Sunday, August 15, 2010

Citizen Journalism

There is a lot of talk about the future of journalism, weblogs and citizen journalism. In reading today's Pioneer Press, I came across two opinion pieces that to me exemplify how much better citizen experts can be, than the pros.

The first was by a retired local economics professor, Edward Lotterman. He gave what is really a pretty simple lesson, explaining the difference between cyclical economic problems, versus structural economic downturns. He went on to describe how our current situation is structural, and discussed the fact that solving it: 1) Has political implications; 2) Would be expected to take 6-8 years; 3) Absent political will (and intelligence) is not guaranteed. It wasn't overly long or detailed, but this kind of grown-up explanation is generally absent in the work of mainstream professional journalists, who seem much more caught up in reporting day-to-day things--some newly released statistic, some attention-grabbing claim, or random anecdotal happenings.

The second was by Amy Lindgren, a local job-search counselor. She took issue with various articles of conventional wisdom:

  • The consequences of extending unemployment benefits
  • Whether job-seeking is a full-time job
  • Job prospects for older workers
  • How to assess the "discouraged worker" statistics
Like Lotterman's article, it wasn't overly long or technical, but it took time to examine the conventional wisdom, instead of mindlessly propounding it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Android Lock Screen Alternative Wanted

Even before I saw the below analysis of "smudge attacks" on Bruce Schneier's site, I have wanted an alternative to the stock, dot-pattern-based Android screen lock component. What I have in mind is using the Dialpad for entering your PIN. Then, when you succeed, the Dialpad is right there for quick phone calls. Of course, the driving "use case" for this is phone-call-centric, which immediately places me in a minority of smartphone users.

Another key feature would be automatically assigning speed dial numbers. My phone of 5 years ago did this. It was really convenient for every entry to have a speed dial. The assignment occurred as the contact was entered. The invocation occurred by long-pressing the last digit. So if you were calling contact 163, you dial 1-6-long-press-3.

I can already hear people saying "but I can barely remember 10 speed dials, let alone hundreds". That's not exactly the point. Your top 10 speed dials are pretty constant, but others can be very episodic. I don't call my insurance company often, for example, except when I have a claim, and then I may call them several times a day for a week.

The smudge attack suggests an additional feature--the keypad numbers should be randomly scrambled each time presented.

UPDATE: I just implemented the most basic part of this, the Auto-Load, in Tasker.
Abstract
Touch screens are an increasingly common feature on
personal computing devices, especially smartphones,
where size and user interface advantages accrue from
consolidating multiple hardware components (keyboard,
number pad, etc.) into a single software definable user
interface. Oily residues, or smudges, on the touch screen
surface, are one side effect of touches from which frequently
used patterns such as a graphical password might
be inferred.
In this paper we examine the feasibility of such smudge
attacks on touch screens for smartphones, and focus our
analysis on the Android password pattern.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Better "Genius" Button

The MT3G Slide has a "genius" button, but it seems to get lackluster reviews (perhaps another example that having a really slick name is half the battle in marketing). I have an idea for Genius Button 2.0. Every smartphone should have at least one, configurable, hard button. The specific configurations would be user-settable by app context, but a good starting set of defaults would include:
Camera: shutter button.
Stopwatch: start/stop button (soft buttons are particularly ill-suited for this application)
Reader, browser: Page Down[1]
Home screen: this will vary, but for me it would be to bring up the dialer.
Phone conversation: Mute toggle
 Of course, this button should be placed where it is very easy to activate while holding the phone one-handed. 
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[1] Of course an even better implementation for PageUp/PageDown would be the volume rocker, but that is out of scope for a single button. PageDown would be at least 75% better.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Google Calendar Feature: Visually Merge Duplicate Shared Events

Virtual merged calendars is great. But when you are viewing your merged calendards for a family of 5, and you all have "Family Movie Night" Friday at 9, it becomes a bit distracting, because that appointment is replicated 5 times. It would be nice if the visual representation could, in some way, visually (not physically) merge those redundant instances of the same event.

Android-Pad by New Year's

I am WAY too frugal to splurge on an iPad. My primary use case for a tablet would be online reading, but from comfortable spots of my own choosing--deck, front porch, bed, comfy chair. I think a modest Android-based tablet would do just fine. As a bonus, there is a Kindle reader for Android, so books would not be out of the question (I know, the Kindle reader with e-ink is much easier on the eyes).

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Scott McNealy: “We are spending $8 billion to $15 billion per year on textbooks” in the United States, Mr. McNealy says. “It seems to me we could put that all online for free.”

This is a great idea. One modest step in bringing down the cost of education. Go Scott!