Monday, April 26, 2010

Ubuntu 10.04 server on 10.04 desktop on netbook

Maybe I'm getting old but it seems amazing that you can play around with Ubuntu server running in a virtual machine running on a $400 netbook.


To tell the truth, I did add another GB of RAM to the netbook to take it up to 2GB.

Recently I've been playing with virtual machines and trying to standardise on a platform for quickly deploying software. Ubuntu server 10.04 is a "long term support" release and it looks good for my purposes (typically apache2, mod_wsgi, django, mysql).

Debian, which seems to have failed to move on from python 2.5, is no longer an option. Ubuntu is looking to the clouds and that's the right direction as far as I'm concerned.

10.04 desktop is looking really good too.

The rest of the long weekend here has been spent reading epub books on the iPad and going for walks in the autumn sun.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

iPad review on ABC Radio National

A piece of tripod was missing this morning so Roi went all "Hill Street Blues" with the camera. For a change you get to look around and see Fran and the team.

Great fun.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

iPad vs Kindle

The neighbours just came over for lunch outside and brought their Kindle.

kindle vs iPad.jpg

The eInk display technology will definitely persist. In this image I'm cheating and shielding the reflection of the sky from the iPad screen. The Kindle looks better the more light there is.

Indoors, the iPad is far far superior in every respect. If your use-case is reading on the beach then yes, get a Kindle.

iPad in Australia - Cygnet Lavish case review

Even though the iPad is another month away, accessories are available right now.

At Maccentric I picked up a Cygnet "Lavish" case for my new toy:

closed case.jpg

It's a beautiful soft padded leather case with a soft interior and a magnetic clasp. The iPad slides in sideways from the left so there's no way it can slip out when closed. There are openings for the dock connector and speaker at the bottom and the headphone and power button at the top.

Unfortunately there is no opening for the volume and the screen rotation lock switch. (You can push the volume control through the leather without too much trouble).

open case.jpg

The wide margin around the screen means that the iPad is securely held. As you can see above there's a hole to access the "home" button.

The opening for the screen is a tiny bit too narrow and can block the view of pixels at the edge. It's a little bit hard to extract the iPad but I think with wear this will improve.

Overall it's a lovely case and makes reading a book on the iPad as much of a tactile pleasure as a well bound book. $69.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Accessories for an iPad in Australia

The iPad eco-system is going to support a very profitable business in luxury cases. You very quickly realise that you definitely need a case. On a trip to Melbourne yesterday I slipped the iPad into a netbook case, which worked pretty well but was larger than it needed to be.

This morning, I took some vinyl and made a rough slip case that will protect the device until I see something nicer.

Home made case.jpg

I'm not keen on having multiple wireless broadband accounts so I've been on the lookout for the equivalent of the US MiFi, it turns out that local maker Netcomm has just the thing:

3G router in hand.jpg

It's a capable little travel router with the ability to use most of the wireless USB data modems on the Australian market as the internet connection that it shares over Wifi. The Netcomm 3G Travel Router t1 - 3GT1WN (clumsy name) supports all 3G/Next G TM/UMTS/ HSPA/ EV-DO/ USB modems from leading vendors. I have a pre-paid Telstra modem which, while it takes several minutes to get started, works fine in the end.

The router can also share internet from an ethernet port and has many more features than you really need for just creating a Wifi cloud from a USB broadband dongle. Here it is in use at Melbourne airport.

Netcomm 3G hotspot.jpg

The rechargeable battery is said to last up to five hours. My only complaint is that I can't see a way to talk to the SMS service that is how you determine your balance on the pre-paid model (I just top mine up when I travel and let it go off in between). More features than I need but the perfect iPad accessory for Australian road warriors.

Using an iPad in Australia - in search of books

I couldn't wait. My rationalisation is that I have a couple of iPad reviews to write and while normally Apple Asia are kind enough to get me "hands on" time, in this case they've completely vagued out.

So I got on eBay browsed through all the iPads on offer to Australians and picked a vendor hoping it wasn't a scam. In the end I paid AU$780 for a US$500 iPad, which seems a lot but given shipping and service and in the context of some of the crazy prices being asked (over AU$1,000) I'm prepared to wear it.

I can vouch for flint316, he shipped the iPad quickly from Texas via USPS and I watched as it made it's way here.

Screen shot 2010-04-17 at 8.03.05 AM.png

It was in perfect condition on arrival. (That was my big fear really).

ipad unboxing.jpg

The way they pack the iPad, with the screen right at the top of the box, does seem to leave little margin for intrusions into the front during rough shipping. Anyhow, it was fine.

ipad mag.jpg

What, no books?

I really wanted an iPad so I could buy and read books rather than stuffing the house with more paper. When you activate an iPad with an iTunes account outside the US the iBooks application isn't there.

The trick is to open a US iTunes account... but I don't have a US credit card. Turns out all you need is a valid US postal address.

  • Quit iTunes

  • Hold down the Option key, and launch iTunes

  • Create a new library, I called mine iTunes iPad

  • Go to "iTunes Store" in iTunes

  • If it shows you signed in, mine did, click down the menu triangle and "Sign Out"

  • Now find something that's free, like a free app and purchase it

  • You'll be asked to log in or create an account

  • Click the link that says "If the billing address is not in Australia, click here"

  • Create an account. Although it asks for credit card details, because your purchase is free there's a no payment option, take it

  • I used a friend's postal address

  • Download the iBooks app

I recommend making a separate iTunes library for the US iPad or you end up with problems of apps that are not authorised etc.

While there is the free Gutenberg collection there, I was looking for something a little more contemporary, so the next trick is to top up your US iTunes account. To do that you purchase an iTunes voucher from a US reseller. I went to iTunes Express which charges a 20% markup, isn't super fast, but did the job.

After a little while, 20 minutes I think, the US iTunes voucher code arrives in your email. In your US iTunes account, click "Redeem" in the Quick Links area and top up the account.

Sync and you can buy Books and Apps from the US store.


Getting eBooks

Apple's store is very nice but it's not the only game in town.

Probably half my computer books are from O'Reilly Media (the animal books). O'Reilly have done a wonderful job transitioning to electronic media.

You create an account and buy the electronic version of a book. The books are generally available for Android, Mobi, PDF and ePub.

Download the ebup version and drag it to the "Library" area in iTunes, enable "Sync Books" and the books will be transferred over to iBooks on the iPad.

These books remain available to you and you can download them again for other devices (no consumer hating DRM). I found that using the ePub reader Stanza on iPhone let me re-download my purchases direct from O'Reilly too.

Stanza is great by the way and while I'd like to see an iPhone/Touch version of iBooks, Stanza is an excellent alternative.

The other source of books is the Amazon Kindle app for iPad. It's messy having multiple book readers and worse, multiple libraries of books, but the Amazon book inventory is great and having the Kindle reader on multiple platforms is a good feature that I hope Apple with emulate.


I've lived with an iPad now for just three days and it's very much a part of my life. Apple has bowed to the anti-globalisation forces but the internet is a wonderful source of information on how to get around these artificial barriers. Hope this helps too.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Bigpond cable outage at my house

Screen shot 2010-04-04 at 10.23.19 AM.pngOnce again our Bigpond cable is down. Although the service status page mentions a few known issues they are all planned outages and say nothing of the issues they really know about.

The bill does not have the number to ring for technical support on it (even though it says "turn over for other enquiries"). The number to ring is 133 933.

When ringing up, I've learned that you don't need to go through the long IVR sequence, you can cut it a bit shorter by saying "operator".

The operator confirmed a known outage in our area and said that it won't be fixed until Tuesday, 2-3 days. They did offer to SMS me when it's fixed.

Why can't Telstra make it easy to get help? Why can't Telstra be honest about known outages? I can only assume there are so many outages that to have them public would be bad for business.

It's amazing how addicted we are here to the internet.

Happily these days I have some other alternative ways to get to the net, a pre-paid USB dongle and iPhone tethering.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Eclipse Pydev support for Django coming

I'm a big fan of aptana's free Pydev IDE for Eclipse. It does all the stuff a Python developer could wish for: code completion, hover explanations, click to show declaration, debugging and much more.

If you set the source in Eclipse to you'll get a peek at what's coming, especially for Django developers. You will be able to make a Django project without needing the command line tools:

Screen shot 2010-04-02 at 1.15.31 PM.png

You get to choose basic settings such as the database from a nice GUI:

Screen shot 2010-04-02 at 1.15.55 PM.png

There's menu items for common tasks such as creating an app within a project and syncdb:

Screen shot 2010-04-02 at 1.16.39 PM.png

Great stuff Fabio!

Screen shot 2010-04-02 at 1.17.41 PM.pngYou end up with a useful start point without any typing.

I often run up a little Django project just to try something out, and I find myself copying and pasting the same old settings stuff to make the project portable.

Eclipse and Pydev is a big part of my daily life, this week I visited a friend working in Python in straight BBEdit (a fine editor), the other great hope is that TextMate 2 ever comes out and can have smarts like real code completion added in somehow. (Maybe Alan's busy on the port to iPad?)


No sooner than I posted this, than the Django support in Pydev has been released so you don't need to use nightly.

Free anti-virus for Microsoft Windows 7

Screen shot 2010-04-02 at 10.01.08 AM.pngI've been assisting with and working with Windows 7 a bit lately. It's pretty good, they're really working to catch up with Ubuntu although there's a way to go yet.

On my little dual boot $400 netbook:

Windows 7
  • boot to login prompt in 34 seconds

  • login to desktop ready 11 seconds (a bit hard to say)

  • Cold launch of Chrome 5 seconds

  • Shutdown is 16 seconds

Ubuntu 10.04 (pre-release)
  • boot to login prompt in 25 seconds

  • login to desktop ready 12 seconds

  • Cold launch of Chrome 5 seconds

  • Shutdown is 5 seconds

Here's a chart I carved out of marble tablets to illustrate that (for real carving work, I use a Mac).


Smaller is better.

Installing Windows is scary, it warns the user about things a lot, presumably with good reason. Right out of the gate it warns you that you need virus protection and directs you to a web page with lots of options.

When I ask long-time Windows users about what anti-virus software they use the answers are either that their employer pays for a commercial solution or that they use AVG-Free.

It turns out that there is a free solution from Microsoft that does the job. Microsoft Security Essentials seems to be good.

Presumably to avoid accusations of anti-competitive behaviour, Microsoft rather down plays their own product and lets the other vendors have a good go at selling their products.

My view is that we shouldn't have to pay extra for something the operating system should take care of.

Has anyone noticed how many Macs you see at conferences these days? Here's a shot from a PyCon 2010 conference video:

Screen shot 2010-04-02 at 9.56.47 AM.png

I doubt any of them are running a virus scanner, let alone a free one.