Category Archives: Technology

iPhone arrived!

Ordered it 4 days ago at the AT&T store, it just arrived at the store – yay! I’m in Vegas just now, but will pick it up on Tuesday.

I can’t believe there are people waiting in line for hours at the Apple store when its this easy!

3G iPhone sales still a fiasco (updated)

Update: On my friend Steve Oskoui‘s recommendation, I went into an AT&T store, and put my name on a waiting list. They’ll call me, hopefully in a few weeks and I can come in and pick up my iPhone. This is way more civilized than waiting in 100F heat for several hours at the Apple store – thanks for the tip Steve! Actually my first instinct was to go to an AT&T store shortly after the iPhones came out, but when I called they just said they didn’t have any and mentioned nothing about a waiting list.

I’d like to get a 3G iPhone.  I resisted getting the first series iPhone because I’d recently purchased a Blackberry, but I’m now at a point where its time for a smartphone upgrade.

Only problem is, I don’t need an iPhone badly enough to stand in line for hours at the Apple Store.  My strategery, therefore, was to wait a few weeks until the lines die down.  I thought yesterday might be a good day to try, boy was I wrong.

I turned up at 9am at an Apple Store in North Austin (one of two in the city) to see a line stretching almost a block, with I’d guess about 150 people.  The scuttlebutt in the line was that the people getting their phone at 9am had been there since 7.15am, and the earliest arrivals had been there quite a bit before that!

I decided to do some research and found an Apple Store employee.  The first surprise was that the primary bottleneck was not availability of the devices, but the time required to qualify customers for AT&T.  Apparently people were waiting in line for hours only to find that AT&T wouldn’t qualify them!  There was more than a hint of frustration among the Apple Store employees.

Some sanity though, they would give out tickets which would allow you to come back at any time before 6pm and guarantee you a handset.  The bad news?  She thought it would take them several hours just to get to the back of the line with the tickets!

I thanked her for the information, and told her I’d be back in a month.

I just found the best game yet for the iPhone

I’ve found the perfect game for the iPhone or iTouch, its called Galcon and its a port of a game I enjoy playing on my Mac.  Here is the link to it in the iTunes Store (you may need to upgrade your iPhone firmware to version 2.0 to support the new AppStore).  It costs $10, but its well worth it IMHO.

Galcon is essentially a real-time version of Risk.  You must battle with a computer-controlled player to capture planets using your ships.  The more planets you capture, the more ships you can build.  Playing the game is as simple as dragging your finger between planets to move your ships.  You can control how many ships to move (as a percentage of those currently on the source planet) by tapping the % in the bottom-right of the screen.

The graphics are a little amateurish, but that doesn’t detract from the game’s overall enjoyability, in fact, I think the simplicity is an advantage.  It gives the game an 80s feel.

I’ve always loved strategy games like Command and Conquer, and Galcon is this concept boiled down to its bare strategic essentials, with a UI that is perfect for the iPhone.  Its actually easier to play on the iPhone than on my Mac!

Oh, and in case you are wondering, I don’t know Galcon’s author and have nothing to gain from plugging it other than encouraging its future development by putting a few bucks in its author’s pocket.

More bad news regarding blog hack

A few days ago I reported that my blog had been hacked, most likely due to a vulnerability in the previous version of WordPress I was using.

Well, at that time I thought I had cleaned out the infected files, but it turned out that a few files in the parent directory of my blog (http://locut.us/) were still infected. This wouldn’t have been a problem because nobody really visits those files, but unfortunately Google’s web crawler did, and as a result Google has decided that my blog contains malware. Now, if you try to visit my website in Firefox 3.0 – you get a big scary warning!

So I’ve had it running my own WordPress installation, unsure of when it will next be hacked, possibly with even worse consequences than this time. Frankly, it is absolutely ridiculous that such a mainstream application could be so insecure as to leave tens of thousands of websites vulnerable in this way.

Even though I’m a bit wary of rewarding WordPress for their insecure software, I’ve decided to migrate my blog to their hosted service, as you’ll be able to tell if you look at the URL right now.

I’ve requested that Google remove my former domain from their danger list, but they say that it could take several weeks – in the meantime its not exactly going to do wonders for my blog’s traffic 🙁

Alan’s new project goes live: uCareer!

My good friend and occasional collaborator, Alan Ren has just launched his new project, uCareer, an innovative and novel take on the hard problem of matching employees with employers.

We’ve had career websites like Monster.com for almost a decade, and really they haven’t changed much in this time.  Meanwhile, the process of hiring is tedious, time consuming, and risky, both for employers and employees.  uCareer has the potential to change this.

Alan has already got some great publicity and I wish him the best of luck with his new project.

Firefox 3.0 – the last piece falls into place

Firefox 3.0 is great, among my favorite features is a new location bar that seems virtually psychic.  Type “boa”, and it takes me to the Bank of America website.  Type “subm” and it takes me to stories I’ve submitted on Reddit, and so on.

One thing that has been missing is del.icio.us support.  If you aren’t familiar with it, del.icio.us is a social bookmarking website – basically I use it like an off-site backup for my bookmarks.  It also has an awful URL, but delicious.com works too.

Firefox 3.0 has great bookmarking support, allowing you to tag bookmarks much as you do in del.icio.us.  Unfortunately, until now there has been no integration between Firefox 3.0 and del.icio.us.  Fortunately, they’ve just released a del.icio.us add-on for Firefox 3.0!

I’m now using it and its pretty good, although I did need to sign-out of del.icio.us and sign back in before it synchronized my bookmarks.

Argh, my blog was hacked

My blog was hacked, see this thread for details.

I blame PHP.  While it makes it easy to do a lot in a short space of time, it also makes it very easy to leave security holes in whatever you build with it.  May PHP features are just begging for code-injection vulnerabilities unless you are very careful with how you use them.

One of these days I’m going to purge myself of PHP, which unfortunately will mean saying goodbye to WordPress :-/

Installing Ubuntu on OLPC XO

A few months ago I procured an OLPC XO laptop on eBay.  It’s a cute looking green thing, about 9 1/2 inches across.  It’s got a small but usable keyboard, and a great screen, which is readable even in direct sunlight (useful in Texas).  It has wifi (the “ears” on either side are the antennas), and a trackpad.  All in all the hardware is very cool.

The software is a different story.  They started well, basing it on Linux, the powerful and extremely flexible operating system more commonly found on servers, but then they decided that they needed to invent an entirely new type of user interface called “Sugar”.  The result is slow, unreliable, and not especially convenient.  For example, they threw away the concept of windows, meaning that the laptop could only display one program at a time, much like many cellphones.  I’m sure they thought this would be easier for children, but frankly I think this was a patronizing decision.  The OLPC project has been widely criticized for the mess that Sugar has become, it’s a real shame.

Fortunately it is possible to install other operating systems on the XO, and I decided to go for Ubuntu, a flavor of Linux that is extremely popular these days.  I found a tutorial explaining how to do this (there are a few different tutorials, I think that is probably the best one).  I needed to purchase an SD card so that I could install Ubuntu while keeping the original Sugar operating system intact.  Ubuntu apparently would have required less than 1GB, but I wanted to ensure I had plenty of room to install other software so $80 later I had an 8GB SD card, which slots discretely into the underside of the XO screen.

The instructions also said that I needed to obtain a “developer key” to “unlock” my XO before I could install Ubuntu.  Unfortunately this process takes 24 hours, and actually proved not to be necessary – I guess only some XOs require this.

The process itself was surprisingly straight-forward and painless, and required about an hour – much of which was just waiting while stuff downloaded or while it formatted the SD card.

Most people use the Xfce user interface, its fast, attractive, and convenient.  Here is a screenshot taken directly from the XO which shows the Xfce user interface along with a few apps including the Pidgin IM client, and Firefox (click for full size):

A few tips: Getting the XO to talk to your wifi network can be tricky, I recommend installing Wicd (“sudo apt-get install wicd”), a great utility for automatically configuring Wifi networks.  Additionally, after installation follow these tips to fix a few annoyances.

Anyway, I’ve got to say that I’m very happy with my XO running Ubuntu, my XO went from being a novelty toy to a useful tool.  It’s much easier to bring to a coffee shop and do some web surfing or read and reply to email than my 15″ (soon to be 17″) Mac.  I’ve even installed Xemacs on it so that I can play with Haskell, a programming language I’m currently learning.  All in all the OLPC XO is the best gadget I’ve purchased since the iTouch.