Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Experiences with an iPad 2

Having bought a iPad 2 mostly for the reason to replace the normal printed journals, the experience with an iPad is a mixed one. First the hardware: although the overall build quality is high, the buttons on the sides are looking and feeling cheap. But two other things are really bad from an usability standpoint: one is the highly reflecting surface (whoever “invented” glossy displays should be banned from any product design for life), the other is the bevelled edges which make the socket for the sync/power cable a mechanical nightmare, wondering how long it survives. The display itself suffers a bit from the low resolution; otherwise it is definitely very good. The iPad survives up to 7 hours without recharge, that’s the best I have seen from mobile devices so far (besides all Kindle’s). It is heavy, so not really an eBook reader but this does not matter on the breakfast table.
More important for me in any case are the Apps providing more or less sufficient reading quality for most of the magazines. The ones from the Heise publishing group are working as expected, the only downside so far is that the pages are simple images (no interactive content or links) and that Apps very often have a rendering issues (like not drawing the navigation bar on but instead somewhere near it). Despite the low screen resolution, you can read the page without scrolling (anti-aliasing could be better). Besides Le Monde Diplomatique and Technology Review, which also work with images, all other content is provided via PDF, best viewed for text by Stanza, although GoodReader is a great PDF viewer too (if graphics or images are more complex). Interesting was that Apps, like the one for the magazine Cicero are in the App Store, but you cannot use it any more.
All other news sources like BBC, TED or Al Jazeera have their own Apps which work great. Twitter and my preferred RSS reader Pulse are also available, so no complains here. Most interesting, Microsoft’s Skype has no distinct iPad App so far. The default Calendar was quickly replaced by the MUJI Calendar App. One thing which really provides a lot of value for the iOS devices is if you own a Synology device. For one thing, streaming music is as easy as installing the App, the other big advantage is that your Printer becomes AirPrint capable! Oh, and opening PDFs directly from the Synology NAS makes live a lot easier.
Interesting on a live iOS device is that notifications do not work (most of the time, or only if your App run in the front) and they crash often, very often. If you look into the logs, either because a network issue or low memory (ok, our CMC Markets App is also a bit heavy on this ;-)).
All in all I’m not dissatisfied but I think Apple has to improve hardware and software quickly to keep up with the android developments. And as eBook reader, the Kindle will rule this year too.
Oh, and Internet Radio and iTunes U (best thing Apple has done) become now a lot more comfortable to listen too …

Amazon’s Kindle, after more than a year

Using the Amazon Kindle (2nd generation) now for over a year I must say it was worth the high international shipment price. What’s great:

  • Its great paperback replacement. You read slightly slower than with a real book but it is definitely easier to handle.
  • It’s weight and operation time. This is one of the only electronic devices which need only to be recharged once a week after moderate usage.
  • WhisperNet and the online shop works flawless.
  • The always present dictionary is one of the best ideas so far for eBook readers
  • Text-to-Speech works well and is sometimes useful (if you are too tired to read ;-))

So as replacement for paperbacks, the Kindle is perfect. Yes, the E Ink Display can be better (it is, with the 3rd generation). But the Kindle has also some flaws:

  • The platform remains closed without any good reason (and open it for simple games makes no sense so far)
  • Direct ePub rendering would be fine (but you can always convert any book to the MOBI format with good results, DRM is not an issue any more)
  • The not so good typographic rendering: not the worst for reading, but if you take a higher quality book, you see the difference. Maybe this is a second chance for TeX 😉

This flaws can be solved easily by Amazon but the real problem for all eBook readers are currently the publishers who try to block any success of the platform, especially in Europe:

  • A lot of publications available in US are not available here
  • Several months ago eBooks costs (naturally) less than Hardcovers, now prices are equal or higher (with nearly zero production costs). This is pure greed because the authors are not getting more as they got from a paperback sale …
  • The silly idea of DRMs (which cost two clicks to be removed nowadays)
  • Nearly no German publications in the Amazon Store (but you can buy it on Libri.de or Thalia as ePub and copy it over)

I currently hope the market force of Google, Amazon and Apple combined will derail the current publishers (as they have done with the records industry) so that most books really get available with a reasonable price.
Will be interesting of the new 7” tablets will be finally replace the Kindle, but for now it is definitely the best electronic reading device so far … for the current price it is a certainly bargain.

First impressions of Amazon’s Kindle 2

I have bought the international version of the Kindle 2 last week. So these are my impressions:
– The E Ink display is as expected, as in all current eBook Readers. It has the size of the small paperback book, so nothing for large format publishing products.
– The design of the device itself is great, it is effortless to use because it is slim and the main buttons are on the correct position
– The Amazon Whispernet works as expected, the store is easy to use and the books are delivered in under 60 seconds
– Highlighting and annotations work nicely, the dictionary popup available for every word is very interesting for non-native speakers
– Text-to-Speech actually is a interesting gimmick. It actually sounds not bad, although I am not sure how often I will use it.
– Playing MP3 also works, but this is certainly not the right device for this.
– Converted unprotected ePub books actually work great on the Kindle, PDF converting is only usable for PDFs without graphics. Both formats are not supported directly.
– It is disappointing that RSS feeds are not available currently for the international version; I hope that Amazon will make a better deal with the European carriers in the near future.
– What is really not understandable is that Amazon is not able to provide a lot of books NOT internationally because of greedy publishing companies. Ok, if more would be available I would buy more and maybe never read them … maybe that is not so bad at all 😉 But I hope now with more eBook readers available the pressure will increase (and no, the PEN club is on the wrong side)
– Most books in Kindle format or ePub are DRM protected. I hope that the publishing industry thinks twice about how the music industry has lost the senseless battle of useless copy protections.
So after buying some books, trying out some converting tools, I am starting to use the Kindle. So far I think it will be valuable for me because for now on I have not to carry around a lot of books. But it will certainly not replace all of my monthly bought books …

I have bought the international version of the Kindle 2 last week. So these are my impressions:

  • The E Ink display is as expected, as in all current eBook Readers. It has the size of the small paperback book, so nothing for large format publishing products.
  • The design of the device itself is great, it is effortless to use because it is slim and the main buttons are on the correct position
  • The Amazon Whispernet works as expected, the store is easy to use and the books are delivered in under 60 seconds
  • Highlighting and annotations work nicely, the dictionary popup available for every word is very interesting for non-native speakers
  • Text-to-Speech actually is a interesting gimmick. It actually sounds not bad, although I am not sure how often I will use it
  • Playing MP3 also works, but this is certainly not the right device for this
  • Converted unprotected ePub books actually work great on the Kindle, PDF converting is only usable for PDFs without graphics. Both formats are not supported directly>
  • It is disappointing that RSS feeds are not available currently for the international version; I hope that Amazon will make a better deal with the European carriers in the near future.
  • What is really not understandable is that Amazon is not able to provide a lot of books NOT internationally because of greedy publishing companies. Ok, if more would be available I would buy more and maybe never read them … maybe that is not so bad at all 😉 But I hope now with more eBook readers available the pressure will increase
  • Most books in Kindle format or ePub are DRM protected. I hope that the publishing industry thinks twice about how the music industry has lost the senseless battle of useless copy protections

So after buying some books, trying out some converting tools, I am starting to use the Kindle. So far I think it will be valuable for me because for now on I have not to carry around a lot of books. But it will certainly not replace all of my monthly bought books …

Thoughts about Google Wave

Google presented the Wave project this week at its development conference Google I/O 09. A lot of blogs (ok, maybe nearly every one) covered Wave in the last days so I have also to write something about it after watching the presentation:

  • The presentation of an conversation between several participants is very natural: people can enter and leave conversations, no matter if online or offline, add additional information and fork new ones. The features of Mail, IM and Wikis are finally merged.
  • Updates of information snippets work in near real time. This is definitely possible today and will become a lot easier with the availability of Web workers.
  • The conversation stream, called Wave, can be edited concurrently and they are versioned so they can play back in time.
  • Participants in the conversation can not only be persons but also automatons like translation engines and automatic content enrichment. The presentation of Google’s spelling and grammar proofing Robot and the automatic translation engine was awesome.
  • Wave will use important HTML 5 features and will push the evolution of the web browsers massively. Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera are leading here, not only on the desktop but more important on mobile clients (maybe also Palm Pre will be an important platform here?), Microsoft is a generation behind here and maybe will catch up with their completely new browser engine after IE 8.
  • Wave can be federated. This means that you can have your own Wave servers active, participate in open Waves but keep your conversation private.
  • The Wave project will be open sourced, not only the API and the protocol but also the reference implementation. With Google Maps they overlooked how fast and creative the community worldwide reacted now they plan to use this potential directly.

I really was surprised by this presentation; I think nobody has expected something like this. If Google gets this of the ground Wave will have the biggest impact in how we communicate and process information since search engines and Email itself. Because of the openness of the platform and the inherently possibility to federate the infrastructure this concept can work. Something remains me here of Gelernter’s ideas in Mirror Worlds

An Apple hit me

Since two weeks I have besides my main workstation on Vista64 and my Sony TZ with Ubuntu 9.04 also a third system, a 3rd generation Mac.mini. Besides OS X I’m interested in the iPhone development environment and sometimes Keynote is nice to have. I’ve sporadically used a Mac before but this time I can play a bit longer with it. After this short time, I had a mixed experience: On the positive side you get

  • A really nice hardware design. If the thing gets in the future a HDMI port and an BluRay drive it will be the optimal living room system. And it is fast and quiet.
  • The basic configuration is easy to handle for anyone, including WLAN. It just works
  • Dashboard brings a real advantage, more usable than Vistas Sidebar
  • You get the development environment for free (Xcode)
  • You get a lot of good software, like Quicksilver, for OS X besides a lot of normal Linux applications are or can be ported. In general the support of software is better than on Linux.
  • The development environment provides nice utilities like Instruments, all in all it seems that you have a good set of tools to develop software again without Virtual Machines.
  • Thanks Steve, there is a Terminal!

On the down side some things are annoying

  • Who ever has designed the keyboard and the and the “Mighty” mouse has never worked longer than 5 minutes with them
  • The German keyboard layout is simply silly. The English one is better.
  • Although OS X now has a VPN server out of the box, it does not work flawlessly if you use a German keyboard on the client side: as soon as you switch to some applications, like Xcode, the key mapping gets confused and for what ever reason, special characters work except the lower case “b”.
  • Xcode is only a very basic IDE, like Windows Visual Studio before 2003 … really, Eclipse with CTD and KDevelop a bit more up to the task if only they can understand Objective-C.
  • Sometimes configuration is to easy and dangerous: I wanted to share a directory via SMB, OS X shared it and all others on the disk too, But only my original target was protected by my user credentials… not what someone expects.
  • Why the hell is the shell per default case insensitive?!?

May only problem which make the daily work a bit harder as needed is the key mapping problem with VPN and Xcode or better to find a replacement for Xcode (and yes, Emacs can do it but hey I’m a long term IntelliJ and Resharper user …)

Why Microsoft may be in the lead again

On this years PDC Microsoft has shown several interesting products and projects which maybe will give them a step or two in advance to the Java application stack:

  • The Microsoft Azure Platform: Microsoft finally gets into the cloud hype, after Amazon and Google. Azure is highly integrated with Windows, naturally, but I think for the first time in history the outside world is supported from the start. OpenID will be used as authentication service, also nearly all services are accessible by REST or native clients in Java and Ruby. Azure by itself could provide what BPEL and W3C Web-Services have promised but never provided, a easy to implement solution to collaborate between different process participants without investing into new middle ware systems.

  • The evolution of C# continuous: Not only that C# 4.0 will repair the generic type systems, finally Co- and Contravariance are supported, they also will introduce a very neat solution for handling dynamic data types. This will be a big advantage over Java where generics will not be corrected in near future, at least not with Java 7, and although Groovy and JRuby are extremely good replacements if it comes to dynamic languages, it hurts that the original language does not evolve (but Scala and Clojure are showing what could be possible). Backwards compatibility is already broken, so why not go after C#?

  • Concurrency in implementation and test: Besides the already existing Parallel Extensions for .Net FX, which are also part of the Visual Studio 2010 CTP, Microsoft goes a step further with the Concurrency and Coordination Runtime (CCR) and Decentralized Software Services (DSS) Toolkit. In my opinion this is the most interesting and workable solution for computational grids I have seen so far although the Java frameworks GridGain and TerraCotta are also very nice. But Microsoft has found and API which successfully abstracted away the nasty synchronization locks and gives a very RESTfull way to monitor ongoing activities. The second interesting project is CHESS which allows it for the first time to really test concurrency in implementations. Normally finding Heisenbugs is very tedious and you must always have a bit of luck. With CHESS, they can be found much faster and backtracked to their cause.

  • Oslo as Meta-DSL: Maybe this will not be the final solution, but Oslo is a nice looking Meta-DSL which allows it to define textually grammars for DSL or schemas. Mostly textual descriptions are a lot more maintainable as graphical descriptions and it is definitely easier to process them as XMI or MOF models.

Photosynth again, evolved

Last year I’ve written a short entry in my blog about Photosynth, a Microsoft research project which is able to extract spatial information out of pictures and rearrange them in space. At SIGGRAPH 2008 they presented a very nice picture viewer which is using an advanced version of the original Photosynth. Besides arranging pictures in the space itself it actually can discover useful orbiting paths and manipulate images in a way to support a very seamless viewer experience. Besides this, it actually can work with social image sites like Flickr and allows the user in this way to use existing collections in which he can add his own snapshots of the same motive. Hopefully this will become a available product soon …

Singularity

These days a lot happens in the field of the Microsoft Research Project Singularity: the source is finally available from Codeplex! Why is this project exciting? It is a research playground to test ideas such as using virtual machines like the CLR on the level normally occupied by C or assembler (hey, device drivers in C# are definetly more readable). Also a lot of concepts such as contracts are inherited from Spec# and used for guarding most system services. Because until now only interviews take place (the last one on Software Engineering Radio with Markus Völter and Galen Hunt), so look at actual working code is amazing.
I’m sure anyone who is interested in novel operating system ideas and want not explore something like Minix should download the source. And I’m sure, also any other developer will get some new ideas from the source.

Three weeks with Vista x64

Since three weeks I using Vista x64 on my workstation and my overall impression is positive. For one thing, the transformation was without problems, all my hardware devices have stable x64 drivers, the main obstacle was to install the new version without reactivation. But there is a small tool, ARBbeta3, which can safe existing activation credentials and restore them on the same Vista edition. More interesting is that there are less 64 bit versions of various tools available as I thought. Most 32 bit software works without problem but it would be nice to have a text editor with 64 bit support or at least Eclipse in a working version (at least Eclipse will be available with the version 3.4). Dot.Net was no problem, all though Visual Studio lost the “Edit and Continue” capability. Another sad thing is that Open Office has no 64 bit version as well as that all browser have to work with 32 bit because nearly no plug in is available for this platform. This is also true for Java, which has no 64 bit client runtime available.
I’ve used Ubuntu as 64 bit version for a longer time and in general Vista has a far better support of hardware and a flawless integration of older software.
I also took by backup now more serious and bought a external RAID, a Synology DiskStation 207+, and using Acronis TrueImage for full system backups. Both I can highly recommend.

Content-Aware Image Resizing

On SIGGRAPH 2007 Shai Avidan presented a amazing Demo how to resize, shrink and enlarge, images without loosing important content information. Everyone was amazed by this technology but the paper is available and now, in fact, there are some implementations of the algorithm, Seam Carving.
The results are really fascinating because the algorithm works without knowledge about the content of the image. So check out the link on Mike Swanson’s blog, he wrote also a first C# implementation.