Cat Selfies

My ex-boss demanded more cat posts. Apparently there isn’t enough information about and pictures of cats on the Internet already.

It seems that she’s not the only one who feels that way. Humans, it seems, just can’t keep up with the demand for cat pictures.

Two developers are working to fix this serious deficiency.

Acceleroto has released Cat Selfie for iOS devices, while Snapcat has Snapcat for Android.

Both apps serve the same purpose: they allow your cats to take their own picture, saving you time and effort.

The Android app is the better deal at this time. Not only does it have the ability to upload photos directly to EyeEm, Facebook, and Twitter–capabilities the iOS app lacks–but it’s also free, unlike the iOS device.

Cat selfies are apparently a thing. A quick Google search shows well over a million results for “cat selfies”. News to me; I guess I’m behind the curve again. So, in the interest of remedying my ignorance, I installed Snapcat on my phone and turned it over to Yuki for a test run. Yes, for the record, my phone does have a screen protector.

Both apps work in much the same way: the screen displays a moving red dot (or, in the case of the iOS app, a “bouncing ‘flaming laser'”, which sure sounds like a moving red dot to me). You turn on the phone, launch the app, and walk away. You cat will chase the dot and the app will take a picture every time the cat touches the screen. That’s the theory, anyway. As we all know, the difference between theory and reality is that in theory there is no difference.

Yuki’s first two attempts ended in failure when he flipped the phone over onto its face. Not only did that not result in a picture, but it meant he couldn’t chase the red dot anymore. Once he figured that out, though, things got a little better.

The first conclusion we can draw is that Yuki sucks as a photographer:

In all fairness to The Floof, though, his efforts are no worse than a lot of human’s selfies I’ve seen. Also, note that the app does not use the camera flash, something that isn’t made clear in the documentation. I turned the lights up and gave Yuki a second chance.

He did a little bit better. The second picture in particular is quite amusing, but it still has some problems with blurring around the edges that can’t all be chalked up to his fur.

In order to see how much of the problems were unique to Yuki, I tried to enlist the other cats. Kaja, despite her reputation as a mighty huntress showed no inclination to attack the red dot, though she was happy to watch it for several minutes. Rhubarb and Watanuki were sharing a sunbeam in the living room. They too were happy to watch the dot in amicable peace, but showed no inclination to move, let alone lift a paw to chase it. Kokoro initially declined my invitation to show off her artistic talents, as her stomach was feeling somewhat unsettled. She was far more interested in purging herself of a hairball than taking pictures. Even once her primary concern was remedied, she was more interested in the empty food bowl than the phone next to it.

So the final score is four cats with no interest in photography and one who’s interested but unskilled. Perhaps he’ll improve with practice.

Next time: Apps to help your cats to write music. Oh, wait, there don’t seem to be any. Market opportunity! Any app developers who want to fill the niche? Drop me a line. I’ll be happy to organize a feline QA team.

What’s Up With Google?

In fairness to Apple in regard to yesterday’s comments about ransomware beginning to appear on OS-X, I should note that Google is having similar issues.

Last month, Infoworld reported that ransomware is showing up on Android devices. They cite an alert from mobile security vendor Symantec about a fake anti-virus app that masquerades as a legitimate app. When launched, it appears to be doing a security scan, and then reports that viruses have been found and asks you to pay for the full version of the scanner to remove them.

If you decline to pay up, it escalates its actions with more virus warnings, pop-up messages, alerts claiming that pornographic images have been found on the device, preventing other apps from being launched, and (of course) preventing itself from being uninstalled. Eventually it gets so bad that the phone is quite literally unusable, and with some versions of Android the app even manages to block access to the factory reset functionality.

There’s a video of the ransomware’s activity in the article linked above, and it’s worth watching even if you don’t have an Android phone. It’s fascinating in a strange, sick sort of way.


In cheerier Google news, many people have been wondering when we’re going to get some clarity about new versions of Android. Multiple sources are reporting that Google has just sent out invitations for an “event” hosted by Sundar Pichai, the head of the Android and Chrome groups. The event will be next Wednesday, 24 July. No details about the topics for discussion have been released, leading to mass speculation that we’ll find out what’s up with Android 4.3 and/or 5.0.

Several sources, including Engadget are reporting that OfficeMax has leaked planning and pricing documents that state that an updated Nexus 7 will be arriving in stores as early as 20 July, which dovetails nicely with the Google event. Android Central has pictures of what it believes to be the new hardware, though they note that it could be a prototype. If their information is correct, it’s a small but significant upgrade over the current version.


Good news, bad news: The good news is that Google has fixed a major security vulnerability in Google Glass. The vulnerability allowed an attacker to take over a Glass by showing the wearer a QR code–the mere act of Glass’ camera seeing the code resulted in it acting on the code. The bad news: as with any other software project, there are undoubtedly more security flaws lurking. Realistically, not all of the will be found, let alone fixed, before Glass starts shipping to the public.


Let’s end on a cheerier note. Dorky as “OK, Glass” may sound as the trigger for Glass to do something, it could have been much, much worse. Multiple sources are linking to Amanda Rosenberg’s post describing the origin of the phrase. Several rejected options are included: “Listen up Glass”, “Device, please” (I suspect that would quickly have become “Please, please, please, please, please), and “Glassicus” (what?)

Unfortunately, the list also includes the one choice that would have made me want to use it:

Yes, “Pew, pew, pew” is on the rejected list. Alas. Not as cheery an ending as I had hoped.

Say What?

Sheer genius or sheer idiocy? (If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a few days, you can probably guess what the answer is…)

HP has announced the impending release (come September) of what I can only describe as a 21 inch Android tablet.


They’re calling it the “Slate 21”, and they’re pitching it as a combination of a multimedia station and a desktop computer. The specs are–except for the size–similar to the current crop of high-end Android phones: 1920×1080 screen, Tegra 4 processor, 8GB of storage (expandable via SD card), and so on. The price is similar, too: $399.

We need a name for this class of objects–somewhere between tablet and computer–I’ll propose “comlet” by analogy with “phablet” for something between a phone and a tablet, but I’m open to suggestions. This isn’t the first attempt to merge the two categories, but the previous attempts I’m aware of are essentially notebook/tablet combinations; this is the first I’ve seen that tries to do the trick with a desktop.

What makes it a desktop computer? According to HP, the addition of office software from KingSoft, enhanced drivers to allow the use of USB keyboards and USB hard drives, and the ability to print (if you have one of HP’s web-enabled printers).

What makes it a multimedia box? DTS sound and the ability to use standard wall mounts. (The puff piece linked in the previous paragraph also cites Wi-Fi Direct and BT 3.0, but I’m not clear how connectivity options qualify as multimedia features.)

I think this screams “novelty item”. It’s too big to lug around the house so your videos and music can move around with you – and that’s assuming it includes a battery: if it has to be plugged in, you might as well use the wall-mount option and leave it in… um… some room. It’s too small for the typical living room or bedroom, where you generally are sitting on the other side of the room. It might work in an office–21 inch monitors are reasonably common–but does anyone really want to sit in their office chair and watch a movie?

As for its utility as a desktop computer, I find it telling that the HP piece states that Splashtop2 will be pre-installed on the gadget. Splashtop is remote-access software, so you could use your comlet to work remotely on your PC or Mac from the comfort of your… um… office chair: right in front of the computer.

Yeah, OK, I can think of some niche uses for it. I could see it being useful in a dorm room or small apartment (though even there, you would get more flexibility with a low-end laptop and a small TV for about the same price).

This is one of those “Thank you for thinking outside the box, but…” ideas. I commend HP for trying something new, but unless they can come up with a more compelling purpose than “it’s never been done before”, I can’t see it catching on.

Now, if they built the same technology into a range of TVs–something that would work in a living room–they might have something worthwhile. Android makes a nice streaming media box, and building the ability to play videos and games on a truly giant screen, in the same way that DVD and Blu-Ray players have been built into TVs has some appeal. It looks like HP was thinking along those lines. Their promo piece does say “When you’re playing games, for example, imagine that you’re playing something like Angry Birds on a gian screen.” But 21 inches is only “giant” by comparison with a 5 inch phone; not what most people picture when they hear the word.

Google I/O 2013

Google I/O, the annual developer conference, is in full swing and, despite the hopes of the masses, there weren’t any really major hardware or Android announcements in Wednesday’s action.

As Sundar Pichai (head of Google’s Chrome and Android divisions) promised, the focus this year really is on goodies for developers; it’s also about Google’s ongoing efforts to consolidate redundant services and to become more a part of your daily life beyond search.

So what does Google have for us at I/O this year?

We’ve got a bunch of updates to the the Google Play Services, which are a set of tools and APIs that can be used in app development. The updates include improvements and enhancements to the map and location functionality (letting developers figure out where a device is, take certain actions when entering or leaving specific areas, and determine whether you’re walking, biking, or driving*), to messaging functionality (improvements to capacity and cross-device notification), and to gaming (sharing game state across devices, managing achievements and leaderboards, and simplifying multiplayer programming). There’s a lot of good stuff there for developers; for me personally, though, the only one that sounds useful is the ability to dismiss a notification on one device and have it go away on all my other devices as well.

* Google Maps is also getting an update on phones and the desktop, integrating business ratings and offers, Street View and Google Earth, and user-submitted photos.

Developers also get a new tool for creating apps and the ability to push pre-release app builds via the Play store with access controlled via Google+. The first should be useful, as it will allow simultaneous viewing of the app at a variety of screen sizes and orientations. The latter doesn’t seem to offer any real advantage over the current practice of internally-controlled access lists – losing the need to sideload apps seems pretty minor; I only recall one bug that could be directly traced to testing via sideloading. Maybe some of my former cow-orkers would care to comment on the potential advantages?

What a surprise! Google has a new music subscription service – probably the worst-kept secret leading up to Google I/O. I’ve read all of the articles I’ve found so far, and I’m not seeing what this brings us other than the Google name. It looks very similar to Spotify and other streaming services. I could see some utility if it’s tightly integrated with the existing Google Play Music, analyzing the music you already own and making recommendations based on that. It appears that is part of the plan, but it doesn’t seem like enough to take this beyond the “me too” level.

The various chat and messaging services are being merged. Google+ Hangouts, Google Messenger, Google Talk, and Gmail are now all part of a single “Hangout” infrastructure. Pardon me while I go take a nap. I’m sure it’s great that all these different channels will now interoperate, but this is pretty much a snooze for someone whose webcam is more of a webcan’t.

Anything else? There’s a big package of enhancements coming to Google’s core search functionality, all aimed at letting you search in a more “natural” way. Changes include using relationships between objects to provide related context (the example used in the demo was that asking about the population of India would also trigger Google to display a sidebar with population data for other countries), to provide context-sensitive searching (for example, recalling a recent search for airline information to provide location data for searches for hotels, rental cars, and restaurants), and – if you’re using Chrome – to provide an always-on, voice input mechanism for those searches. The first two could be useful (privacy implications aside), but that last one bothers me a bit. Like many people, I leave a few common applications running constantly: email, browser, file manager. Do I really want Chrome sitting there in the background listening for its trigger phrase? Again, leaving aside the privacy implications, either it’s using a chunk of CPU for local processing of the audio stream, or its using a chunk of bandwidth to send the stream to Google for processing. (Pause for question: why do webcams have a light that comes on when the camera is active, but not the mike? Or does the light serve as a notification for either or both functions? If so, how, in Google’s new “always-on” “Conversational Search” world, does one know if their webcam is being used to spy on them (see this and this for recent cases – I’m not even going here yet – that’s a post for another day.)

But I digress. What else is Google offering?

Google+ is getting a bunch of updates beyond the changes I’ve already mentioned, most of them enhancements to photo editing and tagging.

How about a shiny new Galaxy S 4 (arguably the current latest word in Android phones) with stock Android 4.2, rather than with Samsung’s tweaks and proprietary extensions? The main appeal here is quick access to official Android updates without needing to hack the phone. Sounds appealing, given the usual slow pace of official OS updates, but the full retail price of $649 is a bit offputting – and a lot of people seem to like manufacturers’ UI enhancements (TouchWiz, Sense, MotoBlur, and so on). So limited appeal overall. (Personally, I’d rather see Google working with (or leaning on) the device manufacturers and carriers to streamline the upgrade approval process.)

That’s pretty much it. No new Android OS (a reference to a new 4.3 release showed up briefly on an Android Developers’ site, but was quickly removed and no official word has been released). No update to the Nexus 7 – no new hardware at all, in fact. In short, nothing that triggers my issues with delayed gratification.

OK, so where does that leave us in reality? We should be seeing a flood of app updates that incorporate the new APIs Google is offering. My best guess for the next killer app: Your phone detects that you’re walking towards the door and pops up a notification to remind you to take your keys (including specifying door keys or car keys depending on whether you’re heading for the front door or garage door), tells you whether you need a jacket, and analyzes what you’re wearing to tell you whether the blue one or the black one will go better with your shirt. A suggestion for whoever writes this app: don’t make it ad-supported. Instead, the paid version should allow users to turn off the voice prompt that says “Are you really going outside dressed like that?” Trust me, you’ll make a mint.