The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for March, 2007

New Contact Form

Posted by Deliverator on 29th March 2007

I added a contact form to the site. If you wish to contact me about a personal matter, site concern, consulting inquiry, etc., you may use the form found to the right under site links. Please do not simply comment in a random post in hopes of getting my attention.

Posted in Blogging | No Comments »

More Fun with Panoramas

Posted by Deliverator on 28th March 2007

Click the image to go to the gallery.

Seattle from Beacon Hill

Posted in Media, Photography | No Comments »

Signs of the Apocalypse

Posted by Deliverator on 28th March 2007

Speakeasy has been sold to Best Buy. You may commence mourning, now.

Posted in General | 1 Comment »

More Fun with Fon

Posted by Deliverator on 22nd March 2007

I had some more fun with my La Fonera this week. As in my last post, from hence forth the La Fonera shall be simply known as the lwb. The week started off with my lwb in a bricked condition thanks to an attempt to flash a new daily build of dd-wrt onto the device using the web interface over a wireless connection. Thankfully, I was able to still access Redboot after bricking my lwb and was able to flash to the version of dd-wrt from 0319. I heartily recommend that once you get your lwb up and running with dd-wrt, that you use ssh to flash to future version and not the web interface.

You can flash to the latest version via ssh by doing the following:

cd /tmp
wget <newest version of root.fs>
wget <newest version of vmlinux.bin.l7>
mtd write vmlinux.bin.l7 vmlinux.bin.l7
mtd write root.fs rootfs
reboot

Anyways, once I had my lwb unbricked, I was eager to try a rather neat feature present in 0319, the ability for the lwb to act as both a client to a wireless network as well as act as a wireless router….at the same time. Pretty neat trick for a device that only has one radio, eh? The lwb is capable of doing this juggling act thanks to its Atheros radio. I recommend upgrading to 0319, as this feature has been broken in many of the recent daily builds. Supposedly, the build from 0310 will work as well.

So, why would one want to do this? For one, it allows one to create a “repeater” for an arbitrary wireless network which may not quite reach to where you want its signal. It does it in a way which is compatible with security systems like WPA, unlike WDS repeating, which requires special set up and has a number of undesirable technical limitations. With the lwb, it is possible to create multiple virtual ap’s and create different rule sets for each.

I tested this single radio repeating at Hacknight this week, connecting as a client to the the internet cafe’s wireless network with the lwb acting as a wireless access point with routing as well. In this mode, the wired port on the lwb which is ordinarily used for wan connectivity acts as routed port, enabling wired devices to join in the fun. One can also put the lwb into a bridging-client mode, where the lwb acts as a wireless client and transparently passes traffic to the wired interface, but I haven’t tested this yet. This can be useful for connecting NAS appliances, network printers and other conventionally wired devices to your network, without any real limitation as to where you can place them. Don’t have enough room in your office? Put the printer in the linen closet! Wireless bridges really let one unclutter one’s environment.

I did one little last bit of hacking on my lwb this week. Erik Butler commented on a video he’d seen on YouTube in which the plastic casing of the lwb had melted due to the heat. The lwb is a *little* white box and doesn’t have almost any ventilation. A number of users on Fon’s own forums have commented that their units seem to be overheating and spontaneously rebooting as a result. At least two people have explored this issue in a pseudo-scientific like manner. The general conclusion seems to be that the ventilation in the lwb is woefully inadequate and that the high temperatures are likely to result in a drastically decreased operating lifetime, with the likely cause of death being capacitor failure. I have definitely noticed that my lwb runs quite hot, so decided to protect my investment of 0$ by adding a fan to the unit. I managed to scrounge a fan from an old motherboard chipset cooler which was of an appropriate size and voltage rating and with the help of my soldering iron and dremel tool, was able to add it to the lwb. My lwb now runs MUCH cooler, with no appreciable heat build up.

Posted in Linux, Rants and Raves, SWN Hacknight, Tech Stuff, Wireless | 2 Comments »

Fix a Dead Internal SD Card on Nokia N800 Internet Tablet

Posted by Deliverator on 20th March 2007

So, I recently experienced my first hardware related glitch with my N800 Internet Tablet. The internal SD card slot stopped functioning. I tried multiple cards and none of them were being recognized when inserted into the internal slot. The same cards when inserted into the N800’s external SD card slot (the N800 has two SD card slots) work just fine. I did some googling and found a number of other people who had suddenly had their internal slot go dead. Nobody seemed to have any firm idea as to why this was happening, although some suspected the rather flimsy metal clip holding the internal card in place. I tried wedge in a piece of paper to better hold the SD card in place, and also used a jewler’s screwdriver to slightly bend up the metal contact pins, in case one of them had been depressed and was no longer making contact. Neither of these remedies worked for me. The most common suggestion was simply to send it back to Nokia. I have heard some real horror stories about people trying to get their units serviced in anything under a month, so this wasn’t a desirable option for me.

I went back to reading other people’s reports and made a posting on Internet Tablet Talk about the issue. Something mentioned in a few reports suddenly hit me. It was a comment to the effect of “and don’t forget the door has to be in place to register card insertion.” This actually makes a lot of sense for the internal card, which among other things holds a swap file. By providing a sensory mechanism to determine whether the door is on or off, it gives the N800 a chance to flush the page file and prevent possible crashes from sudden SD card removal.

My thought at this point was “ok, so there is some mechanism to detect whether the door is on, but what is that mechanism?” I remembered that the previous Nokia Internet Tablet, the 770, used a magnet on the case to autodetect when the metal slip case was slid over the screen (causing the unit to go into suspend mode). I looked in the n800 and found what seemed to be a magnetic sensor, with a small matching depresion on the inner face of the door with a bit of adhesive still visible, but no magnet. I took a big actuator magnet from a dead hard drive and waved it over the apparent sensor and instantly the SD card registered in the internal slot. As soon as I removed the magnet the SD card disappeared. Bingo!

My hard disk magnet was much to big to fit inside the case, so I tried cutting up a refrigerator magnet, but the resulting magnet was much too weak to trigger the sensor. I finally hit on using a magnetic driver from a cheap pair of earbuds I had sitting on a shelf. These magnets are usually quite strong and just waving the earbud itself lightly over the sensor was enough to trip it. The magnet I extracted was plenty powerful, but still to big to fit comfortably in the little rectangular depression on the inside of the case. I used some metal cutters to shear off a small shard, inserted it in the depression and then mixed up a some epoxy to ensure it stayed there for good. Problem solved.

I’ve only owned my N800 for a few months and have definitely been babying it. Given the number of complaints I have already seen about this issue, I suspect this will only become a bigger issue as time goes by. The poor quality adhesive attachment method used by Nokia to secure their magnet does not speak well of their hardware design.

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

Upgraded Gallery

Posted by Deliverator on 18th March 2007

I upgraded my Gallery installation to the latest test release. Gallery 1.x has been in development for many years and even the alpha releases seem very stable to me. I contemplated migrating to the database based 2.2, which was recently released, but I am not yet at the point where performance is suffering from the flat file nature of my gallery and the feature set in 2.2 vs 1.x isn’t enough to make me want to perform the rather involved upgrade procedure. 1.x also offers at least one really compelling advantage over 2.2 due to its flat file nature; It is possible to backup a gallery 1.x install with a single short command line and it is possible to build an offline version of a gallery for distribution on CDs/DVDs. I did some minor tweaks to the gallery after upgrade to keep my thumbnail sizes more consistent. Please note any wonkiness you might encounter.

While I was at it, I did a fresh gallery install for my brother, Scott. He doesn’t have much up yet, but hopefully this will compel him to stop using Flickr and Picasa.

Posted in Blogging, Media, Photography | 1 Comment »

Fun with Panoramas

Posted by Deliverator on 18th March 2007

My brother took a bunch of panoramic pictures while on our recent trip to Mexico. His Canon Powershot SD600 digicam has a panoramic stitch mode which helps you create great panoramas by showing a portion of the each successive pic taken, so that you can ensure proper overlap and orientation. Most Canon cameras come with a piece of software called PhotoStich. I have never used it, but Ken Rockwell seems to like it. Scott ended up using a really neat piece of software called PTGui to create his panorams and then had one of them printed using an online photo printing company ez prints, which he assure me is the only service he found which will do panoramas. Short of buying a Epson R2400 (which can print roughly 13×44″ images), whats a guy to do?

Anyways, I didn’t want to be left out of all the fun, so I headed to Alki on a beautiful evening a few days ago and took a whole bunch of pictures of Elliot Bay and Seattle. I didn’t want to spend $80 on PTGui, so I started by playing around with Panorama Tools. This is the proverbial swiss army knife for anyone who wants to play with panoramic images, but the learning curve is really steep. If you value your money, but not your sanity, get Panorama Tools and expect to spend a few hours reading text files and forums. If you value your time, bite the bullet and get PTGui. It does a great job at auto-creating panoramas with drag and drop simplicity, but there is a lot of sophisticated tweaking for things like lens distortion and whatnot that you can access through the advanced modes. PTGui’s $80 sticker price may be a bit much to spend for special purpose software if you are a casual user, but I have encountered nothing easier and creating panoramas should be fun!

Click the image below to see some low res versions of the panoramas I took.

Panoramic Seattle

Posted in Media, Photography | No Comments »

I LOATHE Bluetooth Dongles!

Posted by Deliverator on 13th March 2007

My relationship with Bluetooth technologies over the years has been a rather stormy one. Despite having been in development for many years now and having gone through several fairly major revisions, Bluetooth as a standard still suffers from performance, security and compatibility concerns. One of my biggest pet peaves though is the “dreaded dongle.”

Although I haven’t written about it here, it is probably no secret to anyone who knows me that I recently purchased a Lenovo Thinkpad. To be precise, I purchased a model Z61m sub-model 9450a36. For whatever reason, perhaps Windows Vista support, Lenovo chose to not ship this z61m with integrated bluetooth, which is odd to me, given that every other z61m seems to list it as standard hardware. Most of my geek friends gave me the advice of “just use a dongle,” which I absolutely refuse to do for a variety of reasons.

Chief among these reasons is that dongles jut out from the side of the notebook, which makes it an easy target for an accident waiting to happen. A $10 bluetooth dongle impacting or entangling with something can kill not just the dongle, but also the laptop which costs 100 or more times as much, or can damage the USB port. I do enough laptop repair in my line of work to know that this is one of the more common physical maladies to befall laptops. Another issue with dongles is that they are small and easily lost, or require you to dig through your bag to find them every time you want to use it. About the only dongle I would consider using is the diminutive Mogo Dapter, which barely extends past the USB port and has a rounded profile to minimize the chance of entanglement. This is basically a dongle that is designed to be left in all the time. Unfortunately, like so many wonderful James Bond inspired gadgets, this one is vapor, at least until the stated release date in June. Like with so many gadgets, I will believe it when I can buy it.

I spent some time researching internal options. It looks like I should be able to buy the internal module used by the other z61m models, but I am unsure of its compatibility and the install procedure is rather involved. For whatever reason, Lenovo places the bluetooth/modem daughtercard inside the screen assembly (perhaps to provide better rf propogation). Lenovo thankfully publishes a rather exhaustive service guide, so I am confident I could do the 11 major step procedure, but I wish there were a simpler solution. The z61m features two internal mini-pci express slots (yet, express, not just mini-pci). Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of hardware available for these slots just yet, and even if there were, Lenovo seems to have followed in IBM’s footsteps when they purchased IBM’s PC business, in that they lock down what devices you can install in internal slots to ones on an approved whitelist of device-ids. The solutions to the whitelist problem (short of saying screw you Lenovo and buying another brand of notebook) are not too appetizing. One can set a certain bit in the CMOS using a program called no-1802.com (named after the error message that inserting a non-whitelisted card produces), hex edit the bios and reflash, while keeping ones fingers crossed, or burn a new eprom for the device that you wish to insert, with a spoofed device-id (one which is on the nanny list). These prospects were a little too unappetizing, so I continued to look for solutions.

My nifty new z61m includes a nifty new ExpressCard 54 slot. ExpressCard is the new standard which is designed to replace Cardbus/PCMCIA as the solution for end user hardware expansion on notebooks. There are video cards, advanced docking port replicators, USB cards, Firewire cards, Sata cards, network adapters, WiFi adapters, sound cards, tv tuners, flash card readers and a host of other oddball devices available for expresscard already, but not a single Bluetooth adapter. Not only that, but the ExpressCard consortium could not provide me with any evidence that one is evening being developed. An ExpressCard Bluetooth adapter seems like a no brainer for me, given that ExpressCard actually offers a direct connection to the USB 2.0 bus. One should be able to scrape the circuitry from a Bluetooth dongle and slap it into an ExpressCard and call it good. Come on you creative Taiwanese manufacturers of Gizmos!

I may have found a solution to Dongle Hell in the form of a PCMCIA Bluetooth 2.0 adapter from Zoom, who a long time ago used to be Hayes, one of the better modem manufacturers back in the day. The antenna barely extends beyond the card slot, so this one shouldn’t present much if any clipping or entanglement hazard. The only PCMCIA compatible card with a lower profile, of which I am aware, is from Socket, which is actually a type II CF card which does not extend beyond the boundary of a type II CF memory card. It was designed for insertion in internal PDA slots which do not allow for extruding things like antennas. I have used one of the socket cards for a few years on my Jornada 720 and Netbook Pro. Unfortunately, Socket actually charges you extra if you want drivers for Windows. Their driver support only extends to Win XP and is by all reports rather buggy. the Zoom PCMCIA adapter, otoh is the first PCMCIA adapter, of which I am aware, to have published Vista drivers. I am unsure of whose bluetooth stack they are using, but they do list support for a wide variety of advanced Bluetooth profiles. While a lot of USB Bluetooth dongles are plug and pray supported under Vista, almost all of them are just supported by the rather minimal Microsoft stack, which is yet another strike against dongles. Anyways, I ordered one up on eBay and it should arrive in another day or two. I’ll give you a heads up if this product is a workable solution for Dongle Hell.

UPDATE The Zoom PCMCIA adapter arrived and works well in Vista. I downloaded the most recent drivers from their website, installed them, popped the card in and five minutes later was using my cell phone’s edge connection. The bluetooth stack is from Toshiba and thus far I much prefer it to the Widcomm or Bluesoleil stacks which I have used in the past. My only complaint against it is that the antenna nub which extends slightly beyond the card slot is made of purple semi-transparent plastic, which imo clashes a little with my Thinkpad’s blacker-than-though aesthetic.

Posted in Portable Computing/Gadgets, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff, Windows, Wireless | 7 Comments »

Movie Lovers of the World, Rejoice!

Posted by Deliverator on 13th March 2007

The Seattle International Film Festival recently became the only year-round film festival in the US. SIFF struck some sort of deal with McCaw Hall at the Seattle Center to have use of a 400 seat theater for some 200 days of the year. The hall has been outfitted with modern film and digital projection systems, though they are unfortunately keeping the hall’s wooden, non-reclining seats for now. Some of those independent films are LONG!

None-the-less, this is great news for Seattle movie lovers! SIFF is opening the venue with an extended series (90 screening of about 30 films) of classic foreign films from distributer Janus Films. Throughout the year, they will use the new location for showing other themed film series and special events, and it will of course be used full time during the annual SIFF festival in May-June. SIFF members get a couple buck discount on tickets at the new location (as well as a small discount on festival screenings), so it may finally be time for me to pick up a $50 yearly membership, now that there is a reasonable economic incentive to do so. I can hardly wait for the festival and am looking forward to seeing at least a few films in the series! If anyone is interested in seeing any of the films, let me know.

Longer-term, SIFF is attempting to construct its own film center with 4 theaters, exhibit space, film library, etc., similar in size and scope to Toronto’s ambitious Festival Center.

Posted in Media, Movies | No Comments »

Terra Bite Lounge – Kirkland

Posted by Deliverator on 5th March 2007

So, I’ve been meaning to check out the Terra Bite Lounge in Kirkland for a while now. Today, thanks to a rare break in my schedule, I finally got the chance. Terra Bite is a cafe which has no set prices and payment is strictly voluntary. They have a drop box near the counter in which you can contribute anything you choose, and can also pay online via paypal. Payment is neither encouraged nor discouraged. Supposedly, Terra Bite started out as a bet as to whether, in the absence of compulsion, people are inherently good or evil and the cafe is the means of testing the proposition. I really like the fact that I can pay whatever I like, pay online, pay weekly, etc. The atmosphere is really nice and low key and the service is better, as the Barristas aren’t spending half their time making change and processing credit cards (although you can pay by card as well). I am really intrigued by this experiment, as it is really similar in philosophy to much that is at the heart of the DRM debate.

The cafe itself seems to have good food and drink, music and nice furniture. I am sitting here relaxing on a big plush leather couch while watching someone play “Gears of War” for the XBOX 360 on a big plasma screen. Needless to say, and as evidenced by this post, Terra Bite has free WiFi as well.

I highly recommend you check it out. It is at the corner of Kirkland and State street.

Posted in Mobile Blogging, Wireless | No Comments »