The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for the 'Rants and Raves' Category

Really Digging the Lenovo X300

Posted by Deliverator on 14th December 2009

I was at a Cameras West in Bellevue searching in vain for the cable accessory kit for a Canon D10 when I spotted a real steal of a deal sitting unnoticed on a high shelf behind the counter hiding amongst a crop of netbooks, a new in box Lenovo Thinkpad X300 for a mere $800. This laptop was selling for ~$3000 a year and a half ago. While this notebook has been replaced in the lineup by the moderately updated X301, the X300 is still one of the best constructed, no compromise ultra-portables around. The specs of my unit are as follows:

-Core 2 Duo L7100 at 1.2 GHZ
-2 GB DDR2-667
-60 GB 1.8″ Samsung SSD
-1440×900 13.3″ display
-DVD Burner
-Wifi, Bluetooth
-3x USB ports, VGA, Gig Ethernet
-3 cell battery

My unit came with XP Pro installed, which I promptly ditched for Windows 7 64bit. Lenovo has official drivers for Windows 7 on the X300 and their complete gamut of system utilities available for download from their website, but most of the hardware is supported out of the box or via a quick Windows Update, so most of the Lenovo downloads are unnecessary. I also upgraded the ram to 4 GB, which only required the addition of a single SO-DIMM. The two ram slots are behind a thoughtfully provided access door which makes upgrading a breeze. The two ram slots make it possible to upgrade to as much as 8 GB, although 4 GB modules are currently hideously expensive. Two of them will cost you about $370!

What I likes:
-Heavy duty Thinkpad “brick” construction, yet only 3 pounds. This includes things such as rigid internal metal frame, keyboard spill tray/drain holes, metal block hinges, latching screen, etc. This thing just oozes quality construction that few other laptop makers even come close to matching.
-The typically brilliant full sized Thinkpad keyboard we have all come to know and love.
-This thing has both a track stick and a trackpad. Some of Lenovo’s newer, cheaper ultraportables only have the trackstick.
-The Thinklight on the X300 does a much better job of illuminating the keyboard than the one found on my Thinkpad Z61m.
-Did I mention this thing is only three pounds?!?!
-The USB ports are separated from each other by enough space to plug in bulky adapters without blocking anything, something overlooked in a lot of laptop designs.
-The fingerprint reader does a much better and quicker job of reading my fingerprints and logging me in than the one on my Z61m
-The system feels very snappy in all the tasks I have thrown at it. I’ve read a few reviews that have balked at the mere 1.2 GHZ, but this 1.2 GHZ Core 2 feels a lot snappier than the 1.8 GHZ Core Duo in my Z61m. For the type of tasks I do on the run, the processing power in this machine more than satisfies me. I have my Core i7 desktop at home for games, etc…
-The SSD in this machine provides faster transfer rates and lower seek times than any conventional laptop HDD I’ve used. I will probably replace it with a Lenovo X18-m or similar TRIM supporting SSD once they get cheaper, which will make this system even snappier.
-From the ever so slightly rubberized feel of the casing to the silky feel of the keys, this machine just begs to be touched. Thinkpad’s black on black color scheme might get lost in all the flashy neon and metal trim you see on other laptops these days, but for me it is understate, classic minimalism at its best. This is one sexy beast imo.
-The relatively full complement of ports and optical drive mean this is one ultra-light you can actually do meaningful work on.
-The screen is pretty much the perfect resolution for the size and has a beautiful LED backlight. Way brighter and nicer looking the my Z61m.
-I can use it in my laptop and there are barely any warm, much less hot spots.
-The keyboard is absolutely rigid. I can type on it at speed with no slop whatsoever.

Not so much:
-The X300 doesn’t have the now standard x-in-1 media reader, which is disappointing as I intend to use this for culling photos on trips. It also doesn’t have an ExpressCard slot, so I can’t add a card reader or much of anything else by anything other than USB. I’m considering switching to micro-SDHC in my cameras and carrying one of those so-tiny-they-are-barely-there readers on my keychain, so that I don’t have one more easily lost adapter/cable/widget in my daily carry bag.
-The 3 cell battery that the unit came with only gives 2-3 hours of useful work. I will definitely be picking up the 6 cell battery and possibly the 3 cell bay battery which can be easily swapped with the DVD drive to give me a closer to a full workday’s use without needing to plug in. This is really a necessity for me as I am often times bouncing around town seeing clients with little to no opportunity to plug in for any length of time, save for the possibility of recharging in my car.

I really love the X300 and hope I get as many years of active use from it as from my Z61M, which is still chugging along in Thinkpad style despite all my abuse.

Addendum:

I have since picked up the 6 cell extended length battery and 3 cell “bay” battery which replaces the optical drive. In doing so, I encountered the first of what I consider real faults in the X300 design.

Swapping the optical drive for the bay battery is fairly easy, but not convenient in the field. Unlike the “Ultrabay” system found on most Thinkpads, swapping in/out the optical drive/battery requires the removal of a screw. The optical drive is itself quite fragile and really needs a hard shell case of its own if you plan on carrying it with you in a bag. I feel like a hard plastic carrying case to hold the battery/optical drive and tiny screwdriver should have been included in the price of the battery.

Additionally, the X300 drains power from the bay battery first instead of from the main battery. In my opinion, the bay battery should have been the “reserve” battery, as it is not hot swappable. If the drain order had been reverse, one could drain the main battery and still be able to swap in a charged one without needing to stop working, shut down the computer, swap the battery and reboot. If you are a long haul air traveler, you get the importance of this feature.

Posted in Portable Computing/Gadgets, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff, Windows | No Comments »

Nokia N900 – To Buy Or Not To Buy

Posted by Deliverator on 25th September 2009

Ive owned all three Nokia Internet Tablets (Nokia 770, N800 and N810) and all three have been part of my “everyday carry.” Each upgrade decision has not been easy for me. Some design changes between models were extremely offputting for me. For instance, I really liked the extremely tactile, discrete buttons on the 770, which made it easily the best ebook reader of the bunch and the metal screen cover which made me feel at ease when jamming it in a pocket full of keys, coins and god knows what else. Still, each new generation has, imo, at the time of its release, offered the best pocketable “full fledged” Internet experience of any device on the market.

As soon as this week, Nokia is releasing their new N900 device to the US market and I am finding myself more reluctant to buy than on any previous release. Here are some of the main reasons why:

Failure to create an attractive developer ecosystem

– The N900 will come in at more than $620 after taxes/shipping to my location in the US. There is no carrier subsidy option for US consumers. Making the device this expensive instantly relegates it to a niche, “premium user” market category, which instantly makes it less attractive to commercial application developers. Smartphones like the Iphone 3g and various Android handsets all have robust app marketplaces in part because they are getting the devices into the hands of users through lower price points and are making more of their profits on the back end. Even relative latecomers like the Palm Pre are seeing app marketplace growth. Pricing is key to attracting developers.

– Nokia has announced that future versions of the Maemo OS will be based around a different graphical framework than is currently used (QT vs GTK+) which, given previous release cycles, only gives commercial developers about a year’s time to profitably exploit the current platform. Nokia has not even committed to releasing future Maemo OS versions for the N900 and has a poor trackrecord of supporting previous NIT devices post sale. This provides a further disincentive to both the consumer to make an initial purchase and for developers to target the platform.

Too many conflicting design imperatives to make this either a good phone or a good internet tablet-

-Nokia has done away with the 4.1 inch 800*480 screens of the previous NITs and is trying to cram the same resolution into a screen which is only 3.5.” This resolution was already highly squint inducing on the previous devices. Although a device mounted stylus is thankfully included, almost all Maemo UI elements have been significantly enlarged to be more finger friendly. All this ultimately means less useful information displayed on screen and in an increasingly smaller space. At the same time, there are now a fair number of pocket-able, competing devices which carry 1024*600 resolution screens in a similar size to the original NITs.

-The D-Pad has been done away with entirely and the keyboard is now a three row variety placing many commonly used keys on second functions or pop up symbol menus. The spacebar is shrunken and extremely awkwardly placed to the far right of the keypad. There are many better keyboards available on competing devices.

-The innovative full width  integral kickstand of the N800 and N810 has been done away with and replaced by an off center one under the camera which likely won’t work at all on non-rigid surfaces and offers extremely poor viewing angle options for watching video (which seems to me one of the better selling points of the N900)

-Almost all the applications on the device can only be used in landscape mode, which pretty much necessitates two handed use for most common functions. This will make using the device as a phone extremely awkward imo.

-The browser only supports flash 9.4. While this is better than almost any other phone, it isn’t current. I have lost confidence in Nokia releasing significant updates to Maemo devices post sale, particularly when it comes to proprietary, licensed components. I don’t feel like when I purchase a Nokia devices I am going to get a meaningful, up to date, web experience for years to come.

-The N900 does not support MMS. The Iphone has been HEAVILY criticized for this and to not differentiate on this point is just stupid imo.

Misc Hardware Criticisms

– The N900 has only an internal micro-SDHC slot for expansion. While it has 32 GB of built in storage and it shows up as a USB mass storage device, I have found transfer rates via this mode to be soo slow that I’ve found it far more efficient to pop out the memory card and use a USB reader to transfer music, movies, etc. The N800 really had the ideal situation, with not one but TWO SDHC card slots. This made the N800 supremely useful as a portable device with which to work with photos from a REAL camera.

-The USB port on the N900 can be used for charging (yay!) but uses a crappy micro-usb connector. It sounds like the N900 has even less support for using the USB port in host-mode. Previous Nokia devices were fairly popular among the linux/custom hardware crowd due to it being one of the smallest Linux devices you could meaningfully hook up to a variety of USB devices.

I don’t mind the N900 being a phone. I would LOVE to move from my current N95+N810 two pocket solution to just one. I just think the N900 compromises too many of the Internet Tablet aspects of the equation in order to do so. I would like to see a device similar in size or even a little bigger than the current N810 with both phone and tablet functionality, a better range of tactile buttons, a full size hostmode USB port and an externally accessible “press to eject” SDHC card slot. From what I can see, moving in that direction would appeal to the vast majority of current NIT users (read purchasers) and I just don’t think the direction they are heading will create broad appeal in new market segments anyways.

Posted in Linux, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

The Last Hard Drive I Will Ever Buy?

Posted by Deliverator on 23rd September 2009

I needed to free up a fair sized hard drive to donate to Minimus and simultaneously had pretty much filled up my main content storage drive on my main desktop PC, so I went to Frys and picked up a Seagate 2 Terabyte drive and proceeded to spend a few days copying data back and forth between my main desktop’s many hard drives in order to free up a 500 GB drive. This is a process I have done MANY times over the years. I still have some data from the first hard disk my family owned, which held a whopping 80 MB (that’s megabytes folks). While doing all this, I realized I had a pretty good cross section of drives manufactured in the last 5 years in my personal possession and couldn’t resist doing some quick benchmarking. I’ve posted a gallery full of the results here and thought I would make a few quick comments on notable trends.

One of the results which is immediately apparent after viewing the results is that as drive capacities have gone up, sequential read speeds have gone up as well. This makes sense, as greater bit density on the platters means that more data passes under the read/write heads for a given unit of arc.

At the same time, random access times have gotten progressively worse.  Using a lower level drive utility like Spinrite on today’s ultra high capacity drives immediately reveals the reason for this trend – today’s drives are having an ever greater problem with seeking to the correct location over the platter in a reasonable amount of time. Spinrite shows a constant barrage of head seeking errors and reliance on error correcting code even with its extremely sequential access patterns. 12 milliseconds used to be a fairly typical random access time on a 7200 RPM hard drive. This has now gone up to more like 15 milliseconds on high density platter drives. My new 2 TB drive actually spins at a mere 5900 RPM, likely because head seeking errors were too high at 7200 RPM. This has lead to the extremely weird precedent of slowing down a drive to increase real world performance.

Real world performance is heavily dictated by random i/o patterns (particularly on fragmented hard drives).  This has created a niche market for lower capacity drives with high spindle speed and low random seek times, such as the Western Digital Raptor (now Velociraptor) line of drives. An older 74 GB model of which can be seen on the results page. This drive easily bests all the other conventional hard drives I’ve tested in terms of random access times (8 ms)  and I can attest to the fact that it basically never needs to re-seek. So, for years now performance enthusiasts have mixed and matched drives in their systems, using drives like those in the WD Raptor line for their main OS and program storage and using huge , poor performing drives for bulk storage of content such as movies, music and photos.

All this discussion is basically moot, as the one solid state disk I tested easily blows every hard disk I’ve ever used away in terms of performance. The OCZ Agility 64 GB SSD, which isn’t a particularly high end SSD, delivered sequential transfer rates 50-100% better than any conventional hard drive tested and random access times soo low I am not sure the benchmark tool even properly measured them (.1 ms). The effect this low random access time has on real world app performance is huge. We are talking Windows cold boot times measured in seconds here.

The vast majority of PC users I’ve encountered in my consulting tend to have under 30 GB of data. For these users, I see no reason for them to ever use a conventional hard disk ever again. Conventional hard disks, in my mind, should today be relegated to bulk storage and backup purposes only and by the time my giant 2 TB hdd fills up, I expect there to be equivalent size SSD equivalents available. It may very well be the last hard disk I ever buy and all I can say is ABOUT TIME.

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When Presentation is Everything – Coraline Needs 3D!

Posted by Deliverator on 27th May 2009

I recently learned that Coraline was going to be released this month and I hoped for a true 3d release. Unfortunately, the only announced options were either conventional 2d or Anaglyphic 3D (those cheesy red/blue glasses that moviegoers rightfully consigned to history’s trash heap back in the 1950’s). I saw Coraline in 3D in a theater using the excellent RealD 3D projection system. I felt the presentation really added something to the experience and can’t imagine watching Coraline in anything other than true 3d. It may be a while till such an excellent 3d system as RealD becomes practical for home users with budgets less than several hundred thousand dollars, but there are plenty of excellent 3d home theater options available for under 5 grand.

Here is a listing of 3d projector options at stereo3d.com. The DepthQ series of projectors from Infocus for instance supports high framerates and can be found for as little as $2300 and uses commonly available active LCD shutter glasses to achieve its effect.

Samsung has a line of DLP based 3D capable HDTV sets that all support 3D via shutter glasses starting at as little as $1000.

There are numerous 3D LCD monitors (some even sold through big box retailers like Frys) capable of displaying true 3d video, some without even needing glasses.

I have a Headplay Personal Cinema Display, which is available for around $400, and can display 3d content from several different input sources.

In short, the technology for quality home 3d viewing is out there and available at modest cost. There are a ton of 3d movies coming out this year in theaters including Pixar’s UP and James Cameron’s much anticipated Avatar. 3D has already shown it can help make movies on the front end without increasing production costs greatly, but movies have lately made a large percentage of their revenues on the post theater DVD market and I doubt nearly as many people will want to purchase watered down 2d version of movies they first saw in 3d. While not a lot of home theaters are currently 3d equipped, the cost to do so is fairly minimal and the additional costs of releasing a frame sequential 3d DVD alongside the 2d and Anaglyphic releases are likely minimal as well. It costs the studios little to grow the market by releasing frame sequential titles and the only way they are ever going to solve this chicken and the egg problem is by doing so.

Posted in General, Media, Movies, Photography, Rants and Raves, Windows CE | No Comments »

Extreme Disappointment Regarding Nokia N900

Posted by Deliverator on 26th May 2009

Let me state first off that I’ve owned and been an active, everyday user of all three of Nokia’s Maemo-based Internet Tablets (Nokia 770, N800 and N810). A couple days ago, Mobilecrunch.com released substantial amounts of leaked info on the next generation Nokia N900. The basic information provided has since been verified by sources associated with Nokia on the Internet Tablet Talk forums who have proven spot on accurate through several past product release cycles.

MobileCrunch wouldn’t release photos it had of the device due to apparent watermarking, but asserted the following image as an accurate representation of the device.


Is this the Nokia N900???

CELLPASSION on the other hand had no compunction about releasing a photo of what it claims is the N900. The photo is low resolution, but basically matches MobileCrunch’s depiction.

Is this the Nokia N900?

The biggest shocker about the N900 is that it will in fact be a phone. Previous internet tablets had bluetooth connectivity for data connectivity through a phone and several VOIP platforms were supported officially and through 3rd party installable software, but this will be the first Nokia Internet Tablet with direct cellular connectivity. The device supports quad band GSM and 3 band 3g data. T-mobile was mentioned as a release partner and it is quite possible that this device will be provider locked and possibly subsidized, at least initially. If this device is truly T-mobile only and not independently purchasable unsubsidized and unlocked I will be extremely disappointed. I’ve purchased several Nokia phones due to them being one of the few sellers of high quality unlocked, carrier scourge free GSM phones.

The good:

-OMAP3430 500/600 Mhz processor will be amongst the fastest on market. The Palm Pre is the only other phone I know of at the moment using this fast of a processor.
-5 megapixel camera with dual LED flash and sliding lens cover. Can capture high resolution video and save in h.264 format.
-built in GPS and accelerometer. The GPS built into the n810 and N95 were absolutely terrible, with extremely long lock times and poor reception. Hopefully Nokia has learned from this and included a decent chipset from MTK or Sirf and the GPS isn’t just thrown in to fulfill another marketing bullet point.
-32 GB of flash with room for even more expansion via micro-sdhc
-256 MB of ram (up from 128 MB in the N810) with ability to set up to a 768 MB page file (up from 256 MB on N810). I had hoped for a little more headroom, especially since a lot of the added frameworks in Maemo 5 are going to eat up some of this working memory.
-This will be the first Linux based phone from a major manufacturer with nearly the full compliment of Linux libraries and frameworks built in. Maemo is now on its 5th major revision and is a mature, stable platform. With a huge complement of open source apps available plus the newly announced Ovi app store, this could be the best (for the consumer) combination of both open and commercial application development. The closed “apple knows best” nature of the Iphone and the crappy hardware thus far released for the android platform have made both unattractive to me. Finally a decent alternative.

The bad:

-The n810 had a 4.1″ 800*480 screen which was already at the limits of my squint abilities. With the N900, Nokia is making the screen .6″ smaller while keeping the resolution the same. While this makes the device a little more pocketable, it make it much less useable.
-Nokia has done away with the 4 way D-Pad entirely, several other hard buttons and apparently the stylus as well (although the last is somewhat uncertain at this point). The Maemo 5 interface has gone off the deep end towards oversized buttons, fonts and other UI elements. It is obvious that they want you to use your big fat greesy fingers for everything. I absolutely hate this for a wide variety of reasons. The ability to interact with programs in a variety of ways was a big selling point of the Maemo UI and device controls in previous versions. From what I have seen of Maemo 5, I am VERY doubtful that Nokia is going to be able to implement as fluid a user experience as the iPhone with an exclusively finger oriented Maemo UI. Nokia is doing a really good job of eliminating their strong points and trying to fight the iPhone on its own turf.
-Nokia has replaced the 4 row keyboard of the N810 with an inferior 3 row one which places a lot of common characters on second functions. I am seeing MASSIVE numbers of negative comments on this one. WTF were they thinking?
-No mention of Bluetooth functionality at all. Previous Nokia tablets could tether with a phone for connectivity, use of Bluetooth keyboards, headsets, etc. Have they eliminated this functionality in their phone inclusive tablet because with Linux as the basis it would be too easy to write a bluetooth tethering application to share out the device’s data plan?
-The N900 is reported to be somewhere in the vicinity of 185 grams. This is substantially heavier than either the Palm Pre or Iphone 3g which weigh in at ~130 grams or even the G1 Android phone which weighs in at ~160g. For all that weight, extra radios and processing power, the N900 has a fairly low battery capacity of ~1300mah. The G1 garnered a LOT of complaints about its poor battery life and I can’t imagine a similar debacle would be good for Nokia’s reputation or the future of such a device.
-A lot of similarities between this device and the N97 which is being released in a couple of weeks in the US. Having two such similar devices is likely going to undercut the market for both.

I really want a Maemo Linux based phone to succeed in the market, but find a lot of the design decisions apparent in the N900 to be actively repulsive. I can’t see this device being nearly as useful to me throughout the day as my current two pocket solution. The compromises in overall functionality of the N900 vs a two pocket solution are just too much. I know without needing to even set my paws on the device that the smaller screen size, bad keyboard, button and UI decisions are just too much of a deal breaker for me. Even in this economy, I would have gladly up-ended my wallet for a straight forward refresh of the N810 with more ram, storage, faster processor and integrated (carrier agnostic) cellular functions, but as it is, I just can’t see this device as proposed fitting into how I want to live my life.

I went ahead and ordered a new Mugen extended life N810 battery. I’ll try and get a few more years of use out of my N810 and if Nokia hasn’t impressed me by then, I will probably move to something like the Viliv S5 for my mobile internet needs.

Posted in General, Linux, Operating Systems, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Terminator Salvation Suckage – Let Me Count The Ways

Posted by Deliverator on 22nd May 2009

I wish I could travel back in time like Kyle Reese, cause then I could travel back in time to 4 hours ago and prevent myself from paying $10 to see this dreck. I thought the series couldn’t get much worse after Terminator 3, but of course I was wrong.

Wrongness:

– Bryce Dallas Howard looked far too “made up” in virtually every scene. I’m sure battlefield doctors in the post apocalyptic wasteland of the future have a lot of time to arrange their hair, tweeze their eyebrows and apply lots of makeup. Even Moon Bloodgood, whose look in the film was comparatively natural looked far too fresh faced.

-Apparently, 40 foot tall robots that shake the earth with every step can none-the-less sneak up on a 7-11 gas station in the middle of nowhere without being seen or making a sound.

-Did we really need the 40 foot tall transforminator (as it has already been branded online) in the first place? Shoots motorcycles? Come on! I’ll take the slow unstoppable rumble of the skull crushing treads of the hunter killer tanks from the first movie to this transformer wannabee anyday.

– Really obvious product placement (i.e. long camera cuts of 7-11 gas station making sure the logo is nicely framed and focused). Oh, surprise of surprises Chrysler proves itself fiscally and morally bankrupt after using taxpayer money to do in movie advertising.

– Pointless, overblown chase scenes

– Moon Bloodgood’s character very gratuitously bares her torso to inspect a wound. She later snuggles up close to Marcus, but its okay as she is just doing it to “share his body heat.”

– Moon Bloodgood’s character lights a big bonfire yet Kyle Reese previously warned against going out at night as the hunter-seeker vehicles see in infra-red and humans are easily seen and make for easy prey at night.

– Excruciatingly bad dialog throughout such as when the Marcus character tells his passengers to “hold on” and then follows that up with another “hold on” as his next witty line. John Connor makes a bunch of speeches over the radio whose sole point seems to be to provide clip material for the trailer.

– Apparently Skynet, which operates a large array of giant radio dishes and communicates worldwide via radio with its robot minions just hasn’t been able to seem to find John Connors oh so secret large, obvious resistance airbase (from which he broadcasts his inspirational message via AM/FM radio) or a resistance submarine which coordinates the resistance via radio. Yet at the end of the film, Skynet blows the submarine out of the water by homing in on a radio signal.

– Skynet’s defenses have thus far proven impenetrable, and they even point that out a bunch of times in different ways, but a bunch of Vietnam era helicopters are able to swoop in at the end of the movie and rescue everyone.

– Skynet’s legion of radio controlled robots apparently need Apple-ish white computer displays and tactile interfaces to interact with door mechanisms and the like. John Connor can hack the weakly godlike entity that is skynet by plugging in one of his several EMP proof Sony computers (yet more product placement) and type the word “overide”

– Marcus has a chip in the back of his head to control him, but is able to casually reach in and grab it in full view of Skynet without Skynet even attempting to invoke it. Said chip is apparently external to his metal skull, but interfaced deeply into his nervous system. Seems an obvious design defect to me. Ripping it out doesn’t seem to leave Marcus any the worse for wear.

– Just how many times can John Connor be thrown into metal industrial equipment (leaving dents) and over railings by the unsurprising cameo CG reincarnation of Arnold without dying? How many ribs can a human being break? Part of the scariness of the Terminators was that they were chromed death. If they managed to catch up to you and get a hand on you, you were dead, period. John Connor going 10 rounds with one of the things just saps all the scariness out of the things.

– How many times can JC survive a helicopter crash in one movie? I lost count.

– Lots and lots of other wrongness. Too much for me to express. I’m going to go puke now.

I sure hope Terminator Salvation proves to be forgettable with time. If it is remembered for nothing else, it at least brought us the now infamous Christian Bale Rant.

Posted in Media, Movies, Rants and Raves | No Comments »

Compelling Hardware, Crappy Service

Posted by Deliverator on 20th May 2009

After 2 years and a couple hundred accidental falls to the floor, my Nokia 95 is on its last legs. It has been remarkably resistant to my abuse, but a recent fall killed the volume buttons. This hasn’t been a huge issue, as I use OggPlay for music playback and it controls volume via the 4 way hat, and in most other applications and during phone calls I can adjust the volume with my Jabra BT3030 headset. Unfortunately, another fall also seems to have caused damage to the power receptacle and the phone frequently locks up when I insert the charging adapter. Yet another fall broke a locking tab off the battery door and now the door is prone to falling open and spilling the battery out. My extended length Mugen battery now has a tiny dent in its side. Given the tendency for Lithium-Ion batteries to explode when damaged and the totality of other issues, I think it is high time for a new phone.

Some thoughts on possible replacements:

Palm Pre: There is a lot to like about the phone, but I am not big of CDMA devices (or rather Sprint’s increasingly abhorrent service plans) and the lack of a memory expansion slot is a deal breaker for me.

Iphone 3g: A lot of my original criticisms still hold for the second generation Iphone. ATT’s 3g service has oft been noted for being spotty in coverage and easily overwhelmed. There have been frequent complaints of hoards of Iphone users at conventions and other concentration points basically overwhelming ATT’s network. My biggest issue with the Iphone is its extremely closed nature and Apple frequently exercising its control over what applications can be used on the device and micromanagement of application features. The recent launch of the Slingplayer client without 3g support is one recent example. The inability to run applications as background tasks is a major deal breaker as well.

Nokia N97: Extremely high resolution screen, tons of memory built in plus micro SDHC slot, 5 megapixel camera, slideout qwerty keyboard and worldwide GSM support. Downsides = WOULD COST A FREAKING FORTUNE – $600-700! Nokia’s firmware support on US model phones has been extremely lacking compared to EU models. The US has simply not been a major consideration for Nokia.

Android Phone: I really like Google’s Android platform. It is much more open than Apple’s ecosystem. Unfortunately not many handsets are available yet and the ones that are cheap plastic PoS. I’ve had a fair amount of hands on time with the t-mobile G1 and did not come away impressed. It might pay to wait for a higher quality Android handset to be released.

Use my Nokia N810 Internet Tablet and VOIP: I would need to keep my Cradlepoint cellular to wifi router running all day for this to work, which would require a large external battery pack. My N810 also isn’t making it through the day on its end of life original battery. I could pick up a Mugen extended life battery for my N810. With an extended battery on the Cradlepoint and N810, this would be workable, but it would be two large jacket pocket solution to be sure. Novatel is making a much smaller wifi to EVDO router called the MiFI which will soon be available on both Sprint and Verizon. My guess is the firmware on these provider locked MiFi devices will be significantly inferior to the excellent provider neutral Cradlepoint firmware and the battery only lasts ~4 hours. The MiFi is impressively small and I can see a lot of people liking it for that fact alone. Unfortunately, the data plans on which it is available are more abhorrent than usual. Not only do these things have the typical crappy 5 GB cap, but they have now instituted a ridiculous 5 cents per MB overage charge. That is $51.2/GB which can add up quite quickly. I am sure they are quite proactive at notifying you when you approach that limit, too. Fall asleep with Slingplayer running and wake up to a $1000 phone bill. Sprint in particular seems to be offering less and less value with every passing year. Coupling exceedingly low GB caps with extortionate overage charges might net Sprint a one time cash hijacking, but will likely result in the loss of a customer to say nothing of the opportunity cost of the customer that won’t sign up in the first place. There are more than a few reasons why Sprint is hemorrhaging customers at rate that is measured in millions/year at a time where virtually all the other major players are increasing their customer base, but poor data plan terms, extremely poor customer service and limited handset selection are certainly high on the list.

I think there could be a huge upside to one of the major carriers overbuilding their networks for a change and actually offering superior service and fair terms of use instead of trying to back their customers into a corner and mugging them.

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Keeping the public informed on Swine Flu

Posted by Deliverator on 8th May 2009

King County has a website to help the public track the spread of the swine flu virus in the county and provide prevention and care information. Unfortunately, it appears that someone editing the webpage transposed some recent figures in a way which downplays the number of cases in the county. I’ve seen the daily numbers cited in secondary media, so listing the proper numbers is important. Here is the message I sent them:

As of 8:22pm on May 8th your Swine Flu information page at:
http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/preparedness/pandemicflu/swineflu.aspx

lists 10 cases as confirmed and 56 probable. This appears to be the inverse of your detailed report at:

http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/preparedness/pandemicflu/%7e/media/health/publichealth/documents/pandemicflu/H1N1Cases090508.ashx

which reports 56 confirmed and 10 probable. The later seems to be the correct number based on the rising number of test confirmed cases listed on your page on prior days.

Posted in Rants and Raves | No Comments »

Evercase E0528i Small Form Factor Case

Posted by Deliverator on 6th May 2009

I shifted my Mini-ITX Intel D945GCLF2 Dual Core Atmo 333 motherboard into a new case yesterday. I’ve had a hard time finding a small form factor case for this board, as a lot of such cases have inadequate power supplies for the task. I made note of this in a prior post. The smallest case I could previously find locally to work with this dual core board was easily twice as large as the Travla C138 case which I had used with a succession of Via Mini-ITX boards. I like to keep the core of my workstation area at hands reach for the sake of efficiency and simultaneously keep as much bench space free of clutter as a workspace for projects. Having an overly large case for this secondary desktop was failing on both fronts.

I was in Computerstop yesterday and they now stock a tiny Mini-ITX case for $67 with a power supply which will power this board. Impressively, the power supply is sufficient to power a middle of the range Core 2. The case is made by a company called Evercase and is similar to model #e0258i. The case is similar in volume to the lilliputian Travla C138 although somewhat squatter with a larger footprint. I actually prefer this, as it provides enough of a footprint to place my LCD stand on top of it. The case comes with 4 front panel USB connectors and an audio panel. Like the Travla, you have to use a laptop optical drive and 2.5″ hard drive. My only problem with this case is that the faceplate is a bit tight around the optical drive bezel and wasn’t letting it open without assistance. I trimmed a little bit of plastic off the optical drive’s tray bezel using a file, but am still having trouble getting it to open reliably under its own power. I will try trimming a little more off to see if that provides adequate clearance. If you are building out a system around this case, I would recommend purchasing a slot loading optical drive to avoid this problem.

Posted in General, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Alphagrip AG-5

Posted by Deliverator on 23rd April 2009

I recently went searching for a handheld, touch-typeable input device for a wearable computer project, but came up pretty dry. Long standing favorites of the wearable community like the Twiddler 2 chording keyboard from Handkey are no longer being manufactured and are next to impossible to find through after-market channels like eBay. I found no single-handed device which combined both keying and pointing, but I did find a two handed one called the Alphagrip AG-5.

The AG-5 is shaped like a game controller and has discrete keys for all letters and a few of the most common punctuation marks, with less often used symbols as second functions. It also has a variable speed trackball. Sadly, there is no scroll-wheel and middle click is somewhat awkward to activate.

I’ve been practicing touch-typing using this typing tutor, which has a module for the alphagrip. I am not typing very fast yet, but I am touch typing with pretty high accuracy. I am slowly developing muscle memory and will hopefully be able to type much faster in the future. I’ve seen video of people typing at 40-60 wpm.

I really like the Alphagrip. It is pretty ergonomic for my size hands and comfortable to use for an extended time. I could see it benefiting those who have trouble typing on a conventional keyboard due to stress injuries. A lot of thought has obviously gone into key placement and overall design of the AG-5, and it is easy to believe that it went through 5 major revisions before being released to the public. It is not without its faults. The biggest is the lack of wireless support via either Bluetooth or a USB dongle. I can understand the need to bring a version 1 product to market to support future development, but at the same time it seems like an obvious feature which would greatly increase the appeal of the Alphagrip.

As you might have guessed, this entry was composed on my Alphagrip.

Posted in General, Rants and Raves, Windows CE | 1 Comment »