Friday, November 29, 2013

The holidays are here again...

I've had some good holidays over the years, and, some bad ones, just like everybody else I'm sure. I'm almost always the outsider though, the guest who isn't related to anybody else. While I'm not by any means saying that there's something wrong with that - in fact, I quite appreciate that I usually end up spending moments with friends, it's a different perspective than what most people experience. So, to that effect, the holidays have always meant something different to me, than they typically do to most people. Most people, from what I've gathered, enjoy the holidays for the sense of family they bring, when you go visit your relatives who live far away, or they come visit you, and the whole group gathers together in one place for possibly the only time of the year.

Looking in from that perspective, and having zero hope of ever being with my whole family around the holidays, it's a little bit funny at how people react to this time of year. Thanksgiving was just yesterday, and, I was invited by a friend, to attend with him and his wife, a dinner prepared by their friends. Neither had family in the area, so they've become like family to each other, even though they're not related. Because of that aspect, I actually really enjoyed the evening with everybody. Despite not knowing the friends before hand, nor them me of course, we clicked and everything just was awesome.

By the end of the night, aside from being shitfaced "mildly intoxicated", I had a warm feeling in my heart (as well as my stomach) that the individuals I'd just met, not to mention the individuals I went there with in the first place, were very upstanding people, who made me feel welcome on the same level they were welcomed in, and there wasn't really a separation of family and friends like so many places I've been before. All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better holiday this year, and in fact, it was far better than many previous years. It was small enough that everybody got to actually hang out and talk with everybody else, not some 20+ people around the same table, vying for the attention of everybody else. I even got a potential job offer.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, though, the real torture begins. Black Friday came and went, and aside from a ton of fights at Walmart (No surprise there), it's been mostly business as usual. I avoided any kind of shopping today in person and caught up on some coding, some NetFlix (on the last season of Breaking Bad right now), and some projects I've been helping out with. But because of it being Black Friday, the thought of the coming holiday kept popping up in my mind. Buying presents is never something I'm anywhere near "good" at, and am at most, mediocre, if not down right horrible. I'm also fairly difficult to shop for, or so I've been told, because there's only 3 things I really ever want, and none of those are ever easy to come by, or purchasable at a shop in any quantity other than zero. So usually I avoid the whole shebang, mail out my Solstice cards, and that's usually it. I've been invited to a few places over the years, too, as well as had a small thing with my roommates at the time, which was all nice, but it wasn't anything overly special. I was either outside looking in, or, it was just very low key and not much emotion to begin with, similar in stature to a gift exchange at an office party perhaps. Over all, my expectations have always been fairly low.

This year, however, I'm trying something different. I'm picking up a little something for every one of the people in my life I'm thankful for. Something small, maybe a gift card, or a shirt; something meaningful, yet modest. The challenge is going to be in picking up something that will match everybody well enough. This year's list is actually pretty small, all things considered. The past couple years have resulted in a bit of refactoring who I consider important, and who I consider a friend. I've been a fair bit more social this year, meeting a number of new people who are pretty awesome and epic in my book. Of course, I've met my fair share of pompous assholes, too (I'm looking at you, Mr. Downey), but over all, the good has outweighed the bad, if only marginally. I think this year's holiday fiasco will actually be much better than I expect, though my expectations are so low that isn't difficult. I'm actually thinking that this year has the potential to be the highlight of all holidays going back 20+ years for me, but of course no expectations of such so that in the event it doesn't live up to that, I'm not disappointed. It's given me hope, though, for the first time in a long time, and I'm not even hiding behind Solstice this time. Yea, I might actually do Christmas for really the first time in forever. Here's looking forward to a chance to change, and move on in a positive direction for once. Cautious Optimism has been engaged.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The winds of change, radiating from a cell tower in the distance...

It's no secret that I've been an Android enthusiast for years, going all the way back to 1.0 on the first developer phone, the ADP1. I found myself involved, early on, with the CyanogenMod project, way back when custom ROMs were just WinZip surgery, and nobody compiled from source. JF and Haykuro lead the way in the early days, eventually giving way to custom kernels. I remember delving into kernel code for the first time trying to get a custom build of Android working on my HTC Dream (no, not the G1), but because it used slightly different hardware, needed an EBI1 kernel instead of the EBI0 that everybody else was using. Patches were acquired from HTC (eventually, through much prodding), and the revolution began.

Android 1.5 came out, and with it, CM. I grew to support the team, who are all a great group of guys, and did what I could here and there. It's been a wild ride over the years, and now that they've incorporated, I wish them all the best of luck. I know a number of people there, and have met most of them in person myself. Again, great group of guys, and I really hope they go far. It's clear they're doing what they love, and loving what they do.

That being said, the nature of Open Source has always been a fairly emotional scene. People do a lot in their spare time, with out compensation, so they feel a certain sense of attachment to their contributions. It's certainly understandable that they'd have a higher degree of passion about something they choose to do in their spare time, than something they were paid to do by their employer. I'm not talking about Focal or anything related to the incorporation of CM, btw, just talking in general. It's just the nature of OS.

As such, it's with a sad sigh that as of this morning, I'm no longer running CM personally on my phone. After nearly 5 years, I think it's time for a change, and, after considering a lot of things, I've decided to go in a different direction than the one CM has chosen to take. I'm not mad or upset, I just found that CM was no longer aligning with my needs and wants, personally. I still feel they're an AMAZING project, and one I fully endorse, support, and recommend to the vast majority of my friends. I'm still a forum moderator there, and hope to continue that role, as well as being active in their community and XDA about CM.

What, exactly, lead to this decision? Well, recently, the CM team decided to switch from AOSP sources on the Nexus kernels to the CAF tree from Qualcomm. This is probably to improve performance in some ways, but, I feel it's a legally questionable move, because of the restrictive licenses and proprietary binaries required. The Nexus 7 uses these sources, so it's required there, but switching the Nexus 4 to them? The only thing it's accomplished on Mako currently is to break compatibility with AOSP sources. So no more franco kernel, or anything besides CM's kernel, unless it's developed or rebased against CAF. In essence, CM has split the Nexus community into Camp CAF and Camp AOSP, forcing everybody into one or the other. I'm honestly not sure where they're going with this, but I think it's a horrible decision (and a number of kernel devs and AOSP coders agree with me). I'm not trying to publicly shame CM, as I fully believe they feel this is in the best interest of their users. And, it probably is. Performance matters, right? But is it in the best interest of the Mako community, or the AOSP community? I'm don't think so. But, that's for history to decide, I guess.

What I do know is that, as of this change, CM no longer meets my needs. The CM team does a great job with a lot of things, from development of awesome features, to performance tuning in the frameworks and kernels, to QAing their products, to triage of bugs, to release engineering and infrastructure management. I have nothing but respect for them and the products that they put out every day, and for free, too. But I need compatibility with AOSP sources. I need USB fast charging. I need performance tweaking, undervolting, and more advanced features that CM isn't looking into, for one reason or another. And there's nothing wrong with that. At the end of the day, this is, after all, their project, for them to manage and run as they see fit.

It seems that CM is in the midst of a shift in strategy. When Steve first developed CM, it was to produce the version of Android he wanted to use, that had the features that stock Android didn't (or couldn't) implement. I think that's largely been achieved. Now, they're focused on polishing that, and bringing it to the masses. Shipping on a phone through a hardware partner? That's awesome, and I'm so happy for them. An official installer to make the process painless for people who have never modded their phones before? Even better! But this shift has demonstrated that CM is no longer for power users, it's for everyone. And the power users like me are slowly but inevitably starting to suffer. So yesterday, I switched to Carbon ROM. It's based on CM, with some AOKP and PA built in, and I'm discovering a whole new world of things that are available outside the garden I've been enjoying for the past several years and devices. I've known about things like HALO, and I've never cared. Now, my device has HALO, and I'm still not using it. Yet. The AOKP NavBar settings are a nightmare, and it doesn't even support taking a screen shot from the shortcut ring like CM does. But it does other things, such as widgets, customized buttons, colours, and all sorts of other mods that are quite nice. QuickSettings are a pain, since they also use AOKP's code, but a dev recently told me they're switching that out for CM's implementation soon, too. I'm looking forward to the future with Carbon, for the simple fact that they took CM as a base, and turned it back into the power user garden that I craved to be in once again. Will I stay with Carbon? I honestly don't know. My tablet still runs CM, and will continue to do so until I get the bugs out of Carbon and switch, or until the Manta tree switches to CAF sources too (which I don't know if it will or not).

I don't regret my time with CM on my phone, and I look back over the years with many, many fond memories. I'm also not saying "Goodbye" by any means, more a simple, fond, "See you later!". Because I will see them later, and I will continue to keep in touch. But with the sun setting in the distance, I feel it's time to pack my bag, hop the train, and see where I end up, knowing I can come home if I need to...

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Privacy? What privacy...

By now, I'm sure you've all seen the leaked NSA order to Verizon, to provide them with 3 months of phone records, on ALL of their subscribers. I know I've seen it at least a dozen times, and, I'm tired of it. Why? Do I not care about privacy? Hardly, I value my privacy very very much. But in this case, there's really nothing I can do, and honestly, there's no expectation of privacy - that is what this world is coming to, and, here's why.

First off, this court order is issued to Verizon. It doesn't mean that other carriers didn't get court orders themselves, each one would be different and require its own approval. So who is to say that T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, et al, didn't get their own versions of this? Just because they haven't been leaked doesn't mean they don't exist, nor that they do for that matter, but I prefer to err on the side of caution, and am assuming that Verizon was not the only lucky recipient.

Verizon can not refuse a court order from the US Government, signed by a judge. It's unlawful to do so. So this isn't their fault. A mass exodus from Verizon makes little sense for this reason (especially when you can't guarantee the company you're running to doesn't have the same court order in place). I liken this to you boycotting Ford because your wife was run over by a drunk driver who happened to be in a Focus. Go after the driver - in this specific issue, it's the US Government.

Lastly, why I'm not overly upset about this, is because I don't have any EXPECTATION of privacy, and I honestly think anybody who does, needs a lesson in personal responsibility. When I place a phone call, data is being logged. What data, exactly, varies by provider but is mostly the same - my phone number, my account number, the cell tower I'm using, the routing information, the number I'm dialing, the trunking on how my call connects to their number, etc. If I don't like that data being logged, I have two choices:

  1. Don't generate it in the first place, by using alternative means of communications, or,
  2. Set up and run my own phone network. 

Most people can't do number 2, and number 1 is inconvenient (at least until you get used to it). So what does this mean, really? It means that I have the expectation that the carrier I use (whoever that may be) is recording this information, and can and will do whatever they wish with it. But, what about the expectation of privacy?

There is none. When I have a secret, I don't tell it to people. Or, I tell it only to people whom I trust. The more people I trust, the higher the risk that somebody will betray that trust. How many of you can honestly, truly say that you trust your carrier? Not I, not once, and I've been with all 4 major carriers over the past 15 years. I don't trust my bank. I don't trust my internet service provider. I don't trust any of these large corporations, because they would gladly stab me in the back for profit every single time. I'm a single customer to them, they care more about lining their pockets, because the truth is, my $60 a month is peanut crumbs to these multi-billion dollar corporations. Additionally, they're involved in racketeering - every single one of them behaves the same way, even though they supposedly "compete" with each other. When all parties are similarly untrustworthy, and there are no alternatives (even the smaller MVNOs are still piggybacking on the national carriers, and so they're untrustworthy by proxy), you have zero expectation of not being stabbed in the back. So don't give them any secrets you care about in the first place. To me, that's just common sense.

We, as Americans, are far too tolerant of the domestic spying the government is instituting. Sadly, until we take on the root cause, nothing will be done. Today, Verizon. People will likely switch services because of it, but what then? It'll happen again, next time to AT&T perhaps. Will there be a mass exodus from AT&T then? Or will we finally wrap our heads around the fact that it isn't AT&T's fault then, any more than it's Verizon's now. We need to send a unified message that the government has no right to spy on its citizens who are not suspected or accused of wrongdoing. Simple as that. And until that happens, Verizongate will happen over, and over, and over...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Some of my quirks...

I get asked a lot why I am a certain way, or why I prefer things the way I do. Typically, this is in reference to computers, though food is another common area. I was born in 1981 (as a reference), but a lot of my attitude is more like somebody who was born in the 90s or even 00s. I'm highly computer literate, at a technical level, but that doesn't mean I know how to use everything out there today. Far from it, in fact, which is why I am the certain blend of "quirky" that I seem to be.

Growing up in the 80s, I was one of the privileged few with a computer. Comparing it to today's standards would be pointless, so I'll refrain, but the OS that powered it was MS-DOS 2.0. Note, I said "powered it" rather than "was installed on it" because my first computer lacked a hard drive. It booted up off a 5 1/4 inch floppy, loaded DOS into it's 256 KB memory, and then you swapped disks to run your application. There was no mouse, the monitor's only pixel shade was Matrix green, and if you didn't know the command line, you couldn't use the device.

Being DOS 2, this was long before DOS 5 which introduced the ASCII/ANSI based "DOS Shell" file manager. You had files, and directories, all limited to an 8 character file name, and a 3 character extension. The two were separated with a period, and there were no exceptions. This is how I grew up.

Later on, DOS 5 came out. I had since upgraded to a different system, that was slightly better - 512 KB of RAM, and a hard drive (20 megs). This system had a mouse, and was capable of running Tandy's Deskmate 2 software package. It introduced a number of new features, mainly, copy and paste, and was the first GUI I ever worked with. It should be noted, though, that Tandy followed IBM's common user access standards, and as such, copy and paste was done with the CTRL+INS and SHIFT+INS, rather than CTRL+C and CTRL+V, which was in use by only Apple at the time.

Eventually I upgraded yet again, this time to a computer running DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.11. Aside from running windows programs, I preferred being in DOS as it was more familiar. It should also be noted that Microsoft copied Apple in the use of CTRL+C/CTRL+V for copy/paste, as well as including IBM's CTRL+INS and SHIFT+INS. As such, I kept using the CTRL/SHIFT + INS key strokes.

A little later, Windows 95 came out, and I upgraded the OS. The UI was so new, I remember changing the default shell from explorer.exe to progman.exe to replicate Windows 3.11's look and feel for months. I usually have to be dragged kicking and screaming into new UIs. It should be noted I still preferred DOS and SHIFT/CTRL+INS.

When Windows 95 OSR2 came around, I was thrown into the new UI finally. I had no choice, as progman.exe wasn't included any more. It took getting used to. A lot of getting used to. I did manage to adapt, though, and found Windows mostly usable. I tweaked it the likes of Tweak UI and SysInternals tools, and life went on. Despite Windows now trying to call "directories" "folders", it never stuck. I still call them "directories" to this day.

In the course of my explorations, I started getting into UNIX via telnet (SSH wasn't around just yet). I got access to my first shell account probably in 1997 (it was a FreeBSD box, running ksh, if memory served), and I fell in love with it. It was multi-user DOS, only about a hundred times more functional. I immediately dropped my mail client for pine, and started getting back into the CLI that I was born and raised on. And UNIX still referred to them as "directories" too. Vindication was never so sweet.

Windows 98 came and went. Internet Explorer and Netscape were battling it out, and to be honest, I sided with Internet Explorer (this was back in the days of IE 4). I never liked Netscape (thought it looked funny for a Windows application), proving I was young and nieve at some point. Though I didn't use a web browser for much - mostly reading Slashdot and gaming news sites, as well as managing the gaming sites I ran myself. Still, days went by where I didn't open my browser. We didn't have those fancy "tabs" back then, and I didn't ever consider them because of how infrequently I hit the web. I lived in IRC, in telnet, and in instant message applications like ICQ. I switched to Outlook 98 for email, due to the sheer number of messages I received (5,000 a month was typical volume if memory serves).

In high school, we were an all-Apple environment. OS Classic (7.6, 8.0, 8.5 were common - 9 wasn't out yet), and that scarred me for life. I was constantly fighting the UI to do things the way I wanted to do them. I hated the design of their system in so many ways, because it wasn't what I was used to. Going home to a Windows system didn't help, either, because it gave me an "out" rather than forcing me to adapt. I look back at those 4 years as "hell".

Windows 2000 came and yes, I upgraded. 2000 would be the logical successor to 98, would it not? Made sense to me, but no, Windows 2000 was the upgrade to Windows NT, which was the enterprise version of Windows. As a result, a number of games and printer drivers didn't work on Windows 2000 that did on 98. That irritated me, and was what lead to my first linux desktop system (I installed it on a 2nd computer, right around the time it came out).

When Windows ME came out, I ignored it. Then a month later, I laughed at the poor saps who were running it. It was buggy, it crashed frequently, it was slow, and my rock solid Windows 2k system just worked. No, I couldn't run all the software I wanted to run on it, but stability trumped compatibility. All the core things I wanted ran on it fine, anyway. I still had little use for a web browser, and I still used CTRL/SHIFT + INS. I switched to SSH right around this time, too.

When the Mozilla project released their Phoenix browser, I gave it a shot, and found I liked it more than Internet Explorer (which was getting progressively worse). 0.5 was the first version I actively remember using. I never gave IE another thought after this point.

Windows XP came out, and I ignored it similarly to ME. The Luna interface looked like somebody at Microsoft had asked Lego to design their interface for them. The color scheme was abysmal, and the "new" style start menu didn't sit well either. I rarely used the start menu, and when I did, I didn't want to have to drill down into the "All Programs" menu to access the groups. Putting shortcuts to commonly used applications on the main menu only makes sense if you HAVE a set of commonly used applications. All my applications that were commonly used were always running: ICQ, IRC, Outlook, SecureCRT (SSH client), and so when I wanted to use the start menu, it was usually for the one-off game of Starcraft or Quake that wasn't logical to pin as a favorite. Thus, I turned off the new start menu design pretty fast after I finally relented and upgraded.

Then, in 2001, Windows just pissed me off. The lack of flexibility in some of the applications, down to the OS itself, made me do an end run around Microsoft and I jumped ship to Red Hat Linux. Evolution (mail client) was a good enough Outlook clone, Mozilla Phoenix (now called Firebird) was a great browser, X-Chat (which I was already running on Windows, having abhorred mIRC versions after 3.x) already worked on linux, I had full command line capabilities and all the tools I was already using via SSH anyway, so the only thing I was really missing was games. And for those, I had a second computer for. My initial desktop was Gnome 1.4, with modifications from HelixCode (later, known as Ximian).

After XP came Vista, and I'm sure everybody's aware of the pile of smoo that was. Having been on linux for so many years, by the time Windows 7 came along, I couldn't have cared less. Linux had shaped my philosophies and usage patterns to the point that I was no longer capable of running Windows. Linux was all about "open" and then Google showed up, reinforcing those ideas in my head. Data should be "free". Standards should be "open". So now that you know my history, lets examine what I want in a modern system.

I want a consistant interface on my OS. This means, an interface that I can use with out difficulty, with out wanting to curse at regularly, that allows me to be productive. Sorry, Apple, this isn't you. From your global application menu bar to the lack of click-through events on backgrounded UI elements, I hate you with a passion. You may be awarded medals for your design capabilities, but it's function > form for me, and you fail that at the most basic levels. For an OS built on UNIX, I'd expect more to be honest. Most of the tools I require on the command line are missing, thanks to your hatred of GPL, so unless I want to install MacPorts and compile a ton of things, in a very Gentoo-esque fashion, you're pretty useless (and that's assuming I can stomach the interface that isn't very customizable to begin with).

I want open standards. I don't like Facebook. I don't use them, as a result. I don't trust them with my data. So I *sure* don't want them integrated into my OS. Same goes for Amazon. Here's looking at you, Canonical. I want open APIs to allow me to add the services I make use of. If you want to ship it by default, that's fine, but give me the ability to remove it. Don't shove iCloud or Sky drive down my throat - I'm even less likely to use it when I can't remove it.

I don't use proprietary document formats. I believe that data should be free. This means, I can import and export between formats at any time, for any reason. Google Docs allows me this, as well as LibreOffice, so I use the two of them for that purpose. I don't support Microsoft Office or Apple's iWorks, as they haven't completely documented their XML format.

I don't want to financially support companies that resort to patent trolling, and trying to get competitor products banned over things that have 20+ years of prior art, such as detecting phone numbers and making them dialable (Borland Sidekick, 1986) or arranging application icons in a grid (Palm Pilot, 1996). I most certainly don't want to financially support a company that engages in petty censorship of software based on something as trivial as license, or content.

As a result of the above, I found that Microsoft and Apple both can't meet my needs as software companies any more. The companies have decided to stop producing products I actually want. My needs really haven't changed much in over 20 years, but Apple and Microsoft seem to no longer wish to meet them. Microsoft keeps re-inventing the wheel, rolling out new interface after new interface, and Apple's never appealed to me in the first place. So, a linux user I shall remain, for the foreseeable future, muttering words like "directories" and using SHIFT+INS for paste. (At some point, I did migrate to CTRL+C for copy. I've never used the "cut" function. Another quirk of mine.)

P.S. I haven't covered some other important events in this history, such as my moving to Google Chrome from Firefox, or from Evolution to Gmail, but those things happened. As content became more and more web-based, so have my tools, to the point where it used to be days between opening a single browser window, to now where I always have one open with usually 6 to 10 tabs inside it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The holidays are upon us again...

My my, where did the year go? The holidays are upon us once again. Usually, I send out Solstice cards but this year I'm just not feeling it. I'm not sure why, especially with the planetary alignment happening this year on the 21st. Normally, I'd be all over that, but I think I'm a little depressed, instead. Oh well, it will pass. I missed TSO this year, sadly, but the plan is to make it up next year by catching their Beethoven tour, in addition to their holiday one. Here's hoping. And of course, happy holidays to everybody, from Christmas to Hanukkah to Solstice to Festivus (for the rest of us). Take care, my friends.