Thursday, June 29, 2017

Nokia is back!!!

I'm not going to fanboy out too much, but here's my history with Nokia in brief:

N800 frontside1.jpg
The Nokia N800

The N800 was my first Nokia device, I bought it second-hand on craigslist so I had something I could take to coffee shops or the library and use free wifi to check my emails and catch up on news. We're talking 2008, I had a laptop but it wasn't fun to take out with me. It was a great device, very handy.  I'd had a PDA before, but the N800 was something different, with an open platform and a bunch of free user-created apps.  The touch-keyboard wasn't responsive enough to write long emails or anything, but it opened my eyes to how productive small devices could in the future---we were almost there.

It had two full SD card slots!  I wish I could find a mobile device with two micro-sd slots today.

Nokia N900.JPG
The Nokia N900

The N900, well, let's face it, it wasn't much to look at.  But it was packed with interesting features.  Reflective-pixeled screen so it was usable in direct sunlight, slide out keyboard, USB host mode (might have needed a third party patch?), IR blaster, FM transmitter.  A little slider button which was great for unlocking the device, no pocket dialing on this thing.

Oh, and it ran what to this day is still the best mobile OS I've ever used, Maemo 5.  The multitasking is still far superior to what Android has today, not that Android's anything to sneeze at.  It had the same type of open philosophy to software and the same marketplace to download and install free user apps.

I loved this phone.  Seriously.  I still have it.

Anyway, the N900 didn't sell well.  It wasn't even officially supported by any carriers in the US, though it was compatible with T-Mobile's bands (that's who I used it with).  There was no advertising, nobody really knew about it.  I never saw a N900 in the wild besides my own.  Not even in any stores.  I don't know what Nokia were thinking, maybe they had good reasons, who knows?

BTW, Maemo 5 was based on Debian Linux, and it was pretty easy to install desktop Linux apps onto the N900.  Just another big pro, especially for nerds.

Nokia started cranking out some beautiful looking phones, but none that pushed all my buttons.  I still love the tapered design of the N8, but I wasn't interested in Symbian3, the operating system on it. I think the N8 was used by son-of-Flynn in the newer Tron movie. Maemo 5 became MeeGo, which I think got released on the N9, but I don't remember that device being too impressive otherwise.

I had my eye on the N950, pictured below.  This is one of the issues of following tech sites that hunt out leaked pictures and specs.  The N950 was just a developers device and was never properly released to the public as far as I know.

Nokia N950.jpg
The Nokia N950, only released as a developer device.
That's too bad, because it's freaking gorgeous.  I don't care how big the bezels are, I love that design.

Anyway, Nokia brought on an ex-Microsoft executive as CEO, and as every Nokia fan in the world feared, it was a trojan horse maneuver to negotiate the sale of Nokia to Microsoft.  I don't think I can fault Microsoft, Nokia must have wanted it to happen.  Their handset sales were declining.

Then Windows phones came out with the Nokia logo, and then Microsoft sold the Nokia name to some Chinese company.  And press releases say there are ex-Nokia executives working for the new Nokia.  I can't find out who they are or what their history with Nokia was.

Anyway, they've released a few standard Android smartphones, "standard" meaning there's no crazy features (FM transmitter) or anything.  They're getting good reviews, there's one Youtube video scratching the shit out of the Nokia 6 with a razor blade and talking about how good the build quality is:

He has another video where he takes the Nokia 6 apart and says it's on track to be one of the most durable phones (perhaps the most durable) of 2016.  Whoever's running the company, I'm glad they're not dragging the name Nokia through the dirt.

The new execs have said they're going to stick with stock Android and not worry about new software.  That's probably a good idea, Nokia tried to get traction with their music and map apps, and it didn't seem to work.  I mean, I wish Maemo 5 would make a comeback, but Android's okay.

The Nokia 6 is around $230, the US version can be pre-ordered on Amazon.  There's going to be a Nokia 9 announced, a flagship phone (probably $700) that I'm looking forward to.

I'm worried that the Android smartphone market is too flooded for them to make traction by just releasing solid, affordable phones.  I hope I'm wrong.  I plan to buy the 6 as a backup phone/music player when the US version comes out.  It would be nice to see them come out with a slider phone or something more techy like the N900 was, but I'm happy with the phones they just released.  I mean, they tried the N900 once already, right?

Til then,


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

This is surprisingly messed up (SSL error)

I just fired up my trusty Android tablet and got a few strange errors---apps I didn't launch were popping up and taking over my screen to tell me there was no connection to the internet. This is behavior I haven't seen from them before, even when Wifi is turned off. When I got these errors my Wifi was connected, and I was connected to the same network on my phone and it was loading web pages just fine. From my tablet I was even able to connect to my local file server via Wifi without issue.

I open up Firefox and am told that is an untrusted source, or something to that effect.  Every site is.  What the hell is going on here?

I search for the problem on my phone and find a simple solution:  The date was set wrong.

My tablet had died a few days ago and must have really, really drained the battery, as the date was reset back to 01/01/2012.  Yeah.

As soon as I corrected the date, then everything came back up.  Everything.  Hangouts messages, other apps notifications.  Online banking info.  Emails.  Google Play update notifications.

I guess I had been getting new error behavior because there was a connection, the software just couldn't verify that it was secure.  Strange that the apps couldn't have a better error message saying the SSL was invalid, but that's how it goes.

I'm happy my tablet is working fine again, but I keep thinking about what went wrong.  You're telling me all it takes to severely break someone's internet connection is to set their date back?

I'm also wondering, does network time (which automatically updates electronic devices) also go through SSL?  If you changed the time enough to break SSL would that keep it from righting itself?

Hmm.  Seems pretty iffy to me,


Monday, May 30, 2016

Autohotkeys and Firefox

Apparently there is a problem for some people (myself included) where Autohotkey (AHK) scripts aren't working in Firefox.  I have a "master" AHK script which does many things, for instance it keeps my middle mouse button from opening multiple copies of a tab from a single click, and it also remaps the "Capslock" key to act like the "Backspace" key (saves my right pinky some stress while touch typing).

I found a few mentions of it in message boards, but no solutions, besides reverting to an older version of Firefox.

I'm running Firefox version 46.0.1 and Windows 10, and I solved this problem by running the script as an Administrator.  I had that option available in the right click menu.  If you don't, or want something more permanent than right-clicking each time to launch the script, compiling it to an exe file and then setting it to always run as Administrator (under "Properties", then go to the "Compatibility" tab) also worked for me.  I'll launch the script directly, because I'm always tweaking and adding to it.

I'd be curious to see if running Firefox in Windows 7 compatibility mode would also work.

(Hmm, I also just checked and Firefox's shortcut was set up to always run as Administrator, not sure if that's default or something I did when troubleshooting something else.  Worth checking, for anybody out there with the same problem.  I don't want to close Firefox and restart out of Admin mode right now to test it but it's reasonable to assume that could be causing the issue.)



Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A review of Google's voice typing feature

It was yesterday when I first saw that Google Docs now has a voice typing feature. After doing some research, I saw that the feature which had been available since September, apparently. I've been playing with it for multiple hours now, and this is what I think.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Universal Comments Reborn

I was recently talking to a friend of mine about an old Google tool which let users comment on any website---not in that website's comment section, but in a superimposed sidebar which allows commenting on any page, even (and especially) ones which don't allow embedded comments. It was called Sidewiki.  There's a demo of it embedded below:

It was launched in 2009 and scrapped in 2011.  Why was it scrapped?  I'm not sure, and the announcement was made along with the shutdown of other Google services.  There was a lot of public concern over it while it was live.  Jeff Jarvis wrote while it was active:
Google is trying to take interactivity away from the source and centralize it. This isn’t like Disqus, which enables me to add comment functionality on my blog. It takes comments away from my blog and puts them on Google. That sets up Google in channel conflict vs me. It robs my site of much of its value (if the real conversation about WWGD? had occurred on Google instead of at Buzzmachine, how does that help me?). On a practical level, only people who use the Google Toolbar will see the comments left using it and so it bifurcates the conversation and puts some of it behind a hedge. Ethically, this is like other services that tried to frame a source’s content or that tried to add advertising to a site via a browser (see the evil Gator, which lost its fight vs publishers).
His issue seems to have been that Google was crossing a line as far as the types of service it was providing.  I understand his POV but I'm not sure that I agree with the assertion that most conversation about your blog taking place somewhere else robs it of any value.  Danny Sullivan wrote an extremely in-depth look at the plugin, if you're curious.  Andy Beal chimed in to say he wasn't scared.

While none of these articles seem to be worried about bullying or misuse per se, I do remember some posts at the time worried that it could be used for harassment or trolling purposes.  And it seems that is still the pressing worry around existing universal comment systems.

Imagine that you're the kind of shitposter who spends hours flooding a web site with vitriol, only to be blocked from interacting on that site.  What next?  Well, you could take to twitter, or reddit.  You could create your own blog to talk shit on the site that blocked you.  With Sidewiki, you could continue posting your vitriol right there, adjacent to the very page that blocked you.

Back to the start of this post, I telling my friend I found it strange that another universal commenting tool hasn't established itself, especially with so many blogs and even major news sites disabling comments site-wide.  I'm writing this post now because I just saw an article about a new tool performing such a task.  The tool is called "Genius" (and actually in researching Genius I've found a few more trying to gain popularity as well.  I won't be discussing those here).

I couldn't find an official video showcasing Genius. They have at least two youtube channels dedicated to severe autofellatio, but no overviews I could find which showed the tool in action.  Here's a video of someone using the tool to annotate poetry.

It was this Ella Dawson article which brought Genius to my attention:
Opening my post using Genius was like discovering graffiti over some of my most personal work. Annotations display more like passive aggressive Post-It notes, but for someone who has been gaslit by partners, diminished by journalists, and harassed by mobs online, Genius annotations are an invasive violation. The design itself doesn’t help in this regard. I expect line edits from my actual editor, a thesis advisor, or even a friend sharing their thoughts on an early draft; I have no established relationship of trust and respect with the denizens of the internet.
Is this a good idea?  I don't know.  First I have to tamp down the statement: "for someone who has been gaslit by partners, diminished by journalists, and harassed by mobs online, Genius annotations are an invasive violation."  You could say the same thing about (irl) bulletin boards, online message boards, text messages, critical reviews, phone calls and both snail and electronic mail.  You could say that about literally any informational or communicative progress, because anything which makes people's lives easier tends to raise all boats---making both good and bad actions easier.

Debating whether such a service is good or bad is probably a silly waste of time, unless such a debate is followed by a discussion on how to minimize any identified harm.  My gut feeling is that this is just one of those things that will keep being attempted until it finds success, either in a small service most people aren't aware of, because maybe it didn't have legs after all, or by spreading like wildfire across the internet.  Just like the MPAA/RIAA could stop Napster but not bittorrent, bloggers can maybe slow down or stop a few forms of universal commenting but can they kill them all?  This is an idea with too much potential, too easy to immediately grasp for it not to keep pushing itself up through various forms until one finally sticks.  That's not to say it's destined to get huge, but I'd guess it'll be sticking around in some form indefinitely.

I feel similarly about those people review services (such as Peeple) that are floated every now and then, generally resulting in them being beaten down by the scorn of the internet.  While scary to many, the idea is also greatly appealing to others and it appears reasonably straightforward to implement.  On the internet that means you're not going to be able to stop it.  I don't necessarily like the idea, because history has shown anybody can be made to look like a bad person in any situation, even if they were being entirely moral.  Especially on the internet.

(And let's be honest, it's rarely as simple as being "good people" or "bad people".  The vast majority of us think we are good, but some of us have decided as the situation escalates around us that our interests would be better or more easily served if we stopped acting politely or in good faith. There are some people who readily conclude that their circumstances, no matter how dire or benign, entitles them to abandon politeness or good faith.  These people may have a tendency to ruin things for everybody else, and I would bet there are always people worse off who somehow manage to be kinder and better behaved, but that's the closest I think I would ever get to defining someone as a "bad person" or a "good person".)

It is worth pointing out that Sidewiki and Genius are two different implementations of a similar idea.  Genius, originally Rap Genius, was designed to annotate rap lyrics, then poetry and literature, and now web sites.  One of the comments of Ella Dawson's article notes that Genius seems to scrape content and host it on its own site, where as Sidewiki was just a sidebar that served comments from elsewhere.  I'm curious if that distinction could get Genius into some DMCA trouble.

And returning to the question of this being this a good or a bad thing, it occurs to me that it's probably a little of both.  Like most new online services, people seem to gravitate between either rolling their eyes or proclaiming the world forever changed.  Remember how people reacted to Twitter?  It hasn't changed the world much, but it certainly has changed the internet, at least a little bit.  The truth is Genius sounds like it would be catnip to most shitposters, which means that any average person checking it out, if it gains any traction, could be inundated by shitposts and as a result take anything read there with a grain of salt.

Thinking about another site that attracts shitposters, Reddit, we see that by providing a large variety of community-moderated gardens Reddit generally succeeds in keeping the shitposters in their own designated spaces.  I don't know how such a model would apply to Genius, and I can't imagine that it will be easy to discourage the abuse of such a potentially spiteful megaphone, short of implementing constant site-wide moderation.  And indeed some of the comments Ella Dawson found offensive were posted directly by an employee of News Genius.

Another lesson, which occurred to me only after I was making a cursory proofreading pass over this article, is this:  If we accept that people being hugely opposed to something like Genius or Peeple will have little effect on its success or failure, then surely we can imagine a world where products like Peeple or Genius have very little effect on a person or website's success.  At best they will be services which allow us to cut through noise to find better information, at worst they will contribute through the noise and only be patronized by the people who enjoy that particular type of noise.

We'll find out someday.  Til then,


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wireless Xbox One Controller on Windows 7

FYI for any Googlers out there.  I recently bought the wireless dongle for the Xbox One controller (I was using a microUSB cord, but it started to get a bit touchy).  It didn't work at first on Windows 7.  I got the adapter to be recognized by manually installing a driver, but the controller wasn't recognized. The problem appeared to be that I had Windows Update turned off, therefore didn't get the drivers I needed, even though I downloaded and installed the official drivers individually.

Microsoft was very little help.  They don't link directly to driver files anymore, they direct you to their download site (which requires Internet Explorer, ugh) and tell you what to search term to use to find the files.  Really Microsoft?  A bit rinky-dink isn't it?  Also the bulk of their advice was for the Xbox One or Windows 10.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Rant time

I decided it would be nice if my last post on Google Drive was published rant-free.  It might be the first time I've ever mentioned Google in a post without an accompanying rant.  Nah, once upon a time I was pretty enamored with them.  I still am, mostly.

And this rant isn't even about Google, it's about smart quotes.

Smart quotes are the default in Google Docs.  They convert your "dumb" quotes into "smart" ones.  You can turn them off.  When writing, I don't like smart quotes.  They cause problems when going from one format to another (like when pasting text into an email), and they're completely redundant.  I have never, ever, ever, ever, ever seen a single use of quotation marks in which it was not obvious to me whether a particular mark was opening or closing a quotation.

Redundancy is good.  Most of grammar is about redundancy.  All the really important bits, anyway.  Tenses, plural forms, if you know something is incorrect when seeing it in print, then that's the same as saying the broken rule is redundant---or else how could you know how it was wrong?  But humans have comprehension and attention problems, so we really want a lot of redundancy into our language.  (Another example of good redundancy:  the comedic pause, which gives everybody a chance to catch up and be ready for the punchline.  And, if it's a good setup, it builds anticipation too.  The pause isn't needed in order to send the information of the joke, it merely enhances its reception).

However, I don't think smart quotes' redundancy actually helps anything.  If there ever were a strange custom case, like if you wanted to break the mold and do nested quotes, smart quotes are largely automatic in most software, so they still would hinder instead of helping you.

While looking for an argument for smart quotes, I found this web site, Smart Quotes For Smart People, with the goal of telling you that you should be using smart quotes.  They also link to tools which can help people use them more easily.  It's a cool site and they're not being dicks about their grammatical fashion like some people.

We can pretend in typography (and all design) that there's an objective right and wrong, but there are a lot of things that are simply a matter of taste.  There's a lot of deliberate misinformation out there to help "experts" pretend like subjective things are objective, or to pretend like the true purpose of a consensus (even a fabricated one) is to bully people into doing things a particular way.  Smart Quotes for Smart People aren't doing any of that.  But they also don't give you any reason (that I saw) as to why you should use smart quotes, besides simply saying that you should.  They do have pictures of smart quotes and dumb quotes side by side, around phrases.  Perhaps they think the aesthetic superiority of their position will be universally self-evident and not require an explanation?  Well guess what?  I admit it, the smart quotes do look better.

In fact, there's a tool I use in epub creation that changes three hypens (---) into an em-dash (—).  I use that a lot.  That same function also turns dumb quotes into smart ones.  I can't turn it off, it does them both at the same time.  I used to resent that.  As of this moment, I just became cool with it.

So rant nullified.  I still don't think they're necessary 90% of the time.  I'm not going to do crazy shortcuts to generate them, I'll let my publishing pipeline handle that.  But when fixing text into a permanent, public-facing design or document, yeah, I'll go with smart quotes.

Til then,