Lutz, 2006, ISBN 0596009259, O'Reilly.
If you need to integrate Python with a C++ application (embed it or
extend the application with Python) this is the book for you. I bought
a copy of the first edition from 1999 but I have
not really made much use of my copy, especially compared with Learning
Python. There are probably some problems where the more in depth
in this book will help, but for the sort of coding I've been doing I
only rarely found the need to open this. So I would say browse through
a copy before buying. A second edition has been released and a third
edition is on the way.
Is Python fast enough to do number crunching? This
artical shows it to be about 1/17th the speed of C++, but unless
your problem is really large, or it must be solved in a very short time
this means that Python may well be acceptable.
XDesk is a multiple
virtual destop for Windows, allowing you to have several different
workspaces, each with its own set of windows open at the same
time. Even works with multiple monitor PCs, for those who really
like to work on a lot of things at once. This Slashdot artical
discusses some other alternatives.
for Windows 2003 Server, the html
version from Google's cache. This talks a bit about additional
registry settings that might need applying to Windows to make a gigabit
LAN really perform well. This sort of tuning is also discussed here.
To carry your gadgets there is now the hipHolster
from Urban Tool. What I really want is the gadget bandolier,
instead of a series of small loops for ammo it would have a series of
small pockets for PDA, cellphone, DAP, multi-tool...
While not really a toy, it certainly is tech, HP is
releasing a vastly
updated version of its HP-35. What a blast!
The NOVA television show has an episode called "The Great Robot
Race" about the DARPA Grand Challenge, which is really about
hacking cars to run autonomously
A really good little USB to general
analogue/digital IO project based on the PIC18F4550
Turn the empties from your soda
or six-pack habbit into a solar
air heater. While the "pipes" that are formed by the cans may look
like they function by heating on the outside and then transferring that
heat into the air that rises up inside them I suspect this is probably
not the case and the hot air that comes out the top is really just air
that flowed over the outside of the cans between the cans and the
glass. The presence of cans will serve to restrict airflow up the box
and allow more time for heat exchange to take place. The use of
black paint intended for BBQs is probably a good idea.
Librie, not really a full webpad as its just an ebook reader, has
been patched to have an english OS. This unit, if one was to add a WiFi
interface and a browser might make for a very good webpad, even if only
grey scale. In Dec'05 Sony started talking about releasing
a version of this for the US market. Some other competing models
are mentioned in this artical.
More details on the Sony
Reader. This gets discussed
on Slashdot. And on Wired.
Pricing is now expected
to be in the US$350 range.
another approach to the web pad niche would be a wireless tablet
client, such as Viewsonic's
V212, but still, at $1500 that's really about three times as much
as it should be.
A very good
write up about the OLPC project. The OLPC people really need to
find a way to sell these to people in developed nations as well,
charging substantially more per laptop, to raise funds to use in
subsidising sales into the poorer countries. Also, putting more of
these in the hands of people in developed nations is going to result in
more software being written for them, which will help in the long term
In June'07 Asus announced the Eee
PC 701 which is a compact mini-laptop (more full-featured than the
Palm Foleo) and claimed to be targeting an entry level price of $200!
Wow! There is a Wikipedia article here. Even if
these really cost $400 by the time you've added a few
options they will sell like hot cakes. From the comments in this article
it appears the screen might be quite low resolution (and certainly is
smaller than the available case size suggests), still this might only
be the case for the lowest price version. Later comments on this
indicate that there may be two screen sizes offered (for the same case)
a smaller 7 inch and a 10 inch size. It gets another look at here
Review, since this is a full (but very small) notebook with 8GB (or
16GB in a more expensive model) of flash drive, and a bigger screen and
a keyboard for less than the Nokia N800 it will be giving the Nokia a
stiff battle. HotHardware looks at it here.
Slideshow PDAs could stir things up at the low end of the market,
especially if they really do get sold for $150.
the return of cold fusion in 2004 it seems that there really is some
new effect out there
Fun with really
large Fresnel lenses
is trying to prevent "unauthorized links" to its site. Of course the only way
they can really enforce this is to remove their web site from the
internet... There is also some
information on related case law in the US where this idea was
tested on the basis of being a copyright infringement, but was thrown out
since the Judge found that it was "akin to a card cataglogue index system in
a library". Here is a similar
decison based on a lawsuit that Ford brought against 2600. This article
talks about the legality (US Law) of thumbnails and linking to images
on other sites.
madness, this time with the net in the area of business processes
(which, if you ask me, are a really daft thing to allow patents to be
granted on anyway).
- It looks like SCO
has finally lost their copyright fight with Novell over Unix, but
this might have some bad consequences for SUN. It really looks like this is the end of the road for SCO.
Windows Dynamic disks (described in this article: KB222189 - note
this article does describe an "import" function that is provided to
allow you to move a dynamic disk from one system to another) cannot be
moved from one system to another readily. This knowledge base article: KB232463,
mentions this in the context of laptops, but I have run into this while
trying to move dynamic-type disks from an older Win2K machine to its
replacement WinXP box (when I did this the disk was shown as
"foreign"). Probably best to stick with the basic disk type, unless you
are really needing to make use of the new features of dynamic disks
(for example to provide a RAID file system). It also appears that you
cannot put a dynamic disk into a USB drive case and still access its
contents (the article KB254105 confirms
this is the case) - probably for similar reasons relating to the disk
partition database, as once the disk is USB attached it could be
attached to any number of machines and this database is not designed to
handle this. Other articles on dynamic disks:
- How to convert basic and dynamic disks in Windows XP
How to establish a striped volume with parity (RAID-5) in Windows
Server 2003: KB323434.
Best practices for using dynamic disks on Windows Server
2003-based computers: KB816307.
Basic storage versus dynamic storage in Windows XP: KB314343. This
says that the mirroring and RAID-5 features are not available in
Windows XP Pro.
How to use disk management to configure dynamic disks in Windows
How to get Windows XP File Search to Really Work (again).
The search function of Windows XP (from the start menu "Search") is by
default not set to search the contents of most files. In order to turn
this on you can follow the steps in method #2 on
this page. A similar writeup exists in Microsoft's KB309173.
If you have ever used the "search for text in files" function and it
has failed to find what you were looking for, but you know that the
search should have worked it is probably because the behavior of the
searching changed greatly between Windows 2000 and Windows XP. By
default Windows 2000 would search in all files, but Windows XP will
only search in certain "known" file types (probably .txt. and .doc and
not much else). The fix for this is quite simple, though remarkably
hard to find. Here's what to do:
note that despite the fact this setting is controlled through the
Indexing Service, you do not need to start the Indexing Service running
for this to work.
- open the control panel
then go to administrative tools and open the "Computer
Management" application, set the display to show both the tree view (on
the left) and details list on the right, (the 4th icon from the left on
the tool bar) and the do the following steps in the tree view
under "Computer Management (Local)" you will find "Services and
Applications", and then "Indexing Service"
do a right click on "Indexing Service" and select "Properties"
from the popup menu
the "Indexing Service Properties" window will appear, this has
two tabs, in the tab called "Generation" you will find a check box
labeled "Index files with unknown extensions", you need to check this
and then click the OK button and that is it
- This all-in-one PC from XtremeNotebooks would make the world's largest webpad. Well, it would be really too large to be comfortable, especially the 22 inch model, though the 19 inch model might just work - if they made a 10 - 12 inch model that would be great. The little prop-stand that allows it to be placed on a counter top easily might make for a nice recipe display device for a kitchen (though an e-book would really be better).
The JEM Report
reviews the IWill
ZPC, which is a very small form factor desktop PC (from the photos
it looks about the size of a conventional 5.25" half height drive, but
its really about 1 inch thicker and 1.75 inches wider), essentially a
2GHz Pentium 4 with the usual complement of embedded IO and specialized case
which can take a single 2.5" hard drive and laptop-style compact
in Jun'06 AMD announced their 4x4 chips, which really will be dual
processor, dual core motherboards - so a 4 CPU "consumer"
workstation will soon be possible. These are being targeted at gamers
as they will support a pair of dual GPU graphics cards (for 4 times the
rendering power). I wonder what size of power supply you'll need to run
a high end system?
GM is developing a hydrogen
filling station for the home, though as its electrically powered
its not really an advantage over just buring fossil fuel directly in
the car - unless you install a set of solar cells to power it.
Wind Power in Cold Stores, this is really a case of intelligent
load averaging, and thus, swapping some conventional power requirements
for wind generated power. For one to really make the claim of "storing
power" one should be able to place energy into the storage device and
then return some of that energy back to its original form for later
use. That said, this is a good example of "low-hanging fruit", there
are probably plenty of power users that could be tailored to make use
of alternative power sources when those are abundant (for example
commercial green houses, swimming pool heating, ice rink cooling...).
Doing the math on hybrid cars, are they really worth
Breaking the gigapixel
barrier, using a 6MP camera and stitching a large number of images
together. The result is quite amazing. This also has some (simulated)
comparison between this resolution and other real resolutions. This
sort of resolution is not really so far away as one might think,
consider that the current resolution size is about 10MP, so multiply
this by just 100 and you have 1GP. Now a factor of a hundred sounds a
lot, but since sensors are not lines, they cover an area, so all that
needs to be done is to multiply the number of sensors in each dimension
by a factor of 10. This could be done today by making the sensor
larger, roughly 4 to 8 inches across would do it (but then you're
looking at a pretty big camera - but such large format cameras have
been used before), or else if the sensor was made more dense we would
have to wait about 6 to 9 years (circuits shrink by about a factor of 2
every 2 to 3 years). Sensor noise might be one limiting factor here,
but I would think we would hit some sort of optical limit before this
This article has a
good explanation (and demonstration) of why colour information in
video (and also photographs) is less important to our eyes than
luminance and especially that we really don't see blue very well at all.
- NASA TV, TV
for the really bored
ASUS is going to make a series of optical
drives that run quietly. This is a big pet peeve of mine, until
drive speeds hit about 24x they were all nice an quiet, but now a
spinning CDROM drive can be the loudest part of a computer. And really,
for what good purpose? I really don't think one needs to build a
separate "quiet drive" model, all you really need is to add a jumper to
the back that limits the drive maximum speed to about 24x. You could
make this setting overridden via a command issued over the IDE bus by
some utility software, in the event you want to use the drive in high
speed mode temporarily.
this is an SD card with an integrated WiFi interface that you will be
able to put into a lot of digicams to allow them to upload their photos
by a WiFi connection, it will also work with a CompactFlash adapter to
allow it to be used in a lot of the D-SLR cameras. Engadget writes (Oct'07) that the Eye-Fi is now shipping and will include 2GB of storage. Engadget takes a first look at it here, and finds that this is a case of a tempting tech tool that doesn't really solve any problem we are interested in. Reviewed here on dpreview.com, they have a pretty good write up on how it is configured and used, along with its somewhat disappointing speed of about 10-15 seconds per photograph. The other problem with this is that you need to attach the card to a computer in order to enter access point information, so unless you have brought a computer along you can't just walk into a Starbucks and have it upload your photos when traveling. Perhaps they could provide a small keyboard device to allow you to do this while on a trip, but even then you might just be better off buying a couple of blank 4GB SD cards or bringing along a mini laptop like the ASUS Eee PC. One user of this card has written some Python software to take the place of the standard Eye-Fi server (also here on Engadget), this could be the start of making this card more useful.
- The ASUS Eee PC gets unboxed, for those who really want to know what's in the package. 
- The toy called Bindeez was recalled because its beads (which are coated in a compound that becomes a glue when wetted) are toxic if ingested. The really odd thing about this is that the glue changes to a toxic compound through a chemical reaction in the digestive system. 
Softick makes a Bluetooth Audio Gateway that
allows one to listen to stereo audio generated by the Palm on a pair of
wireless Bluetooth headphones. Sounds pretty neat, wonder if it really
works. Still at $269 for a pair of the Plantronics
headphones you really got hate the old cable to want to do this.
- MIT has released the source code to the old MULTICS operating system. As an undergraduate student at the University of Calgary I used one of these in the early to mid-80s, then as a graduate student enjoyed the privilege of moving to UNIX on SUN and VAX systems (which were so much faster). Still, there were some things MULTICS could do better at the time (like have really, really, really long device names). I can't see why someone won't be able to brew up a hardware emulator for the old MULTICS CPU and disk system that will allow you to run it on a modern PC. 
- There is some indication that SanDisk may be introducing a "write-once" type of lower cost flash memory, aimed at the digital photography market. There is probably a large group of photographers (consider the Grandmas of the world) who may prefer to keep their photos this way, rather than the more complex process of transferring them to a computer and backing them up to CD/DVD ROM. Consider the casual photographer who before going digital shot about one roll of film a month (so about 300 photos per year). Let us say that after going digital they now take 10 times as many pictures, so about 3000 photos per year. For further argument lets say that their photos are on average about 3MB each, so that's 3000x3 = 9GB per year. Given that you can currently (Nov'07) buy 2GB SD cards for $25/each that's about $112 per year to just buy new cards whenever they fill up and never reuse them. Note that at about $15 to buy a 24 exposure roll of film and develop and print it, this photographer was already paying about $180 a year, so even at current memory prices, never reusing flash cards actually will make sense. And given that memory prices will drop by another 30-50% in the next year it will make even more sense - even if SanDisk does not introduce this new type of card. In fact, unless SanDisk really prices these low I cannot see much point in using them at all. 
- The IOTEK ezSECU ez850 drive enclosure adds keypad activated security to an external 2.5 inch drive, possibly never to be sold in the West. It sounds like the device is actually encrypting/decrypting data on its way to/from the hard drive, but we'll really have to wait for an English review to see. 
- Adding an internal Bluetooth module to the ASUS Eee PC. The basis of this hack has also been used to add a 16GB flash drive as well as a Bluetooth module to an Eee. Really, it would make sense for ASUS (or other manufacturers) to include a small empty bay inside the laptop with a couple of USB jacks in it for internal expansion. 
- Cooking paella
outdoors, this is made possible by a simple propane burner and
paella pan support tripod. Quite a nice solution to the issue of paella
pans that are really too large for a standard stove top or oven.
- Liquid Image has built a digicam into a snorkel mask - well as its only rated to a 15 foot depth they can't really call it a scuba mask. 
- Service Pack 3 for Office 2003 will disable support for many older file formats. It looks like this mainly affects the ability to open Lotus and Quattro files, plus PowerPoint files before PowerPoint97, which does not sound like too much of a problem. However, there is also some restriction (see KB938810) on opening older Word files which appears to be to prevent opening of files created by Word 5 and older, as Word 6, 95, and 97 should still open this is probably not too important - Word really did not displace WordPerfect until about Word 6. In a follow up on this, Microsoft has corrected its reason for doing this, and they now say that its not the file formats that are insecure, rather its the code that reads them. 
- The Time-Style, its a watch crossed with a photo frame. So if you like a really large watch you can now take your family photo album along in really small format. As displaying photos on PDAs never really caught on, I can't see this doing any better. 
- Is Copy Protection Needed or Futile, a debate on the use of copy protection control copying, this also contains some side links to support the observation that the man on the street really does not understand what copyrights are all about anyway. 
Trackers: Do They Really All Suck? This has some good commentary on
the merits of various bug tracking (i.e. issue tracking) systems.
- Some odd limitations on the Java Generics. 
- Thomas Guest's Python suggested reading list and some additional suggestions from Jesse Noller. One really good book that is missing from these lists is "Learning Python" by Mark Lutz and David Ascher, see my Python Books page for this and a few more. 
- Green Freedom is a project to extract CO2 from the air and turn it back into fuel. They don't say where they are getting the energy from that will be needed to turn the CO2 (along with water) back into hydrocarbons, but as their press release is liberally sprinkled with the word "nuclear" and this is a team that is headed by Los Alamos National Laboratory it's a safe bet they are planning to use electricity from nuclear power plants - so this is really no different from the typical "hydrogen economy" babble. 
The CWnd class has the necessary functions for traversal of the child/parent/sibling window lists (and since CDialog inherits
from CWnd it has all these too). Traversal in TAB key order (within dialogs) gets more complex because there
are sub windows that do not have TABSTOP set on them, so they get skipped. Plus the tabbing
logic knows to skip any windows that are disabled. The tab logic will always descend into
dialog windows that have the WS_EX_CONTROLPARENT set (this might happen even if there are no windows in them that have tabstop set, which can make for a tab traversal that seems to stop and catch the tab).
Getting out of a sub dialog, by hitting the tab can be done by trapping the tab key
and putting in some code to manually move the focus out of the dialog to another window. If you really want this behavior the best thing to do would be to override CDialog::PreTranslateMsg() to handle the tab key and then use that version of CDialog as your base class for dialogs.
Using the Spy++ tool can help understand the window tabbing order because the tabbing order is the order that
windows appear in its view (i.e. the order they are constructed and chained together).
The win32 function ::GetWindow(HWND, UINT) can be used to find the first child
window of a given window when UINT == GW_CHILD. It can also be used to find the first (among several) sibling windows when UINT == GW_HWNDFIRST. There is a CWnd::GetWindow() equivalent function.
- While not really a webpad size device, the VA1500V laptop from Everex is the same price as an ASUS Eee and brings you a 15 inch screen at the cost of about 3 pounds more weight. Clearly the $399 price point is becoming significant. 
- Iomega's Rev Disk system is finally getting a capacity boost (from 70GB to 120GB). But given that the price of the individual cartridges are currently about $1/GB while a normal bare IDE hard drive is $0.25/GB and a 120GB laptop drive in a USB-powered case can be had for $0.83/GB, one really has to ask why are they still selling these?. In Apr'08 the 120GB drives and cartridges started shipping, the external USB interfaced drive (including a cartridge) costs $499 and a 5-pack of cartridges costs $325. So for the cartridges alone the price is $0.54/GB. At this time I can buy a 500GB IDE drive and an external USB case for less than $160 at our local computer shop which works out at $0.32/GB, so I still have to ask why anyone would bother with this REV stuff? 
- The MSI Wind is another competitor to the ASUS Eee - this will have a 10 inch display at 1024x768 resolution and sell in the UKP299 to UKP699 range. Now MSI is talking about June'08 for first shipment of the 8.9 and 10 inch Wind devices, for prices in the range of $470-1099. MSI has posted its official specifications for the Wind, the 8.9 and 10 inch displays will be 1024x600 and be LED-backlit, so battery life may be better than a similar sized Eee. Engadget reports that this is to be $610 for a 10-inch screen, 1.6GHz Atom processor, 1GB RAM and XP. MSI has finally announced that the price for the 10 inch version will be $399 (with Linux) and $549 (with Windows XP). At $399 it really under cuts the 9-inch Eee and provides more features than the 7 inch Eee (which is also about $399) so ASUS will have to rethink their pricing a bit - isn't competition great! A Chilean gets to review an early version of the Wind and quite likes it. The UK site Mobile Computer reviews the Wind and Slashdot discusses it here. CNET takes a hands-on look here with followup on Engadget here. Another pre-release preview here. LaptopMag reviews the MSI Wind, and likes it. More reviews of the Wind and questions about why the Advent 4211 (which is the same machine under a different label) is less expensive. 
- This study confirms my own experiences that productivity increases with monitor space. Of course as this is a paid-for-by-industry type study you should take it with a grain of salt, but consider what happens if you are using Microsoft's Visual Studio to do some C++ work. It likes to do everything in one window broken up into a number of panels (for organizational and navigational purposes). This often leaves me with a coding window of about 1000x600 pixels out of a 1680x1050 (20 inch wide screen) resolution monitor. If I need to look at two files side by side, that drops to 500x600 for each, which is pretty small. With a second monitor this is much easier to do. Also, when you start running the application in debug mode (especially when working on a GUI problem) you have to fight with the two applications to get them to share the screen space and yet still have enough room to see your local variables, call stack and source code windows. If you have a second monitor, or one wider than 1680 pixels (though I doubt 1920 is really that much wider) then you can give each application (Visual Studio and the one being debugged) its own monitor and work in a much easier fashion.  
- pyLinkage implements linked lists for Python, not that you really need these with the built in Python list class. 
- Adobe has put a free version of Photoshop Express on the web. This allows you to do some photo editing and sharing through your browser and get enticed into buying more from Adobe. It's probably also a way for Adobe to test the waters of software rentals and see what features are really used. The first version of the license agreement for this granted Adobe rights to your photos, because of complaints this may be revised. The license agreement has been revised, the new terms start 10-April-2008.  
- University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist (who really should be our next Prime Minister) is behind the IOptOut.ca site (discussed here on Slashdot) that is trying to get a start at a Canadian do not call registry before the federal government's version finally launches. 
- Do the really productive rockstar programmers really exist? 
Java asks the question, is too much OOP really OOPS?
How computers are really
explains why some of the fittings are so hard to get a tool into). 
Different types of voting
systems for national elections, of course in Canada if you live in
the West, your vote never elects the national government. This is
because about 70% of the population lives in the East and the polls
close at the same local time across the country. So by the time the
polls have closed in the East the ruling party has been selected - without a
single vote from the West being counted. We should really have the
polls close across the country simultaneously to eliminate this odd fact.
supposedly this will trick the dialing computers that telemarketers use
into thinking your phone is disconnected, but does it really work? I
must admit the idea of paying one fee, only once, to get rid of these calls
is appealing (it sure beats having to pay "protection money" to the
phone companies on a monthly basis for caller ID, a service that costs them
absolutely nothing to provide and on 90% of my telemarketers identifies them as
Mr. "Out of Area" because they are calling from another province) but I
can't help thinking that a few software tweaks to the computers that do this
calling and they will no longer be fooled, and you'll have to buy a new
zapper. 27-Feb-03: it looks like the telezapper may actually have been
for-real; however, its days are numbered by software
from Castel that will allow call centers to ignore the tones the
zapper produces. And best yet, Castel's software will allow the call
center to transmit any caller ID information they care to choose - you can bet
they'll be choosing some misleading names like "visa" or just taking
your last name and putting a different, random, initial in front of it.
Sodaplay, hard to describe
but really neat
- Big Brother is setting up to watch
the Texas border, supposedly to keep Mexicans out, but I bet the
Texans really want to use it to keep the Americans out. The neat thing
about this is they are going to try to exploit the bored web surfers of
the world to report the infractions. This project still appears to be alive, though with only 21 cameras its hard to see how this covers much of a boarder.
Chad Whitacre really likes App Engine. 
- Google App Engine: The good, the bad, and the ugly is a through look at the App Engine and what Google might really be up to. 
- For an RSS feed file to be valid you need to escape any "<" and ">" bracket characters that are part of the data. This is because the RSS file is XML so these will be taken as XML tokens by the parser in the feed reader. This is an issue because it is quite natural to want to put HTML fragments into the item/description elements. One way to do this is to do a simple substitution of "& l t ;" and "& g t ;" (ignore the embedded spaces) for the two angle brackets. Another thing to note is that because some URLs contain & characters you can run into an issue with parsers thinking those & are the start of an HTML special character sequence, so you also need to replace & with "& a m p ;". This sort of thing would really be much simpler if XML had just included a proper opaque data blob tag from the beginning (or perhaps a special attribute that could be used with any tag), something to indicate that the contained data is a base 64 encoded ASCII string and all the parser is to do is to read it, decode it back to the original form (which may include anything, even non-printable binary) but then do no further parsing on this content. The CDATA is somewhat intended to do this but its not a very clean solution. 
The Panasonic HDC-SD9 HD is a SDHC flash card hidef camcorder with a 3 CCD sensor. The individual sensors each have an effective resolution of only 520,000 pixels which seems way to small for a camera that is supposed to record at 1920x1080 (which is 2M pixel) so either the review is wrong, or there is some serious extrapolation going on (effectively they are doing a 2x digital zoom to go from 520K to 2M: since each sensor will record one RGB colour channel you put the three sensors together to get the equivalent of a single 520K pixel RGB sensor to start with and then you need to expand that 4 times which is twice in width and twice in height - hence a 2x digital zoom) and this is really not much better than S-video. 
- The millimeter-wave whole body scanners are going into test to look for concealed weapons at JFK and LAX, Big Brother will really be watching you soon. 
- Will Microsoft wake up smarter and extend the retail lifetime of Windows XP beyond 30-June-2008? Dell has announced they will provide copies of XP Pro past the cut off date, this is being done under the Windows Vista for Business downgrade license program, so you need to buy a Dell machine with a Vista for Business license and they will supply an install image CD for XP Pro (in case you want to downgrade to XP) or on some models Dell will even pre-install the downgrade at the factory. Microsoft says that XP will still stop selling in June. There are some on-line petitions to save XP and there has been an attempt to demonstrate that people still want XP by calling in to Microsoft's support lines en-masse. More on Dell's XP Pro downgrade offering, looks like it will only be available on a few of their machines, and it may cost you $50. Microsoft said in late June that there would be no reprieve for XP, but that local OEMs may still continue to buy XP through to 31-Jan-2009, they also say that support for XP will last until 2014. This article claims that Microsoft's software license allows customers who purchase a copy of Windows to install and run a previous version of the OS at no additional cost, I wonder what really happens when you enter a Vista license key into an XP install... 
- The WR-100 radio controlled shutter release, at about $100 its not too outrageously priced, but really, isn't it time in this age of Bluetooth and WiFi cameras started including built-in radio-based remote control systems? Heck, with a WiFi based system one would have the bandwidth to even support a remote-view capability allowing one to look through the view finder from a display on the remote control. 
- Apparently the large number of CCTVs that are used in the UK are not making a significant impact on crime. They are probably just weeding out the really stupid criminals, thereby leaving more space for the smarter ones to flourish. 
- VW is planning a 2-seater high mileage car for 2010, this is supposed to achieve 100km/L fuel economy. For some strange reason they think this will not be a best seller and are only intending to produce limited quantities. Unless they are intending to price it at an outrageous price (which I can't see happening given that it does not have an expensive hybrid drive system) this really is going to be a roaring success. Now VW is planning to build a limited number of these in 2010. 
- The Alpha 400 from Bestlink is targeting the low end of the mini-laptop market segment with a price of $250. But to meet that price you must drop the CPU to a 400MHz unit, drop the RAM to only 128MB and the flash RAM to 1 or 2GB and add on WiFi support externally, so it really does not seem such a good deal when compared to the ASUS Eee 2G Surf model which sells for $299 and has 512MB ram, a faster processor, 2G of flash and built in WiFi. Engadget's Switched On column takes a look at this unit. The main problem seems to be that the 400MHz processor is just too slow. 
- Slashdot discusses how to start a small web hosting service. The general consensus is "don't", though there are a few who say if you can offer something really unique then it might be worth pursuing. 
- AMD has entered the mini-notebook arena, their design saves space by not using a trackpad, rather some sort of optical touch sensor is used. This announced the mini-ITX 2.0 platform, this increases the specification to the point where HiDef home theatre PCs could be built with mini-ITX components. Discussed here on Slashdot. 
- The RIAA has given up on one of its Making Available cases. Buy they haven't really given up... 
- The digitalFAQ.com site has a number of guides to digital video, I used this one to convert VCD to DVD. In my case I was able to take a simpler approach, all the necessary data was in the first track, so I just used the Windows File Explorer to copy the *.DAT files from the CD's MPEGAV directory to my hard disk. Then I renamed them to *.MPG and verified that they really were MPEG-1 video files. Then made a regular DVD out of them using Nero 8 to build a simple DVD table of contents, transcode the MPEG-1 files and finally burn them to a DVD. I did this so I could play an old VCD in a current DVD player as the only device I have left that can play VCDs is an old Commodore CD32 game console.  
- Hunting memory leaks in Python talks about tracking down a memory leak caused by unintended global references keeping things alive (this sort of issue is really easy to hit in Java). This article uses the Graphviz utility to make a graph of all the objects currently being tracked by the Python garbage collector and then visual inspection can be used to find unexpected references that are causing problems. The author follows this up with another article that talks about how he used the gc and inspect modules to obtain the information from the garbage collector - a rather helpful discussion of this rather esoteric topic. Further discussion of object graphs using graphviz. Another problem is finding leaks in extension modules called from Python, for this something like Valgrind can be used. 
- The Korg nanoSeries are a few small, USB-attached and powered, input and control devices for working with music on a laptop. Really cute and if reasonably priced are bound to be very popular. Would go great with an ASUS Eee... The UK prices for these are in the £49 to £59 range, which probably means US$99 and they are expected in Oct'08. I wonder if you can add multiple keyboards to the same PC so that you can build the organ of your dreams? A preview of these appeared in late Sept'08.  
- pycuda (home page is here, the documentation is here) provides access to Nvidia's CUDA parallel computation API. So if you really want to crunch a lot of numbers, now is your chance to do it from the comforts of Python. The July'08 meeting of ChiPy is taking a look at CUDA. An introductory presentation on using PyCuda. PyopenCL is a Python wrapper for OpenCL.   
- If you need really fast parsing of XML you might want to take a look at AsmXml, which claims to be able to parse XML at about 200MB/s on an Athlon XP 1800+ type chip. Despite this being an assembly language implementation there are versions for a number of operating systems (presumably all running on X86 chips). 
- 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. 
- Addonics Portable Dual Drive enclosure is a USB or eSATA attached drive housing that can hold up to two 2.5 inch drives and run them in either RAID-0 or RAID-1 modes. Given this is a portable setup the most likely cause for failures would presumably be physical damage (dropping it) which would probably put both drives at equal risk of failure, so perhaps this is really a gimmick? 
- A discussion of The Invisible Cost of IP Law. Where progress stalls in certain fields because of key patents acting as road blocks. This happened to some extent with the RSA cryptography patent, though its effect was largely restricted to the USA and it was further diminished because the patent was granted too early - before computer technology and applications were really ready for it. Another example is probably the touch screen display issue, not a lot happened with touch screen displays until the Apple iPhone popularized them in 2007, but I recall reading something that suggested that a key patent on touch screen technology had expired around then and with this expiry an economic obstacle to implementing touch screen based systems was lifted. This topic might well be worth a thesis in Economics. 
- NVIDIA has released some free PhysX and CUDA software for users of GeForce 8, 9 and 200 series graphics cards. This also includes some CUDA applications like a Folding@Home client and a trial version of the Badaboom video transcoder. There is a discussion of Badaboom here. When I tried this on a 5 minute MPEG2 clip of some recorded TV I found Badaboom taking 338 seconds while a StaxRip run took 240 seconds, this was on a Q6600 machine with a GeForce 8600 GT card, so not much use for me (except that it off loads the CPU during the encode). Perhaps they will speed things up by the time it is commercially released. MaximumPC takes a look at Badaboom and compares it to Handbrake. Tom's takes a look at five applications that use the CUDA engine to speed up processing. 
- The Powabyte X-6 is an electric-assist commuter bike. 
- The Peek is a remote email device that does nothing but email and requires a $20/month T-Mobile service fee. This device has been recognized as being quite innovative, but can it survive with a $20/month service fee? Peek has been performing an experiment, they have been selling two versions of this, the "cheap" $44 (plus monthly fees) version and a $399 (lifetime subscription) version at Costco and have found the lifetime version was outselling the cheap version. This is rather like what Tivo found with the popularity of their lifetime subscriptions too. Now if only they could add some web browsing to the device they would really sell a lot. 
- Commodore has shown some prototypes of new portable devices at IFA in Sept'08. Including two that are Pocket PC designs that include keypads, so might actually make for good, small, webpad devices. 
- The PicoLCD SideShow display adds a few lines of text to your computer. This only has Windows Vista and Linux drivers (no XP support), no why can't someone just configure one of these things to look like a small USB drive and then applications could just write "files" to it, which would be displayed and paged through by the user. Then each time you need the display to update, the application just updates the file. That way a user could even just drag and drop a file onto it for display. This idea would work really well for a device that can display photos. The Slashdot discussion of this includes links to other similar solutions and instructions for working with character based LCDs. A Python interface to this is here. 
- Now you can read your morning news paper and eat it afterwards, just burn the headlines onto scrumpy hot buttered toast. Beats a Talky Toaster any day. I really cannot see a USB port actually powering the toasting element. 
- The Ruby Cipher hard drive kit from Addonics seems to provide on-the-fly full disk encryption (AES 256 bit) through a hardware engine and stores the key in a removable keyfob. At last it looks like someone has done this correctly, now if only some independent security team would take a look to make sure the device is really encrypting the disk blocks properly and not just faking it with a simple XOR against some content in the keyfob... 
- In Use Mercurial, you Git! the argument is made that Git is too complex. A rebuttal to this argues that for the most part, if you stick to simple use cases the two systems are very similar and the added complexity only appears if you need to do something exotic in Git (which you might not be able to do in Mercurial at all). For me the biggest deciding factor in choosing Mercurial over Git was that Git really did not work well on Windows machines while Mercurial worked well on both Windows and Linux. Another, short, note on choosing between Git, Mercurial and SVN. Smashing Magazine has a fast overview article: 7 Open Source Version Control Systems Reviewed. 
- CIGS (copper indium gallium diselenide) is a thin-film solar technology being developed by a number of companies, such as Solyndra. This has some potentially large cost advantages over silicon-based solar cells. This photo on Engadget gives a better view of these devices, they really do look a lot like fluorescent tubes. 
- This rant on the use of
- In Why RAID 5 Stops Working in 2009 the author argues that with the arrival of 2TB drives RAID arrays will have got large enough that the unrecoverable read error rate will put a RAID rebuild at significant risk. While this seems possible it would appear to be a rather poor software design if a RAID system completely fails a rebuild if a single read error happens, I would have thought that the logical thing to have done would have been to pause the rebuild and ask the operator if he wanted to stop or continue and accept the consequences (which would probably be a corrupted file). A comment on this issue that addresses some of the concerns. An article that looks at the causes of some of the drive errors. How the UNRAID system handles this issue gets discussed here, with UNRAID the data is not striped so a failure of this kind will not affect the whole array and, according to the developers, an error of this kind during an array rebuild will not stop the rebuild (though a file may be corrupted as a result). CERN took some time to research the silent data corruption problem. Slashdot has another discussion of the issue of RAID arrays becoming more likely to fully fail during a rebuild. Adaptec goes through some of the reliability calculations for RAID arrays here and here. A graduate student takes a look at RAID system reliability through simulations. Another article on the unrecoverable read error problem. There is a research project looking at read errors in Microsoft, an interim progress report is here. This article examines the probability of encountering a read error while rebuilding a RAID array and explains the math fairly well. The paper: An Analysis of Data Corruption in the Storage Stack takes a look at all sorts of error sources, incuding the UREs. Are there really differences between the SATA and more expensive SCSI and Fibre Channel drives? The importance of disk scrubbing as a way of keeping the UREs at bay. A white paper from Hitachi on the URE issue and why RAID6 makes sense (though it looks like their math might be off). Wikipedia's article on S.M.A.R.T. explains a lot of the SMART counters. Hard Disk MTBF: Flap or Farse calls into question the reliability of MTBF ratings, as does this paper. 
- Some people really like plone. 
- If you like a really solid keyboard then Das Keyboard looks like it would be just the thing. 
- The Tech Report takes a look at a lot of computer power supplies in a power supply round-up, discussed here on Slashdot. This article also includes information on the type and lengths of the cables on these supplies, which can be hard to find. I have found that Antec makes pretty reliable power supplies (the review only takes a look at a very low end model). Don't forget that these days, unless you have some monster graphics card installed you likely do not need anything bigger than 400W, in fact you may find your system is really in the 100-200W range. If you do have a smaller system you will find that the power supplies below about 350W get harder to find, have fewer peripheral connectors, use smaller fans (so potentially are noisier) and get more expensive, so you might just end up getting a larger supply anyway (which might not be a bad thing as the 80+ supplies in this review all tested at about 90% efficient when run at 25% load which is very good). A power meter (such as the UPM EM100 energy meter) is quite useful for seeing what is really going on. 
- It appears that Psion controls a trademark on the term "netbook" (discussed here on Slashdot) in a number of countries (for example in Canada) so its time to switch to some other term for this section of the computer market. How about webpads or porta-books? Dell is fighting back over this issue. Intel is also returning fire over this issue. Psion claims it really is still selling its netbook. In June'09 it appeared that Psion had relented. 
- In Mixins considered harmful Michele Simionato attempts to make a case against using mixins; however, I think what he's really arguing against are large class hierarchies. Mixins are really just multiple inheritance, and ideally they just introduce new methods in an orthogonal fashion. In the Java world they split the idea of inheritance in a rigid (but useful) fashion by introducing the concept of an interface, which lets you add a useful set of methods to a class to give it certain behavior (but without introducing new member variables). To me a well designed class hierarchy presents classes that are useful at every level, so if you learn how to use the core functionality you can reuse this knowledge when using any derived class, and you only need to concern yourself with learning what's new and useful about each new derived class. I prefer to see classes that are intended to be used as mixins to be small, self-contained, tools that are intended to provide just a specific function or service. The second, third, and fourth articles in the series. 
- With the Eee PC T91 and T101H models ASUS is adding touchscreen and swivel into tablet configuration abilities to their netbook collection. A marketing video of this is available here. Engadget reviews one here, at $499 it is really quite cheap for a tablet PC - and it can be a real netbook as well. Engadget reviews, but does not really like, the Eee PC T101MT.
- Pretec has taken the CompactFlash physical form factor and given it a SATA interface to allow for much faster flash storage. What would be really neat would be to have a SATA interface at one end of the card and the old CF IDE interface at the other end, then you could use the same card in old and new devices. 
- The KanaMicro digital audio player is packaged like a USB thumb drive, you really can't get an MP3 player much smaller than this.  
- Elgato's Turbo.264 HD is a video conversion accelerator housed in a USB stick. This is a MAC product. From the product sheet it is hard to say if it would still work (at increased speed) for transcoding between MPEG2 and H.264 without dropping the resolution. Given that it's power consumption is quite small (less than 2.5W for USB power) it is hard to believe that this really would out perform a fast desktop CPU. 
- Could the Python import mechanism be broken beyond repair? I can't say I have really had to struggle with it to the extent this article describes, so I'm probably in the large group who find it does the right thing most of the time and in the rare cases it causes problems some thought (and perhaps recoding) is enough to avoid the issue. Still, I would not argue against a better design where even the edge cases work easily. 
- The PeaPod is a neighborhood electric vehicle with about a 30 mile range, a short video clip of it is here and a photo gallery is here. They are talking about a $12K price for this which might produce a lot of demand as most of the other electric car solutions are much more expensive currently. While some might call this a golf-cart, it really shows a lot of thought about providing a fresh solution to short-trip driving (which is what the majority of miles probably are). Some of the steps they have taken to reducing weight (and increasing usable space) like the "thin seats" are quite clever and very appropriate. I'm not thrilled about the massive sunroof though, that's going to get quite hot in the summer - to the point of needing air conditioning. 
- Do expensive running shoes actually help, or are they causing injury by modifying the way we run? Discussed further by many sedentary geeks here. Maybe something like the FiveFingers (should really be the FiveToes) from Vibram is what one should use? A paper published in 2001 looks at Barefoot Running. Wired kicks up on the barefoot running thing, the Vibram FiveFingers while looking like something that could cause a lot of blisters on the heel, are quite nice, but don't try to do more than a half a kilometer in them for your first couple of sessions (you'll get sore Achilles tendons on the following days if you do). 
- Some reviews and sample footage from the Canon VIXIA HF200 (a HiDef 1080i/p capable camcorder with SDHC flash card storage).
, this got down converted to SD. Probably about 300W of incandescent to illuminate a kitchen and dining area.
- Day and night, this was shot with the HF20 (which is the same thing as the HF200, except with some built-in flash storage), the day time shots are in a cactus garden, so there is a lot of sharp detail visible. It also gives you some idea of the depth of field on closeups. The night time views were probably shot during and after sunset. So provide a range of lighting levels. There also appears to be some use of the built-in video light to illuminate a child in the foreground of some of the shots.
- A discussion on low light performance on the AVForums.
- A positive review from infoSync. This one likes the low light performance:
Not only were video clips sharp and highly detailed, but noise levels were also minimal across the board, even in low light. In fact, there were some instances where we preferred the Vixia HF20's low light performances to the formidable Canon Vixia HF S10's.
and provides a few still samples of the low light performance.
- Camcorderinfo.com's review finds low light performance to be poor. It appears that the previous model (HF11) had a larger sensor and could reach 50 IRE in about 1/2 the illumination of the HF20.
- Buffalo has made a 16GB flash drive in the super-small 5mm format that has been showing up recently in the Bluetooth module market. Talk about easy-to-loose drives! 
- The SpinVox voice message to text conversion system is often done by real humans. Imagine... Of course, they should really just request a copy of the NSA's transcripts on your behalf to really cut their costs. 
- The 4GB limit to memory on 32bit Windows Vista (and XP and 2000) may really be a licensing issue. 
- Protective wrappers for your tech toys, do you really need them? This article about the use of non-Newtonian goo in a product called iBand, while I don't believe that the small amount of material they are using in the iBand could really do much to protect something, the test video they have of an iTouch being thrown against a wall and dropped about 10 feet onto gravel is pretty impressive. The skeptic would suggest they just stopped the video and switched the shattered device with a good one... Still, if you can get your friend to demo it to you. Some more info on the d30 orange goo. 
- Researchers are playing with Lego to learn how arrays of nanoscopic objects could be used to sort cells. Or so they claim, really its all about accumulating a massive pile of Lego blocks in the rare colours. I just wish I had tought about using Lego in my thesis.  
- New pictures from the Hubble after its 2009 repairs. Some really amazing sights! 
- Google is looking at providing a micro payments system. What they really need to do is to support payments of less than a cent. Journalism Lab takes a look at the micropayments issue. 
- Gyroscopes are showing up everywhere, now you can replace the training wheels on a kid's bike with a special front wheel that contains a gyroscope. Well its pretty simple really, its just a wheel with another wheel inside of it (covered for safety) that is kept constantly spinning by an electric motor. All it really does is to replicate the normal gyro stabilization that bicycle wheels produce once they are turning quickly enough, but it does so at a low road speed allowing the novice rider to stay upright more easily at low speeds when they are learning to ride. Heck, the Steam Punks could build one of these with a clock work, coil spring driven, mechanism and you'd use a big brass key to wind it up before each use. Now that would be awesome! 
- The limitations of computer math, though in some systems (like that of the Patriot missile control system) it is more limited than it should be. The cited error in time calculations of 0.34 seconds (which lead to an error in position of almost 700m) strikes me as a bit odd given that the time was being stored with a 0.1 second resolution. Normally when one is storing times in a computer system those times are obtained from a higher precision hardware timer circuit which might work to milli-second or even micro-second accuracy and only when the time is sampled by the computer is it rounded down to the 0.1 second resolution. If this is done, then each time stamp is accurate to +/-0.05 seconds and the difference between any two such sampled times has a maximum absolute error of 0.1 seconds (but a typical error of less than that). Now given a 0.1 second error the position should really have been accurate to within about 200m - the next question would be is that accurate enough? 
- If you really want a portable electric mobility device (EMD) then perhaps an battery-powered skateboard would be you thing? 
- The Top Gear team from the U.K. takes a home-made electric car for a test drive. Certainly a project worthy of a win in Junkyard Wars!  
- Small explosions are being used to generate shock waves to stun people at a distance of up to 100m. Really sounds like the same idea as a stun grenade, and these are also capable of killing at close distances. 
- The Trexa EV development platform is a complete chassis, drive train and suspension system for building electric vehicles on. Now if this sort of thing got adopted by a few manufacturers and picked up by the kit car market, things could get really interesting, fast! 
- There are now about 120 million electric bicycles in China. This is a market that is really taking off. 
- Skewworks is making an operating system for the Arduino that can provide a GUI interface. Not really that amazing since the Arduino processor is probably way faster than the old 6502. 
- Some thoughts on why hiring good programmers can be difficult - perhaps it is because most applications you will have to sort through really cannot program. I think the suggested approach of looking for evidence that they program out side of the office is a good short cut. 
- YouTube versus Viacom copyright fun that'll take the courts some time to figure out who really did what to whom and for how long. Guess Google is just going to have to buy up all the copyright holders to settle this. 
- 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.
- 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.
- While not really what one would normally call a distro, one can actually boot webOS on a PC. 
- Some thoughts on getting an optimizing compiler to really optimize your code. 
- In the 300 DPI print myth the author examines a the same source image resized down to a number of resolutions to see what printing resolution is really necessary. The conclusion is that anything over 200 DPI is not necessary and above 150 DPI is all you need to use to fool the naked eye. With this in mind an 8M pixel camera should be able to produce a 16x24" print at about 150 DPI resolution that will look quite good, I have printed 8M pixel images from my Minolta A2 on a 13x19" Canon printer and I don't see any obvious artifacts. 
- In the age of the GUI Google is now offering a command line interface (Google CL) for Linux users. This will also work on Windows installations (for those that have Python installed) and here are some useful examples of what you can do with this.