I was thinking about some of the software that I've been using lately, and I wanted to see what it had in common in case there was something so obvious that I should be doing... you know, career changing like. Brilliant code, where it changes the way you do things and you say, "I can't live without this".
Here is my list so far:
iTunes + iPod
Mac OS X
Google Desktop Search
Firefox: I just don't feel secure using IE at any level of patching. It's at the point where I will not do ANY online banking or purchasing with IE. Firefox, on the other hand, has tabbed browsing, pop up blocking, about:config, simple configuration... the list of coolness is endless. In addition, it is very fast and extensible (see http://www.mozdev.org for loads of cool extensions). Can't live without it! (http://www.mozilla.org)
GMail: I've had an internet email address since 1990, and I've primarily used command line UNIX mail tools (elm, mutt) for years in university, then Microsoft Outlook at work and Hotmail. Until I got on Gmail. 14 years of email habits die hard, but GMail converted me in a "Road to Damascus" style epiphany. Most people think about the storage space, but you need strong search and conversation threading to make all that email useful. This is why Hotmail is clueless. So what if I have 250 MB (1/4 of what GMail gives you)? Hotmail still shoves soft core porn ads at every mouse click, no search, no threading. Ugh. No thanks. Gmail also has labels, which you can think of as virtual folders, except that an email can have multiple labels. In programs like Outlook, email is either in one folder or another, even if it makes sense to be in both. Try it out for yourself though: if you need an invite, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will never go back to client applications after using the brilliant UI of GMail. I'm currently using 29 MB of space after 8 months and not deleting anything. At that rate I have 23 years before I hit the 1 GB max. I'm sure I'll delete all the Netflix, Apple and music venue emails that make up the bulk of that (html mail messages), so I won't run out of email space in this lifetime. I'm already archiving important documents there, like a mini file system... Can't live without it! (http://www.gmail.com)
iTunes + iPod: iTunes is simply the nicest music playing application I've used. Back in the day I've usd Winamp, XMMS (horrible clone of the horrible Winamp) and Sonique. These can only deal with one playlist at a time, and their UIs leave much to be desired. Sonique visualizations could be pretty, but the controls were pretty useless. I stay away from Windows Media Player, which does have good streaming technology... but it has a terrible UI. For music tools, it really does come down to the UI. I don't understand how the WMP designers can get it wrong so often when they could just copy from iTunes. The iTunes UI is pleasant to look at, the menus are in sensible places and you can search on multiple fields (I often browse by genre when I want a certain type of music). It handles multiple playlists really well, does streaming decently. It, at least, includes the option to encode to MP3. The iTunes Music Store is really quite nice and easy to use. Music purchases are fast and painless and the DRM isn't truly horrendous although DRM is my personal devil and deserves its own rant. Which leads to the iPod. Ordinarily, I'd want one device to do everything: cell phone, camera, PDA, music storage, etc. But the iPod is perfection. The weight and feel of the device is absolutely perfect. I feel like I'm in the future when I'm using it. So simple, so convenient. I use my iPod for an alarm clock every morning (hooked up to JBL Creature Speakers) and on my ~2 hour commute by shuttle everyday. I use it as my music player at work instead of copying music files to my workstation and playing them there. Bottom line: I listen to much, much more music now. Hours per day more! That is a huge accomplishment... can't live without it! (http://www.apple.com/itunes)
Mac OS X: I bought a G4 laptop a few months back so that I could do Unixy stuff at work and home without the sucktastic nature of the linux UI (my extreme pickiness about UI is becoming more apparent). Mac OS X is a thing of beauty. The graphic animations are slick, the colors are perfect, and so easy to use. I can get a Bash shell and crank on stuff like subversion, python, gcc and all the usual UNIX suspects and then use the finder. The attention to detail is amazing, and it feels like a perfectly tuned machine, or a fitted suit... the laptop has a backlit keyboard for low light conditions, it has a small light which pulses like a breathing animal when it goes into sleep mode. The keys themselves are the best I've used on a laptop. It gets onto wireless networks perfectly, mounts SMB drives with no problem, and of course, I can run Firefox and iTunes on it. The only reason I haven't completely gone Mac yet is that I need to run Embedded Visual Studio to do Windows CE programming. Can't live without it! (http://www.apple.com/macosx)
XBox Live: I get excited about new games often, and let down often. Most of them have good graphics these days, but the game play tends to not rise above the level of "open the door, shoot the monster, take the stuff". But online play is something else... there's nothing quite like chasing your friends around with a (virtual) rocket launcher and sending them to the great respawn point in the sky. We've played Half Life at LAN parties, and during lunch at work, but there was NEVER voice involved. That changes everything. Taunting, strategizing, and just general chatting make this completely emersive. Even the brain-dead mayhem sessions are more compelling because of voice. Microsoft really scored a huge one with XBox Live... I don't want to play games any other way now (although my projector and surround sound speakers also contribute). Can't game without it! (http://www.xbox.com/live)
GarageBand: Another Apple product that changes things for me. Another example of perfect UI polish and craftsmanship. Without being insanely complicated like many music production apps, or being too limited (you can hook up MIDI or regular audio instruments), GarageBand had made it easy for me to just plug in my guitar and record, apply effects, add loops and more. It takes a few minutes to learn the basic concepts and soon your music projects are automatically part of iTunes. Anything which can make music production simpler is going to get high ratings from me... this is something I've always wanted to do, but never got past the phase of looking through myriad of options out there. Since it comes free with the awesome Mac OS X, I'm able to figure out if I really need a more advanced package without spending all the cash. But GarageBand is extensible and already has expansion packs so I'll plenty of room to grow before I need something like Logic Pro (also an Apple product). Can't live without it! (http://www.apple.com/ilife/garageband)
Google Desktop Search: Comes in a 400 kB download (yes, less than 1/2 megabyte) and does very fast searches on your local disk. It avoids the trap of building a complicated Win32 UI (and all the associated bugs) by displaying the results in a browser window (with clickable thumbnails). When you search the web normally, it automatically does its search in parallel with a regular Google query and merges the results into a coherent results page. It is currently in beta and is missing PDF and Mozilla support, but hopefully soon it won't... One really nice thing is that it displays email from Outlook / Outlook Express in a threaded manner in the results page, so you don't get a disconnected set of emails and files in the results page, you get them in a threaded view. It is completely unobtrusive while running, and only uses idle time when first building its index. As my document collection grows, Google Desktop Search is the only way I'm going to be able to manage it all (just like GMail is with a lifetime's email). Can't live without it! (http://desktop.google.com)
Honorable mention: Picasa. I'm not really a photo person yet. I'd like to be, but that means hauling around yet another digital device on the off chance that I might take a picture, then deal with the horrible way that Windows XP detects my camera (i.e. in my experience, it often doesn't). iPhoto is good for syncing, but it doesn't organize the photos in a natural way on disk. I've heard (though not verified) that it doesn't really scale well. From the minimal playing around with Picasa that I've done, it is really quite good. Very fast, brilliant UI, doesn't try to move all the photos around and good importing (what are they doing that isn't built in to Windows?). My only problem is that it is Windows only. Alas. (Free download: http://www.picasa.com/picasa)
I really wanted to include some form of PocketPC / SmartPhone software, but there's nothing there yet that has made me step back and be amazed. This is different from feeling that the platform has a lot of potential, which I think it has. But I've yet to find an application that changes the way I do things. The mobile future is bright though.
So bright, I will have to wear shades.
Bluetake Aims to eliminate the wires to your rear channel speakers using Bluetooth. Tom's has a review at:
Bluetak Hi-Phono Kit
Hmm, it looks like this gen 1 product probably not ready for mainstream as it introduces a .1Sec delay due to the A/D conversion process. I think I'll stick to wires for now.
Java, C# and C++ are cool and all, but some still make their living writing code in C. For those that do, check out this IBM article on 'C' best practices.
C Best Practices
I'm trying to settle on which browser I want to use and it's come down to Avant vs. Firefox. I'm a long time Avant user so I feel some loyalty there. I've been occasionally using Firefox since it came out three names ago. It was used to be pretty buggy and didn't render all the sites I went to properly. But now that it is released I find myself using it more and more. Avant on the other hand is built on IE so compatibility is not a problem. Feature per feature they are almost the same now. Firefox has caught up pretty well in recent months. The main difference for me, in my use cases is that Avant has a flash blocker, ad blocker, and uses IE's favorites and is lighter weight, while Firefox has the RSS live folders and is just so hot right now. What do you use?
A bunch of us bought Ghost Recon 2 for XBox today and played online. The big draw for this game was the multiplayer online cooperative modes. Many other games allow 2-4 people to play through game missions cooperatively (Halo, Halo2, BruteForce), but as far as we can tell, this is the first that lets you cooperate over the internet. CounterStrike theoretically has this feature, but the missions, bots and graphics aren't nearly as detailed. This game played extremely well online in a small group. We played with between 2 and 5 people, and only won one of about 8 maps we played. CounterStrike has terrible bot leveling, so it's difficult to set up a good game unless there are 6-8 people playing. I found this game more interesting to play online than CounterStrike, Halo2 or Star Wars: Battlefront (although frying Ewoks and Gungans with an AT-ST is pretty sweet).
Well Abit tech Support finally got back to me on my MB problem. Wow only 8 days after my email request, and long after I have returned it to new egg. It comes as no surprise that they ask me to try all the things I already told them I tried in my email. The only new bit of info, was that thy Suggested I check out the grounding by starting up the board out side of the case. I'll keep that in mind next time. They suggested that if after I Jump through all these hoops, it still doesn't work, then I should send them my CPU and MB info and they would 'try' and send me a new bios chip. It looks like I made a good call Swapping this for an Asus.
Those Live CD Linux distributions are so hot right now. How about an distro that fits on a business card CD or a 128MB USB pen drive? This one fits in around 50Mb. It includes a desktop, browser and a pile of useful utils.
Another extension to the browser. Have you guys checked this out? Reminds me of another "everything but the kitchen sink", but there might be a few gems. I'm hesitant to use an RSS reader. Knowing the amount of time I put into the layout of this blog, to have people reading it as text-only is kind of annoying. Plus, I like the different look and feel of the blogs I read through the Web. I know a lot of the more professional blogs don't have full contents even in their RSS feeds because ads are not shown, which limits RSS usefulness for many common sites.
The benefits of a dedicated reader are primarily for mobile devices and "content scraping/aggregation" applications. An XML based format is an excellent way to define a lot of Web content in a way that can be presented to various screen sizes, etc. When mobile devices capable of easily synching with blog content become common place, I still don't see a syndication format being super popular. Because of the desire to display ads, I can see content mangement tools generating custom pages for various mobile devices on the server side, based on the underlying XML content.
I suppose there's a benefit to RSS also in the sense that you can monitor when new content is posted. This works in Firefox and Thunderbird. I especially like the Thunderbird integration, because blogs look similar to how Newsgroups are displayed in Outlook. They turn bold and show the number of new unread posts. Clicking on a post will show either the XML summary, or load the entire post as HTML in the preview pane. To give Microsoft credit, they had "Live Bookmarks" years ago that would highlight sites in the Bookmarks menu that had changed recently. Doesn't this accomplish the same thing?
I know this is a bit late, but here is a blury shot from our Xbox party showing 6 of the 8 projectors running. The other 2 were around the corner. Attendence was lighter than with previous parties, but we still had great fun. We played Halo 2, Crimson Skies, Midtown Madness and others. The die hard gamers held out until after 1:00 playing Star Wars Battlefront.
Why are there so many formats?
Read The Battle of the Blogs
I'm just downloading and trying out version 2.0 of TextAloud. This is one of my favorite apps, and ways of making use off all the time I spend sitting in traffic. It will convert files, text etc to MP3 files or speak them directly. The new version offers support for reading html, word and pdf files directly. There is also a new IE tool bar. If you purchase one of the nice recorded speech voices the output can be amazingly pleasant to listen to.
Check it out at:
So J, Flem and I went to the big Google Open house on Thursday. Live band, catered food, fooz, bean bag chairs, ping pong etc. It was like a flash back to the kinds of open houses we all went to in the dot com madness of 2000. There were lots of microsofties there, including Scoble, who blogged about it almost immediately:
I played fooz with Brian Hatch, author of Hacking Linux Exposed:
I got a free tee shirt and a pen, but I didnít win one of the custom ipods, bummer. Most memorable quote overheard that night: ďIf it has a GUI, Iím not interestedĒ.
Well it didn't go perfectly smooth, installing the Via 4in1 drivers with SP2 trashed the first install. On the second install I didn't bother with them. I consider these two setups to be learning experiences. I may actually pave the box and re-install one more time to get things the way I want. But I did manage to get HL2 installed and booted up. Oh man!! I was actually able to play smoothly with high quality textures etc at 1600x1200! Unbelievable! After playing console games at 640x480 for so long I had forgotten what I was missing. The detail in this game is simply amazing.
I packaged up my Abit AV8 to get it ready to return to NewEgg. I'm going to try and get a refund rather than exchange it as my patience is wearing thin. I decided to buy a motherboard locally so I could get some support. I went with the Asus A8V deluxe from ComputerStop. They will let you return for full refund within 7 days. That sounded pretty good. I dropped it in, only hooking up the bare minimum, and it posted no problems. I hurried up and grabbed the latest bios off the web. Asus has a cool feature were the bios will update itself from disk, you donít even need to make it bootable. This board is more expensive than the Abit, but it has a few more features. I has support for IDE raid as well as SATA raid. In fact it has 4 IDE channels and 4 SATA. The only feature Iím missing that I kinda wanted was Spdif in.
Iíve built a lot of computers over the years (I used to run a computer business on the side), and I had standardized on Asus with good results. I donít remember why I switched away from them. If this works out well I might send more business their way.
I received my new Bios chip today, all flashed to the latest available from Abit. I put it in and I still get the post error of 9.0. No amount of CMOS resetting / removing the battery etc. will make any difference. Ouch, more money lost. Not sure what is next. No point swapping the MB for the same thing through NewEgg. They pretty much told me they won't guarantee a particular bios rev will be shipped. I could swap for another brand like Asus, or I return to newEgg and buy a MB locally with the hope of getting some support.
(And in case you were wondering, yes I did pickup my copy of HL2 today after I heard my bios chip arrived. How optimistic was that?)
I'm pretty much over Fry's due to the poor service and extremely low stock on sale items. Just like I'm over Costco, but that's another story. Fry's is at least a good price comparison for how much things should be online.
RSS feed for Fry's Seattle. (From http://varchars.com/archives/2004/06/91.html)
Well most of my weekend was taken up with the Xbox party and going out etc., so I didn't get back on my new machine until Sunday night. Immediately my efforts were thwarted. The machine will not post far enough to see anything on the video card. The MB sits with a 9.0. on the LED display. After about an hour of basic troubleshooting Ė removing everything connected to the motherboard, trying a different video card. Reseating the processor, ram etc., I give up and hit the web. It look like Iím not the only one with this problem. It turns out that the newest 90nm Athlon 64ís are only supported by Abitís latest v1.5 bios. And if Iím seeing 9.0. stuck on the display then I don't have the latest.Continue reading "The pain of the bleeding edge"...
The rest of my parts arrived today from new egg. Unfortunately I had to work late which cut into my free time. I did manage to get it fully assembled and at least powered it up once. Thatís enough for tonight. I'll get the OS installed tomorrow. I took pictures along the way and will do a full review later on. I like the aluminum case I picked, the Antec Super Lanboy. Iím not a big fan of clear windows on cases but I think Iíll warm up to it. It slowed me down quite a bit during assembly however, since I had to be very careful with cable routing to make it look purdy. At any rate Iím on track for Half Life 2.
PocketPC shipments top Palm for the first time world wide [brighthand.com]
I went to the Microsoft Mobility Road Show tonight, on the Silicon Valley MS campus. The emphasis was heavily on .NET development which is a little too immature yet for deploying on the limited resources of Windows CE. It's certainly nice to have a less annoying language than C / C++ to program in... too bad it isn't python.
One of the demos was a SmartPhone consuming a web service based on MapPoint and that was way cool. It doesn't take too much imagination to find a neat business idea built around local information and MapPoint which is an exciting thing! The cool things you can do with a SmartPhone, GPS and web applications...
The good thing about the .NET Compact Framework is that it is being bundled with the devices, and those devices are sold faster than PCs. This means that writing .NET applications (especially web services) for Windows CE devices is going to be viable a whole lot faster than writing them for Windows XP / Longhorn.
After receiving word that there had been a resupply at the Company store, I finally secured my copies of Halo 2. This time without all the lines and blurry eyed fury.
I awoke early this morning with one driving purpose; to obtain my copy of Halo 2 at all costs. Since 3:00 Monday I had been trying to psych myself up for the task ahead. For it was then that I un-covered a rumor too good to be true: The MS Company store would have copies of Halo 2 in stock on opening day! The doors would open at 9:00am and it would be first come, first serve - a limit of 3ea @ 25 bucks a pop. This is my tale.Continue reading "Halo2 - A Nerds Tale"...
Well I pushed the button on the new machine order. Now I'll wait for newegg, and give a review of my experiences.
I put of the new box decision for a while, but its come back to the front of my brain. When HL2 releases I think I will finally be pushed over the edge. Here are my current decisions on the issues posed last time.
Form factor: As much as I think an SFF box would be cool, it is still less hassle to go with a nice mini-tower case. So I'm back on ATX - this means more up to date features. I'm going to try and get a nice anodized aluminum case though, I'm really tired of beige and black plastic.
Chipset: K8T800 Pro. Good ratings, and good compatibility.
Socket: 939. Since I'm going full size, no point in skimping here. This gets me sweet dual channel DDR.
Graphics slot: AGP I guess. Although the PCI Express versions of the athlon boards are probably less than 1 month away now.
Graphics card: Since I'll go AGP, the 6600's are out of the question. This is a really tough issue. To be able to drive my 20" monitor right I really can't skimp here. Plus having 256M would push the games over the top. This means a 6800Gt as minimum probably. Also I want dual DVI for future proofing. This pushes the cost above 410.00 however. More then I've every paid for a GPU.
So the current motherboard choice would be an Abit AV8. Nice features, ratings and price. However the AX8 will be out soon and it has PCI express. I've had some good advise lately though reminding my how much fun I've had with rev 1.0 products. So I conceed to go AGP for now.
So will I finally push the button? Only time will tell.
As for other toys, I'm still keeping an eye out for a new VGA pocketPc. The Asus a730w has caught my eye, but it is not yet released. So I'll wait on that front for now.