28 6 / 2013

After a conversation over Twitter the other day, I realized something. We’re living at a point in time where there are so many connected computing devices that we use. From full desktop computers to tablets, video game consoles and laptops, almost anything can connect to the Internet now. You can build something with an ethernet port, and be able to connect it to have your plants tweet when they’re low on water. Seriously. This got me thinking. For actual home use, or even business, what is the best platform?
Windows, even with the Windows 8.1 revision to fix the failure that is Windows 8, has gotten difficult to use. That and the application architecture change for developers are leaving them out to see what is the best platform to develop for. Win8 also requires you start thinking outside the box to interact with your programs. It is truly designed for touch, and that’s what Microsoft wants. Touchscreens everywhere. This isn’t a bad thing, but when you have 95% of all applications requiring a mouse and keyboard, you need the interface to work with it, not against it.
Mac OS X has a high entry cost, but low maintenance cost. Apple computers are expensive, but durable. I’ve owned Macs for over 5 years and they still haven’t died. The only reason my clamshell iBook is dead is because the power cord is broken, and I really don’t want to buy a new cord. My PowerBook I pretty much killed at the end of its life. Literally, I took the hard drive out and tried to use it as an external after upgrading it, and lo and behold, it started clicking like it was dead. Good timing I guess. But the hard thing to swallow is the entry fee.
Linux works on almost everything. It powers most of the Internet, and it’s really coming along as a home and enterprise daily-driver operating system. However, you really need a high level of understanding to be able to manage and maintain it. Creating a system that isn’t bootable is not that hard, and you can run tons of things on it that might do damage to your home network. It’s going to get a lot more airplay with the impending demise of Windows, and the low, low cost of free is always attractive, but you get what you pay for. Don’t pay for support, you’re on your own.
What about tablets and mobile OS’s like iOS and Android? Don’t they count? I’m writing this on my iPad, and I honestly say they don’t count. I do have a bluetooth keyboard hooked up to type, but it’s not ideal. I couldn’t do my job on an iPad or other tablet. I have 18 windows open at once usually, one with a management system, one of e-mail, one of the infrastructure manager, and so on and so forth. I use every bit of the 2 24” screens I have at my desk. I realize I’m not the norm, and there are plenty of folks who can get away with a tablet because they’re road warriors, and when they’re not in meetings or presenting, they have time to focus on one or two things. However at the end of the day, it’s good to write something using a real keyboard. Especially for extended typing sessions. A lot of “knowledge workers” would have trouble using a tablet every day.
So what’s right? I have no idea. Windows has been the standard for over a decade, but Microsoft since the departure of Bill Gates has been on a steep spiral out of control. One can look at the XBox One debacle where they tried to innovate on something the market doesn’t want and cannot support yet. But they pushed ahead until sales numbers for pre-orders dropped (assumably) way below projections. Apple, since the death of Steve Jobs, has taken some interesting turns, but may be able to return to innovation and excellence with iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks. Gates and Jobs ushered in the personal computing era, and with their departure from their respective posts, it’s like we’ve lost our way. Both were visionaries in different ways, and competed to make a better world. Gates still works towards that but in a different way now. What we need is a new visionary who can take computing into the next generation. I don’t know who that is, or where they will come from, but when they do, be excited. The automotive/transportation industry has that in Elon Musk, of SpaceX and Tesla Motors fame. Exciting times are ahead, I just don’t know when they’ll be here.

21 5 / 2013

All the cards are on the table now. We have a new Xbox. We have a new Playstation. We have tons of new phones getting in people’s hands. And my fair blog has a new owner. 

Let’s start with phones: I would kill for a Nexus 4, but Verizon is one of the only services that work out here for me that’s reliable. That latter word is the key. If a phone isn’t reliable, get it out of here. What’s worse? My 2nd choice for a phone, the new HTC One also isn’t available on VZW. I have a Galaxy S3, and when my upgrade rolls around, I’ll probably get an S4. Yes, iPhone is still king, but once WWDC rolls around in June, we’ll see if they can freshen up the old iOS. Apple needs to freshen up iOS. As much as we all like consistency, new ideas never hurt anyone.

Next: Yahoo! bought tumblr. Yahoo!’s running the market on services that skip the ‘e’ in ‘-er’. They also fixed the glaring problems in the Android app, and made it a tablet app. Oh yeah, and gave massive amounts of space to people who actually use the service like me. Might have to update my last vacation set with the raw 10MP images. 

Finally: Xbox One. Now that the initial shock/awe has worn off, I thought about a few things. Microsoft is trying to be Google, Apple, and Sony all combined. I understand the “no new games (except franchises you expect to see)” thing with E3 so close by. However, that’s not a reason, it’s an excuse. Controlling TV with an IR blaster? Been around for years. HDMI Pass-Thru? See Google TV. We all know how that one’s working out. Device lock-in and forced cloud? So Apple of them.

Do I want an Xbox One? Possibly. I’m a fan of Forza, I’m one of the few who like sports games, and I could care less about CoD and any other FPS for that matter (since I can’t play them without needing a bucket nearby). I do play used games, but I only have, at last count 7 Xbox 360 games, and about 5 PS3 games. Almost all of them I’ve beaten, and would be going for 100% completion which I couldn’t care less about. In my opinion, I’m losing $0 on keeping them and tossing the Xbox 360 and my PS3 combined. Again, this is my personal opinion, based on the investments I’ve made in the Sony/Microsoft gaming ecosystems. 

Anyways, it’s been a while, but I’ll be back after more crazy things happen. It’s inevitable.

22 4 / 2013

The reason so many people like iOS is because it’s consistent. You always see the same pane of icons, and while what the icons are may change (Angry Birds replaced with Ridiculous Fishing), they’re still in the same places. You always have to swipe to unlock. That bottom button always brings you home. Android, since day 1 has had the problem of keeping things consistent. When everything started, there were 4 buttons on the bottom to get you into menus and manipulate apps in certain ways. As Android progressed, device manufacturers began to take liberties with placement, and added keyboards and things. The interface, in the 2.x days (Gingerbread and earlier) was pretty kludgy, and if you had an HTC, you knew one way to get into things, Motorola another, and Samsung yet a third. If you had to transition between manufacturers, heaven help you that you could find the apps or even home screen widgets you liked (looking squarely at the HTC Sense clock/weather widget). Google, for its part, decided to take this head on and make the Nexus series of devices to deliver the pure Android experience. The idea is that the carriers (VZ, T-Mo, etc) shouldn’t muck with the software to put their bloat into it. It happens, because otherwise they wouldn’t get their device on the market in the US (see Galaxy Nexus). The Nexus devices are fantastic, and if you ever get the stock Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) experience, it’s actually quite functional and nice. This is exactly why people root/unlock bootloaders on their phones. As much as the manufacturers think their people want these new features, it turns out giving them the option (a la iOS) is the best way to do it. When presented with a clean, stock Android device, you make it exactly as functional or not as you want it. There’s a model of consistency. Things are where you remember it, and new functions are added in ways that make sense. Also, the interface is not being changed as drastically now that there’s a ‘unified’ operating system. I like my Galaxy S3. I really do. I also like my iPhone 4S. However my Galaxy S3 really didn’t come into its own until I rooted it (to do backups!) and then put a slimmed down version of the OS using a stock Android build of the latest-and-greatest from Mountain View. Which, by the way, isn’t even available from Samsung or Verizon yet. Stock is good. Stock makes sense (in the Android world). If there were more phones running Stock Android, I think it would take off further. Unfortunately, it will never happen, so that’s why so many reviewers and myself will continue to recommend Nexus devices over other devices where they’re available.

24 3 / 2013

For the longest time, I haven’t had a desktop PC. I made the decision shortly after undergrad ended to go laptop only, and get something substantial. At the time I didn’t really have the funds for it, but I was working at Apple, making some money, and got a Powerbook G4. At the time it was great and did everything I needed in post-college life. Personal life not withstanding, it worked great. I didn’t play a lot of video games at all (it was a dark period, what can I say), and I did a lot of, well, browsing the web. That really was about it. I programmed occasionally, but I still had my Windows desktop for that and remote controlling my office pc. Once that well and died, I went laptop only. The first time I didn’t actually have a desktop wasn’t until around 2009 when I separated from my now ex-wife. The machine was hers, and I was glad to get rid of it. Since, I upgraded the Powerbook to a MacBook Pro, and kept the laptop life. $work over the years always gave me a laptop, so realistically I never actually needed a laptop. Yes, I still had a true desktop at work, but with what I do, I need it for power-computing and manipulating large virtual machines (I develop servers on my desktop and deploy to the data center when I can). However, as technology progressed, and my personal life changed, I found myself wanting to a.) play more games both on console and PC and b.) have power for said games. My MBP, which still runs strong, has been handed off to my wife (yes, I got remarried to a much much better person), and I use my work laptop for the occasional game/fling that I want to have away from a desktop I inherited. That’s not to say its the greatest, but I’ll end up rebuilding a new pc in the near future (and will blog for once about it). But tablets have taken over my lap. When I want a quick Twitter or Internet fix, I reach for the Nexus 10 or iPad, whichever’s closer or what I’m currently working with. If I want to read, I still go for the Kindle, but if that’s not near, I’ll use the tablet in a pinch. There are definitely some things that a tablet doesn’t solve (remote desktop a lot? tablets suck at that), but for most, I think it can replace the laptop for mobility. With the advent of Dropbox and Google Drive like services, you can get your data anywhere. Businesses are also implementing their own Dropbox-type solutions so that they can keep corporate data safe and secure. A tablet doesn’t replace a computer, in fact, it brings the desktop back. And the traditional desktop is beginning to migrate. As someone who is playing a lot of games again, I find myself wanting to hook the desktop right into the TV, and use the big screen for it. That combined with a wireless controller, and you’ve got great gaming without having a dedicated system. That, and if you’re so inclined (or are crazy like me), you can put a TV tuner into it for live TV and get rid of all the boxes under the TV (even if you have HBO and things, they do make cablecard tuners that actually do work now).

In the end, what you do with computers and tablets are up to you. Gamers will go for power machines, business-people will go for the thing that gets the job done the easiest, and others will keep using what they have. As long as it’s functional for you, that’s what matters. You don’t need an iPad, but if it makes sense to replace your laptop with it, go for it. If you love your Xbox, and don’t want to spend an unheavenly amount on a gaming pc, go for it. 

20 2 / 2013

I was originally going to record this in audio format, but I decided at the end to go back to text because it’s 1000x easier to edit.

So they announced the PS4 today without showing the box. They explained what’s in the box in terms of hardware, and showed people using the controller in demos as well as connecting a PS Vita to it for remote playing games (WiiU anyone?). That’s all well and good, but without allowing people to see it hooked up to a TV or something else and proving that it’s not vapor-powered it doesn’t make it worthwhile. Also, it appears that the new controller is also going to be a PS Move controller as well, but since no one outside of some developers and Sony themselves can touch it, we have no idea. Speaking of Move, the new PS Eye camera is going to have 2 cameras in it for depth of field *coughJustLikeKinectcough*.

The highlight of the Sony event was definitely the always dubious demos. SquareEnix’s demo was re-hashed footage they put together for E3 2012, but Quantic Dream (makers of Heavy Rain) put together a super detailed head of an old guy. They showed off a new Killzone game (PS Exclusive), as well as new footage from the cross-platform game Watch_Dogs (I know some people say WatchDogs, but there’s an underscore in there and I’m going to put it there). Also they pulled in the indie developer of Braid to show off his new game, The Witness, which looks like an updated Myst-type game.

The biggest problem I had was the lack of product. That, alongside Sony’s track record since the PS3 launch make it very difficult to want a PS4. They need to deliver on all their dreams and prove to people before “Holiday 2013” that they have the better system in the coming generation.

And with that, the timer is on for Microsoft to say something about the next Xbox.

26 1 / 2013

I know, 2 blog posts in the span of an hour, I’m going crazy!

This one, however is short and sweet: My good friend Matt has invited me on his Technology-focused YouTube channel to provide some neat tech videos and other things. Recently, we recorded over 4 hours of audio on what happened at CES and the future of Video Game Consoles (in 2 blocks, mind you!).

Go take a visit at youtube.com/TechDesk3000. There’s lots of cool stuff, and I’m working on some neat things there with home media and DIY/Maker stuffs. 

26 1 / 2013

For years now, I have been working on true technological nirvana: the home media setup whereby I can view all my content, both cloud-based and server-based, anywhere in my home. There’s no one device that can do it, nor will there ever be one, but we get close. This is getting long, so I’m putting in a ‘read more’ link, but please, read on…

Read More

07 1 / 2013

This week, the world of tech journalism descends on sunny Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Please do yourself a favor, and do not go to The Verge, Engadget, Gizmodo, et al. You will only be bombarded with a ton of posts of products that either are too expensive, not here yet, or altogether unnecessary. In addition, you get the ever present Liveblog where someone sits and writes every word that comes out of the speaker’s mouth like a glorified stenographer (with attached photographer, no less!).

Let me give you the basic run-down: New TV’s, bigger and thinner than ever; Connecting your TV to stream from Amazon/Netflix/Hulu has never been easier and with 1001 different ways to do it; New computing parts from AMD, NVidia, and Intel, including gaming-specific parts; tons of ‘lifestyle’ gadgets that can watch your every movement and action. Also, if it’s electronic, and you use it on a daily basis, there’s a new version of it (GPS, Cell phone, home phone even).

We’re not even into day 1 (it officially starts Jan 8!), and there’s already been thousands of product announcements. Yes, I’m keeping track, but I’m only looking at about 4 different manufacturers: NVidia (Gaming Graphics and mobile processors), Sony (just to see any PS4 rumors), Intel (new processor wave), and Verizon (the wife needs a new cell phone). If it’s so good I shouldn’t miss it, I’ll probably see it on either gdgt.com or when The Wirecutter does their one, all-inclusive, CES post. If it hits my twitter stream, then it must be good as well. 

09 12 / 2012

I hate reading on my iPad. Yes, I can do it in a pinch, and it works great for things like writing blog posts, but in reality, reading sucks. The backlight is too bright, and while you can turn on the sepia-toned background and text, it just doesn’t work. As massively pretty as an Apple Retina display makes text, there’s something about the ePaper used in the Kindle, Nook, and other eReaders that make it much more enjoyable. I’m not talking about the backlit ones, which I haven’t used, and when I did get my hands on the Nook with a backlight the darned thing wouldn’t glow.

On the flipside, I haven’t touched my Kindle in months. Honestly, I don’t read many long-form books (I can see the hate mail coming), that aren’t reference books, and those I don’t read cover-to-cover because they’re reference for my day-job. When I’m reading short-form articles, and I don’t save time, I send them to Pocket (formerly Readability), because it works well to aggregate articles, videos, and sounds I want to enjoy later or offline. I used to use Instapaper, but with Pocket’s ability to cache videos, that went out the window quickly, but without Instapaper, we wouldn’t have Pocket. I have noticed that with my iPad, I am reading more. my monthly magazine subscriptions have been transitioned over to digital with a few exceptions, and reading those on the iPad is good because of the imagery that accompanies said articles. There’s also something to be said for advertisements in certain magazines (looking squarely at Esquire, but I’m crazy and like men’s fashion). It works better in full color. For me, books are great when I get into them, but I blow through them in a week, usually. Kindle is perfect when I’m on vacation, iPad for every other day.

Overall, I’ve been using the iPad more and more as my daily Internet/web machine, and using my desktop for managing my media and files (as well as programming). Tim Cook, in a recent interview with Brian Williams said that he uses his iPad for about 80% of what he uses a computer for, and I see that 100%. When I’m not obsessing over my iTunes (and why I think iTunes 11 is the best and worst iTunes yet, stay tuned) or programming, I’m on my iPad. I still have yet to use it as a true word processor, but that day is closing in very, very quickly. For now, though, it works great for blog posting (with an attached keyboard, mind you).

23 10 / 2012

I could wait for the successor to the Nexus 7 (or pal, depending on what rumor you read) to be announced, Win8 to be released and Win Phone 8 to be dated, but I’m tired of all these announcements. No human being (except tech journalists who are paid to do it for a living, and have schedules designed to do it) can keep up.

I’ve said it before, you don’t need the latest and greatest. Heck I’ve bought used many times before, and works just as good as new. I seriously can’t think of a device that you can’t get either used or for cheap because it’s last generation. In fact, when I wrote my original thoughts on what phone you should get, I didn’t put specific models. This is because you don’t need an iPhone 5 unless you absolutely need the bigger screen or LTE. I’m going to reiterate them again, and expand:

Computer:

  • If you’re replacing a desktop, consider a laptop. They’re just as powerful and portable, with only a few exceptions (gaming and screen real-estate).
  • You get what you pay for. PC prices are so variable, but one thing is consistent: the more you pay, the longer it will last. Example: My wife got a laptop roughly 8 months after I got one. She got a Dell Studio 17, I got a MacBook Pro 15. The Dell Studio’s hinge is utterly destroyed now, and it is relegated to be a server. The MBP? This post was mostly written on it and is my daily computer when I’m allowed to choose.
  • If you can afford it: Get a Mac. Period. Outside of hardware reliability, it’s the best Windows machine on the market. Not kidding. Oh, and everything you can do in Windows, you can do on Mac with very few exceptions, and that goes down every day (game developers, I’m looking at you).
  • If you can’t afford it, do the research. Don’t waste your money on a brand you may not have heard of. I stick to a few brands: Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Asus.
Smartphone:
  • If you have a Mac, and no other computers, get an iPhone.
  • If you have anything else and lots of music/video in iTunes, get an iPhone.
  • If you absolutely must have a physical keyboard to text, get a Droid 4 on Verizon. There’s no better Android keyboard phone.
  • If this is your first smartphone, get either an iPhone or Windows 8 Phone. Both are very easy to pick up.
  • If you are hooking it up for work e-mail, use iPhone for Microsoft Exchange, Android for Google Apps. If you must get an Android and have Exchange, buy Touchdown for Exchange. Worth the high price of admission. See edit below.
  • All other case scenarios: Get an Android

Tablets:

  • Do you have a laptop? You don’t need a tablet. 
  • Are you replacing a laptop? Get a tablet.
  • Are you going to be writing a novel or a thesis? Get a laptop.
  • Do you watch lots of stupid cat videos? Get a tablet. Better yet, use your game console and open the YouTube app.
  • If you’ve determined you need a tablet, get an iPad.
  • iPad too expensive? I agree. iPad mini.
  • iPad too big? I agree. iPad mini.
  • iPad mini too expensive? I agree. Nexus 7.

Honestly, I’m not biased to Apple. Yes, they make a great product, but I have no problems shifting over to my Windows 8 install on the same hard drive. I have an iPhone 4S and a Samsung Galaxy S3. I don’t have a tablet, but have played enough on an iPad and Android tablets to know what works and what doesn’t.

What’s my plan? When it comes time to retire the MBP from active-laptop, it’ll get relegated to a desktop until it well and truly dies. My daily user: insert tablet here. Probably going to get an Android tablet. For the functions I’m using it for, the apps are all there (albeit some better ones are on the iOS App Store). Phone? I’m going to consolidate at one point, and keep what work gives me (currently Galaxy S3). No need to carry 2 phones. When the MBP up and dies, I’ll replace it probably with a Mac mini. I don’t need it to do more.

If you need help researching something, here’s a couple of things: Avoid any and all gadget blogs. Go to one of these two sites: gdgt.com (built by former Engadget editors) or thewirecutter.com (built by former Gizmodo editors). Gdgt is good for getting user opinions on things and finding out what real people use. The Wirecutter bills itself as ‘a list of great technology’, and that is exactly what it is. Clear, concise, and pointing out throughout the list why X is better than Y with facts. Also, they go so deep in reviewing a product category it borderlines on fanatical, but not in a bad way. See their bag roundup (http://thewirecutter.com/leaderboard/best-bags/). Seriously. It’s epic. Know what you want before you get it, and if you can test drive either a friend’s or play with one at an electronics retailer or WalMart. 

Edit, 12/6/12: So turns out that my earlier recommendation (based on personal experience!) of Touchdown is really turning out to be a bad one. Touchdown existed when there was limited-to-no access to corporate Exchange/ActiveSync services on the Android platform. Since, there’s been flaws that actually affected my day job and people using Touchdown. In addition, Google and the device manufacturers have really rectified the Exchange/ActiveSync integration and made it much better. If you have corporate e-mail, you really don’t need a Blackberry anymore, nor any extra software; you can get any phone on the market. I still stand by the fact that iPhone does work better with Exchange/ActiveSync, but that’s because of client usability, and not support for the platform.