Android apps on iPad via Windows!

ipad-win-android

I don’t have an Android tablet, but there’s an Android-only app that I wanted to use on my iPad, and I came up with a way to do just that. My method is enjoyably perverse.

What you’re seeing in the picture is an iPad screenshot. What it shows is this…

  • An Android app (Droidfish) is running on a Windows desktop PC inside an Android emulator (Genymotion)
  • The iPad is accessing that Windows machine via Chrome Remote Desktop

I could have zoomed in to fill up the iPad screen with the app but I wanted to show that it’s Android on Windows on iPad, so I included a fair bit of the Windows 7 desktop.

Probably not something a lot of people will want to do very often, but it’s kinda fun to see an Android app appearing your iPad, and in this case actually it’s pretty useful to me!

The whole thing works fairly smoothly, and the raw processing power of the desktop PC means the intensive computations that chess programs have to do when analyzing actually probably go faster than they would on a real tablet.

Mind you if I end up doing this frequently, I might get myself an actual Nexus 7.

First World Problems

I can’t believe I’ve succumbed to such things, but I have. I find myself feeling frustrated because I’d like to watch my show lounging on the bed, but I can’t because the iPad needs charging. So I have to watch it on the HDTV instead while sitting on a comfy sofa.

The horror of our modern lives, huh?

Blogs vs Wikis vs Forums

Lately I’ve been thinking a bit about blogs, wikis and forums and what each of them are good for. Partly this is a result of some discussions about how the NBI 2015 went, where I tossed out the thought in passing that a group blog might work better than the current forum. Then I started wondering if that would really be true, and if so why?

Googling turned up a few interesting articles comparing the different tools. The best such pieces seem to be written with a learning environment in mind, they’re basically guides for teachers looking at what would be appropriate to use with their students. However a lot of the thoughts are relevant more widely. These two resources are well worth a look:

  1. Blog, Wiki or Forum – which should you use?

  2. Differences between Discussion Boards, Blogs and Wikis

The latter of those states that:

  • Forums are “Used to DISCUSS and DEBATE”
  • Blogs are “Used to REFLECT and REVIEW”
  • Wikis are “Used to COLLABORATE and SYNTHESISE”

Not a bad way of summarizing the differences in a nutshell.

Some standout points from my reading and musings:

  • Wikis have a big advantage when you have some set of information that will change over time, even if only because it’s a work-in-progess, and which will be updated by many people. For example maintaining a list of blogs taking part in the NBI event might be easier this way. Anyone could add a blog to the list, and the list always stays in the same place, and always up to date. Achieving something similar on a blog or forum would be more work because they’re not designed for that.

  • Blog posts are basically personal, and basically not meant to be revised much after publication. There might be some editorial process before a post goes live, there might be edits by the author afterwards, and of course other people can chip in with comments on posts. Not forgetting that you can have “pages” rather than “posts”, which can be a bit more permanent and organized. But blogging is not really a medium for working collaboratively, and nor is it well suited to maintaining an ongoing resource that could be tweaked many times.

  • Forums are good for interaction and discussion, but not particularly for organizing information. Things get rambly, it can be hard to find what you’re looking for, and there is no easy way to pull all the little contributions people make to a discussion into a coherent total picture.

  • When it comes to organizing and structuring information, wikis are probably best, followed by blogs (because of easy use of tags and categories), while forums are a long way behind.

  • An intriguing feature of wikis is that some of them allow you to separate the thing you’re working on (e.g. a page about topic X) from discussions about that work (e.g. debating whether subtopic Y should be included).

  • Because wikis are more of a free-for-all, with people able to change each other’s work, they might take more organizing. This could be a problem especially on topics that divide opinion. Lots of wikis tend to be rather dry because of this, sticking to purely factual info, and not offering much in the way of recommendations or evaluation. (e.g. The classic Wikipedia post that lists a hundred pieces of software to do some job, but giving no clue that only three of them are really used in practice, or what the pros and cons of the three main choices really are.)

Overall it seems to be that blogs, wikis and forums all offer many things that a group of people collaborating together could benefit from using, and it’s a shame there’s no single platform that’s convenient for handling all of them in one nicely integrated place!

Stack Overflow Dev Survey: Some Fun Facts & Snarky Remarks

I ran across the Stack Overflow 2015 Developer Survey, which is a surprisingly interesting and fun read for the geekishly inclined. Here are some random and fun tidbits:

  • “The average developer is 28.9 years old. He or she was born in April 1986, just as the Chernobyl meltdown was taking place.”

    (Did Chernobyl cause mutant ninja coders?)

  • “The programming field is growing extremely rapidly…. only about 25% of developers worldwide have more than 10 years coding experience. Most of those veteran developers have probably been coding professionally much shorter than that.”

    (Alternative interpretation: Ten years is about as long as most people can stand to do it!)

  • “48% of respondents never received a degree in computer science. 33% of respondents never took a computer science university course.”

    (Now you know why hardly anything ever built actually works properly! I kid, I kid… Univ courses don’t help with that anyway!)

  • Swift and C++11 are the most beloved languages.

    (Cultish fanpersons much?)

  • “Windows maintains the lion’s share of the developer operating system market, while Mac appears to have overtaken the Linuxes among active Stack Overflow devs.”

    (Hey, I thought I was a weird outlier in using Windows 7 rather than a Mac, but Win 7 is still the tops. Admittedly it is a stretch to even consider myself a dev, that is not my raison d’etre by any means. Whether I actually have a raison d’etre… hmm… I’ll get back to you on that…)

  • Tabs v Spaces… “Upon closer examination of the data, a trend emerges: Developers increasingly prefer spaces as they gain experience”

    (Yeah, we learned the hard way.)

  • C++ still pays rather well.

    (Someone has to sort out those pretentious buffer overruns and protect humanity from Skynet.)

  • “Niche or emerging technologies pay big bucks… It’s also likely that developers with niche competencies are just better developers all around.”

    (What about with niche incompetencies?)

  • The average salary of a US developer would buy them 18,712 Big Macs. In South Africa it works out to 19,215, in the UK a paltry 15,757.

    (Note: Only in the US do most developers actually spend their entire salary on Big Macs.)

  • Only 1.9% of developers hate their job.

    (Nowadays people really appreciate actually having a job. Especially one which can buy so many Big Macs.)

Humor aside, there’s a lot of interesting info in the survey, so I recommend taking a look.

As always, take survey results with a large pinch of salt though.

Saving energy, saving money, saving the planet

Some of my twitter friends had a conversation about saving money on lighting the other day. Energy use is a topic that I’ve delved into a bit previously and I’d like to share some resources and thoughts that might be useful to my friends and to other people.

“Every big helps”

People often have the mentality that “every little helps”. They think switching off a phone charger here or a lightbulb there is important and fret about that. David MacKay, a Cambridge professor and advisor to the UK government has coined the phrase “every big helps” to help restore a sense of perspective. The point is focusing on the big things – the stuff that actually accounts for most power usage – has a much bigger impact on energy use, and therefore on energy bills and on the environment.

Watch this fantastic five minute video to hear him explain:

So what is big?

When it comes to electricity use, you can get a rough idea of how much electricity is used by different items in your home from this table from the US Dept of Energy:

Electric Appliances in the Residential Sector

These are obviously ballpark figures. Every model of appliance is a bit different, and every person and family has a different pattern of usage. All the same, it gives an important rough idea of what is likely to be a big contributor to your electricity bill, and what is probably pretty small.

For example one low-energy light-bulb on for three or so hours a day might only account for $2 of your annual bill, while your fridge-freezer could easily account for $60.

As one of my friends pointed out, the table shows a desktop PC using only 75W. A gaming PC running state-of-the-art games on max resolution could easily be using four times that much or more. So a heavy gaming habit could easily pwn all the lightbulbs in your house put together in terms of energy use.

The table at least shows you how to think about energy use, and back-of-the-envelope math is enough to get a ballpark idea of what is likely to be most important for you. Just estimate and add up…

  • power used when on * hours on
  • power used on standy * hours on standby

This info is for electricity use only, but that’s what sparked this post.

Some probably good things to do

What’s most impactful to do is going to vary from person to person, but some things are likely to apply in a lot of cases.

  • If you’re not already using low-energy lightbulbs, it’s pretty much a no-brainer these days. It might not make the biggest impact but it’s easy and cheap to do.
  • Heating and cooling are big on energy use. That means turning the heating or aircon down slightly could save more than all that running around worrying about lightbulbs.
  • “Heating and cooling” includes stuff like dishwashers, washing machines, fridges etc. When it’s time to change one of those items, getting a more efficient one is probably going to be a great idea. Also using the less power hungry programs, like washing at a lower temperature.
  • Insulation to stop your heat vanishing off into the night air is very good, but putting all that in can be expensive. Sometimes there are grants to help with that though.

The Bigger Picture

Want to know more about energy use, sustainable energy, what it’s going to take to avoid dangerous climate change etc? Here are some great resources…

Sustainable Energy – without the hot air – a website and ebook from David MacKay

The site has a section of videos, which might be a quicker and more enjoyable way to get the main ideas:

Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air with David MacKay (one hour talk at Harvard)

David MacKay – How the Laws of Physics Constrain Our Sustainable Energy Options (18 minute TEDx talk)

Email isn’t broken

I came across this article asking: Is email broken? Apparently many people and orgs think it is.

My answer is a resounding “No!”. Email is much less of a problem for me than it used to be say ten years ago. From the analysis the writer of that article,the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones, carried out on his inbox, it’s pretty clear that a lot of his problems are ultimately of his own making. I don’t experience most of the things he talks about, because I use email differently than he does.

  • As the article says, a lot fewer people are using email now. So how come there is still a problem of being overwhelmed with email? I get a lot fewer emails than I used to because a lot of communications have moved to other channels. Ten years ago I might have got family pics or other social chatter in email, now that’s more likely to come via Whatsapp.

  • I have several different email addresses for different purposes. That makes it easy to keep apart important emails from general bumpf. It also means I can set up the email software on my devices in such a way that msgs from critical people will ding me, but I’m not bothered by other stuff.

  • I rarely subscribe to email newsletters. In as much as I even want to keep up with news from some company or org, I’ll add them to a Twitter list. And before doing even that I’m conscious of the fact that I can only keep up with so much, and it’s a waste of time to add things of minor interest to my feeds.

  • Mention of Twitter brings me to this thought: moving to other platforms won’t help much if you carry on with the same behavior. All you’d succeed in achieving is replacing your email overwhelm with Twitter overwhelm, Yammer overwhelm or whatever.

  • Incidentally, remember when email spam used to be a huge thing? Nowadays the filters and other anti-spam measures have gotten so good I barely see any.

  • Another worthwhile habit is letting people know (when it happens) that I’d rather they didn’t send me viral videos, jokes, wild rumors etc. As per the last point, that goes for things sent on Whatsapp as much as by email.

Overall, if anything I find email is much more useful and much less problematic than it was ten years ago. Compared to other forms of communication, it’s more permanent, more easily searchable, more flexible, and better for back-and-forth conversations of substance.

A Smarter WordPress Blogroll

The Problem

A lot of us WordPress.com users have long envied Blogger’s very nice sidebar widget which does not just show a list of links, but useful info about the the latest post from each of the blogs, sorted by date. Here’s an example from Inventory Full:

Blogger Widget

This is useful for the blogger themselves as they can quickly see what’s new on blogs they like. It’s also useful for readers as it shows them posts on other blogs they could well be interested in. Most of all it is helpful to the included blogs, and sends a good number of visitors in their direction, unlike the static blogrolls available to WordPress.com users, which are seldom clicked on.

A Partial Solution

I’ve cobbled together a partial solution for my Thinking Play blog…

Wordpress RSS Widget

I used Chimpfeedr to bundle a set of RSS feeds into one, and then the normal WordPress RSS widget to show the combined feed in my sidebar.

I had to make two different feeds and use two separate RSS widgets in my sidebar, one for blogs that are frequently updated, and one for the less frequent writers. This was so that new posts from the less frequent posters don’t quickly disappear as those that publish daily fill up the top of the feed.

This is an improvement on a plain blogroll I think, but still has major limitations compared to the fantastic widget available on Blogger. Some that come to mind…

  • It’s not possible to edit a Chimpfeedr feed once you’ve made it, so adding any new blogs to your list is going to be a pain.

  • The Blogger widget includes just the latest post from every blog on the list, so everyone has one and one post only in the sidebar. This lets you show more blogs in a reasonable way, and gives good exposure to people who don’t write so regularly, who are probably the ones who can most benefit from wider exposure.

  • It just doesn’t look as nice or as readable. It would be nice to show the blog titles along with post titles, and do it in a different color and font as in the Blogger version.

I wrote this method up as I think it might be useful to other bloggers, and maybe for constructing a simple version of the Gaming Blog Nexus.

Do let me know if you try this out, and if you have any ideas for improving on this approach.

UPDATE:

It seems Chimpfeedr might not update the feed after it has been created. That’s according to Wilhelm who has worked on trying to make something like this for a long time. He does have a working solution on similar lines, but it seems to involve two paid services (Feedly Pro and Pinboard) which would be overkill for me.

But there are other RSS aggregators beside Chimpfeedr, so if we can find a decent one, not much has to change other than the feed URL we put in the RSS widget.

UPDATE #2:

Chimpfeedr does seem to update. Maybe it’s been fixed since Wilhelm tried it. Here’s the same widget as in the pic above, and it’s got some new items in it now…

WP RSS widget 2

I’ve also experimented with a version of Wilhelm’s more complex solution, and it seems to work in principle. This uses a free Newsblur account to organize the blog feeds, a free IFTTT account to trigger an action when a new item is added to Newsblur, which action can be set to add the item to a free Delicious account that bookmarks it. Each Delicious account and every tag in the account has its own RSS feed, for example like this one, so they can be used in the widgets like before.

Because of the way this works, it will take a while to compile a feed of items, because it will only notice when something new arrives, not do anything with the old posts that were already there. But in time it should be a better solution that will allow for easier organizing and updating of the blogs to be included.

Newsblur has a limit of 64 feeds on a free account, though as far as I know there is nothing to stop you making multiple accounts. 64 should be plenty for this use though, and even the premium sub with unlimited feeds is not too expensive, $24/yr.

It’s a shame that we have to resort to such a convoluted set up compared to the elegance of the Blogger widget!