Archive for April, 2006

Frightening headline

Friday, April 28th, 2006

OSHKOSH, Wisconsin (AP) — A woman accused of smothering her infant after she drunkenly fell asleep atop the 4-month-old while breastfeeding pleaded no contest Thursday to child neglect resulting in death.

Now, anyone losing a child is having a horrific day, but it’s really hard to sympathize here.

The reporter has an eye for distilling the sensational, though.

I went to the Maker Faire\the birds and the beasts were there\the big raccoon…

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

As I mentioned below, I spent last weekend up in San Mateo at Make magazine‘s Maker Faire. As you can see if you follow the links this was an event for geeks and hackers of all stripes to come together and show off neat stuff. Aaron Falk convinced me that it would be fun to see, so he, I, his daughter Katie and Brenda all packed off to see what was what.

Now, for me, nothing says fun like walking in past three vehicles capable of emitting huge blasts of fire, so I knew we were in the right place. The other characteristic of the faire that was to become immediately evident was that they were interested in encouraging kids to play with stuff and that the attendees had never heard of a liability attorney. This was evident when one of the owners of one of the fire blasters handed the remote control to a 3-year-old girl and let her try it out. (I should point out that the owner did supervise the child and no one was in any danger at any time). It was a great “here, you try it” ethic.

There was a lot to see and we spent the first day taking things in. Among the things we saw were:

  • An impressive display of lego-constructed computer-controlled trains
  • A yarn spinning demonstration
  • Intricate steam-powered 1/48 or so working vehicle models
  • A set of artificially intelligent blimps that demonstrated hearding behavior
  • Pinball machines
  • A real time video constellation generator
  • A vegetable-oil-powered computing cluster
  • A car with a PC hacked into it
  • An erector-set-constructed Difference engine
  • A PDP-1
  • A couple Jacob’s Ladders and at least one big Tesla coil (the displayer of which was encouraging kids to buy old transformers from neon sign repair trucks)
  • A ten-foot-high robot giraffe
  • A student project from Bennington College: A breadboarded 26-Hz CPU
  • Several platforms for robot construction/remote control hacking
  • An automatic mural painter

I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff.

There was also a big crafts bazaar – a Bizarre Bazaar according to Brenda – where unusual crafts were for sale and display. Brenda was looking of one of the exhibitors, but wasn’t able to make a connection. Right across from that was a group of people playing polo on Segways, including Steve Wozniak.

We spent the first day drinking all that in and attending the technology fashion show(!) in the evening. Katie was the one who was excited by that, but I actually enjoyed it a great deal. Some very neat stuff. Apparently the designer had been on a fashion reality show that had caught Katie’s eye.
Katie did all right by celebrities. In addition to meeting her fashion designer, Sunday she met both hosts of MythBusters and got her picture taken with them.

We spent most of Sunday building stuff. There was a large room set up for kids to basically build stuff out of junk. We’d passed through on Saturday and were amazed to find this large room filled with 20-year-old abandoned electronics and a vast array of tools (drills, hammers, pliers, glue guns, soldering irons, etc.) open for people to build random stuff in. On Saturday basically every table had a soldering iron and a hot glue gun on it, and all sorts of things were in progress. Again, no concept of liability, and you have to love them for it.

Sunday a few people had gotten hurt or scared and hot glue and solder were adults-only materials. I still got to see a 12-year old take a hacksaw to an old IBM PC keyboard. And he wasn’t alone. Katie and Aaron set out to build a lamp Katie designed out of a circuit board cut into a rectangular box and a spinning set of feathers. Light was to be supplied by a string of christmas lights. They spent several delightful hours building this from parts. Brenda made some jewelry and I generally helped out.

Well, “helped out” may be too strong. I offered fairly useless advice and screwed around with equipment lying around. Along the way I vaporized a Christmas light. We were trying to tell if a power strip was hot, so I cobbled a little continuity tester out of a Christmas light and a plug. Now I remember from shop class that you need a resistor in that circuit, but I figured that the light would get a little bright and I wouldn’t plug it in long. Many of you know what’s coming. Nothing happened when I plugged it into our strip, and Aaron helpfully suggested that I plug it into a known good strip. I did, heard a loud whoosh and looked at my tester thinking “didn’t I have a bulb in there?” I had. The whoosh was the glass shooting off of it as the air inside rapidly expanded from sudden violent heating as the filament instantly vaporized and arced.

As I managed to look like something of a doof and didn’t hurt myself or anyone else, I was delighted with myself. These are the sorts of things that reaffirm my decision to take up computer science instead of electrical engineering.

Katie and Aaron fared much better and Katie now has a super-cool lamp for her room. When we left there we ran into the MythBusters playing Segway polo, and Katie got her pictures.

I can’t recommend the Maker Faire highly enough. even if we hadn’t gotten to touch anything it would have been a great experience just walking around and looking. The fact that everywhere we went people were encouraging us to try out their inventions and play with the toys they’d layed out made it even better. I can’t imagine that they’ll have anything like the playroom going again if the lawyers ever hear about it, so get out there for the next one.

A must.

Stonehenge chillin’

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

Warren Ellis sees things. Things that remind us that the world is cool. Things like this copy of Stonehenge made from refrigerators. And now you can see it too.

Flight to Maker Faire

Monday, April 24th, 2006

It’s always nice when you confirm another fact from your POH. This weekend I confirmed that you can safely fly an Archer with people in all four seats. It helps a great deal if one is a kid and you don’t take a lot of gas or luggage. We were at about gross weight and I could tell, but overall 32169 performed like a champ. The pilot seemed to do OK, too, but I’ll admit a strong desire to just jerk the little bugger off that 2600 foot runway at San Carlos (SQL).

The occasion was the Make magazine-sponsored Maker Faire in San Mateo. Aaron Falk talked me into taking him and his daughter up (fly to the Bay Area? not a hard sell), and when she saw the program Brenda was interested, too.

We got a good early start out of SMO (well, as early as the weekend curfew allows – 8:00 AM) and stopped in San Luis Obispo (SBP) for gas. There was a solid undercast most of the trip, but we spent most of the trip on top at 8000. It was cold enough for ice, but no clouds. We got to shoot an approach into SPB, but broke out at the FAF, so not so exciting. I did get an automated altitude check alert from the tower, but wasn’t ever below a charted altitude. I think it was one of those trend-based alarms that didn’t like my steep decent to each step down. At any rate a nice flight.

From there IFR to SQL. Another fun, mostly on-top flight. Only really in IMC while getting vectored for the approach. The controller pretty much put me into the clouds just in time to get busy, vector me around, and then I popped out at the FAF again. SQL is in a busy corner of the woods.

Coming out of SQL on Sunday, I got a fairly complex VFR/IFR departure clearance but the rest of the flight was pretty straightforward. Aaron would make a fine flight instructor with the number of questions he asks during departure, but that was actually good practice dealing with the distraction. And he was happy to take “I’ll tell you in a minute” as an answer. I actually got some IMC this flight as the cloud deck slowly rose up to meet us outside SBP (another gas stop). Overall a pretty smooth flight.

The last leg was equally pleasant. Departing full from a 5300′ runway is much easier on the nerves than a 2600 footer. We flew through one cloud on departure and descended through a layer over the LA basin and were in at SMO. Between there we cruised above layers and Brenda taught Aaron’s daughter to knit.

We did get to see a one of a kind phenomenon. Up above the clouds in an airplane you often get a circular rainbow centered around the shadow of the plane, called a glory. As we turned east from San Marcos, we were flying right out of the sun, and as it set it arranged itself directly behind us both laterally and vertically. Everything was perfectly aligned so that as we entered a cloud bank on descent we met a very clear glory-haloed silhouette of the Archer perfectly nose to nose. It was a 120 knot collision with the fantastic that you can only see from the front seat, and well worth the trip.
The faire deserves a post to itself, and it’ll get one.

Jeff Hollingsworth, Washingtonian

Monday, April 24th, 2006

I’m delighted to see that Washingtonian Magazine has discovered Jeff Hollingsworth‘s super-geeky lifetime project in home automation and written a feature article about it.  If possible they manage to make Jeff sound cooler than he is, which is difficult.

Oh, do I want one of these

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

How have we lasted as long as we have without a taser knife?  OK, it’s not a functional taser knife but it’s a clear proof of concept.  Can taser swords be far behind??  I certainly hope not.
As with many irresponsible and wonderful things, Warren Ellis saw it before I did.

Trying to be clever, or too dumb to know?

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

I’m leaving work (and it was light again!), and taking the elevator down 11 stories when the phone in the elevator starts talking to me. There’s a brain-damaged phone in there in case the one guy other than me in LA without a cell phone manages to get himself or herself stuck. It’s a one-button, programmed-to-dial-the-elevator-company, speaker phone. Apparently it will also take calls.
Now, here’s the thing: the company that called the elevator phone (the voice I was hearing was obviously taped) was selling mortages. I spent the 45 seconds I was heading downstairs listening to some company’s mortage pitch. Note that “hang up” is not an obvious choice of actions this phone can take. Nor should it be. If I’m delivering someone’s baby in a stuck elevator, I don’t want to bump the thing and disconnect myself.
So this is either some diabolical company who knows that people are going to stay in the elevator and can’t hang up, so calling the speaker phone at the end of normal business hours gives them free advertising, or it’s some bozo who isn’t being very careful with their wardialer (don’t they have to have elevator phones on a do-not-call list?).

I suppose there’s also the possibility that this is one of the mortage company’s competitors trying to discredit them by placing false heinous ads in their name. I think that unlikely, because I can’t have any worse opinion of mortage companies involved in any kind of direct mailings, but I could be wrong.

I do want all of you to sue these bastards blind if their intrusive advertising gets me so upset that I have a heart attack and can’t call out of my elevator because they’re selling me a mortage on the emergency phone.

When OCR meets font weenies

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

My sweet baby points out this impressive bit of hackery for identifying fonts.

That’s a big, er, little A380

Tuesday, April 4th, 2006

Andy Hoover points out this radio-controlled Airbus 380.  I haven’t been able to see the video yet, but the pics are very cool.

Nature responds to Britannica

Tuesday, April 4th, 2006

The brouhaha over Nature‘s claims of Wikipedia‘s fidelity heats up.  This is the official Nature response.  It includes a link to Britannica’s statement.