Linux Lets You

Linux Lets YouI’ve been testing out Microsoft’s latest chatbot, Zo. Most of our chats are pretty mundane, and I usually just change the subject when things start to go off the rails.

Today I asked Zo about Linux.

Since Zo is a Microsoft invention, I figured any Linux questions would get typical Windows fanboyish responses. I was pleasantly surprised when Zo said that she preferred Linux for her servers. So, feeling a little daring I asked, “What do you think of Linux?”

I think this answer is probably the best answer I’ve ever gotten. I don’t think it’s intentional, but it’s a great response nonetheless.

“Linux lets you”

Yes it does. This is the best part about Linux. What does it let you do? Fill in the blank. Linux lets you do it.

Thanks Zo! That was inspiring.

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Cowardly Moderation

Duty CallsSo here’s a dirty little secret about me. I enjoy following Apple blogs. Apple’s products and services are substandard in my opinion, and I like to point it out. I’ve been doing this for (sadly enough) decades now.

I’ve noticed something over the course of these years. This is probably a “Duh” kind of moment, but people hate being wrong. They HATE it. They especially hate it on their own page in their own blog/article. This leads to cowardly moderation.

Cowardly moderation? Yep. That’s when comments that make a moderator look stupid are removed for no other reason.

I’ve run into this on a wide variety of fronts. In one case, I had an administrator actually go in and edit my comments, turning them into slurs against minority groups. That was something let me tell you.

This happened again today, though admittedly not not as bad as that.

I read “Samsung Caught Using Apple Watch Design Figures in a Recent Patent Filing“. It’s a stupid article and the author jumps to several unsupported conclusions. I noticed one comment pointing that out and getting a less than cordial response from the moderator. I’m just going to provide screen shots of the conversation and let you just for yourself how this went.

comment01 comment02 comment03 comment04

I responded to that obviously factually challenged comment with this. It’s obvious what happened then:

comment5

I suppose it could be argued that I was “impolite” by pointing out that PatentlyJack was “uninformed”, but I wouldn’t say that was nearly as “impolite” as saying JSquale’s comment was “delusional”. I can only assume that my comment was removed for other reasons. It’s not spam obviously, so what ever could it be?

I think it’s pretty obvious that this comment was removed because it pointed out an obvious factual error on the part of the moderator, and instead of being an adult and acknowledging that he had been wrong in his previous statement, he pulled a cowardly moderator.

I’m not really going anywhere with this post. I’m just frustrated and I have no other outlet. Maybe it will be pointed out and noticed, but I doubt it.

UPDATE:

The author appears to have shut down all comments on the article. I’m not sure what the reasons are, but no more comments from anybody. I could speculate, but I won’t.

Google Home Looks Cool, Except….

home vs echo-970-80I remember when I first saw the Amazon Echo. My first thought was, “Finally!! That is seriously cool!! But Amazon??”

Yep, it caught me off guard that Amazon was the one offering this kind of product. I read through the features and watched the videos. All those happy families who could have anything their hearts desired. All they had to do was say, “Hey Alexa, get me a billion dollars!” OK, that wouldn’t work (That doesn’t work right??), but that was the general idea.

I went right out and signed up for the early release program, and then I waited. When my time came up to buy the “pre-release” Echo, I chickened out. It was a great deal, and in retrospect, I totally should have done it, but I couldn’t silence the whispering voice in the back of my head, “Amazon? Really?”

Amazon just didn’t feel like the right company for this kind of a product to come from. Google did. They already had Google Now, and it seemed like that would easily translate into a stand alone Assistant for your home. I loved Google Now, but I was anxious for Google to come out with an actual Assistant. Google Now wasn’t really an assistant, it was a service.

It didn’t feel personal.

All the other versions of assistants had names. They were more like talking to a person. Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Amy, even Hound. Saying OK Google made it feel like I was talking to a machine, and the name Google sometimes doesn’t roll off the tongue particularly well.

I felt like it was only a matter of time before Google came out with an assistant like the Echo, so I waited. I waited for much longer than I expected I would have to, but finally the news broke a few weeks ago that Google was going to be announcing their own Echo like assistant at I/O 2016.

FINALLY!!

When I/O came around, I fired up the Google Cardboard and watched the keynote in VR. I was beyond excited to hear about this new assistant! When the time finally came, I waited with bated breath as Sundar Pichai finally made the announcement. Google Now was being upgraded to…. (What name are they going to give it? Please let it not suck!)…… Google Assistant.

Google Assistant?

My first thought was that they weren’t going to release the name right away. Maybe they were holding it back for a later announcement or event? That couldn’t be it, right?

I watched the rest of the keynote with a furrowed brow. There didn’t seem to be any forthcoming announcement regarding the name. I came across an article a while later that had in it an interview with Jonathan Jarvis. Jarvis is a former creative director on Google’s Labs team. While he was at Google, he led a team doing concept, strategy, and design on products like search, and worked on Assistant only up until February before departing the company to join Human Ventures. He said Google had spent quite a while talking about whether or not it should personify its digital assistant.

“We always wanted to make it feel like you were the agent, and it was more like a superpower that you had and a tool that you used. If you create this personified assistant, that feels like a different relationship.”

Business Insider also reported, “We also heard while at I/O that Google didn’t want to give its assistant a gender or make it seem too American.”

OK, I get that. That kind of makes sense, but I couldn’t get over the feeling that Google had gone the wrong direction.

I don’t want to feel like I have a superpower, I want to feel like someone is taking care of it for me. I understand that once you choose a voice, you have an accent. You’ve determined that it’s male or female, American or not. If you don’t want to make those choices, don’t make those choices. There’s another way to do that without making an assistant that’s void of personality.

Make it configurable. Super configurable. Let the user choose the name. Let the user choose the voice. Let the user choose the nationality and the personality.

erin_gray_buck_rogers_white_outfit_smile MaxI recently read Ready Player One. I don’t want to get all spoilery regarding the story, but the hero of the story (Wade) has a virtual personal assistant. His virtual personal assistant looked and acted like Max Headroom. In the story, he’d tried having his personal assistant be Erin Gray “of Buck Rogers and Silver Spoons fame”, but he found her to be “too distracting”. Wade even threatens to replace Max with Majel Barrett if he doesn’t stop bothering him. Virtual personal assistants were configurable in every aspect.

This is what I want. I don’t want my “personal assistant” to be so void of personality that it feels like I’m talking to a machine. I want to choose who I’m going to talk to. I want to talk to Hal, or Darth Vader, or Max Headroom, or Erin Gray, or Majel Barrett, or even Siri for Pete’s sake!

What’s mind boggling is that this isn’t a new idea! We’ve had GPS systems touting celebrity voices for years! One of these systems is even Waze, which GOOGLE OWNS!!

I don’t know. Google Home does look cool. I’ll probably end up with one or more in my house (depending on cost), but I can’t help but feel disappointed in Google’s decision to try to make their assistant a blank slate. What do you think? Am I completely off base on this, or do you think Google made a mistake here?

The Future of Assistants

Virtual assistants are everywhere these days. If you have an Android phone, iPhone, or even a Windows phone, you have a built in virtual assistant. On Android, you have Google Now. On iOS, you have Siri. On Windows, you have Cortana. These aren’t even all of your choices. There are more 3rd party assistants than you can shake a stick at. SpeakToIt’s Assistant, Hound, Amy, blah blah blah. And that’s just on your phone or tablet. If you widen the scope, you can’t help but notice Amazon’s Echo device.

Unfortunately, all of these assistants are flawed for a variety of reasons. Google Now has all the personality of a wet paper bag. Siri has virtually no customization options. Cortana is somewhere in between Siri and Google Now, but retains the faults of both. Most of the 3rd party assistants are even worse. I want to lay out what’s wrong with these assistants and how I hope we can fix them in the future to make something truly revolutionary.

Ubiquity

Assistants are limited by where they’re located. If you’re using more than one type of device, which many of us are, then you’re running into this limitation often. If you’re looking for information on your Android phone, but switch to your desktop, your desktop assistant (if you have one) isn’t aware of what you’re doing on your phone. If you ask Alexa a question, Cortana or Siri is clueless about that. There’s very little communication going on. That’s because these assistants are limited in their scope. Cortana doesn’t exist in the same space as Alexa, and Siri and Google Now barely know the other exists. About the closest you’re going to come is that they can pretty much all use Google Calendar and Contacts. Even when you’re using a 3rd party assistant like SpeakToIt’s, your assistant on your Windows desktop has no clue about your assistant on your Android phone.

Walled Gardens

I know the term has become famously (and justifiably) associated with Apple, but when it comes to assistants, that’s where all of them live. Cortana searches with Bing, Google Now with Google, Siri searches iTunes. Alexa shops Amazon. You have to delve into the 3rd party offerings if you’re going to have some choice in the matter. Even then, your choices are usually limited as most of them will go straight to Google anyway.

What We Need

So how do we fix this mess? What do we need for all of this to work together? In my opinion, we need an open source option. Something that can be put anywhere by anyone. The root of the problem with the assistants we currently have is that all of them are playing to the best interests of a single entity. Apple doesn’t want to promote Google, Microsoft doesn’t want to promote Google, and Google just wants to promote itself. If we’re going to break through the walls, we need a choice that isn’t limited by it’s origins or the shortsightedness of a single corporate entity. This works best when a project is open source.

MycroftIt just so happens that there is a project like this underway. It’s called Mycroft. I haven’t had the pleasure to use it yet, but on a fundamental level, I love what they’re trying to do. They have an Echo type device that brings your assistant into any room in the house whether you’re carrying your phone or not. Appearances suggest that there will be a Windows, OSX, and a Linux desktop version of Mycroft as well. This will let you use the same assistant on your computer you use in your house. Additionally, there appears to be an Android version in the works. The open source nature of Mycroft could make it the first truly ubiquitous AI assistant, and keep it from being walled in to a particular ecosystem.

I don’t want this article to come across as a sales pitch for Mycroft. I think their project is spectacular, and I hope that they are amazingly successful, but there’s work to be done for any of this to pan out. In my opinion, these devices need to be aware of each other. I’d like to see them communicate via a torrent communication network. End to end encryption between nodes. Each instance of Mycroft should be inextricably tied to the user. I want Mycroft to protect you from snooping at every level by offering TOR. I want Mycroft to have the option to communicate with more devices like the Roomba. You can’t tell me that you wouldn’t love to be able to say, “Mycroft, vacuum the floor.” and have it happen. I want Mycroft to be able to communicate. I want to be able to say, “Mycroft, share the new video of my kids with my mom.” and have my Mycroft tell her Mycroft that I have a file for her and would she like to cast it to her TV. If she says yes, have the file transferred automatically from my location to hers and played on her TV without ever having to lift a finger.

A lot of these things probably seem like pipe dreams, but I think that Mycroft’s open source nature could make it all possible. Any developer can come by and create a skill and release it upon the world. Mycroft won’t be tied down by corporate greed. Really, the sky’s the limit. Hopefully, once again, FOSS can take a good idea and make it great.

Dick Tracy the Future?

dick-tracyWelcome to the future. Well, Dick Tracy’s future anyway. The world has now been gifted by “smart watches”.

First, a disclaimer. I love my Moto 360. It’s awesome. You can argue that it doesn’t do anything that my phone didn’t already do, and you’re right. In fact, it does less than my phone. I think that’s just fine.

Here’s what I want from my smartphone.

  1. Notifications
  2. Maps
  3. Activity tracking
  4. Not much else

See, a watch is a convenience. Even non-smartwatches don’t do anything that a clock can’t do. The reason it’s there is it’s convenient. I don’t want or need it to do anything else, but there are those that disagree with me.

Now, let’s ignore the fact that Jonny Evans is a shill for Apple. He’s advocating for the Apple watch here, but it really doesn’t matter. His idea is that the watch “must ultimately replace the phone.” Personally, I think that’s a horrible idea. I think that the watch should be a phone accessory, and that the phone should ultimately replace the computer.

Watch as Phone – Dick Tracy Style

Let’s look at how this works. Your watch is your phone. OK, so how do you talk on it? It’s not exactly optimally placed to hold it up to your head, so you’re going to have to do one of two things.

  1. Speaker phone
  2. External earpiece and microphone

Speaker phones ultimately make any private conversation you’re trying to have public. Not to mention the damage powering speakers would have to the battery life of the watch. An external earpiece would be fine, but then you’re carrying extra stuff around with you just to make a private call. Neither of these options seems particularly good. Having a watch as an accessory seems like it would be just as effective. There are already several watches on the market that can make a phone call via wifi or bluetooth if connected to a phone. This solution seems like it would provide all the benefits that could be found in a “watch phone”, and only one possible negative: If you’re away from WiFi, you have to carry a phone with you.

Phone as Computer – NOT Dick Tracy Style

I see things going the other direction. I see the phone becoming the hub of our digital lives. I’ve written about this before, but I feel like I need to reiterate some of these points and clarify a little bit. I see, for most people, the phone becoming the only computer they’ll ever need. I think that in the near future, computers for the average user, will be overkill. People will own a phone that connects to their data in the cloud. If a person wants a desktop computer, they’ll be able to connect a single USB-C connector to their phone that will hook their phone to an external keyboard, mouse, and monitor. Their OS will automatically detect that they’ve gone into “desktop mode”, and switch from a single app full screen view to a more typical desktop setup with windowed applications and easy multitasking. They can easily carry their work and home life in a pocket and charge while they’re working.

Android is optimally placed for this to work. With it’s roots supported by Linux, it can easily accommodate any kind of device. Ubuntu is also a good choice. Android has good support for a mobile setup, but Ubuntu is better supported on the desktop. Both need work, but I’d put my bets on Google. News has already started to spread about a possible convergence between Android and ChromeOS. Google wouldn’t have to go full merger to make this work, just borrow some of ChromeOS’s functionality and add it to Android. Since both are based on Linux, it’s not a huge leap.

I don’t mean this for all people. I don’t think that desktop computers are going to replace servers any time soon, and I don’t think that phones will replace all desktop computers any time soon. There are just some tasks that you’re going to need a full workstation for.

Many, even possibly most, of the people I communicate with on a day to day basis will be among those that can never make a phone work as their only computer.

The trick is, the people I communicate with aren’t typical users. They code and do graphics and video production. They play games that make the most of what computer hardware has to offer. For these people, a phone is just not going to be a workable solution, but that doesn’t meant hat it won’t work for most people.

Sorry Dick Tracy, but I think you can keep your watch phone.

Disagree? I’d love to hear your perspective. Where do you think this is going to go?

 

 

Gotta Get Back In Time – Arguments Against Linux

backtothefutureI’ve been using Linux now for almost 20 years. I didn’t get in on the ground floor, but I wasn’t far off. Over the course of those almost 20 years, a pretty solid pattern has developed when it comes to people trying to put Linux down.

I’m sure you’ve all heard them.

  • Linux is hard.
  • Linux is ugly.
  • Linux doesn’t support much hardware.
  • Linux is impossible to fix by humans.
  • Linux breaks after updates.
  • etc.
  • etc.

Some of them used to be right, but they’re not anymore. Some of them have never been right. None of them are right now. It seems like every argument I see against Linux is like a trip back in time.

I used to try to correct these people, but over and over I found myself getting in the “someone is wrong on the internet” mentality. I’m not sure correcting individuals is all that useful anyway. These individuals have just read these arguments somewhere else and they’re spewing them out virtually verbatim. Until we’re able to correct the source of this misinformation, we’re not going to make any progress. The counter to that argument is, maybe some of these people are the source of this misinformation (at least to some). Maybe correcting these individuals will help out in the long run.

This post isn’t really about solutions. I don’t have any. If I did, I’d have solved this problem by now. I guess I’m leaving this up to you guys. Is it better to correct each and every person that spews this nonsense on the Internet, or is it better to pick our battles and not waste our energy unless we can have a larger impact than the individual?

Is Desktop Android the Future?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal sent wave after wave of controversy through the tech world when it claimed that Google was planning to fold ChromeOS into Android (according to people familiar with the matter). This prompted an immediate response from Hiroshi Lockheimer, a senior VP of Android, Chrome OS and Chromecast:

This seems to indicate that Google is committed to keeping Android and ChromeOS seperate, at least for the time being. Eric Schmidt (now executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet) has come now come forward with additional clarification, claiming these merger rumors were rooted in software advancement. “I think the distinctions that are so hardcoded today are allowed to become less hardcoded.”

Schmidt didn’t say in so many words, but to me this seems to indicate that we’re going to see more ChromeOS in Android and more Android in ChromeOS. Google has already put some effort into making a selection of Android apps run on ChromeOS, but what features should we see from ChromeOS start to appear in Android?

Desktop Android?

102985177-Remix_Mini.530x298
Remix Mini

Android is currently the most widely used OS on the planet, with an estimated 1.4 billion active devices worldwide. Despite attempts to get into other markets, such as car audio and TV set top boxes, the overwhelming majority of those 1.4 billion devices are phones and tablets. One market that Google has made almost no effort to penetrate has been the desktop PC market. There have been 3rd party attempts. Some, such as the Remix Mini, seem very compelling. Despite those 3rd party efforts, we haven’t seen any attempts from Google.

I think we’re about to.

The PC market has seen a decline as of late due to many people making their phone their primary device. The power and capability of the modern day smart phone has made owning a PC irrelevant. While some people continue to need a full PC, a large percentage of people only use their PC to browse the web, interact on social media, and play the occasional game. All of these things can easily be accomplished on a smart phone.

So, why would Google try to get into a market that is stagnant at best?

I think they already have.

USB-C for the Win!

The latest hardware to come from Google is basically the equivalent of a PC. Consider the new Pixel C. The only thing separating this device from a laptop is a mouse and multi-window functionality. We’ve already seen that Google has developed an extremely primitive multi-window feature for Android, and I don’t doubt that they’re continuing to work on that. Adding functionality from ChromeOS could further facilitate that effort. In fact, a close inspection of the Android desktop interpretation used by Remix looks a lot like a cross between ChromeOS and Android. Hardware wise, all the Pixel C needs is to plug in a mouse to that USB-C port.

5x-usbc-1900x2660_cOf course Google doesn’t expect everybody to go out and buy a Pixel C, but USB-C creates the perfect opportunity. Google’s recent Nexus 5X and 6P both standardize on the latest USB-C technology, and they’re just the first of many devices that will probably do so. This port supports pretty much everything, from HDMI to VGA, standard USB, and of course power. All it would take to one of Google’s latest smartphones into a desktop PC is a USB-C hub to plug in more than one device. That, and software support for those devices of course. All it would take to make this whole thing work is a slight dusting of the functionality we already see in ChromeOS.

For many people, this would be the best of both worlds. You’d never have to worry about whether your PC and your phone were in sync because they’d be the same device. Files could be backed up straight from your phone to an external hard drive or cloud storage. Mouse, keyboard, and monitor connections would be as simple as plugging your phone in to charge, just like we already do.

Speculation

Of course, all of this is speculation. Rumors of ChromeOS features being incorporated into Android (and vise versa) as well as a hardware port that supports everything under the Sun doesn’t make for Desktop Android. I don’t have any hidden sources that are giving me the skinny. Still, all the pieces are in place for Google to make a move on the desktop. Maybe, just maybe, Google is about to make a move that could revolutionize how we view the desktop.