29 April, 2013

Google Now for iOS: The cheat sheet

iPhone users: Ever wonder what it would be like if Siri could actually remember what you ask? Ever feel like you're asking Siri too many questions? It seems annoying and monotonous, doesn't it?

Since Android 4.1, Google has actually had a solution to the problem, in the form of a search app overlay: Google Now. It's definitely an improvement over Siri to say the least: Using a multitude of technologies, such as the Knowledge Graph, that allow accurate parsing of not just individual questions but a whole series of back-to-back ones, and matching those server-side technologies up with the user's location and search history to actually remember what the user asks and provide the user with more and more information in real-time without the user needing to ask, Google Now has even been praised by die-hard Apple zealots like Guy Kawasaki and even Steve Wozniak as a Siri-killer. And for the longest time, it was ONLY available for Android.

Until now.

Google Search 3.0 for iOS was pushed to the App Store (and to all existing users of the Search app) at about 8:00 this morning. With it came what scores of iOS users have been crying about for almost a whole year: Google Now integration. It has just about everything the Android version has: voice search, Goggles, an integrated app launcher, and the famous real-time card feed that provides users with monotonous AND important information without the user needing to ask for it.

Well, almost.

There are a few caveats. Some cards, such as boarding passes and cards provided by third-party apps, are missing from the iOS version of the service due to obvious reasons (Apple's notorious approval process loves to not just sandbox but jail apps to their own little chroots... oh, well). And of course, unlike the Android version, iOS Google Now doesn't have any push notification ability. However, as we all know, if Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and (drumroll please) Google+ are able to send push notifications without even being open, there's no reason why the Search app can't do the same...

See the following screenshot (taken on my MD234LL/A-model iPhone 4S, courtesy of AT&T's lack of Nexus subsidization) for yourself:

This is it, my friends. Android has Google Now, and now iOS has it too. There are still a few quirks to work out, and we all know that, but from a user standpoint, there's no doubt that they look and feel almost identical to each other. There's no doubt what we're looking at here is something that users can finally rejoice about, not to mention actually get a taste of Android and just how much more powerful than iOS it has become lately.

23 April, 2013

Proof that the RULET suit is baseless...

Ever wonder what it's like to have a school with a home football field that's so out of date that no more than 100 people can sit at it? Ever wonder what it's like to have residents complain to a city, sue a school district, and go to extremes just to kick you off your home field? That's exactly what happened to my alma mater, and as we all know, it's definitely one thing that needs to change. The last thing we El Toro alumni (and even current students) need is people fueling a bitter rivalry that all started over a lack of a home field to begin with.

Mission's football field, as one can see on the map below, is surrounded on at least 2 sides by houses. And yet the people who live in them don't complain about noise or traffic:

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As you can clearly see, those people that live on Montarez sure don't complain, do they? Turquesa? Not a chance. Estanciero? Ha! They could care less if there's any noise or traffic resulting from football games. Cortina? The list goes on and on.

What about Trabuco's? Again, see below:

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Those people that live on Pinavete sure don't complain, do they? Nor do the ones who live on Genil complain! Aguilar? Based on the reasoning about traffic and noise being the two impediments to peace that the RULET group is giving in their formal complaint with the Orange County Superior Court, those people who live on Aguilar especially, since Mustang Run (which is LOADED with both Trabuco AND El Toro game traffic) actually curves and becomes Aguilar, should have every right to complain.

What about Saddleback College in all its sports glory, not to mention loads of traffic and people who (unlike high-schoolers) smoke cigarettes en masse? Again, take a look:

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What we have here is even more evidence against the stadium plans opposition in the form of two residential hotspots on the map. First, we have Las Tunas Dr, which is feet from the football field, prone to insane amounts of field noise, and also prone to, what else? Ambient light from the lamps that light up parking lots 1 and 1A that you see on the map -- another serious complaint point.

Secondly, if you scroll to the left and up a little bit (or zoom out, whichever floats your boat), you'll find an apartment complex -- which is packed with even more residents than a single-family tract -- right across College Drive from Lots 9 and 10, which get insane amounts of traffic since they happen to be the main lots for the SM and LRC (library) buildings, two of the busiest classroom centers on campus. Not to mention that the complex is surrounded on three sides not only by College Drive -- which itself gets loads of traffic and noise from student drivers that is enough to make any senior citizen scream -- but also by two main campus entrances laden with not only traffic from student drivers but also from OCTA buses serving four routes that happen to all cross paths right on campus at the northernmost of those campus entrances in question. So like those that live on Aguilar, those that live on Las Tunas and in that apartment complex also have every right to complain.

But they don't, why? Because the high school kids have just as much right to a stadium that those residents have to a quiet neighborhood!

So what makes El Toro any different? Take a look:

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Exactly. Those that live on Montarez have just as much of a right to sue the school district as those who live on Killy do, based on the light/noise argument. And those that live on Aguilar, God forbid, have just as much (if not more) of a right to sue the school district based on the traffic argument that those who live on Silver Spur do. And those who live on Las Tunas and in that apartment complex which happens to be surrounded on all sides by Saddleback College have the right to complain about all of the above -- traffic, noise, ambient light, you name it.

So please tell me if this is justified:

Yeah, exactly. People seem to think they are entitled to a right to an environment of peace. Huh? This isn't peace, this is war! They're only fueling the ET-TH rivalry and being not only unfair to the El Toro students but also unfair to the residents who live on such streets as Aguilar (in fact, they're actually making THAT situation worse) and Montarez that also have to endure football field lights and noise as impediments to the peace. This is not just evil, this is plain stupid, baseless, and unfair.

19 April, 2013

Chrome OS: Stuff the "glorified browser" naysayers simply don't knowabout

Okay, "glorified browser" naysayers: What happens when you create an HTML file in Adobe Dreamweaver, Kompozer, etc. along with the necessary Javascript, save it to your desktop, and right-click it? Notice how there's nothing but a list of Web browsers on the list of apps that can open the file?

Try downloading this very article, this very page, in fact, to your desktop by clicking the button below and see what happens when you open it locally:

As you can see, HTML + CSS + Javascript code CAN be executed locally. And if that combination can be executed locally, so can a whole Web app be executed locally. In fact, there is such a thing. It's called a packaged app, and it's precisely what makes Chrome OS much more valuable than people think.

What a packaged app does: It is installed via a .crx package, the very same metadata-enhanced .zip file that Chrome extensions (and hosted apps) use as installation media. However, there's one key difference: A hosted app ONLY unpacks metadata (manifest.json) from its .crx file. A packaged app, in contrast, also has ALL the HTML, Javascript, CSS, Native Client, and whatever else packed into the .crx file along with the metadata. This means that not only do packaged apps run offline, but they can also take advantage of some APIs that hosted apps can't. They can theme their own windows. They can access USB, Bluetooth, and other hardware devices. They can request unlimited persistent storage. They can even run in the background and listen for events such as when USB devices are plugged/unplugged, when the Internet is connected/disconnected, or when the browser/OS is shut down/rebooted.

For a perfect example of what kind of power is stuffed into the Javascript APIs that make up the packaged apps, one needs to look no further than CIRC:

A full-fledged IRC client. That's just one example of the kind of power packaged apps are able to possess. Not to mention, of course, that there is an ever-increasing boatload of apps that all work without an Internet connection, and almost half of those are packaged apps that actually do install themselves. Many internal Chrome OS apps are the same way. Case in point: the calculator.

And the file manager:

In both of these cases, what do we see? Apps that are both installed offline and function offline, without the need for an Internet connection, and can take advantage of some tools (such as hardware device access in the file manager case) that simply cannot happen with a hosted Web app.

Yet people still don't get it. They seem to think that if it's a "browser OS", it's impossible to run offline. Please. Between HTML5 AppCache and packaged apps, there's absolutely no reason to complain on that front. Developers just need to learn that packaged apps make MUCH more sense than hosted apps do. The minute they actually learn that, Chrome will actually become more of an app platform than once thought, and people will actually begin to see that Chromebooks DO have more functionality than just web browsing. Well screw you, guys! These examples alone are enough to invalidate your claims, not to mention the boatload of HTML5 AppCache apps that are also installed from the Web Store can define local storage permissions in the manifest file instead of needing to pop up a banner asking for AppCache permission. The result? Less time waiting for user interaction, and more time enjoying offline functionality.