Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My essential Android apps list

Over time and through two full cycles of Android phones (The HTC Incredible and now the Samsung Galaxy S3) I have come to rely on quite a few applications.  It was interesting to me when I picked up my new phone in July because I really got a chance to reconfigure my phone and the various home screens.  Since then I've even dumped a few apps and found a few new ones but these are the staples of my Android life and I hope that you will check them out when you have time.  Each of these apps I use on a regular basis.  I have a lot more on my phone but this is the list that would go with me to my next phone and beyond.  Just hit the Google Play link and type in the app's name to find it.  Most of them are free or low cost so what are you waiting for, get out there and find some new stuff to play with on your phone!

Google Play Store

Everyday Use

Dropbox - Instant camera uploads to the cloud and your other files always available
Weatherbug HD - Great forecasts and a cool widget for your homescreen
Dolphin Browser - The best alternate browser hands down
Flixster - Find movie times and watch trailers
Gas Buddy - Find the cheapest gas!
RadarNow - Shows instant radar wherever you are, great for camping and hiking
Google Reader - Catch up on all your rss feeds
Springpad - Take notes on anything, I use it for grocery lists household notes like filter sizes
Shop Savvy - Scan a UPC code get the cheapest price around
QuickOffice - View excel, word and powerpoint documents on your phone

Craigslist - Post items for sale easily, browse what's available to buy
Key Ring - Store all those loyalty cards on your phone
Slacker Radio - Great mobile radio with good stations to choose from
Netflix - Watch shows while working out or anytime
Flashlight - Light the way, widget provides instant on and off from home screen
Mint - Track our finances
Redbox - Find out if your local Red Box has that movie you want for tonight


Speed Test - Shows how fast your internet connection is
Elixer - Flexible extensions to android such as more icons and instant tether on and off


Cut the Rope - Great puzzle game
FlickGolf! - Relaxing and fun sports game
Hex Defense - Challenging real time tower defense
Jetpack Joyride - Fun arcade challenge
Plants Vs Zombies - A great classic tower defense game
Skateboard - Fun arcade action with great unlocks
Where's my Water - Interesting puzzle game that will make you think
Wind-up Knight - Platformer with cool graphics

Other Apps

CamScanner - Scan any document into a pdf, receipts, etc.
Shazam - Listens for playing music and will tell you what song/artist is
NFL Mobile - Track your favorite team and all scores
Yahoo Fantasy Football - Keep up with your fantasy team
WiFi Analyzer  - Shows you signal strength of available wifi

Zillow - Real Estate pricing

Monday, May 21, 2012

DBMSaaS - Database Management System as a Service

DBMSaaS – Database Management System as a Service
Bill Schoonmaker - Vice President of Data Architecture at Adaptivity, Inc
May 10th, 2012

Consider cost savings, risk reduction and space savings.  While these may not be the first things you think of when you think of your database, all are reasons to discover that recently, a new paradigm shift has begun.  While there seems to be some disagreement on a proper acronym or even name, for this blog, I will refer to it as DBMSaaS, or Database Management System as a Service.  This is different than DaaS (Data as a Service) as that is typically used for data sets that can be used across various lines of business, usually slowly changing lookup data.  A good example of DaaS would be the Microsoft Azure Markeplace.  There you’ll find subscription ready data to access from your applications.  You don’t have to manage or maintain the data, you just use it.  Now that we understand the differences between DaaS and DBMSaaS, why exactly would someone be interested in putting their database in the cloud?  

In today’s cloud centric world, there are many vendors that are offering infrastructure as a service (IaaS).  Vendors such as Amazon, Microsoft, 6 Fusion, Rackspace and dozens more provide the ability to quickly stand up all types of virtual servers.  Typically if you are using an IaaS vendor you will deploy a virtual server for your database in addition to your application and web servers.  Your database software is then installed on the server and the databases you need are configured and maintained.  This is similar to what would be done in your own environment only you are not housing the server on your own hardware.  

With DBMSaaS, there is no need for you to manage the server or in some cases even manage the database.  You simply set up the structure of your database and load the data.  Backups and database upgrades are handled by the vendor and in some cases horizontal scalability is as easy as clicking a few buttons or may be automatic.  Microsoft SQL Azure, Amazon Relational Database Service and Oracle Database Cloud Service are just three of the ready to deploy solutions for setting up and maintaining your database in the cloud.  In addition to these three, there are a growing number of DBMSaaS providers.  You should have no trouble finding one that suits your needs.  But, outside of vendor selection, how do you make a choice to go to the cloud with your database at all?

There are a few important questions you will need to answer first about your existing database before you can consider the move to DBMSaaS.  Questions such as, how secure does my data need to be?  Or, how much data do I need to store in my database?  And, what kind of throughput do I need for my database?  Addressing these questions up front will help you begin to understand if your database is right for cloud deployment.  If you need absolute control over your data and manage access on a user by user basis then your database is probably better off in your own environment behind your own firewall.  If you need to store more than a terabyte of data, you’re more than likely better serviced by using your own infrastructure.  Finally, if you need extremely fast (sub second) access to your data and most of your access happens on your own network then you are probably better off rolling your own.

The next logical step is find support for your particular DBMS.  What database engine does it run on?  There are solutions for Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL, CouchDB and a few others.  If your database currently runs on Sybase ASE for example, you would not be a candidate for DBMSaaS as there isn’t vendor support for it yet.  Sybase is working with Amazon RDS to implement their DBMS in the Cloud but no release date has been specified.  Similarly, if you are running DB2 then there currently isn’t an option either.  If you find that your DBMS is not supported by a DBMSaaS vendor then you will either be tackling a DBMS migration project or considering traditional IaaS.

Now, you’ve made it to the next step.  There is a vendor that supports your DBMS and you’ve answered some high level questions about your database and its needs.  Now what?  There are myriad additional questions that should be asked before you make the leap to DBMSaaS.  These questions range from low level database features such as high availability, backup operations and encryption all the way to business intelligence support. Each vendor offers their own feature set so you will need to explore each one in order to find out what is best for you.  In general, pricing is competitive.  Especially when you factor in the cost of a full-time database administrator and the license for the database itself these services begin to make a lot of sense.  That is, IF your database meets the right criteria.  The vendors will continue to enhance their DBMSaaS offerings.  Staying informed through the various blogs and product announcements may mean that an answer of no today may be an answer of yes in the future.  The right partner can help you make intelligent decisions.  Adaptivity prides itself on our ability to help you make the right decisions with regard to cloud suitability for your applications and databases.  Check out our offerings today at

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

iPhone Adventures

I finally moved my wife Suzi out of the phone stone ages.  She was sporting a Samsung Intensity II phone for the last 2 years.  Her primary complaint over smart phones was that she literally HATED touchscreens.  I tried many times to get her to play around with my Android phone but she never could quite the hang of it.  I knew that when it came time to update her phone that we would be going with the iPhone.

The iPhone is approachable by just about anyone.  I would venture to guess that if you put an iPhone and an Android side by side and turned them on to their respective ready modes that the majority of people would gravitate towards the Apple product.  Why?  I do not know.  What I do know, and this is from experience, the Android platform can be quite frustrating.  Yes, you can spend some time setting it up to look like the iPhone and act like an iPhone but in the end, it is not an iPhone.  The platform is getting better but I believe it is for more of a power user.

Even the iPhone takes some getting used to.  Understanding what all the applications are for and getting around the user interface are not entirely intuitive but they can be quickly learned.  My largest stumbling blocks with setting things up for her came in two flavors.

1.  Getting her Email to properly sync across her pc based outlook and phone
2.  Understanding Home Sharing so we could share purchased apps

Email turned out to be a pretty large hassle and took several hours to rectify.  Suffice to say that using the IMAP protocol over POP3 is the way to go.  With Suzi only ever checking email on her PC Based Outlook client I had originally set her up to use POP3.  There were PST files stored locally on her hard drive so when she checked email the messages were downloaded off the server but not deleted.  Outlook was smart enough to know if a message was already stored locally so it was never an issue.  Setting up email on the iphone though meant that in her case, her inbox was flooded with over 800 messages while her local inbox had exactly 9! 

In order to change her over to IMAP I had to create a new mailbox on her outlook client then manually move the messages over from the POP3 account to the IMAP account that she wanted to keep.  This was very time consuming as she's been using the same email address for years.  Basically everything has to be uploaded to the server.  Since I recently switched over Gmail as my email provider for it was good that they provide 8 GB of storage for email, this was not something I had thought of before leaving Host Monster for email services as they were virtually unlimited for space.  I had some availability issues with them though so I switched over to Gmail.

Once I got everything switched over the mail has the proper behavior now.  Messages will be visible in both inboxes but if you delete from one it is deleted from the other.  Essentially the clients are reading everything off the server so it just works.  About the only downsides I see are speed and space.  The actual send/receive process does take longer and as I mentioned above I now have the 8GB limit.  It's not a huge deal though as the send/receive is maybe 1 second longer and she's only using 1/8th of the limit so I suspect we'll be fine.  I can always help her to copy large emails over to the local PST files on her laptop if she wants to keep them or just get her into the habit of downloading attachment emails and then deleting them.

Home sharing was another animal altogether.  I must admit that I should have done my homework on this one upfront because I think I made a couple of rookie mistakes.  One was that I used the same email address on her iPhone that I use for our iPad 2.  This is not necessary as with home sharing as long as you are on the WiFI network you have access to the other email address's library.  The only thing you lose is the ability to actually install apps from the phone itself that were purchased using the other library's login.  It was a bit confusing at first but in the end it all seems to work well.  The other issue I ran into was when the PC that I use for itunes synching blanks the monitor (doesn't go to sleep just shuts off the monitor) for some reason the home sharing stops working.  I can still see the library but I can't actually transfer any content.  Not sure if this is the way it was intended or a bug.

I will also mention that we just went with an iPhone 4.  I know the 5 is coming soon and the S has Siri but really, for a person going to their first smart phone the iPhone 4 is plenty of power.  If she becomes a power user then we can look at upgrading her in the next cycle with Verizon.  By then I can only imagine the phones that will be available.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Which smart phone to choose?

So these days every 22 months or so I start to get excited about phone again.  I wish I had written down somewhere all of the mobile phones I've owned over the years.  My first mobile phone was actually a bag phone and I remember making a call from some beach down in Florida back to my office.  It wasn't even really a necessary call, it was a bragging call.  "Hey Boss, how's it going?  Guess where I am".  Anyway, I'm sure it costs me at least a few dollars to make that call and I'm even more sure I looked like a total geek dragging that black bag around with me everywhere as if I HAD to be always connected.  We've come a long ways since then for sure.  I've had my share of flip phones that were the ancestors to today's smart phones.  They included calculators and calendars and contact lists but didn't have the ability to side-load apps from anywhere easy.

I've been on the Verizon network now for probably at least 10 years.  My current hand set is the HTC Incredible.  I've had my share of problems with it but my most recent factory refresh seems to have made most of those go away.  I purchased the Incredible almost sight unseen on a recommendation from a friend.  Being a tech geek this was a bit odd for me as I usually do my own due diligence for the tech I buy.  Most certainly for something I'll carry with me everywhere I go for two years.  So this time, it had to be different.  I should mention that I've also dabbled in the Apple world but never with the iPhone.  I own both a 1st generation iPod Touch and an iPad 2.  I have enjoyed both devices although the iPod Touch is now mostly a paperweight.  The iPad 2 however, is the jewel of the family gadgets.  Between myself and the 6 year old it's gotten quite a bit of usage and I'm heavily invested in applications.  This alone is enough to make me consider an iPhone for this contract cycle.

So what's making me not want to pull the trigger?  With Android, I know I will have flexibility.  With Android, I know I will be able to make my home screens look and feel the way I want to.  I am a big widget fan, Of my 7 screens in HTC Sense only 2 of them don't contain widgets.  I have widgets for google search, for volume control, for YouTube, for Slacker Radio,  for device control and my Twitter feed.  They are all useful and make my phone that much better and easy to use without having to launch into apps all the time just to figure out what is going on.  With the iPhone, I haven't seen widgets, about the closest thing I can find is shortcuts but these really only take you the settings area where you still perform the action.  One of my favorite widgets on Android is the Instant Camera, with it on my home screen one press and I hold the camera up, it shoots up to the 3 shots then uploads them to Dropbox, pretty cool huh?

So where does that leave me the iPhone.  Siri and the retina display?  Ok, let me back up a second, I haven't even really said what phones I am looking at.  I have narrowed my choices down to the iPhone 4S 32GB and the Motorola Droid Razor Maxx.  The Samsung Nexus was in the running but the reports on battery left left a bad taste in my mouth.  I had already purchased a larger battery for my incredible just a month or so after buying it and the battery life is still not great on it.  With the Maxx's battery I can do everything longer than either the iPhone 4S or the Nexus according to this propaganda sheet .  Seriously, FOURTEEN hours of web surfing, I don't even think I could do 4 on my Incredible, and that's only 3G.  Anyway, if battery power is my number one concern then that may seal the deal.  Let's look at the list of features in order of want

1.  Battery Life
2.  Camera Shutter Speed/Quality
3.  Apps Selection
4.  Screen Visibility Outdoors
5.  Screen Size

Battery life, the Maxx wins hands down in this category.  With regard to camera, most sites give it to the 4S over the Maxx, but, the Maxx has a flash.  I use this feature constantly and one of the really cool features of my current Incredible is being able to use the flash as an effective flash light, I have done this many, many times and even have an on/off widget on my home screen for the flash light.  With apps selection comes a tough decision.  I haven't spent nearly as much money on apps for the android platform as I have with the IOS.  With all of these apps, the moment I bring the 4S into the house I can sync all these apps over to it that are compatible.  This would be a tremendous cost saver BUT I already have all the apps I need on my Incredible, they will also port to the new Maxx if I choose that phone.  I think this one is a wash really.  People seem torn on screen visibility in direct sunlight and to be honest, I work in a cube so this one could be argued as a moot point.  Finally, screen size, as I get older I find myself holding the phone farther away to read it and additional real estate would be welcome.  The Maxx wins in this category.

So, I think what it boils down to here is I just want the Maxx.  I honestly feel like i'm just settling if I go with the iPhone 4S.  I will be purchasing the iPhone for my wife though as she needs the ease of use.  Me, I think I just want to continue with the Android platform.  I did consider the Windows Phone but I am just afraid for lack of support there.  The newest Nokia handsets are looking good on that platform and people really seem to like them but I am too used to Android to go that route just now.

Maybe next time Microsoft.  Now, to figure out where I'll get the best deal.  Seems Best Buy had a $50 gift card thing going on a few months back that I signed up for which will bring the price down to an easier to digest $250.  I will be sure to post more insights into the phone once I pick it up hopefully this weekend or next.  Thanks for reading.