Tuxdroid with Debian (lenny/testing)

I ordered a tuxdroid from Firebox, and although they politely emailed me during the week to say that stock was delayed and it would be next week, they sent my tuxdroid yesterday and it arrived today, excellent service.

I’m used to buying hardware and discarding the CD that comes with it, since it’s usually windows only, but this is a GNU/Linux only device, and it doesn’t even come with software. I had already downloaded the setup program from their website in .deb form. I had to install python-ctypes before the .deb would install but after that all was routine. I also downloaded the UK voices, though they have some issues, notably they mispronounce some words used by the tuxdroid software, such as “tux” itself.

My nabaztag and tuxdroid together

It was routine to put the device together, a RF dongle in the shape of a fish (really) plugs into the USB on your computer, and communicates with the penguin. I plugged in the penguin to charge him up (very sensibly he has a rechargeable battery pack, which should make him much more portable than the nabaztag, and despite the instructions saying otherwise, I had to turn him on. His eyes lit up and he said hello. Very nice. Next I ran the tuxgi program, not the main executable, but just to play with the device. All seemed to be working pretty well.


I now ran the main gadget manager, which is installed in the accessories part of the gnome menu. I downloaded some gadgets from the community website and started to play. I was aware that not everything was working correctly. In particular the device claimed to be looking for a firmware upgrade interminably, and some gadgets like the RSS one locked up the manager. A little digging revealed this was due to Python 2.4 being used rather than 2.5. I quickly confirmed that 2.5 was already installed, but the issue is that at least for now, Debian links /usr/bin/python to python2.4, not 2.5.

tuxdroid in programming mode

So, I went into /usr/local/bin/ and edited the following scripts tuxfw, tuxgi, tuxsh and explicitly changed the python to python2.5. Now, when reloading the gadget manager, I was immediately warned of a firmware upgrade and went through the process to do this. This is interesting in itself, a programming lead is used to make a physical connection between the fish and the penguin. The upgrade failed first time, but was successful the second time. The RSS feeder gadget also no longer crashes.

Here’s an example of the change to show how trivial it is.

Initial thoughts on the device are positive. It seems well designed, even for example, disabling its ability to turn when the power cable is plugged in. The gadgets show great potential. A remote control is supplied that allows the gadget manager to be controlled through the penguin. Continue reading Tuxdroid with Debian (lenny/testing)

Netgear DG834G firmware problems

I have a nabaztag, a wifi rabbit, but it hasn’t been functional for some time now. I’ve lacked the time to explore why, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve spent about 10 hours all in all testing various things. The problem seems to be with my Netgear DG834G v3 (UK) router, or at least the interactions between them.

Essentially, the rabbit is configured to connect to the network and then has four orange lights, that go progressively green as it goes through the connection phases. When the wifi is unencrypted all the lights go green, but for any other encryption setup, not a single light turns green, suggesting that the rabbit cannot see the router.

I found that some people are having similar problems with the PS3 and have reported that old firmware resolves the issue six months ago. Unfortunately the firmware to fix it is so old it’s off the main websites, but you can find it on the development website for netgear.

That might be intimidating since this site is intended for people trying to play with the code (which I’ve done myself once or twice), but no coding is required here, you just need to download 4.01.20 firmware (for the UK) and find a tool that can bunzip and tar extract the archive. Of course, in GNU/Linux, this is a snap ;-).

I’m writing this up in case some other pour soul is using Google to look for the same issue, as I did some days ago. It’s only when I started to focus on WPA problems with the router that I found these references. I reported some bugs with NTP handling in the DG834GT (emails have the wrong month name in the date header in the second half of the year), and Netgear has never fixed for them yet :-(. I may have to do it myself.

My Old UFO sighting

I promised previously, when talking about UFO sightings over Bangor, that I would record my own here.

As I mentioned then, this doesn’t imply alien craft, but an unidentified flying object, and I’m pretty certain this wasn’t such a craft, or if so, the pilot probably needs an extensive driving ban. Anyway, here’s my record from my log book at the time.

Date: 26th September 1991, Observers: Myself, Dad, Tom Nelson

Seen: Saturn at 117x, Seeing: II, Transparency: Very Good

Saturn seemed exceptionally clear but broke up at 166x. It is descending further into the south of the sky. A 17 day old moon foiled another attempt at M31.

I noted a series of about 6-10 flashes from 10:00 pm to 10:25 pm. I was one of the “objects” at about 10:20 pm. About 3-4 Hours Right Ascension, 60 – 80 degrees Declination. It looked like a wobbly meteor with a flash easily magnitude, say, -2 or brighter. Saw another at 10:30 pm. No further flashes. Could have been an astronomical event or some domestic problem.

My observation from the night
My observation from the night

I’m glad I recorded this carefully. The then president of the Irish Astronomical Association (of which I was a member then) was from Bangor, and was laughed at for his similar report, so it was helpful to have some more evidence. I still don’t know what I saw, it was very bright for a meteor, and of course, they should go in a straight line. I have speculated that there was a rupture in the side of the object from which gas was venting, perhaps causing it to travel in a helical path which would have looked “wobbly” from my perspective on the ground. You can click on the thumbnail of my sketch at the time to see my sensational artistic talent.

Sharp Steel Sword (SwordStore.com) redux

My sword arrived from the USA and got caught in customs for a while, I went to collect it and pay the import tax on the 2nd January. Since then I’ve been looking at it quite carefully. I was relieved customs had not opened it (not because of any legal concerns, it is all perfectly legal, but because in the past I have witnessed people all to keen to play with these items, to potentially distastrous consequences).

First of all SwordStore itself handled everything excellently, with perfect courtesy throughout, and seemed genuinely eager for feedback on the new arrival. These swords are constructed in Japan with, I think, parts from both Japan and China. The sword was carefully packaged.

I carefully checked all the fittings before removing the sword from its saya (scabbard); they were all of a good standard and fitted well, there was no damage apparent from shipping. The tsuka (handle) is longer than my current sword, which is good, since my hands are quite large, the same (shark skin) is nice, and the ito (wrap) is extremely tight and well finished. It is blue silk and so the handle feels a little less bulky than my current sword that is wrapped in cotton (incidentally that sword, from Tozando in Japan, still has exceptionally tight wrap after 7 years). I am very pleased with the cherry blossom tsuba.

So, on to the blade. I drew the blade carefully (not Iaido style) to ensure everything was in good order. The blade is beautiful, with a nice pattern in the steel, the hamon is pretty, and could be polished up even more beautifully at some later stage. This sword is 2.5 shaku, a little longer than my old 2.45 shaku sword, and is heavy. Obviously it’s a little longer and made of steel, but the blade has a lot of meat, the sword is fairly thick and the thickness doesn’t diminish much (or maybe at all) until it reaches the boshi, just before the kissaki (tip). The balance feels further along the blade than a regular iaito, and perhaps it will be too much to wield. Having said that, every time I pick the sword up it feels lighter to me now. The blade is very sharp, and when I tried to place it back in its saya, again carefully for now sliding the mune (back) carefully into the saya, and found that the blade bound up in the saya very slightly when about 10 cm of blade was still out. After a few more insertions this problem has gone, the blade has literally cut a little of the material in the way free. The sword locks tightly in its saya when pushed fully home (importantly), and I next carefully cleaned the blade, applied fresh clove oil, and fitted the scabbard protector that had been awaiting its arrival.

Sword comparison. Alumium alloy iaito on top, carbon steel below.
Sword comparison. Alumium alloy iaito on top, carbon steel below.

I placed my two swords down side by side as you can see here (click for a larger image), the new sword is below. You can see its fittings are generally silver. The new sword has a longer hi (groove) that goes right under the habaki. The new sword has silver lilies as menuki, the other fittings are chrysanthemum except for the tsuba which is, I think, iron, fairly small, round with a large cherry blossom pattern. The meguki (bamboo peg) holding the blade in is tight, and trumpet shaped, looking a lot less like the dowel of my old sword. Also, both ends are easily accessible, where in my old sword the peg is partly obscured on one side by the ito.

Grain pattern on steel iaito
Close up, artificial halogen light

Paddy very kindly brought down his superior camera power so we could capture some pictures of the grain in the sword. Again, these are thumbnails you can click on for larger images. The structure of the steel is very pleasing, and one of these photos even shows tiny pits in the steel in the centre of the frame.

Another close-up, flash used this time.
Another close-up, flash used this time.

I’ve used the sword for training for about four hours now. It is heavy. I checked it against John’s sword which is the same length, also from swordstore some years ago. The two blades are quite different, mine appears to be folded, where John’s is perhaps not. Mine is much heavier and the balance is further along the blade. In all the time I’ve used it I’m rapidly growing accustomed to the weight, and as I’m bigger than most perhaps I can more easily wield a heavier sword for now, but more time will tell I think. At first I found I could not perfectly get the cutting angle of the sword right, but I seem to have adapted quickly to the new sword, and if anything cutting more correctly (with more left hand for example) seems to improve the angle.

All in all, I’m very pleased. The service from swordstore was excellent, the steel is beautiful and the hamon although beautiful could probably be improved even further at some future time with a further polish. It seems like it would be a spectacular sword for test cutting, and indeed SwordStore sell two variants of these, one for such test cutting without a hi, and one for Iaido with a hi. My only minor worry – the blade may be too heavy and thick near the point for ideal Iaido training. Time will tell, as I said, I’m getting more used to it all the time.


Today (15th January 2008) I got an interesting email from SwordStore that confirmed a number of things:

  • the steel blades can only be made under license in Japan, as in a fully fledged shinken, so the blades are made in China and the whole thing is assembled in Japan to keep the costs down;
  • the tsuba is not made of iron, but of “patinated jewelers bronze” which doesn’t have the rust problem, can more easily take the details from the antique originals and will also mellow with use attractively;
  • the blades are not fully polished since this would put the cost up substantially (polishing is a very time intensive, skilled activity), also the emphasis is quite rightly on an affordable, functional sword;
  • the blades do come in a number of weights, and a heavier one was specifically requested for me in order since I had mentioned in an email that I would probably use the sword for cutting as well as for standard iai practice.

So there you are, if you were thinking of buying a sword from SwordStore I would strongly endorse them, and be aware that they can select from weights of blades somewhat (each one will be unique) for your requirements.

Garmin Nuvi 310d

I bought a Garmin Nuvi 310 sat nav system over the holidays.

It is a nice device, a good size, neither too small nor large, and the “d” bundle came with most of the accessories one might want, like the USB cable, carry case, mountings and so on, as well as a DVD with map information, that I haven’t gone near yet.

I discovered with some pleasure that at least one upgrade was installable on Debian GNU/Linux using the Java application at their site, whether or not it will be possible to avoid Windows for upgrades in all cases I don’t yet know.

The maps are accurate, with only a small number of very new changes not appearing on them so far, the device calculates, and recalculates routes quickly, and acquires a satellite lock very rapidly, even without the external antenna. It’s a nice feature that the internal antenna turns off the power to the GPS as soon as its closed up. A comprehensive list of categorized destinations, such as restaurants, airports, hospitals and shops is very easy to access. The screen is bright and easy to control.

One reason I bought this model is that it can act as a bluetooth handsfree kit for a phone, in my case a Sony Ericsson K800i. I have a headset, but this was a big draw for the extra money for me. Out of the box, I paired it with my phone quickly, and I am able to receive calls with good clarity with no problems. Beautifully the device accesses the phone books, call lists and so on from your phone allowing a nice interface to it from the device directly.

I did hit one big problem, I could not dial out. None of that functionality worked, the garmin “dialled” the number but the phone did nothing. I contacted Garmin support today (their website is … um … awful for support navigation) and was immediately told the phone needed an update. I was surprised, and skeptical since the phone has continuously told me that it has the latest software when I have asked it to update itself. Nevertheless, I went to the Sony Ericsson website and found a Windows (yuck), Flash (yuck) program for updating the phones. They were correct, there was an update for the phone and it has done the trick.

All in all, first impressions are a great device. One tiny niggle… I wish the keyboard could be laid out in QWERTY format rather than ABCDE.