living in a gorgeous mathy future

Posted in books, math on February 8th, 2009 by fabienne

i was reluctant to start reading the book Anathem by Neal Stephenson because i was afraid that i would be depressed about living in the present. i voiced my apprehension to the author at a book reading here in Berlin. he thought it was a silly fear, and thus i started absorbing the pithy mathtastic volume. i usually jot down page numbers of my favorite passages at the front of the book, but since this one had been autographed and dedicated to me, i figured i shouldn’t sully it with my usual pencil scratches. [sidenote: why aren’t there ebook readers where i can annotate (underline and scrawl notes in the margin) and do full text search yet? get on it ebook creators.] so i twittered my three month journey through this mathic universe. notable quotes include:

p. 171: “When I recited the 127th through 283rd digits of pi, the fight went out of them.”

p. 210: “his plan had another advantage as well: it was flagrantly silly.” recreating battles with weeds vs. garden. awesome.

p. 351: “…desperate men living on the top of a mountain, eating lichens.”

p. 642: “We are speaking of an infinitesimal snatch of time just after the Big Bang…”

p.721: “anything else, as long as i have a channel open?” “is it a private channel?” “don’t be ridiculous,” he pointed out.

…and on page 799 reference to euclid’s proof that the square root of two is an irrational number. this was an incredible read, one which i hadn’t anticipated i would enjoy, but in the end it wasn’t the future world or its mathy inhabitants that drove the story. as always, it was the incredible characters that propel a narrative that only stephenson can weave into a cohesive story. i loved the whole journey.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

no longer a nokia fangirl

Posted in gadgets on February 1st, 2009 by fabienne

so after all those nokia posts over the years, for the first time ever, i don’t use a nokia as my mobile device [updated feb 6th, 2009, see bottom of post] (mobile phone? cellphone? does anyone make calls anymore with these devices?). yes, i broke down after seeing eliot‘s dev version g1 android google phone and bought a new phone. i was waiting way too long for a replacement for my aging nokia e70, and i couldn’t wait any longer after the release of the curse of silence at the end of congress (my pics of 25c3 here). so why would i break down and use a google phone after all my anti-google rants? i can’t stand the iphone’s touchscreen soft keyboard: the iphone is just a pull device for me, not a push device. the openmoko is great in theory, but once again i need a keyboard. the google phone is pretty much the only option for me right now, short of getting another nokia that i’m not happy with.

it’s a bit shocking to realize the uptake in the open source mobile development community around the android. i guess i never thought about the iphone app store having a competitor in the google android market, but it’s got crazy uptake. some thoughts on my g1 in the last 21 days i’ve had it (largely compared to e70, rockstar of an old phone that it was):

  • 24 days ago: omg omg omg my g1 dev version arrived just now! my g1 android phone’s back battery cover smells like rubber in new shoes. i’m like a kid in new clothes on the first day of school. yay data plan working in g1 android dev phone. (i must find a shorter way to say that.) i feel so dirty as an ex-nokia-fangirl.
  • 23 days ago: acquired 8gb micro sd for g1, 1tb ext hdd for photo backup/processing. space: i has it. yay k9 mail on android g1 phone works with self signed imap certs! i can haz email on my new phone! i want a real jabber client for the g1 phone (general xmpp, maybe off smack?, sexier than this. ) who wants to help?
  • 20 days ago: @timbray The truth bout multi-touch and the Android G1.
  • 17 days ago: the g1 dev version standard headphones suck so so bad. guess i will have to mod them with minijack. oh wait wasn’t i doing this in 2005?
  • 14 days ago: g1 shows up fine over usb with g5 tower at work, not on ubuntu media server or g4 tower at home, with card reader or tethered. frak. 1gb micro sd from g1 mounting just fine on ubuntu media tower, syncing just fine with amarok. 8gb frak up is a mystery. arg found a how-to for repartitioning large micro sd cards for g1 android right when i needed to leave the house. less travel, more nerding.
  • 13 days ago: so amarok did sync all the songs, id3 tags, file folders, + even album art to g1. BUT: no playlist file. meh, “repeat all” for my shower. cannibalizing hacked nokia popport to mod g1 headphones. deja-freaking-vu.
  • 8 days ago: weird bug on the g1, camera takes one pic, then says i need to insert sd card. playing music at the same time off sd card.
  • 4 days ago: my g1 has lost connection to my cell carrier 3 times in 2 days and requires hard reboot. wtf?

so the basic thing is, this is a sexy phone, with a backlit full keyboard, but it’s definitely beta to the max. the battery life sucks (haven’t tried different battery mod patches yet), and it has some issues with keeping a cellphone connection in places of crappy signal that cuts in and out. however, that being said, the android market with its over-the-air downloads and installs is a huge HUGE huge contender to the iphone app store. i must say that’s the big point of this phone, it’s in an interesting position of open source and useability. when i bought it at the beginning of the month, i did not expect to be inspired to write or patch apps for it. and now, well, i very well may code some stuff up. final verdict for my g1: i don’t hate it i’m going to switch back to nokia for the time being.

update feb 6, 2009: i tried tethering and couldn’t even get this broswer proxy server to work. not being able to share my 3g connection with my laptop was the last straw for me. i am going to switch back to my nokia until the g1 has:

  1. a jabber client that deals well with disconnects and saves your login credentials.
  2. better battery life.
  3. a way to share a calendar without going through gcal.
  4. a way to tether 3g properly to a laptop, either cabled or wireless.
Tags: , , , , ,

Two weeks with the Nokia E90

Posted in gadgets on September 2nd, 2008 by fabienne

I was offered the chance to test out a Nokia E90 (aka the newest Nokia Communicator) for two weeks. As I’m a gadget hound, I jumped at the opportunity and here are my thoughts. Be forewarned that I used the E90 in place of my usual E70. Many of the criticisms found in this post have to do with comparisons between my E70 and the E90. Right off the bat I noticed that the keys on the E90 felt less “clicky” than the keys on my E70. I personally love responsive keys on a tiny keyboard, otherwise I can’t really touch type. The hinges on the E90 are a bit strange, and they grew on my slightly by the end of the two weeks. However, I would have loved to have a 45 degree angled mode between completely open and 90 degrees.

The screen was nice and bright, but often too bright at night. I tried adjusting the brightness and having the screen brightness auto-adjust with the light sensor, all to no avail. Also impeding proper usage of the E90 in the dark is the very dimly backlit keyboard in the fully open qwerty mode. My E70 has keys that are much more brightly backlit than the E90 when open. As far as I could find there was no way to increase the keyboard backlight’s brightness; it supported either on or off. Another usability annoyance for me were the two select buttons (they look like blue parentheses up to the right of the screen in the photo above). The select buttons are difficult to reach while thumb typing on the qwerty keyboard. On the E70 those buttons are on the screen in the middle and are very easy to access without any reach or stretch.

One happy feature of the E90 is the strong vibrator. It makes my E70 seem positively wimpy, and I have missed calls on my E70 in silent mode since switching back a few days ago. The four-way joysticks on both the outside and inside of the E90 work significantly better than on my E70. Coverage of 3G (UMTS) seems to be very similar to the antenna strength on my E70.

Now let me discuss current mobile apps for the Nokia E90. On my E70 I use the built in email app. The E90’s email app is very similar, though it is more pleasant to use on the interior widescreen than the outer screen. Web browsing still requires usage of the built in Nokia browser, as Opera doesn’t support the E90 as of the time of this review. Shozu supposedly supports the E90, but I tried installing it three times without success. The crash error message on the E90 that I had with many apps — “KERN EXEC 3” — is at least different than the usual “Out of Memory” error on my E70. I couldn’t upgrade to a newer firmware on the E90 because I didn’t have access to any Windows machines during my two week trial, so perhaps some of the bugs have been ironed out. The music player on the E90 is much better software-wise than the aging one on the E70. Annoyingly enough the E90 uses a 2.5mm connector instead of the standard 3.5mm mini jack connector on most commercial headphones. Yes, I use my cell as my mp3 player, when 2 and 4 GB cellphone memory cards are so cheap why shouldn’t I?

What I did enjoy was trying out Nokia Maps 2.0 with the E90’s built in GPS. It took a little while to lock to satellite, as GPS does in many gadgets, but once synced worked wonderfully. I used the search feature while walking to a new destination, subway stops were well marked, and switching between street/satellite/mixed/3d views was seamless. Saving screenshots of maps to the photo gallery was a snap. Map data is cached every time you search, so you use less and less of your data connection as time goes on. The only part of the whole experience that I found a bit lacking was the difficulty in saving a location. Location tagging/saving/sharing is in the works for the next version of Nokia Maps. In conclusion I have to say that I wish all the apps on the E90 were as compelling as Nokia Maps. The E90 is just not the best phone for me. It is too large and unwieldy compared to my past phones. I will continue on my quest for a replacement for my E70, which I will have had for two years in October. Next up I hope to test the E70’s replacement, the non-flip over candy-bar style Nokia E71.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,