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Saturday, May 13, 2017

2 months into Kotlin and the app is in Beta

I have not quite been at the new job 2 months yet and I submitted the app to a closed Beta on the Google Play Store. First interaction with the new Play Store UI which was a bit frustrating. I got all the pieces in place finally. You have to jump around a lot between the app and managing the Beta email list.

Feels darn good to have the app out there. It has been a bit of a challenge due to server side fun. There were some REST calls that seems quite silly and they worked them over so I sent / received a lot less traffic to do the work I needed.

Learned how to use a 3rd party UPC scanner, credit card swiper and credit card signature control. The CC swiper was the hardest as the documentation was lacking and so, thanks to the fine decompiler in Android Studio, I ended up sniffing around the API the hard way to find what I wanted.

Basic stats on the app

26 Activities
 9 Fragments
11 Dialogs
15 Adapters (ListView or RecyclerView)
 5 Custom controls written by me
59 Layouts (lots of row types)
48 unique REST calls

Not a small app but not massive either. All the code I wrote was in Kotlin, no Java on my side. For my first full Kotlin app I am very happy with the language. I would not switch back to Java at this time. I learned a ton and refactored a lot during the app development cycle. I kept finding better ways to do things in Kotlin saving even more lines of code. Support for round icons for Nougat and above. Making all the special permission asking calls as well. Not too many of them but the CC swiper needs to have access to the microphone, I need access to external storage and locations services.

QA has been pretty smooth too. They are finding the edge case stuff because we have a great QA team. I just don't see NPE things which were always frustrating when doing Java coding. I have been able to knock out the bugs within an hour of them showing up in most cases.

There is more to do on the app to get it in feature sync with the iOS version. What is there is very functional and fully usable by the target audience. It is also only being released to a small Beta team to start. I will continue to add the other features with a planned full release in early June. I need to deal with returns, some image capture and manipulation, and tie in to social media apps. There are parts of the Android app that are cleaner and easier to use than the iOS app so it also needs to get in sync with Android on that side. Good to have each team member push the other one.

Late in testing we were having some timeouts with the credit card processing. 3rd party service we use. Default timeout is 10 seconds for Retrofit + OKHTTP. Upped that to 30 seconds and things went smoother. Very happy with Retrofit, OKHTTP and Moshi. Had not used them before. I was on Volley + GSON in the past. Don't miss Volley at all. Retrofit makes it super easy to set up the REST calls with annotations. Using Moshi because it is already being used by the OKHTTP stack so what the heck. No need to toss in another library.

Time to enjoy the fact it was released and then start hammering away at the next parts of the app. Will be interesting to see what feedback we get from the Beta group. QA, other staff and myself had beat on it pretty hard. I pulled it into DDMS and went to each screen and did a kill process to make sure it survives that. Couple of tweaks there and all was fine. My first proguard configuration worked as well. I was able to run every part of the app. Hopefully this works fine on all the devices out there - looking at you Samsung.

Went minimum SDK level of 19. I have tested on 480x800 displays as well. Figure that covers a massive majority of phones. My guess is most real world devices with be above 19 and with much larger screens. QA did testing on 7" tablets as well. No special tablet code in there as far as bonus layouts. I see some places that would be handy though.

I have a Note 4 running Marshmallow and have been testing on that when not in an emulator. Good to have a Samsung Device for testing but I really want to upgrade my phone. Waiting for the new Pixel 2 and OnePlus 5 to arrive before I pull the trigger

Sunday, April 2, 2017

3 Weeks in using Kotlin

After using Kotlin for just three weeks I say it would be very hard to go back to Java. Everything takes less code, is just easier to do and the code readability just makes more sense. Part of it is using new libraries such as Retrofit as well. It is just super easy to set up a REST call.

I have created a small Kotlin utility that coverts JSON right out of Charles Proxy to best guess Kotlin objects used by Moshi. I am also use Moshi to pass the objects from one Activity to another. So nice to not need to configure a bunch of parameters to set in the Intent to send over data, just one and it contains the full object as a string that I convert right back to a full object when I get it on the other side. Every bit of data is there ready to use and it just takes one line on each side to send / receive.

I am up to 24 fragments / activities already. A bunch of adapters as I am using ListView when it fits and configured my first Kotlin RecyclerView as well. All pretty clean and easy and working like a champ. There is a ton of code that is done and a lot more to do. My Trello checklist keeps growing.

The iOS code uses a bar code scanner. I set that up on Friday. Went in really easily and with a lot less code that what the iOS guy had to do. I did create and swap out the icon for that action as iOS was using a camera which made no sense to me. On the iOS simulator a UIViewController showed up for a brief moment and disappeared so I had no idea what this area was even doing. I asked QA, who has a real device, and found out I needed a bar code scanner.

The switch to Kotlin should have happened some time back. It is hard to get yourself to do it on an existing product. I was totally starting from scratch here so it really was the perfect time to give it a shot. If I had gotten a little ways in and found I could not handle it I could have backed out and just gone Java. I force myself to keep going. Really were very few struggle areas and that was related to trying new 3rd party libraries and not Kotlin.

As I have worked along there has been a bit of code refactoring as I have found better ways to do things and I have taken cut / paste code and moved it into one location. You don't know it needs to be shared until you use it multiple times. I have a bunch of other ideas for refactoring as well running through my head this weekend that I will give a shot this week. Want to get the code as far along as possible for QA to be able to start in depth testing before I get too refactor crazy.

There is a need to connect to a credit card reader in the near future. I have not messed with that library yet. Hoping it is pretty straight forward. Something I might end up tackling this week.

I have been shooting for breadth over depth for the first three weeks. Get as menu drawer menu items to show something as possible. This might be the initial list and the first details screen. Next up is taking each screen and filling everything out. The ability to add a new order, the order detail screen, navigation form order to order etc. The order detail screen can be accessed from a lot of places and is key to things working. It will be RecyclerView based with a lot of business logic as to what to show when.

Knocking out all the main stuff gets the REST calls in place and allows me to demo a lot of aspects. Most of that is request / reply / show data so not much can go wrong. The next steps will be the business logic and where I actually POST / PUT stuff back to the server. Data validation, hide / show of controls, etc. and that is where the real meat of QA will reside. Set up to tackle a chuck of that this week. Kotlin probably does not help nor hinder that area. It is learning business logic and applying it in code. 

Kotlin has won me over. I don't see going back to Java for Android.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

First week with Kotlin

Got my first nearly full week of Kotlin in place. I can't say full week as I started the new job on a Tuesday and there was training involved too. I have the iOS / Swift code to follow as well.

I needed to grab the colors used by the client along with redoing one of the main graphics as an SVG image. Previously I had Adobe Illustrator but I don't have that now so I used Vectr (I know, odd spelling) which was fine for the minor image I needed to so. I also found Krita for graphics editing and I used that to size the Android icons. I used another online helper program to do the new rounded version of the icons as well. First time I have created a set of those.

When working from home I used my personal PC to play music via Media Monkey + a helper program that exposed a web site for me to pause / skip songs. Don't have that working in an office so I started using Clementine but it has a bug where it double plays WMA songs which got annoying so I gave Vox a shot. Nice thing is I could drag and drop the playlist right out of Clementine into Vox and Vox has a plug-in so I can use the multi-media keys on the Microsoft Natural 4000 keyboard to play / pause and change the volume.

Speaking of the keyboard, the first one failed. The space bar would either not work or it would repeat spaces forever. Took it back to Microcenter who does things in what I think is an odd manner. I just wanted to swap keyboard - bad for good - but they don't do that. They will refund the bad one and give you store credit then you have to go find the replacement and go back through the line again to buy it. Seems silly to me but I have a working keyboard. I have used this style of keyboard for a long time. Sure, they have died on me in the past after years of service but I have not had a bad one out of the box.

While at Microcenter I also got a small laptop bag and a mouse pad. They want me to take the laptop home every night. No big deal, makes it easier if I need to work from home anyway. On that subject I ordered a USB C to mini-display port and USB-C to USB adapter to have at home so when I do work from home I can use my big monitor, keyboard and mouse. That showed up Friday from Amazon and they work just fine. There is a rumor I will get a separate power brick to have at home as well.

Back to Kotlin. It is very handy that when you copy in Java code it will auto convert it to Kotlin. Makes learning stuff a ton easier as well. Kotlin sure uses a lot of lines of code to do the same thing. Copied in an enumeration where I had a couple of extra fields associated. Kotlin does it with a one line constructor. Since a lot of the work I have done has been the basic setup I have not really gotten deep into Kotlin yet.

I got the first couple of screens ready, login and then the drawer based menu system. I stubbed out fragments for all the main screens and implemented the basic help screen as well. More colors, drawables and a few layouts. Also battled getting the actionbar colors I wanted with some help from Reddit. Demoed the app to the team and they were happy how far along I had gotten it.

The build.gradle files were my next target. I added some booleans so use the BuildConfig file to control access to menu items. I also setup a file so I can run tasks to update the build version string and build number for the command line as well. Tossed in some more libraries I knew I will be using in the next steps including play services so I can get a unique ID the Android way.

Next up is getting Retrofit in place. That is where I will start next week. Need to find some decent tutorials on using it with Kotlin. Will tie in some dependency injection as well. There is some documentation for our REST calls but I am also using Charles Proxy to monitor what iOS is doing. Documentation gets out of date so seeing the raw JSON is usually the way to go. Plus I can see all the data in the request header and the response.

I have not really looking into the Swift code yet. I have been in there to grab some assets including a special font they use. Of course I have the app working on the iOS simulator so I can check out the program flow and screen layouts.

I also configured Slate so I can have a configuration for single screen when I detach at work and another configuration when I am running multiple monitors. Very handy to have all the windows move to the correct position when you start up as the Mac is great at starting the programs again but it sucks at getting them in the proper layout.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Moving to Kotlin

I am going to start a new job and my goal is to go Kotlin. I have been writing Android apps in Java for a number of years. Part of that time I also wrote iOS apps in ObjC. At the job I just left I only did Java Android programming.

I learned a lot at the job including ButterKnife, Dagger, Google Analytics, Flurry Analytics, Event Bus, Twillio, BrainTree, Timber, Vector Drawables, and Glide. All of those things make Java programming easier. I also used a number of things that I used at previous jobs including Volley, GSON, AndroidSVG, and  Google Play Services.

Now it is time to move forward into the land of Kotlin. I have been using it for a number of smaller command line utilities. I had used Python for things like that in the past and I found I can whip them out just as quickly in Kotlin plus it let me learn a new language that I could also use for Android.

I then stepped up and converted a small app that I had done in Java to Kotlin using the Anko library and then I wrote an animation test program from scratch from Kotlin using XML for the layout. Gave me a good peek into a number of aspects of Kotlin. I learned how to setup Kotlin for Android. My utilities were done with IntelliJ.

The old company was moving away from native development so there was not desire there to change to a new native language even if we did it bits and pieces at a time. Sure there was no harm doing some one off utilities but no way I was going to get Kotlin into the main apps.

Next up was taking some time to learn what libraries I might be able to use with Kotlin. There was an excellent talk by Jake Wharton about Okio. It started from the base of the pyramid and worked all the way up through OkHTTP, Moshi and Retrofit. Gave me a great understanding of the entire tree and what it is much better than NIO. Excited to use this chain of tools and to get away from the massive boilerplate of Volley when making REST calls. Annotations are your friend.

Don't know if I will use DSL and Anko but I might use the SQLite aspects of it. I like some of what it offers but also like seeing the preview of my layouts in XML. I do plan on using ConstraintLayout as I have used MigLayout for Java desktop and Autolayout for iOS so I think I can pick it up pretty quickly. I can pull off all kinds of things with RelativeLayout, LinearLayout, TableLayout, GridLayout and PercentLayout bit it seems silly to keep mixing all those together.

Scary to make all these changes at the same time. Kotlin will have me looking up how to do some things I already know to do easily in Java and general syntax. I have a decent base of knowledge now but I will probably fall back into old habits for speed. I know there is a lot of new syntax to use with Kotlin. Of course working code is what counts, using every trick may tighten up the code but is not a requirement. As I learn more I am sure I will go back to fairly fresh code and update it. Refactoring as you learn is a good idea.

I have watched enough Kotlin videos to know what bits and pieces are there so I will attempt to use as much as I have learned. I also think the iOS code written in Swift by the current developer will help me make the switch as it has a lot of the same programming patterns used by Kotlin.

Having a solid Android understanding is huge. I already know what I can do in Android, know about Activity and Fragment life cycles, know what the various Views do and can do recycler views with multiple row types. It will be more about learning syntax of a language and how to tie things together using Kotlin patterns.

Nervous and excited for this new life adventure. Not going to miss the old semicolon and constant null pointer checks. Will take a little bit but I bet my programming speed increases and I actually end up writing less code than I have been writing in Java.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Got a new developer laptop, here are my thoughts on it so far

I work from home and by the end of the day I am done sitting in my home office and am ready to spend some time around the family. I also work on some side projects and take some time to learn new things on my own outside of office hours.

I want to pick up more Kotlin programming so I have been playing around with that. Having a laptop I can use in the family area made a lot of sense to me. I looked over a ton of machines, tried some out at Microcenter then did a lot more research.

There were some initial requirements:
15.6 - 17.3" screen
16GB RAM minimum (OK with manual upgrade)
256GB SSD minimum (OK with manual upgrade if multiple SSD slots)
Decent video card - nVidia preferred
Keyboard must have numeric keypad along with HOME, END, PG UP, PG DN keys
Back lighting on the keyboard
Ports to support multiple monitors

I started with the ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW. Thought it would be great to have 5121GB SSD, no moving parts HDD. Nice and light as well. The problem? No END key, the power key is in that place. Of course you can turn off the num-lock and use that end key but I use the numeric keypad a lot as well. Plus it had a lot of glare to the screen and the reviews point out the color accuracy sucks especially for yellows. I tried one out at Microcenter and eliminated it but was very sad about that. It also has a pseudo 4K screen that does not play nice with all apps. Windows needs to catch up.

Lots of people liked the MSI models. They require you to use the FN key to get to HOME and END so those were out as well. I looked at various Acer and HP models but each had a fatal flaw. I was getting close on some of the HP models. They seemed to have good screens, keyboards and sound systems. But I just could not do it. Once you starting adding touch screen, the memory and SSD the prices started to jump quickly.

Then I found the Asus G725VL on the Microsoft store for $500 off. Hit all the requirements

17.3" touchsreen
24 GB of RAM
256 GB SSD
965M nVidia video card
Full keyboard with numpad, separate HOME, END, PG UP, PG DN keys
Fast charge USB port that even works when laptop is off
Multiple ports for extra monitors
CD/DVD drive

Plus it is the Microsoft Signature Edition so no bloatware. They kept that promise. There was nothing for me to uninstall. Came from MS store with free shipping. Odd thing is they shipping in just the Asus box - no extra padding at all. At least we had to sign for it as it was very obvious what was in the box so you would not want it just sitting on your front steps. At least the Asus box is nice and thick and was not damaged at all.

Machine boots in 10 seconds. Runs like a champ, is nice and quiet. Keyboard has good travel and 3 levels of back lighting. Screen is semi-gloss and looks good in everything but direct sunlight. I really like the touchscreen as well. When I do Android work I can pop-up the emulator and treat it like a real device when it comes to scrolling, tapping, long press and swiping. It does not support pinch zoom. The PC does for Windows but does not for the emulator. It is in Google's list to address.

Using the touch screen is nature in Windows as well. We are all pretty used to using a touch device such as a tablet or a phone so you want to do it on your computer screen as well. Tapping a button or scrolling works great.

I have had no issues with wireless internet connectivity. It also has standard port to hook right in to a wired connection as well.

As stated boot times are quick, starting any program off the SSD is very fast. Android compile speeds with the source code, SDK and tools off the SSD are are top notch in speed as well.

What is wrong with it?

1T HDD is only 5,400 RPM. Wish it was 7,200 but since I can fit all the stuff I want to access quickly I can fit onto the 256GB SDD. I put music, videos, images, utilities, etc. out on the HDD.

It is heavy but I don't plan to haul it all over the place. It may go to an offsite meeting from time to time but that is about it. I would not recommend this for a college student to haul about. The power brick is just that - a brick. Needs to be big to power this beast.

The trackpad itself is responsive but the buttons seems to miss clicks at times. Still trying to get used to that. Track pad is nice and big so you don't have to lift and scroll over and over. Responds to multiple finger scrolling and the like as well. It does show finger prints as well but you tend to slide around so they kind of smear on to the pad.

While the back lighting is good the font used on the keys is a bit much on the Star Trek / gaming side. The font could be more readable. I touch type quickly so I generally and not looking at the font but it is still weird.

Sound is just OK, on the muddy side and full volume is way too low. You can tweak some of it with the Asus Sonic Sound Studio control panel. Headphone volume is great. Good thing there are separate settings for that vs. speakers so  you can set speakers at full volume and headphones at 50%. I was able to get headphones to sound respectable. Still need to work on the speaker side of things.

I know new Pascal based machines are coming out. They cost a whole lot more and were very game oriented. I needed something I could game on but was mainly for Android development. This machine hit all the big items on my list. I am very happy with the purchase. There is space under a one screw to remove panel to add another SSD if I need it. I have a feeling the current configuration will last a pretty long time.

At first I was trying to figure out how to right click on the screen. I thought maybe two fingers or quick taps. Turns out you long press then a rectangle will start to grow from where you finger is then a release will show the right mouse click menu. Windows realizes you use a finger so there is more spacing between the menu items as well for easier tap zones. Would not game doing this but it works fine for doing user interface based interactions.

No regrets on this machine. Doing everything I ask of it. I was not expecting perfect and it is not but it hits the majority of the areas I need, just missing some minor things but none of those things were on my must must have so I don't feel I settled.

Compared to the new stuff coming out this is a B for gamers, it is a A for developers.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Google I/O makes owning and Android device depressing

I watched a number of the Google I/O 2016 videos on YouTube. Tons of new stuff coming our way which is great. I am happy that Google is innovating in a lot of areas. So why is it depressing? Because I have a Samsung Note 4 phone that is still back on 5.1.1. My wife's Note 2 is on 4.4. Only 7.5% are on Marshmallow.

It is great that Google broke out some of the features like the new constraints based layout manager to support libraries but a lot of the other features I can't use because Samsung + TMobile has not updated. It sucks to be stuck in the past.

My next phone will be a Nexus phone so I can get updates close to the speed that iOS users are accustomed to getting. I know I can't code against all of them but at least I can enjoy them and I can test things like multi window support on my devices.

I have to be honest with myself. The things that Samsung added such as the stylus and multi window I don't use that often. Not all apps support them. I am happy to see Google adding that as a base feature to Android especially for tablets when I think it will be very helpful. I can give up the stylus for a Nexus phone. I like the large size of the Note but there are similar Nexus devices out there.

This really is an area I totally wish Android was more iOS like. New version of the OS and pretty much everyone can get it nearly right away. Yes, at some point you have to cut off devices that are older than 4 or so years. Otherwise here you go, enjoy all the new features. Instead I sit here not even enjoying the stuff they talked about two years ago.

At least my tablet has Marshmallow on it so I can test there.

Samsung, you do some cool stuff but then you do some real a-hole stuff so I have to move on.

Monday, February 22, 2016

So far Windows 10 has been a big thorn in my side

I started with my main PC - an i5 with 16g of RAM. Hand built box with a newer nVidia graphics card. I upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10. Had to find one off drivers from my sound card but got that working.

Then I made the mistake of using the MS website to order an Xbox One for my sons for Christmas. MS switched my login to use that account. I did NOT want that to happen. Then my network card got confused and it could not see the internet so I could not log in. After many hours of screwing around with way too many tools I finally was able to create a different admin account, get the network working again and then log back into my main account with the MS website password. I was hating Windows 10 at this point and I wasted way too many hours.

I got my sons machine, that was on Windows 8.1, upgraded next. Another pain. Everything was working until yesterday. This is also a hand built machine. Now I just get a black screen with the basic white mouse cursor running about. Tried for a couple of hours yesterday to get that resolved but no such luck. Might have to reinstall I don't know.

My wife's parents installed Windows 10 on their box and then lost the ability to talk to their Android phone and Kodak camera. This is a refurbished eMachine from Microcenter. I was able to get things back up and running by doing some manual driver installs. Still don't trust everything but it is working for now. Also a Windows 7 upgrade that was an upgrade from Vista. The main menu was broken on this machine until I uninstalled drop box and reinstalled it. Took hours to figure that out as well.

Looked up my wife's Lenovo laptop and it is recommended that you DO NOT upgrade this box as you will lose sound. They just are not going to do drivers for it. Since I have had all the other issues really wanted to skip this box too.

A friend upgraded her newer Lenovo laptop to Windows 10 and then brought it to me as it was all screwed up. I upgraded every thing I could on the machine, mainly Lenovo drivers, and got it back in shape. Since then it has been working OK for her, fingers crossed.

Not doing either of my son's laptops. Older laptops and he attends a virtual school so having them down would be a huge hassle. They will be left alone until they die. Both on Windows 7 at this time and they run just fine using that.

Finally I am skipping the family file / print server. Windows 7 on another refurbished eMachine. Just as stated it is file / printer server that does M-W-F backups to an external HD. Everyone stores everything out there so you can use any machine in the house to get to things. It also needs to be running at all times. Not going to risk Win 10 screwing that up.

I just can't recommend Win 10 as an existing machine upgrade. Yes, once I got it going on my main PC it has been fine. I do think MS is being way to snoopy with this update as well. I disabled all the call home stuff I could on all the machines that I did upgrade. But I keep running in to new issues. Have to get my son's machine out of black screen of cursor only mode. Did the boot from physical media and tried to get it to repair things but no luck there yet even. Lots of posts about this issue, some get it fixed, others do not.

You will have something broken. It will take you hours to figure it out. You will cuss and scream at all of this. Sure Win 10 is fine on a new machine but upgrading has been very painful and I now I have a machine that is down again. Plan on cussing at it tonight some more trying to get it back to life. I will not risk any more machines in my house and I have warned all family and close friends to not update and just to ride out Windows 7 until they get a new machine.