NASA – Phoenix to land on Mars this Sunday

NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft is due to land in the north polar region of Mars in just a few days. The spacecraft was originally built for the Mars Surveyor program (2001) but was shelved temporarily following the failure of the Mars Polar Lander. Most notably the spacecraft has a robotic arm designed to scoop up soil and ice samples and deliver them to the onboard lab for analysis. International Mars lander missions have been notable for their >50% failure rate — here’s hoping NASA has success this time!

NASA – Phoenix
SpaceflightNow status

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iPhone experience

Matt and Duncan reflected in the BeanOn a recent trip to LA I bought myself an iPhone, ostensibly for my upcoming birthday. In many ways the device lives up to the hype — the multi-touch interface is amazing, and the iPod/phone integration is great. But there are also some flaws. Here are some detailed notes about my experiences.

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I activated & jailbreaked (jailbroke? such an awkward verb) using ZiPhone v3.0, basically following the The Great Big, Constantly Updated, Australian iPhone FAQ. This worked very smoothly (requiring just one click!), and as an additional bonus installed the BSD Subsystem, Installer and OpenSSH. Even though it seems like most applications etc. are for use on the 1.1.3 firmware, mine — which has 1.1.4 — generally worked fine (although see below).

While in the states I used it initially with a prepaid AT&T card (adding insult to injury), and everythng went pretty smoothly. Initially I had some significant charges from browsing with Safari via EDGE when I thought I was connected via WiFi; tried installing Services 0.6.7, and switching off EDGE; that seemed to work OK, but it seems like EDGE sometimes comes on again when I wake up the phone. If the wi-fi is not connected, and you try to access any data services, it will switch (without notifying you) to EDGE (note that Services has been superseded by BossPrefs). Happily, once I put my Australian vodafone SIM back in, any data request is treated as “Data Roaming”, which has a separate option in Preferences, and so is prevented. On return to Aus GPRS did not work, until I found the appropriate settings for the vodafone network and entered them under Settings -> General -> Network -> EDGE.

The basic functions of the device are executed beautifully. The included headset also has a microphone and doubles as a phone headset, although curiously (for me) there are no supplied foam covers to the earpieces. When a call comes in the music fades out, and you can click the microphone to answer or hang up the call. After hanging up the music smoothly fades back in. Two clicks on the button skips to the next track. I also tried watching a few TV shows recorded on the Elgato EyeTV 200 and exported via the (wonderfully-named) iSquint. The weather application is great, will update via wifi or GPRS/EDGE. Google maps is fantastic, I used it while in Chicago to find a particular deli nearby that my friend had visited but couldn’t remember the name or address. Just a quick search for “deli” nearby and found it: the famous Ada’s. The camera is OK although worst in low light conditions, and the device makes a great little photo browser.

In other respects the device comes nowhere near making the most of its capabilities. There is bluetooth, but no bluetooth synchronisation or file exchange. There is a notes application, but no way to transfer notes to and from the device (iPhoneNotes takes care of that, if you’re using OS X 10.5; otherwise you’re supposed to email them to yourself). There is no file viewer or reader. The (builtin) Calendar application does not support floating events. No copy and paste. There is no built-in chat client. Many such functions already have been or likely will be enabled with third-party software, but still.

Lately I’d been reading a lot of EBooks on my Treo; for the iPhone, I used Books.app initially and downloaded (via Installer) the only appealing title in the EBooks category: Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow. Since then I found manybooks.net which actually offers an iPhone format (this is just html broken into chapters). You can install via scp or rsync, once SSH is enabled on your phone; log in as root, the default password appears to be relatively well-known.

I had major problems when I tried changing the root password; this sent my phone into an endless loop, continually triggering the “rearrange home screen” mode, and making it impossible to use. I had to force it into restore mode and start from scratch. Some photos and updates to some notes were lost, also (these are backed up every sync). The answer seems to be, don’t try changing the root password!

In summary, I’m still a bit ambivalent about it, but I think I’m going to keep it. The iPod integration alone is worth the minor quibbles. Here’s a full list of installed software:

  • Installer.app, BSD Subsystem, and OpenSSH (via ZiPhone)
  • BossPrefs 1.6.7 (replacing Services 0.6.7)
  • Australian localisation (1.1.4 firmware versions); +61 number support, carrier support and number formatting
  • Books 1.4-r469
  • Sketches 0.7b2
  • textReader 0.3
  • Search 1.08.1b
  • HP-15c v1.0.9
  • Apollo v1.0.2, as well as the IM Chat 1.1.3 Fix to solve the inability to make a connection to the iChat server (see here)
  • LockBox 0.7.1

There are already a bunch of iPhone blogs and articles around the place; here’s a sample

Carnegie resources

It occurred to me that a (literal) “home” page, with links to local resources like the library, would be a useful thing to have as a start page. Instead I created this blog entry; the (shared) Google map shows local shops, the swimming pool, petrol stations etc. Click through to the full post page for the links, which hopefully will increase in number with time!A (non-exhaustive) list of useful links is below

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PalmOS PDA essentials

I started listing a few software packages for my PDA that I find invaluable in 2005. Things have changed a bit since then, with a few hardware upgrades to the present Treo 650. Thought it was time to get it online!

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  • DateBk6 by Pimlico Software. A feature-rich extension to the default calendar application, which omits features (like floating events) that are on earlier versions! (US$27.95)
  • Missing Sync for PalmOS v5. Great product, reliable and feature-rich, definitely worth buying (US$39.95 download)
  • Tinysheet by iambic, spreadsheet with plotting capability (US$29.95)
  • MegaClock by Megasoft2000. World times, alarms, timers, you name it. (US$14.95)
  • TomTom Navigator for PalmOS. This software does not seem to be available anymore but if you’re resourceful you can find copies of it around the place. Use with a bluetooth GPS module, excellent mapping, routing and directions.
  • Grafitti Anywhere allows you to use the Treo in old-school Grafitti mode, by writing directly onto the touchscreen. Highly configurable and flexible (free)
  • Keyring for PalmOS (was GNUKeyring) encrypted storage of sensitive information (free)
  • AvantGo of course. I really liked the Plucker interface, but once they switched to a Windows GUI to setup channels I lost interest (free)
  • FileZ (via VersionTracker), lightweight and powerful file manager for palm (free)
  • eReader for your mobile reading needs (free)
  • Adobe Reader for PalmOS. Take along your PDFs and read them wherever you go (free)
  • Eat Watch weight monitoring, charting, and trend analysis software (free)
  • McPhling hack allows you to quickly switch back and forth from different applications. For older machines may an extensions manager like HackMaster (both free)

Some earlier packages which I no longer use for various reasons

  • J-Pilot synchronization and more on Linux (now that my primary machine is a Mac, I have no need of it)
  • CIC RecoEcho, now discontinued, but still available as a free download (I believe). Essential for using the Treo screen for Grafitti. Replaced by Graffiti Anywhere
  • Eudora internet suite including email with SSL for server authentication. Replaced by VersaMail, which is supplied with the Treo
  • MBTA handheld schedule (Boston)

2005: the year in review

Family photoHoliday greetings and best wishes for the new year! I’m writing this
from Maroochydore QLD, where we’ve been for more than a week now;
since arriving I’ve been very unmotivated to do much else than swim,
eat, drink, and sleep, hence missing the chance to wish you all a
Merry Christmas. Hope you all had a good one anyway – we certainly
did. We spent the day at a unit we rented at a local resort, with
Jasmina’s brother Goran and his wife Lidija and the rest of the
Galloways; unfortunately Stu’s fiance Belinda had to stay in Melbourne
to work and was very sorely missed.
2005 has been pretty eventful, the most significant milestone for us
was moving back to Australia in July. Following a visit to Melbourne
in late 2004 I applied for a Centenary Fellowship at U. Melbourne, and
was offered the position around the same time that Jasmina’s
“temporary” permanent Australian residency came through. The timing
seemed fortuitous, and after much soul-searching and discussions we
decided I would accept and we’d go home.
The next six months were pretty full on. Some highlights:

  • our friends Glen & Anna’s engagement party in Jan; we are now
    looking forward to joining them in Copenhagen in the new year to
    celebrate their wedding
    The Trysil crew - Jasmina, Olaf, Jill and Marco

  • our combined skiing trip to Norway followed by a visit to Serbia in
    March. The skiing was great, as usual, and our Norwegian friend Olaf’s
    hospitality was first class. We continued on to the Netherlands where
    we stayed with Jasmina’s friend Dana & her family.

  • we visited NYC in May with Rohan Storey (another Aussie, living at
    the time in Seattle) and his friend Sam. We are sufficiently slack
    that that was the first time Jasmina had been there, despite living 4
    hours away for the previous 3 years.

  • Jasmina’s cousins Bora and Tamara came down to Boston from Toronto
    for the weekend and ended up driving home in a car chock-full of
    household goods we weren’t going to take home with us.

  • Yuri, Jon, Glen & I (the midweek drinking club) took off for a road
    trip to Maine, Vermont & Montreal, which was a lot of fun.

  • Our friends Mike & Cara got married in a beautiful ceremony on the
    beach in Rhode Island in June.

Glen & Anna at our going-away partyWe had a huge going-away party on July 16th which was probably the
biggest night ever in the house – our poor old rickety deck was
probably never closer to catastrophic failure. Our Watertown buddies
Yuri and Eliza arranged for us to catch a last Red Sox game the week
before we left, and Jasmina finally got to see her idol Ortiz in
action. The day we left was a frenzy of running around from the cable
company to the post office; Jasmina enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with
our other Watertown friends Jeno, Paul and Jordan at our local cafe
instead. We had a very sad goodbye to Yuri, Eliza and my ex-flatmate
Matt – our friends in the US are what we’ll miss the most. Finally we
were on the plane and on our way.
24 Pitt St. CarltonWe stayed with my brother Stu for the first week in St. Kilda, and
for the next two weeks in a flat owned by the Uni. We found a flat in
Carlton not far from Uni and moved in mid-August, with many many trips
to Ikea and back before we were anywhere near comfortable. The new job
has worked out pretty well for me, and Jasmina continued working with
the MIT folks as well as teaching first-year astronomy for 6 weeks at
Uni.
Goran & Lidija were our first visitors in August and we had a lot of
fun exploring our new home with them. We have spent the time since
catching up with family and old friends, including a visit to mum &
dad in Maroochydore in September. I had several work trips, to WA,
Korea, Orange NSW, and Brazil; Jasmina went to Sydney instead and hung
out with Goran & Lidija. For our final trip of the year we drove up
here to Maroochydore, picking up Goran and Lidija in Sydney on the
way. Since then it’s just been sun, sand, lots of food and drink, and
fun with the family.
Duncan & Jasmina in MaroochydoreHaving reviewed the year and written this I suddenly feel very tired
— I hope you have read this far! Best wishes for the holidays and a
great new year — hope to see or hear from you soon
Cheers!
Duncan & Jasmina

[ You can see more photos from 2005 at
http://www.flickr.com/photos/94165679@N00/sets/1695720 ]

The move to Melbourne…

… is all but complete. The most recent step was when Comcast removed my webpage, hence the move to the new address
http://home.exetel.com.au/outsider. We have settled into our terrace in Carlton, more-or-less fully furnished from Ikea. The movers delivered most of our stuff from Boston last Friday, we are now just waiting on the boxes I mailed in the days before we left.
We are really enjoying life just a short walk away from Lygon St. Great cafes, huge choice of restaurants, and only a 10 min walk from uni. Also within walking distance we have Cinema Nova, trams, Royal Park, and the Melbourne Museum and Royal Exhibition Building.
Next week we’re off to Maroochydore for a week to visit mum, dad & Morag. More soon