Gear Review: Nokia N800

I just got the tablet PC recommended by the Linux Journal. Although Nokia makes it, it’s not a phone. Also, it runs a different OS than Nokia phones. It’s been a while since I had such a phone, but I recall an excellent interface design and great reliability. They must have hired a different team to do the N800. Or maybe it’s the same team, but morale is low since management sent the tablet team to do a “fun” exercize in aligator wrestling and the team lead was tragically eaten. (It was a sad day for Nokia’s Elbonian devision. Most of the team stayed on, but they burn with silent resentment.)

I want to make a large, blanket statement right now. Computers are crap right now. All of them. The Mac is pretty good, but it keeps getting more and more closed. Want to hook up a bluetooth GPS to your shiny, new iphone? Too bad, Jobs says you can’t. The 21st century Henry Ford knows what you want to do and offers you only that, even if it’s not what you want to do. Also, you can get any color iphone you want as long as it’s black. All their devices get more and more closed. Their (consumer) tools are more and more closed. Want to make a web page? Hope you like the “made with a mac” look.
Windows? Don’t get me started. My jaw drops with fresh horror every time I hear what windows users are forced to put up with. I don’t understand why they use computers at all, given such provocation.
Fortunately, Linux is here to save the day! Well, maybe just Ubuntu linux, but anyway. Yay for saving the day. Too bad it won’t really run on my existing hardware.
The N800 runs a flavor of Debian linux. Did that sentence have any meaning for you? Then you’re a geek. Sorry. If it didn’t, don’t surf away yet! It shouldn’t have to make sense. This is a freaking consumer device. I just want a GPS thingee (via a seperate wireless little black platic thing) to help keep me from getting lost on bike trips and something that I can use to do some mobile blogging while on the road. I don’t want to risk my laptop being in another crash, so I got a little web device. It’s reasonable to expect a consumer to know they need software (and possibly extra hardware) for their device to do GPS stuff. It’s reasonable to expect a consumer buying a web device to have some familiarity with cruising around on the internet. I think that’s nearing the end of what’s reasonable.
It’s not reasonable that it ships with a broken operating system. Asking folks to flash a brand new device is not reasonable. (Sorry for the jargon. Notive how it’s confusing? Not reasonable! It means to use a different computer or a special program to change the device’s software to do an upgrade.) Not providing a CD with said flash program (for all common consumer OSes) is not reasonable. Requiring the use of another computer to flash it, is on the borderline of reasonability. And not having any kind of flasher for Mac users is not at all reasonable. They’re all linux-y, but they don’t release the source for the flasher. So they don’t have it, I can’t get it, I can’t build it myself.
The N800’s “killer app” for GPS map stuff looks really nice when it isn’t crashed, not working, or not talking to the GPS. Let’s be fair, it might be because I’m running a broken OS. The web browser is doing something wrong with cookies, so I cannot figure out how to update my blog. Err, since basically, I got it for blogging and map stuff, it’s 0 for 2 right now.
But it’s got mini usb, so at least I can plug in my camera, right? Hahahaha, no. The miniusb is useful for when you want to flash the device (don’t do that on the subway or you risk fines) and for when you want to use it as a memory card reader for your regular computer and for nothing else. It can’t charge the device. It can’t take a keyboard, a mouse, a joystick, my phone, my camera, nada. Ok, but the N800 takes memory cards. This strongly implies that I can take a picture, pop the card out of my camera, pop it into the N800 and post it to the internets. If my camera uses MiniSD cards. It doesn’t. It takes a sony memory stick.
Ok, so possible work arounds involve: 1. Buying a new camera (not a terrible idea since mine has not been so healthy since I dropped it a week or so ago). 2. Finding some sort of USB-> bluetooth converter. (Would be hot! want one anyway! Any usb keyboard becomes wireless! sexy! (Does this device even exist?)) 3. Inventing a sony memory stick -> miniSD converter. Notice that I used the word “invent.”
Yeah, so the N800 is pretty much useless to me unless I sink even more money into this or spend a bunch of time trying to find work-arounds. The whole point of it was to be cheaper than replacing a dead laptop after a crash. But it has to really be cheaper. I mean, I don’t want my laptop to die (ever, yikes. Live forever!) but a new laptop would be faster and better and I’ll probably buy one eventually anyway. So the maximum cost of the PDA thing needs to be based on a complicated equation involving the likelyhood of a fatal (to laptop, not me) crash, the cost or laptop replacement and the length of pre-upgrade life remaining in said laptop.
People really love these things. Fair enough. But it’s not a consumer device! I wanted a consumer device! I wanted something that I could turn on, double click something and see a pretty map of my neighborhood! I wanted something that would deal with my google logins the right way, so I could just post to my blog. I wanted something that could transfer data from my camera to flickr, that could copy data to and from my bluetooth phone and to and from my bluetooth computer without having to use wires. I wanted to plug in a home-brew keyboard. I wanted something that could just use the same USB-based charger as my phone and ipod and other devices. These are all things that consumer web device should be able to do. Right out of the box. Without requring google searches of forums dedicated to hacking the damn thing.
Sadly, my free software ideology and stubbornness is going to cause me to keep pounding on the damn thing until it WORKS damn it. I’m a hacker after all. These problems have solutions. Non-consumer-level solutions. If you’re not a hacker, don’t buy this tablet.

Hot Power Brick

Lately, I’ve been noticing the smell of hot plastic, whenever I’m on my laptop. Just now, I tracked it down to the power brick. It’s the Apple one that came with my laptop when I purchased it in North america. Now, I’m using it in Europe. I thought these things could deal with international electricity differences without problem? Should I get a step down converter? Could it be something about the particular power outlet that it’s been plugged in to? What in it could break to cause this change, but still allow it to deliver power? Could it just be the unusual way in which the cable was coiled around it? If I do nothing, will it catch fire, resulting in massive data loss and the death of my sousaphone? Is it possessed by demons? Can this kind of problem arise from being stuffed into a messenger bag and bouncing around on the front of a small bicycle bounding over cobblestones?

This situation is suboptimal, but at least I found it before it burned a hole in a sofa cushion.


computer store dude says to keep using the adaptor until it dies a natural death. I think I’ll keep it more on the floor and less on the sofa, and not leave it plugged in when I’m not around to look at it.

The Update continues

and it would have continued sooner, had i not just spent so much time trying to figure out what was wrong with my stoopid airport network. the base station had to be restarted. of course, it took a long time to figure that out, because my old base station only had to be restarted once in a blue moon. i’ve barely had the new one for a week and already it’s crashed. my old hub (which admittedly, doen’t have nifty features like wireless) which is so old that it pre-dates 100baseT, has never needed to be restarted. New technology is bad. Upgrading is a myth. If you get new software, your old hardware can’t handle it. If you get new hardware, your old software can’t handle it. anyway, i now can connect to the internet (again) in OS9. huzzah! You may wonder while I’m still partly on OS9? Well, apple didn’t put any sound drivers or MIDI support that was good enough for audio processing into OSX until 10.2.3. Now that this update is available, software is struggling to get caught up. I’m not on Jaguar yet. It’s $129 extra dollars and I’m not spending it until all the software I want can run on it (which is also a bunch of extra money). I’d stay on 9 forever, but this machine has head room to upgrade. It was built with OSX in mind, but the hardware was ahead of the software. If you buy the fastest computer you can get your hands on, it lasts twice as long. the upgrade it until it’s at optimum performance and never upgrade it again.
Anyway, when last we left off, it was night time and the 12th was turning into the 13th, a most unhappy birthday, as the other person most intimately connected with that occurance is no more.

February 13, 2002

I am now 27 years old.
We had breakfast with Christi’s parents and then they left to drive their car back to Portland. they dropped us off at University of Washington and we walked around campus looking for the teachers of the Digital Arts department. We left phone messages for them, but to no avail. the digital Arts department is located in the basement of an International studies building. the building directory does not list the department. The building secretary doesn’t know about it. The department head’s office is through a secured door, in the basement, across from the biolder room. He wasn’t there. The whole center was hidden, windowless and strangely hip. It is obviously not the pride and joy of ther University. the music building, which is not connected, is next to the ROTC building. There were a lot of uniforms walking around campus. The architecture is nice though. It reminded me of Copenhagen.
after failing to contact any faculty members, christi and I walked 1.3 hours over to Capitol Hill, the gay neighborhood, where we met Ellen F. for coffee. I had too much (way too much) caffeine, but thelatte was excellent. Better than Gaylords even. We talked about the arts scene in Seattle. Joan wants us to move there. Ellen says it’s boring, but wants us to move also. She left the coffee shop breifly to get a scheduled haircut and then came back and we got lunch. We went over to the international disctrict. On the way, she showed us a building that she wants. It’s a former candy factory. She had a candy factory when she lived in texas and would like to have one again. The former factory (now for sale or rent) is in or around 23rd in the International district. At lunch we talked about lack of arts funding. I’m trying to figure out what to do about this. Ellen is internationally known and her work is really good, but she can’t quit her day job as a graphic designer. The Seattle Times called up Christi’s cell phone to interview her about her piece in the Klavier Nonette. Ellen said that never happens. Joan is trying to make it look as if it’s exciting, but it really isn’t.
After lunch, Ellen gave us a lift back to Capitol Hill and said goodbye to go do some work. christi and I went to a revolutionary bookstore there and asked about the state of the far left in town. (It’s now an open question: relocate to Seattle or no?) The bookstore clerk said it was healthy in the region and reminded us of the anti-WTO protests. Also, we saw anti-war signs everywhere. More than I’ve seen in Berkeley.
we walked back to the uniersity District. Mitch called up to sing happy brithday. It was very sweet. I got the phone number of his sister, but didn’t hook up with her because I was pooped from not sleeping the night before. It’s hard to sleep in hotels. I tried to remember how I slept while travelling for the summer in 2001, and I think it was sheer exhaustion plus a few respites of nice places to stay, like the flats we had in Copenhagen and Amsterdam. anyway, we headed back to Jack Straw where Joan tried to plead exhaustion to get out of our dinner plans, but christi wouldn’t let her, because we are the featured composers for the April composer forum thingee and we needed to know more about that. So Joan agreed and while she finished up for the day, Christi and I popped more coins into the juke box and listened to several more pieces. I think we’ve heard about half of them.
we went to a himilayan restaurant on University Ave. It was excellent. We talked to Joan (actually, christi did almost all of the talking, since the caffeine spring has finally wound down… I must have acted like a maniac around Ellen, being so wried and miserable at the same time…) about war and peace. She hates bush as much as Christi does. as an aside, Ellen said earlier that she was in France during the 2000 presidental elections and the newspaper headlines there said “Coup D’eta.” Joan and Christi also talked about the state of public transit in Seattle (bad but looking up) and the April thingee. We made plans. We are going to write some pieces for Cello and tape (where tape = CD with some niose on it, which Renne will accompany on her violincello). We will also write audience partcipation pieces with boomwhackers (which are long plastic tubes you wach into thhings, like the ground. They’re tuned to different pitches. It’s like low budget handbells). Joan will be in the Bay Area in March and we will meet back up then.
And then we walked back to our hotel room and passed out quite early. Christi was being super-sweet. It would have been a very happy day, had the date not been making me so sad. Alas. woe. poor me.

Planned Obsolescence?

Did you know the new apple airport is faster than the old one (provided you also get new network cards) and is blue-tooth ready (whatever that means) and you can attach a USB printer to it, so you can print acorss the network (provided you are running 10.2 or better). Pretty cool, eh? I was saying that if I didn’t already have an ariport bass station, I’d want to get one, you know, if all my ‘puters were on 10.2 and I didn’t already have older network cards.
I’d been having some problems where my airport network was going down intermittantly. Then, this morning, it started having it’s red LEDS blink on and off while it made buzzing sounds. Not good. Resetting did not help. So I sold it for parts to Elite Computing and got the brand new one, which has many features that I can’t use. yay. they don’t make the old ones anymore and I’m not sure buying a used one would be very smart, given the sad, slow burn mine went through.
Anyway, I took the old one apart, looking for an obvious indicator of something wrong, like a loose connector or a smoking chip. I found nothing. But there’s a lucent card inside. It’s not apple technology. It’s apple re-marketting Lucent technology. The super drive isn’t apple either, it’s panasonic. And motorolla akes apple processor chips. I guess Apple is a software company and a hardware reseller, that’s not bargain friendly. I wonder if people still have “Hackentoshes.” Those were home-brew ‘puters mixing apple-type and Intel-type technology. They were rumored to be fast, upgradable and able to speak both apple and PC in the time when that didn’t happen.