Gnome 3 has regained its place as my favorite window manager

I know, it’s shocking, I nearly abandoned Gnome for Cinnamon, MATE, or even Fluxbox because of the changes from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3.  But, since I’m not a fan of Ubuntu’s Unity desktop, I thought I’d give it another try as I set up my desktop machines at work.

What changed?  Gnome Extensions that allow customization of the top panel.  The two that have completely changed my mind are:

  1. Axe Menu: Finally, the nice, beautiful, organized menu is back in gnome desktop.  It finds a midpoint between KDE’s menu and Unity’s Dash.
  2. Maximus: Maximized windows drop their decoration so they take up most of the screen.

Check out the rest at https://extensions.gnome.org/.  I’m a big fan of Weather, Project Hamster, and Places Status Indicator.

Maps Issues… aka “Hey Apple, welcome to the club…”

So, there’s been a lot of discussion on the problems with Apple’s new mapping system.  They did a lot of good work getting the app up and working, and it is a promising app for the future, but it wasn’t quite ready for prime-time in any but the most populous cities.  So, what’s the problem and what are the alternatives? I think the Apple Maps app was built to facilitate those who want both directions and turn-by-turn directions (aka a “how to get there” approach) while neglecting those who used maps to find a building or certain place (a “where is this place” approach).

Well, consider the image below:

The first pane is Apple’s mapping system.  Looking for the University of Virginia’s library (Alderman) gives no results (poor students relying on their iPhone).  But wait, there’s more! The second pane is the MapQuest app.  It provides about as much data on the map-level as Apple and has been on the app store for years, but it still doesn’t find Alderman.  It does correctly identify the public library.  So, fire up Safari and head to Google Maps (last pane), and you correctly get Alderman.  Now, there are also Bing maps, but we’ll get to that later….

Now, suppose you’re just visiting UVA and want directions here.  You fire up Apple maps and search for uva:

Hmm, good luck getting there by car if you’re in the US.

Now, let’s look back at my alma mater, William and Mary.  A few years ago the school bought the old Williamsburg hospital location, tore down the building and built a brand-new School of Education in the space. But, for some reason, they must have re-torn down the ed school and rebuilt the hospital?

Okay, I’ll assume they didn’t re-re-locate the hospital and that the map is at least 5 years old.  Apple’s map data really needs to be updated. And SOON.

Now, I have to say that Apple did a really good job with the mapping solution and that it provides great promise, even if it’s not quite there yet.  Why do I say this?  Well, the map interaction is much smoother than the previous implementation of Google maps.  Also, the street names are much more readable than previously.  Most of all, it’s clear that they spent more time fixing up more populated areas, but neglected most of the country before the release.  For example, VCU is one of the largest public universities in the state of VA and in downtown Richmond.  Want to see buildings? No problem! However, move over to the second-oldest school in the nation (W&M) and you can’t even seem to tell it’s there:

William and Mary (left) vs VCU (right)

Also, the level of detail is pretty awesome in the biggest market, such as NYC:

So, I think Apple maps will be an amazing system once it matures, but this release does seem to be a bit premature in all but the most populous cities.  With all the publicity that has been generated around the release, hopefully we’ll see a much more rapid development of the mapping system than any other app available on the iPhone.  Especially with such a large user base that is being forced to make the switch when upgrading to the latest version of iOS.

This whole situation shows the power and reach of Google and its data.  Google maps is unmatched by any other system that I’ve seen yet.  Remember I said I’d return to Bing?  Well, I wanted to check it as well, so I fired up Safari and moseyed over to maps.bing.com to give it a shot.  Well, I couldn’t seem to get out of Seattle!  Every time I searched for Alderman Library, it would reset to a map image of Seattle, WA, with no search results.  An iPad saved me, and I was able to search for the library:

So, bing saved the day.  However, if you’re a student at UVA, you’ll know that the library is really at the red x below:

You can say all you want about how bad Apple Maps are, but remember, everyone seems to be on a catch-up path with Google Maps.  I don’t know what pace that will take now that more and more mobile devices are not using Google Maps anymore.  Thoughts to ponder…

For directions, I’ll make quick use of Apple Maps.  To actually find a place, I’ll likely switch over to Safari and Google Maps. At least for now…

Math Typesetting in HTML

This is completely a geeky post for those who post math-type to blogs, wikis, or any other general HTML page.  I have been looking for a decent way to format math equations in both my wiki (theory.robbiehott.com) and on my websites where I post research information.  This week, I found the answer: MathJax.

So, what is MathJax? It is a javascript script that will replace any LaTeX or MML markup in a webpage with the equivalent equation or table, correctly formatted!  For any math junkie, I’d definitely recommend checking it out.

The Internet’s Changing!

What an interesting week in the Internet world.  We’ve had talks of firewalls, government bills, blackouts, hackers, and copyrights.  So, what’s it all about?

Well, this week started off with the whispers of SOPA and PIPA, bills introduced in congress to curb internet piracy of copyrighted materials.  They, of course, were backed heavily by a few headliners over the past decade: the RIAA and the MPAA, among cable and media content companies.  While their intentions were noble, their methods were not quite straightforward, nor guaranteed freedom of expression on the Internet.  One post by one blogger had the possibility of having an entire website blocked overnight.

So, the web “took back the day.”  Wednesday, dozens of websites went dark to boycott the legislation and get Internet users to understand what was written in the bills and to get them to contact their representatives.  Wikipedia, reddit, and many other sites went completely dark (blocked access to content), while others kept functional services but posted information on their homepages (Google, Mozilla, etc).  Well, it worked, and with overwhelming success.  Both bills have been slowed while they are reworded and reconsidered, if not killed (since PIPA will be coming to a vote next week).

Then Thursday happened.  The FBI took down the MegaUpload family of sites, which did not even operate in the US.  They shut down the site and arrested the leaders involved in the sites.  So, of course, since the FBI has global reach, why do we need legislation like SOPA and PIPA?  Clearly we can arrest those involved, who are not only non-US-citizens, but also lived in New Zealand.  Of course, the interesting events of this evening have been the shutdowns of Anonymous, who are acting out against the shutdown of MegaUpload.  They have attacked sites and forced the other part of the “internet population” to go dark–the proponents of the bills that were boycotted yesterday–namely, the MPAA, RIAA.  As one who sets up systems and builds websites, I’m not surprised that there are security holes in these systems, but I am surprised at how open the sites have been left to vulnerability.

So, maybe the internet will return to normal tomorrow?  Let’s hope so.

Resources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/19/technology/web-protests-piracy-bill-and-2-key-senators-change-course.html?hp

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/20/technology/indictment-charges-megaupload-site-with-piracy.html?_r=1&hpw&gwh=D6F06609E2E350FCE7256ECB7B2E42A5

http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2012/01/19/anonymous-hackers-claim-to-take-down-justice-department-website-in-retaliation/

(and no, don’t hate me for listing fox news as a resource… it’s not usual ;) )

So, you want an e-ink tablet?

If you’re like me and look at a computer screen all day, the last thing you want to do is come home and look at a computer screen.  So, you go for a tablet like the iPad or Galaxy Tab, but it has the same type of computer screen.  So, last week, I went out and modified an e-ink e-reader to be a generic 6-inch Android tablet.

So, the logical questions are: How is it done? Which e-reader is it?

Barnes and Noble have released a new version of the Nook, called the Nook Simple Touch.  For an e-reader, it has some nice specifications.  It has a touch-screen e-ink Pearl screen, which is not only crisp but is capable of doing partial-screen refreshes without flashing the entire screen.  Even though it leaves some artifacts on the screen, it provides a fast enough refresh.  Secondly, it has a similar processor to the Nook Color: an 800MHz ARM Cortex-A8.  Lastly, just like the Nook Color, the base operating system is Google’s Android.  Therefore, it is fairly easy to gain root access to the OS and install Android applications along side the basic Nook applications installed by default.

To get started, you need a few things: a microSD card and the Android SDK installed on your computer.  The SDK is available at:  . Once both of these are secured, the guys at NookDevs have posted directions that I’ve followed and which worked very easily.  It took less than 20 minutes to complete the process, and on the surface nothing changed.  WARNING, this will likely void your warranty and don’t expect B&N tech support.  Also, I am not responsible for any bricked or broken Nooks–take these instructions at your own risk. The NookDevs instructions are here: http://nookdevs.com/NookTouch_Rooting.  After writing the SD card, you only need to follow their steps 1-13.  Once this is done, connect the Nook to the same wireless network as the computer.  The Nook’s wireless IP address is available under Settings -> Wireless, touching the name of the wireless network in the list.  It’s in the form xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx, usually 192.168.1.x on a private network.

Now, the fun part: getting some applications running.  There are a few that I will recommend.

  1. ADW Launcher.  Available at http://code.google.com/p/adw-launcher-android/downloads/list.  Download the standalone version, which right now is ADW.Launcher_v1.2.0_standalone.apk.  This is a handy little launcher, and one that quite a lot of cell phone manufacturers use as the default.  It is a handy way of running apps.  Nook Touch’s “home” button doesn’t actually go home, but anytime the Nook is powered on, it will ask which application to run, ADW Launcher or Nook’s default Home.  The nook software can be switched to at any time by pressing the n button and choosing any of the options.
  2. K-9 Mail.  Available at http://code.google.com/p/k9mail/downloads/list.  Just download the latest version.  This mail client is fairly straightforward, but it is open source and free.  It needs to be launched, but can be done so from the ADW launcher.  One nice feature of the Nook is that it still allows for notifications, even under the Nook software.  Therefore, when a new email is received, a notification will pop up on the upper status bar.  Touching it will take you to K-9 mail to read and respond to the message.
  3. Opera web browser.  Available at http://www.opera.com/mobile/download/versions/.  Choose either Opera Mini or Opera Mobile for Android to get the .apk link.  Opera is a nice small web browser, but it also has the Opera store, which allows you to download and install applications on the Nook, instead of needing to push them over from your computer.  So, the first thing to “buy” for free is the Amazon AppStore app, which gives an even greater access to apps without the actual Android Market being installed.

So, how to get them working.  First, follow the instructions with the Google Android SDK to install the default (base) platform tools.  Once done, you’ll have a platform-tools directory with the adb executable inside.  From linux or Mac OS, open Terminal and cd into the directory, then let the fun begin. From Windows, use the Command Prompt, and cd into the directory.

[The rest will come tomorrow]

Technology in cool places

Here’s one really cool place that technology has made an unforseen impact in someone’s life. Holly, a 9-year-old with albinism, who has vision problems, has started using an iPad to avoid needing to carry a large magnifying glass and to start enjoying reading.  I think that is awesome :) .

Read the full story here:  http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/more-news/ipad-becomes-the-apple-of-hollys-eye/story-fn7x8me2-1226083773188

Opt Out

Dear Apple, you say that I’m not using iOS 4… So, does that mean I’m using the other multitasking iPhone OS software that you released recently, or do you just want to ensure that I cannot opt out of data-mining ads that get information from my history?

Apple gives way to Opera for iPhone

So, after much waiting, Apple has approved Opera for the iPhone.  This is monumental, since all applications that duplicate the functionality of native Apple applications are not allowed in the App Store.  Well, except we have Bing that does maps like the built-in Google Maps.  But, the Google Voice App has not been approved, most likely because it duplicates the phone/SMS applications.  So, what about Opera?  It’s a big step: the first non-Safari browser on iPhone.  Supposedly faster.  Well, I think it’s great to have the competition, and Opera on the Mac is amazing, but I’m less than impressed comparing Opera to Safari for iPhone.  I think this one was a safe bet on Apple’s part, since Safari still looks better than Opera (at the moment), meaning that Safari is still safe for now.  If Google Voice would have been accepted, everyone would use the free SMS/phone functionality instead of the built in versions.

So, why is Safari safe?  Consider these two screenshots:


Top: Safari, Bottom: Opera

Opera text in the zoomed out mode is unreadable.  To view the text, you must zoom all the way in.  Even turning the phone to landscape does not improve visibility of the text.  The plus?  Opera lets you choose whether you want to view the mobile versions of sites or the full versions, however, the mobile version looks to be the standard cell phone variety, not smart-phone savvy layouts designed for iPhone or Android.

In conclusion, this is a great first step, and I am more than excited to have Opera running on my iPhone.  However, I’m going to wait until the next revision before scrapping Safari.