Skip to content →

Tag: personal

The Most Underrated Life Skill

I read a great blog post this morning which captures what I think is the most important life skill for today’s knowledge workers:

The barriers to becoming a software engineer are real. People born in technical families, or who were introduced to programming at an early age have this easy confidence that lets them tackle new things, to keep learning — and, in our eyes, they just keep getting further and further ahead. Last year, I saw this gap and gave up. But all we really need is the opportunity to see that it’s not hopeless. It’s not about what we already know, it’s about how we learn. It’s about the tenacity of sitting in front of a computer and googling until you find the right answer. It’s about staring at every line of code until you understand what’s going on, or googling until you do. It’s about googling how-to, examples, errors, until it all begins to make sense.

Everything else will follow.

Practically speaking, nobody can possibly learn or know everything they need to succeed at life. Even the greatest college/graduate education is incapable of teaching you what you need to know two or three years out, let alone the practical ins and outs of the specific situation you may face. As a result, what drives success for knowledge workers today is a mix of three things:

  • the tenacity to tackle the many problems that you will face
  • the persistence and skill to figure out the answer — which oftentimes means knowing how to Google well (or Bing or Baidu, if that’s your cup of tea)
Leave a Comment

Proud of My Friends

I woke up today to the wonderful news that four of my good friends all made various Forbes 30 Under 30 lists – so I had to gloat!

Congratulations to Surbhi Sarna (Science), Roger Lee (Marketing), Ben Jacobs (Tech), and Steve Eidelman (Tech): my brilliantly successful friends who are all building fantastic companies. I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with next!

surbhirogerbenandsteve

(all images from Forbes 30 Under 30 webpage)

Leave a Comment

2012 in Blog

I may have not blogged as much as I wanted to in the last quarter of the year, but that won’t stop me from carrying out my annual tradition of sending off the previous year in blog!

Happy New Year everybody! Here’s to a great 2013 and thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading (and continuing to read) my little corner on the internet!

Leave a Comment

Where do the devices fit?

About a month ago, I got Google’s new Nexus 7 tablet, and have been quite happy with the purchase (not that surprising given my self-proclaimed “Fandroid” status). Android’s Jelly Bean update works remarkably well and the Nexus 7 is wonderfully light and fast.

However, with the purchase of the Nexus 7, this brought the total number of “smart internet connected devices I own and use” to a total of 6:

  • Samsung Galaxy Nexus Verizon edition (4.65” Android phone)
  • a Nexus 7 (7” Android tablet)
  • a Motorola Xoom (10” Android tablet)
  • Chromebook (12” ChromeOS notebook)
  • Thinkpad T4o0 for personal use and a Thinkpad T410 for work (both 14” Windows 7 laptops)

nexus-devicesBeyond demonstrating my unreasonable willingness to spend money on newfangled gadgets (especially when Google puts its brand on them), owning these devices has been an interesting natural experiment to see just what use cases each device category is best suited for. After all, independent of the operating system you choose, there’s quite a bit of overlap between a 10” tablet and the Chromebook/laptop, between the 7” tablet and the 10” tablet, and between the 7” tablet and the 4.65” phone. Would one device supplant the others? Would they coexist? Would some coexist and others fall by the wayside?

Well, after about a month of adding a 5th device to the mix, I can say:

  • I wound up using all the devices, albeit for different things. This was actually quite a surprise to me. Before I bought the Nexus 7, I figured that I would end up either completely replacing the Xoom or find that I couldn’t do without the larger screen. But, I found the opposite happening – that the Nexus 7 took over for some things and the Xoom for others. What things?
    • Smartphone: The smartphone has really become my GPS and on-the-go music listening, photo taking, and quick reading device. Its small size means it fits in my pocket and goes everywhere I go, but its small screen size means I tend to prefer using other devices if they’re around. Because it’s everywhere I go, it’s the most logical device to turn to for picture-taking (despite the Galaxy Nexus’s lackluster camera), GPS-related functionality (checking in, finding directions, etc) and when I want/need to quickly read something (like work email) or listen to music/podcast in the car.
    • 7” tablet: I’ve really taken to the Nexus 7 form factor – and it’s become my go-to-device for reading and YouTube watching. The device is extremely light and small enough to fit in one hand, making it perfect for reading in bed or in a chair (unlike its heavier 10” and laptop-form-factor cousins). The screen is also large enough that watching short-form videos on it makes sense. It is, however, too big to be as mobile as a smartphone (and lacks cellular connectivity, making it useless if there is no WiFi network nearby).
    • 10” tablet: Because of the screen size and its heft, my 10” Motorola Xoom has really become my go-to-device for movie watching, game playing, and bringing to meetings. While the smaller 7” form factor is fine for short-form videos like the ones you’d see on YouTube, it is much too small to get the visual impact you want while watching a movie or playing a game. The larger screen size also gives you more room to play with while taking notes in a meeting, something the smaller screen size only makes possible if you like squinting at small font. It is, however, at least to this blogger, too big and too heavy, to make a great casual reading device, especially when lying in bed 🙂
    • 12” Chromebook: What does a Chromebook have that its smaller tablet cousins don’t? Three things: a keyboard, a mouse, and a full PC flavor of Chrome. The result is that in situations where I want to use Flash-based websites (i.e. the free version of Hulu, Amazon Videos, many restaurant/artist websites, etc) or play Flash-based games (i.e. most Facebook games) or access sophisticated web apps which aren’t touch-driven (i.e. WordPress, posting to Tumblr) or which don’t have full functioned apps attached (i.e. Google Drive/Docs), I turn to the Chromebook.
    • 14” Laptop: So where does my 14” laptop fit (and how could I possibly have enough room in my digital life that I’m actively researching options for my next Thinkpad machine)? Simple: it’s for everything else. I track my finances in Excel, make my corporate presentations in PowerPoint, do my taxes in Turbo Tax, compose blog posts on Windows Live Writer, program/develop on text editors and IDEs, write long emails, edit photos and movies… these are all things which are currently impossible or inconveniently hard to do on devices which don’t have the same screen size, keyboard/mouse caliber, operating system, and processing hardware as modern PCs. And, while the use of new devices has exploded as their cost and performance get better, the simple truth is power users will have a reason to have a “real PC” for at least several more years.
  • Applications/services which sync across devices are a godsend. While I’ve posted before about the power of web-based applications, you really learn to appreciate the fact that web applications & services store their information to a central repository in the cloud when you are trying to access the same work on multiple devices. That, combined with Google Chrome not only working on every device I have, but also actively syncing passwords and browser history between devices and showing the open browser tabs I have on other systems, makes owning and using multiple devices a heckuva lot easier.

How do you use the different devices you own? Has any of that usage segmentation surprised you?

(Image credit – GetAndroidStuff.com)

2 Comments

The Cable Show

A few weeks ago, I attended the 2012 Cable Show – the cable television industry’s big trade show – in Boston to get a “on the ground floor” view of how the leading content owners and cable television/cable technology providers saw the future of video delivery, and thought I’d share some pictures and impressions

  • While there is a significant piece of the show that is like a typical technology conference (mainly cable infrastructure/set top box technology vendors like Motorola, Elemental, Azuki, etc showing off their latest and greatest), by far the biggest booths are SXSW-style attempt (flashy booths, gimmicks) by the content owners (NBC, Disney, etc) to get people to notice them. Almost every major content provider booth had a full bar inside, there were lots of gimmicks (see some of the pictures below — Fox and NBC trotted out some of their celebrities, many booths had photo booth games to show off their latest shows – like A&E with its show Duck Dynasty, Turner invited a lollipop maker to create lollipops in the shape of some of their cartoon characters, etc), and a there were a number of networks who used “booth babes” to try to draw more traffic. I guess when your business is dependent on looking sexy & popular for advertisers/cable companies, it should be expected that they would do so during conferences as well.
    2012-05-22 13.16.382012-05-22 14.11.23
    user_pic57891
  • The relationship between content owners and cable companies that has built the profits in the industry is being tested by the rise of internet video. Until recently, I had always been confused as to why Hulu and Netflix seemed so restrictive in terms of content availability. It was only upon understanding just how profitable the existing arrangement between the cable/satellite providers (who are the only ones who can sell access to ESPN, HBO, CNN, etc) and the content owners (who can charge the cable/satellite providers for each subscriber, even those who don’t watch their particular networks) that I began to understand why you can’t get ESPN or HBO online (unless you have a cable/satellite subscription) — much to the detriment of the consumer. Thankfully, I saw some promising signs:
    • At the Cable Show, every content provider and cable provider was talking about “TV Everywhere”. Nearly every single booth touted some sort of new, more flexible way to deliver content over the internet and to new devices like tablets and phones. Granted, they were still operating within the existing sandbox (you can’t watch it without a cable subscription), but the increasing competitive overlap between the cable TV-over-internet services (like Xfinity TV online) and the content providers’-over-internet services (like HBO GO), I feel, will come to a breaking point as
      • Networks like HBO realize they could get a ton of standalone users and make a ton of standalone money by going direct to consumers
      • Smaller networks  increasingly feel squeezed as cable companies give a bigger and bigger cut of total content dollars to networks like HBO and Disney/ESPN/ABC, and resort to going direct to consumers.
    • New “TV networks” are getting real traction. One of the most real threats, from my perspective, to the cable-content owner dynamic is the rise of new content networks like Revision3, Blip.TV, College Humor, and YouTube’s new $200M initiative to build original high-quality “shows”. Why? Because it shows that you don’t need to use cable/satellite or to be a major content owner to get massive distribution. Its why Discovery Networks (owners of the Discovery Channel and TLC) bought Revision3. Its why Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon are funding their own content. After all, Hulu has quite a few made-for-Hulu programs (including Spy which I intend to watch as its tangentially related to MI-5 :-)). Netflix has not only created some interesting new shows, they’ve even decided to resurrect the canceled TV series Arrested Development (canceled by who? that’s right, the evil cancelers of Firefly — Fox). And its why Amazon just announced its first four original studio projects. Are these going to give HBO’s Game of Thrones a run for its money? Probably not anytime soon — but traction is traction, and the better off these alternatives do, the more likely the existing content/distributors are forced to adapt to the times.

I think this industry is ripe for change — and while it’ll probably come slower than it should, there’s no doubt that we’re going to see massive changes to how the traditional TV industry works.

2 Comments

Spooks

51oFszpBmKL._SX500_

If you haven’t seen it already, go watch British spy show MI5 (or, if you are in the UK, it is called Spooks).

I just finished it this past weekend courtesy of Amazon Instant Video and am at a loss as I can’t imagine another TV series taking its place in my life.

The show is, as its name gives away, about Britain’s MI5 spy agency – an analog to America’s FBI in that it deals primarily with domestic threats — and follows the lives and missions of MI5’s Section D. Now, I know what you’re thinking – this is just James Bond in television form. Well, you couldn’t be further from the truth. This is not your usual spy drama. The first episode is about a pro-life terrorist (can you picture even trying to show this in the US?). There is a later episode where MI5 must run counter-intelligence against a Mossad (Israeli’s secret service agency) operation. There is another episode about all the goings on behind the scenes by the CIA and MI5 when the President of the United States makes a visit to the UK. There is one about a British government hit-job on a retired spy who wants to write a tell-all book to clear his conscience. There is even one about making a deal to help the Venezuelan secret service protect their president on a trip to the UK in return for information about a terrorist plot against a British school. These are not topics your run-of-the-mill spy film covers. Combine that with the writers’ willingness to write or kill off everybody (seriously, if you pick any character in Section D there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be killed or written off at some point), great casting, and a chance to see what people in the UK think of the US, and you have a winner :-).

So, without further ado, five things I learned after watching 10 seasons of MI5:

  • Don’t join a secret service: As I pointed out before, chances are, you’ll be killed or sent away. Even if you are not, the work itself is grueling. You don’t control your own schedule, you can’t have normal relationships with people, you spend a ton of time undercover and at risk of being discovered and killed, and your boss is likely a veteran who has, over the years, accrued enough enemies around the world to make dealing with vendettas and having veterans you don’t even know treat you like a pawn a regular occurrence.
  • If you do join the secret service, cut off all ties with family and friends. Seriously, it never goes well. Ever.
  • Don’t become the asset of anyone at a secret service. Its never worth it and there’s also a pretty good chance you or someone you know will be killed.
  • Whenever someone tells you to abandon an area because of a “gas leak” or a “chemical leak”, there’s probably a terrorist plot nearby. That was the most common way the MI5 agents evacuated regions where a bomb was believed.
  • The US and especially the CIA are nothing but bullies. The number of episodes where the CIA comes across as arrogant and pushy (sometimes to the detriment of itself) is staggering. That is apparently all we Americans are good for…

And there you have it: the life lessons of MI5 🙂

(Image credit)

Leave a Comment

Advice for Entering College Freshmen

As it’s currently high school graduation season, I’ve been asked by a few friends (who have younger siblings about to graduate) about the advice I’d give to new high school graduates about to become college freshman. While I defer to (older :-D) folks like Guy Kawasaki and Charles Wheelan for some of the deeper insights about how to live one’s life, there is one distinct line of thought that I left with my friends’ siblings and that I wanted to share with all new high school grads/entering college freshmen:

Like with most truths about life, this will seem contradictory. First, take classes seriously. I know its not the sexiest bit of advice, but hear me out: college is one of the last places where you will be surrounded by scholars (both faculty and students) and where your one job in life is to learn how to think. Take advantage of that while it lasts, and make every effort to push your mental horizons. Second, and here’s the contradictory part: don’t take your classes TOO seriously. While I don’t mean its a good thing to fail, I’d encourage new students to never be afraid of skipping a class or a homework assignment if it means finding time for a friend or making time for a great opportunity. College is more about the friends you make and the things you learn outside of the classroom than the time you spend in/on it — and that’s why at the end, I wish I had both taken my classes more seriously and less seriously — in different ways.

I hope this is helpful and congratulations to the class of 2012!

PS: I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention the post I did a few months ago on general career advice for students 🙂  Also, my good friend Jen has her answer to this question up on her blog.

2 Comments

My Next Business Card

If you’ve been listening to the radio at all in the past month, you’ve likely heard Carly Rae Jepsen’s very cute song “Call Me Maybe” (the twist at the end of the video is worth a watch alone).

Well, I just heard one of the greatest suggestions of all time on the radio: business cards based on this song. To that end, I proposed the following rough sketch of my next business card 🙂

Hey I just met you
And this is crazy
But here’s my number
Benjamin Tseng
DCM
(XXX) XXX-XXXX

So call me maybe?

Good idea? Or GREATEST IDEA EVER?

3 Comments

Trip to Taiwan

In late March, I had a chance to take a one week trip with my parents to Taiwan. I’ve posted some of the pictures I took on Google+ (I’ll get around to properly captioning them at some point), but the trip was very meaningful for me as it was my first trip back to “the motherland” in over twenty years.

830DD97C-8BDE-4594-BBB8-48741A40EEC9Being able to see relatives I hadn’t seen in many years (some, like my grandparents, who probably don’t have much time left in this world), hear their stories about me as a baby, see sights that I have only the faintest memory of (now from a completely different vantage point), be able to actually visit the graves of my relatives/ancestors and participate in traditional ancestor worship rituals, and visit places that I had only seen in photos was very moving. And, while it was a tiring trip (I think I got way less sleep during this “vacation” than I would have in a normal week), its one that I enjoyed greatly (see picture left :-)).

Word of advice to those who want to visit Taiwan: March is a great time – warm and humid, but not excessively so :-).

As for why you should visit Taiwan sometime? Here’s a quick bullet list:

  • Huge swaths of the island are virtually untouched by people – this is one of the few places where you can have a pure tropical environment
  • Delicious (and cheap) fruit and gorgeous butterflies (consequence of the tropical thing)
  • Excellent (and cheap) food  — especially in the night street markets
  • Very easy to get around – they borrowed Japan’s penchant for labeling everything and also Japan’s pretty effective and ubiquitous public transit
  • The National Palace Museum houses some of the finest Chinese art you’ll ever see
  • There are some very gorgeous locations to see: Taroko National Park, Alishan Mountain, temples galore, etc

So go: support the tourism industry of the place I came from :-).

Also, it wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t make some overarching generalized takeaway, so here it is: Taiwan’s culture is a very interesting amalgamation of China and Japan. first reaction after clearing customs in Taiwan was how Japanese everything looked. Its hard to describe to someone who hasn’t been to Japan, but the way that the text/fonts look, the way the graphical icons and signage looked – looked very Japanese. The sophisticated subway system and high speed rail: also very Japanese. But, the rural areas surrounding the airport and the urban buildings (and the fact that Chinese characters rather than Japanese katekana are on them) reminded me a lot more of China. Throughout my trip, I was quite taken back by the unique Taiwanese combination of the two – a little bit of one and a little bit of the other – and it certainly helps that many of the natives can speak some degree of both 🙂 and that Japanese and Chinese tourists were everywhere!

In any event, great trip and I hope to repeat it with greater frequency than once every two decades :-).

5 Comments

Mr. Tseng Goes to SXSW

Apologies for the lack of blogging these past few weeks. Part of that (although I really have no excuse) is because I got to attend famed tech, music, and film convention South-by-Southwest (aka SXSW).

It was my very first time in Austin, and I had a blast hanging out at the various booths/panels during the day and on Austin’s famous 6th Street in the evening. Granted, I just barely missed the torrential rain of the first half of the conference (and, sadly, also had to miss out on the music and film part of the festivals), but I got to see a fair amount of the tech conference, and had a few observations I thought I’d share

  • A good majority of the companies paying big bucks to market there should spend their money elsewhere. This is not a ding on the conference. Nor am I even arguing that these companies are wasting time sending representatives to the conference. My two cents is that there were many companies there who were spending their money unwisely at best – whether it be on acts of branding heroism (i.e. paying to rebrand local establishments) or holding massive parties with open bars and no coherent message  conveyed to the attendees about who the company is or why they should use the product. I must’ve attended at least three of the latter – and, truth be told, I can’t even remember the names of the startups that held those parties. Bad way to spend marketing dollars, or terrible way?
  • With that said, there were a number of companies there who definitely spent wisely (although whether or not it works is a question I leave for the marketplace). SXSW is a great venue to try to attract the attention of early adopters of consumer internet/mobile products – and it makes great sense to try to blow out marketing there as part of some major product/marketing push. Here’s two companies that I think were smart to spend a lot of money at SXSW (and, in my humble opinion, executed well):
    • nikefuelI think Nike in pushing its digital initiatives like Nike Fuel (which I plan to write a review of :-)) spent quite wisely building its brand. They had an interesting panel on using the product, an outdoors area that looked like a mini-boot camp (no joke!), a digital billboard which alternated between a appropriately color themed and a room decked out like a club where Nike employees sold the fuel band and helped new users get them set up.
    • ncom-lumia-900-cyan-front-267x500-pngI think Nokia (yes, despite my previous post, I mean Nokia) did a great job as well – they set up a Nokia Labs party area which looked like three giant domes from the outside. Right next to the entrance there was a snow machine (I assume to recreate the Finland snow?). The Nokia folks on the inside were all dressed in labcoats (keeping with the “lab” theme) and, like with Nike, there was crazy club music being played. The bar was offering a drink made with Finnish vodka called “Lumia Liquified” (Lumia is the name of Nokia’s new high-end smartphone line). And with this hip backdrop in place, the Nokia party had multiple exhibits featuring the Lumia’s unique design (there was a great display full of the drab black phones we’re used to seeing and the Lumia’s brightly colored phone standing out), the Lumia’s Carl Zeiss lens/optics, and the Lumia’s Clear Black display technology (basically using layers of polarized glass so that the display looks black and readable under direct light). Enough for me to no longer be a Fandroid? Probably not, but I definitely left the party impressed.
  • Like most tech shows, there was a main exhibition floor which I had a chance to walk through. On these floors, companies assemble at booths attempting to attract customers, business partners, investors, and even just curious passerbys. One of the booths I attended was held by Norton, makers of the Symantec security software that might be running on your computer. The reason I point it out is that, through some marketing deal, they were able to capture the heart of this comic loving blogger by co-opting the branding from the coming Avengers movie. The concept was actually pretty creative, if a bit hokey: participants had to play a handful of Norton security-themed casual games (think quizzes and simple Flash games where you use Norton widgets/tools/powerups to defend a machine from attack) to collect a series of badges. At the end of the sequence, depending on how you did on the games, you are awarded a rank and given a prize. One very fun perk for me is the photo below – guess who’s now a superhero? 🙂

cd8f76d8-greenscreen

    That picture alone made SXSW worth it :-).

(Image credit – Nike fuel band – Linkbuildr)(Image credit – Lumia – Nokia)

One Comment

A “Fandroid” Forced to Use an iPhone 4 for Two Weeks

I recently came back from a great two week trip to China and Japan. Because I needed an international phone plan/data access, I ended up giving up my beloved DROID2 (which lacks international roaming/data) for two weeks and using the iPhone 4 my company had given me.

Because much has changed in the year and a half since I wrote that first epic post comparing my DROID2 with an iPhone 4 – for starters, my iPhone 4 now runs the new iOS 5 operating system and my DROID2 now runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread — I thought I would revisit the comparison, having had over a year to use both devices in various capacities.

Long story short: I still prefer my DROID2 (although to a lesser extent than before).

So, what were my big observations after using the iPhone 4 for two weeks and then switching back to my DROID2?

  • Apple continues to blow me away with how good they are at
    • UI slickness: There’s no way around it – with the possible exception of the 4.0 revision of Android Ice Cream Sandwich (which I now have and love on my Motorola Xoom!) – no Android operating system comes close to the iPhone/iPad’s remarkable user interface smoothness. iOS animations are perfectly fluid. Responsiveness is great. Stability is excellent (while rare, my DROID2 does force restart every now and then — my iPhone has only crashed a handful of times). It’s a very well-oiled machine and free of the frustrations I’ve had at times when I. just. wished. that. darn. app. would. scroll. smoothly.
    • Battery life: I was at or near zero battery at the end of every day when I was in Asia – so even the iPhone needs improvement in that category. But, there’s no doubt in my mind that my DROID2 would have given out earlier. I don’t know what it is about iOS which enables them to consistently deliver such impressive battery life, but I did notice a later onset of “battery anxiety” during the day while using the iPhone than I would have on my DROID2.
  • Apple’s soft keyboard is good – very good — but nothing beats a physical keyboard plus SwiftKey. Not having my beloved Android phone meant I had to learn how to use the iPhone soft keyboard to get around – and I have to say, much to my chagrin, I actually got the hang of it. Its amazingly responsive and has a good handle on what words to autocorrect, what to leave alone, and even on learning what words were just strange jargon/names but still legitimate. Even back in the US on my DROID2, I find myself trying to use the soft keyboard a lot more than I used to (and discovering, sadly, that its not as good as the iPhone’s). However:
    • You just can’t type as long as you can on a hard physical keyboard.
    • Every now and then the iPhone makes a stupid autocorrection and it’s a little awkward to override it (having to hit that tiny “x”).
    • The last time I did the iPhone/DROID comparison, I talked about how amazing Swype was. While I still think it’s a great product, I’ve now graduated to SwiftKey(see video below) not only because I have met and love the CEO Jonathan Reynolds but because of its uncanny ability to compose my emails/messages for me. It learns from your typing history and from your blog/Facebook/Gmail/Twitter and inputs it into an amazing text prediction engine which not only predicts what words you are trying to type but also the next word after that! I have literally written emails where half of my words have been predicted by SwiftKey.

       

  • Notifications in iOS are terrible.
    • A huge issue for me: there is no notification light on an iPhone. That means the only way for me to know if something new has happened is if I hear the tone that the phone makes when I get a new notification (which I don’t always because its in my pocket or because – you know – something else in life is happening at that moment) or if I happen to be looking at the screen at the moment the notifications shows up (same problem). This means that I have to repeatedly check the phone throughout the day which can be a little obnoxious when you’re with people/doing something else and just want to know if an email/text message has come in.
    • What was very surprising to me was that despite having the opportunity to learn (and dare I say, copy) from what Android and WebOS  had done, Apple chose quite possibly the weakest approach possible. Not only are the notifications not visible from the home screen – requiring me to swipe downward from the top to see if anything’s there — its impossible to dismiss notifications one at a time, really hard (or maybe I just have fat fingers?) to hit the clear button which dismisses blocks of them at a time, even after I hit clear, I’m not sure why some of the notifications don’t disappear, and it is surprisingly easy to accidentally hit a notification when you don’t intend to (which will force you into a new application — which wouldn’t be a big deal if iOS had a cross-application back button… which it doesn’t). Maybe this is just someone who’s too used to the Android way of doing things, but while this is way better than the old “in your face” iOS notifications, I found myself very frustrated here.
  • selectionCursor positioning feels a more natural on Android. I didn’t realize this would bug me until after using the iPhone for a few days. The setup: until Android’s Gingerbread update, highlighting text and moving the caret (where your next letter comes out when you type) was terrible on Android. It was something I didn’t realize in my initial comparison and something I came to envy about iOS: the magnifying glass that pops up when you want to move your cursor and the simple drag-and-drop highlighting of text. Thankfully with the Gingerbread update, Android completely closes that gap (see image on the right) and improves upon it. Unlike with iOS, I don’t need to long-hold on the screen to enter some eery parallel universe with a magnified view – in Android, you just click once, drag the arrow to where you want the cursor to be, and you’re good to go.
  • No widgets in iOS. There are no widgets in iOS. I can see the iOS fans thinking: “big deal, who cares? they’re ugly and slow down the system!” Fair points — so why do I care? I care because widgets let me quickly turn on or off WiFi/Bluetooth/GPS from the homescreen in Android, but in iOS, I would be forced to go through a bunch of menus. It means, on Android, I can see my next few calendar events, but in iOS, I would need to go into the calendar app. It means, on Android I can quickly create a new Evernote note and see my last few notes from the home screen, but in iOS, I would need to open the app. It means that on Android I can see what the weather will be like from the homescreen, but in iOS, I would need to turn on the weather app to see the weather. It means that on Android, I can quickly glance at a number of homescreens to see what’s going on in Google Voice (my text messages), Google Reader, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, but on iOS, I need to open each of those apps separately. In short, I care about widgets because they are convenient and save me time.
  • Apps play together more nicely with Android. Android and iOS have a fundamentally different philosophy on how apps should behave with one another. Considering most of the main iOS apps are also on Android, what do I mean by this? Well, Android has two features which iOS does not have: a cross-application back button and a cross-application “intent” system. What this means is that apps are meant to push information/content to each other in Android:
    • android-sharing-500x500If I want to “share” something, any app of mine that mediates that sharing – whether its email, Facebook, Twitter, Path, Tumblr, etc – its all fair game (see image on the right). On iOS, I can only share things through services that the app I’m in currently supports. Want to post something to Tumblr or Facebook or over email in an app that only supports Twitter? Tough luck in iOS. Want to edit a photo/document in an app that isn’t supported by the app you’re in? Again, tough luck in iOS. With the exception of things like web links (where Apple has apps meant to handle them), you can only use the apps/services which are sanctioned by the app developer. In Android, apps are supposed to talk with one another, and Google goes the extra mile to make sure all apps that can handle an “action” are available for the user to choose from.
    • In iOS, navigating between different screens/features is usually done by a descriptive back button in the upper-left of the interface. This works exactly like the Android back button does with one exception. These iOS back buttons only work within an application. There’s no way to jump between applications. Granted, there’s less of a need in iOS since there’s less cross-app communication (see previous bullet point), but when you throw in the ability of iOS5’s new notification system to take you into a new application altogether and when you’re in a situation where you want to use another service, the back button becomes quite handy.
  • And, of course,  deluge of the he-said-she-said that I observed:
    • Free turn-by-turn navigation on Android is AWESOME and makes the purchase of the phone worth it on its own (mainly because my driving becomes 100x worse when I’m lost). Not having that in iOS was a pain, although thankfully, because I spent most of my time in Asia on foot, in a cab, or on public transit, it was not as big of a pain.
    • Google integration (Google Voice, Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Maps) is far better on Android — if you make as heavy use of Google services as I do, this becomes a big deal very quickly.
    • Chrome to Phone is awesome – being able to send links/pictures/locations from computer to phone is amazingly useful. I only wish someone made a simple Phone-to-Chrome capability where I could send information from my phone/tablet to a computer just as easily.
    • Adobe Flash performance is, for the record, not great and for many sites its simply a gateway for advertisements. But, its helpful to have to be able to open up terrible websites (especially those of restaurants) — and in Japan, many a restaurant had an annoying Flash website which my iPhone could not open.
    • Because of the growing popularity of Android, app availability between the two platforms is pretty equal for the biggest apps (with just a few noteworthy exceptions like Flipboard). To be fair, many of the Android ports are done haphazardly – leading to a more disappointing experience – but the flip side of this is that the more open nature of Android also means its the only platform where you can use some pretty interesting services like AirDroid (easy-over-Wifi way of syncing and managing your device), Google Listen (Google Reader-linked over-the-air podcast manager), BitTorrent Remote (use your phone to remote login to your computer’s BitTorrent client), etc.
    • I love that I can connect my Android phone to a PC and it will show up like a USB drive. iPhone? Not so much (which forced me to transfer my photos over Dropbox instead).
    • My ability to use the Android Market website to install apps over the air to any of my Android devices has made discovering and installing new apps much more convenient.
    • The iOS mail client (1) doesn’t let you collapse/expand folders and (2) doesn’t let you control which folders to sync to what extents/at what intervals, but the Android Exchange client does. For someone who has as many folders as I do (one of which is a Getting Things Done-esque “TODO” folder), that’s a HUGE plus in terms of ease of use.

To be completely fair – I don’t have the iPhone 4S (so I haven’t played with Siri), I haven’t really used iCloud at all, and the advantages in UI quality and battery life are a big deal. So unlike some of the extremists out there who can’t understand why someone would pick iOS/Android, I can see the appeal of “the other side.” But after using the iPhone 4 for two weeks and after seeing some of the improvements in my Xoom from Ice Cream Sandwich, I can safely say that unless the iPhone 5 (or whatever comes after the 4S) brings with it a huge change, I will be buying another Android device next. If anything, I’ve noticed that with each generation of Android, Android devices further closes the gap on the main advantages that iOS has (smoothness, stability, app selection/quality), while continuing to embrace the philosophy and innovations that keep me hooked.

(Image Credit – Android text selection: Android.com) (Image Credit – Android sharing: talkandroid.com)

28 Comments

2011 in blog

new3

The tradition of making a wrapup blog post continues… so what did I do in 2011 as reflected by my blog posts? Well, I…

All in all, a good year :-).

Happy New Year everybody! Here’s to a great 2012 and thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading (and continuing to read) my little corner on the internet!

(Image credit – Nassau Happening))

One Comment

A Visit to 1800s London and, Oddly Enough, Taiwan

Those who follow my Twitter/Google Plus saw that I attended the Dickens Fair this past weekend (thanks to my lovely and talented friend Felicia for telling me about it and getting my girlfriend and I comped tickets!)

What is the Dickens Fair, you ask? Apparently, it’s a Bay Area tradition dating to the 1970s where a group of performers, businesses, and cooks set up an imitation of the London which famous author Charles Dickens (1812-1870) wrote about and lived in.

And, like with Comicon, costumes and cosplaying are not only tolerated, but encouraged!

The entire experience was very fun. The shops were all period – selling period crafts and clothing and food. It was fun to just walk around and check out what people were dressed as, what they were doing, the accents they were assuming, and the various performances by singers/dancers. Feeling a little out of place, I decided to buy a hat to better blend in:

2011-12-10_14-01-26_155

Another thing which turned out to be a fascinating experience was the antique book shop. While I didn’t buy anything, my girlfriend dug up a guide to the Japanese Empire written in 1914. At the time, the island of Taiwan was a part of the Japanese Empire so the book dedicates an entire chapter to describing it. While it was nice to hear good things about the island (about its beauty and nice climate), I was a little amused/shocked to hear the enormous amount of time the writer spent covering the “savage” aboriginal tribes and their practice of decapitation, and the extents to which the Japanese colonizers kept those practices at bay. Not really believing the writer, I turned to Wikipedia – and lo and behold, there apparently was widespread practice of headhunting amongst the aborigines!

That must explain why I’m so fierce and aggressive 🙂

2 Comments

My Google Reader Substitute

Its hard to believe that Google Reader has only been “dead” for a few weeks. I use the quotes because while the core RSS reader functionality is still going, the reason it was all-consuming for me (and, frankly, one of the biggest sources of my goodwill towards Google) – the social functionality – is dead and gone.

I tried using Google+ as a means of sharing for two weeks – I really did. But it didn’t stick. First, the sharing from within Google Reader was clunky at best – I had to hit the “+1” or the new “G+ share” button, then select the Reader circle I had made, and then do another click to share – awkward process. Secondly, Google+ just didn’t cut it with what I used Google Reader’s social functionality for. I use Google Reader to read. Google+ is great for sharing snippets and pictures and thoughts – but its not a reading platform, so treating it like a replacement for Google Reader’s sharing functionality was never going to make it. Lastly, the point I brought up from my previous post on different levels of interest on different types of content still rings true – the people who I shared with on Google Reader were opting in to my content shares – most of my friends on Google+ are opting in to my personal shares. The two aren’t always the same.

tumblr_kw1quz9KYe1qztcqj

So, ultimately, I threw in the towel and decided to use Tumblr as an alternative. As you may know, Tumblr is a popular and fairly versatile mini-blogging tool – it lies somewhere between Twitter (where you are limited to 140 characters) and WordPress in terms of simplicity. But, it packs a ton of cool features to make it, from what I can tell, an okay substitute for Google Reader’s sharing functionality:

  • a full-length RSS feed so that folks can subscribe to my “shares” from a reading platform like Google Reader
  • packs a lot of compelling sharing features (liking, “re-blogging”)
  • a browser bookmarklet pretty similar to what Google Reader had (so I can share things as I go)
  • support for custom domain (so my Tumblr is now officially http://tumblr.benjamintseng.com/)
  • support for Disqus (so it can do comments)
  • pretty versatile HTML/CSS templating system so I can do further customizations later

Its not perfect. Its not integrated into Google Reader anymore – so all sharing/interaction will need to be done using the bookmarklet or on the site directly. But, the full-length RSS feed means we can keep reading and the sharing/Disqus functionality means we still can like, re-share, and comment.

I’m hoping my friends who once used Google Reader will join me on Tumblr, and I’m hoping my friends who were using Tumblr all along will welcome me to their world :-). I just started with the integration, but I am hoping to play around with the templating system to more tightly integrate the two sites in the near future.

(Image credit)

Leave a Comment

AGIS Visual Field Score Tool

One of the things I regret the most about my background is that I lack good knowledge/experience with programming. While I have dabbled (i.e. mathematical modeling exercises in college, Xhibitr, and projects with my younger brother), I am generally more “tell” than “show” when it comes to creating software (except when it comes to writing a random Excel macro/function).

So, when I found out that my girlfriend needed some help with her glaucoma research and that writing software was the ticket, I decided to go out on a limb and help her out (link to my portfolio page).

The basic challenge is that the ophthalmology research world uses an arcane but very difficult-to-do-by-hand scoring system for taking data on a glaucoma patient’s vision (see image below for the type of measurements that might be collected in a visual field test) and turning that into a score (the AGIS visual field score) on how bad a patient’s glaucoma is (as described in a paper from 1994 that is so old I couldn’t find a digital copy of it!).

visual-field-advanced-glaucoma

 

Kr_c_prog_langSo, I started by creating a program using the C programming language which would take this data in the form of a CSV (comma-separated values) file and spit out scores.

While I was pleasantly surprised that I still retained enough programming know-how to do this after a few weekends, the programming was an awkward text-based monstrosity which required the awkward step of converting two-dimensional visual field data into a flat CSV file. The desire to improve on that and the hope that my software might help others doing similar research (and might get others to build on it/let me know if I’ve made any errors) pushed me to turn the tool into a web application which I’ve posted on my site. I hope you’ll take a look! Instructions are pretty basic:

  • Sorry, only works with modern browsers (Internet Explorer 9, Firefox 7, Chrome, Safari, etc) – this simplified my life as now I don’t need to worry about Internet Explorer 6 and 7’s horrific standards support
  • Enter the visual field depression data(in decibels) from the visual field test into the appropriate boxes (the shaded entries correspond to the eye’s blind spot).
    • You can click on “Flip Orientation” to switch from left-eye to right-eye view if that is helpful in data entry.
    • You can also click on “Clear” to wipe out all the data entered and start from scratch. An error will be triggered if non-numeric data is entered or if not all of the values have been filled out.
    • Note: the software can accept depression values as negative or positive, the important thing is to stay consistent throughout each entry as the software is making a guess on depression values based on all the numbers being entered.
  • Click “Calculate” when you’re done to get the score

Hope this is helpful to the ophthalmology researchers out there!

(Image credit – example visual field) (Image credit – C Programming Language)

Leave a Comment

Two More Things

stevejobs

A few weeks ago, I did a little farewell tribute to Apple CEO and tech visionary Steve Jobs after he left the CEO position at Apple. While most observers probably recognized that the cause for his departure was his poor health, few probably guessed that he would die so shortly after he left. The tech press has done a great job of covering his impressive legacy and the numerous anecdotes/lessons he imparted on the broader industry, but there are a few things which stand out to me which deserve a little additional coverage:

  • Much has been said about Jobs’s 2005 Stanford graduation speech: it was moving the first time I read it (back in 2005), and I could probably dedicate a number of blog posts to it, but one of the biggest things I took from it which I haven’t seen covered as much lately was the resilience in the face of setbacks. Despite losing his spot at the company he built, Jobs pushed on to create NeXT and Pixar. And, while we all know Pixar today as the powerhouse behind movies such as Toy Story and Ratatouille, and most Apple followers recognize Apple’s acquisition of NeXT as the integral part of bringing Jobs back into the Apple fold, what very few observers realize is that, for a long time, NeXT and Pixar were, by most objective measures, failures. Despite Steve Jobs’s impressive vision and NeXT’s role in pioneering new technologies, NeXT struggled and only made its first profit almost 10 years after its founding – and only a measly $1 million despite taking many tens of millions of dollars from investors! If Wikipedia is to be believed, NeXT’s “sister” Pixar was doing so poorly that Jobs even considered selling Pixar to – gasp – Microsoft as late as 1994, just one year before Toy Story would turn things around. The point of all of this is not to knock Jobs, but to point out that Jobs was pretty familiar with setbacks. Where he stands out, however, is in his ability and willingness to push onward. He didn’t just wallow in self-pity after getting fired at Apple, or after NeXT/Pixar were forced to give up their hardware businesses – he found a way forward, making tough calls which helped guide both companies to success. And that resilience, I think, is something which I truly hope to emulate.
  • One thing which has stuck with me was a quote from Jobs on why he was opening up to his biographer, Walter Isaacson, after so famously guarding his own privacy: “I wanted my kids to know me … I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.” It strikes me that at the close of his life, Jobs, one of the most successful corporate executives in history, is preoccupied not with his personal privacy, his fortune, his company’s market share, or even how the world views him, but with how his kids perceive him. If there’s one thing that Steve Jobs can teach us all, its that no amount of success in one’s career can replace success in one’s personal life.

(Image credit)

2 Comments

Avengers Assemble

My love of comics stems from something quite simple: good cartoons. I grew up watching cartoons based on classic comic book storylines. Shows like X-Men: The Animated Series, Spider-man: The Animated Series, and Batman: The Animated Series (which even won four Emmy Awards!) were just plain cool to a young boy who wanted to watch good guys beat up bad guys :-). It wasn’t until later that I discovered that they also had a depth and complexity to them that went beyond the usual cartoon. And it was that material which would help me catch up on years of comic book continuity when I finally made the shift to the comic medium.

So its with that context when I say that I think the new cartoon The Avenger’s: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (which is also available on Netflix!) is really good. And the approach is quite clever: they have found a way to take the core team of Avengers from the comics (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Giant Man, the Wasp, the Black Panther, and Hawkeye) and seamlessly weave together both classic (i.e. Kang’s attempted conquest of the earth, the original battle with Ultron, etc) and modern (i.e. the big Marvel prison break which led to the founding of the New Avengers, Secret Invasion, etc) storylines and make it kid-friendly! The result is something which is modern in its approach, but fairly epic in its scope.

The_Avengers-Earth_s_Mightiest_Heroes-0

While the show has left (and will probably continue to leave) out things less suited for children, like some of its predecessors, it doesn’t shy away from the richness and complexity that these stories can provide. If you enjoy superheroes, or if you want a fun introduction to the Marvel universe that is on par with the quality from Batman: The Animated Series, or even if its just that you can’t wait for these guys:

avengers-new2

to take on this guy:

avengers-new3

then I’d highly recommend checking this series out.

(Image credit) (Image credit – Avengersite) (Image credit – Avengersite)

One Comment
%d bloggers like this: