Friday, September 11, 2015

Let's go full screen

Quite a few things changed this summer... I got a new job role in a new position, finally officially taking part in IBM Design. The folks who follow me know this had been a long time in the works. Now it just begins, I have so many new things to learn. On the technical and on the design side, there are tons of subjects I'd like to learn about and master. I feel like on a continuous learning mode currently. Lots of input, few output - for now. I expect this to pay off quite soon.

Until last week, I had been moving my work computer to a Mac. As expected, this is really a bliss to use. To transfer, that was quite more work, as my previous laptop, running Linux, was quite customised with many apps. Org-Mode, Node, Eclipse...

All that took quite some time to reinstall and configure. Now I'm done and I can start the fine tuning. It's not like I do not know Macs, I've had one at home for the last 5 years. But the Macbook Pro has some subtle differences, like in the keyboard layout.

What I notice, is that with the high number of applications I have open at work, and the fact that I navigate between the Macbook standalone and connected to the Thunderbolt Display, the management of the windows has gotten a mess. I was used at the Linux version that manages windows per virtual desktop. Very handy when you have like 5 different Firefox windows open... OK, maybe there lies the problem. And then, when using the 15" screen, the problem gets even more accurate.

So I started by reducing the number of windows open. What I noticed then, is that I was just better off having almost all set to full screen and then navigate through Ctrl+Tab between the windows.

I have done this for around a week, and it works really well actually. My screen is less cluttered, I spend less time navigating through windows. In the end, I can work more focused. So I'm keeping it that way for now.

On Sept. 30 (spoiler!), El Capitan is getting released. This is a very good news for me, especially on the performance aspect. But one cool feature I cannot wait for is the split screen mode. This feature is really cool, because it will just fix the problem of context when working full screen. Sometimes, just one window is not enough, and two would be preferable. If I really need more, I can still switch back to non-full-screen mode, but I think this will stay occasional. Being able to combine two apps that way will permit to have the needed context without the overall distraction, so I'm really looking forward that feature!

Let's see how long I'll stick to full screen...

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Time Is Ripe for Disruption

Of course everyone is now talking about the Apple Watch. I do too, on Twitter, at lunch and occasionally with friends. Somehow it's not clear to me how much impact it will have. Other smart watches have had, I would say, mixed success. Are they really smart actually? I would say informed at best, and only on certain points like your heartbeats, position and other yet underused metadata.

And also there's the look. Luxury watches are incredibly elaborated from the visual point of view, and have been the result of decades of design work. I don't see the smart watches there in the next years, but that's only my point of view. I mean, this is where the bar is.

But let's suppose those wearables get really smart. Let's say my calendar is integrated. The device also knows my position, and follows me every day. Like Google Now already does, it will understand where I live and where I work. So the watch can just notify me when to go to work and back home. Integrate your todo list and your mail in this, put a base time management principle (I do Pomodoro and go to lunch at 12am), and you almost don't need the time anymore. Why should you? That way you can keep your head free of managing your time and work on being creative and productive. Someone wants to meet this evening? Surely your wearable can tell you if you have enough time to do it, and can even tell from your health data if you rather need a nice evening with friends or to stay at home and sleep early. It could help you prevent burn out by identifying patterns, so you can work efficiently without going too far. Possibilities are basically endless.

Meeting with friends is just a matter of notifying each at the right moment to go and where to meet. Getting a train is just a matter to arrive at the train station at the right time, and if you have still time to get a coffee before. A train "arriving at 15:40" is quite useless, better is to know that you have already done half the way and you'll be at your destination in 40 min.

Many tools, like video streaming tools, or the Kindle software, show you what percentage you have accomplished and can evaluate when you'll be done viewing/reading - depending of your own speed for books. So deadlines can be evaluated much more precisely with automation, instead of having to calculate an approximation. Appointments are dying. Most people used to agree on appointment to meet, and those were commitments. Now we adjust by messaging 30m before that we'll be late or early, or will meet somewhere else. TV is in decline, YouTube videos don't have a prime time, neither does Netflix. So knowing "what time is it" is getting irrelevant.

At the end, you might forget what noon is, and not know at what time you have to wake up. Because this is not a goal in itself. And the importance of time with named hours might just get back to something reserved to some people or dedicated activities, but irrelevant to most in their day to day life. This will probably not happen in the next one or two years, but let's review this in ten years.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Everyone is Fighting Their Daemons

Many economies in the world are struggling currently. It may have to do with lots of different things, and probably peak oil plays a big role here. That will probably be the topic of another post.

Living abroad, I usually read from different sources, mostly Germany, France, USA and UK. And I always get a good laugh at how other countries always know better for the others, but no one knows how to reform itself.
"France should lower its work cost, reform its pensions, simplify work laws", "Germany should try to get more children", "UK should move back to manufacturing", "The US needs to update its infrastructure".

Still, none of this happen. Or almost nothing. Interestingly enough, local journalists (as well as local people) are not so enthusiast about discussing or even promoting those topics the way they deserve. We all concentrate on gossip, tragic events, the usual political fights, but in the end, the real important issues are never really discussed.

Mainly, this is because those deficiencies are linked to much deeper anchored traumas or legends in the country history. You cannot understand the french economics without knowing that social benefits were established just before WWII, and that a good part of the rules the country now live by have been brought by De Gaulle, just after the country was freed from an invasion. The aversion of the US from a big government has also deep rooted reasons, as old as the country itself. That plays a role preventing a simple unified and - at first sight - costly infrastructure renovation. An airport is so much more standalone and self-reliable than a 500 miles high speed train way.

The good thing is, there are not much countries who haven't their own daemons. Imagine if the US had a top notch electric grid, if France had an economy so dynamic no one could counter it, or if Germany had the birth rate of the US. But it's not just the case, so every country is dealing with a limited growth, but somehow there is a glass ceiling that cannot be broken. All engineer know that every solution, whatever good it is, brings its own problems. Cultures have the same issue as well. Live with it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tech Needs To Get More Sustainable

This week, I declared the home button of my iPhone dead. It still has actually some signs of life, but it's more similar to coma. You have to press it hard up to 20 times to get back to home. Double press is even harder. So I activated the accessibility features, and now I have a white round permanently on my screen which emulates the home button. It works well, but it's still a pain to live with, as this button uses space on my screen. It's not 20 clicks to get back to the home screen, but 2. I wonder how Apple could mess so much here. After years, my Playstation controller X button still works, despite heavy use. Reports I've read mentioned that the engineering save costs on that feature. Too bad. By the way, I know defective home buttons can be fixed.

Other situation, other outcome. My Lenovo work laptop was swapping like crazy (disclaimer - I work at IBM, which sold the Thinkpad unit to Lenovo). I went to the hardware department, the woman servicing the hardware switched the memory in two minutes, and told me how she like the modular system the Thinkpad have. Not only the robustness make them liked for businesses, they are also easily serviceable by the IT departments.

Other hardware fail: recently, my washing machine failed. Computer dead. Too expensive to replace, would cost the price of a new one, said the repairer. He was a really nice guy and not searching to make money at all costs. Instead, he advised me to buy a Miele washing machine, even if used and 8 years old. Because it (arguably) lasts more than 20 years, this is a safe buy.

Miele is a German company known for building appliance that are costly but last decades with very few maintenance. Traditional German engineering, so to say. A new simple washing machine costs around 800 EUR. So this is not cheap, but in the long term this is actually a good investment versus a 500 EUR one that gets broken after 6 or 7 years.

Let's get back to the laptop and smartphone topic. I upgraded my laptop memory because the rest is fine. It's actually working great. I don't need more power. I may not order a new laptop next year, because there is no real need for it. Same for the phone. The iPhone 4 is *fine*, really - outside of the home button. The battery is still in good shape and can hold around 2 days - so much better than the iPhone 3G after the same time. Would not be the defective hardware.

What we'd need is a Miele for high tech. A german company doing the (durable) hardware and a US division doing the software, at best. I remember having had a Bosch phone a while ago, it was just great. Probably Loewe, or Bang & Olufsen are nearer to that. Too bad they don't produce laptops yet. Also they seem to be more triggered toward luxury and exclusiveness than plain, simple, boring quality.

The computer hardware has reached maturity, and the smartphones will soon do. There is no need anymore to upgrade every two years. Too often hardware break is the only reason to buy a new item. So this the question to answer: if I want quality electronics, to what shop do I get? Or is someone going to create that soon?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Place, New Life

If you follow me on social networks then you may have noticed that, well, I was silent. Actually, I was more busy than ever - in the real life, so to say. I moved to Stuttgart. I had that plan for a long time, but if I ever supposed what it looked like, I would have done that a while ago. Life teaches...

I moved to Stuttgart this month, and I don't need to explain you that adding to the Christmas stuff and closing the work year, this is not really a human amount of stuff to execute. But I'm raving. Stuttgart is much more than I thought it would be. The place is in a roll currently. Heard of the German export dream lately? It's clearly manifesting here, and Stuttgart which was a pretty shy city until recently, seems to be in the up and comers. Why then?

Stuttgart is the German capital of the car. This is home to Daimler Mercedes, which invented the car, but also to Porsche (do I need to explain that name to anyone). Bosch, one of the main automotive supplier, is also from here. Audi is around the corner with a major plant in Neckarsulm.

So people drive around with all kind of luxury cars, mostly German, and of preference Mercedes/Porsche over BMW, the traditional enemy. Take that with a grain of salt of course, but this is very marking when you come over here. Beside that, I thought Stuttgart was not much more than a grey city between hills.

Oh, the hills! They make actually the magic of the city. As the usual, the higher you live, the more expensive it is. The hills offer such incredible views of the city! There are magnificent villas to look around, including one built by Le Corbusier. And the Bauhaus began here, also. So there is quite some architecture that you won't notice at the first look but that are actually outstanding. The hills offer some place for some wine from the city itself - and their wine is very much tasty.

Cars, Bauhaus. Stuttgart lives on a kind of simplicity melt together with excess. Things are not always what they seem to be, a lot of richness is hidden. The German "discipline" comes a lot from the south part of the country, and that still lets its marks nowadays. What do I mean with excess and modernity? Well, Stuttgart has two majors modern art museums, but no dedicated big classic museum. And the Mercedes and Porsche museums, both landmarks of architecture. That's the "do one thing, but do it well" applied.

Meanwhile, the 2000's boom has changed the city. 10 years ago, Stuttgart was still marked by its architecture from the 50's. Now, much of it has been integrally renovated, or even rebuild. New neighbourhoods have been and will appear. A new high speed train station is going to be built, integrally under the ground. And when so much is going on economically, other things follow. You know, like culture... It's not that it was ever as bad as told. Germans like to see Stuttgart as the car guys, but not with not much taste for culture. Actually, the Stuttgart opera has been named best German opera a few times for quite some times already. The theatre is getting completely renovated, there are also a few other very good concert halls, like the Liederhalle.

You get me, I'm raving about this city. And don't start me with the awesome connections opportunities, around 2 hours from Zurich and 3.5 from Paris by train. Munich and Frankfurt is around the corner, France less than 2 hours away.

So I have to say goodbye to Tübingen, the town that made me feel so very welcome in Germany. I'm still not far and will still be around there. But I needed to be in a place where I can meet more people and do more things. Now it is.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Do Speeches, Go Without Slides.

This week I had to present our latest features to a group of IBMers from tech sales and services divisions. Those are the guys working with clients to get the stuff to work - in form of demos or production systems with a defined, often customized, architecture.

They asked clearly to get as few charts as possible, so quickly I had my decision - I would make this presentation without slides. I would make it a speech. And discussion. Not a slide-based presentation, in any case.

So I just stood in front those people, and at the beginning that was a bit unusual, but as I came into the topic, two things struck me:
- People were looking at me, not the charts. They were actually listening, and I could clearly see that they weren't struggling understanding the charts - there were none. Instead, I got a bunch of questions, and we got in a deep discussion about the topic. Which was very useful for them to understand well the new features and their impact.
- You avoid the usual question: "Can I get those charts?", "what does this chart means?". Instead, the whole discussion was based on what I spoke about. Much better.

Looking backward, I see other fantastic advantages to not use any charts at all:
- It is much more flexible. If a question comes in that may influence further points, just go to those directly. You are not a slave of the chart ordering anymore. Because a presentation rarely runs as intended.
- It saves a lot of time! How many hours did you spend in your last presentation? Was it really worth it? Think about it. Getting this cool picture from a colleague, and then adapting the whole style, readapting the template. Should I mention the colleague in chart 12? etc etc, you know what I mean. Without slides, you just have to prepare yourself an outline on a few post-it. 15-20 min of work max. Mastering the topic is quite more work - but you'd have to master it as well if you use slides, wouldn't you?
- It is so much reliable! You don't need to care anymore if there is a VGA cable, or if the resolution is fine, if you have backups, etc. You only need to care not to faint, but that is also the case if you use a
slideshow ;)

Of course I am not arguing that you should never use charts. They are sometimes useful. But do you need slides for all your presentation, or are they oy needed for that for showing some particular point at one or two moments in the presentation? Try it!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Twitter and 140 characters. It's not about content.

The idea I want to expose is probably nothing new, but still I think worth to explain again - in a different light given the recent moves from Facebook and Google+.

In this post I argue that the 140 character limit has not so much to do with the fact that such short texts are fast and easy to read. Neither that it limits "chatty" comments. Rather, I think it has all to do with the visual flow. 140 characters allow to display content in boxes of very similar and regular size, and it allows to display a flow even on smaller mobile devices.

So let's discuss first how I discount the importance of text size:
- To get around the short size, people are using all kinds of hashtags, using lots of abbreviations, squeezing punctuations. That makes tweets actually hard to read. For a matter of facts, I often see people not familiar with Twitter looking at my timeline and saying "I don't understand what they write". The keyword here is obfuscation. Sure, when you're using Twitter a lot, that helps, but for the average user, that makes tweets no faster to read that longer, but clearer ones.
- Is 140 character a sanity limit against too chatty people? Probably not, they write just much more tweets to compensate (You're probably in the 10% if you know that story from 2009).

So now why has Twitter been so successful? I'll argue that its decisive advantage against Facebook and MySpace is the visual design. More specifically, it's table design. In short, Twitter is like Excel. And it's no coincidence that Excel is still one of the most popular software out there.

Table are quick to proceed, and an extremely efficient way to navigate through information - even if it's text. You can also see that with the popularity of the table in HTML since it's early days. If tag clouds were more efficient to parse, they would have dominate the web. But they are not efficient, so they stay as a neat gadget out here.

In current visual design, grids are everything. And are the base for visual consitency. The iPhone resolution is based on the grid that widgets based on. So it's really rooted into the device.

So now take a look at those screen captures:

This is Google Plus. I can only see one and a half post, and those are relatively small ones. Some post may cover many screens. Also the bottom bar is taking up more space.

This is Twitter. Despite two posts being very near 140 characters, 4 tweets are fitting on one screen. There is a difference in height between a one liner and a full 140 characters tweet, but it's not that big.

So if your goal is to follow quite a big quantity of different sources, Twitter is definitely more efficient, because it enables such a fast raster between tweets. Google is more seeking depth and content richness, which is fully ok, but in my opinion the reason Twitter is not going to disappear yet.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My IAA Report

This post comes a bit late as I have been kept quite busy lately by private stuff... So finally here it is, with a few weeks delay:

So again this time, I went to the IAA in Frankfurt. This is the biggest motor show in the world, so I thought it would be worth getting there again. And of course, I'm interested in cars, so I wanted to see the last developments.

There's a lot to report about. And I didn't try that hard to seek information. So I'll go over a few different aspects of the show.


Like last time, I was impressed by the sheer size of the marketing involved. Millions invested in making huge boots, with huge screens, loud music, and all the like. Well, this time again. I'll describe that in the booth section. Going there a Friday, I was surprised of the crowded attendance. It seem to have been quite a successful year for the show. So let's begin with the report:


Some things have changed obviously since two years ago. Going by some brands, my impressions:
- Audi got outside with a mega-booth that was quite impressive from an architectural view. They have an integrated driving circuit in the building, which has its effect, but the expo space inside was quite limited. It was incredibly crowded, so it was hard to even see entire cars. Two years ago, it was almost quiet at the Audi booth.

- Mercedes had a HUGE booth. It's gigantic. Very impressive scenery, actually mimicking their Stuttgart Museum. Lots of people there, but enough space to enjoy the models and go into the cars:

- BMW presented something similar to two years ago, slightly modified. They seem to still run on the investment they made two years ago - also on the environment side. No big new things there.

- Porsche had a booth open to everyone - in contrast to other luxury & sport brands like Ferrari or Aston Martin. You may argue that those are more luxurious, I think partly this has to do with the desire from Porsche to be in the hearts of the nation. They're proud to be considered a popular car maker. I was told by friends "you can drive to work with a Porsche, not with a Ferrari". So kudos to Porsche on that. I could step in a Panamera by the way, where the brown leather on the console was quite blending the outside view. Better take that boring black, it's mostly used for a reason!

- Renault had a quite laid back, well organized booth. And it was full of elegance. Simple but beautiful cars, with original but very trendy colours. Also they have a lot going on on the green side. More on the next section. What I also really liked on their booth is both their attention to design, with quite a few concept cars that are much more original than the German ones, as well as their attention to the past. Mercedes used the history trick in the former IAA, Renault presented a fantastic R4 this year:


There were not many breaking new designs to see. One effect I could notice is that corners are now a property of very expensive cars. May there be Lamborghinis, Rolls Royce, or Mercedes.
Mini is going bold with the new coupé serie. VW presented quite some interesting variations of the Up, but those are just artist works that will never land in a store.


Of course, everyone is doing a pitch on environment. Except maybe Rolls Royce. Still, I saw nothing completely new. On the evolution side though, there quite some changes to observe. For one, there were a whole hall reserved for alternative energies, said the entry panel at least (well actually, once I was in, there was only a half hall).
Personally, I think the big change now is that major cars company are now selling electric cars. Yes, Renault, I'm looking at you! Renault comes with 4 different models, some from scratch, other basing on existing traditional models. Not all are available now on the market, but should soon. Renault was by far the big company putting its electric strategy in the forefront, but Opel was there also with the Ampera, which is now available for sale, based on the Chevy Volt.
There are also some new accessories appearing: SolarWorld makes a product called the SunCarport, and as its name suggest it, it's a carport with a roof made of solar cells. So you can park your car under it, and the carport produces clean energy that can be either fed into the utilities or used to recharge the car. We'll see how that second use case goes as people usually drive away with their car at day.
Outside the "electric hall" there were a small fleet of e-cars for test drives. It struck me how silent those cars are, especially when driving slow. Sure additional sound will be needed to make them secure for pedestrians.


Actually, while there were not that much breaking news on the green side, for the me the great novelty was the explosion of driving assistants. Mercedes was doing a live demo with a full simulator to present its concept while showing a car driving on the highway.
What is very interesting here, is that a few companies now do have a technology for self driving car. Audi was mentioning the technology but I didn't see any demo.
IBM had a small booth around Smarter Transportation (disclaimer: I work there). I wonder why Google wasn't there with their self-driving technology. Tech is invading the real world. Actually, it is quite interesting that car makers are telling a lot "We're not taking you the control", because in many cases they have. Many of the tech presented on the show is actually very near self-driving tech. Audi lane assist, for example, was recently shown on TV more or less taking the car alone through a curve. We're going to see much more discussion around that in the next few years.

Also the cars do now have a very impressive connectivity. All kinds of players are connectible by default, many cars propose WLAN in the car, etc. The iPads and iPhones are invading the in-car electronics. How long before an entertainment system or even car information goes on the smartphones or tablets? Not long, I think. It's happening right now in the planes, but that's a topic for another post.

Sunday, October 09, 2011


Thanks to Blogger, this blog is now accessible from mobile devices - smartphones, iPods and similar. Tablets should be able to use the usual desktop formatting. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Plain HTML: Back to the Roots

Forget application servers, content managers, JSF, ruby on rails... When I work on a web page or small web app for me, I try as far as possible to go with plain HTML and JavaScript. I think I need to justify myself now to why I'm mostly sticking to that tech.

- It's elegant. Probably my favorite reason - the code is all consistent because there's no other dependency than the browser. So the code can be capitalized correctly and formatted properly. It's very compact, so it has probably less bugs than in some more chatty format that many frameworks usually produce.
- It keeps you in contact with the underlying technology. And the web technology is advancing fast. Chance is your plain content will be able to do always more (CSS animations anyone?) with so less code than a non-native framework. Why using any framework function when the browser can do it alone? It's often faster and more reliable with the browser technology, and that way also doesn't need bridge technologies like external renderers (Flash! Silverlight!). Often, frameworks are a bit behind, so it's always good to be up to date and know when to do simpler.
- You can use your usual tooling. You never know when a framework will need a strange compiler or Java library that is cumbersome to get and use. That risk just isn't there with plain HTML/CSS/JavaScript. You can just start your favorite editor and push updates to the server with any tools you're comfortable with, from the file manager to an automated rsync script.

Of course, almost the same could be said of Unix tools - except that the Unix command line doesn't have ground-breaking changes anymore...

Edit 10/08/2011:
Thinking back about this post remembered me how Amazon made EC2 available as a static page host platform. Of course, EC2 doesn't imply a back to the root approach - you could use GWT's compiler, over even a homebrew code generator to produce a static site from dynamic data - but it fosters it. Github is also proposing static page hosting.