Archive for the ‘Soap Box’ Category


Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Wow, 2014 seems to have zoomed by and I only manged to make 3 posts to this blog. There was some (non spam) comment activity from folks who’d found articles I’d written that were useful to them – getting feedback is always nice!

I was quite busy with my work on JavaScript runtimes (specifically Node/V8). You can check out the IBM DeveloperWorks page and grab the product of my team’s efforts. Folks that are keen to see code – should check my GitHub account and you’ll find ports of V8 for PowerPC and s390/zLinux.

Late in the year I switched roles at moved to the team that is delivering container runtimes on the IBM Bluemix cloud. We managed to rush something out the door for DockerCon Europe. It even made the IBM www front page:

Still lots to do in this rapidly evolving space, so it should be an interesting 2015 (which might keep me away from doing side projects).

Despite the fact I didn’t manage to turn out very many posts here, I was tinkering away in my limited spare time. From the top of my head: I fixed an XBox360, did lots of 3D printing (including some 2 color prints); modified my Printrbot to be more reliable; replaced some capacitors in a failing DSL modem to fix it; charged a FitBit using a hacked USB cable.. maybe I’ll try to post up a few of those as I do have notes (each of these posts takes a couple of hours usually).

So there you go, I’ve managed to break the ice and start writing here again. I have some work related stuff that I’ll be posting up here soon and hope to document some of the tinkering projects I’ve done (and have queued up) as well.

Goodbye NCF – Hello Teksavvy

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License photo by  cesarastudillo

I’d been with NCF as my internet provider for a long time, I’d even written up a review of the service. I still think it’s a good organization to support, but I can no longer recommend it as a good ISP to use. My recent experiences with them have led me to believe they do not have the technical skills available to assist their customers effectively, and they repeatedly failed to call me back as promised.

I had decided on Teksavvy based on success my friends have had, their overall reputation and my interactions with their sales and support staff answering my questions. I’m still on a DSL line, but now using 15/1 which is the fastest available to my home at the moment. I would have stayed with NCF but the upgrade cost from 6MB to the 15/1 speed was going to cost me $89.95 [this has recently changed to a $49.95] whereas the admin cost at Teksavvy was $50. I had picked April 21st as my switch-over date and set this up with the two providers.

This is when the disaster happened. We were over one week without internet service at home. Not fun. The big bad guy here is Bell, but it was handled very poorly by NCF staff.

The long story: I sent in the cancellation to NCF on March 31st. Set the date as Apr 21st. They have a form you submit to do this – however there is no email / indication that the form worked or was waiting to be processed. 24hrs later I called in to check if it was in queue, someone at the NCF office was able to tell me that it was indeed received.

I then signed up for Teksavvy starting as of the 21st.

Monday April 7th just before noon our home internet was disabled. No more DSL signal. A call to the NCF office was frustrating, I was told that the order to Bell was done correctly and the 21st was the right date. They failed to take any effective action to resolve my problem.

Tuesday April 8th. More calls to NCF, sounds now like Bell processed the disconnect order early. My only recourse? Sign up again with NCF, pay the admin fee and wait 5 business days to be reconnected. WTF?! Deep breathing. Call Teksavvy see if they can expedite my sign up with them, frustratingly I still have to wait the 5 days as that’s a Bell delay. Internet turn on day scheduled for the 15th.

Thursday April 9th. Call into NCF, talk to someone sort of useful at the office who is able to tell me the history of this screw up at NCF and what’s happened with Bell. He’s reasonable and says that they’ll have a refund to my account discussed. Promised to call me back with an update – still no call to date [as of this posting].

Sunday April 13th. Yes, we’re still without home internet. Called at 4pm by a Bell technician who is doing the outside work to connect us to DSL. I tell him my sob story about being out and is it possible we might have service today? He calls me back about an hour later and says that the outside work is all done, line looks good to go, but he was unable to get the Bell office to connect us early.  We need to wait for the Tuesday install date.

Tuesday April 15th, 3am. Dog wakes me up for some reason. He wants to go sit on the deck outside and look at the moon. Grr. Well, I’m up anyways – power cycle the DSL modem. 3:30am we’re on the internet again. 15/1 speed, still connecting through NCF [more evidence this was entirely Bell messing this up]. In the morning I setup my login / password to Teksavvy and switch over to that service entirely.

As usual, at the start of using a new service I end up talking with Teksavvy support multiple times. It hasn’t all been perfect, but in general I’ve had lots of straight answers from the people there and it’s easy to get to real technical people.

A $200 tablet

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Let me start by saying that the Apple iPad2 is an amazing device, and while it exceeds the price point that I want to talk about it is still a very good value if you treat it like a portable computing device. The lowest price I’ve seen is $299 for the 1st generation iPad, the iPod Touch sneaks under the $200 price point but only has a 3.5″ screen.

Some will point to the HP TouchPad starting this but the race to the bottom has been on for a while in the android tablet market. Of course at the very bottom are tablets like the Aakash, with a retail price in the $60 range. There is admitedly a big difference between the two; the TouchPad is high capability hardware at a fire sale price and the Aakash is a series of price/performance trade-offs.

If you simply want a cheap tablet, there are plenty in the sub $100 price point. It will have wifi, a 7″ screen, resistive screen input (non-multitouch), and a lower end processor. You’ll likely be stuck with the software that is installed on it, if you’re lucky it might have access to the Android Market or have ‘hacks’ available to expand it’s software capabilities. A fun device if you can live inside of its limits.

I’ve been looking at tablets for a while, and while the iPad is very nice I personally prefer an Android based device. As for price point, I had mentally set my price at $200 – in part influenced by the Nook sale that happened earlier this year.

What I liked about the nook is it has reasonable community support, including CyanogenMod. I had the chance to play with a Nook running CyanogenMod, it felt fine but I had missed the sale price and at the retail price of $250 it felt like there wasn’t enough to it. Recently the Nook Color has dropped to $199 and while it is still tricky to get in Canada, eBay has refurbished ones under $200 with shipping to Canada.

After looking around at various 7″ tablets I kept coming back to the Galaxy Tab. It had all the features I wanted and more, and as it turns out every once in a while they appear on kijiji for around $200. It does take a bit of waiting around, and I used the RSS feed [RSS] to watch the search term to keep me alerted when one was posted.

I suppose I should also drop in a reference to the very recently released Kindle Fire. This is a bold move by Amazon, but one that is an obvious evolution of their storefront if you think about it. There is currently problems getting them in Canada, but it is a very interesting device and price point. Certainly a direct threat to Apple due to the ecosystem Amazon is providing with the devices.

Let’s take a look at the three and compare a few features I think are key:

Nook Color Kindle Fire Galaxy Tab
Screen 7″ 1024×600 7″ 1024×600 7″ 1024×600
CPU 800MHz 1GHz(dual core) 1GHz
RAM 512MB 512MB 512MB
Storage 8Gb + MicroSD 8Gb 16Gb + MicroSD
Weight 450g 413g 380g
Camera none none 3.2MP + 1.3MP front
Wireless Wifi b/g/n + bluetooth Wifi b/g/n 3G GSM + Wifi b/g/n + bluetooth
GPS none none yes
Community Yes Not yet Yes

The Galaxy Tab beats the Nook on all fronts, but if 3G data, GPS and camera are not important features to you, the Nook looks very nice. The Nook probably has the strongest community support right now, but the Galaxy Tab is not far behind. The Kindle is very new, so there isn’t much of a hacking community yet (I’m sure there will be) and if you live in the US then the Amazon ecosystem looks very compelling.

I’ve actually purchased two Galaxy Tabs so far. The first I ended up passing along to my father in law who had been on the hunt for a tablet for some time. He had actually tried the iPad2 and Playbook out before settling on the Galaxy Tab. I think price point and functionality combined to meet his criteria. The second one appeared the other day for $150 including a leather case, how could I say no? Yes, that’s my $150 tablet pictured at the top of the post.

I haven’t had any time to play with it so we’ll see if it finds a niche in my gadget use, I’m encouraged by folks like Tim Bray who seems to prefer the 7″ tab vs. other more powerful and newer devices. It is a little tempting to turn it into a phone as it’d make the Galaxy Note seem a bit undersized, but I’d never live down the sidetalking comments at work.

Parting words:  WOW!  If this is the price point we’re at now the future looks amazing for gadgets with mind blowing technology.