BitDepth#945 - July 15

Facebook users should know better
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Amid all the Facebook likes, there are aspects of the social media giant that some might find worthy of dislike. Illustration by BigStock.

After all these years of casual mistreatment by the business, one might have expected Facebook users to be a bit more level headed in their expectations from the service.

Even if all the fuss about posts being wilfully stifled on Facebook’s newsfeeds in order to encourage more paid advertising didn’t seem relevant to the average user busy posting pictures of lunch, the flippant disregard that Mr Zuckerberg’s wildly successful social media website has for privacy and the integrity of the individual should have offered some insight into what the company was likely to get up to in the future.

So when it was announced a couple of weeks ago that a January 2012 study had tailored the feeds of 689,000 Facebook users to see whether they responded differently to positive or negative posts to their timelines, nobody should have been surprised.
Facebook’s response to the concerns that arose when the paper was published in June was to point to its data use policy, which states that data can be used "for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”

The project was carried out using heuristic automation, removing postings based on keywords to favour either positive or negative posts and user posts and responses were monitored for the percentage of positive and negative words they included.
The resulting paper which isn't as exciting and provocative as the furore it raised, is posted on the website of the Proceedings of the Natation Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Curiously, nobody that I know who uses Facebook regularly seemed to care one way or another that their newsfeeds had been tampered with or their posts had been monitored, albeit through technology instead of fascinated eyeballs.
Since its publication, the US-based PNAS has brought out a tactical ten-foot pole to put some distance between itself and the controversial study.

“It is nevertheless a matter of concern that the collection of the data by Facebook may have involved practices that were not fully consistent with the principles of obtaining informed consent and allowing participants to opt out,” wrote Inda M Verma as part of a formal “Editorial Expression of Concern.”

So while Facebook’s data scientist Adam Kramer had abundant statistics to populate his study, “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” it’s not clear that anyone in T&T has learned anything from this rather pervasive intrusion into a service that often professes to be hands off when it comes to how its customers use its service.
There’s a rather direct technology saying that speaks directly to this issue.

“If you aren’t paying for the service, you’re the product.”

Facebook clearly isn’t bothered by the reports that it is in the first stages of a death spiral or that it’s losing its teen users. The company remains committed to having its own way with the data that’s freely shared on its network.
Of greater concern for the average user are the many ways that Facebook is becoming more like the open Internet.

The company goes to great lengths to portray Facebook as a safe, cozy haven for the whole family and an extended group of friends to share information and photos, but it’s become alarmingly spammy, overrun with advertising and is shamelessly porous when it comes to protecting the data profiles of its customer base.

Facebook’s disregard for basic copyright metadata, its ready lubrication of casual social bullying and the stickiness of its data harvesting far surpass anything available on the Internet.
I have no illusions that any of this will give the average fan of Facebook in T&T the slightest bit of pause and as a user myself, I’m well aware of the charms and easy collaborations and conversations that the service facilitates.

If there’s anything to be learned from the fallout of this study, it’s that Facebook isn’t all fun and memes. There’s serious data harvesting taking place behind the scenes and the smart Facebook user will always keep that in mind.
The business of business is business, management guru Peter Drucker summarised decades ago. And Facebook’s business is data. Your data.
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BitDepth#944 - July 05

The flap about VOIP
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The Open Internet is under threat everywhere. Digicel’s decision to block some VOIP services brings that issue home to T&T. Illustration by BigStock.

Digicel Trinidad and Tobago quietly dropped a bomb on Saturday morning, with a notice on its website that “effective immediately, unlicensed VOIP services are blocked on its network.”
The company named four specific services which had, in fact, been blocked hours before, Tango, Viber, Nimbuzz and Fring.

Digicel had moved quickly after instituting the ban in Haiti barely two weeks before, moving on to Jamaica and over the weekend, T&T.
I posed four questions to the company’s, Communications Manager, Penny Gomez in the wake of that announcement, which notably left out more commonplace and well known VOIP software in regular use in this country.

  • Is the list of services on Digicel’s website conclusive and fulsome or will any “unlicensed” VOIP service be banned as well?
  • Skype is the most widely used VOIP software in T&T, is the use of that service banned as well?
  • Does Digicel have an established procedure for a VOIP product to be licensed for use on the network?
  • Does Digicel have hard numbers or statistics that demonstrate how VOIP products are being used on its networks?

Digicel responded with
an expansion of its original statement, noting the following…
  • At the moment, all unlicenced phone number-based VoIP services are blocked.
  • It is “actively considering the position of all unlicensed VoIP operators in each of its markets along with the nature of the operators.
  • ”Viber has an interconnect arrangement with Digicel but “steadfastly refuses to pay these amounts due.”
  • Implying that other invoices have been sent, the company called “on these companies to pay the outstanding invoices sent to them.”
The company’s full statement is here.

Viber has since responded to Digicel’s statement bluntly, saying “They are smoking.” An e-mail to Microsoft’s Skype division about licensing on Digicel’s network over the weekend brought no response in time for this column.
The Voice over Internet Protocol allows phone calls to be packaged and transmitted on the Internet. The technology has been in use for more than a decade, but faster Internet backbones have brought dramatic improvements made it a preferred system for transferring call data, even by ISPs.

Flow’s phone service, for instance, is VOIP based, but like Skype, is considered a second generation VOIP solution, maintaining connectivity with the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Third generation networks like Google Talk and Facebook’s call connections dispense with PSTN connectivity to establish direct domain to domain links using IP only, usually via a web page.

What’s been notable is the lack of general concern about the loss of these specific services and the greater sense that something’s fundamentally wrong with the company’s position.
On the Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society’s mailing list, concerns were raised about the technical underpinnings of the claim, with experienced practitioners arguing that VOIP services will claim 20kbps of a user’s connection, far less than a YouTube video and pondering whether an issue of Net Neutrality is arising from the company’s action.

That would bring T&T into alignment with international concerns about businesses and service providers who are seeking to create a fast lane for the Internet, tiering access to services to favour those willing to pay more.
The proposed system would allow businesses to harvest more money but would introduce filtering and balkanisation of protocols to the Open Internet.

In taking its action against the VOIP companies, Digicel Trinidad and Tobago has brought the issue home to this country, subtly changing its role from a common carrier to a content gatekeeper, willing to discriminate between the services allowed on its networks.
Opponents to a tiered Internet have
created a website to articulate those concerns.

TSTT’s
brief comment on the matter seemed to side with Net Neutrality: “Customers pay us a subscription fee for this access and once customers have bought data services from bmobile, customers determine how they wish to use their data.”

A more definitive statement on the matter is still to come from the Telecommunications Authority of T&T, who need to step up from the vaguely disapproving comments of the weekend with a clear statement on this country’s position on net neutrality.
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BitDepth#943 - June 30

Remaking the road to walk
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Transport engineer Dr Rae Furlonge (far right) delivers his report to Carnival stakeholders at the Grandstand at the Queen’s Park Savannah last Saturday. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

The National Carnival Commission was being congratulated on Saturday for getting started early on the festival’s 800 pound gorilla, the parade route for the bands on Carnival Tuesday.

By the measure of serious Carnival practitioners though, things were actually pretty late. The night before, Harts had hosted the first band launch of the 2015 season, a clear signal that the work of the big bands of the road had been underway long before.

The NCC might well argue in turn that the data collection for Saturday’s meeting began since 2013, when that first effort at measuring the flow of bands on Carnival Tuesday faltered when the GPS data didn’t come up to requirements.

What transport engineer Dr Rae Furlonge presented to a gathering of masmen was an effort at pure science, a tabulation of data collected from bands moving on the route and an engineer’s assessment of optimal solutions to easing the congestion it recorded.

This was the parade of the bands analysed as unyielding data and many of Dr Furlonge’s comments spoke to the gulf between what’s expected and what actually happens when masquerader boots hit the ground.
The most stunning number coming out of that analysis occasioned a bit of play acting as the engineer enlisted volunteers from the audience to demonstrate what a minimum speed of one inch per second translates into in real life.

The speeds measured on the road actually run as fast as six inches per second and average out at four, but as the good doctor’s demonstration made clear, Carnival tends to run at the pace of the slowest bands, not the most nimble.
Among the heresies the transport engineer suggested to his audience were the reversal of the route, a simplified route that dropped downtown Carnival and all his suggestions skipped Piccadilly Greens, a notorious bottleneck for all except the smallest bands participating in full costume on the festival’s big day.

And the concerns weren’t limited to such dramatic changes. At least two representatives of the team that built the Socadrome were startled to find that their project didn’t seem to be factored into either the future planning or the analysis of the flow for Carnival 2014.
A suggestion that vendors be removed from the route to ease the congestion was quickly met by the argument that “without vendors, there is no Carnival!”

As Dr Furlonge observed, the analysis was about time and space and an engineer will always look at capacities, not culture in evaluating the best options.
The data collected in Carnival 2014 is a critical first step in understanding Carnival Tuesday in a way we haven’t before.

Far too many decisions have been made based on assumptions, casual observation and a general acknowledgement of the issues, but now there is hard data that measures what happens with bands on the road and it’s important that it be evaluated and analysed by the widest possible cross section of interested parties.
Minister of Culture Dr Lincoln Douglas observed that taxpayers had spent $289 million on Carnival 2014 and that what was needed from the discussions on the route was answers, a conclusion.

NCC Chairman Allison Demas noted in her opening remarks that the consultation was the first step toward the formation of a Route Development Committee charged with the responsibility of formulating and gaining wide consensus on an approach to manage the congestion of Carnival Tuesday.
That committee now has real world information on the flow of the bands, but it must make decisions on larger issues that aren’t as easy to measure.

Key to understanding the scale of the problem is naming the challenge and it’s still being described incorrectly.
On its surface, the congestion of bands looks like traffic, because there are vehicles are involved moving along prescribed routes. It seems to be a parade, because there are people on the march, but it’s also a show that’s staged at multiple venues.

The congestion of Carnival Tuesday defies ready problem solving because it is, at various times, an event that is all of these things, many of them happening simultaneously.
At heart though, the problem with bands on Carnival Tuesday isn’t a traffic problem, it’s a staging problem and it’s one that’s unique in the world.

Bands are only a parade when they approach a performance venue, the rest of the time they are a ragged, disorganised mob that dances backward as vigorously as they move forward.
They travel along streets that can barely hold their support trucks, far less such vehicles surrounded by hundreds of people.

The staging venues are dictated by historical and cultural imperatives, so resiting them becomes an emotional issue, not an infrastructural one.
For Carnival Tuesday’s Parade of the Bands event to significantly improve, it must travel along the widest, most accessible streets, perform on before sensibly situated and evenly spaced stages that deliver entertainment value to the audiences that patronise them.

It’s probably worth noting here that there came a time when horse racing simply outgrew the facilities at the Savannah. That time came and went for Carnival decades ago and it’s time to face that fact and acknowledge the severity of the decisions that must follow.

The hard and cruel truth is that it may simply not be possible to host a parade of the bands competition in Port-of-Spain anymore and that’s going to be the biggest route development challenge of all.
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BitDepth#942 - June 24

On Bitcoin and beyond
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Shiva Bissessar explains cryptocurrencies at a recent TTCS tech meeting at Open Campus. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

It started as a discussion in two parts about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but it soon became a micro-referendum on the basic differences between digital currencies and traditional financial systems.
The talk featured Richard Jobity, an economist and business analyst who worked for a decade at the Central Bank and Shiva Bissessar, a young technologist, currently Managing and Technical Director of Pinaka Technology Solutions who also wrote is MSc thesis on cryptocurrencies.

The two men presented to a small group gathered by the Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society (TTCS) at UWI’s Open Campus two weeks ago.
At the centre of their differing perspectives that evening is the central issue that’s emerging out of this emergent virtual system for assigning value and trading it digitally.

Bitcoin at its simplest is digital cash, electronically created and stored and accepted by members of its virtual community as a medium of conveying value.
Introduced as open-source software in 2009 by the pseudonymous developer Satoshi Nakamoto, it is the best known of a new generation of cryptocurrencies; technologies powered by the enormous complexity of cryptography algorithms.

Indeed, working on the complex mathematical calculations that underpin Bitcoin’s technology is how one earns its units of value, known as bitcoins.
Participants hoping to earn bitcoins volunteer their computer’s processing power to verify and record payments into the block chain, a public ledger that acts as both a repository for bitcoin holdings and a protected accounting of all transactions made with the currency.

That process, called mining, takes time and significant computing power and anyone trying to mine bitcoins today will take significantly longer than users who began working with the system years ago.
It’s becoming common to organize mining pools to bring enough computing power to adding a block, which currently earns 24 bitcoins, but that’s paid to a single bitcoin address, the unique identifier that allows access to a user's account.

Bitcoin miners earn these units of value along with transaction fees, but that value will drop by half every four years until a total of 21 million bitcoins (expected in 2140) have been mined and then only transaction fees will be paid for processing.
And it’s already very difficult to become a profitable miner. Bitcoin specific systems are being developed that far exceed the computing power of the average consumer computer.

It’s now more common for bitcoins to be used as an intermediary value for commercial transactions, with users buying bitcoins at an ATM created for such transactions or in online bids.
In 2013, several major online resellers began accepting bitcoins as payment for goods, including Overstock.com, Tiger Direct and Expedia.

Some folks have used bitcoins to
buy Caribbean citizenship.
But don’t mistake digital controls for financial oversight. Bitcoins are traded like cash, not monitored currency transaction instruments like bank transfers or credit cards.
The Silk Road project, created as an anonymous digital trading website by Ross William Ulbricht, was shut down by the FBI in October 2013 after it was discovered that it was being used as a hub for payments for a range of illegal activities.

More than 170,000 bitcoins were siezed as part of that shutdown, worth over US$30 million in the digital marketplace.
The unmonitored currency, which depends on digital self-correction for controls, has been plagued by sudden drops in value, collapses of major exchanges, most notably the Mt Gox failure, and very suspect transactions facilitated by its freely tradeable nature.

As Richard Jobity noted during his talk, to qualify as money, a medium of exchange “must be reliably saved, stored and retrievable and it must be usable when it is retrieved.”
Under the Financial Act of 2008 in T&T, the Central Bank regulates all electronic currency, including international money transfers, but it’s not clear that bitcoins are money.

The value of a single bitcoin started at US$13, soared to US$1,000 and currently hovers around US$600.
From Jobity’s perspective, bitcoins are a regulatory nightmare, disruptive for financial systems and will demand significant manpower to monitor.
Shiva Bissessar was more bullish on the potential for bitcoins as a lubricant for the economy, pointing to its potential for cash remittances.

In T&T and Latin America, the transfer fee for remittances is 6.21 per cent and in Africa, it soars to an average of 12 per cent, rising as high as 19 per cent.
Bissessar pointed to the example of
Kenya’s BitPesa which charges a flat three per cent for money transfers.

Such systems leverage bitcoins as a medium to transfer value, moving money from one fiat currency to another with few impediments.
Bissessar would like to see T&T become a centre for large scale bitcoin mining, taking advantage of our relatively low electricity costs.

Gabriel Abed, co-founder of the Koblitz Group (http://koblitzgroup.com/), has been travelling throughout the Caribbean seeking audiences with finance ministers to discuss the potential for instituting a cryptocurrency regime throughout the Caricom region.

Bissessar’s efforts at getting the attention of government finance officials and the Central Bank have not been met with enthusiasm, but he remains confident that the advantages of participating in the growth of cryptocurrencies and taking a leading role in introducing them will be an important asset for the local economy.

Links…
Shiva Bissessar’s slide deck on digital currencies
A recorded Skype interview by Bissessar with Gabriel Abed
Is Bitcoin legal?
The legal landscape for Bitcoin (interactive graphic)
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BitDepth#941 - June 17

The gear guys
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Accvent’s Leonardo Iyescas touts the virtues of the Klip Extreme line of computing accessories to resellers at the Hyatt Regency last Thursday. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

I’m trying to figure out exactly what I’m doing here.
The attention of everyone in the room at the Hyatt is being held by Leonardo Iyescas, a master of the salesman’s patter as he strides back and forth and down the aisle in the middle of the room, pointing out the advantages of gear from the accessory maker Klip Extreme.

Behind him is the stunningly attractive Klip girl, a riveting beauty with cheekbones sculpted like sheer cliffs in an equally startlingly tight leotard who hands out samples of the company’s products while keeping a careful eye on their progress through the seated crowd.

Even as I’m wondering how I ended up in what’s obviously a sales pitch to resellers, I wonder about the women in the crowd, all serious and business suited, several taking careful notes while Iyescas speaks, and what they think about the Klip girl and her colleagues, all beauties in leotards color keyed to the brands that are on show at the event.

The event is being led by Accvent LLC, a holding company that represents five makers of accessories and gear for computing, Klip Extreme, Forza Power, Nexxt Solutions, Nuqleo and XTech, who between them offer a product line that spans every imaginable tech need from the casual user to the enterprise client.

Accvent operates in 40 Latin American countries and right from the start of its operations in the United States eight years ago, has had the Caribbean “in its radar,” according to Iyescas.
“We target the mid-range segment,” he explained in a short interview after his talk, “providing accessories for the consumer, though some of our brands, Forza, Nexxt and XTech offer product lines for enterprise.”
That was certainly clear as he spoke to his potential customers.

“Logitech,” he told them, “sees itself as the Mercedez Benz of accessories.”
“But where does their stuff come from? China. Everyone makes their stuff in China now.”
“The money is in accessories and wherever you have an attractive display, you sell four times more.”
Boasting a one per cent return rate, Iyescas notes that “basically it either works out of the box or it doesn’t.”

When one unruly retailer suggests that it would be useful to provide product comparison charts, he quickly notes that the product comes in clear packaging with all the information the customer needs is to be found right on the back of each box.

The two never reconcile their quite different perspectives and Iyescas quickly moves on to another question, one that allows him to put a product sample in the hands of a potential seller for inspection.
It’s all fast moving, persuasive and terribly slick.

“What do our customers want?” Iyescas asks during our chat.
“They want to know that when they place an order it ships.”
To meet that need, Accvent keeps US$2 million worth of stock available in its warehouses, though Iyescas notes that they currently are handling twice that.

Among the items you’ll find product that’s best described as an alternative to more costly, though similar items from more familiar brands, though the Verona line of women’s laptop bags were a standout among the bubble packed items.

Nexxt’s line of network cabling and connectivity gear are almost commodity items, and my own experience with a Forza UPS supports that company’s claims of robustness.
Accvent puts brands in contact with resellers and wholesalers to make that marketing happen and ensures that the products are available.

The company currently represents 1,200 product items which it stores in two million square feet of warehouse space in Miami.
It moves that product through 13 distribution sites spread across China, Latin America, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.
Incomex is the distributor for Accvent’s brands in T&T and the products are currently being sold by 120 resellers locally.
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BitDepth#940 - June 10

Apple’s MacOS: Inching toward perfection
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MacOS X Yosemite is the newest version of Apple’s operating system for it’s computers. Photo courtesy Apple.

Technology keynotes are a special breed of business presentations and keynotes targeting developers are a very special subset of these theatrical sales pitches.
On the one hand, presenters are tasked with getting developers excited about things that interest almost nobody, like better access to operating system code and interfaces.

On the other, they need to do a rather more colourful show about the amazing things are coming for the customers who must be wooed to upgrade their hardware, operating systems and their software.
During
Apple’s developer conference keynote earlier this month, Craig Federighi made a joke about the decision to name the new MacOS after a famous and picturesque rock formation.

Let’s just say that MacOS X Yosemite offers far more productive promise than MacOS X Weed.
But the name’s probably also a signal to the Mac faithful that their operating system won’t just be adding features, it’s going to keep running as stolidly as it has in the recent past.

Once upon a time, meaning up until around seven years ago, I had a side gig getting Macs back up and running. It wasn’t a money spinner, but it was exactly the type of thing that fascinates someone curious about the way operating systems worked and the quirks that lurk in the guts of software interactions.

My personal Mac mission began way back in the days of Mac OS 6, which couldn’t even install a font easily (Font/DA Mover anyone?).
Almost 95 per cent of the work I did was software based. Hardware failures happened, but they were a rarity compared to crazy software problems.

Eventually, I got bored with it all, and apparently so did Apple. I wouldn’t want to be doing that type of thing now, because most of the problems that crop up with Macs now are hardware based; the software basically just works.

Somewhere around the seventh major iteration of Mac OS X, the bugginess of Apple’s operating system just vanished. It wasn’t something that was received by cheers or even noticed by many. The devices simply stopped freezing.

I know recent Mac owners who have been stunned to see a modern Mac’s crash screen.
“My Mac has foreign languages on it,” they bawl.

So Yosemite? Absolutely the right signal to send to the audience at this year’s developer conference, a small slice of the nine million developers creating software for Apple devices.

Yosemite also works hard to bridge the gap between iPads and iPhones, devices that run iOS, a derivative software product that Apple has been moving the Mac OS toward in both style and functionality.
That makes perfect sense for the company, who may be quite cheerful about having the largest installed base of Macs in its history with 80 million of the computers now in use, but Apple also has 800 million iPads, iPhones and iPods in the hands of customers.

Most of the design changes to the new Mac OS bring the style of both operating systems into closer alignment, flattening user interface elements to create a look that mirrors both the current version of iOS and the new version that’s coming.

The Hand Off feature, allows users to start working on, say, an e-mail on a Mac and finish it on an iPhone. And answering a phone call on your Mac? Slam dunk.
Such enhancements are to be expected from a company that’s put ease of use high on its agenda and Apple hasn’t been the kind of brand conscious business who spends much time talking about their competition anywhere, far less on a keynote stage.

If you live in an all Apple device ecosystem, then Yosemite and iOS 8 are blessings from Cupertino. If you’re hoping for useful interoperability improvements like better support for double factor verification for GMail users, well that’s still to be seen.
Can’t wait for Yosemite?
Sign up for the upcoming public beta here.
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BitDepth#939 - June 03

We the publishers
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One of the most impressive time wasters when tending a new Wordpress website is deciding on a theme, the look and feel of your new project.

Normally, I’ve got just one answer.
Wordpress.
The question tends to be some variation of “I really have to get my stuff on the web.”

It might once have been possible to consider producing what’s now called a brochure website, a digital document that’s mastered once, published and left online untouched.
But that was the old Internet, the technology that became commonplace in T&T during the 1990’s that offered a repository of factoids, fiction masquerading as fact and entertaining stuff of all kinds.

That was the worldwide web of readers and viewers. Today’s Internet users are not just consumers, they are participants, whose expectations in a post-Facebook age are to not just to have their say, but to continue having their say with some vigour.

Responding to that doesn’t mean replicating Mr Zuckerberg’s hugely successful formula, but it does mean that a sensible publisher on the web should plan to acknowledge it.
That means creating a strategy and supporting technology that lubricates quick and effortless posting, ease of sharing and the welcoming of not just comments, but discussion.

WordPress isn’t the only content management system (CMS) that an aspiring web participant might use to carve out a space on the Internet. Joomla, Drupal and Blogger all share the compelling cost of Wordpress ($0.00), but those platforms have their own setbacks and gotchas.

Blogger, while much simpler to use than Wordpress, is limited to whatever Google decides is a feature on the platform. At the start, that’s quite a lot, but proficient users quickly begin to hit Blogger’s ceiling.
Joomla and Drupal are extremely powerful tools that demand either a developer’s input or some serious personal commitment to learning the robust technologies that underpin them.

Wordpress, I’ve found, hits the sweetspot of accessibility and customizability between the training wheels of Blogger and the Mjolnir of Joomla and Drupal.
Which isn’t to say it’s easy, just easy to start using. There are millions of websites published on the platform and a surprising number of them look nothing like blogs, because WordPress has attracted a robust third party market of plug-in developers and theme designers who are committed to exploding the idea that a WordPress website should be limited to being a blogger's tool.

That popularity carries its own sting, the widespread use of the platform attracting the attention of hackers who periodically test the software's security measures.
I’ve coached and encouraged several folks along as they established their first websites on the platform based on an understanding of how wordpress.com works and my own experiences with a similar platform.

But, eventually you've got to eat what you’ve been serving and that happened about a month ago for me.
I’d had one of those conversations that sounds like someone with a problem that turns out to be an opportunity for you.
A couple of days later, I had technewstt.com up and running. True to my advice to website newbies, I concentrated on an acceptable design with a focus on content that’s regularly updated as a first strategy.

Next up, replacing a logo that was designed in five minutes in Photoshop (and looks it) with something that shows the input of an intelligent artist and choosing a theme that makes more sense for the project’s future ambitions.
The challenge that new WordPress users will face once they have a basic site up and running isn’t doing your first post; it’s navigating the blizzard of plug-ins and themes that are available for the platform.

There is simply so much available and so many resources to reference that you’ll find yourself spending hours deciding on arcana like which SEO plug-in you should install.
This is where tapping into the experience of others on the platform is tremendously useful. I’ll ask people like
Lasana Liburd, Nicole Phillip Greene and Karel McIntosh about their experiences with one WordPress tool or another.

On a more basic level, if some of these terms, like “theme” confuse you, it’s worth noting here that a CMS platform separates content from look.
You put your content, the words, photographs and links into a database that remains the same regardless of what the website looks like.

Themes change how that content is displayed, sometimes quite radically, but never actually touch the database. Plug-ins extend the capabilities of any CMS and Wordpress has lots of them. There are many choices and some are spottily maintained, so the first warning any new WordPress user should heed is to use as few as possible.
Wordpress itself is free.

Most hosting services will include an installer in their user dashboards, which makes getting it up and running even easier. While there’s a bit more work involved in setting up a self-hosted Wordpress site, it’s worth the investment in time and effort.
The best plug-ins and themes cost money though, and custom work on either costs even more.

Becoming a professional publisher or simply having your say on the web doesn’t call for a massive investment. You can get a great site up and running for free or lay the groundwork for a more robust enterprise with peppercorn money.

My own project is very much in the proving stages now. It will take months to even see the final shape it takes if any at all. But the experience is very much what people expect when they begin to carve out their own space on the web.
It’s challenging, engaging, educational, frustrating and, of course, fun.
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BitDepth#938 - May 27

Are you sitting down?
938-Steelcase
Steelcase’s Matt Williams (centre) demonstrates the consolidated controls of the company’s new adjustable office chair, the Gesture. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

It’s one of those things that continues to puzzle me about personal computing.
Folks will spend a fortune on their computer system, buying large screens and fast processors and not spend a cent on the chair they use.

It’s a bit like buying a really expensive camera with a cheap lens or rolling out in a Ferrari with plastic sheeting for a windshield.
A good chair won’t show up in the quality of your writing or the deftness of your picture editing, but it will quickly prove itself in the comfort levels you enjoy throughout long computing sessions and, if your mind happens to run that way, the enhanced productivity you will enjoy as a result.

A properly configured chair isn’t an option for me. I have a medical document attesting to the two compressed vertebrae in my back that I’ve pressed into service at least once to justify corporate expenditure on a proper chair.
On that notable occasion, I priced suitable chairs after the business I was working for at the time proved unable to offer me anything usable and then bought one on sale. I then offered the CEO an opportunity to own the furniture that would be using on the company’s premises during my tenure.

Since then, the costs have been mine to bear and while I haven’t been as lavish as I’d really like to be, there’s a good adjustable chair under me as I write this.
In my continuing examination of seating choices, I’ve had one eye on the offerings from Steelcase.

Steelcase, as it turns out, has also been keeping an eye on us.
The company looked at how chairs were being used in the workplace, taking notes on 2,000 people in 11 countries.
“We started seeing more tablets and smartphones in the workplace,” said Matt Williams, Product Manager, Global Envisioning and Product Development for Steel Case.

“We found nine new postures related to the use of these devices, and we created a dynamic chair capable of adjusting to these very different postures.”
Williams was in Trinidad in early May for the launch of the new chair, named
Gesture at local office design firm Total Office.

“This year alone we expect 2.4 billion new smartphones and tablets to enter the market place. And as these devices make their way into the workplace, the interactions we saw were much more informal and casual,” Williams told the audience at the Gesture launch.
“This new breed of devices were only introduced a few years ago, and these nine new postures were causing pain [because] to date chairs have only been designed for someone who sits at a computer all day.”

The nine gestures range from the quite clear “The Text” to the colourfully inspired “The Strunch.”
The chair that Steelcase has engineered to meet these new seating needs is deceptively straightforward, looking much flashier in product photos than it does rolled up next to a table.

The restrained Euro flavoured design doesn’t suggest anything special, but I’m fussy about my chairs and unimpressed with overt efforts at seeming too ergonomic.
Most of the adjustments are subtle. The seat is wider and wraps its padding right around the seat base, while the number of adjustment levers has been reduced and consolidated and made more logical if not completely intuitive.

The chair’s resistance can be finely tuned to make moving from sitting forward to a relaxed lean backward an effortlessly supported action.
Most striking for me was the seat’s maximum height, a good four inches higher than any but the most specialised adjustable chairs.

Since I currently use a custom-made five-inch high-density cushion on an otherwise effectively ergonomic chair to gain that extra height, I was duly impressed. This is a feature that’s normally only available on “tall” editions of adjustable chairs.
A good adjustable chair is a hefty investment for a freelancer and one that I, for one intend to stretch to its limit, so no Gesture for me.

But for anyone who’s spending lengthy sessions staring at a computer screen while sitting on a dining room chair or worse, a badly designed “ergonomic” chair, the new Steelcase unit is priced within consideration at TT$8,500 if you care as much about your body as you do about your work.
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T&T a key market for Microsoft

Originally published in the Business Guardian on May 22, 2014.
BG_Ridgway
Microsoft’s Vice-president of the Sales, Marketing and Services Group for Microsoft Latin America, Barry Ridgway photographed at the training offices of Microsoft T&T. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

“Cloud first, mobile first,” Barry Ridgway says emphatically when I ask what Microsoft’s priority strategy is in the Caribbean and Latin America.
“It’s the mission that Satya Nadella has outlined, and it’s our primary strategy in the region.”

Ridgway is new to the role of Vice-president of the Sales, Marketing and Services Group of Microsoft Latin America, but he’s no novice at the company.
He’s an 18-year veteran at Microsoft and has taken his first year to properly understand the markets now under his care.

Last week Ridgway made his first visit to Trinidad and Tobago after an earlier trip was postponed and his first mission was to be present at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Microsoft and its community partner Caribbean Industrial Research Institute for the establishment of Microsoft’s first Innovation Centre in the Caribbean.

Microsoft has established 110 centres in 80 countries throughout the world, 20 of which are in Latin America. This is the first centre to be established in the Caribbean region. The Innovation Centre, scheduled for opening in August 2014, will offer capacity building opportunities to the whole Caribbean region.
“Latin America is a big growth engine for Microsoft,” says Ridgway, "and Trinidad and Tobago is one of our biggest markets and a gateway for us to the Southern Caribbean.”

“Microsoft needs a strong hub to build partners who do well in Trinidad and Tobago and in the region. We definitely see T&T as a platform for expanding our presence in the region.”
Talking to the media wasn’t Ridgway’s first priority on this initial visit, he came to visit Government and big Microsoft customers to share the company’s strategy, which has been evolving quickly since Satya Nadella took over the helm of the company.

The company may not have had major successes with Windows Phone 8 in Trinidad and Tobago, but is reassured by its market presence in Mexico, where its share is growing toward 25 per cent of the mobile market with a double-digit presence in other Latin American markets.
Microsoft’s immediate thrust is in improving its push into cloud services under the Azure brand, a platform neutral menu of services that finds its most public presence as Office 365, which also happens to be the company’s fastest growing cloud based service.

Microsoft forecasts that as much as 25 per cent of its traditional Office suite business will move to the cloud and points to 10 million users in Latam who are already using Office 365. Microsoft currently counts more than 1.6 billion Office 365 users globally.
Microsoft T&T recently announced a significant
price drop on Office 365 subscriptions, a strategy that Country Manager Frances Correia describes as being one that ensures the company “gets our fair share of the market.”

“The more people who get on the cloud,” adds Ridgway, “the more efficient it becomes.”
Azure, which the company positions as Infrastructure as a service, has experienced 200 per cent growth in Latam over the last year.
Ridgway acknowledges that as a fairly recent player into this specific market it benchmarks its progress against Amazon’s cloud services, noting that it is experiencing faster growth rates than its incumbent competition.

Microsoft is focusing its growth efforts for Azure on small and medium businesses (SMBs) who can make efficient and cost-effective use of the flexibility of such cloud based services.
To that end, Microsoft is investing in ensuring that it provides cloud based infrastructure that’s automated on the back end to ensure quick response and to simplify customer engagement with the system.

Regarding the absence of Microsoft’s Surface tablet from the T&T market, Ridgway noted that “Surface was an iPad competitor, but iOS is not the dominant player in Latam.”
“The tablet market is dominanted by sub-US$200 Android tablets, and we know we need to have products in that space to be properly competitive.”

“A lot of our current strategy is changing the way we think about our products,” Ridgway explained.
In April, Microsoft announced a programme to offer Windows for free on devices with screens smaller than nine inches, “Windows for the Internet of Things,” as the company described it.
“Windows was considered a socket, it was the device and what you add to it. Cloud services are going to become the socket, and the devices will plug into it.”

For that reason, Microsoft’s new emphasis is to drive
services that are available cross platform.
“Our devices must be competitive, but our first mission is to have services that are interoperable with the devices that people are using,” Ridgway said.

“We continue to address concerns about cloud based services,” adds Correia.
“We bring subject matter experts to address customer concerns and to build understanding and confidence in the platform.”
“We’re just getting started with cloud opportunities,” Ridgway promised.
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BitDepth#937 - May 20

The Finn’s finale
937-Internet_Tablet
In 2006, Nokia had a web ready tablet called the 770 Internet Tablet. Like so many of the company’s best ideas, almost nobody ever heard about it. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

I’m quite fond of that very old Trini saying, “time is longer than twine.”
You’ve got to be of a certain vintage to have even heard it, but I’ve found it to be a deliciously succinct way of measuring the relentless march of days against the enthusiasms and vagaries of people’s efforts to bring order to their lives.

The aphorism resonated while I looked through my notes from Nokia’s Open Studio, the company’s huge engagement with world media in April 2006 in Berlin.
It was a remarkable time for the company. The iPhone was a year away, and no hint of it existed in the technology landscape.

Nokia was up against Palm, whose early smartphone hadn’t kept pace with consumer expectations and the software platform was faltering.
Nokia was confident they could step into that space and conquer it. The company boasted that of the 50 million smartphones in use globally by Q4, 2005, Nokia held 54 per cent of the market.

Between November 2005 and July 2007, Nokia would buy Intellisync Corporation, Loudeye music distribution, Twango, a media sharing solution and merge with Siemens to create their famed NoHo facility in Espoo, Finland.
The acquisitions would continue until 2012, the company snapping up Enpocket, Navteq, OZ Communications, Plum Ventures, Novarra, MetaCarta, Smarterphone and Scalada, spending billions on products that disappeared into the company’s maw.

They didn’t dump Symbian quickly enough or successfully develop a touch friendly operating system for their hardware.
In 2006, Symbian was enjoying its last hurrah as an OS for smartphones. The graphics were crisp and the functionality useful, but navigating a phone’s interface with little buttons was about to be nuked by Apple’s iPhone.

Nokia trotted out their best and brightest for the media at Open Studio in 2006. In one private session after another brilliant designers demonstrated the technology that the company was working on.

Pekka Pohjakallio, the largely unsung design genius of Nokia’s mobile group, talked about how usability drove the look and feel of the new N series phones.
So many clever minds with so many bright ideas.

Ari Virtanen demonstrated the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet, a handheld device running Debian Linux so far ahead of its time that nobody at Nokia seemed to know what to do with it.
How did the company go from there to the announcement in April 2014, almost exactly eight years later, that it had been successfully acquired by Microsoft?

There’s no single answer to that, though some of the clues were there at the Open Studio event but are only apparent with the clarity of hindsight.
Ideas were buzzing around Nokia like crazed sugar flies over molasses but there seemed to be no guiding authority defining the company’s approach.

The N series was gorgeous. I took an N80 away from the event along with everyone else from the Latin American contingent and used it cheerfully for years.
It was a solid phone, with a durable metal case and a camera with a Carl Zeiss lens, but inside the OS was clunky and hard to navigate, particularly after the iPhone hit the market. The sensor behind that impressive lens was awful, producing murky images even in brilliant sunlight.

Despite those setbacks, what killed the series was that it was invisible outside of Europe. Nokia didn’t sell it in the US and that made it a poor choice for Caribbean users.
No less a person than Stephen Elop, incoming CEO of Nokia summarised the situation in 2011 from an insider’s perspective with the notorious
“burning platform” memo.

Two weeks ago, Nokia’s mobile business effectively came to an end. It is now a division of Microsoft, operating as Microsoft Mobile Oy with a new mission as the provider of a platform for Windows Phone 8.
What that will mean is still to be defined, but it’s unlikely to bear any likeness to the company that hosted me in Berlin in 2006.

That’s probably a good thing, but it’s ultimately a sad thing too.

Links
Reporting from Nokia’s Open Studio in Berlin is archived
here and here.
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BitDepth#936 - May 13

Data wrangling for dummies
936-qx2_drive
Over the last three weeks two large hard drives died in my 22TB archiving system. This four bay drive case will anchor my revamped backup regime. Image courtesy Other World Computing.

By the time you read this I’ll be hip deep in hard drives, wading my way through terabytes of data again, searching for that mythical grail, the perfect digital backup.

I’ve written before about
the importance of backing up your digital files (type backup in the field that appears), which largely exist as abstract concepts until they are gone forever, but there are a growing number of people who find themselves managing large datasets with no prior knowledge of what’s at stake.

While the general profile of a computer user suggests someone who creates a dozen or more files in a word processor and perhaps opens or edits a PowerPoint or two, the reality is that people are increasingly banking their lives in unsafe digital deposit boxes.

Prefer your music to be digital or on CD? That’s a half-gigabyte gone there already for the average serious music listener who wants files with minimal compression.
Taking a few snaps with your phone and moving them to your computer? Dabbling in digital photography? Set aside another terabyte or a major part thereof for your growing collection of snaps.

Want to rip your movies to disc so you can view them where you want to? Listen to audiobooks? Love to hoard copies of your favorite podcast? That’s another half-gigabyte right there.
It doesn’t take a professional or even a serious amateur to begin to fill a drive capable of holding two thousand gigabytes of data.

If you begin to seriously play around with 3D animation, music creation and production, high-end digital photography or video creation, you can quickly double or triple that need for space.
Mix into that the confusion that most users have about backup. I constantly meet people who have moved their data to an external drive or optical disc and deleted it from their systems. That isn’t a backup; it’s a transfer. A backup needs to exist and be verified as valid on two different storage systems.

Professionals don’t stop there. I’m not happy until critical files are in quadruple redundancy, and I’m currently planning an additional instance.
When you work with large datasets, you need to think about backup in tiers.

I use an incremental backup system that’s built into every Mac called Time Machine. Alternatives exist for PCs.
Time Machine continuously looks at your working drives and saves a copy of every changed document on a quite brisk schedule.
In my tower, it’s backing up a 240GB and 120GB SSD and two 2TB hard drives and to make all that fit on a 4TB drive, I’d created a large exclusion list that I came to regret when one of the storage drives, the one that holds my work in progress, died at dawn two weeks ago.

The restoration took four hours, but then I had to face all the stuff I hadn’t set for backup and realised that changes were called for.
Time Machine works with large datasets, but requires a commensurately larger pool to keep all its versions. My new Time Machine safety net is a striped RAID 0 8TB drive built out of two 4TB drives.

I plan backup in three tiers. The incremental backup is a safety net for all the stuff that’s active on the system.
At the next level is the nearline archive, normally on large hard drives on a fast connection that’s available at the flick of a switch. At this level I mirror (rather crudely, I must admit) all the data to two drives from two different manufacturers.

Then there is the deep archive, where all the data comes to rest finally on hard drives and soon, BluRay optical disks. Someday soon cloud storage, probably with CrashPlan, will join that list.
Consider backup tiers in terms of the ageing of data.
The first tier, or safety net backup level meets the need for reasonably reliable backup of work in progress. From here you can recover work that’s minutes or hours old.

Most content creators will need their data nearby, and that’s what the second tier serves. In my case, I reference it for images that are more than two years old when projects or clients require them. Most of this work is months or years old.
For deep archive, off-location is best and can be done with slower media like cloud storage or even LTO tape. Deep archives may miss more recent work, but otherwise track data all the way back to the beginning of the backup process.

Some warnings. All media will die eventually. Hard drives crash, and enterprise class drives seem to last no longer than consumer versions. Optical media becomes unreadable. Media formats become obsolete –remember Jaz, Syquest, Zip?

Unremitting paranoia and distrust are your best friends in data management. Current best practices for data migration suggest that three years is the outer limit for trusting the reliability of a hard drive. Optical media runs to between five and ten years. So if you live by your media files, backup, then backup again and migrate on a set schedule.

Links...
Google on media reliability (PDF)
ZD Net
discusses Backblaze’s media reliability claims with links to the source material
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BitDepth#935 - May 06

Young USC developers win app challenge
935-USC
The winning USC team in the university’s computer lab; from left, Kyrone Smith, Christopher Adolph, Akel Nickles and Chika Ibneme. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

The four young men huddle in the small room nervously. It’s startling how young they all seem in the tiny meeting room on the campus of the University of the Southern Caribbean (USC).
They form an awkward row in front of me, grouping shoulder to shoulder to face questions from the press.

It’s at that point that I realise they aren’t lifelong buddies, but it’s hard to imagine, even in the face of all that self-conscious shuffling, that they hadn’t worked together as a team until a couple of weeks before Microsoft’s Tech Day & App Development Challenge barely a month before.

Kyrone Smith and Chika Ibneme attended the briefing that Microsoft held on the campus for potential participants and Smith began thinking right afterward of a good team for the event.
Ibneme was an almost immediate first choice. The two had done Introduction to Programming and then the CompSci 1 and 2 classes together.
They both agreed on Akel Nickles, an older student who had known them both from his two years as a computer studies teaching assistant.

Christopher Adolph found out while browsing his Facebook stream and saw a request from Smith for anyone at the school who was interested. He responded immediately.
Adolph and Nickles came in cold to
Project Siena, the new technology that Microsoft was introducing.

Siena is a Windows 8 application that allows both programmers and non-programmers to create apps that harness the power of corporate data and content, as well as web services.
For the App Development Challenge, teams from four competing universities (UTT, UWI, SBCS were the others) were challenged to build an app in Windows in two hours and then do the same in Android.

The competing teams were assigned a gymnasium management app and in Nickles’words, the software was “super easy to use and every effective.”
“You felt like you had done something real, that you had put some work into it.”

The challenge wasn’t just between the schools; it was also an effort by Microsoft to demonstrate the ease of use of their new software.
As Frances Correia, Microsoft’s Country Manager explained, the event was designed to compare “the speed and ease of development on the Microsoft Platform against that of Android for first time mobile application developers.”

Microsoft’s three-hour introductory session for Project Siena was matched by another three-hour session offered by an external Android developer.
The winner was judged on the development they were able to do in two hours on each platform.

The USC team did not finish their Android project, but were able to get further along with it than most other teams did using Eclipse, the development environment.
Adolph and Smith did most of the Android work and managed to build three screens but couldn’t finish the programming links for them.

As Smith recalls, “when we put the last semicolon in it generated 29 errors.”
The USC team walked away with four Lumia phones and a trophy and a lasting sense of confidence in their abilities.
“Our primary focus going in was experience,” said Smith, “we were surprised when we won.”
“I knew we won when we presented,” said Nickles.

“Our presentation was strong, and we had completed the work. The feeling was just bliss.”
The team has been asked by Microsoft to finish their software project and get it ready for the Windows Store.
Ibneme and Nickles are working on Project Aki; a chat system modeled on Skype for use by USC students on their internal network.

“We’ve decided to keep the group together and to work on stuff,” Smith said, “and we’re doing it while everyone has a terrible schedule.”
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BitDepth#934 - April 29

Licks, spreading like fire
934-Belt
One belt to rule them all? Photograph by Mark Lyndersay

By now, there’s unlikely to be a single person in T&T who’s on Facebook who hasn’t had that video of a 12-year-old child pop up in their newsfeed.
That’s just the way that Facebook’s viral algorithms work.

It also means that nearly everyone in this country who’s on the social media service, and that’s almost everyone who is connected to the Internet locally, has had an opportunity to play the clip.
I have.

Some have taken the moral high ground, refusing to view it and urging others not to repost it. Others have stopped the clip, unable to continue. I understand that response.
Others have offered comments, which in turn has sparked further discussion, as alarm grows over the widespread endorsement of the beating of a child as a valid system of punishment.

Even writing it that way seems to editorialise on the action, and I’ve recast that sentence multiple times to seek to make it neutral.
Here are some things that I am clear about.
I am not that child. I am not that child’s mother. I am completely unaware of the circumstances of their lives beyond what is visible and audible in the video clip and what the child and her sister revealed in a subsequent video in which they sought to offer more clarity to the situation.

In my life, however, I have twice been called on to be the caregiver for the child of other parents. I have brought to this challenge my own experiences as a young person and the things I have learned from growing up.
So let us be clear. I was hit as a child. I clearly remember my last licking, as such punishment interludes were called. I was in my mid-teens, and my wrists were bound. My mother, my only parent, beat me until she was sweating and winded.

I looked up when she seemed to be done and asked, “Are you finished?”
“That’s it,” came the response. “No more strap for you.”
My punishment the next time I ran off the rails was far worse.

I had been cultivating a particularly beautiful, if rather fluffy afro, and I was taken to Spike, the family barber in Belmont whom I’d been avoiding in the name of hipness to have it all trimmed off.
I am told that I stared at the mirror grimly throughout the buzzing of his clippers and failed to contain only a single tear.

I am a big person and I was large from quite young. Tall at first, then beefier as my body shape reasserted itself after an astonishing growth spurt in adolescence.
While getting a licking was considered part of the menu for discipline in my childhood, and caning in schools was part of the learning process, coming to terms with the effect of my physicality was a far more surprising and chastening process.

The first time I held a girl and pulled her to me for a kiss, part of her response was a frisson of fear at the effortlessness of my grip.
That occasioned a lifelong apprehension on seeking my first kiss with a new romance and at least one occasion when I was brought up short by a young lady who was, frankly, miffed that I hadn’t tried.

Couple that understanding with a particularly foul and mind-altering temper and you have brew that can only be made public governed by careful self-discipline.
I learned, early on, that hitting in anger and embarrassment is all about the person doing the hitting, not the incident.

Serious punishment for a child, like revenge, is best served cold and parents must be ready to put their responses in a chiller until the situation can be handled with a suitable mix of good sense and tough love.
Here are some absolute truths about parenting.
You cannot teach what you do not know.
You cannot influence positively by behaving negatively.
You cannot inspire in an environment of despair.
You cannot guide by an example you do not set.

That filmed beating is an uncomfortable six minutes. Despite my own experience with licks, I am hard put to suggest that it be treated as a neutral matter or one that should be ignored when it happens in the privacy of the home.
If anyone saw a parent trying to keep a crying child quiet with chloroform or morphine, they would take action, but commercial baby pacificier solutions sold in the early 20th century were made from those drugs and more.

Just because something appears to work doesn’t mean it should be done that way, particularly when there is compelling information in favour of other methods.
If we can let go of lobotomy and trepanation, it’s really not so hard to consider setting aside the cut-arse as an attitude adjustment tool.

What this has sparked is a kneejerk reaction to legislate punishment in the home. This is such a spectacularly bad idea that I cannot begin to understand how sensible people, taking a considered position against corporal punishment, can back it.
Despite the maternal bearing of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the State, and not just in T&T, does a terrible job of caring for children. It is an engine designed for governance, not rearing and a visit to any of the institutions designed by our Government to care for the young should make that clear.

While these waystations for the young unquestionably strive to do their best, they are not families and what children need is a family, even when a mother and father are absent.

If the State is to be moved to act in this matter, it should do so by gathering and sharing useful information about modern parenting, tailored for local use and making coaching freely available for parents in appropriately respectful and private circumstances.
Comments

BitDepth#933 - April 22

Lubricating Samsung’s Gear
933-GearFit_2014-04-19
Time to wrap up this outing. The Samsung Gear Fit in the field, photographed using the S4. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

In creating a smaller Gear device, Samsung has chosen to sacrifice the potential of the new Gear line, which run Tizen, an open source Linux variant. The Gear Fit runs a runtime OS, not Tizen, so there won’t be any cool new developer software coming for it.
It is, at least in this version, a closed box to developers save for any updates and additions that Samsung chooses to push into it.

That’s a shame, because it puts the development of the device squarely on Samsung and cuts off inventive third party developers of hardware and software.
As a rather pointed for instance, let me point out that I’d love to take the Gear Fit along for some work in the pool, but it isn’t designed for sustained immersion, just the usual splash and sweat proofing you’d expect in a watch designed for active use. And there’s no software supporting lap counting or analysis anyway.

I’ve got a
US$30 lap counter I wear on my finger that’s more useful for swimming that the Gear Fit ever will be and that’s a shame.
Samsung might want to think more about the possibilities in the Gear Fit’s shape and build an immersible watch band and software to support lap timing and swim session analysis. The folks who need that sort of thing would leap at having computer capabilities on their wrist or forearm.

And while you’re at it, guys? There’s a whole market for streamed audio sent to such a device and made accessible with waterproof earphones. Just sayin’.
So far the device’s watchband has been considered a fashion accessory, a direct and unprepossessing strap offered in three colours.

The Gear fit is sleek enough to easily fit into a thicker, bracelet style band, offering room for extra power, added features, such as memory for storing some songs or audiobooks, oh, and that waterproof protection, complete with the water sealed audio port that I’ve been thinking of.

Sure it would be thicker than the average watchband, but properly designed; it could become quite the utilitarian fashion statement. As a side note, I should point out to Samsung's designers that I'm on the last two notches of the strap. I'm a big guy, but not that big and certainly there are folks with much thicker wrists that I know of who simply won't be able to get the device to fit.
The Gear Fit already feels more like a chunky bracelet than a traditional timekeeping device and Samsung should explore design options in that direction.

The Gear Fit’s pedometer uses an accelerometer to measure steps, and it doesn’t seem to do so precisely. I registered more than 4,000 steps in one afternoon without much effort. It also logs steps while driving on bumpy Trini roads, so if you really want to chart your progress during the day, think about pausing it when you aren’t actually walking for a bit.

Support for non-Samsung additions to the host phone is spotty. The media player controls the currently active player, starting and stopping Audible’s player as well as the native MP3 player, but displaying none of the Audible media metadata.
That’s fair enough, I suppose, but I can’t understand why I must use the phone’s SMS messaging software to respond to messages or phone calls. I really prefer HandCent’s messaging product, but the Gear Fit is blind to that software.

The Gear line of smartwatches is in its second iteration, but the Gear Fit feels very much like a version one product.
It’s an effort by the company to create a streamlined and fitness focused product, but it locks out the development community currently working in that niche, stifling interesting ideas that might have emerged when exercise focused minds took a serious look at this sleek, lozenge shaped data logging device that happens to have a watch as part of its feature set.

That’s unfortunate, because it means for the Gear Fit to have a long and useful life, Samsung will have to be doing all of the smart thinking in support of its adoption and success in the fitness community and ultimately, that’s just a bad idea.
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BitDepth#932 - April 15

Samsung gears up again
932-GearFit
The Samsung Gear Fit connects to a compatible Galaxy phone to transmit health information and web notifications. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

So I’ve been wearing a watch.
It’s been 40 years since I last closed the strap for a timepiece around my wrist, and it isn’t exactly accurate to call this device a watch.

The Samsung Gear Fit does tell the time, but that’s only where it starts as a lifestyle monitoring device.
The Gear Fit is one of Samsung’s second generation release of smartwatches, a category of hardware it entered last year with the Gear, a device that met with a lukewarm reception.

The challenge with all wearable tech is creating devices that customers will be comfortable using. Google’s Glass tries hard to be a pair of really nerdy spectacles, and the Gear series bundles their capabilities into the form factor of a traditional watch.

The original Gear was a bit clunky, though hardly the least attractive piece of wristwear ever made, and offered an impressive range of functions.
The Gear Fit narrows those capabilities even as it slims down the device itself, replacing the watchface of the original Gear with a sleek curved ellipsoid shape that hugs the wrist quite nicely.

It feels less like a watch than a piece of jewelry, albeit one that lights up to show you the time, the weather, notifications from your phone and a range of exercise monitoring and health logging capabilities.
As a piece of technology, it seems almost perfectly designed for a young, hip, exercise obssessed and social media immersed customer and there’s no shortage of those to be found in T&T.

The catch will be getting those folks to wear a watch; a device that’s largely fallen out of vogue among the younger set.
The Gear Fit has two things going for it. It looks great, and will prompt many positive comments among folks for whom such things are a make or break proposition, and you can keep tabs on your e-mail, Facebook and phone calls with a quick glance at your wrist.

If smartwatches catch on, the casual look at your watch is likely to become socially deprecated after it becomes generally known that you aren’t just checking the time, you’re ignoring polite company to see who’s messaged you on Facebook.

Until then, though, early smartwatch adopters will get away with all manner of social atrocities, even in serious meetings.
There’s something seriously addictive, even on the keyhole of the Gear Fit’s screen, to quickly scrolling through e-mails and social media messages (just a few lines are shown) and responding to calls with canned text messages.

There’s a lot that Samsung has done right with these second geneneration Gear devices, but there’s still more they need to do to make a fitness focused smartwatch a viable choice.
Out of the box, there seems to be no way to use the Gear Fit as a standalone device. On Tuesday last week, the software to connect to it wasn’t available for phones earlier than the S5, so I sourced an online .apk file for the software to get it running.

Samsung need not frown on this bit of unsupported hackery though, because the software became available on Friday for the S4 and I’m now running the official version.
After all these decades, having a watch on my wrist felt odd, but only for a short while.

After a week though, I still check the time quite rarely, but have begun to develop a habit of sifting through social media notifications and e-mail updates on the device.

Related...
BitDepth#931 : What's Samsung really up to?
BitDepth#902: Is it good gear?
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One. Then five to fifteen.

Mas_Colloquium
The New Media panel that closed the first Mas Colloqium. Moderator Marsha Pearce, the author, Saucy Diva and Arnaldo JJ. Photograph by Kenwyn Murray.

I'd honestly thought that I'd written and said everything I could about Carnival 2014, but Kenwyn Murray's invitation to participate on a panel about Carnival, speaking mainly to the young practitioners of the next generation of designers and bandleaders, triggered some thoughts about what exists today.
This was the talk I offered as part of a panel on new media at the first Carnival Studies Mas Colloquium on Mas Aesthetics: Exploring the art of Mas at the Centre for Language and Learning at the University of the West Indies on April 10, 2014.


I have a theory about Carnival, formed entirely through observation over the past seven years that may help us to understand why the event is so poorly supported, so chaotically organized and so challenged to fulfill its potential.

I’ve distilled it down to this. One. Then five to fifteen.

What does this mean?
It’s my growing understanding that almost all of Carnival is governed by tiny groups of motivated people with a clear goal and understanding of their mission who are capable of stirring significant interest in communities around them.

It's likely to be the secret of all success in Trinidad and Tobago, our most successful creatives, athletes and authors working out of the same mindset. It’s either one person, or one person surrounded by a small supporting and engaged group or a tiny group of people with such synchronicity to their shared vision that they seem to move as one.

Crawford pounding along on lonely tracks, barefoot and driven. Strasser painstakingly crafting his famous penny. Naipaul, a bit sulkily and undeniably brilliantly, recalling the idiosyncrasies of his homeland.

I spin this out into Carnival and so many times I find the same thing among the most successful enterprises. Machel and his family unit. Bunji, Sherrif Mumbles, Fay Ann and the band. Tribe, which despite its size, boils down to a unit of family and friends of just under 15 people. The Alfreds of Couva, a small family with a big impact. Phase II, which is either Boogsie or the management team.

This confuses people. Politicians like a constituency, which leads them to do crazy things like put a free music truck on the road.
Businesses want to deal with other businesses, not something that looks like a serious bit of liming.

In the absence of any real understanding of this fundamental element of Carnival's underpinnings, what has been put place is a system of subsidy through appearance fees and an avalanche of finely sliced prizes.  Visit any long term masquerader and you'll see racks of trophies that represent that regime of funding.

This is laziness.  It's payment on delivery, not true support of the creative process.
And it is one of the factors that's undermining the very essence of the festival.
Carnival is not big.  In fact, it is very small.  It comes from passion, from love and from commitment. 

These are not good bottom line assets. They are concepts that are too fuzzy for business, too vote sparse for Government.
It's interesting that I'm telling you this at a discussion that's dedicated to new media, because social networking lubricates and leverages exactly this kind of phenomenon.

We need to stop this determined balkanization of Carnival into creative and party bands.  That didn't work with soca, and the most popular music of Carnival is the poorer for it.
We need to think about introducing more performance into party bands, and putting more organisation and process into creative presentations so that they can scale.

And that will happen when widely divergent minds finally meet to consider alternatives to the status quo. 
I've long believed that if a Minshall band was produced using Tribe's process, there would be no need for any other band.  Ever.

That will happen one to one or in little groups that merge the silo thinking that exists today into new strategies that work to mutual advantage.

One. Then five to fifteen.

Related...
Video: Carnival Stakeholder Conversations
BitDepth#929: A Carnival Coda
BitDepth#927: Lessons from the Socadrome
Guardian Editorial for March 10: More transparency in Carnival
PhotoBlog: Why I have nothing to say about your Facebook Carnival gallery
BitDepth#926: Carnival's stuttering progress
Guardian Editorial for March 02: The Geography of Carnival
BitDepth#925: How I would fix Carnival
Guardian Editorial for February 26: Elitism or Entrepreneurship?
BitDepth#924: Carnival Copyright Redux
Suggestions to the NCC for accreditation improvements.
Narend Sooknarine's experience with the NCC accreditation team.
Comments

Carnival conversation

Carnival always seems to be on the verge of Click here to read more...
Comments

BitDepth#931 - April 08

What’s Samsung really up to?
931-S5
TV6 reporter Jovan Ravello (left) and fashion blogger Mel Gabriel view the new Samsung S5 at the launch of the new device at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain a week ago. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Last week, perhaps not coincidentally on April 01, Samsung brought its World Tour previewing the newest version of its flagship smartphone, the S5, to Trinidad.

I’ve been fortunate enough to test the line since its first model and there has been a steady, even relentless regime of improvements to the phone since it emerged as the first serious contender to Apple’s then dominant iPhone.
Of late, though, revolutionary has been replaced by evolutionary in the smartphone ecosystem and it’s possible to skip a generation or two (usually six to nine months worth of waiting) on your preferred platform without major dislocation.

Samsung has, in quick succession, released the S3, S4 and this week will unleash the S5, three phones that are more notably different in their specifications than in their day to day usability.
At the launch, Elias Kabeche, vice-president of sales and marketing for Samsung Latin America touted the new software driven features of the phone, such as improved access security using PayPal certified fingerprint recognition and lifestyle features that emphasise personal security and health as major improvements to the phone’s utility for average users.

It’s sometimes useful, in situations like this when one is immersed in a carefully planned corporate communications exercise, to stop looking at the hand that’s meant to get your attention to see what else is happening.

For one thing, Samsung hasn’t been talking much about Android lately, even though their most successful smartphones run on Google’s operating system.
For another, Samsung isn’t talking about
Tizen at all, and that’s the OS that’s running their revised suite of Gear smartwatches.

I had an opportunity to flip through the new phone at the launch, which except for some cosmetic changes, works exactly like the S3 and S4 did.
There’s more spit and polish to the user interface chrome and some new designs to the iconography, but there will be few surprises for existing S series users.

What app users will quickly find, however, is a deeper reliance on Samsung’s own app store for the phone, previously a source of add on games and updates to the unique software that the company ships with the phone.
With the S5, particularly when paired with one of the new Gear 2 smart watches, signing up with the Samsung App store isn’t really going to be an optional exercise anymore.

It’s here, I suspect, that Samsung will be driving more of its innovation and technology development as it seeks to separate itself from the large pool of Android phone models to create a software ecosystem that makes it more of a peer challenger with competitor Apple.

Putting a new OS on a new device is unquestionably a clever move. Since Samsung has the most pervasive smartwatch available on the market, there are no real expectations for the platform beyond linking up with a phone and telling the time, so Tizen has an opportunity to define itself as a platform while giving developers a chance to test the waters on a device with a small but guaranteed audience.

So while Samsung is making a lot of fuss about the health monitoring capabilities of the watch/phone combination, that’s the spear tip of the company’s effort to meet rumours about Apple’s iWatch project.
The South Korean electronics manufacturer is playing it stage smart, solidifying its market with new models while adding features that its competitors may or may not be planning, but while it’s doing that quite theatrically, it’s also slipping in the Trojan horse of a new operating system based on Linux and aggressively open sourced.

Samsung doesn’t really want to talk about operating systems, it wants to talk about why users should continue to use its phones but the hardware giant clearly wants to improve its software options for its devices.
If it can point developers to an open source operating system and an app store that’s up and running, then it can push innovation in bits as well as atoms.

Tizen on the new Gear devices is the change to watch in this revision of the Galaxy series. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t more movement in the Samsung App store in support of unique developer experiences to go along with it.
Comments

BitDepth#930 - April 01

Microsoft introduces Office for iPad
930_Satya_Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella introduces Office for iPad. Photo courtesy Microsoft.

The introduction of Office for iPad last Thursday marked a crucial step forward for Microsoft in its efforts to expand its user base into widely used tablet and smartphone platforms.

To be clear, the Redmond software company isn’t really selling Office on these new devices, it’s selling Office 365, a cloud based subscription service (US$100 per year) that’s now available on Windows, Macintosh, Android and now fully on iOS.

If the company decides to make a version available for Linux, perhaps the widely used Ubuntu build, it will stand a good chance of reestablishing Office as the preferred platform for workplace productivity in an increasingly diverse world of software and devices.

But getting here hasn’t been easy. The company dawdled along for long years while smartphone and tablet use soared and became entrenched as mediums for not just media consumption, but increasingly for widely varying levels of productive work.

While it’s been getting its own approach in order, other software companies have worked to fill the breach, offering web based solutions that are increasingly viable in a world in which broadband is growing more pervasive, or products that are networked at their core, like the popular Evernote, which trades word processing power for seamless synchronisation and a researcher’s pallette of tools.

Increasingly, the golden bullet for modern software is accessibility. People want to access the same material no matter where they are and which device they happen to be using. Such users will take advantage of the easiest, cheapest tools that get them there.

Will that suite of tools include Office 365 and its various device incarnations?
Satya Nadella, the company’s new CEO, is banking on it and doing so with enthusiasm.
“Microsoft is focused on delivering the cloud for everyone, on every device,” he told the press at the launch of Office for iPad last week.

“It’s a unique approach that centers on people—enabling the devices you love, work with the services you love, and in a way that works for IT and developers.”
I’d seen Nadella in action seven years ago at a Microsoft Convergence meeting in San Diego back when we both had more hair and most of it was black.

It’s almost impossible to form any kind of definitive opinion of someone after just a few moments onstage, but Nadella’s pitch of the company’s new customer relations management tool was even, sensible and clear, even to a non-developer.

There was also no shrill rabble rousing on Thursday. Nadella wasn’t selling koolaid, he was reminding users of the value of Office, the tapwater of corporate productivity, and it was a refreshing change from traditional pro-Microsoft sales pitches.

This was a conversation with the media that positioned the Office suite as a useful cross-platform tool that users should consider. But it’s likely to require more than just being available to get users to dip in.
If you aren’t currently an Office 365 user, Office for Android and iOS are simply viewers until you pay for a subscription. You can look at documents, but editing isn’t enabled unless you pay to play.

Office for iPad uses Apple’s in-app purchasing system to do this. You download the software for free then either buy the US$79.95 version, which gets you Word and Powerpoint or go for the full suite, which includes Excel for US$20 more.

For existing Office365 users, this new edition of the suite is a no-brainer. Log in, connect, get to work.
For some others, it will be a boon, allowing them to press their iPads into use as an extension of their existing hardware

But it’s the others that Microsoft will have to work hardest on, building a compelling user scenario that lures them from tools they are already using, such as Pages/iCloud, Evernote, Google Docs and Dropbox which may not all sport the power and elegance of Office, but which have the advantage of being first movers in the iOS space.

Addendum
Since this story was written. Apple has announced that Office for iPad hit 12 million downloads in its first week.
Comments

BitDepth#929 - March 25

A Carnival Coda
929-Rubadiri
Rubadiri Victor, who convened the National Citizen’s Conversation on Carnival, speaks during the event at QRC. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay

This column is an edited version of a talk I gave at the National Citizen’s Conversation on Carnival on March 23.

There’s a real possibility, in the rush to post mortem the major missteps of Carnival 2014, that we will make more far reaching mistakes in the planning of future editions of the festival.

We are on the verge of deputizing a cavalcade of cultural Captain Bakers, the now largely-mythical villain of the annual Canboulay performance, to police the boundaries of what is allowed and desirable in a festival that is founded on the idea of the bacchanalian release of intellectual inhibitions.

So many of the issues that surfaced during the celebrations of 2014 arose from exactly that fundamental conflict.
Bands being penalised for having underage celebrants and for starting at the wrong point in the parade route.
Everything about the defiantly privatised Socadrome event.

It’s as if we now believe that Carnival must be continuously subsidized and ruthlessly regulated if we are ever to whip it into shape.
But consider something else. Consider the very heart of Carnival itself, the private urge to present something engaging and creative as a contribution to the festival itself.

The essential motivation that has driven everyone from Minshall to a young Paramin jab jab to do something so outrageous, so startling, so utterly unusual that we are moved to do nothing more that stand stunned and mutter, “well, that is mas.”

Increasingly the idea of what is mas is coming under the same type of scrutiny that porn once did. If it has this aspect to it, and conforms to that other indicator, well it must be the thing we have defined.
Except that like naughty pictures, such definitions end up being determinedly personal. One man’s dirty picture in a museum is another man’s Boticelli.

Such constraints end up becoming narrow, constricting and ultimately futile, because people will satisfy themselves according to their own desires.

To explain this a bit less abstractly, let me tell you a story about how I came to immerse myself in what’s called pretty mas for two years.

On Carnival Tuesday evening in 2007, I found myself stuck for two hours as the band Tribe flowed in front of my car as I waited to drive home.

At first, I was annoyed, then I became furious.
I was tired, sweaty and aching from a long day and wanted nothing more than to reach my house, barely a block away.
Then, I became curious. The band wasn’t being laggardly. Indeed, there were people hustling the surging line of masqueraders forward.

My first response to that became the ninth blog post I ever wrote (there have been hundreds since), but it moved me to get in touch with Dean Ackin, the bandleader. In 2008,
I spent a year photographing how the band put thousands of people on the road.

In 2013, I did the same thing again, curious about how the band, which had tripled in size since then, had scaled its operations and capacities.
Between those stories, I spent a few months with The Original Whipmasters, whose intensely personal approach to playing mas had also fascinated me.

What I found in both cases was, to my continuing surprise and pleasure, almost exactly the same thing.
I found families working together with shared purpose. Tribe is led largely by the Nobrega, Ackin and Ramirez families, their extended households and circle of friends.

The Alfreds of Couva produce their tiny band out of their living room and yard, the family, friends and community pitching in to make the unsponsored band happen each year.
You may see a world of difference in the results of their efforts. I choose to consider similarities in commitment, effort, work and their shared sense of independence.

The bands are wildly different.
The Alfreds don’t charge masqueraders to play with them. It’s less a band than it is a fraternity of common purpose.
Tribe runs a pricey all-inclusive street party behind nylon rope for people who enjoy that experience and see it as their investment in Carnival.

It is not for me to offer judgement on the merits of their respective approaches, and I submit that it is not a matter for you to decide or even argue either.
I cannot say that I understand the nuances of the costumes that fuel the competitive world of frontline pretty mas. I can attest, though, that there are people who are connoisseurs of the form, a hierarchy of preferred designers and real rockstars among them.

My inability to distinguish between one costume and another speaks to my ignorance, not a lack of knowledge or studied craft within the form.
Creative entrepreneurship, regardless of its form or relative maturity should not be a matter for public discussion beyond a general agreement that it should be encouraged and facilitated.

Far more insidious and deadly is the steady encroachment of State funding at staggering levels throughout the festival.
Such investments, poorly accounted for, unjustified by commonsense and liberally granted have more to do with politics and oil money than any strategy of sustainable development in Carnival.

This spending amounts to nothing less than the Cepeping of Carnival, the creation of eat-ah-food opportunities that do nothing for the art within the festival and may, ultimately, smother any real movement for change and evolution within fragile artforms.

The subventions that support traditional mas have created a ghetto of handouts and minimal ones at that, instead of funding the growth of real businesses or creative hotbeds of innovation.

Millions are spent on events that are essentially stadium scale parties. On whose authority is the Soca Monarch or the Chutney Monarch competition convened beyond our own consensus of acceptance, and the participation of the artists involved?

Here's what we should do...
Operate by the simplest of watchwords. Measure what you want to improve. Protect what’s important.

Give the festival room to breathe. Most of the problems of Carnival arise because of congestion and poor management of large crowds through small spaces.

Remove that ridiculous rule about children in bands on Carnival Tuesday. Family based bands will die off in a generation without an early engagement in the family business. Push party bands to self police the behavior children in their bands.

Listen to the people who are actually doing Carnival. The masqueraders, the calypsonians, the recording studios, the media, the party promoters. Every tiny fix should become part of a much larger plan.

Face the reality of Carnival today. Fond reminiscing about Carnivals past will not magically cause them to return and we’re wasting a lot of time talking about traditions when that’s exactly what we’re creating today for future generations.

Related...
Mas Colloqium Talk: One. Then five to fifteen.
Video: Carnival Stakeholder Conversations
BitDepth#927: Lessons from the Socadrome
Guardian Editorial for March 10: More transparency in Carnival
PhotoBlog: Why I have nothing to say about your Facebook Carnival gallery
BitDepth#926: Carnival's stuttering progress
Guardian Editorial for March 02: The Geography of Carnival
BitDepth#925: How I would fix Carnival
Guardian Editorial for February 26: Elitism or Entrepreneurship?
BitDepth#924: Carnival Copyright Redux
Suggestions to the NCC for accreditation improvements.
Narend Sooknarine's experience with the NCC accreditation team.
Comments

BitDepth#928 - March 18

Is this the ultimate camera?
928-Miller
Reigning Miss Trinidad and Tobago candidate for Miss Universe, Catherine Miller poses for a distinctly unthreatening camera on Carnival Tuesday at the Socadrome. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

“I’d like a SIM card for my camera, please.”
I have to say; the lady behind the counter didn’t bat an eye.
In fact, she batted the statement back with considerable aplomb, catching me by surprise.
“Does it have a keypad?”

I'd misunderstood the question, of course. The device had a digital keyboard, but what was needed was the capacity to dial into the company’s digital services to activate the SIM. I eventually solved the problem by following her advice and putting the SIM in my phone to activate it then putting it in the camera.

The Samsung EK-GC100 is many things, far more than you’d expect in a device that looks like a standard point and shoot (P&S) camera, but it isn’t a phone.
What it is, though, is likely the herald of more advancements in digital cameras that advance the merging of phones, computing devices and image capture into one package that does everything with minimal compromise.
The rather clumsily named
EK-GC100 is part of a line of devices from Samsung which graft the brain of an Android tablet into the standard form factor of a P&S.

On boot, it declares itself to be a Samsung Galaxy Camera, so that seems as good a way to refer to it as any.
After the rather lengthy startup process that’s typical of Galaxy devices, the camera switches directly into P&S mode, filling the screen with an image of whatever the lens happens to be pointing at.

Overlaid on the live view are a few buttons at right, to go quickly from video to stills and a mode view that allows manual control as well as the camera presets that appear on all Galaxy camera phones.
At top left though, is a little home button that drops you into Samsung’s standard Android interface, where you can browse the web, collect e-mail, download apps and most usefully, transfer files you’ve captured on the camera.

As an upgrade to a camera phone, you get a true zoom, roughly equivalent to a 28mm - 105mm lens on a DSLR that’s quite crisp and sharp. You do lose the ability to make calls unless you fire up Skype.

As a sidegrade from a P&S, you get the full Android experience, with most apps available for version 4 of the OS running well on the system. You can also transmit files using a mobile data plan or WiFi without having to rely on a custom built transmission card like the Eye-Fi SD card with the convenience of choosing your transmission software.

As a downgrade to a DSLR, you get less of a camera but more of a computer, which begins to hover in the direction of a sweet spot where the camera and computer merge into one peerless device.
I’ve got a camera, the Canon 6D, which has built-in WiFi capability but no way to manage files on the card before transmission. To consider it in a fast transmission workflow, I’d have to pair it up with a laptop, which immediately takes us from an additional camera weighing less than half a pound to a major commitment to live transmission.

The EK-GC100 promises a world in which such considerations aren’t divided into separate devices. We aren’t there yet, but the Galaxy Camera takes us along one interesting road to that halcyon goal.
The camera arrived for testing just a few days before Carnival. I couldn’t confirm WiFi connectivity where I planned to road test it at the SocaDrome, so I bought a seven day, 1GB plan and accompanying micro-SIM card for roughly TT$100 as a backup and set up the software for the project on the device.

Unfortunately, my image editing software of choice for Android, Adobe’s capable, albeit stripped down Photoshop Touch, wasn’t compatible with the device, so I went with a combination of Snapseed and QuickPic as an image editing suite.
Here’s how that worked during the four and a half hours of activity at the Socadrome.

The screen on the back of the camera is almost useless in direct sunlight. I could do basic framing, but eventually fell back on my experience using a wide-angle lens close-up as a technique for capturing images.
The camera was quick at capture, rattling of brisk sequences of 8MP JPEG files but proved hesitant to display and edit them. The device uses a Quad-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A9, but felt much slower than its specs when taxed with detailed Carnival photos (most were 4-6MB).

Jumping between two apps to tone and resize images probably didn’t help matters much either.
Doing quick edits and transmitting to the T&T Guardian (via e-mail and lochoing off of CarnivalTV’s WiFi) sounds like a good idea, but the process takes long enough and viewing images on the screen even in shade was so taxing that ultimately the whole process proved too much effort for too little return.

Two images ended up in the next day’s Guardian and three in that Friday’s edition of Metro, so in that specific space managing that particular challenge, the Galaxy camera delivered what it promised and I count the experience a success.

It remains, however, like many early standards bearers for fundamental change in photography (I am put to mind of Apple’s QuickTake camera here, the first truly affordable digital camera), too little camera for the size of the expectations that it must bear.
Comments

BitDepth#927 - March 11

Lessons from the Socadrome
927_Socadrome
Yuma was the first band to cross the Socadrome stage on Carnival Tuesday.
Digital image by Mark Lyndersay. This panoramic photo is a composite of four separate exposures merged using software.


If there had been tumbleweeds in the Jean Pierre Complex, they would have made a quite cinematic sight as they rolled across the vast gray stage built for the Socadrome.
That’s just one of the idle thoughts I had while waiting last Tuesday morning and I had a lot of time to think about Carnival 2014 while idling away the hours between 7:45am and the start of festivities there at 10:00am.

Workers with heavy gloves pulled cables through routing troughs, a particularly keen young man paced the stage diligently with a blower, blasting unseeable specks off its surface. Ace videographer Selwyn Henry hefted and swung the mighty boom he would manage for the duration of the show.

What happened after all that preparation is now public record. Only three of the bands scheduled to appear at the new venue appeared, though they managed to account for an almost continuous stream of masqueraders for four and a half hours of stage time.

It was a first time for me too, at least in this century. The first time since 1994 when I was between relationships with a newspaper and suffering a mighty newsprint tabanca that I did not wear an NCC issued press badge or visit a single official venue.

Yet there was no sense of loss this year. My first visit to the Grand Stand for 2014 was on the Thursday after Carnival for a pointless press event, and I barely looked at the stage, once so central to my idea of the festival.
Part of the reason for that is my loss of interest in photographing popular Carnival. I have enough thoughts on that to constitute a blog post,
which you’ll find here.

So many questions. Like this one.
Why are we building the North Stand?
Once the North Stand served a real purpose, along with the open bleachers that bracketed the parade route onto the big stage. There were thousands of people who wanted to see pan and mas and there was a real need to accommodate them.

For most of Carnival 2014, though, the North Stand was effectively, when it wasn’t completely, empty of an audience. Or even the odd straggler. Even when there were people there, the Grandstand could have handily held them.

So let’s stop wasting time and money building it and just put up solid temporary bleachers in the Greens at Pan Semi-finals to hold the few among that lot who actually want to see what a steelband performance looks like.
Those we can tear down by the following Monday and get on with the rest of the season.

Why doesn’t Carnival Tuesday in Port of Spain have a stage manager?
Part of the reason that people don’t turn out to look at Carnival anymore is that they have no idea what they will end up seeing.
The crowds that occasioned the building of the North Stand and the bleachers on the track, the huge temporary structure in Downtown Port of Spain and bleachers at both Victoria and Adam Smith Square were a response to need.

People were coming in droves to see Carnival and many needed a comfortable place to view it from.
Back then, Carnival was smaller and managed itself. It doesn’t anymore. Bands larger than brigades follow their own imperatives, not the needs of an audience, so audiences dwindle.

There are event stage managers, but it’s time that we begin to treat the entire route as a stage and manage it accordingly.
Generals have been doing this successfully for centuries with a complete knowledge of the consequences of poor planning when managing thousands of people on the move.

Will the twain ever meet?
Carnival now offers its audience two very different masqueraders. Those who seek a link to the legacy of the festival, performing an art for an audience and those who wear a costume as part of a street party. One is an externalisation of performance, and the other aggressively internalises it.

It’s the push and pull between art and commerce, a tug of war that commerce has been winning for the last two decades. If the NCC is to do one important thing for Carnival, it must create an infrastructure that facilitates commerce while funding art, using transparent processes for that support.

Was the Socadrome a success?
While it was happening, it was a spectacular event for the masqueraders. Which is only fair, because that’s who it was built for.
In the course of documenting the construction of the Socadrome, I listened in on a meeting of the planners and their management teams.

Without disclosing details, I can state with absolute certainty that the leadership of large Carnival bands are fanatically concerned about the safety, comfort, and enjoyment of their masqueraders. Everything else is just vapor.

So the Socadrome was the perfect fulfilment of that goal. Photographers and videographers roamed the stage freely, exciting their masqueraders. Video was streamed and broadcast of the event. A small audience showed up.
Your opinion, as heartfelt as it may be, doesn’t actually matter.

There was something Disneylike about the whole thing. A carefully manicured lead-in to the event, an explosion of excitement, music and colour and then it was over, the lights came up –or rather the two o’clock sun came blasting in –and it was over, with little feathers rolling across the stage like the coda of a loud and vivid cowboy gun battle.

Tiny tumbleweeds, glistening in the afternoon sun.

Related...
Mas Colloqium Talk: One. Then five to fifteen.
Video: Carnival Stakeholder Conversations
BitDepth#929: A Carnival Coda
Guardian Editorial for March 10: More transparency in Carnival
PhotoBlog: Why I have nothing to say about your Facebook Carnival gallery
BitDepth#926: Carnival's stuttering progress
Guardian Editorial for March 02: The Geography of Carnival
BitDepth#925: How I would fix Carnival
Guardian Editorial for February 26: Elitism or Entrepreneurship?
BitDepth#924: Carnival Copyright Redux
Suggestions to the NCC for accreditation improvements.
Narend Sooknarine's experience with the NCC accreditation team.
Comments

More transparency in Carnival

My editorial for the Guardian for March 10 calls for more transparency in the operations of the state agency responsible for convening Carnival and its most senior stakeholders. Click here to read more...
Comments

BitDepth#926 - March 04

Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago should be much further along than it is today. Some thoughts about why that's the case. Click here to read more...
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The Geography of Carnival

Editorial for the T&T Guardian written on March 02 on the controversies surrounding the routes taken and planned for Carnival 2014. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#925 - February 25

Leslie-Ann Boiselle, BC Pires, Dean Ackin, David Rudder and Kenwyn Murray all have a stake and interest in Carnival. These are their thoughts on how Carnival might be improved. Click here to read more...
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Elitism or entrepreneurship?

Editorial written for the T&T Guardian for February 26 considering the implications of the Socadrome and its potential impact on Carnival 2014. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#924 - February 18

Copyright issues arise again during Carnival 2014 with no apparent solutions or common sense evaluations of the actual law in sight. Click here to read more...
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What the NCC should do

On January 23, I responded to a request from the NCC asking for suggestions on media accreditation and handling. This is the document I supplied to them and later in the season, to the management of the Socadrome. Click here to read more...
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Zorce on accreditation

A letter from Zorce boss Narend Sooknarine about his experiences applying for Click here to read more...
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Yooz seeks more for its users

Reporting for the Business Guardian on Yooz, an electronic payment system that works on all phones. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#923 - February 11

Facebook's new post distribution algorithm creates problems for publishers and marketers. Nicole Phillip Greene of WhenDidIBecomeMyMom.com offers some solutions and approaches to handling the issue. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#922 - February 04

TSTT introduces its first Gigabit Community to a gated housing project in Chaguanas. Click here to read more...
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The Gigabit Community

Business Guardian news reporting on TSTT's Gigabit Community project. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#921 - January 28

Apple's Macintosh, 30 years later. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#920 - January 21

Microsoft introduces CityNext, which marries the social engagement of Facebook and Twitter with the power of Open Data's ability to improve governance. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#919 - January 07

A few words of respect about Therese Mills on her passing. Click here to read more...
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