Tagandroid

Tools I Use (September 2012 edition)

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objects

As a geek, it’s one of my duties and privileges to occasionally give tech & gadget advice. Sometimes to companies, more often to friends and family. I try to collect that stuff online under the tag Tools I Use. Here’s a snapshot of some of the gadgets and tools I’m currently using, and why:

Macbook Air

I’m still on a Macbook Air of about two years of age, about to be replaced. It’s my main & only computer, and I’m on it all day, every day. The Air has enough power for almost anything I encounter day to day, and its super lightweight design makes more than up for the occasionally over-powered processor. Of course, an external screen is nice and recommended. More screen real estate is good.

Nexus S v Galaxy S3

I loved my Nexus S phone, pure Android goodness. But it’s old now, and about to die. Time to let it go.

After years on various Android phones, I was (once more) just about ready to jump ship and switch over to iPhone. Initially I went to Android because it was more open than Apple’s iOS platform, then admittedly because I didn’t want to admit to myself that Google’s competitor isn’t as open as it set out to be. Both platforms by now try to lock you into their ecosystems, and both by now have pretty mature ecosystems, too.

While I consider the hardware design, by now, more eye candy than the software & platform aspects, on the design front the new iPhone kicks the Samsung Galaxy S3’s ass any day. (Same goes for naming conventions, as the last sentence easily demonstrates.)

That said, back to platforms and software: My mail and calendar live at Google. I don’t like iTunes. And I prefer Google Maps over Apple’s less mature mapping tools. (I hear very good things about Nokia maps, but hey, you can’t have it all.) So any promise the iPhone can give me about better integrating iCloud, iTunes or Apple’s calendar and email sounds to me more like a bug than a feature. I understand why many people opt for the Apple-verse, but when the road forked way back when, with one road leading to Apple lock-in and the other leading to (slightly less total) Google lock-in, I made a choice, and now it seems not worth switching.

My new phone is the Samsung Galaxy S3, the current top-of-the-line Android phone, the flagship model.

To get a better hands-on feeling for iOS, I guess I’ll just get an iPad. Using both platforms in parallel will both maximize friction and transaction costs, and give me a good side by side comparison. It’s the price I have to pay for geeking out.

Camera

I don’t really use any camera besides my phone. I’m on the market for a super compact model, but for almost any given context the phone camera should be good enough.

Headphones

For heavy duty, loud contexts (long plane rides, New York subway, etc) I use Audio Technica Quietpoint noise cancelling phones.

For the day to day, including sports and lots of conference calls, I’m quite happy with my Bose IE2 in-ears. Being in-ears, there’s lots of cable to get tangled up, but sound quality and fit are quite good. It’s not easy to find a good mix of headset and in-ears, and I’ve used them for the last nine months or so and am quite content with them.

Extra battery

On more intense days, my phone battery won’t make it through the day. So I frequently need some extra juice. A simple, if not particularly elegant solution is an external battery pack. I use one from TeckNet, which (like the name indicates) is a bit of a plasticky, cheap-ish affair. Yet, it works. And the current models actually look at least superficially like they might have improved in overall quality. Whichever brand you use, it’s good to have an extra charge of connectivity in your pocket.

Travel gear

  • Everyday backpack: Mission Workshop Rambler. Excellent, and just the right size and pocket layout for laptop & the necessary gadgets, extra jacket/sweatshirt, water bottle and all the cables, etc, that keep adding up.
  • Carry on: Rimowa IATA Cabin Trolley (two wheels). Hard to beat, and can take a beating. Heavy, but I like the aluminum finish. (The other materials are more light-weight.) Just big enough for 3-4 days of clothes and running shoes if you travel light.
  • Backpack for longer intense trips: Eagle Creek. Not sure which model, but I think it’s what they would now have updated to Rincon Vita. Light weight, huge volume, pretty much indestructible.

All of them are a bit on the pricy side, but are reliable, durable, feature a decent minimalistic design. I wouldn’t leave my home without them.

More recommendations

Helpful? If you’re into tool recommendations, I highly recommend Kevin Kelly’s fantastic Cool Tools.

Nokia is back on the radar

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Ever since the iPhone launched in 2007 and thereby kicked off the era of real smartphones as we know them today, Nokia has been pretty much dead for the geek crowd.

Today, I’m not so sure anymore.

Nokia has been struggling quite a bit with the smartphone market. Their products just didn’t live up to the competition, their platform choices seemed poor to say the least.

And still: More recently Nokia has put out some quite noteworthy products. They few and far between, but things are getting interesting once more. The top end of the Lumia series (particularly the Lumia 900 phone) is a package of both gorgeous hardware and a pretty cool interface. Nokia’s new route planner incorporates public transport data in ways far superior to Google’s attempts so far. The WebGL-based Google Earth-style Nokia Global Maps 3D is – despite limited geographies – fantastic, particularly for something that runs in your browser.

In Berlin, we’re close to where a bunch of Nokia’s mobile services are based. I would hope that there’s a connection there, Berlin influencing Nokia’s folks as Nokia’s talent imports influence the city. If that connection exists I don’t know, but I find it a strangely comforting thought.

It’s hard to tell if these positive hits recently have been more or less lucky or if they are the first manifestations of a larger change inside the company. And if it is a larger change, is it too little too late? We’ll have to wait and see. I just know that there’s something going on there that brought Nokia back on the radar – in all the good ways.

Google+ First Impressions

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It’s time to drop some off-the-cuff punditry. (Kidding.) I’m sitting at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport waiting for boarding one of a long series of flights, on a trip that’s been going on for the better part of a week. So when I got my Google+ invite, I hardly had time to check it out – besides through the mobile app on Android.

And I have to say: I’m impressed.

Disclaimer one: As we see a lot of bashing on one, and hyperbole on the other end of the spectrum, I’ll try to stay clear of all that. If you don’t like moderate blog posts, skip this one. Disclaimer two: I once worked on a small project for Google, and I’ve been (on and off) a member of the Google-initiated Internet & Society Collaboratory in Berlin (a multi stakeholder initiative, unpaid).

So! Is Google+ a Facebook killer? Nonsense, of course not. There’s a time and a place for Facebook, and the level of convenience as well as the incredible reach that Facebook has reached makes it unlikely to go away anytime soon. However – Facebook has been feeling stale and old for quite some time, and they have fumbled privacy so many times it’s hard to imagine that they really tried. Whatever their agenda is, protecting their users doesn’t seem to be part of it. If we’re lucky – and I must say I hope so – then Google+ might help nudge Facebook just that tiny bit closer to become more like MySpace: still around, but really, really irrelevant.

G+ is, however, the first serious and promising large scale attempt to offer a serious alternative to Facebook. While I’ve been really crossing my fingers for Diaspora – and it has become relatively neat over time – it’s not a very lively space.

The way Google has connected all the dots and learned from all the ways other platforms as well Google themselves were criticized is quite impressive. It’s obvious that a lot (!) of thought and resources have been poured into G+. Even the awkward loose ends like “+1” and their other social near-failures seems to fit right in. And while of course only time will tell how protective of our privacy G+ will be, there are a number of interesting and very promising paradigms at work here. For one, sharing is much more granular – the “circles” metaphor works well. Group chat (“huddles”) works smoothly.

The mobile app is fantastic, and the notion of separating between a stream for your circles and “nearby” conversations happening allows for temporary local networks. Imagine you’re at a conference or concert, and instead of doing the awkward hashtag thing, you just see what people around you are saying. This could change quite a bit.

And one thing is certain: Since Google dropped G+ right into the Google navigation bar (along with mail, calendar etc) shows it really prominently whenever you have a touchpoint with another Google webservice – if you’re a knowledge worker these days, that means basically all the time. The integration with the other services, as far as I could tell, works very smooth, too. Google has managed to connect all the dots, and a very decent picture emerged.

Maybe it happened at random, but the fact that Google Calendar and Gmail also got a new, freshly designed interface just makes Google look that much more attractive than just a few days ago.

Of course, we’re seeing only the beginning of what will probably a long iterative process. The not-yet-quite obvious effects are hard to grasp at this point, where the beta users are only trying out what exactly it is that Google+ is even capable of. But besides becoming another big social network (which I’m sure G+ will become very quickly), I expect Google search results to become a lot more relevant.

When G+ will be available on iOS I don’t know. But Google has at least proven one thing: That despite their reputation they actually know how to do social. They’re a bit late to the game, but with G+ they put a stake in the ground.

This is going to be interesting to watch.

ps. For a very decent overview and analysis, this WIRED article is a must read.

Weeknotes #188

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Das Fest 2007: Skateboard-Miniatur

It’s Tuesday and that means: it’s late weeknotes time!

Bioplastics, wallet, vinegar

Jay showed us how to make our own bioplastic wallets. Now I have one too, and apart from my own bad stitching I like it a lot. If only it didn’t smell so strongly of vinegar… but I did realized that I really like the very compact form factor. Forces me to cut down on stuff in my wallet, and that’s a good thing. Make sure to check out all the different workshops offered at Open Design City. (You can ask for different workshops, too!)

Collaboratory

We’ve had the first event of the Google-initiated Collaboratory “Internet & Society” with politicians to discuss the initial results of a survey we conducted. Quite an impressive and stimulating event actually: After an initial presentation of survey results by Google and the research team, the topic cluster “godparents” gave some insights into the wide range of answers we got. (All topic clusters hat one or two members of the expert groups as so-called godparents to split up the work. Yours truly was responsible for Anonymity On The Web.) Then we all split up into group discussions for an hour and had some in-depth discussions. Good stuff. We’ll be chewing the results to write up a final report.

Geek dinner

I was told one is random, two’s a trend, three’s a tradition. Or something. So I won’t hesitate calling our geek dinners at Kimchi Princess a tradition now. Lovely, inspiring dinner with Michelle, Igor, Johannes, Caroline, Matt, Ronen, Jan, Boris and plenty others. Nothing beats inspiring conversations with great folks over yummy dinner and cold drinks.

More speaking

Seems like there’ll be a number of speaking gigs coming up, both at smaller conferences and in-house client workshops. Also seems like this always comes in waves. One day I’m sure I’ll discover a pattern there so I’ll be able to line up a more coherent travel plan.

Android

I’ve been trying to root my HTC Hero to update to at least Android 2.1 (or even Android 2.2?) without much success so far. (No damage either!) Hints are very welcome!

Question

If you had to describe weeknotes in one word, which would it be: a) annoying b) useful c) don’t matter ? Feel free to let me know in the comments or any other channel. Turns out it takes more discipline than expected, and there’s only so many things I can write about at any given time while others I cannot discuss for awhile. So I’m not sure if I should keep sending them out or if you’d prefer not having them in this place. Thanks for your feedback!

Image: Das Fest 2007: Skateboard-Miniatur, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike (2.0) image from leralle’s photostream

Tech year 2009 wrap up: cloud computing, Android, privacy discussions

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retro future

A couple of days ago I’ve given a short look back at the year 2009 from a personal point of view. Right after, I realized there were a couple more things with a wider tech perspective that I’d like to include – again, more for personal documentation than anything else. So here goes.

Everything went to the cloud We had been talking about cloud computing for a few years, but for me, 2009 clearly was the year The Cloud took off. I moved practically everything to the cloud, and cloud often equals Google these days. My email has been living inside gMail for years, but in 2009 I’ve ditched my email client altogether. Now I’m IMAP-ing browser-based between my computers and my phone.

Everything but my most sensitive documents live in the cloud, especially most collaborative docs. (Again, Google Docs or Etherpad, but Etherpad has also been acquired by Google recently.) My calendars are 100% up in Google Calendar.

Am I happy about this focus on Google? Far from it. But at this point, I see no equally well-executed alternative. For an overview of just how googley 2009 was, head over to Gina Trapani. Also, I recommend This Week In Google, a great weekly podcast with Leo Laporte, Jeff Jarvis and, again, Gina Trapani.

Still all this is clearly just the beginning. It should be interesting to watch where cloud computing goes in 2010.

Android killed the iPhone (for me) Ok, ok, Android may not have killed the iPhone officially. But ever since I switched to an Android-based phone (HTC Hero), I haven’t felt the urge to get an iPhone. Not a single time. Before I had been playing with the idea, and had always restrained. (I really don’t like the product policy behond the iPhone.) Android is a gorgeous, stable, powerful platform, and it’s all open source. It’s clear to me that while I might change phones a few times over the next couple of years, it’s not likely I’ll be leaving Android anytime soon.

Speaking of open source, 2009 is also the year I ditched Windows for good. I now live a Windows-free live (with a mix of Mac OSX, Ubuntu and Android), and boy, it’s feeling good.

The fight for our data 2009 has also been a year of intense battles in the digital realm, although certainly it’s not the last (or worst) to come. These fights have been along many different fronts, and not all have been going well at all.

In politics, Europe has been covered in conflicts regarding data retention. (German government introduced excessive data retention laws which are now under court review as far as I know.) Also in Germany, the basis for government-run censorship was laid under the pretense of fighting child abuse, search for #zensursula for details. The best German-language resource for these topics is certainly netzpolitik.org, so check them out for more details and updates. Good news, if not a solution to the problem: President Köhler has so far refused to sign the law.

In the corporate world, the conflict lines have been a lot more fragmented and twisted. However, one thing has become clear: Internet consumers will have to make a clear point regarding their expectations in terms of privacy and data control in digital contexts. Be it Facebook and its privacy settings, be it data ownership in other social networks. Important keywords in this field are: Data Portability identification systems like OAuth, microformats or the decentralized social web. (Like so often, Chris Messina is right in the middle of it. Check out the DiSo Project.) The same goes for End User License Agreements (EULA for short). Everybody is so used to just clicking those pages upon pages of legalese away that we’re bound to have a discussion about their use and legitimacy sometime soon. This isn’t new, but hasn’t been solved either, so maybe 2010 will bring some news there.

But worry not, it’s not all lost – these topics seemed to be very niche, and maybe still are. However, everybody in their right mind will come to the conclusion that there’s a line to what consumers have to bear before just moving on to another brand or product. (Even my mom was asking about the insanity of DRM the other day!) It looks like these topics, obscure as they may seem, are getting more publicity and more people to help out. Hopefully we can all collaboratively take some of the load off of the few individuals that have been doing such a tremendous job of raising awareness so far. (You know who you are.)

Obviously I’m happy to be able to end this post on a happy note.

So, again in short: the tech year of 2009 the way I perceived it = year of privacy discussions, cloud computing, Android.

Did I forget anything important? Let me know…

(image source)