Leon Mika

The interesting thing about technology breakthroughs is how quickly the shift from the impossible to the banal actually is. An example of this is machine learning. This was something that was being researched on since the 1950s, with very little to show for it in terms of practical applications. This changed very recently, thanks to the growth of computing power. Now, many of these same techniques are used in many things that are taken for granted, like language translation, image recognition, and surfacing content in algorithmic timelines of social networks (not all utilisation of this technology is good).

This was one of the first thoughts I had when I heard about the announcement of a potential vaccine for malaria, which uses very similar technology to the mRNA Covid-19 vaccines.

I’ll have to go clothes shopping today to get a new jumper. It’s hard to find them during summer, but autumn’s just a few days away, so I’m hoping that they are in stock again. I didn’t have a chance to buy one last year because of the winter lock-down.

Feature needed for news sites: a mouse-over for names in an article that quickly shows you who they are and how they relate to the reported issue. I always forget who is who and have to go back to the top of the article to reread their introduction. Books need this as well.

Things I don’t miss about commuting to work: delays due to public transport interruptions. 😒

I only just learnt today that NetNewsWire on the iPad does not require an internet connection in order to read articles. They seem to be stored on device, complete with pictures. At home there was always WiFi so I never had a chance to try this. Very nice!

I’m wondering if there should be a set of conventions for people on video calls to indicate acknowledgement without needing to speak or turn the video on. Reactions, and other status indicators, are not available in every service, and the ones that do have it tend to be for getting the speakers attention.

There’s a convention in aviation, at least in recreational aviation that I’m familiar with, that has inspired this thinking. If someone needed to transmit a message over the radio, they will do so by pressing down the push-to-talk button and speaking their message. With VHF radio, only one person can be transmitting at any one time. Everyone one else on that particular wavelength will be able to hear them, but if they tried to transmit, the whole message will be garbled.

So there’s always a bit of caution when there is a need to use the radio. You’re generally advised to wait a few seconds before speaking on the off chance that someone else starts before you. This is also not a medium that grants you a lot of time to talk: messages are usually quite short, and are usually only made when required.

I guess that’s why a convention was developed, where someone operating the radio will indicate acknowledgement by quickly depressing the push-to-talk button. Doing so usually results in a burst of static clearly audible to everyone else on that wavelength. Unlike accidental presses, this quick tap is less than than a second, so there is no mistaking that it was intentional. This makes it perfect for quickly indicating a message was received, just like a thumbs up would if the conversation was face-to-face.

A convention similar to this would be great for videoconferences. Whereas status indicators are not available everywhere, most videoconference software I’ve used have a mute indicator for each participant. Quickly unmuting and muting the mike would pulse this indicator, which is pretty close to the visual equivalent of that burst of static. Done quickly enough, it will indicate intent, and would therefore be a perfect to quickly indicate the message has been received.

Returning to the office today. Not sure if it will be full time, hopefully there will be opportunities to work from home going forward. But I’m getting a sense here that the year-long WFH experience is coming to an end.

Australia’s ABC News shot to the top of the App Store charts following Facebook’s news ban

From the Verge:

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s ABC News app shot to the top of Apple’s App Store charts in Australia over the course of the last few days, not long after Facebook banned Australian news sources on its platform.


ABC News currently sits at No. 2 in the App Store’s overall app rankings in Australia, according to the analytics firm App Annie, and No. 1 in the news app charts. When Patel noticed the change, the app was also briefly No. 1 overall, ahead of Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and the Facebook app itself.

I’ve been seeing these banners on ABC News site myself, and I was sceptical that anything would come of it. Turn’s out I’m pleasantly mistaken. It’s really good to see people choosing to go to a reputable news source directly.

Some uninformed thoughts about the ACCC Media Bargaining Code

Yesterday, when the news about the news and Facebook was making the rounds in Australia, I have been wondering about my position about the whole thing. After listening to the Stratechery Daily Update1 from Ben Thompson about it, I think my position on this has solidified.

I’m no fan of Facebook, but I can completely understand why they took the action they did, and I believe that it is in their right to do so. It could be argued that banning links and pages from government and NPO organisations was wide-reaching, and for that, I think it’s important to consider the motivation here. Was Facebook being cautious about their interpretation of the proposed law, which was written so poorly to suggest that anything related to the goings on in Australia fell under the code? Where they just being sloppy about which organisations were banned? Or were they going to such broad lengths to make a point and leverage their negotiation position? I don’t know: all three scenarios seem plausible.

But I think Ben Thompson is spot-on in making the point that there was a lack of political ground work prior to Facebook taking this action. Contrast that with Google, which since last month was warning about maybe pulling out of the Australian market if there was a chance that they would violate the code. I didn’t see anything like this from Facebook, and Ben Thompson made the point that this was a lot like the saga around WhatsApp and the privacy changes. Who knows? Maybe if they did this, they would have more sympathy in the eyes of the public.

It may sound like I’m taking Facebook side here. I won’t go so far as to say that, but living in a society with free enterprise I don’t see why they couldn’t do what they did. No one is preordained with a right to post on Facebook, and expect that they can extract rent for doing so. It was a mistake on part of the government and media organisations (hi, Mr. Murdoch) to think otherwise.

The whole mess is regrettable but I hope everyone comes out of this a little wiser. I think for me it just reinforces the importance of maintaining your own, independent position on the web. There might be subsequent words on this thought down the line.

  1. This article is paywalled, but if you are in any way interested in technology, I highly recommend subscribing. [return]

A $2000.00 Smartphone with Ads

I just learnt today that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has ads. I’m generally not that interested in Samsung phones, but the idea of putting ads on a device that costs up to $US 2,000.00 offends me so much that I had to comment.

If I shell out that amount of money for a device, I expect an experience that is worthy of that price. Having that experienced degraded with crappy banner ads, and a built-in app1 which hijacks the lock screen, really brings down the intrinsic worth of the whole device to a point that doesn’t justify the price they’re asking for. It shows contempt for the customer — you know, the person that, by right, is the owner of the phone they paid for — and it’s just overall dishonorable.

I know how difficult it can be for Android OEMs to compete given the current race to the bottom. But my understanding is that Samsung is actually second to Apple in terms of revenue per device, so I see absolutely no reason why they would consider a move like this.

Yeah, I know it’s a first world problem, but I’m seeing more and more phone vendors thinking that the device that they sell, supposably at a profit, is also a vector for which they can push marketing messages through without regard, and I really don’t want that to happen.

  1. The built in app, called “Samsung Global Goals”, is designed to promote charitable causes through the use of promotions. I appreciate the motivation of funding these causes, but not the approach they use to do so. [return]

It only felt like a week ago when I saw the launch of NASA’s Perseverance rover. Yet here we are, days away from its arrival. Good luck to everyone involved. Here’s hoping for a smooth landing.

February Photoblogging Challenge. Day 12: Sporg.

Mind turning slowly into sporg as I try to chase down this bug.

Current status: looking at sqlite3 DBs of an Android app in development while waiting for XCode to update to build a project to write a post on the dealing with breakpoints and coroutines in Kotlin. All while listening to a podcast and following the ABC Coronavirus live-blog.

It’s a shame that we’ve had to go back into lockdown for 5 days, due to the highly infectious nature of the B117 variant. Hopefully it’s enough to stamp out the current outbreak. But what then? I’d be curious to know how we can continue to use hotels for quarantine given that this variant is spreading at a rate that is stretching the limits of our contact tracers. Maybe we can start using quarantine centres that are fit for purpose?

February Photoblogging Challenge. Day 11: Machine.

My trusty Breezemaster has been pushing air for 25 years now, and is still going strong. Came in quite handy today.

Seth Godin on Rank Choice Voting

Seth Godin on Rank Choice Voting:

The surprising thing? In a recent primary in New York, some people had trouble with the new method. It’s not that the method of voting is particularly difficult. The problem is that we’ve trained ourselves to be RIGHT. To have “our candidate” and not be open (or pushed) to even consider that there might be an alternative. And to feel stress when we need to do the hard work of ranking possible outcomes, because that involves, in advance, considering acceptable outcomes that while not our favorite, would be acceptable.

Living in a country that has rank-choice voting across the board, I could be biased in this, but I think that’s one of the beautiful things about this voting system. It changes the thinking of “will my candidate win” to “what candidate can I live with”. A candidate representing several thousand people is not going to be everyones first preference, but they might be happy enough if they’re their second or third.

February Photoblogging Challenge. Day 10: Energy.

February Photoblogging Challenge. Day 9: Muddy.

It’s rare to find mud around here in February, along with grass this green. Usually everything is brown and dry. This summer has been a welcome exception.

I have all these personal projects that I want to start, but I need to check myself as I’ve got a habit of starting them, getting bored and never actually finishing them. I really need to be more judicious of things I actually want to build.

I watched Spirited Away last night. I really enjoyed it: it’s certainly a beautiful film.

It’s taken me a while to appreciate the works of Studio Ghibli. I remember first watching something from them around 10 years ago and finding it quite strange. Reflecting on this now, I think it’s because I was just not familiar with their style of storytelling. My palette for non-Western style films (that is, films from the West, not films set in the Wild West) was not well developed at the time.

I’m pleased that it’s now matured and that I can enjoy these sorts of films.

February Photoblogging Challenge. Day 8: Hope.

My new, soon-to-be activated Internet setup, courtesy of the NBN. I only hope that it’s as fast, if not faster, than my existing setup.

February Photoblogging Challenge. Day 7: Craving.

Unfortunately, it’s what you’d expect.

February Photoblogging Challenge. Day 6: Sports.

This is probably the closest thing to sports you’ll see me do.

February Photoblogging Challenge. Day 5: Pets

Unfortunately no pets allowed on this walk.

February Photoblogging Challenge. Day 4: Layers.

This is a photo of the geological kind: an exposed cliff face of the coast of Sunderland Bay.