Friday, May 29, 2009

Milkshakes namespace

Lunch at Lane Cove today with a bunch of programmers. The menu made me laugh.


I thought I'd have something from the Milkshakes namespace.

Mac monitor calibration with Spyder2

spyder.jpgAt work I'm using a high resolution, but poor quality monitor.

I've tried the manual calibration in the Monitor control panel but it just made things worse.

When mentioning this to our graphic designer he said that where he works they hire someone to come out and calibrate monitors for a few hundred dollars.

On the way home I dropped by Maccentric in Chatwood (a fine store by the way) and found that a Spyder2 express was AU$169 so I bought one on the spot.

The upshot of all this is, yes it has made the monitor work better but, my goodness, this is archaic software! I presume the PC version is better.

The profile it first installed disappeared when I switched from it in Display preferences. When it installed it left an unexecutable application on my desktop - perhaps a PowerPC application? When I rebooted, a generic app bounced in the dock for a considerable time. (I've now removed it from startup items).

Great idea, reasonable price, bad Mac software.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dell Adamo port review

Picture 3.pngOn Sunday, at the mall, I had a play with the new Dell laptop, called Adamo.

I'm a MacBook Air user, but this is cute.

At AU$3,800 I was confused because those Microsoft ads promised me that PCs would be really cheap!

Anyhow, what caught my eye was that the ports on the back edge include eSATA and a full size DisplayPort socket (I've only ever seen the mini version Apple use).

Surely eSATA should become the successor to FireWire? (Given that consumer video cameras are now recording to disk so that need has gone).

At the Dell stand (no, it's not a shop) the guy took the laptop out of it's security bracket so I could pick it up and feel it. The keyboard seems very nice but that's about all I can say - it was running Windows and locked down. Even the staff couldn't unlock the screen!

(Apparently there's been a bit of trouble with folks walking around their stands leaving the demo machines on porn sites without the staff noticing).

Seems like a nice laptop, for once Apple seems a little behind the curve in the port department.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sometimes Linux is really better

networkMenu.jpgI've been very impressed with the latest Ubuntu and it seems that the polish goes far deeper than just the eye candy.

Next week I'm off to Melbourne and the office lent me a nifty 3G USB wireless dongle, a Huawei model E169, supplied by Optus.

First I tried it on the Mac, the device has an embedded USB storage area that mounts as a disk and has the software in it. It's rather clunky but functional and of course you have to eject it before removing the device.

I plugged it into a netbook running the Ubuntu 9.04 Netbook Remix (but presumably it's the same in the normal mix), and was automatically shown a very friendly connection wizard.

Network wizard.png

It seems to be pre-populated with all the details you might need. Suffice to say, it just worked.

Great to see a clearly superior user experience on Linux.

Friday, May 22, 2009

RSS being ruined by huge ads

Picture 1.pngI've been thinking a lot about my use of RSS for news.

Dave Winer's recent podcasts "Rebooting the news" are fascinating to a news junkie like me.

One thing that is spoiling my appreciation of RSS is the recent appearance of very large, tall ads in the feeds.

I can understand that the sources need to make money from their news, even Rupert does, but if the ads are much bigger than the content, you drive me away very fast.

Looks like it's time for the ad blocker, but that seems to be a pity because I value my feed authors.

Settle down a bit folks!

The de-enterprising of IT

punchcard.jpegAt the end of the twentieth century the most complex, sophisticated, multi-user software was in the enterprise. Banks, insurance companies, manufacturing and logistics.

Since then, the tables have turned - dramatically. The most amazing multi-user software is now outside the enterprise. Facebook, eBay, Amazon, World of Warcraft, Google Docs and yes Twitter. It goes further than just being on desktops, this highly evolved collaborative software extends out to millions of mobile devices.

But, here's the thing, the upcoming generation, the "digital natives", are growing up with this new software and expect all software to be fast, live, and truly collaborative.

When these new workers arrive in the enterprise their expectations of what software can do will not be met by what they find there. They will be deeply disappointed by the quality, usability and sophistication of enterprise IT.

We enterprise developers face a challenge that comes from our children's generation. The way we think about punch cards today is nothing compared to the disdain that they will feel about our efforts.

The challenge is to bring the best of the web collaborative experience inside, or perhaps it's better to just de-enterprise IT?

Monday, May 18, 2009

In the future.. lenses will have worse flare

Picture 2.pngHad some time to kill yesterday so I thought I'd watch the new Star Trek movie. My concern was that I'd stick out as a middle aged bloke going to the movie on his own. That wasn't the case.

It's a good film, very true to the spirit of the series and manages to include lots of the best lines and ideas, but I am getting tired of black holes.

As a photography buff, I found the excessive lens flare quite amazing.

Picture 4.png

Surely both lenses will get better (and be just liquid controlled by computer) and indoor lighting will end up just being glowing paint or panels or whatever.

Picture 5.pngDid they add this in as digital effects or did they use High Definition Lomo Lenses or something?

Anyhow, enjoyed the ride and can recommend the film.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sangean DPR-69 Plus DAB+ review

radio.jpgDid a quick run-around of Sydney stores to see who has stock of DAB+ radios. In the end I picked up a Sangean DPR-69 Plus at Harvey Norman for $239.

Mine is running software V3.2.10.22195-23. I wonder if users can upgrade.

It's a reasonably compact radio, easy to get going and operate without reading the instructions (although there are some interesting features that you wouldn't guess).

Amazingly, given that digital radio doesn't launch here in Sydney for another few weeks, the radio found 11 stations: 2CH - Easy 1170, 2GB, 2SM (no audio), 2UE (playing classical music), DAB Plus 1 (the same classical music), ABC dig DAB PLUS, Nova 969, RADAR- Get On It, SBS Digital One, SBS Digital Two, and Vega 95.3.

It's funny that many of the stations have included their FM frequency in their brand, this of course is one of the reasons that digital radio or internet radio is a good idea.

The sound from the radio's speaker is pretty bad, worse than most radios of this size I have around the house. The good news is that headphone audio seems capable of excellent fidelity. The stations vary a great deal but at best it sounds terrific in decent headphones and I'd be inclined to use this radio as an input to an amplified speaker pair.


The radio supports rechargeable batteries and will automatically charge them if you flip a switch in the battery compartment.

One interesting feature is that the radio supports some sort of audio level compression internally that you can adjust through advanced settings.

On FM the sound sounds obviously worse, although I'm a little suspicious that this may be deliberate to help push the technology.

One annoying thing is that the antenna doesn't pop out so you can have it vertical while lying the radio on it's back.

Obviously overpriced but we early adopters expect that. A pity it doesn't include AM.

Welcome DAB+!

I just wonder if we couldn't have a similar receiver that picks up 3G, WiMax or Wifi broadband internet and plays internet radio everywhere.


Listened to the radio on the bus to work today and had pretty good reception along the way - certainly on par with FM. At home reception is marginal, they could do with some more power.

The Advanced info button rolls the display through:

  • Station crawl of info, sometimes ads

  • Genre - I assume, some are pretty funny

  • "Sydney MUX2 9b" whatever that is.

  • Time and date

  • "9B 204.640MHz" - channel and frequency

  • "192kbps / MP2" or "128kbps / AAC"

  • Signal strength (presumably) shown as a bar graph

The set is a bit slow to turn on, at first I thought the button was intermittent.

Battery life is said to be 25 hours on 4 alkaline AA batteries which is very poor for a normal radio. I guess the recharging makes up for that to some extent.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ubuntu 9.04 Netbook Remix on Acer Aspire One

Fedora 10 with the LXDE window manager has been a pretty good experience on my Acer Aspire One netbook but the release of a new Ubuntu with a "netbook remix" prompted me to give it a go.

This time I decided to install via a USB key drive, it's a very smooth and quick experience. The .dmg image file is downloaded, then (I'm an a Mac desktop here), the image is simply copied over to the USB key using good old unix dd command. In my case, like this:

sudo \
dd if=/Users/marksp/Desktop/ubuntu-9.04-netbook-remix-i386.img \
of=/dev/disk4 bs=1m
946+1 records in
946+1 records out
992837632 bytes transferred in 260.975185 secs (3804337 bytes/sec)
Peter-Marks-iMac-09:~ marksp$ diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk4Unmount of all volumes on disk4 was successful

Booting is snappy, 37 seconds from power on to login screen. Probably five of those seconds are in the bios and grub's deliberate delay.

Aside from hardware support, wireless, video and sound all just worked out of the box, the big feature is that the user interface has been tweaked to be usable on the netbook's smaller screen.


On logging in you get launcher shown above, with a menu of programs on the left and folders on the right.

When you launch an application, it kind of looks like it's running in a browser tab, kind of weird but it makes sense on a small screen. You can switch to the conventional blank desktop in preferences.

Wireless comes up very fast, much better than under Fedora on this hardware.

The graphics look lovely and fonts are now first class - this used to be the thing that really made Linux desktops look second rate. There are various little animations, such as when applications launch, these are nicely done and not overused. A couple of icons are low resolution, but otherwise all looks good.

Special keys on the Aspire One such as Fn-Volume and screen brightness work as advertised.

Shutting the screen puts it to sleep quickly, on opening again, just tapping a key wakes it up and wireless re-connects smoothly. I've had trouble with this on other distributions.

I ran Firefox and was prompted to install a flash player, it offered three alternatives, the first being a Gnome flash player called Swfdec. This install failed. I restarted Firefox and tried the third option, the Gnash SWF Player. Again, this failed. The third option, the Adobe Flash player failed saying "Could not find package "flashplugin-installer". Tried to find flash in the Synaptic package manager but couldn't see it there. Hmm.

Network browsing is excellent, it showed me all the macs, pcs, linux boxes and even a shared drive on my router. Double clicking on the icon for my mac, showed that it was using ssh to connect and wanted confirmation on the key. I logged in and could browse the disk via sftp. Great stuff, and all transparent to the user.

When setting up printing, it scanned my network and found both printers. When I chose the HP LaserJet it offered to download a proprietary driver which would "enhance the functionality" by making printing faster. I said yes but it didn't do anything, possibly because in the mean time the Update Manager had noticed some software updates.

The software update came to a halt for several minutes showing a terminal and saying it was installing a new version of a sound config file while "Configuring gnome-applets". In the end it carried on.

On rebooting after the software update, wireless didn't re-connect. I shut down, figuring that maybe the card was in a bad state but on starting up I found in Administration/hardware drivers that the "Alternative Atheros "madwifi" driver" was disabled. I enabled it, rebooted, messed around, edited interfaces deleted, rebooted... In the end I disabled the proprietary driver.

Now I can see my network again, but couldn't join it.

Ubuntu 9.04 netbook remix is an excellent release but at the time of writing has wireless problems after a software update. After a few more re-boots it connected again but there is something strange going on.


Wireless seems ok now but the fan was running all the time so I've installed acerfand and created an file called acerfand in /etc/init.d based on skeleton.

Next I did the following to make it start on boot and at run levels 2,3,4,5.

update-rc.d -f acerfand start 99 2 3 4 5 .

Despite all this, it doesn't seem to be starting on boot.

Update 2

OK, the correct solution to the excessive fan on an acer aspire one is a kernel module acerhdf.

Now I discover that to pass parameters to the module used to involve a line in /etc/modules.conf but that's moved to /etc/modprobe.d/options.conf

I inserted this line:

options acerhdf verbose=1 fanon=62 fanoff=52 interval=10

It's working and in /var/log/messages I'm seeing:

May 17 14:10:09 marksp-laptop kernel: [ 172.080423] acerhdf: Temperature is: 59
May 17 14:10:14 marksp-laptop kernel: [ 177.081401] acerhdf: Temperature is: 58
May 17 14:10:19 marksp-laptop kernel: [ 182.080427] acerhdf: Temperature is: 58
May 17 14:10:24 marksp-laptop kernel: [ 187.080432] acerhdf: Temperature is: 57

(Yes, I'm going to turn down the interval).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Digital Radio DAB+ launching in Australia

1240382081_8634_1240382073_3792_HN333160.jpgThis morning I had a chat on Radio National about the launch of digital radio in Australia.

Now, I'm a technical optimist and tend to be an early adopter of things like this - I still have a stereo AM receiver in the room for example. For some reason I detect significant scepticism about digital radio.

Perhaps the broadcasters are being spread a bit thin, perhaps local radio is all becoming a bit irrelevant in the face of streaming internet radio (which I've been enjoying lately).

I hope the launch goes well, but I'd really like to see some elegant receivers that do DAB+ and DRM (for shortwave). It looks like some interesting sets are coming, like this UniWave..

DiWave 100 013.jpg

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Back home, attending PyCon

organised.jpgI'm back home after a few weeks, spent the day getting organised.

Where I stayed had a little shop with a very bored shop keeper who spent his time doing shelf art as you see here.

On the flight home and since I've been enjoying PyCon 2009 thanks to their excellent RSS feed of presentation video or audio recordings.

There's some great material there, lots for me to learn but marred by technical issues: bad slide video sometimes, distorted or bad audio. I would pay to support better quality in the future, it's certainly worth it. Thanks to those who put this together.

easyaccess.pngWhile roaming I noticed my iPhone saying "EasyAccess" across the top. I have no idea what this means, anyone know? It happened several times and I'm not sure if it was a certain carrier (I hopped between several while travelling).

Great to be back but I will miss the food.

And the hi-tech refrigeration.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Newspapers are dinosaurs, RSS is for news

Picture 1.pngThe cleaner here in KL asked for the newspaper the other day, she wanted to clean windows. I don't have any so she had to make do. Newspaper is particularly good for cleaning glass.

Despite years of buying newspaper mastheads, Rupert Murdoch knows that in their current (printed) form they are on the way out. "Classified revenues are undoubtedly migrating to the web, probably not to return." When he buys a paper, he's buying the brand, and that is valuable to consumers trying to pick through the noise on the net trying to find the signals.

When, in my RSS feed, I saw the headline of Steve Gilmore's post on Techcrunch saying "Rest in Peace, RSS", I figured he's probably just doing Dvorak's old trick of saying something that lots of people will angrily disagree with to drive traffic. Then later he'll claim we all misunderstood and he's really actually not mad. He did make me pause to think, so fine.

I knew Dave Winer, developer of RSS, would respond and he did so with great eloquence and use of insightful metaphor.

For my money, RSS is a fantastic foundation. Every day I get up, make some breakfast and look at my news feed in Google Reader.

Picture 2.png

I feel pretty well informed, we do get the newspaper at home and I like to flip through it, but there's not much in there I haven't already seen and there's a whole lot of stories I am interested in that are either missing or turn up days after they appeared in my feed.

The agencies have claimed that Google is stealing their news, but really what Google news has highlighted is how little original news there is. If you look at a story you'll see that it's come from a wire service and is repeated in hundreds of other newspapers.

Picture 3.png

695 copies of the same story? We don't have to do that any more!

That intelligent de-duplicating of stories that Google News does so well needs to be applied to Google Reader. I do suffer from seeing the same story spread to all my favourite sites and be repeated.

The choice is between speed and insight - I chose both but I'd like to summarise my feed down.

I hope subscriptions to wirelessly networked news reading tablets will be the business model that supports thoughtful journalism.

Printing news on crummy paper and throwing it roughly in to the garden is a technology that should have died long ago.

Now, how are we going to clean glass in the future, there's a business opportunity..

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Flight of the Conchords now available in iTunes Australia

Great news, the excellent HBO series "Flight of the Conchords" is finally available in iTunes in Australia.


Apple says television shows purchased and downloaded from the iTunes Store can be viewed on a Mac or PC, iPod nano with video, iPod classic, iPod touch, fifth generation iPod, iPhone or on a widescreen TV with Apple TV. Episodes are priced at Recommended Retail Price A$2.99 per episode.

It's hard to pick a favourite episode, and series two struggled to match the quality of series one, but for my money series 2 episode episode 7 where the New Zealand Prime Minister visits is so deeply funny, I've watched it repeatedly and keep noticing new gems.


"Sorry Murray, dropped off there, bloody jet-lag, what day is it? yesterday?".

"Do you like bubble baths? oh I'm getting ahead of myself, do you want to have dinner?"

And much more... watch for Barack Obama, Bono, Elton John and Art Garfunkel (I'm not kidding - well about the last one).

Sunday, May 03, 2009

MP5 Player review

There are gadgets in the Malaysian electronics stores that you just don't see in Australia. Perhaps for good reason.

I picked up an 8Gb pocket video player labelled "MP5 High Clarity portable DV camera MP5 player" for AU$138.


The screen is about two inches in diameter, although the box says three.


When plugged in to a computer via the MicroUSB socket, it mounts as a storage device and you simply drag files over. There's also a socket for adding extra microSD storage.

The sliding switch is for power.


On top there's a rocker switch used for "go forward" and mode selection.


On the back is the camera and a tiny speaker said to be "Hi Fi".

The quality of the camera isn't great, here's a shot of the excellent Hartamas Regency 2 pool from my room:


This gadget has amazing functionality, badly implemented. Here's a feature list:

  • Screen 960 x 480

  • Plays Audio: mp3, wma, Real

  • Plays Video: AVI, divx, MP4, Real

  • Photo viewer

  • eBook reader: just text but supports bookmarks

  • Still camera: 2048 x 1536

  • Video camera: records xvid

  • Stopwatch

  • FM Radio

  • Tetris

  • Audio recorder

  • File explorer

Operation is obtuse at times, some functions are accessed by pressing and holding one of the buttons for a few seconds.

Battery life looks like it would play about 1.5 hours of video, certainly not enough for a movie on a flight but enough to watch a couple of TV shows.

The screen is one of those with a very narrow viewing angle side to side. The irritating thing about it is that each of your eyes sees a different version and when you go right off line the image goes negative.

I marvel at the ability of talented local manufacturers to create these devices and wonder would could be achieved if they partnered with some decent user interface engineers.

Can't tell who made it, there's no brand as I know it other than "IsMy" on the back. A bit of searching and it looks like it's from Kingdig Industrial (Shenzhen) CO.,LTD. Model Number : KD-MP4-045.

Turns out it's a Rockchip RK2708 running firmware version 2.2.

As the box goes on to say "The story continues, expand your life colourful your day with your digital player" - how could I resist.

Friday, May 01, 2009

iDisk Sync - works fine

Picture 3.pngI'm a long time subscriber to MobileMe/.Mac. Despite the rather high price, the convenience of going to any new mac and having all my contacts, calendars, and bookmarks sync over is a real time-saver.

Syncing is a hard problem. In the days of the palm pilot I used to sync with several computers and use the palm as a way to do this, but sometimes I'd end up with duplicates of everything. Great way to spend a few hours on a flight - deleting every duplicate contact.

Now that I have an iPhone, the instant syncing of new contacts and appointments is fantastic.

There's one feature of MobileMe I've never tried before, the iDisk sync to your local machine.

Picture 2.pngNormally, when you click on iDisk in Finder it magically mounts (disturbingly without an unmount button) and you drag files in and out. The Public folder is a great way to publish files on the internet to give to people (rather than trying to attach them to an email).

If you turn on iDisk Sync in MobileMe preferences, the contents of your iDisk are copied to the local computer and any changes at either end are synchronised.

Picture 1.png

I've read some pretty bad comments about this feature, and it hasn't all been plain sailing for me, I've had a few sync errors even though I'm just syncing one computer so far.

Presumably they are having to sync over a WebDAV connection and can't take advantage of rsync style optimised algorithms. It seems to spend a lot of time "checking items" when I know rsync can do this in a fraction of a second.

One interesting thing is that even though the contents are actually stored on my local disk, it behaves as a separate volume and dragging a file to the iDisk copies it as if it were remote.

It gives me a great sense of security knowing that my key work documents are available even if my laptop is damaged or lost. Combine that with a Time Machine backup and I feel more backed up than ever before.



Hmm, I do run into some problems. If sync fails, while there are tips around on the net, there's no user interface to resolve these issues.

If I edit documents in the iDisk area while auto sync is enabled I get errors like this:


So after a few weeks, my initial enthusiasm has waned a bit. Syncing to the cloud like this is something I want to do, but it's a tough problem. iDisk sync is on the way, but it's not there yet.

Update - works great after 10.5.7

I'm happy to report that since the system update to 10.5.7 iDisk Sync seems to be working perfectly. I haven't seen any errors and syncing seems as fast as I would expect given the file sizes and internet speeds I'm working with.