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by Jehuda Saar
Monday
Jan122015

Book Review - The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Mr Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" is a book that made quite an impression on me a few years back. Framed in an unusual structure, it is in essence six novellas that form a very satisfying whole. Prior to reading "The Bone Clocks", "Atlas" had been the only other Mitchell book I had read. With "Bone Clocks" Mitchell once again uses a structure of six interconnected stories, each written in a different style, with one recurring character, and two of the stories told in that character's voice.
Without spoiling much, the book revolves around two groups of "immortals" waging a centuries old battle, with at least one side moving through the ages by having their souls inhabit different people as they progress. The author uses that format to express some opinions about world politics, specifically different aspects of Middle-East flash-points such as the American presence in Iraq or the Israeli Palestinian conflict among others.
Mitchell also made the unusual decision to take a character from his previous novel, 2010's historical novel "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet" and make him/her a central figure in "Clocks". Reading "Thousand Autumns" before "Clocks" is not necessarily a pre-requisite, the book stands perfectly on its own, but I'll probably be joining the numerous readers who will now have to discover that connection in the wrong order. To some extent it is similar to Neal Stephenson's use of recurring named characters in his "Cryptonomicon" and "The Baroque Cycle". Not reading one should not affect enjoying the other.
Personally I didn't enjoy "Clocks" as much as I had "Atlas". The satisfaction in "Atlas" comes from the completeness of that work, the way everything ties together so perfectly. The joy in reading "The Bone Clocks" lies more in the parts, the individual novellas, than in the whole: appreciating the individual styles, the humour in one, the drama and metaphysical aspects in the next. Mitchell is a skilful writer and seems to have a good time trying out different story-telling forms, sometimes to the detriment of the book as a self-contained novel.

Sunday
Jan042015

TV Review - The Leftovers: Season 1

 

This HBO show is difficult to pin down. Part magic realism, part commentary on modern society,  a study of painful loss and existentialism, it is all these things and so much more. Based on a novel by Tom Perrotta (which I have not read) and counting among its show-runners Damon Lindelof, one hopes the creators won't leave us "Lost" when all is said and done (like they've been known to do). This show aims for "big moments" and actually manages to hit them more often than not. HBO definitely took a chance on this one, all to the benefit of us viewers. 

On one fateful October 14, 140 million people, two percent of the earth's population, simultaneously disappear from the planet. Why they were chosen, where they went, what it all means, those are some of the questions their loved ones are left to deal with. As the series kicks off, we are three years after the "departure". The story focuses on events taking place in a fictional town, Mapleton NY. One of the main plot twists revolves around a nihilistic cult, the Guilty Remnants, whose members smoke incessantly and have adopted some sort of vow of silence. Their motives are not clear, and yet they seem to be well funded and have a strong sense of purpose (despite said nihilism). 

Personally I found this show to be exceptional and compelling. The cast is phenomenal, the music unsettling. It does not make for easy viewing and yet I can't wait for season two to begin. Season one seems to have pretty much covered the story of the novel, and the next season will be entirely original material written for HBO. One more well earned feather in their cap.

Saturday
Jan032015

Benefiting From Banks

Talk about a symbiotic relationship: Apple benefits from banks getting in on the Apple Pay game which in return benefits those same banks. Now that sort of relationship might just create its own momentum and spin things up to an even higher level. 

Here is Bank Of America's contribution, though others including Wells Fargo, Citibank and Chase have their own campaigns going. Hopefully we'll see the service pretty soon outside the U.S. as well. 

Friday
Jan022015

The Watch Maven's Dilemma

Hard core mechanical watch aficionados are facing quite a choice with the advent of "smart watches" or "wearables": on the one hand they would want to keep up with the latest trends in "smart anything", and with the Apple Watch due out soon chances are the next big thing in "smart" will be worn on one's wrist, yet at the same time they wouldn't want to give up on their love and fascination of all things mechanical. What is one to do ? The first answer for what may be a new trend comes to us from luxury good makers Montblanc. Rather than give up on the mechanical time piece, this one gets complemented by a smart band attached to the watch and said band would communicate with a smartphone pretty much the way other such products by Jawbone or Fitbit do.

 

Looking at this example I have to imagine that there will be quite a lot of trial and error before luxury goods makers find the right solution (this one requires wearers to twist their wrists to get to the data) but we might see some creative ideas spring up from luxury good makers over the coming months and this is definitely a space worth watching.

Sunday
Mar092014

CarPlay Diem

 

Wherever you turn these days people are talking about "the internet of things" and "wearable computing". Typically what people are on about is either Google Glass or the much whispered about but totally unknown entity referred to as the "iWatch". Of course most people are wondering why one would want to bother with another piece of computing equipment, like a smart-watch, that you would have to charge constantly, synchronize and otherwise take care of incessantly, as if our smartphone didn't require enough attention already.

To me some of the answer came a few days ago when Apple introduced CarPlay. The idea behind CarPlay is to provide you an in-car user experience that is consistent with what you have come to expect from your iPhone. But make no mistake: the brains of this system remains your iPhone. CarPlay itself is not an independent computer system in your car. It simply projects iPhone controls onto your car dashboard system. 

And that is how I imagine Apple's next step into wearable computing will be as well. Assuming it is a watch, it could very well be something like this extremely well thought out concept by Mr Gabor Balogh of Budapest, Hungary. All the watch needs to be is a window into some of your iPhone's functionality, and preferably with an elegant interface (as in this concept). 

But somehow I have a feeling that Apple will go much further. As described in this piece in The Economist, the possibilities for true wearable computing are endless, and focusing only on glasses or watches is showing a lack of imagination. 

Friday
Dec132013

C-ing Ahead

Two concept videos of next generation iPhones: the iPhone Air and the iPhone 6C. Can't say the 6C concept excites me too much, but I really like the Air-concept. See for yourselves.

Thursday
Dec122013

App World

Squarespace came out with a line of apps that are just too cool for words. I am testing the Blog app right now while writing these words. The idea is that I should be able to contribute to my site from an iOS device without giving it a second's thought. And you know what ? IT WORKS !!! Amazingly well. I am bound to use this app more often going forward. 

I also recently discovered that anyone can finally have a medium.com blog. So far I only ran a simple test and found that web app to be elegant, simple and fascinating all at once. Blogging is definitely alive and well, and digital reading probably only just in its infancy. Exciting times ahead.  

Tuesday
Aug272013

Update

It has been a long time since I posted on this site. The move to Geneva and getting back to corporate life will have that effect. But from a tech perspective the move has also been quite interesting, forcing me to get reacquainted with the "wonderful" life of Wintel, and I will no doubt find fresh material to mine on that front. More to come soon. 

Saturday
May112013

Flat

Quite some speculation out there about iOS7. Did Jony Ive have enough time to make dramatic changes to the look of the new operating system ? ​How "Flat" will the new user interface be ? We'll know in a few weeks, no doubt. But for now we can let our imagination wander. Some have gone as far as creating a concept video of what it might look like. Until WWDC, let's dream.

Tuesday
Feb192013

Taking the complexity out of "Search"

Here is another exciting Kickstarter project that is clearly a harbinger of things to come. As you can see in this little video, CamFind's concept is "mobile visual search". Google already introduced this concept with Google Goggles, but the people behind CamFind say their technology is at least 4 times more accurate.

It is however easy to imagine what would happen if you combined this sort of tech with something like Google Glass. In essence the entire process you see here taking place on an iPhone would actually happen right in your field of vision. People around you wouldn't even be aware of the fact that you are busy researching them or checking out how much they paid for their furniture or new outfit. 

Just as exciting as it is creepy, no ?

Sunday
Dec302012

UkuFutuLele

A little over a week ago Apple came out with a cute little ad for Christmas. A young girl plays "I'll Be Home for Christmas" to her granddad using FaceTime. 

The makers of the app Futulele have seemingly one-upped Apple with their own version of that song. Very cool, especially since you consider that Apple's ad aired on December 22 and that Futulele's version was uploaded on December 23. The kind of quick turnaround video production I like to be involved with myself.

Monday
Dec032012

WhatsApp with you ?

 

Disturbing news: FaceBook might be interested in buying WhatsApp. The question is of course what FB is after. If all they need is the long list of WA users, WA won't be long for this world. If they truly want to continue to provide the WA service, the concern raised at the end of this piece is quite right: how will free and advertising-driven FB deal with the advertising-free and not so free app model that drives WA ? Could make for a messy marriage.


Thursday
Nov222012

I see the light

While browsing around in one of London's Apple Stores I came across a product I had heard about before but hadn't paid much attention to: Philips' Hue Personal Wireless Lighting. The video you can see here makes the product look cool, even though I am not yet sure how useful such a product is once the novelty wears off.

But it was clear that before long someone was going to tinker with the system and come up with some new uses for it. In this case the honour falls to a young man by the name of Brandon Evans who realised that by using the Siri development plugin combined with the fact that the HUE bulbs are IP-controllable, you can end up walking around your house issuing verbal commands to lights and see things change all around you as if my magic. The shape of things to come.

SiriProxy Hue from Brandon Evans on Vimeo.

 

Monday
Nov122012

Truth in Advertising

When Apple introduced the iPad Mini last month, they of course ran an ad for the new machine. The ad was cute, it was the piano ad shown below.

But you knew more would come soon. And Apple did not disappoint. Two new ads were just issued. I find one of them much better than the other and I won't even force you to guess. I think the ad showing off iPhoto is a lot better than the one with iBooks, but judge for yourselves.

Monday
Oct222012

No Speculation Zone...OK I'm lying

​Tomorrow Apple will holding what is expected to be the great iPad (mini) event. Just like with the introduction of the iPhone 5, a lot seems to be known about this new product. Spy photos of pretty much every part of this smaller iPad have been circulating around for weeks now, so not much is left to the imagination. And yet, some crucial things are not known yet:

  • What will be the product's name​ ?
  • What price points will it sell at ?
  • What sort of screen will it have ?
  • Will it have just WiFi or LTE as well ?

I won't speculate on much of the above. ​Others are much better equipped to do so. I will make one prediction though. No it won't be about the price. If Apple wanted to deal a death-blow to the rest of the industry, it would price the entry level model at $199. Even the Kindle Fire wouldn't survive that. But, hey, this is Apple we're talking about. Could they sell it at such a price and still make money ? I believe they could. Chances are the display will be non-retina. Apple have achieved economies of scale with the iPhone 3GS and the iPad2 that would enable them to go really low on this one. But they won't. We've heard rumors of prices hovering between $249 and $329. I have no doubt that even at those higher prices Apple will break sales records with these machines, but it won't be as "market-dominating" as pricing at below $200. 

No, my prediction is about something else entirely. Last January Apple took pains to unveil their iBooks strategy, and specifically the iBooks Author program that enables mere mortals to easily create beautiful textbooks for school and college going students. ​The main bottleneck for the success of that program was the price of the vehicle it required. Very few school districts could afford to buy large quantities of iPads for their students. So the tools were there, but the vehicle went missing. Until tomorrow. I believe that Apple will tout this new iPad category as the ideal school and college companion. I have a feeling much of tomorrow's presentation will focus on that particular function for this new device. Chances are they will introduce a new version of iBooks Author, and maybe even a new version of iBooks itself. 

Of course there will be other highlights: maybe a new retina 13 inch MacBook Pro, possibly a revamped Mac Mini, but in my opinion we should be paying attention to the iBooks move. Many people have had the vision of "a computer for every child"​ for years now, but this new iPad, whatever its name, could well bring this vision that much closer to reality.