Through a lens – of an Android
A telescope for Christmas is one of the best presents a boy can ever have – even one in his thirties!
This “kid” here was the lucky recipient of a Sky-Watcher SK1309EQ2 – the first reflecting telescope I’ve owned. Using a reflector is really straightforward and a lot of fun.
Learning the difference between an equatorial mount and an alt-az mount is really the first order of business. Comprehending how to manage mounting the ‘scope, and tracking celestial objects as they circumnavigate the night sky, helps in understanding one’s position on the planet in relation to these heavenly bodies.
As you start spending time watching the night sky, your eyes become more sensitive to it. Focus on a particular area and, over time, more stars emerge. As I’m discovering, training the eye is as important a task as focusing the viewfinder.

Capturing the image is somewhat more of a challenge.  Have a look at my first photo album of moon shots – taken with a dash of luck through the camera lens of a Samsung Galaxy S mobile phone, pointing straight into the telescope’s eyepiece.

The best part of using a telescope, though, is sharing the experience. Luckily for me, that means spending more time with the beautiful girl who was so kind to buy the device.
Which makes me wonder, am I simply the vehicle for somebody’s feminine geekism..? 😉

I’ve decided to go “old school” with some of my free time this year.  For some time, I’ve had (in storage) an Amiga A4000T computer – the top spec with Cyberstorm PPC card, CyberVision graphics card, some SCSI disks, 128MB (remember when you could run an O/S in that??) and so on.

Although the Amiga was always designed to work with analogue video standards (NTSC / PAL), the prevalence of VGA monitors in the 1990s meant that the old “miggy” had to adapt.  One of the great features of the CyberVision card was that it could redirect video from the integral AGA graphics chipset and display Workbench (or anything, it would seem) through the video card instead.  This was no small feat of engineering and, in my opinion, is partly what made computing in the 1990s so interesting; ingenuity, innovation, invention.

Above, AmigaForever© screenshot showcasing OS 3.1.

Left: The Amiga’s Kickstart, prompting for a boot disk.

My 4000T has seen better days, granted.  Certainly as far as the operating system install and configuration is concerned – the video above shows that I can look forward to the pleasure of installing OS 3.9.  Or perhaps I might investigate OS4 which will harness my PowerPC chip, thanks to the hard work at Hyperion Entertainment.
Whichever, I am still surprised that for a 15 year old machine everything seems so, well, reliable!  The fact that the phase5/DCE CyberStorm/Vision hardware is operational, and the system starts up acceptably, is really testimony of the longevity of ancient hardware.
I’m really looking forward to exploring this machine again, and seeing what has recently been uploaded to Aminet.
Old habits die hard.  Happy New Year 🙂

Boy, I am always amazed at the breadth of stuff that goes on weekly, surrounding people’s preferred operating systems, new hardware press releases and so on.  For me, it’s one of the best things about the internet: constant information from all corners of the globe, seeking an audience and advocate elsewhere.

Intel, AMD and the new kid in town

Image via CrunchBase

So, this week there has been loads of stuff which caught my attention, only a short list of which I have time to share.  First things first, Ars Technica : a constantly vibrant source of interesting news out there in the technosphere.  Featured in its hallowed pages was the title ARM’s Eagle has landed: meet the A15“.  Indeedy, ARM is developing more processor chips which are beginning to compete with the likes of Intel’s Atom and AMD’s lesser-known Geode.

AMD Geode™ LX 800@0.9W Processor

The exciting thing here is that a third player is entering the midst of a traditionally two-horse race: GPU/CPU design and manufacture (AKA AMD vs Intel).  Similarly to the console race of 2007-ish, a third player getting involved (in the console war, this being Microsoft‘s XBox 360) does great things for the market and the larger picture.  Who would have thought, against the mighty 360 or PS3, that the Wii would have competed so well?

 

We’ll see how this plays out in a different way with chip manufacturers though but, as with most of these things, the early adopters of SmartBooks (Netbooks with phone capabilities, typically powered by ARM processors) will likely be Business types and Linux users who aren’t just taken in by the big names.

The Apple is finally ripening
Finally. Sense at Apple.  Well, some at least. Developers are creative, resourceful individuals.  So throwing down the gauntlet by restricting their development languages was kind of a draconian, hard-line gesture by a company pimping itself as cool and trendy.  Sorry Fanbois, but it was a bit Microsofty, actually.  Which is actually unfair to Microsoft, as they are generally far less restrictive about this (as this list of programming languages illustrates..).  Then again, 99.4% of malware is aimed at Windows users.


But back to Apple, this Ars story describes the change in stance at Cappuccino.


How nice of them to open up their policy as well as opening up their iOS 4.1 BootROM in the same week!  In case anyone thinks I have a grudge against Apple, far from it.  This vulnerability intended feature clearly demonstrates that Apple are committed to opening up their systems and allowing users to fully use what they have purchased.  Brilliant!

Oh, but then there are still situations which make you wonder.  Like the stealthy Apple OS-X update that kept “fanbois strangely silent“…   I’m not sure I would have described Apple’d products as a “mutant virus“, but their loyal customers’ thinking probably is.  But then, Apple build fashion statements, not computers.


Open systems continue to gather pace


There’s an interesting article at O’Reilly on debunking the 1% myth.  The 1% myth is the idea, forever purported by some in the industry, that Linux only has 1% of desktop market share.  Succinctly put, as there is no way of actually measuring this accurately, it’s a false claim (as the article details).


Talking of open software, media player Amarok is looking more and more beautiful.  What’s not to like about this, especially when it’s free?

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I love Linux.  Sure, it ain’t perfect; there’s still some things that could “feel” a bit more modern.  But at the same time, there is so much to its credit that it’s hard to ignore.

Take, for instance, virtual memory.  All modern computers have it.  Mobile phones use it.  Basically any computer-oriented device probably used virtual memory paging instead of real address allocation.  It’s just more flexible and safer to leave all the memory management to the operating system kernel.

The nice thing about the open source OS, however, is that you can determine just how “swappy” Linux is.  It’s a feature which allows incredible flexibility.

For example, a recent filesystem and partition resizing operation that I undertook had the strange side-effect of rendering my swap partition strangely ineffective.  Being able to tune the swappiness of the kernel has allowed me to fix and test the problem in-situ.

Short one today – I was looking for a way of converting all my ripped CDs to an alternative format for portable audio use.

Here’s a useful link for doing scripted, recursive audio format conversion.

Now you can rip all those CDs to FLAC format (which is lossless, unlike lossy mp3CBR or VBR) and then convert the lot to mp3 for the iPod, car, etc.

Oh, and a copy of Fedora or Ubuntu would probably be handy too 😉

Of course, you could pay for a commercial alternative or even – heaven forbid – “upgrade” your iTunes for DRM-de-restricted AAC files (which are still lossy-format files anyway).

So, why bother, when a CD costs the same and has better sound quality?

Forget digital downloads, until they respect your freedom.  Buy CDs!!

Or, if you are 100% sure your data will always be safe and/or don’t have a hi-fi CD player (in addition to CD/DVD-ROM drive) to justify getting physical media, investigate these forward-looking alternatives:

 Enjoy!

No doubt open-source proponents will rejoice over this news: The British government has decided to increase its use of open-source software in the public services field. It will be adopted over Windows whenever it delivers the best value for the money. Schools, govenment offices and public agencies will all give open source a new look.

read more | digg story

It’s worry-time on the server:

# tail -20 /var/log/messages
Feb 25 10:09:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 3 Offline uncorrectable sectors
Feb 25 10:39:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 9 Currently unreadable (pending) sectors
Feb 25 10:39:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 3 Offline uncorrectable sectors
Feb 25 11:09:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 9 Currently unreadable (pending) sectors
Feb 25 11:09:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 3 Offline uncorrectable sectors
Feb 25 11:39:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 9 Currently unreadable (pending) sectors
Feb 25 11:39:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 3 Offline uncorrectable sectors
Feb 25 12:09:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 9 Currently unreadable (pending) sectors
Feb 25 12:09:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 3 Offline uncorrectable sectors
Feb 25 12:39:31 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 9 Currently unreadable (pending) sectors
Feb 25 12:39:31 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 3 Offline uncorrectable sectors
Feb 25 13:09:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 9 Currently unreadable (pending) sectors
Feb 25 13:09:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 3 Offline uncorrectable sectors
Feb 25 13:39:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 9 Currently unreadable (pending) sectors
Feb 25 13:39:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 3 Offline uncorrectable sectors
Feb 25 14:09:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 9 Currently unreadable (pending) sectors
Feb 25 14:09:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 3 Offline uncorrectable sectors
Feb 25 14:39:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 9 Currently unreadable (pending) sectors
Feb 25 14:39:32 myserver smartd[2785]: Device: /dev/sdc, 3 Offline uncorrectable sectors

.. and so it goes on. So, I’ll check it out by performing a SMART self-test on the drive:

# smartctl -a -d ata /dev/sdc
smartctl version 5.36 [x86_64-redhat-linux-gnu] Copyright (C) 2002-6 Bruce Allen
Home page is http://smartmontools.sourceforge.net/

=== START OF INFORMATION SECTION ===
Device Model: Hitachi HDP725040GLA360
Serial Number: GEB430RE15UEVF
Firmware Version: GMDOA52A
User Capacity: 400,088,457,216 bytes
Device is: Not in smartctl database [for details use: -P showall]
ATA Version is: 8
ATA Standard is: Not recognized. Minor revision code: 0x29
Local Time is: Wed Feb 25 14:55:30 2009 GMT
SMART support is: Available – device has SMART capability.
SMART support is: Enabled

=== START OF READ SMART DATA SECTION ===
SMART overall-health self-assessment test result: PASSED

General SMART Values:
Offline data collection status: (0x82) Offline data collection activity
was completed without error.
Auto Offline Data Collection: Enabled.
Self-test execution status: ( 0) The previous self-test routine completed
without error or no self-test has ever
been run.
Total time to complete Offline
data collection: (7840) seconds.
Offline data collection
capabilities: (0x5b) SMART execute Offline immediate.
Auto Offline data collection on/off support.
Suspend Offline collection upon new
command.
Offline surface scan supported.
Self-test supported.
No Conveyance Self-test supported.
Selective Self-test supported.
SMART capabilities: (0x0003) Saves SMART data before entering
power-saving mode.
Supports SMART auto save timer.
Error logging capability: (0x01) Error logging supported.
General Purpose Logging supported.
Short self-test routine
recommended polling time: ( 1) minutes.
Extended self-test routine
recommended polling time: ( 130) minutes.

[snip]

I’m not sure what to make of a disk that reports it’s broken to the kernel but reports its “PASSED” to a userspace tool.

One thing’s for certain – it’s being replaced!

Ok, so perhaps it’s me. I can live with that. But the reason I pause for thought on this is that I recently received a link that a friend emailed to me. It was a link to a site with a video of computer technology that is now 20 years old. It really made me stop and take notice.

Here’s this computer running on a 25MHz processor, with more responsiveness than my 2GHz laptop. Is this progress? It doesn’t seem like it to me. Surely I should not only have the tools on my desktop today, but my desktop should have evolved into something more capable too?