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Setting up Bluestacks for Android App Debugging

Testing an Android app using the Android device emulator can be slow.  One way you can speed that up is to install the Intel Atom images and create devices with varying display resolution using that processor rather than the ARM processor most devices use (that avoids the processor emulation), but when you’re just working on a app and just need to see the progress one of the best alternatives is to use Bluestacks.

Just download and install Bluestacks on your machine; then setup a connection using the Android debugger (located in sdk\platform-tools now) with the command:

adb connect 127.0.0.1

Then just go about debugging directly from your IDE.

The Bluestack “machine” will appear as:

samsung-gt_n7000-127.0.0.1:5555
Android version 4.0.4

Keep in mind, there’s no substitute for testing on a real device — and the Android debugger still gives you the ability to see how your app looks on different size screens.

NOTE:  Bluestacks is currently in BETA, but it’s a fairly robust solution and works well for Android app development.

Smartly Made Smart Phones

I’ve owned a Windows based smart phone for around a decade; when I first saw and played with the iPhone I thought it was interesting, but it really brought little more to the table than HTC had already done with their UI on top of Windows mobile had… with one notable exception — the app store.

I’d probably have been willing to try the iPhone except for a number of characteristics I found totally unacceptable.

  1. The iPhone was only available on AT&T (I’ll choose my carrier, thank you very much);
  2. The iPhone didn’t have a keyboard (and I mean a real keyboard, not a virtual keyboard that takes two thirds of the screen);
  3. The iPhone was a closed platform totally under the control of Apple; and
  4. The iPhone was overpriced.

Any one of these would have likely prevented me from buying an iPhone, but in total it was a no-brainer.

Then, a little over two years ago (23 September 2008); Google released a handset manufactured for them by HTC running an open source version of Linux specifically designed for use on portable devices.

That was the T-Mobile G1 running Android (aka HTC Dream)…

Today there are a large number of Android based handsets on the market — and the number grows almost daily — and we’re not limited to just a single vendor or single carrier… almost every cell phone handset manufacturer has at least one Android based handset, and every US carrier supports Android handsets.

The official release of Android is version 2.2; and while some manufacturers have not provided that updates to older handsets, the open source community has put a great deal of effort into providing custom builds of Android that bring the newer features to older handsets (including many phones originally intended to run Windows mobile).

Android is a revolution in smart phones.

Not necessarily because Google has done everything right, but because Google has leveraged many parts of the development and manufacturing communities and allowed each to do what they do best.  These contributions push Android in multiple directions simultaneously; allowing Google to use the best and most promising along with their own ideas to pave a path for Android.

Now it’s worth noting that Google didn’t do this because they’re philanthropic and just want what’s best for everyone — they did it because having control of the smart phone market (and tablet market) or at least not being locked out of it; allows them to generate a revenue stream through advertising and collecting demographics to target that advertising.

But are they any different from cellular carriers and other companies offering smart phones — not really; but they are better at doing what they do (and I don’t mean developing technology, I mean making money with advertising).

As consumers we’re not really interested in the technology under the hood; we’re only interested in what it does for us, what it costs, and the eye candy it presents.

To me, though, what we should praise in Android is that it will not be a platform that limits, but rather accommodates.

Originally posted 2010-10-09 02:00:43.

Display Resolutions, Aspect Ratio…

When you go shopping for a new display for your computer or for entertainment viewing, here are some things you’ll want to keep in mind.

The reference resolutions for each of the “standards” are:

  • SD (NTSC), 480i = 720×480
  • ED (NTSC), 480p = 720×40
  • HD, 720p = 1280×720
  • HD, 1080i = 1280×1080, 1440×1080, or 1920×1080
  • HD, 1080p = 1920×1080

However, the aspect rations commonly used are:

  • 4:3 (SDTV)
  • 16:9 (HDTV)
  • 1.33:1 (Academy Standard)
  • 1.78:1 (Academy Flat)
  • 2.35:1 (Anamorphic Scope prior to 1970)
  • 2.39:1 (Anamorphic Scope — Panavision/Cinemascope)

Both 1280×720 and 1920×1080 are 16:9 resolution… so if that’s what the material was originally shot in you’re fine; HOWEVER, it’s very uncommon to find any modern movie of note (or any “action” movie for the last 20+ years) that is 16:9.  The bottom line is you’re going to see black bars on the side or top and bottom when you watch “movies” most of the time — or you’re going to have your display stretch (distort) the image to fill the screen.

Originally posted 2008-12-16 12:00:47.

Straight Talk

Four people I know have now switched their cellular phone service over to Straight Talk “pre-paid” service (largely because I’ve pointed it out to them).  Two used AT&T, one used T-Mobile, and one used Cellular South.

All of them basically switched for the similar reasons — they were being charged too much for too little.

I’ve considered switching a number of times; but I’m one of the few people with a Smart Phone who actually use the features (I just don’t know if I could get along without data services and GPS — Garmin GPS).

Straight talk offers two plans — UNLIMITED for 30 days $45; or 1000 minutes, 1000 SMS/MMS, 30GB for up to 30 days $30.  Most people probably don’t need the unlimited plan, and if you only expect you’re going to go over once in a great occasion you can buy the $30 plan and just pay again in less than 30 days (as long as it takes you at least 20 days you still ahead), and you can switch back and forth between the two plans at will (if you can predict your usage) — or even lay out for a month.  And of course, there’s no contract.

Straight Talk is a service of Trac Fone; but a model that’s much more like MetroPCS and Cricket; though since Straight Talk is a MVNO using Verizon Wireless as the carrier you can use the service any where in the continential United States where Verizon Wireless has digital service (which is just about any where there’s a paved road).

If you’re looking for a fancy phone, or data features you’re not looking for Straight Talk; in fact, only MetroPCS really offers you full data features (you can take your own smart phone to their network and have them flash it — it does need to have the SPL released; or you can buy one from them — but MetroPCS uses their own network and fills in coverage using some Sprint services as well; but you’re restricted to your MetroPCS service area, which doesn’t work well if you travel).

If what you’re looking for is a cellular phone, or a replacement for your land line even, Straight Talk might be a great deal for you.

You can order the phones online; you can pay for service online; you can even have your service auto-renewed online… or you can purchase phones and/or service cards at Wal-Mart.  You can even port you existing wireless or wire line number to Straight Talk (you can thank the FCC for that).

Just keep in mind that the hand sets are “low end” — they won’t tether to your computer, and to do any type of synchronization (that’s a bad word to use, since you’re probably going to have to move contacts, etc one-by-one or at least manually) you may well have to use Bluetooth (though the Samsung SCH-R451C $99.99 will work with a USB cable to give you access to the phone as a USB data device — and it supports up to a 2GB uSD card).

There is one higher end hand set offered by Straight Talk; the Samsung SCH-R810C $328.99; it’s higher price get’s you a touch screen (only — no keyboard), but really nothing substantially more than the Samsung SCH-R451C, and it’s not available in most areas.

Straight Talk offers a 30-day money back guarantee on handsets; but no refund on airtime…

Visit the Straight Talk website, or your local Wal-Mart for more information (or to purchase one)… it’s your money, get some value for it.

http://www.straighttalk.com/

Originally posted 2010-04-10 02:00:30.

Affordable RAID5 NAS

What a difference a year makes in the storage market… 1TB drives cost under $150 each and Network Attached Storage devices are almost consumer grade.

For about $300 you can purchase a Promise Technology SmartStore NS4300N; put up to four SATA-II hard drives in it and have yourself a fault tolerate storage device that your Windows, Mac, and *nix computers can access via their native file sharing protocols, and manage it via your browser.

The device is derived from an Intel reference design, obviously using Intel technology.  It’s got relatively good performance, very easy to use, and provides anyone with any computer ability a simple fault tolerate storage device of up to 1.5TB (assuming you buy four 1TB drives, and configure it for RAID5).

The technology of this device is very similar to the 16-channel SATA-II RAID5/6 controllers I use in my servers, and the device is somewhat like the Infrant ReadyNAS 600s that I was quite fond of (Infrant was acquired by NetGear, and since then they have been slow to innovate, and maintained what I would say is an outdated pricing model).

There’s a host of reasons beyond just having a fault tolerant storage device that makes something like this a potential buy.  You don’t need to keep computer’s your using on to access data (that can be important if you have multiple computers), you don’t need to worry about backing up your data if you need to re-install your operating system, you don’t need to worry about how to share data between Windows and Mac.

The only downside I’ve found to the Promise verses the Infrant devices is that Promise botched the implementation of spin-down; so the devices keep the drives spinning all the time.  Yeah, it would say a little power to spin down the drives when they weren’t being access (at the cost of taking longer to access data once they’ve spun down), but with today’s drives we’re not talking about that much power — and you have options when purchasing drives of ones that have “green” / high-efficiency ratings.

For both small business, and personal use for those who depend on storage I highly recommend you consider a device like this.

 Promise SmartStore NS4300N

Originally posted 2008-05-15 22:11:53.

Panasonic DMC-FX33S

Well, my new point-and-shoot camera arrived early this morning… and I charged the battery (a little over two hours for a complete charge, they ship it totally dead).

I’ve taken a couple indoor pictures (that’s generally the worst conditions for color/focus/etc)… INCREDIBLE. The pictures outside are also exceptional considering we’ve got a marine layer with quite a bit of haze in the air…

For less than $150 delivered this is really a nice camera…

My initial things I like / dislike about it:

Likes:

  • Price
  • Rechargeable battery pack (reasonably priced replacements as well)
  • Resolution – 8.1MP, overkill for a point and shoot
  • Color – vivid to lifelike
  • Size – though it may be a little too small
  • On/Off Switch – it’s a slide, not a button (great design)

Dislikes:

  • Absence of view finder (you have to use the LCD, I’m used to holding a camera to my eye; and most cameras in the class don’t have a view finder)
  • Doesn’t ship with an SD card, but you can use the internal memory (actually, maybe this is a plus — they’d ship it with a tiny SD card like other camera manufacturers and what would be the point)

For the number of “features” that the camera has, they’ve done a good job simplifying the interface… the instruction manual really doesn’t do the camera justice.

If you know anyone in the market for a point-and-shoot camera, I’d say this is one of the best deals around (for one with rechargeable batteries).

If you’re untested, I got this from Vann’s — it’s obviously a close out (half price), they only have Silver in stock (no black or what ever the other color is this was offered in).

 

Panasonic DMC-FX33S

Panasonic DMC-FX33S Features

Compact. Professional. Yours.

The DMCFX33S is a remarkably slim and super-stylish camera. The body features a distinctive finish, with a different texture to match each body color. Its cool design and light weight make it easy to take with you everywhere you go, just like a fashion accessory, for even more photographic fun. The 8.1 megapixel DMCFX33S houses a 28mm wide-angle f/2.8 Leica DC lens in its slim body. Capture large groups of people or expansive architectural structures with the 28mm wide-angle lens. This LEICA DC VARIO-ELMARIT lens inherits both its name and outstanding quality from the LEICA ELMARIT lens, renowned in the film camera world for its superb performance and compact size.

3.6x Optical Zoom with 8.1 Megapixel Resolution

The 8.1 megapixel DMCFX33S is equipped with a 3.6x optical zoom (equivalent to a 28mm-100mm zoom on a 35mm camera) lens that captures beautiful shots of people or landscapes. Use the Extra Optical Zoom when you want to pull the subject in just a little closer. It extends the 3x optical zoom ratio to 5.3x (35mm equivalent: 148mm) at resolutions of 3 megapixels or less, by using the central part of the CCD. Adding the Extra Optical Zoom to the 4x digital zoom extends the total zooming power to a maximum of 21.4x (35mm equivalent: 599mm). With this powerful zooming function, you can easily capture and magnify distant subjects.

Lumix Has The Body And The Brains

Got a wiggly subject, maybe a puppy or a friend playing racquetball? Well, Lumix’ll help. Turn the dial to iA (Intelligent Auto Technology) and watch the DMCFX33S work its magic. It not only helps eliminate blur from hand-shake or subject movement, but it will detect up to 15 faces and automatically select the focus, exposure, and scene modes for pristine results. Panasonic invented the MEGA O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer) system to minimize hand-shake, the major cause of blurry images. Together, these outstanding technologies form Intelligent Image Stabilizer. Anybody can take crisp, clear photos in just about any situation.

Great Shooting Options

With the DMCFX33S you can snap off consecutive shooting at 3 frames or 2 frames per second with full resolution. In addition, the Unlimited Consecutive Shooting function lets you continue shooting until your memory card is full for a moving subject or a person’s changing facial expression. Then save only the best ones. With a digital camera, you can just delete any shots you don’t want (the focus and exposure are fixed at the first frame). You can also easily select between different aspect ratios, including 16:9 wide, 3:2 and conventional 4:3 to shoot in the framing aspect that best suits the photo’s composition or purpose of use. You can shoot images in the wide 16:9 format and save them onto an SD/SDHC memory card. Then insert the card into a TV equipped with and SD/SDHC card slot to view them in perfect, wide-screen size. Some TVs will display the images in stunning high definition. The DMCFXC33S lets you shoot smooth motion images at 30 frames/second, complete with sound, in 16:9 WVGA (848 x 480 pixels) or VGA (640 x 480 pixels) size. You can also shoot at 10 frames/second to reduce the file size.

One Good View? Try Twenty

Versatile Scene Modes are a great LUMIX feature. And the Scene Mode list display makes them even easier to select. In addition to the new Sunset and Pet modes, you can choose from a total of 20 situations, including Underwater (use together with optional marine case) and Aerial Photo, for settings that match your subject. Choose Intelligent Auto Mode, and the Intelligent Scene Selector goes to work. The DMCFX33S senses the ambient conditions and automatically selects either the Scenery, Portrait, Macro, Night Portrait, or Night Scenery mode accordingly.

Start Your Engine

The Venus Engine III in the DMCFX33S allows high-sensitivity recording up to ISO 1250 at full resolution. The noise reduction system is also greatly improved while maintaining high resolution. It removes noise at the processing stages in series. First, critical noise is roughly undraped and the chromatic noise and the luminance noise are separated so they can each go through a supplemental noise reduction process that appropriately minimizes the remaining noise. Panasonic slashed the release time lag to 0.005 second minimum by increasing both the circuit speed itself and the point at which the shutter release signal is detected. They also shortened the shutter interval to around 0.5 second (minimum). These improvements help make the DMCFX33S an extremely quick, responsive camera that’s a pleasure to use. Despite the significantly increased performance of the camera, the Venus Engine III consumes only 80 percent of the power utilized by the Venus Engine II and is able to achieve a longer battery life of approximately 280 pictures on a single charge.

The Illuminating LCD Feature

Lumix. The word could be a cousin of Luminary, or any body that gives light. Gaze into the brilliant 2.5-inch LCD screen and enjoy the crisp, clear imges. The bright screen makes viewing easy, illuminating your experience.

In The Box

Battery Charger and Pack, Battery Carrying Case, AV & USB Cables, Camera Strap, CD-ROM. Included Software: SILKYPIX® Developer Studio (2.1SE and 2.0SE), ArcSoft® Panorama Maker&trade, MediaImpression&trade, Photompression&trade, and PhotoBase&trade, USB Driver, Lumix® Simple Viewer, Photo Fun Studio

Originally posted 2008-07-17 12:38:43.

My Droid 1 Does Gingerbread

I decided that the state of the Android 2.3.2 (Gingerbread) development for the Droid 1 had reached a point that I was happy enough with the stability to put it on the Droid 1 I use day-to-day; so I flashed in Peter Alfonso’s GPA12 build last night along with this overclocked kernel modification.

Without the overclocked kernel modification Gingerbread seems just a little sluggish on the Droid 1… usable, but far from snappy.  With the overclocked kernel modification it’s fine.

There are a lot of small feature improvements in Gingerbread; and I believe still the only official release of it is for the Nexus S (the Samsung Galaxy S class phone that’s Google branded and unlocked — I have one of those as well, but it’s a GSM phone, so I use it to travel abroad since my US carrier is Verizon Wireless — CDMA).

Keep in mind to use any custom ROM on your Android phone you do have to root the device… that’s generally pretty easy on most devices (particularly on the Droid 1).  There’s little to worry about, and you’re not likely to brick your phone as long as you follow the instructions (you might want to read over them a few times before trying, and if you’re not clear on something find another set of instructions).

Let me end by saying the Droid 1 is an incredible device — it’s well built, and a great value… while it may not have all the whizzy new features you find on the front line phones, until we get to second generation Android LTE handsets, I think I’ll be happy.

http://www.peteralfonso.com/

Originally posted 2011-02-22 02:00:45.

Foxit PDF Editor

I’ve used PaperPort since it was a Xerox product; and I’ve depended on a fairly old version of it for manipulating PDF files for a very long time.  I’d looked at Foxit’s PDF Editor when it first came out, mainly because I’ve used their free PDF Reader.

Like most people I started with Adobe’s free reader, and I used their Acrobat suite for awhile (until I got tired of paying for upgrades).  Then I tried out PrimoPDF (a reader and a printer for free, the professional version worked OK, and it’s probably time to take a look at it again)… but I moved on to Foxit’s reader for both my Windows desktop and my Windows Mobile phone. I’ve used BullZip for printing to PDF for a long time.

But I digress…

So I decided to take a look at Foxit PDF Editor 2.2 — and my “need” is fairly simple:

  • Stack PDF documents together
  • Remove pages from a PDF document stack
  • Reorder pages in a PDF document stack
  • Fill in forms (including just adding text objects to a PDF)
  • Save the new PDF

Certainly nothing major; and mostly I can do it with OpenOffice or on my Mac without worrying about spending money on a piece of software I’ll only use occasionally.

FoxIt PDF Editor seemed to work fairly great — it was a little clunky adding text to a PDF (I was filling in a rebate form), and it wouldn’t let me to a multiple line text object (one line at a time — which is a little tedious for putting a note on the page).  I really thought I was going to like the program until I scanned in a receipt (and I scanned it as a whole page PDF rather than letting the scan software crop it) and tried to crop the region of the receipt.  FoxIt PDF Editor certainly will crop an image in a PDF; but it’s modal (I hate modality in software that’s targeted for productivity, that always means that the software vendor is dictating a flow to my work — and that might not be the way I want to do it).  I guess I could have lived with the fact that it put me into an edit mode to do the crop, but the region I needed to crop was larger than my screen, and FoxIt PDF Editor wouldn’t allow me to zoom out in edit mode nor would it allow me to auto-pan while I was using the crop tool to select… so while it would crop, it wouldn’t crop what I needed to.

Then I did the exact same thing in my ancient copy of PaperPort.  No problem, it worked like a champ and the resulting PDF file was 31KB from PaperPort verses the 536KB from FoxIt PDF Editor!

I was over it — FoxIt PDF Editor wasn’t worth $9.99 to me, much less $99.99…

If you sell software that has a “professional” price tag, you really need to provide professional quality software, not some POS that doesn’t work as well as shareware a hacker wrote in his basement and gives away for free!

Here’s a run down of alternatives for manipulating PDF files on Windows.  PaperPort is my current favorite; but you really need the Professional version to do everything you’d likely want with a PDF — and I certainly don’t feel it’s work the price.

I’ll take a look at Nitro and see what it has to offer; but for the time being I’ll just stick with my old PaperPort I run in a virtual machine along with OpenOffice to do what I need.

PaperPort 12 $99.99
PaperPort Professional 12 $199.99
Nitro PDF Professional 6 $99.99
FoxIt PDF Editor 2.2 $99.99
FoxIt Phantom PDF Suite 2.0 $129.99
FoxIt Reader 4.0 FREE
FoxIt Reader for Windows Mobile FREE
PrimoPDF 5.0.0.19 FREE
OpenOffice FREE
BullZip PDF FREE

NOTE: With “FREE” products pay close attention when performing an install, many will default to installing third party software (browser toolbars, etc) or resetting your browser’s home page.  Just make sure you select the options you prefer, and none of the require the addition of any third party software to function.

Originally posted 2010-07-21 02:00:04.

Setting up Netbeans for Android App Development

As an alternate to using Eclipse for Android App development, you can use Netbeans or the Google Android Studio (currently an early BETA and not extremely robust).

 

Tested configuration:

 

The following steps are only to setup Netbeans for Android development; you will need to take additional steps to setup devices in the Android SDK before you can actually deploy and test a APK, but you can create a template app after completing these steps and build it.

 

You may use this reference for additional information and screen shots of the panels (it is not necessary to purchase the extension; the “free” license will work fine for what is required):

http://nbandroid.org/wiki/index.php/Installation

 

 

1) Launch the Android SDK Manager

    update components as needed.

    close SDK Manager

 

2) Launch Netbeans

    Goto

        Tools->Plug Ins

     Goto

        Settings

     Goto

        Add

                 Name: NBAndroid

          URL: http://nbandroid.org/release72/updates/updates.xml

     Goto

        Available Plugins

            Search: NBAndroid

            Select “NBAndroid Gradle Support”, “Android” “NBAndroid Extension”

            Click “Install”

            Accept licenses and follow through panels.

         Goto

        Tools->Options->Misc->Android

            Set SDK Location: c:\android\sdk

     Exit Net Beans (or create an Android app and build it)

50th Anniversary of “The War on Poverty”

Today is the 50th anniversary for LBJ’s “War on Poverty”.

While income inequity is still a huge problem in this country, few would argue that the safety net programs put in place over the years have not helped to address poverty in America.

Can we do better?  I’d say the answer is yes!  Will we do better?  I’d say the likelihood of that happening near term is unlikely.

War on Poverty