel too agrees on this point and als states that simplicity does not mean absence of features, rather ease of use.

I think it is a misattribution to say, for example, that the iPod is successful because it lacks features. If you start to believe that, you’ll believe, among other things, that you should take out features to increase your product’s success.

In fact, some things which are not explicitly touted as features could in fact turn out to be a feature (or highlight) of a product, e.g. ease of use, a clean interface, beauty, aesthetics.

Then again, the “simplicity myth” was stated mainly as a differentiator for products being sold. How applicable is it to products available free of cost? Take for example text editors. We have powerful editors like Emacs and vi which I have tried to use without much success (failure to get over the learning curve), and ended up using something like Notepad++. Would the situation have been reversed had I been paying for them…. I’m not so sure.