« Archives in November, 2011

How many Bohr Radius between my office and work?

If you are one of those who just want to know how many Bohr Radius apart are two points on a map, or how many football fields did you walk to get to your favorite restaurant, Google Distance Measurement Tool maybe the answer to all your questions.

Bohr Radius between my home and work

Clicking on the small blue ruler on the left of the scale (bottom right corner of the image) brings up the Distance measurement tool. You can select from boring imperial or metric units, or go geeky and find out how many light years to fly around the world. Here are the current set of supported units:

Supported Units

I have not even heard of a whole bunch of them, and that probably makes them more fun. I didn’t even know there were so many sizes of Cubits.

Cheer up, your code is crashing!

Airbrake Toad

Cheer up, the code is crashing in production too!

Everyone needs a fail animal right? And why should we settle for a grouchy one? Like the Airbrake Froggie toad (thanks for pointing that out @hc5duke) who seems to be pleased with the fact that not only is my rails code crashing, but it can also be crashing in production environment.

I wont go into the pros or cons of this happy toad, but I just found it funny.

A Singly view of my data

I don’t know when we will understand this, but the social web is not about checking into places, or posting photos and tagging people. It is not about us sharing our information via our blog, or doing micro updates on twitter. It really doesn’t matter if I use Flickr or Instagram, or Google+ or Facebook. What is more important is the actual interaction we have on a day-to-day basis, be it in the real world or the virtual.

Life is just a collection of experiences that we create, or share with people around us. Different people use different “social” services to serve their purpose towards this end. And to tell the truth, we actually need different services at different times. However that leads to a lot of fragmentation of our personal data. Right now a large chunk of my thoughts are scattered around on Facebook and twitter updates. Similarly Picasa has all the photos that I take from my Android phone, while there are more that are posted by my friends on Facebook and Flickr. This makes it a mess to actually see what content do I really create, get linked to or ingest. And the problem doesn’t just stop there. It is a pain for me to even put the various blocks together. There is no real bridge between these disconnected services. This hurdle is also felt when developing any application that consumes this data (don’t even get me started on actually creating this data). How many websites have you visited recently which didn’t ask you to sign in on at least two of these social services?

This also makes development a challenge. Recently when I was trying to write a simple service to analyze my geo presence based on data online, I found that I had to write code to query at least 4 services to get an accurate answer. Shouldn’t we be making this easier? On thursday I was down at Singly office in the mission for a small Create-a-thon. The plan was to hack till midnight, and welcome 11/11/11. I thought why not? I had read a little about them online and the Locker Project and I thought they were on the right track. Singly provides a unified APIs to query our personal data.

Starting off around half past seven, it didn’t take long before Simon and other folks at Singly had my account setup. They had a general theme of building a photo viewer, which could take photos from all your services (4Sq, Instagram, FB, and so on). However I was more interested in how I could use this data towards my personal project of analyzing my location, based on my online interactions. Despite them still being in an early phase of the places API, it didn’t take me long to see all the checkins from me and my friends, and actually start analyzing them for patterns. Before we hit midnight I was able to pull up a small application which could figure out the places I have been to recently, and an overlap between me and my friends. This was pretty cool, because this actually collated data across 4Sq and Facebook (I wish they had Google Places) and was pretty simple. Despite all the rough edges this actually made sense. Given all the development happening out there, why is there no single way of getting my personal information?

I also played around with their existing photo viewers, contacts and links interactions. I was actually surprised on how accurately they recovered all the links I saw through the day. Although I must say that was a lot of data but nevertheless it really was deduplicated and ready for me to crunch on. I didn’t have to worry about linking 10 different accounts (although I did have to do it once at Singly) in every app I write. While talking to folks @ Singly I realized that there were a lot of challenges in this data unification. I really appreciate the effort they were making, but I wish that a large part of this focus came from these big social networks to allow me to unify the access (and perhaps creation) of my personal data. I know it’s almost impossible to wish for open standards in this, but that would definitely make my life easier as a developer, and also allow people to focus on innovation and not data aggregation.

Integrate Google+ completely with Google Reader

So I was cribbing about how Google Reader is missing the G+ share feature on twitter, and viola, the button appears. I would love to think this happened because of my feedback, but then again it’s just wishful thinking.

Recently Google Reader has got a lot of flak from users complaining about the new look. There has been enough talk about the “new” Google reader, and I must say, that I have to write about it. I used to love Google Reader, and actually I still do. Google reader is simply the best web-based aggregator out there, in my opinion. Its simple, lightweight, and really good to keep a tab on everything.

However my problem with Google Reader is slightly different. I loved the small internal social community of google reader because it worked good enough for me. I have no problems moving that social integration to Google+, much like all other google products, but I think it should not come at a cost of lack of functionality. Earlier I could, in a straightforward way, see the articles my friends were sharing (again, sharing, not liking, +1ing or anything like that). I have said this so many times, sharing an article does not mean I am +1ing it! I may want to share the article with a group of people doesn’t mean I like it and/or support it. With the new reader its impossible to find out what are my friends reading without going over to Google+.

I see that this makes more people visit Google+ to check the updates, but I don’t understand why Google+ needs to be Facebook. For crying out loud, even in Facebook I can now see what my friends are reading without leaving the reader. Google doesn’t have to follow a Facebook model. I like google+ because it allows me to create a social app where it is, not by necessarily going back to plus.google.com. Similarly why is it so difficult to annotate articles with small icons showing friends who shared them? Why not allow me to see the articles that my friends have shared. For example when you are in Spotify, you can still see what your other friends top artists are. You don’t have to go back to facebook.com and figure it out.

This to me, seems like was a step back. I like the new look, and really like the homogeneous interface (although I wish there was a compact view, much the like one in Gmail) and the fact that they maintained the light weight interface. But I don’t think the UI benefits outweigh the integrated social activity. I am not even asking Google to restore the original social network of Google Reader, but just integrate Google+ social integration better so that it maintains the functionality provided by the original one!