Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Tag: technology (page 1 of 2)

An Interview with ChatGPT

Mak and I were discussing OpenAI’s recently unveiled ChatGPT chatbot, an impressively creative and naturalistic generative model that has garnered some viral press in the past few days. It is based on their GPT-3 model released in June 2020. He suggested it might make for an interesting blog post, jokingly suggesting that I could have the AI write it. I do have an OpenAI account and, whilst I am not quite ready to hand over the reins of the site to an AI, I wondered whether I could interview it in such a way that it covered the topics I would address in an article, particularly in respect of the limitations of what this model is designed to do which make headlines like “Google is done” wildly inaccurate.

My intention here was to generate useful content rather than asking it trick questions or exploring its esoteric knowledge (it had no trouble reeling off a list of the Valar from the Silmarillion and their respective duties). One important caveat to note is that whilst ChatGPT was able to communicate its limitations, it obviously does not understand those limitations, so it cannot assess its own responses.

Here is how the interview went.

How would you describe your development process?

As a language model trained by OpenAI, I don’t have a development process in the same way that a human or a software program might. I was trained using a machine learning technique called deep learning, which involved feeding a large amount of data to a neural network and allowing it to learn from the data by adjusting the connections between its many nodes. This process can take a long time, depending on the amount of data and the complexity of the model.

Are there risks in using this method?

There are always risks associated with using any machine learning technique, including deep learning. One potential risk is that the model might not perform well on unseen data, either because it has not been trained on enough data or because it has learned the wrong features from the data. This can lead to incorrect or unpredictable results. Another potential risk is that the model might learn to make decisions based on biased or discriminatory data, which could lead to unfair or harmful outcomes.

Historically chatbots have tried to mimic human conversation. It seems like you are designed to create longer form content. Is that accurate?

Yes, that’s accurate. While some chatbots are designed to mimic human conversation, I’m not one of them. I’m a large language model trained by OpenAI, and my main purpose is to generate human-like text based on the input I receive. I can generate long-form text on a wide range of topics, and I’m not limited to the kind of brief, conversational responses that many chatbots are capable of.

Do you analyse data when responding or do you rely on training data where the analysis has already been conducted?

As a large language model, I do not have the ability to analyze data or access any external information. I am only able to respond based on the training data that I have been given. This training data consists of vast amounts of text that has been fed into my system, allowing me to generate human-like responses based on the patterns and associations I have learned from that data. I do not have the ability to conduct any kind of analysis or access external information.

Does that training data include factual knowledge? For example, do you know the current population of the Netherlands?

As a language model, my training data consists primarily of text and does not include factual knowledge such as population statistics. I do not have the ability to access any external information, so I am not able to provide specific factual knowledge like the current population of the Netherlands. I can provide general information and answer questions to the best of my ability based on the patterns and associations I have learned from my training data, but I do not have access to factual knowledge like population statistics.

What kind of new training data do you think would be useful for improving your abilities?

As a language model, I am designed to generate human-like responses based on the patterns and associations I have learned from my training data. Because of this, the most effective way to improve my abilities is to provide me with additional training data that is diverse and representative of the types of conversations and queries I may encounter. This could include a wide range of text from different sources, such as books, articles, and conversations, to help me learn the nuances of language and improve my ability to generate natural and appropriate responses. Additionally, providing me with training data that covers a wide range of topics and subjects would be beneficial, as this would allow me to better understand the context of a given conversation and provide more accurate and useful responses.

Can you be more specific about where the gaps might be at the moment?

As a large language model, I am not able to assess my own abilities or identify any potential gaps in my knowledge. My training data consists of vast amounts of text that has been fed into my system, allowing me to generate human-like responses based on the patterns and associations I have learned from that data. However, I do not have the ability to evaluate my own performance or identify any potential areas for improvement. My goal is to provide helpful and accurate responses to the best of my ability based on the information that I have been given.

Do your conversations with people provide reinforcing feedback? Are there risks inherent to that?

As a language model, I do not have the ability to engage in conversations with people or receive feedback on my responses. I am only able to generate responses based on the patterns and associations I have learned from my training data. I do not have the ability to learn or adapt based on feedback or interactions with people.

Because I am a machine learning model, there are always risks associated with relying on my responses. I am designed to provide helpful and accurate answers to the best of my ability based on the information I have been given, but there is no guarantee that my answers will always be correct or complete. It is important to use your own judgment and critical thinking skills when evaluating my responses and seeking information from other sources as well.

This has been very illuminating. Thank you for your time.

You’re welcome! I’m glad I could help.

WinBook Pro

My laptop, Daedalus, a stalwart of the old Dell XPS Studio line, has lasted well for nearly six years. That realisation came as a surprise since I generally expect a machine to last me only three to four. In the interim I built a new desktop, JARVIS, but found I now lack the necessary time to diagnose and repair a custom rig like that when things go wrong. As a result, for a while now I have wanted to streamline down just to a laptop with a docking solution that made it easy to use with a full desk setup for long work or photo editing sessions and indie/less powerful games (since I now prefer to play most mainstream games on a large TV in the comfort of my living room). The problem is that consumer docks are still unusual and no one was really making the laptop I wanted.

So Daedalus’ successor, Helios (Deus Ex fans will recognise the progressing AI namesakes), took careful selection. The result, as a Buzzfeed headline would no doubt claim, might surprise you. It transpired that the ideal Windows laptop for me is actually an Apple MacBook Pro. It hit each of my requirements:

  • WinBook Pro13″ for portability;
  • SSD for the OS and total storage of at least 500GB;
  • 8GB RAM;
  • Graphics capability for indie games;
  • Ultra hi-res screen;
  • Slide-in dock — the third-party henge dock.

Some of you might reasonably treat this as a weird hoax, but it is important to understand the reasoning behind my general distaste for Apple products. It is not fanboyism, but a desire for interoperability and freedom. That is, when making any technology purchasing decision, I want a device that will work happily with everything else I own and that will not restrict my choices when later upgrading, because I want to be free to select the best product for my use. In general this rules out the “walled garden” of Apple products and particularly iOS. However, since their decision to switch to Intel architecture, Macs are essentially just PC hardware running different software. The introduction of Boot Camp with appropriate drivers for the hardware means Windows can not only be installed but it can be made the default operating system.

Breaking OutI had not been into an Apple store for several years and was impressed by the experience. After asking a few questions I was handed over to someone more knowledgeable about running Windows on Apple hardware and they already had it set up on a demo machine. Purchasing was slick and easy, running the transaction on a portable terminal with the laptop being delivered down to us while we chatted about software and potential pitfalls.

The only tricky part of the Boot Camp setup process was preparing a bootable Windows installation on a USB stick, since the MacBook Pro lacks an optical drive. Within a couple of hours I had Windows loaded up and ready to take over as the default OS, with OSX relegated to a minimal partition on the drive. Whilst Apple provides Windows drivers, it has little incentive to optimise them. As a result, better results can be received from component manufacturers or even third parties like the Trackpad++ project, which reinstates a host of customisable multitouch gesture controls on the generous trackpad. Another quirk is that the high-res screen requires Windows’ full 150% scaling to be readable, but when connected to a standard resolution monitor that becomes unwieldy. The easiest solution is to have a separate user account for use in docked mode and that also allows me to tweak the applications that launch on startup.

Desktop ModeThe hardware is exceptional as one would expect from Apple. The machined unibody chassis is sleek and incredibly thin, yet is surprisingly good at heat dissipation given that it runs extremely quiet in general use. The screen is stellar and input is as comfortable as the competition. The Apple keyboard layout  differs from Windows but SharpKeys offers an easy way to remap them to something more familiar (like reinstating a dedicated “delete” key or reordering Alt and Command/Winkey).

The metal Henge Dock is a big improvement on the original plastic design and the finish looks as though it could have shipped with the MacBook. It ships with all the necessary cables other than the power adapter (so you really need a second one for travelling since one will be fixed to the dock). Connecting and disconnecting the laptop is as easy as slotting it in the right way round, and a rubber insert protects it from scratches whilst providing a snug fit. The result looks like a ridiculously slim mini tower sitting on the desk. Most of the body is exposed to air which limits overheating and the MacBook’s rear vent is specifically designed to be exposed whether the lid is open or closed, so I have little concern about running it in “clamshell mode”. It was this docking option that really sold me on the MacBook in the first place and I find myself surprised both by how well it works and how few non-business options there are from PC manufacturers.


It has been another year since the last in the (unexpectedly popular) series exploring the Android apps I am running and, whilst I continue to use most of those, there are a host of new entrants worth mentioning. First off on the ROM-front, I currently run AOKP (that’s the Android Open Kang Project), which includes most of the latest features from CyanogenMod 9, with Nova Launcher for my home screen. These maintain the general Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich UI, whilst providing a series of tweaks.

SwiftKey 3 (beta) has just replaced Swype on my phone — I have always been a fan on tablet — because its predictive algorithm is so good that even one-handed I have found it faster than Swype. I still think it will be a matter of preference but thanks to Joe for giving me the nudge to check out the new beta. They certainly deserve their Webby!

DoggCatcher is my podcast app of choice. It can be set automatically to download audio and video podcasts when on wifi so that your selections are ready to consume once you leave, even if you have no signal. It also supports video playback through third party players like my next selection.

DICE Player is an excellent video player available in paid or ad-supported flavours. Aside from its smooth playback of HD footage in a range of formats, including .mkv, it includes advanced features like variable speed and subtitle support.

CyanogenMod 9 Music, developed for CyanogenMod, is a limited modification of the stock ICS player but it is worth switching out for its tweaks to the notification panel controls, allowing a full set of playback controls and direct closing of the app. Meanwhile I am trying out Apollo which is being merged with CM9 for future releases, though I feel it still needs some work.

Mi File Explorer is also extracted from another ROM, this time MIUI. It’s a very pretty file explorer with all the functionality you would expect (other than root access). However, the in-development Solid Explorer may replace it, with its two-panel drag-and-drop interface (and root access).

Wunderlist is the last of the “utility” apps. It is a basic but easy to use list-making app that has just edged out Astrid as my favourite. Meanwhile, if you are in London, London Transport Live is a must-have.

Camera apps: my scepticism when it comes to phone cameras remains unaltered, but I still enjoy trying out the latest imaging apps. My favourite straight shooting choice is Camera ZOOM FX. AfterFocus is a powerful tool for creating artificial depth-of-field effects to mimic SLR-taken shots. For more substantial filters Pixlr-o-matic offers the most advanced tools, whilst Instagram trades on ease of use and social integration (I wondered upon the popular app’s Android debut whether it would get me sharing more photos on the go — the answer is not so much).

Browsers/Readers: For web browsing I have found the speed of the default ICS browser to be excellent. However my old favourite Dolphin Browser HD and Google’s own Chrome are worth considering. A leaked release of Flipboard provided a visually appealing way to flip through news and social media updates in an image-focused way (not dissimilar to the latest release of the Google+ app). However, my preferred news reader is Google Currents for its crisp, clean appearance which makes it incredibly easy to read. Although it only supports publications that have been specifically designed for it, most of my favourites are on offer. Finally, Pocket (previously Read-It-Later) lets you store and later read webpages you come across either on your phone or on a desktop browser with the respective plugin.


“That’s nearly the size of my head,” I thought apprehensively as I extracted the large metal cube of an aftermarket CPU heatsink from its box. Looking at the assortment of metal and bolts required just to mount it, I wondered if I had made a huge mistake. But as the screws glinted under the spotlights of the living room, surrounded by a myriad of electronic parts destined to form a greater whole, I smiled. So long as it actually fitted in the case, this was going to be fun. I am left slightly concerned that for me building a PC may be less about the end result and more like a £1,000 single-use Lego kit. At which point I really ought just to buy LEGO 10179.

Some of you will recall that my primary machines (i.e. desktops and laptops) are named after fictional AIs, hence MAX (the onboard AI of the alien spacecraft in the 80s classic Flight of the Navigator) and Daedalus (the mysterious AI that chooses to assist the player in the original Deus Ex). Most readers ought to recognise the origin of my new machine, JARVIS, the name narrowly beating out rival option GERTY.

JARVIS follows my usual design philosophy for computers which means a good but not excessive graphics card to keep things cooler and quieter, coupled with as much RAM as I can get on two sticks for a reasonable price. Currently, I discovered, that means a slightly excessive 16GB. With lower power draw in mind, I have been waiting for Intel’s new Ivybridge processors so under the hood is a 3.3 GHz Core i5, paired with an MSI mainboard and factory overclocked Radeon HD 7850.

What really makes the machine fly, however, is that after experimenting with an SSD in my HTPC, I have been converted and picked up a 256GB Crucial SSD for the operating system and applications. Boot times are negligible and even Firefox launches swiftly! More substantial storage comes in the form of two convention HDDs transferred over from MAX, offering 3TB in total. The build is housed inside a sleek Antec Solo II case, an upgrade to the Sonata line which I used for MAX. It is based on the same silent computing principles, but with improved airflow and sound dampening polycarbonate panels lining the inside.

I decided this was as good a time as any to test out the Windows 8 Consumer Preview but, while I’m still wrangling the new Metro-style Start Menu replacement, I’ll save my thoughts on it for another post.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

From the time it was announced, I was relatively the sure the Samsung Galaxy Nexus would be my next phone. The Nexus lines of phones are developed by Google with a manufacturing partner and are used to introduce each major revision of Android, in this case version 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which is one of the most significant changes the OS has gone through. As a result separating a review of the phone from the new software is almost impossible, so for the most part I won’t try.

Most immediately striking is the screen, an incredible 4.65″ 720p high definition display. Despite the size, the phone’s slim, curved build means it doesn’t feel large or unwieldy as I had feared. Many reviewers have criticised the plastic housing, but it keeps the handset lightweight and the textured back provides easy grip. The build quality is high and the moment the screen lights up, the handset feels anything but cheap.

The biggest UI change is that the front now boasts zero buttons, not even the capacitive ones that have become standard on most Android models. Instead soft keys are built into the OS, with the advantage that they can rotate based on orientation and disappear entirely for full screen video. The deep blacks of the Super AMOLED display is perfect for this, so you would be forgiven for mistaking them for old-style capacitive buttons. It’s no secret that I am proponent of buttons for their tactile ease of use without looking at the handset, but there is no denying the beauty of the flawless obsidian slab when the phone is off. The only thing I really miss from my HTC Desire is the optical trackpad for swiftly relocating a text entry cursor by a space or two.

Android has undergone a major visual overhaul that streamlines the UI while making the experience more consistent throughout, which will hopefully influence third party apps. The larger screen means more elements in the notification tray can be visual, with incoming texts and emails identified by sender photos. Multitasking is brought to the fore, with a dedicated app switching button (items can be dismissed from the list with a simple swipe). Elsewhere, such as the new People app, design cues have been taken from Windows Phone 7 with swipe-able panels. All the slick new visuals are smooth and responsive thanks to the dual core processor under the hood.

The only real negative is for those who use their phone as a primary camera. While Samsung’s own Galaxy SII has arguably the best mobile camera on the market to date, the Nexus camera does not stack up against its siblings. Its speed is certainly impressive, now boasting zero shutter lag, but the quality of the 5MP sensor is average. For my part I rarely use the camera on a phone so this one drawback did little to dissuade me.

Extra features? The lack of removable storage may ruffle some feathers but the 16GB included (with a 32GB model on its way) should suffice for most, though it does mean you may not be able to carry around your entire music library. NFC is present even though mobile payments have yet to take off in a meaningful way. Finally, face unlock is Android’s “Siri” — a feature that is great in marketing ads but a total gimmick when it comes to real world use (broadly it works but it’s likely to be slower, fails in dim light and can be duped by photographs). After a week’s use, battery life is as one would expect from any top-end smartphone: you’ll eke out a day but don’t expect more, and if you hammer it with video playback on a commute you may find yourself needing to charge up at work.

The Galaxy Nexus is without a doubt the best Android phone to date and, in all honesty, the best phone I have ever tried. There is, of course, not one ideal phone for everyone. Those who rely on their phone’s camera or need extra space for their music may be better served by the Galaxy S II, which will see an Ice Cream Sandwich update in due course. For those who are seriously into touchscreen gaming on the go, the growing Android library of games still lags behind the iPhone at present. For everyone else, I cannot recommend new Nexus, with its unrivalled combination of beauty and features, highly enough.

Sony Tablet S

You would be forgiven for checking it’s not early April upon seeing a post by me on a newly acquired tablet. I have been an open tablet sceptic and overnight this has not changed. However, when Sony kindly sent a free Tablet S my way, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to see whether there really is a place for one in my life without taking a £400 gamble.

Some criticise Sony for taking over a year to bring their tablet offering to market, but I applaud their more thoughtful approach rather than merely churning out another “me too” device. The first thing you’ll notice is the tapered “folded back magazine” design, which is excellent for holding in portrait mode for lengthy periods, particularly as the weight distribution ergonomically falls down the “spine”, but less useful in landscape mode. It does mean you need to rotate the entire tablet to switch hands, but the display will smoothly reorientate automatically. The screen is vivid and, while many reviews suggest the housing does not feel sufficiently “premium”, the choice of materials allows for easy grip when carrying it around. You’ll need to decide for yourself whether such aesthetic considerations trump usability. It sports the tablet-optimised Honeycomb flavour of Android, with resizeable widgets, a new notification system and a multitasking app switcher.

What’s it good at? Tablets are, of course, for media consumption rather than creation. Reading email and RSS feeds (via Pulse) is slick and comfortable. Magazines look great too, but with a backlit screen rather than e-ink I can’t see myself reading e-books for long periods. Web browsing is crisp and fast, though as on phones I prefer Dolphin Browser to the default. Music works well enough, but at home I have a full speaker setup and when travelling I have better sounding, smaller PMP so it will likely get zero use. With a good front-facing camera it makes a really neat portable Skype device (slight volume issues notwithstanding) that doesn’t keep you stuck in one place. I can control my home theatre system with it as a giant remote, though in practice it’s only for browsing the library and selecting shows since a dedicated remote is swifter for quick actions.

Where does it fail? The tinny internal speaker is somewhat inevitable given the slim nature of tablets and, although it’s adequate for embedded news clips, even YouTube videos suffer. Hiding the power button and volume controls under the edge looks tidy, but they are positioned too closely so you’ll often find yourself accidentally turning off the screen and, depending on the current orientation, they can be hard to reach. Despite access to the PlayStation store, the lack of PS3 controller support is a real shame and means this just isn’t really a gaming device — at least until I can get OnLive running on it with a dedicated controller. Touch controls may be intuitive when games are specifically designed for them, but shipping with Crash Bandicoot was a mistake since it tends to be more frustrating than impressive. Fruit Ninja draws more excitement from visitors.

How do I find myself using it? Primarily it’s to check email and Facebook, and to browse IMDb while watching films, without having to fire up my laptop. I can see it slotting comfortably into my daily routine – checking email, news and weather when I wake up and before bed. These are all things I would otherwise do with my smartphone, but they are far more comfortable on the tablet. Watching a short videoclip while holding a tablet is fine but for anything longer you need to dock or balance it somewhere (and its asymmetry makes the Tablet S harder to prop up than others), whereas angling a laptop screen remains much more comfortable. When docked it can also serve admirably as a digital picture frame.

The deal-breaking moment for me was when I found myself reading an email on the tablet and then, wanting to respond in more than two sentences, I got up from the couch walked into my bedroom and typed the email out on the PC instead. SwiftKey Tablet X is a fantastic thumb-friendly predictive touchscreen keyboard designed for tablets, but it seems even that wasn’t enough.

Verdict: This is a  thoughtfully designed tablet and a worthy competitor to the other high-end products on the market. Beyond perhaps the internal speaker I have very little negative to say about the Tablet S by comparison to the competition. It seems there is a space for a tablet in my life but it is not “filling a need I didn’t know I had”. Ultimately it’s nice to fire up my laptop less frequently but £400 is still a lot of money for what a tablet does. Still, it’s a hell of a lot better than a netbook.

In closing, my personal views on tablets take nothing away from what Sony has produced and, if you are in the market for one, this is a model you ought to give serious consideration. However, I would highly recommend first holding one for yourself to decide whether its unique shape works for you.

The Professional

I have been impressed with the Philips vacuum cleaner I’ve had for a couple of years now, but with great suction comes great responsibility. Specifically, the responsibility of cleaning out its ridged star-shaped filter which becomes so densely packed with fine dust that the brush-based cleaning process can easily turn the surrounding area into something resembling an eerie grey-coated post-apocalyptic set. After nearly coughing up a lung last time, it’s fair to say I was questioning the sanity of this system. A few days later I finally decided that I do, in fact, live in the future. Accordingly, I was able to justify a purchase I had been toying with for some time: my first robot.

My long-standing desire for one of iRobot‘s Roombas was partly as an automated cleaning drone and partly as a pet (albeit one that picks up hair rather than shedding it). Because who doesn’t like watching TV and occasionally lifting their feet as their loveable friend scampers past? My disappointment was palpable when Sony cancelled production of the AIBO, its expensive robot dog aimed (one presumed) at Japanese executives, just before I started a job in which I could afford one. While they are still around, I suspect maintenance costs will soon become more astronomical that vetinary bills. Science fiction has long wondered whether humans will be able to accept robots into their lives but I think it’s simply a question of how young the concept is introduced as Japan is showing. As an avid sci-fi reader when a child, I am not only comfortable with the concept; I welcome it.

I ordered the latest Roomba 581 model which arrived within a few days. Selecting a name was a difficult process until I glanced across my film shelf and something caught my eye: Léon. The professional hitman euphemistically refers to his job as a “cleaner”, which seemed perfect. Yes, that’s how my mind works. After briefly consulting with the Internet, the name stuck. Léon has been great so far, aside from occasional navigation hiccup since our floors are not quite as uncluttered as would be ideal. However I have not yet set up the included system of virtual walls to assist with navigation between rooms. For those still confused about how the task can be automated: the Roomba has a front-mounted sensor so as it approaches any surface it slows and bumps gently against it before reorientating itself and continuing. Its pattern algorithm is designed to cover the same area a few times in a cleaning cycle. For a localised spillage, the spot cleaning function will cause it to spiral out and back in again in a one metre circle. So after a week I am not experienceing the buyer’s remorse I feared may follow and am thoroughly enjoying my new pet/robot. And I haven’t even started hacking it yet…

Also, since all insufferable new pet owners seem to do it, a collection of obligatory new pet photos seemed appropriate:

Passive Aggressive Housing

Those who lived with me at uni will recall my laptop tended towards the verbose, certainly for an inanimate object. Visitors’ responses varied between intrigued and irritated by its vocal notifications and instructions on what I was supposed to be doing. These days my tech is somewhat quieter but I remain firm in my plan one day to live in a house with which I can converse.

Yesterday Lev at work pointed out the following video. Ericsson has taken the concept of the Internet of Things (in which each individual device you own is independently Internet connected) and applied a social networking gloss in their vision of future. While anthropomorphising the communications between devices is probably a step too far, I’m rather perturbed by their passive aggressive house which appears to view its “mission” as manipulating its occupant into not communicating with other people. I can see my house ending up exactly like that.

What it does highlight is the inevitable interconnectedness of all devices in the future. This has always been something important to me, which Ben pointed out recently when responding to another visitor at a party who enquired incredulously whether I was controlling Windows on the TV through my phone. Ben explained, “you can assume any tech in Priyan’s flat talks to everything else, which,” he continued after a brief pause, “is why there isn’t anything from Apple.”

My objection to Apple is primarily that they stand firmly in the way of my vision of the future, in which every device can interact seamlessly and when one breaks I can replace it with the best available product, which will slot right into the existing ecosystem. Given that Apple (presumably) has little interest in manufacturing my fridge or microwave, will the tendency towards increasing interconnectivity force them to relax their restrictive nature? Or will they proceed on the assumption that market share will force others to make products specifically that support their devices?


It’s been almost a year since I shared the Android apps residing on my phone, and I figured it was time for an update. Android’s growth in that time has, after all, been unfathomably fast. Many are still there, but much has also changed. The biggest shift is that I’ve left the default HTC Sense version of Android behind, in favour of 3rd party ROMs (as Android is open source, the community will often provide more frequent updates than the handset manufacturers). The hybrid MIUI initially tempted me to root my phone but ultimately it was CyanogenMod, with the lure of the latest Gingerbread Android 2.3, that has stuck it out. As for the apps I’m now running, as before I’ll attempt to list them in approximate order to regularity/usefulness:

Swype revolutionised text entry on a touchscreen, and I cannot praise it highly enough. Unfortunately they are targeting OEMs rather than selling the app to consumers directly, but they have reopened free beta applications for those who want to give it a whirl. I doubt I could switch back.

Dolphin Browser HD and the newly released Firefox mobile are currently vying for dominance as my browser of choice. The latter brings desktop synchronisation, but still feels slightly sluggish compared to my existing favourite.

Jorte is easily the best calendar app available for Android, which will consolidate your Google calendar with Exchange and brings widgets in every conceivable configuration.

Tasker is designed for power users and essentially lets me automate my phone’s operation by setting conditions and results, with incredibly granular options. For example, it knows I’m in the office when it connects to the building’s wifi network and immediately switches to silent mode, reverting when I leave. It knows I’m in bed if it is plugged in at night, so it switches off all data traffic, reactivating it shortly before I wake so that any email is ready and waiting. Along with Swype, losing this would probably prevent me switching to another platform.

Dropbox, which everyone ought to use for cloud-syncing between machines, is the simplest way to swiftly move files to your phone without the hassle of cables.

Evernote has become increasingly central to the way I organise important or merely interesting information, and having it all at my fingertips on the move is ideal. Particularly business cards.

FoxyRing is so unobtrusive I actually forgot to include it in this list at first, simply running in the background and altering your ringer’s volume depending on the level of ambient noise.

SMS Backup+ I also forgot as it too runs quietly in the background, backing up SMS conversations to GMail so I can empty my phone but still keep the messages. It tags them with a separate label so they don’t clutter my inbox.

Remote Notifier ensures I never miss calls or messages at home when glued to a computer while my phone is in another room. Unobtrusive pop-ups let me know whatever my phone needs to tell me.

Kindle from Amazon makes your phone a viable e-reader (for short periods at least), with access to a range of free older books.

JuiceDefender keeps an eye on your phone’s data connectivity to maximise battery life, though with a dock on my desk at work this has become less of an issue.

WaveSecure may seem pricey at $20 per year, but it’s my security app of choice, allowing me to lock down my phone when lost and either locate or wipe it.

Pulse is a great news aggregator that presents stories in an attractive digital magazine style. You can select from a wide range of feeds in its collection, but the ability to connect to Google Reader makes bringing in your own a cinch. I have, however, experienced instability issues.

Google Goggles is a project from the labs that allows you to perform searches by snapping a photo. This can be merely to find the source of an image or more information about a product, but new features are continually added. It can now provide information on classic works of art, interpret QR codes and even solve Sudoku.

Fancy Widget is an integrated clock, date and weather widget for your main home screen, similar to that found in HTC’s Sense UI but more customisable.

Google Listen is its podcast app which, while perhaps not the prettiest UI, is still the best way to organise and consume your podcasts.

ShopSavvy hasn’t received as much use as I expected (partly because I now shop for media almost exclusively online) but the ease with which it scans barcodes and runs price comparisons makes it essential if you do find yourself in one of those archaic brick-and-mortar store.

mSpot, in contrast to other cloud music services now requiring payment, remains free and even bumped up storage to 5GB of your own music. It compresses uploads so that 5GB is larger — and lower in quality — than it sounds. My phone is certainly not my media player of choice, but it’s a nice fallback when my Cowon J3 is out of juice.

Vignette and Photoshop Express are my favourites for taking and editing photos respectively.

Short Post of No Consequence

Recent posts have been infrequent and, as a result, lengthier once I have both something about which to write and the time to do it. This means I have been reluctant to pad them out further with the usual assortment of links and asides that I’ve stumbled upon in my online travels. So here are the latest in a light-hearted Short Post of No Consequence.

  • The rotund plumber that still captures gamers’ imaginations, the original Super Mario has recently been reimagined both with modern sound effects and with a first person perspective.
  • Modern Times is a quietly pensive, attractively rendered, futuristic short.
  • Thwart facial detection with make-up (note: this trick doesn’t just prevent accurate face recognition; it prevents detection of a face at all).
  • The hilarious ninja-filled Nexus S unboxing video may the best one ever. After the video scroll down to grab the red ninja’s nunchaku…
  • Yes, it’s just a marketing video, but Corning’s A Day Made of Glass video is a gorgeous representation of technology that is, in many cases, virtually here. As soon as Microsoft finds a way to sell me that Surface table, anyway. While Corning naturally favours touch interfaces, I’ll admit apprehension at the loss of buttons in a car, since operation while moving will require taking one’s eyes of the road for far longer.
  • If you’re rocking one of the latest web browsers, using the HTML5 canvas to screw around with content on any site has become a recent trend in either Asteroids or Katamari flavours (the latter accompanied by the requisite ridiculously cheerful music too).
  • And finally, a Barbershop rendition of the Ewok celebration song. Because I can.

I take no responsibility for procrastination caused by the reading of this post.

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"Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2024 Priyan Meewella

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