Yet another missed FOSDEM

Jan 14, 2009 / 0 comments

I managed to go to FOSDEM in 2005. I enjoyed myself. I'd like to go again. No, really, I would.

In 2006 I drew the short straw while working for Black Cat; Simon and Dom went, I remained the person on the same landmass as the servers.

In 2007 I had a wedding to go to.

Last year I was too disorganised to sort out suitable transport from Northern Ireland.

I'd resigned myself to having to take off the Friday and Monday this year and fly. Except it's been moved to near the start of February, which thus conflicts with an annual dinner that gets to have higher priority. Bah.

Maybe I'll manage 2010, but I'll not be holding my breath.

Life with the Google/T-Mobile G1

Jan 12, 2009 / 0 comments

I've previously mentioned my desire for a new smartphone. I'd been eyeing the G1 since its release, with the main factor stopping me from going ahead the need for a T-Mobile contract. They don't have any 3G coverage north of Belfast that I've seen and I'm very happy with my £20/month O2 Simplicity contract and don't have any need to pay twice that. Luckily Katherine decided to get me one for my birthday, and after some confusion involving it going to Norwich (always remember to update your Paypal delivery address as well as the card address when you move home, folks. Oh, and your Amazon wishlist address too; it's different than your primary address and I've been bitten by that myself in the past) it turned up the weekend before Christmas.

I have a UK spec T-Mobile G1. First step was to get it unlocked for use on O2. I used Unlock G1 - they weren't the cheapest, but I'd seen them recommended on a few G1 news sites and they had a helpful guide on their site about activating without a T-Mobile SIM. They claim a code within 2 business days. I ordered at 19:30 UTC on a Saturday night and had a code by 21:00 that worked first time.

Once the O2 SIM was working I needed to check if the phone was easily rootable. I typed reboot and was rewarded with a rebooting phone. I had the RC7 UK firmware release, which still had the bug. I followed the android-dls.com guide to keeping root and upgraded to the RC8 release. With that out of the way I could start to actually have a play.

The screen is lovely. I'm used to the high res E70 screen and have been disappointed at the number of phones that only do 320x240. 480x320 is probably the minimum I'd want (if I can't manage an 80 character wide SSH session I'm not really interested) though obviously if HTC ever get round to a Touch Pro with Android I might be tempted... Touch aspect is perfectly responsive, as is the interface in general - while I don't use a phone that much day to day my mobile is the only number I give out so it tends to be the only phone I use. This means that the ability to make/receive calls/sms is the most important feature for me (it's odd having to say this, but I know people who've claimed to love phones but on further probing reveal it's a great PDA but dire for calls and they have to carry something else for that). The G1 performs admirably for my needs.

The built in apps are good too. The browser is much better than the E70. I don't know if that's the bigger screen (though the resolution isn't much different) or a faster processor, but browsing on my mobile is a much more realistic proposition now. I've only played briefly with the iPhone browser and I wouldn't say the G1 was any better, but it's certainly good. Calendaring is functional too and copes with multiple Google Calendars as you'd hope. Shame it doesn't deal with anything else, but for the moment this suits my needs. I haven't used it for email; I prefer to ssh to my colo box and run mutt. Contacts are mostly ok, though I have a few gripes I'll mention later.

I haven't felt the need to install many apps. The connectbot ssh client was an obvious one and is pretty nice (main missing feature is UTF-8 and there's a feature request for it raised already). I've installed a few games off the Android Market, as well as Barcode Scanner (does what you'd think) and CellFinder (displays your location and which mobile cell you're using; it's a bit scary how few O2 masts there seem to be near my house). Installation from the market has been a breeze and it's nice to be able to flick through what's available. With my E70 it was always a real pain to go and hunt down Symbian apps (especially when S60 3rd Edition was new) and install them.

Before I start on my gripes, let me clarify that I am very happy with this phone. I wanted something with a keyboard that was functional and this fits the bill. It's a definite improvement over my E70 and I feel it's much more responsive than any of the recent Windows Mobile devices I've encountered. Also the battery life hasn't proved to be an issue - from articles I'd read I'd expected to have difficulty getting a day out of it, but in general I can easily get 2 and have had 3. Maybe my usage patterns aren't as heavy as everyone else, but that's fine for me (I remember my 9000i Communicator which really was a case of having to charge it every night).

The first issue I hit was the contacts system. Google have tied this into GMail and it really seems to have been a last minute thought process, perhaps along the lines of "Where can we stick this? Oh, hang on, people have email contacts, how about there?". Trying to move my contacts over from my E70 I was surprised to find that there's no way to import a vCard. The only option is CSV. WTF? I'm not saying vCard is perfect, but it's pretty much what we have as a standard method of contact interchange. I ended up writing some Perl to crudely parse the vCards and output CSV. I shouldn't have had to.

Then again, maybe the issue is that Google know their contacts system is a bit lacking. You'd think a company with online calendaring and contacts would be able to cope with things like birthdays, tying them together between contacts and displaying them in your calendar, wouldn't you? They can't. I can't see any way to store a birthday or anniversary with a contact. Nor a home page. The contacts system is the one area that the E70 outshines the G1.

I miss an onscreen keyboard more than I thought I would (ie at all). I understand this should be coming in the next release, which will make things like quick replies to SMSes much easier (there's no point opening the keyboard for a "Nearly there" response).

The use of only a single APN for internet access and MMS is a bit troublesome; I haven't managed to get this to work properly with O2 - either I have fully working 'net or fully working MMS with only web seeming to work. I haven't played with the settings very much though and I spent 7 months without MMS even enabled on my O2 account, so it's not high priority. Also something I understand is being fixed upstream.

I'd like a way to see the next calendar event on my home screen. I may just be missing how to do this, but it was a nice feature on the E70.

I haven't played much with the camera, but I get the impression it's pretty typical of the average mobile phone; ie not great. Not a problem for me, but don't expect this to replace a compact digital camera.

While I accept this phone isn't for everyone I think it's pretty much what I'm looking for in terms of what's on the market today. There's nicer hardware out there, but a large part of what makes this phone is the Android software. I look forward to seeing new phones in the coming year making use of it, hopefully leading to a decent selection by the time I need a new phone again. :)

Role addresses

Jan 7, 2009 / 0 comments

When I ran Black Cat we preferred customers to use role addresses (e.g. support@, sales@) rather than contact us directly. This had the advantage that more people got the mail, increasing the likelihood of it getting answered swiftly. However some people preferred to email one of us directly, even for trivial matters. Having a preference for using role addresses myself I can sort of understand why people did this; often there is a poor or non existent response from a company's generic email addresses, leaving no choice but to try and email a known contact. However in our case it would have led to a poorer chance of timely response.

These days I don't have to worry about these things in quite the same way, but there are a few things I'm on what could be considered a "role" address for. And still I get emailed directly about things. Which is still annoying. So please, if you are considering emailing me about something that isn't personal, consider whether you should be using a role address rather than emailing me directly.

(This semi rant brought to you as a way of testing if my MovableType upgrade worked)

Debian: King of procrastination

Dec 15, 2008 / 0 comments

Once again Debian is close to release. And once again we're trying to find ways to avoid doing so. Using a technique we've employed before; firmware.

Social Contract #4 states that "Our priorities are our users and free software". The hard liners believe that it's in our users' best interests that we ensure Debian is 100% Free, whether that be regarding software, documentation or firmware. In the long run I think they're right. Access to firmware source (assuming that there's also access to suitable tools for building it and producing an image the hardware will accept, which is a fairly big assumption) enables us to continue supporting and improving hardware support long after a manufacturer has discontinued a device. It enables us to understand the behaviour of a new device better (allowing better support which makes it a more attractive purchase). It potentially lets us appropriate a device for new and exciting purposes the manufacturer never imagined (which may again increase the sales of the device). Access to firmware source is a good thing in the long term, for the consumer, the driver author and the manufacturer.

In the short term we I think we need to be pragmatic. We can say that we won't release until all non-free firmware is purged, but who knows how long that will take, and once we've done so how much hardware will we actually be able to support out of the box? What benefit is it to our users if we ship them a distribution that doesn't support their hardware and is already out of date because we spent so long removing that support? Wouldn't we be better to say "We're aware of some firmware issues. We're going to keep working on spliting such blobs out to their own easily installable packages that live outside main. We promise to continue improving the situation for each release (as we have already done since etch), but in the interests of our users we will not hold up a release at this stage of the process." Obviously plenty of people disagree with that, but I don't believe that pragmatism is against the Social Contract and I'd like to think that even our users who are fervently against firmware blobs would accept that there's a tradeoff to be had against release dates.

Anyway. I doubt I've changed anyone's mind with the above, so I'm going to go and destack the dishwasher and reply to the latest mail from my NM.

We need a STFU option

Dec 8, 2008 / 0 comments

The Debian Project recognises that on occasion the General Resolution process is dominated by a vocal minority of the project members, while the majority are uninterested in the topic under discussion. Without wishing to curtail the democratic process it is felt that it should be possible for the silent majority to indicate its desire to move on from the topic of a GR rather than continuing to rehash the same arguments ad infinitum. In order to facilitate this the project resolves to add a further option to all ballets, "No Further Discussion".

It is hoped that in the event of the "No Further Discussion" option being the winner of any vote that the project as a whole will accept that discussion of the subject of the vote is not considered to be a worthwhile use of project time or resources, and that we should therefore concentrate on more important matters.

(I thought about signing this post, but decided against it)

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