What to do with you…

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here.  I don’t really know why…I think I’m just feeling very uncreative.  Maybe I’m just over the whole “blogging” thing.  I was hoping this would actually make me want to write more, but it really hasn’t.  Not recently at least.  I also don’t feel as if I have much to write about.

I’m hoping to write some things about homebrewing in here this spring/summer.  I’m going to be moving from 1-gallon batches to 5-gallons, and it might be a good place for me to share and store info about my brews.  So there is always that possibility.

Hell, I’m paying for this domain and the hosting, might as well do something with it.

Wow this was a random/useless post.

Beta testing: iOS 7 release 2

Recently I became part of the Apple Developers network through work which is odd since I do not really develop for any Apple product. I do, however, use Apple products everyday and I like to be ahead of the curve with software and hardware. So, being the daredevil that I am I decided to put the iOS 7 beta on my daily-use iPhone 5.

Look and Feel

Photo Jun 28, 11 01 20 AM

iOS 7 Dialpad with flat “buttons”

Photo Jun 27, 2 04 11 PM

iOS 7 home screen with a notification

One work comes to mind when looking at iOS 7, clean.  It’s a lot cleaner than previous version of iOS and because of that it feels more like an Apple product.  The soft colors, thin lines, and animations, all make it feel like a more grown-up operating system.  Gone are the skeuomorphic buttons and application skins, they’ve all been replaced by what Apple is calling “flat” designs.  It looks like it’s borrowed a lot from Android 4.0, Windows Phone 8, and even WebOS…and that isn’t a bad thing!

Android 4.0 was a really nice update for Android, the look and feel was more refined, modern, more consistent, easier to use on the hardware, it really felt better.  Windows Phone 8 uses very simple shapes and buttons in their design, the smooth transitions it has make it more pleasurable to use than the old WinMo.  I don’t think Apple created anything really NEW here, but they certainly showed that iOS has definitely come a long way.  I still think that a company that focuses so much on design should have changed the look a long time ago but I suppose they didn’t want to mess with what “worked” or wanted to “get it right the first time.”  They were right to wait.

As for the feel of iOS 7, right now in it’s beta form it actually feels a bit sluggish, not all of the time, just here and there it drags itself along.  I feel as if I am running an older Android phone sometimes.  However, when it’s not hanging it’s really fast.  Apps load quickly, the camera snaps right up, the movements are fluid, it runs nicely on the hardware.  I won’t complain too much about this yet because it is still a beta after all.

New Features (Control Center, AirDrop, UI Changes, etc.)

There are a few “new” features in iOS 7 that are worth discussing.  This update seems to have focused not only on the look and feel but also on adding features to make everyday use of the device easier and faster.  There are many small improvements to the UI that were needed very badly and I am thrilled to see them finally in iOS.  One of my favorite examples of “small” UI updates is the ability to call a person while in the messages app without having to scroll all the way to the top of the messages (just press the word “Contact” in the corner).  Something so simple helps so much with everyday use.

Simple buttons make things better

Simple buttons make things better

But of course the biggest change to ease of use is the Control Center.  This is the sliding “drawer” that comes from the bottom of the screen and allows you to change device settings on the fly as well as a few other things.  Now, a lot of Android phone and jail-broken iPhones have had this for a long time, so it’s not revolutionary in any way.  It definitely looks like an Apple designed menu, and the functionality is limited to what Apple puts in there (for now), but it is really a nice step forward for iOS.

Control Center on the lock screen

Control Center on the lock screen

I can toggle phone functions off and on, change my screen brightness, volume, control music, turn on the flashlight, use a calculator or camera, and use AirDrop between other iOS devices.  Again, very limited at the moment, hopefully Apple will open it up a little, but past experiences usually show that they probably will leave it locked.

The Control Center can be used on the lock screen, a feature that can be disabled, but it comes in handy when you just want to use a flashlight or turn off wireless.  Where the Control Center falls short is that you cannot do anything else but toggle things off and on.  What I mean by that is if you hold down the wifi button on an Android phone for example, you will be brought to wifi settings and you can join a network. I would love the ability to customize buttons or apps to put in the Control Center, or even remove parts that I may not use.

The addition of AirDrop to iOS 7 is really helpful.  Currently it seems to only work with other iOS devices running 7 (which of course, aren’t many) but I was able to use it and it’s really handy when you want to send pictures to other phones.  You can limit sending to people listed in your contacts, or to everyone on your local network.  With Mac OS 10.9 in the works, it looks like you will be able to transfer using AirDrop to computers as well without bluetooth or USB or Dropbox.  I’m hoping that they really expand the AirDrop feature to older versions of Mac OS, but I doubt they will.

The search function in iOS 7 is also different from previous versions.  In older versions you swipe your screen to the right to get to the search screen, in iOS 7 you simply swipe down from anywhere on the screen (not the very top of course that brings up the notification center still).  It’s built into the icon screen better and it feels more natural to me.

Speaking of icons and the “desktop” of the phone, you can now have more than 12 icons inside of your folders.  There are only 9 shown at a time instead of 12, but you can keep adding icons to them and at the moment i don’t see a limit.

The Photos and Camera apps both got a much needed and welcome face-lift.  The Camera app has no more “toggle” button for video and photo mote, and now incorporates swiping the screen left or right to change between modes (video, picture, box, and pano). To enable HDR you simply press the “HDR button” on the screen, no more menus. The app seems to take pictures quicker than older versions; press the capture button and it just captures without any animations. You can add filters right from the camera app and it previews all 9 modes in real-time!

The Photos app now breaks photos up into sections.  You can view them like you did in older versions  but now you can see them in terms of location, “event”, and even year. You can add albums or events and organize them yourself as well.  One of my favorite additions to the Photos app is the addition of a panorama album that allows you to see all of your panoramic pictures in wide mode on one screen, really neat!

Bugs

Every beta has it’s bugs, and iOS 7 is not special in that sense. I have come across more than a handful of bugs that have made the testing of iOS 7 on my daily phone a bit frustrating.  The main issue I’ve found was with Siri.  Siri was changed to have a better voice, a nicer look, and to be more responsive but I’ve found it to be dreadfully slow to perform tasks and in fact I’ve had it stop working completely for the entire day for no reason.  The only remedy for that was to restart the phone completely.

The audio controls on the home screen and Control Center have not worked well for me at all.  During my first day of testing I wasn’t able to use them at all, I would push the buttons and it would show tat I was pushing them, but I would get no control of my music whatsoever.  After restarting I did regain control.

Several apps I use do not work or crash when I do things.  A few troublesome apps I’ve found are the Watch ABC app, it crashes when you try to watch live TV and it crashes so badly that you have to hard restart the phone; Wikipanion fails to load at all; and the Podcast app fails to load.

Of course these are all beta issues and will most likely be worked out as the beta progresses and as developers update for iOS 7, but it’s interesting to see which apps do not work well with the new system.

 

And now for something completely different…A Car Stereo Review

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve updated.  I’ve just not had the desire to write too much about technology.  I was thinking about writing about my switch from Android to the iPhone 5, and I said “Naa, people see those all the time.”  And I’ve been having a fairly boring life technologically speaking, so I didn’t want to write about upgrading a lab, or using MDM systems.  Oddly enough, this review has nothing to do with computers, but my car.

My 2005 Mazda3 does not have the flip-up GPS option installed so I’ve been using my phones as GPS units.  I have a mount and a really kick ass bluetooth FM transmitter that’s worked so well for me, I bought one for my mother to use in her car and she loves it.  The sound quality is excellent and the mic is very clear.  Overall I was happy with it.  The mount was good, but often fell while driving which can be fun of course, and the bluetooth unit was obtrusive at times (they have a smaller one that doesn’t have the arm, but they didn’t have that when I bought it).

I decided to start looking at stand-alone GPS units, mainly because I didn’t want to rely on cellular data for navigation.  It became a problem while driving through Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh for work, and often while I’m working in the burbs I lose cell coverage and can’t navigate.  I was looking for units with lifetime map updates and traffic with a large enough screen to see easily.  The ones I really looked at would be between $150 and $200.  I didn’t want to drop $200 on a standalone GPS that I won’t use enough to justify the cost…plus I really didn’t want to have more wires and devices hanging around the car.  So I began thinking about in-dash units…

I was doing a lot of looking online for factory units, but those require so much altering and even then my car would probably not be able to use it without changing a lot of electronics, so that was out.  I went to look at fold-out LCD 1-DIN units, and in-dash 2-DIN units, but the cost on these are so high (the best price I saw was $700 plus the dash kit!) While these dash units are good brands and would probably be very nice, I didn’t have $700+ to drop on a unit.

After visiting some forums and even looking on eBay I came across a unit from a company called Eonon. The unit I saw was $270..still a bit much, but it was an entire stereo replacement with a 7-inch screen.  I read reviews and found that users were relatively happy but some of the weird issues put me off.  I decided to let it sit for a while and just continued with my phone.

A few weeks ago I found that Eonon released a newer updated unit for the Mazda3, and a forum I frequent was having a group buy.  After reading the reviews of the new unit being FAR etter than the old unit, and almost every user was happy I decided to bite the bullet and buy one.  Of course I was very hesitant to buy from some company in Hong Kong that I never heard of with a device running Windows CE 6.0, but I took a chance..besides, it comes with a 2-year warranty.

After a few days I received the unit (really fast, from HK!) in a really nicely packaged box.  First impressions: the build quality of the unit is pretty good!  It looks like it could be a factory unit, the buttons feel pretty nice, the screen is big, the knobs are solid, it just looks petty nice!

Eonon D5151 Out of Box

Eonon D5151 Out of Box

Looks 9/10

The D5151 looks really good in the car, it really looks like a factory unit.  The screen is not bad, in bright light it’s definitely difficult to see, but I’ve had similar experience in a Prius so I wouldn’t fault it too much.  You can chance the boot logos, backgrounds, and the LCD colors to help customize it.  The buttons are a little flimsier than the stock stereo, so I took a point off for that.

Stock on Left, Eonon on Right

Stock on Left, Eonon on Right

Radio (6.5/10)

The stereo is of course the base of the D5151.  The radio interface is far better than the old one, it’s easy to read and easy to use.

Radio Interface

Radio Interface

The sound from the stereo is pretty good; however, I did find some issues with it.  When you set a preset (say I set 93.3 on #1 and 104.5 on #2) it will play whatever preset you’re on just fine.  Oddly enough, when you switch to another preset for some reason the numbers that show what station you’re on (in the center of the stereo) will stay on the first preset.  Seems to be a small software bug that hopefully can be fixed.  The radio does play whatever station you’re tuned to just fine, it just shows a different number.  It’s not as bothersome since I use my steering wheel controls and don’t look at the screen much anyway, but it’s still an odd problem.

The second issue I found with the stereo is that the tuner seems to be either really sensitive, or really crappy.  I normally get perfect signal with the stock radio, and this one gets the same quality most times, but while driving I’ve noticed the signal dipping in and out randomly.  Not sure if this is hardware related or software related..but it’s a bit annoying so hopefully that can be fixed.

Finally, after some time the radio has some random pops, not very loud and no set pattern, just random clicks or pops.  I have read online that these go away after a bit of a “burn-in” period, so hopefully that is the case.

I have contacted the company regarding all of these issues and will update with any word from them.

Bluetooth/Phone (9.5/10)

I pair my iPhone with my car automatically.  I use it as a phone and for playing music a lot.  The sound quality of the phone calls is really good.  I can hear the person clearly and apparently they hear me very clearly.  Siri even works very well through the mic!  The music streaming is also really good.  I don’t seem to notice any issues with playing music via bluetooth, I wish the screen would show music info while playing, but it just shows a music note on screen.  I can control bluetooth audio via my steering wheel, which is nice, and if a phone call comes in it just rings through the speakers and shows the caller ID on my screen no matter what I’m doing (radio, gps, etc).  It’s really a nice step up from the old bluetooth FM transmitter.  I only took a half-point off because of the lack of music info on screen..nothing major.

Navigation (Stock: 5/10 Upgrade: 9/10)

This section is probably the most important one.  The GPS software that comes with the unit is KudosGPS, and I gotta say, it sucks.  The interface is very Windows 8 looking, which isn’t a problem, but it’s very simple and doesn’t function that well.  It was quick to load, and it did a fairly good job with navigation, but when you turn your car off and turn it back on it completely forgot that you were navigating somewhere and seemed to forget my state and city everytime.  It was only a $30 add-on, but I was very underwhelmed with it.

I decided to install iGo Primo on the unit right away and the difference is amazing.  iGo is really the way to go if you’ve got a Windows CE device and you want a good looking, very nice functioning GPS system with lots of points-of-interest and updated maps. It’s a little slower to load, but it looks WAY better, had many more points-of-interest, and it allows me to add so much to it (like better voices and themes).

iGo Primo GPS

iGo Primo GPS

Overall

I like it.  For under $300, I have a fully functioning touchscreen GPS, in my dash with bluetooth/hands-free capability.  It looks like it’s from the factory, it sounds pretty good for the most part, the GPS (once replaced) works really well, and the installation was a breeze!  Honestly, if they fixed the radio issues and replaced the stock GPS with a better one like I did I would totally say this is a 9/10, but overall with the stock GPS I’m giving it a 7.5/10 (8.5 with the new GPS).

Would I recommend this company to others?  Probably.  I’m going to give the radio a bit to see if any of the audio issues get resolved, I’m also going to see if their customer service gets back to me about anything (I’ve read online of software patches).  I will update as things progress.

Fridays in IT: Read-Only Friday

Read-Only Friday.  It’s an IT tradition that I really think every company should abide by.  Seriously, I really think every IT company should have it in a contract or something.  What is it?  Well, Friday is the last day of the week…so you should do everything in your power to not have a terrible weekend by updating or making any changes to your production environment on a Friday.  Friday in the IT world should be for emergency calls and finishing up projects you had during the week…not for installing that new software for your users or installing that shiny new UPS to replace one that is working, just old.

Why the fuck is this important?

Well, if you install new software (or god forbid, hardware) on Friday you have to make sure that it fucking works by the end of the day for the user.  Now, using new software might also be easy for you, so after installing and testing it you’re done, right? NOPE! Remember, the user is used to the old stuff, so they’re not going to know a damn thing about the new software you just installed for them most likely.  They’re going to call you for every little thing they need help with..EVERYTHING.  And if they can’t get something working, you’re stuck helping them.  Now, if the program install doesn’t go smoothly…you’re screwed.  You’ve gotta make sure it’s working for Monday, so guess what?  You’re staying until it’s working.

It’s worse for hardware.  If that brand new thing doesn’t work right (and you know it won’t) you’re stuck there..and if you think you’re good on Friday..wait.  You’ll get that call on Saturday that you NEED TO BE AT WORK TO FIX THAT NEW THING CAUSE IT’S NOT WORKING RIGHT!  Yeah.  It happens more often than people think.

So..Friday is really the worst time to do ANY upgrades or installs in IT.  Seriously..I just was told by a client who isn’t here (sick) to install a new version of Adobe Creative Suite on a users’ computer.  CS6 changed a whole lot from CS5.  So, like a moron, I do it.  I’ve now been called 3 times already by this person because they don’t know the new layout of CS6.  I’ve had to go across campus 2 times for this person.  I’m waiting for the phone to ring again…I just know it’s going to happen.

Why did I install new shit today?!?

Well, being client work, I have to make the client happy.  If that’s what they want, that’s what they get.  One good thing though?  If something else goes wrong after 3PM (when I’m leaving) they have to deal with it themselves. :-)

So please, everyone.  If you work with IT people, don’t ask them to do major shit to your production environment on Fridays.  It’s a terrible fucking idea for everyone involved, especially the IT staff.  I’m not even joking when I say that if I ever have my own IT staff, I’m putting read-only Friday as a real thing, mark my words.  Friday is for planning, emergencies, and finalizing work. That’s it. Nothing else.

Now I’m going to get ready to go home and have a beer.

A New Job, a New Life

My last update back in February was going to have a follow-up post, but I got a little side-tracked with my life.  Without going into much detail, I had a big change in my life for the better and I needed to move away from New York in order to complete my change and leave all of my negativity behind.  In February I decided to move back to Philadelphia and with this move I would have to change jobs of course.  I was looking for work for a few months before I moved (I knew I was going to move back many months before I actually did I just needed the job to come in before I could finally do it), and I received several interviews from very reputable companies and institutions.  I was very close to working for another college, but due to circumstances that were beyond my control that job fell through.

I few weeks after that I applied for a job working for a technology consulting company that d0es work for independent k-12 schools in the Philadelphia Metro-area.  I received a call-back the very next day and set up and interview within the next week.  Three weeks later and I had a new job waiting for me on February 27th as a Senior Support Engineer for this company (I will leave my company name private for the time being).

My new job is similar to my work at Poly but also very different.  I’m working with multiple clients, visiting different schools throughout the week and basically solving their tech issues both big and small.  It’s a lot slower-paced than I’m used to, and the levels of work can range from basic software updates and printer repair all the way up to large scale wireless and network deployment and server room build-outs.

I have clients of my own (only about 2 right now) and in 6-months time I will be managing several more locations and possibly managing more of the company as a whole (scheduling, getting new clients, purchasing for schools, etc.).  Its a very small company, just 4 full-time guys and one part-time, but there’s usually always something to do or someplace to be.

I don’t want this post to be ALL about the new job, so I’ll deviate a bit from that and mention that I did buy a car.  It’s the newest car I’ve ever owned, and I love it.  I did have to buy it because of work, but I wanted my own vehicle for some time.  Anyway, it’s a 2005 Mazda 3i Sport, it’s metallic Grey with an interesting blue pinstripe.

Adzam the Mazda

My new ride!

I love driving, and this car is fun to drive.  It’s one of the smaller cars I’ve owned but I don’t need to carry 5 people around anymore..all of my friends drive now!  Hopefully I’ll be able to put some customizations in it; maybe an in-dash navi/screen, but for now, it’s prefect for me.

Anyway, I will try to update more with my new job fun.  I’ll probably have to be vague about some details of work (you know… k-12 schools and all) but hopefully I can sneak some writing time in more often and maybe some different types of updates (maybe car mods/work!).