The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for October, 2005

Hacknight – Oct 25th 05

Posted by Deliverator on 25th October 2005

Tonight’s Hacknight was unusually animated tonight, or perhaps I just had the proper dose of caffeine in my system. Last week I was an absolute zombie and didn’t have much fun as a result.

Casey was present tonight with his kiddo and wife in tow. Casey’s CVS camera (which I got for him on my recent trip to Cleveland) appears to have a different firmware than mine. Both my camera and his have revision B3 hardware, but neither of the two “pinch” techniques to reveal the firmware seemed to work on his camera. Having a different firmware than mine may be a good thing, as my particular revision (3.62) requires a hardware hack to get working, whereas some other firmwares just require a interface cable and software. If he doesn’t have a cable built by next week, I will bring mine, so that we can attempt to unlock it at the next meeting.

Matt and Rob are putting the finishing touches on their OLSR add-on for Metrix Pebble. The meshing seems to work really well across many different hardware/software platforms, and they have cooked up a neat mesh visualization system that can generate network maps in near realtime. They are also working on a self-propagating hostname system that will allow any device in the network to reference other devices by hostname, and not just ip. I look forward to seeing their work in action at Mind Camp.

Rob recently purchased a monster multi-monitor system comprised of three ultra low latency Viewsonic 19″ LCD panels that have a single central mounting pedestal. I have never been much impressed with Window’s handling of multimonitor systems, although some video card manufacturers (Matrox in particular) have their own utilities to augment some of the more glaring deficiencies in Window’s handling. Ultramon is one of the best chipset agnostic utilities that I have used, but that only covers the Windows world. Knowing that Rob is primarily a Mac user, I was curious to know what he was using. Turns out he has been sharing the displays between his Mac and Windows gaming boxes using a cross-platform keyboard and mouse sharing application called Synergy. Using this application, it is possible to use a single keyboard/mouse to control multiple computers running different operating systems. I have two primary machines that I use for my day to day work. My workspace is limited, but I have prefered to keep seperate keyboard/mice for the two systems rather than use a hardware kvm (although I have a hardware kvm hooked to the secondary for when I have to hook up a third machine, temporarily). I have a compact keyboard and a Cirque trackpad for the secondary machine and a high refresh USB mouse and ergonomic keyboard for the main machine, on which I do a lot of gaming. Now, with the use of Synergy, I should be able to eliminate this second keyboard/mouse set, or at least move it more out of the way. I highly recommend anyone with multiple monitors/systems check out this excellent free utility!

Posted in General, SWN Hacknight, Tech Stuff | 2 Comments »

If no IR, then bluetooth it is!

Posted by Deliverator on 24th October 2005

I purchased a Socket CF Bluetooth card on eBay today. I got it for an absolute song – about a third of retail. Socket makes a lot of unique products and provides very high levels of support for all of them. They are one of the few companies I know that still officially support HPC 2000 as a platform. I have one of their low power cf wlan cards and really like it. Their CF Bluetooth product is unique, AFAIK, in that it has no external parts. The entire thing fits within a type 1 CF slot and doesn’t extend beyond it. My Jornada has both a CF type 1 slot and a type 2 pcmcia slot. I am going to try using the new bluetooth card in the CF slot, rather than in the pcmcia slot via an adapter. This should enable me to have both bluetooth and Wifi at the same time. If I can get it working, I should be able to share out my cell phone’s edge connection via the wifi, creating a very inexpensive Junxion box. I should also be able to slap a microdrive in the pcmcia slot and still be online via the cell phone.

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Nokia 6620

Posted by Deliverator on 23rd October 2005

Received my Nokia 6620 at the end of last week and have been playing with it ever since. So far, I am really pleased with it. It does its job (phone first) very well, yet implements a lot of other features without them being obtrusive. With my my SE T610 I was constantly angry at the obtuse way certain basic phone features were implemented (if they were implemented at all). The 6620 is much more intuitive and at the same time far surpasses my T610 on features. Here is the good:

-Bluetooth association with my Jabra headset works consistently and produces good sound quality. Using Nokia desktop 6.6 with bluetooth makes it easy to copy files to/from the phone, backup the contact list, create ringtones, etc. -Screen is very bright and useable in direct sunlight and is a useful size for web browsing
-Opera, argueably the best web browser for cell phones, is included for free. Reformat’s pages to fit the screen in a pretty intelligent manner. Have had no problems with any of the sites that I have browsed.
-Nokia has an online tool that will send a special text message to your phone to configure it for your provider’s settings. My phone is an unlocked ATT phone, so I had to add t-mobile’s wap and internet gateways and remove some of the “branding.”
-Included Real Player can play back a variety of media types, but surprisingly leaves out any open stream option. Can install most recent version of Helix or official player to do web radio.
-Lots of native3rd party applications, including voip clients, ebook readers, media players, emulators (MAME and NES), network utilities like Putty SSH and even a web server
-Good Java support
-Camera isn’t real high res (640*480), but isn’t bad for snapshots. Lets you take low res video, too.
-Battery lasts a long time and charges very quickly (hour and a half)
-multitasking OS

The bad:
-MMC cards are expensive and slot is located under battery, so no hot-swapping
-Have been unable to get IRDA to work with my Jornada. Can establish edge connection over bluetooth easily enough, but no luck with IRDA so far.
-Backlight on screen turns off after much too short a time. Have to constantly fiddle with the joystick to keep it on.
-Power button is designed to be difficult to press, but is also used to switch profiles (silent, offline, etc.), something I do frequently.
-Area around camera lens isn’t countersunk. I just know I am going to scratch the lens, eventually.
-Speakerphone isn’t very loud
-No indicator as to whether your are in edge gprs mode or just plain vanilla gprs.
-No built in way to close a misbehaving application, although third party application managers are available

Several of these problems may be solved in a more recent firmware revision. From what I can tell, I have the earliest released ATT branded firmware revision, and it is known to have “some issues.” I have found two companies online that can upgrade my phone to the latest unbranded firmware. I would love to find someplace locally that can flash firmware, so if you know someone who knows someone…

Posted in General, Portable Computing/Gadgets | 2 Comments »

Seattle Mind Camp

Posted by Deliverator on 23rd October 2005

I will be getting my geek on at Mind Camp in a few weeks. Mind camp is a free as in beer, non-alchoholic, 24 hour, participants-only, emerging technology non-conference. Everyone attending is required to be prepared to present/talk about a subject of interest to them. Talks don’t need to be formal power-point driven nonsense, just be prepared to stand up and share your passion. I am going to talk about my experiences with in-car computing, media aggregation and dispersal and maybe bring Tyr along to do some evangelism/fundraising for the TRC. Un-conference attendance is limited to 150 people and you must sign up if you are interested in attending. There are some very cool people coming and I am really looking forward to conversing with them.

Posted in General, Tech Stuff | 2 Comments »

October Seattle Bloggers Meeting

Posted by Deliverator on 19th October 2005

Typed the last entry regarding Tivo stuff while munching on a few donuts at Top Pot. After finishing off my donuts, I headed over to Ralph’s Deli for the monthly Seattle bloggers meet-up. While I like Ralph’s, I am beginning to think it is a less than ideal location for such a meeting. The tables are small, making it difficult to converse with more than a few people at once. The music and noise in the background makes even cross-table conversations difficult, but that may just be my poor hearing. The WiFi, while free, was none too reliable this evening, and kept on crapping out through the evening. The food service was slow and the checkout counter was understaffed. I stood in line for probably 15 minutes just to make a purchase. Had I not been early and going to be sticking around anyways, I would have put my items back and stormed out of there. There is nothing I dislike more than a store that doesn’t value their customers time. Too many people stand cow-like in line for long periods of time to make a purchase. If you don’t like how a place is being run, vote with your dollars and (politely) make the source of your displeasure known to decision makers.

Tonight’s conversations included:

-Wordpress vs Moveable Type
-Setting up your own cellphone based audioblog using K7
-Limitations/problems with tags and permalinking
-Mesh networking
-CVS Video Cameras and phone cams as video sources for video blogging, particularly to document protests and in other situations where video equipment is often siezed/damaged
-A very nebulous description of Flock
-BBS experiences in the Fidonet era.
-Convergence devices
-The questionable (not my opinion) utility of larger/multi display devices
-vat grown meat and meat from questionable/exotic sources
-A two radio cardbus device that can operate in AP mode. I am betting it is actually a single radio doing timesharing.
-A supposed 30 mile 30mbit 802.11g link operated by a older guy named Ralph. He seemed to know a lot about radios/antennas (struck me as either HAM or ex-military techie), but was pretty quiet on the particulars of equipment/methodology. It sounds like he is doing something with tcp/ip window size & crc checking that works for his uses (web cam monitoring), rather than by fixing the problems that 802.11 has with timings/acks over long distance links at a lower OSI layer. While his solution might work for what he is trying to do, it wouldn’t fly for many network applications. I would love to know more. Hopefully he has some info at his blog or we can co ntinue our conversation at a future meeting. I didn’t catch the address from him, but Anita usually is pretty good about posting the signin sheet on her website.

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Tivo2Stay – Yay!

Posted by Deliverator on 19th October 2005

The people at Tivo must read my page or something, because they finally seem to be giving users at least some of what they have been crying for (about time! #@#&). The recent Tivo system update to version 7.2 along with Tivo Desktop 2.2 have added a number of features that I have written about lately. Tivo rolls out its update gradually, so you may not have it yet, but you can request to be put on a priority list to get it sooner. With this update comes the ability to not just download shows, but upload video as well. The format support is limited by Tivo’s reliance on dedicated hardware chips and a relatively slow general purpose CPU, so you will probably have to transcode anything you want to upload. The good news is that DRM stripped files are recognized without transcoding. Rumors are that this rollout is going out to DVD burner equiped Tivo units as well, which opens up a world of possibilities. It should now be possible to download video off the tivo, de-drm it, edit out the commercial using stream editing (without requiring additional transcoding), upload the video and then burn the video to DVD using the Tivo’s DVD burner. The Tivo can attempt to play video that is being uploaded before the upload completes (although this is somewhat limited by the slow network support), so it should be possible to use a PC (with its much greater hard disk capacity) as a giant media library and just feed video to the Tivo unit on demand. Video can be requested from the Tivo, so one doesn’t need to do anything on the PC side of things – just pickup the remote and go. I am really excited about this feature!

There have been a number of other features added in the new software, and it will probably take a few days to explore them all. Next to the video upload abilities, I am most excited about something being called HME or HMA, which allows for PC hosted JAVA applications that do all the “heavy lifting” and then feed data to applications running on the Tivo unit itself. It is great that Tivo is starting to finally recognize that people want to be able to run third part applications on the Tivo, and by hosting the heart of applications on a PC, they get around the underwhelming hardware limitations. Some of the neat applications I have checked out so far include an RSS reader, podcasting app, mp3 streaming, netflix que viewer, movie times finder, etc. With 3rd party development finally getting real support from Tivo, applications are being rapidly released, so who knows what interesting stuff will be available for my Tivo when I wake up tomorrow!

Posted in General, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff, The Boob Tube | No Comments »

What a wonderful weekend for some video hackery

Posted by Deliverator on 16th October 2005

The weather this weekend was somewhat less than nice, so I spent some quality time in my cave hacking away at some video hoozits and whatzits. First on my list was to devise a better system for downloading and converting video from my Tivo. Using Tivo2Go, I have been able to get video off my Tivo, but only in their proprietary .Tivo format. Using some Directshow filtergraph tricks, I have been able to extract out the mpeg 2 video, but the process is somewhat cumbersome and only partially able to be automated. In short, the process left quite a bit to be desired and was a far cry from my zero-effort device-shifting model. Enter into the picture a program called EtiVo. EtiVo is an application that allows you to automagically download and transcode video from Tivo units. The application is nicely segmented, so that the work of transcoding can be done by multiple computer. The problem is that until recently, EtiVo has required that the Tivo unit itself be hacked to add a little ftp server to perform the actual file transfer. A couple of months ago, EtiVo added prelimineray support for Tivo2Go style transfers, allowing for the use of non-hacked Tivo units. I tested EtiVo out on an auxilary box, and after installing the .NET framework, IIS, ASP.NET and far too much other crud, I got it working….sort of. The program seems to suffer from the same aborted downloads that I experienced when first using Tivo2Go. Once these problems are ironed out, EtiVo should fit my needs nicely. Until then, I will be using DirectShow Dump, a standalone tool by the author of EtiVo that apparently uses the same filtergraph tricks that I have been using, but automates the process completely! It can even be set to monitor a directory for new .Tivo files, convert the file automatically and then delete the source file!

My other video hackery this weekend has been to build a camera to interface my CVS video camera with my computer. I cobbled one together out of a Palm m100 sync cable and a USB A-B cable. The soldering wasn’t fun and made me wish for better tools or more arms. I might stop at Vetco tomorrow and get a new soldering station and clamp tool. After constructing the cable, I installed all the needed software on my computer using the new quick install package off of sourceforge. I plugged in the camera, installed the driver for it and attempted to open the camera using the Ops tool. As expected, the camera would open but would not unlock (due to the revised tamper-resistant version 3.62 fireware). I decided to risk trying a newly discovered hardware attack, which involves jumping a voltage to a specific surface mount resistor during a very short time windows during the camera boot process. Surprisingly, I managed to get it right on only the second power up attempt. By some reports, some people have tried 40 or more times without hitting it at exactly the right moment. I was then able to unlock the camera and download several videos taken during my recent trip to Cleveland. I saved a copy of the firmware as well as several critical files, then used another utility to change to the recording resolution to 640*480. I can’t wait to strap this thing on a robot! It may not last long, but I will definitely feel like I got my $30 worth!

Posted in General, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff | 1 Comment »

Edge phone OTW

Posted by Deliverator on 13th October 2005

My experience with t-mobile’s GPRS based internet access on my recent trip to Cleveland was very positive, which surprised me, given how poor I had found it to be during the few other times I had used it. My guess is that they seriously beefed up their gateway in anticipation of their EDGE (think gprs with a plus after it) rollout. I now get much better ping times (700 ms range), but more importantly, it no longer seems to drop packets left and right, which caused many applications to puke. I finally got around to purchasing an EDGE capable phone, yesterday. I purchased a Nokia 6620 from a dealer on eBay. Several SWN members have been singing the praises of this phone for months and I have liked what I saw from my limited hands-on experiences with the 6600 and 6620. I got the fedex tracking number today, so hopefully I will have it in hand soon.

Posted in General, Portable Computing/Gadgets | No Comments »

CVS Video Cameras – Back to Being “One Time Use” ?!?!

Posted by Deliverator on 11th October 2005

I purchased a few $30 CVS video cameras while in Cleveland, one for myself and one for Casey Halverson. I knew that these cameras had been hacked for a few months, but hadn’t done much reading as quite simply I didn’t think I would ever have an opportunity to pick one up (there are no CVS stores on the west coasts). I spent a little time time reading how to make a connection cable from a palm m100 sync cable, which I just happen to have – I know I saved that old PDA for some reason! Considerably more time was spent reading how to enable downloading of video off the camera. The hack has definitely matured and it is now fairly trivial to download videos off the camera. You simply need to install libUSB-Win32 and a program called OPS and you are good to go. Unfortunately (and as many predicted), a new firmware version has been developed that is not as easily hacked. If your camera has version 3.40 fw, you are good to go. If you have 3.62…not so much. I, being the favored son of the gods, was lucky enough to have the blighted 3.62 fw on my unit. I hope Casey fares luckier. There is already a hardware hack that enables you to unlock a version 3.62 camera, but it is quite risky. Even when performed correctly, there is a definite risk of “bricking” your camera. This new hack involves applying battery power to pin 9 of the flash memory chip during a specific short window during the camera boot process. If you get the timing right, you can corrupt an area of the flash forcing the camera to use a simpler backup copy. The backup copy once used is subject to the same flaws as were exploited in v3.4, so you can unlock the camera once and for all and use the ops utility to replace any non-critical files you might have corrupted with known good copies. The problem is that the “battery and wire” trick can potentially corrupt files critical to the boot process, leaving you with a bricked camera. I think I am going to wait a few weeks to see if a less damaging means of hacking the camera emerges. If one doesn’t emerge, I may try my luck, as the camera won’t be of much use to me if I can’t unlock it.

Posted in General, Photography, Portable Computing/Gadgets, SWN Hacknight, Tech Stuff | No Comments »


Posted by Deliverator on 11th October 2005

I’m baaaaack

Finished reading Neil Gaiman’s new book “Anansi Boys” while on the flight from Minneapolis to Seattle. I have liked pretty much everything that flow’s from his pen, but especially liked this book, American Gods and the Sandman series. He has a new movie, Mirrormask, out in limited release. Wider release sounds dependent on how well it does in its extremely limited release, so I would encourage you all to see it ASAP. I believe it is only showing at the Neptune in Seattle. My schedule this week is pretty daunting, as I have been away for two weeks a nd the work certainly does pile up in a hurry. I am going to try and catch it Tuesday evening after Hacknight, if any other Neil Gaiman fanboys/girls would like to join me.

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