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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Linux is awesome, but its a proprietary world

Posted by Chance on February 7, 2012

I mentioned in an earlier post how I decided to run Linux as my home OS. However, I recently switched back.

I wasn’t completely happy about switching back – I didn’t miss the antivirus programs and frequent and slow reboots.

Ultimately, though, Linux took too much time and effort to do everyday tasks.  And I wasn’t the only one using the computer. My wife has some computer smarts, but she doesn’t know the ins and outs of Linux.
I wanted to do basic tasks like watching flash videos on Firefox. Other things weren’t so much an issue of Linux, but issues of software availability on the platform. I had to work hard to get Adobe Digital Editions to work with our Nook, and I couldn’t upload pictures directly from Picasa to Facebook. Skype worked with my webcam – most of the time.  And, when I saw a show (Fiesta Bowl 2012) on iTunes available for purchase, I loved the idea of something so simple as simply buying an iTunes video and being able to watch it on my computer. I don’t have to make calculations in my head about what it would take to get such a thing to run in Linux.

So, I decided to make the switch back to Windows.  I sort of miss having an OS with which I can tinker, but having an Android phone has helped in that respect, as I still have something I can play around with.  It’s also nice having an OS in which I don’t have to tinker to get things to work.

As I’ve said before, the strengths of Linux and those of Windows are why I would like to get a Mac someday.  At its core, a Mac OS is Unix (like Linux, only proprietary), and it has commercial support.  Until then, my Windows machine works fine.

Ultimately, though, I wish someone Linux would take off in the commercial desktop world the way Android has.  I don’t know all the details of hardware vending and propriety drivers, etc… works, but Android doesn’t have the issues Linux does because phone manufacturers are willing to adapt it to their phones, and software developers are willing to make apps that make them money.  I’m not sure why such a system has never happened for Linux, at least on this scale.

Posted in Computers, Technology | 1 Comment »

One button, two buttons, three buttons?

Posted by Chance on February 4, 2012

Coding Horror posted on the idea of one button for the iPhone.  The

iPhone 4S

author, Jeff Atwood, likes the idea of the one button for its simplicity, but hates that it has to be overloaded (having multiple functions) to achieve so much functionality.  This means that it has different behaviors based on what screen you are (home vs. inside an app), and how the user has to long-press, double press, triple press, etc… to get different behaviors.

My wife has an iPhone, and I have an Android.  I actually like the single button on the iPhone based on its simplicity, but I also like the 4 buttons that Android offers.  Although toddlers are not the target audience of a smartphone, my 3-year old can operate an iPhone much more easily than an Android phone.  I see Jeff’s point though, it becomes complicated when the button has to be used in different ways (i.e. hold, double click), and this could get even more complicated if the iPhone continues to gain additional capabilities (i.e. Siri).

I do like the Android way of doing things, although I would tweak it.

4 button Android phone

Of course I like the home button (which will be standard for smartphones for some time to come), but I love the “Back” button, and the “Search” button.  But I’m not a fan of the “Settings” button.  This button is seemingly powerful, but it takes getting used to.  When I started with Android, I kept forgetting about this button, whether on the home page, or in an app.  With an app, it’s even worse, because sometimes it does something, sometimes it doesn’t.  And the behavior changes based on what screen you are on in the app.  I believe that it is up to the app developer to make the options visible within the app itself.

 

 

Apparently Google agrees with me on this issue as well. The capacitive buttons will be replaced by software buttons. This time there will be a Home, Back (which will be on the left- makes complete sense), and a sort of Task Manager button.

What happened to the Menu button? On apps that offer the function, it will be represented by three vertical dots.  They don’t always appear in the same place, meaning you may need to hunt for them. This will likely cause confusion for a while, but as developers update their apps for ICS as they did for Honeycomb, getting to settings and other functions will hopefully be less fraught.

Android ICS phone with software buttons

Or, another way of putting it.

ICS/Google is moving away from using a menu button in favor of having a settings button within the apps UI. But legacy apps (apps not updated for ICS) will have an extra menu button pop up on the G-Nex so you can still get to the settings.

This is perfect.  In the event that there is not a settings dialog in the app itself, a software menu button will appear indicating that settings can be changed.

I’m not running ICS (which is Android 4.0), but I think I like this setup the best, at least theoretically. I’m not sure about the “Multitasking” button in lieu of the search button, but then again, it may make multitasking easier.

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Why I don’t use the Chrome Browser

Posted by Chance on September 27, 2011

 

I like many things about the Chrome browser.  It starts up extremely fast.  It has a nice interface and looks ahead of its time in comparison to Firefox.  But, I still use Firefox.

One thing I love about Firefox is its smart bar, in which you type any term and it will search your history and pull up matching URLs and web-page titles.  This doesn’t work as well in Chrome.

Let’s take a look. Click on the pics to see full-size.

In Chrome, I view an article in PCWorld called “Amazon Kindle Tablet Could Shake Up Tablet Wars”.

I close Chrome and reopen. I type “kindle”.  I don’t get the article I just viewed.

Now I open Firefox and visit the same page.  I close Firefox and reopen.  I type in “Kindle”, and I see the site I just visited, 2nd from the top.

I personally like to be able to easily retrieve sites in my history.  I’m surprised Google doesn’t exceed in this area.

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Android apps that I use

Posted by Chance on July 29, 2011

I’ve had an Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S) for a few months now. Here are a few appear I use.  (Note: I suppose I could post links, but that would be a lot of work, and that’s why things like Google exist).

Bible from Lifechurch.tv. Great app. It has many, if not all, of the major Bible versions, and it has an easy to use interface that allows me to get to a desired chapter very quickly.

Nook. I still like using my wife’s actual Nook better due to its superior battery life but if you don’t have an eReader this is nice to use for occasional reading. The animated page turns are pretty cool.

PowerAmp. This is one of the few apps that I have that actually costs money. (about $5) It’s the most driver friendly music app I’ve found, as I can use swipe gestures to skip songs or go to next album.

Angry birds.  As fun as advertised. I like the original better than Rio.

Barcode scanner. I haven’t used it for anything useful yet, it’s just impressive technology.

Overdrive Console. Used to check out ebooks from the library.

TuneIn Radio. Used to listen to various internet radio stations

Word with Friends. Fun to play.  Although I usually lose.

ESPN ScoreCenter. Self-explanatory.  Finally updated to be as good as the iPhone version.

Google Listen. Listen to podcasts

Mint.com. Keep track of finances.

Covenant Eyes Beta.  I was using X3Watch but now am trying out Covenant Eyes Beta since I’m a member anyway, and CE is superior.

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Thoughts on Google+

Posted by Chance on July 22, 2011

I was one of the people important and special enough to receive a Google+ invite.  I don’t really have time for a second social network (the other being facebook) but I thought I would check it out.

How it works.

  1. Like Twitter, Google+ is based on one-way relationships.  That is, you can follow someone but they don’t have to follow you.  This is opposed to Facebook where the relationship is two-way.
  2. A central part of G+ (as us privileged few call Google+) is the idea of circles.  So, when I add someone to follow, I can choose from the default circles of Friends, Acquaintances, Family, or Following.  Or I can create a new one.  So, when I share something, I can choose what group I want to share with.  What’s important is that others cannot see which circle they are in.
  3. What a person shares is public, unless they choose to share with specific circles.
  4. I’m not sure what the limit is on posting things, but it is obviously bigger than Facebook’s limit for their status updates.

A few thoughts.

  1. I like the idea of Circles, especially since people cannot see what circle they are in.  This is actually implemented in Facebook via friend lists, but it is not nearly as easy to use, although it is a feature I use in Facebook.  I like sharing general thoughts to all my friends, but things that are more personal, or involving holiday plans (or more plainly said, when I’m not at home) I like to limit to a set of closer friends.
  2. One way relationships will probably only work if people choose to share things publicly.  For example, I chose to follow a sports blogger.  If he, and others like him, choose to share things with the world, then following them will have value.  If they choose to only share with their circles, and I’m not in their circles, then there is no value.
  3. Right now Google+ is not much fun.  While there are probably several pros to Google having a limited group to test G+ and build buzz, it means that not a whole lot is going on.  Right now I have 8 people I’m following and nothing is going on in the Stream (which is G+’s version of the News Feed).

It will be interesting to see how G+ competes with Facebook.  I think people will like the Circles option, although, as some tech-bloggers have pointed out, it’s probably only a matter of time before Facebook makes their Friend Lists feature easier to use and/or more like Circles.  I do like the one-way relationship structure, but as I said above, this will only have value if people share things publicly, as they do in Twitter. I don’t know if right now, in terms of my usage, G+ offers anything new other than something to play with.  But at the very least, I’ll keep the profile around awhile.

Posted in Computers, Technology | 4 Comments »

Running Linux on the home computer

Posted by Chance on May 30, 2011

So, I’ve been running Linux Mint 10 on my home computer.  I’ve been pretty happy with it.  Other than games, Linux will do about 95% of the stuff a Windows machine will do, and it does it much better in my opinion.

My wife and I actually do not use the PC too much any more, with most of our computer tasks being performed on her iPhone or my Android phone.  So we pretty much use our PC as a photo repository, for my blogging, and for our occasional word processing.  Linux cannot run Word, but it can run LibreOffice (formerly OpenOffice), and of course, there is always Google Docs.

I haven’t gone completely to Linux for a long period of time due to the lack of an internet accountability program like Covenant Eyes, which operates on Windows.  There is an open source program for Linux, however, called Net Responsibility.  It doesn’t have the advanced reporting capability of Covenant Eyes, but it still provides the essential component of internet monitoring and log emails.

The primary motivation of moving from Windows to Linux is that a computer running Linux is as fast today as it was 2 years ago.  Windows computers deal with an ever-bloating registry and they simply slow down over time.   Also, newer Windows versions have higher demand on hardware.  I have a new version of Linux Mint that I’m running on a Dell Optiplex GX270 – a five year old computer that I bought from eBay for about $85.  I couldn’t do that with Windows 7.

But everyone has different needs.  For PC gamers a Linux box simply wouldn’t be suitable.  I’m not one.  And for those who still need Windows to do a few things, they may want to consider a dual boot or holding onto an old Windows computer.  I have an old Dell laptop from which I run Windows.  Basically I use it to sideload library eBooks to our Nook and if we need to update the OS on the iPhone.

Posted in Computers, Technology | 4 Comments »

Why I don’t follow the zero inbox policy

Posted by Chance on May 24, 2011

The zero inbox policy refers to essentially keeping your inbox  0 emails by the end of the day.  For a while I had followed this, but because I’m somewhat lazy in this manner and unorganized I didn’t keep it up.  But not only that, I simply didn’t know it was worth it.  There are a few reasons for this.

First of all, a caveat

I’m a programmer.  I’m not a manager, and I don’t interface much with people outside of my company.  So, email is not the primary means by which I get things done.  This is just a system that works for me.  Also, I’m a sloppy and disorganized person so the costs of organization and the way I arrange things means this system works for me.

Electronic clutter doesn’t take up space

Many people espousing a zero inbox policy usually use analogies of clutter in one’s garage or desk, but the reality is it simply isn’t the same.  Physical clutter takes up physical space.  Emails take up hard drive space.  I have an 80 GB drive, small by today’s standards but still plenty of room.

I can instantly get to what I need to

I use Thunderbird for my work email and Gmail for my personal email.  Both have a quick and efficient search feature in which I can retrieve the messages I want easily.

I sometimes need those emails

There have been several instances where I have heard a facebook friend post “I’m glad I keep all my emails” or “I’m glad I had that email”.  One instance had to do with difficulties someone was having with their ISP doing something against the original agreement.  I myself, when trying to delete multiple emails, have ended up deleting something I needed later.  I suppose someone who is good at organization can judge what emails they will need later, and again, different things may work for different people.   But for me, there have been instances where an email I thought I would never need I ended up needing based on some audits by another group.  When sorting through emails and going on a delete binge, I get lazy and err on the side of deleting too many emails.

I lose more productivity in deleting emails than I do sorting through them 

Again, with Thunderbird and Gmail I can retrieve email I want instantly.  Perhaps if I went through my inbox every day, the task would not take as long as waiting till it piles up, but I still don’t feel like getting to the emails I need takes a long time.

That being said, I still delete some.  

Some emails I obviously will not need again, such as automated messages from our software tracking system in which I can get the same data online.  I also delete my monthly airline miles notifications, timecard reminders, people simply responding “ok”, and the like.

Other – I use tagging instead of folders

Sometimes the search function isn’t enough.  For those cases I use labels/tags instead of folders.  I have found that when I use folders, I often don’t remember if I copied a message to a  folder, or what folder I copied it to (Admittedly, this would be less of an issue if recursive searches were easier in email programs).  However, tags provide the organization advantages of folders, and I can still search from the main folder.  I can also apply multiple tags to the same message without creating duplicate messages.

So, in summary, I feel that a great search function and large hard drives make a zero inbox policy unnecessary, at least for me.  For someone else, such as those who do a large amount of their work via email communication, a zero inbox policy may be needed.

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Agile Programming and Spirituality

Posted by Chance on July 20, 2010

Note: For those who don’t program but are interested in spiritual matters, you may want to read on despite the boring first paragraph.

I don’t exactly have my pulse on cutting edge thought in programming, but one of the leading philosophies is that of Agile.  One of the big ideas of Agile is that there is minimal planning and design up front.  Instead of having a huge requirements phase, design phase, implementation, and testing, like the waterfall model, these phases are smaller and done many times.  That is, the requirements and design do not involve the entire project but the work done the next two weeks, and the same goes for implementation and testing.  The process repeats again after two weeks.  The idea is that programmers and managers are more adaptable to change as the project is centered around short iterations instead of a year worth of planning. (I’m probably butchering the explanation of Agile – see Wikipedia link)

When being exposed to a philosophy, even if it involves something that doesn’t answer life’s biggest questions, I always like to compare it to the Bible.  Is there anything true in the spiritual realm that would actually validate Agile Programming?

Some verses suggest that it does.  The Bible seems to illustrate the idea of not planning too far ahead.  Jesus does say not to worry about tomorrow; I don’t think this means to totally disregard tomorrow, but I do think it says something about focus – be concerned about things you can actually do today.   The book of James says:

13Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

There are several applications for this passage, but again, I think the idea is not to look too far ahead, simply because we don’t know what will happen. I don’t think that means we can’t think about it at all and sometimes we don’t have a choice in long term plans. But I think the important thing is that we recognize things can change.
Sometimes in the Bible God would give someone the big picture, such as when He told Abraham he would be the father of many nations. However, it seemed that God still guided him step by step and it wasn’t clear how Abraham would get to where he was supposed to be.

Perhaps the difference between our lives and a project is that in our lives, there is a master planner that directs our life, so I don’t know if the analogy can be taken too far. However, I think both are similar in that we take it a little bit at a time.

Posted in Christianity, Technology | 2 Comments »

Microsoft Fail

Posted by Chance on May 14, 2009

Microsoft Vista is considered the biggest tech failure of the past decade according to some guy.

I don’t have Windows Vista myself, I still run XP at work and home.  However, a shared computer at work and my mom’s laptop both run Vista.  When I first played with it, I thought “Vista isn’t as bad as I thought!”  However, that was first glance.  After a short amount of time, I have noticed that Vista on both those machines are ridiculously slow.  It would often lockup, forcing me to try a reboot or logon/logoff.  Simple tasks like opening a new folder on the machine would take a ridiculous amount of time.

These are also fairly new machines with a decent amount of RAM.  And even if they were not top of the line, they shouldn’t have to be.  I disagree with Microsoft’s philosophy that an OS should tax a machine with current specs as much as possible.

However, I changed my Mom’s theme from the whiz-bang curvy translucent windows to the Windows Classic, which looks pretty much like Windows pre-XP.  I haven’t found out yet if it has helped significantly.

Posted in Computers, Technology | 2 Comments »

Review of two DTV boxes

Posted by Chance on April 14, 2009

I have two different kinds of DTV converters, a Magnavox and an APEX. The Magnavox I bought at Sears. It is not a very good product. The APEX was bought for me as a gift at Best Buy.

Apex converter box

Apex converter box for sale at Best Buy

The APEX has volume control, the ability to save favorite channels, and the ability to delete any particular channel you don’t want. It also has an easy closed caption button on the remote. The remote is also very intuitive and follows the design of most TV or satellite/cable remotes, with its standard 4 direction arrows with the OK in the middle set apart from the rest of the buttons.

The Magnavox sold at Sears.

The Magnavox sold at Sears.

The Magnavox is not such a good product; it currently has 2 stars at Amazon.com. It has no volume control – which actually is not that big of a minus, how many people hate having three different volume controls? Strangely enough, the user cannot delete a single channel, they can only delete groups of channels.  What I mean is this, ABC is 13.1 and one of the Spanish channels is 13.2.  I don’t have any way to delete 13.2 without deleting 13.1.  That is very annoying. Also, the remote is not intuitive at all, with the menu direction arrows all being small buttons nestled to the right of the remote among other buttons, and the OK button being on the left side of the remote in a non-obvious place. It is very difficult to navigate menus in the dark.  This difficult menu must also be navigated just to turn the closed caption on and off.

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