Last three years with software

Long time ago I decided to blog about my technology struggles – mostly with software but also with consumer devices. Don’t know why it happened on Christmas Eve though. Two years later I repeated the format. And here we are three years after that. So the next post can be expected in four years, I guess. Actually, I split this into two – one for software, mostly based on professional experience, and the other one for consumer technology.

Without further ado, let’s dive into this… well… dive, it will be obviously pretty shallow. Let’s skim the stuff I worked with, stuff I like and some I don’t.

Java case – Java 8 (verdict: 5/5)

This time I’m adding my personal rating right into the header – little change from previous post where it was at the end.

I love Java 8. Sure, it’s not Scala or anything even more progressive, but in context of Java philosophy it was a huge leap and especially lambda really changed my life. BTW: Check this interesting Erik Meijer’s talk about category theory and (among other things) how it relates to Java 8 and its method references. Quite fun.

Working with Java 8 for 17 months now, I can’t imagine going back. Not only because of lambda and streams and related details like Map.computeIfAbsent, but also because date and time API, default methods on interfaces and the list could probably go on.

JPA 2.1 (no verdict)

ORM is interesting idea and I can claim around 10 years of experience with it, although the term itself is not always important. But I read books it in my quest to understand it (many programmers don’t bother). The idea is kinda simple, but it has many tweaks – mainly when it comes to relationships. JPA 2.1 as an upgrade is good, I like where things are going, but I like the concept less and less over time.

My biggest gripes are little control over “to-one” loading, which is difficult to make lazy (more like impossible without some nasty tricks) and can result in chain loading even if you are not interested in the related entity at all. I think there is reason why things like JOOQ cropped up (although I personally don’t use it). There are some tricks how to get rid of these problems, but they come at cost. Typically – don’t map these to-one relationships, keep them as foreign key values. You can always fetch the stuff with query.

That leads to the bottom line – be explicit, it pays off. Sure, it doesn’t work universally, but anytime I leaned to the explicit solutions I felt a lot of relief from struggles I went through before.

I don’t rank JPA, because I try to rely on less and less ORM features. JPA is not a bad effort, but it is so Java EE-ish, it does not support modularity and the providers are not easy to change anyway.

Querydsl (5/5)

And when you work with JPA queries a lot, get some help – I can only recommend Querydsl. I’ve been recommending this library for three years now – it never failed me, it never let me down and often it amazed me. This is how criteria API should have looked like.

It has strong metamodel allowing to do crazy things with it. We based kinda universal filtering layer on it, whatever the query is. We even filter queries with joins, even on joined fields. But again – we can do that, because our queries and their joins are not ad-hoc, they are explicit. 🙂 Because you should know your queries, right?

Sure, Querydsl is not perfect, but it is as powerful as JPQL (or limited for that matter) and more expressive than JPA criteria API. Bugs are fixed quickly (personal experience), developers care… what more to ask?

Docker (5/5)

Docker stormed into our lives, for some practically for others at least through the media. We don’t use it that much, because lately I’m bound to Microsoft Windows and SQL Server. But I experimented with it couple of times for development support – we ran Jenkins in the container for instance. And I’m watching it closely because it rocks and will rock. Not sure what I’m talking about? Just watch DockerCon 2015 keynote by Solomon Hykes and friends!

Sure – their new Docker Toolbox accidentally screwed my Git installation, so I’ll rather install Linux on VirtualBox and test docker inside it without polluting my Windows even further. But these are just minor problems in this (r)evolutionary tidal wave. And one just must love the idea of immutable infrastructure – especially when demonstrated by someone like Jérôme Petazzoni (for the merit itself, not that he’s my idol beyond professional scope :-)).

Spring 4 and on (4/5)

I have been aware of the Spring since the dawn of microcontainers – and Spring emerged victorious (sort of). A friend of mine once mentioned how much he was impressed by Rod Johnson’s presentation about Spring many years ago. How structured his talk and speech was – the story about how he disliked all those logs pouring out of your EE application server… and that’s how Spring was born (sort of).

However, my real exposure to Spring started in 2011 – but it was very intense. And again, I read more about it than most of my colleagues. And just like with JPA – the more I read, the less I know, so it seems. Spring is big. And start some typical application and read those logs – and you can see EE of 2010’s (sort of).

That is not that I don’t like Spring, but I guess its authors (and how many they are now) simply can’t see anymore what beast they created over the years. Sure, there is Spring Boot which reflects all the trends now – like don’t deploy into container, but start the container from within, or all of its automagic features, monitoring, clever defaults and so on. But that’s it. More you don’t do, but you better know about it. Or not? Recently I got to one of the newer Uncle Bob’s articles – called Make the Magic go away. And there is undeniably much to it.

Spring developers do their best, but the truth is that many developers just adopt Spring because “it just works”, while they don’t know how and very often it does not (sort of). You actually should know more about it – or at least some basics for that matter – to be really useful. Of course – this magic problem is not only about Spring (or JPA), but these are the leaders of the “it simply works” movement.

But however you look at it, it’s still “enterprise” – and that means complexity. Sometimes essential, but mostly accidental. Well, that’s also part of the Java landscape.

Google Talk (RIP)

And this is for this post’s biggest let down. Google stopped supporting their beautifully simple chat client without any reasonable replacement. Chrome application just doesn’t seem right to me – and it actually genuinely annoys me with it’s chat icon that hangs on the desktop, sometimes over my focused application, I can’t relocate it easily… simply put, it does not behave as normal application. That means it behaves badly.

I switched to pidgin, but there are issues. Pidgin sometimes misses a message in the middle of the talk – that was the biggest surprise. I double checked, when someone asked me something reportedly again, I went to my Gmail account and really saw the message in Chat archive, but not in my client. And if I get messages when offline, nothing notifies me.

I activated the chat in my Gmail after all (against my wishes though), merely to be able to see any missing messages. But sadly, the situation with Google talk/chat (or Hangout, I don’t care) is dire when you expect normal desktop client. 😦

My Windows toolset

Well – now away from Java, we will hop on my typical developer’s Windows desktop. I mentioned some of my favourite tools, some of them couple of times I guess. So let’s do it quickly – bullet style:

  • Just after some “real browser” (my first download on the fresh Windows) I actually download Rapid Environment Editor. Setting Windows environment variables suddenly feels normal again.
  • Git for Windows – even if I didn’t use git itself, just for its bash – it’s worth it…
  • …but I still complement the bash with GnuWin32 packages for whatever is missing…
  • …and run it in better console emulator, recently it’s ConEmu.
  • Notepad2 binary.
  • And the rest like putty, WinSCP, …
  • Also, on Windows 8 and 10 I can’t imagine living without Classic Shell. Windows 10 is a bit better, but their Start menu is simply unusable for me, classic Start menu was so much faster with keyboard!

As an a developer I sport also some other languages and tools, mostly JVM based:

  • Ant, Maven, Gradle… obviously.
  • Groovy, or course, probably the most popular alternative JVM language. Not to mention that groovsh is good REPL until Java 9 arrives (recently delayed beyond 2016).
  • VirtualBox, recently joined by Vagrant and hopefully also something like Chef/Puppet/Ansible. And this leads us to my plans.

Things I want to try

I was always friend of automation. I’ve been using Windows for many years now, but my preference of UNIX tools is obvious. Try to download and spin up virtual machine for Windows and Linux and you’ll see the difference. Linux just works and tools like Vagrant know where to download images, etc.

With Windows people are not even sure how/whether they can publish prepared images (talking about development only, of course), because nobody can really understand the licenses. Microsoft started to offer prepared Windows virtual machines – primarily for web development though, no server class OS (not that I appreciate Windows Server anyway). They even offer Vagrant, but try to download it and run it as is. For me Vagrant refused to connect to the started VirtualBox machine, any reasonable instructions are missing (nothing specific for Vagrant is in the linked instructions), no Vagrantfile is provided… honestly, quite lame work of making my life easier. I still appreciate the virtual machines.

But then there are those expiration periods… I just can’t imagine preferring any Microsoft product/platform for development (and then for production, obviously). The whole culture of automation on Windows is just completely different – read anything from “nonexistent for many” through “very difficult” to “made artificially restricted”. No wonder many Linux people can script and too few Windows guys can. Licensing terms are to be blamed as well. And virtual machine sizes for Windows are also ridiculous – although Microsoft is reportedly trying to do something in this field to offer reasonably small base image for containerization.

Anyway, back to the topic. Automation is what I want to try to improve. I’m still doing it anyway, but recently the progress is not that good I wished it to be. I fell behind with Gradle, I didn’t use Docker as much as I’d like to, etc. Well – but life is not work only, is it? 😉

Conclusion

Good thing is there are many tools available for Windows that make developer’s (and former Linux user’s) life so much easier. And if you look at Java and its whole ecosystem, it seems to be alive and kicking – so everything seems good on this front as well.

Maybe you ask: “What does 5/5 mean anyway?” Is it perfect? Well, probably not, but at least it means I’m satisfied – happy even! Without happiness it’s not 5, right?

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From HTC Wildfly to Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini

I bought my first smartphone (HTC Wildfire) in Dec 2010 and my second (Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini) in Jan 2015. So it’s roughly 4 years difference. The latter is a tad bigger (didn’t want too big anyway), display is much better (height from 320px to 800px), is significantly faster (HTC Wildfire was a sloth really :-)), is driven by newer Android (4.x compared to 2.x on HTC)… but I expected more. And as always – God/Devil is in the detail(s).

What does not work on new mobiles?

So what was wrong when I got together with my new Samsung pet? Many more things than I expected actually – and many of them would not come to me in the worst dreams:

  • No notification LED! Seriously. If you miss the call you find out only when you check it. It may vibrate when you pick it up, but no way to look at it and spot that something is missing. The same goes for weak battery or any other event that made HTC Wildfire blink its diode. Shame, really.
  • Funny ringtone starting quiet – reportedly this can be disabled on Galaxies with pocket ring option turned off, but this one is not available on my phone at all. Or you can get some app that resolves this, but only on rooted devices. Thank you…
  • Default Clock/Weather widget? Big and always goes to Weather. Every single person I asked would expect to go to alarm/stopwatch/timer application after touching time (EZ Weather widgets are nice replacement). After all these Android years maybe producers should do the things in similar fashion. This limited offering is a big (or rather large, with size 4×2) letdown rendering Samsung’s widget useless.
  • Lock button on the side is exposed a bit more than necessary – but if you accidently restart the phone in your pocket, you’ll get gentle vibration as a reminder. 🙂
  • Samsung Kies! Are you kidding me? Where is USB mass storage? At least for flash card. Later I found out that while phone does not appear as a drive on my Windows 8.1, it can be browsed from This PC. (Sometimes I think Samsung should really stop trying to develop any software. Smart TV? People don’t want them? Not because they wouldn’t like the features, but they don’t like the actual execution! Sadly, this is probably rather management/strategic flaw than incapable developers. Waste of money in any case.)
  • Lastly the minor point – compared to HTC it takes more touches to start a call. Gesture starting a call when you are on a contact is helping a bit. But on HTC I got my history right on the first screen of phone application and it was one more touch to repeat a recent call.

After all this time I’d expect general Android environments being a bit further. Sure HTC has good clock+weather widget – is it patented or what? Is it so difficult to copy the good ideas? Or is being “different” so important even when it means being plain stupid?

Good things

Power compared to old HTC. Here it’s not only about 4 years younger device, it is about HTC Wildfire being too limited even for 2.x Android. Galaxy S3 Mini is adequate and usable. It plays videos from youtube, no problem (not to mention the resolution).

Let’s do some bullets again (in no particular order):

  • I like widget to turn on/off led lamp (torch)! 🙂
  • I like options to use home key to answer the call and lock button to end it. Easy to set up and feels more natural than display touching.
  • Notification area and all the icons easily accessible (drag notification panel down, then click to the upper right corner). And battery status widget. I used some Settings application on HTC (from store) that worked after holding Home button for a while and also offered me all the options at a glance. This is here out of the box.
  • Compared to HTC you really can browse the internet here. Wildfire’s display was really coarse (320px high). I don’t use it that much because whatever I want to do on the internet I rather do on PC, but it is handy here and there.
  • The battery can still keep the phone alive for 6 days! (I was used to 7 with HTC.) Of course this is probably just me – other people who actually use their phone report 2 days top. I’m on 2G (GSM), wifi scheduled only for short times to sync with my account (Wifi Scheduler is cool app!) and I just call here and there. And no, I don’t turn it off for nights.

Well, and that’s all! 🙂 I didn’t get so many nice surprises, but I didn’t expect to anyway. Mobile works, sound is reasonably good, no quiet earpiece (HTC One V) or “can’t answer the call after pulling phone from pocket” (HTC Wildfire). I’m in no mood to return the Galaxy S3 Mini. Not that I love it – but hey, it’s just a phone. 😉

Losing control

The first negative surprise with Samsung came actually soon after it booted the very first time. It asked for Wifi connection in the process and even though I provided it (and it worked) Galaxy decided to use mobile data without bothering to ask (HTC Wildfire was much better behaved in this aspect and asked kindly first and I could suppress mobile data). My provider sent me SMS informing me that I’ll be charged for one day of internet (up to some limit) 50 eurocents. This was actually pretty good because I could act – god knows when I would realize that Samsung uses mobile data otherwise. Very bad default indeed – especially for people who are not used to mobile data and turn them off once and for all.

This is my general observation lately – things get simplified (let’s face it, often plain dumbed down), streamlined – in any way (good or bad). Many products are now offered for free, but they push forward things we’re not interested in. Sometimes “we” may be minority, maybe even just “me”, but I’m pretty sure in many cases it is majority of people who don’t like the change (unless they don’t care at all of course). I don’t want to talk about some human freedoms here, how we yield our control to bad corporations or what… but I really don’t understand why we can’t turn off many services we don’t want in our mobile phones. HTC always restarted some Stock service I never wanted so it always ate memory where RAM was just 384 MiB. Samsung is no better obviously.

So better or worse?

Obviously, newer Samsung is better. It’s cheaper and gives me more than HTC 4 years ago. HTC Wildfire felt more solid in hand, also its surface was nicer than plastic Galaxy S3 Mini, but these are minor things. I’ve been excited about technology for many years actually – we take it for granted now, but these are all small miracles. I just wish software was better, maybe more evolutionary than revolutionary, because it’s mostly more buggy and unfinished than new.

Would I recommend Samsung S3 Mini? No. 🙂 It’s not sold anymore anyway so it seems.

I generally like Samsung, their design, menu on their TVs feels always familiar… But next time I’ll try some China mobile with better parameters (on paper) and even lower price. I’m no newest/hottest freak and just as I decided not to try HTC anymore, I’ll probably skip Samsung as well. If I’m surprised by omission of totally expected features (notification LED?!) then let it not bear name Samsung.

My last two years with technology

I’ve been quite busy lately – hence the pause in my blogging. My last post was very specific Java related article, today we’re going to do something lighter – a little whine about various devices, gizmos and maybe even software/services I’ve encountered during the last two years. While generally I love our age for the current level of technology, sometimes I’m desperate seeing unnecessary flaws, often just software ones – and these can seriously affect the final experience. However, today I decided to add a lot of good examples, too, and every case should be short (though I’m bad at keeping stuff short ;-)).

BTW: Now I see that this is actually sort of continuation of this post.

Phone case: HTC One V

I like Android phones in general. And I like both my Wildfire and One V – however they both have quite funny flaws. Wildfire’s display is unresponsive when I pull it out of my pocket while ringing (that’s why I call back my friends right after I can’t pick them up) and One V – for a change – is very quite in-call. In both cases those are quite crucial phone related issues – and in both cases many people observe the same (but not all). Other than that – on Wildfire (2.x Android) I liked that default HTC clock application showed time of the next alarm and this view was removed from newer OS. Of course One V is faster and better in overall, but still… 3 out of 5 stars. Both.

Partition case: EASEUS Partition Master Home Edition

I wanted some free legal replacement for Partition Magic – and I found this. It may not be all-powered tool for every thing around partitions, but it did anything I wanted and so far never failed. Partitions smaller or bigger? Merge partitions? (Here it actually needs enough space on the partition you are going to merge to for all the files from the other partition – but that’s rather a non-issue.) System copied to my new SSD disk? No problem. Using Windows repair process took much longer after that. 😉 5/5! For free? Yes!

Disc case: SSD drives (Crucial M4 in my case)

Talking about SSD – well, technically it is indeed non-disk, but you know how it goes. SSD generally is fast, of course, but also cheap enough nowadays – so to put there your system volume at least is a really good idea. I did so and my computer runs and starts programs much faster. This is currently probably the best boost you can get for your money. CPU or memory or GPU? Phew… SSD made my computer fleet-footed. I can’t say more really, I somehow decided one day, checked the prices, cross-referenced all the new names for me (like Crucial, never heard of them before!), reviews were good, so I bought this one. And I’m not even having SATA3 on my mobo. 5/5

Java case: Spring JdbcTemplate

When I can I program against standard APIs – like JPA2 instead of Hibernate. When I can. Sometimes you need to go through the select cursor-style and while I could use underlying Hibernate, I decided to go straight for JDBC. And I wrote all the code. With ifs and wheres and parameters. After a couple of hours, I was done, piece was tested and then it hit me! “Man, there is supposed to be that Spring class making it much easier!” JdbcTemplate made the job, I didn’t have to write my ifs twice (first to get the query, then the parameters again), all the exceptions were handled for me and there was even every case you could think about how to process the result set (in my case callback for every row of it). This is how I like stuff made. Documentation clear… actually I mostly just let IDEA to offer me the choices and I made them right there the right way thanks to proper names. Love that. 5/5

JavaScript case: File download plugin for jQuery

Check what this plugin is about – and also its demo. Users sometimes want silly things like “can you disable the button after I press download…” (sure I can!) “…and then after download enable it again?” (are you crazy?!) But you can do it with this plugin based on hidden iframe and a cookie. I had to adjust it a bit because I had a corner case (but quite common) that there were no data and no download, which is third case from user’s perspective in addition to success and (server) failure. I’m no JavaScript expert, on the contrary – but I fell in love with jQuery in the process. And however silly HTTP is for delivering applications, things like jQuery and this plugin make it more bearable (though HTML5 and things like WebSocket mend a lot of my 10-year old concerns). For this plugin and the whole idea – 5/5.

Command-line case: GNU tools for Windows – GnuWin

I never liked all that CygWin heavy-weighted stuff, but GnuWin packages made my day. I just installed them, added c:\Program Files (x86)\GnuWin\bin into my PATH (they all go to the same dir, luckily) and stared cmd just to enjoy grep (package grep), awk (gawk), ls (and many more in coreutils), zip/unzip/gzip/tar/bzip2 and of course sed! Mentioning typical Unix/Linux tools – you may also like (not related to GnuWin) vim, though I’m happy with notepad2 for most cases (read second half of this post). But you never know when you need vim’s macros. But yeah, these are not really command line tools in Windows. GnuWin packages definitely are and they deserve 5/5 for making my life easier.

Windows environment case: Rapid Environment Editor

After so many times heading into System, Advanced, bla-bla, setting the PATH in that super short line I realized “there must be a better way and someone must have already fixed this”. Yes, they have – with Rapid Environment Editor. Adding new paths with this tool is just so much better, it checks whether the path is valid – even with other variables you are referencing (if those are paths, like JAVA_HOME for instance). No more needs to be added: 5/5

Corporate tool case: Planview

For me Planview is just a tool to report my hours. I don’t use its powerful project management features. And every time I need some report out of it I don’t understand the language it is speaking to me. This tool one of those tools forgetting that they are not my only primary tools I use. Honestly, I openly hate it. Terms out of other world, a lot of misuses of the application (not only mine actually), tons of discussion how we should use it – and still we’re not using it the right way. Personally – I blame the tool. I can use Jira, Confluence and many other tools without any problem, but Planview is simply killing me. 1/5 (and yup, it’s IE only)

More-than-a-mail case: Lotus Notes

Lotus – I think this is love or hate thing, but however defended by people who like it, it is still viewed as pain by the vast majority of users. My Lotus for instance doesn’t display mouse cursor in mail editor when it’s not focused window, wrongly shows which tab is selected when two are opened at once, pastes Excel tables is as image by default and there are many other silly defaults. Date you see in trash is trash date, not the date of the message? You can’t reply to mail in your sent mail?! My contacts get often screwed by some cashing I don’t understand and don’t care at all. Not to mention it doesn’t look like normal Windows application (not that I’m a big fan of Windows, but still). Once a colleague closed Notes by accident and I just thought it funny to remark “see, stupid Lotus Notes” – just because whatever bad happens there is kinda Notes’ fault. I read people testifying how Notes rocks, etc. But these people live in the closed world of Lotus. Linux guys can hate Outlook, but it is really usable. Lotus? As a mail and calendar? Not a chance here… 2/5

Blu-ray case: Samsung BD-E6100

Recently I’ve got myself a blu-ray player (finally). I wanted Samsung, because my TV is Samsung, price was alright, I chose model with wi-fi, brought it home and after some initial scare (it didn’t play any disk first, I had to unplug it and after this kind of restart it was fine) I was happy about its performance, speed and everything, especially compared to our older DVD player (newer Philips luckily have remotes for common people too, not only for snipers). I managed to play content from computers (with Serviio installed, though SRT subtitles don’t work unexpectedly) and remote control provided four crucial buttons for TV (on/off, Source, volume up/down) – actually many of buttons from Samsung TV remote work as well (expected). After some time I decided to plug ethernet cable in though, because wi-fi often lost the connection to the router (our notebooks never have the problem, even from the same place). Even with ethernet most of the Smart HUB stuff is quite slow. In overall it was a big upgrade compared to DVD player and I was actually surprised how well it works and plays. And Smart stuff? They still might upgrade it somehow and I didn’t buy it for that anyway. 4/5
Edit 2014:
I’d lower the rating to 3/5 after thorough experience. Compared to previous DVD player it does not continue where it ended when turned on again. Actually it does for files, but not for discs. Actually sometimes yes… but nobody knows when and why as it is not even consistent with the same disc. And sometimes it makes funny noises and is very slow with blu-ray discs. With too many of them to be the disc fault.

Conclusion

Not once I was thinking about myself as a “toiletologist”, because I just think too much about every single flaw of toilets as well. I never could understand why we – mankind – are unable to develop total toilet that always flushes everything, why we again and again put urinals so close together that you can use only 2 of 3 in the end, why we put toilet cubicles with legs on shiny reflective floor, not to mention various silly ways how to screw with automation of flushing, washing, drying or whatever.

Sometimes I want to scream “how could you do such a silly mistake?” But then I realize: “Man, it’s just software, it’s meant to be buggy (not that I agree that much :-)), the whole computer science is so much younger compared to the building industry – and look what they are able to do in a silly way every now and then. Not only on toilets, but when these are still not ‘debugged’ after all those millennia then what should we expect from the software, hm?”

The more I am happy for technology that really helps and doesn’t “think” that it will be the only thing I need to pay attention to. I have my own real life beyond technology too, after all.

Not so Christmas technology whining

First of all – Merry Christmas (and eventually Happy New Year considering my last blogging pause) to you all. I’m sitting in my living room, son is ill and sleeping sooner than expected (mid-day) and wife is cooking something for the evening. And I decided to report about just a few technology problems I met recently – and I think it’s shame that I had to. Often I just ask “how this can happen in 21st century?” But it probably will again in 22nd too – in a way.

I’m just listening to Christmas songs and I realized I started to like them recently – not sure if because I’m getting old or what – or because I sing them occasionally at a music school. Probably both. So let’s see my little stupid technical issues in random order:

Amazon restrictions (not only, and maybe Amazon is not to be blamed)

And we’re getting to the first problem I encountered lately – today actually. Amazon wrote me previously that I have some free credit to download some songs for my previous shopping. Nice, I grinned. Today I really wanted something – The Priests and their Little Drummer Boy. But Amazon said “sorry, but it’s not available in your country”. Yeah, no wonder, who would sell music here – to Slovakia where we still live on trees or what. Whatever. Of course I will listen to that song today. There are alternatives.

Skype is so annoying (no news here)

I wanted to download Skype client for my mom and was lead through Czech page (which was OK), but needed do log in on web before I could get the client itself. Never happened to me before, it’s annoying and stupid. I want direct download link! Is it really your mission to annoy your users recently? (Automagic ebay related toolbars and stuff, window open after start in Windows 7… what’s wrong with you guys?) Of course: “Just don’t use it!” The trouble is my family does.

I reported part of it via some Skype support form and after submitting I saw: “Thanks so much. We’ll learn a lot from that comment.” Well, I hope so. 🙂

Google Calendar sends notifications, Google Mail puts them into Spam

Title says it all! For this I missed my last football game with friends this Wednesday. It was different day than others Wednesdays and our son got fever too and in all that mess I forgot and there was nothing to remind me. My new HTC Wildfire wasn’t set with alarm yet… but back to the problem. Isn’t it ironic? Google sending emails from their service just to end up in Spam of Google mail? So you rather want to white-list notification address.

HTC Wildfire difficulties with answering calls

I carry my phones in pockets – actually as most people around me. Otherwise you have to have it in some bag or on your belt (I don’t wear belts). Soon I noticed that my new HTC Wildfire has real problems with answering calls very often. Googling revealed many other people have the same problem – and many others don’t believe them. 🙂 (“When I don’t have the problem, you can’t have it either… you’re stupid and don’t know how to use your phone.” Or similar.) In one thread there was that idea that it somehow relates to carrying the phone in one’s pocket. And indeed – it always happened when I pulled it from my jeans. It was easy to demonstrate it. Now I’m in talks with HTC support. I’m curious how will it end. (And for those curious – it’s vanilla HTC Wildfire, no branding, Andorid 2.2.)

I could go on with many other issues related to Android or this phone, but funny enough – I just like it enough to adjourn these for some other post. But as you probably agree answering calls is kinda essential feature. And “don’t carry it in your pocket” is not the right answer.

Another wannabe spammer – Kongregate

After 9 Dragons also Kongregate network showed how NOT to it. It’s funny that big corporations (where my subscriptions is much more important and often related to my profession) can live with direct unsubscribe links and obscure sites (I sometimes register to for whatever reason) starts sending their newsletters often after some longer time, I have no idea what the hell the site is about and I have to log in to fix the situation. But I think it’s fair to let them know. So I wrote them on their support form:

Please include Unsubscribe link from email that works without login. I had to renew my password after you started to send me emails after a few months. I can’t understand why some can’t do it properly. So often notifications start to pour from service I hadn’t hear about for months (often years) and when I need to stop them, I have to spend more time than I wished to to do so. Please, for the sake of other random users of your service, do it better.

And some positives?

There are many, we just don’t notice them so easily – because they don’t angry us, right? Not sure since when, but YouTube now allows for unlisted videos. Exactly what I wanted to share videos with my family. You can’t imagine how difficult it is to instruct mommy how to register and become my friend on YouTube. This made my day.

And as we started we will end: Merry Christmas however you like it. 🙂

Supertramp, Paris and the others

Recently I’ve received my first package from Amazon. For I felt like I’m short of Supertramp’s albums – and it was my favourite band once (later replaced by U2 on #1 spot ;-)) – it’s no surprise there were 4 CDs by this band. I have Paris live bought like ten years ago or so. Now it was the right time to fill up the list with Crime Of the Century, Even in the Quietest Moments, Breakfast in America and their Famous Last Words. I can write tons of things about Supertramp – not about their life, you can find that anywhere else – but about their music, what I like about it, how I feel it. And of course how I disagree with some reviews – which is normal if you’re fan.

Let’s start with Paris. No… let’s start with how I came to this band. My father had many a cassettes with many albums that were normally not accessible in Czechoslovakia in those old days before 1989. Music played a lot in our house and I just listened without realizing what is what – I was like 5? 8? Later I started to like some particular interprets – Mike Oldfield was probably my first favourite one (thanks to Discovery/Crisis tape), swiftly followed by Yes (90125) and finally Supertramp. Here I just loved how Breakfast album started – the opening song (I didn’t know the name for many, many years) being Gone Hollywood.

I just loved the way how it started with the distant piano bursting into falsetto vocals supported by rock solid guitar (not hard, but not soft either) and bass line – and of course their trademark piano. This all ceases after the first minute and we’re getting into something completely different than “verse, refrain, verse, refrain, bridge, solo, refrain, whatever” kind of song you normally know. Saxophone, repetitive piano and TONS of atmosphere. Strings when needed, Rick’s (Davies) voice, with that saxophone being second voice – this all gradating around 2:40-3:10 (check that sax!) and then moving into Roger’s vocals with solo guitar on the background (isn’t that contradictory? :-)) and returning back to the start of the song – just a bit louder.

Don’t get me wrong – Supertramps do normal songs too – just listen to the next one – The Logical Song. I know many people who don’t know about Supertramp, but they almost always know this song (along with It’s Raining Again, Breakfast in America, and then some of them also Dreamer and a few others). So you can just use these to to test yourself – will you like the Supertramp? These two are not maybe the best selection, but it’s hard to do selection of two being “the most typical”. But you have their piano there (electric in the Logical), their so typical saxophone, both voices (Rick and Roger, both authors too) – and you can be sure this is them in their best. Supertramp is somewhere on the edge of art and pop, sometimes clearly in one of these areas – and they are convincing in both of them.

Many years later I realized they are good with guitar too – not that it is their main instrument, but their solos are not out of place at all and supporting guitar is definitely rocky too – sure I don’t mean hard rock. Add organ and go on with listening the third song of Breakfast – Goodbye Stranger. Fast paced with one tone wah-wah based solo – and very fresh. They don’t sound like stuck in 1979, the sound stood the test of time. Sure they don’t sound like 2 Unlimited. Thanks for that. 😉 Next song is the eponymous Breakfast In America. Rhythm of bear walking on two, supported with tuba (yes, that big brum-brum hanging on your neck trumpet), bit of fun, bit of seriousness, just lovely. First side of album (in times of vinyl LPs) is closed by a bit lighter Oh! Darling.

B side starts with just awesome Take the Long Way Home – this is Supertramp in their truly best. Strings, piano, great chords, perfect atmoshphere, harmonica – and especially that dialog of harmonica and clarinet is just perfect. This song has perfect flow, perfectly leans from one side to the other with every subtle change of the harmony on the piano. And the strings before second refrain… after all these years this one is probably my favourite song of the album, chased closely by Gone Hollywood though.

Skipping next three songs we’re getting to the last one – Child Of Vision. Driven by combination of synths and electric piano was originally most interesting for me when I was a child (name coincidence) – Roger’s thin voice (no offense there!) occasionally combined with Rick’s – this all leads us into refrains climbing slowly up. I love the bass here (but not only here) too. And then from the half of the song we’re just closing the album with grand piano solo later supported (again) by saxophone.

Man – what a ride! It’s not like music that leaves you washed-out, but still strong without unnecessary decibels, but still full blown rock.

You can listen to other albums arguing that Fool’s Overture should be mentioned or that later Famous Last Words (not really their last album – but the last one with both main characters because Roger left the party after that one) are too commercial or whatever. I don’t care. Let’s take a look at Paris now – because I just can’t forget that Allmusic gave it just two stars with the whole review being these lines:

“Recorded in the wake of the global success of Breakfast in America, Paris is a competent but ultimately unnecessary live album that fails to live up to the standards of Supertramp’s studio material.”

Well, compare Hide In Your Shell from Paris and Studio album, listen to that atmosphere of the whole recording. Especially fourth side is just brilliant – starting with Long Way Home, through Overture, shortened Two Of Us and culminating in Crime Of the Century. Album Crime Of the Century itself is obviously very important for the band because they enveloped the Paris with the same opening and closing song and except for one from the Crisis, all songs appear on Paris too. And many of them – if you ask me – just are much better live. Maybe School is on the same level in studio, but otherwise the ambient of the crowd and especially their somehow fuller interpretation is just better on the live. Especially that Shell song – it’s so thin on the studio album (not bad, but thinner sound-wise). Heck, even that jet flying over before they start Rudy is just perfect. 🙂

What I love Supertramp for is their atmosphere. Synths on Rudy with clarinet, absolute relax on From Now On (the second half with clapping – and sax again!), moody You Started Laughing and of course all those other songs too. There are some lighter touches just to prepare you for those stronger pieces – and this all finishes with insistent piano in Crime closing section supported by strings going up and up and absolutely soulful saxophone solo. And harmonica.

This is Supertramp. Even when I like other bands more now, I love them no less and every time I listen to them I’m just blown away again and again.

24 highs and lows

Good I read my concerns about the third season of 24 – because otherwise I would elaborate on many things I can now just briefly confirm. Yes – again – lots of dead, smart people doing stupid things, hardly believable reasons for their actions. Just to name a few. It’s the day of the crisis again – after all they must have noticed all those cameras shooting another 24 season, so they must have known that it IS a serious crisis! Yet when some agent loses his key-card he will not report it for four hours! I don’t know how he got back into CTU. And the card – hardly believable – was stolen by a friend of agent’s addict sister when the agent predictably meets his sister on a parking near to CTU – yet out of all cameras – like the sister’s friends knew he will do so and have his card in the first pocket because somehow someone had contacted the rascal before just to get the card for some money. Of course – don’t tell me it’s a spoiler, because it’s not, it’s 24 pattern actually – sister and her friend would get shot by the card “buyer”. Hard life. Easy death.

Another typical 24 pattern is this. Jack (mostly he, but you can replace him by any agent – but other agent’s are more “by a book” – so again, mostly Jack :-)) gets some nearly unrelated person – for instance a manager of some bank – in the middle of the night to get to some specific item. Now villains get on them when they are in the bank. I – being the poor manager – would close myself on a safe place, waiting till tomorrow, claiming I was forced to open the vault by Jack Bauer (everybody knows he’s the second best – right after Chuck Norris – so who would refuse?) – that all is actually true, so there should be no consequences. But no – in 24 they all go out and guess who will die?

a) also present Wayne Palmer?
b) bank manager?
c) Jack Bauer?!

No, unlike in commercials, c) is obviously not right. You get it, right? It’s no fun when you can say “this poor fellow will die soon” – and you can say so right after they meet him! That’s how it is in 24. I’m still strongly backing the opinion that 24 in overall is fun and it is catchy and thrilling, fast-pacing action. I watched fourth season and I was extremely satisfied after the previous one. But right after that one I took the fifth season with all the aforementioned stupid catches. Fourth season is compact and working, and there are also two innocent people who will NOT die! Isn’t that beautiful? There was even moment I realized I was shouting “yes! yes!” – when Tony Almeida appeared on the scene. Highly recommended season, I mean it.

Fifth season – on the other hand – seems to be a series of loosely tight threats that all happened to be based on weaponized toxin gas in cans. Last one of them – of course – appears at the end of the season and I honestly don’t know if it was planned or the season somehow took only 20 hours and they needed to shoot 4 more. Let’s say with a submarine. Good old faces from previous episodes are the highs of this season – Mike Novick, Wayne Palmer, Aaron Pierce around the presidential sub-plot. But the CTU operations were rather puzzled. When homeland security took over CTU – pointing out their mistakes – I was confused why nobody told them what I was screaming inside of my head: “Last agent sent by the White House was so embarrassed when he lost his key-card that he rather didn’t tell us at all about it! That’s why half of the CTU died, that’s why White House is sending us you now!”

Man! So many things didn’t make any sense on this season. Shameful. Watchable, yes. Enjoyable, yes. But believable? No – not even by 24 standards. And many favourite characters dead don’t change a bit about it. On the contrary.

Yet I started with season 6 now, because I AM curious what will happen with Jack “The Second Best After Chuck” (by a close margin only) Bauer!

Galaxy Online? Phew!

After my Travian experience I wanted to develop similar type of web-browser based game. I chose sci-fi star wars setting but before I started to code it I wanted to know that there is still space for it. So I googled for some time and I found more games with similar idea. However none of them was developed enough or so catchy. I had a few ideas how to make the game be the ultimate galaxy war, how to make it less frustrating for the player (in opposite to farming in Travian) and so on. Some were inspired by my short encounter with Sins of a Solar Empire. I quit the project after some time – simply because I wasn’t able to carry away my friends by the idea and it was too much for one programmer (maybe if I had been still just a student… :-P). That was the fate of my sci-fi rip-off of every (not only) web-based game around.

Recently I was somewhere on some site and I noticed the ad about Galaxy Online. So – why not to try it? Not that I wanted to play a game, but there was still the professional me curious about the “market”. 🙂 And Galaxy Online – despite being small client based game (20 MB or so) instead of pure web-based game – simply put me to sadness. There was everything I wanted to do. There was safe home system (in my game it would be accessible, but still safe enough) that prevented you to be a farm from the start. There were fleets, commanders, travels from system to system – even connected by paths (like in Sins), although I decided to quit the idea of paths in my game during its development. There was a good idea of beginner’s quests that guide you through the first steps in the game. Not to mention that you can design your own ships! However…


Artwork is adequate – in login screen it looks like 3D!

The game simply didn’t grow on me. The client is very – and I mean VERY – unfriendly to the user. Things are not contextual there, you have to click back and forth, in dialogs you can’t go from one input to the other with tab or arrows (maybe there is some combination, but who am I to try everything when the most obvious and expected choice doesn’t work). What I mean by “not contextual”? There are generally only two views – big map and one system. So far so good. You have some gateways (stargate, whatever) to other systems. You click on your fleet, send it to the gate and then you want to go there too. I tried some clicking, but it didn’t work. Again – MAYBE there is a way, I just don’t know. So – back to the galaxy view and click on the system. Shock! There are bazillions of other fleets there and it’s not obvious right away which one is yours. No friendly shortcut, nothing. I mean… c’mon! This is DOWNLOADED executable client! Why it can’t provide the most obvious features to control MY units?!


View of your home system. You can see gates to other systems, training field where you can train on pirates, …

Not to mention until you go out of your system you’re just playing on your own sandbox and the whole galaxy can be of no concern to you. There is really NOTHING that somehow drags you to the fight, you have to do your first steps – and these steps are very, very unintuitive. Add some other details like very stupid battle system… I have absolute dominance over some pirates and yet they manage to fly back and forth around the battlefield and after 20 rounds or so they… what? Yes, they WIN! I couldn’t believe my eyes. But OK, it’s a system, right, I’ve read it in the newbie guide, so I’ll live with that. But after a few combats I simply hate this rule. Of course I can make better ships and deal quickly with them. But still… they can run and 20 rounds of the battle is not so much (like 20 moves of all fleets + some fighting). You have to take a lot of supplies with the fleet (no problem with that) and when you want to modify your fleet and anchor some of those ships you have to UNLOAD them first (escape from current view, click on unload, specify how much you want to unload – probably everything because I don’t know when any particular ship is considered loaded…). The whole unloading is waste of time. Simply anchor those ships and unload their load! Easy-peasy.


Splash screen is really ugly and there is no way of knowing if there is some login screen behind or not. No… simply press Enter. Great and warm welcome for fresh players indeed.

I’m sure there are many fans. The game isn’t that bad and probably the mechanics are cool. I played it for some time without interacting with others first. When I wanted to move around all my objections stacked during those few days became even more pronounced. That leads me to the idea that my game could still stand a chance. Too bad I’m lazy to do it (not to mention my passion for music, many unseen TV series, games, … you name it :-)). I think people should try by themselves. I read some reviews first and then tried it anyway – but I was dissatisfied. Not by the idea behind the game, but by the execution. If you’re demanding player, skip this one. But if you wanna try it, just be informed that initial splash-screen with “News Center” can be dismissed by Enter key. Just in case…

Business model of the game is similar to other free to play games. You can buy additional advantages, some buildings cost you so called “mall points”. I haven’t tried this part of the game because I really didn’t feel to do so. 🙂