A Temple Of Pseudoscience: Not the Creation Museum, but Whole Foods

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But it’s only words!

Headline-writing is an art form, I accept that. The few times that I’ve been asked to come up with a sufficiently descriptive, yet concise and catchy phrase to preface an article, I’ve failed miserably. So what follows next is anything but an argument from authority, but…

I hate headlines like this: Subway Chain Will Stop Putting a Chemical Used in Rubber in Its Bread.*

From a scientific level, this kind of a headline is blatantly click-bait, designed to outrage people who don’t stop and think what the word ‘chemical’ means. Which would probably be the same kind of person who would trust the word ‘natural’ (or its counterpart, ‘contains no artificial’) when prefaced when any ingredient in their shopping carts. If anyone ever argues with me that anything natural is always better than anything artificial, I plan to sell them a bottle’s worth of Arsenic.

The article itself is actually quite informative:

That footlong loaf baking in your local Subway’s oven could contain an ingredient called azodicarbonamide. It’s an additive the U.S. Food and Drug Administration permits for use in restricted amounts to strengthen dough and to increase the shelf life of bread, and as a bleaching ingredient in cereal flour—it also happens to be used in plastics and rubber. After a petition launched this week, the ubiquitous sandwich chain announced on Wednesday that it will stop using the additive, though it did not say when.

Azodicarbonamide—banned from use in food in Europe and Australia—is used in the U.S. in Subway’s 9-grain wheat bread, Italian bread, and sourdough bread [PDF]. In Canada it’s in deli-style rolls and Italian bread [PDF]. It can also be found in buns at other restaurant chains and in some grocery aisle breads.

Now this decision by Subway should actually be welcomed, though its not surprising that Europe has led the way in the regulation of food additives over their neighbours across the pond. But ‘chemical used in rubber’ annoys me on a geeky level: benign chemicals (salt!) might have applications in a variety of industries. Wikipedia tells me that only 6% of salt is used for dietary purposes, the rest can be used for anything from making chlorine, PVC and plastics to…. hey, wait a minute, synthetic rubber!

This is possibly part of a larger trend where headlines are designed to be as ‘viral’ as possibly by using tactics honed by tabloid writers since the previous century, but where the tabloids never competed with broadsheets today Buzzfeed and Upworthy are edging the old established media out of the news space. The result? CNN putting up headlines that go “14-year-old girl stabbed her little sister 40 times, police say. The reason why will shock you.” (No, I won’t link to it. It’s not worth giving them an extra click).

Maybe the horse has already bolted and locking the stable door is pointless but I wouldn’t mind going back to a time where headlines were factual and ‘viral’ was just a disease.

*The way the headline is written, I could also parse it in a different way and ask, “But they’ll continue to put rubber in their bread, right?”

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WinAmp and the risk of making Freeware

WinAmp shuts down next month.

Quite a shame, though its retirement won’t affect me as much as that of certain cricketers. I stopped using it what… ten years ago? A little after v3 was released. Continue reading

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A Tale Of Two Dashboards

In May this year, I rented a car. That, by itself, isn’t newsworthy of course, but two things on the dashboard caught my eye and have bugged me ever since. This is what the dashboard looks like: Continue reading

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The Different Ways Men And Women Talk On Facebook

This is depressing in how true it is to stereotype.

How much of it is learned and how much of it is intrinsic, I have no clue.

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Dear Google, Part Deux

Close on the heels of my previous post, this happens:

A number of sources, including tipsters reporting directly to TechCrunch, as well as Google support forum posters and individuals on Twitter are reporting that Google’s Hangouts service is having some trouble routing instant messages correctly. The bug apparently sees messages sent via legacy Google Talk clients delivered to friends using Hangouts who weren’t addressed in the original as well as to their intended target.

One of our tipsters described exactly how it’s happening: Using Google Talk on Windows 7, they attempted to send messages to work mates and found that they’d been delivered to the wrong employee in one case, and to an ex-employee in another. More than 10 people have now reported the same issue in a Google Group for chat and Hangouts support. And, as you can see from the select sample below, many are reporting the same problem via Twitter.

Well done, Google.

That said, as of this morning, Hangouts was updated and it *looks like* the “2 mins” bug has been fixed, but they’ve introduced another idiotic UI “feature”. By default, the main screen of Hangouts shows only a list of your recent conversations, with no way of showing more contacts or those you haven’t had a chat with yet. They seem to have added one more hoop to jump through before starting a conversation. Why can’t I pick or search from the home screen?

This also seems to be another trend with Google: moving from one-click navigation to requiring multiple clicks just to make everything look “neater”. My GMail page suddenly lost all links at the top to access Drive / Maps / Search / Plus, now I have to click a non-descriptive icon to get there. Same with YouTube – it requires multiple clicks to change settings or resolution on videos now.

Maybe I’ll get over it, like I have done various changes in UI for GMail and YouTube and the likes.

Maybe, like some other sites, I’ll just tire of them and just use them less. Wonder if Google has decided to take that chance.

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Is it just me – or me and a couple of others – or has Google started to lose it? Before I rant, here’s a friend’s complaint:

*******s discontinued Creative Kit. It was a cloud-based enhancement to Picasa that let you post-process photos. It was excellent!Now they have added a photo editor to Google Plus. But there are problems. It doesn’t have the functionality that creative kit did. It can only be used with Chrome. And I have to upload a ~5MB file, edit it, and download it back, which sucks.

Which brings me to my latest bugbear: Hangouts. When Google started to roll out Hangouts, they replaced the Talk app in Android. In the description one line stood out for me: I could now share photos. I quite liked the idea – it’s what I often use WhatsApp for but that requires the other person to have a smartphone. This would allow me to share photos with Google (chat) contacts. Quite nice.

Or Not.

Hangouts is possibly Google’s worst ‘popular’ app out there. They’ve removed functionalities that made talk/chat useful and there are bugs that haven’t been patched in months now. Starting with:

  • The “2 mins” bug. Every time I send a message, Hangouts tells me it was sent “2 mins ago”. No, Hangouts, I *just* sent it. Not anywhere between 60 and 120 seconds ago. Or 120 and 180, however they count it. The funniest part is that this filters down into two features.
    – On a trivial level, the message time stamp continues from its incorrect initial timestamp, so messages sent ten minutes previously end up being shown as “12 mins ago”.
    – More seriously, the Video Call feature starts counting time from 2:00. I was a bit confused at first go when it told me I’d been on the call for 2:15 when the other party hadn’t picked my call. Did no one even beta test this?
  • The Video Call has one bug and one missing feature:
    – The bug: When two people try to call each other at roughly similar times, it doesn’t realise this and tries to get both going and gets ‘confused’. This resulted in my requiring at least three tries to end a video call, including Hangouts re-calling my friend while I was trying to hang up.
    – The missing feature: Why can’t I make just audio calls? Why do I have to start a video call and then switch off my camera? Did the developers or marketing research people or WHOEVER drew up the initial specifications not even talk to a single user? Are there no users out there who want to use a phone-like system?
  • Emoticons: Did they really have to go all WhatsApp on them? I realise that WhatsApp may not have been the first in this field, but Hangouts seems to have straight out copied the list of emoticons from WA. And even failed to add a ‘Droid’ emoticon – you would’ve thought that would have been a nice personal touch to Android phones…
  • And my biggest peeve: WHERE IS THE DAMN STATUS INDICATOR? And WHERE IS MY STATUS TAG? Why can’t I set my status to Available / Busy / Away / Invisible? Did none of Google’s beta testers actually use the old Talk in their daily lives? Both features were indispensable to me, and suddenly they’re gone.

There endeth my rant, but Google needs to know how this impacts their users’ behaviour. I have not switched to Google Keep from Evernote, because I don’t know when Google will shut it down like it did Reader. Likewise, I don’t use Currents for RSS or Play for music. And I will any day choose WhatsApp for messaging and Skype for audio/video calls. (Special mention to Skype – they seem to have made their app much better than the bloatware it started out as) I *do* own a Nexus 4, but that has more to do with the price it was available at than my loyalty to the company.

Maybe they won’t miss my custom much, maybe they need to worry about losing that of many.

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