Dispatches from the contextual world — my ACSTAC 2014 talk

On 3/15 I was invited to talk at ACSTAC (Anatolia College Science and Technology Annual Conference) at my high school alma mater Anatolia College. I talked about how the Internet, data, algorithms, and predictive AI shape the present and future of our personas and society, and how technology facilitates the creation of innovative startups and businesses. Below you can find the presentation’s slides and an edited transcript of my talk.

Here’s a simple truth: the Internet has radically changed our world and is, effectively, an augmentation of our brains’ memories. Over the course of the past 20 years the idea of networking all the world’s computers has gone from a research science pipe-dream to a necessary condition for economic and social growth. From government and university labs to kitchen tables and city streets. We are all travelers now, desperate souls searching for a signal to connect us all. And it is awesome.

With the advent of machine learning and artificial intelligence, machines, and by machines I mean both the actual hardware devices and the software, algorithms, and code running inside them and on the cloud, will be just like us and someday we almost won’t be able to tell the difference between us and them unless for our own Voight-Kampff test.

In order to try to understand the future we have to first understand the past and see how we’ve come to this very point in human history—to be on the verge of creating stuff that might be eventually smarter than ourselves.

Douglas Adams proposed three axioms to describe technology. That anything that already exists when you’re born is normal, that anything invented during your youth is exciting, and that anything invented after thirty-five is against the status quo. The Internet is relatively a very young technology. The World Wide Web just turned 25 few days ago. Despite its huge penetration in our society in an unprecedented level we still do not fully comprehend it as a medium of communication, expression, business, research and the list goes on. We know our approach towards the future is one of fear. We’re afraid of the unknown, of the uncontrollable and that’s only natural. Sometimes we look like whiny pessimists who complain about how things are somehow worse than what they have been before and feel entitled to this feeling. But we’re wrong.

Because in order keep growing, to keep getting better as a society and people we need to strive for progress, for the new, for innovative stuff—we need to create. How do we define progress then? Progress is the accelerated rate of change – and the Internet is producing more progress than progress ever dreamed of. Why are we so quick to assume then that the future is a hybrid of a Stanley Kubrick/Blade Runner-like dystopia? When you look those people on the bus with their newspapers you don’t think they’re antisocial. Because it’s natural to you as per Douglas’ first axiom. We think that technology and the Internet have made our lives somehow worse – or that they try to – but that’s just nonsense. Never before we were able to communicate the way we communicate now, this very way our generation was born with. I’m online since 1999 and I always felt, like, wow!, everything in my life is richer and deeper thanks to new technologies. The opportunities for expression, business, and innovation are greater than ever before. Our world changes and that’s not as bad as it seems like and despite technology’s shortcomings, it gives voice and freedom to create to so many.

Anytime a new technology gets introduced we, the tech community, try to reanswer all these questions. This xkcd comic strip highlights this conundrum perfectly. Yes, we might be alienated and perhaps more than before but it’s not the Internet’s fault—in fact, research shows it makes us more connected with our friends in real life. We got through the alienation of the telephone, that books will make us forget, that the telegraph will negatively impact our skills to write prose. We’re still here and our world is more than ever before connected, social, intelligent, educated. Better.

We didn’t get flying cars but we can read what happens in the world in real-time thanks to Twitter. Wikipedia, Khan Academy, and Coursera are the closest thing to Matrix-like instant brain downloads we have today.

The phrase I mentioned a bit earlier is a very interesting one – “real life”. What’s real and what’s not? As Morpheus said in The Matrix everything is just electrical signals that our brain interprets in different ways. Reality is confusing. To elaborate: the term digital dualism was coined by researcher Nathan Jurgenson and is the notion that people conceptualize the world into online and offline—and as Nathan says, it’s not true anymore—in fact, it was never true but we only now seem to understand it. The common (mis)understanding is that experience is zero-sum: time spent online means less spent offline. We are either jacked into the Matrix or not; we are either looking at our devices or not. But the Internet isn’t an adjunct to real life; it’s not another place. You don’t do things “on the internet,” you just do things. The network is interwoven into every moment of our lives, and we should treat it that way.

Almost always the experience of each succeeding generation is so different from that of the previous one that there will always be people to whom it seems that any connection of the key values between those of the present and those of the past has been lost. People before the Internet were not measurably wiser, sitting around discussing Proust. They were watching Married With Children and playing video games.

After this brief theoretical discussion of the Internet’s nature let’s see where we are right now. Where we’ve come to. I mentioned that we’ll cover wearable computing devices and contextual services. Let’s start with the former.

Take for instance Jawbone Up and Nike Fuelband. They’re able to record where you go, how many steps you make a day, how fast or slow, how good you sleep and each sleep phase you go through every night. They’re able to measure calories burned and much more—and some, like the Nike Fuelband, have also integrated a small social network to challenge your friends.

It’s not only about what they record though. It’s equally important to conceptualize and present data with a meaningful way. And this is where this whole thing gets interesting, as we do deeper in the contextual domain. Algorithms now are smart enough to be able to know what data is important to us and know how we should get this information. Foursquare, for example, can send you a push notification the moment you enter a new coffee shop and offer an insider’s tip – or your friend’s for that matter, without you doing anything. And with Square you can order and pay automatically when you enter a venue.

Smart watches are going to be a thing in the future—they’re just not there yet. They are deeply tied with your smartphone and can display stuff like caller info, new texts, calendar notifications, and more. They’re a bit clunky now and many consumers are not quit sold on their premise but they have the potential to be quite a player in the market.

Other wearable computing devices are mounted on the head instead of our wrists. This ski mask for example can show how fast you ski, your location in the ski resort and what’s nearby. It also integrates with your phone to show you caller info, new texts, and other relevant information. As a former ski racer this is extremely exciting because it means in the future we can also integrate stuff like training routes, ideal ski line during the race, time intervals, and so on.

Another subset of wearable devices are sensors – which are going to be huge. Sensors will have paramount implications in the retail, med-tech, transportation, and home automation industries. Here we see Tile, a small sensor that we can attach onto pretty much everything and be able to track that particular item. Other popular sensors are for example the Proteus pills which are pills with an integrated digital sensor which transmits real-time medical data to the doctor and also shows if a patient has received his medication or not, and iBeacon – Apple’s new under-looked technology. iBeacon can radically transform our retail experiences as we’ll see in a moment.

But the pinnacle of things wearable and contextual is Google Glass. After decades of self-reflexive irony and endless retromania, pop culture finally seems to be able to rediscover its futurist leanings. Glass is extremely important for a few reasons. First of all, Glass itself is not something entirely new—products like this existed in research labs for about 10 to 15 years now—but it’s the first major product from a major company (actually one of the world’s largest) which in a way says “time’s almost now.” For it’s irrelevant how well or bad Glass will retail as a consumer product. Its potential is bigger than its market performance. Glass signifies the very notion of machines founding a way on us and soon inside us. Glass won’t stay the same in the future of course—it’ll evolve into contact lenses (already did) and later it’ll be an implant in our retinas. The potential is mind-boggling. It might be scary but it’ll be awesome. To say it differently, Google is proposing that there is value in a totally new product category and a totally new set of questions. Just like the Apple II proposed—that, would you reasonably want a computer in your home if you weren’t an accountant or professional? If you only new back then. That is the question Glass is asking, and I hope in the end that is how it will be judged. Much like the first Macintosh signified the era of the personal computer, Glass signifies the era of us, humans, being almost one with the machines.

Moreover, Glass is a huge paradigm shift: whereas “virtual reality” provided us with a simulation of the real that remained separate from the real, Glass turns the real into a simulation of itself. We won’t be talking about “augmented reality” anymore – we will be “augmenting reality” at will, gesture, and voice command.

Glass can also easily integrate with Google’s data pool, hence capitalize it enormously and push personalization to a whole new level. Glass will be everywhere with you. In the grand scheme of things, it’s one of our baby steps to see how machines see, to augment and make exponentially more usable our world. One step closer to see like, utilize our immediate environment, and harness data with the power of machines — right in front of our eyes.

Glass might as well be our first digital hallucination. Things don’t show up when they want but when you want them to. When there’s nothing to show, there’s nothing to see; ergo you’re offline while always being online.

Imagine seeing this small card in the top-right corner of your right eye in a small projector-like monitor. Because Glass knows where you are it knows what information to show you. That’s context. It can be your boarding information or news from your favorite team when you’re watching the football game. Generally Glass has currently quite limited capability – it can take and display photos and videos, read and send email, texts, make and receive calls, making video hangouts, has turn-by-turn map directions, personalized Google Now suggestions, Google search, and of course supports apps.

We talked a lot about personalization through wearables and contextual services. It’d be nice to see the bigger picture. That this does not apply only to a few select people but to every Internet user. Imagine being able to personalize the world for at least 1.3 billion people around the world. It would be amazing.

Take for example, the already discussed iBeacon example. iBeacon is a contextual technology that can transform retail and other experiences from the ground up. You enter a store which has iBeacon installed and when you reach the t-shirt section for example, it might send a push notification recommending you one because your wardrobe will know which garment you wear and it’ll be able to recommend you additional items.

So you might be interested in that yellow t-shirt and you want to buy it. Just tap on the notification for a one-tap purchase with Square or Google Wallet or even your iTunes account or any other payments platform out there. And perhaps you might not even need to carry it back home because it’ll be delivered to your home within a few hours with an Amazon drone.

The following project is from an art gallery. This gallery based in Antwerp in order to trigger people to have a more interactive experience has installed iBeacons throughout its exhibitions and gives visitors an iPad in order to interact with them. Pretty amazing.

The possibilities with wearables, contextual services, sensors, and intelligent AI and machine learning are endless. It’s up to us to create innovative services that challenge the status quo and introduce something new which wasn’t possible before.

Of course all this is directly bonded with entrepreneurship. When you have that opportunity, where something you believe in should be possible and the technology is enabling that—that’s a pretty good way to start a business. And you should. Assuming it’s really exciting, assuming some people think that they’re going to change the world with you, and that they might make money in the process, then you can build whatever you want.

We have several major technologies that enable the new knowledge economy: predictive AI, recommendations through pattern recognition, contextual services and wearable computing devices. These broad categories with their subsets can be applied either in a B2B or B2C way on industry-verticals like health, home automation, retail experiences, government and city planning, transportation, and finance.

And here’s a list of a few companies that do this stuff in one way or another. Google with Glass and its driverless car, Proteus with the sensor-enabled pill, foursquare redefining the way we experience our cities, Nest making our homes smarter, Estimote introducing iBeacons everywhere, Uber might introduce driverless cabs, and Waze which transforms the way we drive by showing real-time information about the road, accidents, traffic, police, and more. As world-renowned Silicon Valley VC Marc Andreessen said, “software is eating the world.” Originality often consists in linking up ideas whose connection was not previously suspected. We can’t predict the future—we can only say it’ll be exciting.

Connectivity is the basic assumption and natural fabric of everyday life for us. Technology connections are how people meet, express ideas, define identities, and understand each other now. Older generations have, for the most part, used technology to improve productivity — to do things we’ve always done, faster, easier, more cheaply. For our generation, being wired is a way of life.

But you have to know that part of the work of your—and our—generation is going to be technological, using scientific ideas to serve the interests of society, and part of the work is going to be fundamentally human tied with qualities of the human condition—the human emotion—that dominate the whole of history. These things are not separate, but are inexorably linked. None of this is to say that social media, the web, and the Internet in general should not be critiqued. Indeed, they should and must be. However critiques of them should begin with the idea of a networked and connected society happening around us already.

The day Facebook bought SMS

Facebook bought messaging platform WhatsApp for $16+ billion. A huge amount of money by all accounts; an extremely bold and strategic move by Mark Zuckerberg, a guy who doesn’t knock around with innovator’s dilemma.

There comes a moment when you’re that big a company when you need to keep growing. A tipping point of sorts, when you either hunt or become the hunted. Facebook has completely dominated the developed/western world market with more than 1.5 billion users and naturally needs to expand to something beyond it in order to keep the growth rates coming.

Emerging markets—despite being often overvalued, sometimes overlooked, and others ignored—are the next big thing and in Facebook’s case the next “1 billion connected people.” Facebook’s core mission and Mark Zuckerberg’s personal raison d’être. WhatsApp has a monumental global presence and is the clear “messaging platform wars” winner.

TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino:

Instagram’s $1 billion sounds really lame now.

Update: Also relevant: Four numbers that explain why Facebook bought WhatsApp courtesy of Sequoia Capital, WhatsApp’s investors.

The Christmas longform reading list — Best of 2013

I’ve collected 35 longform pieces written in 2013 from sources like Grantland, Believer Mag, The New York Review of Books, WashPost, Buzzfeed (yes, Buzzfeed) to Esquire, GQ, and the Financial Times. The list consists of features, profiles, essays, and interviews.

When traveling I love to load up my Instapaper queue with lots of longform content. Today I’m flying back to Greece for the Christmas break and although I plan to do some reading on board, I mainly plan to catch up with the following humongous list at home1 during the break. I thought collecting all pieces in a single post might be interesting.

Listed in no particular order. Please scroll — there are gems here. Reading time provided by Instapaper. Happy reading.

  1. What’s the matter with the modern world: Jonathan Franzen (30 min)

    Chris Kraus’d lovers Fiona Duncan and Sarah Nicole Prickett were on Twitter, debating the latest instance of an old man yelling at iCloud — a 5,000-word screed against Apple, Amazon, Twitter, smartphones, self-promotion, Jennifer Weiner, poor people, young people, elderly German women, and “the ‘dehumanisation’ of a wedding”.

  2. Interview with Chris Kraus (20 min)

    “Politics is topical—it’s what’s happening now, and we can either respond in the present or avoid it.”

  3. The Financial Crisis: why have no high-level exexutives been prosecuted? (17 min)

    Five years have passed since the onset of what is sometimes called the Great Recession. While the economy has slowly improved, there are still millions of Americans leading lives of quiet desperation: without jobs, without resources, without hope.

  4. An oral history of Friday Night Lights (26 min)

    Possibly the best drama on television, ever. Texas forever!

  5. Peyton Manning on his neck surgeries rehab — and how he almost didn’t make it back (17 min))

    By almost every account the best quarterback ever to play the game. As of writing this very post, Peyton Manning, in his second year with the Broncos broke against the Houston Texans Tom Brady’s record of 50 touchdown passes in a season.

  6. Joe Biden (13 min)

    GQ’s profile on Joe Biden.

  7. Behind the scenes at the final days of 30 Rock (31 min)

    My first Buzzfeed longform piece.

  8. How Blackberry blew it (28 min)

    A tale of ignorance, hubris, and nemesis.

  9. Michael Jordan has not left the building (31 min)

    ESPN’s profile on, the now 50-year old, Michael Jordan.

  10. The poorest rich kids in the world (39 min)

    A thorough profile on the Inman twins, Doris Duke heirs.

  11. Allen Iverson struggles with life after basketball (13 min)

    Iverson stood during a divorce proceeding in Atlanta in 2012 and pulled out his pants pockets. “I don’t even have money for a cheeseburger,” he shouted toward his estranged wife, Tawanna, who then handed him $61.

  12. For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact (28 min)

    Siberian summers do not last long.

  13. 23 and You — Beautiful Stories (39 min)

    Does that commercial DNA test you just bought violate somebody else’s privacy?

  14. Can Silicon Valley embrace politics? (41 min)

    In Silicon Valley, government is considered slow, staffed by mediocrities, and ridden with obsolete rules and inefficiencies.

  15. What it’s like to fail (21 min)

    The personal story of David Raether, a former comedy writer for the sitcom Roseanne who later became homeless.

  16. If he hollers let him go (38 min)

    A profile on Dave Chapell and his comeback.

  17. Thanksgiving in Mongolia (16 min)

    A feature on the remote land of Mongolia.

  18. After Newtown shooting, mourning parents enter into lonely quiet (26 min)

    Washington Post examines the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy.

  19. DNA through the eyes of an engineer (8 min)

    Everything looks exciting again.

  20. George Clooney interview (8 min)

    Esquire meets George Clooney to talk everything George Clooney.

  21. Lunch with Peter Thiel (10 min)

    The one and only Peter Thiel talks future, business, Silicon Valley, and more with the Financial Times.

  22. Let me read your mind (12 min)

    A thorough blogpost research on neuromarketing and its future from the friend of a friend of mine.

  23. Peyton Manning named Sportsman of the Year (29 min)

    Another Peyton Manning profile — this time from Sports Illustrated.

  24. Are we puppets in a wired world? (16 min)

    If anything, 2013 will be rememberd as the year in which privacy broke. Sue Halpern elaborates on it.

  25. Relational Economics (14 min)

    An essay on relational economics.

  26. Forensic Topology (11 min)

    How the urban and architectural environment affects crimes.

  27. Defending the 1% (N/A)

    A Harvard professor writes a paper/essay defending the 1%.

  28. Questions for Free-Market moralists (8 min)

    Amia Srinivasan ponders philosophically free-market’s moralism.

  29. The Red and the Black (32 min)

    “Profit is the motor of capitalism. What would it be under socialism?”, asks Seth Ackerman.

  30. Whole Earth Catalog, the book that changed the world (18 min)

    Steward Brand — the most influential person you’ve (probably) never heard of.

  31. What is Jack Dorsey’s next move? (31 min)

    “Constraint inspires creativity,” he says.

  32. In praise of idleness (9 min)

    Bertrand Russell. Nothing more to say.

  33. We like you so much and want to know you better (N/A)

    “My God, Mae thought. It’s heaven.”

  34. What Facebook, Twitter, Tinder, Instagram, and Internet Porn are doing to American teenagers (27 min)

    ‘Sexting.’

  35. Christmas in Thessaloniki (20 min)

    Believer magazine profiles my hometown’s mayor, Yanni Boutaris. He’s done great work reinventing Thessaloniki. Timely title, as well.


  1. I’m sure some days will be full of holiday ennui — somewhat deserved after a demanding semester.

Sublime Text on steroids

During the past years I’ve found myself trying many text and code editors; from established players like Textmate and Vim to new promising ones like Kod and others. In my opinion Sublime is currently the best code editor out there — it’s a robust combination of simplicity, extensibility, customization, and raw power for the veteran programmer.

The default installation of Sublime Text is good enough for the average user or a newbie programmer. The possibilities through third-party packages, though, are endless. They can totally transform a simple Sublime installation to a full-blown coding powerhouse. Here’s a list of my favorite packages and a small walkthrough of how to customize Sublime Text to fit your needs.

Overview

The gist is this: you have to download Package Control, a package manager that makes it extremely simple to find, install and keep packages up-to-date, then find and install the packages you want. You can customize Sublime through its text-based preferences (they seem daunting in the beginning but they’re so powerful and easy; worry not.) I’ll guide you through setting up a theme, customizing how Sublime Text looks and installing a few packages in an OS X installation.1

Package Control

First of all, we need to install Package Control. This is very easy. Open Sublime and type Control + ` to show the console. Then, if you’re using Sublime Text 22 paste the following command and hit enter:

import urllib2,os; pf='Package Control.sublime-package';
ipp = sublime.installed_packages_path(); os.makedirs( ipp )
if not os.path.exists(ipp) else None;
urllib2.install_opener( urllib2.build_opener( urllib2.ProxyHandler( )));
open( os.path.join( ipp, pf), 'wb' ).write( urllib2.urlopen
('http://sublime.wbond.net/'+pf.replace(' ','%20')).read());
print( 'Please restart Sublime Text to finish installation')

 
Restart Sublime Text. Now you have Package Control installed and can harness the power of packages.

User Preferences

Go to your User Preferences by typing Cmd + ,. Add the following lines inside the {} brackets:

{
//other commands
"default_encoding": "UTF-8",
"word_wrap": true,
"tab_size": 2,
"translate_tabs_to_spaces": true
}

 
The code above will ensure your files are always written in UTF-8 encoding, wrapped inside the window chrome however you resize it, and indenting with tabs of a size of 2 spaces.

Use a comma after each command only if it’s not the last item in your list. Save the file with Cmd + S and you’re done.

Visuals

I recommend hiding tabs. They’re kind of ugly anyway and take useful screen estate. The sidebar is powerful enough for fast file switching either by utilizing the default OS X combination of Cmd + Shift + { (or }) or Cmd + 1/2/3/…, or by utilizing Sublime’s built-in fuzzy search — type Cmd + T with several files open and then navigate to the one you want either by typing its name or using the arrow keys. Another great and fast keyboard navigation trick is Cmd + P; then in the bar type :X, where X is the number of the line you want to go.

In the View menu you should check the Show Status Bar option.

Tomorrow Theme

There are many themes out there catering every need and style. The one I like the most is called Tomorrow and is available for almost every major text editor. In order to install Tomorrow in Sublime Text type Cmd + Shift + P to open Package Control. Then type Install, find the Install Packages, select it and then type Tomorrow — it’ll show you the Tomorrow Color Schemes package. Hit enter and install it.

Then navigate to Preferences ➝ Color Scheme ➝ Tomorrow Color Schemes and select the one you like the most. I prefer the Tomorrow Night version. It looks like this:

Sublime Text

Git

There’s a great Git package for Sublime Text called, umm, Git. Do the usual process (Cmd + Shift + PInstall ➝ type Git) and install the package. Then, for instance, you can utilize the very cool diff viewer in a file right within Sublime Text by typing Cmd + Shift + PDiff. Piece of cake.

DocBlockr

DocBlockr automates the documentation process. Just type /** and then Tab and it does all the documentation lookup for you based on a method’s context. For example, if your method looks like public function awesome(Array $rad){} it will return above it this:

/**
* [awesome description]
* @param Array $rad [description]
* @return [type] [description]
*/

 
Install it by Cmd + Shift + PInstall ➝ type DocBlockr and hit enter.

Alignment

Alignment is a great tool for properly aligning code. If you’re a sucker for preppy code like me and with a light OCD this package works wonders. You can install it by Cmd + Shift + PInstall ➝ type Alignment. When a messy piece of code appears, select it and type Cmd + Control + A.

LaTeXTools

If you’re writing in LaTeX then this package is for you. It allows you to write LaTeX in Sublime, export and live preview it as PDF. First install the MacTex package from here (it’s a 2.3Gb file), then install LaTeXTools by Cmd + Shift + PInstall ➝ type Latextools. In order to fully customize LaTeXTools and the live PDF preview via Skim Reader, please refer to LaTeXTools’ documentation.

Print to HTML

Sublime Text doesn’t support printing files yet but there’s a package for that. It’s called Print to HTML. It prints your code in a code-highlighted HTML file which you open with a browser and print it either as a PDF or on dead trees. Install it by Cmd + Shift + PInstall ➝ type Print, find it in the list and hit enter.

Markdown

Sublime has fully served all my code and text needs but one: writing in Markdown. Nowadays I write almost all my documents3 in Markdown using Mou. I used to use iA Writer but Mou’s features like Copy HTML (export your Markdown document in vanilla HTML ready to paste in a WordPress editor for instance), export as PDF, and an amazing live preview made me switch.

Sublime supports Markdown code highlighting out of the box but it’s fairly limited and, unfortunately, there are no additional features. There are a few Markdown packages I tried with the best of them being Markdown Editing. You can install it by Cmd + Shift + PInstall ➝ type MarkdownEditing.

Although MarkdownEditing supports export to HTML, it’s not vanilla. Moreover, I haven’t automated my Markdown process in Sublime yet, ergo I’m sticking with Mou. But you can definitely give Markdown a try in Sublime.

More Sublime reading


  1. For Windows users: it’s essentially the same process with different keyboard combinations.
  2. As of writing this, the latest stable Sublime Text version is 2.0.2.
  3. For instance this post or even school/academic papers. Although regarding school papers I’ve started experimenting with LaTeX and looks quite cool. I still love Markdown’s simplicity, though.

OS X Minimalism

I was talking with my friend Zac the other day and he sent me a screenshot of his dock. What I found intriguing was the fact that his dock was completely free of clutter and didn’t look at all anything like your typical dock flotsam.

Since its inception Mac OS X was a minimalist OS — it introduced bona fide and groundbreaking UX and human-computer interaction paradigms (this continued later with iOS), kept only the absolute essential elements on the screen, and above all, helped the user do his job and be productive.

I used to keep a relatively sane dock as well but Zac’s system was clearly a lot better so I figured out I’d experiment more with this approach and will see if it works better than the other. (Spoiler: it does.)

Dock

First of all, I cleaned up my dock. Anything I don’t really use every day had to go. Now I have a dock of 5 apps in the iMac (6 in the Macbook; I use Sparrow there) excluding the Finder and Trash 1. This is how it looks like:

Dock

I use Spotlight as an application launcher. Somehow all the Alfred-like apps never got me interested since Spotlight just does the job and is fast enough. option + space to fire up Spotlight and then I type either one or two letters from the name of the app I want to open. Xc for Xcode, P for Plex, Ph for Photoshop and so on and so forth.

Finder

I rarely search for folders or files through Spotlight — I have my file system organized quite well and am really fast on navigating the Finder with keyboard shortcuts and without using the mouse at all. I’ve also built a custom keyboard shortcut script so I can access my Dropbox folder instantly.

A typical Finder access looks like this: click on Finder icon on the dock, open up Dropbox instantly through cmd + shift + v or type Doc, Dow or gi to navigate the pointer to my Documents, Downloads or git folder respectively (or any other folder I might need to), cmd + o to open the folder; then it’s the same letter-typing and cmd + o process as mentioned until I find the specific file.

Visual Clutter

For instance, desktop icons. I prefer no desktop icons at all. That’s what Windows are for, not a Macintosh. Something which is also quite useful is to check on your notifications and eliminate the ones you don’t need like in iOS.

There’s also visual clutter inside apps you use. In this case the axiom I go by is “remove everything that doesn’t have to be there.” In Safari, for example, this means no bookmarks bar (easily accessible via cmd + shift + b) and no tab bar (it shows up automatically anyway when open tabs > 1). 2

Safari

Similarly Finder’s sidebar is also stripped off of every non-essential option. I only left AirDrop, Desktop, my home folder, Dropbox, and Downloads shortcuts.

OS X Finder

Apps like Sublime Text

In other 3rd-party apps it really is up to you and the app itself on how minimal you’ll go — what to remove and what to leave as is. Sometimes, some things are useful however they look like.

Other apps, like Sublime Text and iTerm, because of their customizable nature are meant to be adjusted into a more minimalist look and feel. Personally, I hide the tabs in Sublime Text (they take up uneccessary screen estate and are ugly) and keep a bare bones installation with a custom theme and some useful packages. 3 In iTerm, I’ve made it semi-transparent to ease the multitasking.

Sublime Text

iTerm

Menu Bar

I try to keep the menu bar in order, too. There are so many apps that try to own some screen estate by claiming a spot in the menu bar in order to ‘notify’ you of something or provide easy access to a certain option. I keep apps in the menu bar only if I can’t remove them from there. For example Bowtie which sits in the lower left corner of the screen normally uses a menu bar icon.

Bowtie

Not on my watch. Or Growl (which I still use for a few apps which don’t support Notification Center integration yet).

Menubar

My menu bar consists of Dropbox, Droplr, Plex, LogMeIn, F.lux, and system icons. Surprisingly, I’ve never used Bartender either.

Desktop

(Click for full-size desktop screenshot.)

Overall so far the system not only looks better but also operates a bit faster. I think I’m more productive since visual distractions either by apps on the dock or in-app clutter are eliminated. Visual stimuli are less, hence brain RAM is freed up. I can only recommend going minimal in OS X.


  1. Funny note: I have an OCD with the Trash. I always empty it — even with one file inside.
  2. Regarding Safari extensions I suggest using 1Password (never type a password again; way safer!) and Evernote. I also use the Instapaper one and iCloud for tab sharing.
  3. I’ll write a post about Sublime Text soon.
Link

→ On VisionMobile’s ‘HTML5 vs. Native’ research

Last April, the fine folks of VisionMobile—the leading research company on the apps economy and mobile business models—asked mobile app developers what stops them from using HTML5. It was a big research whose results are extremely interesting. I was fortunate enough to take part in the survey because of 4sqwifi and to be quoted on my opinion.

If you’re a mobile developer, a product or a C-level manager in a mobile/consumer web startup I  recommend paying attention to VisionMobile’s research.

Link

→ Guest post for TEDx Athens

TEDxAthens is one of the few truly good things that happen back in the motherland (Greece) and the guys invited me to write a guest post about tips for maximizing your TEDx experience (it’s in Greek.) Unfortunately this year I can’t join the now two-days gig in Athens.

Flamingo: the IM client your Mac always craved for

I’ve always preferred native clients for web services. Be it calendar (iCal), email (Sparrow), Twitter (Tweetbot) or, in this case, Google Talk. For years I was using Adium, a great open source OS X client supporting all sorts of protocols. Simple, minimal, efficient. Adium, though, never seemed like a truly native OS X app.

Moreover Google never launched a native client for Hangouts (née Talk) on OS X. That was always a problem for me since Talk was my IM of preference. I never did a lot of chatting on Skype except with a few very close friends and iMessages is still quite broken (sorry, Apple—that’s the truth.) Although iMessages has been improved a lot since, say, a year ago I think it still isn’t in a place that’s suitable as a regular day to day IM platform. It’s ideal for texting, just not IM yet.

Hopefully Flamingo solved the IM conundrum on OS X for good. With a fully native OS X approach Christian Dalonzo and Indragie Karunaratne (the guys behind it) re-imagined the UI and UX with great attention to detail and produced a beautiful product. Flamingo stands amidst the IM clients maelstrom as the only solution a true Mac user would love to use day in day out.

Flamingo

Flamingo’s chat UI

In spite of its first version and limited (but extremely well-thought) feature list, Flamingo shows amazing potential. Its all-in-one design sporting buddies, conversations, and messages, all in a single unified window is fantastic. On top of that, Flamingo supports a unified contact management system with seamless transitions between accounts in the same window. There’s also automatic inline-media support from services like CloudApp, Droplr, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and your favorite GIFs. Just paste a supported URL and it’s instantly transformed. Other features include direct file transfer—or via CloudApp and Droplr, blazing fast search and also support for Facebook and XMPP accounts.

At $9.99 it might seem really expensive and unnecessary for many—considering it’s an IM client—but personally I think it’s a very decent price for the software quality one gets. It totally transforms your OS X IM experience (we all know how horrible Google Hangouts Chrome extension is.) Flamingo is available on the Mac App Store.