The New Emperors Messenger

In the last couple of days, in other words since Google I/O 2013[1], Google has slowly started to replace the old Google Talk with their new supposedly unified messenger solution called rather awkward ‘hangouts’, a term previous used for get together in Google+, their social media equivalent of Facebook.

Google Hangouts, is supposed to replace Talk, Voice, Messenger (Which was used in Google+, rather than talk) and SMS, if we have to believe them, this is coming. Personally speaking I much preferred the name Talk, if for nothing else mostly because it has been around for ages and you know, change is scary. Plus the icon itself was more pleasing to the eye

Google Hangouts seem to really divide people about how well it has been executed. Personally I am firmly entranced in the camp that thinks that the new solution comes across as incomplete, ill-thought out at worst and a half baked attempt at a beta solution at best.

Below are /my/ reasons that are also echoed by various people on forums and such.

First of all, because Google is trying to unify their services more and more (this happened pretty much earlier last year with sharing data between the various services that you use. I can live with that because frankly that makes sense to me.

But with the new app, I get to see *all* my contacts, regardless if they have a Google account or not. I don’t want or need that. The old Google app had those whom I specifically added and that is how it should be.

Even worse; they have added every one in my circles. The problem with that is that I follow several awesome people (Such as Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton among others) because I like to read what they say and what they are doing. I am thinking about things like Home-brewing and their Geek and Sundry channel and shows. Do I have a need to (note; need, not want) to talk to them? No. Do I think they are waiting to hear from me? I sincerely doubt that.

With the new interface it is becoming increasingly hard to see who is actually online or not. Yes I know, I know, the people who are offline are greyed out. But for me that is not the point. I prefer to see in one look who is online and who is not. This means that people who are actually offline, do not show up. I don’t care that most protocols can deal with offline messages, or rather I care a great deal for that because it does come in handy. However I do not need to see the people that are offline.

Following on with what can be only described after a design implementation after a 2 bottles of Jose Cuervo; You get 6 huge pictograms of people, three of them which do not even have a Google account. Then you get “frequently contacted”, which may be, by the looks of it, anything ranging from email to Google+ interactions to actually having talked with these people. Eventually followed by the rest of your contacts, whether that be phone, email or Google plus.

Also navigating to your contact list is very unclear and involves unnecessary steps. Instead of clicking on the hangouts icon (much like the old Google talk). I have to press on “new hangout requests first, then swipe right-to-left to the contact list. and from there the search starts between my many contacts. It’s just very convoluted [2]

One of the reasons I have heard other mention is that the whole situation does not scale very well with regards to multiple Google identities. While this is not something I personally struggle with (I rather prefer to install extra apps) then deal with the mess from that. The problem of Google mail/talk/etc so tightly integrated into the core of the android operating system is that adding a gmail or talk account makes this information spread through the ecosystem that comprises of your smartphone.

Perhaps this may be me (quite possible after all), but for some reason Google have decided that the best way to show the time when the last message was send to use an ellipsis. I mean seriously? Did nobody take a step back and think: “hold on guys .. we’re actually going to use punctuation as an animation?” An ellipsis is used to either create or build tension, or often in chat-systems are used as turn-constructional units to signal silence, for example when indicating disagreement, disapproval or confusion. Surely a company as Google should know this?

And last, can we please, please have the ability to denote a status? I mean, to set us to away, do not disturb, offline. This has been the staple of messaging clients since god knows when. I am sure that Google things that we don’t need this anymore, but I think they are pretty much very much mistaken.

Also the SMS integration is something that actually worries me. I am quite happy with the old philosophy that one program should do one things and do it well. The promised integration leaves me wondering how replies will work and such. But time will tell.

However was is worth noting that Google does not always deploy services everywhere at once. For example, Google Voice is something that is only really available in the Americas and not say in Europe. So integration here with Google voice will be next to useless.

I really hope that Google get’s things eventually sorted and that the app is going to get a much smoother interface and the experience of using it would be much nicer. Because right now, while somewhat useable it can’t touch really, at least for me, on how effortless and seamless Google talk was.

R.I.P Talk, you’ll be missed.

 

1 - Google I/O is an annual developer-focused conference held by Google in San Francisco, California. Google I/O features highly technical, in-depth sessions focused on building web, mobile, and enterprise applications with Google and open web technologies such as Android, Chrome, Chrome OS, Google APIs, Google Web Toolkit, App Engine, and more.
2 - Edit: Okay, in retrospect you can just press the “+” in the upper right corner. But from a design view it is not clear. I would have expected that to be to add something to the existing conversation, rather than a new conversation.

New Phone and to-do frustations

Well we are in the month of May again, and it seems as I have gotten into the habit the last few years to very much blog in this month. I have no idea why but so far I am not seeing the reason to quit doing this. ;-)

Life has been some what enlightening. I have made the first tentative steps in getting some things in my head straightened out. Well as far as straightening out is possible. But I shall write about that another time (no, not next year, although if the National Health Service has anything to do with this then, quite probably)

Fist of all, it seems that I have had an abysmal amount of luck with my smartphone. After the HTC Desire, I decided to go for their, then newest flagship. My first three handsets died within weeks of accepting them. The first handset developed problems with 3G and was exchanged. The second handset went the same route. The third handset suddenly stopped completely recognising the simcard. Leading me to get a new phone and a new simcard (again).

You would think that with that string, my luck would have turned. But I am afraid not. With the fourth handset, the battery died on me. It was loosing charge quicker than a charger could push it in. Now the HTC One X had never that much of a track record with regards to lasting on a single battery. If I would get about eight to ten hours without it needing to recharge it was a lot.

But the last few days it went to three hours before it was empty. And charging the phone while being on, did not work either. Until the last day (barely over a year since my first One X handset), it would not even turn on anymore.

So there and then I decided that I wanted a new phone and that it was definitely not an HTC anymore. Both kethry and I decided to upgrade at the same time, so avoid having the envy of who has the better phone. We decided that we would go for the Samsung Galaxy Note II, a what in the media these days is called a phablet, a large over 5″ screen smart phone. For me the fact that it had the ability to add an micro-sd card and a separate user removable battery was a big plus.

The size is nice. I don’t use my phone as a phone a lot, most of the time it’s more as a handheld device so for that the bigger screen is certainly suited. But what really seals the deal is the amazing time the battery last. I get easily 20 hours on about half a battery charge. That makes it 40 hours before I theoretically need to recharge. Just pure awesomeness.

One of the biggest problems with a new phone is always setting up the new software, transferring all your old software but luckily this period is now far behind us and I am more than pleased with the new phone. Especially with a nice leather flip case by Zenus (warning: the site lows slower than molasses at Artic temperatures) makes the phone look and work outstandingly.

Secondly, it seems my task manager was just sold to yahoo. For the last few years I have been faithfully using Astrid, a to-do list based on the popular Getting Things Done (GTD) method. And it served me well. While the fact that someone with a bigger budget shows an interest in this app, it is worrying that Yahoo has an habit of buying and killing off apps. The fact that Astrid blogged the following:

Over the next 90 days, Astrid will continue to work as is, and we will no longer be accepting new premium subscriptions. To make future changes as easy as possible, we’ll be in touch with users shortly to share how to download data.

and the following note at the bottom of the blog-post:

*Note: Yahoo! will be administering refunds to eligible users who have paid for annual subscriptions, Power-Pack and Locale Plugins.

While the post itself and the wording is rather ambiguous, many agree with me that in 90 days Astrid will stop to work and with it, one of the more defining features, the ability to sync our lists and data to other devices.

The “community” as such feels rather upset and they are not alone in that. I do share that feeling. Having a to-do list is pretty important for me. There are days where if I did not have a written set out list of tasks to do, I probably would not get anything done at all.

Added to that, while Astrid claims to have sorted out their sync issues, I still thing something weird is happening in the program. Every now and then I get notifications bout task needing to be done at around six o’clock. I know that this is pretty much Astrid’s default time setting but in general I prefer not to set a time rather only to be notified that when the day is over if I missed or not missed a task. This comes by and large on the account of me not having a ‘normal’ schedule. And it annoys me to no end.

So, the search began. Yes I know that Astrid is open source. So technically speaking if you have the skill and the drive, you could clone their git repository and start building and adding features yourself. However I don’t think it will give you the sync. Although technically I suppose someone with infinite more skill (and give-a-damn) probably could work out a way to make it synchronise with Google Tasks.

But, I am not that person. Both lacking in drive and knowledge for such a project. Having looked around the Google play store for a while I first dismissed Wunderlist as not being ideally suited for my needs. But after it hearing mentioned again I gave it another look and took it for a better try out and I must say I am liking the app a lot. Not only does it look stunning, after a fashion (or perhaps after me understanding the workflow a bit better) it is not really that bad.

I still am getting to grip with it. One of the things I am really struggling with is the fact that it does not support multi-list. I am used to give most tasks more than one category, e.g., “Projects, System-admin, Maintenance”, this makes it slightly easier for me to see what kind of task I can expect.

Having to define everything in the concept on one definite category is causing me some stress. It’s an OCPD thing really (well OCPD being one of the symptoms rather). Still slowly but surely I am getting there.

Although in all honesty, I think adoption will help with the fact that kethry is liking the wunderlist app as well. This makes sharing information and knowledge and tasks a lot easier. Well, somewhat easier. This is me we are talking about after all.

So onwards and upwards for now. The next step is to see if I can get the native wunderlist 1 linux application to work properly and in sync with wunderlist 2. Initial reports from a quick Google search seems to provide a certain degree of hope. If not, here’s to hoping that the creators of wunderlist will bring out a wunderlist 2 native linux application later in this year.

*edit* added links.

Range time and target shooting

Since last Sunday the weather pretty much threw a spanner in the works in term of shooting (wind-gusts up to 42mph don’t make really for a good pellet shooting experience), I was eager to get out today, despite the weather still being somewhat unstable, I decided to get out and get some rounds through the rifle.

One of the air rifle ranges at Kibworth

When we arrived at Kibworth Shooting Ground, the place was pretty desolate with only a few cars. One of the ranges resembled more of a pool due to the excessive rainfall we’ve been having. After signing myself in at the desk, I made my way to the range (see picture above) which was also quite water logged, with only two other shooters present at the time.

Still it was nice to be out and put the rifle through its paces. I am still getting very much used to firing it. After hitting several targets I decided to set up my targets at 25 yards, while there are some groupings, the results are far and wide and to far spaced out for my liking!

Talking to one of the gents who goes by the name of Mick (heh, there’s about 4 or 5 I believe), he asked if he could put a couple of rounds through with my rifle to see what it was like. This lead to eventually finding out that the recoil pin in the scope had not been extended while the scope was first fitted. So I trotted back to the shop where they were most accommodating to put the scope back.

And back to the range to further fine tune the scope. After a while I think we got it just right. I am rather thankful for Mick’s help. He’s been shooting since he was 12 and he’s quite a bit older than me. There is much I can learn here from the old guard. In the end, I did to hit the spinners out at 45 yards, three times in a row, dead on. I will admit that felt very satisfactory!

Afterwards I went back to a mix of metal field target shooting combined with some shots on my third target set for the day. I am still not entirely happy, or perhaps rather entirely not ;) but I know that it takes practice, patience and dedication and for me, that’s part of the challenge and fun of shooting.

This shows where the learning curve for me is, to shoot consistently and consistently in this case means over all areas. I know I have to focus on stance, breathing and trigger control. I also still have some retained muscle memory with regards to firearms and recoil which makes me pull the gun a bit. This is something I have to unlearn. While my TX-200 HC has a bit of recoil (just enough to make it comfortable recognisable), it is nowhere near as bad as my muscles and brain are trying to compensate for.

This also shows why I dislike the idea of going to a club where the first thought and first thing out of their mouth is “well, we’ll get you set in a team for competition shooting”. As in live, as in shooting; you need to crawl before you can walk and I need to get accustomed to my rifle, put it through its paces and get working on everything before I even will seriously think about participating in a competition.

Still all in all a fun three hours was had. And in the end that is what counts…

Too many books to read.

I am an avid reader much as Liz, our house if we could would be wall-to-wall, and ceiling high piled of bookcases, as it stands at the moment, two walls around my desk are already taken up by various bookshelves and I know there is at least the plan to add one more bookcase to our collection.

Our range of books are either technical (most of my bookshelves), historical (most of the books in Liz’s office) and just the various genre’s such as science-fiction, fantasy, crime, history (a large part of the Second World War), and a good share of autobiographies). Plenty enough to entertain us if the mood to read strikes us.

One thing, I seem to have inherited from my parents, and their years of mooching around flee markets, book shops and book stalls, is the love of mooching through piles of old books and seeing if there is anything that is worth having a nose through. A while back I found a little indy bookshop tucked away in an arcade in Leicester. I picked up copies of “Never Surrender: Lost Voices of a Generation at War“, and “Task Force Helmand“.  On a subsequent visit, Liz picked me up another three books from there, all on the second world war (One of the periods in history that holds a great fascination for me).

So queue last Thursday as Liz and I went to some shopping and she needed some flowers for the interment service of her grandmother. While I mooched around outside, my eye was drawn invariable to the bookstall there and my eye was caught by several books. On the way back from buying the first three, I saw another that I wanted. So that added the total to seven new books that I still need to read! Much to my delight I seem to have lucky in picking out the three books that form part of Robyn Young‘s Brethern Triology series.

If that isn’t enough, since we both have decent smart phones, (I have an HTC One X, and Liz has a Samsung Galaxy SII) we also used the opportunity to have the kindle for android software on there. Queue more books to read! I have currently started to read through `Ill Wind’ the first book in the weather warden series by Rachel Caine, after seeing it recommended by Felicia Day on her Geek & Sundry Flog.

So, apart from the fact that I am currently reading more or less three books simultaneously (Never Surrender, Ill Wind and Power Play by Anne McCaffery), I am also reading Airgun World Magazine of which I seriously am considering to take out a subscription.

Other than that, there are about 12 books waiting for me to read through. And that is not even counting the other eight books in the Weather Warden series. I almost seriously need a month of Sundays with no internet, and a  good bottle of wine!

The big moment: my first airgun

So, today both Liz and me retraced our steps to the Kibworth Shooting Ground. After much deliberating, talking and mulling it over since Sunday, I had decided that, yes, I indeed wanted to get myself an air rifle. (Okay not perhaps the huge surprise).

We payed a quick visit to the Leicester and District Small-bore Rifle & Pistol Club. but for some reason it didn’t gave me the same impression Kibworth left on me. In fact it felt slightly off to me. I am not sure what it was, perhaps the over usage of stands, the darkness of the place, or the competitiveness of the shooting that seemed to take place. Competition shooting and how you would be put into a team based on performance was brought up within five minutes of arriving on site. So we decided for Kibworth (plus the fact they have a gunsmith on site, is always a plus).

But after reading and deliberating, I had decided that my previous conversation about which airgun to purchase was skewed by some preconceptions. So I decided to start again and go on the premise that 1) I was new to shooting 2) I didn’t know which gun (a springer, or pre-charged pneumatic aka PCP) would be best for me.

It’s funny though, up till Sunday, I always maintained that I wanted a springer, mostly because it’s harder to shoot, thus a greater challenge. After Sunday, I wasn’t so sure and thought a good PCP airgun may be well worth the investment as well. After talking with both ‘Micks’ at the shooting ground, we all agreed that a springer was better for beginners. Because they are more unforgiving than PCP air rifles you will need to master trigger control and follow through[1]. Thus learning to become a better shooter, something that will undoubtedly be of advantage in any shooting discipline. So I made a full circle from Springer, to PCP, to end up at a Springer

While they didn’t had the air rifle to test fire, one of the gentlemen currently shooting at the air-rifle range had the same rifle with him today and he was kind enough to let me put a couple of rounds on target. The recoil that worried me in the first place, gave an actually very reassuring feel to it, knowing that the rifle had discharged. So soon the choice was made …

And thus, I proudly present, my first airgun, the Air Arms TX-200 Mk III Hunter Carabine.

The Air Arms TX200 Hunter Carbine Mk3 Air Rifle[2] is a fixed barrel, spring powered air rifle, utilizing an under lever cocking action, complete with sliding breech, which shoots the .177 calibre pellets. My current pellets are the Air Arms Diabolo Field .177 cal/8.4 grains (4.5mm / 0.547 grams for those using the metric system).

Since the rifle doesn’t have any iron sights, a decent scope was needed. I eventually settled on a decent Hawke Sports HD scope[3], a “3x9x50” scope for the connoisseur. It makes I think for a decent combination to start shooting. And hopefully eventually (once I can shoot consistently and hitting what I want to hit), perhaps partaking in Field Target, or Hunter Field Targeting.

Other things that I bought today was a beanbag for rifle rest and  shooting support and the nice folks at the shop tossed a gun-bag in it for free to store my rifle in.

Once that was done, me and one of the range officers headed down to one of the sheds that houses the air rifle lanes and he helped me zero in the scope (Thanks Mick!). I was struck by the friendly atmosphere. The other shooters were very welcoming and made me quite at ease despite being an terrible newbie in their midst. The jokes were flying back and forth and I soon realized that it was near impossible to keep a straight aim while laughing. It was all very relaxed and for about an hour or so I aimed, shot and worked the gun (feeling particularly satisfied when I hit a spinner on and about the 45-60 yard range.

All in all, a great great afternoon, very enjoyable. The gun shoots great and although it takes some time getting the pellet into the breach, I am sure that will go easier over time. I felt very relaxed and mellowed out on the way back, and I think a smile a mile wide on my face. I definitely am looking forward to return there, although I need to inquire  about setting up a target so I can see how well my shots group together.

Happy Shooting and stay safe!

[1] – Great post about springers and their advantages.
[2] – Review of the Air Arms TX-200 Mk3 HC
[3] – To be precise the HK3009 variant which comes with the mil-dot scope.

Air Rifle Shooting – taster session

So, for a while know I have been thinking of picking up a hobby. I have realised that it is way to easy to spend time and time alone and doing stuff on the computer. But lately I have felt the need to get stuff doing outside of the house. But as things go, you might best do something that you really enjoy doing.

Such as; shooting. I have shot during my national service time in the air-force, but with current gun laws[1] in both the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, it’s not something that can be taken up so lightly. That is until I read the blog of a friend of mine who got into air rifle shooting. Suddenly my curiosity and enthusiasm was rekindled.

Last week we visited the Merlin Archery Centre and had a little chat about airguns and such, but the big treat for us (me and liz) was today’s visit to the Kibworth Shooting ground, where we signed up for a taster session. The weather could have been a bit more cooperating but alas, you can’t have everything.

After arriving at the range and welcoming our instructor, Richard, he went over a quick safety briefing about the air rifle, an Air-arms S200, and range conduct and introduced us. Then he started us on the various metal targets, working close range first (about 10 yards) on hitting the kill zone and the revival.

shooting range

Once we had mastered that we got the go-ahead to work up and down the range to the various targets all the way up to 42 yards. I must say I had a great time and got into a reasonable nice rhythm and could have happily go on for much longer. But sadly it was a timed session.

The bloody squirrel

The shot raven

Liz was having trouble getting a particularly rotten target (see the bloody evil squirrel) above, and while I took a break for a bit and trotted back to the clubhouse, the instructor helped her work and zero her scope. And the result was there, the squirrel finally got his deserved hit.

At that time, we came to the last bit of our session, a five shot target shoot (at the normal range distance of 25 yards) and may the best marksman win. I am mildly annoyed that my shots are all far and wide and not nicely grouped. Consistency is obviously something I need to get to work on! So sadly to say, yours truly lost the game with with a score of 26/50 while Liz scored a respectable 35/50. But it was good fun.

5 shot target at 25 yards

Result of the target shooting, shots are far and wide and not grouped...

After that we walked back to the clubhouse with a huge smile on my face and had a quick talk about what type of air rifle would be best suited. They recommended the Air Arms S400 and I must say that after holding it,I found the balance, distribution of weight and length, more pleasant to hold then then the 200 all in all. I must say I was fairly tempted to buy it right there and then. But perhaps so prudence is warranted.

As for Liz, her post on the day can be found on her blog

One thing is sure, I for one had a wonderful time at the range and something I am definitely pursuing as a hobby.

Photography

A couple of weeks ago, Liz email from a close friend of my fathers (and prior ex-colleague, with whom we both get on incredibly well). It’s of course helped by the fact that we share a passion for photography, as well as computers and cycling. He offered, since he was in a position to buy a newer camera, his `old’ Canon EOS 20D[1] [2] camera for a bargain

The reason he offered this to us, apart from knowing that we love photography, is that when we were visiting my parents in Germany during the summer of 2010m, he gave the camera to Liz for a week to play. And we both fell in love with it. We took it around to the side of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and I had a shot at trying to take some pictures of my youngest sisters children. The difference between even Liz’s camera and my tiny mobile phone camera (still a 5MP camera) and the software behind it was astonishing.

But sadly, initially we had to decline the offer. Much to our surprise we were approached by my father who offered to buy the camera for Liz. She gladly accepted. So after an exercise in patience, the camera was promptly delivered to our front door.

Sadly (and perhaps luckily), Liz has been inundated with essay writing in the run up to her Easter holiday and thus had little time to play with the camera. Despite the camera technically being hers in the first place, I think we both accepted that it is something we both love to have a go with and for the past few weeks I have been playing with it and making generally bad photos with a few exceptions thrown in.

After some playing around on a sunny weekend day, we decided to take the camera to the park while walking Jess.

I think I got mostly lucky with two incredblie shots.

Of course the EOS 20D camera is a joy to play with, and I think an excellent model for us to learn more and become better in photography. Sure, as any good photographer will tell you, it’s not as much the camera as having the eye for photos, situations. But that is also something that comes with practice .. and having a camera that helps you take that instant snap (rather than a blurry, faded out picture with less details of a big blue whale at many leagues under the ocean) does help in both the enjoyment and motivation.

Tonight we have a full moon (even according to pom(6)), and I tried to take a nice shot of the moon, in combination with some clouds. However, with only a 18-55mm (0.28m/0.9ft) lens, you will not achieve more then a ball of light in the sky. So in the end with the help of some props[3],

I managed to get a lovely shot from our bedroom window overlooking Leicester in the valley below. All in all I am pretty chuffed with this picture.

As for a nice little side project Liz and I are thinking of creating a special photo-blog eventually where we can showcase all around picture goodness..

I’ll keep you posted on eventually link and progress..

[1] – Canon EOS 20D Wikipedia page
[2] – Digital Photo Review Canon EOS 20D
[3] – My laptop and a book between the lid to get some leverage.