November 10th, 2009


Yes, I've been borged

I gather that I am just one of many who went out and bought a DROID in the first few days it was available. It was kind of an impulse buy, but I had basically spent all of last week talking myself into it, and didn't see much point in waiting.

It's kind of amusing. A week or two ago, Ars Technica had a little blurb on the DROID's ad campaign, that boiled down to, "Yeah, yeah -- it's got a multiprocessing and open development and all that. But who cares about that?" The answer, it seems, is us. I'm not sure whether Verizon deliberately targeted the geeks with this phone, but they seem to have done a good job with it if so.

Anyway, so far I'm reasonably pleased with it. It's responsive, powerful and rather fun to use. The main downside is that it gives you enough rope to hang yourself: it *does* do multiprocessing and it *does* have lots of apps, so it is *very* easy to kill your battery. The most important advice I've gotten so far was from Denise, who told me that I needed to get TasKiller as the very first app I bought. This seems to be true: you've got to do active process management on your own if you want decent battery life. Even with that, the battery is only so-so: I can pretty well drain it in 3-4 hours of serious online work. (OTOH, it appears easy to swap batteries, so if it ever becomes a real problem, I can get myself a spare.)

That's really my only complaint, though: in general, I'm enjoying the heck out of it. So far, I've picked up the following apps:
  • AK Notepad (a simple, well-reviewed notepad app), Rehearsal Assistant (a voice recording app) and Note Everything (which does both, and may be the one I really keep);

  • Andoku (an adequate Sudoku game) and OpenSudoku (which is pretty great, but doesn't auto-generate new puzzles -- you have to download them);

  • Astro (a pretty full-featured file manager for getting under the hood);

  • The Bank of America online banking app;

  • Documents To Go (the old Palm classic, that lets you read and edit Word, Excel and Powerpoint -- currently on sale for $15);

  • Google Sky Map (silly but cool: it shows you the constellations in whatever direction the phone is facing);

  • Jewellust (a *horribly* addictive Bejeweled variant), and of course a Solitaire implementation with Spider;

  • Google Listen (Podcast client -- it occurs to me that podcasts are going to be far more useful on this thing than they ever were on my iPod);

  • SleepyTime (sleep-noise generator with a remarkably full collection of sounds);

  • The Weather Channel app;

  • and the aforementioned TasKiller, whose sole purpose is to make it quick and easy to kill processes, individually or all at a shot. I do like the system's stability, and the fact that I *can* kill all of the background processes and everything seems to cope just fine.
I'm curious what the other borgs out there have gotten. What's worth downloading or buying? Which task manager app are you using?

Fortress blog

Back to one of the languages that can't quite count as "new" any more -- I've been intrigued by it for years now -- but which is ever-so-slowly continuing to gain momentum. Over on LtU, Guy Steele has announced that there is now a Fortress blog.

Fortress, for those who weren't around the last time I talked it up (a couple of years ago) is a project over at Sun Labs to build a truly modern language -- frankly, I half-suspect that part of why Java still sucks so badly is that all the high-wattage language thought at Sun is working on Fortress. Fortress is basically trying to fill the same evolutionary niche that Fortran once did, so it is tuned for scientific and mathematical use. It is deeply parallel -- indeed, many things that would normally be loops default to parallel unless you say otherwise -- and is designed to let you program more or less in conventional scientific notation. While you can write in standard ASCII, there is a direct translation from that ASCII into a format that looks more like something out of a math textbook. (Indeed, printouts clearly matter a lot -- they're spending a remarkable amount of effort on producing a comment syntax that is preposterously powerful, to let you arbitrarily describe what's going on.)

I gather that there are a moderate number of people working on it, but the two most notable for my purposes are Guy Steele (famous for his work on Common Lisp and Java) and Jan-Willem Maessen (aka John de Caversham in Carolingia). Both have entries in the new blog. Jan's talks about how to implement a fast parallel treap in it, and is pretty neat: it finally makes clear to me why treaps *matter*, which I hadn't seen explained clearly before. Language geeks may want to keep an eye on this blog -- while Fortress hasn't caught fire yet, it's still a contender to become a significant next-generation language...

How to write a recommendation letter, part 84

Pollings came out today, and inspire a new guideline worth keeping in mind when you write an award recommendation to the Crown, especially for a polling Order:
"Don't be defensive. Your recommendation will, in all likelihood, be sent unedited to all the members of the Order. You may happen to know some history with the candidate or the Order, but they probably don't. So you only hurt the person you're recommending if you spend time being defensive about them -- it mostly acts as a big warning sign that Some People Think There's Something Wrong Here. Instead, focus on the positive: why you think this person deserves to be there. Worrying about the negative just draws attention to it, usually for the worse."