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I recently joined the ranks of tablet owners by getting my hands on a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.

The first thing to mention is how awesome using  a stylus is (a stylus is like a pen). A few minutes of using a stylus and using fingers to swipe around seems so 2012. A stylus is great for handwriting notes in meetings and doing anything that requires precision (such as image editing and certain types of games).

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks scouring the web trying to find the best apps to use and thought I would share my findings so far.

Unfortunately, it is true that there aren’t anywhere near as many awesome apps for Android as there are for iOS. However, things seem to be changing, and I’ve even come across a few amazing apps that are Android only!

So here are my recommendations so far (I’ll post more when I’ve got more to share).

Swype

I’ve been using Swype as a replacement for the keyboard on my phone for a while now, but held off installing it on my tablet to see how the default keyboard fared. Verdict – it was rubbish compared to Swype.

Swype is a gesture recognition way to use your keyboard. You swipe your finger across the screen over the letters of the word you wish to type and Swype works out which word you meant. It is incredibly accurate and becomes even more accurate the more you use it.

The ‘Living Language’ feature of Swype means that the dictionary is always updating with the latest words by looking at the words being mentioned on major news sites and other Swype users.

Swype is the kind of tool that amazes people when they first see it. It is certainly worth getting past the slight learning curve at the beginning. Furthermore – I have a feeling that the team at Swype will continue to create smart new algorithms that will make this product even better.

SimpleMind

This is a beautiful and easy to use mind-mapping tool. I’ve been having lots of fun playing with the free version, but I’m quite tempted to pay the £3 for the fully featured premium version that allows you to link mind maps together and gives you a range of styling options.

The dragging interface is intuitive and the workspace is uncluttered, and the app works amazingly well with the Samsung Stylus.

Any.Do

After playing with a few different to-do list apps, I think I’m going to settle on Any.Do.

It doesn’t have many features, which is a blessing for any to-do app. It’s design is simple and elegant whilst the widget is clean and customisable. It syncs across all of your devices and the Chrome extension looks pretty sleek too.

Bacon Reader

If you are a Reddit fan (and if you are not then you need to check it out), then you need the bizarrely named Bacon Reader app.

It offers a great swipe based way to explore your favourite topics and manage your account.

Pocket

Pocket is a bookmarking/read-it-later app which takes the page you are reading and saves it for later offline reading.

Although I already use Delicious for social bookmarking, I’ve decided that Pocket is going to be used for resources that are of a high quality – not just things that I may need to reference later. Kind of like a curated bookmarking service.

It has all the tagging functionality and cross platform synchronisation you expect and also a clean user interface that gives you a little snippet of each page you have bookmarked.

I don’t think it has the same kind of open architecture you would find from Delicious, so it will unlikely ever be a replacement. But it’s pretty darn stylish.

Monkey Write

This cool little app turns learning Chinese characters into a game. You have to get the strokes in the right order in order to earn stars.

I’ve only gone through a couple of workbooks, but it’s proving to be a fascinating introduction into the world of Chinese symbols.

The bug downside to this seems to be the cost. At £2 for every new workbook, it could turn out to be pretty expensive to work your way through all of them.

Regardless, there is a deep sense of satisfaction and pleasure writing these letters and I’m already pretty hooked.

GalaxIR

When I first touched a Tablet I envisioned the gaming potential. Point and click games like Command & COnquer would take on a whole new life!

Unfortunately, all we seem to get is casual games like Angry Birds.

GalaxIR has given me new hope for tablet games. Its a game that could only really be played on a tablet as it requires you to move your hand around the screen selecting units, putting them into groups and attacking the enemy at a super fast speed.

The game itself isn’t too polished – but to me it is standing at the cutting edge of tablet gaming.

Aldiko

Books online seem to come is a range of different filetypes – and Aldiko seems to cover most of them.

It has a cool little bookshelf, let’s you sync between devices, is fully customisable with night time lighting etc and gives you access to lot of catalogues and stores.

The quality of PDF’s didn’t seem to be quite as good as using the officical PDF reader though.

It is difficult to think of your behaviour as being directed by forces outside of your control. The idea that you are not an autonomous individual creating judgements independently is something that is difficult to accept.

Unfortunately for our ego, there are hundreds of psychological studies that prove our opinions, thoughts and actions are not entirely our own.

Whilst reading Thinking Fast and Slow I came across an interesting psychological concept known as priming. In short, the idea is that you can prime somebody to give a particular answer by exposing them to stimulus before hand. You can try it yourself – casually talk to somebody about their lunch, ask them what they ate and then ask them to fill in the missing letter in ‘SO_P’. It is likely they will choose ‘SOUP’. Try it with somebody else but talk to them about  bathrooms, cleaning and showers then it is likely they will opt for ‘SOAP’.

The term goes back to a study in 1996 by John Barge who demonstrated that making people think of old age during a word game made them walk around more slowly afterwards.

There are tonnes of examples of priming given in the book and across the web. A picture of eyes will make people more honest and thoughts of money make people more antisocial and less likely to help other people.

Of course, the concept of priming has an important effect on the role of the media. Issues that are given a high prominence in the media will be primed in peoples mind come election day.

The last few years have seen the adoption of social networking increase rapidly. From Facebook to Twitter,  LinkedIn to Flickr – there is a social network for just about anything.

As the revolution of social networking continues unabated, there comes a growing need to explore patterns within the networks – a process called social network analysis (SNA)

Previously, the world of social network analysis could only be accessed with a bit of computing knowledge. However, an open source programme called Nodexl has changed that by bringing some of the important metrics used to understand a network, and the ability to create impressive network graphs, into Excel.

Nodexl makes understanding a social network graph easy for anyone who can navigate around a spreadsheet. Excel is often where the world of computer programmers and the rest of us can meet up and speak the same language. Nodexl also makes it easy to import data from existing social networks such as Twitter, Flickr and Youtube

The people that can begin to make use of network graphs range from marketers to activists – and I imagine they are now a staple of any well equipped social media political campaign. Using a social network graph you can (among other things):

  • Spot the trusted influencers in a network
  • Find the important people that act as bridges between groups
  • Uncover isolated people and groups
  • Find the people who seem good at connecting a group
  • Plot who is at the centre and who is at the periphery of a network
  • Work out the where the weakest points of a network are
  • Assess who is best placed to replace a network admin
There are two basic components of a social graph:
  • Node: In a social network a node will usually represent a single person – but it can also represent an event, hashtag etc
  • Edge: A connection/interaction between two nodes – such as a friendship in Facebook, a follow on Twitter or an attendance at an event or Twitter Hashtag.

One major question that a social network analysis asks is how connected nodes (or people) are. But what determines how connected any person is? What metrics can be used to work it out how influential or powerful any individual player is?

These are some of the major metrics used in Nodexl – and they offer a good way to start thinking about your own networks:

  • Centrality – A key term which refers to how ‘in the middle’ a node is in a network.
  • Degree centrality – a count of the number of nodes a node is connected to. This could be the number of people that follow you on Twitter, or the amount of people that viewed a YouTube video. It is important to remember that a high degree score isn’t necessarily the most important factor in measuring a nodes importance.
  • In Degree and Out Degree – A connection between two nodes can be undirected (we are mutual friends on Facebook) or directed (you follow someone on Twitter that doesn’t follow you back). The In-Degree refers to the number of inbound connections, and Out-Degree refers to the number of outbound connections.
  • Geodesic distances – A geodesic distance is the shortest possible distance between two nodes  (popularly known as the degree of separation). In social network analysis, a nodes shortest and longest geodesic distance is recorded (the longest possible distance between a node and another is sometimes refered to as its eccentricity and can be used to work out the diameter of a network). An average geodesic distance of an entire network is worked out to assess how close community members are to each other.
  • Closeness centrality – This metric determines how well connected a node is in the overall network. It takes into account a nodes geodesic distance from all other nodes. Using this metric you can find people that don’t have strong connections.
  • Betweenness centrality – A score of how often a node is on the shortest path between two other nodes. This can be thought of as a bridge score – how important a node is at bridging other connections. People with a high betweenness centrality are often known as key players. A node could only have a degree centrality of 2, but if those two connections bridge to large unconnected groups, then that node will have a high betweenness centrality.
  • Eigenvector centrality – This looks at how well connected the people you are connected to are. It scores how much of a network a node can reach in comparison to the same amount of effort enacted by every other node in the network.

I am going to be exploring social network analysis over the next few weeks and blogging what I find here – if you want to follow along make sure you follow me on twitter or subscribe for updates.

We are currently undergoing a revolution in the way we manufacture our goods. The unreal devices we see in science fiction shows like Star Trek are appearing in our real world at an accelerating rate.

In Southampton, engineers have used 3D printers to  successfully create a fully functional miniature plane with a two meter wingspan that can hit a top speed of 100 miles per hour. Operating much like the Replicator in Star Trek, this achievement is proof of the radical changes underway in the way complicated machines are built, as the Southampton team explains:

“This technology allows a highly-tailored aircraft to be developed from concept to first flight in days. Using conventional materials and manufacturing techniques, such as composites, this would normally take months.”

Over in China the manufacturing giant Foxconn, a major producer of electronic goods which includes Apple products, is planning on adding a million robots to its factories over the next three years.

The company, notorious owners of the Chinese ‘suicide factory’, are increasing it’s automated workforce up from its current level of 10,000 robots. Naturally, there are growing fears that the ten fold increase will cause many human workers to lose their jobs.

The fear of massive redundancy due to automation in the manufacturing sector is sharpened by the high unemployment rate induced by the poor state of the world markets - and with no clear signs of the economy getting better anytime soon, what are all the jobless humans to do?

Of course, there is no way that the robotic factory takeover will ever be prevented. Why employ five expensive humans when you can buy one robot who never calls in sick? Why hire an office cleaner when you can just buy a robot vacuum cleaners for a couple of hundred pounds?

So the question is – how do we face this revolution? According to Seth Godin, we should see it as an opportunity:

“Protectionism isn’t going to fix this problem. Neither is stimulus of old factories or yelling in frustration and anger. No, the only useful response is to view this as an opportunity. To poorly paraphrase Clay Shirky, every revolution destroys the last thing before it turns a profit on a new thing.

The networked revolution is creating huge profits, significant opportunities and a lot of change. What it’s not doing is providing millions of brain-dead, corner office, follow-the-manual middle class jobs. And it’s not going to.”

So it’s a good thing, right? Who really wants to clean meat at a slaughterhouse or work in a Foxconn factory where your colleagues regularly throw themselves out of windows?

But can these redundant workers really take any solace in the idea that there will be significant opportunities and huge profits when the robotic age truly sets in?

If history has taught us anything it is that these benefits will go straight into the pockets of those people that own these robots – and leave millions out of work.

Whilst the utopian view of a future society of leisure and freedom from mundane jobs is appealing, far more convincing is the prospect that the unemployed will begin to resent these machines and begin a struggle against them – something foretold in countless science fiction stories.

Do these science fiction stories have a solution? In the words of the greatest, Issac Asimov:

Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not.”

I came across a worrying call for research proposals (dated July 14th) by the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA are the division of the US military that are at the forefront of advanced warfare techniques – whether it is robotics, nano-technology or (as this latest solicitation suggests) social media.

Social media must be the thorn in the side of any military. As the epitome of hierarchical structures, military force is threatened by the rise of networked forms of organisation. Both terrorists and activists alike are able to capitalise on the borderless benefits of social media by interacting and communicating under the radar, creating and disseminating their own images of global conflict and recruiting new members.

It is not surprising that the US military would begin building a social media based approach to warfare and  try to gain control over the anarchic web, especially if they want to influence and recruit the new digitally native generation.

The DARPA announcement is offering $42 million as part of the Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program to any project that can help the US face the ‘profound’ changes of the communication revolution and help leverage the power of social media. The four program goals are:

1. Detect, classify, measure and track the (a) formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes), and (b) purposeful or deceptive messaging and misinformation.

2. Recognize persuasion campaign structures and influence operations across social media sites and communities.

3. Identify participants and intent, and measure effects of persuasion campaigns.

4. Counter messaging of detected adversary influence operations.

The document explains that current approaches to social media rely on chance and manual methods to ‘detect, classify, measure, track and influence events in social media’. This needs to be replaced by automated processes that can deal with the millions of person to person interactions that occur online every day. The main technological areas to be focused on are:

1. Linguistic cues, patterns of information flow, topic trend analysis, narrative structure analysis, sentiment detection and opinion mining;

2. Meme tracking across communities, graph analytics/probabilistic reasoning, pattern detection, cultural narratives;

3. Inducing identities, modeling emergent communities, trust analytics, network dynamics modeling;

4. Automated content generation, bots in social media, crowd sourcing.

It seems to me that DARPA intend to build programmes that will use natural language processing and meme tracking to find relevant conversations, intervene when any conversation reaches a dangerous level and use bots to communicate with all parties involved (probably a bot pretending to be human).

Most of the technology for the above already exists. For example, market researchers have been processing and automatically understanding vast amounts of text for some time now, and the Turing test is getting closer every year to convincing a panel of judges that a computer is a person.

It seems to me that the social media landscape and tools that have been so liberating these past few years will eventually fall into the hands of governmental authorities and become instruments of state violence and surveillance. The only question now is how quickly can those that resist the state create powerful social media tools of their own.

This infographic demonstrates how understanding the scale of involvement in social media can help distinguish and categorise different social networking systems.

In such a short space of time, technology and the internet has spread into previously unimaginable areas. But where next?

I found this list over at the TED conversation page from a guy called Christophe Cop.

* Social control networks
* Community to virtual countries with parallel tax and income systems
* verbal interaction with pc
* A complete documented systems of virtual layers worldwide, with virtual objects &c.
* Deep democracy systems
* Open data (& visualisation) everywhere
* Brain connections with the cloud
* Rewiring and re-shaping of the real-world with those tools
* Meeting places where groups of people go online together (instead of individuals coming together online)
* AI- life coach
* Biomonitoring
* More sensors connected to the cloud
* (free), open and smart integrating and commutating systems for everybody to use according to personal needs and demands.
* more Alternate reality games (like Urgent Evoke, but improved)
* personal virtual aura’s

The problem with robots is that they only do what they are told to do by us humans. We invent programing languages, give them instructions, and they usually go off and do exactly what we tell them.

Not for much longer. A team in Australia has taught robots, called LingoDroids, how to use and invent spoken language. These LingoDroids move about on three wheels and map their surrounding area. After they discover a new area, they use a range of syllables to give it a name. They then go around finding other LingoDroids and, using their microphone and speakers, tell each other about the area they have mapped.

Pretty basic stuff, but a landmark event nonetheless. Language remains one of humanities deepest mysteries, and the question of where humans get the ability to acquire language is a subject that provokes massive debate.

The researchers hope that it will not be long before the robots are able to communicate with humans

Check out these two videos – the first shows the amazing manoeuvres of the Quadrotor and the second shows how it can use Kinect to ‘see’ its environment. It can’t be much longer until these are used for military purposes and surveillance.

Although a tricky term – crowdsourcing can be defined as ‘enlisting a crowd of humans to help solve a problem defined by the system owners’.

Accordingly, there are four questions that are asked in a crowdsourcing project:

  • How to recruit and retain users?
  • What contributions can users make?
  • How to combine user contributions to solve the target problem?
  • How to evaluate users and their contributions?

Web based crowdsourcing projects benefit from a large amount of potential users, creative and sophisticated social tools, analytical software and easy user management.

(Taken from Crowdsourcing Systems on the World-Wide Web)

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