Sunday, March 22, 2009

Miniatur Wunderland – World’s Largest Model Railway

The Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany boasts the largest model railway exhibit in the world. They have about 800 model trains with over 10,000 railroad cars that run on about 10 km of track! The exhibit includes lots of computer controller road vehicles and ships as well. Here’s the official video (direct link):

Saturday, March 21, 2009

iPhone OS 3.0 – Search

With OS 3.0, the iPhone has finally caught up with one of the old features of Palm OS – the global find. In OS 3.0, in addition to the screens with application icons, there’s a search screen which searches a whole host of things – applications, contacts, calendar, mail, music, podcasts, etc. Here’s a screenshot of the search screen: Search ScreenThere are some configuration options that control the behavior of the home button (via Settings | General | Home) including access to the search screen:Home button configuration

Search results can further be customized to include or exclude items and reorder them: Search customization

One caveat about the global mail search – it only searches the To/From/Subject fields of messages downloaded to the phone. The mail application has its own search screen too, which behaves the same way but it includes an option to search via the server (at which point search results depend on what the server provides): Mail search

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sun Cloud APIs

As part of Sun’s cloud computing push, the Sun Cloud APIs have recently been made available to developers. It provides RESTful APIs for creating and managing cloud resources, including compute, storage, and networking components. You can get a quick start by looking at the “Hello Cloud” examples. Looks like Amazon AWS is finally getting some competition but it remains to be seen if Sun can follow through with their delivery.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Google Voice Impressions

Having been a Grand Central user since their beta in 2007, I got the option to migrate to Google Voice. Based on my usage, here are the improvements to the original Grand Central experience:

  • Integration with Google Account 
  • Integration with Google Contacts
  • GMail-like UI that allows for folders like Inbox, Starred, Trash, Voicemail, etc.
  • SMS support
    • Receive SMS on the Google Voice number and have that SMS forwarded to your registered cell phone. This was my biggest feature request from Grand Central!
    • Respond to SMS via the Google Voice web interface and have then be returned as an SMS
    • Ability to respond to call via SMS
  • Transcription – finally caught up with Jott on that front.
  • Ability to annotate messages or SMSes with notes.

Here are the things where Google has more work to do (or could have done better during migration):

  • No integration with Google Apps For Your Domain (my pet peeve with several Google features!)
  • No keyboard shortcuts for the UI a la GMail or Google Reader
  • No migration of Grand Central call history, messages or contacts
  • A separate UI – this should really be part of GMail (my company has had that for years with both fax and voicemail!)
  • No mention of fax support i.e., use the number for incoming faxes so that it can really be a universal number
  • No tag/label support like GMail – kinda stupid to just have fixed folders especially when GMail has us used to labels

The rest of features are just parity features with Grand Central. Google Voice

iPhone OS 3.0 Copy Paste

Here's how one of the most sought-after iPhone OS 3.0 feature works.  I started off with a page in Safari:

Safari page

Holding down a link on the page allows the link to be copied: Copy linkHolding down an area of the page triggers the copy rectangle:Copy rectangle The copy rectangle can be resized to include any content (including images): Copy rectangle resize Once content is copied to the clipboard, it can be pasted. Here’s an email composition screen, where holding down on the page, triggers the paste action: Trigger paste As you can see, the Paste action pastes the complete clipboard (including images): Paste

iPhone OS 3.0 Upgrade

The beta version of iPhone OS 3.0 (build 7A238j) was made available on Apple’s Developer Connection website yesterday. Here are the steps to install the new OS (as tested with an iPhone 3G):

  1. Sync the phone to iTunes and backup all data! Subsequent steps will wipe out the iPhone and you will need a backup to restore from.
  2. On a Mac which has your iPhone SDK and Xcode, download the OS 3.0 build. It’s about 229 MiB.
  3. Connect your iPhone to the Mac.
  4. Drag and drop the downloaded file iPhone1,2_3.0_7A238j_Restore.ipsw onto Xcode. Downloaded iPhone OS 3.0
  5. The Xcode Organizer should open up and display your phone with multiple firmware choices – the existing firmware on the phone (I was using 2.2.1) and the new 3.0 firmware. Select the new 3.0 firmware and restore it to your iPhone. This will wipe out all data on the phone! The process takes about 12-15 minutes to flash the phone and update the baseband. At the end the phone will reboot and ask to be connected to iTunes. Xcode Organizer
  6. Connect the phone to iTunes. At this point, iTunes will ask you if you want to setup as a new phone or restore your existing backup. Choose to restore the backup and let iTunes restore the data on the phone. It took about 30 minutes to do this with my phone. iTunes Restore
  7. Again, the phone will reboot and sync with iTunes. At this point, a normal sync will happen and install all your original applications.

After all these changes, the phone should be on OS 3.0: os3.0

Feature hands-on reviews in a subsequent post.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New Tab Page Gets Updates

The New Tab design for Firefox has been getting several updates less than a week into its public announcement. It has been bumped from version 0.0.18 to version 0.0.23 and the most annoying bug – window losing focus when a new tab is opened – has been fixed.

Mozilla is still playing with the layout of the page and the contextual actions have moved to the top of the tab instead of the left. The frequently visited sites and their RSS feeds are looking better with each incremental release. A new feature is the ability to reorder the frequently visited sites simply by dragging and reordering them in a new tab. Here’s how it looks as of version 0.0.23:

newtab

In related Firefox news, the 3.1 beta 3 is out but if you are tired of betas, try out some alphas :-)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Location in GMail Signature

GMail (including Google Apps) has a Labs feature that enables the addition of location to email signatures:

Enable Location in Signature

As with other location-based services from Google, it relies on IP address as well as Google Gears. When this Labs feature is enabled, it adds a new setting to the Signature settings (look under General settings):

Append location

Once this is done, whenever a new email is composed, a line is appended to the signature with the location.

Seems like Google’s going overboard with location-in-everything (including offerings like Google Latitude). Weren’t web-based email services supposed to offer location privacy (since originating IP in mail headers was restricted to the IP address of the email provider)?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mozilla Labs – New Tab Page For Firefox

Mozilla Labs have revealed a new design for the New Tab page in Firefox. It’s designed to be zero-configuration and minimally distracting to users. The current version divides the New Tab page into contextual actions on the left and quick-access to sites on the right side. The list of sites is driven by the concept of frecency (jargon for frequent + recent) with support for RSS feeds on sites which appear in the list. Here’s a screenshot of how the Google Reader site appears in the list:

Google Reader in New Tab

The contextual actions are designed like Ubiquity and provide one-click access to a useful action. For example, here’s the one-click to undo a previous Close Tab action:

Undo Close Tab

Likewise, with something in the clipboard, the contextual action displays a one-click Search button:search In tests so far, there’s one annoying bug – bringing up the New Tab page seems to lose focus from the address bar and from the Firefox window! Other comments on the Mozilla Labs page have also highlighted the privacy issues with showing RSS feeds like Gmail in the New Tab page. In its present state, it seems like Chrome and Safari 4 provide a much better experience for the New Tab page.

If you are using the Firefox 3.1 beta or newer release, the New Tab prototype is available as an extension.