The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for September, 2005

Next chunck

Posted by Deliverator on 29th September 2005

Tuesday Continued – After picking me up at The Malt Shop, Nancy and I drove to Glencoe and tended my grandfather’s grave (father’s side) and walked around the cemetery, briefly. My family bought a good chunck of land at the cemetery, way back in the dawn of time, for somewhere around $50. Certainly a bargain given the price of a funeral plot, today. The cemetery is still well maintained, although the “view” from our family’s plots has gone downhill in recent years, with the addition of a gas station nearby and the ever more busy freeway running in front of the cemetery. Still Glencoe is a beautiful small town nestled in lush countryside. It is easy to see why many familys have stayed for 4-5 generations or more. After finishing our business in Glencoe, we headed out to Eden Prarie, where many of my ancestors from Norway (on my father’s side, again) settled. After some directions from a farmer who kindly stopped his tractor to speak with us, we found the two isolated cemeteries where most of my ancestors rest. We found many an Severson and Larson in the cemeteries. My Aunt Nancy actually new quite a bit about some of them, while others we could only infer relationships by placement of the markers and various clues on the markers themselves. I took pictures of each marker and tried to get close ups of inscriptio ns. Some markers, made of soapstone or other softer rocks, were pretty heavily worn. I wish I had brought some materials for doing rubbings. I am going to try to increase the contrast on some of the pictures in photoshop once I get home.

Wednesday –

Nancy and I got up early today and went and had donuts at a place called Melo Glaze, which looks to be getting into the coffee and internet business in the near future. I was able to check my email using their free wifi (24 spam and 1 business pertinent messages). After polishing off three donuts a piece, we hit the road. We headed southward along the Mississippi. We stopped at a small stand so that Nancy could pick up a special variety of apple that she likes, but is not often able to enjoy. Our second stop was at LARK toys, a huge toy store and toy located in Kellogg, MN. I have never before been to a toy store containing such a wide variety of toys and whimsical nonsense in all my life. We have a place called Archie McFees out in Washington that is quite fun, but tends more towards the irreverent and satirical. LARK also has a wonderful wooden carousel. Definitely a must see if you are ever in S. Minnesota.

Posted in General | No Comments »

Nostalgia

Posted by Deliverator on 27th September 2005

Nostalgia

My Aunt Nancy picked me up at the airport and we went to breakfast at Perkins. She was unable to get the day off, but will be meeting me at 3pm or so to go out to Glencoe. Before heading off to work, she dropped me in the Lynden Hills neighborhood, which has a number of neat shops and cafes. I sat at a very nice coffee shop called Dunn Brothers (part of a chain, I believe) long enough to read the Star Tribune, post my prior blog entry and nearly fall asleep face first in my hot chocolate. I knew I needed to move, or risk falling asleep in a socially unacceptable place, so I plugged in my GPS and got on my feet. I walked 3/4 of the way around Lake Harriett, stopping to take photographs along the way. I took a number of shots of the Bandstand that made for interesting shot composition. I think if I do a little photoshopping to pump up the contrast and convert to greyscale, that I might have a few print-worthy pictures among the bunch. After reaching the south end of the lake, I headed along Minnehaha Parkway into the neighborhood I grew up in. Along the way, I caught sight of an Albino Squirell, and snapped some shots. The 10x optical zoom and image stabilization features of this Canon S1 IS come in really handy sometimes. Upon reaching my old neighborhood, I discovered that our old house was once again up for sale and that an open house was in progress. I went in and told the real estate agent that I used to live there. I don’t think he believed me at first, until I started reciting the house’s dirty little faults. There was nobody but the bankers/representatives there, so I wasn’t chasing off any potential buyers. The house has definitely undergone a few changes since my family owned it, and I don’t think all for the bettter. The furniture/carpetting/appliances all seemed very out of place in the Tudor home, and there was little effort to match styles within a room, much less across the whole house. The house itself seems in very good repair, with a new roof, a raised floor and some new windows to replace those lost a few years ago whe n a giant Elm tree fell on the house. In this case, I believe it was uprooted by a storms, and not by Dutch Elm Disease. After exiting the house, doing my best to mask my displeasure, I headed up to Sam’s house and called him from outside. I will be staying at his house until this Friday. I was glad to hear that Al and Nancy will be arriving back on Thursday, so I should get at least some chance to see them. After stopping off at Sam’s, I walked up 50th to The Malt Shop and had a large lunch consisting of Walleye and a Heath Bar Malt. All in all, I am having a great time so far.

Posted in General | No Comments »

Blogger Gone Mobile

Posted by Deliverator on 27th September 2005

Well, I am off on my trip to Minnesota and Cleveland. I am not willing to pay $6 to use the pay-for WiFi connection provided by Wayport, so I will just have to post this when I arrive in MN. I will attempt to post blog entries when I find free wifi during my trip, but can make no promises. I have been investigating getting an EDGE (consider it GPRS+) enabled phone to use with T-mobile’s $20/month all you can eat cellular internet plan. I would rather go with a much faster CDMA based service, such as that offered by Verizon and Spring, but I just can’t quite justify the $60-$80/month expense to myself. So far I am looking at the Nokia 6620 and 6630 phones and the Motorola V330. These are all edge capable phones. A number of SWN members have been using the 6600 and its edge enabled look alike, the 6620. They all seem to like it. I am a little intimidated by its size compared to my SE T610, but the size does seem to come with a corresponding increase (or at least better implementation) of features. The 6620 takes surprisingly good video and pictures. Checkout iMob or Rob’s blog for samples. The resolution is still fairly low, but the image quality seems pretty decent. I think it must sport a decent CCD. CMOS based image sensors always seem to produce terribly washed out images. The 6620 comes with a pretty decent web browser and a screen size that actually makes browsing of some co nventional web sites somewhat less comical than is usual on cell phones. If you don’t like the build in browser, Opera is available, as well. The 6630 is an interesting beast, supporting Quad Band GSM (which would be nice if I ever take that long dreamed of year in Europe), but also CDMA connectivity of some sort. The Motorola V330 is a flip-phone that supports EDGE data and has a bluetooth connection. It is somewhat less expensive than the other two on eBay and does support bluetooth, but I don’t believe it has IRDA support, so I would need to get a bluetooth CF adapter to use the data connection with my Jornada. Anyone have any comments on these phones or others that they would recommend?

* ARRIVED * This entry courtesy of Dunn Brothers Coffee near Lake Harriett

Posted in General | No Comments »

Wikipedia to go!

Posted by Deliverator on 25th September 2005

I have found Wikipedia to be a wonderful quick reference and jumping off point for more serious research. Being, as Ryan so aptly puts it, “crazy,” I set out to figure out how I could carry this veritable Encyclopedia Galactica with me at all times. An older, offline version of Wikipedia is available in different versions of the Tomeraider ebook format, but there is as yet no reader for this format available for older ppc/hpc devices like my Jornada. While tomeraider’s formatting abilities have improved in more recent versions, it still mangles complex tables and other more layout-dependent data. I looked into alternatives and found a script that goes through a downloaded copy of the wikipedia database and extract all the articles out as html flat files. Another alternative may be to use the Wikifilter apache filter to generate the html on the fly. This would require me to run apache on my Jornada (which is doable), but I would probably have to do the indexing elsewhere. I tried a PHP based extractor, but ran into too many issues. For now, I have stuck with the most recent downloadable output from the tero-dump script and after some curiosities relating to NTFS reserved words and FAT FS supported characters, I now have a copy of the Wikipedia on a 2.2 GB CF Microdrive for use on my Jornada! This version does not include any images, but manages to maintain most of the same formatting as the online version. The total number of html files produced by the script totalled 208,000+ files taking up some 1.25 GB in size (more with FS overhead). That is a whole lot of text :0

Wikipedia to Go!

Wikipedia to Go!

Posted in General, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff, Windows CE | 2 Comments »

GPS Goodness

Posted by Deliverator on 23rd September 2005

I am making final preparations for my trip, which begins next Tuesday. I will be spending Tuesday through the Friday in Minneapolis with my Aunt Nancy. We are planning to drive out to Glencoe to tend to my grandfathers (on my fathers side) grave and see some of my ancestors stomping grounds. Afterwards, we are going to spend some time driving through some towns on the Mississippi that my Aunt likes. On Thursday, I will be renting a car to drive up to Hinckley, a small town about halfway between Minneapolis and Hibbing, most well known for having burned completely to the ground. I am going there to have lunch with my Grandma and Aunt Peggy and whomever else from my Iron Range half of the family decides to show up. On Friday, I will be flying out to Cleveland to see my brother Scott and will be there for two weekends and a full week in between. If my brother gets too busy mid to late in the week, I might fly down to see Jason in Missouri. I am going to have to play that one by ear.

In preparation for all this travelling, I loaded maps for most of MN and Ohio on my Jornada for use in MS Pocket Streets 2005. I purchased a Holux GM-270 compact flash GPS for use with my Jornada off eBay and was very pleased when it arrived this afternoon. I really didnt expect it to arrive this soon. Its early arrival gave me some time to test it out prior to my upcoming adventure. Installation was simple. I didnt have to do anything other than slap the card into a CF to PCMCIA adapter and slap it in the side of my Jornada. The card doesnt require any drivers to be installed. You simply select its com port in your mapping application and away you go. The card doesnt power on until the mapping application starts talking to it, so time to first fix can be a while. I tested my combo of S& T 2005 and the CF GPS this evening on Capitol Hill.

I walked from Pine street northwards along Broadway. I stopped in at Bailey/Coy Books and purchased Neil Gaimans new novel, Anansi Boys. I am not sure if I will take it with me on the trip, as I plan to travel light and am trying my utmost to not violate my bookshelf-based book abuse management system. I am looking forward to reading this, as well as seeing his new film, Mirrormask, which will be opening in Seattle at the Neptune while I am gone. While I made my way north, I came across a small group of oddballs spending a quiet Friday evening watching TV in their living room. The odd part being that their living room was on a trailer parked on the side of the street at the busiest section of Broadway. I stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the theater, snapped a few pics and continued northward, eventually turning around at the Harvard Exit Theater.

The GPS lost signal lock briefly a few times, but never for long enough for it to interfere with navigation. I always knew what the upcoming street intersection was long before reaching it. A good deal of Broadway constitutes an urban canyon, with 2 story buildings on either side of the street, lots of metal cars and lots of planted trees. If this GPS performed this well here, I think it should be able to handle the challenges of flatland well enough. Scott will be working during the week, so I will have a lot of free time in which to explore Cleveland. I will be doing most of my exploration on foot, as I wont have access to a car during the day, unless I want to drive my brother to/from work. Cleveland is still heavily poluted due to its industrial past. I will have to avoid wearing synthetic clothing, least sparks cause the river to catch on fire.

Jornada GPS

Living Room on the Sidewalk

Posted in General, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff, Windows CE | 4 Comments »

Seattle Bloggers Unite!

Posted by Deliverator on 21st September 2005

Attended a meeting of Seattle area bloggers this evening at Ralph’s Deli – just kitty-corner to Cinerama. I had previously attended an Eastside chapter meeting and found it interesting. Despite passing by Ralph’s a number of times, this was my first time inside. It is a very spacious grocery/deli/restaurant with a wide and varied seeting area, with free wifi to boot. It is also open quite late, 1 or 2 am most nights. I can see how it could make a great neighborhood hangout.

Thanks to Anita Rowland for putting up with the rowdy lot of us all, while having to contend with a very squirmy little tike and her upcoming chemo-therapy. Attendance was in the 15-20 person range throughout the evening and conversations were animated enough to preclude groups larger than about four or five people. I ended up conversing with the same small group all evening. I spent the most time speaking with Ian Morris, who works for a company call VisionShare. They make security products for sale to the healthcare industry (in order to help them comply with HIPAA regulations). I also spoke with Jacob Metcalf who works for Washington State Young Democrats and also runs a video gaming blog called 8Bit Joystick.

We spoke about:

  • Convergence devices & high portabililty computing – Treo 650, Jornada, ROKR phone, etc.
  • SSL Security
  • Tivo & alternatives
  • Lots of WiFi and wireless technology related topics
  • Minnesota
  • Mac OS X on Intel
  • Different blogging packages and options to prevent outside linking of images

All in all, it was an interesting group of people and I will make an attempt to show up at future meetings, should my schedule permit.

Posted in Blogging, General | 2 Comments »

Tivo, if I ruled the world

Posted by Deliverator on 20th September 2005

Ever since my recent rants on Tivo, a number of people have asked me about those self evident missing features or problems with the way current features are implemented. I have been giving this some thought and here is an extremely rough (and poorly formated)draft of what I came up with:

Improved buffer management.
When watching Live TV, Tivo keeps a buffer of the show being watched that can expand to up to half an hour long, but no more. There are a number of problems with the way they do buffering.

  1. Say I am watching a show and the phone rings. I pause the Tivo to answer the phone. It is a lengthy business call. As soon as the buffer hits 30 minutes, the TV starts up again at full blast. It would be nice if the maximum buffer length could be specified, or at least have Tivo handle buffer full scenarios more gracefully, say by converting the buffer into a recording, beginning playback again but with the sound muted, prompting the user for a decision, etc. All of these actions would be far more preferable than the way Tivo currently handles it.
  2. I am watching a show and accidentally hit the change channel button. The channel changes and I instantly loose the accumulated buffer. There is no way to recover the buffer and if I want to resume watching the show, it is now half over. I should be able to buffer surf
  3. If I am watching the news (for example) and see a segment that interests me that I want to record for a friend, if I hit the record button and the buffer spans two shows, it decides ARBITRARILY that I must want to record the show currently being broadcast, rather than the segment that I was watching. It begins recording and…you guessed it, deletes the buffer!

Improved program search functionality, program scheduling, wishlists, season pass

Despite detailed guide data looking forward more than a week, delivered daily, Tivo supports only rudimentary abilities to search that information and make scheduling (wishlist) decisions based upon that data. I should be able to create wishlists that at the very least use Boolean logic and can discriminate between the title, actor and description fields.

  1. For example, I could not currently schedule my Tivo to record shows where actor includes the word Eastwood and description includes the word western. The best I could do currently is either items anywhere in the guide information. This would be the equivalent of record all shows where either Eastwood or western can be found anywhere in the guide information. This would result in my hard drive rapidly filling up with every western out there, more than a few Dirty Harry movies and very little of what I am actually looking for, which are Clint Eastwoods Spaghetti Westerns.
  2. Say I hear about a show from a friend that sounds interesting. Lets pretend that the show is one that has a distinctive story-arc, and watching the episodes out of order will serve only to confuse me. A good example would be HBOs The Wire. I rent the first few seasons of the show from netflix and manage to get relatively caught up. I want to have Tivo record this seasons episodes as they air, but also last season’s (which havent made it to DVD yet) episodes as well. Despite airdate data being plainly visible in the guide, I cannot tell my Tivo to record all episodes of The Wire where airdate = 2004 or 2005. The best I can do is create a Season Pass that records either First Run episodes or all episodes including reruns.
  3. Say I want to record all new episodes of The Simpsons. I also wouldnt mind watching a rerun every once in a while, but while I want to make absolutely sure that I dont miss any new episodes, I dont really care about reruns that much. I certainly dont want to have reruns take priority over another first run program. Currently, there is no way to do this. I cannot create more than one Season Pass for a given show on a given network. If I create a single season pass for The Simpsons that specifies all episodes and place the season pass high up in my season pass ordering, I will record all episodes of The Simpsons, but given that shows longevity and popularily, my Tivo will spend almost its entire time recording reruns of the Simpsons and block out other shows I want to watch. What would be ideal is to be able to create a high priority pass for first run episodes and a low priority pass for the rerun episodes.
  4. Tivo does a very poor job of reconciling programs. Say for example I tell it to record a movie on HBO. Later that week, I see something else in the guide that peeks my interest. I press the record button and Tivo discovers that I have attempted to record two things at the same time and asks me which to record. It is smart enough to recognize a conflict, but is too stupid to reconcile it intelligently. For example, that movie on HBO might be showing again that same night at 3am and could be recorded at that time instead. Or, if a second showing of the same program couldnt be found in the existing guide data, how about offering to create a wishlist entry to record it when it airs again sometime in the future?

Tivo needs better hardware

  1. Although there are a number of different hardware vendors for Tivo units, each offering a slightly different take on the basic Tivo unit, there isnt enough differentiation in those offerings. Right now, consumers have 3 basic choices. You can have a standalone unit with a single tuner, a unit with a DVD recorder (with some features crippled), or a DirecTivo, a DIRECTV only unit capable of recording two shows simultaneously, but with a number of features crippled at DIRECTVs request. Where are the standalone units with 4 tuners? How about a multi-user Tivo capable of streaming to multiple TVs via analog outputs or ip broadcasting to thin client boxes, ala Microsofts Media Center Extenders? How about a unit with an RF remote control? How about a firewire port for adding on additional storage via removeable hard drives or capturing video from DV cams? How about a built in ethernet port/wireless adapter?
  2. Tivo doesnt make good use of the hardware that is already out there. The USB ports on my Series 2 Tivo support USB 2.0, but Tivo runs them at 1.1 speed. This limits Tivo 2 Go transfers to an acheingly slow speed. Tivo 2 Go currently transfers my shows at about 150% greater than real time. Tivo also only supports a very small number of USB WiFi and Ethernet adapters and doesnt do a good job of documenting which hardware revisions are supported.
  3. Most Tivo units still have slow processors and limited memory, relying on dedicated hardware compression/decompression chips for most of the serious number crunching. As a result of inadequate general processing power, Tivos user interface is often sluggish, reordering/reconciliation of scheduling information often takes a long time, etc. With more ram and faster processors, Tivo could be a much more versatile platform.

Tivo needs to be an open platform for application & hardware development.

  1. For Tivo to survive, I feel they need to become an more open platform upon which other companies and individuals can build applications. Tivo is currently being squeezed by users on the one side and the entertainment industry on the other. By creating a plugin/extension architecture, 3rd parties could begin adding value to Tivo platform, without burdening Tivo with the cost of development, support or legal liability. Tivo needs to give people a reason to keep their boxes and their service, especially as other companies begin offering far more compelling hardware & software. Otherwise, Tivo is going to become the Kleenex of DVRs. Nobody carries around handkerchiefs any more, everyone uses disposable facial tissues. People still call them Kleenex, but almost everyone buys generic.
  2. Tivo has much too limited an idea of what a DVR can be/do. Here you have a general purpose computing device connected up to TV, phone and/or network connections. How about creating the first widely successful video phone? How about VOIP? How about displaying caller-id info on screen when the phone rings, so that you can decide whether to pause the TV or go on watching? How about some truely interactive TV? How about TV based networked games? Tivo could be used for unimaginably many things. Just like the PC moved beyond being a glorified word processor/spreadsheet and has become a platform to fill myriad niche uses, Tivo could be for the PERSONAL Entertainment Center what the PC has become for PERSONAL Computing. As is, Tivo has somehow stagnated into a role of being a glorified VCR.

Posted in General, The Boob Tube | 1 Comment »

SSL, oh how I love thee…

Posted by Deliverator on 19th September 2005

So, I have been playing around some more with the Qmail email client on my Jornada, as mentioned in yesterdays post. All in all, I really like it. I dont like many of the programs default options, but once configured, it makes a surprisingly robust email client. It is close to Outlook Express in its level of functionality, although it doesnt really hold a candle to Thunderbird, my current desktop email client of choice.

I took a look at Speakeasys rather sketchy documentation on enabling secure authentication and mail transport, but didnt have much luck getting Qmail to work securely. After some research, I found that the fault is not Qmails, but rather the expiration of several root certificate authorities from the Jornadas schannel dll file. Microsoft has never offered an updated list of certificate authorities to older Windows CE users, although users of desktop versions of Windows may have noticed a root certificates update when visiting Windows Update. An enterprising programmer has offered an updated version of this file on the Handango site, which I may purchase at some time if I get desperate enough. Another alternative that should work is to manually download the certificate. Qmail has the option to work with a manually downloaded certificate. This is a very nice option, as many universities and larger institutions issue their own security certificates, rather than pay a certificate authority. The one downside is that with most institutions that use a certificate authority, their ssl certificate expires once a year. Given the number of email accounts I access, this likely means I will have to manually download and convert certificates at least a few times a year.

I have never been a big fan of the whole ssl security model. Too many people trust that when they see that yellow lock in the corner of their browser that they are secure. SSL man in the middle attacks are still widely successful, as users do not check the source of a certificate, or even if presented with an SSL related error message, often just click the accept anyways option, as they dont understand in the slightest how ssl is supposed to operate. It is also very easy to get a certificate from one of the trusted security certificate companies. About the only thing that nice little lock really tells you these days is that someone forked over some dough to one of the certificate authorities…

Posted in General, Tech Stuff, Windows CE | 1 Comment »

New Jornada Software

Posted by Deliverator on 18th September 2005

I spent some time today loading up my Jornada with software in anticipation of my upcoming trip.

I am trying out Textmaker, an excellent MS Word compatible word-processor that is available for a wide variety of portable and desktop operating systems. I have yet to try out Planmaker, their spreadsheet package, but it is supposedly just as good. Surprisingly, Microsoft own “Pocket” versions of Office application are pale shades of their desktop versions, missing all but the most basic of features and often horribly mangling documents in the conversion process between desktop and pocket versions of the same document. If these two applications fit my needs, with the addition of a small canon i nkjet printer, I should be able to keep a completely mobile office

I hacked away at PocketFeed, a fairly basic (for now, but it is in very active development) RSS feed reader for Pocket PC 2002/2003. I really didn’t have to do much to get it working, just had to find an appropriate AYGSHELL.DLL to drop in the application’s directory. Many Windows CE applications needlessly call dll’s only found on newer Windows CE devices. Often, the only thing needed to make these applications work is to include a little stub version of the dll, which implements the appropriate functions (or at least returns something when called). With just a few incredibly minor changes, developers could significantly increase the market for their software. I am now happily subscribed to half a dozen news feeds.

Another application I encountered while searching for a RSS reader is Qmail. I have been pretty happy with my current mail client, nPOP, but Qmail has some compelling features that may win me over. Chief among these is support for secure authentication and transfer of mail to/from pop/smtp mail servers. I have been using internet cafes and Linksys Community Network access points a great deal of late and establishing an SSH session every time you just want to quickly check mail gets old real quick. I would prefer to just establish a VPN connection when I am feeling paranoid, but unfortunately, VPN support was not included with the Jornada 720 (but was included in the 728, which is virtually the same beast, but with more ram).

I wish I could have purchased a 728, but they are very few and far between. It is at times like these that I wish the Jornada had a flash rom, as I could have just flashed my 720 with the 728’s code. There is even a company called PPC Techs that will upgrade the 720 ram to match the 728’s. They use all sorts of specialize surface mount equipment to rework the boards! Several other older Win CE devices have had significant functionality added due to their inclusion of a flash rom. For instance, the Simpad line can run HPC 2000, CE . Net 4.1, 4.2 and a well supported Linux distro called Simpad Linux.

More and more, my Jornada has changed the way I work (and has consequently given me more play time). I am definitely straining the limits of what this device can do. I have been looking at the Psion Netbook Pro as a possible replacement. It has a more modern version of Win CE, has more ram, faster proc, better connectivity options and a higher resolution (and daylight viewable!) screen. Unfortunately, it is also priced at the rather insane price of somewhere around $1500. At that price, I don’t know how this device is going to be a success, even in the more vertically priced executive business markets. I have a feeling that particular crowd is going to spend a few hundred more and get a OQO or one of the many other sub-sub-sub notebooks that have emerged and are capable of running full blown XP.

Posted in General, Windows CE | 2 Comments »

TRC – Start of Year Two

Posted by Deliverator on 18th September 2005

Well, just about everyone is back to school at this point. Official TRC activities have begun, with First Lego League being this year’s initial focus. I hope to get the ROV project going again soon with some fresh blood and will be talking a bit about the project at this week’s general meeting. We are in dire need of some fresh blood in the club, particularly in mentor roles. I spent a good deal of the day yesterday with Ryan, and I fear that with his work/school commitments, he won’t be able to take a very active involvement in TRC this year. Also, with Larry Barello’s son Greg going to Bellevue this year (another school that happens to have a FIRST robotics club), Larry may jump ship and take his wealth of experience with him. I am really excited about TRC this year, but there are a lot of balls up in the air right now and where they land will depend greatly on the commitment of the membership and their willingness to “own” certain projects.

Posted in General | No Comments »