Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Curse of the Black Pearl

Having the trackball cease to function was a major dread for me while I had the Curve. Now that I have G1, the same thought is still in my head.

Apparently, all is not as bad - it's possible to replace the trackball, and they're actually pretty cheap, if you're not afraid of some DIY.

The G1 trackball unit is different and may not be as easy to obtain - let's keep eyes open and fingers crossed.

Below The Radar

Remember Google's fascination with massive data analysis?

Now behold the power of traffic analysis, applied to your phone records.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Android G1: Black > White

Backlight on the keyboard of the black G1 is significantly more visible anywhere between twilight and full light conditions than on the white G1. On white, the backlight blends the symbols with the light paint, rendering them practically invisible.

From what I remember about the brown ("bronze") G1, its keyboard is more similar to white than black, so this must be true for it as well.

Just my $0.02.

Friday, December 19, 2008

RIAA vs. The People: The Plot Thickens

This article at Ars Technica is the most detailed recap to date. Interesting one, too.

The end of lawsuits

...though the RIAA tells us it reserves the right to go after people who continue to ignore the notifications.

This is just hilarious. Nothing new, though - this is exactly the same amount of protection that people got after agreeing to "pre-litigation" settlements.

Chances of an individual to have been sued by RIAA were calculated less than to be hit by lightning, from what I remember. Now, when RIAA targets the ISPs - assuming they get traction - the response will be "preventive" and swift (one, two) - not only those who [ab]used the system will be impacted, but Joe the Plumber as well.

In other words, the situation will actually deteriorate - the ISPs are being given a good incentive and a good excuse to cap the traffic for everyone, and introduce market segmentation (think "gas prices", "pain threshold"), which they were severely lacking on the consumer side.

UPDATE: People start asking a reasonable question at last: who is going to pay for all this?

Android: App Hell, Part Deux

(part one)

From the Cupcake release:

Developer Tools
  • New features
    • Enable handset manufacturers to extend the Android SDK with add-ons. SDK add-ons will include:
      • system libraries to let developers use additional APIs provided by handset manufacturers or from other 3rd party vendors that handset manufacturers chose to include
      • emulator system images, skins, and hardware configuration to let developers test their applications on their Android implementation
Well, damn.

The way I see it, we're going to have Microsoft Java all over. Different manufacturers fighting over vendor lock-in features, and harming the rest of the population in the process.

I wonder how incompatibilities between vendor and hardware specific extensions are going to be handled in Android Market.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Penguins In Shcool

Shcool

Mark my words - the story about a teacher threatening Linux distributor, my gut feeling tells me, is going to have wider repercussions for all involved in particular, and the community in general, than just a few laughs over an ignorant teacher.

UPDATE: Yep, there's been a followup, and more followup. That's the price one pays for being a geek. I don't think this is going to be the end of the story, either.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Handcuff Notes: Writing Fortran In Any Language

More than once I've noticed that working with quality source code is easy and pleasant in any IDE, of which I've seen quite a few, or even without an IDE.

Likewise, working with crappy source is painful no matter what IDE is used. It just falls apart and explodes in your face, leaving scars on your brain as its shards fly by.

Once again, the realization that good software engineering is in perfect accord with Wu Wei, comes with enlightenment.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Voting With My Dollars: Thumbs Up To Sir Paul

Just bought the digital version (MP3 + FLAC) of Electric Arguments.

Do I like Paul McCartney that much? Not quite. There was a period in my life and period in his life when our tastes in music were somewhat similar, but basically no, I describe myself as being of Pink Floyd generation.

Could I get it for free from Internet just a few days later, maybe later today? Absolutely, yes.

Would Sir Paul notice? Probably not, he appears to be busy talking to his neighbors about the boars, and, in general, it seems that the whole anti-DRM thing is rather new to him.

All above notwithstanding, there are things more important than the fact that I don't like the album that much (at least yet, it might turn out to be an acquired taste). The most important facts to me are:

  • The album was released DRM free
  • Integrity is something that is perfected by example.

I've been saying for a long time that DRM is evil, and if the artists I liked would do the right thing, then I'll cough up the money. Today is the day.

For those wishing to put their money where their mouth is, here's the link, again: Electric Arguments by The Fireman.

Android G1 disappointments: likes to go AWOL on service

If you are looking at your phone and it says "NO SERVICE", make sure you're not waiting in vain.

It was consistently noted that once G1 loses the cell network, it takes it forever, if ever, to reconnect - one experiment lasted several hours, it never reconnected.

The cure for that is pretty simple: Settings, Wireless Controls, Mobile Networks, Operator Selection, wait until the scan ends, select your provider, voila, back in service.

Another interesting bit is that not all G1s are created equal: a black one loses the signal consistently in certain locations, white one stays on. I'm not saying the white one has a better antenna, may be just a coincidence - but there's about a month in manufacturing date between them, may be a hardware improvement.

Defective By Design: Netflix + Microsoft, Part Deux

Some companies never learn.

Not so long ago I ran into Microsoft DRM trying to watch a Netflix movie on an HD screen. Back then, I got away with some aggravation, few days of wasted time, some dollars spent on extra hardware - turned out that you had to have a digital connection, and that, in turn, ran smack dab into a TV hardware incompatibility issue. In other words, it was a pain I didn't have to go through except for brain dead decision of Netflix management to tie the knot with Microsoft.

And they're at it again.

Couple of days ago I wanted to watch a movie - and guess what, the quality you can get out of a thirty year old VHS tape is crystal clear in comparison to the quality I got. The movie was simply unwatchable. It was difficult to distinguish people in the movie, forget about facial expression. Titles were unreadable.

Why could that be?

A!!! I know. That's another round of Microsoft involvement - the Silverlight player. Oh, and the best part? They're laying off customer service, judging by description, not the tier-one drones, but tier-N specialists.

Damn, I should've known.

Some time ago, I almost ran out of Gillette Sensor Excel blades. Went to the store to restock, and, to my horror, found that all the blades from the new batch are significantly inferior to few leftovers that I still had. The reason was simple: Gillette was introducing the new Fusion series - which were not better by any stretch of imagination than the old Sensor Excel blades, but they had whopping five and a half blades instead of two, and, most importantly, there were fewer blades in the pack, and the pack was more expensive than the old one. The only option was to abandon Gillette brand completely and switch to the competition, but since there's a scarce supply of that where I live, I'm stuck with paying more for less.

Just like here - if I don't want to upgrade to Silverlight (which I have no intention of doing, thank you, it was more than good enough already), I'm screwed.

Well, speaking about money...

So, really, what do I do to Netflix to get back what they tried to fix that wasn't broken? Threaten them with cancelling my $1x.99 a month account? Yeah, sure, that's gonna scare them...

On the other hand, what's my loss? Significant. Acquisition decisions were made based on projected availability of high definition streaming from Netflix, in a range of several thousand dollars. Now it all crumbles apart, for they're pushing their inferior hardware that I have no intention of buying because it doesn't do what I want, and, again, Microsoft's Xbox 360, which I'm not going to buy on principle.

So, really, what are my options?

Hmm... Let me see... What is out there that

  • provides high definition content, in any resolution
  • has wide title selection
  • has wide format selection
  • comes with subtitles
  • is cost efficient
  • with availability that doesn't depend on content provider's whim (oh, by the way, did you notice that a lot of Netflix instant titles are now "available until $date"?)

What? Wait, you said it, not me...

Give me back my $1x.99 a month and go play in your own sandbox, and I'll be playing in mine.

UPDATE: this article might explain why titles are being pulled off Netflix instant play availability list.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Conspiracy Theory: UMA Will Die

Along the same lines as the conspiracy theory about absence of Google Talk on G1 -

Fact #1: mobile carriers charge customers for airtime.
Fact #2: UMA allows customers to talk using a WiFi connection (sometimes a flat fee is involved).
Fact #3: this strips mobile carriers from airtime revenue that could otherwise be produced.
Speculation #1: Carriers offering unlimited UMA calling on a flat fee basis realized, to their dismay, that a lot of people use it a lot.

Corollary: UMA will be a feature that is offered less and less in the future, until it disappears completely.

G1 may have been the harbinger.

BMW of Androids?



I wonder, is this the BMW of Androids I've been dreaming of?

Looks like one, for sure...

Of course, nobody heard of Kogan in this neck of the woods, but, honestly, I didn't hear about HTC before first rumors about Android hardware materialized, either.

Now, if only they could support UMA...

I Don't Trust You

Time after time, I see new and new social networking services. I could've participated in a lot of them, except for one reason: they all say:

Trust me.

Every time I hear somebody say "trust me", I can't help but think of -

  • Read my lips: No New Taxes
  • Trust me, there will not be a real estate crisis
  • No, we're not going to downsize
  • I just need your credit card information for verification purposes
  • Don't worry, your personal information is safe with us
  • No, we've never had a break-in
  • <ad nauseum>

The most hilarious of them all was a request for the Social Security Number when all I wanted to get was a stroller for my 3 year old (granted, it was in almost rural Illinois back in 1997, but I still remember it).

Back to the topic, there's a wide range of information I do not want to share with -

  • Where I am
  • What am I doing at the moment
  • How is my hardware doing (computers, home security, automation, you name it)
  • How soon I am going to be home - and whether I *am* home or plan to be away for a while, for that matter

This is nobody's business except the people I trust it to.

And not necessarily for legal purposes - was it Cardinal Richelieu that said "Give me seven lines written by the most honest person in the world, and I will find what to hang them for"?

I hate to invoke this rapidly becoming tired metaphor, but if your kid dies, crushed by the fallen garage door, you don't care much whether the installer had insurance.

If a social networking infrastructure gets hacked, you don't care much why your private data has leaked all over the Internet and is staying there forever - it's gone, too late to lock the barn door.

On the other hand, if it is you that defines where the information is kept, who has access to it and how it is distributed, you can be reasonably sure that it is within your control - as long as you trust in your abilities to understand what you're doing, and as long as the weakest link in the chain - the people you trust - remains trusted.

And another point - all these "trust me" services do, or will lock you in soon enough and start to do, charge for a service. Sometimes it is a little, sometimes not so little - but all of them, accumulated, will take a serious hit on your budget - and offer little or nothing of value in return. Oh, and you still have to trust them.

So, without further ado, introducing Clan Vault.

<Stay tuned>

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Quote Of The Day: Rustic

I know what rustic is. Rustic is when country people get tired of their old junk and sell it to the city folk as art.

-- Tracy Hickman, The Immortals.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Google Sync Fiasco: And this is all I get?

On November 19th my phone gets crippled by Google Sync update, along with countless others.

On December 1st there is the first sign of recognition coming from Google, in a form of employee posting on a help message board.

That'll be 13 (thirteen) days to acknowledge a problem that is usually classified as Severity 1 (data loss, customers affected), and, in a way that does not reach the customers that may be affected.

I don't know what to call it - incompetence? arrogance? sabotage?

All this time, clueless (not necessarily stupid, but simply uninformed) people flocked in like moth to the fire, attracted by long awaited contact synchronization feature. Only to find it breaks their phones, renders them next to unusable, and loses their data in the process (no backup? we told ya, look up terms of service!).

It is still happening, even now. Sync hasn't been pulled off.

Time to invoke Hanlon's Razor?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Love My Car, But It Sucks Anyway

Oh, wait, it should be the other way: My car sucks, but I love it anyway...

But I digress.

It's one thing to read about coolant leaks in They All Do That section, and competely another to see the CHECK COOLANT LEVEL message two days after the coolant had been replenished, and find a pool of blue liquid under the car on a chilly November night far away from home.

I guess this is when having spent some money on Bentley Service Manual should start paying back.

Well, it sucks, but I love it anyway.

UPDATE: Failed water pump, part #11510393336. Leaking bearing is very easy to mistake for the leaking thermostat side connector of the lower hose (part #11537505229).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Google Sync 0.5.11 for BlackBerry: no, make that a fail

Contrary to what I thought, all the problems brought in by Sync 0.5.9 are still back.

The address book is still botched on the device, there are entries with no information present whatsoever (though I checked them before doing the sync, and they appeared to be fine after the sync).

Sync doesn't appear to honor the "sync manually" option and is doing something in background, destroying address book entries in the process.

Most ridiculous is that the problems with 0.5.9 were never offically acknowledged, and 0.5.11 never officially announced. Tsk-tsk-tsk.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Google Sync 0.5.11 for BlackBerry: Close, but no cigar

Without much ado, Google Sync for BlackBerry 0.5.11 was released today.

Yes, it did fix screwups that Sync 0.5.9 created, but still doesn't work right.
  1. Spend precious time fixing GMail contact list;
  2. Sync again;
  3. Spend precious time weeding out duplicates and litter from GMail contact list again;
  4. Sync again;
  5. Voila, the trash from the BlackBerry address book is back from the dead, alive and well in GMail contact list.
Thank God for backups.

Still not a word from Google.

UPDATE: Well, this is something I haven't expected from Google programmers, out of all people. GMail contacts have the email address as a primary key for a contact, BlackBerry address book uses the phone number. They may have gotten into both lists from different sources, in different notation. Good luck trying to find out what source gets precedence for what case.

One thing is clear - don't expect your GMail address book to work as the system of record.

I wouldn't be surprised if the BlackBerry address book is not treated as a system of record either, but honestly, a little bit too tired to try.

What a mess.

UPDATE: Oh, and NullPointerException is back.

Android Wishlist: Smart Context

G1 is literally a death threat in the car, with its lack of voice dialing capabilities.

On the other hand, it is also a privacy threat, being used without the screen lock pattern.

Whereas it is barely possible to get away with placing a call with the screen unlocked (Menu-Menu-Home-Direct Dial, if it is configured, and Menu-Menu-Call-get-lost-and-die, if it's not), it is even more difficult if there is a lock pattern.

A good start in the right direction could be, for example, automatic unlock to the home screen upon connecting with a specified Bluetooth device.

Still, this doesn't make it safe enough, just reduces the threat. I do wish someone's got enough time and money to come up with the docking station.

Or, for Pete's sake, fix the voice dialer...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Android Wishlist: IM, uninterrupted

It would be nice if IM clients present on Android didn't drop connection every time there was a handover between WiFi and GSM/GRPS/EDGE/3G... And even if it dropped, it reconnected automatically if told to do so.

Quote Of The Day: Competition

I am reluctant to talk to my competition because the amount of information they can extract out of my questions significantly exceeds the amount of information they can extract of my most honest answers to their most detailed questions.
-- GT

Android Disappointments: Good Bye, Locale

With great regrets, retired Locale today. Most regrettable because this is something I thought about as well, something that showed great promise, and something that can be greatly improved.

Doesn't seem that is destined to happen, though. At least not yet.

What makes projects great is transparency. Here, there is none.

Feedback, other than 915 ratings to date on Android Market, is hidden. Directions of further development are unknown. The only way to "get involved" is to send a mail (yeah, sure, let me whip out my spam filter). It is not known whether the project team is planning to make this an open source project, or make it a commercial application. It is not known and not clear whether the application is being actively developed, or maybe the team has reaped the benefits and moved on, releasing minor bugfixes once in a while.

Given the fact that the application is quirky and there is a lot of space for improvements (which I'm not even going to talk about until they put the cards on the table), I just call it quits.

This application is uncertain. Uncertainty is risk. Risk is threat.

The impact of this application on one's life can be a blessing or a curse - and curse much more often than a blessing, people usually notice things that go wrong and take what goes right for granted. Just imagine an alarm that's been missed because it fell into the "silent" zone, and you not making the once in a lifetime interview because of that.

*IF* Locale becomes a commercial application, I might think of buying it. But probably won't - you know, if the range top microwave falls and severs my SO's arm, I don't care much if if the installer had insurance to cover it.

But, if they decide to open it up... I just might be tempted enough to chip in my $0.02.

Too bad I don't have time to write it better from scratch, being busy doing other things...

Google Sync 0.5.9 for BlackBerry: where to go to get help

I wish this page was more discoverable than it is: Latest version of Google Sync not syncing contacts at Google's BlackBerry Devices Help Forum.

Both pages have RSS feeds.

UPDATE: One more cry of pain.

Android network problems are Google's fault? That's a definite maybe

Whereas I didn't experience problems like this, I've seen a thing or two that make me wonder how ready Google's infrastructure is for the massive influx of Android users.

A couple of days ago, I've bought the second G1 - my wife didn't like black, and I got stuck with it, and the process of changing the phone identity on top of that.

So she just took the shiny new phone, booted it up, logged in (with the identity that she had used on the old phone for a month), said "Yep, it's on" and walked away.

I've spent about 30 minutes trying to figure how to disassociate the phone with the GMail account (all this time the phone was still operable, I could place and receive calls, and everything worked except for Email and IM). Haven't found a way (manual didn't help either), decided to do a master reset and...

...got stuck for good.

An attempt to sign in caused a lengthy delay accompanied by the warning that it can take up to five minutes.

In reality, it took about two to three hours, with multiple timeouts and invitations to retry and check with T-Mobile whether they provisioned the SIM card correctly.

As I was close to the T-Mobile store, I asked them - and they told me that all recent customers are having this problem, quote, "it takes from three to twelve hours for the activation to work".

Damn.

So I went home, hoping that this problem would dissolve by itself, and it did - like I said, somewhere between two and three hours since the first attempt.

Of course I've been wondering what went wrong. The only explanation I have at this time (and I don't think Google or T-Mobile will be offering any :) is that Android authentication and mail access are not handled by the same infrastructure as GMail. My best guess is that the activation delay is caused by account replication - and yeah, good luck replicating a few years and gigabytes of my mail, along with countless others'.

This, along with HTC's updated forecasts, makes me wonder if the omnignostic Google flopped in demand predictions, or was it T-Mobile that can't cope with the load.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Google Sync 0.5.9 for BlackBerry: What A Royal Pain

For the last four days, I'm dealing with the consequences of upgrading my BlackBerry Curve to Google Sync 0.5.9, with Contacts.

Even though the Curve is now gone to a different user, and I'm working with GMail and G1, but the consequences of a botched release are still biting me in the back.

Over two hundred entries in the address book, most of them with 7 or 8 postal address copies. Yes, for some reason it is either seven or eight - guess that was a number of attempts the sync application made before I realized that each new attempt is making things worse and shut it off.

Same for phone numbers - there's lots of duplicates. Each notation for a number (999-999-9999, 999.999.9999, (999) 999-9999, you name it) gets a unique entry.

I'm not even talking about NullPointerException.

Good thing I don't have to deal with the BlackBerry address book anymore, I can only imagine how much time I would've spent on putting that in order.

But still, it's bee quite a few hours by now, and time is money. And I'm not the only one affected, and there's a lot of people that are much less capable of fixing this problem, or having enough time to deal with it.

And four days later, Google is mum. As if they've released an update on Friday night and went on vacation. But wait, it was Wednesday.

I would say that this is a black eye on Google's PR. There's no update, and there's no apology.

Nothing is going to bring back hours of my life that I wasted on fixing Google's screwup, but a little "we're sorry" would make me feel just a little bit better.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Next Android Challenge: Context

I want to accomplish a very simple task:

  1. Create a document using my phone.
  2. Print it.

I sure hope Google does come up with something better than CUPS.

The bigger picture question would be - how does Android device become aware of its immediate surroundings and make itself usable?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Google Sync 0.5.9 for BlackBerry: Not So Fast

Saw the news about the fact that the Sync now supports GMail contact synchronization, rejoiced and immediately installed the update - I've been waiting for this feature for quite a while.

And regretted it five minutes later. It breaks the phone and renders it next to unusable.

Some incoming calls that used to be identified just fine don't get identified anymore.

Custom ringtones for some incoming calls are borked.

Best of all, attempt to invoke the call log causes java.lang.NullPointerException dialog box to be displayed prominently. Sometimes this happens after the call is terminated.

Sometimes the dialog box goes away and the phone falls back to the home screen by itself, sometimes hard reset is required to make the phone operable again.

And of course, there's no going back to the old version of the Sync. I'm hoping that system restore will help, and will be furious if it doesn't.

It appears that the numbers affected are those that were originally stored on the SIM card.

UPDATE: Wiping out the contacts from the SIM card (pray that you have a backup phone) does fix the problem with misidentified calls and custom ringtones, but the null pointer exception dialog box persists.

UPDATE: Providing telephone numbers for all email-only contacts in BlackBerry address book, and disabling the sync seems to take care of the problem. Not what I would want, but better than a half-dead phone.

Lots of people complain about this problem, Google is still mum on the subject. No apologies forthcoming.

Printers: They All Lie

On August 7th, my Xerox 6130 complained that the black toner cartridge is almost empty. It was bizarre, keeping in mind that the printer was bought just a short while before and definitely didn't print 10k pages per cartridge claimed in the specs.

OK, said I, it must be the new "demo" cartridge that was installed in the new printer, I need to print, I need to buy the cartridge.

Today, on November 21st, three months and fourteen days later (given pretty dense printing load) the printer eventually declared that it can't live without another cartridge - but the strange part is that the last page printed looked *just fine* to me.

I know that ink printer manufacturers have already been slapped on the wrist. I wonder when the patience of laser printer owners get thin enough to do the same.

Wonder how many pages this cartridge will print.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Android: Welcome To The App Hell

We all know all too well what DLL Hell is.
We also know what is Jar Hell.

Welcome to the new stage, the App Hell.

Multiple applications for the same device, all trying to solve their particular task, with their developers each scratching their own itch, and stepping on each other's toes, with little or no way of finding out about each other.

Just a quick example:

Ring Control - controls the ringer volume and vibrate settings;
Locale - controls (at this point) ringer volume, vibrate, WiFi;
Power Manager - controls GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth;
Toggle Settings - controls GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth.

The answer to this predicament is much bigger than a humble blog article can contain, all I'm trying to do here is to open the can of worms.

I can just guess that there has to be a device-wide capabilities discovery and current state notification bus the applications can subscribe to, and cooperate. Priority management wouldn't hurt, either.

Meanwhile, prepare for Android balkanization... And try to remember which of your gadgets does what and not go nuts in the process.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Android G2 Wish List

Now that it is more or less clear what G1 is, it is becoming clear what it's missing.

First of all, the big items:
  • UMA - but unlikely this will happen;
  • Improved battery life - it is possible to drain the battery in an hour when actually doing something;
  • Improved voice recognition - current generation is pretty much unusable;
  • Hands-free operation, voice commands over headset - it is dangerous to use G1 to initiate a call when driving, visual feedback is required. Any feedback other than audible, or pressing a button on a headset, is unacceptable;
  • Internationalization (input language support);
  • Google Talk Voice - I know this will not happen, but still want it;
  • Google Apps Integration - I don't see why GMail should get preferential treatment over an offering with identical, if not superior (for paid editions) functionality.
Low hanging fruit:
  • I wish Google developers realize that GMail contacts with no first/last name, but with company name, should not be displayed as just a telephone number in Android contact list. It is ugly to copy/paste the company name into the name field - it is not the name. Interestingly enough, they got this right in GMail, but not Android...
  • Along the same lines: contact should be searchable by company name as well as name. Well, while we're at that, why don't make it searchable by any field? (Update: fixed in GMail)
From this point on, in no particular order (RC33 fixed these issues):
  • Auto-answer when on handset options
  • User-programmable buttons
  • Volume control buttons in a place where they don't get pressed all the time
  • "Escalating" volume setting for ringtones and alarms
  • Better tactile feedback
  • Raised keys on the face (flat keys are pretty difficult to find)
  • Cached Market entries
  • Centralized application update notification (today, there's no way to find out about the update other than look it up in the Market manually)
  • Market Watch List (an application may be not good enough today, but I want to keep an eye on ie)
  • Customizable clock on the home screen (I'd rather have a digital, with 24 hour display)
  • Full control of the phone via remote connection - TCP or at least USB (GMail sync is a good start, but some operations are just too cumbersome and slow on the phone itself)
  • External screen/docking interface - it would be nice to plug the phone into the car and have input and output on a bigger screen (maps, GPS, directions, you name it) - another view at the same problem
  • Multi-touch screen - those zoom buttons are annoying
  • Web access to Market - even today, access is already slow and cumbersome, and there's too many applications to view comfortably. And please not as clumsy as Apple App Store;
  • No IM interruptions on joining/departing WiFi.
(more to come)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

T-Mobile Store: Just Say No

Just one item: Motorola H710 Bluetooth Headset.

T-Mobile: $99.99
Newegg OEM: $36.99

That'll be 37% of T-Mobile's price, or 63% off. Impressive, duh?

Android G1: Bluetooth is not that useful, either

In the process of comparing headsets, I've swapped H700 and H710 between phones and decided to test the voice quality via Bluetooth on G1.

I knew that voice dialer could be better, but the result was unexpected nevertheless.

Turns out, there are just two things you can do using just the buttons on your Bluetooth headset:
  • Take the call
  • Redial
Having used to have an extensive set of voice commands, this comes as a major disappointment.

G1 is unfit for hands-free operation. If you drive a lot, and have to initiate calls, you may want to think twice before buying it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Tao of Mobile Computing

Not something I normally do, but just couldn't resist:

A master programmer passed a novice programmer one day. The master noted the novice's preoccupation with a hand-held computer game. "Excuse me,'' he said, "may I examine it?''

The novice bolted to attention and handed the device to the master. "I see that the device claims to have three levels of play: Easy, Medium, and Hard,'' said the master. "Yet every such device has another level of play, where the device seeks not to conquer the human, nor to be conquered by the human.''

"Pray, great master,'' implored the novice, "how does one find this mysterious setting?''

The master dropped the device to the ground and crushed it underfoot. And suddenly the novice was enlightened.

Source: Slashdot, (Useful) Stupid BlackBerry Tricks

Conspiracy Theory: There Will Be No Google Talk for Android

Not that it's non-obvious, just didn't stop to think about it until now...

Fact #1: mobile carriers charge customers for airtime.
Fact #2: Google Talk uses data channel to transfer voice.

Corollary: Google Talk jeopardizes carrier's business model, and puts a strain on their data channel capacity. This can't make carriers happy.

Corollary 2: There will be no Google Talk for Android.

So if you're developing your own VOIP application, now is a time to rejoice and have a second breath - the first to get to the market share hits the jackpot.

UPDATE: See the UMA conspiracy theory.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Outlook Sync for Android: It's Real

Just like I was predicting the first Microsoft Outlook synchronization product didn't take long to arrive. Less than two months from the Android announcement, less than a month from the day of Android release.

So now it's Lotus Notes' turn. I don't think it will happen as fast - unless it'll be a third party solution, not IBM's. Having worked with Lotus products myself, I can testify what a royal pain in the ass it is, and wouldn't dare to say that the sync will arrive anywhere as soon as Outlook sync. However, keeping in mind the tremendous inertia of Lotus Notes' customers, and their insurmountable cost to exit, I would bet that the sync will appear sooner than a decision to replace Lotus Notes with something more sane will be made.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Attitude

Attitude (Воспитание)

My kid decided to show me how grumpy he was by shifting his teenage weight while being perched upon the (pictured above) miserable product of Chinese design and manufacturing genius. With some obvious and some non-obvious consequences.

The obvious consequences were that the said product, predictably, cracked.

The non-obvious were that he was grounded until the product was fixed.

The latter took him getting some familiarity with woodworking tools, seven layers of paint, a few sanding runs, and lots of time.

I don't think he'll be showing attitude anytime soon.

PS: Click on the photo to see some nice design decisions.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Google Apps, Android and Corporate Customization

An attorney was sitting in his office late one night, when Satan appeared before him. The Devil told the lawyer, "I have a proposition for you. You can win every case you try, for the rest of your life. Your clients will adore you, your colleagues will stand in awe of you, and you will make embarrassing sums of money. All I want in exchange is your soul, your wife's soul, your children's souls, the souls of your parents, grandparents, and parents-in-law, and the souls of all your friends and law partners." The lawyer thought about this for a moment, then asked, "So, what's the catch?"

A while ago I've had a tempting proposition: get myself a BlackBerry 8820 with employer paying for the device and the plan. The downside was (just like above) that the phone would be locked up, set up by the employer, and maintained by the entity known as Helpless Desk.

I chose to pass the opportunity.

When I had a chance to compare the corporate phone with mine a few months later, I blessed the moment I said no. One word to describe the corporate phone is "crippled". Nothing works as it should, nothing can be set straight because it's not you who can make things happen, but the Helpless Desk. From "the blessing and the curse" that a cell phone is it passed on to being a quintessential curse.

Enough about BlackBerry, let's talk about Android...

- Can a son of a colonel become a general?
- No, generals have sons too...

My earlier predictions about arrival of Microsoft and Lotus product gateways on Android notwithstanding, they will be mosty irrelevant in bigger picture, as far as Android is concerned.



We are at a break even point right now.

It is obvious that Google will be pushing Google Apps as the solution for Android (it is perfectly fir for it). The question is, how can they manage to make it work without crippling it in the process?




<to be continued>

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Motorola H710: I'm sick of proprietary connectors

During last few years, the power adapter hall of shame is growing at alarming rate. Every new device cometh with its own, proprietary adaper (or simply a proprietary connector, for all I know), and, as a matter of rule, I have to go and also buy a car adapter for it. Then the device, being significantly more complex, dies, and the charger stays in a vain hope that it'll be useful again someday. Never happened so far, but I'm still holding my breath.

There were notable exceptions:

Motorola PEBL
Motorola H700
BlackBerry Curve
BlackBerry Pearl
T-Mobile G1

All of these are compatible with the same connector - I believe it is USB mini-B (bigger picture). Hence, lots of spare chargers in case one dies (oh, by the way, can someone explain why do they insist on packaging a charger with every new device???), and just one adapter per vehicle for all the occupants and all the devices. Heaven on Earth, or something very close.

So today, when I needed another headset, I simply went to the store and bought Motorola H710 (the only one available in that store), having used a very similar H700 for about two years now and being very happy with it.

Wrong.

H700

H710

See, the connector on H710 is not Mini B, though it looks like one to anyone with vision less than perfect. It is something else, possibly the mystery plug. I don't care to investigate further what it is, and under no circumstances I'm going to buy more car adapters to clutter my cars (one adapter is an annoyance enough already) and, no less importantly, spend the money I don't have to spend otherwise.

One thing I don't understand is - why the hell did they have to change the connector? H700 was a decent product, and it was just fine the way it was, in the form factor it was. There is no perceptible shape change between H700 and H710, and I don't think there's something very critical that begged to change the connector (yeah, sure, H710 plays sounds when you switch it on and off, but I don't think that could've possibly be the reason).

Other than stupid marketing - "oh, now we can sell more chargers!!!"

No you won't. Not to anyone who is sick to death of paying extra for a charger they don't need, and having to deal with this snake nest of chargers and wires.

H710 goes back to shop, and H700 gets ordered off Newegg. Motorola loses a sale and now has to deal with the returned H710, and my critical mass for not ever buying Motorola products gets one step closer.

Good job.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Android vs. iPhone: What Part Of The Message You Don't Understand?

Reading SDK shoot-out: Android vs. iPhone vividly reminded me of a joke I've first heard in mid-nineties:

In seventies, IT managers were choosing VMS over Unix.
In eighties, IT managers were choosing Novell over Unix.
In nineties, IT managers were choosing Windows NT over Unix.

What part of the message you don't understand?

One quote from the article: "If you can't get coders on board, you're sunk."

Guess what, I don't have a Mac. Neither did three startups I've worked for. Neither did three corporations I've worked for. And neither of us (me, the startups and the corporations) have any intent to buy a Mac, despite an overwhelming desire to have one someday.

I've placed my bets.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Android G1: Hardware

Can't stop comparing the G1 with other phones I've had in general, and BlackBerry Curve in particular.

Operating system aside, G1 seems pretty flimsy compared to other phones. However, the keyword may just as well be "seems".

I've read an article once about differences between German and Japanese engineering. In an essence...

German engineering is exact and elegant. The buttons will always feel the certain way, the tactile feedback would be just like you expect, the doors will thunk just like so (did you know they design sounds?), and, in general, the experience would be exquisite.

Until something breaks, that is.

Right there and then everything will cease to work completely.

Japanese designs, on the other hand, would feel like crap, look like crap, buttons may plonk deep or not move at all, but everything works. For a long, long, long time.

The explanation is difference in design tolerances.

Back to phones - G1, so far, seems to belong to Japanese school of design. Either that, or it's just outright flimsy. Time will tell.

I'm looking forward to "German" engineered Android. Of course, the market positioning and the price would be different, but it would be interesting to witness nonetheless.

And if my gut feeling is right, it may be manufactured by RIM. Or Motorola...

BlackBerry App Store: Too Little. Too Late.

Just like I was saying, RIM *is* afraid. They're opening their App Store.

In March 2009.

Let me see, that'll be roughly five months after Android Market was launched, and I don't even care to count how many months after Apple's App Store.

That might just as well be the definition of "irrelevant".

They were caught off guard.

Twice.

Difficult to say what the corporate blokes were thinking all this time - the best explanation I can come up with is that they (correctly, I should say) didn't see iPhone as a threat to their business model (mostly corporate clients with thick wallets and expensive long term contracts), but totally underestimated the momentum that Android has created.

I don't think this is going to save RIM in the long run. The rules of engagement are pretty simple: lead, follow, or get out of the way.

They can't lead anymore.
They don't want to get out of the way.
The only choice left is follow.

Go ahead and release Android core on your platform already, I'd be the first to buy the result.

Quote Of The Day

Love, it seems, is blind. Whereas hate has GPS.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Android G1 RC29 is here

Voice dialer still sucks. Totally unusable - checked by three people. Not a sinlge time in 10 minutes of trying did it get a single name (or number, for that matter) right.

Android G1 @ Wal-Mart: Preliminary Speculations

It seems to be confirmed by now that Wal-Mart is about to start G1 anytime soon, for a price that is at least $30 less than what T-Mobile is selling G1 for. Seems to be a no-brainer on the surface, but the reality may turn out even more exciting.

List price for G1 at T-Mobile site today is $399. However, T-Mobile reps I've talked about outright refuse to sell me a G1 at that price, claiming that the only way for me to buy the phone is "upgrade" (there' two not-so-white lies related to that: one, obvious, is the 2 year contract, and the other is the $18 "upgrade fee" - T-Mobile consistently forgets to mention it or prints it in a font size so small I can't read it, so it is an unpleasant surprise every time).

Then there's a claim (biased since it's coming from T-Mobile reps, but can't be proven true or false until G1 actually does start selling at Wal-Mart) that Wal-Mart's contract will be even more restrictive than T-Mobile's is, since it is a "subcontract".

Well, the only parallel I can draw today is that the same phone T-Mobile was willing to sell to me outside of the contract for $70 was available at Wal-Mart for $30, no strings attached. That's 42% of T-Mobile's price.

Granted, it was a cheap (though very common and reliable) phone, and G1 definitely doesn't fall into the same category. However, it would be interesting to see what exactly string would be attached to G1 when it starts selling - all in all, Wal-Mart with its colossal exposure and the same target audience as iPhone simply can afford to sell it without strings for the advertised price, just for the hell of it.

Let's see if they actually do. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Locale + Calendar Integration, Take 2

Carter from Locale team made a correction to the original post.

First of all, my apologies - I've had a tunnel vision attack and didn't see the calendar icon on the screenshot.

On the other hand, that might serve as a message that screenshots are insufficient, and they're not searchable. And that the documentation is an important part of your product - even if it is free. For now. And the front page of the project is still talking about Android release in the future tense.

But enough bickering, let me address the original point.

I guess I was thinking about Calendar integration for too long and didn't realize that what I implied too much in a cryptic message, so let me spell it out.

Let's see, yes, you can integrate a Calendar event into Locale. However, in order to do that, you need to:

  1. Get the phone in your hands;
  2. Open Locale;
  3. Fiddle with it for a sufficiently long period of time in order to create a situation;
  4. Go through the user interface that duplicates Calendar (I didn't look into technicalities, hope Calendar UI is a standard Android gadget);
  5. Select the event;
  6. Finish the situation.
That's a lot of work.

Now, what I actually meant was:

  1. Start creating your event (in the Calendar);
  2. Add a Calendar gadget that specifies notification preferences to your event;
  3. Have Locale (or suchlike application) analyze the events in background and apply settings that are already specified in the events.

And that's all.

The point is, don't do the job you don't have to. Lazy design is a good design.

Note, it doesn't matter whether the event is being created via Web interface on your computer, or your phone. Don't know about you, but I hate the small keyboards on smartphones, no matter how good they are - maybe it's all cool and peachy while you still have all your life ahead of you, but well, I have better things to do than explore the limits of G1's mechanical excellence (more about that in a different post) in my not-so-spare time.

Having said all that, let me repeat once more that yes, I realize that per-event calendar gadget may not even exist yet (last time I checked, it didn't), but that can be addressed, and I'm sure it's either there already, or is coming soon.

More about lazy design - ahem... Give me one good reason why do you have to have a separate "manage" tab, whereas you can do the same thing in the same tab by simply using a long press?

But again, I'm nitpicking. All in all, Locale is a very useful application, and if the design team plays along with Google's way of doing things (release early, release often, improve evolutionarily) - I'm sure it'll keep being one of Android's crown jevels.

Good job, guys, and good luck.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Four R Mantra, now coming to Android

It used to be called The Microsoft Mantra: Four R's.

Retry,
Reboot,
Reinstall,
Repeat.

My Nokia never needed a reboot.

I was appalled when I was told by customer service to reboot my PEBL.

I wasn't even surprised when BlackBerry wanted to reboot after installing practically anything, and sometimes even by itself, for a good measure.

I guess I have nobody but myself to blame that I didn't figure out that a simple reboot would fix the problems I was having lately. But no, it didn't occur to me, I've put too much faith in the development team, and it took a call to T-Mobile customer service (hilarious call, I should say) to cure that.

All right, now that I know that Four R's is applicable to Android, my life is easier.

It's still disgusting, though. Thought they would do better than that.

Oops

Last thing in the world that you want to do is to get the geeks pissed.

The very last thing in the world that you want to do is to get the law geeks pissed.

Viva Harvard.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

When The Geek Phone Is Assaulted By Mere Mortals...

...then the infrastructure caves in. *And* the geek phone.

I guess the audience is catching up, and the regular users that bought the phone not because they knew what it is, but because they saw the ad or otherwise chose it over something else, finally discovered the Android Market.

Application downloads started since yesterday still display "starting download" (tricks with "restarting" don't help), and the whole phone feels as sluggish as 256M RAM computer trying to run ten applications under Windows XP. There's seven application download processes runnig in parallel, with zero success.

I guess I could've eased its task and cancel some of downloads to bring the phone back to normal, but that'd be cheating - regular users won't do that, so I'm gonna follow their lead and see how soon does it come back to normal, if ever.

That's a second serious dent in G1, first being the voice dialer.

Update: Don't know what was the role of the Market server, but 24 hours later the issue was solved by a simple reboot. Welcome to the Windows world.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

G1 Voice Dialing Sucks

Don't know what to blame it for - on G1 hardware, or on Android software, but the voice dialer on G1 deeply and profoundly sucks.

Out of existing address book, it can recognize 1 (one) name.

It would've been tolerable if it could recognize digits, but no, it can't recognize them either. Repeatedly.

I would've blamed that on the fact that I speak with an accent, if not for the fact that a stone age old PEBL had just slight problems with it, and BlackBerry Curve didn't have any at all.

I wonder if voice recognition actually runs locally on the phone, or remotely with your voice input channeled to a Google server - just like Picasa 3 does with face recognition. Also wonder if the algorithm is fixed, or self-learning - it gives me way too may choices when it fails.

Verdict: unusable in current state. If you're using voice dialing a lot, make sure it works for you before you buy the phone.

Update: I'm not the one whose voice it doesn't recognize. Native speakers have just as much luck as I do.

Update: RC29 didn't help much.

Mobile Schizophrenia: Notifications

All notifications are not equal, but some of them are less equal than others.

I do want to wake up and take a call no matter what - I assume if someone's calling me, they really need me. But sometimes I can't take a call during a meeting.

I do need to take a look at incoming SMS - with less urgency, maybe. T-Mobile, for example, is known to send routine service notifications at five in the morning - I don't think I need to wake up for that. But if it is someone I know to be judgmental in their SMS habits, I'd rather take a look at what they wrote. Say, if my bank tells me there's fraudulent activity on my account - that's pretty urgent in my book.

I do need to know when mail comes - at day. I don't think I need that at night.

In other words, I need to be able to establish my own guidelines for what constitutes urgency, and introduce arbitrary classes of service - "anytime", "not when I'm busy", "not when I'm sleeping" and so on. Would be nice to have integration with Locale and IM status.

But today, there are only two, at most three, priorities: phone call, SMS, sometimes IM. This is not enough.

Android Wishlist: Locale + Calendar Integration

Apparently, other people have exactly the same pet peeves that I do.

Can't blame them for not doing the job exactly the same way I would've done - they've already done much more than I cared and/or had time to, but can't resist (being the <censored>-retentive nitpicker that I am) from an observation: why do I have to create timed conditions via Locale specific UI and storage, when there's a tool perfected to do just that: the calendar.

The calendar is available through its API.

Calendar gadgets, last time I checked, were on per-day granularity, but still, one can use the API to create events that external tools (like Locale) can work with. Or, push the Calendar guys to create per-event gadgets - Google is known to be flexible in admitting their shortcomings. This may already exist on be in the works, for all I know.

Locale project does advertise "3rd party developer platform", so doing it may be a straightforward task, but the promise is yet to materialize - Locale doesn't look like an Open Source project. There's something funny about it - for example, I wouldn't imagine the Top Ten project team to allow the site to talk about Android release in the future tense a week after it's actually happened...

Monday, October 27, 2008

BlackBerry OS upgrade notes: 4.2 to 4.5.0.81

A few random observations, in no particular order:

  • The whole process takes about 50 minutes;
  • Device boots about 15 minutes after restart, don't panic;
  • Browser is different, trackball now controls the pointer instead of hopping between links;
  • Font size preference is gone;
  • Folder layout I've spent significant time fiddling with is gone;
  • Device still loses the wallpaper when used as USB Mass Storage;
  • Nice white background formerly present during the call is now replaced with the ugly *default* theme wallpaper (not even the one I selected for the home screen);
  • All the useless applications that I've tried to delete or hide are back with vengeance, some of them you can't delete;
  • GMail 2.0.5 takes quite a while to start for the first time;
  • GMail preferences are gone;
  • All above makes me think that all application preferences are gone;
  • Interestingly enough, advanced ring preferences are still intact;
  • Yahoo Messenger now supports user icons, finally supports UTF-8, and now it is able to automatically reconnect you on device reboots (which happens much more often than you think/see);
  • I don't remember seeing "Wireless Upgrade" option before;
  • I don't remember seeing "Scan for Available Wi-Fi Networks" before;
  • First impression is that the device has become significantly more sluggish than it was.
That's all in a nutshell.

Old software version had an annoying problem - Bluetooth headset by itself worked just fine, but when the device was switching to UMA, voice quality was dropping so bad, the other party usually asked me to get off the headset. It is too early to tell if that's going to be the case here - stay tuned.

Update: Yep, it's definitely sluggish now.

Brand Recognition: G1 Is Known, Android Is Not

Looking at Google Trends for BlackBerry, Android, G1, Google Phone:

Google Trends Graph

Hmm... G1 is catching up with BlackBerry quite fast...
Hmm... Android is obviously a geek-only term at this point, and general population knows little about it.
Not so for G1, at least as of now.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Android G1: RIM should be afraid. Very afraid.

Here's what is going to happen pretty soon, in no particular order, with different probability of materialization:
  • Software development houses are going to realize that Android offers them equal, if not more powerful platform than BlackBerry OS;
  • They are going to realize that social networking and application interoperability (a.k.a. Web 2.0) is making their life much easier, and development overhead smaller, and time to market shorter;
  • For a short while, corporations will bitch and moan about absence of Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes support on Android;
  • Software development houses are going to realize that whoever comes up with Microsoft Exchange and/or Lotus Notes support on Android is going to hit the jackpot;
  • Hence, the Big Race will start (I believe it has already started), and Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes support will inevitably come to Android, and very soon;
  • This will eliminate the competitive advantage that BlackBerry is still enjoying;
  • RIM is going to realize that Android in general, and G1 in particular, is the BlackBerry killer;
  • RIM may do the right thing and drop BlackBerry OS altogether, with just legacy support (unlikely, that's too much of loss of face) or
  • RIM may do the right thing and release a BlackBerry device with Android instead of or along with BlackBerry OS, gradually fading BlackBerry OS into oblivion;
  • Presence of Android on BlackBerry hardware is going to save their butt, and allow them to save billions of dollars on not having to develop something the rest of the world is already eager to do for them. Just let them.
So here's what I would do:
  • If I was responsible for mobile application development for consumer sector: drop BlackBerry development, change iPhone/Android resource allocation as 20/80 - iPhone is just one iPhone, Android is a platform, a cheaper platform, with more phones to come and vastly wider distribution;
  • If I was responsible for mobile application development for corporate sector: forget that Android is not currently on the approved list. This will change very fast. Change the BlackBerry/Android resource allocation to at least 50/50, and keep watching the market. Oh, and look very deeply into not reinventing the wheel, for application interoperability will be the key for Android applications, and there'll be lots of reusable code to reuse;
  • If I was responsible for infrastructure development: location based services are somewhat overdue, make sure they're not forgotten - and start planning ahead already;
  • If I was responsible for buying a phone for myself: I'd buy G1, in fact, I just did;
  • If I was responsible for corporate procurement plan: I'd eliminate all sorts of long term contracts with RIM and kept talking to Google about how they can make my life easier.
Now the prediction's been made, let's sit and wait and see what happens. I don't think holding one's breath for extended periods of time is necessary - BoA's mobile banking application has already been available on day one, Visa has declared their intent to do the same, there's some action as far as Microsoft Exchange support is concerned, Motorola is working on something. Let's see how much time it takes for others to realize that either they have to jump on the bandwagon, or be left in the dust.

Update: Told ya: CompanionLink Releases Outlook Syncing App For Android. Less than a month. May not be perfect, but certainly proves the point. Now let's see how long does it take for Lotus Notes sync app to arrive.

Android G1: Just Like Bosch

The phone is new, and not everyone knows about it. My wife, for example, was totally unconvinced to buy it (even though it was to be her phone) and just succumbed to my nagging because that's what she usually does to preserve the peace in the family.

That was, however, until I was able to forcefully distract her from making whatever shopping decisions she was making at the moment and show her this. And this. The look in her eye told me that I'm guaranteed unconditional love. Until my next blunder, that is.

Women are gotta love thes phones.

Note, this is on the third day on the market. With lack of serious advertisement (yeah, I know, us geeks knew about it for months, but that doesn't count).

It seems to me that Android is going to be for women what Bosch is for for some of us mechanically inclined: just like this comment says, the moment is not far away when we will start wondering what causes that wild look in their eyes.

Well, let's wait and see how this turns out...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

BlackBerry Curve Add Input Language HOWTO

A short while ago I was trying to add Cyrillic input language support to my Curve through T-Mobile. Following are the simple steps that will allow you to add any input language support to your phone, provided the language is included into the distribution. Unfortunately, it's not possible to determine beforehand whether your language supported or not until after some steps are complete.

Once again, this set is for T-Mobile phones only. If your carrier is different, you may brick your phone, and don't hold me responsible.

Here goes:
  1. Go to http://www.tmobile.com/bbupgrade.
  2. Select your phone, click "get software" button.
  3. On the next screen, enter your mobile number and cick "go".
  4. Further instructions have been verified for Curve 8320, but are likely to work with other 83xx phones as well, and possibly other models using the same software distribution model. URL given to you will be different depending on your mobile number, hence no URLs from this point on.
  5. Download and install Desktop Manager Software, Multi-Language with Media Manager (don't know if the other version of Desktop Manager is going to work, feel free to try and let me know).
  6. Download Handheld Software Installation Instructions. Gotta have Acrobat Reader handy.
  7. Download and install Handheld Software.
  8. Follow the Handheld Software Installation Instructions TO THE LETTER.
On page 7 of the Installation Instructions there's a glimpse of the screen where you have to select the input language you want to add.

There will be a significant delay as the installer reconnects to your Curve after the reboot - if this is not your first reboot, you know that already, but I just thought I'd mention that.

You might want to google up blackberry curve input language shortcut.

Credits: the_razor's message here provided the starting point. The process is actually pretty straightforward, but it is not quite obvious, and it took me quite a while to find it, so it is posted here for the benefit of poor souls trying to add an input language to their device.

And NO, you don't have to purchase anything in order to add input language, despite T-Mobile reps' statements to the contrary.

Enjoy.

Want Cyrillic on your Curve? Fughet about it

1 hour, 13 minutes, 48 seconds is all it takes to confirm what a lot of us know already: customer support is useless when the issue at hand is anything other than trivial. Generally, I haven't had any problems with T-Mobile support, but in this case the tech support turned out to be utterly lacking, despite their best efforts and educated guidance from my side.

And it is really surprised given the multitude of nations that comprise the US population, and the fact that a lot of people speak more than one language, and quite some more than two.

And the question was really, really simple: how to add Cyrillic input language support. Doesn't get much simpler than that.

It is even more infuriating because I know that it is possible, and all the T-Mobile rep is saying is "you have to purchase the application to do that", and when I ask "what application should I purchase?" his answer is "It doesn't say it here". I don't have a personal grudge against him - it's simply beyond his training, but the T-Mobile the carrier could've paid more attention to such a simple issue.

Oh well, GIYF... Off investigating.



UPDATE: BlackBerry Curve Add Input Language HOWTO.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Java Security Model Fail

Java 2 was introduced in 1999, along with its revolutionary security model.

There was just one problem: nobody wanted to use it.

It's been almost 10 years since its introduction, and even though there were nice extensions like JAAS, I don't remember ever seeing applications that were, in fact, relying on Java security model.

Part of the problem, of course, was the fact that it was a pain in the neck to implement. Parts of the implementation were working outside of the security manager, and the bootstrap was neckbreaking. By the time I abandoned attempts to use Java security model (about 2003, having grokked it fully by then) because none of my employers were willing to support it, there were no available common sense implementations such as LDAP security manager, and anything more complicated than a policy file was out of question because you needed to implement it first. I believe this greatly contributed to the overall failure of the security model - Sun should have paid more attention and provided at least basic implementations.

Another part is a perceived performance degradation. Sure there is some, but there is also total absence of hard proof, which, in turn, is caused by total absence of visible implementations that actually used the security manager... Hence, I call bs until I see the actual hard statistics (not that I'm holding my breath for that).

This, however, is complicated by the fact that if you can really compare the performance of a system with the security manager and without one, that'll mean you're doing it wrong. Security manager is much more than simply checking for access, that'll be like using the microscope to hammer nails. Properly using security manager means that it is completely integrated into your application and is an integral part of it.

But I don't think this is happening or will ever happen, except for maybe a few niche products.

Too bad, it was a good start.


Update: To be fair, all above is pertinent only to a part of what is declared to comprise the security model today, namely, Authentication and Access Control. Other parts either didn't exist, or weren't officially the part of the security model at the time.

Google Mobile World Domination Fail, BlackBerry Edition

I've been planning to write this article about several times a day for a couple of months already. And every time, there was the next update that made me think "No, not yet" and abort the attempt.

Until now.

The point is, with all the efforts that Google seems to be directing at the mobile space, their efforts are either failing or backfiring, at least where BlackBerry is concerned.

Usability of applications is getting reduced with every new update.

Worst of all, I'm now starting to see the pattern where spontaneous device reboots that drive me nuts seem to be related to the clandestine Google Updater that runs in the background. Sometimes, it reboots in the middle of a phone call.

Visible notification about new mail in GMail mailbox is gone.

New mail doesn't get into the mailbox until a while later, I have acquired a habit of hitting "refresh" all the time (all right, Google may be concerned about bandwidth consumption, but I'd rather they ask me if I want to wait an hour until they refresh the mailbox contents).

Spreadsheet is marginally usable, if you really need to read the documents.

It is no longer possible to have just the applications that I need (the all-encompassing "Google Mobile App for BlackBerry" replaced it).

It is no longer possible to see whether the application version is the latest (to be fair, Google Updater was always quite flaky as far as new software versions were concerned, and the only way to reliably check whether the new version is available was to manually install the application - current software versions are not displayed on Google site, either).

Bottomline: having used almost all Google applications for quite a while by now, I can say with confidence that most of Google apps for BlackBerry fall severely short in comparison to their usual quality standards.

This scares me a bit - being able to use Google apps was one of selling points of BlackBerry. Now that Android enabled phones are becoming tangible, I wonder what happens to Google's desire to keep BlackBerry (and iPhone) apps with their heads above the water...

Update: New mail notification works with BlackBerry OS upgrade from 4.2 to 4.5.
Update: Visual notification only works if audible notification is enabled. If you disable audible notification, you lose visual as well.

Are Fanless PSUs Going Extinct?

There was time when quite a few fanless power supplies were available (too many to count and remember). Today, out of all those there are three fanless PSUs on Newegg. Two of them are 300W, one 400W.

For reference, Antec Phantom 500 repeatably and reproducibly shuts off when feeding two 8 series NVidia cards working in SLI.

Conclusion? Need to pay more attention to the general acoustic qualities of the case and its ability to suppress the wind noise. Slight hope for improved energy efficiency of future components, but in any case I don't think there'll be fanless PSUs able to feed high end gaming systems anytime soon.

It seems, by the way, that Antec Phantom 500 was the most powerful fanless power supply ever manufactured. Whereas it does have a very annoying auxiliary fan (very noisy) which switches on under heavy load (which gaming definitely is), using it for HTPC is perfectly justified - I don't remember the fan ever switching on.

It is still being sold online, so hurry before existing supply runs out...

Far Cry 2 DRM Infected?

Search on far cry 2 securom reveals that SecuROM is planned to be used to protect Far Cry 2.

What a <censored> annoyance.

I've faithfully purchased all the games produced by this team so far (that'll be Far Cry, Crysis, Crysis Warhead), was severely disappointed when it turned out that Crysis Warhead used SecuROM (which gave me tremendous headache throughout many years and on several computers - the dreaded Invalid system-time detected), and now pondering this:

It takes me roughly $50 and a trip to the store (yes, I like to have shiny boxes) to get the game. Trip to the store costs me anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, and gas, so the total cost of the game (supposing I would've been working instead of driving) goes up to about $200.

On the other hand, the crack for the game protection will be out in HOURS after the release, and it will be readily available, just like Far Cry crack... Oh, wait, it is already available, despite the fact that the release date is still about a week away.

So, why should I even bother buying the game? Give me ONE GOOD REASON, except for appealing to my concsience, which wears pretty thin as I keep wasting my precious time to deal with stupid DRM tricks - which are supposed to deter pirates, and not me, faithful paying customer. For now.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Chrome Rust: Schizophrenic Middle Finger

There is one very annoying feature in Chrome: non-reversible "open link in new tab" on middle button click. All other browsers (that I care of, anyway) do allow you to reverse the policy from "open in a new background tab" to "open in a new tab and make it active", bug no, Chrome is above that. At least for now.

Very annoying to switch back and forth between browsers - and since the number of other browsers (on more than one operating system) far exceeds one (Chrome), the choice here is simple: either drop Chrome altogether (only morbid curiosity prevents me from doing so), or change my habits - hell no, forget that.

Let's see if I'm alone and how soon they add this feature.

BlackBerry Curve Overheating & Battery Drain: Solved?

I've suddenly realized that it's been a while since my phone overheated and tried to drain the battery. There were no statistically significant changes in usage patterns, but there were several BlackBerry updates (couple of them caught me in the middle of the conversation - and why that Instant Messaging folder that I've deleted keeps coming back to life like a zombie?) and possibly some Google application updates (can't really say anymore, since they've hidden update details from the casual eye).

There's a poll on the sidebar, tell me if it's just me or it's gone for good...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Google Stock Fail?

Life is not easy today, market is falling. But even more interesting is the fact that Google stock price has been falling since December 7 2007, when it reached $714.87, all the way down to today's value of $338.11 - less than half of the price, to be exact, 47%.

It's been losing money faster than the market (-51.1% vs. -34.38% for NASDAQ and -30.21% for Dow Jones).

Oops...

See for yourself: GOOG

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

BMW 1 Series remind me...

...of a saying: "Helicopters can't fly. They're just so ugly, the Earth repels them".

Ugly they are (like all post-2001 BMWs, except, maybe, E92). It is difficult, though, to turn down the appeal of the powerplant previously available only in a grownup category.

Here's a comparison - E39 540i 2003 vs. E81 135i 2008:

Power: 290 bhp vs 300 bhp
Torque: 325 lb-ft vs 300 lb-ft
Weight: 3757 lb vs 3438 lb
Power to weight: 0.0771 vs 0.0926
Torque to weight: 0.0865 vs 0.0926

One interesting fact: specified weight of 135i is just 0.96 of the weight of 335i, and 0.87 of the weight of 550i for the same model year. It's not light, no matter how they try to convince you it is, it's just small.

For comparison, 135i has a weight that is 1.73 of Lotus Elise (totally different ballgame), and 1.21 of Acura RSX Type-S (arguably comparable level of fun, performance and luxury, but absolutely different demographics).

Likewise, I don't want to bother with calculating the prices, but something tells me that you might just get yourself a 3 series or 5 series for almost the same cost, percentage wise... Just don't get yourself blinded with the absolute difference - think "relative" and "cost efficiency".

Monday, September 29, 2008

Handcuff Notes: Forward To The Past

Working on Google Docs when the connectivity is slow feels remarkably similar to working on one of 16 terminals on PDP-11 with 64K memory back in mid-eighties...

Android: Unforeseen Consequences

Unforeseen by some, of course. I'm sure Google had exactly this in mind from the beginning.

Take a look at the flurry of announcements - major mobile hardware providers are now "looking" into the platform. The word "commodization" comes to mind right away.

Basic mobile phones are already commodized all the way - there's fierce competition, they cost dime a dozen and offer just about the same functionality.

There's still some diversity and competition between high end phones - notable examples would be BlackBerry, Treo, iPhone, and less known in North America, but more known in Europe Nokia Communicator series. They are vastly different and mostly occupy different segments of market.

Android, with some development effort, can occupy both the niches that the business phones (BlackBerry, Treo, Communicator) and fashion phone (iPhone) currently have the stranglehold on. Net result: some of those phones will go the way of the Dodo, the rest will have to drop prices. Commodity market is not fun.

There is one interesting specimen in this game: Sony Ericsson. Yes, the same Sony that pulled the rootkit on us and cheated on BluRay compatibility. They are currently "testing" Android. Seeing how Sony likes to have the market to itself and not let anyone in, and consistently fails to coexist in the same market segment with competition, I'm making my bet that either Sony will completely refuse to participate in Android game, or come up with something ridiculously vendor locked, which will not survive in the context of open API. Let's see how this prediction holds.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Topsy-turvy HTPC case

YY-0110, Front

Wrote a couple of critical reviews on Antec P182 (on Newegg and here), and immediately remembered the good old YY-0110 (YY0221 is a closest approximation available today).

It wasn't too good at all when I bought it. Well, to begin with, it was bought in 1999 (it was difficult to find and especially verify anything on Internet back in those times), and I had very little idea about what I was doing - it was the first time I was building a computer. Stamped steel, point welding, sharp edges, damaged threads. Resonated like a steel guitar. Inferior PSU, gave up the ghost pretty soon.

However, the role this box played in the transformation of a person with no practical skills into a person that is not afraid of any DYI work can't be underestimated.

...It all started with a freezing video card, Riva TNT2. It was freezing as soon as the card temperature was above 30°C (for comparison, XFX GF7950GT PVT71JYHE9 feels just fine at 130°C). And of course, there was no money to replace it. Well, the less money you have, the more is your motivation to turn on the brains, so I did. Took out the card, took off the heatsink, swore at lazy workers that didn't put the thermal paste right, fixed it, put it back, rejoiced. But there was a side effect to it - at first, Pulse was created, and it eventually grew into DIY Zoning...

But I digress.

All in all, this box had been in service until 2005 (running PIII/550 with 512K RAM), first as a workstation, then as a server. Then it was retired, and it was collecting dust - until the need for a new computer materialized.

That was when things got interesting.

By that time the noise finally got on my nerves.

Lian-Li PC-60 (the original, with three 80mm fans) was bad. Lian-Li V-Cool PC-V1200B, with two 120mm fans and a squirrel case, even on rubber grommets, was even worse. So the verdict was: no new case, YY will be modded, 80mm and 90mm fans will be thrown away, quiet 120mm fans will be installed, and the end result must be quiet enough to put it in the bedroom or into the entertainment center.

The case was gutted, metalworking tools were engaged, and in a couple of weeks the case was difficult to recognize: instead of one 80mm and one 90mm fans there were four very quiet 120mm Scythe S-FLEX SFF-21D (bought here). I can't say whether they really deliver promised 8.7dBA, but you can only hear them in a very quiet room at night, and you have to get down on your knees to hear them. Two intake fans at the front, one intake fan at the left (where the CPU is), and one exhaust on the rear (below the PSU).

YY-0110, Rear

PSU chosen was fanless (kind of) Antec Phantom 500. That was before I got disappointed in Antec PSUs after two consequent failures, both shortly after warranty expired. Interesting fact is that I'm seeing a sharp decline in Antec popularity recently - I guess I'm not the only disappointed one. Another disappointment was that as soon as the auxiliary fan kicks in, you realize that no, it is far from zero noise, it's much worse than regular - but that doesn't happen very often, especially if you're only using the computer as HTPC, and not as a gaming station.

After long consideration, fanless XFX GF7950GT PVT71JYHE9, fresh new on the market, was bought. That turned to be the worst disappointment of all: it didn't fit into the case. I was 4mm short. Sure YY is a big case, it's just that the motherboard compartment is more shallow than most... I said, the hell with it, cut out the hole in the side panel, and it works happily since.

That was the end of it, and it seems that the case turned out quite right. It is quiet as a coffin, and cold as a tomb.

YY-0110, left

CPU temperature (AMD X2 3800+) doesn't get above 49°C with the fanless video card (above), and doesn't get above 52°C with two G92 8800GTS/512 SLI (it is interesting that even those two monsters, the noise level wasn't bad at all). Hard drive is in a wind tunnel between two fans, I don't think it will ever overheat.

YY-0110, right


Bottomline...

It's been 10 years since I've started buying computers out of my own pocket.

  • Bought two whole computers - HP Pavilion out of ignorance, Dell Dimension E521 because of crazy sale;
  • Bought four cases - YY-0110, Lian-Li PC-60, Lian-Li V-Cool V1200B Plus, Antec P182;
  • Got four cases as a present;
  • Built total of eight computers (not counting endless tinkering with existing ones).
All things considered, this case is so far the best.

Yes, it is somewhat ugly.
But it works.
And it is cold.
And it is quiet.
And it is NINE YEARS OLD.

I don't think I'll be buying more cases anytime soon. There's a stack of old cases gathering dust in the corner, I'll just pick the one that fits the purpose the best and start hacking away...