Captain Tomtom saves the day.

Sep 15

Hmm 🙂 Wonderfull wonderful weekend. As we are entering my favorite time of the year (late summer/early autum) the smell of the first falling leaves is mixed with the last warmth of the amber sunrays. A perfect time for a little day out. Sunday was a mixture of good conversation, Wonderful tea an pancakes and walks in the valley of Spa.

Taking the new company car out for a spin proved to be a great idea. The Audi A3 rolls smoothly and the lack of its "technical extras" has been partially fixed. After surfing around on some "bargain sites" I managed to find a Tomtom 710 GPS unit for 200 euro’s. Looking at the specs it looked like it was going to be quite a cool device. Maps of Western Europe, TCM (Traffic info) , SD card slot ( For playing media) , Bleutooth to use the device as a wireless handset for my cellphone and an FM transmitter. Add to that the option that I can hook up my Ipod to the GPS it becomes quite a nifty toy for that price.

Step one : The device.

Well .. its a GPS and a darn good one. Ok , I need to update my maps tonight, but so far it works pretty fine. It tells me where I need to go, but also does makes little ding-dong  sound when i’m driving faster then the allowed speed limit. When I approach a speed camera the thing flashes and blinks so should get another speeding ticket is from now on.. completely my fault.

Step two : The extras.

Tomtom has come a long way since the days I ran it on a PDA device using some wired gps receiver. This unit also doubles as a hands-free carkit for my Cellphone. Not a big deal BUT it also pulls the entire address book from my phone and gives me the option to call VIA the tomtom unit (search the address book, dail a number, look at my text messages etc). Coming to think of it , using the GPS unit during a meeting would make it a perfect confereing call interface ! Awesome.

Step 3 : Music please.

The entertainment side of the unit is lacking just a little. I haven’t managed to play any of my mp3’s I put on the SD card, but after some Googling it turns out that  this is my fault . I should put them in a folder named MP3. If I can get that working I might start thinking about downloading my podcasts (or audiobooks) to the SD card and using the GPS unit as my entertainment center. Since the quality of the sound is not THAT high , I can choose to use a Line out connector, a bluetooth audio interface with external speakers, headseat or radio, or an FM transmitter. Unfortunately the FM transmitter is very disappointing. Its hard to find a free channel on the radio over here, so I get constant interference from radio stations. When I do have a ‘clear signal’ from the GPS , the audio volume the GPS pushes out it just too low. So i need to find a little alternative.

In all I’m very pleased with my Tomtom unit and am looking forward to geeking it out and finding out some extra posibilities and creative ways to use the device. I’ll keep you guyz posted !


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Gps-less in Seatle ?

Sep 12

One of the nice things about being a consultant is that you get to drive a company car. Ok , its something we NEED to do our jobs, driving to clients and so forth. But it does make for some interesting experiences, driving a different car every couple of months (or years). I have been driving a BMW 1 series for the last nine months and I was pretty pleased with it. I’m not somebody who judges a car by how ‘cool’ it is, but rather by ‘how functional’ it is. I spend over two hours a day in the car , and these last three years those two hours have been filled with listening to podcasts. Not always easy as podcasts are on my Ipod and I HATE having to drive with earbuds in my ears. You can’t hear the sound of the engine, the wires get cobbled up .. stuff like that. I used an adapted Logitech MM50 a few years ago when the car I had did not have a LINE IN function in the radio. I hooked up the MM50 tot the cigaret lighter (it used 12v) and played podcasts that way. In the "beamer" i had a line in function and a gps built into the car, so that was pretty easy. Plug in the ipod, and i was good to go.

However the (temporary) car I’m driving right now does not have either : No line-in jack and no GPS. So the whole "entertainment / navigation " issue is (once again) rearing its ugly head. I would like to have both the ability to listen to podcasts and know where i’m going without having to install 4 seperate devices. The first solution I could go for is using my smartphone (HTC 710) togheter with a bleutooth GPS module for GPS navigation. But the interface is just not that good , the screen is too small , there is no touchscreen , the speed of the device isn’t fantastic .. I mean : it comes down to the fact that it "CAN" do all the GPS things (it can even act as a podcast player if I wanted it to) but its just not practical.

My question is : How do I solve this one with minimal hassle. Do I go for an all-in-one solution in playing podcasts and doing GPS (using some kind of smartphone or even a computer) or do I go for something different (exteral speakers / gps etc) It’s not always easy. It has to be simple ,portable , movable and easy to operate.  Time to go to the drawing board. 

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Painting and Mythbuntu.

Sep 11

Its been a few days since the last post and god knows the podcast is overdue, but times have been once again, pretty busy. One of the major things keeping me away from the keyboard are the recent "painting activities" at casa del Knightwise. We have successfully completed the renovation of the upstairs attic ( Lounge room / computer room) but in the wake of that action comes a lot of ‘re-wiring’. Try pulling apart your hobby/geekroom and reinstall everything in one single evening. Doesn’t realy go that smoothly .. does it. So I’ve been pretty busy re-wiring and reinstalling my entire setup into a nice little niche in the corner of the room. I’m still surprised at how compact the whole setup is, yet how powerfull it is. Over the last few years i’ve seen my computer setups shrink and shrink. From "Wargames like" rows of crt screens, keyboards and towers, to a compact but feisty 24 inch mac mini and a multivalent keyboard/mouse/screen setup that I can use to hook up anything. With that little setup, some virtual machines and some SSH connections .. I can do pretty much EVERYTHING. I’ll post up some pictures this week. 

What HAS been keeping me busy is the installation of a new media pc. Since we like the room upstairs THAT MUCH we decided to move our 32 inch LCD Tv upstairs and use it as our main living room. But with that comes a little problem. So far I had been using a G4 Imac for video playback on our (classic crt) tv. With a resolution of 800 X 600 it was a perfect solution. But hooking up the same Mac Mini via a rgb connector to our LCD tv has it pushing out a resolution of 1920 by 1080 ! ANd thats too much for the little Mac Mini to handle when playing full screen Mpegs.

Thus i’m working on another solution. The only thing the machine has to do is play dvd’s, have itunes to play music and run VLC media player. So a stripped down version of XP will do the trick. But i’m not realy looking forward to having an XP machine in the house (at least when its not virtual). So the options are : A Ubuntu installation (i’m running it on a P4 with 512 megs of ram , a 40 gig internal drive and a GForce card) The standard Ubuntu machine would work just fine ( play dvd’s , run VLC etc) but there are still other options.

So  far I have heard a lot about MythTV and Mythbuntu (Mythtv + ubuntu) offering a solid powerfull and scalable media center solution. So i’ve been playing around with that. MythTv offers both a frontend and a backend server (or an all in one) and the possibilities gently exceed the ones of a slimmed down XP with just powerDVD and VLC. So I might look into that one. Especially since I dugg up four old TV tuner cards I had lying around. (So I could use it as a DVR for four simultaneous recordings). But i’ll keep you posted.

 Links : Mythbuntu.


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What if Google Was ?

Sep 04

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Google Chrome.

Sep 04

I’m sure you must have been hiding under a full sized meteorite yesterday if somehow the release of Google Chrome went passed you. Who knows you might even be surfing this very page with your brand new shiny browser… Its been all over the web and even on the news (On the "radio thing") they were talking about the one million downloads Chrome had received. But … what does it mean.

Google Chrome is a sign of the times that the days of "offline computing" are numbered. The very philosophy behind the browser is to offer a rock solid browser you can use when working with web-based applications ( For example : Google Docs , Gmail etc) This way of thinking points out that applications like "google docs" or any other online application are beyond the state of ‘a gadget" but are seen as real competitors for off-line programs, thus demanding a stable browser to run them in. The web 2.0 with its web application is, together with a rock solid browser environment, a serious competition for any localy installed application.

As a netbook user, "cloud computing" is a thing I do every day. Gmail, Google Apps for domains, Flickr, My online calendar, Facebook, Meebo and what have you. There is not a lot I cannot do in a browser, so having a stable platform to do it all would certainly be appreciated. Firefox does a great job, but does like to nibble away at my memory once a while. But the fact that I have a lot of extentions to choose from make Firefox one of my favorite browsers.

Would I Use Google Chrome ? 

I have downloaded it, played with it and have given it a good look over. So far its fast, its simple and there is not a lot I really hate about it. But thats about it. Its still very new and very fresh. For one : We don"t know the security risks yet (it has only been "out there" for a day) and it does not offer me the fancy extensions that Firefox does. So I don’t see it as a browser, I see Chrome as a "platform" to my Google environment (like Adobe Air is a platform for some applications) Why only the Google side of my life ? Well because they KNOW everything about me there anyway. But to go out and surf the web on a Google browser.. hmm.. I don’t know if I want to do that (I never let Google tie my searches to my account data) I"m not sure what the privacy policy is in Chrome, but I’ll pass for now.

So in the end.

Google Chrome to me, is another competitor for IE, offering a stable alternative to access web based content. It is a lightweight competitor for Firefox for those who don’t use a lot of extentions. In all ? its something new. Beware it DOES come from the "big bad google" and we are giving away another snippet of our privacy .. But we all knew privacy died years ago.

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