Beautiful weather has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest and I’ve been taking advantage of it as often as I have time. One thing about living where it’s grey and rainy for so much of the year, it really almost forces me to go outside and be active when it’s nice out. I’ve been riding my bike around, and wanted an easy way to keep track of my stats like speed, distance, which trails I was riding and altitude. Turns out there’s a free and easy way that integrates well with Android: Google My Tracks
My Tracks uses your phone’s GPS to record your position and plots it on a map, where you can upload it to Google Maps or export your track as an industry-standard KML file for analysis in another application.
You get a print out of your statistics at the end, and can optionally insert markers with interval statistics on a custom schedule. The app has been around for a few years but has become much easier to use lately. My last ride was 12.9 miles long at an average moving speed of 7.5 miles per hour:
Total distance: 20.78 km (12.9 mi)
Total time: 2:56:35
Moving time: 1:43:56
Average speed: 7.06 km/h (4.4 mi/h)
Average moving speed: 11.99 km/h (7.5 mi/h)
Max speed: 34.62 km/h (21.5 mi/h)
Average pace: 8.50 min/km (13.7 min/mi)
Average moving pace: 5.00 min/km (8.1 min/mi)
Min pace: 1.73 min/km (2.8 min/mi)
Max elevation: 179 m (589 ft)
Min elevation: 93 m (304 ft)
Elevation gain: 984 m (3228 ft)
Max grade: 12 %
Min grade: -17 %
Recorded: 5/26/2012 12:21 PM
The application also integrates with a Polar brand heart rate monitor over Bluetooth to record heart rate statistics along with the other information. I don’t have that option yet, but plan to add it fairly soon. This is a great free app that everyone should know about. It’s not just useful for mapping a trail, either – you could use it to mark where you left your car, see where you’ve been in an amusement park, or record the location of interesting landmarks you see while wandering around the city. Check it out!
Yesterday, Google officially rolled out the “much anticipated” (by them, perhaps) revisions to Google Reader which removed most of its compelling functionality and added integration with their social network Google+.
We hope you’ll like the new Reader (and Google+) as much as we do, but we understand that some of you may not. Retiring Reader’s sharing features wasn’t a decision that we made lightly, but in the end, it helps us focus on fewer areas, and build an even better experience across all of Google.
I’ll start off with the glaringly obvious usability features. The first one, of course, was best expressed by an anonymous Internet comment that it “looks like a browser with the stylesheets turned off”. It’s mostly white, with a handful of navigation buttons around the top, and an excessive amount of whitespace. The navigation buttons have been rearranged and are in a row along the top, where the previous and next item buttons were previously at the bottom, and the new code doesn’t prefetch as well or scroll as smoothly. Result? It takes a lot longer to get through items. This is a big problem if you use Reader like I do. I skim the contents of about 250 feeds every day, for between 1000 and 2000 news items, but only spend time reading the most interesting ones. It’s taking me between 2-4x as long to get through my unread items as it did previously.
The worst issue, though, is that it’s removed the social functionality from Reader and forces you to use Google+ for your news item discussion. The discussion about this fact seems to center about the fact that it’s not obvious about how to share your new items, to the point where former Google Reader product manager Brian Shih trashes the new revision:
“It’s as if whoever made the update did so without ever actually using the product to, you know, read something. Reader is a product built to consume information, quickly. We designed it to be very good at that one thing. G+ is an experience built around browsing (similar to Facebook) and socializing. Taking the UI paradigm for G+ and mashing it onto Reader without any apparent regard for the underlying function is awful and it shows,” says Brian.
Google, of course, attempts to counter this argument but completely misses the mark. They released a nice blog post showing how to share an item more easily, because it’s a bit non-obvious.
The fundamental flaw, though, isn’t that it’s more challenging to share an article. The real flaw is that it’s now 100% more difficult to actually have a social discussion about the articles you’ve shared.
“Old” Google Reader had a convenient view of showing who was in your sharing circle and highlighting comments they’d made, seen in this WebProNews screenshot:
“New” Reader completely lacks any commenting functionality built in. This means you need to visit 2 different web sites to have a discussion. One web site to read and share the content, and another web site to talk about it with your friends. That’s a 100% increase in the number of steps needed to have a discussion. Trying to make reading the news more social by making it more difficult to have a conversation about the items, is extremely counter-intuitive at best. Mostly, though, it just reinforces what Brian Shih said above: that they don’t know what they’re doing.
Reader Comment threads were something I looked forward to every day. They’ve been effectively eliminated from my life at this point. Many of the people following my Reader feed specifically preferred not to sign up for Google+, and even the ones who are “users” of Google+ use it in the sense they log in once a week to see how little content there is and feel better about not using it.
I’m not surprised they’ve taken this approach to drive new traffic to Google+ – it’s been in a pretty sharp decline since it was released. They just waited too long between announcing it, and opening it to the public, combined with the fact that it makes a lot of people nervous to have one company with complete access to e-mail, web search behavior, photos and social networking all in one place. Facebook is enough of a privacy nightmare, being specifically designed to break European data protection laws (things we don’t have in the United States) but at least they can’t read my e-mail, too.
I really think this is the end of my time on Reader. Many of the people I previously talked to, just won’t be signing up for Google+ to continue using it. I have no reason to use Reader in Google+ if I don’t have anyone to talk to, and my Reader shares have always been restricted to a very close-knit, hand selected group of people. Now I’m looking for an open-source replacement we can migrate to on an open server. If anyone knows of one, let me know.
Goodbye, Google Reader. We’ll all miss you. And I don’t think Google is going to learn anything from this experience, either.
Early adopters of Google+, myself included, have been drawn to its clean interface , user-centric privacy and content controls, “Circles” model of friendship networks and general user-friendliness. It’s not open to everyone just yet, and they’ve recently decided to make it less appealing for everyone else – by instituting a draconian Real Names Only policy.
Use your full first and last name in a single language.
If you use your full name, you’ll be able to connect with people you know and help them find you. Names that consist primarily of initials or those that include indications of membership in professional, educational, societal or religious entities, such as “Dr.”, “Rev.” or “JD” are not allowed in the first or last name fields. Names that include more than one language script aren’t allowed either.
Violation examples: Doctor Stan Livingston, Bill Smithwick DDS, Rev. Jim Copley, 蔡玉娴 Archer, S. P.
Put nicknames or pseudonyms in the Other Names field.
If you’re referred to by more than one name, only use the one that commonly identifies you, and place the rest in the “Other names” or “Nickname” section of your profile.
Violation examples: Timothy “TK” King, Jonathan Richards (JonnyBoy), PunkRockerSF
Avoid unusual characters in your name.
When you create your profile, our system will check the name you submitted for unusual characters. For example, numbers, symbols, and obscure punctuation are not supported.
Violation Example: John246 , ★★Shelley★★, J@SON W@T$ON, ‘Rachel Smith/
Your profile and name must represent one individual.
Google+ does not support profiles for couples or groups of people. Additionally, you cannot create a profile for a non-person entity such as a pet or business.
Violation examples: Jones Family, Jeremy & Mel Mason, Vegas the Dog, Brooklyn Bagels, Northern California Conservation Society
Don’t use the name of another individual.
Impersonation is a serious issue. Pretending to be someone else could cause your profile to be deleted. If someone is pretending to be you, go to their profile and click Report this profile.
I’m all in favor of not stealing someone’s identity, or allowing corporations or conglomerations of people to set up profiles, but a strict reading of the “full first and last name” rule puts my profile squarely out of compliance. I’ve gone by J.W. for a very long time. It’s the name that’s printed on my business cards, all of my personal and professional profiles, anything I’ve written including this blog, and it’s what 100% of people I know call me.
Leaving aside the fact that anonymity is of incredible importance on the Internet, especially in the face of a creeping security state, Google’s real name policy disregards variations of people’s legitimate real names. They can suspend my account if they feel like, but I’m not going to change it – I’ll delete it entirely and revert to pre-Google+ status.
Google+ makes connecting with people on the web more like connecting with people in the real world. Because of this, it’s important to use your common name so that the people you want to connect with can find you. Your common name is the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you. For example, if your legal name is Charles Jones Jr. but you normally use Chuck Jones or Junior Jones, any of these would be acceptable.
Makes sense…but my common name is primarily initials, falling squarely in violation of their first guideline. Rather than making it easy for people who want to connect with me to find me, using my legal name would virtually guarantee I’ll never be located.
It’s surprisingly difficult to get data out of my Android phone, the T-Mobile G2. Much more difficult than I expected it to be, in fact. I recorded a short (7-minute) video clip using the build-in camera to demonstrate a radio working for my client. I receive an error message warning me that I can’t upload videos “over 1GB in size”, which is news to me because the filesize is only around 150MB. My only option is to attach via USB and copy the files off from the filesystem – not the most intuitive process if you’re not technically inclined.
I like Android because it doesn’t tell me what to do the way some other phone platforms do, but even nearing the 3.0 milestone the entire thing just seems amateurish and hacked together. I can’t say whether these issues stem from the open-source philosophy of the platform, the fragmentation introduced by lack of control over carriers, whether it’s due to Google having grown too fast for their teams to be able to work cohesively together across their organization, or something else – but it doesn’t seem like we’re really making much progress in terms of the user experience even as we add more features.
I’m fighting with the beta of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012, a Microsoft utility for managing cloud computing resources. It’s a fight I shouldn’t have to engage in as Microsoft requires a pre-requisite that can’t actually be opened by the default tools installed with the operating system, the Windows Automated Installation Kit which is helpfully delivered as an ISO instead of something that can be opened natively.
WinRAR, a well-known and well-respected file compression utility is my go-to utility for opening ISOs as it will extract them into a folder with a single click. It’s also a program I never seem to have the installer on hand for, so instead of digging around for my department’s installer I go find the web page. Bing is the default search engine for Internet Explorer on Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 and I used it to search for “winrar”, expecting to be quickly taken to a download site. Instead, I received a search result page entirely devoid of what I was looking for.
That’s a screenshot of the data area of the browser, from the server in question. There were three results displayed on the first page (it didn’t want to scroll). Zero of these results are links to download WinRAR, or are even to the company that even produces WinRAR. Two of the results are sponsored advertisements to a WinRAR competitor, and one is the Wikipedia entry about the software. (The page extends to the right as well, with 5 more advertisements I cropped from the screenshot, none are links to the author’s web site.)
I was so shocked by this absolute lack of results I had to open a tab with Google on the same machine and search that way:
The very first result is the official homepage of WinRAR, complete with a quick link to Download. Perfect! The second result is the same as the “Download” quick link from the first result. The third result is another domain name for the same company, as is the fourth. And it continued with several more links to reputable download sites (CNet, etc.), and finally the Wiki entry.
It’s no surprise that less than 1 in 10 web searches are on Bing when it can’t accurately return results for something that’s been around for years, has an excellent reputation and is very widely distributed. Winner in this unexpected challenge? Google. But I would like to thank Bing for a nostalgic trip back to the early days of web search in the ’90s when there were zero good options out there. I’m very glad that’s not the case anymore.
Bing Travel is excellent, it’s a shame their web search is pretty much useless.
Google offers an interesting extension called Chrome to Phone that works with Android 2.2+ devices to remove some of the barriers between computing. A small screen isn’t the best place for planning a trip or seeing transit data from multiple lines all at once – but a desktop is. With this extension, it’s possible to look up a web page and have it pushed to your phone. I use it frequently for grabbing directions or contact information for where I’m going and send it to my phone as I’m walking out the door, so I can finish the next steps (finding when the bus comes, etc.) while on the stairs.
My complaint about the service is the way the login mechanism is handled. Chrome to Phone requires you to be logged in to your Google account using the plugin to send to your phone. Makes sense, because the extension and corresponding phone app can automatically cause things to happen on your device without any additional user feedback – press the button on your browser, and the phone automatically turns its screen on and loads the requested content.
The sign-in page, though, is an actual web page that loads in the browser. If I designed it, the login username and password box would pop out of the icon in the corner. It loads a full on tab which presents you with the option of permanently signing in by remembering your login.
Now, the real problem: even remembering your password, you still must log in every day or so. You have to click “sign in” and allow it to load the web page. Once at the page, it doesn’t ask for a password – but if it knows enough to not ask for a password, it really should know enough not to need you to click the button in the first place. Especially since I’ve been unable to locate a “sign out” button, so there’s no real point to it.