Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

The death of the travel guide (book)

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

I’ve just arrived back from a belated honey moon with my wife. It was like many holidays for Australians in the northern hemisphere, a whirlwind tour of four countries in Europe. As Australians we have to do as much as possible. Since getting there and back takes the best part of three days, unlike our northern hemisphere friends.

Although going overseas for Australians seems like a national past time even with the jet age it still means long travel hours, much cost and a need to make the most of our time when on holidays.

None of what I say is extraordinary on its own but for the fact that this was the first time we did not lug around with us any travel guides – You know those heavy tomes full of coloured tabs and scrawled notes in the margins. These books that are the the mark of a lost tourist. You see them and their owners at the cafes near tourist areas. You see them a mere street away from the major tourist attractions with the owner gesticulating at a page to an obviously confused local.

This time we decided to ditch the guide book. All four we would have needed to make our way through England, France, Portugal and Spain and instead took a single mobile phone. A smart phone.

One cannot discount the need for a guide, of some description or another. However, we found that the benefits a travel guide book bring a traveller can now be wrapped up in a little phone 1/4 the size of your typical guide book and so much lighter. No longer does the weary tourist have to lug around lugage containing more weight in paper than clothes.

This article will cover what our particular device and approach to traveling did for us. Depending on how you like to organise your holidays and which mobile phone you own your mileage (so to speak) will vary.

Planning the trip

We take our trip planning quite seriously when traveling and in fact I do have to admit we found the travel guide books quite handy in choosing which destinations to go to and four how long but there are also a plethora of forums on the internet like the ever popular Trip Advisor that will give you as good advice if not better. An itinery was built up using Excel and plane tickets booked through travel agents and online. This itinery along with all the travel documents and email receipts were stored on the phone as well as printed out.

Day by day guides were built from information on message boards, guide books, Wiki Travel, friends advice and historical research. When matched with a good itinery we had a fairly good idea up front of what do do each day. There are also electronic travel guide books available for most of the major smart phone platforms from the various publishers.

Each hotel that we booked was plotted on Nokia’s Ovi Maps service and synchronised with my Nokia E71‘s maps software. This would later prove invaluable in making it from our arrival point into the city to our hotel.

I also visited the Wiki Travel page for each town, city, region and country we were going to visit or were even thinking of visiting and saved the web pages for offline use. While Wiki Travel is no Lonely Planet replacement the information supplied did supplement some of our research in our day by day guides.

Getting Around

Nokia/Ovi maps both on the phone and on the desktop is one of the most amazing and fully featured mapping experiences there is. Nokia should not be shy about this site equals if not beats Google maps in every area. On the desktop it’s just neat but on your mobile it is invaluable. To be able to plot all the places you will be going to ahead of time and synchronise them with your mobile then have access to the locations and even 3d models of the major tourist destinations is just something no one else can offer. Offline anyway, and offline is the keyword. Roaming charges are just too prohibitive to depend on mapping applications like Google maps which require a constant connection. Ovi Maps stores everything on your phone.

Keeping a travel diary

Active notes on the Nokia is a great application which allows you to combine text notes with sound recordings, video and photos to create a truly multimedia log of your journey. The only regrets I have about it is that there was no easy way to just publish our day’s exploits to this blog with the press of a button. Which is probably a good thing as writing notes on the go is rather unpolished and I will over the next few weeks take my brief notes and give them some polish. Eventually publishing some travel blog entries.

The downsides

Roaming – data charges when overseas are exhorbitantly expensive. You need to make sure you disable any 3G connectivity if you don’t feel like being charged $20 a megabyte. Use Wi-Fi where available. I became an expert at spotting “free wi-fi” signs while on holiday and even two weeks later I’m still spotting them back home.

Positioning –  The built-in GPS receiver on mobile phones is woeful. They all rely in some form or another, on data connections, which cost money. This is called Assisted A-GPS. Without A-GPS you need a good distance between buildings otherwise the phones internal GPS doesn’t get a good enough signal. In these situations knowing how to navigate just using a map and the closest cross street comes in handy. The phone we took with us doesn’t have an internal compass which as all orienteers know would have been very useful when the internal GPS failed us.

Next time we’ll probably invest in an international roaming data package which brings down the cost of data when overseas but at least for Australians can cost as much as a night in a 4 star hotel. The next phone I buy will also need to have a compass just in case GPS fails us.


We’re never going back to lugging around travel books. They are heavy, smelly and a one thousand page book contains about 990 pages of information you don’t need. The smart phone is quickly becoming a true pocket sized computer.

On Retrofitting and Vintage Technology

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve had anything to really say and what I saw this morning has to be one the craziest “inventions” I have ever seen. It compelled me to write and it made me think a bit and realise something. People really do care for the technology of the past.

Johan Van den Brande has written a twitter client for the Commodore C64. Which begs me to think – “Why?”. Why would you want to write a Twitter client for a 25 year old computer system.

I can understand why people write emulators and play games on them. That is driven by and generates a feeling of nostalgia. Nothing feels better than remembering your misspent youth. The C64, Amiga and finally the PC (once it caught up) all bring back warm and fuzzy feelings when I think about them but I’d rather play James Pond, International Soccer or
Pitstop on an emulator than waiting 20 minutes for it load off a tape or worse. Having it fail half way through.

With the above being said I must say that I’m in love with Super 8 film. I love the grainy texture and blown out colours but I definitely don’t want to work on making it capable of the picture clarity of modern HD cameras. I like it because of its warts not because I want to clear it of them.  That being said there is a lot of very capable people out there like Pro8mm who like Johan like to keep their favourite outdated technology up to date. It’s certainly stunning to see what the C64 and Super 8 are capable of.

This little project got me wondering about who else out there is actively keeping our favourite technology from the past up to date. So I spent a little time on the interwebs and tracked down some interesting projects – past and present.  Feel free to add some of your finds to the comments.

Grinnal Cars

These guys do some amazing work. Their car was based on the body of a Triumph TR7 a car first produced over 32 years ago. The TR7 was often ridiculed in its day, mainly because it was released minus the soft top (convertible) model and v8 engine it should have had.

Grinnal took the original concept and updated it for the nineties. By adding a body kit and a high powered engine they reinvented Triumph’s original idea. They made a car that even today has a modern look. That being said the TR7’s original design was edgy and even today people still think it’s only maybe 10 years old.

TR7 Grinnall Conversion

(Full disclosure: I actually used to own a TR7 and I loved it. They handle better than a gokart and when it was properly tuned I could keep up with most sports
cars from the 90s and 2000s)


Good old Disk Operating System (DOS). Forerunner of Windows and still essentially at the very heart of even Windows 7.0. A complete ripoff of CP/M which in itself is a shrunk down version of Unix it’s heritage goes right back to the 1960s. Not to be outdown by Unix and Linux which have no qualms about admitting that their family tree goes back for almost 50 years. Truly the most retrofitted operating system ever. There is a beautiful chart which demonstrates truly how inbred these systems are

Record Players and Records

For those of you too young to remember them the Long Play record known fondly as the LP all but died with the introduction of the Compact Disk (CD). While a few hard coreproponents of the LP held on with their adamanant fanaticism about the far greater fidelity of the LP – The rest of us moved in droves over to this new format that sounded far better than a tape and quite frankly was a hell of a lot smaller than a CD. Most people couldn’t tell the difference in sound quality. A few year’s after the first portable MP3 player hit the market in 1998 the audio cassette’s fate was sealed and it along with the already long dead LP fell in to distant memory. Long live digital music.

That was until 2007 when the RIAA, the fellows responsible for tracking sales and prosecuting music downloaders, noticed something strange. Record sales had previously hovered around one million units a year for the last few years, bottoming out in 2006 at 900,000 but the 2007 numbers were a real surpise – they had climbed to 1.3 million and by 2008 had
over tripled to 2.9 million units a year. Granted this is a blip in the scale of total music sales but the old, supposedly dead LP had done something amazing. It achieved a sales growth year on year of 120%. The same year CD sales dipped 25%.

This didn’t go unnoticed and audio equipment manufacturers for the first time in years have started releasing new turn tables. We’ll have to see where it leads but I think a format from the past might just have survived. All due to nostalgia. Oh and all the wanna be DJs out there.

Is there any technology from the past that you know of which is being kept up to date for the modern age?

Virtual Gallery Coming Along Nicely

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

I’ve started to dabble with Python for S60 on my Nokia E71. There’s a good set of libraries called Nokia Computer Vision which cover using the camera, viewfinder, image processing and most importantly… motion estimation.

So far I have a basic proof of concept using the motion estimation library which, under good conditions will allow you to control the movement of a red square around your screen. The red square, of course, represents an exhibit.

The next stage will be rendering an image with opacity (and possibly animations) which will change as you move around. After that will be placing multiples at different latitude/longitudes. Lastly a GUI will be built on top and the virtual gallery complete.

Now to find some artists. Want to have a go at it?

Idea: Virtual Art Exhibition

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

If you know me then you know that I rant on a bit about Sculpture by the Sea. Even though I love it to death and think it does great things for Sydney’s cultural desert – it does have its issues. Issues like exclusionism and over corporatisation. Take this chap’s plight as an example.

People have asked me – “Why don’t you set up your own show then?”. Well, I’m too lazy. Ok no, I’m not motivated enough to jump through all the hoops it would require. Mainly around permissions to use sites and the logistics of promoting the event.

What if one could install a virtual exhibition in a public place?


I am a terrorist, murderer and purveyor of porn

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Sorry ignore the title. I’m not really any of those. I’m actually just trying to prove a point.  That social networking and tools can sometime expose just a little bit too much about you. Not convinced?


Firefox 3 download day

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Update: It’s broken 3.3 million. I’m sure it’ll break 4-5 million by the end of the day.

Currently we’re up to almost 3 million downloads of Firefox 3. You can see the counter here.

Download it now by going to

You can help set a Guiness world record…by clicking a button

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

The people behind Firefox want to set a new world record for the number of downloads in a single day. Be part of it by downloading Firefox 3 on its release day (still TBD).

Pledge your support to download the new version of Firefox by visiting Spread Firefox  and while you’re at it tell all your friends and family about FF3. How much faster, cleaner and feature loaded it is then Internet Explorer.