Thursday, November 22, 2007

Asus eee PC and Packard Bell Easynote XS

Earlier this week two very interesting reviews were posted: While Steve Paine (aka chippy) from published his video-review of the Packard Bell Easynote XS (which is the first retail product based on VIA Technologies' NanoBook reference design) Mike Chin from posted an article about the Asus eee PC that's half review / half editorial. Both reviews are definitely well recommended if you're interested in what's going in the low-cost mobile-computing market!

While I had some hands-on time with a VIA NanoBook during Computex and VTF back in June I had only had a chance to play around with an Asus eee PC sample this Tuesday. The main issue I had with it (and it's the same story on the Easynote XS) is the low 800px x 480px display. While for example the start-screen on the eee PC is well adapted to the low resolution it does happen that the "okay" and "cancel" button on a system or browser pop-up or other dialogue window aren't visible! Other than that the eee PC is certainly a good product, especially the keyboard is much better than anticipated which should really make that a very good machine for getting work done on-the-road.

Even though both laptops are basically in the same device-category (somewhere between a sub-notebook and a UMPC) there're actually quite different beasts. Personally I'd be more inclined to go for an Asus eee PC as for my requirements (mainly browsing the web and working on text-documents while on the road) the Easynote XS doesn't seem to be superior. In the past few days I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would use such a small computing-device and I concluded that it wouldn't really be able to replace my notebook.

Yes, I'd much prefer to bring something small and light-weight to my university lectures. Yes, 99% of the things I do during OLPC related meetings can be done on either of these machines. Yes, when working on university projects and assignments at a collegue's place they would also work out just fine.

But no, I'd still use my regular 15.4" notebook during events such as CeBIT and Computex because it provides me with a better performance for rendering videos, image editing, multi-tasking, etc. And no, when spending a weekend back home with my family neither the eee PC nor the Easynote XS would cut it, I'd definitely want the more potent notebook, even if it just were for watching videos on the larger screen during the train-ride. And most importantly, no, such a small device would never be able to replace my current notebook as my main machine.

Anyway, even though I'm not quite sure whether I should move in now or later the low-cost mobile-computing space is definitely one to keep a close eye on during the next 6 to 12 months because I'm sure we're going to see many exciting products there!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Microsoft Customer Support - I'm loving it! (part 2)

I guess some of you remember my earlier rant about my issues with installing Live Writer and Microsoft's Customer Support. Well, the other day I finally had some time to follow the steps outlined in the latest reply from their support-team which basically asked for me to provide them with the log-files created during the installation. So I took them and attached them to the following e-mail:
Hello again,

I followed all the suggested steps mentioned below unfortunately I'm still having the same issue with not being able to install Windows Live Writer.

I have attached a copy of the log-file and hope that helps you to be able to resolve this problem

Thanks in advance,
I immediatly received a reply telling me that the *.log file that they had asked me to send them couldn't be processed by the system because "the attachment extension was not valid". So I renamed the files to *.log.txt and sent it off again.

The next morning I woke up and had the following reply in my inbox (my emphasis):

Hello Christoph,

Thank you for contacting Windows Live Writer Technical Support. My name is MNO and I understand that you encountered an error message when installing the Windows Live Writer. I appreciate that you have taken the time to write this to us.

Christoph, after reviewing the details you provided, I want to let you know that your inquiry is quite isolated and unique. I will be forwarding this case to our product specialists, who will then engage additional resources to further investigate this matter. They will be getting back to you once an update becomes available. Thank you for your patience.

We appreciate your continued support as we strive to provide you with the highest quality service available. Thank you for using Windows Live Writer.


Windows Live Writer Technical Support

Great, I guess I was the one with the lucky straw which means that my issue is both isolated and unique! Plus after all those e-mails telling them that I can't get that damn thing to install on my box I'm still being thanked for "using Windows Live Writer". Kicking me when I'm down?

Anyway, I haven't heard back from Microsoft since November, 12th and I'm not holding my breath for a quick solution. I guess I'll just have to wait for a new version of the software and hope that they fix whatever bug is keeping me from being able to install Live Writer.

Consider this case closed until further notice...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Power-Geek Alert: The driver behind NASA's Mars Rovers

Just a really quick one to let you know about a very interesting interview with one of the guys who drives the NASA's Mars Rovers. I think that quote says it all:
Would you describe your job as a "dream tech-job"?

Yes. Oh, my, yes. I've often said that I have the best job on two planets, and you can believe it.
Talk about a real power-geek!

Made For Each Other: Zonbu & Flickrvision

Apart from watching all the videos I mentioned before I spent most of my afternoon and evening using the Zonbu system to see what it performs like in several usage scenarios. While testing various websites and online-services I remembered Flickrvision and decided to give it a shot. Flickrvision is basically a mash-up that overlays photos that people are uploading on Flickr on a Google Maps representation of the world. (There's also a 3D view of the globe but I don't really like it that much.)

The cool thing about the Zonbu system is that it allows me to run applications and services like this one on my 2nd CRT monitor (see the photo below) without having to put up with any fan-noise, real power-consumption (~10W) or having to worry about configuration or anything. You just hook up the Zonbu to your monitor and peripherals, hit the power-button and you're done!

I think I'm going to be using the Zonbu for more of these single-task situations, whether it's listening to web-radio, following a couple of RSS feeds or maybe just displaying my own holiday photos. (Even though I'm not sure whether seeing your holiday photos out of the corner of your eye allows for any productivity to happen!)

It's a good Sunday for (online-)videos

Ahhh, what a great Sunday to be watching some online-videos... Given that I was quite busy these past couple of days I haven't really had the time to check out the latest episodes of all my favourite (online-) shows. So while I'm writing this I'm downloading the latest episodes of CrankyGeeks and Diggnation for my viewing pleasure. Plus the latest Scrubs episode is also being transfered to my hard-drive as we speak. That should make for a good 2 hours of watching amusing videos instead of completing my university assignment in "functional programming" (yes, it's as amusing as it sounds!).

One question that I'm currently pondering is whether I should add any of the ChannelFlip shows to my RSS reader. While I really enjoy reading Wil Harris' blog none of the 3 shows they produce over there at the moment have really managed to capture me. While Play:Digital is certainly an excellent show my interest in video-games is so low at the moment that I can't bring myself to watch it. Unwired on the other hand is too focused on gadgets in my opinion and by the time they actually produce a show about something I'm interested in I've read all about it on another website anyway. I haven't watched their third show, Discus, so far but I don't really like movie-reviews to begin with (except in 2000 ~ 2001 when I regularly watched the BBC World's "talking movies") so it's not something I'm really interested in.

One last video that nearly forgot to mention here is the latest one from Technology Review: It's called Twitter and Ambient Intimacy. I haven't watched it so far but in general TR's videos are extremely interesting and always talk about or provide a new perspective of things that I haven't thought about.

Well, off to watch some videos... Have a great Sunday everyone!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Unpacking Videos

If you're into technology as much as I am I'm sure that you've stumbled across at least one "unpacking" video in the past months. In case you haven't had the pleasure this is the appropiate moment to ask "what is an unpacking video?"

Well, it's basically a video of someone unpacking one thing or another, most of the times some hip new techno-gadget. I have to admit that I don't know exactly when or how that whole thing started but it has certainly spread in the past months and these days there aren't too many tech-sites that haven't done an unpacking video.

In case you're interested in watching such a video I'd suggest you head over to YouTube and simply start looking for "unpacking" but if you're lazy you can also click this link and watch a video of some guy unpacking his iPhone.

If you've clicked that link above and actually watched the video you've just wasted 5 minutes of you life. Why? Because you could have gathered the same information from looking at Apple's website and the iPhone's "what's in the box" page:

• iPhone
• Stereo Headset
• Dock
• USB Power Adapter
• Dock Connector to USB Cable
• Documentation
• Cleaning/Polishing cloth

There are even fancy photos of everything there so you can even get a good look and what the design of the box looks like! (In case that's your cup of tea.)

What I'm trying to say here is that at least from my point of view an unpacking video is a real waste of time. This is a case were using video as a medium doesn't really have any advantages over a text and some photos. So in my book looking at that list and the corresponding photos above gives you the same information plus it only takes 60 seconds instead of spending 5 minutes listening to someone's (mostly useless) comments. Some might argue that watching an actual human being tell you something fulfills an emotional need but I don't really see that...

Moreover it seems to me that making such a video is also a waste of time. Again here it really depends on how you do it because obviously some random dude turning on his camera and filming himself unpack something for YouTube won't take that long. But if you're running a tech-website you need to have some kind of narrative, add an intro and title, render it, upload it to various video-platforms, tag it and publish it somewhere. I'd say that the whole process takes about 30 to 60 minutes. Compare that to taking a couple of photos, writing the necessary text and publishing that (that certainly doesn't take longer than 10 minutes) and you're looking at a real waste of time.

Why do I know that? Because earlier this week I spent more than an hour filming, editing and polishing an unpacking video starring the Zonbu for a review over on EPIACENTER... Due to the fact that I don't have the intro here on my machine (and I couldn't find it on our server) I've asked Sascha to finish the video and it will soon be available via EPIACENTER, YouTube and host of other video-websites. Then you'll also get a chance to see yours truly wasting everyone's time with an unpacking video...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

OLPC News 100 Laptop XO Fundraising Drive or more specifically Wayan Vota and Alexandre Van de Sande from OLPCnews have started a fund-raising campaign to support one local OLPC effort via the OLPC's "give many" initiative!

I'm not going to go into any details here because you can find them in Alexandre's article but basically they want to collect $21.400 which leaves exactly $20.000 after the processing fees of $1.400 have been paid. Thanks to "give many" 20K gives you 100 X0s, 60 of them will go to whatever educational institution you (or rather your local OLPC "learning club" - as they call it) decide on and 40 go towards a school designated by OLPC. The great thing is that the readers will have a say in the decision of where the 60 laptops as they're involved in the decision and discussion process surrounding the campaign.

They have even created a very nice video to promote their efforts and I've embedded it here for your viewing pleasure:

I certainly think this is an outstanding initiative and once I receive my money for December I'll certainly be making my $100 contribution via their Fundable page.

However I also have to add that this initiative shows that there's clearly a need to improve the current distribution- and purchasing-system that OLPC is using at the moment. I definitely think there are many aspects that need to be improved. The three most important examples for me include:

(a) bring "give 1, get" 1 to Europe and the rest of the world
(b) improve communication with the public about G1G1, especially when it comes to details such as estimated (and realistic) time of shipping
(c) set up a program that allows developers, educators, universities, students, local groups (such as OLPC Austria, etc. to have easy and reliable access to X0 hardware when needed [on a sidenote I'd say that the immediate demand we here at OLPC Austria have in order to improve and facilitate our own developments and to support various groups that are forming at universities are at least 10 ~ 15 laptops; however I also know that OLPC is currently working on setting up a new developers program and I hope to have more information about that in ~2 weeks]

Anyway, I hope you'll also support the "OLPC News 100 Laptop XO Fundraising Drive" for now!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Some more XO testing...

So after playing a bit of SimCity in the afternoon and heading to another OLPC Austria meeting I now spent the past 3 hours trying a couple of other things on the X0s.

First of all I followed Walter Bender's advice on installing the Adobe Flash codec to see whether that would enable me to watch Flash-based online-videos. I went to the Adobe Flash Player Download Center Linux (x86) and downloaded the .tar.gz file. Then I followed the instructions from the Adobe site and installed the codec on one of the B4s (don't forget to close browse while you do that). Afterwards I checked whether the installation had gone well by typing in about:plugins into the browse address-bar to get an overview of all the installed plugins. Afterwards I went over to YouTube to check whether that update made any difference. And indeed it did! After looking for Johnny Cash's Hurt video and looking at the loading animation for some time the video actually started playing. It was quite choppy and the CPU utilization quickly maxed out at 100% so the result was closer to a slideshow than a 25fps experience. The sound was smooth most of the time but did drop out occasionally. I also checked out other video-sharing sites and video-podcasts such as, CrankyGeeks and Inside One Laptop per Child: Episode 04 by the Red Hat Magazine, all with the same result. Changing the quality of the videos to "low" did seem to speed things up, but only barely so. So for now I'd say online-video is doable but it's not going to be a smooth ride. I do expect that to change though as Gnash gets improved (and Walter Bender also mentioned that "There is a more recent one that will be shipped with the G1G1 machines").

The next thing I tried was to upload a video to YouTube that I wanted to record with the X0's camera and microphone. And while both devices appeared to be recognized (at least that's what I assume by looking at the options) the YouTube recorder says that the video-device isn't ready for recording. So I decided to work around that limitation by recording the video with the regular record activity in order to upload it directly. Unfortunately (and only after I had uploaded the file) YouTube told me that .ogg isn't supported by their platform. I hate to disappoint you but apparently there's no way to broadcast my wisdom via an X0 at the moment.

Seeing that that this was a bit of a frustracting experience I decided to test how well Flash based online-games would work. Never having played one before I just choose some of the first results I found via Google and gave them a try. The experience was quite similar to the Flash videos in that things did work but were a bit on the slow side. Not a dealbreaker but definitely not all that confortable and exciting.

The next stop was to play around with the read activity which serves as a light-weight RSS reader. I found it to be very comfortable and also liked the fact that links I clicked were directly opened in browse. Unfortunately I didn't manage to work the other way 'round, I would have liked to be able to select RSS feeds from websites in order for them to be directly added to the read activity.

After that I again followed one of Walter Bender's recommendations by downloading and installing the watch & listen media-player activity. Everything went smoothly and after a minute or two I was looking at some of the media-samples I also downloaded from the OLPC wiki. It certainly makes a lot more sense to listen to MP3s or watch videos in that activity instead of relying on eToys (like I had mentioned yesterday). One thing that I forgot to try it whether watch & listen also supports online-radio-stations, I think I'll try that later today or tomorrow.

Last but not least I hooked up an old el-cheapo Microsoft Wheel Mouse to see whether the X0 would recognize it. It worked without a hitch and was usable after less than second.

All in all I'd say that my impression of the current state of things today is more favourable than last night. Following Walter Bender's suggestions only took ~20 minutes and resulted in a significantly better overall user experience. I also believe that the latest software-versions come with many improvements and the whole package will be more polished and ready for prime-time in about 2 to 3 weeks once Update.1 is ready.

Anyway, for now I'm off to play some more SimCity... :-)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

SimCity running on the OLPC X0

After last night's session mainly being focused on serious web-services and web-sites I decided to go for something different today. That's why I decided to download and install the legendary SimCity (my Maxis) on one of the X0s I have sitting here. Electronic Arts recently released the game under the GPL and that means that it's now available for everyone to play, hack and sugarize (the process of adapting software to the X0's Sugar environment).

So above you can a screenshot of my city after playing for around 5 minutes. SimCity really brings back lots of memories to when I was in primary school and used to play that game, A LOT!

Anyway, kudos to EA for releasing that game and I hope to see more publishers release older titles under the GPL so they can be ported over to the X0!

Saturday Night Fever

So after that weird Friday night and a good night's sleep I've had a very productive day today. Spent most of my evening at our so-called OLPC Austria weekend-jam getting stuff done for the OLPC project. Unfortunately I only had about 2 hours to work on the activity handbook that we're currently writing, the rest of the time went towards other related to-do items.

Amongst other things the two B4 machines were updated to the latest firmware version and software build 624. Given that we're going to have two meetings where we're presenting the X0s next week I wanted to spend some time with the latest software to see what works and what doesn't. As the rest of the gang decided to call it a day at around 3 a.m. I took the machines home and now I'm currently working with the setup you can see below:

While toying around with the laptops I stumbled across a variety of odd issues, amongst other things what appears to be an odd bug within the search function of the journal. Also I wasn't able to open an OpenOffice Writer document, something I had certainly expected the X0 to handle. Other than those glitches I'm happy to report that many of the things I tested worked flawlessly. Here's a quick overview of the things I tried:

MP3: I tested MP3 playback by listening to a song that was stored on my USB thumdrive. While I'm still not sure that eToys is the best solution for audio-playback I was surprised by the excellent quality of the speakers. They're certainly much than on my regular notebook (Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo 1425W) and most other notebooks that I've used.

pdfs: I looked at some pdfs from one of my university lectures. The quality of the screen really makes this a very pleasent experience. Plus rotating the screen to accomodate a whole A4 page while holding the X0 in e-book mode is just outstanding!

videos: I also tested some videos and they also worked fine. Again I don't think that eToys is the best solution for playback, especially since I didn't manage to get into full-screen mode so the videos were just stamp-sized.

online flash videos: While the videos on YouTube seemed to start being buffered (you know when those white circles started spinning) they never actually started playing back. The browse activity and the Gnash plugin did recognize the video content as I was presented with a menu when right-clicking on the video but I still didn't manage to actually look at a video.

online radio-stations: None of my favourite online radio-stations such as DigitalGunfire, or worked. Not sure whether it was missing codecs or something but whenever I found a feed that would open inside the browse activity I would click on the "play" button only for nothing to happen.

photos: I looked at some of my TransSib photos and here I did notice that the colour representation wasn't quite as good as on a regular screen. That's of course due to the unique design of how the colour mode actually works on this screen but I still hadn't expected the photos to look that washed-out.

collaboration: While Aaron and me didn't manage to get collaboration working on the write activity earlier today I now managed to get it up and running without a hitch. The connect game also works quite well, even though it's obviously a bit boring to compete with myself. For some odd reason the collaboration on the paint activity doesn't seem to work so I wasn't able to work on my masterpiece on both laptops simultaneously.

networking: Looking at the X0s network view I found significantly more WiFi networks within reach than I've ever seen on any laptop that's been in my flat. Funnily enough I only saw that one open network which I decided to leech of on one of the X0s even though they were standing right next to each other.

overall web-experience: I tried a fair number of different web-sites to see what kind of internet experience you're getting out of the X0 at the moment. Flickr worked well, except for the slideshows which for one reason or another weren't viewable. However I did manage to look at a slideshow of Patrick's photos from Mongolia over on It was a bit of a slow experience but it worked. Google's Gmail also worked just fine, however I did manage to send the browse activity into X0 nirvana once when selecting the Google calender from the top-toolbar that you see when you're logged into Gmail. The second time it worked without a hitch so I can't really pinpoint the reason for that initial crash. Working with Google Docs also went smoothly. While I normaly don't use it Digg also worked as expected.

Overall I'd say that software build 624 isn't quite ready for prime time, it's not really beta anymore, but I also wouldn't go as far as calling this a final version. I had a pretty smooth experience all evening even though some things obviously still don't work as expected. To me the biggest letdown at the moment is not being able to look at online video-content. I definitely hope that the next software versions address that issue.

Please don't hesitate to let me know in case there's any other webservice or website that you want me to test for you!

Anyway, seeing that it's past 7 a.m. around here and it's getting light outside I guess it's also time for me to get to bed... Good night everyone!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Microsoft Customer Support - I'm loving it!

Recently Microsoft released a whole host of tools and services from the Live line-up, many of which had previously been in Beta. From what I had read Windows Live Writer sounded like a very interesting blogging tool so I wanted to give it a try. Unfortunately the installation didn't work out and as I really wanted to test it I decided to contact Microsoft's support with a description of the issue I kept running into [my emphasis]:

"Dear Live Writer support,

I have trouble installing Windows Live Writer 2008 on my machine (Windows XP SP2, .NET Framework 3).

First the installation seems to go well, then it starts checking for other installed Live products. After several minutes the message turns into "Sorry this is taking a little longer than expected. Please bear with us just a few more minutes." before resulting in "Sorry, we couldn't install these programms". Just on a sidenote I also wasn't able to install the Beta of Live Writer because of a similar issue.

I'd really like to give Live Writer a shot so I'd appreciate any help you can give me!

Thanks in advance,
Christoph Derndorfer"

A day later I received the following message from Microsoft Customer Support:

"Hello Christoph

Thank you for writing to Windows Live Writer Technical Support. My name is XYZ and I understand that you are having issues installing Windows Live Writer. I apologize for the inconvenience you had experienced.

Christoph, we want to work with you until we get this issue resolved. In order to investigate on this further, I will need you to provide us your Windows Live Writer log file. The log file is a text document that contains logs of every action taken on Windows Live Writer, and the processes that happen on the back-end.

You can get the Writer log file by doing the steps below:

1. Open Windows Live Writer and then click on the "Help" menu.

2. Select "About Windows Live Writer.". A small window showing your version of Writer should pop-up.

3. Click on the "Show log file" link found at the bottom-right side of the window.

4. Another window should open containing a "Windows Live Writer" text document. This is your Windows Live Writer log file.

5. Reply to this email and attach the Windows Live Writer log file.

Once we receive this information, we will be able to check and pinpoint exactly where the error occurs and the process fails.

We appreciate your continued support as we strive to provide you with the highest quality service available. Thank you for using Windows Live Writer. We look forward to hearing from you soon.



Windows Live Writer Technical Support"

Given that I was reading the e-mail only 5min after I had gotten up at first I wasn't really sure what to make of it. I mean that customer support guy couldn't be *that* stupid as to suggest for me to open a programm I hadn't been able to install in the first place, right? I mean, he even said that he understood that I was "having issues installing Windows Live Writer"! So I decided to reply once again explaining that his reply wasn't really helping me:

"Hello XYZ,

thanks a lot for the quick reply.

However I'm not sure how your instructions are supposed to help me because in order for me to "1. Open Windows Live Writer and then click on the "Help" menu." the application would have to be installed already. Seeing that I encounter issues that keep the installation from happening successfully I am unable to provide you with that log-file you're asking for.

Shouldn't there also be some kind of log file that's created during the installation? I assume that should allow you to understand what's going wrong during the installation.

Best regards,

Only three hours later I received another reply from Microsoft's Customer Support, but this time from another person:

"Hello Christoph,

Thank you for writing to Windows Live Writer Technical Support. My name is ABC and I understand that you cannot install Windows Live Writer. I know how inconvenient this may be for you.

Christoph, please remove the installer-preventing Writer from installing and send your log files to us. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Create a new folder on your desktop and name it Log Files.

2. Copy 3 log files on your system to the new folder you created.

If you are using Windows XP (SP2) the log files are located at the following locations:

C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\WindowsLiveInstaller\logs

C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\WindowsLiveInstaller\MsiLogs

C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\WLInstaller

f you are using Windows Vista the log files are located at the following locations:




3. Click this link:

4. When prompted, click "Save" to save the ZIP file to your desktop.

5. Go to your desktop and open

6. Extract all the files to your desktop (this should create a folder named WL-Beta-Remove on your desktop if not, skip to step 8).

7. Go to your desktop and open the folder named WL-Beta-remove (there should be a file named WL-Beta-Remove.cmd in the folder).

8. Double-click on the file named WL-Beta-Remove.cmd.

9. If prompted by the Open File - Security Warning, click "Run" (after clicking "Run" a window will open and you will see commands running in that Window, when the commands are finished the window will automatically close).

10. Go to and install Writer again.

NOTE: If you had Windows Live Mail or Windows Live Messenger installed you will also need to reinstall those applications:

Reinstall Windows Live Mail

Reinstall Windows Live Messenger

11. Reply to this email and attach the Windows Live Writer log file.

12. Delete and the folders named Log Files and WL-Beta-remove from your desktop.

If you still encounter the same issue, please reply to this e-mail with the following information:

- The outline of steps you took that lead to this problem
- The exact error message you received
- The Windows Live ID you used to sign in

- The Weblog service you are using

We appreciate your continued support as we strive to provide you with the highest quality service available. Thank you for using Windows Live Writer.


Windows Live Writer Technical Support

Now that sounds significantly more reasonable! I haven't had the time to actually follow these steps and see whether it can help me resolve this issue but I hope to do that later today. Anyway, it's certainly quite an amusing story and we'll see how it all works out!

To be continued...

Friday, November 9, 2007

A weird Friday evening...

Oh my god, what a week... I can't tell you how happy I am to finally be able to sit here and chill. This week has been nothing but a nightmare in terms of the amount of work I had to finish. Every day I had to hand in some exercises, finalize some project or take an exam or test or something. And that's only university, I'm not even talking about trying to get something done for OLPC Austria (and lots of stuff actually got done this week!) or trying to keep an eye on all the websites I'm reading on a daily basis. And don't get me started on sleep, I think I averaged about 5 hours per night and I certainly didn't feel too thrilled to get up these past few days.

Anyway, now that it's Friday evening and I'm fairly certain that I blew my test about "system programming" this afternoon there's really nothing left for me to do but... Yeah, but what? I've had my fair share of beers in the local student pub after the exam. I made an enormous load of spaghetti for dinner because I didn't really have any time to eat during the day. And now I'm sitting here watching the 5th concurrent episode of Scrubs while I'm slowly deciding to call it a day and spend the rest of the evening at home instead of heading out to party, play pool-billard with my friends or do something else. On the one hand I feel like I should actually go out and do something to celebrate that this week is finally over. On the other hand I'm just so exhausted that I can't really convince myself to go out of the house again.

On some levels it's weird to sit here, finally being able to do what I was looking forward to doing all week: nothing. But I guess somehow you just get used to working (or at least being active) 24/7 so once you finally have the chance to drop out of the Matrix you find yourself not being sure what to spend your time on. Don't get me wrong, my To-Do lists are full with things I should get done, I have plenty of post-its stuck to my laptop which highlight the most important tasks to be completed, I still have two Diggnation episodes to catch up, I need to read the three latest stories over on , etc., etc. But I certainly don't feel like doing any of those things tonight because for a change I just want to chill without having to involve too much of my gray matter.

So that's the reason why I'm sitting here, laptop (my main computer) being turned off, not checking my e-mails, not browsing the web and not doing anything particularly useful. Instead I'm writing these lines, watching Scrubs episodes in-between (I'm up to my 8th episode as I write this) and listening to lots of music which I haven't heard in a long time. In no particular order that includes: Libido - En Esta Habitación, The Go Betweens - Finding You, Dido - White Flag, 4LYN - Lyn, Eric Clapton - Layla (Unplugged), 3 Doors Down - When I'm Gone, Antiskeptic - 4 Seasons, The Offspring - Dirty Magic, Yann Tiersen - Comptine d'un autre été l'apres midi, REM - Drive, Goo Goo Dolls - Iris, Mamas and Papas - California Dreaming, Garbage - Androgyny, Lambchop - About My Lighter. Many of these songs bring back memories of certain situations, people, episodes and whatnot and it's great to hear them and drift back through the past. And that's also what I'm going to do for the rest of the evening before I finally go to bed and grab some well deserved sleep...

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

OLPC XO hits mass production!

Reading the story called "OLPC XO Laptop Mass Production Started - Finally!" over on really made my day. It's outstanding to see that those little green machines are finally being produced!

Congrats to all the folks involved in OLPC, you did an amazing job!

Next stop: Software @ Update.1 aka First Revenue Ship (FRS) aka killjoy

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Aliens in America

While I do take pride in the fact that I haven't really spent (aka wasted) any significant amount of time with regular television these past few years I have a habit of getting hooked on television series. It all started with a long-term addiction to Friends (still the best TV series ever made IMHO), which continued (to a lesser degree) with its spin-off Joey. Once I moved to Vienna I started watching That 70's Show again, I had loved watching it while I lived in Peru from 2000 to 2001. The next thing that hit me was Six Feet Under which I absolutely loved for its weird setting. Afterwards I think I went back to Friends, I've always had a weak spot for them and by now I've probably seen most episodes 3 or 4 times.

Sometime in early 2005 I discovered Scrubs and have been hooked on them ever since. At the moment I'm close to finishing the second run through all the episodes. And of course I'm very happy that the 7th season just started airing 2 weeks ago as that means a fresh episode for me each Friday.

Ah, and I nearly forgot about my secret love for Futurama, easily the best comic series ever produced. Apart from being incredibly funny Futurama brought us some of the best quotes ever:

"Bite my shiny metal ass" (the one and only Bender)

"Good news everyone..." (the professor)

"Tell my wife I said 'hello'" (the leader of the Democratic Order Of Planets)

Anyway, what I really wanted to write about today is that I may have found a new candidate to make it to my list of "must-see TV series":

Aliens in America (official website / Wikipedia entry)

The basic story is that an American family decides to host an exchange student because the mother hopes that this will help her 16-year old son Justin be more popular in high-school. Imagine their surprise when they pick up Raja, a 16-year-old Pakistani Muslim!

I've only seen the pilot so far but I'm really liking it and can't wait to see more episodes (though that probably won't happen before the weekend). The cultural context the whole story is set in is definitely very interesting and it's great to see a TV series that doesn't involve cops, terrorists, the president, politicians, etc. I'd definitely have to say that this is probably one of the more daring TV series and it will be very interesting to see how it all works out. If that sounds appealing then I'd definitely recommend you to give Aliens in America a shot!

Mozilla Prism

Today I finally had the time to give one of the latest applications from the famous Mozilla labs a spin around the block. In their own words Prism "is an application that lets users split web applications out of their browser and run them directly on their desktop." What that basically means it that Prism allows you to turn websites and web-services into something that's closer to an application with shortcuts directly on the desktop and whatnot. While Gmail and the Google Calender are probably the most popular services for this right now I decided to turn to something that's more important for me.

There's a cafeteria at our university, called the Mensa, where I go for lunch most days (especially since I live only 3min away from university). Unfortunately at times there food there isn't too appealing and seeing that I'm a lazy person at times I'd like to know in advance what food is available. Luckily for me there's the website where I can find that information. However that means I have to navigate to that website and select my university from the list only for the whole menu to pop up in another window.

What Prism has allowed me to do is turn this process into a single click operation. All I have to do now is click on the "Mensa @ TU Wien" icon on my ObjectDock and I'm presented with the menu. Now that's what I call making things more efficient!

Interestingly my flatmate Micheal told me that the new Apple OS X Leopard also has a very similar feature as it allows you to turn websites or even parts of websites into Widgets for a similar experience. Additionally there are also similar efforts going on with the One Laptop Per Child project where they have recently turned Gmail into an activity (the name for applications on the X0) that's directly available from the desktop.

Good stuff indeed and I'll definitely keep a close eye on further developments in this area!

MiTAC's education laptop

The other day I mentioned that I had written a piece on the impact of the Asus eee PC on the One Laptop Per Child project for Today I came across an announcement that works the other way: it shows the impact of the OLPC project on low-cost computing, especially when it comes to education. In the press release it says:

"The first product to be jointly developed and manufactured by MiTAC and MIND will be a 7-inch notebook. All aspects of this 7-inch notebook’s design and functionality will be geared towards facilitating the education of young children aged three to twelve years old. Among the many unique features of this notebook will be a specially designed keyboard for use by children. The notebook will also feature a handwriting recognition platform for toddlers not yet able to operate a keyboard. The notebook will also sport a light-weight and durable casing, ideal for young children. Other notable features of this notebook include Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, a website filtering tool, karaoke functionality and web camera support."

I underlined the features that are similar to the OLPC's X0 while the bold text are things that the X0 does sport at the moment. (Yes, I'm indeed serious about the karaoke stuff!)

While I've never heard of MiTAC or MIND this announcement shows that more companies are starting to look into low-cost computing. While they're likely to share some key-characteristics with the X0 (low power-consumption, 7~9 inch screen, very durable, WiFi connectivity, smaller keyboards, etc.) they'll also come up with new and innovative features and applications. I for example really like the idea of seeing handwriting recogniting on these machines and as far as I know this is something that's not available for the X0 at the moment.

It remains to be seen whether the notebook really is available "in early 2008 in select Asia-Pacific markets" but I'm sure come CeBIT we're going to see more companies showing off products aimed at the same market. Good times... Good times indeed!

Google's Android

So, guess what. This is probably the one-millionth blog posting about the "Android" platform that Google and its partners announced today. Still, I'm set on adding my thoughts on today's developments, even if it's just for the sake of getting them out of my head.

I know some people are probably going to be disappointed that Google didn't announce a gPhone but I actually think that Android has a bigger chance of improving mobile phones than any single device would have had.

Now what exactly is Android? While there aren't any real details available at the moment the Official Google Blog gives a brief overview of what it's all about:

"Android is the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices. It includes an operating system, user-interface and applications -- all of the software to run a mobile phone, but without the proprietary obstacles that have hindered mobile innovation."

The interesting thing here is that Google has teamed up with 30+ other companies to really push Android. Some notable partners are HTC, LG, Marvell, Motorola, Nvidia, Samsung, T-Mobile and Texas Instruments. I'm sure we're going to see more companies join the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) over the coming months.

I have to say that this might just be the best thing that has happened to mobile phones in a long time! As previously mentioned I've kept a close eye on the (slow) progress that the OpenMoko platform and its flagship product, the FIC Neo 1973 have made in the past months. The thing is that I really like the idea of having a common software platform for mobile phones and if executed well this development could really improve both the quantity and quality of mobile phone applications and services.

I was also interested to hear what my friends Igor and John of fame were thinking (btw, you guys should set up a poll about what people think of Android!). They both replied basically saying the same thing: show us the SDK (which should become available Monday, November 12th) and then we'll see how potent the whole thing really is.

By the way, Apple probably isn't too thrilled about the whole thing because it just mocks them and their decision to lock down the iPhone. Plus now their February date for the iPhone SDK will also look like too-little-too-late! Seems like Steve Jobs really made the wrong decision here... On the other hand OpenMoko will also have to speed up their development because otherwise they might find themselves in a race they simply can't win.

All in all I haven't felt this optimistic about the future of mobile phones in a long time. We definitely have some very interesting times ahead of us!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Things that make me sick

This is the first posting of what I'm going to call my "things that make me sick" (ttmms) track where I'm going to bitch and rant about things that I seriously can't stand. The honour of being the first topic of this series goes to Gewista Urban Media for their "Station Branding" and "Total Branding".

According to their website Gewista is "Out-of-Home and Urban Media with the most comprehensive range of Out-of-Home Media in Austria", so basically a company that puts up advertising wherever possible. Now in a recent article on it was mentioned that for the UEFA Euro 2008 that takes place in Austria and Switzerland next year (trust me, I'm definitely going to ttmms-blog about them!) Gewista is going to offer "total branding" for subway carriages in Vienna. "Total branding" basically means that every surface inside and outside of the train carriage is used for advertising. Hell, they'll even put special antislip ads on the floor of the carriages and even brand the little straps that you hold on to (so you don't fall over in case of emergency). Combine that with their "Station Branding" efforts which allow companies to brand a whole subway station for €52.000 to €110.000 for 4 weeks and you've got an advertiser's wet dream. According to a certain Fred Kendlbacher, responsible for "Transport Media" at Gewista, "there's no escape, you can't go by without seeing it with this form of advertising".

Now call me crazy but I think this is fucking insane and an excellent and sad example of how far our society has come with regards to advertising. What's next, advertising plastered all over my bathroom mirror, the floor in my room and my pillows? Will I be forced to turn off my MP3 player while I'm at a station so I can take in all the crap that they will advertise over the PA system? I already paid my €1.7 for a single ride on the subway so why should I still have to look at ads while I'm actually riding on the carriage?

It's not like today public transport is an advertising-free experience: the busses are branded, the stops have advertising integrated into them, there's the ad-clips on the screens inside the subway stations, many trams are branded, etc. Now with total and station branding coming to town there's really no escaping it. Aren't the hundreds of ad messages the average person is forced to look at per day enough? Apparently not...

What really strikes me about this story is that it made me realize how far advertising has already intruded our daily lifes. It's not just the public space anymore that's being over-commercialized, it's literally everywhere. I remember back in school when we came back after the summer vacaction and suddenly found our gym to come with complementary advertising. I really couldn't believe my eyes, it's a school for God's sake, you can't put up advertising in schools, right? These days it's advertising at university that really makes me sick. At times they even do "stair branding" where all the steps leading up to the 1st floor are covered with one message or another...

So, to cut a long story short: The first ever things that make me sick award goes to Gewista, "Total Branding", "Station Branding" and advertising in general!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A Closer Look at Asus Eee PC Impact on OLPC

I stayed up until 4.30 a.m. the other night to write a story for about the Asus' eee PC's impact on the OLPC project and low-cost computing in general. The story had been floating around my head for at least a week or two but like with so many other things I simply hadn't found the time to sit down and write it. Anyway, here's a short snippet from it:

"In the end what I'm trying to say here is that the Asus eee PC project gives us a good glimpse of where things might be heading in the future when it comes to low-cost computing. Having said that I'm still convinced that the X0 is currently the best computing device for educating children in the developing world. And OLPC will always be remembered for making the world aware of the demand for low-cost computing.

However Asus and others are quickly learning and catching up and soon they will have great devices for a variety of other low-cost ICT requirements. And I'm sure that OLPC could learn another trick or two from them...

You can read the full article here. And hopefully the long weekend we have around here will allow me to write up another article that I've been thinking about.