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iOS hardware limitations discourage long tail innovation

CSU recently hosted an iOS app development seminar with a couple apple representatives. One was clearly a sales guy, the other was the guy who spoke code.

It was interesting. I learned quite a bit about building a basic 'Hello World' application. In the end, the tech is no different than any other I've learned. (though objective-c syntax is a bit unusual compared to the other c based languages I've met.)

So, all that is fine, but I started to get a crappy feeling in my stomach when I asked this question:

Send SMS texts via Google chat!!!

Sending SMS texts to friends in the US can really be a hassle if you live abroad. Some countries support it, some carriers support it, many do not. And even if you can do it, it can be expensive.

Google Labs to the rescue!

There is a (new?) feature to Gmail, available in the Labs tab of the Settings, that allows you to send texts to US cellphones via the chat client in Google. Here's what you do:

1) Log into your Gmail account (duh).

2) Click on "Settings" in the upper-right.

3) Click on "Labs" in the dark yellow bar at the top.

REPOST: On machine translation

Language is not pure information; it's information shorthand. It assumes a high degree of already-shared knowledge about the world. Some of these assumptions are near-universal; many are not.

REPOST: Linux is a toy.

This is one of the longer posts I've made regarding Linux's viability as a Windows replacement. I've edited it a bit from the original for things that have changed since then:

Linux is a toy. A powerful toy. An-almost-infinitely-customizable toy. But a toy nonetheless. I say this because the people who use it do so because they enjoy fiddling around with config files. Even if they actually like using it--and of course they do--using it requires one to fiddle with config files in ways that one would only know how to do if he enjoyed learning about such things. I'm sorry, but that is a tiny subset of the computer-using public. Most people don't want to fiddle with things to get them to work or use weird, off-brand knockoff software developed by groups of people who do it as a hobby. It is a toy.

Invariably, this comment upsets a lot of people and there's the obligatory "It runs the internet!" and "dont be rediculous i use it for my business!" (sic) replies. But none of that means it's not a toy. OpenOffice or Crossover Office do not a real computer--as most people actually use them--make. Most businesses do more than type and make spreadsheets.

Here is a quick list of software my parents' company, for whom I do IT from time to time, uses. These are industry-standard applications:

PowerClaim [powerclaim.com]

Xactimate [exactimate.com]

Internet Explorer (for dealing with the head office)

Without these, their business does not run.

REPOST: On newbies' ability to set up Linux

Another repost. I have intimated on this site before my thoughts on Linux, and have always wanted to write a monster post that details them more thoroughly, but the time doesn't come. Here is a slightly-edited-for-readability post from elsewhere on non-computer-savvy people's ability to set up and use Ubuntu Linux:

I build my own PCs. I think that's falling-off-a-log easy. But try to get a noob friend of yours into it. No really, try. They'll come up with the goofiest, craziest, hardest questions you've ever heard. I understand on a conceptual, top-down level what is going on when I'm putting a system together and getting drivers, etc. I've been doing it long enough that when I build a new one, it's a simple matter of just learning the changes since last time I did it. Usually I already know about them because I'm a geek and keep up on such things for fun. But, for example, the change from 20-pin to 24-pin ATX connectors caught me completely by surprise and required another trip to the store to get an adapter. It still happens. I know to look up beep codes. I know what to do if it doesn't start up. When all is said and done, I forget these little problems because they are not memorable--they are not salient events because I calmly and quickly solved them. This is not the case to a person who doesn't have that comparatively vast storehouse of latent knowledge.

For someone just starting out, though, that "24-pin ATX connector" confusion happens with every single step of the process. What seems simple to us only seems that way because we've got a massive backlog of understanding that we just take for granted. We only need to make adjustments to it.

Hackers are an Insignificant Minority

Most people don't care that the iPhone is closed. They don't even know what the difference between open and closed is. And they most certainly don't care.

The iPhone is a phone. It was designed to address problems with phones. The problems it tried to address mostly had to do with the fact that cellphones are almost unusable. For example, I have no idea how to use most of the features on mine, and I'm a geek. It doesn't bother me.

If you can't open it, you don't own it... Apple closed it.

Apple finally cracked down on iphone hackers. So today's the day I feel justified in not buying one yet. They've released a fantastically powerful tool and hobbled it to be nothing more than a shiny toy.

As consumers we need to demand access to the software of systems we buy. Software being in the hands of everyone to modify is what gives it great power.

Google Reader Keyboard Shortcuts

I use google reader in an effort to more efficiently waste time every day. It's quite handy for RSS/news reading.

Every once in a while they change a feature here or there.. sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. The other day Scotty and I noticed that f5 no longer refreshed google reader.. instead it brought up a tagging box... and I noticed that If I hit f6, it'd make the left pane with the subscription list hide or show itself.

IE's CSS does letter-spacing stupidly

I know most of my readers (all 2 of you) will probably stare blankly at me over this topic, (I guess this is mostly for the search engines) but IE continues to piss me off, and I need to tell SOMEONE.

Today's problem is IE7's math, and their implementation of kerning. (having wiki'd that, I see I may be talking about tracking, but who cares.)

In css, you use a parameter called letter-spacing to change kerning on things. As with all other css, you can specify the units you want to use as pixels, points, percentages, or em. (there are others.)

An em is essentially the width of a standard 'M' character in your font of choice. For IE's mathematical purposes, it's a percentage of the font size you specified elsewhere.

So if I have a font-size: 12px; for my entire document. I can make my headers: font-size: 1.5em; and they will be displayed 150% of 12px. (18px)

So.. an example.

i'm letter-spacing of 1 em

if you're using any recent browser, that should look all spready...

Now.. I rarely need massive letter spacing like that... (though it does come up.) More often than not, I get handed a nice layout from a pro graphic designer that has text in it that is crammed together, ever so slightly, but it really does change the look of certain things.

in IE.. the best you can do for 'ever so slightly' is this:

i'm letter-spacing of -0.05 em... the quick brown fox.. yadda yadda
i'm letter-spacing of -0.00 em... the quick brown fox.. yadda yadda

that's not so bad in trebuchet or whatever the hell i'm using here, but in an italic serif font, it looks pretty tight. Now, IE can take any unit ABOVE .05.. (or 5%).. which.. in negative kerning terms.. isn't too useful.. but I sleep well at night knowing that I can always choose to do something like:

DRM Free Itunes Tracks contain water marking. Not a bad idea.

The EFF is digging into what hidden data is contained in the new DRM free tracks in Itunes

At the very least, it appears that your name is attached to each file.

This seems like a fine idea. People can do whatever the hell they want with their music, but if they share it widely, Apple and others know who to sue. (I'm not sure how the tech will actually shake out.. like all other methods, stripping this info out of the file for someone who's suitably determined would be a trivial act.)

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