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Tech | Contriving

Category Archives: Tech

RSS beats social networks. It’s all about the “J”

Here’s why I use RSS

I have over 200 sites I follow. Many of them are “just” curation sites, but the majority of them produce original content.  This doesn’t mean I want to read every article from every one of them, but I do want to skim over them to see if I want to read it in more detail. A good RSS reader makes this super easy. RSS is for people who really use the internet a lot.

Here’s my Google Reader workflow

I put it in expanded mode, which means that every article has all the text in the RSS feed displayed instead of just a list of headlines. Then…

  1. Go to the “All” tab, and sort by Newest. This organizes the articles by date published. The fortunate (for serendipity and boredom-fighting) side effect of this is that articles from all my sites are interlaced. Which means that…
  2. Press J to scroll to the next article. Since I sorted by date published, the next article I look at is usually from a different site. For example, the articles I look at might be from sites ordered like this:
    1. Webdesigner Depot *press J*
    2. Shtetl-Optimized *press J*
    3. Information is Beautiful *press J*
    4. Lifehacker *press J*
    5. repeat for 300-800 articles a day
  3. Don’t read every article. Since the whole article (or at least a decent summary) appears each time I press J, I can quickly ascertain if I want to read it in more detail. If it’s short enough or doesn’t require much thought, I read it right then. If it requires more time because it’s long or requires thinking…
  4. Press S to star it. Later, I can go back and read in more detail each article in my starred list.
  5. Use the G+ button to share it on Google+ (Optional). If I want to share it or discuss it, it’s easy to share it to a lot of sources.
Typical Google Reader

Typical Google Reader

This is way easier than visiting a couple hundred websites every day…especially when many of them update very rarely. Let’s be honest, if a website only updates once a month or whatever, I’m going to miss a lot of the content on that site because I’m eventually going to stop going to it and forget about it. RSS eliminates that problem.

Why Social Networks Can’t Do This

Social networks can only kind of fulfill the same purpose as RSS with a good rss client. You’re dependent upon the content getting popular enough amongst your “friends” that someone will post one of them. Even if they do post it, you’ve got to see it posted, trust that friends tastes enough to click all their links, and then go to the original website in another window or tab and determine if you want to read it.

And that’s the key point.  When consuming lots of content, low friction is super important.  Opening a new tab or window doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but not only do you have to multiply those few seconds hundreds of times a day, but you have what is arguably an even bigger factor increasing the friction:  There is some sort of psychological hump involved with opening a new tab.  My attention and ability to manage many tabs are limited resources.  I don’t want to give those resources away based on a mere headline or a few words from someone I’m following on Twitter.

It’s a remarkably fluid experience when I can consume content from hundreds of different sources without moving my eyes from a reading area and without moving my finger from the J key.

What I Hope To See From Google During I/O

When it comes to Google I’m largely all-in.  I use Gmail, Calendar, Chrome, Android, and Search.  I develop Android apps.  I moderate an Android forum.

However, I’m no fanboy.  Google has serious problems.  Take this list of Google issues that I came up with with help from the users of the forum I moderate:

  1. The list of apps you’ve installed on Google Play is horrible.  Apparently, it can only list 240 apps.  My list stops with apps having a name starting with the letter “M”.  You can’t sort or filter it in any way.
  2. Google Music uses an antiquated shuffle algorithm wherein its not uncommon to get a song repeating a few tracks after it just played.  This has been reported all over the internet and it’s been almost a year since the app was released.
  3. The Google Voice app has all sorts of bugs.  Enough so, that many days I regret having moved my voicemail over to it.  The app had two very minor updates this year to add minor features, and then the previous update to the app was in September.  September of 2010.
  4. There’s no tablet version of major Google apps.
  5. No easily accessible option to back up and restore your phone to make switching phones painless.  The functionality is there in the adb developer tool…there’s just no UI for the common end-user to use.
  6. No built in way to remote wipe your phone from your Google account.
  7. No MMS via Voice.
  8. Talk, Messenger, Hangouts, Voice…why have all these different real-time communication tools?  Why isn’t it all just one app, or even built-in to Android?
  9. Google Tasks is terribly simple and is a stagnant product.
  10. Android’s back button behavior is too complicated.  While there are rules that govern its functionality, they are too obtuse and, even I, a seasoned user and developer get confused about the behavior.
  11. In general managing your Google Account with regards to your Android device is a pain.  For example, you can’t change the Gmail account associated with your Android devices because you can’t transfer app ownership.
  12. The Google Reader app had horrible problems with the article list jumping around whilst scrolling through the list.  This showstopper bug finally got fixed this month.  The app was released in December, 2010.

There is a root problem you’ll find winding through all these issues, and that problem is this:

Google comes up with great ideas, releases them to the world before they’re fully-baked, and then mostly abandons them.

A perfect example of this was brought up by an internet acquaintance of mine.  In August of 2010, Google released Voice Actions.  This product worked (works?) pretty good.  Here’s how you use it:

Speak any of these commands to perform a Voice Action on your phone:

  • send text to [contact] [message]
  • listen to [artist/song/album]
  • call [business]
  • call [contact]
  • send email to [contact] [message]
  • go to [website]
  • note to self [note]
  • navigate to [location/business name]
  • directions to [location/business name]
  • map of [location]

And of course, you can still conduct a Google search using your voice.

Google took this fantastic product and then…did nothing with it.  It was last updated 1 year ago for some bug fixes.  In the mean time, Apple came out with Siri, which is arguably a better product in many (most?) ways, and still…Google has done nothing with it.

Now, of course, there’s all sorts of rumors about a huge update in this space coming from Google.  But that doesn’t negate the fact that Google just kind of sit there with no incremental improvements while letting Apple gain more and more mindshare with Siri.

What I most hope to get from Google at I/O is a commitment to their products.

Grammar test

Woofi and finding an access point

Wi-Fi Alliance logo

Image via Wikipedia

One of the main points of an app like woofi is to conserve battery life, so implementing features in a resource-conscious manner is paramount.

Of course, the biggest thing we do is make sure the WiFi radio is on for the smallest amount of time possible.  This brings us to the first trade off we have to juggle.  We can’t know for sure if we want the WiFi radio to be turned on without turning it on and checking for available access points.  If we turn on and then connect to an access point, all is good.  If we turn on and there is no access point to connect to we just wasted a bit of your battery life.

What we want to do is turn on the WiFi radio and then only stay on for the absolute shortest time possible.  The problem is this:  we don’t know what the shortest time possible is!  Some Android devices and some access points take longer than others.  If we only turn on WiFi for 5 seconds and then decide no access point is available, but your device and access point normally take 10 seconds to establish a connection we’ve failed the user.

Our solution to this is to pick a reasonable default time, and allow the user to increase it if they have a slow-to-connect access point.

Placebos, dude

No wires for your monitor

Sure, it’s not ready for prime time yet, but I’m sure this will be available sooner than later.

From Engadget:

Well, Fujitsu’s taken it one step further here at CeBIT this week, throwing together what it claims to be the world’s first totally wireless desktop display — no video, no power. The imagery is handled via wireless USB and can connect to any appropriately-equipped PC, while the juice is sucked in using a newly-minted proposed standard for wireless power delivery called SUPA

Easier switching of sound devices in Windows with Soundswitch 3.0dev1.

I’ve got a beta-quality release of Soundswitch available now.

You can also peruse the source code.

The big changes for 3.0 are as follows:

  • Configure Source1 and Source2 via tray icon.
  • Select current active sound device from tray icon.
  • Single left click of tray icon switches between Source1 and Source2
  • Rewrites of core parts to reduce bugs and increase speed.

Please let me know about bugs.

Search PDF files using Windows Search in Vista and Windows 7 64-bit

If you wish for searches via the Start Menu or Explorer search boxes to search the contents of PDF files, you need to install Adobe’s iFilter.

You can get the version for 64-bit Windows, or if you install Adobe Reader you’ll get it for 32-bit Windows.

Why Windows Home Server is awesome…

I forget I even have it.

I don’t think there can be any better recommendation for a backup solution.  My computers are all backed up daily, and I don’t even know it happens.

On top of that, there’s so much more that can be done with WHS.  A list of some things I use my WHS for:

  • Storage. I keep smallish hard drives in my PC’s (most of them are around whs_places250GB) and then put big honkin hard drives in my WHS.  Each of the indicated places in the screen shot on the right (take from Explorer in Windows 7) points to storage on my server.
  • Reliability.  You can selectively enable folders on the WHS to be “duplicated”.  What this means is that every file in that folder is stored two times…on seperate hard drives.  This is done transparently to the end user so you don’t have to worry about knowing which copy is the newest.  The benefit is that if a hard drive dies (it will), your important data is not lost.
  • Reliability, Part Deux. In addition to the safety of data stored on the server, the safety of each of my computers is important as well.  If your hard drive in one of your PCs dies, or you royally screw up your system messing around, or some sort of malware just totally infests you, WHS makes it easy to restore your system.  You just pop in the restore cd and reboot your computer.  As long as your BIOS is set to boot from CD (if not, it’s an easy thing to turn on), the restore cd will take over and let you pick a backup from your WHS to restore.  By default, WHS keeps one backup for each of the previous 3 days, one for each of the previous 3 weeks, and one for each of the previous 3 months.  I set it to keep a just-fresh-from-a-new-OS-install backup so it’s easy to go back to that point.
  • Development. I do a bit of hobbyist programming.  Because many of the things I write depend upon a MySQL database, I installed MySQL on my WHS.  This allows me to test my scripts on my local LAN.

Upgrading your AT&T Tilt to Windows Mobile 6.5 (tutorial)

I’ve been meaning to look in to how to do this for awhile, and finally worked up the willpower to do it…

Here’s how you can upgrade your AT&T Tilt to Windows Mobile 6.5.  Why would you want to do this?  Well…it’s new!  6.5 brings some nice feature upgrades, as well as generally making the whole operating system more finger-friendly.  Here’s a couple screenshots of my phone now:

WM 6.5 Today Screen from the TPC Elite Series ROM

WM 6.5 Today Screen from the TPC Elite Series ROM

WM 6.5 Start Menu

WM 6.5 Start Menu

One last thing before we get into it.  It seems like there’s a lot of stuff to do to make this work.  Keep in mind that most of this stuff is only done once.  Every other time you want to change your ROM it will be much easier.

Ok, on to the tutorial.

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