Considering the Kindle

I've been keeping an eye on Kindles since launch. The idea of a very small, very light reading device is very appealing. Two things where I would use it every day are The Guardian and Crikey. Neither are formally available on the device, but its new web browser sounds like it might provide adequate access.

Has anyone got the Kindle 3 and have any comments on the experience reading long-form content online?

Final question, dear lazyweb, is this: I remember people talking about setting your country to US to get access to the full catalogue. Does this still work?

Wouldn't want to be restricted to the retarded delayed book release dates in Australia. Not only do Australian publishers charge more, they want me to wait for it? William Gibson's new book, released in the US tomorrow and would cost me AU$26.48 delivered to receive now, or I could wait until January for the Australian release and pay AU$31.95.

Why thank you Windows

So I'm copying files onto an SD card to go into a digital photo frame and suddenly get this message:

Odd.  I check whether there's space on the card.  Loads.  I check that the file names aren't too long somehow.  Nope.

Turns out that the SD card is formatted as "FAT" -- the old, very basic DOS file system -- and there's a limit to the number of files you can place in the root directory.  Moving the new files to a new subdirectory solved the problem.  Great.

Now try explaining that to my Mum.  Particularly when she's received that wonderfully useful error message!

Beyonwiz DP-Lite PVR review

I bought the Beyonwiz DP-Lite PVR a few weeks ago so I thought I'd write up my impressions of it.  It's important to understand that I bought this after having used MythTV mostly happily for about 4 years.  MythTV's problem is that it relies on PC hardware and digital TV tuner cards, and so I've had various hardware issues over the years.  I've also had lots of problems during upgrades.  My hope here was that a dedicated hardware PVR would reduce some of these shortcomings.  So far it's reduced those, but at some costs.

User interface
The user interface is absolutely abysmal. Designed by, scratch that not designed so much as knocked together.  Then clearly not tested on any mere humans.  Part of the reason for buying this was to test out a hardware PVR to see if I'd recommend it to my folks yet, and on the strength of this I certainly wouldn't.

Here's an example of the retarded UI.  To get to recordings you've made, you press a "folder" icon on the remote.  This then takes you to the screen above with three levels of navigation, all visible at once.

To navigate the first level, as you see with the icons across the top, you use the left and right arrow keys on the remote.  This shifts you between "Media" (which seems to be all media types) "Movie" (which is, strangely, where your recordings go), "Music", "Photos".  Essentially it filters the file list, I think.

By default the focus is on the second level, on the left, which represents the device from which you'll view files. To then move focus to the file list, you click "Enter" on the remote. Don't make the mistake of going right, because that moves the always-focussed icons in the row above.

Finally you're in the file list and you can navigate to a file name.  No matter that these are recordings of TV programmes with lots of EPG information, no you get whatever arbitrary filename it gave it, including the file extension.  Useful that.

This is just one example of boneheadedness in the UI, but it's appallingly bad.  MythTV's interface, written by amateurs, is vastly superior.  Many of the MythTV developers talk about the Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF) and I suspect this had a lot to do with the ease of use of the UI.  T-Box is also much better for the "my parents" target market in terms of UI. (Note: I work for Telstra Media and have done a fair chunk of using its UI.)

The scheduling interface on the device itself is a nightmare.  The better option is to use IceTV's much nicer UI, by signing up (and paying for) their EPG service.  The EPG is good.  Their scheduling interface isn't perfect, but not bad.  They could do with some user testing on people like my parents though.

The biggest downside for me, though, and something I really miss from MythTV, is the ability to set scheduling priorities. In this screenshot you'll see the little red "record" icon next to "French News".  In MythTV I had a bunch of shows I'd record that I'd only infrequently like this.  I record the French news in case something important happens in France so I can quickly see how they're reporting it there.  I also used to record 7:30 Report, Lateline, those kinds of things even though I'd only occasionally watch them.  The beauty of Myth's priorities was that I could say record these, but only if there's an available tuner and isn't something more important to record.

IceTV and Beyonwiz don't have this concept.  If you say you want to record something, it's as important as any other recording.  This can be very very bad.  For example, if I record nothing else I want the ABC's 19:00 news bulletin.  Nope, IceTV will bump that sometimes when something else you've set to record comes up.  You have to continuously be logging into the IceTV web site and checking upcoming recordings to make sure something you really want recorded doesn't get bumped.  This sucks big time.

Another thing it doesn't do is allow you to define when you want something recorded.  Some shows I want recorded when they're first shown, because I want to watch it soon afterwards.  Others are less important, so I'm happy for those to be recorded whenever they're run that's convenient for the tuners.  This can free up tuners to record something else in prime time, and pick up the show I wanted on a repeat a day or so later.  Beyonwiz and IceTV can't do this.

No virtual tuners
MythTV has an awesome feature dubbed "multirec" that was developed through a bounty system.  It exploits a feature of the way digital TV works to allow you to record more than one channel from a single tuner where possible.

Digital TV "channels" are actually just groups of MPEG Program Streams (PS) carried within a larger Transport Stream (TS), that is a single combination of "video" and "audio" is a channel.  Each Transport Stream is transmitted on a single radio channel (multiplex) and carries multiple Program Streams.  So the ABC's multiplex has: ABC News 24, ABC1, ABC2, ABC3, ABC Dig Music and ABC Jazz, those last two being audio-only radio streams (with a static channel logo).

Physically the digital TV tuners capture the entire multiplex, so when you're watching an ABC channel the tuner is actually examining the streams for all those ABC Program Streams and pulling out the bits you want.  What MythTV does is allow you to pull out as many of these as you want at the same time.  This adds a bit to the scheduling complexity, but brings some big benefits, especially if you live in a household like ours that mostly only watches ABC and SBS channels.

Australian TV rarely follows the schedule you really do need to record at least 5 minutes before and after the scheduled start and finish times, and much longer if you want commercial TV.  Beyonwiz has a feature for this.  The virtual tuner feature of MythTV, however, means that you can do this without losing a tuner and having it break when there are overlaps.  The first show on, say, ABC1 will still be recording when the following show on the same channel starts recording.  For free you can also record things on the other ABC channels at the same time, all on one tuner.

What's with the live TV orientation?

When you first turn on the Beyonwiz, it starts playing live TV. Anyone who's used a PVR for any time quickly stops ever watching "live" TV. You just schedule it and have it record whatever you want. The problem with this is it seems the natural "home" of the whole user interface is live TV, and I have a sneaking suspicion that if you left it running in that mode, the tuner it is using would stay tied up if a recording came up. A menu as the home is a much better idea.

Turning off is hard
I hear what you're saying, how can they make turning off hard?

If you try to turn it "off" while it's recording, you get this message. Wait, you want me to think about it and make some choice? Surely you should just do what I ask and blank the screen, keep recording in the background and actually "turn off" when that's done?

Setup was painful due to the convoluted and non-obvious UI and the fact you have to set up two online services and connect them with the device, which also isn't obvious.  That's not a show stopper for my parents as I can always set it up for them.

I'm pretty disappointed at how bad this device is. It can be forced to do what I need, but only with some additional work on my part.  Hopefully IceTV will rectify their system to do scheduling a bit better, which would resolve the biggest problem I have with it.  I wouldn't recommend the device to anyone who needs to share the device with a non-technical user, least of all the older generation unless you want multiple support calls every night.  The UI is just plain broken -- I don't mind ugly but it's stupid as well.

Goodbye MythTV, hello Beyonwiz

Over the last few months I've had a number of hardware problems with my MythTV server.  The machine itself locked up fairly regularly, and there's been big problems with the driver for the dual-tuner card that had previously worked flawlessly.  I finally got the shits with it and bought a hardware PVR on Saturday, the Beyonwiz DP-Lite.

I've held off buying an off-the-shelf PVR because they've tended to be pretty poor.  The UI of the Beyonwiz is quite primitive, and very very confusing in parts, but it's good enough.  I wouldn't recommend it for my parents though.

You'll note I didn't buy my employer's PVR product. It has one significant limitation for me: while it has two tuners, only one can be used to schedule recordings. The other is reserved for live TV viewing, which to me is a huge lack of insight into the way you use a PVR.  Hopefully that will get fixed in one of the coming software updates.  It certainly has a vastly better UI than the Beyonwiz and the movies service is quite attractive.

There's a few things I miss from MythTV beyond the UI.  The browser scheduling interface is a lot more flexible than IceTV + Beyonwiz.  With MythTV you can ask it to record a single episode of a programme each week, which means it can shuffle the recording to a repeat in a non-peak time if there's a conflict for a tuner.  This device doesn't do that at all.  I also miss the automatic ad skipping, but that's less of an issue because we only really watch ABC and SBS.

One thing about the NBN that annoys me

One of the things that's annoying me about all the NBN talk is the insistence on metro-equivalent services in regional and remote areas, as though this is a reasonable thing to require.

I live in the inner city of Sydney and I get “metro” services: I can walk to my nearest major hospital, there’s an international airport a short walk away, a shiny modern new swimming pool under construction give minutes' walk away, excellent cafes and restaurants wherever you turn and broadband via two HFC cables or a copper pair running past my house.

I also have horrendous, pause-the-telly-and-wait aircraft noise, air pollution, traffic congestion, neighbours who are, quite literally, as close as 40cm from me and a house price that would make any country real estate buyer wince. It’s the price I pay for enjoying a vibrant, well-serviced metropolis.

Surely if regional and remote Australians want metro-equivalence, they’d put other services higher on their list than fast broadband. Things like schools, hospitals and public transport.

Disable the Same Origin Policy in Firefox

Browser impose the Same origin policy on JavaScript running inside a web page. It means that your code cannot access a resource through XMLHttpRequest that belongs on another server, even when it's in the same domain. This is a good thing, and the way to get around it in production environments is to use some kind of proxy if you're trying to channel a trusted resource. I've done this on a couple of occasions so that my apps could access a web service that is physically located elsewhere.

When developing your code, however, this can be a real pain in the butt. You might want to access the production web service, or just want to play around and prove that what you want to do is possible. I've recently discovered a much easier solution than the others I've used before.

This little snippet of JavaScript causes a popup in the browser, but then allows you to make an XMLHttpRequest to any domain you like. Very handy for testing!

// This sneaky bit tries to disable the Same Origin Policy
if (navigator.userAgent.indexOf("Firefox") != -1) {
   try {"UniversalBrowserRead");
       catch (e) {
             alert("Permission UniversalBrowserRead denied -- not running Mozilla?");

Tip of the hat to miek on this Stack Overflow question.

De-obfuscate Omniture's JavaScript part 2

After my last post an anonymous email arrived with an even better mechanism to de-obfuscate Omniture's code, including the line-noise base s_code.

Handy way to decode Omniture's line noise

I currently have a real need to be able to understand how Omniture works for a particular implementation, and have requested a commented version. Apparently it's kept very tight and I might be able to "see" parts of it. Ridiculous when you can rather easily do this. I'll now probably blow half a day working out what all the single letter variables are.

Copy and paste the following into Firebug's console and run it.

//code to unobfuscate the s_code
var str = '<hr><pre>';
var strFunction;
var strFunctionName;
var i;
for(i in s) {
       x = s[i];
       if (typeof(x) == 'function')    {
               strFunctionName = i.toString();
               strFunction = x.toString();
               strFunction = strFunction.replace(/^function( ?anonymous)?/, 's_object_name.' + strFunctionName + ' = function');
               str += strFunction + '\r\n \r\n   // ------- ------- ------- ------- ------- -------  \r\n\r\n';

Thanks to our anonymous tipster!

Sneaky trick to de-obfuscate Omniture JavaScript plugins

My current job involves working extensively with Omniture products. The company has an annoying habit of secrecy, with documentation only available on request for many aspects of their products.

De-obfuscate Omniture JavaScript plugins

They also attempt to obfuscate their JavaScript, despite the fact that a determined viewer should be able to work it out eventually. I'm told this is so that people aren't tempted to play with the code. The obvious methods of deobfuscation are pretty tedious, and because Omniture don't use standard (minify et al) methods of obfuscation so it seems a little more difficult. Fortunately I lucked onto a better approach.

You'll need Firebug, and if you don't have that already you should anyway. Go to a page that already has the Omniture "plugin" (function) you want. Open the Firebug console and run alert(s.functionNameYouWant) and run it. You'll be shown a nicely-formatted anonymous function, which will be much easier to read than the line noise you'll see in the actual s_code.js file.

In my case I'm after Cross-Visit Participation, and that's used on the Omniture site itself (though an older version than the latest available from Omniture which has a very useful additional feature).

Update on 22nd March 2010

I discovered, while trying to reverse-engineer the s.Media() functions, that some plugins are loaded as "Modules" which presents a further layer to get through. But it's still pretty simple. Using this handy snippet you can decode the objects. So, for example, to get readable source for s.Media, do this in Firebug:


function concatObject(obj) {
  for(prop in obj)
    str+=prop + " value :"+ obj[prop]+"\n";
Another update
I received a better way to do this, detailed in this post.

UI fail from Exetel


Work is providing me a mobile, so I went to cancel my phone with Exetel. Unfortunately this is the UI you see. So first of all, you can helpfully cancel it in the past. But then the button is labelled "Cancel". So does that means clicking it will cancel my service, or cancel the request to disconnect?


The resulting page is even more confusing. Does that mean my "Cancel" was successful? Or do I now need to "Submit" to make it happen? Terribly confused.

Android, six months on

So I've been using the Google Android phone for about six months now, and it's about time I reflected on how it's gone. Here's a bit of a rambling review.

The hardware

The G1 hardware is pretty limited. There's not enough RAM, and the default Android way of storing apps on the phone rather than on the removable flash storage means you run out of space pretty quickly. The latter is fixed by using a custom image like Cyanogen, which is awesome.

The buttons on the phone are kinda dumb. There's green and red buttons for call management, just like most phones. Then there's a home and a "back" button, which are kinda superfluous as they could easily be replaced by some sort of touch gesture. The "Menu" is kind of a universal interupt button, and I suppose might be useful. And the trackball is completely useless yet seems to be mandatory for all designs. I never use it. On the sides are the camera and volume buttons, which I suppose are handy.

The buttons that would be really useful are missing. I'd love a pause/play button for when I'm using the thing to play music.

The G1 has a built-in keyboard. This is great, but has been dropped on later releases. Given a decent touchscreen interface, I think I could live without it. Not convinced that the on-screen keyboard is good enough, but it will make the device smaller, lighter and sexier. Though the keyboard rocks for answering emails or using ssh.

Multistasking: good and bad

Multitasking, the key difference between Android and the iPhone, is a double edged sword. It means you can run cool third-party apps that need to run all the time, like apps that show your calendar and weather forecast on the home screen. It also means that crap stays running all the time, meaning performance can be glacial if you've got something hogging the CPU in the background, and memory fills up very quickly.

Some allowance for the slowdown of background apps could be incorporated into the OS. It'd be nice to have apps not slow down core phone functions. I'd even be willing to completely pause background apps while something important is going on, like an incoming phone call. I kid you not, I've missed incoming calls because the phone's CPU has been busy on some other crap. Many is the time I've given up taking a photo because after pressing the camera button, whatever I wanted to snap has long finished before the camera app is up and ready to take a photo.

Shitty memory manglement

Android takes the same "automatic" approach to memory management as Symbian: if it runs out of memory, it kills something random that's running in the background to make some space. Apps tend to run in the background unless you explicitly exit, or use a power user tool to kill the process. That means while you might have something cool running in the background, it could randomly and without notice be killed at any time because you opened something else that wants more memory. The usual excuse for this kind of thing is you don't want to make users of consumer devices think about things like memory. Try telling that to some angry consumer whose fancy alarm clock app got killed to make space for another app meaning the user overslept and was late for work! How much sense does it make to kill the music player when I'm listening to music just to make space for something else? I'd much rather have to explicitly manage the memory and be asked what should get killed.

None of this is helped by the miserly allowance of RAM on the G1, 192MB. The Nexus One's 512MB should make this much more useful, though it's going to make running a G1 or any of the first generation Android phones somewhat suckier, given developers will now be targetting the new, faster, roomier Nexus One.

How about event-driven OS callbacks?

I think many of the problems with multitasking could be solved by introducing some OS-level event-driven triggers. What I'm thinking is instead of apps having to hang around in memory and periodically using the CPU, they could register with an OS service that they want to be woken on specific events: an SMS is received, the phone's power source changes, it's a specific time, the phone's location gets within x metres of a coordinate. That way you wouldn't need, for example, to keep your alarm clock app in memory all the time, wasting RAM and CPU cycles. The app would register the events its interested in, then explicitly exit.

No idea how practical this idea would be once implemented, and whether the overhead of loading up the app to handle the event would kill performance, but I think something different to the always-running-but-could-be-killed-any-time approach needs to be looked into.

Integrated apps

If you've taken a good slug of the GoogleJuice Kool Aid and moved your whole life into the cloud, Android is a really easy integration. I've got my email, calendar and instant messaging all in my Google Apps cloud, and have done for a while now. Starting with Android was as simple as logging in and waiting for it to all sync up. Brilliant. Everything Just Works™.

The apps are good too. Email is just like you'd expect, all your contacts are right there where you expect. A live calendar is life-changing, especially if you sync your work calendars into the cloud too.

One area that could do with some improvement is the way the GTalk app works. When I'm sitting at my desk and someone opens a chat session with me, I get three notifications that this has happened: inside my current browser Gmail session, the desktop GTalk app, and on my phone. Surely the server can work out which one I use to handle the session and close the others for me? Instead I have to go in and close those sessions myself, which is kinda clunky.

It'd also be nice if the instant messaging apps were a bit smarter. Let's say I want to contact someone, and the contact record shows the person has GTalk and a mobile phone. Surely I shouldn't have to work out which one to use, it can instead use the user's presence to work it out. If the remote user is on an Android phone, it could be really clever about it and switch to SMS if that user isn't online. All these contacts should show up in the same interface, regardless of underlying mechanism.

My favourite apps

SlideScreen integrates all your interactions

By far the finest app so far is SlideScreen, which replaces the default home screen. At the top are your "private" communications: phone calls, SMS, email, calendar. Below are your "public" comms: Google Reader, Twitter. In the middle you get some status info: date, time, network connection, current weather. You can slide the middle part up and down to give more space to one area at the expense of the other. You "throw" an item to the right to mark it as read and get rid of it.

It's a beautifully-designed app, and nearly completely suits my way of working. Unfortunately it's just too heavy for the poor little G1. It takes up pretty much the whole of the RAM, so if you run another app it gets killed, and you can't really run it and another app. Should be great on the Nexus One though!

Guardian Anywhere is the most intuitive interface for news

Ever since I lived in London, I've read the Guardian as my newspaper and news source of choice. I subscribed to the Guardian Weekly until recently. Part of the reason I stopped subscribing is this app, which downloads the whole paper overnight and presents it in an awesome UI that doesn't require network access. If you're writing a newspaper app, you should copy the design of this app.


The Android OS is excellent and improving all the time. Its openness means you can swap out much of the bits you don't like, which contasts well with Apple and Nokia's smartphone efforts, where you're stuck doing things the way the vendor tells you.

The app marketplace started off pretty poor, with lots of not very good apps, but is improving fast. People point out the high quality of the iPhone apps, but it's worth also pointing out that a popular app there can easily pay for multiple full-time developers. Android isn't there yet, but the marketplace is expanding incredibly fast. Some stand out apps are appearing (like SlideScreen) and you can expect more with the hundreds of Android handsets that will be available by the end of this year.

I'm looking forward to upgrading to the Nexus One, especially since I dropped the G1 and now have a lovely big crack across the LCD. Just have to keep working on the boss to release the funding. It'd be really good if a version appeared that handles the 850MHz UMTS band, since I'll probably be scoring a work SIM soon and Telstra's network uses this slightly-unusual frequency range.


  • Multitasking means you can have awesome apps running all the time. The iPhone just can't do this unless Apple makes the app.
  • Open platform makes for some very cool apps: custom home screens.
  • Integration with Google apps is very slick.
  • The app marketplace is awesome, and growing fast. Apps are getting slicker pretty quickly.


  • Hardware on the G1 is very limited. Nexus One appears to solve this.
  • Memory management is "automatic" which means "dumb and confusing".
  • Multitasking means a background app can make the device glacially slow.
  • Stock music app is awful.
  • Buttons are kind of pointless. Trackball even more so.
  • Integrated messaging is needed.
  • Connectivity lost when you switch from 802.11 to GSM/3G.