Monday, December 20, 2010

Why Netflix is still the best.

As a Linux user and Open Source advocate it would be easy to come down hard on Netflix because they don't support Linux. However in this post I would like to explore why Netflix is still the best option out there for streaming content.

First, I want to quickly cover the drawbacks of Netflix from a Linux Users perspective. Firstly, they picked Microsoft's Silverlight as a basis for their DRM platform and that DRM platform hasn't been ported to Linux. There for you can't watch the content on a Linux machine. That of course is a big non starter. Second they don't carry all the content that you want when you want it.

As a Linux advocate there is one big way to get over the "no Linux support" hump, namely Roku. I have had a Roku box for just over a year and wouldn't trade it for anything. The price is right, they support HD formats and serves content from a number of providers. The box runs Linux and decrypts DRM on chip. So there you go.

Ok, now let's dig into why they are better than other services.


Netflix competes heavily with these services on cost. An $80 service vs an $8 service can make up for not having as much content pretty quickly. I've used Netflix for years and their content gets better and better and the price has stayed dead steady. Right now I watch more of Netflix's content than any other provider and I don't see that changing in the negative any time soon. In fact it would take very little added content for me to dump my satellite service all together.


I was ecstatic when Hulu launched and I got in on the private beta. It seemed they got everything right. Well, at least most of it right. As time has worn on, however, they haven't panned out to be as good as I would have hoped. They launched their Hulu+ service at $12 a month which only offers full season of current show and doesn't get you out of adds. When Hulu+ showed up on the Roku, Hulu dropped the price to $8 a month and I signed up immediately and promptly canceled after encountering the fact that certain content, such as "The Simpsons", isn't available on hardware streaming devices. You are still saddled with commercials which have now gone from a single 30 second add to multiple adds per break. Also, Hulu+ still doesn't support Android for streaming. Also, Netflix and Hulu+ are now the same price and I see very little advantage to Hulu+ over Netflix. Netflix over all still has substantially more streaming content that I want to watch over Hulu.

The rest of the web:

What does Netflix have that the rest of the web doesn't? For starters they have most of your favorite movies, legal and available right now. You don't have to mess with illegal downloads or wait for the show to download to get it. If you like following shows the second they come out then the a lot of content providers offer it on their website to watch over the web. However, sitting in front of my computer screen for hours at a time is a PITA and I would rather sit at my TV and watch my shows. This is really more of a plug for Roku than Netflix but I think they go hand in hand nicely.

I would love to hear feedback from people so feel free to comment and let me know what you agree or disagree with.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why I map.

I've been an Open Street Map contributor for over a year now and I wanted to write a post talking about what it is and why I love contributing to it.

What is open street map you say? I'm sure you have heard of Wikipedia, a place for the users to edit an online encyclopedia. Well, Open Street Map (OSM) is a wiki for map data where users can map the world. Satellite imagery provided to OSM Bing and Yahoo! maps makes it so you can map based on those images or by taking traces using a GPS. There are also many other ways to map but those are the main two.

Maps have a major impact on our lives. You can't leave your doorstep without know where you are going and how you are going to get there. From GPS navigation to maps at events know where things are makes everyone's life easier.

Why contribute to a map.?

The first reason to map is to get a better sense of the community around you and allows you to contribute to the greater knowledge of your fellow-man. It's sad to me how little people know the world around them and contributing to the map gets you out of your house and discovering wonderful things about your locality. I like to map with the family, it makes a nice outing and the kids have fun getting the information and seeing their work on the map.

The second reason to map is that you need map data that doesn't exist in a way you need. I'm a bike commuter and accurate maps of the trails in Colorado are hard to come by. I love finding new and quicker ways of getting where I need to on my bicycle and OSM gives me a place to put this data and get it from others who share my interests.

Another reason to map is that you need map data that you can use legally for an event, a website ect., and you don't want to pay for the map data. If you are a real estate agent who wants to highlight the amenities around a property you could make legal, free use of the OSM data. If you are a business having an accurate map to your business location is very important and again you can use OSM data for free. So, if you are using the data you might as well spend a little time giving back by adding the address of your business and making sure the locations that are important to you are where they need to be.

Lastly if you have a humanitarian heart you can map to help disaster workers. During the crisis in Hati volunteers as OSM created the most accurate maps available and coordinate disaster relief efforts. Even the us military was using the OSM data. Map data has a huge impact on impoverished areas that don't attract commercial mapping.

So get out there and map, it's fun, it's social and it helps everyone.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Droid 2 Review

It's been almost a month since I got my shiny new Droid 2 at the Verizon store so I think I'm qualified to offer a pretty comprehensive review of the phone.

Obviously this phone has some serious horse power when compared to my old Droid Eris and it's nice to have such a snappy UI and the ability to play any 3D game I wish.

When I first got my Droid Eris I felt I made a sacrifice over the Motu Droid because the Eris didn't have a hardware keyboard. As I got used to the touch type on the Eris I actually came to like some features that you don't get with a hardware keyboard, namely when typing into certain fields you get an appropriate keyboard layout, e.g. number field gives you a number pad ect.. So, it took some getting used to with the hardware keyboard. The hardware keyboard has some advantages too, such as, you get a tactile feel for the keyboard, you save screen real estate and overall you have a more complete keyboard for using when typing text. I think overall I'm happier with the hardware keyboard and closing it to bring up the software keyboard when I need to. Options are always nice.

Another thing I felt I got shorted on with the Eris over the Motu Droid was the LED flash on the camera. Overall the camera on both phones where decent at snapping pictures but having the flash is nice in darker environments even though it does introduce a bit more grain in the pictures than I care for. Another fantastic feature is using the flash as an LED flashlight. For a musician and general hacker it's like aving a flashlight with you wherever you go.

I will have to say that HTC's Sense UI is a bit better than Motu's Blur. Motorola loads substantially more crapware that makes doing certain things on the phone a bigger PITA. For one if you double tap on the home button it brings up a horrible voice command program that take forever to load and works about 1% as good as Google's Voice Search. That being said I really miss the UI that comes with Cyanogen Mod and can't wait to get it on the Droid 2. If carriers had even a bit of brains rattling around in their head they would hire Cyanogen to do their UI.

I rooted the phone in the first 24 hours I had the phone and would have done it the night I got it but I didn't have the time to sit down and follow the instructions. It was fairly straight-forward for someone reasonable comfortable with the command line but not the one click experience I had for the Eris. Rooting your phone is now considered fair use under the DMCA and I consider it a must for any android user.

I find certain things a little buggy on the phone. I experience crashes now and then and some time I get hangs. I think a good ROM will solve all of this but for the average person it would be considered a huge annoyance to watch your phone reboot while using the navigation to get somewhere. I had similar issues with my Eris till I got a custom ROM on it. Also, some times Android will crash and restart and upon reloading the desktop the accelerometer will not rotate the screen or pull up the on-screen keyboard. The only fix I've found for this issue is pulling the battery and restarting, which is a huge PITA.

Overall I think this is a pretty fantastic bit of hardware with a lackluster Android implementation that I can't wait to correct with a good ROM. I'll report back after I make it so.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Google eBooks Rant

Google recently launched their eBooks product that allows you to buy books and read them on a multitude of devices. I've taken a look at the service and felt compelled to make a few comments.

First, google is offering book optionally(it's up to the publisher) using Adobe's DRM system. I understand that this is what most publishers are requiring before releasing digital versions of their product. However, some smaller or more independent publishers might like to offer more flexibility to their customers by not locking them into a DRM scheme. I applaud Google for making this an option but the fact is they don't let the user know what titles have DRM and what titles do not. I would appreciate them letting their consumers know when they get locked into DRM. That being said a nice feature of buying from Google eBooks is being able to read the book across a multitude of devices. You can read a book on the web, on a tablet or eReader, and on an iOS or Android device. They also offer the ability to download the book in ePub or PDF format. Having your book in an open format such as ePub without DRM is really where I would like to see the industry moving towards and informing consumers of what titles have DRM would allow me to better vote with my dollars.

Second, the Android app is pretty bare-bones and now at all close to my favorite mobile reading app Aldiko. It doesn't support landscape mode or changing font colors which make night reading a bit harsh. I would use this service without reservation if I could be sure that the title I'm purchasing could be used in the reading software of my choosing.

Lastly, I can appreciate Google giving new life to older titles as well as offering new and public domain titles. Cross platform usability is a shure plus of the service. I just wish that Google had been able to put more pressure on publishers to stop using DRM in their business model as Amazon was able to do with their MP3 service.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bliss and the art of root.

I tried to resist, really I did. I fought the allure that comes from the latest and greatest as long as possible. I ignored that newer phones where getting the latest and greatest Android and I was still on 2.1, which I enjoyed and was grateful when the over the air update arrived. However, we have a need for honesty, I'm only human, and I'm subject to wanting the latest and greatest. One option would have been to get a new phone and that would have been a practical one if it wasn't for the fact that I don't want a new contract and I don't have any money. So what's a faithful free software advocate to do but exercise his DMCA given rights and root baby, ROOT!

I have the sad, forgotten by its Android brethren phone, HTC Droid Eris. Knowing full well that it's OTA update future was as bleak as Minnesota's hope of wining an NFL championship. I had little hope of just holding out for Verizon to come through and give me 2.2 OTA. So, I looked into custom ROM options and lo and behold, what should my wonder eyes meet, but a shiny fully functional Froyo port for the Eris on the xda-developers forums by a guy that goes by the handle Kaos.

So, first things first, we need to root. For this I used the one click root also available on the xda forums. It's as simple as running the app, rebooting holding the down volume button and the power, flashing the zip file the app places on your sd card and BAM!, you have root. Now, if all you want is simple things like the ability to tether over wi-fi then this is enough. However, if you want the whole Froyo enchilada it's time to load KaosFroyo.

Kaosfroyo rom is a port of Cyanoginmod 6 to the Eris and overclocked by default to 710mhz. The steps I used to flash are as follows.

1. Download the rom zip onto the SD card(Don't place it in a folder).
2. Reboot the phone into recovery mode(hold down vol-down and power then select recovery from the menu with the track ball.
3. Back up the existing rom using Nandbackup.
4. Wipe the Android and Dalvek partitions.
5. Flash the rom with the flash utility.

There you have it. Froyo on your Eris. What will this give you? Faster, speak to text everywhere, live wallpapers and the ability to tweak your phone to your heart's content. Is it worth it? Hell yeah it is.

After flashing I was given an extremely in-depth tutorial on setting up and tweaking the phone by a very patient and knowledgable IRC user in #droideris on andirc. His handle is the_fly and if you see him in there tell him to get his tutorial on a blog soon so I don't have to remember it all. :)

So, Thank you very much XDA developer, Kaos, the_fly and all the rest of the people behind Android and it's hacker community. You ROCK!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Aleks on Linux

My wife has recently gone back to college to get her bachelor of nursing and I've been worried that we would be required to get a Windows machine for her to complete assignments. I'm going to resist as hard as possible as we haven't had anything but Linux in our house for some years. This however, came under threat recently with the first week of school. The math class she is taking uses a web service called Aleks for homework. The service is a homework platform that uses a java plug-in in browser. I see no need for anything on the web to not be cross-platform. While they don't officially support Linux they do include some information on how to get it working under Linux.

I followed the steps on the site and logged into my wifes account and much to my chagrin was not greeted by a functioning Aleks. So, I resorted to google for help. There isn't much info out there giving any more help than the installation instructions on the Aleks website. There are reports however, that it does work.

The solution it turns out is quite a simple one and is found on the official java website. Basically you need to create a symbolic link to the java plugin to the Firefox plugin folder to enable in browser java to work.

Hopefully, this info will save some poor Linux user from having to suffer too much to get their homework done.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I've been wanting to dip my toes into programing for android and while I haven't made a full fledged app yet my efforts have produced some fruit.

I'm proud to introduce my latest free software project called Geostatus. It's a simple python script that runs in the Android Scripting Environment(ASE). It serves a very simple purpose in that it checks your current location based on the phones gps and compares that to a list of predetermined locations and updates your Google Talk status accordingly. I've created a git hub repository for it and have released it under the terms of the GPLv3.

You can check it out here

Monday, May 31, 2010

Jack Supprort in Mumble

This is an appeal for help in solving the last great gap in the audio tool chain for podcasters. The Linux audio world now has a robust compliment of professional tools to record an independent radio show. We all know that the open source and free software community is under reported on in the media and the effort it takes to put out a show it greater than it should be. Recently on the show Shotofjaq they mentioned Mumble as a possible solution to voip woes that we currently have for podcasting with hosts in different locations. Currently the only solution we have been able to get to work with our Jack setup is an outdated version of Skype and compiling the alsa-utilities by hand to include jack support . That as well as some custom work in .asound to make something that is stable enough to get us through an hour long show without headaches and break downs.

We have tried going the SIP route as well and the issues are thus:
1. Asterisk is a pain in the butt to set up.
2. It's difficult to set up your firewall on the client side to get reliable connections.
3. There are no sip clients that support jack either and no other hacky work arounds have gotten us a reliable setup anyways.
We have filed a feature request for every SIP client we could think of and have been turned down by them all.

Mumble is quick and easy to set up on server and client end. All it is lacking is Jack support.

If it's a question of money or developers, then I would love help in identifying what hurdles need to be overcome. So please, if you have any incite into how we can get this accomplished let me know. I will not let this be the one thing preventing quality content about the floss world.

The new feature request is here.

please show your support in any way you can.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Get That Body Movin'!

Exercising is a place that stops a lot of people from beginning the get healthy. Where do you start? What exercises are best? These can all be things that prevent you from taking the first step to a healthy life. What do the experts say about it? I think the old saying "the best exercise is the one you do" sums it up best. My guiding philosophy is that I won't do any exercises I absolutely don't like. The funny thing is, at first, most exercises are the ones you don't want to do. However, as you get more in shape and able to do other exercises, you might find that all the things you though you hated you really just didn't like because they where too hard for your fitness level.

Everyone has some sort of sport or activity that they like doing. Your favorite exercise might be walking, running, biking, kayaking, hiking, rock climbing. The list goes on and on. So I would pick and exercise that you all ready enjoy and meets your current fitness level. Remember exercises that work out your cardiovascular system are much more important than weight training. Pick exercises that get your heart rate up.

For me, I've always liked riding a bike, so that's where I started. Since you can't ride a bike year-round in Colorado, when the weather turned cold I had to search out other things. I've found many different types of exercise that I enjoy and I refuse to do ones that not matter what I don't like. It's hard to stick with doing something if you don't enjoy it.

As a last reminder I want to encourage you to consult your doctor before taking on any sports or exercise, make sure you are picking exercises that are appropriate for your fitness level and a keep in mind any advice contained on this blog is used at your own risk. I don't need you hurting yourself and blaming me. Keep safe and keep healthy!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


This post is about the motivations to lose weight and live healthy. See, I had tried a few times to get in shape over the years. Some successful some not. In fact I had lost about twenty pounds at one point. The problem I was having (I think) was with my motivation.

Most of the other times I had attempted to lose weight I was motivated by things like looking sexy and not wanting other people to think I was a fat slob. I had it in my mind that I could do a lot of working out for six weeks and then go back to my life looking like Brad Pitt. I never considered diet an important factor except for trying to eat next to nothing.

See, the problem is we are bombarded with advertising telling us the wrong things. Some commercials tell us that we would be happy if we had a Coke or some Doritos. The next tells us we would be happy popping a pill so we can eat anything we want and still lose weight and look like super model. Throw onto that the video exercise programs that promise results in 9 week (implying you can go from 50 lbs over weight to a model in that time.) You have to start with not listing to all the stupid crap that is out there.

So, what I'm trying to get at is this. If your motivations are to just look good then you will fail, at least in the long run. If you really want to change your life it's about making the decision to live and eat healthy for the rest of your life. Not six-week, not a year, not ten but untill the day you die. It's not about what other people think. It's about setting an example in your family, breaking the cycle of obesity and showing that living healthy isn't miserable. This is about changing your way of life not about quick fixes or spending money. You don't need to spend any money on a plan or get a trainer or anything to get started. All you need is the motivation to do something. I set my first goals as this, first:stop smoking, second:get some form of exercise for 15 min five days a week. You don't have to start where I started you just have to do something. It gets addictive! Once you've started you won't want to stop. It's a process that comes in small steps and takes time. It isn't even about seeing results right away. The benefits might take time but will be so much better than any quick solution can offer.

When should you start? Right now! Don't sit around making excuses. The time is now. If the day isn't over you still have time to do some thing. You know as well as I do that this can't wait.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Life Changes

It's been about a year and a half since I decided to change my lifestyle and be a more healthy person. In that time I've learned a lot and I though it would be nice to have a few posts about my story and what I've been doing to be a more healthy person.

My decision to change doesn't start with me but rather with some one I'm very close with. My brother had been telling me about his change to be more healthy and to start running. He has some blog posts about it on his blog. Here is the first post. This is all fine and well for him and didn't effect me until he came out to Colorado for a visit. When he got here, I noticed how much happier he was an was jealous. I have been working in an office for the last four years and at that point weighed in at about 248lbs. He inspired me to quit smoking an start changing my life style.

See, we all know what we are doing to be unhealthy but for some reason it's hard to figure out a way of doing things differently. With the diet and exercise industry making it seem like it should be easy and the fact that year after year the statistics show that it isn't getting better. In fact, the health of world is going down hill. It's so hard to find a place to start. That's why I wanted to have a few posts on what I've found out and what ever advice I can offer others.

Till the next post I urge you to check out the documentary "Food inc.", "Super Size Me" and "Water Wars" and this video from Ted. This should set you up with an idea how disassociated we've become with what we put in our bodies. Hopefully I can share some ways to help you change all that.

More to come, stay tuned!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What's the Buzz on Buzz?

At first glances Google's new Buzz service might just seem like another "throw it on the pile network and, to be honest, it doesn't offer quantity of game changing new features that other Google producs have in the past, like Gmail and Google Voice. However, I can see at least one striking feature that sets Buzz apart.
If you are all ready using your mobile device for updating twitter more than you use a desktop client then Buzz adds an interesting social dynamic to certain events. All ready, some people have used the ability to see and respond to a Buzz in your area, such as during the recent "Snowpocalypse" where people where buzzing about what was going on right in their immediate area. This geographically links social networks to time and events. An ad-hock social network can pop up connecting people involved in an event at a specific time and place to share information and partake in conversations without having to search endless useless tags of mostly the same unverified information and without have to have prior knowledge as to who is there with them.
This gives a whole new spin on the usefulness of social networks. Imagine being at an event such as the Olympics. You can get real time updates of events from actual observers that are at the event with you. While no credentials come with the information the fact that you can see that they are at least at the event adds more weight the information's accuracy.
In times of crisis being able to get information from people near you can be a life saver. Imaging how different events like Columbine, 911 and Hurricane Katrina would have been if life saving information could have traveled to the people who need it in real time. Police could track suspects based on eye witness accounts. Information on road closures and medical supplies could be relayed. Lives will be saved! It could even make it less boring to sit in a traffic jam. This kind of spontaneous social interaction could have a profound impact on the outcome of events.
There, of course, will be a negative impact to all of this. Less privacy, people who take advantage and the ever present trolls of the internet but all and all I think that location information coupled with social networking could be an extremely powerful force.