Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Mobile Phone Nirvana

April 18, 2008

Motorola F3

Over the past years, I have experimented with different mobile platforms, but that perfect handheld has been always elusive. My first HTC with the Windows Mobile was OK, but alas it was a chore to carry around that heavyweight sucker. Blackberry was better, but the sync options to my Mac were rather unwieldy. I tried the Symbian OS in a friend’s handheld, but somehow I never quite got the hang of it. I wouldn’t mind trying an iPhone, if only I didn’t have to pay through my nose.

Anyways, after all the tribulations, I decided it was time to quit this whole smartphone bandwagon. Instead of taking pictures, managing calendars, plotting routes and making my toast, I think a phone ought to be good at just that. Making phone calls. So I decided to go bare-bones and remembered the Motorola F3 that I had come across last year. Turns out that this phone is not targeted for the US market, but for developing markets like India and Mexico. However, Amazon does sell an unlocked version (along with a downloadable English user guide, as the package comes only with a Spanish version of the guide).

So what’s special about this device, you ask? It is as minimal as it gets when it comes to phone. Other than making calls and sending text messages (albeit with a lot of difficulty), it does nothing. Absolutely nothing. If you know what you are getting, it is hard to find too many gripes with this phone. Cause there is not really a lot of features to mess up, you see.

The screen is one of those e-ink types, which consume a lot less power and can be seen quite well in sunlight. The keyboard is responsive enough and back-lit (although not uniformly). A single port doubles as power and headset port. Overall, the feel is very cheap (what else would you expect for 40 bucks), but very sturdy. Here is a few reviews: GearDairy, CellPhoneStalk, Video Review.

If you are in the market for a minimal mobile phone, it doesn’t get any better than this.

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Visual Voicemail for your un-sexy non-iPhone

February 10, 2008

pinger

When the iPhone came out last year, the first feature that caught my attention was visual voicemail. Well, alright! I drooled quite a bit at the multi touch interface, but visual voicemail appeared to be quite a genuine idea. However, for all its goodness, an iPhone is still out of my reach because of my current contract that runs for another year (and of course, the price tag).

So, when it comes to visual voicemail, what about all us un-sexy non-iPhone users. Fear not! A few days back, I came across this new visual voicemail service from Pinger (via Web Worker Daily). Pinger has been offering a free messaging service much like Jott, but I like Jott better because it uses speech recognition to transcribe my message (which can be a boon or bane, depending on your outlook). Recently, Pinger also started a free visual voicemail service. Currently, T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Alltel are the only supported service providers.

The Pinger visual voicemail service collects voicemails from your mobile phone (if you use one of the providers above) and shows easy-to-navigate envelope information about each sender, plus the length of the message left, and the date and time the message came in. To sign up you dial 408-916-5008 from your mobile phone and follow the instructions. Note that Pinger’s service is free, but carriers may charge normal rates for phone calls, text messages and call forwarding.

Pinger lets you manage your voicemail account from the web, so you can access the messages and make your replies online. You can also reply to and forward messages directly from your voice mail without making separate calls, and, if you choose, you can store voice mails in perpetuity.

Mainly, the service is completely free, except for any charges from your service provider for call forwarding and messaging. Of these, messaging has become almost universal these days and an unlimited messaging plan doesn’t cost too much. Call forwarding costs, on the other hand, may vary between providers. For my T-Mobile account, call forwarding minutes are not counted against the regular usage minutes, so this doesn’t affect my usage in any way.

They also give you a telephone number with your area code to access (or send) your messages. This is nice, as I can just access my voice mail from a regular POTS phone if a computer is not immediately nearby.

The web user interface is pretty slick too. You can listen to the messages and even record messages to a group of people at once, right there in your Inbox. You can also enter notes next to each messages, if you want to store some information from inside the message for quicker access later on.

Bye Bye voice mail. Nice knowing ya!

High Definition Movie Formats – Is the War Over?

January 19, 2008

hddvdbluraywar

Sony might have well lost the BetaMax war. But it looks like Sony is all set to win the current high definition format war. Engadget has the latest Nielson VideoScan numbers, and things sure don’t look bright for HD-DVD. The fight is reported to have been tight until Warner recently announced that it is moving over to the Blu Ray gang.

One good thing of this is that HD-DVD sets have seen some drastic price reductions. Hopefully, the increase in Blu Ray sales numbers will also lead some price cuts for those drives. But personally, I ain’t getting into either format until the prices have come way down.

Grand Central : One number… for life

January 13, 2008

GrandCentral

In this age of having multiple e-mail and IM accounts and phone numbers, I am big fan for consolidating the services to a single application. Accessing multiple service providers is such a pain, not only because of the time it takes to access them, but also because of the need to remember the access points and credentials for each service. A well-designed service aggregator can really make life easier. For instance, I either POP or use IMAP on all my e-mail accounts to consolidate them into my Mail application. I just need to open my Mail app daily, and all my mail’s are there in one single location. Similarly, Adium consolidates all my IM accounts.

Phone’s are the next dinosaurs amongst our current communication tools. GrandCentral is a great idea for consolidating all your phone numbers into a single number, which you can also retain for life. And best of all, it is free (at least for the moment).

I had heard about GrandCentral back in 2006 from GigaOM, but was not entirely thrilled by the $15 monthly plan. I was using AT&T’s CallVantage at that time, and had most of the features already. Also, I thought I didn’t really need one more phone number. But last year I had to sign out of VOIP – mainly for its lack of QoS, but also for the 911 features. After reverting back to plain old POTS, I terribly missed the ability to access my phone records and voicemail online. So recently, when I learned that GrandCentral was now open for invite-only beta after having acquired by Google, I decided to check it out.

I got an invite from http://www.grandcentralinvite.com/ and after testing it out for a few weeks, I must say I am impressed. You can not only aggregate all your POTS phones, but you can also add your GIZMO number, so you can remain available even if you are outside the US.

When you signup, you get to choose a phone number (most area codes seem to be available, but I have no idea if they have every area code in their list) that you can keep for life. Next, you enter all your phone numbers – mobile, home, work etc. Then you add phone numbers of your friends and family. And you are all set. You can now have your phones ring simultaneously when someone calls your GrandCentral number, or selectively based on rules you set up.

There’s a whole of bunch of other features that might interest you, but the one that I like best is Call Switch. While you are on a call that came from GrandCentral, you can seamlessly switch between your mobile phone and your home phone without having to drop you call. This is a great feature, because my mobile phone reception is pretty weak inside our home. So I can keep talking on my mobile until I reach my home, and then switch over to my home phone. Without the caller ever knowing. How cool is that?

Also, you can call out from GrandCentral to any long distance number. For free. Now, I am not sure if this will be free when the product comes out of its beta state. But hey, it is Google. They have ton’s of green, right? So, go on… Sign up, and enjoy…

PS: I still have a few invites left out. If you would like one, please let me know or leave a comment. You can always use the grandcentralinvite site above too.

Intel Penryn at CES 08

December 6, 2007

penryn

If you are planning to get a new notebook or laptop, you might want to skim through Intel’s chip roadmap from dailywireless.

New or revamped notebooks with the faster, cooler-running Penryn processors are expected to be all over CES next month.

As happened with Core 2 Duo and the Santa Rosa platform, the Montevina platform (which corresponds to the Penryn processors) will be available later.

The current generation of Intel Centrino laptops is based on Santa Rosa architecture. Montevina refers to the next-generation laptop architecture, available in Q2 2008.

I am beginning to wonder if such a staggered release of the architecture after the chip itself is merely a marketing gimmick to provide consumers with constant updates!!!

Femtocell vs GAN

November 14, 2007

Femtocell

Wireless service providers in North America have started to market a new feature gimmick that allows a mobile phone user to reduce his/her air time while making calls from home.

Earlier this year TMobile started offering its Hotspot @Home feature nationwide. This service allows a subscriber to place calls from a mobile phone using cellular and Wi-Fi networks, whether a home wireless network or a hot spot operated by T-Mobile. You need a ‘WiFi capable phone‘ and a special service add-on, and calls are transferred automatically over between the cellular and WiFi networks. Cincinnati Bell also has a similar service – CB Home Run.

An alternate to using Generic Access Network (GAN) – formerly called Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) – to save on air time is to, er., have a personal cell tower right inside your home. This technology is made available to consumers using a device called Femtocell – formerly called Access Point Base Station (APBS).

This device is a scalable, multi-channel, two-way communication device extending a typical base station by incorporating all of the major components of the telecommunications infrastructure.

You plug this femtocell into your home broadband connection, and as soon as you enter your home while talking on your cellphone, it starts using the femtocell device. Sprint is running a pilot test of AIRAVE in Denver and Indianapolis, and is planning to launch this service nationwide early next year.

It remains to be seen which technology will win over the consumers eventually. From the looks of it, it appears that the WiFi option would win out just from the ubiquitous hotspots that are sprouting up all over town. With a femtocell, on the other hand, you extend your coverage only within your home.

A resurgence in Lunar Exploration

November 12, 2007

SmartLunar

Is there a race heating up with lunar orbiters suddenly becoming the focus of several nations around the globe?

The Chang’e 1 is an unmanned lunar orbiter from China’s CLEP that entered its one-year long lunar orbit early Monday. The $187 million mission is a key stepping stone in China’s quest to develop a lunar exploration program that includes a lunar rover and a probe to return soil samples from the moon’s surface. The spacecraft is named after the Chinese goddess of the Moon, Chang’e.

Only a month back, Japan completed the launch of its own lunar orbiter – Kaguya. KAGUYA consists of a Main Orbiter at 100km altitude and two small satellites (Relay Satellite and VRAD Satellite) in polar orbit. The scientific instruments on board the Main Orbiter will be used for the global mapping of lunar surface, magnetic field measurement, and gravity field measurement. According to JAXA, the name Kaguya was inspirted by the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.

The name KAGUYA originates from “Kaguya-hime (Princess Kaguya)” in The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Taketori Monogatari). and many people overlapped the images of SELENE going to the Moon on an exploration mission and Kaguya-hime going back to the Moon.

India is also planning its own launch of a lunar orbiter in April of 2008 – named Chandrayaan. Over a two-year period, it is intended to survey the lunar surface to produce a complete map of its chemical characteristics and 3-dimensional topography. Chandrayaan literally means moon-craft in sanskrit.

And finally, USA is planning to put the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter around the moon in October 2008. The first mission of NASA’s Robotic Lunar Exploration Program, it is designed to map the surface of the Moon and characterize future landing sites in terms of terrain roughness, usable resources, and radiation environment with the ultimate goal of facilitating the return of humans to the Moon.

Space race or not, these missions do add to the nation’s credibility for putting satellites in orbit. Apart from scouting for resources in Moon, these missions are also prove the technical merit of the nations involved, and could be a great source for technology exports.

GOOG-411’s ‘Biddy Biddy Boop’

November 10, 2007

GigaOM has a nice article on the origins of the ‘fetch audio‘ sound for Google’s GOOG-411 service. This is a free 411 service that can used to find businesses from a phone, and even connect to the business for free. The service has been around for several months now, and I am a big fan.

As the article says, the funny ‘Biddy Biddy Boop’ sound that plays while GOOG-411 is searching for the business is actually a voice recording from  Senior Voice Expert Bill Byrne.

While it would be fun to say he locked himself in a room for weeks to come up with the perfect prompt, the truth is much more simple. “I needed something quickly,” said Byrne. “So I decided to just imitate the various sounds I had worked with over the years.” It was supposed to be a placeholder.

But the human-mimicking-a-machine, “biddy-biddy-boop” sound stuck. In fact, what you hear is the original recording (with a little engineering to lower the volume and add fades). It beat out numerous other ideas, including “Jeopardy”-like hold music, and (gratefully) an aborted attempt at replicating human conversation (as in an automated voice telling you “One sec, I had it right here” as you hear papers rustling in a simulated “search”).

In case you have never used this service before, you don’t have to call in to the service to hear the voice (although I would recommend it for the sheer fun). The fetch audio file is available as an mp3 at the Google Groups | goog411 site.

DARPA Urban Challenge – Tartan Racing Wins 2007 Race

November 7, 2007

BOSSTartanRacing

The DARPA Urban Challenge for 2007 is a 60-mile race for completely autonomous vehicles. The autonomous vehicle must prove basic navigation skills by driving on a prescribed course, and demonstrate traffic skills by negotiating a four-way intersection with two human-driven cars and another robotic vehicle. The prize money is a cool $2 million. From the 53 teams that entered the event, 11 were qualified to compete in the finals on Nov 3rd.

The event was won by the Tartan Racing Team this past weekend. Tartan Racing is a colloboration between Carnegie Mellon University and General Motors Corporation. The team used a Chevy Tahoe to build its vehicle, named BOSS. BOSS is equipped with more than a dozen cameras, lasers and radars. The complete results are available here. Some videos of the event are available at TG Daily.

In 2005, DARPA conducted Grand Challenge, which was a race for autonomous vehicles, but with other vehicles in the mix. This event was won very closely by the Stanford team running a VW Passat, the CMU team came in second, at 11 seconds after Stanley.

Having been part of the UC Robotics team and writing the code for avoiding simulated pot holes using CCD cameras as part of my thesis, I think these two events showcase some of the greatest achievements in the field of autonomous vehicle navigation.

Access Google Mail through IMAP

October 28, 2007

GMail

Google enabled IMAP access for GMail this past week, and is still in the process of rolling out the service to all the users. One of my older GMail accounts got the IMAP feature enabled on Saturday, and I took it for a spin over the weekend.

I have been using POP to download email from all my accounts to the Mail application. I have set my POP account to delete the mail in the server as soon as it was downloaded, so that I don’t have to manually clean up my mail box once in a while. This, however, poses a problem if I want to use any client other than my Mail application, because my mail would have been already downloaded.

With IMAP, my account remains in sync with my Mail application, and changes I make in a web-client for instance, is sent right away to my Mail application. Pretty Sweet.

The only issue so far is that SPAM also get downloaded. This in itself might actually be a good thing, because sometimes I miss some email that gets to SPAM.