Android 6.0 Marshmallow, thoroughly reviewed

Marshmallow Nexus

Ars Technica has thoroughly reviewed Android 6.0 Marshmallow.  Read the whole 10+ page review, or satisfy yourself with this very short summary:

The Good

  • The new home screen adds tons of genuinely useful features. App Search, predictive apps, vertical scrolling, and the uninstall shortcut are all great time savers.
  • The new permissions system lets users give informed consent to access their data while keeping them in the loop about breaking things from permission denial. Developers get to have a dialog with the user about why they need a permission, and old apps are fed fake data so they can be denied access without crashing.
  • “Adoptable Storage” finally makes SD cards as good as internal storage. Now if only there were Marshmallow devices with SD cards.
  • The fingerprint API isn’t groundbreaking even among the Android devices, but it’s the kind of ecosystem building that only Google can do.

The Bad

  • There still isn’t auto rotate support for the home screen. Google teased us in the developer preview but the feature was cut.
  • The new permissions page is a great first step, but it doesn’t list all of the access to the system an app actually has. Special settings like “Notification Access,” access to the accessibilities framework, and more are scattered all over the settings.
  • Apps can opt out of power saving features like Doze and App Standby just by changing their priority settings. We don’t trust developers to play by the rules.

The Ugly

  • There is still no solution for getting Marshmallow out to the billion+ devices out there.

Super Brew 15 in review

I haven’t seen this brand of beer in the local shops (gladly), but I still recommend reading the review.  It’s good, inspirational writing.  And absolutely hilarious content with some nice heavy tunes to accompany the laughter and it give the proper atmosphere.

super brew 15


Here are some quotes to get you started:

The aroma is . . . bracing. A flood of synthetic-smelling burnt caramel gives way to butterscotch, a touch of maraschino cherry, and then to what I can only describe as rubber cement. If you’ve ever wondered why rubber cement is so unpopular as a custard flavoring, take a whiff of this beer.


In keeping with the absence of a proper head, Super Brew 15 has a thin mouthfeel, despite its potency. The flavor starts inoffensively—oily toffee, subdued fruitiness (green grape, tart apple), and a faint maltiness like stale graham crackers. Combined with the alcohol heat, this has been enough to remind some online reviewers of brandy. But then something tragic happens: an aftertaste arrives that splits the difference between gasoline and nail polish remover. I’m convinced this shit is eating the enamel off my teeth.

The best ones though, I wouldn’t post for the reasons of the strong language.  But you should definitely click through to read it. LOL.

Happy New Year!

I’d like to take this moment and wish everyone a Happy New Year.  Let the new year bring more good to your life and take away the pains and troubles.  Be happy, healthy, wealthy, and have tonnes of fun!

Maybe it’s also a good time to take a brief look back at the year 2008, as well as examine some expectations for the year 2009.

Continue reading “Happy New Year!” summary – picking PSD slicing company

Everybody who ever made a web site, knows that design is hard. Making something outstanding and unique, but at the same time classy and easy to use, requires a professional designer. Everybody who ever made a web site knows that almost all web design is done in Adobe Photoshop, and that after the actual design is done, there comes an often lengthy and painful stage of slicing the design into its web variant – a conversion of Adobe Photoshop .PSD file into HTML, CSS, and web optimized images.

Apparently, slicing up a design is not a tough job it all. It’s slicing it up properly that makes all the difference. Anybody who has Adobe Photoshop installed can slice up a design. Photoshop can do most of the job for you anyway. But it takes a real professional do it properly. Don’t believe me? Let’s see. Have you ever sliced up a design? If so, feel free to answer the following questions in the comments:

  • How complex was the design?
  • How much time did it take you to slice it?
  • In how many browsers did you check the results?
  • Did you try to validate the HTML and CSS?
  • Did you spent any time making the result load faster – optimize images and code for slow connections?
  • How about accessibility – can people with disabilities, people using special software like screen readers, make any sense of the pages that you created?
  • Was there any SEO (search engine optimization) – semantic coding – in your work?
  • What about the comments in the markup and styles? Did you left any? Will other people be able to modify your results easily?
  • Did you have any considerations regarding technical nuances of the job – DIVs vs. tables, fixed width vs. fluid, scalable fonts vs fixed sized ones, etc?
  • Did you have to shape your slicing results into a theme for some CMS software, like WordPress or Drupal?
  • Have you enjoyed the process? Would you like to do it again?
  • How much would you pay not to do it again? Ever again?

If slicing up designs is not your bread and butter, you’ll pretty soon arrive to the conclusion that you need someone else to do it. One of the solutions is to outsource this job to one of the PSD slicing companies. There are quite a few of them out there – some are better, some are worse, some new, some old, and some we know nothing about.

But which company to choose? How to pick the one that will do the magic for you without screwing a thing or two in the process? Well, of course, there is always fear, uncertainty, and doubt involved, but if we are to put these aside, how can we proceed?

Finding a company to outsource PSD slicing was something I’ve been asked to do on more than one occasion over the past few weeks. Finally, I got over my busy schedule and unlimited laziness and came up with something.

There is a web site called . It is a directory of PSD slicing companies with some brief information about each, user submitted reviews, ratings, and what not. It’s not a huge directory – it only features 20+ companies. It’s not a very user friendly web site. But it’s a good place to start.

Before making any decisions, it’s good to figure out the requirements for the best match. Here are the things I had in mind while learning about these companies – your mileage may vary of course:

  • How fast can they do the job?
  • How flexible they are in their technical expertise – cross-browser compatibility, W3C standards compliance, SEO, accessibility, code commenting, etc?
  • How many people have ever used their services and how many of those got satisfied?
  • What were the weak points from those users who weren’t satisfied?
  • How expensive are they?

I quickly realized that I need to group listing into a table, add my own rating, and see which companies are doing the best. So, I fired up my Google Spreadsheet and did exactly that. I’ve published the table for anyone to see, but if for some reason you can’t access it, feel free to use an image below (click it for a larger version).

Things that you see in that table are:

  • Company name.
  • Company URL.
  • Price. This is a price in US Dollars for the first page, as reported by .
  • Time. This is the time in days that the company will need to slice up your design.
  • Reviews. This is the number of reviews for this company posted at for the moment of creating the table.
  • Reviews rating. This the average rating of the company given by all reviews at
  • Combined rating. This is the rating that I came up with. It is calculated like so: combined rating = ((Reviews / 2) * (Reviews rating / 10) / (Price * Time)) * 1000. The idea is the following: half of the ratings are submitted by the companies themselves or by their very biased users. So we’ll just use the other half. We’ll decrease the review rating range from between 0 and 10 to between 0 and 1. Then we’ll multiple this rating by the number of the reviews the company has. The result of this multiplication we’ll divide by a product of time and price. The slower they are, or the more expensive, the lower their rating will be. The more reviews they have, and the more positive their reviews are, the higher their rating goes. And just to make the rating numbers into some sensible numbers, multiply the result by 1,000.

To make things a little bit easier to digest, I added some colors. White and gray backgrounds are just for stripes, to make it easier to read. The best values for each column are highlighted in green. The worst values are highlighted in red. The values in between are highlighted in yellow. The final table is sorted by the Combined Rating, so that the best companies to choose from are at the top. According to these findings, the top three best companies to give our trust to are:

  1. xHTML Master
  2. PSD Slicing
  3. Frontenders

As I said, your mileage may vary. Things that you should keep in mind are:

  • There are more companies out there than those that are listed in .
  • There are other factors to take into consideration which weren’t even mentioned here – for example, the timezone the company is in, languages they can communicate with, payment conditions, etc.
  • I am pretty bad at anything that needs any calculations. Seriously.

I will most likely continue with the research in this area. Or maybe I will just go ahead and try a few of them out. But in either case, if you have any suggestions or ideas in these matters, please let me know.

Lenovo ThinkPad T61

As I mentioned a few days ago, I was looking for a new laptop. Well, I got one last week, and it’s an amazing Lenovo ThinkPad T61 machine. I am still playing with, learning it, and tweaking it, but I think I’m ready for the post now.

The red button

First things first. There weren’t much of an argument for or against each specific model that I found or that was suggested in the comments to my last post. I needed a machine pretty fast, and I was trying to arrange it in such a way so that I won’t pay for it out of my own pocket (my new employer is kind of cool for this sort of things).

Here are the specs for the tech savvy among you:

  • 15.4″ widescreen form factor
  • 2.1 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 150 GB HDD
  • 3 USB ports
  • some sort of DVD drive
  • 1 Ethernet card, 1 WiFi card, and a whole bunch of other inputs and outputs

Installation process : I did a minimum installation of Fedora 8 from DVD, then copied over my home directory and other important files from my previous laptop, and then installed and upgraded all missing and outdated software. Most of the stuff worked like a charm and didn’t need any sweat.

Issues that I needed time to solve or haven’t solved yet:

  • WiFi switch was off and it took me almost half an hour to figure out. That was probably due to a total lack of sleep though.
  • Fedora 8 has this new pulse audio system, which takes a few steps to setup properly. I had to do this a few times before already, and every time this excellent guide was to the rescue.
  • I still haven’t managed to configure suspend and hibernate functionality. It goes to sleep nicely, but either doesn’t wake up at all, or wakes up with some crucial functionality missing, such as network being totally lost. This is as well the most annoying thing that I miss right now. However, the whole of the Internet suggests that I am doing something wrong and that this stuff should just work.


  • Very fast. This is my first multi-core machine, so I have to get used to it a bit. One thing that I am particularly glad is that it runs Quake 3 at 125 FPS easily. This is the first machine that I have that can do this.
  • Widescreen is the way to go. (And here is the recent Slashdot story to confirm that.) It’s amazing how much difference that little extra space on the side makes. Watching a movie is more pleasurable. Working with images in Gimp is way more convenient. And now I can have a full window browser with a sidebar open, following my Twitter friends. Or an instant messenger window open nearby. Or I can have a really wide console window with plenty of code to scroll through (priceless for vimdiff mode).
  • A little bit heavier than my previous machine. It’s a bit bigger too. But I don’t mind much.
  • A little bit noisier than my previous machine. It feels like the fans are never off. However I suspect there is some great utility software out there to configure and control this.

Overall, it feels like a really nice piece of technology – well built and thoroughly thought out. I need to solve these few remaining issues and it will be a total pleasure to work with.

Recent movies

I have watched a few movies recently.  Here is a quick overview, since I don’t feel like writing a complete separate review of each.

  • Rambo.  I saw it in the cinema, on the big screen. And I have to say that I was impressed.  Really.  It couldn’t have been better than the “First Blood” by definition, but it was definitely better than the third part, and arguably better than the second part.  One of the scenes reminds the beach take over in “Saving Private Ryan”, while there are a couple of other pretty good fights.  John Rambo is still the same – quiet veteran, who is not so easily pissed off, but when he is, you better be on the other side of the planet.  In short: lots of blood, great body count, and an absolutely “must see” for the fans.
  • Inside Man.  I am totally biased here, as someone who enjoys heist movies.  But even if there was no heist, it would have still be an excellent movie.  The story is interesting.  The cast is excellent.  The directing is brilliant. And so is every other part of the film – from music through costumes and make-up to operators.  This is how I think movies should be: a little bit of everything – humor, sadness, food for thought, visual pleasure, and acting.
  • Poseidon. It was a good try at a bad movie.  I mean, there was plenty of effort in trying to make this film good.  Some good actors are in.  There are some expensive scenes.  Or at least some of them looked expensive.  There is a little bit of suspense at times.  But this film was bad by idea, not by implementation.  I mean, there is this Titanic story which can be tolled from a thousand perspectives.  And yet, in this film it was told from a perspective of a really cheap “end of the world” flick.  Oh, and the physics really sucked – from beginning to end.  But that is sort of expected in the really cheap “end of the world” flicks.

The year 2007 in review

2007 is almost over, so it’s a good time to take a moment and review how it passed.

First, let’s see how my 2007 expectations turned out to be:

  • Paperwork. I have done a few things about it, but not as much as I have expected.  While bureaucracy can often be blamed, this time it’s not the case.  The lack of progress in this area is totally my fault.  Laziness.
  • Business.  I managed to fly the company into the ground.  It crashed, burned, and disappeared. It’s a bit sad that it didn’t work out, but I’m glad that it happened earlier than later, and I’m glad that I’ve learned so much out of it.  I will surely try it again, but in a different key, and after I take a break to heal the wounds.
  •  Traveling. It didn’t go as good as I expected it to, but I did manage to get out of country.  A few days in Greece with some really cool people.

Secondly, let’s take a look at the highlights of the year (most of these overlap with this recent post):

  • Getting in and out of my own business is surely THE highlight of the year.  Getting another job after that is a nice addition.
  • A few days at Greek Blogger Camp. Unforgettable experience, cool people, inspiration for new ideas, and all that.
  • Lots of family related  happenings.  Maxim starting with his kindergarten, mother visiting us twice this year, grandmother passing away, Maxim getting a little surgery, and some more.

Thirdly, here are my impressions of the year:

  • It was THE LONGEST year of my life.  On several occasions I had doubts that this year will ever end. And even though there are just a few hours left in it, I still don’t feel comfortable enough speaking of it like it’s over.
  • I’ve learned a lot. And I went a long way.  Most of the things I’ve learned were about myself, and many of these weren’t as pleasant as I’d like them to be, but I’m glad I know them know. Heck, I even I learned to deal with some of them to a certain degree.
  • I got more ties with my family. I’ve heard before that the older you become, the more family means to you.  I feel it coming true.  I am as close to my parents as I ever was, and I understood a little bit more of how much my wife and my son mean to me.  More than I thought or felt before.  As weird as it is.
  • I discovered that I have more good people around me than I ever knew or even expected.  I’ve discovered some really great things about people who have been nearby for years, and who I barely noticed.  It’s amazing how much can one see by just looking and hear by just listening.  I should work a bit more on myself to get better at that.

Here is 2007 in one line: it was a great and long year, but I hope it will never happen to me again.

Now, let’s go for the bright side of things – which expectations do I have for the year 2008?  I have plenty:

  • Jobs, projects, business.  I expect some stirring up in this area during 2008.  I am working on some things already, and I have plenty more in mind.
  • Traveling.  I do expect a bit more of moving around.  Some will be family related, some – business related, and some – recreational.
  • Paperwork.  There are some really strong reasons for this to be either completely resolved this year or getting much closer to resolved.
  • Technology.  I have plenty of expectations in this area for the coming year.  Many of this expectations are related to Google, mobile computing, Web, and growing number of people using technology to earn money and make their lives easier (globalization, et al).

Let’s see how it will turn out…

Happy New Year!

On movie reviews and movies …

While reading dooce‘s reasons for why she stopped reading music reviews, I had a thought along the same lines, but for the movies.

A music reviewer runs into a problem that plagues most writers: coming up with new ways to say the same thing.

Why is that most of my movie review reading consists of checking the first half of the IMDB page for the movie?  (The part with title, genre, user rating, producer, and top of the cast).  Well, because that’s all I need to know about most of the movies that I get a chance to see (TV, rentals, and cinema).

Yes, most of these movies are either total crap or half crap.  They don’t amaze. They don’t make me think.  They don’t bring back the memories, and neither do they stimulate my imagination.  Most of these movies have a pretty straightforward story, shallow characters with long time coined phrases. You know the ones I’m talking about.

It’s a tough job being a critique for such movies.  You’ll indeed run out of words to describe them, and that will happen pretty fast.  I know, because I tried a movie blog ones.  It’s dead for a long time now, and I don’t have much will to revive it.

I’ve been thinking about this for some time now.  One thing that scares me a little bit is this move towards shorter time frames.  I’m guilty in participating, of course, but that makes it even scarier.

What I am talking about is this general move towards smaller pieces of information and entertainment.  We used to have printed books.  Those took a few days to read each.  Gradually, the majority of the population moved from books to movies.  Movies are much easier to consume, and then only take a couple of hours.  With the raise of the Web, the time frames got even shorter.  YouTube is one of the most popular entertainment resources on the Web, and it has a limitation of a 10 minute clip.  You just can’t upload anything which is significantly bigger than that (give or take a few seconds).   Now with mobile devices coming up strong, and popularity of short message services, such as Twitter and Jaiku, something tells me that we’ll go much under those 10 minutes of YouTube.  Of course it won’t happen in a day or two – I’m talking a general trend here.

Now imagine the reviewers going in step with the progress.  Writing a book review was simpler ( I guess).  Movies got tougher, because there are so many of them and because they are so much alike.  YouTube clip reviews turned into tiny user comments and star ratings.  You just can’t talk about a few minutes of video for hours I guess (again).  What will happen with a reviews of Twitter messages and tiny mobile video clips?  They’ll disappear.  It’ll be easier and faster to watch the original rather than spend time on the review.

Of course, it won’t all turn out that bad.  It’s just I’m having one of those pessimistic days…

Web-based personal finance managers

Over the last few years I’ve made several attempts at improving my personal finance management. With the exception of the last six month, I never tracked my spendings for more than a month or so. Two main reasons for that were:

  1. I never was on a financial edge for more than a month or so.
  2. I don’t enjoy accounting all that much and I never had a tool that made it anymore pleasurable.

Each of my finance tracking periods has been guided by a different tool. I tried a few approaches from plain text and spreadsheet files, through custom written scripts, to widely used applications. None of those worked for me, except for the last one I tried – GnuCash.

I use GnuCash for about six month now. It’s a really nice application, which implemented a few ideas right. But for me two things made it – documentation (especially 3 pages of Accounting 101 shipped with the software) and the wizard which asked a few simple questions and created some accounts for me to use. I started with the simple things, and somehow they worked. Then I tried a few more advanced ones (multi-currency, transaction splits, etc), and I still loved it.

I still love GnuCash. But I am starting to feel the need for a web-based tool. As good as GnuCash is, it has a number of pitfalls for me:

  • All data is on a single computer. I need to back it up myself. I can’t access it if my laptop is not with me.
  • My mostly used tool is Firefox browser, and I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t use it for my accounting too.
  • Web-based services can offer additional goodies such as SMS/IM integration, email reminders, social aspects, and so on.

So, today I started looking for a replacement. My quest began at the LifeHacker post titled “Is Mint Realy For Your Money?” The article reviewed service, while comments suggested a few alternative solutions.

Here are the services that I tried. Note – I haven’t spent much time with any one of them. Mostly those were brief sessions of register – create an account – create a few transactions – check the settings – logout.

Yodlee MoneyCenter – looks like something feature complete, but the interfaces are overly complicated and there is a certain degree of paranoia with logging in and out. While it looked like Yodlee was doing everything I needed all at once, the complexity of the interfaces and the general speed of the site made me go away without spending much time there.

Wesabe – got me impressed. Twice. Just a few minutes after I registered, I got an email from one of the co-founders – Marc Hedlund, welcoming me to the community. Marc caught my twit, followed to this blog, read a few recent entries (especially those about privacy concerns and Firefox extensions). His welcoming message provided a few extra pointers in the areas that I appeared to be interested in. Wow! I’ve seen a lot of services with personalized, fast responding support teams, but Wesabe guys (there is a blog and forum too) are a couple of levels above anything that I can remember.

The second impression on me was by Wesabe’s tagging system. Again, being a web addict I’ve seen plenty of sites and applications that use tagging. Wesabe did something really cool – they kept the simplicity of the concept while greatly extending the functionality. You can do anything with tags there. It’s very similar to the way Flickr uses tags for some internal stuff, but here tags are given to the user.

Regarding the functionality, Wesabe takes a more social approach to finance tracking and accounting. Most of the boring stuff is simplified and automated. Things which are used most often are implemented in the very straightforward way. And there is just enough of functionality to make it useful without cluttering the service interfaces and users minds.

There are a couple of limitations that prevent me from using this service right now though. None of the Cyprus banks support a straightforward export of data in any format that can be used to input accounts into Wesabe. So, I’m left with only cash-type accounts. And currently those cash-type accounts in Wesabe cannot track the account balance (no opening balance, reconciliation, etc). Marc mentioned that account balances will be added to cash accounts shortly, since many people requested them. Once this done, I’ll jump back to Wesabe with my bank statements. Really, really neat service. – looked like I can work only with one currency at a time. That’s not acceptable. I use three at the moment – CYP, USD, and EUR. CYP with gradually disappear over the next few month, but I’m stuck with USD and EUR for some time to come.

Then I finally got to the service which started my quest today – . Unfortunately, I wasn’t at all able to try it out, because it supports only United States banks and financial institutions. There was no way for me to avoid account import from one of those places where I don’t have an account.

So, as you can see from the above paragraphs, Wesabe is the one closest to my needs.  And compared to the other ones it is so much nicer that I’d rather wait for those features that I need rather than settle for something that I don’t enjoy half as much.

What other services are there?  Did I miss anything?