The home of Aaron Traas — man of faith, science, and very bad humor

Welcome to traas.org

You have arrived at traas.org — the personal home page of Aaron Traas. Aaron is a Catholic software engineer with an intense passion for gadgets, open source software, food, music, theology, and philosophy.

If you wish to find more about the commercial projects Aaron has worked on in recent years, please visit the portfolio page. If you are looking for a great solutions-oriented, client-facing technical lead for your agency, please take a look at Aaron's online, responsive HTML5 résumé, and then send him an email if you like what you see.

If you want to know Aaron's musings and opinions about many things (mostly phones and computers), you are invited to read his blog below.

Recent Blog Entries

Planning My Exit from Google Apps

Today, Google announced an enhancement to Google+ and Gmail that I think is a step too far.

It sounds innocuous and even helpful. If you use both Gmail and Google+, people who can see your Google+ profile will soon be able to email you directly from your profile. It's handy, because you don't need to manage your own list of contacts; if you can encounter the person on Google+, you can send them a message.

Some people have objected on basis of privacy violations:
This is entirely valid, especially from the point of view of a journalist, who will have a large number of followers. My primary objection is the replacement of the open standard of email addresses with closed-source, proprietary Google+ identities. This is a problem for the health of the Internet.

This is my primary objection to Facebook, and why I've refused to use it as a medium for communication: it has become the primary mode of exchange between a large percentage of people. To many friends and family, Facebook is the Internet, and they never leave it's walled garden. They coordinate events and meetups exclusively on Facebook, and thus people without a Facebook account are barred from entry into these events. I literally haven't heard from many of these people in 6 or more years; they no longer use email or SMS.

I'm not arguing that de facto protocols should never change, be augmented, or be replaced. I argue that the primary channels of communication must remain open. Facebook is not Open. Google+ is not open. I cannot make an implementation of Facebook myself, and communicate with Facebook via published protocols. Google+ is no different. Gmail, a proprietary product that adds functionality on top of email, enables me to communicate to users of Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, or any other service that implements the Simple Mail Transport Protocol defined in RFC 821 in 1982. But if Google is trying to direct people away from using email addresses, and instead make Gmail the messaging tool for Google+ users, I want out.

This is going to be a long process. I rely on Gmail for all http://traas.org email for my family. I rely on Google Calandar to keep my family organized. I'm using Blogger to write this blog post. I use Google+ to complain about gadgets. I use Google Drive to store and edit documents and notes. I use Google Voice to have a portable phone number and voicemail that isn't crap. I buy a new Android phone every year.

Google+ and Blogger will be the first to go. I've already disabled the Google+ comments on this blog. I'll be looking to migrate to something Python/Markdown based for blogging. On Google+, I will remove all my circles and posts. I will use it as an identity to improve the SEO of my website, and nothing more.

I won't be leaving Android, because there is no other open-sourced mobile OS that's gained any traction. I will minimize my use of Google services on the platform, to aide in my ability to switch to a different platform if one arises. iOS is not an option for me. I find the walls of its garden too high.

Gmail will be tough. Real tough. It offers a number of features that are non-negotiable, including great filtering, labels instead of folders, two-factor authentication, and first-class Android and iOS apps. I don't know what I'm going to do here. I'd like to switch to something that makes PGP easier, if possible.

I'm not surprised. Google canned XMPP support when they rebranded Google Talk as Hangouts. I understand extending the protocol to add capability; that's healthy. But not maintaining compatibility with a protocol used by a lot of platforms and blessed by the IETF as a mechanism of interchange between instant messaging frameworks is negligent at best, and hostile at worst. I accepted, once they did that, that they would eventually cross one line too far.

An Android User's Review of the iPhone 5

I really, really like Android. A lot. I've been an Android guy since well before I got an Android phone. It just always lined up more with the way I thought an OS should work. I was always hopeful for WebOS, but it never felt quite finished to me, and HP bought it only to kill it a year later. In addition to my preference of the way Android works at a theoretical level, I'm also a heavy Google apps user, and that's kept me on Android as a primary platform.

I've felt, however, that I've never given iOS a fair, honest shake as a primary device. After a month with an iPhone 5 as a second phone (the first 2 weeks I used it as my primary), I can say that this is absolutely true; as a gadget nerd I really aught to have given it more of an effort. There's frankly a lot on the platform to love. And also plenty to hate.

Mac Pro Replacement: Thinking Backwards

As Marco Arment mentioned numerous times on his blog, and reiterated with his co-hosts on Accidental Tech Podcast, the current generation of Thunderbolt, both in terms of bandwidth and latency, is insufficient to use to augment a laptop with a high-end GPU and pools of CPU and RAM, especially in a daisy-chain scenario. If you attempted such a thing, where you connected, say, an 11" Macbook Air to an external box with a CPU, GPU, and huge pool of RAM, the communication between the laptop's CPU and the resources on the Mac Pro Replacement (henceforth, MPR) would be way too slow to yield a smooth experience for games, high-end 3d, video editing, etc.

But what about turning the whole formula around. The MPR could be a box with a pair of Xeon CPU's, a really beefy professional GPU, and gobs of RAM, optional hard drive, but no OS. It connects to a Macbook of some sort over Thunderbolt. The laptop suspends the OS, migrates the OS to running on the MPR, and then the MPR takes over, using the laptop as an external display, keyboard, and trackpad, and hard drive.

In other words, most people are thinking of the MPR as a docking station with some additional compute resources, whilst my proposal would make the MPR a fully functional computer sans OS, with the OS and primary storage provided by the externally attached laptop.

Now, I'm not saying Apple will do this, but this is a way they can.

Learning Python

As I've told numerous people over the years, a real Computer Scientist should be able to learn a new language in about a week. Maybe a bit more if it's a particularly strange language. But most imperative or OO languages should take about a week to learn for someone who is any good at the craft. Now, I'm not talking about mastery. Every language has its own set of idioms, tools, quirks, bugs, performance characteristics, etc. that take quite a bit longer to completely understand. I refer to, instead, basic competence, i.e., the ability to write functional, clean code, and reasonably ability to read well-written code in the language.

I took it upon myself to learn Python a couple months ago. I've been meaning to do so for years. I had just been introduced to Codeacademy, and I wanted to evaluate it so I could recommend it to other people wishing to learn how to code. It's very theory-light, but otherwise a good way to introduce someone to writing web-centric code. While I was there, I noticed the Python track, and decided to do it.

I was infatuated very quickly. As in, instantly.


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