Monday, September 28, 2009

To iPhone 3GS or not to iPhone 3GS

I somehow managed to lose my mobile phone while in Nepal so I’m not having to deal with something I had hoped to be able to avoid until early 2010: Having to get a new mobile phone.

While my previous phone, a Nokia 6120, was far from perfect it got the job done and combined with my iPod touch (1st gen) I was quite happy with my mobile communication devices. However a lot has happened since I bought the 6120 in early 2008 so now I can’t but consider buying an iPhone 3GS even though I’ve been known to rant against the iPhone, iTunes, Apple, closed systems, etc. in the past.

One thing that surprised me a bit is how limited the alternatives to the iPhone are when it comes to high-end phones. I do generally keep tabs on what’s happening in the mobile phone markets but had still expected to find some hidden germ that I hadn’t heard of before. So based on my requirements (with voice, text messages, e-mail, Web browsing and Twitter representing 99% of what I do with my mobile devices) I’m currently looking at the following options:

Apple iPhone 3GS (16GB): Can’t say much more than that this is my preferred choice at the moment even though most of my previously mentioned rant reasons still hold true. The 3GS is simply an amazing product even though there are some details that I’m not too fond of. One thing I’m really going to miss compared to my 6120 is that unlocking the screen will leave me looking at my app home screen whereas I’d much prefer to see upcoming appointments, to-dos, etc. and similar information as presented on more business orientated Symbian S60 and Blackberry phones. However at the price €150 I’d pay for the 3GS with 16GB might simply prove too hard to refuse.

Blackberry Bold: Had I lost my phone 6 months ago I wouldn’t have hesitated and gotten the Blackberry Bold. I really like it’s design and keyboard and the software seems solid enough. However now I can’t help but feel that it’s lacking the application infrastructure that make Android devices and iPhones such interesting platforms in the mid- to long-term.

Nokia E75: I hadn’t paid much attention to what Nokia was up to in the smartphone segment lately but did remember that I found the E75’s form factor to be quite enticing. After reading some reviews it seems to be a really solid smartphone that could probably fulfill 95% of my requirements with ease. The one thing that is a big letdown though is the small screen size.

Nokia N900: Now this one device that I’m seriously interested in, especially after reading these hands-on comments. While I haven’t used an N900 in person Nokia seems to have gotten a lot of things right with this device, both on the hardware and software side of things. While it remains to be seen how the software ecosystem evolves compared to the Apple and Android competition I’m confident that we’ll see many interesting Maemo applications appear in the next 6 to 12 months. The one thing that kills this choice for me is the price of >€500 and the fact that it’s not offered by any Austrian carriers at the moment (and I’m not holding my breath for that to happen anytime soon).

T-Mobile G2 (aka HTC Hero): This is proving to be the hardest competitor for the iPhone 3GS and I’m quite tempted to go with the G2. I’m really impressed with what HTC did with the software and in many ways the G2 and related ecosystem contains less restrictions than fruitland. Subsequently I also believe that over the course of the next 6 to 12 months there’s a higher chance of seeing innovative apps (mostly thinking of Augmented Reality stuff here) on Android rather than the iPhone. With this and similar arguments the G2 appeals more to my geek side whereas the iPhone 3GS is better at pleasing the customer in me (who wants something that works). However after reading half a dozen reviews I can’t help but be afraid that the G2’s hardware is simply too underpowered to be a reliable platform 18 months down the road (which is the timeframe for my next mobile phone upgrade) which is quite a downside.

It’s with these thoughts in my head that I’ll make my way to the T-Mobile store in just a bit… I’ll of course keep you posted on my decision.

Friday, September 25, 2009

My last 24 hours in Kathmandu

I can’t believe it’s already been 3 months since I posted that I was on my way to Nepal. Now it’s Friday afternoon of my last day of work here at OLE Nepal and in a bit more than 24 hours I’ll get on my plane to head home to Vienna via Doha.

It’s all a bit crazy at the moment and this last week since my return from trekking (which I’ve also still gotta blog about) has gone by unbelievably quickly. After arriving back in Kathmandu on Sunday evening we decided to indulge in civilization by going for dinner at the awesome 1905 restaurant.

On Monday we spent some time hanging out with our trekking guide and his family who had kindly invited us to their house for lunch. Afterwards we went to see the Swayambhu stupa which is quite an impressive sight and offers great views over the city. In the evening we had great Thai dinner at Yin Yang in Thamel followed by some beers at one of my favorite bars, De La Soul.

On Tuesday we still hung out in Kathmandu’s center for a bit before I dropped off my visiting Austrian friend at the airport. The evening was spent hanging out with some friends on a nice terrace overlooking Kathmandu.

Wednesday I went back to work and then to my last Sanepa poker-night in the evening and yesterday we had a great OLE Nepal dinner-party to celebrate the Dashain festival.

Today I was woken up by a call from Pablo Flores of Project Ceibal fame who arrived in Kathmandu in the early morning. After picking him up I spent several hours finishing up various remaining work tasks and in the afternoon we had an interesting meeting with him to discuss a broad variety of topics.

Now the plan for the remaining 24 hours here in Nepal is to have dinner with some friends at Bhumi in Lazimpat before heading to Thamel for drinks. Depending on how long we stay out I then might try and attend some of the animal sacrifices happening tomorrow morning. In the afternoon I’ll be going to my last Hash Run before then directly heading to the airport to make my way home…

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Notes from a Nepali deployment

As previously mentioned I unfortunately haven’t been too great when it comes to blogging about my experiences here in Nepal. The one thing I did  manage to write up are some of my impressions from a visit at two schools here in the Kathmandu Valley where students in grades 2, 3 and 6 are using XOs. The two-part article was published on olpcnews in early September, let me know what you think about it:

Notes from a Nepali deployment, Part I: Updating

Notes from a Nepali deployment, Part II: Challenges

OLPC Austria meetups in autumn

After the summer break OLPC Austria is going to restart its monthly public meetups at the Museumsquartier in Wien in October. Apart from the normal socializing component this time ‘round we have organized a series of presentations that will look at the OLPC project from a global perspective and present the current state of affairs in various countries.

For that purpose presentations about the projects in Nepal (October 3), Peru (November 7) and Graz (December 5) will take place as part of our public meetings each first Saturday in the month, always starting at 3PM at Museumsquartier Quartier 21, Room D.

I’ll of course report on these meetups as we go along and might even try to set up some live streaming of the presentations. But most importantly I hope to see you there in this thing called meatspace! :-)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Just a quick note to say that I’m off to do some trekking in the Langtang valley region (north of Kathmandu) for the next 11 days. Needless to say I’m seriously excited! :-)

All of today was spent organizing things like the bus tickets, national park entries, figuring out the route, buying some appropriate clothes, etc. As always with these things they all took longer than expected but now I’m sure we’re well prepared for what’s ahead.

Things will get started tomorrow morning at around 7AM when we get on a 7~9 hour bus ride that will take us up north. The first day of walking will be Friday and we should arrive at Kyanjin Gompa, which will be our base, on Sunday evening. From there we plan to do one or two day-trips, of course depending on how well how things go with the walking and the altitude (Kyanjin Gompa lies on ~3800m above sea-level and one of the peaks we’d maybe like to tackle is ~4900m).

Well, I better turn off the laptop and get some sleep, seeing that the alarm clock will go off in roughly 4 1/2 hours…

Will report back in case I stumble across an Internet café (haha) or upon my scheduled return to Kathmandu in 11 days.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Blogging about Karma

Admittedly I haven’t done too great a job in keeping the blog updated with my impressions from my time here in Nepal. Looking back at the archives the entries have been mostly limited to links to my Flickr album.

(Though I am somewhat proud that I’m at least taking the time to go through all the photos as soon as I get home from taking them to compile best of selections. There’s still several thousand photos from my previous trips in China/Mongolia/Russia and USA/Canada which I haven’t even looked at!)

Anyway, one of the topics which I haven’t really talked about here is the work I’ve been doing as part of my volunteering gig at OLE Nepal. The project I’ve been spending most of my time on is Karma (Web site / entry on which was supported by Google as part of their Summer of Code program.

In a nutshell the goal of the Karma project is to provide an easy-to-use framework for interactive learning activities based on HTML 5 and Javascript. I’ve been mostly working on several issues related to the user interface and I’ve documented some of my work over on the Karma blog:

Since this is the first time that I’m really working with HTML, CSS and Javascript things take a little longer to get done but I’m really learning a lot and having a great time doing it. Plus being able to collaborate with two awesome fellows, Bryan and Felipe, makes the project all that more more enjoyable, even those weekly IRC meetings at 8AM on Tuesdays;-)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

There’s lots of things I miss…

…and living here in Kathmandu on September 27 will definitely be one of them.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

330° panorama from the OLE Nepal offices

Admittedly I’ve been quite obsessed with panorama photos lately mainly thanks to Microsoft Research's awesome Image Composite Editor. So today I took my camera to work and sneaked up on the roof in the morning while everyone else was in a meeting;-)

I have to say that I’m really quite happy with the resulting 330° panorama! I’ve included a small version of it below but admittedly it doesn’t really do the whole scene justice so I’d recommend you to look at the full-size (8770 x 1180 pixel, 3MB) shot for an impression of the environment around our office.

On a related side-note I took two more photos today which worked out quite well thanks to the awesome late-afternoon / early-evening light:

View from the office

The hill across the Ring Road at 6PM

Hope you like ‘em!