Monday, November 21, 2011

Trans-Siberian Orchestra Concert: Winter 2011

So last night I got the chance to catch the Trans-Siberian Orchestra live in concert again. And by again, I mean for the 5th year in a row. It's become somewhat of a yearly tradition that I go attend the local TSO show in and this year the show was in San Jose. Last year I caught it in the same venue, and the same for the year before, having caught it in Boise and Sacramento in years prior. Either way, regardless of the location, the show is always fantastic. I had a good time, as did my friend I went with. Here's a couple pics of the event.

Sadly, the video I took has awful sound due to my cell phone's mic distorting at such loud volumes. It's also what ruined the video of the Jane's Addiction concert back in May. Alas, I'll get a new one soon. Galaxy Nexus is coming out December 8th.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


So I've been doing a fair bit of rebuilding on my computer infrastructure in the past few months. I built a new desktop system at home (Went with a quadcore beastly Core i7 2600K - 3.40GHz), and promptly spent the better part of the night installing Gentoo. This in and of itself was great - typically, installing a desktop from scratch under Gentoo would take me nearly a week, but on my new behemoth of a system, I got it up and running to satisfaction with Gnome that evening. Fast forward a few weeks, and to be blunt, shit broke, and I mean really broke. Udev, hald, upower, udisk, and then X11, all went up in virtual flames to the point I thought about just re-installing from the latest nightly stage 3. My roommate, snickering the whole time, suggested I try Ubuntu and have a system that "just works". It'd been years since I tried it, and last time was an utter catastrophe, but I figured I'd give it another go. I promised myself I'd install it and try it for 30 days before passing judgement, and now that my 30 days are up, I'm faced with a dilemma: do I keep it, or go back to Gentoo?

Well, I made up my mind, I'm going to stick with Ubuntu. Official Google Chrome builds are nice, Google Plus's hangout voice chat and video plugin is also available out of the box, no more hunting for ebuilds. I hated Ubuntu the first time because I couldn't install Firefox 3.5 with out causing all kinds of dependency hell when it tried to remove Firefox 3.0 (simply named "firefox" in the package manager, so every dep on "firefox" got uninstalled and "firefox-3.5" couldn't satisfy it), among other trivial minutia. Well, it's that trivial minutia I decided to fix, starting with uninstalling the crapware. Yes, Unity, this means you. The stupid scroller widget that funkifies scroll bars? Yep, you're next. Finally, a rewrite of /etc/bash.bashrc, /etc/skel/.bashrc, and redistributing it to every user on the system, so I can have my color prompts, my directory listings in color, and have my Gentoo style terminal back complete with shortcuts. Gone is the annoying "suggest package" upon commands not being found. Gone is the annoying stoic white prompt. And no, for the record, using using the force color setting was not to my preference - the prompt still wasn't very Gentoointive. Configuring Gnome the way I want it has taken a little bit longer, including installing some basics like Compiz Configuration Manager. While I certainly installed 3rd party software such as Gimp and TrueCrypt in my initial 30 days, I felt that if Ubuntu ships with compiz but not the manager, it's for a reason, and I should tolerate that as part of the true "Ubuntu Experience". But after 30 days, all gloves are off. I have my 3D effects back, my wobbly windows, rotating cube, and similar once again. I'm also enjoying media cards and USB hard drives that automount (a feature of Gnome that has frazzled me for months) when inserted.

All in all, I don't regret switching my desktop over to Ubuntu. If anything, I've found it to be a slightly better system than Gentoo, in places where you'd expect a system to be rock stable. Mainly, X11 for a workstation. I still have a lot to learn (manipulation of apt-cache comes to mind) and I have a few books on the subject I'm reading on my Galaxy Tab, but I think for the foreseeable future, I'm sticking with Ubuntu now for a desktop machine. I liked it so much, in fact, that when I got a new work laptop, I dual booted it the day I got it with Ubuntu, and I'm glad I did. As it turns out, it has one of those hybrid nVidia Optimus technology video configurations, and the only way to get that to work with 2D and 3D both is by running ironhide which is actually only a small pain in the ass to install under Ubuntu but a royal one under Gentoo from the looks of it. As a result, I think I'd be stuck on Ubuntu on my work laptop regardless, so I guess it's better that I actually like it I figure. Now, if only I could get the video ports on the damn docking station to work, but that's a battle for another day.

I feel obligated to say that while I have a new found respect and appreciation for Ubuntu on the desktop, my server platforms are still Gentoo, as I feel that Gentoo is a more solid base system with explicit feature control over packages and options that Ubuntu simply lacks - the only points Ubuntu has over Gentoo is X11, which shouldn't be installed on a server anyway. As such, I don't see my switching to Ubuntu any time soon on the server side of things. In fact, one of these days, I may re-install BB1 and convert it from Ubuntu Server to Gentoo, just because it's sticking in my craw a little. Watch out, @ChrisSoyars, muahahaha.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Happy SysAdmin Appreciation Day

I'd like to take this moment to wish all the System Administrators a very happy SysAdmin Appreciation Day. Being a sys admin myself, I know how hard the professional men and women who undertake this position work to keep things up and running. So allow me this brief post to show my appreciation for the sys admins who help me through my day, and route my services at home and the office, upstream ISPs, cloud providers, content delivery networks, all the websites I visit, etc.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Verifone calls out Square over mobile credit card processing

I noticed this morning on Engadget (Thanks @PaulOBrien) that Square is coming under fire from Verifone for their mobile payment solution and card reader. For those who don't know about Square, they're a startup that offers mobile payment processing over cell phones using a card reader that plugs into a smart phone's headphone jack and talks to a payment processing application being run. What Verifone appears to be upset about is that the data is not encrypted between the card reader, and, the payment processing application itself, meaning two things:

  1. It's possible for a background application to copy data in transit between Square's card reader and Square's official app
  2. It's possible to use the card reader with a non-official Square application

Lets take a look at the official claim and see what Verifone has to say about it...

In the either case, an application can tap into the credit card data stream between the dongle and Square's application, and a copy of all your card's data can be stored when you swipe your card to make a purchase. That data can be used maliciously and fraudulently after the fact. Your charge goes through for your purchase (or not) at the time, and you are none the wiser. How is this any different from an employee at Target side-loading an application on the register, or your bank ATM being hijacked? Square's lack of encryption does make it possible that a rogue malicious application could be written that emails or SMSes your credit card data to somewhere, whenever a credit card is processed. Imagine if that worm was installed on a popular vendor's smartphone with out the vendor even knowing? The bottom line is this: Is Square doing anything wrong? No. But are they doing anything right? The answer again, at least in my opinion, is also no.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Review: Motorola Web Hosting ^H^H^H^H^H Xoom

As a child growing up in the '90s, I vaguely remember GeoCities, Angelfire, and of course, Xoom, so when I heard Motorola decided to name their tablet after a failed dot com free webhosting provider from my youth, I was a little reserved. Well in all fairness, I think I fell on the floor laughing so hard. But seriously, what's in a name anyway? Having attended the Google Honeycomb Event in Mountain View not too long ago, I knew exactly what to expect, so naturally when Motorola came forth and gave to the world it's new shiny, I was there early with cash in hand, ready to partake of the honey. Two weeks later, this is what I've learned.


From a hardware point of view, the Xoom is amazing. The dual core technology in it combined with a sensible GPU means the interface is buttery smooth thanks to its copious amount of hardware acceleration. The transitions between home screens, the animations, even the scrolling and rotating effects all go off with out a hitch. The device has the power to perform, and perform it does. While I haven't tried overclocking my Xoom yet, some geeks over at XDA have done so, and managed to squeeze their tablets for even more power. The fact that the hardware shipped unlocked is such a blessing, and I really have to thank Google for their hand in making that happen. It played a serious part in deciding between tablets, and I'd likely have gone with a cheaper model and hacked Honeycomb + Android Market onto it instead, had the hardware not been as open. (Hint hint nudge nudge, Motorola!)

The Xoom features mostly everything you'd need on a tablet: Micro HDMI, MicroSD, MicroUSB, a dock port, and a charging cable port. Not everything is enabled right now, however, especially the MicroSD card, or the host mode on the MicroUSB port, but that is easily addressed with a software update that is scheduled sometime down the road I'm sure. I'd rather have them available "sometime" than never, even if I can't have them right now. An official roadmap and statement would certainly be nice, however.


What I've been the most disappointed about with my Xoom is the software. How much of that is Google's fault, how much of that is Motorola's, how much of that is HTC's, though? HTC, wait, what? Yes, HTC. My problems don't come from the core Android OS itself entirely, but from applications that aren't entirely compatible from the marketplace. Some applications look funny, and that's to be expected, but others refuse to run, draw themselves half way in the corner and half way full screen for a very funky experience, or just are *missing* entirely from the market. What if HTC had released different resolution displays sooner for use with Android? What if people had to worry about MDPI, HDPI, etc, sooner. Would they have? Motorola is partly to blame for rushing the Xoom out the door - it really does feel rushed in many ways, and Google themselves as the proprietor of the operating system of course have to have their hand in the guilty cookie jar too. From lack of folder support in the home screen to lack of Flash available at release, the whole Android 3.0 has left me a little underwhelmed overall. The things it does, it does amazingly well, but the plethora of polish it's lacking leaves a slightly sour taste in my mouth, especially when it has hardware that is disabled at a software level giving it a very unfinished appearance.

My biggest disappointment in the software actually stems from one of Android's core strengths - it's market openness. The Android market is full of some really amazing applications, written by some very talented developers. The creativity and function of some of them blow my mind, even, but then there's others that were obviously written by lazy coders whose applications don't work at all on the tablet, or people out to make a quick buck and in some cases are pulling some Shady Shit™. I only noticed this for the first time after purchasing my Xoom because I don't generally install the same application on different devices all the time. So I was very surprised when I go to install Worms on my Xoom, and it's asking me to pay for it. But, I paid for it on my Nexus S, and play it on my EVO. So, why is EA wanting me to buy it again? As it turns out, EA has separate copies of their games for Verizon as they do for the rest of North America, and cross-installing them isn't possible through normal channels. Doesn't this go against the spirit of the Android Marketplace's openness and concept of buying a game on your account, and being able to use it anywhere? It's great to know that if I ever switch to Verizon from T-Mobile, I'll be forced to re-buy at least 2 apps now, and quite possibly others. How many other developers are doing this for fun and profit? What is Google's stance on this?


Overall, the experience I've had with my Xoom has been great. While I get a few force closes once in a while, even of the launcher process itself, over all I've been very satisfied with most of the experience. I will state, however, that the experience has not been flawless. The location of the power button takes a high amount of getting used to, and I still think it's a stupid place for it. When I'm using my tablet, one hand is always near it, that's a plus. However sometimes I put up a video or a document I'm reading, and lay the tablet down or lean it against something and use it "hands free" for a bit, and then when the screen turns off I have to pick it up to turn it back on rather than hitting a button on the side or front. This is a minus. The volume up and down buttons are a little stiff, making them hard to press one handed if the tablet is laying down in front of me and I'm watching content on it. I also dislike the lack of USB charging, but I understand that the device needs more power than the USB spec allots for and thus I'm not holding this specific one against it.

The feature I miss the most on the Xoom is Flash support. Something I wish it had that none of my devices have right now is NetFlix streaming support, but I don't know if/when it'll get that. Google Music is another thing missing entirely, but that should be coming soon enough, likely at IO. Flash support is supposedly coming in Spring but given Adobe's track record, I'm not going to hold my breath. All the same, once the Xoom delivers on the features we're promised, and NetFlix shows up some love, I'd easily rate it at nearly a perfect score. Not to compare Android to Windows, but Honeycomb seems to just need a service pack or two to be decent.


Over all, I am glad I got my Xoom. Do I wish I would have waited for the missing features to appear? I can't say so - I just don't see anything better coming down the pipe any time soon. This is the Nexus of tablets, with it's OEM UNLOCK functionality, and I'm willing to bet that Google will be giving away a few of these devices at it's IO 2011 convention too. Sure Samsung or HTC or even Acer may put out better hardware soon, but by then, the Xoom will have all its features in tact, and I'd likely make the same decision I already did make - to Xoom or not to Xoom - and I'd Xoom all over again.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Of Mountains and Molehills: The Honeycomb Event

Sometimes, opportunity knocks silently on your door. Other times, you have to cunningly trap it, pursue it, corner and trap it, and then exploit it almost like a hunter chasing wounded prey. But once in a rare while, it drives its karma over your dogma and you end up being repaid for the loss a thousand fold, against your wildest hopes. This last situation is very much how I found myself invited to the Android Honeycomb event held at Google tomorrow, February 2nd, 2011.

Now, people all over ask me for predictions and comments about a lot of things I really don't know. In all fairness, being as close as I am to Google has its advantages, in that I hear and see things that other people don't have access to under normal circumstances, but this in and of itself doesn't mean that I am a bounty hunter on an unrelenting quest for Google's most prized and safeguarded secrets. No, the truth is, I'm just an Android enthusiast who happens to have a few friends who work down at the Googleplex (and they tell me nothing), but the simple fact that I know people is enough to make everybody jealous and/or suspicious of things.

The truth is far different than everybody seems to want to perceive it, however. I shall list a number of examples, common perceptions, and then the reality, and follow it up with my guess about tomorrow's Honeycomb event that I'll be attending, and upon my return, I'm going to see how accurate I was in my guessing. Through this process, I hope to establish that no, I am not some corporate espionage specialist, nor do I have an empirical fuckton of inside information (maybe just a metric one), and it's all the result of me being in the right place at the right time.

A while ago, I made a few twitter posts, and forum posts about the look of Gingerbread, dating back to October. There was even a photo posted, that was blurry as Hades. I hereby take full credit for both. So where did they come from? Very easy.

* Matias Duarte

I don't personally know Matias, but we all know his work: WebOS. I don't personally claim to have ever used a WebOS device, but I've seen screen shots of what it looks like. It's dark, it's warm black tones, and it's accented. Then, there was the article about Gingerbread's style showing up in Google Maps if you changed your build.prop file. Of course that isn't all, though. Google matias duarte art and you'll come across a LOT of the work Matias has done. All of it is different, of course, but there are a number of tones and styles that are consistent, all leading me to the same conclusion: Gingerbread would share many of those tones and styles. And, my logic was right.

* Public Transportation

I live in San Mateo. I work in Redwood City. Google is located in Mountain View. All in all, I spend 95% of my time with in 25 miles of their corporate headquarters, and the thousands of employees that work there, too. How many of them do I see when off of work? How many do I see at the grocery store, or at the movies, or driving (or riding, in one those cars that drives itself) down the street? The answer: quite often. Many movie theaters I've seen Google employees playing with their phones in, and due to Google's wonderful policy on openness, not all of those phones are running released software. As for the picture of Gingerbread I released, that was taken on the CalTrain. I ride 4 different trains a day to get to/from work (with all the transfers) and once in a while, I find myself sitting behind somebody with a Holiday Nexus One, or some other Google device that I recognize from all the rumors and other leaks, courtesy of websites like Android & Me and Phandroid. So when I see these as I walk through the train, naturally I'm going to sit down behind the person in question and peak over their shoulder. And of course, like any other nosey snoop, I am never with out at least one camera, and usually am packing 3 or 4 (including cell phones). So when the opportunity presents itself, of course I'm going to take it. This gives me inside access to products that Google hasn't announced, and was one of the big reasons I knew how crashy the early builds of Gingerbread were. A little resourcefulness, a little common sense, and a lot of putting myself in the right place at the right time has landed me details like this.

* Knowing Who to Listen To

Lastly, and most importantly, you need to know who to listen to, and you need to pay attention to what they say. Following the public figureheads of Android (JBQ, San Mehat, Dan Morril, Andy Reubin, etc) are all very well and fine and good, but I also look at the less public people, also. Those whose roles are more public on forums or, through code commits, can see what projects they're working on. So when one of them is posting patches to SDK tools for a week, and then twitters that "It's almost over!", you can really put 2 and 2 together and come out with 4: another part (or the whole) of the SDK is done. Thus, a release might be imminent. By piecing little shreds together, you can start to see the bigger puzzle picture. By reading between the lines of everybody involved in the project, Google really paints a forest of information that, well, only somebody with the resources of Google at their disposal could catalog. But, oh yea, Google offers all their services to everybody, doesn't it. Maybe there really is such a thing as being "too open" after all.

So now, some predictions about what tomorrow is all about, how I came to those conclusions, and why I stand behind them. Tomorrow of course, we'll see if I'm right, or if I'm wrong.

* Google Music

Why do I think Google Music is going to be shown tomorrow? Well, there's many reasons. I'll try to cover them all, but the evidence really is overwhelming.

First, Google Music is supported in the leaked Music app from Honeycomb that has been floating around XDA for a while. It adds "Google Music" to your syncable items under your Google account. So this means that Google Music is part of Honeycomb at least, in functionality. Legal issues aside, we know the product is coming, and it would be perfect if it could be introduced in Android 3.0. More importantly, however, this is necessary to be announced soon. I'll explain why, later.

Second, Google Music is not limited to mobile devices. It will be another Google service, usable from your computer, your phone, probably even Google TV and Chrome OS at some level, at some point. Look at Android and its offerings, closely. Are there any Google *services* that are exclusive to the platform? The apps, in a way, yes, but that's about it, and that's not really true when you consider the only reason they're exclusive to Android is because nobody's cared enough to port Dalvik to a desktop system - it's technically 100% possible, after all. So what unique services of Google's does Android provide? None. Google Reader, Google Books, Google Mail, Google Maps, Google Voice, etc, all take advantage of the certain properties of the phone platform, but none of them are exclusive to it. So why would Google Music be any different? Because it's going to be another Google service, and not just an Android application, it really has no place at MWC. That would be like going to the Westminster Dog shows, and trying to sell trees. Dogs like to pee on trees and fetch sticks that trees drop, they're connected, right? Nice try, but no. So since MWC isn't the place to announce such things, why do it there?

Third, Google isn't big on holding press events with out releasing something new. We all saw a fairly in-depth announcement of Honeycomb on the Xoom at CES. So why would they bring out all the press to just do a hands on? No, this is going to be big. And a hands-on of an unreleased but announced product really isn't big. Google Music announcement, however, would be.

Fourth, there are a lot of rumors going around about MWC too. Lets cut through the normal tripe and look at one company in particular, however: Samsung. Now, Samsung is going to be doing something big at MWC. They're going into it with an aura of confidence and are exuding panache like Apple fanboys exude body odor. Why is this? Rumors are abounding about the Galaxy 2 phones, the Galaxy 2 Tab, and the Galaxy Player. Oh, what's that, the Galaxy Player? It's Samsung's rival to the iPod. And, what better product to take advantage of a Google Music service than, of course, an Android based iPod-like device? And since Samsung might be announcing something around it at MWC, wouldn't Google Music need to be announced first? Yea...

* Web Market

Also, there's the web market, which could have support for buying music and video through it also. All this is something we've known was coming since Google IO last year, but it hasn't been released yet. Is it really so strange that Google would integrate the two? After all, it's almost time for IO registration again this year. Products can and usually do change significantly in the amount of time that has passed since we saw Vic's presentation on the two subjects. Since Andy Rubin took over the Google Music project also, it would make perfect sense to marry the web app store with the music store, and make a central, unified directory for everything that Google sells, music, movies (if they ever do that), and apps. After all, I doubt highly that they're going to give the press a look, you can play with this for 15 minutes each demo of something already announced with out revealing anything new. It would be wasting their time, and when they usually do things like that, they at least tell you in advance it's just a hands on demo of <produce name>.

There's my thoughts on why we'll see Google Music and the web app store/market show up tomorrow. Then, we'll see if I'm wrong, or if I'm right. But either way, there's my logic.