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My Least Favorite Bugs in OS X Yosemite

I’ve been using the final version of Yosemite since it was pushed out by Apple. I’ll admit I hated the interface changes at first, but the new look grew on me rather quickly. Many of the new features are wonderful additions, even for those of us not using iOS. The changes to the notification center, for example, make using it a much more integral part of my workflow.

However, there are many issues with the first mass release of the OS, that I feel need to be addressed by Apple in the near future. These are bugs and issues that do not detract from the fact that Yosemite is a major upgrade, and a step in the right direction, but rather detract from the overall polish and perfection of the OS.

The first issue pertains to transparency. As anyone who has used Yosemite knows, Apple has replaced much of the “aluminum” look of previous versions with a more transparent look to windows, the menubar, and other UI elements. It certainly looks nice, and it certainly feels more modern while still maintaining a traditional desktop. But it also requires more heavy usage of graphics and system resources at all times, and during heavy usage interface lag becomes noticeable in a way it wasn’t in, say, Mavericks. Furthermore, while Apple added an option to “reduce transparency” in the accessibility settings, its implementation seems to be halfhearted at best. Yes, it reduces the transparency of the UI, and there is a noticeable performance boost, but it also renders certain aspects of the UI uncharacteristically ugly. The volume HUD, for example, is plagued by hideous black corners which remind one of booting a Linux desktop in “software rendering mode” because you installed incompatible graphics drivers. It’s not the end of the world, but it definitely needs a fix. And the sooner it gets it, the sooner Yosemite will feel fully finished.

Another issue involves a new feature implemented in a puzzling manner. OS X Yosemite introduced Dark Mode, which tints  the dock and menubar dark instead of the usual light. In my opinion, this is one of the sexiest features of the new OS. I love the dark look. But for some reason, instead of applying a filter to the entire menubar to invert the colors (as some third party apps do), Apple only has Dark Mode effect their own UI elements and menus, but no third-party apps. This means that any menubar app that has not yet been updated specifically for this feature is invisible in dark mode, or worse, tinted some bizarre shade of gray that makes the entire interface look like a glitch. It’s not a pretty sight. Sure, it’s only aesthetic, but the feature itself is an aesthetic tweak, which for some reason seems not to have taken into consideration the possibility that not all apps you might want to use have been updated for the newest version of the OS.

Many people have been griping about changes to the interface that removed features they were used to, or that changed the way they use apps– the loss of the iTunes sidebar, for example. It’s true, those can be annoying, but with a new OS release, those were to be expected, and I think its perfectly reasonable to assume you’ll get used to those small changes with time. But flaky performance and flaws in the aesthetic overhaul, when the new OS update was supposed to both increase performance and make the UI prettier, are some pretty big issues. It’s still a great OS, but these are problems that need to be fixed. Here’s to hoping we’ll see some bug fixes from Apple in the new future.

Agents of Shield, Season 2: Musings

Warning: SPOILERS

I am a huge fan of Marvel, though admittedly less of an expert than my brother Zachary. It should come as no surprise, then, that I have been keeping up with the Marvel TV show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, which is part of the continuum of the Marvel cinematic universe and interacts with the larger world which Marvel has been building.

The first season of the show took awhile to catch on. For the bulk of the season, there were few serious villains, and though the show made many references to events in the larger Marvel cinematic universe (specifically those in the Avengers and in Thor: The Dark World), it felt very much like a side show, a non-essential element of the MCU.

But that changed with the opportunity presented by Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The movie itself is about political intrigue, about espionage, about the resurfacing of Hydra within Shield itself. It changed the world of the MCU, and had a direct effect on the show– a show about the very organization that had just been thrust into the forefront of the events in the MCU. That was when the show got really good.

The show began to become what it wanted to be all along: a show about espionage, global security, deception, and conflict invisible to civilians. As Shield agents grappled with the dissolution of their organization, as Hydra revealed itself as a fully-fledged enemy, and as major players such as Nick Fury and Maria Hill stepped back into the picture, the show found its role in the MCU.

This has been evident in the first few episodes of Season 2. The primary villain that has been encountered has been Absorbing Man, a well known and dangerous villain from Marvel’s comics. There have been well-known characters, better action and more secrecy, and overall it feels like what it should: a Marvel show.

Now, I’m not sure definitively, but I think Marvel recognizes this change, and have chosen to take it even further. My brother has a theory that I find palatable, which, if true, is a huge deal. The blue alien whose blood resurrects, who is unknown to Asgard, and whose blood caused Coulson and Garret to see strange symbols of “enlightenment,” what was he? The symbols, which appear also on the mysterious obelisk which has been fascinating Hydra since the days of the Red Skull, what are they? What is the obelisk? It seems likely that, in fact, that alien was a Titan, of the same species as Thanos himself. Titans are known to have remarkable powers of resurrection, and be, well, blue. But further, those symbols, Titan symbols, have appeared in comics in conjunction with the Infinity Stones.

If my brother is correct, the Obelisk is another Infinity Stone, and the alien blood that now runs in Coulson’s veins is the blood of a Titan. If so, Marvel has just made the show not only a real part of the MCU, but an essential part. And if that’s true, well done Marvel. Well done indeed.

An Update…

Well, it’s been quite awhile. I haven’t posted anything, and honestly, it’s mostly been out of laziness. Why would I post anything to my blog? What’s the point? No one really reads it anyway.

Well, I’ve decided that I want to have an outlet for all my thoughts and musings, many of which almost no one will care about. That said, I’m going to post them anyway, and if you’re interested, well, go ahead and read them. A lot of it will still be about technology, because that’s what I’m interested in, but anticipate me also starting to talk about other things. Things about which I have for some reason decided that I want to spill my guts out about on the Internet.

 

My Favorite Apps and Watchfaces for the Pebble, 2.0 edition

I’ve had the Pebble smartwatch for several months now, and I still love it. It has changed the flow of my mobile device usage significantly for the better, and I don’t know what I’d do without it. But I’ve already talked about that. What I want to talk about today are my impressions of the Pebble 2.0 firmware, and my favorite apps and watchfaces that make use of the new functionality.

First off, the Android app is fairly buggy. No way around that, it’s just not as smooth of an experience as I’d like. I have a friend who uses the Pebble iOS app, which he says is smooth and a delight to use; this, coupled with the fact that the update was pushed to Android weeks after it was pushed to iOS, says to me that Pebble has decided to treat iOS as its priority for right now, for whatever reason. That said, the update is a great one. I love the Pebble app store, because it not only made it easier for me as a user to get apps and watchfaces, but it made it easier for developers to distribute software for the Pebble– and as such, there has been a surge in Pebble apps and watchfaces since the release. I also really enjoy the fact that watchfaces can now pull info from the internet, because while this was possible before on Android through a third-party plugin called httpebble, the fact that this is now an official feature means that more developers can more easily integrate it into their watchfaces– and that they have.

Which brings me to what I wanted to talk about next: my favorite Pebble 2.0 apps and watchfaces. First, the watchfaces.

My current watchface is Chunk Weather 2.0. It’s a useful watchface that displays time, date, current weather conditions, current temperature, and high and low temperatures for the day. It also has multiple configuration options available through its settings pane in the Pebble app.

I also really like YWeather, which also displays time, date, and current conditions, as well as watch battery and bluetooth connection status. As you might have guessed, it uses the Yahoo! Weather service and icons, and is a really nice looking watchface.

In terms of some watchfaces that don’t display weather, and are really just some great time displays, Marked 2, AccuInfo, and Arc 2.0 are each excellent. Arc 2.0 is the most unique, displaying the time in an analog yet futuristic arc.

All of the above watchfaces are available on the Pebble app store for both iOS and Android.

Now for the apps.

First off, because it’s definitely one of the most useful, is the Evernote app. I love Evernote, and the Evernote app for Pebble allows me to browse all my Notes and Reminders really easily on my watch, which is absolutely perfect for looking up important info I’ve recorded in Evernote and need to access quickly.

Next is the only app that’s not available on the Pebble app store (as of yet, at least): PebbleApps. You have to install the watchapp through its companion app on the Google Play store. Why is this so awesome? Because I use Any.Do to manage my tasks, and not only does this watchapp display my Any.Do tasks, but also my Google Calendar agenda, recent SMSes, and detailed weather info, and I can even control a few phone functions from my watch via the Utilities pane in the watchapp. This is all around one of the mose useful apps on my watch.

And last on this list is an app that I use all the time: My Bus is a watchapp available on the Pebble app store that displays bus route info for up to five stops of any bus routes that use the NextBus API. I have this configured to tell me when the buses at my university are next arriving at the stops I use most, and this is a tremendously useful feauture to have on a watch. I don’t always have time to stop and look up the info, so having it readily available on my wrist is great.

That concludes this brief discussion of Pebble 2.0. I hope you found something here that you liked, and if you have a favorite app or watchface for the Pebble, let me know in the comments– I’m always game for more apps.

The Pebble Smartwatch, a Couple of Months Into Possession

A little over two month ago, I purchased a Pebble smartwatch during an education pricing promotion at Best Buy. Since then, I have become accustomed to using it, and I can say with sincerity that it has become one of the most useful gadgets I own. 

The Pebble is a fantastic little piece of technology. It’s not particularly stylish or attractive,  but it’s comfortable and nondescript. It does exactly what technology should do: it stays out of the way when it is not needed, and performs admirably when it is. 

Having the ability to change the watch face at will and display weather and music info is fantastic, and indeed makes it much more useful as a watch than any traditional watch. But where it really blends into and enhances my workflow is in the area of notifications. 

The ability to display notifications on my wrist as they come to my phone, to see who’s calling me without taking my phone out of my pocket or to read an email with only as much effort as it takes to check the time, is a tremendous advantage. I love being able to see what’s going on and why my phone is buzzing with so little effort. It’s not that it’s too hard to take my phone out of my pocket, it’s that over the course of time, the Pebble has added into my daily life an added layer of convenience that I would now find it difficult and time consuming to go without. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it is convenient, helpful, and useful. I have become a big believer in wearable tech due to my use of the Pebble; I can see that while people may mock it now as gimmicky and ridiculous (both words I have heard use to describe the idea), it has great potential and in the long run, if more gadgets that work so well as the Pebble make it onto the market, will enhance peoples’ lives in a noticeable way. 

Not having first-hand experience with any other wearable tech, I cannot compare the Pebble itself to other smartwatches. I can, however, say that I really like this watch, and I find it indispensable now. 

For those of you who have a Pebble, or are considering purchasing one, here is a list of my favorite apps and watch faces for the Pebble. (I found that there were limited resources out there recommending apps, so I hope to begin to fill this void.)

Please note that as I have an Android phone, I will be focusing on Pebble apps and watch faces that work with Android, and some or all of them may be Android-specific.

 

PebbleApps crams a number of useful apps and utilities into one. It provides you with a weather forecast, SMS history, Agenda, System Info, Find My Phone, and camera remote. I find it worth keeping on my watch for the sheer number of functions it performs. 

 

Pebble RSS lets you read RSS feeds on your Pebble. Not that great for reading long articles, but if you want a quick update on headlines from your favorite blog or news site, this is one of the best ways to get it on your watch.

 

Calendar lets you have access to your Google Calendar on your watch. Occasionally useful. 

 

Glance is by far my favorite app for the Pebble, because it is a hybrid app and watch face. Within the app are several watch faces that can display a variety of information. My favorite is Smart Watch, which displays time, date, weather, phone battery, unread calls, texts, and emails, all on one watch face. It also includes several other functions as well, including SMS history and detailed weather info, all easily accessible directly from the watch face. 

 

These are my favorite apps for the Pebble; I’ll keep this list updated as I find new great apps, but these are the ones which currently have a permanent place on my wrist. 

Have a Pebble watch? If you have one, how do you like it? Have you tried any of the above apps and what do you think of them? If not, what are your thoughts on smart watches and wearable tech in general? Let me know in the comments below. 

A Quick Update to the Ongoing Saga of my Linux Use

As of this morning, I found this article: http://www.chris-reilly.org/blog/technotes/macbook-trackpad-in-ubuntu/, which includes configuration for a Macbook Pro trackpad that makes it perfectly usable. The only downside is that is breaks my touchegg gestures, because touchegg is not designed to work with the mtrack driver. However, I think it’s worth it, because the mtrack driver handles the Macbook’s Clickpad much better than the synaptics driver. This is what I will be using for right now, and I recommend that anyone using Linux on a Macbook Pro give this configuration a try. 

Report: Google smartwatch “heavy into” Google Now functionality

Joseph Kotzker:

I agree that a smartwatch with Google Now at its core would be fantastic. Especially if Google improves on Now with Android 4.4, which I have no doubt they will do. I am very much looking forward to Android 4.4.

Originally posted on Gigaom:

Google is putting the finishing touches on a smartwatch built around its Google Now service, reports 9to5 Google. Seth Weintraub notes his source suggests “Google Now functionality would be at the center of the product,” and that it would be happening “sooner rather than later.” The idea of a watch launch by month’s end — in conjunction with the new Nexus 5 and Android 4.4 — seem plausible, but does anyone want Google Now in a smartwatch?

I do. And if Google(s goog) does indeed build a smartwatch with Google Now as the core, I think many others will too.

I spelled this approach out nearly two months ago when I said that Google Now offers precisely the contextual information at a glance that could truly invigorate the smartwatch market. Most products in this space are simply a modern take on using the wrist as a second screen…

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