Posted 1 year ago

I’ve moved my blog from Tumblr to Github.    Why? A bunch of reasons:

  1. I have lost too many posts to mention (and I don’t blog a lot) to Tumblr’s web interface.
  2. I really like the idea of writing in Markdown in my favorite editor, not using some web interface (yes I’ve tried Wordpress. As good as HTML editors have gotten, I am always fighting against them.
  3. Github is awesome and github pages are free.
  4. I can control the the look of the blog pretty easily, and just add pages as I want.

This will be the last post here, my new blog is at agingcoder.com.

Posted 1 year ago

Three months with Windows 8

I’ve been working with Windows 8 on a laptop for about 3 months and I thought I would share my thoughts on Windows 8 before Windows 8.1 comes out.  Of course I started by installing Classic Shell which may still be necessary in Windows 8.1, as the Metro Menu (or whatever Microsoft is calling it this week) is bleak wasteland that serves no purpose.  And this is basically the problem with Windows 8, they spent all their energy on Windows RT (the API’s not the Arm version of Windows) and the Metro Menu rather than improving the part of Windows that I actually use.  

I did spend some time in the Windows Store trying to find some app’s to install, but really I couldn’t find anything of use.  The Metro Menu may be usable on a touch screen but is kind of terrible on a laptop.  So, with all the work that they put into it, it really serves no purpose to me.  And yet, there are still major issues with the Desktop portion of Windows, some of these were issues in Windows 7 and some are new problems that got created in Windows 8.

First of all, laptops (and now monitors) have gotten much densor.  This laptop is 1080p on a 15 inch screen.  I’ve cranked up the display to 150% but a ton of applications just don’t work at high DPI on windows 8.  This might not be Microsoft’s fault, but the sheer number of applications that either look funky or plain don’t work in high DPI shows that it wasn’t a priority for Microsoft make shims that would make applications work better in a High DPI mode (or it might be that it doesn’t work in Windows 8, this laptop is the only device I have used Windows 8 with).

Removing Aero glass might make the desktop a little cleaner, but I do miss it and wish there was an option to re-enable it.  The excuse that it drains battery and uses too much energy might make sense for Arm and Windows RT but I have an I7 with 8 cores and a pretty good graphics card let me have Aero Glass if I want.  

The mixing of control panels between Metro and the Desktop frequently leads to confusion.  For example is very easy to turn Airplane mode on but it is very hard to figure out how to turn it off (it is only available in the Metro networking control panel which you have to search for on the Metro Menu).  However googling how turn wireless back on is very difficult when wireless is turned off.

There are several other annoyances, but the other annoyance was the last windows update, which when I woke up my computer from a sleep I was informed I have 20 minutes to reboot.  I shut everything down and rebooted and the computer never came back.  I got a black screen with a blue window and an endless spinner.  I tried repair and restore but no luck.  After booting with the restore disk, it magically came back without having to wipe and restart but there was a day when I was booting into an Ubuntu live-cd to back up my system to an external drive (not that there was much on it, but I had a couple of test projects I hadn’t committed anywhere).  During this time I decided that if Windows 8 didn’t come back, I would probably switch to Ubuntu or Mint when I repaved the machine.  Who knows if this bad boy refuses to boot again, I probably will switch to Linux.

Posted 2 years ago

$199 Windows 8 Surface?

Some genius decided to spread the rumour that the Microsoft surface was going to be $199. This one act may do more damage to the surface than almost anything else I can think of. Giving consumers the expectation that the surface will be under $200, no mater what price it comes out at will give the surface the feeling that it is overpriced (while at the same time the rumour places the surface in the same category as the Nexus 7). Notice how Apple managed to keep pundits guessing that the iPad would be around $800 and delivered at $500.

If Microsoft was actually going to deliver a $200 10 inch tablet, they should be broadcasting it to the heavens (yes of course they will piss off their OEMs even earlier) because if I thought there was going to be a chance that there were going to be 10 million surfaces I would take a six month leave of work now and start writing WinRT apps (and I am sure I am not the only one). Sure it would cost Microsoft a couple of billion dollars in the losses they would take and piss off every hardware partner they had, but it would probably ensure a windows marketplace full of apps (probably mostly fart apps and iPad knockoffs but they would have more than the 400 apps they say they are going to launch with. Let me be clear I am not saying give cheap surfaces to developers (we all saw how well that worked with the play oil) but create an environment with tons of WinRT only devices. It’s probably WinRT’s best chance for survival. But for a million reasons it will never happen.

Posted 2 years ago

Windows 8, more thoughts…

Darren tweeted me this morning:

@ksoncan34 What are your thoughts on Jeff Atwood’s new post? http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2012/07/betting-the-company-on-windows-8.html He seems to like the new Metro interface…

Well, I would agree with Mr. Atwood that Microsoft does seem to be betting everything on Windows 8.  The $40 upgrade price is another huge proof that they are willing to do almost anything to get technorati (the only people who really ever do upgrade an OS without buying a new computer) on board and using Windows 8. And that they are probably correct to, as releasing Windows 7.5 probably would be the end of versions for Windows and perhaps the start of the decline for Microsoft.  Off topic a little, but not that I think the end of versions for Windows would be bad, I think it would be amazing if windows was more like Chrome and just slowly updated itself over time.  However, I do know what an insane support headache that would be and that would be a no-go for businesses.  My suggestion would be to create two versions of the OS, the enthusiasts version that auto-updated like Chrome and the LTS version that got released every three years.  Then they could be a little Lean in Windows development, however I am not sure you really want enthusiasts driving the boat for features.  Who knows, maybe that is what they are going to do with Windows RT, since they haven’t given it version number (though Vista and XP didn’t have version numbers either).

Sorry, go off topic there, back to the topic of the New Metro Interface.  Well, personally I am not a fan and I see it resulting in a ton of apps that look like the new Rdio.  But really I am not the right person to ask, given that I have no sense of design myself.  Do I find it hard to use, not particularly but it did slow me down over a normal desktop. I am pretty sure that if I ever choose to use Windows 8 I will get over that hump in a few days, but unfortunately for Microsoft neither myself nor Mr. Atwood are the customers that they have to worry about.  Will business people adopt it in droves — highly unlikely but I don’t think that Microsoft is counting on that.  Will regular consumers like your unspecified relative who always asks you for computer help like it?  That is the real question, and they won’t really have a choice since it will be loaded onto their next computer.  The question is do they revolt, and if they do revolt do they jump to OSX?  From what I have heard, and since this is from my friends and tech pundits on podcasts, it is about 30-70 between love and hate of the new interface.   I think the main problem is going to be that Windows RT is only half baked so far, and Microsoft doesn’t have enough time to get a perfect version out the door.  I am sure version 2 or 3 will be great, but will the masses have fled before that happens?

Posted 2 years ago

How Microsoft is betting everything on Tablets…

It has become clear over the past few years, that the Post PC era, while not yet upon us, is closing in.  With smartphone penetration over 35%, and 1 in 3 in the US owning tablets by 2015 Microsoft clearly sees that the day of the PC being the ubiquitous device for accessing the internet is numbered.  They responded slowly (like the responded slowly to the internet in 1995), but by the time they got around to deciding what to do they have decided to go all in.  Make their tablet (and now their smartphone) all run the same operating system as the one thing they can be assured that a ton of us will run, the desktop.  

However, they also realized that they had to radically change the underlying way that windows operated, as people would not accept a tablet and phone that got viruses the way that windows does.  So they created WindowsRT, a sandboxed version of windows that won’t allow easy installation of programs except through the Microsoft store (this will help stop malicious applications from being installed by social engineering).  It also limits what a programmer can do except with permissions from the user.  And they created a browser that will not allow the installation of plugins (plugins being the major source of browser exploits in the past couple of years).  They relented to allowing flash, but they will only run white-listed flash applications, which means that if your website needs to run flash you will have to apply to get on the Microsoft whitelist for flash.  Probably the best way to handle flash, however it will probably be confusing for the inexperienced user why their favorite flash game website works when they got their from the desktop and why it doesn’t when the got their from the Metro UI).

 Of course if you use the Desktop you can still get viruses and malware to your hearts content, but Microsoft if doing everything they can to force you into the Metro experience.  The start button became a start screen thus if you want to start an application you will usually be forced back to the Metro screen.  Microsoft is hoping that you like it there, and that developers will see that they can make lots of money writing applications there.  And once they have people in the Metro mindset, the tablet and the phone will be there waiting for them.  And applications written for the Metro desktop will already run on the Surface tablet, and are apparently easy to convert to the new Windows Phone 8.  It sounds like a good plan, unless people start hating the Metro UI and how it has been artificially forced on you by Microsoft.  And unfortunately from my usage so far, the whole Metro UI suffers from feeling like a 1 point 0 release, and everyone knows that Microsoft never gets things right until version 3.

Personally I think that this is going to make Windows 7 the next Windows XP and Windows 8 the next Vista.   I think that unless Microsoft charges almost nothing for WindowsRT licences that Windows tablets will go nowhere, and that the Windows Phone is already dead.  With the phone it took them far too long to get to be on par with the competition and when the competing operating system is as good or better and free, how do you convince partners to use your operating system (other than by giving them a ton of money to do so, like they did with Nokia).  

They missed the boat on tablets as well, with Ballmer claiming that Windows 7 was fine for tablets.  Because the turn around for a Windows operating system is 3 years (now it’s three years, with Vista it was 6), they are unable to adjust and add things like functionality required for a tablet.  Of course Microsoft had had tablets for years, but they never worked and always fell short of the mark.  When Apple released the first tablet that made sense, everyone was grasping trying to come up with a response.  For Microsoft it was trying to have their hardware partners shovel Windows 7 on a tablet, for Google it was Honeycomb.   But after a year and a half later there was a good tablet operating system in Ice Cream Sandwhich.  Windows 8 will be released two and a half years after the iPad and it will be playing catch up as badly as the first Windows Phone was playing catch up to the iPhone. And since Microsoft only releases a new operating system every 3 years, unless they change their pattern, it will be almost impossible for it to catch up.  

Showing that they don’t trust their hardware partners, and throwing them under the bus by releasing the surface may provide a decent hardware experience without all the standard windows crapware installed, but unless the Surface hits the sub $400 market it isn’t going anywhere.  Google’s Nexus tablet will probably be announced next week and probably be under $200, so once again Microsoft will be playing catch up.  And where will this leave us?  Swearing and the stupid Metro start screen and either finding a way to disable it, or re-installing windows 7…

Posted 2 years ago

Thoughts on Windows 8, and the Metro UI

Microsoft is betting heavily on Metro and the Metro UI, however I feel that this is misguided attempt at one interface to rule them all.  Creating a brand new API (WinRT), and a whole new way to develop applications has shackled the Metro UI with the intractable problem that is a lack of Applications.  Unless the tablet version of Windows 8 is a runaway success, no developer in their right mind is going to got through the pain of learning a new API just to be able to create applications that is only going to run on new computers (1/2 of the windows desktops in the world still run XP and only just over 1/4 run Windows 7, which is two generations back, how long will it take for there to be a large installbase of Windows 8 especially since Windows 7 is pretty darn good).  

Now a lot of people will be saying that developers don’t actually have to learn a new API as Metro applications can be developed in 3 ways that developers are inately familiar with:  DotNet or C++  (using Xaml similar but not exactly the same as Silverlight and WindowsRT) and Html/Javascript (with a ton of new WindowsRT api’s added to the standard Javascript libraries).  Unless you are a Windows Phone developer most of these are going to come with pretty steep learning curves, just looking at the boiler-plate code emitted when creating a Metro Html/Javascript made my head spin and reminded me of the old Embrace/Extend/Eliminate Microsoft of the past (yes lets create Html5 applications that only run in the Metro WindowsRT world, please!).  Even if you are just converting a Windows Phone 7 application to Metro you are going to have to develop a second User Interface (or three if you create a new UI for Desktop sized screens as well as tablet screens)  as something designed for a 4” phone screen isn’t going to scale well for 11” touchpad screen and certainly isn’t going to look good on a 24” monitor.  There doesn’t appear to be any way to create unified projects in Visual Studio 11 that allow for multiple targeted platforms (Phone, Metro UI, etc) and this is a feature they should probably work on.  

I see Metro’s only hope of not being relegated to being the next Windows Gadgets or Microsoft Bob on the desktop is if the tablets truly take off making it highly desirable to write Metro applications.  But from what we have seen in the past yeard and a half is that in the tablet world there seems to be only two ways to high sales, being an iPad or selling for $99.

Posted 2 years ago

How I became twice as productive…

Though I had known about about 2x speed button on the iPod application forever, however the two times I ha tried to use it I found it hard to listen to. What I always said I needed was a 1.5 speed for the iPod app and had actually requested this from Apple and almost switched to a different podcast app that supported multiple speeds. How wrong I was, what I really needed was to trust Steve and bear down and listen to a couple podcasts at double speed. Now I find it very odd to listen to any podcasts at normal speed, and almost wish there was a 2.5 speed… And now, at least in listening to podcasts, I am twice as productive as I used to be. If only there where such shortcuts elsewhere…

Posted 3 years ago

5 Geeky Things I Love…

  1. Rdio - Instant access to millions of tunes.  Amazing value for money.
  2. PhpStorm - Makes programming in PHP a joy again.
  3. Kindle - The readability and the weight are what makes this the killer ebook reader.
  4. iPhone - Ok, maybe some of the glow has rubbed off, but I still couldn’t live without it (and with Rdio it makes the iPhone even better).
  5. Cygwin - It’s kind of amazing how Mintty, Git, and Node have brought Cygwin back into my life after all these years. 
Posted 3 years ago

MSBuild Shell Extension

After MSBuildShellExtension stopped getting developed (so that it won’t really build .Net 4.0 any more, even with a fair bit of fiddling), and after trying MSBuild Launch pad and not digging it, I figured why go all high tech and not just create a simple Registry Shell command.  For posterity (and so I can find it in the future) here it is (copy the following into a .reg file and update the location of vcvarsall.bat depending upon your installation of Visual Studio and whether or not you are on 64Bit windows or not).

  
    Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
    
    [HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\VisualStudio.Launcher.sln\Shell\Build\Command]
    @="cmd /k \"\"C:\\Program Files (x86)\\Microsoft Visual Studio 10.0\\VC\\vcvarsall.bat\"\" x86 && msbuild %1"
    
    [HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\VisualStudio.Launcher.sln\Shell\Clean\Command]
    @="cmd /k \"\"C:\\Program Files (x86)\\Microsoft Visual Studio 10.0\\VC\\vcvarsall.bat\"\" x86 && msbuild /target:clean %1"
    
    [HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\VisualStudio.Launcher.sln\Shell\Rebuild\Command]
    @="cmd /k \"\"C:\\Program Files (x86)\\Microsoft Visual Studio 10.0\\VC\\vcvarsall.bat\"\" x86 && msbuild /target:rebuild %1"
  
Posted 3 years ago

#Rdio Two Months In…

After spending two months with rdio, I still love it enough to stay subscribed (though I don’t know if I am getting enough value from the mobile player…)  I love the ability to listen to whatever I want instantly.  Although they don’t have a perfect selection (no Pixies, Arcade Fire, Spoon, etc), the selection is very good and getting better.  And I have spent many happy hours discovering and listening to music that I probably wouldn’t have discovered if I didn’t have access to the service (for example I am sure I wouldn’t have spent two days tolling the Trojan catalog and rediscovering 60s Ska, and Rocksteady) and building playlists.  The choice of licensing all the AllMusic data was an excellent one, and    However, there are a ton of small annoying aspects of Rdio, which hopefully will be remedied shortly…

  1. Maybe due to the fact that I live in Canada and the Canadian and American catalogs are very different there are a ton of unavailable albums, which Rdio insists on showing.   There should be an option to turn off unavailable songs, especially on the Recommendations page (which is particularly frustrating when half of the recommended albums are unavailable).  At least the unavailable tracks should be shown last, as frequently (at least in Canada) you will see that an album is unavailable only to see a different copy of the album available on the second or third page.
  2. Genre is not an available way to search music, since this data is clearly available in the AllMusic it should be integrated into the service (the more that rdio makes music discoverable the better).  Especially in the Top Charts, which for me is a completely pointless endevour without genre.
  3. While playing on the desktop the music sometimes cuts out (or more often at the end of a track the next track is not played).   I am sure that this is something that they are working on, but it is annoying to say the least.
  4. The collections feature seems almost useless, it makes things a little easier to find in the mobile app (slightly faster than searching) but in the desktop client the Collection takes so long to load it is almost always faster just to search.  More should be done with the collection in being able to improve recommendations and the like, but for now it seems like a big waste of time to your Match Your Collection.  Adding artists to your collection also seems like you are just adding things to the void, and what you really should do is add to a playlist to check out later (which I currently do).  Maybe if I paired my collection down, it would be better but for now it is a frustrating feature.
  5. The Desktop Air Client seems only to be another annoyance.  It is the only way to Match your collection (however, as I have stated above that seems to serve little purpose), but beyond that it serves no purpose other than something that seems to want to update the Air Runtime and update itself every time I start (with no apparent features added).  It isn’t even smart enough to stay logged in, and you must have a browser window with RDIO open when it starts up or it won’t be logged in.  I really fail to see the purpose the application, since you really need to have a browser window open to use RDIO anyway, and the Desktop Application seems to add nothing to the experience.
  6. Recommendations (and almost all notices) are sent via email (which tend to end up in Spam filters no matter how often I mark them as not spam), which seems a contrary way to develop a social network, adding a simple messaging center to the interface would be simple and make a lot of sense.  Or at least on your Recommendations page have the recommendations that your friends have made for you available (since the recommendations engine is so weak already).
  7. The recommendation engine is clearly just mining the Similar Artists data from AllMusic, but at least check to see if that artist is already in my collection, and as stated before is available.  I expect that the recommendation engine will improve over time as Rdio will be able to mine its own data…
  8. The ability to create Radio Stations based on artists is nice (and is getting better with last update giving a little more control), however the ability to create Radio stations based on multiple artists (ala Last FM and Pandora) seems an obvious addition

There are a ton of other little things (Heavy Rotation isn’t actually heavy rotation but the last few albums you have played), you should be able to click a single button to add all the top songs from an artist to your queue, etc but for now those are some of the big (and mostly easy to fix) complaints I have about Rdio.  As it stands, it is by far the best way to listen to music on a computer and/or phone device, but this is a market that is going to start getting crowded (Google, Spotify and Apple will probably be entering in the new year) and if they don’t quickly work on improving they will find themselves on the outside looking in as people flock to better services.