Walking on water

Some time ago a visitor to my site commented that the photo I used as a header was ‘Horses walking on Water’ and I really never took notice, but yes, they do look that way.

cropped-B_header

But this photo taken with a very cheap digital camera just didn’t bring out the picture well enough to see the shallow beach on which the water was covering, and my clipping of the photo has eliminated the shoreline. The beach, and the inlet are located to the north in Donegal Ireland. A lovely place to visit, if you can avoid the frequent rain. Beyond that further hill, and 1000 miles of ocean, is Greenland.

Learning Computers and Computing

I have been doing research into the nature of computers and I’ve been participating with with the phenomena know as Coderdojo. As part of my research I’ve been relearning Assembly language on several different architectures, and I’ve been experimenting with such things a the ELF Membership Card which I soldered myself and is currently running in front of me, along with a Arduino Uno. These both represent small microprocessor, very like the ones I personally started out on.

My first computer was an Apple II+ with a Motorola 6502 processor. But in any case, this act of relearning what a computer really is has made me aware of the lack of any real education ‘tools’ like I had. The sensation that is the Raspberry-Pi is fast becoming the CPU-du-jour of the developers, and as such may develop into a great educational tool. But, and there is always a but, it doesn’t stand on it’s own.

The group who developed the Pi have themselves noted that this is a developmental prototype, and that it needs to be distilled into a real educational product. It first need a keyboard, mouse, display a SD-Memory card and a power supply, to even turn it on. To make it useful as a net-workable it also needs a connection to hardwired Ethernet. It needs to have software preloaded onto the SD-Memory to boot properly. These are Geek requirements, anyone who can make this work, ALREADY has working knowledge and equipment, call it infrastructure, to make this work. What is missing in this is a standalone environment that is self contained and independent of both other systems, and other foreknowledge of computing.

My Apple II came with a keyboard, memory, built-in BASIC programing language, and displayed it’s output into a common Television, and recorded and loaded programs from a simple cassette player. All these elements were basic, everyday items in my household, and it would plug into the mains power directly, and display on a TV. It started up using Applesoft BASIC language and displayed on the screen everything I typed.

The Rasberry-Pi now needs this type of infrastructure. And while on this subject, and not to stir a pot, comes a language issue. The apple I learned on came with BASIC and in fact I still have a fondness for BASIC. The current arguments in the ‘Programming Education’ discussions are that a language like BASIC teaches BAD programming practice. Be in old, I had to remember the motivations of BASIC and was more enlightened to connect this with my reeducation about Assembly language. That was the first reason for BASIC! BASIC is and was engineered to, more or less, follow the structure of the instruction set of the CPU itself. Where language snobs see bad ‘GOTO’s in BASIC, I see machine language Conditional and unconditional ‘Branch’ instructions. Where I see a BASIC with line numbers (not all BASICs have them) I see ‘Linear’ machine instructions.

One element of the Raspberry-Pi that also misses the mark, is the nature of ‘abstraction’ while I admire the Python of the Pi, and the ‘C’ like language of the Arduino, what is missing is the distance between the learner programmer and the actual machine. It may even be a serious problem as the machine begins to look like magic, and that it can be made to do anything.

The programming of the RCA 1802 chip contained in the ELF Membership Card demonstrated what the creator of the card referred to as ‘Bare metal programing’. A simple program that I used to test the ELF with consisted of 12, 8 Bit instructions, writing (essentially) the same program for the Arduino required downloading of 998 8 Bit instructions (not including the 512 Bytes of the boot loader). To be sure there were probably a lot of libraries included in that download. Helpful, but masking the actual operations of the CPU from any real educational product. Just like that Arduino, the Raspberry-Pi will mask the CPU, and the associated hardware by a boot loader (BIOS), followed by a full, though striped to minimum, Linux kernel, and a GUI in the form of LXDE X-Windows, followed by Python language. That’s a lot of abstraction!

All these things may be irrelevant in the long term, one thing may lead to stimulation to explore the ‘Bare Metal’ hardware of the Raspberry-Pi while allowing a positive feedback with easy ‘wins’ on top of the abstraction provided. Still I believe we are missing an opportunity to produce the next generation of computer wizards. I also believe that someone needs to integrate the Rasberry-Pi into a OLPC type of device.

Apache Web Projects

Having just escaped/exited from a brief encounter with a company utilizing some of Apache’s Web Projects. I keep being struck by the feeling that I’ve seen the issues before. Over a fairly long run in the IT industry I have the feeling that Apache and it’s contributors have been busy re-inventing the wheel. The Apache Hadoop as a distributed file system designed for large data sets. Apache Solr a full text search server and indexer combined with Apache Lucene supplying the search libraries. Coordinated by Apache ZooKeeper all begins to sound like a description of your average Relational Database System (RDBMS)

All these elements being created by the Apache Foundation have been, sometime in the past, been solved by most of the Relational (Big) database vendors. All the bugs and missed steps have all been made by previous developments which only reminds me of the old saw

“Those who do not learn from the past, are destined to relive them (ie repeat the same mistakes)”

Nokia, a wholy owned subsidary of MicroSoft

The writing was on the wall when Elop (read eFlop) was forced in as CEO of Nokia. An X-MicroSofty with his head up MicroSoft’s butt.

UPDATE: In this article Stephen Elop Responds eFlop states he has been investigating the Microsoft stragedity from only the last 4 months, what a lie, that’s that what Mubarak was staying about staying in Egypt, Elop was and IS a Microsoft Talking head and the sole purpose of his forced hiring by the Board was to pursue the Microsoft plan.

Amazing Internet

Yesterday I just got a trackback from a new article on Business News, Advices, Quotes And quite a handful of link through’s from there also. The funny part, call it amazing, they were linking to blog post I wrote 18 Months ago. Hardly a current, breaking news item, but the article seem to be quite active considering the link through’s and the minor nature, in context, with what the article was on about.

The internet really doesn’t forget.

iPad Virtual Keyboard censorship

This thought has come to mind as there are many voices out there who have commented on the iPad’s virtual Keyboard‘. Many have found it hard to type on and found themselves unable to touch type on it as the very nature of touch sensitivity makes it impossible make contact with the ‘keys’. In other words, you can’t type long missives, emails or any other textual input.

What if the iPad is a form of Censorship? Making it hard to comment on the internet, create content, write Twitters/email/Blogs whatever. Because the keyboard it too hard and frustrating to enter anything other than simple search phrases. A consumer ONLY device, made to fill the passive vessels that constitutes the bulk of the internet readership? Content omnivores as Pew Research calls them, an advertising and News consuming only population.

Baidu Spider is MIA

Is it me, or my sites, that the www.baidu.com spider is no longer scanning? I have normally been scanned several times a day by that Chinese Search engine, but they all stopped yesterday? Perhaps a crackdown? Who knows, but there is a missing element now in the internet.

The Nokia N900 in use, a perspective.

I’ve had my Nokia N900 for almost 48 hours, and while I’ve have a few frustrations, I’m equally satisfied with the product. And so to keep it geeky and simple:

  • I’ve logged into the device (not really a phone) with SSH from my desktop. And it just looks like a standard Linux system.
  • I’ve logged in to my Opensolaris from the device shell (X Terminal) with SSH and that works like normal.
  • I’ve connect to the VLC server on my server, with VLC, from the device, and while the navigation of the screen size differences will be ‘fun’, it works as expected
  • I’ve Blogged from the device using MaStory.
  • I’ve sent SMS and received SMS’s, I received Phone calls. (gee)
  • I’ve been fetching emails, full html support (must turn off images)
  • I’ve found my location with GPS.
  • I’ve loaded up some songs, and they sound great with the stereo speakers
  • I’ve listened to internet radio, that works great.
  • I’ve used the keyboard, and I’m getting faster the more I use it.
  • I’ve browsed the internet, and it’s amazing, although my blog identifies it as a PDA (must fix that)
  • I’ve used the device to diagnose a neighbors laptop WiFi connection
  • I’ve taken a photo, not so great on the first try, no image stabilization, but relatively sharp
  • I’ve managed to post a photo to my Flickr account.
  • I’ve synced up my calendar and contacts with my Nokia 6300 backup using the Nokia PC suite (as OVI suite does not work)
  • I’ve connected to AOL and Yahoo IM with the Pidgin application.

However there is another list, of frustrations;

  • Battery life really sucks, mostly because I’ve had everything turned on (default) and have not found all the places to ‘tune’ them to better setting.
  • I can NOT get the Twitter application Mauku to connect to Twitter
  • I can NOT get the weather with OMWeather it won’t connect
  • I couldn’t get the MaxRoam SIM to dial anyone, though I could SMS
  • Some Apps from the App Manager WILL NOT DOWNLOAD no matter what I do, and there no indication about why they won’t download
  • I can’t get the FaceBook application which came pre-installed, to actually install, or function. It’s the same with several of the ‘pre-installed’ apps, they just don’t work without being ‘installed’ and they won’t install.

I am currently using a Vodafone Pay-as-you-Go SIM and it does indicate that I am connected with 3G. I have NOT tested it for dataroaming, or performance. The MaxRoam SIM did indicate that I was connected to a 3.5G O2 network But like I mentioned, I couldn’t call anyone, only SMS. I assume that it was my ignorance of setting for the MaxRoam SIM.

As for the phone itself, I like it, it’s a bit heaver than I thought, but a great deal smaller, it is not really any wider or taller than a Samsung Tocco Lite, but it’s almost twice as thick.

The keyboard is very small and not really thumb friendly, I started out using my fingernails to type. Now I can feel the contours of the keys, it sped up my typing a bit. I have a clear snap on case I bought from Amazon a month ago, but the screen section obscures the upper row on the keyboard, so I don’t have it on, so just the back is attached.

The resistive touchscreen is very sensitive. I have a Palm T/X and I know! It is nothing like the resistive screens of the past. There is virtual NO give to the surface, and while you can tell that it is ‘softer’ than a capacitive touchscreen, it has a great deal more precision. Just try and draw something in the ‘sketch’ app or better yet, the XJournal application.

Overall I could say that it’s a keeper, a Geeky keeper, and looks like it will be a learned love. It does do what I need it to do, be a computed device, with a phone in it.

I’m sure there will be other revelations, but I may be too busy playing with my new toy.

UPDATE : I’ve managed to get the missing FaceBook App to install and Mauku and OMWeather are working after I changed some of the connection setting on device to fixed ip addresses on my WiFi router.

Keeping up appearances

I almost let my new resolution go today, but 23 hours in, I decided that that would be too much of a slip. so I twitted that my blog, only got 873,101 Hits, 273,506 pages and 32,382 Unique visitors last year. And I thought I owed you, the reader, something more. So if anything comes to mind, I’ll let you know.