chris.millr.org

Lumia Icon meets San Francisco

Due to a nice little drop in the middle of the street, my Lumia 920 died recently. I was nearly ready for a phone upgrade, but Sarah and I wanted to switch to Verizon so we could have better coverage in rural areas. We went in to a Verizon store and I reluctantly bought a Lumia Icon.

In a lot of ways, the Icon is a step back from the 920. The speaker phone is worse (in the back and easily muffled). The camera aperture is worse (2.4 vs 2.0). Lastly, the screen is worse (OLED vs IPS).

Other than build quality, the Icon has one noticeable advantage over the 920; RAW photography. Forget about the 20 megapixels, they mean nothing. I’ve compared countless images between my broken 920 (8MP) and the Icon (20MP) and picture detail is not significantly improved with the Icon. At phone size, we’re running into sensor size and lens quality limitations, so 20MP doesn’t really give you much in real world performance.

The RAW output of the Icon is a true game changer. You get so much more latitude in color correction and noise / sharpening algorithms. If you want a real in-depth analysis of how RAW affects smartphone photography, head over to Connect’s (dpreview) article on shooting RAW with the Lumia 1020.

What I offer below is some real world samples of the Icon in action during a trip to San Francisco. You will see that the camera performs much better with close up objects versus landscape-style photos. This works well for me because I don’t take a ton of landscape photos. Compared to my trusty 920, the Icon falls down a bit in low light. This is due to aperture and sensor size differences. The Icon is simply trying to do more with less (aperture) and more with the same (sensor size). If you want to see all the EXIF data, head over to the Flickr album.

You can click the images below to view them full size. They’ve been imported into Lightroom 5.5 and lightly color corrected for accuracy. I left the default noise settings enabled, so that’s the noise you see.

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Identity

I just spent a week in the Bay Area. For those not keeping score at home; the company I worked for, Fusion-io, was purchased by SanDisk. Overall, this is a good thing. It comes at a cost of projects being flushed down the drain, but it also represents a huge opportunity.

Coming home from the trip has been more difficult than I thought it would be. While I love being surrounded by Sarah, the baby, and the pugs, something seems missing.

I don’t know if it’s just my pre-disposition to crave change, but I just don’t feel like Utah is home. I once tried Boulder only to scurry back to the love of my life here in Utah. What does it mean to our family if we act on this nagging feeling that California continues to call us?

If it was just me, I would pack my bags and leave. But it’s not. Hell, it’s not even just our daughter, Sarah, and the pugs any more. It’s our extended family, too. Can I really pull my parents first grand child away from them for my own selfish reasons? Can I do that to her family? Or is this all just that normal itch that I always get when there’s just not enough change in my life?

I truly believe our daughter is better off being raised in California. But I can’t say that about everyone involved. It will be harder on everyone if we leave, and for the first time in my life, that includes me.

Tapped 1.1

I released a new version of Tapped last night. I wouldn’t normally post something about this except it’s a fairly major release. There are no longer any known bugs in Tapped. I’m sure that will change in about 2.2 seconds, but it’s a big deal. On top of that, I added the ability to add beers and breweries to the service. This was a fairly substantial undertaking to do something un-documented; more difficult than adding photo uploads.

For those following along at home, you’ll know that Tapped was released again last month after being removed for about 7 months. I’ve had a lot of questions about why I decided to re-release it, so here they are:

  1. Untappd’s Windows Phone app does not follow their own API rules. It uses HTTP protocols rather than the more secure HTTPS protocol. This means all of your data is sent over an insecure connection. Tapped uses end to end HTTPS. No one should know how many beers you consume.
  2. I was maintaining the app for my own uses. It didn’t make sense to continue to do so while others had to use the official app.
  3. I got bored.

Magic

There have only been a few times in my life where I thought a device was truly magical. That distinction means something I’m holding in my hands doesn’t feel real. It feels like it came from another world. It does something in a way that nothing has ever done before. The first device on that list was the original iPhone. The second is the Surface Pro 3.

The iPhone transcended what we thought a phone could do. There were smartphones of course, but the iPhone was built in a way that made it a pleasure to use. Doing something was as easy as pressing a giant button on a grid of buttons. And it was insanely fast.

I’m five days into owning my Surface Pro 3. I’ve used it in the broadest range of settings imaginable. I signed a W9 form with it. I gave it to my sister-in-law to play Sudoku on a drive up to Idaho. I used it to charge my phone in a tent while camping. I used it to watch Netflix. I’ve used it to take notes in meetings. I’ve connected it to my big ass 30″ monitor at work and compile the latest version of Tapped. It feels as though it has no limits. That’s what is truly magical about it. If I want to use touch, mouse, keyboard, or pen; I can. Nothing stops me from using the right tool for the right task. It feels like an extension of me just the way the iPhone did in 2007.

To me, the Surface Pro 3 is what tablets should have always been.

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Get RestSharp working on Windows Phone 8.1 and Universal Apps

The Fluff

For developers, the biggest change with Windows Phone 8.1 is how the entire framework has essentially moved to the Windows RT runtime. This is huge because it means the investment you make in Windows Phone pays off when / if you decide to write apps for desktops and tablets. The reverse is also true.

The downside is how significant things have changed. Not only are XAML controls different, but methods and classes have also changed. Remember IsolatedStorageSettings? Gone. Remember LongListSelector? Gone. You get the idea. If you don’t want to change anything for your existing app, Microsoft provides what they call, “Windows Phone 8.1 Silverlight” which allows you to continue to build using the classes and methods you’re used to.

I’m beginning work on a new app and naturally wanted to leverage the new framework. The first order of business was to pull RestSharp into my app via NuGet…

The process

With Universal Apps, Nuget needs to specifically target a project. When I pull up the NuGet console, I am required to choose a default project… Windows 8.1 or Windows Phone 8.1

When choosing WP8.1, NuGet tells me there are problems installing RestSharp…

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I went down the path of looking for alternatives that were compatible with Windows Phone 8.1 and came into additional (but different) roadblocks. A shoutout to the project PortableRest which looks extremely promising and well maintained.

Anyway, I decided to download RestSharp from GitHub and build from source.

After a bunch of warnings, I was presented with a buildable version of RestSharp for WP8.0. I needed to re-target for WP8.1…

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After the Retarget, we have a project called “RestSharp.WindowsPhone (Windows Phone Silverlight 8.1)”…

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Once I built the project, I was presented with my DLL that I could import (without issue) to my WP8.1 project…

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As you can see, even though the library is technically an “8.1 Silverlight” DLL, we can use it in our Universal App. This gives us a bridge to use older libraries inside our newer projects.

Building Blocks

These are Emporio Armani EA4001 sunglasses.

These are the best sunglasses I’ve ever owned. They eclipse my Guccis and my Ray Bans. The only downside is the lack of polarization. I have never owned a pair of sunglasses with such solid construction. You know how you have to tighten bolts after a bit of use? These don’t have that problem. They’re molded in a way to combine plastic and rubber that gives them the perfect amount of rigidity and give in all the right ways.

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Nadella

So, Microsoft selected Satya Nadella as their CEO. It isn’t just a safe choice, it’s the best choice. The only disappointment I have with the decision is that I wish they would have selected someone a bit more design and user focused, but that person just doesn’t exist. Satya is perfect given where Microsoft is at and where they want to go.

Wading through all the announcements filled me with a sense of hope. In short, Satya has been the one responsible for Azure, the cloud initiative at Microsoft. Of note, Azure is one of the areas in Microsoft’s stable of applications that is growing.

What makes Azure so great is that any platform can utilize it. iOS, Android, OS X, Windows; it doesn’t matter. Maybe iOS and Android grow and Windows goes away in five years, the servers that they end up connecting to are Azure servers. That’s a huge win for Microsoft.

Some may wish that Satya was design-centric. He’s not. I don’t know if he’ll ever get there, but it probably doesn’t matter. The things that came out of Redmond today were concise and on pitch. Cloud and mobile first. Innovation above legacy. Cut away the obstacles that prevent people from doing great work. I think the One Microsoft initiative started this and Satya seems to be totally on board, but with his own signature.

In the consumer space I’m still cautiously optimistic. I’m still so disappointed that Microsoft bought Nokia, but I also doubt they had another alternative. The chance of Nokia going Android was far too high. They’ve essentially put all their chips in with making hardware, which may not be a bad thing given how many companies are dropping out of the game… Dell, Sony, IBM.

So that’s where this all gets so interesting. People comment about Google getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at cloud services. I think Microsoft is somewhere between both. They’ve had hints of great product design (Windows Phone) but have struggled modernizing the pile of garbage that is desktop Windows. They have an insanely good track record at cloud services and they continue to get better at selling them to consumers (office 365). I won’t even mention Xbox successes. So here’s my what if…

What if Microsoft got its shit together with desktop Windows? They can kill Chromebooks with a decent $300* laptop. They can kill it in the low-end phone market with Lumia 520s. They can support iOS and Android with Office and tie it all together with OneDrive and Azure services. They even have a shot at the living room with Xbox One. And just maybe, maybe they can figure out this hybrid thing before Apple and Google do. Where do you think they’d be then?


*This is where I go off the rails and say “Lumia” should mean ARM. Microsoft releases a $300 ARM laptop with stellar battery life with office and goes head to head against a Chromebook. By this time Metro apps are now capable of running on the desktop and we’ve got a full fledged secure desktop platform for the future. Throw in a little, “I can play Xbox on this laptop for $300? Where do I sign?” and you’ve got an in-road to future generations on the client side.

My first PC

The story of my first PC and my first Apple/Mac are pretty different. I was in middle school and our aging Apple II GS was not cutting it any more. Over the years we had upgraded the Apple with a hard drive and more RAM, but there was no fixing the lack of CD-ROM or growing issue that PCs had better software. We could have upgraded to a Mac, but this was the early 90s. The Mac was more expensive (Thanks Sculley!) and had less software. Getting a PC in those days was a no brainer.

My Dad settled on a 486/DX2/33mhz with 4MB of RAM 250MB Hard drive, SoundBlaster 16 and 2x CD-ROM running Windows 3.1 on top of DOS. I will never forget those specs as long as I live. They were hard facts that determined what we could and couldn’t run. If the Apple shaped how I thought about design and development, the PC shaped how I thought about hardware, internet, networking, and troubleshooting. Gobs and gobs of troubleshooting.

In the early days it was all about how to integrate my school life (Macs) with my home life (PC). Highlights of this time was the joy of having CD-ROM based games and encyclopedias. We would watch the 15 second clips of video on Encarta over and over just because we could. Later, the release of DOOM became a staple at our house. Because we had a relatively new computer, we were one of the few houses in the neighborhood that could run it. Of course, we could only do so by modifying our autoexec.bat and config.sys files to not auto-load Windows. I hated DOS and every time we would have to close Windows to run some game it became an exercise in frustration. Other highlights during these days were BBSes, running Aldus Photostyler (basically Photoshop) and wireman.

BBSes changed how I thought about getting software. You were always looking for that cool new BBS number that would hook you up with the latest software that everyone was talking about. Wireman was a program written for the Mac and ported to the PC. It allowed you to create crude 3D animations, upload them to the Lawrence Livermore Lab to then be rendered in full by a Cray computer. In school I was learning 3D on Infini-D which was light years ahead of wireman. I didn’t get back into design until I was making flyers on MS Publisher for punk rock shows late in my high school career.

After a move to Idaho, Windows 95 was released. Our 486 could barely run it, but with enough upgrades, it handled things OK. You know, as long as we re-installed every 6 months or so. This was a time where we were not on the cutting edge. I guess moving from the heart of silicon valley to rural Idaho tends to have that effect. Even with this change, our 486 was ancient compared to modern day Pentiums (with MMX, of course). I may have used the Internet very briefly while in California (92), but things didn’t really kick into high gear in that department until after Windows 95, MSN, and AOL. As kids, AOL disks were like crack. If you could coax a credit card number from someone just to get online and chat for a few hundred “free” hours, you were on cloud 9.

Early high school saw the retirement of our trusty 486 when we got a crazy fast Pentium II 233. A year or two later, just before my senior year in high school, I bought my own computer… a less than reliable Pentium II 300 that lasted me almost half of my college career.

The Mac Changed Everything

The mac changed my life. It made computing possible for a little kid in California.

There’s been a lot of great things said today about the Mac. I’d recommend John Siracusa’s, MacWorld’s, and Apple’s tributes. All are excellent.

My first experience with Apple and my first experience with the Mac happened at different times. My family was always on the cutting edge of technology. When I was in second grade (87/88) we got our first computer. It was an Apple IIGS. It wasn’t a Mac, but it was very very Mac like. Affordable color Macs didn’t really exist, and the IIGS had A) color and b) more software. When my friends’ parents treated computers like museum pieces, my parents had a different philosophy. If we broke the computer, we had to learn how to fix it. That might be the best piece of parenting my parents ever gave us.

I learned BASIC on that computer and drew a lot of comics. To put this into perspective, I was drawing 3px by 5x custom typefaces when I was in 5th grade because our printer only output at 72 dots per inch and that was the smallest size type I could get in Platinum Paint. I didn’t think I wanted to be a graphic designer until about 10 years later. I didn’t realize software development suited me better until about 20 years later. I guess hindsight is 20/20.

When I got to middle school, everything changed. We had a class called Industrial Technology. The first half of the semester was all about drawing on the Mac using MacDraw. We would draw flat shapes, output them on the LaserWriter (300DPI!) and glue them together. When my teacher found out I could ace the assignments in my sleep, he put me on way more advanced tasks (like solving Myst for him). In 8th grade, the school got a shipment of brand new 6100/60 PowerPC to install in a new computer lab. I was tasked with setting them up and getting them networked. That was my first experience with networking.

By the time my family left the world of Silicon Valley in 95, I had dipped my toes in all aspects of computing; design, typography, networking, programming. Those formative years shaped my opinions on technology for the rest of my life. Most importantly, they gave me a direction and a career path where hobbies and salaries could exist in the same space. Without the Mac, I can’t imagine where I’d be today.

Happy Birthday Macintosh.