Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Picking a GoogleVoice phone number

Monday, December 13th, 2010

screenshotI decided to use Google Voice service. The first problem I had was to select the phone number I wanted to use. This screen shot shows how one can pick a phone.

There is a rudimentary search, but if one wants to have a phone that spells a word or a phrase, then this search dialog is not really helpful. You are also given only five phone numbers at a time and you can not filter these numbers. For example, I would like to ask for phone numbers that does not contain 0 or 1 (which do not have letters associated with them).

The brute force approach was to look at the current five phones, select ones that do not have 0s or 1s and paste them into a website that tries to match a phone number with words (I used After repeating the process a few times I realized that it was way to slow…

screenshotSome time ago I cam across Sikuli and it seems that this was a job for this software. I quickly wrote a script (using their IDE) that found all radio buttons, selected phones next to them, copied them into Notepad, clicked “Next 5 >” button and repeated the procedure. Strangely enough, I did not see a direct way to copy/paste text in Sikuli, and that’s why I had to use keyboard shortcuts.

Once I got the phone numbers in the text file I wrote a trivial perl script to filter out ones that I wanted and create links to that would show what the numbers can spell. The list of links was opened in Firefox using Url lister plugin.

At this point all I had to do was to look at a web page with proposed words and if I did not like them I simply closed the tab, which presented me with the next opened tab. This way I was able to review many numbers quickly and pick the one that I liked.

Data Visualization at the New York Times

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

I attended a talk by Amanda Cox (webcast) from New York Times. She highlighted some of the work that required data visualization published on New York Times website. Her presentation was done in an unusual style: each point of her talk was illustrated by one or more examples life from the New York Times website. The most memorable points for me were:

  • Good songs have good background singers (example). This means that providing background or relevant information can enhance overall data presentation.
  • Annotation layer is the most important thing that they do (example). This means that providing helpful information along with the visualization helps viewers to understand the information.
  • Amanda stressed that it is not yet clear how to balance story with an interactive presentations. I would say RPG games are haunted by this problem as well.

“Presenting data and information” by Edward Tufte

Friday, October 1st, 2010

I attended one day course by Edward Tufte. The course included four and a half hours of lecture and four books by E.T. I found the topic of the class very important and information useful. I did not find the presentation itself to be something very special. It was well done, but not as good as it could have been. After I actually read the books I will be able to comment if the class was adding anything to the books, because most of the class we were looking at some pages of the books. I will leave the discussion of what I think about the “class teaching method” to a later post. In this post, I will highlight some of the content of the class, mostly as a memo to myself. Word presentation is used as a loose term that can refer to a a plot, picture or actual presentation slide.

  • It does not matter how a presentation is done, or what methods are used, as long as the presentation is clear. Do not limit yourself by pre specifying the method of the presentation.
  • Annotate linking lines, because linking lines indicate causality. One needs to differentiate and specify these causalities in order to add meaning to the linking lines.
  • Boxes around text are always only add clutter. This is part of a general rule: if it does not add to the presentation, get rid of it.
  • Format should be invisible, content should be prominent.
  • Simple graphics use a small part of our visual processing capacity. Be aware of it.
  • Clutter and confusion are a failure of the design, and it is not failure of data or viewers.
  • Maps are examples of a very good design (no boxes around street names).
  • Your audience is more like you are than any other group of people (other than your family). This means they are as intelligent as you are.
  • A better way to do presentation (E.T. claims it saves 1/3 of time): provide super-graphics (high resolution data) before presentation to allow viewers to use their time to think about it, then follow up with a discussion.
  • Use smallest visual ques to indicate importance. This means that if making a word bold is enough, do not make it a bigger font as well.
  • Any symbol or mark must convey information. Be aware that an empty space can also be activated (negative space). This is another reason why boxes around text hurt the presentation. They create clutter and activate negative space, while not providing any useful information (text position itself indicates where it is).
  • Try to present all the data at once. Do not make people flip back and forth between the data plots if it is at all possible.
  • Order by substance not alphabetically.
  • Find a good design and copy it.
  • Provide evidence that testifies to your credibility. Viewers are looking for it, it will make them believe your presentation.
  • Bring real objects to your presentation. As an example E.T. brought first printed editions of books by Euclid (400 years old) and Galileo (also 400 years old).
  • No matter how beautiful an interface is, it could be better with less of it.
  • Show up early for your presentations.
  • Finish your presentation early.

Mac experiences, swithcing from Windows7

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Due to the circumstances (aka job requirements) I pursue Java development on Mac OS X. I did not have too much experience with macs before, but I always heard that Apple places usability of their products as the very first priority (therefore no multitasking on iPhones). Given such rumors I had very high expectations. So here are my impressions.

The very first thing I had to do is to change my password on the first login… and, of course, I did not know the requirements for the password length. Could you imagine my confusion when I entered the password, repeated it, and after pressing okay button all I see is a shaking window and cleared password fields. Did I enter the second password wrong? Did I do something else wrong? No hints, no messages, just empty password fields. Is there anything else to say?

Once I got in, I wanted to adjust windows on my screens. To my surprise, I can only resize window by dragging the corner. I can not resize by dragging the side of the window, which is very annoying if I want to extend a window to the left, because it is already against the right edge of the screen. I am used to using keyboard shortcuts to position windows on the screen and then use mouse if I need more adjustments. For windows I am using winsplit-revolution. For Mac I found ShiftIt, which is not as powerful or configurable as winsplit-revolution, but at least it is also free.

Okay, how do I set a keyboard shortcut to start an application? Not clear at all. Long time users of the Mac suggested to use Spotlight, Quicksilver, and, of course, “just click it on the Dock…”. The fact that I need a third party software for such a task is surprising to me. I ended up using Quicksilver.

Default bindings for Home and End keys were especially alien to me. My first response was to adjusting key bindings, and customize keys for Firefox, which allowed me to change accelKey to be control key, just as Firefox on Windows (the same applied to Thunderbird). But at the end I went back to defaults and learned the mac way…

On the bright side I like having shell without a need for cygwin. After using mac for a few month I would say I am 95% as proficient with it as I was with windows (the other 5% being remembering OS specific features such as taking a screen capture, etc.)

C++ logger class

Monday, February 8th, 2010

I was looking for a logger implementation for one of my projects. I needed a few features: simultaneous output to a console and a log file, efficiency, and ease of use. Quick google search revealed a few candidates: Apache log4cxx, and Pantheios. Do it yourself articles (example) about home made logging I ignored, because I have done enough of those (Boost Logging Library v2 is in the same category for me). Given that my primary platform is Windows, log4cxx was dropped, as windows was not directly supported.

Compiling a few examples for pantheios was not difficult, but getting it to do exactly what I planned, which is to have output to a console and a file at the same time, was a little more challenging. The solution was not obvious from the documentation, and sample name mx.1 did not stand out to me as meaning Mixing different back ends. But after searching in pantheios forums I have found the answer to my question.

At the end of the day Pantheios was my choice. We will see how happy I will be with it after I play with it for a while.


Monday, January 18th, 2010

Avatar movieIn short, I liked it. Yes – it was a bit long, yes – it was naive, yes – there were no strategy in the final battle. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the movie and recommend anyone to watch it in a movie theater on a big screen.

Electric shaver

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Braun Series 7- 790cc Pulsonic ShaverMe and my wife decided to make a present to both of us by buying an electric shaver for me (who does not like presents like that?). Shaving every day with a regular razor irritates my skin, which is not fun. Not shaving every day irritates my wife’s skin, even less fun. My only experience with electric shavers was when I used a cheap kind, which did not do a good job. That’s why we decided to invest in an expensive shaver. Enter Braun Series 7- 790cc Pulsonic Shaver. The first impression was… very good. We will see how my skin reacts to it after the adjustment period of a few weeks.

RescueTime vs ManicTime vs Wakoopa

Monday, January 18th, 2010

After running ManicTime I found the application was not meeting my requirements exactly. The application does not reuse tags automatically, this means that I need manually assign tags every an application was used. On the other hand, the statistics pane allows me to create specific groups of applications that are used to show time, which essentially gives me the result I want. The downside is that there is no information about what documents were open by the applications. If I use the same applications for different projects, then I can not differentiate between those projects. On the good side, the program author responded very quickly to my request and promised that the new release will have some updates that will be useful for me.

Software for time tracking

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

I have been using RescueTime for more than a year. By “using” I mean that the application was running on my computer. Time to time I went online to see how my time was spent. Recently, after not visiting the site for a long time, I found out that my data is stored only for three month and some features (a year overview among others) are available only in paid accounts. It seems that $50 a year is not that much. But before committing my cash I decided to see what other options are there. Thanks to (new website to me, and a good one too) I found a few alternatives.

Before going through the alternatives, I will specify what it is that I am looking for from an application like this. The most important usage for me is to know how much time I spent on a certain project. This simply means that I want to be able to specify what applications (documents in applications) corresponds to what project. Tagging is a way to do that. The next step is to see how much time different activities within a project occupied my time. This is also can be accomplished by tagging. I see benefits of storing the data online, but it is not a priority for me, because I do not plan to use multiple computers. For the next year or so I see myself working exclusively with windows and hence support for other operating systems is not a priority.

wakoopa: First impression was negative. After business like RescueTime, all the colors, pictures, and profiles looked a little alarming. Similarly to RescueTime, the data is stored online. Unlike RescueTime the account is free.

slifelabs: Looks too commercial without enough information to convince me to try them. Hence I did not even sign up there.

ybex: Seems to be oriented on what they need and my benefit is a side effect. This was not very convincing, hence no signing up there either.

manictime: Unlike RescueTime, the data is stored locally and the program is freeware, but for Windows only. The application has much larger memory footprint than other solutions.

Osho books.

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

I enjoy reading Osho’s books, even though they do get repetitive (for a good reason), here are some thoughts about them.
Freedom: The Courage to Be Yourself (Insights for a New Way of Living Series)

Freedom. This book introduced me to a few interesting concepts: “freedom for”, and “three dimensions of freedom”. Given that for Osho (and I agree with him) freedom is the ultimate goal, the topic of freedom is a very important topic. Surprisingly I was thinking very little about this topic before (yet another stab into self-hypocrisy). Great read.

Joy: The Happiness That Comes from Within (Osho, Insights for a New Way of Living.)

Joy. Yet, another good read. If you understand the difference between pleasure, happiness, and joy, there is no need to read the book. If you do not know what is the opposite of joy, or how pain and pleasure are connected, then, please, read the book.

Intuition: Knowing Beyond Logic

Intuition. Taxonomy of bases for our actions: instinct, intellect, and intuition. The differences and similarities between these methods are explained. A very good book to read for a scientist.

Meditation: The First and Last Freedom

Meditation. Different meditation techniques with some explanation of why and how they work. An amusing read, but I am not sure that it is fully applicable to our times.