Building My First Android App

android-logoAs part of my Master’s in Management Information Systems program at the University of Illinois – Springfield, we are learning how to build a mobile application. Since there has been a lot of talk about mobile app development and how to get started, it seems only fitting that I share my learning process with you — my students (I know, parallel universe, right?). As usual, I can’t say how important it is to experiment and play outside of class to build your skills. If you’re interested in learning more about mobile apps, I encourage you to follow along in my journey. The videos I’ll be posting follow Corinne Hoisington’s Android Boot Camp, Third Edition if you’re interested in picking up the text to learn more on your own. I’ll continue to post each new lab to my blog. A complete listing of my videos when I’m complete can be found on my Android Boot Camp Step-by-Step page.

Step 1: Install the Android Studio

Step 2: Check to make sure everything is installed properly

A few things I noticed. The Android Studio is a huge download (1.6GB). It takes a bit of time to install and it consumes a chunk of memory when running (about 600MB or more in my experience). The IDE has some nice features. It’s pretty cool to use a virtual mobile device inside the IDE to test out the app. You can use the emulator to render your app in a virtual device of your choice (Nexus 5, for example). Below you’ll find videos of each lab so you can see how the development process works from builing the obligatory Hello World! app to integrating audio into the app.

Lab 1: Voila! Meet the Android

Using Robocopy to backup files

My schedule has been ridiculous lately and our home laptop has been sitting like a dead brick for the last month. Thank goodness for multiple computing devices in the house! Apparently, Windows 8 isn’t real happy right now and is having trouble finding a suitable restore point from the past. I was about to boot to live image of Ubuntu to start backing up files when the laptop magically decided to boot to Windows, limping along the way.

I have a FreeNAS server for mass file storage and I usually end up just mass copying all the files from all the devices to the FreeNAS server from time-to-time. Ideally, this would be done on a schedule and only do differential backups (summer project) to be more network and time efficient.

One utility you can use that is built-in to Windows is Robocopy, which stands for Robust File Copy. It’s a utility that has been around for several versions of Windows in both desktop and server varieties. The utility is command line-based, allows you specify the source and destination directories, and analyzes each file and directory based on file size and time stamp to see if needs replaced or not. Pretty handy.

The easiest way for me was to map a network drive to my FreeNAS server. If you have a USB stick, secondary hard drive, or even another local folder, you’ll be set to use Robocopy. I opened up the command window (the easiest way is to click on Start and type cmd in the search box). Then, I issued the following command:

robocopy c:\users\username\Documents\music y:\music /e

The first argument is the source directory, the second argument is the destination directory, and the /e switch tells Robocopy to include subfolders. You’ll get feedback from each file that gets analyzed and whether the file gets copied or not. Pretty handy. If you check out the Microsoft TechNet article on all of the switches and options, you can do so much more including adding scheduled jobs to copy files on a regular basis.

This tip is for all of us who have not backed up files in way too long. For my students, it’s the end of the semester, stress level is high, and your computer may want to crash on you. Create a backup strategy so that you don’t lose all that work you’ve created this semester.

A Quick Look at Windows 10 and How to Build Your Own Using VMware #IS240 #IS331 #IS470 #IS492

In a small window of downtime over spring break, I decided to take a look at Windows 10 and see the progress Microsoft was making on its next version. Below, specifically for Millikin students, I have outlined how to check it out for yourself using VMware and DreamSpark. I conclude with my initial thoughts after playing around a bit.

For those of you who are Millikin students, you are hopefully aware of your ability to download software titles (for free) from Microsoft through DreamSpark. You can access this from the Tools menu item in MyMillikin. While Microsoft isn’t giving away the entire Microsoft Office suite for you, you are able to download some productivity titles like Visio, Project, and Access. The other benefit from our Microsoft Academic Alliance is the ability to gain access to beta releases of some of Microsoft’s new software, namely Windows 10. I downloaded a copy yesterday because I was curious about what’s in store for the next version of the ubiquitous operating system.

Rather than trying to get this to squeeze onto an older machine, I decided to spin up this version using VMware Workstation. This is another partnership Millikin for which students can benefit. You can download VMware Workstation 11 from the VMware link in MyMillikin, again at no cost to you (normally $249 retail). The installation is pretty straightforward by going through the default prompts after running the executable you downloaded. VMware utilizes virtualization technology that allows you to run multiple operating systems on one piece of hardware. The workstation version is great for developers and evaluating new software without messing up your main operating system environment.

Installing Windows 10 using VMware

Getting Windows 10 installed was relatively painless. After downloading the .iso file from DreamSpark, I clicked on Create New Virtual Machine from the main VMware Workstation panel in the middle of the screen.

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Next, I selected the “Typical (recommended)” option for creating a new virtual machine.

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The next step is to tell VMware where your Windows 10 .iso image is located on your machine. Use the browse button to select the “en_windows_10_technical_preview_9926_x64_dvd_6245061.iso” (or similarly named) file. It’s likely in your Downloads directory.

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VMware is going to prompt you for a Windows Product Key. Since this is a preview version of the operating system, there is no license key necessary. You can leave this blank. Then, give yourself a username and password to login. After you click Next, there will be a warning message regarding your blank product key. You can click OK to bypass this.

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The next screen allows you to give your new operating system a name. I chose the default for the name and the location. The location is where the virtual machine will create a “virtual hard drive” for the Windows 10 operating system.

The wizard will then ask you for how big you want the hard drive size to be along with how to store the virtual machine files. Selecting the default options here shouldn’t give you any trouble. If you have less than 60 gb of free hard drive space, I recommend reducing this to no less than 20 gb.

The last screen is a confirmation of all your settings. I will throw a word of caution. If your machine has less than 4 gb RAM, don’t be surprised if things run a little sluggish after creating a new virtual machine. The Windows 10 preview defaults to allocated 2 gb RAM to run. This will be subtracted from your total available RAM from your machine since these two operating systems are now sharing the available resources. You can reduce the amount of RAM you allocate to a virtual machine by selecting “Customize Hardware”. However, understand that the less RAM you have available to your virtual machine, the slower it may run as well.

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Once your Windows 10 operating system is installed, it should prompt you to login with the username and password you provided earlier. Let your test drive begin. For more information on how to use VMware Workstation 11, see VMware’s Documentation Center.

After Installation: Previewing Windows 10

At first glance, the desktop looks similar to Windows 8 with the addition of a global search bar within the task bar. The biggest difference I noticed right off the bat was that I wasn’t stuck at the horrid metro interface with large squares of apps. To avoid this on your current Windows 8 machine, feel free to use Windows Key + D to get to the desktop at any time. In my case, I was so frustrated that I installed Classic Shell, which is an open source program that brings back the Windows 7 interface. I digress…

The start menu, however, is remarkably different. They’ve taken the Windows 8 metro interface and integrated into the list of applications installed. The blend is a better way to fit this design on one screen.

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However, I’m a little taken back with how much “content pushing” is embedded in the operating system. It seems like just about everywhere I went, content from MSN was being pushed through different app. I tried opening up the Food and Drink app, which allows you to create recipe collections. I’m dumped in an article about Guiness cake. I had to scroll to the right significantly to get to the functionality part of the application.

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The same thing happened when I went to the Money app. I had to scroll through a bunch of content before I could use the functionality of the app.

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While I’m sure all apps and programs don’t have content embedded in them, several of these default ones do. If I go back several years, users were forced to scroll through content to do the same types of tasks on msn.com or the barely used but force-installed MSN browser. So, it appears that Microsoft is taking what used to pull-based web content and pushed it onto the operating system. I’ve always thought of these elements in two separate worlds. If I wanted news articles, stories, etc., I went to that web source to read it. Having it forced into my operating system only gives me the content Microsoft wants me to read. I’m not sure I’m a big fan of this. However, I do see the rationale. If Microsoft is going to compete with Apple on free operating systems, Microsoft can gain affiliate revenue through advertising and click-through article placements.

I’m sure once Windows 7 reaches a slow death just like Windows XP did, we’ll all be looking for tricks to customize Windows 10 into the operating system we need to be productive without all the noise. It’ll be interesting to see how this evolves and if it will catch hold as the next workhorse operating system for business and personal use.

Need an SQL Recap? #IS470

SQL isn’t a procedural language or object-oriented language. It’s a natural language that is used to extract, modify, define, and control data inside of a database. Whether you are a technical person or not, chances are pretty good that you are using SQL in your job. You just might not see it. Every time you filter and sort data through a web page, look up and airline flight, or access one of over 75 million web sites running WordPress, there is some SQL going on behind the scenes managing the data sitting in a database somewhere. Here is a re-cap of what we went through in class this week on the beginnings of SQL. It was a review for some and brand-new for others. We now live in a data-driven economy and having the skills to retrieve that data row-by-row or in aggregate has become increasingly important in our ability to make decisions. We can make sense of it by transforming that data into usable information. Even if you don’t end up writing SQL all day at a desk, drag-and-drop applications are all running SQL in the background. Knowing the language can be used not only to extract the information, but in theory, can help us frame our questions appropriately for those who are churning out queries left and right.