воскресенье, 29 мая 2016 г.

Can't stop complaining about online photo services

A week ago, I explained why I can't use ThisLife for sharing my photo albums. It was not just an expression of indignation because I sent them the link to my post as feedback. Within next 24 hours, Shutterfly staff replied, apologizing for inconvenience, affirming their understanding and promising to resolve the issue as soon as possible. I hope so, and until then I have moved to Google Photos. This week I uploaded the album from my journey to Armenia to that service and noticed how much it has changed since I used it last time.

After a week in Paris in autumn 2014, I organized photos in the same way as now, by renumbering them in the desired order locally. Then I uploaded the pictures to Google Photos, chose sorting by name and everything was done. This time the order of photos after putting them online was completely random: they were arranged neither by name nor by date. Moreover, there was no sorting options to choose from.

I managed to find a weird workaround on the forums. According to them, to achieve the desired order you have to open the same album on Picasa Web (another Google product serving for the same purpose but having worse appearance) and to select sorting by name there. After that, you're done because orders of photos on these two services depend on each other. Very strange workaround, isn't it? Did it help me? No!

People on forums don't lie. They are just more lucky, they don't accidentally create obstacles for themselves. Before going to Picasa Web, I turned the album into a shared one. It blocked the possibility of reordering (certainly, without notifying me about that). I was quick-witted enough to guess that sharing the album on Google Photos may influence the functionality of Picasa Web. After temporarily disabling access to my photos, I managed to apply the workaround from forums. If I didn't find this solution, I'd be telling you how bad Google Photos is. Now I just have to say that it is counterintuitive.

When you will be developing your own service for online photo storage and sharing, please, make it better! Don't hide basic features, don't make the sharing mode different from how a person views their own photos on the homepage. Be simple, be user-friendly!

воскресенье, 22 мая 2016 г.

A guide for making your awesome online photo service unusable

I finished my story about the autumn journey to Portugal five weeks ago but there's still one related memory to share.

Each time I travel abroad, I make tons of photos. Around two-thirds of them usually don't survive my own review (either due to their low quality or because they're too similar to the other ones) but the remaining one-third still consists of several hundreds of photos. I need some place to store them and to be able to show my friends where I've been. Of course, I prefer online options to hard drives. This way, it's easier to share your collection of photos. Furthermore, you don't have to worry that your photos are stored on the PC which can get broken / be left at the old place during the relocation.

I tried many online services before but each of them had some disadvantages. A couple of months before the autumn journey I stumbled across a new candidate. ThisLife claiming that it doesn't compress the files you uploaded and that it provides free unlimited storage for photos (even though storing videos is a paid option) seemed to be a perfect fit for me. I gave it a try after coming back from Lisbon. It was a disappointing experience. The funny fact is that if I tried it after one of my previous journeys, I'd claim that it is awesome.

The thing is that this time I had a mixture of photos from two cameras and these cameras were desynchronized. Would you expect that the difference between the time zones your friend and you live in may affect your travel photos album? I think, you wouldn't. Neither did I. Before uploading the selected photos, I changed their names to three-digit numbers to make them go in the order I want. That approach had always worked on the other services. When you view your album on ThisLife, you can sort the files either by date or by name. But when you share your album with the others, the only alternative is a timeline view, i.e. ordering by the time when the photo was taken. Filenames are ignored. Just imagine the chaos caused by that keeping in mind that for each day there was around a hundred of photos taken with the cameras which had two-hour difference (let alone the fact that sometimes I took the pictures in the same place on two different days). Thus I had to change the dates to fictious ones to make the ordering by time match the desired one. I was so angry that instead of googling how to do that programmatically I made all the renaming stuff manually in the Windows Explorer...

The story would be incomplete without mentioning that ThisLife has a lot of cool features. For example, you can order calendars, metal wallarts, puzzles, iPhone cases, pillows and many other things auto-designed by the service using your photos (you don't even need to pick the photos for that, ThisLife does it on its own). Facial recognition feature is also cool. Instead of simply detecting faces on your photos, it finds similar faces and asks "Who is this person?" about a bunch of pictures at a time. This feature would be cooler if it managed to recognize me :), but at least it detected my friend's face on 24 photos and found the similarity. 50% success rate is not that bad for such a challenging task.

You see, overall ThisLife is great. However, one awkward solution (like having timeline as the only sharing option) is always enough to make your users turn from you. I hope someday they will fix that. Until then I'd better search for alternatives. What online services do you use to store your photos? 

воскресенье, 15 мая 2016 г.


Soon the examinations time will come. It is a good occasion to talk about mnemotechnics. I often take an advantage of using them when I'm trying to memorize a number of things logical connection between which I fail to grasp. Instead, I create my own links and my own logic. That's effective, that's not time-consuming (at least, after some practice), and, finally, that transforms boring things into funny ones. I'd like to show you a couple of examples. I hope they're not too mathy.

Last summer I took an exam in mathematical logic. One of the last questions became a sticking point for many of my coursemates. The goal was to enumerate nine axioms of Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory. Yup, just to reproduce nine obvious statements. However, that turned out to be a challenging task. Even though wiki states that "there are many equivalent formulations of the ZFC [Zermelo–Fraenkel choice] axioms", we had to remember the formulations which our lecturer presented to us. Otherwise, it'd be too easy to make a mistake by providing a redundant axiom or by missing out one. On the other hand, the lecturer didn't explain us why those nine statements consitute the full set of axioms, or how do they relate to each other (I'm even not sure that a good explanation exists). Thus, we had no logical links and no alternative but to cram the statements. But how? They don't even rhyme! Luckily, a few days before, I attended a meeting at Psychological volunteer club "Insight" where my friend was teaching us how to embed various technics in the exam preparation process. Although I had already been familiar with most of the technics, just theory is never enough. Thanks to the exercises we made together in a friendly atmosphere, I gained an insight into how mnemotechnics can help me. By the time of the exam, the exercises hadn't yet slipped my mind. On the last evening, I "built" a memory palace based on my room and managed to memorize ZFC axioms immediately after the first perusal. Moreover, I remembered them even several weeks after the exam without rehearsal. Here is how my links looked:

  • On the shelf on the western wall of my room I have two identical books received on some programming competitions. To make sure that they are the same, I leaf through them and see that the corresponding pages look similar. Axiom of extensionality. Two sets are equal (are the same set) if they have the same elements.
  • I turn to my escritoire. Pens and pencils are in the same box. Axiom of pairing. If x and y are sets, then there exists a set which contains x and y as elements. Here x stands for pens, y substitutes pencils, and the box is the enclosing set.
  • Now I'm near the eastern wall looking at the other shelf. For every set of books (in particular, for the set formed by the third volume of Knuth's monograph and by Tanenbaum's "Modern Operating Systems" standing on the right), imagine that you tear them all into pages (please, don't repeat that anywhere but in your mind). Axiom of union states that "For any set F there is a set A containing every element that is a member of some member of F". F is the set of books, thus a member of some member of F is a page, and A is exactly all those pages torn out and put together.  
  • ... and so on.

My second example relates to December 2015. One definition from computational methods course contained the formula presented below:

In other words, I had to keep in mind the following sequence of numbers: 1, 1/2, 5/12, 3/8, 251/720. This time a rational explanation existed but I started my preparations too late to dig into every detail like that. Hence I had to memorize a sequence of random numbers. First four of them look easy to keep in mind. As for the fifth one...

To recall what the fifth number is, I looked at the third fraction. I formed the numerator of the fifth fraction from the digits of the third one in the order shown by the arrows on the picture above, and then divided it by the factorial of 6. Weird? Sure. Easier to remember and to keep in mind for long? Absolutely!

Honestly, neither of these methods actually helped me during the exams because I got other questions. However, thanks to mnemotechnics I was more confident than usual. At least, there were some questions I couldn't forget answers to.

I wish you to come up with right associations at the proper moments. Exams are coming!

суббота, 7 мая 2016 г.

Thoughts regarding Eurovision Song Contest

ESC 2016 will take place in Stockholm next Saturday. I used to watch ESC every year but once I became an active Internet user, live broadcast lost its attraction for me. If you've already seen a mixture of all songs, if you know who'll be the winner, what's the intrigue?

Why do I pretend to know the name of the winner? Well, just take a look at the betting odds (especially, at the average difference between the first place and the pursuers). Don't tell me that stakes show nothing, ESC is not FA Premier League. Thus, I'm pretty sure that Russia will win Eurovision for the second time in history this year (and thus will become a bit closer to Luxembourg which has 5 victories :) ). Surprisingly, I completely agree that Sergey Lazarev is the best contestant. In contrast, my impressions usually have not much to do with the final results (in other words, with the public opinion). For example, last year my favorites were

  1. Il Volo
  2. Polina Gagarina
  3. Somebody else. Probably, still not Måns Zelmerlöw, the actual winner of ESC 2015
Another example concerns this year's national qualifications. Even though qualification rounds in Russia have been canceled several years ago, many countries still elect their representatives publicly. I couldn't miss Germany national contest in the end of February. On the average, I know almost no ESC participants. In this case, however, two participants out of ten broke that rule. Just a couple of hours prior to the contest, I learned that "Gregorian", performers of Gregorian chant-inspired versions of popular songs, whose concert in Saint Petersburg I attended three years earlier, and famous metal band "Avantasia" would compete. German qualification round has an unusual structure: first, all participants perform, then the audience votes, and seven worst singers/bands are eliminated. Three best participants sing once again immediately after that. Second voting round determines who'll perform an encore. 

On the evening of February 25, I was watching a live stream of Germany national song contest, listening to commentary in German (without understanding anything :) ) and was supporting "Avantasia". "Gregorian" dropped out of competition after the first stage, "Avantasia" finished in Top 3. If they had passed to the ESC, they would have been my favorite. Awesome song, one of the most beautiful music videos I've ever seen, advertising campaign for the target audience, artistry of Tobias Sammet, wasn't that enough? Actually, that was insufficient due to two reasons. First, their live performance was not that great. To achieve a great result in ESC, a contestant should have an impressive visual accompaniment. Like Sergey Lazarev or Måns Zelmerlöw have (even though Lazarev's music video is even cooler). Seconly, the same audience which elected Lena Meyer-Landrut two times in a row (for ESCs 2010 and 2011) just can't vote for the metal song. That's why Jamie-Lee Kriewitz victory wasn't that unexpected. 

In the absense of "Avantasia" in the final round, my sympathies (disregarding Russia) are with Italy and Austria, represented by Francesca Michielin and Zoë Straub, respectively. To me, the latter one is among the most remarkable participants of that ESC. In her 19, she recorded one album consisting of twelve songs (!) in French. Born in Austrian family, having sung in her native language in child contest 9 years ago, now she appears in music videos shot in Paris and one of her French-language songs is nominated for 2016 Amadeus Austrian Music Award. Apparently, nine years at Lycée français de Vienne weren't in vain :) Here is another reason (for me) not to watch Eurovision: according to bookmakers' opinion, Zoë will not even finish in Top 10 in the first semifinal on Tuesday of the upcoming week. 

However, there is always a part worth watching. It is an introduction. Remeber "Building Bridges" flashmob from the last year? That's what the Eurovision is all about. Not about determining of the best artist, but about establishing trustworthy connections between nations when insane things are happening around us. That's why it is not weird but cool when Australia takes part in European song contest and is represented by the singer having South Korean origins.