Category Archives: Tech

reBootzing

It’s always a fun trip to visit old sites one set up and mostly forgot about. So it is in the case of reBootzu, a site I set up to learn how to use various Amazon widgets and, perhaps, to sell some sexy boots, or socks. Chicago winters demand stylish footwear!

Before long though, Amazon and the State of Illinois got into a row over collecting sales taxes which led to the cancellation of Amazon’s affiliate program in the state.

In 2013, the Illinois Supreme Court decided that the state wasn’t playing nice, and the Amazon Affiliates program is back in Illinois. Probably time to update the site’s garish pink motif!

SpringEmberTodo

I’ve been learning Ember.js for a project at work which also uses SpringMVC. So after working through the Getting Started tutorial in which you build the popular TodoMVC web app, I thought it would be a good exercise for me to combine the two things together.

That turned out to be just as I thought, because I had to wrestle with a bunch of different things to make it work. Not that it was particularly difficult, it was just one of those things that you have to do once and then after that you see why it’s actually easy.

Anyhow, for all of that, I decided to share the final result here on github. Enjoy!

Genesis Of The Borg?

As I left work on Friday, I was thinking about all of the people who I see constantly talking on their mobile phones, or texting while walking. It seems that most people just cannot stand being alone, even for a few seconds. Having watched this for years now, I wondered about what would happen when people get their mobile phones implanted into their bodies and tied directly to their brains.

locutus of borg
We only seek to raise quality of life for all.

My first thought was that things would be a lot quieter when I was out for a walk. But then it occurred to me that the technology would probably allow one to carry on multiple conversations in a way that an external phone cannot. Then add social media like Facebook to the mix, and a person could be calmly walking down the street with a multitude of voices in their heads. How many voices do you need in your head before they become indistinguishable from your own thoughts?

This is probably how the Borg got started. It was all innocent enough at the beginning. No one needed to be alone anymore. It raised the level of life for all. But we all know what kind of ugliness can arise from internet connected mobs. With so many dark voices, speaking loudly, it’s no wonder the Borg went off the deep end. Perhaps they were searching for more virtuous voices to drown out the darkness. Who knows, but we do seem to be on a path to the Collective.

Coincidentally, I’ve just discovered a great discussion of this on the Trekcast Episode 85, a cool Star Trek podcast.

A Tale Of Two Screens: Nexus 4 Over iPhone 5

Like many iPhone users, I waited, and waited for the iPhone 5 to be revealed. Once the veil was lifted, the new iPhone looked to be the successor to my aging 3GS. But that new screen really bugged me. I had been hoping for something like the Samsung Galaxy SIII which has a gorgeous large screen but doesn’t result in a phone that’s too big for my tastes. Sadly, the new iPhone merely made the screen longer. I thought I might be able to stomach that until I went to an Apple store for some hands on time with the iPhone 5. I came away disappointed. This was not the screen I was looking for.

In comes the Google Nexus 4. This is the screen I was looking for and unlocked for less than half the cost of a similar iPhone 5 and less than an unlocked SIII to boot! I had a chance to play with a coworker’s Nexus 4 and it looks and feels pretty good. So I may be moving in that direction in the coming year. It seems silly perhaps to get ticked off by a screen, but I cannot help but wonder if this is another sign that Apple without Jobs is not the same company. Obviously, it cannot be, but would Jobs have approved the iPhone 5 as released? Who knows, but I’d like to think he would have been just as irked by the weird elongated screen as I am.

Nexus 7 Android SDK USB Driver Download

It always feels like starting over when developing for a new device. If you’re developing apps on Windows for Android and using Google’s Nexus 7 tablet as your hardware test platform, you’ll need to download the USB driver from Asus. It is not currently included in the Android SDK so it has to be obtained from the Nexus 7 hardware OEM, in this case Asus.

nexus7 usb driver download from asus image

I found it there by searching on Nexus 7 on the Asus site. Click on the returned result and then select Android as the OS in the dropdown box. After downloading, open the zip archive and just follow the OEM USB Drivers installation procedure on the Android Developers site.

rock the off season

The end of Youmacon marks the beginning of my convention off season which means lots of development projects to turn my attention back to! I’m looking forward to it, especially since some of these are well overdue. Of course I’ll still be tweaking cosplays here and there, but right now no new costumes are planned until Spring at the earliest. Looking back, it was quite a ride. But now it’s time to rock some iOS and Android apps!

Constellation Launched!

Software upgrades are often fraught with unforeseen consequences. Upgrading my Mac to OS X Lion had the unintended consequence of making my Windows 7 Bootcamp partition unbootable. After searching for a solution on the web and finding none but to start all over, I decided to move ahead with the Constellation PC building project sooner rather than later. My old XP box, Defiant, was becoming increasingly unstable probably due to a dying video card, so it made sense to build a new box.

Using my baseline specs spreadsheet I headed off to Microcenter this morning with my wife to do some shopping. It all went much better than expected. I got most of what I wanted for less than my base estimates and had a great sales person helping me out. I’ve always gotten great service at Microcenter, which keeps me coming back.

No real problems assembling the parts, the real challenge would come with needing to install the Windows 7 upgrade version from the defunct Mac installation onto a clean hard drive. Some searching lead me to the upgrade over the upgrade technique. Basically you do a full installation from the install DVD then when it asks for the product key, leave that blank and uncheck the Activate box. Clicking Next takes you to the Windows 7 desktop. Once at the desktop, start up Setup.exe on the installation DVD again and this time pick Upgrade install. It upgrades over itself and you can pretty much complete a normal installation from there.

I still have a lot of file restore work to do, but Constellation is running well and I’m looking forward to a lot of work and play with my new ship!

Constellation PC Project

The last PC I built, Defiant, is pretty long in the tooth these days. It’s a pretty much maxed out XP box that I have no further plans to upgrade. But it does play older games fairly well, so I still get on it from time to time. It’s also the box I use to read JManga books on my iPad.

Anyway, I’ve had the itch to build a new gaming PC for a while and started to spec and price parts today. I’ve decided to call the new PC, Constellation, and build it around the Intel i5 2500K. Why the i5 rather than an i7? Well, Constellation isn’t meant to be a cutting edge gaming PC, just something with decent performance. Though I am choosing a motherboard that will support an i7 once its cost comes down.

Right now, Constellation is weighing in at about $800 which I’m not ready to spend just yet. So I’ll be doing some bargain hunting on the components I’ve listed in my spreadsheet so far. Not sure when I’ll finish this, but it feels good to have started the project!

Somebody (Google)’s Watchin Me

I always feel that somebody’s watchin me. Now I’m sure the somebody is Google. Google has updated their privacy policy saying they will follow you across all of their services, whether you like it or not. LOL, nice to see that Google’s got my back. Yeah…

No big surprises there really. There’s no such thing as anonymity or privacy on the internet. If someone wants to stalk you, really stalk you, they can find out who you are with a little digging. So welcome to the big time everyone, with some help from Google, we can all live the life of movie stars! Well, mostly without all of the money…

Kings, Queens, and Children of a Virtual God

Awhile back, I read  on Gamasutra that Apple’s Game Center was now revealing players’ real names during the initial friend request. After that initial request, only gamer nicknames would be visible. The new policy is supposed to stop players from impersonating other people, but isn’t that the whole point of playing a game in the first place? Who plays a game to just be their real world selves?

This and the whole push to real names online, such as in Google Plus to give one example, feels like the old guard, the kings and queens of “Real Life” (RL) trying to extend their dominion into the online world. I suppose that’s okay if you’re one of them, but the geeks and nerdy folks who built the net and make up much of its most active population are decidedly not.

These children of a virtual god tend to get the short end of the stick in RL. There we are often bullied, mocked, and despised. This despite the fact that much of the science and technology upon which modern life depends was discovered, designed, and built by us! On the net, we are the kings and queens (sometimes both at the same time), and the oppressive rules of the real world are not applied. The net has become a space of the mind, where the human spirit is laid bare. It’s not always pretty, but I think that’s where real human progress comes from, which ultimately leads to greater beauty.

Unfortunately, the freedom and wildness of the net is seem as a threat by those who don’t understand. And in the name of “protecting the children” they push to impose the same broken structures on the virtual world as we do such a great job of imposing on the real one. But it may be too late for that. From Arab Spring, Lulzsec, and the London Riots to the BART protest, the virtual world is pushing back on the real one. The unfettered meeting of the minds online is having real world consequences that cannot be easily suppressed without a coordinated, global trampling of the human freedoms that many of us profess to believe in. That could still happen, but now I’m sure it won’t come without a fight.

Google Plus Me Baby!

Google’s new foray into social networking, Google+, is where all the cool kids are hangin out now. Of course that leaves me out as usual, LOL. While my often cool spouse has received and invite and joined the party, I have not. She put me in one of her circles, I just haven’t received notification from the system which reportedly is currently at capacity for this stage of the roll-out.

I cannot say that I’m a big fan of social networking sites. As I have ranted here before, sites like Facebook just recreate the cliches and awkwardness that left me on the outs growing up. And what’s worse, many of my peers aren’t exactly internet mavens by any stretch of the imagination. As a result I tend to lean more towards Twitter than Facebook, where I can build an identity much less encumbered by the usual social barriers, and much closer to what I consider to be the real me. Or at least the real me in the context of the internet.

So why should I care about Google+? Because it seems to solve one of my biggest problems with Facebook. It allows you to group your acquaintances and friends in whatever circles you find appropriate and share with those circles only what you want to, without leaking. This leakage is why I’m so wary of Facebook. I have a lot of non-mainstream hobbies and interests that I’d rather not share with everyone I know either voluntarily as my own status update, or involuntarily through someone tagging a picture of me I rather not have tagged. I don’t expect complete privacy, but I would like a little more control.

I’m actually very proud of my hobbies and interests. They’re an expression of a large part of who I am. But I’d rather minimize the amount of trouble that may be caused by people who either don’t get it, or flat out don’t like it. I love many of these people dearly, but they really don’t need to know about the wig I just got for my Uhura cosplay last week. Much less spread that information to someone I’m doing totally unrelated business with.

I may not ever become a big fan of social networking applications, but they seem to be a fact of life now. So hopefully, Google+ is the next big step in their evolution.

iPad myPad

My quiet Father’s Day was punctuated by the news that I was getting an iPad from my wife. It came on Thursday and since that time I’ve been playing with testing it out. So far I’m finding it to be even better suited to the uses I’ve had in mind than I had thought while writing about it on Learncrest.

I’ve been doing many of the obvious things like web surfing and book reading. But the things I’m looking forward to are the new use cases the form factor of a tablet lends itself to. One hint of this is the way the iPad has changed my typing. The virtual keyboard is big enough that using fingers of both hands to type is pretty easy. Still, shifting for characters like apostrophes is a pain. Auto-correct to the rescue! To avoid the unwanted shifting, I just keep typing and let the auto-correct fix the errors. This lazy man’s approach yields a lot more speed than one would initially imagine.

I’m looking forward to learning some more tricks with my new toy tool!

PlayStation Network Disappoints

Not to touch off any raving fanboy battles, but honestly, I’ve never been a big fan of Sony’s PlayStation Network. I remember when PSN started, a lot of the online debate focused on how it was free versus the  annual fee (currently $50) of Microsoft’s XBox Live network. Not any surprise really, internet denizens have been the cheapest bastards on the planet from the very beginning. To many netizens, free always equates to better.

But, the old adage that you get what you pay for was quite apt in the case of PSN vs XBL. From this consumer’s standpoint, PSN simply did not work as well as XBL. The games were not as well integrated, and doing simple things like downloading updates took significantly longer than the same activities on XBL. Bandwidth, servers, and development personnel cost money, lots of it. A free model was simply not going to deliver a competitive online service. So it was no surprise when Sony announced the premium PlayStation Plus service with, guess what? A $50 annual fee.

By now, the massive security breach on PSN and other Sony web sites is common knowledge even outside of the gaming community. As a developer, I was a bit shocked at just how fragile Sony’s infrastructure appeared to be in the wake of these attacks. To be fair, it is not a small task to secure your network against determined intruders. I suspect that Microsoft may possess greater expertise in this area simply because they have been such a big hacking target for such a long time relative to Sony.

As a consumer though, I just want things to work! So far, I’m not impressed. The simple tasks of claiming the Welcome Back goodies has been fraught with server errors and disconnections. Part of this is the heavy traffic of legitimate customers which should have been anticipated and prepared for. The other part is the continuing network attack on Sony’s online infrastructure, which sadly also needs to be accounted for going forward.

I’m very frustrated by all of this. I just want to play some games on the net! Maybe it’s time for Sony to call up Microsoft for some advice.

Cage Match: Facebook, Flash, and the iPad!

In the run up to the Christmas holiday, I got the distinct impression that my spouse wanted to get me an Apple iPad as a gift. It’s no secret that I’d love to have one and now that I’m actively developing iPhone applications, it might even become a business necessity. But the lack of Adobe Flash support on the iPad continues to dampen my enthusiasm for the device.

I don’t really have any immediate need for an iPad, but I began to think that my wife might actually make better use of one than I. The way she works with her MacBook around the house makes her more of a candidate for an iPad than an ebook reader like a Nook or Kindle. She’d been asking me which ereader she should get. I lean towards the Nook since I already have one and like the hackability that its Android OS basis provides. But my wife likes being able to do a lot of things at once. She’s a big multitasker and I’m sure I see her lugging about her laptop and the ereader before too long.

So I began to make plans for an iPad for her. An iPad would allow her to do many of the things she does with her MacBook, casually at least. Some light word processing, web browsing, and of course reading ebooks using the Kindle or Nook reader apps. But my plans came to a screeching halt once I remembered that Facebook and Facebook games are a big part of her computing use around the house too. So I started to dig.

It turns out that the iPad Facebook Experience is not too great. Follow the link for more details, but in a nutshell she won’t be able to play Wordscraper on an iPad. That’s  a total deal breaker here. And if even a fraction of the 600 million account holders on Facebook play the Flash based games on the site regularly, that’s a lot of lost iPad sales. At this point I think Apple is leaving a giant hole open for Android based tablets that do support Flash to waltz right in and take a big chunk of a market Apple deserves a lot of credit for creating.

I think that 2011 is going to be the year that Apple finally allows Flash support in iOS. Android is catching up and in the tablet market in no small part due to the popularity of Facebook games, I can see the Flash issue being a big market stick to beat Apple with. We’re already starting to see this in ads for the Samsung Galaxy Tab and some of the Android smartphones that support Flash. Whatever the technical merits of Apple’s arguments against Flash, I can’t believe they are willing to leave money on the table.

iPhone Development: Of Pencil, Paper, and Recycling

Last week I began to move my iPhone development projects into high gear. Having toyed with some half-baked notions about my first app, I finally abandoned stuff that either wouldn’t work or would simply take too much time to do, and do poorly at that.

So back on the right track, I’m having a pretty good time with it now. I’ve been watching the excellent development sessions on Apple’s iOS Developer portal and I bought a pretty good book as a reference and guide. But I think the thing that has really got me excited is the beginning of the design phase. Anyone who has watched Apple over the years already knows how highly they regard design in the development process. In the developer videos, they recommend that the majority of app development time should be in the design phase before even a single line of code is written.

I love design, so spending a lot of time there is no problem. I found some great iPhone design wireframes on the Interactive Logic blog which were perfect for printing on some waste paper I had on hand. All set with wireframes, pencils, and my trusty ancient clipboard, I began to sketch the design for my first app.

So far it’s coming along very well. After my initial sketches, I did a little research on the Apple App Store to see what competing apps look like and user reviews of them. I immediately picked up some more ideas from user suggestions which I added to my sketches. And I could also see that what I wanted to build will be different from what is already in that space.

I could have done more research before I began to draw, but I didn’t want to be influenced too much by what has come before. And having my own design before me gave me a good reference point. Now I’m ready to start a little code work. I bought a copy of Teach Yourself iPhone Application Development in 24 Hours
to help me there. I pick up new programming languages very quickly and I heard pretty good things about the book. So far it looks like it will be very useful to me in learning Objective C and the Xcode development tools.