Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kindle DX update blues

A few days ago I received a letter from Amazon stating a new firmware was available for Kindle, and that those with coverage problems with Whispernet could get the update file from the web too.

Firmware update for Kindle is supposed to be quite a straightforward operation. First, update file is downloaded to your Kindle, either wirelessly or manually by the user, to the main folder of the system. Once in there, either because user request or automatically, update process starts.

I've done this before and no trouble happened then. This time was different, though. I mentioned on a previous post that I've played with the USB networking hack, that enables network access to the Linux system running in the Kindle. I did some tests, set the correct system time on my Kindle and forgot about it.

Now that I was trying to update from version 2.3.4 to the new 2.5.2 version I was stucked. Update process stated normally, and "stage 1 of 3" was shown on the lower right corner of the display, but a few seconds later the process stopped with an error message and the error code U006 was shown on the lower right corner.

Several minutes later it was clear the problem was due to a checksum error of one of the system config files. I vaguely remember I did some minor changes to several files, but months later I could not remember what I might have done and to what files.

Luckily there was a way to find out where the problem was. System logs are accesible by the debug command ;dumpMessages that will create a new "book" with the contents of the log file. A careful reading of which led me to discover the file causing the trouble was framework.mario.conf.

Again, thanks to Mobilread forums I've obtained the original file, that though did not have the expected MD5 sum, it worked flawlessly. It is a shame the whole process took me a couple of afternoons to figure out.

I guess the moral of the story is that if you fiddle with your Kindle´s internals, please backup any file before changing it and keep a clean record of what you did.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Prepaid data plans in Finland

I've been researching the topic of how to get prepaid data cards for an upcoming trip to Finland. It is said that Finland is one of the cheapest and most competitive wireless communications markets.

Contrary to most people, I just need a temporary solution to get our iPad working while on the go. While most hotels and cities (i.e. Oulu) do have free wifi, I was looking for an alternative to the outrageous roaming cost of Movistar (from 4 to 10 EUR per megabit).

Saunalahti offers a seven-day 4 Mbps data plan for 6.90 EUR. I thought my problem was solved. But just in case, I asked customer service. I learned two things that were a problem:
  1. In order to activate the card an SMS had to be sent. Unfortunately, sending an SMS is not one of the things Apple decided you're entitled to do with your iPad.
  2. Saunalahti is reserving microSIM cards for contract customers, so if you want pre-paid and microSIM you're out of luck with them. (Apparently you might get lucky in an Elisa shopit, but this is uncertain).
It appears that my best shot is to get a regular SIM and to use this, for cutting the SIM once I've sent the SMS with the card using my cellphone. I've tested the cutting sheet with an old SIM and it seems to work ok.

If you think I'm missing anything, please let me know.

Update: Now that I'm back from Finland I can tell you that almost everything worked as expected (not that I was expecting that parking ticket though):

Saunalahti prepaid worked nicely, but there was a bit of misunderstanding on my side:
  1. SIM cards are not data-only. You can buy the SIM card in R-Kioski in Vantaa airport for 6.70€. This card comes loaded with 4.90€ of credit (you can use them for phone calls, SMS or data service).
  2. There is a weekly data plan for which you'll need to send an SMS. This plan will give you unlimited data for 7 days costing 6.90€. Please note in order to use this you'll need to add credit to your SIM (remember it comes preloaded with onlyt 4.90€). Again, you can easily add credit at any R-Kioski shop (very easy to find anywhere). Minimum credit increase payment is 10€.
  3. Cutting the SIM worked nicely for my iPad. APM=internet, empty username and password.
  4. No need to send any SMS unless you want to select a data plan. It was not point for me as there is a daily limit on the credit decreased each day due to data service of 1.80€. That means that you can have more than 8 days of service for your iPad for just 16.90€. (You can get eleven days of data service for the same money by sending one SMS message, but if you've already cut the SIM it may be difficult to fit it back on your phone unless you have an microSIM adapter).
Coverage was good but not perfect. Sometimes I lost connectivity while on the road, but it was not big deal for me. Having iPad's maps application on the go was great whenever we wanted to find a place to eat or as city map.

Friday, July 16, 2010

iPad and PDF magazines

I'm a subscriber (and sometimes an author too) of Circuit Cellar magazine. I use to buy it in print format but a few years ago they made the switch to electronic format. Despite the well-know blues about piracy, they chose PDF files with no particular DRM built in. Since then I'm a paying customer.

While I was disappointed with the way the PDF was rendered on Kindle DX, I'm happily surprised that the magazine looks quite nice on iPad. And given the zoom capabilities and the instantaneous response of the device to pan actions I can say it is a very nice experience to read the magazine with it. The only caveat is that sometimes it freezes for a while when browsing the pages quickly. I guess it takes a while to render next page and iPad has limited both computing power and RAM memory.

How to get the PDF file on the iPad is also not obvious. Though there are several PDF viewers for iPad, the ones I've tried do not allow me to add the files I want to view. However, iTunes software will allow you to "Import to the library" PDF files containing magazine issues. One synchronization later the issue is available on the shelves of iBook application. (If you do not have iBook, just download it from iTunes store to your iPad). Happy PDF reading!!

Update: I've experienced several times a crash on the PDF reader while reading. iPad was not frozen, but I've heard complains from other people that their iPad froze while reading a PDF. Now I understand why there are so many different PDF reading apps for iPad. Still, I'd say iBook is kind of usable for me (mostly because it's free).

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My wife has got an iPad

I've been reluctant to give in to the latest Apple gizmo. I tried it out last week and it was ok. Web browsing was smooth and comfortable till you reach a flash based page (flash does not work out of the box). The best feature I noticed was that it dos not get hot. This is very nice when the weather is hot.

Writting tris entry using iPad keyboad proved not to be very convenient, as many words get replaced by others guessed by Safari to be what I want to write. Maybe it is causes by a mismatch between my localization and writing in English here. A simple post like this took me ten minutes and lots of backspace.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Getty Images Settlement Letters in Spain too

Apparently, Getty Images is a company that sells stock photos. The same company you can accept on Flickr to represent your photo portfolio.

As such, it is believed Getty Images make they money by selling stock photos to their costumers, either end-users or designers that use them on their customer's projects.

As any other company dealing with intellectual property, they may have copyright infringement cases every now and then. But here is where the innovation comes: Instead of sending a cease and desist letter to those believed to be infringing upon any right owned by Getty Images, they will just send a "settlement demand letter". The whole purpose of that document is to (1) notify the alleged infringement, (2) to act as an invoice for the amount they claim it is worth the damages for the
previous use of the infringing images (3) to provide erroneous legal claims to confuse addressee (4) to rush recipient to pay without a second thought (5) to offer the licensing of the images to be used in the future.

A law firm contacted me a few days ago as they have received such a letter from Getty Images, London. As many other histories I've found on the Internet, this firm hired a web designer to create their website. That work was paid for and assumed to be correct and lawful. It seems Getty Images is sweeping the Internet with some software that collects images and checks whether they contain any of the images they license or not.

A 2.500 EUR invocice was attached to the letter as they claim the alleged "losses" where worth. My advice to that firm was to file that letter permanently in the trash bin and to remove the images from their website.

At no point in the letter were presented any proof of ownership of the "infringing" images to the recipient. For an asking price of 2.500 EUR I think they could do no less.

I won't be surprised if that were the work of a con artist. But as I have researched the topic a bit on-line I think it is actually Getty Images doing this to themselves, which I think it is unfortunate.