Monday, September 23, 2013

What's Next? Indeed!

Last Friday was the last straw for my Samsung Focus Flash phone. I was marveling over how nice our new app for the upcoming Annual Conference looked in HTML 5. It made last year's app look like something from DOS (see below comparisons, screenshots from desktop of workstation running the web app). I was clicking through our Schedule app and found when I clicked on the Speakers link, it failed to pull data on them. When I checked the same app--it's a web url, not a true app--on my workstation, the links went through. The implication was clear to me: somewhere along the html trail, my $.99 Windows Phone's incapacity to update to Win 7.5 was to blame. (This was confirmed by our support people at Tripbuilder.) I needed a new phone!

I already knew that I was not close enough to the end of our AT&T contract to qualify for an upgrade. I checked on the AT&T Web store and there was this new AT&T Next option. It basically comes down to renting a device on a new line grafted to the old contract for 20 months. After 12 months, you can trade your device in for a new one for another 20 months. The remaining 8 months of "rental" payments are dropped. Or you can go the 20 months and then you just continue with the services. What's nice is that you still have qualified for the Next options, so you trade in the device and work it from there.

Suddenly, I'm studying up on the Nokia phones, which I posted about awhile ago. I knew they've been bought by Microsoft. The Here Maps have been touted as superior to even Google Maps. The wonderful camera abilities are certainly welcome. Windows 8 will handle HTML 5 with aplomb. This looked like a no-brainer. The Nokia Lumia 925, brand new with aluminum housing, was offered at $21/mo., while the 920 with 8GB, was offered at $15/mo. With the cost of the new line, a new data package, and insurance, it was closer to $25/mo. added to our current phone invoice. Yes, there was that one line to the defunct WinPhone that would expire in April 2014, but nothing can be done. A contract is a contract.

With that hesitation, I considered an ASUS Windows 8 tablet, but that was $25/mo, plus the $10/mo insurance. The one neat wrinkle was the way it could rewire our overall plan: Jessie's phone would be granted unlimited texting (as if we ever came close to our previous limit!), and my WinPhone and tablet would share 2GB of data service. I've barely gotten close to .75GB let alone the full 3GB I had with the previous plan, so this looked worthy of consideration. It let me keep a phone that was very serviceable in a number of smartphone ways and gave me something I could take to conference and on vacation that could work with the conference app--my overriding concern for making a change--rather than my laptop.

Guess what? Besides the fact that a more reasonably priced solution was available, I balked at using a Windows 8 tablet. I like that OS on a phone, but I've head a lot of grief over Win8 on computers. I went back to the store, knowing that if all else failed, a Nokia Lumia 920 would be a major improvement over the Samsung FF. But I looked around at the AT&T Next deals on other tabs and found the Galaxy 3 Tab 7. The monthly rate was $15, same as for the NL920. I'd keep the phone and I'd be learning one of the two top operating systems in the mobile device market. I'd be able to help a much larger group of ABA members at conference with their apps. It all fell together nicely. And Samsung gets another chance!

As I described earlier, I will share 2GB between the two smart devices (my other choice was 4GB for another $10/mo.). I have been very good with doing major downloading via wifi rather than AT&T with the phone for 16 months now. Granted there aren't as many apps out for Windows as there are for Android and yes, even fewer since so many won't run on Win7.1. What's really sweet is that I've been able to accomplish a lot of downloading under both conditions, because with the old plan's billing date, I am almost obliged to indulge myself as I will start with a clean slate after just five more days! (Half a Gig already and rolling!) Once I've got my essentials and "give-a-try apps" onboard, I will buckle down and stay out of the Play Store.

I'll have more to write about as I get myself up to speed on this new environment. Needless to say, as I am composing this post, I am listening to Pandora and wearing a Cheshire grin. (I did not, however, compose this post on the tablet.)

Previous posts about my Samsung Focus Flash or in some other way related:

Using TripBuilder's Phone App

My Next Phone

And that's why it's called a smart phone

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Life in Clicks

It has to be close to 15 years ago that I was introduced to the Logitech Marble Mouse. Not the one with the blue ball, but the older, flatter one with the red ball that is no longer in production. It took less than two days to become completely enamored of this mouse's advantages: my arm could pretty much stay still and my thumb and eyes conspired to draw when needed or otherwise navigate the workstation screen. I have a pretty good idea that Logitech's device preserved my right arm from carpel tunnel syndrome (CTS) over the years of heavy use, at home as well as work.

Yes, I spend a lot of time in front of a computer. I've already written about and shown pictures of my home system. Presently, I spend my weekdays on a Lenovo Pentium Dual Core workstation that uses Windows XP. Ten years ago that would be considered the state-of-the-art OS and few PCs could touch it for performance. Maybe not the same as cat years or dog years, but computers age on a quicker scale than humans. Software groomed for use on Windows 7 and 8 has no mercy on an OS like XP. Or on the person using it, who often resorts to looking at his smartphone while waiting for the system to complete some arcane process that has frozen the screen.

It's slow. I'm back to opening Photoshop and going for coffee. I could take the elevator and buy it 18 floors away, and still find it settling in. Running with Outlook on and two browsers open is a challenge to my patience when I'm used to my laptop at home blazing away.

With time measured in such slow motion, life becomes measurable in clicks. The question to ask, particularly when you've reached my ripe age, is have I been given an unlimited number of clicks? I've been using a computer for close to three decades. The number of clicks I've performed is one of those rare times when "myriad" is not an exaggeration in measuring them. Consequences exist for those who click beyond their limitations. CTS is only one of them, I'm sure. I can feel strains in my wrist and along my arm, pinging my elbow and worming its way to my shoulder.

You would think of all people who live by clicks, developers would be among those who wage a constant fight against clicks. A Web developer certainly knows that the usability of her site rises and falls with the number of clicks it takes to get to a page. When I started my present job, one of my main duties is as Webmaster for our section's site. My war on clicks began. I can cut down the clicks it takes to get to our pages but the tools I use don't share my goals.

For instance, with a slow OS, I find myself facing this message: "You chose to end the nonresponsive program, ______." If Microsoft truly wanted me to send the report, maybe it would take into consideration the number of clicks it costs for me to do them this service. (See the next two graphics.) Maybe those boxes could just fade after a number of seconds that I am given a chance to determine with the Control Panel (or at least the administrators at the ABA).
 Easy to kick Microsoft for any number of ways it adds clicks to my life. It's like kicking a pigeon.

A company that ought to know better is Adobe. I've mentioned some of these tools before. After a recent major upgrade of their CQ5 content management system, I find it appalling how little regard their developers have for trying to limit clicks for its users. The image below shows how their editing window opens up each and every time I need to make adjustments or to create a new page. Because they limit me to an editing window 12 lines deep, I need to click on each side of that box to expand it to see as much of my page as they allow.

Another editing box that am obliged to work with is how we tag content with metadata. This box works vertically as well as horizontally to provide a list of the controlled vocabulary that goes into tagging our content. To adequately tag a paper submitted by a member to our digital assets manager (DAM) takes 36 clicks. Over the three months of our Midwinter Meetings, I will post close to 400 papers. More than 14,000 clicks. I find myself using my middle finger to click sometimes ... to save wear and tear on my pointer.

Any number of solutions to this unnecessary excess of clicking comes to mind. I could copy and paste tags, or since I'm doing a batch of 20-40 papers that share the same tags, a way to process them in multiples shouldn't be that difficult to program. We're not talking about a brand new product, but one that is in version 5 and charges a beefy licensing fee for it use. Users have had plenty of time to register complaints but nothing has been done. Adobe has plenty of competition that does these things more efficiently, too. (So, yes, our IS department shoulders the culpability in my inevitable decline toward CTS. I've mentioned it to them once or twice now.)

I could mention any number of other ways that my burden of clicks could be eased by Webmasters and our IS department, but these are sufficient examples. 

I should hope by now that you have been inspired to consider ways in which you are wasting clicks on software or at favorite Websites. (As always, feel free to comment!) We pay for these things with more than dollars. We also pay in clicks.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Windows Phone @ Nine Months

I've been calling my phone a retarded Windows Phone. Let's get the slander placed correctly, its the Samsung Focus Flash (SGH-i677 Windows Phone 7.5). It's the "7.5" that sticks in my craw as I cannot update it past Windows 7.1. Without 7.5, a number of appealing apps will not function: Pandora, Spotify, Jack of Tools (compass, altimeter, speedometer, etc.), this is just painful ... I've already bitched and moaned about this, so let's move on.

I have also mentioned how it has been a great help at work in dealing with mobile apps for our conference last November. I did look at iPhone and Android versions of our app with a good deal of envy, but I have hope that HTML 5-based mobile apps will level the playing field.

I have found some great apps:

Evernote. I wanted a "notepad" for remembering my library card number, being able to pull out favorite quotes, and the usual ad hoc note taking. Saved to the Cloud, I can upload notes from my PC to Evernote and have them available on my phone. Check out the website, it's a very nice free app.

I've already mentioned Klick and Accurate Tuner for use with my guitar, but needless to say, they've  made me appreciate the phone.

AmazonKindle has been another addic--useful app in getting (mostly) free e-books to read. It's a very interesting marketplace, to say the least. Another e-reader app that is very interesting, Legimi, appears to be a work of Polish developers as I see a lot of Polish links. Nonetheless, I found great downloads of Robert E. ("Conan the Barbarian") Howard works that my cousin says I must read. He would disapprove of me taking advantage of getting these works free but at least I am reading them as instructed.

Jessie bought me a Seattle Sports Dry Dock Landing Pad (see right, photo compliments of REI) that has two velcro bands that promise to allow me to mount it on my bike. I have a couple of free apps that will allow me to have a speedometer that I can look at while riding (BikeSpeedometer) and Cycle Log, a "cycle diary," which has allowed me to record average speeds, elevation changes and trip time and length. The latter worked without being mounted so I can look at it but it will be very nice to use these apps when biking season begins. (I notice that reviewers have kicked Cycle Log for less than stellar accuracy in handling altitude and distance. I may look into better apps when the season allows me to do comparisons.)

A good friend has me revisiting playing MechWarrior, which requires the use of 10-sided die. I immediately began a search of the apps, finding a half dozen of them that give you a wide variety of game dice (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 and d20). The Dicebox RPG app from Bonehead Software was by far the best implementation of what I hoped for. Let the video tell my tale.

As you can see, one can roll the dice holding the phone and the dice
are visible to anyone playing. (In our game use, the total of the dice isn't important.)
None of the other apps came close to this one.