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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mobile webcam

How many uses can a single device have!? :)

I have been meaning to test this for ages, but only got to it (at last) today during lunch. WWIGO is a really smart combination of PC and Symbian software that allows you to use your bluetooth capable Symbian camera phone as a webcam (provided you have bluetooth connectivity for your pc of course). I tested it out with my N95 and Windows Live Messenger (MSN Messenger for most sane people), and then with YouTube's Quickcapture. Youtube seems to force the detail down or something, but you get the idea. And no, don't expect to get a glimpse of me in this video :p

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Friday, July 27, 2007

The Secret

It's been a while since I made a decent post (and I was on such a roll). The fact is I have loads of stuff I want to post about, but I'm really busy due to a pretty major change in my life. I officially resigned at 5DT last week, and I'll end my time here at the end of July. As a result I've been hectically trying to finish off my outstanding stuff here.

I can't say much about my new job. I can say I wasn't job hunting but when the offer came up I knew I had to give it serious consideration. I lost lots of sleep, and in the end decided it's a chance I can't pass up. All I can say is, it'll bring me back to the industry I love :)

Right, so with that out of the way and with no real answers given, lets move on!

Another toy

Two weeks ago I was up for an upgrade on my phone contract (the N95 wasn't on my contract, it was a gift :)) and I went and picked up my new phone, a Sony Ericsson W850i. I have been eyeing the white model for some time, but it turns out it's not possible to get it on Vodacom except through Nashua Mobile in SA. So black it is. Obviously the W850 doesn't match up to the N95 on functionality, but it's no slacker either.

Being one of the SE Walkman range, a lot of emphasis is placed on it's music ability, so it obviously has a decent music player (though far from perfect) and FM radio. The bundled 1Gb memory stick duo holds a sizeable amount of music, in my case shuffled in with WinAmp's excellent portable player support. While the music player has support for internet radio as well, I'm not about to run my bill up streaming audio over 3G ;)

The included web browser is one of the better standard issue ones I have seen, with fullscreen support and the ability to view pages in landscape instead of portrait mode. I have installed Opera Min of course, but have found myself using the built in browser far more often. It does have an RSS client as well which is nice, but until the day I can get all my feeds from Google Reader as a single feed I will stick to a reader bookmark.

The calendar has support for OTA synchronization, and GooSync works perfectly on it. There is no support for contact synchronization though, which is a pity. Apparently this is a common gripe with the SE UIQ operating system. Speaking of the OS, Nokia could learn a lot from SE's operating system. It is far snappier and more stable than the Symbian OS running on Nokia's latest devices.

The 2 megapixel camera is a far cry from the N95's 5 megapixel one, and there is no autofocus, but one area where the W850 seems to be way better is in the brightness and colour quality of the pictures it takes.

At this stage I've taken to using the SE during the week when I don't need the Nokia's extra features, and the N95 on weekends when the extra bits come in handy being away from a PC. Yeah I know, I'm such a geek :p

Something Fishy

I was quite surprised at how tough it was to find fun, quality 3D games which take advantage of the 3D hardware in the N95. In the end what I did find was a group called Fishlabs that make 3D games for Java. Now this doesn't utilize the N95's acceleration hardware (there were demos available for both my phones) but they do have some really excellent games.

They use a combination of a decent engine (the Abyss engine, go figure :p ), good art direction to hide device rendering limitations and gameplay and controls designed to fit a mobile phone well to create some of the best mobile games I have seen in a while. I ended up buying a copy of their submarine shooter/trader Deep 3D. It feels a lot like X Beyond the Frontier and has a satisfying mix of action and strategy-just what is needed for a good mobile experience. It's east to start up the game, work through a quick mission, save and exit in a couple of minutes.

Block this!

Of course  I had to get a decent game for my SE as well, and ended up being pleasantly surprised by a game which I never really got into on other platforms: Lumines. When I bought the original PSP Lumines game when it first came out, I felt it was a terribly over-hyped and over-priced game. The Xbox Live Lumines fiasco left an even worse taste in my mouth, with the game being broken up and being sold piecemeal for what amounted to the price of a full retail title. I could just never swallow paying the price of a full blown arcade game for a block dropper.

Well Lumines mobile fixes all of that. For less than half the price of the cheapest XBLA game, you get a fun, polished block dropper with loads of gameplay. The only thing missing is a bluetooth multiplayer mode-which I would definitely have paid extra for, but as it stands Lumines mobile is a great buy.

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Friday vid-Stop motion PSP

This is an incredibly well conceived and produced video showing off the many abilities of the PSP. I really don't know if it's an official Sony production or something a really dedicated fan put together, but it's awesome!

PSP "Come To Life" Animation - video powered by Metacafe

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday funny.

If you watch one YouTube video this week, this has to be it :)

Friday, July 13, 2007

All Googly eyed

No E3 commentary in this post I'm afraid. I just don't have time right now. If I had to start writing about E3, I'd probably keep going until Monday, and I really don't have time right now I'm afraid. What I can afford some time for while I'm waiting for builds (again) is two quick Google product user tips.

The other Google desktop

I love using Google Notebook, not just to grab references off the web that I might otherwise forget, but as a full GTD system for priority planning as described in this great lifehacker article. I also find Google Calendar to be an excellent all-round calendar tool (especially thanks to it's great quick-add functionality). The problem with web-based productivity tools is that they can be counter-productive simply because you have the distracting temptation of an open browser.

Well Windows XP has a nice way to avoid this temptation-web components on your desktop. This oft-forgotten feature is a simple way to always have these tools available.  To add them:

  1. Right-click on your desktop and select Properties
  2. The Display Properties dialog opens. In the Desktop click Customize Desktop.
  3. The Desktop Items dialog opens. In the Web tab, click New.
  4. The New Desktop Item dialog opens, enter the URL of the site (for example and click OK.
  5. The Add item to Active Desktop (TM) dialog appears, click OK.
  6. Wait for the Synchronize dialog to complete and disappear.
  7. Click OK in the Desktop Items dialog, and again in the Display Properties dialog.
  8. Move and resize the component to your liking.

Now to quickly switch to Notebook, Calendar or whatever you decide to use this way, just hit Windows Key + D on the keyboard.

Note that this will use the IE rendering engine, regardless of what browser you normally use, so it may not already have Google cookies for your ID, just sign in and you should be fine. This also means that your greasemonkey scripts won't be active on the page so you will have to make do with the standard pages.

Some other potentially great uses of active desktop with modern sites could be:

  • A Flickr slideshow as your background
  • Google custom home always available
  • A permanent alternative web OS like YouOS always available.

Any more good suggestions?

Google Notebook for Mobiles (almost)

One of the biggest missing features in Google Notebook for me is a mobile version. I want to be able to quickly jot down notes and always have them available-and view my existing notes. Now while Google has yet to make this feature available, they have created a Google notebook gadget for your custom homepage.

Depending on your phone browser's abilities, this gadget can be used as a read-only view of your notebook on your phone. Simply got to in your phone browser and you'll be able to look over your notes.

If someone figures out how to edit text that would be great-let me know ;)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Gooey Sync

Last week I mentioned that I use the GooSync Google Calendar synchronization service on my phone. As luck would have it I now have a premium account, with all the extra bits and pieces available to me - I could tell you how I got it, but then I'd have to kill you ;)

 As I said before, basically what GooSync allows you to do is keep your Google Calendar and you phone's calendar up to date. It makes use of the phone's built-in synchronization abilities, and simply provides a new synchronization source. With a free account it is possible to sync with your default Google Calendar (from a Google domain or your own Google domain), in a window reaching 7 days into the past and 30 days ahead. All day events, timed reminders and recurring public and private events are synchronized both ways.

Synchronization happens through Google's secure API, so as part of the signup process you are directed to Google to authorize the service to access your calendar. Thanks to Google's spiffy access control, they don't get access to anything else at all.

In addition to the standard functionality, the premium service offers the ability to modify the sync window up to a year in the past and ahead. It also allows synchronization with multiple Google calendars, including shared calendars. Events from secondary calendars may be prefixed with a tag, so for example events on my Birthdays calendar are prefixed with [bday], while those from the (crucially important) South African Public Holidays public calendar have a [hols] prefix. Finally, attendee information is synchronized as well, though I have not been able to figure out how to view it on the n95.

The upgrade price of $19.95 might be a bit much for the casual Google Calendar user that only uses a single calendar (and even then only rarely). For someone that uses multiple calendars, shared calendars and is constantly trying to convert everyone and their dog to gcal to make their own lives easier (yes, like me) it's worth considering.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Branded like cattle

 I was quite excited last week when my newly subscribed N95 related RSS feeds heralded the release of a new firmware version for the phone. Coolest amongst the implemented changes was "Assisted GPS", which if the little reading I did on the subject is correct, allows the phone to first utilize the cellular network to triangulate an approximate location, and then use that to get a satellite lock more quickly than it would have otherwise. What it also means is that if no satellite is available (say, when you are indoors), the cell-network-only location can be used for geotagging! As it turns out, there was an update in April as well, and this included better camera quality and performance. Needless to say, I quickly downloaded the software I would need for the update and hooked up my phone.

And that's where Vodafone came into the picture and screwed things up. Apparently, when a manufacturer releases a new (generic) firmware version, it is sent off to all the networks that have their own branded versions of the device, and they re-brand it and send it back to be made available on the manufacturer's download service. Not only has Vodaphone/Vodacom not managed to get the new version (12) out yet -which would be understandable considering how new it is- they have not even managed to get the previous version (11) out! Again, this was released in April!

It is possible for an N95 owner to fiddle the system, basically they have to hack the product version of their phone to a generic one, and then the Nokia software will make the new firmware available. Of course this voids the warrantee-which is not something you want to do on a ten grand phone!

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Friday, July 06, 2007


I mentioned recently that Natz' Dad got himself a Nokia N95 on his upgrade. Well it took him all of 3 weeks to decide it's too complex for his needs and irritates the hell out of him, so with ten days to go before my own upgrade (yeah, I've been counting down the days) I got handed an uber-device that I would NEVER have been able to get on my contract. Needless to say I have pimped the hell out of it over the past couple of days :)

Built in functionality wise, the N95 is an absolute beast. I can't possibly list all the stuff it does, but the highlights include WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, 5 Megapixel camera, VGA quality video recording, hardware 3D acceleration (no I'm not kidding), TV out, and much more. This long list has led to something of a mini-war between iPhone and N95 fans, since Apple's claim that the iPhone is the 'phone of the future' is quite laughable considering it's limited functionality by comparison. For example:

Anyway, apart from fiddling with all the standard functionality, I have found some nice alternative themes, and some great apps to really push what the phone can do. I'll just list the ones I have decided to hang onto and keep using :)

Opera Mini (Web Browser): I have mentioned it before, and I still love the added speed and screen space, so it was an obvious addition.

Fring (IM and VOIP): Fring is an excellent IM and VOIP client that supports MSN/Live, GMail and Skype, which can be left resident and used to replace your standard contact list as well.

ShoZu ('Sharing', Downloadable content, Contact management): Shozu has a strange combination of functionality. Unlike the other apps I'm using, it autostarts and is always resident (and cant be seen in the phone's process manager). The primary attraction for me is that it allows easy sharing of photos and videos to a ridiculous list of sites including Flickr, Blogger and YouTube. It's even possible to 'share' to email and ad FTP sites. It has a content download component with a collection of predefined 'ZuCasts' that can be subscribe to. Finally it can back your contents up to the Shozu website. All this can be managed from the app or from a very convenient website and updated to the app. All in all it's a great package.

GooSync (Calendar sync): A service rather than an application, GooSync allows synchronization between Google Calendar and the phone's calendar app using the standard synch function. Very cool.

Calcium (Calculator): A great replacement for the standard system calculator that is far more efficient to use.

MGMaps (Mapping): A mapping app that mashes up Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Windows Live Local, Maps and satellite imagery, makes use of the internal GPS (which I still haven't been outdoor long enough to test).

GMail mobile (email): Duh, seriously this is a no brainer :)

In addition to those, I've of course added web bookmarks to all the Google essentials, and completely removed all of those damned Vodacom Live links. I'm still looking for a feed reader that I'm 100% happy with, both for text and media feeds. For the moment I'm juggling between Mobispine and the mobile version of Google Reader for text reading. I have downloaded Nokia's own 'Podcasting' application, but have yet to try it out. 

5 megapixels baby! My first shozu test

Ok, so it's been downscaled, but that's cool too because Shozu drops it automatically for web submission (this can be disabled of course).

Posted by ShoZu

Update: as cool as it is, Shozu does fail to upload tags to blogger :(

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Natz and I looooove our Sushi. She's not mad about the dishes that have a large proportion of meat in them like Nigiri and Sashimi, but she'll happily chow down on the likes of Maki and California Rolls. I love the whole lot of course! Knowing how much we enjoy the stuff, Natz' sister bought me a sushi 'kit' for Christmas (containing the rice, nori, rolling mat, vinegar and soy sauce), and we've been meaning to use it ever since. We finally got to doing it this weekend. 

Finding the fish turned out to be quite a mission. After unsuccessfully scouring the supermarkets, it occurred to me that Ocean Basket sells their fish uncooked as well. I managed to pick up a huge salmon steak for a measly 25 bucks! It turned out to be overkill too, and we had grilled salmon for Sunday breakfast too. The rice ended up bordering on disaster, as we first tried using a 'traditional' bamboo steam cooker which had the rice rock hard after two hours. Some extra water and a few minutes in the microwave sorted it out, but we were certainly worried for a while. The vinegar mixture was a piece of cake, and actually making the Sushi is kind of reminiscent of playing in the mud as a kid-messy as hell!


While I need a lot of practice to get it looking right (hey, Sushi masters train for years :p) I must say I'm quite impressed with the results of our first try.

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