... is the online home of Chris Kelly. You can read more about me and the site here. You can also browse the archives, find out about some projects I've worked on, view my resume, and email me for more information.

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Welcome Home, Jim

Jim Thome

If there was any Indians player that I idolized as a kid, it was Jim Thome. I felt a bit of a bond to him, he being a big-time left handed infielder, the kind of hitter that I wanted to be playing baseball in rec leagues and middle/ high school. I used to be able to emulate the swings of almost every player on that team, but Thome’s was my favorite. The wide stance, holding the bat out in front until the pitcher started his wind-up, then finishing with a huge swing. I used to wear his number, 25, and of course wore my baseball socks knee-high, the “right way”, just like Thome. I even took practice swings in my bedroom at night to his infamous ’95 World Series home run at-bat.

He left the Indians in 2002, a few years after Manny Ramirez. Indians fans were still mad at Manny at that time, being a home-grown talent that bolted when he outgrew the small market atmosphere of the Indians. Indians fans, myself included, thought that Thome wouldn’t leave in the same manner. He ended up taking an offer with Philadelphia for more money, more guaranteed years, and the hope of winning a title. The indians were about to begin a rebuilding process, so you couldn’t really blame the guy for not wanting to waste the prime of his career in a losing city. Still, anger ensued, probably even on my part. Some fans are mad to this day.

Yesterday, the Indians picked up Jim Thome off of waivers from the Minnesota Twins, hoping his bat can help the team and its outside shot of winning the division. He never got that title with the Phillies, or the White Sox, Dodgers, or Twins. He’s batting cleanup as the DH in his first game back. His swing may be a little slower than the last time he donned an Indians uniform, but judging from the 601 home runs he’s hit in his career, it’s still effective. When he steps out of the dugout to bat tonight, I’m sure he’ll get the standing ovation he deserves from Indians fans, and I’m sure I’ll be watching, just like old times.

Welcome Home, Jim.

Music Lockers, Streaming Services, and My Ultimate Music Service

Steve Jobs’ WWDC 2011 Keynote is less than a few minutes away, and the rumors are abuzz about the notion that iCloud will be the new iTunes. John Gruber’s article mentions that this service will encompass much more than just music, but for many, that music portion is the biggest of this new service, at least for the immediate future.

I had hoped for quite some time that what is now known as the music portion of iCloud would be an Apple subscription music service, as opposed to more of a Music Locker Service, such as Amazon Cloud Storage/ Player or Google Music. I was hoping that in true Apple form, it would be less of an either/ or proposition, and more of a complete solution that would help bridge the gap between previously owning music, and accessing an unlimited amount of music online.

A confession – One of my favorite music services is the currently European-only Spotify. From the first time I had the opportunity to try it, I was hooked. Being able to access millions of tracks at performance that was previously unseen from a “streaming” service is where the industry should be going. Month upon month, I have been waiting for the service to launch stateside, and even to this day I still wait for that fateful day when I can convert my account. Until then, I’ve been using Rdio, which offers many of the same Spotify benefits, but already has a stateside presence.

Rdio Matched songs. I'm still missing about 1600

Based on my Spotify and Rdio experiences, I want any and all music I discover and listen to from this point on to be from a subscription streaming service – I’m happy to pay for a listening privilege, but I don’t want to buy any more music. At the same time, I want to listen to all the music I’ve accumulated over the past few decades(!). Using Rdio’s “Match Collection” feature, I’ve got almost 1600 tracks that Rdio doesn’t match. These are tracks such as live mixes, “joined track” albums and other obscure tracks that are not and likely never will be in either a Rdio or Spotify catalog. I need the Music Locker feature set just as much as I want the streaming.

Given Spotify’s track record in getting to the states, I don’t put much stock in them creating a Locker service anytime soon. Google is too dedicated to Android at the moment that I can’t bank on them supporting iOS (my preferred Phone/ Tablet OS) in lockstep with Android. Amazon has the best non-smartphone provider chance of doing a full featured music service, but I worry about pricing for the amount of music I need to store (60GB+).

This leaves Apple. I believe that all-you-can-eat services are how music will be listened to in the future, but we also need to have support for media that these services won’t/ can’t provide. I also believe Apple to be a forward thinking company and the future is in streaming services. I know that we’re likely not going to hear a thing about a streaming music service from Apple, but I hope within the next year we get that as part of the iTunes/ iCloud picture.

California, Here We Come

The Golden Gate at Dusk
It’s official. We’re moving to San Francisco.

This will be by far the biggest change either of us has ever made. Though I’ve lived in places as exotic as Puerto Rico, I’ve always been an “East Coaster”, spending many of my formative years in New Hampshire, and the last 7+ years in the greater Boston area. I’ve always had an itch to move to the West coast, but the timing never seemed right, there was always something stopping us – a new job, losing a job, sick pets – something that kept us right where we were.

I previously worked for a company based in San Francisco, though I was personally based in Cambridge, MA. Whenever I’d talk to our West coast counterparts, they’d always tell me that I should really be out there, and that I’d really enjoy it. I’d always shrug it off, thinking it wasn’t really my kind of city. Whenever I had thought about moving to the West Coast, I had always envisioned myself in Seattle, if anywhere. Upon telling this to one of my uncles at a previous Thanksgiving, he would scoff and say the best city he’d ever been to was the city by the Bay. These events, several years apart, would create that Inception-style moment in my head where I finally thought “Hey, maybe there is something to San Francisco after all.”

Then, a few months back, things just started falling into place. A few opportunities to relocate to the Bay Area presented themselves. Our lease could be broken with no penalty provided we move into another building from the same company (several are conveniently located in the Bay area), My car, a major moving expense, had a prospective buyer lined up.

At this point, the decision to head to San Francisco was less “Why leave?” and more “Why not?”. Why not try living on the West Coast? Why not sample the best of what the area has to offer in food, drink, friends, and technology? With a lot of thought, we finally decided to go for it. Maybe we’ll be back in a few years; maybe we’ll find San Francisco to be what we have been always looking for deep down. All I know is there’s only one way to find out, and we’re excited to see what happens.

Windows Phone 7: Can We Still Be Friends?

From my previous post, I mentioned I was switching to Windows Phone 7. 29 Days later, I headed back to the AT&T store and replaced it with an iPhone 4.

Justin Williams beat me to the punch with a really great post that echoes many of the sentiments I had about the platform. Be sure to read his post as well.

What Happened?

I came to the Windows Phone 7 Experience pretty excited. Promises of a new UI paradigm, glance-able information screens and XBox Live integration were all big selling points for me.

My motivating factor for making the switch was to try something new; I had an out-of-contract iPhone 3G that was getting a little long in the tooth, and I wanted to see what Microsoft was bringing to the table with this new platform. In the month that I had my device (a Samsung Focus) I came away with a mostly positive impression of the hardware and software – it’s a good phone and a good OS, but not (yet) a great phone and OS.

The Good

There was a lot to like. On the hardware side, the Super AMOLED screen that Samsung uses for all its newer devices is drop-dead gorgeous. I actually found the dedicated search button to be quite nice as well. I loved the idea of user-expandable memory (in theory anyways, more on that later).

Of course, the software is the main attraction on these phones. I liked the home screen details that some apps like the calendar used. The tile interface actually worked well in my testing/ usage, and the live tile ability was much nicer than the standard iPhone “red number” bubble – a perfect example being something like The Weather Channel tile showing current weather conditions without even having to open the app. I actually really enjoyed the Bing search app, triggered in many cases by the aforementioned dedicated search button – it was something I can say I used that doesn’t have any sort of built-in iPhone counterpart.

Another great part of the software was Outlook. Super fast client, fantastic looking, and handled just about everything thrown at it. Though some people clamor for a universal inbox, I liked the separate account management (and associated home screen tiles).

The Bad

The fact that any of the phones at launch ship with only 8GB of memory (and not one phone had over 16GB) is a travesty. The Focus has the option of user-installable memory, but days after release, Microsoft and my provider, AT&T warned against installing any third party memory. The rep I talked to when I bought it made reference to soon-to-be-released patches that would alleviate the issue as well as lists of certified memory cards, but neither have come to fruition nearly 3 months later.

I liked the idea of a dedicated camera button in theory, but in practice (and years of iPhone software button usage) the button didn’t feel comfortable at all, and seemed to imply that the only way to really shoot a photo was in landscape mode (this isn’t true, but holding the phone to take a picture in portrait mode did not feel “right”).

The browser is just not at all up to par compared to iOS and Android. This is on record as having a major update in the future, but it’s amazing how big a step back it is browsing on an iPhone then going to a Windows Phone. Part of it is the browser, and of course part of it is a lack of sites optimized for mobile IE, with a prime example being Google services like Reader, which has a fantastic HTML5 interface that just doesn’t work with Microsoft’s offering.

I don’t know what I was thinking (“perhaps things would be different this time”), but the Windows Phone series is tied heavily to Windows and Zune, which makes it difficult to manage and use it from within the Apple ecosystem. Sure there’s an OS X connector, but it pales in comparison to the Zune system on Windows, especially if I wanted to do something like use the Zune Pass unlimited features to explore and build out a library.

Then there are personal nitpicks:

  • The back button: I get the idea for it, as nearly every app has this type of behavior, but it’s definitely a little odd hitting back until you switch to another app, especially coming from the self-contained app-hood of iOS.
  • App switching/ loading performance – switching out of apps and to others seem to have noticeable performance issues, even those that should supposedly be cached. Either apps are getting terminated too quickly, or they’re just not great at recovering from a paused state. This is supposedly being remedied in an update very soon.
  • Lack of best practices for using mobile IE – Best example was the Twitter app – I would click a link, and I would switch apps to mobile IE, then I’d hit back to go back into Twitter. There would be a very pronounced load time, then you could go about your business. Of course, the next time you open mobile IE proper, the page you loaded from Twitter will still be present. I would have loved to see them implement a built-in browser instance instead of pushing it out to the proper app. Facebook is a good example of an app that does this, and this is of course how most iOS apps operate, including Twitter’s iOS counterpart. i would hope that in the future if any apps need to use a browser view, they do it in the app.
  • Oh how I missed being able to tap the top of the screen to quickly scroll back to the top.

So Why Go Back?

All in all, as I mentioned, I like the system a lot, and I think it will be a formidable contender in 1-2 years, but right now things just weren’t quite right for me when using it on a day-to-day basis, especially coming from an iPhone, even the 3G (the iPhone 4 makes iOS into something completely different and better than the 3G version).

It really was a case of death by a thousand cuts – If it wasn’t the slow load/ resume times, it was funny little “V1” bugs like my IMAP mail changes not syncing back to the server in a reasonable amount of time, or people on iPhones emailing me pictures that wouldn’t open in Outlook. Even my so-called second tier of apps (such as Instapaper) that I thought wouldn’t make a difference to me, I ended up missing immensely. And there was no excitement/ expectation for up and coming apps such as Instagram and 1Password as they may never make it to Windows Phone.

In a nutshell, I had to think when I used the phone, I had to attempt to wait for new features, new apps, promised improvements, and given all that I just wasn’t happy with my overall experience. I was an early adopter, and I really didn’t want to be one. The payoff would essentially be that one day the phone would be on par with what I previously had, and I realized I was already emotionally invested in the iOS platform and its accompanying Apple/ iTunes infrastructure.

I believe the Windows Phone platform holds a lot of promise, and I’m interested in seeing what direction Microsoft takes things. I’m impressed in how quickly Microsoft built out a very stable and well thought-out platform. It will be very interesting to see how quickly the platform can be iterated, and how soon it can catch up to its major competition

Why I’ve gone Windows Phone 7

I’ve been a long time iPhone fan. I purchased the original iPhone on launch day in 2007 for its unsubsidized price. In fact, I bought two, one for myself and one for my girlfriend Erin. I even upgraded to the iPhone 3G the following year.

Starting today, I’ve switched to Windows Phone 7.

For months I’ve been torn over whether to get an Android phone or an iPhone 4. I came very close to jumping on an HTC EVO 4G before the release of the iPhone 4 brought me back to my state of indecisiveness.

But then details about the Windows Phone 7 (WP7) platform started coming out. And it became so appealing to me that I made the jump.

Complete do-over

Microsoft saw that they were lagging horribly behind in the smartphone race. At one point they had (truthfully so) admitted they missed an entire product cycle. Early versions of Windows Mobile 7 were simply continuing the Windows Mobile 6.x product line, including look and feel. This also continued the more complex UI motifs of the WinMo 6.x line, which stood no chance in the post iPhone smartphone world. I personally would not have even given a Windows Mobile 6.5-derived product a second thought.

The decision was made to jettison all work to that point and rebuild the mobile product into a lean, mean touch-friendly machine. Judging from what is being released this week, I believe this was the right decision and puts them back in contention with the likes of Google and Apple.

Metro

Microsoft has designed a completely new interface “language” for WP7 called Metro. Metro is a complete departure from the icon-on-a-grid interface design of iPhone and Android, and I’ve personally found it to be a very refreshing change of pace, and one that I think I’ll enjoy from a daily use standpoint.

Instead of app icons, WP7 uses tiles to show your pinned apps and allows them to be “live”, periodically updating with information such as the status of the weather and the description of your next calendar appointment. information such as this allows me to see more information without digging into the apps themselves. On top of that, the lock screen shows a lot of information itself – for example, unread email counts for each account I have set up. It’s just enough information that I don’t have to even unlock my phone to see what is likely the information I pulled my phone out for.

Competition

I love Microsoft when they are the underdog/ challenger. Much more willing to take risks and iterating much faster. When Microsoft are feeling the heat of competition, they build some of their best products: XBox, Bing, Windows 7, IE9. I think that given what is at stake for their entire mobile strategy, they’ll carry over the trajectory/ momentum they’ve been on over the last year or two into the next several versions of Windows Phone.

Having another major player like Microsoft in the game makes Apple, Google, Nokia, Palm/ HP and the rest that much better, and work that much harder. Most importantly, the added competition is good for us customers. More competition is always better, especially in technology arms races.

The Apps

What would any modern-day smartphone platform be without apps? Windows Phone 7 carries the tradition forward. I’ve heard plenty of talk about not having as many apps as Apple and Google, but they are launching with all the right ones. Every app I would consider absolutely essential on a day-to-day basis on my iPhone I am now running on my Windows Phone: Twitter, Facebook, IMDB, Shazam, Yelp, Netflix. All are on the Marketplace, and all are free.

The Games

Given its tight integration with XBox Live. Windows Phone appears poised to have some of the best gaming experiences of any mobile device. Achievements you earn on the phone are tied into your Live Gamerscore, meaning all those little games you play on your phone help build your overall score across your phone, xbox, and web games. Actual games appear to be a slightly different story at this time, with the major players on iPhone (Rovio/Angry Birds, for instance) not (yet?) on the platform. My guess is its only a matter of time before many of these games are brought over to the Windows Phone/ XNA platform.

Betting on the Future.

The Smartphone race is far from over. Relatively speaking, it’s barely begun. I’m very impressed with Microsoft’s initial release of Windows Phone, and I believe it’s going to be a major player and one of, if not the best mobile OSes in the years to come. I’m making the switch because I believe Microsoft has brought some very new and interesting ideas to the mobile space, and I’m hoping that by getting a Windows Phone, I will be helping to ensure that they continue Windows Phone development long into the future.