Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Good Old Games"

Cool -- semi-retro PC Games: Cheap, and reportedly made to work within modern Windows OSes.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I finally did some GeoTagging

Went out on the kayak on the body of water formerly know as Town Lake (which now bears the official moniker of Lady Bird Lake). I have a waterproof housing for my Canon PowerShot G10, and have a nice waterproof bag that fits the Droid. So, both key pieces of GeoTagging field technology were safe on the water.

I fired up MyTracks (an Android app) at the dock and ran a GPS trace of the 2 mile bridge-and-back roundtrip. During said trip, I took a few photos of birds, turtles, and the city. So, now I had a set of photos on one device, and some GPS data on a different device. "How ever shall you properly GeoTag the photos and subsequently display them in an interesting or useful manner?," you may ask. "Furthermore," you may point out, "you seem to have forgotten to synchronize the camera's clock with that of the phone/GPS logger." The answer and solution are both relatively easy:
  1. Fix the lack of synchronization:
    • Later that night, I took simultaneous pictures with the phone's camera and the actual camera. To minimize the difference caused by lag, I "pressed halfway" on both devices and therefore got as close as possible to popping the shutters "at the same time". With the approximations that will happen later, a few hundred milliseconds isn't going to be significant.
    • (Subject and actual time relative to the rest of the photos don't matter -- this is just establishing the offset between the two clocks.)
    • (NOTE: Simultaneous shooting of a common subject is also a great technique for dealing with situations where there are multiple cameras involved in a shoot.)
  2. I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, which makes correcting the time offset simple. In my case the Canon hadn't been adjusted for the end of daylight savings, and was off by a couple of minutes, even if the hour had been correct.
    • In Lightroom, I examined the metadata for the phone's version of the "common picture," and noted the capture time.
    • I then selected the set of pictures from the Canon -- starting with the "common picture," and Shift-clicking back to the first one in the series that needed to be corrected.
    • Lightroom has a function for modifying the date and time, and if you apply a correction to this type of selection, it is clever enough to know that you want to change them all by the same offset, versus setting them all to the same exact time. This is a nice, big, timesaver!
  3. Since I was already in Lightroom to fix the captre times, I processed the RAW photos from the Canon, and exported them as JPGs (because most of the cost-effective/free GeoTagging apps don't really handle RAW files).  
  4. So, now I had the photos, but I needed the Geo data...
    • MyTracks lets you export a GPX trace file to your SD card. 
    • Copy that over to your computer because most tagging apps know how to use GPX.
  5. I used a Mac app called GPSPhotoLinker to stick the location information into the EXIF data for each JPG file.
    • This program lets you load the GPX trace file and the images, and then you can apply the location data either manually or as a batch process. 
    • It will also interpolate the location based on the time, and give you a better estimate of the location when there isn't a perfect 1:1 match between the time a picture was captured and when a point in the trace file was recorded. (Of the 13 photos I tagged, only one lined up exactly -- and that was sheer luck.) 
  6. So, now I have pictures that are technically GeoTagged, and I can stick them in a traditional gallery. But that's not the best way to benefit from the location data...  
  7. Enter JetPhoto Studio, which can not only export a KML file that you can modify to use absolute paths and then overlay on a Google Map (I didn't modify this file, so the pictures use relative paths and don't show up in this view), but also uses this to build a fully functional Google Maps-based web gallery that can be easily uploaded to your site.
  8. The results are pretty cool. If you want to see larger renditions, the "traditional gallery" does still have its uses ;^)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My take on the Nexus One "Google Phone"

I think it's an experiment to test the American consumer's tolerance to a more open model for mobile telecommunications. Right now, we generally begrudgingly accept the subsidized phone hardware with a two-year expensive contract model. But, there are already a couple of other similar experiments going on:
  • T-Mobile has introduced an alternative set of plans (Even More Plus) wherein you pay more up front for the device,  but get a cheaper monthly rate for the same services. If they would extend the lower pricing but allow you to "bring your own device", that would be nice.
  • Nokia is offering their N900 only as  fully unlocked and completely un-subsidized device.
I see this as a way to test the waters and see if we are willing to look to a model more akin to how we deal with our computers and ISPs. Most of us would think it was completely ludicrous if Apple would only sell us a Macbook for $899 with a two-year contract from Time-Warner's Roadrunner division. But somehow we have allowed this business model to prevail for the devices that are always with us. Just replace Macbook with iPhone, $899 with $199, and TW/RR with AT&T if you doubt that statement.

If all of this had been imminent 6 weeks ago, I probably wouldn't have purchased the Droid. I really do like the device, but now I'm stuck with Verizon for 2 years and will have to deal with crazy stuff if my hardware fails during that time. I was also glad that there was no VCast NASCAR that I can't remove from my phone's ROM. That would actually have been a deal-breaker, despite the other compelling features and functionality.

Having a model where I can pick the "best of breed" for the device and the carrier independently -- while finding a way to not get reamed on the price of both -- seems like a fundamentally good thing to me. If this is indeed Google's intent, then I certainly hope it proves to be successful. Outside of things that are essential for functionality, I would prefer if this model also means that no "crap" will be installed on the ROM -- giving the device's owner more control.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Minor Updates to the Home Page

http://lonewolf-digital.com/ has a new index page, and an alternative QR Code based index page, too.

I ditched the huge graphic in favor of the one below, added a couple of direct links, etc. Still have to clean up some of the old-school tags and refine my CSS to get it to validate as "good" XHTML, but most browsers are forgiving enough that it will render reasonably well in the meantime.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

One of my favorite Mac developers dislikes the App Store...


Links back to the ordeal they had using legitimate API calls and still having their app held up for months because of undocumented internal Apple processes that -- in this case -- arbitrarily managed to change for the better. (It's also possible for said processes to arbitrarily change for the worse...)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Things Google Search can do...

Nice link that covers some functions you may not know about... I knew about the calculator and conversions, and recently discovered the localized "movies" search on Android. Would never have thought to try the package tracking (I still prefer going directly to the shipper's site)...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Just a test

Seeing if my moblogging client can handle an image upload...

Note: Picture of Lady Bird Lake, taken with my Droid.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Some Apps for Android - Turbo QuasiReviews

My Tracks -
  • What: GPS Track logger, saves statistics and maps -- can upload to MyMaps and Google Docs spreadsheets.
  • Pros: Save and review workout data, do GPS data logging for geo-tagging apps (export GPX or KML).
  • Cons: GPS-based altitude is pretty poor, and shouldn't really be trusted.

Andoku -
  • What: Sudoku and some variants. 
  • Pros: Easy interface with "pencil marks", variants offer variety. 
  • Cons: "only" 100 puzzles of each type/difficulty. (But, by the time you finish them all, will you really remember the solution to the first one? I doubt it...)
Word Wrench -
  • What: Anagram-based game, somewhat like "TextTwist"
  • Pros: Pauses automatically and resumes nicely. Can change the allotted time.
  • Cons: Interface it really basic; grays out and makes it hard to see what you missed.
Jewellust -
  • What: Similar to Bejeweled, but with some unique power-ups and other features.
  • Pros: Every bit as addictive as Bejeweled.
  • Cons: Every bit as addictive as Bejeweled.
Pandora (no description necessary, does what you'd expect)

Photoshop.com Mobile - Crop and color-balance on your phone. Great for contact photos, etc.

ConnectBot - ssh/telnet client. Very solid, plenty of screen real estate on my Droid.

ES File Explorer - Local file manager with network SMB share access (nice way to grab files from NAS or upload pix, etc.).

SportsTap - Scores, schedules, etc. Good interface, but refreshes kinda slow...

AndFTP - FTP, SFTP, FTPES client. Seems pretty stable so far.

FTPServer - Exactly what it says. Perhaps a little scary, but good in a pinch, especially if you monitor it and make sure there aren't unexpected users...

Twidroid - Twitter client -- I use a task manager to close it so I don't get alerted by every new Tweet in my little world.

Blogaway - Blogger interface. Basic, but works for simple moblogging (That's a super-compound internet word). Doesn't make urls hot, but does allow picture uploads.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

QR Code is fun

QR Codes are pretty neat little 2-D bar codes that are increasingly being used to enable mobile devices to access information quickly. Programs like the Barcode Scanner for Android or similar apps for the iPhone can read and decode these easily. This code, for example, should take you to my Photo Gallery web site.

Thank you, Austin City Council

Even though Perry vetoed a similar law at the state level, at least Austin will be slightly safer...


Going the extra yard for cyclists: New 'safe-passing' ordinance by Austin City Council


See also:



The ordinance (http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/edims/document.cfm?id=131661) passed the City Councli unanimously just before the last general election.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I'm still trying to figure out how to use it, and why anybody would care about my short-form rants or tidbits... I'm at twitter.com/kevinguinn if anybody _does_ care.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I picked up a Droid at my local Best Buy last night. So far, I absolutely love it - especially vs. my old and busted T-Mobile Wing (HTC / WinMo 6 / EDGE). Verizon is expensive, but map tiles loaded 2-3x faster than a friend's G1. Will compare vs. a MyTouch later tonight...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Google Voice out-dialing with Windows Mobile

While it isn't super polished, and certainly does not support SMS (or other features / configuration options whatsoever), there is a work-around for dialing entries from your WinMo contacts via Google Voice.

The premise is simple:
  • You can out-dial through GV by logging into your account through the telephone interface (e.g. calling your GV number and supplying your PIN -- exactly as if you were trying to access the voice mail), then selecting option 2 to place a call, supplying the desired number, and then pressing #.
  • This requirement for dialing an access number, supplying a PIN, passing a target number, and then sending a "suffix" is functionally identical to what you would need if you were using a calling card.
  • Microsoft had a demo of a calling card app in the WinMo 5.0 SDK / dev site, but it was rather weak.
  • That code has been enhanced by other developers, and the improved version can be found here.
  • After that, all you have to do is configure your default "calling card" with the appropriate parameters for your Google Voice account. [These are mostly obvious, just be sure to add an extra pause ("p") after your PIN.] 
  • The calling card app adds a contextual menu in the Contact application, allowing you to successfully dial out to a contact via Google Voice in a manner that is convenient enough...
NOTE: I wanted to try GV Dialer (link omitted on general principle), but they expect you to enter a veritable crapload of personal data (all of which you should be able to configure directly within the app) before they will even send you a download link for the trial version. Two words: %@#$ THAT!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Getting the gvim + It's All Text! experience on OS X

Firefox remains my browser of choice across most platforms because I highly value the functionality afforded by two particular extensions (I even have these installed along with a PortableApps version of the browser):
Under OS X, I hadn't been too happy with the latter extension, because I couldn't figure out how to use vim as my text editor. On asyd's blog, I encountered a method of achieving vim integration with IAT!. This was a very clever work-around, but it didn't provide the consistent user experience that I have come to expect after using gvim on my Linux and Windows boxen.

However, during a moment of sleep-deprived clarity, I encountered MacVim. This, coupled with the following steps addressed my grievances quite nicely!

(I'm trying to be a "good blogger", and mentioning almost all of the steps here -- even those I consider to be somewhat obvious):
1. Download the MacVim port from http://code.google.com/p/macvim/
2. Extract the *.tbz archive (Yes, double-clicking works just fine.)
3. Copy/Move  MacVim.app where you desire (e.g. /Applications)
4. Similarly, put the mvim script where you desire (e.g /usr/bin) [helps to use a terminal here so you can verify that ownership and permissions are sane]
5. Recommended: symlink gvim to point to mvim (particularly useful if you are a multi-platform type and don't feel like remembering to type something different when you happen to be on your Mac). [It is also useful to tell the mvim script where your MacVim.app is, but I'll leave this one as an exercise for the reader, because it is generally not strictly necessary...]
6. Configure the preference for It’s All Text! and tell it to use mvim (e.g. /usr/bin/mvim) as its editor.
7. Enjoy...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Making the switch -- the hackintosh post

I like Linux, and I generally like what Ubuntu brings to the table. I even spent a month trying really hard to like Ubuntu on my Dell Mini 9 netbook. Unfortunately there were a couple of deal-breakers for me (well -- there was one major deal breaker with each of two different "flavors" of Ubuntu):
  • Factory-Installed Dell-ified Ubuntu 8.04 - The WiFi driver is buggy, and will intermittently lock up the entire system to the point that it will not accept any input (local or even remote via ssh)
  • Ubuntu 9.04 Netbook Remix - WiFi seems stable / fixed, but I never managed to get my Broadband2Go card to even be detected on the USB bus.
Therefore, I had network issues on my netbook -- regardless of which flavor of Ubuntu I tried to use. As the lyrics from Pink Floyd's The Trial say: "This will not do." As a result, I am currently taking part in the following activity:
Mini9 OSX

UPDATE: Works pretty well. Not quite as snappy as my 3-year-old MBP, but extremely functional and usable so far. I also installed that BB2G card easily, and can now achieve netbook nirvana -- or something.

HOWTO do it yourself

Monday, August 31, 2009

National Parks Widget

The new widget on the top right of this blog is courtesy of the upcoming Ken Burns PBS Series The National Parks: America's Best Idea, which starts on September 27th.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

This is why people don't take RMS and the FSF seriously

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has posted a list of "Windows 7 Sins" that epitomizes Mr. Stallman's blunt instrument approach to winning the hearts and minds of computer users and information consumers... No matter how noble the intent, this type of delivery is counterproductive and, at best, misguided. 

The list features paragraphs and links that provide some fact, plenty of FUD, and a more-than-healthy dose of misleading information around the following alleged Microsoft "sins". You can read the FSF's helpful information using these links, and I'll interject some moderation to temper a few of the "whoppers" that you may encounter along the way:
  1. Education: Remember the days of the Apple ][? The only reason I had one at home was because that's what we used at school. If the skills I gained at an early age were non-transferable to other platforms and technologies, then I should be completely overwhelmed by the OpenBSD, OS X, Windows, and Linux systems that surround me. Indeed, I should be buying up every Apple ][, ][e, and ][c that appears on eBay so that I can have a computer that "I know how to use." The OLPC rant is so poorly thought out that it scarcely requires mentioning. Anyone with a modicum of token critical thinking and analysis skills (which are far more important to education than any type of computing device) can recognize the faults in its logic.   
  2. DRM: Yes, I dislike encumbered files and generally choose not to purchase them. However, I also enjoy watching my Blu-Ray discs, which make very heavy use of DRM technologies. The funniest part of this rant is how it employs convenient omission. The alternatives that are available all work on Windows platforms.  I can generate and play any type of media that I desire, in any format that can be imagined. Consumer education is important, but this is overbearing and misguided. Apple iPods and iPhones, and Microsoft Zunes and Windows Mobile devices would all be less successful if they could only use media from the various stores that are listed. If you do not like the shortcomings that these stores provide, don't use the stores... 
  3. Security: The best part of this one is "With free software, even if you don't have the skills to evaluate the software, you can be certain that someone else can." I'm struggling to muster the faith required to conjure a volunteer benevolent uber-mensch who is fluent in C, well versed in security principles, and has the interests of the populous above those of himself or whomever is providing his source of income. All modern Linux distributions use repositories to get security updates and most people blindly apply binary updates and hope that said benefactor exists in exactly the same way that they rely on Microsoft or Apple to provide updates to their proprietary systems. I would love to see a survey of what percentage of production Linux users have source packages installed. My guess: a single-digit percentage relies on their own skills instead of those of Canonical, Novell, RedHat, etc...   I leave the exercise of attempting to find information about security, bug fixes, patches, and updates associated with GNU Hurd to the reader (Good Luck!).
  4. Monopoly: Yes, they got busted. The argument about PC Manufacturers is a bit of a double-edged sword, however. Successful PC Manufacturers are run by business people, not idealists. Business people have a strong tendency to build, stock, and offer for sale items which they perceive as likely to be sold. Regardless of how enthusiastic your love for alternatives is, pragmatism and economics will prevail. Besides, every major manufacturer offers some systems with Linux. I am not aware of any, however, that are insane enough to try the waters of offering for sale a system based upon the perpetually-in-development but never-likely-to-actually-be-producton-ready GNU Hurd. After all, "there is no stable version."
  5. Standards: Here the rallying cry is primarily against Office, with a side of IE. Although, I was under the impression that the basis of this "campaign" was the upcoming release of the Windows 7 operating system. On the off chance that a friend or colleague sends you an ODF-formatted document, Office 2007 SP2 includes ODF support. For some strange reason the Sun plug-in does a better job of it (to the untrained observer, it would appear as if the folks who developed the source code for OpenOffice are more familiar with the 728-page ODF standard -- which, ironically, is distributed as a ZIP file that contains a PDF).                                                  
  6. Lock In: Again, the logic breaks down rather quicky, and Microsoft can often be replaced by "Company X". For all of Mr. Stallman's obsessions with the various definitions of the word free (apparently free, Free, fRee, frEe, freE, FRee, FrEe, FreE, fREe, fReE, frEE, FREe, FReE, FrEE, fREE, and FREE should all have different connotative and denotative symbology), he doesn't seem to understand the nuance of the free market. Yes, Windows NT4 and Windows 2000 have reached the end of their support lifecycles. But, then again, so have Oracle 8i, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 2.1, AIX 5.3, the Ford Model A, and every other commercial product in the history of market-driven economies. At this point, the argument switches back to Office again... Anybody tried to open a WordPerfect 5.1-or-previous document recently? The once-ubiquitous *.wpd was the de facto "document exchange format" before Microsoft Office started to provide competitive-to-superior functionality. I guess it only qualifies as lock-in when you remain successful in the marketplace. (Interestingly, I could find no mention of *.wpd support in the latest version of Corel WordPerfect Office X4, which prominently features ODF, Microsoft OOXML, and Adobe PDF support.)  
  7. Privacy: This rant combines disparate factors into a doomsday scenario that is ridiculously unlikely. It deftly mixed the Windows Genuine Advantage program (without railing other companies that have even-less-transparent software activation schemes) with some massive FUD about the Trusted Platform Module, and assumes that the reader is ignorant enough to believe that the (NT?) 4(.0?) horsemen of the apocalypse are nigh. Windows Vista and Windows 7 do not employ the version of "Trustworthy Computing" that was envisioned by Palladium. Yes, there is some opportunity for abuse, but the scenario that is described here has less of a chance of occurrence than me winning 18 consecutive lotteries and being struck by lightning (at the same physical location) on each occasion as I collect the winnings. 
In short, throughout its over-105-year history, Oscar Mayer hasn't managed to produce this much bologna. If this energy could be directed into real consumer education, it would be far more productive than this petty -- and frankly, pathetic -- mix of whining and hate- / fear-mongering. This "campaign" comes across as juvenile quibbling and bellyaching, and lacks characteristics that would inspire any meaningful discussion or debate. Said discussion and debate is useful and necessary, but the tactics employed by this campaign are better fit as examples in the next edition of Crimes Against Logic than as tinder for revolutionary fires. Indeed, the only likely response to this "initiative" will be inflammatory blog rhetoric and user-comment cruft on both sides of the "argument"; all of which is distinctly anathema to the prospects of rational debate and progress.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Broadband2Go and Ubuntu 8.04 -- 1st success

No luck with NetworkManager (Bugs: Ubuntu, Gnome Network Manager).

Anyhow, the important parts:
  1. edited /etc/udev/rules.d/70-persistent-cd.rules and added ,RUN+="/usr/bin/eject %k" to the Novatel-generated entries
  2. re-inserted the card and ran lsusb to verify that the Virgin Mobile card showed up in modem mode (1410:6002)
  3. ran sudo modprobe usbserial vendor=0x1410 product=0x6002 to establish the ttyUSBx devices (I had gotten this far previously)
  4. verified that said ttys were there via ls /dev/ttyU*
  5. followed Sprint's instructions for wvdial, including sudo wvdialconf, sudo vi /etc/wvdial.conf (to set the parameters), and then sudo wvdial to establish the connection (when I tried wvdial w/o root, it couldn't modify /etc/ppp/chap-secrets or /etc/ppp/pap-secrets. I'll have to look into that, b/c root may not be strictly necessary here... I seem to recall a "dialout" group...)
  6. NOTE: the wvdialconf and /etc/wvdial.conf items above are one-time steps...
  7. NOTE: It's trivial to script the lsusb, modprobe, checking for tty, and launching wvdial tasks, and should be easy to add a launcher icon also. (UPDATE: it was pretty trivial -- see below)
  8. Killed my WiFi (via Airplane Mode), then wrote this post via the 3G goodness. Verified no ip on eth1 (my wifi), and active ip on ppp0 via ifconfig
  9. NOTE: leave the terminal window open, and simply hit <Ctrl>+C to disconnect when you're ready.
It's a good step in the right direction. Would be nice to get it working with Network Manager, but this reminds me of the good old days (when we upgraded our University's dial-up from SLIP to PPP and I had to figure out how to make it work with a distro based on the 0.99pl10 Linux kernel).

Initial Script
# look for any Novatel Wireless device
DEVICE=`lsusb |  grep $VENDOR | cut -d : -f 3`
# if a device exists, make sure it's the Virgin Mobile modem
# if it is the modem, make usbserial probe the device
if [ "${DEVICE:0:4}" != "6002" ];
    then echo Virgin Mobile card not found; exit 1
    else sudo modprobe usbserial vendor=0x$VENDOR product=0x$DEVICE;
# make sure that usbserial created /dev/ttyUSBn device(s)
# if the USB tty is there, then initiate the ppp connection
TTYUSB=`ls /dev/ttyUSB*`
if [ -z "$TTYUSB" ];
    then echo No TTY created; exit 1
    else sudo wvdial;

Saturday, August 22, 2009

More RAM for the Mini 9

I happily spent $20 for a 2GB DDR2 SODIMM, and replaced the 1GB that came with my Mini 9. Both the BIOS and the kernel saw it correctly with no issues.

The only obvious improvements have been in Picasa and VLC -- but both are important parts of my plan for this netbook...

No BB2G on Ubuntu 8.04 -- yet

Well, I found some good references and managed to get the usbserial driver to create ttys for the USB device. But, I have not managed to successfully connect a ppp connection quite yet...

Here are some links. (The last two are the most relevant, but the others provide good context.)

NOTE: the Virgin Mobile card has a product ID of 0x6002, vs. the 0x6000 for Verizon's version.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go for OS X

OK, this was too easy (I'm using the card to write this blog post).

  1. Install the Connection Manager and Drivers on a Windows system. (I used my boot camp partition.)
  2. Activate the USB device, and Program it using the Connection Manager.
  3. Restart in OS X
  4. Run the installer package (Installer.pkg), and -- unfortunately -- reboot.
  5. Follow along with the Leopard instructions in the UserGuide.pdf, with a couple of (fairly obvious) modifications:
  • The connection was created automatically (easier than their instructions)
  • It was called "Virgin Mobile Modem" instead of "Novatel Wireless CDMA Modem"
  • Some of the options they didn't mention on the WWAN tab have been removed (again, making it easier)
  • They forgot to mention adding your account credentials before clicking "Connect" (NOTE: This may actually not be necessary, based on my experiences under Linux -- I'll have to try using no data here later...)
  • Your Account Name is your MDN / Broadband2Go account number
  • Your Password is your Account PIN
That's it -- fully functional on OS X in a matter of about 2 minutes. Next stop, trying to get the bugger to work with Linux (namely Ubuntu 8.04 on my netbook). I'll report back if/when I'm successful...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The "Netbook" Experience

I have just added a Dell Mini 9 to my computing arsenal. I ordered it with the Dell-ized Ubuntu 8.04 precursor to "Netbook Remix" and after spending my first day with it am rather more pleased than I had expected...

Sure, the keyboard is somewhat compressed and "interesting," but the keys that are in weird locations are used infrequently during netbook-friendly tasks. The biggest exception to this general rule is the right Shift key, which requires a bit of a pinky stretch to get to, and will require training before muscle memory would render it easily-accessible. For completeness, here are the odd and quibble-worthy key placements:
  • - / _ and = / + are to the right of the P, and not on the number row
  • ' / " is down low, next to the "right-click menu" key (this can interfere with some normal typing activities, such as blogging or composing documents)
  • `, ~, {, }, [, ], |, \, Insert, PrntScrn, PgUp, PgDn, Home, End, and the F1 through F10 keys all require use of the blue Fn key. (In other words, you wouldn't want to do any heavy programming or scripting using this keyboard.)
  • There is only one (left) Ctrl key, and one (left) Alt key.
  • The diagonal shift of the top row w/r/t the "home" row is practically non-existent. (Honestly, this hasn't bothered me or prevented me from touch-typing.)
  • There is not even an embedded, Fn-key triggered number pad, as is common on many notebooks. You have to use the traditional (horizontal) typewriter layout to generate numerals.
  • F11 and F12 don't exist (at least not directly)
  • Esc, Tab, Caps Lock, and the right Shift key are all tiny, but usable. Enter and Backspace are quite generously sized...
  • The arrow keys form an inverted T, but are surrounded by other active keys.
The Operating System
Full disclosure: I am a bit of an OS collector and aficionado, and entered this experience with no fear of using Linux.
I would have loved to see an Ubuntu 9.04 installation, and even preemptively downloaded the "Jaunty" ISO before receiving my system. But, I realize the 8.04 is the LTS release, and figured that I'd give it a fair shake before making any "radical" changes to my new toy...

My biggest dislike was that a slightly-rebranded (Web Browser) and non-update-able Firefox 3.0.5 was installed (To be fair, an update to a later 3.0.x was in the Dell repository). I suppose the rebranding was intended to help uninformed new users who may not know what Firefox is, but the inability to update just plain bothered me to the point of being unforgiveable. Fortunately, I was able to quickly and easily load Firefox 3.5.2, and reprogram the Dell desktop launcher to use that version (and its icon). I also replaced or removed many of the Yahoo! shortcuts that Dell placed in the launcher to "help" me. I was also successful in downloading and installing *.deb packages for Picasa 3 (library on external USB HDD), Skype, and some other staples...

OpenOffice 2.4 is there by default, and functional. I would have preferred to see 3.0, and will now have to investigate whether 2.4 can handle "Office 2007" file types (I don't think so, but could be pleasantly surprised if I'm wrong -- [I wasn't wrong.]).

The Dell launcher is actually quite convenient (much more so because it can be very easily customized). But, it looks like Canonical has made some improvements in UNR.

Summary of First Impressions

I got this as a bit of a toy, with the primary intended real use-case of "photographer's travel companion". Paired with my Photo Safe II backup device, and with the aid of Picasa, this use case will definitely become a reality. Since the Photo Safe II interacts with the computer as a USB HDD, the limited storage space on the built-in SSD is less of a concern (although upgrading to 64GB is still a distinct possibility). The 8.9-inch glossy screen and features of Picasa easily out-class the screens on my digital cameras, and those on the very expensive photo viewer devices, like the Epson P6000. Having access to a full-featured web browser (and Flash) on hotel and hotspot WiFi greatly outdoes the mobile phone experience, too. Hulu works quite nicely!

Watch this space for further impressions after I've lived with this for a while... I'm using this as my primary living room browsing experience right now.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Open letter to smartphone and mobile operator goombas...

  • Support Bluetooth PAN profiles
  • Support Bluetooth HID profiles
  • Include 3.5mm audio jacks
  • Use standard USB for data and charging

Monday, June 01, 2009

Adventures in Controlled Demolition

For several reasons, I decided to "uninstall" the patio cover that I had constructed several years ago. It was roughly 12' x 12' x 8', and constructed of pressure-treated lumber.

I've cut down a tree or two in my day, and decided that using a similar notching technique would probably work:

Notches were cut in all four upright posts, with those on one side slightly (according to a precisely calibrated eye) higher than those on the other side:

After back-cutting the notches, and "coaxing" the structure away from the house with a hammer, the results were better than most people would deem possible:

Thus began the arduous process of removing hundreds of screws to comply with the "nail-free" requirements of my bulky trash pick-up. Several hours later, I was down to this:

The next step was to disassemble and remove the outer 2" x 6" frame:

Finally (since daylight and energy were both starting to get scarce), I removed the remnants of the vertical posts from the footers near the house. (I'll need to use a hand saw to take off the tops of the posts that are inside the planter boxes.) If the trash service doesn't come this afternoon, I will extract the footers this evening:

Not too bad for a day's work...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Photo Backups -- Found a solution

I had been considering several different options for generating a backup of my photos when traveling sans laptop.

There are several "viewer" devices out there, that have a screen as well as a drive. I have found these to be somewhat universally overpriced (especially if you want a "reasonably-sized" hard drive), and therefore could not justify purchasing any of them. Probably because everybody feels this way, the even-pricier-than-the-Epson Canon M80 was never even sold in the United States.

I also thought about the netbook option. The price would be cheaper than the Epson or (unattainable) Canon, and the screen would certainly be larger. But, the space difference vs. my "real" laptop isn't really enough for this option to make sense, and the drives tend to be tiny.

Finally, I settled on the Photo Safe II from Digital Foci. It does not have the ability to view photos, but I was able to secure a 160GB model for $105 from Amazon. It successfully slurmed both an 8GB SDHC and a 4GB CF card in a reasonable time during my initial testing. The 160GB provides adequate capacity to overcome the device's main weakness, which is that it just dumps the card to a folder during each copy operation (and therefore will create duplicates if you are doing multiple backups from the same card as it is slowly filled, e.g. over a period of a few days). The formatted capacity is ~149GB, which can handle more than 18 copy operations with a full 8GB card. In other words, it should be enough to handle almost any reasonably-probable trip...

Password "Recovery"


French word du jour...

Prononciation française est très différente de celle des autres langues romanes. Espérons que cela contribuera à augmenter ma compétence. Il ya peu de temps pour apprendre avant notre voyage commence!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bike-on-Bike Action

Last Friday, I had to choose between riding to work or going mountain biking after work. The low gearing, accelerated tire wear, reduced speed, and other factors made me reluctant to ride the mountain bike to work... Well, drawing my inspiration from the TrayBien, and realizing that I had a Barracuda Bike Holder in my garage, I did some light fabricating. The result can be seen in these pictures:

Mountain Bike on SUB

Mountain Bike on SUB