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May 28, 2005

Motorola HS820 on a V710

Yesterday I went to Best Buy to pick up a few things for the long Memorial Day weekend car drive from Maryland to Connecticut. There were many things that I wanted, but I settled on two items that I had my eye on for some time, a Motorola HS820 [digitalriver.com] and a Griffin iTrip Mini [griffintechnology.com].

First, the headset. This little guy was really easy to pair with my phone, a Motorola V710 [motorola.com], and works like a charm when I'm not screwing with stuff. The first problem I experienced with it was totally my own fault. I initially paired it and was using the headset then I didn't use it for almost 2 hours and went to answer a call. It wouldn't pick up. Stupid me, I forgot that I temporarily turned the Bluetooth on my phone on which meant that it would eventually go off again, duh! That being said, I did find some quirks that I think have more to do with the phone than the actual earpiece, but I figured I'd throw them out there anyway. Number one, the ringer. When the HS820 is paired with the phone the phone itself doesn't ring, but sends the ring to the earpiece. You wouldn't think this was a problem except you can't hear the ring unless you're wearing the HS820. So, I couldn't take it off and reasonably expect to hear my phone ring, something that's bit me two or three times so far. The second problem I have is that if the phone is displaying anything on it's screen like, for instance 2 missed calls, then you can't access the phone through the earpiece. This can be extremely frustrating when your phone isn't in easy reach, because you need to close the message on the phone before you can make a call. Other than that I haven't had any bad experiences yet. The sound is excellent, the buttons are easy to use and the thing only weighs something like 7.5 oz. (it feels really light on the ear). If anyone has a Bluetooth enabled phone I would strongly recommend this little device.

I'll let you all know more about the iTrip when I get back to Maryland, more data gathering on the ride home.

Posted by Guy at 3:37 PM | Permalink

May 25, 2005

Firefox Not Saving Passwords

I've had this problem on and off before, but after a clean install (and deletion of my profile) the problem went away. Then I upgraded to Firefox 1.0.4 (without deleting my profile) and Firefox wouldn't offer tp save any passwords and wouldn't fill in previously saved passwords. I did some checking on the web and really couldn't find anything, so I decided to dig around myself. I found where the usernames and hashed passwords were stored (signon.txt) and started removing entries. Lo and behold when I went to the sites of the entries that I'd deleted Firefox asked me if I wanted to save the password!

So, the best thing to do when you get that annoying bug pop up on you is to delete the signon.txt and key3.db (used to decrypt the passwords and usernames) files. They are located in

Documents and Settings\{username}\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\{profile}

Where {username} is your Windows login name, mine is "Guy Pascarella", and the {profile} is some weird string that Mozilla comes up with, mine is "2kotw6e7.default". So, on my machine these files are located at

C:\Documents and Settings\Guy Pascarella\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\2kotw6e7.default

Hope nobody runs into this problem, or at least can figure out what to do. It does seem harsh to completely delete these files, but if this functionality isn't working anyway it can really only help, right?

Posted by Guy at 7:55 PM | Permalink

May 24, 2005

Thanks for the Buttons

Thanks to Antipixel [antipixel.com] for the buttons!

Posted by Guy at 7:56 PM | Permalink

tivo HME SDK

tivo released a new version of the Home Media Engine SDK [sourceforge.net] yesterday. I've played around with the last version, but really didn't accomplish anything great. I found the APIs a little clunky and really needed to mind shift away from the Java Swing way of things. For those of you that don't know,

HME is the code name for TiVo’s powerful new open platform for applications that are displayed and controlled by broadband-connected TiVo Series2 DVRs.

Basically, Joe Hobbyist can write an application that uses a tivo for its user interface. The user can interact with the app through the remote and the app can interact with the user through the attached television (audio and video). Unfortunately, the power of the tivo remains locked away from developers. There is no access to the guide, recording options, actual recordings, etc. So you can use the tivo to display some stuff from a computer (web pages, pictures, whatever) and you can play sounds (mp3s) through your television...that's it. No support for playing movies either.

But, that's the way the web started out too. Static content with very little user interaction, and now look at us! I still have great hopes for the tivo HME, but not on the current platform, i.e. series 2 DVRs. I think they need a lot more power [engadget.com] before anything really revolutionary can be developed. Here's to hoping and waiting.

Posted by Guy at 8:39 AM | Permalink

May 23, 2005

The R-Drive

Lately all the rage has been solid state storage systems. This is all well and good, but there are some limitations that people probably won't worry about. That is until it bites them. Most flash-based storage chips/systems/etc are only good for a certain number of writes, actually everything is only good for a certain number of writes, but flash-based are a lot less than hard drives. So, if there are some intesive writers out there then there is the possibility that their flash-based storage systems will eventually crap out.

Don't get me wrong, normal usage of USB thumb drives and their ilk are more than acceptable because there are a limited number of writes. They're usually only used as a personal storage (i.e. 3.5" floppy) replacement, which means that someone will usually write a document to it and then just read or make a few modifications per week. Compare this to a swap device that makes writes as fast as the device allows, especially on high i/o servers. Where is all this leading you ask?

Earlier this week Samsung released a 16GB Flash Laptop hard drive and M-Systems released a 176GB Flash Drive. Cool, great, but will they have shelf lives over 5 years?

I remember in college I had this idea for a hard drive using RAM instead of platters. Of course this has been done in the past through software RAM drives and specialty RAM boards, but my idea was to create a persistent RAM-based device. But how can this be accomplished without Magnetic RAM (MRAM)? By using some sort of backing store. This would make the system, which I dubbed the R-Drive, appear more as a super-cache, but when I designed it I took lots of little things into consideration. Using different techniques it could provide the benefits of fast data access, both read and write, and the long-term storage of data on a backing store. How fast? The theoretical limit of the Southbridge and interface (ATA/SCSI/SATA). This generation of SATA tops at 150Mbs to 300 Mbs.

Maybe one day I'll hit the Lotto and will have time to work for myself and the funding to accomplish such feats. Until then we have Flash-based systems.

Posted by Guy at 7:27 PM | Permalink

May 22, 2005

EPIA System Init

I think I've decided that when the Mini-ITX was together the boot time was way too long. The actual kernel boot was very quick, but when Gentoo [gentoo.org] probed for devices and loaded daemons it did it serially. Normally serial loads aren't bad, but these types of loads are I/O intensive. So, there's lots of CPU-spinning time where nothing useful is being accomplished.

To alleviate this problem I found this new init system, Initng [dyndns.org]. From the website:

Initng is a full replacement of the old and in many ways depricated sysvinit tool. It is designed with speed in mind, doing as much as possible asynchronously.In other words: It will boot your unix-system much faster, and give you more control and statistics over your system.

Sounds too good to be true. However, the author did run some comparisons that (on the surface) look reputable.

Notice that total boottime when from 41secs to only 17secs, loading same services! Also watch the nice hardrive troughput and utilization, not mutch io-wait here.

When the system is back to its original goodness, I'll try and report back.

Posted by Guy at 8:17 PM | Permalink

May 20, 2005

VW Electronics Research Lab

I didn't know it even existed until today, but Volkswagen has a research branch called the VW Electronics Research Laboratory [vwerl.com]. Just for kicks I checked out their job postings and noticed a request for an Embedded Systems Engineer. Now this in itself isn't interesting, what is interesting is the "Unique Skills" that are part of the Required Qualifications. In this laundry list of what you would expect, "Embedded system and vehicle electronics knowledge" and "Programming experience", you'll also find "Operating systems (e.g. QNX, Windows)". Hmmm, does this mean that some VWs sport QNX [qnx.com] or Windows Embedded under the hoods (or in the dash as it may be)?

A quick Google of VW and QNX reveals that VW is using QNX in some models. Most notably the Audi A8L Multimedia Interface. They also have a working relationship with 3SOFT, an embedded systems company that specializes in QNX solutions.

So, no idea if the car's main OS is QNX or not, but it's definitely used for multimedia stuff in high-end models. Maybe some of this could trickle down into the actual VW brand?

Posted by Guy at 7:47 AM | Permalink

May 19, 2005

OpenMap Layer Tutorial: Part 1

I've completed (almost) the first tutorial describing how to use the OpenMap framework. It's located off of my main site [lunaflare.net]. Hopefully this won't be the last.

Posted by Guy at 8:58 PM | Permalink

Lazy Day

I know it's been a while since I've blogged, sorry. Yesterday was my birthday and I kind of took the day off from the world. It was pretty relaxing. Something I did do yesterday was pay my local Volkswagen [vw.com] dealership a visit.

I'm kind of in the market for a new Passat, but I can't make up my mind on what kind to get. My wife thinks that I should get a 4Motion (AWD) because she's a big fan of AWD. I think it's the safety issue that she's so hot on. When I talked to the dealer they said that the 4Motion wasn't worth the extra price unless you got some kind of emotional satisfaction from it. They indicated that traction control + Blizzaks gave you just as much protection on snow as the AWD would.

I do remember someone saying that one of the only places that AWD would really help is in Florida because of the oils that rise to road surfaces in hot weather. I guess it's especially bad in Florida as compared to other places because when I was living in Texas it really wasn't that bad. It might have something to do with the humidity, I don't know.

The price difference is rather significant and the 4Motion is supposed to have higher/more maintenance costs associated with it. According to Kelley's Blue Book [kbb.org] the standard MSRP is only $24,990 versus $26,902 (difference of $1,912), but the 4Motions are in such limited supply that they won't lower the price on them as much as the 4Motions. I think the standard 1.8T could be gotten for around $22,000 while if I fight I might be able to get the 4Motion for $26,000. Taking that into consideration the difference is more like $4,000, Like I said, significant (at least to me).

Enter the next problem, availability. My dealer only had 3 4Motions in stock. It was probably one of those high-pressure sales tactics, but they had indicated that they probably won't be in stock after Memorial Day. If that's actually true then my decision is probably made for me as I don't want to buy before then. However, this begs the question, if those won't last, what about the non-4Motions? How long do I actually have before you can't get the current body-style new anymore?

Decisions, decisions...

Posted by Guy at 1:17 PM | Permalink

May 16, 2005

Beware the Fine Print: Part 3

Yep, it works. It sucks that the only way to load a 3rd party "SCSI" driver at system install time is through a floppy disk, but whatever. I hope that Longhorn's [microsoft.com] installation procedure is a little more flexible. I guess I don't really understand why XP's install limits this functionality to floppy only. I kept a close eye on what drivers it reported loading and it looked like both UHCI and OHCI (USB) drivers were being loaded. Why can't I load drivers from a USB drive? A serious flaw even when XP was released in 2002 (?).

Either way, I was able to load XP on a single SATA drive hosted by the VIA VT8237 southbridge chipset on a Soltek SL-B7C-FGR.

Posted by Guy at 8:40 PM | Permalink

Beware the Fine Print: Part 2

Looks like I jumped the gun. After installing the VIA VT8237 SATA/RAID drivers under Windows XP I was able to see a drive I had attached and not RAIDed. I saw it under the Drive Manager, but didn't format it or anything. What I'm going to try to do is hook up a floppy drive, run through the WinXP install again but with the "SCSI" driver diskette this time. Maybe I'll be able to natively install WinXP on the SATA...we'll see.

Posted by Guy at 7:10 AM | Permalink

May 14, 2005

Beware the Fine Print

Bad news in Mini-ITX-Land. The hard drive that I had running on my Mini-ITX is being donated to a computer that I'm building for my parents. Unfortunately I bought a Serial ATA drive [newegg.com] and a Barebones system supporting SATA [newegg.com]. Problem is that the system sports a Soltek SL-B7C-FGR [soltek.com.tw] mainboard which does support SATA, but only when RAIDed. So, I needed two hard drives or a new system. I just dropped in my PIDE drive and called it a day. I'm still trying to get the controller to work in non-RAID mode but it's not going so hot. Oh well.

Posted by Guy at 6:52 PM | Permalink

OpenMap Tutorials

I've decided to write some stuff on how to develop for OpenMap [openmap.org]. It's really a great toolkit that is extendable as all get-out. Professionally I use it every day and personally I use it for simple mapping applications. Anyway, the first tutorial will be how to write a simple layer for display. More on this later.

Update: I wrote these tutorials and put them on one of my business sites [hazelnutcafe.net].

Posted by Guy at 6:48 PM | Permalink

May 13, 2005

Long Lasting Batteries

When checking the morning news over on Engadget [engadget.com] I saw a new blurb about tritium-powered batteries [eurekalert.org]. Very cool stuff. It seems like these could be used for many different applications, but they probably won't. Why, you ask? Technically they're nuclear (I think). Either way, in it's natural form the batterie's power source gives off radiation. But with a little shielding and a hermetically sealed case it can be contained.

This is great, except what happens if the casing cracks? I'm all for nuclear power in both my home and batteries, so I think that the benefits outweigh the consequences, but I know that a lot of other people and more importantly the Energizer lobbyists don't see it that way.

Also, consider the security risks somehing like this would entail. If this tech were ever consumer-grade stuff and made it's way into laptops/portable electronics then you would see all electronics being banned from flights. That's just the way it is. What happens if someone's battery cracks either accidentally or, even worse, on purpose? You have 90+ people being exposed to radiation in an un-escapable, enclosed area for an indeterminate amount of time.

So, alas, this will probably never see the light of a consumer's day. Unfortunate, but true.

Posted by Guy at 8:41 AM | Permalink

FireFox Fixed...For Now

Like I said, Firefox will be fixed [mozilla.org] by the end of the week. It just goes to show you that when a community is faced with a problem it gets resolved very quickly. Unfortunately, FireFox doesn't have a stellar update facility yet. I guess it's supposed to be in 1.1. Right now when you check for updates you have to download the entire thing, uninstall and reinstall. Not fun. Not a pain or difficult for any level of user, but not fun. I really hope that whatever update capability they end up with will allow incremental (or delta) patching.

Posted by Guy at 8:29 AM | Permalink

May 11, 2005

Web Acceleration: Part 4

While at work today I noticed that Google's Web Accelerator has been taken down. I guess hindsight is 20/20 because a lot of people who were extremely excited about this when it came out are now changing their tunes. That's the world though, fickle. You can check out Google's new page where they say they've taken it down because they've reached maximum capacity.

Thank you for your interest in Google Web Accelerator. We have currently reached our maximum capacity of users and are actively working to increase the number of users we can support.

I didn't think Google had a maximum capacity for anything. I saw an article on CNet [news.com.com] linked to over on Lifehacker [lifehacker.com]. Other than that everything's pretty quite about the whole ordeal.

I hope they (Google) retool this thing pretty quickly because the theory of operation is quite sound especially since most web servers don't compress pages before they send them resulting in wasted bandwidth.

Posted by Guy at 4:50 PM | Permalink

May 10, 2005

A Vulnerable Fox

OK, OK it seems that Firefox has a couple of vulnerabilities [secunia.com]. So what, it's not the end of the world. In my experience any piece of sufficiently complex software will always have bugs, compromises and vulnerabilities. Especially something as complex as a platform. Yes, I consider a web browser a platform. Not noly does it provide a graphical interface with a language describing how it's supposed to be rendered, but also a pseudo-systems abstraction language (Javascript) while needing to support native components (plugins/extensions) that extend the main platform in ways that the main developers would never have imagined.

The great thing about a community supported project like Firefox is that the vulnerabilities will be addressed extremely quick. Probably as early as later this week people will be upgrading 1.0.4 to address these problems. It's not even in the same category as a flaw in Internet Explorer where its user base needs to wait with baited breath to see first, if Microsoft will fix it and second, when they will release the fix.

Judging from the net buzz the next incremental release of Firefox, codenamed Deer Park (version 1.1) [mozilla.org] will contain many fixes for the Mac audience and contains lots of improvements concerning the cache. Specifically, the back and forward caches. Also, some rendering and layout bugs are supposed to be fixed. Finally, checking a list of updates [squarefree.com] shows that there will be at least some CSS3 support and I heard a rumor that SVG will be supported natively! This doesn't sound like something that astonishing or big, but it would lead to very interesting pages with images that change based on user feedback, can't wait to see.

Posted by Guy at 7:52 PM | Permalink

May 9, 2005

Web Acceleration: Part 3

Google's Web Accelerator has definitely come under fire since its beta release. If you have any doubts then just check out a totally paranoid view [nyud.net] of "Big Brother's" influence or a more technical breakdown [blogspot.com] of it's implementation. The only way I found out about these was because one of the sites I regularly visit [mini-itx.com] had blocked access with this message:

Access to this site is blocked to the Google Web Accelerator due to many serious privacy, site logging and bandwidth concerns.

To view the site, select the "Don't accelerate this website" menu option now, or switch off the software altogether.
There are many good reasons to do this. You will find lots of reasons here, and more from a web publisher's point of view here.

Once you are done, please click "Back" in your browser and everything will work perfectly.

The latter article was very informative and presented everything in a fairly in-depth and objective manner. The former article was (as I stated earlier) very paranoid. Their relation of Google to the NSA was utterly obsessive, the association may not be totally unfounded since anyone with a high enough clearance will most likeliy work with the NSA one day of their careers.

Either way, I think the general public really has more trust in government agencies than sites like this give them credit for.

Posted by Guy at 8:19 PM | Permalink

May 8, 2005

Linare Sub $500 Laptop

I read this article [osnews.com] today and I've come to the conclusion that it sucks to be this guy. I think that after 2 weeks I would have cancelled the order and disputed the charge on with my credit company. It looks like the laptop in question is this one [linare.com] and is available from Walmart (couldn't find it online), Amazon and directly from Linare.

On the surface it looks like a great deal. Although I can't tell who the manufacturer is and this directly correlates to the quality of the laptop. Now, this guy bought the laptop directly from Linare which I think was his first mistake. In general I have better luck in buying from large businesses than smaller ones. So, I would have tried to find a similar product from one of the bigger suppliers before resorting to purchasing direct. See the large retailers can put tremendous pressure on the supplier and generally get their stocks filled before the supplier even thinks of sending out their consumer direct stock.

I guess it's like he said:

To all who think a sub-$500 notebook is too good to be true, you are right. In hindsight I should have got a Mac Mini.

I think I might have to get a Mac Mini to play around with. Maybe after some larger purchases...

Posted by Guy at 1:45 PM | Permalink

May 7, 2005

Web Acceleration: Part 2

So I said that I would report back on the new Google Web Accelerator and here are my experiences. I haven't really noticed a difference. The browser I use most often says that over the last couple of days I've saved a total of 18.9 seconds. Call me crazy, but I thought the savings would be much greater and I would notice a marked improvement in page load time. It's just not there. Plus, there are many complaints about it, some are privacy fears [zdnet.co.uk] and others are legitimate complaints about it's interaction with web apps [37signals.com].

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I like and am biased towards Google [google.com] because of the great things that they hae done, but I had a problem with the second article from 37Signals. I understand that blindly pre-fetching links while ignoring javascript alerts could potentially be dangerous but come on, why would you design a site that deletes something just by loading a page? I think that what happens is that they have a delete link that calls a verify function that allows or disallows the page transition to occur. I just think that you should use a function to write the destination URL into the page's href or use an asynchronous method like an XmlHttpRequest.

Either way, I think that in theory the web accelerator is a great idea, but it's implementation needs to be tweeked. Keep in mind it's just beta right now so I'm holding out hope.

Posted by Guy at 1:21 PM | Permalink

May 4, 2005

Web Acceleration

Google has relased a free Web Accelerator [google.com] that targets broadband users. I always wondered what exactly a web accelerator did besides cache pages and the marketing blurbs provided an answer.

Google Web Accelerator uses various strategies to make your web pages load faster, including:
  • Sending your page requests through Google machines dedicated to handling Google Web Accelerator traffic.
  • Storing copies of frequently looked at pages to make them quickly accessible.
  • Downloading only the updates if a web page has changed slightly since you last viewed it.
  • Prefetching certain pages onto your computer in advance.
  • Managing your Internet connection to reduce delays.
  • Compressing data before sending it to your computer.

So they not only cache, but compress and implement http pipelining where the target (source) server didn't or can't.

Either way, I'll try it and report back on my experiences. That Google, they're taking over the world while "do[ing] no evil", quite impressive. I'm sure that this will help with the slashdot effect too.

Posted by Guy at 8:41 PM | Permalink

May 3, 2005

Gentoo News

Sweet! Gentoo smart people have released/made public an Unofficial Gentoo Development Guide [firedrop.org.uk]. This bad boy sports such topics as how to write ebuilds and how to effectively use the GNU toolchain for building. Obviously it's a work-in-progress aka living document and therefore has a lot of room for improvement, but the initial release looks *very* informative. This might just lead to a plethora of specialized ebuilds that could easily be thrown around in portage overlays. Say...specific ebuilds for Mini-ITX boards providing specific flags, patches, etc. I mean a portage overlay could be created for each EPIA board providing something like a Board Support Package (BSP) for Gentoo-based systems. Hmm....

Posted by Guy at 7:40 PM | Permalink

May 2, 2005

Laptrap

The Laptrap Laptop Sleeve [powerbookcentral.com] looks really cool. I mean, sure it's only a sleeve as opposed to a full-on bag, but it definitely has its uses. For example, I don't really like dragging my laptop bag around the DC metro area especially if I'm going to two or more places. Something that allows me to carry my laptop, a book and give me enough room for a small notepad would be ideal. Because my laptop gets about 3-4 hours of battery time I don't think I would need the power adapter which works out because I don't think there would be enough room for it using this sleeve.

Oh yeah, too bad it's only for Powerbooks. Doh!

The one flaw that I could find with this (other than the space limitations) is that it might cover any heat exhaust or air intake air holes. Maybe the Powerbooks it was designed for don't have these problems, but I know my Dell Inspiron 5150 gets *real* hot and when the CPU spins up it turns on the blowers for all it's worth.

Well, here's wishing...

Posted by Guy at 7:04 PM | Permalink