Thursday, January 28, 2010

SMS over IP?

One answer for improving cell phone coverage is to leverage local internet connectivity and use VoIP. T-Mobile had phones a while ago that had that as a feature. AT&T and Verizon's answer to this is microcells, which provide regular cell phone connectivity with the Internet as a backhaul. Of course, AT&T's microcell isn't available yet in most places. Adding the ability for phones to fall back to WiFi for phone calls is complex because of the relatively demanding requirements of full duplex voice conversations.

Most providers have a web page that can be used to at least send SMS messages.

I bet most of you are now way ahead of me.

It would be far, far easier to provide for SMS messaging over IP, because there are no demands for low latency or jitter. It would be simple for a phone to make a secure connection over an Internet connection provisioned with WiFi and use that connection to send SMS messages and poll for message delivery.

The carriers could even sweeten the deal by not charging for SMS messages sent over WiFi. Of course, given the obscene profits the carriers are making with SMS, the prospects of that actually happening are dim.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Ok. I've seen the video.

The iPad represents the arrival of the viewscreen technology portrayed in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Specifically, the scene where Bowman and Poole were watching themselves being interviewed on a BBC chat show. The devices they were watching look far more like iPads than any other device that has come along so far.

I can see the iPad serving one particular role for me, personally.

Right now, I use a macbook as an alarm clock. A cron job spawns Pulsar to play Squizz Octane.

There's no reason in the world that this job couldn't be done by a lesser device. Hell, there's no reason in the world that this couldn't be done with an iPod Touch. XM needs to make it possible for their app to automatically start playing your favorite channel when it is launched, and Apple needs to add the ability for the alarm clock to launch an app at a particular time.

Alas, until those two features exist, I have no choice but to keep using a laptop. Because it is an open platform. I have access to cron. cron may or may not be running on the iPhone / iPod Touch / iPad OS variant, but I'll never know because it's not accessible in any meaningful way. And because Apple has such control over the platform, all I can do is patiently wait for them to do what I want them to do (if they ever do).

The closed platform has advantages. There's no malware, for instance. But the flip side of that coin is that there is no Full Tilt client for the platform. Not because Apple would have anything against online poker, per se, but because of the legal quagmire surrounding online poker, there's no way that Apple could approve an app to be in the store without getting dragged into legal hot water. And since there's no other (reasonable) way to get software onto the device, that's the end of it.

I don't mind a closed platform for my phone. The advantages in terms of making the device both resilient and safe far outweigh the limitations. But once we're not talking about a phone, I think the disadvantages of the closed platform loom too large to be ignored.

Happy Birthday to me... times a thousand

So it's interesting how sometimes technology can lead in unexpected directions.

The authors of phpBB included a spot on their account creation form for you to put your birthday in. This is, more or less, required by federal rules about websites tracking minors and stuff. They decided it would be fun to use that information, since they have it handy, and send you an e-mail wishing you happy birthday.

It's a nice thought.

This morning I opened my e-mail and had 24 of them. Almost all of them worded exactly the same. A bit of a Sorcerer's Apprentice broomstick pailfull of birthday cheer. It gave me a bit of a chuckle. At least now I know how many phpBB forum accounts I've managed to create over time.

I guess if there's a lesson here, it's to check the default settings in any software you install - particularly any software that automatically generates e-mail.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Now THIS movie, I'd go see...

I'm glad to see Tom Hanks branching out.

Avatar, IMAX 3D

Scarlet and I saw Avatar this evening. We went all-out and saw it at the IMAX theter at the AMC multiplex at Cupertino Square.

I was under the misinformed impression that IMAX movies were shown on domed theaters. This theater was just like any other theater I've been in in the last year. I thought perhaps the screen was a bit bigger, and the aspect ratio looked to me to be more square.

As for the 3D part, that doesn't really do anything for me, because my left eye doesn't really work. I've always had trouble with 3D movies. 3D movies are universally designed to present slightly different images to each eye. The first such systems attempted to do this with red and green colored gels, and systems in the 80s and 90s used LCD light shutters to present alternating frames to each eye. Both of those systems really sucked for me. The colored lenses wound up giving me nothing but green, and the alternating frames just halve the frame rate, effectively, which just introduced unacceptable levels of flicker.

Invariably, whatever glasses they hand out for such presentations are required, otherwise your eyes see both images, which results in horizontal blurring.

Well, I'm happy to say that for the first time, I was able to watch a 3D movie without any of the problems I've had in the past. The new systems use simultaneous projection of light with different polarization. So long as I kept the glasses on, it looked, well, just like any other movie does. Occasionally, the polarization didn't exactly meet up and I saw a faint ghost of the view for the other eye, but if I adjusted my head slightly, I could minimize it.

Meanwhile, Scarlet said that the 3D effects in the movie were amazing. She felt like things were flying towards her, like she could have caught them. I was a little envious. But it's a little like listening to tetrachromats describe what they see. If you don't see what they see, it can't really be properly described.

The movie was good. It can, however, be rather fairly described as Pocahantas meets Halo.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Well, here's a first

Runner-runner, no less.

The money went in post-flop. I normally wouldn't play this way, but against these bots, you wind up playing far more aggressively. And besides, when the money went in, it was still the best hand.

Why, it's a major award!

Look what Scarlet bought for me!

We spent the late part of an evening and a little time in the morning to finish it. I'm undecided as to whether to take it all apart again or shellack and frame it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Netgear MBR624GU review

As promised yesterday, I've got ahold of a Netgear MBR624GU. The purpose of this box is to turn a mobile Internet access modem into your own personal WiFi + Ethernet hot spot. It took some doing to get it set up, and it's not quite as perfect as I had anticipated it would be, but I think it's largely close enough.

The first thing I noticed when I got the thing out of the box was that the USB port was recessed somewhat. In fact, the entire back panel is about a quarter inch in from the surface of the top and bottom plastic parts of the case. This means that you can't directly attach the USB modem. That means the thing isn't quite as portable as you would hope / expect, but it gets worse than that. Netgear includes a weighted USB port "base" to hold your modem at the far end of a 3 foot USB cable. Having played with the thing briefly, it's clear that they really expect you to put the modem effectively at arm's length away from the box itself. If you try and use a shorter cable / distance, the reception of your modem begins to suffer, probably because of RFI from the box itself. This is somewhat disappointing, but it does open up the possibility of, for example, putting the modem on the back shelf of your car while the box itself sits on the back seat.

The firmware version included in the unit as it came in the box was not compatible with the AT&T Quicksilver (Option iCon 322) modem. Fortunately, there is a firmware update you can download from Netgear's site that does support this device. With the firmware update, the modem was recognized, but still could not automatically connect. You need to supply an account name and password - "ISPDA@CINGULARGPRS.COM" and "CINGULAR1". Having added that, and used the supplied USB cable/dock, the device connected up all by itself and began working perfectly.

Speed tests show I'm getting about 1.5 MB down and 500 kbps up here at home. I was getting a little bit better upload speed from my laptop connecting directly, but I wasn't getting quite as much in the download direction. Of course, this is with a fairly small sample size, and in only one location. If nothing else, configuring my laptop to connect up to a WiFi access point is a whole lot less trouble than setting up the device was.

Having to separate the modem from the unit is a minor peeve - one that might have been overcome by better shielding. But apart from that, I can't find any faults with the device.

UPDATE: I got the Netgear "official" car cord for the router. It's a bit of a disappointment. It seems to be very, very sensitive to the voltage available. So much so that with the engine running in my VW, it works correctly, but when I switch the engine off, it reduces the USB bus voltage enough to make the card stop working. Using a car AC inverter and the router's AC adapter works fine, though obviously this will result in more draw on the battery. But if you intend on using the hot spot while parked, it's the only option that will work, apparently. On a long drive, however, the car cable should work just fine.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

AT&T QuickSilver USB laptop "card" review

It amuses me a little bit that AT&T has still not enabled tethering for iPhones. My central argument is that just because iPhone users use more bandwidth on their phones does not necessarily imply that that "excess" usage would carry over to tethering. All AT&T has to do is price it they way they price tethering on other phones/devices. For instance, the Laptop Connect plan they offer on the USB dongles is either $35/mo for 200 MB, or $60/mo for 5 GB. If they priced tethering like this, then it wouldn't really matter that they used an iPhone or, like me, got a USB dongle.

I decided to go with an AT&T Quicksilver dongle. These are actually rebadged Option iCon 322s, so operationally they're equivalent. I was able to get it working 3 ways... Under VMWare Fusion with Windows XP, under Snow Leopard with their GlobeTrotter Connect software, and "semi natively" using the built-in networking.

If you just plug the Quicksilver into a mac without loading any drivers, nothing happens. If you then go and download the drivers that would appear to be the correct ones, you get mac kernel panics, which are otherwise known as the "grey screen of death." Not a good way to start. Googling around finally led me to relatively new Snow Leopard compatible drivers, which worked. With those drivers, and the GlobeTrotter software, I got a connection fairly quickly.

What's somewhat less wonderful about this is that behind the scenes, their software accomplishes this by setting up a whole new Networking "Location" with nothing but the laptop connect card in it. This can conceivably cause issues with VPN configurations. It would be much better in such circumstances to configure the network stack yourself. Fortunately, I found this blog post that has the instructions for setting it up.

As for the device itself, AT&T offers refurbished units free of charge with a 2 year contract. You can, instead, buy a new one for $99 and get a $100 mail-in rebate. For a device that is completely devoid of any user controls, I can't imagine why a refurbished unit wouldn't be perfectly acceptable as opposed to a new one.

The speed is just as good with each method. I was able to run some speed tests and got about a megabit up and down for the most part. The advantage of using the Globetrotter stuff is that you get a signal strength indicator. The advantage of using the control panel is being able to use a menu item icon to connect and disconnect, and potentially being more compatible with VPNs.

But potentially the best option is yet to come. I have a Netgear MBR624GU wireless router on order. If this combination works, then it will be the exact equivalent of a coffee house wifi hotspot that you can take with you anywhere you like. I'll revisit that topic when that device arrives in the mail.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Mophie Juice Pack considered harmful

I've been using a Mophie Juice Pack Air on my iPhone for a while now. It performs very well in most ways - with it, the iPhone's internal battery stays at 100% most of the time. This is good for the longevity of the battery, which is good because replacing it is a gigantic pain. With the battery in place, however, I've noticed that the phone has much worse over-the-air performance. Places that have 5 bars with the naked phone have no coverage with the battery in place. This is particularly the case at home, where the cell repeater gives 5 bars in the living room without the Mophie, but only 0 or 1 with it. The same happens on CalTrain just north of San Antonio. And at my office desk.

There are, however, lots of places where I get 5 bars even with the Mophie. So perhaps it can still serve a purpose. But the worry is that if the battery makes reception worse, then it makes the transmitter work that much harder, negating the battery life gains.

So despite this post's title, I guess I can't entirely write off the Juice Pack. But if you are considering it, be aware that you're wrapping the antenna with a layer of battery.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

NFL - final week 2009

The ability to receive KCBA has given the biggest benefit of the season today.

Because the Raiders are playing at home today, KTVU cannot air the Eagles / Cowboys game, which is one of the really pivotal games being played today. The winner largely determines the seating order for the NFC playoffs - never mind the fact that Eagles / Cowboys is a storied rivalry.

On behalf of everyone in the bay area who cannot get KCBA, I'd like to send a message to Al Davis:

Please, please, please for the love of God, move your pile of shit team back to LA. Or Reno. "Reno Raiders" - that has a great ring to it.

If you don't like that, try Montana or Wyoming. Just anywhere but here.