The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for January, 2007

Puerto Vallarta Pictures

Posted by Deliverator on 31st January 2007

Finished dumping my Puerto Vallarta Gallery to the server. I apologize for not doing a very thorough job of culling them, but I haven’t had much free time since arriving back. Here are a few favorites:

News Stand

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Just a cup of joe...

Statue

Seahorse

Posted in General, Photography | No Comments »

Headed Home

Posted by Deliverator on 28th January 2007

I am head home to Seattle tomorrow after a most enjoyeable week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I have a good deal of work pilled up and waiting for me when I get back, so I will be pretty busy the next few days. I will try and write up some more details about my trip when I have some free time. Perhaps on the plane ride? For now, here is a partial gallery of pictures from my trip. I filled my camera cards faster than expected, so have been dumping pictures to Silverfir every time I have a chance. Regardless, I will try to give my pictures a good sorting through once I get home and upload the rest ASAP.

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Wifi in the Developing World (Just Add Electricity)

Posted by Deliverator on 24th January 2007

Went down to Yelapa today on a Catamaran run by Vallarta Adventures. Had a fun time despite having taken the same trip before. Their script for their entertainment routine seems to be unchanged since last I took the boat down to Yelapa 3-4 years ago, but enjoyed it anyways, most likely due to hazy memories. Yelapa remains much as I remember it, but a couple of significant changes have taken place. Yelapa is still the same ramshackle, haphazard assemblage of homes to 1000-1500 people and can still only be reached by boat (almost exclusively booze cruizes like we went on). Since I was last there, a 30 mile power cable has been run from (I think) Tepic. This is a really impressive feat in my mind, given the incredible density of the jungle in the steep hills around Yelapa. Prior to this cable being run, the only power in town was courtesy of a generator at The Hotel, which they shut off every night at around 10pm.

With power has come a fair number of dishes around town and at least two internet cafes. I was originally thinking these might be serviced by VSAT, until I noticed a couple horizontally oriented dishes pointed at an island just visible on the horizon. I seems like the town may now be serviced by some sort of microwave relay system. It definitely didnt appear to be 802.11ish in nature according to kismet on my Nokia N800.

In other news, I have been filling up my camera cards faster than I can believe, even accounting for a lot of proactive culling throughout the day. I have been uploading pictures via FTP using a free wifi connection at The Coffee Cup nearby my hotel in Puerto Vallarta. The connection is kinda slow by Seattle standards, but is much better than at any of the other cafes that I have found, in part because it is free and in part because they use WPA and rotate their keys quite often. There is nobody mooching their connection thanks to insecure WEP keys used by other places I have found.

Posted in General | 2 Comments »

Greetings from Mexico!

Posted by Deliverator on 23rd January 2007

Arrived yesterday after a rather painful flight. The flight was fine, but the changes in pressure were playing hell with my sinuses. Went to Le Bistro with my father and brother and had an excellent meal. A similar restaurant in New York would probably be $150-200 a plate, but down here it is maybe a tenth of that price. Luxury dining on the cheap! Tonight, we are going to La Palapa to hear Alberto Perez sing and tomorrow we are taking the boat to Yelapa if the weather is decent. It has been a little overcast with occasional rains, but has been warm enough that shorts and a t-shirt are comfortable well into the night. Anyways, lots of good fun and more to come.

I have been able to stay in reasonable touch thanks to my Nokia N800 and bluetooth keyboard and the plethora of Internet Cafe´s in the area. I found a good one two blocks away from the hotel. The connection is not terribly fast and it is rather high latency, but any bandwidth is good bandwidth. I am not trustful of publicly accessible machines, so have been sticking to wifi with my N800 with a SSH tunnel to a box I control for security. I have made a few phone calls to clients using Gizmo Project and it seems to be working well, although the latency in the connection is readily discernable. I hope to check in with the outside world once a day and try to offload some of my pictures. I have already almost used up a 2GB SD card.

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FRC 2007 – Week 3

Posted by Deliverator on 21st January 2007

Moose & Girl

Week 3 of this year’s FRC competition has been:

-crazy
-exhausting
-exhilarating
-thought provoking
-sleep depriving
-muscle straining
-discombobulating

and most of all, a whole lot of fun…and many, many other words. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time for words, as I am packing to head off to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for a week. Here are some pictures of week 3, instead.

Posted in General, Titan Robotics Club | No Comments »

Gizmo Project on Nokia N800

Posted by Deliverator on 15th January 2007

I recently installed Gizmo Project on my N800 in anticipation of my upcoming trip to Mexico. Gizmo Project is a software VOIP phone and Jabber chat client. It is available for Windows, Mac and Linux and the custom Linux version for the N800 is polished and has worked flawlessly in my limited testing. With Gizmo, you can make calls to other Gizmo users, other SIP phone users or plain old normal phone numbers all around the world. Outgoing calls cost a mere 1 cent a minute in $10/1000 minute blocks which expire after a year and there are no monthly usage charges, month by month minute expiration, etc. That is an absurdly low rate compared to almost any other carrier. Even so, Gizmo’s software doesn’t limit you to using their service. On the N800, it supports a secondary SIP login, which means you can choose to use it with other service providers. Gizmo also offers unlimited incoming service with an area code of your choosing for around $30 a year. If you don’t want to use their option, they even helpfully point you to a service which gives you a free incoming number with a 775 area code. I bought a block of 1000 outgoing minutes and got myself a free 775 area code number and have been happily making and receiving calls this evening. The only real problem I have been having is that gizmo doesn’t appear to consistently send DTMF tones, which makes it difficult to use some voicemail and phone support systems. For talking to actual people, it seems to be a good, cheap, easy to set up alternative to conventional phone service.

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Joint Practice Field – Day 1

Posted by Deliverator on 15th January 2007

JPF Exterior

The Joint Practice Field Consortium is off to a strong start after its first full day at the new facility. The JPFC is an effort by local FIRST teams, who have not been given adequate access to their school’s facilities, to join together and establish a shared facility. The facility will feature a full size competition field, which can be used to practice driving, train the human player, and perform autonomous coding feats. Sharing the field and ideas with other teams, weekly Friday skirmish sessions, as well as a “Pre-ship Event” should help participating teams get a practical feel for this year’s game “Rack and Roll,” which will hopefully give them a competitive advantage at the PNW Regional in Portland this March. I am very excited about the JPFC, and am pleased by the showing of goodwill and GP exhibited by all the teams involved. To my knowledge, the establishment of the JPFC marks the widest, long term collaboration between PNW FIRST teams to date. For the record, the teams participating in this year’s JPFC are:

Titan Robotics Club – International School – (492)
Team XBOT (488)
-Eastlake Robotics (1294)
-Tahoma Senior HS (2046)
Issaquah Robotics Society – Issaquah HS – (1318)
Atom Smashers – Bellevue HS – (949)

Here are some pictures from our first day together at the JPF

Posted in General, Titan Robotics Club | No Comments »

Out with the Old….

Posted by Deliverator on 15th January 2007

The TRC website has been in bad need of revamping for quite some time. Paul Malmsten, his sister Katelyn and assorted others have been hard at work to make it happen. The site has been in testing for quite a while on Erik Thulin’s stomping ground, FreedomDown. The site is based on WordPress, which should make hosting much simpler, as the previous site required Cold Fusion and LAMP servers are all the rage these days. The new site features a nifty new gallery, better calendaring system and oodles of other cool features. After squashing some nasty IE6 related formating issues, the site is finally ready to go live and the DNS changes have been made, so the new site should be taking place of the old at www.titanrobotics.net very shortly.

For posterity, here is a screenshot of the old site, followed by one of the sweet sweet new site:

Old TRC-492 Website

New TRC-492 Website

Posted in General, Titan Robotics Club | No Comments »

Build Season is Underway

Posted by Deliverator on 10th January 2007

The build season is officially underway! We had a design meeting Sunday evening and then prototyped a few things at Larry’s garage Monday afternoon. Larry is going to be out of town for the next 4-5 days. He is off to drop big things out of big planes, something which has become somewhat of hobby of his over the last few years :)

While he is away we will have to make due with what we can come prototype at school and at Ian’s house. By the time he gets back, we should have a better idea of the dingus-picker-upper mechanism. We have a lot of parts and metal on order as well. Hopefully when Larry gets back, we can go right to work on this year’s newfangled belt utilizing drive-train. You can check out cad drawings and pictures from the various meetings by clicking on the sweet, sweet drive-train below.

Belt Drive Train

In other TRC related news, the Joint Practice Field is a go! I am VERY excited about this project, which should have great benefit to all the participating FIRST teams from the area.

Posted in General, Titan Robotics Club | No Comments »

Got Me a N800!

Posted by Deliverator on 9th January 2007

I managed to get a Nokia N800 Internet Tablet a few days earlier than they were supposed to go on sale. A kind store employee took sympathy on me and sneaked me one out of the back and walked me through the register to ensure my purchase didn’t hit any snags. Nokia apparently has talked about reprisals against stores that sold the N800 early, so the store and employee will remain nameless. Nevertheless, thanks ***, you know who you are!

So far, I really like the N800. It is a nice evolutionary upgrade to the 770 in almost, but not quite every way.

Here is the good:

-Much faster processor. This time they went with an OMAP 2420 processor from TI. It is clocked at 330mhz and has support for floating point, 3d acceleration and other things that the OMAP 1710 in the N770 didn’t have. This should make it possible to better support processor intensive video codecs at higher resolutions and framerates. The system feels much snappier.

-128 MB of ram and 256 MB flash storage (little under 200 available to the user). Both of these were much needed upgrades, providing more space for 3rd party applications and enough ram to run a few apps at the same time comfortably.

-Has two full size SD card slot. One is in the back compartment along with the battery. The other is on the bottom right side of the unit and is easily accessible while running. The max officially supported size is 2 GB, although several users are reporting that some 4 GB cards seem to work. These are not SDHC compliant cards and are outside of the normal SD spec, so use with care as many devices will not work with these non-compliant cards.

-Screen is even better than the already amazing one on the 770. Same unrivaled 800*480 resolution, but the backlight seems smoother, pixels smoothly blur together instead of standing out and off axis visibility is improved. I was impressed with the quality of the display on the 770 and am even more so with the N800. Combined with SD support, the N800 is going to make an excellent photo previewer/manager.

-Supports Bluetooth 2.0 and has out of the box support for Bluetooth Keyboards, at least the one I am using, a Nokia SU-8W. I paired up my keyboard using the applet in the control panel. I can start typing more or less instantly after powering it on! This is the way it should have been from the start, Nokia, so you get no points from me. You hear that Nokia, NO POINTS!

-The N800 has a hinged stand that pops out and lets you set it on a desk at one of two helpful angles. There is also a ridge along the back of the unit which places the N800 at a better viewing angle even when placed flat on the table and makes it easier to hold in one hand.

-New OS2007 feels a bit more refined and end-user friendly. Feels very responsive on the faster hardware. Sadly, Nokia announced that it will not be back ported to the N770. Applications compatibility between the two releases seems to be pretty good so far, so hopefully this doesn’t split the development community.

-Browser has received an upgrade to Opera 8.5. So far, it has worked well with every Web 2.0ish site I have thrown at it. Flash appears to work with Youtube now, albeit slowly.

-Stereo speakers instead of the monaural speaker on the 770. A whole four and a half inches of stereo separation, wooo!

-All the connectors have been moved from the bottom to the right side of the device. This makes it much easier to leave power, usb and headphones plugged in while it is being used on a desk (especially with the intergrated stand). This also makes it much easier to use as a media player, as the end mounted ports work much better with jacket pockets. With up to 8 GB of storage available, the N800 makes a formidable portable media player for both audio and video.

-The headphone port accommodates standard 1/8″ stereo headphone plugs, but also provides stereo headphone + microphone support with a cleverly designed headset which is included standard. There are already a number of VOIP phone solutions available including Google Talk, Gizmo Project. Skype support was additionally announced at CES as part of the official product release, but it will be months to a half year before it is available.

-OS 2007 supports a feature called “Single Click Install” which allows users to simply click on a file to add a repository and install software from it. In the past, users could install 3rd party software by clicking on .deb files, but there wasn’t an easy way to upgrade (or find out about upgrades) as new versions of the software came available. You could add a repository, but this feature was somewhat buried in the Application Manager applet and required you to laboriously enter the repository info using the on-screen keyboard. This change should be helpful for end-users and power users alike, as it allows end users a simple way to install 3rd party software and keep it up to date and allows power users to keep a backup of their repository lists without having to mess with apt’s sources.list file. Specifics on this feature can be found here.

Meh (things about which I feel relatively neutral):

– The N800 has a webcam that pops out of the left side of the unit and can swivel to face the user or 180″ to face away. I haven’t fooled around with the video phone software much, but the quality of the video is pretty low. The sensor is quite noisy. Frankly, I could have cared less about the webcam and would have prefered not having been charged for that particular feature. I haven’t heard a single user cry out “you know what they really need to add/improve when they release a new one of these things? – a webcam!” On the contrary, I have heard several users and system administrators complain that they won’t be able to purchase the new unit because of rules against cameras (including phone cams) in many businesses.

– The much maligned email app has not been improved. The built in email application is one of the most common sources of complaint about the N770. Thankfully, an updated copy of Sylpheed has been released and it runs well on the N800. The dialogs are much closer to being fully Hildonized and full screen switch support is forthcoming.

– A large number of people seem to not like the new grey and silver styling of the N800 and preferred the black finish of the N770. I too liked the more professional styling of the N770, but don’t feel overly strongly about it.

– The N800 no longer comes with a protective metal screen cover like the one found on the N770. I never found the included metal slip case to be very good, especially as it blocked stylus removal. I much preferred the nice aluminum case from Brando Workshop. The N800 comes with a felt fabric pouch like you would use to carry eye glasses. It doesn’t provide any real protection against firm pressure from a hard object or a fall to the ground, but will keep your screen from accidentally getting scuffed up by your car keys. I will definitely be searching for a good after market case onces 3rd party accessories become available.

Things that suck hard vacuum:

– The buttons on the N800 are absolutely atrocious. While the width of the unit has actually increased slightly, the size of the four way rocker has actually shrunk. The rocker was already small enough on the 770 to elicit complaints. The back, menu and home buttons have been merged into a single mega button. The space for each function on this larger 3 way button is smaller than before and because this button is flat, it is very hard to find the right button by touch and thumb presses sometimes mis-register on the far too small button pad. Both the rocker and 3 function pad feel cheap and plasticy and actually have some play to them. Buttons on a premium device like this shouldn’t wiggle, period. If you can believe it, they did much worse to the top buttons. The top button on the 770 and 800 control full screen switch for applications, a plus and minus button used for volume, brightness and used by a lot of 3rd party software for functions like page up/down and a multifunction power button, which is frequently used to lock the screen, put the unit in offline mode, etc. On the N800, these buttons have been reduced to button so small that you pretty much need to use your fingernail to activate them without simultaneously squashing the neighboring button. The full screen button is no longer in the top left, where it was easy to activate with one’s index finger while scrolling around with the rocker. Now, it is sandwiched between the + and – buttons, with no space in between with which to tell them apart by touch. These are amongst the most common buttons used by apps and it is now exceedingly easy to hit the wrong one. FBReader, an excellent multi format book reader for the Nokia 770 and widely considered to be one of the platform’s killer apps is now next to useless due to the exceedingly poor button design of the N800. I have honestly seen better button quality on $20 pirated Hong Kong game systems. It is my earnest, sober opinion that Nokia should fire the designer of these buttons. I know of at least two stalwart and highly visible Nokia proponents who have returned their N800s and gone back to the N770 for this reason alone. The other improvements are significant enough that I don’t think I will return it, but only because I plan to buy a dedicated e-ink book reader in the near future, and don’t otherwise have to use my N800 in the dark much. Still, this is a major slip from the usually high overall build quality of Nokia products and seems to be a common thread amongst detailed reviews I have encountered.

Posted in General, Linux, Operating Systems, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff | 7 Comments »