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Get Sharp!

Altova Software Version 2019 introduces over 20 new features to help you sharpen your  development game – starting with support for high-res and high-DPI monitors in both XMLSpy and UModel. There are also tools for working with new standards and database versions across the product line, the ability to map and convert data in Google Protocol Buffers format, and much more. Let’s take a look at the highlights.

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Support for High-PPI Monitors

As developers transition to 4K, UHD, and Retina displays, we’re working on revamping our UIs to be vivid and sharp on high-PPI screens of all sizes. Because XMLSpy and UModel are known for their graphical views, we’re rolling out support here first.

Both XMLSpy and UModel now take full advantage of the benefits of high-res screens and monitors to render graphics with more precision and detail, so the UIs of these products are now beautifully sharp on high-res monitors. The change will be most apparent in the graphical XML Schema, JSON Schema, XBRL, and WSDL editors in XMLSpy and in UML diagrams in UModel.

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Read more about what’s new in XMLSpy and what’s new in UModel.

Mapping of Data in Protocol Buffers

The list of formats supported by MapForce for drag-and-drop data mapping is growing again, this time with the addition of Google Protocol Buffers, as requested by numerous customers.

Protocol buffers is a language- and platform-neutral mechanism for serializing structured data. The method generally involves an interface description language that describes the structure of some data and a program that generates source code from that description for generating or parsing a stream of bytes that represents the structured data – but MapForce lets you work with Protocol Buffers visually, without needing to write code.

MapForce can now map data to or from binary instances encoded in Protocol Buffers format to any other format, including XML, relational databases, JSON, CSV, and more, visually, using drag and drop connections.

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This makes converting Protocol Buffers to and from other formats easier than ever.

Read about all the new features in MapForce, including advanced filters for defining node functionsthat apply to multiple nodes at once.

Support for additional database versions

All database-enabled Altova MissionKit products and server software products support numerous versions of the most popular relational databases. In this latest release, that support is updated to include the most recent versions of several of those, specifically:

  • Firebird 3

  • Informix 12.10

  • MariaDb 10.3

  • Microsoft SQL Server 2017

  • MySQL 8

  • PostgreSQL 10

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Support for connecting to SQL Server running on Linux has also been added.

Extended XBRL support

We add additional XBRL support with every release, and this time XMLSpy and RaptorXML Server have received three important updates:

Support for XBRL Generic Preferred Label 1.0  

XBRL Generic Preferred Label is an extension of the XBRL specification that provides a syntax to make labels more flexible. XMLSpy includes a new entry helper for specifying preferred labels, and RaptorXML can validate documents that include XBRL Generic Preferred Label definitions.

Removal of duplicate XBRL facts 

When organizations create XBRL instance documents for filing, it’s important to detect and reconcile any duplicate facts.

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Starting with Version 2019, XMLSpy can check XBRL instances for various types of duplicate facts and report them for analysis. Both XMLSpy and RaptorXML can optionally ignore duplicates during processing.

New entry helpers for XBRL Typed Domain 

A typed domain is the element declaration that is referenced by a typed dimension.

The Details entry helper in the XMLSpy XBRL Taxonomy Editor includes a new Typed Domain tab that displays additional information about any typed domain referenced by a typed dimension definition.

 

High-availability options for FlowForce Server

For use in mission-critical scenarios, FlowForce Server, Altova’s customizable workflow engine, offers the option to distribute jobs among multiple servers.

Administrators can configure a primary server and multiple secondary servers, offering excellent scalability with a group of computers sharing heavy data processing jobs. At the same time, this allows for high-availability: if one of the secondary computers stops functioning, the system will continue to process FlowForce jobs.

Of course, for load sharing the corresponding Altova server software (e.g., MapForce Server, RaptorXML Server,  etc.) must be installed on the primary and all secondary servers in the system.

 

For more information about all the features added to each Altova product in this latest release, please see the Altova website.

The (Broken) Promise Of Wearables

This week the Moto 360 became available and sold out in record time. Next week Apple is rumored to introduce their iWatch along with the next generation iPhone. And Samsung just announced their next generation Gear watch last week that is expected to ship at the same time as the Galaxy Note Edge.

It is clear that Wearables hold a lot of excitement and a lot of promise, and obviously capture people’s imagination. But let’s pause for a moment first, and talk about past experiences with Wearables:

Wearables on a table

Among the many tech gadgets that I’ve acquired in recent years, I also purchased the first Samsung Gear watch when it came out last year, I bought the Google Glass Explorer Edition, and I bought the Fitbit fitness tracker.

Each device held a unique promise that it would make life easier and would add useful functionality. And each device ended up breaking that promise in subtly different ways.

My experiment with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch was very short-lived. The essential promise was to show important information about incoming emails or messages without the need to have to reach into your pocket and get out your phone. However, it wasn’t ubiquitous. Apps on your phone had to be written to be compatible with the watch. And for the most important communications medium – email – all the watch would tell me is that a message had arrived from somebody. No subject line. No relevant content summary. It was essentially useless.

The Fitbit fitness tracker held a simpler promise: wear it all day and all night and track your health. Except that it is so small that I lost it about 3-4 times during travels and only rediscovered it again when I emptied the suitcase after the end of the trip. Here it was the need to go to your computer and sync it there that broke the promise of ease of use. And the tracking information was primitive at best – a simple step counter. I gained no useful benefit from the device that would really help with my weight loss efforts.

Google Glass was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the three. The promise of having an augmented reality experience sounded great. But all it really did was provide notifications about messages, news, and occasional information from other Glass apps about restaurants, sightseeing spots, and other trivia. And after a short while any person wearing Google Glass was labeled a Glasshole and privacy concerns soon resulted in sings being posted everywhere that Glass was not welcome.

In the end, all three devices suffered from a lack of really useful and unique features that actually provided a real-world benefit combined with the need to be constantly charged using various different charging devices and having a fairly short battery life. The day came when I forgot to charge them and then left them at home. Then the day came when I forgot where I put the charger. And now they’re all sitting in a drawer somewhere…

So I look towards the new generation of Wearables coming out this fall with a bit of cynical skepticism: how long until they, too, end up in a drawer somewhere?

In the end, there are only two devices that I carry with me all the time and every day:

  • My watch is a Seiko Astron Kintaro Hattori Limited Edition. It is a solar-powered watch that has a built-in GPS receiver and synchronizes time with the atomic clocks aboard the GPS satellites. And it also automatically adjusts your time-zone when you have landed – based on the GPS position. It never needs to be charged and it does one thing extremely well that I care about: tell accurate time.
  • My phone is a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (soon to be replaced by the Note Edge). I’ve gone through many smartphones over the years, and it is my favorite so far. I hate its battery life. I hate that I have to charge it. But it does so many things so well in just one device, that it’s worth the hassle. And I use it all the time.

That last point is, perhaps, the biggest question about Wearables that we should ask ourselves: if we already have our phones in our hands all day anyway, what is the additional benefit of a wearable device?

Ingress - an AR-MMOG created by Niantic Labs at Google

I don't often write about games on my blog, but this one deserves an exception, because it is extremely innovative, unique, and a harbinger of things to come. On November 15 Google launched a closed beta of Ingress, a sci-fi themed game currently available only on the Android platform.

Ingress defines a new category of game that could probably be best described as AR-MMOG (Augmented Reality - Massively Multiplayer Online Game). The basic premise is that an alien influence called Shapers are trying to control human thought and are entering the world through portals that are often associated with historically significant locations, statues, or public displays of arts. These portals are associated with Exotic Matter (called XM in the game) that needs to be collected to energize the player as well as the portals.

Players must move through the real world and visit these portals with their GPS-equipped Android smartphones to play the game.

The objective is to hack the portals, link different portals, and create so-called control fields by forming triangles of linked portals. After completing a few training missions, players must choose a faction and either side with the Resistance, who are trying to protect mankind and prevent further Shaper influence, or side with the Enlightened, who consider Shaper influence to be beneficial and usher in the next logical step in the evolution of mankind.

Enlightened vs. Resistance

I was very happy to receive my invite to the closed beta on November 21 and found some time on the morning of Thanksgiving Day as well as on Black Friday to play the game on my Galaxy SIII. Doing so allowed me to take some extensive walks on both days and burn off a lot of the food calories that would have accumulated otherwise.

Playing the game is extremely addictive. I decided to join the Resistance and explored the available portals in and around Marblehead on the first day. Capturing my first few portals was fairly easy, but then I encountered some Enlightened portals that gave me a good challenge right away. Most of the portals are directly taken from the Historical Marker Database, so you learn a lot more about the history while playing the game. I also found that having a car to drive to neighboring towns and some remote portal locations is a huge bonus - especially when you get to deploy higher-level portals that have a range of several kilometers available for linking.

For example, on one of my excursions I took a stroll through downtown Salem in my quest to capture more portals and found one above the statue of Roger Conant:

Approaching a portal in Salem

By hacking and capturing one portal after the other, I was able to not only collect the required items for linking portals together, but also the necessary weapons for attacking portals of the opposing faction. And it didn't take long for me to eliminate all of the Enlightened influence in my area and connect several of the portals in Marblehead to create the necessary control fields that are then shown on the display of the Ingress app:

Control Fields in Marblehead

As I leveled up, I was able to create more powerful portals that allowed linkages over several kilometers distance and so I used Black Friday for some further excursions into Salem as well as trips to Swampscott and Nahant that allowed me to create a much larger field to protect all the inhabitants in my immediate vicinity:

Larger area control fields

Now it is only a matter of time until the Enlightened students at MIT try to increase their influence further north and will begin their attack on the North Shore. I am sure a battle of epic proportions will ensue in the days to come:

Larger Boston Area Intel

Ingress is extremely well done for a beta version of a game. I can only assume that Google has done some extensive internal testing before opening up the beta to people outside. And the combination of GPS, mapping, the historical marker database, and the many different web properties (see list below) combine to provide a truly addictive game-playing experience.

Even before you get immersed in the actual gameplay - and while you anxiously await the arrival of your invitation to participate in the beta - there are several websites that provide hints at the background story, videos, and artwork by fictions characters that appear to exhibit signs of Shaper influence.

One can easily see how Google's Project Glass will be used in a future version of this game that takes augmented reality game-play to a whole new level…

Obviously, there are also some privacy implications in such kind of gameplay and several bloggers have already questioned Google's motives in creating this game. Allegations range from creating an optimized database of walking paths for further enhancing Google Maps to more sinister data collection for advertising purposes.

Be that as it may, for the time being I will continue participating in the beta for a very simple reason: the game is actually a lot of fun to play!

Further information on Ingress can be found here:

Also see blog posts on AllThingsD, Engadget, pandodaily, The Verge, TechCrunch, and others…

P.S. Don't ask me for an invite, as I don't have any to give away, sorry!

Google Data Center StreetView with Storm Trooper and R2-D2

Google has opened up StreetView access into its data center in Nenoir, North Carolina today, giving you the ability to take a virtual walk-through of their facility. In a time where most companies are super-secret about their facilities to prevent vulnerabilities, hackers, or even physical intrusions, this is a remarkable and somewhat surprising publicity stunt. GoogleDataCenterStreetViewR2D2 Maybe they are convinced that their site security team - apparently consisting of a single Imperial Storm Trooper and R2-D2 - is sufficient to prevent any malicious attacks…?

Samsung Galaxy S III vs. iPhone 4S - a phone-swap experience

I am always on the look-out for the newest gadgets and best technology for my own personal and business use, so when the Samsung Galaxy S III started shipping in the US this month, I pre-ordered a Verizon 4G LTE model in white with 32 GB and it arrived Monday last week. I set myself the goal of doing a "phone-swap" and using the new phone exclusively for one week to determine whether it could replace my iPhone 4S as my primary smart phone device. Having all of my data in the cloud already through a combination of Google Apps, DropBox, Evernote, and our corporate email system, setting up the S III was a breeze. All I had to do was configure my Google and Exchange server accounts, download the DropBox and Evernote apps, and I was ready to go with all my calendar, contacts, notes, to-dos, emails, etc. 100% in sync on the new phone. In addition I installed Google Voice and Skype for my telephony needs as well as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for social networking. The next step was to go through all the other apps on my iPhone that had accumulated over the past year and determine which ones I really used more than once a month. That in of itself was a true cleansing ritual and I was able to get rid of a lot of junk (yes, I do admit that I actually played all levels of Angry Birds Space when it came out). And I was pleasantly surprised to find that about 95% of the apps I actually used were available on the Android platform as well. For convenience, I arranged them in a similar manner with folders so that I would be able to easily locate each app on both devices: 2012 07 15 10 51 18 cropped For the few apps that I did not find in the Google Play app store (or other app stores) I was able to easily locate an equivalent replacement app with only two exceptions. More on that later… With all these preparations done in the first day, I was ready to embark on my one-week phone swap test and redirected my iPhone phone# to the Galaxy, as well as including it in my Google Voice list of active phones. The second day held three interesting surprises for me in stock and I was actually quite disappointed with the Galaxy at the end of that day. The issues that I encountered were the following:
  • Battery Drainage: Within only 2-3 hours the battery on my S III had gone from 100% down to 48%. I was only using the phone to play with apps and was on my home Wi-Fi network, so this should not have happened. However, I later found out that the severe battery drain was caused exclusively by a very poor cell phone signal at my location and the phone trying to communicate with the towers despite the poor signal strength. When I used the same phone in the office the next day, where we have good cell phone reception, the battery was still at 79% in the late afternoon.
  • No German Keyboard: For some reason Samsung had decided to only ship English, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese keyboards in the S III. I was, therefore, unable to compose any e-mails or text messages in German.
  • IPv6 Connectivity Problems: On my home network I already use IPv4 and IPv6 in a dual-stack setup and all my laptops, PCs, Macs, and iOS devices automatically get both an IPv4 and IPv6 address. Then, when communicating with an IPv6 enabled web site they already do that via IPv6, which can be easily verified using the test-ipv6.com site. However, the S III was unable to pass that test and could only use and IPv4 address and thus was unable to reach any IPv6 website. Samsung tech support proved to be highly incompetent in this regard an had absolutely no idea how to fix this problem (or even understand what IPv6 is).
However, on the third day I was able to resolve two of those issues and things were looking much better thereafter: The battery problem is strictly a result of bad cell phone coverage, and we had seen a similar problem with the iPhone about a year ago, so I expect Samsung to fix this shortly. Furthermore, when I am at home I plug my phone in anyway, so the lack of cell phone signal at home and the resulting battery drainage can easily be circumvented. But the battery meter makes it very clear how bad the problem is, if you look at this screen shot taken 1 hour and 15 minutes after taking the phone out of the charger and not using it at all. In that time it has already lost 11% of its charge doing absolutely nothing: Battery drain due to bad cell reception The keyboard issue was easily fixed by installing Swype Beta for Android. Swype is an alternative keyboard that not only supports multiple languages (including German), but also provides a much faster input method for text, because it lets you trace the letters of a word on the on-screen keyboard without lifting your finger, which is indeed much faster than tapping each key individually. Furthermore, it comes with a vast dictionary for each language and really recognizes your movements with amazing accuracy. Quick wcl The remainder of the week progressed on a very upbeat note and I really enjoyed my usage of the Galaxy S III after I had overcome those small initial setbacks. In particular, these are the features and app experiences I liked most:
  • Swype: this is really a powerful productivity tool and I found that text entry speed for me improved by about 50% compared to the standard on-screen keyboard.
  • Larger screen: I really like the screen size and form factor of the S III. The larger screen size directly translates to 30% more emails visible in GMail as well as better browsing experience in Chrome and other apps.
  • Much deeper integration with Google Voice: I've been using a Google Voice phone number as my primary phone number for several years now, and the Google Voice app for Android provides a much deeper integration with the telephony module on the phone than iOS would allow. In particular, it is possible to set up the phone so that all outgoing calls are automatically routed via Google Voice, which is brilliant.
  • Background apps: It has always been an annoyance for me to no end, that on iOS there is no facility for true background applications. For example, DropBox on Android really uploads photos in the background whenever I am connected to my home Wi-Fi network, whereas on the iPhone I have to actually go to the DropBox app to trigger the upload. Similarly Skype works much better on Android than it does on iOS.
  • Auto-update of apps: I love the fact that I can configure my apps to automatically update on Android. Whenever I am connected to my Wi-Fi network at home, all apps get their updates and I don't have to do anything. By contrast, on my iOS devices I have to go to the App Store and manually hit Update and then enter my password.
  • Google Voice Search: Maybe it is just me (and my German accent), but Siri and I never developed a true relationship. I found that for many queries on Google Voice Search I can actually get better results and faster responses than with Siri, and it seems that I am not alone in this observation.
  • 4G LTE: it is truly remarkable how much faster the 4G LTE data network is. Similar to what I had previously reported with respect to the iPad 3, the 4G LTE data speed on the S III makes a huge difference, if you are inside the LTE coverage area. Reading emails and news, browsing web sites, etc. is just lighting-fast.
  • Face Unlock: OK, unlocking your phone automatically via face recognition is really cool. It may not be super-secure, but you can always combine it with PINs etc. And it is really nice when the phone recognizes its owner.
  • Widgets: Yes, it seems like such a small thing, but being able to see the local weather details, Wall Street Journal headlines, and latest Engadget news directly on my home screen really makes me happy.
Samsung Galaxy S III home screen In many respects, these positive experiences as well as the abundance of apps that are now available on both the iOS and Android platforms in parallel made it very clear to me that Apple is about to lose its competitive edge in the smart phone business soon, if it hasn't already happened. Either platform allows you to be productive and connected in this mobile world and the differences are becoming more and more a matter of personal taste. Talking of which, in the past week I found that these are the iOS features that I missed the most and where I was unable to locate any reasonable equivalent on the Android platform:
  • iCloud backup: I found it truly astonishing, that Google would not think of providing Android users with a true cloud-based backup solution for their phones. Backup functionality is limited to calendar, contacts, and emails, and if you want to be able to backup your entire phone (including photos and all apps) you have to do so on an SD card, connected computer, or you have to hack your phone to get root access in order to use a backup app like Titanium Backup.
  • iMessage: being able to save on SMS costs by sending text messages via the data network in the form of iMessage was a game changer when it was first introduced on iOS. While there are some apps that promise to do the same on Android, the real killer-app feature of iMessage is that it is transparently integrated into the messaging app, so it will try to deliver a message via iMessage if it can, but will automatically revert to sending it via SMS when it cannot do so.
  • Find-my-phone: The ability to go to the iCloud website, and trigger a loud sonar-ping from your phone (irrespective of what the sound volume is set to) is a feature that we often use in our family to locate missing phones. And no, just calling the phone doesn't work, because they or often set to just vibrate.
  • Different notification sounds: On my iPhone I use different notification sounds for SMS vs. emails vs. voice mails etc. and I found no good equivalent that would let me configure this in a similar way.
  • Clear OS upgrade path: This is perhaps the biggest weakness of the Android platform at this stage. The Nexus 7 is coming out with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and there is no clear path that would let me know when I can expect to get 4.1 on my S III. There are so many different devices and variations and the fact that both device manufacturer and phone network provider add their own variations to the base OS results in a plethora of different versions of the OS. And after a while people realize that their 2-year old smart phone suddenly will either not get the latest version of Android or will get it with a substantial delay.
In addition to these platform differences between iOS and Android, I also found that I could not locate either one of the following apps, which I love and use on iOS on a daily basis: Dark Sky is a hyper-local short-term weather prediction software that allows me to predict rain within the next hour with super-accurate precision based on analysis of the weather radar. For boaters (and fireworks committee chair people) this is an absolute must-have. The second app is g! Mobile, which is part of my smart home system that lets me control HVAC, audio, video, irrigation, pool, and various other home automation systems from my phone. Last, but not least, here are four more observations that - when taken together with the above features and apps that I am missing - end up tilting the balance in favor of the iPhone from my perspective:
  • Battery drainage in areas of bad cell-phone coverage: While I was initially happy to accept this limitation based on the thought that (a) it would only occur at home and (b) would soon be fixed by Samsung, I have since then experienced this battery drainage repeatedly while underway. In all cases it was connected to poor cell-phone coverage, but that is just the reality of the networks today and I experienced battery drain while being out on the boat in Massachusetts Bay as well as while having dinner at Woodman's in Essex.
  • Larger screen not as useful as initially thought: despite the larger screen, there are several limitations built into Android that make things look quite ugly over time. For example, you get the same layout of 4x4 apps, folders, or widget space only, even though the screen should easily be able to accommodate more rows or columns. And even inside apps like Facebook or Skype or Twitter, the usage of the extra screen real estate is not efficient. By contrast, on the iPhone you get a smaller device yet makes better use of the screen real-estate and due to the high-resolution Retina display looks a lot sharper.
  • Verizon has much less real-world data coverage than AT&T: Yes, this is clearly a criticism that has nothing to do with Android vs. iOS, but the reality is that while 4G LTE is beautiful and fast wherever it is available, the second you move out of the core coverage area the Verizon CDMA network is really vastly inferior than AT&T's GSM network. And I found in my testing that I got a lot better and more consistent data coverage on my iPhone, for example out on the boat or away from the city.
  • IPv6 support not working properly: now that IPv6 is permanently activated since the World IPv6 launch day in June this year, I think it is quite astonishing that Samsung would introduce a device that is not capable of getting an IPv6 address or communicating with IPv6-only websites. And talking to Samsung tech-support via website chat and email revealed another weakness: there is no good and knowledgable technical support available. While it is true that the "geniuses" at the Apple "Genius Bar" are not always brilliant either, at least the Apple website and support forums provide the in-depth technical information and I had been able to solve every technical problem there in the past. By contrast, the Samsung website doesn't even have any reference to IPv6 at all.
So after a week-long phone swap, here is my conclusion: for now I'm switching back to my iPhone 4S for daily usage, but I'm really hopeful that future innovation on the Android platform with 4.1 Jelly Bean will close the gap even further and I'm looking forward to repeating this week-long test at that time. I also have a Nexus 7 tablet coming this week and look forward to experimenting with that. At the same time I hope that Apple won't stand still and will surprise us all with new innovative features in their iPhone 5 product this fall, including a larger-screen device. Long-term, I hope that Apple will finally become a more open platform. The ability to replace keyboards and use Swype, the ability to deeply integrate with the telephony capabilities - those are all huge advantages that Android has right now and they will eventually give Android the edge over iOS, if Apple sticks to the closed platform model forever. We've seen this happen before in the 80s with Windows vs. the first generations of MacOS and history is bound to repeat itself - especially now that Apple no longer has its charismatic leader and his reality-distortion field. Bottom-line: if you are looking to buy a new smart phone right now, the Samsung Galaxy S III is a really nice device and as long as you live in a city with great 4G LTE coverage, everything should be fine. It boils down to personal preference in the end. However, if you have been using iPhones for the past couple of years, there is no convincing reason to switch.

Motorola Xoom a huge disappointment

I couldn’t resist the temptation to get my hands on the first Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) device and wanted to explore the tablet world outside of iOS a bit, so I bought a Motorola Xoom the day it came out. I’ve now spent a couple of days with the device, downloaded apps, explored all the features, and come to the conclusion that the Motorola Xoom and Android 3.0 are a huge disappointment.

Let’s start with the Xoom hardware problems first:

  • It is rather heavy
  • The battery life is too short (about 5-6 hours rather than the 10 advertised)
  • The power-button is in the most ridiculous spot on the back of the device (next to the camera & flash)
  • The plastic snap-on cover is bulky and adds weight and thickness to it

Yes, the screen with HD resolution is nice. But that’s about the only thing that is better than the original iPad.

Now let’s talk about the Android 3.0 issues:

  • There are only about 16 apps available that are designed for an Android tablet form-factor. Robert Scoble goes into great detail on that issue in this blog post today.
  • When you run a few apps (and download some that are more designed for a phone) you inevitably arrive at a state, where the UI starts to feel sluggish – despite the dual-core CPU. The way that background applications can eat processor cycles and make your foreground application feel incredibly slow is a design flaw that I’ve already observed in the Motorola Droid a year ago. And it hasn’t been fixed in Android 3.0.
  • In using the device for a couple of hours, I got multiple apps to crash on me.
  • The Android app store is still extremely difficult to navigate and you cannot easily tell the good applications apart from the “me too” junk.
  • When connected to an Exchange server and trying to archive a piece of e-mail, the list of available folders is shown by flattening the entire folder hierarchy instead of displaying it properly. Therefore, I have to scroll down for 4-5 pages until I find the folder I need.
  • The idea to put widgets on the home screen that are more than just an icon is nice. But the implementation is ridiculous. There are plenty of apps that claim to be a widget, but all they are is an icon. Other apps, such as Twitter, have a widget view, but you cannot control the update frequency. With the CNN widget this leads to flickering and nervous screen updates. Then, when you tap on the widget, it takes forever to load the app and display the news.
  • Flash player isn’t available yet.
  • There is no movie availability other than YouTube. Nothing even remotely similar to the iTunes store where I can simply rent or buy a movie anytime.

I could go on for a long time. It is simply ridiculous how far from the truth the TV commercial for the Motorola Xoom is.

And, of course, now that the iPad 2 has been announced today, the Xoom looks even worse…

Google’s new Tower of Babel

You have to admire the sheer market power and dominance that Google has these days. They announce speech-to-speech machine translation on future Android-powered phones – and the whole tech blogger universe goes ballistic in talking about it and likening it to the famous Babel fish of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.

So why does everybody think machine translation should suddenly work? If you happen to be bi-lingual or even just fluent in more than one language, you know very well that tools like Google Translate can only convey the basic and most rudimentary nuances of any document. Now combine that flawed and unreliable piece of technology with something equally unreliable: speech recognition. What do you get when you mix these two and stir well? Possibly the foundation for a new Tower of Babel, but certainly not the famous Babel fish!

Turmbau_Babel

But do not take my word for it. Or rather, please do take my word for it exactly as it is being processed by those two technologies. After drafting this little blog entry I decided to put Google to the test. As a Google Voice user I already get access to their famous speech recognition, so I called my own Google Voice number and recorded this script. I then took the transcription that Google provided and fed it through the Google Translate service twice: once translating it into German, and then translating it back to English for your enjoyment.

Do you now see what I mean… this is the stuff that can start wars…

Transcription of the above text recorded with Google Voice:

You have to. My but she in market power dominance that Google has these days. Again that owns speech touch each machine translations in future, and with Pulte Homes and to hold tech blog universe goes the lease taken talking about it and liking it to the famous people cessation of. Douglas Adams the Hitchhiker's Guide. To, galaxy. Why does everybody think machine translation should probably work. If you happen to be bilingual, or you can just fluent in more than one language. You know very well but tools like Google Translate can only come database. He can mostly. Maintree nuances of any documents and I'll come by and that's log on reliable piece of technology was something equally unreliable speech recognition. Both you get when you mix these two Lindstrom well. Possibly the foundation for a new tell label, but certainly not the same Staples which but then I'll take my word for it. Or rather, please do take my word for exactly as it is being processed by those to Technologies at the draft this little blog entry. I decided to put group of the test, google voice use them. I would get access to the famous Peter deficient. So I called my own voice number and records the script. I didn't took the transcription of Google provided and said he'd through google plates of twice, one is translating it into driving and then translating it back to English for your enjoyment. Do you know see what I mean, this is the stuff, but in stock awards.

Taking the Google Voice transcription and translating it into German produces:

You have to. Meine aber sie der Marktmacht Dominanz, dass Google in diesen Tagen. Auch besitzt die Rede berühren sich maschinelle Übersetzungen in Zukunft und mit Pulte Homes und Tech-Blog-Universum zu halten geht den Mietvertrag aufgenommen, darüber zu sprechen und Zuneigung es zu den berühmten Einstellung der Menschen. Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker's Guide. So, Galaxie. Warum alle denken, die maschinelle Übersetzung, sollten Sie vielleicht zu arbeiten. Wenn Sie gerade sind zweisprachig, oder Sie können einfach fließend in mehr als einer Sprache. Sie wissen sehr gut, aber Tools wie Google Translate kann nur Datenbank kommen. Er kann vor allem. Maintree Nuancen von Unterlagen und ich komme vorbei und das ist log auf zuverlässige Teil der Technologie war etwas ebenso unzuverlässig Spracherkennung.Beide erhalten Sie, wenn Sie Mischung dieser beiden Lindstrom gut. Möglicherweise die Grundlage für ein neues Label zu sagen, aber sicherlich nicht die gleiche Staples, die dann aber ich werde mein Wort zu nehmen. Oder besser gesagt, bitte nehmen Sie mich beim Wort genau so, wie es von jenen, die Technologien auf den Entwurf verarbeitet diese kleine Blog-Eintrag. Ich beschloss, Gruppe die Probe gestellt, Google Voice verwenden. Ich möchte Zugang zu dem berühmten Peter mangelhaft. Also rief ich meine eigene Stimme Anzahl und zeichnet das Skript. Ich habe nicht nahm die Transkription von Google zur Verfügung gestellt und sagte, er würde durch google Platten zweimal, ist eine Übersetzung in die Lenk-und übersetzt sie dann wieder auf Englisch für Ihren Genuss. Weißt du was ich meine, das ist der Stoff, sondern in Wertpapieren.

Taking the German translation and translating it back to English yields:

You have to. My but they dominate the market power that Google in those days. The question has come in contact with machine translation in the future, and Pulte Homes, and Tech Blog Universe to hold the lease is taken to talk about it and love it to famous people's attitudes.Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker's Guide. Thus, galaxy. Why do all the thinking, machine translation, you might want to work. If you are not bilingual, or you can just fluent in more than one language. You know very well, but tools like Google Translate can only database. He is above all. Maintree nuances of documents and I come by and this is log on reliable piece of technology was something as unreliable speech recognition. Both of you get when you mix these two well Lindstrom. Perhaps to say the basis for a new label, but certainly not the same Staples, which then I shall take my word. Or rather, please take my word for it just like it from those technologies are processed in the draft this little blog entry. I decided to put the sample group to use Google Voice. I want access to the famous Peter deficient. So I called my own voice number and characterized the script. I did not take the transcript made available by Google and said he would be counted twice by google tiles is a translation into driving and then translated back to English for your enjoyment. You know what I mean, this is the substance, but in securities.

But this isn’t limited to just English>German>English translations. You can have as much fun going via a detour into Japanese. Taking the Google Voice transcription in translating it into Japanese results in:

あなたがしなければならない。私が、彼女は市場の力を支配するには、Google、これらの日があります。もう一度、音声将来的に各マシンの翻訳を触れると、所有しているとPulteホームズとハイテクのブログ宇宙保持するためには、リースはそれについての有名な人が停止することand liking話して撮影だ。ダグラスアダムズヒッチハイクガイド』。 、銀河する。なぜ誰もが機械翻訳はおそらく動作するはずだと思う。もしあなたがバイリンガルにするか、またはだけで、複数の言語に堪能することができます。 You know非常によくしかし、ツールGoogle翻訳のような専用のデータベース来ることができます。彼がほとんど。任意のドキュメントのMaintreeニュアンスと私が来るから、技術の信頼性の高い作品には、そのログ何か同じように信頼性の音声認識された。 Both youするときにも、これらの2つのリンドストロムミックスを取得します。新しいが、確かに同じステープルズは、しかし、私はそれを私の言葉を取るよていないラベルを伝えるためのおそらく基盤。というか、してください正確には、ドラフト、この小さなブログのエントリでこれらのtoTechnologiesによって処理されている私の言葉を取るか。私は、テストのグループに配置することを決定、Googleの音声を使用します。私は、有名なピーター欠乏へのアクセスになるだろう。だから、私は自分の声を数と呼ばれるスクリプトを記録します。私は提供される転写of Googleしたことはなく、彼を2回、1つして運転英語を楽しむために戻すの翻訳には翻訳さのプレートのGoogleのだという。私の言いたいことを知って、このものですが、在庫あり賞を受賞した。

Last, but not least, taking the Japanese translation and translating it back to English yields:

You have to do. I, her ability to dominate the market, Google, these days there. Again, and touch each machine in the future translation of speech, and owns space to hold Pulte Holmes and tech blogs, the lease is known to stop people talking about it, shooting it and liking. Dagurasuadamuzuhitchihaikugaido 』. To galaxy. Why Machine Translation I think everyone should probably work. If you or a bilingual, or just can be fluent in several languages. You know But very often, you can get Google tools such as a dedicated database of translations. Most of him. Any documents and I'll come Maintree nuances, reliable technology work is recognized as a reliable voice something that log. Both you even when these two get one Rindosutoromumikkusu. The new Staples is certainly the same, but I was probably based on a label to tell I do not take my word for it. I mean, exactly please the draft, those in this little blog entry to Technologies take my word for it or being handled by. I decided to put to the test group, Google will use the voice. I would want access to the famous Peter. So, I called the script logs the number of your voice. Of Google I never provided a transcript, he twice returned for one to enjoy the English translation of the two drivers is that Google's translation of the plate. You know what I mean, that is, the award-winning stock.

Now imagine any of the above translations being read back to you with text-to-speech synthesis...

And that is why I’m very skeptical about such announcements of speech-to-speech machine translation – even when they come from Google.

Bing to integrate results from WolframAlpha

Very interesting announcement today by Microsoft that bing.com will now include computational results from WolframAlpha directly within the bing search result:

This has the potential to be really cool and might drive more people to give bing a try over sticking with Google. However, I haven’t been able to actually see this in the live bing search results yet, so we’ll need to wait for a bit before it gets rolled out.

See techmeme.com for more coverage on this…

Get Twitter and Facebook results (and much more) in your search

OK, so the news are abuzz in recent days about Google adding real-time Twitter data to their search results and there is also a lot of blogging going on about Microsoft adding Twitter search to Bing. But the real news has been totally overlooked by the majority of tech blogs and news media until now: earlier this week kikin announced the start of their public beta on their blog by posting “we are live!

KikinLogo I’ve long been following kikin and was lucky enough to be one of their early testers, so I’ve been using the service for several months now – and I wouldn’t know what to do without it anymore. Kikin does one thing that neither a Google nor a Bing native Twitter or Facebook search can do: it gives me personalized and relevant search results from my feeds and my favorite websites right within the standard Google or Bing results and it lets me customize and select those personalized results in a very intuitive manner.

For example, since I shop on Amazon a lot, when I search for “Marblehead” on Bing, kikin will display personalized search results above the normal bing results that are relevant for me – in this case I find a great book by Ulrike Welsch that captures Marblehead in awesome photos:

KikinBingAmazon

As you can see, kikin has added these results above the normal search results, so you don’t have to change your browsing or surfing behavior or use a different search engine. There are several tabs that let you pick from which source you want to see relevant results, for example if I do the same search in Google and click on the Facebook tab in kikin, I see results directly from my Facebook news feed (i.e. only results posted by my friends on Facebook):

KikinGoogleFacebook

And obviously, if I click on Twitter, I can see relevant results only from people whom I follow, or I can even go a step further and only see relevant results that are directly addressed to me on Twitter:

KikinBingTwitter

By default, kikin only takes up very little space, so you still see your natural search results below, but if you want to focus on more results from one of your sources, you can expand the kikin box by clicking on the green plus sign in the lower right corner:

KikinGoogleFacebookLarge

The truly remarkable thing about kikin is that it is non-invasive. If there are no relevant results in any of your feeds or favorite websites, then it won’t interfere and will just display the natural search result. Even if that is the case, kikin still adds tremendous value to that result, because it has a built-in video player enhancement that lets you watch every video you find within the natural search result directly within your result page rather than having to click through to the site:

KikinVideoPlayer

So how does kikin do all of that? Kikin is a free browser plug-in that is currently available for Safari (on the Macintosh), Internet Explorer and FireFox (on WIndows). You can directly download and install the kikin plug-in from their website. Once you’ve installed the plug-in, you can use the Settings page to connect to your Facebook and Twitter accounts:

KikinConnect

In all my recent testing I’ve found kikin to be invaluable in unearthing highly relevant content that is otherwise hidden in my social stream: by augmenting every Google or Bing search with results from my social media interactions, I find valuable information that would otherwise remain hidden, or would only be accessible if I repeated my search in three places.

And it is this deeply personalized addition to the search results that makes kikin so valuable. All those newly announced Search partnerships between Twitter and Bing or Google may be great, if you want to search the entire public stream for information (e.g. ski conditions in Colorado), but the results are not going to be as important to you, as results specifically from your actual friends on Facebook or information from people you follow on Twitter or from other websites you frequently visit. That is the true power of kikin: to augment search results with highly relevant and deeply personalized content.

So is kikin perfect? Of course not, it is just the first public beta version and I’m sure that they’ll iron out some minor issues over the next several months as they get reported by users. My only two complaints about kikin at this point in time are (a) that is doesn’t work with Chrome yet (but they’ve already announced that Chrome support will be coming) and (b) that if you use multiple browsers or multiple computers you have to connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts separately for each installation. I would probably have preferred to create one account on the kikin website, connect with my other social media accounts, and then just provided that one account login for each installation.

Bing: first impressions

Last Thursday, when Microsoft announced their new search engine, bing.com, they were being ridiculed by many, because the website wasn’t ready and Google stole a bit of the thunder with their own announcement of Google Wave.

Today, it appears that nobody is laughing (unless they are ready the Onion coverage) as the positive comments keep rolling in. It turns out that – like in so many other cases – Microsoft usually gets it right on the 2nd (or 3rd) attempt.

But I’m talking about the technology, not the name. Whatever were they thinking, when they called it “Bing”??

In any case, I’ve been testing bing.com today, and I must say that there are indeed a few new and innovative things in bing.com that could convince people (myself included) to start using it instead of Google:

  1. Preview of search results
    For every page in the natural search result you get a short preview of the content of that page, or a short excerpt with other helpful links, for example when I hover over the entry for our XMLSpy XML Editor, a little window pops up to the right of it with some details:
    XMLEditorOnBing
  2. Automatic categories and web groups
    If you are searching for a fairly generic term, or if you’ve entered a keyword phrase that can be interpreted in different ways, the result will include a list of categories or “web groups” on the left side and the overall result list will also be organized with a few entries per such group, for example a search for “xml” will yield separate groups for “Specifications”, “Tools”, etc.:
    BingCategories
  3. Preview of video results
    Finding videos in search results is nothing new, but a live preview of the video just by hovering the mouse over the still frame is really cool:
    BingVideos
  4. Integration of reference materials
    Whether you are searching for people or for treatment for medial issues, one of the interesting things that sets bing.com apart is the integration of reference materials. For example, searching for poison ivy and then clicking on “Articles” on the left side, produces a full article within the bing.com platform that has been imported from Wikipedia. Similarly, I just found that when I “bing myself” there is a photo and a link to another reference article at the bottom of the search results – the information again appears to be imported from Wikipedia:
    BingAFalk
  5. Cashback when you buy items online
    OK, this one almost sounds like from a cheesy commercial, but when you think about it for a moment, it is really quite brilliant. When you register with bing.com you can set up a cashback account, which you can link to your bank account or PayPal, and then – whenever you search for items online and actually go to a vendor to purchase them – you get a percentage of the purchase price back. Especially in tough economic times, that can be a big incentive to start your next online shopping trip on bing.com instead of the “other” search-engine:
    BingCashback

To find out more about all the new features, I recommend reading the Bing Reviewer’s Guide that is part of the official press kit or taking this tour of bing.

Google Voice Review

Google announced Google Voice today, it quickly became the top story on techmeme.com, and as an existing GrandCentral user for the past two years my account was immediately upgraded today, so I am in the lucky position to be able to provide you with an actual in-depth personal review of the new features in Google Voice.

Before we begin, let me say that I already liked GrandCentral a lot. In fact, for the past year I've only given out my one GrandCentral number to all business contacts - and it is the only number that is printed on my business cards. The most important aspect of GrandCentral for me was that with just one phone number to give out to people, they could reach me on any of the following four physical phones: office phone, iPhone, second line at the home phone, and my car phone. And I would get my voice mail in my e-mail inbox. Those two features alone made GrandCentral the best telephony solution for me.

But Google Voice takes it to a whole new level:

Google Voice Inbox

Not only has the web-based UI been completely redone (and now perfectly fits into the GMail and other Google App paradigm), but there is a host of new features that Google Voice has added to the mix, which are all quite amazing:

Voicemail Transcription

Without any doubt this is the coolest feature in the book. Every new voicemail is automatically transcribed into text and delivered to your Google Voice inbox as well as your e-mail inbox. While this feature can be turned off, I have no idea why anybody would want to do that. In fact, this is the biggest time saver ever. I am a big e-mail person, and I do in fact prefer e-mail over voice mail, because I can scan an e-mail inbox much quicker and pick out the relevant and important messages, than I can scan my voice mail system. Now, every voice mail is just another e-mail and can be scanned as rapidly as other messages.

How accurate is the transcription? Well, this is the first version of Google Voice with transcription, so my expectations weren't too high. In fact, when I recorded a test message with some background noise, the transcription came through with quite a few errors, but - in my opinion - that doesn't impact the usefulness of this feature at all. I don't expect to not listening to the voice mail - all I want is the ability to quickly scan through a full inbox and identify the important messages, and for that purpose the accuracy and quality of the transcription is easily sufficient.

One interesting aspect is that in the Google Voice web-based UI the confidence of the transcription is indicated by a change in the text color (see above screenshot), and the words in black were indeed all correct. This is a very helpful way to present the transcription. However, when you look at the same message in your Outlook inbox, that information is presently lost and the whole transcription appears uniformly in black font:

Google Voice Transcription

SMS Support

This may sound trivial, but is really important. The Google Voice phone number now supports SMS text messages. In the past, when I gave people my GrandCentral number as the only phone# they would ever need for me, they often tried to send SMS to that number, since they assume it is a cell phone number. With Google Voice this finally works. Yay! You can also send SMS through the web interface, and you have access to a full log of incoming and outgoing SMS through the UI:

Google Voice SMS log 
Conference Calling

Another useful feature is the ability to do instant conference calls. Instead of having to provide people with a dial-in number and access code for a conference calling system, I can now set up a conference call and simply ask all parties to call my Google Voice number. Once I am on the call with one person and the second caller dials the same number, I can simply press '5' and connect them to the same call. This is incredibly useful, since I can never find my wallet-card for our corporate conference calling system anyway.

International Calls

Google Voice also offers international calls now, and the process to load some money into your voice account is pretty easy. In my case, since I already have a Google Checkout account associated with my credit card, it was literally a matter of just 2 clicks to transfer $10 from my credit card into the Google Voice account. I was then able to place an international call to a colleague in Vienna, Austria, by using the Call button in the web interface and the call was immediately established (by ringing one of my phones first, then the other phone). A female computer voice informed me that the charge for this call would be 19¢ per minute, and I was connected right away. The voice quality was quite good, although the connection was a bit choppy on one of the test calls - something that is typical of most VoIP systems. After the completion of the call, it immediately shows up in your outgoing call log with the cost of the call, and any call that is not answered is also not charged - here is the call log after three international test calls I made, including a nice 6 minute conversation with my dad:

Google Voice Placed Calls

The same rate of 19¢ per minute was charged to both calls to a mobile number in Austria and to a land-line number, which is a bit unusual and appears to be different for other European countries. However, it is still quite a bit cheaper than the $1.49 that Verizon is charging per minute, or the $1.70 that AT&T is charging. In fact, it is probably more akin to Skype costs. However, both Verizon and AT&T offer a world-wide value calling plan that charges a monthly fee of $3-5 and then the rate drops to 9¢ per minute. Bottom-line: if you make the occasional international call, Google Voice is a very good deal, but if you need to make calls to one particular country frequently it may still make sense to check with your land-line provider to see if you can't get a calling plan that gets you a rate that is even lower. Of course, Google Voice is fully integrated with Google Contacts, so you can type a name into the "Call" or "SMS" box and it will present phone numbers from your contacts. Likewise, if you go to the Contacts tab in Google Voice, there are now "call" and "sms" buttons next to each phone# stored for any of your contacts.

Call Widgets

While the old GrandCentral system already had a web-call button, the new Call Widgets in Google Voice make it even easier to add a "Call Me" button to your blog. In fact, there is one on the right sidebar of this blog, so if you want to talk to me, feel free to use that (no prank calls, please!).

 

To sum it up, I'm very happy about these new features. It makes a service that was already invaluable even better. And with the new calling and conferencing features, all I can say is: good-bye Skype, hello Google Voice!

Google Latitude provides location-based social networking

I've always been a big fan of GPS and geo-coding. In fact, I've been teaching GPS seminars for our local boating education group, the Marblehead Sail & Power Squadron for years. So when early location-based social networks like Loopt and others started to appear, I immediately tested them, but found them to be quite useless in the end since few of my friends have the same early-adopter mentality, and quite a few - especially those in Europe - are more concerned about their privacy.

So I was delighted to hear that Google jumped into the location-based networking arena today with their new Google Latitude system. They have an application out for several mobile devices already, and the iPhone/iTouch version is promised to be released soon. You can also update your location from a regular web-browser.

This promises to be a very interesting service, and I hope that with the heft of Google behind it, location-based social networking will finally take off. If you decide to try it out, send me a friend request to alexander dot falk at gmail dot com.

There is also already a review from Katharine Boehret in The Mossberg Solution (Wall Street Journal) today.

Google Earth with photo-realistic 3D buildings

Oops. Where did the entire fall go? Can't believe the holiday season is on our doorstep and I haven't found time to post on the blog for over a month. There, now I've done it: I have committed the cardinal sin of blogging. I've blogged about not blogging. You are just not supposed to do that...

On a more happy note, I was very excited to see the recent update of the 3D building database in Google Earth that adds tons of photo-realistic building images for several major US cities. This is a view of Boston from above the harbor, with Faneuil Hall on the right:

Boston3D

If you have an iPhone, make sure to also try the Google Earth app for the iPhone, which is pretty amazing, too.

So what does this have to do with XML, you ask? All the buildings are encoded in KML, which is an open XML-based standard for geo-spatial information. And Google has created a huge 3D Warehouse of building images that are available in KML as well as other formats. To learn more about KML, take a look at this tutorial or the KML reference.

FaneuilHallBoston For example, this image on the left is a rendition of the Faneuil Hall model from the 3D Warehouse that was used in the above image on Google Earth. If you download the KML file from the warehouse, it comes in a KMZ archive, which is a ZIP-compressed package file. To explore this file in the XMLSpy XML Editor, all we have to do is add the KMZ file extension under Tools/Options and specify that it is a ZIP conformant file format.

Similarly, add the KML extension and specify that it is XML conformant. Now you can open all KMZ files in XMLSpy, see the files contained in the package, and directly open the KML file to view the XML markup it contains (this is just the beginning of the file):

FaneuilHallKML

More info on the new 3D buildings and a few screenshots of New York can be found on the Google Earth Blog. So get yourself a copy of Google Earth and start exploring...

The browser war III

Google Chrome, a new open-source browser from Google that builds in parts on Apple's WebKit and in parts on Mozilla Firefox, was announced yesterday and just launched today at 3:02 pm EDT.

GoogleChromeComic Here is an interesting twist: most of the technical details about Chrome cannot be found in blog postings or technical web documentation, but rather in the form of a comic book. Talk about weird! But the comic is actually full of very interesting details - definitely worth reading, especially if you are a web developer.

Btw, the most interesting thing from a developer's perspective is that Chrome is built on a totally new JavaScript virtual machine called V8. According to the Google Blog:

"We also built a more powerful JavaScript engine, V8, to power the next generation of web applications that aren't even possible in today's browsers."

Steven Vaughan-Nichols has an excellent analysis of why V8 is really the big news, and what Google's motivations are for releasing Chrome. Fred Wilson adds some cloud computing perspective to the mix.

I'd be curious to see what kind of XML processing capabilities are included in V8 and what kind of XSLT stylesheet rendering Chrome is capable of (1.0 or 2.0). Unfortunately, so far Google hasn't released any technical details yet.

Needless to say, the blogosphere is buzzing with postings...

And to contrast all the excitement, there are also those who say the Chrome is irrelevant (at least until 2010).

Update: Very interesting review by Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal just appeared.

Update: Great article in Wired News just came out.

iPhone browser traffic disproportionate to market share

I've said it all along - the iPhone's UI and especially the Safari browser on the iPhone are a quantum-leap over existing other smartphone technologies (e.g. Windows mobile, Symbian, Blackberry).

The NY Times has an article today on iPhone traffic on Google and confirms this by stating that despite a market-share of only 2% (compared to 63% for Symbian and 11% for Windows Mobile) the majority of mobile browsing traffic on Google over Christmas came from iPhones - that is simply astounding: more than 50% of the traffic from iPhones that have only a 2% market share!

The article also cites an analyst opinion:

"The iPhone has taken the frustration out of browsing on a mobile phone, said Charles Wolf, an analyst with Needham & Company."

Related discussions and other blog links can be found on TechMeme, as well as in previous iPhone-related posts on this blog...

Atomic Clocks, Street Views, and Flash Disks

A few random things caught my eye today:

GPS has brought atomic precision time to us in the form of small portable GPS devices, as well as network time-servers that sync with the GPS data. The time from the GPS satellites comes to us with such precision, because the satellites carry cesium atomic clocks on board and are synchronized with ground-based clocks and being corrected for relativistic effects.
But for some folks getting the atomic time from GPS is not enough - they call themselves "Time Nuts" and have atomic clocks (such as the 5071A) at home as a hobby. See also this nice article in Wired today. Wow! I've always loved time, clocks, calendar calculations, leap seconds, and physics. I guess that's a hobby that I could get into, too....

From atomic clocks and GPS it is only a small leap to navigation, which brings us to cartography, which brings us to Google Maps - and the second item of interest today: Google has launched Street View in eight new cities in the US, including Boston. Very cool.

Last, but not least, here is something I want in my next laptop: Toshiba announced a 128GB Flash HDD yesterday. My current laptop has a 80GB conventional disk drive, and it looks like the form factor of that Toshiba drive would allow for an actual replacement.

XML 2007 (or not), IE8, and Google on the iPhone

XML 2007 ended in Boston today and despite planning to go to the conference today, I unfortunately missed the event due to some time constraints at work. Elliotte Rusty Harold blogged from the conference (thank you!), and he was asking if nobody else was reporting live from the event. Well, I was planning to do so, but couldn't. Sorry.

The one talk that I had really wanted to go to was by Irina Kogan (IBM) and Dr. Nick Nagel (Altova) who spoke on "XML-Driven Database Design and Information Retrieval" this afternoon - fortunately the presentation slides can be found here so I can read up on what I missed.

In other interesting news today:

I've already played with the Google interface on the iPhone and it is really nicely done. I get Google search, GMail, and Reader all nicely integrated and with a slick iPhone like UI.

Google's Open Social API - is this the end of Facebook?

Google is holding a press conference right now, and it appears that they have everybody's support for the new Open Social API in an attempt to stem the popularity of Facebook among 3rd party Web 2.0 application developers. Supporting sites include MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Friendster, etc.

UPDATE: Full text of press release here.

TechCrunch has reported on this topic before and has some details on what the APIs contain.

Marc Andreessen also writes about the API and concludes that the Open Social API is "the next big leap forward". He cites two big differences compared to the Facebook APIs: (a) with Open Social API there can me more than one container, whereas with the Facebook API there is always only one container (i.e. Facebook); (b) the Facebook API requires the use of FBML and FQL, whereas with the Open Social API developers can use any standard HTML and JavaScript.

I haven't seen the actual Open Social API documentation yet, but I bet it'll be using XML all over the place. Good news for the XML Aficionado... ☺

Google switches to its own translation system - machine translation still questionable

I've been closely following the various attempts at getting automated machine translation to work for the past 10-15 years, and often found the outputs from those systems laughable at best. Be it BabelFish, or the various commercial systems, the bottom-line is always the same: automated systems cannot do even a half-decent job at translation, because they lack human comprehension - and we are still 20+ years away from any AI...

So I was very intrigued today to learn that Google has switched from Systran to its own translation engine.

As a simple test-case, I asked Google Translate to translate this XML Aficionado blog from English to German, and this is the live result: XML Aficionado in German. For those of you who understand German, this will be a delightful joke!

Bottom-line: machine translation still sucks...