Skip to content

Rain already

In general I really appreciate the weather in the Bay Area. It’s generally not too hot and not too cold, it doesn’t get that humid, and in the summer the lack of rain means you never have to worry about your outdoor plans getting rained out.

But around November, when it’s been 6 months since we got any rain, everything is brown (sorry, golden), fires start with the smallest spark and can explode out of control, and you’re reminded that one of the many benefits of rain is that it washes the air clean, it sometimes becomes a serious drag.

Rain already.

Looking at old photos

I like assistive devices like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, but I think audio-only devices are over-hyped. Yes, your devices has thousands of skills. But let’s be serious, what do people really do with them? They play music, check the forecast, and ask the occasional question. Other than that, pretty much everything is in the long-tail.

But I do think assistive devices with screens add some interesting possibilities. I’ve held off on buying one, however, until Google released the Home Hub. I chose to buy it not because I prefer Google’s Assistant to Amazon’s Alexa (although I actually do). No, the reason I bought it was because when not in use you can set it to act as a photo frame for your Google Photos collection. And the device does a great job of adjusting brightness based on lighting conditions, so that it tends to blend into its environment rather than stand out.

I don’t know about you, but I have thousands of digital photos that I almost never look at. Even when we’ve created photo books for more memorable occasions like big vacations, we don’t look at them that often. So I love having a photo frame that without any additional work on my part will remind me of things I’ve done and places I’ve been. I’ve even started slowly uploading (uplink speeds still generally suck on home network connections)  more photos so that I have even more opportunities to remember. Several times a day I find myself looking more closely at a photo to see where it is (the Hub helpfully labels photos with the album they’re from to help you identify it).

If I could make one change to the photo frame experience, I’d have it assign sample frequency to albums rather than by number of photos. Trips with lots of photos show up more often, when what I’d prefer is that it sample more evenly across albums (ensuring a more even distribution of memories across time). But I recognize that’s totally a personal preference, and albums with more photos do admittedly tend to have more notable moments within them.

Google’s Moffett Place campus

I visited Google’s Moffett Place campus this week for the annual UX University. The campus is still new; some of the buildings at it aren’t fully finished and open yet (although they all seemed to be at least partially in use). The space has potential; there are enough open areas that could eventually become nice gathering or outside work areas, and it’s got convenient VTA and Google bus transit options. But right now it feels pretty bland (which might also be due to fall making the foliage seem rather sparse and colorless).

The Google Event Center is fairly nice, though. And hey, there’s a pool in the complex!

Android’s 10th birthday party

Google celebrated Android’s 10th birthday last week, and Google being Google they did so with a party for the Android team. While I appreciate the thought and the party was fun, I do wish that the Android releases had been named after healthy foods rather than desserts. Faced with an array of cupcakes, donuts, eclairs, ice cream, KitKats, jelly beans, lollipops, Oreos, and more, I found myself wondering if somewhere they were also handing out insulin shots to help people deal with the sugar shock.

If I’m ever in charge of naming the releases for a major product, I’ll be going with Apple, Banana, Cherry, etc.

Google’s new hardware

Google announced its new hardware this week. As I’ve mentioned previously, I hate notches on smartphones, so I’m not that fond of the Pixel 3 XL. Thankfully my Pixel 2 XL is still in good shape, so I’ll just stick with it. I do like the Pixel Stand, though; we played with a number of UX ideas for docked phones when I was at Samsung (the patent application is public now, so I can talk about the work in vague terms), and I’m happy to see that  someone is pushing on the idea (even though I think our work at Samsung actually pushed the boundaries a bit more).

The Pixel Slate looks kind of interesting too. I’ve got a Tab S4 with a keyboard cover that I bought before I left Samsung. It’s got a great display (which isn’t surprising for Samsung), but it’s never run Android particularly well. I’m not sure if Samsung did a lousy job putting their custom changes on top of Android (which is entirely possible), or whether the tablet is just underpowered (although from a purely spec sheet perspective it doesn’t seem like that should be the case). So I’m a bit curiously what it’d be like to have a really performant Android tablet. Plus it’d be nice to get regular OS updates, something that has never been Samsung’s strong suit.

The Google Home Hub is the device that I find most interesting, though. We’ve got one of the first generation Echo speakers and we use it every day, but really just to stream music and occasionally check the weather, which pretty much any smart device can do. But the Home Hub will also tie into my Google Photos account and show pictures from it, and it’d be great to regularly see the pictures we’ve taken over the years. Plus $150 is a really nice price point. So I suspect I may end up getting one once they’re actually on sale.

Mac laptops and issues with sleeping

When I first switched to using Macs from PCs, when I was faculty at Georgia Tech, one of the things I really appreciated about them was how reliably they went to and woke from sleep. Windows was crap at sleep / wake at the time, which meant you were basically stuck with turning off your laptop every time you wanted to put it away. By contrast, you could just close your Mac lid when you were during using it, put it away, and when you wanted to use it again you just pulled it out, opened the lid, and it was ready to use.

So I find it sad that sleeping really seems to have gone south with Macs over the last few releases. Earlier this week I closed the lid of my Mac laptop at work and left for the day, only to discover the next morning that the battery was dead. And then today I pulled my laptop out at a coffee shop to catch up on some things and discovered that its battery was also dead, despite sleeping it just 2 days ago with roughly 85% charge. I’ve gotten used to my laptop (a 2017 MacBook Pro) draining faster than my older laptops used to, to the extent that I’ve started shutting it down if I’m not going to use it for a few days instead of sleeping it. But losing 85% charge over 2 days? Clearly it never actually went to sleep. At least the old MacBooks had the heartbeat light that let you know when the machine was in sleep. Since Apple did away with it, there’s really no way to check whether it’s actually slept correctly. Apparently I’ll have to go back to just shutting it down every time to be sure.

At least OS X boots faster now.

Google turns 20

Google turned 20 this week, and they had a number of pop-up birthday celebrations around the campus with tasty cupcakes. It was interesting to contrast it with IBM’s celebration of its 100th birthday, which happened while I was still at IBM Research. On the one hand, IBM made a much bigger deal of its birthday than Google did (of course, it’s a lot more impressive for a company to make it to 100 than it is for.a company to make it to 20). On the other hand, I was right at the Googleplex for the celebration. IBM’s primary celebration was on the East Coast, since that’s where IBM is primarily based. So while Google’s celebrations were smaller, they were also more directly visible. And hey, who doesn’t like party hats?