Tag Archives: Software

Be Careful Using Spreadsheets for Serious Technical Work

The Reinhart-Rogoff case makes for an excellent cautionary tale on the dangers of using spreadsheets for serious work and also a great example of science working properly due to the open exchange of experimental data and documents.

Be Careful Using Spreadsheets for Important Work

Warning someone to be careful with spreadsheets sounds like some Captain Obvious level advice, but if you read the article, you’ll see there is some good reasoning behind it. I know from experience that it’s easy to make formula errors, especially during a long slog preparing data and formulas for review. I found and corrected several spreadsheet entry and calculation errors made by the financial/pricing analyst during my work on a recent proposal. This is relevant to both financial pros and people like me who’d rather write a program to do all the calculations and then just output them to a results spreadsheet for distribution. The ease of data entry in a spreadsheet and the temptations to take shortcuts are something to remain alert for.


Windows Clipboard Enhancement Tools

This is a fairly comprehensive article on the available Windows Clipboard enhancement tools. I use Ditto because it’s open source and has lots of functionality, but it’s not the best looking one by far.

Microsoft should include a much better clipboard that they do, but since they don’t. there’s no reason for you not to benefit from one of these third party tools. There should be something here for everyone.


Best Windows Based File Copy Tool

I’m creating a guide to help members of my team at work move from the corporate network to a development network, which will allow us to finally get off Windows XP and maintain our ability to do real development on our laptops. As part of the move to Windows 7, I’m looking into the best tools that complement the built-in abilities of Windows 7 and the various development tools such as Qt Creator, Visual Studio, and Eclipse that we’ll be using. My guide will focus on Windows even though we support Linux and Android as well, because we run Windows on our dev laptops and use VMs to support Linux when possible and dedicated machines on the network otherwise. We of course deploy Android apps to our small set of Android devices for testing.

I’ve been using TeraCopy on XP for awhile now on Windows and highly recommend it. It’s free for personal use and is about $20 if you want to use it commercially. I also run RichCopy, which is a free GUI front end for the RoboCopy utility built into Windows 7. I prefer open source applications wherever possible, but sometimes the proprietary apps are so much better it’s worth the compromise.

Anyway, if you’re looking for good copy enhancements or alternatives for Windows, the articles below are good references.



I will probably be recommending both TeraCopy and RichCopy as good options in my Windows 7 migration guide.

I want to mention one potential replacement for the above tools. Ultracopier is an up and coming open source file copy tool that’s cross platform and written in C++/Qt. I’ll be keeping an eye on this tool to see if it can replace the tools above. Since I use Windows, Linux, and OS-X, and sometimes develop in C++/Qt, this would be a great solution.




Hating Apple is Pointless

What is it with all the Apple hatred lately? I just read a Google Plus post with a great story about the inventor of the first internally programmable computer, who happens to dislike iPads because they don’t encourage creativity. Every other comment on this post was an irrational attack on Apple, as if Apple is single-handedly causing the decline of computing and creativity.

I have many issues with Apple’s behavior as a corporation. I’m frequently frustrated with their use of litigation to hurt other companies and their refusal to pay those who assemble their products a living wage, and I do what I can to pressure Apple to change their ways. On the other hand, Apple produces beautifully engineered products that are generally among the best available. I have used a lot of computing machinery, running Sparc Solaris, many flavors of Linux, Windows, HP-UX, OSF/1, …, so I’m qualified to judge. At work I develop (mostly guide others in developing nowadays) software and systems based on Linux, Windows, and Android.

When I’m home, I have a variety of machines to use, but gravitate toward a Mac (Macbook Pro or iMac) for most activities and an iPad when I want to relax and give my wrists a break. There’s a reason the technically brightest and most creative types mostly use Macs. A Mac lets you just get things done. There’s no need to tinker to optimize your environment for development or anything else (except games) and the full power of *NIX is available beneath the beautiful UI.

I have an Android 4.0 tablet, an Android 2.3 phone, and an iPad in use now. I almost always use the iPad because it lets you just get stuff done, just like its OS-X counterpart. With Android, I can multitask better but the time lost to tinkering and losing your flow due to a suboptimal UI isn’t worth it. I think Android will eventually surpass IOS in functionality and most measures of capability, but maybe not in pure ease of use. Linux likewise continues to get better every year and it’s a very usable OS, particularly the frequently updated Ubuntu and its like (though I’m mostly stuck with Red Hat at work), but I’m not sure it will ever surpass OS-X (or its successor) in ease of use or assisting productivity.

Finally, while I agree with both the author and Kirsch about the iPad lacking tools for creative work, it’s getting there, and more quickly than Android in general. As a learning device, the iPad is great, with first class apps for learning in a variety of areas. Android is also doing well with this, but is still behind IOS.

Android verus iOS – Reply to a Rant

I ran across an interesting perspective on Android (previous and current versions) from a confirmed Apple lover. It was a decent article, fair and well written. Then I ran across an anti-Apple rant from an idiot and felt compelled to respond. (I know, why respond to an idiot, but I’m mental that way.)  Here’s a link to the article and then my response to the bad comment, which is also posted there, but I want my comment to stand on its own.


My Comment 

I wasn’t going to bother commenting but then I saw @tim’s comment ignorantly bashing Apple.

I am a technology guy, with no religion as to what tech to use other than a slight anti-Microsoft slant because of the way they do business and their often sloppy engineering. I have an older iMac and white Macbook and a year old Macbook Pro my wife and I use at home. My kids use Windows laptops for games and homework. We have an older iPod Touch and three of us have Android phones. I have both the original Galaxy Tab and an Asus Transformer. At work, I lead a team doing development on Windows and Linux client and server platforms as well as Android. We are just ending our support for Sparc Solaris and I’ve developed for other systems in the past. So I have broad experience with the hardware and software available over the last 15 or so years.

Now, to address @Tim first. he bases his argument against Apple’s cloud on a single anecdote I’ve never heard and then says, without justification, to trust him on this. Only the most ignorant would trust the author of a rant, especially one who’s obviously loose with facts and has no apparent experience in software or systems engineering. He then says that he think Apple (presumably iOS) is plain, ugly, and cheap looking. I think he’s in the minority here, since the iOS UI is widely praised and isn’t much different from the Android base UI. He goes on to rant about bad Apple acts without specifying them. So much for @tim.

Now, @Connor makes several good points in his article. He hits the nail on the head with his comment about vendors skinning Android. It’s counterproductive, doesn’t add much if anything to the user experience, and makes OS updates more difficult. He also talks about how good the iCloud is for easily accessing content. This is clearly true. He even gives credit to Google for vastly improving their market offerings so that now Google Play is a true competitor to Apple’s cloud. Finally, @Connor notes that Android 4.0 has a UI that’s well ahead of iOS in many ways. Also true.

Apple makes great hardware and software that work well together. I use Apple’s OS-X at home because it lets me just get stuff done without a fuss. I also appreciate the beautiful engineering of their hardware. The pervasive myth that Apple is overpriced is largely just that, a myth. Paying $1100 for a Macbook Pro seems like a lot, but if you want to buy a Windows laptop of comparable quality, it costs about the same. It’s the same with iMacs. Apple will rarely be the least expensive option for a computing device, but it will very often be the most capable and elegant.

I feel compelled to mention that Apple is on my Do Not Buy list right now because they knowingly allow their products to be made in China with slave-like labor and pocket the extra profits. That’s just evil. I knew Steve Jobs wasn’t a nice guy, but the revelations coming out about his labor practices and conspiracy to inflate the price of eBooks is despicable. I won’t be buying Apple again until they demonstrate that they’ve cleaned up their act and chosen to join the ethical path.

Now, your choice of iOS versus Android comes down to personal choice and your personality. Some points:

  1. A good device (both hardware and software) will melt away into the background and appear as an extension of the user, requiring no thought of how to use it. This is the holy grail of usability. The user should be able to focus full attention on the task at hand, without thought for how to “use the device” to accomplish the task. Apple approaches this ideal pretty closely. Android, ideally, can also approach this ideal with the new Android 4.0 interface.
  2. Both iOS and Android now provide a very compelling ecosystem for accessing content, whether it’s games, music, movies, or books. The iOS interface is a little smoother and easier to navigate, but Google is getting awfully close with the Google Play store.
  3. If you worry about safety and demand that things just work on your device, then Apple’s iOS is still king. Apple operates a walled garden where everything that makes it into the app store is carefully screened first, so you can be pretty confident that downloads from the app store are safe to run and will work as advertised. Android takes a different approach, allowing anyone to upload apps to Google Play and relying partly on users to weed out the bad ones. As a result, there’s a lot of apps on the Android store that you’ll likely never see on the iOS store. Google does have the ability to remove bad apps from your device remotely if they discover it, so the situation isn’t quite the wild, wild west.
  4. As part of Apple’s walled garden approach to their mobile devices, they decide what’s appropriate for you to have on your iOS device and make it very difficult to access content they haven’t approved. It’s very possible to hack your device to allow you access to more content, but if you feel like you want an open system, you really should be using an Android device.
  5. Do you like to tinker with things or customize them to make them reflect your personality? If so, your only real choice is Android. Android lets you change almost everything about the appearance and functionality of your device and there are many apps that make it easy to customize your device to suit you perfectly. Apple allows very limited customization because they’ve decided what’s best for you. In fact, I recommend an Apple iOS or Android device to others largely based on whether they want to tinker or customize it.

The bottom line: If you just want your device to be like an appliance that lets you do very cool things, then get an iOS device. If you want a device that you can make work just the way you like and then use it to do very cool things, then get an Android. Everything else is secondary.