Big Bang Theory Intro #15: Stonehenge

Wow, it’s a picture of a place I’ve actually been to. I’m pretty stoked.

Stonehenge is widely regarded as one of the most mystical places on the planet. There isn’t a lot of evidence of why the henge was erected, or what it was used for. The stones themselves are quite large, and apparently not from around there. They are arranged in actually three circles. Most people notice the middle-sized circle, and it’s pretty easy to see the smaller circle inside. What people usually don’t know or see (because it’s not easily photographable like the other two) is the large third circle. The stones in the third circle are mostly buried, or just small to begin with.

The source image is in color again this time, and not too hard to find. They could have used any number of images of the site, there are plenty on flickr and even a few in the wikimedia commons. Overall, it’s definitely the most photographed of the places that have been on the list so far. National Geographic even did a thing with Microsoft using Photosynth so you can fly around and explore the site.

Usually when you visit the Stonehenge site, you have to stay reasonably far away from the stones, and you can’t really get that close. Staying on the path is pretty boring, I hear. I’ve been to the site myself, visiting in 2005 when I got the chance to take my first international trip with my now wife. I was lucky enough to be invited with a group of people who got tickets to visit the henge before normal visiting hours. When you go before normal hours, they let you walk around on the grass, within the circles. I got to touch the stones themselves, and they definitely have a quality to them that I can’t exactly describe. Part of it I am sure is that it is an experience that I was treasuring every moment of while it was happening, and part of it was surely the fog that was slowly burning off across the area. By far, it was the thing that I remember most from the trip, the most interesting experience, and the one that I don’t expect to ever be able to repeat again.

Under Review

I’ve been getting annoyed more about people asking for my opinion on things. Normally, I would be willing to give my opinion on lots of items or experiences, and I’ve done so in the past, even on this blog. I really do form some solid opinions on things and I think that I am a good judge of the quality of stuff.

So why am I getting annoyed about people wanting to know? Because it’s all for their benefit. They’re asking me to take time out of my day and type in a web form so that they can sell more of their stuff. The most recent big offender is Amazon, which I have been using a lot more lately, but has started to get really annoying about this stuff. Three days after buying a thing, without fail, I get an email “Please review this thing!”.

First of all, how do they know that I’ve even formed an opinion about it? Half of the time when I get that email, I haven’t even had a chance to use the doodad or whatever that I have ordered, so I can’t even review the stuff if I had wanted to. Sometimes the office to our building is closed at strange times or I just don’t sync up with it being open, so a couple of times, it was still in the box and I hadn’t even had it in my hands yet. It would be much better to email me three weeks later, or better yet, don’t email me at all.

Second, there is absolutely no benefit for me in this process. Not only does the email come at the wrong time, I have no incentive to complete this arduous process. I already bought the thing - you have my money. I’m not going to buy another of the same thing, and I’m getting nothing out of giving random people on the internet my opinion about the stuff. The content is completely under your control after I write the review. If you decide that my opinion is great and want to use it to advertise your product, I have no say in that. Similarly, you could decide that it doesn’t conform to your guidelines and completely squelch the review. If I’m going to review something, I can do it here. Even if I wasn’t tech-savvy, it doesn’t take five seconds to start up a tumblr, blogger or wordpress account where I do have total control.

Let’s talk about those guidelines for a bit too. If I want to say that the product is a fucking pile of shit, I can’t do that, because it has profanity. Even if the product I’m reviewing is literally a pile of shit. I also can’t just leave a short review, like the size of a twitter post, because it would be too short. There’s a lot of stuff in those guidelines that I might want to do in my review. The guidelines themselves seem to be steering people towards writing more content and also towards positive reviews. You can’t complain about the seller or the packaging, or that you got something other than what you paid for. They siphon those off into other complaint departments. There are valid arguments for that, but I feel like if the seller is being a dick about something, I might not want to buy their products.

Finally, there is just too many people asking me to do stuff for them nowadays. and Foursquare and OpenTable and Random Clothing Store #5 and NewEgg - it seems like everyone is asking me to review things nowadays. Amazon is one of the worst offenders so they get in the crosshairs here, but it happens far too often when I buy something online. If I want to review something, you know what I’ll do? I’ll freaking review it. I’ll do it on your site if you haven’t bugged me about it, and probably post it other places too. If I really love a product, I’ll be tweeting and telling people about it naturally, and you want me to do that. If I have some problem, I’ll try to contact customer support about it. That’s about as much as you can ask from someone who you already made money off of.

Taking Credit When Due

I just discovered possibly the fourth or fifth thing online in the last week which is dealing with transferring money from one person to another. This is a big thing online, and there are quite a few startups which are tackling it, it seems like. Mostly because there is a pain point on the internet right now, and that pain point is actually paying for things.

Right now, everyone uses PayPal. This is because they have the kind of market share that everyone dreams of, with a huge amount of people with accounts already setup, and the ability to pay into an account without needing one of your own. Of course, once you have an account, you can’t just pay someone without logging in yourself, you have to login and use your account. Everyone also hates how much money PayPal is taking from each transaction, and how they use somewhat shady methods to avoid being called a bank so that they don’t have to abide by the rules that normal banks do, even though they technically have a lot of cash in accounts. They also randomly could just shut down your account because they think it’s shady, or decide that you can’t take donations randomly because you aren’t selling something, or cause your violin to be destroyed because of stupidity.

So lots of people want to get around PayPal, for reasons which are completely understandable. This feels similar to the thing where everyone started to hate on Godaddy recently because of their support of SOPA. Honestly I think that it was just a tipping point, because I’ve been off of Godaddy for so long because they were just annoying to work with. However, domain names are easy to technically route around. Money is not so much. The obvious solution is to just make something that’s “PayPal but not PayPal”. This is the approach taken by Moneybookers, which is accepted in some places, but every place it is, it seems a bit shady to me. That’s not the connotation that you want floating around when you are putting your money in an account.

The emergence of smartphones has kickstarted another set of ideas with this. Square is the one that everyone brings up when you start talking about it. That’s the little square thing that scans the magnetic stripe of the credit cards. The solution is pretty good because the magstripe actually has more information, and verifies that the card itself was present. I’ve been seeing it a little more lately, most recently at a trip to RollerDome. In the same line is, which is another credit card processing solution, but just uses the camera on your phone instead of requiring a stripe. I don’t know how they’re getting around needing the extra digits. Both of those solutions enable using just a credit card number as well.

I really like the credit card solution for paying people, because it has what PayPal has in the consumer’s mind: security. Technically, you could take a picture of someone else’s card using, with only access to their card for a few seconds, for example, when they are off in the bathroom at a restaurant or something. That means that there is low security, right? That’s not right though, because everyone checks their credit statement for stuff that they haven’t charged for, and they know what to do - they call the credit card company and get it taken off. It’s called a Chargeback, and it’s fairly uncommon, because the person who made the charge has to pay. It’s like a bounced check with the opposite penalty.

This fact that everyone knows what to do with a misplaced credit charge means that we can technically make the actual payment point much easier than we previously had. In the past, people didn’t know what to do with credit cards, so they imprinted a copy of it, and checked your ID completely, and did a bunch of other stuff to make sure you were you. Nowadays we live with these plastic cards all over the place, so a simple swipe in a grocery store or at a fast food restaurant will most likely get you your stuff without even having to sign it. Joe Schmoe at the drive-thru has no idea if you are the person on that card, but you know what to do if someone charges on your card, so they don’t have to care. It’s why I’m not worried about NFC or RFID chips in cards, or other types of insta-pay methods wreaking havoc on the financial system - in fact, it’s probably better for everyone when you can pay in less time with less hassle.

Of course, this added layer of convenience is actually costing us a ton of money every year in increased prices because the credit companies make money on every transaction, even when you don’t pay a cent in card fees or interest every year. Each transaction on any of these services will cost the retailer a percentage of the cost plus a flat fee, in addition to any fees that you have to pay when you don’t pay it all off at once. It’s a hidden cost that is just part of doing business, and it’s being passed onto the customer.

In the olden days of imprinting cards and sending mail off to get processed by a real live human being, this type of payment model made sense, but it doesn’t really now - the profit margin on being a clearinghouse for all of these transactions is just obscene. The problem is, Joe’s Credit needs to be accepted everywhere. When networks as large and established as Discover and American Express are having issues being accepted everywhere, it’s the definition of a high cost of entry. It’s one of the things that I point at pretty early on in free market conversations.

However, I really do give credit where due - the mindshare of the credit card is amazing in America. The electronic money system is here, and it’s owned by Visa and MasterCard. Solutions like Stripe are making it easier every day to route around the PayPal pain point using the existing networks, so there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Big Bang Theory Intro #14: Cave Painting

One of the earliest signs of artistic expression is next on our list - it’s painting!

Cave paintings have been around for a long time. Really, a long, long time. The earliest cave paintings have been dated to over 32,000 years ago! That’s a lot longer ago than the Big Bang Theory timeline suggests, and far before our previous scene of The Wheel. These are all out of order.

No one really knows the purpose of cave paintings. I always thought that they were some way of storytelling, but some of them don’t make sense, because they are tucked away really deep into some caves, in places where there aren’t any signs of habitation. Some have suggested that they might have been used in some type of religious ceremony.

It’s also been recently thought that the paintings weren’t made in one session, but instead added on to throughout the years, some taking over 20,000 years to complete. I love the idea of people stopping in a cave while being the migratory people that they are, and finding a painting which is partially done, and then adding on to what they saw. It hearkens to some type of Noble Savage impulse in my mind.

This would also be the first image in the opening sequence to have a female human subject - the figures on the left side are definitely of the chesty variety. I look and wonder what the heck they are doing though. The one on the bottom seems to be fulfilling some sort of either ammo restocking, or possibly waving something around to distract the hunted prey so that it is easier to shoot.

The one on the top is definitely giving someone the finger, suggesting it might be even more universal than I previously thought. Maybe M.I.A. was just trying to educate everyone about how old the gesture is. Apparently Diogenes of Athens used it in 4th century B.C. Then again, most Europeans are more likely to use two fingers.

Computing Happiness

I’ve been thinking lately about how happy I am about the state of the computers that I do most of my work on. I’ve gotten into a situation somehow where most of the work that I do is on Linux computers, which I have enough control of to set up exactly as I want. This means that they all reasonably match, because I use Dropbox to store my dotfiles. I don’t have an exact copy on all the machines, but the basic plan for when I set up a new development environment is to copy the .Xdefaults file, then copy the awesome config file, find some backgrounds that are the right size, and then symbolic link a bunch of files to the synced folder. Using that synced folder for the dotfiles makes it certain that I am updating for example my vim config file (and plugins) across all the systems, and the git aliases as well.

It reminded me of Alex Payne’s Rules for Computing Happiness, which I had bookmarked a while back but didn’t actually read through and think about until now. I agree with most of them in principle, if not by exactness. The list has certainly stood the test of time. The changes that I would make are mostly in the hardware section. I don’t use Macs anymore because I use Linux on most of my machines, so I just need to make sure that the hardware works. Lately that has only been a second thought, because hardware is starting to become even more standardized than it used to be. In the past, you would have to worry about your network card being supported, maybe the sound card, or the disc burner. Nowadays, the only thing I double-check is the graphics card.

I also use a Desktop machine even though I have a pretty rocking laptop, because I really like working at a big display and having a numeric keypad when I am typing for some reason. I could argue that the compiling that I do rather regularly is resource-intensive, but that’s not really the case most of the time.

So, notwithstanding the rules from Alex, which are (mostly) still valid, my rules for computing happiness (with a slant toward programmers):


  • Use a plain text editor that you know well. (Yes, it’s on the other list. It is important.)
  • Use only software that you either don’t care about fixing, or you can understand the source code to.
  • If you do something more than 5 times, write a program to do it for you instead.
  • The command line is a powerful tool. Learning awk and sed will pay back in spades.
  • Sync your configurations so you can go from zero to programming comfortably in 5 minutes or less.
  • Prefer older, simpler versions of things instead of newer, GUI versions.
  • Don’t do anything with a program that you can reasonably do with your text editor and a plaintext file.
  • Use source control for everything you will edit over more than one month, and all software you develop.


  • Use Linux on commodity hardware for everything.
  • Get as much memory as is possible in every computer.
  • Try not to use anything but Linux on commodity hardware.
  • Get at least two monitors if you are working at a place for more than three hours regularly. As big as you can afford.
  • Backup everything you can’t replace easily. Trust no hardware.

If I can’t follow these rules, I don’t make a big deal out of it. I still use Windows for Office, Excel, and other random stuff at work, and I use it for developing programs that others should be using. It’s just not what I use for every day. However, if I am working for an extended period of time, following these rules make me happy and focused on the work instead of focused on the thing getting between me and the work.

Big Bang Theory Intro #13: The Wheel

It’s round, and it rolls. Nothing like the wheel.

The Wheel is one of the inventions that is always pointed towards as one of the earliest smart things. You see them on a ton of advertisements for patent filing stuff. The source image this time was from a different source. I think that I could make an argument for Irrigation, since it has been around longer and has more of an impact on civilization when it happens. The Wheel showed up on vehicles starting in around 4th century BC, and they were using irrigation in ancient Persia almost 2000 years before that.

Reinventing the wheel is something that people are supposed to avoid, but there’s always something to be said for improving on a design. There isn’t a ton of things that you can do to improve on the round shape though. Then again, if the roads were slightly differently constructed, then square wheels would work fine.

One of the best reinventions, or improvements, to the wheel, was done by John Boyd Dunlop who invented the pneumatic tire, which uses the property that air is an incompressible fluid and a rubber tube in order to make it possible for the tire to roll over small bumps and rocks without damaging the tire. It will just roll over, compressing and expanding the rest of the tire until the obstacle is over. This provides a type of shock absorption as well.

Even though they have a lot of advantages, airless tires have been one of the things that you always hear as coming in the next few years. Some of the more recent ones are from Bridgestone and Michelin. They look pretty freaky when they are in a moving car though - almost like the hovercar.

February Diet Update

It’s been a good month of exercise, and I’ve been doing pretty good on my goals that I have laid out for the year. The scale has been frustratingly un-helping this month though, and done some ups and downs. I have also devised a schedule to keep my running a little more exciting. The most frustrating part of the diet and exercise this month has been the diet part. Let’s start with the charts.

2012 February 30 Days Graph

The last thirty days can highlight my frustration with my weight over the last month or so. This graph has far more red areas than I am comfortable with. It seems like my weight is still on the downward trend, which is good at least. My daily deficit from this graph is about 300 calories less than I am aiming for, but it isn’t a big surprise.

2012 February YTD Graph

The year to date graph looks better. There were a lot of gains in the first month of the year which make the whole year not look so bad. I’ve been a little more lax on my diet in the last month. I don’t watch the calories as much as I used to when I go out to eat, and sometimes have days when I overeat by a ton because I am eating lots of empty calories like chips and sweets.

I’ve found for a while that eating too many carbs just makes me hungrier later in the day, and makes me want to eat more again. This is probably some of the reason why a low-carb diet worked so well for me last year, and makes me want to start adding a significant amount of protein back into my diet, especially at the beginning of the day when it will have the most impact.

Recently I have been having a meal at about 4pm, which does some kind of substitute for a lunch meal which I usually skip. I really like to work at my job straight through the day so that I can get a full day in without having to take time off for lunch, and also get in fairly early. Having a meal right when I get home helps me get through the three or four hours of structured work that I have at home before a real meal, usually something wonderful cooked by my partner or a nice meal out.

Usually this mid-day meal is carb-packed because it’s the most efficient way to get a decent number of calories into me. I usually don’t want to spend a ton of time before I start cranking on some actual work and the exercise schedule.

Speaking of the exercise schedule, I’ve been pretty happy with the progress since the last report. By running graph shows the miles that I’ve run, and can lead you to all of the miles that I’ve done. The swath on the graph also makes it clear that I will handily make the one hundred miles a month goal that I have planned for the year. I’ve already got far enough ahead that if something kept me from exercising, I would be okay skipping a couple of days. According to my dailymile stats, I’ve almost ran 1000 miles since I started tracking it as well. That is a pretty nice accomplishment.

I’m starting to spice up my running schedule with the new workout type that I laid out in the last month’s report. The pacing runs, I’ve found, are good for my confidence, and hopefully will help in the long run to nudge me toward running a longer time without stopping. I’m toying with the idea of running a half marathon without stopping sometime in the future, and I definitely can’t do that if I keep running at my natural pace, which I end up tiring myself out too much.

In order to incorporate them into my workout, I’ve started replacing some of my interval runs with some of them throughout a month of workouts. My schedule is a little complicated now - it doesn’t follow a set schedule as much as it used to before. I run on the “training schedule” on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, which consists of three interval runs followed by a pacing run, that I end up repeating. Because this is four slots for three days in the week, I only repeat the schedule every four weeks.

On Thursdays, I run “As You Like” days, where I run the course around the park, and run whenever I feel like it. Lately that has been meaning that I run longer distances than I would on my normal interval run, and have variable speeds. Usually it’s not faster than the interval run days, but one of them is still in my top five fastest. Sundays are still the one day between two training days, so they are a dedicated walking day.

This schedule ends up being regular enough, and spiced enough because I’m not always doing the same day for the pacing day every week. I’m hoping that I can still have some gains in the next months like I had earlier when I first started running. It’s still a lot of fun to run though, which is a good sign. I still haven’t talked about staying warm, but there hasn’t been as much need in the last month, with more forty degree days. Maybe next month.

Get Myself Organized

Lately I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed, and not able to track all the things that I want to make sure that I don’t miss in life. It’s especially frustrating because I used to be a very organized person who could get a lot of things done in a day, and I could keep track of what I needed to do next. In the past I’ve used a number of systems to organize myself, but lately I have been flying by the seat of my pants so to say.

Going anarchic works for me for a certain number of tasks and a certain amount of time, and I usually end up working towards some type of list system in the projects that are large enough for me to have so many tasks that I can’t remember all of the things that I need to do in order to completely forget about a task that needs to get done. In general, I tend to keep a master list in my head of all the things that I need to get done in every part of my life.

Earlier systems that I’ve tried seem to focus largely on removing the list from my head, and getting it down into a system which I can remember. This is one of the pillars of the GTD system, which is referred to as the “trusted system”. It’s really more of a pre-requisite of the system, because if you don’t trust the system at all, then you’re still left with the list in your head, and you’ve just externalized some of your list for no reason other than to remind you of the list that you’re still carrying around in your head.

I’ve worked toward a trusted system in the past, and usually trust it for a while, but I have never really fully trusted it, partially because I have tried a lot of systems, and abandoned a lot of them for days or weeks at a time, and then the system doesn’t have the most recent tasks in it. That’s why the ubiquitous capture is one of the most important parts of the system for me - if I can’t capture any task (any task, no matter if it is relevant at the time) right away, I can’t trust that it will actually make it into the system, and therefore I can’t trust the system to have all the things that I need to get done into it.

So usually I migrated toward some type of list-based system which I can use with paper, which I can carry around in little notebooks that I carry around with a pen. When I think of something to put on the list, then I can put it on the notebook right away, and process it later into some other lists. The most recent system which I abandoned was AutoFocus and then SuperFocus, and a strange hybrid of the two systems, which I had a strong affinity for because it has a strong list-based component, a very strong ubiquitous capture, and all works in a single massive list.

This single massive list worked okay for a while for me, and even survived through a destruction of the system which is way more than I usually expect. Usually I end up reacting to when the system fails like that by deciding to find a new system, and spend a week or two looking at some productivity pr0n before I settle on a new system to try out for a week, month or year. It really is a great system which does a great job of dealing with the “I don’t wanna right now” aspect of the massive task list, which happens when you look at your next thing on the list and you have an aversion to doing it. It is one of the strengths of the system that it eventually just figures out that you won’t be doing that task that you have passed over thirty of forty times and forces you to admit that as well.

The big failing of the system that is making me move to a new system now, is that it fails in the presence of two major things that have emerged in my task list lately: tangible priority and massive volume. Tangible priority happens when you have a specific list of projects which you should be working on from the top to the bottom. This is pretty strong in the work environment that I am in right now, where I am expected and really should be working on one project until I can’t do anything, finishing tasks for this highest priority project until I’m either waiting on the calendar, another person, or a long-running task. Tangible priority screws with the “don’t wanna” system of AutoFocus, making it that you have to do certain things on the list, and if something pops out at you and you want to work on it, you really can’t do that because someone is counting on you to get the high priority thing done.

Sometimes tangible priority takes the form of the deadline that is farthest in the rear view mirror, and sometimes it is just that you want to have the whole office be more productive, and need to have the person who is waiting on you be the one with the ball. More often the rear view mirror is a symptom of massive volume though. AutoFocus and SuperFocus don’t deal very well with tasks that come at you from all angles and in massive quantities, because even if you do manage to capture all of those items right away, you won’t be able to actually get to all the items in the list, and it will just grow longer and longer. This happened to me at work. Eventually my list got to 20 legal pad pages of tasks, and wasn’t getting any shorter. I abandoned the system and couldn’t make it continue to work.

I’ve been working on my time-limited anarchic mode for about three weeks now, and it works well in the short term, especially when you have two or three project which have the higher priority that I mentioned a bit earlier. However, it falls down when you end up with a state where you have to actually keep track of all the tasks. I don’t like depending on asking other about what they need from me right away, and I’ve been asking the question “What do you need?” a bit too much for my comfort lately. I’m determined to organize myself into something that resembles a strong system again, so I can get back to saying “oh, I finished that for you already” instead of “Do you need something?”. I find when I’m in that mode at work, lots of great things start happening.

I haven’t worked out exactly what I’m going to use yet, but I’m closing on it from all sides right now, and will be trialling a system for the “home life”, which consists of a bunch of smaller projects as well as normal errands which are micro-tasks, and of course the massive thesis project. The varied sets and sizes of tasks made it a good trial run in the past, and I’m hoping to have a good system soon.

Big Bang Theory Intro #12: Evolution of Man

Oh boy, a controversial topic. Well, controversial to some.

This is a fairly famous image and most people recognize it now as a symbol of the evolutionary process. I couldn’t find the exact source image for this, but there are literally thousands of versions of it around the web. Although many would attribute the original idea to Charles Darwin, I couldn’t find anything even similar to this in all his illustrations, which are all available online.

Personally, I have a belief in the theory of evolution, if only because you can see it from first principles and it makes sense to me. You can simulate it with a basic set of rules, and see natural selection happen over thousands of generations, which makes up a significant part of evolution. If you accept some basic assumptions, it’s pretty easy to simulate. There was a marginally popular video which explained it, but that got also turned into a javascript thingy which works pretty good as well.

There are a ton of parodies of this depiction out there. I am a big fan of the computer-based one where we eventually evolve into typing on computers, because honestly I spend most of my day in front of a computer (although I’m standing more when typing lately). There’s also one with the obvious natural ending of the obese man which seems to be fairly popular, and there are a large number of cartoons making fun of the image in one way or another.

Interestingly, there is some thought that evolution has stopped or slowed because we have less prolific fathers than we had before, and possibly because we are somehow cheating the natural selection by the use of technology. I’ve wondered about this for a while, and I think it’s interesting both from a scientific perspective, as well as a ethical perspective. If we are somehow cheating natural selection through technology, is it a bad thing? Ethically, there are a lot of questions about the existence of genetically passed diseases and whether someone should procreate based on knowing that their child might be diseased simply because of your genes. I don’t have a good answer, but it is the type of question which I wish would be asked and debated more than whether evolution is actually valid.

Two Months With ICS on a Droid 3

I was pretty excited when Ice Cream Sandwich was announced last year. So much that I actually considered getting a Galaxy Nexus phone just to develop for it and make sure that I was on the bleeding edge. I’m really excited about Android phones in general, and ICS looked like a big upgrade from the previous Gingerbread phone version. Eventually I had decided that I would let my phone get an official update or a ROM for ICS and I would use the cash I would have spent for an Android tablet.

So I was pretty stoked when I found out last year that hashcode had released an Alpha of the upgrade for the Droid 3. There was a lot of stuff missing and not working quite well, but I decided to take the plunge and check it out. Not the least of my concern was assuaged by the fact that the excellent safestrap by the same coder lets you essentially dual-boot your phone between the stock ROM and the new one.

There were a lot of things wrong with the ROM at first. Lots of apps didn’t run at all, including Google Talk, which I relied on pretty heavily before I upgraded. I realized that I don’t usually talk that much to people with it, and I have backup whenever I am near a computer in the form of my constantly-open GMail window. The OS itself was really fast, and didn’t even seem to have many of the problems of previous CyanogenMod imports that I had tried on phones, which have always had a hit to my battery. The new launcher would crash a lot, basically whenever something strange happened, and it didn’t have support from all of the applications that I ran before.

The good stuff first (well, almost first), because I have basically been running this new ROM without any breaks for the last 90 days that I have had it on the phone. The advantages have been outweighing the disadvantages. The most obvious ones are that the native apps are a lot more efficient and easier to deal with because of some of the new UI paradigms that they have been pushing lately. The “up” navigation direction is specifically something that I have been wanting in some apps for a while now. Back is great, and it shouldn’t go away, because there are definite great uses for it (I’ve wished for it a lot on the iPad when I am navigating around), but sometimes I land in an app and I want to go “up”. The new menu style is something which I appreciate as well, because it looks a lot more like a menu, as well as working better than the previous menu style which only could accommodate basically six buttons, and when you ended up with more than that you would have to sacrifice one of them for a “more” which basically was a neutered version of the new ICS menu paradigm. The action bar is also pretty great.

The new GMail is definitely the best email client I have ever used on a phone, and the upgraded regular email (which I use connected to an Exchange account, hey, there’s a use for two email apps!) has similar improvements which find me replying quickly to an email more often than I would before. Talk (now that it works in the newest Alpha), works a lot better with the swiping side to side than it did before. Messaging works well still as expected, and the Maps application is improved even more on ICS somehow than it was on Gingerbread, which I didn’t think was possible.

I should talk a little about the Roboto Font, since it got some previous attention for being anything from a Helvetica Knockoff to a frankenfont (make up your mind, peoples). If you haven’t seen it on a phone, I think you should hold off your judgement. The difference when you are reading on a tiny screen is palpable, especially compared to the old Droid font family. I had previously switched to it on my (rooted) Gingerbread phone, and it was like night and day. I think it probably has too many problems at larger point sizes for the larger screen (I would never use it on my 260 square inch normal workspace), but it reads great on a phone, and I have seen it on a tablet where it looks pretty great too.

Of course, there are some problems though. I’ve already mentioned the app crashing problem, but I expect that from any Alpha or Beta ROM which I am on. The bleeding edge also comes with a huge downgrade: the Droid 3 ICS ROM doesn’t have a working Camera right now. This is a serious downgrade for a phone, so much that I seriously considered never trying the ROM. Hashcode is working on it though, and in fact doing something like a compatibility layer for other ROM developers to get it working, because apparently the tiling manager is significantly different in ICS than it was in previous versions. For now, any app which tries to access the camera just force closes, which I have come to expect. For the first 55 days or so of trying the ROM it also meant that I couldn’t use GTalk because of it, which I worked around, but there is a working one now which has just disabled it’s access to the camera. There are also issues with saving things to the SDCard, partly because Google changed where they put the card in the Nexus, and it also doesn’t always work right away when I am plugging it in to download some media. Also some growing pains caused the ‘B’ key on the hardware keyboard not to work for a while, but that hs also been fixed.

All in all, if you can stand not having access to the camera on your Droid 3 and are a bit adventurous, I would recommend trying it out. You can always go right back to your old system, because safestrap keeps it around. I have avoided it mostly though, only going back to it in order to load new versions of the ICS as it gets upgrades. It’s enough of an upgrade that I have actually told my wife (who has the same phone) that when she sees me take a picture on my phone, that she should make me upgrade her phone. Once the camera works reliably, it will be the best phone I’ve used.