Thursday, January 1, 2015

Scenes for TCP - A Pebble App

A fine quotation is a diamond in the hand of a man of wit and a pebble in the hand of a fool. - Joseph Roux

Earlier this year I bought WiFi lights for the bedroom, so that I no longer had to get out of bed to turn the lights off (like an animal!). It took me a long while before I settled in on the Connected by TCP - which were highly functional and dirt cheap. I could install my entire house for the same price as putting Hue into the bedroom. I generally haven't regretted this decision.

In November, I treated myself to the Pebble watch. I thought it would be fun to own for half a year until the Apple Watch comes out. The Pebble has been fun and I really enjoyed that I could control my WeMo devices with an indie app. There was no app for TCP Connected. For the holidays I rolled up my sleeves and built one. BOOM!

Primarily I was shocked how easy it was to build this app. Pebble has introduced a Pebble.js environment so your entire app can be written in JavaScript and then have a CloudPebble IDE where you can build the entire thing in the cloud and push it directly onto your Pebble Watch. Cool cool beans.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Moving on to Github

"Experience is algorithmically incompressible." - Ted Chiang, The Lifecycle of Software Objects
This holiday season I celebrated by migrating all of my projects off of Google Code and onto Github (one of them started its life on SourceForge).  So is the life of open source projects - they just keep moving on from free website to free website until some day when they aren't worth the effort.

  • Episode.Next - A Web App to Track the Watching of Your Favorite Shows
  • om-com-dialer - HTML5 Web App to Easily Dial Info Conference Calls
  • Timelord - A simple client application to capture time tracking information on your local system.
  • Weather.Next - Get Tomorrows Weather, Today!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pebble? Why not?

I worked a 20 hour day last week (my record is a 35 hour "day") and around 4am I needed some shopping therapy. With Christmas coming I wanted to get something fun that wasn't on one of my wish lists so I bought a Pebble. Texts on your watch? Welcome to having a 1990s pager strapped on your wrist!

Pebble Txts

Wait, what? I know you're thinking, "You must be buying an Apple Watch next year or Tim will revoke your Apple Fanboy membership card. So why a Pebble?" It's true, but I don't want to wait until next year and figured that Pebble could be a nice aperitif that got me used to wearing a watch again.

First impressions? It's fun and the sweet spot seems to be integration with my home automation life. Control the nest? Check. Control the WeMo lights? Check. I really want to get the MyQ garage on their! Reading all the notifications from my phone? That's okay - not great, but okay. It definitely needs better (some proximity). I sit in front of my computer ALL DAY for work, so I don't need my wrist to buzzy every time I get an email. A phone call - wowzers. Google voice rings across my phone, iPad, computer, and other computer. With the power of Apple Continuity all those devices ring a second time. And now my watch buzzes as well.

I'm super excited about getting the new Oral-B Bluetooth toothbrush. In the year 2000' your toothbrush will send you messages on your watch..

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Different Herds

The thing about keeping your best friends from high school your entire life is that you have a lot of the same conversations over years and decades and hone you're talking points. Star Wars? Yes. Harry Potter? No. Lord of the Rings? Book - yes, movies - no. This are no longer discussions with differing opinions, just the refine of a discussion. Apple? Yes. Android? Meh. 
I understand that other groups of people exists who have created a groupthink into a different dynamic, but to enter there midst is like going to the valley of the uncanny. 
I have this new group of friends and they all use SMS on their Android devices. People still use SMS? I know it conceptually, but to see it in the wild is crazy. They fell into a discussion about how amazing the Harry Potter books were and how the movies don't do them justice. I can tell from the rhythm that they've had this talk many times before, but there wrong. To rock this world? I don't know. Culture clash of my refined discussion points versus theirs? Or maybe I can just smile and nod... for now...

Friday, August 15, 2014

If These Index Finger Could Talk

You hate war to win it; you love your enemy to destroy him - Bean (Shadows in Flight)

My nerd podcast (The Incomparable)did a follow up to their video game episode with a computer game episode where they talked about the most meaningful computer games of their life. I wrote previously about my console games and a hole occurred in between the original Nintendo and the Playstation 2. That hole wasn't because I stopped playing games, it was because I played computer games. Here is a fun game to play on this one, see if you can name the game from the screen shot!

My computing started with an Apple IIe. What a beautiful computer it was and what amazing things it could do. I think it came with a stock Apple game that was like Space Invaders where you used the Open Apple and Closed Apple to shoot two different guns at on coming aliens. I can't remember.

The first computer game that capture my imagination was Lode Runner. You played a little man that needed to collect barrels and you could dig left or dig right into the bricks. You could use this to dig down or to try and trap and kill enemies. What truly captivated me about this game was that it came with a builtin level editor. You could build you own levels. I remember spending huge amounts of time trying to build the most difficult level possible that was still beatable and sending my brother against it. How many tried would it take him to beat it? You could build a maximum of 256 custom levels - it seemed like a bizzarely arbitrary number as a kid.

When I was in sixth grade I went on my first ski trip without my parents. As any good child would, I broke my leg. It was an impressive break. A spiral fracture of the tibia and fibia; I was told to keep my leg horizontal, because dangling it vertically would stretch out the fracture and slow the rate of healing. I got home from Tahoe, leg in a cast, with almost any movement causing me excruciating pain, and my parents had bought my brother a new computer game and a JOYSTICK! Wings of Fury was amazing. It was my first WWII game and you were a pilot who had to take of from a aircraft carrier, destroy stuff, protect the carrier for enemy planes with torpedeos, and just be awesome. It was amazing. Because we bought a joystick (something we previously only had on the Atari), I knew this was the future of gaming. The Nintendo's d-pad was nothing in comparion to the glory of this. I spent two weeks out of school at home - and I played A LOT of Wings of Fury. Almost six months later I had a birthday party and one of my friends beat my highscore... by FIVE TIMES! So I engaged in an epic quest to outdo him. I never did. Sad ending to this story.

The first fantasy role playing game I played was Bard's Tale. This is when I learned what it meant to "max out" a character, especially through game flaws. I found a boss battle that I could repeat if I just brought a new disposable character into my party and then just kept doing it over and over again until everyone was 999th level with 9999 hit points. Fantastic, right? So good. I loved the Bard's Tale games and beat most of them. I even got the Bard's Tale Constructor Set - and I tried building a few different scenarios, but never really had friends who wanted to play test that stuff.

So you want to be a hero? This was a pretty darn cool point and click adventure game. One of many in a long line of these games. I played through this game time and time and time again, eventually getting to the point where I had straight 100 in all of my stats with a multi classed fighter/thief/wizard.

Oh man, Myst. In 1993 I was running IBM OS/2 as my operating system. A better DOS than DOS; a better Windows then Windows, and a better OS/2 than the last one. I had 8 MB of RAM, and I think Myst technically took 16 MB, but OS/2 had this magical thing called Virtual Memory. The real game I played was "how do you get Myst to work in OS/2?" Did the game load? Yes! Wait no sound! Search forums, work on INI files, get drivers. SOUND! Wait! Video isn't playing?!? More work! I played very little of the actual game of Myst, but I sure spent a lot of time playing with my OS configurations.

I loved Wing Commander I, II, and III. The whole trilogy. Each iteration of the game was amazing! Even in the very first one, how you performed in each mission affected future missions. Your Wingman could be killed in action which affected the story line. There was a tree graph where each mission could be a victory/failure and affected what the next mission would be. You could beat the last mission and yet lose the game. WHAT?!? Amazing! The sequel improved storyline and game play and then came #3, where the cut-scenes had full video and real actors. Luke Skywalker! Biff Tannen!?! It had 4 CDs and cost $4 million to make. This game had way higher production value than the movie which came later. Space flight war - where are more games like this?

I really loved the movie Dune. I didn't really get it, but I knew it was cool. I think it's still my favorite David Lynch movie. So I bought the game because I knew how cool the movie was, and I loved the game. I seriously loved this game. Who was I to know that it would be the first real-time strategy (RTS) game that would spawn an entire genre of games. All I know is that I loved this one.

I am amazing at X-Wing Versus Tie Fighter. I enjoyed Tie Fighter. I enjoyed Descent. I LOVED X-Wing Versus Tie Fighter and I am amazing at it. I used a cheapo joystick and some amazing keyboard shortcuts. I played the X-Wing (cause) and would set all four lasers on simultaneous fire - swoop in behind my opponent until they were point blank and then fire, Fire, FIRE! BOOM! Once I had locked on you, it was over. Many of my friends would eject to prevent me from getting the kill - JERKS! I miss this game.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Tale of Three Headsets

Different headphones suit different needs. - Marco Arment

I own a lot of headsets and I keep buying more. I'm not looking for optimal audio quality, I'm buying and testing them because I want to find the optimal functional feature set and there doesn't seem to be a one-size fits all headset for me.

  1. I travel on the train and in the car and take a lot of phone calls. I want a headset for my phone that has the best noise-canceling microphone around.
  2. When I work from home I spend all day on phone/video conferences using my computer. I need a headset that works with my computer and is rock solid.
  3. I listen to Podcasts, Audiobooks, and iTunes radio while I'm out and about on the train, at the mall, etc. It's got to be low profile and stereo - when I use the earbuds that came with my iPhone, the cord gets snagged on drawer knobs, door handles, and other randomly annoying things ripping the buds out of my ears.

VXi BlueParrott Xpressway II with Xtreme Noise Suppression - this thing is a fantastic bluetooth headset for my phone and has the most amazing noise-canceling microphone I have ever found. I was walking down the San Francisco street talking with Mrs.Chaos as a huge truck went rolling by. I couldn't hear anything; I couldn't hear her. I kept talking. When it passed I asked how well she could hear me. The answer? "I didn't even know there was a truck going by. You sounded fine." I approve of their trademark for "Xtreme Noise Suppression(TM)."

The Xpressway brags about it's ability to multi-plex between multiple devices and I thought this was going to be something that would work for both my phone and my computer, but in practice it didn't work well with my computer at all. I don't know why I could never seem to get it to consistent connect via bluetooth to the computer and stay connected. It would show "connected" in the Mac menu bar, a call would come in, and then it would disconnect. I found my best bet was to start listening to Pandora on my computer through the headset, make a call, and then pause Pandora and that worked decently, but even then I couldn't always get Pandora to stream through and that doesn't work at all for incoming calls.

Logitech Jabra BH410 USB Headset - So I decided for use on my computer I wanted something rock solid with a wire that ran from the computer to the headset and got this Logitech headset. There's nothing fancy about it; it just works. I don't need noise canceling in my home office. I am still considering getting a fancier wireless headset, but haven't yet. Most of my calls are video conferences, so I can't get up and walk out to the kitchen to get coffee without people noticing and asking where I'm going.

This combo of headsets worked okay for me, but when I would head out in public I felt like the biggest dork wearing my Xpressway. That thing has a gigantic boom mic - which is great for conference calls, but not stylish at all. I went looking for the bluetooth equivalent of Apple earbuds to wear when my primary goal is to listen to Podcasts, Audiobooks, music, etc.

Jarv NMotion - I just got these things are they are just want I wanted. The fit snugly into my ears, there is a little cable that drapes around the back of my neck, and I wear them all the time as my earbud replacements. They are seriously nice. I still have some muscle memory when I'm use my phone to avoid the dangling cable connecting my earbuds, until I remember I don't have a dangly cable anymore.

That's where I am with earbuds these days. I am still hoping eventually their will be some other single wireless option that will work rock-solid with my computer and my phone for phone calls - but until that time I'll settle for two.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Balloon Mania

The odds must be against anybody being able to fly around the world in a balloon on the first attempt. - Richard Branson

This kid is such a "chick magnet" (sorry, I put it in quotes to try and make it less offensive), I wish I were single!

I was out at the mall with mini-Chaos pushing around the stroller when we rolled in by a store that had a bunch of balloons tied to an a-frame out front. He stopped and started reaching up towards them and coo'ing, "ooh... ooh... OOH!!!!!" My only response is to talk back, "Do you like the balloons? They float. That's pretty cool."

One of the nice ladies who works at the store saw/heard the excitement and brought a balloon out for mini-Chaos. Do you know what is better than a balloon tied to an a-frame in front of store? A balloon tied to your stroller! HAPPINESS EXPLOSION. This kid could hardly contain himself and he started stomping, "ooh"ing, and general freaking out at the amazing gravity-deifying magic trick that was now his. I'm not sure balloons, with their gravity defying awesomeness, help the learning process. Somethings fly, but you do not.