Archive for the ‘lj-xp’ Category

American Sizes

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Hopefully I should be flying back to the UK this afternoon. So as a leaving thought, I have a proposal for American restaurants.

Please place some form of indicator next to each item on the menu to give the reader an idea of exactly how much for they are ordering. I propose the following 1 to 5 scale:

1. You will still be hungry after eating this and wonder if this was just a starter.
2. A good meal, but you will still have space for desert.
3. You will finish this, but feel quite fat for doing so and feel guilty until you have had a good walk to exercise some of it of.
4. We did not put the phrase “for 2 to share” in the title because then you would order less food. The cooks will probably laugh at you if you order one each.
5. Seriously, this is just obscene. Not even a law court would believe this is just for one person.

Think it would catch on?

Has the world forgotten how to make decent laptops?

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

I need a new laptop. While it is true that I am in possession of a number of laptops, they are all at least 4 years old and “a bit slow” does not really cover it any more. My main machine is a laptop with a 2GHz Pentium M and 2 GB RAM and is near-permanently-docked to a 24″ monitor. Eclipse is tolerable but not nice and HD video tends to just not play.

So I have been looking for something new. I am looking for something to last me the next few years and I am prepared to spend to get quality. Provisionally I have given myself a budget of about 1000 GBP, so I am expecting something really quite decent. And I am prepared to go higher if I think its worth it. However after a couple of months of looking I have failed to find anything all at that I want but can’t afford, let alone something I want to buy.

Summary of my requirements, in roughly descending priority order:

  • Must not come with a propitiatory OS. I plan to use Ubuntu and don’t want to pay tax to either MS or Apple.
  • Graphics card that plays nice with Ubuntu. (nvidia or Intel graphics preferred).
  • Decent battery life; at least 4 hours. There is no point carrying round a laptop with no power.
  • Decent CPU speed – at least an i5, though an i7 would be nice.
  • Should be reasonably small / light. I have done 17″ laptops, now I want something I am likely to want to carry.
  • Decent build quality. The machine should feel well made and build to last.
  • Keyboard should be nice to type on, have a decent layout and not be missing any import keys. Must have Home, End, PgUp and PgDn keys. Bottom-left key must be Ctrl (NOT Fn).
  • HDMI video output port. Its going to be docked a lot, so I want decent video quality on an external screen.
  • x86, 4+ GB RAM, 200+ GB HDD.
  • No CD drive. I never use it, so it would just wast space.

Now to me, these requirements are fairly modest and easily within the bounds of currently technology. Though as far as I can tell, this machine just does not exist.

OS tax
The first major problem I have hit is OS tax. So far as I can tell, it is near *impossible* to build a laptop without paying for a pre-installed OS. I can not see free OSs like Ubuntu *EVER* gaining any meaningful market share while this remains the case. Very very few users are ever going to use a free, unsupported OS when they have just paid for a supported one.
I am very surprised that the EU have not had a go at MS for being anti-competitive, though I suspect the blame would be tricky. I am sure MS would argue that they just make their OS available to manufactures and its the manufactures, who choose to only supply one OS and not supply hardware without an OS.
Or perhaps MS subsidise it so much that the hardware would be more expensive without an OS pre-installed?

Battery life
So few manufactures ever give enough priority to this, but what is the point of a laptop form factor if its not portable?

Build quality
People have been making laptops for quite a few years now any yet they are always bendy, feel cheaply made and creek a bit when poked. Apple are the only manufacturer I know of to actually put a laptop in a metal box. While I would never actually buy one, the metal bodied Apple laptops give a really nice sense of something that has been thought through and well made.

Keyboard
Apple is the prime offender here for stripping out a whole load of useful keys, removing the possibility of buying one and running Ubuntu on it. Which is a real shame, ‘cos the hardware is really quite nice otherwise.

All this leaves me with a feeling that the world has forgotten how to make decent laptops. I wonder if laptop manufacturers are scared they will end up like phone makers? Selling all their hardware through service providers who attach them as freebees in contracts. And with the market being largely determined by which models service providers decide to offer. Its possible. Already a number of netboooks are given away with 3G contracts.

This leaves me very sad and still lacking a decent laptop.

When life hands you lemons…

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

… make lemonade.

Along with many others, I am stranded until a certain antisocial geological event gets over its angst. But on the bright side, San Francisco is defiantly near the top of my list of places to get stranded in.

Though my brother wins the prize of most failed attempt to fly home. He was scheduled to fly home a few days before the rest of us (due to prior commitments) and was almost half way home when the first eruption occurred. His flight got turned round and resulted in an 8 hour flight to where he started.

Just over a day later he was on standby for a flight from SF to Glasgow, Scottish airspace having just cleared. He just managed to get a seat on the flight and we all thought he might actually make it this time. So we did some shopping and went out for dinner. Around dessert time a phone goes “beep-beep” – a text message: “Got turned around again. Meet you at the hotel?” Another (4 hour) flight to where he started, because the volcano erupted *again*.

So we are all still in sunny SF and likely to remain here for some time. But as I said before, could be worse.

Though now I need to email my managed and explain my situation. Ironically, I had chosen to travel with my work laptop to guard against getting stranded due to industrial action (if forced, I could try and work remotely).

So instead of flying home, tomorrow morning we are going to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge and find brunch somewhere on the other side of the bay.

Funny old world really.

Arduino serial pain

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

So I have been trying to make my newly acquired Arduino (mega) talk to this old 16×2 char, serial-interface LCD display I have.

This should have been fairly easy – you just feed the LCD ASCII over serial and it displays it. An Arduino can output ASCII over serial directly. Should be easy.

The short story is “its a bit messed up”. The slightly long story goes like this:

I started by trying to print the character ‘a’ to it. Logically I tried:
Serial1.print(‘a’);
The display showed “0”. I also tried:
Serial1.print(97, BYTE);
Serial1.write(97);
Same result.

After a lot of scrabbling in the dark, I finally tried:
Serial1.write(61);
And got an ‘a’ character to appear.

Seems something is getting confused between DEC and HEX. I tried driving the LCD from my PC’s serial port and it worked as expected. I tried reading the serial data from the Arduino back into a serial port on my PC and it looked ok. But for some reason when I send the display DEC from the Arduino it reads it as HEX. If I try using the hex literal in the Arduino code:
Serial1.write(0x61);
I get ‘0’ on the display again.

I have probably missed something obvious somewhere, but I have no idea what. I have a backup plan that involves using some form of nasty conversion, but I would prefer to avoid it.

Morrigan alpha 3 somewhat delayed

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

My current dev build of Morrigan has a lot of new stuff compared to the a2 release. In theory it now matches all major functionality of terra and I have indeed now migrated to using Morrigan as my primary media player. And for the most part it is going well.

I would really like to now make another release, but I am hesitating for 2 reasons:
1. So far as I know, the only people who are going to test it use Linux, and the Linux build has a load of what I would class as really annoying defects, listed here.
2. I keep finding more bugs. Fixed 3 more tonight.

But it is working quite nicely on XP. So in light of point 2, I will keep using it myself and resist adding new features (I need a brake anyway) until I have gone a good length of time (5 days to a week) without finding any further serious defects. Then I will package up what ever I have and call it “alpha 3”, regardless of the known issues.

I guess this is how all software releases end up – its about know that none of your existing defects are blocking and that no new issues are arising.

Not that I really expect anyone else to really care about Morrigan, and I say this without sarcasm or remorse. This project was never intended to be any more that an opportunity for me to upgrade terra and get better at developing an actual product. Oh, and to prove to myself that I could do it. :D