Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Palm Homebrew Community Kicks Into High Gear

Life is good for a Palm Pre user who's not afraid to take risks with his phone. Precentral has turned into an unofficial clearinghouse for the hackers who are delving into the innards of the Pre's operating system and building new apps at a time when Palm's App Catalog has been stuck at thirty apps for a month.

While there are already several Twitter apps in the App Catalog, my current favorite is probably Twee which has a multitude of features a slick interface. Other new homebrew apps include PreChess, Comics, and Mine Search which is a version of the classic Minesweeper game. But the most exciting app by far is probably FileCoaster which downloads and installs homebrew apps to the Pre. It's an exciting time to be a geek.
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Not Quite Sundown....

Clouds can be very stunning when lit from underneath by the setting Sun. As usual, a phone cam can't do the richness of the colors justice. But I think that pictures still has their charms. In the first picture for example, the big white cloud looks almost like a living creature looming above the unsuspecting houses.
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Chicago At Night

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Morning Moon

I suppose it was unrealistic to expect a phone camera to capture the colorful beauty of an early morning sky but I think that this picture is pretty good nonetheless. You can just make out a thin sliver of crescent moon peeking around the rooftops.
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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Homebrew Apps Provide a Fun Outlet for Impatient Pre Users

PhotobucketPhotobucketPalm recently released its Mojo Software Development Kit to developers. This is a good thing because I was getting sick of seeing only 30 apps in the Pre's app catalog. There will still be a wait as developers create and and submit applications to Palm for approval. In the meantime, the Classic emulator allows you to use most of the thousands of PalmOS apps that have been created over the years and there are always web apps which can be both fun and useful. And now, Homebrew apps created by hackers for the Pre are becoming both useful and easy to install.

The first app pictured here is Pretris, probably the best of the homebrew games available for the Palm Pre. A fairly simple but attractive Tetris clone for the Pre, Pretris is a good example of how the Pre's webOS allows for the rapid creation of fairly polished apps. In addition to Pretris there is also a pretty good homebrew Solitaire game available for the Pre.

Besides games there are also useful utilities available for the Pre. Translator and Currency Converter are probably my favorites among the homebrew utilities. Even though the installation tools are partially command-line based, they were fairly easy to install. (By contrast, I have yet to successfully install Palm's Mojo SDK, the damn thing keeps stopping and rolling itself back during the installation process.) And it makes installing your homebrew apps as easy as dragging and dropping them onto a desktop icon.

While it would be unrealistic to pretend that there is absolutely no risk to using this homebrew software, so far I have encountered no problems with the half-dozen or so apps I've installed. In theory the developer mode which the Pre has to be put into in order to enable app installation is a potential security risk but it is also fairly easy to enable and disable.

The speed with which these homebrew apps have sprung up is remarkable and bodes well for the future of application development for the Pre's webOS.
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Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Harold Washington Library—What Could Have Been

Harold Washington LibraryImage via Wikipedia

On the top floor of the Harold Washington Library (pictured at the left) there is a little nook off to the side where you can see some of the other models that were entered in the original design/build competition which lost out to the design which the city sponsored when it was looking to build a new library. These were the "also rans" which lost out to the design which was finally chosen for the library.
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Friday, July 17, 2009

Inside the Thompson Center

The James R. Thompson Center (JRTC) (also know...Image via Wikipedia

The James R. Thompson Center is something of an odd duck architecturally speaking. It was built in the early 90s to house state offices in downtown Chicago like a giant governmental shopping mall. It's a big, bulky glass and steel building that mixes trappings of a serious modern office building with whimsical candy colored columns. Depending on the angle you look at it from the Thompson Center can be either hideously ugly or breathtakingly beautiful. It's full of abstract art. A lot of the art pieces are kind of ugly but I've always liked the one below.
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Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Coming Age of Paid News

?fh=dd71e0c771519c6269c9a68b63fe1c9fI haven't bought a real, physical newspaper in years. And yet I read online versions of newspapers aggregated through Google every day. And this Doonesbury cartoon does a pretty good job of encapsulating the results of an entire society doing the same thing. And certainly there is a lot of breast beating by journalists about the way that Google and Yahoo supposedly steal food from their mouths by posting links to their content. But the plight of newspapers is bigger than Google News, Google Reader, and bloggers posting links to their content. Linking to online newspaper articles drives readers to newspaper websites and generates at least some ad revenue. There is also an elephant in the room that the newspapers don't like to talk about when they talk about search engines and blogs linking to their content. Newspapers also make a lot of money off of classified ads. Or at least they used to. With Craigslist stealing the classified ad business which newspapers used to own, things start getting grim.

And forcing Google, Yahoo, or even bloggers to pay for linking to news websites sounds like a pretty good way for newspapers to cut off their nose to spite their face. (On a personal note, I actually had to look up that saying before I wrote it down, my original mangled version of that idiom was much more disturbing.) It doesn't bring back the classified ads revenue and it sets up a dynamic not unlike the one that currently exists with the music industry which is currently alienating an entire generation of its fans by suing people willy-nilly.

So what is the answer? At the moment there is none but there is certainly a lot of experimentation going around. Plenty of journalists have been pushed out of old media like newspapers, radio, and television and found a home on the web as bloggers. And some of the bigger blogging sites like Huffington Post and The Daily Beast are growing larger and have the resources to act more like traditional newspapers. (He writes having rarely if ever visited either website.) It's possible that big professional blogs will eventually replace traditional newspapers altogether. It's also entirely possible that in the future newspapers will go completely online and will rely on either contributions or on some sort of micro-payment system which is reasonable and convenient enough that people are actually willing to pay it. This is pretty much what is happening now with iTunes and the Amazon MP3 store. While most teens still won't pay for music, older people are perfectly willing to trade a few dollars for the convenience of being able to download music from one reliable place at a low price. Or maybe the future of news looks more like TV and radio, multiple shows and channels all supported by advertising. I just hope that they don't overdo it.

Moreover devices like Amazon's Kindle promise to open up a whole new market for bloggers as they allow people to carry thousands of books and subscribe to hundreds of newspapers (which are updated every day), all in a relatively compact device. Of course these days tiny laptops are almost as compact and software similar to that of the Kindle's can be programmed for them. But laptops are real computers and their software can be hacked to remove the DRM software which controls what can and cannot be loaded onto the Kindle. The Kindle by contrast is completely "safe" from such shenanigans. This is why I think that in the end the newspapers' problems are more about control than they are about money. A big newspaper like the New York Times could potentially save a lot of money right now if they just gave all of their subscribers a Kindle but they will likely resist the move lest a user hack their device to read for free. So instead everybody reads for free.

As a post-script to these meandering thoughts I'd like to point out that many of the bigger newspaper bankruptcies have happened in part because they were mismanaged into the ground. And we certainly don't reward financial mismanagement in this country. OK, so we do; but the newspapers aren't too big to fail. Maybe the newspapers (and the mainstream media in general) need to ask themselves if they deserve to survive at all. While they are good at reporting body counts for the was Iraq, they did piss poor job of considering arguments that might have kept out of that war. Similarly, they've proven very good at detailing gory details of our economic crisis but did little to warn us that it was coming. And those who tried to warn us were generally laughed at. (I realize that the last link was a to a clip from CNBC, a cable TV network but radio and newspapers were every bit the enthusiastic cheerleaders to our exuberant economy which crashed so embarrassingly with every talking head on TV telling us that we had no way of knowing what was coming.)

Clouds...

...fluffy.
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Bowman....

...Or is it the Spearman?

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Exanotes—The Future of Cloud Computing?

ExanotesI'm pretty happy with my Palm Pre but one of its shortcomings is in the Memos app. While it's a nice looking app, it is too simple, lacking such old-school PalmOS amenities as Categories or a List View. Worse yet, unlike the Pre's Contacts and Calendar, the Pre's Memos don't sync to anything. They are trapped on the Pre and cannot be edited on a desktop computer.

While I was able to import all of my old PalmOS memos into the Classic PalmOS emulator, again I have a situation where my memos are trapped because Classic cannot yet sync to anything. And since Classic cannot exchange cut and paste data with normal webOS apps, my memos are in a sense doubly trapped—on inside Classic semi-isolated from the rest of the Pre's data and unable to sync with the outside world.

Today I stumbled on to an interesting web-app. Exanotes is a web-based note-taking service. While it does offer a clean, simple interface what stood out for me is the fact that the service it uses 256-bit AES encryption. Good encryption is one of the things which have been sorely lacking in "Cloud Computing" applications and may help assuage the fears of people who are worried about putting their data into the hands of a third-party website.

The author of the web service has stated that he wants to create webOS app which syncs with the web service in the background. This would eliminate the need for a desktop client as any computer with a browser can be the desktop client for a user of this service and it will still be protected by the user's password (just don't click on the "Remember Me" check box if you are somebody else's computer).

My only real concern regarding Exanotes is its scalability. Will it be able to support thousands or even millions of users trying to sync to it at the same time? Only time will be able to answer that question but for now I'm hopeful. Exanotes looks like what I want to hear when people talk about Cloud Computing and I hope it succeeds.

Exanote might be worth checking out for people thinking of moving from a PDA to a smartphone.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

More Millennium Park Pics

I take a lot of pictures of Millennium Park. In my defense, it's a very nice park....

I don't know if it's very noticeable in these pictures but The Bean is almost as popular with birds these days as it is with humans.
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Friday, July 10, 2009

Reporter Groped by Senator...Kind of Likes it

This I came across this video on Daily Kos. Weird, wild stuff.



Malware Goes Mobile

Curly threatens the bad guys with an explosive...Image via Wikipedia

Two new stories by ZDNet caught my eye today. The first is a story about a piece of malware which attacks Symbian-based phones (most Nokia phones use some version of this operating system) by pretending to be a legitimate piece of third-party software and spreads through SMS messages. This was news to me as I didn't realize that mobile malware was so common (this was the latest of many Symbian viruses and differs from them only by being more transmissable). This is an unfortunate but development arising from the fact that phones have gotten so much more powerful these days.

The second story interested me mainly because I recently wrote something about this recently. Basically, you had a group of websites which got flagged by Google as malicious because the advertising network which they use was flagged as potentially carrying malicious code. And ironically enough, the advertising network claims that their ads were clean and that only website was attacked. Either way, it all adds up to a headache for everyone involved; users, website operators, and ad providers alike.

These stories caught my attention in part because they have become so commonplace. Our happy high-bandwidth Internet with its mobile access and fancy web apps is fun and exciting but it also creates new avenues for the bad guys to attack us.
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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Under Construction

PhotobucketThis section of State Street was an empty lot for years. The city tried to clean it up and for a few years turned it into a garden in the summer and a skating rink in the winter. It was actually pretty cool place to go at a time when Millennium Park still not exist. For the past couple of years, they've been building a building on the site. While there is certainly no shortage of tall buildings in downtown Chicago thanks to Grant Park and Millennium Park there are also plenty of gardens and during winter, a skating rink, downtown. Ah, the passage of time. I feel old.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Pimlical—An Old School PalmOS App Moves to the Desktop

[Pimlical Multiday View]
Pimlical is a new stand alone Calendar application from the author of the excellent Datebk app for PalmOS handhelds and smartphones. The author of Pimlical promises Android, Blackberry, and Windows Mobile support for 2010. While Pimlical already supports the older PalmOS desktop application, support for webOS is pending release of Palm's Software Development Kit. (An early version of the webOS SDK was recently leaked by a developer but Palm really needs to put out an official version sooner rather than later.) One thing that concerns me is that there is no mention of GMail/Google Calendar support and I use these two apps a lot these days thanks to the fact that both my T-Mobile G1 and Palm Pre rely heavily on synchonizing with Google's apps. Still I was always an eager user of Datebk on the PalmOS and I'm pretty eager to try out this new application.

Some Art From the Harold Washington Library

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