Archive for the “Hardware” Category

For those in higher latitudes, it will be becoming colder now as Winter approaches and it’s worth beginning to think about protecting your electronic devices from the cold.

In the Brave New World of the 21st Century, we now have many devices which are easily portable either in your pocket or in your car. Many of these devices, however are not hardened against the cold and the problems it brings.

So, I have a short piece of simple advice for this Winter.

If you have taken a powered-down device out in the cold or left it in a cold place such as your car for a period of time, do not immediately power it on.

It is quite possible as the cool device was moved into a warmer area that moisture could have condensed onto electronic components and provided a potential short circuit waiting to happen.

So, quite simply allow time for the device to warm back up to room-temperature before switching it on. This may take several hours depending on humidity but will allow the condensation to evaporate. It is worth the wait to protect your devices.

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I’ve been noticing in the browsing statistics of various websites with which I am involved that mobile devices (think smartphones) are quite recently becoming very much more noticable.

On one ecommerce site, in a week, I saw nearly ten percent of purchases made using Apple Iphones where last year I would have seen none. The site in question retailed products which were in no way I.T. or telecoms related so this came as quite a surprise. Further, this site was not specifically designed to work with mobile browsers although it did have some design features implemented to make browsing on small-screen devices easier. I’ve also spotted numerous visits from Blackberry and Android OS devices across a broad range of sites.

So, are mobile browsers going to take over the internets?

Probably not but they’re certainly going to be a significant presence. In the West, mobile browsing devices now account for as much as 7% of traffic and the rate is growing quickly. I expect that in the near future there will be a significant push by web developers to provide mobile-native versions of their websites due to this expansion.

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Earlier today, I had one of those classic ‘doh!’ moments.

I had a 5.25in DVD/RW drive externally connected to a virus-infected Windows laptop via USB (running ClamAV if you’re interested).

For some unfathomable reason, I moved the drive with my hand while it was spinning, imparting just a little tilt to it. Even as I did so I knew the result which was about to happen. The CD was already tilting off it’s normal axis of rotation with relation to the drive, trying to maintain it’s original orientation in space due to gyroscopic precession. The inevitable grinding noise indicated that the CD had run out of room to maneuver and collided with the optics / drive internals.

The level of vibration which continued until I yanked out the power was rather impressive; I was glad of the aluminium casing containing the fast moving disc and motor.

I managed to pull the CD tray out and took hold of a CD which was now quite hot around the edges and promptly cut myself on the ground-down and sharpened rim. The drive itself, of course, had ceased to function as a drive of any usable sort.

The moral here is: “Don’t break your own rules”

(Or just don’t be an idiot ;-) )

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hrp-4cI’ve found the Japanese to have a somewhat worrying obsession with robots; everything from the 4-foot tall Asimo types to the 50-foot high flying types.

They also make some rather impressive bipedal robots which can be seen in videos all over the internet accomplishing impressive feats such as running and tackling stairs. They do, however, seem to have a slightly odd gait which looks as if it was borrowed from a ‘dog-walker’ as the feet and knees preceed the robot noticably as it moves. Apart from Hubo, there have been few attempts at turning the ‘robot’ into an ‘android’

Now, researchers at AIST (National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology) have produced a biped Android (or more correctly a Gynoid) known as HRP-4C.

The robot has the broadly realistic human proportions correspondent to a Japanese woman and also comparable weight. The simulation of human likeness only extends to the face which has some level of animation and the hands which I am yet to see change pose during a demonstration. The rest of the body appears as if in a fitted suit of armour.

Apparently she Linux in the form of an AIST developed platform known as ‘Actual Time Linux’ (ART-Linux2.6).  Although difficult to decipher from the translated text, it appears that much of HRP-4C’s development revolves around and contributes to open projects.

The walking gait is rather more natural in appearance than an Asimo unit but could still do with more damping as there is an obvious jarring in the step. Thus far I have only seen the gynoid perform basic walking and a short bow. On examination of a translation of the japanese information page, it seem that the unit is designed for entertainment or fashion modeling. An odd choice of target market to my mind but the size/weight constraints probably prohibit any industrial uses.

The HRP-4C stands about 1.6m tall and weighs approx 50kg.

YouTube Preview Image

If they could increase the abilities of an android of this scale, I reckon it could play a critical role in caring for Japan’s ageing population. I’ll be really impressed but don’t doubt that I will soon see a biped android powerful enough to lift a human safely.

In the mean time, I’m saving up for my RX-78NT1 Gundam ;)

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Marvell of the USA have announced a sub $100 (projected sub $50!) computer built into a ‘power-brick’ or ‘wall wart’.

sheevaplug-devkit

Bascially, the device is the size of a regular plug-in power adaptor and does just that; it plugs into the mains socket and runs. It’s power consumption is supposedly about 5 Watts.

  • 1.2Ghz ARM CPU
  • 512MB RAM
  • 512MB Flash storage
  • Gigabit wired ethernet
  • USB 2.0 socket
  • SDIO Expansion

Marvell already claim linux distributions to be running on the device and the possibilities for utilisation seem endless.

The $99 “development kit” is effectively a pre-release model and I’m really tempted to order one in to see what I can make of it.

Unfortunately, Slashdot got hold of this before I did so you will be able to see the Marvell SheevaPlug over at Linux Devices when their server stops smoking ;)

You also be able to order the SheevaPlug devkit directly from Marvell

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Here follows a quick description of getting an Epson Perfection V300Photo running in Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid.

epson_v300_photo

Firstly, the scanner has sane support but requires a ‘non-free’ (as in speech) driver element.

Thinks you need:

Make sure sane and sane-utils are installed:

sudo apt-get install sane sane-utils

Then you will need to ‘borrow’ libltdl3 from Ubuntu 8.04. You can find it here: http://packages.ubuntu.com/hardy/libltdl3

And finally, you need iscan and the esci driver as DEB pacakages from AVASYS. You need to go through the form-driven system here: http://www.avasys.jp/lx-bin2/linux_e/scan/DL2.do

Once you’ve installed that little lot, you need to add a line  to one of your sane config files:

sudo gedit /etc/sane.d/dll.conf

Add epkowa to the list of drivers found there.

You should now be able to use Xsane or any program which calls Xsane (such as GIMP) for scanning.

I’ll readily admit, it’s a really clunky installation process. It seems largely Epson’s fault. The do provide the Linux driver but it’s a binary and doesn’t appear to be licenced in a way which would enable it to be bundled with a Linux distribution. It would either require Epson to release the sourcecode for their V300 driver or for someone to successfully reverse-engineer the scanner software interface for this to become easier ie: direct sane support.

References:

http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?p=6297403
http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=978407

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