22 March, 2012

Computer people: Movies vs Real Life

There is this thing that has been bugging me for the past years.
We all like watching movies about hackers, forensic science movies and TV series. But the thing is: every single one of them portrays us, "computer people", differently from what we are and what we do.
Let's take one of the most popular TV series, CSI, and see how much they are wrong.

So to get this straight, they are creating a GUI interface using Visual Basic to track an IP.
Now let's explain the terms for people that are less compute-literate:
- GUI = Graphical User Interface, which is pretty much whatever you see in an application: the design, the windows, etc.
- Visual Basic = a widely used programming language, from Microsoft.
- IP = Internet Protocol address, which is a numerical label attached to all computers in a network that is pretty much used for addressing and identifying a computer.

Sure, you can make an application in Visual Basic, that uses a GUI, and can track an IP. but you can do the same thing from the console using the PING command, which is pretty much what every "computer person" that knows what an IP is, will do.\

Now, analyzing the sentence, we firstly see evidence of RAS Syndrome ( Redundant Acronym Syndrome Syndrome :P) when they use "GUI interface" because the acronym GUI actually contains Interface.
The whole sentence is also a malapropism and it made every single person that knows a bit more about computers, laugh their ass off when they saw the scene.
A very good metaphor for it would be: "I will write a letter using a crayon so I can order a pizza". Sure you can do it, but does it make any sense to you? No? Exactly. The original sentence makes the same amount of sense to us as well.

Other movies doing the same kind of errors would be:
- Independence Day:   using an old Mac to hack into an alien mothership and infect it with a virus is so out of the ballpark I won't even discuss it. Although, it was a really cool story for how aberrant in was. You can read a very good article about it, here.
- Die Hard: with a very good 3-panel comic from Penny Arcade

Also, two more funny comics about hacking in movies:
First one from XKCD:
 and the second one from SMBC:
And one last question I have: if we see problems like these in all computer related scenes, I wonder how doctors look at House M.D, Royal Pains or even E.R., how lawyers look at Boston Legal, Suits and Law & Order. Any doctor or lawyer care to enlighten us?

16 March, 2012

Copyright mathematics

Keeping in time with all the recent proposed copyright laws( SOPA and ACTA), you have here a funny and interesting take on "copyright mathematics".


It show how much the MPAA/RIAA make up the numbers they show the public, like money and jobs lost. Some of them are actually ridiculous, like having lost 373.000 jobs in the media industry, when they didn't have more than 300.000 jobs in 1998.

Now my take on piracy. I do not agree with it, because people work hard for their creations and deserve being rewarded for that. But not under the terms of the media industry(publishers, record labels, etc). What we do want, is an up-to-date distribution system, with free previews, like it happens in the other types of sales, and a little more respect (stop limiting content to a few regions in the world).

It's the information  era, it's really easy to pay over the internet for stuff, wherever you are, so act up and offer better services if you want to receive our money. iTunes is a really nice step forward, but it's still region limited due to the restrictions imposed by the record labels and it could do with some improvements.

I used to pirate stuff (and to be honest I still pirate TV series, just because we can't get from the Netflix where I live and we get them month and sometimes years after they are first on TV) but I started buying pretty much everything I use: games, music and even movies. The are a lot easier to buy, with the help of Gamersgate, Steam, Origin, iTunes, Zonga, Beatport and pretty much every retail company that offers movie DVDs. 

15 March, 2012

A few short gaming news

1. The official release date for Diablo 3 was announced today, and it's gonna be in 2 months, on the 15th of May. Also pre-orders are opened now on Blizzard's website for 59.99 / 59.99$.
There will also be a retail-exclusive Collector's Edition, packaged with the full game, a behind-the-scenes Blu-ray/DVD set, a soundtrack CD, an art book, and full copies of Diablo II and its expansion pack, for $100( or for us "rich" europeans).
I, being the epitome of impulse buys,  just got it earlier.

 2. Rift are having a new offer for the 1 year subscription: $99 or 79 €, which is actually a very large reduction in price (49% from the month-to-month one). It's a really good buy because judging by the last year, they offer the proper updates and expansions a AAA MMORPG deserves. 
Check out the main content for their next patch (1.8) and judge by yourself if it's worth it or not. 

They also have a lite version of the game, if you just want to try it out. Sign-up here (with a referrer link from me).

3. Finally an exciting mainstream development in cloud computing: http://www.gaikai.com
They offer Java streaming of normal PC games, in your browser, on Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, etc. Sounds like a very good idea and it might start the trend towards more cloud computing in the consumer market.And it also has the potential to make the Chrome-books as a viable lightweight, cheap gaming system. 
Didn't manage to test it yet, as it seems that my work internet connection isn't good enough, but I'll add some updates as soon as I get home and run a few games in the cloud.

Sources: Rift website, Joystiq.

14 March, 2012

Dacia - an example to be followed

If it was before 2000 and I wouldn't have been writing this article. Why?
Because Dacia was in one of the worst situations a car maker can be:
- no financial backing;
- antiquated production facility;
- a lack of proper and modern cars.

Surely, this should have been the end. But this didn't happen, because Renault bought the company and they started investing heavily in it.
 But this is not special in any way. The special part came after that, in the form of marketing campaigns.
My studies are not at all related to marketing or economics, but it doesn't take a MBA to see how effective the strategy was.
Firstly, they started the hype when they announced the Logan. A new and relatively modern car for less than 6000 euros was not heard of before this.
It stirred the waters in the automotive industry and this was the first step towards proper brand awareness and recognition.  
Next, they went on and capitalized on the new platform and car, by making the Logan MCV, Logan Van and the Logan Pick-up, all of them using the same philosophy: cheap and modern car.
When they wanted to launch the next car, they made a really inspired ad campaign on the most watched car show in the world: Top Gear. I'm sure every single Top Gear fan remembers the "Great News" gags.

These are not the only marketing campaigns that they started:
- the Logan Cup series (a Dacia Logan only rally competition) which also ran a round on Bucharest Ring during the FIA GT racing weekend.
- raced the Dacia Duster and Lodgy Glace in the Andros Trophy (a winter rally racing series)
- raced the Dacia Duster "No Limit" in the famous Pikes Peak Hill Climb (finishing 3rd after Tajima's Monster and Rhys Millen)
 And the result of all this?

Dacia is in the top 10 best selling cars in a lot of important markets:
- Russia (Logan - 6th in February 2012 )
- Romania (Logan - 1st, Duster - 2nd in February 2012)
- Brazil (Sandero - 10th in February 2012)
Good ranking in most european markets as well, with the Duster and the Logan consistently in the top 50, with large increases compared to January.
Also very good results in 2011:
26th : Duster - 141,961 units
64th : Sandero - 71,646 units
89th : Logan - 48,553 units
This amounts to 262,160 cars sold only in Europe (~343,000 worldwide), more than the total sales in every year until to 2009.
Also, only 5,000 units decrease(348,723 units sold in 2010, worldwide) in sales during 2011 is a great performance, considering the whole financial situation of the world.
We're looking forward to see what the new Dacia Logan will look like(as this is the logically, then next car to be revealed by them) and how will the new Lodgy will perform in 2012.

13 March, 2012

Self improvement

No, I'm not talking about crappy not-even-worth-the-paper-they're-printed-on books.
A few days ago, I've stumbled upon a very interesting post here. It's about what advice you would give to a 10 year older self.
I realize that it won't apply to everyone, but from my point of view, we have some important life tips over here.

Here are my top 3 picks. If you go with them, you'll be more than fine in your life (provided that you don't go crazy before ).
#10 – For the most part, what others think doesn’t matter.
This is, in my opinion, by far the most important. You cannot live your life expecting to make everyone happy. It cannot be done. Better people have tried it and they failed. 
You need to set your priorities straight in life,  what do you want to do, who do you want to spend the rest of your life with, etc, and then you can know who's opinion really matters. Life is not a closed circle. People enter and exit your affection zone, so try not to waste your attention on those that don't deserve it.
And as long as you're happy with yourself, you are on the right road.

#8 – Nobody knows what you’re thinking unless you tell them.
Communication. Really, really, really important. You need a raise, you have problems in your relationship, you have a huge crush on really pretty lady?  Then go talk to them - your boss, your girlfriend, your crush, whoever -.  Keeping it to yourself won't help at all. Nobody can read minds, no matter how much they advertise it. :P

#4 – Invest in yourself.
The best investment there is. Learn a new programming language, learn a new skill, learn a foreign language, etc. It will prove it's worth in the long run. New skills are always marketable, whether you're looking for a job or a girlfriend.
Advantages in job hunting:  
- the immediately visible one: the more skills you have, the more chances of finding a job you get.
- shows the employer that you can learn new things and that you're open to discover new things
- makes you less expendable if you can do more than one thing in the company. Versatility is and will always be a plus. 

The rest are also important, and I recommend you to read it all on the original post.

05 March, 2012

An interesting take on mobile app quality

I've found this interesting infographic in a recent newsletter from uTest(a software testing service website - pretty much the "go to" place for independent testers or small startups in need of testing for their apps) and I thought I could try to discuss it and explain the part where there are discrepancies between the two mobile operating systems.

 Let's start with the beginning: 
  • The number of apps crawled is not that relevant as long as the number is large enough so there is no reason to talk about it.
  • I'm not so sure about that small number of comments for the iPhone Apps, but then again, the Apple App Store is built differently from the Android Market: 
1. It's different for every country so the number of reviews on the app store is only determined by the store that was crawled by the bot (most likely the US store). On Android Market the comments and apps are the same for all countries.
2. Default view on Apple App Store is "Reviews on the last version" while the default for Android is "Reviews for all versions."
  •  Average rating is similar for both stores so no real surprise here.
  • Average price is higher on App Store. Why?  The registration fee for Android Market is 4 times smaller than the one for Apple Developer Program. The price tiers are fixed on the App Store while on the Android Market they are way more flexible. And on top of that, it's a decision made by each publisher. They seem to think that an iOS user pays more for an application and apparently, they are correct. 
  • Max price is irrelevant. 

Now, let's analyze some of the app categories that show discrepancies between platforms:
 Games: this is by far the biggest discrepancy. More than half a point is a lot. Why is this?
Well... it's hard to say but in my opinion the fragmentation of Android is the most important factor. I've low rating from users because their phones are not supported by the apps, because the apps are not that well implemented for their phones/tablets. It's a lot harder to make an app that works on most Android devices than it is to make one for all iOS devices (simply because there are more of them).

Health & Medical: small  advantage for iOS, but I think it can be explained by the fact that iOS users are more health conscious (it's widespread knowledge that Android appeals to the more than average technical user and iOS to people with above average income), and the apps are more easily made on iOS to suit them.

Navigation: medium advantage for Android here, most likely due to the increased screen size (which makes navigation apps a lot more useful), the larger number of devices with GPS (iPads, for example, do not have a GPS module).

 Weather & Tools: Medium to large advantage for Android. I'm going to add these both in the same category because the underlying  cause is the same here: iOS is a closed system, compared to Android.   iOS developers have less access (mostly none)  to system information, settings, etc than Android users. For tools, it's hard to make an useful tool for iOS (most of the ones from the App Store are battery charge estimators), when you don't have access to modify or even read system settings. For weather apps, the lack of widget capability is clearly a drawback for iOS, as weather apps aren't apps an user wants to click, open and close. They want a widget, similar to the HTC Sense one, that shows the weather at a glance.

Going on to the last part of the infographic and probably the most interesting one for developers:

Install problems: Here, the Andoid fragmentation shows it's ugly head again. With so many different devices and Android OEM mods (like Sense, Motoblur and the rest) a lot of issues slip through the cracks, leading to installation problems.

Pricing: as it seems, the most important complaint on iOS. Can't say I disagree with it, though, if we compare the prices on iOS and Android with prices on handheld game consoles(like the PS Vita or the Nintendo 3Ds), there shouldn't be so many reasons to complain about the price. I admit, there are publishers with ridiculous prices on their apps (like Square Enix for example), but the most bought apps and games the the $0.99 ones. 

Performance: Same issue again, fragmentation. The quality of hardware and software modifications on Android devices is appalling, if you go out of the normal range of Android sellers: Samsung, Motorola, HTC, LG and even Sony.  Variations in GPU's, in CPU's, in SD Card quality... all of this makes it hard for a developer to optimize.

Crashes and hangs: Same, same issue. I'm gonna stop talking about fragmentation and start looking at some of the numbers from iOS. What might make some people wander is the really small amount of  "hang" issues, but in fact, it's relatively easy. This is how the iOS is built. It's built not to have apps hang. It has relatively low timeouts, closing the apps when they stop responding for a fair amount of  time. It's harder for the users to spot these hangs and it has a proper reason for this: making the system look more fluid. Every iOS users that I've talked to made this as the deciding factor when they bought their device:  the smoothness of the system.

UI Controls: Here, the screen size for the Apple devices (let's exclude tablets from this discussion) is a drawback. It's harder to design the UI and the controls to match a smaller screen, than it is to design them for a Xperia Play or a Galaxy S II.

Security and privacy: This mostly to the perception of the users, and it's not relevant as both systems have had and will have problems with security and privacy. See Carrier IQ, Android Malware, iPad 2 Smart Cover hack, etc.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this and thanks to uTest for this really interesting graphic.