The blog is back

After a twelve year hiatus triggered by technical issues (my hosting provider went bust) and laziness (my site backups were not up-to-date), I’m back. For the past decade or so I’ve been using a combination of Twitter & Facebook as my “blogging” platforms, but they each have their limitations…so it was time to rescue my old blog with the help of the Internet Archive and recover all my old posts. Now that’s done, I’m looking forward to posting here and sharing insights with my millions of loyal followers.

Apple Computer 1

A few weeks ago I became the proud custodian of an original 1976 Apple-1 computer. I collect vintage Apple computers, and for collectors like me the Apple-1 is the holly grail. I’ve been on the lookout for one for more than 20 years and the stars finally aligned to make acquiring one possible.

Apple-1 board

The Apple-1 was not a commercial success, with less than 200 units sold in just over one year; but it was the reason that the Apple Computer Company (as it was known at the time) was founded and was pivotal in Apple securing venture capital to develop the Apple ][, it’s first mass market personal computer.

Steve Jobs keynote screen grab

The story of how the Apple-1 came to be is well documented, but the individual histories of the ~200 Apple-1s that were manufactured are a little less clear. Luckily, there is an excellent online registry of original Apple-1 computers, originally created by Mike Willegal and now maintained by Achim Baqué. My Apple-1 is listed as #67 on the registry. There is also a dedicated Apple-1 online forum for owners and enthusiasts at Applefritter.com.

The Apple-1 was sold as a fully assembled motherboard in a cardboard box. The chips on these boards were hand populated by Steve Jobs’ family and friends in his parents’ house. They were then taken to the garage where they were tested, and repaired if necessary, before being shipped to a handful of retailers in the US who sold them. The Apple-1 did not come with a case, keyboard, monitor, data storage device, or transformer. It was up to the retailer or the buyer to source off-the-shelf components to complete a working systems that would have typically looked like this:

Assembled Apple-1 system

In recent years, the value of Apple-1 computers as increased significantly with recent auction prices averaging in the $350-$500k level and as much as $900k. My focus, due to budget constraints and not being totally bonkers, had been to acquire the “runt of the litter” so-to-speak and leverage the excellent PCB repair ability we have in-house at Elcome to restore it. Here’s a video documenting the process of restoring this particular Apple-1 to working condition:

We got lucky with this board. Underneath a coat of grime and sticky residue was a pristine & unmodified board that we were able to get working without replacing any of the original components. Due to the age of the components, I don’t plan on powering up this Apple-1 a lot, but it’s actually good for it to be used every couple of months to prolong the life of the capacitors. There’s not a whole lot you can do with the Apple-1 compared to the Apple ][ or modern personal computers, but we’re working on an IP interface to make it easier to load software rather than the present method of using audio files or typing them manually. Having previously assembled a couple of Apple-1 replicas allows us to experiment more easily.

The Apple-1 basically completes my collection of vintage Apple computers. I have my favorites from my collection displayed in my office: some out in the open and others a bit more discretely.

Jimmy Grewal's vintage Apple computer collection

PowerMac Table photo

I plan to put together a blog post about each of the computers in the wall display above at a later date…hopefully before the decade is out. I’ve owned some since they were new, and others were acquired specifically for my collection. I haven’t yet figured out how I’m going to display the Apple-1 in my office…I’m saving that as a summer project.

My longterm plan is to partner with a public venue, like a museum, to display this Apple-1 so that anyone can see it and learn about it, the people who created it, and the technological revolution that it sparked. Until I find a permanent home for it, I’m exploring sending it on tour for temporary display at smaller museums…once I sort out all the insurance, transport, and import/export issues involved.

If you have any questions about this Apple-1 feel free to reach out on Twitter.

Pulse: hello world!

For the past few months this blog has been very quiet; that’s mostly because I’ve been busy trying to get a new project off the ground. This is something I’ve been working on since I left Microsoft back in 2003, but it has taken time and some mistakes along the way to build the company and product that I wanted.

Pulse logo

I’m pleased to announce the launch of the Pulse family of residential and hospitality automation products and the company behind it, Aspalis SAS.

Aspalis was formed in December last year as a partnership between myself and my friend Laurent Nicq. Laurent and I met in 2004 while he was working for a company called ConvergeX which was building Windows Media Center based home automation software. When that company had severe financial trouble and laid off most of its staff, Laurent and I decided to partner and build our own company and hire many of the talented engineers which ConvergeX let go.

Thus, Aspalis SAS was born and is now based in scenic Sophia-Antipolis, just outside of Nice and Cannes in the south of France. Besides myself and Laurent, we have five other talented people working with us: Jean-Paul, Emmanuel, Baptiste, Lucas, and Thomas. Aspalis is working closely with Navicom Technologies FZCO, a Dubai-based company in which I’m also involved, to bring products based on Aspalis software to market in the Middle East and the rest of the world.

Pulse ControllerThe first of these products is the Pulse Controller. This device acts as a central monitoring, control, automation, and remote management gateway for various systems in the home. At present, this device is designed to interact with hardware using the KNX / EIB and Z-Wave protocols; we will be adding support for additional protocols and standards in the future. Basically, the Pulse Controller interfaces with lighting, HVAC, curtain/shutter, IP cameras, and other devices/systems in the home to present the user a unified view on what’s going on around them.

The end user interacts with the Pulse Controller via client software running on a range of devices:

  • In-wall touch screens running Windows Embedded CE 5.0 or 6.0 with the .NET Compact Framework installed
  • Personal computers running Windows XP and Vista, including a special version for UMPCs
  • Mobile devices such as Windows Mobile 5.0 PocketPC and Smartphone connected via a WWAN connection such as GPRS/EDGE/UMTS/HDSDPA/etc
  • In the near future we will add support for clients based on Vista Media Center, Mac OS X, Symbian, and the .NET Micro Framework.

Pulse Client on HTC S620We have worked hard to build a simple and consistent user interface which adapts to the unique characteristics of the device it is running on. It’s hard for me to describe what I’m talking about, but we hope to post a Flash based demo that you can play with on our website sometime early next year.

The Pulse Controller itself is also a mini-computer, but is totally customized to suit the unique requirements of the market we are targeting. First and foremost, the hardware and software inside the Pulse Controller is designed to be reliable and easily serviceable. The hardware is based on industrial-grade embedded technology and features an Intel IXP420 Network Processor running at 400 MHz. At present, it runs Windows Embedded CE 5.0 Core, but we are evaluating CE 6 for future versions. The blocking issue at the moment is the lack of a suitable BSP.

The Pulse Controller is manufactured for us by Kontron Modular Computers GmbH on top of their E2Brain platform and the entire system is fully CE certified. We are in the process of getting FCC certification as well. The Pulse Controller has 64MB of SDRAM and 32MB of flash storage. It has two serial ports, two USB 2.0 ports, and two 10/100 Ethernet ports. There is space inside for an RF module, which presently occupied by a Z-Wave module available in 868.42 or 900 MHz versions. KNX / EIB support is enabled by way of a Siemens BIM 113 module which allows direct connection to a wired EIB bus. The device accepts 10 to 33 volts DC, and consumes around 4 watts during normal operation. It’s very compact and comes with both wall and DIN rail mounting brackets.

In addition to making it reliable and delivering easy-to-use client software, one of our most important goals was to design a solution which scaled well. By this I mean that we want to offer home automation for even the largest residential/hospitality projects out there. In order to do this, you have to design a solution which can be monitored, controlled, and updated remotely. We have built some configuration and deployment tools already, but have also included full support for monitoring and control of the Pulse Controller via SNMP. A white paper detailing this capability will be posted shortly.

In summary, the Pulse Controller and associated products have some unique selling points:

  • Reliability. The hardware and software was designed from the ground-up to be reliable and easy to service.
  • Scaleability. We have developed the first home automation solution which can be deployed in large residential or hospitality projects in the same way networking or communications equipment is used.
  • Cost. We have not taken the traditional “kitchen sink” approach, but rather focused on delivering a solution which has some basic/essential features and does those things well. We’ll leave the flashy/gimmicky features to all the other guys.
  • Openness. We like making friends. By leveraging protocols such as EIB and Z-Wave, we allow our dealers and installers to design solutions which best suit their customer’s requirements. We also play nice when it comes to client devices and are open to integrating the Pulse Controller with front-end software from others.

So, what’s next? We just finished exhibiting at the Gulf Information & Technology Exhibition (GITEX) in Dubai, thanks to the kind folks at Intel who gave us some space at the last minute. Next week we’ll be at Cityscape 2006 in Dubai starting on December 4th. We will be on the Al Shafar General Contracting stand. In early January, we’ll be making our North American debut at CES in Las Vegas. More details on that shortly.

If you are interested in learning more, watch our website or this blog and we’ll have more information about where you can buy home automation systems incorporating our products and technologies. Our initial focus is on new homes, but the Pulse Controller can also be used in existing homes.

I’m really proud of the work my team has done over the past year, and I am confident that we have carved ourselves a viable niche in the home automation market. The architecture we have developed makes it easy to adapt to changing market requirements and we have already begun work on future generations of the existing product and new products as well.

2008 Infinity G35 sedan?

I saw this car today behind the Emirates Towers in Dubai. Sorry about the bad quality of the picture, it took me a little while to figure out it might be a prototype of a future Infinity and it was hard to take the picture while shifting gears (was driving the Aston).

[CLICK PICTURE FOR LARGER IMAGE]

2008 Infinity G35 Sedan spy picture taken in Dubai

At first I thought someone had played a joke on the owner of the car because the Infinity badges were covered up and someone had drawn a Hyundai logo on it instead…but then I noticed that the Infinity logos on the wheels were also missing. When I got home I did a little search on the Internet to see whether my hunch was right, and sure enough I found some other pictures of a similar G35 prototype…which seem to have been taken at the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai.

The main differences I can tell are that the twin exhausts are now separated on either side of the rear apron, the more rounded rear with integrated spoiler, and new location of the G35 badge further up on the trunk lid.

EDIT: Turns out this is a 2007 G35 sedan which will be publicly unveiled in September, followed by a new coupe which might be a 2008 model year vehicle.

Where are the Finals???

I can’t believe it’s the summer of 2006 and I still can’t find a way to watch the NBA Finals live in Dubai…either on the cable/satellite TV or on the Internet. At most I can buy the video from Google Video or iTunes 24h later which kinda spoils the fun. If anyone knows of any way to watch the games live in Dubai, please post a comment.

2008 BMW X5 spotted in Dubai

AutoSpies.com has posted a bunch of pictures of the next generation BMW X5 which was recently photographed undergoing hot weather testing in Dubai (yes, summer is here unfortunately). I guess I’ll have to start carrying my digital camera again as the other manufacturers bring their cars in for testing over the summer.

Rumored updates for 2007 Mercedes G-Class

I’m not sure these updates are 100% confirmed so consider them rumors for now:

On 1 September 2006 there will be a small facelift for the G Class which will continue to be built alongside the GL Class to 2010 and beyond. The G 320, G 270 CDI and G 400 CDI will no longer be built. Instead there will be a G 320 CDI (OM642) with 224 bhp. A G 420 CDI is not planned. The G 500 with 296 bhp and the G 55 AMG Kompressor with 476 bhp stay in the programme. The G 320 CDI and the G 500 will be equipped with the seven gear 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox as standard. All three models will incorporate Bi-Xenon adaptive headlights as standard, too. A few colours will be changed, tealit blue is new and emerald black is cancelled. It’s worth mentioning that the G 320 CDI will be the only model with black bumpers front and rear, body coloured being an option. The interior remains unchanged. There is a new interior package option (no extra price on the G 500) consisting of seats and door lining in ARCTICO fake leather and floors covered in resistant rubber. All changes will be incorporated into production from 1 September so that orders will be accepted in the next few weeks.

MORE…