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This is @xAbhishek's notebook.

Closure: Everpix

The service shutting down hit me hard. I am not much more than a casual photographer. But I do have a family that loves posing for pictures and over time has allowed me to collect photos and video that will occupy the entirety of my computer’s storage if I’d stored it there. What Everpix created was the absolute best way of storing these pictures on the cloud. It shined and was in every way a superior product than those being suggested as alternatives. Flickr is a public feed of photos you want to show off. Sure 1TB is great. But it is not a service you use to relive moments from your own life. Picasa web is a photo gallery. Google+ Photos is a photo gallery. Loom is Dropbox + a photo gallery. Every single person who wonders why I am complaining this much about hasn’t used Everpix. Every single person who has used the service for more than a day, understands what kind of a difference it made. They put it simply on their website: it solved “the mess” of photos. They believe it did. I know it did. Taking pictures and never having to worry about ever backing them up. That’s one problem. After backing them up, being able to constantly show you photos you care about so that is isn’t ignored like every one of your usual folder backups. Another problem. Pattern recognition to understand which among your photos you are more likely to want to see. Another problem. All these, solved. What a fantastic service that achieved a lot without much interaction at all. You forget about the problem of backups, and your are given this gorgeous interface to experience your seemingly endless backup of photos in ways folder hierarchies are incapable of.

It is in every way an example of a product that has an emotional effect on everybody who uses it. It sucks that it wasn’t funded or acquired. I know there has to be significant more background than the post-mortem published on The Verge. iCloud Photos isn’t a tenth as good. Nor is Dropbox Photos. Amazon’s $35000 bill isn’t that large an invoice for 55000 users. They convinced over 6000 users to pay for the service. That is remarkable. I don’t understand startup funding enough and if there is one lesson to be learnt, it is that I need to open my eyes. Building a great product is not enough. Building a brand your users associate with is also not enough. Many popular start ups still don’t have a real source of income. These guys did, but that wasn’t enough either. So, it boils down to a lot of things that only those 6 employees of Everpix could possibly understand. I haven’t lost hope in startups: a superior product like Everpix is the kind of product I get up everyday to create. You will be missed, but we must move on.

The reason I use Tumblr is pretty simple. First, I forget there is a backend and focus on the content. Second, and more importantly they make interface choices that make you want to use it more. This, as an example, is a rather well executed animation of a well known cliché.

One of the many things your users will appreciate you for is if your software makes the right decisions about defaults. Thank you.

One of the many things your users will appreciate you for is if your software makes the right decisions about defaults. Thank you.

The 2013 MacBook Air

Possibly the best notebook I have ever used. I upgraded one of the stock 13” models to a 1.7Ghz dual core i7, 8GB RAM and 256GB of solid state storage. This was replacing a 2012 MacBook Pro with a 2.4Ghz quad core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 5400RPM 500GB hard drive(ugh).

Apple has a 14-day no-questions-asked return policy, so I felt slightly more comfortable buying what seemed like a very underpowered machine for the kind of work I do. 3 months later, I still have the machine. I have been running a copy of OS X Mavericks since WWDC. Here are some real world non-scientific impressions.

This thing is light. I have used the MacBook Air before, but never carried one around as my primary computer. The first few times I picked up my backpack, I checked to make sure it was inside. I have, since, understood what to expect when I pick up my bag. So glad I am not carrying the 15”. I am saying this right now but when I bought my first MacBook Pro in 2007, it was the lightest machine that performed reasonably well. The only other computer that met my expectations in specifications was a Dell XPS that weighed 7.1lbs. Awful.

Fast, fast, fast…slow down. For 90% of what I did in the past, like using Coda to make changes to CSS, turning on the local web server, refreshing web browsers, making modifications in Photoshop, switching to Keynote for a bit, seeing my timeline on Tweetbot, checking my email on the secondary display, and playing music stored online, the computer breezes through. All these processes are generally running simultaneously (like they have been for the last hour). Keep in mind that this new generation of Intel processors does not improve compute power by a whole lot. What can be noticed are the improvements in the integrated Intel HD 5000 graphics and energy efficiency. Given that this is an ULV (ultra low voltage) processor, it is significantly underpowered when compared to the Intel Mobile processors used in the MacBook Pro. Despite all this, because of the SSD and more efficient I/O, it actually feels faster than my previous machine for most tasks.

Where it appears to slow down is while trying to perform compute-intensive rendering tasks in After Effects and Adobe Photoshop. These tasks take longer, but do not bring the machine to a stand still, and the increased wait time to output is a reasonable compromise looking at the size of this machine. Still, for daily tasks in Photoshop, and other applications, I don’t seem to notice a difference at all.

I am not a gamer, and nobody treats this like a gaming machine. The only game I have played on it is Fifa 2013, which seems to work just as well as it did on my previous Pro, but the game itself is a very poor gauge of graphics and compute potential.

Holy crap, that battery. I have the habit of carrying a charger with my computer, because I know if I sit and do real work I am going to be needing it soon. Not true with this version of the MacBook Air. Since I generally charge my computer at home, where it is attached to a second display, it is generally charged when I leave in the morning. Not having needed the charger for a month, I have decided not to carry it. Even on a day when I had only 50% charge and had to prepare for a presentation, which I would subsequently mirror to an AppleTV wirelessly for 3 hours, the battery went down to 5% but did not fail me. Don’t know how much of this can be attributed to the new OS X feature App Nap.

The extended battery is by far the thing I love most about the machine. I like how OS X Mavericks tells you if any application is using significant energy.

Miss Retina? Only slightly. I absolutely loved the retina display on my iPad. Its omission on the iPad mini seems more glaring to me than its absence on the MacBook Air. Why? The MacBook Air display is better than the display on any of my previous computers. The second display that I frequently tether my computer to does not support Retina-resolutions either. If I did end up using a Retina display for most of my production work, I bet I would start missing it. The only thing one can fault with the 2013 MacBook Air is the absence of the Retina Display, which Apple has never promised. It does remain on everybody’s wish list. I’m more than happy to sacrifice the Retina Display to get that battery performance for the time being.

Final thoughts. The 13” notebook is a great size for computer. I probably won’t be inclined to buy a 15” notebook since it will probably always be much heavier. A 13” Retina MacBook with a 12 hour battery life is probably the only thing that I could rate higher than this. Anything that requires too much compute power can generally be handed off to more powerful clusters and servers. This computer gets most things right, including having enough power to be my primary computer.

Making MOOCs and Conferences Matter

During the GVU Brown Bag Seminar last thursday, when Don Norman responded to a question about professors’ cynicism about Massively Online Open Courses (MOOCs), and how they felt it might reduce the value of classrooms, his reply was that they should be treated like an experimental new medium which empowers students with new tools rather than replace traditional instruction completely. The key word was ‘experimental’. He said that the format might be able to allow people to sit at home for the lectures, and come to school for hands-on studio classes with professors guiding students with their real-world experience. I have always dreamt about classroom instruction being exactly like this because I feel it is superior to the format of a lecture followed by reading reflections. In fact, I would love for this to be extended to events like conferences too. I see no reason why CHI could not become like this; the audience could easily multiply this way, and providing relevant content that is of utility to those participating could be the more important problem to solve. Conferences still use the traditional 8-10 page format for papers when we have all moved away from physical paper for most of our work. Despite the innovation that is showcased in such conferences, they are still organized and supported using tools that have not matured to suit digital media.

Chris DeLeon, writing on his HobbyGameDev blog, has some great advice for people going to GDC:

I really question the value of the main talks passes. They’re super expensive. Typically it’s some talking head in the front of the room, while you don’t really need to meet the person who was famous years ago that earned being a speaker now, who you need to be meeting are the other people in that room who will be maybe accomplished enough later to be the speakers years from now. You want to come up in the industry with those people, and that works better networking laterally than trying to hound the celebrity developers that everyone else is trying to fawn over.

The reason I quote this is because I think this applies to other design conferences too. It is the people that surround you in such conferences that tend to matter. The content of the talks, while important, can always be seen online later. If this is indeed the problem that Coursera, EdX and Udacity are trying to solve for the long run, I think it could only do us good. Universities have traditionally given students letter grades for taking courses, but MOOCs may be able to give you credit for what you really know, rather than hurt you for not knowing something. Letter grades have always seemed like a bit of a shallow assessment since life skills cannot be described by a single course. There is obvious value to its simplicity for the purpose of administering courses in large universities, but recruiters have never cared about transcripts, because they are so difficulty to judge. There are questions that need to be asked. How much does one need to know in a classroom? Do you need to know more about the history, or more about recent work? Who does the professor have to please? Teaching and instruction that appeals to everybody might have been difficult in the classroom. It would be unfair not to use any resources that allow us to attempt it, because it is the obvious next step for many students.

Photo from GT Computing Brochure. Taken in September 2012. Looks like a stock photo, I wish I had a high resolution copy.

Update: Thanks to Justin Law, Graphic Designer at the College of Computing for sending me the high-res photo.

Photo from GT Computing Brochure. Taken in September 2012. Looks like a stock photo, I wish I had a high resolution copy.

Update: Thanks to Justin Law, Graphic Designer at the College of Computing for sending me the high-res photo.