Sweet Jesus!

Microsoft killing Windows Media Center?

Earlier today Engadget posted an article about how Microsoft is neglecting to make updates to Windows Media Center in Windows 8. They had previously announced that it will not be included with the OS, but rather as an add-on pack for an additional $10 (which is reasonable and I would pay, but still more expensive than before). Now it seems that Windows 8 brings zero enhancements for WMC, and in fact they are removing the ability to easily boot directly into WMC and also to add new types of tuners. As Engadget put it, this seems like another "nail in the coffin" for the software.

Considering I use WMC as my main DVR solution around the house (using Xbox 360s and Media Center Extenders instead of FiOS set-top boxes in each room), this definitely comes as a bit of a blow to me. Of course, Windows 7 media center won't stop working any time soon, but eventually Microsoft will stop updating the guide data and we will have to say goodbye to Microsoft's free DVR solution. I can understand why it was not more widely adopted (primarily, in my opinion, because there were not any cheap cablecard solutions for PC until the last year or two, in addition to the additional effort and initial cost it takes to get it set up) but not only was it a great way to stick it to the cable companies and their overpriced DVR solutions, it provided a much better interface and was more customizable and upgradable. Microsoft, I know you gotta do what you gotta do, including killing off unprofitable product units, but I'll be really sad to see this one go.
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Why Laserdiscs are still kind of relevant

Ok, stick with me on this one. Laserdiscs might not be the latest and greatest. They might not even be HD. But they're still kind of relevant.

Prior to DVD's mainstream adoption, Laserdisc was unquestionably the best quality way to watch a movie at home. They were big and cumbersome, but that size provided an additional artistic medium that is lost on the current download generation: the big sleeve. Sleeve art was essential; it made the movie pop out at you when you were deciding what to watch, rent, or buy. And Laserdiscs had the biggest and the best. Still, it's the content of the movie that matters the most, right?

The traditional pro-laserdisc argument usually goes something like this: Laserdiscs were analog, and hence they handled certain types of images better. For example, high motion action flicks tend to get that blocky MPEG look on DVDs, but Laserdiscs (and VHS and other analog medium) didn't have this problem. This is a variation of the vinyl record vs CD argument. There are some truths behind it, but I've come to face the fact that this alone isn't enough.

To me, the biggest selling point of Laserdisc in 2012 is a combination of 2 things: the fact that, before DVD, they provided the highest quality home video storage method AND that there is a HUGE catalog of titles on Laserdisc, many of which never made it over to DVD (and beyond). Furthermore, many movies that did see the transition to DVD also saw modifications to th original film. Here is just a small subset of the many Laserdiscs that never made the cut to DVD. The true list is much larger, and while many movies that didn't make the cut didn't deserve to, there are also many forgotten gems. Even movies that did make it to DVD often did so in some unoriginal form. Take, for example, Star Wars. The list of changes between the "Definitive Collection" Laserdiscs (arguably the last and greatest quality un-butchered version of the films) and the DVD releases is enormous. Of the many positive things that can be said about the Laserdisc editions of the films: Han shot first, and as long as you're watching it on Laserdisc, he always will.

Just my opinion. Laserdiscs may not matter to most anymore, but they're still kind of relevant, even in 2012.
Sweet Jesus!

Why I ditched Sprint

Back in the carefree days of 2010 I did what I had previously thought unthinkable: I switched from Verizon to Sprint. I was angry at Verizon. They had promised me an HTC Nexus One, and after numerous delays and lack of communication, the Nexus One was canceled and the HTC Incredible was released instead. I didn't find that the Incredible lived up to it's name, and before the Incredible was announced, Sprint had already come out strong with their 4G WiMAX announcement and unveiled the EVO. "Screw Verizon," I thought, "I can pay about the same, get 4G, unlimited text messages, and some other perks by switching to Sprint." So switch I did.

Of course, leafing back through my blog it doesn't seem all the long ago, mostly because I never update. Initially my decision to switch to Sprint was a good one, and is still one that I stand by. But somewhere around the Spring of 2011, things started to take a turn for the worst.

I had already adjusted to the poor battery life of the EVO, sometimes opting for the enormous 3500mah battery pack that turned it into a brick, other times using the standard battery and turning off 4G, Bluetooth, and just about anything else I could think of that might drain it quickly. That I could deal with. I had also finally come to terms with unfortunate deal-breaker that was Sprint's 4G WiMAX service: the service area was limited, you could almost never use it indoors, and (the worst part) if you were lucky enough to catch a decent signal, you had to stay stationary to use it. You couldn't really use it in your car, or even walking through the mall. If you wanted to use it, you had to stay put where you were, or else the signal would eventually drop, you would lose your service for half a minute, then end up back on 3G which you were trying to avoid in the first place. Okay, that sucked, but I could live with that.

The ultimate deal-breaker, the thing that pushed me back into the arms of Verizon, was the horrible, terrible 3G data speeds. Had I been able to maintain a consistent 4G connection, this might have been forgivable, but given that 4G was only a viable option in a few small, specific scenarios, 3G was where I typically found myself. Now, when I first switched over to Sprint, this wasn't all that bad. My 3G speeds were typically somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.5-1.0 Mbps... not great, but good enough. Sometime in Spring 2011, I'm not sure what happened, but these numbers started to plummet. By the end of the summer, I found using my phone to be a struggle. Google Navigation would take forever to find directions. The simplest webpages would not load, rather I'd watch the loading icon spin and spin. Apps would fail to update because downloads would time out.

At first I thought Sprint had just given up on maintaining their 3G network, but then we took a day trip out of the Baltimore/DC Metro area and, upon arrival, I noticed that my data speeds were back to normal. 3G was once again survivable... not a rocket by any means, but things actually loaded. Upon returning home, speeds once again plummeted. It was clear to me that the Sprint network in my home area was simply over-saturated. I knew that there was not a fix coming for this.

So I thought to myself, why am I paying almost $100 for a service that I can't use? By this point, Verizon had 4G LTE deployed to nearly the entire area, and unlike the 2500MHz WiMAX band, Verizon had opted to use the 700MHz band, making LTE usable indoors. That, combined with the superior coverage and much greater speeds, seemed to be what I was looking for. I waited for the handsets to mature a bit, and finally settled on a Galaxy Nexus and made the switch.

So am I glad I did it? Yes, I've never looked back. The only thing I'm missing, other than the slow data speeds and dropped calls, are a bunch of features I rarely, if ever, used. Unlimited texts? Don't need 'em, 1000 is enough. Nights and Weekends starting at 7? That 2 hour block between 7 and 9 is rarely an issue for my calls. Unlimited M2M to all cell phones? Almost everyone I know uses Verizon anyway. And the best part is, I'm paying less now.

Sorry Sprint. The 4G wave that you were at the top of was nice while it lasted, but a network of clogged tubes will be your downfall. I wanted to help the little guy and stick around, but I just can't justify tossing my money down the drain so you can pay Apple for an iPhone contract instead of maintaining the network I'm paying you to use. Verizon might be evil, but at least I can't complain about the service.
blow me

Finally, a TI-83 Emulator for Android

After discovering a week or two ago that my ability to do math without a TI-8x product is greatly reduced thanks to being a child of the 90s, I dug through some piles of crap in the basement and located my 83 and 89. This is fine and dandy, but they're a little too bulky to carry around all the time, so I soon went out searching for an Android solution. My search was quickly rewarded when I came across Andie Graph, which, given a ROM you can rip from your calculator using the data cable, will return you to the antiquated interface you grew up with. As an added bonus, the original CPU speed doesn't seem to be part of the experience, so you won't have to sit there and watch the screen churn for nearly as long as you attempt to graph some needlessly complex equation.

If you happened to be one of those rich kids, or alternatively someone who advanced beyond Calc 1 and needed something that would actually continue to help you do your homework (I guess I fit into this category), worry not, there's a TI-89 emulator too. Try not to go too crazy with the integrals now.
Sweet Jesus!

When exactly did The Simpsons end?

Last night I watched the 500th episode of The Simpsons and I was reminded again why I no longer watch the show. While the characters and settings remain the same, everything else is different. During my afternoon internetting today, I came across another best-of list, this one reaching to 50, and I noticed that only one episode had a first-air date in the 2000s. I've noticed myself that when I choose an episode to watch, I rarely pick one beyond Season 8 or 9 (which aired in the late 90s). So lets just face facts: The Simpsons never really reached 500 episodes. It really ended somewhere around season 9 or 10. But where exactly? Was there a defining moment where we can truly mark the end of the show? Or did it fizzle out slowly into the crap that it is today? At any rate, I doubt I will mourn after the "final episode" of the Simpsons airs, when and if it ever does. As far as I'm concerned, the final episode aired over 10 years ago.
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Update

It's been a while since I've done any kind of update. Lots of changes in the last year or so... got a new job, bought a house, started doing Android development and selling apps, started a company, etc. Sometimes I hardly feel like I have any time to breathe, but life goes on. Nothing like a hurricane to force you to sit back, relax, and reflect a bit...
Sweet Jesus!

On Android Fragmentation

There's been a lot of talk lately, particularly in the tech blogs and associated news sites, about how Android's biggest downfall is it's so-called "fragmentation issues". Supposedly the big advantage to a more closed ecosystem such as the one found on iOS is the similarity in the hardware and how that translates to application testability and stability. While I can't speak directly to iOS development from experience, I can definitely speak to the critics about the issues surrounding Android development and pushing software to multiple devices. In summary, it's really not that bad. In fact, it seems to me like it's more of a manifestation of the media's need to turn nothing into something.

Certainly there is something to be said about the iOS strategy -- since there's limited hardware to support, you don't need to worry about testing every configuration under the sun. Thinking about it more, it seems pretty obvious that this idea is pretty deeply ingrained into Apple's core philosophy; even the Macintosh was (and still is) run this way. On the plus side, support is more simple and you're more assured of consistent performance across the board. On the flip side, you have to assume that your users want the same cookie-cutter device that everyone else wants. 3.5" screen too small? Too bad. Hell, until 2 months ago it was impossible to even get the iPhone on a decent carrier thanks to the lack of CDMA radio. And I haven't even begun to talk about the process of getting an application through the store approval process.

Leaning more towards the PC side of the Mac-vs-PC analogy I've been somewhat following so far, Android is free of just about all the restrictions placed on iPhone users and developers. This freedom has boosted Android to the head of the market, thanks in great part to the enormous amount of choice that it gives users in both hardware and software. Choose a phone with a keyboard or without. Choose a large screen or a small screen, or something that fits perfectly in between. Choose a low-horsepower model with great battery life, or a sparkly new dual-core 1.5 GHz model that'll suck your battery dry in half a day. Choose a carrier that best suits you; don't worry, they all have Android options. Choose what your home screen looks like, choose what your application chooser looks like, choose what virtual keyboard you want. The keyword is choice.

If you listen to the tech blogs, the fragmentation you find in Android is so bad that everything will crash and you won't be able to use your phone to get anything done. Speaking from experience as both a user and a developer, it's all a bunch of crap. Of the many hundreds of users who have downloaded my apps, I have received just one device-specific complaint, which I was able to fix with relative ease. Developing with the API is simple and all methods are clearly marked which API versions are supported. It is up to the developer to choose which version of the API they wish to support, and the Android market automatically filters out users who are not eligible for download. Naturally, some problems are bound to occur, but these issues are typically easily resolved and are a small price to pay for the amount of choice awarded by the platform.

The articles about Android fragmentation and about how it is "destroying the platform" are simply not true, as will be proven by Android's continued success. Apple's model has it's advantages for sure, but there doesn't have to be a "winner" or a "loser" here. Let the consumer pick what they want without spreading unfounded fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
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Sweet Jesus!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I'd like to wish everyone a belated Merry Christmas and an early Happy New Year. I hope the holidays provided you with a chance to reconnect with your family, friends, and loved ones. Don't forget to take a little time to reflect on the year that's passed while you dream about the possibilities of the year to come!
Sweet Jesus!

Please fail, Facebook Mail. The quicker the better.

Why is Facebook coming out with a mail service? Wasn't GMail supposed to be the end-all-be-all of e-mail? Wait, isn't e-mail an antiquated protocol from the 70s?

Somewhere around Y2K, when I was migrating from my Netcom e-mail address to Lycos mail, or whatever the hell it was at the time, I realized that this pattern of migrating from one system to another for e-mail was going to continue for years. And I was right. I switched from one system to another, then hosted my own e-mail server for a couple years, and have more recently landed on GMail. I made my life a little easier by buying a domain name and using the same address to forward to whatever my current flavor of the day is, but I really thought GMail was going to be the end of switching. That is, until I heard that Facebook is launching a competitor.

I already know Facebook mail will not fail, but will be a huge success. I know this to be true because already 90% of the time when I get a message from someone I talk to less than once a month, the message comes through Facebook. Naturally I have Facebook set to send me an e-mail to notify me, because I'm not one of those creepy stalkers that sit on Facebook all day, and I have push e-mail on my phone. But Facebook messages are already a pain in the ass, because if I want to respond, I need to log into Facebook and do it through there, instead of pushing the "Reply" button in GMail.

So how do we solve this fragmentation? Just move all e-mail to Facebook, of course! Great, just what I need, another e-mail address switch, another account to check on a regular basis. But, worst of all, I have years of e-mail archived in my GMail account. Can I roll that into Facebook mail? And, with Facebook's privacy issues, do I want to give all that crap to Facebook?

I feel like I'm going to be forced to use Facebook mail, because I don't have an option to just route all my Facebook messages through another e-mail account, and my friends will certainly continue to use it.

I used to think Skynet would be born from Google. I'm starting to think Facebook is looking more likely.
Sweet Jesus!

HTC EVO 4G Review - one week in

Given the huge pool of reviews that have been flooding the internet (as many with misinformation as with fanboy-ish adulation) I thought I'd throw mine into the pool. I'm not going to talk about the standard Android 2.0/2.1 stuff that has been around since the Droid first came around on VZW, so lets just skip right to the things that make the phone unique.

4G

This phone is the first phone with a 4G radio in it to hit the US market. Unlike the "standard 4G" (LTE) that we can expect to see hitting other carriers around this time next year, Sprint is utilizing the WiMAX standard, and will likely be the only carrier with WiMAX connectivity. Theoretically WiMAX can provide enormous speed gains (in the 10s and even 100s of Mbps) but my findings have been much more down to earth. WiMAX is deployed all around Baltimore and throughout most of DC, so you can pick up a signal in most public places at this point. Unfortunately I haven't found the speed to be groundbreaking - thus far, WiMAX is always at least as fast as 3G. The fastest I've got yet is about 4.5 Mbps download speed, and I average at about 3 Mbps. This is 2-2.5x better than the 3G speeds you can expect from any wireless carrier in the area, which is good. Hopefully Sprint will up the bandwidth and speeds in the future to make it even more compelling.

The major down side I've seen so far to 4G is that it doesn't seem to work well when you're moving, particularly through an area with less-than-perfect 4G coverage. Additionally, it takes the EVO about 3-5 seconds to completely drop the 4G signal and switch over to 3G for data, so if you're streaming something, get ready for a pause if you completely lose your 4G signal. This could perhaps be improved with some software updates for the phone.

Overall, if you're not in a moving vehicle and you have a 4G signal, you will really see the difference - it is almost as drastic as switching from 3G to Wifi. However, I'd recommend switching it off when you get in the car.

4.3" Screen

The 4.3" touch screen is beautiful and very responsive. It also doesn't make the phone unwieldy or difficult to use... the phone is not heavy and will still fit in your pocket with no problem. My only complaint would be the extra battery penalty you might pay to light up the extra real estate, but that is to be expected.

Battery

This seems to be the biggest area of debate on the internet. Lets face it, any smart phone you get is going to have crappy battery life if you use it constantly. This is particularly evident in Android phones. The EVO is no exception - use it to browse the web for 5 hours straight and the battery is going to die. Period. That said, claims that the battery life makes the phone "unusable" are completely exaggerated. When making phone calls, the battery isn't much worse than my previous phone, the LG Dare. The battery life on standby isn't bad either (seems to be around 2 days for me) particularly if you turn off 4G, Wifi, and GPS when you're not using it. The biggest battery drain seems to be the screen.

So, practically, what does all this mean? For me, it means pretty much nothing. Most days I can make it through the day on a single charge. If I use my phone a lot on a particular day, I might have to plug it in mid-day if I'm at my desk. Or plug it in when I'm in the car. This is not a problem 99% of the time, particularly because the phone uses a standard Micro-USB charger and I already have a bunch of cables because my previous phone used the same standard. If I'm in a situation where I need my phone to last all day without a charge, I will need to make an effort not to use it constantly. I recognize, however, that this situation is not for everyone. If you need to have a phone that lasts for a week without a charge and you can't carry extra batteries, this phone is not for you. For the rest of us, it is survivable.

HDMI-out

I haven't tried this one (sorry) but I did read you can only use it with pictures and with videos you have shot. I'm sure this will be hacked at some point.

Cameras

The cameras on this phone are great. The rear-facing 8MP camera takes stunning pictures, particularly with a decent amount of light. The front-facing 1.3MP camera is more than sufficient for video conferencing and works great as well. I look forward to seeing more apps that utilize it.

Overall Impression

I am very happy with this phone. Battery life could be better and 4G still has some kinks to be worked out, but I have really enjoyed using this thing. Couple it with Sprint's very competitive pricing, good coverage (with free Verizon roaming to fill in the gaps), and expanding network and you have a great deal for a top-of-the-line device. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants a smartphone and doesn't need a battery that will last for days without a charge.