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Archive for the ‘mobile’ tag

Yes, that’s a new laptop. Yes, I know what year it is.

lenovo-thinkpad-x230-frontI know it’s 2013 and as far as “mobile com­put­ing” goes, I’m sup­posed to be pinch-zooming and app-buying and poorly-typing on a tablet like the cool kids. And I do — my  O.G. Nexus 7 (the 2012 model) some­times makes a nice com­pan­ion1 to my Galaxy Nexus Android phone, by being slightly faster and hav­ing a slightly bet­ter screen. How­ever, over the 15 months I’ve owned the Nexus 7, it never quite became the sec­ond mobile device that I wanted. Use­ful, yes… tran­scen­dent, no.

I knew some­thing was still miss­ing, so I recently went and bought a small lap­top com­puter, a Lenovo ThinkPad X230, to carry around. It runs Debian Linux. It does the things I want. It’s a won­der­ful thing to have.

I needed this because…

The lap­top that the ThinkPad replaced was from 2007, and while a decent com­puter from back then would likely still be good today, my old lap­top was not a decent com­puter, even when new. Back then, I didn’t know just how painfully slow an ultra-low-voltage, low clock-speed CPU could be… I guess I thought it being dual-core would some­how make up for it. Also, the cool­ing fan was a bit of a whiner, and would con­stantly and very vocally dis­agree with Linux’s style of power man­age­ment. The darned thing would con­stantly sound like a mini-jet-engine — too obnox­ious to use around peo­ple I actu­ally like.

Low on power, high on noise — not a good combo.

But these days…

In the last half-decade or so, main­stream humans seem to have accepted the smart­phone, and seem to be doing the same for the idiot cam­era (“tablets”). It’s the “Post-PC era,” or some­thing. Plenty of peo­ple seem to be doing okay with­out spend­ing much time on their general-purpose per­sonal com­put­ers, but over time I real­ized that as I tried to go along with this trend, I was miss­ing out. For me, a com­put­ing life cen­tered around mobile “smart” devices was one of unac­cept­able com­pro­mise. Com­pos­ing more than a cou­ple of sen­tences with­out a key­board makes me want to just not bother to write, devices with­out expand­able stor­age make one depen­dent on rent-seeking “cloud” ser­vices, and the mobile app ecosys­tem has hand­fuls of well-known prob­lems (pri­vacy, lock-in, and so on).

There’s a place for these devices, even in my life, but they just don’t replace a general-purpose com­puter. Ever.

So I did this…

I made sure not to make last time’s mis­takes when buy­ing this com­puter. The i5 CPU is more than ade­quate, and I have a ton of RAM. ThinkPads are known to play nicely with Linux, because they’re used by that awe­some kind of geek who fig­ures that shit out (and wouldn’t put up with a jet engine lap­top). It runs Debian Jessie (“test­ing”) with only minor annoy­ances — not per­fect, but noth­ing I can’t han­dle.2

Hard­ware build-quality and dura­bil­ity are major plusses for an every­day carry machine, and that’s what ThinkPads are known for. And of course, Track­Point is truly the best way to mouse. A lot has been said about the new ThinkPad key­boards, and while this one suf­fers from the bull­shit key lay­out (com­pare it to the awe­some, ugly 1337-geek clas­sic style), the key­board actu­ally feel pretty nice to type on, even if the bizarrely-placed PrintScreen key occa­sion­ally enrages me.

And finally…

In the spirit of bury­ing the lede, here are some things I intend to enjoy while tot­ing around this rock-solid, large-screen-and-real-keyboard device:

  • Full desk­top OS that does all the things
  • Bet­ter web brows­ing; approx­i­mately 1,000 open tabs
  • Actu­ally writ­ing things, blog­ging silly ideas and such
  • Tons of local stor­age (SSD + HDD = yay!)
  • Semi-modern PC games, includ­ing lots of Hum­ble Bun­dle goodness
  • Codecad­emy
  • Inter­ac­tive fic­tion, per­haps (now, where did I mis­place my patience?)
  1. My most com­mon tablet uses are as fol­lows: gam­ing, view­ing TV episodes and movies, and web brows­ing. I’m putting this in a foot­note so as not to side­track myself, but it’s an impor­tant point. One of the best things about hav­ing the tablet was that it gave me another 16 GB of stor­age, on top of the 16 GB avail­able on my phone. A lot of peo­ple seem to think that Google inten­tion­ally lim­its the stor­age avail­able in their flag­ship devices to push peo­ple into using their mon­e­ti­z­able “cloud” media offer­ings instead of local stor­age. I wouldn’t be sur­prised if this were true, but hon­estly, the #1 rea­son I’d like more local stor­age in my devices is not to carry around more media, but more and larger apps — some­thing you can’t put in the cloud.
  2. I imag­ine Debian Sta­ble or Ubuntu would be bet­ter.

Written by Everett Guerny

October 24th, 2013 at 8:39 pm

goatse mobile

I had a strange moment of serendip­ity ear­lier this evening.

I was read­ing some RSS feeds and I saw there was a new post to the Flickr tag “first­goatse.” (If the term goatse is new to you, I’m not sure what to say except: don’t blame me when you look it up… now. The above link is safe to view, by the way.)

I felt like I hadn’t seen a ‘first­goatse’ in a while, so I checked it out. The photo itself was unre­mark­able, but I was view­ing it on my Nexus S phone and hap­pened to glance away from the screen, at the phone itself. Some­thing clicked in my head, and I thought of a way to breathe new life into the age-old pas­time of show­ing your friends dis­gust­ing images and cap­tur­ing their hor­ri­fied reac­tion for shar­ing on the Internet.

HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS WE ALL HAVE SMARTPHONES WITH FRONT-FACING CAMERAS!! (It must be the future!) These tiny pocket devices are cor­nu­copias of giv­ing: lulz for us, lulz for the Inter­net, and hor­rific, can-ever-forget mem­o­ries for our friends!

Basi­cally, what the best app ever would do is dis­play a hor­rific image of your choice… self-supplied of course, in case your poi­son is more tub­girl, or what­ever kids these days show other kids these days. It would also cap­ture the reac­tion of the per­son hold­ing the phone via the front-facing cam­era, at the very moment of exposure.

A series of pho­tos lead­ing up to the moment would work nicely too. Heck, what about cap­tur­ing a video of the entire reac­tion? For all I know, kids these days are show­ing each other the video equiv­a­lent of that guy bend­ing over and… ugh. For bonus points, it might even com­bine the orig­i­nal and reac­tion videos into one, side-by-side, not that any­one would want to ever view that.

I’m ready to believe that a mobile app like this already exists. It clearly, how­ever, can’t exist for iPhone, because Apple doesn’t allow that brand of awe­some, and I can’t be both­ered to check the Android Mar­ket (aside from, okay, my quick search for “goatse,” which turned up noth­ing), but this is clearly the kind of app that the wold today could use.

Well, there’s a Mac app, but who can fit that in their pocket?

Hey world — some­body make this!

Written by Everett Guerny

May 27th, 2011 at 11:36 pm

Nexus S review

Owing to its sta­tus as the cur­rent hot Android phone, the rep­u­ta­tion of and con­tin­u­ing sup­port for the Nexus One that came before it, and the Nexus line’s no-crapware, pure Android nature, last month I made a Sam­sung Nexus S my next mobile phone.

My pre­vi­ous phone, for ref­er­ence, was the first Android device, a T-Mobile G1 (HTC Dream).

I like almost every­thing about Nexus S. The device is, for the most part, blaz­ing fast, smooth and com­pletely open.

By “open,” I mean:

  • It’s sold SIM-unlocked, mean­ing I can switch between almost any ser­vice provider. This isn’t very use­ful on a daily basis, but is a great option to have for inter­na­tional travel.
  • Gain­ing root access to the phone is sim­ple. Rather than rely­ing on a secu­rity hole to get root, Nexus devices have offi­cial sup­port for unlock­ing the boot­loader, which opens up the phone to what­ever you want to do, installing what­ever you want, etc.
  • Even if you don’t root, the Nexus S — like all Android devices — is “open” in a very prac­ti­cal way: apps can be added to these devices from any source you as a user deem wor­thy. If Google doesn’t see fit to include a given app in the Android Mar­ket for what­ever rea­son, the devel­oper can pro­vide an .apk file how­ever they like, and you as an adult can make up your own mind as to whether you want to use it.

Here are a few things I like:

  • It’s fast. There’s almost never a hic­cup in run­ning apps, switch­ing between them, hav­ing calls and mes­sages come in when you’re doing some­thing else, etc.
  • Front-facing cam­eras may be stan­dard these days, but I love finally hav­ing one in my phone. Just need video sup­port in the Skype app…
  • The screen is amaz­ing. It’s bright, high-resolution, and the glass is actu­ally curved, which lets it sit face-down on a table with­out scratch­ing, fit the cur­va­ture of your face, and as some have sug­gested, there are ergonomic ben­e­fits for your thumb as well.
  • I don’t know the specs, but the bat­tery life with active use seems way bet­ter than my G1.
  • Lots of onboard stor­age. 16 GB may not be enough for some peo­ple, but it is for me, and I pre­fer this over deal­ing with a slow, unre­li­able microSD card.
  • Small touches like the afore­men­tioned curved glass, head sen­sor that dis­ables the screen dur­ing a call, ambi­ent light sen­sor for auto­mat­i­cally adjust­ing screen bright­ness make for a nice experience.

Here are a few things I don’t:

  • The browser some­times lags a bit while scrolling web­pages with mul­ti­ple large images. I don’t see a lot of this, so it’s not that annoying.
  • No 4G. Of course, T-Mobile doesn’t have “true” 4G ser­vice, and 3G speeds are enough for web brows­ing… and almost every­thing else I usu­ally want to do. Where this has been a prob­lem for me is in stream­ing high-quality music using the Last.fm app; the play­back very often catches up to the load­ing. That said, I feel like Last.fm may be partly at fault too, as the app seems unre­li­able in other ways that make me doubt it.
  • In-browser Flash per­for­mance sucks, but I’ll take it over none at all so long as Flash ele­ments can be off by default and loaded only on-demand (and they can).
  • I get annoy­ing audio inter­fer­ence in the car when the phone is plugged to the audio while also charg­ing. Not sure if this is the phone’s fault, as it doesn’t hap­pen in the house.
  • Doesn’t shoot HD video, but instead, widescreen VGA… sim­i­lar to my Canon Pow­er­Shot from six years ago. I can’t fig­ure out who thought this was a good idea. I don’t do much video, so it’s not a deal-breaker, but an annoy­ance. I’d love to see them fix this with a soft­ware update, which should be pos­si­ble given the beefy hard­ware in this thing.

The lack of key­board wor­ries me:

  • While the aver­age per­son prob­a­bly has to occa­sion­ally enter a sim­ple pass­word and a poorly thought-out sta­tus update, I’m a writer and a geek (did you guess?), so accu­racy of text entry is impor­tant to me. Typ­ing on-screen kind of both­ers me.
  • I hate the lack of con­trol when com­pos­ing text, even if auto-correct takes care of most of the inac­cu­ra­cies. It also cor­rects my inten­tional mis­spellings, col­lo­qui­alisms, “big words” and many proper nouns. The thing to do here is obvi­ously make sure it says what I want before click­ing “Send,” but that’s not always easy.
  • Like I said, I’m also a geek. Who the fuck uses com­mand lines these days? I the fuck do. I man­age a Linux server at work, and very often remotely con­nect to the com­put­ers at home to do things through­out the day. Not only is typ­ing awk­ward, but other things don’t work, like double-tabbing key for com­plet­ing com­mands and filenames.
  • On the plus side, on-screen options like Swype and SwiftKey, and Google’s pretty good voice input makes this hurt a lit­tle less. Still, I’d totally go for an iden­ti­cal phone with a key­board, even if it was a bit thicker and heavier.

But I’m opti­mistic about the future of my phone:

  • As a Nexus phone, its updates are man­aged by Google, so there isn’t any wait­ing for Sam­sung and T-Mobile to get their act together and release updates to future ver­sions of Android.
  • Its open-phone sta­tus should make it appeal­ing to third-party devel­op­ers like Cyanogen, who will hope­fully con­tinue sup­port­ing it into the future.
  • While I’m a lit­tle con­cerned about buy­ing a new phone now, given the upcom­ing wave of Android phones with dual-core CPUs (Tegra II and oth­ers), I’m not sure that my phone being left “in the dust” will be a con­cern for the next cou­ple of years. After all, desk­top devel­op­ers haven’t exactly made great use of multi-core CPUs, which have been widely avail­able there for at least five years now. They’re still good to have for mul­ti­task­ing, which is a nice fea­ture to have your mobile OS sup­port, but the sort of mul­ti­task­ing we expect out of our phones doesn’t usu­ally involve two CPU-intensive tasks, but rather one that chugs along per­form­ing some menial task (play­ing music, rout­ing GPS, etc.) while another in the fore­ground does what you want it to at the moment.

In all, I think Nexus S makes a pretty good G1 replace­ment, and will serve me well into the future. I’ll keep you posted, uh, Internet.

Written by Everett Guerny

January 29th, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tags: ,

QR Codes: great, but then what?

I keep a long and ever-growing out­line of blog top­ics I may some­day write about. Most aren’t fully formed, but each at least once struck me as inter­est­ing at some point or another, so I fig­ured they’re worth keep­ing around.1 (See one real exam­ple to right.)

  • <3 qr-codes
    • bridges the phys­i­cal and the cyber
    • low-tech, lowest-common denominator
    • cam­er­a­phones in every pocket
    • makes a lot more sense than com­pet­ing tech­nolo­gies, like that microsoft one with the dif­fer­ent col­ors that requires color print­ing, etc. this one I could, if so inclined, draw with a pencil
    • sadly, most of what I use this tech­nol­ogy for is curi­ously decod­ing bar­codes I come across on the web

I add top­ics to my list pretty reg­u­larly, but what doesn’t hap­pen very reg­u­larly is some­one read­ing my mind and writ­ing my post for me. Okay, it’s only hap­pened once: about a week ago, and it was geek­ing out on QR Codes.

I’m a bit behind on my RSS read­ing, but when I just came across this boing­bo­ing post, I was quite pleased. In it, guest blog­ger Glenn Fleish­man pretty much lays out the case for 2D bar­codes — QR being the most pop­u­lar, good/open-enough for­mat — as a use­ful sort of link between the phys­i­cal world and the dig­i­tal one. It’s an idea I hap­pen to have loved for a few years now, and with Internet-enabled cam­er­a­phones all over the place, one that has the poten­tial2 to cre­ate some ben­e­fit to soci­ety on a large scale.

It should come as lit­tle sur­prise, then, that for as long as I’ve been aware of these codes, I’ve longed to find a use for the tech­nol­ogy aside from the mun­dane let peo­ple scan your ad to go to your web­site, or send a URL from your com­puter to your phone. A hand­ful of boing­bo­ing com­menters pointed out a few real-world exam­ples of ways they have used QR codes: label­ing shared lab equip­ment or get­ting on the VIP list at Tokyo clubs. Inter­est­ing they are; world-changing they’re not.

Of course, there’s also the idea of pro­vid­ing richer infor­ma­tion about wine than a sim­ple bot­tle label could dis­play, which I find a step above the oth­ers, and giv­ing extra con­text to museum art, which I think gets us even closer.

Yet I still think QR Codes have even greater poten­tial… but poten­tial isn’t even half the battle.

  1. Yes, they’re basi­cally brain crack.
  2. Nat­u­rally, the bar­rier to adop­tion is con­vinc­ing the aver­age per­son to bother solv­ing for them­selves a prob­lem — easy URL/text/contact entry on their phone — they didn’t real­ize they had.

Written by Everett Guerny

November 10th, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tags: , ,

Why doesn’t my phone have a thermometer?

It’s get­ting pretty warm again (did it ever stop?) in South Florida, so today when I had the mis­for­tune of being out­doors, I got to won­der­ing why with all the sen­sors found in most mod­ern smart­phones, they don’t usu­ally include a thermometer.

It’s com­mon to find sen­sors for ori­en­ta­tion, screen contact/pressure, video, sound and even loca­tion. How­ever, for some rea­son, the task of telling me about the cli­mate sur­round­ing me gets out­sourced to a third-party that is some­where com­pletely dif­fer­ent.

Just think about that for a second.

What we’re miss­ing is the abil­ity to know the actual con­di­tions we’re expe­ri­enc­ing. If one hap­pens to be indoors, in the shade, or some­where else entirely, all they’ll get from their phone is the typ­i­cal out­door tem­per­a­ture for their gen­eral area. Even if they hap­pen to be inside of, and get recep­tion in, a walk-in freezer. (“It’s cer­tainly not 90° F in here…”)

On the other hand, I can think of rea­sons why our phones tend not to han­dle their own tem­per­a­ture read­ings. Wire­less car­ri­ers obvi­ously pre­fer that cus­tomers pay for data plans to use as many phone fea­tures as pos­si­ble. There’s also the mat­ter of expec­ta­tions: nobody (but me!) seems to demand the fea­ture, so why include it, even if the hard­ware couldn’t be all that pricey?

But most impor­tantly, the sen­sor would likely be unduly influ­enced by the tem­per­a­ture of our hand, the atmos­pheric con­di­tions in our pocket, the heat gen­er­ated by the phone itself, and so on. Heck, I dis­tinctly remem­ber how wildly inac­cu­rate my circa-mid-90s Casio G-Shock ther­mome­ter watch (same model pic­tured at right) was.

But gosh, was it ever enter­tain­ing to watch that dial spin! I also used to watch that bar graph scroll through the last few hours of recorded tem­per­a­tures and pre­tend I was in a boat watch­ing waves go by. Ah, childhood…

I can’t quite place my fin­ger on what I would do with the abil­ity to keep a read­ing of my own sur­round­ings’ tem­per­a­ture over time… but I know I want it.

Written by Everett Guerny

May 4th, 2010 at 12:06 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tags: ,

I basically have the mobile phone I want, and that is awesome

My G1, in its rooted gloryI just real­ized that I, basi­cally, have the mobile phone I want. I use a T-Mobile G1 (HTC Dream), rooted, SIM-unlocked, and run­ning the great Cyanogen­MOD.

I could not really say this about my pre­vi­ous phone, a Palm OS Treo. Though it had its strengths (read: the orga­nizer fea­tures), I bought it pretty much right before the first iPhone was announced, which, for bet­ter or worse, rede­fined what a smart­phone would be.1

My affin­ity for the G1 re-occurred to me as I opened the Ter­mi­nal app to check some­thing. I slid the screen open with a sat­is­fy­ing click, typed su and checked that some­thing. I wanted to go back a bit through my shell’s com­mand his­tory, and a quick flip of the track­ball made easy work of that.

Sure, I have my gripes… it’s a lit­tle slug­gish some­times, com­pletely short on app stor­age space (root­ing fixed that) and takes the crap­pi­est videos I’ve ever seen (worse than my circa-2001 Nikon CoolPix). And now that newer Android devices are out, I com­pletely have 1 GHz CPU-envy, high-res screen-envy, and Android 2.1-envy (Google Earth, want!).

But for the fore­see­able future, my G1 and I are cool. Its form fac­tor is per­fect. Its phys­i­cal key­board is unmatched by newer devices with cramped lay­outs. It’s clearly no svelte iPhone, but it’s not too chunky either.

My sat­is­fac­tion is matched only by my antic­i­pa­tion for what­ever could mate­ri­al­ize in the future and top this. Bring it, future!

  1. By this, I mostly mean “have a real web browser,” not “have no native app sup­port and a charis­matic CEO try to con­vince you that you don’t really want apps on your smart­phone, any­way.”

Written by Everett Guerny

February 22nd, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tags: ,

The case of the disappearing, reappearing dictionary

I was a vora­cious reader from a rather early age. I recall hav­ing had my read­ing level, in first or sec­ond grade, assessed at that of an eighth-grader.

My read­ing prowess could be attrib­uted to a few things, like my par­ents read­ing to me from a young age, and often encour­ag­ing me to read to them. More impor­tantly, if I came across a word I didn’t know and asked them what it meant, they almost always made me go look it up in the dic­tio­nary. I had a children’s dic­tio­nary that I adored, but for words that didn’t appear in there, I’d use their musty col­le­giate dic­tio­nary. This fos­tered an envi­ron­ment where lit­er­ally no word was beyond my com­pre­hen­sion, an empow­er­ing feel­ing for a pre-geek with a single-digit age!

As I grew up, I didn’t always man­age to keep read­ing with such vol­ume and tenac­ity, and today, while I read tons of bits and blogs from the Web, long-form con­tent isn’t some­thing I take in a lot of. When I do, it tends to be an e-book. (I read these, in epub for­mat, on my Android phone using the excel­lent open-source FBReader. Yes, read­ing off of a small back­lit screen sucks, but this is mit­i­gated by a nice serif font and the knowl­edge that, as I’m often read­ing in the dark, I wouldn’t really be able to read any other way.)

As I read, still I come across the occa­sional word I don’t know. These days, my main dic­tio­nary (either Free Dic­tio­nary Org or Lex­i­con Lite) also lives inside of my phone. FBReader doesn’t have its own built-in, and to switch to another app is kind of a pain, so I’ve lately been find­ing myself shrug­ging off unknown terms. I have become the sort of per­son who stopped learn­ing new words.

This both­ered me, so I decided that, damn the incon­ve­nience, I would start look­ing up words again. Once I tried, I learned that it actu­ally wasn’t so hard, after all.

The secret (if you could call it that) was to long-hold my phone’s Home but­ton. This is the equiv­a­lent to the Alt+Tab key com­bi­na­tion in Linux and Win­dows, which allows you to flip through open apps (only, in Android, it’s a list of the six most recently used apps, open or oth­er­wise). As long as the dic­tio­nary is among the last six, it’ll appear in that list… as does FBReader, when it’s time to switch back. This is much more enjoy­able than going back to the home screen, flip­ping open the apps drawer, etc.

I guess that’s a pass­able not-so-new-anymore year’s res­o­lu­tion: to leave no word un-lexicized.

Written by Everett Guerny

February 9th, 2010 at 1:37 am