So I've found myself having to explain time and again why I'm not satisfied with current options in the smartphone world, so I decided I'd better write my thoughts and reasoning down so that perhaps someone can help me find what I'm looking for, or failing that, perhaps some company can create it. Even if it's proprietary to their line, an attachable keyboard would be a step forward and would eliminate what makes most companies afraid of making smartphones with physical keyboards (slimness of the phone design and the fact that getting a keyboard design "just right" can be difficult).

So what I'm looking for seems to me quite simple, yet I see very few examples out there (or at least ones that have good specs):

  • An AWS-compatible phone, and it doesn't have to have a large screen nor does it need to be thin. While we're talking features, it doesn't need all those baubles (camera, GPS (which, at least here, works less reliably than network detection anyway), etc.) either, though I doubt that would help sales given there's always someone whining about one or the other not being present.
  • A phone with a wired keyboard, whether detachable (preferably without a cable, similar in concept to the Targus ThumbPad that had been made for the Palm) or permanently part of the phone.
  • Preferably, the phone is stock Android without any of those customizations that handset makers like to stick on.
  • Also preferable, evidently, is that it runs ICS (or whatever is latest at the manufacturing time).

Now, before I catch more flak, here's a few things that have already been suggested to me:

  • Tablets. Congrats, you missed the point. At that rate I might as well carry around the netbook I already have, and it would do fine... except neither tablet nor netbook are feasible for SMS.
  • Medium/full-size docks. See above. These are slightly more acceptable, but only so - because if you can do this.. why the bloody heck can you not make a smaller one?
  • Bluetooth. Keep in mind the idea here is to skip an every-time-set-up process! Leaving the radio on eats the battery and having to enable it, connect the keyboard, and switch to the BT keyboard app just to type a sentence or two is tedious. It's more worth it for when I want to write more, yes, but at this rate I'm not going to want to! Furthermore, I've yet to see a non-iDevice casing that holds the keyboard and phone together (or a keyboard that attached to the phone, whichever). I realize it would likely have to be custom made for the phone (the casing that is, not the keyboard itself - if you think so you fail at design), but given the quantity of these already being made I don't see why this is a problem.
  • Downgrading. As mentioned above I am aware there are a few phones available which do match the criteria.. but they're woefully underpowered. Just because I want a keyboard doesn't mean I'm some sort of oldschool luser who can't appreciate a better spec'ed phone.

Am I really asking that much?

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As you may know, I have Steam. These days a lot of the games I own I've either purchased through Steam, or redeemed through Steam (e.g. buying an indie bundle and adding it on Steam) - sometimes I forget how I even got games, which happens sometimes with the indie bundles or Steam package sales. One such game that I've had sitting around for a while is a game called The Scourge Project - developed by Tragnarion Studios and published by Bit Box S.L.

Now and then I play co-op games with a friend of mine, and recently we'd been looking for some to play since we thought we had completed our last set of games. Rather than try to find new games, however, I decided it was time to trawl through the Steam games I already had and categorize them - with one specific category being one I'd mention to my friend to look into and decide if he was interested in; One of the games was The Scourge Project. It hasn't had good reviews, so I'm not entirely certain why he picked that one in particular, but then we've enjoyed some games that didn't get good reviews so we're well aware that reviews are not end-all be-all articles.

Sadly, in this case, they turned out to be an accurate warning - while there's a fair amount of detail to the game, it is incomplete in a number of ways:

  1. The most galling is it has some severe and easily reproducible bugs:
    1. Hosting and joining seems to be partly broken. For one, we couldn't switch from LAN games to Internet games - the option was there but it didn't seem to take effect. When trying to join a LAN game, the game insists that "The character filter does not apply to LAN games" and is locked to the first character, Stonewall. However, this is false: Whenever I created a game and picked any other character, my friend could not see my game. Thus, I resigned to creating the game by picking stonewall, then .. switching to another character. I don't understand why it is necessary to pick a character first when players can freely switch in the game lobby! I played as Mass, and he could play as Stonewall - not a game breaking bug if you figure it out, but otherwise odd and a sign of bad design.
    2. At least in multiplayer, when a partner is revived there's a chance they are revived in a "half dead" state: They're alive in the sense they can revive downed party members, can activate switches and the like, and are fired at by enemies... but they're still dead in the sense that they cannot attack (shooting or mélée) and cannot use any abilities - they're basically walking decoys. If such a half-dead party member uses a mounted gun, they might as well stay with it - the moment they let go, they collapse as though downed, but cannot be revived. They can resume use of the gun, however. Go figure. This bug patches itself when a cutscene occurs (and some other event I didn't bother tracing - maybe on pause?), so it isn't entirely game breaking - but enough to be quite frustrating.
    3. One particular mission - I don't remember a name or anything, other than having to extract DNA from an already dead scientist - has a game breaking bug that broke the camel's back for us - the door doesn't open. Well, it opens visually, but physically it still bars access.. which had not only us confused, but the bots as well: They would attempt to walk through for a moment, realize it wasn't working for some reason and back off, wait a moment, then try again. Clearly, something broke there.
  2. Repetition. Most of the game is a plethora of "shoot these guys, hack this console, open this door - oh wait you need to pretend to be some other guy, kill said guy and extract DNA, open door, rinse, repeat". There's a few bits that were a bit different and were kind of refreshing, but even then they were a bit lacking - the bomber, for example, always seemed to hit the exact same area the exact same way at each pass. While I understand it would have made the game frustrating if it were to hit the player trying to use the mounted gun, you could at least make the rest of the party squirm in fear while they pressure said player to figure out how to destroy the bomber. ;)
  3. Another issue demonstrated some bad game design: In an earlier mission, one of the objectives was to activate some emergency exit of some sort. If you listened carefully to the computer voice (which is hard to hear, particularly when you are being shot at), I believe it states something to the effect of having to remain near the console while the emergency exit is being opened. However, if you don't notice or understand this, you'll (understandably) charge towards where you saw said exit and try to leave... only to find the objective is marked as failed for some reason, and you have to retry the procedure. There is no other hint that you are required to remain in the central area where the panel to activate the exit is.

So why do I think it could have been good? Well, for one, we didn't find it too unenjoyable despite the flaws above; Overall it worked decently and had features - like cover-based firing - that didn't get in the way and were relatively well executed. Another reason is that I've noticed a number of neat features that other games don't seem to have, which would have given it an upper hand if only the game had been properly completed:

  1. You can pause. No, seriously - you're playing a LAN game, the pizza (let's say) arrives, bam - you hit pause, the game freezes for everyone and you don't have to worry about silly things like the master server booting you off for inactivity in a LAN game (I'm looking at you, Valve). It seems there's no sort of indication that the game is paused, but as long as the game host makes it fairly clear they're about to pause the game, it's not exactly a big issue. I don't see it being quite as useful in over-the-'net games, but it's still a decent and rare feature.
  2. Resume from any checkpoint, any time - if your character got there. Simple enough: Host creates a game, picks not only the mission but the checkpoint as well. Resume your game almost right where you left off, no save necessary. The only downside was that, well, since there's no save (which seems to be a recent craze) you may not have the weapon load-out you had before.. The fact that your characters are tracked is kind of neat, and while I understand it may be irritating to some people (and in some cases), it makes you have to play rather than just skip through and see the ending... I guess.
  3. While it was unrefined and the bots weren't exactly obedient, there was a nice ability to give the bots orders - without fiddling with some vague voice command menu. Point, hit the key, bot goes off on its way - context sensitive (i.e., you aren't necessarily saying "move here" - point at a console, and you're saying "go use this", for example). One bug I noticed was that the selection, being either sequential or random, included players - whom of course didn't have to obey and usually didn't have to be ordered this way. It would work better if either I still had to pick someone, or players weren't included since there are better ways to give orders.

So, it could have been good... but as it is, it kind of deserves to be at the lowered price point it is at now - if not lower. Oh, and I forgot to mention - playing it now means we've played it after the company had released a few patches and no more updates were coming out... I don't want to think of how much worse it could have been beforehand.

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So this is hardly news at this point, but I figured I'd comment on it now that things have progressed a little and I've exported my projects.

For those of you who don't know AppInventor: It is a web application created by Google to facilitate the creation of Android apps. The premise was that you wouldn't need to know how to code: It was a drag-and-drop creation environment, and sadly it didn't get terribly far.

It's not that it was terrible, mind you, it's just that.. well, there weren't many employees behind the creation of this tool and it wasn't open source, so development and bug fixing was slow, and there were two glaring flaws: Apps that were created were large (one of mine, which was essentially a predefined phone book, was 1.3MB), and these apps could not be uploaded to the Market: they weren't actual apps yet (they do not "compile" to bytecode) and required a helper to run.

I'm sure this can be fixed and AI can become a great tool, but I believe the main issue is one that has been a thorn in Google side for a while now: They're spread too thin and are trying to do too many things at once. Google may have the money for it, but they don't have the manpower. Thankfully, they seemed to have realized this and have not only open-sourced the code instead (or will) and have funded a new MIT Centre for Mobile Learning; This, to me, is a great idea as it gives Google a certain amount of control while not requiring them to directly manage it.

(Oh, and it being open source means others can contribute, but I don't see too much of that happening soon. Call me sceptic but those who can develop will probably not notice the tool at all and be directly trying to create their own apps. Then again, beginners could still be stuck in that middle zone, and perhaps advanced developers will still see it as a useful RAD tool ... if and once you can create actual source with it, I'd imagine!)

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tl;dr: Remove "Indicator applets" from your panel.

I've been using Ubuntu on my netbook for a while. With things getting crazy with recent versions of Ubuntu and GNOME, however, I find myself not wanting to stay with Canonical's Unity and rather keep a classic desktop-like interface to my netbook.

The easiest way to do this, I figured, was to simply use another version of Ubuntu. KUbuntu was already out; I'd tried a live CD of it on another system and it didn't seem ready to me, nor did I like the direction they were going. It's not that it's bad, it's just not my style. Okay, so that leaves a few other editions to try out, like XUbuntu and LUbuntu.

Since I was already familiar with XFCE (XUbuntu), I decided to try out LXDE (LUbuntu) first to see if I'd like it. It's pretty nice, but at some point I noticed something was off - I don't know if it was always like this and I hadn't noticed, or it happened after an update - and that is that my menubars were gone!


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Megaplexcon: Departure

On 2011-Aug-11 — Tags:

Thursday morning, I got up at about 5:30 to shower, dress, and head to the airport. My mother and I had decided this was early enough; she was going to drive me there.

This, however, was almost not early enough.


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I recently ran into an obscure issue with PHP's preg functions: Exception: preg_match(): Compilation failed: unknown option bit(s) set at offset 0 This error message would show up whenever a PCRE function was used with the u (unicode/UTF-8) flag set. This is apparently triggered by using a new version of PHP (>5.3?) and an old version of libpcre (<8.1?).


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Nexus One!

On 2010-Aug-11 — Tags:

So I've gotten myself a Nexus One, an Android-powered cell phone, hoping to have a good platform to test Android apps on (Only to learn that months ago, Google was giving away phones to developers).

Anyway, so far it's been great. The only gripes I have is that the touchscreen seems to be a little off and the wifi has issues remaining connected now (it used to work fine), but the Wifi Fixer app works as a work-around for the latter.

Furthermore, I've gotten the phone connected to WIND Mobile, and so far my experience with WIND has been OK. Even ignoring the issues getting started (the people signing me up were kinda new, so I forgive them), every now and then I seem to drop out of their towers' reach and be considered roaming! Also, in some situations where other providers would manage to get *some* signal, I get none at all - but I shouldn't be too surprised, I guess. These situations are the usual suspects - elevators, bus network basements, etc..

On the bright side, though, the cost is fairly small (~30$ for voice+voicemail+data) and I have unlimited texts for a year.

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So, as a few of you know already, I've moved out. In fact, I moved out on the 1st of Feb, so I've been here since a month and a half. We've got most things set up, but I've still got a few boxes to unpack mostly due to not having anywhere to place this stuff.

Though some of it is due to not having put up the shelving units I've gotten from my brother.

So, things have been set up, moved in and so forth; The apartment is, while expensive, very nice and spacious (we've got TWO bathrooms) and has some niceties to it that I'm sure will come in handy (like a pool and an exercise room). We've got the pre-paid billing and electricity billing set up, yaddi yaddi yadda... the only negative thing so far is that the windows need replacing since they leak air and get condensation all over them - but we're not too worried about that, since we've never had to use the electric heating so far ^_~

I've gotten my laptop replaced; Eurocom finally decided, when I returned my laptop again, that they'd give me another model and this one seems somewhat better-behaved, though I still need to figure out if it's the way I configured the system or if it's the system itself that's giving me issues.

I've finally got a new phone which I think I will like, and it's all set up with a pay-as-you-go service... only that it's got unlimited browsing and unlimited text messaging. Quit looking at me that way! I only activated it yesterday at midnight, so that's why I haven't told anyone yet what my new number is ^_~

I'm considering changing my career, I suppose you could say, as I don't find I can do programming as an active job. The problem's that I'm not that enthused about it, and I want to do it as more of a hobby than my job. The problem with all this is that I haven't really got anything else to get into; I could go into writing and editing, but with writing I'm generally uncreative and with editing ... well, I haven't tried that much so far. Perhaps it would go well. The only problem is that a sudden career change would likely be rather harsh, especially on the wallet, so I'm not sure I want to do that just yet. Perhaps taking a part-time job first would help, especially r?sum?-wise (i.e. job experience).

Socially, things have gotten a little better, a little worse. I need to start thinking about others like it's a natural things, as memory and such things aren't at all natural for me. I'd grown into the need to ignore yesterday and tomorrow as though today was the only day, the only day I'd have to live the torture of being alive.

But I've lived past 20.

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So I've gotten a new Palm.

My reasoning for this purchase was that I could use it to write while on the go, or even just if I felt like writing somewhere other than at home. Naturally, I got a keyboard for it as well as I wasn't going to be able to write all that much using the stylus (it has character recognition (at least technically), but I don't enjoy handwriting). Sadly, I neglected to notice that it didn't include a sync cable/cradle in the bundle, and had to get that separately. While waiting for it to arrive, though, I've been fairly impatient about getting programs on there.

Especially the driver for the keyboard!

Thus, I decided to try the only two other methods available to get data onto the Palm: infrared and SD card. I don't have a card reader/writer, so I thought that option was out (turns out it isn't quite - more on that later), so I proceeded with trying to communicate using the infrared port. You see, I eventually remembered that the Lego Spybotics kits that I have came with infrared transceivers; I figured they'd be good enough to transmit data to the Palm.

I first thought of trying it with my Windows system, but the transceivers connect on the serial port and I didn't bother putting a panel for one (the onboard ports of this motherboard don't actually include a serial port), and didn't feel like going through the hassle of adding it (not that it's that much effort, mind you). Instead, I used my laptop, which currently has Zenwalk Linux installed on it. Getting the infrared support was fairly simple (new kernel config plus the tool package), and one reboot later I was in business.

Sort of, anyway.

Linux seems to receive the data from the Palm just fine, and it seems to respond in kind; However, the Palm makes no sign of receiving anything, and eventually gives up on the connection attempt. It seems the problem stems from the most unlikely-seeming source: The Spybotics infrared transceiver. It's not meant for this sort of thing, really; When you use it to transmit data to a spybot, it's actually plugged in directly. I think you can use it to "broadcast" infrared signals to it too, but I don't really remember how that works and if it actually transmits any information. Therefore, I believe it's only meant for really short distances, and the problem with that is that the transmitter and receiver on the Palm aren't spaced the same as the ones on the Spybotics transceiver, and thus one doesn't see the other in one way or another.

I might try putting a much larger distance between the two and see if that works better... infrared is supposed to be able to do more than an inch or two, after all, but unless I had a very specific distance between the transceiver and the Palm, nothing showed up on either side... it's weird.

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Vito Pilieci from The Ottawa Citizen states in a article titled "Copyright board OKs levy on iPods, MP3 players":

The Copyright Board of Canada is again backing a tax on Apple Inc.'s iPod and other MP3 music players that could boost the price of the devices by almost 30 per cent.

This is truly unfortunate and ridiculous. It's becoming into some odd fight against the innocent consumer, the computer-illiterate consumer that has no way to do anything about this. Those who're pirating aren't going to care about this (and computer-literate users are going to see this "tax" as an encouragement that says "Oh, don't buy it from the store - buy it from") since they likely already have portable audio players or they don't have nor want one and only use their computer for music anyway.

Despite all that, it doesn't surprise me in the least: Big Suit types never want to research anything, they just want a quick fix and they want it now. Anything they can do to justify their salaries and make it seem like they're actually doing something productive. The sad part is, it'll injure them in the long run.

And since when are recording devices taxed, anyway? Were tape decks ever taxed this way? Ghetto-blasters? Stereos? And what's next - CD/DVD recorders get taxed since they're "recording mediums"? Copyright is an outdated system for outdated governments (and don't get me started on patents) - I realised the futility of it as a child, and I realised the ridiculousness of it when a teacher at college copyrighted a code skeleton file, and I now realise the obsolescence of it as it lacks any real structure or system.

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