Sunday, August 24, 2014

Too Far

Now I'm the biggest Google fan there is.


Look at this Google Now card I got recently at my daughter's house.

The "Watching TV?" card says "Sony TV found on Wi-Fi network."

I'm not sure I'm Ok with my Android phone scanning every Wi-Fi network I connect to looking for TVs. What else is it looking for? Nests?

The Wi-Fi network is WPA2-PSK so I had to authenticate to it but I didn't expect the Android phone to scan it.

Not happy.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I Miss Sun

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reminded me of the accomplishments of Sun.

When my group was struggling with processor capacity and availability we came across what became Sun's Enterprise 10000 (E10k). At that time the system didn't even have a name. The development group had just been bought from Cray and was being incorporated into Sun. When we visited their facility it was in San Diego. I have a Cray t-shirt with a dragon on it from that visit. There's a good article on the background of the E10k here.

We bought one for $1,000,000 and it fundamentally changed the way we provided services in our Unix environment.

On one of our visits to Sun Quentin in Menlo Park we saw "Thumper." I fell in love. We never bought any X4500s but I have bought several Drobos which are very similar function.

I was also in Menlo Park when Sun unveiled their "Blackbox". I was standing in the crowd to Schwartz's left in this video.

And we all keep hearing about Oracle's copyright claim against Google's use of the Java API. That's not the whole story. Here's Sun's position at the time Google adopted this. Notice that that's on the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine as Oracle took down the original blog.

The good folks are still around. You'll know them when you run into them. Tell them I said hello.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Google Wallet

My Moto X has NFC and supports Google Wallet. I installed the app and connected my debit card to it.

I have been using Google Wallet for various online transactions but I've begun using it for retail transactions. Surprisingly I've found more establishments than I expected supporting NFC. When you check out, look for this symbol on the terminal.

Just a couple of examples of where I've found NFC are McDonalds, OfficeDepot, CVS, Home Depot, PetCo, Walgreens and even Local Express in Hernando.

It seems to require me to unlock the phone and input my Google Wallet PIN. McDonalds was blown away. They had never had anyone else do it. OfficeDepot still wanted me to sign the receipt.

There's still no NFC support on the iPhone but that may be coming.

It's early yet but I'm glad to see progress.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Android Keyboards

Even in my Treo 650 days I preferred using a stroke-based input method over the QWERTY keyboards. On my first Android device I used Graffiti Pro for Android. While that worked great it got kind of embarrassing and it never did support all the special characters.

Pecking away on a touch keyboard made me feel like I was using an iPhone. Then I discovered Swype. Initially it was in "beta" and you had to register for the beta and then sideload it.

Swype is all grown up now and it has been my mainstay keyboard for a while.

Then with recent releases of Android the AOSP and Google Keyboards have incorporated swiping input. So with my Moto X I started off with the Google Keyboard.

But my eyes aren't what they used to be. I experimented with Swype's themes and settled on "Night" but it still didn't have the size or contrast of the alternate characters that I wanted. And since Swype has bought Nuance they don't use Google's speech to text but their own. I don't need to have to manage two different speech to text engines.

Then recently Lifehacker did a poll on Android keyboards, SwiftKey was the runaway winner.

So I took a look. These are from my CyanogenMod 11 Skyrocket.

Obviously the AOSP and Google Keyboard are very similar. The good things are that the speech button is dedicated but the alternate characters are practically impossible to read on the AOSP. The Google Keyboard is worse in that the alternate characters seemed to require selecting the ?123 key first. The speech button is to the left of the Space bar on both.

The Swype "Night" theme gave me the greatest contrast for the alternate characters but they are still grey on grey. It's nice that the ' and - are alternate characters on either side of the Space bar. But the speech button is immediately adjacent to the Return key. And the speech recognition is Nuance.

Finally SwiftKey "Holo" theme provides the highest contrast for the alternate characters as they are blue on grey. The speech button is back to the left of the Space bar away from Return key. Unfortunately it is an alternate so you have to tap and hold to activate it. ,!" are alternate keys over the . to the right of the Space bar. This means that you have to hold down the . key until a little bar pops up with ,!? and then you slide to select one.

So I used SwiftKey for a while.

What I found was that I was so used to the characteristics of Swype that SwiftKey threw me off. Specific examples are 1) When you finish swiping a word and lift your finger, Swype shows you alternative words. SwiftKey shows you possible next words based on your writing style. 2) When you finish swiping a word and lift your finger, if you don't like the word that Swype has given you Backspace erases the entire word. With SwiftKey Backspaces erases it letter by letter. 3) SwiftKey doesn't let you swipe names in the To: field of an e-mail. I can't imagine why and maybe I just haven't found the trick but still ...

So what to do?

I've actually gone back to the Google Keyboard. I discovered quite by accident that if you tap and hold on the . key to the right of the Space bar that a little bar pops up with most of the punctuation on it.

The number keys even do the same kind of thing offering fractions and exponents.

Android L was announced at Google IO. In L is a new keyboard. It has already showed up on Google Play.

It builds on the previous Google Keyboard by adding a , on the main screen and moving the voice icon up to the top where it is less likely to get tapped by accident. You can also hide the voice icon if you don't use it.

Time will tell.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Storm Clouds

During the last week in June, several of Microsoft's cloud services had outages. This is not picking on Microsoft as Google had outages as well. It's just that I found a good discussion about the impact of the Microsoft outages.

In outages this week, Microsoft’s online Exchange service was down for nine hours, crippling Office 365 and hosted Outlook accounts across North America and Mexico, just after its unified communications service also crashed.

Aside from the fact that entire businesses were left unable to read or write email in the Office 365 downtime, users were also pretty ticked off with Microsoft’s response. User Trec posted on the Office 365 community page:
Tried to contact support by phone, and after half hour, the call was dropped on both occasions. It seems the support guys are saturated and there are not enough staff for an issue like this one.
While Jim1001 said:
Our entire corporation cannot send or receive emails from Outlook (Office 365 Exchange) or even the OWA web browser as of 8AM MST time this morning June 24, 2014! I have never seen a world-wide email go down like this.
And MacBuffalo said:
Office365 is beginning to look like a very poor choice for mission critical services.
Lync Online, which provides VoIP, corporate IM and video conferencing had also briefly crashed two days before, leaving some customers, like ThomasGallaway, suffering a double whammy:
Down for 3 hours now. When going to Calendar outlook freezes. Send/receive works on iPhone. This sucks as we were hit yesterday by the lync outage. Today email. What's going on M$?

Just as in previous cloud services outages the provider (just happened to be Microsoft in this case) couldn't handle responding to customers about the situation. This still makes me worry about putting a corporation's systems in a public cloud where the provider can't provide the same level of accountability as internal services.

Unlike previous cloud services outages Microsoft's Rajesh Jha, Corporate Vice President, Office 365 Engineering has offered an explanation of the outage. The Corporate Vice President of Customer Service has been quiet.

My previous posts on this topic:

     When Clouds Go Bump
     When Clouds Go Thump
     Lessons from the Cloud
     When Clouds Go Bump Revisited
     To Be Fair
     To Be Fair, Again
     To Be Fair, Again and Again

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30

My old beloved Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 died recently. No, I didn't drop it into soup. It stopped recognizing the SD card. It was more than 3 years old so I started looking for a replacement.

When I researched point and shoot cameras a couple kept coming up, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 the successor the my ZS7 and the Canon PowerShot SX280 HS.

This comparison pretty well sums up what I found. It's a pretty close decision.

A couple of things pushed me to the ZS30.

The ZS30 has a touch screen. It's not as over the top as the my Samsung CL-65 was. The use case for the touch screen that made a difference to me is that while you are recording a video you can simply tap the screen to take a still photo. Now admittedly you have to configure that before you start recording but still...

The ZS30 charges its battery from a USB cable while the battery is still in the camera. Unfortunately the USB cable has a proprietary connector on the camera end. You can buy an external battery charger.

The Wi-Fi on the ZS30 supports the obligatory web services but what I've found more useful is that it natively supports Windows shares. Without any software installed on a PC the ZS30 can connect via Wi-Fi to a folder on the PC and copy selected images/videos to that folder. That's really nice.

The SX280 has a reputation for a battery problem that is either resolved or not depending on who you listen to. It seems to have to do with a low battery indicator that comes on while recording video. Some users report that this causes the camera to power down. Some users report that it is just a nuisance.

I used the same 8GB SD card that I had in the ZS7. I figured out how to make the file numbering on the ZS30 follow the ZS7.

You'll recall that I did a thorough test of the ZS7's GPS capabilities. That resulted in my falling back to a Blackberry to record GPS information. On my first outing I compared the geotags from the ZS30 to those from my Moto X. I got good clustering from the ZS30. Here's the map of the tags.

I flashed the firmware up to v1.3.

Image capture
Camera type
Point & Shoot, GPS Capable, Wi-Fi Capable
18.1 effective megapixels
Image sizes
4:3 Aspect Ratio: 
4,896 x 3,672 pixels (18M), 
4,000 x 3,000 pixels (12M EZ),
3,264 x 2,448 (8M EZ),
2,560 x 1,920 pixels (5M EZ),
2,048 x 1,536 pixels (3M EZ),
640 x 480 pixels (0.3M EZ)
3:2 Aspect Ratio:
4,896 x 3,264 pixels (16M),
4,000 x 2,672 pixels (10.5M EZ),
3,264 x 2,176 pixels (7M EZ),
2,560 x 1,712 pixels (4.5M EZ),
2,048 x 1,360 pixels (2.5M EZ),
640 x 424 pixels (0.3M EZ)

16:9 Aspect Ratio: 

4,896 x 2,752 pixels (13.5M),
4,000 x 2,248 pixels (9M EZ),
3,264 x 1,840 pixels (6M EZ),
2,560 x 1,440 pixels (3.5M EZ),
1,920 x 1,080 pixels (2M EZ),
640 x 360 pixels (0.2M EZ)
1:1 Aspect Ratio:
3,664 x 3664 pixels (10.5M),
2,992 x 2,992 pixels (7.5M EZ),
2,448 x 2,448 pixels (6M EZ),
1,920 x 1,920 pixels (3.5M EZ),
1,536 x 1,536 pixels (2.5M EZ),
480 x 480 pixels (0.2M EZ)
File formats
DCF, JPEG (Exif 2.3), MPO : 3D Image
Image sensor type
1/2.33 inch MOS
Image processor type
not specified
Image stabilization technology
Optical Image Stabilization
Expendable recording media type
SD Card, SDHC Card, SDXC Card
Video capture
File format
Video size
1280 x 720 pixels, 640 x 480 pixels, 1920 x 1080 pixels
Lens and focus
Lens type
LEICA DC Vario-Elmarit
Lens construction
12 elements; 10 groups; others: 3 aspherical elements, 6 aspherical surfaces, 2 ED elements
Optical Zoom
20 x zoom
Digital zoom
4 x
Lens mount
Not Available
Maximum aperture
F3.3 (W) - F6.4 (T)
Minimum aperture
f3.3 (w) - f6.4 (t) / mutistage Iris Diaphragm - f3.3 - f8 (w), f6.4 - 8 (t)
Focal length
4.3mm - 86.0mm (24 - 480mm in 35mm equiv.) / (28-560mm in 35mm equiv. in video recording)
Focusing area mode(s)
continuous AF, macro AF, Tracking AF, normal AF, Quick AF, Macro Zoom
Focusing distance
0.5m (w) - infinity / 2.0m (tele) - infinity , 0.03m (w) - infinity / 1.0m (t) - infinity
Exposure and imaging
Shooting / Drive modes
continuous, Movie, self-timer (2 and 10 sec delay), still
Exposure / Capture modes
aperture priority, manual, Program AE, shutter priority
Scene modes
3D mode, baby 1, baby 2, food, glass through, handheld night scene, HDR, high sensitivity, night portrait, night scenery, pet, portrait, scene (scenery), soft skin, sports, starry sky, sunset, underwater
Exposure Metering System
center-weighted, intelligent multiple, spot
Exposure compensation
±2 EV (1/3 EV steps)
Auto / i.ISO / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1600
High Sensitivity Mode (1600 - 6400)
Shutter type
combined mechanical and electronic
Shutter speed
1/2000 sec to 4 sec
White balance mode
auto, cloudy, daylight, incandescent, shade, white balance adjustment, white set
Picture effects / Color modes
sepia, soft focus, retro, miniature effect, expressive, high dynamic, cross process, toy camera, dynamic monochrome, high key, low key, impressive art, star filter, one point color
Flash and lighting
Flash Type
built-in auto
Flash Mode
auto, auto with red-eye reduction, forced on/off, slow sync + red eye reduction
Flash effective range
0.6m - 6.4m (wide - ISO Auto), 1.0m - 3.3m (tele - ISO Auto)
Maximum flash synchronization speed
adjusted to camera's shutter speed
Physical characteristics
108.3mm x 58.9mm x 27.7mm / 4.26" x 2.32" x 1.09"
172 grams
Available color(s)
silver, black, white
USB 2.0 (high-speed), HDMI Mini connector, AV output (NTSC)
Microphone and Speaker
built-in stereo microphone, built-in monaural speaker
Flash connection
Not Available
Tripod socket
standard 1/4 inch
Remote control
Not Available
Cable release capability
Not Available
Viewing features
3.0" / LCD / 460,000 dots
Not Available
Menu language(s)
Arabic, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Spanish, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese
Power source
Li-ion battery pack (3.6V, Minimum: 895mAh) (included)
Camera management
Additional features
Water Resistant Capabilities
Not Available
Underwater capabilities
Included "in the box"
AC adapter/charger, hand strap, lithium ion battery, USB cable, ■ Supplied accessories may vary by region or country!, Lithium Ion Battery Charger
Adobe Acrobat Reader, PHOTOfunSTUDIO 9.0 SE

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ten Years Ago Today

Ten years ago today I began this blog. My first post was a very brief recap of a recent trip we had taken to Canada's Maritime Provinces.

The second post was a technical topic on gmail. I've focused subsequent travel posts here.

I'm now approaching 500 posts over those 10 years.

Thanks for reading.