Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Amazon Go & automation

The Amazon Go store concept is an interesting innovation in retail. Following the opening of Amazon's Seattle store, I noticed some websites stating their fear for the future of retail in the loss of human interaction and more importantly jobs. The latter issue of job loss is common sense, in market economies, as wage labour is ascribed ultimate value as a means to a living and social standing - it doesn't matter if many jobs are actually needed.

In my view, automated technologies are just material means that make adaptation to our natural order less dependent on direct human activity. Thus technologies offer positive possibilities in freeing human activity and resources in other directions. The real issue is the value orientation that informs how these technologies are used. In the case of Amazon Go, these technologies operate in a market economy centered on exponential growth. In contrast, in the context of mutual alternatives the use of these technologies could mean a positive re-thinking of social goals in ways that are responsive to more human possibilities of living.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

The Always Connected PC

The 'Always Connected PC' (ACPC) is Microsoft's attempt, in collaboration with major vendors, to innovate in the laptop market. Microsoft market the ACPC as a 'technology shift':
We are again at the beginning of another major technology shift: the ability to be connected anytime, anywhere with Always Connected PCs that are instantly on, always connected with incredible battery life.
Below is a summary of the ACPC's differentiating characteristics according to Windows Central:
  1. Instant on: Similar to smartphones and tablets, the ACPC doesn't hibernate and receives instant notifications.  
  2. Always connected: The laptop supports LTE and is always connected to the internet. 
  3. Long battery life: So far, the announced devices advertise a battery life between 20 - 22 hours. In addition, standby mode should last for weeks. 
The default operating system is Windows 10 S but there is the option to change to Windows 10 Home/Pro. It is not clear if all ACPC laptops are intended to run on ARM processors but, so far, the announced devices ship with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835. The Snapdragon 835 is specifically optimised for Windows 10 S, so it is not clear how the processor will work with Windows 10 Home/Pro. Will performance/battery life take a hit? Different ACPC laptops will be available soon so we will have a better picture after their release. I expect disadvantages early on before Microsoft and Qualcomm (or others) work on solutions that improve performance and battery life.

The ACPC is here to stay

I believe Microsoft takes the ACPC seriously. This marketed "technology shift" reminds me of Microsoft's previous collaboration with Intel to release the Ultrabook. Similar to the Ultrabook, Microsoft has set minimum requirements for an ACPC device:
It needs to have 13-plus hours of battery life in use, and "weeks" of battery life when it's in sleep or standby mode. It needs to have an LTE cellular modem. It has to be thin and light. And it needs to run Windows 10 S by default, a version of the operating system released last year that maximizes battery life and performance
Right now, there are three officially announced ACPC laptops: Asus NovaGoHP Envy x2, and the Lenovo Miix 630 (a preview of the Asus NovoGo is available here). The Asus NovaGo starts at $599, the Lenovo Miix 630 at $799.99 and the pricing for the HP Envy x2 is yet to be announced. The pricing is high considering hardware specifications and I expect prices to go down as more vendors release their own versions of the ACPC. 

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Picking the right Onyx Boox N96

Onyx's N96 e-reader comes in different versions and it is confusing to choose the right one. Below are the different versions of the Onyx BOOX N96:
  • Onyx Boox N96: No front-light; supports pen and finger touch. 
  • Onyx Boox N96C: No front-light; supports finger touch.
  • Onyx Boox  N96ML: Built-in front-light; supports pen touch. 
  • Onyx Boox N96CML: Built-in front-light; supports finger touch.
The above four models are previous generation devices with an E-Ink Pearl screen. The current generation is available in two models (there could be more but below are the ones I identified):
  • Onyx Boox  N96 Carta+: No front-light; supports pen and finger touch.
  • Onyx Boox  N96ML Carta+: Built-in front-light; supports pen touch.
The above two models are latest generation ones with an E-Ink Carta screen. Both the previous generation and the current one support Android 4 and come with the same screen resolution (1280 X 825). The important difference is that the latest generation models have an E-Ink Carta screen. Onyx claim the E-Ink Carta refresh means darker text with more detail.

I have not tested any of these devices but, on paper, the model to choose is the Onyx N96 Carta+ (dual touch). In my view, dual touch is more important than front-light functionality, as it is more convenient and with greater flexibility. In addition, if the stylus is lost, the device is still functional with touch support.

The eBook Reader reviewed the Onyx Boox  N96ML Carta+ and I recommend reading the article here.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Tech for studying (2): Digitizing notes

There are studies that indicate traditional pen and paper note taking is better for knowledge retention and understanding. To back-up handwritten notes, it is a good idea to digitize them and there are different notebooks designed for this purpose.

Moleskine and Leuchtturm both sell notebooks optimised for digitisation. Moleskine collaborated with Evernote to produce a 'smart' notebook. The notebook's paper has dotted lines that are optimised for scanning via a smartphone/tablet camera. After scanning, content is enhanced for OCR to enable searching handwritten notes in Evernote. The notebook also includes stickers that can be pre-set, within Evernote, to tag scanned documents or to send notes to certain notebooks.

Leuchtturm utilises Whitelines paper that is designed to work with the Whitelines Android/iOS application. Similar to Moleskine's 'smart' notebook, Whitelines paper makes lines disappear and notes standout after scanning. The lines, in this case, are white and the background grey, with four corner markers that auto-detect the page selected for scanning. At the bottom of the page, there are three squares that can be ticked to send the document to an email, Evernote and Dropbox. In the app, it is possible to set destination preferences for each of these options.

I prefer Whitelines paper to Moleskine's Evernote notebook, as the latter is tightly integrated to work within the Evernote app; Whitelines, in contrast, is platform neutral. The results of scanning can vary but Whitelines, from experience, consistently produces better results. Further, it is not necessary to purchase a Leuchtturm notebook to use Whitelines paper, as Whitelines produce their own notebooks that can be purchased in different formats and sizes.

Rocketbook notebooks perform a similar function to the Evernote smart notebook and Leuchtturm’s Whitelines Link notebooks. The difference is that Rocketbook sells re-usable notebooks. The Rocketbook Wave can be erased using microwave heat and re-used up to five times. The Rocketbook Everlast is marketed as “endlessly reusable”; the notebook's pages can be wiped clean using a damp cloth. The Pilot FriXion pen is required to re-use both notebooks. To test Rocketbook’s scannable paper there are PDF downloads here; to get the best result, the sheets should be used with the Rocketbook app.

A final point: handwritten notes, in a regular notebook, can be uploaded to the cloud with a designated scanning app and some of these apps support OCR too. The paper, in these notebooks, may not be optimised for digitization but often, from experience, I found the difference in results negligible (one issue to consider is that lines, in lined notebooks, remain after scanning a document). I regularly use Adobe Scan but there are other applications.