Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Windows Build 2013 Keynote - Thoughts From an Attendee

I'm fortunate enough to be in attendance at this years Microsoft Build conference, and this morning was the conference kickoff with the Day 1 Keynote led by Steve Ballmer.  Many bloggers and writers have already shared their notes, and they're all about Windows 8.1, read as: Start Buttons!  Search!  Touch!  Gestures!  Apps!

Author's are missing the point.  Yes, 8.1 was an important update, and it is definately bridging the gap between those who had pure touch devices running Windows 8, and those (like me) who had mouse\keyboard devices, also running Windows 8.  8.1 will make my laptop easier to use.. hooray.. but again, there was so much more to the keynote.

Several demo's took place this AM.  We saw a variety of hardware showcasing "old fashioned" Windows applications, newer Apps, enhanced GPU technology, Bing API's and services, and development tools that make porting applications easy, regardless if you're writing for a PC, a tablet, or a phone.  And THAT was the point of the keynote today.
Apple has had a novel concept for years, if you live within their eco-system, all your technology played very well together.  iPhone, iPad and Apple PC's would share data... music, video, pictures.. and communicate very well.  When the iPad came out, all of your apps that you already purchased for your iPhone were readily available.  The user experience never changed, one device was similar to another.  Microsoft has quickly invaded this same model.  Tablet, PC, Phone, or even your TV (XBox One) now will have the same experience.. the same apps, and the same functionality.  Want to share your music, video, or pictures?  Fine, go ahead, they're all available on SkyDrive for FREE mind you, just go ahead and copy your files up to the cloud.. if you wanted them available anytime, anywhere that is.

And that was the purpose of the Keynote today.  The future is bright for Windows 8.x, and not because of a Start button, but because Microsoft is going to regain it's momentum by relying on it's strength, that regardless of how many users have picked up Apple devices over the past 5 years, everyone has had a Microsoft device for 20.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Top 5 Windows Phone Apps on Nokia Lumia 920

In a recent post, I professed my undying love for my Nokia Lumia 920, mainly for its beautiful camera, integration with social media (even though Im not a “social media” person) and seamless backup solution with SkyDrive.  I’ve had the phone for just over a month now, and I’m still very much a fan.  If you search “windows phone” and “apps” you’ll find a lot of negative press on lack of apps, and rightly so, since there are a 10th of the apps in their store than on iOS and Android.  However, that doesn’t mean the store is devoid of anything useful.  On the contrary, I’m disappointed that Microsoft\Nokia has done such a poor job on emphasizing what apps they do have, and how good they are.  If the title and intro paragraph here hasn’t informed you by now, I am here to do just that, providing you with a top 5 list of the best apps I have used thus far on my Nokia Lumia 920.

5. Transfer My Data

So here’s the situation, you already have a smart-phone, and have all of your contacts and images and what-not.  Nevertheless, you took the leap into the Windows Phone world, bought yourself a Lumia (such as my Nokia Lumia 920), and sat down ready for a tour-de-force 2 hours of migrating all of your content.  At this point, you should install Transfer My Data, run it, and figure out how you can spend your remaining 1 hour, 55 minutes of “transfer time”.  Transfer My Data is an insanely easy and smart app, where it connects with other devices via bluetooth, determine’s what type of device it has connected to, and then attempts to port over contacts, images, video, etc.  Granted, not all data will transfer over from every device, so it does depend what your source is, but either way, it’s a nice and semi-universal method of getting all of your content onto your new device.

4. OneNote

OneNote makes it onto this list for a few reasons.  Mainly, because it has native support on Windows Phone, which is very handy (read as it’s automatically installed).  The second reason is because OneNote on both Windows as well as Windows Phone supports free-form text, inserted images, and “lists” (just like the commercials, you can use checkboxes in the grocery store to determine what you have yet to purchase).  OneNote makes it very easy to jot down notes or keep track of data items on the fly… especially on a Lumia 920 which has a larger screen than standard smart-phones.  The third reason OneNote is among my top 5 apps is because of the Windows Phone SkyDrive integration.  Because it automatically communicates with the Microsoft Cloud Service, it feels very futuristic to have the ability to add\edit a list or compilation of data on your PC, head on down the road, and still have access to this information on your mobile device no matter where you’re heading to.  There’s no “sync my device”, restarting services, etc.  The phone automatically syncs for you, keeping all your data up to date.

3. PhotoBeamer

This is absolutely, positively an app that Nokia should be touting more (truth be told, it’s the inspiration for this blog post).  It’s not an app that I think will set the world on fire, or cause people to switch from iOS\Android to Windows Phone, I just think it’s a very slick interface, and something that is cool to use time to time.  So what is it?  On a PC, you go to, and a large QR code is displayed.  You then open the PhotoBeamer app on your Windows Phone, choose an album to share pictures of, and are then given the ability to scan the QR code on the screen.  Once scanned, you can “beam” photo’s to the PC screen you visited the URL on.  So in essence, you can perform a slideshow of the images available on your phone, even with a cool “left to right” scrolling animation as you swipe through your photo’s.

2. SmartShoot

SmartShoot is one of many apps I have on my Lumia 920 that control the camera shots I take (apps for a camera are called “lenses”).  There are apps that let you take instagram-esque photo’s, or combine several shots to create a panoramic photo, but I ranked SmartShoot as my top app (photo wise) for one main reason.  Have you seen all the Samsung S4 commercials where a person is taking a picture, and someone else jumps in the way, and they can “edit” the image on the fly and remove the person that jumped in the way?  SmartShoot does the same thing!  It’s pretty awesome too.. it basically takes a series of pictures, and as you are looking to same any of the images, you can choose any “object” that is out of place, and the app will remove that object.

1. People

My main app among my list of “Top 5 Windows Phone Apps on Nokia Lumia 920” isn’t an app you have to install (much like OneNote), so don’t think I’m cheating here.  The best app on the phone to me is “People”, which is the repository of contacts and anyone you’re connected to in the networked world.  I give this app my number one spot because it is so central to the functionality of Windows Phone.  People will provide a list of all contacts, but the list comes from a combination of all social connections you link to your phone (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter), along with any directory\contacts you have linked to your email accounts (so my Exchange contacts appear, since my work email is linked in my phone).  Because of this integration, you can scroll through “People”, choose a person, and see a combination of all their data in one spot.. contact info, recent social network postings, shared images, etc.  Or, you can view “notifications” and scroll through the latest information that has been posted to the social networks listed above.. it’s almost like viewing Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all in one spot, and done so very well.  As stated earlier, I’m not a big user of social networks, and even I love this functionality.

So there you have it, the top 5 apps in Windows Phone that I think makes this device such an awesome one to use.  I do look forward to the app store gaining more momentum, and I do see it happening over time, but for anyone who tells you “there aren’t enough apps”, be sure that there may not be nearly as many as iOS or Android, but Windows Phone has plenty of quality apps nonetheless!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Review–The Violinist’s Thumb

The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic CodeThe Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code by Sam Kean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was as well written as any book I ever read. It was incredibly researched and organized, and provided a compelling argument about genetic code, and its immense complexity. That being said, I wish I enjoyed this book more. At times, the scientific background provided about DNA and its meaning was well over my head, and I started to lose interest. Fortunately, only part of this book was scientific, the other parts were intriguing and insightful stories about genetics, or information about the early to modern day findings about DNA... Who studied it, why they did, and how many of them weren't appreciated for their efforts til decades later.

This book is very well written, but not always the "easiest" read. That being said, I am happy I took the time to power through it.

View all my reviews