A Fork in the Road

I’m back once again, to discuss another issue I find near and dear to my heart quite often, the conversation about human-powered transport. Whether you cycle, or rollerblade (I dare not mention skateboarding, firstly because  I don’t do it, and second because it does not seem efficient or quiet enough to be a viable everyday transport option), for fun or for pleasure, finding a cheap, fun way to travel from point A to point B, or just do a loop from point A back to point A, is desirable for everyone.

People who drive have it made, it’s an incredibly powerful technology which has changed humanity over the last 150 years (or so, I did not look that up). But for me, having a car just isn’t worth the downsides. I live right in downtown Ottawa, and my walk to work is 7 minutes from my bedroom to my desk. 95% of things I do are within 15 minutes walk, and everything else I choose to bike or rollerblade depending on my needs when I get there.

There are two points to consider when looking for a bike (or any mode of transport, but for the sake of this discussion I will use bikes), either used or new. Some people refuse to buy used, whereas others will only buy it if they can haggle on price, which typically happens a little bit on used bikes but only in rare cases on new bikes. I think the discussion should boil down to a different factor: quality. I have found first hand that not all bikes are created equal. When searching for a bike, price should not be in your head. I made this mistake several years ago when searching for a bike, and came across a heavily discounted one at Sears. After the transaction was complete, I had saved about 75% its initial cost. I was so excited to have a bike that I took it for a two-hour ride the following day, and it was of acceptable quality, it wasn’t GREAT, but it was from Sears. I vowed that after this one ride, I would take it to a bike shop and make sure it was all in tune and ready to go. The morning I had planned to do this it was raining, but I was determined, so I set off happily when about 5 minutes into the second ride the pedal and arm fell off without warning. Needless to say I wasn’t happy, but I managed to stick it back on and continue, pausing every minute or so to make sure it was still on tight. I made it to Cyco’s on Hawthorne (where I still go for all my bike needs, they are great) and asked for a complete tuneup. I also showed them the pedal which had fallen off, and was told it would very likely need replacing, which was my fault for riding it in that condition. Once that work was done, I used the bike on a short ride and found that even when it was fully tuned, it was still a pretty terrible ride and couldn’t go nearly as fast as I would have liked it to. After all the problems I had had with it, I had decided that even at only $50, it still wasn’t worth the cost, and when the pedal itself actually broke off of the arm, I took it straight back and got my money from Sears. They were very understanding, though I did walk in with several pieces of bike. The lesson I took from this was that if I was going to get another bike, it would be sold to me by somebody who knew what they were talking about and who knew that the bike was in good working order. I spent $825 on a bike last fall, and it is a really spectacular ride. It’s upkeep and accessories to go with it do get expensive, but in my mind it is well worth the cost, I enjoy the ride, the bike weighs almost nothing and I can feel great riding it on paths or on streets.

As I mentioned before, this experience applies to many things in life. I have learned many times that spending a little money on something so that you have it tends to only lead to trouble and more expense. I had the same experience as mentioned above with cell phones, laptops, tablet computers and rollerblades, though not to as extreme a degree. After the cheap implement because useless or broken in some way, I was forced to (within 6 months to 1 year) replace said implement. I now have a higher-end laptop which works great and which I am using to write this, an iPhone which I have had for 7 months and is fantastic (replacing an older model iPhone which is still in use by my cousin when I upgraded), an iPad which I use every day and am extremely happy with as well, and a high-end pair of rollerblades which have lasted many times longer than the original pair I had gotten (the cheapest pair). I understand that not everybody can justify purchases such as these, but I implore you, if you plan to make an investment on something that isn’t inconsequential or which you intend to have an extended life-span, please do your research and make sure what you are planning to buy is worth the cost and will serve you well for a long time, rather than finding the cheapest thing you can and hoping it lasts.

The reason I chose to write about bikes today is that I went for a bike ride today and fell off of my bike at the very end of my ride, mashing my knee on something and leading to a crazy huge bump which I would like to share with you. It kinda hurts, and it looks like I have an extra kneecap…Ow.

-Robert

Room for +1 More?

Hey again,

I’m back again having some issues focusing on writing, and I’ve been pushing everyone I know to try Google+, and for longer than a week or so. No, I’m not saying it’s perfect, but I really think it can be excellent. The trouble with Wave is (was) that there was no public release. The trouble with Buzz (and in my opinion Foursquare and Facebook Places and the like) is that it is TOO dependent on location. + has found a good balance between Facebook and Twitter in terms of brevity, location and personalization. So far the big shortcoming I can see is that there is an inability to tag, you can only control who has the ability to see posts. Notifications so far only come in the form of people +1ing posts, people adding you to their circles and finally people making comments on posts.

When more people join the network, the ability to let people know you’ve sent them something will be crucial. I can envision IM, “email-type” messaging from one person to another right in your stream, concentrated sharing to one group, and finally “tweet-type” posts that are public, either to everyone in all your circles or to anybody who is watching.

The enticing thing about this social network is that it is a great place to “Hangout”, as in group video chat. After using this only once to test it, I VERY much like it. The feature which allows you to add a YouTube clip to the group is perfect for sharing music with people and discussing it in real time. Also, once an iOS app is released, presumably with the Huddle functionality built-in, group texting will be available between smartphones, as well as possibly between any group of cell phones. My favourite part of this service is that it is built-in to Google’s other services. So far I do have a couple of other gripes, such as when I am in chat on Gmail as well as on + they are completely separate protocols, and turning one off doesn’t turn off the other. Also, it would be very nice to have the ability to see how many unread emails (perhaps with a similar dropdown box) I have in the fancy new black bar, which could be a very nice unified menu for all Google Services (like Reader as well for example).

Lastly, there is the matter of “invites” to Google+. I would like to describe to you the story of how I came to get onto + (within 24 hours of it being released). I signed up for an invite as soon as possible through Google, and then I heard one friend had gotten an account. I had him share something with me by email through +, and I was in after clicking on the link. It’s as simple as that, I’ve done it with several people. I promise you that this site will get better as soon as more people start using it, and Google will continue to add features based on your experiences and issues to make it GREAT.

I do hope I have given you a few reasons to try out + on more than a trial basis. It really is a very nice experience, and I have said that as soon as an iOS app is released, I’m planning on converting to only + and deactivating Facebook, at least in solidarity with the hope that Google+ is as successful as I know it should be. Happy sharing!

-Robert

Root Access For All!

Hey again, I broke through the one post barrier!

I want to say a few things about jailbreaking iOS products because everybody seems to be either very apprehensive or afraid of doing this, when in reality the jailbreak community is a beautiful place and allows for a huge amount of customization which would otherwise not be possible. All a jailbreak does is allow root access to your phone (in other words, allows you to change things which Apple hasn’t explicitly allowed through their App Store) as well as install a third-party app/tweak store called Cydia (the Latin name of a worm which lives inside of and eats apples….mmmm apples).

Many, MANY people talk tirelessly about the differences between iPhone vs. Android vs. BB etc. and which one is better and more open and these types of things, but the fact is, they are both extremely similar. Apps in the iPhone app store are submitted to Apple just like they are submitted to the Android market. These two development environments are extremely similar and neither is truly open. Any discussion of features provided by either (with the exception of hardware differences such as NFC chips and dedicated buttons) depends only on developers. I personally prefer iOS because its coding allows for much smoother scrolling and switching, it just feels better to me.

With the release of iOS 5, many people will probably not bother to jailbreak, because so many nice features the jailbreak community has released are making their way into the official release. Of note is the pull-down notification centre (very similar to the tweak LockInfo) as well as the ability to sync via WiFi when the phone/tablet is charging. Note that Cydia does not mean that apps or tweaks are free, it is just that they give functionality which Apple does not allow in accordance with their terms with developers.

Finally, when it comes to iOS using Flash-based webpages, which everybody refers to as one of the major drawbacks of the platform, it is not a shortcoming of Apple, merely a choice which Steve Jobs et al. have made due to compatibility and smoothness issues with the software. The company prides itself strongly on the smoothest and easiest user experience possible, and this means having the user experience be the same or as similar as possible across all devices. Apple chose to stand behind HTML5 (a language which Google is also strongly pushing and which Google uses for all of its services due to its speed and usability) because they feel that in the end that technology allows for a better experience. Apple does NOT like glitches or bugs.

Speaking of glitches and bugs, I have chosen this topic for today because Jailbreakme 3.0 was released today. This allows you to simply point Safari to http://www.jailbreakme.com and start the process. I won’t go so far as to recommend that anybody jailbreak their iOS device, but if you are in any way unsatisfied with Apple’s rules about what you can do with your phone, it is a great and completely reversible (by restoring) way to take back some control of your operating system. Also, it is extremely simple and convenient in this case, and having the app doesn’t require that you use it, so if you’re feeling even the slightest bit adventurous, give it a try. It is an extremely simple program to use and with the simplicity of the web-based jailbreak, now is the time to give it a shot.

I hope I have shed a little bit of light on this topic for those of you who have little technical expertise, and if you are in the market for a smartphone and are having trouble deciding if Apple is worth the extra money, feel free to post questions, I would love to help you out!

-Robert