Team Murder No Brain No Headache.


A Week and a Half Into the Nexus 5

Somehow I managed to skip the Nexus 4 entirely (contracts, fuck them) so I’ve been waiting around for my current contract with Sprint to expire so I could latch my proverbial wagon to a phone that wasn’t languishing at its end of life. When the pre-launch rumors were circulating about which carriers would actually support this model, the big panic among the pre-availability speculators was whether there would be native support for LTE networks. Well, despite the teeth gnashing on every Android rumors/“news” site, it does and doesn’t seem to suffer a significant impact on battery life as the forum trolls insisted that it would. After logging into the Sprint website for the first time in forever (the last time was to chuckle about my absurd mobile data usage due to Netflix and MLB At Bat), I discovered that my upgrade eligibility date magically migrated an entire month sooner — you know, like, that day. I ordered the phone (16 GB only from Sprint at least for now) and bailed from work to go pick it up at a Sprint store a couple miles from the office. 

I’m not a box opening video kind of guy, so I didn’t bother with that or even taking any pictures. The box is pretty fruity looking with the same color scheme as the promo crap The dude who helped me at the Sprint store (who was as condescending and incompetent as you would expect) was trying to give me a hard time about it and I told him I would likely recycle all of the packaging 20 minutes after I left. I asked him if he saved boxes for his phones and got no answer. I assume that he lives a in an underground bunker filled with phone boxes. Transferring my contacts took like 25 minutes which amazed me because I have less than 20 contacts. Not sure what the time sink was there because the fella took off with both my old phone and the new one to copy them over. I like to think that he ended up hand copying them which may well have been the case as the images associated with contacts didn’t appear until I synched the phone with a Gmail account. Whatever, dudes. The only thing found in the actual box was the space where the phone used to live, a bunch of crappy paper I wished was never included, and a charger. 

The Nexus 5 doesn’t necessarily feel much heavier than my old Galaxy Nexus, but it feels much more dense and is way thinner and more slippery. I’m wondering when a phone people actually want will add less glassy smooth materials to the outside edges of smart phones. I didn’t have a case for the first 2 days and it felt like that phone was ready to slide out of my hand like a wet bar of soap any time I used it as a phone. I dislike the fact that phones are intended for immediate encasement because the Nexus 5 looks pretty fucking cool outside of a case. The new toggle buttons on the sides for power and volume feel a lot more substantial than the ones on my Galaxy Nexus and so far that additional beefiness also keeps my phone from toggling my volume all the way up or down so I’m either missing calls or blasting the unfortunate and innocent souls trapped in meetings with me with Bobby Hill at far too many decibels. Despite the reported issues with the cameras included in this guy I’ve found the rear camera pretty damn impressive when compared to the elder hardware/software of the Galaxy Nexus. I haven’t played much with the front camera because I’m not 17 and the panorama software seems to work about as well as other external panorama-making software I’ve seen. The rotating view of the panoramic end product is pretty cool, though, if a bit vertigo inducing. The first time I ever used that particular function I was bit hung over so include that in the grains of salt you would normally use for anything that I’ve written under the patently false aegis of ‘factual.'

Kit Kat is a substantial upgrade in terms of polishing and refining earlier versions of the OS. I suppose I felt about the same way when Jelly Bean was released, but with an uncluttered phone with week old specs Kit Kat hauls ass comparatively. Again, it’s hard for me to discreetly separate hardware from software in this upgrade, but most of the applications (excepting the Facebook app which is still a balky, battery hogging, and crashy piece of shit) were magnitudes more responsive and seemed less intent on using as much battery power as possible. Battery life, so far, has been stellar after the first overnight charge cycle. The first charge worried me half to death as software was reporting my percentage charged dropping by the second. This might have been initialization happening in the background or the early stages of calibration or something, but it cleared up after that first empty-to-full charge. This version of the Nexus doesn’t have a removal battery (which I kind of like since I won’t meet the challenge of every OS glitch by popping my phone out of the case and immediately lobotomizing it instead of being a patient grown up [note: the being a grown up part doesn’t actually happen] about it) which means you can’t swap it out for a get-really-hot-and-catch-on-fire variety of after market extended life batteries. I tried this with my Galaxy Nexus because its battery life was slim after using an iPhone 4 for a few months, but the perpetual ‘phone is so hot right now that it is uncomfortable to hold in a bare hand’ feeling freaked me out and got that battery recycled pretty quickly. The apparent difference between me and people who review technology shit for a check is that I’m pretty okay with the idea of device’s battery using more of its stored charge when it is in active use. I likely should read more science fiction or something because I have semi-reasonable expectations of a battery powered device that uses various types of wireless to connect to the ‘Webs. When you’re using your phone all day you should not expect crazy battery life unless it’s one of those Motorola phones that was developed to have extended battery life with a kind of crappy screen and is awkwardly heavy — I have a friend who is complete freak about not wanting to ever charge his phone and bought one and the first time I tried his phone I nearly dropped it because its weight was so weirdly awkward. I bought a wireless charger that I can dump my phone on top of while I’m sitting in front of my computer at work and just kind of ignore until I need it again. Given that newish ability to wireless charge and my own willingness to drop $35 on a charger that works that way I have no concerns about battery life. 

To summarize or TL;DR: This phone + new OS is ridiculously fast and inexpensive. Other folks have taken issue with battery life and the quality of photos taken with the camera, but neither of these alleged shortcomings effected my use too much. My battery life got better with each recharge and the camera is a phone camera and I never assume that my phone camera is going to perform like a SLR or something. It’s a perfect device for me and really highlights the refinements of Kit Kat over previous versions of Android. I’m hoping this will keep me happy for most of the next two years of contract. 

Filed under: General, Reviews No Comments

Not Exactly A Review…

The developer of NewzJournal was nice enough to ask me to take a look at his Windows feed reader in the comments attached to a post from years ago. The requirements specifically state Windows Vista as a requirement for installation (I think due to .Net requirements) but given the fact that I think Vista is completely unneccessary for anything I went ahead and installed it on my work XP machine. The environment is pretty bare since I think of the Windows box as a pretty wrapper around gpedit, services.msc, regedit, and mstsc and don't actually use it for much other than a couple of work applications that I scarcely touch unless they're broken. Now that I've painted myself into a corner with disclaimers, here's what I thought.

NewzJournal is really, really basic for a feed reader. You won't find a lot of extra stuff other than subscribe, delete, and a couple of preferences you can monkey with. Interface wise, the reading panel really needs to be turned on by default. If I need to double click something to see it in a feed reader I've spent nearly as much effort as I would opening a new tab in a browser. When you do enable the third pane then NJ starts to look more like an application. Adding subscriptions is also pretty straightforward: you plug in a URL, it does its discovery song and dance, and you save it under x name. That works very well. There is also an import/export function for OPML. I had nothing to import since I tend to do that manually when setting up a new reader but I did export a copy of the OPML for the five or so feeds I'd subscribed to and successfully imported them into Liferea with no isssues. Another strangely missing feature is the ubiquitous 'update all' button that most readers usually place within easy reach. The only way that I was able to find to update subscribed feeds was via a right click context menu -- there isn't a menu entry to handle either individual feeds or the entire list of feeds. I'm not sure if that is a showstopper for many people but it would make me hesitate before pulling in a huge list of feeds. Again, at that point, I'm probably better off using a browser than a reader. I also noticed that the application seemed pretty unresponsive at times as was the case when trying to add a subscription from the button on the upper left side of the main window. After three attempts I just moved over to the drop down menus and did it that way. This might also be related somehow to the mysterious Vista requirement and versions of the .Net libraries but I didn't get that far.

The good:

It's free

It does feed discovery pretty well and without too much craziness. It only failed to find a feed for the Gentoo website out of the ten or twelve that I tried to pull in.

It's a pretty reasonable and simple feed reader once you configure some sane settings through the application preferences.

It handles the import and export of OPML well. I'm not a Windows developer so I dunno if this has more to do with existing libraries than stupid coding tricks so bear that in mind.

The not so good:

Not only Windows-only but Vista only. Regardless of whether or not it will actually run is immaterial.

Intermittantly unresponsive UI that doesn't give feedback when parts of it aren't working.

Frustrating update controls. Updating all of your feeds in a oneshot isn't an option.

Here's a screenshot. It's pretty basic:


When Your Time Is Worth More Than Some Geek Points

I used to run Gentoo exclusively on all of my x86 machines but after this job started and other things started distracting me from actually having any fun using computers I slowly started migrating them all back to Debian. I think this is a natural progression for those who just don't have any time to mess around with their computers. The Gentoo install (or lack thereof) is something that is worthwhile a couple of times as you do learn a bit while doing it especially about how system libraries interact with applications that depend on them and other arcana that people are probably not all that interested in. Still, allowing wireless access to the laser printer and other types of administrivia are very much the practical dominion of a distribution like Debian. I trust Debian to just do what I tell it to and sometimes I forget that my desktop machine upstairs even exists. This is good and utilitarian but doesn't make me want to do anything cool with my computer. I need a CUPS server that keeps reliably working but I don't want to hang out with that server.

Sabayon is my fun distribution now because not only is it based on Gentoo but takes a matter of a couple hours to get functional. This includes installing a double handful of packages from portage and beginning to update world and rip out a few things I will never need like man pages in French. Most of the bulk is due to the fact that the CD will do pretty much anything you could think of out of the fucking box. I was a little astonished at how much this CD is capable of with a bare minimum of user input. I fired up the private internet browsing live option and was pretty excited that it started asking me questions about my wireless AP and then just did its thing. There are also some game demo options in the boot list but I'm less interested in those. My limited experience with the live options left me blown away. The hardware detection reminds me of how astonished by Knoppix initially. That my wireless chipset was not only detected but working (other than typing in a WEP key) from the get go. Usually this requires a lot of wangling with ndiswrapper or defaulting to an install of Linuxant before I'm doing anything but wishing that the wireless worked. I'm actually a little curious how that ended up working since I've never seen a distribution handle the wireless without at least stuffing a CD full of Windows drivers into its demand hole.

All of that said, if my initial impression were based on the installer instead of the live CD experience I probably would not have continued with Sabayon. The installer (based on Anaconda) crashed at a couple different crucial points, made me want to howl with frustration, and then just worked. I delete all existing partitions before the last install attempt so that may well be what cleared things up. I'm unsure of this though because I wasn't paying close enough attention the third time around and was pretty amazed that it just took off without further intervention from me. I guess the dev team is working on a package selection interface for future versions which would be nice as there is a lot of software installed in the current method.

The upside of this is that you're going to have pretty much any given piece of software that you might need and the downside to this only comes when you synch portage for the first time and find out that you've got a fearsome number of packages to emerge as well as overlays and whatnot to work around. If you're already familiar with Gentoo and how portage works then this is a pretty easy task to work albeit one that consumes some time. If you're new to the whole concept then get used to watching output stream down a terminal for what will seem like forever. I'm not sure how Kuroo will work under Sabayon when first fired up because I went directly for a terminal and started removing applications I didn't need.

I'm not sure how Sabayon would work out for a user unacquainted with Gentoo entirely. It was, if absolutely nothing else, a huge shortcut towards establishing a functioning Gentoo install without attending to the million and a half little quirks that come along with a fresh install even from Stage Three. It reminds me of how I felt the first time I used Libranet as the quick installer for Debian only without the brokeness inherent in having too many repositories and spending far too much time sorting out apt by messing around with cached packages and arguments to dpkg. They've definitely got something good going here and I'm really curious to see how it evolves over time. The live CD is pretty flawless and the installer can only get better.

Filed under: General, Reviews 1 Comment

Review: Ogio Metro

A month or two ago I bought an Ogio Metro backpack as a replacement for my other messenger-style bag that was all metrosexual and everything but didn't really work well as anything other than a cross body strap to carry my laptop. The problem that I have with most bags intended to transport laptops is that I carry a whole bunch of stuff.

I think the primary mistake that most bag companies make when doing design for laptop bags is that they never consider anything more than the object it is designed to carry. That means that most companies consider the laptop compartment and enough room to carry a magazine sufficient for most people. Unlike the dream consumer that most designers apparently hold in mind when laying out dimensions and shapes of pockets and flaps I occasionally do things like bring along a sweatshirt that I don't intend to wear all day, bring a book larger than a mass market paperback or (gasp!) several of them, and other assorted things that are much larger and more difficult to arrange than one of those stupid ass document folders that are always displayed in the display photographs for bags.

The really great thing about this bag is that it doesn't spend a whole lot of time looking cool or whatever. It functions as a medium-large capacity backpack that also happens to have a laptop pocket. You can fit most things in this bag in addition to your machine and not worry about it a whole lot. The other obvious advantage is that the bag is actually comfortable for more than ten minutes at a stretch. I understand the appeal of messenger bags in terms of accessibility. With a messenger bag you can flip the sucker around your body and get to the main pocket without channeling a contortionist. I usually keep the things I need to get to frequently (phone being the big one) in my pants pockets so this isn't typically an issue for me.

The one problem that I have with most bags is that they have few or only very tiny pockets. The Metro does not suffer from that problem. There are tons of a variously sized pockets on this bad boy and in a high enough number that I don't resent the ones I don't need or simply don't understand. A couple of the outer pockets are also waterproof which is a very nice feature and the other nice feature on top of this is that there are only two of the water resistant type. They're a bitch to open and close with the weird rubbery zipper protection that I assume works to keep water out of the zipper closure. One of them also has the weird cord port on top of it (this fits into the 'don't use' category for me) and seems like a good idea as most audio devices are not well known for their properties of surviving immersion and even the port is well designed to keep water out. There is also a pocket intended for a mouse and power supply which is a good idea. I've seen suspended versions of this but they're usually pretty small and don't actually hold both simultaneously. This one is actually large and not bulky at all so it generally stays out of the way.

The laptop pocket is one of the best parts about this bag. It is sandwiched between thin layers of padding between the largest of the inner compartments and the back of the bag. This is a smaller pocket than most laptop bags feature now which works great for me because it snugly fits my MacBook Pro. It isn't the incredibly tight squeeze that many have complained about because there is actually a small flap at the very bottom of the zipper that lets you crank it down another half of an inch or so. There isn't an insane amount of padding in the laptop pocket but it seems to be sufficient for my needs. I like the smaller pocket because I don't have one of the giganto screens that most manufacturers seem obligated to slap on their machines over the past few years and my laptop doesn't slide around as much as it did when I carried it in the messenger bag. If you're carrying a plasma television with an attached keyboard you're probably in the market for a larger bag.

The other nice part is that the bag is less than $70 and will hold more than your laptop and a banana. It's solidly built although not particularly attractive and doesn't look like a laptop bag which is a bonus if you're schlepping your computer around at night or you live in my neighborhood. While those weird attache looking cases all too often emblazoned with a computer company logo (the bright blue Dell ones are my favorite and when pared with a set of the bright white iPod ear-pods essentially mark you as likely target for mugging) might impress people at a meeting or something I don't personally endorse carrying anything that screams 'I am carrying a laptop' around. That's just me though. This bag is also pretty sturdy though I'm not a huge fan of the quilted thing that one of the outside surfaces has on its outside. It also has a pretty substantial handle on top that supports the full weight of the bag without feeling like it's going to break or tear.

This bag is pretty much perfect for me and looks like it will last a long time. I'm not particularly abusive but I do carry this bag with me every day on multiple bus rides and sometimes stuff it full of clothing or whatever if it looks like rain. It has most of the features that laptop bags use as marketing fodder but doesn't announce that it is intended to carry a laptop. Even the positioning of the pocket at the rear of the bag works towards making it a less obvious tech vessel. Also, if you're a fucking idiot, it comes in camouflage. What more could you really ask for?

Filed under: General, Reviews 11 Comments

Love And Hate And Money I’ve Spent

Okay. So I added a 'Reviews' category to Team Murder after thinking about some things I've recently wanted to write about and realizing that what I'm out to do is basically review things. I mention a lot of applications during the course of wandering around so I will probably create a couple of different sub-categories to encapsulate them. If you want your stupid product reviewed and your mother insulted feel free to get in touch with me. I'd love to spend less money and I tend to be on the wordy side of things so keep that in mind. Same goes for demo versions of anything that has reduced functionality until I've helped you make your student loan payment. The first will be reviews of a backpack and some screen cleaning supplies I recently bought. I like both of them a lot so it seems worth it to pass on the good points and the shortcomings. Stupid idea? Probably but I'm going to do it anyway.

Filed under: General, Reviews No Comments