Saturday, November 05, 2016

Goose-y Ways

This post is not about the migration of geese.  Rather, it's about the migration of humans who use Google Maps, Siri (Apple Maps), and Waze.

Google Maps, my preferred app, recently went squirrelly on me, suggesting routes that didn't make sense.  It recovered the next day, but the episode was enough to make me reconsider Waze and Apple Maps.

Waze filled in admirably, but it was not without its quirks.  I liked that I could send my route and ETA to someone I intended to pick up. Waze would also automatically text the person when I was about five minutes away.

The very social nature of Waze, however, makes the screen busy.  While Google Maps can be summed up as no nonsense cartography, Waze has a whimsical side.  I don't use Waze's options to report accidents, police presence, or red light cameras.  Once you begin reporting hazards on the road, you become that hazard on the road.  When my son is in the passenger seat though, he freely taps away.  He finds it all mildly diverting.

Both Google Maps and Waze use crowdsourcing for traffic data, and I am happy to contribute my data point.  But therein lies a weakness.  Neither app can parse traffic down to the individual lanes, and thus, both will grossly underestimate the time it takes to merge into a busy interchange.  Waze will more readily reroute you than Google Maps, and both will misjudge the time it takes to reconnect from the detour.  For my commute between Yonkers and Manhattan, detours during rush hour aren't worth it unless they save more than eight minutes.  Both apps should offer a configurable time threshold before suggesting a reroute.

Apple Maps relies a little less on crowdsourcing for traffic and more on government radio reports (with its partner TomTom). The result is less aggressive rerouting.  In normal traffic, this means Google Maps and Waze will get you to your destination before Apple Maps.  But in heavy traffic, Apple Maps tends to find the better route.

When I make my own detour, say, to avoid a sanitation truck blocking a single lane side street, Apple Maps cannot recover.  It just waits for me to find my own way back to the predetermined route.  Here, the crowdsourcing works in favor of Google Maps and Waze, and they correct course almost immediately.

Of the three apps, I use Apple Maps the least even though I use an iPhone. I love the ability to say "Hey Siri, drive home,"  but the mapping isn't as complete, and navigation isn't as versatile, compared to the competition.

Waze is my second choice, and a first pick when I coordinate with other drivers or passengers.

So it looks like I am back to using Google Maps.  I was an early adopter and have watched the app improve over time.  For a while, I felt smugly smarter than Google Maps, when in a rainstorm, it routed me to roads that tended to flood.  Local drivers always knew to avoid roads and highways with the name "river" or "brook" in it.  Nowadays, it doesn't make that mistake.

Recently, Google Maps started to pronounce the destination Yonkers with a Spanish "Y", as in "Jonkers."  It has since corrected itself, but Waze and Apple Maps had no such lapse.

As for the brief squirrelly event, it has not happened again.  Perhaps Google Maps was overworked and overwhelmed by traffic.  I suppose even an AI can have a bad day.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Evolution Of A Roach

Growing up in New York City gave me plenty of opportunities to observe roaches.  I remember the first ones I saw run away from me in a straight line.  Despite their speed, they were easy to chase down and step on.

A later generation of roaches learned to zig-zag as they tried to escape.  Those were much harder to catch.

Then there were the roaches I spotted on the wall.  They were fairly easy pickings, but a later generation startled me.  As I closed in for the kill, they let themselves fall to the floor and then scurried away.  Their ability to learn and evolve was little bit frightening.

I was a child then, and now, as an adult living in the suburbs, haven’t seen a roach in quite a while… until recently at Grand Central Station.  That day, like all the days before, morning commuters slowly, quietly, somberly, shuffled off the train toward their places of work.  But the woman in front of me suddenly broke stride and jumped and twitched.  Then zigged.  Then zagged.

Then I saw why.  Great Kafka!  In front of her was the largest roach I had ever seen.  No, it wasn’t carrying a briefcase, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t work on Wall Street.  Frightening indeed.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Ohio LinuxFest 2015

This is a shout out to Ohio LinuxFest 2015.  On October 2-3, they will have their thirteenth annual gathering to talk all things Linux.  It takes place in Columbus Ohio at the downtown convention center.

The first time I attended was back in 2008.  It was free, so I made the 10 hour drive from NY to Ohio. It was worthwhile and I attended again in 2011, but as a “supporter” contributing $25 to the cause.  I learned much.

Last year, 2014, I had the nerve to attend as a speaker and gave a talk: “Stupid Shell Tricks”
I had the after lunch sleepy crowd, and the organizers gave me the “big” room to fill.  At first, not many showed up and that made me nervous.
But as the start time neared, more people showed up, and well… that made me nervous too  (sorry for the blurry photo, but my hands were shaking).
My presentation and demos were driven off a raspberry pi with a Lego enclosure:
And once I started, I grew confident.  My secret weapon was my raspberry pi had something no other raspberry pi had: a sysadmin.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

XO: SO-SO future

When I first learned of the One Laptop Per Child program 2 or 3 years ago, I was very, very skeptical. A $100 laptop for kids in developing nations? Meh. Don't children in developing nations have more important needs?

But on second thought, there already were many organizations addressing those needs. Perhaps it is a good thing one group tries a different tack.  So in November 2007, I signed up for the OLPC Give-One Get-One program.  That I could explore a new piece of hardware running Linux appealed to the geek in me.  That my then 7 year old son would benefit from the XO appealed to the father in me.  And that an XO  would be donated to a child in a developing nation appealed to the "do a good deed" in me.

But after winning me over, the future of the XO laptop seems cloudy. With several departures of key OLPC employees and the replacement of Linux with Windows XP, it appears that OLPC has lost its way.  It's not that the  children care whether their laptop runs Linux or XP; unlike grownups, their minds are remarkably flexible.  No, my concern is that XP, with its attendant viruses, patch Tuesdays, and increased hardware requirements over Linux, would prove to be a frustrating experience. 

The XO hardware was thoughtfully built for children in developing nations  -- durable screen, water resistant keyboard, mesh networking, low power consumption.  That same emphasis on children must be kept in mind regarding the software.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Eyeing the iPhone

I've always wanted a phone without a keyboard, and HandSpring actually delivered one back in 2001:

Image from

But it didn't sell as well as the version with the keyboard, and as a result, HandSpring never evolved its design for a keyboard-less phone. Instead, that path was taken by Apple and has led to the much coveted iPhone.
I confess that I am among those who covet the device, but I have hesitated in buying one. It's not the price, as I feel the hardware and technology is worth it. It's the 2 year commitment to AT&T that gives me pause. Coverage for the areas I frequent is spotty and I would certainly lose coolness points as I run to just the right spot in the office and start speaking loudly to overcome a bad connection.

Sadly for me, the iPhone on the AT&T network would be too much like driving a Lamborghini on a pot-hole ridden road.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Best compliment a software developer can hear...

"It's kinda' boring. We were hoping to see a little more action..."
-- an operations manager at a major stock exchange
A group of us recently completed a major rewrite of system that I like to describe as "greasing the wheels of capitalism". I can't go into details, but the point is that the system has been running uneventfully since its release. That's music to this software developer's ears.

We -- software developers -- should all strive for such a compliment... unless you work at Apple, in which case the last thing you want to be is boring.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Princeton Graphics VL1919

I needed an inexpensive lcd for an aging PC. My next computer might have a built-in display (a notebook or an iMac) so price was a major consideration. For $220 at Costco (in-store purchase only), the Princeton VL1919 got my attention.

Physically, it's a slim attractive monitor. It has both analog and digital ports, and includes cables for both. I have an analog graphics card and the picture quality is quite good for watching dvds, home photo editing, and playing games. The VL1919 is not, however, a display for graphics pros who understand white point and need to adjust their gammas. The viewing angle is too small for a 19" display and the shift in color would be unacceptable to them.

As a software developer, I work mostly with text, and the VL1919's 0.294mm dot pitch made words appear a tad grainy. I could, however, compensate and "soften" the characters using the phase control on the OSD.

The OSD itself was awkward to use. Contrary to the documentation, there is no quick way to adjust the brightness or contrast; rather, I had to cycle through the menus. Also, the power button is in the middle of the 5 button row, and more than once I accidentally pressed it while working the menus. Better (more expensive) displays offset the power button to the right or left.

The display offers stereo sound with built-in speakers. They're better than the typical mono speaker in the PC chassis, and good enough for watching clips on You-Tube. They also save desk space. But music lovers, movie buffs, and gamers who rely on 3-D sound are better off with external speakers.

I may sound critical, but I really like the VL1919. With its thin bezel and affordable price, I bought a second one for a dual display setup.

Update 2/18/2007: 

The graphics card does affect the display quality, so I thought it might be helpful if I specified my hardware:
  • Primary Adapter: AGP Diamond Viper 770D, 32MB
  • Secondary Adapter: PCI Number Nine Revolution3D, 8 MB
  • Operating System: Windows 2000
Update 3/17/2010:

To answer Tommy, Princeton Graphics used to have a test image up on their website which would help you auto sync your VL1919 (rightmost button).  If I find the image, I'll upload it here.  In the meantime, you can calibrate your display with images from this website:   It's amazingly thorough, fun, and educational.  And it might improve your display quality too!