My Galaxy S Two Months On

I always wanted a Mongoose BMX bike. But Mongoose bikes were hard to come by – at least for a rural kid growing up in Southern Ontario. A Mongoose was relatively expensive. I couldn’t justify a Mongoose. Instead I rolled through my young life on CCMs and Supercycles (Sears store brand). Adequate and honest bikes to be sure, but Mongooses (Mongeese?) they were not. And by the time I grew old enough to actually have the money for a Mongoose, my mind had turned elsewhere (By then I was busy buying a Yamaha guitar instead of a Fender). Compromise has been a friend of mine for as long as I can remember. Buying the Nexus One phone was like finally buying my Mongoose bike.

But it was not meant to be. And so I lost my Mongoose and had to compromise once again. The day I lost it is the day I once again donned the chains and shackles, signed up with The Man, and walked out with the shiny black Samsung Galaxy S you see below.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. I’ve had the Samsung for about two months now. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. The phone is both enticing and aggravating. There are times I miss the N1, and yet I’m not sure which phone I’d use if it reappeared on my doorstep tomorrow. I don’t necessarily have a detailed laundry list of items, but there are good and bad things which have stuck out more than others:

Quality and Heft

The N1 felt substantial. That slightly grippy finish around the back and curved shape gave it a bit of that polished river rock feel. The Galaxy S, while very shiny, doesn’t have the same heft. The plastics gleam but looking at them you know it can’t last. And the phone is thin and light. Thin to the point of feeling slightly fragile. Being a featherweight doesn’t do anything to fight off that feeling either. After about two weeks I decided to get a faux carbon fibre snap on case that covers the back and sides. It doesn’t cover any of the screen, and makes it much easier to grip. A nice side benefit of this is the added weight. The phone now feels much more substantial fully clothed.

Display

This is one area in which there is very little argument to be made. The Samsung display is significantly brighter, sharper and easier to read than the Nexus One. Nevermind the fact that it’s slightly larger too. And don’t get me wrong, I loved the N1 screen, but this Amoled thing is significantly better.

Storage

If there’s one thing that always nagged at me with the N1, it had to be the alotted storage for applications. There was never enough. I was constantly weighing options on what app “had to go” whenever I wanted to try something new. The Samsung came with 16GB of onboard storage as well as a slot for a microSD card (I have a little 4 GB card in there right now). I’m now the kid in the candy store when it comes to trying out apps.

Speed and Stability

The Samsung is noticeably faster than the Nexus One. But it’s also been significantly less stable. I probably restarted the Nexus One four or five times due to problems while I had it. I’ve pulled the battery out of the Samsung at least 4 times to cold boot it, force restarted it probably 10 times and it’s even restarted a couple of times on its own. Now I’m not sure if this is all due to using Launcher Pro as my launcher of choice (I used it on my Nexus One as well). But it’ll sure take more than the odd stability problem to force me into using Samsung’s TouchWiz UI. The video playback is great. I’ve seen no jitters or stutters and my daughter quite likes using it for watching videos in the car.

TouchWiz – aka Insta-hate

I probably gave the standard TouchWiz UI about 10 minutes before I downloaded and installed Launcher Pro. Maybe 10 is generous – probably more like 6 or 7. I found it horrible. Compared to Launcher Pro on the N1, this was like getting out of a Lotus Elise and into a Ford Tempo. And of course as I’ve previously speculated, maybe LPro is the cause of some of my stability issues. But I can’t bear to use the stock UI long enough to really tell. I’m willing to suffer on.

Swype

I’m a big Swype fan. I got in on the beta when I had the Nexus One and always preferred it to anything else including the stock keyboard. I did however go searching for alternatives at one point when they hadn’t put the microphone key on the board and Google had launched it’s Voice Actions. But shortly after the little mike appeared and all was good. Moving to the Samsung, I was happy knowing that Swype came pre-installed. However the microphone isn’t there. And I don’t think it will be in the near future. As some comfort, I keep the Google widget – which has the microphone button – close at hand.

Bluetooth

This is a biggie. The N1′s bluetooth was solid. I got in my car, paired it once and enjoyed bliss thereafter. It played all my podcasts over the stereo without issue and handled calls flawlessly. I do a lot of driving (about 60-70,000 km a year). My commute is my solace. Having to wrestle with Bluetooth is something I don’t want to do. Initially, the Samsung paired without issue. But keeping it paired and playing podcasts and music via bluetooth was problematic. One thing that helped was changing my contacts display settings to only show “My Contacts”. For some reason the Samsung’s default setup included my entire Google contact list including anybody who had ever emailed me (including mailing list addresses etc.). This pared it down from roughly 1200 to about 200. I think this sped up the address book transfer and significantly smoothed things out. It’s still not perfect and every once in a while I have to restart the bluetooth on the phone. Not a deal breaker now, but a significant downgrade from the N1 for sure.

Updates

Well, it took me about a week before I gathered the gumption to upgrade the OS from 2.1 (which it came with) to 2.2. I had been spoiled with the N1, and expecting to get any sort of OTA upgrade from Samsung for this phone sounds like a pipe dream. So I wimped out and ran the upgrade on my Windows machine at work. It was not simple. It took several attempts to get the phone recognized by their software. A typical windows proprietary software mess. Not unexpected in hindsight but definitely a disappointment over the nice OTA upgrade to Froyo I had with the Nexus One. And let’s not forget that technically speaking the N1 *should* get further upgrades before many other phones. The Samsung Galaxy? Umm. Nope.

Camera

This Samsung is called the “Fascinate” by Telus. But apparently this is actually the “Captivate” on Verizon – or something like that. In any case, this phone does NOT have a flash. Now I’m not big on LED flashes, but there are times when it was useful for work peering into some relatively low light situation and reappearing with a usable photo. Not having the flash seems like a big tradeoff. I pondered it for about 10 minutes when buying the phone. In the end I figured that if I had taken any keepers with the N1, they were almost always naturally lit shots anyway. The Samsung camera app is more feature filled than the Nexus One app. It also has tap-to-focus which helps. Overall photo quality? I haven’t done any detailed comparisons, but I’d likely say the N1 camera shots are slightly nicer than the Galaxy S shots. There seems to be slightly less artifacting and they seem slightly sharper. But they’re camera phones. I have a Canon 7D if I want higher quality shots.

Miscellany

A small but not unimportant point. I was never a huge fan of the Nexus One trackball. I used it, but never found it to be a glorious experience. But Joni Mitchell was dead right. I miss that little round thing. The froyo upgrade (I think) brought the light blue editing cursor, but it’s fiddly. Sure the ball was fiddly too, but an order of magnitude less fiddly.
The Galaxy S also has a nice TV out feature. I had a cable that came with my Kodak Zi8 camera (1/8th plug to RGB) that I plugged into the headphone jack of the phone and into my TV. With the TV-Out display option checked I get a nice mirrored display right on the TV. We used this to watch movies on the hotel TV on more than one occasion. Definitely a nice little perk.

And There You Have It

No final scores, no rating. Just my thoughts. Would I take the Nexus One back if it magically reappeared? I’m not sure. Had I not got the bluetooth issues largely sorted, I’d say definitely yes. But after two months it’s significantly less annoying. Tallying up the speed and storage increase along with the improved display and I’d be hard pressed to choose the Nexus One.

So I’d actually take the CCM over the Mongoose. The compromise has been worth it I guess (aside from the 3 year lock-in with The Man). But then again, if I was offered a Kuwahara or a GT it might be a completely different story.

Note: My age grants me the luxury and license to quote or mis-quote BMX bike brands from the 80′s.

 

New Theme for a New Year

Well I think I made it over two years with the same self-designed blog theme. But alas, it was starting to feel clunky and somewhat rusty to me. That, and the fact that it displayed the odd quirk (likely due to my amateurish wordpress theming skills).

I’m no spring chicken, and as such I’ve got to pick my battles wisely. So for now at least I’ve hunted down a swiss-ish theme that doesn’t annoy me too much. I figured I’d plunk it up here before year’s end – scraping by here.

I will surely give it a tweak or three (I’m not 100% happy with the fonts at the moment), but for now it will suffice.

I hope everyone out there has a great and safe New Years Eve, and a great year to come.

Bitter Designers and Where We Need To Go

The recent Smashing Magazine post “Designers, ‘Hacks’ and Professionalism: Are We Our Own Worst Enemy?” is an interesting one. I urge you to read it. It brings up several different issues but one that struck a chord with me was the whole feeling about the commoditization of design.

With sites like 99designs.com which leverage design contests and with logos coming to istockphoto.com the apparent cheapening of the graphic design profession is unrelenting. On one hand I understand the ‘world going to hell in a handbasket’ sort of view, but the pragmatist in me tries to step back and see how this is not unique and not at all unexpected.

There is the sentiment that any fool with some graphics software and half a brain can hang his shingle out as a “designer”. Whether they will be successful or not is another matter entirely. There is also the view that design work becomes undervalued and commoditized when clients see that they can get an acceptable logo for $50.00 instead of the $1000.00 the top grade designer may want to charge. Do you want to buy your shoes at Payless or head over to Gucci? Well if the buyer can’t tell the difference (which is the designer’s job to describe), then hell yes I’d expect him to head over to Payless. This is not ideal, but completely expected.

It can be a difficult rationalization. Why should graphic design escape the same sort of trend as desktop publishing, journalism, writing or photography for that matter? What makes graphic designers so unique?

We have seen photography flourish as of late and yet there are still great photographers – in fact I’d say many more of them. Is the photography business as lucrative as it once was? I’d think not. Photographers have to work harder, be more creative and up their quality to survive. I find it great that so many more people are interested in photography – if I was a professional photographer I think I’d probably hate it.

And so it is with graphic design. I love the fact that design concepts start to enter the mainstream. It is no longer a black art. Sure, it would be more romantic if it was, but it’s not. Is it hurting things for professional graphic designers? Sure. But again, I value the proliferation of skills over the health of an industry.

Granted I am not a professional graphic designer nor am I a professional photographer. It’s easy for me to hold these views. And since I’m a shit programmer by any measure, I could just as easily say the same thing for programmers as well (and writers and desktop publishers). Progress and technology lower the bar. That enables more people to participate. I think that’s a good thing, but that dilutes the market for those who’ve been in the pool the longest. I feel bad for them. Sincerely I do.

I am lucky in a way that in my own profession (structural engineering) there is greater liability. When I design a structure I am legally responsible for that design and its performance over the life of the building. This affords us signficantly more protection against the democratization of structural engineering (ha – now there’s a far-fetched idea). This sort of liability is rarely there for software designers, and probably even more rare for graphic designers. I don’t see that changing.

So where is the positive in all of this for our little FOSS corner over here? We already have a community built around voluntary contribution and knowledge sharing. We can take this time to weep about passing industries and shrinking job markets, or we can take a bunch of people who are already part of the Libre Software community and who are passionate and eager about design and teach ourselves great things so we can create even better things.

I think the first step is to admit we have a lot to learn. And perhaps we should just take that statement as fact since we may be the worst people to judge our own skill levels (as John Cleese put so well). Many would also say quite rightly that as far as design goes, Libre-land has nowhere to go but up. So let’s start climbing.

Some things to chew on in no specific order:

We need to learn to provide quality criticism, how to accept it and how to use it. No more ‘put up or shut up’ nonsense. Listen to criticism, evaluate it, discuss it, elevate it.

We need to stop thinking we know everything about design when we clearly don’t. We are smart. We can learn these things.

We need to encourage designers**, but hammer on basic design concepts. Audience, goals, colour, flow, etc.

We need to treat design seriously right from the start of our projects and stop treating it as a suit of clothes.

We need to look at the ‘why’ of good design going on outside of FOSS land. Why is something good? What is the concept at work? Not copying, not being unique for the sake of uniqueness. Let’s try to understand the ‘why’ of good design and apply that.

** I am conflicted about design contests. I understand the problems with them – if you don’t, I highly recommend reading this post. But I still think there needs to be a viable way for those eager to build their design skills to work on meaningful things. If you have ideas in this regard, let’s hear them and get a proper discussion going.

Pretending to “Design” and A Few Questions

Two parts to this, not nearly as tied together as I’d like, but heck, it’s been a month. First it’s pretend time, then a few things to ponder.

Okay, pretend time. Let’s pretend that you and I are designing a new Linux-based distro. So being good designers means that we’re going to immediately try to hone in on a definition of audience and goal (right?).

Let’s skip through the twenty coffee-laden, late night IRC meetings and pretend that we decided that the target audience of our distribution consists of 22-32 year old female stay-at-home moms who use laptop and desktop computers. The goal for our distribution is to provide an engaging, stable, virus-free platform which is exceptionally good at social networking and creative endeavours such as writing, photography and video editing for our target audience. (Whether that audience and goal are focused enough or well-defined enough is another matter entirely – and if you don’t think it is, let’s hear your ideas).

At this point, no matter how much fun it might be, we fight the urge to simply run off and design a pink logo for our new distro.

Now, you may not know me. But you’ll have to simply take my word on it that I am not in fact female and nowhere near the 22-32 year old age bracket. So while I could in fact design this mythical OS myself, I would have no idea whether the design was progressing toward its goal. I would need to either get a broad cross section of the target audience working for me, or perhaps more practically, seriously research the hell out of it.

In most parts of Libre Culture land I venture to say we don’t do either very well for our creative endeavours. I know that I personally don’t (at least not nearly enough – though by reading, learning and writing about it I’m trying to change that.).

Perhaps even more telling is the fact that as a 42 year old male, for me to say things like “I think this distro rocks!” or “I think this distro sucks!” really means a heck of a lot less than I might think or hope it does.

So let’s bring this back around to our Free Software community. Can we pay attention to the standard design practice of knowing audience and goal? After we choose an audience can we stop pretending that “we” are the audience and research the hell out of the actual audience?

Second, and perhaps more powerfully, a few questions.

It’s great that so much Libre Software was built by people “Scratching Their Own Itch”. It has been the driving force in building such a large army of so many smart and generous people developing so much great software.

What worries me is this: Can we rally groups of these smart people to design for an audience they are not a part of? Can we get Free Software culture to really scratch someone else’s itch? If not, are we destined to results that ultimately cater, even subconsciously to the traits and desires of the developers themselves?

The One Word You Need to Think About Today

Are you creating something?

Maybe it’s a blog post like this one. Maybe it’s a logo, or a desktop wallpaper. Are you writing a piece of software? Maybe you’re helping to create the next great Linux distro (HA!). Maybe you’re busy crafting an email to a prospective client or developing your own video podcast. Heck, are you busy writing a tutorial on how to best prepare a grilled cheese sandwich? (if you are, I recommend this method).

If you’re doing almost anything creative – and it’s hard to find people on the net who are not – I implore you to consider the following term:

Audience.

Write it down. Stick it on the side of your monitor, or write it at the top of your page. And if you’re not sure who your audience is, stick a big fat question mark beside it and make it your goal to erase that question mark.

Once you do, once you define exactly, and succinctly, who it is, you’ll arrive at a better, more rewarding result when the proverbial day is done.

And that exactly and succinctly part ain’t easy. If the word “everyone” appears anywhere near your audience definition, double back and redefine it – you’ve obviously done it wrong.

I’m not here to preach. I’m here to learn. And as I do, I intend to share what I manage to soak up. Sure, there is a lot more to creativity and design than just audience (a LOT more), but I can’t think of anything more important. If you’re looking for a starting point for your creative endeavour, audience is it.

Who is the audience for this post (and hopefully others that will expand on this subject)? People of the Free Software ilk who are interested in discussing and learning about the concepts behind creative design.

You honestly didn’t think I’d arrive at this point completely unprepared did you? :)

The impetus for this post comes from a good friend who very recently pointed me to a three (yes three) year old mailing list reply from Havoc Pennington. Do yourself a favour, get a beverage and head over to his posting. It’s definitely required reading.

No more reasons to cry the blues – I’ve got a new laptop!

Well this is a first. I’m actually composing this post on a laptop. Yes indeedy, the first laptop I’ve ever owned. Since this is my first, I won’t pretend to know all about them and give you a 5 page in-depth technical review. Instead I’ll just give a hopefully quick run-down and then get back to procrastinating about posting new stuff about Blender, my new handheld video camera (the Kodak Zi6), and a couple of magazine ads I’ve recently done. Never mind doing a new Inkscape screencast or two among many other things.

It’s a shiny black fingerprint magnet of a machine. It’s a Dell Studio XPS13 laptop which you can check out here: http://bit.ly/uIPM0

It’s boatloads faster than my aging P4 desktop PC. It has 4GB of ram, a dual core P8600 processor running at 2.4GHz and an Nvidia 9400M G card, a 13.3″ WLED display, 320GB harddrive, and a lot of other bells and whistles (like a very slick backlit keyboard).

I’m still getting used to it, but I can say that I love the keyboard and although I’ve managed to come to slight grips with the touchpad, I will definitely be buying a little corded mouse to go along with it.

It came with Vista (they don’t offer this one with Ubuntu yet, at least not here) and I ran that for as long as it took me to download a Jaunty demo image and burn it to CD. Vista was shiny but I found it hard to believe how little functionality actually comes with a stock install of windows.

I was a little nervous going into the Linux install (leaving it as a dual boot for a while just in case I have to test out any hardware glitches), but shouldn’t have been:

1. Jaunty installed flawlessly in about 18 minutes (impressive).
2. Everything seems to work from the webcam to the touch key volume and media controls above the keyboard area.
3. Wireless worked no problem at all for me.
4. Hibernate, suspend and resume all work fine.

So there it is. So far I love this laptop. The bootup speed of Jaunty seems really good (around 20sec from the Grub loader to the login screen and then about 5 sec to a working desktop). And the speed at which stuff actually installs (aside from download speeds) is vastly superior to my old PC. I feel so spoiled. ;)

Now to get back to “work”. I’ve installed Inkscape, and just realized that v2.48a of Blender is already in the Jaunty repos so that was nice. I’m looking forward to doing my video encoding chores on this little speedster. I had to do a little search to get Dropbox going in Jaunty (see http://bit.ly/15UM9) but that works great now too (I’m sooo dependent on Dropbox these days). Installing RecordMyDesktop and getting my screencasting setup working and tested is likely the next order of business.

Let’s hope the next blog post isn’t so long in the making, I’ve been working/playing with lots of stuff lately so there should be no shortage of ideas and information to share.

New Klean Blog Theme

It was a little less than a year ago that I first struggled through creating a WordPress theme from scratch for my blog. And now I spent about two or three evenings coming up with another one. This time it really is a clean and simple theme. Almost barren in fact.

I’m not sure if I’ll like it a month from now or not, but it’s readable, not ugly (to me anyway), will undoubtedly load fairly fast and it served to refresh my css skills as well, which can never be a bad thing. ;)

I’ve gone the full two yards here and fully tested it with Firefox and Epiphany. I’ll test it tomorrow from work with Chrome, but that’s it. If other browsers fumble this dead simple stylesheet then they deserve to be ignored. ;)

I’d appreciate any comments you might have on the new look (good or bad) and please report any squirrelly behaviour – of which there will likely be plenty.

Someone’s getting their crap together…

Ever since this post on September 1st, it seems Merlin Mann and his 43Folders have really decided to get their shit together. It’s pretty inspiring stuff which is distinctly different than something like Lifehacker which, to my mind, seems to be heavily diluted lately in the interest of growth and at the expense of value.

Anyway, I’ve got nothing nearly as inspiring as what Merlin is posting lately, but I wanted to point you there for a great read, some inspiration and motivation to create something meaningful if nothing else. Think of it as a no-nonsense meal: extremely few frilly bits but extremely filling.

Thanks Merlin.

The Screencasters Flickr Group

About a week ago, one of our faithful screencast viewers zombiebrainz had a great idea and created a Flickr group as a place for people to post their inkscape work. This was done so that people could show off what they were working on with or without the help of our screencasts.

It’s turning out to be a nice place for getting feedback and discussing things like future screencast ideas. After 7 days we’ve already got just under 40 group members and over 50 images. Even if it doesn’t get any bigger, I’m already happy with the little (okay, tiny) community resource that’s been built.

If your interested in checking it out (heck, even if you don’t have any Inkscape chops you want to share), you can find it at: http://flickr.com/groups/screencasters