Strange PC flakiness solved

I recently had a strange problem with one of my PCs. It was acting slow and sluggish, then the RAID 1 dropped a drive out saying it was failed (I’ve used RAID 1 on all my PCs for a while now, an dI highly recommend it). I shut down, inspected the failed drive, and turned the PC back up again, and it wouldn’t boot. No matter what I did, it wouldn’t come up. The next morning, it had shut itself off, and when I turned it on, it worked perfectly fine… and then shut itself off again after about 30 minutes. Clearly, I had a heat-related issue. But I wasn’t seeing any of the symptoms of CPU overheating, like random reboots or application errors; the expected shutdown was the only CPU-heat symptom, while the rest of the problems (drive errors, for example) pointed to motherboard issues. I installed the MB tools to monitor it, and it was clear that the CPU was indeed overheating; it hit 97 C within about 10 minutes of booting! Eventually, the PC refused to boot. I ordered a new motherboard, and thanks to Amazon Prime, it would be delivered less than 24 hours later for only $3.99 S/H.

Even though I was certain I knew what the fix was, I did a quick consultation with my friend Chris Ansbach via IM. He really knows his stuff, and he pinpointed the exact cause of the problem, which is going to help me prevent it. If you need to work with someone who knows their stuff, he’s your person and I’d gladly put you in touch with him. Looking at the motherboard layout, the two bridge chips northbridge chip is are located right next to the CPU, and is both are passively cooled. Inspecting the CPU and heatsink showed the cause of the overheating. The heatsink is the stock Intel model, and the plastic clips can eventually lose a little bit of tension. While the heatsink will still be on, and feel firmly attached, it will no longer make good contact with the CPU. Meanwhile, the thermal grease gets dried up (mine flaked off) because of the heat, and its is less effective, compounding the problem. Eventually, the CPU starts to overheat. Because of the location and cooling systems on the bridges, they were it was overheating too, causing that flakiness. After replacing the motherboard, the system is working like a champ; I got very lucky that the CPU was not damaged!

So, what’s the takeaway here? Two things:

1. Motherboard design matters a lot more than I thought. From here on out, I am going to be looking for motherboards where the bridges are actively cooled, and not right up against the CPU.
2. Heatsink design matters, even in a non-gaming, non-overclocked machine. Two big things that I learned to look for: a backplate to secure the heatsink to the CPU that uses screws or some other fastening mechanism that will not loosen with time, and fan that blows up or sideways, not down; this will ensure that if the case air is hot, it isn’t making the CPU any hotter. I knew about some of the other stuff (heat pipes to elevate the heatsink away from the CPU, larger design, etc.) but these were two things that I just was not aware of, particularly the backplate.

Hope this helps someone avoid the same kind of meltdown I had!

J.Ja

Nook Color ten times better rooted

Just make sure you follow these instructions carefully.

Why is this cool?

  • Everything is way faster!  Well to be specific, it’s mainly the soft keyboard that’s way faster.  The old keyboard was somewhat laggy and annoying.
  • Full Android market
  • Should be easy to restore factory restore on 8 failed boot attempts
  • Already used apps like Wyse Remote Desktop and Angry Birds
  • Replaced launcher with free edition of LauncherPro.  So much nicer than the default launcher.
  • The iPhone showed that people want native applications (apps) instead of running everything through a web browser

How is Nook Color different from Samsung Galaxy Tablet?

  • Nook Color has superior 8-bit IPS LCD panel with better color and viewing angles.  Galaxy is a 6-bit TN LCD panel.
  • Galaxy Tablet has built-in 3G, Wi-Fi, and BlueTooth.  No 3G on the Nook Color and the BlueTooth hardware isn’t currently supported yet.  3G is not a problem for people with one of those portable MiFi hotspots which support multiple devices.
  • Nook Color has no cameras.  Galaxy has both front and rear video camera.
  • Galaxy is slightly lighter.
  • Galaxy is more than twice the price of the Nook Color.

How is Nook Color different from iPad?

  • With a microSDHC slot, you don’t get robbed on flash memory
  • Unless your name is Yao Ming, you’re not going to palm an iPad.  The 7″ form factor fits in a large pocket and it’s much easier to operate standing up or hand held.
  • Less than half the price.
  • Nook Color runs Google Android, iPad runs Apple iOS.

Update – The pigs have taken the eggs, but the kids got my Nook Color and won’t give it back.

When I get it back, will need to test the new Kindle App (Barnes & Nobles have to be rolling in their graves).  Already tested the Google Books app and it seems to work fine and it comes with a huge free library.

Issues so far -

  • I had to create a new Google account even though my YouTube account was already linked to my Gmail account.
  • YouTube App was working great initially but refuses to stay launched now.  I’ve noticed this problem on some other apps I installed.
  • Not sure why the Android Calendar and Contacts app won’t sync with my Gmail Calendar and Contacts.
  • Google Earth crashes on the splash screen and requires a forced close.

Here’s a short video of the device in action.

More observations and issues:

  • I absolutely love the 7″ device form factor.
  • I love the ISP display panel.  I mostly use it with minimal brightness and 50% brightness at most.
  • Android seems to suffer bit rot and needs to be rebooted twice a day.  The touch display gets laggy or worse, it starts clicking things all on its own.  Everything is fixed with a reboot, but it’s shocking how unstable Android is.
  • I also had to download a task manager to kill processes.  I also tried a startup manager (think of it as MSCONFIG for Android) to prevent crapware from starting up.  Problem is that the startup manager automatically kills processes I don’t want killed, like the browser so I’ve had to uninstall it.  It also doesn’t seem to prevent those processes from launching, just kills them after they startup.
  • Cut/paste doesn’t work for shit.  Copying text is a nightmare, and most input fields don’t give you a paste option.  Simple tasks like copying a URL to bit.ly and then inserting that shortened URL to the twitter app just don’t seem possible, and I can’t find a good cut/paste app for Android.
  • A lot of applications and pages in Android don’t come with a previous-page button.  You really need a physical button for previous-page on Android OS.  The physical home button is a must though a lot of devices are shunning that.
  • Despite all these problems, I still love the device.  I just wished Android wasn’t so damn buggy.
  • Can’t wait till they update the Nook Color to Android 2.2.

Novell’s Patents and Why CDTN Holdings Wants Them.

The web was a buzz earlier today with news that Microsoft wasn’t the only company being involved in CDTN Holdings and some including ZDNet and ComputerWorld blogger Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols tried to speculate just what patents each of the member companies of CDTN Holdings would want and why.
First many thought that VMware would jump at the opportunity to get an OS to complete their stack and as I found out talking to a few PR employees from VMware, they pretty much already have everything they need from Novell, or so they say. Of course, VMware is owned by EMC who is a partner in CDTN holdings, so the VMware reps didn’t exactly inform me accurately.  After a quick search I did happen to find patent number7,793,101, which is Verifiable virtualized storage port assignments for virtual machines . I think I could see why VMware might want a crack at that patent portfolio now. I noticed that there are several more storage based and virtualization based patents for VMware and their parent company EMC to hand pick through. Keep in mind that Microsoft is also competing in the virtualization space as well.
In the storage space there are a few other gems including:

  • 7,844,787 Techniques for data replication with snapshot capabilities
  • 7,844,580 Methods and systems for file replication utilizing differences between versions of files
  • 7,809,910 Backup archive management
  • 7,774,568 Clustered snapshots in networks

VMware is also dabbling in identity management, also something that Microsoft has been working with for some time. Oracle and Apple also have identity management needs and would probably not hesitate to pick up a couple patents for their own related products.
With Identity Management we have a whole slew of goodies to pick through including:

  • 7,770,204 Techniques for securing electronic identities
  • 7,774,826 System and method for determining effective policy profiles in a client-server architecture
  • 7,793,340 Cryptographic binding of authentication schemes
  • 7,793,342 Single sign-on with basic authentication for a transparent proxy
  • 7,774,827 Techniques for providing role-based security with instance-level granularity

All four companies might be interested in improving their application deployment technologies with the following patents:

  • 7,730,480 System and method for creating a pattern installation by cloning software installed another computer
  • 7,739,681 Delayed application installation
  • 7,730,179 System and method for policy-based registration of client devices

The point I am trying to make is that each of these four companies have much to gain for the capital they put together to get access to these patents.
Many of us know that Microsoft is all about their Operating System, their Active Directory architecture, Search, their entry into Cloud computing.
EMC is the storage giant, but they also own VMware, RSA, Atmos, vBlock, Mozy, RecoverPoint, Documentum and have just as much if not more to gain than Microsoft.
Oracle while everyone knows is a database company, has bought more companies than anyone else, and leverage patents from Identity Management to Virtualization. Don’t forget that they own Sun Microsystems and happen to have Virtual Box.
Lastly we have Apple, who seems to stand out as while being worth more than anyone in this venture, appears to have the least to gain. However, when considering identity management, Apple would be quick to take advantage. Novell has quite a few data synchronization patents that could help out their MobileMe services. Single SignOn could be a big plus for them as well. They don’t really seem to have as much to gain from what I can tell, but then again, Apple doesn’t think like most companies. We could see them try dive into the enterprise with some of these patents or perhaps they could push themselves to the cloud.
All in all, we have four companies that are going to benefit greatly from the jewels of Novell, their patents. And while everyone was too busy worrying about the UNIX copyrights, the patents which I consider much more important were being handed over pretty much going unnoticed by the media.
Trying to figure out the direction that Attachmate will take Novell is very scary, especially handing out all of the patents like they did. As a Novell customer myself, I am concerned. Then again, who really knows the direction of the tech industry in the long term.

The Aftermath of this transaction is most interesting. Novell was a real hot potato that no one company wanted entirely. The market share of Novell has been slipping since the 90′s, and their recognition is even less. When talking to a salesman for a backup software company, he failed to even recognize the name and recommended that I speak to a tech. Yet, much to the dismay of many, when the patents for Novell were up for grabs, these four companies were first in line.  Microsoft, Apple, EMC, and Oracle are bitter enemies on several fronts, and yet they put aside their differences to pick apart this former powerhouse.

Rooted Nook Color with full Android here I go

Looks like the rooted Nook Color with Android 2.2 (it’s not 2.2 yet, that requires a different hack) is the way to go.  I mean where else can you get hardware equivalent to the Samsung Galaxy Tablet for $250 unlocked?  Unlocked Galaxy is $802 on Amazon!  Here’s the specs that excite me for this price.

  • 7″ 1024×600 IPS panel (178° viewing angle like iPad)
  • Capacitive multitouch
  • ARM Cortex A8-based Ti OMAP 3621 @ 800 MHz (same processor as Droid 2 and Droid X)
  • MicroSDHC slot
  • Wi-Fi and theoretically BlueTooth capability if unlocked
  • No mobile radio for HSPA or CDMA 3G, but that’s what my MiFi portable hotspot is for.

Full specs here.

Since it’s the Nook Color, it should have some fairly good continuing community support for future software upgrades. I’m going to pick one up tomorrow to play with, and Auto Nooter 2.12.15 here I go!

The limited custom Android 2.1 OS that the Nook Color came with is meant to keep you on their platform since they don’t look like they’re making much margin (if any) on the hardware.  This is some really awesome hardware for the price considering the fact that half the hardware in a smartphone would cost twice as much these days.  This is like four 3.5″ screens joined together and it’s small enough to go in a coat inside pocket.

UPDATE 12/17/2010 – So far so good.  Got the unit last night, used it 4 hours and haven’t charged it overnight, and it still 59% of the battery remaining.  I have to keep it at minimum brightness in a dim room and half brightness seems to be good in a normal lit room.  Full brightness would probably be useful outdoors (excluding directly under sun) and room near bright window.  Web browser seems to operate reasonably smooth.  Have not rooted yet.

Online publishers need to understand interactivity

I have noticed a very interesting trend amongst a number of online writers, which is that they completely ignore commenters. I understand why they do this. But by not participating in the comments sections that are attached to their articles, they are doing themselves and their readers a great disservice, and along the way, missing major opportunities for improvement.

I understand why writers do this. As a fellow professional author, the finances around writing are horrible. In my experiences, monitoring and reading the comments on an article can often take 10% – 20% of the time it took to write the article. For a very popular article, that percentage is much higher. To actively participate in the comments and respond as appropriate takes substantially more effort. I have had articles where I personally posted 20 or more comments in response to people, and some of those comments were as long, thought out, and researched as much as the original article. Clearly, when an author works like this, their per-hour rate starts plummeting. After all, we get paid by the article, not by the comment!

The problem is, the audience does not see it this way. In the audience’s mind, if an article appears on a Web site, and has a comments section, certain expectations are reasonable:

  • Any comment they leave, so long as it is within the boundaries of good taste, is on topic (varies widely, but to me, that means: “follows logically as a response to the original post or another person’s comment”), refrains from baseless ad hominem attacks, should be published on the site.
  • Any comment which challenges the author’s basic facts and calls the article’s accuracy into question should be responded to.
  • Any comments made in private to the author (email, private messaging system, phone call, etc.) should, at the very least, be acknowledged.

Now, some might ask, “who declared these to be the rules of online writing?” Well, it’s simple. These are the rules of courtesy in “the real world”. Why should the Internet be any different? Imagine that you are at a dinner party, and someone says something based on incorrect facts (I don’t know what… perhaps that the Amazon River is not very long). And when someone responds and says, “look, the Amazon River is really long, here’s the Wikipedia article on my phone that shows its length”, the person who made the comment walked away. What would you think of that person? You might think that they were merely rude, but it would not be unexpected to think of them as a coward, or someone who is afraid to admit when they made a mistake. You certainly wouldn’t think, “gee, they’ve got an awful lot of people to speak to here, I can’t blame them for not having the time to participate in this discussion.” What if this person said something highly controversial, and immediately left the room? You would think that they are a complete, utter jerk.

The New York Times has an article today blaming their inability to meet these expectations on a lack of staff. And yeah, I get it. The NYT had a huge problem with open forums, with tons of inappropriate comments being made. It’s how things go. The problem is, their current approach (shutting down comments, restricting the articles that comments can be made on) is infuriating to their readers. In their mind, comments on, say, a travel article talking about trips to Barcelona are less important than comments on Paul Krugman’s latest essay. I can see why. But the funny thing with comments is, you never know where reader-generated value will come from or what it will appear on. Maybe a reader of that travel article knows of a fantastic restaurant in Barcelona that is really inexpensive to eat at and is tourist-friendly? How many comments on the typical Krugman article are written at a level of knowledge (as opposed to knee jerk, emotional reactions both pro and con) that really add value to the discussion? It could very well be, that for the NYT, they would get more aggregate utility from allowing comments on all of their articles except the really big ones. Unlikely for sure, but possible. But they will never find out, will they?

The reality is, for any given site, there will be some articles that generate hundreds of comments, but the overwhelming majority of articles won’t (other than spam bots). What this means, is that the NYT‘s policy is greatly flawed. They should be able to open up their entire site to articles, with a relatively low overhead added to their monitoring efforts.

I recently read an article providing a technical tip. The tip was highly flawed, dangerous, and treated information that was situational as being globally applicable (it said to make certain registry changes, but those entries only existed if you had a particular kind of hardware). Many readers (including myself) responded with all sorts of follow up questions, concerns, and so on. The original author did not respond to any of these comments. You know what message this sends to the readers? That the author shoots out poorly researched articles, and when questions are raised, the author dodges the criticism because they are too busy writing another poorly researched article. The publication’s credibility takes a hit in the process, because the readers see the author’s name a lot less prominently than the site logo.

The real problem here, is the flawed business model that many publishers bring with them when they move online. And even for online-only publications, I can tell you that the economics are wrong. Any publication operating online needs to build into their financial plans the need to accept all reasonable comments and properly respond to them when appropriate. What does that mean? It means that if you are going to rely upon dedicated human moderators, there needs to be enough money in the budget to have enough of them. It also means that you need to include “responding to reader comments as appropriate” in the job title of the writers, and include an evaluation of this in the writers’ regular performance reviews. You have to have your editorial staff doing “spot checks” of the comments to see if the authors are ducking out on this responsibility. All of this needs to be factored into your financial decisions when you are setting up your business.

And many of these comments, especially the critical ones, are quite important to improving the site long term. Maybe there is a writer who is consistently producing outstanding work, and the site would benefit from featuring them more prominently? Perhaps a particular author has a bad habit of mangling facts, and is damaging the reputation of the site? Sometimes an author makes the same silly mistake over and over again, and should fix it (I used to spell “Joel Spolsky” wrong all the time, until a reader pointed it out to me, for example). There are lots of really good reasons to keep an eye on the comments, not just the author, but the editors or producers of a site as well. Does every gripe or complaint need to because “to do” item? Of course not. Do you need to fire every author who gets a lot of criticism? Not at all (and it depends a lot on the nature of the criticism, too). But complaints should be acknowledged (this is called “customer service” in layman’s terms) and aggregate temperature readers of the audience’s feelings to an author should be taken. An author who is taking a lot of legitimate heat on a regular basis… well, maybe it’s time to replace them.

Now, there are some authors that are really good about self-monitoring. And what I’ve seen is true across them, is that they happen to make money by writing, but they would be doing it in one way or another even without a paycheck attached. In fact, many, if not most of them, self-publish some thing that they see no (or negligible) revenue on, but is outside the realm of their paid writing. Not to hold myself up as an ideal example, but I can relate my personal experiences. I write for TechRepublic (which is something like 90% of my writing income), here (free, not even ad revenue), a Web site for weightlifters (I also host, maintain, and run the site at my own expense, zero revenue on it), and some additional freelance writing here and there that I get paid per-piece on. My pay at TechRepublic is the same regardless of how much I respond to reader feedback, but whenever I think about the financial end of things, I never look at it as getting paid merely to write a piece. I have been told many times by the staff that they really appreciate that I respond to reader feedback. While I hope that this comes into play in any internal decisions they make, it is not why I do it. I simply feel that all reader comments deserve to be read by the author, and responded to if they merit a response. It is that simple.

Do I sometimes get nasty comments from readers? Sure. I try my best to handle them with respect and courtesy. As a result, I see relatively few comments that I think cross the line. When I do get one like that, I simply respond to their factual assertions as best I can, always be willing to admit to a mistake and consider that I might be wrong, and state that I am keeping it “above the belt” and appreciate the same. It also helps that the articles I write are almost overwhelmingly factually based; when you stick to talking about facts (how-tos, tips, “my experience with XYZ”, etc.), there really isn’t much that people can get nasty about.

What this revolves around is the fact that a lot of people simply do not understand how to do business on the Web. They feel like the Web is great because it allows them to tweak and tune their existing business models. Old school companies like the Web because they can scale back their call centers and data entry operations, under the guise of giving the user control. And yes, that is a very real benefit to the Web. some companies are really happy because it lets them extend their reach to places that they couldn’t do business before, cut back their traditional advertising costs, and so on. But users don’t go on the Internet with the hope of doing their own data entry or to provide usage data to a vendor. They are there to save time and money. Much of the time, the needs align well. When a company’s site allows users to put in the data themselves, it is almost always faster and easier than having them call a phone number and provide it over a phone, so everyone is happy.

When a user goes to a site to read content, as opposed to reading it in a magazine or newspaper, what are they really looking for? Well, they are looking for a) convenience (fast lookup and delivery, easy access via links to related information) and b) interactivity. By following a model in which the reader feedback is throttled (like the NYT is doing), readers are left only with the convenience of reading it online. Guess what? That is a commodity. Few sites offer a unique mix of content on a consistent basis. That is why I post so infrequently here, because I don’t like to post something here that you couldn’t find elsewhere with a quick search (or would have to pay to get through other sources). For example, if I spend hours fixing a bug on a server because there are only three search results for the error code and none offered a proper fix, I’ll post the fix here (especially if I had to open a vendor ticket to get a fix). My opinions and analysis… well, this is the only place you can find them (hope you like them!), since my writing elsewhere is pretty limited in scope and generally is not opinion/analysis. What this means for publishers, is that if you annoy your readers, they go elsewhere. I don’t have to read the New York Times for anything other than their local news coverage (and hey, I haven’t lived near New York City in a while) and unique editorials/op-ed stuff. I read that publication out of sheer force of habit more than anything else (I subscribed to the email newsletter something like 10 years ago). I used to read the Washington Post as well, but when they stopped sending the newsletters, I stopped reading. That’s how fickle tastes are. I didn’t even notice after a few days that anything was different, other than having a few more minutes in my day.

What can a publisher do? Well, some are obviously choosing human moderation combined with author passivity, and it is clearly a mess for the NYT. Others choose a basic, community monitoring system combined with human moderators. TechRepublic does this, and I think it works out really well. They have a few human moderators who spot check forums, look at stuff flagged as spam, and so on. Other sites (Slashdot always comes to mind here) take it one step father, allowing users to up or down vote each other and their votes count for more after they’ve accrued trust from the community. Personally, I think that the TechRepublic system works the best. Giving the community a lot of control (Slashdot, Digg, etc.) in where content (not just articles, but comments as well) appears, how prominent it is, etc. leads to folks gaming the system. Too many people spend their time on these sites not working for the greater good of the community, but to gain some sort of advantage for themselves.

And again, publishers need to take a hard, honest look at their financials and authors. Can they afford to compensate their writers to not just write, but to spend the time reading and responding to articles? Do they have authors who have the ability to read and respond to articles and keep things professions? A “no” to the first is a sign that they need to change their business model. A “no” to the second indicates that they should consider a different mix of writers.

J.Ja

Doing something vs. talking about it

Recently on Facebook, there has been this odd meme that says if you change your picture to that of a cartoon character from your youth, it will help the fight against violence to children. Quite frankly, I think this is total, utter, nonsense. I talked about this with a friend, and he found the following picture which sums up the absurdity of it perfectly:

Changing your Facebook picture doesn't help kids

I am someone who likes to give to charity. In fact, I do so on a regular basis. Every December, in the midst of buying gifts, I like to send donations to a carefully picked list of charities. I pick these charities based on the fact that their mission is hands-on and there is no profit motive to get involved. Things like Smile Train, Room to Read, and One Simple Wish get the nod for me.

So, what does this have to do with my usual topics here?

My company, Titanium Crowbar LLC, has written a number of WP7 applications. I have committed the company to donating 10% of gross revenues (as in, “before Microsoft takes their 30% cut”) from November 3rd (when the store opened) to March 1st, 2011 to the charity One Simple Wish. Right now, the applications we sell are “Name That Nerd” and “Local Crime Rate”, with a few more in the pipeline. OSW is a great organization. They work with local social workers, orphanages, abused children’s shelters, and so on to identify things that these kids need to simply lead a little more normal life, and get them for the kids. For example, they run a drive to collect dresses, and give them to the girls so they can go to the prom. A child who got pulled out of an abusive, neglectful home might get underwear and a jacket. They might buy a young boy a bike. To some, this might be just getting a kid “stuff”. But to these kids, who are already feeling like the world has nothing for them, it brings so much joy and happiness to be able to have at least some of the things that “normal” kids like. To me, this is an important charity.

Let’s face some facts. Few independent mobile developers are making “real money” on their applications. I’ve crunched the numbers in the Apple App Store, for example, and the average application is making only a few thousand dollars. Hardly enough to justify the time doing the work. Most mobile development is a passion or hobby to do new and interesting things, and it happens to bring in some income to justify the time being spent on it. The independent mobile developers think of the income as a “nice to have” not a “feed my family and put a roof over our heads”. So I am calling on each of you out there to consider doing the same thing that I am doing, with the charity of your choice. Pick a charity, and commit a percentage of the revenues (gross, net, whatever!) over a timespan to go to this charity. If your mobile development efforts are like mine, and mobile development revenue is essentially “found money”, I think it can’t hurt you to seriously consider this.

J.Ja

Where I have been for the last six months

I know, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here! There’s been a lot going on, and I hope to be able to give in-depth tips and analysis based on my experiences lately. Here’s a quick summary of what’s been happening:

Rat Catcher

The biggest news of all is that the project I’ve been working on the side for a while now is really coming together. It is called Rat Catcher, and it is designed to help content producers and publishers ensure that their content is not copied. It has two major uses. First, when someone submits an article to a publication, the publication can make sure that it is 100% original work. Plagiarism is a huge problem in this industry, especially when dealing with authors in Communist, former Communist, and a variety of Asian areas where the cultural attitudes on copyright and intellectual property are significantly different from what they are in the West. In and of itself, this functionality is useful, but it is not the meat and potatoes of the application; there are lots of other applications which can do this. The real value add is that it can run reports on a regular basis and help you find people copying your work. For someone like myself or George, where our ability to put a roof over our heads or food in our families’ mouths depends on our writing being “valuable”, it is critical to us to make sure that the only places our writing appears is where we are getting paid for its usage. Rat Catcher is currently in a free, public beta test, and I encourage you to check it out and provide me with any feedback (good or bad) about it.

The Agile Platform

Over the last year, I’ve come to start using OutSystems’ Agile Platform a lot. A quick disclosure: OutSystems paid me to write about my experiences using this tool in writing Rat Catcher, and they licensed those articles to TechRepublic (and possibly other outlets); in no way did they request that I make changes to the articles beyond basic factual corrections, and those articles were critical at times of the product. With that out of the way, I will say this: the reason why I wanted to write those articles is because I love this product. If you need to write Web based applications, I suggest that you give it a very good look. The Community Edition is more than enough for most needs, I may add, so do not let the pricing model deter you. Rat Catcher has taken me less than a year of nights and weekends, typically with me spending about 10 – 15 hours a month on it (some months more, some much less). I know that with any other tool, I would be nowhere near where I am now on the Rat Catcher project. I consider Agile Platform to be the best decision I’ve made in years in terms of tech choices.

Personal Browser Usage
A while back, I talked about my experiments with Chrome and Firefox. Firefox is a total stinker in my mind, sorry to say. It’s fine at a technical level, but it combines a horrible UI with a lack of features in a way that makes it unacceptable for my use. No matter how many times I tried to force myself to use it, I couldn’t use it. Chrome, on the other hand, also lacks a pile of features. But unlike Firefox, it has a lot more usability. It still has three UI quirks that I dislike:

  • The lack of a title bar to make it easy to click on with my dual monitor setup
  • The lack of tab coloring/grouping that IE has
  • I prefer IE’s order or “which tab is selected next” when you close tabs

When IE 9 gets out of beta, it is very likely that I will switch back to IE. It’s not those little features that are nagging me, it’s the big stuff… most notably, OneNote integration. I stopped using OneNote for the most part when I switched to Chrome, and it bothers me that I don’t use it as much.

WP7 Development
Over the last few months, I’ve gotten into WP7 development. I’ll say that while the development side of it is not perfect, it is the best experience around compared to iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android development in terms of the tooling (although the emulator is limited to the point where you need to buy a phone for a lot of things). TechRepublic has asked me to write once a month about WP7 development, and you can follow that in their Smartphones section. That being said, the experience outside of the development is an absolutely horror story. Microsoft is a lousy “partner” to their developers. And the WP7 APIs are very, very lacking. Some of it is deliberate (for security reasons), some of it is simply a lack of time to get to market. I know that the APIs will get much better soon, but for the time being, developers can’t do much with the device’s hardware. WP7 has the potential to be the premier phone gaming platform, by the way, if developers put their minds to it. The #1 problem with WP7 development, though, is the sales numbers. Microsoft is not giving devs sales/download numbers until February. My guess is that they are trying to hide poor sales numbers, and don’t want developers saying, “gee, my app is #381 on the list and has only sold 139 copies” which would obviously discourage others from writing apps. The lack of attraction to the platform shows in the app store too. While it already has more apps than Windows Mobile did, the apps are almost universally low value. An interesting side story is that Microsoft has been paying developers to develop apps (and subsidizing development contests to bribe developers) in a desperate effort to seed the app store with apps. Without these kinds of incentives, no sane person would invest time in the WP7 platform until they knew that it was selling handsets at a much better pace than what has been reported.

My guess is that I will make more money writing about WP7 app development than 95% of developers will make writing WP7 apps. If it’s any consolation, it’s also true for Android developers and iPhone developers… the average sales numbers are awful on those platforms too. But that’s the concern with WP7 development. If an iPhone or Android dev makes a few thousand bucks on an app they worked hard to put out, with as many handsets out there as there are, who is going to make money in the much smaller WP7 pool?

Microsoft CRM, Kentico CMS
For most of this year, I have been involved with a project to integrate MS CRM with my employer’s upcoming Web site rewrite (going from an ugly site using static HTML, to a much better looking site on the Kentico CMS). Along the way, I have learned a lot about Microsoft CRM. It is a total, utter, inexcusably bad piece of garbage, and I urge everyone reading this to avoid it at all costs. The next version (MS CRM 2011) looks like it addresses many of the worst issues in version 4.0. Honestly though, this is probably one of the worst applications I have ever dealt with. It combines the worst sins of “enterprise class software” into one horrible package. I am not going to air our dirty laundry in public, but I will say that we are making major changes internally to ensure we never, ever end up with an application this bad again. I will go into much deeper detail on why MS CRM is so bad in the future, hopefully soon. For now, if anyone in your organization seriously suggests MS CRM as a choice, take them to the woodshed, pronto.

Kentico is not a bad CMS, but I do not like working with it. I worked with it a few years ago to try to rejuvenate our Web site, and it was horrible then, lots of unacceptable flaws (like if you changed the price of a product, any existing orders would show the new price, not the price when it was ordered). It has substantially improved. But it is still not very good as a platform to develop against. It has too many places and ways to make changes (“Modules”, “Templates”, “Web Parts”) and it is not clear which is the best way to do things at any given time. It is also a BEAST of an application. It is insanely heavy. The problem is, it is currently the best (that I’ve found) .NET CMS out there, and one of the best in general. The fundamental problem is that some folks 10 years ago decided “this is how a CMS gets written” and their decisions were driven more by the limitations of the technology than designing for quality. And every CMS since then has copied these bad decisions.

ISA 2006 to Threat Management Gateway 2010 Upgrade

I just wrapped up this upgrade (well, “migration”). It wasn’t bad, but I found a number of important stumbling blocks that no one else has discussed. I hope to write about them either here or on TechRepublic in the next few weeks, and hopefully make someone else’s life easier.

Over the next month or two, I hope to go more in depth on all of these topics, both here and on TechRepublic. If I don’t have anything before the end of the year, happy holidays and best of luck in 2011!

J.Ja

Acer’s superwide 4.8 inch smartphone is sexy

Acer has just announced a new Android Smartphone with a 4.8″ 1024×480 resolution super-wide, and it is one sexy beast of a phone.  This form factor is as narrow as a normal smartphone can be while fitting inside a pocket.  In fact, I suspect that it’s probably not much wider than an iPhone though it is likely an inch or so taller.

Some people are suggesting that this is too wide of a form factor since the 21×9 format doesn’t fit 16×9 video format, but movies are often 1.85 or 2.35 “CinemaScope” format and that fits this display’s aspect ratio perfectly.  Furthermore, the super-wide or super-long format is perfect for reading webpages and it should reduce the need to pan and zoom.  The 1024 wide resolution also allows you to terminal server into a server with most of the desktop visible, and just a little up/down panning would make the entire desktop visible.  I’m hoping the device won’t be too expensive, but I think it’s the perfect largest pocket sized form factor a person can get.

Stay away from Cruz e-Reader

Out of curiosity, I picked up a Cruz e-Reader from Fry’s for $160 this morning because it looked interesting with a 7″ 800×600 display running Android 2.0.  This device is apparently tied in with Borders bookstore and it doubles as a cheap Android tablet device.  After about 1 minute after I turned it on, I decided to seal it back up in the box so that it can be returned.

As a side note, the Black Friday sale at Fry’s Electronics stunk this year.  Nothing good in the processor memory section with no combo deals.

So what’s wrong with the device?  Well the chassis actually looked and felt nice with a rubbery non-slip surface in the back and it had an SDHC slot as well as decent speakers.  But it was completely ruined by the unresponsive performance of the user interface.  Tapping took forever to recognize and the scrolling was extremely choppy just about anywhere you went.  Yes I realize it’s positioned as an e-Reader, but I expect a bit more from a color device.  I didn’t even bother testing the video playback capability because the sluggish user interface was a nonstarter.

I’ve already got a 7″ Telechip 8902 based Android 2.1 tablet with 800×480 resolution being shipped to me and I expect a decent experience based on this video review (Telechips device form MP4nation.net was garbage, don’t bother).  Yes I realize it’s not nearly as nice as a Samsung Galaxy 7″ Tablet with 1024×600 resolution (which feels good in the hands and has a very responsive user interface), but the generic Telechip tablet is $430 cheaper and doesn’t require a data plan.  I’ve already got a MiFi for 5 Wi-Fi devices so I don’t want another data plan.

UPDATE 1/5/2011 - I ordered the Telechips based 7″ tablet from MP4nation.net and it took 6 weeks to get to me.  Then it came with a European AC power adapter which means I’ll have to buy another EU to US connector to use it.  The USB charging doesn’t work with any of the chargers I tried.

Biggest problem is that Android Market is broken on the device.

Device is far more sluggish than showed in the video and the resistive display requires a lot of pressure to make it work.  Screen surface doesn’t feel good rubbing, and the front edge feels too sharp that it is uncomfortable to hold.  It’s also a lot thicker than the Nook Color.  The back feels like cheap plastic instead of the rubbery grip on the Nook Color.

Because technology isn't just for geeks