WARNING: This blog contains random thoughts on technology, software engineering, and general all-round nerdery. Read at your own risk. Nerd is contagious.

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Browser War Is Over

Firefox? Obese.
IE? Slutty.
Opera? Homely.
Safari? Oh c'mon!

There is a new browser king in town, and it is here stay.
AOL introduces to the world a browser-based browser. Gone are the security holes, missing features! Nothing to install! It'll take any internet buzzword and eat it for breakfast! So check out it's AJAXY, MASHUPY, Web Twoey alpha release right here! Hurry, there are only a few trial spots left!

Some facts about B3!:
  • Some say B3's name is from when he ate 3 browsers in one sitting.
  • B3!'s original name is Bubbba, but like all fabtastic gangstas before him, he must have a gangsta name
  • Whenever another browser adds a new feature, B3! will come and eat it.
  • When Bubbba goes surfing, webpages shy away from other browsers, and flock to it like teenage groupies.
  • Once, Bubbba reached a page with bad html. Bubbba then roundhouse kicked the host server until the webpage fixed itself.

Boxely TV

Some you guys know that I work on Boxely, but don't know what it is. Rather than explain it, I'd rather show you. Corey has 2 videos he did from grabbing his desktop monitor to demonstrate some cool Boxely demos. Check them out here and here.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Boxely Autocomplete Changes

Ah, autocomplete. Such a simple great idea, yet you have to get it just right for it to be a good experience. I've been making small changes to Boxely's aolSmartInput gadget (and related objects) to make it a better experience than what we have now.

I've added a delay before lookup is invoked. Previously it would autocomplete on *every* character typed, immediately. Adding a small delay allows the user to type quickly into the autocomplete, and as soon as they stop typing to run the lookup. The delay is something small, like 250ms, and is used only when the popup is not already displayed.

I've also added some preliminary support for returning richer results from an app. Right now, I've added another third parameter to the call back registration (defaults to 0 if you dont supply it):

attachStringLookupCallback(context, handler, lookupType)

If lookupType is 0, then the smartInput will call you back, expecting a javascript array of strings. If lookupType is 1, it expects a javascript array of struct-like javascript objects. Currently the object has 2 properties, displayText and value. This allows the app to display something such as: "John Doe " but insert "johndoe@aol.com."

Mail composition is a big user of autocomplete, so I've been looking at the Thunderbird Autocomplete Specs, which have been very useful. I'm considering support for icon and tooltipText for each match.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

MSN Live Messenger Beta

Looks like there was some sort of a "glitch" which allowed the general public to start trying out the "invite-only" beta of MSN Messenger 8, a.k.a MSN Live Messenger. Ars Technica has an interesting look about some of its new features.

One of the first things that stood out for me was that MSN's finally added the "find as you type" search field above your contact list. Something with AIM Triton and Google talk have had for a while. The Ars review also mentions that its ads have gotten more annoying, but I don't think it could be worse than the "ford focus flash ad" I saw in AIM which pops out and takes up a huge amount of your desktop while you hunt for the "X" button floating somewhere around your desktop.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Not as wise as I was 30 minutes ago

So, I just got back from the dentist (he's about 3 minutes away). He pulled my wisdom tooth out in 6 minutes. No joke! Here's how it went down:

"I'm going to apply some anesthetic..." <pinch> <pinch>

"Can you feel that?" I shake my head.

"Ok, you're going to hear some cracking, it's normal." I nod.

<YANK> "Ok we're done"

I'm supposed to not talk for an hour after the procedure. This is when being a nerd in front of a computer comes in handy.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Tablet PCs and Origami

As some of you may know, Microsoft released details of their secret project, codenamed Origami. Essentially it is a very tiny tablet PC, with no keyboard or mouse. It fits somewhere between a PDA and a subnotebook. It runs a special version of Windows, so it can play music, videos and normal applications too. Microsoft isn't selling the hardware, it basically created the specs for it, which is where my issue with it is. I think we're headed down the same road that Tablet PCs did a few years ago.

Technically, the MS Tablet PC works great. The screens are rock solid (you're supposed to touch them, put your hand on them as your write, unlike normal LCD panels) and the OS integration is great. So where did they go wrong? The Price to Performance ratio. To adjust for the cost of the tablet screen, many manufacturers went up in price. When that proved unpopular they cheapened other specs to bring the price down. The result was you'd pay top dollar for a not-so-powerful laptop, but HEY, you could write on it!

However, I don't think price is the only problem for tablet PCs. Most people I know use their tablet PCs as a notebook first, tablet second. While Windows Tablet PC edition is good, it still essentially treats the pen as a mouse alternative. Microsoft's OneNote is a great (almost killer) app, but it's it's too structured for the note-jotter. It's extremely powerful but it the end of the day, it's like running Outlook. When you exit out of it, you're back to (basically) windows. I think OneNote (or its feature set) should have been tightly integrated as part of the Tablet PC OS. I think that Live Lists are actually a great complement to Tablet PCs.

Another useful way to integrate the pen further with the OS is to incorporate mouse gestures at the OS level. Make a pre-defined gesture with your pen, and windows reacts with the response you designated. Make a large swooping right-click-drag from the top of the screen down, and all your apps minimize, for example.

At the end of the day, it'll be interesting to see whether Origami (which is a tablet first, notebook second) will win over hearts. It faces the same price/performance challenge as Tablet PCs did, since MS is leaving the hardware up to 3rd parties. If the thing is $1000 but you get limited hardware, then you've lost the consumer. Let's see what happens...

New Keyboard

The funny thing about instant messaging is that your conversational timing still matters. I was never good at typing until I first got on the internet back in 1997 (hey! I was in Bangladesh! Third world, anyone??) only because I had friends on ICQ. I just did the ol' "lets-not-lo^h^hok-at-teh-kaybo^h^hrd trick", and eventually, it worked.

My favorite keyboard has always been the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro, which is now discontinued. Many people think that to use an ergonomic "split" keyboard, you have to be trained in the Black Art of Touch Typing (aka Mavis Beaconus). Nonsense I say! I definitely am not a traditional typer by any means. Ok so I don't employ the 2-finger claw-hand like my wife Ashley does, but I'd say I get my fingers on the right key at the right moment.

One fine day, which from now on is known as "The CounterStrike Incident," I totally lost it when I got pwn3d by some n00b who got lucky with his AWP. Consequence? Broken spacebar. But I couldn't replace my keyboard! I mean it sort of worked, but you had to press really hard. That's ok right?

Eventually I came to terms with my loss and went to the usual places, Worst Buy et. al., but Microsoft had done away with natural keyboards and replaced them with everything wireless! Don't get me wrong, I've always loved Microsoft hardware, and it's a shame that they went out of the gaming hardware market, but I couldn't understand the wireless fandom.

There's something about battery-powered input devices that just don't feel right. (Stop right there sicko, I'm talking about keyboards and mice.) To a normal person, they are probably fine. But I couldn't help but feel that there is a lag. It's very subtle but it makes your computer feel less responsive. It's probably all mental, I know, but trust me on this one.

Recently, Microsoft has gone back to its old ways and have once again started releasing ergonomic keyboards. In particular, they have released the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. It's definitely the sucessor to the (late) Natural Keyboard Pro, and I had to have it! Now tracking down that mouthful of a keyboard was no easy task. All the Best Buys near my area were out of stock. CompUSA, forget it. Circuit city? Back order. I guess I wasn't the only nerd looking. Finally, today I got lucky.

The keyboard is very sturdy and doesn't feel cheap at all. The keys all depress easily and are really really quiet. The split design is a little different than a normal ergonomic keyboard, but I like it. Unlike other ergonomic keyboards, this one actually angles down at the front, so the keys are actually at a downward slope away from you. I thought this would be weird, but it actually works! Best of all, MS went back to the ol' 3x2 layout for the Insert/Home/PgUp keys. They've also moved the 'Sleep' button so it's not at the top right corner (right next to the num pad), making it harder to accidentally hit it.

Wow, this is a long post about a keyboard. I'd say if you're looking to get a new keyboard, give this one a shot. Even if you've never used an ergonomic keyboard before, you'll be surprised at how quickly you'll get used to it.