The year is 1992 Saturday, 26 September 2009  
Around about the year 1991, I acquired my first HP calculator - an HP48SX. If you have never seen or used one of these calcs, read on.

It was the equivalent of an iPod, in its day.

Now armed with an ipod touch, and visiting the ipod store and getting a feel for this new device, I came across an HP48 calculator emulator for the ipod.

Lets go back to 1992. In 1992, I wrote an emulator for the HP48 - made available over Usenet, and, it worked - it could do most HP things. It was based around X11, and the PCs of the day, were very lowly, but, still, the calculator emulator was fast enough.

I still have the source code to this. I believe this code was taken and used as the basis for other calc emulators, and there are now excellent emulators for Windows (havent checked Linux, but should be easy).

Now, lets go back to 2009. The App store version of the emulator is great - full power of an advanced RPN graphing and symbolic algebra calc. The pixels on the ipod are just enough to do just, but only just.

This app is available as source code. See here for the announcement of the i48 app Github entry for the source is

This is interesting for two reasons. One, this is a simple iPod app, and hence, is a useful example of how to create an app. Complete with XML files and bitmaps for the app store. (Interestingly, the Objective-C code is tiny, which is a testament to a good api on the ipod touch).

The other interesting point is that the emulator code bears the hallmark of my original donation to the community. I dont know if this code was based on my original or not - I started to lose interest in the HP as CRiSP took more of my time in the early 90's, and was vaguely aware of a Windows port (bear in mind this would be Windows 3.x or Windows 95, which I detested beyond belief - you needed to reboot the system if any app crashed if you wanted a nice life).

The attributions in the code date back to 1994, but there are signs of similarities. I cannot remember how I got started on the emulation. I know I picked up a possible HP28 (predecessor to the HP48) emulator and got some internal docs from HP at the time (I probably still have the emails dating back then), but its nice to know this excellent piece of hardware and the emulators live on - and now, I can carry on with carrying an HP + IPod together.

Ob complaint: why is the HP50 so expensive in the UK? Its more than 100 GBP vs about $90-100 in the US. Needless to say, HP havent received any money from me because of this obscene pricing, and I suspect, the number sold in the UK is pitiful, which is a shame.

So, what next? Who knows. I would like to write something for the ipod, but I dont have time, and theres a lot of ideas to wade thru from the existing app base on the app store. I just wish the ipod wasnt so locked down (see complaints in the prior blog).

Posted at 23:09:10 by Paul Fox | Permalink
  Apple are insane Friday, 25 September 2009  
I have a new ipod touch - nice device. There are lots of nice things about it, but Apple are totally insane. How they let this out of the labs I really dont know.

(1) Nested folders (playlists) dont appear to work on the ipod touch.

(2) On the touch front screen, is a "Movie" button. Search the web to find out how hard it is to get anything to appear in here. On the touch, movies need to be specified as "Music Video" or "TV Show". What? Duh?

(3) If you make it a "Music Video": a. it appears in the music playlist, not the video one. Are they insane? Yes. I have 92 playlists for music and upwards of 100 playlists for films (can only fit 20-30) on the ipod. So, i have to scroll thru the music to find the films, unless i use an initially letter, e.g. "A" to group them together. Are they insane? Yes.

(3b) A music playlist can be played portrait or landscape. A TV Show can only be played portrait. This wouldnt normally matter except in portait mode, you can see the film title when the popup volume controls appear but not in landscape mode. Are they insane? Yes

(3c) A TV Show playlist will not continue from one part to the next. I record from the tv to DVD across to a PC in 5min fragments. A typical film is 20 5min fragments. So, after each 5min fragment, my tv show skips back to the contents screen instead of continuing on to the next episode/fragment. All the parts of the film are in a playlist. So, Apple, are you insane? Yes.

(4) I knew you could get an onscreen control on the ipod screen to see position/volume controls, and it has taken me absolutely ages to know what to do - tried tapping, double tapping all parts of the screen, but it was so unobvious. Are you insane Apple? Yes.

(5) ipod touch wont charge on some alarm clock devices which let you plug in an ipod. The new 3G touch wont use my expensive and overpriced remote control from the ipod classic. Apple can be so money grabbing - they are a business, after all, but now, with so many ipods out there, and so many 3rd party devices, it is totally unclear what can work with what.

(6) App store apps which crash. I can appreciate software has bugs in it, but when I run an app, which then crashes, I really would like to know this and not have the ipod return back to the menu screen with no clue about what happened. What happened to the "bomb"?

(7) The ipod touch screen gets too smudgy; I can live with that. The screen is too dark - an OLED would be nice, but, watch a film set in a dark room, its almost impossible to see what is happening. To change brightness requires too many actions. Without a fast-fwd or reverse button, skipping over adverts is painful - trying to get your fingers in the right place (assuming you can work out how to popup the on screen display).

(8) Why are the classic and ipod touch/phone so different - I mean the way iTunes treats them. This is insane. They had a very good GUI and linkage with iTunes, but on the touch, its "lets be as different as we can". I could go into more details but.

(9) My ipod touch is much louder than the classic, for which i have spent so much on trying different headphones so I could hear quiet passages of films in a noisy environment.

(10) iTunes (9.0 and 9.0.1) is *insane*. Plug in your ipod. With 2000+ 5min film fragments, visit the device 'Movies' folder. It wants to open every one to display a screen shot image so you can select what to sync. iTunes mushroomed to greater than 1GB of RAM, and spent cpu cycles like no tomorrow. No way to turn off the image display. Fortunately, the "TV Shows" tab doesnt do this. Insane.

(11) ipod classic shows up as a mountable filesystem. ipod touch doesnt. iTunes/Apple have pulled a fast one so you cannot see the device as a mountable filesystem. I presume this is where the touch/phone cracking utilities come in. They have made it hard to do certain things, and "dtrace" (yes, dtrace) isnt able to monitor some aspects of iTunes deliberately (Adam Leventhal reported on this a while back, but dtrace is still broken). This is easy enough to fix/work around, but am curious. This means fixing a broken or ipod touch requires the service of an even better expert than a normal ipod has, and 3rd party tools become fewer and further between.

(12) Microsoft released the Zune HD. Lets hope the Zune really competes with the ipod, because Apple need a kick to be innovative. Apple stopped being innovative when they opened the Apple Store.

Despite my rant above, I am happy with the touch, but it has a long way to go to ensure it works for what it was intended for (music and films).

BTW there is a big difference between a classic and a touch: if your library fits into a classic or touch, life can be easy. If it doesnt, and it wont on a touch, then micromanagement of files is insanely tedious and difficult with iTunes. They have made the classic mistake of creating a GUI and touting how easy it is to use. It isnt. You are simply mortal, Apple.

Posted at 23:51:19 by Paul Fox | Permalink
  Trials, tribulations, horrors... Sunday, 13 September 2009  

I've been on holiday (San Francisco, LA, Vegas...), and my first trial is the MGM Grand Hotel. They pulled a fast one. Their customer services leave a lot to be desired, and their web site is appallingly awful.

We booked a 3 day stay, and the price was very good. ... Til we checked out and then we found their prices had doubled and doubled again (we arrived Thu before Labor day and stayed the Fri + Sat night). Nowhere on the web booking did it say that each night was a different price. What is worse...when we arrived, they got me to sign the obligatory credit card form, and hiding (in plain site), was the room rate for each night, going up in exponential fashion. So, partially my fault for not noticing that, but the person (might not have been human, and cannot put down the word I want to describe) didnt point this out. (It would have been too late anyhow).

Other than that - holiday was great.


I upgraded my main server today to Ubuntu 9.04 - just a short time away from the 9.10 release, but I wasted much of the day getting VMWare Server 1.0.x working on the 2.6.31 kernel. (I gave up with the Ubuntu kernel after it wasnt installed properly after the upgrade). VMWare is a pain - at least there is source code to the drivers, and eventually I got it to compile, but generated a kernel panic when vmware was started (more than likely, my code changes were a little too dirty). Oh well....


So, I decided to try switching back to VirtualBox (2.1). On startup, it told me 3.0 was available so I have upgraded to that. Interestingly, I noticed that 'rdesktop' works nicely for VirtualBox (my previous complaint was that the X GUI was horrible when dealing with high volume output across a low speed wifi network), and this may help enormously solve that problem, and get me away from VMWare. I really didnt want to suffer the VMWare Server 2.x release, and now I can live in the freeware world for virtualisation.

DTrace for 2.6.31 Kernel

As per normal, the new kernel doesnt compile the dtrace code due to the number of changes in the kernel. Fortunately, the changes look much easier than the ones VMWare had to contend with, so will try and fix this shortly.

CRiSP without Motif

What has been occupying me for the last few weeks was migrating CRiSP away from Motif - its nearly finished - just need to do some final touches to the menu system and menu bar, and it looks/feels much better.

iPod Touch

Had been eagerly waiting for the new ipods to come out (I own an iPod Classic, but not an iPhone - they are simply too horrendously expensive), and although the new iPod isnt technically much better than the older ones, have ordered one - so I can watch films on the way to work (the Classic screen size and volume has always caused me an issue). I am thinking of toying writing some apps for the iPod....maybe I could port CRiSP or DTrace to it :-) (But that might be pointless tho!)

So, if things go quiet for a while...I am busy getting a high score or just hacking on the ipod or crisp ... or dtrace...

Posted at 18:59:05 by Paul Fox | Permalink