Category Archives: Life

Who are phone notifications for?

Phone notifications aren’t just reminders. They’re interruptions, especially if you have sound or vibration turned on. That gives them a lot of power, and means they should be used responsibly.

In short, phone notifications should serve your interests as the person using the phone. Not the app’s. Not the service’s. Yours.

If someone you know sends you a message, you probably want to know that. If you put an appointment on your calendar, that reminder is going to help you. A shipping update, or delivery notice? Probably helpful as well. Completion of some long-running process that you requested or are waiting for? OK. App and system updates? You do want the phone to keep working properly, so there’s a case there.

If your friend tags you on a photo, or replies to your comment, or sends you a message, then yeah, Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or Mastodon can justifiably notify you. It’s the start or continuation of a conversation between you and that other person. (Though you should still be able to mute it if you don’t want to talk to that person.)

But when Facebook starts pushing friend suggestions, or “did you see so-and-so’s comment on this conversation that you’re not part of,” or choosing to promote some subset of people’s broadcasts? That’s not in my interests, and that’s not in the other person’s interests. That’s Facebook advertising itself, because they’re desperately afraid they’ve lost my eyeballs.

It’s no different than the Black Friday through Cyber Monday ads that Amazon pushed into my notifications over Thanksgiving weekend.

We can pare down notifications, but it takes time, and not every app offers fine enough controls over which notifications it sends. And of course you have to re-do it every time you get a new phone, and every time you add a new app.

Advertising in an alert is, IMO, an abuse of the feature. We’re bombarded by so many demands for our attention as it is. Phone notifications should stick to those that help us do what we want, not those that distract us from it.

Trying to get at the features left out of the mobile app

I use extensive filters on Gmail to categorize mail the way I want. I pre-filter some things to look at later, prioritize some lists (like allergy or uptime alerts), and pre-categorize things that I may want to file away after looking at them.

The problem is, I can only change filters on the desktop site. When I’m reading on my phone, I need to remind myself not to archive or delete messages that I want to start filtering.

It occurred to me: I can label those messages “Change Filter.” I could even do it right away – there’s a “Manage labels” option on the Android app!

Nope!

I can’t add labels in the app, just change the download and notification settings for each.

So, website then…

Except I can’t get at the full Gmail website on my phone. Or my tablet. Google insists on showing a stripped-down mobile site, which has even fewer capabilities than the app.

I can’t fault them for starting with the mobile site. It is helpful to focus on the features that work best on small touchscreens, under-powered processors, and high-latency, low-bandwidth networks, and can be done by someone on the go, rather than someone sitting at a keyboard with a big screen and a mouse.

But if someone wants to use the functionality you’ve left out, and is willing to slog through the desktop site on their phone or tablet, you should at least let them get at it!

In this case I waited until I could log in on a desktop, then added the label. But not everyone with a phone has a desktop or a laptop. And as the balance keeps shifting towards phones as people’s primary internet access device, that’s going to be more and more common.

Depth of Field: Real and Simulated

Four versions of the same photo.

  • One taken with my phone, which has a deep depth of field.
  • One automatically “enhanced” by Google from that phone photo.
  • One taken with my phone in portrait mode, which simulates a shallow depth of field.
  • One taken with my ancient film SLR camera, with a low F-stop to have an actual shallow depth of field.

First Try With The Old Film Camera

We got the negatives and scans back from the two rolls of film we shot with the old manual film camera. Despite the damage to the case, it seems to still be light-proof, as the second roll of film came out about as well as the first.

It was an interesting experiment. We mostly took night/indoor photos with the tripod and handheld photos outdoors in daylight. He’s not used to focusing, so a lot of his photos are blurry. The light meter app on my phone seems a little off in sunlight, so our outdoor photos are all either over– or under-exposed. (The zinc-air batter has since shown up, so with luck we’ll be able to get more accurate light readings with the next roll.) But it gave some of the photos a retro feel.

Here are a few of the better shots, plus one of the light-polluted, smoke-filled skies of Los Angeles with enough stars to recognize Cassiopeia.

High-Rise Night: Trying out “Night Sight” on the Pixel 2 Camera

Google has a new camera mode on its Pixel phones called Night Sight, for handling low-light conditions. The short version is that instead of taking a long exposure, it takes a series of short exposures and stacks them to avoid motion blur from hand movements (plus a lot of additional processing). The long version is fascinating.

My Pixel 2 already takes better low-light photos than I would have expected, but I couldn’t wait to try out the new feature when I learned about it. When the updated Camera app finally hit the Play Store, I had to give it a try.

Two high-rise office buildings at night.

This is adjusted slightly to keep the colors from being too light. And it actually isn’t the best example, as it turns out the nighttime city scene already has enough light for the existing HDR+ mode. I’m going to have to try it on some darker scenes somewhere, but it’s still pretty cool. After the cut I’m posting a version with the phone’s regular mode, and the unaltered Night Sight photo. You can see they’re pretty close, but the Night Sight version picks up a bit more of the color, and it’s a little brighter.

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