Google Play – Nexus 7 tablet

For the last several years, all my mobile devices have been Apple – iPhone, iPod, iPad… but eventually I needed an Android based device for some development.

Honestly, it was the price that Google was selling the tablet for more than anything that made me choose it. At $200, it’s hard to say no to it.

So far it works as I’d expect. It came already configured with my Google account information, and was quick and easy to get setup.
Mail, browser, reader and movie player all performed as I’d expect.

One of the key reasons for choosing this tablet was USB OTG support. I’ll have to buy or build an adapter cable, and then I’ll report more on how well this works.

Posted on July 24, 2012 at 7:56 am by Ord · Permalink · Comments Closed
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Grateful for the pH Meter ̶ Thanksgiving Measurements

When we created ODMT PH-1, a great pH meter for the iPhone, my thoughts were mainly on scientists in hip waders monitoring our rivers and lakes for pollution. I now believe I have greatly underestimated the practical, fun and useful applications for ODM’s pH meter.

When Rene Ritchie of TiPb created a video with Ord Millar for the ODM PH-1, he mentioned using the pH meter for the Turkey for thanksgiving. Well guess what?

There is in fact poultry science and they use pH meters! I googled “pH turkey” and found several articles including this article by BM Rathgeber, JA Boles, and PJ Shand. They use the pH measurements to help decide if rapid freezing is a benefit to turkey meat quality. The article title tells us “that rapid postmortem pH decline and delayed chilling reduce quality of turkey breast meat.”

I can see the headlines now… Fast Freeze Turkeys, No Jive!

I never really thought about the science that goes into the production, packaging and delivery of our food. It is one of those things we seem to take for granted. Scientists are out there working hard to make sure that the turkey you had on Thanksgiving day is the best you have ever tasted. I was a little disappointed at having to share the credit for a great turkey last Monday, then again I spent only an afternoon cooking it, not a lifetime studying it.

If you would like to learn more about poultry science here is a good place to check it out

Posted on October 11, 2011 at 4:05 pm by Christina · Permalink · One Comment
In: iPhone, pH

Open source alternatives

Knowing that I am involved with computers, people are often asking me if I can “give them a copy of” some piece of software. I tell them no, and then often suggest an open source alternative that they could use instead. Usually they end up saying that they’ll just get so-and-so from the office to pirate it for them. Sometimes I resist muttering something about thieving fatherless donkeys, sometimes not. Now and then someone does take an interest in using some open source or freeware, and it’s always nice to see them get away from pirated commercial products.

Here are the packages I use on a daily basis:

NetBeans – open source IDE. I use this for developing in Java and C/C++, as well as web development in PHP, HTML and JavaScript. I really like the editor, the FTP system works fine for me, and the plug in system lets me add exactly the features I need.

OpenOffice – full featured office suite. I use the word processor (Writer) and the spreadsheet (Calc) regularly. It also includes the other standard office components for presentations, database and drawing. For me this suite completely replaces Microsoft office, and the file converters are generally good enough that I can open and save office files with no issues.

GIMP – photo and image manipulation. I have to confess, even though I have been using GIMP for the last 2-3 years, I am still not completely comfortable with it. I still sometimes miss Photoshop, and get tempted to install the Photoshop elements version that came with my camera. However, GIMP has the advantage that it works whether I am running windows or Linux, so I stick with it. I haven’t run into something I can’t do with GIMP yet, and for my photo retouching needs it works fine.

Terra Term – terminal emulation for windows. I spend an awful lot of time with shell windows open, and this is my choice when I am running windows. It works, it’s open source, and it’s still being updated.

Audacity – sound editor. I use this for creating and editing IVR prompts for asterisk (VOIP) phone systems and working with sounds for apps. Runs on Mac, Windows and Linux so it’s perfect for what I do. I don’t use it often, but every time I do I am glad to have it! Note that for actually creating sounds and music I use a commercial product: FL Studio with some additional soft synths – I love this product, and think it’s a great value.

Posted on October 22, 2010 at 8:30 am by Ord · Permalink · Comments Closed
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iPhone call forwarding indicator

Ever since I started using my iPhone, I wished it had a call forwarding indicator. I typically give out my cell number as my main number when meeting people, and then forward the iPhone to wherever I am. Sometimes, I forget to turn off the forwarding when I leave again, making me unreachable.

To my delight, I discovered that since upgrading the OS to 3.0 my iPhone 3G now indicates when the call forwarding is active with an icon on the status bar.

I haven’t seen this feature announced, so I am not sure if it is part of the overall 3.0 package, or if it is a feature specific to my carrier: Rogers Canada. The screen shot below shows the phone with the indicator on.

iPhone 3G on Rogers with call forwarding on

iPhone 3G on Rogers with call forwarding on

Posted on July 4, 2009 at 10:19 am by Ord · Permalink · 4 Comments
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Riding with the iPhone

V Star 1100

I’m on a motorcycle trip this week, and left all technology behind… Except the iPhone. It gives me the chance to get away without having to lug along a laptop and plan my trip around wifi hotspots. Before leaving, I subscribed to the Rogers data roaming plan. It’s still unreasonable, but it’s better that the abuse I’d otherwise take for data roaming. It makes email cheaper than text messaging while I am in the US.

It’s then end of the first day, and the iPhone has already proved itself. First save came when one of my friend’s bikes broke down. Google quickly gave us the location of the nearest Harley dealership, and their technician helped us with the diagnosis. A bit of tinkering and we were on our way.

A couple of hours later, I got a SMS telling me that there was a problem with one of my servers. I launched the SSH client on my iPhone, logged into the server, found and fixed the problem. A few minutes later I was emailing my partner to let him know it was running.

Of course, the three other guys did make fun of me for not having the tip calculator app installed after lunch, but we were able to pay our bill anyway.

At stops for food and gas, I updated my facebook status so my wife could follow my progress. Mapping is quicker and easier that it ever was with my handheld GPS. The WordPress app let’s me write and publish all this from my iPhone. I even use it on occasion to make phone calls.

Posted on June 21, 2009 at 3:01 pm by Ord · Permalink · 10 Comments
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Local Solr

For searching at our Open Business Information Directory project we have been using a Solr server.  Based on the Apache Lucene library, it consistenly works well for the type of searches we need to do.  Since a lot of the applications for business data will be local searches, we looked at ways to implement distance algorithms.  For a quick solution, we turned to LocalLucene/LocalSolr.  This package adds distance search to Solr, so that we can send queires for matching within a certain radius of a point.  LocalLucene is available from SourgeForge.

Getting started takes some doing.  First of all, we need to perform geocoding of  our records.  It is worth noting that not every record needs to be geocoded – ones that aren’t coded just won’t appear in proximity searches.  To get up and running quickly, we used a postal code database to get a rough location of the records that weren’t already geocoded.

For the changes to the Solr installation, I referred to the helpful tutorial at  Once the changes had been made, I reindexed our records.  This was the longest part of the process – even though I only processed the Canadian records for this test, there are still over a million to go through.  If the server wasn’t being used I could have shut it down, deleted the indexes and rebuild to save some time.

Along the way, a few problems came up.  First was that a version build with the latest sources didn’t work, I had to revert to some earlier stable versions.  At GISSearch there is an example package that has a compiled solr that works, so that is a good place to start if you are having issues there.  The other big problem was that a bug in the phps output writer was preventing the searches from running.  Switching to xml or json output solves that.

Using Local Solr instead of writing our own solutions has saved a lot of development time.  We still need to do some performance testing to see how it will hold up under heavy usage, but so far it looks like with a dedicated server for geo searching we will be able to keep up with the loads.

Posted on June 12, 2009 at 11:15 am by Ord · Permalink · 3 Comments
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What’s right, now?

I recently heard that a study has shown that wikipedia was more accurate that Britanica as an encyclopedia. I don’t know the details of the study, but to me the important question is how do we define “right” when it comes to facts.

Not so long ago it was a fact that the earth was the centre of the universe. Anyone who disagreed was considered wrong, or crazy, or both. At one time, it was “fact” that an atom was an indivisible component. Later we came to accept that electrons, protons and neutrons were the smallest particles, but we no longer believe that today. In all cases, the scientific community and the world at large accepted these as truth.

At one time, a student who answered that light was composed of particles would have been told he was wrong. At other times those that said light was waves would be called wrong. The physics of light didn’t change, but our understanding did.

So how do we define right or true? In some cases we can check for ourselves. I can count how many sides a cube has, and that becomes a fact to me, and absolute truth. However, in many practical matters we accept what the majority of the people we trust say to be the truth. As we are exposed to more and more information we increasingly encounter facts that we can’t check ourselves by simple observation. The more specific or intricate the subject is, the less chance there is that someone I know and trust has direct knowledge of it. In these cases, truth becomes whatever the majority believes it to be (more specifically, those that have chosen to make their beliefs known through writing). I may filter the information according to my perception of the reliability of the source, but in the end I am accepting it because the greatest number of credible people say so.

By defining truth this way, it isn’t surprising that a community edited encyclopedia proves to be more accurate than one edited by a limited staff. The one that conforms to the beliefs of the greatest number will be considered right by more people.

This extends to the principle of using Twitter or other social networks as a search engine. If I define a relevant result for a search as the answer that most people who think like me believe, then I won’t be surprised that my network of contacts would give “better” results than an algorithm. The challenge will lie in building the right human networks for different queries. This isn’t a new concept – anyone who has asked a question on a discussion forum or newsgroup has used a human powered information system. The differences now are in the speed with which we can get feedback, and the number of people we can access.

Information is being updated and spread faster than ever. The “truth” as we understand it can change from day to day. I can no longer consider right and wrong as static conditions, facts need timestamps to be meaningful now.

Posted on June 9, 2009 at 9:12 am by Ord · Permalink · Comments Closed
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Life without laptop

I am on the road at a conference as I write this. Normally, I don’t leave home without a laptop – but since I was travelling by motorcycle and space is at a premium I left the notebook at home. This meant putting a lot of faith in my iPhone, and so far it has paid off.

Of course, getting & sending emails, voicemails and tweets is commonplace with the iPhone, but could I do any “real work” if needed? Turns out the answer is yes.

A client contacted us about a change to an online project that was needed urgently. It wasn’t a big change but it did need to be done before I’d be back. I quickly logged in to the server over ssh conection using TouchTerm (touchterm) launched vi and edited the file. A quick check in the browser, and I was emailing the client back to say that the change had been made.

I’m still not sure if I’d be comfortable to be away for a few weeks without a laptop, but I won’t worry for a few days as long as I have the iPhone with me.

Posted on June 8, 2009 at 2:51 pm by Ord · Permalink · 3 Comments
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BJJ Timer iPhone App

Last night I recieve notice from the app store that they had approved my first submitted application.  It took just about 10 days for the process, which wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it could be.  I had read on the forums of people waiting months, or just never getting an answer.

This program is for score keeping of Brazilian jiu jitsu matches, a martial art that I practice regularly.  Creating something that I could use in my favorite sport was a good way for me to learn about iPhone programming, objective C and the SDK.

When starting to work with a new language or framework, I find it’s helpful to start with something I know well – that way the learning is focused on the software, rather than on the real world problem I am solving.   Had I tried to start by making a game, for example, then I would have had to learn about game design at the same time, dividing my attention.

Submitting to the app store was more about learning the process than expecting this to be a revenue generator.  I imagine that the sub set of people that own iPhones and referee Jiu Jitsu matches is pretty small, but at least it will be available for them.

It is available for purchase at the app store now.  An update (version 1.1) adds some features for handling ADCC rules submission wrestling matches, and should be available in the next 2 weeks.

Posted on March 24, 2009 at 10:50 am by Ord · Permalink · 5 Comments
In: App development, iPhone · Tagged with: , ,

Open source sounds

Sometimes I need a short sound clip for a software project – maybe a click when a user selects something, a buzzer or bell when a timer expires, or some special effect for opening and closing documents.  Making and recording sounds can be a real time sink, depending on the equipment and software that you have available.

I will use FLStudio with software synths to make some sounds or pieces of music.  The Sytrus hybrid synthesizer is usually my first choice, but recently I have been starting to use the Morphine additive synth.  Morphine works well for me if I have an existing sample or recording as a starting point.  If you are purchasing an image line product, consider using my affiliate link – you will save 10% on your purchase, and I can earn discounts on my future purchases.

Although I really enjoy working with sounds, I can easily spend hours playing around.  Sometimes, I’m better off just finding exactly what I want that someone else has already made.  For public domain sounds, has a great collection.  These are available for use under the creative commons license; in effect you need to attribute the work to the creator in a way that doesn’t imply an endorsement.

Recently I found that iStockPhoto now also offers sound files in addition to images.  Here you can buy royalty free sound clips for use in any project.  I have used iStock for both buying and selling photos, and it looks like their interface for sound files is as good as the one for images.  So far their library isn’t as extensive as it could be, but it seems to be growing quickly.

For editing sound files and converting formats, I’ve grown pretty attached to Audacity.  This is an open source sound editor, that does pretty much everything I need or could imagine needing.  It handles multiple tracks, so it’s easy to layer sounds together to get a special combination.  It includes plenty of effects, from the standard amplitude and frequency changes to echoes, phasers and wah type effects.  The noise removal and normalizing functions work well, and make it very easy to clean up samples.

Using royalty free samples and open source editing software, I can now get sounds done in a few minutes.  It’s not as much fun as building them from scratch with softsyths, but the time savings usually makes up for that.

Posted on March 21, 2009 at 10:47 am by Ord · Permalink · Comments Closed
In: Uncategorized