Friday, December 12, 2008

De-Mistifying the maemo.org Bugzilla - An Interview with Bugmaster Andre Klapper

Mobile Tablets! is pleased to present this exclusive Q&A session with maemo.org's Andre Klapper.

Andre is one of two Bugmasters responsible for the Maemo platform bugzilla. He
faithfully wades through all the bug reports, comments, and votes that are filed daily on bugs.maemo.org. The end result of that effort is an Internet Tablet community which continues to have a feature rich and reliable device in its hands.

I'm sure that everyone reading this would love to have a few minutes of Andre's time. I consider myself fortunate to have him agree to do the following Q&A:


1. You were recently appointed as one of two maemo.org bugmasters. What exactly do you and Karsten Br├Ąckelmann do on a daily basis as bugmasters?

The job description vaguely says "Administration of the database and communication with users and developers". This covers triaging the reports (reproducing them, asking for more information if required, cleaning up old reports), "educating" users to file good reports, forwarding "valuable" issues to Nokia's internal bugtracker and keeping it in sync (that's not a long term solution but right now it's due to Nokia's current workflow), Bugzilla maintenance (repetitive stuff like adding versions or target milestones), setting up the Bugsquad and guidelines for people interested in helping, and collecting technical knowledge from developers commenting on bug reports that miss information.

I think that covers most of what I'm doing. Of course I also try to follow up discussions on mailing lists and the Internet Tablet Talk forum to streamline issues and get them properly filed in Bugzilla.


2. Is bugmastery a full-time job, or do you fit it in between other activities that you have? Are you considered an employee of Nokia/Maemo?

The job position was created in May 2008 and is a full-time position. Karsten Br├Ąckelmann and me shared the position for the first months (each of us working part time), but since I started full time in October Karsten has become the bugmaster in Nokia's Desktop Team and does not spend much time on maemo.org Bugzilla currently. He still helps me with technical issues (and might be back in a few months).

The job position is sponsored by Nokia, but I decide myself what is important and what I work on, so it is completely independent. I was explicitly told that I'm free to disagree and ignore anything Nokia comes up with (but that hasn't happened yet, I prefer to convince people instead). ;-)

I consider myself an employee of the maemo.org community because they basically decide what I'm doing (and if I'm doing it well or not), and of course of Openismus because they pay me and are a great company to work for.


3. Many tablet users out there do not participate in bugzilla. I for one, only started a few months ago. Can you give us an overview of the process that a bug report takes internally on its road to being dispositioned as fixed, and what groups within Nokia/Maemo are typically involved?

When a bug report gets filed the first thing to be done by the Bugsquad is to check whether enough information has been submitted and whether it can be reproduced. This might require providing instructions to the reporter to come up with some application specific information (for example creating a log file if the email application cannot connect to the server). When the report is in a good shape I forward it to Nokia's internal bug tracker (as already said, that is the current workflow and I'm the bottleneck, like it or not) and keep both reports in sync when new comments get added. When a bug gets fixed in the codebase, I also close the public bug report and add a comment about the version that will include the fix and its weekly build number. This is often a bit confusing as the fix is not immediately available for public, and we all have to wait for Nokia pushing a public SSU update (honestly, I also don't know about any release dates - that's unfortunately Nokia's current policy).

That's the normal process for software bugs. Development platform or Website bugs are directly handled in Maemo Bugzilla only.


4. Are there any common mistakes made when users file bugs that makes your lives difficult as bugmasters? Something that reporters/voters should do differently?

Reporters using the bug template and being as exact as possible already help a lot, because it saves time that is otherwise required to ask for more information. Imagine tracking down a short and simple "Can't send mail, please help" report and the follow-ups required to find out
whether it's really a bug or just a misconfiguration. The more valuable information, the better. If reports are vague in general I link against https://bugs.maemo.org/page.cgi?id=bug-writing.html , if a log file or specific information is required Bugsquad members can pick up potential questions from the wiki at https://wiki.maemo.org/Bugs:Stock_answers . Regarding voters... I just want to have more people voting. Raise your voice! It really helps to identify the main issues and make Nokia aware of them.


5. Has any thought been given to providing some sort of dummy-proof way of getting a device's log info appropriate to a particular bug uploaded onto the bug report? What I envision is a bug reporting client on the tablet that you can invoke after you experience a bug. It would take a snapshot of the logs and/or device configuration and upload them to the bug report. Reporting bugs would become easier for the casual user, but may be a headache to implement, and also to manage on your end.

Nokia has announced a Crash reporter at Maemo Summit. As far as I know it will be available for download from the SDK tools repository.

From my point of view and the experience in GNOME Bugzilla offering such a functionality for non-crashers will likely cause problems and noise, because bug reports will mix up with support requests that better fit into forums or mailing lists.


6. There has been some disgruntlement in the community regarding the lack of frequent OS bug fixes via the SSU. Is there a triage system in place that relates the severity of the bug to the frequency of an update via the SSU? For instance, one critical bug may generate an SSU to rollout a critical fix, but every 10 normal priority bugs will be rolled up in a separate update via SSU. Or is it a looser management system?

Uh, that question relates to Nokia's internal policies when to ship an SSU update, and I simply don't know of Nokia's release management's guidelines here. I assume that a high number of critical issues or even blockers will increase pressure to push an SSU update soon, but I think we all agree that we would like to see Nokia publish updates much more often than they currently do.


7. It seems to me that we are approaching a point in time where a monumental division in the community will occur. This is the creation of community developed/modified Maemo distributions (e.g. Mer) versus the officially supplied versions. Since maemo.org is supposed to be a community site, will bugs.maemo.org handle both, or just the official versions?

We already have a few community projects in the "Extras" classification in maemo.org Bugzilla (Canola, Community Kernels etc.).

In the long run, we want to make Bugzilla the home for every community project maintainer who is interested. However, to lower the amount of administration (creating components, versions and target milestones for each product) this requires some non-trivial code work first that unfortunately will not happen that soon, so I currently prefer to only have some outstanding community software hosted. Some community members already have permissions to set up new products in Bugzilla.

If the Mer maintainers are interested they are of course highly welcome!


8. There is a 'Fixed in Fremantle' discussion going on over at InternetTabletTalk. It has been pretty fiery over there. I know that one of the valid points users have made is that a bug logged against Diablo should not be closed as Fixed, unless it is fixed in Diablo. Obviously, each OS iteration has a finite life that is dictated by Nokia's business strategy, so the 'Fixed in Fremantle' logic can make sense from a corporate viewpoint. What do you think of this issue and the community's concerns? Are they founded, or is there fear mongering occurring due to a lack of understanding of things that will transpire?


I can totally understand the complaints from my user point of view, but it's simply the life cycle of a bug. Having a patch committed to the codebase ("RESOLVED FIXED") is something different than having the fix available for public and verified ("CLOSED FIXED"). Some issues are much easier to fix in the Fremantle architecture and backporting them to Diablo would create a lot of additional work, and Nokia is still a company that is interested in selling products and does not have unlimited resources and manpower, hence they concentrate on Fremantle and put less efforts in Diablo as time passes by. This is exactly where the community can fill the gap by picking up the code and continuing to hack and improve it, and Mer is the right direction to kick this off in an organized kind of way.


9. Stephen Gadsby over at ITT does a bang-up job of providing a weekly bug jar in his blog. Do you feel any pressure from this since the bug status is on the loudspeaker each week, or do you take it in stride as an interested community keeping a check on your activities?

It's not only my activities, it's the entire Bugsquad, other community members and Nokia employees that are involved too.

Stephen's weekly bug jar has been very helpful to me to see the progress we make and to identify issues. It's definitely motivating to see the number of open bug reports and enhancement requests decreasing in the last weeks. I would call it a kind of "positive pressure".


10. Anything last minute to say to the community regarding bugs or anything else going on at maemo.org?

Get involved! :-)

Report issues, triage bug reports - even testing one bug a day (if it's reproducible in the latest public software version) is already a big help. If you want to get started check out https://wiki.maemo.org/Bugsquad and start triaging your favourite bugs (e.g. old moreinfo bugs, your favourite product that you have good knowledge of, new incoming reports etc.). Generally speaking, my impression is that we are on a good way to get Nokia more involved in the feedback provided through maemo.org Bugzilla, though of course everybody in general loves to see things happen faster. Having good bug reports and showing Nokia that the user feedback in maemo.org Bugzilla provides additional value and better over-all quality of the Maemo software is an important step to make Nokia understand the advantages of open source software and culture better.


'Post' Mortem by EIPI

Thanks Andre for providing some insight into the bugzilla process, and for the valuable discussion.

As can be seen, the maemo.org Bugzilla is THE PLACE to work within to have your frustrations with the platform officially heard and dealt with. Many users do this on Internet Tablet Talk, which provides alot of entertaining discussion, but does nothing (unless Andre happens to hear you there) to fix problems for you or anyone else.

Hopefully users will hop onto bugs.maemo.org to file bugs, vote for bugs, or even become a member of the Bugsquad (I didn't even know we had one!).

EIPI

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Android v1.0 on the N810: An Interview with Peter McDermott of NthCode

Mobile Tablets! is pleased to present this interview with Peter McDermott, CEO and founder at embedded Linux consulting firm NthCode. His company recently made news at Internet Tablet Talk and Engadget over the porting of Android v1.0 to the N810. Peter is originally from the United States but has been living in Beijing since 2002 and founded NthCode there in 2005.

Peter, as you can imagine, is busy over at NthCode, so I feel fortunate that he could take some time to participate in this interview:


1. Could you tell us a little bit about NthCode? For instance, what type of Linux projects do you typically undertake? What hardware platforms do you develop for?

Thanks for the opportunity, EIPI.

We've spent most of the last three years writing system software for a large mobile phone manufacturer's 2.5G and 3G Linux phones (unfortunately, I can't say who that is). We've also helped other customers develop software for embedded Linux media devices. These have all been ARM-based systems with similar hardware configurations to what you see in the Nokia Internet Tablets.


2. I read on your corporate website that you are an expatriate now working in China. Why did you chose China when establishing your company?

Well, I spent most of 2000 to 2002 backpacking around Asia -- and four months of that in China. After I returned home to the U.S., I felt a longing to be back in the middle of the amazing energy and changes taking place in Beijing. So I repacked my bag and moved. After arriving, I found a software development job working on one of the first Linux handsets. And, in 2005, I founded NthCode to focus on what I like and know best -- embedded Linux.

Beijing isn't heaven, but it's a very interesting place. And there are lots of great software developers here who are looking for the opportunity to work on new and exciting technology. So I feel Beijing is a natural fit for me and for NthCode.

(I should also say that I studied Chinese as my foreign language in college -- but I was absolutely the worst student in that class. So it's fair to say that I've had an interest in China for some time. My Chinese is functional, but not fluent, now.)


3. The reason I wanted to interview you was due to NthCode's recent porting of the latest Android v1.0 to the N810. This made a big splash over at Internet Tablet Talk. I assume that porting Android to the N810 is not a bread and butter type of work for you guys over at NthCode. Can you tell us a little about Tang Yongjun and the team, and their impetus to work on this particular project?

Well, in addition to Android being the hot new thing, we had received inquiries about whether or not we could do Android work. So I wanted us to get some experience and have some tangible proof that we could do it.

Yongjun is a talented hacker. And due to a lull in another project, he was not as busy as some of the other developers, so I asked him to try the port. It turned out to be a great learning experience for us. We try to use agile methods, specifically, the Scrum process, for the projects we run. We all work hard here. But Scrum keeps us focused on what's important and mostly lets us rest on the weekends. That being said, I found Yongjun on IM one Saturday night and asked him how he was doing, and he answered, 'I almost have the display driver working.' He said he was having fun.


4. Many of us flocked to your corporate website to see the video of the N810 booting up into the Android desktop environment. It was mind blowing. The previous Android port which qwerty12, penguinbait, and b-man worked on in the summer ran inside Maemo as an application. NthCode's port, as I understand it, allows you to boot the device into Android directly. Many of the tablet community are like myself - interested in technology, have a basic understanding of hardware and software, but are not developers. Can you explain to us in lay terms the challenges that you had to overcome to make this happen, and the level of effort involved?

Ha! I mostly expected people to say, 'It's been done already. It boots slowly. Who cares?'

The analog in the PC world to what we did would be to take a PC that typically runs Fedora Linux and make it run Ubuntu Linux. I don't want to say it's just that easy, but it's definitely doable if you know how the Linux kernel interfaces with embedded hardware. What Penguinbait, Qwerty12, and B-man did is actually a bit more interesting: They took the equivalent of a PC that is already booted into Fedora and made it launch Ubuntu. Very slick!

The biggest technical challenge we faced was to bring-up of Android after we had merged the N810 and Android kernels. We had to work past a number of issues related to file systems, display drivers, and random reboots. But, we took them one at a time and eventually got the system up. This bring-up piece took Yongjun more than a week of focused effort.


5. At the time your port was announced, things like the wifi and touchscreen were not working properly, if I recall correctly. Has there been any work at NthCode on resolving these issues? For instance, using the open source wifi drivers with the 2.6.25 kernel that you are using?

Actually, the touchscreen worked fine. But you're right that WiFi did not work.

Since our initial release, we've enabled the Android Debug Bridge (ADB) and updated the display driver to fix some nagging video issues. The ADB lets your PC debug a USB-connected Android device. This includes ssh-like functionality and the ability to use the Eclipse Integrated Development Environment to single-step through Android code running on a device.

And, as of just today, WiFi is working in our 2.6.25 kernel. That being said, you have to use ADB to get inside the device to configure it. So we are not at the point of having WiFi ready for casual users.


6. Are you planning on getting this to work on the N800? I believe that the on-screen keyboard might be an issue here.

Our primary focus right now is to make the N810 port functional and stable enough for our needs. If someone else could do the N800 changes, we would gladly merge them into our kernel and userspace so that more of these devices can run Android. That being said, we can sure try to add N800 support later if we have time.


7. As with many great inventions, simultaneous work by independent parties occurs. Obviously, I am referring to Solca's work on NITdroid. Solca is using an updated 2.6.28 kernel, and has incorporated wifi support. Were you aware of their work, or did it come as a surprise to hear of the independent port they came up with?

I wish we had known of Solca's effort earlier, so that we could have put our heads together with his. But I'm very happy that he is getting the recognition he much deserves for his port. It's wonderful that he's been able to make WiFi and the newer kernel work.


8. Solca's work has really picked up. Are you eyeing any of the developments on NITdroid for inclusion in your port?

We have leveraged some of the work he's done in his Android port to make ours better. The display driver and WiFi fixes I mention above are based on the work he did. So we owe him a big, 'Thanks!' I hope some of our changes can help him out, too..


9. Now that you have some development work on the N8X0 series of devices under your belts - do you see any other projects that you want to undertake on this hardware platform?

I'm interested to see what we can do in the Android user-space on the N810. And I'd sure like us to build some kind of Android application that people can download to their Android N810s and other Android devices, even if it's just something simple and free.


10. Do you own and use a Nokia Internet Tablet?

We have three Nokia N810s at the office that are used by our developers for various projects. If we can make power management work in Android on the N810, I think it would be fun to have one just for bragging rights. But I'm one of those folks who is forever connected to his laptop, so I don't use one on a daily basis. I think mobile devices are getting better at replacing laptops, but they aren't quite there, yet.


11. Anything you or your team at NthCode would like to say to the Internet Tablet community?

In addition to Solca, who's helped us with some of his patches, I'd like to thank Penguinbait, Qwerty12, and B-man for their documentation on what they did in the Android prerelease port. We were able to use that as a basis for our work. As well, I think Nokia deserves a round of applause for creating such wonderful hackable hardware.


'Post' Mortem by EIPI:

First of all, thank you Peter for participating in this interview. And a big thank you to Tang Yongjun, the developer who worked on getting the latest Android to boot on the N810.

Being new to this arena of technology, I thought I had all my ducks in a row, but I did manage to make an error regarding the touchscreen not working on NthCode's Android port. You can clearly see that the touchscreen works in the last seconds of the video on their site.

NthCode's interest in developing applications for the N810 Android user space is promising news. The effort that Solca and NthCode have put into getting a bootable Android on the N8X0 devices is a welcome development in our community. It means that we may have more to select from when it comes to picking an operating system to power our tablets. This is a great thing!

EIPI

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

N800 As A Baby Monitor 'Gizmo'

Turn your old N800 into a baby monitor, nanny cam, or surveillance device.

The inspiration for this blog post comes from qole's idea to use two tablets as a baby monitor. His idea was to have an application written for the tablets to do this. I clumsily wrote a few responses on ways that this could be achieved with the tablet's existing functionality, but then thought of a simpler way that I'll share with you all.

Required items:

Qty. 2 Nokia Internet Tablets (770, N800, N810, etc). The N800 for this application is ideal due to the swivel feature of the camera.

Qty. 2 Gizmo SIP accounts (let's call the two accounts UserA and UserB).

Optional Items:

Qty. 1 Gizmo Call-In number (to use with one of the advanced monitoring options)


Inital Setup:

1. Setup the 'transmitting tablet - Tablet A'. Place this tablet in the room to be monitored. Setup the Gizmo client with UserA login credentials, and set it to auto-answer incoming calls. Plug the power cord in, put it in a convenient spot, and aim the camera at the area you want to monitor. Don't forget to turn the volume to the mute setting.

2. Set up the 'monitoring tablet - Tablet B'. Set up your Gizmo service using UserB login credentials.


Monitoring:

1. When you want to monitor the room that Tablet A is in, simply use the Internet Call application or Gizmo Client of Tablet B, and call Tablet A by dialing 'UserA' from your contacts list. Tablet A should auto-answer, and you'll be able to see and hear any action going on in that room.

Advanced monitoring:

2. Assuming that you want to remotely monitor what is going on, e.g. while at work while your nanny is taking care of your kids - simply connect to the internet using Tablet B, and repeat Step 1 above.

3. If you do not have access to the internet, but want to eavesdrop (for instance, if your kids are being babysat while you are at a movie), then you can eavesdrop on what's going on by using your cell phone. For this, you need to have a Gizmo Call-In number tied to the UserA account on Tablet A. Simply dial the call-in number from anywhere, and instantly hear what is going on in the house.

That's it. I hope this post is of benefit to someone out there.


Notes:

1. I could not find an option within the Internet Call application to auto-answer incoming calls, therefore Tablet A must use the Gizmo client. If anyone can prove otherwise, please post a comment here.

2. Tablet B can use either the Internet Call application or the Gizmo client.

3. The video usefulness is questionable in low-light conditions.

4. Disclaimer: Use at your own risk - we are not responsible for any outcomes associated with using this how-to!



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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Interview with qwerty12

Mobile Tablets! is pleased to present this exclusive Q&A session with Internet Tablet Talk member, qwerty12.

qwerty12 is one of the newest members of itT. In the short time that he has been involved with the tablets, he has made a real impact on the community. His range of contributions includes several software ports, assisting Penguinbait and b-man with porting Android (in a usable form) to the N810/N800, and of course, for finding the back door to a pre-release of Diablo!

I'm sure that everyone reading this would love to have a few minutes of qwerty12's time. I consider myself fortunate to have him agree to do the following Q&A:


1. How long have you been a Maemo user, and what lead you to purchase a tablet?

I've been a Maemo user for about 7 months now, and I was registered on Internet Tablet Talk for about 3 months before that. I remember going on Internet Tablet Talk and seeing penguinbait unveiling KDE for the tablets, fanoush with his page of maemo hacks and the effects of Canola.

But I had no money to get an N800 then so I went onto other things (Modifying my phone and my router). Then the N810 had been announced and the price of the N800 dropped sharply. This was my chance to get one and I went for it.


2. From what I've read, you are one of the youngest members of Internet Tablet Talk. Do you think that is an oddity, or are the tablets well suited for people within your age group?

I would have to say that is an oddity. Everyone in my school is under the impression it is an phone and no one had heard of it before they had seen my tablet. The only other person that I know has access to one, is my friend's uncle with an N810.


3. You appear humble with respect to your contributions within the internet tablet community. You're obviously fairly talented. Did you pick up your skills on your own, or do have any formal training?

Well, there have been times where I have been not so modest... Before experimenting with the tablets, I used to mess around with my phone and I just started picking up things. I have read a lot of Linux books years ago and I guess bits of those books come back to me from time to time. But I mostly taught myself, I like to look around in the filesystem and see what I can change etc.

4. Your recent involvement with penguinbait in porting Android over to the tablet made internet news. Has this made any impact on you at all, or is it par for the course, so-to-speak?

Well, I was quite surprised by how much attention it recieved. Android had been available for tablets before, just not in a easily usable form. It was b-man who introduced me to the android on N810 page and he asked me for some help mounting the android and to keep it quiet.

Later, on the maemo irc channel, I get a PM from penguinbait saying that b-man said I had gotten android working and I was confused because I never had said that, but penguinbait said he had an installer working, it was just the kernel that was messing up.

I offered to take a look at the kernel and I went onto the site and I spent a good few hours getting the android kernel patch (from android-on-n8xx) ported to the diablo kernel sources. This allowed me to have an working android - minus the touchscreen. Penguinbait reported the touchscreen worked for him on an N810 and he released it. I remembered the N800 touchscreen was different to the N810 and I started porting the N810 touchscreen fix to the N800.



5. Speaking of Android, I know that there is a pretty lengthy thread on itT which gives the installation instructions. Can you give us a quick summary of the status right now? For instance, is the N800 touchscreen now working?

The SDK used is an older version. This means quite a bit of newer android applications will not run on the version that is in the installer. With some knowledge, it is possible to run the current version but we chose to use the older version because the current one runs much slower due to Android now using page-flipping which the LCD controller in the N8*0's do not support. The workaround for that makes it run quite slow.

6. Are you planning any further projects with penguinbait?

No, although I'm available if he needs a tester :P.


7. Do you see yourself staying the course with the tablets, or are you eyeing any other platforms right now?

I'm staying on course with the tablets. I don't find any other portable Linux platform is as good as maemo. And with developers making new and brilliant applications everyday, I'd be hard pushed to change.

8. You have obviously caught the attention of Nokia, as evidenced by your recent invitation to attend the upcoming Maemo Summit. If approached by Nokia, would you have anything to suggest to them in terms of improving the tablets?

All I can suggest is that the N900 isn't as backward as the N810. The N810 has some good improvements over the N800 (GPS, Keyboard, Transreflective screen) but the odd usb connector, no fmradio as in the N800 and the soldered 2GB internal card were definitely a step back for me. Combine the two properly, add proper 3d hardware acceleration, a2dp and a GPS that doesn't need A-GPS to support it; rather compliment it, will be a winner for me.

9. Do you have any unique uses of your tablet that you'd iike to share?

Not really, I just use it for going on the internet and playing Duke Nukem 3d and playing GBA games on it (now I don't have to carry my old gameboy and the N800).


10. What are your future plans? Do you have any idea what you want to do in the future?

Can't really say anything on this one, I just plan on going College after finishing school.



Thanks for taking the time to participate in this session, qwerty12.

EIPI

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Upcoming Exclusive Interview with qwerty12

Mobile Tablets! is pleased to announce an exclusive Q&A session with Internet Tablet Talk member, qwerty12.

qwerty12 is one of the newest members of itT. In the short time that he has been involved with the tablets, he has made a real impact on the community.

Tune in to see what qwerty12 has to say!




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Sunday, July 20, 2008

My WiMAX Experiment - Part 6: Summary and Final Thoughts

My experiment in the Rogers Portable Internet over the past several weeks has left me with mixed feelings.

On the positive side of things, it has enabled me to be connected while at work as I illustrated in Part 2. However, in its present modem form, it is bulky and fairly non-portable. It was neat to get a flavour of a WiMAX enabled N8X0 via my in-car experience of Part 5. I thought it was pretty slick to be downloading maps while I drove.

Positives:

1. Offers some mobility in Canada without using expensive data via cell phone. For a fixed second location such as what I required, it is adequare.

2. The price is fairly good - $20/month for 10 GB which is cheaper than any data plan I can get with tethering in Canada.

Negatives:

1. The Portable Internet Basic that I had was slow. 512 kbps is nothing to write home about in today's day and age. For mobile versions of popular sites, it was adequate.

2. Not really portable. My in-car setup showed that using this modem in a car is impractical due to its size.

3. Frequent loss of signal has meant that my connection hangs in sometimes critical points of surfing.

4. The flavour of WiMAX currently retailed by Rogers and Bell does not allow the modem to handoff to the next tower - a severe limitation for true portability.

5. VOIP - forget about it.

Discussion:

Primus Canada is trialing a newer version of WiMAX that runs on 3.5 GHz in Hamilton, Ontario. This may be the type of WiMAX that allows handoffs. However, that trial is limited to Hamilton, and there is no indication when a nation-wide rollout would occur.

If Rogers and Bell upgraded their networks to allow faster, more reliable connections with the ability to maintain connections while travelling - it would then come down to price. For instance, you can currently get a USB 3G modem from Rogers, which costs $50/month. It only gives you about 300 MB of data. The speeds are much higher, and it runs on cell technology, so coverage is excellent. Coupled with a Cradlepoint router, this would be a faster and more portable internet solution. Of course, tethering from a 3G cell phone would be better also, but recently, tethering in Canada has become expensive.

My conclusion:

I started off this experiment without a hypothesis really. I did not know what to expect. What I found is that given better hardware (faster and more portable), and a more advanced network, this would be a viable mobile solution. For instance, a pocket sized WiMAX modem could be coupled with a Cradlepoint router.

Alternatively, something like a N810WE with a more advanced network would probably be fine for me. I am however beginning to think that 3G makes more and more sense. For existing tablet users, something like a USB 3G modem. And for a future tablet, an integrated 3G radio.

If there is a network upgrade in Canada, and I can get my hands on some newer hardware, or a N810WE, I would love to redo this experiment. Until then, I think I will reconsider my WiMAX subscription.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

My WiMAX Experiment - Part 5: On the Road!

Part 5 of my WiMAX experiment deals with the in-car use of my N800 with the WiMAX modem. This is actually not a usage case for me. I only use the WiMAX modem at work. As you'll see, the setup is large, cumbersome, and totally impractical. However, I thought that it would give us all a taste of what is possible with the N810 WiMAX Edition.

Disclaimer: I do not recommend that anybody try this on their own. Driving, tabletting and filming do not mix!


Video #1: Maemo Mapper


The video didn't turn out as well as I would've liked.... mostly due to the ambient brightness and the fact that the N800's screen is not trans-reflective. I deleted all my downloaded maps, and then started driving around to show off the fact that Maemo Mapper was downloading them as needed while I drove. If you are familiar with Maemo Mapper, I used the 'auto download' option for the maps, and if you look closely, you can periodically see the download progress bar in the upper right part of the tablet's screen. My in-car setup is quickly shown in this video also. Unfortunately, my PDA mount is broken, so I rested the tablet on the cup holder.






Video #2: Application Download

Another neat thing I tried was downloading and installing the bomberman application while driving. It was a fairly quick thing to do, but I was caught starting off in 3rd gear!





When the modem enters the coverage of a new cell tower, the connection gets dropped. In my experience, I could not reacquire a signal until stopped. The Rogers Portable Internet is called 'Pre-WiMAX', and cannot handoff to another cell tower. I am not sure if they have started to upgrade to the flavour of WiMAX that will be used by the N810WE.

If they have upgraded, I would sure love to test out a pre-production N810WE as part of my experiment. Alas, that would require some generous folks at Nokia and Rogers to be reading my blog.... :)

Stay tuned for Part 6 of my WiMAX experiment, where I will summarize my thoughts on this technology and its use on Nokia's Internet Tablets.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

N800: Restoring On-screen Keyboard following BT Keyboard Disconnect

Many times after disconnecting my i-Go Bluetooth keyboard, I am faced with a problem - The on-screen keyboard does not pop-up when required. This happens sometimes, and I am not sure what events lead to this behaviour.

It turns out, I am not the only one experiencing this. Maemo Bug 2850 deals with the same. I found comment #8 interesting, as it provided the fix.

It turns out that you can type the following within xterm, and the on-screen keyboard will re-appear:

gconftool -t bool -s /system/osso/af/slide-open false

I added this command to the list within osso-statusbar-cpu. Now, whenever my on-screen keyboard disappears after I use my bluetooth one, I am a few clicks away from restoring it. Sure beats having to reboot or to use the command line!

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My WiMAX Experiment - Part 4: VoIP Call Quality

Part 4 of my WiMAX Experiment deals with VoIP call quality while using the WiMAX Modem. I have placed a few calls to date and have had some great calls, but also some not-so-great calls. It seems to not only be dependant on my modem reception, but also some unknown factors which I could not quantify.

I thought that I would share recordings of some tests that I did to gauge the call quality relative to a cell phone. Note: they look like flash videos, but there is no video - only sound.

Call #1 - Cell phone call to a Vonage voice mail

  • The purpose of this call was to baseline the VoIP call quality relative to a traditional cell call.




Call #2 - Gizmo call via WiMAX to a Vonage voice mail


  • The proof is in the pudding, so-to-speak: my first documented test of a VoIP call with the WiMAX modem.





The VoIP call was a little unclear in spots, but I thought it was feasible, even with the latency and bandwidth I can attain with the WiMAX modem. Those initial tests gave me the courage to record a conversation with someone while connected via the WiMAX modem...

Call #3 - a real life Gizmo call to an InternetTabletTalk member via WiMAX!

  • I cold-called ITT member, qwavel, by sending him a PM on Internet Tablet Talk. Since he had made some comments on my experiment, I wanted to see if he would be interested in participating in a VoIP call with me. He instantly agreed. Since I did not know of an easy way to record the call on the tablet using Gizmo, he offered to record the call on his end via his Nokia N95. Hats off to qwavel for his enthusiasm and helpful conversation!





The interesting observation I had after listening to this recording was that qwavel sounded pretty clear to me at the time of the call, but on the recording, I sounded distant and broken up frequently. If both voices were relaying through the WiMAX modem, why was there such a difference between my observation during the call, and the subsequent recording?

Stay tuned for Part 5 of my WiMAX Experiment, where I will take the show on the road - literally!

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

My WiMAX Experiment - Part 3: Speed Tests

As I mentioned in Part 2, the Portable Internet Basic I have from Rogers is slow, but usable. Slow is a relative thing. They advertise 512 Kbps download and 256 Kbps upload. I found it hard to get a reliable speed test using the WiMAX modem since many of the speed testing sites I would traditionally use on a DSL connection were too slow to load and relied heavily on flash.

I did find a mobile version on DSL Reports that was advertized for use with - ahem - the iPhone. Well, it turned out to be the most workable speed test site to use in this case.

http://i.dslr.net/tinyspeedtest.html


I found that the download speed was heavily dependant on the reception of the modem. Today, my reception ran anywhere from 1 bar to 3 bars of service. A little fiddling with the modem placement and orientation allowed me to gauge the speed of my connection as a function of the number of bars of reception I had.


Bars

Speed (avg – Kbps)

1

53.5

2

92

3

172.5


Table 1: Average Download Speeds as a Function of Reception



I wasn't expecting much of a correlation, but it seems relatively linear.

Most of the time, I was running at 3 bars of reception. The spread in my connection speed ran from 114-224 Kbps.



Figure 1: An Example Speed Test Result from http://i.dslr.net/tinyspeedtest.html


The spread in latency was large - ranging from 94 ms to just over 1000 ms. The IP for dslr.net is somewhere in the USA, and the domain is registered in New York. That level of latency is large for a server a few hundred kilometres from me!

Many of the mobile-optimized sites worked quite well, loading relatively fast. I tried out the following:

http://m.gmail.com
http://m.facebook.com
http://www.cbc.ca/mobile
http://internettablettalk.com/forums (using the Mobile II theme)

The mobile facebook site worked quite well, and allowed me to do all of the things I normally do on facebook. That mobile site, in my opinion, should be benchmarked by Google for their mobile optimized GMail. The mobile version of GMail had a pretty poor interface. The Inbox view is OK, but the Compose view isn't. The body of the message that you're typing is very narrow. There is an iPhone optimized GMail site, but it doen't work consistently on my N800, or at least, I could not get it to work consistently. I resorted to using the basic HTML view for GMail, and it didn't get bogged down by my WiMAX connection.

Stay Tuned for Part 4, where I will review the quality I get using VOIP - pumping the calls through WiMAX...

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My WiMAX Experiment - Part 2: Teething Pains & 'Mobile Setup'

As I mentioned in Part 1, my intended usage for the WiMAX modem is at my workplace, where I do not have WiFi.  One of my main concerns was with concealment of the modem/router package.  I solved this by strapping the router to the modem, and tucking it between my computer and the cubicle wall.  After work, I place the modem and router in my desk and lock it.

The first day brought to a light a few problems.  One was the choice of router.  That FON router would drop connections often.  I recalled that there was an issue with using this router and the NIT's, related to the power saving mode in the WiFi.  I bought a cheap D-Link router that night, and the router issue was solved.

The other problem I had was with the modem dropping connections sometimes.  It would go roaming for a signal, and take a few minutes to acquire it again.  Some twisting and shifting of the modem proved to be useful in securing a reliable spot to place it in.

Surfing on the first day was good.  I used the 'mobile' versions of most sites that I frequent.  Funnily enough, the ITT site was one of the hardest to switch to mobile since the option is in a drop box at the bottom of the page.  Loading the full site on the Basic connection I had was slow.  Gmail, Google, Wikipedia, CBC News, and more were very usable in their mobile forms, or basic HTML versions. 

I was chatting via GoogleTalk with some friends, and even placed a VOIP call via GoogleTalk.  The call was fairly clear, but would cut in and out frequently.  I need to do some more testing of the VOIP when connected via the WiMAX modem. 

The Portable Internet Basic I had was slow, no doubt about it.  But for access at a fixed remote location, and with the usage of mobile optimized sites, it proved to be very usable. 

Stay tuned for Part 3, where I will discuss actual speeds obtained from speed tests and load times of common mobile sites.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

My WiMAX Experiment - Part 1: Background

I have been eagerly awaiting the N810 WiMAX Edition since news of it
surfaced last year. The N810WE would offer true mobility - a pocket
computer coupled with the excellent bandwidth that WiMAX delivers.
Canada is one of the few places in the world that has an existing WiMAX
network, albeit of the 'Pre-WiMAX' variety. Rogers and Bell offer
'Portable Internet' and 'Sympatico Un-Plugged', respectively. Both are
resellers of Inukshuk's WiMAX network.

After thinking about the N810WE more and more - a thought occured to
me. Did I really need to wait? My two main usage locations for my N800
are at home, where I have WiFi, and at work, where I don't. The reason
I wanted the N810WE was to be able to use it at my second location -
work. My company has a restrictive internet policy, and no WiFi.

Could I not then sign up for Rogers Portable Internet, and use that
service at work? Sure I could. I had my doubts - what would the
reception be like? What if I don't like the service? I don't really
want to spend $100 on a modem that I may not use for that long. How
would I hide a modem and WiFi router at work?

I found a used modem on craigslist - they were asking $50, but they
accepted my offer of $40. I was in business! That night, I spent about
20 minutes on the phone with the Rogers salesperson. They offered me a
deal on the Portable Internet Basic - $19.95/month and no activation.
The price was good for 12 months, and there was no contract. At the
most, I would be out one month of service, and would have to unload a
modem I bought for $40. Pretty low capital outlay for an experiment in
WiMAX. I had a spare FON router lying downstairs doing nothing useful -
time to put it to use and see what this WiMAX thing is all about.

Within 15-20 minutes, the modem had aquired its signal and registered
itself onto Rogers' network - a one time procedure for new modem
activations. The modem showed 3 bars of service, and I logged onto the
FON AP. I was in business!

Stay tuned for the second part of My WiMAX Experiment: First Days
Teething Pains and 'Mobile Setup'.



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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Welcome to Mobile Tablets!

Greetings fellow Internet Tablet users!

Welcome to Mobile Tablets, a blog aimed at sharing with you my experience of using an internet tablet in the daily grind. I intend to comment on my usage pattern, successes and frustrations with using my N800 at work and at home.

The idea for this blog came from the 'personal accounts' section of the internet tablet talk wiki.

Coming soon:

WiMAX, an experiment in mobile tabletting - it's not perfect, and certainly not for everyone.


Stay tuned and Enjoy!

EIPI

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