Entries Tagged as 'Technology'

$35 Tablet PC

The government of India has unveiled a $35 tablet PC that they intend to use to replace text books in India.

The Laptop Per Child project (OLPC) developed a $200 durable notebook prototype in 2005 that’s designed use in schools in developing country and has plans for a $100 tablet.

India, though, has created a computing device that costs less than most text books, and the government will further subsidize the cost.

In a country where electricity is a scarce commodity in many regions (the tablets will have a solar power option for use in rural areas) they seem to have a much better grasp on the concept of leaving no child behind and creating a technologically empowered generation ready to perform the jobs of tomorrow.

The US leaves no child behind by simply holding everyone back to the level of the underachiever — easy to understand why we’re becoming a third world nation.

Remote Access

I’ve been using a combination of bitvise WinSSHD and Tunnelier for remote access to my home network.  It basically allows me to tunnel a RDP (or simple command shell) via SSH to a Virtual machine running on my server (actually each “user” has a virtual machine all to their own, so there’s no contention).

I really like the simplicity of the SSH tunnel, and find that running it on port 22 and port 443 provides me with a very good likelihood of being able to connect through all but the most draconian firewalls.

You will want to make sure that you implement good security policies on your SSH server, and that you either use pre-shared keys or certificates OR that you make sure you have a strong password.  There are a number of bots out there that try to break into an SSH server using a list of well know user names and dictionary attack for the password.

WinSSHD will lock out IP addresses after a number of failed attempts; but I created a test account called “test” with the password “password” just to see what the bot would try to do (the account was jailed without any write priviledge in a safe sub-directory with no files).  The bot got frustrated and went away, but I was trying to upload files, and I would guess execute them (probably propagating itself).

You can black list IP addresses, and if you’re like me you run the DynDNS client (I use DynDNS.org for my dynamic ip naming service; it’s free, and it works well) on your notebooks so that you “know” their IP address via a fixed host name (though in WinSSHD the IP black list superceeds a DNS name white list).

http://www.bitvise.com/

http://www.dyndns.org/ or http://www.dyndns.com/

Desktop Sharing

Maybe I’ve become spoiled, but I just expect desktop sharing (remote control) to be easy and fast.

Nothing, absolutely nothing compares to Microsoft’s RDP; and virtually any Windows machine (except home editions) can be accessed remotely via RDP; and all Windows machines and Macs can access a remote Windows machine.

Apple has their own Remote Desktop Client, and it works well — but it’s far from free (OUCH, far from free).  And Apple does build in VNC into OS-X (can you say dismally slow)… but they don’t provide any Windows client.

Linux and other *nix operating system you can use an X session remotely; or VNC (zzzzzzzzzzzzz again, slow).

As a “universal” desktop sharing solution VNC isn’t horrible (and it’s certainly priced right, and there’s plenty of different ports and builds of it to choose from), but it’s old school and old technology.

I personally think it would be a great standard to have an efficient remote desktop sharing standard, that all computers (and PDAs) could use… one ring — eh, got carried away there; one client could talk to any server, and operating system vendors would only need optimize their server and their client, other operating system vendors would do the same…

The Anti-Green – Junk Mail

Why does the United States Postal Service encourage companies to send “Junk Mail” by substantially reducing the costs of distributing it?

It just doesn’t make sense.

Sure, I understand that it may actually cost the post office a little less to distribute junk mail than it does to distribute first class letters and such — but take a look at how little junk mail you even look at… and how much ends up in your recycle bin (and I’m not even going to bring up the large number of people who probably don’t recycle since they don’t have curb-side recycling programs).

America needs to take action to reduce it’s carbon footprint — and as I have pointed out for the last few days it would be extremely easy to make a fairly substantial improvement without sacrificing anything most consumers care about — and in fact, it would probably improve the quality of life for most Americans not having a mailbox full of junk mail they have to sort through so as not to miss something that might be important.

Sure, the post office would probably have to raise the cost of postage, and possibly reduce the service level (hey — I have no problem with mail not being delivered on Saturday — of maybe being delivered only on alternate days or only a few days per week).  The overall effect would be a decrease in the waste (of natural resources and energy).

Droid Does

I purchased a used Motorola Droid this weekend — I couldn’t resist, the price was reasonable and it included an extra charger, the multi-media dock, and a 16GB µSD card.

I’ve played with Android both on other people’s phone, and a hacked version loaded on my HTC Touch Pro 2 (but there were a number of things that didn’t work, and because the phone is both CDMA and GSM I expected that there would always be a number of issues with Android on it until there were a reasonable number of CDMA “Worldphones” running Android).

By far my preference in handsets are those made by HTC — I just think they do a much better job designing the handset, and understand the features that consumers really want on a smart phone… but the Droid is sort of the standard; and it met my absolute criteria for an Android based phone, it had a slide out keyboard.

I just have zero interest in all the new whizzy phone that don’t have keyboards — I send too many emails not to be able to see a reasonable amount of the screen and type at the same time (and don’t even think about things like remote desktop with a virtual keyboard).

Using Android is interesting… many aspects of it are well engineered and simple to use — but just as you think the ergonomics have driven the design of the interface, the geeky techno thorns in Android rear their ugly head.

By far the iPhone has made the slickest interface — but without a keyboard all you really have is an expensive iPod that can make phone calls.  Windows Mobile (at least with the extensions HTC loads on their smart phones) has made using the features very friendly, but every time you want to stray from what 90% of the people with Windows Mobile handsets want to do — or do something “advanced” that doesn’t involve an Exchange Server or Outlook… it stumbles and makes you have to be both technical and clever.

Given the tender young age of Android it’s certainly very respectable how far Google has come; but in trying to make the handset easy to use, Google has required the use of Google services with the phone — no you don’t have to, but you’ll fight every feature of the phone if you don’t setup Google Mail, Google Voice, etc.

There are those who still seem to think that Google does everything they do for the good of the general public — rubbish!  Google makes money off advertising, and to do that effectively they need to target advertising by demographics, and they do that by tracking trends by mining data.

Everything Google does Google does to support their revenue stream.

That isn’t necessarily bad; it’s just something that users of Google’s services need to understand… and you do need to pay close attention to Google’s privacy policies.

I’m not saying you’d be any “safer” with an iPhone (Apple is certainly trying to do the same thing — and I always find it humorous that it seems every “cloud” service Apple introduces is tied into iTunes (a very poorly thought out name for that type of service — obviously it was initially intended to only provide music).

Bottom line; I’d say your best value in a smart phone today is an Android based handset, and I’d recommend you consider trying it out with a used handset that has the features you’re interested in.

Yeah — I could add a line about reduce, reuse, recycle — but in actuality this has more to do with figuring out how you’ll use a smart phone before you commit to spending a great deal of money or locking yourself into a long term contract.  And remember, phones will only get better over time — and we’re very close to really having 4G service (at least Sprint, Verizon, MetroPCS, and Cricket seem committed to roll it out — AT&T doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to do anything except rape iPhone customers).

Your world delivered

It appears that iPhone sales are responsible for increasing AT&T network utilization by 5,000%

You’d think that such demand would make AT&T happy; but in fact, AT&T might be enjoying the sales numbers; but they pay Apple a rather substantial portion of the monthly fees they collect on iPhone users and the networks in New York City and San Francisco have become so unstable due to high volume that their have been frequent outages.

I guess there’s no reason to ask if you can hear me now if you can’t even make a call… but perhaps AT&T might want to reconsider changing their slogan to “your world delivered, subject to network availability”.

Verizon Wireless is the largest cellular carrier in the US; and has higher customer satisfaction rating than AT&T according to several independent surveys.

Smartly Made Smart Phones

I’ve owned a Windows based smart phone for around a decade; when I first saw and played with the iPhone I thought it was interesting, but it really brought little more to the table than HTC had already done with their UI on top of Windows mobile had… with one notable exception — the app store.

I’d probably have been willing to try the iPhone except for a number of characteristics I found totally unacceptable.

  1. The iPhone was only available on AT&T (I’ll choose my carrier, thank you very much);
  2. The iPhone didn’t have a keyboard (and I mean a real keyboard, not a virtual keyboard that takes two thirds of the screen);
  3. The iPhone was a closed platform totally under the control of Apple; and
  4. The iPhone was overpriced.

Any one of these would have likely prevented me from buying an iPhone, but in total it was a no-brainer.

Then, a little over two years ago (23 September 2008); Google released a handset manufactured for them by HTC running an open source version of Linux specifically designed for use on portable devices.

That was the T-Mobile G1 running Android (aka HTC Dream)…

Today there are a large number of Android based handsets on the market — and the number grows almost daily — and we’re not limited to just a single vendor or single carrier… almost every cell phone handset manufacturer has at least one Android based handset, and every US carrier supports Android handsets.

The official release of Android is version 2.2; and while some manufacturers have not provided that updates to older handsets, the open source community has put a great deal of effort into providing custom builds of Android that bring the newer features to older handsets (including many phones originally intended to run Windows mobile).

Android is a revolution in smart phones.

Not necessarily because Google has done everything right, but because Google has leveraged many parts of the development and manufacturing communities and allowed each to do what they do best.  These contributions push Android in multiple directions simultaneously; allowing Google to use the best and most promising along with their own ideas to pave a path for Android.

Now it’s worth noting that Google didn’t do this because they’re philanthropic and just want what’s best for everyone — they did it because having control of the smart phone market (and tablet market) or at least not being locked out of it; allows them to generate a revenue stream through advertising and collecting demographics to target that advertising.

But are they any different from cellular carriers and other companies offering smart phones — not really; but they are better at doing what they do (and I don’t mean developing technology, I mean making money with advertising).

As consumers we’re not really interested in the technology under the hood; we’re only interested in what it does for us, what it costs, and the eye candy it presents.

To me, though, what we should praise in Android is that it will not be a platform that limits, but rather accommodates.

Windows 8.1

The Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 RT updates are out, and the start button is back (though you could re-enable it with a number of hacks) if you want it — Metro is still available (and always there).

While those with touch devices may not see why the start button might be preferred, those who still have to use a mouse or other pointing device definitely will appreciate not needing to emulate finger swipes any longer.

The other big change is that SkyDrive is now installed by default (but no greater storage for free to Windows 8.1 users than anyone who just installs SkyDrive or just sets up a SkyDrive account).

The Windows 8.1 update is easy and free to install for Windows 8 users; however, Windows 7 users (or previous) will need to install Windows 8 first.

You can find a number of lengthy reviews of Windows 8.1 on line, but if you’re a Windows 8 users it’s an update you’ll probably want to install.  If you’re a Windows 7 user there may be no real motivation to upgrade.


Update to Windows 8.1 from Windows 8

Mac Envy

I was talking to one of my friends several weeks ago and once again he ask me why I wasn’t a big fan of Linux… and I gave him the two hour answer.

It really boils down to Linux fails to be cohesive; the many distributions fracture it even more than the lack of any defining road map for a user experience.

My conversation with my friend started to point to OS-X; it has, after all, become a very important force on defining not only what Mac users expect from a computer, but what Windows users get in a new operating system.

Why then not graft a Mac like desktop manager onto Linux?  It seemed like a good idea, so I figured someone else must have thought of it.

After all, making computers usable for computer experts isn’t the real issue; it’s making computers usable for the masses of people who do not know what’s under the hood, and shouldn’t have to care.

I started my exploration by finding a Mac theme and widgets for Gnome. I installed Mac4Linon an Ubuntu virtual machine.

It certainly did make the interface for Linux much more Mac like, but most anyone who could have gone through all the steps to get it installed probably wouldn’t care much about using a Mac like interface, and it just really wasn’t that satisfying.

Next I decided that this _is_ a good idea, and I was sure that many others had gone down this path (and I’m not one to duplicate effort, I have no problem standing on the shoulders of giants — or midgets).

A little bit of searching on the net found me four distributions that attempted to mimic the look and feel of Mac OS-X.

I’m going to list these alphabetical — this isn’t a review, it’s just an overview.  I’m going to have to play with each of these more than a couple hours to be able to tell you the strengths and weaknesses.  Watch for future posts.


Dreamlinux

Based on the website address Dreamlinux must be in Brazil; but the web pages and documentation are all in English (no requirement to learn Portuguese unless you want to be ready for your vacation in Rio).

The Dreamlinux distribution is based on Debian, and builds on that very stable base.  And rather than using the Gnome desktop manager, this distribution chose the XFCE desktop manager as the default — but includes Gnome and will include LXDE, TDE, and Fluxbox.

Dreamlinux used Rocket Dock to provide a Mac-like dock and is targeted heavily for a multimedia experience.

Dreamlinux is easy to install, and maintain… put it on your hard disk, a flash drive, or just about anything else.


Elive

If sex sells operating systems, this would be on the top of the heap.   Their web site features the tag line “Elive Gem – Luxury Linux” and comes complete with a high resolution video to demonstrate Elive.

The Elive distribution is also based on Debian.  It uses the Enlightenment desktop manager (OK, so Enlightenment is more than just a desktop manager — but it’s sufficient for the moment to refer to it as just that) and the ibar dock.

Elive is filled with eye-candy and again targeted at multimedia.

It’s slick; has very modest hardware requirements, and according to Distrowatch it has a lot of users.  The “official” download of the stable versions will cost; I recommend you find an alternate download to try it out, or get an invitation code to try it before you commit to supporting it.


gOS

The g in gOS might be for “green” — not green as in energy efficient, the color; the default them is definitely green.

gOS is probably one of the most complete experiences right from the get go.  It’s also based on Ubuntu (which is based on Debian) — so a little heavier weight.  It uses LXDE for a desktop manager and wbar for a dock (though Cairo-Dock apparently can be used instead).

gOS leverages heavily off Google… Google Apps (Mail, Calendar, Documents, Spreadsheet, Presentations), Google Gadgets, Google Desktop Search, and even installs WINE to use Google Picasso.

I know I’ve said this is probably the most complete; and you may well want to start with this one — but for some reason this distribution just didn’t impress me (maybe because it sets expectations so high).  I will give it a more complete test, there was certainly nothing about it that suggested it wasn’t a good candidate.


Macpup

With a name like Macpup it bring to mind warm images that immediately makes you feel comfortable.

The Macpup distribution is based on Puppy Linuxwhich also has a Windows XP look-and-feel version (they refer to these as Puplets).  Puppy Linux and Macpup are designed to have very modest hardware requirements, and will likely work on any computer hardware you have sitting in your basement.

Macpup uses the Enlightenment desktop manager and the ibar dock with an incredibly ugly default theme.

Macpup is lightweight, but it’s the least Mac-ish of all these distributions.  So if your goal is to get something that mimics the Mac, this probably isn’t it; however, if your goal is to get something that provides a use paradigm similar to the Mac on lower end hardware, this might be perfect.


OpenGEU

When Gnome reaches Enlightenment you get OpenGEU, at least that’s what their tag line says.

The OpenGEU distribution is based on Geubuntu (which is based on Ubuntu which is based on Debian) — so a little heavier weight.  It uses the Enlightenment desktop manager, comes in a Sunshine and Moonlight edition (read their web page — it’s heavily themed) and is part of the InTiLinux Projects.

If you’re looking for eye-candy you’ll think you’ve found Nirvanna.  The OpenGEU project is lead by a designer, not an engineer — so there’s a great deal of focus on the look, the feel, and how things work.


There are several components that these distributions use to achieve a Mac-like look and feel; and some of these deserve a separate article to talk about them.  I’ll put a little time into writing up some background information on desktop managers; docks; and themes.

I will say that after installing these and playing with them for just a few hours each I would put Dreamlinux and Elive on the top of my Mac-Linux list; but until you’ve actually tried to do useful work with a Linux distribution it’s hard to really say which will work the best.

All except the Elive distribution allows you to download for free from their web site or provides you with torrents or mirrors.   I do encourage you to support any project you use through a donation of resources or currency.

Smart Phones

Early last month Sprint shipped a 4G Android based smart phone made by HTC — it sold out; they receive more from HTC — they sold out; they can’t keep them on the self.

Late last month Apple shipped the iPhone 4 (not a 4G phone), and AT&T sold out the first day in many metropolitan areas.

The day before Apple shipped the iPhone 4, Motorola shipped a new Android based smart phone — sales were brisk.

I’ve had a smart phone for many, many years — and frankly I’ve been amazed at how many people have been buying them in the last few years, so I did a little research.

I figured a good place to start would be to see what kind of applications people where downloading for the iPhone — well I was totally shocked.  On almost every list I could find the top applications were games (and people were paying for them).

I’m not even going to waste my time writing what I think this says about Americans (and we probably shouldn’t limit it to just Americans)… obviously the economy must be doing fine if people have several hundred dollars to throw away on a cellular handset to just enable them to play games — and have a fashion accessory (which must be meant to indicate that they have money to throw away).

I always considered my smart phone a tool; but I guess in the age of PSP and Wii it’s just another electronic toy to keep mindless people entranced so they don’t need to think or pay attention to their surroundings.

Almost enough to make me toss my smart phone in a trash can and get rid of my unlimited data plan.