Camera speed on Android

Check out the photograph above. This was taken while traveling in a car. Of particular focus are the lines on the road - they are actually straight, but show up as curved in the photograph.

When cameras were first added to cell phones, they were small, slow and blurry. The sensors were tiny, the lenses were basically plastic and the processors were slow. While the megapixel count has gone up, the optics have gotten better, the biggest bottleneck still remains the processing speed.

At least the Android platform has taken an interesting approach to overcoming this processing speed bottleneck. It seems the sensor is read in sequence, line by line, starting from the top. The advantage with the approach is obvious - the camera can process one line at a time, keeping the picture sharp and well processed.

The side effect is the effect showing up in the picture above. The straight lines on the road, show up as curved because the car moved in the time between when the first line of the sensor was read and the last.

December 26, 2011

Impulse Purchase

At long last, my Nokia 5800 has been retired from active service.

It has been replaced by my new Samsung Galaxy SII. And all this happened within a matter of a few hours.

I had been eyeing an Android phone for a while now. My first choice would have been the vanilla Nexus series - but they tend to be far too pricey and missing carrier specific frequency capabilities on their wireless chipsets. The next choice was the Galaxy series from Samsung. And that is when I saw this deal from RadioShack:

While this was about $50 more than the Black Friday deal from Radioshack, it was still a full $100 less than the discounted price on AT&T's website. And it hit my key checklist items.

  • A tried and tested phone chassis - the Galaxy S II is the second in the highly successful Galaxy series.
  • Minimal UI customization - unlike the HTC Sense UI, TouchWiz UI is relatively lightweight and optimized for speed.
  • A known upgrade path to Ice Cream Sandwich.
  • No known carrier hindrances to phone capabilities.
  • Speed and responsiveness.

The Galaxy SII hit all points on the checklist - making the decision to switch surprisingly quick and painless. And RadioShack was not that bad an experience, as far as the tactical switch went. On a side note, I need to remind myself that RadioShack is probably a better option for buying electronics when I want something outside the standard mainstream products.

RIP: my ageing Nokia 5800 - you were a trailblazer, and were better than you had any reason to be. Yet, the trail was left cold after you, for no fault of yours. You will be missed.

December 21, 2011

TomatoUSB on Netgear 3500L

Upgrading a Netgear 3500L to the latest TomatoUSB build. This worked for me as of December 01, 2011 - with no guarantees that will work for you or at any other time.

Required ingredients:

  • The trailed DD-WRT build to perform the first upgrade. Filename: dd-wrt.v24-15704_NEWD-2_K2.6_mini-WNR3500L.chk
  • The correct TomatoUSB version - Build 54, Kernel 2.6, CPU MIPSR2 and feature-set Extras or Ext. This is what I used, but you might check the latest version here. Filename: tomato-K26USB-1.28.9054MIPSR2-beta-Ext.rar
  • WinRAR or 7-zip or a related utility to unzip the RAR file.
  • Some timer - either an app on your phone or a watch with a seconds hand.
  • A pushpin of some sort.
  • A printout of a document that looks something like this.
  • A laptop or desktop of some kind that has a working modern browser.

Procedure:

  • Ensure your firmware files are identified, available and ready to go. See above for the two files you need to keep available. Use WinRAR or 7-Zip to unzip the .rar file. You will get a .trx file along with a changelog. Rename the .trx extension to .bin.
  • Connect your computer to the router using an Ethernet cable, if you do not have extra cords, use the one which used to connect the router to the external WAN. In either case, ensure the External WAN is disconnected.
  • Set your computer to a static IP of 192.168.1.8 (Ensure you are doing this to the wired LAN connection)
  • Perform a 30-30-30 reset using your push-pin on the depressed reset button on the back of the router. You might want to use the timer to ensure you are actually keeping it depressed for 30 seconds.
  • Wait for the router to boot back up. Using your browser, head over to http://192.168.1.1, and use your default credentials login: admin and password: password to log in.
  • Using the Upgrade option on the Netgear admin menu, use the .chk file you downloaded from the DD-WRT site. Note you are not using the bigger TomatoUSB firmware yet.
  • Wait, no seriously wait. Wait till the lights get back to normal. Wait. Wait to see that you can access the new admin interface.
  • Perform the 30-30-30 reset. Wait for the router to come back up.
  • Now head back over to http://192.168.1.1. You should be automatically logged in, but instead will be asked to set an admin account with password. You can set this to be whatever you want, your firmware is just about to be flashed.
  • Go to the Administration tab and then Firmware Upgrade sub-tab. Select the TomatoUSB file that you extracted from the RAR archive and renamed to a .bin file.
  • Again wait. For all the frenzy to subside. After you can see the router administration page again, wait some more.
  • Perform another 30-30-30 reset. Wait for the router to come back up.
  • Again head back over to http://192.168.1.1. Login using the Tomato default credentials: no login required and password: admin
  • Set up basic wireless services, located under. Disconnect the Ethernet cord, reconnect the router to the WAN network, get-up sit on the couch and continue configuring your brand new router firmware.
  • And yes, keep away the push-pin, the timer and set your wired connection back to dynamic IP.

That was it, and if you have been following along, my Toshiba thrive connects beautifully to the new router via SMB and I can now access all the media I have on my RAID, wirelessly over the home WiFi network. Cloud anyone?

Freedom to hack: 1 - Closed systems:0.

December 04, 2011

Upgrading my Netgear 3500L

The story so far...

My tablet could not access my ReadyShare NAS that ran on my Netgear 3500L. So far, it seemed as if the problem was with the router and it's implementation of SMB. After much wrangling of hands, cussing of SMB and praising the virtues of hackable gadgets, I decided to change the stock firmware on my router.

My Open Router, is a great resource for available after-market firmware. It also has that typical Open Source lack of polish, that makes the process of re-flashing a real journey - filled with uncertainty and trepidation. Here is an example, the initial page for the 3500L has a total of 5 open source options, and the very first article after the review is a “de-bricking” tutorial. If you were not aware, bricking happens when you mess things up so bad, that the only true use of your cuboidal device is to use it as - you guessed it - a brick.

The key with open source projects is to just jump in and start reading. Do not try to form an approach - you will mostly be wrong. The most useful nuggets are mostly hidden - like the curiously named Peacock thread, or Redhawk0's firmware recommendation thread. If you were planning on using DD-WRT, you should not be touching the reset button without reading both these threads.

After about 30 tabs worth of reading, I learnt a few things. In no particular order, but relevant to me were...

  • Doing the 30-30-30 reset.
  • If you do not do a 30-30-30 before and after a firmware upgrade, you could brick your device.
  • There are two kinds of kernels used in firmwares - 2.4 and 2.6, use the wrong one and you could brick your device.
  • There are different types of builds - using a Mega build could brick my particular device.
  • If you try to reboot routers too quickly within the flashing phase, you could brick your router.
  • Trailed builds, are builds specific to a particular router. They do not have all the features or a regular build, but are critical to get off the original stock firmware. Use the wrong trailed build, and you could brick your router.

And everything you learnt above had caveats, which could also cause you to brick your router.

Anyway, after several days of researching, and figuring out what my priorities were, I decided to skip the DD-WRT in favor of a different sort of firmware called Tomato, and in particular a fork called TomatoUSB, that seemed most appropriate. I still had to upgrade to the DD-WRT trailed build to get off the stock firmware, but that was only a rest-stop on the upgrade path.

Next post, doing the actual upgrade.

December 03, 2011

My little Tablet problem

My Thrive had a problem - no, not the earlier one with the cracked screen, but a different sort of a problem.

About an year ago, I set up an inexpensive Terabyte RAID accessible on our home wireless network - a free cloud if you please. All my photos are on said cloud, and I had hoped to use my new Thrive to actually browse through and check my photos out in style. Part of the reason to get a tablet, was to consume my own media.

Here is where standards were supposed to help. My router was technically capable of sharing the Terabyte via either HTTP, FTP or most importantly SMB (essentially Windows Share). And my Tablet was supposed to be able to browse via SMB. But, try as I might, I just did not seem to work.

ASTRO File Manager
AndSMB Samba Client

I tried all the usual suspects ASTRO File Manager, AndSMB Samba Client, File Manager HD and ES File Manager. All of which had rave reviews, all talking about successful connections to other Windows machines.

File Manager HD
ES File Explorer

But none of them seemed to work. Out of character for me - I created new accounts on two Thrive Forums, to ask for help - no luck there either.

After three days of frustration, I began to realize something. Maybe the problem was not with the Thrive at all. Maybe, the problem was with the router, that was just unable to play nice with all SMB clients, including that on the Thrive.

Luckily, here is where my obsession for freedom began to pay off. My router is a Netgear 3500L. It is about the closest to a poster child for open hackable routers, that one can buy. A fact that Netgear actually advertises on the flier for the router itself. So I figured I'd flash my router, and hopefully make the newer version of SMB play nice with my Tablet.

Whether that worked is another story, but the moral of the current post is this - having freedom is awesome. It opens up possibilities and opportunities. It makes you focus on answers, not problems. And it is green too - who knows, I could have been tempted to buy a new router and chuck this one out, instead of trying to fix it.

December 02, 2011

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