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In 2001, a chap by the name of Aaron Ardiri wrote a port of Lemmings to the PalmOS PDA platform. Now, he has given himself 36 hours to port it to two modern mobile platforms, the iPhone and Palm webOS, with OSX and Windows desktop ports for good measure. Ardiri posted his progress, and interim OSX binaries, to a liveblog here; it seems to be down, but there's a long, scroll-like screenshot of the whole thing here. It's quite interesting, in its descriptions of how coding practices have changed as platforms have become less cramped, and of the process of adapting 2001-vintage PalmOS code to larger (mostly UNIX-based) systems.
Ardiri is considering adding another port to Android; I imagine this would involve some means of translating ancient, low-level C code into Java (or else a C compiler that produces Dalvik bytecode). If he's just dealing in C-based platforms, he could add Nokia's various platforms and (from what I hear) Samsung's new "Bada" OS, though whether there'd be much reason to bother is an open question.
So why would I get an iPhone? Because it's an appliance that just fucking works.
I have a list of 30-ish reports of more-or-less irritating bugs that I encountered during my first week of using the phone that I back-channeled into Palm via several of their developers, but most of those bugs were tolerable. The deal-breaker bugs are as follows:
- I still can't reliably sync my phone to my Mac.
- Peformance is a joke.
I was thinking of getting a Pre as my next phone, though after playing with one, I'm not tempted to buy into an 18-month contract for one. Perhaps if they were available as prepaid, I'd consider one. (The Pre concept sounds nifty, and perhaps they'll fix the execution.) Until then, I'll probably stick to my ancient Treo 650; you can sort of get the web on that.
Some hackers have found a Palm Pre firmware image in a recovery tool and started looking around in it, examining the system. It is, as expected, a fairly standard-looking Linux system, with the full complement of command-line tools (not that you can access them from the GUI), and a lot of hackable low-level settings. Also in the ROM: a JVM, icons for other application types, and some settings in configuration files which hint at other Palm WebOS devices in the pipeline (including one codenamed "Zepfloyd"). In general, it looks fairly elegant. There's a long discussion thread, containing discoveries in the ROM image, here
Beleaguered PDA maker Palm, who brought us the Pilot/PalmPilot and its descendants, has been having a rough time of things; PDAs have largely gone extinct, and their PalmOS (which, technically speaking, was rather like MacOS 9 in a lot of ways) was looking a bit long in the tooth compared to other phone OSes; Palm acknowledged this and deprecated it in favour of (of all things) Windows Mobile, becoming just another Windows phone vendor. And not a very competitive one, it would seem; their market share all but disappeared, and they looked to be circling the drain, as everyone ditched their Treos for BlackBerries or those Apple things they've been going on about. There were rumours of a new operating system they were working on, but as the months and years passed with no sight of it, a revival of their fortunes started looking much like the mythical second coming of the Amiga.
But now, it's here, or at least on the horizon, and it's looking rather good. Here is the report of the CES press conference. Basically, it's a rather nifty-looking handset with an iPhone-like multitouch screen and a slide-out keyboard and it runs a new system named Palm WebOS, which is based on a Linux core but seems to take a quite interesting data-driven approach. The user interface and other performance appears to be very polished—some would say better than the benchmarks set by Apple, which are indeed high—and, to top things off, it comes with a nifty contactless charger known as the "Touchstone". And, as they made a point of mentioning, it has both a removable battery and cut and paste. The US version is, as always, exclusive to a carrier (Sprint, in this case), though a GSM 3G version for non-US markets has been announced. In general, the commentariat are impressed. Needless to say, Palm's stock is recovering nicely.
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It looks like Sony are finally releasing a MiniDisc-based data drive; only a decade too late, too. The Hi-MD drive (with the catchy name "PIT-IN") will apparently be a USB Mass Storage device, and will go head-to-head with smaller and more robust USB keyrings. Chances are it'll still not be able to rip data off audio MiniDiscs for copyright-enforcement reasons, so all your bootleg gig minidiscs are still locked up in the translucent plastic prison of Sony DRM.
Meanwhile, the next Palm handheld will be the Tungsten X; it's basically going to be like a T5 with a built-in iPod Mini-sized hard drive, and MP3 player software to take advantage of that. If they put some audio inputs on that (other than the voice-grade microphone they come with), it'd make a pretty nifty portable audio workstation.
And someone has created OSX developer trading cards. Which make you wonder whether they buy their shirts in bulk from the same retailer.
Bhajis Loops, the whimsical and unbelievably nifty PalmOS-based music/audio software, now has
a posse an online community site, with forums, tutorials (only a few so far) and a user song archive. Also, there are 3 new effects plug-ins to download, including a granular-sounding pitch-shifter, which should be perfect for the drill'n'bass heads in the audience. (I'm looking at you, Mr. Frogworth.) Also, Bhajis Loops 1.6 is coming out soon, and a complete rewrite is on the way.
Also, looking for the interest "bhajis loops" on LiveJournal brings up this journal, which may belong to the author, or someone else who is a French researcher/student interested in Bhajis Loops, all things Indian, DSP algorithms and PalmOS programming (not to mention Stereolab and, umm, Architecture In Helsinki). The journal says some interesting things there, from discussions of audio algorithms to observations on why signal-based classification of music is doomed to failure:
Music similarity is to me a cultural feature. For example, the distinction between two genres can be very artificial, and is sometimes based on features like "the way the singer is dressed" or "the amount of sexual contents in the lyrics". An example I like mentioning is the East-coast and West-coast rap. How a computer could tell the difference ? Covers are another example of cultural music similarities. You can totally change the tempo, instrumentation, even the style of a song. But it will still be similar to the original, and will be recognized as a cover of the original song, not as a cover of the original work. A final example is when an artist is inspired by another. For example, a lot of Stereolab fans are comparing their music to some of Steve Reich works. I agree with that. But without any musical education, nobody could see a similarity between the two.
Fortunately, some smart people have figured out (and proved) that the best features to compute similarity between songs could be found on the internet (and is cultural, indeed). You can obtain precise features to describe a song or an artist by summarizing the words used in amazon reviews, or usenet posts. You can see how similar two songs are by counting their co-occurences in webradio playlists. A Google search will tell you that "Paul Mc Cartney" and "The Beatles" have something in common, because there are approx. 715000 web pages mentioning both names.
Apparently British technogoth scifi author Charlie Stross has uploaded to a new Sony PSP:
"Charlie was teetering on the precipice of transhumanism for the whole last year," said his friend and collaborator Cory Doctorow. "His lifestyle and cerebral/neurological capabilities had been ramped up through intensive ideation and selective smart-drug use to an exquisite pitch just short of the Singularity. When he laid his hands on that sweet, sweet hunk of hardware, it provided the critical mass of complexification necessary to tip him over fully into the Extropian ideal condition."
(Stross himself has posted a correction, saying that it was a Palm Pilot he uploaded to. Which makes more sense; would anyone with Stross' copyfighter credentials really want to upload to a Sony PSP? I imagine that, with the DRM infrastructure, it would be too much like being trapped in a prison for all eternity (or, at least, until the batteries run out).
Anyway, he may not be the first to have done so; it is rumoured that Australian hard-scifi writer Greg Egan's absence from the publishing world is due to him having uploaded some years ago:
Aussie critic and potential "Spiker" himself, Damien Broderick, comments, "I tried to visit Egan years ago, and found myself stuck in a timelike infinity loop once I got too close to his nominal address. Only the concerted efforts of Stephen Baxter, Vernor Vinge and Greg Bear were able to free me. And even now, all my interior organs remain reversed. I subsist solely on amino acids of alternate chiriality."
Really? And I thought he was too busy fighting for asylum-seekers' human rights.
The killer application for PalmOS handhelds could well be Bhajis Loops. It's a multi-track sample-based audio sequencer, somewhere between module trackers and Ableton Live, which runs entirely on ARM-based PalmOS handhelds (i.e., Zire and Tungsten units). You get multiple channels of audio, effects plug-ins, filters and envelopes, as well as a library of sounds (including Roland TR-x0x drum samples, SID waveforms, and a General MIDI library that sounds considerably less crap than the Steinberg Universal Sound Module VSTi; not that that's hard to do, mind you, but it does fit in an order of magnitude less space as well). Not only that, but if your handheld has an internal microphone, you can sample sounds around you and incorporate them into your compositions. The fact that you can do this sort of thing on a pocket-sized personal organiser is, in itself, somewhat mind-blowing.
I bought and registered a copy a few weeks ago, and have been spending my commutes working on music. Here is my first attempt at a track made using Bhajis Loops. Most of this track was composed on the Tube, and some of the sounds (including vocal fragments and the snare sound towards the end) were sampled whilst travelling.
Anyway, if you have a recent Palm, check it out. It's well doovy.
There are now quite a few emulators running on PalmOS devices; from an expensive commercial Atari 2600 emulator to a lot of Sinclair Spectra to the Frodo C64 emulator. This actually runs quite well on my Tungsten T3 (with the slight exception of Paradroid going into pause mode every time one pushes the joystick down). I remember real Commodore 64s, and, some time after that, the hard-won satisfaction of seeing PCs (486s or low-end Pentiums, I think) finally get fast enough to emulate C64s well enough for games at full speed (possibly without sound, though); to think that now you can run a nigh-perfect C64 emulation on a pocket organiser is, well, strange.
Elsewhere, there was a project to port MAME to PalmOS, and someone collecting donations for it. The donations page seems to have disappeared, though, and the MAME site has no links to it. Hopefully someone will pull it off sometime soon. (There is Xcade, a commercial arcade emulator, though this only supports a handful of ROMs.)
Someone is writing an Apple IIe emulator for PalmOS -- and it's about as fast as a real Apple. (via bOING bOING)
I just picked up a Handspring Visor Deluxe handheld to replace my dead Pilot 5000. It was a choice between this one and the slimline Visor Edge, both heavily discounted, but I went with the Deluxe, because (a) the only advantage of the Edge is that it's slimmer and sexier-looking (not something I look for in a handheld computer), (b) this one was cheaper, and (c) I don't like the idea of a PDA with volatile memory running on an internal rechargeable battery (as those degrade over time).
Now to get it working with Linux...
It looks like my Pilot (an ancient US Robotics Pilot 5000, not one of those new-fangled PalmPilots) is cactus. The touch screen finally gave out, and now varies between locking the machine up and not working at all. I've managed to get the data off it, and now am looking at what to replace it with. (I'm thinking of going with a Psion.)
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