Categories
Blog Editorial

Skype is Good Again

This post is all about how I came to start using Skype early in 2020 after more than 10 years away. We’re going to get to the reasons why, but first, I think it’s important to go back and figure out how we got here. If you don’t need convincing, you can catch up with me on Skype right now!

First, let’s go back in time

I think a lot about communicating with others, especially when it comes to using technology, and the pros and cons of the rapid pace of change in how we can stay in touch with another.

When I first started using cloud instant messaging and video chat, Skype was pretty much the only game in town. It turns out, a lot of people who experienced the early internet also got accounts on Skype, even though the odds are very good that they don’t use the account(s) anymore. In addition, the service has gone through so many transitions and consolidations that most people probably don’t remember their account credentials or have access to their 15 year old email accounts anymore.

To give some context for my rediscovery of Skype, we have to go back a ways. Early in 2019, I made the decision to delete my Facebook account. The company has simply had too many privacy disasters and I wasn’t particularly interested in the ‘pros’ of using the Facebook service. Basically the only reason I wanted to still have a Facebook account was to use Facebook Messenger, because for my group of friends, it’s very much the ‘default’ messaging service.

Deactivating Facebook (the social network)

Sometime in the last few years, Facebook made it possible to use Messenger while having the social networking part of your account deactivated. At that point, I untangled the complex pieces of my Facebook account from the other parts of my life, including my websites, Facebook Pages (moved administration of those to the equivalent of a shell account), all my ‘Sign in with Facebook’s, and anything else that I didn’t want to take down completely when I deleted the account.

With that done, and after exporting 5 GB of data from Facebook, I deactivated my account. I spent almost all of 2019 without a Facebook account, and in the end, I found only one thing to ‘miss’ about Facebook. This was the fact that people who host events use Facebook as their canonical invite pool, and therefore invite only people on Facebook. This is in spite of the fact that Facebook makes it *REALLY* easy to invite people to events via email, and even let them RSVP. Very weird that people let that filter bubble control the social circles of their events (it turns out that you basically don’t exist if you don’t have an account), but who am I to judge.

One of the reasons I wanted to make this set of changes to my internet social life is that Facebook has a terrible record on privacy, and so in parallel to making these changes, I was doing a lot of work to try to find and convince my friends to use a more secure messaging service, preferably one not owned by an advertising company. I went through lots of different options, including apps that were TOO focused on privacy like Signal. I explored open source options hosted on a server of my own like Mattermost, which is a really great application which is super cheap to run and lets teams of all sizes chat.

Starting to move away from Facebook (the company)

In the end, having explored what I thought were all the options, my friends and I landed on an app called Wire. It’s respected in the industry for being secure, in that you can create a cryptographic link with somebody in person so you can have complete confidence you’re chatting with somebody who is who they say they are. I don’t get that intense about security, but it’s good to know the option is out there.

Now, we can fast forward to the beginning of this year, 2020, and the day I decided I needed to get rid of all ties to Facebook1Side note here, I also deactivated Instagram as part of this, because even though I hadn’t really used the service at all in about that same one-year period, having the account still helps the company (Facebook), and I saw no reason to do that. Once again, I downloaded an export of all my photos, and I was gone., because it’s a company that just doesn’t deserve more chances. Basically the last set of people who I was chatting with on Messenger is my immediate family, and I knew they would have no interest in going to Wire, and frankly it’s not a great looking app and I wanted to try again to see if I could find something better. The other point here is that since I wanted to video chat with my family, I needed solid video and Wire didn’t have that for groups.

If I wanted to move away from Messenger, I would need to find something that would replace the functionality that I wanted with my parents and family.

Finding Skype (again)

It’s at this point that Skype comes back in to the picture, and where things get most interesting, from my perspective. Having spent about 15 years learning everything I can about technology and multiple apps platforms, I know good software when I see it. There was a good long time when Skype was NOT a good app, but honestly that time is behind us.

The app is owned by Microsoft, it’s not run by an advertising company, it runs on every platform known to man (including the web), it’s updated frequently, and with a very consistent and complete set of features on all platforms, and it keeps up with the trends and new features of the platforms it’s on, like dark mode. There is a reason TV stations often use Skype for interviews, and it’s because it’s rock solid and you can easily set it up as a base to stream live video.

For all the reasons listed above, and so many more, I thought it was worth giving Skype another shot. Honestly, I’ve added the app to my phone and computer now, and it just keeps impressing me. The biggest problem the service has in my view so far is that a lot of people don’t remember the credentials for their old accounts and so they end up needing to make a brand new account to use it again, and honestly that only bothers me and other nerds who care about data and account consistency.

My family used Skype for our first family video call on it this past weekend, and it was honestly excellent. It might be unmatched when it comes to features used for actual human interaction, and the video and sound quality was unbelievable.

Yes, you should try Skype

Honestly, my next step here, and my main purpose for writing this ridiculously long piece, is to tell you that I think you should be using Skype, potentially more than any other chat/video platform out there. Depending on the operating systems you and your friends use, this is almost always a very good choice.

So yes, I think you should try Skype, or give it another try if you haven’t recently, because while I had written the once great app off a long time ago, it is BACK, and definitely better than ever!

You can find me on Skype using the username rob.attrell, or by following this link. Hope to see you there!

Categories
Blog Editorial Proposition Vote Compass 2019

Proposition 1: First-time home buyers (FTHBs)

As somebody who just bought a house in June, I know surprisingly little about what help the government offers to FTHBs. We didn’t qualify for the benefits that exist for FTHBs, since for my wife this is her second home purchase, and that meant that I didn’t even look at what would have been available, since it didn’t apply.

I think FTHBs get a tax credit, or a loan from the government at a lower interest rate, or something to help them be able to afford a house. My understanding is that most people use these incentives to buy a bigger house than they otherwise would have, which doesn’t necessarily help them financially, as it just gives them a bigger mortgage payment, which under equivalent circumstances means that while they may be more likely to buy a house, they’re also more likely to buy something they can’t actually afford.

In terms of policy, I would support helping young families to buy/rent housing, but perhaps through subsidized housing rather than cash/tax breaks which really help people who can already afford to buy more than those who still can’t under the FTHB policy. My own personal views are that for essentials like housing, nobody should be refused on the basis that they cannot pay, but that subsidies shouldn’t exist for everyone, they should ramp down as a person or families income ramps up.

Summary: I don’t actually know what the FTHBs policy is right now, but I think there’s definitely more than can be done to support young people in securing affordable housing that is sustainable and safe for them. In giving my answer, I went with my gut, without knowing what each party actually plans to do on this issue.

Table of Contents

Categories
Editorial Vote Compass 2019

Making the CBC Vote Compass even better

Preamble

The CBC Vote Compass project has been around for as long as I can remember, and long before I was as politically aware as I am now. When I first started taking the Vote Compass ‘quiz’, it was the only real way of knowing where parties lay on a given set of issues, as I was just starting to care about or realize the impact of politics.

The policy questions that make up the Vote Compass ‘survey’ are a good spread of what I would consider to be important policy issues in a given election, but recently I’ve started to notice some holes in the concept that could easily be improved. Taking off my ‘bias’ lens (as somebody who is more socially and economically liberal, small ‘L’) and looking at these questions objectively, I believe that a few additions to the questions would really go a long way towards informing voters and framing the issues for the electorate.

While the idea that the news media in North America and around the world is ‘fake’ is atrocious, there is a real sense in the world today that you can only trust sources that agree with your existing point of view. We could all do with a little more trust in objective journalism, provided reporters and editorial boards can demonstrate that they deserve some of our trust as they cover stories that affect the world around us.

In this series, leading up to the federal election, I am going to run through each policy proposition in the 2019 Canadian Federal Election Vote Compass, discuss the question, whether I think there is important context missing, and how I think the questions (or the way the questions are asked) could be improved.

I would love to hear from you if you have any points on any of the questions or issues you think I’ve missed, and will be updating this as we go depending on feedback or if I’m rethinking things.

Note: As I mentioned, I lean heavily towards traditionally liberal viewpoints, and I’ve highlighted my selection in the Vote Compass for each question, but in this series, I’m going to look at each question objectively in discussing what information I think is missing. We may disagree on individual policy choices, but I think all of us can agree that these improvements would help inform voters of all stripes.

Editor’s Note: Rob is dumb, and doesn’t know a lot about a lot of things, probably not that different from your average voter. He says “I don’t know” a lot. He is not doing any extra research in to policy for this post, since that’s the whole point of this exercise, so there will be a lot of dumb/wrong assumptions about policy because the Vote Compass doesn’t help you out there.

The Policy Propositions

  • Blog Odyssey ‘011: The Blogtacular Bloggening
    Hello World. (I have always wanted forum to say that)

    First of all I would like to introduce myself as well as tell you a little bit about why I decided to start writing and what I hope to get out of it, as well as what I hope you will learn from reading. I don’t know how long I intend this to be just yet, but hopefully I can be precise and brief so as not to keep you too long. For starters, I am 23 years old and as I write that (for the first time mind you, my birthday was yesterday) I get to really contemplate what that means. I am about 10 months into a Masters degree in Chemistry at the University of Ottawa, and I really don’t know what life is all about yet. Why am I doing a Masters? I’m not really sure, everybody is quick to tell me it’s a REALLY good idea though. I’m not thoroughly convinced, but we’ll see.

    When asked why I decided to take a graduate degree, I usually say that the economy is bad right now and nobody is hiring, so maybe if I spend a year upgrading my degree with three more letters the job market will be in better shape, and of course everybody wants to hire somebody who has documentation proving they are a Master of something. Right? People tell me I’m of above average intelligence, and I’m inclined to agree with them, but I take that with a grain of salt considering I’m well aware of the existence of many people dragging the average way down. Who’s to say I couldn’t get a good job I’m perfectly suited to right now with no trials or tribulations? I have no idea, I haven’t even tried to look. When asked what I want to do with my adult life, all I can really say so far is that I would love to work at CERN doing some kind of job I would totally be qualified for, or astronaut. Most people who say that have nothing to back it up, whereas I would be a PERFECT astronaut! The only qualifications (yes, I’ve done the research) are 20/20 vision, being in good physical shape (sure I could probably work out more, but this is a dream job, I’d be willing to put some effort in) and a bachelors degree in science or engineering. Hey, wait, I have ALL of those things! So people (mostly family and friends) tell me, what’s stopping you, go to astronaut school. To those people I respond, I don’t think that’s actually a thing, and if it is CSIS is probably doing all the recruiting secretly and I’ve already been passed over.

    Alright, I realize that was a little off-topic, but it does give some perspective on where I’m coming from. I know where I want to be and I have some idea of what I want to do, but the fact of the matter is that I would be reasonably happy doing almost any job as long as I would be working with good people doing something that doesn’t drive me crazy. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

    Now, on to what I think I would like to accomplish by sharing this with you. I live in a world where many, MANY things drive me just a little bit crazy. I can keep it to myself, because honestly nobody really cares that much about little things that much. I’ll try not to complain ad nauseam about things, but for example, I will use SMS (Short Message Service) text messaging.

    First off, I LOVE text messaging, it simplifies communication SO much, and we are at the point where more young people text than call, and over 50% of young adults don’t have a landline. That being said, I really want to stop sending SMS messages. They cost money even though they are sent as part of communications your cell phone makes with cell towers anyhow. And they cost a LOT of money. I understand that companies need to make money, but gouging us in these ways to pad the bottom line is turning me off from the service. Especially when there are SO many free alternatives which use the internet. I could talk for hours about this (and I plan to) but the bottom line is that paying for these kinds of things drives me crazy in a digital world where there is so much possibility for improvement.

    Secondly, as a goal of writing here for you, I would like to put fingers to keyboard and just write what I think and feel. I keep about 95% of my thoughts to myself because (again) nobody really cares, but I’m not going to make you read this, so I don’t have to feel bad. Eventually this will evolve and I will be able to keep things short and sweet, but I’m not going to regret being verbose for the first little while. As an extension of that point, I haven’t really written anything in a while, and since I’m trying to write up a paper right now, and my thesis in the coming months, it seems like a good idea to work on my style a little, try to find my voice.

    Finally, because I could probably go for pages and pages, I would just like to introduce you a little bit to the person I actually am (the person only people who have known me for a while know). I LOVE technology, as well as reading. I currently own a desktop computer, a laptop (both from Dell, before I get accused of being an Apple fanboy), as well as an iPad, and iPhone and iPod nano. As i bought them in order I was able to rationalize each purchase by saying that I really would have a use for it, and in all honesty I do use each of them for different purposes and would say that each of them were well worth the price. I will expand on how and why each of these different devices enhances my understanding of and immersion in the world later, but for now just know that I very much enjoy being connected to the world, and I hope it enjoys being connected to me in the same way.

    I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it, and I look forward to pouring more of myself into the internets in the very near future.

    -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
  • 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
  • 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
  • I am not in denial!
    Welcome back! (Sorry this one is so long, I got into a zone a little, but I would really appreciate if you do read through at some point)

    Since my non-technology post was so well received, I thought it would be wise to add another one before trying to head back to more familiar territory (for me). I hope to approach this subject with a little bit of humility because it could end up being a fairly controversial one. I recently had a discussion wherein I asked people who know me fairly well if I get angry very often. I think of myself as a very mellow, yet opinionated person. I was told that in fact I get angry quite often, which didn’t sit right with me. I personally could only think of a few times even in the last year when I had been angry.

    This brings me to what I guess would be the main point of what I am trying to say here, namely that there IS a difference between anger with something/someone and disagreement with it. The more I think about this statement, the more it appears to apply in everyday life. I find it extremely difficult to be legitimately angry with people or things, because in my opinion such strong emotion does little to change the situation. Anger is rarely reasonable and thus often stands behind unreasonable people. In my case, I think people often confuse my disagreement with them (however vehement said disagreement may be) as anger with their point of view. I don’t often get the chance to actually discuss these things with people, because reasonable argument between two people on a strongly polarizing issue can be very difficult. However, I will now attempt a rational, objective argument with myself on the subject which brings up this issue in my head.


    LMFAO are a decently popular electronic pop/rap duo consisting of Sky Blu and Red Foo, and the songs in question are both produced in part by a gentleman referred to as Goonrock as well. Their new album, Sorry for Party Rocking, was recently released, and the first two singles from the album are called Party Rock Anthem and Champagne Showers. I have posted both videos below for those of you unfamiliar with the works. It has been declared to me that these two songs are “the same”, almost as though music from either song could be played with either video. While it is clear to me that they are wearing the same outfits and the stories are in fact different chapters for the same story, this is not the discussion I was having. 

    I would argue the fact that both of these songs are different works of art in their own right, while arguments from the other side suggest that two different works of art rooted in the same formula (similar timings of critical musical elements and choral repitition for example) don’t need to be different works. My argument is exactly the opposite, I think these songs NEED to be considered as different, even if only because the artists themselves presented them separately. In having these discussions, I find that trying to make the above arguments is met with repetitive chants of “they’re the same”, and no manner of argument will change that fact in others’ minds. While I try to state my case, I have been told that I come off as angry, even though no form of anger occupying my brain. The closest emotion I could safely say I feel in these situations to anger is frustration, and even then this is only because I cannot get my points across, but I am used to this as so it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it used to.

    The more broadly applicable topic here is that of politics and political discourse. I find myself siding more and more with excellent political pundit Jon Stewart. The fact is I am not angry with the opinions of (to use Canada as an example) Liberals, or Conservatives, or even Bloq supporters. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but with these rights there come certain responsibilities. When approached with new and unfamiliar points of view, it is VITAL to understand not only what is being said, but also why it is being said. This is why major news organizations which are privately funded will not report both sides of a news story. It is in nobody’s best interest to solely report what is going on, especially with a 24-hour news cycle to fill. Without even feigned balance of opinion, there is nothing to keep people watching beyond the half hour or even hour nightly news shows such as CBC decide is important enough for all to hear. Back to the responsibilities of citizens though, most people, even those who are well-meaning, will end up bickering over abortion, or gun control, or political party lines, or the legalization of marijuana, or religious freedoms…I could go on and on. The fact is, we will and should discuss these things. Our society is largely based on communication and discussion of this nature, and these kinds of discussions are much more important than the weather or last night’s episode of Jersey Shore. It is critical that we have differences of opinion, because without them there would be no progress.

    The current difficulty is that we are living in a sea of information which boggles our minds and clouds our judgements. I have an opinion on each of the topics I listed a few lines up, and would love to have a discussion about any of them with anybody will to share their opinion. What I am not interested in is people who will try to convince you their opinion is the absolute, be-all-and-end-all correct opinion simply because it is what they already think. My problem with this is that the reason people often have such strong opinions is because they heard a clear, convincing argument one way or the other, be it from a celebrity, a public figure, a journalist, and most commonly, a parent or loved one. The trouble with convincing arguments is that they don’t require logic or factuality. A argument which is believable based solely on truthiness is a bad argument, which is the point Stephen Colbert tried to make in the opening episode of his show. Opinion based on a gut feeling is generally pretty solid, as in the case of murder or theft, but making an argument based solely on these grounds is a slippery slope. The content of people guts varies widely on many issues, so some form of rationality is also required for a cogent argument. 

    Back to politics, I would like to add another small point to news networks and the flaws inherent in their design. By law, it seems, all shows on Fox News must discuss the same stories on any given day. Typically there is not enough going on to require 24 hours of news, so some blanks must be filled in with repeated opinion. I don’t have a huge problem with this, because people need to make a living, and if people are going to watch your network for 24 hours, that is absolutely their prerogative. I have a problem with cycling news with opinion, and then referring to the opinion your network has just presented as though it is news. It allows stories which have no large scale clout to float to the top of the news pile, and allows political talking points to be endlessly circled and rehashed until the original story can’t even been seen through all the partisan siding which has been added to it. I do not agree with this procedure, and really wish it would stop. Watch the Daily Show for many, MANY examples of this.

    Anyhow, I hope this post is not also taken as anger, because it wasn’t written as such. Frustrated, maybe…

    The crux of this matter is, it is extremely important that we discuss things which we encounter on a day to day basis and the things we deem pertinent. More crucially though, it is necessary that before making an argument or defending a position, that we have thought about why we feel the way we do, why we think what we think, and most important, why do others have the opinions they have, and what can we learn from them.

    -Robert
  • A Time to Kill
    I wonder from time to time if I am too dependent on technology, and more specifically on being networked at all times. I currently have a cell phone service plan with unlimited data as well as a broadband cable internet package with a 300 GB cap. I do not have cable or subscribe to any sort of internet TV/movies package. My ultimate goal is to be paying one small price for my telephone and internet services and not pay for absolutely anything which I don’t use. I also often dream of what life would be like if I didn’t have a cell phone and/or data on my phone. This would save money, but I’m sure I would miss it and in fact be worse off without it. The one problem is that if I try to scale these things down, like for example if I cut my phone usage down to nothing for a month to see if I can survive (or thrive) is that I would still be paying $45 for the phone if I’m not using it. Some people might say that this isn’t a huge deal, but I’m a student, and if I’m paying for a telephone plan, I’m not not going to use it. There are much better cheaper replacements to SMS and voice calling using cellular networks, but they are not widespread and so adoption of them would simply serve to break my communication up many different ways. In this manner I suppose that settles the issue right there, in that clearly it is more affordable to just pay the $5/mo for unlimited texting just because it is convenient.

    I am however, a firm believer in the idea that doing something only because it is convenient is ridiculous. SMS is a horribly outdated technology, and the fact that it exists only on your cell phone and nowhere else seems incredibly silly to me. I had a Sony Ericsson phone 2 summers ago which connected to my computer via USB and had an application interface which would be able to see my texts, and would send me a notification when I had a new one, which I could respond to without touching my phone. I now know this sort of thing is possible, and so I cannot understand why we are forced to send texts on the tiny little keyboard if our computer is the device we’re actually using. On a WiFi network this seems like it would require very little extra work on the part of the programmer, and yet we live in a world where the majority of messages we send rely on actually having one specific device in our hands. I am hopeful that with the widespread adoption of smartphones one day we can be freed from expensive texts. (PS, I know that if Google Voice ever came to Canada, this would be a moot point, but it seems like that may never happen, so this is the best we can do for now)

    I could continue on this point for a long time but I feel like a long-winded rant is super pointless, so if anybody wants to talk further on this, or has something working really well in this regard, please let me know, I’m curious to talk about it more.

    Hope everybody is enjoying their weekends!

    -Robert
  • Contract Killer
    Hello again, I have been asked to discuss the pros/cons of cell phone contracts. This is an issue which I’m sure impacts almost all of you, so hopefully you’ll get something out of it whether or not you actually care.

    First of all, in the 8 or so years I’ve owned cell phones (don’t quote me on that number), I have run the gamut of plans and contracts, so I consider myself a wealth of knowledge in this area. My first cell phone was a pay-as-you-go throwaway phone from Telus back around the start of high school. When I describe it as a throwaway phone I mean that it was being sold for $30 with $30 worth of pay-as-you-go included on the account. The phone was a piece of junk, but it was really only for emergencies and arranging rides with my parents, so all in all it was a good first experience, but a short lived one. My second phone, the first one I got without my parents, was also pay-as-you-go, with Bell. It was a beautiful Nokia bar phone which I loved with all my heart. I knew even then that contracts were a terrible idea, and that at that time I also didn’t have the money or requirement for a plan, so paying 15c/txt wasn’t a huge deal, and I rarely made calls with it. That setup also didn’t last long, which was the beauty of paying for service as you use it, because there was no commitment to any particular carrier. Next I moved on to Virgin Mobile, still on pay-as-you-go. I had the same Nokia phone for a while with Virgin, but I think I went through 3 phones with them in the span of less than a year. I was working part time in high school and had disposable income with nothing to buy, so spending $50-80 on a phone every 3-6 months wasn’t the worst thing in the world, and I enjoyed always having a new phone, so I was never bored. Through first year of university I still didn’t have any need for a plan since I barely used my phone, but I was suddenly hit with the knowledge that I could sign a piece of paper, receive a phone, and with the promise of paying a bill every month, I would be set for (at that time) life!

    December 9th, 2007 was the night when my life changed. My shiny new Motorola W510 arrived in the mail and I hurriedly called to confirm and activate my service. I had locked in a 36-month contract with Fido and with the awesome phone number 613-255-3311 I was off to the races. In my adolescent naivety I had signed up for a 3 year contract in order to save $100 dollars on the price of my phone, which was originally $150. My plan was $60+change/month, and included several instances of the word unlimited. At the ripe old age of 19 I was all too susceptible to reacting favourably to the word unlimited. My plan came with UNLIMITED text messaging, UNLIMITED incoming calls, UNLIMITED evenings and weekends starting at 7 PM. It had all the call display, voicemail and call waiting options included, and it was more than what I needed. That is all well and good, but I didn’t use all of my minutes, and ended up that most of the time I used was both incoming as well as evening, so both weren’t really necessary. After 2 years, Fido changed their plans and so I was able to change my options and  save about $10/month getting rid of the redundant unlimited options. I also decided at that time to add data to my plan, as well as upgrading to add unlimited picture/video messages and extending my evenings/weekends to begin at 5 PM, which only cost $5/month all together. I was very frustrated with having a contract at this point, but it didn’t bother me too much because I was very happy with my plan.

    Fast forward now to December 9th, 2010. I still have the same plan, and I am now paying $45.20/mo consistently for 100 daytime minutes (ie. 9-5 weekdays) a month, with unlimited everything else (data and texting) besides long distance. I have the ability to make calls through Google on my phone as well as any computer with a microphone, which is what I do for long distance since the long distance I use is always from home this isn’t a big deal anyhow. I am still extremely happy with my plan and expect to continue to use it as long as I can. I bought my last 3 phones at cost without the contractual subsidy because I have come to realize that contracts are a gigantic rip-off (in most cases) designed to take advantage of people who don’t have the money to buy a snazzy new phone up front but still want one. People see this as an advantage because as humans we find it extremely difficult to think long term. That being said, there are certainly cases, especially with smartphones, where you are saving up to $500 with a contract. This contract though, is worth over $2000 to the carrier in most cases, and in the cases where you are saving $500, you are usually still paying anywhere from $50 to $300 dollars for the subsidized phone. With new phones being pushed out every few months, and older models being made obsolete within a year or two, three year contracts have become a little bit less pervasive, with some carriers also offering two year contracts, which are a little bit more reasonable. Even still, contracts are certainly not worth it for me without considerable perks.

    I have decided in light of some discussions I have been having with friends that I would like to show reasons people why iPhones should be jailbroken, as well as why Google+ is the future of social networking, not just a fad.

    Jailbreak Tweak: SBSettings

    This utility allows for quick toggling of items such as WiFi, bluetooth, brightness, and gives the ability to close processes. If you are tired of going into settings to change these things, they are accessible with a quick swipe of the status bar on a jailbroken phone. It is a very easy convenient way to access these settings, and I recommend everybody jailbreak their phone, even if just for this tool. A quick visit to http://www.jailbreakme.com is all it takes for the time being!





    Google+ Feature: Sharing options

    Lets you choose who specifically [or which groups (called circles)] you would like to share things with. You can add a photo (or album), a video clip, a link (or embedded video or photo) and your location (even from desktop computers) should you so desire. It is a beautiful smooth interface so you don’t have to share new baby pictures of your cousins with your acquaintance you met last night at the bar, and you don’t have to share pictures of you cheersing your bar mates with your boss when you call in sick the next day. It is a beautiful thing, and extremely easy and intuitive to use.




  • Busy times call for short posts
    Hey everyone, I’m going to be really busy this week, but I’m planning a longish piece on space and astronomy (with the last space station mission having just docked with the ISS) hopefully before the weekend! Anyhow, I did still want to share some of my favorite things with you, as a bonus today I have a great app to share with everyone, for those smartphone owners among us.

    Jailbreak Tweak: Running List
    This tweak lets you use otherwise wasted space in your spotlight search area to show all the apps you have running, and allows you to quit them by tapping on the icon on the left and then pressing quit, or with a simple swipe across the name followed by quit. This app saves time in quitting apps and lets you easily access apps which are running if you don’t like the multitasking dock.

    Google+ Feature: Hangouts

    While this video is low on details, it gets the basic point across quite nicely. Basically you can start a chat conversation or “Hangout” and then invite people to join you. People you have allowed who log in will see that you are hanging out and will be able to join the hangout, up to a maximum of 10 people. The main video automatically focuses on the person who is talking, just like in a conversation, although you can also choose to focus on one person by clicking on their video. You can also selectively mute people in the conversation, as well as the awesome feature of playing a YouTube clip as a “member” of the group chat. Conversation volume is lowered, and a walkie-talkie-esque push to talk button appears so that the video clip has focus. It is a great way to show friends you can’t be with clips and gauge their reactions in real time since everyone is watching the same part of the clip at any given moment. From experience it also makes for really fun dance parties when you can’t actually be at a club, for example mid-afternoon.

    Smartphone app: Viber (iOS)/Viber (Android Beta)

    This app is an extremely basic yet extremely useful one. It lets you send SMS messages and make voice calls for free using data/WiFi. This can be extremely useful as the calls are of very high quality and long distance is still free and doesn’t use any more data. From what I have seen the data usage is also minimal. The best part about this app is that signing up is as simple as installing the app and inputting your phone number. The app then finds your friends who also have the app installed and shows you those people. You can also make calls to people who don’t have the app installed through the app, but it will use your minutes. There is no account to worry about, your phone number is your account and it is how people will find you. The more people who use this, the better, so get crackalackin! I have also heard that there is an Android version conducting beta testing, so please do try this out and see how it works, I would love to see everybody get this to try!

    I hope to have a real post for you soon!

    -Robert

  • Bluetooth (Not space, sorry 🙁 )
    Hello all! It’s been a very busy week and I know you are all eager to read, because the Internet is just a horrible black hole without anything worth reading. I just briefly contemplated using that as a really terrible segue into talking about space (see my last post and how I had planned to talk about it), but it’s been a week and a lot has happened since then.

    First, and most importantly to me, I finally finished my last class ever (with an A-), which means that to finish my degree all I need to do is give a seminar (which will very likely be on the topic of real-time MRI, an AWESOME technological advancement which could easily revolutionize medicine) and then write and defend my thesis. I’m hoping to have this done by mid-October, and it’s really all I’ll be doing until then. So that’s pretty hella exciting.

    Secondly, last week Dell was having a summer sale, as they do quite frequently. I scan the deals they offer as there is usually one or two really good deals, and since I do enjoy technology and electronics in general, I’ve made a few of these purchases. The really exciting one which I’ve been using non-stop all week is a pair of Bluetooth headphones. I wasn’t sure of the purchase as I was making it, because they are over the head headphones, which are a little bulky and make the wearer look like a huge nerd (or in some cases a rich, snobbish audiophile depending on the size). They were $50, down from $100, and I had a little disposable income, so I decided to jump even further into the world of wireless audio. Last time I had used Bluetooth was probably 2006-7 when I needed to transfer phone numbers from one phone to another without a SIM card. As I remember it it was a horrible clunky technology which was mainly used either for moving small data such as contacts from point A to point B, or connected to a jawbone headset for phone calls. While these things are undoubtedly convenient, I basically ignored the technology for the intervening 4 years.

    Now that I have these headphones (which were delivered in less than 24 hours from the time of order, another small plug for Dell and Purolator here, they are awesome) my mind has completely changed on the technology. In the week I’ve been using my wireless headphones I have just charged them a second time since opening them, although they weren’t dead (4 days seems to be the average, but I didn’t want them to die). I should also make the point that I have been using them almost incessantly and the battery life is just stupendous, although they are still very light. The right speaker has volume and playback controls, as well as a talk button, microphone, pairing button and power button. It is the easiest thing to use and is easily made compatible with everything. All Apple products come with Bluetooth adapters, which made it incredibly easy to connect to the headphones. My computer (which would have come with bluetooth for an extra $20) doesn’t come with it, but that was easily remedied with a small bluetooth dongle, which is actually much smaller than the end of my thumb. The part which sticks out of the computer is about half the size of the part which is required to go in. This (which as you can see attaches to my keychain really easily) can plug into whatever computer I’m sitting at and connects me instantly and wirelessly to the audio coming from that computer. It a wonderful setup, and the last thing I’ll say (besides the obvious of not distracting people around you) is the 30′ radius which allows you some freedom to move around without having to bring anything with you. The example I’ll use is for television, but it applies equally with other media. When I was watching the office in the living room but wanted to get some water, normally I would have to bring the tablet or if I was watching it on tv I would just miss part of the show (or pause it). Now I can simply walk away and the audio will follow me. It’s great technology!

    Anyhow, this is long and I want to save something for another day, so I’m going to delay talking about space, though I do really want to.

    My app of the day for today is the Google+ app, which has been on Android for a few weeks and was recently released for iOS as well. It’s all very exciting and to all my Facebook friends who are complacent, please do consider getting Google+, I’m sure none of you remember saying “Facebook. What’s that? Sounds cool, I haven’t talked to my high school friends in a while” Well this is so much better than that. I implore you!

    My jailbreak tweak of the day is called DeepEnd. It came out today and can be found on Ryan Petrich’s repository. It gives your wallpaper a cool 3D look using the gyroscope in the phone and doesn’t use a noticeable amount of memory, it’s just a neat little effect!

    My desktop application of the day is called Teamviewer. I have spoken with many of you about it, and it works on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and can access computer via the Internet as well. I will only give a teaser of what it does, but if you have more than one computer, or a phone and computer, it allows you to control and view your desktop remotely. There are INFINITE uses for this technology, and I strongly recommend you try it. Those looking for a demo or instructions, feel free to ask, I would be more than happy to help!

    Hopefully I’ll be back again this weekend to write more!


  • Installing Google+ on iPad or iPod Touch
    I have seen the last couple days that there is a way to install Google+ on iPad or iPod Touch using the iPhone configuration utility. I tried that and when I plugged in my iPad I just got an error message from the utility, and after some minor troubleshooting I gave up. This morning, a thought occurred to me. I can just use Installous to install the .ipa. All I had to do was add the Google+ .ipa file to the filesystem (/var/mobile/Documents/Installous/Downloads) and then open Installous and install the .ipa through the downloads menu. I personally used iFile’s new Dropbox integration for this so connection to the computer wasn’t even required. Anyhow, now I have Google+ on my iPad, and the only part of the process using a computer was getting a copy of the original .ipa file. I hope if the original method didn’t work for you either, that this one will!
  • Speaking in Code
    Hello again,

    Today I am hoping to explore my thoughts on the world of coding and computer programming. I have been interesting in learning computer language for several years now, and the time seems as ripe as ever to start learning. The trouble I’m having has several prongs. The first and probably most important of these is that there are so many languages and so many things I would like to do that I’m having trouble focusing and narrowing down to one language or one learning tactic, and so I end up with a set of skills that is extremely limited and broken to the point that I can only do very little. I have a basic understanding of linux alias and shell scripting, but anything beyond a few lines quickly becomes too complicated for me. I spent a good part of the past 6-8 months trying to learn C and C++ using an online course and its resources at Harvard, and did get a fairly good understanding of the basic concepts surrounding programming, but no actual knowledge in terms of being able to write a program myself. I can navigate in windows and linux command-line interfaces, but actually performing meaningful tasks usually requires a few minutes of google search followed by pasting code from the web and letting it do what I was looking for. This solution does work in theory, but it can be very time consuming. A solid understanding of any of these programming languages would definitely be preferable to what I have now, but this is very difficult for me, especially when I cannot commit all my time to learning or using the languages. The CS50 course at Harvard taught a lot of basic information about a few languages, but doing a Masters while trying to take a distance learning course proved a little bit too much.

    All of this is not to say that I am not computer literate. When it comes to solving problems on any of my electronic gadgets, I can efficiently solve them, and even my intuition for these matters is fairly high. The issue I’m having is that when it comes to understanding how what I do solves my problem, my level of understanding is extremely low. It seems to me that in attempting to learn these skills, I am met with oversimplification. I realize that there are reasons for explaining things in this way, and that it will always be this way, at some point I will want to have all the layers peeled back and be able to see what I am actually doing while programming. Maybe if that ends up happening, I’ll finally be able to understand what I’m doing wrong and how I can truly learn and use programming to mine and everyone’s benefit.

    This week’s App:

    Panamp (iOS)

    This app is a music player which should be able to completely replace the default iPod app for only $2.99. The app consists of three screens, in order a search screen, library screen and finally current playlist screen. Playback and search is most easily performed through swiping. For example, selecting a song to play from the library screen is as simple as swiping it to the right into the playing screen (the queue picture on the left). Once a song is in the queue, you can move it around easily from the right of the song (on the right), and swiping it off the screen removes it from the playlist. Playback is also controlled from the bottom of the screen by swiping the currently playing song to the left (next) or right (previous). Playlists loop automatically. It is a very simple intuitive app which is extremely smooth and whose menu transitions are meaningful rather than distracting and slow down navigation.

    Jailbreak app: iFile

    This is a must-have app for anybody wanting to use their phone as a computer in any sort of meaningful way. The app now also integrates beautifully with Dropbox, meaning that transferring files to your phone from your computer has never been simpler than now.
  • Life, Interrupted
    Hello again,

    Sorry about taking so long to write a post, but I’ve been a little bit occupied with school and more generally life. I thought that today I would talk about an issue which has been close to my heart for a VERY long time now, basically from the first time I ever used a computer. This issue has no real platform (operating system or otherwise) dependence and most people don’t consider it an issue, so please allow me to explain why keeping your technology up-to-date is very important and worth doing.

    First of all, regardless of the discussion we are having, be it software, hardware or links between the two, updates are extremely useful and shouldn’t be ignored. Everyone I know, with very VERY few exceptions, absolutely detest updates of any kind. Of course, there are cons to updates, but hopefully I can compel you to agree that they are minimal and shouldn’t prevent you from adopting new software or technology.

    First, there is the main issue I hear when I tell people they should update (using computer OS updates as an example), that of inconvenience. The popup reminding you that there are updates to be installed the next time your computer restarts always seems to happen while you are just about to get to your Farmville strawberry bushes, and since you have had that in your calendar for two days, you click cancel and move right back to Facebook. While this is perhaps an unfair characterization, it illustrates the point I’m trying to make quite nicely. The fact is, what you’re doing is really important in your mind and shouldn’t be interrupted by your computer. In reality though, you probably could very easily spend a minute or two, or even five, doing something else while your computer installs these updates and reboots itself, or even press cancel once, close everything you’re doing, and then restart the computer yourself before it asks again, then go find something to do for a minute. We expect technology to work around our schedule but forget that it doesn’t know our schedule. It is possible, and very easy I might add, to schedule updates for a specific time (in Windows that’s 3 AM). The fundamental problem with this is that most everyone turns off their computers at night, and so 3 AM gets pushed to whenever the computer is booted up in the morning (AKA when you need it to check your email before work/school/whatever you do during the day) and interrupts you again. Being proactive about updates, and even getting excited about them (as I, a self-proclaimed monarch of nerddom, do) will keep you on top of them, so that they don’t control your life.

    The second issue people tell me about in reference to updating software is that they have documents, internet tabs, folders, programs and the like open, and losing all of these is a fate they wouldn’t wish on an archenemy. Therefore, they put off updates so as to not risk losing anything they had open. Never mind that with modern operating systems and internet browsers it is incredibly simple to save webpages, as well as keep shortcuts to commonly used folders and files right in the toolbar. There is also the issue that most people, especially students and people who don’t want anything more from a computer than to be able to post to Facebook and Google things, will often opt for the cheapest option when looking for a computer. There is really nothing inherently wrong with opting for that approach, since it is quite cost-effective, but it does mean that your computers resources are almost always in somewhat short supply. Especially sought-after in the computers infrastructure is a little piece of hardware called RAM (or random access memory). Basically, in order to run a program quickly and efficiently, every piece of information about a file or program must be readily available to the computer. Hard drives, which these days don’t normally limit people with respect to their size, transfer this data very slowly and so are not feasible for use as fast memory. RAM uses flash memory, which as its name suggests, can access data much more quickly than can hard disc memory. When you open a program, you use decent amounts of memory (music/video players, productivity applications such as Microsoft Office products,  internet browsers, as well as intense applications such as Photoshop are particularly demanding) to keep all the information about the program close at hand. Having several of these programs open at once can quickly lead to a deficiency of memory. This is a very long way of saying that having all of these programs open at once is not good for your computer (it uses a lot of electricity/battery), it slows down your experience and considering that most of these programs are only open in the background and aren’t actually being used at the time means that this is not a very compelling excuse for not wanting to update.

    A third common qualm with these Ludditic updaters is that they don’t want new software or hardware because they very much like what they have and are extremely comfortable with it. This applies more to the web than desktops or programs because it is very easy to update webpages and applications with no effort on the part of the end user. Every time there is an update in look or functionality to Facebook, which is a common victim of this type of thing, there is an uproar of people who can’t believe things are changing and complain about how much worse the new Facebook is. The fact is, if you were to keep with this idea over the last 5 years, you would just look ridiculous. To put it bluntly, if you always chose to keep the old layout or functionality of technology, you would end up looking completely foolish and would be missing out on the innovating and ever-changing nature of the internet. The reason these changes are made are to continue moving into the future, and as new technologies are developed, this will continue to happen, and we should embrace it. Another great example of this is Microsoft Office. Imagine trying to make a modern Word or Excel document using Office 2003. I imagine that many people don’t actually have to imagine this, because it is a reality for them. And if you are somebody who uses a modern operating system (and no, Windows XP is now over 10 years old and is NOT modern in any sense, same goes for Internet Explorer 6) just imagine having to go back to using those horribly slow and inefficient operating systems. I know I don’t make a lot of friends in suggesting this, but in order my favorite Windows operating systems are (objectively I might add) Windows 95, 98, XP, Vista and 7 (and 8 will be my new favorite when it is released, from what I’ve seen so far). I found the user experience much better in Vista than XP, and it would seem to me that its failure to be widely adopted stemmed from an excellent marketing campaign from Apple, as most people who think it is a horrible operating system refused to use it in the first place. I used it for a year after it came out (I actually bought a copy) and it was much nicer and better than XP, well worth the money. Software and hardware will only continue to improve, and we should keep up with it to stay on the cutting edge of what is possible. It can only improve our lives.

    Finally, the pros list for keeping your system up-to-date:

    1. Updates provide increased security, lessening the likelihood of malware being installed on your computer (mostly for internet browsers)
    2. Updates provide increased functionality, with new features and capabilities which enhance and change your experience online and off.
    3. Updates increase speed as well as stability, leading to fewer crashes and a cleaner experience.
    4. Updates can solve problems which you didn’t even know you had, or give you things you didn’t realize you were missing.

    Google Chrome, arguably the best browser out there today, deals with updates in what I think is the best way so far. Updates are installed quietly in the background, so you don’t even have to think about them, unless that is something you fancy, in which case you can also hasten the process by updating yourself at any opportunity. The browser also waits until you close it to install new versions as you quit, making it a completely painless and almost invisible process. More software updates should work like this!


    I hope all of these reasons are compelling enough for you to at least consider clicking “update” when you see that popup.

    Jailbreak Tweak: WiFi SMS (iOS) / DeskSMS (Android)

    These apps fill the need I mentioned in an earlier post of being able to check your text messages from your computer via WiFi. They are both very new and extremely useful for anybody who finds themselves sending text messages while at a computer, since it eliminates the need to stop using the computer and find your phone. They both use an internet browser to send and receive texts, and they are extremely great to use. Again, if you would like help jailbreaking and finding great tweaks, leave me a message and I can help you out. If you haven’t updated your iPhone’s software in a while [HAHA] (you are on version 4.3.3 or lower) it is still VERY easy to jailbreak.

    Application: Bump

    This app lets you exchange contact information with others just by being in their vicinity with the app loaded and activating the accelerometer in both phones at the same time. However, the apps usefulness has now far surpassed this basic functionality. You can now share applications, music, contacts, social networking information,  photos and calendar events, and you needn’t even be in the same physical space as the recipient anymore. When the app is open in the background, it interfaces with people who also have the app installed who are nearby and gives you the ability to see them in a list and add them as possible contacts. Once this connection is made, you can send things or chat through the app at any distance over the internet. It’s an incredible app which very few people use to the potential which is possible.


  • Facebook Messenger
    Alright you guys, since you seem to hate everything you haven’t used already, can you please try this?

    Facebook Messenger: A free iOS and Android app which allows messaging and uses push notifications. Assuming you don’t want to use Google+, which already has this (Huddle) capability built into its iOS and Android apps, at least download this and give it a try.

    My sanity thanks you, and again I look forward to a day when I don’t have to send any text messages!
  • A Purview of Happiness
    Hey everybody,
    I have decided that today is as good a day as any to take a little break from writing about “the future” in a literal sense and refer to it more in a figurative or literary sense. All of us want to be happy in some form, and the problem with this is that happiness the way we want it is almost always entirely unattainable. As humans, we can only dwell on the good in our lives for a very short time before things which bother us take over again, which seems to make striving for a type of permanent happiness completely futile in a way. That being said, here is a list of quite basic things that make me happy.

    -Music (singing/playing/listening)
    -Sports (playing/watching)
    -Technology (playing/using/reading about)
    -Eating/Drinking
    -Being outside
    -Television/Movies

    This is off the top of my head, and there are many more, but the basic point is, why is it so hard to find lasting happiness with such a diverse interest base and when I spend so much time partaking in these activities. The simple fact is, overall I am quite happy. I give myself a very hard time because I do spend such a large chunk of my time thinking, but it is just as important as any other time to me. My mental health benefits hugely from spending time in my own head. I think this is mostly because inside my own head I have complete control over everything, nothing is left to chance or to anybody else. It concerns me most times that things that I’m unhappy with in life are things I have no control over. Things I don’t understand fall into the same category, as well as things which simply don’t work the way I expect them to.

    I had intended to make this post longer, but it turns out writing about happiness isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. That might be the most poignant part of this entire story. Anyhow, it’s short but I can’t really be bothered by that. I’m a pretty happy guy right now!
  • If I did it
    I’m really sorry to those of you who have been waiting almost a week for this, but I hope you enjoy it as I put a lot of time and thought into it. I hope it was worth the wait, and I hope to get back to a more regular writing schedule in the upcoming weeks.

    Hey again, it’s been quite a while, and while I’ve been mulling over quite a few topics the last week and a bit, I haven’t made the time to write anything non-academic. Since I have way too many things rolling around in my head now, I thought it’s as good a time as any to write some of these things down and hopefully get some feedback. I’ve been thinking a lot about computers recently and though I am very happy with my laptop from Dell, which has a great battery life and is super fast with a big hard drive and a 15 inch screen for under $1000 tax included, I thought it would be at interesting experiment to write a pros and cons list and perhaps even include a table describing what my life would be like if I had made the leap and purchased a Mac. I will do this for both my desktop and laptop, and hopefully look objectively at the issue, from a price point perspective, in terms of the hardware and software which appear on both systems, as well as capturing the overall experience of the actual and alternate universe. Since this is for me and is simply a thought experiment, I will hopefully be able to remain objective, and if at any point I feel like I have let my emotions sway my decision, I will make that clear. I’m not entirely sure I’m ready for this, but I’m going to jump right in and see where I come out. I’m ready to be surprised.

    Pre-shopping:
    The first and arguably most important criterion of any major purchase comes long before you enter a mall or open up your favourite web browser (Chrome obviously) to visit a shopping site. Your opinions and choices are very easily influenced by friends, family and people you see every day. In this way, the shininess and glamour of Apple products is quite hypnotizing, but the familiarity and comfort of Acer, Toshiba, Dell or Samsung PCs with Windows installed can also sway the consumer to stick with what they have seen at school or grown up with. However, in this case I have to give the narrow lead in this category to Apple, especially in 2011 with their massive growth and remarkable market share gains. Apple 1, Microsoft 0

    Shopping experience:
    Right upon walking into an Apple store or visiting the website with the intent to make a purchase, the differences in this category are clear. Apple do a fabulous job of making you feel at home both in store and online, because they know exactly what people want out of their products. Because of their limited product line, choices are very simple and to the uninitiated, basically come down to a matter of weight and screen size. Because Apple make all the decisions for you, it is a very easy, convenient place to shop. As for Microsoft, Windows, PCs are available in many more places and from various retailers and online distributors. This is a strength for people who like the choice and who know the differences between the different options, but for a vast, VAST majority of people, this is actually a detriment. Again, the advantage here has to be to Apple. Apple 2, Microsoft 0

    Skill Level:
    In terms of skill level with people who have never used a personal computer, I have to imagine there would be a very steep learning curve with either operating system. However, that being said, modern computers have removed many of the complications of computers from view, leaving only the things that the common denominator uses on a regular basis. Mac is arguably best at this, almost to a fault in that usually design and function decisions they make are final and unmodifiable. Windows 7 also hides almost all work the computer does behind the scenes as well, but there are also many controls which are meant to give the user more control. In 2011, with Windows 7 and Mac OS X Lion to compare, I have to give a slight edge to Windows, simply because the simple features are almost equivalent but power users can work more easily on Windows. Apple 2, Microsoft 1

    Aesthetics:
    Need I say more? Similarly to the above categories, Mac users don’t get to make decisions about style, unless they want to purchase additional skins for their PCs. Things which stand out, such as well-designed laptops, or advanced features like backlit keyboards, are very hard to find, especially on cheaper Windows PCs, but come standard on Macs and cannot be removed. In this way, Windows could be preferred simply because the choice is yours, if you don’t want to pay 30$ for a backlit keyboard, you won’t get one. Bluetooth adapters are another thing which come standard with a built-in additional cost on a Mac but which Windows users have to pay to include in their systems. In this way, it is extremely difficult to judge apples and oranges here, this one is much more personal preference. Apple 3, Microsoft 2

    Software:
    First, in terms of the operating systems, it really comes down to a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer to have their menu buttons top left, some would choose top-right. Minor points aside, for the majority of users the overall experience with Windows and Mac is very similar, and each OS has its minutiae of small differences and advanced features, so all I will do in this case is link to the ten best features of Windows and those of Mac and let you make your own decision. Also showcased in those two pages are stark differences between the tactics of the marketing teams at Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft, frankly, doesn’t really care if you, as the consumer, buy their computer. They know that people will buy the operating system, and millions of enterprise computers will continue to use Windows without a second thought. Apple, regardless of their level of actually forming emotional bonds with consumers, really care about the user experience as well as the satisfaction of the customer with their new or old machine. Apple has to get the point in this category, simply for caring. Apple 4, Microsoft 3

    Hardware:
    The specifications (specs) on Windows PCs will always beat Macs head-to-head, but there is definitely more to this story than just raw power. Because Apple controls every aspect of its operating system as well as having strict policies on applications (especially with the advent of its new Mac App Store), they also get to control how their hardware interacts with the software. This means that all of their computers are extremely stable machines, rarely failing except in catastrophic, unpredictable ways. With this system in place, it is very easy for Apple to offer excellent warranties with extremely forgiving policies without worrying too much about losing money, since the computer is well-encased, modifications by the end-user are frowned upon. The sole major drawback of this, which is irrelevant to the consumer almost all the time, is that all parts of a Mac work together very well, often incorporating multiple functions into one computer part, so if something does break, replacing just that part is almost never a simple matter. Windows PCs have easily interchangeable parts, but they don’t work anywhere near as well together as they were not necessarily intended to specifically work well with one another. In this way the actual specs of Macs are less important, because the parts all work so well together. In this category, it is another case of delicious apples vs. sumptuous oranges, so I’m not going to make them compete. It would just be messy. Apple 5, Microsoft 4

    Dimensionality:
    This category specifically refers to weight/dimensions of laptops. There are cheap Windows notebooks, regular Windows laptops, and thin, expensive Windows laptops. Apple only do two kinds of laptops, and they are both fairly small, although the MacBook Air is much smaller by far and seems to defy the laws of physics in how small and light it is. Apple has to take this category, unless you have a specific use for a very small netbook. Apple 6, Microsoft 4

    Development:
    While this category used to be Windows-dominated, the application development gap between Mac and Windows is narrowing, as the gap in number of systems sold also narrows. I think that while this trend will continue, for the time being this category goes to Windows. Apple 6, Microsoft 5

    Malware:
    This category actually goes hand-in-hand with app development. As there start to be more and more Macs, malware and virus authors will also increase. This year there have already been multiple instances of Mac-targeting malware which caught many people off-guard, since Macs are purported to be virus-proof, any computer can get a virus. Regardless though, because Windows is larger, they definitely get more attacks. Apple 7, Microsoft 5

    Customer Service:
    Inevitably, no matter how much you pay for your computer, it will need service from somebody at some point. It is this part of the process which makes most people cringe. Hopefully the company who sold you the machine will hold themselves accountable if the problem is with the product itself, and perhaps give you some room for error as a human without charging you through the ear for repairs or maintenance. Apple is phenomenal in this department, with a built-in one year warranty for any computer problems as well as extremely loose benefit of the doubt in-store repair centres. They know that providing these services is very good for business and that people will come back again when they know they are being treated well. Being so spread out, and so far from the end product itself, it is much more difficult for Microsoft to be accountable for software issues, and since hardware issues are not their fault, the blame is spread and in the end the customer suffers. Apple 8, Microsoft 5


    Price:
    For this category, I am going to start with a very nice laptop from Apple, and then attempt to match its specs to a Windows PC (Dell, because I am most familiar with their website and they have a very customizable system in place).

    Apple:
    15.4″ screen – Backlit LED
    5.6 pounds – 14.5″ x 10″ x 1″ thick
    i7 processor (Quad-core (4 cores)) at 2.0 GHz, 6 MB shared L3 cache (bigger numbers are better)
    4 GB RAM 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (supports up to 8 GB)
    2 USB ports – Thunderbolt (Mini-Display/Fast Data Transfer)
    Ethernet/WiFi/Bluetooth
    AMD Radeon Graphics card with 256 MB GDDR5 memory
    “HD” (720p) Camera
    500 GB SATA hard drive
    DVD/CD drive
    77.5 WHr battery (rated at 7 hours use)
    Speakers/Backlit Keyboard/Multitouch Trackpad


    Software

    • OS X Lion

    Final cost (before tax): $1749

    Dell: Improvements in bold*

    15.6” screen – Backlit LED
    6.3 pounds – 15 x 10.5″ x 1.5″ thick *Apple is slightly smaller and battery size means a little more weight
    i7 processor (Quad-core (4 cores)) at 2.0 GHz, 8 MB shared L3 cache (bigger numbers are better)
    6 GB RAM 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (supports up to 8 GB)
    2 USB ports – Mini-Display Port
    Ethernet/WiFi/Bluetooth
    NVIDIA GeForce GT 525 M with 1 GB memory
    “HD” (720p) Camera
    750 GB SATA hard drive
    DVD/CD drive
    90 WHr battery (rated at 9 hours use)
    Speakers/Backlit Keyboard/Multitouch Trackpad



    Software

    • Windows 7 Home Premium, 64-bit

    Final cost (before tax): $995

    See, after all of that I cannot logically justify spending almost fully double the cost for a laptop. However, that being said, if you want an 11 or 13 inch MacBook Pro or Air, and are okay with slightly lacklustre specs, you will still get a great computer for about the price of a higher-end Dell PC. I hope you can understand that in the end the final score speaks for itself. Apple 1003, Microsoft 1754

    Sorry Apple. I still really do want an Air, and would probably buy one very soon if anyone`s in the market for the above Dell computer (because its twin is on my lap right now) I would probably sell it for the Air. The 11″ seems like it would be a wonderful machine to own. And Apple products are incredibly cooperative with one another.

    Disclaimer: I actually didn’t intend to totally validate my Dell purchase in February, but that’s how it seems to have worked out. I hope you trust my objectivity in this looking at the fact that I do want to try owning both this laptop and a MacBook Air just to see which one I pick up and use on a day-to-day basis. I hope to try this experiment some day.

  • Becoming a Controvert
    Hey again, I’ve been lacking a little bit of late, though I do have several topics I’d like to broach, things I don’t really feel are always accepted topics of conversation but which I really would like to get out in the open and discuss. These topics really aren’t anything too extreme, just controversial for everyday conversation. My good friends know that I have fairly strong opinions, and ones which tend to be adamant but not always along politically correct lines. In that light, I would really like to choose this platform to voice these opinions, not in the interest of being judged for holding them, but hopefully to open up a discussion about the things I think about every day. I find that most values people hold aren’t so much “correct ways of thinking” but more like Christian or religious values which are blindly followed without putting too much thought into the motivations behind them. On the face of this, it seems like an idea which is just going to be damaging to peoples opinions of me, but I have never taken great stock in people’s negative thoughts of me so long as they don’t affect me directly. I also considered starting a second anonymous blog through which I could vent these ideas without any personal social repercussions, but I wanted people I know to know me better, so I thought it made more sense to keep all of my thoughts together. I am also not at all ashamed of the convictions I have, and so sharing them publicly in the interest of creating meaningful discussion doesn’t concern me in the least. I hope to spread these types of posts throughout my more “typical” technology or life related posts, and though at some point I may denote these types of entries as being separate from the more traditional posts, I will just refer to them normally for the time being. I would love to hear any feedback on these issues, and I do believe it is simple to post anonymously in reply to these posts, so I wouldn’t worry about political correctness (just basic human decency). Please feel inclined to let me know if you think this is either a wonderful or horrible idea, I would really appreciate pre-feedback if anyone can think of any very obvious downsides to doing this which I am simply not seeing right now.

    Expect the first of these kinds of posts in the next week or so depending on my schedule and wrist cramping.
  • Just Friends

    Dear all of my acquaintances who I have on Facebook,

    Yay, now that Facebook does one way following (aka subscribing) I don’t have to feel bad about unfriending people. In other words, if you suddenly find I am not your friend anymore and are sad about the lack of posts, you can subscribe to me as a human. We don’t have to be friends, isn’t that great?! My profile and everything is already all public, so hopefully this will actually encourage more sharing between all of us. I am happy about this, and you should be happy too, not offended. Don’t be offended. If you say interesting things I will subscribe to you as well. If we haven’t spoken in years, either we clearly weren’t that good of friends or else it means we need to catch up. Not mentioning any names here, you know who you are. This is a step in the right direction Facebook, and I’m sad it wasn’t around a little bit sooner. Additionally, if I unfriend you on Facebook, it doesn’t mean that I don’t like you as a person, it just means that I don’t feel like friend is the right word to describe our relationship. Acquaintance is more well-suited to the types of interactions we have, and I will view our relationship as such. If you want to be more than acquaintances, that is absolutely great and we should talk more. I’m not a sociopath (I don’t think), although feeling like I have to say it does make me wonder :). I am also not going to feel bad about this, I’m just being honest about how I feel. If I would not describe us as friends, but still feel like you have interesting things to say, I will totally subscribe to you, even if you don’t subscribe to me. And I have left messaging on Facebook completely public, so drop me a line anytime.

    Again, and I cannot make this any more clear, being friends on Facebook is not the real meaning of friendship to me, it just allows us to show the world that we are friends and lets us stalk one another unabashedly. And I have been of this opinion with no alternative for far too long. The subscription model will absolutely change my life forever, and I can live free of guilt not being YOUR Facebook friend. Real friendship is what matters most to me.

    Thanks to everyone for reading this, and for some of you, this will very likely be one of the last posts of mine you read. For those of you who wish to stick around for some fun times even though we’re not that close, I’m game if you are…

    Subscribedly yours,
    Rob

    Ps. Another thing I just realized…Facebook chat is the only thing which would keep a friend who I never see but still want to be friends with, so you have that going for you!

    Pps. If we’re already connected on Google+, you will get bonus awesome human points and I will feel less bad not having you on Facebook 🙂 You know who you are…
  • Social Not-working
    I’m working on my thesis full-time these days, and so I don’t really have time for a long post, but this has been bothering me more and more in recent weeks. Everybody needs to just shut up about everything. Sometimes, things change. Other times, things don’t change. This will continue to happen forever. Facebook and Twitter and Google+ don’t care if you like what they are doing. They are trying to appeal to everyone. And surprise (to people who don’t use Twitter or Google+), they are useful tools for communicating with people. Facebook, so far, has been incredible at connecting us with people we’ve already met, or people who are friends with ours and would, in all likelihood, eventually meet anyhow. But it has been just horrible at connecting us with people who are 6 degrees away from us but with whom we would love to share things. These are the spaces that Twitter and Google+ are slowly taking over, much to Facebook’s chagrin. These recent changes though, while being awesome and a big step, still don’t address that issue. And it’s possible it’s not meant to. Perhaps Facebook is happy just being about you and the people you are close to, and if so then it is exactly where it needs to be. But I think it should be more. It should connect you with people who share your interests. You don’t have to be “friends”, but you should be able to connect with people who live 20 minutes away from you, sit on the bus with you on the way to work or school, and share some of your taste in music or a couple of your hobbies. Right now there is no way for you to connect with these people, because in the digital world we have too much interaction with the people we already know that we don’t have time to connect with people we see on a regular basis but have never interacted with. Maybe this is wishful thinking, and I’m sure people would be in an uproar over privacy concerns if algorithms started matching them with people they think would be cool. Anyhow, this started as a rant and I really feel like finishing with one. People need to stop complaining about new social networks (or new technology, or new ANYTHING) or comparing them to what used to exist or what else is already available. The only important thing is, do you have a need for it? If yes, do you use it in the way you expected you would? If yes, shut up. Just stop talking about it. Facebook is only going to continue to improve, and other social networks will continue to try to allow people to network better in an effort to fix all of our broken, disconnected, digital social lives. I, for one, applaud them for even trying. We’re pretty screwed up.
  • 5 Years in the Life (AKA my thesis’s acknowledgements section)

    I have posted below, my complete, unedited acknowledgements section which I plan to submit with my thesis.  I really would like to send a heartfelt thank you to these people as well as any others I’ve forgotten or didn’t include for one reason or another (though that seems hard to believe).  If you have any corrections, additions, comments, discussions, or anything else of this nature (I would be extremely against taking anything out, unless someone has a very good reason) I would love to hear about them in the comments section below, or on any number of other public fora.  If you would rather make a private comment for whatever reason, I believe there are several appropriate avenues for doing so.  I really do want everyone to hear the things on the pages below, so do feel free to tell people I have mentioned about this (as I have something like 35 friends on Facebook) and many more people who are mentioned here are not among those 35.  The facebook/twitter/google+ post and this blog are public domain, and so I hope those of you reading this feel inclined to share it.  Thanks! Enjoy! 



                The first sentence of an acknowledgments section is almost always the hardest to write. That being said, hopefully this won’t take up too much of your time. I am, of course, referring only to this section; in the chapters following it you may find yourself lost and confused, but do not fret.  After 5 years of magical, er, I mean scientific training, you too could find yourself on the precipice of completing a master’s degree in Chemistry, looking over the edge into the gaping maw of ‘real life’. Since I never got a chance to free-write about my undergraduate studies, and since the cast of that freak-show has many of the same characters as its post-baccalaureate reincarnation, I plan to combine some thanks.
    I can only hope that the next five years of my life will be anywhere near as fun as the past five. First and foremost, I would like to thank the University of Ottawa. Just over half a decade ago, you were just a fancy pamphlet which had found itself atop a pile of brochures compiled in a hasty trip to a high school out-of-province university fair. Less than a year after that fair, I was on the marble staircase outside Tabaret Hall, wondering to myself why it was called that.  Also, I was looking for my dad, because I was alone for the first time in a new province a four hour flight from anyone I knew, and I was pretty scared.  The university, as well as the city of Ottawa, much to my delight, turned out to be a beautiful, engaging, wonderful place to spend the span of two University degrees (and perhaps more, but I’ll get to that later).  While many friends I had in Calgary were cast asunder by my new life, this city held many surprises. 
    The first of these was my first non-familial roommate and definitely most exotic friend, Carl. You have motivated me to do so much better for myself than I ever thought I could. Between your late-night TV lullabies, your beautiful and powerful subwoofer and your ridiculous Weetabix addiction, I could fill a long-running TV series worth of plotlines with our enterprises and adventures.  Also, I’m fairly certain that I would’ve failed BCH 2333 if you hadn’t made me memorize that entire textbook (and I certainly wasn’t going to buy that massive, $200 tome; I hope it’s keeping a large section of a bookshelf of yours somewhere free from dust), but that being said I’m certain there are some labs you wouldn’t have done nearly as well on if it weren’t for my mad scientist skillz.  And of course I have you to thank for being at least 100x better at basketball than when I first picked up a ball as a pasty tall kid who could shoot as well from half court as from the foul line (not well) growing up.
    In first and second year I lived in residence, and met so many awesome people who graced my life with theirs that I’m almost positive I’m going to forget someone crucial.  Kathleen, without you I would just be a tub of goo now, thanks for making me enjoy running again.  Also, you still haven’t gotten back to me about that beer, rembember? Amaan knows what I’m talking about.  Speaking of the world’s least well known Aziz Ansari impersonator/suave brown guy (for those of you not getting that reference); you helped make those early chem. classes and labs bearable.  I looked to you for inspiration when I was made Residence Advisor (haha RA, get it?), just kidding you are clearly the superior supervisory being.  Also, I guess I should congratulate/thank you for taking care of Erin with me, though the government did pay us handsomely for that task.  Oh Erin, House and NCIS wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun without you, and though both those shows live on (I’m sure in no small part thanks to us) they are not quite the same when I watch them alone.  If I see you even half as many times as you promise to come to Ottawa in the coming years, I will consider that a success.  Also, I never did thank you for all that help in dealing with your crazy roommate, but it did mean that you got to see me more, so it’s not a total loss.  Josie, we have had some rough times, but they weren’t all bad.  Remember when you tried to murder my dad with a golf ball?  That was satisfying, wasn’t it?  And you bought me a basketball and some bus tickets for Valentine’s Day, that’s incredibly romantic.  You clearly know what you’re doing in that department.  I hope teaching brings you what you’re looking for, and that your essay writing skills will eventually improve beyond my sleepy, middle of the night levels.
    Madison Wayland (nee Darnell), I never knew you. I really miss your lesbian haircut and early morning/late night visits, and I was very sad to see you leave Ottawa.  Though you may never read this, I think I miss time with you more than anybody else I don’t see any more.  I still get the Majestic and the Illusionist confused because we watched those back-to-back, what a dumb idea that was.  We had some good times making those rez boards, and I completely ignored what you taught me in completing the “Seems Newbee Runz” board as an RA.  Thanks for mixing me my first drink ever (though as an aspiring mixologist you should know better than to give a rookie drinker 6 shots of spiced rum in less than an hour, my bathroom floor was never so comfortable as that night).  I hope to one day see you again.
    .  Jane, I think of all the people who have left my life for the time-being, but who I certainly expect to see again at some point, you would be my favorite.  We have had so many good times, between classes and singing and cooking and middle of the day Skype chats, you are one of the coolest people I know.  I never did say this, though I probably should have much earlier for the record.  I did not make it with everybody else to see Thoroughly Modern Millie, though I think you already know that.  I think you know that it wasn’t at all because I didn’t want to see it, although I don’t actually remember what was going on that day instead.  I hope that this platform is adequate for giving you my sincerest apologies, and for asking your forgiveness in this matter.  Though I did see a play with you, I still haven’t seen you perform on stage, which is highly troubling.  I consider you my oldest friend in Ottawa, simply because you were one of the first people I met here, but also because you are awesome and more than worthy of the title.  Come back soon!
    Krista, I know you will make something of yourself, look me up when you get back from Down Under.  Marc, we had some good times (thanks again for a great Flames game), but honestly where are you now?  We all want to know.  Kalie, I knew you as Erin’s roommate and not a whole lot more, but you rock.  And women’s rugby is clearly the best sport ever.  Kate, you were a super awesome RA and I’m still very sad I don’t get to walk down to the front desk and see your smiling face, though congratulations on your new family and I wish nothing but the best for you in the years to come.  Damien, though we don’t know each other as well as I might like, I still consider you my token black friend and could listen to you sing all day. Becca, similarly, we really haven’t spent much time in each other’s company, but the time we have spent has been wonderful, you are one of the nicest, sweetest people I know, and I’m certain you will spend many years saving lives and taking care of people with a huge smile and a helping hand.  Eric, you continue to dazzle me with your amazing abilities with a tennis racket, or bass guitar.  Even though that piece of paper says you’re an engineer, I will never think of you that way.  Matt, calm down, I’ll get to you later.
    While everyone I’ve mentioned so far has been an influence on me and I feel has contributed at least in small part to my completing this degree, no group of people has meant as much to me in the achievement of this qualification as who I consider to be the founding members of the undergraduate chemistry club.  The idea that we couldn’t start a sanctioned club based on drinking every once in a while was a bureaucratic lynchpin to the only chance I ever had to participate in a university club. 
    Carolyn, though we met in 1st year psychology and you thought I was a jerk (which I probably was a little bit), I’m eternally grateful to you for all the help you’ve given me the last few years. Whether it was helping study for our myriad classes together, or hanging out drinking, or being the only sane people in a big room full of Frisbee players, you have always been fun to be around. Your awkwardness will continue to fascinate me and make me laugh.  You have been around to talk to when I’ve been down on life, work and school, and have been ready and eager to celebrate and mourn the good times and the bad.  For all of this, and so much more, I thank you.
    Nick, you have an awesome beard.  The number of pictures taken of us where it looks like we’re making out, or about to make out, would astound even people who know us well.  I very much appreciate having you around to bounce ideas off of, and our discussions about chemistry, women, algorithms, and scientific/technological advancements will always be some of my fondest memories of University.  While your devotion to the Maple Leafs confuses me to no end, I still love you for it.  When we get our condo with a beer fridge in every room and a Subway franchise in the kitchen, I will be a happy man.  A manny, manny man. 
    Lizzie, you will always be the one that got away.  I can tell you absolutely anything, and with that freedom comes no apparent responsibility.  I’m very sorry that I sometimes choose to abuse your nature by creating fictitious scenarios to get you to pay attention to me, I can’t help it.  Though we didn’t meet as early as we could have in University, I’m very glad some classes here are only reasonable offered in English, so that we got to spend the better part of MSSM, and most of the time from then until now getting to know each other.  You are awesome to spend time with, and though we find ourselves on opposite sides of an opinion more often than not, your level-headedness has helped me out in more ways than I’m sure I’m aware of. 
    Chantal, I’m really sorry I gave you the impression that I was a douche when we were almost neighbours all those years ago, I hope you can forgive me for that.  I really enjoyed the time last year when we were both incredibly crippled and yet you still took care of me when I was what I’m going to call ‘super-crippled’ and hopped up on oxy, I hope I wasn’t too much trouble.  Someday I really do hope we can go for a run, medicine will catch up!
    Julie, I really enjoyed softball this summer, thanks for convincing me to do that.  I’m glad you were there through my return to sports, and I hope that in the months and years to come that we can continue to become better friends, and that we can stop having arguments where we’re both trying to make the same point.
    Switching tacks a little bit, I would like to talk for a little while about the importance of family in my life and as influences in completing this degree.  Mom and dad, it goes without saying that you have had the biggest impact on my life up to this point.  Socially, emotionally, mentally, genetically, you have always shown me what is right and guided me towards who I am today.  You deserve the most thanks of all in what I have accomplished so far.  When I was contemplating abandoning my schooling for a green pasture in the distance, you convinced me to keep with it.  While I haven’t seen what effect this will have on my future yet, I am keen to be proven wrong in my potentially misguided desire to jump ship.  You have been supportive of my every endeavour, and have never allowed me to cede to any limitations I might have encountered in my life.  You have always cultivated a home environment where I was able to achieve whatever my goals were, and so I have been able to grow in ways I perhaps never imagined were possible.  From learning to speak and read practically simultaneously, to learning simple calculus in junior high, to playing soccer with people 4-5 years older than me and learning to hold my own, you have always allowed me to succeed.  Between doing my own laundry, cooking meals, cleaning up after myself, you allowed me to learn the skills necessary to make it on my own.  Even though I can’t explain my research to you with any confidence that you’ve understood, I hope I have made you proud.
    Michael, what can I say to you today?  I know that we don’t always agree on everything (airplane on a conveyor belt comes to mind), but I have always thoroughly enjoyed spending time with you, no matter where we end up. Our scientific discussions are always interesting (though not, I’m sure, to people around us) and learning to play hockey, tennis, and football (I’m sure I’m forgetting others) was a delight.  I wish you all the best in life with Maria, and you remain the only people to have visited me in Ontario.  I am honoured that you chose me as your best man.  For that and many other things I am forever grateful, and I look forward to see you again soon!
                Steph, you have grown up SO fast.  It always stuns me that you’ve managed to always be 2 years younger than me, even though it’s a temporal fact.  Though we don’t always get along, we will always be friends, and the fighting has really gone down quite a bit since we hit puberty.  We also stopped looking as alike as we did, which is probably a good thing.  Some days I really do wish you lived here, or that I was a little bit closer to home so that I could see you more, but I know that you’ll do great on your own! Isn’t higher education awesome!? I love you.
                Next, I would like to move on to the members of the indomitable Bryce Nation, beginning with the original graduate alumnus, Joey Weiss.  Thanks for your thesis as a formatting guide for mine, and especially thanks for making me feel less awkward at conferences by sitting with me and not feeling obliged to go and mingle all the time.  Fred, your constant fascination with NMR continues to be an inspiration to those who feel like they have lost their way, and I’m sure someday you will find a metal song I can endure for longer than you’re around to make me listen.  Kevin, I love listening to your stories, and it has been great getting to know you the last year.  We need to plan many more Bryce Lab trips/outings, even when I’m gone.  Jaz, it has also been really great becoming your friend since your return from Paris, and I appreciate your filling Liz’s vacancy as my awesome female friend in the lab.  I always know if I’m bored that you’re there to distract me (in case Dave is reading this, in which case get back to work!) and I appreciate that.  I know it’s intimidating considering being in the office with Kev and Fred once Becky and Cory leave, but they’re good guys, I’m sure it won’t be so bad!  Whose poster got 2nd place at CSC 2011? I rest my case.  Jess, while your time in the lab was short-lived, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for our many days spent loudly singing in the lab, and I know I’m a better performer now because of that.  I wish you all the best in your academic as well as musical endeavours.  Becky and Cory, of all of the grad students, in all of the labs, in all of Marion and D’Iorio, you two stand alone.  While I didn’t spend very much time with either of you, probably mostly due to my insistence on keeping my awesome desk in the lab, I am extremely appreciative of all the help you’ve given me over the years.  There was never a problem of mine that one of you couldn’t solve (except NQR) and my experiments would not have been nearly as successful without such great NMR role models in the lab. 
                Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Dave Bryce, the supervisor to rule all supervisors.  If not for the opportunity you gave me at the end of 3rd year to work for the summer in your lab, I would certainly be a very different person today.  All of your guidance and assistance with my projects and schooling were essential to my success as both an undergraduate and graduate student.  When I was considering leaving grad school, you convinced me that should stick with it and finish what I started, and it’s for that reason that I’m writing these words today.  Your insistence on celebrating achievements and milestones is a huge part of what makes you great, and if I am ever given the opportunity to advise or counsel those a few rungs behind me on any ladder, I will be sure to pay your debt forward in kind.  Since joining your group, I have really come to appreciate a good, strong beer and I have also learned that being thorough in every aspect of life will pay off in the end.  I cannot thank you enough for all of your kindness and advice, try as I might to put that gratitude into words.  I challenge anyone to find a better, more caring supervisor than Dave. 
                There were also a few other people worth mentioning who have helped with some of the actual hard work which has gone into this thesis.  Ilia Korobkov deserves my thanks for performing x-ray crystallography on the two compounds mentioned in this thesis, as well as putting up with my rather hectic schedule whenever my turn in the queue was up. Tara Kell should be recognized at least briefly for providing me with powder x-ray training, even though I never used it after the training.  Glenn Facey was always very helpful with any problems in the NMR department, and for his tireless hours keeping up all the NMR instruments at the University. Cheryl McDowall, as Glenn’s assistant, kept the nitrogen tanks full at all times, and we always seemed to run into one another during these weekly fills.  I’d like to thank Eric Ye and Victor Terskikh at the Ultrahigh-Field NMR Facility for Solids (which by the way is not a catchy name) for all of their assistance while I was at the facility using the 900.  I’d like to especially thank Eric for helping me by running a few chlorine-35 MAS spectra when I had a very busy day and couldn’t make it to the NRC campus, and then for making sure to get them back to me safely with excellent data. 
                I would also very quickly like to thank all the students I TAed last year.  Your shining faces provided me with some much needed motivation and your excitement about science and learning (and having fun in that environment) has renewed my faith in first years, I don’t know how I got so lucky to have so many great students.  If any of you ever want to grab a beer (you’re all legal by now, right?) let me know!  I never thought that TAing first years could be so fun and rewarding.
    Finally, I would like to thank a few people who have come into my life more recently than many of those mentioned so far, but who still deserve mention for their help with my state of mind as well as for listening to my gripes and stories about my research.  Cait (OMal’z), you have provided me with so many great things since we met, and have always been quick to boost my spirits with your sassiness, and then keep me grounded by turning the sass against me.  I appreciate it, and I’m glad I can attribute ‘Science Rob’ to you.  I really hope that we can continue to become better friends, and we simply must go on a bike ride together soon.  I mean how have we not?  Sydney, I may not fully understand you, but I appreciate your kindness and friendship more than you know.  Knowing that you are downstairs and always willing to talk is very reassuring, and I look forward to much more Workaholics in the future with you.  We need to hang out more than we have been of late.  Jacquie, you have finally moved back into the neighbourhood and out of Sketchville.  Of course at the exact same time as that happens I would crawl into a thesis-y hermit hole for a month, but I look forward to spending lots more time with you once this magical adventure is over. Harry Potter Marathon anytime you want, I downloaded them all (I mean bought, I bought them all).  Now that you live nearby again there is no good excuse for not hanging out.  Valery, I cannot in good conscience write this without at least mentioning your influence on my master’s experience.  Thanks for spending time with me while I was getting accustomed to graduate life, and for keeping me grounded while I was trying to figure out how to mark 40 labs a week while taking a class and TAing 6 hours a week.  Though we haven’t talked in a while now, I haven’t forgotten about you.  I sincerely do hope that you’re doing well and hope that someday we’ll see each other again, you’re pretty awesome. 
    Julia, I think you have been the most supportive of anyone during this degree.  It wasn’t always easy, especially coming up to the end of it, when I’m basically spending every waking minute thinking about the next part of my thesis which needs doing.  It can’t be easy, especially being so busy yourself.  You always seem to know what I’m going to need or want to feel better, even though it’s kind of cheating that the answer is Mike & Ike’s almost every time.  Thanks for putting up with all my crazy the last couple of months; I’m sure it wasn’t easy.  Bippity boppity!
    Finally, I think it’s probably important that I acknowledge Matthew Staroste, my very good friend and faithful roommate.  Through all my time spent working on this project and thesis, working and writing, you have always been around to talk to, for a beer, for breakfast, as an open ear to any issue.  You’re my wingman, my confidante, my fellow furniture aficionado.  I joke around a lot about you, but know that in all seriousness I have so much respect for the things you do and who you are.  You may be scrawny and clothes from the regular Gap and Gap Kids may not fit you quite right, but you do a lot of other things right.  You’ve seen me at my best, and you’ve definitely seen me at my worst (man they need to make Pabst more expensive…oh wait), but through it all you’ve shown me that roommates can be friends.  We may not always be happy with one another (and I promise to leave the house more in October than I did in September), but living with you is an awesome experience. I have to call you my oldest friend overall, nursery buddies for life!  And finally, Summer of George!! We really lived it up this time.  That is what summer is supposed to be. 
    Finally, I’d like to thank Marianas Trench.  Yes, they are a band, but in the last 2 years or so they have given me so much to think about, to sing along with, and to enjoy.  I hope to meet you some day, so I can teach you all a little something about solid-state NMR.
    Okay, so that wasn’t short.  It was actually much longer than I expected.  I hope there is something in this little novel for everyone, and if I have forgotten to include you here, it doesn’t mean that you did not impact my life, I just had a 5000 word limit.  
  • What’s happening?
    Hey again everybody! First, I thought it would be nice to get a few details out of the way before I actually get to anything. I have finished my masters thesis and finally submitted it yesterday! This document took a lot of work and I’m really proud of the way it turned out. I don’t actually hear anything for about a month but I’ve got my fingers crossed. I’m hoping that with finishing that work I’ll be able to blog move avidly, at least until I find something to do with my life. That being said, if anybody is hiring I’d be glad to hear from you or have your information passed on to me. Secondly, my backspace key broke off my laptop last week, which is really annoying, and since I only have return to depot service from dell, I’ll be testing out blogging exclusively on the iPad with no external keyboard, so we’ll see how that goes. Doesn’t seem to be slowing me down so far, but I’ve had a few months to practice. Another important thing I’d like to mention is that there are a few people/groups of people I know who have become seriously neglected in the last couple of months, since I really started working at a frantic pace trying to finish my thesis. I’m really hoping that I can take the time in the coming weeks to right this terrible injustice to these people, starting today. Alright, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to business. The last 3 weeks or so were quite a haze of writing, editing, and formatting (and I have developed strong feelings for the Oxford comma) but this does not mean I stopped living in the future. Try as I might to focus on my thesis (and seminar presentation) for that time, lots of awesome developments have happened in my world since I last wrote a regular blog post. For example, since the windows 8 developer preview came out (yes, it’s good and it’s available for free) I installed it on my desktop computer to test it out and see if it’s worth the hype (it is). Even though this operating system is probably at least a year away from public release and sale, it’s incredibly fast and responsive, and the ‘Metro’ apps which showcase it’s potential (these come preinstalled on the preview) are really beautiful and leave me very hopeful about the success of the app platform. Also, I have been quietly in disbelief of how much Google Chrome gets weighed down by the 50 or so extensions I’ve installed on it, this problem somehow doesn’t seem to translate into the windows 8 process. Chrome with extensions runs unbelievably fast on 8, and has led me to use it almost exclusively (though the thought of reinstalling apps like word keeps me from using it alone). Perhaps with this new time in my hands I’ll be able to get everything running. Secondly, iOS 5, the next generation of apples mobile operating system, is nearing completion. Since it is in beta, I decided I would test it out (living in the future after all). I have been running iOS5 (scheduled for public release on October 4) on my phone and tablet for the last several weeks, and it is just awesome, and a huge step forward. Im planning on detailing what you can expect in a post soon, so keep your eyes open for that! Be excited for October 4 as well, since a new iPhone is looking very likely for that date. In addition to this, something minor in the world of people with more than one computer in the house. Microsofts home grown developer community (called Microsoft garage) is a group which builds applications which focus on smaller improvements to the Microsoft environment. Last week they released a project in the world called mouse without borders. This project aims to connect all computers on a network by allowing any peripherals (mice and keyboards) on any other computer simply by moving the mouse off the computers screen itself and onto the desired computer (as is done on computers with multiple monitors). This allows for control of any computer in your immediate area (once the program is installed and password set up) using any mouse or keyboard. Finally, the best feature of this is that the clipboard is shared between computers, and file transfer from computer to computer is as simple as dragging and dropping. It is worth trying out, I guarantee you’ll use it more than you think! I may write more today (I have a lot of topics saved up) so I’ll stop here for now, but I hope I can convince you that I’m going to breathe some life into this blog starting today! Thanks for reading!
  • Multi (hold-on) tasking
    After over a decade of using Windows-based PC systems (ranging from Windows 95 through the developer version of Windows 8) and two years of iPod Touch and iPhone operating systems, I have learned quite a few things about how computers work. However, that is not what I intend to talk about today. What I want to discuss today is what I’ve come to realize about modern computers systems and what we can learn about ourselves when it comes to these systems.  In the early days of computing, DOS and UNIX systems were based on text entry, and these only allowed one program to run at a time, due to limited resources.  These were days before computer games had amazing graphics and before internet video became possible because you had to dial into the internet.  At this time, you could only realistically do one thing at a time, and it was fairly easy to focus on one thing at a time.

    Sometime in the late 90s, a drastic change was made to systems like Mac OS X and Windows 95/98 which featured graphical interfaces and windows which contained much more interactive programs featuring menus and a variety of options within the program.  Under this paradigm, you can use several programs all at the same time, which leads to the ability to play music, surf the internet and play a game all at the same time.  This new idea brought about a major change in the way people get work done, because it enables easy copying and pasting of information between programs.  However, not everything about the way this works is good news.  With the ability to perform multiple tasks across multiple programs simultaneously comes the ability to be very easily distracted.  In more and more modern computers, and with modern operating systems, this ability to do more has become even easier.  In using Windows Vista and 7,  and the various incarnations of Mac OS X, is it very easy to get lost in a multitude of programs and lose sight of any work or task at hand.

    I have found that this is also true with cell phones and with internet enabled televisions.  Basically if you can do multiple things on any one device at once, you get lost in a limbo wherein you can only half-heartedly focus on either one but you lose sight of both.  For example, when participating in conversations with people, it is possible to fully invest yourself in the conversation, but if any or all of the individuals have cell phones or laptops with them, it is easy for the whole group to fall into a pattern of texting, checking email or reading and lose the conversation.  Now, while this is certainly an effect of these devices, this isn’t necessarily a horrible thing. In fact, it can be beneficial to have one or more internet enabled devices when in conversation as it quickly clears up informational gaps and settles disputes (this was actually where the original idea for the Guinness book of records came from).  The problem I have discovered with this happening too often is that you actually tend to lose sight of the task at hand when several tasks are presented to you. With a conversation in person and via text going on at the same time, it is very difficult to separate the two and focus on each. When watching TV while on a laptop, it is very difficult to pay full attention to the show, and it is a very different experience.  One of the major points made by iPad detractors is that it is not capable of true multi-tasking, although that is actually not really true.  The reality is, the iPad is simply not going to show you the content of more than one app at any given time.  It will notify you of something happening elsewhere on the device, but that is all that will happen.  Some say this lessens the overall experience, but allow me to make a different point.

    I find time and time again, when watching a television show on the iPad, I tend to pay more attention to it, even if I’m chatting on it, because of this single-task functionality.  When something happens, I can choose to ignore it, or I can leave what I was watching behind, reply to the message, and then return to the video and restart it.  While this seems like a hassle, it allows for real enjoyment of the video, and actually lets me multitask less (spending more time focusing on the task at hand). The same is true of Mac OS X Lion and Windows 8; I can focus on tasks in full screen mode, blocking everything else out and replying or doing other tasks on my own schedule, I don’t give myself extra excuses to stop working.  I sincerely do hope the computing world continues in this direction, we will all be much more productive if that is the case, especially because switching between tasks endlessly is what allows us to spend so much time procrastinating.  Maybe only doing one thing at a time isn’t the worst thing ever.
  • In a Blink
    Hey again everybody,

    There has been plenty of discussion about Steve Jobs in the last day or so and in the interest of not duplicating the thousands of articles and memorials I would like to talk about a somewhat related but personal take on my feelings in the last day.

    These sentiments have presented themselves fairly often recently for me, with finishing up my masters degree very soon and figuring out how to start my adult life, I’ve been able to reflect on the many changes coming to my lifestyle in the months to come.  In recent weeks I have come to the realization that I am 23 years old now. This seems obvious, but it’s actually something that hasn’t really occurred to me in a while.  Considering that the odds of my living past 90 are extremely slim, this means I’ve made it a quarter of the way through my life.  Looking back at what I’ve accomplished so far does make me quite proud of how far I’ve come, but I have also come to realize that I have many ideas as for what to do with my life, but have executed very little of the overall plan.  From the time I was quite young, it was always expected that I go to university, and since I loved learning so much it seemed like an obvious choice.  I will always enjoy learning, and if I was given the choice of perfect career for me now it would be incredible to go to medical school or become an astronaut, though neither of those are really realistic choices.

    I have always thought this, through all of my schooling and any time in life. I was always pretty sure I could go out and get whatever I wanted if I worked hard enough, but you cannot just go out into the world with no reputation and be hired or start your dream job.  People need to know what you are capable of before they decide to trust you to make decisions on your own.  It would be incredible to work at a company like Microsoft or Apple and I’m sure I could do an excellent job there, but just wanting it isn’t good enough, no matter how hard you work.  Actual achievement takes more than that.  I have been told that I’m a fairly good writer, and in every endeavour I do my best to be the real me, which means that I always have to consider my impression on people.

    Many, many people are extremely self-conscious, and I am not going to try to pretend that I’m not exactly the same as them, but I do approach situations differently than most people would.  I make mistakes like the next person, but I live with the mindset that if I am the real me all the time, I can still earn people’s respect for it.  Nobody is perfect, and anybody who tries too hard to be will often be disappointed in themselves.  I know that I can’t always give everything my best shot, there will be situations where I will be lazy, or make a bad decision which will wind up costing me opportunity.  I refuse to dwell on these decisions and their consequences, instead dealing with the problems which come from them and ending up a stronger person for it.

    In the last year or so, I have set myself down a path which has been the result of some of these decisions.  For example, I am trying to learn computer programming, and have been for almost a year now.  When I first took the plunge I still had a fairly good understanding computers, both in how they work and how to use them to their full potential.  The main problem I have is that I keep trying to learn, because this is what I was trained by almost 20 years of education to do.  What I have so far failed to do is actually apply this knowledge to solve my own problems.  Since computers have been around for a few decades now, a lot of the hard work in programming is already done.  What remains makes it quite easy for newcomers to essentially pick up lego bricks and start building.  However, I have so far been unable to actually use these pieces to create something new, instead ending up using what other people have done for my benefit.  It is very difficult for me to comprehend why I have been unsuccessful so far, but I do intend to keep trying.

    Another important point about adult life is the idea that as I am aging, everybody around me is also aging.  While this is extremely obvious when you have been away from your family and friends (as I have) for almost a year, gradual changes in people you seem on a regular basis are very hard to detect.  Many people I am friends with who I met in university are now full-fledged professional adults.  This happened quite gradually, for example I knew when people were graduating but it never really occurred to me that this meant that they were no longer in school and were finding jobs and careers.  I realize in talking to these people now that many things I take for granted no longer apply to them (such as student bus passes, student cell phone plans, etc.).  The thought of joining this world baffles and terrifies me, but it is also kind of exciting.  I know that nobody in the world is sitting watching my progress ready to offer me a job the second I finish school and I could continue on the same path I’m on unemployed and eventually either find a job or descend into hobodom.  I wouldn’t really like to be homeless, but at the same time I don’t intend to make a career out of something I don’t really love.  What I really need to do is get out of the mindset that I am a student with no direction in life, and go find a compass.  I will never be found if nobody out there is looking for me.  Now that I am on the verge of finishing school, I very much need to find myself something new to try and really dedicate myself to it.  Only then will I find what I’m really meant to do.

    If you haven’t seen the video of Steve Jobs giving the 2005 commencement address at Stanford, I highly recommend it.  Beautiful, moving stuff.  I guess I have a lot to think about.
  • Typing into the future
    Hey everybody, this is a test blog post which is also sort of a product review. It has been a while since I last wrote, and so as to not give the indication that I’ve given up on blogging, I thought I’d write a little something here. I recently sold my laptop, which was instrumental in writing my thesis as it allowed me the freedom to move around and get comfortable to write, and allowed me the structure and formatting capabilities of Microsoft Word. However, in the time since I finished the major writing portion of that, I’ve found myself using that particular piece of equipment much less than I otherwise would. Since I already had an iPad, I found myself reaching for that almost every single time I wanted to do a particular task in computing. Also, since my iPad has a longer battery life and is extremely small and light, it just made sense that if I was keeping one thing, it should be that. There was one small caveat to this decision though, and it was evident while I was making it. If I decided to go without a laptop, if I wanted to type while being majorly mobile, I would have to make due with typing on the screen keyboard of the iPad. While I have never had as much of a problem with this as other people, typing out longer things presents a two-fold problem. Firstly, the screen is virtual and so you must be paying rapt attention to the position of your hands at all times. Secondly, since the keyboard is on the screen, you must necessarily lose some screen space in order to type with it. When typing shorter messages, or replying to emails, or performing searches this was perfectly fine and actually quite convenient. No extra space for a keyboard was required, and the addition of a split keyboard when typing with thumbs in iOS 5 was a further excellent step and is something I use quite often. However, I do still enjoy writing longer documents and in these cases having some kind of keyboard is quite useful. I do not see any reason, though, to broadly state that a permanent physical keyboard is an effective use of space or mechanical function. There is no reason in the age of low power bluetooth devices, for any two pieces of equipment to be connected, unless there is a shortage of electrical power. For the time being at least, I don’t consider myself to be lacking electricity in any way, and so this is not important to me. What I do realize is the next huge shift in computing, however, is the incorporation of touch into all of our devices. The idea of using a laptop trackpad to navigate our screens is just as laughable as the idea of using our hands on a mouse, if not more so. There is so much more our hands are capable of than using such an implement to manipulate objects on a computer screen. Personally, with about an hours use of a keyboard with no trackpad on my iPad, I will very likely never buy a computer with a trackpad on it again. If I do, the screen with still be touch (Dell is selling these true laptops with high-resolution 15″ touch screens right now for about $100 more than non-touch screens). This is most likely a move by Dell to test the waters of such devices to precede the launch of Windows 8, which is in development right now and can be tested out at Microsoft Developers’ Website. I have also put this operating system to the test, and it is very touch based. With that in mind, the launch in 2012 of this new touch-centric operating system will probably be joined with several different makers releasing touch laptops and tablets of their own running Windows 8. Presumably Dell is simply testing the waters with this launch and nothing will come of it, but I honestly believe that touch is the future, and that using a mouse on the computer will be phased out in the next few years.

    Now, on to the actual topic at hand, now that I have written about its virtues. The keyboard and case which I bought is made by Belkin, a well-known iDevice case and accessory maker, and is called the Folio Case with Keyboard for iPad 2. It retails for $99 on the Belkin website, and I found it for $95 on Amazon. I am so far very impressed with it, and if you are interested in purchasing an iPad instead of a laptop but still want a keyboard, this works quite nicely. The only slight downsides I have found with it, which may not be a problem for non-power users, is that making custom commands which are not available would be nice. For one, I would very much like to be able to use multitasking via shortcut rather than either using the home button it has built in, or using gestures on the screen. Other than that, most every typical iPad function is considered here, and the case itself is very compact and protects both the keyboard and pad from anything external, as well as keeping them separate so as not to scratch the screen. I can’t comment of yet as to the battery life of the keyboard, which charges via USB, but keyboards tend to be very low power so I expect a full day or two of battery even during a day of typing. It should be noted that this whole assemblage takes up no more space than would a MacBook Air, and is quite a bit cheaper than that, with a longer battery. I hope this has helped those of you in this market, and that you will be enlightened to what I think is really the future of not just mobile computing, but computing in general! Thanks, and I hope to get back to you all very soon!
  • Recent and Random (bonus: Introspective)
    Hello and welcome back everyone, it has been a slightly off week so far, as I came down with a little cold/cough/sicky thing, and so doing anything besides lying around like a log has been rather difficult. I have decided, however, that it is time to write a little more. Since I don’t really have a specific topic in mind, I was hoping for more of a general update on what I’ve been up to since the last time I sat down to write. It’s been a pretty exciting week in the world of tech, specifically for me but also for the population as a whole. After I reviewed life with an iPad/bluetooth keyboard case combination (henceforth known as my laptop as I really hate saying “my iPad” but saying “my tablet” just doesn’t sound right either) I have used it a few times. Mostly the case comes in handy when I’ll be doing more than a little bit of typing, but I also very much enjoy the variable reading angle the case affords as compared to the smart cover which allows for reading at about 10 and 80 degrees, or flat on a surface. The battery life has also been great, I charged the keyboard once although there was no indication its battery was low, it had just been about a week. All in all, the keyboard is very responsive and it feels extremely natural to touch the screen when the use requires is as opposed to reaching for the trackpad or mouse, which is exactly what I was hoping for. I don’t feel at all awkward doing this, which is a small relief.

    Secondly, I made another technology related purchase this week, and finally received it today after almost 50 hours of waiting (God Internet, why can’t you do things faster? Just kidding I love you!) I finally got my hands on it. I ordered a Mophie juice pack air, which some of you iOS users may recognize from the apple store as one of those cases you see on the shelf which seems pretty well designed and looks fairly appealing but it’s crazy expensive. Well, obviously with spending almost 700 dollars on my phone I’m going to want to give it a small amount of protection. On that note though, I had always told myself that if I was going to spend money on a case, it was going to be absolutely perfect or have some other thing which sets it apart. In the case, both of those demands were met, though one of them was only realized after the case arrived. The first, and more important point is that this case has a battery built in, one which provides an equal amount of power as the phone’s does, and so in theory will double the effective life of the phone. While the battery life of the iPhone has never really been an issue for me, it is nice to not have to worry about recharging the phone when you’re about to leave the house, knowing that with the flick of a switch you can extend your battery by at least one more day, or that if your battery is at between 40-50% after a full day of use, you don’t have to worry about charging the phone the following day because you can just apply your battery pack and go. The second reason, this being the one which I only discovered after trying the pack for a few hours, is that the geometry of the case (wherein the battery and requisite electronics are packed into the base of the case) means that my thumbs don’t have as far to reach to get to the keyboard, and so typing is much more comfortable than without the case. While this case was about 90$ with tax included, I really do think I will get enough use out of it to justify this cost, and I will continue to make purchases like this in order to experience life the way I want it to be.

    Finally, on a more serious note, I would like to share a little about the thoughts which have been running through my head. I have been going through various life options in the last few months, as part of a more pressing issue which revolved around my realization that I have no idea what I really want to do for the rest of my life. I have put out applications and filled out forms at a few of the establishments which are most important to me, but somehow I still feel rather unsatisfied. Maybe this is because I haven’t found my calling in life yet, even though I do have some ideas. Assuming a 100 year lifespan, which is quite generous even given modern medicine, I’m 1/4 of the way through my life. I think to myself that by I now I should have a general idea what my life should be about. I realize that in the current iteration of the world that many people are just like me who are wandering aimlessly through across the earth, but I know there’s something huge I’m meant to do with myself. I have been made aware in various ways that I’m not just an average human being, but I can’t quite bring myself to be extraordinary enough to turn any heads. In a world of 7 billion people, it is clearly very easy to get stuck in a situation where you are clear you don’t belong but aren’t given any obvious escape. While I know there are many things I could do above the average proficiency of individuals who make a living doing a given job, I am not going to just be noticed and given the right job for me. If I want something of this nature to take place, I will actually have to apply myself and make it happen. Maybe I should put in the extra effort to actually make this happen and things will change for me, but finding the motivation for such a monumental shift in the way my life has been for so long is going to take quite a bit of working-up-to. History tells me I will probably be okay, but nevertheless I’d really like something more substantial soon, another year like this would really have me questioning my potential. I can’t say for sure that writing more this week won’t turn very philosophical and introspective again, but I can’t really know that for sure. However, here’s hoping! If you do actually get through all of this to the end, thanks very much for reading! I’ll give you a cookie when I see you, as I probably won’t read this myself ever again, with the possible exception being sometime in the distant future when I’m an executive in a very successful business doing great things for myself and for the world!
  • Inferior Service Pirates (ISP’s)
    Hey everyone, I have been a little lax of late in coming up with poignant things to talk about, but I really think I’ve outdone myself today in being much more broadly appealing than usual! Today I would like to share my thoughts revolving around a topic I’m sure we all consider very important, and hopefully the result of the conversation is that everyone can save a little money, as well as (on a much broader scale) shift big telecommunication corporations to do business in a way that isn’t such a huge ripoff.

    In a discussion I was having with my parents last month, the topic of internet service came up, as well as the always-pertinent issue of cell phones and the nightmare that is telecommunication giants such as (in Ontario at least) Bell, Telus and Rogers. In Ontario, as far as I’m aware the big players in the Internet game are Bell and Rogers, although there are other companies in other places in the country and world. Feel free, if you’re reading this in one of those other places, to substitute in the names of large companies in your area. Most people, (probably at least 95% of you) take your Internet and phone service for granted. While most people know more about their cell phone contracts than they do about their internet service, there is still a surprising amount many people are missing out on, and the cost of this lack of information (or misinformation really) can cost you hundreds of dollars a year. A quick check on the Bell or Rogers sites tells you that the basic plans which cover some downloading at reasonable internet speeds for 1 or 2 people, and not a whole lot else. Our generation (20-somethings) tend to consume most of our media online (television, movies, music, books, news, magazines or at least content which would otherwise be found in a magazine were it not being read online) and so while this works for some people, it is not really a viable solution for anyone on a fairly tight budget.

    Currently, Rogers is actually having a sale in which all of their internet bundles are priced at 50% off, which puts this “everyday” plan at $23.50, but with the caveat that you must sign a 1-year contract with them, and the sale price ends after 6 months, at which point you will be back at 47$ a month. Overall I will call this an average cost of 36$/month, which is actually not horribly unreasonable at 25% off over the year. This gets you an internet speed which (under good network conditions, AKA don’t think you’ll get this on a weeknight between 8 and 12 PM) will allow you to download a standard definition movie in under 10 minutes (and is more than fast enough to stream television or movies via Netflix or other methods of more questionable moral ground).


    For those of you well-versed in these matters, our baseline download speed for comparison here is 12Mbps, which works out to approximately 1.5 MB/s, again under optimal conditions. One final thing to consider about internet speeds is that these download speeds depend much more strongly on the ability of a company to supply the bits to you (in other words, their upload speeds) than on your connection. To give you a real world example of this, if you try to download a video file your friend put up on a blog which they are hosting from a home server, it will take some time because it is your friends computer which is the one storing this video, and you can only download it as quickly as they can get it to you. On the other hand, if you would like an example of a very fast download, head over to the apple website on a day when there is no major software releases (today being a slightly bad example with iTunes 10.5.1 coming out, but it will still be quite fast) and download the latest version of iTunes. You’ll notice that even though it’s a huge file (this one is about 65 MB depending on your computer) it will almost certainly take less than one minute (or over 1 MB/s) and can take 15 seconds (more like 4 MB/s). This is because companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft (anyone who requires that you download large files) have humongous “farms” of servers who are just sitting waiting for you to download these large files, so they can do so with little to no delay. These farms are essentially multi-million dollar warehouses packed with racks of what are basically internet-connected computer storage. Amazon is another company which actually sells this space and connectivity to people who either don’t have room to build their own, or just find it simpler to essentially rent the use of this internet. This blog is actually “hosted” by Google, which is why even though it’s just me writing it, you can access it extremely quickly. The result of all of this is that you can get your files as quickly as is possible given the Internet speeds you’ve paid for, and there will be as little delay as possible in getting your Internet to you.


    Now, to get back to our little comparison. The other major player in the Internet game is Bell, and they have basically the exact same plans as Rogers, though bundled differently and their logo is blue as opposed to Rogers’ red. Bell’s plan which is on par with Rogers costs $53.95 (though it is currently being offered for $10/month off), and offers the same basic services as Rogers does, with a few perks. These are the addition of fast uploading of files (7x faster than on the basic plan) for 5$ a month, as well as additional 40 GB chunks of downloading for $5/40 GB. All of these additional features seem to make it a very good deal, but for the time being there is an even better promotion going on at Bell. For $34.48/month (for 1 year only) you can get double this internet speed (25 Mbps) with the fast upload built into the plan. For those of you who are on any other internet plan (and not on a contract) I would highly recommend this plan. It comes with 125 GB of download, again with the option to add additional 40 GB chunks for $5 each.  After this first year, the plan jumps back up to what it otherwise would be ($73.95). This plan is actually a perfect segue for the entire point of this post, that being that ISPs have way too much power over the average consumer, in that they can look at the big picture and sell these plans for half of their worth for a year. This nefarious plot is actually a way to confuse and extract money from the average person, who will see this plan and decide that is is perfect for them. Bell has spent a lot of money on this new nationwide fiber optic network, but everybody finds it extremely expensive and so new signups must not be what they expected. Seeing this, they have clearly decided that if they offer this plan at half price (and make no mistake, this is a GREAT price for a big ISP), they will lose money for the first year, after which the people who pay attention to what they are doing will get out of the plan and move to something which has come up in the intervening year. But many, many people who are signing up for this service between now and when the offer ends at the end of December will forget that it is only a year, and come 2013 will be very surprised that suddenly their prices for service have doubled. Either that, or (as the ISPs hope) they will just pay the difference without even noticing, or they will be very much enjoying the luxury of incredibly fast internet and won’t want to go back, so they will justify this huge price increase in that way. But, fortunately for our generation, it doesn’t have to be this way.


    What almost everyone doesn’t know is that there are actually many, MANY small internet providers which buy space in wholesale from Rogers and Bell and sell it to basically anybody who will listen. As this tide is starting to turn a little, some of these smaller services are actually forced to turn people away because they can’t sign up people fast enough. There are countless providers like this which can be found at canadianisp.com, but for the purposes of this discussion I will use the company I have found, Teksavvy, as an example of one of these ISPs. This company leases space from Rogers and offers plans which are very similar to their services, but at more wholesale prices. For example, the standard plan which we discussed earlier was available for $36/mo (over a years contract) on Rogers, and on Bell was offered at $43.95 (after a ten dollar discount which applies to the first year). On Teksavvy, a plan with the same speeds is available for $37 per month. On the face of it, this seems slightly worse than Rogers sale price, but remember that with them you are forced into a contract to get this deal, and you only save $1/mo with this setup. This also brings me to the final point to consider. So far, all the plans I have discussed come with caps on usage which limit you to 50-60 GB/mo (which 1-2 users with moderate usage will probably never come up against). If, however, you would like to move more of your life digital, or find yourself being charged overages by your ISP (usually $0.50/GB), this is kind of a huge problem.


    In the case of Teksavvy however, and many other smaller ISPs, since they are buying bandwidth wholesale, they will give you much higher caps, like 300 GB/mo for Teksavvy. Also, keep in mind that these guys are extremely happy to have your business, since they depend mostly on word-of-mouth, and so even if you do go over this cap (which would take several people on multiple devices really trying hard to do) the odds that they will actually charge you any overages is essentially nothing. I have been using Teksavvy for about 6.5 months, and the service has been great (since it uses Rogers lines to provide internet) and dealing with customer service has been wonderful (since you deal with Teksavvy CSAs and not Rogers ones, who are notoriously nasty on occasion). With such a large cap, it also becomes possible to fit several people onto one plan (we currently have 5 people, and visitors can bring that number up to 6-7) and have only very occasional problems with speed issues. The math of this setup means that we are each paying about $8/mo for as much internet as we can possibly consume. I have also recently upgraded to a plan called Extreme from Teksavvy (which will take effect this week) which doubles our speeds for an extra 6$/mo (or $1.20/mo/person more). I will report the results of this switch once it happens, but I am positive it will be a great experience for everyone involved, and I VERY highly recommend you at least evaluate your options with respect to internet service provider. It could save you a LOT of money. I hope you found that very interesting, I know in my research I certainly did.
  • Washing your Hands is a Waste of Time.
    Now, this article is going to get me into a lot of trouble, especially with females and people who are OCD about cleanliness and personal hygiene. But I have a point to make and while I’m certain that not everybody agrees with me in principle, logically my arguments are fairly solid.

    The title of this post is a very general statement, and I don’t actually espouse ideas that nobody should wash their hands ever. The point I am trying to make is that the idea that if you wash your hands after using the washroom, you really aren’t any more well protected from “germs and bacteria” than you would be if you didn’t. Assuming you are otherwise fairly clean in the genital region, if you are touching yourself there in the course of normal washroom behavior, you won’t be suddenly exposing your hands to a plethora of microfaunae and florae which will wreak havoc on your immune system if you decide to eat an hour later.

    I am not trying to make the argument that people should never wash their hands. If your hands are dirty or feel gross or smell horrible, by all means wash them until they are no longer that way. Go NUTS on your hands. But the idea that washing your hands more than a few times a day is going to make you a much healthier person is a little bit silly. Obviously, if you eat ribs or wings and your hands are all goopy, or you make a habit of pooping on yourself, it’s probably a good idea to wash your hands after having done so. Otherwise, though, with the things our hands encounter on a given day, if you were really trying to protect yourself from this bacteria (which by the way, lives on our skin already and doesn’t actually come off in the shower, no matter how much you soap up), you’re just chewing up and drying out your hands.

    When it comes to handwash stations with gel which kills viruses, this is pretty effective at killing whatever is actually growing on your hands at a given time (assuming it does work, which is a good, but not great, assumption).If you are trying to protect yourself from cold at all costs, feel free to carry a bottle of this disinfectant with you at all times, vigilantly applying and reapplying after contacting all manner of doorknobs, money, the cornucopia of different handles, pads, buttons and especially other people’s hands and other similar such things. For the average person though, all of this just isn’t realistic, and even at our best there will be times where “germs” will be transferred. If this happens on a regular basis through childhood up to adulthood, humans’ immune systems will be hampered a little bit at first, eventually building up an immunity to these pathogens, or at least better equipping itself to handle them in the future.This is the kind of world that I want to live it.

    Next time you’re bored or want to do something that will ruin your day (until you decide to abandon logiclessness), try to count the number of times in a day you touch something that at least 10 people have also touched in the last half hour, or that more than 50 people have touched in a lifetime (such as money). Imagine what is now on you after touching these surfaces or objects, and you will hopefully start to realize that keeping yourself germ free, as much as it sounds awesome, is really not realistic, and your hands will be contaminated at least most of the time even if you are vigilant. There are far worse ways to attract disease than not washing your hands when it is socially acceptable to do so.

    For the time being, I will continue to wash my hands when it is socially acceptable, but know that I don’t agree with this practice, just based purely on logic, and that I am not worried in the slightest about getting sick from it, and neither should you be.

    To your health!
  • What Apple’s education announcement means to you.
    Hey again, I’d like to take a little time to weigh in on an important issue which has been really controversially received today, about Apple’s update to iBooks as well as a standalone iTunes U app. For me personally, this is an incredible innovation, one which will certainly encourage me to even probably buy a textbook or two outside of academia, just for learning. The $15 cap on prices for these incredible, interactive experiences which major publishers have signed on to build is incredible, and means that you won’t have to worry about waiting in line at the bookstore, lugging books around all semester, and then worrying about having to sell them back to bookstores or to friends. Also, when information changes in these textbooks, publishers can make updates to content which will be reflected instantly via update to anyone who bought the textbook. People who are just entering university will be able to purchase an entire semester of textbooks for 75$ at most (prices on textbooks for major publishers are capped by Apple at 14.99 apiece on an exclusivity contract). This means that for about $600 initial investment (more if you want more storage for music on the iPad) you can replace a stack of textbooks which can cost easily more than 100 each. This investment, in the vast majority of cases, will pay off within a year. The big thing is, though, that content in these interactive touch textbooks can include full-color, zooming photographs, text whose size can be changed, an internet-powered encyclopedic dictionary, highlighting, underlining, video clips, interactive hands-on applets built-in to enhance the experience even more. I’m really jealous of the generation just entering university, this is something that is going to change all schooling for the better. Down with paper!
  • Back from the Dead
    Hello friends and acquaintances,

    I know it has been quite some time since I last posted anything at all, so an update on my life is most definitely in order. Quite a bit has changed since January when I last posted.

    For starters, I enjoyed an excellent 6-month stint at Canada Computers, but I have officially left the company, starting my summer this past weekend, and my first day as what I’m describing as self-employment was June 11th! While I don’t as of yet have any concrete plans for the summer, I have a lot I am looking forward to accomplishing, which brings me to the most significant news:

    I am currently signed up to take another degree in computer science in the fall, with the intent of applying for medical school to start in September of 2013. While the odds of my getting into medical school are very low (160/~3000), it is something I would kick myself if I didn’t try. In taking this computer science degree, I am also adding a minor in biology, which will allow me to register in classes which are prerequisities for medical school. It would also allow me to try my hand at biology, something in which I have long had an interest but have never really pursued with any conviction.

    While the long term goal of this degree is attempting to get into medical school, I have also found that I very much enjoy web design, computer science, and the technology sector in general. For the better part of two years I have made significant inroads into computer science, though it is something I have enjoyed for my whole life. I finding that while trying to live (go to school full-time, working 40 hours a week) it is extremely difficult to pursue other areas of interest like computer science, and so I am dedicating a period of my life (be it only 4 months, or 8 months, up to 2 or 3 years) to the sole pursuit of formally getting educated in CS. While attaining my degrees in chemistry, I found that it was easiest for me to learn in a formal university environment, and I will cherish the opportunity to do so starting this September. The task of finding a job will still be in the back of my mind, but I will not be focused on it, career will be an ever present end goal that can be accomplished in many different ways in many different fields. I hope that while I take this summer off to recuperate and refocus my energies on my own interests, I can continue to look for jobs in my fields of interest and experience, while still maintaining time for leisure, and things like blogging, and web design, which I find fascinating and need to continue to learn more about.

    Finally, before I conclude this post, I have recently come to the realization that I need personal business cards. I am 23 years old (about 2 weeks from turning 24) and I had an embarrassing encounter wherein I had to choose between letting a potential contact walk away and into thin air, or write my contact info down on a scrap of paper (something I hope to never have to do). I chose to stand there awkwardly looking around for a better idea, until he gave me his business card about 5 seconds too late (I contacted him but have not heard back, for reasons which are pretty obvious to me). Needless to say, I need business cards. If anybody knows a good place to do this, or has any tips on making personal (aka not for a specific business necessarily) please let me know. For the record, I am set on not including any Carly Rae Jepsen lyrics on these cards, so do not suggest that.

    I hope you will hear from me again soon, I look to make these posts (though shorter than this) an almost daily experience for you. Let me know if you have any requests for things you’d like to hear, I am not going to limit myself to any particular thread of conversation right now, but I do have a particular fascination with anything in the tech world, though my range of experience in life does extend beyond that.

    Signing off, hopefully for much shorter than last time,
    Robert
  • TSN Streaming Headaches
    For those of you who don’t avidly follow sports like I do, soccer fans and much of Europe are fully in the grips of the 2nd largest international soccer tournament in the world. Every 4 years this tournament showcases some of Europe’s greatest soccer talent playing for their countries honour, and the major networks in Canada take turns broadcasting these games (really they fight and bid for the rights to show them, but that’s a whole other issue), along with the World Cup. This year, Bell Media (a massive entertainment conglomerate) has bought the rights to showing the tournament, using their sports networks (TSN and TSN2) to show the games.

    As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I do not like the idea of having cable in order to watch television exactly when it is scheduled, it is very inconvenient in modern society and with the many shows I like to watch, many of which occur on many different channels in different world centres, making it very difficult and expensive to watch what I would like to watch through conventional cable or satellite television. However, one of the huge benefits of a cable TV subscription is live sporting events, which I miss out on when they do come about. It is possible to find streams sometimes to watch these games live, and two years ago the World Cup was actually streamed live by CBC, which was a fantastic watching experience, with great stream quality and no charge or need for subscription. You were able to click and watch any game as long as it was currently on or had finished. Navigation through the video was difficult, but if you wanted to watch from where you started or watch it live, you could with very little issue, and the feed was a very high quality one if you had enough bandwidth.

    This brings us to this year. After testing out streaming technologies for the last few years, companies have begun to have enough faith in the system to begin charging for it. I decided that since I would be home or close to home for most of June (when the tournament is played) it would be worth it to me to subscribe. The cost, while high at 19.99 for the 20 day tournament, isn’t a completely ludicrous amount, and it even allows for multiple streams from the same account, which was a nice surprise. However, there is a small matter which has been bothering me in watching the tournament, which is completely independent of other paid services. 

    To put it simply, the issue is that the internet, especially when it’s live, is not yet a perfect service. It is by no means beyond reproach, and comes with absolutely no guarantees on speed or connectivity (or at least none which are 100% guaranteed which are not incredibly expensive). With that in mind, it becomes trivial for a company to offer a streaming service, and to charge for it, but to get away with lapses in service which would make service providers in other areas (like television or phone services) have people banging on their doors, and would make class action suits against these companies commonplace.

    Everyone on the planet who has ever sat at a computer has encountered the issue of buffering. This issue arises when some form of content is being presented to you (be it audio or video), and the content is played before the entirety of is has actually arrived at your computer. It is very common (although less so these days) because internet speeds have only recently become fast and reliable enough to actually carry this content as fast as it can be played. This issue is nearly unavoidable unless you pay for much more internet than you need (which is actually something I’ve been doing for the better part of two years now). The issue I would like to finally get to today has nothing to do with any sort of buffering issue though, and I am in a unique position to be able to confirm that in this case there is actually a problem with the content provider (Bell Media) and not with any settings I have control over, regardless of payment I can provide. 

    Currently I am in between internet providers, so I have available in my apartment a VDSL (Bell’s Fibe Internet at 25mbps down and 10mbps up with an incredible ping time of around 7-10 ms and 125GB download cap expandable at 25GB @ $5 rate) and a cable internet package (TekSavvy’s Extreme Cable package at 28mpbs down and 1mpbs up, with a slower and less reliable 100-200 ms ping, though with an unlimited download cap) and my roommate and I had one game going on each of these services, with wired internet on each. Streaming these games was a huge pain, because our service would reset itself about every 3-5 minutes for the course of the whole game. Normally, one would attribute this to the internet connection dropping off a little, but in this case our results show pretty definitively that this is a problem with Bell Media and TSN, and not our internet.

    When the connections would drop every 3-5 minutes, we found that both games would drop at exactly the same time in almost all (>95% of cases). This implies that Bell Media does not have enough bandwidth to be able to confidently stream these games to all of its subscribers, and with that being the case, they really have no right to be charging for this service as being reliable, at least not while sleeping soundly at night. Streaming services will be better eventually, but until that is the case, while these companies are testing out streaming interfaces and bandwidth requirements for different load levels on these streams, they should not be charging premiums on the services. It is a money grab that feels very cheap as these CEOs and board members pad the lining of their pockets with the hard earned money I am giving them to watch soccer without interruption and to surf the internet without having to deal with any buffering.

    You can call me petty and suggest I should stop complaining, but I am trying to live in the future, and things like this are preventing that from happening. 

    Until next time,
    Robert

    Also, I’m considering opening up Google+ hangouts in the time directly after these blog posts, let me know what you think about that idea in the comments, or drop me a line about anything really, I’m happy to chat.
  • Update
    I know I promised to be more timely with these, so here’s a little teaser: I have a bunch of stuff coming down the pipe in the coming weeks! Really my problem right now is that I just keep writing and writing and end up with super long posts which take forever, but what I need to do is keep it pretty short and timely. I’ll be working on this, because I do have some great stuff coming!
  • The Future of Morality

    I would like to start off by saying that I am a pretty laid-back person. I am the first person to avoid discussions of religion, simply because I know that some people take it very seriously, and in the history of most religions, hereticism is considered a major party foul. I feel as though this discussion will probably raise the ire of some people, so consider this a warning that if you continue to read, I am not responsible for your reaction. I sincerely hope that you do stick around, because I consider this very important, but I understand if you don’t.

    Alright, now that that is out of the way, I’d like to discuss a little about how I feel pertaining to religion and its impact on morality. As a bit of background on me, I was raised Anglican and baptized in my early teens. I spent quite a few Sunday mornings in church, as well as my share of Christmas Eves. I have attended a number of religion-based camps in my youth, and my entire family, if I have to generalize, is religious. So trust me when I say that I have a little bit of experience here.

    One thing I will say, having read many of the interesting parts of the Bible when I was growing up (and at that time, they couldn’t print words fast enough for me to read them), is that I don’t really see what all the hype is about. I suppose if one were to interpret the Bible (I’ll use that text as an example, as it’s the only religious work with which I have any familiarity) as literally being historical fact (at least the parts where that is possible), that it would be a pretty incredible story. But from what I have seen and heard and read, and what I believe, the Bible is not to be interpreted literally. It’s meant to be a moral guide and a compelling narrative about the human condition and our desire to aspire to something more. I’m given to understand that most religious texts are calls to bring people together under one set of agreed-upon laws and conditions and to be able to live harmoniously based on those individual documents.

    The problems with relying on an ancient text for this kind of morality don’t necessarily have to extend to religion to see that there are some major problems with doing so. For example, the British Bill of Rights, and the US Constitution, are written for the time they were created in. There are many things that change in the world, in a way that no one document or group of authors can ever anticipate or account for.

    Once documents like the Bible or the US constitution are written, problems inevitably arise. It is human nature and a core feature of the species that we are pack animals, and we are inclined to hear a good idea, propagate it and ultimately defend it. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, but over time, these ideas end up moving down bloodlines, potentially for several generations. Since the original sources and authors of the material are no longer around to assert their original intent, issues will arise when society continues to evolve.

    The example I am going to use to hopefully demonstrate this point is one which some background reading (done just now, for context) shows is more correct than I could have ever imagined. The second amendment to the US constitution, which colloquially describes the ‘right to bear arms’, is one which is defended constantly by associations like the NRA, but which the average American also holds dear. To a completely pacifistic Canadian, this is just a ridiculous law to have on the books.

    While there are several very good reasons for people to have guns and other weapons, the average person has no reason to actually own one. Even bearing in mind that there are people who use these weapons to hunt game, there is really no sport in shooting an animal with a rifle in 2012 (editor’s note: or 2016!). Going into the writing of this piece, I had it in my head that this law was written in the late 1700s, when an “arm” referred to my vision of a musket. It took around a minute to load these guns when trained and practiced, and each one fired a single round metal ball at a time.

    morality

    These guns were just as likely to misfire or explode as they were to actually have the bullet leave the barrel. If the bullet did make it out, the gun was horribly inaccurate. These are not assault rifles with precisely machined barrels and laser scopes. Additionally, this was also a time in history when the Americas were in a time of great turmoil. Not only was the country trying to establish itself and declare its independence from Great Britain, but it was (is?) deeply divided between old and new ideas (resulting in a Civil War not too long after its independence). All of that being taken into consideration, it actually makes completely logical sense that:

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    Wikipedia

    Even this layout, passed by congress, is different from the one the states ratified, though only in grammar and capitalization:

    A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

    Wikipedia also

    Even these two sentences actually read very differently if you take punctuation seriously. In both cases, though, a militia whose purpose is the security of a free state is the reason for giving the people a right to arms. There is no inherent threat in the US today that would require easy access to, and everyday use of, a firearm. And there is not much weight to an argument that you can use it to defend yourself from having a weapon used against you.

    In a country, like Canada, with few or no guns, the risk of finding yourself facing one is greatly reduced. Finally, there are many other, non-lethal, ways of defending yourself today in the event of an attack. This old law just doesn’t make very much sense today, and yet it is upheld constantly and consistently.

    As it turns out, this argument can actually be taken back even further. As hard as it is to believe, the founding fathers of the United States had some background on how to run a country, and had some inspiration in coming up with the second constitutional amendment. Delving a little deeper into history, you can find that Britain passed its own Bill of Rights, back in 1689. This document also mentions something similar to the right to bear arms in its pages, though you’ll notice the wording is a little bit different:

    That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law.

     Still Wikipedia

    This document, which outlines the rights of British Parliament, was passed at a time when Protestants (those who maintained most Catholic beliefs but had issue with, or protested, some of the church’s policies) had had their arms confiscated by a Catholic king who took issue with the rising Protestant population in Britain. This law, which formed the foundation of current gun law in the US (and Britain to a lesser extent), is based on religious persecution. This decree simply served to allow citizens of any religion equal right to acquire and carry arms. Again, this was at a very difficult time in that empire, where the clash between powerful political and religious entities was causing a great deal of turmoil across all of Western Europe.

    Remember that the Pope and the King of England were both considered to be one degree from God at the time. The writing of this document came at a time when the theory of divine right, that the monarchical bloodline was vetted by God, was coming into question and eventually abandoned. It is only logical that the unjust decree of a religious king be formally revoked afterwards, and it certainly shouldn’t apply centuries later, across an ocean, in cases all the way up to the US Supreme Court. To this day, religion and its morality enters into public debate about this sort of topic, even though it has been generations since the arguments were made, and they are in no way valid today.

    Alright, now with what is hopefully a strong case and some background on why I think that it is absurd that religious morality be strictly applied to modern society, I can continue to discuss my personal issue with some of the aspects of religion which I find most questionable.

    It is important to note, again, that I personally have no problem with anybody who believes in a specific god, or believing anything they want for that matter. In the same way, when I’m walking down the street, and somebody tries to tell me about their pet issue, I find it hard to feel bad when I tell them that I don’t care about what they have to say.

    I am not going to seek you out on the street and try to forcefully share information with you to which you have not consented, and I would appreciate if you would do the same for me. We have common, courteous ways of passing along information, as well as polite ways of engaging in discourse with a large group of people. I’m getting off topic here…lets try this again.

    I am not going to get in the way of your religion, as long as you don’t tell me that I am going to hell, or getting no virgins, if I don’t agree with your system of belief. I personally have a strong set of beliefs about how the universe was formed, and how we came to exist on this planet, and that belief system also explains every religion on earth. In itself, this is more than can be said for most religions, wherein accepting the existence of other faiths hinges on the idea that those are “lesser” religions.

    I can absolutely empathize with religious people. It is for this reason that I am not constantly getting into fist fights with people over things that they say or do, simply because they are different from what I say or do in my own free time. When somebody tells me that they are “praying” for something to happen, I know to interpret that as meaning that it is something they would very much like to see come to pass. I do it myself all the time, when I calculate the approximate odds of something occurring, and think to myself, I wonder if thinking about this a lot in my head will affect the external outcome.

    I can also note that having done that several times a day for my entire life, it is pretty disheartening sometimes when the odds of something happening are VERY low. At those times, often all you can do to affect the outcome is to think about it silently to yourself. It would be, and presumably is, very reassuring to believe that there is somebody listening, and that through some physical manifestation of supreme power, the outcome of an event can be affected by the power of suggestion. In fact, there is solid evidence that psychologically, there is a process wherein knowing somebody (or many people) is (are) wishing very hard for you, for example, being able to fight off a disease, can actually impact your bodies defense of itself and impact the outcome of the illness.

    In the general case, “praying”, followed by success, reinforces the idea that prayer works. On the other hand, a negative outcome would simply suggest that either you weren’t praying hard enough, or that you had done something bad, or been unsure of your faith in a way that meant that you didn’t deserve the outcome you wanted.

    In any case, I will never be able to rationalize the argument for keeping your morality consistent with your religion. If I am miscalculating and have backed secularism in the mistaken belief that when you die, you simply cease being alive, I will have a lot of explaining to do. That being said, I think I’m okay with that. I personally don’t think I am going to be any worse off than anybody who claims strict adherence to religious ideals, even if those are few in number.

    If, when it’s all said and done, we are all ranked and filed according to who followed a strict set of arbitrary rules the closest (no matter which religion ended up hypothetically setting those standards), I think I will have a lot of company in the afterlife. Personally, I choose to live my life on a case-by-case basis, solely based on what I have seen, heard, read, learned, tasted, smelled, touched and experienced. Some of that comes from religious teachings, some of it comes from my parents, some of it comes from friends, some of it comes from television and movies.

    In the end, what I do alone is of concern only to me, or who I choose to share it with. Involving other people does get a little messier (instances of deceit, theft, or murder spring to mind) in coming up with a consistent morality for the whole world to follow. I think a good model for the American (or even the world’s) “Constitution” would be something similar to Wikipedia, wherein anybody can suggest changes at any time, in an ever changing document that is democratic and comprehensive. It will be effectively future-proof because it will never be “done”, but evidence suggests it will mature very quickly.

    If everyone can accept that on some level, we’re really all the same, we could peacefully coexist without too much violence, war, or any such nonsense. Upholding long-standing religious beliefs on the idea that they are moral is a very slippery slope, one which we tiptoe around every day. We are all entitled to our own opinion, obviously, but differences of opinion can have consequences if they are baselessly upheld for too long.

    On a side note, Googling morality can have some odd implications:

    churchmorals
  • Parental Guidance Suggested
    I’ve been preparing a few posts that have been in the works for a while, tending to break away from my typical topics from this forum, instead allowing me to express some thoughts on topics that are a little more serious and reflective. I’d really appreciate any feedback you have on these posts, which I will label with Reflection so that they can be easily grouped together.
    I have been doing a lot of thinking in the last few months, as I am transitioning from my teenage years into a university student, and recently into what I’ll call a real person. As this transition has happened, I have also moved several times, and with those relocations I have also enjoyed more and more independence.
    From when I was born until 18 years old, I lived at home (as is true of most anyone reading this I’m sure). I didn’t particularly like this fact, but I understood from a very young age that it was certainly in my best interest to follow the rules and align myself to be able to move out for university. I certainly didn’t and don’t detest my parents or their home, but I knew that my parents did some things quite differently from the way I would do them, and from the way I think they should be done. To their credit, I did learn a lot from my parents, and I think I was raised very well, their values and morals passing on to me in due course. However, I also found that there were certain things I learned from my parents and then altered to suit my own needs and ideas. I think that this is probably the most important part of growing up, coming to the realization that while parents are a great source of information and advice, their opinions and assistance is greatly biased, and should be taken as suggestion rather than as infallible fact. The idea that our parents are the final word on anything in life is a very antiquated notion.

    I don’t mean to say that the respect of my parents doesn’t mean anything to me, it’s actually quite important to me that I have their respect and that they respect me and the decisions that I make. This is most important when my decisions are different than the ones I know my parents would make. If I can explain my reasoning to them, it actually reinforces for me that I have made the right decision, even if it isn’t a decision they would make. There are also definitely paths I have taken in life, especially since I moved away from home, that I haven’t shared with my parents. It’s not that I am keeping anything from them, but there is nothing I would share with my friends that I wouldn’t also share with my parents. Some people find this type of openness very odd, but I stand firmly behind the decisions I’ve made. For me, getting the approval of my parents does not stem from following their expectations to the letter, but from their acceptance of my lifestyle choices regardless of what they would do in the same scenario. I love both of my parents very much, and I know they also love me, even though we are across the country from each other for 95% of the year. If I thought for a second that anything I did repeatedly and intentionally would cause them to disapprove strongly enough that they would love me any less than they do, I would be strongly questioning their roles as mentors and guides (aka as parents). I have complete confidence that my parents would stand by me unquestioningly in anything I choose to undertake, so long as it is not illegal. Moral reprehension is another story which is more of a grey area, as some people have different views on morals, but having different moral standards than your parents is a good thing, and certainly should not be punished or cause for irrevocable disapproval.

    Thank you, mom and dad, for showing me right from wrong and teaching me to make my own decisions. I have grown into my own man, and I want nothing more than to make you proud with the way I live my life.

  • My Favourite New Toy



    This is a post I have been waiting to write for some time, and today is as good a time as any. I feel good finally doing another product review, it has been FAR too long since I did one, and I have gotten new toys in that time, so here comes what will hopefully the first of many reviews in the next little while.
    For those of you who are familiar with my previous posts, I love anything that incorporates Bluetooth technology, be it a phone, computer or peripheral device. I own 3 different computers or “smart” devices which have Bluetooth connectivity, and I use Bluetooth technology more than once per day on each of these devices. However, when trying to leave the house to do something that required I not take anything with me, I found I was at a bit of a loss in terms of listening to music.

    I have Bluetooth headphones (on-ear), but when I take them off they take up a lot of space, and can’t easily just be put away anywhere, which is inconvenient for running errands or places where I don’t have a bag or place to put things. Alternately, the first pair of Bluetooth earbuds I bought (which I decided did not even merit a review, more on that later) have a dongle at the end which contains the battery and Bluetooth transmitter. While this does allow for wireless listening, it does not make the experience any less bulky or cumbersome. The whole issue I have with wired headphones and wires in general is that they are prone to tangling, and the more wire you have, the easier it is to tangle.

    This leads nicely into my review for today, which is for Plantronics’ newest Bluetooth earphone model, the Backbeat Go. These earbuds are as simple as it gets, with all redundancy having been removed. Aside from the actual cord which holds together the earbuds and which carries in-line playback controls, these are essentially as minimal as earphones can get.

    Normally, at this time in a product review which starts off saying how simple a concept and design is, this would be the place for a caveat about sound or manufacturing quality, but such a drawback doesn’t exist for these earphones. They sound incredible, and are built very solidly, with no visible failure points. Another concern with earphones, especially ones which are not mechanically connected to any device, such as by a 3.5 mm connection, is that they might fall out of your ears and be lost forever. This doesn’t seem to be a concern with these headphones, as they also have detachable earloops on the buds which are perfectly designed to be flexible, but rest against the inside of the ear, feeling comfortable, but snug.

    The in-line playback controls under the right ear are absolutely perfect for changing tracks and volume, as well as answering calls and activating voice control (another wonderful product, Siri, also becomes much more useful when you don’t have to take your phone out of your pocket to pick new music, text, or make calls). I should do a review on Siri soon, though it would be more reflective than a review, as it’s been thoroughly reviewed in many other places. Is it against the rules of writing to refer to something in parentheses once you’re outside of them? Oh well, creative liberties…

    The cord connecting the two earbuds is also quite high quality, far above the plastic you would find in regular earbuds, and it is also thick in one dimension, resembling linguine. This means that the cord can really only bend in one dimension, and as such, there are far fewer tangles in the cord than would be found in normal gauge wire. While on normal headphones implementing this would be far too heavy, in practise on these headphones, with the weight of the wire resting on the back of the neck, there is no pull at all on the ears, and so no increased likelihood of the headphones to fall out.

    These earbuds have a battery life of anywhere from 5-8 hours continued use in my experience, and will last with minimal battery loss for several weeks. They charge by micro-USB, which is behind a flap on the right bud, and take about an hour to fully charge.

    When these earbuds were first announced several months ago, they were not available in Canada, and having them shipped here was almost prohibitively expensive. Now, however, they are available in Canada for $100 dollars, and if you are on the move a lot and like listening to music, I highly recommend these. If you have ever fumbled with earbuds and a shoulder bag of any kind, these are your sanity’s salvation!
  • Everything I know, I was taught in graduate school.
    In my time as an unemployed human, I have learned a lot about myself. I have likes and dislikes, just as everyone does. For example, I know that I like being employed, and I don’t like looking for a job. At the start of the summer, I didn’t realize that I liked being employed as much as I did. Having a reason to be up and out of bed is a very satisfying feeling. As it stands right now, most days if I didn’t get up, nobody would even notice for most of the day. While this sounds like a dream for most, having it go on for more than a few weeks is actually quite demoralizing. Having a task, or several, to accomplish over a series of days, weeks, or months is wonderfully fulfilling. Generally speaking, I could very easily come up with a long list of things that could occupy my time for years on end and would be incredibly rewarding, but given the nature of our modern society, this just isn’t realistic. I would run out of money within a month or two, given that I am already massively in debt.

    Speaking of debt, another thing I have learned about myself, and perhaps about the nature of modern society itself, is that indoctrination into our scholastic system is certainly one of the most important steps in a young or medium person’s life. From a very young age, one most of us certainly cannot recollect, we are put into groups of like-aged and like-parented small people with babysitters who have been trained to imprint upon us a certain manner of absorbing knowledge and vast quantities of information no single person could ever be expected to recall past adolescence (if you don’t believe me, watch Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader). It is also expected that during this time we interact with these like-aged individuals, for no other reason than that it will serve us well later in life to be able to converse reasonably with people we have never met (though some people you meet throughout the day will make you strongly doubt that they are capable of reason, or intelligence). Teachers, especially those who decide to mould these young minds, are incredibly important to our continued development as a species. Certainly it is ideal that parents can work during the day, and that their children aren’t simply left to roam the streets, which was certainly the origin of schools. More importantly though, teachers are expected to be able to teach their pupils the things that their parents learned in school, but either don’t have time to pass along to them, or don’t remember well enough to be able to pass on.

    From a very young age, I was told that I had a lot of potential. Parents, teachers, principals, many older people I met would impart this idea of potential on to me. I still don’t really know why they said that to me, because it gave me a false sense that everything would be alright, and that if I didn’t close any metaphorical doors in my life, I would be able to do whatever I wanted and everything would work out just fine. Truth be told, I still actually believe this is true, if I wanted the status quo, I could have it and be very successful. The jobs I aspire to, doctor, astronaut, nuclear scientist, these are all absolutely goals I am capable of achieving if I apply myself to the task and get a little bit lucky. However, for them to become reality, combined with the way I spent the last 6 years of my life, would take tens of thousands of dollars and probably at least half a decade. This is time and money I simply don’t have, already being in debt and 24 years old.

    The problem, and the main reason I am way past those dreams, starts at the age of 18. I had unlimited potential, and I had (still have) a instinctual curiosity for science. The idea trying to be smarter than somebody else in a competitive sense did not appeal to me in the slightest, and so I had no desire to apply to medical or law school at that time, even though practising in either of those fields would have been incredible. In a hopefully humble-sounding way, I like to think that I have a higher-than-average capacity for absorbing and processing information and external stimuli. Given that, with my love of science and reason, taking chemistry at a post-secondary level seemed like a really great idea. Everybody I had ever spoken to, other than chemistry teachers, absolutely detested chemistry, or at the very least enjoyed the subject matter but found that they were terrible at performing experiments or grasping the associated concepts. This would be a prestigious choice of degree which would have very little competition, where I would be free to learn without external pressure and where average or slightly above average grades would allow me to sail through the program. After all, my entire scholastic career had been about learning, and being perfect had never really appealed to me if I understood the material. This is a phrase I have repeated ad nauseum, almost as an excuse, to anybody who suggested that the discrepancy between my grades, and the grades I was expected to have based on my apparent intelligence, was of concern to me.

    The truth is, as I considered this summer applying to medical school for next year, I really think I could be a doctor, or astronaut, or lawyer. Given the requisite training in these professions, I am sure I could cure, or space, or law, wonderfully. But this just isn’t the case in our modern society. There is a very well-defined path for absolutely everyone who wants to be more than anything. By that, I mean that anybody who is able bodied could be a garbageman, or dishwasher, or cashier. These things are not difficult, but as we have all certainly seen at one point or another, it is possible to be terrible, or to excel at any of those jobs. Growing up, I saw people who were good at things, and people who were absolutely hopeless. From this, I surmised that if I was able to work hard for 6 years at something that most everyone considered extremely difficult, that anyone capable of basic factual analysis would see that I was capable of doing, or at least learning to do, most anything.

    I thought I had figured out the way the world works, and that if I was able to earn a Masters in Chemistry, that it would qualify me for any job that was considered to be less intellectually rigorous than that. The logic of that statement still resonates with me to this day, and I still ultimately believe it to be accurate. Very little of what I did over the course of the 4 year undergraduate degree or one year of masters required any specific skills that I feel nobody else is capable of given similar instruction. Some intellectual constructs and theoretical concepts, as well as a lot of the mathematics associated with those topics, is beyond the reach of most ordinary people, but those people are more than likely completely fine with that. Additionally, there are also many concepts and associated mathematics which are well beyond my mental grasp, though I know people who frolic through those fields of expressions and equations like a meadow of daffodils.

    The basic idea of this notion is that once I have learned all that is known thus far (and a little more) about the NMR of halogens, and prepared a 133 page document summarizing that knowledge, I should be able to walk into a meeting with someone, show them what I am capable of learning to do, and immediately begin learning to do what they need of me. In exchange, they would make an allowance available to me consisting of enough money to pay off my loans in some haste, and to acquire a modest house, car and the like in a matter of years. I am confident that if given that opportunity, I could pleasantly surprise someone with my capacity for learning.

    However, what I have found of society is quite a bit different. After completing the above document showing that I am capable of learning about *murmur murmur blurb*, I am qualified to continue to do that exact thing in other buildings, or possibly to manage the facility that exact thing happens in, or even to teach that exact thing, and what I learned to be able to learn that thing, but not in an official professorial capacity, which would require 3 more years (at least) of doing that exact thing.

    I never really wanted the body of my life’s work to consist of a continuation of the work of the person who took a risk on me and allowed me to learn in a space he had worked very hard to claim at a university to have students work for him, advancing a field which he and many others have a strong interest in. I am not saying that to take away from him, or from anyone in the lab, because post-secondary academia is a very proud, important profession that I wouldn’t want to take away from anybody. It just isn’t where I want to spend my time.

    While I was learning all about halogen NMR, I was completely enthralled by it. But there comes a point when there is nothing more any subject matter can do for you, and this happened to me midway through my graduate studies. The same thing happened when I was working in retail electronics at Canada Computers. I was mesmerized and blown away by the world of consumer and business electronics and computing, and soaked up information about it like a sponge. Being immersed in anything you don’t fully comprehend but long to know holds a certain fascination for me. But, after about 6 months, at which point I started to see patterns in the consumer world and in electronics, the entire store which had held so much pleasure for me while I was learning about it was suddenly completely flat and predictable, and I got bored faster than a tree at a saw mill, or Timon at a Pumbaa convention, or a lake at an ice fishing convention (these are going downhill fast). While I never completely lost my interest in chemistry (or even NMR specifically), academia doesn’t appeal to me as a place to spend the rest of my life. Similarly, while I will still follow the capacity and speed doubling of RAM, CPU speeds and cores, and flash memory, now that I know it is inevitable, it does not pique my acute interest in the way it once did. Even entering chemistry in my teens, it was always my dream to work in a lab, researching interesting and new practical applications of cutting-edge technology, to put it to use in a meaningful and productive way in the world.

    The truth is, though, as I am coming to realize, is that this is just not possible for me specifically, without some help, and perhaps some luck. I need to get in front of people with enough clout to actually make that happen, and show them what I am capable of, given the opportunity and resources. If I can show someone with the ability to make those kinds of things happen what I can do, I’m sure I can surprise even myself with what I can achieve.

    In the end, I want what we all eventually want, to meet someone, or a group of people, that can be counted on to notice that we are awake and out of bed, and to share my life (space and time, which is really all we have) with them in the pursuit of contentedness. And to have a meaningful, positive impact on the world. Happiness is just a nice bonus.

    To summarize, I have learned a great deal about a wealth of different subjects in my time on this Earth, and I am itching to apply that, and give a little back to the world that gave me so much. But first I have to get past the sad misconception that I only know what I learned in graduate school.
  • Back to the Future
    Hey, I have moved away from talking about technology recently, and while I’d like to shift focus a little bit, I want this post in particular to be accessible, and for anyone to be able to read and understand my point.

    She is only trying to help.
    The topic of this post is going to be artificial intelligence, and it’s usefulness in everyday life. Without realizing it, most of us use computers which have been fed incredible amounts of data each and every day. These computers, which we only see in the form of the information they give us, provide information to us which relates to our lives in almost every conceivable way. It doesn’t matter whether you are googling a tidbit of information, looking for directions from a GPS unit or mapping service, checking Facebook to see what people you don’t really talk to much are up to these days, or, in the example I’m going to focus on, asking a voice-controlled, disembodied robot that lives in your phone about the weather. Using any and all of these online services requires a ton going on behind the scene. However, that is not the focus of what I would like to discuss today. Everybody has misgivings about voice control technology, about how it is well behind what it should, or could be in 2012. However, in using Siri (my example since I do not have an Android device on hand), most everyone I speak to says they don’t really use it that frequently because of how often it fails them, and it ends up wasting time. I’d like to pull back the curtain a little bit and try to explain how this type of voice service actually works, and how you can use it more to your advantage.

    Seems creepy, but if that’s what you want,
    it’s available.
    The fact is, most people have no idea what their technology is capable of. It really can only do what a programmer or engineer has designed it to do, and will never be capable of anything more. People ridicule Siri for being unable to, for example, turn off radios like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. While they may have a point, this is not a failure of the technology. It may (read:probably will) at some point in the near future support those features, but currently simply is not set up to perform those tasks. You would never type “Mom’s house” into Google Maps and expect it to find your address and locate your childhood home, because that would be incredibly creepy. But the fact is, a Google software engineer could certainly program that functionality into Maps pretty easily, but only if you have your mom as a contact in Gmail, and then only if your home address was assigned to her. Conversely, Siri is perfectly capable of finding your mom’s address when asked, and taking you there on a map with one tap.


    I find that Siri’s most useful functionality is when you are trying to store some information with multiple, sometimes nested parameters. The examples I use most frequently are: setting alarms, timers, noting appointments and setting myself reminders. These are all tasks that would require at least a minute, even if you are well versed in using Apple products, just because there are many parameters that are required before your phone will actually remember all the information that is required. However, when using your voice, it becomes child’s play to set up a meeting, because you can just say one phrase containing all that information, and Siri will parse it for you, and generally speaking, if you know how she listens, will be perfect almost all of the time. When Siri fails me, it is almost always a failing in my speech, or a case of mumbling.
    Siri will even help you get a job!

    Another common issue I have with Siri is that I will end up having trouble connecting to the network, and she will ask me to make a request again. While Siri has gone offline in the past on Apple’s end, I find that generally when this happens it is because I’m walking away from my apartment, and therefore I end up in a dead zone where I have very weak Wi-Fi from home, but haven’t moved onto 3G yet. I now avoid doing this, and never have this connectivity issue. Again, these are problems that Apple can, and surely is, fixing, but they are certainly not failings of the technology itself, if you know what to look for. With the newest version of iOS, version 6, you can actually make reservations at restaurants with your voice, or check movie times, or post to social networks. All of these things make different small aspects of our lives just a little bit simpler, and it is definitely a step in the right direction.

    Finally, the thing that people complain about most with regards to Siri specifically, is that sometimes when trying to find information, she is “unable” to do so and defaults to asking if you would like to search the web for the information you requested. Considering that this is all that most other voice systems are capable of doing, Siri is light-years ahead of it’s time. All that is required to make Siri work seamlessly is when you are doing a voice search, add the words “Search for…” at the beginning of your query, and she will go straight to a web search which will more than likely provide you with the information you are looking for. Siri is not a search engine.

    One Direction, they’re
    alright…
    With the announcement of the next iPhone scheduled for Wednesday, September 12th, also bringing updates to everyone who uses Siri, with the public release of iOS 6, I hope that people will take this information to heart and use internet services the way they were meant to be used, as opposed to complaining that they don’t work in ways they were never meant to.

    I hope you all enjoyed learning a little more about Siri with me, you can see now why we’re such good friends.
  • I’m a writer, er…right?
    Since I’m having a really slow day, and Apple isn’t making their big announcement until Wednesday, I thought right now would be the perfect time to reflect on what I have done so far since starting this blog little over a year ago. At that time, Google+ was an absolute ghost town, and I was buckling down to try to finish my degree. In the year and a bit that has passed, I have written more words than I had up until that point in my life combined. Between emails, cover letters, blog posts, letters to significant others, and my thesis and corresponding journal article, I have written many, many thousands of words. Because I have a strong feeling that I have been trying to find myself, and who I want to be, during that time, I suspect that all this writing is probably connected with this feeling of being lost. It is probably also significant that I have read much more in the last year about the world around me (as opposed to my youth which consisted almost solely of fictional works, or scientific writing). Writing has become a very important outlet for me, and I find that I really have no interest in writing down my thoughts for myself (like a journal or diary), but that I strongly prefer sharing what I write in a public forum. While this does severely limit me in terms of what I can write about (I would surely be unable to find a job if some of what rolls around in my head were publicly available for perusal by perspective employers on the internet), it still means that I can declutter my own thoughts and sort out a variety of issues I spend a large part of my time mulling over. The added bonus is the great feedback I get from you people out there reading. I am starting to notice, for the first time, that my apparent readership is almost certainly outside of my everyday social circle, because I am getting into the 100s of pageviews per day, and I share this work with only about 35 people on Facebook, and about 70 people on Twitter, and I’m almost positive most people among that group aren’t taking the time to click on these links. I really do appreciate the feedback I get in writing, and it really encourages me to keep going. On that note, I am hoping to do a little self-promotion before actually talking about what I was hoping to get to today.

    I encourage everybody who comes here and reads this to make suggestions as to what topics I could/should cover in upcoming posts, either through my website robattrell.com, or directly via this link. So far I have only had the universally unhelpful suggestion of ‘ur gay’, but I hope that with some more direction as to what people want to know more about, I can keep posting more often and more relevantly.

    The issue which has come to my attention recently, but which has always had a place in the back of my mind, is that of writing as more than just a hobby. If I already have the ability to write a decent amount in a short time, and a knack for breaking, or outright ignoring literary rules, what’s stopping me from trying to trying to call myself a “professional” writer. There are certainly qualifications as to what makes a “successful” writer, but as far as I know, nobody can tell me that I’m not a writer. To me, if I write, by the very definition of the word, I am a writer. That being said, all I need to legitimize that sort of idea is to have a feasible way of actually making money from the act of writing. There are many different outlets that would allow this to become a reality, but obviously a few seem more likely than others. Comedy writer (a la Cracked.com), is an obvious choice, but I fear that trying to be funny might ruin any incidental humour my writing might otherwise elicit. Technology writer, which would encompass writing product and app reviews, as well as discussing various new and interesting technological and scientific stories, is something that I find greatly appealing, and which I would probably do well at given my attention to details and background in relation to those topics. It would interest me to write about politics, but Canadian politics is too boring and partisan to be made very interesting, and American politics is worse than an argument about religion (mainly because it is made out to not come down to an argument about religion). I firmly believe that any opinion or argument that is not based on reason is completely invalidated, and thus while discussing these topics will appeal to those who believe in reason (and which I would find interesting), it is not worth having to argue with those who don’t. For that reason, if I do choose to write about something with staunch supporters on either side, it will happen very infrequently.

    Those are just a few options of things I have thought about pursuing in recent past, and it remains to be seen what exactly will come to pass. One thing is for certain though, I don’t know that I’ll be able to stop writing.
  • Obligatory iPhone post (New Design)
    Okay guys, I hate to do this, but I have to say one thing about the fact that the newest iPhone is being announced tomorrow. And it’s not about things that everyone on the internet are saying are going to be in it, or whether it’s going to be called “The new iPhone” or iPhone 5 or iPhone 6. I’d like to briefly debate myself a little bit about what it is going to look like. Now, all of the important blogs have been all over this story for months, with leaked designs that look something like this (left, both black and white below): Simply type in “iPhone 5 rumor” into an image search for pages of this design.

    Now, it is pretty likely that the next iPhone will look similar to this or even exactly like it. But if that is the case, I will be really disappointed. This design looks extremely iterative, and as far as I can tell doesn’t follow Apple’s design aesthetic at all. With the rumours that the body will be made from one piece of steel or possibly aluminum, the gaps in the steel band on the side of the phone (seen on the left) aren’t very likely. Even though these gaps are to separate the antennae which make up the various radio transmitters for the phone’s wireless signals, you have to imagine that if they are building the phone out of one piece of metal, they would have found an alternate, better way to make this work. While the two-tone design does seem to work better in the top photo in black, making that particular design a far more likely choice, I very sincerely hope that they go with a different design. If you search for “matte iPhone 5” on images, you will come up with the design I very much hope they settled on. For that to be the case, one of two things must have happened at some point. Either Apple put out some older prototypes and let the rumour mill take over (which would be really great and bad-ass on their part), or somebody saw one of the design ideas and decided to make parts and prototypes on their own, looking very official and which fit the existing dimensions of the rumoured device. I have a feeling this is much more likely, since a prototype device getting out of Apple’s factory that early and that frequently seems really unlikely, coupled with the fact that I think they can design something much better.

    Personally, out of all the images I have seen, this one is my personal favorite: (sourced from http://www.spiritjb.org, with a video (which is still likely not real)). This matte finish and very clean lines and design scream Apple, and getting rid of the ridges which exist on the current 4/4S design needed to happen. Ideally this device will be less prone to breaking its glass (though I have personally only ever scratched the back of my phone, I have spoken to many people who have cracked screens and refuse to remove their new phones from Otterboxes).

    There’s not long to wait now, as of 6 EST we’re only 19 hours from Apple’s annoucement. I, for one, will be watching intently to see what the new phone looks like, and I may even write a little tomorrow while I’m eagerly awaiting the news. I know most people don’t follow this kind of news all that intently, or follow it at all, so I’d like to shine some light on why I do, and what I gain from it. Should be fun! See you then.
  • Changing the Future
    There has been a lot of hubbub recently (at least in the news cycle that I follow) about Apple changing the physical connector on the bottom of their latest generation of iDevices. The old connector, which was unimaginatively called the dock connector (or 30-pin connector, for the number of electrical contacts in the dock), was used to connect Apple’s entire product line of mobile devices to power or to computers for syncing. This connector was first introduced in 2003 with Apple’s third iteration of the iPod line, and has been featured on every iPod, iPhone and iPad, save for the newest iPod shuffles, shipped in the last 9 years. I have personally owned about 10 of these cables at one point or another, with at least 5 other products or accessories in my apartment having the familiar 30-pin connector built in.

    So, when Apple made the executive decision (it probably wasn’t executives making this decision by the way) to change to a new 8-pin connector (technically 16, but I’ll get into that in a moment), it instantly rendered all of these cables and accessories obsolete. Now, not too many people are surprised by this move, it has been rumoured that they would soon be required to move to a new connector, but with the secrecy involved in design and technical specifications at Apple, nobody was too sure what it would look like or when it would be implemented.

    New Lightning to USB cable.
    The new connector, dubbed “Lightning” (which accompanies the “Thunderbolt” connector for high data throughput devices like solid-state hard drives and HD monitors) is 80% smaller than the older generation connector, and is also symmetrical, meaning that orientation is irrelevant when inserting the plug. The previous 30-pin paradigm used sets of different pins for the various functions that a given device could be used for with a given accessory. For example, in a device with 30 pins, there are dedicated pins which pass analog audio (regular sound, exactly the same as through headphones) through them, for example in a speaker dock. While this does negate the need for having software to allow the device to communicate with the speakers (this software is called a driver, and it is what you see being installed when you plug an iPod or USB flash drive into your computer before you can use it), it does mean that a lot of pins are redundant for most uses. The beauty of having this connector, as opposed to, say, micro-USB as is the standard elsewhere in the smartphone industry, is that it means that when the device is docked, you can actually control playback of the music with buttons on the device itself, or with a remote that accompanies the device. It also lets the dock display track information on its display, if it wishes to do so. Because of the way micro-USB is structured, with only four pins, you simply cannot do this. This is why you will never see a speaker dock with a micro-USB dock, because it would be technically difficult and needlessly expensive to put software into the speaker system to allow it to read the music files and play them back. These devices simply fall back to the headphone jack to play music, but is very limiting in what you can do, that is essentially just play audio. The Apple ecosystem, though full of more expensive proprietary connectors which need to be licensed from Apple, do far more than a simple micro-USB and analog audio connectors on the systems of competitors.

    Realistically, most people only use two pins for charging the device, two more for syncing, and maybe the four pins for analog audio with various controls through speaker docks. In a world where sizes are measured in mm’s, every last little bit of space counts, and going down to 8 pins saves a tremendous amount of space, and because the pins are all digital, the software is able to adapt their use to whatever the situation requires. It really is quite a wonderful design.

    The new 30-pin to Lightning adapter:
    deceptively simple.
    Another important point about this connector is that people are saying that the price for these adapters, when they are launched, are laughably high for being such simple pieces of metal and plastic. The adapter from 30-pin to Lightning costs $35 in Canada, and a 20 cm cable which extends a 30-pin connector to Lightning is going for $45. Now, I cannot argue that adding $10 for a 20 cm length of cable isn’t extortion, because it truly is, but the design and functionality of the adapter itself is not as simple as just joining up wires and coating it in plastic. Because of the way the Lightning connector is wired, there is no wrong way to plug it in. This is in stark contrast to the typical computer connector, which has a 50% chance of being inserted incorrectly when in a rush. This doesn’t seem like a big deal to consumers who are used to it, but for a company who prides itself on things “just work(ing)”, simplicity is extremely important. And in the use of these adapters, there are electronics inside which enable this bilateral insertion of the connector, taking the 30-pin connector, which only plugs in one way, to a Lightning connector, which can work either way. I assure you there is far more to this design than meets the eye, though it is designed to look effortless. This is true of all of Apple’s adapters, make no mistake that they are of the highest quality, and that they have thought everything through, so you don’t have to. And peace of mind is always going to come at a premium.

    Last year’s iPod nano (bottom view)
    New iPod nano, 3.5 mm audio jack is
    width of device itself.
    Finally, if you take a look at the difference between last years iPod nano (from the bottom; left), and this years (right), the striking difference is in the thickness of the actual electronics. Last years model was designed with the understanding that it couldn’t be thinner than the 30-pin connector, and so it was designed to exactly that specification in two of its three dimensions. With the new generation, they have made it substantially thinner, down almost to the size of the Lightning connector in thickness, while making it taller to allow added room for the electronics, so that the volume comes out to about the same. This connector is a very refreshing change, and makes me confident that Apple knows what it is doing, at least for a few more years.

    I, for one, am right on board with the change. Anything that can make my life simpler and more efficient is worth investing in, and the caveat that I have get to buy some more new gadgets to play with and review for you guys is just an added bonus!
  • A hand at poetry.





  • We Are The Future
    I have written before on the idea that we can all learn very important life lessons from our parents, and how it is important to let our elders influence and shape our relationships and understanding of the world. I made the argument here that there is no real need to take what our role models say or do to be the right thing on faith alone, but that their teachings should be adapted to fit our own experiences and the changing world we live in. Just because something has been done unquestioningly for a period of time doesn’t mean that it is the be all and end all, de facto way of doing something. As is often the case, the so called “old ways” tend to be upheld by conservative thinkers, simply because it is the way they have always known.

    The particular reason I decided to write this piece came when I was watching the episode of the Office in Season 6 when Pam and Jim are getting married. This is one of my favourite episodes, and the montage with the cast dancing down the aisle to “Forever” cut with Jim and Pam electing to be privately married in the spray of Niagara Falls by the ship captain should have won awards for its tear-jerking quality. Anyhow, this part of the episode is not what caught my attention. I should point out, before I get too much further, that I have watched this episode at least 7-8 times since it aired 3 years ago. However, it was not until this most recent viewing that I actually picked up on how strange the particular scene I will describe unfolds. I think the reason for this might just be the point I’m at right now in my life, where these are things I think about on a day to day basis. It is certainly possible that this scene is actually only strange to me, in that I have never experienced anything like it in my life, and I hope that when I die I can say that I will have never experienced it.

    A major plot point in the beginning of the episode is that Pam’s grandmother (henceforth referred to as Mema) is to be kept unaware of the fact that Pam and Jim are living together premaritally, and that Pam is in fact several months pregnant (the main reason the wedding is taking place when it is, though they are soul-mates and could get married in a sewer, or on Mars and things would still work out). The members of the Office are told that Mema is very old-fashioned, and that for that reason, she is being kept in the dark, because she would surely disapprove.

    Of course, later in the episode it comes out during a toast that Pam is pregnant (strongly implying that she has engaged in premarital intercourse) and has been living with Jim for a period of several months. Mema decides that in light of this news, she is not going to attend the wedding, a source of panic in the episode. At this point in the story, Michael (Steve Carell) attempts to quell her emotions and convince her that its really not that big a deal. In the end, though it is never mentioned after this conversation, she is later seen at the ceremony. I expect that this scenario is not exactly how it would play out in reality, but for the sake of television they are forced to simplify the issue, as well as try to make it funny.

    I have personally never met anybody who I would see as reacting this way to the lifestyle and habits of a family member, or anybody else, but as I understand there are many groups of people who would behave in a very similar manner, though would probably argue more vehemently and with much more conviction than this television scenario would have you believe.

    Now, I don’t think this is necessarily a religious argument, but I can see it breaking down into one. Personally, I know many people who have no apparent problem with living together without being married. This can be said of people who make religion a big part of their lives, just as much as it can for people who are actively non-religious, so in my mind it really comes down to morality, which is guided by religion but doesn’t necessarily strictly follow it. I should point out for completeness that I personally have no issue whatsoever with people who wish to live together before getting married, or even who wish to live with a significant other even if there are no immediate plans to marry that person. I see it as a matter of convenience, both in terms of being able to spend time with that person, and in terms of sharing living costs. It stands to reason that two people who wish to spend such a large amount of personal time and space with another person would want to at least make sure they were doing it with someone compatible before making it “permanent”.

    Now, on to the pressing issue of how this relates back to me. I have not actually discussed the issue of cohabitation before or after marriage with my parents or any other family members, but I would be keen to get their views on this issue. I don’t really see any members of my family (living or deceased) having any moral issue with my living with a significant other premaritally. Frankly, if they did have a problem with it (strictly on moral grounds of course, if the person in question is terrible, or a drug dealer, or a delinquent they should certainly be voicing their concerns) I expect that I would actually have a problem with them feeling that way. For example, if I was in the same situation as Jim or Pam, and found out that one of my family members wasn’t attending my wedding on this grounds, I don’t think it would bother me in the slightest. I think I would be disconcerted that someone who I know and love felt this way, and chose to protest my life by boycotting part or all of it. I would be glad to be an agent of change towards open-mindedness in a world of staunchly opposed views.

    We are told that children are the future, and I think that still applies no matter how old you are. It is up to the newest generation to be open to the personal choices of people around them. It is akin in modern society to a family disowning a member of it because of their sexual orientation. It isn’t right, and nobody should have to justify their choices to anybody, much less the people they are closest to, just because traditionally it was frowned upon.

    The bottom line, as I see it, is that people should be allowed to make decisions that are in their best interest, and the least of their worries should be morality police telling them that they are morally bankrupt for trying to be happy. I am just glad that the people I choose to associate myself with all seem to follow this policy.

    Edit: This is a real site: http://www.halpertbeesly.com/
  • In today’s news (October 19, 2012)
    Hey everyone,

    Post writing edit: This actually turned out way, WAY longer than I had intended. Sort of got carried away again. I will try to tone it down a little bit. I really do want to do this every day, but keeping up this pace would be a little bit ridiculous. Anyhow, I may try to make something a little bit smaller for 5 PM as I suggest in the paragraph directly underneath this one. I hope you do read this, and the second half is actually more interesting than the first, even if you have to suffer a little, we can all do with a little more reading in our lives.

    In an effort to actually sit down and write something every day, I would like to try varying formats a little bit here. I still intend to pump out big posts every once in a while, but I’m hoping to stick to a shorter, daily digest type format wherein I share what I’ve found interesting. Ideally these will go up around 5 PM, coinciding with the end of the work day for most people, but I may also try something smaller in the morning in case people are looking for interesting things to do at work. I will do my absolute best to avoid the trivial in these pieces, but instead stick to things which should be of general interest.

    First off, how many of you are users of the Microsoft Office suite? I’m hoping nobody actually raised their hands, but I’m guessing most of you thought “yes, I am one of those people”. Well boy do I have a great new way of using Office to share with you. Most of you probably don’t know that there is a product out there called Office 365, which is essentially a subscription-based, business version of Microsoft Live (MSN, Windows Live Mail and various other services encompass the free versions of this software). Another piece of technology many of you probably already have access to, but almost certainly didn’t know about, is SkyDrive. This is a free service that keeps documents you have and stores them online, so you can access them wherever you are. You may recognize this as being something that already exists on your computer, in the form of Dropbox, Box.net, Google Drive, SugarSync, or any other syncing service. All of these platforms have their various strengths and weaknesses, but one very good reason to use SkyDrive is the inclusion of something called Microsoft Office Web Apps. These are online versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel which allow you to view and edit documents in a way that is much more convenient than carrying around USB sticks with important documents or worry about having Microsoft Office installed on any computer you wish you use. The beauty of using this service as opposed to something which is a little more widely known like Google Drive, is that you have access to your documents in their original format, which is incredibly useful knowing that formatting, font, spacing and the like are preserved.

    Now, you’re probably thinking, none of this is actually new. While it may be something I have never heard of, or even care about, all of this already exists and has for some time now. What I would like to tell you about, now that you have a little context, is a new program called Office 365 University. This service combines Microsoft Office, Microsoft Web Apps, Office 365, and SkyDrive into one affordable package. The service (which requires authentication, typically an academic email address) costs only $80 for a four-year term (which you’ll recognize as the length of a typical university degree). The program includes Microsoft Office (plus updates and new versions for the length of the term, and the ability to install Office on two computers), it comes with 60 minutes per month of Skype credit and gives you an additional 20 GB of storage on SkyDrive (which is a LOT of pictures, video and documents). Where software like Microsoft Office would typically cost $150 and you would get Word, Powerpoint and Excel which weren’t updated, this $80 package for 4 years is an incredible program. It is worth at least looking into.

    The way we pay for software is changing, and that’s a very good thing!

    (Office News Blog via The Next Web)

    Second on the list of topics this morning is a more scientific story, one which certainly raised my eyebrows, having done a fair bit of learning about carbon dioxide and organic chemistry. The story (seen here on the Telegraph) seems very sensational and like it is a revolution that will change the world if it can be done on a large scale. What has been proposed and put into service is a system that takes carbon dioxide, and through a series of chemical transformations, turns (like magic) into viable gasoline. What the article neglects to mention, or at least fails to really explain, is just how much energy goes into making this fuel.

    First of all, the idea of taking carbon monoxide and dioxide from the air or from industrial processes to make gases or fuels is absolutely not new technology, and they admit that openly. But what they are saying is new is that they have designed and built a new way to do all the steps required to turn carbon dioxide into fuel, all in one plant, in a reproducible way. First of all, the first step they use is taking carbon dioxide from the air, mixing it with lye (which is mined) to purify it. This step doesn’t seem particularly wasteful, as the lye is regenerated, and could certainly be improved by designing a better purification mechanism. The next step involves running water vapour collected by a dehumidifier through a process called electrolysis (which you probably remember from high school) to get pure hydrogen and oxygen. This, again, is absolutely not new, and is a very energy heavy process.

    Next up comes combining the hydrogen and the pure carbon dioxide into methanol (methods developed in the 30s), and using processes developed by Mobil to further turn the methanol to gasoline. The small plant they have been working on for years and running full steam (pardon the pun) for three months has in fact produced real, viable fuel. However, the amount of fuel which has been produced couldn’t get you more than an hour down the road, even in the most efficient gas-powered cars. They have managed to produce 5 litres, which you’ll recognize as not a lot of fuel, in a very, very long time period. Regardless of how you slice up the math of this, regardless of the improvements that can be made to the process, this is the most backwards, oddball way of going about powering vehicles. The ONLY claim that seems to get them any sort of commendation is that they only used renewable energy for all of the wasteful, energy-intensive processes they used to turn carbon dioxide and water into fuel. At least they weren’t also wasting power from the grid that could easily run electric cars to develop this waste of time.

    I don’t even know where to start with this one. First of all, the fact that I am unemployed right now and that there are people whose job it is is to produce 5 L of fuel every three months using 80 year old technology along with wind turbines and solar panels is absolutely terrifying. Second, we actually have ways to power cars that don’t involve burning fuel, and could instead just use the electricity from this plant to run any number of factories, heat and power homes, or even just run an electric car for a lot longer than three months. If they had managed to put this fuel cell (because for the purposes of this discussion this is just a massive fuel cell) into a vehicle, and could collect water vapour and carbon dioxide using air intakes which could power turbines (this vehicle could also certainly have solar panel technology on it to harvest even more energy), this would be an idea worth investing in. (Actually on a side note that sounds like a really wonderful idea assuming the math works out, which it clearly doesn’t considering the fact that it took them three months to produce 5 L of fuel). Each step in this chemical process which uses electricity to power it actually cannot be 100% efficient, and so all this company is effectively doing is wasting energy in a wasteful way, towards making a real energy problem even worse.

    There are many innovative ways that people are finding to solve the impending fuel crisis, and they should be applauded for that effort. This company, Air Fuel Synthesis, has taken what seems like it would be a wonderful way to power the future, and has instead shown the absolute worst way to do it. At the very least, this technology could be used to capture and store carbon dioxide directly from factories that produce it and recycled into new chemical processes, but removing it from the atmosphere is almost as irresponsible as pumping it in, on an industrial scale.

    Between renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydroelectric (dam and wave generators) and organic solutions like biofuel from algae and bacteria, we have many roads to solving the world’s energy problems so that we don’t have to burn coal or fossil fuels for power. Making more gas shouldn’t be the solution to a gas shortage, especially when it is inefficient in such an obvious way.
  • Future Work Experience
    Alright guys, another fun topic I’ve been sitting on for a while,

    I want to discuss with you all a conundrum which I’m sure has bothered all of us at one time or another growing up. The tautological statement “You need experience to get this job, so just get a job so you can gain experience” is a ridiculous by-product of our modern culture, especially when economic and socio-political times are so tough. The idea that someone is unable or unqualified to perform a task or complete a project because they have not yet done so already is actually fairly demeaning to most everyday people, especially in my generation. Those of us with university-level education are extremely familiar with the job application process in which required experience is almost impossible to attain, especially for young people. Of course, one of the main problems with the vastness and complexity of the internet is that for all the advancements and progress it has brought with it, many people are long entrenched in the old ways of doing things. Having spent the better part of a year searching with varying levels of enthusiasm for a job where I can apply specific knowledge I gained over the course of a university degree, I have found quite a few jobs whose description seems to perfectly match my knowledge base and piques my interest in terms of its pay, location and perks. However, without fail (so far at least) I find myself continually without a job.

    I don’t mean to come off as being ungrateful to any potential employers, or as though I am moping to people just like me who have found jobs the old fashioned way (90% having a connection, 10% walking into a business and pitching your brand directly in the hope that you have good timing). While I am running low on funds, I am by any metric still pretty far ahead of most other unemployed people. I have an apartment down-town in a highly populated metropolis, I have two degrees in a field which historically has placed many students in cushy jobs with little or no physical labour. I have amassed a fair bit of what most would call luxuries, in the meantime also accruing my fair share of student debt. Yes, it was my choice to spend a lot of that government money paying the older generations’ property taxes in that I moved away from my parents in a fit of independence.

    I am now faced with what will (on my current course) become crippling debt, if I cannot drastically alter this paradigm. If I had been able to peer into the future, knowing how the world would look in 2012 from way back in early 2006, I almost certainly would have made the choice not to enter university, or at least to take a shorter program. I admit that I was taken up in the beautiful dream of student life, where money quite literally grows on trees, and where seeing seas of enthusiastic faces eager to learn overpower logic and reason. On tuition alone, I spent approximately 11 x $2200 = $24000 over 5 years for the privilege of attending classes and borrowing lab equipment and supplies to nourish my intellectual and scientific curiosity and passion. I made many, MANY mistakes over those years, emotional, physical, financial, logical, sexual, mathematical errors, which end up being some of the greatest lessons university could have ever taught me. Some of those mistakes were so atrocious I have trouble admitting to them even in friendly company, and I don’t want to take any of them back. Everything about the university experience has been absolutely wonderful up until the contemplation of having to actually earn all of those wonderful lessons, dollar by dollar, and realizing how difficult that might actually end up being.

    Now, I have spent the majority of my adult life working, I do not want to give the impression that I have done nothing to earn this education. Having spent time earning my keep in food service, manual labour, scientific research, providing teaching assistance in a laboratory setting, up to now, where I am a freelance writer on this page, earning about $0.03 per month on average. What I will say is that even in those jobs, I am stuck feeling like what I have earned is not commensurate with the effort I put in for those employers. I began working at age 15, for $5.90 an hour (minimum wage at the time), and I vividly remember getting that money and seeing the world open up its doors for me, welcoming me into the work force with open arms.

    While employed at McDonalds, I was afforded regular raises, so that as I gained experience and did more for the company, I was rewarded in kind. However, I quickly found that raises did not keep up with inflation, so even after a year of employment I was still stuck at minimum wage, with new hires sometimes even being considered for raises before me. This led, unfortunately, to a pattern of underpay, especially considering the effort I could put in. The most I have ever earned was at a construction supply company called Totem (Rona), manually loading and moving lumber and other supplies in the hot summer sun 8 hours at a time for $13/hr (which again seemed great at the time). This was the summer of 2007, and really reinforced that I was doing the right thing in terms of getting my education. I certainly didn’t want to spend my life doing manual labour. That $13/hr pay rate remains to this day the best I have ever been compensated, and now that I have finished my degrees, I am currently entertaining offers of part time work for minimum wage again, just as I did 9 years ago.

    I know that I have many, if not all of the skills necessary to be much more than proficient at most any job in the world. Save for jobs which require advanced degrees (doctor, engineer, nuclear physicist, etc.), I can perform standard tasks above and beyond the levels most people would consider necessary for employment. More than anything else, I want to be able to perform at a job where some of my day is spent thinking critically about decisions that will impact the world. I don’t think this is too much to ask, and I should have to spend much more time grinding my brain against the internet or the pavement to get an opportunity to do that.

    The reason for this logic is pretty simple really, allow me to break it down. As an undergraduate student, and a grad student (though to a lesser extent), it was our weekly, or sometimes two-or-three-times-a-weekly requirement to walk into a room with a set of instructions (or sometimes no instructions) and a collection of seemingly random materials, and perform or devise and carry out the required method in a matter of a few hours time. We were then to leave that room and everything in it for a period of one to two weeks, prepare a report detailing the process and results of the time we had spent, and submit it for grading. I have four years of experience being dropped into various situations with little or no idea what I am supposed to be doing, and figuring it out. If we didn’t figure it out, not only did we do poorly on that particular report, but all subsequent sections would now be more challenging because they are based on prior knowledge. All of my colleagues went through the exact same process, and we are now being subjected to having our candidacy for jobs limited to things which we are expected to have done for years. This is after having undergone substantial training in on-the-fly, seat of your pants problem-solving with minimal instruction and little to no supervision. Some people certainly don’t handle that kind of pressure well, but at least give the rest of us a chance to be able to prove ourselves before rejecting us completely. At this point, I would say I could get a job, applying for jobs for which I am not qualified, as I have plenty of experience doing that. Although, from my results thus far, I can assure you that I am not good at it.

    ps. I am looking for work, in case you couldn’t tell. If you or somebody you know is looking for somebody awesome to give money to, odds are I’m perfect for that role. Pass along cv.robattrell.com if that’s the case.
  • No Hope for the Future
    I spend a lot of my time just thinking, mostly about ways I could improve the world, though sometimes I’ll admit I get a bit selfish and worry about my own needs. However, most times when I reason out different problems with the world as a whole, there are some very important reasons why things really aren’t going to get much better than they are now.

    Generally speaking, when I talk about being able to vastly improve life, I am referring to potentially paradigm-shifting technological advancements. Almost all of the advancements in technology over the last 15 years have been huge improvements to communication technologies. Facebook, Google, Twitter, the Internet itself, cell phones, all of these things are really great tools for advancing society and permitting the advancement of ideas through shared intellect. However, many of the most useful changes which have or are being implemented right now will never be as powerful generators of change as they rightly should be. Here are just a few examples:

    1. Facebook (and other social networks like Google+, Twitter, and innumerable others) all enable pretty seamless connections between people wherever they are on the planet. Twitter doesn’t have video chatting, Google+ has separate mobile and PC chat clients, and Facebook, the behemoth social network, has too many privacy issues to work as a professional network, and doesn’t allow voice calls between users. All of these networks and services have problems with them which mean that no matter how much you commit yourself to the platform, you will inevitably have to fall back on something else.

    2. There will always be a certain paranoia involved with technology, especially from those who don’t really understand it. From the inherent “creepiness” of Apple’s Find My Friends application, to Facebook’s automatic facial recognition on photo uploads, it seems like we have reason to be afraid of these new technologies, even if they are completely innocuous and benign, or in fact very useful.

    3. No matter how good technology gets, we will all be terrible at it. Especially when it comes to social aspects of technology, humans are notoriously bad at social etiquette when not faced with an actual physical interaction. Ignoring the fact that we are capable, and sometimes very adept at lying, computers are very bad at conveying nuanced cues and tics associated with human communication. Whether it comes out in Facebook events where a list of 300+ people are invited blindly to a gathering with no real social contract being offered or accepted, or in a simple text message whose context or meaning is misconstrued because of the mechanical emotionlessness of technology. Technology companies are scrambling to identify how and why people make decisions they do, and what they can do to keep people engaged as long and as often as possible.

    4. The social companies are in it to make money. In this case, money generally comes from advertising, at least once the company is mature enough that investors are ready to make some money. This means not only that you become a social commodity, but it also means that most of these companies (Facebook, Google, Apple) have no real impetus to innovate or deliver a lot of new features all at once. This is a very selfish principle, but it will never change. If Apple suddenly made hundreds of very obvious tweaks and changes to their software and hardware, naturally people would quickly become accustomed to those changes and continue to demand more. It makes much more sense for these companies to add features one or two at a time, claiming at the time that it is a brand new way of doing things. One obvious example of this is that outside of Google Voice (which is in the US) and Rogers One Number (only in Canada), I’m not aware of any business which allows you to send and receive messages and make and receive calls both on your phone and on your computer. This is such an obvious feature which would spell out the downfall of cell phone carriers in terms of their massive profit margins, that it is certain it will be a long time until it can be done on a large scale or for cheap. Apple has recently allowed proprietary video calls to be made over cellular networks, but no such feature exists to use data to make voice calls directly to a telephone number from another telephone number. This feature existing on any one carrier would quickly make it the norm, and would result in much higher competition in the telecommunications industry.

    As you can see, things are pretty incredible right now, but since big companies have seen what can happen when technology bubbles burst, they are doing their absolute most to make sure that we keep advancing as slowly as possible, or they will no longer be able to keep making their massive profits. All I can do for the time being is keep hoping that the next little thing that comes out ends up being important to me. If anyone needs me I’ll just be waiting here for the future.
  • Why I’ll be a Student as long as I can
    If you are an up-to-date reader of this virtual publication, you will surely be aware by now that I currently find myself without any long-term employment. After having undertaken and completed 5+ years of school, I find myself thrust upon the world with plenty of knowledge and experience, but little that entices most employers to drop me into the ranks of their company.

    I put half a decade, tens of thousands of dollars and calories, and innumerable millions of neurons into my desire to better understand our world and the things within it, with little pragmatic thought as to how this could be applied to the world outside academia. Realistically speaking, my colleagues and predecessors who are now professors and researchers never left that world, and they continue to receive money from the government, as I did, for decades after completing their “education”. Now I don’t want to imply that privately funded research doesn’t happen, but the fundamental understanding of our universe that has been gained (and its current real-world applications) are almost without exception publicly funded, in full or in part.

    Our current government in Canada is actively trying to slow this apparent flushing of money, while showing their severe lack of forward-thinking and lack of understanding of innovation and research. With little or no funding, the progress our country makes in medicine, technology and industry will surely stagnate, as is happening or has happened across the United States. There are past, present, and future generations of brilliant and imaginative minds who are excited about the history and prospects of scientific endeavour, and who are ready and champing at the collective bit, but who face larger and larger barriers to continuing to learn and understand and explain the world we live in.

    In that I am one of these people in the present generation, itching to find a job to be able to develop and apply new and exciting ideas to novel research, I will always consider myself a student. Even though I am no longer formally enrolled in a university program, I continue to be fascinated and perplexed by science, but I do not fear this, but aim to wrap my head around its intricacies and its wonderful complexities. In this way, I will always be a student, in that I will continue to learn, and better understand our world, life and the universe we live in.

    I am currently unemployed, and trying to find a way to start repaying some of the money government has been so generous to devote to my education, and to show them that their investment in me and the countless others like me can pay dividends if they will allow us to mature.

    And so, for the time being, if you ask me if I am a student, I will undoubtedly reply “Yes, absolutely!”, especially if it gets me a discount on groceries on Tuesdays. For the foreseeable future, students will undoubtedly be poor, social sponges who have curious minds and learn new things at every opportunity, but have yet to find and be at home in their calling in life. In that way, I perfectly fit the definition of a student, and in my mind, I will always be a student of the universe.
  • Going Forward
    Hey guys,

    I know this is a little bit later than I usually write, but I figure it’s best if I don’t catch people getting off work around 5 when people are primed and ready to be social (that’s what you workadays do when you finish the day right, check social networks?).

    I wanted to do a little test, as well as give you just a little bit of homework for the next little while. Whether or not you actually go through with it is exactly why I am assigning it. Since most of the feedback I get from people is through actual word of mouth from friends, I am hoping that you guys can do me a small favour to help me out. Here’s the motivation for this little experiment:

    The feedback I get from this writing is generally positive, though nobody is really going to tell me to my face that my work is crap. That, and there’s no dislike button on Facebook. What I want to know though, is how social networks and self-promotion can actually affect traffic to this site. As with all artists (writing is a form of art, right?), all I am looking for is to know that my work is being seen. You don’t have to agree with what I’m saying, and the discussions are generally much more entertaining if you have something to disagree with. Here’s what I’d like to try…

    First, pick a post of mine that you like, your absolute favourite one. For me personally, it is this one 5 Years in my Life, a paste of my thesis acknowledgements section from my masters work. From the numbers Google keeps on page views, statistically your favourite is this one: Back to the Future, a post about Siri and voice control assistants like her. If you don’t have one in mind, just pick this post. Anyhow, once you have chosen the best post in your opinion, I would like it if you could click the “Like” button at the bottom of the post. You’re welcome to use the +1 button, or the Tweet button if you so choose, but again if I’m going with the numbers, you use Facebook much more than those other networks.


    I am simply trying to inform myself about what you would like to read, you are certainly under no obligation to follow the directions above, but I would be very appreciative if you would let me know what I can write about to keep you reading. And of course, if you’re feeling particularly smitten with anything you read, I encourage you to share it on the aforementioned social networks, I would love to hear what your friends think about what I have to say.

    One final note, if you do like what you are reading, feel free to let me know personally via any of those networks, or by email. [email protected] is a great place to start.

    ps. I am thinking about starting both a YouTube channel (topic(s) undecided) or doing regular Google+ hangouts. Thoughts? I’m happy to explain what a Google+ hangout is another day.
  • My Future Phone
    Edit: I will begin this post the exact same way I have chosen to end it. Your choice of phone is a big part of who you are, especially for those of you who use a phone for several hours every single day. I do not take choosing a new phone lightly, and for those of you who ask my advice on phone purchases, the following is a pretty good condensed version of what goes through my head before answering you. I have done extensive research and reading on all of this material, hopefully so you don’t have to. Alright, now back to the story…

    Hey guys, this is a question I get pretty commonly, and I’ve essentially devoted the last 2-3 years of my life to answering this question, among other more important questions. I am often asked “I’m in the market for a new phone, which is the best for me?”. This question comes in many, MANY variations, the most frequent being “I want to get the [insert new Android phone here], what do you think of it?”. If you are one of those people who really only has any intentions of using a cell phone to make phone calls and send SMS messages, then this article is not for you. I will hopefully get around to doing another story entitled “Cost/Benefit Analysis (aka how to spend your money smartly)” in which I intend to validate the additional costs incurred in the everyday use of a smartphone by what that piece of technology can do for you. Coming up to the end of 2012, with smartphones having been on the market for about half a decade, if you can afford a smartphone (which you can), by not having one you are really just being a hipster. Anyhow, I am getting off topic, this is a very important subject to me, one I reflect on every single day.

    In the smartphone market, there are many, MANY players right now, but your choices boil down to three real options (BlackBerry notwithstanding, as the new set of BB handsets are due out in about 6 months, and no informed person in their right mind would buy a BlackBerry today). Your choices in smartphone today are actually very, very limited if you are an informed person making a good decision. There are three really wonderful mobile operating systems (OSes) which have been released as of today, November 9, 2012: iOS 6 (Apple), Android 4.2 “Jelly Bean” (Google), and Windows Phone 8 (Microsoft). Of these three, you would be hard pressed to find two of them on shelves today, because all three have only been released in the last 6 weeks or so. If you were to buy a phone today, and couldn’t wait the weekend, I would unequivocally point you in the direction of iOS, be it on the just-released iPhone 5 ($199 for a 2-3 year contract), the iPhone 4S (can be found for $99 on 2-3 year contract) or even (if you don’t need to be on the cutting edge) the 2 year old iPhone 4 ($0 on 2-3 year contract). This is because even though the two competing OSes have been released, there are no phones which can be purchased and used today on either Android or Windows Phone 8 (at least to my knowledge). That being said, let us move about a week into the future, when several phones from each of these competitors will be unleashing these phones on carriers in Canada. This will give a fair assessment of the competition and will allow me to provide my thoughts on all three systems and how different users will fare given their choice.

    Pre-publication edit: This thing, as I assumed it would be, is rather long. If you don’t feel like reading all of this (though if you’re buying a phone and wish to be informed, you should), please feel free to scroll to the bottom and read my final recommendations.

    I would like to break this down and discuss each operating system one at a time, starting with the most promising:

    Windows Phone 8

    This operating system, while seeming like a minor upgrade from the existing, and very similar looking Windows Phone 7, it is actually a complete overhaul of the platform. You’d be hard pressed to find too many visual differences between the Nokia Lumia 900 (Windows Phone 7) and its new counterpart the Nokia Lumia 920 (Windows Phone 8).


    To the unassuming eye, this seems like a minor upgrade (like you would get in an iPhone update), but in fact everything about the system has been completely overhauled. In fact, the old system, even the Lumia 900, which by all accounts is a new phone (released on April 8, 2012 with Windows Phone 7.5 software) is completely different from the new Windows Phone 8. This phone will never be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8 because it is programmed more like a computer than a Nokia phone. These (old) new phones were updated to what was called Windows Phone 7.8, which visually mimics Windows Phone 8, but in fact cannot hold a candle to it. If you are going to buy a Windows Phone, wait until you can get one of the new phones.

    Essentially, with Windows Phone 8, the desktop and mobile versions of Windows are finally going to be unified. Windows Phone is a very simple interface which cuts through having to use separate apps to see what is going on, and really takes a phone interface down to the bare essentials. With their so-called “live tiles” you can see messages and emails and phone calls without leaving the home screen of your phone. The interface is very minimal and aesthetically pleasing, and doesn’t get in your way. While the system doesn’t have the ease of use and quick learning curve of the iPhone, it is fairly easy to understand and can be picked up quickly based on its simplicity.

    There are going to be two choices for the foreseeable future here, with the HTC Windows Phone 8X, and the Nokia Lumia 920 scheduled to go on sale next week in Canada. I will discuss the differences between those two phones in a moment, because having to choose between those phones is a cakewalk compared to the next category.

    Bearing that in mind, here’s a side-note for anyone in the market for a new phone who claims that they want “an Android phone”. I give this information, not as an “Apple fanboy”, but as a rational, technologically inclined person who has done extensive research and testing on many Android phones, I can assure you that I am not at all biased in these opinions, they come from a place of love for the truth.

    Caveat*

    Now, the most important thing you have to understand about phone manufacturing is that there are many different manufacturers, many different phone carriers and only a handful of mobile operating systems to choose from. Now, in 2005, for example, you could choose a Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, etc. phone, and you really wouldn’t notice any difference in usability or functionality. There were differences, and in fact each phone was quite different, but usually in minimal ways that no one user would ever notice. If you had a contract with Rogers, your phone would usually have Rogers stamped on it in one or two places, and probably say it on the screen, but that’s really all you would have to deal with. The performance of the phone, and its functionality, could only really be impaired if your network was of lower quality (see ATT circa 2007). Looking at the situation today, you have major manufacturers like Nokia, Apple, HTC, LG, Samsung, BlackBerry, Motorola (now owned by Google), etc., and the problems which appeared 10 years ago have only gotten worse. This growing problem is most noticeable on the Android platform, in what is referred to as fragmentation. Let’s go for a little ride…

    Android 4.2 “Jelly Bean”

    I would like to start off right away by saying that of all the operating systems discussed here today, Android is by far my favourite. My friends will probably scoff at that, but those who know me best also know that I am a big fan of customization. I have spent many sleepless nights working on perfecting the look and feel of my jailbroken iPhone, even dedicating days at a time downloading custom skins to make it look like an Android phone. Without question, Android is best known of all the mobile operating systems for the ability to make it your own. That being said, in general it is several generations behind the other platforms simply because every hardware manufacturer, and cellular carrier, has its own view of what “the best” looks and feels like. This is going to be a long explanation, but I am going to do my absolute best to make it readable, and break it down in bite-sized chunks.

    1. Manufacturers have the ability to work with raw Android code to make the operating system look and function the way they want it to (actually, anybody can do this, as almost all Android code is open source, for those who wish to do that themselves, however, it would be a very time-consuming undertaking). This is done with a so-called “skin” or user interface (UI) which is used by phone manufacturers to distinguish their phones from the others. While this in principle, and marketing-wise, seems like a great idea, in essence what it does is take up valuable computer resources which have been finely tuned by Google engineers to run smoothly, and throws virtual wrenches into all of the tiny machines in the phone. Each manufacturer does it, with HTC’s Sense UI, Motorola’s MotoBlur, and Samsung’s TouchWiz interface, and they are all just (sometimes) nice looking ribbons which get in the way of the phones actual function. Now, there is a Android experience to be had which is as pure as it can get, and it is called the Nexus line. What Google has done is taken a phone manufacturer, worked with them to create the best blend at the time between hardware and software, and released it under the “Nexus” moniker. First, the Nexus One (HTC), then the Nexus S, followed by the Galaxy Nexus (both from Samsung), and most recently the Nexus 4 (LG), were all made in collaboration with Google to create what they say is the purest form of Android at the time. This phone is always going to be the best showing of Android in any generation, even ignoring the next point.

    2. Android phones, generally speaking, do not get updates. Yes, the Nexus line is almost always the first to be considered for updates, but even those have their problems and delays. Because the manufacturers get to determine the release of updates, and those manufacturers are concerned with selling their best and brightest phones, generally speaking you will not see any major software upgrades once you have purchased your Android phone. There is a small exception in the Nexus line, as those tend to keep up with updates, but anything else, if it will get an upgrade at all, it will get it six months after it has been shown to the world, and will generally only happen if the phone is quite a bit less than a year old.

    3. All of this has been done without even having the carriers (Rogers, Bell, Telus) involved in the discussion yet. Generally, when you buy a phone through a carrier, it will come stamped with the name of the carrier, but the carriers will also determine a few other things about phones, especially in the Android ecosystem. In general, on the Android platform, each carrier will get the same 2-3 phones, and you can decide which carrier you would like to use and purchase your phone. In reality, however, the phones which are released to each carrier are very different, with a few differences in each meaning you really have to do your homework if you want to be sure you know what you are getting. In some cases, you can have differences as large as 3G/4G connectivity, different processors, different camera specifications, and even different designs completely, to the point that I have seen phones which are allegedly the same which look totally different and whose cases are not even close to interchangeable. There are also a few carriers which add unremovable apps (bloatware) to the system and slow it down even more, which is something they will never write press released about and are basically free advertising for their partners.

    4. Yes, Android phones do get some of the latest and greatest features first, but this is in general a bigger deterrent to adoption than it is a help. Features like 4G/LTE (fast data speeds), new screen technologies promising better contrast and less reflection, near-field communication (NFC, similar to the chip in your VISA which allows for things like making payments at select retailers with your phone), and inductive charging (which lets you put your phone onto a charging pad and wirelessly charges the battery. All of these features have been put into Android phones over the last year, and all have had their (sometimes severe) drawbacks. These are essentially experimental technologies in their implementations in these phones, and are not reasons to get the phones. The simplest way to show that is that the newest (about 2 weeks old) Nexus 4, which is so new it hasn’t hit shelves yet, doesn’t contain any of this technology. Google and LG put their heads together and designed the best phone they possibly could (and, without having used it, I am certain it is a great phone) and it doesn’t include any of these technologies which Android purists have been raving about. The fact is that the technologies simply aren’t ready for the big time yet, and on a budget (the Nexus 4 will be released in Canada starting at $309) they are not feasible. 4G/LTE on Android generally wreaks havoc on battery life, NFC and wireless charging take up room in and add weight to the phone without adding much usefulness, and the newest screen technologies are still not generally as good as the exacted versions of regular old LCD screens.

    5. Now, before I go ahead and dismiss Android altogether, their saving grace could, and hopefully is, the new version of their operating system, Jelly Bean. This update, along with a systematic overhaul of the programming in the phone, called Project Butter, make Android 4.2 a very interesting proposition. Having only used one phone with Jelly Bean installed, I can say that the difference between it and Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0), even on a phone like the Galaxy Nexus, is absolutely night and day. For anybody that has used Android, no matter how die-hard a fan you are, you much concede that dealing with systematic lagginess on even superphones like the Samsung Galaxy SIII is a pretty hard pill to swallow, and has actually been a deal-breaker for me. Before Android 4.2, this was just a price to pay for using Android, and it was a very high price for those of us who know that better is out there. However, even though I have only used Jelly Bean for approximately 3 seconds, I can easily say that I can recommend it for anybody looking for a good, solid Android operating system. The lag inherent in previous versions is completely gone, and though I cannot speak for phones with a slower Android skin like the SIII, I would love for the smoothness I saw to still be there on those phones running Jelly Bean. The propagation of Jelly Bean, though, is going a little slower than would have been hoped. I have done considerable looking and actually cannot find any phones which have gotten the Jelly Bean update natively yet (Galaxy Nexus does seem to have some permeation, but official carrier updates are extremely sparse), though it was announced in July 2012 and released shortly thereafter. This is the upgrade cycle of Android, and something its users just have to deal with. There is, after some research, actually one phone which HAS been released with Jelly Bean on it already, the Galaxy Note II, a massive 5.5″ screened phone with a stylus running Samsung’s skin. It will be interesting to see how that TouchWiz skin interacts with Android 4.1, to see if the inherent smoothness remains.

    6. The last issue with Android deals not with version fragmentation, but with apps and screen size fragmentation. Because every manufacturer has to build phones that are different and fill all screen and price points, you end up with a very strange predicament for developers trying to make apps for the platform. With thousands of different possible screen sizes, and a variety of shapes and features, developing for Android is enough to drive someone crazy.

    I hope I have shown you some of the reasons why I have stayed away from Android so far, getting to my favourite part of this article in the present.

    iPhone

    This is by far the easiest part of this article to write, because everybody already knows pretty much all of the basics of the iPhone. There are many virtues to controlling your own software and hardware, the first being that you get to control every step of the process. You will not see a Rogers stamp on any iPhone, in fact (in general) the only indication you are tied to a carrier at all is the name of the carrier on the top left of the screen in the header bar. As far as fragmentation goes, after 5 years of iPhone, they have just recently announced their third phone resolution, and second screen size ever. Its no wonder developers flock to the Apple app store like no other, even though the price of admission is fairly steep for new developers ($99/year).

    It’s not to say there aren’t problems with the iOS operating systems. I have my own qualms with it from time to time. But these problems generally are reconcilable by developers in their own apps. In essence, if you want something simple to use, and which is beautifully manufactured, and will generally be updated well past its warranty, I always recommend iPhone.

    To put this in a little perspective, at last count, around 2% of Android deviced on the market today have 4.1 or 4.2 Jelly Bean (most of this is tablets, I would not be at all surprised if that number is more like 0.1%, if you only consider phones). This operating system was finalized in July. Compare that to iOS 6, which within 24 hours of release had about 15% adoption, and after one month had 60% of people on board. With bilateral control of the whole phone, Apple can pass along updates to all of its customer base at once, seamlessly and without too much effort or knowledge on the part of the consumer.

    If you want a phone that is easy to use, has all of the newest features, and in hardware tests demolishes phones with much higher specifications, you should really buy an iPhone. That being said, if you wish to go with something else, I will offer one recommended alternative from both the Android family, and the Windows Phone family.


    LG Nexus 4


    This phone is the absolute best and brightest in terms of Android today, and it is affordable to boot. It is the first phone to come with Jelly Bean 4.2 natively, and will probably be the only phone to have it for a while. If you want an Android phone, this one is the one to wait for. It is expected to be released in Canada next week.

    HTC Windows Phone 8X

    Between the Nokia Lumia 920, which has wireless charging (making it weigh almost a half-pound) and a very fancy low-light camera, and this phone, I have to choose this phone. After reading extensive reviews of Windows Phone 8, this would be the phone to buy if you are looking for a sleek, nice Windows Phone 8 experience. And with the coming union of the just-released Windows 8 for desktop/tablet, Windows fans should rejoice at the release of this platform. This phone is expected to be announced on Rogers next week as well.


    iPhone 5

    This phone is my current top recommendation. The reason is simple, it gives the best overall phone experience you can ask for, in comparison to all of the reasons given above in terms of what to expect from other phones. I have not yet tried out the two phones shown directly above, as they may yet reign over this phone in my mind and in reality. I have very high hopes, because iOS does have a few well-documented issues which need rectifying, but as for the overall package I am happy to provide extensive reasoning for this choice.







    To anybody who has ever asked me for phone advice, if you wonder why I hesitate before answering you, this is the reason. As for those of you looking to buy phones in the near future, please think about what I have discussed here. You should REALLY either buy an iPhone, or wait a week. I guarantee either of those options are well worth your while.
  • Growing up
    In my continual hunt for reasonable, grown-up employment, I find I continue to bump up against a ceiling which is probably the only step on the road to adulthood I was never warned about. Growing up, I was given to understand that in order to become a functioning adult, I should go through school, toeing the line and staying out of trouble. If I did that, and got good grades while doing so (which really isn’t that difficult if you stay out of trouble), it was said that I could go to university. The land of academia, especially of the post-secondary variety, was my biggest aspiration in my mid-teens. What I forgot to consider, though, is that there is life beyond academic endeavours.

    Though while I was growing up I considered many professions, including but not limited to lawyer, doctor and astronaut. I wrote these off, as I had no interest in pursing a career whose status is such that a high degree of competition would mean that my enjoyment of the work would be lessened by having to spend perhaps years in a cut-throat environment where nice guys like me are sure to finish last, regardless of aptitude or intelligence. I decided that given my enjoyment of the sciences (chemistry in particular), doing research to further my understanding of the world around us would be an excellent intellectual pursuit. I attended university in those interests, satisfied my curiosity, and completed all the tasks set by my various professors. When it came time to finish my studies and leave university, all indications were that it would be reasonable to delay my exit from academia for a while, as the economy, and therefore the job market, were not conducive to finding relevant employment. Since I had forged a few connections with faculty on campus, I was able to arrange a master’s degree, even though from an academic standpoint I was a pretty big risk for professors using their funding.

    Over the course of my master’s work, which was a follow-up to research I began during my undergraduate degree, I became disenfranchised with the focus of my studies, solid-state NMR. I maintained a scientific curiosity, but had very little interest in pursuing this kind of fundamental research as a career. I arranged to wrap up my research and complete the degree in a little over 12 months, it was not worth leaving at that point in the degree, given that I had already handed a few thousand dollars to the university. In the end, I was able to finish the degree in 13 months, and felt confident my background in research and evident love of science would qualify me for any number of jobs.

    While I was working in the lab during my undergraduate and master’s research, I also developed a love for computers, computer science, and technology in general. This is a passion which sticks with me to this day, and in fact has only grown. The field of computer science, and the myriad opportunities it holds, are also of great interest to me in terms of careers.

    What I have found, more than anything so far since I left home 6 years ago, is that given a small amount of necessary training, I can accomplish pretty much anything I set my mind to. However, you cannot get hired to do “anything”, and therefore I am having real trouble narrowing my career focus. The resulting uncertainty is extremely disconcerting to me, my family and my close friends, but the fact is I would prefer not to actively exclude any particular career, especially if I can work at an interesting company, where I can perform a variety of tasks and would be given some free rein to work on things which I consider interesting and productive. I am certain a career of this nature is out there somewhere, it’s just a matter of finding it.

    Wish me luck!
  • Writing on the Internet
    I would like to dedicate this post to Matthew Inman, creator of the Oatmeal.

    He wrote a really wonderful and beautiful post today about writing on the internet. You can see it at the link above, but basically it outlines why he loves writing and cartooning and comicing on the internet. It really is a fantastical place once you get to know people and people start to get to know you. Of course, Matt is a major success story, very few people can actually be successful doing what he does.

    The great thing that happened to me as I was reading it, though, is that I found that probably the best and best known writer on the internet encounters all of the same problems and nuances of writing as I do. From spending hours thinking about a topic and writing nothing, to waking up at 3 AM and pouring your heart out, you do what you have to when the mood strikes. I would absolutely love to get the chance to write professionally on the Internet, but I’m not quite there yet. I hope that one day soon though, that I would be so lucky as to get the chance to do what I am so passionate about as my primary job.

    That is a pretty basic human desire, and we should all get to do it, at least for a little while in our lives. For the time being though, I am going to keep writing about what I love, and I hope you all enjoy reading what I have to say. I definitely have a few ideas cooking, and I intend to see them through.

    Do go read the comic I’m talking about at the Oatmeal though, here’s the link:

    (The Oatmeal)
  • When I grow up, Part 1: Research Scientist
    Why I would like to be a research scientist:

    The jobs I feel this title encompasses includes (but is not at all limited to) doctor, astronaut, researcher, science officer, engineer.

    Since I was a very young child, I have always been fascinated with Science. It is a field of extremely useful and relevant insight into the human condition, and can help us simultaneously understand the smallest bacterium and the largest galaxy. The fact that all of the same rules apply anywhere in the universe is a very humbling idea, but also a very powerful one. Science can be used to peer into the deepest, darkest reaches of the universe, or inside ourselves down to the atomic scale, yet the same basic set of facts hold true.

    For most of my life, in fact in my whole living memory, I have been extremely curious about pretty much every scientific domain. Whether that is chemistry (which ended up being my primary field of study at the post-secondary level), physics, biology, medicine, astronomy, or geology, I have always found myself captivated by the joy of collecting knowledge and information.

    Growing up, and in most cases to this day, what I learn lines up with what I already know, validating the current knowledge base. But this is not where the joy of science comes in. I think that is a common misconception of “civilians” when discussing science as a method. When something comes along that flies in the face of what we have agreed is the best explanation for a given phenomenon, we have to alter the theory so that it fits all evidence. This is not a failure of the scientific method; it is actually its most wonderful feature. If everything that happened in the universe fit perfectly into our existing knowledge base, the world would be an incredibly boring place. There could be little or no scientific or technological innovation if we learned everything there was to know about the world, or if new experiments ceased to give us new information about our existence. If science had run up against that wall at any point in history, society as a whole would be much worse off.

    The absolute most wonderful part of science is its ability to see past political lines, beyond personal opinion or celebrated intelligence. For example, in the Middle Ages, or perhaps a little earlier, it was commonly thought that the world was flat and that that the earth was the center of the whole universe. This in itself is a very egotistical idea, but nevertheless. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that view at the time, and scientists around (umm aflat?) the world, given their evidence, had no choice but to think that. However, the problem arose when scientists like the famous Galileo Galilei started to encounter evidence to show that the Earth had to be round, and that it was very likely that the Sun was actually in the center of our little universe (the solar system). This evidence was merely the scientific method at work, and required modification of the existing theories about our world, but certain parties considered it heresy and (infamously) banished him to house arrest.

    The point of this story is that in order to be a scientist, at least in the strictest definition, you really have to be able to put the truth above all preconceptions and personal notions. I think of myself as being ideal for this type of work because I care deeply about understanding the universe the way it is, not fitting it into some template of prior expectations. In this way I am more than capable of being objective in the face of unexpected results in any part of my life. I am always very excited to let the scientific method determine the outcome of experiment.

    In the course of learning about chemistry at the post-secondary level, I have come to realize that none of the sciences are really so different once you understand one. So while I have training in chemistry, and specifically in solid-state NMR and computational methods thereof, my training has also prepared me to learn and understand any of the sciences. Over the course of a four year university degree, we are taught to read up on scientific literature, ask any questions we have, and then enter into a lab environment to perform specific experiments based on the learned concepts. In general, extensive training on these concepts is not given, and experiments in these labs are rarely done more than once in the same way. By this logic, for a competent scientist, an experiment which holds interest for the experimenter can easily be accomplished with minimal training, regardless of the specific scientific discipline.

    All of this considered, I believe I have the experience, know-how and specific skills and aptitudes to be an excellent research scientist.
  • When I grow up, I want to be _______
    Okay, I got a fun idea for a little mini-series that will let me kill two birds with one stone, given that I want to write as much as I can in ways that will be helpful to my future careers, as well as round out my online résumé. On that note, I am going to write a series (starting) with 4 posts about careers which I feel qualified for, as well as why I feel I could do them and what specific job titles fall under that categorical umbrella. The first one of these will be posted momentarily, and all of the essays will be linked to this post eventually, once they’re done. Hopefully by the end of this experiment I will be able to narrow down my focus to only one or two career options.

    Up first: Research Scientist!

    Ps. For those of you who frequent the blog, you will notice a pretty stark change in scenery. I did this to make it a little more consistent, at least logistically, with my website itself. This will hopefully facilitate navigation, as well as making the blog load faster, which I am sure you will notice.

Conclusions

  • Happy 2nd Birthday Evie! 🥳🎉🎂

    I was tired of my list of COVID-19 links being the latest post here (even though I’m still using it for reference every day), and it was Evie’s 2nd birthday today. In case there were any doubts she’s my daughter, check out this picture!

    We had such a good time celebrating her birthday today (and getting out on the bike), and Julia made a delicious pink cake that was so good!