Posts in Category "General"

Moving West

This is going to be my last post for several days as I begin the process of moving to San Francisco. I’ve basically lived in the Washington DC area for my entire life (other than living overseas, which for some reason doesn’t really seem to count), so I figured it was time to give the west coast a shot. Besides, Macromedia just moved into a brand new office space, and I was feeling very left out.

I want to thank all my friends and family here in the Washington DC and Northern Virginia area for everything they have done for me over the years, and for the wonderful sendoffs over the weekend. I will come back and visit as often as I can, and hopefully lure you guys out to California to visit frequently, as well. (JavaOne, Flashforward, Macworld, etc!)

I’m really looking forward to starting a new life out in San Francisco. It’s much easier moving coast to coast when you’re not changing jobs, and you already have a lot of friends waiting for you on the other end. And I’m really looking forward to working with everyone at Macromedia in person on a day to day basis, as well. They are a great bunch of people working on some very cool technology, and I’m lucky to be a part of the team.

If you’ve sent me anything within the last few days, or if you send me anything in the next few days, it might be a while before you get a response. This move is going to be a long process, and I can’t tell how connected I’m going to be over the next couple weeks. I promise I’ll get to everything eventually, though.

Signing off for now…

What Kinds of New Year’s Resolutions Do Developers Make?

I know it’s the 6th already, but I figured I’d give people a few days to solidify their resolutions, and possibly abandon a few that haven’t worked out already. What interesting resolutions have you made for 2005? Are they mostly personal resolutions, or professional?

I’ve resolved to give Eclipse another chance. I’ve tried it twice in the past, and haven’t liked it either time for various reasons, but people keep raving about it, so I’m determined to keep trying new builds until I find one I like.

I’ve also resolved to get back into Java to some extent. I used to be a Java developer before working for Macromedia, but for the last two years, I actually haven’t done much Java development. This should mesh well with my Eclipse resolution.

As far as personal resolutions go, I’m trying to go to bed earlier, get more sleep, and only drink decaf or half-caf coffee. Oh, and I should probably do something about my watch buying habit, but I’m not sure I’m ready to admit yet that I have a problem.

What Are You Hoping For This Holiday Season?

Ok, I’ll admit that I get just as excited on Christmas morning now as I did when I was a kid. The only difference is that I usually don’t have time to get excited until late Christmas Eve whereas when I was a kid, I started getting excited days and even weeks in advance. Still, it’s a great time of year of many reasons, but I’m not ashamed to admit that in addition to spending additional time with my family and especially with extended family, I also love getting presents!

The problem is that my tastes have gotten too expensive and specific for most people who give me gifts, so unless I’ve asked for something by model number, I never know what I’m going to end up with. I’m hoping for a new watch or two. Although my taste in watches is getting a pretty esoteric (and too expensive), there are always some nice Casio, Fossil, Timex, Swiss Army or Swatch models to be had. And I’m hoping for some Sopranos DVDs since I’m determined to own them all some day. I’ll probably get a Star Wars DVD box set even though I already have two. And I wouldn’t mind getting Start Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, though I think I might have added that to my list too late, so I’ll probably have to get it with the Best Buy gift certificate I’m certain to get from someone who didn’t know what the heck to get me. I think I’m actually ok on computer equipment this year, and none of my essential devices (digital camera, GPS, MP3 player, etc.) need updating. Too bad the PSP isn’t out yet, or that would probably be at the top of my list. Anyway, I hope I’m not coming across as too materialistic, but I love getting new toys now as much as I did as a kid, and I will be giving plenty of toys to others to make sure they are equally surprised and excited.

So what are you hoping for this holiday season, and what kind of clever gifts did you get for others?

Mobile Aggregator Test

A couple of weeks ago, I launched a new general news aggregator called Newsbrew. A few days later, I created a mobile version. I tested the mobile version on my Sidekick II and a Motorola V600, but those are the only mobile devices I have access to right now. If you have some kind of mobile device with either a WiFi connection or GPRS, and you have some time to help me experiment, it would be a big help if you could give it a try and post your findings here. The mobile URL is:

http://www.newsbrew.org/mobile

Thanks for your help!

Weblog Comment Changes

FYI, we just made some changes to the way comments are handled by our weblogs. If you see some odd behavior, feel free to email me. In fact, it might not hurt to leave a few comments here just as a test. Thanks!

Bug Tracking

What kind of bug tracking systems are people using out there? In particular, I’m interested in free, web-based systems. I’ve used Bugzilla in the past, and GNATS, both of which were decent, though I think I preferred GNATS. What’s your favorite, and why?

Cool Tool Friday: Devices Talking to Each Other. Literally.

Before two devices can “talk” to each other (by “talk”, I mean in some way integrate with each other, or exchange data), they have to have some sort of protocol in common. Some examples include:

  • Networked computers talking over TCP/IP.
  • My phone talking to my PDA via infrared and/or bluetooth.
  • My PDA talking to my PC via WiFi talking to another PC via WiFi sending a signal to my stereo via RCA and playing MP3s through iTunes.
  • Tapping on a button on my PDA which makes an HTTP request through GPRS to a web server which executes an OS level command which relays a message to the device plugged into the serial port which sends a radio signal to an X10 device plugged into an electrical socket which uses the X10 protocol to turn a light on downstairs. (Yes, it really works!)

Anyway, you get the point. As long as two devices have a protocol in common, they can usually “talk” and be integrated in some way, and you can even chain devices together through multiple protocols to achieve something very unusual like a PDA “talking” to a lamp through the Internet.

I bought a digital voice recorder the other day, and I was surprised by how feature rich it was. One of the most interesting features is the ability to set an arbitrary time and date in the future for a recording to be played. Essentially, it’s an alarm clock with a custom alarm. Since my Mac has very impressive voice recognition built-in, I figured it would be kind of interesting to use the voice recorder as a kind of cron or scheduled tasks application. All I have to do is record the commands to make my Mac perform an operation, set a date and time, and leave the recorder near my Mac’s microphone.

I downloaded a bunch of iTunes speakable items scripts to make iTunes “speakable”, and recorded the following:

  1. “Wednesday, switch to iTunes.”
  2. “Wednesday, play random music.”

(“Wednesday” is the name of my computer, which is required before giving it a command.)

I had to make the recordings a couple of different times to get the timing and the clarity right, but now it works perfectly. That night, I configured the recording to play at 7:00 AM the next morning, and I woke up to a random iTunes track playing. The nice thing about the speakable items scripts I downloaded is that there’s one entitled “silence” and “shut up” so I was then able to stop the music by yelling at my computer, and then go back to sleep.

Admittedly, the end result wasn’t earth-shattering. I’m sure there are several other ways I could have woken up to a random iTunes track that would have been faster and easier to set up. But it’s not the end result that interests me. What interests me is that it was the first time I had every integrated two devices using the protocol of human speech, and it worked wonderfully. Using human speech as a protocol between devices allows us to easily eavesdrop, and even participate in the “conversation”, or intervene in ways bluetooth and infrared obviously don’t allow. Rather than dialing my cell phone with my PDA via bluetooth, maybe some day my PDA can speak instructions (my cell phone already allows for voice dialing) which means I can catch any mistakes that were made (maybe I tapped on a home number rather than cell phone number), and I could also use the exact same mechanism to dial my phone automatically myself. Or any other device capable of talking could use the same “protocol” as well. I can imagine in the future robots talking to each other in plain English so that we can be certain they aren’t conspiring behind our backs (just in time for the opening of “I, Robot”!), or at least about to perform some function that we would rather they didn’t.

Ok, well, this conversation is getting pretty off-topic, even for a Cool Tool Friday post, so I’ll end it here, and let you pick it up in the comments section. Can you think of any other cool scenarios for using the human voice as a machine protocol?

New Favorite Toy

I’ve been getting into GPS technology recently. I bought a Garmin Forerunner 201 GPS watch for running, which is excellent (recommended by Mike Chambers and Phillip Torrone), and then I bought what I believe is the ultimate GPS device: the Garmin iQue 3600.

The iQue has all the features of a standard hand-held GPS, and then some. First of all, it’s built on top of the Palm 5 platform, so not only do you get all the features of a Palm, but the features of the Palm and the GPS are very well integrated, allowing you automatically look up waypoints from the Address Book, and to associate waypoints with Address Book entries. That means you can basically look up someone’s address like you normally would, then tell the unit to show you how to get to the address, either from the exact spot where you are standing, or from any other waypoint. It won’t just show you, though. It will draw a scalable map, give you MapQuest-like driving directions, and/or literally tell you in a very nice female voice (actually, the voice is configurable) how to get there as you are walking or driving. And, of course, it will track every aspect of your trip along the way.

But that’s not all the iQue can do. Some of the other advantages of combining a GPS with a Palm is that you have much better input than you typically get on a dedicated GPS device. And the screen is much larger with much better resolution than most (if not all) other hand-held GPS units. You also get a much faster processor, and far more memory since you can drop a 256MB SD card into the unit, and load enough detail maps for probably 25% of the entire country (in addition to base maps).

The iQue also has some cool location based features. If you are hungry, you can not only look for restaurants nearby, but you can filter by type of food, get the phone number for making reservations, and, of course, get directions/map/etc. In addition to restaurants, you can quickly look up cities, addresses, intersections, points of interest, and areas associated with lodging, attractions, entertainment, shopping, services, transportation, emergencies, manmade structures, water, land, anchorage, facilities (bathrooms), fishing sites, navigation aids, marine services, restricted areas, wrecks and obstructs, and tides. Whenever you find a place that is noteworthy, simply create a waypoint, give it a custom name and icon, and find your way back with just a few quick taps. This will come in very handy the next time I’m searching for my car at the mall.

The iQue 3600 can track up to 12 satellites at a time, supports WAAS technology, and can accommodate an external antenna. It can show you the positions of all the satellites it can find along with the position of the sun and the moon, and naturally, it has a built-in compas, altimeter, and clock synchronized with the time and date as broadcasted by the GPS satellites. Those are all the major features, I believe, though there are actually several other features I haven’t even gotten a chance to play with yet.

I’m in Newton, MA right now with Scott Fegette, and we spent over an hour out on the lawn behind the hotel playing with this thing, completely amazed by it. Does it actually work? So far, absolutely. I’ve been able to locate every address I’ve looked up so far, and within minutes, created waypoints to all my friends’ and relatives’ houses. Wherever I’ve turned it on, within minutes, I’ve been able to get a detailed map of exactly where I’m standing, and everything that’s around me. Amazing.

Although I believe the iQue is probably one of the very best GPS units available (and is very affordable, by the way), it isn’t perfect. As a PDA, it feels much cheaper than my Clie UX50 (plastic versus metal), however I’m guessing the plastic is better suited to sitting in the sun for long periods of time on my dashboard. The UI is also not as intuitive as it could be. It has actually taken me quite a bit of playing around to feel comfortable with the device, and I have even resorted to consulting the documentation a few times! It also assumes that all the routing you want to do is from your current location to someplace else rather than making it easy to create a route between two arbitrary points while not receiving a GPS signal (it’s possible to do, but not easy). Tracking multiple satellites and using WAAS at the same time also really uses a lot of battery. Scott and I used a little less than half the battery while playing with the unit for a little over an hour. As long as you have the car adapter for trips, however, that’s actually not too bad.

The next GPS device I want to check out: the Suunto x9 GPS watch!

Time For a New Toy

My absolute favorite device is not the PDA, cell phone, or MP3 player. It’s watches. I’ve always loved them. In fact, if I were a villain in Batman’s word, I’d probably be Mr. Time or something. I used to work for Seiko in Japan, and I always hoped I would have the opportunity to work for Casio, as well (though that never materialized). Currently in my watch drawer are eight different specimens, and one on my wrist (I’ve actually been wondering if I might be able to get away with wearing one on each wrist, but I haven’t yet tried). I have no idea how many watches I’ve discarded over the years either because they have gotten ruined or hopelessly obsolete. My favorite watches are my Timex Messenger (one of the coolest watches ever made, but tragically nearing extinction), my Seiko Chronograph (not technically very fancy, but a great looking timepiece), my Casio Twincept Databank watch I bought in Japan (sort of obsolete at this point, but a classic), and my brand new Casio Solar Waveceptor G-Shock.

I have always considered G-Shocks to be good watches, but not very technically impressive until I came upon this one. It’s an atomic watch (Casio calls this feature Waveceptor) which means it synchronizes wirelessly with the atomic clock in Colorado, which, in and of itself, is not all that unusual anymore, however it is also solar powered, which is an interesting combination. Not only do you never have to set it, but you also never have to change the battery. Five minutes in direct sunlight is enough for 6 months of “normal” usage. And since it doesn’t have to worry about conserving battery life, it synchronizes four times a day, which is once more than my old stainless steel Waveceptor (a beautiful watch that’s been discontinued). It also has nice large numbers for easy reading, an interesting time recording function which allows you to store 30 date/timestamps (something I’ve never had on a watch before), and will automatically illuminate when held perfectly parallel to the ground and tilted at a specific angle toward your face so you don’t have to actually go to all the trouble of pressing a button. Of course it has several standard features: 5 alarms (including a snooze alarm, which will keep bugging you every five minutes until you get out of bed), world time, and a stopwatch. It’s water resistant to 200 meters, and is extremely shock resistant, as well, which I’ve already confirmed after only a few days of ownership. It’s conspicuously missing a countdown timer, however, which is its only drawback, so I still need to fall back on my cell phone occasionally, but overall, it’s very functional and practical.

Any other watch fanatics out there? What kinds of watches do you like, and why? I’m mostly interested in practical and functional designs as opposed to pure technical wizardry. For instance, I had a Casio camera watch for a short time, but returned it because it was too bulky and the picture quality was too low. And what good is an MP3 watch that isn’t expandable?

And finally, what would you consider to be the ultimate watch? Mine? Glad you asked. A Solar Waveceptor Pathfinder Tripple-Sensor G-Shock with a count-down timer, SD slot for expansion, and a GPS receiver. It doesn’t exist yet (all in one watch), but when it does, I’ll buy one for each wrist.

Comcast to Offer Video Game Subscriptions

I’m taking a vacation day today, so if you’re waiting on any email from me, I probably won’t get to it until tomorrow.

While I’m off-topic, according to Reuters, it seems that subscribers to Comsast’s high-speed data service will soon be able to access more than 60 PC video game titles for a fee of $14.95 per month. Apparently they intend to add new titles each month from educational software to “mainstream titles” which I’m guessing means your standard FPSs and RPGs. It should be interesting to see if they can get the titles they need to make this work, and whether Microsoft or Sony will soon offer game subscriptions of their own.