Friday, April 19, 2013

Contra Costa Community Colleges need some Class

My daughter is attending a four year university. She would like to take a class at our local community college over the summer to reduce the load on her next semester. She wants to take Calculus 2. Maybe “wants” is too strong a word. However she is trying to take it.

However, the community college system here seems to be populated by people who need to take some classes on how to operate a school. They will not allow you to sign up for Calculus 2 unless you have completed Calculus 1 at another school or – and get this – are currently in Calculus 1 at their school. So – if you want to come home and take it over the summer and are in the prerequisite now, you need not bother to apply. They won’t take you. You have to have finished the earlier class. A letter from your teacher showing that you currently have a high score and are about to complete the class within the month – not good enough. Instead, you have to wait until the class is full. Which is the same thing as saying you have to wait until you can supply a transcript. That happens at about the time the summer class starts – at which time it will be full anyway. Why the students currently at the community college get a pass and can sign up for the next class without the level of proof that university students must provide is a mystery for the ages. It just doesn’t add up. It is an irrational number.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Stardock ModernMix fixes Windows 8

If you’ve used Windows 8 on a standard non-touch desktop or notebook (especially with a large monitor) you’ve probably come to the same conclusion I have: Whoever made the decision that this “Modern UI” (Metro) should require apps to be full screen on a non-tablet device is a complete moron. I actually had to connect a second monitor to my home system just so that I could perform a very normal use case – watching a web cast while playing Microsoft Free Cell. Yes, it is true. You can’t do that with just one monitor because Free Cell is Metro and the 80 – 20 Metro snap doesn’t fit well with either app having the 80%.

At work, it is worse. I have a 27” 2560 x 1440 monitor. I don’t want anything to ever be full screen.

Well, Stardock to the rescue. They have a new product in beta called ModernMix that does exactly what Microsoft should have done. It allows you to run Metro apps in a Window on the desktop. Beautiful! I installed the beta today and it is working great so far. I’ll absolutely buy it when it ships.

Stardock-Fix

Way to go Stardock. Taking a simple concept that Microsoft completely missed and making it work.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Why Does Hollywood Hate Their Customers?

Just before Christmas I was looking for some stocking stuffers and I came across a movie my wife and I had missed when it was in theaters: the remake of Total Recall. I went ahead and picked it up and placed it in her Christmas stocking. We planned to watch it on the 26th, after attending Jack Reacher in the theater and getting some dinner.

Box-400

We had a lot of trouble simply watching Total Recall. I’ll detail it below. First though let me cover a couple of things:

  • We’ve never pirated movies. We actually like big budget Hollywood movies and think the people working on the films should be compensated and that folks should not be violating copyright.
  • The current copyright term lengths are absolutely ridiculous and get more ludicrous every time that Steamboat Willie gets close to going public domain. Copyright is definitely no longer what it was intended to be and is now a tax on society instead of a boon.

OK, that said, on to why Hollywood seems to hate us.

We open the box so we can watch the movie. Inside are two disks. This box is supposed to contain both the “Director’s Cut” and the “Theatrical Version”. At first glance, we can’t figure out which disk to put in.

BothDisks-600

One says just “Original Film” and “Unrated”. The other says all of this: “Original Film”, “Theatrical Version”, “PG-13”, “Extended Director’s Cut”, and “Unrated”. I make what I thought was a solid guess and go for the second one with all the words on it since neither disk says anything like “bonus content” or “behind the scenes” or “gag reel”. I put it in and it defaults to “Theatrical Version”. There doesn’t appear to be a way to change the little “dot” that tells you which one is selected. The “Director’s Cut” seems to be a different color, and although we can change the color back and forth, the “dot” won’t move. We give up and try the other disk. Nope, bogus bonus content that nobody wants.

Back to the original disk. I change the color again with the right arrow and press enter. Only THEN does the dot move over to show the selection changed. That’s right: it moves when you actually tell it to play – and of course only shows for a half second. It is very hard to tell which version you have selected.

We thought we were home free. We were enjoying the movie up until it got to 1:45:03. At that point the picture froze for about 5 seconds and the Blu-Ray player rebooted. What the heck? How can a disk be so defective right out of the box that it reboots the damn player? So, we fire it up again and get as close as we can to 1:45:03 by using the scene select. We start it up and sure enough, the player reboots at the same place. Boy these devices with an operating system and DRM are crazy. I never had this happen with old DVDs. If you got a problem one, you fast forwarded through any bad spots. But this one reboots reliably right at this same point. By the way, we had one outstanding software update on the player so we ran that and got up to date. Same problem. We ended up having to go past the area with scene select that back up until 1:46:00 so we could watch the rest of the movie.

All in all, between getting the right disk in there, getting the Director’s Cut selected properly, having the player reboot multiple times and having to get everything back to the right place we wasted about 30 minutes just trying to watch the damn movie.

Wait, what? Yes, 30 minutes wasted due to just stupid stuff like:

  • Improperly labeled disks
  • Poor implementation of DVD Menu
  • Section on the disk capable of rebooting Blu-Ray players (probably something with the DRM scheme; who knows)

Now – how about the pirated version? From what I hear, you just search for it, download it and play it. No stupid unskippable region calling me a pirate and trying to claim that copyright violation is equivalent to theft (per the law, it isn’t). No preview trailers that I have to fast forward, no reboots, no problems.

Why does Hollywood insist on delivering a product that is inferior to that delivered by the folks pirating Hollywood videos? My only conclusion is that they hate their customers.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My “Three Screen” problem

I admit it: I have a first world problem. If you are reading this, you probably have some too. My first world problem is one of “too many screens”. I’ve got a notebook computer, a Nexus 7 (7 inch Android tablet), and an absolutely awful phone – a Motorola Droid 3 stuck forever running Android 2.3 even though 4.0 came out only 3 months after the release of this extremely lousy phone. In fact, Motorola wants to offer me a $100 rebate to buy one of their current phones since they screwed up so badly on the Droid 3 and their lack of commitment to updates. My three screen problem comes into play when I want to sit on the couch. Yes, the couch.

You see, I may have mentioned that I have three screens. And I need all of them there with me. I don’t want to have them all there. I’d prefer to have just the Nexus 7. But what if my phone rings? What if I want to edit my Google Docs Spreadsheet? I almost always end up carrying all three of these devices around the house because they just can’t seem to pickup each other’s tasks. For instance the phone. Why in the heck can’t I leave it on the charger and have it send the calls over to my Nexus 7? They are both Android and they are both on the same WiFi network. I mean I do Google+ hangouts (video calls) on the tablet all the time so I know it has acceptable hardware to handle a voice call. Get with it Google – set this up so that calls can show up on the most convenient device.

Next, I come in from running and showering and sit down. I browse the web a bit on the tablet and then want to enter my stats into my Google Docs Spreadsheet. Can I do that on the tablet? Well, sort of. It will come up. But it has an “Edit” button on each row that you have to hit to edit that row and then a submit button you have to click to save the row. It is a major pain to edit this way, so I grab the notebook and do it. Honestly Google – fix this. You’ve been saying you would for months. Please ship the update that allows normal editing on a tablet.

Three screens. This sucks. Google, you can fix this for me so that I only need to keep one of these with me when I am in the house. Please, please do so.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Apparently it’s bloat week for Verizon and Motorola

So, not only did Verizon and Motorola completely ignore this (and the multitude of other people telling them similar things), they seem to have decided that this is the week to piss off people by sending them an extra copy of the bloat. That’s right, not only the copy that we can’t delete from our own phones, but an “update” so that now there will be two copies taking up room on the phone. Here’s what greeted me this morning:

Droid_Bloat_Updates

Yes, “My Verizon”, “NFL Mobile”, “V CAST Tones” (do they really believe people still think they have to pay for ringtones?), “VZ Navigator”, “Blockbuster”, “GoToMeeting”, “Slacker Radio”, and “Verizon Video”. None of these have ever been started even once on my phone. In fact, I use Launcher Plus and have the icons for these hidden so that I can’t launch them by fat-fingering.

I want this absolute rubbish off of my phone. I don’t want updates to it.

Once CyanogenMod 9 gets everything working for the Droid 3, that will be going on my phone for sure. This foistware is just ridiculous.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Have you “bought” into the e-Book model?

Do you buy e-Books on say an Amazon Kindle or a Barnes and Noble Nook or other e-reader?

If you answered “yes”, you are wrong – and you’ve likely been fooled. You’ve actually only “Licensed” the book. Here’s what Amazon has to say about it from here:

Upon your download of Digital Content and payment of any applicable fees (including applicable taxes), the Content Provider grants you a non-exclusive right to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Kindle or a Reading Application or as otherwise permitted as part of the Service, solely on the number of Kindles or Other Devices specified in the Kindle Store, and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.

They go on to say:

…you may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense, or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party…

As you can see it is a license. Are you beginning to see that you didn’t actually buy any books from these stores? Of course, it might look like you bought them.

Buy

It does clearly say “Buy” on that button. Confusing, right? In fact, at some later time, a court may need to decide whether this is deceptive or not. After all, there are plenty of more descriptive words that could be used here such as “License” or perhaps even “Rent” or “Lease” instead of “Buy”.

I had personally stayed well clear of the e-Book market for some time due to my concerns over permanence and use rights. However, I recently had a birthday (darn it) and received a Kindle Fire. It’s a very nice device I must say. I did go ahead and license a couple of books and also download a couple of free (out of copyright) books as well. Now, normally I keep my books on a bookshelf. Well, to be fair – several bookshelves. In fact, they are all over the house. I keep most of them and read them over and over. I have several that I acquired from library sales when I was a kid – some of these are 50 years old and still in decent condition. Because I bought (or was given) all these paper books, I have first sale rights to them. The doctrine of first sale basically holds that once a copyright owner has sold you a copy they have no further interest in that copy and cannot restrict the trade of it. So I can bequeath them to my kids, sell them at a used book store, ship some via the postal service to a friend in another state as a gift, donate them to a charity, etc. Pretty much all of the things a license prevents me from doing. With the paper books I buy today I may read them, then hand them to my wife, daughter, or son to read. They end up back on the bookshelf afterwards. With a license, I cannot let them read it. They have their own Kindle with their own account and transfers aren’t allowed.

In fact, that bookshelf is a good analogy for what Amazon calls their cloud storage. A place to keep the book where you can go get it again when you want to read it later. However, with the paper books I can buy a new bookshelf and the books can move to it. I can buy a new house and the books come with me (damn they are heavy!). With the license model though I can’t take my books to a new bookshelf. Let’s say that in a couple of years it is time for a new device. Perhaps the battery no longer holds much charge or there is a much better shiny new one available now. What if it happens to be a Barnes and Noble device? Or a Google one? My books don’t go to the new bookshelf (the new cloud). In fact, as we’ve established, they aren’t my books. They are just licensed. So, I now can’t really access them anymore. At least not from my nice shiny new device. Oh, sure there is a reader for the computer and one for a phone but that just isn’t the same thing.

So, if I can’t gift them, loan them, take them with me (to a new cloud), or sell my rights to them they must be licensed at a much lower price than what the paper books which do come with those rights are sold, right? Wrong! Many or most are the same price. Here’s a sample:

Kindle_vs_Paper_Price

Wow, they are the same price! Now, the convenience of being able to have them on your Kindle and not have to carry around the (heavy) paper books is worth something. But, the fact that there is no printing, binding, shipping, inventory management, destroyed copy accounting (where stores get credit for unsold copies by tearing the covers off and throwing the book in trash), etc. seems like it is much more of a convenience for the publishers and purveyors of these digital works than it is for the consumer. I know most reasonable people I’ve talked to are quite sure that e-Books should be less expensive than paper books. The only real question is by how much.

How should this market look?

First, we should indeed be buying a copy and not licensing it. That would immediately open up the protections of the first sale doctrine. Next, we should have the ability to transfer these e-Books just like ordinary paper books. I can even see companies like Amazon and Barnes and Noble getting recompense for the transfer since they would have to facilitate it and develop and maintain the software to enable it. It should not be a percentage of the book price; it should be a fixed fee – something on the order of 25 cents – to transfer the book to another. So, if I wanted to gift a book I’d read to a friend it would cost me a small amount just like it would if I had to send a paper book through the postal service. There should be a used book store on these services where I can sell my book back for some small amount and then others could buy it from there. If I decide to leave one cloud service and go to another, all that content should be removed from the first cloud and moved to the new one with no loss of “my books”.

Of course, the publishers don’t want this. They, like the movie industry, seem to prefer that we purchase the same content over and over. Want my daughter to read it? Buy another license. Done with it and want to send it to a friend? Another license. Not cool. And – the bottom line – it has to be reducing the market for e-Books. I was chatting with a coworker about this the other day and we came to the conclusion that we two could not be the only ones who would buy far more e-Books if we were sure we could keep them between cloud providers, transfer them to others, etc. Far more.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Call to action for Verizon and Motorola

After about a month using the Droid 3 from Motorola / Verizon and comparing it to my prior Droid 1 (which was a Google Experience Device or GED), I’ve got some friendly advice for both Motorola and Verizon. First, here’s a look at the Verizon pre-installed bloatware:

Notice that most of it cannot be uninstalled, and some of it is actually running all the time.

OK, on to the advice:

 

Verizon

Don’t install bloatware, junkware, trialware, etc. on our phones. For example this ridiculous “City ID” that pops up when you try to make a call asking if you want to pay for their silly service. It popped up on me while making a call in bright light out of doors. I think I answered it with the correct button for “Go Away”, but I could not really read it since phone displays are generally hard to read outside in bright light conditions. I just wanted to make a call. I don’t want to be interrupted by stupid trial ware. Honestly, if we wanted these applications we know how to use the Android Market or the Amazon AppStore for Android to go get them. Since you have chosen to make them un-removable, we can’t get the junk off of our phones. And, if there is an update to one of them in the market, the space for the pre-installed one is still used up since it cannot be overwritten. Here’s a couple of hints:

  • If you really think these applications are so great, put them in the Android Market and sell them or offer them to people who don’t have Verizon phones. If people really wanted them, you’d make money on them.
  • If you insist on installing them, they need to be un-installable. Can you imagine what would happen if say Dell or HP or Lenovo installed some crap that we could not remove?
  • Don’t try to trick people into using VZ Navigator at $9.99 a month when the free Google service meets almost everyone’s needs. Yes, you have a few features they don’t. But, for most people, nothing worth paying for.
  • People know they can create their own ringtones on their computer or using something like Ring Droid from the market. Don’t try to confuse them into buying them from you.

Do you think I want these applications cluttering my app drawer, using my memory, and sometimes running and using my limited RAM?

Not even a little bit.

 

Motorola

(This first part about Android skins could apply to HTC with their Sense and Samsung with their TouchWiz as well). So, you don’t believe your hardware is enough of a differentiator. You believe you need to differentiate yourselves with a software “Skin” (MotoBlur or just Blur). Well, here’s some news on that: For technical phone users it just pisses us off and for non-technical folks they don’t even notice the difference. Like with some of these Verizon apps above – if you think Blur is a great differentiator, offer it in the Android Market for other devices and make a few bucks on it. If it is really that wonderful, some people running Nexus devices will buy it. Maybe a couple running HTC and Samsung devices might too. There would be your differentiator right there. The only problem? Oh, yeah – we hate Blur.

Looking at Blur, what does it bring to the table on the Droid 3?

  • Lots of bugs. Here’s just a couple of samples:
    • Won’t show pictures of contacts when dialing using Google Voice
    • AirPlane mode causes random reboots and if you have WiFi and BlueTooth off you can’t even exit AirPlane mode without rebooting
    • Camera app that doesn’t allow the user to set white balance for outdoors, fluorescent lights, incandescent lights, etc. and causes most indoor pictures to have a terrible blue tint.
    • SMS timestamps, even on restore from backup, are the time received and not the time sent
    • Home screen redraw lags (caused by Blur high memory usage and device low RAM)
    • Undocking from the media dock causes automatic brightness to be turned off
  • Nice widgets for favorite contacts and calendar
  • Slow performance

I don’t think anyone minds Motorola spending time developing Blur. However, you should separate this from the hardware device and either:

  • Pre-install it, but allow removal
  • Don’t install it at all, but put it in the Android Market. Possibly free for Motorola devices and with a charge for other devices?

Oh, and you should take the few widgets that people do like and make them into real widgets that can be used by all launchers. Sell them in the market if you want.

Both Verizon and Motorola

It is pretty clear with the popularity of replacement ROMs for other devices that users don’t like being tied to this pre-installed junk. We’d really like the ability to run AOSP (Android Open Source Project) deliverables plus the Google apps and Android Market. This should be easy for you to do. If you simply give us an option to choose “Blur + Verizon Bloat” (you can call it something like “Motorola and Verizon enhanced experience” as I know your marketers would want to promote it) or “AOSP” we’d mostly be happy (obviously there is a smaller niche who would still want custom ROMs but less folks would need to try unsupported / unsupportable methods if you offered a working AOSP we could use). Offering us AOSP + Market would allow those of us who want this better experience to have it without warranty killers like overclocking, etc. that come with some of the other ROMs.

Don’t just think about it – make this happen, and do it now.