Sunday, November 4, 2012

Google Now is a better version of Siri than Siri

 I've owned a Google Nexus 7 for a while now, and I've enjoyed it a lot! Android 4.1/4.1 Jelly Bean is the first absolutely solid version of Android by every sense of the word. But one of my favorite features of Jelly Bean that does not receive much praise from the press is Google Now.

   Google Now really is a true competitor to Apple's Siri, and in my experience, is actually a heck of a lot better than Siri in functionality and stability. My last experience with Siri has not been excellent to begin with. Siri has been slow, and in many cases, did not provide the functionality promised by Apple.
So with Apple making a screwed up like Siri, Google took the liberty of building a kick-butt competitor called Google Now.

First off, the 'cards' interface is a brilliant UI design, which brings up information relevant to you, automatically, when it becomes relevant. Such as weather in your current location, restaurants near you, sports scores based on your Google search history, stock information, and more. It's quite impressive that Google added so much more capability than Apple did with Siri.

But to add onto it, Google adds something to Now that Apple never considered with Siri. Reliability. In as many as 9 out of 10 of queries that I've tried with Now has come up with correct results, while Siri seems to only provide about 3 or 4 out of 10. So the reliability rating of Now is much higher than that of its Cupertino-based competitor.

All in all, I must admit that Google Now is definitely one of my favorite features of Jelly Bean, and going forward, I hope to see Google expand on this in a way that will be even more useful than it already is.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Why Mark Zuckerberg Is My Source Of Inspiration

Mark Zuckerberg is easily one of the most picked-on entrepreneurs of his generation. Or of almost of any generation now. But why should I be part of the media that unfairly slams and criticizes him for “screwing consumers”, when in fact, all he’s doing is being himself. Mark Zuckerberg established a name for himself at Harvard. And whether or not his name there is a really good one is a different discussion, but he still left a name for himself. Many people fail to leave a dent in the universe, so-to-speak, so I’m just glad that he chose to stand out.
  With power and wealth comes responsibility. And it’s very easy to fall into the temptation of obsessing over one’s wealth and power. Luckily, Zuckerberg didn’t fall into the same trap that many millionaires and billionaires fall into. No, Zuckerberg was different. 
  There are very few analogies that could be made between Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. But the analogy here is quite apt. Both Jobs and Zuck have an incredibly large personality. They’re both quite opinionated, and while Jobs was more so, Zuck definitely had an opinion. Jobs and Zuck both also resisted the temptation to listen to the media, or to listen to their shareholders. They both had large egos that stretched way beyond the control of their shareholders. That’s a good thing. No, that’s a great thing! They’re willing to get their voice heard over others, and while some may see that as a bad thing, I see that as a quality, that just needs to be balanced. 
   Zuck wasn’t afraid to eliminate artificial boundaries and limitations to get what he wanted for Facebook, even if it meant possibly getting sued by some privacy watchdog group, or getting investigated by the EU. He wanted his vision to supersede anyone else’s vision for Facebook. He had absolute control, an advantage that both Facebook and Apple had by having strong, competent leaders.
  Sure, Zuckerberg isn’t perfect, and neither is Jobs, or anyone else of their personality. But being able to make a mistake and move on is a great characteristic that Facebook has. Haven’t you noticed that every single privacy lawsuit, every single investigation, hasn’t damaged them much? Facebook can withstand impact by people that think they’re power is greater than Facebook’s. And every time they lose, because they think they’re more powerful than Facebook, which is absolutely ludicrous. 
  Of course I’m going to get negative scrutiny for so vigorously defending Zuckerberg, but everyone has to have an inspiration. Sure, Zuckerberg isn’t the world’s greatest public speakers, and yes, he can be socially awkward at times. But the question I must ask is, would you rather be inspired by someone who has an iron will, like Jobs or Zuckerberg, or would you rather be inspired by someone who is weak and ineffectual? 
   There are lots of other character flaws with Mark Zuckerberg that I haven’t addressed here. There’s no doubt in my mind that he could improve, but he’s already a better leader than many of the leaders of the last generation tech companies. While all the last generation companies look at how they’re going to survive, Zuckerberg is thinking ahead of the curve, not just simply, “How can I improve the situation I’m in right now?” And as a result of such intelligent thinking, he is thriving, not merely surviving. 
  Also, he’s not a number cruncher. He’s a geek! He doesn’t justify decisions based on financial pros and cons. He justifies actions based on his own will. That’s why I’m inspired by him. He’s not the average money cruncher, that just takes the title and control for the paycheck. He does it, because he loves it! He doesn’t do it for any other reason, and that’s what inspires me! 

Friday, September 7, 2012

My Incredible Dream

Hi. My name is Steven Styffe. You don't know me, and so I understand if you decide to click away from the writing and find something better to do online with your time. No hard feelings. But I would love it if you would stick around and read my story and hopefully you'll find some inspiration in what I call my 'incredible dream.'

I am 16 years old. I was born and raised in, originally, a family of 6 in Orange County, in Southern California. In 2008, my family expanded. My parents successfully adopted 3 children from Rwanda, Africa. The ages 13, 12, and 9. This now puts me in the middle of the age spectrum. My oldest sibling is 24 now. So with me being in the middle of the family, I started becoming worried about being lost, or invisible, in a large family.  The challenge for me was to, in a positive manner, make myself stand out. Display some skills and passions of mine that would allow me to differentiate myself.

I am a technology enthusiast. My passion is in digital technology. I grew up, learning to use the computer as early as 3 years old. That early-on interest in technology has what led me to continue down the path of a career in technology. At 15, I started my own, now discontinued, technology podcast that allowed me to express myself. I was so thankful that the Internet brought me my opportunity to do that. And while that idea didn't catch on, I'm still thankful for the lessons I've learned from that. I'm also extremely appreciative of the Internet, since it gave me a positive identity that I could control, and it's allowing me to write to you today about my very passionate dream.

Living in Orange County is a difficult challenge for me. The problem with living in such a small area is that the technology education isn't well developed here. My technical education has been mostly established thanks to my next door neighbor, his garage, and the Internet, which has made technical education much more easily accessible. But I wish to expand beyond what a free, online education can bring me. At my local high school, which I attend, there are no technically oriented class offerings. There isn't any computer science course, or robotics or AI course, or anything remotely like that. They don't even offer an electrical engineering course. It's very easy for me to get discouraged by these challenging odds. But I haven't lost hope.

Part of me instantly wants to say that it feels kind of wrong, or at the very least, cliché for me to try to promote my 'incredible dream.' But I had to beat that part of me and try to make a name for try to reach my dream. So that is what I'm doing. I'm desperately hoping that there would be a chance for me to get a great high school quality education in electrical engineering and computer science. I've always loved the inspiration that technology has given me, and I would  hope to be further inspired by a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a great education in those areas (electrical engineering and computer science).

When all is said and done, and if I discover that this doesn’t catch on, at least I will have learned to make an effort. I’ve learned from many failures in my life. I can speak from experience. Failure hasn’t been the fear for me. I’ve always been willing to take a risk so that I could achieve my dreams. I’m taking that risk now. And all I’m hoping is that you’re listening. 

If you think you can’t make a difference for me, you’d be very wrong. You can make a huge, significant difference just by sharing this. It would mean the world to me if you would share this message with someone you think could help. Just share it! Period. That by itself would make the world of difference for me.

I'm trying to reach what I thought would be impossible. The question is, can you help me achieve the impossible?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Not-So-Obvious Reasons To Ditch Java

  Java has had a painful history. Java, the cross-platform programming language originally developed at Sun Microsystems by James Gosling, has been more recently contained flaws in both the runtime environment and the core set of methods that were provided by Sun, now Oracle. Java has proved to be the prime platform of choice for malware and virus authors to exploit users. The difficulty for us in the technology sphere is to convince users that Java should be disabled, if not flat out removed, if they're not using it. We've seen Java been used before in famous cases by malware authors. The Flashback trojan horse for Mac OS X was put in place, thanks to a flaw in Java. Java is constantly under attack. And so from the user's benefit perspective, it is definitely beneficial to not run Java on your system unless you absolutely have to.

 But there is a not-so-obvious reason to ditch Java. Java is a very outdated technology that was designed to tackle a problem that programmers had ages ago, that dates back to before the Internet became mainstream.  Back in the day, software programmers had the issue of choosing which platform to write for. Learn and dedicate themselves to the programming language and the set of APIs that corresponded with the operating system they wished to develop for. Java solved this issue with being one of the first to adapt the 'write once, run everywhere' model. In which one set of high level language code could be compiled into byte code, or machine readable code. Java did this well. And it worked well. The problem is that, besides the fact that Java now (inadvertently) has the 'write once, infect everything' malware model, but the other problem is that the language is outdated. It shows it's age in the way it's structured. And while the other popular high level languages show their age too, but Java shows it's age and brings much more serious problems to developers when they choose Java over another language. And with every new release, the language just gets older and older, and every release becomes either less significant, or the language just gets less and less useful.

  Let's expand on that idea that Java becomes less and less useful overtime. The big issue with Java is that the fundamental principles behind it have faded away. The original team behind Java doesn't work on the project anymore, and since Oracle acquired Sun, the language has gotten worse. The moral principles behind Java are gone. Oracle suffers from corporate greed, in which this flaw takes over what could've been a better vision for Java, but instead, they just made it worse. Instead of maintaining it more openly, in concert with the  Java community, they decided to try to make it as proprietary as possible, and in turn, making them responsible for new iterations and security patches. By making it more proprietary, Oracle has demonstrated that they don't care about Java, and they don't care about the developer and user community that was formed around it. Oracle is essentially sending a big middle finger to those who put their soul into writing with Java. And Java is not the only example, MySQL (also a Sun product), and VirtualBox (also a Sun product), have also become, or at least Oracle has attempted to make it, more proprietary. So it's clear that under Oracle's management, all of these great products have turned into crap. And that's a shame!

 But thankfully, HTML5 along with Javascript and CSS3, have made web applications a more viable, and more future proof, way of developing applications, that brings most of the benefits of Java, without most of the security problems that Java brings along. And to the benefit of consumers, and to the determent of Oracle, they've made Java become less relevant, and easily replaceable by newer and better technologies.  And hopefully, with all I just said, we'll see the death of Java become more of a plausible event rather than merely a wish of software developers.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Rundown of the (Rumored) Fall Announcements

This season is going to be, without a doubt, the busiest season of the year for the industry. If all the rumors are true, these are the announcements that are rumored to be scheduled:

Apple event/events - There are rumors circulating (and come on! we're all expecting it) that Apple will hold an event to launch the highly anticipated next iPhone. There have been rumors also going around that Apple will host not one, but two events. One for the new iPhone, and one that falls in line with their regular fall media event. Focusing on the iPods, the iTunes Store, and possibly even an iPad 'Mini'. (September)

Nokia event - Nokia is scheduled to launch their lineup of Windows Phone 8 devices there. Rumors have circulated that, and this seems crazy to me, but they may also launch a Windows RT / Windows 8 tablet at the same time. Again, seems kind of crazy to me. (September)

Amazon event - Amazon is rumored to launch the second generation Kindle Fire as well as a revamp of the other Kindle devices as  well. Although I personally don't believe that Amazon will revamp the entire lineup because they've not too long ago updated their original Kindle lineup (excluding the Fire) (September)

Windows 8 General Availability - Not too much to say here. Windows 8 (devices and upgrades) will become available on October 26. Nothing new there, we've known that for a while. At the same time, Microsoft's Surface (Windows RT) based tablet will launch according to rumors that don't seem to far off the reservation.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Here's How Facebook Can Beat The Analysts


Over the past couple of weeks, stock analysts on the Internet have started writing stories about the demise of Facebook. They all sort of embodied the same ideas and the same principles that state what they believe are the flaws in Facebook. First off, I don't believe that some of the ideas that analysts have been presenting are completely rational or accurate. But also, Facebook still has a chance. I believe that one of the big flaws in the analysts' views were that they almost all agreed that Facebook had little chance to turn the tide in their favor. To me, it makes no sense to think that Facebook doesn't stand  a chance. All Facebook needs is a little coaching from the Internet. We've seen trends like Facebook before, and if history is any indication, that the expert advice from the few of us that contradict the popular opinion, our, being everyone against the analysts, is solid advice.

  One of Facebook's problems is of course getting into mobile. We've all seen the headlines lately that have been blasting Facebook for lacking a good set of mobile applications. That's very true. Facebook clearly needs to make mobile computing a priority for their future. And while Facebook has recently updated their mobile apps for Android and iOS, it still isn't enough. The update was largely insignificant and didn't put them on the path to beating the overall trend that analysts and investors have set. Facebook desperately needs to make mobile a priority. The biggest problem with the mobile versions of Facebook is the user interface. It is painfully slow and is complicated and a pain to use. The experience of using Facebook on a mobile device is terrible. But so is the desktop website. The desktop website needs a makeover too. The user experience overall on Facebook is bad. And so Facebook needs to make the user interface overall, both on the desktop and on mobile devices, a priority.

  Some have claimed that Facebook just needs to improve on selling ads to the user. And that's an easy thing to say, but I don't think that's the case. They're doing just fine with selling ads and there is no clear indication that ad sales will be dramatically slowing down in the coming months. While yes, Facebook isn't as skilled at selling ads as Google is (but frankly, no one can beat Google), Facebook is still performing up to a reasonable standard.

  The biggest issue for Facebook is finding a niche. This was a big realization for me. Facebook needs to find a niche in online services. Is it going to be the core social networking features, like Chat, posting pictures and sharing statuses, or will it be something else? I can point to lots of evidence of how finding a niche can really help prevent a big company from becoming irrelevant in the web era. Myspace hasn't become irrelevant because they found a niche. Myspace is primarily now the place for musicians to gather. It found a niche and stuck to it, and is now seeing the benefit of not becoming a ghost in the web 2.0 era.
On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that not finding a niche, and doing the opposite, essentially becoming an all-things-for-all-people kind of a service, can hurt the future of a web business by making it irrelevant. I'm afraid that Google is doing that with  Google+. Google isn't content with Google+ being for a niche market, or only serving a small purpose. But they forget that by trying to be an all-things-for-all-people kind of company, they make the risk of becoming irrelevant in the years ahead. Facebook can suffer from a similar fate of that of past web services if they fail to target a niche audience. So far, Facebook has targeted a way too large audience. As a result, we see that their user experience is cluttered and as a result makes it less attractive to users and makes Facebook a less enjoyable experience altogether.

  In their current strategy, Facebook is failing. But it's not too late to change. They can, and should, turn the trend in their favor. They need to make a better user experience overall, and on the mobile platforms, as well as finding a smaller, more dedicated audience (finding a niche), that will help Facebook ultimately stay relevant in the coming years.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Windows 8 Has RTM'd; What's The Bottom Line For Consumers?

   One of the hot topics of tech this year has no doubt been Microsoft's entry into the tablet space by launching Windows 8 and Windows RT, and more recently announcing their Surface tablet. It's been a long journey for Microsoft. After months and months of development, Windows 8 has finally RTM'd, or released to manufacturers. This essentially is a almost completely ready-to-ship version of Windows that OEMs (manufacturers) are now testing out on their hardware before Windows 8 goes on sale to the masses in late October.

   Windows 8 has stirred up a lot of controversy from the start. The controversy over the new Metro UI (I'll call it Metro despite the fact that Microsoft isn't calling it Metro [for legal reasons].) The new Metro UI focused around tablet computers. While the Metro UI has been praised by some, others have been extremely critical of it, saying that the new UI makes Windows no longer Windows as we think of it today.
Microsoft's biggest problem of course was that they should've made Metro a completely separate product, instead of trying to mix it in with the Windows brand. Instead, Microsoft tried to combine the Metro tablet experience with the traditional Windows desktop and behold, Windows 8 is born.

This is the "Metro UI' as Microsoft has been calling it, although they don't call it that anymore. At the heart of the user interface, which involves prominently displayed tiles that feature interactive content that helps you get the most out of your tablet, without ever entering an application.

Now despite the negative opinions of Windows 8, I'll try to explain it rationally. The case to be made for Windows 8 is quite simple, but just requires a little bit of a thorough explanation to ensure that the consumer really knows what they must sacrifice when they purchase a Windows 8 or Windows RT tablet.

1. The Metro UI
 The Metro user interface involves tiles that are capable of displaying personal information that will help you get the most out of the Metro interface. The benefits of these tiles is to display important information from the app on the Metro interface, instead of explicitly visiting the app. This interface was designed for touch enabled computers, like tablets and desktops with touch capabilities. Applications that run on the Metro UI can only be run on the Metro UI. In other words, these apps don't run on the desktop. They run in this interface.

2. Desktop Applications
  Unfortunately, one of the main areas of confusion around Windows 8 is the desktop. With Windows 8, you can have two types of devices. You can have the traditional x86 (Intel or AMD) based Windows 8 computer or tablet. Or you can have an ARM based tablet. The Intel or AMD based devices will run Windows 8, while the ARM based devices will run Windows RT, which is a special version of Windows 8 designed to take advantage of the features of the ARM platform. The important distinction is made around desktop functionality. Windows RT, or ARM based devices, can only run third-party, non Microsoft apps, in the Metro UI. So with Windows RT, third party apps can only run in the Metro environment. With a full Windows 8 device, you can run third party apps on the desktop. 

3. The Desktop Has Been Stripped Down
  One of the things that I find disappointing about Windows 8 is that the desktop has been stripped down. What do I mean by 'stripped down?' At least in my opinion, all the features that I fell in love with in Windows 7, all the UI improvements, such as the Aero visual effects, have been stripped down to bare bones in Windows 8. So if you're someone, that like me, loves the Windows 7 desktop, you'll likely hate the Windows 8 desktop, as Aero has been stripped down and the visuals of the desktop have been changed drastically. 
4. The Benefits of Windows 8, and yes, there's even benefits for desktop users.
  There are benefits to upgrading to Windows 8, even if you're using a desktop. Although primarily, upgrades would be helpful for those with existing Windows tablets. Windows 8 includes dramatically improved boot times, and overall, the OS does indeed feel snappier than Windows 7. And while those aren't the only features worth noting for desktop users, they are the big ones. The biggest benefit of Windows 8 is marketed at potential tablet customers. Those that are interested in tablets will probably receive the most benefit of waiting until Windows 8 releases to purchase a new tablet / laptop-hybrid. 

5. The Benefits of Purchasing a Windows RT Tablet
  So far, I've only spoke about the downsides of Windows RT. But the benefits of Windows RT, that is, choosing to buy an ARM based tablet, may almost outweigh the consequences. The big marketed factor of ARM based devices is efficiency. The architecture of ARM is designed around immensely higher processor efficiency, and therefore, much better battery life. And while that is the concept, we will have to wait and see whether the OEMs deliver on their promise that ARM based devices provide better battery life. 

So what does it mean for me?
  Windows 8 is ultimately centered around a multitouch experience. Windows 8 really shows off the potential of tablets, with showing the promises of the Metro UI. Microsoft has launched its own application store for 'Metro style' applications which should populate with more apps as we near the launch of Windows 8. My recommendation for you is to wait until we see a healthy variety of both RT and Windows 8 based devices to compare the pros and cons of each. Until then, just consider the trade offs of going the Windows 8 route versus the iPad route or the Android route. Each ecosystem has its own pros and cons, so consider each before making a solid decision. Right now, I'd recommend not making a final decision until, at the very least, Windows 8 releases. And if you're a desktop user interested in upgrading, I'd try to discourage you to the best of my abilities because the benefits of Windows 8 are pretty much entirely focused at tablets. This isn't much of an upgrade for desktops, but it sure is a big deal for potential tablet buyers. Windows 8 will be available to consumers on October 26 at the upgrade price of $40 for existing Windows users.