Developer. Gamer. Yo-Yo Thrower.

My Life as an Android’ian

I use Android as my mobile platform because it gives me the most choice. That’s really what it all boils down to. This is because it features something special that is in no other major smart phone: the software is free, and open source. The specialness of this feature is marred by wireless carriers making their own decisions, demonstrating that this freedom is a two way street (like all true freedom). The mobile carriers (Bell, Rogers, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc) tend implement a few ‘software locks’ that can make it harder to take advantage of the open source community – they feel that because you’re on their network that they should be able to dictate how your device works. The result of this is that your brand new phone gets updates from their carrier once or twice in their lifetime – if that. However, there is a thriving vibrant community of developers who all put in a tremendous amount of time and effort to provide software alternatives (IF you have the patience for it and in some cases the nerve to risk ‘bricking’ your device). If you take some time and read lots of somewhat technical stuff, learn how to obtain root access for your phone, install a new software image designed specifically for your phone (“ROMs”, but oh how I hate that antiquated term, it’s not ‘read only memory’ if you’re always writing it!) and VOILA: your 3 or 4 year old device is running the newest version of Android, obviously not as fast and perfect as a new phone, but it’s still a better experience and it feels like a new phone… for free.
No other mainstream phone can do this. Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, and Apple iOS are all closed-source. If you care enough to look you can’t see what’s really going on in the background. Which most people don’t (which is fine). The trade off, in my opinion, is that with a little more effort to learn about how your phone works you can literally treat your phone as if it were a mini-computer. A “computer”, as in a real desktop computer with: USB ports (so: floppy drives, flash drives, hard drives, keyboards, mice, Xbox controller … almost anything with Linux support is possible), and full HD video and sound over a mini-HDMI cable. All off of your phone!
I understand to some people the concept of their phone having even text messaging seems overkill, “I remember when a phone was just a phone” they say. They’re looking at their phone as if it was the big clunky phone they kept on their wall growing up. The problem is they’re not phones anymore, stop thinking like that. What they really are is miniature computers that happen to have a phone number attached to them. Even without cellular service a “smartphone” is still a very useful device: a music/movie player, GPS access, WiFi, e-reader, gaming, even payments. In fact, WiFi is becoming so ubiquitous it’s to the point where you could get away with having a $5 a month VOIP account, only use WiFi on your smart phone, and only not be reachable by phone while you’re in transit (and even then you could probably convince a friend to lend you WiFi hotspot access from their connection).

I’ve used the other devices, I know how they work. I prefer Android because I prefer to continue to learn, and I also enjoy being free as in freedom.

My Week as a Windows Phone 7’er

After a crummy end to my Blackberry trial I’m eager to get into something new again. Before the days of Android and iPhone there were two big players in “PDAs” (note: not smart phones) Palm and Microsoft. Palm, sadly, is gone (I would have loved to do a week with a Pre) and “Windows Mobile 6.5” which is a completely different OS than Windows Phone 7. I found this complete rewrite move by Microsoft particularly odd – everyone knows that for a mobile OS platform to be succuessful you need two things: users and developers. WinMo6 had both of these – hell I had a working RealVNC client on my WinMo 6.5 device (guess what software doesn’t exist for WinPhone7: RealVNC!). I think it sucks that MS decided to basically crap on their developer base just to relaunch a new platform – traditionally Microsoft has been great at ensuring old versions working on new OSes (hell, you can run DOS and Windows 3.1 programs in Windows 7 very easily).
Anyways, on to the device. Sadly, I’m not testing the new Nokia Lumina device, it’s the older Windows Phone 7 (henceforth: WP7) device the HTC HD7.
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My Week as a BlackBerry’er

I got my first Blackberry in 2005, it was a Blackberry Charm 7100 and it was my first real smartphone (I had upgraded from a Noika 5100 – amazing phone). I used it for only maybe a year before I upgraded to an HTC P3600 WinMo 6.5 phone. So unlike my iPhone experience I do have a little background with this type of device.
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My Week as an iPhoney

This year seems to have a common theme for me: trying things out that I’ve previously proclaimed to hate. The contract I’m on is working with a Java backend, they gave me a MacBook Pro to develop on and now I’ve been given the opportunity to try out a bunch of new phones — including the iPhone 4S. Java, Macbooks, iPhones — things I’ve never been a big fan of, not because I had used them before and didn’t like them, all because of personal philosophical hangups. So this year I’ve been trying them all out while being as unbiased as I possibly can be. Thus far almost all of the things I’ve tried confirmed my previous assumptions (my work Macbook Pro now runs Linux Mint 12, and Java is still as cumbersome as ever).

This week I’m going to try and use the iPhone 4S as my “daily driver” – that is to say I’ll be taking the SIM card out of my Galaxy S II X and putting it in the iPhone to take it for a test drive as if it was my only phone. I’ll be updating this blog post through out the week with my thoughts.
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FITC Toronto 2012

FITC Toronto is today! I’ve been looking forward to this conference for a few months, there’s lots of exciting things to see. I’ve got a long way to travel … it’s so far away, like almost 500 meters from where I live (seriously, the hotel the conference is at is around the block from me). Following suit some of the other attendees; here’s what my schedule looks like:
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Roll Your Own URL Shortener

Over the past few years we’ve seen the rise of URL shorteners. Sites that take big ugly urls and condense them down into short versions, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of them out there (,, … etc). Years ago I made my own ‘’ solely because I wanted to learn a framework in PHP, and a URL shortening app is a fantastic functional example. About a year after it was up I re-wrote it in Python/Django. About 2 weeks ago I finished re-writing it again for Node.js. This little web app has come to represent my “Hello World” for learning a new language and web framework. This re-write was different though, it’s the first real project I’ve ever released on my own.

The project is called shorten-node and you can check it out on my github.

What you’ll need:

  • A short TLD
  • Heroku toolbelt
  • Basic web programming knowledge (or at least no fear of a command line)

What you’ll get:

  • A fully functional URL shortener with an API
  • Such great trendy web dev cred: “Just pushed my Node.js URL shortener to the heroku cloud … check out the diff on my github.”
  • So much attention from the opposite sex on twitter (“Is that a custom url shortener?! *swooon*”)

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Everyday use of OSX

At my new job they’ve given me a brand new MacBook Pro and OSX 10.7. I really am not liking it (surprise!), it feels like I’m crippled (more accurately, like my OS is crippled). I really have given it a chance (and in the interest of being OS agnostic I continue to) but honestly, I can’t understand why OSX gets the praise that it does; some things actually are intuitive and well implemented. Other things will make you grimace and wonder ‘WTF?!’. ESPECIALLY if you prefer to use the keyboard more than you use the mouse. The first and most painfully stupid complaint I have is to do with pressing “Enter” or “Return” on an icon in “Finder” – in every other OS since the dawn of computers pushing “enter” on something means to execute, implement, or start the selected item — not so on OSX. On OSX pressing Enter on an icon renames it, frigging renames it!! WTF!? (CMD+O opens it)
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Today is my 6th year on Reddit. What a ride it has been.

Back when I first started reading Reddit, it was a hopeful start up populated by geeks like me and every sub-Reddit was like r/TrueReddit. r/pics didn’t generate its own memes everyday. The political discourse on r/politics welcomed both Democrats and Republicans. “AMAs” were self-posts in the main Reddit. r/trees WAS r/marijuana. r/Toronto didn’t exist yet neither did many of my other current favourite sub-reddits.

In some ways Reddit has got worse – we’ve taken on a ton of former Diggers and the weirdness that came from the popularisation of 4chan leaked over to reddit in a big way (I’m pretty sure many of the “original” Redditors were also ‘oldfags‘ on 4chan, Farkers, and/or Goons – hence the heavy duplication of content). In other ways Reddit has got better – you just have to look under the surface. Some of the best content on the internet can be found deep in unpopular sub-reddits – I won’t list any here you should find them yourself, that’s part of the fun of Reddit.

Reddit has kept me on top of the news for 6 years – almost every time someone asks “Hey did you see <... current news item ...>” I can gladly respond “Yeah, I reddit yesterday”. I maintain that it’s still the best place to get your news on the internet. Everyone I’ve introduced the site to still reads it (maybe not as much as I do, but still).

Here’s to Reddit – may it continue to grow and maintain it’s awesomeness (and may the bacon continue to narwhal at midnight).

I did an IAmA – it’s at 0 now, but I’ll still answer.

The Longest Explosion

A long time ago (1987) 160,000 light years away ... a star exploded. We've been watching the ensuing explosion ever since. I made a little sprite animation out of this image showing the supernova's progress over almost 20 years.
It's a truly beautiful phenomenon, and I think it's a great way to get a perspective of just how big stars are - when the explode they explode for decades and you can see them from hundreds of thousands of lightyears away. Amazing. Way more information at Wikipedia and the source of the sprite image Australia Telescope Outreach and Education

Rise of the Geeks

I went to Fan Expo Canada this weekend. Holy shit, what an amazing absolutely epic time. I went dressed as Han Solo and my lovely and talented friend Amy Lee Radigan went dressed as Princess ‘Slave’ Leia. Our costumes were pretty accurate – this lead many people to ask for pictures with or of us; which is amazing. We were all too happy to pose – by the end of each day (yeah we went Friday, Saturday AND Sunday) we were feeling like mini-celebrities.

There’s so much to be said about how the sub-culture of geeky/nerdy (even ‘dorky’ from time to time) has evolved. Growing up I was a proud geek, but I rarely referred to myself as one since it was still primarily a derogatory term; “geek”. As the years passed and Napster came and went, iPods, iPhones, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter all slowly changed our lives and in the process dragged the ‘geek’ stereotype away from it’s ruder roots and more into a term of endearment. “Geek” has essentially come to mean someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about something – so you can be a book geek, an RPG geek, a computer geek or a what-ever geek – it doesn’t matter. Same with ‘nerd’ and ‘dork’ (to a lesser extent IMO). This makes conventions like FanExpo and ComicCons arenas for geeks/nerds/dorks who repressed their inner nerdyness growing up. A chance to share and embrace with other like-minded people the things we love.
I can’t wait for next year 🙂


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