Wednesday, 19 December 2012

My New Game Released!

It has been a while since my last blog post, but I am happy to announce the release of my new game for the Playbook and Blackberry 10! The game was created as part of the Marmalade SDK promo announced back in October, and a recent upgrade to Marmalade 6.2 has also enabled porting to Blackberry 10. Therefore I took advantage of the recent Marmalade BB10 port-a-thon over the past weekend as well.

Although the game is available for download in the app store, I have more features to add in the upcoming weeks and months. One of the first features I wish to add is the ability to have the levels locked at the beginning and unlock as you progress through the levels. The game will save your score for each level, so that when you load up the app to play each time it remembers your progress and allows you to improve your scores. That will involve learning to do some basic file read/writes. All that has to be done is to write and load an array that keeps track of the scores on each level.

For example, the array could be score[gamelevel] which is originally set to 0's indicating the level is locked. As you complete levels, you save the score as either 1, 2 or 3 indicating the score achieved. If you do not finish the level at all, it will remain 0. Therefore, it is easy to see the last level achieved just by scanning through the array increasing in gamelevel until you reach the first "0" level. The array will write and load at each level achievement, and at the beginning of the game when it loads. Also, the icons on the game level selection screen will have to display either a lock, 1, 2 or 3 stars on each level depending on the score. This will basically read through the array and show a lock for all uncompleted levels and scores on levels that have been done.

The next major feature that needs to be added is sound. There will need to be sound effects which indicate whenever balls get launched or hit obstacles and the particle, as well as some background music which will run in a continuous loop. There can be several different background music tracks depending on the level. A button will have to be added on the main screen to allow music and sound-effects to be toggled on and off.

Finally, once those basic features are added, new levels and also new types of balls and obstacles will be created. Ideas include worm-hole like regions which allow balls to teleport, special types of balls that split or do other actions when the screen is tapped, regions that accelerate or decelerate balls, different kinds of walls and objects (for example circular walls instead of just rectangles) and so on. There are so many possible permutations, the combinations are staggering and many levels are possible.

So there you have it, my first Blackberry game ever, made with Marmalade SDK and so now I have my project planned out for the next year, to slowly and steadily improve Quantum Colliders and make it a cool new physics game for the Playbook and Blackberry 10 phone!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Blackberry Playbook Mini Keyboard

Black Friday is upon us and there are some amazing deals to be had! Unfortunately, most items are in limited stock and only a few early birds enjoy the benefits. One such item is the Blackberry Playbook Mini Keyboard which I am using right now to write this blog. I wanted to share a quick review in case you are contemplating a purchase this holiday season.

The keyboard is priced at $69 at some retailers right now, and while not available online they may have a few sitting in stores. It is well built and boasts a 30 day battery life after full charge. The keyboard comes with a rugged leather case which is normally sold separately for about $40-50 alone, so having it available with a keyboard now is a good deal. There are sales at the moment for the rugged rubber/leather case for about $15 so if you are only looking for that, it is well worth it. Not to mention the rapid charging stand can also be had for $15 if you can find it.

Back to the mini keyboard. It is easy to set up and will link not only to a Playbook but your phone, computer, set-top box, game console or any Bluetooth HID enabled device. The keyboard comes with a touchpad which lets you right-click with two-finger tapping and also has scroll features. In this respect, it becomes quite versatile.

I found a few disadvantages however, although easy to overlook once you get the hang of using it. First, the keys on the rows are arranged in a straight grid, unlike a traditional keyboard where alternating rows of keys are slightly offset. This makes it a bit awkward to type on at first, but after a few minutes your fingers learn where the keys are and it gets a bit easier. The keys are truly small so it can be a bit of a task for thick-fingered people, but certainly lets you type much faster than using the on-screen keyboard. It is also easier on the fingers than using the keyboard on your phone if you are familiar with Blackberry Bridge.

The keyboard does not come with a charger, but relies on you to use your Playbook charger or any other USB 5V accessory plug. I am not sure if it needs 1 amp rated charger or if your older phone chargers will work to charge it (although perhaps slower) but it took me about 2 hours to get it completely charged from out of the box.

Finally, the case itself lets you strap in the keyboard with elastic holders at the corners. The problem is that the lower left corner elastic covers the on/off switch for the keyboard, so if you are planning to turn it on and off each time, it can be a pain. I usually just leave it on and it goes into power save mode after a few minutes of inactivity. As well, if you want to activate things again once your Playbook has fallen asleep, simply hit RETURN on your keyboard a few times and it will wake up the keyboard and your Playbook at the same time.

You can select text by double-finger tapping a word, but then to expand your selection you either have to use fingers on the screen to pull the tags at the end of your selected text, or if you prefer using the keyboard you can hold down SHIFT and use the left/right arrow to move your cursor.

The one other drawback is the small stand on the back of the case that you pull out to stand your Playbook vertically. It can sometimes be hard to grab it and pull it out, and it is short and so your Playbook reclines at almost a 30-40 degree angle to the table. I prefer it to be higher, perhaps 70-80 range, so I have to proper the stand leg up on something. It would have been nice to allow several options for angle, but this is a minor issue. A small piece of cardboard can be tucked under the leg to achieve the same thing, so you may have to just carry that along with you if needed.

Overall the keyboard is a nice addition to the Playbook power user. At $69 it becomes a reasonable purchase when you compare to a Playbook that costs about $120 on sale these days, and that many other similar keyboard/trackpad combinations are in the $40-60 range. However, any more than that price and it really has to be a killer product for me. As you can see by the length of my blog entry, the keyboard certainly speeds up the ability to type on the go and makes your Playbook look like a little mini laptop. It is nice and functional and looks good, can be used with other devices. I would pick up another one if they were available, but unfortunately they are out of stock. Let us hope for some more deals coming up in the next few months, because the regular price for the keyboard at $119 just doesn't justify the purchase, in my opinion, unless you are a hardcore Playbook user who must have a keyboard.

A few more things I forgot to mention. Using the keyboard clears up a lot of room on your screen which gives you much improved web functionality, especially if you are typing into web-based applications, forums or emailing/blogging online. Often when the Playbook on-screen keyboard pops up it will take up a good 30-40% of your screen space and you can barely see the website. The fact that a little mouse cursor also pops up gives you much better control over on-screen elements as well, in case you have trouble using your fat fingers normally on the screen. These features also add to improving the experience of using the Playbook and therefore the mini keyboard is a fun accessory to have! By the way, my typing has improved even further in the past few minutes and the fact that the keys are not offset on alternating rows no longer bothers me. You easily can learn to use it and be typing extremely quickly and without any finger fatigue!



Friday, 16 November 2012

Marmalade SDK for Blackberry


It has been a couple months since I received my free Blackberry Playbook and Marmalade SDK license. While the learning curve has sometimes been slow, it really is fun and relatively easy to put together "native" apps using Marmalade! Fortunately, the SDK allows porting using the same code to many other platforms, meaning that the app I develop for Blackberry will potentially also find some life on other platforms!

One of the sites that has been instrumental in providing some basics is drmop.com which has a number of good startup samples. As well, Marmalade itself comes with a huge library of examples showing the different features available to use in both 2D, 3D and user-interface demos widget demos. I am happy to say that after looking at a few basic demos, and playing around with Marmalade on Microsoft Visual C++ 2010 Express (also free), my physics-based game is nearing completion!

The game is similar to "Angry Birds Space" in that it involves shooting particles instead of birds (from a launch area) towards a target (a puck instead of pigs inside structures). In my case, the objective is to hit a puck with the particles, which pushes the puck towards a target zone. You have an infinite number of particles available to use, but your points go down the more particles you need to push your puck to the target. To make matters more difficult, some of the particles are charged "negative" or "positive" (some are "neutral") and there are various negative and positive-charged spots on the game field (which appear as the levels increase) which cause deflection/attraction of your shooting particle, making it more difficult to hit your target puck. There are also rectangular obstacles which reflect your particles/puck and of course the walls of the screen which are also reflecting.

While not as cute as "Angry Birds Space", the game has potential and while it may be a bit dry and purely physics-based and geometrical at the moment, I plan on improving the game  in the future by applying a "theme" while keeping the same game objectives. For example, the particles could be changed into little animals or eggs, and the puck could be made into a large round fruit. The rectangular objects could be boxes and the negative/positive charge deflections/attractions could be made to be changes in the terrain height indicating mountains or valleys.

I look forward to announcing the game on this blog when it is ready, hopefully in the next 2-3 weeks!

Meanwhile, check out the Blackberry 10 Dev Alpha Blog which I found, which features some links to pre-release apps to try out.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

iPad Mini vs. Playbook Pricing Fun

Now that Apple has unveiled it's latest tablet offering, the iPad mini, we are rushing into the holiday season with Apple having played it's hand and revealing it's cards. This is bad news for Apple, unless they plan on reducing prices over the next two months. We are likely to see a few more surprises with new product announcements from their competitors (Amazon, Google and Microsoft) who are going to aggressively price their product to compete and do their best to take a bite out of Apple's sales.

There has already been much negative buzz about the pricing scheme Apple has set for the iPad mini. At least in my area, their basic cheapest 16GB model comes in at a whopping $329, followed by 32GB model at $429 and 64GB model at $529. Apple needed to follow this pricing because they are offering their iPod Touch (4" screen) at $299 and iPad 2 (10" screen) for $399. They had no choice but to price it somewhere in-between.

Some recent news has determined that Apple's bill-of-materials or "BOM" on the iPad mini comes in around $188. That means they are making $141 in profit on top (75% markup). Apple could easily reduce the price if it wanted to and still earn a profit, but that could also mean they would have to drop the price of their iPod Touch since people may prefer buying the larger screen iPad mini (if it has essentially the same functions as the iPod Touch). The fact is, competing tablets from Google, Amazon, Blackberry and many others in the 7" screen space have already set a a price level which is much lower and is now in consumer minds.

Apple is relying on brand loyalty and has positioned itself in the "luxury" tier. Sure it has a strong content ecosystem and thousands of apps, but I also sense some complacency. Apple has rode the success of the iPhone and iPad for the past few years, and they think they can continue to push out over-priced products and have droves of consumers lining outside their stores waving their credit cards. But there will be a point of saturation.

Consumers loyal to Apple would have likely already bought an iPad over the past few years. Anyone who didn't already buy an iPad is not just waiting for a cheaper and smaller iPad, but is a more discretionary buyer with no particular loyalty, looking at the entire tablet space for value. These are the buyers who likely fueled the increased sales of competing tablets immediately following the iPad mini event. Amazon reported one of it's best day of sales ever on the Kindle Fire, right after the iPad mini pricing was announced. It seems many consumers decided it was over-priced as well.

A recent article from The Gadget Masters titled "3 Reasons Why You Would Be Stupid To Buy The iPad Mini" makes the following statement (and I quote):
"The iPad Mini’s specs are comparable to the BlackBerry PlayBook in most areas. In the areas that the two differ, the PlayBook actually has better specs (1GB RAM versus 512MB RAM for example). At only $149, the PlayBook is a far more attractive option than the iPad Mini, since buyers can save $180 (and get a free upgrade to BB 10)."
For fun I decided to do some pricing comparisons to see how the Blackberry Playbook stacks up with respect to the iPad mini. At my local retailer I can get a Playbook 32GB for $149 and a Playbook 64GB for $219. Note that there is no more 16GB version available. In fact, a recent sale made the Playbook 32GB available at $129 for a short period of time before it was completely sold out. Compare this with the iPad mini at $329 (16GB), $429 (32GB) and $529 (64GB).

You can purchase 2 Playbooks with double the memory of the iPad (32GB versions) at $149 x 2 = $298 and still be $31 less than 1 iPad mini with basic 16GB size. In fact, if you want to compare the same memory size devices, you could purchase 3 Playbooks (all 32GB) at $149 x 3 = $447 and only pay $18 more than the 1 iPad mini 32GB. If you had to buy a lightning dock adapter for your iPad mini, cancel out that $18 and basically 3 Playbooks (32GB) = 1 iPad mini (32GB).

Looking at the 64GB versions, you can purchase 2 Playbooks (with 64GB) $219 x 2 = $438 and pay only $9 more than 1 iPad 32GB at $429. Your 2 Playbooks would have a combined total of 128GB, or four-times that of your iPad mini memory (32GB) at almost the same cost. You could buy 4 Playbooks (with 32GB) $149 x 4 = $596, and be only $67 more than 1 iPad mini 64 GB model.

Finally, if you bought 2 Playbooks with 64GB ($219 x 2 = $438) and 1 Playbook with 32 GB ($149) that would bring the total to $587 for all 3 Playbooks, which is only $58 more than the 1 iPad mini 64GB version. Your 3 Playbooks would have a combined memory of 160GB, compared to the 64GB of your single iPad mini, and your whole family could have fun using them.

Now the market will decide. This holiday season, we will see how many people are looking to buy tablets in general, and out of those, how many people shopping for 7" screen sizes will walk out of the store with an iPad mini. Will we get a phenomenon where people buy this device for gifts because of the associated "prestige", or to meet a certain value requirement for their gift? If you receive a Playbook as a gift, will you think the gift-giver cheapened out on you? Would you be more impressed knowing they over-paid? After all, isn't someone's love supposed to be about the amount of money they spent?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Blogging from a Dev Alpha

This is my first post written from a BlackBerry Dev Alpha. It is definitely an amazing experience! The browser works great with Google and the predictive typing makes it fairly easy and fast to type things in. I am hooked into my home WiFi network and using the phone in portrait mode.

The compatibility is similar to the PlayBook as far as the browser is concerned. I have been working away on my app and making steady progress and I'm excited to see it coming together. The biggest challenge was to convert my user-interface from jQuery to bbUI.js. However, now that I have started to use the bbUI.js framework it really is making my WebWorks app look like it was made specifically for the Blackberry 10.

I look forward to sharing more about this on my blog and also any progress made with using the Marmalade SDK in making my native C coded Playbook app. RIM has made it a real pleasure to write apps for their platform due to the amazing developer support they are providing as well as hardware for testing and for developers to keep as an incentive.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Blackberry 10 Dev Alpha

I recently began porting my app to Blackberry 10 and had some issues on my computer with the simulator and Ripple Emulator. I have worked out a few more bugs, but really needed an actual working device to test out my app and debug it fully. Thankfully, the amazing people at RIM lent me a Blackberry 10 Dev Alpha device for development purposes.

The Dev Alpha arrived with the older BB10 OS installed which appears very much like the Playbook OS, with only a couple of apps (a browser and camera). I proceeded to update to the latest BB10 developer OS which had many more apps including AppWorld, BBM, Calendar, Contacts, an improved Camera app and more. It was nice to see a bunch of BB10 Apps from various developers already included in AppWorld, some in test mode and some fully-finished for sale. I downloaded a few to check them out, and there are some really cool ones.

Regarding my own app, one of the jumps I have been meaning to take is to convert from using jQuery to bbUI.js. The interface looks very polished on the bbUI.js and is probably optimized to run very well on BB devices. While my app works with jQuery, the look doesn't fit as well and it is a bit slow. Some of the pop-up lists don't fit well and it can be hard to format things on the screen properly. If all of this is "Greek" to you, it basically means that both of these tools let you easily implement nice modern user-interfaces (buttons, dialogs, lists, sliders, etc). However, bbUI.js was designed to match the look and feel of the Blackberry 10 OS and so to make things consistent with other apps and to help users avoid confusion, using a standard user-interface (UI) is beneficial. Companies like Apple have really pushed this idea on iOS, which explains why many of the apps on your iPhone and iPad have the same "look and feel".

I am definitely excited about Blackberry 10, now more than ever. Although I already fell in love with the Playbook, seeing it's evolution in the BB10 OS (which should also make it's way to the Playbook in time) is a real eye-opener. Many people are upset about waiting for BB10 to come out, but I believe we need to give RIM the time to make BB10 a perfect 10. If it means a few more months, it is better to have as flawless and bugless an OS as possible. All of the critics will be watching, and we don't want to give them any fodder for their articles!

I hope now that many people who have phone contracts expiring in the next few months will choose to hang on to their current devices, avoid locking into a new contract and proceed on a monthly basis until BB10 comes out. At least give Blackberry 10 a try, you won't regret it. However, you may regret locking into a new phone and missing out on a wonderful new mobile platform coming in early 2013!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Does Price Matter?


Rumours have it that Apple is about to ship their latest tablet offering... The iPad mini. Even though previously Steve Jobs apparently hated the idea, Apple has seen a bulk of the market going to cheaper and smaller tablet offerings in the 7" space like the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, Blackberry Playbook and many other $200-range affordable tablets.

For people who are loyally married to the iOS Apple ecosystem, they have had only 2 choices as far as screen size goes... iPhone/iPod touich 4" size and the iPad 10" size. So a 7" iPad is precisely in the middle of the devices. The question remains... will Apple sell millions of these things and why would people buy it?

Price leaks have already occured and it looks like the iPad mini will have to fall somewhere between the $299 iPod touch and $499 iPad. That means $399. But will this device pack in the same retina display, camera resolution and starting base memory size as the other devices? The other tablets in this size are all in the $200 range, about half the cost! If true, then Apple will make a profit and people may still buy the 7" tablet to save a few bucks yet still pay a hefty premium to secure their place in Apple's walled-garden ecosystem.

There is also speculation that the iPad mini may be made cheaper, at the expense of specs like memory and camera resolution. However, it is unlikely to be priced below $300, lest Apple start taking hits to its profit margins. Remember Google and Amazon have stated that they have been selling their tablets at cost because they plan on recouping money later on in-tablet purchases from their respective app and content stores.

And so here lies the big question. Will Apple switch around from their previous premium pricing history which made them huge profits, or will they sell the iPad mini at cost to bring more people into it's ecosystem and make money from the increase in iTunes purchases?

I see no reason why Apple would lower the price. They are dominating and will still sell millions of iPad minis despite their higher cost. However, millions of people are willing to pay a premium to be in Apple's ecosystem.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

First Signs of Apple Crumbling


Over the past few years we have seen Apple take a huge bite out of the mobile and portable entertainment market (not to mention their dominance of the tablet space with the iPad). Apple has amassed a growing number of adoring fans, as well as billions in profit. With each new quarter, and each product launch (amid much hype and media coverage) it seemed as if the Apple train was speeding up and gaining a momentum that would be impossible to stop.

Now, for the first time in recent memory, there are some preliminary signs that Apple's fantasy ride is slowing down. As with any rise, there must be a leveling-off, and then a fall. I am not suggesting that Apple is falling apart, just that it is going to need to face reality again. Apple may be a victim of its own success and marketing hype engine. At every launch, Apple fans have come to expect miraculous new features. Given the fast rate that Apple has released new products, and the slower pace of true mind-blowing technological innovation, it was innevitable that Apple would hit a wall. Couple that with increasing expectations from users, and it is easy to predict that Apple's past performance would be unsustainable.

The most critical reports are not from Apple competitors, but Apple fanboys themselves. "The Apple Byte" show on CNet, usually enamoured by anything Apple related, recently pointed out some of the major misses with the new iPhone and other disappointments with iOS 6. Still, a few healthy criticisms doesn't put a dent into Apple's userbase fanaticism, but does bring Apple back down to reality... a reality of a highly competitive and inter-connected sector that is ready to eat Apple at any opportunity, and users that have an opportunity every few years to switch to another phone ecosystem or upgrade to a new tablet.

There are other signs, however, that not all is perfect. The late Steve Jobs was a well-respected figure-head for Apple who brought an almost cult-like following to the company. The new leadership is still profiting on his legacy, but it will eventually run out. They will have to begin relying on their own ideas.

The iPhone 5 was the best product launch ever in terms of numbers sold. However, it is not without flaws. All devices have issues. Complaints about the new Lightning connector backwards compatability problems, iOS 6 Apple Maps, slow WiFi connections, slow data on some carriers, brightness-level not working, and other problems populated the Apple fan-site forums after launch.

The furthest-reaching but minor problem, however, happens to be a quality control issue resulting in scratches and chips found on brand new unboxed iPhones coming straight from the factory. This has resulted in increasing pressure on Foxconn employees which apparently resulted in a strike and some violence on the assembly line in China. Although Foxconn denies the strike occurred (presumably to avoid giving any other employees an idea or to deny any bad press) it did make headlines.

The big story here is not the few minor cosmetic imperfections from the factory or a scratch-prone case, but that the Chinese factory strike brought attention once again to issues of worker treatment and it adds another negative newstory to a number of others already circulating about the latest product from Apple. This is a reality check for Apple that despite their amazing past accomplishments, impressions can quickly turn.

There is no doubt that the iPhone is a great device and Apple will continue to do well in the foreseeable future with release of the iPad mini, the Apple TV and other devices. There is still plenty of room for innovation using today's technologies... Some of which have already found their way into competitor's phones. People will want to continue to use their iOS apps and live happily in the iTunes universe, guaranteeing upgrade paths for Apple for a long time yet, even if each successive iPhone release is less and less interesting.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Blackberry Native App Coding


The latest free Blackberry Playbook offer has hit the developer's plate, and brings with it a 32gb version shipped to your door along with a whole lot of learning fun! The only catch - you have to submit an app written with the Marmalade SDK, a native C++ library designed to make it easy not only to port your app to Blackberry, but also to iOS and Android with relative ease.

At first, writing code using the Marmalade SDK (or any native SDK for that matter) seems over-whelming. A good grasp of C++ won't save you completely, as there are thousands of function names, classes and other structures that are unique to the SDK. Fortunately, there are plenty of "Hello World" type examples and some amazing tutorials by DrMop (www.drmop.com) that help you learn and provide code snippets to grab for your app. Marmalade itself offers a huge library of tutorials and has online forums where developers can share their coding conundrums!

So why go through the bother, just to get a $149 Playbook 32gb? It is about the challenge! It is also about learning to develop in native (versus HTML webkit only) and having an app that can be ported to all major platforms. It is about the potential to make money with the app, especially if a pay version is released. And all you need to get started is the willingness to put in some time and effort.

Microsoft Visual C++ Express 2010 is available as a free download, and forms the development environment to work in. The Marmalade SDK installs and works seemlessly together with it, even providing a simulator to test your app and emulate different devices. Everything required to get coding, including Blackberry signing keys, is free along with a Playbook. Anyone with the drive to work hard and learn has the potential to make the next "Blockbuster App", an Angry Birds of their own!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

iPhone 5: Hit or Miss?


With the arrival of the new iPhone (arguably the fastest phone in the world), and the tremendous market response it has achieved, can there be any doubt that Apple has out-done itself yet again and driven another nail in the coffin of all other smartphone makers?

While the iPhone 5 is definitely a force to be reckoned with, not all is as pretty as it may seem. It may have the fastest processor, great for playing 3D games and crunching through videos and photos, but for most of us the extra speed will do little to improve most of the features we use. Reviews have already pointed out iPhone's biggest weakness, iOS 6, which has both added features in this latest version (integrated Facebook) and taken them away (Google Maps).

Fortunately, the OS can be improved. Unfortunately, with all that power under the hood, basic email-attachment access via direct file system browsing is left to be desired. Apple still doesn't want you to access your phone's files except for photos, and through 3rd party apps or iCloud. And you still can't download an MP3 file directly off the web using your phone and set it up as a ringtone.

Physically, the new iPhone is a beauty. Light, thin, but definitely not the thinnest phone ever (as Apple would lead you to believe). iFixit's teardown shows a suprisingly easy disassembly, if you care to open up your phone. The one-piece aluminum chassis is light and dissipates heat well. However, the black version is going to need a case (which most people use anyways) because apparently it scratches extremely easily. The white version doesn't show scratches as easily since the aluminum is also light in color.

So is the iPhone 5 a hit or miss? The market has answered and the masses are eating up iPhones like never before. Despite some criticisms, Apple has their fan-base in the palm of their hand, and the fan-base is growing. However, there is nothing revolutionary about it. The iPhone is just a little bit more refined, using the fastest available chips, thinner but still with a long-life battery, and slightly larger screen.

With all the media attention Apple has gained with the hype around the new iPhone, one would think it was miles ahead of the competition... But there are plenty of other options in the smartphone market that can compete well on that level. Depending on useability requirements, there are many other phones that may be a better fit to someone versus the iPhone.

Now that Apple has set the bar higher, be ready for a slew of new devices that emulate the design esthetics, speed and battery life of the iPhone 5. If you are willing to wait, I see some amazing smartphones coming in the next few quarters!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Heating Up The Battle of the Tablets


This fall we are going to see the next wave of strikes in what has been coined "The Tablet Wars". As the battles rage on, competition will only be good for consumers as we see prices drop and tablet options increase during the fall holiday season and into the new year. Anyone who is looking to add a tablet to their shopping list would be wise to wait and see where things go over the next few months.

Looking at the current landscape, we have no less than 5 major players all fighting to take a bite out of Apple's too-long-dominated market. There is Google's Nexus 7 which is a powerful $199 Android tablet. Anyone using Google's services for their main daily activities would do well with this choice as it provides excellent integration with Google's online ecosystem (Gmail, Google Docs, Blogging, Youtube, Google Maps, and others). It also gives unrestricted access to the full range of Android marketplace (now called Google Play).

Another great choice (which will likely out-sell Google) is Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, which is now being released in 2 size versions. The biggest advantage of the Kindle Fire seems to be the more controlled environment, easier interface, and stream-lining of the experience for users who consume Amazon content such as ebooks and videos. There are many Android apps and ways to get even non-Amazon-market apps through work-arounds, but for the average non-technical user the tablet is a great choice for entertainment. Versions come in at $199 for the smaller model and $299 for the larger one (putting the iPad at a huge price disadvantage).

The Surface is Microsoft's first entry into the tablet market. It appears to be a very sleek looking tablet poised to give the iPad a serious kick in the marketplace, especially when it comes to enterprise use. Not only an iPad competitor, but also an ultra-book competitor with the Surface Pro. It will come in 2 flavours... The RT edition running on an ARM processor and running mobile Windows 8 apps, and the Surface Pro which is based on Intel and runs a full Windows 8 that will be able to function and run the same apps as your laptop. Windows has a huge application history and there are more PC's running Windows than any other operating system. Depending on the pricing, Microsoft may gain considerable market share.

The Blackberry Playbook, now more than 1.5 years old, still is excellent value for the money. Recent sale of the device in the $150 range make it an obvious choice for a cheap well-built device that speeds through websites, has some nice 3D games and lots of apps coming. Although it lags behind iOS and Android in terms of apps, all the main bases are covered and a well-stocked variety of applications exists. Playbook buyers will get an added bonus in early 2013 when RIM releases the first Blackberry 10 platform phones, and soon after the Playbook will receive a BB10 software update! For these prices it is a really good purchase, especially when you have seen the impressive BB10 interface.

Other major hardware manufacturers are releasing cheap tablets, mostly in the Android space. Samsung already has its Galaxy series and ASUS is pushing the Transformer series of tablets. There are countless others, but it will be important to see which ones are able to deliver a quality Android 4.0+ device. Many cheap tablets have poor quality construction, low resolution screens and still run on Android 2.3 (Gingerbread).

Finally, Apple is releasing the iPad Mini in order to try and get a bite of the smaller-format tablet space. While this may make many other tablet-makers fearful, Apple will also need to watch its back as the Microsoft Surface, Kindle Fire HD 8.9 and larger Samsung and ASUS tablets (and a rumoured larger Blackberry Playbook) nip at its heals in the larger format iPad space.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Facebook Social Media Dangers

The trend today is for everyone to set up a social-media presence with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, MySpace, Google+ and others. Unknowingly, people are uploading way too much information about their private lives. Compounding the problem, often many of the sites have poor security settings by default or revert to poor security settings at each "upgrade" of the service. As more of these sites become "monetized" in order to become profitable, your information is being shared with 3rd parties. It is important to realize how to protect yourself and ensure that your "social media" presence does not become a liability that you may regret for years to come.

Facebook Privacy and Security Issues


Many people have a Facebook presence. Unfortunately, it becomes a place where they share everything about their status, location, family photos and so on. There are privacy settings to ensure you do not announce your birthday and location, and share photos to the entire Facebook community, such as friends-of-friends or the public. That means that a friend of a friend can access your information. All you need is one "friend" of yours who is overly "promiscuous" in accepting Facebook friend requests (which may be from fake or scam accounts) and they now have a way of looking into the photos you intended for your immediate friends and family.

Do you really want pictures of your children on the internet, available for anyone to see? Or your trip to the Caribbean dressed in your bikini, or sipping an alcoholic beverage on a cruise looking a bit wasted? You have to ask yourself whether that is an image you want there forever. Facebook has not been transparent when it comes to photo-management after deletion. Only recently we found out they have kept your photos for years after you "deleted" them, so that anyone who had the original URL to the photo could still view it, even though it wasn't on your page anymore.

Facebook liability also relies on your "friends" privacy. If they are not careful they can share with you Facebook apps (some of which invade your privacy even more), or they may tag you in photos that they take (which you do not approve of them uploading), or they may wish you Happy Birthday by posting a big fat message to your Wall, after you tried so hard to not publicize it. Therefore, your entire privacy on Facebook is really only as good as it's weakest link which happens to be your other Facebook friends.

Security Breaches


Security leaks have occurred on all of the popular social-media websites. LinkedIn had a hacker that was able to steal millions of usernames and passwords recently. Facebook apps are common that try to convince you to share access to all of your private information. Even "phishing" attacks try to convince you to sign in to Facebook or Twitter because somebody posted something "that you have to see if negative about you", in order to entice you to disclose your login/password information to a fake site. It all seems innocent at first. Why would anyone want access to your Facebook or Twitter account? However, often these are used to penetrate further into your online identify and breach more and more vital accounts, including email and banking. It can also be used to socially-engineer attacks on your friends... like "help please sent me money, I am stuck in the airport and lost my wallet".

Monetization and Increasing Privacy Invasion


As most of these start-ups become public for-profit companies, there is increasing pressure by shareholders to "monetize" or build a profitable business from the social-media content. Facebook, Twitter and others are using your information (which is the only asset they "own" and can generate revenue from) to share with 3rd parties in order to direct advertisements or other information to specific users, hoping they will see it and purchase their products. Industries are notorious for invading your privacy first, asking questions later. It often takes lobby groups and lawsuits to instigate "Codes of Conduct" to force ethical changes on Wall Street. When there are billions to be made from your information, there is no rule that won't be broken and then covered up.

Twitter and Photo Location


Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are some of the most popular smartphone apps available. Because smartphones contain GPS, many of these apps now allow you to "tag" an image with your GPS coordinate (geotagging). This is a useful feature in some cases, however it can be a disaster when using it for social media sites. Wikitude is a geolocation-centric "augmented reality" browser, displaying information based on it's proximity to your location, including Instagram and Twitter postings. With a simple browse in Wikitude, you can find all the Twitter users and Instagram users in your vicinity. Run into any residential neighbourhood and you will find countless teenagers using their smartphone to tweet profanities, messages to boyfriends, relationship issues, pictures of themselves "hanging out" or in the bathroom showing off a new outfit, and so on. This is all because they have location-settings of their smartphone apps set to ON, which embeds their location within their social information. 

Recently, awareness of  this feature became popularized by a website which scanned Twitter for messages with the word "home" and location data, to bring attention to the fact that people are unknowingly telling the entire world where they live. Many Instagram photos share their location and you can use services to display all photos within your neighbourhood. This is a major concern especially due to possible sexual predators, stalkers and other criminals who can use this type of social media to their advantage. An answer to this could come from a form of GPS "blurring" which would randomize or add a "fudge-factor" to all GPS coordinates from social-media sites. That way, if you are in a residential neighbourhood, your location cannot be pinpointed down to the nearest meter but instead within 100 meters which could overlap a dozen or more houses.

Tools for Thieves


Some people post Facebook updates when they are on vacation. They will even post photos. If they have location GPS set to on, their photos will be tagged and you will see they are presently in another part of the world enjoying their vacation. However, their older photos (which are also easily viewed within their account) may also have location data mapping to their home. Thieves could then see that a person is away on vacation and using this information, track back to their home and go on a rampage. Online phonebooks can be used to do searches for persons and return a specific address, so if the Facebook user is using their real name as a username (which is often the case) it becomes relatively easy to track them down, stake out their house for a few days while viewing their status online, and find the opportune moment to break in.

How to Protect Yourself


1. Turn location information OFF for all apps on your smartphone
2. Do not post photos of yourself, your children or friends
    - Do post photos of inanimate objects, scenery, gardens, animals
    - Do post links to things that may be interesting to you
3. Do not update your status to indicate you are away or on vacation
    - If you do share this, share it after you get home
    - Share photos of scenery and where you've been, but not with you in it
    - If you share photos of you, make sure you are fully clothed
4. Do not tweet anything you wouldn't want your grandmother to hear
    - Avoid profanities
    - Avoid anything controversial
5. Keep it professional
    - If you have hobbies or interests, post information on that
    - Be sure it is nothing you could be embarrassed about

For example, my blog contains mostly high-tech related news. I am a hobbyist Blackberry developer and tech-tinkerer. I do garden a bit for fun as well, and have composed music. My entire social-media presence is geared towards:

1. Sharing my music
2. Technical/electronics hobbyist news
3.  Gardening photos

I avoid as much as possible sharing photos that have identifiable faces or people. I have set my Facebook privacy settings to be as restrictive as possible. I have all of my location settings OFF. All of these hobbies are something I would gladly talk about to children or grandmothers. None are an embarrassment. In fact, I am proud of my hobbies. My professional life is distinctly separate but I have no problems if my clients and people I work for see my Facebook, Twitter postings, Youtube videos and listen to my music. If this information was printed in tomorrows newspaper, I wouldn't care and probably nobody else would either.

Rules to live by: Make sure your online presence can stand up to scrutiny if you decide to run for an election, and wouldn't mind sharing with people of all ages, races and political persuasions. If at all in doubt, don't even bother with social-media. It is a mine-field both personally and for business use which has to be carefully navigated.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Apple vs Samsung vs RIM


The jury has made a verdict. Samsung was found guilty and faces paying $1 billion to Apple. This is the cost of doing business. While the two companies share many more billions in a supplier relationship, this is merely a small price to pay for Samsung having made an enormous fortune otherwise on their phones in the past few years. If they had paid licensing fees that Apple demanded originally, it would have cost them billions as well. So Samsung took a bet, profited well and now Apple's lawyers have caught up with them. Still not a bad business decision, as Samsung likely saved this way rather than paying licensing fees to Apple over the years.

Now, many had called the entire patent system regarding technology and user interfaces a joke. The patent system is broken, and in the USA they are granting patents with broad interpretations. Keep in mind Apple won on it's own turf, but around the world they have not had as great a success against Samsung and other rivals.

So what does that have to do with RIM? Well we are nearing the release of BB10 and Blackberry is bringing a fresh new look to the mobile computing device. I am happy that RIM has differentiated itself and hope it remains that way. The alpha device does unfortunately look a bit too much like an iPhone, so I hope they bring something new like they did with the Playbook and the active bezel which allows various gestures. Phones have all started to turn into iPhone clones anyways. Then again, how many shapes of phone can you produce with existing non-bendable technology based on square/rectangular pixels?

I look forward to innovative fresh new designs and user interfaces over the next few years. Blackberry is in a position to redefine itself and with QNX-powered phones and TAT-inspired interfaces, we can begin to see some new ideas. Windows 8 also gives us a fresh look over the multitude of Android interfaces with numerous dessert-named versions (confusing to many), and the iPhone's overly-simple and rather bland interface (it is getting a bit stale now and needs a good shake-up as well).

The new BB10 alpha looks a bit like all the other full-screen all-touch phones. In my opinion, a bit too much like iPhone and numerous Android phones out there. I hope they bring the Torch design as it has a unique look and feel and gives us a nice keyboard to interact with. The all-touch Blackberry Storm was a complete bomb, but likely due to the clickable-screen. However, the Playbook brings us a very functional touch-enabled bezel which let's you swipe in menus, keyboard, close folders, and so on.

What I would like to see is a BB10 all-touch similar to the Playbook with some kind of bezel, perhaps with back-illuminated buttons if needed in the traditional bottom-row found under most Blackberry screens that would only light up upon touch. Obviously the bezel would take away from the screen size but can be made small enough to still look good (and different from other phones).

For the physical keyboard BB10 device, a Torch-like device would be ideal. As much as I like the current line of Bold and Curve phones with their always-visible keyboards, they take away from the size of the screen. A slider seems to be the best of both worlds and provides us with that much-loved large screen format that is dominating the market and made Apple's iPhone so successful.

We live in exciting times for mobile technology and I look forward to seeing what is coming up! I am hoping that RIM uses this opportunity to stand out from the crowd and impress!

(Send from my Blackberry Torch 9810)

Friday, 24 August 2012

Playbook vs. iPad Mini

Ok, so by now we've all seen the iPad mini rumours. The question is, does this new iPad pose as huge a threat to the 7" tablet space as everyone believes? Is Apple going to change face and dump the iPad onto the market with their untold billions and not make a profit, in order to make money later with their content revenue stream (iTunes?).

We know that Google and Amazon are following that model and some other vendors also are dumping their tablets simply to lock users into a particular ecosystem. Will the iPad mini kill all other tablets? Apple could price it so aggressively to do that. However, we assume that people will rush to buy one that perhaps wanted an iPad but couldn't previously afford it.

The cost of a regular iPad has been in the $499 range for a while. The old one, which eventually will be discontinued, is currently at $399. The iPad mini will likely come in at $299 at the very least, if not the mid-$300's. I doubt there will be a 3G/4G version. It will likely be only Wifi but who knows.

This makes the iPad more than all the other mainstream 7" tablets, which for now are at the $200 entry-point. For that money, though, you are biting into a piece of Apple's ecosystem and that has been the main selling-point. Just how important is it to have access to iTunes vs. Android vs. Amazon vs. Blackberry App World? The market has already shown it's preference.

It will all boil down to the costs and numbers of people out there still looking for a tablet but did not feel the need to pay $400-500 for one. The lower end of the market, already populated with tons of cheap Android tablets, has been available for some time. Is there an unmet need for an iOS tablet to live in this space?

Most people who already have tablets would not be running out to buy another tablet, even if it was an iPad mini. People who do not have a tablet may feel the urge to hop into the Apple ecosystem at a lower price-point. This is not necessarily cannibalizing their iPad 10" sales, or is it? Perhaps parents with a regular iPad want to buy their children something smaller and cheaper so they leave their larger tablet alone!

One thing is for sure. With iPad mini coming, if rumours are to be believed, the 7" tablet space is about to get more interesting and competitive, which is good for consumers. I for one will not be rushing out to buy another tablet any time soon. I have my Blackberry Playbook which serves my needs well.

However, we have seen iPad dominate when faced against similar priced tablets in the $500 range. So if the iPad mini comes in at $299, it may create some pressure on Google Nexus, Samsung Galaxy 7 and Amazon Fire. I do not even mention the Blackberry Playbook because we are seeing it on sale now for $150 at some places. It appears to be getting "dumped" already just to clear shelves, and at that price some people are getting it... But even at $150 there is no mad rush.

Apple will use their big marketing dollars to make iPad mini a must-have item. I hope there is room left, beyond all the marketing-hype, for the other tablet-makers to thrive. There are plenty of great apps and tablets besides iPad, despite the number of sales and profit Apple has made.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Blackberry Torch 9810 (White Edition) Tear-Down

My friend's white Blackberry Torch 9810 fell in the pool and after she tried unsuccessfully to fix it (with rice) and also bringing it to a cell-phone repair store, it was deemed dead-on-arrival. With no hope in sight, I decided to give it a go. Since we had nothing else to lose, I decided to crack open the phone and visually inspect it. However, I found nothing obviously wrong. While I was at it, I took the opportunity to make a video showing how to open the phone here:

Blackberry Torch 9810 Teardown

After a bit more research, I heard about a technique to use distilled water and then 99% isopropyl alcohol to wash the phone and remove impurities that had dried on from the contaminated water which often short out contacts on the circuit. I will try this technique and report back on whether it succeeds or not. Meanwhile, enjoy these photos showing the parts of the phone in detail.




Sunday, 12 August 2012

Solar Panel Fun


I recently began experimenting with solar panels when I saw some apparently cheap "Solar Battery Maintainer" panels at my local hardware store. The function of the panels, which come with a 12V car cigarette lighter-socket adapter and alligator clips, is to maintain the charge level on your car battery if you are gone for a prolonged period of time.

Excited about the prospect of going solar, I picked up 4 of these panels and was ready to start hacking these things together. Much to my disappointment, besides outputing upto 20V the current was almost non-existent. So I opened one up to find the blinking diode and N4007 KDE diode (which is supposed to block reverse battery voltage short-circuiting through the panel) in there, removed it to see if I could use the panel directly but still very little power/current out of it.

Apparently these are the amorphous crystalline silicon form of panel which can be produced more simply but has less power. After speaking with some people on electronics forums it seems the panel is not even sufficiently powerful to reverse the normal current leakage/draw from a car battery. So I returned 2 of them and kept the other 2 hoping that I can use them for something eventually. Beware the cheap solar panels! Do investigate and test them first if possible.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Raspberry Pi on BlackBerry released!

I am pleased to announce that my Raspberry Pi app has arrived for the Blackberry Platform! The app works on all Blackberry phones OS 5 through OS 7, as well as the Blackberry Playbook tablet! Use this app to get quick access to 4 of the top news sources and video feeds on Raspberry Pi! These include the official Raspberry Pi home page, Raspberry Pi Beginners Youtube channel, Adafruit's Raspberry Pi blog, and RasPi.tv!

My Raspberry Pi app was created with the same Blackberry App Generator tool that I used to create my own Doctor Braun app. It provided me with a quick way to design, submit and propagate my app completely automatically and in only a few days through Blackberry Appworld. This tool promises to be one of the most exciting ways to publish future apps, especially for non-programmers who are best at creating interesting educational and entertainment content!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Mars Rover versus Raspberry Pi

I recently saw some news about the computing power aboard the Curiosity Mars Rover as compared to an iPhone. What struck me and other people who read the article initially was how much less powerful the computer is on the rover, when I believe most of us would have expected a more sophisticated computer on a $2.6 billion dollar NASA mission!

Well, it turns out, there is a reason for this apparent madness! Just for fun, I decided to compare the Curiosity's computer to the Raspberry Pi which I believe is a more fair comparison than the iPhone.

Curiosity Rover:
   200 Mhz Processor, 256 MB RAM, 2 GB Flash Memory

Raspberry Pi:

   700 Mhz Processor, 256 MB RAM, 2 GB Flash Memory


(I've high-lighted the difference)

So there you have it! While the Raspberry Pi theoretically could power the Curiosity Mars Rover, and with a higher processor speed, it would do little to put a dent in NASA's budget on this project! And there are a number of reasons why the Curiosity's computer, although a bit under-powered by today's standard home technology, is ideally suited for outer-space!


  1. Power requirements:

    • Your average phone or home computer uses quite a bit more power than is readily available to a space-craft which must carry it's own source of power for millions of kilometers of flight, and function for many months or even years. Even solar energy collection at that distance requires a design that looks to optimize power consumption. If you don't need it, there is no sense having it. That is why a 200 Mhz processor will be a better choice and sufficient to do the job.

  2. Radiation, temperature and shock resistance:

    • The chips that we have in our home computers and phones are designed with very small architectures which operate fine within certain temperature ranges and radiation tolerances. Go into outer-space and to the surface of another planet, and you are looking at extreme environmental conditions. Radiation, temperature and shock can all damage chips and therefore the Curiosity's chips must be made especially for space-hardiness. Often this requires a redesign of the chip from the ground-up with different logic circuits and a larger physical architecture (which will reduce the running Mhz speed). Also having less memory, along with these factors, means it is less likely to be damaged or corrupted by the extreme conditions. There is a much smaller production run for these specialized items, making them very expensive.

  3. Programming efficiency:

    • There is no reason to have the type of user-interface "embellishments" that we take for granted on our phones and home computers. The Curiosity needs to control itself efficiently and communicate in the most efficient way possible to home base. That means sending commands back and forth often by code, and no need to drive a display or user-interface of any kind, as no Martian is expected to walk up to the Curiosity and use it (even if it did have a touchscreen). Much of the extra code and processing we have here at home is for the graphical user-interface and all the "pretty-fication" to make life easier for us humans to interact with computers. But the Raspberry Pi, with a fraction of the memory of other computers, can still crunch through a Linux shell as fast as the next box without much trouble with only 256 MB of RAM (while most computers have several GB). Also consider that the Curiosity is built for a very specialized task and programmers have spent an enormous effort to optimize the code because of the need to constrain power use, efficiency and size (while here on Earth we are not constrained and simply just upgrade to a new computer on a regular basis, making tons of electronic trash in the process).

  4. Reliability and proven test-worthiness:

    • There is no reason for NASA to use the "bleeding-edge" of processor technology because they do not require blazing-fast speeds, or to be stuck with a new product which hasn't been proven through the test of time. Curiosity's computers are much more power-efficient, run optimized code, and suited extremely well to a very focused task. Due to all of the previous requirements mentioned, and need for many years to prepare and test for a mission, technology used by NASA probes may be several years older than what we take for granted carrying in our pockets every day.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Embedding Multiple Images for App

 




Ok, so these are my photos this time. I took them a long time ago when we actually used film in cameras. Being uploads rather than links, I wonder how the app will treat them. Also since they are all before any of the text, I wonder if it will use just the first image as the "title thumbnail" or whether it will have problems with that too!

(Update: The result of this post's test shows only the first image displays in the app. You would have to click on the "See original story" at the bottom of the post in the app to get all of the image content visible when it loads up the full article in the browser. If that is the case, I wonder whether there is a way to control also how much of the text gets displayed).

(Another Update:  So I thought maybe the solution is to embed links to the images and see what happens. At least if it doesn't show it "inline" then the link is available to click and view? Try them above and see).

Ok one more check... make image tag less complicated and see what happens:


Multiple Image Test

This post attempts to answer the question, will the app version of this blog reader (like the "Doctor Braun" app made by Blackberry App Generator) be able to display more than just the "title image" in each blog post? Well I've attached a title image already which shows some thumbnails. I will include several more images and see if they show up in the app. Obviously the web version has no issues, as you can see multiple images.

By the way, these are not my own images. They were found using a Google image search. They appear here below, all centered:

 
 

Above should appear 3 images, centered. Now to review the app-displayed version of this page and see whether these additional embedded images show up!


(Follow-up note:   Aha! The app version doesn't display these additional images... Now to debug and find out why that is. Could it be that they have to be all at the beginning of the text, or does the app ignore all future embedded image links?)



Blog Automatically Launches AppWorld


So I've added my app address to my blog in the last post, and now each time I view the blog directly in my phone's browser it launches into AppWorld! Not sure if this is just because it is finding the address near the top of the page, or anywhere on the page. The Blackberry browser seems to scan the page and if it finds an address formatted for Blackberry AppWorld, it seems to direct it.

Fortunately, while the AppWorld app loads, the actual page still loads fully in the browser. However it is truly an annoyance since if I ever put an appworld address anywhere on my blog and want to open the site on my phone, I do not want this to happen. This post is therefore also a test to see if the problem goes away. If not, I will have to remove or obscure the link address somehow so it doesn't do it! Let's see what happens!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Doctor Braun App Now Available!

It was just a matter of 3 days from starting the app creation to submitting it, having it approved, and now available in App World! That is, thanks to the new Blackberry App Generator which makes creating an app extremely easy and requires no programming experience. If you are viewing this page through a browser and haven't yet downloaded the app directly to your blackberry, the link is here:

Download Doctor Braun App for Blackberry

I am getting some strange results, as far as the link above goes. Initially it was not showing up as a link. However, after testing it again it is working on both the phone app and the playbook. However, the image at the bottom of this blog entry is not showing up in the app. Only the first image is showing up. I need to be careful then how many images to put in.

The timeline for creating the app? Well, on Thursday, August 2nd I received an email from Blackberry App Generator saying I have access to the private beta program. I went on the website, created my app by uploading a couple of images (icon and banner logo) and selecting up to 4 resources (feeds, youtube links, twitter, etc) to populate the app with content. By Friday, August 3rd my app already appeared in my Blackberry Vendor Portal account, allowing me to edit some things if needed. Saturday passed, then Sunday night I received notification my app was approved! Awesome!

Next app coming down the pipeline... Raspberry Pi on Blackberry app. I have made all necessary emails to the people involved with the content feeds to grant me permission to use them in the app. They have been extremely supportive and I am happy to make the app available freely. Stay tuned for that one!

Finally, to test out the app and how it handles images, I have decided to link another image to this post and see what happens. I am under the impression that the app will pick out the first image embedded in the post, usually which I include right at the very top as the first entry (which I right-justify). We will find out! Here is a link and image to more about the Blackberry App Generator.




Friday, 3 August 2012

Blackberry Blogging

Today I am learning how to blog from my phone directly. Yes, no computer at all! After a bit of experimenting, I learned that it is best to use HTML mode and upload or attach your image first. I usually set it to right justification.

This post is being written entirely using the phone only. If this works ok and is relatively easy, in the future it will be a lot easier to do! Yay! I can already post twitter messages from the phone, but I have yet to see a dedicated Blogger app for the Blackberry. Such an app wouldn't be needed if I am able to successfully use Blogger's mobile web interface directly!

Ok so there are some glitches. I have to rely on the autosave and then go back to drafts and publish once it is a saved draft!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Blackberry App Generator

I have been invited to use the beta-version of the Blackberry App Generator, and I must say it is really neat! The wizard guides you through the process easily. It is a relatively straight-forward RSS newsfeed reader but has other options including reading other types of blogging sites, linking of YouTube channels, Facebook and photo channels!

Support currently is only for 4 different links. That may not be sufficient for everyone, but for some basic businesses which have a Facebook page, Blog, Twitter or Photo page, it is enough to put all resources under one app!

I have made an app for myself "Doctor Braun" and plan on making another for the Raspberry Pi... making it a truly "Raspberry on a Blackberry" experience (hence the photo tagged to this blog entry).  Stay tuned for some more apps, now that they are so much easier to create!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

RasPi GPIO outputs

Today I decided to give my RasPi GPIO a try. I picked up a breadboard kit ($12.99) and 3 packages of 5 LEDs to (red, green, yellow) each $1.00 and 2 packs of 10 resistors (120 ohm) also each $1.00. The LEDs are 2.1-2.8 voltage drop, leaving about 1.2 volt remaining when being supplied from the 3.3v source of the RasPi (3.3-2.1v assuming minimum voltage drop). Doing the math, in order to keep my current around 10 mA we do V=IR, so 1.2v/0.010A = 120 ohm.

First thing was to install the Python compiler. I didn't do this at first and when trying to compile the RasPi GPIO library I got an error (said it couldn't find Python.h)! Looking to the forums I found the following command to install Python:

sudo apt-get install python-dev

Then according to our trusty friends at TheMagPi issue #2 (page 13), I downloaded the RPi GPIO file using the Midori browser from http://pypi.python.org/pypi/RPi.GPIO (to my home/pi directory) and then used these commands to unzip, untar and then compile it (use sudo if needed):


gunzip RPi.GPIO-0.3.0a.tar.gz
tar -xvf RPi.GPIO-0.3.0a.tar
cd RPi.GPIO-0.3.0a
sudo python setup.py install

Then after a few minutes we have it all installed. Then using nano editor "nano mytest.py", I created my first python program to turn on the GPIO 11 as follows:


#!/usr/bin/python
import time
import RPi.GPIO as GPIO
# to use Raspberry Pi board pin numbers
GPIO.setmode(GPIO.BOARD)

# set up the GPIO channels - one output
GPIO.setup(11, GPIO.OUT)
count = 0
while (count < 10):
print "count", count
GPIO.output(11, GPIO.HIGH)
time.sleep(0.5)
GPIO.output(11, GPIO.LOW)
time.sleep(0.5)
count = count + 1

Running the program was basically just running "sudo python mytest.py". I hooked up the GPIO 11 pin 11 from my RasPi to the + rail on my breadboard, and had a resistor and LED in series, then ground to pin 6. When the GPIO is set to high it output 3.3v which was enough to turn on the LED. Success!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

RasPi versus Arduino

Arduino Costs

I was looking for an Arduino Uno prior to my RasPi purchase and found several Canadian suppliers. One such supplier (http://www.canakit.com) has the Arduino priced at $29. However, after taxes and shipping using standard mail ($12.95) we are up to $48.47. With express mail we add on $29 for a total price of $66.61, almost the cost of my RasPi!

My local dealer also has the Arduino Uno which I can buy directly in-store, however the cost is still in the $40 range no matter how you cut it. I guess they all must pay a shipping fee and import tax, so by the time it is offered for sale at your local electronics shop it will be in that range too.

RasPi or Arduino?

One of the advantages of the Arduino is the extremely low power usage, and also once it is programmed it can be turned on and off and simply resume the program very quickly. The Raspberry Pi uses more power, has to boot the entire OS (which could take a minute) and you would need to configure a boot script to automatically load the program you wish to run, in case of power failure. Otherwise it would just load up to the desktop or Linux terminal and sit there waiting for input. 

On the other hand, for only a few bucks more ($20 let's say, after all taxes/duties/shipping) you get a fully-functioning computer with the RasPi that you can interact with and program directly. It also has ethernet built-in so you can theoretically create a program that could also send messages to (and receive) from the internet. Arduino can do that but only with an add-on ethernet board. Your RasPi can also power a display, unlike the Arduino which also requires an add-on video board.

Truth is, they are different animals and can compliment each other. However, for the small difference in price the RasPi seems to offer way more functionality yet still give hackers the option to use the GPIO to perform some interesting tricks. 


My RasPi has arrived

Shipped Raspberry Pi 

My Raspberry Pi finally has arrived! It was actually in the country almost 1 week ago, but then by the time it passed through customs and spent a few days not being delivered by DHL (somehow they couldn't find my office even though I was open).... I had missed a weekend of RasPi hacking opportunity, it finally showed up on my door on Monday. 

I plugged in my already-prepared SD card with Debian OS and it booted no problem! Worked perfectly with my wireless keyboard/mouse, HDMI, ethernet internet connection picked up, and I was out of the starting gate running!

Cost breakdown

So the final cost of the RasPi came down to the following, just in case some of you people out there are interested. Unfortunately the cost (although still cheap) almost doubles due to the stupid governments and shipping agents involved along the way from the UK and your hacking hands. Here's how it unfolded:

   $35.00  RASPBERRY PI
   $ 8.02  RA SHIPPING
   --------------------
   $43.02  TOTAL ($US)


Once it entered the country, added another $18.60 by Canada Customs ($7.30) and DHL ($11.30)...


   $45.39  TOTAL CONVERTED ($US -> $CAN)
   $ 2.81  ELECTRONIC MODULE GST
   $ 4.49  PROVINCIAL SALES TAX ON IMPORT
   $10.00  DHL PROCESSING FEE
   $ 1.30  DHL GST ON PROCESSING FEE
   --------------------------------------
   $63.99  TOTAL ($CAN)


While I believe it is still a worthwhile purchase for a useful computer, people seem to forget that even the cheapest devices will still have at least $20-30 added on to them (if not more) for duty and shipping, especially coming from Europe which has no free-trade agreement with Canada. 

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Implementing an RSS Reader App

Implementing an RSS Reader App

So here starts my journey into implementing a client-side RSS newsreader into my HTML5/CSS/Javascript apps. I found some samples on the web. I want to add RSS feeds functionality to my Playbook app so that I can have content that is continuously updated via the web. To do this, I need code that will essentially seek out and download (in the proper formatting) the blog articles.

Essentially, I can make an app for the tablet/phone which is hard-coded to grab articles and display them from a blog. I can update my blog and the app will also update what it shows.Professional articles and news-bites from journals can now be turned into an app. Cool!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Raspberry Pi

Bought myself some Raspberry Pi

Ok, it's official. My name finally came up on the pre-order list and I purchased a Raspberry Pi! Not sure exactly what to do with it yet, but I figure it must be worth the $35 US (+shipping). Came out to about mid-$40's. In any case, hopefully total will be under $50 for a Linux machine.

So here's some thoughts. I plan on embedding this thing inside a small keyboard case. Then I just take it with me and plug into a monitor and power supply. The SD card should have the Linux distro on it and boot up from that. I can also attach USB memory if needed to access stuff. Basically a nice Linux toy to play around with. Can make it into another media box, a small laptop, whatever. Just need to source the parts and patch something together.Will keep you posted!


Monday, 21 May 2012

Posting from my Playbook

Posting from my Playbook

So I am trying to post this next blog entry entirely using my Playbook. It is a little tougher since there is no mouse control. The small icons on most of the Google docs pages have always been tough to tap using a touchscreen only. I am pinch zooming in order to get close enough to activate the buttons. Nevertheless, I am making progress. I managed to open another tab, find an image of the PlayBook and link it here. 

I look forward to testing out more blogging in preparation for the app generation for my clients. The question will be, who will continuously update their blogs? Will I do it, or will they have to make a parallel site to theirs which will also need updating, if they do not have blog format for news at the moment? Seems to me that the static web design model with periodic page edits by a designer are not going to cut it. The news pages should be formatted as a blog and embedded within the website instead, and page edits would occur in the blog site.


My Blogging Journey Begins

My Blogging Journey Begins

I have finally plunged into the world of "blogging". After considering myself relatively techno-savvy I realized that having a Facebook account, Twitter account and website were not enough. I rarely use or update any of them. At this point in time I am working to develop some Blackberry Applications for several organizations. In particular, I wanted to enhance their mobile-presence and it seems there are a number of new services which create customized RSS newsfeed "Apps" for iOS, Blackberry and Android patforms with little to no programming experience needed. This is the start of my experimentation with blogging, creating an RSS feed and seeing how I can make an app out of it!

Newsreader Automatic Apps

Sites which I have found that can create apps out of RSS, which are in turn created out of blogs, are as follows:

http://www.andromo.com/ (for Android)

Essentially, Google-search for "app generator for <insert platform here>" and you will find a number of automatic app generators which essentially are pre-made RSS newsreaders, that insert your RSS feed into their code and basically create a newsreader "locked" on to your feed, with the ability to customize the icon.