Sunday, October 30, 2011

Google+ Tip: Hashtags

If you've ever used Twitter, then you'll be familiar with this relatively recent Google+ addition. Use a pound sign followed by a word to create a hashtag. Use it for common keywords or search terms. Google+ will turn it into a link which when clicked will search for all posts with the tag.

Initially, Google seemed reluctant to add hashtags, with some employees saying that they were unintuitive and a poor replacement for a good search. But people used hashtags on Google+ despite the lack of support and about two weeks ago, Google rolled out an update including improved search and hashtags.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Google+: Full Steam Ahead

Just two days after I posted I had been waiting for Google+ to leave its invite-only field test before I deleting my Facebook account... it happened. Google+ is no longer invite-only!

I assume the timing is just coincidence.

With the debut of Google+ to the public at large, they also released a host of new features which you should try out:

  • The mobile applications for Android and iOS were improved.
  • Hangouts (group video chats) are now supported on mobile devices. On Android, it requires Android 2.3. And on iOS, it requires a front-facing camera. So I haven't been able to use either, but I know a lot of people have devices that fit that bill.
  • A preview version of Hangouts "with Extras" which include screensharing, a sketchpad, and document collaboration. They only feature of the original not supported by the "extras" version is synchronized YouTube video. Google is really building some tools here that could be useful for business.
  • More APIs have been released. Start playing. Already there's a third-party whiteboard for Hangouts.
  • Search! Ironically, Google did not launch Google+ with built-in search but now that's fixed.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Goodbye, Facebook!

I planned to wait until Google+ is officially open, but enough time has passed. I deleted my Facebook account!

You can find me on Google+.

Facebook intentionally hides away the option to delete your account, but if you'd like to do the same use this form.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Kindle on the Web

Amazon silently released their Cloud Reader web app, whereby you can read your Kindle books online. There's also a Chrome app for offline access. Cool!

Via: EngadgetVentureBeat, and Lifehacker.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Music Plus

For Chrome users on Google Music, try the Music Plus extension. Includes: lyrics, integration, and desktop notifications.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Google+ Tip: Bring +1 with You

Google's new +1 button is undoubtedly becoming familiar. It shows up next to search results, next to adds, and next to posts and comments in their new social network Google+. It means simply that you approve, like or recommend the site, article, post or comment in question. Google has a description of the +1 button on the web.

It is important to note that if you +1 a site or article on the web (but not for posts and comments in Google+), it may show on your profile. There is a tab devoted to +1's. You have control over whether this tab shows on your profile. Edit your Google profile, go to the +1 tab, and uncheck "Show this tab on your profile" if you want a little more privacy.

The real reason for this post however is that there are a few helpful extensions for +1. Not every news site or blog has the +1 button yet. The Plus One extension for Chrome gives you a +1 button for any website you visit. For those still actively using Facebook, the +OneFB extension for Chrome gives +1 buttons on Facebook. If someone shares a link on Facebook, you can Like it and +1 it. Finally, the 1-Up for Google+ extension for Chrome turns the +1 button on Google+ into a Mario Brothers style 1-up mushroom.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Google+ Tip: Use RSS for Twitter

My Twitter account languishes mostly unused. It's a funny story. I was stranded in Texas last Christmas trying to make it to the northeast. So I signed up for Twitter to follow the timely news from the airlines. That was immensely useful. Since then a few friends have joined Twitter, but they're mostly on Google+ now. So I asked myself what do I need twitter for?

In fact, there's only one stream of updates I would really miss: NY_NJairports, my favorite source of New York area airport information. I also occasionally find the AmtrakNEC stream useful, but I don't know that I'd miss it.

Here's the trick: you can follow Twitter feeds via RSS. I regularly check Google Reader, so that's perfect!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Google+ Tip: Bring Your Photos

Do you want to move to Google+ but have a lot of Facebook photos you don't want to lose?

Fear not. Download the Move Your Photos extension for the Google Chrome browser. It gives you the option to download all your Facebook photos to Picasa, from which you can share them on Google+. I have used it and it works well. The only downside is that the extension doesn't download others' photos in which you are tagged.

The other option is PhotoGrabber which has downloads for Windows and OS/X, but also works on Linux. I also tried this, and it does allow downloading all Facebook photos including other users' albums containing pictures of you. You then have the burden of re-uploading them to Picasa. However, there is one caveat: those other users must be friends. Facebook allows others to have you tagged even if you aren't friends, and will happily show you their photos even if you aren't friends. Those photos you can see but PhotoGrabber can't download. This is probably not a burden for most people, but caused me some problems.

If you use Firefox, you may also be interested to know there is this Firefox add-on. I haven't tried it, so I can't share any firsthand experience. However, rumor has it that this extension is slower than the above Chrome extension.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Facebook: A Retrospective

As we as a society slowly migrate away from Facebook, it is important to remember why we embark on such a large undertaking. If you ever find yourself in doubt, here are some compelling reads:
And if you still don't believe it, here are some highlights from Facebook stories over the years:

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Polynomial Odyssey

Classify all polynomials with real coefficients which map rational numbers to rational numbers and irrational numbers to irrational numbers.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Why Not Use Flash?

My last post was a bit whiny, but I'd like to expound on the usage of flash in Google Music, and why it gives choppy music on many of my machines.  This is something of a study in why you should avoid flash at all costs...

And really, an oft-quoted reason, the lack of flash support on iOS is not all that good a reason by itself unless the website is targeting mobile platforms.  iOS accounts for about two percent of web traffic, so it is entirely possible to ignore them.

I can give you a much better reason.  Just read this.  That's the reason flash is choppy on some of my machines (and there's a workaround I have been too lazy to use everywhere).  The gist is that there is a bug in the 64-bit flash plugin having to do with playing audio (uncovered because other things became less lenient), and resulting in choppy audio.  Even though this is a closed product, some very smart people figured out exactly what the problem was, created a workaround, and reported the problem to Adobe.  The true fix is literally is as simple as replacing one function call with another similar one.

That was in November 2010.  Adobe still has not fixed it.  What does that say to website developers?  Yes, you are presenting what is at best an irritating experience to people unfortunate enough to come to your site.  And yes, someone else already did the work to figure out why.  And yes, we can fix it easily.  But we won't.

On a more positive note, the workaround does fix it completely.  :)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Google Music, More Disappointment

Time for more bitching about Google Music.

The first and biggest complaint about Google Music Beta was obviously the crappy desktop app that doesn't support Linux, or for that matter Google's own ChromeOS. I guess users must not want to store music locally on a Chromebook.

The second complaint is that some enterprising person figured out how the uploading is done and fixed Google's own problem, only to have the underlying protocol changed out from under him breaking his extension.

But I soldiered on. The Google Music Manager runs under Wine. See this forum. Specifically, download the files, unzip the file, get a recent version of wine:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-wine/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install wine1.3
and finally run from the unzipped directory:
wine1.3 MusicManager.exe

Now I can upload music. This gives me a whole host of new things to complain about, but let's call them feature requests:

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Huge Oversight, Google

Yay, I just got an invitation to Music Beta.

However, they don't support Linux, so I can't use it.1

I can see the logic behind not supporting Linux. It is only 1-5% of the desktop market. But it is announced at a developer conference, where I'm sure the Linux market share was a bit higher. And among new technology adopters, I'm sure Linux market share is a bit higher. New products need adoption, and you don't really want to prevent that because of what seems to be an oversight.

Google makes plenty of good web apps (and a handful of crappy desktop apps). They couldn't have done this in Chrome?

Their inability to come to an agreement with music labels and their poor choices in implementation do not bode all that well for the service. A lesson for us all.

1Without fuss.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Further LaTeX for Blogger Updates

Just threw a few more changes in.  Angle brackets should be handled better, and the image src is URI encoded so generally it should behave better around weird input.

Even more, I've thrown up installation instructions on the repository's GitHub wiki.

Supporting Blogger's New Editor

One of my annoyances with the user script for typesetting LaTeX in Blogger was how it just didn't work with the new editor (otherwise known as issue 7).

No more!

\int_0^1 x^2 dx = \frac{1}{3}

(This post was written in the new editor!)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

LaTeX User Script Updates

Just so you know, I've been able to clean the code for the user script to the point where I think I can easily extend it: in particular, the double escaping is gone and there is much less string manipulation. The script now handles double quotes inside equations properly.

The issues list on GitHub shows what's remaining.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Trying Out GitHub

I previously wrote about my trivial fix to a user script for LaTeX markup in Blogger.1  Now that I've explored more, I know more options, but I still haven't found a single solution which does everything I would like.

My primary requirement is to easily typeset math which can be read not only on the website, but also from the RSS feed.  To that end, the user script mostly works.  However, it doesn't look nearly as nice as MathJax.

So, long story short, I believe there are a few more changes I want to make to the user script.  I have decided to explore GitHub for code hosting.  It's early yet, but it has a very nice interface.

So if you want to follow along, see my new repository.

1Clicking on the original link failed to automatically install the user script.  I have fixed it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review: Getting Things Done and Remember The Milk

After setting up Gmail to get things done, I spent some time with the book.  I may be late to the party, as everyone seems to know the essentials already.

The gist of the GTD philosophy is to always stay focused on the next action which can be done on any given project.  Projects are defined liberally to be anything which consists of a series of one or more actions.  For example, renewing my driver's license is a project with at least three steps:  find out what documents I need, gather the documents, and finally go to the DMV.  Since each step depends on those before, at any point in time only one action can be taken.  On the other hand, clearly some projects have many actions which can be taken in parallel.

The premise is that it doesn't make sense to keep all those non-actionable items on your mind.  They should be waiting in the wings until you can act on them.  Once you consider only the actions you can take now, you can stop worrying quite so much.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

An Easy Classic

You are given twelve marbles, one heavier than the others, and a balance.  Find the heavy marble using the balance no more than three times.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Outsmarting the Wolf

In order to outsmart the wolf, consider your relative angular speed as you swim along concentric circles. Without loss of generality, we may assume the pond has radius 1 centered at the origin. As you swim along the path r = r_0, the wolf can cover the same central angle more quickly if r_0 > \tfrac{1}{4}, more slowly if r_0 < \tfrac{1}{4}, and at precisely the same speed if r_0 = \tfrac{1}{4}.

From this, we can develop a simple strategy. Swim out near to but just shy of the circle
r = \tfrac{1}{4}. Since we can cover the same angle more quickly than the wolf, we may swim in a circle until the wolf is directly behind us. We can cover the remaining distance of slightly more than \tfrac{3}{4} in less than the time it takes the wolf to cover its distance of \pi.

To be more precise, we can successfully implement this strategy of first swimming to
r = r_0 exactly when 1 - \tfrac{\pi}{4} < r_0 < \tfrac{1}{4}. There is a tradeoff. The smaller the r_0 we choose in this interval, the faster we can get to the edge of the pond. On the other hand, the larger we choose r_0, the further away the wolf is when we reach the edge.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Outsmart the Wolf

Here's a brain teaser (h/t Rob):

You start at the center of a disc-shaped pond.  A wolf is at the edge of the pond, and the wolf runs four times as fast as you can swim.  He will always run along the edge toward the spot that's closest to where you presently are.  How do you get out of the pond without the wolf there to eat you?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Delayed Emails in Gmail with Chrome

A missing feature pops up every now and again in Gmail. We can't delay emails. There are certainly times when it would be useful to send a finished email not just yet. I may send emails when it is not the best time for the recipient to read or respond. And when they return to their email later, mine will be one of many and not receive all that careful consideration. I think this can be a useful feature.

Boomerang1 adds delayed emails and much more. For example, it can return conversations to the inbox if no one has responded in some time.

1This is the link for the Google Chrome extension.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Polygon Labels

Assign the numbers 1, \ldots, 2n to the vertices and edges of an n-gon in such a way that each edge is the sum of the two adjacent vertices.

(h/t Jess)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Netflix Canceled

I went ahead and made it official: no more Netflix.

Better selection of physical DVDs (when the DVD isn't scratched), but no streaming just doesn't do it for me.

Notably, they have updated their exit survey to include Amazon Prime as a possible reason for leaving. :)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Amazon Streaming Video

Netflix should be worried. Amazon announced their new streaming video service last week, and it is included in Amazon Prime at no additional cost. Amazon Prime membership costs $79 annually and offers free two-day shipping and cheap one-day shipping on most items. Now, it also offers instant streaming video. I thought Prime membership was worth the cost prior to the announcement. It's only better now.

I'm already contemplating closing my Netflix account. I pay $16 a month ($192 annually) for the option of receiving two DVDs at a time. Netflix costs more, doesn't include cheap Amazon shipping, and doesn't offer me streaming videos. Amazon doesn't have the same selection yet, but the section is big (and it is free for me!).

Amazon supports streaming videos from day one on Linux, my platform of choice, but Netflix doesn't think that the Linux market (probably 1-5% of computer desktops) is big enough for them. According to Netflix execs, "Netflix can't be everything to everyone." Fair enough.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Gambler's Dilemma

You are asked to play the following game: a fair coin is repeatedly flipped and after each flip you can decide to stop the game or continue. When you stop, you receive a proportion of the pot equal to the proportion of heads seen.

What is the optimal strategy?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Oy, Samsung! And Rooting a Vibrant...

I bought a Samsung Vibrant last August, my T-Mobile G1 having fallen out of my bag at the annual Chicago Air & Water Show. Miguel never returned it. Some of you may remember those scary few days when I lacked a smartphone, or maybe you've blocked it out as I have.

The Samsung Vibrant had best-of-breed hardware, was available on T-Mobile, and best of all, an upgrade to Froyo was expected soon. The international upgrade would be out in September and thereafter the US upgrade. But in December, stories of delays surfaced.

It got really nasty in January when some rumors surfaced that Samsung might block the upgrades. It was an interesting few days, and in the end it seems they were just baseless rumors since on January 20, Samsung did release a Froyo upgrade.

But wait! There's a catch. For unknown reasons, Samsung and T-Mobile are choosing not to deliver it over the air in the same way as past updates. Samsung is requiring Vibrant owners upgrade with their "Kies Mini" software. First of all, their software requires a machine running Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7. I don't own such a beast. Second of all, their software apparently has an unstated requirement on the 32-bit versions of these Windows versions. It sounds like it may have been rushed.

I had a dilemma. The Samsung path to upgrade was not easy, but I wanted Froyo! So, the only reasonable course of action is to root my Vibrant. I will share the steps I took:

First, I followed these succinct instructions on how to root my Vibrant. As the site says, the tricky part is getting into the recovery menu. Hold down power, volume up and down all while the machine powers on. And maybe get lucky...

Second, I followed these instructions to backup and upgrade my Vibrant. I used the Bionix-v ROM from TeamWhiskey. They have instructions here.

Now, I have Froyo!

If you are interested in further experimentation, may I suggest the great ADWLauncher EX alternative launcher, the WidgetLocker custom lock screen, or the LCD Density density changer.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Getting Things Done with Gmail

I've shared this lifehacker post in my Reader shared items already, thanks to SdC, but it is life-changing.  Enable multiple inboxes and superstars in GMail and go through the steps and you can have a nicely organized inbox like this:

This rakes in a lot of positive shoulder-surfing comments, and it's productive.  I would also suggest enabling keyboard shortcuts.  The shortcut "s" will iterate through the superstars.  The inboxes on the right panel do not refresh immediately, but you can always force this with "gi".

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Using LaTeX from Blogger

So, you've just moved to Blogger and you want to blog with properly typeset equations? That seems like a requirement for some sorts of blogs (possibly not possessing an astoundingly large audience).

Unfortunately, a web search only revealed no ready-made solutions. The most promising option was a Greasemonkey script from Wolverinex021. But, it used a web service to interpret
\LaTeX which is no longer supported. The second most promising option was the wonderful site CodeCogs. CodeCogs has many ways to render \LaTeX, a page on Blogger integration, and two JavaScript scripts to automatically render snippets in the page. There is only one problem with their suggested approach. Most readers use an RSS aggregator to follow feeds, and the JavaScript will be bypassed. But CodeCogs does have a CGI renderer just like the one used by the Greasemonkey script.

All that is needed then is to combine the two options. My trivial contribution to Blogger equation typesetting is this Greasemonkey script.2

The following has changed since the original script:
  • Use CodeCogs for rendering.
  • Use CodeCogs to render the icon in the Blogger editor.
  • Some formatting changes for readability.
  • Support for unrendering. This was a useful missing feature.
  • Added alt text for typeset equations.
Install it as you would any other Greasemonkey script. To install in Chrome, you can save the file and then drag it onto the browser window. In the Blogger rich editor for creating new posts or editing existing posts, there will be two new buttons labelled
\LaTeX and {\rm un}\LaTeX. They do what they say. \LaTeX equations should be included between double dollar signs, not single dollar signs or \(\) or \[\]. And the script will fail miserably if the equations contain double quotes.

Typeset away...

\int_0^1 x^2 dx = \frac{1}{3}

1 I believe this is his blog.
2 In Blogger settings, choose the "old" editor.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Blog Move! And Why I'm a Google Devotee...

In the bygone days of what was 2003, I started this humble blog on Livejournal. Friends followed. I posted irrelevant nonsense. All was well. In 2005, I moved my email and blog to a privately hosted domain.1 The time has come for another shift.

I'm ditching my personal Wordpress install for the comfort of Google Blogger. The domain remains the same but links will change. As a follower, you may need to update the URL for the RSS feed. Wordpress seems plagued by security problems in each new version and the comment spam was unmanageable. I hope to get away from that.

This is one more step into the Google cloud for me. Android was the first step, then Mail & Contacts, Chat, Calendar & Tasks, Reader, Voicemail and now Blogger. I know people who are still reluctant to give a third-party corporate entity so much control over their information. But Google continues to add value. My next lost phone won't also lose all my contacts. Google Talk was first to bring video to XMPP. Calendar and Reader have sharing.2 When Google stops adding value, that's when they'll lose me.3

Hopefully now, with less comment spam and administration overhead, I will post more frequently.4

1I cannot recommend Linode highly enough. They are great!
2And see LWN for a recent comparison of RSS aggregators.
3On the other hand, I still fail to see lasting value in Facebook...
4Famous last words!