Archive for the 'technology' Category

MobileTech for Social Change

This looks to be an exciting barcamp – Mobile Tech for Social Change.  I’m going, partly out of general interest (I’ve been fascinated by mobile technology for a while, particularly what the rest of the world is accomplishing ahead of the U.S.).  I’m also going because I want to support the Openmoko movement.

I’ll put aside my raised eyebrows at  $25 barcamp (it goes to food, apparently) – but the fact that there is no link to the wiki from the registration page is a little clunky.  Get the real deal at the wiki.

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OpenMokos – now available at PariSoMa!

OK, so this is pretty cool – and I’m pretty proud of this one. The OpenMoko FreeRunner, the 2nd Gen completely open-source, Linux-based phone is now available through PariSoMa.  We at PariSoMa (essentially faberNovel, Inc) put in the time, paperwork and sweat to get these phones for retail through our office.

The FreeRunner is not a consumer-ready phone – it is still in development, but it’s is a great phone / Linux-device that allows people to completely hack it.  While a lot of development needs to happen among the various software distributions out there for this phone in order for it to be a reliable, everyday phone, it’s still a great leap forward in this arena.

Oh, and why go with this phone instead of the yet-to-be-released Android? Well…

  • Currently, the Android phone tethers you to T-Mobile. Though this will change once other service providers and mobile phone manufacturers come aboard.
  • Android – as far as we’ve seen so far – does not give you low-level access. It’s also unclear how open or closed the actual device drivers will be (wifi, for example).
  • The OpenMoko FreeRunner allows you to not only choose service providers, it allows you to pick software distros, providing a wider range of open source choices.

In reality, on the spectrum of iPhone to Android to OpenMoko, the latter is at the far end of the open-source lineage, where the ease-of-use terrain gets pretty shaky. This means it will not be – anytime soon – a mass-market consumer phone. But it will be the tool of choice for developers keen on innovation, and people who want complete freedom to develop specialized functionality to incorporate into these mobile devices.

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Trying out Snappr

[UPDATE: I created a Snappr count and tried again – we’ll see if this works…..]

So I encountered 2D bar codes last year, with faberNovel‘s digitick project.  I was on a recent trip to France, and there are 2D bar codes everywhere now – outside of the US that is (even Canada is full of them).  So it’s about time someone is doing something with them – well, someone other than us.

I’ve just heard about Snappr, and I’m trying it out.  Not entirely sure what to expect – Snappr uses barcodes purely for information embedding, as opposed to subscription serivces or mobile purchasing (at least, as far as I can tell).

But I’m going to test it out and see how it works with my camera phone.  I’ll take a photo of the code (on my laptop), send it to SNappr, and see what happens.  I’ll leave the results in my comments.  Go ahead and test it out yourself too!  (And as Snappr notes – be sure you have an unlimited data plan, or it’ll be expensive!)

Snappr code

Snappr code

Taking the pain out of Windows – w/ a Mac and VMWare

I needed to install some PC accounting software at our office, which only has Macs right now.  Althoguh I was originally going to use Bootstrap, Mac’s built-in software that allows you to switch OS on startup, I opted for VMWare Fusion for the Mac ($80 for a single license, vs. free for Bootstrap).  One of the main advantages of VMWare Fusion is it’s ability to drag-and-drop from your Mac desktop into your Windows window – smooth like ghee, man.

In addition, VMWare had a Windows Easy Install option – you provide the license and Windows install CD, and it runs the whole thing for you in one fell swoop.  The whole process, including buying VMWare online, took about an hour (a lot of that was the Windows install) but it went smoothly from beginning to end, no glitches.  And..  when I’m done with the Windows window, I put it in “Suspend” – and can come back to it as fast as a PC coming out of sleep mode.  Meaning I don’t have to wait for Windows to boot up every time I want to use it.

All said and done – yeah, Windows still sucks, but it’s less painful when running on something as sweet as VMWare Fusion.

We’re hiring! AF83 is looking for a Drupal developer!

Read all about it over here. 

My contact info is on the linked page – yep, you’d be talking to me.  (The position is based in San Francisco…)

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Copier leases: A few experiences and thoughts

I just finished a renewal of our school’s copier lease, and it was an illuminating process, given that I didn’t know much about copiers and the leasing of before this.

Our school has two copiers – one big “spaceship” style copier that can handle color, multiple paper sizes, three-hole punch, and “saddle-stitch” – i.e. creating bound booklets.  Our second copier is a regular black-and-white copier.

We had two major beefs with our current copier lease company: 

  1. Response time was supposed to be 4-6 hours, but we had increasing delays, up to 8 hours in some cases.  And often what would happen is an agent would arrive, and 15 minutes later declare “Parts are on order, I’ll be back in X days.”
  2. We had an per-machine copy quota system.  On the simple b/w copier, our lease included 18k copies a year, on the large multi-use one, 380k.  However, because of location, the b/w copier was used far more than the other copier, and we got hit with massive overage charges – even though we were twice as much under quota for copies on the large machine.

In reviewing copier lease offerings from small to large shops (including Canon, IKON and Konica-Minolta), I discovered several things:

  • The differentiation among machines is nominal.  Really, unless you’re waaay copy-geek, every company offers machines that will pretty much do the same thing.  Of course, you have to figure out whether faxing from the copier or add’l security system is worth it for you, but you can find equivalent machines across the board.
  • Many leases will be offered for 60 months (5 years).  Our experience – making 400k copies a year on two machines – is that 36 months (3 years) is as far as we could take the machines without having a service person living on-site.
  • Leases are divided into equipment cost, and service.  Equipment costs will be spread over the lease period (in our case, 36 months) with an additional percentage thrown in (since essentially what you are doing is borrowing money from the lease-holding company to pay for the machines).  Yes, this adds to the cost, but is ultimately the only way most smaller companies (and restricted income organizations like non-profits and schools) can afford them.
  • Several leases I saw had great monthly equipment rates, but had a purchase requirement at the end of the lease – essentially, you would be required to pony up about $2k-$3k for the “fair market value” of the copier, at the exact time when it is most useless to you.  We asked for a “$1 buyout” lease – that means they readjust the monthly pricing so that at the end of the lease, we pay $1 and the machine is ours.  Monthly price goes up, but not by a huge amount.  Of course, we’re left with the same problem – now we have a machine we don’t want.  Typically, you can donate or sell these machines for a few hundred dollars for another organization that is even harder up.  (But it’s like donated computer equipment – I would advise any recipient against purchasing something like that).
  • One interesting lease option I saw from IKON was the equivalent to a “rental” – there was no buyout, dollar or fair market value.  The monthly price was a rental price, and at the end of the lease, IKON picked up the machine and took it back.  That’s convenient.
  • Then there’s service and maintenance.  Mostly, service and maintenance was comprehensive – maintenance, troubleshooting labor, parts and toner all included.  Typically the only thing not included was paper and staples. 
  • Most of the maintenance quotes I saw were based on our proposed copying quota.  (Most companies were willing to institute a “organizational” quota, as opposed to a per-machine quota).  So if our proposed copy quota went up or down, so did the proposed maintenance costs – makes sense.  Typically, there was a “per-copy” charge for copies made beyond that quota; and there were opportunities to readjust the quota (and thus the monthly service fee) once a year, or even once a quarter if you discovered you were making far more or far less than you expected.
  • One quote I received, however, had no quota.  They charged per copy out of the gate.  If you sat down and did the math, based on our proposed quota, the average monthly fee came out about the same, but this was never an option we would want.  First, there was no way to predict how much our monthly fee would be (it could change by hundreds of dollars form one month to the next).  Also, towards the end of the year, when we are cash poor, we put on several events as well as send out renewal forms and acceptance letters – all heavy copy work, and not an expense bump we’d want to see at that time of year.

I leave you to sift through your own proposals and eager salespeople.  I am glad to say we chose a local company that’s been in business for over 100 years, that used to be called Typewritorium…..

eDemocracyCamp in DC!

I’ve been so busy focusing on, amongst other things, DrupalCon that I totally missed mentioning eDemocracyCamp, happening this weekend in Washington D.C. Good friend in the BarCamp, WineCamp and i18n / translation world Tim Bonnemann is one of the organizers.

eDemocracyCamp!

“The place for innovators, optimists, and engaged citizens. March 2, 2008 in Washington, DC

We are building off the momentum of the 2008 Politics Online Conference
which always draws a spectacular crowd. If you are coming into town for one of these events you should definitely check out the other one in order to make the most of your time here in DC.

eDemocracyCamp will be the first BarCamp with a focus specifically on e-democracy. eDemocracyCamp will connect citizens, researchers, developers, practitioners and anyone else interested in the topic to learn about the current state of e-democracy and share their visions for its future direction.”