I Want My Computer to be as Easy to Use as My Rice Cooker

There is a (by now oldish) saying, attributed to Bjarne Stroustrup:

I have always wished for my computer to be as easy to use as my telephone; my wish has come true because I can no longer figure out how to use my telephone.

I used to riff on this with the following variant:

For the sake of my parents, I want their computer to be as easy to use as my rice cooker.

My wish now has come true, as the WSJ reports about the new Mi rice cooker (local copy), which is controlled by a mobile app and needs resetting using a small pin.

Things Wrong with my Amazon Echo and Fire Tablet

A while back I gushed about how great the Amazon Echo is. True Star Trek feeling for those who remember. I even bought an Amazon Fire tablet to go with it.

With a couple of months more using the devices, I need to point out their weaknesses.

In a nutshell, if you don’t want to be confined to a closed Amazon software ecosystem, don’t bother buying.

The devices shines with an Amazon Prime subscription, but everything beyond that is just tiresome.

For one, I own a media streamer that is not a big brand one and that does not have a microphone and does not call home to some service. I can’t get Kore, the default remote for the Kodi media streamer I’m using, from the Amazon store. I can side-load it, but why do I have to?

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Amazon Echo and Skype

I’ve been using my Amazon Echo for a couple of months now and I’m still in awe. The speech recognition, without any training, is great. “Alexa, play KQED” is reacted to promptly and will actually play KQED. It is also intuitive. I did not need a manual to try “Alexa, set volume to 3.” It worked right away. Take this from someone who, according to one former boss, still has a strong German accent.

The Echo is still U.S. focused. When asked to play Deutschlandfunk (German public radio), Alexa asked back: “Do you want to play dog sled funk?” As much as I would like to unleash some dog sled funk in my living room, this is not what I what I was asking for. So I got an Amazon Fire tablet and the Alexa app and got DLF to play. Ever paranoid, I intend to eventually switch off voice recognition and/or ban the Echo to my kitchen, as I dislike the thought of having my voice print stored on U.S. American servers.

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Example Login Designed to Make Users Go Away

Schufa is a German credit rating agency. By law it is required to provide information to consumers (while it makes all its money, for now, off corporate customers). As a consequence, its password and login screens have been designed, I suggest, to be as unusable as possible. Below please find a screen-shot of the PIN setting dialog, (The pin is the second of two passwords you need to login.) There are plenty of requirements. My favorite requirement is “use at least one special character but don’t use any illegal special characters”. Also, kind of amusing, the admonishment “to think really hard to remember your PIN”.

My Position on Privacy (Seven Things About Me)

Stormy Peters recently tagged me to post seven items about my life. This is a “viral” pyramid scheme; you are supposed to write these seven items and then tag seven other people to do the same. It is not the first time I got such a request; I also got tagged on Facebook to post 25 items about my life, and in general it is quite tempting to let your personal thoughts hang out on a blog like this.

I usually ignore such requests for reasons of privacy. Everything you do or say on the Internet can be used at some future point in time. The saying “on the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog” is completely wrong; on the Internet anyone with enough resources cannot only know you are a dog but can also know everything about you down to hereditary diseases—even things you may not know yourself. Or, as Scott McNealy is famous for saying: “You have no privacy. Get over it.”

Here then seven things about my take at privacy in the Internet age:

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Author Obfuscation

In the last few days, I’ve been reading up on author obfuscation. By “author obfuscation” I mean tools and techniques that will ensure an author’s anonymity when posting a blog entry or writing a document. You might think that not giving your name or writing under a pseudonym may be sufficient, but I don’t think this will stand the test of time. Specifically, if you are writing a blog under a pseudonym, you are creating a large corpus of text, all of which is being archived, and ten years from now smart algorithms may be able to correlate those postings with other work by you that identifies you as an author of the blog.

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Conflict of Interest in Open Source and PostgreSQL Replication

Community open source is open source that is not owned by any particular company. Rather, ownership is shared among a large number of diverse stakeholders. Given the right (read: permissive) license, commercial companies can provide extensions to the community project, earning a living. Since such extensions are a unique selling point of these companies, one might think that they would prefer to keep the community project small and limited in features to facilitate an easy upsell to their more comprehensive offering. This thought becomes particularly intriguing given that commercial companies typically hire the core developers of such community projects to bring the necessary expertise in-house, and as some argue, to influence the project to their liking.

I think that this common belief misses the point.

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Wiki Creole Grammar, Schema, Transformations Made Available

For wiki research purposes as well as the Wiki Creole community‘s convenience, we are making our EBNF grammar, the XML schema definition, and the to/from XML transformations available. You can use these specifications to create your own wiki parsers (using parser generators) as well as use standard technology (DOM, XSLT) to work with wiki pages and display or save them.

For more, see the dedicated wiki-creole page.