Soma's Blog

December 13, 2011

Android Tablet App Guide

Filed under: Android,Tech — somanov @ 21:01

Ok I gave in to the hype and got myself a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 as an early christmas present. And I have to say its a nice piece of hardware. There are a lot of reviews out there so I am not going to bore anyone with another one. But I would like to share a list of my favourite apps


Media Consumption

This is my main reason for getting a tablet: Having a nice portable device for entertainment such as reading news, comics or browsing the web


An innovative and pretty news reading app in the same vein as “Flipboard” for the iPad (which is one of the main reasons why I wanted to get a tablet in the first place). It has a nice, compact UI and organizes your feeds in rows and columns. Until very recently it was the closest thing Android had to show as a Flipboard cone. That was until Google Currents came along…

Google Currents

A very nice Flipboard clone. Prettily organizes your news feeds and presents them “magazine style”. The only downside is that this thing is still in beta: it is currently pretty slow when updating/syncing and I have experienced an odd crash every once in a while. Oh, and it is only available for US users .. at least from the market. Shame on you google! Luckily a quick google search (how ironic) turns up a few links to download the .apk


The best PDF reader I have found. It offers a lot of features  (text highlighting, comments, even drawing)  which make this the perfect app for reading and annotating papers on a tablet. Highly recommended and definitely worth the few bucks. Get it from the market


Easily the best free manga reader out there. Can browse a lot of popular manga sites or download chapters for offline browsing. This app has been pulled from the market for some reason but is still available for download from the developer’s site


Free Instapaper client for Android. Whats not to like? Check it out at


Watch TED talks on your tablet. Highly recommended way to pass half an hour with something not completely braindead. Check it out


For your daily 4chan fix 🙂



Not sure if I will get some serious work done on a tablet (the thought of typing more than 4 words without a physical keyboard still makes me cringe). However there are some nice apps available

Thinking Space

Create mindmaps on the tablet. Pretty neat. And free.


Create, Edit and Share notes across multiple devices (and the web). Evernote is a nice tool and the Android client is free and well worth checking out.


View Google Docs. Editing is there as well but  it is a painful experience and best avoided. Linky



Some utilities I find helpful.

ES File Explorer

The best file explorer app I have found so far. Nice UI. Preview for many filetypes. Support for network shares(samba). Free and recommended.


Have you wondered how to get files on/off your tablet without a USB cable (and Windows)? Why not start an FTP Server on the tablet and use an FTP client from your desktop computer? SwiFTP is an FTP server app that is very easy to set up and use. Yep WIFI file transfers can be slow. But it still beats the crap out of looking for an USB cable (and rebooting).  Android Market


Dropbox client for the tablet. One way of syncing your local files with the cloud. Luckily it lets you choose which files to upload/download. Get it from the market



Okok thats my other main reason to get a tablet 🙂  There are a LOT of games out there and I only had time to check out a few.  While I love playing shooters  on PC or console I dont think this will ever be the killer genre for a tablet. There are already some really nice strategy and puzzle games out there and I would love to see a few original point-and-click adventures for tablets. The interface should be perfect for it, no?

Angry Birds

Ok everyone knows that one. Still it is good fun and a great way to kill time.


Physics based puzzles in the spirit of “Incredible Machine”. I did the first few levels last night and they I will definitely be coming back for more. Market Link

World of Goo

Innovative puzzle game which has been released for a lot of platforms. Pretty fun and well made. The full game is about 4.00$ but a lengthy demo is available in the market.

Geed Corp HD

Turn based strategy game in the spirit of Advanced Wars (Battle Isle, History Line for the old people among you;). Very good visuals, looks pretty polished and its free.

Great Little Wargame

Another turn based strategy game. Good visuals, cute comic style graphics.  Only tried the first few levels and it has been fun so far (not too challenging though). Available in the market for 2 bucks.


Turn based strategy multiplayer game. Have not tried this one yet but it offers singleplayer and multiplayer gameplay. Probably worth a look. But costs about 3.50$ in the market.

Space Squadron

Tried the demo yesterday and i LOVE the concept of this game. Think Wing Commander style space battles but turn-based. Unfortunately the UI is kind of clumsy and the game generally lacks polish. I played through the demo yesterday and I would definitely fork over 5 bucks  or more for the full game if the dev put some more work in polishing and balancing the game. (Market)


May 5, 2011

Problems with Kubuntu 11.04 (and some fixes)

Filed under: Linux,Ubuntu — somanov @ 23:36

Kubuntu 11.04 has been out for a few days now and I could not resist the urge to give it a try on my Dell Latitude E6400. I have been a dedicated  Kubuntu user for many years and -with the exception of certain low points- I think the user experience has always been pretty solid. The newest release however has been somewhat ..complicated.. I ran into a few obstacles and would like to share:


I decided to install the 64bit Version of Kubuntu 11.04.  After booting into live mode and  playing around for a while I was ready to install. Alas, the installer bugged out every time I tried to run it. Turns out the installer is currently unable to install from  live mode. I had to reboot and choose the “Install now” option during boot.

Firefox + Flash

Having finally managed to install the system I went on to install some essential programs that are for some reason still missing from the default install (is there anyone out there who honestly prefers Rekonq to Firefox/Chrome ? ). Anyway Kubuntu luckily provides a foolproof installer for Firefox and the Adobe Flash Plugin (flashplugin-nonfree) can easily be installed from the package manager. Unfortunately the Flash version in the Ubuntu repo is currently a mess. Some video sites (like youtube) work fine, while others (like the Nostalgia Critic for example) are inexplicably broken. The videos flicker and stutter and are a pain to watch.  The only fix I found was to install a different version of Flash. Check out the instructions here which can easily be summarized as:  To fix Flash for Firefox 4.0.1 (64bit) do

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:sevenmachines/flash
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install flashplugin64-installer

Crashes when resizing windows
Turns out installing the proprietary nvidia driver (nvidia-current) is currently a bad idea. The driver has a serious bug which causes the whole desktop to freeze / crash whenever a Konsole window is resized (in my particular case making the window smaller worked fine but making it larger predictably caused the whole computer to freeze). There is already a launchpad bugreport with a lengthy number of comments. Until this gets sorted out here are a few workarounds:

  • Use the noveau driver. The driver comes preinstalled and using it  is actually the default behavior. It works fine unless you regularly switch between 1-monitor and 2-monitor setups. In which case nvidia-settings is probably your best friend and you will want to use the nvidia driver.
  • Uninstall nvidia-current and use nvidia-173 instead. This seems to work but it comes with some slowdowns.
  • Turn off all Desktop Effects. Yes it takes away a lot of the pretty eye-candy.. but it also provides a simple, stable and fast solution for the problem.. at least until the issue with the nvidia driver gets sorted out.

Power Button – Freeze

Pressing the power button currently causes my laptop to freeze for about 20 seconds. Afterwards things start working again, but nothing else happens. Curiously, if I press the button again it suddenly works as expected and Kubuntu shows the logout menu. Again there is already a bugreport and this will hopefully be sorted out soon.

All bad?

All in all it took me quite some time to get a stable and usable version of Kubuntu 11.04. However now that everything is up and running I am pretty happy with the result. KDE4 has come a long way. There have been many big and small improvements over the last releases. Dolphin feels snappier than ever, the problems that have plagued the network manager in the past  have disappeared and I am actually starting to like Amarok again.  Yes there are still some bugs to squash and it currently takes some effort to get your install stable and usable. But these birthing pains are totally worth it. If you have not yet tried the newest version of Kubuntu. Go check it out now!

April 7, 2011

Test Users Wanted

Filed under: Research,Tech — somanov @ 20:20

Short Version

If you are interested in testing an innovative travel information service for mobile phones, please register as a test user and help support a research project I am currently working on.

(We currently support Java phones, Windows Mobile phones and the iPhone.)

Elaborate Version

With the emergence of services like google maps (bing maps, yahoo maps etc.) the world seems to get smaller by the minute. Detailed geographic information is just a a few clicks away. Planning a route to any possible destination has become a trivial exercise. Provided you are going by car.

If you are looking to travel by public transport however, things are not looking half as bright. Services like Google Transit poorly cover public transport route planning, especially in Europe (on this site most locations  in Europe are marked with “Transit layer only“. This means google only provides a static overlay with the most important transit lines, but does not offer journey planning). Admittedly there are a lot of reasons for that, and some of them are possibly not Google’s fault.  However the timetable data to perform public transport journey planning is usually readily available in the local area. And this is just the beginning: Public transport operators typically have detailed real-time information about delays and last-minute changes in their systems. And in many cases they would be willing to share.

Pretty much the same can be said about real-time traffic information (jams, delays, road blocks,etc): Communities like ITS Vienna Region are perfectly capable of providing high-quality traffic information for local areas, but this data is currently neglected in today’s route planners.

And here is where an ongoing research project I have been working on joins the game: The In-Time project pilots a pan-European approach to Real-Time Traffic and Travel Information  services. Six European pilot cities have agreed to share their real-time traffic information over a common interface. Demo applications have been developed which make use of the provided information and showcase the possibilities on a variety of mobile platforms. And the best thing about this is: the demo apps are free and we are looking for test users.

The In-Time demo is available for the regions Brno, Bucharest, Florence, Munich, Oslo and Vienna. It operates on Java phones, Windows mobiles and iPhones. The service helps you to plan trips by means of public transport, bicycle or car. It can show you the fastest way from one place to another by intelligently using real-time traffic information.

If you are interested in testing this travel information service on your mobile phone, please register as a test user. You will be asked to complete a questionaire before you are forwarded to the download site. The data in the questionnaire provides us with valuable feedback to  improve the services and polish our project results.

I would very much like to hear your feedback about the application and the project in general. Please keep in mind that the applications are still in beta state and we are in the process of squashing bugs and improving the overall user experience. Any kind of feedback for helping us to do so will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for your support and enjoy using the In-Time application.

March 7, 2011

Still alive..

Filed under: Life the Universe and Everything,Python — somanov @ 23:23

just a quick update to prove I have not gone the way of the dodo just yet.

But admittedly I had little time and motivation for updates in the last few months, mostly due to work overload and a complete lack of something interesting to blog about.

To make this blog entry a little less meaningless let me share a little gem of free software:


“Spyder (previously known as Pydee) is a free open-source Python development environment providing MATLAB-like features in a simple and light-weighted software, available for Windows XP/Vista/7, GNU/Linux and MacOS X.”

This amazing IDE combines the power of the IPython shell with a variety of features I love in the Matlab GUI. Among many other cool features it contains a rather powerful source code editor with occurence highlighting, class/function browser, code completion and calltips. So if you love Python but are still looking for the perfect IDE, check out Spyder. You wont regret it.

April 28, 2010

Regaining disk space on Android phones

Filed under: Android — somanov @ 22:56

Today after I installed Opera Mini on my G1 I ran pretty low on interal storage. I went to Settings->Application Settings->Manage Applications to remove some of the weightier apps from my phone. To my surprise I discovered that some Apps seemed to occupy a LOT more space than advertised in the Android Market (for example NewsRob used a whooping 12 MB instead of the 1.2 MB shown as install size in the Marketplace). Out of curiosity I uninstalled and re-installed the application. Afterwards it used the 1.2 MB that I expected it to take –> I gained about 10 MB of free space

The same thing seemed to be true for many of my other applications: they used a lot more space than the Android Market suggested they would. Uninstalling and re-installing the application fixed the problem and freed the excess space. Now I have the same applications installed as before, but about 25 MB more free internal storage.

I wonder how this can happen. I noticed that many of the “overweight” applications were installed for a long time and I think they have seen quite a few updates. So perhaps something could be wrong with the way Android (1.6) handles application updates? Maybe some old files dont get deleted when they should be? (No clue really, just guessing).

Anyway I thought this observation may prove useful for other G1 users struggling with disk space shortage.

April 13, 2010

Matlab for Dummies

Filed under: Matlab for Dummies — somanov @ 19:58

I am starting a new category called “Matlab for Dummies”. I was recently forced to start using Matlab at work, and I  have run into a lot of little annoyances and WTFs. And I intend to share.

I am planning to use this category as a way to write down things I had a hard time figuring out, and which might be useful to others. And also to vent my frustration about the inconsistent, ugly piece of s……oftware that matlab appears to be. So.. stay tuned 🙂

April 11, 2010

Flash and Gmail B0rked in Firefox 3.6.4pre

Filed under: Linux,Ubuntu — somanov @ 21:51

I updated Firefox on my netbook to Firefox 3.6.4pre today. As a result gmail stopped working and every site that uses even a tiny bit of flash completely froze my browser. Some googling revelaed that apparently the new “plugin process isolation feature” is the cause of this problem. Right now it can be fixed by going to about:config and setting = False

There. now back to watching a cat jump into a box and fall over…

March 17, 2010

Making Java work in Firefox 3.6 (Namoroka)

Filed under: Java,Ubuntu — somanov @ 15:34

About two weeks ago I carelessly installed Firefox 3.6 on my Kubuntu 9.10 System (forgot to turn off the mozilla repository before doing a full-upgrade). When I finally realized what had just happened, Firefox 3.6 was already up and running and I figured I might as well give it a try. All in all it works quite well and I have not had a lot of trouble with it.

Today I realized that java applets dont work (If I needed further prove for the fact that java has become completely irrelevant for websites this is probably it). Luckily the solution is relatively simple:

cd /usr/lib/firefox-3.6.2pre/plugins
sudo ln -s  /usr/lib/jvm/java-6-sun- 

Then restart Firefox and check that java is listed in about:plugins .

Now I am again able to use the ONE java applet that I am forced to use on a regular basis. Hooray!

February 14, 2010

“Two Finger Scrolling” for Ubuntu 9.10 on Dell Latitude E6400

Filed under: Ubuntu — somanov @ 22:31

Was bored today, lying on the couch with my notebook and wondering why Apple users get neat features like two finger scrolling and the linux crowd does not.

Well a few minutes of googling later I had learned that this is indeed supported by Linux but not enabled by default in Ubuntu. I had also found some very helpful sites that explain how to set it up for Ubuntu Karmic.

This blogpost talks about setting up multi-touch scrolling for the Asus Eee 1005HA netbook and the process in general. And this forum thread talks specifically about the ALPS touchpad which is built into my Dell Latitude E6400.

The main problem here appears to be that the ALPS touchpad does not support two finger recognition. However it is somehow “pressure sensitive”. Using the pressure value you can have the driver guess how many fingers you are probably using at the moment. The values output by the touchpad may vary between models, so it is best to start by debugging the touchpad output with synclient:

Reading out the touchpad values
For this Option "SHMConfig" "true" must be set in the xorg.conf .. but my xorg.conf does no longer contain a device section for the touchpad as most of the hardware is handled by HAL now. So I ended up creating a policy .fdi file for HAL which looks like this:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<deviceinfo version="0.2">
<match key="info.product" string="AlpsPS/2 ALPS DualPoint TouchPad">
   <merge key="input.x11_options.VertTwoFingerScroll" type="string">1</merge>
   <merge key="input.x11_options.HorizTwoFingerScroll" type="string">1</merge>
   <merge key="input.x11_options.EmulateTwoFingerMinZ" type="string">70</merge>
<match key="input.x11_driver" string="synaptics">
    <merge key="input.x11_options.SHMConfig" type="string">True</merge>

After restarting HAL and the xserver (or rebooting) one can start synclient with

synclient -m 10 output

Synclient will give you a lot of information about your touchpad.. Take a close look at the “f” and “z” columns. The “f” column should report the number of fingers used on the touchpad, but unforatunately it always outputs “1” on my computer. The “z” column represents the pressure value. Try operating the touchpad with one or two fingers and see how the value changes. You want to find a threshold that cleanly seperates operating with one finger from operating with two fingers. For me this threshold was about 70.

Enable 2 Finger Scrolling
Now all we have to do, is tell the driver to emulate “two finger mode” if the pressure value is over 70. This should be easy right? In a perfect world it would be. If you look closely at the above xml again, you will see that I put the corresponding lines right at the beginning of the file (and also the lines to enable two finger scrolling). My xorg.log shows that the statements are parsed correctly when the xserver starts, but for some reason they didnt have any effect in Ubuntu 9.10.

Fortunately the blogpost i mentioned before also shows a bash script to work around this problem. I had to modify some of the values in the original script. In particular the statments in the script tell the driver to emulate two finger operation when finger-pressure AND the finger-width (“w” column in the synclient output) exceed thresholds. Unfortunately my touchpad always reports a finger-width of 0, so I had to slightly adapt the script:

# Use xinput --list-props "SynPS/2 Synaptics TouchPad" to extract data

# Set multi-touch emulation parameters
xinput set-int-prop "AlpsPS/2 ALPS DualPoint TouchPad" "Synaptics Two-Finger Pressure" 32 70
xinput set-int-prop "AlpsPS/2 ALPS DualPoint TouchPad" "Synaptics Two-Finger Width" 32 0
xinput set-int-prop "AlpsPS/2 ALPS DualPoint TouchPad" "Two-Finger Scrolling" 8 1
xinput set-int-prop "AlpsPS/2 ALPS DualPoint TouchPad" "Synaptics Two-Finger Scrolling" 8 1 1

# Disable edge scrolling
xinput set-int-prop "AlpsPS/2 ALPS DualPoint TouchPad" "Synaptics Edge Scrolling" 8 0 0 0 

# This will make cursor not to jump if you have two fingers on the touchpad and you list one
# (which you usually do after two-finger scrolling)
xinput set-int-prop "AlpsPS/2 ALPS DualPoint TouchPad" "Synaptics Jumpy Cursor Threshold" 32 110

Note that this script only works if the SHMConfig option I mentioned above is active. The script also disables the “edge scrolling” on the touchpad to give you a little more space.

The end result
It works, but it does not work well. I played around with various threshold values for a bit, but I could not find a combination which gave me a responsive and consistent feeling. Finally I ended up disabling the feature again. I think the main culprit here is my touchpad, which does not report enough data to distinguish one-finger from two-finger operation with the required consistency. The feature is there though, and for other touchpads it might work quite well. It may not be perfect on my notebook but nevertheless it would be nice to see this in one of the upcoming Ubuntu versions.

February 11, 2010

Fixing Eclipse for Ubuntu 9.10

Filed under: Java,Ubuntu — somanov @ 16:38

I recently discovered that Eclipse is broken beyond hope in Ubuntu 9.10. Many Buttons dont work and some other things also seem flaky at best. Apparently this has something to do with the GTK+ version used in Ubuntu 9.10. The bug is fixed in Eclipse 3.6 but previous Eclipse versions are pretty much unusable.

Fortunately I found this excellent blog post which explains the problem in detail and also gives a very simple fix for older Eclipse versions :

The solution is to create a bash script which sets an environment variable before starting eclipse:


now everything works just fine and I can go back to coding java. Many thanks to the Blogosphere 🙂

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