Blog of me. I’m Alexander Jones.

28 August 2007

Leeds Reading Festival

Why would anybody want to go to a reading festival, in Leeds of all places?

And why is it sponsored by Carling? Carling make lager, not books.

World has gone mad. Kill me please.

24 August 2007

Cameras, phones, and all that jazz

I've been the proud owner of a Sony Ericsson K750i since July 2005. I bought the phone as an upgrade to my old Nokia 6100, but mainly as my first digital camera - just in time for Global Gathering. The phone sports a 2.0 megapixel camera and has taken thousands upon thousands of exceptional quality photos over the years, many of which I post to Flickr and DontStayIn.

By far the most important thing to credit for the quality of my nightclubbing shots has been the MXE-60 flash that clips on to the bottom end of the phone. As a proper xenon flash, it gets much better results than a more typical, white LED. Furthermore, the distance from the camera lens to the flash is sufficient enough to guarantee that you never get any "red-eye". Ever. This is something which cannot be said of newer cameras that come with a built-in xenon flash, including even Sony's newer models. These cameras typically have to employ red-eye-reduction routines that make taking a picture a five-second, multi-flash ordeal.

In July 2006, my contract came to an end, and I was now in a position to upgrade my phone. Incredibly conscious of how awesome my current setup was, I was unable to find anything that suited me. So I put off upgrading for a while, every now and again checking to see if anything new was worth the upgrade.

Fast-forward another twelve months, and I still hadn't found anything that really pleased me. Instead, I had become obsessed with the prospects of the OpenMoko (.org) project - a project whose commercial arm (.com), backed by Taiwanese electronics manufacturer extraordinaire, FIC, will soon be mass-producing and selling the world's first, truly open mobile device.

The product is the Neo1973, and what makes it so special is that all of its hardware and software is completely open. Hardware specifications and software source code are all freely available, meaning that I can make whatever tweaks I want to my phone, without having to do any prohibitively time-consuming and illegal reverse-engineering.

This is a completely orthogonal approach to what usually happens, where hardware is secret, and software is locked down. Cellular network operators sometimes even remove functionality from the original software in order to benefit themselves. Such an example of this is a certain UK operator removing a certain mobile phone's ability to use uploaded MP3 files as ringtones, forcing the user to pay a premium for "mobile content".

Typically, phones will have Java (J2ME) support that allows you to run special Java applications on them, including small games and utilities, as well as more useful things like Google Maps. Unfortunately, the kinds of things that these applications can do is pretty restricted. Being able to develop real software for the Neo1973 means that I can for example, write a program that takes offline voice mail for me when I miss a call. That's right - no more being extorted by 901 just because you couldn't get to your phone in time. You can bet that if operators could lock that down, they would. But they can't, so nnerrrrr.

The device does not require a nonsensical, proprietary charger or USB connector that retails for £35. Instead, it uses an industry-standard USB cable that can be replaced for about £2 and found anywhere you care to look. It's so simple that it's unbelievable to think that more phones don't do this.

And naturally, the phone is not locked to a single network, unlike the AT&TPhone iPhone. Plug in any GSM SIM card and go.

The reality of the situation, however, is that the Neo1973 is far from perfect. The device lacks a camera, 3G, and even a sane place to store the stylus. In fact, it's obvious that they just admitted defeat with the stylus issue and decided to make it a gadget in its own right - it features a pen, a torch and a freaking laser pointer! So Rome wasn't built in a day, but at least you get to laser the eyes off anyone who doubts that you have the coolest phone on the planet.

So, it has become apparent in this day and age that mobile devices are all having a bit of an identity crisis. Mobile phones, PDAs, audio players, gaming devices, cameras and lasers are all suddenly becoming one and the same class of product. The German word for "mobile phone" translates back to "handy", and I see that as a much more fitting description of these technological pieces of madness that radiate our thighs and tie us to our chargers.

Back to my problem, then. I currently have one, aging "handy", which does my mobile-phone-ing, my camera-in-your-face-ing, my FM-radio-ing, my music-playing, my Google-Maps-ing, and once in a while, my SEGA®-Super-Real-Tennis-ing. If I get a Neo1973, I would definitely need to buy a camera, and would definitely miss the convenience of having an integrated bananaphone. I mean cameraphone. I think I should probably stop thinking too hard about this and go to bed.

14 August 2007

Mmmmm, pie

Pie pie pie pie pie pie pie!

So I just hacked up the Ubuntu Notification Daemon theme to make the pie chart drawing a bit nicer:

Before and after, top and bottom:
Comparison 1

And again... before and after, left and right:
Comparison 2