Automation that helps

Off to welcome a relative tonight in Newark airport, my Google Now on the phone is proving some concrete assistance. I think I never even intended to take it to use, it just came with installing the respective front end for my Android – which I happen to prefer to the default.

Nevertheless, yesterday my phone prompted me about the approaching flight – recall I’m not even on it, has automatically taken this information from my email where it was forwarded.

Then as the flight gets delayed, I keep getting updates with great exactitude. Therefore I know minute by minute when to leave for the airport. I end up knowing more about when the plane is supposed to land than my relative does (who is texting me).

I am usually rather skeptical towards any announcements that apps push to the phone, but in this case, it managed to find just what I needed without even asking in combination of many sources for information. Well done Google Now!

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Tinkering

It is good to show other people what you do, every once in a while. For instance, I was exhibiting a friend what I had done with the Android Phone and then something dawned upon me. It is just a phone. I tinker with it in the evenings and put the results in this blog (sometimes). That is fair, but it is really just what I do alone and not much else. My work in science is not like that at all. It is built in with mechanisms of feedback, like peer reviews, thesis reviews, talking about an article with a professor, teaching to students, conference chatting, or emails with colleagues.

My hobbies in demoscene and the VJ scene resembled this latter sociality. While the goal was different – visuals rather than new knowledge -, at least there was a community. Even two people who work together are much more of a community than one.

One rationale for individual tinkering might be that it maintains skills. But who evaluates these skills if you never show anyone what you do?

It is funny to think about this situation, as it were an outsider. When younger, I was almost determinite to make something new with technology and have an impact. I guess this is an ambition that something has hampered; whether that something is aging, or the competitive system of my work which can make you more focused and consequently narrower in what you try to do.

Having said that, I have some ideas where to take these hobbies next which hopefully means less nights staying up doing something with a phone because you happen to can…

Updates in short

It has been a while again. What halted my writing here was not the new gadgetry I purchased, but the deadline to my doctoral thesis. However, soon I will write about these topics:

1. Handing in a doctoral thesis. How did it feel and what is the afterlife like. (Short answer: very good indeed for the first, uncertain for the second.)

2. I also was to Greece to co-organize (to computer support) a conference. I shall send pictures and maybe impressions.

3. A friend and I are planning a stay in Southern Europe for next spring (2013). The rough route has been settled (while the details are deliberately left open) and first flights are reserved. Surely to become an exciting journey… I will send some details about our planning later.

More to come…

Backlight control

After a couple of more searches, the backlight control on the N800 tablet now is much more succesful. The issue was, some of the necessary system code is proprietory, and needs to be used appropriately. Instructions to do so are here. In practice, it is not completely straight forward: instead, you need to give super user privileges to the regular use who is running the app… which is sort of a mixed practice. Still great that it works so well.

Experiment no 1

image

After reading a set of other people’s python codes and learning from them, the sleep button for the Nokia N800 almost works. Almost being the important word here.

The idea is nice and usable in my opinion. In the upper left on the picture here, a sleep button resides. Press that once and the screen blanks. Press again and it comes back on.

Well, not as fluid as that. The bottleneck is the interference from the operating system. It lets you switch the level of backlight, but only for a while. After that, the system is like a watch dog and corrects your actions. What emerges is a very flickery screen blank indeed. Even at the most frequent interval, you cannot outrun the operating system.

Maybe indeed one crux of open programming is the borderline between “open” and “closed”: between those actors that can be influenced and those that simply impose actions on you.

Open aspirations

In an open source project — be it hardware, software, or something entirely else — the idea is that everyone participates into the shaping of the final product: “consumers”, “producers” and the middle persons. That such ideas are powerful and tempting was again clear when I was seeking for some information on the programming of my hobby horse the N800 Internet tablet. Initially rather than finding immediately relevant information, I found old excited texts — or even `hype´, which is probably appropriate here. One text predicted that the then just unveiled N800 would be superior to the then forthcoming iPhone because you could program the Nokia, even with the markedly high-level Python language.

In fact I think I agree. Not on who eventually dominated the markets, but that there is something exciting about using such open platforms as the N800. I am drawing on a seminar discussion some while ago, where we thought about the essence of open source programming and agreed — I think — that it goes beyond openness as such. What is important as well is the possibility to experiment. That is to say, the door is left open for diverse and unpredictable tests and trials: the technology itself is  unfinished, or never finished, purposively. You can yourself try to take it further. Both “production” and “consumption” are open, re-evaluated, questioned, refined, or such. It is exciting and motivating. Maybe this is one of the reasons that keep people occupied with programming and hardware hacking for decades.

All of this is is why it was very interesting to read a recent story about an “open hardware” electric car quoted in Slashdot. In this commentary, the benefits of openness were almost entirely related to improved effectiveness and lowered costs, both for the manufacturer and the end-consumer, and openness as such was not even assessed in the short story that accompanied the headline. It made one think and I thought they have a point of sorts. Especially in a fiscal crisis and as budget cuts are looming, cost-effectiveness might be another tempting and powerful justification for installing more open technologies.

Perhaps the N800 also proves this point in some respect. Rather than running to shop for an iPad2 as I am expected to do, for example, at least I still use the Nokia, and many other people seem to do so as well (it is, for example, quite hard to find discounted or 2nd hand models of this tablet). (Admittedly, I did buy the first iPad but somehow do not enjoy it as much as I would like.) At the same time the Nokia does have its usability issues, but perhaps it is time to experiment a bit how to resolve them. I’ve two quirks in particular: there is no easy way to dim the screen and put the tablet to sleep, and the net connection keeps interrupting and I have no idea when. Let’s see if a bit of Python programming helps…