Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image


17 Sep


Tools I Use (September 2012 edition)

September 17, 2012 | By |


As a geek, it’s one of my duties and privileges to occasionally give tech & gadget advice. Sometimes to companies, more often to friends and family. I try to collect that stuff online under the tag Tools I Use. Here’s a snapshot of some of the gadgets and tools I’m currently using, and why:

Macbook Air

I’m still on a Macbook Air of about two years of age, about to be replaced. It’s my main & only computer, and I’m on it all day, every day. The Air has enough power for almost anything I encounter day to day, and its super lightweight design makes more than up for the occasionally over-powered processor. Of course, an external screen is nice and recommended. More screen real estate is good.

Nexus S v Galaxy S3

I loved my Nexus S phone, pure Android goodness. But it’s old now, and about to die. Time to let it go.

After years on various Android phones, I was (once more) just about ready to jump ship and switch over to iPhone. Initially I went to Android because it was more open than Apple’s iOS platform, then admittedly because I didn’t want to admit to myself that Google’s competitor isn’t as open as it set out to be. Both platforms by now try to lock you into their ecosystems, and both by now have pretty mature ecosystems, too.

While I consider the hardware design, by now, more eye candy than the software & platform aspects, on the design front the new iPhone kicks the Samsung Galaxy S3’s ass any day. (Same goes for naming conventions, as the last sentence easily demonstrates.)

That said, back to platforms and software: My mail and calendar live at Google. I don’t like iTunes. And I prefer Google Maps over Apple’s less mature mapping tools. (I hear very good things about Nokia maps, but hey, you can’t have it all.) So any promise the iPhone can give me about better integrating iCloud, iTunes or Apple’s calendar and email sounds to me more like a bug than a feature. I understand why many people opt for the Apple-verse, but when the road forked way back when, with one road leading to Apple lock-in and the other leading to (slightly less total) Google lock-in, I made a choice, and now it seems not worth switching.

My new phone is the Samsung Galaxy S3, the current top-of-the-line Android phone, the flagship model.

To get a better hands-on feeling for iOS, I guess I’ll just get an iPad. Using both platforms in parallel will both maximize friction and transaction costs, and give me a good side by side comparison. It’s the price I have to pay for geeking out.


I don’t really use any camera besides my phone. I’m on the market for a super compact model, but for almost any given context the phone camera should be good enough.


For heavy duty, loud contexts (long plane rides, New York subway, etc) I use Audio Technica Quietpoint noise cancelling phones.

For the day to day, including sports and lots of conference calls, I’m quite happy with my Bose IE2 in-ears. Being in-ears, there’s lots of cable to get tangled up, but sound quality and fit are quite good. It’s not easy to find a good mix of headset and in-ears, and I’ve used them for the last nine months or so and am quite content with them.

Extra battery

On more intense days, my phone battery won’t make it through the day. So I frequently need some extra juice. A simple, if not particularly elegant solution is an external battery pack. I use one from TeckNet, which (like the name indicates) is a bit of a plasticky, cheap-ish affair. Yet, it works. And the current models actually look at least superficially like they might have improved in overall quality. Whichever brand you use, it’s good to have an extra charge of connectivity in your pocket.

Travel gear

  • Everyday backpack: Mission Workshop Rambler. Excellent, and just the right size and pocket layout for laptop & the necessary gadgets, extra jacket/sweatshirt, water bottle and all the cables, etc, that keep adding up.
  • Carry on: Rimowa IATA Cabin Trolley (two wheels). Hard to beat, and can take a beating. Heavy, but I like the aluminum finish. (The other materials are more light-weight.) Just big enough for 3-4 days of clothes and running shoes if you travel light.
  • Backpack for longer intense trips: Eagle Creek. Not sure which model, but I think it’s what they would now have updated to Rincon Vita. Light weight, huge volume, pretty much indestructible.

All of them are a bit on the pricy side, but are reliable, durable, feature a decent minimalistic design. I wouldn’t leave my home without them.

More recommendations

Helpful? If you’re into tool recommendations, I highly recommend Kevin Kelly’s fantastic Cool Tools.

01 Dec


Crossing technology vectors & emerging humane technology

December 1, 2011 | By |

Where will it lead? This is where it gets interesting.

It’s where emerging technologies – tech vectors, really – cross that truly new stuff happens. It’s also where bits and pieces, building blocks of more or less well-established technologies can be combined into something new that might be bigger than the sum of its parts. Or into something that’s completely and utterly banal, but maybe playful or just nice.

In either case it’s these intersections that I find most interesting to watch.

Enter BERG’s Little Printer:

Little Printer by BERG Image: Little Printer by BERG

The Little Printer is many things: A device to output digital information on paper. The output end of a larger infrastructure, a cloud service that BERG has built, that on the input side extends to a set of smartphone apps. It’s a physical manifestation of a process that BERG has been working on for a long time, namely to also be able to design, produce and deliver physical goods. (The other physical manifestation was the recent comic book project SVK.) And it’s a little printer, of course.

Now what I find personally fascinating here is this.

The Little Printer isn’t really anything groundbreaking, anything truly new. It’s a glorified receipt printer. Many printers have been hooked up to the web, to Twitter, to data streams. (BERG openly acknowledges them, too.) Quite a few folks on Twitter have been poking fun at the LP for that.

Yet, there’s something different about this one, other forces at work, so to speak.

One, some very subtle design tweaks make the Little Printer quite adorable. BERG is very, very good at making things adorable that shouldn’t possibly be adorable. It’s a friggin’ receipt printer, yet I want to hug it. Of course that’s mostly done through the images they used in the announcements, with the little face inside the printer etc. I imagine it’s a few of the shapes and colors, too, but I wouldn’t be able to reliable say. (Designers, got any hints for me?) I’m not sure if making technology cute is the best, or only, way to go, but I have to say: It works for me.

Two, there’s a decent, solid set of initial launch partners that give you the kind of content to print out that makes it easy to imagine how you’d use the product. Weather report, tweets, shopping list, it all makes sense. Again, I’m not sure if you really need explicit launch partners for a printer, but they have them, and it seems to work.

Three, it’s entirely and utterly banal, anti-climactic. It’s an entirely unthreatening bit of networked technology that prints out mostly harmless pieces of paper, when you press a button on your phone. I can totally imagine this thing blending right in – in my kitchen, on my desk, in the living room. Anti-climactic technology is lovely. Shrug tech: Do you mind me putting the printer here? Nah. It’s ubicomp in human shape, or maybe rather in humane shape. It’s brilliant that way.

On a meta-level and big BERG fan, of course I’m also curious to watch go through the learning process of producing physical goods.

But as it stands, I can see myself getting two Little Printers, one for the office and one for my kitchen. I’m not sure what I’d use it for, but I’m pretty sure that I’d use it. In an entirely unthreatening way, to print mostly harmless pieces of paper.

16 May


iPhone Killer Prototype

May 16, 2010 | By |

Says my friend and open design guru Ronen Kadushin:

Whenever a new hand held device, or new exciting smartphone hits the market, a questions roars through the internets, tech blogs and news: Is this the iPhone killer? The answer is always…well…not quite, not yet…. So I was thinking, maybe these guys who make these devices are not looking at the right place for that iPhone killer. Why don’t I scratch that dream product itch, and transform this buzzword into a real product that it’s soul purpose is to do what it claims to be….. I’d like to introduce you to the iPhonekiller….It’s amazing… It is an open design, you can download it from my website, produce and use it. It is 1.6 Kg , 25mm ( 3.5 lbs, 1 inch) of precision laser cut steel, with a fantastic 36 cm wood ax handle. You can just feel the awesome power of it when you hold it in your hand..It’s amazing…….

And here it is, the iPhone Killer:

iPhone Killer by Ronen Kadushin

iPhone Killer by Ronen Kadushin

Like all Open Design products, you can modify and improve on the design easily. All the CAD files are available for download under a Creative Commons license.

Ronen’s website has all the details for the iPhone Killer.

Images by Ronen Kadushin & Chanan Strauss, some rights reserved

07 Apr


If Murdoch endorses the iPad, it’s bad

April 7, 2010 | By |

In the Guardian, soon-to-be-ex media mogul Rupert Murdoch continues to claim Google steals Murdoch’s journalistic content, while the iPad might save journalism. Faced with the statement that consumers are used to getting their news for free, he reacts as follows:

Murdoch dismissed this fear, saying consumers could be forced to change their habits. “When they have got nowhere else to go they will start paying. If it is reasonable. No one is going to ask for a lot of money,” he said.

Now we have this weird situation: users reading their news for free; the iPad trying to cater to publishers more than consumers by making ads hard to circumvent; and Murdoch protecting burying his own content behind a paywall.

So far, Murdoch has done pretty much everything wrong that could be done wrong online. Blocking out search engines and users is just one of the more obvious mistakes that prove just how little he understands the new paradigms of a digital world. It also shows he doesn’t remember that readers never really paid for news, but for all the rest in a newspaper:

In a notional town with two perfectly balanced newspapers, one paper would eventually generate some small advantage — a breaking story, a key interview — at which point both advertisers and readers would come to prefer it, however slightly. That paper would in turn find it easier to capture the next dollar of advertising, at lower expense, than the competition. (…) For a long time, longer than anyone in the newspaper business has been alive in fact, print journalism has been intertwined with these economics. The expense of printing created an environment where Wal-Mart was willing to subsidize the Baghdad bureau. This wasn’t because of any deep link between advertising and reporting, nor was it about any real desire on the part of Wal-Mart to have their marketing budget go to international correspondents. It was just an accident. Advertisers had little choice other than to have their money used that way, since they didn’t really have any other vehicle for display ads.

Now when he endorses the iPad, that’s almost certainly a bad sign. It’s a sign that he, as a publisher is catered to. The same guy who wants to force consumers to change their behavior. The same guy who is willing to practically kill his newspapers by hiding the content from the eyes of the world.

Let’s hope that the iPad won’t empower the likes of Murdoch & Co too much. I’d rather see a device saving the industry by making the content more appealing, or easy to consume, or some third way of monetizing content. Something that makes empowers and delights consumers, not makes them slaves to archaic media moguls like Murdoch. Let’s see which device that’s going to be.

01 Feb


iPad, so what?

February 1, 2010 | By |


So Apple announced the tablet after all. Going by the name iPad it’s just that – a tablet computer, or maybe rather a tablet phone as it runs on the iPhone operating system. A quick recap: the iPad does have wireless, a browser, multi-touch, motion sensors for gaming and many ways of purchasing content through Apple (by ways of iTunes store and a book store). It does not have a camers (so no video chat), not phone capabilities (no calls), no real ways of customizing anything.

It is, in other words, a media consumption device.

I’ll let this sink in for a minute since I think it’s profound. Both Apple laptops and iPhones are clearly devices to communicate and create. The iPad is more like the iPod in that it doesn’t enable you to input anything but text. (Which is fine for email, potentially a blog post and some Facebook status updates, but not much more than that.)

Some pundits claim that the iPad will revolutionize online content consumption, others say that it’s closed-system-approach will be the end of hacking & tinkering. (Johannes Kleske listed a number of articles with much more profound analyses than mine. Go read them!) I don’t think any of those are really true, nothing will change as profoundly as these articles suggest.

Instead, I do see some ups and downs being triggered through the iPad. My take in random order:

First, eventually ebook readers will make progress tremendously faster than they have done so far. The iPad really pushes this genre, which overall is great. It’s the kind of competition the ebook reader market really needed. (Let’s hope the competition will actually come up with great alternatives and not just give up like in the mp3 player market, where there’s still mostly crap because the iPod captured the largest market share.) So: thumb up for ebooks.

Second, if the iBook store (is it called that?) is implemented anything as well as iTunes, it’ll be interesting to see Amazon and Apple clash over a potentially huge market. I certainly hope that Amazon will be driven to switch of DRM in ebooks like with their mp3 downloads, and thus do everybody in the industry (and the consumers) a huge favor and beat Apple that way. Again, thumb up for ebooks.

Third, it was about time for a new category of device that’s slightly less ugly than a laptop to keep near your couch for random email & facebook checking. However, I wouldn’t bet a $500-900 device fills that niche for me. A tablet? Sure, why not. But it’s one of those $199 max things.

Fourth, I don’t think the iPad will stop anyone from tinkering. However, if you’re interested in how UIs disconnect us from the technology we’re using, please do read (or re-read) Neal Stephenson’s classic “In the beginning… was the command line“.

Fifth, Apple is trying to push their pay services down our throats. They’ve been doing this for a long time, of course. And the way iTunes demonstrated that you could actually sell music online was great – practically everybody profited from this. However, it feels like the iPad takes this to a whole new level. “Here’s your shiny new tablet”, Apple seems to say, “but you won’t be able to do anything with it unless you buy your music, your books, your games in our stores. Any maybe we won’t change our terms of services ever, in which case you might be able to consume all the stuff you bought for awhile.” After all, it’s important to keep in mind that every dollar you spend within the Apple ecosystem stays there, and dies with Apple – you can’t take your (paid) content outside this system. It’s total lock in, and it sucks like there is no tomorrow.

Sixth, the iPad might actually really help the struggling newspapers sell their content online. I’m really torn on this one. On one hand, this is great news since many newspapers and magazines have been fighting for survival for awhile now, and here’s a potential savior. On the other hand, I could go crazy thinking that the less experimental, more conservative, no: more lazy and old-school newspapers, those who just never got a hang of how to work the internet, could actually profit most from this. It’s quite possible that all the laggards in this field are better off than the risk takers and innovators, by just leaning back and blocking and complaining and waiting for Apple to come along and invent a gadget that allows them to keep doing what they had been doing for decades. I really hope the net savvy competitors in the field will win over those fighting the web. But Apple might have just awarded the technophobes. We’ll see.

That’s my two cent. What’s your take?

Image: by mattbuchanan, some rights reserved.

17 Dec


Unprinting Journalism?

December 17, 2009 | By |

The discussion about the future of journalism, and how print media can move on to digital devices, has been going on for awhile yet. Time has recently announced a “magazine tablet” that’s demonstrated in the video below. It goes by the name Manhattan Project or SI Tablet (for Sports Illustrated, named after the first magazine to first appear on it), and supposedly will be out in 2010.

The demo (that looks so computer-generated it’s really nothing more than a rough project outline) left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it looks really good, in a glossy, slick way. (Then again, everything with a large, sharp screen does.) But on the other hand it’s also just too much like a glossy print magazine. It’s large and shiny and glossy, yes. But it’s also void of text and kind of dull. Why exactly it would be called the “most compelling media device” I’m not sure. Maybe I’m missing something.

The SI Tablet seems to offer some very basic sharing functionality (“email this picture to a friend”), but besides that it’s completely non-interactive as far as I can tell. Seriously, how many time a month do you want to share something out of a magazine with anyone? Everything I want to share is either from websites (usually blogs or photo/video sites) or maybe a newspaper. Magazines just don’t have the kind of content that’s really worth talking about. Magazines can be awesome (like some design mags), but mostly they’re awesome mainly for advertisers. (Which is probably why other companies are working on similar concepts, too.)

Personally, I’ve been waiting for a decent ebook reader for a long time, because that’s something I’m totally in the market for. (Here’s an ebook overview.) In theory. Only so far, none has appeared that really convinced me.

The Kindle looks decent enough (although it’s getting mixed reviews from the people I trust with these things). The Kindle certainly has the marketplace pat down with iTunes style ease of use. However, the Kindle is so totally closed and flawed by DRM that I simply don’t want to support it. The open source models I’ve seen haven’t been able to convince me either. And glossy stuff like the SI Tablet certainly won’t be my solution because they look like you need to take care of them.

Frankly, what I’m looking for is a device that lets me read ebooks, has long-lasting batteries, is open and rough & cheap enough so I don’t have to pay more attention to it than to a paperback novel. And, importantly, a device that takes advantage of sharing functionalities: If I can’t share it, it doesn’t exist. I want to be able to tweet quotes, blog them, post them to Facebook. I’d like to send quotes and references to Endnote or other reference management tools. Being able to annotate text would be great, even though it’s not essential. (Maybe the txtr will do the trick, we’ll see soon.)

That’s all personal preference of course, and you might have very different needs. But as long as all this isn’t wrapped up in one small device, I’m not going to get an ebook reader. And it shouldn’t take too long. After all, the technology is all out there, it’s just spread out over several devices. But I’ll take this functionality over a glossy magazine viewer any time.

Update: Just minutes after posting this little rant of mine, I happened upon the video below:

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

What we see here is a design study called Mag+, and here’s what it is:

This conceptual video is a corporate collaborative research project initiated by Bonnier R&D into the experience of reading magazines on handheld digital devices. It illustrates one possible vision for digital magazines in the near future, presented by our design partners at BERG.

Frankly, it looks like it might incorporate all the things I mentioned above (including the cool, yet cheap-ish look that’s so psychologically important when you just want to throw the thing in a bag or backpack…)

22 Feb


Nokia E71: You won’t fall in love, but it’s rock solid

February 22, 2009 | By |

I just switched from Blackberry to a Nokia 71. Since I asked a lot of questions during the switch and the Twitter crowd was incredibly helpful and kind in sharing their tipps, I’d like to share my experiences for those who are trying to decide if they, too, want to switch over to Nokia. So here’s what I noticed, the pros and cons, as well as a few hacks and software tipps to get it up and running as painlessly as possible.

Super-brief summary up-front


  • Beautiful, premium, awesome hardware.
  • Great form factor. Very, very slim.
  • Good software support (runs on Symbian S60).
  • Great feature set. (Private/business mode, connectivity etc)
  • Strong battery (3 days).


  • Slow, awkward browser.
  • Disappointing camera.
  • Haven’t found a decent Twitter client. (Tipps?)

That said, here’s what the Nokia E71 looks like:

Nokia E71

E71 keyboard

Pros and cons There’s a raving Nokia E71 review on WIRED where you can get the basic info about the phone. After using the E71 for a few weeks, I don’t share all their excitement, but agree: It’s a pretty darn good phone, “rock solid” as a friend pointed out.

First, a look at the hardware: The E71’s form factor and hardware is awesome. It’s plenty of metal and no cheap plastic. It seems very scratch-resistent. It’s super slim (10mm). It just feels great. It has a full QWERTY (or in my case QWERTZ) keyboard. The keyboard has a nice click (maybe just a tad too light) and keys that are kind of small, but still work pretty well. Switching from Blackberry, they feel a little crammed, but it’s lightyears ahead of typing on a touch screen. The keyboard, like the rest of the phone, feels solid and premium.

This picture gives you an idea how the form factor compares to the Nokia’s direct competitors in the field, the Blackberry Curve and the iPhone:

Nokia E71, Blackberry Curve, iPhone

It has a 3.2 million megapixel camera, which sounds great, but delivers surprisingly disappointing quality. The built-in light, it seems, can’t be switched off, and it seems that the camera definitively needs it. Compared to the Nokia N97, the E71 certainly scores low. Particularly in low light, the white noise makes the pictures look really sad. For comparison, two pictures taken with my E71:

Nokia E71 shot of some tags Image: Some tags in the subway shot with the E71 cam in low light. The white noise is unbearable. (Open photo in full size.)

Nokia E71 shot of an airport display Image: An airport display shot with the E71 cam. In bright light, the image quality is ok, but certainly could be better. (Open photo in full size.)

Wireless support and all work a charme. Also, I fell in love with the battery life. Depending on use, the phone lasted between two and three days per charge. After my one-day Blackberry battery, this feels grand. (Good thing, too – the E71 doesn’t charge via the mini USB cable but needs the extra Nokia charger.)

Let’s look at the software side. The E71 runs on Symbian OS, S60 more precisely, meaning it’s open source. (The iPhone’s walled-garden mentality really deterred me from getting an iPhone.) There’s plenty of software and apps available for S60, with more coming out every day.

Applications are plenty, get them wherever you want. You don’t need an Apple store to buy authenticated applications. That said, I’ve been trying to use Twibble as my Twitter client, but I’d love something faster and less awkward. (Can you recommend any alternative? Twibble is no comparison to Twitterberry goodness. I haven’t found a good WordPress blogging app yet. Google Maps, Google Mail and the Nokia software suite are pretty awesome, and even though I haven’t really tested it I hear the office support works a charme. The built-in browser seems slow and awkward at best. Certainly, the browsing experience could be improved a lot. (Strangely, that’s a point the Wired review doesn’t even mention.)

Syncing is a strong side of the E71. It comes with built-in Microsoft Exchange functionality, and a dual mode that allows you two separate private and business life, including separate calendars and email. Neat! My setup as a freelancer is built completely without any of the bigger corporate solutions, and based heavily on the Google suite. It took some tipps, digging through forums and tinkering, but I got the phone to sync with my Gmail address as well as Google Calendars. Mail syncing was easy. (I did screw briefly: Switching from POP3 to IMAP, I accidentally had the phone try downloading some 40.000 messages, which broke it a few times. “Breaking” in this context means anything from freezing to deleting the email profiles and settings, as well as a lot of rebooting.) The calender was a bit tricky, but in the end I got it working with some outside help by using Nuevasync with the phone’s Microsoft Exchange syncing tool. (That way you can sync up to 8 Google Calendars two ways.) It now seems to be working fine.

So where does that leave us?

Nokia E71

Nokia E71: You won’t fall in love, but it’s rock solid The phone does everything it should, and most of it very well. You won’t find anyone worshipping it like an iPhone, though. It’s a tool, and a good one. It’s not the kind of gadget that invites you to play around with it constantly, though. If you’re looking for something a little more playful, you should go for the iPhone instead. If just the camera could just be somewhat better. Besides, I’ll be happy with it the moment I find a better browser and Twitter app. For freelancers it can definitively replace a Blackberry. The full keyboard and the awesome battery life make it a decent choice.

In other words: Don’t expect to love this phone. But you certainly won’t regret getting one.