A new face…

cuil search results – Matthias Wiesmann

There has been quite some buzz about the new search engine, cuil. While the name was supposed to sound like cool, I could not help but remember one of the early search engines built by the Uni­versity of Geneva: the CUI World Wide Web Cata­log. The presen­tation of the new search engine’s search results looks sleek and the way pictures are added to the results is cool. The only pro­blem I could see is that the photo­graphs are not exactly about me…

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Blue iMac

This week-end, I set up a new machine for my mother. I had bought her a new 20 inch iMac which repla­ced a 1999 blue iMac. I felt a little bit sad replacing a perfectly func­tional machine, but the proc­essing of complicated web pages and PDF files was really getting slow, not to mention the fact that I was getting nervous about the data in a nearly ten year old hard-drive. I also wanted a no hassle backup solution, which Mac OS 10.5 offers.

There is no way my mother’s computing activities are going to exploit the power of two 2Ghz cores, but there have been many improvements on machines within a decade which become obvious when you run the two machines side by side:

Screen quality
Compared to the old CRT, the quality of the glossy LCD screen is really striking. Colors are more intense and the text way more contrasted. I saw none of the picture quality problem which seem to have plague early 20 inch models.
The old iMac was producing a humming sound, the new machine is basically silent.
Boot time
While the old machine’s booted, you could go to the kitchen en prepare yourself some tea, the new machine is ready in a few seconds.
The new machine is way more compact, despite having a much larger screen. The stand design and the new keyboard mean the machine does not use much space on the table.

One amusing side effect of me setting up this machine, is that my mother now has a more powerful machine than her two sons who both work in IT. In a sense I’m not sure this is really a desktop computer, it looks way more like an appliance from the outside and a laptop from the inside.

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Balade en bateau

View of Zürich from the Limmat – © wikicommon

Zürich est une ville réputée pour son système de transport publics, celui-ci com­porte non seule­ment une variété de trans­ports ter­restres, mais aussi des lignes de bateau. Une petit perle est la ligne qui part de l’arrêt au niveau du musée national (Landesmuseum) pour rejoindre le Zürichhorn, un cap situé sur la rive nord du lac et qui délimite la rade de la ville. On y trouve le casino, mais aussi le jardin chinois. C’était, en 1984, l’emplace­ment de l’exposition Phäno­mena, mais il n’en reste qu’une fontaine, un boule de pierre pesant une tonne qui reste mobile à cause de la pression de l’eau en dessous. Le trajet, qui dure vingt-cinq minutes, remote le cours de la Limmat à travers la vieille ville pour aboutir sur le lac et une très belle vue de la baie. Enfin, comme le trajet est à l’intérieur de la zone centrale de la ville, le transport est couvert par un billet de la zone 10. Il y a deux départs par heure (à 05 et 35) les jours de semaine et le samedi. Les samedi de beau temps, il convient d’arriver un peu à l’avance, car le nombre de places est limité à une cinquantaine de personnes, et la ligne est populaire.

Dans la série, « le saviez vous », j’ai appris par le biais de la Wikipedia que le nom de la Limmat est la contraction du nom de deux rivières : la Linth et la Maag.

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Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Dr Evil, captain Hammer, and what's here name again…

Joss Whedon, of Buffy and Serenity fame, had made an funny three epi­sode show that can be viewed on the internet: Dr. Hor­rible’s Sing-Along Blog. Of course any sto­ry in­volving a evil genius with dating troubles is going to get my vote.

Shamus, of the twenty sided has some inter­esting com­ments about the distri­bution model. If I could, I would certainly buy the thing by the way of the iTunes store, but alas, the show is not available in the Swiss store.

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Land of traditions…

Fortune Cookie

While in many respects, europeans tend to be more formal that their counterpart in the USA, people in the USA seem to have a love of rituals that is fascinating. One example is the prom. Formal dress balls are quite rare in continental Europe, in particular for late teen­agers. In the USA, this seems to be a country-wide tradition. A similar ex­ample would be gradu­ation uni­forms in Universities. I would hardly claim that there are no such rituals in Europe, but they tend to be limited to one region, one country, or one type of school.

A less serious tradition in the USA is the chinese restaurant. You’ll find chinese restaurants in most towns, in Silicon Valley they are often strongly related to China. The food becomes more american as you move inland and you cross the chop­stick line (the point where by default in a chinese restaurant, you are given a fork by default instead of chop­sticks). There is a tradition that persist in any case: the fortune cookie. At the end of the lunch, typically with the bill, each diner receives a cookie that contains some vague prediction. The interesting thing with this tradition is that it is not chinese, you won’t get such cookies in restaurant in China – you won’t even get such a cookie in most chinese restaurant in continental Europe or in Japan. In fact, the New-York times has an interesting article explaining that fortune cookies are originally from Japan.

Given the cultural influence of the USA in Europe, there is now a funny phenomenon: restaurants slowly start serving fortune cookies at the end of the meal…

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Two finger scrolling

While I have been using laptops for some time now, I used to shy away from fancy trackpad features, like tapping and holding, these things never worked out for me. After two months in the USA, I tried using my old Power­book, and I noticed that its trackpad does not support two finger scrolling. I had not real­ized how much I got used to this feature, until I missed it (which is the sign of a good feature for me).

When asked by a colleague how to rotate a picture, my friend Péter said that you just needed to twirl the fingers. Of course he has one of the newer MacBook pro, one with a multi-touch trackpad. It is good to see the user-interface of computers going forward beyond the debate on the number of buttons (or nipple vs. trackpad) and interesting to note that the inovation was not driven by laptop computers, but hand­held devices.

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O tempora, o mores

Jay-Z - Blue magic - Liasse d'Euros

Le clip vidéo de « blue magic » du rappeur Jay-Z a fait un petit scan­dale aux États-Unis. La cause de l’outrage ne semble pas être les paroles, ou même la pré­sence de jeunes fil­les en petite tenue dans le clip. Non, le pro­blème est que l’obses­sion des rap­peurs pour la riches­se et ses sym­boles est bien trop pragma­tique, et donc c’est une liasse d’euros qui est ostensiblement ventilée. Avec un taux de change proche de 1.6 $ pour 1 €, une liasse de billets de 500 € représente une coquette somme. Comme en plus la plus grosse coupure de dollars en circulation est celle de 20 $, la liasse en dollars devrait être quarante fois plus grosse. Autant dire qu’on ne parle plus de liasse mais de grosse valise. Clairement agiter des grosses valises pour montrer qu’on est riche, c’est moins cool.

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Protocol buffers

Finally the serial­ization proto­col that we use at Google has been open-sourced. The proto­col buffer format specifies and IDL to define the bi­nary serial­ization format, a text re­presen­tation and tools to gene­rate stubs for both Python and C++.
Protocol buffers are used in­stead of XML files, both for stor­age and net­work trans­mission. The focus of this format is fast en­coding and de­coding and com­pact data represen­tation.

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Back to Zürich…De retours à Zürich…

Hors donc, je suis bien rentré à Zürich. Le voyage s‘est passé sans trop d’encombres. La correspondance à Munich était un peu juste, et un de mes sacs a raté l’avion. Évidemment c’était le sac avec le linge propre. Je goûte donc la fraîcheur de Zürich. La température dans la baie de San Francisco dépasse à présent les 40° et l’état a recommandé de limiter l’usage des climatiseurs histoire d’éviter les problèmes de courant. À présent, je m’adonne aux affres de la lessive et du tri du courrier en attendant le courrier qui m’amène le sac manquant…

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