Tag Archives: google

How Google Builds Its Maps—and What It Means for the Future of Everything

Let’s step back a tiny bit to recall with wonderment the idea that a single company decided to drive cars with custom cameras over every road they could access. Google is up to five million miles driven now. Each drive generates two kinds of really useful data for mapping. One is the actual tracks the cars have taken; these are proof-positive that certain routes can be taken. The other are all the photos. And what’s significant about the photographs in Street View is that Google can run algorithms that extract the traffic signs and can even paste them onto the deep map within their Atlas tool.

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Google Street View wasn’t built to create maps like this, but the geo team quickly realized that computer vision could get them incredible data for ground truthing their maps. Not to detour too much, but what you see above is just the beginning of how Google is going to use Street View imagery. Think of them as the early web crawlers (remember those?) going out in the world, looking for the words on pages. That’s what Street View is doing. One of its first uses is finding street signs (and addresses) so that Google’s maps can better understand the logic of human transportation systems. But as computer vision and OCR improve, any word that is visible from a road will become a part of Google’s index of the physical world.

via How Google Builds Its Maps—and What It Means for the Future of Everything – Alexis C. Madrigal – The Atlantic.

A super-cool read on why Google’s Maps product might be the best thing on the web since Google itself (and why it’ll always be better than whatever Apple can come up with in this regard).

Google drove cars practically everywhere — on multiple continents, in different countries, states, territories — and took photos while they were doing it. That’s pretty mind-blowing in and of itself, but when you consider they can then use that information to enhance digital maps back in Mountain View?

Amazing.

There are no questions any more, only answers and Google.

A wise man said something along the same lines not too long ago, and I realised the other day how true his words actually were.

Scenario: you’re at a party or some other social gathering. Maybe out in town with a few mates or whatever, and you find yourself in an argument over, say, the Nexus 7 is the only tablet to be released thus far with Android 4.1, Jelly Bean. Your back and forth about how you know for sure that the Galaxy Nexus is the only phone that currently has Jelly Bean is for all intents and purposes, irrelevant, because you want to find out what current Android tablets can run Jelly Bean.

None of you know the answer for sure, so you pull our whatever smartphone you have, look it up on the internets, and find out that yes, indeed, the Nexus 7 is currently the only shipping tablet that runs Google’s latest OS.

There are no questions anymore, only answers and Google.

Scenario two: you’re at a gathering with a few more mates, this time around an open fire somewhere in the wilds of Tasmania. Somehow, the conversation turns to how many Pokémon are in the Generation IV remakes of the Generation II games. You can never remember how many Pokémon are available in HeartGold or SoulSilver — one of you is adamant that it’s only the original 251 (that appeared in the original Gold and Silver games for GameBoy Color), and the other one of you is sure you can catch many, many more Pokémon than just the original 251. Consequently, you get into some heated argument about how many Pokémon are actually available.

None of you know the answer for sure, so one of you decides to settle it by looking up the answer on the internet. Mobile data coverage is spotty where you are, but you managed to jump onto Bulbapedia and find that yes, “Pokémon native to Sinnoh and Hoenn can be found in various methods.”

Thanks to our constant connectivity, the proliferation of smartphones, and the basic need for burning questions to be answered in a timely manner, there are no questions anymore, only answers, and Google. In the old days, you might have had to wait until you were at home and at a computer before you could settle an argument — but by then, the moment would have passed, and no-one would likely care.

It’s a double-edged sword. Settling arguments is one thing, but such definitiveness (yes, that’s a word now) means that there’s no mystery. Of course, you could always not Google things right there and then, but where’s the fun in that?

This shorter post, apropos of nothing, proudly brought to you by random thoughts in Benny Ling’s brain.

Portrait of the Google as a great artist

Apple created and introduced what we now understand to be — and experience as — the modern smartphone.

It threw out inessential crap like hard buttons and extraneous sliders. It revolutionized battery life in high-power devices. It incorporated technology that understands how you’re holding a device so you don’t have to worry about, for example, switching from portrait to landscape displays. It designed an original yet intuitive interface that even the least tech-savvy person can understand immediately…

via Kind of a Hater • Portrait of the Google as a great artist.

The Trouble With “Free” →

And so once the basic business proposition is “this company will make the most amazing Web services available and give them away for free in order to sell you to advertisers,” plummeting levels of privacy become inevitable.

via The Trouble With “Free”.

Which means the only question becomes: how much do you value your privacy in a world that’s increasingly engaged with the free?

Don’t get me wrong, I love getting something for nothing as much as the next guy, and I’m more than happy to sacrifice a little privacy about things that aren’t really all that important (i.e. which might be the reason why those frequent shopper cards work so well, I mean, who really cares about who knows what products they buy at the supermarket?), but where does the line need to be drawn?

A Long-Time Apple Nerd’s Review of the Galaxy Nexus and First Experience With Android

To those who want to use Android, I say go for it. I don’t think that choice is wrong — there are many fine things about the Android OS and many things it does differently and better than iOS. I can understand how tech-savvy power-users who know what they are getting into would like Android. For them, the trade-offs in certain areas are a welcome sacrifice in exchange for the customizability, the different look, and the plethora of hardware devices to choose from.

via A Long-Time Apple Nerd’s Review of the Galaxy Nexus and First Experience With Android — Shawn Blanc.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Android summed up. It’s not that I wouldn’t recommend an Android phone to your mum or dad, it’s just that I wouldn’t recommend an Android phone to your mum or dad.

For those that actually like the appeal of Android, by all means, you’re more than welcome to. Hell, even I like certain aspects about Android, but that doesn’t make it the comparative “best”.

Qualifiers such as “are they buying based solely on price?” aren’t even all that relevant to buying an Android phone, as a second-hand 3GS or similar might be more suitable instead. I’d think long and hard before recommending an Android phone to anyone.

One other thing: I’m super glad I don’t work in a telco store that sells Android alongside the iPhone, because I doubt I’d be able to “sell” Android phones based on one feature alone. I mean, Google integration, absolutely. But iOS has that in iCloud. IOS is comparatively easier to sell; do your friends have iPhones? Boom, free messages between you and them. That feature alone could sell a customer, never mind an app for anything you could poke a stick at.

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner with Android — Part Deux

 

In my previous post in the series, I detailed a few of the more user-facing things about Android, like app management, music syncing, and so on. In this post, I intend to talk more about some of the finer points of things like text selection, general usability, and finally wrap it up at the end with a few choice sentences about Android as a whole and how it compares to other mobile platforms. If the previous post was about a 3 (not quite computer illiterate and yet not quite your average nerd) on the Benny Ling official scale of nerdery, this post is about a 6 or a 7 (getting up there). Not to mention it’s fairly long… You have been warned!

You want to talk about fragmentation? Okay, let’s talk about fragmentation. Fragmentation isn’t an issue. Geeks like us might like to harp on the fact that everything (apps-wise) doesn’t run on, everything (hardware-wise), or that some apps are restricted to certain regions, or that different versions run on different devices, but the fact of the matter is, fragmentation isn’t an issue for most end users. I say “most”, because if you’re one of the unlucky few who has chosen either the cheapest Android phone you could find, or somehow gotten stuck with a manufacturer notorious for releasing updates very slowly, or even worse, not at all, then, then, fragmentation might be an issue. You can hardly blame Google for your fragmentation issues though, as it’s up to manufacturers to release updates for their phones, which also makes it super-easy for them to drop support in way of software updates for a particular phone. Exactly why I would only ever buy an Android phone either from the Nexus series (as you’re guaranteed software updates, it being the flagship Android phone at any given time)), or from HTC, or any of the other big players (Samsung just manages to sneak in here) — any other manufacturer is a crapshoot. I mean, sure you can put the latest ROM or whatever from XDA Developers on your Motorola Milestone, but do you really want to learn about bootloaders, custom restore images, and all that kind of stuff? Perhaps if you’re a geek, otherwise, probably not.

First seen in iOS, there’s a rather nice visual feedback effect to let you know when you have reached the end of a long list, or scrolled to the bottom of a webpage. The UI “bounces” to let you know there’s no more content, the scrollbar appears for a second to do the same, and you can go about your merry business. Android 2.3 brings a similar sort of effect, only instead of a UI bounce, you see a nice flash or orange whenever you reach the end of a scrollable section. It’s pretty nicely done — as you drag more and more away from the edge, you get more and more visual feedback (but only the very edge is tinted with orange, the rest is a semi-transparent white that builds upon the orange effect).

The funny thing is, I can only think of the Windows Phone 7 accent colour whenever I see these orange flashes. Orange is a good colour choice as it manages to stand out against pretty much everything, but it would have been nice if we had a choice of colours to choose from; I’m guessing that their particular implementation of this kinda of visual feedback means that basically any colour will be visible against the background. As it stands, the orange is used lots of other places, too — like when the spacebar can autocorrect a word for you, there’s a orange line that appears on it (more on text entry a little later), and even punctuation keys and suggested words use this orange colour. It’s not bad, but it could have been better. Continue Reading →

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner With Android

There’s this little blog called My Dinner With Android that received some media attention a few months or so ago, and it attempts to detail one iOS user’s journey with the Nexus S. This post is where I will attempt to do the same, with a few exceptions: his previous smartphone is an iPhone 3GS, my previous smartphone is an iPhone 4. He is from the US, I am from Australia. Everything else is fairly similar. For the sake of your sanity and length, this will be yet another two-parter — the first part, this part, will focus more on Android as something to live with every day, with a few comparisons to iOS and WP7 along the way. The second, more ranty part, will probably be about how much I hate Android and all of its crazy user interaction methods — either that, or a few more details on things I’ve said here, as well as more critical look at Android as a smartphone platform and an Apple iOS competitor.

Yes, I’ve done it again. Changed smartphone platforms, at least temporarily. After my experiments with WP7 I figured I had to give Android another go, a more serious one this time. Like I said, Android is my poison of choice this time around, and the Nexus S is the chalice from which I drink. I realised my previous attempt at Android was little more than a ranting tirade about everything that was wrong about the platform, so this time around I’m going to take a more objective view.

First, the hardware. So, what is the Nexus S like? It’s alright. Not fantastic like the aluminium-and-glass of the iPhone 4, but still alright. Plastic feels somewhat cheap, but overall the whole kit is passable. The most defining feature of the Nexus S is that the front glass is curved – people have said that the inwardly-curved front glass fits better against the face when you’re on a call, and it does. Oh, and the screen is a little larger than what I’m normally used to, which, when combined with the hardware navigation keys (back, menu, home) means that apps have a little more breathing room.

Continue Reading →

Add Sites to Google Reader with Just One Click

1. Head to Google Reader and click Settings, Reader settings.

2. Click the Goodies tab, then scroll down until you see Subscribe as you surf.

3. Drag the Subscribe… link to your browser's bookmarks/favorites bar.

That’s all there is to it! When you click the bookmarklet (so named because it’s a bookmark that performs a special function, rather than just directing you to a page), you’ll be taken straight to Google Reader. There you’ll see a few key stats about the feed (such as average number of posts per week) and a Subscribe button you click to complete the process.

via Add Sites to Google Reader with Just One Click Bookmarklet – Marklets.com.

Way, way, WAYYYY better than the current dance I’ve been doing:

  1. See if the site I want to subscribe to has a link to it’s RSS feed on the page somewhere.
  2. If it does, click the link that takes me to the RSS page.
  3. Copy the RSS URL.
  4. Switch to Google Reader (I run a separate Fluid instance of Reader as an Single-Site-Browser).
  5. Hit “a” (the keyboard shortcut for adding a subscription).
  6. Paste in the RSS URL.
  7. Hit “enter”.

The process is about 1,000,000 times worse if the site in question doesn’t have an easily-visible RSS link:

  1. Copy the site’s URL.
  2. Open Firefox (Chrome, as far as I can tell, doesn’t allow me to easily access the RSS feed).
  3. Paste in the site’s URL.
  4. Click the RSS icon in the location bar, which takes me to the RSS page.
  5. Copy the RSS URL.
  6. Switch to Google Reader.
  7. Hit “a”.
  8. Paste in the RSS URL.
  9. Hit “enter”.

A couple of additional steps, but you can see how it was an convoluted solution for a simple problem.

I do love bookmarklets.

Google Buzz

Start conversations about the things you find interesting. Share updates, photos, videos, and more. http://buzz.google.com

via YouTube – Google Buzz.