Friday, December 30, 2011

Get your Facebook network visualized (properly and without anyone stealing your data)

Many of you who read this have had a blob like this created to "visualize" your network of facebook friends:

In my opinion, hideous and useless. When you could have something scalable, informative and beautiful like this:

I'd like to briefly tell you how to get your own graph like that. Because it is so much more flexible it has not been packaged as easily accessible as myFnetwork, but connect with me and I can guide you or show you how it's done through screen sharing.

  1. Download the data necessary, through the netvizz app
  2. Install the Gephi application (available for most platforms) to crunch and style the data
  3. Export to PDF to explore and enjoy, or even print your own nerdy large-format poster. Done!
The details of how to use Gephi are in this tutorial (or this, the tutorial is more convoluted but it's a generally more interesting site).

From my friends network you can intuitively see a number of interesting things, it's a sort of picture of my social life. If tweaked and run according to different parameters (interests, gender, other groups) the sky is the limit for what you can discover using such statistical tools. They can tell things about your group, or people you want to learn about - I keep some of my experiments in this gallery.

Now, I can't tell for sure why apps like myFnetwork only give you such a hideous result, but I have been told that the prime motivation for providing any small facebook apps like that is to access and resell your information. Facebook in themselves are marginally better keepers of it, and in principle netvizz (the app I use to download the data) may be as bad too, but at least they don't give me bullshit trinkets which are supposed to keep me happy and attract attention from my connections.

LinkedIn also created a similar visualization they call inmaps - much nicer though and they don't run it off Gephi but borrowed everything from it's style. My professional graph you can see here. My idol Joi Ito has a great video having it demonstrated to him personally here:

What are you waiting for? Be the big brother and process the information you have access to, I for sure intend to further experiment with these things, so stay posted!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The love for meaningless things (GBC, Rube Goldberg machines and Transport Tycoon)

Our work spam list (yeah, we have one of those) recently spat out this lovely Lego Great Ball Contraption video:

It doesn't do anything useful and as such is a Rube Goldberg machine, but there is something beautiful, I would say even relaxing about its futility and the effort gone into it. A bit like sorting stamps or burning money, turning your back on the constraints of Reality. The band OK Go, who have made many viral music videos before, made a machine of their own for "This too shall pass":

It's fascinating to notice how these things are being empowered by IT - it's easier to build when you're not constrained by atoms, and youtube and forums can at least potentially bring lots of eyballs to your obsession as well as gather the collective power for massive procrastination. People are doing the most insane meaningless things in Minecraft which hardly even can be described as a game, but still seems at least as addictive as WoW. Myself I play Transport Tycoon / OpenTTD to relax, maybe there's therapy for it?

People waste their time in all kinds of ways, watching TV, playing solitaire, reading poor books, how do you do it? As a final note and for good measure, let's play Michael B. Tretow's "Den makalösa manicken (Evighetsmaskin)".

(Update: This "The Birth of Low-Rise" of staples arranged over a period of 30 hours certainly gets an honorary mention for meaningless endeavors)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Finding a hearing-aid compatible (T3 telecoil) mobile phone in Europe

(Det går att läsa den här bloggposten på smått trasig automat-översatt svenska)

The last couple of days, I've made my way through the jungle of options which is finding a cell phone setup which will work for my severely hearing disabled mother. It was strange and confusing, but a task I enjoyed doing, for with such a nerd son, my mother deserves only the best solution giving best value for money. I intend to describe my findings here, for the benefit of other hearing disabled and to criticize some who are not doing their job.

The final result first

We opted for getting my mother a cheap-o robust and very nice Nokia 2720. It has larger than average buttons, a decent screen, the option of at least GPRS and a basic camera, and the clamshell model my mother specifically requested. That way, there is no fidgety button to find when someone is calling - it displays the caller clearly on the external screen and you just open to pick up the call.

More importantly, Nokia is the only manufacturer we could find who display their US mandated M/T-ratings in a list online, and the 2720 is a fairly recent model which has the essential T-coil built in. This is at least supposed to enable her to switch the hearing aid to T-coil mode, sending the sound wirelessly between phone and hearing aid. For severely hearing disabled this is key, because the hearing aid would otherwise pick up too much noise and conversations would be difficult or impossible. Here is also the first point of criticism, AT&T provide lists for the american model phones they provide with M/T-rating, but similar compilations could not be found for European models either from manufacturers (except Nokia), operators or disability support groups. Other brands probably also have rated models, but we simply could not find them. It seems owning a decent cell phone is too much to ask for from a hearing disabled person.

The options I had to understand

When mom first approached me for advice, she brought print-outs of the pretty new Doro phone selling very well here in Sweden. It's specially designed for the elderly, only has the basic functions and easily manageable large buttons. It advertises it's built-in T-coil to connect with the hearing aid so that was all looking like a nice option. However, it is priced like a mid-range multimedia phone, I have seen it reviewed as "plasticy" and to have mediocre battery time. Not something you want to pay that kind of money for, especially since my mom is not that vision impaired and maybe the T-coil wouldn't even be the final most convenient solution. I soon reviewed it as "Mom, that would be like getting you ready for the care home too early". There was some betting in the family whether she could be happy with another phone, and I'm satisfied to say that she pretty much loves the Nokia, so that's about the Doro. I'm sure it's great for the really elderly, but Nokia are experienced in making great low-range phones, so unless you badly need precisely those Doro features, Nokia gives you a better phone at less than half the price. Finally, like even basic standard phones nowadays, it has a camera which enables mom to shoot the occasional amusing picture with.

The bluetooth versus telecoil complexity

Mom has recently got a very nice and advanced Widex Inteo Power IN-19 hearing aid, one of the first capable of frequency conversion. Instead of amplifying more in the frequencies where she is pretty much deaf, it converts them down to lower frequencies which she can hear. It's a little bit like DanKam for the color blind, a neat piece of signal processing circumventing the disability.

Regardless how good the hearing aid is at getting sound to the brain of a hearing disabled, when it comes to any type of electronic systems (TV, the phone, speaker systems in seminars, church etc.) it is a lot more convenient to transfer the sound directly to the hearing aid instead of picking it up through the microphone. Now the issue I faced was precisely how to get the sound between phone and the hearing aid, there were three options.
  • Bluetooth between phone and hearing aid - pretty much all phones (and many other electronic devices, though not TVs) nowadays have bluetooth and support connecting to sound input- or output profile devices (microphone and headphones). However, only few hearing aid models have caught up with this and instead feature the older telecoil. Replacing a hearing aid is an expensive and cumbersome option, so we skipped that right away. Also the bluetooth hearing aid wouldn't have the microphone, so wouldn't necessarily give the nifty option to leave the phone in the purse and pick up with the press of a button and speak into a headset.

  • Telecoil in the phone - as mentioned above, many phones probably have the T3/T4 telecoil rating (M3/M4 is regarding how little noise the phone would incur in the hearing aid), but it is not simple to find and is rarely advertised in the regular specifications. Nokia excel by providing a list of their models which feature a telecoil. This is the setup we opted for at least initially and even though the Nokia 2720 is said to have a weaker telecoil than earlier models, it works satisfactory for mom.

  • Bluetooth telecoil loops and headsets - bluetooth has become a convenient and mature technology to connect in particular a mobile phone to a headset (it can also for example be used to transfer files between the phone and a laptop). Not only does it give a wireless audio connection to the phone which you can leave in your purse (hey, women usually have less pockets than men) or a few meters away, usually they can also provide a button to pick up and or make calls through voice control as well as signal and vibrator when someone is calling. It turned out even a regular cheap "jawbone" bluetooth headset on the ear in place of the hearing aid provided a great benefit when tried by mom, as you can crank up the volume straight into the ear it even worked without the hearing aid.

    However, hearing disabled have their own solutions too, usually a telecoil loop hung around the neck with a pendant containing the bluetooth device, microphone, vibrator and the button (there also is the wired telecoil "hook" hung by the hearing aid, but on the whole it seems a silly option except it can get quite cheap). TecEar provide a good list of models you can buy in the US, but just to add to the consumer confusion, each supplier in Sweden sell only one or a few models (Hörselskadades riksförbund, Bo Edin AB, Headsetshoppen, Svensk hörsel leverantörernas förening och Lisas CI-blogg), according to their manufacturer contracts and quality preference. We have understood that the Joy Abe BH01 model is good enough, it is quite stylish and one of the best priced around and as the need arise, we may opt for this to supplement the Nokia 2720 built-in telecoil, as indeed it adds the wireless convenience as well. We have discussed simplicity a lot, this option would enable mom to leave her phone in the purse, feel the vibration from the pendant and pick up by switching her hearing aid to T-coil mode and press the button on the pendant. Compare this to switching the hearing aid mode, finding the phone in the purse, and fiddling with it some to pick up, or removing the hearing aid (which needs to be turned off as not to feedback shriek) and replacing it with a bluetooth headset, the telecoil loop is a very nifty option. Bear in mind that as niche devices, these things cost 100-200 EUR, which plus a basic phone still is a very appealing option competing with the Doro phone niched for the elderly.

Finally, I hope you have enjoyed and gotten use of this detailed description, I'm very happy to receive critique on it, and let's hope manufacturers and suppliers can improve and become clearer in their communication also to the disabled! A particular thanks to Lisas CI-blogg and Bo Edin AB for friendly and informative comments!

Update: I've found another list of M/T rated phones, but still very little communication from the manufacturers themselves. Also, we have realized that mom would very much want either of the bluetooth telecoils, but to complement it, a 3.5mm plug simple telecoil would also come in handy (not sure which would be the cheapest option though), for those times when you want to hear something off the computer, an iPod or someone else's equipment without doing the bluetooth pairing. A wired loop with 3.5mm plug would be ok, compared to one with a specific contact which you would have to replace when you change cell phones.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The power of version control - Video published

Better late than never, Agile Estonia has published the talk I held there on the topic of "The power of version control". It definitely turned out into more of a seminar and discussion than a training, and I would have had to limit the scope a lot if I wanted to go deeper. However, in this setting we got to have som exciting discussion which I hope to elaborate on the conclusions of. Enjoy!

If you're interested in the topic of version control, DVCS and the necessary workflows, do check out my prezi below, the links in there, in particular my stackoverflow question, nvie's branching model with the support gitflow scripts. Also recently have been excited about Plastic SCM "branch per task" workflow.

"For the longest time first CVS, then Subversion, and recently Git or Mercurial tools have been used for version control and release management, often without knowing properly what benefits one is hoping to get from the tool, or how to achieve them. With the exception of those spending years figuring out how to manage these issues, many companies settle for the bare minimal solution, losing out on benefits of modern distributed version control systems (DVCS) which otherwise could enable critical efficiency improvements. This talk attempts to address the lack of discussion and resources available online when it comes to team version control workflows and release management and will discuss experiences with these issues and propose solutions.

The talk won't give any neatly packaged solutions, and may occasionally dive into complex details of DVCS, but the only pre-requisites are interest and attention, no earlier experience with DVCS is required."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Garage48 and civil society in entrepreneurship

Second blog post in a row now about the Garage48 HUB. Only - in between I have attended an awesome Garage48 event in Helsinki, where we created the service.
Actually what I wanted to write a note about this time was this:

That's the diploma that Garage48 association won the civil society pioneer of the year award, as handed out by the NGO round table foundation of Estonia. Really cool I think, that they're being rewarded for their efforts to push Estonia in a good direction in terms of innovation and collaboration. Anyway I've told my story about the spirit of my Gnosjö village to a couple people, how they have kept unemployment low through the decades and all. It seems that may turn into a proper public speaking engagement for me, trying to spread the word in Estonia, in which case you will hear more about it. Exciting stuff!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

OpenCoffee Tallinn meeting in the Garage48 HUB / hackerspace

I just came from the monthly OpenCoffee Club Tallinn, this time in the recently opened Garage48 HUB of Lutheri kvartal. I had to be quite brief (car logistics and that sort of stuff) but man what an energy there! Not only was it crowded with interesting people for the Open Coffee, but the G48 HUB seems to be attracting plenty of interest (hopefully paying members), my sincere congratulations to the team for going ahead and executing such an awesome idea!

Something which is refreshing for Estonia is certainly the sense of trust and community the hub brings. Many times involving the websmurfs or my home village of Gnosjö do I hear of smooth arrangements which in Estonia would be met with the rejection "A good deed never goes unpunished". But here is a good deed, with sufficient rules, smooth for everyone involved, which may make financial sense too!

See, where I come from we have an opposite culture of the expression "The best food for an Estonian is another Estonian". A Gnosjö factory owner knows that the wellbeing of his neighbour affects him too, and at least if it doesn't hurt him directly, rather than lose a customer from the area completely when they're over capacity, Gnosjö factories will send business to their local competitors, and sometime the competitor will send business back. Also incredible informal arrangements, like sharing of facilities or that the security guard sometimes will serve as night shift machine operator, are common and remarkably lacking covering of one's own ass. They may not be brilliant driven business men, but the almost naive problem solving ability and how low-friction business runs in the Gnosjö region really is a key factor to its sustained profitability and development.

The wheels of Gnosjö keeps spinning
My personal impression is that Estonia desperately need this sort of networking as well. It must be uncomplicated to do business and there must exist reasonable service providing companies. Surely this sort of web is not woven out of dreams and society alone, but trust, handshakes, forgiveness and a lot of good will is absolutely essential!

Speaking of the G48 HUB, it is somewhat modeled on the concept of hackerspaces. We were some people who wanted an Estonian hackerspace already before, but we emphasized the communication and local community rather than the physical space, and honestly were too cowardly and lazy to do something serious. So now to complement the physical G48 HUB, we have a hefty online community in Skype where nerdy people come to chat, meet and possibly collaborate any time of day. Just ping me if you would like to be invited there!

I had the pleasure to meet some new interesting people in OpenCoffee, but I still would like to discuss with someone my ideas regarding Flattr and pricing models for near zero marginal cost content...

If you appreciate my stuff, now you can flattr me!

As faithful visitors of my blog may have noticed (do I even have any of those anymore - isn't it all driven by google reader, facebook and twitter?), I have added some colorful buttons in the sidebar and beneath each post.

The first of these are for a peculiar community called "Flattr". I hope to add some others as well, and tidy up the blog, but I feel a bit locked up in blogspot and of course as they say - the children of the shoemaker walks in the worst shoes. Anyway, Flattr is a voluntary community based on that people are willing to give away a constant pretty small amount of money every month, a "flat-rate", to things they appreciate online, which they want to "flatter". Get a better introduction to it here, in this excellent video:

Honestly, I'm participating in this experiment without a serious hope of breaking even, and I would suggest that so should you. I don't think I am the type of content producer to amass people's appreciation like that, but regardless, it is important to realize that the Internet is participatory, and every attempt to reward that should be encouraged. That's actually an interesting threshold - that mainly people who at least are producing some type of content online will be motivated to try to gain something and thus also contribute themselves.

As I discussed recently with a friend, the Flattr model has a number of weaknesses, for instance that it is so completely voluntary, the entry threshold is significant, you only have the option to give one Flattr click not more if you really like something, and finally the incentive to raise your commitment above the basic 2€ per month is way too weak. Overall thought, it would seem, as Chris Anderson would express it, that the routines for charging for close-to-zero-marginal-cost content are still completely under-developed in the economy. I will be very excited to see that development truly happen.

Finally, I think those offline flattr (also IRL-flattr) things seem adorably nerdy, would love to see some innovative use-cases of them!

I hope to have the opportunity to write a bit more about the dynamics of flattr later, stay tuned.