Sunday, May 8, 2011

MayDay Wrap Up; Live & Learn

It has truly been a learning experience. I am convinced that there is more that can be done with this little computer to improve its usefulness. Out of the box, it really is no better than what they label it as, an Internet device. It takes just a few improvements, and a little determination. It's not fast; this is probably a combination of problems. The earlier models had greater problems, but they seem to have improved the little machines a bit.
I am sadly no longer convinced that out of the box these little computers are any more useful than what the package says. Mine works because I was willing to invest the time and dig. My concern is that the average person will buy them and be really turned off by what is in the box.
Fortunately, I've had the opportunity to learn computing with systems that had to be built on both the hardware and software levels. For $99, these little machines cost as much as many of the components of those older computers. It was good the best way to learn, at least for me.
Going to keep plugging away with this computer, obviously not giving up on it.
Pretty sure you'll be reading all about it here...

Friday, May 6, 2011

MayDay +6

It is now day six of MayDay. As a standalone unit, the Smartbook is great, once better software is installed. One of the first things I did when I originally received the tiny netbook was to look for a source for PocketWord, the stripped down word processor that normally comes bundled with Windows CE. With that installed, the search for other useful software began. If you locate the Windows CE 6 Programs zip file, you will find a number of useful applications (a good source is the Sylvania Netbook group at Yahoo; you will need to join, and I recommend doing so).
If you need more productivity software, though, you start to run into issues. The best source is SoftMaker and their suite of applications for Windows CE. They all work fine, if a little sluggish. The trial version of the software runs for thirty days. The price for the suite, though, is pricey compared to the device it's running on; almost $80 USD. For now, contenting myself with PocketWord.
Internet access is another matter entirely.
The built-in browser is supposedly Internet Explorer 6; at least that's what a number of sites say. Based upon the experience I've had with my Jornada, I get the feeling that IE6 for CE is nothing more than Pocket Internet Explorer with tweaks. Regardless, Internet Explorer 6 for CE reports itself as IE6. A few years ago, that would not have been a big deal.
It is now, however; there is a very active pogram underway to rid the Internet of the final vestiges of IE6 support.
The sheer number of sites that do not load properly in the browser is now staggering. These were sites that I could access with Internet Explorer 5 for Macintosh that IE6 should have been able to handle with ease. Not the case anymore. Even Blogger has joined the fray; my own blogs do not load properly.
There are two other browsers I've played with, both varying degrees of success. One is the Iris browser. This lightweight browser uses the WebKit engine and renders most sites adequately enough. But it lacks features that I need.
The best browser I've used on my Smartbook has been Opera Mini. Even this is not perfect, but it has far greater utility for me than the others. It is an acquired taste; it is meant for mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. It does render pages well enough, though many sites tend to load in their mobile versions.
At least Blogger Dashboard loads, if in stripped down form.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Rara Avis

I use the term "rara avis" quite a bit to describe just that, rare birds. It appears as though my Sylvania is something of a rara avis in that it was from the between generation of units that has not suffered a failure. At least, that's the impression that an Internet search will give you.
The dates on many of these posts are telling; mid to late 2010, a few early 2011. Then they taper off. My unit was purchased in November by Jamie, and material in the packaging seems to indicate that it was probably made autumn 2011. If that's the case, it may have just missed the problem batches. Later units seem to work fine (my back-up machine seems to run well enough). The Smartbook I'm on works fine, post upgrade.
It turns out that the netbook's manufacturer actually calls them "Smartbooks". WonderMedia designed these inexpensive computers for the Chinese market. When they were initially sold in China, they were a success. After settling on the design and a choice of operating systems (though the end user has no real say; you get either Windows CE or Android), they were exported to the United States.
A number of importers sell them directly, but Sylvania is the primary source.
I've read time and time again about the problems that people are having with their Smartbooks. What I am unable to find are Chinese sites talking about problems with the Smartbook. I'm sure they exist.
I am beginning to wonder though if many of the problems with the Smartbook are no different than those of other new products, and that eventually they will all leave the assembly lines able to run fine right out of the box. Perhaps that's the case right now.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


This week, beginning on May 1st, I have been limiting allmy computer time to my little Windows CE netbook. Dubbed Operation MayDay, this is a test to stretch the limits of basic inexpensive computers, from the hardware level up. So far, things have been pretty smooth. This can go either way.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Where Do You Think You Want To Try To Go Today?

One of my biggest gripes about the Internet has been its tendency to carelessly, one might say heartlessly, move forward in sudden leaps and leave systems behind. This has to be expected; it's technology, after all, and it is going to keep on doing that.
The thing is, though, many techie types also claim to be green, that is to say, they believe in efficiency over waste, that it is far better to recycle than to dispose of older systems.
The opposite appears to be the truth.
They want you to update your systems, not just in terms of software but in hardware.
A good example would be websites that demand that they cannot be seen effectively with anything but graphics chipset X. These are few and far between, but they are out there. Then there are the sites that make use of a fair or above average amount of Flash or Java, and always the newest version. The solution? Update both, right? Suppose, though, that the browser you're using is at end-of-life, or say the operating system. Now, you have a quandary; what if your system will support neither?
One solution to this was found by the folks who developed the SkyFire browser. Their approach is unique; the browser doesn't render the page, their server do, and the browser simply works as a client. Of course, this technology is limited to a handful of systems, and is not currently supported on Windows CE or Mobile at this time. While it works well, they have a tremendous amount of control. We have now returned to the issue of non-supported systems.
To test a few of my ideas, I'm currently sitting in the cafe of a bookstore that offers free "WiFi", courtesy AT&T, and I am on the Sylvania. It loads in Pocket Internet Explorer, but its behavior is... suspect. Clearly, something going on. There is a possibility that there was a welcome page that was supposed to have loaded that didn't; when my home page came up, there was also a "Cannot Find Page" message in the address bar. Otherwise, it seems to be working well. The real test is going to be Opera Mini...
...which also seems sluggish, and furthermore seems to be having a hard time with secure webpages. The other browser on my Sylvania is Iris, and it too has issues, though it connects very well. Its problems seem to be an inability to cut and paste. Troublesome, to say the least, since I actually write in PocketWord.
These are minor gripes, to be sure. Obviously, solutions need to be found. I have yet to test out a Linux on these smaller devices (be it JLime on the Jornada or Debian on the Sylvania). If we are to expect everyone to have access to the Internet, we need to examine the ways they get there.
Or try to.

Monday, April 25, 2011

It's All About The Options

There is a reason I keep going back to content creation.
And that is simply because it is important.
The most important thing that these devices can, and I might add should,
be able to do is the creation of content. This is what the participation
society wants; more participation. Simply consuming content is allowing
control to be handed over to those uncaring and cold market forces which
feign concern but are truly disinterested. Too often, your input is
This past week, I was gifted with a Sylvania 7" Android tablet. It is
purely a device for consumption.Even the material contained in the box
were admonitions; "this is not a computer". As if repeating that mantra
would make it so.
It is, nonetheless, a computer. Just one with restrictions, caveats a plenty.
But, like the 7" netbook, it has plenty of untapped potential.
Simply adding a keyboard is a step in the right direction. While it may
void the waranty, I also advise rooting the tablet. This is going to give
the user much more power over the tablet and its capabilities.
A perfect set of applications for the tablet would be a small editor and a
graphics program. The ability to write is a given, but what could be more
natural for a tablet than a way to draw and paint? These sort of
applications are sorely lacking in the Android realm, and in fact seem to
be missing from the tablet world altogether.
Yet these devices, along with the inexpensive netbook, are so close to the
original concept of the DynaBook. They have come incredibly closer than
ever, yet the goal seems to remain elusive.
It's time to wrest control away from the powers that be and return it to
the users. Or at least give us the option.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

And Another Thing...

Still on the Jornada here. I decided to see if I could read my blog from
my Jornada, but discovered that it always resulted in locking up Pocket
Internet Explorer. Knowing that adding the tag "?m=1" after the Blogger
address allowed for the site to work in Opera for my 7" netbook, I decided
to try the same here. Slightly better, still locked. Finally, noticed that
Google loaded in this device with another tag, "output=html".
What if we added that output tag, but changed it to text?
The combination that worked was "?m=1&output=text" ; for example...
Not elegant, but hey, it works!
On to more experimentation...
(Note - I had to come in here and clean this up with the netbook. Seems that email posts don't recognize HTML)