When I started to hear rumors about the iPhone5 earlier this year I was worried. I heard that Apple was definitely increasing the size of the screen. I always thought the iPhone had a great form factor for what people do with a smartphone. Here are my top 10 activities:

  1. Check Email
  2. Twitter
  3. Facebook
  4. iMessage
  5. Phone Calls
  6. Spotify
  7. Camera
  8. Foursquare
  9. Chrome
  10. Weather

Notice something missing from that list? Phone manufactures often tout the user experience of watching movies on some huge screen, but I never watch extended video clips on a phone. Sure, on occasion I will bring up a clip at restaurant, like showing my relatives a black bear eating from my father’s birdfeeder, but I don’t watch movies or TV from my phone. Laptops and tablets provide a superior video watching experience.

I see a lot of handset manufactures coming out with these huge bricklike phones that do nothing to help my top 10 use cases. Sure a bigger screen is nice, but its not nice when the phone can’t fit in your pocket and weighs ton.
With the iPhone5, my biggest fear did not come true. The footprint of the actual device is less than the iPhone4, even with the extended screen. Its noticeably thinner and lighter, which I really like. I also don’t have to bother with a bumper case since the antenna issue that plagued the iPhone4 is resolved.

While I’m not a fan of all the needless lawsuits going on in the smartphone industry, the prototype device pictures reminded me of the phone I used prior to the original iPhone.
Treo 650

I really loved my Treo 650, it was the first phone I owned that did e-mail well. You could even install “apps” and browse the web in a very limited fashion. It could definitely fit in your pocket, but it was a tight fit to say the least. It interesting to see the “bigger is better” smartphone trend. It reminds me of the SUV trend of the 90’s. At some point there will be a backlash.

Of all the phones I’ve owned over the years, probably the ultimate form factor for it’s time was the Nokia 8260.
Nokia 8260
The 8260 was an awesome phone considering it came out 12 years ago. It was absolutely tiny for the time, had great battery life, and an easy to use interface. Instead of looking to tablets for design inspiration, smartphone makers should spend some time with the Nokia 8260.

Its sad how political debate on the Internet has devolved with the rise of social media over the years. There is absolutely no worse offender than Facebook. Facebook has a major sharing crisis. People are posting less and less content. Content is what ultimately drives people to social networks.

To combat the trend of declining sharing, Facebook has implemented a number of mechansims. The first one was the website embdeded share button, which made it easy for people to post content from external sites. The second was the “like button,” which is basically one click sharing. Then Facebook introduced the ability to re-share content from your feed, making easy for posted content to go viral.

All of these advances have made it very easy for people to share information. So what’s the problem?

The ability to easily share other people’s content on social networks has led to a decline of political debate on the Internet. When is the last time you saw someone post something political on Facebook that was original content? People are no longing expressing their own thoughts and views, instead they are simply reposting cookie cutter content that is designed to be eye catching, but rarely ever does it actually inform.

Contrast today’s state of deterioration with the “old days” of blogging. The vast majority of content posted on blogs was original content. Sure, people reposted pictures and linked to other websites, but it usually included original content that built upon the parent post. The length of that content went far beyond 140 characters or an awkward picture with a catchy headline.

The real tragedy in this onslaught of unoriginal content is that good information is being drowned in a sea of “shares,” “likes,” and “retweets,” by people have never written a single original thought online. Its no longer about crafting a clever argument, its simply about re-sharing as much crap as possible.

Strava has become a huge hit in the cycling community. Adding a social element to cycling training has changed the way cyclists train. I’ve personally witnessed multiple people buying new Garmin GPS units because of Strava.

One thing that has differentiated Strava from other websites such as Mapmyride, Garmin Connect, and others is usability and good ascetic design. Strava has always looked really good, featuring beautiful icons and detailed maps. The source of Strava’s map data is Google maps. Google has changed the way map utilization is priced, making it a lot more expensive for a website like Strava to use Google maps.

Ironically, many people moved to Strava in late 2010 / early 2011 when Garmin Connect moved to Bing maps. Garmin didn’t do it for pricing reasons, it was a political move since Bing’s mapping provider is NAVTEQ, the same company which provides Garmin maps for their GPS units. Google is probably one of their biggest competitors since Android phones provide turn by turn directions for free.

Strava switched their production site to open street maps a few days ago. The only point where OSM map data is currently used are in the thumbnails users see in the activity feed.

Here is an example of what the old Google map thumbnail looks like:
Strava with Google maps thumbnail

Contrast that view with a thumbnail from Strava with OSM maps:
Strava with OSM maps

Notice the complete lack of detail? Its no surprise that the feedback to Strava has been overwhelmingly negative. Strava attempted to act like they were looking for community feedback for the decision to switch mapping providers, but its pretty clear that they were moving in the OSM direction long before the switch on the production website.

The lack of detail with thumbnails isn’t what is worrying most Strava users, its when they actually switch the ride view to OSM data. Garmin Connect switched away from Google maps, and users revolted. That is a 100% free service, Strava has many paying premium users like myself. The vast majority of Strava premium users pay just to support Strava, because the premium features are very underwhelming and haven’t changed much in over a year.

If Strava switches the ride view to OSM data, I can see the user community getting very upset. Once their is a certain expectation of quality, moving to an inferior alternative is never going to be stomached well by consumers. Ironically, the motivation for doing the map switch is cost cutting, yet Strava advertisements are plastered all over USA Tour de France coverage.

TSA Insanity

I haven’t posted to my blog in months, but my latest encounter with the TSA has to be documented.

I’m not a frequent flier, I usually fly about 5-10 times a year. Most of the time I’m travelling for extended trips, so I usually check my bags. This week I had a quick business trip to Pittsburgh.

You would think that the Philadelphia to Pittsburgh flight would be a very affordable ticket. There was a brief time when that was the case. A few years ago Southwest came in to Philly with great fanfare and had very affordable flights to Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, a few months ago Southwest stopped the PHL -> PIT route, and US Airways subsequently jacked the ticket price to $700 round trip.

Fortunately this was a business trip, but regardless of the reason for air travel we all have to go through the TSA. Tonight was a slow night, so there was no line. I walked right up with my boarding pass and my ID. After getting through that checkpoint, I went through my bin ritual as well.

After I walked through the scanner, a TSA employee asked me if I had anything in my pockets. The scanner did not go off, but I had my wallet. He then told me that my wallet would need to go through the bag scanner. He also told me that my buttocks would need a pat down from where the wallet was removed. He then told me not to move, as he wanted to swap me for some sort of explosives test. He also told me to look away towards the scanner as he was swabbing my hands and clothing.

After going through all this nonsense, the bag scan operator flagged my suitcase. Another TSA agent had to hand search my bag. She opened it up and went straight for my toiletry bag. I usually check my bag, so I’ve never bothered with this plastic bag idiocy.

She informed me that all my toiletries were the correct size, but I needed to get a plastic bag from the information desk. She then informed that I needed to place the toiletries in the plastic bag, leave the secure area with a TSA escort, then re-enter the security line and go through the ENTIRE process again.

I wasn’t sure that I really understood her, so I echoed back what she wanted me to do. She then mentioned that it was the process, and if I wanted to I could speak to her manager. I usually never do such a thing, but I said that I would LOVE to speak to your manager. The manger repeated the same line, that it was standard process. I literally had to go through the entire process again.

I hope everyone feels safer knowing that my toiletry bag is now in ziplock bag.

Since I started cycling a few years ago, I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of climbing hills. My home region of Northeastern Pennsylvania has some great climbs for the mid-Atlantic region.

Giant’s Despair

Giant’s Despair is the most severe gradient I’ve ever ridden. Don’t let the 6% fool you, there are long sections of 20% make this the toughest climb I’ve ever ridden in PA. I would highly recommend compact gearing and big cassette.

Red Rock Mountain
Red Rock is a tough climb because there is simply no place to rest. Its a straight climb with a headwall averaging 15% for at least a mile.

Plymouth Mountain
Plymouth mountain is a convenient climb since its easily accessible from the greater Wilkes Barre area. Coming from the valley is a challenging climb that averages 9%.

Bunker Hill
Close to Plymouth Mountain is Bunker Hill, which is not as severe as Plymouth but a very enjoyable climb.

I recently decided to pick up a Thinkpad X1. The X1 is a great blend of high performance in a compact form factor. Sub-4lbs, 2.7ghz core I7, 8GB of ram, USB3, 13in screen, HDMI, miniDisplayPort, and user replaceable storage are unmatched specs.

Naturally, I immediately wiped the included Windows7 OS to install Ubuntu Linux 11.04. The install was actually painless, but I had one big problem. If I plugged a miniDisplayPort cable in, the GUI locked up completely.

Getting Displayport to work

The fix for getting a functional miniDisplayPort is simply to upgrade to the linux 3.0 RC kernel. This guide provides a quick HOWTO and links to the kernel repository. Once you reboot with the 3.0 kernel, simply plug in a miniDisplayPort cable and use the monitors app in Ubuntu. In many cases the screen will automatically adjust without configuration.

VMware Workstation

The downside with the 3.0 kernel is it breaks VMware workstation, which I use for my job on a daily basis. This fix will solve the issue with VMware not being able to install modules on a 3.x kernel.

General Observations with the X1

Overall, I’m very happy with the X1. The form factor is great, and the power is amazing considering the size. The keyboard is probably the best laptop keyboard I’ve ever used, and I’ve had numerous Macbook Pros and previous Thinkpads. There are a few areas where I see room for improvement.

The battery life is pretty bad. Now this might be an issue related to Linux config, but I’m getting 2 hours of battery life. The glossy screen is highly annoying. Its almost unreadable on a sunny day. Finally, the X1 is loud. It might be related to Linux config and the I7 processor, but its way louder than any of my previous laptops.

Overall, I’m very happy with the X1.