New personal project: Creating wallpapers for my BlackBerry Playbook

Call me crazy, but I'm already creating personal wallpapers for the BlackBerry® PlayBook®, even though I can't actually buy one yet. (The tablet will debut in US stores in early 2011.)  I'm sure the PlayBook will ship with gorgeous wallpapers out of the box, if the wallpapers on my BlackBerry Bold 9700 are anything to go by. But hey, I'm a photographer and I can't help but customize my desktops and mobile devices with my own creations.

For instance, here is a photo of the BlackBerry Playbook:

And here is a photo I took of a Monarch in my front yard:

Now, imagine them together:

Of course, I'd have to determine whether this image would blend nicely with the widgets on the screen. But in any case, I'm pumped!

According to RIM, the tablet will arrive in US stores in early 2011, with rollouts in other markets beginning in calendar Q2. Until then, the tablet's 1024 x 600 aspect ratio will be my photographic mantra.


New BlackBerry Tablet OS powered by QNX Neutrino microkernel

News Flash: This afternoon, at BlackBerry Devcon, RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis unveiled the new BlackBerry® PlayBook, a multi-tasking, video-conferencing, enterprise-ready, and just plain cool tablet device. If you don't believe the cool part, check out the tech specs:

• 7” LCD, 1024 x 600, WSVGA, capacitive touch screen with full multi-touch and gesture support
• BlackBerry Tablet OS with support for symmetric multiprocessing
• 1 GHz dual-core processor
• 1 GB RAM
• Dual HD cameras (3 MP front facing, 5 MP rear facing), supports 1080p HD video recording
• Video playback: 1080p HD Video, H.264, MPEG, DivX, WMV
• Audio playback: MP3, AAC, WMA
• HDMI video output
• Wi-Fi - 802.11 a/b/g/n
• Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
• Connectors: microHDMI, microUSB, charging contacts
• Open, flexible application platform with support for WebKit/HTML-5, Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Adobe Mobile AIR, Adobe Reader, POSIX, OpenGL, Java
• Ultra thin and portable:
o Measures 5.1”x7.6”x0.4” (130mm x 193mm x 10mm)
o Weighs less than a pound (approximately 0.9 lb or 400g)

And if that doesn't paint a good enough picture, try the video:

In his keynote, Mr. Lazaridis invited QNX CEO Dan Dodge to the stage and introduced him as the inventor of the BlackBerry Tablet OS, the new operating system for the BlackBerry Playbook. The new OS is based on the QNX Neutrino microkernel OS, which, if you are new to this blog, powers everything from BMWs to nuclear reactors to the space shuttle.

I don't usually quote from press releases, but here's what the RIM release says about QNX Neutrino:

The BlackBerry Tablet OS is built upon the QNX® Neutrino® microkernel architecture, one of the most reliable, secure and robust operating system architectures in the world. Neutrino has been field hardened for years and is being used to support mission-critical applications in everything from planes, trains and automobiles to medical equipment and the largest core routers that run the Internet. The new BlackBerry Tablet OS leverages and builds upon the many proven strengths of this QNX Neutrino architecture to support a professional grade tablet experience and to redefine the possibilities for mobile computing.

An OS Built for Developers
The Neutrino based microkernel architecture in the BlackBerry Tablet OS delivers exceptional performance, high scalability, Common Criteria EAL 4+ security, and support for industry standard tools that are already familiar to hundreds of thousands of developers. The OS is fully POSIX compliant enabling easy portability of C-based code, supports Open GL for 2D and 3D graphics intensive applications like gaming, and will run applications built in Adobe Mobile AIR as well as the new BlackBerry® WebWorks™ app platform announced today (which will allow apps to be written to run on BlackBerry PlayBook tablets as well as BlackBerry smartphones with BlackBerry® 6). The BlackBerry Tablet OS will also support Java enabling developers to easily bring their existing BlackBerry 6 Java applications to the BlackBerry Tablet OS environment.

For additional info on the new device, check out the BlackBerry PlayBook home page.


30 years of QNX: A tale of two users

Back in June, I posted a story about a QNX-based system that ran 15 years nonstop until... oh, hold on, I don't want to spoil the ending for you. If you'd like to read the whole story, click here.

In response to the story, two readers, Armin and Mitchell, shared their own stories of QNX reliability:

Armin: "We have QNX 4.25 installations running ~20 years at a ground station of the ESA (European Space Agency). It is an industrial embedded system based on PC/104 hardware and PROFIBUS."

Mitchell: "... But I still personally run an even older QNX 2 system on a daily basis. If you ever call my home or office and end up leaving a voice message, it's being saved on a 40Mhz 386 system that's been running trouble free for over 20 years..."

These quotes remind me of two other users, Joe and Dave, who were the subject of a QNX ad campaign in 1998 or 1999. Here's the ad, which ran as a two-page spread:

Joe, as you no doubt have guessed, didn't use QNX. Dave, in his wisdom, did.

The text in these images is a bit fuzzy, so let me type it out for you:

"Four years ago, Dave Cawlfield at Olin Chemicals replaced expensive PLCs with OMNX Open Control Software and the QNX Realtime OS. "Since then," says Dave, "we've upgraded the control system regularly with new hardware and software — including parts of the OS itself. But not once have we had to reboot."

Below Dave's quote is the following ad copy:

Most operating systems work fine — until they hit a minor software glitch. Or until you perform a simple maintenance task, like changing an input device. Then, like it or not, the OS goes down — and your application with it.

With QNX, on the other hand, your system can recover from software faults, even in drivers and other critical programs. What's more, you can hotswap peripherals. Start and stop file systems and network services. Change I/O drivers. Add or remove network nodes. Even access the OS after a hard disk failure. All without a reboot.

And here's the kicker: QNX scales seamlessly from handheld consumer appliances to continent-spanning telephony networks. So you can use one OS to keep all your solutions running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week — nonstop.

In case you're wondering why the ad focuses on PCs, it's because QNX was an x86-only operating system back in those days. That all changed in the late 1990s, when QNX released the QNX Neutrino RTOS, which is designed to support multiple processor architectures, including ARM, MIPS, Power, SH-4, and, of course, x86. From that point on, QNX technology was able to run on all the major hardware architectures used by mobile and embedded systems.


Smart car + smart phone: Just how will this marriage work?

The smart car and the smart phone were destined for each other. The romance began years ago with the introduction of handsfree kits. It grew when smart phones became a prime source of music played through in-car infotainment systems. And now, the relationship is becoming even more intimate, as smartphones become a source of applications and services for the car.

It's true that cars are shipping with more and more applications built in, many of which focus on safety, security, or navigation. But automakers have an opportunity to complement these applications with the many innovative applications and services offered on smart phones and other mobile devices. Many of these mobile apps can enhance the driving experience; some are even designed for in-vehicle use. They include maps with local search capabilities that can find local restaurants, and services that can track down the nearest available parking spot.

Automakers get this. As a result, they're looking for new ways to leverage the mobile service infrastructure — the OnStar Mobile App and BMW ConnectedDrive being prime examples. Still, to achieve this goal, automakers must not only enhance connectivity between the smart phone and the car's infotainment system, but also implement techniques that minimize driver distraction.

Currrently, automakers have several options to choose from. These include:

Remote terminal — The application runs on the phone and a remote terminal client in the car replicates the phone's HMI. For example:

Remote skins — The application runs on the phone and a remote skin in the car controls the phone application. For example:

Tethering — The application resides in the car and the phone acts as a modem, providing a connection to the cloud. Cloud-based applications can provide a user interface, or HMI, through technologies such as Flash and HTML 5.

Each approach has its benefits — and drawbacks. For instance, the remote terminal approach automatically provides access to new phone applications as they become available. But to maintain driver safety, the car infotainment system and the smart phone must work in conjunction to block applications that don’t present an appropriate "car mode" interface while the vehicle is moving.

The remote skin, on the other hand, allows the driver to use the infotainment system’s screen and input controls, which are larger and better designed for in-vehicle interaction than those of a phone. However, to keep pace with the rapid evolution in mobile services, the remote skin software in the infotainment system needs to support dynamic upgrades.

As for tethering, many phones already support it. Moreover, the back-end can change without affecting the car, which keeps the car fresh. That said, it's often unclear whether this approach conforms to the tethering agreement with your cellular carrier.

Put simply, no one approach is a panacea. For that reason, QNX takes the agnostic route and supports all of them.

Next month, at SAE Convergence 2010, QNX will demonstrate these various approaches. And just wait 'til you see the car that QNX has chosen as the demo platform — but more on that in a subsequent post...


Webinar: Bringing telepresence to everyday telephony terminals

Imagine talking to someone on the phone and feeling as if they are in the same room as you — even though they are, in fact, in another city. That, to me, is an example of telepresence.

I must admit, I'm just starting to learn about telepresence. According to Wikipedia, it refers to technologies that "allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance that they were present, or to have an effect... at a place other than their true location."

Later this month, Scott Pennock of QNX Software Systems will deliver a webinar on bringing telepresence to everyday telephony terminals — such as the phone sitting on your desk.

According to Scott, emerging technologies such as spatial sound capture and stereo speech codecs improve talker identification, speech comprehension, and other characteristics, allowing people to feel as if they are present at each other's location.

So far, this level of user experience has been restricted to high-end solutions that allow physically separated conference rooms to feel like a single room — Cisco TelePresence being an example. But now, manufacturers are starting to build "everyday" telephony terminals that can support telepresence. Moreover, the ability to transport the required signals between terminals is improving.

In his webinar, Scott will review use cases and explore design requirements, standardization activities, industry trends, and more.

To register for the webinar, click here.

The webinar occurs Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 3:00 pm EDT.


Critter of the week: Underwing moth

You know what I like about being on vacation? I slow down enough to see things that would otherwise escape my notice. Take, for example, this underwing moth, which I happened upon while vacationing at a friend's summer cottage:

Click to magnify

As you can see, underwing moths are endowed with amazing camouflage patterns. But you know what's really cool? They also possess the ability to select tree bark that maximizes the effectiveness of these patterns — as this photo attests.

Underwings are most active at night, when their mortal enemies, bats, are also active. Obviously, a talent for camouflage does little good when your enemy hunts by echo location. Thus, underwings have developed a second defense mechanism: A set of organs called tympana that allow a moth to "hear" a bat's ultrasonic cries. Upon hearing these cries, the moth will take evasive action, such as immediately falling to the ground.

If you're wondering how underwings got their name, it comes from a pair of brightly colored wings that become visible when the moths take flight. The underwing genus, Catocala, is large, comprising over 200 species.

Synchronicity department
A couple of days after I took this photo, my son took some surprisingly similar photos — not of moths, but of paintball markers. The photos are a testament to the effectiveness of the "A-TACS" camouflage pattern. Here's an example; to see more, click here.