Friday 29 June 2018

Hemingway and happiness

Here's a quote. Here, also, is a quote that annoys me.
'Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know', said Ernest Hemingway, according to Twitter and an assortment of quotation databases. Dear old Ernie, the Nobel Prize-winning writer who killed himself in 1961 after treatment for depression. It's almost like he was talking about himself, isn't it? A portent.

Or perhaps these are the words he gave a character in one of his novels and aren't necessarily what he believed at all. Yes, that's what's really going on here. The words are spoken by Marita in 'The Garden of Eden', a book constructed from Hemingway's unfinished notes and published after his death. And, yes, they're the words Hemingway wrote. But they're no more a definitive example of Hemingway's viewpoint or mantra than any of his other pieces of fiction.

That's what annoys me. Picking a sentence spoken by a character and stating it as though the words reflect the author's personal opinion. I might as well quote J.K.Rowling as saying "You know, I really hate children".

Sunday 17 June 2018

Why I don't care about you quitting Facebook

You say you're giving up Facebook? That's an intriguing perspective: the world's biggest social media network has faced plenty of criticism in recent years. In fact, for the past decade many of my own Facebook posts have been about the negative effects of using it. Oh, the irony, eh?

What's the best thing about leaving, do you think? The freedom from intrusive advertising? An escape from being tracked when you visit other sites across the web? Getting away from having your viewpoint manipulated by activists based in foreign states?

Nope, none of those. Apparently it's a bit of schadenfreude, delighting in Facebook's emailed attempts to win you back. That's like telling me you've become a vegan because lamb's too chewy. 

Anyway, surely, after you've quit, Facebook can't keep sending... Oh, I see. Despite your opening line, it seems like you've not actually left. You've not pressed the big red button and jettisoned your account into the void. You've just turned your back for a moment to see what divorce feels like. And, unlike millions of people, you're in the fortunate position of not relying on Facebook for much of your online access.

But let's put my cynicism aside for a moment. You feel as though there are now "new acres of mind opening up". That's positive, even though you offer no objective evidence for it. When I'm a bit sad I'll sometimes have a cup of tea and a piece of cake but I wouldn't claim it as a cure for depression.

One of the genuinely interesting points here -  about the way that Facebook keeps reminding us about the past instead of letting memories fade naturally with time - is lost in the middle, tied up with stuff about mental decluttering (you might as well recommend that we don't read The Guardian every day) and enjoying events in the moment (which could as easily be warning me off using a camera). And, like everything else, it's unsupported.

I know, it's an opinion piece. But I'd like a bit more proof, please. Where's the meat?

Wednesday 6 June 2018

June 2018 'gadget guru' technology: TRE Talk Radio Europe

Here's a summary of the technology I talked about in this month's 'gadget guru' chat on TRE Talk Radio Europe:

Apple iOS 12 operating system

Last year Apple used its Worldwide Developer Conference as an opportunity to announce a new intelligent loudspeaker for the home, a new iPad and new desktop computers. This year it’s all about the software: iOS 12, which is a new version of software for iPhones and iPads.

Apple iOS 12 is all about being faster, more secure and more reliable. Apple says applications will generally be quicker to start and the camera will be ready up to 70% faster. You can train Siri, the voice activated assistant on your iPhone, to work with apps. And it’s better at working things out itself, so if you’re running late for a meeting it’ll offer to send apologetic messages and if you’re in the cinema it’ll remind you to turn the ringer off. But the big thing that’s grabbed a lot of attention is the opposite of this: the Do Not Disturb option, which has been improved to make it easier for you to ignore your phone. You can make this time-based or location-based, so it’ll go quiet when you’re visiting the library and will switch the alerts back on when you leave. There’s also a timer to limit access for children and perhaps for yourself, along with reports to see what you’re using your phone for and when you’re using it most.

iOS 12 is available this month as a beta version for people who fancy testing it - and for everyone else it’ll be online in the Autumn as a free download for everything from the iPhone 5s and iPad version 5 onwards.

Sony DPT-CP1 digital paper tablet

While Apple and its many competitors are busy making devices with bright, colourful screens, Sony is one of the few manufacturers that hasn’t given up with what are often called electronic ink or e-ink displays. These look like paper and actually feel a bit like paper, because the screen isn’t glossy but has a slightly rough texture. What’s the point? Well, a screen that isn’t shiny is much easier to see in the sun. Great for reading electronic books, for example. And if you’re relying on ambient light rather than a backlit display, it’s often easier on your eyes, too.

The new Sony CP1 is pretty much the digital equivalent of an A5 piece of paper; with a 10.3 inch screen that has a resolution of 1,404 pixels by 1,872 pixels. The whole thing is less than 6mm thick and, because it doesn't have a colour display, the battery is likely to last for over a week between charges. It’s got 16GB of storage and can share pdf document files with Apple, Android and Windows devices via an app. But it’s not just a reader: you can also write on it with a stylus, either creating new documents or making notes on existing documents. It’s on sale in Japan and America for $599.99 [just over €500].

ASUS ZenBook Pro 15

A new laptop isn’t generally all that exciting. But there’s an innovation on this the new ASUS ZenBook Pro 15 that’s worth talking about. And, indeed, on the ZenBook Pro 14, which is similar but a bit smaller. The Pro 15 model has a 15.6-inch 4K ultraHD display that’s said to be particularly good at rendering colours accurately. On the back is a new type of hinge design that ASUS calls ErgoLift, which slightly raises the laptop keyboard to make typing easier. And inside is an Intel Core i9 processor, a 1TB solid state disc and a copy of Windows. It’s less than 2cm thick, it weighs less than 2kg and it’s expected to sell for around $2,299 [€2000] when it goes on sale next month. So far, so good.

But the interesting part is the touchpad. Usually you’d expect a grey touch-sensitive pad below the keyboard. On here there’s a 5½-inch colour touch screen, so it looks like a mobile phone embedded in your laptop. It works as a mouse substitute – and it can also work as a tiny laptop screen, perhaps for messaging, as a calculator, for playing music or for checking your diary.


Ovis suitcase with AI

Whether you’re going on holiday or on a business trip, dragging a suitcase behind you can be – well, a bit of a pain. If only your suitcase had some kind of robot brain to steer itself alongside you as you walked. Believe it or not, that’s exactly what is being offered here. It’s a self-driving hands-free intelligent suitcase created by a Chinese company called ForwardX Robotics.

Unlike a regular suitcase, this one has a camera connected to a Qualcomm processor running an artificial neural network that does its best to understand what it sees. It's the same kind of technology you get in self-driving cars. The case keeps up with you at a speed of 3 metres per second but when you grab the handle it cuts the motor automatically and turns into a conventional suitcase. That’s also good news if you forget to charge it because, as you’d expect, it runs from rechargeable batteries. If you’re worried about security, there’s a wristband you wear that vibrates when your case is more than a couple of metres away from you and also lets you know when the battery is running down. You also have the option of GPS tracking for an extra cost. It’s not perfect: it can only handle a slope of up to 6 degrees and it doesn’t cope well in very crowded places, but that’s no great surprise, really.

Shipping for the first batch is expected by the end of the year: at the moment you can find it on crowd-funding site Indiegogo, where you can pledge $319 [€275] for a single suitcase.