More on the native vs. web discussion: Others weigh in

In doing some reading on the subject, I found a couple articles on the discussion of web apps, hybrid apps, and plain old native apps.

This post is of the opinion that web apps written for hybrid release are great up to a certain point of complexity, but are more trouble than they’re worth in the end.  The main argument here is that there are a lot of hidden costs associated with developing a web app for porting to native – dealing with multiple browsers, the shell framework release schedule, and so on.  The author also feels that the performance just isn’t the same as a native implementation.

On the other hand, this post by a different developer argues that HTML5 represents the future of mobile development.  The author’s strongest argument (in my opinion) is that the traditional argument against web apps, that web apps are inherently slower than native apps, is dead.  With the huge improvement in JS engines, mobile web speeds, and processing power on these devices, the “slower” speeds involved in executing web code are not an issue.

Not really sure where I stand on the issue, but I think these are all good things to consider.  I’d be interested to know how both approaches scale with increased complexity of UI.  The biggest thing I have wrestled with in my experience is interface customization, and I imagine that is a big portion of the processing strain in both a native app and a hybrid app.

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Mobile app development : Musings

With work about to start on a major app update, my partner and I are still struggling with picking the technologies that will be the best for development in the long term.  It’s a pretty complicated process – we’ve got server side technologies, front-end web decisions, and app programming languages to consider.  It seems like what we are trying to accomplish should be a fairly standard app model – we’re not doing anything revolutionary.  So what I’m going to do is explain (at a high level) what we are trying to do, then outline what I see as the fundamental design approaches we could adopt and the technologies related to them.  Perhaps any other developers out there will see commonalities between our projects and might be able to comment on the decisions they have made.

Our app connects people, in a similar way to a chat room.  There is one moderator of the “room” that guides the topic or scope of the room Continue reading

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Mobile App Development : Web vs. Hybrid

I’m going to switch gears here and write about a project that has been consuming a lot of my attention for the past few months – an app development project.  A friend and I had an idea a while back for a cool new app idea and just recently decided to make it happen and start coding it up and testing it out.  I’ve been doing all of the coding and have been working on coding in Objective-C for an iOS app.  There’s definitely been a learning curve with Obj C and with the X Code environment, but overall it has been a fairly successful process; we have the initial version of our app released and are planning the next step of our development.

As we plan for the future, I have been reading into the web vs. hybrid vs. native app discussion.  Forbes recently wrote an article on this very topic.  If you are unfamiliar with the topic, here’s a brief overview of the different ways to develop an app: Continue reading

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The Lost City of Z

This story is a roller coaster.  For any fan of the outdoors, it evokes a complex set of emotions about exploration of the unknown – excitement, nervousness about ones own incompetence, sheer confusion, but all trumped by a simple curiosity for what lies beyond.  I loved reading about the early 1900’s, and the last of the great old school explorers.  That period of time caused an interesting relationship between mankind and the rest of the world.  The world was shrinking – automobiles were becoming more popular, flight was being realized as a viable and effective mode of transportation, communication was always improving – and human beings were expanding their limits ever further into the wild.

All the while, there sill existed a cadre of rebels who had not jumped on the bandwagon of technology and the industrialization of human expansion.  For Percy Fawcett, exploration was still about integrating oneself into nature and seeing how ones own endurance and survival skills matched up.  It wasn’t about using the latest technologies and the biggest crews to take the jungle by brute force, it was a personal fight…a fair fight.  During one of his treacherous journeys through the Brazilian Amazon, attempting to find the fabled City of Z, Fawcett disappeared and was never seen again.  Many attempted to follow in his footsteps and finish the journey that apparently took his life, but the City of Z was never found.

This book hits on the thrill for adventure in every one of us.  It made me want to get out there and explore, even though some of the things described in the book shouldn’t have made me want to even leave the house.  The story is framed as David Grann’s attempt to find out what happened to Percy Fawcett, digging through the hundred-year-old evidence of a world that was much different than it is now.  What he finds is somewhat surprising and in some sense exactly as it should have been.  But in either case, this book makes you want to unleash your inner explorer.

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Virginia Hot Lanes

I-495 Virginia HOT Lanes Interchange Map

The implementation of the Capitol Beltway Hot Lane system, projected to be completed in late 2012, is an economist’s dream.  This new transportation improvement project aims to reduce traffic and accidents for select travelers in the portion of 495 from Springfield, Virginia to just past the entrance to the Dulles Toll Road, a 14 mile stretch.  The project has coincided with a separate renovation project in the area, an extension of the Washington Metro system which will allow Metro riders access to Tysons Corner Mall and Dulles International Airport.

What makes this project so intriguing is its toll system.  The Capitol Beltway is not currently a toll road, and existing lane counts will not be tampered with.  However, two new lanes will be added in each direction.  These lanes will be open and free, 24 hours a day, to motorcycles, buses, and carpools of three or more.  For all other drivers, there will be a variable toll placed on the trip, based on how dense traffic is on the Hot Lanes.  When traffic is high, tolls will go up in an effort to reduce travel on the Hot Lanes; conversely, during times of lesser congestion, tolls will go down.  These dynamically-determined toll rates will be shown immediately on electronic signs in the area, alerting travelers to the current rates.  The toll rates will be adjusted continually with the goal of keeping traffic on the Hot Lanes moving at speed (55 mph) and the estimated average toll for a trip will be around $5.

At its core, I think this is a really cool and interesting idea.  There have been HOV lanes on I-66 for a long time now, which helps a lot of people at peak travel times, but this is the first time (at least in this area) that the prospect of reduced traffic and faster travel has been quantified so directly – a perfect example of supply and demand.  Very interesting studies Continue reading

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Deliver Us From Evil

Having been on a pretty long hiatus from pleasure reading and blog posting due to a pretty strenuous fall semester, it seems appropriate for my first post back to be a slight change of pace from my normal choice of literature.  I get a big portion of my taste in books from my dad, especially his love of mystery/thriller novels like those of David Baldacci, Robert B. Parker, Brian Haig, and Dean Koontz.  I have worked my way through a good number of Baldacci’s books, and he has consistently been one of my favorite fiction writers (I remember his Last Man Standing as one of the first books my dad and I both read and subsequently discussed – a nice bonding moment).  This is his latest publication, released last year.

David Baldacci’s Deliver Us From Evil is a fiction thriller, as most of Baldacci’s books promise to be.  It tells the story of two separate organizations which are both in the business of ridding the world of the worst kinds of people – human trafficking businessmen, those that commit genocide, and general liabilities to world peace and democracy.  Both of these organizations do so under the table, with implied consent from governmental forces (if there is any consent at all).  The story intensifies as the two organizations go after the same target, Evan Waller.  Waller is a known leader of a ring of human trafficking for the purpose of sale into sex slavery.  He also happens to be an ex-KGB officer with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens on his hands.  As the plot unfolds, Waller’s true evil becomes increasingly clearer, and conflict arises as the two detainment operations start to step on each other’s toes.

I really enjoy Baldacci’s writing style.  He employs an omniscient narrative, similar to that of Dan Brown, where each short chapter signifies a change in setting and character focus.  For a chapter, he will narrate the story of Waller and his evil-doing, and then immediately after, follow up with a chapter detailing the efforts of each operation to catch him.  It is a pretty captivating style, as one can see the point of view of each character set independently, and separate tracks of the plot unfold independently.  My favorite part about it is that at a certain point, you are able to realize where and in what fashion the parallel plots overlap, kind of like filling in the gaps for yourself before they actually happen.  Not only does this allow for a more proactive reading experience (you find yourself anticipating the next move), but it also give the writer a great deal of control over how to exploit that notion of prediction – when and where to allow the reader to be right, and more importantly, when to break the rules and catch the reader by surprise.

Overall, I think this book is a good representation of what to expect from Baldacci.  It is not as fulfilling as some of his are towards the end, mainly due to the simplicity with which the story wraps up, but you definitely don’t leave feeling disappointed.  Perhaps the main indicator that this is a good read is that I bought it on a 10 hour plane commute and read pretty much the whole time – 400 pages later, I wasn’t ready to put it down.

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Lost in the Meritocracy

We all go though periods where we feel like our efforts are lost in the white noise of mediocrity, and we are just coasting along with nothing to show for our time.  For Walter Kirn, that was college. His book, Lost in the Meritocracy, tells of his experiences at Princeton University, at the pinnacle of American higher education.  Through anecdotes involving drugs, sex, exams, intellectual discussions, and dining halls, he depicts the upper echelon of academia as not really being what it is cracked up to be.

The story starts with Kirn escaping a small no-name town in Minnesota, destined for some higher purpose in life.  He feels that Princeton is the answer to all the great questions in life, and that it will prepare him to seize his future.  Upon getting there and experiencing the people, places, and traditions (or sometimes bad habits) that go along with the university, he realizes that the academic mystique is really just a front – the smoke and mirrors of educated diction and circular arguments that cover up a disappointing amount of actual insight.

For those of us that have experience in a university setting, this is likely a familiar notion.  I know that in my experience, even at points in high school, people become so wrapped up in the words and phrasing of a concept that it begins to deteriorate the actual content of what is being said.  The idea is not what is important anymore, but how it is being said and how someone sounds when saying it.  It is as if people thrive on the perception of intelligence instead of the actual existence of it.

I think this is largely a testament to the increased amount of pressure put on students in this day and age.  Because of the ever-intensifying competitiveness of the job market, college degrees, prestigious universities, extra-curricular internships, and post-graduate education are becoming an expectation of the educated world.  With this escalation comes a focus on getting an edge over your peers in order to make yourself more marketable.  A good example of this is the magnitude of books with titles along the lines of “Mastering the College Essay/SAT/Job Interview/GRE.”  It feels like people are spending more time preparing for the entry requirements than preparing themselves as people for the job itself.  In one sense, this is a logical strategy – before you can have the job or position you have to get it, and doing so requires that you jump through the right hoops.  However, those hoops should not be the focus of one’s education.

The main takeaway from this book is that going through the motions does not yield the same results, though it may get you where you want to go.  Higher education should be sought after because of a desire to learn more about the world around us, and to prepare for the world ahead of us.  The completion of tasks necessary to achieve success is the result of those experiences, not the aim.  Go into any educational experience with an open mind to learn for your own fulfillment.  The rest will work itself out.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in going into college or higher education, but especially to college students themselves.  A lot of what is discussed hits pretty close to home for those of us that have experienced the college process (especially admissions) recently, and offers a good reminder to keep the focus on what is really important about education – an open and inquisitive mind.

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