MeeGo Ready To Go (On Netbooks Anyway)

The Nokia and Intel cross-platform OS MeeGo is now available for adventurous netbook owners and developers.

The MeeGo netbook user experience is the first of its kind for the flexible cross-platform OS, allowing everyone to get a taster for what’s in store when a device is launched in the near future. Building on the latest open source technologies the MeeGo netbook experience boasts instant access to synchronised calendars, tasks and files, along with real-time social networking updates on your homescreen. It doesn’t end there, the OS also provides aggregation of your social networking happenings, allowing you to see all your feeds on one screen and keep all your buddies informed with what you had for breakfast.

When it comes to browsing the MeeGo netbook user experience integrates Google Chrome or a fully open source browser solution plus Google Chromium is also on board.

The OS also includes easy to use applications for email, calendar and there’s also a brand new media player offering. There’s also support for a myriad of languages including Japanese, Korean, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Swedish, Polish, Finnish, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Dutch, English and British English.

For those technically-apt developers amongst us there’s more than enough fodder for you to get to grips with. The release of MeeGo API includes Qt 4.6, the MeeGo SDK with an integrated application development environment, and various other operating system tools. Currently, the MeeGo SDK is focused on netbooks, but the next version of the MeeGo SDK, an early developer release in June, will support touch-based devices, such as handsets and tablets.

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The Google Phone Dog Pile

It is like it has been a race to the bottom in the last 48 hours in the blogosphere. Google puts out a simple announcement that now that android has achieved critical mass and is being sold by an increasing number of carriers (both in the US and around the world) that they will seek to sell their own Nexus One via carriers and stop selling it solely via a google web site. Simple, huh?

Not to read the blog and mainstream spin on the announcement. I can’t count the number of hyperbolic headlines I have seen about ‘Google hanging up on it’s phone’, ‘Google abandoning their phone’, ‘Google forsakes…’, ‘Google runs away from…’, etc, etc, etc ad nauseum. Really, folks, get a fracking grip and actually read the Google announcement. But I guess it gets dim wits to click on your site if you put a sensational spin on a very simple announcement, now, doesn’t it.

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The Wearable Internet?

Interesting research and demos of wearable computing and speculation that it might ‘blow mobile phones away’. While the demos are cool, I think the practicality of it remains to be seen. It seems that just like voice recognition was going to make it so much easier to interact with desktop computers (it didn’t) that a lot is being invested in these gesture-based systems that probably will struggle to work outside the lab in ‘real world’ conditions (variable light, no fixed background, uncontrolled contrast, etc).

It will be fun to see how this develops over time but I am not anticipating anything useful in the next few years.

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Bizarro Lightning Damage

Last Thursday night/Friday morning we had some pretty powerful storm cells come through the area. I heard the next morning that at one point 85,000 people were without power overnight and that only 10,000 of them had been restored. I woke up around 1AM when one of the cells was passing and there was so much lightning back-to-back that it looked like fireworks going off or a paparazzi mob surrounding my house (as they often do).

The next morning the Internet/DSL connection appeared to be down. My best (quick) efforts to revive it were fruitless. Then I got a call from my wife a few hours later with some interesting news — she was noticing that only some of the computers couldn’t connect – not all of them. When I got home from work I started tracing through the system and discovered that the main hub/switch had gotten toasted, but a smaller secondary one was fine (which accounted for the small population of working systems). The Airport base station that serves as the router between DSL and home network was also flaky (periodically dropping connections). A quick trip to Best Buy after dinner got us re-switched and a new Airport Extreme in place.

The next outage uncovered was the strangest of all. The front speaker channels in the AV amplifier had gotten toasted — so a Dolby 5.1 DVD would only play out of the center, sub-woofer and back speaker channels. Fortunately, the AV unit allowed for 4 front speakers, so we were able to move over to the other speaker outputs without having to buy an entirely new unit.

This morning I discovered one of the iMacs shutting down spontaneously. After combing through the log files I unearthed this message: AppleSMU — shutdown cause = -122 . After some forensic work on the apple support site I found a note that indicated that a shutdown -122 is typically power related (source is fluctuation too much so the unit shuts down defensively). So, it looks like the UPS that the iMac is plugged into took the brunt of the surge, but is now unstable as a result and in need of replacement. It’s been an expensive weekend and I haven’t even bought anything new 🙂

I guess the good news out of this is that the relatively inexpensive hubs took the hit, rather than the considerably more expensive computers and PVRs. I’ll count myself lucky.

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The Evolution Of Home Wireless Music Sharing

Way back when the first version of iTunes was starting to accumulate ripped tracks off of my piles of CDs there was a big need to be able to share/serve up that music. Over time, I was able to retire the 6 CD boom box changer in my office and enjoy a much more versatile and targeted experience via the shuffle and playlist features in iTunes. Now I was hooked, but that meant having to figure out how to re-create the same experience in other rooms. The first attempt was the purchase of a Creative Labs Nomad MP3 player to dump some music out of iTunes (a chore) and hook the Nomad up to the Bose radio in the kitchen to have music while cooking and prepping food. Keep in mind this was about a year before the first iPod came out. Transferring music onto the Nomad was slow (USB1!) and painful. There were many a multi-hour session where I would transfer over a few hundred songs only to have the Nomad crash during the transfer or simply show no music available.

The arrival of the first iPod was fantastic. Simple, easy and reliable synching with iTunes and the playlists carried over as a bonus. This made shuttling music between the iMac and the kitchen radio tolerable. But as the number of tunes ripped into iTunes grew, it quickly exceeded the capacity of the iPod. Thus began a trading up to newer (and larger capacity) iPods as they became available. We still have a 1st generation iPod, as well as 2nd, 4th and 5th gen ones as well (the 5g still serves as a little bit of solitude at work when I am actually at my desk and not in meetings).

Still there was the desire to have access to all of the music, particularly in the warmer months when we would live out on the back deck. I discovered the initial version of the slimp3 Squeezebox unit that looked like it was a good fit. The Squeezebox would allow you to stream music across the network to the slimp3 player that could then we RCA-plugged into an amplifier just like a CD player or turntable. A set of Bose outdoor speakers and a little wiring and we had access to all of the music on the back deck. Brilliant. Except to get access to the music you had to run the vile PERL-based slimserver software (now called SqueezeCenter to try to conceal its tainted legacy) on the computer that hosted the iTunes library that you wanted to share. Slimserver was a dog of an app that would frequently re-scan your iTunes library to see if any new songs had been introduced. A re-scan would typically use close to 100% of the CPU, which meant that streaming would become very erratic or stop outright during these periods. Ugly and frustrating.

Then a new kid on the block showed up in the form of the Roku Labs Soundbridge. The beautiful thing about the Soundbridge was that it would detect all of the iTunes libraries that were being shared on the network and read from the playlists, etc directly — no hacktastic PERL tragi-comedy involved. As luck would have it, I ordered a Soundbridge to kick the tires on it the week before we were going to host a neighborhood get together. Everyone was out on the back deck enjoying the tunes, then the dreaded re-index started and the music started stuttering and halting. I grabbed the Roku out of its box, hooked it up in place of the Squeezebox, picked the playlist I wanted from iTunes and never had another issue with music the entire night. I then promptly dropped the slimp3 unit in the trash, deleted the slimserver abomination from my iMac and never looked back.

Over time we added another Soundbridge to serve up music on the front deck when we had it redone and expanded. This involved placing the soundbridge unit on a bookcase in my office (which looked out on the front deck) and trying to control the unit with the provided remote control. This was a very hit or miss affair as the remote was IR based and on a sunny day it tended not to have much range. This meant that you had to trudge through the house to skip a song or select a new play list. Not convenient at all. One thing that helped with controlling the unit was a little app that I found that ran on my Nokia N800 Internet Tablet. This provided a simple, but functional emulation of the display and controls on the Roku. This worked great as long as the Roku wasn’t rebooted (which happened during power outages brought on by summer storms). The software on the N800 would take a long time to ‘find’ the Roku again. Or force you to go to the Soundbridge and navigate though the menus to find the IP address and plug it into the N800.

I briefly experimented with using an Apple Airport Express to stream music from iTunes to the Bose in the kitchen. This worked about 60% of the time despite the Airpot Extreme wireless base station being only about 25 feet from the Airport Express. The Express would just drop the stream, or iTunes would show that it was playing a tune but no audio was coming out of the speakers. The Express turned out to be a frustrating joke, with Apple ‘fixing’ the various problems through myriad firmware upgrades that never quite got it to work. When it began to consistently play two songs and stop after the second, I finally gave up and relegated the Express to a drawer where it functions 100% consistently as a paperweight.

Roku then announced the Soundbridge Radio, a nice, compact all in one unit that had the network streaming capability as well as a real FM radio and some decent speakers. Sounded like the perfect thing for the upstairs bathroom. So I pre-ordered one as it was supposed to be shipping in 30 days. Nearly a year later and many phone calls and emails to Roku the unit finally arrived. Great sound and for the most part worked as advertised. Until Apple released an updated version of iTunes that broke connectivity with the Roku. Not so bad, but Roku took months to fix the problem. The combination of the lack of delivery on the initial Soundbridge Radio units and continued support issues had to result in them shedding customers faster than they would have liked. And apparently that is the case. When the Radio died a few weeks ago, I went on the Roku web site to find out about support only to find that they have basically abandoned the Soundbridge Radio line and are focusing on their cheapy Netflix streaming gizmo. Nice.

So the search was on for a new streaming option to replace the defect unit in the upstairs bathroom. I took a look at the Sonos solution and it looked like it was going to be a good replacement but also solve the remote control problem for us. Problem is, it is a bit pricy so it had better perform like nothing else. After some discussion and budget checking we bit the bullet and bought a starter kit. The installation of the hardware itself is dead simple. However, I quickly ran into an undisclosed and quite concerning limitation. The players can only deal with less than 65,000 tunes and will not import playlists that have more than 40,000 tunes in them. That sounds like a lot, but by Sonos’ calculations, if you have one song in four playlists that counts as four (virtual) tunes! I currently have around 21,000 tunes in my iTunes libraries and maybe 20 playlists, but this rang up as around 54,000 tunes to Sonos.

I called tech support and their ‘solution’ to the problem was to delete playlists; in other words, give up organization and convenience to fit in line with the ignorant, short-sighted design flaw. What aggravates this further, is the limit applies across iTunes libraries. So if you have a household where you have your music, your daughter has hers and your wife has hers, all these tracks and playlists can quickly add up and bump into this limitation. I even asked the supervisor of the tech that I spoke to whether the 40,000 limit was a temporary thing or something they were going to address and the response was a rather haughty ‘We are aware of the issue but have no plans to fix it in the current or future products’. So if you have a large iTunes library and are looking at the Sonos, be aware of this rather grievous shortcoming.

You can save about two hundred dollars by not buying a second Sonos controller, but substituting an iPod Touch matched with the free Sonos for iPhone controller software. Using the iPod Touch gives you just about all of the functionality of the dedicated controller in a much smaller and lighter (and less Space:1999 ugly) package. And you obviously have all of the additional functionality of the iPod through the goodies you can load on there from the iTunes store.

I am still on the fence about returning the Sonos and waiting for them to fix their ridiculous limitation. I saw this weekend that Cisco is trying to compete in this space and have a line of wireless music products under the Linksys brand. However, the quick look that I had on their site showed it to be Windoze only. Yikes.

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Amazon Music Download vs iTunes

When it comes to music downloads, the iTunes music store just doesn’t add up when compared to Amazon’s offering. In fact, I regret the small number of purchases I made from iTunes prior to Amazon launching their service in May of 2007. The two big issues with iTunes are DRM and cost.

DRM: Aside from my iPod, I have one other device that is able to play Apple’s DRM crippled files and that is an Airport Express. And by and large, it sucks. I have it connected to a Bose CD player in the kitchen which is about 15-20 feet from the Airport base station with a dry-wall wall between the two. Airport Express will play between 1 and 5 songs before it just stops playing music — no error on the iMac side, no indication that there is a problem on the AE side. It usually gets confused at the end of a song. The rest of the music needs of the house are served by Roku Soundbridge network music players. The Roku devices more or less just work with one problem — they can’t play any of the DRM crippled music from the iTunes store. Amazon’s downloads don’t have this issue and are of the same or higher quality as the iTunes files.

Cost: If a CD that I am looking to buy is available on Amazon download; I’m going to download it. That way I don’t have to deal with shipping and storage of the physical CD. The downloads can be significantly less expensive than the CD, especially for imports. And in every case, the download is $1-4USD cheaper from Amazon than from Apple. And did I mention, no DRM on the Amazon files. The Amazon downloader puts the files right into iTunes and even includes the CD cover art at the click of a button so there is no challenge or inconvenience in using Amazon’s downloads versus Apple’s.

So tell me again why I should buy music from Apple? Surely not just because it’s Apple and it’s ‘cool’.

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After talking about it for over a year, I finally bought a scooter to commute to work and run errands around town whilst leaving the car at home. I have never ridden before, so I am in the process of practicing and studying to get my motorcycle endorsement. I am absolutely focused on safety first; hell, I bought my helmet before I bought the scooter. Now that I am studying up on safe driving, it is hard not to cringe watching people on full size motorcycles driving too fast, with no helmet or protective gear weaving in and out of traffic.

With gas prices hovering around $4USD a gallon I am noticing motorcycle ridership going up and have seen probably a dozen or more stories in the national and local press about scooter dealers selling out of their inventory. I think this is going to mean two things: 1) there are unfortunately going to be more accidents with inexperienced riders getting into trouble with less than attentive car drivers and 2) a buyers market for scooters in the autumn when those scooter purchasers realize that they can’t drive down the road with their radio blasting, texting/talking on a cellphone on a scooter (not and live).

If you are considering making the jump to scootering, make sure you read up on the safety and proper handling aspects of motor cycling first. This will help you understand the requirements (maybe even the ‘dedication’) it takes to become a successful rider. If you are the reading sort, I highly recommend David Hough’s book Proficient Motorcycling and the resources at msf-org.

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Beware Epocware Bait-and-Switch

Last summer I purchased a copy of Handy Weather from Epocware to have a weather app on my Nokia smartphone. I chose Handy Weather because it was relatively cheap and didn’t carry a ‘subscription plan’ like Mobimate did. However, I was recently informed by Epocware that I essentially needed to re-purchase the software because it was now under a ‘subscription service’. First off this kind of bait-and-switch stuff is just annoying; made even further annoying by the fact that Epocware has decent software. Second off, the ‘subscription’ is the entire price of the software. I could see paying $5USD or so but not being forced to re-buy the $15USD software.

I was left thinking, ‘surely there must be some mistake’. I contacted Epocware support and was flatly told to pay the re-purchase gouge or stop using the app (the latter option being sort of amusing because they disabled the app sometime in early July before they even sent me an email about the subscription).

The irony of this is that Mobimate is now offering a version of their software for free that includes weather, world map, world clocks and currency conversion. You can upgrade Mobimate to the ‘pro’ version which gives you access to live flight schedules and arrival/departure info (which I suppose if you traveled a lot would be quiet handy and worth the annual fee). I also note that Psiloc is now offering a completely free weather app as well. On top of this, there is always the mobile version of the Accuweather site which provides access to current conditions, multi-day forecast and even animated radar images.

My suggestion to those looking for mobile apps, beware of Epocware because apparently there is no telling when an app that you purchased free and clear will suddenly become a ‘subscription service’. I myself would not buy another app from Epocware and recommend that others don’t as well to keep from being burned by these dubious sales tactics.

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iDDOS Source is Cisco Not Apple

It comes as no surprise that Duke’s network issues were ultimately found to lie with Cisco and not with the Apple iPhone. After all, if this was a general issue with the iPhone, every open wifi connection in San Francisco (and other me-too gadget locales) would have been crashing just like Duke’s.

Other than applying a patch from Cisco, the root-cause remains a bit murky:

“Cisco has provided a fix that has been applied to Duke’s network and the problem has not occurred since,” the statement read. Cisco did not describe what the source of the problem was. Late on June 20, Duke released a statement elaborating on the problem and how it was resolved. “The reality is that a particular set of conditions made the Duke wireless network experience some minor and temporary disruptions in service,” said Tracy Futhey, the university’s chief information officer, in a statement. “Those conditions involve our deployment of a very large Cisco-based wireless network that supports multiple network protocols. Cisco worked closely with Duke and Apple to identify the source of this problem, which was caused by a Cisco-based network issue,” the statement said.

Sounds like one of those political non-apologies where ‘mistakes have been made’ but no admission of guilt or responsibility is offered.

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Nokia Software For The Mac

Nokia Media Transfer was quietly released earlier in June but it is good that Mac owners are finally getting some Nokia love with regard to supporting software. From the NMT site:

The Nokia Media Transfer application enables you to transfer pictures, videos, podcasts, music, and files between your Nokia mobile device and your Mac.

Looks like it is limited to N-series devices for now and requires iTunes 7 and iPhoto 6 or higher. Works fine with my N75.

Of course, this will do nothing to stem the feeding frenzy of people buying iPhones on Friday, but it is nice to have the additional synch features available for the N75 and other N-series phones from Nokia.

It’s worth pointing out that you can get the N75 on Amazon for less than $25USD (with an activation plan) versus the $600USD that the iPhone will set you back.

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iPhone Development

While much attention has been paid to whether or not Apple will open the iPhone to development I think that a more fundamental question has been missed in the process — why are Steve Jobs and Apple afraid of opening the iPhone to third-party developers? Is it because they have a sense that the underlying OS is not terribly stable? How many times have you heard Jobs use the example ‘…well, when you install other apps the phone might crash’. Is it because there is not really a robust developer framework that includes exception handling underneath? What is the reason for their reticence?

I contrast to Nokia (and other phone manufacturers) approach of allowing, neigh, encouraging third-party development on their Symbian-based smartphones. Granted, Symbian is not perfect but it does provide a rich and relatively stable environment for the development of everything from games to productivity apps on mobile phones. An those are just the ‘native’ apps, there are a large number of Java-based apps available for those devices as well. No word on Java on the iPhone as of yet.

With the Apple WWDC revelation cum stopgap announcement that third-party development will be allowed on the iPhone, albeit thin applications that have their UI on the phone and heavy lifting is done off-phone via (presumably) web service calls of some sort. If truly limited to ‘Web 2.0 standards’ [sic] for iPhone app development, the applications will likely have very limited access to the device itself for integrating with the address book, camera and other built-in functions. To some, Apple’s stance on iPhone development will be taken as validation of thin-client/rich-client/services-based development. To others, it will just seem a cop out.

It will be interesting to see how this evolves and whether it will ultimately provide a satisfactory development and deployment environment for non-Apple applications and services. Of course, the resolution of that question won’t keep Apple from selling truckloads of iPhones on 29 June.

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