Goddamned wireless crap

Okay. I’ve run wireless B, G. I’ve used the “official, recommended” US Channels, and ones that aren’t. I’ve used a great piece of software called Air Traffic Control to keep an eye out for less-used channels. I’ve bought cordless phones that are ‘wireless network friendly.’ I’ve even upgraded to 802.11n, using an Apple Airport. That seems to work…better, but it cuts down pretty heavily on range.

You name it, I’ve done it, and the network in my house is still flaky. Nothing comes close the cozy networking level where everything just works, like good ole Ethernet. So I’ve bought a NetGear powerline ethernet extender thingee. A hunnert bucks from Best Buy, could’ve gotten it cheaper from the internet but I was impatient.

I have one doodad in the living room, one in the far-away-from-living-room, and hook ethernet into either one. Then it Just Works. Literally, like, 5 minutes of work. So far it’s been pretty solid.

This may be the solution to the Urban Wifi Blues. I hope so.


Braydix v0.1 !!!

So this is something I’ve been fiddling with, off and on, for the past few months. I’ve been talking about it for far longer.

It’s a very minimal Linux install with a copy of the latest Firefox. And by ‘latest’ I mean ‘3.0’, by the time 3.01 came out, I was too far along and too impatient to try and recompile. The idea is you can burn this to a CD and chuck it into any PC you’ve got laying around and it should, for the most part, work. Put the CD in and make your computer boot from CD, and it should come up with a Firefox window. Download link is at the end of this post, feel free to skip ahead if you don’t need the blow-by-blow.

It was an interesting exercise. Basically EVERY single thing I thought was going to be easy, was hard. Everything I thought was going to be hard, was easy. And in the end, I moved away from compiling my own stuff and towards just repackaging other stuff, when I could. I stole pretty mercilessly from CentOS, though when I realized that just simply booting from a CD was going to be so difficult, I poked around at Knoppix to see how they do it.

This is really a proof of concept, something to convince myself that I could actually do what I set out to do. There are lots of improvements to make, most of which I probably won’t, until I feel like it or become inspired –

  • Faster
  • Smaller
  • More Features
  • Installable?

One thing that came up that was really disappointing was that I ended up having to use XWindows (X11). I hate XWindows. It’s a bad software design. But Firefox for Linux relies on it for the little widgets (the controls that you use to interact with the software), and the event management. That would be a moderate to heavy software-engineering project – porting it to talk straight to the GDK equivalents instead, and then compiling GDK to talk directly to the Unix framebuffer. Getting a copy of GDK compiled for the framebuffer was actually easy.

I had also set a ‘requirement’ that I fit it in under 100 MB, so I could upload it to this very nifty website, Mediafire. I bet I could’ve made that goal, if I had tried harder. But I had missed deadline 1 I had set for myself, and 2, and even 3…so I started to get impatient. Heck, just stripping debugging symbols would probably had been enough to make it through, but I didn’t want to bother when the result compressed to under 100MB.

The real lesson for me in this is in the merit of good scaffolding. Use other stuff that’s already there as scaffolding for whatever you’re building, and swap it out for your own custom stuff when you need to. You’ll make more ‘agile’ change and progress that way. And VMWare for the Mac, while absolutely critical, is not a pleasant environment to work in. Had I to do it over again, I would’ve bought a $500 laptop from Dell and used that. I ended up doing my GDK and Mozilla compiles on ‘compy’, a 256MB P2 or P3 with very feeble abilities, but some disk space and the ability to run 24 hours if necessary. Cross-Compiling and building and installing are also very weird and unpleasant tasks; the standard ./configure && make works sooooo much better when you’re going to run the thing from where you build it. That’s part of the reason for Compy, I could say “./configure –prefix=/usr && make install” and get stuff to work. Then I’d copy it onto my VM’s and work from there.

If I could ever actually dedicate any time to work on this project, I would love to make it install onto a hard drive and use nearly the whole damn thing for a really sophisticated web cache – that could detect when the user was disconnected and serve back stale content it might otherwise disregard in that case. Then you could throw this thing on a laptop and go on a plane, and (for well-designed applications, in limited cases) you could use them ‘offline’. Hence my comments a few posts ago about how little I like Google’s “Gears” project. I’d also like to take on the prospect of making it work directly with the framebuffer instead of going through the abomination that is XWindows. Furthermore, there’s some to be gained from doing non-library builds of the GDK libraries to make them ‘link in’ to Firefox, instead of being loaded at runtime. There will also have to be some kind of window management, of some sort, because all the little Firefox windows have no borders right now. Whether that’s done in X (bleah! Ptui!) or in the framebuffer, I do not know. Or maybe directly in Firefox? Anyways, for the most part, those are pipe dreams, because it’s doubtful I’ll be able to scare up any additional time to poke around.

So what are you waiting for?! DOWNLOAD HERE!

Joining the new millenium, finally

I got a hi-def TV. Yay! And Rock Band. It’s pretty cool.

I was fiddling with how to hook up my 360 to the TV, and still have my optical digital output go through the AV system, and came across this useful piece of information.

However, in the end, GTA IV looked worse (at least on my TV), using the HDMI input rather than the component video. I finally switched it back, and I think it looks better. I believe it’s because the actual content is at 720p, and the Xbox or my TV is trying to do something clever to dither the output or something, and look like shit in the process. Oh well. So I’m not fully 100% digital. I guess I’m not completely in the new millenium, after all.

Two items, tenuously related – Google and iPhone OS 2.0

Google is fallible

We always think of Google as the unstoppable juggernaut that can do no wrong. But this isn’t so. Examples : First, Google Browser sync. This was a neat little extension you would install in Firefox, and it would automatically synch your bookmarks, cookies, history – everything – to a central Google server somewhere. Pretty neat, sure, though a little scary – though what with Google isn’t? After Firefox 3 came out, I tried to see if I could grab the latest Google Browser synch. Though I’d been working without it while using the Firefox 3 Beta, once FF 3 was officially released, I assumed a new version of the plug-in would be as well. Nope! It’s been discontinued…perhaps there wasn’t enough take-up? Perhaps there were too many internal business conflicts regarding it? Who knows. But here they built a thing, and finally they say “Whoops, sorry, we’re taking this thing down now.” There are alternatives, of course, but I just thought it interesting, because it made me think of them different.

Once I’d gotten it into my head that super behemoth Google can slip up, I was able to look at another feature I’d thought about myself before – Google gears. This is a browser plug-in that lets you access web applications offline, as well as online. Take a look at this architecture description, and my gut says they’re doing it wrong. (Bias alert: I have thought about solving this problem a different way.) Being able to use Gears with my google Docs and google reader are both pretty neat though.

So the iPhone 2.0 software came out (more about this in a minute). I need an RSS feed reader. NetNewsWire is out for iPhone. I need that. I get it. To ‘synch’ my read-items vs. unread-items, I need ‘newsgator’. And, just like that, in the blink of an eye, I move off of google reader, and onto NetNewsWire for Mac and NetNewsWire for iPhone. I’m not yet 100% convinced about how well it works – I still get definite feelings of ‘clunk’ going on, but I can read my newsfeeds while in the subway. Win.

They’re human beings – flesh and blood, like you and me. Prick them and do they not bleed? Their dominance can be challenged when they misstep. They’re no Microsoft, yet, but they definitely are mortal.

iPhone OS 2.0

Exchange support took a while to get going. I had to delete and readd my account, twice. I wanted it to ‘automagically’ figure out that I was on Exchange before, and I should now be on Exchange and use Push features, but it isn’t that clever. The fact that it wanted to WIPE OUT my contacts Really, really freaked me out! i don’t use the calendar on my phone all that often, so wiping that out and replacing it with my Exchange calendar is not a big deal. Emails show up on my phone faster than they show up on my computer. I can send, receive, accept, and decline meeting requests. My calendar has my Exchange calendar. This makes my life a bit better.

However, my battery has suffered, for sure. It could also be that I was poking and prodding my phone all the time, but I do think that Exchange activesync whatever it is seems to slurp more juice.

I have been gorging myself on apps. Like some kind of guy who just wandered out of a desert into an all-you-can-eat buffet, I’m stuffing every single application that looks like it might be interesting – and many that aren’t – onto my phone. Plenty are shitty. Plenty are crashy. Some are pretty neat.

  • Aim – crashy, but useful
  • Twitteriffic – sluggish, pretty…jury’s still out
  • eReader – requires an ereader.com account? May toss it.
  • PhoneSaber – AWESOME
  • Remote – Haven’t tried it yet, but I hear good things.
  • Facebook – Lame
  • Cube Runner – Fun!
  • iPint – Cutesy, marketing stuff. Kinda ok. Wish I liked Carling beer better.
  • Whrrl – Haven’t fiddled to much, dunno.
  • NYTimes – Nice concept, crashed on me and even took my phone with it once.
  • NetNewsWire – Pretty straightforward, probably a few point-releases and it will be good.
  • Scratch – Pretty cute toy! If the controls were a liiiiittle more real-timey, it would be better.
  • Loopt – I can’t tell if this is genius, or shit. It’s weird, and I keep feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing with it.
  • Mobile News – Simple, does what it’s supposed to.
  • WeatherBug – Not bad, little more detail than your regular Weather app. S’ok.