Monday, February 23, 2009

TealOS Gives PalmOS Users a Pre Preview

TealOS is a new PalmOS launcher from TealPoint Software which mimics the user interface for the upcoming Palm Pre. I've been playing around with this program on my Palm TX and it is a fairly enjoyable program to use. It also gives people who haven't been lucky enough to be able to play around with an actual Pre—in other words just about anybody who doesn't work for Palm or Sprint and who hasn't been to their Pre preview events—an idea of how the Pre's UI is likely to work under more or less real world conditions.

TealOS looks almost exactly like the Palm Pre smartphone UI as demonstrated by Palm, right down to the flower wallpaper. Like the Pre, it has a quick launch toolbar which by default is mapped to the applications which are typically mapped to PalmOS hard buttons. This makes the quick launch toolbar somewhat redundant but these buttons can be remapped, giving you four extra launch buttons. While this is no big deal on a Treo or a Centro which both have a keyboard in addition to their hard buttons, this is very useful on a Palm TX which only has its four hard buttons. As you launch and switch in between applications, TealOS takes screenshots of them and displays them as "cards" which you can move around and which allow you to quickly switch from one application to another. The cards aren't "live" like the webOS cards on the Pre but they do give you a nice way of keeping track of and organizing your recently used applications. These cards can be "thrown away" with an upwards swipe but I found that this doesn't always work well I'd hope because it requires a fairly vigorous swipe.

But the webOS mimickry doesn't end with there. A fifth button on the quick launch bar also pops up a simple launcher with transparency effects just like on the Palm Pre. TealOS also has the Palm Pre's "Wave" launcher with five remappable buttons which you can bring up in any application. The motion which brings up the wave launcher is surprisingly intuitive and easy to learn. It's even a kind of fun.

On the Palm TX, programs can be launched by either the default PalmOS launcher or through a Favorites application which allows you to create shortcuts to applications or to web links. While TealOS can't create short cuts to web links, a simple utility called Shark Links can. (And quite frankly, the Palm TX's web browser is so primitive that I only used it for Google's excellent mobile RSS Reader even before I upgraded to my T-Mobile G1.) So it's fairly easy for TealOS to take the place of both these programs. And it looks good on the TX's large screen.

While TealOS does a fairly good job of mimicking the Pre's webOS UI, it can't replicate the hardware and it is a bit slow. Some of the graphics are also fairly rough-looking due to the limitations of the PalmOS (the cards don't scale well at all) and older Palm hardware. PalmOS also has no multitasking which limits the usability of its cards. The Palm Pre promises that its cards will always show a live preview of the applications they represent, allowing you for example to monitor a download in your web browser while you manage your e-mail. This is simply impossible to do with the PalmOS.

TealOS works very well as an application launcher and as a preview of Palm's UI for its future devices. Still, I find that the simplicity and speed of McPhling which is just a menu which can be mapped to a hard button or to a swipe across the Graffiti area, makes TealOS less necessary to me. But for people with Pre-envy looking for a nice replacement for the default PalmOS launcher, TealOS is a good fit.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Paid Applications Come To Android

A number of blogs have commented that Google's Android Market has added support for paid applications. While having the honor of paying for software on yet another platform might seem dubious at first, it does potentially open the door for more sophisticated applications which require more work than a hobbyist software developer is willing to do.

A case in point is Quickoffice, a new application for managing and viewing Microsoft Office applications on Android. Quickoffice has traditionally been something of an also ran piece of software on other mobile platforms. When I used Treo smartphones, Quickoffice was the MS Office compatible software suite that was not Dataviz's Documents To Go, the application Palm has bundled with just about every Treo it has ever built. And while Docs To Go wasn't perfect, it was slow and Dataviz tended to nickle and dime users—frequently charging high prices for relatively small upgrades, it was good enough that I didn't bother to check out competing products.

Now Quickoffice is the first Office compatible application out for the Android platform. And it comes at a very reasonable price, $7.99—a fraction of what it costs on other software platforms. It seems likely that Quickoffice for Android was probably rushed in an attempt to be the first Office application on Android. It is read only, you can't use Quickoffice to edit documents yet and it still doesn't support Powerpoint. And it wasn't able to open all of my of Word documents (but the ones it did open displayed properly).

But the point is that it is out and it is out first before any other competing application. It is also cheap and the Android Market makes it scarily easy to buy. I just tapped on the "Buy" button and because I've used Google Checkout before Google already had my credit card information. All I had to do was check the disclaimer that says, "I have read and agree with Google Checkout's terms of service blah, blah, blah" and confirm my purchase and Quickoffice started to download and was installed on my T-Mobile G1 in seconds. Like I said before, scary.(Incidentally, when you check the disclaimer, the Android browser actually launches and displays Google Checkout's terms of service. I suspect that most people don't even read the terms of service on when they pay for something online so Google is being quite responsible here.) So Quickoffice has a nice temporary advantage. A lot of people will want to use the keyboard on the T-Mobile G1 to edit Word and Excel files and right now they are (or rather they will be once Quickoffice is capable of editing documents) the only solution for this problem. And since Quickoffice is also capable of reading text documents, it might turn into a fair e-book reader if the developer is interested in moving in that direction.

Now that I've had my T-Mobile G1 for a number of months, I'm starting to look at other phones that I might move to in the future. I'm especially interested in the Palm Pre. I used a Palm or Handspring Treo as my phone for almost a decade and would be very interested in returning to that platform if it lives up to the hype that it is currently generating. But Android's growth and improvements make me think that I might stick with my G1 for longer than I thought....

Tuesday, February 17, 2009—Access Problems For The Government's New Website?

The Obama administration has finally pushed its stimulus bill through Congress and has a website for it up and running. Hooray for government transparency and change you can believe in. I was pretty eager to read the bill. Actually, I probably would have just skimmed it for a few minutes and gotten bored the way I did with the House version of the bill. But I was definitely interested in looking at it if for no reason than because it was available online. While Congress has been making the text of bills available in excruciating detail for years, as far as I know this was the first time that the president went to such pains to actually publicize and build websites for a single law. The website was actually live (empty but live) for at least a week before the stimulus bill passed.

So I eagerly went to the website today and was excited to see a polished, professional, and good looking website along with a link to full text of the stimulus bill. Awesome! Then I actually clicked on the link. Nothing. Apparently, JavaScript coders are also getting a stimulus package. I use NoScript to disable scripting on websites by default in Firefox. Most websites work just fine with Javascript turned off and given how common it is these days for malicious websites to download malware onto your computer, it just makes sense for me. But I guess I can trust the government right? It's not like a politician has ever lied to me.

So I enabled JavaScript for and it popped up a message telling me that I was leaving the server displaying the full text of the link which it is sending me to. Is this really necessary? After all, the full text of any link is displayed on a browser's status bar anyway—or at least it would be if somebody hadn't decided to hide the link behind a JavaScript pop up. Still I clicked through and was taken to a the white house website where the bill conveniently divided into five parts and available in available in either PDF or ASCII formats. Excellent! Then I actually clicked on something. Another pop up. So I enable JavaScript for and click again and nothing. Aaargh! So I try one more time. Taking note of URL and enable JavaScript (the Government Printing Office?) and click again and nothing.

I tried to access the website again with Google Chrome and Internet Explorer. I used a brand new computer where IE had JavaScript turned on and Chrome always has JavaScript enabled but I still got the same results. Maybe the government's servers are just overwhelmed by people trying to look at the stimulus bill but if that's not the case....Between these three browsers, I probably have at least 95% of all Internet users covered and I'm a bit worried. Sure, the Bush administration screwed up Afghanistan, Iraq, and Hurricane Katrina but I've just received some very disturbing evidence that the Obama administration can't even get a simple website right.

I really hope I missed something....

Update: Checking in on the website again, it looks like they changed things around a bit. You can now download the full stimulus bill, as signed by the president, in PDF format and actually looks pretty good. Yet another document for me to download and not read. You still have to go through the annoying pop ups but at least you can download it and look at it now. My faith in democracy is restored....

Monday, February 9, 2009

Marquette Park Monument

I noticed this monument in Marquette Park, across the street from a local high school on the way to Holy Cross Hospital a couple of months ago. I'd been meaning to take a closer look ever since and I recently got the opportunity. On a clear winter day with a lot of snow on the ground, it makes for a pretty striking sight....

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Blood on the Scales—One Journey Ends

"Blood on the Scales" was an interesting conclusion to the coup which began in "The Oath." With the series ending, the possibility of the bad guys winning, felt very palpable last week. But "Blood on the Scales" dispenses with this very quickly. Just as last week we saw the coup unfold in very straightforward manner, this week we saw it unravel in a similarly straightforward manner. While last week was plot driven action story, this week was more of a character piece as we see each character choose sides and react to the facts on the ground.

We begin where we left off last week with Tigh and Adama knocked out by a flash grenade and captured by marines loyal to Gaeta while Narcho rushes to destroy Roslin's Raptor. Unfortunately for the rebellion, Hotdog is flying with Narcho and insists on playing it by the book and delays attacking long enough so that Roslin can broadcast one message. Hotdog refuses to fire on the Raptor and it escapes as Narcho's missiles hit the Rebel Baseship.

Onboard the Rebel Baseship, Roslin must battle Cylon skepticism the only way she knows how, with an impassioned speech. Last week Roslin and Baltar got into it with an argument over the way each of them has exploited religion during their careers. This week Roslin is preaching the Gospel of Bill Adama.

Gaeta and Adama confront each other again with Gaeta telling Adama to tell Roslin to surrender. Adama defiantly removes his admiral's pins and refuses. By this time the Baseship has moved into the fleet and cannot be attacked. Gaeta orders the ship be isolated and prepares for the human fleet to make a jump.

As with last week, we are being told the time. Tom Zarek and Colonial One arrive at 1116 hours—roughly four hours after the mutiny began. Zarek is joking with Racetrack. Starbuck and Apollo are spying on them as they board the ship.

At 1118 hours Roslin is trying to make another broadcast. This time, Gaeta's people have successfully blocked it. In the brig Helo is still unconscious and the Cylons are still awaiting their fate. Gaeta and Zarek are still disagreeing over tactics. Gaeta's idealism mixes with his past to form the rebellion's Achilles Heel. He insists on a trial for Adama. It's important to keep in mind that Gaeta himself was secretly tried for collaborating with the Cylons on New Caprica so part of his desire to "do the right thing" is colored by this fact. Is Gaeta really interested in justice or does he merely want to take out his pain on his former commander? I doubt that even Gaeta knows for sure.

By 1131 hours Tyrol is skulking down Deck D Corridor 2. He hides as Romo Lampkin, Baltar's lawyer from the end of season three, is escorted down the hall.

By 1148 hours Zarek is charging Adama with treason among other things and he make Lampkin his lawyer. Zarek appoints himself as judge. Adama continues to be defiant and sarcastic. He knows the trial is a joke and refuses to cooperate. As Roslin continues to try get through to the fleet, a Six updates us on their situation. The fleet has scattered and the Baseship is surrounded by Vipers some of which are trying to provoke the Baseship to attack. Tyrol sneaks into a large vent.

By 1222 hours Zarek is speaking to the Quorum. Much like Roslin talking to the Cylons about Bill Adama, asking them to give him time to retake Galactica, Zarek talks to the Quorum about Felix Gaeta, telling them that he's the man to turn around the fleet. But ultimately, he's less convincing than Roslin. The Quorum asks Zarek to leave. Zarek asks a couple of marines to execute the Quorum. It's a stark contrast between Gaeta, calling for trials and pulling his punches with Adama and his people and Zarek, ruthlessly slaughtering his political rivals. When we first meet Zarek, he is in jail for terrorist acts and even after being made Vice President, he never hesitated to dabble in a little violence for example conspiring to assassinate Adama and Roslin on Kobol. Tom Zarek is nothing if not consistent.

"The Truth is told by who ever is left standing."
—Tom Zarek

As he leaves and the shots begin to ring out Zarek sends Aaron Kelly to get Gaeta. By 1245 hours, the Quorum is dead. Gaeta is shocked. Zarek tells him some uncomfortable truths about how coups work and how they require ruthlessness. He also makes it clear that Adama has to go.

As Tyrol crawls through Galactica's access tunnels, I can't help but be reminded of Star Trek's Jeffries Tubes. These little tunnels where the unsung heroes of the show, allowing the good guys to go wherever they needed to go to save the day when the Enterprise on the many occasions when it was taken over by bad guys. Galactica's access tunnels are *a lot* smaller and much dirtier than Star Trek's Jeffries Tubes.

By 1248 hours the Cylons want to jump away. Roslin continues to rattle off rousing speeches off the top of her head and she continues to preach the gospel of Bill Adama, holding him up as the last hope for both humans and Cylons. The big subtext here is that Roslin and Adama are, not merely lovers, for all intents and purposes they are practically husband and wife at this point. And it really shows in the conviction that Roslin uses when she builds Adama up as an almost mythical figure.

Unlike Star Trek's Jeffries Tubes, Galactica's access tunnels do not allow Tyrol to escape. After all his hard work Tyrol finds himself staring at the barrel of Kelly's gun as of 1305 hours in the Munitions Locker. He jokes about his predicament —a Cylon in the middle of an anti-Cylon rebellion at the mercy of an armed anti-Cylon rebel. Kelly joins him in laughter and in nostalgia for Galactica's better days. Kelly lets Tyrol go.

Now is as good a time as any to go over Kelly's history on Battlestar Galactica. We first meet him during the original BSG mini-series, as one of the officers (Gaeta is the other) who tell Adama what an honor it has been to serve under him. We later see him briefly serve as CAG when Lee sides with Roslin when Adama overthrows her. It's not a distinguished tenure as it becomes immediately apparent that Kelly is in over his head as CAG. His military career ends when it is discovered that he is planting bombs and trying to kill Baltar during his trial. So it's interesting to see him Adama's side here when he was initially released from the brig because he was trusted to side with Gaeta. As with many of the major characters, Kelly is a screw up who is seeking redemption. Kelly has screwed up more than most and he doesn't have the advantage of being listed in the show's credits so the general impression is that he probably won't make it out of this episode alive....

Lampkin tries to convince Adama to sign a statement of his innocence. Adama won't even dignify his trial with his testimony. Lampkin reminds him that he has people who are fighting for him and urges him to stall as the guards com for them.

Pee breaks aren't supposed to be deadly but they can be if Starbuck is sneaking up behind you and wants your gun....Back on the Baseship Baltar is sulking.

1337 hours—Starbuck and Apollo argue over the best way to take out the guards at a holding cell. A grenade distracts the guards and great hair twins take them out. Apollo also has some fun at her expense when he reveals that the didn't pull the pin on the grenade. They bust the Cylons out of their cell. A fire fight in the corridor leaves Sam shot in the head and near death. Lee and Tigh go after Adama.

1342 hours—As expected, Adama's trial is more a shouting match than a legal proceeding. When Zarek is informed that the imprisoned Cylons have escaped, he announces that Tigh has been killing during an escape attempt. You have to admire Zarek's ability to lie on his feet. This gives Gaeta some more determination and Adama doesn't want to talk anymore. Zarek declares him guilty and just as chaos is about to ensue, Roslin manages to get through on the wireless again.

As Starbuck struggles to get Sam to Dr. Cottle, she receives help from an unexpected source. Lampkin is being walked out by a twitchy guard who winds up being stabbed with a pen. While he's reluctant to help Starbuck at first, he finally relents.

By 1435 hours Gaeta is back in CIC and finds out that at least ten ships have shut down their FTL drives in response to Roslin's message. He orders that the remaining ships be given jump coordinates and ordered to jump. He also orders Adama's execution. More tension between Zarek and Gaeta.

1447 hours—Adama is being walked to his execution by marines. Kelly is at the back of this pack. He lags behind, sitting at the Wall of Remembrance. He throws away his gun and begins to cry.

Apollo and Tigh arm themselves as Athena stands guard and Tyrol continues to crawl through access tunnels. They find Kelly who is eager to help. He gives them the location of Adama's execution and insists on coming with them.

Adama is shot in a dream by Baltar. It seems that Baltar is feeling guilty about his cowardice despite having a Six who is eager to pleasure him. But he doesn't see his most recent escape as an act of cowardice. He admits that he hates the people who form his cult for their superstition. But he also feels responsible for them and wants to go back for them.

1502 hours—Adama is about to be executed.

1524 hours—Roslin makes another broadcast from the rebel Baseship. Gaeta's hands are shaking as he drops Adama's admiral's pins on his desk and orders Narcho to carry out the execution. "Yes sir," he responds with Tigh's gun pointed at his head. Adama is free and he's pissed. Narcho is apologetic but his hatred for the Cylons won't let him follow Adama's orders. Tigh is about to kill him but Adama orders that he be tied up.

Tyrol has found a bigger access tunnel and is now moving more quickly—a little like a chimp striding along a grassy field.

Zarek responds Roslin telling her that Tigh and Adama are dead and demands that she surrender. This only makes her angrier. She vows to "use every cannon, every bomb, every bullet, every weapon that I have down to my own eye teeth to end you. I swear it. I'm coming for all of you!"

1528 hours—Gaeta is not happy about Zarek's antics in CIC. He orders a jump. But Tyrol has reached the engine room. He's locked out of the FTL control so in classic BSG fashion he starts taking the FTL machinery apart. By now, Adama has a rather large phalanx of troops heading for CIC. As the FTL goes offline, Zarek begins issuing orders but Gaeta is feeling nostalgic instead. "One day soon, there's gonna be a reckoning" he says to himself just as Adama said to him earlier. Gaeta orders a weapons hold as Adama storms CIC bloodlessly. It's over and Gaeta knows it.

"Restaurants shaped like food."
—Felix Gaeta

1532 hours -- As Tyrol looks over Galactica's FTL machinery, he spots a massive gash in its walls. Adama and Roslin have an emotional reunion. Gaeta talks about his youthful ambitions with Baltar. It's hard to tell at this point if this interview is actually happening in real life or in Gaeta's mind as a kind of final statement of how he wants to be remembered. The next scene is Gaeta and Zarek facing a firing squad commanded by Adama. They smile at each other and Gaeta's stump stomps itching as the squad fires.
I'll say one thing about BSG, it always surprises. This episode was surprisingly contemplative, exploring its characters through their reactions to Gaeta's attempted coup. Certainly the depth of Roslin's feelings for Adama are never shown more clearly than they were here. Gaeta's idealism and sentimentality almost certainly doomed his coup from the start. He consistently pulled his punches, blunting Zarek's ruthlessness at every turn. Had he simply executed Adama on the spot when he took over CIC he would have had a better chance. But Roslin's anger and determination when she was told that Adama was dead suggests that even if Gaeta's coup had succeeded, it would have been followed by massive bloodshed.

Indeed it's hard to imagine this coup ending any other way and not just because the good guys were on one side and the bad guys were on the other. The human race on this show is down to a little more than 36,000 people. The more they divide among themselves, the easier they are to pick off and the more likely they are to kill themselves off once and for all.

So we're back to the status quo or what passes for the status quo on Battlestar Galactica. Bill Adama is the commander and Roslin in the president. Presumably a new Quorum will be elected. It will be interesting to see who winds up in the brig and who is forgiven for their transgressions. Kelly who miraculously appears to have survived despite having the word "redshirt" written all over his face is likely to have earned his freedom. Racetrack, who has been around since season one, is likely to be trading in her flight suit for whatever constitutes prison colors in BSG. Up in the air are the fates of Helo and Sam. They probably survived since we didn't see them die on screen but if we never see them again, it is pretty easy to assume that they died given the severity of their injuries.

The biggest question is where Galactica's journey will end. Earth has been eliminated as a new home for the moment. Cavil's Cylons are still out there hunting humanity. And we still don't know a whole lot about the Final Five Cylons and their role. The remaining episodes will certainly have a lot of ground to cover.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Grindhouse Meets Dollhouse Meets...

Whedoninfo, which really needs to tone down on its web ads, has a cool mash up promo video done in lurid Grindhouse style combining ads for both Dollhouse and Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. As a long time fan of Joss Whedon's TV shows, I'm looking forward to Dollhouse and have also enjoyed The Sarah Conner Chronicles. And I also enjoyed Grindhouse, so this video really hit the spot for me.