Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Good News for PalmOS Fans

For a while it looked like Palm had turned its back on PalmOS, the operating system which had powered its PDAs and smartphones for year. And to a certain extent they have but the situation may not be as dire as die-hard PalmOS fans had thought.

With the latest version of webOS, version 2.0, Palm has removed the PalmOS ROM from the phone which is the actual code which the Classic PalmOS emulator uses to run PalmOS apps on webOS phones like the Palm Pre and Pixi. It was a serious enough problem that MotionApps, the company which makes Classic essentially threw in the towel and stopped selling Classic. But it turns out that with a little digging and command line hacking, that the PalmOS ROM can be installed on a phone with webOS 2.0.

Two interesting points come out of this development. One, longtime PalmOS users who have already purchased Classic will be able to continue using once they upgrade to webOS 2.0 devices like the Pre 2 or after their older devices are automatically upgraded to webOS 2. The other interesting point is that since the PalmOS ROM is clearly separate from the Classic emulator, then creating a PalmOS emulator for webOS might be a lot easier than people realize. Even if MotionApps stopped selling Classic, it should be possible for someone else (perhaps even Palm themselves) to create an emulator for PalmOS apps.

While I wouldn't expect to see a lot of PalmOS emulators coming out any time soon, it's an interesting thing to note that since Palm is putting out the PalmOS ROM themselves through their webOS Doctor software, it should help keep PalmOS die hards going while they search for webOS equivalents to their beloved PalmOS apps.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Caught in the Act

On last Thursday's Community, a furry little paw grabs Annie's purple pen:



A second later, it's gone:



Let's go to the video:



Also available in animated .gif format.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Screenshots From The Aerodynamics of Gender

I loved Abed's Terminator vision in last week's episode. Here are some screen shots:








Sunday, November 7, 2010

Palm Drops Classic, Why It Matters.

Two weeks ago MotionApps, the developers of the Classic PalmOS emulator for webOS, announced that they were discontinuing Classic due to a dispute with Palm:

We are sad to announce that Palm has removed Classic’s ROM from the new webOS 2.0 device ROM which will result in Classic not working if utilized with Palm’s new webOS 2.0.

This is contrary to our agreement with Palm and was done without our approval or consent. Based on this action, MotionApps will immediately stop selling Classic. However, as a courtesy to our clients, we will continue to support existing Classic customers on webOS 1.x for the immediate future.

It's certainly a disappointing development for users of old school PalmOS apps like myself. But does it really matter? The truth is that I already have webOS replacements for most of my PalmOS apps. But a lot of these webOS apps are inferior to their PalmOS counterparts. Additionally, there are many PalmOS apps which still do not have webOS equivalents. And a lot of the PalmOS apps which have transitioned to webOS are still not ready for prime time. Finally, a lot of developers who made popular PalmOS apps are simply not interested in developing for webOS because its development tools are not mature enough yet.

While Palm has worked hard to foster developer interest, they are facing an uphill battle. Currently the webOS App Catalog has roughly 4300 apps. Add in the apps in Palm Web and Beta feeds and that number jumps to well over 5000. But Apple's iOS has 250,000 apps and Google's Android has 140,000 apps. And this isn't just a matter of quantity over quality, there are many unique and powerful apps which are not available to webOS users. A lot of this stems from limitations in the APIs of webOS and in the hardware of webOS phones. And that's all the more reason why Palm needs the Classic as a bridge between the limitations of webOS and the power of PalmOS. More than 30,000 PalmOS apps can be run in Classic.

Ultimately, it does Palm no good to further alienate a group of developers which were already upset with the move from PalmOS to webOS and who are attracted by the much greener pastures of Android and iOS. MotionApps has handed over the Classic source code and intellectual property rights to Palm, so Palm has all it needs to restore and support Classic themselves. There would seem to be no reason why they couldn't put it back in a future version of webOS.

So it makes a lot of sense for Palm to support Classic. They already go out of their way to support webOS and Homebrew developers. And they are working on tools to allow developers to build "hybrid" apps which will use both traditional C/C++ code and the HTML/Javascript code that powers webOS apps. A PalmOS emulator like Classic, could be another tool for Palm to get apps on to their platform.

Classic wasn't perfect. It was slow and it was the only app on webOS that could actually crash my phone. And using felt like living in a mobile computing ghetto—PalmOS apps ran inside Classic and couldn't be used as cards and you couldn't copy and paste between PalmOS and webOS apps. But it did allow access to a great number of apps which otherwise wouldn't exist for my phone or which are better than the apps which are available to me.

Now that Palm has full control of Classic and a perpetual license to PalmOS, they can fix all that if they want. They can make PalmOS apps run seamlessly as cards alongside their webOS counterparts. They can make it possible to copy and paste between PalmOS and webOS apps. They can even "skin" PalmOS apps to make them look more like webOS apps. For that matter why not add a PalmOS section to the webOS App Catalog where users can install legacy PalmOS apps? But all this will all take time and money—two things that I don't think Palm wants to spend on PalmOS. Having said that, Palm is still developing webOS anyway and it makes more sense for Palm to expand its capabilities instead of contract them.

I've seen a lot of comments about DOS and Windows XP bandied about in discussions about Classic. And Microsoft's history of support for Windows XP is actually a pretty good example of how to handle aging software—an example which Palm would be wise to follow. Up until last month you could still buy a PC with Windows XP preinstalled nine years after it debuted. (And you can still "downgrade" a PC with Windows 7 to XP.) Microsoft supported Windows XP with Service Pack 2 until July 31, 2010 and still supports Windows XP with Service Pack 3 to this day. For almost a decade, Microsoft has supported Windows XP with the result that it remained their most successful software program even long after it became obsolete.

Now compare this to what has happened with Classic. On October 19, Palm introduced webOS 2.0. By October 25, MotionApps withdrew Classic from the webOS App Catalog accusing Palm of breaking its agreement with them. That's not the kind of orderly transition from one platform to another that engenders user or developer confidence.

While Classic represents a tiny subset of the webOS user experience, there seems to be little point to removing a useful capability from it at a time when webOS is struggling to gain acceptance. The openness and freedom of the webOS experience is one of the things that distinguishes it from its competitors. At a time when Apple was trying to outlaw Jailbreaking and Google was challenging the legality of rooting Android, Palm actually made it easier to hack your phone. And Classic represented an example of that freedom—the ability to install and run "obsolete" software which you still found useful. For me the bottom line is that if I wanted a handset maker telling me what software I can and cannot use on my phone, I'd have gotten an iPhone.

With webOS 2.0, MotionApps drops Classic PalmOS Emulator in Palm's lap | PreCentral.net

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bible Readers for webOS

I had a very religious upbringing and I still go to church regularly. And I've carried some form of bible reading software with me since I installed a the original OliveTree BibleReader on my Palm III back in 1999. So when I got my Palm Pre, I was very interested in looking for Bible readers on webOS. With the the Pre entering its seventeenth month of existence, the development of software in this area gives a good overview of the growth and lack of growth in webOS.

I have tried to take a look at the various Bible apps which I've encountered on webOS and will review them in turn. While this software round up will not be exhaustive I will try to be reasonably thorough.


webOZ Mobile Apps has created a number of readers for various translations of the Bible, each of which is sold separately (for $1.49-2.99). In addition, webOZ sells other Bible study tools like dictionaries which can be accessed from their Bible readers. Each of these apps are simple, fast, and intuitive. The Scrolling is fast and smooth. Tapping on an arrow on the lower left corner of the screen activates an auto-scroll function. To the right is an arrow which scrolls a page at a time. And in the middle is an options button which drops down a convenient menu for highlighting text, bookmarks, copying text, email, and search.

Each reader presents the user with a clean, friendly screen which makes it easy to drill down to the book you are looking for. Chapters are a little different as they appear on a drop down grid at the top of the screen once you've chosen your book. Verses however are awkward, you can't drill down to the verse you are looking for, you have to scroll through your chapter to find it. Searching is fast and intuitive (the app begins to search as soon as you begin to type) but it requires an active connection to the Internet to work.

The fact that every translation is sold separately is both good and bad. On the bright side, you can take advantage of webOS's native multitasking to run multiple translations side by side. On the other hand, you do get the uneasy feeling that you are being nickeled and dimed by having to buy each translation. (But they are cheap, so it's not too bad.) More worrying is the fact that webOZ simply does not have that many translations available for purchase. I'm Latino and I grew up using the Spanish language 1960 Reina Valera translation a lot and as far as I know webOZ only offers the 1909 version which uses older sounding language. When I'm reading in English, webOZ presents me with the opposite problem, they have the older King James version but not the 1963 Modern King James version.

Overall, webOZ presents a nice stable of clean, easy to use Bible translations for the casual churchgoer. But more serious Bible students should probably look into something a little more powerful.
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YouVersion (simply called "Bible" in the webOS App Catalog) started out as little more than app wrapper for mobile version of the website of the same name but recently their Bible reader has improved greatly both in terms of looks and usability. It's tight integration with the YouVersion website is potentially very useful for serious Bible students.

YouVersion presents a nice, clean home screen which allows access to wide variety of Biblical translations. Once inside, it is easy to switch between translations. There is also an attractive dark theme for low light situations. It is easy to drill down by book and by chapter but as with webOZ it is impossible to drill down to specific verse, except by searching for it. Search is fairly quick but noticeably slower than with the webOZ Bible readers which search as you type.

Tapping on a verse allows you do a wide variety of things with the text, including copy it to the clipboard. But most other functions—even creating a bookmark—require you to have an account with YouVersion. But you can email the text and look at Contributions (essentially crowd sourced notes about the verse you've selected) made by YouVersion users. If you do have a YouVersion account, you can add Contributions of your own and share them with other users.

YouVersion is a fairly powerful Bible app but a lot of that power is due to its tight integration with the YouVersion website. So while hardcore Bible students will likely find it to be a valuable tool, more casual users might not be willing to commit to joining yet another website.

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Bible Reader Plus ($1.49, free version available) is an app wrapper for the mobile version of excellent BibleGateway website which boasts "over 100 versions and 50 languages." But it does have a few interesting tricks. Once you've selected your verse, what you can do with it depends on the format of the Bible. The bibles come in three formats: web, database, and audio. Web bibles can only be copied and pasted like ordinary text you come across on the web. But text database and audio bibles can also be highlighted and shared online through, Facebook, Email, and SMS. And audio bibles can also, as the name implies, read the text back to you.

Bible Reader Plus also has tools for creating a Bible study plan with reminders, journals, and reports. Its web bibles also allow you to type out the book, chapter, and verse you are looking for and drill down to it which is a feature that other readers lack. Another nice feature is that it can open multiple cards so you can run several different translations side by side.

The biggest advantage of Bible Reader Plus is the sheer number of translations that it offers. But its many translations have an inconsistent look and feel and not all of its features can be accessed in every translation. As a result, Bible Reader Plus works best as a supplemental tool for serious Bible students or as a tool for casual users who occasionally look up a single verse.

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BibleZ (Free) allows you download XML databases for a variety of translations of the Bible. The databases are quite large and don't always download nicely over 3G connections. They do however download well over WiFi . As with the webOZ offerings, you may not be able to find your favorite translation for BibleZ.

If you can, BibleZ offers the most attractive interface of the Bible readers I am reviewing here and allows you to switch between translations and drill down by book and by chapter easily via cleanly laid out menus and selection screens. As with most of the apps in this roundup, there is no way to drill down to a specific verse unless you do a search. And BibleZ is a little slower than the other apps to jump from its search results to a specific verse.

When BibleZ goes into landscape mode its interface elements disappear which is a nice feature when you just want to read. BibleZ also includes quick access to your reading history, notes, and bookmarks. It also allows you to tap on a verse to add a bookmark, note, highlight, and to either copy or share a verse through email or SMS.

All these features make BibleZ a very attractive and powerful app. The only thing holding it back is is the number of tranlations—BibleZ has a lot of them but it simply can't match the number of translations that online bible based apps like YouVersion and Bible Reader Plus boast.

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Simple Bible (Free) Like BibleZ, Simple Bible depends on databases to load its biblical translations. Simple Bible has fewer databases and a clunkier interface. When you first start Simple Bible, it shows a splash screen with "What's New" and "Donate" buttons. This screen can be disabled, as can the the pop up encouraging you to download the Ten Commandments companion app. Once these screens are disabled, Simple Bible presents you with a list of your Bibles and a link to download more within the app. As with BibleZ, the databases are large and best downloaded over a WiFi connection.

Once you have opened your bible, a button toggles between the Old and New Testaments and menus allow you to select books and chapters quickly but you have to scroll to your verse or search for it. Bookmarking is rudimentary and clumsy. But Simple Bible does have one nice feature. You can tap on the screen and all the interface elements disappear, allowing for distraction free reading in either portrait or landscape mode.

Overall Simple Bible is something of a misnomer, while it is a nice free app it is also clunky and tends to get in your way more than it helps.

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OliveTree BibleReader is an old school PalmOS program which runs well inside the Classic PalmOS emulator. I saved this program for last not because it's the best (even though it is) but because Palm's recent decision to stop supporting Classic means that the days when webOS users can run PalmOS apps on their phones may be numbered. Nevertheless, Classic still runs on the Palm Pre, Pixi, Pre Plus, and Pixi Plus for the moment at least so I'm including OliveTree in this roundup.

BibleReader uses databases for its biblical translations which much be purchased and installed separately from the reader in Classic. Some of these translations are free but others can be quite expensive. But OliveTree leverages the maturity of PalmOS to create an app with the kind of power and versatility which blows away the webOS apps in this roundup. In addition to bibles, BibleReader can also open commentaries, dictionaries, ebooks, maps, and more.

Every aspect of BibleReader can be customized with preferences for desktops, fonts, toolbars, and scrolling all of which can be tweaked by the user. You'll notice most of the apps in this roundup have one format the verses while YouVersion uses a different format which groups verses into paragraphs. As far as I can tell, the verse format cannot be changed in any of the webOS apps. But in OliveTree BibleReader this format can be changed.

Even though it looks pretty ugly next to the beautiful webOS apps in this roundup BibleReader is simply much more robust than its webOS competitors. It can remap the virtual buttons in Classic to control any of BibleReader's features. And BibleReader has a lot of features. Its bookmarks menu is better and easier to use than the bookmarking feature of any of the other apps in this roundup and it can be edited, saved, and exported as a file. It has menus for switching between translations and for quickly accessing your reading history.

BibleReader has a versatile and customizable verse chooser which allows you to drill down to a specific verse quickly and easily. And if you use one of the BibleReader desktops which support a "live toolbar" you can actually tap on any chapter or verse and select a new one from the verse chooser.

BibleReader's biggest weakness is that it was originally designed for a stylus-driven screen. Some of the screen elements are quite small and can require some pinching and zooming for large handed users. Similarly, the fact that it must run inside the Classic emulator is another weakness for BibleReader. Classic is slow to load and is about to be abandoned by Palm. So while in many respects BibleReader blows away the competition an one very critical respect, it isn't even in the race.

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Conclusion: It's disappointing to see Palm abandon its Classic emulator so soon. While there are some good apps in this roundup, none of them have the power and flexibility of BibleReader and a similar story can be told about apps in other categories. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake for some who doesn't already have a large investment in PalmOS apps to try them right now.

As for the webOS apps, if it has your favorite biblical translation, BibleZ is your best bet. It has a great combination of flexibility and power. If you don't have a favorite biblical translation go with one of the webOZ translations. It's simple, fast, and perfect for casual users.

What We Need is an Ellis Island for the American Southwest

One of the big issues in this year's mid-term election is immigration. As usual there is a lot of bluster on both sides of the issue. But one thing that I haven't seen is a lot of ideas for actually controlling immigration in an orderly manner. Conservatives, when not jumping up and down screaming "What part of illegal don't you understand!" tend to focus on enforcement, calling for border fences and putative action against employers who hire illegal aliens. Liberals tend to focus on legalizing illegal aliens, talking about "a path to citizenship" and using the word "comprehensive" a lot. And Libertarians call for open borders.

The problem with enforcement is that it doesn't work. While it is not a particularly well known fact, president Obama has actually increased the rate of deportation of illegal aliens and auditing of businesses which hire illegals. And yet the screams of the opponents of illegal immigration have never been louder. The truth is that we'll never be able to deport 12 million illegal immigrants and until we as a nation admit that, we'll never solve our problems with immigration.

That's where the liberal "path to citizenship" comes in; whether you call it an amnesty, a pardon or whatever; an illegal would come forward, pay a large fine, and "go to the back of the line" where after a period of time they would be eligible for citizenship. While it seems like a fairly good idea to liberal ears, the major problem with it is that the average Democratic politician doesn't have the guts to actually go through with it. For example the DREAM Act which was a relatively modest version of this idea (applying only to young people with no criminal records who agreed to join the military or attend college) was proposed but will not be voted on until the Senate's lame duck session largely because Democrats were afraid of blow back in the election. With large Republican gains and possibly an outright Republican takeover of one or both houses of Congress expected in tomorrow's election, it seems unlikely that the lemmings in Congress are likely to approve any kind of comprehensive immigration reform.

In the very unlikely case that our government does grow a spine however what's wrong with the open borders policy advocated by Libertarians? Nothing really except that it removes a lot of control from the government. And Americans would fear increased competition for low-paying jobs from cheap, illegal immigrant labor. And of course it makes it easier for terrorists, drug dealers, and other assorted nogoodnicks to get into the country. The truth is that no country has truly open borders and the United States will not be the first.

Ellis Island-27527So here's my idea. Politicians love to idealize the past and pander to voters who long for the "good old days." So why not reach into the past and create another Ellis Island, this time for the American Southwest.

Basically, the United States would create one or more processing centers on its border with Mexico. They would be places where potential immigrants could go, get some papers and maybe a lead on a job. They could also be searched, vaccinated, and be subject to background checks. The upside would be that the United States would know who is entering the country and would be able to track them more easily if it needed to do so. It would also eliminate the dangerous crossings of the border which have led to the death of many illegal aliens. With thousands of illegal immigrants removed from the other parts of the border, drug runners and terrorists trying to cross the border would be more likely to stand out and border enforcement would be more likely to work.

This would be a small part or of a truly comprehensive reform of our immigration system. A single processing center on our southern border would not resolve the problem of immigrants overstaying their visas. And it certainly wouldn't do a thing about the 12 million illegals who are already here. But it could resolve the emotionally charged issue of people crossing our border illegally.

Of course this is all just spitting in the wind if our politicians continue to be either gutless talkers or mendacious panderers on this issue. And the current election cycle doesn't give me much hope. But if America's politicians do ever grow up and actually fix this problem, it would help if they'd look the story of Ellis Island for inspiration.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Community's Episode Within an Episode

One of my favorite things about NBC's Community is the little jokes that it puts into the background. Last night they seem to have managed to squeeze an entire second episode into the background. Ostensibly about how the death of Pierce's mother brings all of Jeff's anxieties about his own mortality to the surface with a subplot about Britta and Annie's mutual competition and jealousy (as well as Shirley feeling left out by the two younger girls), it also includes at least six little ten to thirty second vignettes about a subplot with Abed helping a pregnant girl who goes into labor and catching a lot of grief from her hotheaded boyfriend.

  1. Abed is seen in the background talking to a very agitated pregnant girl outside the study room. He touches her belly and places his head on it to listen to the baby.


  2. Pregnant Girl follows Abed and grabs his arm as she looks around nervously while Britta in the foreground explains that the current Gulf oil spill is worse than 15 Exxon Valdez spills. When they are joined by a redheaded dude, the pregnant girl places herself in between Abed and the dude as some students laugh at Britta when one of them points out that "Nobody is on the other side of this issue."


  3. Redheaded Dude takes issue with something that Abed says. He shoves Pregnant Girl out of the way, knocks a Slurpee out of Abed's hands and pushes him. Pregnant Girl grabs her belly and doesn't look well. Redheaded Dude tries to start a fight but Abed runs off. Pregnant Girl throws up a hand in disgust. All of this is going on behind Annie while she's talking about Pelicans.

  4. Abed is sitting in the cafeteria talking to Pregnant Girl and Redheaded Dude as Ian joins Jeff for lunch in for foreground. Redheaded Dude shows some pretty angry body language. He gets up and tries to storm off but Pregnant Girl begins to have contractions. Abed and Redheaded Dude (the baby's father?) both help her limp away. She's clearly in labor at this point.


  5. Pregnant Girl is seen behind an angry Shirley giving birth in a van. Abed has his back turned but it's clearly him assisting in the birth. Redheaded Dude is holding Pregnant Girl's hand.


  6. Girl and Redheaded Dude are seen behind Shirley holding a new-born baby as Shirley asks Abed about his day.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The End of XMarks

Today Marks announced that they will be closing their doors soon. They had a great bookmark syncing service for Firefox which made it possible to share bookmarks across multiple computers and access them on the web. It was great for people who had more than one computer (at and at work for example) or who simply wanted an easy way to import their browsers when they upgraded their computers. You could even access your bookmarks on your cellphone through XMarks' web interface.

It was a great, innovative service—real cloud computing at a time when most people had not even heard of the term. But their support page for the shutdown shows quite dramatically, why XMarks will cease operations soon. Simply put, the functionality of XMarks has been taken over by web browsers. Beginning with Chrome, all of the major web browsers today have added a syncing solution for bookmarks in recent months. While XMarks could also sync bookmarks between different web browsers, most people tend to pick a browser they like and stick with it.

That's certainly what I do. While I occasionally run different browsers just to compare and keep on top of what's out there, I've mostly stuck with Chrome over the last couple of years after having been a loyal Firefox user for many more years. And before that, I had stuck with Netscape for the better part of a decade. In fact, even though I have fond memories of XMarks, the truth is that I haven't used it in years. And even if I was a big browser slut, I could always use a social bookmarking service like Delicious without installing XMarks. So while the closing of XMarks seems surprising to me at first, perhaps it shouldn't have been much of a surprise.

But the end of XMarks causes more than just nostalgia; it also raises concerns. While it came into existence before "cloud computing" caught on, XMarks is essentially a cloud service. It stores your bookmarks on a remote server and allows you to download them on whatever computer you are using. XMarks is not the first cloud computing service to be shutdown after going out of business or being bought out but it will not be the last. And that is the issue that we all must grapple with as more and more of our data migrates from our computers and our control and onto remote servers which companies which may or may not be financially stable control.

This is going to keep happening. Cloud computing services will come and go and users will be forced to scramble to save their data when those services go. Ultimately, the only solution is that age old solution that we always seem to be too lazy to do; set up a backup plan and stick with it....

Friday, September 17, 2010

Will the New iPod Nano Be the New Wristwatch?



The new iPod Nano hasn't been received as well as its predecessors by some people. But for others, it has been something of a revelation. The idea that you can actually replace your wristwatch with an MP3 is very appealing to a lot of nerds, myself included. In a way it represents the arrival of the legendary Dick Tracey watch. While a few companies have actually tried to create a high tech watch, most of them have been wildly impractical. They always too big, ugly, expensive, and lacked the battery life that people expect from a watch.

But perhaps the time has come for the iPod watch. I haven't worn a watch on a regular basis in over five years, because I always carry a phone or a PDA or an iPod around with me anyway and they all display the time. Moreover I have been "trained" to recharge modern gadgets on a regular basis, so battery life is less important to me. And the iPod Nano is small, looks great, and fulfills multiple needs: it can be a watch, an MP3 player, and it even has a pedometer and FM radio. More importantly it is something that I would use every day, I'm always listening to music, podcasts, and audiobooks and this device is as good as any other for that purpose.

In fact the new iPod Nano has everything it needs to be an "invisible" piece of technology. Everything except Bluetooth. Why does it need Bluetooth? Because with Bluetooth, you can use wireless headphones with the iPod Nano. Without Bluetooth, you need to attach a set of head phones attach to long wires. And these wires would attach to your wrist which seems very awkward if you are going to be walking around with one of these things. You could also use a Bluetooth dongle, like the Nike+ sensor but that would make the pretty little Nano bulky and probably ugly, defeating the purpose of a Nano watch.

So close. Maybe a Nano pocket watch? Of course you could always switch it from a watch band to a key chain or even use it as a tie clip whenever the mood struck and that's pretty cool too.

Portable Apps—Now With Updates!

Once upon a time, it was possible to just drop a program on to your hard drive and just run it. At worst you might have to unzip a group of files into a folder and just run your program. But these days software is so complicated that it insinuates on putting pieces of itself on every corner of your computer. This often makes our computers slow, buggy, and hard to upgrade.

A few years ago, some people began taking advantage of the growing sizes of USB flash drives to create a new generation of software which has been helping fight this trend. Portable Apps can be installed on a flash drive and allow you to work with your own files and your own applications on any computer without making any changes to the computer which you are using. It's perfect for people who need to borrow someone else's computer or for people who often find themselves having to schlep files from one computer to another. For that matter, it suddenly occurs to me that users of files synchronization services like Dropbox would do well to keep a few frequently used portable apps in their Dropbox and cut the flash drive out of the equation.

I always keep a flash drive with a Portable Apps installation on my key chain just in case I ever find myself needing to do something on a computer but don't have one with me. But my biggest problem with this—indeed with the very concept of Portable Apps—is that software gets updated from time to time and it's very hard to keep up with software updates, especially when you have dozens of portable apps which are constantly being updated.

Enter PortableApps.com Platform 2.0. The latest version of the Portable Apps software brings several interesting changes, like themes for customizing the look of the Portable Apps menu. But more importantly, you can now check for updates to your apps and Portable Apps will download and install them automatically. PortableApps.com Platform 2.0 is currently in Beta so caution is advised. In my own personal testing, PortableApps.com Platform 2.0 was able to update all but one (PNotes) of the thirty-nine applications on my my SD Card and another app (Notepad++) needed to update some of its plug-ins the first time it ran. Everything else ran perfectly. While it wasn't perfect (hence the "Beta" tag) this was certainly preferable to downloading and installing thirty-nine programs.

Overall, PortableApps.com Platform 2.0 is a welcome update to a very useful application platform which itself was already a welcome addition to any large flash drive.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Fountain at Daley Plaza

Facing City Hall
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Facing the Picasso Sculpture
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Rainy Day Flowers

It's amazing what can get your attention sometimes. Last week it was this the water in these flowers following some morning rain.
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Zooming out....
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Sunday, August 29, 2010

As Homebrew Reaches New Heights, webOS Needs to Grow to Accommodate It

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My Palm Pre is fourteen months old and I still can't find a phone that can replace it. While I have had plenty of opportunities to play with Sprint's Evo 4G and am eligible to upgrade to it; every time I handle it my reaction is the same. I love the hardware but can't help wishing that its Android operating system were half as elegant and as usable as the webOS.

One of the things that has kept me so enamored with webOS is the Homebrew developer community that sprang up around it shortly after the Pre was released. Is your phone too slow? You can overclock it. Need an easy way to block unwanted phone calls? There's a patch for that. Not happy with your Calendar? There's a patch for that too. Ever wish you could use your phone's flash LED as a flashlight? There are actually several patches for that. Not happy with the Pre's messaging app? There are fifty patches for that.

One recent example of the power of webOS Homebrew patches is Advanced Configuration for App Launcher. This patch is a mouthful and so is the list of improvements that it adds to webOS's spartan App Launcher. It also exposes how bad most modern phones are at the seemingly trivial task of launching apps.

Back in the days of PalmOS PDAs and phones like the Treo, the app launcher was a relatively simple application but in comparison to the webOS launcher it is far more powerful and sophisticated. It allowed users to easily organize their apps with categories that could be added, deleted, and renamed. And there were numerous third-party launchers available for PalmOS which provided users with a wealth of customization options.

The webOS launcher by contrast comes with a measly three unnamed screens with no visible way to create more. (I'm oversimplifying things for the sake of the argument since webOS's Universal Search feature does make it easy to drill down to your apps by typing out the first letter or two of their names but do keep in mind that in the case of the Palm Pre, the keyboard is often hidden beneath its slider which adds one more step to your searches.)

And the situation on other platforms, the situation is not much better. Android borrows a page from desktop computers by shoving all of its apps into its launcher but allowing you to clutter your phone's home screens with shortcut icons. And it further complicates things for users by allowing each handset maker and cell phone carrier to customize the Android user interface, tweaking things just enough so users can't always just jump to a new Android phone without relearning how to navigate through its UI. Apple's IOS4 is the most mature of the modern smartphone platforms and has the most advanced launcher. With multiple home screens, folders, and multi-tasking; IOS4 approaches the power and ease of use that PalmOS had almost a decade ago.

The situation with application launchers is indicative of the atmosphere in which the webOS Homebrew community is operating. Modern smartphone OSes are powerful but they have also thrown away a lot of little things that made older smartphones like the Treo so easy to use and powerful in their own right. In the year since the Pre came out, numerous webOS patches have been created just to improve the launcher: patches for creating, naming, and organizing launcher screens; for hiding and unhiding apps; and for making it easier to navigate through app screens. Advanced Configuration for App Launcher brings all of these tweaks under one roof. It allows you add and delete named pages to the launcher, creates tabs for easier navigation between screens, the list of features goes on and on—but more importantly; this patch makes it easy to turn features on and off; so your launcher can be as simple, or as complex as you wish.

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While Advanced Configuration for App Launcher is a potent example of how a handful of hackers working in their spare time can build powerful software for webOS, it also points to the limitations of what Homebrew can accomplish. This patch has been a huge pain in the ass to install in recent days. And since it is being updated frequently, it has to be reinstalled a lot. And the author of the patch even warns you that it conflicts with a lot of other patches. In order to get Advanced Configuration for App Launcher to install, I had to use the Emergency Patch Recovery utility to uninstall all of my patches and reinstall them one by one, beginning with the problem patch.

While in the past I haven't minded wiping out all my patches—I even appreciated the opportunity to rethink how I use my phone and which patches I want to install. But I don't want to have to do this every time one of my patches is updated.

And this problem is becoming more common. As the number of webOS patches grows, the number of potential conflicts between individual patches grows. While webOS Internals and other Homebrew developers have worked hard to create tools to make the patching process as painless as possible, there is only so much that they can do. Sooner or later, it will become necessary for Palm or perhaps HP to get involved with the Homebrew community beyond just offering gentle encouragement.

Many webOS patches are simple hacks which should have been in webOS from day one. Palm should be looking at the Homebrew patches that are out there and adding some of them to webOS. They should also create some sort of framework which will make it easier to add little tweaks (maybe HP-Palm can call them "extensions") to webOS without restarting the UI. As HP prepares to build a wide variety of devices based on webOS, such a system might even make it easier to customize webOS for use on a variety of form factors.

Friday, July 30, 2010

As a Robot Begins to Slowly Die, Its Human Masters Mourn

NASA's Spirit rover appears to be near the end of its career and I can't help but feel a twinge of sadness at the news. And it's not the first time. A few years ago, I felt the same twinge of sadness when NASA's Phoenix lander "died." It's a curious thing, our capacity to empathize, and it's an ability that we don't think about very often. NBC's sitcom, "Community" probably captures this sentiment best:

“You know what makes humans different from other animals? We’re the only species on Earth that observes Shark Week. Sharks don’t even observe Shark Week, but we do. For the same reason that I can pick up this pencil, tell you its name is Steve, and go like this [snaps pencil in half] and part of you dies just a little bit on the inside. We can sympathize with a pencil, we can forgive a shark, and we can give Ben Affleck an Academy Award for screenwriting. People can find the good in just about anything but themselves.…


The same sentiment that is applied to Sharks, Pencils, and Ben Affleck also applies to space probes. The same NASA story which explains Spirit's predicament also links to a tribute video which describes the plucky little rover's exploits. It's a very human thing and it's worth noting.





Spirit May Never Phone Home Again - NASA Science

Sunday, July 11, 2010

KeyBoss - PreCentral Forums

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One of my favorite apps on my old Treo phones was KeyCaps a utility which allowed me to capitalize letters and enter function symbols without using the phone's shift or alt keys. KeyCaps greatly speeded up my input and was one of the apps which I really missed when I moved to my Palm Pre. Now KeyBoss is recreating that functionality on webOS. While KeyBoss is currently in Beta and should only be installed by advanced users, I have tried it and it works well. This should be a must have utility for webOS homebrew users once it becomes available the main Preware feeds. KeyBoss - PreCentral Forums

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Good Guys—A Pleasant Summer Surprise

"I've got enough to worry about! I've got strip clubs. I've got champagne rooms and free buffets and an economy where clients are cutting back and they're sleeping with their wives again. Their wives!"
The ring leader from the latest episode of The Good Guys.
The Good Guys isn't the best show ever but it is a fun diversion at a time when network television is clogged with reruns, reality shows, and unwatchable garbage shows. An enjoyable mix of low-brow humor and 70s style buddy cop action, The Good Guys is as flat out fun.

The main appeal of the show is its villains which exude quirky desperation rather than the usual vaguely bland menace we've come to expect from more serious shows. With procedural cop shows, the bad guys tend to melt into the background in order help the show milk the mystery and keep the audience guessing until the very end. The Good Guys reverts to a much older formula where the identity of the bad guys is almost never in doubt. As a result, the show is free to imbue its villains with a quirky sensibility which makes them as enjoyable as the cops who chase them. This makes for a fun alternative for the grim, forensic porn which so many procedural cop shows seem to aspire to today.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mozilla Plugin Check Runs on Any Browser

I no longer use Firefox very much. But it doesn't seem that Mozilla holds a grudge. Mozilla's new Plugin Check will check your browser for outdated plugins allowing you to head off potential security threats even if you are running on a different browser. Mozilla, a class act in a world of squabbling children.

Thanks to security guru and all around paranoid freak Steve Gibson for the tip.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Internalz, a File Manager for webOS

Internalz
When I reviewed zcorder I complained that this voice recording app has no way of managing recordings while noting that you can always use Internalz to browse through your recordings. After having played around with it a bit, I have to say that I'm pretty pleased with Internalz. I can move, copy, delete, and rename my recordings fairly easily and organize them by creating new folders for them.

File management is something we all have to do with our computers and as more and more of our data starts migrating to our mobile phones, a good file manager will become increasingly necessary for them as well. Internalz works well as a file manager. I would probably like more sharing options, like the ability to email files. But overall, this is a good, solid choice for managing your files.

"I'll be deep in the cold, cold ground before I recognize Missourah."

Slate put together a pretty nifty widget for figuring out how the American flag would look if we added more states. A nice, little time killer.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Like Chrome But Hate Google? Iron Can Help.

I've always been a big fan of Google's Chrome web browser but these days a lot of people are worried about Google's growing power and its implications for their privacy. But Chrome is so fast! And it's so much better than other browsers! It's something of a conundrum.

Enter Iron. Iron is a new web browser based on the same Chromium code which Chrome uses. As a result, Iron lacks some features like Google Update and address bar suggestions which most people love but which others deem to be a privacy risk. Iron's creators have gone even further and have removed Chrome functions like the Client-ID and error reporting and more. The point is to eliminate all behind the scenes contact between Google and your web browser. While this might seem a little paranoid to some, to others it might be just what the privacy doctor ordered.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

UberCalendar, Smart Up Your webOS Calendar

One of the shortcomings of the Palm Pre and Pixi the calendar application. While it is clean, simple, and arguably more powerful than its counterparts on the iPhone and Android; long time users of PalmOS can be forgiven for thinking that the webOS calendar feels dumbed down. Enter UberCalendar. A Homebrew patch for the webOS Calendar app, UberCalendar adds a number of enhancements to the calendar such as including the subject of an event in week view, more reminder times, the ability to remember and open the last calendar view when the Calendar app is reopened, buttons and shortcuts for entering new events, and a shortcut for launching the excellent Agenda Homebrew app which provides an at a glance view of all your upcoming Calendar entries. These enhancements along with others make the webOS Calendar more powerful and more pleasant to use.

The UberCalendar just debuted and is a little rough around the edges. One example of this is that UberCalendar supports the use of icons for events but these icons must be downloaded and saved separately on your phone's media partition. While this gives you more options for customizing your Calendar, it can be confusing for less advanced users. But then again, Homebrew software is by definition software for advanced users. More importantly, even with its current shortcomings, UberCalendar is the best add-on for the webOS Calendar available and is a must have for anyone who wants to get more out of their phone's calendar.

Once again UberCalendar is a Homebrew app and is not available through the official Palm App Catalog. It can be installed through Preware or with WebOS Quick Install.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Good News, Bad News

So the good news is that HP will probably continue to make webOS smartphones. The bad news is that to HP, smartphones are just a small cog in their machine: CEOs say the darndest things: 'Smartphones are just another connected device to us' | PreCentral.net

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Phone Angst, Part II: Will HP Kill Palm Smartphones?

I was feeling pretty happy with my Palm Pre until I started seeing this headline making the rounds of the Internet: HP CEO: 'We didn't buy Palm to be in the smartphone business' | PreCentral.net. Here we go again. I have been hearing about the imminent demise of Palm for almost as long as I have used Palm's products. In the past it has been little more than the rantings of disgruntled users but this time it's the CEO of Palm's soon to be parent company which while not actually suggesting that it is not interested in Palm's core business. While that may not have been his intent, it is a troubling thing to hear nonetheless.

When I first bought my Palm Pre almost a year ago, it was because I was looking for a platform which I could use over the long haul. After a decade of using PalmOS PDAs and smartphones, my attempt to move to Android in the form of the T-Mobile G1 did not work out. It was a technically amazing mobile platform which fell wildly short of the ease of use that I had enjoyed with PalmOS.

The Pre and webOS felt like a second chance to me. It was an open, modern mobile operating system which was backwards compatible with PalmOS through the Classic emulator. It seemed like the perfect platform for my needs. And it has only gotten better in the past year with regular updates.

But none of that matters if I can't buy another webOS smartphone once my Pre no longer works. While my Pre is still going strong, it is also showing its age. It has a small crack on the upper left hand corner of the screen—it's barely noticeable now but it's sure to grow over time. It is beginning to suffer from the infamous "oreo effect" where its slider flexes in a left to right fashion. And I have to overclock its processor for it to be as fast as newer phones. While a webOS tablet would be cool it will not be able to take the place of my Pre when it finally gives up the ghost.

While it's entirely possible—even probably—that Palm or HP might clarify the situation to give Palm's smartphones a vote of confidence, I feel more cynical about the platform today than I even have before.

Update: After reading some of the discussion at Precentral and the ZDNet article which helped provoke a lot of the discussion, I am probably a little more reassured that webOS is part of a larger strategy which calls for a large number of devices which presumably includes smartphones. But I still have to wonder if HP won't simply let Palm die away slowly the way they did with its Jornada PDAs and Compaq's iPAQ line of PDAs and smartphones. Only time will tell I guess.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Oil Spill Fighting Technique or Sex Slang?

Hint: You've probably seen the latter referenced on a sitcom.

  1. Top Kill
  2. Mexican Halloween
  3. Hot Richard
  4. Junk Shot
  5. Rusty Trombone
  6. Top Hat
  7. Operation Sombrero
  8. Dirty Sanchez
  9. Bottom Kill

Answers:
1. Oil Spill Fighting Technique: used by BP to fight recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
2. Sex Slang: featured in the Halloween episode of Community, "Introduction to Statistics."
3. Sex Slang: featured in 30 Rock episode, "The Funcooker."
4. Oil Spill Fighting Technique: also used by BP to fight recent Gulf spill.
5. Sex Slang: featured on multiple comedies.
6. Oil Spill Fighting Technique: also used by BP to fight recent Gulf spill.
7. Oil Spill Fighting Technique: name given to a technique similar to the "Top Hat" employed in fighting a 1979 oil spill highlighted on Rachel Maddow segment showing that spill fighting technology has not improved much since the 1970s.

8. Sex Slang: featured on multiple comedies most notably The Daily Show.
9. Oil Spill Fighting Technique: another name for the "Dynamic Kill" method which uses relief wells to take the pressure off of the main well.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tracy Jordan's Non-sequitors in Emanuelle Goes to Dinosaur Land

[In the copy shop stairwell remembering his childhood.]

TRACY: It's all coming back to me! Oh my God!
I slept on an old dog bed stuffed with wigs!
I watched a prostitute stab a clown!
Our basketball hoop was a rib cage. A rib cage!

Why did you bring me here? I blocked all of this stuff out for a reason.

Oh lord! Some guy with dreads electrocuted my fish!

DOTCOM: Tray, use this pain to get your Oscar.

TRACY: I hate pain! I'm doing Garfield III and as soon as I make some copies of my passport I'm never coming back here! Move!

[On the movie set.]

Well, I'm sorry Sean and child actor whose name I can't remember. You haven't walked in my shoes. All my life I've tried to forget the things I've seen.

A crackhead breastfeeding a rat.
A homeless man cooking a Hot Pocket on the third rail of the "G Train." The G Train Nermel!
There's something inside of me that needs to come out! And if Garfield III: Feline Groovy can't tell my story, then I'll win my Oscar elsewhere. Or I'll die trying!

[Back in the stairwell.]

I've seen a blind guy bite a police horse!
A puppy committed suicide after he saw our bathroom!
I once bit into a burrito and there was a child's shoe in it!
I seen a hooker eat a tire!
A pack of wild dogs took over and successfully ran a Wendy's!
The sewer people stole my skateboard!
The project I lived in was named after Zachery Taylor, generally considered to be one of the worst presidents of all time!
I once saw a baby give another baby a tattoo! They were very drunk!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

zcorder Brings Voice Recording to webOS

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One of the major omissions from webOS phones like the Palm Pre and Pixi is a lack of a voice recorder. While MotionApps has made its Voice Memo app a free add-on for users of its Classic PalmOS emulator, it has the disadvantage of needing to be run from inside another relatively slow-loading application. Worse yet, I personally have never been able to get Voice Memo to work properly on my Palm Pre.

I've never been a huge user of this feature but I do miss it. And some people swear by it; so the arrival of zcorder onto the webOS Homebrew scene should be welcome.

Zcorder records both voice and sound from other running webOS applications. It is a very simple application. Your recordings are saved as MP3 files to a folder on your phone's internal memory and while you can browse them when you connect your phone to a computer in USB mode or use the Homebrew app Internalz to browse through them but you cannot manage your recordings in zcorder as you can with a true "voice memo" application.

But it works and for now it is the best bet for voice recording on webOS.

Zcorder is a Homebrew app and is not available through the official Palm App Catalog. It can be installed through Preware or with WebOS Quick Install.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Yahoo Thinks it's Still 1998

Gizmodo posted recent Yahoo ad where they take aim at Google: Yahoo Bitch Slaps Google In $85 Million Ad Campaign - Yahoo vs google - Gizmodo. I found the ad to be very striking but perhaps not in a way that bodes well for Yahoo. The thing that struck me was how retro it felt. Yahoo is basically promoting itself as a "web portal" even if the words never appear in their commercial. And for good reason, web portals were wiped out in the early 2000s by the bursting of the Dotcom bubble and by a new search engine called "Google."

Portals were all the rage in the mid to late 90s. They were huge, bloated pages that expected you to slog through tons of ads and links just to type in a few search terms. The result was huge, slow loading home pages at a time when most people still connected to the Internet through relatively slow dial-up modems. But they had "everything you need in one place"—never mind that if all you want is one thing, you'll have to wait for everything else to load and put up with numerous distractions.

And now Yahoo is for all intents and purposes trying to bring the concept back. The truth is that they never really abandoned the concept. When Yahoo started out it was more of a directory of websites than a real search engine. And they've stayed true to that concept even as the rest of the Internet abandoned it.

The bottom line is which page looks cleaner and easier to use?

This one?


Or this one?


Good luck Yahoo. I hope this turns out better for you than it did for these guys.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Brightness Unlinked

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Brightness Unlinked is a Hombrew app which solves two common problems for users of the Palm Pre.

There is no way to adjust the brightness of the Palm Pre's keyboard independently of the screen's brightness. Normally this is not a problem but sometimes—particularly in low light conditions—you want to turn down the brightness of the Pre's screen as much as possible. But when you do this, the backlight on the Pre's keyboard can become so dim that it becomes hard to type. Enter Brightness Unlinked. With Brightness Unlinked running, you can crank up the lighting on your keyboard while cranking down the lighting of the screen.

But for me the best feature of Brightness Unlinked is the fact that it can turn off the Pre's screen when it is sitting on the Touchstone charger. In theory, the Pre can double as a bedside clock while sitting on its charger but in practice its screen—even at its lowest level—is far too bright for anyone who wants to get a good night's sleep. So while you may never find yourself typing away on your phone in gloomy twilight, Brightness Unlinked is a must have app for anyone who keeps their Palm Pre by their bedside.

There is also a patch which will allow Brightness Unlinked to run every time you restart your phone but I found that it seemed to make the phone sluggish when you are low on memory. I never quite figured out if it was because of the patch or simply because my Pre was low on memory. But in any case, I found the patch to be rather redundant since Brightness Unlinked can reside the webOS Dashboard and can continues to run even if you throw away its card.

Brightness Unlinked is a Homebrew app and is not available in the regular Palm App Catalog. It can be installed through Preware or with WebOS Quick Install.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Something Else to Take a Look At...

While browsing through books at Borders, I came on a surprising juxtaposition. Near the top left of this picture is Sarah Silverman's book The Bedwetter. Near the bottom right is a biography of Mao Zedong. For some reason I find the similarity between the covers of these two very different books to be absolutely hilarious.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bean Bombed by Birds

Look closely at the picture below. At first glance it's just another picture of "The Bean" at Millennium Park. But a closer look shows that it has taken bird droppings in at least five places. It's just something I noticed today....


Monday, April 26, 2010

Community, the Best Comedy on Television


I can't stop watching Thursday's episode of Community. This show is really firing on all cylinders right now combining brilliant pop-culture parody with lovably weird characters. Set among a Spanish study group at Greendale Community College; a small, not very well regarded school; Community has created a surprisingly rich tapestry to tell its stories with even minor background characters like "Leonard" and "Starburns" getting their moments to shine. As for the main cast of characters, they all seem to be searching for either redemption or acceptance. Jeff, the disbarred lawyer; Pierce, the ex-CEO who has never really had or wanted friends until now; Britta, the embittered slacker; Shirley, the recent divorcĂ©e; Annie, the overachiever and former pill-popper; Troy, the immature dumb jock; Abed, the pop-culture loving kid who can't seem to connect with "normal" people—at times the show feels like Lost with robot jokes.



While Thursday's episode continues Abed's obsession with movies and TV, it also shows a strong emotional edge as Abed finally finds a way to connect with people by getting them to all speak the same language—"chicken." Abed's inability to express himself and connect to people has been a running theme all throughout the series. In the pilot Jeff speculates that he has Asperger Syndrome. Abed's father is constantly frustrated by his son's oddness and only comes to accept his behavior when he explains it through a movie that he makes. So while Abed does insist that he has "self-esteem coming out of my butt," he definitely has a serious problem dealing with other people. Thus when he gets his opportunity to relate to people through his control of Greendale's popular chicken finger snacks, Abed takes it and runs with it. But this connection is tenuous and it is easy for him to see that it will disappear when people get tired of the chicken fingers. That's an awful lot of character development to put into a half-hour show and still manage to squeeze in a brilliant mob-movie parody and a lesson for Jeff on the consequences of exploiting your friends for your own gain.