Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Wireless missunderstandings

Though we bring an iPad to China, we ended up not buying a SIM card for it as we were told we could borrow one. But then the card we borrow was to be returned and we could not cut it down to fit into the iPad. My new Samsung Galaxy S could not accept the card as it was SIM-locked so we ended up using the SIM on our Nokia E71. Thus, iPad could use the GPRS access of the phone thanks to JoikuSpot software.

Unfortunately, the access JoikuSpot provides does not seem to work for the Galaxy S.

Another problem I faced was that the few wireless networks I can access are protected by a captive portal that, once a valid username and password is provided allow clients to access the Internet. My Eye-Fi Geo SD card performs the geo-location for my pictures but only if pictures are downloaded wirelessly to the computer. But Eye-Fi firmware did not support captive portal authentication so I could not use these wireless networks.

Unfortunaltey the Eye-Fi card cannot work with JoikuSpot either. A potential solution was to use the Galaxy S in the wifi router mode as then it acts as an access point. But again, the problem was that Eye-Fi manager software needs to have an Internet access through that connection in order to be able to accept this new network into the Eye-Fi card configuration.

I did not want to enable data roaming for the Galaxy S as prices are just outrageous (even if my company is paying the bill). But eventually I was forced to enable it for a moment till the card configuration was in process. Finally I can download wirelessly the pcitures to my MacBook using the Galaxy S as the access point. For that operation I can keep the data roaming off with no problem.

I reckon that Eye-Fi should have made life easier for their customers and not more difficult.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The other Great Wall

Being in China for a few days is an eye-opening experience: both the future and the past are mixed together here in a curious combination. There are many good things beyond the food: A taxi driver may return your missing phone and the waiter will patiently wait for you to order. Other things are not so nice: don't expect queues to be respected nor all cars to stop at pedestrian crossings, even if there is a red light.

Internet experience is also special: Many sites just don't work. Others work like if something was wrong under the hood and finally, the rest work like in the rest of the world. It is not a problem of network speed (though some links could use some extra speed) but of the control the government imposes upon what can or cannot be browsed by citizens and visitors of China.

For some visitors like me, showing some pictures on Facebook for family and friends is a common activity when we are abroad. Not being able to even open Facebook or to make a blog entry (like this one) feels odd. Of course the reason is the so-called Great Firewall of China.

But this did not come as a surprise as I was expecting to have to deal with this problem. The common answer to this problem is to use a VPN connection to a server outside of China and to use that VPN server as the default gateway for all your IP traffic. Performance may degrade but you are free from the limitations of the firewall. However, what was a surprise was that the campus network did not allow VPN connections. Without a VPN my attempts to use this as a way to overcome the firewall limitations were gone.

Given that my original plan was a no-go, I had another back-up plan: to use a ssh connection to forward web traffic to a proxy outside of China. This is the plan that is working nicely now. I guess that other providers in China do not use to block VPN connections though.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Chinese language

I am honored to have been invited by Beijing Institute of Technology and I am visiting Beijing in a few weeks and I have no previous knowledge of Chinese language.

Human languages, as many computer languages, are based on the use of an alphabet. But what if, like APL, you are not familiar with that alphabet? That would be the case should I try to learn Persian or Urdu languages.

However, Chinese language does not use an alphabet to build words with its symbols, but each word is represented by a logogram (ideographic or a pictogram or a composition of both). Learning a different alphabet has to be difficult, but learning a language based on ideograms looks a huge endeavor to me.

Of course I'm not claiming "I am learning (mandarin) Chinese", but I'm just looking at some of the basic ideas behind the structure of the language and I get the impression the task is not something easy to achieve for the written language. The spoken word is also challenging, but with the help of Pinyin system it might be doable for westerners with tons of practice (as some features like the tones seem an extra challenge).

When I have been to other countries in Europe or America, I could read the signs and bus line names even if I did not understand their meaning. Not anymore in China. There I am going to be not only illiterated (because I can't read or write) but also kind of dumb as I cannot ask others for information (as I do not expect many Chinese citizens to speak either Spanish or English). It is going to be quite an experience.