Saturday, October 11, 2008

Best GPS software for active people

I have had a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) for some years now. I love them. They are so useful. Let me explain why:
1. Looking at real estate - I can record a location for any interesting properties I look at, which is useful. I have used it to measure whether the property I am looking at is really the one on the cadastral maps, as well as to confirm property boundaries. Yes, it is that accurate. Mine is as good as +/- 8m accuracy. Newer models are even better.
2. Canoeing - I can record a track and any interesting points like rapids & their grade as I go down a river.
3. Mountain biking - I can record my route, interesting points, elevations, speeds, as I travel around
4. Driving or 4WD'ing - This is another good use, though you need to make sure the device is near a window. Newer devices have even better satellite reception. I have used my device on trains, cars, bikes, in all types of topography. They can struggle a little in steep river gorges on overcast days, particularly when you are moving at 100kmph. They struggle in Japan on trains if you are going through a lot of tunnels in mountain areas. but otherwise they are great. The last problem is the need to ensure you recharge your batteries, otherwise you could be up Shit Creek and not know where in your rectum you are exactly. Its good to know!
5. Mountain climbing - This is another application so you can use it to get back to base on a different route if you like.

More generally they are move flexible than maps because they give you what you need. Maps give more info, but are less manageable, folding out a big sheet. There is a role for both, but a GPS is more compact and flexible if you get one with a high memory capacity, and good waterproofing in rain or river swamping.

The big benefit is the fact that satellite use and software is free. Once you pay for the device (say $200-300) for the better Garmin devices you can get free (easy to use software) from EasyGPS and there is no need to sign up for satellite use. Bear in mind the satellites used for GPS devices are different from those pseudo-GPS capabilities you can get on some cell phones. They are using the triangulation capabilities of the phone to locate you using cell phone towers. That is great and accurate for city locations. Just there are 2 problems with that. In most countries you will pay high download charges, so you will likely not use it unless you are pissed or too needy for some companionship from friends. I can see this being useful in Tokyo looking for some small bar in the middle of nowhere, but in Sydney going to the benefit. The other problem is its not really a global solution. You will likely find you can't get the service so readily overseas, and you will pay. The other problem is that its a city-only function, and for the large part its a capability you want in the countryside I think. I can use my satellite GPS in any country without restriction. I love it. Its a guys toy.
I was using Garmin's Waypoint Manager before. The problem was my software is in Japan, so stuck in Australia not being able to download the software, going back to the Philippines soon for another trip around the Philippines, and I need a solution. The solution is EasyGPS, free to download off the internet any time. Cool!
Andrew Sheldon

Monday, September 29, 2008

Google I-phone promises more

Google has released a new mobile phone to compete with iPhone, and my favourite the Nokia E61i. These are all similar class phones. The Google phone will win the war I suspect because it will integrate some nice features. I can see where this is going:
1. Integration of email, internet experience
2. Standard features like music, wifi, camera, etc
3. GPS-facilitated advertising revenues

So how would this work? Well, you would be walking down the street and your phone would vibrate. Why? Because the global positioning system in the phone will tell you that there is some special sale on in the area you are based on triangulation between the three nearest cellphone towers. You tolerate these advertisements because Google has partnered with a number of telcos around the world, so its able to offer discounted internet services, or maybe even 'free' if you lock yourself into a 2 year contract.

This is a new side for advertising. Google of course already does context-based advertising with its keyword-based adwords placements. In this case the context is geographic position. It makes you think just how far Google can go. Well of course competitors can emerge, but its seems none can match the level of integration of Google. The exception is Microsoft-Yahoo, but they are looking very tired. It seems probable that hardware will become incidental to the software which drives them.
Andrew Sheldon

Monday, September 08, 2008

Dell offers another mini-laptop

Dell is the latest entrant into the mini-laptop market. Manufacturers are taking another look at this market since it was abandoned by Toshiba in the early 1990s. At the time the mini-laptop experience was less appealing. For example, these early models were slow, required a dial-up modem attachment, but having had a Toshiba ‘Libereto’ in those days, I can tell you they were a very practical mobile computer. Today’s computers have some compelling advantages:
1. Solid state memory makes them more rugged. You can now take them camping with you.
2. They have far more powerful processors
3. They have seemless wireless use rather than dial-up modems
I would not however buy one until they are truly mobile. The two features that are missing from all models are:
1. Greater memory capacity
2. Longer battery life. Dell is talking 4 hours. When they start talking 7 hours I will listen.
One needs to type away on these units to determine how useful they are. You will hate the experience if the keys are too small, poorly positioned. One folly of the Libereto was the small ‘backspace’ key. I did however love having the trackball/pad on the right side of the display screen. Of course its nice having the option of a mouse, but this allowed me to work in airport lounges and use the trackball whilst also steadying the computer.
I think the problem with these mini-laptops will be trying to find a place as a 2nd computer. I think they are better suited to kids, non-internet-savy adults who don’t have a need for a main home computer. The reason I say this is because for mobile note-taking, reading an eBook, I would much prefer a Nokia E61i because it is has a practical computer size screen, sufficiently large enough keys (for Caucasian fingers) to type notes, and its a phone and much else besides. For girls & Asians will small fingers, the Nokia E70 is even better. Its upgrade I can’t use, but its screen is too small. I am looking for an upgrade to the Nokia E61i. Don’t change the screen, keys, just add a more powerful processor, a better resolution camera and add better Word editing software. This is where a lot of the business/internet-savvy mobile market will be going. The idea of a mini-laptop really suffers from an identity crisis, and I think the hybrid will only suit the non-serious user. Which is find, they will find great joy in these devices when they meet my spec criteria. The other problem is finding a place to use these devices. We need more places where people can go to enjoy a coffee shop which actually has freely available internet. Too many of these wireless links are locked these days. Its worse in the West than in Asia.
Anyway, if you want the latest Dell, here are the specs. Mind you I think I would wait, ot take a look at the mind-size Acer as a preferred option at this point. For business/serious users, the Nokia E61i is the better option. Mind you the Apple i-phone has just displaced it with its phone. I would wait for a response from Nokia. An upgrade of the E61i could not be too far off. The last upgrade was really very superficial. The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 retails for $US400 in the USA, or $A599 in Australia. It has a 16GB solid-state drive,as well as webcam, wifi and Bluetooth. The Mini 9 weighs 1kg compared to 2.7kg for a typical Dell laptop. It is sold with a Linux or Windows-XP operating system. It includes a 1.6GHz Intel processor, 1GB of system memory. The Mini 9 does not include a built-in wireless broadband modem but Dell says it is working on building the feature into future revisions.
Look at the competition - Asus, HP, Acer, MSI and Lenovo – as they all have sub-$600 portable computers. The Acer is a reasonable choice too, but I would be inclined to wait for better models, and depending on your lifestyle, take a look at the smartphones from Nokia and Apple (I-phone), who are the leaders in their market.
Andrew Sheldon

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Fuel efficient cars

There was an amazing story on CNN about some engineers in the USA who have developed a fuel-efficient 3-wheeled vehicle that runs on hybrid or electric. The hybrid version was getting 250 miles to the gallon, thats good enough fuel economy to travel across the USA on a tank of fuel. This is not the typical car design. It is relatively roomy, and there is no doubt that its aerodynamic design.#, modest weight and small engine account for the significant efficiency. The question is - why can engineers build such a vehicle in a garage but well-resourced car manufacturers are doing nothing. To be sure car manufacturers are really not prepared to stretch themselves because of the high of fitting out and retooling their car plants. With high energy prices, the design of a car becomes more important. The need for some quantifiable measure of a car becomes important. People need an algorithm which would allow them to input details on their pattern of use. eg. Car buyers would need to tell a vehicle retailer their required typical and maximum load carrying capacity, their typical and maximum required daily travel distance, as well as driving conditions. These are the factors pertinent to determining the real cost of driving a car. Say we only need a vehicle to carry 500kg of goods twice a year for camping holidays. Maybe you can swap your far with a neighbour to achieve that rather than wasting energy on a larger van. That is the information people need to make intelligent economic decisions. Would people care if oil fell back to $US60/barrel? I doubt it would fall so low. OPEC would readily prevent such a fall by cutting production and developing countries are likely to re-ignite their strong growth in coming years.
Andrew Sheldon

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Mini laptops - the Cloudbook by Everex

Its been some years since I bought my first mini-laptop for $A1600. That was the Toshiba Libereto. It has a 5.1 inch active matrix display, but on specs its dwarfed by the latest offering. I used to travel around Asis on business, typing up my notes from meetings on this small screen. The keyboard was great for typing with one hand. Amazing how fast i could type. The great aspect about the Libereto was the carry bag I bought in Vietnam, the small size, the fact that a lot of the accessories like CD-ROM, floppy drive and ports were external. That was around 1996.
Now I want a totally different spec list, but its hard to move forward until the technocrats solve the software problem. We love MS because of its features, but having solved its stability problems, MS Office is just too bloted to use on mini-laptops, and Linux does not handle enough applications, so compatibility problems. Eventually these issues will die. I am actually moving in another direction. I bought a standard cheap Acer computer, and I instead use my Nokia E61i as a mobile solution. The typepad is a great size for typing on the go, and I just download data and image files to my laptop periodically.

I have looked at the Asus mini-laptops and whilst they have their benefits, like a solid-state memory, they use Linux, and are rather slow. The latest Cloudbook from Everest is cheaper still at P19,000 (USD400), but its got a less rugged standard HDD. The memory is mobile friendly at 30Gb, and its light 0.9kg. It can run Win XP, but it would be a snails crawl. The keypad is ok. Like the Libereto, they place the touchpad (instead of trackball) to the right of the screen. Importantly it has 2 USB ports and a SD card reader. The implication I guess is that you can always have various memory sticks added to your computer if you needed extra memory.

But it I was to compare like with like, its not like we have progressed very far. The problem is a combination of software and hardware. I want a more powerful mini-laptop, a capable and stable Win-type application with a low memory drag. Most importantly we want USB drives, wifi, modem, lightness, compact, great keyboard layout and at least 60Gb of memory. That is a liveable solution. I dont know why manufacturers lost focus. Toshiba was on a great path with Libereto. It has taken them 10 years to re-visit the concept. In the meantime I will stick to my Nokia. Oh, did I mention I want my computer to be waterproof to 500 metres :)
Andrew Sheldon

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Software downgrades - Windows Xp, Vista or Linux

Having just bought a new computer with a Microsoft Vista operating system, I have the following suggestions to make. Trial the operating system online before buying because I didn't like it at all, save one benefit.... Stability. Even that point is in question. i dont know whether Vista is more stable or just Microsoft Office Word 2007 is more stable. My points of concern:
1. Word 2007 is so different I have no idea where anything is anymore. The only logic has been ditched, so I cant find anything. Thats just not my type of upgrade. What good are features if you can't find them. The selling point of Windows was familiarity and features. If I can't find features then they may as well never existed. They designed a new software platform, so I need not use their platform. The implication is - Why do I need them anymore? This seems to be the biggest compelling reason to stay with Win Xp, or to migrate to Linux
2. The positive of Word 2007 is its stability, and as a writer, that is no small feature. I used to find files would start being corrupted when I approached 50 pages, and worse if there are alot of images, etc. With Word 2007 I'm currently working on a file 111 pages with heaps of images, with only a few stability glitches above 100 pages, and with seamless recovery.
3. I like that Windows Explorer allows me the option of replacing or duplicating replicated files. i am always upgrading the wrong one so its nice to be able to check duplicates before upgrading. The problem is the Win Explorer interface is less useable.
4. Excel 2007 is pretty well the same, but I note some problems. This is a big problem! I cant copy tabulated data off the internet into an excel spreadsheet. There is however a work-around. you can copy the data into MS Works (if you have it), then copy it into Excel.

They are the issues I have discovered so far. My advice is to stay with Win Xp for now. I would like to try the Word 2007 application on Win Xp to see if the stability problem is with Xp or Word 2003. Its been a while since my last upgrade. Well I'm mixed at this point whether these products are upgrades. Some significant flaws in marketing strategy here. Really bad decisions coming out of Microsoft, and surprisingly they are deciding to withdrawal Xp from the market in June'08. Wow!
Andrew Sheldon

The best offering in mini-laptops

I have just bought a new Acer Aspire 2920 laptop with the Core 2 Duo Intel processor. The unit cost me P57,000 in the Philippines, thats $US1200. After using it a week I'd have to say its a pretty good computer. I am particularly fond of the keyboard. The big problem with the Acer is the poor battery life. As long as I can get access to a power point in a coffee shop I guess its not a problem. But what I've noticed about coffee shops is that they only have so many power points. With the growing popularity of laptop computers we are seeing a declining opportunity to use the coffee shop as a workplace unless you have a long life battery. You really need 5-6 hours to get a decent amount of work done. The best battery life I've seen to date is on my GF's Sony Vaio TX850G. It is a mini-laptop, but I personally didnt like the keyboard style with the flat keys. I used to have a Sony and I used to like their keyboard.

I am really pleased to see computer manufacturers moving towards smaller, lighter computers. I had a Toshiba Libereto computer 8 years ago, and I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced cheese. It was a great unit for pulling out at airports, it was light, packed away neatly in a leather carry bag I bought in Vietnam. I still have that unit, but its too slow and there is no possibility of upgrading it.

Prior to using my GF's Sony I was playing around with a Dell. It has a short (1.7hr) battery life, better sound system, a well-designed keyboard, but it was a big laptop to lug around. Dell are always going to be comptetitive. They have a rival in Australia called Pioneer Computers, who offer a similar website interface which allows you to select the operating system, and other components. The best option to my surprise might be the Pioneer Computers Australia DreamBook Light CE26 mini-laptop. The specs on this unit are pretty good. See There are several positives for this unit:
1. You can elect to buy a higher capacity battery offering up to 6 hours battery life. I found this on a website review, though I dont see the option on their website so you will need to call. Every mobile warrior needs longer battery life.

I was able to build a DreamBook Light CE26 mini-laptop for $1039 with the following specs:
Processor VIA C7M Nano Processor 1.2Ghz Display 7” WXGA (800x480) TFT LCD Display Graphics Integrated VIA Graphics NB Memory 1GB (1 x 1GB) 667MHz DDR2 RAM 1.8" Hard Disk 60GB Ultra-ATA Hard Drive HD Partition Single Partition Integrated Options 802.11B/G Wireless Module USB Optical Drive None Operating System Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic Warranty Options Pioneer DreamCare 1 Year Return-to-Base Warranty Carry Bag No Carry Bag Production Lead Time Standard Order, Ready in 3-5 Working Days Freight Australian Air Express. This however excludes the longer life 9-cell battery.

Asus have a highly regarded mini-laptop out at just $US500, however it has some drawbacks for serious computer users. It can only use the Linux operating system since it only has 16Mb of HDD memory, so its not readily upgradable. The computer will quickly become dated. I am not a technician, but maybe the HDD memory can be upgraded later?? The other big problem was the poor battery life. I do like the fact that this computer has solid state memory. It makes the computer more tolerant of bumps and bruises since it has no moving parts.

Ideally I would love to see the Dream Light with a solid state computer memory option, so I can carry it around on my mountain bike and not have to worry about falling over and breaking my computer on some trail. you will need to inquire about the longer memory option and how this connects. Of course I'd prefer to have a built in battery pack, but maybe external is ok.

Andrew Sheldon
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