Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Speaking in Code

Hello again,

Today I am hoping to explore my thoughts on the world of coding and computer programming. I have been interesting in learning computer language for several years now, and the time seems as ripe as ever to start learning. The trouble I'm having has several prongs. The first and probably most important of these is that there are so many languages and so many things I would like to do that I'm having trouble focusing and narrowing down to one language or one learning tactic, and so I end up with a set of skills that is extremely limited and broken to the point that I can only do very little. I have a basic understanding of linux alias and shell scripting, but anything beyond a few lines quickly becomes too complicated for me. I spent a good part of the past 6-8 months trying to learn C and C++ using an online course and its resources at Harvard, and did get a fairly good understanding of the basic concepts surrounding programming, but no actual knowledge in terms of being able to write a program myself. I can navigate in windows and linux command-line interfaces, but actually performing meaningful tasks usually requires a few minutes of google search followed by pasting code from the web and letting it do what I was looking for. This solution does work in theory, but it can be very time consuming. A solid understanding of any of these programming languages would definitely be preferable to what I have now, but this is very difficult for me, especially when I cannot commit all my time to learning or using the languages. The CS50 course at Harvard taught a lot of basic information about a few languages, but doing a Masters while trying to take a distance learning course proved a little bit too much.

All of this is not to say that I am not computer literate. When it comes to solving problems on any of my electronic gadgets, I can efficiently solve them, and even my intuition for these matters is fairly high. The issue I'm having is that when it comes to understanding how what I do solves my problem, my level of understanding is extremely low. It seems to me that in attempting to learn these skills, I am met with oversimplification. I realize that there are reasons for explaining things in this way, and that it will always be this way, at some point I will want to have all the layers peeled back and be able to see what I am actually doing while programming. Maybe if that ends up happening, I'll finally be able to understand what I'm doing wrong and how I can truly learn and use programming to mine and everyone's benefit.

This week's App:

Panamp (iOS)

This app is a music player which should be able to completely replace the default iPod app for only $2.99. The app consists of three screens, in order a search screen, library screen and finally current playlist screen. Playback and search is most easily performed through swiping. For example, selecting a song to play from the library screen is as simple as swiping it to the right into the playing screen (the queue picture on the left). Once a song is in the queue, you can move it around easily from the right of the song (on the right), and swiping it off the screen removes it from the playlist. Playback is also controlled from the bottom of the screen by swiping the currently playing song to the left (next) or right (previous). Playlists loop automatically. It is a very simple intuitive app which is extremely smooth and whose menu transitions are meaningful rather than distracting and slow down navigation.

Jailbreak app: iFile

This is a must-have app for anybody wanting to use their phone as a computer in any sort of meaningful way. The app now also integrates beautifully with Dropbox, meaning that transferring files to your phone from your computer has never been simpler than now.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Installing Google+ on iPad or iPod Touch

I have seen the last couple days that there is a way to install Google+ on iPad or iPod Touch using the iPhone configuration utility. I tried that and when I plugged in my iPad I just got an error message from the utility, and after some minor troubleshooting I gave up. This morning, a thought occurred to me. I can just use Installous to install the .ipa. All I had to do was add the Google+ .ipa file to the filesystem (/var/mobile/Documents/Installous/Downloads) and then open Installous and install the .ipa through the downloads menu. I personally used iFile's new Dropbox integration for this so connection to the computer wasn't even required. Anyhow, now I have Google+ on my iPad, and the only part of the process using a computer was getting a copy of the original .ipa file. I hope if the original method didn't work for you either, that this one will!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bluetooth (Not space, sorry :( )

Hello all! It's been a very busy week and I know you are all eager to read, because the Internet is just a horrible black hole without anything worth reading. I just briefly contemplated using that as a really terrible segue into talking about space (see my last post and how I had planned to talk about it), but it's been a week and a lot has happened since then.

First, and most importantly to me, I finally finished my last class ever (with an A-), which means that to finish my degree all I need to do is give a seminar (which will very likely be on the topic of real-time MRI, an AWESOME technological advancement which could easily revolutionize medicine) and then write and defend my thesis. I'm hoping to have this done by mid-October, and it's really all I'll be doing until then. So that's pretty hella exciting.

Secondly, last week Dell was having a summer sale, as they do quite frequently. I scan the deals they offer as there is usually one or two really good deals, and since I do enjoy technology and electronics in general, I've made a few of these purchases. The really exciting one which I've been using non-stop all week is a pair of Bluetooth headphones. I wasn't sure of the purchase as I was making it, because they are over the head headphones, which are a little bulky and make the wearer look like a huge nerd (or in some cases a rich, snobbish audiophile depending on the size). They were $50, down from $100, and I had a little disposable income, so I decided to jump even further into the world of wireless audio. Last time I had used Bluetooth was probably 2006-7 when I needed to transfer phone numbers from one phone to another without a SIM card. As I remember it it was a horrible clunky technology which was mainly used either for moving small data such as contacts from point A to point B, or connected to a jawbone headset for phone calls. While these things are undoubtedly convenient, I basically ignored the technology for the intervening 4 years.

Now that I have these headphones (which were delivered in less than 24 hours from the time of order, another small plug for Dell and Purolator here, they are awesome) my mind has completely changed on the technology. In the week I've been using my wireless headphones I have just charged them a second time since opening them, although they weren't dead (4 days seems to be the average, but I didn't want them to die). I should also make the point that I have been using them almost incessantly and the battery life is just stupendous, although they are still very light. The right speaker has volume and playback controls, as well as a talk button, microphone, pairing button and power button. It is the easiest thing to use and is easily made compatible with everything. All Apple products come with Bluetooth adapters, which made it incredibly easy to connect to the headphones. My computer (which would have come with bluetooth for an extra $20) doesn't come with it, but that was easily remedied with a small bluetooth dongle, which is actually much smaller than the end of my thumb. The part which sticks out of the computer is about half the size of the part which is required to go in. This (which as you can see attaches to my keychain really easily) can plug into whatever computer I'm sitting at and connects me instantly and wirelessly to the audio coming from that computer. It a wonderful setup, and the last thing I'll say (besides the obvious of not distracting people around you) is the 30' radius which allows you some freedom to move around without having to bring anything with you. The example I'll use is for television, but it applies equally with other media. When I was watching the office in the living room but wanted to get some water, normally I would have to bring the tablet or if I was watching it on tv I would just miss part of the show (or pause it). Now I can simply walk away and the audio will follow me. It's great technology!

Anyhow, this is long and I want to save something for another day, so I'm going to delay talking about space, though I do really want to.

My app of the day for today is the Google+ app, which has been on Android for a few weeks and was recently released for iOS as well. It's all very exciting and to all my Facebook friends who are complacent, please do consider getting Google+, I'm sure none of you remember saying "Facebook. What's that? Sounds cool, I haven't talked to my high school friends in a while" Well this is so much better than that. I implore you!

My jailbreak tweak of the day is called DeepEnd. It came out today and can be found on Ryan Petrich's repository. It gives your wallpaper a cool 3D look using the gyroscope in the phone and doesn't use a noticeable amount of memory, it's just a neat little effect!

My desktop application of the day is called Teamviewer. I have spoken with many of you about it, and it works on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and can access computer via the Internet as well. I will only give a teaser of what it does, but if you have more than one computer, or a phone and computer, it allows you to control and view your desktop remotely. There are INFINITE uses for this technology, and I strongly recommend you try it. Those looking for a demo or instructions, feel free to ask, I would be more than happy to help!

Hopefully I'll be back again this weekend to write more!


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Busy times call for short posts

Hey everyone, I'm going to be really busy this week, but I'm planning a longish piece on space and astronomy (with the last space station mission having just docked with the ISS) hopefully before the weekend! Anyhow, I did still want to share some of my favorite things with you, as a bonus today I have a great app to share with everyone, for those smartphone owners among us.

Jailbreak Tweak: Running List
This tweak lets you use otherwise wasted space in your spotlight search area to show all the apps you have running, and allows you to quit them by tapping on the icon on the left and then pressing quit, or with a simple swipe across the name followed by quit. This app saves time in quitting apps and lets you easily access apps which are running if you don't like the multitasking dock.

Google+ Feature: Hangouts

While this video is low on details, it gets the basic point across quite nicely. Basically you can start a chat conversation or "Hangout" and then invite people to join you. People you have allowed who log in will see that you are hanging out and will be able to join the hangout, up to a maximum of 10 people. The main video automatically focuses on the person who is talking, just like in a conversation, although you can also choose to focus on one person by clicking on their video. You can also selectively mute people in the conversation, as well as the awesome feature of playing a YouTube clip as a "member" of the group chat. Conversation volume is lowered, and a walkie-talkie-esque push to talk button appears so that the video clip has focus. It is a great way to show friends you can't be with clips and gauge their reactions in real time since everyone is watching the same part of the clip at any given moment. From experience it also makes for really fun dance parties when you can't actually be at a club, for example mid-afternoon.

Smartphone app: Viber (iOS)/Viber (Android Beta)

This app is an extremely basic yet extremely useful one. It lets you send SMS messages and make voice calls for free using data/WiFi. This can be extremely useful as the calls are of very high quality and long distance is still free and doesn't use any more data. From what I have seen the data usage is also minimal. The best part about this app is that signing up is as simple as installing the app and inputting your phone number. The app then finds your friends who also have the app installed and shows you those people. You can also make calls to people who don't have the app installed through the app, but it will use your minutes. There is no account to worry about, your phone number is your account and it is how people will find you. The more people who use this, the better, so get crackalackin! I have also heard that there is an Android version conducting beta testing, so please do try this out and see how it works, I would love to see everybody get this to try!

I hope to have a real post for you soon!

-Robert

Monday, July 11, 2011

Contract Killer

Hello again, I have been asked to discuss the pros/cons of cell phone contracts. This is an issue which I'm sure impacts almost all of you, so hopefully you'll get something out of it whether or not you actually care.

First of all, in the 8 or so years I've owned cell phones (don't quote me on that number), I have run the gamut of plans and contracts, so I consider myself a wealth of knowledge in this area. My first cell phone was a pay-as-you-go throwaway phone from Telus back around the start of high school. When I describe it as a throwaway phone I mean that it was being sold for $30 with $30 worth of pay-as-you-go included on the account. The phone was a piece of junk, but it was really only for emergencies and arranging rides with my parents, so all in all it was a good first experience, but a short lived one. My second phone, the first one I got without my parents, was also pay-as-you-go, with Bell. It was a beautiful Nokia bar phone which I loved with all my heart. I knew even then that contracts were a terrible idea, and that at that time I also didn't have the money or requirement for a plan, so paying 15c/txt wasn't a huge deal, and I rarely made calls with it. That setup also didn't last long, which was the beauty of paying for service as you use it, because there was no commitment to any particular carrier. Next I moved on to Virgin Mobile, still on pay-as-you-go. I had the same Nokia phone for a while with Virgin, but I think I went through 3 phones with them in the span of less than a year. I was working part time in high school and had disposable income with nothing to buy, so spending $50-80 on a phone every 3-6 months wasn't the worst thing in the world, and I enjoyed always having a new phone, so I was never bored. Through first year of university I still didn't have any need for a plan since I barely used my phone, but I was suddenly hit with the knowledge that I could sign a piece of paper, receive a phone, and with the promise of paying a bill every month, I would be set for (at that time) life!

December 9th, 2007 was the night when my life changed. My shiny new Motorola W510 arrived in the mail and I hurriedly called to confirm and activate my service. I had locked in a 36-month contract with Fido and with the awesome phone number 613-255-3311 I was off to the races. In my adolescent naivety I had signed up for a 3 year contract in order to save $100 dollars on the price of my phone, which was originally $150. My plan was $60+change/month, and included several instances of the word unlimited. At the ripe old age of 19 I was all too susceptible to reacting favourably to the word unlimited. My plan came with UNLIMITED text messaging, UNLIMITED incoming calls, UNLIMITED evenings and weekends starting at 7 PM. It had all the call display, voicemail and call waiting options included, and it was more than what I needed. That is all well and good, but I didn't use all of my minutes, and ended up that most of the time I used was both incoming as well as evening, so both weren't really necessary. After 2 years, Fido changed their plans and so I was able to change my options and  save about $10/month getting rid of the redundant unlimited options. I also decided at that time to add data to my plan, as well as upgrading to add unlimited picture/video messages and extending my evenings/weekends to begin at 5 PM, which only cost $5/month all together. I was very frustrated with having a contract at this point, but it didn't bother me too much because I was very happy with my plan.

Fast forward now to December 9th, 2010. I still have the same plan, and I am now paying $45.20/mo consistently for 100 daytime minutes (ie. 9-5 weekdays) a month, with unlimited everything else (data and texting) besides long distance. I have the ability to make calls through Google on my phone as well as any computer with a microphone, which is what I do for long distance since the long distance I use is always from home this isn't a big deal anyhow. I am still extremely happy with my plan and expect to continue to use it as long as I can. I bought my last 3 phones at cost without the contractual subsidy because I have come to realize that contracts are a gigantic rip-off (in most cases) designed to take advantage of people who don't have the money to buy a snazzy new phone up front but still want one. People see this as an advantage because as humans we find it extremely difficult to think long term. That being said, there are certainly cases, especially with smartphones, where you are saving up to $500 with a contract. This contract though, is worth over $2000 to the carrier in most cases, and in the cases where you are saving $500, you are usually still paying anywhere from $50 to $300 dollars for the subsidized phone. With new phones being pushed out every few months, and older models being made obsolete within a year or two, three year contracts have become a little bit less pervasive, with some carriers also offering two year contracts, which are a little bit more reasonable. Even still, contracts are certainly not worth it for me without considerable perks.

I have decided in light of some discussions I have been having with friends that I would like to show reasons people why iPhones should be jailbroken, as well as why Google+ is the future of social networking, not just a fad.

Jailbreak Tweak: SBSettings

This utility allows for quick toggling of items such as WiFi, bluetooth, brightness, and gives the ability to close processes. If you are tired of going into settings to change these things, they are accessible with a quick swipe of the status bar on a jailbroken phone. It is a very easy convenient way to access these settings, and I recommend everybody jailbreak their phone, even if just for this tool. A quick visit to http://www.jailbreakme.com is all it takes for the time being!





Google+ Feature: Sharing options

Lets you choose who specifically [or which groups (called circles)] you would like to share things with. You can add a photo (or album), a video clip, a link (or embedded video or photo) and your location (even from desktop computers) should you so desire. It is a beautiful smooth interface so you don't have to share new baby pictures of your cousins with your acquaintance you met last night at the bar, and you don't have to share pictures of you cheersing your bar mates with your boss when you call in sick the next day. It is a beautiful thing, and extremely easy and intuitive to use.




Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Time to Kill

I wonder from time to time if I am too dependent on technology, and more specifically on being networked at all times. I currently have a cell phone service plan with unlimited data as well as a broadband cable internet package with a 300 GB cap. I do not have cable or subscribe to any sort of internet TV/movies package. My ultimate goal is to be paying one small price for my telephone and internet services and not pay for absolutely anything which I don't use. I also often dream of what life would be like if I didn't have a cell phone and/or data on my phone. This would save money, but I'm sure I would miss it and in fact be worse off without it. The one problem is that if I try to scale these things down, like for example if I cut my phone usage down to nothing for a month to see if I can survive (or thrive) is that I would still be paying $45 for the phone if I'm not using it. Some people might say that this isn't a huge deal, but I'm a student, and if I'm paying for a telephone plan, I'm not not going to use it. There are much better cheaper replacements to SMS and voice calling using cellular networks, but they are not widespread and so adoption of them would simply serve to break my communication up many different ways. In this manner I suppose that settles the issue right there, in that clearly it is more affordable to just pay the $5/mo for unlimited texting just because it is convenient.

I am however, a firm believer in the idea that doing something only because it is convenient is ridiculous. SMS is a horribly outdated technology, and the fact that it exists only on your cell phone and nowhere else seems incredibly silly to me. I had a Sony Ericsson phone 2 summers ago which connected to my computer via USB and had an application interface which would be able to see my texts, and would send me a notification when I had a new one, which I could respond to without touching my phone. I now know this sort of thing is possible, and so I cannot understand why we are forced to send texts on the tiny little keyboard if our computer is the device we're actually using. On a WiFi network this seems like it would require very little extra work on the part of the programmer, and yet we live in a world where the majority of messages we send rely on actually having one specific device in our hands. I am hopeful that with the widespread adoption of smartphones one day we can be freed from expensive texts. (PS, I know that if Google Voice ever came to Canada, this would be a moot point, but it seems like that may never happen, so this is the best we can do for now)

I could continue on this point for a long time but I feel like a long-winded rant is super pointless, so if anybody wants to talk further on this, or has something working really well in this regard, please let me know, I'm curious to talk about it more.

Hope everybody is enjoying their weekends!

-Robert

Friday, July 8, 2011

I am not in denial!

Welcome back! (Sorry this one is so long, I got into a zone a little, but I would really appreciate if you do read through at some point)

Since my non-technology post was so well received, I thought it would be wise to add another one before trying to head back to more familiar territory (for me). I hope to approach this subject with a little bit of humility because it could end up being a fairly controversial one. I recently had a discussion wherein I asked people who know me fairly well if I get angry very often. I think of myself as a very mellow, yet opinionated person. I was told that in fact I get angry quite often, which didn't sit right with me. I personally could only think of a few times even in the last year when I had been angry.

This brings me to what I guess would be the main point of what I am trying to say here, namely that there IS a difference between anger with something/someone and disagreement with it. The more I think about this statement, the more it appears to apply in everyday life. I find it extremely difficult to be legitimately angry with people or things, because in my opinion such strong emotion does little to change the situation. Anger is rarely reasonable and thus often stands behind unreasonable people. In my case, I think people often confuse my disagreement with them (however vehement said disagreement may be) as anger with their point of view. I don't often get the chance to actually discuss these things with people, because reasonable argument between two people on a strongly polarizing issue can be very difficult. However, I will now attempt a rational, objective argument with myself on the subject which brings up this issue in my head.


LMFAO are a decently popular electronic pop/rap duo consisting of Sky Blu and Red Foo, and the songs in question are both produced in part by a gentleman referred to as Goonrock as well. Their new album, Sorry for Party Rocking, was recently released, and the first two singles from the album are called Party Rock Anthem and Champagne Showers. I have posted both videos below for those of you unfamiliar with the works. It has been declared to me that these two songs are "the same", almost as though music from either song could be played with either video. While it is clear to me that they are wearing the same outfits and the stories are in fact different chapters for the same story, this is not the discussion I was having. 

I would argue the fact that both of these songs are different works of art in their own right, while arguments from the other side suggest that two different works of art rooted in the same formula (similar timings of critical musical elements and choral repitition for example) don't need to be different works. My argument is exactly the opposite, I think these songs NEED to be considered as different, even if only because the artists themselves presented them separately. In having these discussions, I find that trying to make the above arguments is met with repetitive chants of "they're the same", and no manner of argument will change that fact in others' minds. While I try to state my case, I have been told that I come off as angry, even though no form of anger occupying my brain. The closest emotion I could safely say I feel in these situations to anger is frustration, and even then this is only because I cannot get my points across, but I am used to this as so it doesn't bother me nearly as much as it used to.

The more broadly applicable topic here is that of politics and political discourse. I find myself siding more and more with excellent political pundit Jon Stewart. The fact is I am not angry with the opinions of (to use Canada as an example) Liberals, or Conservatives, or even Bloq supporters. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but with these rights there come certain responsibilities. When approached with new and unfamiliar points of view, it is VITAL to understand not only what is being said, but also why it is being said. This is why major news organizations which are privately funded will not report both sides of a news story. It is in nobody's best interest to solely report what is going on, especially with a 24-hour news cycle to fill. Without even feigned balance of opinion, there is nothing to keep people watching beyond the half hour or even hour nightly news shows such as CBC decide is important enough for all to hear. Back to the responsibilities of citizens though, most people, even those who are well-meaning, will end up bickering over abortion, or gun control, or political party lines, or the legalization of marijuana, or religious freedoms...I could go on and on. The fact is, we will and should discuss these things. Our society is largely based on communication and discussion of this nature, and these kinds of discussions are much more important than the weather or last night's episode of Jersey Shore. It is critical that we have differences of opinion, because without them there would be no progress.

The current difficulty is that we are living in a sea of information which boggles our minds and clouds our judgements. I have an opinion on each of the topics I listed a few lines up, and would love to have a discussion about any of them with anybody will to share their opinion. What I am not interested in is people who will try to convince you their opinion is the absolute, be-all-and-end-all correct opinion simply because it is what they already think. My problem with this is that the reason people often have such strong opinions is because they heard a clear, convincing argument one way or the other, be it from a celebrity, a public figure, a journalist, and most commonly, a parent or loved one. The trouble with convincing arguments is that they don't require logic or factuality. A argument which is believable based solely on truthiness is a bad argument, which is the point Stephen Colbert tried to make in the opening episode of his show. Opinion based on a gut feeling is generally pretty solid, as in the case of murder or theft, but making an argument based solely on these grounds is a slippery slope. The content of people guts varies widely on many issues, so some form of rationality is also required for a cogent argument. 

Back to politics, I would like to add another small point to news networks and the flaws inherent in their design. By law, it seems, all shows on Fox News must discuss the same stories on any given day. Typically there is not enough going on to require 24 hours of news, so some blanks must be filled in with repeated opinion. I don't have a huge problem with this, because people need to make a living, and if people are going to watch your network for 24 hours, that is absolutely their prerogative. I have a problem with cycling news with opinion, and then referring to the opinion your network has just presented as though it is news. It allows stories which have no large scale clout to float to the top of the news pile, and allows political talking points to be endlessly circled and rehashed until the original story can't even been seen through all the partisan siding which has been added to it. I do not agree with this procedure, and really wish it would stop. Watch the Daily Show for many, MANY examples of this.

Anyhow, I hope this post is not also taken as anger, because it wasn't written as such. Frustrated, maybe...

The crux of this matter is, it is extremely important that we discuss things which we encounter on a day to day basis and the things we deem pertinent. More crucially though, it is necessary that before making an argument or defending a position, that we have thought about why we feel the way we do, why we think what we think, and most important, why do others have the opinions they have, and what can we learn from them.

-Robert

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Fork in the Road

I'm back once again, to discuss another issue I find near and dear to my heart quite often, the conversation about human-powered transport. Whether you cycle, or rollerblade (I dare not mention skateboarding, firstly because  I don't do it, and second because it does not seem efficient or quiet enough to be a viable everyday transport option), for fun or for pleasure, finding a cheap, fun way to travel from point A to point B, or just do a loop from point A back to point A, is desirable for everyone.

People who drive have it made, it's an incredibly powerful technology which has changed humanity over the last 150 years (or so, I did not look that up). But for me, having a car just isn't worth the downsides. I live right in downtown Ottawa, and my walk to work is 7 minutes from my bedroom to my desk. 95% of things I do are within 15 minutes walk, and everything else I choose to bike or rollerblade depending on my needs when I get there.

There are two points to consider when looking for a bike (or any mode of transport, but for the sake of this discussion I will use bikes), either used or new. Some people refuse to buy used, whereas others will only buy it if they can haggle on price, which typically happens a little bit on used bikes but only in rare cases on new bikes. I think the discussion should boil down to a different factor: quality. I have found first hand that not all bikes are created equal. When searching for a bike, price should not be in your head. I made this mistake several years ago when searching for a bike, and came across a heavily discounted one at Sears. After the transaction was complete, I had saved about 75% its initial cost. I was so excited to have a bike that I took it for a two-hour ride the following day, and it was of acceptable quality, it wasn't GREAT, but it was from Sears. I vowed that after this one ride, I would take it to a bike shop and make sure it was all in tune and ready to go. The morning I had planned to do this it was raining, but I was determined, so I set off happily when about 5 minutes into the second ride the pedal and arm fell off without warning. Needless to say I wasn't happy, but I managed to stick it back on and continue, pausing every minute or so to make sure it was still on tight. I made it to Cyco's on Hawthorne (where I still go for all my bike needs, they are great) and asked for a complete tuneup. I also showed them the pedal which had fallen off, and was told it would very likely need replacing, which was my fault for riding it in that condition. Once that work was done, I used the bike on a short ride and found that even when it was fully tuned, it was still a pretty terrible ride and couldn't go nearly as fast as I would have liked it to. After all the problems I had had with it, I had decided that even at only $50, it still wasn't worth the cost, and when the pedal itself actually broke off of the arm, I took it straight back and got my money from Sears. They were very understanding, though I did walk in with several pieces of bike. The lesson I took from this was that if I was going to get another bike, it would be sold to me by somebody who knew what they were talking about and who knew that the bike was in good working order. I spent $825 on a bike last fall, and it is a really spectacular ride. It's upkeep and accessories to go with it do get expensive, but in my mind it is well worth the cost, I enjoy the ride, the bike weighs almost nothing and I can feel great riding it on paths or on streets.

As I mentioned before, this experience applies to many things in life. I have learned many times that spending a little money on something so that you have it tends to only lead to trouble and more expense. I had the same experience as mentioned above with cell phones, laptops, tablet computers and rollerblades, though not to as extreme a degree. After the cheap implement because useless or broken in some way, I was forced to (within 6 months to 1 year) replace said implement. I now have a higher-end laptop which works great and which I am using to write this, an iPhone which I have had for 7 months and is fantastic (replacing an older model iPhone which is still in use by my cousin when I upgraded), an iPad which I use every day and am extremely happy with as well, and a high-end pair of rollerblades which have lasted many times longer than the original pair I had gotten (the cheapest pair). I understand that not everybody can justify purchases such as these, but I implore you, if you plan to make an investment on something that isn't inconsequential or which you intend to have an extended life-span, please do your research and make sure what you are planning to buy is worth the cost and will serve you well for a long time, rather than finding the cheapest thing you can and hoping it lasts.

The reason I chose to write about bikes today is that I went for a bike ride today and fell off of my bike at the very end of my ride, mashing my knee on something and leading to a crazy huge bump which I would like to share with you. It kinda hurts, and it looks like I have an extra kneecap...Ow.

-Robert

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Room for +1 More?

Hey again,

I'm back again having some issues focusing on writing, and I've been pushing everyone I know to try Google+, and for longer than a week or so. No, I'm not saying it's perfect, but I really think it can be excellent. The trouble with Wave is (was) that there was no public release. The trouble with Buzz (and in my opinion Foursquare and Facebook Places and the like) is that it is TOO dependent on location. + has found a good balance between Facebook and Twitter in terms of brevity, location and personalization. So far the big shortcoming I can see is that there is an inability to tag, you can only control who has the ability to see posts. Notifications so far only come in the form of people +1ing posts, people adding you to their circles and finally people making comments on posts.

When more people join the network, the ability to let people know you've sent them something will be crucial. I can envision IM, "email-type" messaging from one person to another right in your stream, concentrated sharing to one group, and finally "tweet-type" posts that are public, either to everyone in all your circles or to anybody who is watching.

The enticing thing about this social network is that it is a great place to "Hangout", as in group video chat. After using this only once to test it, I VERY much like it. The feature which allows you to add a YouTube clip to the group is perfect for sharing music with people and discussing it in real time. Also, once an iOS app is released, presumably with the Huddle functionality built-in, group texting will be available between smartphones, as well as possibly between any group of cell phones. My favourite part of this service is that it is built-in to Google's other services. So far I do have a couple of other gripes, such as when I am in chat on Gmail as well as on + they are completely separate protocols, and turning one off doesn't turn off the other. Also, it would be very nice to have the ability to see how many unread emails (perhaps with a similar dropdown box) I have in the fancy new black bar, which could be a very nice unified menu for all Google Services (like Reader as well for example).

Lastly, there is the matter of "invites" to Google+. I would like to describe to you the story of how I came to get onto + (within 24 hours of it being released). I signed up for an invite as soon as possible through Google, and then I heard one friend had gotten an account. I had him share something with me by email through +, and I was in after clicking on the link. It's as simple as that, I've done it with several people. I promise you that this site will get better as soon as more people start using it, and Google will continue to add features based on your experiences and issues to make it GREAT.

I do hope I have given you a few reasons to try out + on more than a trial basis. It really is a very nice experience, and I have said that as soon as an iOS app is released, I'm planning on converting to only + and deactivating Facebook, at least in solidarity with the hope that Google+ is as successful as I know it should be. Happy sharing!

-Robert

Root Access For All!

Hey again, I broke through the one post barrier!

I want to say a few things about jailbreaking iOS products because everybody seems to be either very apprehensive or afraid of doing this, when in reality the jailbreak community is a beautiful place and allows for a huge amount of customization which would otherwise not be possible. All a jailbreak does is allow root access to your phone (in other words, allows you to change things which Apple hasn't explicitly allowed through their App Store) as well as install a third-party app/tweak store called Cydia (the Latin name of a worm which lives inside of and eats apples....mmmm apples).

Many, MANY people talk tirelessly about the differences between iPhone vs. Android vs. BB etc. and which one is better and more open and these types of things, but the fact is, they are both extremely similar. Apps in the iPhone app store are submitted to Apple just like they are submitted to the Android market. These two development environments are extremely similar and neither is truly open. Any discussion of features provided by either (with the exception of hardware differences such as NFC chips and dedicated buttons) depends only on developers. I personally prefer iOS because its coding allows for much smoother scrolling and switching, it just feels better to me.

With the release of iOS 5, many people will probably not bother to jailbreak, because so many nice features the jailbreak community has released are making their way into the official release. Of note is the pull-down notification centre (very similar to the tweak LockInfo) as well as the ability to sync via WiFi when the phone/tablet is charging. Note that Cydia does not mean that apps or tweaks are free, it is just that they give functionality which Apple does not allow in accordance with their terms with developers.

Finally, when it comes to iOS using Flash-based webpages, which everybody refers to as one of the major drawbacks of the platform, it is not a shortcoming of Apple, merely a choice which Steve Jobs et al. have made due to compatibility and smoothness issues with the software. The company prides itself strongly on the smoothest and easiest user experience possible, and this means having the user experience be the same or as similar as possible across all devices. Apple chose to stand behind HTML5 (a language which Google is also strongly pushing and which Google uses for all of its services due to its speed and usability) because they feel that in the end that technology allows for a better experience. Apple does NOT like glitches or bugs.

Speaking of glitches and bugs, I have chosen this topic for today because Jailbreakme 3.0 was released today. This allows you to simply point Safari to http://www.jailbreakme.com and start the process. I won't go so far as to recommend that anybody jailbreak their iOS device, but if you are in any way unsatisfied with Apple's rules about what you can do with your phone, it is a great and completely reversible (by restoring) way to take back some control of your operating system. Also, it is extremely simple and convenient in this case, and having the app doesn't require that you use it, so if you're feeling even the slightest bit adventurous, give it a try. It is an extremely simple program to use and with the simplicity of the web-based jailbreak, now is the time to give it a shot.

I hope I have shed a little bit of light on this topic for those of you who have little technical expertise, and if you are in the market for a smartphone and are having trouble deciding if Apple is worth the extra money, feel free to post questions, I would love to help you out!

-Robert

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Blog Odyssey '011: The Blogtacular Bloggening

Hello World. (I have always wanted forum to say that)

First of all I would like to introduce myself as well as tell you a little bit about why I decided to start writing and what I hope to get out of it, as well as what I hope you will learn from reading. I don't know how long I intend this to be just yet, but hopefully I can be precise and brief so as not to keep you too long. For starters, I am 23 years old and as I write that (for the first time mind you, my birthday was yesterday) I get to really contemplate what that means. I am about 10 months into a Masters degree in Chemistry at the University of Ottawa, and I really don't know what life is all about yet. Why am I doing a Masters? I'm not really sure, everybody is quick to tell me it's a REALLY good idea though. I'm not thoroughly convinced, but we'll see.

When asked why I decided to take a graduate degree, I usually say that the economy is bad right now and nobody is hiring, so maybe if I spend a year upgrading my degree with three more letters the job market will be in better shape, and of course everybody wants to hire somebody who has documentation proving they are a Master of something. Right? People tell me I'm of above average intelligence, and I'm inclined to agree with them, but I take that with a grain of salt considering I'm well aware of the existence of many people dragging the average way down. Who's to say I couldn't get a good job I'm perfectly suited to right now with no trials or tribulations? I have no idea, I haven't even tried to look. When asked what I want to do with my adult life, all I can really say so far is that I would love to work at CERN doing some kind of job I would totally be qualified for, or astronaut. Most people who say that have nothing to back it up, whereas I would be a PERFECT astronaut! The only qualifications (yes, I've done the research) are 20/20 vision, being in good physical shape (sure I could probably work out more, but this is a dream job, I'd be willing to put some effort in) and a bachelors degree in science or engineering. Hey, wait, I have ALL of those things! So people (mostly family and friends) tell me, what's stopping you, go to astronaut school. To those people I respond, I don't think that's actually a thing, and if it is CSIS is probably doing all the recruiting secretly and I've already been passed over.

Alright, I realize that was a little off-topic, but it does give some perspective on where I'm coming from. I know where I want to be and I have some idea of what I want to do, but the fact of the matter is that I would be reasonably happy doing almost any job as long as I would be working with good people doing something that doesn't drive me crazy. Call me crazy, but that doesn't seem so far-fetched.

Now, on to what I think I would like to accomplish by sharing this with you. I live in a world where many, MANY things drive me just a little bit crazy. I can keep it to myself, because honestly nobody really cares that much about little things that much. I'll try not to complain ad nauseam about things, but for example, I will use SMS (Short Message Service) text messaging.

First off, I LOVE text messaging, it simplifies communication SO much, and we are at the point where more young people text than call, and over 50% of young adults don't have a landline. That being said, I really want to stop sending SMS messages. They cost money even though they are sent as part of communications your cell phone makes with cell towers anyhow. And they cost a LOT of money. I understand that companies need to make money, but gouging us in these ways to pad the bottom line is turning me off from the service. Especially when there are SO many free alternatives which use the internet. I could talk for hours about this (and I plan to) but the bottom line is that paying for these kinds of things drives me crazy in a digital world where there is so much possibility for improvement.

Secondly, as a goal of writing here for you, I would like to put fingers to keyboard and just write what I think and feel. I keep about 95% of my thoughts to myself because (again) nobody really cares, but I'm not going to make you read this, so I don't have to feel bad. Eventually this will evolve and I will be able to keep things short and sweet, but I'm not going to regret being verbose for the first little while. As an extension of that point, I haven't really written anything in a while, and since I'm trying to write up a paper right now, and my thesis in the coming months, it seems like a good idea to work on my style a little, try to find my voice.

Finally, because I could probably go for pages and pages, I would just like to introduce you a little bit to the person I actually am (the person only people who have known me for a while know). I LOVE technology, as well as reading. I currently own a desktop computer, a laptop (both from Dell, before I get accused of being an Apple fanboy), as well as an iPad, and iPhone and iPod nano. As i bought them in order I was able to rationalize each purchase by saying that I really would have a use for it, and in all honesty I do use each of them for different purposes and would say that each of them were well worth the price. I will expand on how and why each of these different devices enhances my understanding of and immersion in the world later, but for now just know that I very much enjoy being connected to the world, and I hope it enjoys being connected to me in the same way.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it, and I look forward to pouring more of myself into the internets in the very near future.

-Robert