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Hit it! The free dumpad looper!

Today Ciske and I launched our first Android app: Hit it!

Hit it! The free dumpad looper: it's a virtual drumpad that can also be used to loop a rhythm you recorded yourself. Recording can be done iteratively so you can grow a simple cool beat into a complex awesome beat.

Listing it, an easy to use recursive list app for Android

After sticking to my N900 for far too long I finally got myself an Android device this summer like I should have 4 years ago (I was quite interested in it back in the day).

Although I've been toying around with Android apps ever since, I've been heavily using one app you probably haven't heard about: Listing It!, made by my good friend Ciske Boekelo.

The neat thing about this list app is that it lets you easily turn an item on your todo-list into a list, with items of its own.

This lets you subdivide your lists any way you see fit: You have your shopping list, but you might want to add an extra level with your groceries listed by which shop you want to by from, or split them up by recipe, or by day of the week. Your list becomes a tree, structured any way you like.

Personally I use it for lots of different subjects. My Aperte tree for example has all my projects per client, with high-level subjects that I need to work on. It also contains a simplified version of my administration, noting which projects need invoicing and which invoices have (or haven't) been paid. My other trees contain stuff I have to get for my car, the daily groceries and all those odd jobs around the home.

All in all, Listing It is a highly useful app in my (biased) opinion. Give it a try and if you find it as useful as I do you can buy the ad-free version for a single euro.

Trust done wrong

IT security is getting out of the basement and starting to infiltrate everyday life. If the recent Wikileaks, Anonymous, Stuxnet and Sony PSN debacles weren't enough, now it's finally in the open that the trust everyone takes for granted when using encrypted connections is mostly based on wishful thinking and a bit of hand-waving.

DigiNotar, by thinking that running a certificate authority we all trust is best run by a total lack of security, has likely put Iranians at severe risk. What it has exposed is one of the internet's dirty little secrets: SSL encryption, what we all depend on for banking, email and e-commerce, is mostly worthless without a viable model of trust. And our model of trust is severely lacking at the moment.

DigiNotar was a terrible offender and that they promptly got revoked will be the least of their worries, but it wasn't the first offender. Comodo and StartCom both had break-ins recently and it is likely that more certificate authorities are as terrible as DigiNotar. The difference is that DigiNotar didn't act directly: it took 2 months before an Iranian user noticed something was wrong with his Gmail-certificate. Bad security is one thing, but not doing anything after such a break-in is malice.

Your browser currently trusts 600+ of these certificate authorities, from which DigiNotar has hopefully been removed. None of these companies will mean anything to your average user except maybe VeriSign, and your typical user will trust a site with a VeriSign-logo without even looking at a certificate. Yet all of these CAs are trusted to provide certificates with which our connections are encrypted: they are the only line of defense when it comes to man-in-the-middle attacks. And the likes of TDC, XRamp and TurkTrust are trusted to not make the same mistakes as DigiNotar...

Rather than repeat his words, Moxie Marlinspike's talk on SSL and authenticity says it all.

What can your company do? Take security seriously. DigiNotar wouldn't be in this situation if they had given a thought about security, but the situation wouldn't be as desperate if they had acted right away. I have contacted a few companies regarding security lapses on their side (one unknowingly disclosed 200k accounts a few months ago, no I'm not naming them) and thankfully they have all quickly taken appropriate measures. This is all we ask.

Is there a silver lining? Naturally. The whole charade with certificate authorities has given us Ubuntu...

The Ridderhof shooting

With the previous blog post noting that I've moved to Alphen aan den Rijn, I'm sad to say that 10 months later our new town has suffered a terrible loss: Two days ago a madman killed 6 and wounded 17 by firing an automatic rifle in our local shopping-mall. He then committed suicide.

It's a surreal situation. Alphen is a small town, and probably was most remarkable because it was so unremarkable. The shopping mall was as common as they get and we went there nearly daily. Our thoughts go out to the victims of this attack, but at the same time the realization that either of us or any of our neighbors only by sheer chance weren't in the Ridderhof at the time of the shooting is terrifying. Something that only happens in the US of Arms or in the movies suddenly comes much too close.

Tomorrow the Ridderhof opens again. Faces that were on the TV again behind the register. The doors you walked through every day that were sprayed with bullets boarded up. Surreal. I think it will take everyone a lot of time to come to terms with what happened. Alphen will unfortunately never be unremarkable again.

Home is where your 127.0.0.1 is

Wohoo, finally got a connection to the internet at my new place!

Over the weekend we hauled all our stuff from Amstelveen to Alphen a/d Rijn (40km further south), where we bought a very nice 3-story house last month.

Lots of photos to come, this post was just to verify that they even migrated my old IP address for me. <3 Telfort! :)

N900: Just how good is mobile Free software?

Previous article, N900 hardware

The interface on the N900 has been completely revamped compared to the N810. Maemo 5 (fremantle) is much more suited to being used without the stylus, which makes the N900 much more usable as a phone.

Desktops!

There are 4 desktops, similar to the virtual desktops Unix has had for decades. You easily switch between them by swiping either to the left or right. Swiping seems to be a favorite guesture by the designers as it comes back everywhere: photo browsing, file and app lists, even the x terminal supports it for scrolling.



Each desktop can be arranged as you please with widgets, shortcuts and browser links as the above examples show. By default you get Twitter-shitter, Bookface widgets and the like, but who needs those?

The widgets make customizing your N900 for your own "workflow" very easy. I use my calendar a lot, so my main desktop prominently shows my latest todo's, but someone who mostly calls might put most of his contacts on a number of desktops: it's all up to you. I'll look into widget development in the next article.

From the desktop you only have one button in the top left. It either shows you your currently running applications or goes to the application menu screen:

My phone is Dutch (like you didn't notice) but the icons should show the idea. A lot of effort has gone into making multitasking as easy as possible, anyone that checks his email while reading the headlines and writing a blogpost will appreciate the ease of switching.

Apps

With the current generation of smartphones you're only as good as your applications are. The default apps on the N900 don't disappoint.

The browser is based on Gecko, the Mozilla rendering engine. One of the advantages is that it also supports add-ons: the web shouldn't be used without Adblock plus! Clicking on links can be a bit finniky, but the stylus makes that kind of browsing a lot more doable. Web sites render as well as with Firefox. Zooming works by either drawing a circle clockwise or counter-clockwise, easy with both finger and stylus.

The N900 has a fully-featured email application. It supports multiple IMAP folders which has already saved me once this week. Attaching multiple files works fine and emailing/texting is a breeze with the keyboard.

The contacts app is surprisingly useful. Instead of choosing to email, text, call or skype someone you first find the person you are looking for. This then gives you all the options you have to contact that person. Skype chat, google talk/jabber support out of the box, but msn, icq and other IM protocols can be installed.

The calendar application is probably my favorite. But that's probably because it's the one I use the most and without it I'd forget everything. Week-view rocks:

The built-in mediaplayer works as could be expected. The audio socket also supports video-out and the '9'-trailer looked great on my hdtv. Together with flash support and mplayer, you have plenty of options. 32GB of flash storage is built-in and a microSD socket is available for even more space: I finally gave my aging iPod away as I can't see myself using it anymore :)

I could go on about the other pre-installed apps, but what might be better to know is that you can install and run lots of maemo-applications. By default you only have access to the "verified" nokia applications repository but the application manager allows you to add new ones: simply add the maemo extras repository and you have access to hundreds of applications for free.

The Ovi-store has a new N900 section that opened last week. The idea is of course to provide a channel for developers to sell their Maemo-applications, but it should also provide a means to easily get high-quality free software.

Teething issues: battery-life and a limited root filesystem

I mentioned some issues I was having in the previous article I wrote on the N900. The N900 being a new direction for Nokia, it's not strange that not everything is perfect.

My main issue is currently battery-life. With such a lot of features and widgets it's not strange to go overboard and install eveything you could possibly want. This eats up power though, and I felt lucky if I didn't have to hook the N900 up multiple times a day. There seems to be a major issue with wifi that rapidly drains the battery, so I'm sticking with 3G for the time being. The N900 has an option to automatically switch to wifi if a known accesspoint is detected, but this drained the battery in a matter of hours. For now I am cutting down on widgets and background-apps (long live 'top'!) which seems to be doing the trick. Improvements and fixes in this area should go a long way.

A more long-term issue is the limited root filesystem size. 'df' shows that the main filesystem only has 228MB, total, of which I have used 163MB. New applications are stored in this filesystem, instead of the 32GB storage available for 'documents' so I can see this becoming a major pita soon. PyMaemo (more on that next time) already uses mount-binding to limit the amount of space wasted on root.

Once the battery-life improves I'll be able to recommend the N900 to the average user. For now it is wise to take the usb cable or adapter with you, just in case.

Next time I'll look at N900 development. Eating my own dog food, this article has been written on the N900.

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