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How I Got Started in Computers and Programming Thursday, 02/28/2013

Posted by Percy in Personal, Programming, Technology.
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7 comments

After coming across this article, I started thinking about how I got set down the path I’m on. So, if for nothing that to help me remember one day, I thought I’d write it down.

I started playing with computers fairly early on. I’ve got two experiences that stick out in my mind as being formative for the young techie that I was back then. Sadly, I can’t remember which one came first though. So, I’ll just share both.

At some point in my early childhood, we got a Commodore 64. I had fun just playing games on it and such. Rich and I spent many (many, many) hours playing Willow Pattern Adventure But, I remember my Mom sitting down with a programming book, and making the dang thing play “When the Saints Go Marching In”. Now, it took a massive amount of coding to make it play a simple melody in BASIC, but something about seeing a machine do something you asked by typing in the right thing piqued my interest. I ended up finding the book that had the code in it, and started entering it myself. I had no idea what I was doing, but I think that’s where I started seeing what computers could do.

I think that happened around the same time as I started 5th grade, which is the other geek story I have. So, by that time Apple ][‘s were pretty ubiquitous in classrooms. Me and my old buddy GP (@zorbadgreek, about.me page) just started checking programming books out of the library and we’d use all our “activity time” typing the simple BASIC programs we found into it to see what would happen. We spent so much time on the computer that our teacher at the time (thank you Mrs. Chitwood) actually moved us to the back of the room so that we were the closest ones to the computer. That way, whenever we got done with our work and had some time, we could jump right on the computer and start to hack away. Who knew that almost 8 years later, GP and I would be rooming together and starting our Computer Science journey together at Georgia Tech?

There are a lot of events that have come along the path that have shaped my journey into this field, but those are the two earliest and foundational events.

So, what set you on your current path?

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Thoughts on Windows 8 Monday, 01/30/2012

Posted by Percy in Technology.
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1 comment so far

I’ve been using Windows 8 on my three year old “tablet” PC (i.e. laptop with touchscreen that spins around) off and on for the past few weeks or so. So far, I’ve been pretty impressed with it – to the point that I’m seriously considering going Windows Phone when it comes time to replace my trusty iPhone 4. Too, if the new tablets are priced right and not as heavy as the prototypes I saw at Tech-Ed, one might be coming home at some point.

With Windows 8 (non-server since I haven’t tried the server version), I think there are some strengths and weaknesses which I’ll throw out.

Strengths
Backward compatibility with Windows 7 – apps still run

While I haven’t found any metro apps to install (the app store isn’t available for the dev preview), I have been able to install some of my favorite apps without issue – Evernote, Dropbox, Chrome, Firefox, etc.  And, so far as I can tell, they all run like they should.  You don’t get the full-screen Metro UI or a neat tile to go along with them, but they open in the “Desktop” section of the UI and run just fine.  I haven’t installed a ton of apps since I’m limiting myself to a 60 GB VHD, but except for a few specific instances I’m planning on using it for my main OS on my laptop – at least until the preview expires.

Metro UI makes sense

From the first time I saw the new UI running on my machine, it was usable.  There were a few little quirks I had to figure out, but for the most part, it made sense.  Having a touch screen really helped, though.  The first time it booted up, I just swiped through the apps with my finger, and moved a few icons around.  I even found the menu at the right by myself, just by swiping at the edge of the screen.  I can’t seem to get the multi-touch working on my machine right now, so I can’t do all the neat tricks.  All in all, though, once you see it, you know how it works.

Tiles are really cool

I really am enjoying the “tile” interface, especially those that are larger and can report back info.  I can see the reason for them very quickly, and I now get all the Windows Phone commercials about getting the info quick and getting out.  Currently, if I want to check the weather, I have to pull out my phone, unlock it, go into the Weather group, open up my weather app (The Weather Channel), and let the app load to pull up data.  I can see that if I had a Windows Phone with the weather tile expanded and set up correctly, all I would need to do is pull out the phone and unlock it.  The information would be displayed for me very quickly.  Theoretically, to get all the info I want from my device, I can see just unlocking it and scrolling through the tiles.  If the apps are set up appropriately, I shouldn’t have to open any of them.

Waking from sleep is FAST

So, I’m running this on a laptop that’s three years old.  It’s a dual core with 4Gb of RAM, so it’s not the top of the line, but it’s not completely ancient either.  Waking from sleep on Windows 7 takes a good amount of time.  It takes enough time that I really only use it when I’m done with using the computer for a while.  I used my tablet at a local conference recently and I had forgotten to set the power settings like I prefer.  So, a few minutes into a session, it went to sleep.  I didn’t notice until I had something I wanted to put in a note in Evernote.  My first thought was “Dang it, now I’ve got to wait for this to boot up and I’m going to miss the next few of this session.  Maybe I should just load it up on my phone and take notes from there.”  Then, I remembered seeing videos of people starting from a cold boot in less than a few seconds, so I gave it a shot.  In a few seconds, I was at the welcome screen, and after putting in my PIN (more on that later) I was back taking notes.  The whole experience reminded me of unlocking my phone (or, as an extension, an iPad) and was just as fast.  Needless to say, I wasn’t worried about letting it go to sleep after that.  In fact, I’ve changed my normal power setting to allow it to sleep much more quickly than I do in my Windows & instance.  It really does give you the tablet feel in this respect.

PIN login

So, there are three “passwords” you can set up in Windows 8.  The first is your usual alphanumeric pass phrase.  The second is a picture “password” where you’re shown a picture, and you perform a pre-defined set of gestures to login (similar to the android “connect the dots” unlock screen).  The third is using a PIN, much like on the iPhone or iPad.  I have to admit, when my machine woke up from sleep and I was using it as a tablet (screen turned around so the keyboard was behind it), I thought it was going to be a pain to type in my password.  However, I was asked for the PIN I set up, and just like on my phone I was able to quickly enter it and get on with what I was doing.  I realize it’s probably the least secure of the three options, and I’ll probably set up the picture password soon, but it was really FAST.

Sync with Live account

I’ve only got one machine running this OS right now, but I can see this being a cool feature.  I’m not sure what will be synced, but it did pull down my avatar which was a nice touch.  I assume this will integrate with Office365 or Live Mesh in some way.

Touch is a first class citizen, but works well with mouse/keyboard input

When you first see the Metro desktop, you want to reach out and touch it.  It just makes sense.  Like I’ve said, I’ve had a touch enabled laptop for about three years now.  With Windows 8 (and Vista before it), I might have used the touch features, but only on rare occasions or when I wanted to take notes using the stylus.  With Windows 8, I end up using some of the touch features even when I’m using a more traditional mouse/keyboard application like Visual Studio.  So, just by the nature of the UI, I’m using touch more, which is a neat experience.  I’ve also found, though, that the “Desktop” portion of the UI is “traditional input friendly” (i.e. lends itself well to normal mouse/keyboard input).  I didn’t feel that I was missing anything using the mouse and keyboard in this view.

Native ISO mounting

There’s no need for third party tools now to mount (or at least open) ISOs now.

Weaknesses:
AutoCorrect is missing

This is more of an issue with using the tablet PC features.  When I was taking notes at the conference, I really missed having autocorrect.  I would type a bunch of notes in a hurry, only to look back and have to correct a bunch of misspellings – most of which had to do with international characters (which I’ll go into more below).

Onscreen keyboard has some quirks – picks international characters

This may be just a setting I’ve gotten wrong, but there were some quirks when I was using the onscreen keyboard.  Every so often, I’d get an international character thrown in.  I’ve not spent a lot of time on this, but I’ve never see it anywhere else.

New apps automatically get a tile

This may be a setting somewhere, but it annoys me that every app I install gets a tile.  I think when I originally thought of the “tile area”, I compared it to the desktop.  For me, I have very few icons on my desktop.  I think the “tile area” is more of the start menu, just flattened out.  It would be nice, though, to have the ability to select which apps get icons and which don’t.

Indeterminite:
Metro UI’s useablility for business users

I’m still trying to understand if Metro really has a place in the business world.  Now, with Win8, you can get to a desktop and run all your normal apps.  So, just as much as Win7 has business use I think Win8 can.  But, that’s completely bypassing the Metro UI.

We’ll see how things go as Windows 8 gets closer to release.

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