Hey google, read me this page out for me?

I won’t lie, I’m pretty impressed again with Google when it comes to text to speech and speech to text. Like Robby, my use of Google Assistant may also sky rocket.

My regular, daily use of the Google Assistant is likely to skyrocket with this new feature that was just rolled out: the ability to read any web page aloud. Whether or not this sounds awesome to you in this moment, just go with me for a second as we unpack what is going on here and why it will likely be incredibly useful for many.

At its most basic, this new feature does exactly what you expect. It allows the Google Assistant to simply read web pages aloud to you in a natural-sounding voice with a nice cadence. Pauses for commas and periods are dictated the way you’d expect and the decidedly-digital voice sounds very natural. The Assistant reads off the title, the author, and then begins to read through the entire article, highlighting each word spoken along the way.

But it gets better. Way better. When you start a reading session, the entire thing happens in a dedicated media player that gives you options to play/pause, skip ahead or back, and change the playback speed from 0.5x all the way up to 3x. On top of that, the player behaves just like any other media player in that it provides the ability to continue playing when the screen is locked and gives you a rich notification with playback controls as well. This allows you to start up the reader for a long article and go about doing something else while the Assistant reads the entire thing to you. I will 100% start using this for my daily walks or when driving to ingest news that I would otherwise put off in hopes of finding time to read later.

Even better is the fact that websites don’t need anything special in place to take part in all this. No extra code, no tags, no meta data: the Assistant can read any web page unless the web developer for that site has included the proper meta tag that disallows this. I’m sure there are fringe cases where this would be needed, but I’d assume most sites you visit will be readable by the Google Assistant out of the box.

Its very impressive, and my only issues are not being able to read text out of other apps like wallabag or tiny tiny rss. Not being able to playlist a number of pages for reading. Also using Chrome is a bit of a pain (I tried to do this in Firefox for example)

 

Is the pixel 4 worth it?

My Google Pixel 4 battery stats

I was reading through my feed and saw this review of the Pixel4 4 moths later.If I was to write a review of the Pixel 4 months later, I would have some choice words to say. Many more than what I originally wrote.
BatteryThe Pixel 4 battery is weird. For example I’m on 43% and it will last till 9:30am tomorrow morning. However a few weeks ago I looked at my phone and noticed it was on 5% and I have no understanding why?
Generally I only charge it when I’m sleeping, but its only been 4-5 months. I think it might be one of the only phones I might need to replace the battery of in 18 months.There is hope of a ultra low power mode, which if its like Doze could be a game changer.SoliI have to echo the reviewer, as its sums it up and I turned it off except when using the Face ID.

For several years, Google has been working on Project Soli: a radar-based sensor system allowing a device to sense gestures with utmost precision. Fancy videos of the system in action show how virtual dials and buttons can be controlled effortlessly by the snap or flick of a finger. No touching the phone required.

The Pixel 4 and 4 XL are the first two phones to ship with Google’s radar-based system – and it’s bad on so many levels. First of all, its use is extremely limited. With a wave over the screen you can skip songs, mute alarms, or play with your Pokemon live wallpaper. That’s it, really.

To make things worst I turned off active edge and other sensing things as its just not important for me. Weirdly enough every few times I pick up my Pixel4 it vibrates.

Is it worth it?

Well its a good phone but a lot of the features have made it down to the Pixel 2. The Cameras are great but should I have waited for the Pixel 5 or 4A? I do feel I maybe should have replaced the battery on my Pixel 2 and maybe waited…

And where the **** is my Chromebook, Google?!pixeloffer chromebook statusI’m pretty annoyed about the Pixel4 chromebook offer. It was meant to come a little later after buying the Pixel4 but its been 4-5 months!

A unscientific test: 90hz displays does it matter

I found this from Android Authority pretty good, I turned off 90hz display on my Google Pixel 4 ages from day one to help with the battery life. Its likely my good eyes would tell the difference but is it worth more than the battery life of the phone?

I think not… of course the comments begs to differ…

The Google Pixel 4 battery needs some help

89% battery on my Pixel4

There is a lot of discussion about the lack of battery for the Google Pixel 4. To be fair its been pretty good to me, but its certainly not the same type of battery life of my pixel2 or nokia8 which lasted a few days at ease.

More details about the battery use
Fedilab what the?

The picture above is with Wifi, Bluetooth (with my pebble, motiv ring attached), NFC,  KDEconnect, dark mode and most of the apps I run daily.

To be fair I don’t use the screen much, relying on my pebble watch, KDEconnect for some interactions.

34% battery on my Pixel4

After a day of usage, I end up with 34% but it claims to last till 8:15 if I decided to keep it going, however I think that would drop massively with my sleep tracking.

Its all workable right now but I do hope they will drop the high refresh rate in favor of better battery life? Its super slick but I was happy with my Pixel2, so I’m not so bothered about higher refresh rates.

As I talk about the Pixel4… here’s a few things which I have done.

I turned off the radar ambient stuff because I found it annoying, so it won’t do the face unlock till I press the power button on the side. As usual I turn off the ambient display because like notification lights/sounds its annoying. The Face unlock is stupidly fast and its worked in almost every single scenario including a pitch black room with no lights. I do find the no eyes quite scary as I do take security pretty seriously and find Google’s lockdown not the most workable thing but its a stopgap. I do wish there was a fingerprint option or something to fill the void between the two, as typing in passwords each time is quite painful, especially when I have some stupid length passwords.

Expect more about the Pixel4 soon…

 

iPhone XR ad promotes smartphone addiction as a way of life?

Found via Hannah while working away, Latest iPhone XR ad promotes smartphone addiction as a way of life, and that’s bad
I hadn’t seen these Apple adverts but yes this isn’t good and strange for a company who was pushing for time well spent a while ago.

If you are affected by any of this, I would recommend having a look at my guide to take control of your smartphone and likely improve your phone and personal batteries

Death of conversation

smartphone addiction illustrations cartoons with couple at cafe dinner

I found the piece with 57 Images Of How Smartphones Take Over Our Lives, a fun but also slightly tragic read.

Modern technology has undoubtedly improved our lives in many ways – from curing what used to be terminal illnesses to space explorations, we all must agree that life without technologies seems quite impossible now. Though the technologies make living more comfortable, they are also the culprit of many social issues, with smartphone addiction being the top one.

Its something I’ve written about in the past quite a bit… Smartphones are the new cigarettes, tips for deadling with your smartphones Tamagotchi where the future went wrong? and more…

Computational photography, wow?

Dublin

I recently got the night shot upgrade on my pixel 2 smartphone.  Just as I got the chance to give it a try in Dublin (I only noticed it in Dublin).

As a Nikon D3200 digital SLR user, I’ve had a lot of respect for the lens, manual controls, etc… But the promise of computation photography is quite impressive.

Trinity College Dublin at night

Computational photography takes a swarm of data from images or image sensors and combines it algorithmically to produce a photo that would be impossible to capture with film photography or digital photography in its more conventional form. Image data can be assembled across time and space, producing super-real high-dynamic range (HDR) photos–or just ones that capture both light and dark areas well…

…But as much as computational photography has insinuated itself into all major smartphone models and some standalone digital cameras, we’re still at the beginning.

The images are pretty great  but thats only the start…

The coming developments will allow 3D object capture, video capture and analysis for virtual reality and augmented reality, better real-time AR interaction, and even selfies that resemble you more closely.

The idea of the smartphone capturing much more than just the light and sound is something very different from a DSLR cameras, and I don’t just mean a lytro light-field thing.  Understanding whats in the viewfinder, where it is, what angle, what material, etc, ect clearly puts them into a different category? To be fair my DSLR doesn’t even capture the location which is annoying when sorting out pictures later, for example finding the pictures from when I first went to Berlin in 1999.

There is a slight concern about using cloud based computational power. But with the pixel devices there is a special onboard chip providing local processing. This seems to be the way forward right now, although I heard others are hoping to do it via a 5G connection on a server. I can see half see why to do it, but as computational photography increases the load on the server will force companies to charge fees for server capacity. Expect extra charges added to your smartphone bill? Thats not including the costs of sending the data (but luckily the costs are dropping on this).

Its fascinating area but I wonder how much actual data will be shared with the creator/user? How much will be addressable by applications/services? Will it be locked up or funnelled out to the manufacturer, for their benefit only? I also wonder if computational photography plays havoc with the notion of the original untouched image?

Updated… Its clear although I’ve been talking about Computational photography, it should actually be called Computational capture.

Its the Tamagotchi where the future went wrong?

My Tamagotchi is everything that went wrong with our future

Is one of those articles you read and shake your head realising the hard truth and how right it is…

The Tamagotchi offers the option to turn off the sound. But if I turn it off, I’ll miss the notifications and accidentally kill my hateful son. At this point, I’ve kept him alive for so long, I’d feel too guilty to pull the plug on my virtual spawn.

And anyway, what’s one more beeping annoyance in my life? The Tamagotchi is just another red dot for me to clear off yet another screen. At least this one doesn’t monetize my engagement through targeted advertising.

My smartphone, I’ve realized, is also a Tamagotchi. My laptop is a Tamagotchi. My tablet is a Tamagotchi. These new Tamagotchis have nicer screens and more than three buttons, but more importantly, they’re hooked into much more elaborate guilt trips. Now it‘s not just a virtual pet at stake; it’s my friends, my family, and my work being held hostage in order to keep me pressing these stupid buttons.

My favorite new development in our terrible Tamagotchi future? The “digital well-being” trend to “fix” smartphone “addiction.” More Tamagotchi buttons, so my Tamagotchis can stay alive longer.

Terrifying vision of the future, by looking at the past… no idea why it persisted in its different forms honestly…

The realm of third-party trackers on Android

Luman android root cert

I was excited to learn about Lumen Privacy Monitor, as I’ve always wondered about the apps I have installed even when I have restricted the permissions wanted from the installed app.

New research co-authored by Mozilla Fellow Rishab Nithyanand explores just this: The opaque realm of third-party trackers and what they know about us. The research is titled “Apps, Trackers, Privacy, and Regulators: A Global Study of the Mobile Tracking Ecosystem,” and is authored by researchers at Stony Brook University, Data & Society, IMDEA Networks, ICSI, Princeton University, Corelight, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“This is the start of a long project to uncover all the hidden data collection and data dissemination practices on the internet,” Nithyanand explains.

“There’s a huge lack of transparency around how mobile applications behave,” adds Narseo Vallina-Rodriguez, a co-author and researcher at ICSI. “People install software, but don’t know what that software is doing.”

The paper’s introduction lays out a troubling scenario: “Third-party services inherit the set of application permissions requested by the host app, allowing them access to a wealth of valuable user data, often beyond what they need to provide the expected service.”

To study this scenario, the researchers used Lumen Privacy Monitor, an Android app they built themselves over a two-year period.

So I installed it just to see what was going on with my Android devices. But there is a problem… Best summed up in this comment from Wcat.

Not open source? TLS interception? Before you install this stop and think about TLS interception. “Those who would trade privacy for security deserve neither.”

Luman asks for permissions to install its own root certificate, and this deeply worries me. TLS inception isn’t a trivial thing to be honest, I know its needed but it had me questioning how I really want to monitor the apps? Also if I remove the app, will the certificate be removed too/how would I know?

Right now, I’m keeping an eye on the app but haven’t installed the root cert yet.

Why oh why Vero?

Mastodon

Something is rising in the public consciousness around the social network apps we are using. Be it due to the changes in Snapchat, the massive turd which is facebook messenger (I’m using the lite version with locked down permissions) or Instagram algorithm changes.

There was a opportunity to move people away from these networks (at least in mobile) but what happened? The media and people started suggesting the use of another proprietary closed sourced startup app… this one called Vero.

I’m unsure like a lot of people, what pushed Vero to the forth front at the right time but i have to give them some credit with picking the right moment?

Ideally I’d like to see systems like Mastodon pushed forward but I think there are lessons which can be learned from Vero’s push into the limelight. Because although Vero’s end user licence looks barely reasonable right now, you have no idea when it will change or/and it will be come a roach motel just like the ones people are unhappy with now…

Maybe its not too late… ? Or its time to start thinking about the next opportunity? I certainly think it can be done, you only have to look at the way the Mastodon community made it easy for avid twitter users to shift over. Whats needed now is user experience expertise around the apps to expose the advantage of Mastodon to the user without over-loading or intimating. Aral talks about the lack of focus on the user experience and in this case, he’s dead right.

Its all for the taking; expose the natural benefits of Mastodon to the user and make them a key part of the experience.

Quantifying my attention across devices

Rescue Time in Jan 2018My frustration with tracking my smartphone use, the apps permissions and data use; drove me back to rescue time.

I decided it’s time to combine the time I spend on different devices together in a sensible way. Previously I had used rescue time even with the bulk collection of personal data a worry. But a long time ago there was no sensible rescue time tracker/scrobbler for Linux. I remember trying the early betas and not being impressed at all.

So coming back years later I was happy to see a scrobbler on every platform including android and Linux. Not even a tgz but a deb package which is easy as pie on Ubuntu. After installing it and recovering my old account; I was up and going quickly. It doesn’t use much resources on android or Linux and sits quietly in the background.

The breakdown is impressive and making changes to the categories makes things very interesting. For example here’s Monday time (bear in mind I was ill in the morning but you can see once I was awake, I was off and running)

RescueTime - Categories 10 jan

I also have Hamster time data which I can combine if I like to really understand and drill down.

My hamstertime data for 8th JanIt might seem like overkill but as most of this is automated, theres little I need to do.

Beds with USB and Bluetooth

https://www.flickr.com/photos/39908901@N06/8355672587

Theres an advert on UK TV these holidays about a bed with USB ports. Of course this isn’t anything too exciting as there have been beds with Bluetooth for a while. But it got me thinking about a quote (which I can’t find now) but roughly goes…

“The aim of smartphone apps like facebook is to be the first thing you look at when waking up. Levels of success are measured by how long you spend in bed not moving just consuming.” – Power phrased….

Wish I could find the original quote because its sounded even more scary than what I could remember. Ideal ways to never deal with your smartphone addiction.

 

Goodbye Nexus 5x?

I left my flat Thursday heading for a train to York. Turning on my bluetooth headphones I noticed my Nexus 5x wasn’t connecting. One look at my phone and I noticed the screen was off. So I turned it back on and noticed the bootloader loop I had heard so much about.

While I made my way to York University, I tried multiple times to turn it on using different methods and it was in the taxi when I could actually type in my code to unlock the storage. Of course once it rebooted, it was back to the loop again. I also remember at some point watching the boot loader animation throw a error message which I wasn’t quick enough to snap. But I do remember it saying the storage was corrupt and it needed servicing?

By the time I was home again, it was dead. No matter how much I held down the buttons nothing would happen. I charged it up but there was no lights. Luckily I still have my Nexus 5 with the messed up screen, I had also thought about switching to the Google Pixel 2, but at £629 for the 64gig version, I just can’t bring myself to hit order (its a serious load of money especially since my Nexus 5x was £200) especially since I wasn’t sure if I would be in Manchester to actually get it. I had not realised it not actually officially available yet!

In the end after working with my Nexus 5 for a day, I decided to get the Pixel 2 with 128gig and buy it from Carphone warehouse only because I can pick it up from Manchester or London if needed. Just he last 24hours has made realise how much I use my phone for things like Monzo, 2 factor auth and much more. In the meanwhile I’l struggle through with the minimum number of apps on my Nexus 5 & 7.

I may attempt to un-brick my Nexus 5x when I got more time and in our R&D lab with the right tools. But seeing how I was waiting for the Pixel 2, I guess its time really.

Is silicon valleys dystopia the public sectors utopia?

I was listening to the start of This week in Tech on Monday morning as they talked about the Guardian piece titled Smartphone addiction, Silicon valley dystopia and other related stories. I couldn’t help but feel something was missing from the discussion.

The discussion focused on how to solve some of the points about unethical attention manipulation, filter bubbles, smartphone addiction, etc; all from an North American point of view. There was a sense if this was left to the government to regulate it would be a very bad thing but they were searching for a middle ground and failing. They acknowledged companies need to make money and making their services addictive/sticky is a part of this, but there was a feeling there has to be something in the middle?

Of course they never mention the public sector, as it doesn’t really factor? Its very binary and thinking about it, even in Tristan’s essay there is little notation of the middle ground.

I wonder if silicon valleys dystopia could be the public sectors utopia? However if the message is North American, it’s very unlikely to include anything about the public sector, just governments and business?

Quantifying your smartphone usage mentioned recently

There’s a recent BBC documentary titled Secrets Of Silicon Valley, its not a bad watch at all. In part 2, the presenter installs an app to see how much time he spends on his phone through out the day. Very similar to what happened at the Quantified Self 2017 conference, but even I almost coked on my tea when the final figure of over 5 hours was announced for the day.

My monthly smartphone usage

Looking at my own usage, over the last month I spent 19hrs 1minute over 384 pickups, looking at my mobile phone.

I admit this is so very low in comparison to others.

By the way I’m still looking for a decent way to do this without abundance of features, battery use and in a data ethical way.