07 Dec 2023 @ 2:43 PM 

People sure do talk about how they hate big corporations being in charge of their social media interactions, don’t they? But what is the biggest beneficiary of Elon Musk’s deliberate destruction of Twitter? Meta.

Network effects are a bitch. Threads launched with an automatic user base of “everyone on Instagram.” Since adding a functional web interface, it’s grown to become the de facto home of Twitter refugees. It’s easy to use, but is completely lacking in any kind of unique or distinctive features. Posts are limited to 500 characters, which is the default size of Mastodon posts as well. There is some rudimentary threading, albeit much less robust than Reddit or even LiveJournal circa 2001. Other features are just what everyone expects (blocking of individuals, accounts can be private or public, posts can have images attached, etc.). Honestly, it is entirely less robust than LJ in 2000 was (or Reddit currently is). Users can’t select post-specific privacy – your account is either wide open or friends-only. There’s no text formatting of any kind. There are no groups or pages (whatever terminology you want to use for community profiles).

In every way, Threads is less than what other services provide. It is even less feature-rich than Facebook, which makes me wonder why anyone would choose Meta’s Threads over Meta’s Facebook. I suppose at this point, Threads lacks the overwhelming advertising visible on Facebook, but you know it’s just a matter of time. There’s no way Mark Zuckerberg is going to release a useful product that he makes no money from.

I recently started trying to repost everything I share on Facebook to Threads, BlueSky, and Mastodon (IndieWeb specifically). The engagement on every site is negligible to non-existent, except on Facebook. Between Threads and Facebook, Meta is the big winner of Twitter’s self-immolation. And apparently people are okay with giving their personal data to an eccentric billionaire, as long as he doesn’t act too insane too publicly.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 07 Dec 2023 @ 03:08 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
Categories: Geek, Musings, Random Thoughts
 03 Nov 2023 @ 3:40 PM 

There has been a lot of discussion about federation in the past year, and for the first time it actually starts to feel like a thing that may happen, as contrasted with previous news blips. Tumblr was one of the first of the legacy social media sites to promise future integration with ActivityPub, the protocol that undergirds Mastodon, Friendica, Pixelfed, PeerTube, Lemmy, and a variety of other fediverse platforms. It’s been a year since that promise, and it looks like it was actually bullshit.

Meanwhile, Jack Dorsey (formerly Twitter chief) finally launched his long-gestating new decentralized social media service, Blue Sky. Blue Sky is famously not going to support ActivityPub, despite AP being a W3C standard. Instead, Blue Sky will support the Authenticated Transfer protocol, which is open source but not an official standard of any unbiased group. Naturally, despite Blue Sky opening up membership to the point where even I have an account there, it is still restricted to a single site. It may be running on an open protocol, but there’s no way to tell that, since no other sites can federate with it.

Around the same time as Blue Sky launched via invites, Mark Zuckerberg’s micro-blogging platform Threads went wide. Threads is a subsite of Instagram, and recently its website became useful (previously, it was restricted to mobile apps only, much as Instagram was for a surprisingly long time). Threads is supposedly going to support ActivityPub one day. When? Don’t hold your breath.

The dream of a lot of older geeks is to go back to the days before SEO destroyed the egalitarian nature of the late 1990s web. But, the hazy memories inherent in nostalgic reminiscing obscure the problems that the old days of GeoCities and LiveJournal had. The barrier to internet entry back in the late 20th Century was significant. Now, with sites such as Facebook, it’s easy to get online and connect. It’s easy to write the longest rants you want, without needing to worry about coding. But, those easy sites are also incredibly limited. Facebook still, after more than fifteen years, does not support basic text formatting that LJ had in 1999. And, of course, we can’t forget that the various bots and employees of Meta can just randomly delete your post, or entire account, and there’s literally nothing you can do about it – it’s not your site. Here’s an interesting article about the promise of POSSE to own your own thoughts, but still connect to the greater social media world. I’ve attempted to use this paradigm myself over the years, with varying success – mostly failure.

Here’s the dream: I post here on AndySocial, and it gets reposted to all the places I want it to, and people can read my incredibly important thoughts no matter where they are. If the destination site has a character limit (and why do any have limits, are we using Nokia flip phones to access social media?), the syndicated feed could be just an excerpt with a link back to the original, or maybe automatically create a threaded series of posts. And then there’s the reality, which is much less functional.

Once upon a time, I could post here and it would repost to Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal, and Medium. Any blogging platform that understood the RSS protocol (which was once dominant) could subscribe passively, and all would work great. The RSS feed is still there, but the death of Google Reader was just the most obvious sign of the death of people taking RSS seriously as a method of syndication. Facebook killed the ability to post to it from my site. Medium killed the ability to post to it as well. Twitter killed that ability almost as soon as Musk bought it. That leaves LiveJournal as the only site that I automatically reposted to for a while.

In the past few months, the owners of WordPress bought the clunky and barely-functional ActivityPub plugin for WordPress, and got it to be actually useful without requiring building things from source code. So, now I can automatically repost to any ActivityPub site. For me, that is my IndieWeb Mastodon account and my Venera Friendica account. Unfortunately, the number of people who actively use the ActivityPub-based fediverse is a tiny fraction of those on Facebook.

Network effects are a bitch.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 03 Nov 2023 @ 03:40 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
 25 Sep 2023 @ 2:48 PM 

I’m in a bit of a waiting period for some scenario development at work, so I’m looking at my stupidly large boardgame library.

In the past six months or so, the question of “good games that play six or more players” has come up a few times. I checked, and my collection includes over fifty games that claim to work with more than five players.

Roll & Write games are the obvious way to go for many, because some of them allow essentially infinite players. The reason so many can play is that there is literally no player interaction. So, let’s set those to the side (although On Tour is a REALLY good roll & write which I have 12 USA boards for).

Another genre that often caters to large groups are party games, many of which are “two teams of any size” competitions. It’s easy to view all party games as “more an activity than a game,” but some actually do have some degree of strategy in them, such as the various Werewolf style games.

I’ve got a couple very light games that play up to eight, including Guns or Treasure, Chicken!, and Zombie Dice. Those are fun, but not something with any depth of play.

Robot Quest Arena can play up to seven, although I question the value of squeezing that many players on the board – the board is the same size for 2 or 7, after all. I think I’d consider this a four-player game, maybe five.

Illuminati plays up to 8, but it’s a pretty weird game that doesn’t appeal to a lot of people, despite being in print for over forty years.

Chez Geek plays up to 8, with decent player interaction (a LOT of “screw your neighbor” play), and light enough for anyone to learn very quickly. I’ll keep that one in mind for the future. The theme is fairly adolescent for anyone over the age of 25, but we are all channeling our inner children at game tables anyway.

Isle of Cats (both OG and the lighter Explore and Draw) plays six, and has a fun table presence. Project L is a bit lighter and also plays six, if you really can’t get enough polyomino action.

Card games often play up to six, include Gift of Tulips, Lunar Base, and the trick-taking game Enemy Anemone. We’ve played Valley of the Kings at six – it takes a lot of table space, but works even using the unsanctioned “every expansion at once” variant. I’ve only played Long Shot: the Dice Game with up to five players, but it might be tedious with the max of eight.

I really want to try Factory Funner with a big group – I imagine we’d decide very quickly if the “everybody grab pieces from the supply” option is desirable.

What games have you played with six or more players that really worked for your group?

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 25 Sep 2023 @ 02:48 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
 17 Jun 2023 @ 12:28 PM 

This is a great interview with a person who is incredibly well-informed and erudite on the subject of national security materials and vulnerabilities. There are a couple points that I think can stand to be emphasized:
– Any potential release or compromise of documents as sensitive as these must be treated as if they WERE compromised. The sensitivity of some of these programs means that we can’t act like it’s a maybe – it’s treated as if it were confirmed that the files were read and copied and sent to literally everyone, because to assume they remained safe is to put people, sources, and methods at risk. Some of those risks are deadly, and some are misinformation. It’s likely that we will never know who, if anyone, read these files. But, if we continue to use certain sources and think they’re good, when they’re actually feeding us bullshit, we’re going to have a bad time. For more on this, read “Between Silk and Cyanide,” by Leo Marks.
– Our allies can no longer trust us with their secrets. We have a number of bilateral and multi-lateral sharing agreements and relationships. Why should any of them ever trust us implicitly again? This causes a significant constriction in our level of information available in areas where we don’t have (and in some places may never have) a strong presence of our own. We rely on our partners to let us know things. This level of cavalier mishandling of intelligence material jeopardizes literally generations of cooperation.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 17 Jun 2023 @ 12:28 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
Categories: Geek, Military, News, Political
 04 May 2023 @ 3:40 PM 

Once upon a time, I tried to get the WordPress plugin for ActivityPub to work. I spent weeks, and failed every try. The plugin author was stumped, other than, “shared hosting on Dreamhost with LetsEncrypt does weird things to the .well-known path.” And so I gave up.

It looks like a kind person on the internet was able to find a fix. It involves editing a file on the server, so requires a bit of geek power, but I run Linux and live on the command line at work, so no problem.

This is the test post. Does this populate to ActivityPub? Can I see it and “boost” it from my Mastodon and Friendica accounts? I’ve got my Friendica account set to auto-post anything from my blog, because that makes the most sense for long-form content. From my Mastodon account, I’m just following myself so I can choose to boost things if I want. Let’s see…

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 05 May 2023 @ 09:29 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (2)
Tags
Categories: Geek, Site News
 21 Dec 2022 @ 2:50 PM 

Since Twitter continues to be a source of drama, and the formerly obscure Fediverse has become prominent enough to be front-page of the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, maybe the current shakeup will continue for a while longer. This will inevitably lead to some issues with growing pains, including issues around a “business model” for social media sites or platforms.

There are a lot of perspectives regarding social media, including some who advocate for essentially moving back to a standards-based individualized model, akin to the RSS reader era, with everyone maintaining their own blogs on their own sites but interacting through RSS and web rings and such. That was clunky in 1998, and it’s clunky today. I think this is a bit of a non-starter in 2023.

The next big option is to run your own personal Fediverse server. Let’s pretend that federating your blog was easy (I’ve tried, and it’s not). If I’m running my blog here at my own site, and I federate with a hundred or so other individuals, I’ll be able to see them and interact with them in one interface, let’s say Mastodon but it could be Friendica or CalcKey or one of the other members of the Fediverse. But, finding other interesting people would be a chore, and more importantly, most people have no interest in being a system administrator, even for a site with only one user.

That leads to the currently trending approach – join an existing Fediverse instance and let someone else handle the maintenance and moderation tasks. Yes, every user can individually choose how and with whom they’ll interact, but if your local feed ends up being filled with spam, that’s a task for a system guy and not for the users. This seems to be working pretty well for most of us who are trying to build communities and communicate across the Fediverse. So far, this is mostly being funded by donations. People donate to Eugen Rochko to support the Mastodon software, and donate to Mastodon.Social (one of the biggest servers) to pay for the servers and administration. Can we truly count on voluntary donations to make all this work? DreamHost (my web host) does not work on a donation model, nor does Amazon Web Services (where many Fediverse servers store their static content). It’s not how we usually do things in real life or online – we have structure, not charity.

But, the Fediverse has a bit of a culture of being anti-commercial. That isn’t to say people cannot promote their own work, but that people don’t want to see advertising in the feed. I’d wager that any instance that started trying to support itself with ads would get de-federated by nearly every other instance, and would end up as a disconnected blog site. So, if ads are not going to work, what will? Would you pay a monthly fee to be a member of your local Mastodon or Friendica group?

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 21 Dec 2022 @ 02:50 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
Categories: Copyfight, Geek, Musings
 01 Nov 2022 @ 3:04 PM 

Hey, remember blogs? It’s beginning to feel like they might be making a comeback. I’ve been around these here interwebs a long time, and social media has risen and morphed a lot in that time. Meanwhile, actually owning your own domain and putting up your own shit there has never gone away and has remained fully functional. My first iteration of the BunkBlog was on GeoCities, in the SiliconValley subdivision, maybe unit 7309? Anyway, it’s long gone but the Wayback Machine still has some bits and pieces of it. My oldest post I can find is from 1998, and was about rude assholes on the internet. Some things are just evergreen, aren’t they?

Early Connections

Once upon a time, it required actual effort to have an online presence. Pre-Web, the presence you curated was on individual bulletin board systems (BBS) that each had their own culture and rules. Most BBSes were just one guy with a spare computer, or in some cases one guy with a computer that he left available during specific hours of the day. Of course, most of those only had a single phone line attached, so everything was done asynchronously, and discussions were necessarily fairly slow, often taking months to reach a consensus. We were social, but very deliberate – when we really wanted to have a gathering, we literally gathered. I had BBS meetups at pizza parlors and public parks. BBSes weren’t just limited to local areas, though. There was a decent-sized protocol called FidoNet, which used a “store and forward” system to send batches of electronic messages around the world. With the speed of modems and the frequency of sending batches varying wildly between FidoNet nodes, it may have been many hours, possibly even days, before your message reached its destination, but it opened the world to computer geeks.

By the early 1980s, it was becoming obvious that home computers weren’t just a fad, and that people liked reaching out to form online communities. Some companies popped up, such as Genie and Prodigy and QuantumLink and AOL and CompuServe (I had a QuantumLink account with my 1200 baud modem on a Commodore 64). Each had their own forums and communities, and because they were on bigger computers with actual infrastructure, it was possible to do real-time chatting with other humans. Then, the internet became open to commercial users, instead of just government and educational users, gradually through the first half of the 1990s, until the NSFNet fiber backbone was decommissioned and it became the wild west in 1995.

Social Media

We started to look for persistent connections and build communities almost as soon as the internet became accessible to all. Web sites joined “rings” that were built on various affinities, and by 2000 there were a multiple new tools available. LiveJournal was a personal site that went big, producing a new generation of people who were logging their thoughts and connecting with each other. We had communities devoted to nearly any topic imaginable, and we could tweak the style of our personal pages within some limits, so our web logs became blogs became our means of expressing ourselves. LJ had privacy levels, it had (eventually) nested comment threads, it had groups and filters and introduced the term “friend” to mean “some person that I like to read on the internet.” LJ reached a height of a couple million users, and then the owner sold it to a company that sold it to a Russian company and now it’s effectively dead in the USA. Along the same time, Myspace rose, offering another customizable cacophony of colors and blink text. Myspace flamed out even faster than LJ, being bought by Rupert Murdoch and then essentially killed off for personal use. Bands stuck around for a while, but even they didn’t persist much past the rise of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all the other sites we have today.

One abiding feature of the old online communities was moderation, via humans who either were paid or volunteered to police each forum for rules violations. Most would offer a warning or two for scofflaws, and if they were ignored the offender got chucked out the metaphorical airlock. Sadly, moderation does not scale very well, as we see in the modern social media sites. Trying to automate moderation produces nonsense. In multiple instances, I’ve seen people report or flag content that is offensive or violates a site’s terms of service (Nazi symbiology is the most obvious and flagrant), and the person reporting the content gets their account suspended, while the Nazi remains on the service. Robots are bad at making judgment calls.

It seems that lack of good judgment is not a problem to the owners of the modern social media sites, because they are not actually in the business of providing communities. They are in the business of providing demographic data to advertisers and data miners. As the saying goes, if you’re not paying for a service, you’re the product and not the customer. Facebook and Twitter don’t give a shit about you and your desire to reconnect with high school classmates – they just want that advertiser gold.

Profit Motives Suck

There are many things that capitalism has proven good at, with the appropriate level of regulation and oversight. I think many people have realized that monetizing human interactions is not a great thing for the humans. Various alternative social media platforms have come up over the years, attempting to break the network effect problem that keeps people on Facebook and Twitter. Mastodon appears to be the protocol that may actually finally beat the profit-focused social media world.

Mastodon is more a set of communication standards than it is a web site or platform. The main site, mastodon.social, has reached its capacity long ago. When I created my first Mastodon account, in 2017, they were already telling people to join mastodon.cloud for general-purpose uses, or to find one of the other instances that had already popped up. I’m not going to reiterate what others have written about the service, but the federation and deliberate nature of connecting, and the non-profit nature of the entire fediverse (get used to weird terminology), really seems like something that may take off.

There are thousands of Mastodon users, broken into different servers with different communities, but they can all (within limits) link together. If you’re tired of Mark Zuckerberg’s robots telling you that pointing to the hate speech is worse than hate speech, or if you’re tired of Elon Musk spreading misinformation on his personal web site, maybe check out Mastodon. It’s a slower, simpler, more social media site.

Oh, and read Cory Doctorow. He’s pretty damned clever.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 01 Nov 2022 @ 03:13 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
 29 Aug 2020 @ 12:55 PM 

I had the latest and greatest version of Facebook’s interface force-updated recently. Like so many recent website updates, it appears that the intended audience either can’t see very well, or is using the website with a touch screen. Here’s my standard home screen under the old theme:

This is what it looks like on a 1080p monitor if I maximize the browser. Obviously, I never maximize the browser for Facebook – it wastes half the width of the screen. But, you can see over a dozen links on the left, including my curated list of shortcuts, and you can see one full post from a group I belong to, and the beginning of another. Here’s that same data, with the new theme:

It still wastes some space if you maximize it, but it isn’t quite as egregious. What is egregious, though, is that Facebook now decides that I need to see “Stories” (a feature almost nobody uses on purpose) and provides the option to create a random group (a feature almost nobody understand the purpose of). Those aren’t optional, and they waste a lot of vertical space. Meanwhile, the “contacts” list, which was collapsible in the classic mode, is just there all the time, providing visual clutter.

Look at the “classic” theme again, and you’ll see small numbers next to some of the shortcuts on the left. This shows, at a glance, how many posts or comments are unread in specific groups or pages. The equivalent information in the new theme is just all clumped together in the fourth icon on the top row. That claims there are six groups with new comments or posts, but I don’t know which group unless I click that icon. Maybe some groups are things I care about deeply, and others only casually. Too bad – they’re all the same now.

Over in the chat and notification drop-downs, we have more insults to efficiency. I’m not going to show screen shots, because I don’t want to blur out everything repeatedly, but you can conduct this experiment on your own. In the chat menu, at the bottom of the legacy view, is “Mark all read.” Boom, now the slate is wiped clean and you are all caught up. That option is completely missing in the new view. In the notification menu, the legacy mode shows “mark all read” right at the top, very easy. The new view hides it under a menu of other options that you’ll likely never use.

There are a number of other minor annoyances. Even if you can’t use plugins (like Social Fixer that you can see in my screen shots), the legacy view allows you to switch from the much-reviled default “top stories” view into a “recent” view that is vastly more intuitive. The new view doesn’t have that feature on the “news feed” menu option (because that option is missing), and instead it is under the down-arrow in an option called “recent” – at least it’s there, but it’s more work to get to. When reposting a link, in the classic view, we have the option to “include original” which would repost the link and the commentary from the person’s post where you found it. In the new theme, there is no option — your new post will include the link to the source and nothing else.

Why does Facebook want to make using their service more tedious?

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 03 Sep 2020 @ 10:18 AM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
Tags: ,
Categories: Geek, Musings, Personal
 04 Jan 2019 @ 12:07 PM 

People are increasingly amazed and sometimes aghast that I do not carry a cell phone and do not own a smartphone. “Gary, you’re such a massive geek, how do you not have a pocket computer welded to you at all times?” Well, let me tell you a tale of technology and pragmatism when living where I do and working where I do.

I live in a small city which is about 100 miles from the nearest slightly-larger city, and hundreds of miles from a real metropolis. I’m trying to pay down long-term debt and build up some savings so that we can leave this city when an opportunity arises. To that end, I’m not going to spend money on a piece of cool technology that I can’t use to its full potential. If I’m not traveling (which I’m not), the use for the smartphone would be to use it around town, at work, at home – essentially all the time. I used to carry a PDA, sixteen years ago. I know how useful it is to have a brain extension with you at all times. It’s less useful if you can’t use it most of the day.

And the reason I can’t use it leads to the place I work. I cannot take portable electronic devices with cameras, microphones, cellular radios, or most other things that are more advanced than a CD player into my work place. The option most people who do own smartphones take is to leave their expensive pocket computer in the car while they are in the building. This links with “where I live” to become a bad idea. It’s hot here in the summer, and summer is about 8 months long some years. If it’s 115 degrees outside, how hot is the interior of your car? How does that affect the ability of your phone to operate or be held by a normal human hand, or not explode? I’m not gonna risk it, just so I can use the phone in my car and my home, while still not using it at work because I’d get fired if I tried.

So, car use is out, work use is out. That leaves home use. Sure, I have had a tablet for years, first the Xoom, then a Shield, Nexus 9, and now a Kindle Fire. I’d use a better tablet if someone would make one that wasn’t over $1000. Clearly, I could replace a tablet with a phone. But, a tablet has an 8″ or larger screen, and I’m not 20 so bigger is better in some cases. And, the tablet doesn’t need a monthly fee to keep working. Meanwhile, I also have a gaming PC. This is a not-insignificant expense, and I’d much rather prioritize replacing that box every five years than a less-powerful phone every two. I also have a home phone. I have a phone in my office. I am not hard to get in contact with, and I do not feel any need to be contactable at a moment’s notice 24/7.

To summarize, I do not own a smartphone because the only place I’d use it is at home or when traveling. I have better toys to use at home, and my wife has a smartphone that we use when traveling. In the massively unlikely event I need to travel alone, I do maintain a Tracfone. It stays in the car, and costs me about $100 per year to keep it from expiring. I think it has 1500 minutes right now, because I literally never talk to anyone.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 04 Jan 2019 @ 12:07 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
Categories: Geek, Personal, Random Thoughts
 07 Nov 2018 @ 12:01 AM 

It’s been twenty years since the first post on this blog, the still-topical Rude Online Bastards piece. While I have one of the oldest blogs still extant among my acquaintances (John Scalzi has me beat by a few months), the traffic definitely dropped some years back. The rise of LiveJournal and MySpace didn’t change things much, and in fact helped to drive traffic around the entire web. But, Facebook has really crushed the standalone web log (as it was once known). I did eventually learn to not cringe at the neologism “blog,” and now it’s essentially a relic. Ah, well.

Meanwhile, there are still trolls and jerks online, and twenty years of progress has not reduced their numbers in the slightest.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 07 Nov 2018 @ 03:51 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
 14 Dec 2014 @ 5:01 PM 

Just over two years ago, I bought a Motorola Xoom tablet. It had been the top Android tablet of 2011, which is damning with faint praise. But, it was $600 for the Wifi-only model or $800 for the 3G model when it was released. I got the 3G model but never used the 3G part of it, and only paid $200 18 months after it was released. Needless to say, it did not do well in the market of the time. This month, I splurged and got myself an Nvidia Shield tablet. This is at the top of the Android tablet market for 2014, so it seems a good comparison can be made about the progress of Android in the tablet space over the past three-plus years. It’s a mixed bag, to be sure.

The first thing you notice about a tablet when you pick it up is how it feels in your hand. The Xoom weighs 730 grams (over 1.5 pounds), while the Shield weighs 390 grams (less than one pound). The Shield is so lightweight, I’m constantly amazed at how much it can do. Of course, the reviews talk about the Shield as being heavy, so apparently less-powerful tablets are lighter. But, the Shield can play Half-Life 2 and Portal! Besides weight, there are other physical aspects of the tablets that strike me. The Xoom feels like a tank. Its body is primarily metal, with a plastic strip to expose the various antennas. The Shield feels delicate. It’s all-plastic, and my first one had a crack when I took it out of the package (RMA time!). For this reason, I’ve ordered a hybrid shock-absorbing hard case for the Shield. If I’m going to be using it to take credit card orders at craft shows, I want it to be protected.

Once you get the thing in your hand, you’ll turn it on. The Xoom has a 1280×800 screen (160 ppi) that can be described as adequate. Colors are a little washed out, and viewing angles are not bad. The Shield’s 1920×1200 screen (293 ppi) is really nice. It’s only 8 inches, instead of the Xoom’s 10 inches, and so it squeezes a lot of pixels into a small space. The tablets with even higher resolution might be just chasing specs, since this has no visible pixels at normal viewing distances. The colors don’t shift, the blacks are blacker, and the whole feeling is just nicer. Even though it’s 2 inches smaller, I can read pages at least as easily on the Shield as the Xoom. It does seem that both screens are a bit dim, so sunlight is a tough place to use them.

Both devices also have stereo speakers, but the Xoom has them facing away from the user for reasons that remain inexplicable. The Shield gets loud and the speakers face front. Both devices have 32GB of storage, which is mystifying. Do modern manufacturers not understand how truly large some programs are getting? Thankfully, both also have Micro SD card slots, and the Shield supports moving apps to the card as well as content. The Xoom has 1GB of RAM, and the Shield has 2 GB. Some other high end tablets are shipping with 3 GB, but 2 is probably plenty for the foreseeable future.

What about power? Whooboy, have things changed in the performance realm. Xoom and Shield both use Nvidia Tegra chips. The Xoom is a Tegra 2, a dual-core 1Ghz CPU with a 400Mhz GeForce GPU. It was quite a nice piece of kit for 2011, but programmers have been expanding the capabilities of Android apps and Google’s own services since then. It’s feeling pretty sluggish today, with pauses and hiccups aplenty. The Shield SOC is the Tegra K1 32-bit variant. This has a quad-core 2.2Ghz CPU with a Kepler-class GPU. Overall, the power of the K1 is in the same ballpark as an Xbox 360 (which came out in 2005, so don’t get too excited). Benchmarks are phenomenally different between the two systems – Xoom gets an Antutu score of 5000, Shield is over 40,000. 3dmark Icestorm on the Xoom gets 1290, but 31500 on the Shield.

But, what about daily usage? That’s where things get frustrating. In 2012, I was struck by how frequently I ran into portrait-only apps on Android. I have not seen a huge increase in non-Google apps that use the landscape orientation, other than games. In fact, some apps which did work on the Xoom in landscape last year were updated to be portrait-only this year. TiVo is a big offender here. It was late bringing out an Android version to begin with, then it produced two – one for phones and one for tablets. Earlier this year, they merged the two, but dropped support for landscape mode and dropped support for the older app as well. In fact, loading the app which worked just fine would cause it to immediately close with the message that you needed to get the new one, regardless of the fact that the new one didn’t bloody well work on the device. So I ended up with no TiVo-branded app on my Xoom. There are a number of apps which work in landscape on the Xoom but force the Shield into portrait mode. Apparently the programmers figured the smaller screen meant, “treat it like a big phone.” For some reason, the popular casual games Simpsons Tapped Out and Family Guy Quest for Stuff are buggy as heck on the Shield, but work just fine on the Xoom. I’ll be generous and give them some time to fix them, but the Shield did come out in July.

Even Google’s own apps are not perfect when it comes to landscape mode. The Google Inbox program (which is starting to grow on me) works in landscape, but doesn’t make very good use of the extra width. Worse, it forces you to perform the quick setup steps in portrait mode. If even El Goog doesn’t care enough about landscape to allow their programs to work exclusively in that orientation, the likelihood of anyone else supporting it enthusiastically is pretty low.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with my Shield. I got it during the Black Friday promo, so it came with not just Trine 2, but Half-Life 2, Portal, Half-Life 2 Episode 1 (upcoming), and the Shield Controller. The controller makes the smaller screen less cramped for games that support it, that’s for sure. That I can play Portal or some very impressive racing games on a device that weighs less than a pound is just amazing. That it cost half what the Xoom did less than four years earlier is really a testament to Moore’s Law.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 14 Dec 2014 @ 05:11 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
Categories: Geek, Reviews
 24 Jul 2014 @ 2:14 PM 

So there’s a free collaborative wiki-style genealogy site now. Let’s see how this embedded tree works.


Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 17 Mar 2018 @ 11:03 AM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
Categories: Geek, Personal
 

Cedar

 
 13 Jan 2014 @ 1:11 PM 

I would like to inform my fellow west Texas residents that the cedar tree is a large evergreen, not a shrub. Just so you know, here’s a cedar tree:
Great_cedar_tree,_Stanley_Park,_Vancouver,_BC,_1897

This is a juniper bush:

Juniper

And this is a tamarix plant:
Tamarisk

 

Just sayin’.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 13 Jan 2014 @ 01:11 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
 17 Jul 2013 @ 1:15 PM 

Tablet computers seem to have matured quite a bit in the past two years, giving the market a great deal of options for consumers to pick through. What’s really amazing is to see the older generations showing up on daily deal sites. Today, the DailySteals folks have the original Galaxy Tab (no 2 or 3 or plus) on sale for $100. That may seem like a great deal for a tablet that got middling reviews on its release, until you realize that its release was in 2010. How is there still any stock left of those things?

Meanwhile, over on Nomorerack, the Sony Xperia Tablet S is available for $280. This is a tablet that was launched 10 months ago for $400, so that may seem like a good deal to you as well. Ten months is not so long ago, and it has the same basic guts as the much-loved Google Nexus 7 (along with a full-size SD card slot for the shutterbugs out there). But, the reviews from last fall should make you think about staying away from that one too. It has issues with GPS lock-on and some strange concepts of when wifi should shut off, along with a skin that sucks some of the power out of that Tegra 3 chip. It might be a good deal, if you never use GPS and don’t need background data to run when the tablet is asleep, but then again this does appear to be a time of great new tablets this fall so you may want to wait just a little while.

Google is probably going to introduce the NewNexus 7 or whatever they end up calling it (the only inventory screen I’ve seen calls it the Nexus 2 7″ for what that’s worth) very soon. It’s showing up all over the place, and looks to be a giant leap above the rest of the 7″ tablet pack. And, there are a pack of Tegra 4 and Snapdragon-powered tablets from other manufacturers in the pipeline. If you’re a portable gaming geek, you probably already ordered your Nvidia Shield.

Last August, I bought a Motorola Xoom, not really sure if I’d really use it but willing to drop $200 for an $800 device. It turns out that I use it a lot, with the Chromebook just collecting dust for months now. With that in mind, I’m really looking forward to reading the reviews of the new batch of tablets when they come out. The Asus Transformer is what I’m leaning toward, as I’d certainly get the keyboard dock and then have a decent typing experience on the tablet when I needed it, while Asus has developed a great reputation with their previous tablets (let’s just forget about the TF201 entirely, shall we?). While I was willing to “go cheap” on the Xoom, just to test the waters, I’ll probably consider my next tablet a serious purchase, so no last-year’s refurb for me this time around.

Anyone else watching the tablet wars?

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 17 Jul 2013 @ 01:21 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
Tags:
Categories: Geek
 24 Oct 2012 @ 11:12 AM 

Two months ago and with the urging of my lovely bride, I splurged on a toy I did not need but has become quite frequently used – a Xoom tablet. For those not immersed in the Android geek zeitgeist, the Xoom was intended to be the first “Pure Android” tablet, the first one actually blessed by Google, and hoped to be the iPad Killer. It fell short of killing much of anything, but all the reviewers said it was a nice piece of kit, just too expensive. In the Spring of 2011, it was a $799 device; in August of 2012, it was $199. My how the mighty have fallen.

This is not to say that it’s not a great device, it was just priced out of the market. 800 bucks is how much I spend on a desktop computer that can play Crysis, it’s not even close to what I’d pay for something that I use to surf the web from my recliner. It’s obvious that I’m not the only one with that opinion, as the $200 7″ tablet market is quite competitive. Somehow, nobody has been able to beat Apple on the price and quality of their 10″ tablets, but since Steve Jobs famously said that 7″ tablets were stupid and wrong, Amazon was able to get a toehold there. People like $200 devices. When the VCR was young, it had to drop to $200 before people would buy them. The same phenomenon happened with CD players, DVD players, ad nauseum. At $500 or more, the iPad is a luxury item and requires thinking and planning to purchase for most of us. At $200, the Kindle Fire was a ludicrously popular Christmas gift.

Now we have the iPad Mini on the market, a 7.9″ shrunken iPad 2 and the cheapest iPad ever. Of course, it’s not the cheapest decent tablet ever – that’s the $159 Kindle Fire (2012 edition). These two devices should probably not be compared head-to-head, since even the rather elderly silicon in the iPad Mini can kick the Fire’s digital butt without raising a sweat. But, we also have the Google Nexus 7, which is cheaper and more powerful than the Mini. And, we also have the coming Nexus update next week, with promised price drops and a higher-memory model. We’ll see how that works out.

There was a rather strange period in the Mini introduction where Apple showed how much larger a 7.9″ screen was compared to a 7″ screen. Of course, they used the aspect ratio to their advantage as well, only demonstrating applications that didn’t take advantage of a 16:9 screen. But, using the number of inches of screen as a discriminating factor seems odd to many geeks – we care much more about the number of pixels. And here, the Mini is at a disadvantage. There is not a tablet on the market from a big manufacturer other than the Fire (non-HD variant) with a lower number of pixels than the Mini. I’m sure the screen is quite pretty, but it’s just a peculiar thing to go on about.

Much more important in the comparison was the problem of Android tablet apps. They suck. I’ve had my Xoom for two months now, and I’ve never used an iPad of any kind for comparison, but Android tablet apps are a mixed bag of great and shitty designs. I love using my Xoom as a radio for when I’m reading, tuning into KROQ in Los Angeles or KNDD in Seattle. None of the online radio apps recognizes that a tablet is not a phone. They all have portrait-only interfaces and are just crappy to operate. Even Pandora, which has a decent tablet app that wastes a relatively low amount of space, has a homescreen widget that doesn’t work on a landscape orientation without cutting off its control buttons. Games are a definite bright spot, but I notice that a lot of games on Android are subsets of their iOS equivalents. I loved Galaxy on Fire 2, but it’s not a very long game until you look at the DLC. This DLC is, unfortunately, only available on Apple products. Android gets the base game and should be happy for it! I really like Plants vs. Zombies on Windows, but the Android version is incompatible with anything using Android 4.x – so that kills it for the Nexus 7 and my updated Xoom as well as any newer devices coming out. There are a lot of reasons for the moribund application development for Android tablets (market share, fragmentation, piracy, to name a few), but I’ll let analysts beat that drum. Looking at it from an end-user perspective, it just sucks.

So, Apple points out that of the gajillion apps in the App Store, over a quarter million of them are tablet-specific. And when Apple says tablet-specific, they don’t mean, “make your phone app bigger.” Those apps are well-designed and use the large screen of the tablet to good effect. The ecosystem is an ever-more-important part of a gadget purchasing decision. Amazon realized that early on, with their Kindle ereader producing massive lock-in and extending that to the Kindle video and music ecosystems. Apple has been heavily invested in promoting their iTunes/App Store ecosystems and they are winning this competition. The race isn’t even close, and anyone who claims otherwise should probably be examined professionally.

Apple charges a premium when you just compare the hardware. But, there’s no fragmentation in their App Store, and there’s a great supply of apps. Is the enormous gulf between iPad apps and Android tablet apps enough to validate charging $130 more for worse hardware? As we get closer to the holiday purchasing frenzy, it should be interesting to watch how much people are willing to pay for the ecosystem over the hardware.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 24 Oct 2012 @ 02:51 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
Categories: Geek
 19 Jun 2012 @ 9:54 AM 

Microsoft’s announced Surface tablets remind me of Zune and not just because of the Metro interface. Sure, it looks nice. Almost everyone who ever touched a Zune said they were built phenomenally well. But there aren’t that many people who touched one. Why is that?

Of course, the “late to market” problem is obvious. Zune came to market after the iPod had already eaten Creative’s lunch and only a few players like Sandisk and Sony stuck around with new devices, all of which worked with Microsoft’s own “PlaysForSure” system. Network effects will lead to a difficult path for pure Metro apps, now that iPad and Android have years of customer buy-in behind them. Would you leave your current environment, just to buy all the programs you use a second time? This assumes that the programs actually materialize. And a tablet without Angry Birds is no tablet at all.

Besides the network effects, the Windows RT experience duplicates the Zune (and iOS too) in the locked-down nature of the entire ecosystem. You can’t boot anything but WinRT on the tablet (UEFI is locked), you can’t install anything except approved Metro apps from the Windows Store, there is no sideloading and no bypassing the paywall. Anyone who likes that sort of thing already has an iPad. Those who find those restrictions onerous won’t buy an iOS device nor WinRT device.

Competing with your own customers is a very Zune-like move I see in the Surface tablet. Zune tried a completely new ecosystem, ignoring the PlaysForSure ecosystem which had preceded it and annoying Microsoft’s former partners in the process. Surface tablets are going to be competitively priced with Microsoft’s own partners’ tablets. That’s not really competitive, it’s predatory in many minds.

Not Zune-like, but still weird to me is the whole announcement itself. I’d have thought that manufacturers would have learned by now that vapor announcements are just stupid. Look at Apple – they announce something when it’s ready for sale. Those few items which they may “pre-announce” have solid shipping dates and prices. Microsoft says their tablets will be competitively priced and will arrive eventually. Also, nobody was allowed to touch the full Windows Pro tablets. It makes one wonder if they’re hiding something there – not ready for even sympathetic tech media to handle?

Those covers do look neat though. So there’s that.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 19 Jun 2012 @ 09:59 AM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
Categories: Geek, Musings
 18 Jun 2012 @ 11:21 AM 

The Boy really surprised me this Father’s Day. Part one of the surprise is that he actually remembered the day, although that may be thanks to Kat. The next part of the surprise is how nice a gift he got me. It was relevant and not cheap (Calphalon bakeware to replace some of the cheaper things banging around in the kitchen). Finally, we were at the local media store (books are such a small part of their stock) and he ran off to buy a t-shirt. He used that t-shirt to wrap the pans! Not only generous, but ingenious as well. And the shirt was Doctor Who themed, so bonus points there.

All around, I could not have asked for a better recognition that I’ve got some sort of place in his heart. Maybe this parenting stuff is working after all.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 18 Jun 2012 @ 11:31 AM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
Categories: Geek, Home, Personal, The Boy, The Woman
 22 May 2012 @ 9:35 AM 

According to Microsoft’s Windows 8 blog, Aero is dead in Win8. This is being touted by many of the geek press as a long-overdue reduction in skeuomorphism, and a move to a “purely digital” view of the computer environment, rather than viewing everything on the computer as a metaphor for a real-world object. Of course, the original Windows wasn’t very analog, but it did pepper physical objects around as icons (a floppy disk, painter’s pallet, etc.).

BeOS A number of commentators make it sound as though Microsoft is doing something radically new and different, with flat colors and sharp corners. They seem to have forgotten every other operating environment ever. For a quick look at some examples, here’s a post I wrote comparing BeOS and Mandrake Linux to Windows 98 (yes, that long ago). Notice the BeOS windows? They look nothing like a real-world object, and they use bright primary colors and minimal shading. Huh. Imagine that.

I’m not trying to say that moving away from shiny translucency is a bad thing. All that extra compositing the graphics engine has to do just wastes cycles, and who really needs fuzzy drop shadows anyway? I think Microsoft is trying to squeeze as much battery life out of portables as possible, and making the graphics card less stressed is a good way to do that. I can’t help but wonder when the Apple i-world is going to start reducing skeuomorphs. I understand the address book is particularly hideous.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 22 May 2012 @ 09:36 AM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
Categories: Geek
 15 Apr 2012 @ 1:58 PM 

It’s been over a month since my MythTV DVR committed suicide and I replaced it with a Tivo from my cable company. I think I’ve explored the features enough to be able to deliver a decent comparison of the two. Overall, I think I’d be very satisfied with a Tivo if I’d never used MythTV. Let me go into some more detail.

More »

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 15 Apr 2012 @ 01:58 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (3)
Tags
 20 Mar 2012 @ 4:24 PM 

Every so often, an event reminds me of the rapidly changing face of technology. I was reading a review of Gnome Shell this morning, and of course there’s the never-ending stream of iPad news this month…but the trigger for me this week was the purchase of a terabyte hard drive and being upset that it cost over $100. Coincidentally, it’s almost exactly 20 years since I got my first Windows PC. Let me take a look at how far I’ve come from that old CompUSA 486 to my current machine, which I call Ralf (the Wise and Powerful).

My desktop computer now has 2.5 terabytes of fixed disk storage and 1.5 terabytes of external storage. The 486 had 120 megabytes, so I’ve got twenty thousand times more storage space. The single-core 486 had a 33 megahertz clock, and Ralf has 3.0 gigahertz quad-core chip – 90 times the clock speed and at least five hundred times the computer power (bogomips of around 800 times greater).

While the 486 had 4 megabytes of RAM, Ralf has 12 gigabytes – three thousand times more memory. In 1992, I was glad to have a 14″ monitor, with the impressive resolution of 800×600 with 16-bit color; my 24″ LCD has 1920×1080 resolution and 32-bit color – five times the number of pixels and ten times the video bandwidth.

One of the most influential games of 1992 was Dune II – the first realtime strategy game to become a hit and the precursor to Warcraft. 2012 is barely begun, but it’s hard not to think of Mass Effect 3 as being a big deal on the PC.

Wow, have we come a long way in twenty years.
Also on my desk, I have a Chumby One. The Chumby has a 454 megahertz processor, 64 megabytes of RAM, 1 gigabyte of storage, and a 320×240 touchscreen. Except for the screen resolution, the Chumby beats the 486 by leaps and bounds – it cost me 45 bucks.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 20 Mar 2012 @ 04:36 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (0)
Tags
Categories: Geek, Journal, Personal

 Last 50 Posts
Change Theme...
  • Users » 2
  • Posts/Pages » 4,187
  • Comments » 896
Change Theme...
  • VoidVoid « Default
  • LifeLife
  • EarthEarth
  • WindWind
  • WaterWater
  • FireFire
  • LightLight

MythTV



    No Child Pages.

Who is Bunk?



    No Child Pages.

Friends



    No Child Pages.