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Category: Computers

Everything computer related

In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy

I listened to this audiobook from Audible while commuting and working out.

I love me some Google. I use Gmail as my only email, I use Google Voice as my main phone number, I use Google search exclusively, I love Google Maps and use it almost daily, I use Google Earth to geotag my photographs, and I watch videos on YouTube almost every day.

I think this book does a great job teaching us about how Google thinks as a company and how its founders see the purpose and direction of the company. I also think the book is a very honest look into Google, it exposes many of the rough spots the company has experienced in more detail than many of us know.

I do not like the way the book was written, it does not follow a single timeline but instead chooses to devote each chapter to a different topic and restarting the timeline at the beginning of the topic covered. And because the topics do not begin an end within the same time period I felt confused about when things were happening in relation to each other throughout most of the book.

On the other hand, Steven Levy is an amazing writer with a great voice, each chapter can stand on its own and maybe should have.

From the publisher:
Few companies in history have ever been as successful and as admired as Google, the company that has transformed the Internet and become an indispensable part of our lives. How has Google done it? Veteran technology reporter Steven Levy was granted unprecedented access to the company, and in this revelatory book he takes listeners inside Google headquarters – the Googleplex – to explain how Google works.

While they were still students at Stanford, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin revolutionized Internet search. They followed this brilliant innovation with another, as two of Google’s earliest employees found a way to do what no one else had: make billions of dollars from Internet advertising. With this cash cow (until Google’s IPO, nobody other than Google management had any idea how lucrative the company’s ad business was), Google was able to expand dramatically and take on other transformative projects: more efficient data centers, open-source cell phones, free Internet video (YouTube), cloud computing, digitizing books, and much more.

The key to Google’s success in all these businesses, Levy reveals, is its engineering mind-set and adoption of such Internet values as speed, openness, experimentation, and risk taking. After it’s unapologetically elitist approach to hiring, Google pampers its engineers with free food and dry cleaning, on-site doctors and masseuses, and gives them all the resources they need to succeed. Even today, with a workforce of more than 23,000, Larry Page signs off on every hire.

But has Google lost its innovative edge? It stumbled badly in China. And now, with its newest initiative, social networking, Google is chasing a successful competitor for the first time. Some employees are leaving the company for smaller, nimbler start-ups. Can the company that famously decided not to be “evil” still compete?

No other book has turned Google inside out as Levy does with In the Plex.

This edition of In the Plex includes an exclusive interview with Google’s Marissa Mayer, one of the company’s earliest hires and most visible executives, as well as the youngest woman to ever make Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” list. She provides a high-level insider’s perspective on the company’s life story, its unique hiring practices, its new social networking initiative, and more.

©2011 Steven Levy (P)2011 Audible, Inc.

I rate this book a 6 out 10 and recommend it to any techie that is interested in Google and its leaders.

BooksComputers

Head First PHP & MySQL by Lynn Beighley and Michael Morrison

I read this book on Safari Books Online using Firefox on a MacBook.

I am updating the Football Pool app that I built last year and want to make the database side of it more sophisticated and optimized so I searched Safari Books for some insight. After reading the overview of a handful of books I decided on Head First PHP & MySQL because it appeared to cover everything I was looking for.

The Head First series from O’Reilly tend to be a good blend of beginner level and intermediate level information. It is presented in a style that I think many will find helpful to the learning process with quizzes, crossword puzzles, and connect the phrases that go together to help reinforce what you have read. The series is much more than a "Dummies" or "24 hours" but less dry than book you may use to study for certification.

This book gave me almost all of the information I needed without too much trouble. I think there are many security issues that are not addressed that should be and the information about separating the zip code in a database schema did not make a lot of sense to me.

Overall I got what I expected from this book and will now read a book that is more focused on MySQL.

From the publisher:

If you’re ready to create web pages more complex than those you can build with HTML and CSS, Head First PHP & MySQL is the ultimate learning guide to building dynamic, database-driven websites using PHP and MySQL. Packed with real-world examples, this book teaches you all the essentials of server-side programming, from the fundamentals of PHP and MySQL coding to advanced topics such as form validation, session IDs, cookies, database queries and joins, file I/O operations, content management, and more.

I rate this book an 8 out of 10, I would have like more information about designing databases.

BooksComputers

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – The Game

I played this game using a MacBook Pro and OnLive. It took me 33 hours to play it through on the medium setting; I earned 2,050 of 5,000 points and 28 of 49 achievements.

I really enjoyed the original Deus Ex back in the day, at the time the idea of “augments” that allowed you to update your player as you went along was pretty unique feature of the game. In Human Revolution the augments are brought to a new level.

The only places I feel this game stumbled is in explanation for how certain augments function and the number an location of side missions. There are a few augments that I thought would be always-on but instead require activation. I felt like I did a LOT of running from place to place for no good reason, just lots and lots of running. Not so much that it ruined the game but enough that I spent some time being bored out of my mind.

Also, I was unable to find any side missions later in the game, they may be there, but I did not find them. I enjoyed the early side missions and really appreciated the extra cash, weapons, and augments I was able to earn and would have really appreciated more later in the game.

From the game’s web site:

You play Adam Jensen, an ex-SWAT specialist who’s been handpicked to oversee the defensive needs of one of America’s most experimental biotechnology firms. Your job is to safeguard company secrets, but when a black ops team breaks in and kills the very scientists you were hired to protect, everything you thought you knew about your job changes

Badly wounded during the attack, you have no choice but to become mechanically augmented and you soon find yourself chasing down leads all over the world, never knowing who you can trust. At a time when scientific advancements are turning athletes, soldiers and spies into super enhanced beings, someone is working very hard to ensure mankind’s evolution follows a particular path.

You need to discover where that path lies. Because when all is said and done, the decisions you take, and the choices you make, will be the only things that can change it.

I rate this game a 8 out of 10 and recommend it for any fans of first person shooters.

ComputersGames

Red Faction: Armageddon

Recently Onlive had a special offer to play Red Faction: Armageddon and Homefront for the 4 day Thanksgiving weekend. I didn’t like Homefront very much, the violence was a to much for me, but Red Faction: Armageddon was more to my liking.

Unlike Red Faction: Guerrilla, this version of the game is pretty much on rails with very little chances for the player to choose his own path. This is partly explained by the change in location, Armageddon takes place mostly underground instead of on the surface.

I did enjoy the new weapons, a few new mechs, and loads of new mobs.

I took me 11 hours to play all the way through the game at a medium setting. I was able to acquire 2,275 points and complete 25 of 48 available achievements.

From the Red Faction web site:

Half a century after the Red Faction resistance and their Marauder allies freed Mars from the brutal Earth Defense Force, harmony on Mars is again threatened but this time by a lethal force shrouded in mystery.

When the massive Terraformer that supplies Mars with its Earth-like air and weather is destroyed, the atmosphere turns to chaos, super-tornados and lightning storms engulf the planet. To survive, the Colonists flee to the underground mines and build a network of habitable caves.

Five years later, Darius Mason, grandson of Martian Revolution heroes Alec Mason and Samanya, runs a lucrative business from Bastion, underground hub of Colonist activity. Mining, scavenging, mercenary work–if the job is dangerous, Darius is your man. Few sane people now venture to the ravaged surface, aside from contractors like Darius and the smugglers who run goods between the settlements.

When Darius is tricked into reopening a mysterious shaft in an old Marauder temple, he releases a long-dormant evil and unleashes Armageddon on Mars. As Colonist and Marauder settlements are torn asunder, only Darius and the Red Faction can save mankind. The battle will take them across the storm-blasted planet–and below it, to the very heart of the unspeakable threat.

I rate this game a 6 out of 10 and recommend it for anyone looking for a quick FPS on rails fix.

ComputersGames

Trine, The Game by Frozenbyte, Inc.

I bought Trine as part of the Humble Bundle 3 and played it on a Mac using Steam.

I really enjoyed Trine, it is my favorite game from the Humble Bundle 3 package, it is the only one I have had enough interest in to play all the way through.

The game is a side scrolling fantasy game with 3 characters, a fighter, a thief, and a wizard. You use only one of the characters at a time to complete the puzzles, fight the bad guys, and make your way through the maze of world. And what a beautiful world it is.

I took a lot of screen shots, but none of them do the game justice. There is always something to look at, the static artwork is amazing and the animations are glorious. Looking at the screenshots on the Trine web site also fail capture the beauty of the world.

If you want to see a good representation of what the gameplay looks like check out some of the video in 720p on Youtube, they look great. The abilities of the players in the demo put my game skillz to shame, especially with the wizard, the idea of being able to make a plank that is falling then use it to run and jump over a gap is jaw dropping to me. After watching some of these videos I am eager to play through again trying to use some of what I saw.

From the game’s web site:

Trine is a physics-based action game where three characters allow clever solutions to challenges created by hazardous puzzles and threatening enemies. The gameplay is based on fully interactive physics – each character’s different abilities and tactics can be used to invent new ways to overcome obstacles and save the kingdom!

I rate this game a 9 out of 10, it would be a 10 out of 10 but the last level was beyond me without dropping the skill level to easy, and then it was to easy.

ComputersGames

Games I’ve Been Playing

I was thinking about it this week and even though I am a casual gamer I have been playing a lot of different games. Between playing Steam games on both Mac and Windows, OnLive games on the Mac, iPhone, and iPad games I realized I have been playing a lot of different games. Here are my thoughts on some of them.

Trine

I bought Trine as a part of the latest Humble Bundle and play it on the Mac through Steam.

This is such a great side-scroller. You play the rolls of a thief with a bow, a fighter with armor and a sword, and a wizard with the ability to create and move objects. You can switch between the three party members at any time, only one character is on the screen at a time, to complete the tasks presented.

The graphics are amazing, the music is mesmerizing, the voice acting sets the mood wonderfully, and the challenges presenting are a lot of fun.

I am not finished with it, only played for 4 hours so far, but am really looking forward to finishing it.

Red Faction: Guerrilla

I bought this game as one of OnLive’s $5 Friday deals and play it on Macs.

I am enjoying this game, it is ok, and it was a good value at $5, but… it is not great. After about 5 hours of gameplay I am getting a bit bored at the repetition of it.

It is a first person shooter (FPS) with drivable vehicles and multiplayer support. I am playing through the single player campaign. The single-player story has you on Mars as a miner turned rebel fighting to free the planet from the rule of the EDF who treat the miners poorly.

For an FPS the plot is ok, the mechanics are ok, the weapons are ok, but I am finding the effort to get new weapons and upgrades tedious.

I am not sure I will finish this game, but I plan on playing it at least another couple of hours before dropping it.

iPhone and iPad

I am playing the usual games of Sol Free, Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Infinity Blade, ReBounce, Rage, and Azkend.

More than any other game though I am playing Zynga Poker. It is ok on the iPhone and very cluttered/confusing in a web browser, but on the iPad it is great.

Trine I rate a 9 out of 10
Red Faction: Guerilla I rate a 5 out of 10
Zynga Poker for the iPad I rate a 9 out of 10, on the iPhone a 7 out of 10, and in a web browser a 4 out of 10.

ComputersGames

iPad: The Missing Manual by J.D. Biersdorfer

I read this book using a trial subscription with Safari Books Online. I recently decided that I want to use Safari Books Online to expand my knowledge of JavaScript and other web technologies that will help me build great web sites. I bought an Apple iPad with the idea that it will be a great reading device for Safari Books, eBooks, web sites, and even audio books. I will review both Safari Books Online and the iPad in future posts.

After using the iPad for a week there was a handful of things I had questions about, mainly interface elements that appear to be different between the iPad and the iPhone.

iPad: The Missing Manual went a long way towards making me a power user of both the iPad and the iPhone. The largest leap for me was learning that pausing on many of the keys on the keyboard will present other keys, sometimes they are accents and sometimes they are shortcuts to totally different keys. Very cool.

I like the way the book is organized, it is easy to find information you have already skimmed, and easy to use as a reference with clear table of contents.

I really appreciate the iTunes coverage, I would not initially think about this in a book about the iPad, but for users who are not familiar with iOS these sections are invaluable. iTunes is an integral part of working with and enjoying any iOS device like the iPad, iPhone, or iPod, and this book does a great job of explaining how the iPad and iTunes interoperate.

I rate this book a 7 out of 10 and highly recommend this book for iPad users that are new to iOS devices, but if you are an iPhone user you may want to skim the book in a store before paying for it.

BooksComputers

Typinator Mac Software

Price: EUR 19.99

Web Site: http://www.macility.com/products/typinator/

This is a great application that watches as you type and can fix your spelling mistakes in any application. It is a real life saver for me and my terrible typing/spelling. You can also set up shortcuts so that you can type a short bit of text and it gets replaced with much more text. I like to use “dt “, that is a “d” and a “t” followed by a space to insert the date, fantastic. And it will do this in any application, even the finder.

Computers

Software for Mac OS X

Over the next couple of weeks I am going to write about the software I have found for the Mac OS to make my transition from the world of Windows complete.

I am finally comfortable spending all of my computer time inside of the Mac OS. I still have WindowsXP in Bootcamp for playing games on Steam, and a couple virtual machines using VMWare and Parallels for the occasional Microsoft Outlook need or using Garmin Mapsource to upload maps and waypoints to my GPS, but I rarely miss Windows or proprietary applications that only run on Windows.

First up is BBEdit.

BBEdit

Price: $125
Web Site: http://www.barebones.com/products/bbedit/

The only real negative thing I can say about BBEdit is the price, $125 for a text editor just seems excessive. UltraEdit, which is still my favorite text editor is only $49.95, but on the Mac OS BBEdit is hands down the best text editor available in my opinion. I tried all of the free solutions and most of the payed solutions that have trials available and they all fall well short of BBEdit.

ComputersHappy

Drobo First Impressions

I purchased a Drobo from Newegg.com and three days later the UPS man dropped it off at my door. My previous post to the blog outlines the reasons why I chose the Drobo as a storage solution.

Setup was very easy, the top of the box full of cables shows the three steps to getting started and it really is that easy.

  1. I took the Drobo out of the box
  2. Removed the packaging material
  3. Inserted 4 Samsung 1TB hard drives
  4. Put the Drobo on my desk
  5. Plugged in the Firewire 800 cable
  6. Inserted the Drobo disc and installed the Drobo Dashboard
  7. Plugged in the power cable to the Drobo
  8. Here began my only snag, the Drobo appeared to go into a loop of restarting which it did not recover from. So unplugged the Firewire cable and then the power cable and restarted the computer. Once the computer cam back up I plugged in the Firewire cable and then the power cable and the Drobo jumped to life.
  9. The computer warned about the drive being unreadable and the Drobo began the process of walking me through partitioning and formatting the drive.
  10. I used a 16TB partition and HFS+ formatting. It was done in about 5 minutes and popped up on my desktop just like any external hard drive would.
  11. I immediately began copying my music library to the Drobo from an external USB drive

This really is an amazing device; I was able to start using it within 15 minutes of opening the box. It is almost invincible on my desk; its sleek black case and solid construction give me confidence. Not having to install rails on the individual drives is also a plus.

I have been using the Drobo for just over a week now and have copied just over a terabyte of data to the device now and am using it as my main photo and iTunes libraries.

Performance has not been an issue; the drive is plenty fast for audio, video, and working on 15 megapixel images in Photoshop and Lightroom.

Noise could be an issue for some users but not for me, my previous computer had 6 fans and sounded like a jet when fully overclocked, so the fan and drive noise from the Drobo is tame in comparison. I can hear the fan noise and I can hear each of the drives unpark, spin-up and park but it doesn’t bother me and can barely be heard over any game or music I am playing.

The lights on the front of the devise are not blindingly bright like the D-Link router and are actually dimmer than the lights on the Linksys router but are visible from a wide range of viewing angles.

So far I give the Drobo a 5 out of 5 across the board.

Computers

Why not an iPhone

After a lot of consideration we have decided to buy a second Palm Centro instead of an iPhone.

There many reasons I would really like a 3G iPhone, iTunes support, a beautiful screen, a decent camera, great web browser, and now with the App store about to open I am sure there will be a lot of great applications available. But I have been a PalmOS user for many years, right from the begining actually with the Palm Personal.

I have a lot of software for the PalmOS including Chapura Express, Documents to Go, Mobipocket, Jmileage, a handful of games, and some productivity tools. I have the phone sync’d with my Yahoo! calendar which is sync’d with both my personal calendar and my office calendar.

I find the real keyboard on the centro much easier to type on, it works for me even with motorcycle gloves when I enter my mileage. In fact, I typed this into Word To Go before posting it.

Cost is another consideration, with a 2-year extension the Centro is only $99 and add $20 for a 4GB microSD card. Compared to the cost of the $299 iPhone it is a real bargain. And with the Centro you can choose from different providers instead of being stuck with AT&T not to mention a wider choice of plans than the iPhone.

Oh yeah, with the Centro I can cut-and-paste, even between apps.

Computers