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"The only frontiers are in your mind"
29 | 01 | 2015
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Get Blogged by JoKi

Jochen Kirstaetter (2014)

The only frontiers are in your mind, welcome to my blog sphere. Your host at is Jochen Kirstätter aka JoKi.

Dive into the weird world of a professional Software Craftsman and follow his daily victories and struggles with modern technology at IOS Indian Ocean Software Ltd. Although living on a tropical island, I'm a business owner and entrepreneur in different industry sectors. Mainly operating in the development of tailor-made software solutions since more than 15 years, I also venture into the world of beauty and body care. You can either meet me at the weekly Code & Coffee meetups of the Mauritius Software Craftsmanship Community or reach me on Twitter @JKirstaetter

This blog is also about Flic en Flac and the beautiful island of Mauritius, my home.

Sincerely, JoKi



Children are happy using their Kindle Fire HDX
User Rating:★★★★☆ / 2
PoorBest 
Android 04 January 2015 - 
Kindle Fire HDX 7" Tablet on Amazon
Source: Kindle Fire HDX 7" Tablet on Amazon

Another bargain from Amazon made it to our paradise island. This time I went on the hunt for tablet for our children. Even though I already use a variety of tablets - both iOS- and Android-based - for professional reasons I was looking for a more secure solution for children than what is possible with the default systems. Whether you are using an iPad or a stock Android or a Samsung enhanced UI tablet they somehow always fall short in terms of profile management for multiple users, there is lack of safety measures for children, and it surely leaves a gut feeling with the adults when the kids are using "their" device.

Some months back I ran into the unpleasant situation that one of our children did an unwanted purchase on the Play Store. Fortunately for me, Google changed their refund policies recently and I was granted a refund. Grateful, it happened only once and just a minor amount. Due to this incident I did a research on several "child-friendly parachutes" for Android. None of them really convinced and so I put it aside...

Amazon again...

Then came Amazon and only by chance while browsing some products in their Kindle department I came across their special offers for the Kindle Fire HDX tablet(s). Reading through the family features on the device combined with the additional cloud options it became obvious that the Kindle Fire would be wonderful solution.

Here are some of the key factors - taken from Amazon product page - that mattered most for us:

Profiles so you can share your tablet

Kindle Fire HDX (OS 4) lets each family member create their own profile, including individual home screens, email, Facebook and Twitter accounts, bookmarks, and game levels—making it easy for a family to share a tablet and give everyone a personalized experience, rather than buying multiple devices.

Set Screen Limits

Many parents choose to limit their kids' screen time, but doing so without the proper tools is difficult. With Kindle FreeTime, parents can set daily limits for tablet use, or restrict certain categories—like games and video—while leaving unlimited time for reading.

Perfect for Parents...

Kindle FreeTime is built from the ground up to help give parents peace of mind when it comes to tablet use. Parents can create a profile for each of their children and choose what books, apps, games, and videos they want to give their kids access to. Kindle FreeTime is free on every new Kindle Fire.

...And Perfect for Kids

When kids use Kindle FreeTime, it's like they have their very own personalized tablet. The background color and fonts change to a kid-friendly design, they only see the titles that they have access to see, the home screen carousel shows their recently viewed titles, and they can even navigate visually to content based on characters or topics—for example "Cinderella," "Dinosaurs," or "Puppies."

Just the combination that we were looking for.

Profile creation and protection

The Fire OS 4 used in the Kindle Fire HDX allows to setup a family with 2 adults and up to 4 children. Being used to the Amazon Store App on my other devices and already owning a small library of Android apps as well as a collection of (children) books the Kindle Fire would be the right selection for our household. Actually, our toughest decision was whether we should take a rugged version or stick to the Origami cover...

Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition  Kindle Fire HDX with Origami Cover
Tough decision between the Fire HD Kids Edition (left) and the Fire HDX with Origami Cover (right)...

In general, I would suggest that someone might opt for the Fire HD Kids Edition depending on the age your child(ren) of course. But honestly I have to admit that the technical geek in me won the decision battle and we purchased the regular HDX with higher display resolution. Although the offer with 1 year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, and a 2-year worry-free guarantee sounds amazing.

Well, personal preference... 

Initial configuration

This is pretty much a standard procedure. Our device(s) came almost fully charged and therefore it was about the first log in with the credentials of an adult Amazon account holder. Following the various steps took me less than 10 minutes and the device was operational. Of course, first things first... Check for updates! And yes there is a newer minor version of Fire OS available. Some bugfixes but also some new and enhanced features compared to the currently installed version.

Next, it's about going into the Settings menu and there you get access to Profiles & Family Library. That's the place to go to... I quickly added two child profiles and made my choices regarding allowed content for their particular age. It's easy to provide different books, apps, games, videos and settings for each individual profile. And more interesting you are able to set daily goals but also set time limits and usage constraints. Optionally you can give profile passwords or even hide profiles completely on the device - nice feature to keep the kids restricted to a) their profile and b) their device.

Overall I have to say that Amazon's Fire OS experience is more complete and polished than any children-safety app that I have tested since now.

Content and battery lifetime

The children got their tablets as present from Santa Claus... And of course, he is very gentle person he already pre-loaded a good number of apps from the Amazon App Store. I'm not quite sure but it seems that each app is downloaded for each profile. Leading to duplicate downloads and higher storage requirements. But I'm not sure about that yet. The Kindle Fire HDX is completely isolated within the Amazon realm, and you don't have access to Google's Play Store or any other sources - which might be good or might be bad depending on how you would like to see it. Personally, I don't miss the access to the Play Store and again it gives me more peace of mind knowing that the kids cannot download and install any inappropriate software.

Regarding battery lifetime it seems that the tablet has enough "juice" for their daily allowance without the need to charge it in-between. Well, I have to admit that I didn't load any movies yet on the device. But up till now, the kids are happy with their playtime using games, drawing apps, reading children books or listening to music.

Camera situation

The Kindle Fire HDX is "only" equipped with a front-facing 720p HD camera. Which is perfect for Skype conversations among each other, or family members, or friends outside our immediate vicinity. And of course "selfies"... Hm, our little artists discovered this drawback during the first evening and were not quite happy about that. As we didn't comment on this they found a solution on their own: Turn the tablet and hold in front of the belly to shoot photos. Simply but effective.

Resume

Even after this short period of less than two weeks I'd say that we made the right decision with the purchase of the Kindle Fire HDX and the Origami cover. The children are pleased with their toys, and we as parents can relax - they don't ask anymore for our devices and we feel secure that they won't do any unwanted purchases.

Feel free to leave me a note (or two) in the comment section below. Thanks!

 
My first month using a Lumia 730
User Rating:★★★★★ / 1
PoorBest 
General 04 January 2015 - 
Lumia 730/735 on Amazon
Source: Nokia Lumia 730/735 on Amazon

It's already one month since I bought a Nokia / Microsoft Lumia 730 during one of my business trips in Europe. And quite frankly I'm going to summarise my impressions, up & downs during this time using the device itself, the Windows Phone 8.1 operating system and the apps during this period.

Why? Oh why?

Actually, the decision is straight: I wanted to own a Windows Phone 8.1 (WP8) based smartphone for technical reasons. After having several Android - smartphones and tablets - and iOS devices - mainly different generations of iPads - since years it was high-time to purchase a Windows Phone 8.1 system. But the choice of operating system and app environment wasn't the key factor for my decision.

Dual SIM as replacement of two mobiles

After a bit of research on the interweb and reading a bunch of forum threads I came to the conclusion that neither iOS (well, obviously non-existent) nor any Droids offer some decent handling of two SIM cards at the same time. There are always some kind of trade-offs and short-comings. Given the situation in my case that I have two mobile numbers for private and business purposes I got tired of caring two cellular phones with me. Yes of course, it would have been possible to daisy-chain or route incoming calls from one number to the other one but this wouldn't help in case of calling people. Ergo, a new purchase had to be a smartphone with Dual SIM feature and at the time I made my decision I had the impression that so far only Lumia devices and WP8 were capable of dealing with it properly. Thanks to the promotions of Black Friday and Cyber Monday I was able to snatch a very good deal and I purchased a Lumia 730 for EUR 199,- (or approximately Rs. 7,600.-) on Amazon.

But unfortunately I wasn't smart enough to be able to use my newly acquired toy directly on the spot. Both of existing mobiles had standard-sized SIM cards whereas the Lumia only accepts NanoSIM form factor. Alright, no problem at all. I sent an email to my account manager at Emtel and he replied instantly that a new SIM card would be ready for pickup at the next showroom - Thanks Emtel, excellent service!

Note: The Lumia 735 is the Single SIM edition with LTE network connectivity.

First: Update to Windows Phone 8.1

No matter what kind of device you put in my hand... As soon as it is connected to the internet I have to check for any kind of updates. And of course, there was an update already waiting for the Lumia 730. Upgrading the device to the latest Windows Phone 8.1 Update is a no-brainer and you should do it ASAP, too. Of course, I was curious to have a chat with Cortana, too.

Transfer my data

Changing mobile devices always relates to migration of information. Both my previous devices were still Symbian S60 based - I know, I know... - and given the experience I made previously with my wife's upgrade onto the Android platform I did some pre-work. But quite frankly it wasn't really necessary at all. The Lumia 730 comes with a pre-installed app called "Transfer my Data".

"Transfer my Data is a quick and easy way of copying contacts from almost any phone (Symbian, Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and others) to your new Windows Phone using Bluetooth. Some phones may also be capable of transferring text messages and pictures, including many Lumia phones. Transfer my Data copies all your contacts into the Windows Phone People Hub, from where it's easy to call, mail, chat or follow friends on your favourite social network. On supported phones, contacts and messages can also be transferred to and from an SD card." -- taken from Windows Phone store

A data exchange via Bluetooth sounds good and indeed the transfer of contacts, text messages and even photos was done very quickly. Even though the app offers transfer of music and video files it suggests to use a PC as proxy device for performance reasons. Anyway, within shortest time I had all my contacts from both Symbians available on the Lumia. A little down-side is the lack of de-duplication but that's honestly a bit too much to ask for. A last full charge of both batteries and then Farewell old fellows, you served me well.

First challenge: Rename the device

After my initial success of data transfer it turned out to be a real challenge to change the name of the device in the About section. I mean, what's so difficult to provide a textbox instead of a label in order to change a [censored] name? Being used to Android and IOS devices it is one of my first tasks to change a device's name to a pattern that suits my needs instead of having that generic "Windows Phone 8".

Let me solve the puzzle: No chance at all to change it from the device. 

You have to connect the device to a computer in order to change the device's name / identification. Seriously? It's not only quite weird but kind of painful in case that you're using an operating system like Mac OS X or Linux. As soon as you hook up the device via USB you have 2 options at hand. Either you download and install the Windows Phone app for Desktop:

Change name of Windows Phone 8.1 device in Windows Phone App for Desktop
Change name of Windows Phone 8.1 device in Windows Phone App for Desktop

or you do it the classic way: Folder properties in Windows Explorer:

Change name of Windows Phone 8.l1 device in Windows Explorer
Change name of Windows Phone 8.l1 device in Windows Explorer

A couple of General Settings

As usual I went through all settings. First, to see what is available and possible to change with built-in features and second, to evaluate how it works compared to iOS and Android. Adding the Lumia to my existing WiFi infrastructure went smooth. Setting the network specific SIM options wasn't a problem at all. In order to access my operator-given voicebox services I had to specify different short-dials. And so on and so on; I'll spare you the remaining myriad of settings and will concentrate a bit on the interesting ones. Next, I had a look at the Keyboard settings.

Word Flow

Frankly, I'm a little bit spoiled by a third-party application called SwiftKey on Android and iOS. After following the keynote presentation on Windows Phone 8.1 some months back, I knew about the built-in Word Flow feature. And due to the lack of SwiftKey on WP8 I installed my usual keyboard languages - English, French and German, and run a couple of tests in various applications. Yes, Word Flow feels very natural and the text recognition of my swipes are very accurate - close to or even matching SwiftKey on the other platforms. Very pleasant after that initial challenge.

Back navigation

That was a funny pitfall I fell into. The back button on Windows Phone 8.1 works somehow different to the one on Android and I was desperately looking for a solution on how to access some kind of apps overview or task manager. Luckily, that puzzle could be solved very quickly thanks to the tweet of @LumiaHelp: Long-press the back button.

Internet Sharing (aka Tethering)

I am happy that Windows Phone 8.1 doesn't use the term "Tethering" or "Wifi Hotspot" - not from a technical point of view but from a consumer's one. Unfortunately, the relative position between switching mobile data package use and enabling internet sharing is a bit far from each other. But once you get used to it, it's not that difficult anymore. Also, given that one might leave the data package setting fixed and only switches tethering on and off from time to time. The connection between the Lumia 730 and my MSI laptop was stable and performant. Nothing to report about...

Apps and Windows Phone App Store

Attention! My levels of frustration but also excitement went up very quickly in this chapter. But let me start with the dark side of using Windows Phone 8.1: Lack of (my) major apps.

This might sound a bit contradictory to my decision of purchasing a WP8 smartphone. I knew there will be cut-downs on some apps I'm used to but, boy was I wrong!, at least half of my daily apps are not available on Windows Phone! No seriously, I'm trying to get the best out of multiple options but there has to be at least some common ground where I can put my bare minimum of data exchange. Yes, there is no lack of standard applications like Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Mail clients, PDF reader, Amazon Kindle and office apps but what about other productivity tools? At the time writing this blog entry I'm missing the following apps:

  • Trello
  • Chrome browser
  • Pluralsight - there's only Windows Phone 7.x
  • Meetup
  • Google+
  • Google Drive
  • OpenVPN mobile client

Just to name a few.

The first couple of days I felt unproductive and really thought that I made the wrong choice. Currently, I'm still trying to figure out whether there are possibilities to "transfer" some purchased apps. I really like to use the Runtastic app. But despite having the Pro edition on Android I have to stick with the Freemium on WP8 right now. But yeah, something I already in advance.

Adjust your Country/Region setting

Originally I thought that setting the Region to my actual location of stay would be a good option but unfortunately Microsoft seems to have other ideas than their customers. Why would I say that? Well, in order to be able to use the "advanced" features like remote installation of Windows Phone 8 Apps via your browser the setup has to be coherent to each other. Meaning, the preferred language options in your browser - whether it's Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox - and the regional settings on your smartphone have to match each other. In my case, it's a bit tough to get an English version of the Windows Phone App Store for Mauritius. Either I get redirected to the British or the US version of the store and some features like the "Install" button are not available.

Piece of advice: Set the Country/Region option on your phone to United States and your browser's preferred language to en_US and you're good to go.

Additional to more comfort on the website you'll also get access to more apps in the US store than in other countries. And you can still set the Regional format to a different setting.

Full throttle on Microsoft apps

After my phone and store adjustments I started to explore the list of featured apps and the ones listed in collections. There are some good applications available but it's interesting to mention that most of them are written by Microsoft or a department within Microsoft. Following a list of apps I like to use regularly:

  • Lumia Camera
  • Lumia Panorama
  • Office Lens
  • Office Remote
  • Skype
  • Gestures Beta
  • Authenticator

Cortana seems to be interesting but I haven't had a conversation with my personal assistant. Well, surely something to explore during the upcoming weeks.

Welcome to the Microsoft universe

Although I experienced the Apple world - both on iOS and Mac OS X - and Android heaven I have the impression that Windows Phone 8.1 is tightly coupled to Windows, maybe Windows 8.1 specifically. It's not really a speed bump in my particular case but I would appreciate that there are more cross-platform apps available.

Staying inside the Microsoft universe gives you a well-shaped package and integration between smartphone and desktop applications. It's actually pretty cool to use your Lumia as a presenter device for your Powerpoint presentation. Or you fire up the Project My Screen App on Windows and you can mirror all activities on your mobile on the big screen. And last but not least it is very convenient to store all your files and data in OneDrive compared to Google Drive or iCloud.

Resume after one month

Despite the obstacles and the lack of certain apps I have to admit that I am very pleased with the Nokia Lumia 730. And that's mainly thanks to the Dual SIM feature of the device. Hopefully, I'll be able to find a couple more gems in the Windows Phone App Store and write some blog entries regarding my experience and discoveries.

Stay tuned! ;-)

 
Lets rock with MySQL and MariaDB
User Rating:★★★★★ / 3
PoorBest 
Linux 03 January 2015 - 

Logo of MariaDB Sealion mascotSome weeks months ago...

What happens on Facebook

I saw an announcement made by Ronny on Facebook that he's about to organise a meeting about MySQL and MariaDB. Well, I have to admit that I didn't have that much contact with Ronny but I knew that he was involved in the initiation of the Linux User Group of Mauritius (LUGM), and that Ish already mentioned his name a couple of times, mostly because of the inspirational approach and other funny things. Well, long story short. Ronny mentioned that one of his friends will be around on the island for some vacation and that said person agreed to do a session on the history, the (eventual) future and some technical aspects of MySQL and MariaDB. Sounds great and having an expert from abroad doesn't happen too often...

Okay, next Ronny was looking for a decent location and I suggested to him that he might his luck at The Flying Dodo Brewery in Bagatelle. In general not a problem but those guys over there speak money and in order to get their side room with some conference aspirations they wouldn't agree on the usual deal for user groups. Meaning: Room for attendees consuming food & drinks. As I had personal interest in this session to happen, I backed Ronny's intentions to go forward with it and to let me know in case that there financial constraints to be expected. Running your business provides you with some benefits and allowances. Anyway, there was a little fee for the evening to be paid, and I was glad to cover those expenses through my business: IOS Indian Ocean Software Ltd.

Lets rock with MySQL and MariaDB

The "event" was scheduled for the evening hours, and after the official part it was commonly agreed that we are going to leverage the location and have a decent after-meeting session at the brewery. It's always nice to combine work with pleasure - particularly in that specific order.

Our presenter, an international consultant for MySQL and MariaDB working at SkySQL AB at that time, named Joffrey Michaie did a great job during the evening. First, he gave us a brief history lesson about the origins of MySQL, then elaborated on the recent purchase event during the last couple of years and went over the actual reasons why MariaDB has been created. Well, Sun and Oracle did a great job to get quite a number of good developers on MySQL as well as the community on their feet. The fork of MySQL into MariaDB is reasonable given that Oracle doesn't need to support two opposing RDBMS within the same company - astounishingly that's a very familiar constellation seeing Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft Visual FoxPro (VFP) in the past. Anyway, approximately 90% (and more) of the original MySQL developers quit their job and went over to a company called SkySQL AB - which is solely temporarily and there had been a press release recently, that it's now officially MariaDB AB. Monty Widenius had his coup and the core development team is back to its roots.

And... best of all: MariaDB is an inplace-replacement for MySQL. In case that you're operating your website or blog on MySQL you can simply install and use MariaDB instead of. It works flawlessly.

Next, Jojo gave us some corner data about the wide-spread use of MySQL/MariaDB. Actually some big internet companies or better said their websites (like Facebook, SAP, Xing, etc.) are driven by MySQL installations spread over hundreds or even over thousands of machines. Of course, this requires some interesting architecture not only regarding the physical setup of machines and networks but also in terms of storage and replication features. High-availability (HA) is the magical keyword in this case. At a certain size you have to switch towards DB clusters and Joffrey gave us good information about one could setup such clusters using Galera. He also gave us a brief overview of some specialised storage engines available in MySQL/MariaDB which definitely go far beyond the capabilities of the standard types like MyISAM or InnoDB.

Full screen entertainment for geeks

The full presentation of a whooping 107 slides is available on SlideShare - Thanks to Joffrey and the LUGM!

On my side, I have to admit that I was a bit interruptive as I had a good number of questions regarding certain features I'm used to using either VFP or SQL Server. Especially given the fact that I was involved in the software architecture and development of client-server applications that run on roughly 100 instances of SQL Server including different types of data replication. Yes, we did partitioning and the database has a variety of replication scenarios for different tables; including typical master-slave replication but also enhanced 2-way replication. Also dealing with data volumes in 2-digit and even 3-digit regions is not unusual with my clients. And there is quite a difference between writing and running queries against a low amount of records compared to tables with 15+ million records. Not to forget about write and update operations. Patiently, Joffrey took note of my questions and he had very good answers how certain setups and requirements could be solved and handled with MariaDB. One of the interesting topics was the discussion about data types of "uniqueidentifier" versus "UUID" versus "Global Transaction ID (GTID)". Well, basically they are the same... Whereas SQL Server handles replication based on that specific data type, MySQL or MariaDB remains on dealing with integer-based column data types (comparable to Auto-Increment in SQL Server) - which I find problematic. 

MariaDB Enterprise Architecture v3.1
MariaDB is not just the database anymore; it's a platform for application developers and database administrators

Anyway, the evening had some interesting chunks of information for me and I enjoyed the whole presentation. Joffrey knows how to keep the audience focused and engaged into the topic. And shamelessly we extending the scheduled 1-hour session by at least 30 minutes or so. Until all questions have been asked and answered. And after all this talking and listening it was time to move over to the social aspects of the evening and to get some refreshments.

Networking session and future activities

Later on I managed to have a little smalltalk with Jojo and even though the meeting was under the aegis of the LUGM, I informed him about the existence, goals and intentions of the Mauritius Software Craftsmanship Community (MSCC). Dunno, how he took it but since then we are still in touch on social media networks, and have a chat from time to time. On my part I'm looking forward to the next opportunity to hear about MariaDB from Joffrey - and of course I won't hesitate to act as a sponsor again.

Oh, and thanks for the goodies - I really like that black MariaDB 10 T-Shirt.

Disclaimer: Images are courtesy of MariaDB Corporation Ab. MariaDB is a trademark or registered trademarks of MariaDB Corporation Ab in the European Union and United States of America and/or other countries. MySQL is a trademark of Oracle Corporation Inc.

 
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