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Thursday
Oct062011

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

Every once in a while, something occurs which shakes your perspective. Whether a sudden vicissitude or a slow drawn-out process, it changes the way you perceive reality. In these times, you either search for those meanings you can grasp or you lose yourself by going back to blissful ignorance.

These situations can leave us feeling lost in unfamiliar places. Often, there is no black and white, no right or wrong, no definitive answer, and we are left to make decisions with no understanding of their eventual outcome.

I've felt this place before, and I have known its solus tedium.

However, every once in a while, we find that glimmer of hope, that beacon of faith that tells that what we're doing is ok, lets us know that we're taking the correct path.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something —your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever—because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.

These words were spoken by someone I greatly, greatly admire. Since my first hearing them years ago, they have echoed through me. They have aided me in forming a model of the universe that I am comfortable with. They have helped me develop friendships, aided me in making life's decisions and have pushed me to follow my heart.

There's a comforting feeling when you know that someone else can perceive things as you do, that your understanding of life isn't deliriously different from everyone else's.

On Wednesday, that person passed away, yet those words will continue to be at the centre of my mind. They will give me confidence to travel my way in life, and they will let me know that everything will be ok.

The orator had amazing vision, taste and understanding. There are many things that I will never understand, many things that I may question. We were never alike and I doubt we ever will be, but those words give me a cornerstone. They give me a bedrock for me to lay my own philosophy, and because of that, I am deeply grateful that they were said when they were.

And with that, I must say: Steve, thank you so very dearly, and goodbye; i will miss you.

Thursday
Jul142011

What makes a Smart Cover so smart?

The iPad smart Cover is one of the most loved Apple accessories, even receiving a 439-word section on John Gruber's second iPad post. While most of this praise is probably deserved, there's an exceptionally brilliant part that i've never seen mentioned anywhere else. 

Apple often demonstrates that the best way to watch movies on an iPad 2 is with the Smart Cover rolled up, to act as a base to a leaning iPad. However, if you do this, you'll quickly learn that the sound quality can often be a little lacking in this position. The reason for this is simple, the sound is directed away from you. A simple solution for this is to place your hand and cup the speaker. Suddenly, your iPad's volume will seem to have increased. 

So what makes a Smart Cover so smart? That you don't have to use it like this. 

Recently, i've been folding the cover behind the iPad. This does something simple: it reflects the sound back in your direction. This is wholly more comfortable than holding your hand to cup the speaker and takes little effort to hold.

Of course, this isn't the first time that Apple have used a reflective sound system. The iMac G5 of 2004, had it also. This was announced at Macworld Expo Paris in August where Phil Schiller stated:

You probably noticed "I didn't see the speakers there—there were no speaker grills". We've designed the speakers so they're mounted in the bottom and reflect off the desktop and bounce right back to you.

 He demonstrated this with a slide:

Every iMac and Apple Cinema Display has used this since. I'm not entirely sure this was purposeful for the iPad Smart Cover, but it makes me exceedingly happy.

Saturday
Apr022011

Twitter - An Abstracted Communications Medium

I've lived in San Francisco for about 4 months now, while working at Twitter for the vast majority of it. In that time, i've noticed the various hindrances that take place in international communication. For instance, it seems completely unreasonable that it should cost 10-20 pence for someone in the UK to send an SMS message's amount of data to me in the US—of course negating the outlandish prices that are charged for SMS messages already.

In November, Facebook introduced its new messaging platform which was supposed to do away with the complication of communicating across different media. While many couldn't understand how this might be useful, it has occurred to me that Twitter has been doing this since its dawn.

Let me explain:
I have a Twitter account. Assuming that i follow you, you can send me 140 characters as an email, a text message, or through the method i normally choose to access Twitter; more recently this may even be a push notification through my mobile device. When you send this message to me, do you know where it is going? Do you know how it may be received? In the case of me switching my text notifications from a UK mobile number to a US one, would you even know which country you were sending the message to?

This offers a method allowing someone to send you a short text-based message that you can receive how you wish.

Back at university, we learnt about transparency pertaining to networked file systems. I specifically remember a single slide that detailed the different types of transparency that most networked file systems tried to offer. These transparencies are abstractions from the underlying file systems themselves. They are: access transparency, location transparency, migration transparency and scalability.

  • Access transparency suggests that when using a networked file system, you should access the filesystem through an identical manner to how you'd normally access your local disk.
  • Location transparency offers the concept of being unable to tell where a file is stored.
  • Migration transparency proposes that no matter where a file is actually stored (and even if it is moved), you should always be able to access it through a single filename.
  • Scalability states that the file system should seem boundless.

The questions that i asked earlier should suddenly seem extremely relevant. Twitter seems to possess the same transparencies as an ideal networked file system:

  • Access transparency is held such that you can send a text-based message via an SMS message or another interface (a Twitter client)1.
  • Location transparency is offered since you can not tell where a user is based on their username.
  • Migration transparency is supported since messaging the same username will always result in the same account receiving the message no matter where they are or how they choose to access it.
  • Scalability is a more murky translation in this regard. However, you can potentially send a single user as many messages as you wish2.

That Twitter adheres to these theoretical concepts suggests to me that it is much more than a simple web site, or fruitless social network. Twitter offers an abstracted communications medium, whereby people can communicate without knowing how someone receives their message, or where that someone is.

At Twitter, we strive to instantly connect people to what's most meaningful to them. For some people that involves freely texting "d x5315 What's happening?" to a short code (40404: US; 86444: UK), for some that involves going on to Twitter.com and tweeting "@x5315 you're awesome" and for some that involves opening an iPhone app and loading my Twitter profile. Either way, this is going through a system that allows you to care less about the way you send your message and more about the connection you make.

1. Assuming that a Twitter client is written for how you would like to send a message.
2. Assuming you stick within the API limits.

Thursday
Dec022010

FaceTime on T-Mobile US

I recently moved to San Francisco with my iPhone 4. My iPhone is factory unlocked as it was bought in the UK. I went into the AT&T store and i wasn't a fan of the plan they were outlining for me, so i went across the street to the T-Mobile store.

I got a T-Mobile plan, and they nicely cut the SIM card up for me so that it would fit into the iPhone 4. Once my phone was activated, i managed to get rid of the voicemail notification.

I couldn't get FaceTime to work on T-Mobile.

One night while i was talking to a friend, he told me to try turning FaceTime on again. Previously this had not worked, so i wasn't very hopeful. However, this time it worked. I didn't understand why, but i made and received several calls with FaceTime working perfectly.

Tonight, i popped my old O2 SIM card into my iPhone to check on my messages. After i put my T-Mobile SIM back in my phone the FaceTime buttons were gone.

Here's the list of actions i took, and i now have working FaceTime on my iPhone 4:

  1. Turn phone off and on—can't hurt right?
  2. Ensure that you have WiFi, and the FaceTime switch is turned off.
  3. Go into General, then Network. (My settings are Enable 3G: Off, Cellular Data: On, and Data Roaming: Off)
  4. Go into Cellular Data Network.
  5. For the Cellular Data APN enter epc.tmobile.com.
  6. For the MMS APN enter epc.tmobile.com.
  7. For the MMSC enter https://mms.msg.eng.t-mobile.com/mms/wapenc.
  8. For the MMS Proxy enter 216.155.165.50:8080.
  9. For the MMS Max Message Size enter 1048576.
  10. For the MMS UA Prof URL enter http://www.apple.com/mms/usprof.rdf.
  11. Go back to the first pane in the Settings application.
  12. Restart phone.
  13. Go back into the Settings application, go into Phone.
  14. Switch the FaceTime switch to On.

After this, it should say "Waiting for activation" below. About thirty seconds to a minute later, mine changed to "Your phone number will be shared with people you call with FaceTime.", which i believe means that it is working. I tested via FaceTime on my Mac, and that was fine.

This seems to have worked for me twice. I can't guarantee it'll work for everybody.

To verify, here is a picture of my Settings application once this has worked: