The new front door is so me! Look, I’ve got a peephole.

A quick review of the Samsung Star phone

Summary: could have used a little more testing

As I wrote earlier, I bought me a Samsung s5230 Star mobile phone. My needs were extremely modest:

  • A long standby time
  • A built-in camera of at least 1 megapixel

The Star’s aspirations are far from modest: it tries to emulate far more expensive phones by providing a similar but toned down feature set. So it’s got a medium sized touch screen, a photo and video camera, a media player, an organiser, FM radio, voice recorder and widgets galore.

When you have got to cut costs, you had better come up with clever solutions, and the Star has some of those. Rather than putting in a second camera so that you can see yourself when taking a picture of yourself, it’s got a tiny mirror underneath the lens of its single camera. That sort of stuff.

Unfortunately the Star has too little of that sort of stuff, and lacks polish in general. It has an untested feel. For instance, the lock (activated by pressing a handy little button on the side of the phone that doubles as a camera lock) sometimes switches off spontaneously.

Also, the screen is completely useless outdoors. When I tried to make a call when it was overcast, I could barely see what I dialed. When I tried to look at the time during sunset (nice big clock), I could see nothing at all. I would hate to think what would happen in full sunlight at noon. Presumably the entire phone will render itself invisible.

I already expressed my satisfaction with the camera in a previous post, but to spare you the trouble of clicking a link I will repeat what I said: I love it because it is such a limited camera. That means that whenever I take a good picture it is all because of my skills, baby!

Does the battery last 800 hours on a single charge, as advertised? I would not know. I have been playing the free games that came shipped with the Star a lot lately (mostly while waiting for trains), and they drain the battery like you wouldn’t believe.

Finally, an anecdote. The other day a friend who owns one of these iPhones or HTC Android shiny wonder thingies lamented that he thought his T9 (word prediction) was unusable, because switching between languages was so hard. Ha! Not only will Samsung’s T9 implementation let you switch between languages easily, but it will let you do this while you are typing your message. Just tap the language symbol and switch languages on the fly and to your hearts content.

I don’t know how common any of these features are, but they are light years ahead of what my previous phone offered.

If you make 99.5% of your calls indoors, this phone comes mostly recommended. But do check other reviews to see if it meets your needs.

My rating: 2.5 stars

Third camera and braai

It was time to get a new phone. Since I only make 40 euros worth of mobile phone calls each year (and not much more over the landline), getting a 240+ euro minimum plan made no sense. And the way mobile phones are financed (get a phone free with a plan) meant that I had to buy a phone rather than get one free.

I went for the cheapie Samsung Star S5230 which has a cheapie 3 MP on-board camera, which is just the ticket for me. If the photos fail it’s the camera’s fault, and if they succeed it’s due my craftsmanship. That is an arrangement I can get behind.

(Braai is Afrikaans for barbecue.)

On why braille is dying

Braille is not necessarily dying. But if you take the threats to print books and you sort of make a caricature of them, those are the threats to Braille books. Creating Braille books is extremely labor-intensive. They’re incredibly bulky. For instance, the Harry Potter series comes in 59 volumes, and they’re all almost a foot tall.

Rachel Aviv.

Link: David Weinberger.


I have seen the future, and it’s bloody confusing.

The photo shows a (my) traditional wallet to the right, and three additional ones I acquired in the past 12 months or so.

The top two are transport cards. I had to buy the first one because it was the only one way at the time to pay for the Rotterdam tram. It is the infamous OV Chipkaart, and it cost 10 euro (that is excluding the actual credit), even though making the card can hardly have cost more than 10 cents. You need to keep it topped up with at least four euros or else it becomes worthless, and you cannot sell it back to the issuer.

The middle card is exactly the same thing, except that it is the only card that will give me a discount on (some) train trips. It completely obviates the top card. The train company expects you to have 10 euro on it before they let you pay for a trip.

The bottom card is a regular bank card, but it also has a built in electronic wallet that provides for the only way to pay for lunch at my current customer.

The upshot is that I walk around with four wallets containing about 100 euros in total where I used to walk around with about 20 in cash. The chances of me losing money by losing a wallet has grown fourfold, and I now need to know of at least three different ways of paying for products and services, where one used to be enough.

Perhaps I am just a grumpy old luddite. My brother loves his electronic wallets, and has foregone cash completely. He keeps his cards in a little holder built for the purpose, and likes the elegance of living in the future.

(Should any non-Dutch people read this, I should point out that we also pay with cards that are not wallets. The bank card pictured at the bottom can be used for this purpose at most stores in the Netherlands; it directly transfers money from your bank account to the seller’s.)

Minor housekeeping

Close on the heels of last month I made a couple of more improvements that you probably wouldn’t even have noticed had I not told you about them in the following.

Read the rest of this entry »

Def G

The pirate ship Azalea drifted steadily under an already burning sun towards the Azores. On board it was quiet. The deck was almost completely void of personnel, a common occurrence on this ship. The rules stated that the crew had to take a nap between 10 and 11 in the morning if heavy drinking had gone on the night before.

Rum intake was also regulated, in that it was obligatory on occasion. Just the five cabin boys, no more than teenagers, were exempt. From them the helmsmen for the night and the following morning were chosen.

Gerrit Meys was happy with his watch. It was the time of the day that you had a few moments for yourself. The young helmsman had little else to do than to keep East, so he used his time thinking up rap lyrics. Oh yeah, our Gerrit thought himself a real ‘gangsta.’ To be fair, there was something to that.

Do not look to the government for a balanced fourth estate

In the free market of news, news tends to gravitate to bad news. There is nothing inherently evil about that. People just like bad news better than good news.

Every now and again, somebody will start a news outlet that focuses on good news, and every time these initiatives peter out quietly after the money runs out. People just aren’t as interested in good news.

This non-evil phenomenon has an evil side effect, in that people seem to feel less safe in a world dominated by bad news. I am old enough to remember a time when the world seemed to be smaller: national news in the papers and on TV was only limited to major bad things. Nowadays it seems that every time somebody stubs a toe, there are specialized shows to highlight the dangers one’s toes face in modern society.

So when it comes to news, the market fails us. There are several ways to combat market failure, one of them being government intervention. You might consider a public sense of safety to be a public good, so government intervention would be particularly apt here.

Unfortunately, governments are run by politicians, and a bad news environment is advantageous to politicians. They are after all selected on how well they can sell a perceived combating of the ills of society. Politics therefore tends to gravitate to a state of continuously feeding a general sense of dissatisfaction and of lack of safety. You can only sell vacuum cleaners if there is something to vacuum.

In other words, the market for news cannot be fixed by the party most suited for doing so, because fixing the market runs completely counter to that party’s interests. Also the news industry cannot fix itself.

Commenting open for every post

I moved this blog between systems at the end of 2005, and in the process commenting was switched off for old posts. Being unfamiliar with Wordpress at the time I decided to switch comments back on by hand, something that proved to be rather a cumbersome task. The task subsequently ended up on the back-burner, what with not being very important in the first place.

Well, we’re five full years on and guess what? I went back to the posts from those heady days of 2005 when I still had a job of sorts, when I lived in a different apartment, when a cat still roamed the halls of said apartment, when I had yet to discover the delights of Zoetermeer, and so on and so on, and switched commenting back on for them.

In the grand scheme of things this is not very important. In fact it is so unimportant that none of you cared to mention it to me. But this feels tidy.

The blog systems that made it as CMSes

Six years ago I blogged that open source CMSes tended to be too difficult to set up and use to be usable for small business and non-profits. I suggested that a number of blog systems and nukes could step forward and supplant them, and that is exactly what has happened.

In 2008, Joomla!, Wordpress and Drupal were the most popular open source CMSes, even though none of them started out as such. In 2009, these three still led the pack with a wide margin.

Wordpress and Drupal used to be blogging software, and Joomla! (formerly Mambo) was a so-called Nuke (a package for building web communities), but they quickly re-branded themselves:

  • Joomla! – dynamic portal engine and content management system
  • Wordpress – semantic personal publishing platform
  • Drupal – open source content management system

I have used all three to build professional websites with. Wordpress is well suited for small websites for small businesses, and I have built websites for huge organisations with Drupal. Indeed, for the past two years Drupal-sites have accounted for almost all of the websites I produced, the exceptions being one small Moodle project and a PHPfox website.

Installing Wordpress really takes me no more than 10 minutes or so. (In my experience, a single person business wants to spend at most a few hundred euros on a regular, fairly static website, so if I decide to go with Wordpress I can spend the remaining hours on making the site look good, which in turn helps the customer to establish their brand.)

In light of these developments it may not be too far fetched to conclude that ease of use, perceived or imaginary, can be very important for the adoption rate of an open source product. Ask the Firefox developers. It wasn’t the plug-ins or the built in search engine field or the tabs that made the difference, but the fact that the webbrowser seemed to work the way laypeople expected a webbrowser to work.

Indeed, I know plenty of people who never use tabs, who only seem to get confused by them, and plenty of others who search the web by entering a search phrase into the address bar (in the latter case a savvy web dude like myself included). The only Firefox feature I have consistently heard people name as the reason to use that browser is its perceived security. Firefox is, as the head rabbi of the world once put it, the one that “keeps out the schmutz“.