Category Archives: Hmmm

Some thoughts about Windows 10

SanyoMBC550SystemEver since I started using computers, Microsoft has been around. After ditching my Commodore VIC-20 for a Sanyo MBC-550, which was an almost IBM PC compatible computer that came with Microsoft DOS 2.11 and a BASIC interpreter that Microsoft had made for Sanyo, I have been a Microsoft customer.

Even after switching my work computers to Linux and later buying a MacBook as my main work machine, I still keep around a kick-ass Windows machine in my den where I record my podcasts and play my favourite games. Because I like to play games quite a bit, that machine tends to be the most powerful machine I own: best graphics board, most processor cores, biggest hard drives, etc., but not the latest Operating System. No, not the OS, that machine is still running Windows 7 which, in my mind, is the best Windows that Microsoft has released.

74613_fig1Windows 8 is a mess. It resembles a kid that does not know what it wants to be when it grows up. It tries to force a bunch of paradigm changes that don’t make any sense for traditional keyboard and mouse desktops. You know the famous business/hockey saying that “a company should not focus on where the puck is, but rather on where the puck is going to be”? Well, I think Microsoft has the right idea that more personal/mobile touch devices will start to replace desktops in the future. The problem is that that future is still quite a ways off. And the hardware to make people move from their desktops to this new mobile, touch and speech aware interface is still not up to the task.

The timing thing is the main problem for Microsoft. I have no doubts that Intel processors will eventually get cheap enough and efficient enough to rival ARM processors in power consumption, and still have the oomph and the compatibility that they have today. So unifying the code base is a good idea, which is why I think Windows 10 is a step in the right direction.

Windows-10What I like very much about Windows 10 is that they decided to go back to splitting the user interfaces into desktop-mode and tablet-mode. When you’re on a desktop computer you expect the machine to behave in a certain way, and Windows 10 behaves just like Windows 7 did, did I mention that I think Windows 7 is the best Windows they ever released, except that they have changed the graphical interface to make it flatter and up-to-date with the latest design trends. It’s actually very attractive.

If you’re on a tablet, well you can configure it to use the touch-centric interface that Windows 8 tried to shove down everyone’s throats, with a few new tweaks. Honestly I don’t have a Windows tablet device so I have not tried the interface out, and as I have said, since the hardware is not really up to par to the experience, I probably won’t be getting one in the near future.

So, what do I think of Windows 10? Well, I think it looks nice, and behaves like Windows 7. Could Microsoft have gotten away with just modernising the default Windows 7 theme and rebranding it as Windows 10? Probably not, since Windows 10 includes the software store, and the tablet-mode environment that will leave the door open for the future when tablet hardware is finally good enough! freeAll in all, I think Windows 10 will be good for Microsoft and good for the Industry. Now let’s just keep our fingers crossed and hope Microsoft will make it affordable: $20.00 for new machines or free for upgrades is what I’m hoping for!

Am I a coffee snob now?

Sometimes the best coffee is the one that’s closest to where you need to be. I’m having an espresso at a little place that I had stopped coming to because they only serve on paper cups, which to me is like drinking wine from a paper cone… it not only diminishes the experience, but also changes the taste (at least in my mind it does). The only reason I’m here today is that it’s the closet place to where I need to be.

So… what can I say… I’m trying to get my mind to erase the fact that I’m drinking from a paper cup. The coffee itself is pretty tasty, I wonder how much better it would be from a proper ceramic mug. Am I a coffee snob now?

Luckily for the shop owner, the place seems to always be full. So maybe I’m the only one that’s irked by the paper-cup thing.

The race for the Chromebook market is on

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Microsoft, it seems, is ready to start a war for the nacent Chromebook market. The Verge reports that there is rumours of a sub $200 laptop (basically the same design that HP uses for their Chromebooks) but running Windows 8 and using Microsoft OneDrive  for cloud storage. No release date yet.

At that price, Microsoft must be willing to “give away” their Operating System in exchange for OneDrive customers. If it works for Google, can it also work for Microsoft?  Also, how much is HP getting out of this deal, seems like there not much margin to around for everyone, does it?

Is Minecraft the digital version of Lego?

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When Minecraft first came out I immediately dismissed it because of its 8-bit-like graphics. I admit I’m kind of a graphics snob. Having spent quite a bit of money on building my gaming rig to play the latest games in glorious “High Definition” with all of the parameters set to high, a game that defaults to huge cubes filled with low-res textures was not my idea of a fun experience.

Recently though the game has exploded on iPads everywhere. All my kid’s friends were playing it and pretty soon my kids were begging for me to install it on their iOS devices.

So I did… and oh my goodness… The things they build in this little virtual world of theirs are amazing: Roller-coasters, castles, houses, trap-doors, hidden tunnels, etc.

As a ex-Second Life junkie I know first hand the appeal of building three dimensional objects in virtual worlds. The iOS version of Minecraft is a much simpler version of a Second Life sandbox. And kids relate quickly to building things with blocks that have some virtual material attributes to them. It’s almost like a digital Lego set, except that different blocks have different behaviors you can assign to them.

It’s really interesting to me to watch my kids play in this simple virtual world. Perhaps the self-imposed limitations of the game are what make it more approachable than say Open-SIM, which is an open source version of Second Life. Maybe those limitations, and the fact that your builds in Minecraft are toy-like,  is what makes it so appealing to children in particular.

I’m just amazed at how these virtual playgrounds resemble the Lego sets we grew up with… Except now they’re virtual and you can literally play (in 1st person) in the set world that you’ve built.

What is it with music?

Am I becoming old? I’ve always been very musically inclined. I took piano lessons when I was 4, practiced every chance I could. Didn’t really have the talent or the patience to become very good at it, but to this day I dabble with music as a way to amuse myself, relax, and have fun with the kids.

Music’s always been a very important part of my life. throughout my youth I was always a fanatic radio listener. A TOP 40’s fan. I would listen to the local radio stations count down the hits, my finger on the record and play buttons of my stereo, ready to record the songs that I really liked. Songs that I’d later play back over and over and over on my Walkman headphones.

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Songs that somehow meant something to me. I think it has a lot to do with the passion one has during their teens. Passion, romanticism, unconformity, girl troubles (to me girl troubles was falling crazily in love with somebody who would inevitably already be in love with someone else). The one “release” for the frustrations of adolescence was music (at least it was to me). There would always be that ONE song that explained exactly what I was feeling at the time – or so I thought.

I can remember a breakup with a girl in High school and later going home to listen to Sinead O’Connor sing Nothing Compares to You over and over again… crying.

As I look back to that time in my life, I realize that what I though were life ending traumatic experiences were really nothing more than the passion of youth and hormones raging through a body that’s not used to so much chemistry. A small brain still dealing with an inadequately, fast-growing body. An awkward race to find acceptance in a different world from the one you grew up in. A world that suddenly gives a lot of importance to “being cool”. A world that I was destined to be an outcast from, luckily I was outcasted with a bunch of really good friends who were just as geeky as I was, and whom are still my good friends to this day.

Now that I’m a busy adult, dealing with raising kids of my own, busy being productive and trying to leave some sort of mark on the world, I realize that I’ve lost a lot of the passion and romanticism for music I once had. I realize now, after having written a few songs of my own, that the very few artists are actually in it for the ART… Music business is really just a business after all. And songs are really just products to be licensed, relicensed, remixed and resold as many times as possible.

The mega-stars seem to not really car too much abot the music, but more about the bling. And the real artists who are trully geeling out on the music and creative aspects are not relly getting the airplay they deserve. Because, when you really think about it, after it’s been compressed, canned masterized for crappy sounding headphones, all music kinda sounds alike. And psycology has told us that all you really need is a catchy hook, and you’re set… Which is how the music industry has been “cranking out the hits” since the 60’s.

They follow a pattern of success… a formula if you will, and wait for the money to come in. Will this change? Perhaps, but it will take more than new distributions methods and paradigm shifts regarding the market. As long as it’s all run by people more interested in making a buck than by making really good music, it won’t change.

Is Flickr too late to the party?

The war in mobile photo apps is heating up. Instagram (considered by many as the leader) is duking it out with Twitter, which yesterday updated it’s app to include filters. The new filters were announced on the heels of Instagram removing integration (at API level) with Twitter. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of intagram-like aps. To me, they seem mostly as very cheap (in a bad way) solution to make mediocre photos look “artsy”.

In my opinion, it takes more than filters to turn a bad photo into a good photo. Framing, lighting, and, most importantly, subject matter need to be good in order to make a good picture… after you have all those elements, you can fool around with filters. But mostly you’ll notice that if you have the fundamentals right, you will not even need to muck up the picture with filters.

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I didn’t take these pictures.. I wish I had, but sadly they’re not mine.

This morning I found that Flickr had updated it’s iOS app to inlcude… yes, filters!

Flicker’s long neglected iOS app now makes a lot more sense. To me it makes even more sense because my iPhone las turned into my daily use click-and-shoot camera, and even though I pay a yearly fee to Flickr to be a PRO acocunt user, I never use Flickr. My daily photos end up on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter… and almost never on Flickr. Honestly, I think the last photos I had uploaded to Flickr are about 2 years old… or maybe less than that because Instagarm lets me send the pictures to Flickr from their app (but I always forget to do that).

The question, though… is it too late for Flickr? Had Flickr done this a year ago I have no doubt they would have become the leader in mobile photos… but now, they seem to be way behind Instagram and Facebook.

I think that for me, and the rest of the Flickr Pro users, this new app is a godsend, and has the potential (after a bit more polish to the UI) to become my go-to app for mobile pictures. WHat do you think? Is there a version with the updates for Android yet?

WordPress for iPad

I’ve been using all sorts of tools to write on this blog. I think part of the appeal of having my very own blog is that I can try a whole bunch of different things here. I don’t use this blog very much like regular people use their blogs: to share ideas about this that and the other thing. I also don’t use the regular tools to write on this blog either. I use my phone, my iPad, different software tools, netbooks, etc.

Today, however, I’m using a tool that was built for writing on my blog: WordPress for iPad. I’m also using a bluetooth keyboard, which makes the task tons more enjoyable.

20120809-072416 p.m..jpgThe WordPress app for iOS looks nice enough. There’s a left-hand column where you can choose if you’d like to see a list of your posts, pages or comments. Selecting posts shows a list of all the posts on the blog… there’s no apparent order to the posts though, which is a bit of a pain in the rear if you have a bunch of posts. There’s also no obvious way to change the order. It would be very useful to have your posts ordered chronologically, for example.

The post editor is very simple. It has what you’d expect, a bunch of buttons to give your post a bit of formatting: Blod, Italic, Quote, Links, Ordered and Unordered lists, code, and more. There’s also buttons for adding video and pictures right from your iPad’s camera or from the camera roll. All in all it’s a pretty good app, except for the ordering thing, and also the fact that there’s no apparent way to save post for later editing, or to make time-differed post.

The only only two ways to get out of the editor are Cancel or Publish. Which is a shame because WordPress on the web has so many wonderful features that somehow never made it tot he iOS app. With that in mind, I can’t say I can recommend the app. There are so many better apps for writing. I would, though, suggest that you use your favorite editor (for writing I recommend iA Writer, a superb tool for just sitting down and writing… no frills) and later, when your writing is done, copying and pasting the text into the WordPress App for publishing.

It’s also been ages since the WordPress App has been updated… maybe there’s a better blogging app out there that I’m not aware of, but until I find it, my iA Writer and WordPress combo seem like they will work rather well.

Writing on an iPhone (can be done, but I don’t recommend it)

There are few things less annoying than writing a long form blog post on an iPhone. It can be done, though. This post is an example of it.

I’m using a small app called IA Writer, which I’ve used before on the iPad, and have grown to love. I love it so much, in fact, that I bought the Mac version as well and use it extensively. The best feature of the app is that it gets out of the way and lets you focus on your writing. It’s quite literally a blank page and a souped-up on-screen keyboard.

On the iPad it’s a beautiful thing, especially of you have a physical keyboard that you can type on. I guess I can always use a physical Bluetooth keyboard with my iPhone as well, but for this experiment I’m typing away with my thumbs on the on-screen keyboard. Even though I’m a decent thumb-typist when it comes to short text messages and Twitter posts, long-form is a completely different beast.

After a while, thumb fatigue starts to set in. Your fingers start to hit the wrong keys a lot more frequently and you start to lose your train of thought a lot quicker because of all the correcting you’re doing.

I guess if you’re close to deadline and you find yourself away from a keyboard, the iPhone is a way to actually get some work done, however productivity will plummet. And I’m certain you’ll get frustrated soon enough and stop.

Like me, with this dumb test. See you!

The Delicious Raspberry Pi


I don’t think there’s a product out there that has captured my imagination as much as the recent announcement of the Raspberry Pi. The product was announced a while ago, but this past Wednesday it was finally available for purchase. The demand was so great that both sites that had the product for sale went down due to overwhelming traffic.

The product itself is not revolutionary, it’s an under-powered 700Mhz ARM processor board, with 256Mb of ram, an ethernet port, a couple of USB ports, an HDMI port, a SD card slot, and an RCA jack (seriously?). What you get is a board… no casing, and you can power it via a mini USB connector. It also comes with a Fedora Linux based distribution for ARM on an SD card.

The revolutionary part of the whole thing is the price. At $35.00, it has made every geek out there turn their heads. Suddenly every little do-it-yourself project that you’d dismissed as being to expensive to carry out comes to mind as a possibility. Quiet media-center boxes, cheap bittorent boxes, printer servers, file servers, routers, home automation boxes, robotic controllers, manufacturing automation and control, weather stations, etc.

It’s basically a tinkerer’s dream come true.

In a world of snazzy (but expensive) portable devices and expensive proprietary solutions for almost any need, it’s refreshing to finally see a completely open product (so open in fact, that you can see and hook up to the guts of the computer itself to customize it to your own project) ready to be tinkered with and ready to be programmed to do your bidding.

iPads, Apple TV’s, iPhones, netbooks, etc. are all fantastic produtcs, but they don’t hold a candle to the excitement that the Raspberry Pi has created in me. I hope I’m not wrong in thinking that this little machine will be a game-changer… making embedded computing available to everyone with $35.00 and little time on their hands.

I was writing for my blog, then I took an arrow to the knee

It seems that no matter how much I try to keep my blog updated, something comes up that takes my time away. When I started podcasting I stopped blogging, but I decided that since podcasting is a form of blogging (lies I tell myself) then it was OK to have my blogging frequency reduced. When I started playing online games I justified my lack of blogging with the benefits of gaming to my psychi and release of stress.

This year I resolved to write a short blog post daily on any of my blogs. But alas, I bought a new game called Skyrim, that has really captured my imagination, and my free time. The game has beautiful graphics, a detailed environment and what seems like endless quests to go on. I’m hooked.

After playing it for a while, you start to discover the game’s little nuances. The best example of this is that all the game’s guards (no matter how advanced or what part of the game’s geography you are in) have limited lines of dialog they say to you. Perhaps the funniest of these lines of dialogue is: “I was an adventurer like you, then I took an arrow in the knee.” After playing Skyrim for a a while you start to realize that there is a world-wide epidemic of arrows to the knee.

Due to the game’s popularity, this little phrase has turned into an internet meme in which you say you would have accomplished something, or affirm something, then you follow it up with the now fatalistic, “then I took an arrow to the knee”.

At a meta level, I guess it rather fitting that I affirm that I was going to be a Blogger this year, then I took an arrow to the knee.