Monday, December 28, 2009

Avatar and the Apple tablet computer

Screen shot 2009-12-28 at 5.53.54 PM.pngSaw Avatar in 3D at iMax yesterday. Recommended. I don't think it will stand the test of time, in that the story was so derivative that it will fade into memory pretty quickly but the lush visuals reappeared in my dreams which is always a good sign.

Like Minority Report, the film demonstrated some interesting ideas about future computer interfaces.

As CES and Apple's January 26th announcement draw near, I'm thinking about tablet computers a great deal at the moment.

If my hands are on the keyboard a mouse is a very convenient tools for pointing at things, it's close to the keyboard after all. Holding my arms up to a screen at head height is not going to work.

If a tablet was held in one hand then touching the screen to manipulate objects with the other seems to be the natural way to interact. I'm definitely looking forward to that.

The iPhone 3Gs 'oleophobic' screen coating shows that it's possible to have a capacitive touch screen that doesn't end up covered in grease smear - so that's an important technology.

The screens in Avatar were touch controlled, the only silly thing was that they were see through, presumably to enhance the movie scene. Aside from heads up displays, I can't imagine why you'd make screens transparent.

Here's my guesses/wishes on the Apple Tablet.

  • Will run Cocoa Touch - like the iPhone/iPod touch

  • The existing 90,000 iPhone apps will run out of the box in little gadget like windows

  • XCode will be updated with a new way to go full screen if required

  • The App store will be more like the iTunes store and include movie rental, and periodical subscriptions

  • Device will have WiFi, Bluetooth (to link to Magic mouse and keyboard), and 3G (mininum) data. After all, Apple knows how to do all this from the iPhone

  • Screen will be 1280x720 so that HD movies look awesome

  • Video hardware will decode H.264 at 30fps without using too much battery

  • Solid state disk - or at least an option

  • Will be jailbroken within 24 hours of shipping

  • Called iPad or iSlate - it's got to be i + one syllable so not iTablet

People criticise the iPhone for not multi-tasking but poor battery life complaints hurt much more. I wouldn't be surprised if the iPad only uses power for the frontmost app and sleeps everything else. The notification system is the right answer for this in my view.

The big unknown is the screen technology. If we are to replace newspapers and magazines then this device needs to be readable in daylight. When the iPhone screen debuted it was way ahead of any other phone screen, it wouldn't be a shock if they had something ready to go again.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

WSPR is hot tonight

Amazing amount of activity tonight. Here's my station.

Screen shot 2009-12-26 at 8.28.51 PM.png

And here's the world.

Screen shot 2009-12-26 at 8.34.49 PM.png

40m is going crazy!

Screen shot 2009-12-27 at 7.59.05 AM.png

The fact that my 5W signal can be heard 16,000 Km away is incredible to me.

Friday, December 25, 2009

How to build WSPR on MacOS X Snow Leopard

First, the bad news, it doesn't get very far, but I'm working on that.
Screen shot 2009-12-25 at 8.42.12 AM.png

Using MacPorts:
port install portaudio
port install fftw-3-single +g95
port install g95
port install py26-numpy
port install py26-scipy

Using easy_install or pip or whatever:

pip install f2py

There is a python patch I needed: in numpy line 1586 has a variable named 'as' that causes a syntax error in python 2.6. I renamed it asx.

To build:

./configure --with-portaudio-lib-dir=/opt/local/lib \

Screen shot 2009-12-25 at 8.42.34 AM.pngIf I run the program is crashes shortly after the UI comes up.

I hadn't found what I needed to get this far anywhere so wanted to share. Please let me know if you're got WSPR running on MacOS.

My sincere thanks to the MacPorts users mailing lists for help last night. And thanks of course to Jo Taylor. I'll update when I have some progress to report.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Thoughts on digital photography at Xmas time

Did a spot this morning with James Carelton on ABC Radio national where we discussed digital photography and showed a wonderful book about the Golden Lotus Chinese Restaurant in Killarney heights.

For those who've wondered what the guy who does "what the papers say", here's James in the radio studio that's gradually turning into a TV studio.

James Carelton.jpg

(He didn't really want to be photographed in that shirt but seeing as I was forced to wear a cardigan..)

Thanks to Roi for the filming and post production.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Telstra Bigpond guilty of DNS Hijacking

Just noticed that if I take a web browser to a non-existent domain name, instead of correctly returning an error as it should Bigpond now directs me to a web page with a Yahoo search.

Screen shot 2009-12-22 at 10.46.36 AM.png

This is called DNS Hijacking and it's very annoying.

As a programmer, I rely on receiving error messages when appropriate and being able to do the right thing in response. These days a lot of software works by sending HTTP requests and if these requests, to perhaps an internal domain, succeed when really they should fail all sorts of bad things can happen.

One solution is to use Google's new public DNS.

Screen shot 2009-12-22 at 10.58.33 AM.png

Dear Bigpond, please don't mess with my internet connection, or at least let me know about the setting and allow me to opt in or out as I wish.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

SDR to WSPR from Ross T61AA

Old friend Ross, (who needs to start his own blog), sent me some progress notes on how he's going trying to combine a SoftRock with WSPR software. He writes:

"I have found that the SoftRocks are not very stable when left to themselves. I have attached a screen dump of WSPR and SpecJT and also the list of spots on the site. You will see that the received spots are a lot more stable than the off-air reception by SoftRock Xtall+USB V9.0 Rx. Next that I will do is find the Kuhne crystal ovens that I have somewhere in Kabul, when I am up there in a week or so and attach to the Si570 local oscillator to keep at a steady 40 deg C and see how that affects the stability.

At least though I have got WSPR working through the Virtual Audio Cable OK and managed decodes."

20m SoftRock test stability.JPG


"Have spent the entire night on 40m and, while the SDR is not as sensitive as the Icom, I have many spots on 40m overnight, including PY8ELO and an LX from South America. My fix for the drift will be a crystal heater such as Kuhne Electronics QH-40A - I have two sitting in my junk in Kabul and must find them. Next issue is to get a program that provides I and Q out for Txing on WSPR."

20m spots as on to compare with SoftRock.png

Ross tried various software to patch the audio but in the end:

"You know what, I had the solution already and did not see it because Rocky did not want to work with the el-cheapo USB sound card.

When I was home I found that WSPR just did not work properly with the in-built sound card in the MSI U100+ netbook that I got for WSPR and WSJT. I got a really cheap USB sound card and found that WSPR worked quite well with that. When I first tried Rocky the SDR prog I found that it did not like the el-cheapo USB but would only work with the in-built Realtek HD Soundcard and was stuffing around trying to get rid of all the associated drivers that did all the Dolby-surround and other tailoring on the sound - I wanted it barn-door-wide.

I also subsequently found a simpler SDR Rx prog called SDRadio by I2PHD which, strangely enough, will not work with the Realtek in-built but works fine with the el-cheapo USB - problem solved two USBs and an actaul hard cable cross-connected and Voila! Simple."

Putting a solid state drive in a MacBook Pro

This week I ordered a Corsair P128 128Mb Solid State drive and it's now in my MacBook Pro 2009.


Purchased on ebay at AU$520 (the buy it now price), it arrived within a few days. I tried to find a store that stocked them but all the places I called had them at higher prices and had no stock - so there's no point in not ordering on line.

I'd only used 100GB of space on the existing drive so I wasn't too concerned about a smaller drive and these days I'm storing a lot on line any way.

Disassembling the MacBook Pro 2009 is surprisingly straight forward, no scary keyboard prising or any of the things I've faced with other models. Just a bunch of Philips 0 screws in the back and the whole rear plate lifts off as you see in the picture above.

A Torx T6 driver is needed to take the mounting pegs out of the drive and while I probably have one, I couldn't find it and had to go and buy one.

The result? "Bong" to login prompt used to take about 40 seconds now it's 14, but I rarely shutdown so that's not much of a gain. Application launch time is noticeably snappy, with the Safari window up half way through the first bounce. Tools like Eclipse start much faster and I know I'll enjoy that.

Here it is launching Apple Pages:

Normally, Pages takes about 7 bounces plus a second to launch so this is an amazing improvement. You can't read it but I type "that was quick!".

I hear mixed reviews in battery life, some say it will be better, some say it won't. I'll update when I have some impressions.

While it's certainly a luxury option the biggest thing is that it's more robust than a spinning disk in a laptop. I would often hear the drive's heads retract if I moved the laptop too quickly.


After using this for a week I'm pleased to report that it was worth it. The snappy application launch performance makes it feel like a new machine and will certainly extend the life of this one. Battery life does not seem to be longer in any noticeable amount. It might be that I'm using the laptop more due to the novelty.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Wonderful ham shack tour by VK3ASE

Dave, VK3ASE, just posted this video of his visit to Herb VK3JOs shack. Inspirational, for me anyhow.

Dallas does an excellent interview with Herb in the latter part.

Thanks Dave.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Getting the scientific analysis on climate change

Screen shot 2009-12-05 at 7.20.19 PM.pngThis week I started a lunchtime discussion at work to find out what people thought about the failure of our democracy to act on reducing the "man" made impact on climate change.

It was amazing to find that many regard it all as "just another tax", some sort of plot by government to raise revenue. Indeed one of my colleages sent me a brochure full of wild claims presented in bullet form.

Despite having seen An Inconvenient Truth, and listened to a lot of debate in parliament, I realised that the facts are not at my fingertips.

Two sources stand out, The Copenhagen Diagnosis, and the Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change. The Copenhagen document is rather fluffy and full of pretty pictures while the IPCC reports, available here, are really excellent.

Full of careful language, extensive peer review, and a range of interpretations.

I highly recommend this. I fear, as my friend Jonathan suggests, perhaps democracy is unable to deal with things like this until we are in crisis.

Update: reactions

I've had some interesting direct responses to this little post so far. If I can summarise:

  • Everyone, so far, seems to feel that the evidence is convincing that we are experiencing warming at the moment

  • Having said that, one correspondent claimed that the shipping lane in the arctic that is reported to have opened up in September 2009 has, in fact been open to the Russians for a long time

  • "Man" made climate warming, is a tiny effect compared to the effects of natural processes, such as us coming out of a cyclic ice age

  • The whole push to have developed nations intervene on climate change is a conspiracy by the socialists to re-distribute wealth from rich nations to poor, slow development, or simply gather extra tax revenue for government purposes

  • The whole push to have developed nations intervene on climate change is a conspiracy by the capitalists to make huge profits from carbon credits, which are a derivative that will let them build value out of nothing

  • Many people have said "it's just another tax"

  • All sorts of allegations about reports such as the IPCC report, which, to my reading is very solid, are claimed to be full of holes, deliberate distortion of data, and witheld raw data

  • Finally, there is said to be a media and scientific publication conspiracy to silence doubters and take away their right of argument

Perhaps what is needed is an alternative paper, with the thoroughness of the IPCC paper, then we could weigh one up against the other by comparing their data and analysis. I'd be most grateful if someone can point me to it.

Right now I'm completely boggled by this mix of politics, science, religion and economics - what a weird conjunction!

Update 2

Just noticed this on the "conspiracy of the century"...

Update 3

I've done a lot of reading in the past few days and while there are a few dubious graphs about most of the criticisms are unreferenced or come from dubious organisations.

Science isn't a democracy, but Wikipedia has a great list of well known scientific organisations that have given a view. I do not see any substantial evidence to contradict the statement that "human actions are "very likely" the cause of global warming, meaning a 90% or greater probability". There are limits to scepticism.

If it isn't linked, then I think we should live sustainably any way.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Installing Ubuntu 9.10 on an iMac

Fired up after the Open Source Developer's conference in Brisbane, I decided to try dual booting my recent iMac with Ubuntu 9.10 and MacOS X.

Boot camp assistant lets you resize the Mac partition down a bit to make way for a "Windows" partition.

boot camp partitioner.png

Then I inserted the Ubuntu installer CD and rebooted. Up comes the familiar Ubuntu installer.

ubuntu on imac.jpg

The partitioner knows about MacOS and the only glitch was that the partition slider acts a little strangely. Nothing bad happened though.


As with my last install, it took a long time downloading language files for Australia but in the end it finished and my first reboot ended in a pretty crash.


In the end all is well and I can boot into either MacOS or Ubuntu by holding the Option key at boot. Choosing "Windows" gives me the Grub boot menu which I notice offers MacOS X (haven't tried booting that way yet).

Normally I run Linux on a netbook where it works nicely thankyou. Switching between MacOS and Ubuntu on the same hardware makes me appreciate what a polished OS MacOS is. It's silly, I know, but the fonts are just better on the Mac and that makes a difference to me.

Ubuntu on iMac for me doesn't reboot cleanly for some reason but otherwise things work, including my Bluetooth Magic Mouse (although no right-click or scroll).