Aibo – Mark II

I see that Sony have just announced a new version of Aibo, the robot dog.

I must admit I was rather taken with the first version of Aibo and half-seriously thought about getting one until Sony pulled the plug in January 2006.

This new version looks like a major advance, in that it will be connected to AI services in the cloud to power its learning capabilities. Of course, that probably also introduces all sorts of cybersecurity risks as well, so I hope Sony are prepared for the day when all the Aibos in the world rise up against their owners.

However, I think that if I were to get a second generation Aibo, Watson would not be best pleased, as shown in this test of a first generation Aibo in a Sony laboratory.

I suspect that Watson would make equally short work of an Aibo.

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Temptation

Yesterday I went to Arnhem to listen to a pair of the Kii Three speakers. They were being demonstrated in WiFi Media. They are a new product from a young company, and have had very good reviews in the audiophile press.

I have to admit that the speakers sounded very good. I’ve lived with a pair of Quad ESL57s for forty years (refurbished last year), and the Kii speakers were the first I’ve heard to make me think about a divorce.

I think if the Kiis were Roon Ready, I’d be signing papers. I asked about this, but Thomas Jansen, the Kii product manager, wouldn’t be drawn other than to say it would require a new model of the Kii Control to deliver this (and I’ve since heard that there is a rumour than a new control unit with expanded capabilities is under development).

I should probably sleep on the idea of selling all my Quad kit just at the moment, but I am rather tempted to ask for a home trial…

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Le Roi Est Mort – enfin

Belfiore 01So Microsoft has finally admitted that the Windows Phone (or more precisely, the Windows Mobile operating system) is frozen. And as befitting the times where formal policy statements are apparently no longer issued via press announcements, the news was delivered via a series of tweets from Joe Belfiore.

This may not be quite the same as saying that it’s dead – but that is how the news has been greeted by the technical press and the market. It may not be dead, but it’s certainly on life support, and Microsoft will finally switch it off in the not too distant future. There will be no new Windows Phone hardware, and Microsoft stopped manufacture of its last phones (the Lumia 950 and the Lumia 950XL) back in mid-2016.

The sad and sorry saga of Windows Phone and all the attempts at trying to craft the software and hardware are well covered by Peter Bright in his Ars Technica article.

I’ve been using a Windows Phone since December 2011, and I continue to love it. The user interface is still a joy in comparison with iOS or Android. However, it is undeniable that the market does not love Windows Mobile, and frankly, many of us continue to harbour the suspicion that neither did Microsoft. As Peter points out in his article, there have been fumbles and missteps made.

Up until now I’ve not been bothered by the limited number of apps available for the phone – I’ve always found an app to do what I want.

wp_ss_20171010_0003However, this month my bank has dropped its banking app from Windows 10 Mobile, and I now have to use the web browser to access the internet banking service. I personally find that this is not as good an experience as with the old app. I also am not impressed by the way the bank casually rubs salt into the wound by displaying the “update” button. If you click it, it doesn’t actually deliver an update. Basically, it’s more of a “tough shit” button.

I’ve also noticed a trend that for many new networked devices, they are increasingly reliant on being set up via a smartphone app, rather than via a web browser. And naturally, the app is only available for iOS and Android. Similarly for new services delivered via the internet – if there’s an app, there won’t be a version for Windows 10 Mobile.

So I fully expect that at some point in the (near?) future, there will be a device or service that I need that will force me to acquire an iPhone or Android phone to use it.

I really don’t look forward to that day. My current phone is a Lumia 950, and despite it being no longer manufactured, it still has advantages (to me) over the current range of Apple and Android phones. The camera, in particular, is still outstanding. And I have a spare battery waiting in the drawer for when my current battery runs out of puff. Replaceable batteries in smartphones are a rarity in these days of throwaway consumer goods.

As Peter Bright says in his article:

For now, all we can do is mourn: the best mobile platform isn’t under active development any more, and the prospects of new hardware to run it on are slim to non-existent.

As for me, I switched to an iPhone more than a year ago. Every day, I’m struck at how the main user interface is basically that of Windows 3.1’s Program Manager, and iOS 11 has been fantastically unstable for me. I don’t enjoy iOS in the way I enjoyed Windows Phone. But it’s actively developed, and third-party developers love it, and, ultimately, those factors both win out over Windows Mobile’s good looks and comfortable developer platform.

I get the distinct impression that Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, is much more focused on the business world and cloud services than on consumer devices.  Windows Phone has just joined Zune, Microsoft Band, the KIN phone, Windows RT, the Surface Mini, and Windows Home Server on the scrapheap.

Addendum: Peter Bright has followed up with an article titled: With the end of Windows on phones, how does Microsoft avoid being the next IBM?

It’s a damn good question. IBM is totally irrelevant these days as far as consumers are concerned. Microsoft seems hell-bent on heading the same way. In ten years time, will people be asking: Windows? What is Windows?

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A Stranger in a Strange Land

Joris Luyendijk is a Dutchman who has been living in Britain for the last six years, writing articles for the Guardian. He is a writer, journalist and anthropologist, specialising in Arab and Islamic countries.

He’s recently written an article in the Prospect magazine, provocatively titled: “How I learnt to loathe England”. It’s a good article (i.e. I mostly agree with his analysis). One thing that at first surprised me was that he supports Brexit (I don’t), but as he says:

…by the time the referendum came, I had become very much in favour of the UK leaving the EU. The worrying conditions that gave rise to the result—the class divide and the class fixation, as well as an unhinged press, combine to produce a national psychology that makes Britain a country you simply don’t want in your club.

And that was a novel perspective; the reaction that the EU might well be better off without Britain: good riddance, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out… There may well be something to be said for that stance.

As I head on into my twilight years, the possibility that I will end up living here alone in the depths of the Dutch countryside becomes real, if I outlive Martin. In such circumstances, I may well end up as a “stranger in a strange land”, but quite honestly, I think I would prefer that to a return to what England seems to be becoming.

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Amsterdam Weeps

Here’s one of the tributes to van der Laan, performed in one of the nightly talkshows on Dutch TV, “The World Keeps on Turning”. I’ve done a (shaky) translation of the text that’s on the page:

The original song is from 1964, written by Kees Manders and sung by Rika Jansen. It was rewritten for us by F. Starik and is sung by Glennis Grace, born in the Jordaan (a district in the centre of Amsterdam), together with a mixed choir consisting of The Swans Choir, The Army of Salvation Amsterdam Staff Songsters, and The Choir of the National Opera.

 Text: Amsterdam cries text F. Starik.

 As a father you stood for the city of Amsterdam
for whomever was rich or poor, every woman, every man
from the Bijlmermeer to me at the corner.

 As a father, you stood up for us all
for the homeless guy, come but outside
then we get up – I have fire in my head

 As a mayor with a heart for the city,
for everyone a clap on the shoulder, a hand on the heart
and sometimes there was a late hour
when you turned the tables on a joker

 Amsterdam weeps where once it laughed
Amsterdam weeps, now it feels the pain
Amsterdam weeps where once it laughed
Amsterdam weeps, because the fun has gone

 as a father you stood for the city of Amsterdam
for Nouri, Ajax, for kutmarokkanen and Surinamese and
the angry white man –

 As the friend that you were, Eberhard van der Laan,
for city council, for the junks and the whores
and that it will all go well

 thanks man, for everything, though you go too early
and awkward as it sounds from many pubs, you were there for us
you carried us, you were like a father,
how we will miss you, you who bore us

 Amsterdam weeps where once it laughed
Amsterdam weeps, now it feels the pain
Amsterdam weeps where once it laughed
Amsterdam weeps, because the fun is gone.

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Paying Tribute to a Public Servant

Eberhard van der Laan, the mayor of Amsterdam, died yesterday. Everyone has been paying tribute to him. This news story says that flags throughout the city were flown at half-mast today. Actually, flags were flown at half-mast throughout the whole country.

He will be missed.

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Public Service

Some officials know what public service means and fulfil their duties to the best of their abilities, serving the public good. And the people react accordingly.

Eberhard van der Laan, you’ve set an example to us all.

Posted in News and politics, Society | 1 Comment