mithriltabby: Jedi Holocron (from Star Wars) (Jedi Holocron)

The Old Republic’s servers had to be taken down for emergency patching today, and the announcement that they’re back up stated:

All servers are now back up and running! Please note that you will download a small patch upon login (approx. 200MB). Thank you for your patience. As a reminder, due to today's unexpected maintenance, all active subscribers will receive a full day of game time as compensation.

200 megabytes is a small patch by modern standards. I can remember using a 300 baud modem, and how upgrading to 1200 baud meant that my computer could finally download text faster than I could read it.

mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)

Once I read that the Nook Tablet could be hacked into running the Android Market, I decided that it would be a fine choice of e-reader: lightweight, good screen, slot for a microSD card so I could give it a boatload of storage. The form factor is just right for fitting in the paperback-sized pocket of my jacket.

The stock Nook is pretty limited; Barnes and Noble have hidden a lot of standard Android functionality. It comes with Pandora, Netflix, and Hulu, and you can download EverNote and Skitch from the B&N app store, but there’s not a lot of choice there. It’s pretty easy to download the Amazon App Store, which gives you some more choices; you don’t need to be a hacker to install the Kindle app on the Nook and get the advantage of both bookstores.

Getting the full benefit of Android, though, requires rooting it— hacking the device to give yourself administrator permissions. At the moment, that means you need to download the Android SDK to your computer, download a program like AppMenu or Any Cut to the Nook so you can access the hidden part of the UI that lets you turn on the flag that will let the debug tool in the Android SDK talk to your Nook, and then load up a program that will break the security. This is pretty straightforward if you’re already comfortable with the command line (though there were some false starts until I found the right version of AppMenu), but I wouldn’t recommend it for someone nontechnical.

Once that’s done, installing the Android market, then using that to install ADW.Launcher to get a real launcher (and directly installing HomeCatcher to let you override the big N button on the front of the case to take you there) finally makes it a real Android device. It takes some abuse of root permissions to get the Swype keyboard working (which is a relief, since B&N have their own keyboard that acts different from all other Android keyboards), but I didn’t have any issues getting Adobe Reader, Aldiko, Kindle, and Google Books all loaded up, and Zinio and the Economist work just fine. None of the Android apps for Twitter, Facebook, Google Maps, or Google Plus are marked as compatible, so the Android Market won’t let you download them.

There are still some odd hitches, like the erratic availability of the Back and Menu buttons (which usually appear when needed, but occasionally get left out). I’m hoping that the intrepid hacking community will soon have a full Ice Cream Sandwich build to overwrite B&N’s hack.

mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)

Last night, I upgraded my Nexus One to Android 2.3.3, aka “Gingerbread”. (I was lazy and waited for the automatic over-the-air update.) The update went without a hitch, but one of the features is just a bit retro: when you hit the power button to send the phone to sleep, the screen shrinks horizontally to a single white line and then goes black, just like a very old cathode ray tube television set. Okay, it’s amusingly retro to those of us who are old enough to remember televisions that did that, but is that really the way to show off your cutting edge technology?

(While as a matter of personal style, I’ve been known to use sounds from the original Star Trek series as alerts, I wouldn’t recommend that as a default.)

mithriltabby: Rotating images of gonzo scientific activities (Science!)
Catching up on video blogs, I ran into this TED Talk from Tan Le of Emotiv. Quite impressive.
Let’s see if LJ can handle embeds from TED )
mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Group Intellect)

There’s an interesting blog, Unlink Your Feeds, with a manifesto calling for unlinking feeds between different web services. And it raises a rather interesting dilemma: some of us are heavy Internet users who are on a bunch of different services; others are only on one or two. How to reach the people who are only on one or two services without dumping huge amounts of redundant information in the laps of the more heavily connected?

My current practice is to distinguish between primary sources and aggregators. I have many primary sources: I use my LiveJournal any time I want to go into depth and have a real discussion about matters; that’s regular blogging. I use my Twitter account for microblogging. I review books on my LibraryThing, and aggregate them here to facilitate discussion (since most folks here wanted it that way), but I don’t tweet about the book reviews or posts to my LJ. I review local businesses on my Yelp account, and save bookmarks on Delicious. Anything that I find interesting while perusing my many RSS feeds on Google Reader goes into my shared items there; sometimes they’ll show up on my Delicious account as well if I want to remember them later, but mostly it’s just putting interesting things into a stream for people to follow if they wish.

Aggregators, on the other hand, are platforms to which I never post directly, and just set up a feed from a primary source. Since Facebook is a microblogging platform, I send my Twitter posts to my Facebook account; same with Google Buzz. LiveJournal isn’t for microblogging, so I don’t use the service to put the day’s tweets into an LJ post. The only new content you’ll see from me on an aggregator platform is my replies to others’ posts.

My home page pulls in everything that I can inline into a web browser, partly as an exercise to keep my web coding skills from rusting up completely and partly as a way of advertising the feeds as something more than meta tags and icons on the page.

mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)

My old G1 was regularly running out of space for the applications I wanted to run, and the Nexus One was getting good reviews, so I got one. Upgrading was easy— just pop the SIM card out of the G1, pop it into the Nexus, turn it on, and sign in to my Google account— and it quickly synced my data out of the cloud. (Downloading all my applications again took a while, though.)

Thus far I’ve been pleased with the performance; I haven’t been having any of the 3G connectivity issues that some people are complaining about, and it performed quite well as a music player today, finishing out a day of listening with 39% charge in the battery. It comes with a 4GB microSD card, and when the 32GB cards come out in February, the thing will have more space than my first iPod did. The turn-by-turn navigation has been quite good thus far.

I’m glad that the EU has been throwing their weight around about phone chargers; the G1 used a mini-USB connector, and the Nexus uses micro-USB, so I can charge it from any USB port with a cheap cable instead of having to buy a special charger. At Fry’s, I went down to the AC Adaptors aisle and found a couple of useful widgets, one of which is just a wall wart that has a couple of USB ports on it, and another that is the equivalent for a car’s charging sockets. This is much more flexible than getting one of the dedicated phone chargers from the cellphone aisle, particularly with two ports so [ profile] obsessivewoman can charge her Nintendo DS while my Nexus One is doing navigation.

Anyone want a used G1? You can get service for it from T-Mobile for $55–$60 per month with a $35 activation fee.

mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)

My old laptop, a Dell Latitude L400, was getting out of date: the fans were noisy, the boot time slow, the processor (a Pentium III Coppermine) had trouble keeping up with Flash video, and it only had 256MB RAM. So I decided to upgrade, and there was a sale at Dell on the Inspiron 1210 (“mini 12”), which looked like an adequate balance between “lightweight” and “reasonably large screen”, and I don’t really need serious horsepower in a laptop. Since they had recently added an option to buy it with Ubuntu Linux and avoid the Microsoft tax, I did so.

It showed up quickly enough (ordered on Monday, arrived on Saturday), and is quiet and lightweight. (They saved space on the keyboard by making the some of the punctuation keys half the normal width, including commonly used keys like comma, period, and slash; tricky to get used to.) Initially, the Ubuntu install seemed crippled: there was only Dell’s own custom launcher, and no Ubuntu menu (unlike the documentation in the box said there would be); the menu only appeared when the system started up with a hardwired network connection. (There’s also a hidden 32MB partition running DOS and some Dell custom stuff, and a hidden 2GB partition with a syslinux setup, presumably to restore the main partition.) Suspend does work, and leaves the power light fading on and off to show it’s not powered down entirely. It was only running Hardy Heron, though, and I wanted Intrepid Ibex anyway, so I set out on the odyssey of figuring out how to install from USB (since the system has no CD-ROM drive).

Cut to avoid giving my mother a migraine )

Bottom line: Ubuntu still isn’t ready to just shove onto a memory stick and use to initialize a laptop. I’ve started a thread at Ubuntu Forums for this, so hopefully I can save someone else the work.

mithriltabby: Dragon and Buddha boogying (Boogie)

A few Sundays ago, [ profile] obsessivewoman encouraged me to camp out in the early morning to pick up a Wii Balance Board and Wii Fit. (Went to my local Best Buy with a good book, got their at 8:30 and there were already half a dozen people ahead of me in line. More people trickled in after a while, and the line was around the corner by the time the employees came out at 10:30 and handed us tickets. The store opened at 11:00 and people came in to ransack their entire supply of 28 Wiis and 27 Wii Fits.)

Wii Fit is a very different experience from yourself!fitness and Eyetoy: Kinetic. The other games give you an entire workout, with warmup, exercises, and cooldown; you can exercise a bit of control over what you’re getting at the beginning, but once you’ve started, you’re committed to it. Wii Fit is more the buffet style of exercise: it gives you a collection of four categories of exercise (yoga, strength training, aerobics, and balance), and exercises that last from 1–3 minutes (which you can gradually increase up to 10 minutes as you continue to play the game and unlock more exercises and extended play). It’s up to you to handle your own warmup and cooldown. I usually start with yoga until I feel like I’ve limbered up everything I’ll be using in the aerobics exercises.

The buffet style is very good at getting the “just one more turn” syndrome to make you apply your gaming addiction to exercise. Every exercise has a score, even the yoga (which is usually grading you on how well you kept your balance through a pose). Do you want to go back and try again to better your score? Or that of someone else who’s been using your Wii and has their name on the high score list?

The yoga and strength exercises are correlated, so if I do Warrior in yoga, it’ll suggest I do Lunges in strength to match. Doing workouts in one category will tend to open up new options in others; when you start Wii Fit, it only has about a dozen exercises, but over a couple of weeks it’s easy to get it to make most of them available. The aerobics have a good variety as well: a couple of hula hoop games, a couple of running games, a couple of stepping games, and a rhythm boxing one that uses the Wiimote and nunchuk.

The place where it really shines is the balance games, which put the most fun into the gameplay. They’re just minigames, but they’re still a good deal of fun, with things like a ski slalom, a “tilt the board to drop balls through a hole” game, and even a whimsical one where you tilt an iceberg to make a penguin slide around catching fish. There are plenty of Balance Board games in development, and We Ski is already available.

It also encourages you to weigh in every day and take a balance test to see how well you’re doing, and it calculates your “Wii Fit Age” based on how well you do in the balance tests. I recommend doing this after a few yoga exercises and a balance game, but before doing the aerobics; this gets your brain into the mode of controlling a Wii Balance Board, but your muscles haven’t gotten tired yet.

mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)
The Daily Show are quite good at digging up politicians’ past statements and contrasting them with more recent ones, which is great after-the-public-appearance theater. But what if it were possible to do this on the scene to make them eat their words? Video iPod + Pico Projector = Schadenfreude Pie!
mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Ubiquitous Surveillance)
I just got invited to a social network called Spock, which is a Web 2.0-ish thing where you can establish links to people and tag them with various qualities, which people can vote on as relevant or not. In addition to doing this in a participatory manner, it also happens automatically as their search engine trawls the Net— even if you didn’t create a profile there already. You folks might want to check there and see what the “Spock Robot” has tagged you with...
mithriltabby: Sleeping tabby (Zonk)
Being Slothman means being easily bored by repetition. This is an advantage for recognizing places to make software more efficient, but makes it challenging to find an exercise routine that captures my attention— and being lazy doesn’t burn many calories. Aikido is great when my schedule permits, but since [ profile] obsessivewoman needs to get to bed early and get up early, being out until 8 in the evening doesn’t work well for having much time together during the week. I tried yourself!fitness for a while, which was pretty good, but a workout video that changes the routine daily is still just a workout video.

My latest routine has been EyeToy: Kinetic. This is a workout game for the Playstation 2 that uses the EyeToy, which is a USB-based camera that plugs into the PS2’s front panel. EyeToy games recognize motion and map it onto the screen, where you can interact with virtual objects. In the case of EyeToy: Kinetic, it has three kinds of games that give you a workout: cardio, combat, and “mind and body”. Cardio games last ten minutes and keep you moving around, dodging some objects and touching others. Combat games last three minutes and require more intense strikes and ducking, and can be exhausting. “Mind and body” games work more on balance and smooth motion, and are the only ones that don’t leave me drenched in sweat.

It also has some modes that put three windows on the screen, one showing the EyeToy view and two showing different angles on your virtual trainer demonstrating the exercises you should be doing; these are not interactive. The system always puts you through warmup and cooldown sequences from this repertoire, and it also has ones for working out your upper body, lower body, and abdominals, and some yoga, tai chi, and meditation sequences as well.

The nice thing about the workout is that live interaction is much more engaging than just trying to match up with a virtual trainer on screen. (It also grades you on your performance, A–F, as a source of motivation.) The EyeToy isn’t very smart about image motion recognition, though; it can’t distinguish between your own motion, that of your shadow, or of a ceiling fan in the background. It needs fairly high contrast, too; I changed my workout outfit to a white shirt and light grey sweatpants so I’ll stand out against most of the background of the living room, but wear a black biking glove on my right hand to stand out against the white wall. Direct sunlight will completely white it out; during early morning workouts, I need to put a black banner in front of the peaked window in my east wall. (That was a fairly cheap solution involving PVC pipe, a couple of yards of duckcloth, and a hot melt glue gun.)

Overall, I’d say it’s good value for $45 (including the game disc and the EyeToy camera). It runs just fine on the PS3 as well.

mithriltabby: Sleeping tabby (Zonk)
My darling [ profile] obsessivewoman got me a handy piece of software called ReaderWare for my last birthday, which can use a CueCat bar code scanner to identify books, music, and videos. In a fit of getting organized, I used it to catalogue my CD collection and my video collection. With those lesser tasks accomplished, I turned to cataloguing all the books in Maine Coon Manor.

Turns out that the two of us have accumulated over 6,000 of them.

Last year, [ profile] hypothermya introduced me to a rather interesting Web 2.0 site called LibraryThing. I had a go at entering a few books, but I just didn’t have the stomach for the daunting task of entering it all by hand. After getting my 3000+ works of fiction into the ReaderWare database, though, I checked back at LibraryThing, and discovered that they have a bulk upload feature that takes ISBNs. So I dumped the whole database up there.

ISBNs are not entirely unique identifiers, so it’s necessary to go over these things with a fine tooth comb. I’ve also been collecting relevant hyperlinks such as author home pages, weblogs, and wikipedia pages, though those are only in my ReaderWare database as there’s no useful way to put them on LibraryThing as yet. And I’ve finally finished my first pass through my fiction section, and I think I have at least 99% of the books in the house now in the database. (Next thing to do is to start tagging all the works that have won or been finalists for various awards.)

You can look at my LibraryThing profile, see the linear catalogue, or try the author cloud or tag cloud as alternative ways of navigating the collection. Feedback from my manga-literate friends on the manga collection is particularly welcome; I’ve been going by Wikipedia’s notions of shōnen and shōjo, but would appreciate the insight of the connoisseurs. [ profile] obsessivewoman’s collection is mostly tagged cookbook and mystery; she hasn’t had as much time to get into the detailed tagging as I have.

mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)
The Sunlight Foundation’s Sunlight Labs project are working on some nifty technology to make it easy to stay informed about what our elected officials are up to; check out Popup Politicians. Open the Future ([ profile] openthefuture) thinks they’ll have versions linking to sites like They Rule and Exxon Secrets soon.
mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)
A recent article in Wired discusses the recent creation from Tesla Motors: a $100,000 all-electric sportscar called the Tesla Roadster. At those prices, it’s a status symbol: “My penis is large and environmentally friendly!” The really interesting part is the underlying technology: the expensive R&D is all done by established technology companies investing in making better batteries for laptops and cellphones. Tesla Motors is just spinning off the fruits of that R&D into electric cars, and developing the expertise in that narrow field. And they think they might have a reasonably-priced electric sedan in 2008.
mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)
The Bodypad is a game controller that works by strapping sensors onto your elbows and knees to determine your body movement, and holding a pair of handles for hand movement. It’s mostly used for fighting, dance, and sport games. It just recognizes arm and leg movements and pulling triggers on the handles, and movements on each side can be mapped to the four action buttons on a standard game controller; this means you can hook up leg movements to “kick” and arm movements to “punch”, but you can’t make your left leg control the onscreen character delivering a left-legged kick unless that’s a separate button in the game. There’s a directional pad on the left handle for movement and L1-L2-R1-R2 on the right handle, but no equivalent of the analog sticks. It’s only around $70, including shipping.

Now, something that can recognize things like crouching, ducking, leaning, turning, and jumping would be really interesting, as that would let me play games like Ratchet & Clank using relevant body motions, but that’s probably a little ways off. Question for video gamers out there: do any fighting games for the Playstation 2 have an interesting storyline (more than just “I must defeat a bunch of enemies in a tournament so I get the prize I want to save my family/the world/etc.”) that would draw someone into a fighting game?

mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)
slothman's Rapleaf Score RapLeaf are setting up a reputation management service for general commerce. I’ve syndicated their blog at [ profile] rapleaf.
mithriltabby: Detail from Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” (Time)
[ profile] divertimento, I thought you’d like this article in this month’s Wired about the Dynalifter, which is a hybrid of a blimp and fixed-wing aircraft. Not as stately as a dirigible, but it doesn’t need a docking tower, and it’s a lot more efficient on fuel.
mithriltabby: Escher’s Waterfall (Home)
(Discovered this in IEEE Spectrum.) The StressEraser is a specialized biofeedback device that monitors the activity of your vagus nerve by its effects on your pulse rate. It’s down to $299 from the $399 reported in the article, but that’s still a bit pricy. I’m curious as to how the use of this widget relates to traditional meditation techniques...
mithriltabby: Sleeping tabby (Zonk)
Just caught up on The Economist’s latest Technology Quarterly, and found an interesting story: NTT have a “RedTacton” technology that induces tiny fluctuations in the body’s natural electric field. They claim they can get 10 megabits per second, which is as good as most home Ethernets today.

This could be handy: just wave your hand over a sensor and the server in your pocket acts as keyring and unlocks a door for you. That’s even better than the skin-based data transmission, which is much slower and less hygienic when used by crowds. (I’m expecting telecommuting to take off in a big way when the next pandemic hits.)

It’ll also be good for “personal area networking” (or “personal aura networking”, as I’m sure this will be dubbed). Right now, if you want to have all your devices talk to each other, you’re pretty much stuck with Bluetooth, which means interference with everyone else’s favorite use of unlicensed 2.4GHz spectrum: Wi-Fi, cordless phones, you name it. This will be more difficult to eavesdrop on (like with the BlueSniper), and less likely to suffer interference. It also means that devices will be able to specialize: you can wear something that’s just storage and a little data display on your wrist, and your headphones can talk to it for playing music, your phone can talk to it for getting addresses, and your headphones can talk to the phone when you talk. (But expect a very rocky start as the protocols all get shaken out.)

Other things to expect: high-tech pickpockets will specialize in getting close enough to people to try and hack any devices in their body network, or subtle devices will be planted at chokepoints to do the same to passersby. Demonstrations of ad-hoc packet switched networks across tightly packed crowds on dance floors will get about as much media attention and last about as long as flash mobs did.

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