Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bluetooth USB adapter on Linux

What a pain that the Bluetooth SIG have claimed that is illegal to list bluetooth devices that work under linux! Marcel Holtmann maintained a list.

Sounds like Bluetooth protocol shooting itself in the foot. Anyway I am about to buy a bluetooth USB adapter to connect my Sony Vaio PCG V505 CP to my new Treo 650 smart phone. But thanks to the Way Back Machine the censors have been thwarted an I can see the March 2005 list of working devices on the Way Back Machine, and take this list with me when I go shopping.

Later, so I went shopping to Maplin and ended up buying the cheapest unbranded USB bluetooth dongle in the shop. The point was that none of the range of bluetooth dongles they had had any indication of their make or model on them, but the advantage of going to a real shop is that I could plug it in to the computer. I had kbluetoothd running and a shell open with

tail -f /var/log/syslog

running. Plugged it in an a helpful little message box poped up near the bluetooth icon in the system tray telling me it had been recognised.

Pleased with my new toy I went next door for a cup of coffee and to try it out. It has a very bright blue (appropriately) LED on it that flashes. I was able to get a list of at least a dozen bluetooth devices nearby. Mostly NOKIA phones. I was rather surprised so many people leave their phones with bluetooth enabled and discoverable. Tentatively, and feeling rather as though I was being naughty I clicked on the first device. It was a Nokia 7200 and it came up with a list of services it offered including folders with virtual modem to connect to the internet at someone else's expense! I wonder if I had got any further if it would have flashed a warning message on the phone, or asked for a pass word. I didnt try. A student at the next table had just reaached in her handbag and looked quisickly at her phone. I wonder what a Nokia 7200 looks like?

Anyway the verdict is a generic bluetooth dongle worked fine with Mandriva 2006's bluez driver and like most things linux these days you plug it in and it just works. I can now happily send files to my Palm Treo and the next job is get the Treo working as a modem.

The details I have of the dongle are the description on the reciept

A84CT B/Tooth Dong Clvl.2 W002

It is listed at the time of writing on the Maplin web site
and the FCC ID RU5AWBC1U which the FCC data base indicates as being made by Asia Pacific Microsystems, Inc, Taiwan, The Maplin page lists its features as

  • Class I (up to 100m range)
  • High efficiency chip antenna
  • Bluetooth v1.2 for improved features
  • Plug-and-play installation and easy configuration
  • USB 2.0 Interface and compliant with USB 1.1
  • Full piconet connectivity with support up 7 active and 8 parked slaves
  • Satternet compatible with Microsoft HID devices
  • Runs under Windows 98SE/2000/ME/XP
Well they can add runs under Mandriva linux 2006!

I wonder if bluetooth USB devices, ulike for example USB to serial converters, mp3 players and USB flash drives, Bluetooth USB dongles are sufficiently standard that they all work. I have not heard any reports of ones that don't work.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Richard Dawkins' "Root of all Evil"

In tonight's Channel 4 documentary Richard_Dawkins presents the irrational belief implicit in religious faith as the "Root of all Evil".

It is interesting first to note one's emotional reaction to this program. I am the son of a geneticist, and suffered aged five a Christian school where the teachers told me despite what I thought at the time was overwhelming evidence of evolution that the world was made in 7 days and all the creatures made rather than evolved. This kind of experience left its scars and I am attached to my rationalist atheist upbringing. So I find it easy to side with Dawkins finding religious idiots who (perhaps with careful editing) pillory themselves on camera by expounding their incredible views.

On reflection though it is not just ignorance that is the cause of suffering. I preffer suffering to Evil in this context, as it is somewhat more objective, and I share Peter Mullen's surprise at Dawkins' use of the term Evil. (Of course it is because "Root of all Evil" is a well known phrase, presumably from Timothy 6:10. 'For the love of money is the root of all evil'). According to the Buddha the "mental poisons" Greed, Hatred and Ignorance are the cause of suffering. In these religious fanatics and the wars they cause and perpetuate one sees plenty of hate and some greed (or at least grasping) as well as ignorance.

Does religious faith cause more suffering than a lack of religious faith? There seems to be a hypothesis here that we can at least test against the evidence.

In history there are plenty of atrocities in which the actions of small numbers of individuals have caused vast suffering.

Plenty of the perpetrators held irrational religious beliefs, here are some examples.

On the otherhand, while it can be argued that Mao Zedong held irrational beliefs, it was not irrational strictly religious beliefs that lead to the 25-60 Chinese and Tibetan casualties of the Great Leap Forward. Possibly the cause was more ignorance than hatred, while in the case of the Nazi genocide the cause on balance was probably more hatred.

I think we can agree that one must combat ignorance by objective enquiry, but also conquer our tendency towards greed and hatred as well if we are to reduce suffering. The fruits of scientific enquiry have had both positive and negative effects on suffering, however little scientific progress has been made so far as to methods by which we might reduce our hatred and greed.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Gas powered Land Rover Discovery

Last year I was fed up with not being able to go out because of the snow and our road not being gritted, also the children wanted a 7 seater car so they could take friends with them on trips. My solution was to buy a 1991 Land Rover Discovery V8. We considered various People Cariers in cluding some with "soft" four wheel drive but the Land Rover was much cheaper. Like many Land Rover Discoveries with a V8 petrol engine it has been converted to run on Liquid Petroleum Gas ) LPG, which is mainly Propane. The point is that the car wieghs well over a couple of tonnes and Land Rover designed it to be driven over deserts and across streams in severe conditions and not for economy. For example the massive engine cooling fan runs all the time and overrated for cold climates. The beast would do about 19 miles to the gallon on petrol! But instead it has two 35 litre "torpeodo" tanks under the sills, which give a cruising range of about 190 miles. Which is plenty far enough given the density of LPG stations. And with LPG at 35 - 40 pence per litre in cost terms it is more like running an ordinary car -- equivalent of 30-35 mpg. Also the exhaust emmissions are very much less. One of the reasons that the fuel is cheaper.

We havent had any serious snow yet this winter but we all enjoy driving around in the Land Rover which has a great view being high up, and some of the most comfortable front seats I have tried (including an old Saab 900 I had once).

Vegan shoes

As I am a vegan people often ask me about what shoes I wear. Of course you can get cheap non-leather shoes from ordinary shoe shops but they only last about 6 months of continual use before the plastic splits. Currently I wear shoes made of Lorica, a man made microfibrous material which shares many characteristics of leather. It is light, breathable, waterproof, elastic and flexible. The shoes are made by a small specialist shop in Sheffield called Guat Shoes. While they are not exactly individually made they aare very close. If you bring your feet along to her shop, the shoemaker is happy to adjust the fitting of a standard design. Mine are a couple of years old and the soles will soon need replacing but the uppers have not deterorated at all.

For walking I usually wear a pair of "Bridgedale Dryboots". These are completely waterproof and have lasted for years. They are ideal for walking in the boggy wet terain of Derbyshire or the Lake District, but they have also served me well for example in the Rocky Mountains. It it was very hot and dry they might get a bit sweaty but I have not found it a problem.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Wikipedia Science

Following the article in Nature comparing Science in Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britanica I felt the need to add my tuppence worth. I often consult wikipedia specifically on scientific topics as well as a google search and of course web of science when I am looking in to something I know very little about. Often the wikipedia article is the most informative for a quick overview and some starting references. I dont think its really relevant to compare with Britanica. Britanica aims for a very narrow coverage of science and aims at least to check its facts. Of course that does not mean that it is not sometimes wrong. Wikipedia aims towards a much wider coverage, so if you are looking for something obscure and someone else cares enough to write about it wikipedia is a good source. Also if something is controversial it is usually clear what the views of the different factions are from the talk pages.

Some things Wikipedia is the best source you are likely to find without a lot of trouble. For example Devil's Coach Horse Beetle (Staphylinus olens), pretty much the only thing written about this beetle is in one academic article and a thesis in the John Rylands library in Manchester. General books on insects have only a few lines.

Or in Differential Geometry the Cotton Tensor, what do you do if you cant find the a differntial geometry book from 1925 or the original article in Ann. Fac. Sci. Toulouse 1899.

And as for non-scintific and highly controversial issues Wikipedia is sometimes the only place on the web to see two sides of an argument. For example in Tibetan Buddhish there is a bitter controversy which of two teenaged boys really the reincarnation of the Karmapa, the head of one of the four main schools of that religeon. Supporters of the two rival factions have extensive websites detailing the merits of their claimants but on wikipedia the article on the Karmapa controversy attempts to put both sides of the debate, with sections for the claims by the supporters of each candidate. On the Talk page editors from both sides, as well as presumably neutral parties, try to resolve their dirrerences as what constitutes a "Neutral Point of View" on this acrimoneous argument. I have n't seen peace loving folk have such a bun fight since I went to the Vegan Society annual general meeing in the 1980s (and that was bad)!

Best of all, wikipedia gives an uplifting view of humanity. You put up a website and say "ok world write an encylopedia", and instead of getting the spam/ad/junk/porn infested usual world wide web of rubbish you get a really useful source of information. I find that inspiring.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Suunto Vector Watch/Altimeter/Compass

I have had a Suunto vector since 2002, and wear it pretty much all the time. It has some good and bad points you might like to consider if you are going to buy one or similar.

First of all as a watch, it is very big. You get used to it and its ok if you have big wrists. The time display is biig too which is nice if you eye sight is not to good. The back light is fine excet it is annoying that it comes on only after keeping a button for a couple of seconds. Stop watch, timer and alarm work fine. The seconds are indicated by a strange and excentric radial display, but the touch of a button replaces the date with digita sconds. The date is displayed in the irritating MM.DD format, and this cannot be configured to the standard DD.MM format.

The liquid crystal display suffers from a very poor viewing angle, with the really annoying feature that you can misread the time as one of teh seven segment digit displays may appear dark when viewed from an angle. This can result in misreading the time. A friend who works on the design of liquid crystal displays syas they used a very cheap disply. I find this annoying considering (1) it was quite expensive and (2) Suunto has (had) a reputation for quality.

The barometer and altimiter is the best bit. A little display gives you the baro trend which is nice. For things like sailing, where the altitude is constant it is nice to have a barometer. For walking in mountains with a fairly stable pressure the altimeter is great. If you are walking somewhere with lots of trees or high sided vallies GPS is useless and the altimeter with its rate of climb/fall gives a very good indication of the time you might expect get to the bottom of the hill. Obviously you have to reset the altimeter at known places to allow for pressure changes, but in alpine climates once a day will often do.

The compass is rubbish. It needs regularly recalibrating by doing a strange rotating dance while in calibration mode that does not always work. If you do this in public people give you funny looks! You have to hold the thing quite level for it to be accurate and there is a silly little spirit level in the face to help you. It is not much use asa marching compass, as it needs to be dead level and it times out quite quickly, and it is useless as a baring compass. It might occasionally be useful as a back up, but I find that as I dont use it as a compass I don't calibrate it, so if I did need it it is wrong. If you see what I mean.

It is water resistant and I have snorkeled with it but it is not suitable for diving.

The rubber strap lasted 4 years in continuous use and then split. Which is quite good going I think. Over the same time I have changed the battery once.

Overall verdict: If you want a wrist barometer altimeter its pretty good especially if second hand. if you have small wrists consider wearing it on a string. As a compass forget it.