Nov 11, 2015

Mirror mirror in the phone...

I was driving this morning in the rush hour traffic with my youngest daughter, when she dug her mascara out of her pocket and exclaimed: "I almost forgot! I had time for only one eye at home, need to swipe some mascara on the other one too." Then she opened the mirror on the window shade, but immediately dismissed it as inconvenient and started to fiddle with her phone.

"Do you have a mirror app there?" I asked her, halfway joking. "Duh! Camera!" was the answer, like only teens can, immediately making feel stupid and old. "Um, righ, yeah. How stupid of me."

Just out of boredom, sitting there in the non-moving traffic, I took out my Lumia, opened the app store and typed in "mirror". To my astonishment there actually was a loooong list of mirror apps! I mean, I had already laughed at myself for forgetting that the front camera was a (im)perfect mirror indeed, but apparently a whole lot of app makers had had the same vanity thought of having a mirror app in the phone.

Just out of curiosity I installed the first one on the list, a free mirror app, and tried it. So I saw my face on the screen, the app using the front camera I assume (what would the option be anyway? a reflecting blank screen?). So now I have a mirror app in my Lumia. Never has my reflection been as grainy as it is in this mirror ;) The Lumia820 front camera is pretty sucky.

Nov 4, 2015

Windows 10

Some time ago, after having used Windows 10 for a couple weeks, I wrote an article about Edge, the controversial default browser in Win10. It's been a month or so since that article, and yes, I am still using Windows 10. I have no desire or intention to change that either. Just like with any version of Windows, I have a love-hate relationship with this one, too. There are things I really like, and then there's the one.

The biggest user end inprovement in Win10, compared to Win8(.1), is the unified user experience. Out with the schizophrenic tablet-desktop-whereamI-whoamI-whatamIdoing experience. There is not tablet UI separate from the desktop UI, at least not when running windows on a regular laptop PC. I won't say anything about Windows tables since I do not use them. The start menu is an actual menu again, a combination of menu and start screen. I really like it!

Notice the Power and Settings at the bottom of the Start menu? Another yey for those instead of that annoying right hand side hover manouver of Win8.

Search has been separated from Start to its own "menu", opened with the magnifying galss in the task bar, next to the Start icon. Windows + S shortcut key also still works.

Really, those are the biggest changes in the UI, for the common user. The only thing that truly annoys me in Win10 is its tendency to do random restarts while being in sleep mode.

Sep 30, 2015

Microsoft Edge

Oh, the things I learn! I have been working in IT with Microsoft technologies for 16 years, but they never seize to amaze me with their new awesome innovations. Take Microsoft Edge, for example.

A couple weeks ago I had my laptop's old 160GB SSD disc changed into a nice new 500GB SSD. Since anew Windows install was needed anyway, I had our intern install Windows 10 on my laptop. I quite like it. I quite like the Start menu as this combo of Win8.1 and Win7. And I like it that there is no special "tablet" side for apps, but they just open as windows on the desktop. I like it. But this is not a blog post about Windows 10; there's enough of those around the Interwebs.

No, this is a post about Microsoft Edge. 

Edge is supposed to be a grand new browser that doesn't have the issues of Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer is lacking at best. At best it is in version 11. In truth, each version has been better than the previous one, but still I have been silently (or not so) hooraying every time another one bites the dust. My worst issues with IE have naturally been with CSS and JavaScript, since I do web design. Other than that, I don't know since I don't really use it. But for a web designer, IE has mostly been a nighmare.

Ok, back to Edge. I really haven't actually had the need to test UI's in Edge too much yet. Not really at all. These past two weeks I've been doing other stuff and/or using customer environments for debugging this or that (JavaScript issues). Which means that I really haven't used Edge much for anything yet. I only now pressed F12 in it for the first time, just to see what the dev tools look like. They look the same as in IE11, except I could not find a button to attach the tools to the bottom of the browser window. What's up with that?

To that same category of "what's up with that?" goes the other thing I learned today about Edge. That would be the lack of page history in the back button! I mean, I can't be the only one in this world using the back button history menu for jumping back some and sometimes forward some likewise. But, it does not exist anymore! I googled it even! I found a couple discussion threads about it, e.g. this one in tenforums, Ok, so there ARE people as astonished by this as I am!

In those discussions others were saying that it's still there, you just access it from a different place, the lines-button and there you find history. But like someone pointed out, this is not the same damned thing! Browsing history is not the same as the back button page history! Someone else said (maybe sarcastically?) that Edge is so new, it might not have all of the features yet. C'moon Microsoft! There's absolutely no excuse!

Another thing I realised about Edge, not so long ago, is the lack of ActiveX and other legacy technology support. I would not really be sorry about that - maybe I'm not in any case - but I'm certainly surprised. Why? Because Microsoft's own core software like SharePoint still used ActiveX components for certain important functionalities. So basically Edge is no more compatible with SharePoint than, say, Chrome or Firefox. Which essentially does not mean much, since most stuff can be done in any browser.

However, Edge does have an inbuilt command in the settings menu for opening the current web site in Internet Explorer. So, wait, what? Edge has an inbuilt IE launcher? Yep. In a way, that's pretty cool, since you really can't know when you run into a wall with Edge. 

Interesting to see. Internet Explorer has not been capable of competing with browsers such as Chrome and Firefox even though its different versions are used a whole lot. This is however solely due to company policies forbidding anything else from the bulk laptops. Edge? I'm really not sure it will turn Microsoft's ship in the web browser market. It's not bad (probably). It's just not very enticing either.

Oh, and the other thing. I haven't found a way to dock the favorites bar to the top part of the window, below the address bar like I like it. Maybe I'm just too used to my old ways. Maybe I should think fresh. But I'll still stick with Chrome (and Firefox when Firebugging is required).

Sep 8, 2015

The importance of documentation

Any IT worker has most probably been in the situation once, twice, too many times to care to count.

You have a software you need to implement and use - but how does it work? What does it do? What are the features? "Oh, you know, it was built according to your specification.""Yeah, but...?" "Oh, the person who coded it, doesn't work for us anymore."

You need to set up a test environment similar to the production. Or duplicate the production. But what features, what services need to be activated and configured? "Oh, you know, the usual, just next-next-next, we don't have anything special there. Just activate everything." "???" "Yeah, well, I don't know, it was originally set up by this company X, but the contracr expired alreaydy, and besides I think they don't exist anymore. That's why we need you, to figure this out."

You need to add some features to a custom made application. You get the source code, you can run it (but of course it can't use half of the features in your test environment), but how was it built? You look at the source code and use hours to try to figure out the noncommented code to understand how to implement your own and end up wishing you could just code the whole damned thing yourself from the scratch. "Documentation? No, we didn't get any documentation. No, the person who coded it, oh, I don't even know..."

Getting my drift? Documentation! That boring as hell job, that makes you disposable when you're actually NOT the only one who can figure it out. The boring as hell job, that tends to remain undone, when the project budjet was already used up and "not in this life am I gonna do that for free!" The boring as hell job, that nobody really wants to do, but everybody curse about when it's not done and you'd need it.

What happens when there's no documentation? Stonehenge happens, that's what. Here's this fabulous construction, somewhat fallen apart, but what did it do? What was it's purpose. Tourists flock around to gawk at it, but that was hardly its original purpose! Not that anybody probably would put it back together; it's more valuable as it is, untampered, than back in its original configuration.

Yet, without any documentation humankind had no idea that the mysterious thing we've been gawking at for so long, without understanding what we've been looking at, is actually only a fragment of something much bigger!

Pic from the aticle mentioned above

That's what you get without documentation. No idea what you're looking at and not even knowing you're missing the biggest part. People, document your work unlessyou want it to end up a mystery like Stonehenge!

Apr 6, 2015

Oh HP, please!

I have a super grandma. She'll be turning 90 in May, but she's still sharp as a knife and in better health than a whole lot of people half her age. A couple days ago she called to ask my help with some laptop stuff. Her laptop, a good 7 or maybe 8 years old, I'd guess, had died in the middle of a word (my grandma writes a lot - runs in the family ;) ). She wanted to know what could be done to the laptop and whether it was salveagable or not.

My educated guess, when I listened to the symptoms, was that not much was doable to the old laptop and so as soon as I got a word in (she talks a lot), I told her, "Listen, on Monday when you come here for the birthday coffee, you're leaving with me and a new laptop. I'll take you home and set it up for you." She nearly broke into tears. In my mind, whatever little things I can do to pay back all the good she has brought to my life, I do with joy. Besides, we had an extra laptop, only a year and a half old, collecting dust.

Today was that Monday. My grandma came here for my youngest daughter's twelfth birthday with my dad and his wife and I took my grandma home (yes, she lives alone, in her own row house appartment) along with that new-old laptop that I had fixed for her use. I showed her how to use Win8.1 and Word 2013 - I don't even know what versions she had been using before. Everything looked different, but she learned well. I set up her mobile network - she has a usb stick for internet connection so that she can use the same at her summer home easily. And so on. Just the basic stuff.

And then there was the printer. An HP Photosmart C4270. Win 8.1 did not recognize the device on its own so I thought, "piece of cake, we'll just download the driver from the HP support site." Oh, was I wrong about that! The only piece of cake today was the one I ate with an espresso!

I googled. At first, this is all I got: The page seems to promise a driver download, when in fact it gives you some goddamned driver fixing tool that asks for some licence numbers. WTF?

I removed that and tried searching, tried this and tried that and all I ever found was some similar kind of tools, that I personally just rate as spyware. I do not want that on my grandma's laptop! Finally, by accident, I stumbled upon this page here (which for some strange reason is the first search result for me here at home, on my own laptop, but I could not find it when searching with my grandma's laptop - how odd is that?):

There, finally!

I downloaded the driver and started the setup. It took like a half an hour! It did this, it did that, step 1/8 for this, step 8/8 of something else. Device recognized, finalizing installation. This may take a few minutes. No kiddin'! It took like 10! And then the setup application said: "An unknown error has occured, rolling back installation." And I was like, hell no you don't! I paused it and for the lack of other ways to halt the rollback for good I killed the setup with Task Manager.

Yes, the printer was installed and working fine. I have no idea what that error might've been, but it did not have anything to do with the printer and its ability to print out stuff!

HP, please! Couldn't you just offer a nice clean driver for your devices instead of these horror packages? I mean, how can a printer driver be 180Mb and take a half an hour to install on a relatively new computer (albeit not the fastest kid in the block)? And hey, I've been in IT business for 16 years and I was working on this shit for an hour. How do the non-IT people do it? Contact your Support? Can't you just make it a bit more simple, please!

[P.S. This: Yup. Thanks, Jukka Niiranen (@jukkan)!]

Mar 11, 2015

Wombat poop and other social media phenomena

A friend of mine posted a picture in Facebook.

Well, shared it from "I fucking love science".

So, what happened next? I, of course, being the self-taught sceptic that I am (read: manage to question some stuff but buy into other stuff when I forget to be alert), googled it. I would never have even thought to google wombat, let alone wombat poop without the pic. I mean, they don't exactly live in our neighborhood. I knew they exist, but seriously, they're not cute like pandas or koalas or fun like kangaroos.

What caught me totally off guard was Google. Google was already one step ahead of me! I started to type wom - which could've been the beginning for, say, woman, women, womb or a huge many other words. But what did Google suggest?

Yes, of course. Wombat poop had already become a worldwide phenomenon way before the cubic poop photo reached me. And it's Google's job to keep on top of those. For people like me. So Google saved me the trouble of typing more than three letters and on top of that, offered some reliable looking search results. Like International Business Times explaining to the world why the cubic poop is so convenient for wombats.

Wait, what?! What's the Business Times got to do with wombats?

That's how these social media phenomena go. Everyone and their dog wants their share of clicks using black and blue (actually it was gold and white ;) ) dresses of celebs (who was it again?) and wombat poop and whatever "sells". It's all about the money (that the advertisement brings in). And we, consumers, swallow the bait, over and over again.

So, what did I learn today? That I'm still not sure the wombat cubic poop is not a hoax and that everyone is only after my clicks. Oh, go ahead and say it. I'm riding on wombat poop too. But hey, you got it for free - no advertisement included!

[Afternote. Thank you, Wikipedia. No, it is not cubic. You know what tipped me off? The "it's".]

Sep 21, 2014

Updating to Lumia Cyan - WinPhone 8.1

'Twas the third windows phone update in two weeks. Microsoft had been pushing one to my Lumia 820 every Friday for three Fridays in a row. The first one announced itself as Lumia Black (and in all due honesty, the update might have been available for some time already for it had not notified me and I only noticed the update then). It made no major changes that I would've noticed. The second one didn't even have a name, so I guess it was just a patch pack instead of an os upgrade. The third one upgraded my phone to Lumia Cyan. And that brought on a whole lot of stuff.

First thing I noticed after the upgrade was that a tile was missing from my start screen. At first I couldn't remember what it was, for I didn't have the need for it. Then I realized. I was missing something as crucial as the calendar! I looked for it in the app list. Nope, no calendar. I checked my accounts and yes, calendar was supposed to be synced too from our company Exchange. I started to google. I found out that this disappearing calendar was actually a known bug, one of many, with the nice solution to it: do factory reset.

At this point a friend of mine commented to my Facebook status complaint: " If it ain't broken, don't upgrade it". And my husband: "Next time google for experiences before running an upgrade". Duh! But hey, they're supposed to be tested and ok. And besides, if everyone waits for other peoples' experiences, there never will be any. I'm sort of used to go head on to new stuff, because of my job. So here I am, writing a blog post for the behalf of those who actually do wait and read first. Anyway, I have no regrets.

So, I had to do the factory reset. So? It took me probably less than an hour, thanks to the cloud backups that restored almost everything to my phone after the reset. I think there were a couple of apps and a couple of app settings that weren't restored. And the main thing there was that my calendar reappeared. I had tried to avoid the reset by downloading a different calendar app (tried two of them actually), but since the calendar of the os was messed up, I only got a read only version of my calendar in those apps, and that's not worth anything, really.

Calendar bug aside, I really like the new stuff the Cyan brought to my phone.

1) Pull down notifications + actions center
That's something I have written about before. With the iOs7 and iPad jailbreak etc. Something I had been used to with the Android and then finally Apple implemented it in the iOs, and now finally Microsoft brought it to the wp8.1. It has four slots for settings quick access buttons and the link to all settings (yey, I don't have to have the settings as a tile anymore!). In the Notification center settings you can set which settings buttond to show, and also control the apps in the notification center, in a rather Apple-y way (then again, there's not that many ways to do it).


2) Start screen options
These are the minor stuff in a way, but then again, it's the stuff that makes the UI more sleek and cool. The ability to customize the home screen a bit more. Actually, I cannot say for sure which update or upgrade it was, for I did not check all of the settings after the previous ones - only now when the factory reset sort of made it mandatory to go through it all. 

Anyway, now there is the option to use your own photo as a background for tiles - it's a no-scroll photo that is only shown in bits and pieced as the no-scroll background of transparent tiles. Also, now there is the option to fit more tiles on the home screen too. With a phone like Lumia 820, I found the smallest tiles to be so small in this mode that I just passed. I prefer the "old way". 


3) Enhanced volume controls
When you tap once on the up or down volume control buttons, the volume control appears on the top of the screen as before. You can adjsut the ringer + notifications volume using the buttons. But if you tap on the volume control, it opens a bigger control panel, with a slider the ringer + notifications volume and an additional one for the media and apps volume control. It's easy to mute either by tapping on the bell or note icons, and now the vibrate can be easily turned off too.

4) The new calendar UI
After getting my calendar back, I have to say I like the new and enhanced Windows Phone native calendar with the week view and all. The old calendar constantly agravated me with the slide list view that made it difficult to see whether there were appointments on s specific day or not. It required more than a glance. This new look and feel is nice. There's the options (behind the right-most button on the bottom) to switch from week view to month/day/year views. And it shows some weather data for the upcoming days too, if you allow location on the calendar.


(Oh, we have cool days coming up... autumn is here.)

Summa summarum, I definitely do not regret upgrading my phone despite the need for a factory reset to get it all properly working. I'm quite happy with all the improvements!