Category Archives: gadget

ip-cam considerations

Security Camera SystemsIP cams are great. They keep an infrared eye on your stuff while you’re not around and find out what keeps pooping on your driveway (a cat it turns out). But sometimes things can get a little out of hand.

So here’s a list of things that will trigger the IP cam motion detection you didn’t think of:

  • Cats parading on your driveway like they own the place.
  • Spiders shaking their arachnid booty in front of the camera while doing their webbing thing.
  • Spider webs moving in the wind, up close. All f-ing night.
  • The occasional bird.
  • The occasional insect in mid-flight. Sometimes even a mot at night caught in the infrared beams.
  • Trees and bushes shaking their leaves and branches cause it’s windy as hell.
  • Shadows of trees and bushes shaking their leaves and breanches because it’s windy as hell and sunny too.
  • Rain showers. Possibly in combination with freaky winds blowing it horizontally in places you didn’t think rain could get at.
  • The sun playing peekaboo with some clouds, causing abrupt changes in light levels.
  • Car headlights lighting up random bushes, walls and other stuff as they pass by your house.
  • Reflections of cats in the cars shiny exterior (what a great excuse for not washing your car).
  • Reflections of moving clouds in a puddle on the concrete at the right lighting conditions.

So watch out where and how you send those automated alert emails from the camera. GMail for example doesn’t like it when you send hundreds of emails a day using one account. They find it rather spammy. When this happens, they can block you from sending any more messages that day. This really blows if you have an urgent mail to send. Other mail providers have similar rules.
Uploading the images to a remote FTP server is another option. But make sure you have plenty of space there, and download those images regularly if you don’t want to run out of space.

Photo by Armend Krasniqi, cc-licensed.

will windows phone 7 cut it?

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A few weeks ago I was in the lion’s den at Schiphol watching a presentation of the new to come Microsoft Windows Phone 7. It was supposed to be Windows Phone development thing, but it turned out to be more of a marketing rant than a geeky app development preview. Bummer.

But hey, since we where there, we might as well get a glance of that sexy (or so they want us to believe) new phone the MS guys came up with right? Well, apparently the phone’s hardware is going to be almost completely fixed. No matter what brand you’re getting the GPU, CPU, amount of RAM, OLED display (including resolution) and Windows buttons (like the Android buttons) are fixed. If it doesn’t that the specs set my MS, it’s not going to be a WinPhone. Manufactures do get to play with the design, a potential hardware keyboard and the on board camera which has to be at least 5 mega pixels. Apparently that’s what the manufacturers want. When it comes to competing it’ll be all about making a pretty phone then I guess.

That the hardware is fixed also makes it easier to to maintain the OS and the device drivers. Both of these will be in the hands of the Redmond lads which is interesting. Microsoft will be the one to blame when the phone doesn’t work as expected and not Motorola, HTC, Samsung or whoever built the damn thing. This could be a good thing for quality and could avoid issues like on Android phones where one brand of phone gets it’s OS updates a lot faster than the other.

When it comes to the OS features it’s what you expect and know of the competing phones. It has a native IE, searches using Bing and integrates as expected with a bunch of online Microsoft services like Live/Hotmail, XBox Live (if available in your country) and the Zune for music (if available in your country). This sort of makes me think about iTunes lock-in on the iPhone. It was to be expected MS wasn’t going to shy away from some vendor lock-in mechanism’s here and there right. This phone is going to integrate nicely with your Windows Media Player and your Windows 7 or Vista OS of course. Oh yeah and they support Flash. They made sure that was clear.

So what about apps? Well, they are mainly taking the iPhone route there. There’s going to be an app-store and they are going to approve every app published on it. All under the guise of quality assurance they are training a bunch of developers in India to routinely approve each submitted app before it gets unleashed on their phones. In fact, they are going to sign each app with a Microsoft certificate after it’s approved. This means that as an app developer you have to submit your source code as well. Creepy. Releasing apps through the Marketplace  isn’t going to be cheap either. 99$ a year. You then get 5 apps “free” and for each additional app you have to pay an extra 20$. So watch out how you version those apps I’d say. 99$ is the same cost as for access to the the iPhone app store. Google’s Android store is cheaper with only a 25$ to pay.

Developing the apps is done with Visual Studio. You can use the freely downloadable (but crippled) Visual Studio Express editions to develop a WP7 (WordPress 7? No! Windows Phone 7!) app using C# (or any other .NET language I suppose) and a WPF-like XAML for the user interface. For developers working in .NET this will make app development a breeze using their trusty and known toolkit. Integration with a bunch of online Microsoft services to make your apps location aware, do searches using Bing and use apps in the Azure cloud are also available. Interesting to see if these idea’s are going to give this phone the edge it’ll need to drag people away from their Android devices and iPhones.

Personally I’m hooked on Android. Both WP7 and iPhone reek of vendor lock-in to me which is enough to not even consider them. DRM’d Zune downloads and iTunes requirements annoy me, but since not everyone cares about these issues I’m sure there will be adopters for this as well.

If hipsters go for Apple phones and geeks go for Android phones, will mom and pop go for the Windows phones?

Photo by bitzcelt, cc-licensed.

mobile internet in belgium, who's the cheapest?

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Note for international readers: this post concerns data limits for Belgian mobile providers making this probably not very interesting if you don’t live in this small but lovely country. You are however free to brag in the comments on how cheap your data traffic is, as that will probably be the case.

Updated 28-8-2010 due to new Base surf-5 changes.

I’ve heard good things about Mobile Vikings lately. That they offer cheap data access for your smartphone for example. And they have a cool sounding name. I’m with the lads from Base myself and quite pleased with their service and pricing so far. But since the Mobile Vikings are actually using the Base network, I thought it was worth checking out who of the two is the cheapest and if it would be worth switching.

Comparing cellphone providers is always a bitch. So I’m keeping it simple here. I’m only looking at the costs for data traffic. Costs for text messages and phone calls are simply not included. If you feel like switching you’ll have to look into that as well to see if it’s still a good thing for your personal situation. For the iPad or netbooks some providers have specific formats which are also excluded.

There are basically two type of accounts:

  • The so-called “top-up account“, where you pay up front and get a fixed volume of bandwidth to spend. If all your megabytes are used up you fall back to a basic (and usually expensive) rate. The volume only lasts a month after which not spent but paid for megabytes are lost. Yes, they are clever like that.
  • The monthly fee is where you pay a fixed amount every month (hence the word “monthly”) and get a certain volume to spend on data. If you spend more, you are charged for the extra traffic on a fixed rate. This rate is usually more interesting than with the top-up accounts. Next month you start fresh again. Any bandwidth not spend is of course lost. Yes, they are also clever like that.

That roughly counts for most providers, but details may vary.

Now what did I compare?
What I wanted to know is: how much would I pay with each provider if I spend X megabyte a month.

So I slapped that in a grid calculating the price for each combination of volume in MB with each formula, going from 1 to 2500 MB.  Then I added some colours to make it a bit easier to spot where you get more surfing for your buck.

  • The cheapest ones shop up in green.
  • White is OK. It’s in between the cheap and expensive.
  • In orange you see numbers light up that are twice as high or bigger than the cheapest calculation for that volume. You have the right to feel screwed if you’re paying that much.

belgium mobile data costs

(Click for a bigger view, see links further to download the spreadsheet.)

What does this pretty coloured table show us?

  • What I see is that Mobile Vikings is indeed cheaper if you are a big spender (over 500 MB). Mobistar Max does well there too for volumes over 1 GB.
  • If you’re surfing at no more than 10 50 MB a month, Base is the winner. That however is extremely low for  a smartphone I’ve noticed. This is only good for very occasional use. Good for the occasional surf session.
  • Mobistar is the best below 150 MB apparently, with Telenet and Base as a close second.
  • You can also see that some formulas turn out crazy expensive at some point, so it’s better to steer away from those if you’re thinking about doing some serious surfing.
  • There is no clear winner. Depending on the volume, you can end up with the best or the worst.
  • Proximus is not a winner. Lot’s of orange over there.
  • One thing I see is that’s a good thing to stick to free WiFi, as these rates aren’t cheap at all.

Take a look for yourself to see what is the best option for you depending on your monthly spending rate.
You can take a more detailed look with this PDF, the original Open Office spreadsheet or this converted online Google Docs spreadsheet. Colour coding is missing there, as that doesn’t seem to convert.

Some notes on the spreadsheet:

  • The Mobile Vikings Jumbo pack isn’t in the table as it’s not interesting when looking at data only.
  • For the top-up account I assumed that as soon as the volume is spent, it’s topped up again using the same fee as before. So in this scenario you never pay the more expensive base rates charged per megabyte.
  • The lowest value is checked with a margin of 0.1 cent. That way Proximus doesn’t end up being the cheapest with their sneaky x,99 rates just by a single cent.
  • Pricing info came from the Base, Mobile Vikings, Telenet, Mobistar and Proximus websites of course.

Photo by svet, cc-licensed.

motorola milestone europe android 2.1 update

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I got myself a totally bad-ass Motorola Milestone Android phone a while ago. I was excited about it cause it looks so damn awesome with the black shiny display and all, and it’s got frigging Android on it so it rocks with all the apps and geekness it offers. After a while however I noticed some things are kinda buggy on it too and I started looking for some answers online.

At first I wanted to figure out if I was having a broken phone (hardware issue) which I could simply return or if it was the OS/software which was the problem. After a long search online finding lots of people with the same issues on Motorola Droid & Milestone phones (and also on HTC actually) it turns out I was plagued by some Android 2.1 problems. The good thing is Motorola is currently sending out updates for these problems for Milestone mobiles all over, including Europe. The annoying thing is that it’s taking them a while and it’s unclear which countries will be next in line. First off, here’s the bugs that are to be fixed in that update. If you’re having any of these issues, that patch should fix it:

  • Improved Stability Prevents the phone from random power cycling (turning off and on), and minimizes force closes in certain applications.
  • Alarm Improvements Resolves issues with alarm functionality.
  • Music Player Functionality
  • Eliminates accidental starting of music.
  • Audio Quality Enhancements Eliminates instances of choppy audio experienced by some users.
  • PIN Lock Improvements Allows users more flexibility in setting the PIN Lock timer when using Exchange email.
  • Proximity Sensor Enhancement
  • Provides more accurate proximity sensing during phone calls.
  • Flight Mode Enhancement
  • Ensures phone service is restored after leaving air-plane mode.
  • “My Location” Improvements
  • Resolves the issue of Google Maps failing to find “My Location” when “Use Wireless Network” is enabled without using GPS.

Quit something isn’t it? Personally I find the random reboots the most annoying, the failing clock a perfect excuse for turning up late at work and the accidental start of music the best way to scare the crap out of your cat (or yourself when you’re checking your mail in the middle of the night).

The best place to track info on where the update will be launched next for Europe is at the Motorola Europe Facebook account apparently. I’ve looked all over for this kind of info, including various twitter accounts (@motomobile, @motodev), their own owner support forums (unchecked by Motorola it seems) and even direct emails to the guys where I got the phone from. That last one was pretty crazy as they contacted Motorola UK which claimed to not even know about the restart issues which I described in quite  some detail.

For the world-wide upgrade schedule + the schedule for other mobiles like the Backflip, Dext and Quench you can look here, although it doesn’t contain a lot of details.

better flickr viewing through piclens

I’m not the kind of guy that falls easily for eye candy. I mean yeah, I do for a few seconds, but by then I find all the fancy effects slowing things down too much, and I end up turning them off. I installed the PicLens Firefox plugin after reading a tweet about it from someone and I have to say I’ve enjoyed it very much to scroll through Flickr search results, or people’s photo streams. It’s not only good lookin’, but it even allows you to navigate way smoother through the pictures than you can through the web site.

The cool thing about PicLens is the way it allows you to navigate through the pictures. It gives you a continuous stream of thumbnails you can scroll through in a smooth iPhone kind of way. I heard iPhones are hip nowadays, so that makes it cooler already doesn’t it? When you click an image, you get to take a better look at it, and if you double click it, you get it full screen. You can also scroll using your cursor key if you are viewing the images full screen. Quite intuitive, and nice to look at. Zooming in and out works through the scroll-wheel on your mouse, and the images you select or are at the center of your screen are loaded in detail, while others remain lower quality thumbnails. A smart way of only loading what you’re interested in, and allowing the app to perform smoothly.

The full screen images give you the impression that PicLens manages to fetch images at larger resolutions than you can through the web site directly sometimes, but I think it’s just a good resample algorithm that’s causing that. Never the less, it can turn a limited photostream into a sweet flow of gorgeous pictures.

Besides Flickr it also supports Google and Yahoo! image search, Facebook, Picasa, deviantART, Photobucket and plenty more. Give it a whirl, you’ll probably like it.

howto get your cell phone serial number

I just came across this bit of info, which is quite interesting and useful in the unfortunate event your cell phone would get stolen. Using your cell phones serial number you can have your network operator block the phone the next time it logs on to the network. Even when the petty thief uses a different sim card in the phone, it will not unlock, rendering the phone useless to the thief.

Nice!

Your serial number is usually printed somewhere on your original packaging, but in case you have a second hand phone, or ditched the packaging, there’s a way to extract it from your phone by entering the following code:

*#06#

Quit easy isn’t it? The serial number should now appear on your screen for you to write down for safe keeping. I’m not sure on how many phones this code works, but it seems to be working on all the major brands so far.

If you happen to know any more of these cell phone hacks, feel free to post them in a comment. I’m always interested in tricks like that.

pointless 3d desktop fancyness

my desktop, clean and simple, just how I like itI came across this link to something new and super-shiny called BumpTop 3D. It’s a 3D representation of a real desktop (like on top of your desk, where that word came from in the first place), where you can manipulate files (the digital ones) by moving them, and piling them like you would on a real desk.

Neato.

Well at least it looks neato. But I don’t see the point really. I keep my desktop as clear as possible when it comes to shortcuts and files, so why on earth would I feel like piling them on top of each other, making it only harder to find them right?

While imitate a real life mess into a digital desktop if you can sort everything out with a good (desktop) search tool. Like Google desktop search, or any of the other around which are probably nearly equally good. That’s the kind of power the digital realm can offer, and frankly I wouldn’t mind some more search functionality in real life either.

Think of a big cabinet at work where everybody simply dumps his files and documents in. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just search that cabinet in under 5 seconds and get what you where looking for? Now that would be innovative.