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Adam Harvey
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Google, you dun goofed. Somebody has decided that it's now time to foist the new GMail compose UI upon us all, even though it's clearly inferior for a number of use cases.

(Yes, I know it's prettier. I don't care.)

Reasons I can't use it day to day (here begins the rant):

1. The default reply pane is amazingly small. On my 1920x1080 browser window (which doesn't strike me as being on the small side), I can see a grand total of 7 lines of content. Believe it or not, some of my replies are longer than that. Sure, I can pop it out, and then full screen it, but there's no way to make that the default.

2. It seems to default to rich text e-mail. I don't want rich text e-mail.

3. Even if you've configured your account to have multiple sender addresses, you have to click into the "to" field to actually get a "from" box. This is important to me — I have multiple e-mail addresses that feed into the same account and need to make sure I'm sending e-mails from the right one.

4. It's very clunky to avoid top quoting in a reply. The old interface made it pretty easy to inline or bottom quote; the new one doesn't even show the e-mail you're quoting in the compose pane unless you click on the ellipse. Sure, the average user probably doesn't care much, but there are plenty of technical mailing lists where top quoting is still a faux pas, and making it harder to inline quote leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the technical user, who's the sort of person who gets his (for example) parents, and maybe girlfriend to sign up.

Of course, Google may just assume that they now have sufficient market penetration to not care about "influential" users. Depressingly, they're probably right.

When the new compose UI was first deployed last year, I submitted a bunch of feedback, as I'm sure a lot of people did. With the exception of the marginally useful full screen option that was added this week, as far as I can tell none of it was taken into account.

(Here ends the rant.)

So, I guess the upshot is that I now have to go looking for a desktop client again, which depresses me because every time I look they all suck for various reasons. Evolution is a bloated, crashy piece of crap. Thunderbird is slow, clunky, and has UX straight out of 1997. KMail is the only desktop client in recent years I've been even slightly happy with, but doesn't integrate well with the rest of my desktop.

So… suggestions? Back to alpine? Do everything from the superior, if not perfect, Android client? Bonus points if it will allow me to finally integrate GPG into my day to day e-mail.

Bah, progress.

An XBMC Odyssey: or why I now own an Ouya (and some early thoughts on it)

tl;dr: XBMC is advancing very fast on Android, and the Ouya seems like it will be a good companion for it, but they both still have significant rough edges individually and together. Usable, but unpolished.

XBMC has been my media centre of choice for some years now. It does what I want and gets out of the way the rest of the time, which is about all you can ask from that sort of software.

The challenge has always been to find appropriate hardware to run it on. Over the years, I've gone through:

● A wildly underpowered (think 1 GHz Athlon) white box PC that was acting as my file server and happened to be within easy cabling distance of my TV. That didn't really work out so well, particularly once I was given a shiny 1080p capable HDTV (which, sadly, didn't come to Vancouver with me), since it could only manage SD content on a good day.

● A jailbroken Apple TV 2, which I bought back in January 2011. This has a great form factor, a usable remote, and draws minimal power. Unfortunately, it couldn't really deal with content above 720p (which wasn't so bad, since it also can't output above 720p), and the need to stay jailbroken became an increasing yoke — in the end, I had to choose a couple of months ago between Netflix (which had stopped working with the iOS 4.3 install I had) and XBMC, and Netflix won.

● A Rikomagic MK802 a friend kindly gave me. This turned out to just not quite be grunty enough to run XBMC satisfactorily, both in Android and in Debian. It's frustratingly close to being good enough, but there's just that bit too much stutter in 720p content, and no real hope on the horizon that it'll improve due to the lack of public hardware specs.

● Since then, I've been using my battered old Macbook Pro running Debian. This has multiple issues, chief among them being that it runs way hot, takes up entirely too much space next to the TV, is subject to the whims of the binary NVIDIA driver's multiple monitor support, and has to be disconnected when I actually want to use it as a laptop.

Something clearly had to give.


Ouya's public release was yesterday, and in spite of it mostly selling out, it was available on for a surprising amount of time. In the end, I decided to drop the hundred-ish dollars required — we'd been talking about getting a HTPC for a while anyway, since the laptop situation sucked, and this looked a good way of getting something that could do that and also some light gaming here and there.

The unboxing was impressive: the packaging is fairly minimal but well thought out, and the device itself manages to look striking without being out of place next to a TV and Apple TV 2. Putting batteries into the controller seems a little weird due to the magnetised covers — they're nifty, but I can't shake the feeling they're completely unnecessary (and, given extra controllers aren't particularly cheap, I wonder if a more traditional cover fastening method might have allowed Ouya to hit a better price point there).

Setup, by contrast, was a bit of a pain. The firmware Ouya ships with has a major wifi bug which basically makes wifi unusable. There's an update available which fixes this, but you basically have to plug the Ouya into an Ethernet cable to get it — I could unplug my Apple TV temporarily to sort that out, but I can imagine there are going to be users who don't have the ability to plug in to their network and their TV at the same time easily.

There's also arguably one too many steps in the post-network setup: you're prompted to set up an Ouya account (fine), but are then immediately required to enter credit card details or redeem a coupon. I get why Ouya would want you to be able to buy stuff straightaway, but by the time you've tap-tapped your way through the (sometimes excellent, sometimes awful) on screen keyboard to enter all of that information, the warm glow of playing with a new gadget has definitely cooled a bit.

Initial impressions

The UI is pretty, and reasonably good in the TV/controller context, but it's a very thin veneer over stock Android at times. Advanced settings is simply the stock Android settings app (in non-tablet mode, natch) with some very poorly designed additions — the HDMI screen is a mishmash of different font sizes, terribly worded options, and lacking the actual option I wanted (the ability to control the output mode — our TV here claims to do 1080p but actually downscales to 1360x768 in firmware, and it looks pretty horrible; I'd much prefer to be able to force Ouya to output 720p, since it's quite capable of doing it).

The discover tab is still pretty slow: I gather Ouya has improved its firmware considerably in the developer and Kickstarter phases, but there's still work to be done there.

The make tab feels incomplete, to say the least: getting information on the browser app (or any other Android app you've sideloaded) results in a weird screen of placeholders and download buttons. I'm not sure why that particular screen is available at all, honestly. As a basic launcher, it works. Just.

There's promise here — there's a design vision that I think is actually going to turn out just fine — but it's being hampered by seemingly rushed, untested code at present.

On the hardware side, the controller is adequate, based on five minutes of gameplay thus far, but probably no more than that. I know some people hate it: it's not that bad for me, since it mostly fits in my hand, but there is a bit of a stretch for some of the buttons, and the edges on the D-pad are a bit rough. It actually feels more like 1.0 hardware than the Ouya itself, which is unfortunate.

XBMC on Ouya

I installed a Gotham libstagefright build. For those who aren't following XBMC development, this translates to an alpha build with experimental hardware acceleration for video playback.

Coming from Froyo (the current stable version), the interface is basically the same, which is a good thing, since I think XBMC has basically nailed it for the last couple of versions. I've noticed the odd bug (SMB autodiscovery is broken, but you can add sources by hand), but the UI mostly works OK. (The other significant bug I found was that the Ouya controller doesn't work with XBMC text entry boxes, which are mercifully rare in XBMC's interface — at least Ouya has a USB port you can plug a real keyboard into.)

Video playback is impressive. I tested a mixture of SD, 720p and 1080p content, and it was generally fine. I have a couple of 1080p videos that seem to push it just far enough that there are some dropped frames, but it's still watchable, and I think there's reasonable hope that things will improve further here. It's a noticeable step up on an Apple TV 2 performance-wise.

The one lingering concern I do have is that XBMC has hung a couple of times already, albeit in situations where I've been pushing it pretty hard (seeking while playing a HD video while a library scan takes place in the background). For now, I'm happy giving it a pass — it's alpha software, after all, and the Ouya UI is still accessible, so it's not as though the device has to be rebooted. Good enough.

Have I found the solution?

In the longer term, I think so. I suspect the next few months will be bumpy at times: XBMC still needs to stabilise (both in terms of the Gotham release and the Android libstagefright support), and Ouya will have to make some pretty significant firmware updates to be truly competitive, but they both seem to be tracking in the right direction.

It's usable now, but hopefully come Christmas it'll be awesome.

Postscript: would I buy an Ouya right now as a gaming device?

My initial gut feeling is "no, unless you're a gadget freak or like tinkering". There aren't many games available, and the Ouya firmware is pretty rough. Both of these problems should be dealt with in time, but I don't know that a casual gamer's going to get much out of it right now.

#ouya   #xbmc

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There isn't an announcement post for this at the moment on the frontpage, but PHP 5.5.0 alpha 2 is also out today, along with the previously linked 5.3.20 and 5.4.10 releases.

Most of the changes from alpha 1 were bug fixes, along with some engine-level improvements to how generators were implemented, plus you can now use dtrace on Linux. This is also the release where ext/mysql has started generating deprecation warnings.

If you have a chance to do some testing and open bugs for anything you find, that would be awesome.

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A salutary lesson in poor e-mail marketing. Maybe it's just spam and I've been slightly suckered.

1. |NAME| — smooth. Doesn't feel like spam at all.
2. I hope Andy Grignon and Blaine are getting paid, because that sounds suspiciously like "join up and fanboy at them".
3. Random question: are Hacker News and Reddit that hard to keep up with?
4. Again, most popular users. Why do I care? Coding isn't a popularity contest. (Thank $DEITY, says the PHP developer.)
5. OK, here's the bit that actually annoys me: "Your friend on Geeklist invited you to join". If you're going to use that line (presumably in an attempt to avoid accusations of spamming), you have to tell me who it was. Maybe let them put a message on.

In summary, this is about as annoying as the LinkedIn e-mails you can't opt out of that get sent over and over. Plus, the entire service just sounds like Google+.

Thanks, +Geeklist!

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Linux Australia have announced their Regional Delegates' Programme for #lca2013

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There is a slight danger here that I'm going to find Sir Timothy at some point and hug him while thanking him tearfully for my entire career.
Final keynote announced! Inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee #lca2013

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ext/mysql is now officially deprecated in PHP 5.5. Hide yo' kids, hide yo' wife, but especially hide yo' mysql_connect() calls behind PDO.

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Do you know Linux & Ruby/PHP? Love problem solving & have great communications skills? Want to work (remotely) with me?

Engine Yard is looking for a support engineer on the APAC team. The job description says "Tokyo", but the reality is that this is a remote position and you can do it from anywhere in the world as long as you're willing to work the APAC shift.

The support side of the organisation is 100% remote (including the Director of Support). The people are all extremely smart and talented, and the customers are usually very technical - this is not a "have you tried turning it off and on again?" support role. There's a list of stuff we use in our stack on the link, but I guarantee you'll encounter stuff you've never touched before - being able to pick up new technologies on the run and resolve issues under pressure are required skills!

Let me know if you have any questions about this, and definitely talk to me if you're planning to apply!

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The orange and all the zeroes means "good", right?
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