Oct 212014

Character Map - WingdingsThese days it is almost a common knowledge that J standing alone has a meaning of a smile. What you see as a J on the desktop suddenly becomes a letter J when viewed on (Android) phone. But why is that?

Answer lies in the dark times before the Unicode when only possibility to introduce new symbols was to actually swap some characters for them. It was quite a common practice to make fonts that consisted purely of symbols.

One of such fonts were Wingdings family. These fonts were then used in anything from Word to many custom programs. If your platform doesn’t support fonts or contains no Wingdings font (as Android), you would see symbols substituted for the letter characters.

Probably most commonly used in the emails are smiley symbols: J (J), K (K), and L (L). As Unicode became standard in communication, only smiley and frowny face survived. Other Wingdings characters remained just a curiosity and something you would get from Outlook users.

But maybe they will be coming back into fashion soon as Unicode 7.0 will contain most of them. Who knows, maybe even somebody makes an effort and J-weirdness becomes a history.

Oct 142014

CoPilot errorBack in the 2011, I bought CoPilot GPS; application for Android (it was called CoPilot Live back then). It came quite pricey at $70 (with full Europe and North America maps) but I considered an offline GPS a worthwhile investment.

As I stopped traveling as much I also stopped using CoPilot regularly. I still kept it updated and I still used it on occasional weekend without any issue. As I prepared for my vacation in Croatia, I was sure I had everything I need. I had a full contingent of North American maps along with most of Europe. I always make it a point to download Croatian maps first so I felt quite prepared.

Move forward a few days and I have landed in Croatia. I turned on my CoPilot GPS only to be greeted with an empty screen. Quick search gave me a solution – just reinstall everything. I did as it was written and got a new error – my account seemed not to exist any more. It was time to contact customer service.

After quite a fast initial reply I was asked to share my user name and password with them. In my mind there is NO GOOD REASON why a customer service would want your password. Only possible reason is that their system isn’t build right. However I used unique password for CoPilot anyhow and I was in hurry so I complied hoping it will help solve problem faster.

Fast-forward three weeks, FIVE separate queries for my password, three screenshots of actual error and me sending them original purchase e-mails (why they don’t have access to purchase e-mails is beyond me). All that and I only had my account back. On the very last day of my Croatian trip I also had a map of Croatia working but WITHOUT navigation support – in other words, CoPilot was still useless.

I am back in the States at this time, well into the third week of the CoPilot troubleshooting and I finally got my European maps back. But, alas, I still have no North American maps assigned to my account. My Croatian maps might be working at this time but I am not there anymore. I will update this post as situation unravels.

Few years ago I might have been in trouble for these three weeks but not today. As I noticed that this CoPilot issue was going south, I bought a prepaid SIM with 1 GB data for about $5. This allowed me to use Google Maps and they worked flawlessly. Yes, CoPilot might be more configurable and I personally prefer it since it feels and works as a real car GPS should. But all that was spoiled by it not working at all. I am scared to think how my vacation would look in the country I didn’t know and without readily available prepaid SIMs.

Yes, I will continue using CoPilot in future because it is a really good application – when it works. I just won’t recommend it without any reservation.

[2014-10-15: I finally got my maps back. Maybe it is just fortunate timing but I got them back minutes from tweeting their support (@copilotsupport). Note to self for next time: first tweet support and then open a ticket.]

Oct 042014

Windows 10 command promptWith every new Windows there is a part that gets no attention at all. Good old command prompt keept the same look-and-feel for a decade or so. But Windows 10 are about to change this.

Most noticeable improvement is that Quick edit mode is turned on by default. Yes, there is a semi-good historical reason why this “had to be off” but limiting progress because of a few DOS-era tools is simply unreasonable.

More of good stuff awaits if you decide to turn on the Experimental settings. Most noticeable improvement is the ability to change the window size dynamically. Yes, it took until 2014 to have a command prompt window that can be resized using the mouse.

Interesting choice is that all standard copy/paste keys work. This is a slightly unfortunate in the case of Ctrl+C that traditionally has a slightly different role in the command prompt. For this reason I think that good old Ctrl+Insert and Shift+Insert would be a better choice, although sometimes I feel I am the only one still using them.

It is not all good though. Annoying error that is bound to get fixed really soon is not being able to see last few text rows when Command window is maximized. And I cannot really go over the fact that the window bezel is impossibly thin, practically non-existent. Looks ugly and makes the resize difficult without any reason. And the font selection is still defaulting to raster font and it is unnecessarily limited.

Regardless of these minor issues, these changes are a breath of fresh air for code I though of as abandoned. I just hope all these improvements make it to the final version.

Sep 232014

Finally somebody in Microsoft got their head from the dark place and decided to do what had to be done. There is no more yearly subscription for developing Windows Store applications. All you need is a one-time fee of $20 (close to $25 Google charges) and you are set. All current developers are automatically freed from their yearly burden.

Microsoft wouldn’t be Microsoft if they wouldn’t release multiple editions. This time everything gets divided into Explorer, Expert and Master levels. Everybody, including those that already have published applications, start as Explorer. Quite a nice touch is that you immediately get Architecture and Design Guidance offers. I haven’t tried it but it looks as if developer might get to discuss things with an actual human being. Sweet!

Going toward Expert level seems to depend onto you publishing your application and, I assume, well-being of that application. Master level is black magic and actual details are still somewhat fuzzy.

It is really hard to tell whether this will improve Windows Store or not. My bet is that it won’t change much immediately because Microsoft was giving registration benefits for free even before. Every single developer I know that had Windows Store application published, got to do that at no cost. Rumors are that some were even payed to do it.

Official removal of subscription does lower the bar a bit for hobby developers who, seeing the $100+ cost per year, just gave up and dealt with Android instead. If Microsoft gets those guys interested in platform again, I can see many new applications coming in. Yes, most of them will be bad (as they are in Android store) but with time store will get bigger and there will be more enthusiasm. And that will bring better quality.