Category: Computing

Back in Australia

MoranReserve

WOW! I just realised that it’s been a year since I did a blog post. I knew it had been a while, but I figured around 6 months max… Well, I suppose I needed it, and the good news is that I’M BACK!

I’m not going to go in to what has transpired over the past year since an agile adoption, as it’s quite involved and will come out in some successive posts, but will focus on where I am now and what my Posting Plans are.

Near the end of last year we started planning a return to Australia after almost a decade in the UK – what a BLAST! So many lovely experiences, people, places and new friends :-) Eventually though, it was time to return to Australia as it really is my home and although I may have a few gripes about it, Australia really is an amazing place and as the old cliche goes: I now really appreciate how lucky I am to live in this country after being away so long. That shot above is from my local beach which is 3 mins drive, and I can get in to the city (in the distance) in around 1/2h with a walk and public transport – that’s a pretty good lifestyle.

So what’s in the pipe? A much more varied mix than when I started out doing just “software stuff”:

  • Reflections on life in the UK and Europe
  • Observations on life in Australia now I’m back
  • Reviews of gadgets
  • Travelogues as I explore my own country – now I’ve probably seen more of Europe than I have of Australia, so it’s time to correct that
  • Process  – yes, I’m still on the agile path
  • Architecture – looks like that will be my primary area of work still
  • Software – which I’m gradually getting back in to, with the current focus being Clojure
  • Probably the odd bit of music or photography to round things out
  • Anything else anyone would like me to write about…

YachClub

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The End of the Apple Honeymoon?

Note: If you think I’m some kind of “Apple Hater”, read My History with Apple at the bottom

Apple seems to be suffering an all-round lack of quality in their software and some would say hardware – what to do? Before we get in to this, let me tell you my tale of woe…

FlamingHoneymoonThis post has been 6 months or more in the making, but has culminated with the problems I’ve been having with my iPad Air 2 over the past months. It all started so innocently – I was happily using iOS 7 and I’d installed a new App which said “In order to use this, you must use iOS8”. Fine, I thought – it’s been out for a while and there have been a few incremental updates (something like 8.0.3) so I upgraded. From memory, this one was OK, so when 8.1.2 or 3 came out I didn’t really think much and just upgraded, and that’s when my problems started.

Apple Horror MovieIt was a bit like a horror movie – you know, everything is fine, the sun is shining – living the good life (on iOS 8.0.3 :). Then, one day (some time in 8.1), something a bit out of place happened – I was finding it hard to close browser tabs – didn’t really think much of it. Unfortunately over the next few days, things got worse! Typing started either not getting the characters or doing multiple characters and it just got worse and Worse and WORSE! Basically, my iPad was bricked. “Luckily”, 8.2.2 had been out for a while so I upgraded, after checking the forums as some people reported it solving the problem.

Groundhog DayThen, like a groundhog day, all started coming back with the same pathology – first, an error here or there and after a few days – bricked again. 8.2.3 came out so I went to this – same thing – worked for a while, then bricked. I was at the end of my tether and was at the stage of buying a cheap Android tablet to use at work until Apple fixed things on the iPad. Again, as luck would have it, 8.3 is out and I’ve just upgraded today. I’m not holding my breath though as I know that this bug can surface after days or weeks…

 What’s the Problem?

My experience is not unique. In fact, I’m one of the “Lucky Ones” who didn’t have problems with iOS 7. Just Google “iOS problem” and you’ll find there are 194M pages!!! I know there are even more hits for Android (564M) and Windows Mobile problems (264M), but is that really something to compare to? Especially when both those platforms are on a wide range of uncontrolled hardware, whereas Apple is a “closed ecosystem” where they’ve designed every Apple Phone ever made. As a long-time (over 30 years – I started with an Apple II) Apple user I’ve seen an increase in the quality of their software, until the last few years. A bit like my touch problem, they surfaced occasionally, but were not of significance, but now we’re talking about many, releases with the same or worse problems – where will it end? Don’t think iOS 9 will necessarily fix everything as as iOS 8 was supposed to fix the problems of iOS 7!

What’s even worse, the “Crappy Quality Virus” seems to of infected the Mighty OS X. Touch wood and 3 Hail Mary’s I’m actually OK – running Yosemite 10.10.3 and no problems. Again, Googling “OS X problem” gives 264M hits – more than iOS! For both OS’s, there’s now a huge industry around documenting and fixing the various problems – all on platforms that Apple has total control over – THERE IS NO EXCUSE!

What’s the Solution?

As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m not an Apple Hater. In fact, I’m an Apple Lover – I used to have the attitude of buying Apple for anything personal. Unfortunately, I’m now in the situation where if this doesn’t improve I’ll be replacing my iMac with one of the many all-in-one PC’s, and my Tablet with an Android or Windows one. I already have an Android phone as I was about to get a 5, but the company I was working for got pre-release devices and they kept (physically) breaking.

Apple JobsTo the solution: I believe this malaise set in with the passing of Steve Jobs. For all his faults, the amazing thing about Jobs was that he got understood the Business, Design, Hardware and Software of making “Insanely Great Products”.

What have we now? We have Tim Cook who’s background is in Sales and Manufacturing and Jony Ive, the reclusive yet internally influential and widely acknowledged design genius (although I do question the “new blue folders” on Yosemite and the Apple Watch). What’s missing?

        Hardware & Software

Name the people associated with those… There’s a hardware guy who we see in their videos, but I can’t find him on Google. For software, there’s Craig Federighi and I must admit I thought Phil Schiller was until I looked up Google and found he’s VP of Marketing! Therein lies the problem – there’s no outstanding person across Hardware and Software. Although the ideal would of been to find another Jobs to replace them all, I don’t think that would ever happen. What is needed is someone responsible for “Integrated Design” who can work with Ive, ensure the highest standard of hardware and software is produced to go in to the Objects of Desire that Apple makes and has the same visibility as Cook and Ive.

Why did I write this?

Probably mostly to get all this off my chest and also as a warning of what may happen to Apple if they don’t get back on track. We’ve seen so many companies like IBM and Microsoft fall so far when they lost their way, it would be a pity to see the same happen with Apple…

Finally, I have the tiny hope that someone at Apple sees and relates to it – I’d love to continue the conversation…


original-apple-logoMy History with Apple

As mentioned at the beginning, before anyone thinks of criticising this piece (which you’re free to do after you’ve read this :) here’s a brief history of my (hopefully ongoing) time with Apple products:

  • Started with an Apple II
  • Used a Lisa – a rich friend had one when I was in my senior school years
  • Got caught up in the “PC Revolution”
  • Shipped some of the early NeXTs* to Australia, did the Australian product launch, taught NeXT programming, created software for NeXT, attended most NeXTworlds and met Steve Jobs
  • Got caught up in the “Java Revolution”
  • Employed by a company in the 90’s who used Apple gear, got my own and went to a few WWDCs (before they were hip)
  • Have continuously bought Apple products again since the 90’s
  • Currently have an iMac, Mac Mini, iPad 2, iPad Air, two Apple iPods and an Apple TV

* For you young’ns, NeXT was what Jobs created after Apple fired him and NeXTstep was the operating system which became Cocoa – all those NS prefixed classes stand for NextStep

Welcome 2015!

London Fireworks 2015M25 Carpark

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted much, mainly due to a contract which requires me to drive on the M20 and M25 (aka “the carpark” for those outside the UK) and as a result, I just don’t seem to of had the time and energy…

Javelin TrainOh, how I long for those lovely trains, and will never complain about a 30 or even 60 minute delay – the worst I’ve had in a car is a 1h trip taking 4h!!!

I look forward to getting on something where someone else is doing the driving so I can use my time effectively

Amazingly, it seems like only 7% (4.5 Million) people in the UK use public transport. Given that nearly 1/3 (22 Million) live in the South-East, where transport is generally pretty good, that seems pretty low. No surprise given the number of people on the motorways – I’ll be happy to take one more off them next contract.

So what’s up for 2015 for me and this blog?

For one, I plan to start getting back in to a bit more of a rhythm, both with my posts and the associated (play) work (generally outside “real work”), and I will continue to post based on my experiences – recent and past…

theme : ecologyWhat are the themes though? Here’s a list of where I’d like to go:

  • Lifestyle & Reviews
  • Process & People & ScramJet
  • Clojure
  • Architecture, including Enterprise & SOA aspects

in no particular order. I won’t get in to specifics as much of it is not yet planned, or I’m working on it but don’t want to reveal it until I have enough meat on the the bones so I can be sure it will fly.

teaserHere’s a few teasers though based on posts I know I’ll write or have in draft form:

  • Review of Bob Marshall’s “Thinking Different” happening last year
  • Review of the: BMW i3 electric car; Samsung Galaxy Alpha
  • Corporate Subversion – in a positive manner of course :-)

and that’s really just the “boring stuff” – there should be some very interesting posts coming as I hit my stride.

I hope you’ve all had a great XMas & New Year break and look forward to some great interactions in 2015!

Changearc – the thinking person’s RiczWest ;-)

Today I’m (@RiczWest) starting a new twitter account. It’s called ChangeArc. For those who follow me, you’ll recognise this as my “Blog Name” – so what’s the purpose?

Simple – when I started using Twitter, it was primarily as a bookmarking tool. To some extent I still use it as such, but also for so much more…

There’s one problem though – as I look at a lot of content, that means a lot of tweets, and not everyone likes that, including me! There are a number of great people I’d like to follow, but I can’t because they tweet too much.

To that end, I’m going to start a much lower volume (only a few tweets per day) account which is ChangeArc. So what can you expect apart from less tweets? Extremely high quality tweets that will include any posts I do.

I don’t know how this will evolve, but it will be interesting to see…

Free “Mathematica”* in the Wolfram Cloud

Wolfram CloudMy history with Mathematica goes back about 20 years, when I was doing Masters research and using Mathematica for both programming and visualisation.

One problem was that it was expensive unless you could justify it. Also, there were no free or “community” editions available…

Well, THAT’S ALL CHANGED NOW!

Almost a week ago, Stephen Wolfram announced the Wolfram Programming Cloud, which as you can see from the image below is extremely powerful – try doing that in a programming language…

MySurface3DMy SurfaceYep, Mathematica just integrated for two variables and then just assigned that to MySurface which represents that expression and plotted it in 3D

“Ah…”, I hear you say, “that’s just some fancy trickery with a good library, but it’s not real programming”. Well, that’s kind of right, except for the fact that Mathematica has a huge range of such libraries, spanning across most disciplines: Applied Mathematics, Arts and Humanities, Business and Economics, Education, Engineering, Information Science and Technology, Mathematica Technology, Mathematics, Science and Social Science.

Also, those two lines above are written in the language for Mathematica which is now called Wolfram that is a “symbolic, functional, and rule-based multi-paradigm programming language“. Pure language wise, it’s pretty hard to match.

It’s fully functional, being able to pass around functions to functions in whatever way you want, like above. But it doesn’t stop there as you can do conventional procedural programming:

For[i=0,i<4,i++,Print[i]]
0
1
2
3

or, rule and pattern- based programming:

rule = {a_, b_} :> {b, a}
{1, 3} /. rule
{3, 1}

and purely functional programming like this classic fibbonaci example:

f[1]=1;  f[2]=1;
f[n_] := f[n-1]+f[n-2] // Define Fibbonaci Function
f /@ Range[10]       // Now get the first 10
{1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55}

So that’s pretty much all of the major programming paradigms covered! Also, with all the talk about REPL’s these days, Mathematica has had one since it’s inception, except it’s not the REPL you’re used to. Apart from the normal ASCII behaviour, it can typeset and edit equations along with displaying graphics and widgets making it more of a SupeREPL.

Mathematica REPLI’ve not even scratched the surface here in order to keep the examples short and understandable, but you can easily find more by searching for “Mathematica programming example” or “Wolfram programming example“. Or, if you just want to see what it’s capable of doing or just get some inspiration, check out the Wolfram Language Code Gallery.

Interested? Then just head on over to the Wolfram Programming Cloud https://programming.wolframcloud.com/app/ and get started with the free version which is more than adequate to work out if you should upgrade to add extra options like an offline desktop version or even the mighty Mathematica itself.

Oh, and one last thing…

The Wolfram Cloud works on an iPad!

Yes, our (some very geeky people & me :) dream of being able to do complex computation and programming on the iPad is here – as long as you’re connected… Hopefully it won’t be that long before an offline “iPad Desktop” version comes out :-)


* Technically, the whole of Mathematica is not all in this product yet, but it seems quite a bit is and hopefully it will only be a matter of time before the whole thing is

Transcendence movie mini-review

Transcendence - Johnny DeppToday I decided to see Transcendence, despite Wired actually canning it – Transcendence: A Movie Too Terrible to Even Hate-Watch. In my opinion, that’s being way too harsh. Of course the movie could of been better, but it could of been way, way worse.

I won’t give any spoilers, but it’s basically a movie where Depp ‘Transcends’ in to a computer, a-la Kurzweils singularity. This bit is quite cleverly done as there’s a conceptual twist that is so obvious yet rarely mentioned in singularity literature.

Things go pretty well, as they do when you have a brain the size of a planet, but of course we can’t leave it there. With people involved we know there will be twists, and there are. I thought the ending was quite brilliant and romantic, even if a bit Hollywood which is to be expected as it’s a big budget film. With a cast of Depp, Rebecca Hall, Freeman, Paul Bettant and great supporting cast there’s no problem with the acting. The special effects are great to illustrate what a giant Quantum computer and associated peripherals may look like.

4 out of 5If you’re in to computers, AI and the like I’d rate it 4/5 – it’s as least as good as the brilliant British movie “The Machine” which takes a different spin. If you’re not in to computers and AI then it may be a 3/5 – not wasted time, but you could wait until an online/DVD release.

PS If you’re in UK, you may want to go elsewhere than Cineworld as they didn’t turn off the lights during the movie and have terrible “customer service”

PPS To end on a positive note, this is my first (of I’m sure many) posts using the absolutely brilliant BlogPad Pro App on my iPad. It actually makes it possible to use your iPad for blogging and at £3 is a no-brainer

Review – Google Chromecast

ChromeCast BrainFreeze

I think the above error message from ChromeCast really applies to it, in that Google should really try again to make this device, but this time with an eye to making it work for most people! I was hoping this would be a fairly positive review for an “up and coming product”, but unfortunately my executive summary for this is:

Don’t buy it – wait for the next generation

I’d always delayed getting an Apple TV and wanted to test the waters of IPTV, so when I heard it was out I added it to our shopping list. Couldn’t wait to get it home and give it a try…

Set Me UpSetup took me 2 1/2h, which really is a bit much. Theoretically, it should only take 5-10 mins, but that’s only if you have the right router – what’s that?

I had a middle of the road router which worked for a few days and then ChromeCast stopped working with it. Even to get my router (a Netgear WNR 2000 – not exactly unusual, in fact widely used in the UK) working, I had to throttle it back from 802.11n (the current fast standard) to 802.11a (the oldest and slowest standard) which is a well known problem with my router and ChromeCast – see the bottom for more info.

Ready To CastAs mentioned, ChromeCast actually worked once I dialed my router back and it certainly had some cool features, such being able to “cast” the tab of a browser which is unfortunately broken as it’s extremely slow (as in – is not usable if there’s video in the tab).

What does work is YouTube and an extremely nifty Chrome extension called VideoStream. If you do have a ChromeCast, then you should definitely get it as VS allows you to play files from your laptop which as the apps tag line says “What you bought your ChromeCast for”

Chrome Cast ExplosionSo what went wrong?

I thought I’d be able to play around a bit with ChromeCast and it’s potentially cool applications until I went to show it off to my neighbour a few days later – that’s funny, it wasn’t registered on my iPad… Nor was it on the windows laptop…

Ken is a fellow geek, so he hung around for about 10 mins as I rebooted everything in various combinations but to no avail.

That was basically it! I suppose I could of done more web research or whatever but frankly I’d lost patience with ChromeCast as it is supposed to be a consumer device that I could plug and play with. Instead, it was plug and play and break and fix and pray and play and break and fix and … well, I just couldn’t be bothered.

Routers

The main problem is WiFi

As mentioned before, I have a Netgear WNR 2000 router. It works with my iMac, a Windows 7 laptop, iPad and 2 Android phones from Samsung and HTC at full 802.11n speed or fallback. Unfortunately, to get ChromeCast to work with my router, I had to set the speed right back to 802.11a! Not good – I was actually prepared to set up another ‘special slow router’ for ChromeCast, but then it just stopped working after 2-3 days and as mentioned. This was not what I expected or would tolerate. To their credit, PC World accepted the unit back without argument (maybe this wasn’t the first?). Was it just me though? A search of ChromeCast Problems yields about 15M results, so there must be something going on here…

The funny thing was that my router is OK on the ChromeCast Router Compatibility table. But note, that’s only when it is with the “default settings”. I’ve obviously got quite a few customisations on mine and there was no way I was going to set everything back to factory just for one little device.

But why the good reviews? you may ask… as looking around, it mostly seems to get from 3-5 *’s out of 5 from most mainstream outlets. I think this just indicates that they didn’t thoroughly test the device, took materials from press releases, were “favourably biased” or just plain incompetent – take your pick ;-)

Anyway, caveat emptor and fortuna, si emere