App::perlbrew

Last summer I decided I would learn Perl.  I had put it off for a long time, but after trying and failing at learning Python, I decided to give Perl a go.

Managing the perl installations has been tedious.  I tend to use a lot of the features in v5.10, but MacPorts keeps installing older and newer versions and making the perl command point to v5.08 for some reason.  But today I found App::perlbrew.

App::perlbrew makes it easy to install Perl into your home directory, or anywhere else for that matter.  If you install perl into your home directory, you can install whatever modules you like, without needing root access/applicable permissions.

On my Mac, all I had to do was issue four commands et voila!  I had the latest and greatest version of Perl:

Now we can see that the new perl is installed and is running from our home directory: benlavery@Talantinc:~ $>perl -v | grep version This is perl 5, version 22, subversion 0 (v5.22.0) built for darwin-2level

benlavery@Talantinc:~ $>which perl /Users/benlavery/perl5/perlbrew/perls/perl-5.22.0/bin/perl How very convenient!

Record Shops

I found myself in the local record shop recently, Faye’s brother wanted to browse.  I was loitering around, glancing at the shelves and having a flick here and there.  And I just thought to myself, I don’t enjoy being here at all.

The other week when I opened iTunes, it took me straight to the store, I’m not sure why it did that, but on the front page I caught a glimpse of Hugh Laurie’s new album.  Within ten minutes I had sampled the tracks, bought it, and sync’d it to my iPhone.

When I go food shopping, I have a list.  I know I want tomato sauce and I know Faye likes Heinz, when I come to the sauce aisle, I don’t have to sift through Asda Ketchup, Bransdon Ketchup, other brands alphabetically sorted, then find Heinz.  I just look and there it is, one Heinz bottle behind another Heinz bottle…
If I go to the book shop, more often than not I see books with their spine facing me, or if a book if front facing and has other books behind it, they are the same book.
Why then do record shops feel the need to display different albums behind each other, indeed different artists, and on occasion different genres?  It makes no sense!

Most recently I’ve bought music from iTunes.  Previously I’ve bought music on CD via Amazon.  Both of these services let me sample all/some of the tracks, and offer me more music that I might like.

There are obviously people who do like browsing through music, but I can see why record shops across the country are shutting down, they just can’t compete with online/electronic services when it comes to ease of use…

I Am Clean

A few friends and I have started a project called I Am Clean, it starts this evening at 22:35 and will build up over the coming weeks.

Microsoft Fail

The other week I was looking at how Windows generates the old 8.3 style names from a long name.  I came across this article on the Microsoft site, and noted the banner at the top:

This article applies to a different operating system than the one you are using. Article content that may not be relevant to you is disabled.

On the one hand, I like how they’ve picked up that I’m not using a specific version of Windows.  On the other hand I can still see the whole document where none of it is relevant, sp they haven’t disabled anything…

Mac App Store

I love the Mac App Store.  Opening back in January, all Mac users running OS X 10.6.6 or higher have had the chance to play with the store.

I’ve bought a fair amount from the Store, inclusing:

  • Aperture
  • Pixelmator
  • MarsEdit
  • XCode
  • Broken Sword

The two Broken Sword games were an excellent find, I recall playing these two games around ten years ago and it’s been great replaying these games, virtually unchanged.

One thing I love and hate about the App Store is the centralised updating system.  I love it because I can update all outdated apps at once.  I hate it because rather than looking for the updated parts of the app, it just replaces the whole app with a new copy, this is fine until you update XCode, and suddenly you’ve got to download 4GB again!

There have been musings about Apple using the App Store to update OS X.  Buy the new OS on the store and have it update your system.  For me, this has two drawbacks:
Firstly, I don’t really want to download a whole OS to update my system, but currently the Store doesn’t do “only update the out of date bits”.
Secondly, I like to backup my data and start from scratch, this means I don’t get any previous OS bits lying around…

Overall, I do like the App Store, it’s a great and convenient way of finding apps and keeping them up to date.

The Future's Bright...But it's no longer orange...

Ubuntu isn’t as orangey-brown as it used to be.  I don’t recall exactly when I last tried to use it, but I didn’t like it much.  Yesterday, however, I got it playing ball with my ThinkPad X32.

Just over two years ago I bought myself the ThinkPad X32.  I initially installed OpenSolaris 2008.11 on it, and it got upgraded to the latest dev builds, which turned into 2009.06 stable builds.  However, when I got it out on Monday, it failed to upgrade to OpenIndiana and was running horribly slow.

The reason I grabbed it out was that my trusty MacBook (of five years now) has a problem…The fan that cools the CPU has died.  I noticed this on Monday afternoon, but I’m fairly certain that it had been dead all day - just a testament to how good these machines are, even though they do get quite toasty, they still plod on!

MacBook out of the picture, I take my ThinkPad to work with me.  I struggle with OpenSolaris a bit more, then give up and put Ubuntu 10.10 on.  It’s a very nice system.  I’m not one to advocate Linux and it’s alien commands, but so far, as a general user, I am happy with it.  Software installation doesn’t seem quite as straightforward as Apple’s App Store, but it is all very usable.

I especially like the fact that I can use Dropbox with Ubuntu.  I rely on Dropbox to keep all of my work document in sync across my two Macs (sometimes my MacBook doesn’t get out of my bag in the evening to do a profile sync).

So, I’d like to raise my glass and say: Well done Canonical and the Ubuntu community, you have impressed me beyond what I thought I’d be.

Liveo - Live & Unsigned

The band my brother is in has succeeded in grabbing one of the 22 places in the regional finals in Plymouth taking place 19th March.

Follow them on Twitter, order your ticket at the Live & Unsigned site, and watch and like their video on YouTube.  Please support them as much as you can.

The Computer

We live in an age where computers are all around us.  While they may not yet be embedded into every object we come in contact with, they are on our desks at home or in the office, and in our pockets and bags when we’re out and about.  But one thing worries me, few of these people understand how to use these powerful machines, or leverage them to even half their potential.

Computers were once large, unwieldily things, operated by a series of trained individuals.  Today, you have read this merely by punching a few keys (onscreen or physical) or clicking a link or two, everything from fetching the data on a disk, assembling it, processing it, sending it to you and assembling, processing, and displaying that has been done for you.

Computers have evolved to make jobs easy.  Once upon a time when your boss asked you to send a personalised letter out to a few hundred people, you would have had to have found each contact, copy the relevant details onto the letter, then the relevant details onto the envelope.  Today when your boss asks you to do this, technologies such as mail merge mean that you can point your letter and envelope templates at a bunch of addresses and have your computer churn out all of the details you need.
Why, then, do people still try and do this manually?  Why do people still manually search through electronic documents, one document at a time?  Why do people paste screenshots into Microsoft Word!?

I argue that some functions of a computer have become really simple, while other concepts are still quite obscure.  While someone might be able to piece together a simple mail merge using their address book, the thought of using the same principle to read details from a spreadsheet and input them into a word processing document just never crosses their mind.

This very situation has arisen before.  I was working in an office almost two years ago, the staff regularly used such things as mail merge for letters using the companies network address book.  They were migrating to a system where they needed a form filled out for every directory created (detailing access rights, when deletion was due, etc.), the problem was that they had already created a shed load of directories…The staff had started to catalog these by hand, getting somewhere between twenty to sixty forms done a day (they had other duties as well).  
For me, it took a day of messing about with some VBScript and I could list all of these directories in a text file.  I could import this text file into Excel using “ as a delimiter, this meant I could separate the path names as the form requested.  I found that it was very easy to see what group of directories had what attributes and found I could copy & paste an awful lot.  When finished, all of this was mail merged into the Word document which held the form.  After a day of downtime, I could now process eighty directories an hour.
OK, the VBScript was a little specialist, but no general user thinks of doing this kind of thing.

Users generally don’t even know what applications are there for.  Most people know that if you want to put a nail in a plank of wood, a hammer is the tool for the job, not a kettle.  Sure the kettle is hard and has a handy handle, but that’s not what it’s for.
The word processor is so often misused.  Many people seem to use their word processing application as a place to paste that image they just copied (or screen grabbed), they then send this document to other people using email.  At school we were encouraged to use Microsoft Word to create a poster, this was supposed to be both fun and educational of which is was neither.  Word doesn’t lend itself to creating posters, alignment of images, text boxes, and the like go squiffy when you decide to rearrange another element. 
Though other members of the Microsoft Office suite are also abused.  Excel is used to standardise the input of information, and PowerPoint has been known to create ‘screen savers’.

While it is easier than ever to write a letter, few people know how to write one, those who do will use a word processor and completely ignore the fact that for the last however many years they have placed the receiver’s address in the top left corner and the sender’s address in the top right, instead we get a mishmash of one address below the other on different sides of the page, or a complex arrangement of spaces and tabs, which gets completely thrown when you change the margin sizes…
I can’t recall the number of times I’ve been sent a document and found that when the author wanted to break to the next page they have held their finger on the ‘return’ key until the cursor jumps to the next page, without a thought that perhaps the software might do this for them, forgoing them the hassle of removing the extra empty lines when the add more text later on and find the page blow suddenly starts halfway down the page.
Headings are another one, people want something large and bold, so naturally they set the font size to around 18 and make it bold, they then moan that after writing 20,000 words for their report that all the headings are slightly different.  If they had used the various headings (you know, the ones generally found in the top left of your word processor), then all the headings would be the same, and could be changed in one fell swoop by adjusting the documents styles.

Email is still used to transfer important files around an organisation.  Despite the fact that email wasn’t developed to transfer files, it is a terrible waste of resources, with each recipient holding their own copy of the file.

It is so easy to shove a mouse around a desk that people are no longer taught how to use the tools placed in front of them, and these same people don’t seem capable of using two of the worlds biggest resources available to them: The Internet and Google.  If you don’t know how to do something it’s bound to be explained on the internet…

Thankfully computing is now heading in the right direction.  Our smart phones and online services do even more for us than our computers do, they organise us and our data - be that photos, music, emails, etc.  People don’t have to worry so much what format their data is in.  Especially in the new wave of smart phones and tablets, we are finding new and intuitive ways to achieve tasks.
These ‘post PC’ devices are generally managed from a PC but after reading an article in issue 90 of the iCreate magazine, a reader had written in and said that they had used their iPad for six months (since last summer) and had not plugged it into their computer, this shows us that people are using these as standalone devices connected to other devices through the Internet.  The iPad or online service was organising photos, music, email, RSS feeds, etc. The user just had to get on and use it.

A new wave of computing is upon us and I hope it strips the complexity from tasks, rather than stripping away the functionality altogether.

iPad 2 - What's the iPhone 5 going to bring?

The iPad 2 has been announced, set to ship to UK customers on the 25th March.  It boasts a number of improvements over the first iPad, faster, slimmer, same great battery life, but can we use this new offering to guess what might be inside the next iPhone?

When the iPad was announced just over a year ago.  It sported Apple’s very own A4 processor (An ARM based System-On-a-Chip CPU) running at 1GHz, had a 9.7” 1024x768 display, and was around 13.4mm thick.

The iPhone 4 was announced last summer.  It also sports the very same A4 processor, it’s display is obviously smaller (3.5” with an impressive 960x640 resolution), and it was a slender 9.3mm thick.

The iPad 2 will sport a dual-core Apple A5 chip (the same clock speed as the A4, but with two cores and improved graphic performance).  It’s a skinny 8.8mm thick too!

Hardware in the first generation iPad and the iPhone 4 were pretty similar, so what can we expect from the iPhone 5?
I think it’s safe to say that the next iPhone will have the same A5 processor as the iPad 2 does, giving a bump to performance (especially helping multi-tasking for iOS) both in processing power and in graphical abilities, and we will also see a few millimetres shaved off.

Android to lose MP3 capabilities?

Google has chopped the H.264 codec out of it’s Chrome browser and replaced it with it’s own, open source, WebM codec - All in the name of openness…

While one can’t deny that this is a good thing in terms of openness, Chrome still supports Adobe Flash, and many websites offer H.264 encoded media over WebM encoded media.  Microsoft IE and Apple Safari don’t support WebM, while Mozilla Firefox and Opera support both H.264 and WebM.

It got me wondering, will Google strip out MP3 support from Android devices?  MP3 is also encumbered with patents and requires licensing (thought that could change in the future).  Will Google persuade users to re-encode their music libraries into Vorbis?  Or perhaps into WebM?