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.

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.

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!