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Friday, March 21, 2014

Who Prints Source Code Anymore?

As I am writing code, of course I find that my style reflects many decades of pet peeves and wants from writing code.  And nowadays, the programming editor is doing the formatting for me.  It adds spaces around the equal signs, indents, capitalizes, and more.  It allows me to build in self-documentation that pops up as I use my own code.  It is really a huge convenience, and greatly speeds up productivity.

But one thing occurred to me, as I type long lines the editor just scrolls around.  No problem, but then I am wont to go back, make the long lines shorter and go onto the next line, so that they are more readable without scrolling.  Great, but where did that come from?

Back in the old days when they came up with conventions for making code lines span multiple lines in the source file, it was primarily to control where the line breaks when you print it out, and also to reduce horizontal scrolling in the editor.  While the latter need is much reduced nowadays with wider screens, it's kind of funny to think the main reason was to make printed-out code more readable.  Thinking back to all my programming days throughout the decades, how many times did I print?  A lot in the old days, and never in the past what, 15 years or more?

So really, this is a fundamental Human trait - creatures of habit, with practices that stick around long after they are not only no longer necessary, but an actual hindrance.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Just Macing Around

First, I'd like to coin a term - Macing.  "Mac" as in Macintosh (and not the round fruit), so not "Macing" like "I am hitting you with my mace" but more like "Macking" - but the "k" is so harsh.

Second, my work computer lives in a house full of Macs, and they accept it just fine and dandy (although I wish it were one).  They branded it so it feels like one of the family, even though it doesn't bear any of the genetic resemblance.  No rounded edges here, Mr. Lenovo!

So I am sending out a document on my work computer, and it hits me - I wonder what people think when they see the Apple logo on a Thinkpad.  That must give people pause.

And as it does every moment of every day I use Windows, the thought comes to me: why do people pay money for this junk?  Lots of money to - apparently all that money they saved buying the hardware.  Clunky touchpad - my thumbs get tired pushing the buttons.  I much appreciate the touchpad on the Macbook Pro - the beautiful, tactile feel of pushing the entire pad as a button, with the audible click.  I can use my finger both for pointing and clicking and dragging (and 3 fingers for lookup definition, 2 fingers for scrolling, 4 for window management...).

I am constantly worried about backups - the backups I am doing for work (which I would think are every bit as important as the ones I do for home) are iffy at best, not restorable or not all-inclusive at worst.

What do the TSA agents think, when they scan 2 laptops for me through security?  Guess I'm a geek.

I get it, I do - I can understand how people can hate Apple as a company, or even the Apple products. I am still struggling to see how people can try other systems, and then like Windows, though.  That's a poser.  (And by "try" I mean immerse themselves in it to the degree they do in Windows.)

So, if anyone wants to take a stab at it, try to explain it to me?  I had Twitter explained to me a couple weeks ago, finally I get it (not what it is - but why and when to use it).  So I'm not totally brain-dead - just mostly.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Reflections on Windows

Yes, I love the pun in the title.  Each day as I use Windows, which I must for work, I am forced to confront the realities of that environment that have plagued us computer users for decades (and the issues that refuse to go away).  My biggest, single largest pet peeve with Windows (and it only seems to be with the OS, but it could also be the PC hardware), is this stupid feature that I am sure not more than 100 people in the world use.

This feature, I don't know exactly what it is called, but it is probably something like Control Lock.  You know how you have a Caps Lock key that locks all keys in capital letter mode?  There is a key combination you can press (after 38 years I still don't know exactly what it is) that locks the Control key down.  I always seem to press it, or it could be that with the combination of Virtual Machines, Remote Desktop, VPN and Web Meeting, the flag gets set in the system.

Anyhow, with this (and other) mysterious key combinations, Control, and sometimes Shift and Control, get turned on.  And, what's worse, I can't figure out how to turn it off, other than to go hog-wild-crazy mashing random combinations of Shift, Fn, Ctrl and Alt in an epileptic fit, until it eventually goes away.

Does anyone else have this?  Today, none of that epilepsy came through for me, I finally rebooted (which means, disconnect from VPN, try to pause VM's with the mouse not responding properly because Ctrl is locked, and more).  Let's try to identify the key sequences to turn this on and off, if anyone knows please post.

And again, why?  Why exactly do people actually pay money (let alone lots of money) for Windows?  I can understand the PC part, that's inexpensive compared to Macs (on a superficial level).

Friday, November 15, 2013

For Office, Microsoft is still King - But What About Mobile?

It has been a long hiatus for publishing articles on my blog.  If you have been surprised or disappointed, I do apologize.  A lot has been going on in my life, and I have let the blog posts go for a bit.  Until now.

For several years now, I have switched to Macintosh computers.  I have also purchased iWork (Apple's office suite), and tried to use it.  I found Open Office (and its later derivative, Libre Office) easier to use, but still left a lot to be desired in stability and compatibility.  I have to admit that my method for determining a software's ease-of-use is pretty holistic - I dive right in and figure it out, and use the built-in help, and Google when I can't find it in Help.  No tutorials, no manuals, no videos.

However, the reason I think this is the best true test for the "superiority" of a software package, is that any product should be so intuitive, that you DON'T need a manual to learn how to use it.  Perhaps documentation to learn how to use advanced features, but definitely Apple has spoiled me in this arena because I have come to expect that ALL products perform well under this criterion.

This year, we agreed that Microsoft Office was the way to go.  We now have a choice, across platform, of buying MS Office outright (for an outrageous price), or paying $100 a year for up to 5 computers (Office 365) with free upgrades.  We opted for the latter.  In some ways, I've even found Word and PowerPoint on the Mac to be more desirable than the Windows version, and in every other way just as workable.

The tickler that started me on this topic, was that as part of the sign-up for Office 365, they give me regular e-mails on tips for using Office 365.  I say regular tips, but really it's regular e-mails on "how to use gestures with Office 365" - the same tips over and over again.  I guess Microsoft is realizing just how much of a growth market tablets are, and how they totally missed the boat, and scrambling to try to recapture their dominance in computing.

So overall, it has been an interesting, wild ride in the realm of Office software since the 1980's and the advent of the Personal Computer.  The early days were dominated by WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 and Harvard Graphics.  Lotus, later acquired by IBM, became a suite that never really competed with the up-and-coming Microsoft Office.  Word for DOS was horrid, while early Word for Windows was a strong contender (thanks to Microsoft's experience in developing their products on the Mac platform in a GUI environment).  PowerPoint went from a weak slide authoring tool, to the only game in town, and Excel (also flush from their Mac success) became a side-by-side contender with Lotus 1-2-3 - until the packaging of Microsoft Office overtook their competition.

When it comes to automation (with Visual BASIC for Applications or VBA), and templates, and sheer feature set, nothing still comes close.  (I've read the only real prevalent viruses that Mac users need to be careful of are Office VBA macro viruses.)  As much as Tim Cook touts iWork, I don't see it as a strong contender for Office.  And, when it comes to a mobile device market, I don't see mobile devices as a strong authoring platform for Office documents.  Frankly, the awkwardness of mixing a keyboard and touch screen to author a document isn't quite there yet.

So Office for the Mac, an even better product than Office for Windows; and Office, in general, still rules the "office suite" realm.  But, the next frontier in computing is definitely mobile devices.  And tablets have a decided advantage for office documents over phones simply because of screen size.  Unless and until Ubuntu's idea of a unified OS [and here] is realized in mainstream mobile devices, I don't see any office product becoming mainstream on a mobile device.

Interestingly enough, Apple has made some tentative steps toward this with iOS 7.  In 7, support has been added for controllers (ala game controllers), and "AirPlay" streaming audio/video to an external monitor.  This is one step towards making your mobile device the "brains" of a mobile and desktop computing world.  However, the AirPlay video mirroring doesn't resize the graphics, so on the older devices you don't get full HD screens.  Also, unlike PC's who resize their graphics desktop to the monitor's capabilities, it is simply projecting the device's screen onto another device.  On the new Retina displays, the higher resolution is truly bringing this one step closer to reality.  I can see a bluetooth keyboard paired with an iPhone or iPad, and do AirPlay Mirroring to an Apple TV in 1080p HD, and now you have a mobile device that you can use like a notebook.  Still missing, though, is a simple fusion of touch screen and keyboard.

The awkwardness of taking your hands away from the keyboard to touch the screen is a bit worse than that of using a mouse, and has been alleviated by an integrated touchpad in laptops and notebooks.  Unfortunately in my limited vision for the future, I cannot yet imagine a better input for text than a keyboard - as voice recognition even in this day leaves a lot (a LOT) to be desired.  A "dual display" paradigm like desktops might help here in the mobile device realm.  What if the pop-up screen keyboard on Apple devices took up the device's screen, and the "app" screen were the remote, streamed display?  Kind of like the dual-screen system of a Nintendo DS.

Enter wearable devices.  Enter mobile computing in your vehicle.  Enter the smart home.  New possibilities seem just over the horizon, in their synergistic coalescence into a life-changing integration of the next "new way."  Apple's progression into the smart home has been at a slow, measured pace - it seems they won't release anything to the public unless they have mastered the synergy.  iOS in the Car, slated for 2014 release in many automotive brands, promises more of Apple's famous ecosphere extended to another area of your life.  Still, the futuristic technology visions of "Back to the Future III," "Continuum," and many Science Fiction stories are still to be realized.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Original iJokes

All of these are creations of my warped sense of humor, so the great thing is, you can simply not share and thus nip this horrible thing in the bud.  Or, if it tickles your funnybone, you only have yourself to blame for sharing!

Why did the pirate update his iPhone?  Because his matey told him he needed an iPatch.

Apple is now developing wearable devices, including one they feel will be popular with pirates.  The iPatch.

If you were stranded on a deserted island, which computer would you have and why?  An Apple, because you can eat it when you get hungry!

An iPhone, an Android, and a Blackberry are shopping at the candy store.  What do they buy?  Caramel coating, Kit Kats, and an Alka Seltzer.  I don't think plop plop, fizz fizz will help, do you?

If Smart Phone Operating Systems were a shopping store:
  • Blackberry would have a cool street sign, but when you go in, the clerks keep directing you towards the data compression aisle no matter what you ask for.  There are 2 other shoppers in the whole, large store, and a For Sale sign is on the outside of the store.
  • The Symbian store is closed, but as you look in the window, you see some pretty cool stuff collecting dust on the shelves.
  • You are confused, there are two stores that look like they are the same.  The Windows Mobile and Windows Phone.  Both are small stores, not much seems to go on there.  The shelves are pretty empty, even though you technically could order anything you want, or even make your own at home.  There are a bunch of squares and rectangles glaring back at you from the window, each flashing some live content that confuses your eyes.
  • A green robot seems to signify that this is the droid you are looking for.  In the store, it is packed with lots of stuff, but the choices are endless and it is quite messy.  In fact, there are 3 checkout lines at different points in the store, and you are not sure which one you should pay at.  Wait, there's actually a 4th checkout, but it's closed.  You could probably sneak past that one without paying.  There's no security in the store, not sure if you feel safe there.
  • Then, you see it: a gleaming, shining glass and brushed aluminum store with a snow white fruity logo.  Friendly security guards watch everyone and everything.  There are lots of choices, but it is neat and orderly.  There is no cash register, in fact, you can pay by placing your thumb on a device each clerk in a blue shirt is carrying.  Prices are reasonable, the store is well-lit, and the color scheme is all simple hues and pastels, very basic designs.  It might even be too orderly for you.  It seems you can get anything here, although everything on it has this bitten fruity logo on it (even the stuff you know came from elsewhere).

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

So you want to downgrade to iOS 6?

UPDATE: This appears to no longer be available per the post at imore. 

I am writing this post because several people have expressed reluctance to upgrade to iOS 7, or have indicated they are sorry they did so.  First of all, let me caution you on a few points:
  • Myself, it took a couple days to grow on me (I really disliked 7 when I first saw it).  But once it did, as my paradigm shifted, I "hate" iOS 6.  Maybe too strong of a word, but there's no way I'd go back.
  • If you do go back, new apps that no longer support 6 will not be downloaded on your device.  So you will quickly stop getting updates, and it will grow older even faster.  This is just the truth, I predict iOS7-capable devices (especially iPhones) will experience phenomenal sales in the next quarter, and older devices will start shrinking in market share.  I don't think iPhone 4S purchases will hold up much longer.
  • Always make backups of your device, in fact you will have to in order to perform this procedure.

So here's an overview of the steps, with detailed instructions below.
  1. Back up your device.
  2. Download iOS 6.1.4 for it.
  3. Install your device fresh with 6.1.4 (this will completely wipe it).
  4. Restore your backup to it.
This will require that:
  • You have a computer with the latest iTunes on it
  • A USB cord to plug into it
  • You must disable "Find My iPhone" (or my iPod/iPad) in the iCloud settings of the device, which will require you to enter your iCloud password

1. Back up your device

  • Connect it to a computer running the latest version of iTunes.  If you haven't already, launch iTunes.  In the pull-down menus, pick "Check for Updates" (in the iTunes menu on the Mac) to make sure you have the latest version.
  • If you have automatic synch set up, you will see the backup proceed in the grey status on the top of iTunes.  Otherwise:
    • You will see your device appear as a button on the top right - for example a button that says "iPhone" with an eject symbol.  Click the button to show your device.
    • Click the "Back Up Now" button

2. Download iOS 6.1.4 for your device

  • You have to determine what kind of device you have - for example, there are many different types of iPhone 5's produced, for different carriers.  Apple has a page to identify your model, however this post from OS X Daily gives you a direct better way to identify.  Also, one of my favorite sites,, has a lookup page where you can enter identifying information about your iDevice, and it will tell you all you need to know about it.
  • Download the correct iOS for your device here.  Remember where you place the downloaded file.

3. Install your device fresh with 6.1.4

  • On your device, go to Settings, iCloud, and turn off Find Your Phone.  You cannot proceed unless you do, and you will need to enter your iCloud password.  This is a security precaution to prevent thieves from wiping a stolen device.
  • In iTunes, with your device selected and the Backup completed, you will see a top portion that shows your device (e.g. "iPhone 4S"), and the iOS 7.0, plus to the right 2 buttons:  Check for Update, and Restore iPhone...
  • On a Mac computer, hold down the OPTION key, and click "Restore iPhone" (or whatever device you have).  On a Windows computer, hold down SHIFT key and click "Restore iPhone." You will be prompted to select your IPSW file.
  • Allow the device to restore and reboot.

4. Restore your backup

  • If you are prompted, select to restore from backup, and select the backup you just made.  Otherwise you can click the "Restore Backup..." button and select the restore point.
  • Let it reboot the device as needed.

5. Turn on features

  • Don't forget to turn Find Your Phone back on
  • You may also want to check other settings, like iCloud account, iMessages, etc.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New SkyView Satellite app for iPhone Rocks the Rocks

I had the opportunity to test out Skyview Satellite Guide, a new app from Terminal Eleven, the makers of Skyview.  If you are familiar with the first app, it provides a first-person overlay on what you see, through your iDevice, on what planets, stars, constellations, and some satellites are out there in the sky.  I call that one, one of the best apps for an iDevice ever.

So when they offered me the chance to preview the Beta of Skyview Satellite Guide, I didn't hesitate.  And it doesn't disappoint.  This truly is one of the most beautiful apps ever.  It starts out upon loading with a zoom-in to Earth from space.  You can select what type of satellites to show, and it color-codes by orbit for low, mid, and high orbits.

Like its predecessor, you can search with the magnifying glass for a particular satellite, or tap to see what is orbiting.  This includes manmade satellites classified by use, as well as space junk.

Tapping on a satellite gives you a 3D representation of it, and more info about it, including orbital data.

However, the cooliest part of it is when you tap the arrow icon, it takes you to a first-person POV from the satellite, and you can rotate around and "look" from its standpoint in space right now.
If you are a space hobbyist, enthusiast, or just generally curious, I strongly encourage you to grab this app!  For only $1.99, it will provide endless hours of joy exploring all the stuff floating around the Earth.

Also, by tapping the "AR" button in the upper left corner, you can flip to a live camera overlay view, so you can look in a particular direction from where you are standing, and see what is floating above (or below) you. 
So, here are answers to a few questions that popped into my head:

1. Does it work offline?  Yes.  You do not need a cell signal or WiFi to use it.
2. Does it show everything, including all the military satellites?  Well, I don't know!  But it sure seems to, the database is vast.
3. Is it eye-opening?  YES.  I never knew there was SO MUCH stuff out there, that mankind has put up.

For the Terminal Eleven folks: first of all, FANTASTIC apps, they are a great contribution to Mankind.  Second, I think what I would really like to see, is some kind of integration that would help amateur astronomers out.  For example, what if we tap on a body, then tap a button that moves our telescope to point to that object in the sky?  What if we tap another button, and we can see on our phone, the view through the telescope (no more squinting at some uncomfortable angle), and control the focus and movements of the telescope from the iDevice?  Just dreaming.