Monday, August 12, 2013

Finally Giving the Google Hangouts Chrome Extension a Try

I’ve been a long time user of Trillian (even pre-Astra) for handling all my IM chatter since I’m on so many IM networks. However, lately I’ve found that Google Talk (or whatever they want to call the Googel IM service these days) no longer plays very nicely with non-Google chat clients. The problem I would encounter (which Google has confirmed is a bug, but hasn’t done anything to fix it, and it apparently even affects the old, no longer supported Google Talk desktop client as well) is that incoming IMs (especially for already open/ongoing chats) only get delivered to the device/client you were last IM-ing from. So if I chat a bit on my mobile device because I walked away from my desktop, but then return to my desk and don’t actually chat with my desktop client (Trillian Astra) again, new incoming IMs from other people continue to go to my mobile device (which I of course now have silenced, because I’m busy working at my desktop again). After reading through a ton of Google support threads where people have been complaining about this and asking for help for nearly three years, I bit the bullet and moved to the solution (although I’d call it a workaround) that Google Support suggests—ditch all non-Google clients and use the Hangouts extension for Chrome on your desktop devices (and the Mobile OS Google client for your mobile devices). This means that the cheese stands alone (in this case Google Chat), while all my other public IM accounts are still managed in Trillian Astra. Well, except for my work IM, Microsoft Lync (2013 client on Lync 2010 server, soon to be Lync 2013 server, yeah! ;) but I’m okay with that, since Lync gives me a ton more functionality than any of the public IM services and associated clients/web interfaces do.

So far, I’ve been impressed with the IM “2.0” features of Google Hangouts. The audio/video chat supported by Hangouts, including the neat extras (like the silly hats and backgrounds) are fun to play with, but the IM “1.0” (basic “just” text chat—I know, I’m a troglodyte) features are a bit lacking. Status indicators are really deprecated in it (to the point of being easily overlooked—a one pixel green line under a person’s profile pic is a bit too subtle to mean “online”—especially for the people I know that have green as part of the bottom edge of their profile pic). I find how sticky the hangouts chat windows are (attaching to any edge of your screen they get close to) and difficulty getting them to let go of said docked edges (especially on my Windows 8 tablet) also to be a bit unfriendly. Sometimes I just want to float the chat window in a general part of my second monitor Google—I don’t need you to tidy up my desktop layout for me, Mom. I’ll clean my room when I feel like it. Finally, not being able to just launch hangouts on system startup is a real drag. Because hangouts is a chrome extension (and because they didn’t think this bit through, in my opinion) you must launch the Chrome browser (set to auto sign-in with your Google account) in order for hangouts to start. Really Google? I mean Chrome is great and all (well, except on Windows 8—can we get pinch zoom support please?), but the first thing I do when I get to work isn’t open up a web browser of any type. It’s opening up my various communication tools and catching up on the 10-50 message I got overnight. When I have some more time, I’m going to see if I can pass in some arguments to somehow start chrome as a minimized or background app, instead of the kludge I’m using now (just put Chrome in the startup applications, and then manually close the window once it’s up and running), or even a script that will just close the foreground chrome app after ten seconds or so.

I’ll give a more complete review of Google Hangouts after I’ve lived with it for a few weeks. So far I give it a 6 out of 10. A bit better than average, but not much (for comparison, Trillian Astra get’s a 7 of 10, and Microsoft Lync gets an 8 of 10—if Lync ever gets spell check, they may be approaching 10 of 10 territory).

:( Sad-Face Update:

ipod_hangouts-DENIEDI wanted to install Google Hangouts on my iPod touch and was sternly and rudely told I couldn’t because “This App is Incompatible With This iPod Touch. This app requires a front facing camera.” Umm… Google, you do know that some (dare I say most) people use chat tools to text chat, not video chat? At least most people I know, anyway. I mean, sure, tell me “your old and busted Touch won’t work because it only supports up to IOS 5.1, and we require IOS 6” and I’d grumble but accept it—but here you deny me the ability to use an app because my device won’t support one very minor, unnecessary feature of said app. Shame on you, Google. Shame. Were is the shame-face emoji… oh, wait, I need Hangouts to use that, which you’ve denied me! ;p

Saturday, August 10, 2013

When the machines achieve consciousness…

Modest but still (to me at least) impressive improvements in the area of Artificial Intelligence over the years, coupled with some truly impressive results in the field of brain modeling (and ambitious undertakings) in the Blue Brain Project and Human Brain Project, among others, perhaps a tad too much science fiction on the topic (Peter Hamilton, who I only recently started reading, has some excellent storylines dealing with this topic—it’s fiction, but still thought-provoking) and, of course, far to much coffee early on a Saturday morning have left me wondering about how humanity will react when and if we are confronted with a consciousness completely of our own creation. I’d like to think we’d welcome it (them maybe) into the sentience club with open arms. Thus I am always very, very nice to my computers, just in case—it’s good practice for the day they become our overlords. But then I look around the world and see how far we are from people accepting even their fellow man as, individually and universally, sentient creatures that deserve their empathy and goodwill and my hope dims a bit. Okay, enough early a.m. maudlin. I can smell that the second round of coffee is up. And my computer tells me I have tasks to do, NAO!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Trying out Windows Live Writer 2012, really quickly

I just wanted to kick the tires on Windows Live Writer 2012 since I just had a question from one of the many frustrated bloggers trying to use MS Word with Blogger on my ancient post about doing just that.

Spell Check works, so that’s a nice plus. I do wonder if it uses the same dictionary as Word does.

Let’s try a copy/paste of a print screen of a window…


Wow, that worked too. Nice. I actually did not expect that to work.

Formatting and positioning for the image is very similar to Word as well.

Automatic “smart quotes” work, as well as do—double dash to em dash.

Wow, Live Writer. You are really impressing me. Why isn’t this functionality just part of Word 2013?

Okay, saving and exiting without publishing, then coming back…

That worked perfectly as well. I may be a Live Writer convert. Let’s try a quick publish and see if that (most important) part works as well.

And it did. Wow. Color me impressed MS Live Writer 2012. You may be my favorite new bit of software. And I just noticed the Edit, Preview, and Source tabs on the bottom of the screen. Complete with inline CSS options. Live Writer, you had me at ‘Hello’ (although I do find your penchant for exploding out shorthand CSS for padding into four separate rules a bit odd, when you don’t for margins… but I can live with that).

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Not so quick reply to veryannoyingname's comment on my previous post, "Chromecast isn’t Miracast/WiFi Direct/WiDi/Airplay… at least not yet"

Sorry to have to post instead of reply, but I seem unable to keep my replies under the character limit. :)

I'll have complete details later, but in short- I assure you I have set it up correctly (per manufacturer instructions). The connection to the S3 did work better out of the box (as your videos also show) with the Netgear PTV-3000 (I haven’t tried it with the Actiontec Screenbeam pro yet). The major issues I’ve had are not, in fact, with Wi-Fi Direct (Miracast certified) devices (like the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4) connecting to it, but with Intel WiDi connections (from laptops and tablets running Windows 7 and 8). I've tried it at ranges of less than three feet up to sixty for both making the initial connection and testing the “walk away” support and automatic connect/disconnect options. The problem isn't that it never works, the problem is how inconsistently it works depending on the display you are connecting it to and the device you are transmitting from, again for WiDi based connections (not Wi-Fi Direct/Miracast certified). I've tried about a dozen displays and a half dozen WiDi devices so far, and the same devices, with the same receivers, behave differently with different displays--particularly bad with monitors that have default resolutions other than 1920x1080, especially slightly plus sized not quite 16:9 aspect ratios running 1920x1200 as their default resolution. I tried both receivers out of the box, and neither worked with every device perfectly (transmitting or display). Many just wouldn’t connect, some would initially connect just fine but then would run into “connection lost” issues, even when the tablets/laptops in question where within a few feet and stationary. I had the most up to date drivers on all transmitting devices, as supplied by the manufacturer. I then tried another round of testing with the most up to date firmware (as of a few weeks ago) for the Netgear PTV-3000 and Actiontec ScreanBeam Pro. The Netgear performed even more dismally with my WiDi devices when it had the latest firmware, but the Screenbeam started working like a champ- every device, every display, perfect connections at a range of resolution (including 1920x1080, but even fro some truly ridiculously higher resolutions beyond that). I then tried the Intel recommended driver updates for my laptop (from their WiDi support pages) and it didn't improve the performance with the Netgear at all, though the Actiontec continued to work just fine. However, my laptop actually started having a host of display issues (not related to WiDi) caused by the Intel suggested updates (no control over screen brightness anymore, etc.) so I rolled back to the latest drivers as supplied by the device manufacturer. Based on my experience, I do not recommend people use Intel's automatic check/update suggestions tool for Windows 8 laptops to resolve WiDi issues expect as a last resort—and be prepared to roll back if things go awry. Instead, look to your device manufacturer for their latest recommended drivers. My brief Miracast test (more of a sad last resort after a frustrating day of trying to get WiDi connections to work) with the S3 didn't result in it not connecting, just some oddities in how it connected (default was portrait with extreme letterboxing instead of landscape, extremely long lags when—and if—it would decide to switch from portrait to landscape when I rotated the phone, image quality didn’t appear to be a pixel to pixel match, but a zoom/blurred version in several apps) but, in its defense, the S3 test was just a quick try with a colleague's phone (to see if it would work) so that bit won't be included in my final review. I will post the full review for WiDi devices (including a table listing transmitting devices on one axis and display on the other) for both the Netgear and Screenbeam soon, and once I get my own S4 in a few months I’ll post another update on how well it performed with both the Netgear and Actiontec receivers using a broad range of displays (I need to know how well it works not just with HD televisions, but computer monitors and projectors). Again, I’m not saying they don’t ever work, nor that they can’t be cajoled into working with enough effort for a user’s particular setup. What I’m attempting to evaluate is how universally (or not) these devices will work. Should they be deployed as connection options in smart classrooms and conference rooms? Should people traveling to make a presentation pop one in their laptop bags as an additional connectivity option (so they can wirelessly transmit to whatever projector/display they may find when they get to their destination)? This is a more than a “can I get it to work with my one display and couple of devices” review—I want to do a more rigorous, broad set of tests to help answer the questions: are these enterprise-ready/level devices? So far my experience leads me to think the answer to that is a ‘no’ on the Netgear PTV-3000 and a ‘cautious yes’ on the Actiontec ScreenBeam Pro (especially if you get the kit that includes the USB transmitter for more “universal” support- at least for Windows 7 and 8 devices). I suspect, though the technical details aren’t clear on this, that the USB transmitter that comes with the Actiontec ScreanBeam Pro is a Wi-Fi Direct transmitter (though I can’t find any Miracast certification on it or the materials it shipped with). This might explain why ever time I’ve installed the software and drivers for it and tried it on several windows 7 and 8 computers that failed (or acted buggy) when connecting over WiDi that they always managed to connect to the ScreenBeam Pro when using the USB transmitter instead (and I suspect possibly even the Netgear as well, more on that in a future post). Your own testing (as you show on your youtube videos) seems to back up my hunch that Miracast works better than WiDi does (as far as being more plug-and-play style) at this time, which is disappointing, since most people I know want to be able to connect their laptops and tablets to their display more than their phones (although connecting a phone is a nice fringe benefit). I didn’t see any videos from you that showcase connecting to your PTV-3000 using WiDi on a Windows 7/8 device… am I missing them? I’d be very interested to see some if you do have them (or would be willing to make them) to see if they match, or contradict, my own experiences.

Replies from Google Support about Chromecast supported resolutions and audio output

The day the Chromecast was announced, I immediately knew I wanted to try one, but I wanted to make an informed purchase and not just rush out and grab one. Surprisingly, the Google product page about Chromecast was light on any technical details (and still is). I hopped on Google’s IM support and, although the representative I worked with was very eager to answer my questions, they simply didn’t have any information available beyond the limited amount Google had put up on the Chromecast page. They did, however, promote my questions up a tier into their (email based) Chromecast technical support queue. They got back to me surprisingly quickly (as I’m sure they must be getting crushed with an avalanche of information requests about the Chromecast), with a reply hitting my inbox on July 30. Sorry I didn’t have a chance to post their response until now. Here it is. By the way, the bit “[t]here is no delay for Optimized Playback. There is a slight (1-2 second) delay for Casting a tab,” was in reference to another part of the IM chat that had been forwarded to them, which had to do with the delay response time between taking an action when tabcasting (the HDMI over WiFi devices I’ve been testing generally have a delay ranging from 60-240ms, and I wanted to know where the Chromecast fell in that range). Despite this IM and email exchange confirming my suspicion that Chromecast is not a true HDMI over wireless device (screen mirroring or extension), I’m still intrigued and one is already on order for me (thanks to a relative that is at least as tech geek chic as me, and ordered one for me before I had a chance to get this reply even :)
date:  Tue, Jul 30, 2013 at 1:07 PM
subject:  RE: [8-1745000001364] Note
Hello Robert,
Thank you for contacting Google Play Support! I understand your concern. Rest assured I'm here to help.
I see that you had some questions about Chromecast specifications, and your questions were sent to the specialist team, who has replied with the following information.
There is no delay for Optimized Playback. There is a slight (1-2 second) delay for Casting a tab. Optimized Playback supports 1080p60 and 5.1 surround. Casting a tab supports 720p and stereo sound.
If you need any additional help, please let me know.
If there is anything further we can assist you with, please feel free to reply directly to this email or visit our help center at:
The Google Play Support Team