Use the radioSHARK 2 under Linux (shark2.c)

radioshark2-small.jpegHisaaki Shibata took Michael Rolig’s shark.c -which I use to control my radioSHARK from Linux- made it work with the new radioSHARK 2 and released the new shark2.c (local mirror).
With this development owners of the new radioSHARK 2 can control their shiny new device under Linux to change stations and change its lighting besides other neat tricks like live Internet streaming with icecast2 and darkice as I’ve written before.
I haven’t been able to lay my hands on a radioSHARK 2 but I might do it soon. I hope that griffin has finally managed to solve the annoying bugs in the software that made the original radioSHARK completely unusable under Windows, but keep in mind that Michael and Hisaaki’s work has made the enclosed software completely irrelevant to Linux users, opening a new market for a fine hardware product.

Hello, Planeta Linux!

planetalinux-small.pngAnd now for something completely different: This site is now syndicated in Planeta Linux Mexico.
If you haven’t heard about Planets, they are sites that publish aggregated news feeds around certaint themes in the now all-too-familiar reverse chronologic order. Planets are a great way to feel the pulse and hear the buzz of a community without having to maintain individual subscriptions manually. Throught the years I’ve become reliant in several Planet feeds, most notably Planet Perl, Planet Python and Planet Debian.
A few weeks ago Beco introduced me to Planeta Linux -now I’m an avid reader- and kindly offered to talk to Damog and get this blog’s RSS feed into the site.
If you are one of my three regular readers, go visit Planeta Linux, I’m sure you’ll find it as enjoyable as I do. And if you are a Planeta Linux reader, well… Hello!

PodsBlitz: the cure for your iPod backup woes

When my iPod died I complained -ranted, actually- about the lack of a decent backup program for it. Well, I finally found a program that does just what I need. PodsBlitz will display the songs in your iPod, and moreover, it will merrily dump them to your hard disk. For backup purposes, I repeat. This will backup all MP3 files with their corresponding tag information, but you’ll still have to backup ratings and all other metainformation the old, manual, XML-based way.
PodsBlitz is written in Java and is distributed as a single .jar file that will execute under Windows, MacOS X and most Linux desktops with a fairly recent Java Runtime Environment. The best part is that it doesn’t need to install drivers or do any kind of fancy USB magic to find your iPod. You just dump it into the root directory of your iPod and it just works! Kudos to Alexander Dietrich for this nice software utility!
[tags]PodsBlitz, iPod, backup, java, jar[/tags]

Death to MSIE!

Death to MSIECarlos de la Guardia writes in his blog about his most recent misadventures with Internet Explorer and his post proves once again that confusion, frustration and anger are the emotions most commonly associated with MSIE.
I say let’s just put that damn browser to sleep.
No, seriously. What would happen if we developers just revolted and refused to support MSIE with all kinds of crude JS, CSS and pseudo-HTML hacks that will break anyway when Microsoft starts pushing a new MSIE flavor? Imagine a world in which digg, slashdot, Google, and even Amazon received people with broken browsers with a nice “optimized for Mozilla Firefox” button or -better yet- with a full-page “go get a real browser” error page listing 40 alternative browsers. Considering that Firefox already has some serious market share and is heading for more we may be able to pull it off. Heck, I bet that MSIE would be standards compliant within a week. Or they could just take Gecko and wrap a nice Vista skin around it and call it MSIE 7.1 for all I care. The point is that most of us could be back home in time for dinner for a change.
Hardly original, I know. But this may be worth the effort of fighting a war.

Hello, Dell!

Dell Latitude D620 As i wrote before, given my (mis)adventures with IBM/Lenovo I decided to change my allegiances and switch to another brand. So during the research phase I took some time to go to the Dell Expo and get to know their laptops firsthand.
One of the questions I had was about the keyboard: after so many years of working with Thinkpads I have become addicted to the TrackPoint, and I was sure that I had seen photos of Dell laptops with such device, so whatever laptop I decided for really had to have it.
I quickly found out that the laptops in the business line -the Latitudes- are the only models to sport such contraption under the Dell-esque name of “Track Stick”. As a matter of fact, besides the Thinkpads they are the only notebooks *anywhere* that still have it, so either they were found unusable by a significant amount of people or IBM tried to milk its patents just a bit too much. Personally, I believe the Trackpoint is the invention of the century right next to the Twiddler (and lately, even _on_ the Twiddler2) but then again some people believe I am somewhat eccentric when it comes to input devices.
So there I was with the entire Latitude line before me to consider. The D420 is very nice and would make a killer travel notebook, but its specs are somewhat conservative for my needs. And the D820 has a nice screen but is way too heavy. So I settled for the D620. I received it last week and I am documenting how to make it work with Debian GNU/Linux.
So here is my hands-on review of the Dell Latitude D620:

  • Lightweight: About 4kg with the extra battery.
  • Has a TrackPoint (great for mouse navigation) and a Touchpad (great for erratical mouse movement while typing but useful for scrolling) that fortunately can be switched off.
  • Decent battery life even with a 6-cell.
  • Nice full-sized keyboard with fair displacement, good tactile feedback and a satisfactory click. I could almost forgive Dell for the inclusion of a Windows key instead of a realistically-sized space bar.
  • Mostly supported out-of-the box in Kernel 2.6.16; so far, full support for the devices I’ve tried has involved just a bit of recompilation
  • Nice screen with fair brightness and I haven’t detected any dead pixels so far.
  • Gets kind of hot, but not too much.
  • Real dock connector barring the need to resort to a cheesy USB port replicator
  • Somewhat dull gray-and-black color scheme, but it’s not pre ugly (for a business laptop).
  • Built-in smartcard reader (shows up as an USB device).
  • Built-in fingerprint reader with startup protection right after POST.
  • Did I mention that it has a Trackpoint?
  • Built-in WiFi and Bluetooth.
  • Built-in Wireless broadband with US-centered overpriced carriers (No idea if any of the hardware options would work with some Mexican overpriced carrier, but there is an intriguing SIM slot under the battery anyway).
  • Built-in accelerometer that might be readable under Linux. This might end my MacBook-lightsaber envy.
  • Full Type-II PCMCIA slot instead of ExpressCard, so I can wardrive while I work.
  • Four USB ports.
  • Light sensor for automatic brightness adjustment.
  • Windows Vista capable (*Heh!* Like I care…)
  • Up to 4GB of RAM, if you dare sell your firstborn, your kidney, or your firstborn’s kidney to pay for it.
  • A real parallel and -check this out- DB9 serial port.
  • The inclusion of a TrackPoint is a stroke of genius.


  • It really could use a keyboard light (Why do manufacturers still refuse to include them by default? That’d be… what? US$0.05 for a white LED and a switch when bought in bulk? But nooooo…).
  • Both the trackpoint and the touchpad have only two buttons (Unix types may note that there’s one button missing).
  • The 9-cell battery protrudes 1.5in from the front of the laptop instead of going on the back like in IBMs, so it kind of gets in the way and looks very much like an aftertought.
  • Those videos of exploding Dells still give me nightmares.
  • Sorry… no built-in webcam, nor multi-format memory card reader, nor JVC or Bose speakers, nor translucent white lid. This is a business laptop, remember?
  • No Firewire. In this era of Firewire-800 external hard disks that is a serious oversight.
  • The system beep is loud and annoying. Scare-the-cat annoying. Wake-your-neighbours annoying. Get-hit-by-your-wife annoying.
  • No built-in SVideo nor DVI, thought there’s both on the port replicator. Not much of a problem for presentations, but you really need the port replicator to use a decent LCD screen.
  • The Dell USB keyboard is kind of awkward. I keep falling off the left edge, and I have trouble finding the ridges in the F & J keys for touch typing.
  • Sparse to non-existent printed documentation. There’s no manual to ignore. You can get them online if you want them badly. The Service Manual looks interesting, tough.

BTW if anyone from Dell is reading this: please update the configurator for LatinAmerica. You cant’ save your cart. You can’t email it. You can’t even *bookmark* stuff for later perusal. The LA site is primitive, counterintuitive and sometimes even downright annoying. Basically, it got stuck in the 90s.
On the other hand, Dell service was good. Thanks and kudos to both Ivan Castillo -who walked me through Dell’s product line during the Expo- and to Jesus Naranjo -who took my order and was very patient with my obsesive-compulsive hardware demands. One week into it I still haven’t had need to deal with their tech support personnel (Fate has carried on like that for a bit longer) and I hope it stays that way. If they are 50% like their sales people then I have nothing to fear, and altough I have heard some horror stories about them I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for the time being.
In short: Dude, I got a Dell!
[tags]Dell, D620, Review, TrackPoint, Customer Service[/tags]


Gammu -the GNU All Mobile Management Utilities formerly known as MyGnokki2- is a full-featured cellphone manager for *nix and Win32. Its makefile knows about .debs and .rpms, it is incredibly easy to configure and -unlike Gnokii- it supports the Nokia 3200 (RH-31) right out of the box through an inexpensive DKU-5 cable.
Right now I’m using this simple /etc/gammurc under Debian GNU/Linux with kernel 2.6.12:

port = /dev/ttyUSB0
model = 3200a
connection = dku5fbus
synchronizetime = yes
#logfile = gammulog
#logformat = textall
use_locking = yes
gammuloc = locfile
startinfo = yes
gammucoding = utf8
rsslevel = teststable
usephonedb = yes

# gammu --identify duly reports

Manufacturer  : Nokia
Model         : 3200a (RH-31)
Firmware      : 5.29 I (22-10-04)
Hardware      : 1620
IMEI          : 356656xxxxxxxxx
Original IMEI : 356656/xx/xxxxxx/x
Manufactured  : 06/2005
Product code  : xxxxxxx
Simlock data  : xxxxxx
Old simlock   : TELCEL GSM (xxx xx)
UEM           : xxxx

Search for victims of Hurricane Stan

The government of the State of Chiapas has recently published on the web a list of the shelter where each victim of Hurricane Stan is right now, so their relatives can find out where they are and how to get in touch with them.
It is a good idea and undoubtel it was done in a hurry, but it is poorly implemented: the list is published in two formats: a 1.2MB PDF file and a 5.6MB HTML file (in the site the file size is listed at22MB!) that were exported directly from Microsoft Excel. If you are looking for a relative whose fate remains uncertain, it is kind of heartless to force you to download a 8MB PDF Viewer or a 5.6MB file to even start looking for your loved ones. Even more if the server doesn’t support content negotiation for GZIP compression, which would shrink the file to 262KB — under 5% of the original size! (bzip2 compression is even more efficient, the compressed file would be half that size). I will spare you of the rant about Microsoft’s disgusting HTML format.
Well, I downloaded the file and wrote a small perl script to clean up that file and import the records into a SQL database. It even does Soundex translation for improved accuracy thanks to Text::Soundex. Perl is Beautiful. If you can, you may want to publish that database on your own site to give people an opportunity to find their relatives, or point them to where the search will be kept indifinitely and the database will be refreshed as needed.
BTW, my relatives reported while Stan was still in full force and all of them turned out unharmed.

How to make iTunes 5 ignore the Windows locale

About iTunes I recently upgraded iTunes to 5.0 on Magda’s laptop and it decided to start speaking to me in Spanish. In my Thinkpad with Windows XP in english iTunes was still in english.
Magda’s laptop came pre-installed with Windows XP in spanish, but I have never had a problem installing an english version of any kind of software in it. So far, every iTunes version had asked for an installation language during setup, and stuck with that language forever. iTunes 5.0 is different: no matter what language you use during setup, it will move on to the system locale whenever you run it. I bet that somebody in Cupertino believes that this is a “feature”, but actually iTunes is ignoring an explicit user setting, a usability do-not that comes as a surprise from the UI gurus at Apple.
Just to state a fact, I’m no Malinche. I write and speak an above-average Spanish, and I do love my country and its language. But I like my english software in English, and I do not have to endure the work of some underpaid english-to-spanish translator that can’t speak either language right nor understand their respective subtleties. Besides that, the iTunes ES translation is not for Spanish but rather for Castellano, and some strings are somewhat annoying. “Party Shuffle” sounds nice. It has a festive tone to it. When iTunes is in Party Shuffle mode my subconscious thinks I’m at a party, even if it’s 2am in the morning with two deadlines to meet early in the day and a senior programmer on vacation. In comparison “Sesión aleatoria” -random session- sounds just plain boring.
Today I upgraded to half expecting this bug to be gone, but surprisingly it is alive and well and sends best wishes to everyone back home.
A quick google search got back an interesting result on Playlist Magazine’s forums: just close iTunes, go to its installation directory under “Program Files”, find every directory named <offending language code>.lproj (for me that was es.lproj) under iTunes.Resources, iTunesHelper.Resources and iTunesMiniPlayer.Resources and nuke them out of existence. The one under iTunesHelper.Resources might complain about a DLL being in use. Just move that DLL to some other place and delete it after a reboot. The next time you run iTunes it will talk to you in English.

Google Earth is bound to cause a stir

Google Earth According to SearchEngineWatch, apparently freeing KeyHole Hi-Res satellite imagery wasn’t enough. Now Google has launched Google Earth, which includes features from Google Local and Google Maps in a smooth, slick interface. At 10MB+, it’s way smaller than I tought (WorldWind goes for a whopping 180 MB) . The basic version is free as in beer, and there’s also a US$20/yr subscription for an enhanced version that supports GPS integration and annotation tools. There’s also a plugin directory that looks… unsettling. In general, it looks good, but as I’ve always suspected Mexico City is still a shapeless blur. Would someone please, please build a functional online Mexico City Map that does not suck?