| The Python
(second edition) by Alex
Anna Ravenscroft and David
Ascher, 2005, ISBN 0596007973, O'Reilly.
This is a collected set of recipes for doing all sorts of common (and
so common) tasks in Python. The recipes are grouped into task-specific
chapters, so you can often just glance down the list of chapters and
then skim the contents of one or two chapters to find what you are
looking for. The recipes are usually less than a page long, often short
enough to just type into the Python interpreter shell directly to play
with, and come with a write up that will cover what the recipe does and
go into details about any additional background material you might need
If you are a lone programmer who's looking
to get productive in Python fast, this is a good book to get. Its the
of thing where you could find a solution in this book in 5 minutes that
will save you a few hours of web searching and experimentation. If
got a few people at work who use Python, then at least get one copy for
the office, it'll pay for itself in one use.
| Python Programming on
Win32, by Mark
Hammond and Andy
Robinson, 2000, ISBN 1565926218, O'Reilly.
If you are working with Python in a Windows environment and you want to
applications (say by using COM or DCOM) or control or modify the
system from Python (perhaps using Python as your operating system
language), you simply must get a copy
of this book. Like the Python
each time you use this book it'll save you hours of "interesting"
highly recommend this book.
It's also the sort of book
programming team needs at least one copy. The sample code and errata
page is here.
An introductory presentation
by Mark Hammond and Greg Stein on COM given at a conference. In Feb'06
of a website dedicated to this was made: win32com.goermezer.de.
Dogs may hold the key to a life-saving suspended animation
animation of pigs has reached 2 hours now.
hypothermia to save
trauma patients may be just around the corner. The idea is to
rapidly drain the blood, replace it with a chilled saline solution and
then operate for up to 2 hours, then pump the saved blood back in.
Works with pigs 90% of the time, wonder what it does for human
memories? Could this be extended further by taking the temperatures
lower? Perhaps even to the point of long term suspended animation?
sport lights makes some LED flashlights. I picked up their LED-4AAA-BL that uses 4 AAA
batteries to drive a lamp made of three bright white LEDs. Its a nice, compact
unit, waterproof to 500ft (not that I'll ever test that!) that turns on by
twisting the lens mounting. They claim that by using LEDs the burn time is about
150 hours (rather than the 6 or so hours a conventional bulb will give
you). While I can't find this model on their web site (perhaps its
already obsolete) its similar to this
Xacti DMX-CG65 is a 6MPixel digicam with a 5x zoom that also does
H.264 video recording (so up to 6 hours at the high quaity setting on
an 8GB card).
In Mar'07 the Canon PowerShot TX1 became available, at $500
its an interesting meld of very portable still camera and video camera.
Perhaps its greatest flaw is in the video, where Canon chose not to use
a modern compression system, and as a result, the camera can only
record 14 minutes of highest resolution video on a 4GB card. Compare
that to the Sanyo
Xacti which can record 3 hours on a 4GB card (though
not at such a high resolution) and you can see how Canon messed up. A very
good review of it is on DCRP Review.
- Sanyo's Xacti DMX-HD1000
is a 1080i HD video camera which records to SD flash media using an
MPEG-4 codec. More pictures of this are here. TrustedReviews takes a look at the Xacti VPC-HD1000, it records 1920x1080i and 1280x720i at 12Mbits/sec using MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 compression (so about 5.4GB per hour) and can also record at lower sizes. They think the video quality is lacking compared to Canon or Sony and there is noticable grain in lower light situations.
be bringing out an XP based tablet PC with 16 hours of run time
In Mar'06 many rumors of the "Origami" device from Microsoft
started to circulate. This appears to overlap with Intel's UMPC prototype.
Intel is talking about the first production versions of this in 2006
costing about $1000 (with 3 hour battery life) and in 2007 delivering a
version in the $500 range with all-day (probably 8 hour) battery life.
of this from Samsung is to be shown in March at CeBIT.
At 1.98 pounds and with a 6 hour battery life Sony's
Vaio G might make a very nice web pad type laptop. If only it was 1/2 the price.
VAIO G1 with a 12.1 inch display and weighing only 1.89 pounds now
has an SSD drive which bumps its run time up to 12.5 hours - that would
make a nice web pad!
At the end of May'07 Palm
announced their new Foleo Mobile Companion, which has a 10 inch
display, 1024x600 pixels, real keyboard, weighs 2.5 pounds and
will run for 5 hours doing WiFi. Engadget has coverage,
including some hands on. Slashdot discusses this here.
In Aug'07 Palm
announced that this would be powered by Wind River Systems Linux.
specifications were released in early Aug'07.
- RealNerds has a set of amusing binary clocks (some of which you can find elsewhere) including an LED hour glass.
Windows systems are expected to survive less than 1/2 hour before
built a honeypot PC using Windows XP Home (Oct'06) and monitored it
to see how often and by what means it would get attacked. The result:
attacked within seconds of being connected to the net and during 7
hours in service it never got more than a 15 minute break from being
If you are running a wireless LAN you should read
this article, if you are running in WEP 64 bit or 128bit mode you
may be less than an hour away from being cracked.
Warner is looking at releasing some classic
TV shows for free viewing over the internet (paid for by 2 minutes
of commercial breaks every 1/2 hour)
- Beating brownouts: building a super UPS discusses building a large capacity UPS out of an inverter. For about the $400 price this article quotes the Noma 1800W unit from Canadian Tire is claimed to be capable of providing a 200W load with power for about 2 hours.
- Beaming solar power from space in the form of microwaves has been talked about in the past for a long time, but now it seems to be getting more attention. The collection efficiency can be improved (versus land-based) because there are no losses due to clouds or atmospheric pollution and potentially a collector can be kept in full sunlight 24 hours a day (though this would mean it needs to transmit its output to different sites on earth as the world turns) the raw cost per watt would be less for space based collectors than ground based ones. Of course, that would get massively reversed once the cost of lifting the collectors into space is factored in.
The real drive behind this might be the need for power in the military (though that does not make a lot of sense as the power will be off during the night, and the batteries the military would need to store power for use overnight would likely be bigger than the oil fueled generators they replace). It might be the military sees this as a way to get a new weapon in the sky, consider their recent work with the "pain ray", a microwave gun that causes intense pain by stimulating the nerves of the skin, perhaps such satellites (which use microwaves to relay their collected power to the ground) could do double duty and be used to cover large areas of a battlefield with pain rays, thus, knocking enemy troops out of action prior to an attack. 
- VideoReDo is a
powerful tool for extracting and deleting scenes from MPEG1 and MPEG2
files. This has a pretty convenient batch edit function that can also
be used to split a single file into a number of smaller files (perhaps
you have a few hours of vacation tape to edit, and you want to start by
extracting the dozen or so interesting scenes into separate files so
they are easier to work with). What you do is explained
on their FAQ (its not immediatly obvious from the help file or
program's controls that you can do this). Since the FAQ is a little
vague, here's a recap:
- You will probably need to set some program options first, in the "General Parameters" select "Queue to batch clears cut list" and set the "Editing Mode" to "Scene Mode".
- enter the Batch Manager, and select a destination folder,
then enter a "_" (underscore) into the "destination modifier" field, finally
hit the "Done" button
- now pick the scenes you want in each separate file (you
can select several per file if you want), by finding the start of the
scene, clicking on the "Sel. End" button, then finding the scene's end
and clicking on the "Sel. End" button and at last clicking on the "Add
Selection" button. Repeat as needed.
- once your list of scenes is complete you hit the CTRL+B
key (or use the File / Add Edits to Batch Queue... menu item)
- a dialogue will appear that shows you the file name it
will save those scenes to, this should be in the destination directory you
selected, the file name should start with the original file's name and
then have an "_nnn" extension, where "nnn" is a number that starts with
001 and automatically increases each time you hit CTRL+B. Answer "OK"
to the dialogue if the name is correct.
- once you have finished your selections you select the
Tools / Start Batch Manager menu item again, check the "Run Silently" check box
(this doesn't seem to do much) and then press the "Save and Execute"
button and it will build the new set of scene files without needing
further user interaction.
- Wikipedia writes about the Slashdot effect, the example load graph they include shows a web server going from idle to delivering content at a 900k bytes/sec rate and gradually declining over a 12 hour period. Simple integration of this curve (which is essentially a triangular shape) leads to a total delivery of about 19GB of data in response to Slashdot requests. A visualization of this effect can be seen here. 
- The PCSport Power Stepper is a small, USB-attached stepper that can be placed under your desk to get some exercise while working. Slashdot discusses it here. Given that it is going to be rather limited in range of motion, and that your knees will be quite bent while using this in a typical sitting position (unless you are on the edge of a rather high seat) I doubt this will burn many calories per hour and I'd be a bit worried it might lead to some odd new joint injury (due to the odd position for the knees). Still it might help keep the circulation going. 
(a FreeBSD variant) gets a good review, especially for ease of
installation. Here is another article, 24-hour Test Drive of PC-BSD.
- Nanosolar (partially backed by Google) is beginning production of cost reduced solar panels (discussed here on Slashdot) that are made by "printing on to aluminum plate", they claim that these will sell for less that $1/W. If true, this changes the economics of the entire solar (and even other alternate power sources) industry by making raw solar power less expensive than grid electricity at $0.12/kWh. Consider the following calculation:
You take $1000 and use it to purchase a panel capable of 1000W. You take out a loan at 10% to do this, so you are paying $100/yr in interest.
You live in an area where you can get 6hr/day of good light over 200 days of the day, so your 1kW panel produces 6*200*1 = 1200kWh in each year.
The cost of this (to you, is $100) so the cost of this electricity is $100/1200 = $0.083/kWh,
which is competitive with grid electricity.
Granted I've oversimplified things a bit (no installation cost, no DC to AC converter and grid adapter) but I'm also quoting a higher interest rate than you would be paying and I'm pretty conservative on the sunlight hours per year, and in a lot of areas you can get a credit from your utility company for the energy that you push back into their grid - and this credit can be at a much higher than normal grid rate. As well, there can be some tax savings for doing this.
The important point is that before Nanosolar came along the cost per watt was at least $5 for solar power - so the drop to $1/W is an industry-changing event and suddenly makes solar attractive to a whole new market place.  
- The $2500 car from Tata India is shown here and discussed here on Slashdot. My gut feeling is this will be a disaster for India, already their roads are over crowded and converting masses of small motorbikes to hordes of small cars is only going to make the situation worse - welcome to the 24 hour grid lock India! This car is due to go on sale Monday March 23, 2009 - another small step down the world to global crisis. In mid-July the first Nano was actually sold, they had to hold a lottery to select the first 100,000 purchasers. 
The hidden cost of outsourcing might be loss
of customer satisfaction and then loss of customers, discussed
on Slashdot. After spending more than 2 hours on the phone one Saturday
with Norton's support centre (obviously based in India) trying to fix
my Norton Antivirus 2005 I gave up and removed it from all my computers
and switched to a competitor.
- The IDC is finding that IT departments that build projects around open-source solutions are much more successful in successfully completing them. Perhaps this is a case of just reducing the work from a full design and programming effort to a much simpler implement and tweak type task? For example, an IT department might want to build an issue-tracking system, if it designed and built this from scratch this might consume a few man years of effort and result in an unusable monstrosity that, while completed, never gets used. However, there are lots of free, open source, issue trackers that can be configured and put into use in a matter of hours to days (or weeks if the department works hard at it). 
- A gravity driven floor lamp, this is so much like an old grandfather clock that one wonders how it could possibly get patented.
Of course there is just the slight problem that this light must be violating the laws of physics. Consider the claim that it provides about 4W of light via the LEDs for 4 hours per "charge up". This means that the energy used would be 4W * 4 hr * 3600s/hr = 57600J. Now since the formula for potential energy is just mass*gravity*height, and the height of the device is roughly 1m this means 57600 = mass * 9.81 * 1m so the mass required is 5871kg. Of course, the mass will need to be larger than this to overcome conversion efficiencies, friction etc. Looking at the design pictures it appears that the mass they are intending to use is probably in the range of about 25kg (it cannot be much larger for practical health reasons - not to mention the risk of tipping the light over when the mass is near the top), so someone has made a serious error as a mass of that size would only produce 4W of power for about 60 seconds.
And this won second prize in a contest and they (a university by the looks of it) are patenting it! So much for peer review.  
- The Popcorn hour networked media player is now shipping in limited quantities at $179. This supports up to 1080p (both component and HDMI) as well as composite and S-video. It also has two USB ports for adding devices as well it supports an IDE internal drive for more storage. It supports a pretty wide set of CODECS. There's more information on this on the Networked Media Tank support wiki. In May'08 this started to ship in volume, comments from early adopters are pretty positive. A very good review of the Popcorn Hour with some internal pictures, this review has been updated a number of times as the author has worked with different firmware versions. Engadget asks its readers how they would change the Popcorn Hour. The next generation of this (the A-110) went on pre-order in Aug'08 and they are also making a mini-ITX motherboard called the B-110 for home theater applications. CNet takes a look at the A-110.  
- NorhTech is planning a sub $300 laptop to join the competition with the Eee. This first laptop was not a success, too expensive for what you got, they are looking at a second attempt with a 8.9-inch screen and a $200 price point, which if realized would be a good seller. They appear to have achieved this with their Gecko EduBook which is $199 F.O.B. Thailand. This uses the Xcore86 CPU at 1GHz (only using 1.2W, so it has no fan), has an 8.9 inch 1024x600 screen, has a replaceable CPU module and is also powered by eight AA batteries (either NiMH or lithium) for 4-6 hours. It also has an internal USB socket intended to be used by OEMs to customize the Gecko for particular applications (allowing telcos to add a particular radio system). Here is a look at one showing the AA based battery pack, the SD card boot disk and the CPU module. 
- The SONY HDR-TG1 Handycam (which will be the HDR-TG3E in Europe) is a very compact full 1920x1080 HD camcorder that writes to memory stick flash media (needing about 4Gig/hour in LP mode). It can also act as a 4M pixel still camera. Discussed here on Engadget. An unboxing and quick look at it in video form are here. Engadget starts to take a look at one. 
ZipCar is a new car
rental service in the USA that is entirely self service and also offers
has started watching license plates in Sprindale Ohio. Patrol
cars are fitted with and automatic scanner that can read 900 license
plates an hour and as it does so it automatically checks to see if the
plate is associated with any bad act. The same system has also appeared
in British Columbia.
- Is television the cause of the downfall of modern society? Is it right to be wasting all that time watching sitcoms? What about the man hours lost to the World of Warcraft?  
- Slashdot discusses backscatter spam in follow up to this article, and this article. Most of these place the problem in the "a few an hour" category, but if you have your own domain and have set it to receive all email for any name sent to it, you will see huge spikes when your domain name is used as a target. What happens is that the spam bots send their email out and makes up return email addresses by combining a large list of user names with your domain name. Some portion of these outbound messages trigger back scattering and, as your email is set to receive any mail that comes to the domain, you get to see all of these. The first time I was hit by this was in Feb'05 for a couple of weeks. Every few months now, I'll go though a couple of days were I get over a thousand such messages a day. 
- Fasting may fix jet lag. Perhaps something to try on your next flight, it sounds like a 16 hour fast is about what is needed to trigger the change (in mice), and since food is no longer served on airplanes and you have to get to the airport many hours early you probably only have to start the fast a few hours before leaving your house. Then once you get to your destination have dinner and go to bed. 
- Starbucks and AT&T are collaborating to bring free WiFi to the coffee drinking hordes (up to 2 hours per day) in exchange for some email spam. 
- In Aug'08 Olympus and Panasonic announced the Micro FourThirds lens system. The objective of this is to bring the larger 4/3rds sensor size and interchangeable lenses into a small (perhaps point and shoot sized) body by eliminating the optical view finder and mirror box. Since the sensor remains the same size existing 4/3rds lenses will be able to be used on these new cameras by an extension tube style adapter. This design will also result in a reduction in size of the lenses, since the rear optics can be much closer to the sensor. About a month later Samsung announced plans for a similar system called Samsung Hybrid based on the larger APS-C sized sensor. I wonder when Canon or Nikon will try the same thing, perhaps introducing a sensor that is smaller than APS-C (yet larger than the typical digicam sensor to reduce noise), this way they can introduce a new line of smaller lenses to sell to a new consumer group. This way your initial $200 digicam purchase gradually builds to $1000 as you buy a few lenses and, when you replace the camera in a few years, you stick with the same company because of the set of lenses you now own.
The Panasonic Lumix G1 (also here on PhotographyBLOG) will be the first of the micro 4/3rds cameras, it will have a flip out 3 inch display (it looks like it is fully articulated and can be turned face in to protect it, yeay! this was a feature I really loved on my Canon G1) with a 460K pixel resolution (which still might not be enough for manual focusing). It has a very high 1.44 million pixel resolution viewfinder (so that might be enough to do manual focusing on, but I found that the 900K pixel view finder on the Minolta A2 was not enough for this so I am expecting this will will not be enough, however Panasonic is using a different technology which effectively stacks the RGB pixels so it might be a much sharper display than the traditional pixel count implies.). It got HDMI output too, so you can inflict painful hours of slide shows on your friends and relatives. Digital Photography Review has a preview of it here.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 started shipping at the end of Oct'08 (actually a little ahead of schedule) and the first full review of a production model is here. 
- The JOBO S4 is a mobile photo frame, it has a 3.5 inch display and a rechargeable battery capable of 2.5 hours of use. Pass it around the room. 
- The Fujutsu U2010 (also known as the U820) should be able to get 5 hours run time from its standard battery and 11 hours from its extended battery. 
- The Sanyo Xacti E2 (and here on Engadget)is the second waterproof standard definition camcorder from Sanyo. This records to H.264 MPEG4 on SDHC cards, so can fit 8 hours on one 8G card.
- Samsung intends to enter the netbook market with an 8.9 inch model. There might also be a 10-inch model. The Samsung NC10 gets reviewed here and is showing a battery life in the range of 5 to 7 hours, which if confirmed would be the best of all the netbooks. 
- A new device that actively removes C02 from the atmosphere has been developed in Canada. This will remove about a ton of C02 for every 100kW hour of energy input. 
- One user's update on his experience with Amazon's EC2 service. At a minimum cost of $72/month (the web server needs to run the full month, so at $0.10/hour that's about $72 - other disk storage and bandwidth fees might increase this) the Amazon approach is a lot more than a VPS solution where a $20/month server might be enough for a lot of sites.  
- The MSI Wind U90X, which is a MSI Wind with a smaller 9-inch display gets reviewed here, they didn't like the included operating system and the rather short (less than 2 hours) battery life. 
- A simple solar powered electric car, that claims to be able to drive up to 150km on a 30 hour charge. 
- MSI is adding the Wind U110 and U115 to its netbook product family. The U115 has been found to have up to 15 hours of battery life. MSI is claiming a 9-hour battery life for the Wind U110. 
Google's Android has been coaxed into running on the HP Mini-Note 2133 and on an Eee PC. 
- Pegatron (an ASUS spin off) is looking at producing Freescale ARM-based netbooks. These should achieve a more useful 8 hour battery life. They are targeting the $199 price point. This has been sighted in Nov'09. 
- The ASUS Eee PC 1000HE will have a 9.5 hour battery life. At last, a netpad that will last a day! A review roundup is here. 
- RFID passports have been cloned (discussed here on Slashdot) through a war driving rig. What would he have got if he had just parked in the airport parkade for an hour? He points out that one of the potential issues with the widespread use of RFID tags (for things like drivers licenses and credit cards) is that it would allow the movements of individual people around a city to be easily recorded - just set up these RFID scanners at choke points (office tower front doors, subway station entrances, parkade pedestrian access and car entrances etc.) and you can now track the movements of individual people - and with access to one of the RFID databases (like the driver's license information or a credit card database) one can find out who went where and when. Of course this could be very handy for generating an initial list of possible suspects, so expect banks to have RFID scanners at their doors - and to detain anyone who tries to enter the bank without an RFID tag on them... Another attempt at gathering passport numbers via RFID is discussed here on Slashdot.  
- Look for a new round of netbooks to appear in early 2009, based on a new Intel chip set these will have faster graphics and processors and consume less power, plus their smaller motherboards will leave more room for larger battery packs. So here's hoping the entry level versions of these will be looking at a 6-8 hour run time. The first of these is expected to be the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE. 
- Samsung's Q1 series gets a new model for 2009, the Q1EX which has a 4.5 hour battery life and will sell for $775. 
- The first Snapdragon-powered PurseBook weighs about 0.8kg and has an 8 hour battery life. 
- The Spider Camera Holster is a belt clip plus a attachment bolt for your camera's tripod hole, this allows the camera to be easily attached and removed from your belt. It's not a bad idea, I have an old SLR case (designed for an SLR with a short zoom or telephoto) that I often wear on my waist, this allows me to simply drop the camera into it when I'm done and pull it out quickly. It is also pretty comfortable to wear for hours at a time. 
- The Nissan Leaf electric car is claimed to get an equivalent of 367 miles per gallon. The US DOE has a formula for calculation of the equivalent gallons of gasoline that a pure electric or hybrid vehicle would use, it is discussed here. Essentially what they do is to use a conventional vehicle dynamometer to measure fuel consumption in simulated driving (just like they do with any other vehicle) and then they take that measurement (which is actually in Watt-hours per mile) and convert it from an electric energy value (a Watt-hour is just 3600 Joules - which is a true energy unit) to a gallons of gasoline by using the factor 82049 Watt hours per gallon of gasoline (which would be 295.4MJ/gallon). The odd thing here is that published energy content for gasoline (also here) is about 45.8MJ/kg which would result in about 124.6MJ/gal... 
- There appear to be some loop holes in the legal system in the US that are allowing seemingly large amounts of cell phone GPS data to be collected by law enforcement (and perhaps other parties). Discussed here on Slashdot, here on Wired and here is the EFF's take on the matter. Now that Sprint has a web interface for this one wonders if a lot of these requests are happening without the appropriate authorization, perhaps once one is granted access for a case then Sprint does not get in the way of you checking any phone's movements? The potential for this sort of monitoring is pretty amazing, especially if one can get the numbers that a particular phone calls or receives calls from and then trace the movements of those phones. Or perhaps one could do a time and space bounded query: "give me all the phones that were in a 2 block radius of this location between the hours of interest on this date". Yup, big brother is watching you now. 
- The Popbox is a follow on from the Popcorn Hour media player. 
- One curious outcome of the attacks on GSM cellphone encryption that were published around the start of 2010 is that the GSM association actually moved to a weaker encryption algorithm (called KASUMI) from the previous MISTY algorithm. 
- The Google Nexus One Phone does work on Virgin Mobile in Canada. As of 26-Mar-2010 I was able to successfully connect my (ATT/Rogers style) Nexus One to the Virgin Mobile network in Calgary, Canada. It runs fine and with the data plan activated it works over the 3G (HSDPA) network quite nicely. Getting connected was much more painful than it needed to be. Here's the story:
- It all started when I heard from a couple of friends that the unlocked Nexus One was now available to Canadians and that they had taken the plunge. So I did a bit more research and found that there were now two variants: one (the AWS version - for "3G on T-Mobile USA") would only work on the Wind network in Canada and the other ("compatible with 3G on ATT and Rogers Wireless") should work on Rogers, Fido, Telus, Bell and Virgin. I ordered the ATT/Rogers version because it offered me more carrier choices in Canada.
- After researching the various carrier offerings (and rediscovering that the thinly-disguised monopolistic cell phone price fixing conspiracy was still alive and well in Canada) I decided to stick with Virgin Mobile where I already had a pre-paid phone.
- I then called Virgin's support to see if they thought the Nexus One was compatible, they confirmed that the specifications were a match and stated that: as this was not a "supported phone" they could not guarantee data would work. They said when I got the phone to take it to one of their stores and get hooked up using their GSM SIM card.
- I then paid a visit to their North Hill mall booth (they don't really have "stores" just booths in Calgary) only to be told "they only do CDMA phones". Of course Virgin has only recently begun handling GSM/3G type phones, but you'd think their staff training would have mentioned the fact that now they are carrying the iPhone and offering SIM cards and that they had joined the GSM/3G service crowd (like the rest of the Virgin operations around the world). I also visited the Bell booth (Virgin runs on Bell's network in Canada and shares network towers with Telus, competing with Rogers and Fido) and they were ready to try right away.
- Undaunted I called Virgin service the next day, reconfirmed that the phone would work and that I would be able to port my pre-paid phone number and remaining balance to the new plan and then settled back to wait for DHL to deliver the phone.
- Once the phone arrived I returned to the Virgin booth, this time it was staffed by someone who did know that they did more than CDMA, so we got set to the task of hooking up. After about 15 minutes of credit check, verifying that the phone's IMEI number was listed in their database as compatible (for the 3rd time!) we got to the part where they scan in the SIM card's number and associate the phone by its IMEI number. At this point we got a rather odd error from their system saying something like "the SIM card is incompatible with the selected plan". The salesman called his support line and they got the same error and after a few minutes they just gave up. The salesman gave it another shot (this time starting as if I did not have an existing account, in case the pre-paid legacy account was messing things up) and even used a different SIM, but still got the same error. As I was running late, I just called it a day and left.
- The next morning I called Virgin support and told them what had happened, they went through the same registration process (again checking the IMEI for compatibility) and ran into the same error (using a SIM card on their end as I had been unable to purchase one). This time support called their support, and after a few minutes on hold, they returned to say they had got around the error and we could proceed, but that I would have to now buy a SIM card from one of their stores. However, all the account stuff had been done and I had a new (non-working) phone number and once I had the SIM I was to call back and they could complete the process.
- So at lunch time I went SIM shopping, its just a little $5 card that all the Virgin retailers carry and there are several a short ways from my office, so I checked stock levels at The Source (as the Virgin Booth is further away) and walked over. On my way I passed "The Telephone Booth" which had a big Virgin Mobile display at the front of their store, so I went in and asked for a SIM, they wanted $42 for it (unless I registered through them) so I resumed my search for The Source.
- At The Source they said no problem, they had the SIMs but needed to check the phone first, so they checked the IMEI against the database and then got out their "test SIM" (which was from Bell), popped it into the phone and declared it good. So then they proceeded to sell me the Virgin SIM, but at some point in the checkout process they have to have a Virgin Account number (to sell the SIM against), so they wanted to go through the registration process (again!). I told them this had already been started and it was on hold pending purchase of the SIM. They called Virgin, and after about 10 minutes of back and forth (and another IMEI check, credit card check and photo ID recheck) they got the account number out of Virgin and were able to complete the sale. All in all, about 25 minutes to make a $5 sale - how do these guys stay in business?
- Later that day, SIM in phone, I call Virgin back again to resume the process. After about 10 minutes on hold I get an operator and after a brief description of what I need to do she decides another department needs to handle the call, so back on hold. After about 30 minutes more on hold I hang up and call back to the support line again, this time I get through and after about 5 minutes we have completed the next step. The SIM and the IMEI are now associated! So now I have to power off the phone, pull out the SIM, reinsert it, power up the phone and then wait for 2 hours for the phone and network to connect up and then call them back to finish the data configuration step.
- After 2 hours I check the phone and the it appears to be on the GSM network (I don't see any 3G indicator), I can make a phone call with it and I have received two text messages from Virgin welcoming me to the party. Things are looking good, so I call them up, wait for about 15 minutes, talk to someone in support who curtly tells me the phone is not supported by them so 3G ain't going to work, your phone's only going to do what its doing now, goodbye. I hope Virgin reviews their call recordings on that one... Muttering to myself I dig through my accumulated net-searches on Virgin 3G lore and find this helpful article where the author reports the same sort of grief. He mentions that the solution is actually documented on Virgin's site (note: Virgin has since removed this page from their site and when I pointed it out to them they denied it even existed, you can get the information you need from Bell's site, since Virgin just resells Bell's service) in a cunningly concealed section of the page on their SIM cards. I found that following the setup (under the misleading heading "What Do I Get?") for the iPhone 3G/3GS eventually worked just fine. These are the settings that worked for me, there are some other settings that I didn't enter anything for.
To get to the data entry page on your Nexus One go into the Settings menu, then "Wireless & networks", then "Mobile networks", then "Access Point Names", then (for me) it says "virgin pda.bell.ca", I click on this and it gets to the "Edit access point" menu.
Initially it did not seem to do anything, but after a few minutes I thought "what if my phone's too smart, perhaps when it is connected via WiFi it does not display the 3G indicator?". So I shut down my WiFi connection and the 3G icon popped into view, a quick test confirmed that data was flowing through 3G and all was well!
- APN: pda.bell.ca
- Proxy: web.wireless.bell.ca
- Port: 80
- MMSC http://mms.bell.ca/mms/wapenc
- MMS Proxy: web.wireless.bell.ca:80
- MCC: 302
- Well that should have been the end of the story, only the next day I realized that in all of this Virgin never actually shut down the old account and ported the number, so I had to call them again (20 minute hold) and go through the number porting process. This required another SIM remove/replace and wait an hour or two cycle, but now things appear to be working.
- I just have to wait a few days and check that their accounting department did move the unused balance from my pre-paid phone to the new monthly (one month term contract) plan. Oh joy, another half hour of hold time ahead. And yes, they did transfer the remaining balance from the pre-paid plan, so nothing was lost there.
- The 3200mAh battery for the Nexus One, for those that want even more run time per charge, up to about 30 hours. 
- Thoughts after a couple of weeks. I have owned a Google Nexus One for a couple of weeks now and I thought it would be a good time to record some first impressions. In a word BETA. Yes, in keeping with Google's fine tradition of apparently never finishing anything, this is most certainly a beta product. Now given the intended audience (geeks) of the Nexus One this is not a particularly bad thing, but Android is being billed as a mass-market phone (and appliance) operating system and I am finding the smart phone platform is falling short of what a consumer would need, want or expect.
The hardware is quite good, the device looks and feels nice. The screen is very nice, except in bright sunlight. The digitizer generally works quite well, it certainly feels like the iPhones I have played with. The sound quality is good for both phone and media functions. The battery life is good for this sort of device, I'm getting about two days of use out of it by which time the battery level is at about 30%, but I don't do many calls and maybe log about an hour of web surfing, an hour or two of MP3 playback and about 2.5 hours of GPS use in that time. I leave the WiFi and Bluetooth radios on all the time. The fastest drain is when I use the GPS (using Google's Latitude and the MyTracks route tracker applications). I like the fact the battery is user-swapable and there is a microSD card slot.
The only issues I have with the hardware so far are:
The software, this is the part of the phone that's really beta. I have not had any real problems with the underlying OS, I have not had to reboot the phone to get it to function properly or anything like that. My gripe is with the included applications. One of the things I wanted from this phone was a unification of the functions of my old phone plus my old Palm Tungsten T3 PDA, so that I would be able to replace two devices with one and have more functionality at hand too (like the GPS and browsing on the go). So far the places I find that fail are with the basic PDA functions. Here's how I see it:
- The ringer volume (as is mentioned here along with other issues) is too low
- the back cover is rather hard to remove, they could fix this quite easily by including a ridge or slot to get a grip on, or better yet a small latch.
- I would prefer that the microSD card slot was exposed (i.e. externally accessible on one side) so one could change cards without having to power down the phone, remove the back cover and battery and the reassemble everything. My little Samsung flip phone did this quite well. Perhaps there should be two slots, an internal one that is used as fixed storage and an external one that is intended for user-swapping?
- the dock connector appears to only provide a power connection, any other connection must be either through the USB port (which is limited) or via Bluetooth or WiFi radio. This may be a good thing, but at the moment it limits what other things the unit can be used for. Perhaps someone will make a WiFi player dock for it so that the device can be used to play video to an external monitor or TV.
- For a few cents more why didn't they put an infrared transmitter/receiver on this so that it could also be used as a programmable remote control?
- The GMail client is pretty good, its an effective way of doing email triage on the road (train) and the unification of your email into the Google GMail cloud is very well done. You do something on either the GMail web client (at home or at the office or where ever) or on the phone and it's auto-synchronized in a seamless fashion. For anyone who needs to deal with email while on trips this would be worth it alone.
- The contacts manager is also very good, again it pulls off a nice, seamless two way synchronization All you need to do to make this useful is to import your contacts into the GMail contacts lists. I had to do some work on this one because GMail does not have a direct import from Palm devices, you have to export to a CSV and then upload to GMail, which is ok, except GMail import does not understand a lot of the columns that the Palm export provides so it just tosses a lot of stuff into the "Notes" section.
- The todo (tasks) list is missing. Total fail, GMail has a todo list on the web, but to get at it from your Nexus One you must visit a web page! Todo lists have been standard on PDAs since the beginning, so why is this missing?
- The Note taking function is also missing. It seems obvious that this should have been implemented as something that interfaced with Google Docs on the web, in fact there is a third-party free application called GDocs that attempts to fill this void.
- While the device does have a media player that does a reasonable job of MP3 playback and video playback this is a very basic implementation. It lacks the glitter of what the world has come to expect from the iPhone, so it's just basic marketing that this needs to be improved. Note the video formats this can play appears to be pretty limited, so expect to transcode anything you want to view here. Given there are a lot of inexpensive media players that are based on Linux that do a great job of playing just about anything without using super powerful chips one wonders why this cannot be done on this phone?
The last issue is with accessing the microSD card over the USB cable to load or unload data. As a geek I can understand why they have done what they have done, but surely there must be a better way! Here is what the user sees:
In my view what should happen is that when you plug in the USB cable the phone should immediately do all the mounting, the fact it can detect the connection and then prompt you, tells me that there's no real reason why it could not have just done the mounting right away. The mounting attempt might fail if some phone application current was using the SD card (though I have not seen this happen yet), in which case it should notify you of the problem. Then Windows would have quickly opened the drive and you could get onto the important business of dragging over some more MP3s right away. Once you are done with the drive in Windows, you should just use the Windows eject function as normal. Then the phone would detect the end of the session (as it currently does) and instead of bothering you with some more UNIX voodoo it should just silently umount the drive and return it to the normal phone mode - only if there is a problem should it prompt you for anything. This would make the whole process plug and play, the only voodoo left is on the Windows box when ejecting the drive at the end, and that's now accepted as "normal".
- Upon connecting his Nexus One to a computer via the USB cable he gets a notification that says the USB was connected.
- He then drags open the notifications list and touches the USB notification.
- Then a dialog appears saying: "You have connected your phone to your computer via USB. Select "Mount" if you want to copy files between your computer and your phone's SD card." and it gives you two buttons: "Mount" and "Don't Mount". This simply reeks of geek, and not just any geek, we're talking about 50 year old UNIX geeks with massive beards that wear old hiking boots to work in case they need to climb things in the server room! Mount, don't talk to me about Mount! Steve Jobs must find this hilarious!
- Once you hit "mount" your microSD card becomes accessible from the computer and then you can use it until you use the Window's remove USB devices tool to eject it (in a way equally mysterious, but in this day of USB thumb drives something that most people know how to use).
- Once you do this the Nexus One gives you another notification titled: "Turn off USB storage", tapping this gets you another dialog that reads "Before turning off USB storage, make sure you have unmounted the USB host. Select "Turn Off" to turn off USB storage." and gives you to choices "Turn Off" and "Cancel". Again the mountains appear on the phone.
- Toshiba is going to try the Android/ARM based smartbook market with their AC100. Now, if only it had a twist around display that could convert it into a tablet. Engadget takes a look at one here.