Friday, November 26, 2010

It's 3 AM

Black Friday looms large as I prepare to venture forth into a shopping nightmare. The promise of an Orange Julius throws much salve on my anxious mind wounds. I think it'll all work out. Maybe I'll find a decent bargain on a present or two still not checked off my list?

Hope. It keeps us going or makes us do dumb things. I'll find out which one as I slog through the mall with the other dregs of optimistic consumerism.

-- sent from my iPad mini. n_n

Friday, November 19, 2010

TSA in the USA

I'm not your typical traveler. I suffer from general anxiety disorder and so my reactions to the TSA's recently implemented security measures probably mess with me more than your average person. When my wife and I started talking about taking a flight to her SWIM program classes in Montana, I decided to do some looking around the intertoobs about the state of air travel. For me, it had been awhile.

Frankly, I'm more afraid of having to go through the TSA screening process than I am facing the prospect of being on a flight about to be hijacked. At least with terrorists I can take action, have recourse and some idea of their intentions. The TSA appears to have immunity and powers that regular law enforcement (with ten times the training) does not have. At least with terrorists, I can rip an armrest off my seat and try to cave in their skulls providing them independent oversight and myself some measure of recourse.

Is the hit to your civil liberties and dignity worth the false sense of security the TSA grants? 20 million air travelers this holiday season think so. Do those who sacrifice their liberty for security really deserve neither? I'm not really sure.

I think it really departs from being a privacy issue in the world we currently live in. We opt out of our privacy every time we activate the location services on our iOS device, log on to our Facebook Accounts, use Gmail, buy a car with GPS or Blog online about it. People relinquish their privacy all the time without giving it a second thought. I'm no different in that respect.

Even with all the reading and research I've done recently, the thing about the TSA's practices that bother me have little to do with the TSA. I think my overall disgust isn't with them or the way in which they do their jobs. Mostly, I can't believe I've inherited a world where such a thing is even necessary.

Politicians keep telling me and my fellow citizens that the military actions we've taken overseas is making for a safer America. 20 million people this holiday season are okay with the fact that our government has utterly failed to deliver on that promise. I'm not angry with the TSA, I'm angry at the people whose actions created the conditions whereby the existence of such an agency became necessary.

Take the Combating Online Infringement & Counterfeits Act that was adopted unanimously by the Senate's Judiciary Committee. It's not the stupidest thing to come out of our nation's capital in the last twelve months, but it's top 5. Do I think people should pirate and hack media for mass redistribution online to the detriment of the original creator? No.

Do I think this piece of legislation would have fixed the problem? It doesn't matter. Ultimately the outcome would be the US looking stupid as they tried to open foreign markets to homegrown and legit internet/online content and services. 40 of those foreign markets already engage in rampant online censorship. Censorship our government should allegedly oppose. Something about free speech being a part of our way of life. It's there somewhere, look it up.

Even if the legislation had worked (laugh, giggle, chortle, LoL, etc) we'd have ended up hurting our own case to aid legitimate online services entering foreign markets. Stupid? Self-defeating? Ill-conceived? I give you the majority of the United States Legislative Branch. There are so few people in the Senate and Congress with a clue, I'm terrified to see what they'll do next.

It's like watching someone throw gasoline and rage-virus infected baboons on a train wreck.

Thank God Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat from Oregon) had the sand to stand up and say no to COICA.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Being Average

I think there's a lot of what I do that amounts to being your average guy. I work hard doing what I do and I have my pastimes to fill in the gaps. The problem is that I don't want to be defined by those pastimes or have the work I do come from someone average. I'm beginning to feel like what I do isn't enough.

I write anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand words a day depending on the project, but I don't feel like I have set aside the time to read as much as I probably need to. I think it's time to admit I conquered my dyslexia where my writing is concerned, but I still struggle with reading. I think a good pair of glasses and some patience would do me wonders.

To that end I think I need to move some of what takes up my time down the line. I need to engage my time more authoritatively. Playing video games, scrolling through Facebook, reading online comics, and watching streaming video on Netflix each take up a very small amount of time and money depending on whether I really need to escape. Collectively, all the small things I do to recreate take up a lot of time that adds up.

This is especially true if your goals are lofty.

Some of what I do requires that I read a lot tech blogs, gadget sites, and other online resources and I've trained my mind to quickly absorb what I need while ignoring what I don't. Would it hurt my work if I cut the number of sites I read regularly in half? Probably not.

Then there is the time I spend preparing for my table top RPGs. 2 out of the three tables contribute directly to my work, while the third is Basic D&D run from a used Cyclopedia. I miss my box sets. This seems to be the most balanced situation. A two-thirds, one-third split of my energies.

I'm generally good at budgeting my time, but I give myself time off for completing tasks early instead of moving on to the next project. I'm either not challenging myself enough, or I sell myself short thinking I won't be able to do a particular thing without great difficulty.

It all adds up to something.

I need to make some difficult choices and make some changes in how I look at what I do both on... and off the clock.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Definitely a Hardware Guy

I gathered with a couple of my friends last night to play test the latest version of a game I'm working with others to develop for the Windows Phone 7 platform. One is a professional grade software tester while the other is a voracious consumer of video games across various platforms. Collaborating with people to collect feedback on the fruits of your own creativity is always a humbling experience. It also reminds you who you're going through all that trouble for.

The audience.

In designing the user interface for combat I read a lot of what other people had to say on the subject. You'd be surprised how few people blog about such things. Also, I went through and played dozens mobile games (paid and free) using my iPad and my iPod Touch. It became clear to me that certain games required an almost invisible interface while others needed carefully placed "buttonry". I was nervous about putting something I'd spent so much time perfecting in front of a real audience.

In the end, the interface got the thumbs up and it's starting to feel like the game is finally on the downward slope toward a finished product. The visuals themselves deserve a little polish, but the premise turned out to be sound. Marvelous is that feeling you've given a machine the ability to relate to people for a common goal, even if it was beating the tar out of bad guys composed of code and pixels.

It'll be hard to relinquish my old Motorola dumb-phone and even harder to begin the journey that is finding myself a Windows Phone 7. I've read lots of reviews of various models and they all seem to have their advantages and fatal flaws like any mobile product. No one device really stands out to me as "the one". It'll require going to every place I can find that has product and laying hands on as many WP7 devices as I can. I do love watching the salesperson squirm when I make the plastic squeak.

Pictured above is the testing station I set up for running the WP7 emulator.

If anyone ends up purchasing a WP7 device and has something to report, I'd like to hear about it. Drop me an email or post it to the comments.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Being a Village Technologist

Talk with a good friend today about technology made me realize that I know enough to know I know nothing. I'm a few lines of code, a couple websites, and many gadgets past the average tech level of most other people. That being said, most of the people I know who really know tech... I wouldn't let them buy gadgets for me.

My devices have become living extensions of myself, tools I use to shape my words and other works.

This week I talked with someone that really struggled to understand what I do. To sum it up, if you walked into an auditorium of people and asked them to raise their hand if they had a smart phone... many wouldn't raise their hand. Ask the same group if they have an iPhone and watch the hands go up. Most people don't think they are the same thing.

Likewise when I talk to people about technology, especially stuff in the mobile end of the pool, most people are utterly clueless. Blissfully so, as most mobile devices have no practical use to most people. Not in the sense that the device would pay for itself. I see people use dumb phones to text all the time. They aren't missing out on anything, up until they see someone playing Angry Birds or Chaos Rings.

I haven't heard my mom get excited about anything for a long time. She's had interests, projects and endeavors. I've heard the tone in her voice that indicated something she saw or experienced intrigued her, but I'd almost forgotten what it sounded like to hear excitement. Yesterday, she told me she acquired an iPhone 4. Excitement.

She knew I'd understand.

About six months ago, I wrote something to the effect that I looked forward to the hub-bub of mobile tech to quiet down. I wanted a world where mobile technology ceased to be exciting and became common place so I could sit and write anywhere I wanted without attracting much of any attention. I think I still want those things, but I'll never stop being excited about mobile technology.

I know many people who have fettered themselves with devices and software that do not suit them or their needs. For some, an Asus Netbook running Linux with 8 gigs of flash memory would be sufficient. For others, they need thousands of dollars in hardware. I feel that way when it comes to smart phones, but I haven't had the chance to actually handle more than the emulator for WP7.

People are protective of their gadgets. My wife's iPod Touch and iMac both have many stories, stickers, and memories associated with them. Even when offered with the chance to upgrade, she will likely decline, using both until they die. I find that most people are that way, even with a device they don't like.

I'm far more mercenary. My devices stay in good shape not out of pride, but so they'll be easier to sell when I find something better. Given the trends in both desktop and mobile computing, I doubt I'll be trading up any time soon. Technological contentment does not suit me, and I read the tech blogs every day hoping that someone will break into the market with something that makes Microsoft, Apple, Google, and all the rest rethink the entire way they do things.

And yes, I still want a Courier.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

PlainText App

I finally found an app for my iPad that is ideal for just generating text. PlainText, a free app, is loaded with exactly the features I was looking for.

- Saves documents as .txt, formatting free for dropping into my book, blog or an email.
- Syncs automatically with DropBox and allows me to manage folders.
- Word count embedded in the copy/paste option.
- Unfettered, no frills typing experience.

The iPod version has ads, but they can be banished for 99 cents. I paid it more to support the folks who made the app than because they were bothersome.

The iPad version allows for quick document switching. This is ideal for my non-fiction works where I am constantly cutting and pasting stock text. I wish Apple's Pages app was as agile in this way.

If I don't want the file menu hanging around I can go to a fullscreen view where only the onscreen keyboard and the text are visible. I don't use it much, but it worked great with my Bluetooth keyboard as well.

I could see myself doing the majority of my text generation with this app, with Pages being reserved to view and edit documents, at least where my iPad was concerned.

For those of you familiar with Bean, this is as close to that typing experience as you can get on the iPad. While it lacks the ability to format text, I haven't found anything more ideal for just creating it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mark Zuckerberg's iPad

During a recent press conference Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg stated that the iPad wasn't mobile. Most of the tech blogs from Engadget to Mashable have puzzled over or poked fun at his comment. What makes me laugh is that while I don't agree with Mark about much, what he said makes some sense.

Yes, the iPad is running iOS like the iPhone and the iPod touch. Even so, Mr. Zuckerberg suggested that the iPad was a computer as opposed to a mobile device. As the lines between form factor separating one device from another gets blurry, the companies producing online content still have to make distinctions relative to how they reach people through those devices.

Where Facebook is concerned, the iPad is a computer with a browser. I think Mark was being pretty clear. Why then were so many tech pundits and gadget reviewers baffled? Look at who they work for.

Deciding to create an app to reach out to a form factor instead of making your content more viewable on mobile browsers is baffling to me. In most cases, these apps are not a better surfing experience to a web browser. The Ars Technica and Mashable Apps are subpar as compared to just poking through their sites on mobile Safari.

Apologizing for a web site that doesn't render well on a mobile browser with an app that does a worse job will only make your audience angry. You'd think this would be common sense. It's sad that Mr. Zuckerberg is the only one who has figured that out.

If someone told me I had to download a custom app on my desktop computer to view what should otherwise be web content, I'd assume it was a scam.

I have a web browser on my iPad. That is where I will be viewing the bulk of my web content. I don't think I'm alone. How is that hard for so many online entities to understand?

What about apps like Flipbook, Instapaper, or Netflix? Each is providing me an enhanced experience, something better than what my browser can provide. If every web content rendering app promised the same, I'd change my tune.

I think what Mark was trying to say is this: Facebook was born, made it's money, and prospered within the browser. Why would they leave the mall (the web) to sell their product put of their garage (an app)?

I wouldn't.

Apple Upside No Cake

The battle is over.

After nearly three hours on the phone with Apple the conclusion is that my credit card will not work and there is nothing they can or will do about it. Basically, I'll have to go around them somehow, link my pay pal account, use gift cards, etc. I don't think I'll be using any of those options.

I was really angry at first. I plotted how I would take my silent revenge by slowly banishing all things mobile Apple from my work flow. That hurts me more than it hurts them. I believe everything happens for a reason.

What is clear to me now, is that this is an opportunity. I've spent a lot of time looking at the paid apps for the iOS platform. My iTunes account itself isn't broken and I can still get free apps. Most are probably put out by developers not dissimilar to myself and my cohorts at Raging Rickshaw. It would do me good to look for alternatives to flashy paid apps.

I think what I will do is look for free apps that can do the job of the paid apps, or close. If I find a truly nice free app, I'll put up a short review on my blog and an iTunes link. It'll give me an excuse to write on my blog, help me in my own endeavors and hopefully save me some money in the long run.

It probably isn't possible to replace all my paid apps with free ones, but it might be fun and enlightening to try.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sitting in the Dark

I've poked a few pixels for my WP7 project lately and find myself looking back at everything I've put forward to that, and other projects. It is the things that I have had to do over and over, revise, iterate, and otherwise refine that stand out as the best works. I never seem to get things right the first time, and often, it takes five or six revisions for something to really shine.

I turned the brightness on my monitors down to about half and shut all the lights off in the house, save one in the family room. My wife's guinea pig is afraid of the dark. I'm writing this to take a break from another large document that nears completion of a strong second draft. It's discouraging to know that even after I've printed it for inspection tonight, I'll probably revisit the same project two or three more times.

Had a long conversation with a colleague about the frustration of dealing with someone who is just in love with writing or designing. The Dreamers who have a natural talent for creativity but no ability to refine what they do into something consumable by others. It's the idea of being a creative person that drives them, not the grim knowledge that comes with actually doing the work.

I envy and resent people who can create without cross-consulting with others and just conjure ideas. I have had to craft tools, devise methods, and have the humility to ask for help for the little of success I've enjoyed over the last thirteen months. I wish I could just create things while working inside a bubble.

I can't, but working in the dark helps.

Rest in Peace Lucy 2004-2010

As a family companion Lucy was nonpareil. She will be missed.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Support Staff

There is something wrong with my little guinea pig Lucy. My wife and I think she may have suffered a stroke. From what my wife could find online, it's pretty rare for this type of animal to have this problem. All the symptoms match, which makes it hard to conclude anything else.

As I held Lucy and tried to make her comfortable, I couldn't find something of what I needed to help her. I totally lost it. After practically tearing the house apart looking for what I needed, property damage included, I realized I'd lost all ability to be rational. As Lucy has gotten older, I've been slowly succumbing to the dread of having to bury another pet.

Monstrous am I when I give into despair.

Lucy is part of my support staff. Before her stroke, she listened to my problems, watched TV with me, and comforted me when I was distraught. When I look into her eyes now, it's like she isn't there. She's no longer ticklish, won't eat much, and drinks even less. When I set her down on the ground she wanders about weakly as if she doesn't recognize the house.

I hope she recovers. I don't know what I'll do if she doesn't.