Computers, Google, Languages, Technology

Google Custom Search – Language Learning

Google just launched a clever new custom search thing. The idea is for people to create their own “custom” search engines that automatically give weight to certain sites, restrict others and silently append search terms therefore improving accuracy for niche topics. For example imagine an ornithologist searching for “a pair of great tits”..

So, I’ve created an engine for finding language learning resources. And it’s surprisingly good.

Computers, Technology

ClearType and IE 7

Internet Explorer 7, which will be pushed to users in an almost forced manner shortly, will use ClearType by default. ClearType essentially uses a clever technique called sub-pixel rendering to provide clearer text at low resolutions. Like anti-aliasing, another technology to achieve similar results, it can make things look blurry but on the whole it looks okay.

One of the side effects is that vertical lines get a coloured “halo” which can be a little off putting. On the whole you get used to it, but after leaving it on for a while I noticed something: the problem is essentially a side effect of using “high readability” fonts like Verdana. Verdana was designed to be readable at small sizes and such has a lot of straight lines (since curves either look dodgy or need anti-aliasing at small sizes). These straight lines (specifically vertical ones) are the ones that have the most pronounced halos. Use fancy curvy fonts (even if it’s just a little) and the problem is greatly diminished…

Computers, Entertainment, Google, Languages, Technology

Learning a language over Jabber/XMPP

The language learning app of mine is still under development, but I doubt I’ll be spending too much time on it until after my trip to America (and by extension, until after Christmas).

In the meantime I’ve reading about XMPP, the protocol used by Google Talk and several others. One of the extensions that Google is largely responsible for Jingle which essentially allows voice communications. There are also a couple of XMPP clients written in PHP. So it may be possible to deliver lessons over XMPP through a chat bot.

Entertainment, Games, Technology

Nokia N93 not as good as it should be

We recently got a new Nokia N93 at work and had the fun task of benchmarking it. In raw processing power when running Java it outperforms the second best phone we have (the Nokia E61) by about 50%. Unfortunately, like all the Nokia handsets, it’s not so good at image handling and so unfortunately loses out to Sony Ericssons overall.

The big disappointment though is the hardware acceleration. 3D graphics in J2ME should theoretically be done using JSR 184 (an API for 3D graphics – there is at least one other but JSR 184 is the most supported). The N93 has hardware acceleration supporting OpenGL ES and according to the documentation the JSR 184 implementation automatically uses hardware accelerated OpenGL ES if it is supported. Unfortunately the performance suggests otherwise – the N93 handles one of our 3D games almost as well as an N73.

My guess is to get the proper hardware acceleration you need to write Symbian apps…

Computers, Technology, Windows

Wine Is Not an Emulator

After my post about ReactOS I felt I should mention Wine.

Wine has similar goals to ReactOS, namely to give users the ability to run Windows applications without buying Windows, but goes about it in a different way. Wine is an implementation of the Windows API designed to run in Linux. This seems like a better approach since a lot of the features of an operating system which have to be implemented by ReactOS already exist in Linux. And of course it can run native Linux apps too.

Since it isn’t an emulator, applications theoretically run at the same speed, but the fact that all the library code has been written from scratch this is rarely the case. Contrary to popular belief regarding Microsoft’s ability to write “good code”, much of the stuff underlying Windows is quite well optimised and being so new, some of the stuff in Wine isn’t. Although in a random twist you can apparently get certain random apps to run faster because the Wine team happen to have written that bit of code better.

Even so, it’s still a viable alternative in some situations.

PS. One of the stranger ideas the have is running Wine under Cygwin (a compact implementation of many Linux APIs) on Windows.

Computers, Technology

AOL misleading with wireless broadband

AOL UK (that would be Carphone Warehouse now) are advertising wireless broadband for the same price as regular broadband. What this means is instead of getting a free ADSL modem, you get a free combined wireless router/ADSL modem allowing you to create a wireless home network with the Internet accessible from all the computers.

Quite a few companies advertise a similar service as wireless broadband.

There are companies slowly appearing however offering genuine wireless broadband via WiMAX, for example now. Once the availability increases the issue of what “wireless broadband” means will become more important…