Category Archives: Gadgets

Ladies in red – ALIX & iPod Nano

I recently bought an ALIX 2C0 that goes very well to my iPod Nano. ALIX is an embedded hardware platform that can run a number of operating systems – many quite simple to work with. It is made by a Swiss company. Their previous models were called WRAP and I had one of those. The first impressions of this computer is that it is significantly faster than the model it replaces. The system is powered by a 433MHz AMD Geode processor and comes with 128MB RAM and a compact flash slot for storage. If that is not enough for you, there are 500MHz/256 models available. And despite the red colour it is quite friendly on the environment, drawing less than 5W.

Ladies in redALIX 2C0

Before you rush out and get this with the idea that it could replace your current desktop – hold your horses. The connector on the left is a serial port, not a display connector. This kind of computer is used to make routers or access points, not something you would run a desktop operating system on.

I haven’t fully figured out what I am going to use it for but I have some thoughts. I will get back to that, as well as a walk-through of installing a Linux distribution on it.

Using iPod Touch as SqeezeCenter remote

I bought an iPod Touch a couple of months ago on the assumption that it would be an ideal remote control for my SlimServer setup. Unfortunately, there was no theme tailored for the screen size of the iPod Touch (or iPhone for that matter).

With the upgrade to SqueezeCenter, it is possible to add a theme called iPeng that is fantastic for the iPod Touch.

SqeezeCenter-iPeng

Suddenly, the iPod Touch is every bit the remote control I was hoping it would be. A big thanks to Joerg Schweider, aka Coolio.

Warning: Nokia update wrecks Lifeblog

On January 25th Nokia Beta Labs published Share Online 3.0, an update to the media sharing services in the phones. Do not apply this upgrade if you want to use additional service providers than Flickr and Vox, such as lifeblog4wp. After applying the upgrade, the service provider list is back to the default two entries and any additional service providers will be removed. What is worse, there appears to be no way to add them as the entry “Add Service Provider” has been removed from the menu.

The application to watch out for is Share Online ver 3.0.07.51 for Series 60 version 3.1. I seriously hope this is just a mistake on Nokia’s part and that it will be fixed in any upcoming stable release.

If you have installed the upgrade it does not appear to be enough just to remove the application from the Application Manager. So to get back to the previous functionality the phone must be restored to factory settings by typing *#7370# and entering the security code (default 12345). You will lose all your settings and content.

If you despite of this want to get this upgrade it can be downloaded from here. You have been warned.

Moblogging with WordPress and Nokia N82

OK, so despite its flaws, Nokia N82 does have its bright sides. The camera is actually quite good when there is sufficient ambient light around as can be seen in the picture of downtown Dallas below. My point of reference is my normal camera which is a Canon EOS 20D so I have been utterly disappointed by earlier phones with camera function. In low light, however, the supposedly fantastic Xenon flash on the N82 is no match to a proper flash. Ahhh, all these compromises…

Downtown Dallas

The phone also comes with Nokia’s Lifeblog feature and the camera is preconfigured to use the Flickr or Vox online services. That may be very well for most people out there but I am the kind of guy that wants to set up the system myself. So I just had to find a blogging platform that could be interfaced by the Lifeblog application in the phone.

One of the blogging platforms I tried to make work was of course WordPress and I quickly found the lifeblog4wp project and tried it out on various releases of the software but just couldn’t get it to work. Then, early January an update to lifeblog4wp was uploaded to the project’s web page on SourceForge and I tried it out on a clean installation of the latest version of WordPress. Lo and behold – it worked!

So for anyone out there who has, like me, been frustrated about the problems of moblogging from Nokia N82 using lifeblog4wp – use WordPress 2.3.2 and the version of the script uploaded on 2008-01-05. Then just follow the instructions within the lifeblog.php file.

Nokia N82 disappointments

Nokia N82

I remember back when I had a Nokia 8210 how it seemed so much more intuitive than the competition. The menu structure was logic and the software seemed very consistent.

Since then I have had a number of phones from Sony Ericsson as well as a couple with various versions of Windows Mobile. Late last year it was time to change phone again and this time I had noticed the very promising Nokia N82 which had more or less everything I would want from a phone:

  • All modern bands – including HSDPA
  • 5 MP camera
  • Wi-Fi
  • Built-in GPS
  • Ability to synchronise with the Exchange server at work
  • Support for Mac OS X

In the media the phone was said “to have it all”. I was sold. The phone arrived a week before Christmas but since then the gloria over this particular model has waned due to the following shortcomings (which, I assume, are not specific to N82 but should apply to any N-series phone using Symbian Series 60) :

  • Incoming mail alerts or number of unread emails are not show on the standby display. Apparently, this is an E-series feature. So much for “has it all”.
  • The phone can’t even multitask! Come on Nokia, this is 2008! Instead, I have to wait until the phone has synced IMAP accounts before I can read even messages already on the phone.
  • It is not possible to create “access point groups” so that the phone could automatically decide between WiFi and mobile connections for applications. Again, this is an E-series feature (why?). The result is a constant fiddling back and forth in the various applications.
  • The address book stays on the most recently displayed person even if it was hours since I used the phone. I could accept (even like) it if it did it for a minute or so since you might want to call another number for the same person if you don’t get a response on the first number. Most of the time, though, I will want to call a different person when I pick up the phone again and then I have to start by pressing “back”. Totally unnecessary and poorly designed Nokia.
  • All meeting requests default to zero minutes. I would prefer it if I could set a specific default time so I don’t have to enter the end time.
  • Having GPS in the phone is great but it feels a little bit cheap to ask for extra for the navigation (especially since Google Maps has a mobile application available for free).
  • The GUI is inconsistent about how applications are exited. Usually one presses the right button until one exits the application but sometime one has to press the left button and select “exit”.
  • The calculator can’t do math. 2+3*4 equals 14 but the phone (like all cheap calculators) has no knowledge of operator precedence.

The unwillingness of Nokia to fulfil the combined needs of those who want to use their phone as an important business tool as well as for pleasure means that my next phone most likely won’t be a Nokia.

Steve, please bring out an iPhone with 3G for the Swedish market!

Importing certificates on Samsung SGH-i320

As I wrote in a previous article I have recently got a Samsung SGH-i320. One of the first things I wanted to do was of course to set it up for push mail with an Exchange server. As probably just about every company out there has done, we have created our own root certificate which is used to secure the connection to the mail system over the web.

To enable the smartphone to synchronise over the air I did as I always do – I tried to downloade the public root certificate directly from our web site. I then got an error that said that my “security permission was insufficient to update my device”.

The problem stems from the changes to the security model of Windows Mobile 5. Different OEM manufacturers are probably free to control this to some extent because I did not have the same issue with my Qtek 9000 device.

Anyway, to fix this issue the solution is to find an application called RegeditSTG.exe. Allegedly, this is a HTC signed application but it worked fine on my Samsung phone. Search for the application on the net and copy the EXE file to your device and run it from the File Manager.

You will want to change a setting under HKLM\Security\Policies\Policies. The value to change is 00001017. It will probably be set to 128 and it should be changed to 144. Make a note of the old value in case you need to revert the change later on.

When this value was changed I could then install the root certificate, directly over the web or by running the file on the device.

First impressions of Samsung SGH-i320

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I finally managed to get my hands on the Samsung smartphone SGH-i320. The size of this little beauty is 59x111x11,5mm but it was not until I held it in my hand that I felt how thin it really is.

The phones comes with a charger, a USB sync cable, two batteries and a stereo headset. Extra memory is not included so I recommend that one also buys a 1GB microSD. There is plenty of internal memory for basic operation so the extra memory would mainly be for music, podcasts and the like. After having synchronised the phone to my Exchange account I still had about 100MB of free memory in the phone.

i320.jpg

The phone is GPRS/EDGE based and does not come with either UMTS or Wi-Fi. But on the other hand I have been using a Qtek 9000 for almost a year and noticed that I don't use Wi-Fi that much anyway since it drains the battery. As for UMTS, those using operators whose network supports EDGE might not notice the difference. Unfortunately I am stuck with Telenor, an operator that seems totally unwilling to upgrade their GPRS network. In the absence of higher speed networks I am using bluetooth both at home and at work to stay connected at higher speeds at no cost and with low battery consumption.

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Samsung has done a good job with the keyboard. I don't have that small fingers but even so I find the keyboard quite easy to work with. And being Swedish I especially welcome the fact that Samsung has placed our special characters (åäö) on the keyboard. Even Sony Ericsson hasn't managed to do that on their M600i.

The size of the SGH-i320 is where it really shines. Sure, it is a little taller and wider than my previous phones (see image below) but it is the thickness of the phones that has really annoyed my in the past. Not so any more. The Samsung phone easily slips into the pocket and with the weight of just 95g I hardly feel it, even when I have it in my shirt pocket. Sony Ericsson M600i and Nokia E61 are both competing in the same segment and they are significantly bulkier.

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The phone is equipped with a 1.3MP camera. This is certainly not the type of camera you would want to use to photograph things you actually want to save for posterity. And, as always with phone cameras, there must be just the right amount of light and not too much contrast to make the images be even half-decent.

The image below of the art museum in Göteborg has been scaled down to a sixteenth of the size. At that size it looks alright but a portion of the image at 100% size shows just how limiting the camera feature is. Still, the camera can probably successfully be put to use for photo blogging since the image will be scaled down anyway and the keyboard is handy when it comes to write captions for the images.

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camera_part.jpg

If there is one thing that I wish that Samsung had done another way it is to use a standard mini USB connector instead of their proprietary one. Now, instead of being able to charge the phone just about anywhere I will have to invest in a car charger and bring along the USB cable wherever I go.

usb.jpg

TomTom bluetooth issues on Qtek 9000

Users of the TomTom navigation solution may experience problem when trying to connect their PDAs to a non-supported bluetooth GPS receiver. At least I had huge problems when trying to get TomTom 5.21 on a Qtek 9000 (a.k.a. HTC Universal or the Jasjar) to connect to my Bluei GPS receiver. I had no issues in bonding the GPS receiver with the PDA but no matter how I tried I couldn't get TomTom to use the serial port provided by the bluetooth stack.

The problem is not that TomTom can't use the GPS. The problem is that TomTom is unable to list the Bluetooth serial port which means that the user is unable to select it. After much trials this is how I managed to do it.

First bind the GPS receiver to the PDA and add a serial port to it. I selected COM4 but you can use whatever port is available to you.

Then the GPS control panel applet must be enabled. The applet provides access to control the serial intermediate driver in Windows Mobile 5 which, for some reason, has been disabled by HTC.

Use any registry editor (I recommend PHM Registry Editor) on the PDA to set the value 0 (zero) to the key Hide in HKLM\ControlPanel\GPS Settings. If the GPS applet does not appear under Settings -> System, then restart your PDA to make the change take effect.

In the GPS applet you will find three tabs. The first tab ('Program') is the serial port which applications on your PDA will connect to in order to get GPS data. I selected COM8 but you can use another port as long as it is available. Under the second tab ('Hardware') you identify the serial port which the GPS is connected to; in other words the serial port selected in the bluetooth manager. The Bluei GPS receiver uses 4800 baud but your GPS receiver may differ so check your documentation. Finally, you will want to check the box under the third tab ('Access').

Once this is done, the serial port selected under the first tab ('Program') showed up in TomTom. The next problem was that TomTom seemed unable to open the serial port by itself. Other GPS applications, however, were able to use the bluetooth GPS and while they were running TomTom could also use the port. So, at this stage I had a clumsy workaround.

To avoid having to run multiple applications I then went back to the GPS applet and disabled the intermediate serial port support by unchecking the box on the third tab and instead changing the serial port setting in the Bluetooth manager to use the same port I had previously set for applications (COM8 in my case).

So much trouble just because the TomTom developers apparently can't enumerate serial ports properly.

First impressions of Lacie Rugged All-Terrain

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After hearing about friends having their computers stolen and losing precious data I finally got around and purchased a new external backup disk, settling on a Lacie Rugged All-Terrain 80GB. DVD backups worked fine until last year when I purchased a Canon EOS 20D and decided to shoot in raw format. Now, instead of having a few GB of data per year to backup I find myself with some 50GB.

I have tried a large number of bus powered USB drives but none of them seemed to work without extra power via a second USB cable. I was happy to notice that the Lacie Rugged All-Terrain 80GB could do with just the power supplied from the USB port on my Shuttle SN95G5v3. It is worth noticing that I also have a Lacie Mobile hard drive from late 2004 which does require extra power when connecting it to the same Shuttle PC. It seems, thus, that this rugged drive requires less power than the older drive but it is uncertain whether newer drives of the Porsche designed series require as much power.

On the negative side I was a little surprised to note the flimsy orange protection around the edges. Contrary to what I thought after having seen images on the Internet, the protective cover is just slipped over the drive. It would feel more solid if Lacie were to at least glue it together.

As would be expected, the drive is quite silent and the sound is barely noticeable. When making an initial backup of 50GB of data I saw a sustained throughput of 12 MB/s.

In short, this external USB drive does what it says. But I would like it better if the orange protector was attached more firmly to the drive itself.