Legs Of Steel

This year, E may well have given me the coolest birthday present of all time: New legs.

Me in my moonjumper bootsHeath in my moonjumper boots

Once mastered, they enable you to jump higher and run faster than ought to be physically possible. Still working on the whole mastery thing. :)

These shots show myself and my brother taking turns at teetering around the back yard.

These are cool enough to warrant a lengthy article, but they are also very simple… once I point out how cool they are, I’m not sure there’s much left to say.

Clockwork & blue smoke

On the down side:

  • Start to mow the lawn. New-ish (somewhat underwhelming) electric mower seizes up, stops. When the receipt comes to light, Bunnings say:
    “No, too late, you can’t bring it back and get a different one, you have to take it to the manufacturer.”
    The manufacturer will give us a new one, so, not so bad.
  • Diconsolate, I go prod the power switch on my computer: there is happy in Teh Internetz. Nothing happens! Frowning, I turn the big switch at the back off and on again. There is an audible poof, and ribbons of dense oily smoke stream out. No warranties on that anymore. :(
  • Frustrated, but it’s time to pack my work stuff for the week anyway. My wonderful (if horribly expensive) Deuter laptop-backpack has unzipped iself and spilt its guts on the floor during the night. *sigh* I yank on the zip… and it comes off in my hand!
    …fortunately, when I get my gruntle back sufficiently to think straight, this turns out to be fixable with patience and Very Large Pliers.

…Still. *grumble*

On the up-side:

  • E gave me the most magnificent watch of all time!
    Daybird Watch Front
    It’s a ‘daybird’ self-winding all-mechanical watch with elegantly exposed workings. The spinning, glittering parts are powerfully hypnotic.
    The back is transparent:
    Daybird Watch Back
    Which enables you to see the self-winding weight turning as the watch moves.
    It ticks in a hypnotic way too. Fabulous!

Alarming Clocks

For some time now, E has has three highly noteworthy alarm clocks (only two of which are currently in use)  purchased to circumvent the eternal problem of The
Snooze Button:

  • The Earth Shaker 116db pink loveheart.
    This alarming looking thing is the Alpha alarm-clock: It beats up other alarm clocks and steals their harems. It’s just impossibly loud, with a tunable alarm pitch so you can find the type of noise that best drills into your head. The bed-shaker is also disconcertingly effective. A traditional alarm-clock that goes up to 11, this thing only has two potential issues: 1. It doesn’t seem to keep terribly accurate time. 2. The brilliant technicolor glowing numerals may be too bright to sleep in front of for some.
  • The Helicopter.
    FlayAlarm Image from gadgets.dk
    The alarm goes off, and the top of the (battery powered, screwed shut) alarm clock literally flies away. It is then impossible to snooze or stop the alarm until you find the top bit and put its keyed butt back into the clock… or unscrew the battery hatch and remove the power-source. The alarm tone itself is a nice trek-esque klaxon noise, but the sensation of something suddenly spinning shakily at many RPM not too far from your head is also a powerful inducement to wake up. Cons: 1. Battery life is actually really good, but a vital alarm which can go flat is still a minor irk. 2. The savagery which this alarm can induce is detrimental to the somewhat fragile rotor and key assembly. The rotor itself is replaceable, but the key mechanism can break too. 3. This clock turns out to be susceptible to autonomic snooze-button-slapping, provided one’s reflexes are fast enough to pre-empt lift-off.
  • The chimes.
    A gentle alarm. If you’re susceptible to quiet-but-attention-grabbing alarms, this is ideal, with its wind-chime-like tinkling.

But lately I have seen a truly silly number of novel alarm clocks on the various fora I frequent, and decided that it was time for my own round-up of these sado-masochistic toys/tools.

A Response to Doctorow’s ‘Outquisition’

This is all about a particular BoingBoing post which I found particularly irritating. I would have posted something in the comments, or on the site itself, but in either case:

  1. I don’t fancy debating this with some of the more extreme foam-lipped loons who seem to inhabit either forum.
  2. The sheer volume of commentary in either forum would drown me out (yeah, I’m a selfish egoist; this is my blog.) and I shake with fear at the thought of the tsunami of follow-on emails.

So:

The Outquisition idea glosses over a lot of intractable real-world economic and social problems, and, as many, many commenters observed, is vastly arrogant in its assumptions about ‘knowing better’ than everyone else.

A more honest, somewhat less arrogant take would be to create a ‘technology evangelism movement’.
This leaves out the naive and pompous idea that new technology can solve everyone’s problems, or that blogging tech-groupies are somehow smarter than everyone else.

Instead, it focuses on the traditional role of the religious missionary: to take some dogma and shiny beads and go use the beads to spread the infectious memes, even (especially?) where they’re not currently wanted or needed. The engadget/BB-gadgets crowd already do this without really thinking about it.

Consider, if you will, a yuppie with a new iPhone, traveling out of his trendy urban home to visit his parents and their friends, trumpeting the virtues of his new toy from the rooftops at every opportunity. The yuppie can list a dozen reasons why an iPhone will change your life and solve all your problems, and he has the technological shiny-beads to dazzle his listeners with.

The dynamic is just the same: the new dogma brings with it a world of complication and ritual which ultimately costs the new converts more than it gives them, destroys their existing skill-sets, culture and traditions, and leaves the newcomers as second-class citizens in the promised land anyway. Those who refuse to adopt the new ways are abandoned, spurned.
The new community absorbs things like access to work and traditional support networks, leaving the outsiders to fend for themselves, often effectively driving them out of town.

To be fair, I would have to point out that I am a devout follower of the cult of tech. As a sysadmin I may even qualify as some kind of clergy. I draw the line, however, at gratuitous evangelism. I find the idea of missionary crusades downright offensive.

This kind of evangelism smacks of insecurity, a desperation to thrust ones own interests on the world and make them mainstream, thus avoiding the question of whether they have any merit.

Just because I’m into it doesn’t make it right.

Best. Toy. Ever.

E bought me a toy. :)

I told her about my oldest obsession, my first obsession, and she fulfilled it to the greatest extent physically possible: She got me The 8421.The 8421, Packed

This thing is like the god of lego sets. Sure, you can spend more on Mindstorms if you want the ultimate in sophisticated geekery, and there are doubtless exotic and ancient themed lego kits out there worth much, much more to collectors. I don’t care.The 8421, Extended

There’s no lego quite as powerful and awesome as real Technic, and as far as real Technic goes, this is it, the larget, most sophisticated (heaviest!) lego kit there is now, or ever was.

It:

  • Has pseudo hydraulics (pneumatics).
  • Has one of the new 9v electric motors.
  • Has the complete six-cylinder piston-engine block.
  • Has a working differential.
  • Has proportional eight-wheel steering.
  • Has two independent safety-clutches.
  • Took me about twelve hours to build.
  • Weighs about three kilos.

The 8421, Top-view

It’s a kind of Lego nirvana. :) Thank you love!

Geocaching for Nokia Symbian phones!

This post has been a long long looooong (longcat) time in the making.

I tried a vast multitude of Symbian GPS tools. I found a plethora of mapping tools which don’t quite do the job. I found tools which do the caching part, but not the GPS part. I spent numerous futile dollars on tools which are actually long dead and utterly unsupported ‘ghost-town-projects’. I even began writing my own J2ME tool, with frequent pauses to despair at the grotesque complexities involved.

Compass Rose

Finally though, I came back to a tool I had seen before, and ogled from afar: It was only available for phones on US networks Sprint, SouthernLINC, Nextel and Boost Mobile, at the time. Now though, it is free for Series 60 – 3rd-edition Nokia phones, such as mine!

And lo, it is everything I could hope for: you put your details in, link it to your geocaching.com account, and say ‘show me the nearest ten geocaches’, and it does. :)

The only tiny hitch I would war of (so far) is for those who, like me, have a compatible phone with no GPS built in: the ‘download directly to phone’ mechanism won’t work for you; it will spuriously say ‘unsupported device’ or some such. You will need to download the app to your PC and install it to the phone from there.

Laptop convergence idea

On a very geeky note, I have been following a number of rather cool new trends in laptop, phone, PMP and PDA design in the last year or so: tiny laptops, cheap laptops, highly sophisticated smartphones, crazy UMPC/PDA crossovers, the relentless rise of increasingly huge Solid-State-Disks, and, of course, the whole iPhone thing.

Just this morning it struck me that there’s a relatively simple way in which one could combine all of these things!

If your modern laptop is going to have a touchpad, a solid-state-disk and a comprehensive set of radio comms gear (wifi/mobile broadband/bluetooth) and so is your uber-phone-PDA, why would you need more than one of each of these things? They’re all relatively expensive bits of electronic kit, you can only use one at a time, and there’s a bunch of very strong reasons why the data in particular should be shared: keeping your music, your calendar, email, etc. in sync between your PC and your PDA is a pain, so why not just have one copy?

Briefly, the idea is to plug your iPhone-like PDA into a hole in front of the keyboard in your otherwise hard-drive-less, radio-less laptop.

When unplugged, your PDA runs some dinky little PDA OS on the same disk you run your laptop from, using the same organizer database, email storage, web-browser cache, contacts database, etc. When you plug it in, the PDA becomes a rather nifty touchscreen with built-in second display. The disk hooks up and boots into your real OS, or restores it from a sleep-state, or whatever. It runs and recharges off the great big battery in your laptop, provides all the wireless comms functions for your laptop, and so on.

Problems:

  • There is some serious software development to be done for an idea like this, but the hardware is patently already with us, but for a little matter of chassis-fabrication and one hell of a docking-plug-connector.
  • The release which disconnects the PDA from the laptop chassis is going to need some manner of software-controlled lock, to ensure that the ‘big’ OS can suspend or shut down before handing over to the PDA. Likewise, the PDA OS will have to have control after it’s plugged in, to get itself packed away before the ‘big’ OS takes over.

Benefits:

  • Only paying for one SSD means you can afford to have a much larger chunk of storage in the first place. I like the idea of my cameraphone having a fast 120GB+ disk in it.
  • Your PDA can plug into more than one chassis! You can plug it into your laptop at work, into a PDA-slot on your desktop PC at home, your friend’s PC at their place, and so on. You carry the canonical copy of all of your data with you wherever you go, and access it at full fast-disk speed.
  • You only need one account/ID with all your various communications providers. One 3G data account for your PC, your PDA and your phone. One wifi-MAC address for your laptop and PDA. One bluetooth device ID to bond your headset to.
  • Your laptop gains a snazzy new UI device, a big (multi-touch?) touchscreen.

I would so buy such a device!

disclaimer: I lay absolutely no claim to this idea whatsoever. If you like it, I wholeheartedly assign all rights to you, go nuts, patent it, call it yours, whatever, I don’t care.

They’re The Ghosts Inside My Head And They Control Me…

Nine Inch Nails GhostsWarning: meandering content beyond this point. May contain traces of blather.

I have raved here about the marvel that is SkullCandy before. Alas, my Smokin’ Buds finally packed it in the other day due to excessive mechanical abuse, and became suddenly monaural.

I have come to depend on their supernatural powers of noise-removal in my office, since the nature of cubicle-farms leads to a workplace which is never quiet, where there’s always someone talking, often more than one someone.

It is not entirely coincidence that I bought myself a new pair of SkullCandy Full Metal Jacket ear-buds at roughly the same time I bought Nine Inch Nails Ghosts. It is wonderful though.

Ghosts is a lyrics-free album. That should be stated up front for those of you who were hoping that Trent still wants to fsck you like an animal. :)

It’s also not especially danceable, a trait which much of their previous work is valued for.

I have heard it said that the album is an accoustic one. This is not the case. In fact, there’s so much of NIN’s trademark distortion and static that you can get seriously alarmed if Ghosts is the first thing you listen to on your new earphones.

I’m not going to rave here about the way this album is being distributed, or licensed, except to say that both are rather cool.

As music to fill the silence inside your head while you work, I have yet to find better.

As mechanisms for doing so, the SkullCandy Full Metal Jacket buds are well worth five times the $70 I paid for them: crisp, clean and packing more base than any speaker stack. They also seem, if possible, better than the Smokin’ Buds at obliterating the sounds of my office.

With this in my ears, I can work, no matter how much it all falls apart around me.

A spot of idle futurism

There’s a lot of speculation on the net, all the time these days, about the Next Big Gadget. People seem to be constantly photoshopping up new fake images of the next model of iPod as they want everyone else to believe it will look.

I am not immune to this: I still occasionally sit down and try to work up a plausible design for an unobtrusive, powerful, useable wearable computer. I also ponder the profusion of technologies like the iPhone’s screen or the latest stab at stylus-based input, and think to myself: what is the ideal handheld interface, anyway?

Today though, a news article about a display that functions as an image sensor, courtesy of Slashdot, has collided with something I remember reading a long time ago, about flat, lensless 3D image-capture devices, and a real, marketed 3D display technology I’ve seen more recently.

The collision of ideas is obvious if you think about it:

  • A possible future iPhone, courtesy of the gimp, CC, and flickrThe camera on your camera phone mostly captures images for transmission and/or electronic display, even if you don’t have a videophone.
  • Transmission of images is helped by good compression. One such method of transmission (presently infeasible) would be to break a real-world image down into a 3D mesh or similar abstract vector-based model. If I understand the ScienceDaily article aright, this is precisely the kind of data that your lensless camera gives you first! Making that into a 2D image would take work, but why bother if your display is 3D anyway?
  • A common way to look at those images, especially on a videophone, is on the screen of the same, or another such phone.

The potential phone-of-the-future that this presents is really obvious: It looks just like an iPhone; a flat little tablet with a screen covering its entire surface, except that there’s no little port for a camera on this one, the screen is the camera. So long as phones continue to be used as cameras as well, there will probably be a screen/camera on both sides of your future-phone. If you like, the screen on the back can display a precise 3D rendition of your head when you hold it up to your ear, so that it looks transparent. In fact, why not do that all the time, so that the phone always looks transparent? Take that Aqua! To take a photo you just hold up your empty phone-frame, and press the button on the side…

And that’s just a nifty side-effect. The main reason for doing this would be the 3D video-phone functionality! Not to mention crazy little tricks like each surface being an image scanner. You want to show someone an article you’re reading, or save it for later? You don’t need to line up a photo of it and hope your camera resolution doesn’t give you blurry text, you just slide the phone over the page. Either way up, it doesn’t matter.

This is, of course, wild speculation, as these things always are. I can think of half a dozen reasons why this might not work as suggested just off the top of my head.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t buy one if someone were to build it. :)

Transformers

Cybertronians

Last night I was privileged to participate in a sacred pilgrimage for a faith which is not my own.

Along with a secretive band known as Oftam (among them many True Believers) E and I went and saw the new Transformer movie last night, and enjoyed it immensely.

Although this will be written up to death in every corner of the Interlink, I can’t help but want to write about it. I will try to keep it spoiler-free and minimally foamy though. :)
The film starts with what fans may feel to be its greatest heresy: it introduces a clear, clean reason for the transformers to come to earth. There’s a certain amount of this kind of streamlining given to a pot which really evolved fairly randomly in the original animated series. It took nothing away from the experience for me, and felt entirely true to the original spirit.

The other big change is how the transformers themselves look and feel. Gone aer many of the familiar shapes and forms in favour of a very complex, organic esthetic. See Bumblebee here, for example. Transformations still feel right though: pieces move, and there’s the same sense that everything goes somewhere; nothing is added or taken away. This is not a coincidence: The effects for this film were given a lot of thought, and it is claimed that the animations really do take account of every part you see in the humanoid form in the vehicle form.

The director, Michael Bay, of whom many fans were extremely wary was aparrently not at all interested in the film at first, calling it a “stupid toy move”, but he seems to have come around: The film is littered with references to the original series, both dignified and humourous. The four leading cast members were all Transformers fans before they were hired. There was even a last-minute change made to the way Megatron looked (to the alleged horror of Hasbro) at the behest of the fan-base.

I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, actually: It manages to fit engaging characterization, a moderately complex plot and plenty of eye-candy, while still giving a generous amount of robot-on-robot action, so to speak. :)

The soundtrack also merits mention: in keeping with the likes of 300 and the first Matrix movie, action sequences are allowed to rock, rather than being limited to the traditional orchestral risings and fallings.
BumblebeeThis is a good film to catch on the big screen. Failing that, this is a good film to watch while sitting much too close to a huge plasma screen with a hefty sub-woofer delivering the earth-shaking tread directly to your nether regions. I will most assuredly be obtaining the DVD, but I am very glad to have seen it on an appropriately vast screen, with cinematic sound and a company of die-hard fans.

There are many memorable lines. Right at the moment I am stuck on:

“Bumblebee! Stop lubricating the man!”

The film is relentlessly true to what little a half-baked fan like I can remember. It excites and it satisfies, and I am extremely happy with it. I look forward to the inevitable sequels with more than the usual degree of hope.