blog.asurroca.com my personal blog

August 27, 2008

Mozilla Labs’ Ubiquity: The Future of the Web

Filed under: business,design,technology — Tags: , , , , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 1:49 pm

I’ve seen the future of the web, and it’s right here in this video below. The web used to be static. Then, it got filled with dynamic information, and “web 2.0” brought all this dynamic information together with web-based services. That was cool for a while, but Mozilla Labs’ Ubiquity prototype shows us the next step. Forget about words, just watch this video. Be amazed.

Now, I was thinking: drag-and-drop might be one of the most important functions to the user since the GUI, or multiple windows. Making the drag-and-drop function ubiquitous was probably one of Windows 95’s greatest contributions to the GUI. You might scoff, since drag-and-drop is rudimentary; well, that’s because Windows made it ubiquitous, mainstream.

Think about it: Want to open something in Photoshop? Before drag-and-drop, you had to a) open Photoshop, then b) locate and open the file(s) from within Photoshop. Now you locate the file(s), and drag them to the Photoshop icon to open the program and files with a single action. Want to attach a file attachment into an e-mail? Drag it into the e-mail window.

Ubiquity aims to make the web that simple. This user-focused simplicity does not exist on the web…yet. Ubiquity aims to change this. And I can’t wait! For a much more in-depth post on how this works, check Aza Raskin’s blog (he’s the dude behind this project).

August 21, 2008

Trout

Filed under: humor,technology — Tags: , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 9:48 pm

Next time you get a message from someone you don’t recognize with the word “trout” in their name, expect to be confused while confusing a third-party. See, there’s a flood of AIM bots running around lately.

What these bots do is troll for AIM screennames, then send apparently send a message to a random AIM user from its list. When this user responds, it sends that response to another random AIM user from its list. Neither “victim” will see the screenname of the other person—each will think they are talking to one of the trout screennames. Much confusion or anger will then ensue. And then people will post memorable conversations on LiveJournal.

So, what was my conversation like? Once I realized this was not a person I know, I started telling them to fuck off and blocked them. Perhaps I was impolite.

P.S. If you think this whole “trout” thing is more annoying than humorous, you can send the code $optout to opt-out of communications with them.

July 11, 2008

Must-have app: Dashwire

Dashwire logoIf you have a Windows Mobile phone and an unlimited data plan, you have to get Dashwire like, yesterday. If you’re using anything else and/or don’t have an unlimited data plan, then I’m sorry.

Dashwire, recently out of private beta, lives as an app on your WinMo 5 or 6 phone (Symbian and BlackBerry support on the way) and dutifully sends out almost everything to the other half of this equation, a web app that lets you manage your phone from your computer. The data gets synced over the air automatically, so you know that nearly everything on your phone is also available on the web.

Backup to the Dashwire Cloud

Dashwire will pick up and sync your photos, your text messages, your contacts, your ringtones, even your call history and voicemail (via Callwave). And it syncs almost frighteningly fast: I had the web app open, and received a phone call; by the time I hung up perhaps a minute later, the call was already displayed in my call history on the Dashwire web app.

Dashwire screenshot

Web2.0 for your Phone

Dashwire doesn’t stop there, even though as an online backup for your phone alone, it would already kick ass. No, Dashwire gives you the whole web2.0 social networking aspect, like any good web app would. When you set your status on your phone through the Dashwire app, it sends the status update to your Facebook and Twitter status (and I’m sure more services are in the pipeline). Your phone gets its own little profile page, with a stream of all the photos and video you’ve shot posted up as a tumblelog. And you can view your text messages like an instant messaging conversation, a la iChat/iPhone. You can also send text messages or Skype any of your contacts from the Dashwire web app, as well as share anything with your contacts.

Verdict: Awesome Squared

So far, I’m in love. Dashwire has that feeling of something that does everything just right. The last time I was so smitten with a service was Google’s GrandCentral, which I still use constantly. Hell, it’s replaced my phone number. Did I forget to mention that Dashwire, like GrandCentral is completely free? It basically does 90% of Apple’s MobileMe service, except it costs nothing. Read: Killer app.

One final note: Apparently, Microsoft is already on the list of investors. And the start-up behind Dashwire just happens to be in Seattle. With Danger (the folks behind the Sidekick) in their company, I immediately thought that adding Dashwire to the Sidekick would be nothing short of perfect. If Dashwire can get their “cloud” to sync back to Outlook over the air, then, I’ll be in mobile heaven.

June 17, 2008

Transforming In-Dash Navigation

Filed under: business,school,technology — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 9:42 am

Adapted from school a project write-up from last semester — When you add several ingredients together, the result will either become nothing more than a hodgepodge of dissimilar ingredients, or something new and equal to much more than the sum of its parts. The latter case is a transformation. It’s the difference between the tacked-on motion-sensor in the PlayStation 3 controller and the motion-sensitive functions of the Nintendo Wii. Or the difference between sites developed from the ground up to foster social networking and sites which added this functionality as another bullet point in their list of features. It might be difficult to tell when a media transformation has occurred, but it’s pretty easy to tell when one has not.

Several months ago, the project team I became a part of set out to create something out of little more than a marketing phrase, a few ideas stemming from it, and a combination of several media. the “product” became called NavShield. We set out to take the head up display (HUD) technology already available in some vehicles—the Corvette has had this feature for nearly a decade—combine it with several current and upcoming vehicle technologies, and refine it into something new. We started out by thinking about how “cool” it would be to project pretty Apple-esque icons onto the HUD on your windshield. I came up with ideas by driving and having “if only I had this feature” moments. The “thinking process” of the system would be something like this:

  • Navigation information is pulled from a GPS receiver (e.g. where you are and where you’re going)
  • This information is augmented with location-relevant information pulled from the internet via Wi-Fi or Wi-Max (e.g. gas stations nearby, weather in the area)
  • The location-based information is refined based on your preferences (e.g. only gas stations nearby that sell diesel fuel, only whether or not it is expected to rain in your destination at the time you are scheduled to arrive based on your current average speed)
  • Finally, the augmented, filtered information gets placed on your HUD

The group’s first tendency was to come up with as many ideas for icons as possible, and clutter the windshield with pretty icons. Just as your first tendency upon first using Mac OS X’s Dashboard or Yahoo! Widgets or Windows Vista’s Sidebar would be to search for and add any widget that perks your fancy until your desktop becomes a mess. While no harm can be done by having too many of these widgets on your computer, having too many on your windshield would be a disaster. That’s why I came up with this process above to connect and filter the data that comes in, and only display the end result.

After showing our project in its current form at the Showcase of Undergraduate Research Excellence event at UCF, the single most frequent piece of feedback we received was the following question: “What about driver distraction?” I recall that driver distraction was an issue when BMW’s iDrive debuted because many core functions’ hardware buttons were replaced with computer-like menus and sub-menus displayed on-screen. The trend is toward displaying more information on the navigation screen, and I felt that were it backed with psychological research, the NavShield project could solve this issue.

While conducting psychology experiments pertaining to driver distraction, and then usability tests on the interface are well outside scope of this one-semester project, it’s definitely the next step. In the meantime, I decided on some measures to limit driver distraction:

  • Limiting HUD to upper-third: I decided on a rule that, should something like get to working prototype stage, the HUD could only be displayed on the upper-third of the windshield. What I thought was, if the law prohibits tint below that part of the windshield because of visibility issues, then we should prohibit HUDs below that part of the windshield for the same reason.
  • Prioritizing information: Information would be grouped into several types, and prioritized. For example, when at speed, only the most important information (e.g. current speed) would be displayed, but while stopped, second-tier information could also appear. Beyond that, context- or location-relevant information would appear only when needed. For example, an arrow telling you which turn to make would only appear as the turn approaches.

The dashboard screens available in many of today’s automobiles cram as much information as viable, and it seems apparent that this information is added mostly to one-up the competition in terms of feature sets. It’s not uncommon for systems which previously gathered and displayed only navigation information now connect with and display everything from your media player’s music list to your phone’s contact list. At present, the only product on the market putting this information together in a package that feels transformational and not simply tacked-on is Microsoft’s Sync. The Dash navigation system also works similarly to what I have outlined for NavShield; for example, it combines GPS information with traffic data pulled from over the internet. Therefore, I would use these two products are the benchmarks for NavShield were the project taken further.

While I’m not so deluded to say that my project team’s semester project has already reached the level of becoming a piece of transformational media, I do feel that it’s on the right track. The idea of grabbing a lot of information from many sources, intelligently putting them together, filtering them based on user preferences, and displaying only the most relevant information is key, and I feel it means the difference between transforming disparate media into a cohesive whole versus a bullet list of features. Furthermore, even if we were to ignore the application, the idea of collecting, connecting, filtering, and displaying information has applications in any field. It’s something key to the attention data and data portability movements and something that will change the way we behave as much as social networking has.

June 10, 2008

Chevy Nomad (By Way of Germany)

Filed under: business,design,technology — Tags: , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 9:59 am

Photo of Chevy Nomad concept car

You might (or not) remember Chevrolet’s concept car from a few years back, the Nomad. It never made it to production, but a similar car might thanks to Murat Günak, former design boss of the Volkswagen Group.

Photograph of the 2009 Mindset Six50

Günak co-founded a new auto company, Mindset and made the Six50, whose purpose is to buck the trend toward larger, heavier cars; its name comes from its weight, 650 kg (1430 lbs). For reference, my VW New Beetle weighs in at just under 3000 lbs, and even the tiny Smart Car weighs about 1600 lbs. Add to the Six50’s light weight the fact that it’s a hybrid, and we should be seeing some serious MPGs.

Rather, Europe should be seeing some serious MPGs. With the target price of €31,000 and the weak dollar, this car’s chances of making it to the States are approximately 0.000%. Check out the details at TreeHugger and scope a few more pics of this sweet-looking hybrid.

June 9, 2008

June 5, 2008

Proof That The Tech Industry Is Not Boring

Filed under: business,technology — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 10:48 pm

Broadcom pwnedHere’s the proof in the form of a headline from The New York Times today: “Broadcom Co-Founder Faces Conspiracy and Drug Charges”. Apparently, the guy had a nasty habit of slipping ecstasy into executives’ drinks when he was meeting up with them.

Enjoy the read.

On a semi-related note: Now, the next time I’m trying to get one of Broadcom’s shitty (but ubiquitous) wireless adapters to play nice with Ubuntu, I’ll take solace knowing that some of the douche-bags behind Broadcom are now behind bars.

There’s Apple in my PC

My first inclination upon seeing a process whose description is ##Id_String2.6844F930_1628_4223_B5CC_5BB94B879762## in my list of currently running processes is to think it’s some kind of virus, spyware, or some other malevolent piece of garbage. My first inclination would be wrong.

Bonjour

A quick Google search found that it’s part of Apple’s Bonjour service, which gets arbitrarily installed with iTunes, and apparently anything from Adobe these days. Bonjour is basically Apple’s version of zero configuration networking, and the service behind the ability of iTunes users to broadcast and share their playlists. That’s fine and all, but what is it doing on my PC?

After all, Windows already uses its own implementation of Zeroconf, so what’s the use of having a second? I don’t see Microsoft unloading a bunch of Windows services onto unsuspecting Mac users every time they install third-party software that has nothing to do with Microsoft. Thus, I don’t expect to find Apple’s services bundled with third-party software either.

Of course, I’m not especially surprised. These are the same people who pushed Safari on unsuspecting Windows iTunes users a few months back. At any rate, it was not an ordeal to simply right-click the offending process, stop it, and set it to “disabled”. Perhaps I’ll re-enable it the next time I actually need Bonjour (read: never).

June 3, 2008

Google CLI Makes Me Smile

Filed under: technology — Tags: , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 8:51 am

Yesterday, I came across a site that does what one might think impossible: it simplifies Google’s interface even further. Someone—well, Stefan Grothkopp, according to the site—created a web-based command line interface (CLI) for Google. If you used computers before the GUI, or use a shell interface to FTP, this has got to bring a smile to your face.

Check out goosh.org.

May 30, 2008

Google Android: Suck it, iPhone

Filed under: business,rants,technology — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 11:05 am

I was just reading about the latest demo of Google’s Android mobile operating system. The Android Community site got an exclusive live preview of the latest version, and posted plenty of pictures and video, most importantly, this:

In a nut-shell, this system is already looking like it can do whatever the snazzy iPhone can dish out, with two key differences: it’s free, and it’s open. Where the Apple software, even with the new App Store and iPhone SDK, is crippled by being under Apple’s lock and key, Google Android will let developers do whatever they want, on their own terms.

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