An Advertising Dystopia

Today it’s getting harder and harder to escape advertising, remember when you could watch a video on any site without watching a video ad first? Modern corporate propoganda has become a finely tuned art of delivering a product that you’re more likely to want, and it could get worse. Below I’ll describe a few technologies that are all ceratainly within the realm of possibility, but hopefully, will never become a reality.

Products that are constantly listening and automatically forward reviews to their manufacturer on certain spoken keywords. This stream would be very easy to filter, bolstering a product’s rating. Posted reviews are in a converted readable format as well as their original audio format.

Eye glasses that superimpose advertising on whatever you look at. Of course you could always take the glasses off but then you couldn’t see.

Listening tables at resturants that adapt the adertising around or on the table itself to your conversation. This would ensure constatnly relevant advertising. The resturant of course gets a cut of the ad revenue.

Bar glasses that detect when the cup is empty and then make a recommendation on either another drink or to stop drinking. This recommendation could be intelligently made by a sensitive breathalizer in the glass, or a connection to a sensor in what you’re sitting that gets your weight and calculates BAC on the number of drinks you’ve had.

The same weight sensors in a resturant or bar could detect the customer’s overall health, gender, and age and direct ads based on those readings.

In case you hadn’t noticed, everyone of these ideas also violates privacy in many ways. If you are uncomfortable with thse ideas I recommend you give some thought to the ad stream just to the left of your Facebook timeline or Google Searches which have been curated based on your statuses, searches, and the ‘likes’ of you and your friends. I don’t think any of these ideas will ever manifest in real life, but in some form or another, they already have.

The Big Flaw in Modern Mobile Design

What’s the point of product design if everyone is just going to put the device in a case? A case rarely improves the user experience and instead simply provides the user with the reassurance that if they accidentally drop their device it will be alright. Not to mention the larger pocket fingerprint. Cases usually don’t seem to bother people once they’re on too, this is only a good measure of how important software, operating system, and software ecosystem are over hardware design.

A non-durable device, no matter how sleek, provides a sub-par user experience due to its fragility, or rather the feeling of fragility. There are devices out there that are the epitome of this, devices that make me 100x more careful when handling. So much so that I am constantly focusing on making sure the device is secure in my hand, rather than the experience the product has to offer.

The best device should feel not only feel durable but it must live up to that feeling at the same time. It should feel herculean, it should instill the same level of confidence we have in the software on the phone, essentially, it shouldn’t fail if we make a mistake. The phone case industry today is a testament that we are not confident in the structural (let alone aesthetic) integrity of our phones. There is certainly glass that can take the impact of a drop, there are also materials and practices that can make a device withstand said drop. Why aren’t they both in a product in my hand?

54.6mm FangShi Shuang Ren Review


My first impressions said a lot in the video review of the FangShi ShuangRen. It’s my hope that these post impressions say just as much. It’s a really good cube, stands as a testament along how far cubes have come in the last five or even three years. I cannot open this cube up and as a result it does not pop.

A Bit of History First

There have been cubes that do not pop in past, the name “DIY New Type A” comes to mind and I’d be very surprised if anyone reading this remembers it. The “new type A” couldn’t pop but was pretty atrocious. The edges had these planks on them, a bit like the Alpha V but longer. These planks were separate from the edge and would come off easily, and you had to assemble it yourself when you first get it. If you assembled it correctly and the planks stay in, the cube could not be popped, but one of those planks fall out and you could have a mess on your hands to take the edge out and repair it. Believe me, it was awful and I haven’t seen one since.

The Rest of the Review Now…

I can confidently say that the FangShi is nothing like that. The Fangshi works like a charm. The turning reminds me a lot of a ShengShou 4×4 or 5×5, very smooth, no catches. Corner cutting margins are not the same as you would get on a Dayan cube, but they’re still very acceptable. The one annoyance I have is the size actually, it’s just that much smaller that my fingers collide too much. I can still get good times despite this, but I have to make a small adjustment every time I start a session with it. There is also a 57mm version of the cube I would be interested in trying.


A comment on the video clearly explained how to take the cube apart. The insides are very complicated and it’s soon apparent that a lot more pieces make up this cube than you think. Pictured below are the edges, the corners, and a all three parts of a corner. I believe this is the first time I’ve used this phrase for a cube, but it is beautifully designed, truly built inside out.

edges corners coner-dis

Overall the cube makes you wonder how much better it can get than this, but we’ve all thought that at one point or another I’m sure. This would be a good cube for any level of cuber to get, and I imagine it would last them a long time. You can buy it at Lightake for $15 and shipping is free.

Dayan PanShi Review


The PanShi is a combination of daring and lazy. On one hand they were trying to make some thing new and better. On the other hand you can see exactly how the designers just copied the ZhanChi CAD file and made a few small modifications. These modifications include wider “wings” on the edges, and a higher “lip.” Both do a really good job of keeping the pieces from popping, but at the expense of wide corner cutting margins and hence speed.

ZhanChi corner on the right, PanShi on the left.
ZhanChi corner on the right, PanShi on the left.
ZhanChi edge on top, PanShi edge on bottom.
ZhanChi edge on top, PanShi edge on bottom.

This doesn’t mean it’s a bad cube. I can certainly get sub-15 times on it, however not very consistently. (For context I consider myself to average a mid-14 with a ZhanChi). I’ve been trying to get better at blind solving and I think this is a really good cube for my practice. It’s hard to make accidental moves on it and the sides click in such a way that is very distinct. It gives the same kind of good feeling the clicks from a mechanical keyboard give, that is I get tactile and audible feedback from a turn.

You can see the mechanisms that keep the edges in here.
You can see the mechanisms that keep the edges in here.

I can see this being a really good cube for people still over 25-30 seconds. It encourages clean turning, and it doesn’t pop as frequently as a Rubik’s brand might. However in the end this is a prime example of the innovator’s dilemma, it just doesn’t stand up to its predecessors at all.


The Dayan PanShi can be bought on for $13.08 USD and they have they have free shipping anywhere in the world.

The stickers are actually pretty nice.
The stickers are actually pretty nice.

42mm Dayan ZhanChi Review


I said it twice in the video review: it’s just a ZhanChi. But when you hold it and play with it, it feels like so much more. I imagine it has something to do with our perception of small things being cute? The stickers are pretty decent actually. Historically DIY’s specialty cubes from China have had really bad greens, yellows, and oranges.


It’s not a main cube, you’d be crazy to use this as a main cube. The ergonomics of it just don’t work either, my thumbs end up feeling tweaked after a short session with the cube. One thing I didn’t mention in the video review is how you physically have to push less, to be precise: the arc length your finger travels to turn a side is shorter.


If you’re looking for a good small cube, this is most likely your end all solution. The 42mm ZhanChi can be bought at for $8 and the ship anywhere in the world.


Returning to Facebook

About a year ago I decided to leave Facebook for three primary reasons.

  • Privacy issues.
  • I was getting less out of the network than I was putting in.
  • Trivializing human interaction.

Through the month of October and November I’m going to re-explore those points. Perhaps the way I feel about them will have changed. While I don’t think I’ll ever fully come to terms with their privacy settings and policies, it’s hard to remain critical of a product I haven’t tried in a year.

Around last year, I felt like I was posting into a black hole; content and statuses in, nothing out; nothing about it felt social. I was also in immediate contact with many of my friends on a day to day basis. Today those friends are scattered across the country and globe. I return to Facebook to give their mission statement a second chance.

…give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.

Sharing is not what concerns me, and my Twitter feed is pretty open. It’s that I’ve been feeling disconnected, let’s see if/how/why or why not Facebook alleviates that.

Making of FiveTimer for Android

I had just come back from Iceland and a summer of otherwise developing an Android app for the trip. With all the design and programming paradigms still in my head I decided I should try to make another one. I’ve always wanted to port FiveTimer from iOS to Android, but the time or opportunity never presented themselves. I decided to undertake it as soon as I got back.

That was about 15 days ago. The whole process took just over two weeks! Rather than taking everything over at once or at random, it was broken down by most to least essential. Wunderlist was a huge help in doing this breakdown, in the end FiveTimer was 44 discrete tasks.

By the first week I had a basic timer that had some scramblers. At the middle of second week I had more scramblers, a statistics viewer, a timer with 15 second countdown, and hold to start. In the last few days I was scrambling to make sure that the app looked decent in all screen sizes and the 3×3 and Square-1 scrambles didn’t make the UI hang too much (threads are cool).

Through this whole process I was uploading a .APK to my site for a few beta testers to give me feedback on. Without whom the initial release of FiveTimer would be pretty sub-mediocre. A small localization error for example would crash the app whenever the timer was stopped, this was due to the time strings being formatted with a comma instead of a period, never would have caught that one on my own. A huge hand goes to the beta testers.

In the final weekend I noticed how much my table was flexing when I would slam the cube down as if I was on a stackmat. It struck me then that why should we be touching the screen to stop the timer at all? Drop to stop was implemented, and then with a sensitivity slider a day later. It was a “why haven’t we been doing this the whole time” kind of moments.

Even when the app went into production there were still changes to be made and bugs to squash. An “add time” button was a welcomed addition for example. FiveTimer for Android is actually well ahead of its iOS counterpart right now and I intend to carry over the add time and drop to stop, let me just do a few solves first.

Presenting FiveTimer for Android

cubeI’ve been wanting to port FiveTimer to this platform for a while and it’s finally here. It has all the features that it has in iOS:

  • Scrambles for all WCA puzzles.
  • Puzzle support for all WCA puzzles, 2×2-7×7, Megaminx, Pyraminx, Square-1, and Clock.
  • Hold to start or tap to start.
  • 15 second countdown.
  • Export full session, current, or best average of five or twelve.
  • Session saving and restoring between puzzle.
  • Arbitrary puzzle profiles.
  • Contrasted, minimal interface.

So it’s a port, (ok minimal mode is missing). Same old same old right? Features that are not in iOS:

  • Session exporting. In iOS you can only email the session, in Android you can send the session string to any app that will receive it. My favorite is Dropbox in this instance.
  • Drop to stop. Kind of a silly name in retrospect, but if your device you’re timing with is on a table, you can slam the cube down as if you’re timing with a stackmat and the timer will stop. This uses the device’s accelerometer to detect a sudden Z change and stop the timer. I’m really psyched about it. The tweet above was an accidental reference to this. Wait until you see a video, you’ll be wowed I’m sure.

It’s $0.99 on the Google Play Store. I feel like some one is going to complain instantly in their head about the price to which I have this response. It’s a dollar, you pay once, you own it forever, you’ll get all future updates, you can use it whenever you want, you can uninstall and resinstall it indefinitely. Consider for a second the things you buy which cost more and you get much less out of, a candy bar, a soda, a movie ticket. It’s just a dollar. Thanks, I hope you enjoy it.

One Month of Use Review: 11″ MacBook Air

I got a late 2008 Unibody MacBook only a few weeks after it was released in my senior year of high school with the intention that it will last me through college. It’s done exactly that and then some, that is, I’m still using it. In July 2013 I went to Iceland and realized that lugging the 13″ aluminum block around wouldn’t work out. The department I went with just got a new 11″ MacBook with a Haswell chip, I moved all my important documents and workspace preferences on there from the 13″ and I’ve been using it this last month, here’s what I think. It’s amazing.

The 11″ on my 13″

At first the screen seems extremely small. Turns out its just the right size to read, write, and develop on. Thanks to multiple desktops in OSX and window snapping in BetterTouchTool, surprisingly screen real estate has not been an issue. I’m editing the final draft of this post back on the 13″ Macbook and the first thing I noticed is that all the UI elements are automagically scaled down on the 11″. In Chrome for example, the size of the tab bar and omnibar is smaller by about 30 pixels.

I actually missed the black border.

The whole laptop is very very light and compact. So much so that a 13″ MacBook Air now seems heavy by comparison. The downside of this is that the keyboard is a little crunched up particularly the modifier keys and the F buttons. A few people have complained that the trackpad is a little small, I use the highest sensitivity options on the trackpad so it hasn’t been an issue for me.

So much more sleeker.
So much more sleeker.


The backlit keyboard is great too, can’t imagine a laptop without it.

There are two big hardware issues I have. The first is with the 802.11ac wifi antenna. There’s an asterisk on Apple’s website about the 802.11ac antenna, it’s still an IEEE draft specification. In the last month I’ve intermittently have had dropped connection problems where my peers with devices using 802.11n have not. In one case I could not connect to the router at all while everyone else and my iPod Touch did.

The second issue stems from what I believe is the Intel 5000 graphics chip (or drivers). There are occasions where the screen simply turns off, it’s not asleep, it’s distinctly deactivated. Usually it turns right back on, but there was one case where I had to hold down the power button to reset the device. I have a feeling it’s the graphics chip either software or hardware side of things.

Just over a kilogram, the 13" would overload the scale.
Just over a kilogram, the 13″ would overload the scale.

I’d expect a patch for the hardware issues to come as they can be pretty serious, particularly if you’re traveling and connecting to new routers every day. In short the computer does everything I need it to. The two hardware issues mentioned above are actually what’s holding me back from getting it instantly.  If you’re looking for a very portable laptop that is still competent in day to day tasks  (oh, and doesn’t have Windows 8) the 11″ MacBook Air is an obvious answer.

Deleting Facebook

Most people know about deactivating Facebook (and my experience without it). What they don’t know is how to permanently delete it. On a help page, hidden away, they provide a link to delete all of your Facebook data if it’s been deactivated for a few weeks. The other day I decided to take that plunge and totally get off Facebook. I started by downloading all of my data with their archiving tool, and then using a third party tool to download all the photos I’m tagged in. Everything was all squared away, then, several things happened, making me almost forgetting why I was there.

I have a friend studying abroad in London and having not talked to her for a while I struck up a small chat with her. The value of spontaneously communicating with a far off friend is invigorating, needless to say it was probably the last thing I expected to do when I woke up that morning. Suddenly I never wanted to leave Facebook again, the interaction was invaluable. While chatting away and browsing idly between messages something else happened.
I was bombarded by dozens of statuses and posted pictures on the Facebook wall. Not necessarily just from people I haven’t seen in a long time, but people I recently broke up with, and even people I saw just yesterday. All this struck up a totally different flurry of emotions; not good feelings, a feeling that my life was not as great as theirs. The statuses were written in a voice that did not sound like the friend I actually associate with, there’s more bragging and facaded voices, never negative. Then, in the pictures everyone was smiling and having fun parties, which I would never have been aware of otherwise. I didn’t like any of it.

Again, the only thing saving this experience was the conversation with the friend I was involved with. It was still the best set of words I have exchanged recently. As the conversation was coming to a close I decided not to permanently delete my data, just deactivate my account again (redeactivate?). I definitely still do not like Facebook, there will hopefully be a day when I can delete everything, by that time Facebook will be yesterday’s MySpace and I won’t lose too many contacts. Today even though I’m not on Facebook, it’s where at a moment’s notice, all my friends are available for conversation, among other things.