Why I Hate Android

From MG Siegler’s recent article on, well, what his title says:1

Apple, for all the shit they get for being “closed” and “evil”, has actually done far more to wrestle control back from the carriers and put it into the hands of consumers. Google set off to help in this goal, then stabbed us all in the back and went the complete other way, to the side of the carriers. And because they smiled the entire time they were doing it and fed us this “open” bullshit, we thanked them for it. We’re still thanking them for it!

I’d never really looked at Google’s behavior in this way, even after they’d aligned with Verizon. I’d kept tabs on the situation, but this way of viewing it hadn’t crossed my mind. Siegler raises a lot of interesting points that, frankly, have me looking twice at Google’s behavior lately.

As far as I’m concerned, much of Siegler’s article comes across as very conspiracy theory-ish, which rubs me the wrong way and immediately raises a bullshit alarm in my head. That said, considering Google’s behavior just recently, it does seem that they’re going a bit far just to become (even more) dominant. It’s strange, smells funny, and really comes across as disingenuous. Twitter also seems to agree, if their statement, sent to Siegler, is any indication. At any rate, his article’s worth the read, especially if you (like me) tend to read Siegler as being particularly, and perhaps at times annoyingly, pro-Apple, as it offers an interesting way to see Google and Android.2

  1. On an unrelated note, this will be my first use of a link post on Spifftastic (having just added support for all that to my Oak Tree Wordpress theme). Ought to make it easier to share things I want other people to read. [return]
  2. Which honestly differs quite a bit from my reasons for disliking Android and Google, most of which are silly developer issues that don’t affect normal users, or at least not directly. [return]

Review — Phraseology: Great for Writing and Revision

I spend a lot of time writing on my iPad. It’s a very convenient tool for writing, as it’s both light and the battery lasts longer than any laptop I’ve used. I also bring a paper notebook with me for short notes, but when it comes to longer writing, I go with the iPad (my handwriting is just as terrible as everyone else’s). As a result, I’ve gone around collecting a small number of writing apps for the iPad, including Elements, (the now-defunct) Essay, Evernote (which absorbed Essay, sort of), Pages, and so on. They’re all good enough for just writing, but most apps tend to offer the same features: Dropbox synchronization, some formatting tools, and a minimal user interface. Those apps are all very good at those things, but they’re missing something that I hadn’t thought I wanted until recently: revision tools.

So, this brings me to Phraseology, a relatively new app by Agile Tortoise. Phraseology is like most other editors until you get to its awesome revision tools — tools that I never thought I wanted or needed, and which are now causing me no end of grumbling when I do any writing elsewhere. It set itself apart by being uniquely useful when other editors were content to just edit and synchronize documents. Although Phraseology is great for just writing, its main strength is in revision, when you pull out the Arrange and Inspect tools to tear apart your writing. These instruments make it unique among iOS writing apps, as they allow you to easily rearrange your paragraphs to control flow and analyze your text, identify commonly used words based on their word class (e.g., verb, noun, determiner, and others), and see how your document measures on various scales, such as the Gunning fog score.1 This allows you to revise your writing far better than similar tools.

The Inspect Tool
The Arrange Tool

It bears mentioning that support for iCloud or Dropbox is not available, though the former wouldn’t be very useful without an accompanying iPhone or Mac OS application. The lack of Dropbox is a ding against the app, but depending on how often you transfer documents between devices, this may not be as important. At the very least, it is not difficult to email your documents to yourself or synchronize using another app, as awkward as it sounds. That said, Agile Tortoise has stated that Dropbox support is coming.

In addition to the other tools, there is one optional tool that you get only by purchasing Terminology, another Agile Tortoise app: built-in thesaurus support. Terminology acts as a dictionary and thesaurus, and includes a variety of sources for most words (excluding neologisms or other uncommon words2). By owning Terminology, you can select a word in Phraseology and look it up, and, if you want, replace it with another word without having to manually copy text back and forth between the two apps. The integration between the two works well, and I personally think it’s a nice touch. So, if you really want a thesaurus that the app supports, it’s worth the extra few dollars (at the time of this writing, it is $2.99 USD). If you always have a dictionary and thesaurus on hand, you may not need it. Again, it’s an optional purchase, so it comes down to your needs.

Phraseology’s offerings are much more beneficial to writers when compared to its peers, which often focus on document presentation, no longer special synchronization or markup formats, or a lack of user interface or features (Phraseology’s user interface keeps well out of your way, resulting in only a slim toolbar on the left side of the screen, so depending on how little UI you want to see, this may or may not be a problem). Phraseology is an app that is suitable for writing more than just first drafts or page layout (which Phraseology cannot do), and is most useful during the most important and difficult stage of writing: revision.

So, I obviously like it. The lack of Dropbox support is disappointing, but given that it is planned, I see little reason to concern myself with it when I have not found any other writing apps that provide tools better than Phraseology. The additional Markdown support is useful, as I write all drafts using it, so that is a benefit for those who do the same. If you require a dark or nighttime display mode for your editors, Phraseology does not currently offer one. Similarly, the font choices are limited, and there are only two ways to organize documents: a main documents list and the “archive.” I bring these up only because they can be deal-breakers for some. Organization doesn’t benefit me as much as it may benefit others, and some people may need white text on a black background to get into their writing.3

Overall, Phraseology is the most useful writing tool I have, even considering those available on Mac OS. Its tools may not be useful for everyone, especially depending on how much you use your iPad for writing, but they are very good at what they do, which is helping you improve your writing. So, I recommend buying it, since I’ve personally gotten a lot of use out of it, but the important thing is that you look at how you write and decide if it can help you.

I initially just wrote this to post on the iTunes app store entry for Phraseology, but it got kind of long. So, iTunes got a slightly shorter version, and what you see here is closer to how I intended the review to read. I do think it's strange that I wrote roughly 1,200 words just because I like Phraseology, though.

  1. I will freely admit that I have no clue how these scales work (though Wikipedia has been helping me figure it out). They really don’t seem like they’re terribly useful to me, but this is likely because I haven’t decided what they mean to my writing. I don’t believe there is any way to put a single number on a piece of writing, so that’s another issue. Overall, however, I would rather have these scales available, as I can at least then decide how to make use of them. [return]
  2. Such as ‘meatspace,’ which, though being uncommon and likely jargon, is sadly absent. [return]
  3. My stance on this is that, as it stands, Phraseology is more than worth the asking price. It’s on sale for $1.99 USD right now, but even if that doubles, triples, or quadruples (or otherwise increases to something quite a bit higher), I believe I’ve already gotten quite a bit out of it. I think it’s strange that people are so concerned about paying for an app that’s less than a cup of coffee (well, depending on where you buy it) after dropping several hundred dollars on an iPad, but the important thing is that when you buy something, you buy it for what’s available now, not later. If what you purchase now is not to your liking, then you shouldn’t buy it. [return]

A Fraction of 2011

Over the course of the last year, not a lot changed until the last two months. Most of my time was been spent on courses toward my English degree, work on some personal projects, and otherwise activities to remain sane. Unfortunately, though the last two months may be the most interesting for others to read about, they’re not something I’m fully comfortable writing on. I’m a fan of writing from an uncomfortable position, I believe it is where some of the best writing comes from, but you’ll just have to take my word that I cannot write about this now.1 So, rather than focus on something that I cannot yet write about, I’m going to cover a few different things from this year and probably splice in some things about the future toward the end.


I more or less revived and partly revised Spifftastic early on this year. I was concerned spam bots would pull my content from RSS feeds, using it to make their spam sites look legitimate, but that’s no longer on my mind. It’s a pointless fight, and anyone duped by a spam site probably isn’t interested in my writing anyway. Instead, the new focus was purely on readability. I wanted a site that I would be comfortable reading, one that didn’t hurt my eyes, and one that focused entirely on my writing instead of a Twitter sidebar or advertising or millions of distractions. Daring Fireball and Marco Arment, whose sites I consider to be extremely readable,2 were my primary inspiration when it came to the new design, so kudos to them for having the sense to care about readability. So, while it’s still a work in progress, I’m actually fairly happy with where Spifftastic is now.

Unfortunately, I’ve been incredibly bad about actually writing on here. There are a vast swath of excuses I could pull from to say that I was too busy, but I’m sure if I wanted to I could do this daily. This might change in 2012, but I don’t know and I won’t make any silly promises either to myself or others regarding update frequency. At the very least, I want to make sure that I never feel like I’m obligated to stick to a particular topic or theme as many writers seem to believe they should. If I focused my writing only on a small subset of the world, for one, it would limit me, and for two, it would bore everyone (myself included). Instead, I’ll just do what I can and write whatever I need to write.

Android & Ascension

This is a small point for 2011, but Ascension is mostly dead in terms of sales. It’s not much of a surprise to me, and hopefully not to anyone else, but I’ve been uncomfortable with updating it and it has otherwise stagnated. There are certainly other live wallpapers out there, though I don’t know how many offer the same level of configuration as Ascension. The biggest obstacles to updating Ascension, and really producing anything for Android anymore, are, firstly, that I no longer use an Android phone (and indeed cannot afford one just for testing), having since switched to an iPhone 4S, and secondly, I frankly dislike developing for Android.

The former obstacle is one of the absurd high points of the year, as strange as it is to say that. I now use an iPhone 4S, and I really am stupidly happy with it. Android, for all its niceties (and there are plenty to go around), has some serious problems when it comes to updates and stability. Furthermore, to those who would suggest rooting phones to get updates, I find that to be unacceptable. These are phones for people who should not need to hack their devices to make them work as desired. It’s disgusting, to me, that anyone would suggest purchasing a device that initially makes one unhappy, but think it’s OK because you can void the warranty by replacing the lousy software. It’s a solution that should never need to exist.3

The latter, that I dislike developing for Android, is harder to diagnose. Many different problems culminated in my ending irritation with Android development. This includes the slow emulator (this is the only way I can reasonably test view layouts on differing screen sizes), fragmentation in general (i.e., hardware and software fragmentation), Google’s poor response to fragmentation,4 the lack of updates to existing devices, and my disliking Java.5 By all accounts, developing for iOS is far better simply due to the APIs that Apple provides, Xcode’s support for almost all things Apple (complain about Xcode as much as you want, it is eons ahead of the corpulent Eclipse), and the wide-ranging documentation on most topics (this is hit or miss, but my experience has shown that Apple’s documentation for both Mac OS and iOS APIs is far clearer). As a result of the two obstacles, I focus primarily on Mac OS and iOS, both of which make me far happier than the competition, both in my using and developing for them.

The Fabled Degree

As I mentioned above, I’ve continued as usual toward getting my English degree from Boise State University (best known for its windy campus and garish blue football field, probably). So far, that’s been going well, despite driving me to the edges of my sanity and patience. My instructors have all given me a lot of freedom to do what I want in their courses, typically by leaving assignments wide open and encouraging experimentation. I’ve never been a fan of rigid assignments and I appreciate anyone who tosses the tired old pedagogical approach to education, so I can’t stress enough that the instructors I’ve had at Boise State University have been incredibly good to me (and other students) by giving us that freedom to do as we please.

There are two important points to my education this year: I discovered I greatly enjoy writing non-fiction and I launched [nc]oetry, my poetry blog. Both of these are going to be rather important down the road, especially as it pertains to both my education and my writing. In addition, they both probably offer a closer look into what my education has wrought upon my tiny brain so far.

The former is by far the most important, though I suppose it’s not very surprising in retrospect. Much of my writing has been non-fiction to begin with, though I often felt that fiction was where I had to be — creating worlds (or expanding on this one), characters, and entire weaves of history are all interesting, but there is something fundamentally cool about being able to say what I wrote is real. Non-fiction has the allure of being true (at least for the most part), something that actually happened, will happen, or even just something crazy that someone actually thought and is now being seen in a new light. So, that connection to reality intrigues me, even if it is frankly very dull when one thinks about it.

The latter is, as far as I’m concerned, fairly unimportant. It reflects one decision though: to consistently write poetry. I update it weekly, every weekend (either Saturday or Sunday — I decided that this week that Saturday gets the retrospective to close 2011, while Sunday gets the poem to open 2012), with either a new poem or a revised copy of an existing poem, though I have not yet provided any new revisions to already-posted poetry. This started out as one of the aforementioned wide-open assignments for a course, and has ended up as something that I care quite a bit about. It will, ultimately, be one of my long-term projects. Whether it results in something greater than itself has yet to be seen, but I have a number of plans for it that should keep it interesting well through 2012.

Going Forward

This is going to be the short schism where I look forward to something or other. Very short, really, because I dislike the idea of setting up expectations for the future.

First off, I can only hope the Stop Online Piracy Act dies in a fiery wreck and takes its supporters with it. The people and businesses behind it deserve nothing less than immolation. Though many of them cannot be affected due to their position in the world (which one would think should preclude them from having any say, as they might as well be holding a gun to our collective skulls), I believe it is in everyone’s best interest to ruin those that can be affected. I hope the Todd Wassermans of this world finally understand why these companies cannot be trusted, even if they cease to support such terrible acts.

As mentioned above, I hope I get my act together and write more overall, though preferably in some way that would actually get me an income (Spifftastic, unfortunately, has little chance of making me even a single cent, especially given how much I loathe advertising). Unfortunately, that last little detail will likely make my life a living hell going forward. English majors, and likely others with similarly frowned-upon degrees, are probably in for a rough ride in the coming years, though that may have always been the case. The uncertainty I face as a would-be writer is, admittedly, very troubling at times, but I don’t feel like this is ever anything more than a mild concern. Like most humans, I’m fairly adaptable - I’m not required to suffer any particular path when there are many others available to us all.

I plan to continue working on my various personal projects in the hope that one of them will at some point show enough merit that it can go beyond the experimental phase. Most of them die out during that period due to some enormous hole I failed to consider, unfortunately. In particular, I will continue working on my little game (which I haven’t actually mentioned before, as far as I know) until I either go insane or complete it. It’s hard to say exactly what I want to do with my projects, however, so I really just want to have enough time to work on them.

So, that’s it. I hope you don’t have any regrets about this past year, because that’s a waste of your time. Enjoy the new year.

  1. I’ve tried, it doesn’t work. The reason for this, I believe, is that it’s not really about me. I only have a tiny role in the story that would follow, and my point of view is not the angle that it needs. I spend a lot of time writing about me, I’m a fairly open book, but I dislike including others in my writing without hiding identities and obfuscating certain aspects of a story. The problem here is that this is likely too close to me to censor without it being obvious what I’m really talking about. [return]
  2. Although I disagree with John Gruber’s take on things fairly often, he knows how to present his writing in a way that makes it approachable, easy to read, and he generally acts as a source of good articles. That said, I would rather disagree with what I read than just agree. There’s no fun in reading that fails to offer a stance. [return]
  3. This is something I basically wrote earlier this December on Stack Overflow’s Android chatroom. You can read the original bit over in their transcripts. [return]
  4. Google’s response to software fragmentation has largely been to just release libraries that fill in the blanks. This is commendable and shows that Android is fairly extensible, but it also means that improvements to the OS will not really affect the applications using the libraries (at least as I understand it - if I’m wrong, I would love to be corrected, because that would make this less of a problem for me). The problem I have with this is that it feels like a hack, because rather than see devices updated to include awesome new stuff, it’s up to developers to shove it into each and every application. That’s not how it should be. [return]
  5. I’ll probably cover this in another article that expounds on why I dislike Android and Java, but in short, I find Java to be far too rigid. This is one possible benefit to the language, so I won’t say this is an objective reason that Java is bad, but I firmly believe that placing everything in a class and beating Objective-C on verbosity puts Java in a whole new realm of pain. Secondly, being that it’s Java, interacting with other languages is inherently difficult. This has been made progressively simpler, but is overall still a pain in the ass that makes Java deserving of hatred - at least in my book. [return]

Go Daddy Deserves No Sympathy

I don’t normally want to respond to articles via blog posts, but a recent Mashable article, It’s Time to Cut Go Daddy a Break by Todd Wasserman, really deserves a response. Where to begin? Let’s start by doing what Wasserman does, listing off two reasons why you should already dislike Go Daddy enough to never register with them in the first place:

Go Daddy runs horrible, sexist Super Bowl ads. PETA members and others who think animals should be treated kindly are fully justified in canceling their Go Daddy accounts because of founder Bob Parsons’s elephant shooting this past spring.

We now already know that Go Daddy is sexist and that Bob Parsons thinks shooting elephants is fun. These two are both pretty awful, though the former is something many companies are guilty of in crafting their advertisements.1 The latter is also inexcusable, and I can’t imagine why Mr. Parsons needs to kill elephants. There is simply no good reason for it, as he doesn’t need an elephant for food or any other resources, and there’s no reason for him to be in a position to shoot elephants. So, we have two strikes against Go Daddy.

That said, these weren’t enough to get most people on board with destroying Go Daddy. What it really took was an enormous third strike: supporting SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act (that would, ironically, harm everyone but pirates). Following the backlash from their supporting SOPA, Go Daddy did a heel turn and rescinded their support in the wake of many pledging to and following through on transferring away from Go Daddy to another domain registrar. Despite the unsurprising change of heart, it is safe to assume that many still loathe Go Daddy, and Wasserman doesn’t get it:

What’s troubling … is the anger against the company for not fully internalizing the opposition to SOPA. It seems as if nothing short of a North Korean-style show of emotion will convince Go Daddy haters at this point and that’s just weird.

The problem is that Go Daddy started out supporting SOPA. They can change their stance, but the fact is that the change reeks of bullshit: they’ve only done it to appease those who believe Go Daddy’s change is good enough (in other words, the Wassermans of the world). So while Go Daddy may have rescinded its support after shooting off a leg and wrecking its reputation, at the core, they are the same Go Daddy. Their support for SOPA showed a clear disinterest in their customers and the Internet in general, broke any trust that many may have had with Go Daddy, and that is why Go Daddy has to burn.

  1. This doesn’t excuse sexism, but the sad reality is that this sort of behavior is commonplace and expected. Until sexist advertising in specific adversely affects businesses employing it, I doubt this will go away. In addition, the people this variety of advertising appeals to are far more common than those who find it disgusting. They are likely unaware of what’s going on, so see nothing wrong with it.

    Although Go Daddy’s sexist advertising is terrible on its own, it was apparently not terrible enough to get many on-board with transferring away from their service. At the very least, one can hope that the advertisements kept others from registering with Go Daddy.



Alright, this is a bunch of shameless self-promotion. I’ve been working on a (very) small poetry blog since early this October called [nc]oetry. The purpose of the site is to host most of my poetry and share it with others, since I’ve previously confined my work to workshops and the like where I get a bunch of good feedback from others but don’t really get a lot of eyes on it.

Much of the work contained on [nc]oetry is still in its early stages and hasn’t seen much revision, and there is also the chance first drafts will pop up on there (though I try to at least revise things a few times before throwing them up, as my first drafts are almost always garbage). This also means that I will probably post future revisions of already-posted poems, meaning you can see how things change over time and I might take a moment to explain why I made a change, even if it’s usually just based on how I see a poem after a fair amount of time.

I don’t know where [nc]oetry will go down the road, but I intend to keep it up for as long as I can since it gives me further motivation to continue working on poetry in addition to long-form writing.1 It may eventually merge into Spifftastic, though probably as a separate blog (i.e., poetry.spifftastic.net or something along those lines). Another possibility would be to replace it with a blog where multiple authors contribute poetry and writing on poetry on a semi-regular basis, but that’s a long ways off. Ultimately, there are a lot of places this could go.

  1. Rambling on the state of Spifftastic: I would also like to post more frequently on Spifftastic, but the pieces I do here tend to be longer and require a greater amount of time – time that I tend not to have during school. So, I do apologize that I don’t post very frequently on here. I would like to change that, but it’s very difficult to get my writing where I want it to be when I have about twenty different assignments breathing down my neck on any given day (unless it’s something I’ve written previously and just found [I have just found some previously written things from years ago that I plan on revising, so maybe that’s something folks will enjoy]). [return]

With Respect to Motivation

There are a lot of things I could say, or rather ask myself about my motivations. In particular, why do I write, program, paint, or try any other thing I want to attain proficiency in. This is the sort of thing I sit down and try to write about every now and then, but end up trashing the document.1 If you’re reading this now, then I’ve at least succeeded in not trashing the remainder, which I no doubt believe to be garbage as much as the next attempt at introspection.

Before anything else, there is the obvious reason I and presumably all others do most anything: because it interests us. This is odd though, because how did anyone decide what interested him or her? With certain things, we can look at them and say “that’s interesting, I want to do that.” Take skateboarding, for instance, you could look at someone on a board and immediately decide that’s something you have to do. If you can see it happening and imagine yourself doing it, chances are you could consider it an interest.

Not all interests are like that, though. You can’t rely on seeing everything interesting. For that, there is my favorite question: “how the hell does that work?” If there is one question that has driven me to pursue something more than anything else, it’s that. This question has led to programming, the creation of game art, possibly writing2, and lately I’ve decided I must know about typography. I won’t get into what I know about each, especially given I’m still waiting on some books to arrive for the last subject, but I will say that raw curiosity is a greater driving force than any other aspect.

The desire to learn something is probably driving my motivation the most. This doesn’t mean I just enjoy learning all things – I’ve found this out the hard way. Turns out I have a hard time caring about sociology. Overall, though, learning is a joy that cannot be lessened over time. There are so many things to study and cram into my skull that I’m certain I will not run out of material any time soon, at least not within my lifetime. For example, I would eventually like to take a great deal of time to study mathematics. Not because it would benefit me in some tangible way3, but simply because I want to know more.

Learning benefits me in more ways than anything else. There is the satisfaction mentioned before, but also the knowledge and skill (where applicable) gained. What could benefit anyone more than knowledge and skill in an area? The ability to think something and accomplish it is not simple, and the more you have available to work with, the better your chances of meeting your goals. I would not be where I am today if I had not learned to create game art, had I not finally decided that I must know how game assets were made4 – I could see them to start with, but I had to know how it worked, why games were able to look the way they did. Learning that in turn led to programming, because I couldn’t stop at the surface. The best part of both game art and programming is that I continue to learn about the two, even after many years of practicing both. Writing is the same, there’s no point where I can just stop and announce to everyone, “I know it all, there is no more to see.”

Once I have learned something, I can then use it to learn more – maybe about something new, maybe expanding what I already know. The simple point of all of this is really that learning drives a great deal more for me than anything else. I imagine the same is true for others, be they musicians or programmers or engineers or what have you. Every act should result in a little more knowledge or a little more skill. If I get more than that, great, but anything without one, the other, or both would seem only hollow.

  1. Since I doubt many of us write on paper anymore – at least not at length – we probably don’t get the visceral pleasure of crumpling paper and tossing it in the direction of the nearest trash can, only for it to miss. What a shame. [return]
  2. I say “possibly” here because I’m admittedly unsure of my reasons for writing. I attribute it to a number of things, curiosity in particular, but writing is often a way to satisfy curiosity. It may be that writing allows the satisfaction and therefore becomes a necessity, but I don’t know.

    A reason I often use when explaining why I’m a writing major is that writing is simply something I am not good at. A number of people will tell others that I am lying about being un-good, but it’s worth keeping in mind that my personal standards for excellence are far higher than most. If I don’t meet or exceed those standards, I must remain un-good.

  3. A complaint I tend to have with many college students is that they seem to be studying the wrong things. A computer science student, for instance, might not actually enjoy computer science. These situations seem to come about due to the necessity of money. It is unfortunately the destiny of all people to either work or try to sustain themselves in another manner (your call on what alternatives are “good” and “bad”).

    Many students might pick the most supposedly profitable field to study in – usually based on an article in, say, Forbes for example, that lists off the top N most profitable degrees. This can get one salivating at the thought of a prospective income range, especially one that is vastly greater than his or her current income. The problem with this reasoning is that choosing an area you do not like, sitting through four years of it, give or take a year for most students, will make you unhappy. Further, continuing and ending up working in the field you so dislike will only deaden your soul or will.

    Maybe these students know this and accept the consequences in exchange for relatively stable living. It certainly tempts me to think that I could just sacrifice some happiness in exchange for a slightly improved chance of stability, but I’ve already dealt with unhappiness and have no interest in returning to a similar state by choice. Instead, I chose to do what will allow me to remain sane and what I enjoy and most importantly what I can improve. There is never a point where I can stop improving my writing and myself through writing, and to that end, I feel I’ve made the choice that is right for me. However, this is just a footnote, so I must go on with the original purpose of this writing.

  4. I probably didn’t call them “assets” at the time. More likely, I simply set a goal to make stuff for games. What I saw in games, then, was the visuals – I knew something was going on to make them work and that it was more than just art, but I went first for what would let me see my work.

    Initially, modding for Doom 2 and Quake 1 gave me the best results, but Quake 3 is where I really began putting forth the energy to improve my work. I still believe Quake 3 has some of my favorite art, and I’m increasingly disappointed that the methods used to create game art have left the “old ways” behind despite how amazing the technology I get to work with now is. On the upside, the present is far better than the past when considering the terrible things one had to put up with 10 years ago.


Switching to Vim

This is part of a suggested pair of posts between me and [Ryan Burnside](http://ryanburnside.wordpress.com/), who wrote a post on [why he uses Emacs](http://ryanburnside.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/why-i-enjoy-using-emacs/). Unlike yours truly, Ryan is not an English major, so I apologize if he's missing a comma or forgets a word, but I suggest reading it as well. At any rate, I won't put words in his mouth, so you can go read it and then return for your dose of preaching to the choir, seething hatred, or usual indifference - I'm not going anywhere.

So, as the title suggests, I’ve recently made a rather large change to my usual coding workflow: I’ve begun using MacVim instead of TextMate. I use MacVim in specific, as using regular Vim in the Mac OS terminal is not the best of ideas (it works, but it’s not pleasant). I’ll try to explain why I made this jump and what exactly makes me happy to use Vim now, as opposed to one, four, six, or however many years it’s been since I first encountered Vim. However, I cannot explain why I did not use Vim all those years ago. It probably relates to it being an unintuitive editor, but more on that later.

I’m not sure how traumatic switching editors is for others - some take it better than others, some worse. You can sit me in front of the likes of, say, Emacs or Eclipse (referenced because they both begin with E and do not appeal to me1) and I will gnash my teeth and probably complain endlessly about something silly. Essentially, I’ve been hooked on TextMate for the past three years or so. Editors without the similar capabilities have not appealed to me. There is a lot to like about TextMate, but the fact is that there is one window and your code is in it; there are no distractions while coding in TextMate. Take away TextMate and I’m very unhappy.

So, I decided to take away TextMate2. That’s not entirely true, actually - TextMate has gone nowhere, but I made the conscious decision to not use it. Why? Why in the name of some deity would I ever do that when I have a perfectly fine editor already? Well, because I wasn’t comfortable with the fact that I was a one-editor person. Monogamy is pretty favorable in a normal relationship, but when you’re only really proficient with TextMate and (arguably) Xcode, something’s got to change. May as well take care of it now. It may also be an e-penis thing - it’s hard to tell from inside my own head, but I can’t rule it out. With that in mind, I’ll correct that first statement: so, I replaced TextMate with MacVim.

Now, why Vim? I’ll try to run down the reasons really quickly, with convenient bullets:

  • Vim is available on just about every platform I use. Most importantly, it’s on Mac OS and every Linux-based system, but it’s also on Windows. Windows has no shortage of decent editors, but few really stand out as great. Many of the good ones are not particularly modifiable to the extent that either TextMate or Vim is, so I can rule out a huge chunk of them based on that alone.

  • Vim is very well-documented. One would certainly hope so too, given its age. This is imperative for customizable editors, since I’m not going to sift through a ton of configuration files and guess what’s what (I’m looking at you, Sublime Text). Hell, it even comes with an interactive tutorial if you’re completely new to it.

  • Vim has reams of plugins, scripts, and so on. Again, a byproduct of its age, but also its popularity. I use a handful of plugins, and these account for any perceived deficiencies or lack of TextMate-isms in Vim. In particular, I’ll point out FuzzyFinder, Project, easytags, snipmate, SuperTab, and VisIncr as my favorite plugins.

    The same could be said of TextMate with its mass of bundles, but the aforementioned plugins tend to be more general than that. They address weaknesses in Vim. For example, easytags provides some dynamic syntax highlighting via ctags - I’m not yet aware of any way to provide something of that nature in TextMate cleanly. That’s something that allows Vim to stand out.

Overall, Vim hits at least two of the important points for any editor: I can use it anywhere and it’s highly customizable. The third important point is odd: ease of use. Despite its appearance and intimidating design, using Vim is not all that difficult, but there is the expected learning curve one gets with any new tool. It took a few hours, but I managed to get far enough past my basic understanding of Vim to feel comfortable. I went in, tore up my .vimrc, set up a lot of things specific to my working style, and pored over Vim’s help pages whenever I wasn’t sure about something. As such, the reason I mentioned documentation above is pretty simple: good documentation can flatten out a learning curve, and Vim’s thorough documentation knocks down that wall.

In many ways, my workflow in Vim feels streamlined. I don’t have to use a mouse to do anything - it just doesn’t happen. Even adding files to a project just requires I <C-w> over to my project view and type in a file name. Hell, the file doesn’t even have to exist. That’s how I create new files in my projects now - I add ‘em, open them, and begin working on them. No need to open a dialog to select anything, just get right in there and start working. This is one area where TextMate can, at times, fall short - it’s not a huge issue, but it’s odd how much I appreciate the lack of such a small nuisance.

I don’t think Vim is for everyone. This is partly because it is nerd territory. Coders are not normal people, not a single one of us, and our strange preferences just don’t apply or even matter. Vim is not an intuitive editor, not by a long shot. It is a grossly outdated tool in terms of modern user experience3 - I would be offended to see Vim forced on anyone who was not programming. Really, Vim is just an anachronism that we don’t abandon because it’s well-suited for our purposes. It works for me, it might work for you (depending on who you are), but it won’t work for sane people.

Since I started this little self-improvement attempt, I’ve become rather happy using Vim. Happy enough that I am confident that I don’t need to worry about having TextMate anymore. This isn’t to say I’m getting rid of TextMate - it still has its uses, but Vim offers me the feeling of being uninterrupted in all aspects of my work. It’s hard to beat that sensation, so I plan to stick with it for now.

  1. This is normally where I say “because they suck,” or something equally baiting, but I’ll drop the silliness and be frank: I don’t think either of these editors are bad. They clearly appeal to a wide range of programmers, developers, engineers, and what have you. So, pick what you like, how you write code doesn’t matter as long as your code accomplishes a worthwhile goal. [return]
  2. I want to be clear about something: I have no problem whatsoever with TextMate as it is. I’m in no hurry to see TextMate 2 released when TextMate already did what I wanted. The only thing I have to say to people who are currently using TextMate 1 and want to rip out Allan Odgaard’s eyeballs for want of TextMate 2 is this: shut up and get back to work. [return]
  3. The term “user experience” is something I try not to use, but it occasionally makes sense. In this case, I think it applies, given the overall experience of using Vim compared to other editors. [return]

Spifftastic Tweaks

I’ve tweaked the Spifftastic theme a bit more to remove that pesky sidebar and keep the header fixed at the top. Basically, even more writing is visible, and less of that other junk. Additionally, the font sizes are a tiny bit larger just because I think that makes it easier to read.

That said, there are two other changes that I ought to mention:

  1. Tags and other metadata are long-gone from posts. I still keep tags on things, but I just don’t think they’re that useful. After all, if you’re looking for something, the search bar is right up there in the header, and it’s always visible.

    As a method of browsing, I don’t really think it works all that well either when there’s so little on my site, and a new post will tend to introduce a new tag just for itself. Overall, they’re handy for organization on larger sites with many posts on the same topic, not so useful for something like Spifftastic.

  2. Comments are gone. This wasn’t really a hard decision, given that I don’t get comments (writing to a very small audience that doesn’t seem to want to interact with me has its benefits). I figure if a comment is important, they can always head over to the contact page and send me an e-mail. You also don’t have to register on the site to talk to me anymore, so that’s nice.

    Finally, comments don’t really make a lot of sense for Spifftastic.  I’m not seeking comments or responses to my writing here, it should just be something you either want to read (or don’t want to read). So, enjoy or hate my work, and feel free to argue with me over e-mail if you want. I doubt you want that stuff publicly visible anyway.

    Some time later: Comments are back, just because I wanted to see how disqus comments work. I like the idea behind disqus, so we’ll see how that pans out. Might remove ‘em later, who knows.

    Even more time later: Comments are gone again because they aren’t really useful.

So, that’s all the obvious changes detailed, I think. Probably some kinks to work out, but I haven’t noticed any, so that’s probably good.

Well, There Goes the Touchpad

As most people who pay attention to tech news have probably heard by now, HP is discontinuing their webOS devices (namely the Pre and Touchpad). I’ll just be frank and admit I’m very disappointed in this, as I’d had high hopes for webOS. The little time I’d had to fiddle with the Pre phones - even before HP bought Palm just to destroy it - and the webOS 3.0 SDK running the tablet version of the OS in an emulator, I was impressed enough to think it stood a fighting chance in the market. Turns out HP thinks I was wrong, and that’s fair enough, I’m not a bullshit-spewing analyst who can pull magical rumors out of his ass and I don’t know enough about business to determine when to stop something.

What I do know is that I liked what I’d seen of webOS, and I was looking forward to getting my hands on a Touchpad for development reasons - at least, I was until I’d read the aforementioned news. So, my hopes of eventually getting a webOS tablet once I could afford one, even just for recreational development, have been more or less destroyed. Thank you, HP, for killing Palm, one of the companies I was willing to like without reservation.1 I’ll miss Palm, I’ll miss webOS and all its niceties, I’ll miss the prospect of having a platform that was almost as nice as iOS, and I’ll miss that the only platform with a decent developer kit aside from iOS is now, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Maybe later I’ll be able to find someone selling a cheap Touchpad just so I could at least be happy with it.2

  1. In other words, I’m a fanboy. I blame Graffiti). [return]
  2. Or, since it’s being discontinued, if the former Palm has any Touchpads sitting around and would like to give me one as a gift, that would be nice. Additionally, I am not above begging, if that gets me a Touchpad and you some manner of entertainment as well. [return]

FreePress's Response to Apple's Camera-Disabling Patent

*January 5th, 2012*
The title, previously "The Response to Apple's Camera-Disabling Patent," has been updated to be less confusing.

As luck would have it, the technology media has become aware of another Apple patent,1 and it’s all explained a lot better over at Patently Apple than I will take the time to do.  So, a number of tech news sites are now reporting about how Apple wants to disable your iPhone’s camera during concerts and what-not.  Alright, I can see how you’d jump to that conclusion.  It’s Apple, they patent stuff, sometimes the stuff they patent ends up in devices, but it doesn’t always. Apple has made no announcement regarding implementation of this patent in its devices, the devices now probably don’t have the hardware in them, and chances are a number of people are overreacting to something that doesn’t exist.

Case in point, and how I learned about this recent spate of stupidity, was FreePress’s e-mail, which included a delightful petition against Apple for its perceived “pre-emptive strike against free speech” this patent supposedly represents.  I’m not joking, they used those words.  But okay, fine, sometimes sensationalism is used to get the point across.

The question I have is why is this necessary? We don’t see this technology implemented, and if it does get implemented and used for the purpose of disabling the camera2, guess what: people won’t buy an iPhone, or they’ll use another device. Here’s another excerpt from the same e-mail, just because:

Apple says this new technology was designed to stop concertgoers from taking unofficial video at live events. But you can bet that governments and corporations will take full advantage of it in other more dangerous ways – to silence the voices of protesters, political opponents or anyone else they dislike.

I understand this, one possible use for this technology is to disable the camera, I understand the concern over governments using technology to stifle free speech, and I understand people fear that Apple might do something naughty because of how secretive they are. What I don’t understand why we’re concerned over something that, for all we know, may never come to be. Apple has patented numerous inventions and ideas (because the nice people at the US Patent & Trademark Office so often confuse the two), and many of them are not in a single product Apple has released.

So, I would like to ask anyone currently shitting themselves over this patent (writing as though I actually have readers) to please, please chill the heck out. Is it a patent on technology that is potentially nasty? Sure. How do you know Apple isn’t patenting it to make sure nobody else can implement it? Sure, Apple is as purportedly evil as the next corporation for making products with the intent to sell them. Sure, they hold a lot of patents. Sure, they’re some sort of “closed garden” and that somehow makes them inherently bad. But, unless this is actually ends up in a device, hold your horses and go back to your daily life. If we see this in a device and it’s used for the purpose of shutting down your camera, tell you what: don’t buy an iPhone.3

  1. US Patent Application 20110128384 [return]
  2. Which, by the way, is not the only use this patent outlines. There are other uses for this patent that people might actually like, including using it as a scanner to get information with minimal effort, all of which is gone over in Patently Apple’s article. [return]
  3. I’m fiddling with footnotes in posts right now because I, for whatever reason, love using them. So, if these show up a lot in future posts, you know why. I’d also like to add that I think, for the most part, regular people probably don’t care. FreePress are just reacting to this patent in disproportionate fashion, as tends to be the case with most anything Apple-related. [return]