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Blippex

Blippex is a new and open search engine which (anonymously) collects browsing history to rank search results by how long people spend on websites (it collects via a browser extension).  Sounds good.
Apr 2

Chrome versus Safari (on Mac)

I’ve been re-trialling Chrome on Mac – and therefore iOS too as I like to keep my stuff in sync.  Chrome and Safari are great browsers in my opinion.  These are my thoughts on a comparison of the two thus far into my foray with Chrome (in pros and cons).

Chrome Pros

  1. Better selection of apps and extensions (with ratings too).
  2. On iPhone when linking from an app (such as Mailbox) the webpage automatically closes if I return to the app. That is simply amazing integration.
  3. Colour favicons on bookmarks.
  4. Evernote Clearly.
  5. Discrete Activity Monitor management (Safari bundles all webpages into one activity).

Chrome Cons

  1. Energy hungry.
  2. Text shortcuts don’t work (on OSX).
  3. Webpage sync (between devices) slower than Safari.

The final con is that Chrome can’t be default on iOS but that isn’t the fault of Chrome.  Also Google have done an excellent job of allowing Chrome to essentially act as a default browser if you follow links from other Google apps.  Mailbox – the email app for me – also optionally links into Chrome really well indeed, so I get a really good experience on the whole.

Apr 1

Say what Samsung?

When I first heard that Samsung were including a fingerprint scanner on the aptly named S5 I thought it was a joke. Now I hear this is real. For all the noises Samsung make about iPhones being crap and iPhone users being dumb they sure are doing their level best to replicate the iPhone. Oh and according to independent testing unlike the 5S’s subtle and reliable integration of Touch ID the S5’s version is cumbersome and well it just repeatedly fails!

64 bit architecture and hardware that works, all encased in a beautiful metal case with arguably the best apps available in one secure store. I’ll take that just as much as Samsung will attempt to copy it.

Apr 1
sciencesoup:

Van der Waals helps geckoes scale walls
Face it, it would be totally cool if we could clamber up surfaces as easily as geckoes do. We could scale skyscrapers, never fear when climbing ladders, and could completely eliminate that tacky dramatic moment in movies where the hero dangles precariously over the street a hundred storeys below. Of course, their sweaty fingers would never slip if they had some kind of adhesion mechanism—they could just climb right back up.
So how do geckoes manage it?
Well, unlike humans, geckoes have millions of microscopic hairs on the bottom of their feet, called setae. The tips of each of these setae are split into 100-1000 spatulae, which are so small that they’re narrower than the wavelength of visible light—less than 300 nano metres.
Clearly, some kind of intermolecular force between the gecko’s feet and a surface is responsible for adhesion, but it wasn’t until research in 2002 that we fully understood what was going in—for a while, scientists were throwing around theories like suction and chemical bonding. 
Turns out, geckoes take advantage of the Van der Waals force.
Named after a nineteenth century Dutch physicist, Van der Waals forces are weak electrodynamic forces that act over tiny distances, yet bond almost any material. They’re created by fluctuations in charge distributions between molecules.
These weak forces can be strengthened as more and more of one surface touches the other—like, say if you had billions of spatulae coating your feet. These tiny hairs increase surface density, so on contact with the wall the gecko experiences a strong adhesive force
Essentially, this force means we can improve adhesion simply by increasing surface density, like subdividing a surface into countless small protrusions. It means that geometry—not chemistry—is the driving mechanism. A single setae can lift an ant; a million could lift a 20 kg child; and if geckoes used every setae simultaneously, they could support 130 kg.
These forces open up to a lot of applications in adhesives. Engineers at Berkeley and Stanford have developed biologically inspired synthetic adhesives that adhere like gecko pads, which have even been used on robotic climbers.

Geckos feet are astonishing.

sciencesoup:

Van der Waals helps geckoes scale walls

Face it, it would be totally cool if we could clamber up surfaces as easily as geckoes do. We could scale skyscrapers, never fear when climbing ladders, and could completely eliminate that tacky dramatic moment in movies where the hero dangles precariously over the street a hundred storeys below. Of course, their sweaty fingers would never slip if they had some kind of adhesion mechanism—they could just climb right back up.

So how do geckoes manage it?

Well, unlike humans, geckoes have millions of microscopic hairs on the bottom of their feet, called setae. The tips of each of these setae are split into 100-1000 spatulae, which are so small that they’re narrower than the wavelength of visible light—less than 300 nano metres.

Clearly, some kind of intermolecular force between the gecko’s feet and a surface is responsible for adhesion, but it wasn’t until research in 2002 that we fully understood what was going in—for a while, scientists were throwing around theories like suction and chemical bonding.

Turns out, geckoes take advantage of the Van der Waals force.

Named after a nineteenth century Dutch physicist, Van der Waals forces are weak electrodynamic forces that act over tiny distances, yet bond almost any material. They’re created by fluctuations in charge distributions between molecules.

These weak forces can be strengthened as more and more of one surface touches the other—like, say if you had billions of spatulae coating your feet. These tiny hairs increase surface density, so on contact with the wall the gecko experiences a strong adhesive force

Essentially, this force means we can improve adhesion simply by increasing surface density, like subdividing a surface into countless small protrusions. It means that geometry—not chemistry—is the driving mechanism. A single setae can lift an ant; a million could lift a 20 kg child; and if geckoes used every setae simultaneously, they could support 130 kg.

These forces open up to a lot of applications in adhesives. Engineers at Berkeley and Stanford have developed biologically inspired synthetic adhesives that adhere like gecko pads, which have even been used on robotic climbers.

Geckos feet are astonishing.

iOS 7.1

7.1 definitely feels sharper and more responsive. I’m not too sure about some of the visual changes though. The screen appears darker in most cases and the new colour scheme for the shift / caps button is a little confusing – I need to get used to it.

The UK male Siri voice is rubbish but being able to manually control the start and end of his listening time is very useful.

At the end of the day I guess efficiency and responsiveness are key so I’ll live with the UI visual and Siri voice changes, but it wouldn’t harm Apple to include a bit of choice for the user on those points.

Internet was down at work for most of the day. So guy in the office finally called IT to see what was happening. IT guy on other end: “Oh yeah, the internet’s not working.”

You get paid for doing what exactly?

iPhone remote control goodness

The unmistakeable look of bemused wonderment on the faces of my students!  I have my iPhone in my hand and I’m controlling my Keynote slideshow from it.  This kind of device integration is Apple at its best.

The Keynote slideshow is run from my MacBook Pro, I then set up an adhoc wireless connection with my iPhone.  Straightforward to do and since the update to Keynote 2.1 (iOS), which integrated the remote into the app, very reliable.

A Siri mistake by Apple

The new male UK voice for Siri is a step backwards! I want that deep butler-like voice back. Of course Apple won’t revert, that’s not their style, but surely they can include it as an option? To not do this doesn’t make sense. They already have the necessary data and systems in place, they don’t need to do much extra to make it an option. I’ve gone Australian in the mean time!

Mar 5

I am wondering why I bother with Android Tablets at all!

Before I begin you should understand that I am a huge fan of Google and I rely on their excellent services throughout every day.  Though I am basing this “rant” only on my experience of a Samsung Galaxy Tab it is unlikely that other Android powered hardware can do the things I’ve found the Galaxy unable to do since the problem lies with the browsers I have used – Internet and Chrome.
For the past few weeks I have been trying to set up a marking activity for my students which entails providing them with scans of student work and separate scans of the same work once it had been marked.  I wanted to achieve this by using a class set of the tablets my department owns – Galaxy Tabs.  I also wanted to do it in such a way that did not require manually downloading the scans onto each tablet for ease of use and so the memory didn’t get clogged up with temporary files.  That meant using some method of hosting the scans on the web and students view the files in a web browser.  What follows is a brief run down of all the various methods I tried.
  1. Host PDFs on Box.com.  This didn’t work because the full screen view of the PDF was out of line and instead of scrolling smoothly the view kept jumping erratically.  Worked fine on my iPad – full screen no problem and scrolling was smooth.
  2. Host images on Evernote.  This nearly worked but because the scans were a mixture of portrait and landscape the Tab got anxious.  Couldn’t rotate the landscape scans to fill the screen.  iPad?  No problem.
  3. Host images on Box.com.  Couldn’t view the images in the browser, had to download each image to the Gallery before it could be viewed.  My iPad had no trouble previewing the images.
  4. Embed the images on a website.  The Tab couldn’t even load my website properly!  Ok so I was using a Wix.com html 5 website – was that wrong?  I don’t know.  But the fact is my iPad handled the website and the image gallery perfectly!

Sadly we have the Tabs now, so I have to make do but what a headache!

Practical Example of Extending IFTTT and Zapier with Google Spreadsheets

I posted several days ago my concept for extending the power of IFTTT and Zapier a little further with spreadsheets: http://nadnosliw.tumblr.com/post/77321532495/combining-ifttt-and-zapier

Well I thought that I should provide an example of how to do it.  The principle is this: (1) IFTTT/Zapier adds content (a row) to spreadsheet, (2) the new row triggers a RSS item (currently only Zapier can do this), (3) the RSS item gets sent to Boxcar (other options are available for this).

My example is based around this spreadsheet template: http://bit.ly/OLfreo.  Enter your start and target date into the highlighted cells.  If you want, edit the text content of the CONCATENATE() formula to something more descriptive.

Now get IFTTT / Zapier to add a new row to the spreadsheet daily.  I have found this easier to do on IFTTT with the Date & Time channel, but it may be possible somehow on Zapier (not really sure).  Because you have to add exactly the same formula to the row each day you have to use absolute cell references, hence the spreadsheet does the date difference calculation on the top row and the formulae you add in the new row reference that cell (highlighted yellow).  Also the clean date which is used in the calculations is worked out by how many rows have been added.*

This is the content for the row to be added (everything between the pairs of asterisks: **=E$1+ROW()-2|||=I$1|||{{CheckTime}}**

You can see my IFTTT recipe for the above here: https://ifttt.com/recipes/150129-create-a-daily-countdown-to-a-target-date-in-google-drive.  

The next stages are pretty straightforward.  In Zapier set up a zap to send the message from the newly added row to an RSS feed (http://zpr.io/tN92) which is linked to Boxcar, or send it direct to your phone by SMS if you’d prefer.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

*It is possible to create a clean date from the timestamp but this would add unnecessary complication to the spreadsheet calculations.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

I’m pretty sure there are other novel ways of using a similar concept waiting to be discovered.