All sorts of factors can affect the price of a house, and this is something I have been giving a lot of thought to recently as I contemplate buying a property. At the moment house prices have fallen at the end of a long boom, but come the next boom a new factor might have a major impact: broadband speeds. Some might howl at this idea and still think of an Internet connection as a trivial matter, but the seeds of this issue have already been sown. Broadband connections in the UK (and I suspect many other countries) and sadly not created equally, and people living in different areas and properties will get dramatically different levels of service; and will often be left with only two solutions if they want a faster connection: hope things improve, or move.
This week I have been lucky enough to be one of the first people in the UK to have a play with a product that 3 are bringing out today (Friday 18th September): the MiFi. What on earth is a "MiFi" you might ask? It is a small device that combines a mobile broadband modem, a WiFi router and a battery. You can easily carry it around with you, and connecting to it is no more complicated than connecting to any other WiFi hotspot. Up to five devices can be connected to it, you won't need any extra drivers or configuration packages and yes it works on Ubuntu. You can also connect devices to it that can't use a mobile broadband dongle, like iPod Touches and Internet radio devices and locked down corporate laptops that you can't install software on to. I was invited to an event in London on Monday by the folk at 3MobileBuzz and got to find out about the device, as well as be loaned one to try it out.
There was once a time when the computer industry was not really people orientated, instead the focus was on pushing data around and worrying about nothing but algorithms. Those days ended with the arrival of Web 2.0, the web changed forever, the model of top-down publishing of content was revolutionised by the idea of users generating content and maintaining connections with each other through social networks. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have brought the web alive as a social space, but what if you want to implement some of these ideas on your own site? This is where Michael Peacock's new book Drupal 6 Social Networking may come in very handy.
ITV is the main terrestrial commercial TV network in the UK. They have a TV catch up service called ITV Player which somewhat unusually delivers programmes not using Flash but instead Microsoft Silverlight, there is a port to Linux called Moonlight, but it doesn't work for me. Today though I found out that the Scottish version of ITV; STV has its own TV-on-demand catchup service, and a rather good one too. Programmes are delivered through Flash, so they can be viewed on Linux, but that is not all; I noticed that the site also has RSS feeds, which is quite unusual for a TV-on-demand service. Naturally I wondered if this feed could be adapted for use on Boxee, so I need never miss X-Factor again.
This week I have been off work using up a bit of leave, but the weather has been rather autumnal, so it has been perfect conditions to stay in, take a break from work stuff and play some computer games. I thought it would be nice to explore a bit open source gaming on my Ubuntu powered Acer Aspire Revo nettop, not the most powerful machine, but it does feature the Nvidia ION chipset so should theoretically be capable of outputting some decent graphics. Putting open source and gaming together might seem an odd concept, after all modern computer games take vast teams and big budgets to produce, but there are some decent games out there. Additionally, for those interested in games development, open source games provide a unique opportunity to learn from existing code and adapt games to new uses.
Users of the Apple Mac are looking forward to the release of Snow Leopard this week, the new version of their operating system. I've been watching the news of this in my Twitter stream and gather that it will cost an Apple user £25 to upgrade. So in a way, those of us who use free open source operating systems have saved money yet again, we are £25 up, but what to do with it? Here are some ideas:
Trolley dash in a pound shop
Make yourself sick on flapjacks
Take your partner for 2 1/2 meals at a 2 for £10 restaurant
If you change your login password you might find that you get prompted for your "default keyring" password, this can be annoying, and sadly it isn't obvious how to change this to be the same as your new login password (or another password if you are being ultra secure!). Even searching the web can take a while to find a solution, but fortunately it was out there courtesy of a commenter named "David" in this post:
A fun project that you can do with open source software and some carefully chosen hardware is to build yourself a media centre PC. This is a very different computing experience from a desktop or netbook, it can stream content from the Internet to your TV, act as a PVR, be a jukebox and stream media files to devices such as Internet radios in your home. When you connect a computer to your TV though you need a very different user interface to control it compared to a desktop or a netbook, everything must be visible and usable from ten feet away from the screen, content and functionality navigable by a simple remote control, and even content must be different, more video and audio focused and less text heavy. On Linux systems we're really lucky in having a wide range of media centre software options, popular choices include Boxee, MythTV, XBMC and Freevo. The problem is that these tend to run on top of desktop versions of Linux and certain functionality requires that you exit "set top box" mode and use a desktop or the command line.
Netbooks are very useful devices, not just for web surfing and looking at your email for for all sorts of different purposes, some more obvious than others. These devices are all about mobility, but while you are out and about there could be situations where setting up a wireless network to connect a group of machines might be handy and of course Internet access makes this even more useful. Maybe you have a device you would like to use with the Internet while you are away, but it only has WiFi connection (e.g. some portable media players like the iPod Touch) and you cannot plug your 3G mobile broadband modem into it. As long as you have 3G coverage you can have a WiFi hotspot wherever you go, and you don't need to bring a dedicated router as a netbook powered by Ubuntu (or Easy Peasy) can easily fulfill this function.
Netbooks have become a bit of a haven of innovation when it comes to operating system user experience design. While proprietary operating systems have settled for just working or not being unusably slow on netbooks, Linux distributions have become drivers of change, questioning the traditional approaches to a computer desktop and designing new experiences like the "Easy Mode" interface on the Xandros Asus EEE PCs, Ubuntu's Netbook Remix interface and Intel's Moblin project. Jolicloud is a derivative of Ubuntu Netbook Remix that aims to bring "the cloud" and your netbook closer than ever before by keeping all of your data on the web and using the operating system simply as a launcher for web apps. It is still an alpha at the moment, so it might change quite a lot before release, but thanks to Dan Monsieurle I managed to get an invite (which was needed at the time) and decided to take it for a test drive on my Asus EEE PC.