I’ve been working on GPSD a lot recently – we’re heading towards a 3.10 release with a lot of new features. As part of this release I’ve decided to ship a HOWTO on setting up a high-quality NTP time server using GPSD. In the course of working on that, I’ve had an idea.
The idea has two antecedents. One is that if you start with any one of several inexpensive GPS modules (my favorite of which is the u-blox 6), and add GPSD to read it and feed an ntpd instance, it’s possible to build an NTP server that meets the usual standard for public Stratum 1 time servers – 10mSec or better accuracy to UTC.
The other is that there is a raft of inexpensive SBCs that run Linux out there – Arduino, Raspberry Pi and the current new hotness BeagleBone. So here’s my thought: why not build a low-power Stratum 1 timeserver on a credit-card-sized SBC?
It’s been quite a while since I wrote a Smartphone Wars post; I let the series lapse when I concluded that the source I was using for U.S. market share figures had likely disconnected from reality (and more recent surveys from other sources suggest I was right). But the developments of the last couple of days demand comment. Nokia has sold its phone business to Microsoft; Stephen Elop has returned to Microsoft to head its devices group; and there is talk he might succeed Ballmer.
You couldn’t make this stuff up for a satirical novel and have it believed. The conspiracy theorists who maintained that Elop was a Microsoft mole sent in to set up a takeover look prescient now – but a takeover to what purpose? Nokia’s phone business, the world’s most successful and respected a few short years ago, is now a shattered wreck.
And as for Elop: he masterminded what was probably the biggest destruction in shareholder value ever – and this is the guy who’s being talked of as Ballmer’s successor? Astonishing. On his record, the man isn’t competent to run a Taco Bell store; that that he’s even in consideration suggests Microsoft’s board has developed some perverse desire to replace a strategic idiot with an even more wrongheaded strategic idiot.
The last couple of weeks have been my vacation, and full of incident.This explains the absence of blogging.
First, World Boardgaming Championships. I did respectably, making quarter- and semi-finals in a couple of events, but failed in my goal to make the Power Grid finals again this year and place higher than fifth.
I did very well in Conflict of Heroes, though; my final game – with the tournament organizer – was a an epic slugfest that attracted the attention of Uwe Eickert (the game’s designer) who watched the last half enthralled. I lost by only 1 point and was told I’d be put on the Wall of Honor. I like my chances at the finals next year.
Then Summer Weapons Retreat. Huge fun as usual; I spent most of the week working on Florentine (two-sword) technique. with some excursions into polearm and hand-and-a-half sword. I’ve posted a few pictures on my G+ feed.
First full day I was home, a thunderstorm blew out the router in my basement. Yes I had it on a UPS, but ground surges (though rare) do happen; this one toasted the Ethernet switch. Diagnosing, replacing, and dealing with the second-order effects of that ate most of yesterday.
Now life is back to relatively normal, though it will take a few days for the muscle aches from a week of hard training to entirely subside. Blogging will resume.
I’ve been thinking a lot about keyboards lately. Last Sunday I founded the Tactile Keyboards community on Google+ and watched it explode in popularity almost immediately. Spent most of the next couple of days boning up on keyboard lore so I could write a proper FAQ for the group.
On my journey of discovery I learned of geekhack.org, a site for people whose obsession with keyboard customization and modding makes my keen interest in these devices seem like the palest indifference by comparison. Created an account and announced myself in the manner they deem proper for new members. Got a reply saying, more or less, that it’s nice “ESR” attends to details like keyboards.
What? What? What? Your keyboard is not a detail, dammit!
I’ve founded a G+ community for fans of the Model M and other buckling-spring keyboards. Here it is:
Keyboards with crunch
Buckling-spring keyboards are wonderful devices for the discriminating hacker, vastly superior to the mushy dome-switch devices more common these days. But for various reasons (including the mere fact that they contain a lot of mechanical switches) they can be tempermental beasts requiring a bit of troubleshooting and care.
This community is for people who want to know how to find, care for, and troubleshoot their clicky keyboards.
UPDATE: After research and feedback, the name is now “Tactile Keyboards”.
Congratulations, Adobe, on your impending move from selling Photoshop and other boring old standalone applications that people only had to pay for once to a ‘Creative Cloud’ subscription service that will charge users by the month and hold their critical data hostage against those bills. This bold move to extract more revenue from customers in exchange for new ‘services’ that they neither want nor need puts you at the forefront of strategic thinking by proprietary software companies in the 21st century!
It’s genius, I say, genius. Well, except for the part where your customers are in open revolt, 5000 of them signing a petition and many others threatening to bail out to open-source competitors such as GIMP.
I am composing this blog entry on the right-hand screen of a brand shiny new dual-monitor rig. That took me the best part of a week to get working. I am going to describe what I went through to get here because I think it contains some useful tips and cautions for the unwary.
A friend of mine recently posted this image of a hideous network-cable tangle:
A hideous tangle of network cable.
I have invented an algorithm for fixing this kind of mess. Probably other people have developed the same technique before, but it wasn’t taught to me and I’ve never seen it written down. Here it is…
It’s beginning to look like Apple’s legal offensive against Android might backfire on it big-time. Comes the news that Judge Koh has declined to suppress evidence that Apple may have copied crucial elements of the iPad design from prototypes developed by Knight-Ridder and the University of Missouri in the mid-1990s.
In “Who’s Afraid of Huawei?” you point out the need for the telecoms industry to adopt transparency guidelines to head off risks from kill switches, spyware, and back doors covertly installed in their equipment.
One minimum necessary condition of such transparency is that all software and firmware in these devices must be open source, with customers permitted to install their own software images from published source code and development toolchains that can be audited by third parties.
While open-source software cannot completely head off the possibility of Trojan horses embedded deep in telecoms hardware, it at least reduces the management of aggregate security risks to a tractable problem. No lesser measure is or can be even remotely as effective, even in principle.
Telecoms customers should insist on open source – and, as any competent counter-espionage agency would do, should consider vendors’ insistence on information asymmetry to be indicative of an unacceptable security risk.
Wired magazine brings us a fascinating revelation from the Apple-vs.-Samsung brouhaha.
The Nexus 7 I ordered for my wife last week arrived two days ago. That’s been enough time for Cathy and me to look it over closely and get a good feel for its capabilities. It’s a very interesting device not just for what it does but what it doesn’t do. There’s a strategy here, and as usual I think Google is playing a longer game than people looking at this product in isolation understand.
The best strategic analysis of Nokia’s parlous position I’ve ever seen comes to us from ex-Nokia-executive and longtime company-watcher Tomi Ahonen: The Sun Tzu of Nokisoftian Microkia. It’s thorough, entertainingly written, and includes some instructive diversions into military history.
The stench of desperation must be getting pretty thick on the Infinite Loop. Can it be that the generator for Steve Jobs’s notorious Reality Distortion Field has finally broken down?
Two days ago, we learned that Jobs knew of the iPhone 4′s antenna problem before launch. They had warnings both from an in-house antenna engineer and “carrier partner”, presumably AT&T. Yes, this means all the Apple fanboys who had hissy fits at me when I said fifteen days ago that Apple was lying about the problem now get to go sit in the stupid corner.
Also two days ago, New York Senator Charles Schumer issued an open letter to Steve Jobs regarding the iPhone 4 antenna issues. Chuckie Schumer is the worst sort of political bottom-feeder, a power-worshiping greaseball with a spine of pure jelly; when such as he thinks it’s good politics to pile on Apple, you may be sure that Jobs’s teflon coating has definitively worn off.
I’ve been thinking for some time now that the smartphone has achieved a kind of singularity, becoming a black hole that sucks all portable electronics into itself. PDAs – absorbed. Music players – consumed. Handset GPSes – eaten. Travel-alarm clocks, not to mention ordinary watches – subsumed. Calculators – history. E-readers under serious pressure, and surviving only because e-paper displays have lower battery drain and are a bit larger. Compasses – munched. Pocket flashlights – crunched. Fobs for keyless locks – being scarfed down as we speak, though not gone yet.
This raises an interesting question: what else is natural prey for the smartphones of the future? Given my software interests, one low-hanging fruit that seems obvious to me is marine AIS receivers. If the frequency of any of the RF receiver stages in a phone were tunable, writing an app that would pull AIS data out of the air wouldn’t be very difficult. I’ve written a lot of the required code myself, and I know where to find most of the rest.
But in an entertaining inversion, one device of the future actually works on smartphones now. Because I thought it would be funny, I searched for “tricorder” in the Android market. For those of you who have been living in a hole since 1965, a tricorder is a fictional gadget from the Star Trek universe, an all-purpose sensor package carried by planetary survey parties. I expected a geek joke, a fancy mock-up with mildly impressive visuals and no actual function. I was utterly gobsmacked to discover instead that I had an arguably real tricorder in my hand.
Every few months I trip over another earnest attempt to rectify the gender imbalance in software and computing fields. Very few women opt to become programmers, system administrators, or hardware/software engineers. Indeed, the number of women who try seems to be falling rather than rising. This observation is invariably accompanied by a lot of hand-wringing and proposals for elaborate and (too often) coercive schemes to achieve “gender parity” – all doomed, because the actual problem is misdiagnosed.
I’m writing about this because I think the misdiagnosis arises largely from a refusal to speak uncomfortable truths. Discussion of the problem is nearly suffocated under a cloud of political correctness, cant, and willful blindness to the actual conditions of working in this field. Honesty won’t automatically fix the problems, but it’s a prerequisite to fixing the problems.
Forward-thinking technologists, including me, have been predicting for some time that adaptive mesh networking would be the doom of the telecomms-carrier and broadband oligopoly. Now comes a scientist from Australia with an idea so diabolically clever that I’m annoyed with myself for not thinking of it sooner: put the mesh networking in smartphones!
I just found an informative article about the origin, life, and astonishing persistence of my favorite keyboard. Nearly every article on this blog was hammered out on the same Unicomp Model M I’m typing on now. The design is 25 years old and still going strong, a nearly unique longevity in computing devices.
I endorse every bit of snarkiness and ergonomic wisdom in that article. I find the lack of tactile feeback and noise from modern “soft-touch” keyboards disconcerting and uncomfortable. It does my heart good to know the model M is still being produced, now with USB interfaces even. I expect I’ll be using these until I die or we get brain/computer interfaces, whichever comes first.
The over-the-air update for Android 2.2, aka FroYo, landed on my Nexus One this morning.
The WiFi hotspot feature works perfectly when tested with my ThinkPad X61 running Linux.
I am liberated. No more per-diem WiFi charges in hotels. No more cursing as I discover that the airport hotspots are all pay-for-play. Internet on my laptop in the shotgun seat of the car!
This feature will be a must for road warriors everywhere. And the iPhone 4 doesn’t have it. The screams of denial from the Apple fanboys as that absence costs Apple another hunk of market share that it will never get back should be most entertaining.
UPDATE: Have verified that USB tethering just works, too. Plug it in and go!
One of the predictable responses to my recent writings on the smartphone market and the rise of Android has been a deluge of scornful invective by Apple fans confidently predicting that Android’s 1Q2010 surge in unit share represented a bubble that would pop under pressure from Apple’s “superior user experience”.
Then came the flap over the iPhone4′s antenna problems, and the silence of the fans. Yeah, that’s a superior user experience, all right – huge percentages of dropped calls (including reports that it drops 100% of calls when the bottom left corner is touched), and Steve Jobs telling iPhone 4 users it’s all their fault because they’re holding their phones wrong. The satirical backlash at Jobs on the Internet has been merciless, and completely deserved. Nokia even had the cheek to post a blog entry on the many ways you can hold your Nokia phone.
Now comes Apple’s attempt to spin the problem out of existence. The tone of desperation is palpable. “Oops…” Apple says “…we fucked up the display algorithm for the signal strength meter.” Oh, yeah, that’s a superior user experience all right. It’s Apple, and It Just Works!(tm).
But there’s a story behind this story. Actually, two stories. One is that Apple is lying outright about the scope and nature of the problems. And the second, more important one, is that the fragility of the single-carrier, single-platform strategy for iOS has come around to bite Apple hard. There’s a lesson here for the future.