Friday, October 13, 2017

The Smith Corona Personal Word Processor laptop

I might have written a similar post before, but this herein offers ideas as to why I keep revisiting this device.

Once as a kid, I saw an advert for the subject matter in the Smithsonian Magazine, which mag was once handed to a relative of mine. As I finally got my hands on the journal, a page in it was dedicated to this beautiful advertisement for that machine.

Here's a separate picture of the beauty available on Flickr.

Now, the Personal Word Processor (PWP) is from ca. 1989, or 28 or so years ago as of this posting.

For its time, the device's industrial design was gorgeous, so it captured my imagination, and was thus etched into my mind. Note, that the breadth of my knowledge of computer tech back then was still somewhat limited.

What confused me even then, was this: Why would one build a dedicated word processor instead of a computer that could do that and more?

A quarter century later, I learned, that it was intentionally built as a rather limited machine, and so it lacked the kind of functionality that would have made it reasonably future-proof.

My best guess is, that the project might have taken quite a long while in the product development pipeline, and was maybe even late to market, as full-fledged notebook computers as we know them now, were just around the corner.

One possible cause for PWP's probable simmering in the pipeline may have been the small screen, for which software had to be custom-made. And that always takes time.

Whereas a full-fledged PC-compatible notebook akin to Compaq LTE and just with DOS, would have enormously reduced the time-to-market — DOS ran WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, WordStar, and lots more; people trained on these would have taken very little effort to migrate. Ironically, Compaq LTE was released the same year.

Compared to PWP, Compaq LTE had a bigger and standard-sized screen, a hard drive, a standard diskette drive (PWP's Data Disk was non-standard), had some standard expansion ports, a modem, and included DOS.

Smith-Corona could have built one such general-purpose notebook computer (or even a series of those), and priced it competitively, but didn't.

So, in that same year of 1989, Compaq LTE was released, and completely changed the portables market.

In 1988 (then a year earlier), NEC UltraLite was introduced. The new and reasonably innovative thing about it was the familiar laptop form-factor in consumer space, but it notably lacked a hard drive, and was deathly expensive. (GRID Compass was the first one to have a clamshell design, but it was used in space and aeronautics.)

Smith-Corona could have provided the machine with their simple-to-use software layer anyway, which could have been made to auto-start at power-up. — And marketed it like they did, as a dedicated word processor that could double as a low-end computer.

Computer-literate people could have used a switch, a function, or a key combination to use advanced computer functions, and computer-illiterate people could have used it as a simple word processor and spreadsheet machine.

Nowadays, when compared to full-fledged computers of the time, the Smith-Corona Personal Word Processor feels like a feature phone to today's smartphones.

A cheap Android tablet almost feels the same or like a (limited) home computer of the 1980s, compared to a tablet PC with Windows or Linux.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What causes user interface lag (yank) in Android, and remedies to that

This was meant as a reply in /. about lag in Android durin gaming.

The lags are there, because there are processes in the background doing something.

• Switch off all other running tasks.
• Check the services running in the background, and all the currently running processes to find out, what's going on.
• Switch off the animated main screen background image, and replace it with a still one.

The two things always causing mayhem during normal phone operations, were and are Google Play Services and Google Play Store apps automatically updating in the background at the expense of everything else. There is no notification or wait-until-idle-and-then-some period. On many occasions, I just had to wait until the phone was responsive again, and when checking in settings for apps, the version numbers of these two apps had been bumped up.

Another culprit is synchronisation — of all your data, and especially the sync of all your photos. Switch off sync in almost all the apps you have. Except maybe Google Play, because without sync for that turned on, the Google Play app won't be able to access the store under you account.

Friday, September 8, 2017

ID-kaart ja Eesti mobiil-ID

Apdeit: Mobiil-ID kuutasu on 1 euro — Tuleb siiski nentida, et tegemist on pideva kuutasuga. Kõnekaartide omanikele, kes oma kõnekaarte tihti ei lae, jääb edaspidigi ID-kaartide kasutamise võimalus. Sest risk on vaid teoreetiline. Aga põhimõtteliselt võiks sellisel juhul kuutasu üldse ära kaotada.

Disclaimer: Kuna ma mobiil-ID-d ise ei kasuta, panin mustandi väheinformeerituna natuke varakult üles, mille pärast tunnen ma ennast nüüd natuke kohmetult. Vähemalt märkisin selle mustandina, aga noh...

Oli: Avalik kiri Eesti mobiilioperaatoritele (mustand, köömes)
Seoses hiljutiste uudistega uuemates Eesti ID-kaartides sisalduvate Gemalto kiipkaartide Gemalto-poolse tarkvara turvalisuse kohta on hüppeliselt kasvanud mobiil-ID kasutajate arv, sest mobiil-ID-d sarnased küsimused ei puuduta.

Spetsialistide tehtud teemakohane kommunikatsioon on igati usaldusväärne.

Küll on mõnede vastutustundetute poliitikute ja parteide avaldused tekitanud ülemäära põhjendamatut ärevust.

Et võimalikke kahtlusi hajutada, saaksid Eesti mobiilioperaatorid ja teised asjaomased asutused võtta ette järgmiseid samme:

* Teha mobiil-ID-ga liitumine septembrist kuni eel- ja e-valimiste perioodi lõpuni maksuvabaks — et see oleks täiesti tasuta, sh. mobiil-ID-d toetav SIM-kaart. Et uue SIM-kaardi järele tuleb tihtipeale tulla operaatori esindusse, tuleb sinna ka rohkem kliente, kes valivad endale äkki uuema telefoni ka.

* E-valimiste perioodil võiks kõik mobiil-ID tehingud olla samuti tasuta, sh digiallkirjastamine. Sellisel viisil oleks mobiil-ID-ga e-hääletamine täiesti tasuta ning teeks hääletamise veelgi ühetaolisemaks (muidu tuleb iga digiallkirjastamise eest maksta operaatorile tasu).

* Niisugust või sarnast kampaaniat saab läbi viia iga kord kui toimuvad valimised; eriti just e-hääletamisperioodil.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A small History of browser support for CSS variables

Firefox support for CSS variables began with version 29 (with the var- prefix, released 29.04.2014) and as an option to be turned on in about:config for this to work.

Support without the custom prefix exists since version 31 (22.07.2014) and with the about:config option turned on by default.

The about:config preference to toggle CSS variables was finally removed in Gecko 55 (08.08.2017), which is the current version; it includes Firefox 55 and other browsers that use the current Gecko rendering engine.

CSS variables have been supported in Google Chrome from the outset with the -webkit-var- prefix and when 'Experimental Web Features' were turned on in chrome://flags.

Prefixed variables functionality existed in Chrome until 33.0.1750 (20.02.2014, Blink 537.36, V8 v3.23.17), and was removed in Chrome 34.0.1847 (08.04.2014, Blink 537.36, V8 v3.24.35) because of performance issues. V8, or Chrome V8, is the JavaScript engine used in Chrome.

Un-prefixed variables were implemented in Chrome 49.0.2623 (02.03.2016, Blink 537.36, V8 v4.9.385). The current Chrome version is 61.0.3163 (05.09.2017, Blink 537.36, V8 v6.1.534).

Monday, August 28, 2017

Post-nova planetary hypothesis

I read a post on Google+ referencing an article about a supernova remnant. I looked at the picture, and as it happens, let my mind and imagination have a flight of fancy. Again. In a post comment, most of which I've brought up here, too.

The entire thing does look spherical, but the sphere is broken up, and its gravity—or that of the centre of the sphere—keeps the remnant elements around it.

I could posit, that it's simply a dwarf star or dwarf remnant of a star, apparently containing that shrapnel of silicon, as the title suggests.

As I looked closer, the silicon is right in the middle of the sphere, so this could either be what's left of the star's core, _or_ that surviving core is inside and in the middle of a surviving planet that moved in to take the former place of what's left of the old star. In the latter case — if it begins to gather new matter, then it will develop into a new star. A stellar renewal of sorts.

If it's a surviving planet, then a question becomes about whether it moved in, or was it pulled into the center—to the position of (around) the remnant core. It looks, like other spheres are also close, which suggests, that they have been pulled in, too.

An evolved star before nova contains concentric shells of silicon, so the silicon simply manifests the inner (surviving?) parts of the shell post-nova.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Evolved_star_fusion_shells.svg

The silicon remnant might rejuvenate.

If its gravity remains greater than that of any surviving panets, it will catch a planet with enough size, enough elements, and a sufficiently strong rotating core. Or one or more planets that each carry one such component, or a combination of those.

My best guess is a gas giant, because, for example, movements of Jupiter's atmosphere are not dissimilar to movements in the Sun's atmosphere. All that differs, is the behaviour of elements because of differing parameters involving gravity and pressure, but general movements do not diverge all that much.

If post-nova, the remnant's gravity is lesser than that of the surviving planet with the greatest gravity, then eventually, these two will merge, and the solar system will reconstitute around the new body.

The trick is to find a matching planet to nest in. If my description is ever found to be accurate, then we're seeing a stellar hatchling.

----
As it is, a supernova usually destroys everything. I suppose, mini-novae can also happen, which might then allow for the stellar rejuvenation described above.

Antoher possibility is, that mini nova happened in another—perhaps neighboring or nearby solar system, and that system's nova wiped out much of its sibling's (or siblings'..) planets and it star. We might simply be looking at the remains of that surviving solar system, which might be trying to rebuild after the catastrophe.

So, a more powerful nova in the distance, or a mini- or micronova right there. The destruction must anyway be survivable enough to allow such processes to move forward.

----
(Unless I got the scale wrong, and the spherical remnant is many light-years in size. But what I see, sure looks what I've desribed above.)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

What a simple Nokia 1616 featurephone can do

I have a very sturdy Nokia 1616 featurephone that I got as a present from a sister.

The phone has an FM radio, a flashlight, a 3.5mm headphone jack that supports compatible headsets, and great battery life.

Its built-in software includes a speakerphone (basically an external speaker), an alarm (duh), a talking clock ("Time is..."), a calendar with reminders, a timer, stopper, calculator, converter, an expenses ledger, three games (Sudoku, Forbidden Treasures, and Solitaire), and the possibility to add preset images to favourite contacts.

And, of course, phone calls and SMS messages, including picture messaging (rarely used now, but this is not MMS).

The clock and calendar also work beyond 2016 and 2017, unlike the two Samsung featurephones I have.

Of all things, an FM radio (with RDS) in a phone of any type is a given feature outside the United States (and maybe the entire North America).

I wrote this in response to a post shared in Google+.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

How to get Skype on the Web to work in Firefox in old Android

As you may already know, Microsoft ceased Skype app support below Android 4.0.3. This covers Android 3.0 and Android 2.3 Gingerbread.

Maybe some of you probably cannot upgrade from these OS versions to Android 4.0.4 or greater, or that you can't upgrade your device. So, I've got a possible solution, but it's very technical, and might not work with every affected device.

If you feel adventurous, then bear with me.

The solution only works on certain devices that have a screen big enough, and a CPU and memory combo that's big enough, too.

What you need

* A reasonably fast device. Slow devices are those with a CPU with 800 MHz or less, and 512 Mb RAM or less. This was my experience, and slow means very slow. In my case, I got Skype on the Web to work, but as it loads in Firefox, the browser takes the entire resources of a device, forces other apps to quit (per Android design), and the entire interface takes three-to-four minutes to load from login to UI.

* The screen resolution must be greater than 320x480 px, because Skype on the Web was not designed for small screens.

Your mileage may vary.

* Another requirement is installation of the NoScript Anywhere extension in Firefox. Technical users already know about this extension. If configured correctly, then NoScript allows reducing overall resource usage while browsing the modern web.

The hardest part is allowing/disallowing sites in NoScript on a subdomain level, because it requires Vim Touch for advanced text editing. (Someone please write an extension to alleviate this issue.)

The soup

Firefox for Android comes with this neat feature, that one can specify site-specific user agent overrides in about:config.
The user agent is a piece of text that a browser sends to a website as identifying information about itself. It contains operating system name and version, and browser name and version. All browsers do that since the first browsers on the web.

about:config is the advanced settings page in Firefox, GNU IceCat, and other browsers that use the Gecko rendering engine. You can access the page by typing about:config in the address bar.
Since Firefox 47 is the most recent version for Android 2.3, you need to modify the user agent string to make Firefox appear like a newer version to allow Skype on the Web to load.

In about:config, create a new setting string by tapping the Plus (+) button; then specify, that the setting is a string, then add the name to the setting:

general.useragent.override.skype.com

For a time, you can leave the string part empty, until you paste the one I suggest here:

The UA string needs to show that the browser is a desktop browser and of a reasonably recent version. The one I use on my device is this:

Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux armv7l; rv:52.0) Gecko/52.0 Firefox/52.0
Some of the items mean the following:
* X11 is the platform part, and means X Window System, the most widespread graphical environment in UNIX/Linux.
* Linux is the OS and the OS kernel name. Because Android uses the Linux kernel, stay with X11 and Linux (though Android uses a different graphical subsystem).
* armv7l — the CPU architecture in my device. Most mobile devices running Android 2.3 and 4.0 have that, and it's the one variable that you can change. The letter after number 7 is not 1 (one), but a lower-case L.
If your device is based on ARMv6, then it's more rare and physically less fast, and the most recent supported Firefox for that is version 31.3.0esr (also for Android 2.2 Froyo). You can use ARMv6 in the string, if you know the correct nomenclature naming of the architecture (I haven't looked it up), and it's actually in your device.
* rv: stands for revision;
* Gecko is the name of the browser's rendering engine;
* Firefox is the browser name. Note, that Skype on the Web does not officially support alternative Gecko-based browsers, such as IceCat, so use only Firefox in the UA string. This means, that you can use GNU IceCat, but you'd still need to enter the Firefox-based UA string.
* Firefox/52.0 is the current official extended support release (ESR). As above, the version number must be 52.0 everywhere.

Sample screenshot of how it looks in about:config —

Domains to add for useragent override


You must continue adding UA strings for a number of Skype and Microsoft domains as described above, so here's what I think is the full list of those:

skype.com
skypeassets.com
live.com
microsoft.com
s-microsoft.com
msecnd.net
gfx.com
gfx.ms
trouter.io
bing.com

Domains to whitelist in NoScript


Generally, you can whitelist all of the above domains, and be happy.

But if you want to tinker on a subdomain level, then you must edit the line in about:config at

extensions.nsa.policy

To edit that line, I strongly recommend using VIM Touch, which is available from the F-Droid repository of FOSS apps for Android. For detailed instructions on how to do this, read A primer on whitelisting subdomains in Firefox NoScript. This is compulsory.

I compiled the whitelist with the help of NoScript for desktop Firefox, which lists the below domains for all to see.

then you must edit the JSON string in VIM Touch. So here's what I got what I think is the full list of subdomains to whitelist:

"config.skype.com":1,
"drip.trouter.io":1,
"lw.skype.com":1,
"secure.skypeassets.com":1,
"https://api.asm.skype.com":1,
"https://api.skype.com":1,
"https://apps.skypeassets.com":1,
"https://auth.gfx.com":1,
"https://auth.gfx.ms":1,
"https://browser.pipe.aria.microsoft.com":1,
"https://c1.microsoft.com":1,
"https://client-s.gateway.messenger.live.com":1,
"https://config.skype.com":1,
"https://consumer.entitlement.skype.com":1,
"https://contacts.skype.com":1,
"https://cs.microsoft.com":1,
"https://drip.trouter.io":1,
"https://flagsapi.skype.com":1,
"https://go.trouter.io":1,
"https://apps.skypeassets.com":1,
"https://avatar.skype.com":1,
"https://c.bing.com":1,
"https://i.s-microsoft.com":1,
"https://kes.skype.com":1,
"https://login.live.com":1,
"https://prod.registrar.skype.com":1,
"https://prod.tpc.skype.com":1,
"https://s4w.cdn.skype.com":1,
"https://static-asm.secure.skypeassets.com":1,
"https://static.asm.skype.com":1,
"https://support.skype.com":1,
"https://swx.cdn.skype.com":1,
"https://web.skype.com":1,
"https://www.skype.com":1

The list is in JSON format: domains are surrounded by double quotes, with :1 meaning to allow that domain (:0 is to forbid, but you won't need that with these).

I typically also add the https:// protocol prefix to make sure, that only the secure version of the site is whitelisted. This is useful in case a non-secure version of a domain is compromised, but a secure version isn't, as domains with http:// and https:// can serve different content.

Domains in double quotes are those that use variable subdomains, which makes using the protocol prefix moot. Double-quoted domains support both http:// and https:// versions of a site. Sometimes, these are also made to serve non-secure content. The profuse use of the secure protocol prefix is really for security purposes.

Whitelisting only these domains means, that other Microsoft properties are not script-enabled.

The entire exercize worked for me, but the Skype for Web UI was extremely slow on my device. There are newer, more powerful and better devices with only Android 2.3–4.0.3, so people with those might have more luck.