Monday, August 8 2011, 10:35 am

Yearning to Learn Computer Programming?

Controlling the flow of electricity inside your computer is a phrase that sounds better than the noun I will blab about today: programming. Sure, you could read a "How-to Program in 30 Minutes!" book or Google search another blog for a lesson or two, but if you want to understand why instead of how programs function then please pay attention.

What programming language should I learn first?

Say what again. I dare you. Wrong question to ask. Understanding concepts and having common sense are far more important than the language. Those two qualities will carry over across multiple languages unless the language itself is poor. Specifically you must understand that your code must be generic and modular. These are not new concepts, but they are easily overlooked or not mentioned any more. Modern texts teach specific language techniques that get you running a basic program quickly, but when you attempt your own program you end up with something that will not compile.

Programming: think, design, analyze

Please be prepared to spend hours on a simple problem. If the first solution you think of involves a globally accessible variable and calling it directly across three functions there is probably another solution that puts the variable in a restricted name space. Never take the easy way out until you are certain it is the only way out. If in doubt speak out! Ask questions among other programmers and see if your idea is worth the bytes used to store it.

Redesign is fine

It is rare for me to accept the code I write the first time as good code. With this in mind, you should be prepared to see the code you write in the future. Don't become too attached to it as you may find out it has serious bugs that may require you to completely rewrite the code. Plan ahead by not only leaving good comments, but clearly defining test blocks. I have seen older code blocks with tests that are not obvious until I study three other source files. It should never take longer than a few minutes to catch up on code you have not seen in a while.

Show me the money

Ready to start programming? Start with globally used, free tools. The C and Python languages have large open source communities with tools that work on Windows, Linux, and OS X. Don't forget to save any code you write into a version control system. Git is a good start. Using git alone is a good test to see if you can make it as a programmer or not.

Thursday, October 28 2010, 12:01 am

Cross-Platform Graphical Library Maddness

An application that provides the user a window with buttons and input boxes is a given in today's graphically driven computer universe. Operating systems of all shapes and sizes provide a programmer the tools and libraries to accomplish their goal of providing such an application. Most of them are pretty boring or are too specialized to be worth taking time to study. The libraries that people should familiarize themselves with are those that can be utilized across operating systems, which include being able to run across multiple types of hardware devices. Two libraries come to mind - GTK+ [has a very interesting history] and Qt (pronounced "cute").

library-maddness

Today, both libraries offer very simple methods of creating a GUI. So, depending on what language your project requires, either one would be able to provide you with a robust and full featured set of options. The current drive to use Qt is entirely commercial driven - by Nokia - who owns Qt. It's the same drive that Sun made with Java. There's no logical reason to use Java. People have just be taught that it [Java] is the best and there is no other language that can do the same job (read: subjective).

I believe the "Qt hate" or "GTK+ hate" stems from the past when Qt didn't offer as many cross-platform routines as Glib (from GTK+) did or vice versa. It has been my observation that people have not spent any time with both libraries and make rash statements about the other library out of ignorance. Most Qt developers view GTK+ as a legacy library that should be abandoned. Don't tell them that there is still active GTK+ development (GTK+ 3.0 is coming soon) driven by a large community, which includes Red Hat.

Need a simple OpenGL widget in your window? There's GtkGLExt, or Clutter for GTK. Starting with Qt 4.0 a similar API for OpenGL handling was implemented.

Need video/audio capability? GTK+ apps can use GStreamer. Qt has phonon.

Need XML or HTML handling? GTK apps can use libxml or GtkWebKit while Qt apps would need to use the Qt APIs.

Nokia is also attempting to drive Qt as a "write once, run anywhere" library. This is great in that it some-what promotes FOSS, but if you wish to use GTK+ you can write once and run anywhere, too. I have done so with a GTK+ app for my $DAYJOB that can compile under Fedora and Windows and does advanced things like TLS encrypted XML packets over a TCP connection and scanning documents (using SANE). Neither library has an advantage.

More recently, Nokia has tried to push the mantra that you can write a Qt app quickly and simply. GTK+ developers can also use Vala to write a GTK+ app quickly and simply. The amount of code to write to accomplish the same goal in each library also ends up being about the same.

I can come up with any more number of examples, but those are ones I have seen used in arguments lately. The person arguing for using Qt has no idea about the matching GTK+ API and vice versa. I think it's great that both Qt and GTK+ offer such a wide range of features that are easy-to-use. You can choose a language (C, C++, Vala, Python, PHP) and write a program that could be used by thousands or millions of people across many different types of devices. Now get out there and start programming.

Thursday, August 5 2010, 05:43 pm

Thirty Ways a Software Grows

The following recount is rather generic in nature so I do not have to worry about stepping on any toes, but it is all true.

yeah

Everyone has a workplace story to tell and I've finally gotten around to writing about my own. I have had a rare opportunity to write and maintain software for a company that has plenty of history. The company I, still, work for has been around almost as long as Microsoft to give you a point of reference.

In The Beginning In traditional fashion of the time, which still holds true today, the company started by buying the rights to a software that someone else wrote. The country of origin: Canada. I do not know much about the company or who were the original authors besides a few names I've seen in copyrights, so unfortunately I do not have any juicy stories to tell about them. They wrote to Minix, which surprisingly still exists today. The data was stored in ISAM databases (Google it), which unfortunately still exists today. The program displayed via a terminal-based text screen with support for input fields and displaying different types of screen layouts, which, also unfortunately, still exists today. The only saving grace was that it was written in the C language.

Abraham Lincoln The company originated in a log cabin, now turned historical landmark. I heard the winters were cold, and the summers were hot. The size of the cabin is about the size of a traditional living room with two whole stories. There was also the shift from Minix to UNIX and DOS operating systems to keep up with growing demand.

Enterprise Split Eventually the software became outdated, in a sense, for the customer base the company wished to sell to. Enterprises wanted a more robust and fully featured software. The solution? Rewrite! The company moved to a different city, but left behind the original software - to live in its own filth.

Dungeon Upkeep Keeping the software maintained to a point people could still use it was the job of a fellow I only met once when I was being interviewed (for an unrelated position!) so I can't tell you any juicy stories about them either. However, I can tell you the software essence remained the same. They continued to use the original UNIX compiler and coding techniques. These techniques include typedefs to normal C keywords and functions. Numerous programs that simply copy & paste code from other programs. Global pointers ruled the entire source code base from top to bottom. Return values were rarely checked. Instead of calling the standard rename or delete functions, system calls were made to the operating system's shell tools. The source control system involved cloning the main source directory per release - some of which I did not find when I took over. Take this scenario for instance: One customer was given a compiled program on Monday but changes would be made to the same program and given to a different customer on Tuesday. Every customer had a unique compiled version of the software. Let that settle in your mind for a moment.

Change of Hands A friend of mine, who has moved on to greener pastures, took over a few years ago. He began a very important and rigorous job of evolving the software into a state that a guy off the street could come in and program to. The code went from 1980s leftovers to 1990s l33tsauce. It was now source controlled in CVS and macros were removed. Some of the copied code were moved into libraries that were compiled against. A small set back to the improvements happened when another programmer was hired and began transforming perfectly good code into obfuscated and over coded code. String pointers were turned into "static const char *const variable;" nightmares. Functions were rewritten to be twice as long and contained bugs that I had to find and fix for about a year.

Modern Tools After I took over we released a major version. This version was the first version where all of the software was released in one update. It was all source controlled, and I implemented a sane update system that insured customers would all be on the same software level. Lately we've moved the code into git and I have been loving every minute of it. The software is slowly emerging from its colorful past.

Over the Rainbow GUI, SQL, Cross-platform. These three words are the embodiment of the future of the company. If I get a chance to finish the project, it should provide the company and its customers with a fresh breath of life.

Saturday, February 6 2010, 10:23 am

Developing Openly on Proprietary Land

My programming adventures continue. Nokia's experiment into Linux with Maemo is very alluring and since I've applied myself into a few Linux projects, I felt it would be worth looking into what Nokia has put together.

The Maemo SDK runs under Scratchbox, a virtual environment created in part by Nokia. The Scratchbox toolkit can run under any Linux distribution, and it requires it. If you wish to run the SDK under Windows, your only option is to use a virtual machine. Once your SDK is running, it is nearly identical to a running Maemo device. In order to use the SDK, basic knowledge of Linux goes a long way, but since Maemo is derived from Debian there are some distribution specific programs. I've been using Red Hat based distributions for years, so it took some time to get used to using dpkg and apt-get to handle packages. After a few months of using my N900, creating and handling packages takes less work under an RPM system, but it's adequate.

Since Maemo is Linux, any Linux application has a chance of life. This makes building new applications or porting existing Linux applications a walk in the park. You can literally compile any Linux program for ARM and run it, however, the necessary screen space and physical size of a N900 can make it difficult to use a large application such as Open Office, which has dozens of menus and toolbars. This is where Maemo ports come in. A finger-friendly UI can be designed and added, even sent to the upstream authors, and makes the app you port usable everyday on your device.

I started with building a brand new application. A stopwatch seemed like an easy first project. I noticed several stopwatch applications already existed, however they were written in Python or were not maintained in a long time. The Maemo Garage is a center for Maemo projects, so I created my own project page and began work. I decided to write in C, the native language of many Linux core libraries, and use GTK for the UI, a cross-platform, and the native toolkit for Maemo 5. During the programming process, I learned the Hildon additions to GTK made by Nokia, and the dbus methods to activate and listen for accelerator changes to allow my applications to turn into portrait mode when the user turns their N900. Here's the first incarnation: Stopish 0.9.0

Other programming projects are endless. I wanted to look at fixing a few usability issues. One was the RSS reader, which used a slider that was too thin for a finger. I submitted a patch to Nokia and it will be included in the next major firmware update. The second was the lack of FLAC tags in the media player. I now enjoy FLAC as my music format of choice, and it's possible to use since the Maemo media player uses gstreamer for media codecs and tracker for tags. In order to add FLAC tags, I had to extend the tracker program to be able to read them. Someone had already created such a plugin for vorbis, and so using it as a template, I made one for FLAC.

There are two Maemo repositories for projects, Maemo Devel and Maemo Extras. Finalized applications live in Maemo Extras, while developers can play with new applications in Maemo Devel Adding my projects to Maemo's repositories was a breeze. Just create a Maemo account and request upload access. I can use scp (SSH CoPy) to send my source code to the Maemo build server and it will package my projects and makes them available on the Maemo Devel repository. From this repository a developer can choose to promote it to Maemo Extras. During this promotion, other Maemo users vote on the application and if enough positive votes are made the project is automatically pushed into Maemo Extras.

Although most of Maemo is open source and source provided through gitorious, there's still a lot left closed - such as the phone, contact, and media player. Nokia's plans include more open source goodness in Maemo 6. The future of Maemo definitely looks bright even if they are forcing Qt down everyone's collective throats.

Saturday, December 12 2009, 08:28 pm

Maemo, Smaemo they Say

The world welcomes another Linux phone. This time around we have something a little more mature and more appealing to the eye. Behold, the Nokia N900:

As with all my blog posts, I won't bore you with details. Google is your friend. After handling the N900 for a week, I begin my review:

Hardware
  • Feel
    Plastic encased all around, the feel of the phone doesn't feel like plastic. It's a refreshing, solid, stout feel. When I first picked it up it felt heavy, but now I hardly notice the weight. The slider is solid and does not wiggle. It slides in and out of place securely. The keyboard keys are just the right size and it feels great to type on it, but if you don't want to slide out for it, an on-screen keyboard is available.
  • Screen
    While the technology of the screen is not new, I cannot find a problem with it. The 800x480 resolution alone will leave other "phones" in the dust. Most folks now-a-days want the latest and greatest technology and will spit on the N900 for using a resistive screen. I've used touchscreens for a long time starting with Palm Pilots to a Nokia 5800, iPhone, and Google G1 phone. This covers both resistive and capacitive technologies over the past 10 years. The N900 screen is extremely responsive and I cannot tell a difference between it and a G1. I've read other reviews saying the N900 is terrible, but I believe there's some fanboyism hidden under their text. In fact, I wrote brainstorm ideas for this blog post on my N900 with the included stylus. As I was writing I noticed it picked up every tiny detail of my strokes just as if I was using a real pen. Judge for yourself. I used Xournal (Maemo Extras repo) to generate it and Bluetooth'd it to my PC with two clicks of the screen.
  •  CPU/RAM
    The included Cortex A8 is in fact the same as the iPhone and is plenty fast. I have yet to benchmark it, but I have yet to find anything that stresses it too much. The phone remains responsive at all times no matter what you are running. Even when someone calls you.
    RAM isn't too much of an issue as it includes 256 megs of hardware RAM and partitions 768 megs of swap memory on the embedded flash drive.
  • Battery
    Lifetimes of the battery depend on what you do. No news there. Comparing to my N95, I get about the same battery life. One day if I am making calls, surfing the web, and using apps, or two days if I limit my usage to a phone call or two. The included micro USB port and cable allow you to charge anywhere there is a USB port and extra batteries are dirt cheap on Newegg. Battery life isn't too much of a concern to me for how much I get in return out of the device.
Software
  • Linux
    Nokia has made Maemo their Linux distribution and left most of it open source. Maemo 5, included with the N900, provides kernel 2.6.28. However, Nokia felt that IPv6 support was "bad" and left it out of the provided kernel. There's a bug report for it on Maemo.org. It was included for the WiMax N810 tablet, but now it is removed. Quite a head scratcher, especially since Nokia's Symbian OS has provided IPv6 for a long time.
    All of that aside, if enjoy what Linux has to offer and want that same freedom on your phone that is supported by a major corporation, this is your dream come true. Nokia has stuck with a standard Linux environment instead of building their own, and if you are already familiar to Maemo this isn't news to you.
  • Multi-tasking
    Switching between apps is a breeze and is as simple as if you were using a PC. The included compositing manager allows fancy transition graphics and live resizing of windows so when you view all open windows, you can see what is going on without having to bring them up fullscreen. This technology has been present with Compiz (and now finally Windows 7) so nothing too new, but it is great to have it on a device that fits in one hand.
  • Application Compatibility
    Any Linux app will run on the N900. People have Quake 3 or Duke Nukem 3D running on it. Granted, the screen resolution isn't the same as a PC, so some apps are not usable on a small screen. In that case forks of the UI's for some apps are rewritten and made useable. A big example is Firefox. Mozilla's Fennec is Firefox with a UI for mobile devices. It is a full-fledged copy of Firefox and will render every web page exactly the same as if you were on a PC. All other phones include browsers that render differently and do not provide support any where close to Fennec. In fact, I have installed Adblock Plus on my N900. It works identical to my PC. No ads! This is the first device to provides this sort of environment. Not the iPhone, not the Pre, not even the Android phones can hold a candle to it.
    I have even started my own app for Maemo and did it in just a few hours. Check it out on the Maemo Garage where all Maemo apps are hosted.
    Nokia is even providing an Ovi Store for Maemo apps so businesses who wish to sell apps can do so. All of this is centralized through the app manager and relies on Debian-derived repositories for searching and installing apps. It's brain dead simple and keeps your phone clean for easy installing and uninstalling. You don't have to google search for apps.
  • Phone
    Contact support is brilliant. It merges traditional phone contacts with IM contacts and uses the open source libraries of telepathy to do so. I have my friends with not only their phone numbers, but AIM, MSN, Skype, and Jabber accounts all on one contact. This bleeds over into a conversation app that keeps SMS and IM conversations together. It's dead simple and brilliantly put together. The phone can take contacts off of Ovi or S60 phones so I was able to easily sync with my old N95 and get all my contacts and all their details (address, birthdays, etc).
    It's not perfect though. You can't assign a ring tone per person or use provider numbers to check minutes or data information (bugs in maemo.org for them).
    In all my phone conversations, I didn't have a problem with the speaker or mic. Everyone was able to hear me clearly. It does support speaker phone. The really cool thing is that it supports face detection - the phone will blank the screen when it is next to your face (saving some battery). Other high-end, phone-only devices support this same feature so it is nice to see it available here, too.
Future
  • GTK/QT
    Maemo was originally designed for the GTK graphical interface toolkit. Nokia spent many man hours developing special add-ons to GTK for better tablet support, called Hildon. This past year, Nokia purchased Trolltech, makers of the QT graphical interface toolkit. Starting with Maemo 6, QT will take GTK's place. It was purely a high-level business decision as Nokia, with all businesses, are looking to make a profit. Nokia wants to keep Symbian and they have already invested time in bringing QT support to Symbian. With the Trolltech purchase, Nokia hopes to build a cross-platform design with QT so that all their devices they sell can run the same apps. This helps the small amount of businesses still investing in Symbian... because most of them have left to work on iPhone fart apps or work for Google now. All in all, I don't see this move as a bright business decision. I hope GTK still remains prominent in Maemo as it is the toolkit of choice for my programming both at work and at home.
  • Community
    It's a widely known fact that the Maemo distribution is gaining presence. Several Nokia employees have stated that the maemo.org site has seen huge increases in traffic with the release of the N900. Their garage and other sites have sometimes been susceptible to the heavy loads and become unresponsive. Nokia has stated they do plan on moving to better servers and better hosting ASAP.
If you've skipped to the bottom, screw you. My choice to buy this phone was a good one. I see it being a long time device in my collection, that is, until a faster one comes out. ;) There's so much more to write about the N900, but I want to get back to my life now.

Monday, October 19 2009, 05:38 am

How-To: Earn Your Carbon Credits

The past few years have showed us a boom in the fad of "going green" with everything from automobiles to your home. Some people have taken advantage of the situation and claimed the need to put a price on the amount of carbon emissions each individual puts in the air. Everyone should be given a quota and if you go over that quota you need to buy "carbon credits" otherwise you face "penalties." I'm glad we haven't reached la-la land just yet, but there are simple ways to go green without going overboard.

I run a server at home for routing, web, email, files, and almost any little idea I think of. Now that I've told you I will have to kill you as ISPs frown on this freedom of expression. Anyway, this server has been comprised of spare parts and/or whatever I could buy for $20. Now that I have a decent job, I decided I wanted a computer I could call a server and stand by it. It also had to draw less electricity and put out less heat and noise. Let's compare my setups:

Junker
  • 1.4ghz "Tualatin" Pentium III-S
  • 512mb PC-133 RAM (i815 chipset limitation)
  • ASUS TUSL2 motherboard
  • 320gb Seagate 7200.10
  • Intel 100 mbit and 1000 mbit PCI cards
  • $50 case with 350watt PSU (all-in-one)

Upgrade
  • 1.86ghz "Lynnfield" Xeon L3426
  • 4gb DDR3 1333 ECC RAM
  • Supermicro X8SIL-F motherboard
  • 2x1TB Seagate 7200.12 (RAID 1)
  • Dual on-board Intel 1gb NICs
  • Antec MicroATX case + SeaSonic 500watt 80 Plus Bronze PSU

The junker runs at a nice loud, slow pace. PHP and any disk intensive request was a several second ordeal. Most of that is due to the limited amount of RAM. I hooked up the Kill-a-watt power meter to the junker to see how much electricity I'm wasting. 62 watts - at idle. The computer is lifeless and it's eating enough energy to power an old school light bulb. Think of all the nuclear power I'm wasting; I can't sleep at night.

Putting the new server together was the fastest assembly for me yet. Most things are now on-board and the only power connections were for the motherboard and hard drives. Hitting the power switch brought forth... silence. Ah... What's this? A BIOS prompt. After installing Fedora 11 x86_64 using my USB drive (no CDs or floppies were hurt in this process, something other OSes can't say), I ran the power meter on it. A whole... 40 watts at idle. With more than 10 times the computing power (and 1 vs 4 cores) and an additional hard drive, the new system was eating 22 (woot math) less watts! Just to put this in an even more interesting twist, my one year old desktop computer pulls a hefty 96 watts out of the Earth. It has a 9800 GTX+ helping it get that high though.

What's the meaning of all this? Well, I should get some nice medal from Al Gore for saving the planet, right? Heck, I'd take just a letter. Now get out there and green up your computing environment. Doctor's orders.

Saturday, February 28 2009, 07:45 pm

Chug, chug, chug, chug...

How on earth does the world use Vista? Yes, Microsoft Windows Vista. Backstory: I received a new laptop two days ago. An ASUS N80Vn-X5. It came with Vista Home Premium 64-bit. This is my first copy of Vista as I run Linux on all my machines. I did have a copy of XP but I stopped using that a few years ago. Why did I stop using XP? Because I wanted something more out of my computer. XP is fine and all, but I can accomplish more with Linux - not just because it is free.

Unpacking:
I unpack it from its box and I plug in the AC adapter and boot the thing. Vista starts to load - and load - and load. 10 minutes later I get to the desktop. Why on earth did it take that long to get to my desktop? Wait a minute... the hard drive is still chugging. Why?

Configuring:
The first thing I do is kill the hideous sidebar that takes an extra 5 minutes to load on startup. Gone. The second thing I do is disable automatic updates. Now, I realize some readers will think better of themselves and call me an idiot, but I rarely use Windows and I know how to update it so I'm quite OK running updates when I should instead of having Windows do it for me.

Updating:
It came with SP1 so I figured it should be pretty harmless. Where to update this thing? Hm, I don't see anything. Ah, I'll just use IE's "Windows Update" link. Oh what's this? There's an update to Windows Update. Oh! It requires a reboot. *Reboot* Ah, that was a nice 10 minute reboot. Windows update has about 30 updates for me. Fine. Downloading/updating takes about 15 minutes thanks to the attrociously large 100 meg .NET update. I'm on 20 megabit Internet mind you. Rebooting again. Seems that I'm up to date now, or am I?

Playing:
The only thing loaded on this thing is about 5 ASUS utilities for the fingerprint reader, webcam, and some software that looks like it encrypts files. Grand total of hard disk space in use? 20 gigabytes. That alone is enough for me to be offended permenently because what does that 20 gigabytes net me? A video player, picture viewer, a web browser, and a movie maker. The features don't match the disk space requirements. It's also using 1 gig of RAM with no programs running. Yes, I uninstalled the Office 2007 trial.

Why would I be offended? Example: My default Fedora install cost me 4.5gigs. What did I get besides the stuff already in Vista? Full office suite, photo manipulation, SELinux, bittorent, GPS mapping, SIP phone, Pidgin, GCC, and a few other of my programming utilities, not to mention Wine, which will allow me to run Windows apps.

Time to reboot just to see that reboot time again. *clicks Restart* "Configuring updates stage 2 of 3..." What's this? WHAT'S THIS? I have updates turned *OFF* and Windows is installing updates. Stealth updates - w00t. The little trust I had with Microsoft is completely gone at this point.

I let it reboot and go back into Vista just to find that after I log in the hard drive is chugging - and chugging - and chugging. 10 minutes later it finally quiets down and I decide to reboot to get into Fedora. *Clicks Restart* "Configuring updates stage 2 of 3..." Yeah. I'm done with Microsoft.

Saturday, October 11 2008, 04:42 am

New Family Member, Rawr


Long story short, I have a new cat.

Sup, Chloe.

Tuesday, March 25 2008, 09:10 pm

What is the definition of a "smartphone?"

2007Computex_e21Forum-MartinCooperAfter discussing the reasons to ignore advertising and think on your own on computer software, it's time to cover the same issues with cell phones. What's the cell phone in your hand as of 2008? Can it take 5 megapixel pictures? Does it sport a GPS receiver? How about support for running applications written completely free and open? Have you heard the term "accelerometer?" If you've said no to any one of those questions, please, please continue reading. Most people consider a cell phone that can send and receive calls to be all they need, but they could never be more wrong. Cell phones are the devices that Amercians have yet to discover their full potential, as the rest of the world (Europe, Asia, etc.) have exploded with.

The root of the problem lies in the cell phone providers in the US. Verizon, at&t, T-Mobile, and others, only provide lackluster phones that are cheap, pack little punch, and wear out easily. The cell providers also like to maintain full control over the entire phone, down to the operating system of the phone. Marketing and other business managers of these providers wish to maintain the idea that Amercians are stupid. To a point, everyone could agree with that, but this idea has been around ever since cell phones were introduced in the 90s and has not changed at all. It's time for a change.

iphoneThe iPhone? No. Never mention that terrible name. It's not a smartphone. The iPhone is a marketing major's wet dream. It contains no innovative features outside of the touch screen, which isn't very effective to begin with. When the iPhone came out, the idea of a "computer-like" operating system was the first time such a product was advertised to Americans, however devices like the iPhone had already been in existence for several years. Why didn't you hear about them before? The answer is easy. The cell carriers could only market their low-brow budget phones to "everyday" (a.k.a. dumb) Amercians to gain huge profits, but now they could team up with Apple to market and advertise a device that can only make calls and costs an extremely high amount of money. Never mind the fact that there are dozens of better phones, where the iPhone is laughed at in countries in Asia and Europe.

This begs the question: Why would you ever need something more than a plain-jane phone? Do you ever find yourself lost in the city or on vacation? Need to take pictures but have two devices to lug around? What about those times you are waiting in the airport bored to tears? You could have a GPS to show your exact location and locate nearby places of interest. A camera that would take pictures big enough to print out professionally. Complete music collections at your finger tips, with stereo wireless headphones or 3D games such as Quake. You could also get in touch instantly with a full web browser, e-mail or instant messaging. If you still don't believe you need anything more than a phone, then you need to borrow a device that could do all of this to see for yourself. A Nokia N-Series "multimedia computer" is a start if you want a commercial product. Take a look at the OpenMoko project for a Linux-driven equivalent.

I personally own the Nokia N95-1 "multimedia computer" (Nokia's marketing at work). The phone does everything I mentioned so far, and is expanding every few months with new updates and new applications. Sure, the phone costs a pretty penny, but I haven't spent a dime on updates or legal applications. I've owned it for a year now and I do not regret spending so much money for it one bit. The ability for me to remain mobile, and retain all the abilities of a desktop computer are entirely worth it. I urge you to look for a phone that will do more than take and make phone calls. You'll find yourself being more productive and doing things you wouldn't think possible.

This post will end here, before I bore you half to death again. However, I left off many important points of discussion that I highly suggest you, the reader, follow up on your own. Mobile operating systems, application development, and the hardware inside the devices.

Wednesday, March 19 2008, 09:03 pm

Linux... and You!

Linux-penguinThe world is never the same place for more than 10 seconds. Why should those boundaries stop at computer software? Ask yourself this when you wonder why people would use an operating system other than Microsoft's Windows, Apple's OS X, Sun's Solaris, SCO's OpenServer, etc. The general public has been stuck with newspaper clippings and TV reports about the computing world. This left them with the assumption that computing started and stopped with the Windows logo, the Apple logo, etc. As long as the computer functioned enough to let them work, they were satisfied; however, notice my diction. Now that broadband has reached almost every home, consumers are branching out and learning that computers are more than just tools for word processing. The boundaries they were accustomed to were artificially set in place by classical marketing techniques of those with power of commercial software enterprises, and are now broken down with the fluidity of information pouring in from websites across the Internet. If none of my previous sentence made any sense to you, I feel you are still trapped in a box from a retail store. I suggest you get a box cutter and metaphorically cut yourself out of it. Use a free operating system!

Yes, I realize there are dozens of statements similar to my own, however, I wish to differ in their points with reaching out at the facts of life, rather than strictly matters of opinion. The rest of this post is targeted at baseline consumers and the IT infrastructure of corporations everywhere (not for employees). The freedom that is brought with open, free software is always underestimated. People cannot imagine a life without Windows. From my own experiences growing up, I was instinctively stuck in a Windows rut from DOS 6.2, Win 3.1, Win 95, 98, ME, 2000, and XP. AOL, to the Internet. I used Internet Explorer religously until 6.0 and always had PC games instead of consoles. I have seen these same thoughts residing in my friends, family, and co-workers. Corporate software companies have a perfect grasp around the necks of countless consumers. The old saying "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" rings true here, but I have an answer to that question. As most people recognize in my character, I have a knack for being curious, and the corporate software world couldn't fill my curiosity as American politics can't fill Amercian needs. This lack of innovation, along with money, are just two reasons of many, but they are the most important of them all and the only ones worth mentioning without boring you half to death. You're already halfway by now, so I don't want to kill you before you got to the end.

The world changes every 10 seconds and so should you, unless you like sitting on the couch all day, but then you wouldn't be reading this so I have you covered. Corporate software is based on the requirement of meeting requests that have the highest bid. Cash is everything, and this is the number one reason why you should look else where. Abandoning the software you have used forever (and emptied your wallet on) is the first step of cutting yourself out of those boundaries. If you are stuck on the fact that you need Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, or Crysis, you need to seek professional help. There is no sarcasm here. The future computing world is about freedom and choice, not boxes with price tags. This is not a matter of opinion, as what I speak of has been happening for the past decade. The movement of free software has been small and quiet, but it has not faltered or missed one step.

To make that second step and completely exit the box, you have to change the core of your computer software as well - the operating system. I will not, in this post, recommend that everyone go out and download a Linux distribution and blow up their hard drives and install it; it's silly, and no one should ever mention it. In hind sight, I will dictate that consumers read about the options that Linux, and other open operating systems bring to the table. A fine example of this learning process can be seen in my friends and family whom I've shown Linux too. They initially were weirded out, but that's completely normal. After they used it, they found the same simple operating processes worked the way they knew them, and adapted to oddities as they used the system. What I've shown them is only about 5% of the Linux world. The other 95% is another made up Internet percentage, which is largely unexplored even by myself. It would also take a few hundred blog posts to explain more than I've spilled out here, and I may continue in the future, but that would require you, the consumer, to start cutting out of that box first.

vistalinux

Before I hear some thirteen year old pizza-face tell me that Windows is "easy" and "lolz better," or from a fourty-year-old IT guy whose job it is to clean mouse lint, I wish to remind them that they failed the reading comprehension test of this post and they should be beaten with a stick. The same learning principles apply to Windows as does any computing software. If you picked up a native from deep in the Amazon jungle and threw Windows Vista at them, would you dare refute the fact that it wouldn't be that easy for that individual? If you would, you only support my second opinion - I hate people.