Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Geek Report

Thanks to some programming I helped a good friend with, I am the happy recipient on an iPod Touch. Basically, it is an iPhone without the phone part. After some messing around with, I declare it to be a pretty good geek toy. In the spirit of Swinebread, I will enumerate my likes and dislikes with this device:


  • Hey, it is a computer! I can surf the web with Safari, watch YouTube videos, use Google Maps, etc.

  • It has a good Wi-Fi interface that allows for security without having to know which type of encryption, etc. Just type the key and go.

  • 8 GB is enough room for a LOT of music. (They have 32GB for you bigtime pirates out there)
  • The best manual data entry of the PDA world. Having used Palm and Pocket PC, I know whereof I speak.

  • Sound quality is great with the given earbud headphones.

  • Friggin' A! It is free. What more could one want besides independent wealth and world peace?


  • While the input is good, speech recognition would be better and within the abilities of the device. Doing an email takes TOO long.

  • No Copy and Paste. WTF??

  • Developers must program using Objective C or web pages. Objective C is used by NOTHING ELSE ON THE WHOLE PLANET. Kind of like Microsoft's .NET platform except worse.

  • I signed up for the Apple Developer Program and NONE of the DOWNLOAD LINKS WORK!

  • Sometimes I would like to continue my music shuffle from where I was but, if I wait too long, sometimes the interface makes me start over and it will replay tunes I've recently heard.

Ubuntu Linux Goes to Back Burner

Overall, I like Linux and the strides they've made are tremendous, but there are a couple of things holding me back on this particular PC.

1. The PC is an older AMD running at about 1.6 GHz with a crummy on-board video card. The newer video and multimedia on Linux taxes the system too much to be useful. YouTube and multiple browser tabs are the worst. Win 2000 handled it much better, but it still sucked. (Special note to Adobe, make Flash run faster for Linux or Die Trying.)

2. While Linux can read and write my old Windows NTFS drive, it does so EXTREMELY poorly and often preempts other tasks for some time while it sits there doing nothing. Until I can back that drive up completely (100GB+), I can't do much with it.

Meanwhile, my employer replaced my Sony UX micro-mini Windows PC with another laptop, so I am able to bring that home and, as of yesterday, it is now my main PC with the Linux PC running as a file server until I can archive the data and reformat with a Linux-friendly filesystem and try again. (Given that Windows can't play nicely with anybody, I should cut some slack to the system that at least tries to: Linux.)

Steam Punk Gets Serious
The comments section of some earlier post of mine contained a web link to a Mac Mini redone in 19th century style (like the Wil Smith movie "Wild, Wild, West" .

Well, it appears that Charles Babbage's plans for computer called the Difference Engine #2 designed in 1849 is finally seeing the light of day. Wired Magazine tells us,

thanks to Microsoft multimillionaire Nathan Myhrvold, a second Difference Engine has been built and delivered to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, where trained docents will turn its brass handle to crank out the calculations Babbage dreamed of automating.

For anyone who enjoyed Computer Science 101 in college (and there were darn few I am sure), Babbage is a big name. If I had millions, I could only hope that I would do something crazy and impulsive, so reverent and cool.

The Story of Breaking the Nazi Enigma Machine

As long as we are on the subject of the big league historical computer thinkers, Alan Turing is one of the biggest. The Church-Turing thesis has implications that reach into computer science, physics, and philosophy. What I did not know is that Turing worked on breaking the codes of the Enigma encryption machines used by the Nazis in World War II.

This article at the website (discovered thanks to security expert Bruce Schneier) outlines a very interesting history of the process of breaking the German code that has ramifications here in the computer age.

I guess the NSA is good for something besides scaring people on April Fools Day. Here is the first paragraph to get you started:

As the German military grew in the late 1920s, it began looking for a better way to secure its communications. It found the answer in a new cryptographic machine called "Enigma." The Germans believed the encryption generated by the machine to be unbreakable. With a theoretical number of ciphering possibilities of 3 X 10 to the 114 power (sic), their belief was not unjustified. However, they never reached that theoretical level of security. Nor did they count on the cryptanalytic abilities of their adversaries.

This articles looks at how we decrypted German codes and also how the Germans were able to intercept our secret communications as well. Interesting read.


ladybug said...

All totally awesome articles...Geeks unite!...I'm gonna start w/the Enigma machine myself...

Overdroid said...

You should read the Cryptonomicon if you haven't read it. You probably already have.

Dean Wormer said...


could you use the i-thingy as a pda/ organizer? I'm looking for a cheap way to do this for the spouse without the need for email or phone.

Don Snabulus said...




I actually have not read Cryptonomicon, but I should.


The iPod Touch is almost as spendy as the iPhone (as in $299 for the cheapest one). You can get inexpensive organizers that sync with the 'puter for MUCH cheaper.

Here is one that only costs a little over $40.

The Moody Minstrel said...

That was an interesting read. Thanks for the link!

My little Zaurus PDA comes in VERY handy...once in a while. The rest of the time it tends to languish in its resting place. I just haven't gotten into the habit. COme to think of it, I don't use my iPod nearly as much as I should, either. I guess I just haven't fully embraced the age.

Speaking of age, it gets pretty depressing when students go up to the old typewriter at the back of the English classroom and say, "What's this?"

catpsi said...

yeah, no copy & paste! wth indeed... Still, I use the iTouch alot (am using it now!), mostly for web, then email, followed by the standard PDA stuff of contacts & calendar. biggest gripe is the lack of ability to use it as a USB drive. Inside of a year I think we'll see a lot of good software for it though. obj c is used extensively by developers in os x, it's not just an iTouch thing. I could be wrong but I think you can recompile other c's in obj c easily too. So anything that will recompile into c should be able to go there in a roundabout fashion, no?

Pandabonium said...

"A Man Called Intrepid" is an early and interesting work about the Enigma machine.

As for cell phones, rassberries, blueberries, or whatever.... Personally, I'd rather not carry around a way for others to reach me/trace me/spy on me/give me a brain tumor. But suit yourself.

If you want to reach me, leave an email or message on my phone answering machine. I'll get it and answer it at my convenience, not yours. So much less stress. Who needs it?

Don Snabulus said...


students go up to the old typewriter at the back of the English classroom and say, "What's this?"

I hear you. When I was in school, only a couple people even had PCs and I had a cheap typewriter that I used to type reports in college.


Yeah, the USB feature would be a wonderful thing. In fact, if Apple just let it be a full computer, it would be an awesome device.

Sorry about the confusion, I meant OS X as a whole (which the iPods also use) when referring to Objective C. The problem is that current C development (which lacks object-orientation) is found mostly in Linux console apps nowadays. The vast majority of GUI apps are written in newer languages (C++, VB, Java, etc.). I am still interested in it because of Apple's innovative customer features, but I wish they could get more common ground with other platforms.


When people refer to "the old ball and chain" nowadays, maybe they are referring to their electronics and not their wives.

Dean Wormer said...



Swinebread said...

I thought about a getting and iPod Touch, but then what the point without the phone... ;)

The fact that the have Charles Babbage's Difference Engine #2 is way too cool. love that they did this. It's similar to how they are building the machines and statues of Da Vinci

Overdroid said...

I thought about an iPhone, but then I got a palm phone for 150$ and two years of indentured servitude to AT&T!

Pa've said...

If we hadn't discovered the transistor, would we be using nanotechnology to create miniature babbage calculating amchines.