December 30, 2011

Back to the Future–Predictions for 2012 in Tech

by Auri Rahimzadeh

A couple more days and it’ll be 2012. What a year! Let’s take a look at some new tech happenings from this year that got us pretty excited, and bummed, too:

  • Microsoft’s overall software reputation appears to be a lot better this year, with huge adoptions numbers for Windows 7… congrats on a great product, guys!
  • Windows Phone Mango (hey-oh! they shipped a great product, but it needs some company love!)
  • Android Ice Cream Sandwich (and the laughs that it was [legitimately] only on one phone!)
  • Plasma finally went on clearance, and good riddance (Sasha’s gonna kill for me this one)
  • iPads as laptop replacements (only to be carried around with keyboard cases)
  • AMD Fusion APUs (finally, low power processors that don’t suck)
  • *Still* no good office applications for Android
  • Large HDTVs are finally affordable *and* green
  • R.I.P. Steve Jobs – we will miss you

And here’s what will probably be declared dead in 2012, or so I hope:

  • Standalone portable game systems – who needs ‘em now that even media players run Android, have dual core processors, and play games from the Market?
  • Blu-ray 3D
  • Non-glasses-less 3D in the home
  • Non-LED backlit displays
  • Windows XP
  • IE 6, finally (although they’ll probably stick with IE8 and up)
  • Windows CE-based handhelds
  • ThunderBolt®/LightSpeed® ports on average consumer computers, with USB 3.0 being used instead
  • Google+ – does anybody use it?
  • Any iPod with a capacity under 32 GB

Things I’m looking forward to, or hoping are created this year:

  • Our 10th year in business – YES!
  • Windows 8, especially how it will run on ARM
  • Better Windows Phone advertising by Microsoft
  • Lots of interesting new things out of MS, now that their DOJ shackles are off
  • Windows Live Mesh integration in Windows 8, and a backup plan for using Live Mesh to auto-backup important files to the cloud, for free
  • CES 2012 (Vegas)
  • CEATEC 2012 (Japan)
  • Sprint’s Wi-Max based 4G, and a class action lawsuit for all those who paid the $10/month surcharge for a service Sprint didn’t offer in their area (ahem)
  • An Android interface building kit from Google that doesn’t’ stink, and helps you create great looking apps
  • A web service connectivity API for Android that doesn’t stink, either
  • A free utility to convert Flash to Android / iOS / Windows Phone apps, or at least get you a good way there
  • A free utility to convert Silverlight or Flash to HTML 5-based apps (I think Adobe’s working on this already, and Microsoft might beat them to it)
  • XCode for Windows (and I wonder if it won’t work on Windows8 when that’s released)
  • Superbowl 2012 in Indianapolis! w00t!

If I’m wrong about any of this, we may not be around to complain, since the world is apparently going to end before Christmas next year. Get your complaints in now!

My friend Andy Marken also has a great write-up about 2011 and 2012, which you can read here

December 28, 2011

Microsoft Free Antivirus May Save Your Day (or at least get you a free beer)

I’ve had to remove a lot of fake antivirus software lately. Microsoft has made my life incredibly easy now, thanks to the beta version of their new Microsoft Standalone System Sweeper (MSSSS) software. You download it (link below) on a CLEAN computer – shame on you if you create the boot media on the infected machine – and it walks you through the process of creating a bootable CD, DVD, USB thumb drive, or just creating an ISO file you can use anytime. The latest virus definitions are downloaded during the process, so you’re not instantly out of date, and are updated automatically if you run the install wizard again.

So, even if you’re not stuck with a virus, you probably know someone who is. Trade your few minutes of scanning for a night out, all from some free software from a company that lately is getting back its reputation for writing some darn good stuff.

image

Now, to be clear, this does not replace the need for full antivirus software being installed on a machine. Antivirus / antimalware software is good for keeping your system safe, no matter what OS you’re running. If you don’t want to pay for antivirus, which you generally shouldn’t have to, try the following:

If you’re running Windows XP or higher – and really, you should be on Windows 7 if you’re running Windows – turn on Data Execution Prevention for all programs and services. Right click Computer, Select Properties, then Advanced System Settings, then click Settings under Performance, then select the second option for All Programs and Services, as shown in the diagram below.

image

And, if you haven’t done so already, make sure your Adobe Flash, Adobe Acrobat, and Apple QuickTime (if installed) are fully up to date. It’s often vulnerabilities in these non-Microsoft products that get you infected, not vulnerabilities in Windows itself.

Link: http://connect.microsoft.com/systemsweeper

December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays from The Auri Group!

Well, it’s that time of year again. Time to blow your holiday budget on as many gadgets you can get away with buying without getting into too much trouble. Oh, and to spend time with family and friends, and play with their toys, too. Seriously, though, we wish you the warmest holiday season and a happy new year.

If you haven’t had a chance to enjoy it yet, take a gander at our holiday video, or last year’s, or the year before that.

The Auri Group 2011 Holiday Video
December 20, 2011

Interesting Article: The Rise and Rise of JavaScript

imageI’m a big fan of computer history, and especially the history of the Web. Anybody remember LiveScript? Well, folks, that’s what Netscape – remember them? – called JavaScript before they licensed the name from Sun. If you’re only starting to get into JavaScript development, you’re lucky – the beginnings of it were horrible, plagued with incompatibility and lots and lots of swearing.

I came across a great article about JavaScript and its beginnings and where it is now. It’s always good to know the past, which will prevent problems in the future, or so we hope. Enjoy the read.

http://dannorth.net/2011/12/19/the-rise-and-rise-of-javascript/

-Auri

December 9, 2011

CSS Specificity: What It Is, and Knowing the Rules

by Nicholas Bannister Andrews, UX Engineer, The Auri Group

imageCSS specificity is not actually difficult to calculate once you know the rules. And knowing the rules can make it easier for you to construct efficient CSS selectors to target exactly what you want without making the selector convoluted and overly complex. This can lead to properties either matching more or less than what you want them to match.

I learn best by doing so I created a small webapp to calculate the specificity of the CSS styles it is given.

It does not parse or validate CSS, so you should probably use the W3C CSS validator to make sure everything is copacetic. I also made the source code available on github.com for those who like code.

Specificity Rules

I used the rules published at http://reference.sitepoint.com/css/specificity as they seemed the most straight forward and easiest to follow.

The first rule on inline styles I ignore, as my webapp processes stylesheets rather than entire webpages. I personally stay away from inline styles as they can make debugging much more difficult down the road and make style upkeep difficult by multipling the number of places you have to search.

1. If one declaration is from a style attribute, rather than a rule with a selector (an inline style), it has the highest specificity. If none of the declarations are inline, proceed to step two.

2. Count the ID selectors. The declaration with the highest count has the highest specificity. If two or more have the same number of ID selectors, or they all have zero ID selectors, proceed to step three.

3. Count the class selectors (for example, ".test"), attribute selectors (for example, "[type="submit"]"), and pseudo-classes (for example, ":hover"). The declaration with the highest total has the highest specificity. If two or more have the same total, or they all have totals of zero, proceed to step four.

4. Count the element type selectors (for example "div") and pseudo-elements (for example, "::first-letter"). The declaration with the highest total has the highest specificity.

Examples

Now for an example. Say we are comparing two similar style rules that are targeting first-child list elements. The first is: "ul#special-list.inline-list li:first-child" and the second rule is: "div#main-content ul.inline-list li:first-child"

Let’s count the selectors!

IDs

  • Rule 1: one (1) ID; #special-list
  • Rule 2: one (1) ID; #main-content

Classes/Pseudo-classes/Attributes

  • Rule 1: one (1) class; .inline-list and one (1) pseudo-class, :first-child
  • Rule 2: one (1) class; .inline-list and one (1) pseudo-class, :first-child

Elements/Pseudo-elements

  • Rule 1: two (2) elements; ul and li
  • Rule 2: three (3) elements; div, ul, and li

This gives us the specificity matrix of [0,1,2,2] and [0,1,2,3]. Again, the "0" in the first column is for inline styles.

So, Rule 2 is more specific because it has one more element selector than Rule 1 does, while the other columns, for Inline Styles, IDs, and Classes, are all equal.

Now, let’s consider the following rules on level 1 headings: – Rule 1: "#main-content h1" – Rule 2: "body div article section h1"

The first has an ID of "#main-content" and a single element of "h1". The second consists of only five (5) element selectors: "body", "div", "article", "section", and "h1".

Since the first rule has an ID and the second does not, the first rule wins the specificity contest. A higher number in a same or preceding column will always trump any number in following column.

But what happens if they are equal on all columns? Well, that’s easy. The rule that comes last overrides the rules that came before.

Hopefully now, you’re beginning to understand the way specificity works. If not, fear not! Check out the resources below.

References

1. http://reference.sitepoint.com/css/specificity

2. http://www.w3.org/TR/CSS2/cascade.html#specificity

December 5, 2011

Why Aren’t You Syncing Your Stuff through the Cloud?

This weekend I had a rude awakening about backups. You see, I’m one of the rare folks who backs up every single night. My favorite laptop, an HP DM1Z, had a nice, pricey 240 GB SSD in it. The SSD took a dive. No worries, thought I – I have a backup! I use a Microsoft Windows Home Server from HP, and dutifully boot up my restore CD, only to find… I had only backed up the recovery partition. “***t,” thought I! Talk about a bonehead mistake – I never actually verified the stuff I wanted backed up was actually being backed up… I just assumed as much. So all was lost, and you feel really bad for me now, right?

Well, you shouldn’t. Yes, I lost all my original Israel photos and those I took in Japan this year. Yes, I lost my Kindle Fire review notes, and a few serial numbers. But you know what? That cloud thing is awesome. Here’s what I have:

· Microsoft Windows Live Mesh – All my music, important files, and so forth – even my Outlook signatures! – are automatically synced between all my PCs. All I did was sign on and all my files started rushing back to my laptop, ready to use. Note there are no storage limits as long as you’re syncing between PCs. Note that Live Mesh is only one of many great components of Windows Live Essentials.

· Firefox Sync – All my bookmarks, passwords, browsing history, were back on my machine in under an hour. Sync was included in FireFox starting at version 6.

· Windows Live SkyDrive – All the photos I had uploaded were all stored safely online. Yes, I lost the ones I didn’t send, and the online versions aren’t as high resolution, but hey, at least they’re not gone forever. Anyway, I can add my Photos to Live Mesh and not worry again!

· Facebook – Same thing for my photos again, cool. Still crappy Facebook quality, but then again, at least they’re there.

· Google Plus Instant Upload for Android – I may not use the service, but I sure do like the Android app’s feature where all phone images are automatically uploaded to a private album online. Sure, it doesn’t directly relate to this story, but should I lose my phone, I’ll be glad.

So, other than keeping my password as secure as possible, and hoping there’s no big breach of all those services (ahem, DropBox?), all my data is safely backed up in the cloud and on my other computers, automatically, for free. Talk about peace of mind. Can you imagine how this would have turned out ten years ago? You now have no excuse not to be backing up.

Thank you, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, for giving us all free software and services that make our lives easier. I may even click an ad today.

P.S. I still love my Windows Home Server, and you should, too. It’s awesome how it backs up every one of my computers automatically every night. Just make sure you select the right drives to back up Smile

November 17, 2011

Reporter’s Notebook: B&N Nook Tablet

by Auri Rahimzadeh

imageI picked up a Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet on Tuesday, a day ahead of it’s official availability. These are my impressions after a few days’ use.

Overall: 4 out of 5 – Recommended, especially for parents and those looking for a media consuming tablet. If you’re looking for something with a camera, or a tablet to replace your laptop, look elsewhere – this is a media enjoyment device, and it handles that task very well.

Pros:

  • Beautiful display, with viewing angles wide enough for sharing.
  • Quick and incredibly easy to use, especially for $249.
  • Support desks at B&N stores across the country.
  • Easy to set up, well geared towards new tablet users.
  • Great attention to detail on the user interface, other than typical Android annoyances, like no animation when changing orientation.
  • Double the storage of Kindle Fire for only $50 more, and expandable via MicroSD, unlike the Fire.
  • Decently light, and feels lighter than Kindle Fire.
  • Article View in magazines is a nice feature to bring text to the forefront in a quick, scrollable fashion.
  • “Just works” at Starbucks – no login required other than choosing the Wi-Fi connection, which is expected.
  • 2 free hours of reading every day at B&N stores nationwide – quite good for the parents as a holiday gift, and gets them out of the house.
  • Free Books for [all] Nook Owners every Friday

Cons:

  • Nook App Store – many apps that are free on any Android device via Android Market or Amazon App Store cost money on B&N’s app store. Compared to the other two markets, which support a great many devices, this seems counter intuitive.
  • Free books are hard to find. No free books included with device to show off its capabilities. There is a same of National Geographic, though, and an excerpt from a cooking book.
  • No obvious ability to share web pages, or save them as PDF for later reading/viewing.
  • No built in sharing other than lending books to others.
  • Free Books apparently require a credit card number, although I have yet to confirm this.
  • Didn’t ask for B&N Member Rewards number during sign up.

In Between:

  • A higher resolution screen would be ideal, although the 1024×600 is acceptable and readable-enough for the price point. Those who complain really should just go get a book, or wait a year when higher resolution displays are cheaper for tablet makers and used across more devices.
  • Netflix content is on the device’s content menu, but not Hulu+. Hulu provides a lot of television shows, so it makes little sense it wouldn’t be integrated with the menus of a media consumption device.
  • Closing the cover on the device when it’s in a case should either lock the screen or dim the display. Neither occurs.
  • There may be a low screen refresh rate – or at least it appears that way in dark rooms. I’ll have to test for this issue a bit more.

Bugs:

  • When reading PDFs, there’s a grey bar on the top of the screen, taking up 5% of the real estate. So, no full-screen PDF viewing in Portrait orientation.
  • Included Netflix app Instant Queue doesn’t work instantly. Must first add the item to the queue, then close the window, then tap it to play, even though the notification icon has the play icon on it.
  • “Sign In” link on Home screen is for Netflix, which makes little sense. Also, I was already using Netflix on the device, but it wanted me to sign in again to “link” my Netflix account to my B&N account. Why didn’t it do that automatically when I used the Netflix app on the device? Or during setup?
  • The browser-based sign-in screens on the device only use 40% of the screen real estate, making it incredibly difficult to navigate.

Other Observations:

  • To make up for the lack of apps that I use for reading news, I’ve started using the [gasp!] browser again. The browser on the Nook Tablet is incredibly easy to use and fast. Of course, that’s to be expected – it’s basically a skinned Android browser :)
  • I love the sounds the Nook makes when it’s charging, charged, unplugged, and unlocked. It’s the little things that make the experience.

IMAG0531

From the backside. From left to right: Amazon Kindle Fire, B&N Nook Tablet, Samsung Galaxy Tab (original 7 inch).

IMAG0527

Face forward. From left to right: Amazon Kindle Fire, B&N Nook Tablet, Samsung Galaxy Tab (original 7 inch).

IMAG0529

Thickness comparison. From left to right: Amazon Kindle Fire, B&N Nook Tablet, Samsung Galaxy Tab (original 7 inch).

IMAG0530

Best buds. From left to right: Amazon Kindle Fire, B&N Nook Tablet, Samsung Galaxy Tab (original 7 inch).

IMAG0511

The Nook features a very well done, informative intro video. This product is well geared towards the non-techie crowd. Of course, I’ve also heard it is easily rooted (hazzah!).

IMAG0512

The Nook easily connects to Wi-Fi. At Starbucks and Barnes & Noble it automatically connects. When you enter a B&N shop, it even asks if you want to start shopping or read a book. Nice touch.

November 13, 2011

Guys Buy Stuff on the Internet, Too – An Article on Marketing to Males

My friend Andy Marken sends an email once a week containing an article that’s always interesting. See, Andy’s in marketing and communications, and has been for quite some time. He’s very good, very thorough, very connected, and very honest in his writing. I quit e enjoyed this week’s article, and I’m posting it on our blog. I think I may do this more often – while we write our own entries, I’ll post his as well to keep our followers informed :)

Best,

-Auri

From Andy:

You may not have noticed it but the other half of the population likes guys …they just don’t "like" them. Even the best of us are OK to have around sometime but women are always trying to remodel us.

Big difference is women have better role models and even when their role models are bad they’re good!

Just remember guys make decisions too – when the woman says he can, And hey we buy stuff…lots of stuff!

If you find it interesting/informative/helpful/fun, pass the piece along to those who want to/need to know.

Here’s the link — http://bit.ly/tLx3xQ

Use it as you want with or without attribution.

October 27, 2011

Underappreciated Numerical Aspects in Computing

by Brett Riester, Senior Engineer, The Auri Group

Personally, I wanted to write about this on November 11, because it then it would be "binary" day, 11/11/11. Of course, there were other binary days in the 21st century so far (in the year 2011, as well as 2010, 2001, and 2000); e.g. on 01/01, 01/10, 01/11, 10/01, 10/10, 10/11, and on 11/01 and 11/10 (coming soon to a theater near you!). But 11/11/11 is the real symmetrical one!!

[BTW, 10/28/11 can also kind of/sort of be thought of 11/11 because 1+0+2+8 /11= 11/11, but that's another story.]

Numbers have long been a cornerstone of computing, and thus hold a special significance in the discipline of computing technology and, specifically, in software development. Whether rigorous or not, in one form or another, they have played both central and supporting roles in the context of the whole gamut of this ever-growing field, from transportation, housing, business, industry, government, healthcare, and commerce-type software to digital/interactive games/entertainment, web- and mobile- based "apps" to, nowadays, software running through your kitchen refrigerator or even toaster (-oven)!

My personal interest in numbers mainly focuses on how we represent and manipulate them in computers via software, however, my educational background was supplemented with a math degree, so I am interested in them from a purely mathematical perspective, as well.

Wikipedia describes some number formats used in computing at http://bit.ly/rAyzRh. There, they describe numbers represented as "bits and bytes" (as well as "nibbles"), number systems such as binary, octal, and hexadecimal, in addition to decimal/fractional formats e.g. floating-point numbers.

Wikipedia (as well as many other places both online and off), can give you the "mechanics" of numbers/systems/formats, but I’m going to try to relate a bit more of their "philosophical" aspect, and/or some of the "bigger-picture" of their role in (modern, digital) computing (and perhaps society). First, in order to begin to realize just how important are these little things that we call numbers, try to imagine a world without them. Such a world is difficult to really imagine at all (at least for me). For, if you think about it, numbers form the basis of so many, many ways that people relate to one another, in terms of quantifying/valuing things (not just money) and differentiating/distinguishing all sorts of things from size (how big is that bread-box, anyway?) to area (how much land does my neighbor have on the other side of the fence?) to volume, weight, rates-and-conversions, etc., etc. – even time itself! (at least how it is measured) And would scientific/engineering disciplines even exist without numbers? Without numbers, we would still be in the Dark Ages (actually, really the Stone Age!!)

That’s society, though; let’s try to focus more on computing, specifically how numbers are used in the modern, digital age. Most people would probably agree that we are certainly living in a (very fast-paced) Technological (or "Digital") Age. So "digits" (i.e. numbers) are really the basis of this Age. Without numbers, we wouldn’t have any of our precious "modern-day-miracle" devices, gadgets, or "toys"; desktop/laptop computers, (smart) cell phones, (personal) electronics, game-consoles, even smart-cars and smart-houses! (the list goes on and on)

I think that we all know, at one level or another, the importance of numbers in our modern lives. But what about digital-computing, and software development? Without these, would we be programming on the abacus or something like that??

Numbers (in the context of digital-information and its processing/storage) is an extremely valuable tool in how we humans communicate and relate to each other in so many aspects. However, before continuing, I would like to say that its at least very interesting to note that the human-brain, so far as we understand it, is not digital at all. It is analog and is relatively very, very slow as compared to modern-day digital computing devices!

But, as tools, technological/computing devices (and thus effectively their digital-aspects/basis) are a cornerstone of many modern lifestyles of people from around the world.

So numbers are important; they matter. But how are they used, specifically in software engineering/development, that make them so "powerful"? Particularly, the Binary System, upon which most (if not all), "mainstream" (non-research-only) software is based. Well, nowadays, most modern software developers only infrequently need to think about binary numbers, and be concerned with how to manipulate them in programs that they write. That is in-large-part thanks to modern "3/4/5GL" computer languages (and, of course, their supporting operating systems).

However, Binary still actually underlies all that "modern" software that they build. Computing, particularly in regards to software, is very-much like an onion, in that it has layers on top of layers on top of layers. Such that, even if you only work with it at a relatively "high-level", the "lower" layers get more-and-more Binary. After all, the lowest-level, the "raw metal" so-to-speak, is all just 0’s and 1’s!

Binary is so important (and powerful), that it’s hard for me to imagine computer/software really based on any other number-system. (even though it easier for us people to work with hexadecimal, or octal, or even decimal; BTW, Douglas Adams’ supercomputer named Deep Thought came up with the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything as 42 = 6 times 9, in base 13, that is!! http://bit.ly/sF5d9k)

Perhaps one reason is because I know that the (hardware) circuit-gates are either open-or-closed ("on" or "off", 1 or 0; i.e. Binary). But it is the (innovative) combination of these little 0 and 1 bits that make them so powerful. It’s a little like the old saying, "two heads are better than one", albeit billions of times over!

People in today’s society have been so pre-conditioned to just expect extreme speed and such high precision/accuracy from modern computing devices (at least, most of the time, barring inconvenient, albeit usually infrequent, malfunctions, not to mention the all-too-common PICNIC phenomenon, "Problem In Chair, Not In Computer"). But how many of us take a step-back and stop-and-think to realize the "true" basis of all these modern-day "dream-machines", which really is numbers.

So, the next time that your life is impacted by modern technology, pause for a "binary" second and gain a little bit of perspective of and deeper appreciation for numbers, upon which all this computing and digital "stuff" is really based!!

October 17, 2011

Indy Give Camp 2011 was a success! Free web sites for charities from tech gurus!

Indy Give Camp, started in 2010 and now in its second year, had another successful weekend of providing free websites to charities in need by team of local developers, designers, project managers, and other tech gurus.

The Auri Group sponsored this year’s event.

Our team created the new website for Rich Recovery Services. Compare the old and new here :)

This year’s charities included:

Note – the links above are to the new sites created for each charity!

Below are photos from the event – enjoy!

Related Resources:

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