Category: Electronics Anonymous

Apple Buys Beats: Who Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?

apple-beats-by-dre-headphones-620x400It was easy to dismiss Apple when Steve Jobs took back the reins in 1997. It seemed for a while that the company’s only reason for existence was as a fig leaf, allowing Microsoft to claim Windows was not a monopoly. Redmond even bought a substantial amount of Apple stock, maybe as a gesture of support.

But Steve Jobs turned the company around completely. First, he decided the fundamental question: software or hardware? Software was going to be the ticket, from now on. Apple would buy off-the-shelf components to create best-of-breed hardware, but the focus was going to be on functionality and integration, not on capabilities and differentiation.

2001 was the landmark year. Jobs presented the iPod, the world’s first decent digital music player. Better than just that, Jobs presented an entirely new business: the $0.99 song. He had successfully found the weak spot of the music industry, caught between its old (and cheating) ways of bundling crappy songs with good ones (“albums”) to upsell, and the new ways of consumers to ignore paying altogether (“Napster”).

In that sweet spot, he created a revolution. Around that same time, Google revolutionized advertising and Amazon selling. It was a good time for the Internet.


Introducting Umana

Here is the initial sketch for a new programming language, umana. I know, I know: the world has already enough programming languages, and it seems to be every programmer’s wet dream to create a new one and join Guido van Rossum and Dennis Ritchie in the Halls of Eternal Fame.

umana, though, is a little different. It doesn’t want to be the proof of great intelligence and technical acumen. Instead, it aims to translate the way computers do things into terms readily understood by humans. Hence the name: while it sounds derived from an African language (think Ubuntu), it is actually the Italian word for, “human.” The analogy here is the term, lingua franca, or Frankish language (in Italian), which was what people used around the Mediterranean to speak to each other when they had no better language in common.

Let me give you an example of how umana translates. Take a class definition from Java:


How “China” Is Missing the Open Source Evolution

Pebble Smart WatchThree independent events came together last night to give me one of those rare flashes of insight. There is a radically better way of doing business, and everyone is missing out. Best, still, this radically new way of doing business is completely free, both as in beer and in speech.

So, this is what happened. Yesterday, I was perusing Amazon product pages for solar charges. I stumbled upon one (and I will not mention which one) that had the worst product description I have ever read in years of amazoning. It was strangely ungrammatical, using words entirely out of place, presenting the product in a flowery language that was so far off the mark, it made me smile, then laugh out loud.

Better still were the product reviews. They talked about how the manual/instructions were so horrible, you couldn’t really understand how to use the product at all. Given that it’s not a ICBM launcher but a solar charger, the charge itself was somewhat outlandish (and punny, but that’s my fault).

Secondly, I went over the stats for this site, trying to weed out more forum hackers (it’s been quiet ever since I forced Admin approval of registrations). I noticed that the old review I had up of the waterproof watch phone had received a number of hits. That got me thinking about the review itself.


The Real Problem of NSA Computer Surveillance

Slashdot is in an uproar over the demise of Groklaw, a (formerly) amazing web site trying to analyze complex legal issues for a geeky audience. It is on Groklaw that we followed the SCO v. UNIX trials, the Microsoft monopoly trials, etc. For a nerd, losing Groklaw is terrible, like losing your Wikipedia for questions of the law.

Groklaw, on the other hand, died of its own volition. Pamela Jones, the founder and maintainer, wrote a post about why she felt she had to shut down, and blamed government intrusion. She was following the hint of Lavabit, the secure email provider formerly used by Edward Snowden, who shut down rather than comply with a surveillance order.

At the same time as the geek world is spooked by these revelations, we hear the political caste talking about NSA surveillance in glowing tones, as a patriotic duty and a first-grade technical accomplishment of the NSA. I say, political caste, because both parties are in full agreement on this.

I think there is a fundamental disagreement between most if not many geeks and the political establishment. This disagreement revolves around trust: geeks fear what can be done with the data collected; the political establishment is mesmerized by the possibilities. I believe both are correct.


Why Android Must Die – and Why Nokia Did It Right

Have you ever held an Android (or newer BlackBerry) phone in your hands and played with it? Have you ever experienced that sometimes, randomly, when you didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, the phone freezes for a variable amount of time? Nothing seems to be helping, you can punch keys and screen as much as you want, but the phone is dead. Then, miraculously, the phone springs back to life.

You’ve probably seen that. It’s one of the most annoying features of Java, the system that underpins Android (and BlackBerry apps), garbage collection. Essentially, your app uses the memory in chunks it gets in credit. After a while, the tax collector comes to visit, everybody has to stop what they are doing, and the tax collector decides what memory is not used any longer, frees it up, moves everything around to be in a smaller packet, and then leaves. 

Apple apps don’t do that. They free their memory as soon as they don’t need it. That slows things down incrementally, but you never have that stupid freeze that blocks you out of your phone (well, only out of your app). Apple apps are written in Objective C, where memory is handled differently. Better, from the perspective of mobile apps.

But why did Android choose Java where Apple chose Objective C? And why does it mean that, as the title boldly states, Android Must Die? And what does Nokia have to do with any of this?


YHIHF: Microsoft is Going to Buy Nokia

n9 vs lumia 800Nokia is not doing well. The once juggernaut of the mobile space is still a ubiquitous household name in most of the world, but its name is increasingly associated with “low-tech,” cheap phones. In particular, Apple is eating its lunch in the lucrative smartphone space, where Nokia once ruled the roost.

After ruling out a refresh of its aging Symbian OS, Nokia was trying out various variants of Linux. We first had a tablet, the Nokia N770, refreshed a few times. Then we had a phone, the N900. Another phone, the N9 followed. And then, nothing.

Instead, Nokia’s management got replaced, and now the helm of the company is in the hands of a former Microsoft man. His first order of business: to declare a global alliance between Nokia and Microsoft. From now on, Nokia was going to focus on building Windows phones. And those of us who had a Nokia Linux phone wondered, What’s the big idea?


The Most Overpriced Gadget (tMOG): Denon Ultra Premium Link Cable

Ah, what a pleasure! If I feel down one day because the weather is bad or because my novel didn’t sell as well as I thought, I just go to the nearest electronics store and laugh my behind off looking at the phony prices for accessories there. I mean, seriously, you expect me to pay $40 for the case to a phone that barely cost $100? That’s ludicrous!

Well, Slashdot had an article about HDMI cables and how even retailers are now starting to crack the scam barrier there. You must know that HDMI cables are digital cables and that quality is largely immaterial – as soon as you get a picture, you get a picture. There are some minor differences for very long cables, and some cables aren’t able to transfer a high-def picture, but they are cables: they should cost significantly less than $10. Anything you spend above that is like the $40 you pay for a faux-leather cell phone case: gravy for the manufacturer.

Well, there was a series of comments about technical merits and demerits, and one commenter posted a link to an incredible deal: The Denon Ultra Premium Link Cable. I would love to give you more than a link, quoting the description, but I’ll just have you go there and check for yourself.


More Comment Spammers and How to Block Them

After I shut out a comment spammer that had blasted my account to the tune of 23.76 GB (I am nothing but precise), I discovered another IP address up to no good, and then a series of them. They are all from Russia (not sure why, and no disparagement of the great country intended), most of them from a single IP block.

Not to the recipe: if you want to get rid of a particularly annoying spammer, you need to do two things:

Block their IP address

To do so, install iptables on the web server:

sudo apt-get install iptables

(That’s for apt-enabled distros. If you have RPM or something else, please install iptables using your package management software).

Once installed, iptables will start itself automatically. Now you just have to tell it to shut out a particular IP address, which you do by issuing the command:

sudo iptables -A INPUT -s “address” -j DROP

Here, “address” is the network address to block. You can specify a single IP address, a set of them, or a whole network using either the network notation or the slash notation.

For instance, the IP address I blocked today was, resulting in the call:

sudo iptables -A INPUT -s -j DROP

Then I realized that there were several IP addresses starting with 94.181. so I blocked those, too:

sudo iptables -A INPUT -s -j DROP

Remove Spam Comments

This is a little tricky, depending on how many of the comments stem from spammers and how many are from followers.

If you don’t have any follower comments, as in my case, the situation is simple. You just log in to MySQL and delete the content of the table:

mysql -u “user” -p “database” -e “TRUNCATE jos_rsgallery2_comments”

Here, “user” and “database” are from the Joomla configuration file, and jos_ is the prefix (also in config). You will be asked your password (also, of course, in the config file).

If you  have to preserve user comments, you need to figure out a way to mark the spammy comments by similarity – for instance, because they contain certain keywords (like V*GRA) and then delete them using the DELETE instead of the TRUNCATE command:

mysql -u “user” -p “database” -e “DELETE FROM jos_rsgallery2_comments WHERE comment LIKE ‘%V*GRA%’ “

This will delete all comments that contain the phrase V*GRA. Notice the % signs before and after the text – it’s what tells MySQL that it should look INSIDE the comment, instead of assuming the entire comment should be what you are asking for.

Hope this helps!!!

Why, Nokia?

To all my friends with iPads (and there is a shocking number of them): I had a tablet years before you did. Yes, your tablet may be shiny and a joy to use, but mine is stored in a closet with the HP Omnibook I had in 1994 and the Sharp Zaurus I held in my hands in 2002. The tablet is a 7″ Nokia N770, a tiny little bundle of joy I bought in 2005. It was expensive, it was slow, it was buggy, but it was mine. And it ran Linux, probably 90% of the reason I bought it in the first place.

It’s five years later and Apple came up with the iPad. The iPad was an instant success, the N770 was a modest failure. I say modest because it sold poorly, but still much better than the product Nokia came up with around the same time the iPad launched, which was the Nokia N900 (proud owner!). How is it possible that the company, Nokia, could identify the category (tablet) that would catapult Apple to success five full years before its rival did, and yet not capitalize on its discovery?

First, there were technical flaws. The N770 was atrociously, painfully slow. It was severely underpowered from the start, and the tiny on-board memory (64M) made things worse. Despite the slow battery, the thing wouldn’t run for long without a power supply, severely limiting its usefulness. None of that really mattered, though, and those things could have been (and partially were) addressed in successor models.


Creating Panoramas with Hugin

Like it? This is what the cliffs and the ocean look like at Black’s Beach, California. Christmas Eve 2010. See that steep canyon gouged into the cliff face? That’s how I got to the beach, on a trail some call the Goat Trail.

I stood at the bottom of this thing and took a picture of where I had come down. Then I took a picture of La Jolla to the South. Then one of the nudie beach to the North. Then one of the waves and the low sun. Then I decided I was just going to cover the whole world around me, and figure out a way to stitch the pictures together.

Back home, I remembered I had used this took, Hugin, to create panoramic images a while back. It was a pain: you had to couple up the images and click on a series of points that matched up. Image 1, image 2, click, click, click, click, click… Then Hugin would figure out just exactly how badly you had screwed up your picture by tilting, turning, panning, etc. and would create a panorama. It took about four hours of tedious work.

I wasn’t looking forward to that, so I looked on my computer (apt-cache search panorama) for alternatives. I downloaded all of them. There was a GIMP plugin called pandora that didn’t seem to be doing much, but it complained initially about not having an application from hugin installed (I just had to restart GIMP to make it work). There was an “easy to use” application called fotoxx that seemed more primitive than easy to use. There was a CLI app called enblend. Other stuff seemed to be mostly supporting software.

I wept, I gnashed my teeth, and I started Hugin. Lo and behold! It started with a tabbed interface and (miracles!) a WIZARD!!! It promised it would ask you what it wanted, and started by asking about the pictures you wanted to use as a base. Then it started working, actually giving me feedback so that I didn’t have to wonder whether it had died on me. Then it came out with a crude map of the panorama. Perfect! It had figured it all out on its own!

Next came a series of optimization steps, and that’s where Hugin need to be a little more proactive. For instance, it won’t tell you that it will adjust exposure, so you worry how weird things will look like with this particular section overexposed. It also shows you how it tilted and modified the original image to make it fit into the panorama – a real miracle.

Once I figured out the optimization step (about ten minutes), I saved the project for later re-use and exported the image. That was fun!

I should mention at this point that Hugin sensibly leaves parts of the image out that aren’t included in the image components. That means that a section at the top and the bottom were missing and needed to be filled out. To get that done, I used the outstandingly marvelous “Smart Remove Selection” plugin for the GIMP.

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