Saturday, December 31, 2011

Kindle Fire as a cheap Android development target

I've been itching to try Android development for a few months now but I really haven't wanted to buy a smart phone with expensive service and a data plan just to screw around. With my new Kindle Fire, I can now try my hand at using the Android Development Kit (ADK) without a monthly contract. The Kindle Fire uses the older Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS which isn't the latest and greatest but more than meets my needs.

I was surprised just how easy it is to get started. Downloading the tools only took a few minutes. With the Java JDK from Oracle, the ADK from Google, and the Eclipse IDE, I was able to get an "Hello World app running is less than an hour. For now, I'm just trying to learn. I'll save dreams of creating a killer app till next year ... (wink).

Kindle Fire First Impressions

Like literally millions of others, I received a Kindle Fire for Christmas and after a few days of use I thought I would give my first impressions. I've read a number of Kindle Fire reviews that complain it's not an Ipad killer or not an high end Android phone. Their right. It's not meant to be. But what it is is a great 7 inch Android tablet and ebook reader and the form factor is perfect for my needs.

The Silk browser tends to be a bit quirky and occasionally non-responsive. Also, the touch interface isn't stellar but I've gotten very good at tapping out emails in just a few hours. For very small links on webpages, it can be tricky to use but I find a lighter touch often helps.

For $199, the Kindle is an amazing bargain. Thanks Amazon.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Will Santa bring me a Raspberry Pi?

As the last days of November fall away, a December release date for the Raspberry Pi computer is starting to look likely.  I'll have to send Santa an updated wish list. Thankfully, the elves in the UK are working overtime to get the Raspberry Models A and B ready. Santa, make mine a Model B.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Insanely Great - Steve Jobs 1955-2011

I'm having a tough time with the passing of one of my childhood heroes. Steve was a part of my life starting with my Apple II 16K. Steve and Woz set me on the path to my career in computer science/engineering. I owe them more than I can ever express. Farewell old friend.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Waiting for the Raspberry Pi

Last May, some engineers in the UK started showing off an insanely small $25 whole computer on a tiny circuit board - not much more than an ARM processor, a USB port, and an HDMI connection. Plug in a keyboard and connect a TV and your you're ready to go. Even better, the group is all volunteer and their main mission is to create this inexpensive computer for school children. And I ask you, who are bigger children than us hackers??

Last May, the prototype Raspberry Pi board was about the size of a USB thumb drive with a goal price (assembled board only) of $25. A few months later and there are now two versions with far more features but barely a change in price. The Raspberry Pi now has 10/100 ethernet, and analog audio and video while keeping the HDMI, USB, and SD card support from the original prototype.When I first heard of the Rasberry Pi board, I though to myself, "They'll never actually build it!" But since I once doubted a young man named Linus, I decided to ignore common sense and just to hope.

The first product is about the size of a credit card, and is designed to plug into a TV or be combined with a touch screen for a low cost tablet. The expected price is $25 for the Model A and a mere $10 more for the Model B. The basic specs follow:
  • 700MHz Broadcom media processor featuring an ARM11 (ARM1176JZF-S) core, Broadcom GPU core, DSP core and support for Package-on-Package (PoP) RAM
  • 128MiB (Model A) or 256MiB of SDRAM (Model B), stacked on top of the CPU as a PoP device
  • OpenGL ES 2.0
  • 1080p30 H.264 high-profile decode
  • Composite and HDMI video output
  • One USB 2.0 port provided by the BCM2835
  • SD/MMC/SDIO memory card slot
  • General-purpose I/O (About 16 3v3) and various other interfaces, brought out to 1.27mm pin-strip
  • Optional integrated 2-port USB hub and 10/100 Ethernet controller (Model B)
  • Open software (Ubuntu, Iceweasel, KOffice, Python)
  • Capability to support various expansion boards 
The plan is to ship the boards at the end of November.  I'll be anxiously waiting till then ... not that I have any projects in mind yet ... but I'll spend my time thinking up ideas.  I better buy 2-3 just to be safe!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Apple most valuable US company (briefly)

For a brief moment today, Apple Computer's market capitalization surpassed Exxon Mobil Corp's making Apple the most valuable US company. By days end, Exxon regained the lead but the statement has been made. Apple made it to the top despite the evil that is/was Microsoft, despite self inflicted wounds like the Apple III or the Lisa, and despite the years without Steve Jobs.

To Steve and Woz, Congratulations!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

RIP: Decent non-camera cell phone

Like many others, I work at a site that prohibits camera cell phones. In my case, that includes phones left in your car. Every year, it gets harder and harder to find an acceptable cell phone with decent sound and basic hands-free features. Many carriers no longer even offer a non-camera option. Some companies like Blackberry offer special versions of their phones without cameras but these models can only be purchased with expensive long-term commitments.

Lately, I've begun to consider the option of owning two cell phones. Prepaid of course! One dumb phone for work and a decent smart phone when I'm not on campus. For the smart phone, I'm leaning toward a Virgin Mobile Android phone. It's time to travel 20 years into the future to 2011.

As for the simple non-camera phone, it was anything but simple to locate a decent non-camera phone with a low monthly price. Even with the help of Phone Finder, it was a chore. I ruled out most carriers because cost per month was my major factor NOT price per minute.

I would have very much like to try PlatinumTel which would have given me 2000 minutes for $100 that wouldn't expire for a year. That averages 166 minutes/month for $8.33 which would more than meet my need to make an occasional call from work. Sadly, every phone had a camera.

I ended up going with a similar plan from Tmobile but at 10 cents/minute instead of 5. The kicker was the only non-camera phone Tmobile sells is the worst cell phone I ever heard of ... the Nokia 1616. This phone doesn't have an ear speaker. No really, I'm not joking! The phone includes a speakerphone speaker on the back of the handset and a hole in the plastic to route the sound to your ear. The reviews are horrid with most people reporting bad sound quality and low volume. Gee, I wonder why.

Thankfully, Tmobile sells SIM card kits so I bought a SIM and an unlocked phone from Newegg. They had an unlocked Samsung SGH-A107 for $25. It's only the most basic phone but placing voice calls is all I need. I considered the same phone cheaper from AT&T but unlocked has a great deal of appeal.

Real life can be crazy! I won't hold my breath that common sense will prevail. Hasn't happened so far ... why start now.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

iPod Nano Watch

Legend has it the Steve Jobs has discussed the possibility of an iPod watch. The TikTok watchband makes the vision a reality ... perhaps, a little earlier than Steve intended. Thanks Kickstarter!

But unlike a true Apple product, using a sixth generation iPod Nano is short of Jobs perfection. The 6G iPod Nano is missing a couple of features that would provide that Apple perfect design. The most glaring flaw is the missing alerts/calendar functions. Give me a to way to sync my Google calendar and the TikTok watch would be my only watch.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Scout - The Autonomous Transatlantic Boat

One of my latest non-guilty pleasures is funding worthy projects on Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative people ranging from writers, film makers, artists, musicians, engineers, and designers. I've been focusing on projects that are either geeky or local. Or, in this case, both! I found a small group of college students up the road who intend to do something that has never been done: build a robotic boat to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Check out the project at

 Scout is an nearly six foot carbon fiber boat slated to autonomously travel from Rhode Island to Spain on May 29th. Scout runs a highly efficient motor off on-board batteries charged via solar panels on the hull. The boat is completely autonomous but does include a satellite tracking system to allow the public and it's designers to follow it's progress.

Will they make it? The odds are against them considering the harsh Atlantic environment. That said, I'm hopeful. Follow the record attempt on their website and, if you can, donate a few bucks and maybe, just maybe, be part of history.