Weekly Rewind #44

Greetings all, it’s a quiet Sunday afternoon here at Lynch Towers and the perfect time to update you with another Weekly Rewind. I’ll begin on Tuesday this time because last weeks article was delayed again and I’ve already covered Monday. It’s probably a good job because there’s so much to talk about from the last couple of days alone I couldn’t fit it in. I’ve got a special guest staying with me for Christmas which I’ve very excited about. More on that in the minute. In the meantime let’s start at the beginning, always a good place to start.

On Tuesday I processed the audio from Linux Outlaws Monday night recording and also started work on editing the big interview, I talked about that in the last Rewind. I took local recordings from each participant and spliced them all together. The resulting interview sounded really good I think, and I’m not just patting myself on the back here. Everyone involved did a great job of recording their own part. That was all released by Fab on Wednesday as episode 127 “Reverse Mono Trojan Horse”. I also installed Linux Mint 8 on the laptop which I’m still testing for a review, while on Thursday I attended the opening of the Space Invaders exhibition at FACT in Liverpool. It included a performance by the DS Orchestra, ably conducted by my friend Ross Dalziel. I hung around a bit at the after party with some friends and spoke to some other interesting people. I’m skipping over things so far because I want to get into the long winded description of what happened on Friday.

The Mystery Box
The Mystery Box

I was contacted recently by Lydia from wommobile.com to ask if I’d be interested in testing a new Nokia device. It was all very secretive and I wasn’t actually told what the device would be, only that it would arrive in an “indestructible” box and would be of interest to a FOSS geek like me. I agreed of course, and the mysterious box arrived at my door by courier on Friday morning. I had no idea what to expect, but after throwing the little foam packing balls all over the front room it seemed like some sort of puzzle to open the box. Quite why a supposedly indestructible box needed all this foam packing I don’t know, but enough about that. The cardboard outer box contained a USB device cable and I could see a corresponding socket on the front of the locked box. There was a card attached which said “Merry Christmas! Another gift is on its way once we see that you’ve completed your challenge…”. I was beginning to feel like James Bond, or perhaps that bloke from Mission Impossible, I just hoped the box wasn’t going to self-destruct. Connecting the cable to the computer I found it didn’t show up as any kind of storage device, even a quick “lsusb” command didn’t show anything useful. There was another card in the package telling me to visit hackerbox.co.uk if I got stuck. I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to solve the puzzle without help for the sake of pride but I gave in eventually.

Connecting The Box
Connecting The Box

On the website it gave instructions for how to connect to the box with a GNU Screen session and get a command prompt. From there if you were still stuck you could ring a helpline, but I REALLY wasn’t going to do that. I had to crack it myself without any more help or the LUG would probably disown me. I spent about 15 minutes trying every Bash command I could think of, but the Nokia terminal just returned “Invalid Command” to every one. I then tried random words like “open” and “help” but the response was the same. I needed to find the right command to make the box open. Eventually I decided to hit just “?” and thankfully this printed a list of commands. It seemed there was only one option, it said “connecting <argument> = open box”. I just needed the guess the second word to make the thing open, I was getting close. On the lid was engraved the company slogan “Nokia: Connecting People”, so it seemed pretty obvious what to type. I entered “connecting people” and sure enough something began to happen. A progress bar came up and the screen said “initiating opening sequence”, someone at Nokia has been watching plenty of Sci-Fi films I’m guessing but it was really well done. To my surprise a little puff of smoke then came out of the box and then the lid flipped open. A nice effect which all added to the mystique, I hope someone got paid a lot of money to come up with this marketing campaign. I’m sure they did. Opening the box I found a number of items inside, most notably a brand new N900 handset and a load of accessories!! I’d hoped they’d send me an N900 and even eluded to that in my emails wherever possible, but Lydia wasn’t giving any details away hehe.

N900 - Keyboard Open
N900 - Keyboard Open

So, my Christmas guest this year is a Nokia N900, their new Linux-based smart phone. I haven’t emailed them back yet to say thanks yet but of course I will. I only get the phone for 2 weeks sadly, I don’t think they’ll let me keep it but I can dream. I’ve already made a few people jealous on Identi.ca and Twitter by talking about all this online. I was so excited I couldn’t help it. For the last 2 days I’ve barely put the thing down and I’ll be sure to write a full exhaustive review over Christmas, stay tuned for that. I think I’ve rambled on enough about my week now, but I will just quickly mention that I edited another Software Freedom Law Show last night. You should be able too hear that on Tuesday.

Next Week:

We’ll be doing the usual Linux Outlaws live session tomorrow night. The last one before Christmas, so come and join us from 7pm GMT tomorrow. I’ll also continue testing the N900 and Linux Mint 8 for review and there’ll be a post-Christmas Rathole Radio on Sunday 27th at 9pm GMT. I sincerely hope everyone has a nice Christmas and has plenty of good company around them too. So many people are stuck alone at this time of year and we should all spare a thought for them. I’ll report back on my own festive adventures next week. Till then, take care and enjoy yourselves!

See ya,


Ross Dalziel


  1. Ha! Nice to see you finally joining the smartphone revolution! πŸ˜€

    Man… What a PR stunt. This sounds like it comes straight out of Cupertino… LOL. Anyway, enjoy that N900, mate! πŸ™‚

    • @Fab – Yep, it’s a PR stunt and a half I agree. I haven’t heard anyone else reporting receiving these boxes on other blogs but I can’t be the only one. I’m not egotistical enough to think I’m so special only I get a secret box πŸ˜€

  2. Potential N900 purchasers should be aware that approximately 10% of N900s are faulty: they continually and randomly reboot themselves, making them for all practical purposes unusable. When you contact the Nokia (lack of) Care Line you are treated politely, but the guys on the line are following a script designed to pass the problem elsewhere rather than solve it and treat the customer with any degree of concern.

    After 4 calls to the Care Line I was told to take the N900 to my nearest ‘Care’ Centre where I was told that they could fix it within 2 hours, but this would cost me Β£15 ‘Admin Fee’ (this was on a one day old phone). I came back after 2 hours, but was told that they could not fix it anyway. The Care Line then told me to return the phone to the supplier (MPD/Nokia webshop), but by then they were out of stock. When they get stock in (due Christmas Day!) it will be from the same duff batch, ie with the same 10% chance of a bad replacement.

    A software update is promised in two weeks, but as Nokia will not admit to a problem, we don’t know if it’s a software of hardware issue (seems like hardware to me) so you really can’t make a good decision as to whether to wait or get a refund. Meanwhile the contract continues to accumulate costs while remaining unusable…

    Wake up Nokia!

  3. PS. When I managed to get hold of someone at MPD, both Sam and Sebastien went out of their way to help, although their hands were tied by Nokia policy. Maybe Nokia should ask their advice on how to treat their customers.

    • @John – Thanks for the information. That’s a really shitty way to treat customers, and to be asked to pay for a repair on a brand new phone can’t be right. There must be some kind of warranty under European law if nothing else. Let us know how you get on. I haven’t seen this review model doing anything strange but then I expect they would have tested it before sending it to me. Some information from Nokia on what’s causing this problem would be good I agree. If I hear anything I’ll be sure to let you know. Good luck!!

  4. That is very cool. I hope Nokia sends me a box. They can keep the phone, I just want the box.

    At my last LUG meeting, Kyle Rankin gave a presentation using an N900 connected to a projector, and it was quite impressive.

    • @jezra – I haven’t played with the TV out yet but it did come with a cable for connecting to any normal video device. How did Kyle show the presentation? Has he installed OpenOffice.org on the N900? I’d be interested too hear about that πŸ™‚

  5. Dan, I don’t know how he gave the presentation, but if OpenOffice isn’t in the repos for the N900, he may have just used static web pages.

    Aside from all of the shiny whiz-bang of the device, I was most impressed when Kyle opened a terminal and used ssh to admin a remote machine.

  6. @jezra – Ah right, I don’t think it’s in the repos no. The multi-tasking on the N900 is cool though I have to admit, switching apps is easy. I’ve used apt-get in the terminal too. You can get root very easily which I like, no jailbreaking or messing around πŸ™‚

  7. Is this revenge for Fabs new laptop ;-)? I can’t wait for the review. Do you think you might consider buying one for your next phone?

    • I hope it’s revenge yes, but he already has a shiny Android phone so I doubt he’s bothered πŸ˜‰ Not sure if I’d buy one yet too early to say, but I am enjoying it a lot. Very cool device and so hackable. If you’re into hacking your phones this is probably the one for you. A proper review will be along in time, promise.

  8. Hi Dan, thought you might be interested in my account of the indestructible box: http://www.benjiegillam.com/2009/12/n900-the-tale-of-the-indestructible-box/

    I didn’t use screen, so you might be interested in my method πŸ™‚

    Looking forward to your review – I’d like to extract any cool workarounds you discover to make the thing work better. I’m using http://www.NuevaSync.com to sync my calendar and contacts with google apps at the moment. The mail client is a bit lame too – especially with Google IMAP – big latency with updating statuses on the server, etc. Shame. πŸ™


    • @Benjie – Haven’t looked at syncing Google Apps yet so I’ll give that a try. You’re right that the mail client isn’t brilliant. I was hoping to install another app for that like ClawsMail, but it hasn’t made it into Maemo 5 yet. I’ll take a look at your write up, thanks for the info πŸ™‚

  9. C’mon Dan! What’s wrong with you?! You had an “indestructable” box, and you didn’t even TRY to use a hammer on it? Or a screwdriver? Or a prybar? How about a ten-story drop? The USB slot was exactly what they WANTED you to use! If that had been a real spy box, opening it the way you did, it would have pumped a bazillion volts into you…or maybe exploded and taken out a five block radius. And NOW they’re beaming their magic mind control juju waves directly into your brain through their little “gift”! It’s all about manipulation! It’s all about control of our precious bodily fluids! You just gotta get hip to their jive, man!

  10. @lostnbronx – Hehehe you may be right my friend. I’m now officially Nokia’s bitch πŸ˜€ I have to say though this box is sturdy enough but not indestructible by any means. A hammer would have gone straight through it and I knew they wanted it back.

  11. Update on my N900 problems: The replacement arrived on Boxing Day. has not yet rebooted itself and shows what an awesome machine this is! Thank you MPD for seeing me right.

  12. @john – Oh that’s really good news, congrats! I’ve found running my own Python code with Gtk interfaces really easy on the N900. I know you’re more of a Python expert than me, so you may be able to do something really cool with that. It’s a nice machine, no doubt about that.

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