Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tidal: Finally, lossless streaming audio

At first I saw Tidal with their pretentious launch event and group of highly overpaid artists/owners  I couldn't help but feel the commercialization. The feeling I always get from these superstars that over sell themselves as a product is that I'm being over sold. Have I bought in to what they have to sell me? Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Daft Punk, Kanye West, Deadmau5, Calvin Harris, Madonna.. the list goes on. All of the big names that you would associate with "mainstream", and as a consequence sold out and in more way than one. However, It wasn't this list of owners that sold me on the service, It was the service. I've often read that the first rule to starting a tech company is to make something that people want. In so many ways, this is really hard to do. The main reason I can see is that yes, it is easy to think of something that will definitely take off- but for most of us is that we don't have the money or connections to put it all together.
  One thing that I've always wanted since streaming services started appearing was to have a streaming service that did away with all of the ads and provided the highest quality content. For video this is still an issue- you can't get a high cost all you can consume video service with a completely full catalog of movies streaming high quality video. It just doesn't exist. And with some services, like Hulu, you pay a monthly fee and still get ads!  Thankfully for music, Tidal exists. I love my music but ever since lossy music became the standard I haven't been entirely satisfied. My journey with compression started when I was the first kid at school (and for a while, the only) with a mini-disc player.  This was not CD quality but incredibly good at 292kbps. While kids at my school were making mixes on tape (this was even before burning CD's was an option) I was cutting tracks with sub-second precision. I loved the sound that my mini-disc player had. And the fact that I could put all that awesome sound into something that fit snug in my pocket was immensely satisfying. Then I remembered seeing the first article for solid state players. The first one I recall was 16mb and cost $500.  Even though I knew it would still be a few years before solid state would become viable, the writing was on the wall. Years later I got my first player. I acquired a 256mb Rio from a kid at my school who I found later later had stolen it from his brother. This was the first time I felt the squeeze of not being able to bring or access the music I wanted at the quality I wanted due to space constraints. I wanted to bring enough music with me so, so I would choose a lower quality (128kbps). The quality was passable but I would often defer listening to new music until I had the CD in my hands to play in my car. Today the quality I've become used to has been the 256kbps from Amazon prime. Still no where near the clarity of CD quality, it has become the norm for me. Up until last year I had a CD player in my car and would still buy CD's for the higher quality audio and I would still defer listening to new tracks until I had the hard copy in the CD player. Since then I've traded in my old car for a shiny new 2014 model that comes without a CD player. Needless to say, I've missed high quality music. This is the reason I've tried Tidal, to re-live high quality music that I've been missing and so often gone out of my way to re-capture. And so far, so good. I've only been using the service for a few hours now but the quality is definitely worth it. I hear so much more to each note that the music leaves me feeling full.

So is it worth the hefty $20 a month? More than twice what I pay for Netflix? Maybe, but not for me. I do enjoy my music but I also enjoy silence. I doubt I can listen to as much music for as much time as I spend on Netflix, and again- it is less than half the cost. But this isn't an apples to apples comparison. Compared to other music services I have to say it is does compete nicely- but double the cost for a high quality option seems a bit stretched. I can see a 50% premium but as a whole the service is barely affected. I think if it were a $5 option far more people would opt in and never think twice. For me, I'll see how much I actually use the service but I feel it is all or none for me. Either I'm in it with HIFI or I'm out. There isn't really a compelling reason to use the service besides the HIFI. As I mentioned above, the software is functional but I don't really enjoy using it as I have with other software. And as far as software goes, if I'm paying a premium I expect a premium experience all around- not just with what is coming from my headphones.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Apple finder: where are my files?

A few months ago I decided it would be best to upgrade my Mac computers at the office with Mavericks. Since then my icons and folders have all but disappeared. I thought maybe this was just me when it first happened. I even resorted to reinstalling the entire OS when various methods to fix the situation either failed or only fixed the issue for a short period of time. This hasn't really been an issue for me the past few months only because I hardly use these Mac computers: every so often I create a new version of our software for Mac or I test some bugs that are not reproducible on Windows or Linux. I all but ignored this issue on both our Mac server and Macbook Pro because these computers were not my primary computer and so had little effect on me. About a month ago I decided I needed a new workstation and started looking into the Mac Pro, the reason being that not having a Mac as my workstation lead me to neglect the Mac specific issues of our software. I assumed the disappearing files issues were due to installing Mavericks as an upgrade or not from factory so I went ahead with the order and received my Mac Pro about a month later.

I was pretty happy, up until I had to contact Apple support... because my files were gone.

This thing is quite fast: 6 cores and a PCI-Express hard drive, I'm able to run 2 virtual machines very smoothly with a lot of stuff going on in both of them, as well as running a full dev environment on the Mac itself. Everything was great until my files were completely gone in finder when I went to "Reveal in Finder" from my SVN client. A brand new machine with the same old problem. After exploring a bit further online my coworker discovered another quick fix that appears to resolve the issue again, for now: Relaunch Finder. This can be done by option clicking Finder and selecting "Relaunch" from the menu.

Below, a picture of my new trash can Mac Pro.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Google+ Endorsements = Profit?

I recently read a Business Insider Article article which explains how to opt-out of displaying my ratings and feedback I had provided to apps and services found across the Google ecosystem- I assume this mostly means search results and profile pages in the App store, Maps, etc. What I found quite telling and annoying is that I'll assume this only works one-way; only positive endorsements will be displayed.

My reaction to this is simple- why would I care? I can only imagine google would share with me positive feedback, not negative feedback. For me to make an informed decision I would need to have both- to understand the pro's and the con's. I'll assume that Google makes money on the pro's and has a real risk of losing money (through litigation) by displaying the con's.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Google: No I don't want to "Stay signed in"

The Google recently updated their sign-in page but few may have noticed the subtle changes that are now almost forcing a user to stay signed in.

First off, every time you sign-in the check box is checked by default. Even if you sign in and out- the web page remembers your accounts but will not remember your preference for staying signed in.

Second- if you are signing in and un-check the box but mistype your password the page reloads with the checkbox re-checked.

Third- Since you now are back at this screen and may want to un-check this box again, the tab order is now altered. Before you could simply tab twice past the password box and hit the space-bar to un-check the checkbox. Now a link is in the way- if you tab twice and hit space-bar it will sign you in with the checkbox checked!

All of these seem kind of trivial for most users. Most people want to stay signed in on their personal computer. But for me and many like me I need access to my email from computers that are not my own. For me, having additional ways for my account to accidentally persist its session are cause for concern. Considering that Google probably has large team of people to think about all these scenarios it is also apparent that these changes were intentional to have the user stay signed in as much as possible, even if by mistakte.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Android Permissions: what you should look for before clicking Accept

Chase Mobile
I don't intend to single out these apps in this post for their use of these permissions, as it seems that most android apps ask for and receive too many permissions when the apps are installed.

The Chase online banking application needs some permissions to enable some of the features of the app. This app allows the user to deposit checks using their phone and locate an ATM branch using GPS and mapping output. The app also initializes the dialer to auto-enter (but not dial) the support service.
These features seem useful and sure, they need to access the GPS, network, camera, and phone dialer.
but some other permissions seem to be out of the scope of normal banking and may not even be associated by user initiated features of the software.  which make me wonder what features they have actually use them:
- Disable screen lock: This one is strange. If they can disable the screen lock they can certainly 'spoof' a screen lock once the normal one had been disabled.
- Mock location sources for testing: One could imagine this could be used to tell the user that they are somewhere they are not.
- Take Pictures and Videos: Maybe these permissions are bundled, but should they? Taking a single photo to deposit checks is one thing, but a video seems to be too much
- Your Social Information: Modify contacts, read call log, read contacts, write call log. I can't imagine a legitimate use for any of these. Maybe if "modify contacts" is to include "add contact" if they want to push a Chase contact into my address book, maybe. But the rest sound like clear overreach.
Chase Mobile Branch Locator

Chase Mobile EULA

Super Bright LED Flashlight is an App on the Play marketplace that turns your Android smart-phone into a flashlight by turning on/off the flash LED that is built in for use with camera. The only features  or functionality/features I noticed are:
  • On/Off slider
  • The ability to 'blink' 
  • Super Bright LED Flashlight
  • Sound feedback on/off switch
  • Banner ads on the bottom
  • Reminder to rate the application
To be completely honest I found this app to be useful and fun to use. The slider graphic and ability to switch into blinking mode were not very useful but it made it a well rounded application more than just an on/off button for an LED.
However, even though I was happy with the features it gave me I am still a bit confused why it needs so much access to the phone itself. I'm guessing this has to do with how the application was built, rather than to provide functionality to the features that are given to the user. And since all I really wanted was a flashlight- pretty much anything besides access to the camera shouldn't be asked for, right?

 Storage: Modify or delete the contents of your USB storage
 User Features: I'll venture to guess this could be to save and load the status of the settings for the flashlight such as the blink setting or the sound on/off.

Your Location: Approximate location (network-based), precise location(GPS and network-based)
When I saw this feature in the list prior to first installing the app I thought maybe it was to link to where I was using the flashlight, or maybe while I'm using flashlight I can snap a pic? Now I'm guessing at best must be linked to the ads that appear, and at worst to track where I'm using their app.

Camera: Take pictures and videos
Just like with the chase app it seems this permission is linked to all possible functions of the camera. It doesn't even mention turning flash on-off but it must be part of the camera controls and is therefore linked to this explicit permission.

Your applications information: Retrieve running apps
I can't understand why a flashlight app would need to know what other running apps are loaded. Maybe there is a feature that tracks usage of the apps to gaugue how much power usage is being drained over time to let the flashlight know when it should turn off? The app doesn't appear to have this feature but I can't say I have used it while the phone has been running out of power to know for certain. The only reason I can guess if it is not a feature it is something to track the users habits for sale or use by the people distributing this app.

Phone Calls: Read phone status and identity
This one is also confusing. Why would a flashlight need to know if the phone is in use or who is using the phone? These two permissions are probably bundled, as we have seen with the Camera, so maybe one of these has a legitimate use. I must guess that the flashlight wants to turn off if a call is coming in (or flash, or something) which would be a good feature to have so the flashlight doesn't burn the battery when the user is on the phone.

Network Communication: Full network access
Most flashlights I have used in the past have not had access to communication networks. On the face of this permission it seems very obvious at this point they are not simply providing a free flashlight for you. They want you to provide feedback, click ads, and possibly send more data for them to use or sell.

System Tools: Modify system settings, test access to protected storage
As with most of the other permissions it is not clear what you are allowing the application to do. As we noticed before there are some permissions not explicitly granted in the permissions dialog, but are assumed implicity by the Android operating system. For this permission it is very unclear what the application may be doing to require this permission or what this permission really means. If we look at just these two permissions we have to assume that this app can change brightness settings, network settings, sync settings, and any other settings in the settings panel- possibly installing and uninstalling software they have decided (anti-virus, etc). This appears to be a security hole and I can't even imagine what the flashlight needs from this setting. The second setting is just as bad. The app is testing access to protected storage- possibly to check if the app can do something and get away with it without causing the operating system or anti-virus to flag the behavior.

Affects Battery: Control flashlight, prevent phone from sleeping
I got through all these settings, giving the benefit of the doubt to this app that they simply want to control the flashlight and maybe they are doing some tricks to get that to work- such as accessing the camera or possibly some system settings. It seems that is not the case.

This app wants to do a lot more than provide a free flashlight- it wants to control your phone.

Flashlight Permissions 
Even more Flashlight
Flashlight Rating Reminder

Saturday, March 30, 2013

North Korea: Please re-evaluate "military first"

In all the rhetoric coming from North Korea it is clear they are placing in the back shadow the want for reunification. In the past this meant invading South Korea, and since then it meant bolstering their military might to some day try again. It seems that day will never come, even North Korean leadership know this. They are playing the cards they have dealt to them to blackmail the world into concessions. But why? Why "military first" as a national policy? Reading the bellicose rants from their press releases it is easy to see that for them, military means survival. They feel that without a strong military confrontation and stance, they will be ignored and made irrelevant. I feel that someone, and I hope some people have tried already, to tell them they should exchange "military first" with "reunification first". Why not bolster your nations strengths in social and economic growth rather than military. Why not make themselves better people first, rather than warriors without a war, or at least without one they have a hope to survive. It seems very petty, and too immature to be the actual reason they are completely broken as a nation: their leadership wants to be seen as a god, no matter what. Not even as a great leader, but as a living god to be worshiped. Can't there be a middle ground? Why not a benevolent dictator that leads by virtue and honor, rather than childish games of name calling and global extortion?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Chromebook Pixel: Another follow up

I rarely buy something I can't touch first but after I saw the Pixel announced I knew exactly what they did. They made the perfect developer laptop, and that's what their intention was.
I think most people are like me, and what I am looking for is:
  • Full size, fully functional keyboard. I was skeptical at first- after I ordered the machine I realized I hadn't even looked at the keyboard layout. THen I looked online before it shipped and saw things like a power button, a search key, no function keys. That was off-putting but nothing was really missing. Search key instead of caps-lock. That's better. The keys that I thought "weren't" function keys, actual are. They just have actual functions now.
  • Bright big display. With 4:3 aspect ratio you can get more screen by going vertical. Other manufacturers with full size keyboards that have 16:10 or 16:9 won't get as many vertical pixels. This display is actually quite huge considering the amount of pixels it has- making it 'bigger' than my 30" monitor at 2600x1700. But not only is it huge, I can use it well too. The problem I've had with the 30" is having to move my head to see all those pixels on the screen. I end up using that display at a very crisp 1280x800 instead. On the pixel I can use all those pixels, and see them all. The display is small, but huge.
  • Thin, yet sturdy. It's not made of plastic, this thing is pretty solid. Some laptop screens are way too thin and seem like they would bend or flex. This one is thin but solid. I threw the thing off my bed last night at 3am after I fell asleep watching a documentary on North Korea- the thing SLAM on the floor probably scare the crap out of the guy living below me. Not a scratch. I thought the hinges would have bent or something, because this thing hit really hard, but nothing. No scratch.
  • Expansion, ports: Pixel has SD card reader to expand memory. I would have been happy to get USB 3 but to be honest I don't really transfer files too much any more. They are saved on the network.
So far I'm loving my Pixel, even though to be honest it's not my primary because it just stays home for now. I do some work on it from home but I am tempted daily to bring this to work to start using there because the feel of this machine is just great. My only dislike for the machine and probably the main reason I wouldn't use it at work is the glare. I hate screens with a reflection. This one is great to work at home but at work I'll have other light sources to ruin the experience.