TCLP 2015-04-12 Hope and Fear in the World of vim

blank_preview1This is an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

I share a quick game review in this episode of Coup and its expansion, Coup: Reformation. The feature is a reading of my recent essay about my favorite text editor, vim.

You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

Nexus 7 Obsession

It has been a while since I talked about my mobile devices, just a bit over a year. You could say that I have happily realized everything for which I bought my Nexus 7. To address my sole complaint at the time, I even upgraded to the 32GB model when that came out. When I bought the 2nd generation model when that came out, too, well then I may have been given in to a bit of an obsession. In my defense, I only bought the two successive upgrades after arranging to sell the old ones so that they’d avoid the landfill and I was only paying an incremental cost.

Having lived with just about every model of this device, except the fully mobile data enabled ones, I have a few thoughts I want to share, about the devices themselves, an emerging concern, and a bit of an obligatory review though not for the tablets themselves.

Having such a strong relapse of my old gadget obsession is a pretty solid endorsement of these devices, for starters. The Android OS has come a long way, in terms of fit and finish, so much so that while I have been tempted on non-Google experience devices to try an aftermarket firmware like CyanogenMod, I have not felt that same urge with the Nexus 7. Everything just works and the experience is seamless.

Unlike the popular, fruit themed alternative, that extends to my ability to run open source apps and services and have them integrate very well into the overall device. I have another long overdue post in mind discussing my reasons for moving away from some Google services to alternatives that I control, specifically for data where on principle I would be upset or concerned if Google received a demand for that data.

I actually wasn’t going to buy the third tablet in this compulsive series. On paper, it seemed like a truly marginal improvement over an already stellar device in the first generation incarnation. When I mentioned selling my old devices, what I ended up doing was using them as part of teaching my kids responsible technology ownership. I have been supporting both in cultivating good spending and saving habits. After depreciating even relatively new devices considerably, they proved to be approachable and attractive rewards for their efforts.

Well, I should say, I did this with the first tablet with my older son who had been working on his responsible personal finance skills longer. When the 2nd generation Nexus 7 came out, I was tempted but figured I could wait until I had gotten a much greater use out of my 2nd tablet. That was the plan, until I realized that my younger son still had the oldest hand me down tech in the house, was learning the same lessons about responsibility, and it would simply be more fair to offer him the same deal, which just would happen to offset the cost of a new tablet for me enough to make it more of an impulse decision.

That’s what I tell myself.

Now comes the reservation, in the form of a thought provoking piece by Ron Armadeo on Ars Technica. It is well worth the read, the whole thing. With Microsoft buying Nokia, rumors of a buyout of Blackberry, and at this point everything but iOS and Android pretty being an also ran, the thought of Google following Apple’s lead into a more tightly controlled roadmap is chilling. It bears watching as Google has frustrated me before with similar turns away from the more open origins of several of its projects. Unlike iOS, at least there are still a few viable alternatives for the truly dedicated who wish to take a stand on the extension of the principle of user control from data to full devices.

And not to close this post, the obligatory bit, in the form of a quick product review.

I generally am skeptical of cases for my gadgets. I’d much prefer that they be able to withstand ordinary use well enough on their own, if not accrue an attractive patina over time. Silly but I really like the idea and I think it has actually been key to my otherwise much more staid approach to gadgets in recent years.

Unfortunately, the original Nexus 7 really did need a case. The gray plastic on the bezel was prone to scratches and the soft, leather like back did manage to get a nick or two, even in the short time I had each model of the 1st generation.

I tried a keyboard case but gave up on that as its lesser build quality saw it discolor in a way that made it obviously no longer match the device. The way it fit onto the tablet, it also was starting to lightly scratch the merely resistant screen. I tried a slim-line leather or leather-like case, which worked well until the piece holding the cover started to fray. For the 1st generation, the best case I tried was the stock one offered by Google in their own store. It fit snugly, it didn’t add any stress on the tablet itself, and it held up well. The cover was not a smart cover, nor did it quite work to prop the tablet up, but just to keep the tablet in good shape floating around in my bag, it fit the bill.

There is a similar case for the 2nd generation but I didn’t get that, I wanted something a little smarter, to go back and try a few more options. The build quality of the 2nd generation seemed to be higher, anyway, with the nick prone gray bezel replaced with a tougher black plastic piece. Even the grippy back seemed more like a durable rubber rather than a patterned leather so far less prone to scuffing.

While considering my options, I received an email from a case maker, The Snugg. I am not sure their press person actually read very deeply on my site because they initially offered me an iPad or iPhone case for review. I asked if they’d send me their case for the 2nd generation Nexus 7. After looking it over, it fit my policy of only accepting items for review that I might buy anyway on my own.

Despite sending me a color other than the one I requested, I tried it out for a few weeks. The short takeaway is that I would have happily bought this on my own. Unlike the last case in this style that I tried that frayed after a few weeks, the construction quality on The Snugg is quite high. The cover is a smart cover, triggering the sensor that matches the devices wake and sleep functions to opening and closing the cover. There are also a couple of magnets that help secure the lid when it is closed but gently so that it is still easy to flip open when fumbling for the devices on a crowded train for my usual commute reading. There is even an elastic strap built into the back that sits away flush when not in use but can be used to help hang on when using the tablet one handed.

My sole complaint with the case isn’t a problem with The Snugg per se but this style in general. The construction and choice of material means it is a tad on the bulky side. That can be attractive, if you want something with an excellent executive style, like an old school leather folio. The combination of that, though, and the very thin bevel on the long sides of the Nexus 7 made using the full screen, such as with the vast array of indie games I have accrued via the Humble Bundles, a bit frustrating at times.

Ultimately, just because of my personal preference and past experience, I bought the new Google designed case. If like me you want something a bit more snug in the hand and in your bag, this is a good choice. The cover is not a smart cover though despite the marketing text in the ad description so bear that in mind. If you want something with a classic style and the smart cover is a must have, I can definitely recommend The Snugg.

Want More Pay-What-You-Want Goodness? Try “Nikki and the Robots”

What strikes me about the Humble Bundles so far is that not only do you get a fair deal, in terms of price and being treated like a grown adult by not crippling the various media on offer with DRM, but the content itself is generally well above average. In the case of the Humble Bundles, I think credit goes to the various editors and curators who have put the packages together. However, there may be some correlation between the choice to use this business model and incredibly talented and creative folks.

Case in point: Nikki and the Robots.

A listener of mine who has been working on this game emailed me right as the Humble eBook Bundle was climbing towards its staggering $1.2M peak. Right away, the similarities are clear. The Humble Indie Bundles that contain video games have all been cross platform, like Nikki, as well as sporting the pay what you want model and foregoing the burdens of DRM, also like Nikki.

The studio behind this game, Joyride Labs, has gone further. There is a full, playable version you can snag for free. And it is available under an open source license (some of the Humble Bundle games have been openl licensed as a condition of meeting sales targets.) The free version comes with a level editor and there are a good number of sample and contributed levels that demonstrate the various charms of the game. What you get if you set your price and buy the story episode is a narrative mode that completes the full on nostalgia this game brings for 8-bit platformers. While there is currently only one story episode so far, more are promised and buying the first episode nets you all the future ones at no additional cost.

So what about the game itself? The pixel art is an unmistakable and loving homage to Nikki’s earliest ancestors. Even the character design and overall look and feel are a whimsical throwback to games without hugely elaborate backstories, but tantalizing hints about why the characters throw themselves around their frenetic, brightly colored 2D worlds.

Don’t let the graphic design fool you. Gameplay is smooth, convincing and challenging in a way that belies the vintage look, revealing deep roots in realistic physics models and an ethos in puzzle design clearly meant to inspire the player to new heights, often literally, through near impossible challenges and the amazing sense of accomplishment that comes of just nearly squeaking through to toggle the last switch, to collect the last battery. The titular robots add a twist that was a later development for the platformer genre as a whole but one that when used well extends the playability and the enjoyment. It is deployed to excellent effect in Nikki, offering the player at various points throughout each level, the ability to take control of one or more robots, the different abilities of each adding a subtle and engaging variation on the game play that also more fully shows off the Chipmunk physics engine.

My sole complaint as a long time gamer who has most recently been taken with gaming on my phone and tablet is the lack of an Android port. That is really a minor drawback as the game is fun, beautiful and engaging enough on any of the OSes on which it does run to draw me back to my various Linux machines to tease out a little more of the well crafted story and enjoy the original and addictive soundtrack.

Of course, with a free to play option, you certainly don’t have to take my word for it alone. Go on, download it and let me know what you think; better yet let me know if you agree its worth kicking in to see what episode 2 may hold in store or what other wonderful projects Joyride Labs may yet undertake.

TCLP 2012-07-17 Predictions from the 80s

This is a feature cast, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

Apologies, again, for the delay. Hopefully the reasons for my late return home last night will be discussed on a future episode of my other podcast, the Living Proof brew cast.

There is no new hacker word of the week this week.

The feature this week is a discussion of two books from the 1980s that both made some interesting predictions, some of which held up, others which did not, and the value the resides in them regardless of their accuracy. The first is “Islands in the Net” by Bruce Sterling, the other “Cyberbooks“, by Ben Bova.

[display_podcast]

View the detailed show notes online.. You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

TCLP 2011-04-14 Book Review: Piracy

This is a feature cast, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

Listener feedback this week was from Don who wrote in response to Hack Your Brew, Nicholas who wrote to share another mobile app for activists, and Jody in response to the Inner Chapter on health and exercise.

The hacker word of the week this week is flarp.

The feature this week is an in-depth review of Adrian Johns’ book, “Piracy“.

[display_podcast]

View the detailed show notes online. You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

TCLP 2011-03-23 A Hackish Look at Tron

This is a feature cast, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

Listener feedback was from Jed in response to the Inner Chapter on Health and Eric in response to the post-peak computing feature and the news story about the study looking at piracy as the future of TV.

The hacker word of the week this week is flaky.

The feature this week is a look at the duology of Tron films from a hackish point of view.

[display_podcast]

View the detailed show notes online. You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Impressions of the Archos 43 Internet Tablet

On Monday, I finally received the Archos 43 internet tablet I ordered from Amazon back in the middle of October. The device is Android powered and primarily intended as a personal media player. I picked it because it is an excellent price for the specs which include a 4.3 inch screen, 16GB of internal storage, a micro-SD card slot, and a 2 megapixel camera. It sports a 1Ghz ARM chip with an integrated DSP so also is a nice speed bump over my two year old iPod Touch. My requirements are very specific and sadly seem unusual. I do not want a phone (I hate the interruption factor), but want a screen size that is almost exclusively used in phones. I want something that will easily fit in a jeans or coat pocket, so definitely not a seven or ten inch tablet.

Specifically I wanted an Android based personal media player (PMP) or mobile internet device (MID) to be able to severe my last tie to Apple’s proprietary software ecosystem. I’ve documented the process of installing Linux for everyday use on my Mac Pro. I have been itching to install Linux on my Macbook Pro. With a substantial iTunes library and the idiotic proprietary sync mechanism of the iPod, my laptop has been relegated to an iPod peripheral. I actively avoid using it out of the sheer frustration arising from losing OS X muscle tone and my newly ingrained Linux reflexes constantly leading me to tap the wrong booster keys and generally fumbling the Apple interface conventions.

The Archos PMP/MID devices all are capable of mounting as mass storage devices over USB which works with all the popular desktop OSes. No need for any proprietary anything to get my music library onto it. I can simply use rsync if I want an exact copy of my main music library mirrored to my portable device. Of course, I can also use a file manager, music buying and sharing apps, and network storage services like DropBox to manage my media collection even more powerfully if I want. Like using Linux on my desktop, the move to Android provides a lot more possibilities.

After several days, I’ve got a good sense of the drawbacks and benefits of this new device. My iPod Touch is currently cleaning itself out preparatory to handing it down to my wife. My Macbook Pro is busy copying my iTunes library to my Linux desktop where I will sift through it deciding what to pull into Amarok and onto my Archos. All of that is simply to say that on the whole I am very happy with the Archos, with only a couple of qualifications.

Costing only 250 USD it is clear where Archos cut costs with the 43 IT. The performance of the touch screen is inconsistent. Some times it works very smoothly, as smoothly as my iPod Touch. Other times it freezes for several seconds, being utterly non-responsive. Another portion of the time, it simply mis-registers touches, double tapping or tapping somewhere else on the screen. This is frustrating but not enough so that I am looking to return the device. Most of the time, it simply sits in my pocket or on my desktop, playing media. The flaky screen is irksome when pushing status messages out to my social network but to be honest, the tiny onscreen keyboard and inconsistent landscape support under iOS was just as frustrating. I am hopeful that the problem is software and will improve with firmware updates from Archos.

Speaking of the firmware, the device did not arrive with FroYo, Android 2.2 as advertised. There is a footnote, now that I double check, and some clarification in the support section of Archos’ site. The device is FroYo capable and a new firmware build based on 2.2 is scheduled to ship this quarter. Looking at past firmware updates from Archos, they clearly invest extra effort to polish the Android builds to work better with their hardware, an effort I appreciate. I’ll post a follow up after it arrives.

Also on the software front, the biggest question everyone has is whether the Archos tablets include the Android Market. They do not. If you read the CCD, it is pretty clear why–they lack a GPS and compass as well as hardware buttons for home, menu and back. Archos confirms this in their FAQ. I think Archos’ handling of the buttons in software that the CCD requires to be hardware is actually much nicer. Most of the time, the soft buttons are present and actually change orientation when the screen turns. With video playback and viewing slideshows of pictures, they disappear altogether. I have only noticed one app, Aldiko, where the available screen area is a bit off because of the soft buttons. (Aldiko, an ebook reader that supports ePub, is thoughtfully one of the bundled apps.)

If you search, as I did, you’ll find ways around the lack of the Market. I cannot endorse or condone this as it is pirated and illegal software. I really wish Google would just let me buy my own way into the Market with the understanding that some apps may not work right, without a cell modem or GPS. The vast majority of them are agnostic of the hardware specifics, it is very odd that the compatibility definition is so tied to a minority of applications. The process od Installing apps of any kind exposes what capabilities of the device the apps may use, both in software and hardware. It would seem to be a simple enhancement to also have this address less capable devices and possible hardware compatibility issues. Until then, if you do choose to break the law, just be aware that your mileage may vary and that Google undoubtedly has some visibility into unauthorized devices using the Market.

The only other frustration is the camera quality. Given the size of the optics, it is understandable. The default quality setting in the picture taking software exacerbates the noise arising from the small glass and tiny sensor. On the maximum quality setting, with bright lighting, the photo quality is quite good. It drops off very rapidly in darker conditions, reminding me of an old Casio point-and-shoot I had with really stinky low light performance. The lack of a flash makes this more of a problem. However, to supplement proper cameras, either point-and-shoot or DSLR, I am entirely happy. I rarely carry a camera outside of specific, planned occasions, so even a lower quality camera is better than none at all as I carry my MID with me everywhere. Having it on the network, ready for posting to social networks, microblogs, and photo sharing sites also offsets the lesser quality considerably. I also plan on experimenting with the micro-SD card, shooting with my point-and-shoot using the standard SD card adapter then using the MID is a quicker means of sharing than downloading to my desktop library.

If, like me, you primarily are looking for a media player, I think the Archos is a solid buy, especially for the price. I consider the apps and other capabilities as bonuses. If you are looking for something more, you may want to wait for future iterations or devices from other vendors. Maybe hanging onto my 1G iPod Touch has set my personal expectations very low. I love having physical volume buttons, an external speaker, and a camera, all things the original Touch lacked. The bundled media apps are very nice, back porting some features from what my friends have shown me to be standard in FroYo. The included app market is OK, though no real replacement for the Google Market. You can also install standalone packages, like I did with the Firefox Mobile beta (review pending). My usage patterns minimize the frustrations I’ve noted though your mileage may vary.

I am also hoping that my order helps send a market signal that there is strong demand for non-phone, non-tablet (that is smaller than 7 inches) internet devices powered by Android. I choose to think that the long time it took my order to be filled is due to the high volume of orders, a reason for optimism. In the meantime, the Archos 43 IT is pretty much what I hoped it would be, a very pleasant way to step into the Android space without tying myself to a cell carrier.

TCLP 2010-11-10 Rant: Network Neutrality

This is a feature cast, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

In the intro, a quick review of “The Dervish House” by Ian McDonald.

Listener feedback this week was Wild Biker who was curious for my thoughts on Ballotpedia.

The hacker word of the week this week is fireworks mode.

The feature this week is a rant on how I think the current network neutrality debate came to be.  The Berkman Center had an excellent podcast episode recently that serves as a good backgrounder.  I mention the Carterfone case as the antecedent for open access to networks.

[display_podcast]

View the detailed show notes online. You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

TCLP 2010-10-24 News

This is news cast 228, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

In the intro a quick review of the board game, Ra.

This week’s security alerts are new tactics attackers are using to evade network security and compromise turns security vendor’s site into a malware hub.

In this week’s news Mozilla announces open web apps (which might take advantage of Prism) and experimental app store, breakthrough could eliminate need for computers to boot, how Allies used math against German tanks, and turning brain waves into music.

Following up this week barriers to real competition in the wake of the Google Books settlement and Oracle wants LibreOffice members to leave the OOo council.

[display_podcast]

View the detailed show notes online. You can also grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

TCLP 2010-10-20 Review: Out of Control

This is a feature cast, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

In the intro, apologies for the missed news cast, though I had a very productive weekend on other show related tasks as well as on the volunteering Saturday. My thanks to Wild Biker and James M. for their donations this past week. And a reminder that DC’s CopyNight is this coming Tuesday, the 26th.

Listener feedback this week was from Jed who wrote in about the Singularity feature as well as hacker health habits and post-peak resource technology.

The hacker word of the week this week is firehose syndrome.

The feature this week is a book review of “Out of Control” by Kevin Kelly. I also reference the books “Complexity” by Mitch Waldrop and “Godel, Escher, Bach” by Douglas Hofstadter.

[display_podcast]

View the detailed show notes online. You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.