I was fortunate enough to be able to be at the sound check for Sir Paul McCartney’s show at US Airways Center. Here are a few snaps from the event.
[G+] Sound check #macca
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[G+] I’ve spent the better part of a week with my new #Nexus5 and I’m very much impressed with what I’ve seen so far.
I opted for the red version (I only wish they had a green one). In fact, if it hadn’t been for the red version I’d probably still be sporting my #GNex as a daily driver. They aren’t lying when they call it bright red. It’s actually closer to the color of a hunting vest or the safety gear that road workers wear than it is to anything I’d call red. You definitely see this thing coming. It’s a bit overwhelming from the back, but looks perfect from the front with the red side bezel outlining the glass. By contrast, the white Nexus 5 has a black bezel, so you don’t get the outline effect. The matching speaker grill is a nice touch although it takes some getting used to. For the first few days, I frequently mistook that speaker grill for a notification light.
The very first thing I did was activate developer mode and switch from Dalvik to ART. I did the same thing on my #Nexus7 not long ago and the improvement in battery life was so dramatic that it was a no-brainer to do the same on the 5.
Speaking of battery life, I’ve been very impressed with the Nexus 5 in that respect. It may not be the best there is, but compared to my GNex it’s amazing. With the GNex I had to use radio managers and other tricks to get the battery to last through a typical day. And a typical day for me is a lot less taxing on a smartphone than I think it is for most people. With the WiFi radio always on and no special tweaks, the Nexus 5 has no problem making it through the day and usually has at least a third of a charge left when I set it down for the night.
Performance and responsiveness are like day and night. That’s to be expected when making the jump from a phone like the GNex where things would start to bog down any time I launched Play Music. But even compared to the Nexus 7 (2013), the Nexus 5 feels quite a bit smoother.
A lot of people seem to think the camera is the Nexus 5′s weak spot. I’m barely a casual photographer, so this wasn’t a big deal to me. All I use the camera for is to snap quick photos for sharing with friends and family or maybe to take a bit of video at holidays. Even so, I find the 8MP rear facing camera to be more than adequate. Definitely better than the camera on the Nexus 7.
I’m trying to keep things as stripped down as possible for as long as I can. Resisting the urge to install Tasker and start fiddling too much. I did install Trigger (http://ift.tt/GV0mvj) so that I can use NFC tags to toggle radios and have the phone automatically mute itself when I’m in meetings.
I also installed Snapdragon Batteryguru (http://ift.tt/VwkP4U) after hearing it discussed on a recent episode of AAA. Basically, it tries to eek out a bit of extra battery life by learning how you use the phone and automatically adjusting how often different apps are allowed to sync data in the background. I’m skeptical, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt since it comes from the actual company that made the processor in the phone. Unless it manages to impress, it will be banished before long.
More to come.
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[G+] Contextual Homescreens with #Tasker
A few of you have requested that I share more of a step-by-step guide for using Tasker to build a set of contextual homescreens in Android similar to what I described in this post (http://ift.tt/1i3sYYN).
First of all, be sure you’re using a launcher that supports Tasker’s “Go Home” action. I use Nova Launcher. If you use some other launcher, your mileage may vary.
You may also have to experiment a bit to figure out which page numbers in Tasker correspond to which home screens in your launcher. In the case of Nova Launcher, the first home screen is index zero, but Tasker only sends the request when the page number is greater than zero. That means that I cannot use Tasker to display the first home screen in my launcher.
One of the easiest contexts to handle is probably screen orientation, so let’s focus on that.
The first thing to do is create two home screens in your launcher of choice, one for portrait and one for landscape. Keep in mind that if you’re using Nova Launcher, neither of these can be your first home screen. For purposes of this post, we will assume that we want to display Nova Launcher’s second home screen (index 1) in portrait and the third home screen (index 2) in landscape.
Once you have your two home screens ready to go and know what their indices are, it’s time to fire up Tasker…
- Create a new profile based on State->Display->Display Orientation. The default trigger is “Is Portrait” and that’s fine.
- After you create the profile, Tasker will prompt you to select an entry task for it. Choose “New Task”.
- In the task editor, add an action App->Go Home. The new action will default to Page 0, change that to Page 1.
- Back out to Tasker’s profile list and long-tap your newly created entry task. You should see a contextual menu. Choose “Add Exit Task”.
- You will be prompted to select a task. Choose “New Task”.
- In the task editor, add an action App->Go Home. For this task you want to change the value to Page 2.
That’s it. Exit Tasker and start flipping your device around to see if it worked.
This should be considered a starting point and something to build on. This basic setup has some pitfalls that you’ll find quickly. For instance, if you change screen orientation while inside an app, Tasker will close the app and take you to the appropriate homescreen. That’s probably not a desired behavior. Tasker doesn’t have a built in concept of “is there an app active right now?”, but you can still work around the situation easily. What I did was add an Application based profile and use it to set a variable that keeps track of whether or not the launcher is running. Then I added a condition to both my orientation tasks so that they only change home screens if that variable has a certain value indicating that the launcher is active.
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A few weeks ago I tried Aviate and although I liked the concept, I decided it wasn’t for me. I wanted more control than it gave me over organizing my life into a group of contexts. And thanks to the experience of trying Aviate, I realized that I could do something similar using Tasker.
The basic idea was to create a different home screen in my launcher (I use Nova Launcher) for each context I wanted and then use Tasker’s “Go Home” action to automatically present the appropriate one when I unlocked my phone or tablet (#Gnex or #Nexus7).
Aviate uses time of day and location to trigger different contexts: Morning, Night, Home, Work, and Going Somewhere. But I don’t use either my phone or tablet in a way that meshes with that structure. And since the whole point of Aviate and context awareness is to get structure out of the way, it kind of defeats the purpose.
I started with my phone because I use it more contextually than I do the tablet, or so I thought. And keeping it simple I just tried implementing “Home” and “Not Home” which are really the only two contexts I use my phone in. You could use location to toggle between these, just like Aviate does. Or with Tasker you could also toggle them based on whether a certain wifi access point is in range. In my case, I already had an NFC tag by the kitchen door that I used with Tasker to toggle radios on and off when I come and go, so I just added this new context awareness to that mechanism. This approach has the added benefit of saving a little battery because it doesn’t rely on a location check, although you do have to keep your NFC radio on.
With the phone working so well, I started thinking about context on my tablet. “Home” and “Not Home” didn’t make sense there, but time of day did. Email and Evernote in the morning where daily status reports on my Roku channels are waiting for me, News in the afternoon, social in the evening. And I could control the exact times at which each context became active. That’s all pretty simple to make happen with Tasker and I can even set a different background image for each context.
Once I had that working, I started thinking about things that might be used to trigger a context other than time and location. This lead me to realize that I use my tablet a lot more contextually than I realized and the contextual awareness I’ve ended up building for the tablet is more complex than the phone’s.
Light level… If I take my tablet outside, it almost always means I’m going to read. So when a very bright environment is detected, show me a home screen with my reading apps and widgets.
Screen orientation. The only time i ever turn my tablet to landscape is when I’m going to watch video, so let’s detect that automatically and present a home screen with Netflix and Beyond Pod and my other video apps.
Other than NFC tags, I haven’t found an automatic way to detect different rooms within the house. In the living room, show me entertainment stuff; in the kitchen, show me recipes; in the bathroom, show me reading material; etc.
What other events/environments might be used to trigger a context?
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[G+] Aviating with Tasker
I’ve been playing with #Aviate the last several days and it’s not bad. I installed it on both my Galaxy Nexus and my Nexus 7 even though the FAQ is very clear that it is not optimized for tablets. I’ll do my best to limit my comments to the experience I’ve had on my phone.
I really like the idea of making our devices more contextual and Aviate in its current state is a good first swing at bringing that idea to an Android launcher. The problem is that not everyone breaks their lives into the same set of contexts. Aviate has environments for “Home”, “Work”, “Morning”, “Night”, and “Going Somewhere” and tries to switch between them automatically based on time of day and your location. For most people that may be fine, but it doesn’t jive too well with how I structure my life.
Aviate apparently uses location to decide whether you’re at home or at work. But I work from home, so I have to manually tell Aviate when I’m “at work”. “Morning” and “Night” are time based, but I haven’t found a way to change the times they (de)activate. For some people, “Morning” may be from 6 to 8 when they wake up until they leave for work. For me, “Morning” is from 8 to 9 when I wake up until I sit down at my desk. So I find myself doing a lot of manual switching between contexts, but the time based contexts are not always available. I can manually switch between the location based contexts (“Home”, “Work”, and “Going Somewhere”) at will, but “Morning” and “Night” are only available during their preset times.
Aviate has a minimal, flat look to it. I like that, but they removed so much clutter that it started to impact functionality. You can’t set wallpaper on your home screens. Instead, Aviate gives you a photo widget that you can use to display a picture on your home screen. The problem is that if you choose to set a photo, you can’t do anything else with that space. Nothing is allowed to appear above that photo.
Widgets also don’t make very good use of space in many cases. When you add a widget to your Aviate home screen, it uses the full width of your screen regardless of how wide the widget was designed to be. That can waste a lot of horizontal space depending on which widgets you use. I’ve also run into a few vertical spacing issues with widgets appearing taller than they should. Aviate is a young product and these are things that will get worked out in time, so I can’t ding them too hard for this.
I’d like to see battery level added to the header area alongside the date and time. I’m one of those people for whom the little battery meter in the notification bar is not enough and I find myself frequently pulling down the settings panel to see the actual charge percentage.
Despite the minor flaws of a young product, Aviate is a useful tool and I have found it streamlining my workflow in a number of scenarios since I started using it. But the control freak in me wants more.
As I was ruminating on the idea of Aviate this weekend and some of the ways that I wished it could be made to integrate better into the way I contextualize my life, I had a bit of a brainstorm. Could I build a better (for me) Aviate using Tasker?
I haven’t worked through the implementation fully, but I have gotten far enough to be reasonably confident that it can work. Aviate basically presents you with different home screens for different times, locations, and activities. That idea is actually very simple to replicate using Tasker. I use Nova Launcher, but this should work with the stock Android launcher as well. All I did was setup a different home screen in Nova Launcher for each of the contexts I wanted to work in. Then, using Takser’s “Go Home” action, I can automatically switch to the appropriate context based on time or location just like Aviate does. And with Tasker I can also switch contexts based on a host of other criteria: NFC tags, screen orientation, incoming notifications, light level, whether the device is docked or charging. You could really get creative.
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[G+] iOS 7: First Impressions
For the most part, I find #iOS7 to be pretty ugly. An overcorrection from too much skeuomorphism to too few effects of any kind. Gradients, shadows, textures, reflections: gone. The grey background on folders and all the blue stick icons are especially unappealing to me.
That said, I very much like the new lock screen and Notification Center. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it filling the whole screen when you pulled it down, but after a few minutes I was sold. Even so, we still need rich/actionable notifications. The fact I can archive an email on Android right from the notification without launching the email client is one of the things that makes me pick up the #Nexus7 instead of the #iPad .
I also like the new multitasking app switcher UX. I don’t know if there’s an official name for that, but it’s much nicer than the old way and I think it’s better than the Android way.
I’m indifferent to Control Center. I think I would find it more useful on a phone than a tablet.
I don’t like the way the wallpaper moves beneath the icons. It’s a cool idea, but in practice it’s way too twitchy and draws my eyes away from where I want them to go.
iTunes Radio is neat enough, but not much more than another radio service. It’s not going to make me cancel my Google Music All Access subscription any time soon.
Overall performance is very good. Even on my old iPad 2 Safari is noticeably faster than in iOS 6.
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I’ve had a whole weekend to play with the new Nexus 7 and like the original, it’s a great device at a very good price. Is it perfect? No. Are there things I wish they had done differently? Of course. Even so, it’s the best small tablet out there.
I did not have the wow reaction to the screen that I was expecting to have and I’m not sure why that is. The 323ppi IPS display is probably the most touted feature of this device. It’s a big improvement over the original Nexus 7 and a huge improvement over the iPad 2 I’ve been using as my daily driver. All I can figure is that the Super AMOLED screen on my Galaxy Nexus with its 316 ppi caused me to not be as overwhelmed as I should have been.
Many have made this complaint and I’ll pile on. The top and bottom bezels are too big and the side bezels are too small. Holding the device in portrait mode, it’s too easy to accidentally tap or swipe with the thumb of the hand holding the device.
A lot of reviews I’ve read have lamented the decision to get rid of the textured, faux-leather backing of the original Nexus 7. Not me. I actually think I prefer the new soft-touch plastic backside.
Having two speakers is nice, but all the hype about “surround sound” is just silly to me. You can’t have surround sound with two speakers that close together. And speakers that small are never going to produce great audio. For a tablet, the audio is very good and the addition of a second speaker is more than welcome, but let’s not kid ourselves.
The Rear Facing Camera
The original Nexus 7 had a single, front facing camera. It was great for video calls and that was what I used it for mostly. I didn’t really miss a rear facing camera. But a year later, Vine has an Android app and it is more than a little sluggish on my Galaxy Nexus, so I have a feeling I’ll be getting a lot of use out of the rear facing camera on this new Nexus 7. 5 megapixels is nothing to get too excited about, but it’s adequate and should be at least as good if not better than the camera in my Galaxy Nexus. And they’re both better than the camera in the iPad 2.
The new Nexus 7 includes a notification LED, something that was absent from the original. This is both a welcome addition and a big annoyance. I’ve come to rely heavily on my phone’s notification LED. Using Light Flow on my Galaxy Nexus with its RGB LED, I can have different colors and flash rates for different types of notifications. It’s great for knowing at a glance what’s waiting for me. So I was more than a little disappointed when I found that the new Nexus 7 appears to have a white-only LED. I can still control the flash rate, but not the color. That’s a huge bummer, especially in a Nexus device that Google claims is supposed to be sort of a reference device for showing off what Android can do.
I’ve been running Jelly Bean 4.2 on my Galaxy Nexus for a while now. I’m not a gamer and I don’t have a need for restricted profiles, so 4.3 doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table for me other than the performance improvements like TRIM support. My hope is that when the Sprint Galaxy Nexus gets 4.3 I’ll get a lot more benefit than on a brand new tablet.
A Strong Sequel
This little guy is a great followup to a great original. It has its shortcomings, but if you’re looking for a small tablet at a good price I don’t think you’ll do better than this.
A frustrated Nowhere TV user said something the other day that I’ve been thinking about more than I should and I wanted to take a minute to try and explain how Nowhere TV is different from most channels on Roku and why it is a private channel (not in the Channel Store) and why I continue to maintain that Nowhere TV is an experiment, a crowd-sourced sandbox where users and I can explore together what the platform can do.
This user was upset because a certain piece of content was not playing well on their Roku. This is not at all uncommon. On any given day there may be any number of content sources that break for any number of reasons. I do what I can to fix them, but in many cases the root cause of the problems are beyond my control. A server may go down. An RSS feed my be malformed or not updated regularly. A video may be encoded in a way that makes it not play correctly on Roku. These are things that I can’t do anything about other than wait and hope. And more often than not the problems are corrected by the publishers within a few days.
When I tried to explain to my frustrated user that the particular problem they were having was caused by the way the content was encoded by the publisher (not me) they got even more upset and said something to the effect of “If I go to a restaurant and order a burger and the waiter brings it to me burnt I don’t expect the waiter to tell me that the problem was caused by the chef and he can’t do anything about it.”
I understand the metaphor and I appreciate the point this person was trying to make, but it also demonstrates their misunderstanding about how Nowhere TV works. Nowhere TV is a content aggregator, which in simplistic terms means that it links to content from lots and lots of different sources and that I as the maintainer of the channel have no control over those content sources.
So what’s wrong with the hamburger metaphor? Let’s start with the waiter and the chef, they both work for the same restaurant and that restaurant was responsible for cooking the burnt hamburger. That’s different from Nowhere TV in that I (the waiter) and the content publishers (the chefs) do not work for the same entity. The content in Nowhere TV is encoded (cooked) by hundreds of different entities and Nowhere TV simply curates it all and presents it to users in a somewhat unified, coherent interface.
Furthermore, the hamburger in this metaphor is an entire product being sold to the customer. One piece of content out of the hundreds (thousands?) in Nowhere TV not working for a day or two would be more like the lettuce on the cheeseburger being a bit limp.
Oh, and the hamburger would have to be free for this metaphor to work. Nowhere TV doesn’t cost users a dime.
All this talk about hamburgers is making me hungry.
A more apt analogy for my frustrated user might be one in which they buy an iPod from Target and after some period of time it stops working. They cannot then go back to Target (the waiter) and demand that they repair the broken iPod, they have to go to Apple (the chef) for that. And again Nowhere TV is free, so It would be more like Target giving someone an iPod free of charge, the iPod breaking, and that person demanding that Target repair it.
An even better comparison, and one much more closely related to what’s really going on here, would be a web browser. If one specific web page is not displaying correctly in my web browser, I don’t complain to the developers of the browser, I complain to the authors of the web page. Nowhere TV is not unlike a web browser in that respect. It renders content authored by other people. If those other people don’t author the content well, Nowhere TV won’t be able to render it well.
I got a Keurig machine as a gift a few months ago. It’s not something I would have bought for myself, but an interesting gadget nonetheless. My biggest problem with it is the amount of non-recycleable waste it generates. Every time you brew a cup of coffee in it, you send a spent k-cup to the landfill. Thats a serious hit to your environmental karma. But there are things you can do to minimize the footprint of the Keurig.
The easiest thing to do, although not the greenest way to use the machine, is to go ahead and use standard k-cups, but not send the whole spent cartridge to the landfill. After brewing a cup, instead of just chucking the used k-cup in the trash, take a knife and peel the top off. Once you open the k-cup, you can easily remove the used grounds and the paper filter inside. These bits can go into your compost pile and the only thing you have to send to the landfill is the shell of the cup.
An even greener, and much cheaper way to use the Keurig is to not use pre-packaged k-cups at all. Get a reusable cartridge that you can fill with your own coffee grounds. After brewing a cup, just toss the used grounds in your compost pile. Zero landfill waste. This method can also produce a higher quality cup of coffee after a bit of experimenting and tweaking. There are plenty of reusable cartridges available. My father has the EkoBrew and he likes it quite a bit. Unfortunately, my particular model of Keurig only works with the official reusable cartridge, which has some shortcomings and tends to brew a pretty weak cup of coffee out of the box, but with some creative modding it can be made to do a pretty good job.
As with any method of coffee brewing, the most important thing you can do to get the best result is to grind your own beans. You want o be sure and buy a burr style grinder and not one that just has a couple spinning blades inside. A burr grinder will produce a more consistent grind and they generally last longer. As far as beans go, experiment and try different brands and blends until you find something that suits you. If at all possible though, you should look for fair trade or direct trade beans and organic is always a good idea too.
Unless you are lucky enough to live somewhere that has really good tap water, you probably want to use filtered water to brew your coffee. Not only will filtered water eliminate many of the off-flavors in most tap water, it will also help cut down on the amount of mineral deposits that build up in the machine over the course of many uses.
When it comes to brewing a cup of coffee in a Keurig machine with a reusable cartridge, you’re going to have to experiment with how fine to grind your beans, how full to fill the cartridge, and how firmly to pack the grounds. What ends up being the right combination for you is going to depend on your machine, which type of reusable cartridge you’re using, and how strong you like your coffee. But once you find the right formula it will be well worth the time and effort.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ostentation and the reasons so many people treat money in ways that to me seem very reckless. When it comes down to it, I think the primary driving factor is external validation. People who spend money in irresponsible ways tend to do so because they seek the approval of others. The problem is that they’re seeking the approval of the wrong people for the wrong reasons.
For purposes of this discussion, it’s important to draw a distinction between having money and spending money. There are plenty of wealthy people who are not at all reckless with their money and there are also lots of less well off people who are very reckless with what little money they have. And a whole spectrum of people in between. That is to say that I don’t believe that affluence is a significant factor in the behaviors I’m about to discuss. Nor do I think education is a significant factor. There are plenty of very smart people who can be very stupid when it comes to money. And plenty of less educated people who are fiscally responsible.
Spending money, even to excess is not necessarily a vice in and of itself. The problem arises when you do it for the wrong reasons. Nor is seeking external validation necessarily a vice on its own. We all seek the approval of others in some way. But when a person turns to excessive spending as a means of acquiring that approval, what does that say about that person?
I’ll use myself as an example and try not to sound too self-rightious in the process. I seek external validation with my work. I build products that I hope people will find useful and enjoy using. And in exchange for those products, I hope that some small subset of those people will praise me for them. I seek external validation for the quality of my accomplishments, not for the size of my house or the label on my jeans. Similarly, I place a much higher value on other people’s intellect and achievements than on their possessions. This may mean that I end up with a smaller than average peer group, but it is the best way to ensure that my peer group will be composed of people who tend to share those values. Quality over quantity.
Now let’s consider the person who buys their external validation by building a facade of expensive, unnecessary possessions around them. Ostentatious clothes, cars, houses, and other items will attract external validation and probably quite a bit of it from people who place an inherent social value on those things, but it’s low quality validation by definition. Peer approval garnered in this matter is less valuable because it comes from the types of people who value ostentatious behaviors. Quantity over quality.
The difference between these two types of people is in how they measure external validation. On one hand, we have people who measure validation in terms of the quantity of peer approval they receive, disregarding the quality of that approval. The word quality referring to the motivations of the people giving the approval. These people also tend to praise others based on the perceived quality of their possessions. Meaning that these people tend to believe that a person is more worthy of praise because of the label on their clothes or the type of car they drive. On the other end of the spectrum, we have people who measure validation in terms of the quality of the peer approval they receive. Meaning that they place higher value on praise received for achievement than praise received for possessions. In the extreme case, these people place zero value on possessions, but in reality very few examples of that extreme case exist. In fact, people in this second group often place very high value on the quality of possessions, but they measure that quality in terms of functionality rather than style. For example. these people may place a much higher value on a high performance sports car than they would on a luxury SUV with gold trim and fancy wheels. Or to frame it a bit differently, they might choose to spend their disposable income on something useful like an e-reader rather than something purely cosmetic like designer sunglasses. This could spin into a discussion of a whole other aspect of this phenomenon, but for now I think it can be summarized adequately as valuing craftsmanship over showmanship. I was tempted to say function over form, but form is actually a very important aspect of function in many cases. The problem is when you pay a premium for form that doesn’t contribute to function, so I think craftsmanship over showmanship is a better phrase.
I realize there may be quite a bit of circular logic in my reasoning, but that’s the point. Ostentation is just part of a dangerous, self-perpetuating cycle and regardless of which of the behaviors that make up that cycle kicks things off, the effects will likely be the same. A penchant for reckless spending will tend to attract a peer group with a value system skewed toward the superficial. In turn that value system will be internalized and galvanized by the members of that peer group. And the reinforcement of that value system will cause members of that peer group to be more likely to adopt reckless spending habits.
And there’s a similar cycle for more frugal people. People who value achievement over possessions will tend to gravitate to a peer group that shares and reinforces those values. As a result, those people will tend to make frugal choices because there is little if any external validation to be had from their peer group for making ostentatious decisions.