Category Archives: reviews

Two failed attempts with technology today, just one of those days

Today I experienced two WTF moments while trying to use computers:

1) BrowserID ended up being a total failure for me

2) Accessing people.mozilla.org is next to impossible when trying to share files across computers

I have heard great things about BrowserID, and today was my first real chance at it.  I had an account on builder.addons.mozilla.org, and this was with my <me>@mozilla.com email address.  It has been a few months since I had been on there and now it uses BrowserID for all access.  Great!!  I had signed up with BrowserID with my <me>@gmail.com address, but that failed to log me in.  So I clicked the ‘add another email address’, and got a verification email in my inbox.  Trying to verify was impossible with some cryptic error messages.  10 minutes later after trying to log in, I finally found my way to #identity and was told to try it again.  It magically worked.  OK, let me log in to my addons account, no luck.  After 15 more minutes of poking around, I found that my @mozilla.com email address worked with BrowserID just fine by testing it on another site, but it still failed on addons.

Here is my take of the problem:

  • BrowserID is supposed to make logging in easier, 30 minutes of debugging and I still cannot login.
  • There are no useful error and help messages on the BrowserID site, nor AMO.  How could my mom figure this out?
  • Where in the world is my ‘I forgot my username/password’ link?  Honestly I could have signed up on AMO with a totally random email address and could have been wasting a lot of time.
  • I found it easier to signup as a new user with a different BrowserID email, than to figure out how to login with my normal account.

My next problem occurs with accessing people.mozilla.org.  I have been using this for 3.5 years on a regular basis.  I put log files up there for people to read, zip files when I want to share some code or an build, and sometimes I create a webpage to outline data.  I depend on this as a workflow since I know of no other file server at mozilla that I can just scp files up to.  Just this past weekend, some work was done on the server and the permissions got messed up.  This was fixed, then it wasn’t, it was fixed and now it isn’t.  I can detect patterns and that is a pretty easy pattern to detect.  What really gets me is this message when I log in:

Last login: Thu May 17 18:41:20 2012 from zlb1.dmz.scl3.mozilla.com
All files stored on this server are subject to automated scans.
You shouldn’t store sensitive information on this server, and you should
avoid having production services depend on data stored here.
Files in ~/public_html may be seen by anyone on the Internet.
[jmaher@people1.dmz.scl3 ~]$

Who in their right mind would think that putting files in a folder called ‘public_html’ would not be seen by anyone on the Internet?  I expect tomorrow I will have to sign a NDA to access my people.mozilla.org account.

The big problem here is that I wasted 20 minutes doing a task that I normally do in 2 minutes and delayed getting a perma red test fixed because I couldn’t find a place to upload a fixed talos.zip to.

Enough complaining and ranting and back to work on reftests for android native!

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Professional Development, Improv and your audience

I had the opportunity to attend some really exciting professional development sessions at the All Hands.  Personally I found these very interesting, but I heard a lot of grumbling about how these are not adding a lot of value or of interest.

One reason I found these interesting is that in a previous life I had attended a few years of Improv acting classes and did a short stint of real onstage Improv acting.  In looping back to these professional development sessions, they reminded me of the core concepts we learned in Improv 101.  So if you felt that you missed out, sign up for an Improv class.  Maybe if there are professional development sessions at a future event they could just have an Improv acting class.

Related to the professional development courses, I found that most of these were sparsely attended.  Of those that did attend the courses received great reviews/ratings.  To be fair, the technical tracks that I attended had about the same attendance records of the professional development tracks.  Maybe we are not creating sessions that are of interest to our audience?  I know for the technical tracks we just propose something and it magically becomes a session.  I don’t recall getting any input in what sessions would be available to me.  Maybe in the future we can do a better job of getting input from the community (a.k.a audience)!

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My impressions of Android

About 4 weeks ago I purchased a Motorola Droid as my personal device and I figured I would share some of the pros and cons. Keep in mind I have been playing with a lot of the latest and greatest devices in order to test Fennec, so I have some comparisons I can make.

Overall: a big win.

Store/Market: There are a lot of apps easily available for Android and the interface is easy to use. I found that getting apps for Windows Mobile was difficult (I was really trying to do that for a test case) and gave up. On Maemo (n900) there are a few apps in Ovi which are easy to install and use. Overall, I find Ovi to be sluggish and lacking apps that I searched for.

Calling: This has been very easy. I would say all three platforms are easy to call with. n900 gets a big win for SIP calling!

Typing: The Droid has a hard keyboard which really sucks. I love the n900 hard keyboard. Much to my surprise the virtual keyboard is easy to use. I have never been able to use a virtual keyboard due to the high error rate (bad eye sight for me). I found that putting the phone in landscape mode gives me much larger keys and I have 90% accuracy. One other bonus here is the dictionary uses words from my content (email, contacts) so I don’t have to type long names out. Note to Google and UI designers: if you take up the whole screen for a form fill UI, please let me know what element I am filling in!!!

Maps/Navigation: I find this to be top quality. The maps are pretty standard (you can get google maps for winmo phones), but the integration to make this work like a handheld GPS is awesome. Turn by turn directions and it is easy to use even while driving. Another ++ here is you can click on an address in the web browser and it takes you to the map (again for directions if you want)

Voice Search: probably the coolest feature yet. I have found this to be 98% accurate (at least for my voice and accent). When I see something, I just push the mic button on my search bar, say it (even with a lot of background noise) and I have results.

Email/Social networking: I like the built in gmail support, that is easy to use. The facebook app sucks and I prefer to use a web browser. Sharing pictures is easy, but rotating them needs some love.

Camera: Not as cool as the n900, but better than the Omnia 2. Pretty usable, but watch out for the ~3 second delay from taking the picture to seeing it. The gallery is easy to find your pictures and apps can access them with ease.

Hardware: It doesn’t weigh much (not as light as the Omnia 2) and isn’t too clunky despite my first impressions. I like the hard buttons on the touch screen, but I accidentally hit them all the time and end up doing crap I didn’t intend. Also it seems that shaking the device does random things, so don’t go running with it!

I am looking forward to running Firefox as my default browser. I fully expect the click to call and click to map functionality integration!

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Fennec proved more useful than Opera

Yesterday while driving to Mountain View from Oakland we were trying to find some dinner in the general Mountain View area. I pulled out my omnia II, launched Opera, and found a Thai restaurant in Palo Alto! Unfortunately with Opera I was unable to get a google map to load…FAIL.

I had a build of Fennec that I was using for mochitest development on the filesystem, so I launched it and tried to do the same search. Fully expecting a crash or two, I was surprised when I got search results in the same perceived amount of time as I did on Opera. The best thing was I could get a google map and zoom in/out to get the details I needed to figure out how to get to the restaurant.

End result: Fennec saved the day and proved itself as a useful browser. Time to clean it up and release Alpha4!

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initial evaluation of device anywhere

One issue when developing software for mobile devices is the need to test it on all devices you support. For mobile devices each carrier contracts with a manufacturer and gets a unique OS for the hardware platform they choose. As you can imagine there is a very large hardware/os matrix even if you are just supporting a couple mobile OS’s (maemo, windows mobile 6+).

So one approach we are looking into is deviceanywhere.com. This is a company that provides an online service where you can access and get full control over a given mobile device. What is even better is these devices have access on all carriers are are geographically spaced out!

Today I did my initial eval of the service and really liked it. You have to download proprietary software which is easy to download and install (tested on Mac OS X 10.5.7). There is a web based account management tool where you can buy credits, see your usage, access screenshots, upload files for later use, etc… Overall it is a pretty usable package with lots of flexibility.

My first test was to pick a Palm Treo and install Fennec on it. You can filter devices based on carriers or other high level things (I filtered on windows mobile [us/ca]). Unfortunately you cannot filter on carrier, hardware specs (touch screen, RAM, cpu). This is really easy to use and the response time is fast. Launching IE, searching for Fennec A1, and finding the release notes was an easy process. Installing was sort of problematic as the release notes reference a http site and we need ftp when using pocket ie! Here is where I found that using the keyboard (arrow navigation, and typing) is a slow process.

Fair enough, In 20 minutes of air time I had figured it out, downloaded fennec and had it running. Not so bad, I just wouldn’t want to spent 15-20 minutes installing Fennec each time around. I get testy and acquire another device for testing. Very easy and it becomes obvious that I can do 6 devices at a time (3 on the screen, and 3 off the screen). Unfortunately I start running into more problems with the other devices. I couldn’t even get a web browser started for 10 minutes on a blackjack device (finally realized it wasn’t a touch screen), then when I did, why can’t I do a search! Same luck on a Verizon tablet (I assume it is an lg brand) although it is touch screen, I couldn’t figure out how to get to the internet.

Well, enough of that. I did see the potential and found some great tools. For example, on each device that you access, you can reboot, unplug, pull out the battery, connect a data cable or grab a screenshot:

Fennec on Palm Treo

Fennec on Palm Treo

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As a summary here are the pros and cons:

pros:
– easy to use for check in/out of devices
– full access to device with tools to do just about anything (hardware keys and all)
– wide selection of devices and carriers and physical locations

cons:
– learning curve on each device
– lack of filtering in device selection even if you know what you want
– slow input for accessing the device (although this is the case in person)
– could get costly if you spent airtime minutes for learning curve or installing special software

I still have about 100 minutes left to evaluate, next I will try some basic website testing and look into some of the scripting capabilities they offer (record/playback, automation of UI).

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