« November 2005 | Main | January 2006 »

December 31, 2005

Electro-Gravity

Since I first heard of them in 2002 I've been fascinated with Lifters. For the uninitiated a Lifter is a piece of tinfoil on a blasa wood frame with 30,000+ volts running through it. Why's it called a Lifter? Because it levitates.

Some physicists have attributed this to phenomenom as ionic wind, but the Lifter community thinks their full of shit. I cam across this paper [free.fr] written by a guy a Rutgers that tries to draw some kind of parallels between gravity and electrostatic forces. Interesting. Personally I've always felt that some provable theory relating magnetics/electrics to gravity in the hopes of some kind of engineering application for (should I say it :o) anti-gravity. Uh-oh, I've said it. I hope no one thinks any less of me... ;-)

Posted by Guy at 11:01 PM | Permalink

AnalogX Proxy

Oh well, it looks like the only filtering capabilities of AnalogX's Proxy server is port-level. What I'm looking for is a domain-level filtering capabilitiy. So far the only package I've found that works in Windows in SquidNT. The search continues.

Posted by Guy at 12:08 AM | Permalink

December 30, 2005

Another Proxy

After dealing with Squid for Windows I wondered what other proxy servers were out there. For one reason or another I found a slowdown with Squid instead of the speedup I was expecting. Why was I expecting a speedup? I figured that since all requests to known ad sites would be denied I would save on the additional outbound requests and pages would load faster. Maybe it was an increased CPU or memory load, I don't know, stuff just seemed slower.

So I just read an article where the author suggested using AnalogX's Proxy Server [analogx.com]. We'll see.

Posted by Guy at 11:26 PM | Permalink

December 29, 2005

No Touchscreens Please

First of all, let me say that I love touchscreens. If I could marry a touchscreen and have little touchscreen babies I would. That being said, I believe touchscreens have their places, but an automobile/car is not one. It's been my experience that most drivers need to concentrate on a multitude of other inputs and probably don't have the attention to spend on the displays that they need.

Yes, most touchscreens need a lot of attention. Just think of touchscreen ATMs, they have big screens with big buttons and I still have a problem getting the thing to recognize all my touch inputs. Touchscreens can become out of whack for a multitude of reasons, including varying temperatures. This is something that I know I've dealt with in the past, the interior of my car has gone from -5 deg F to 75 deg F in under and hour and sometimes in the wintery north I've seen it get to -20 deg F! I know some you are poo-pooing me, but I think that's damn cold.

So what I'm getting to is that most poorly designed (and some phenominally defined) user interfaces that depend on touchscreens can be more of a hindrance than a help in automotive applications. I think a much better system is to use soft buttons. This is the system that the Commanche helicopter was going to use before it was cut and it's just a more sophisticated Logitech Harmony Remote [logitech.com] LCD interface.

Posted by Guy at 2:03 PM | Permalink

December 28, 2005

Feedping

I found something referenceing this [feedping.com] sometime last week and I've been wanting to blog about it. Apparently it's a service that will submit your site (or is it RSS feed?) to a variety of services, such as Feedster and Technorati. From the site itself

FeedPing.com is the brainchild of Matthew Stephens and Joey Mazzarelli. We started this site to fulfill a need for many of the new RSS developers who didn't own blogs. We believe that RSS is the future of Internet content syndication and felt obliged to help get the feeds out to the masses. So enjoy and if you have any feedback, please contact us. Thanks so much!

Well, what good is it? It's good for helping people find your content, which (theoretically) should increase your site's traffic and subscribers/users, if applicable. I've used Technorati and Feedster before, but I think this service really gets the word out.

Posted by Guy at 10:55 PM | Permalink

December 27, 2005

Harmonizing the Home: Part 2

Last time I blogged about my new Logitech Harmony H688 remote I wasn't that thrilled. Well, I'm happy to report that once everything was setup and tweaked it works like a champ! The problem that I was having last night was that the Logitech Harmony members website was under heavy usage and it wasn't reacting to well. I guess that a lot of people got Harmony remotes for Christmas. In fact tonight there were some heavy usage messages also, but at least once I logged in everything was fairly responsive. Really the only complaint I have about the website is that the web application does browser checks for a "compliant" browser and apparently Mozila Firefox is not one of these. So I switched to Internet Explorer and everything was okay.

Actually, once I was logged in and setting things up the hardest part was finding the model numbers for my components. In retrospect I do have one more complaint, the whole use of a website for configuration. It's good in that the device database can be updated and changes propagated in a relatively easy way, but bad in that you need internet access to change settings on your remote. I mean, if you just want to remove a command or update an activity then you shouldn't have to have an internet connection to be able to.

Other than that I just have a "Play Videogame" activity I need to setup and I'm done. Not too bad, but not for the faint of heart either.

TV: Samsung TSL2793HF
PVR: TiVo TCD140060
DVD: Samsung DVD-C631P
Remote: Logitech Harmony H688

Posted by Guy at 10:49 PM | Permalink

December 26, 2005

Harmonizing the Home

I got this Logitech Harmony remote [logitech.com] for Christmas and so far all I can do is upgrade the firmware. About halfway through the setup web pages I get an error saying "unable to display content" [64.233.161.104], what the hell does that mean? I hate crappy web pages that have crappy error message... Grrr... More later.

Posted by Guy at 10:55 PM | Permalink

December 25, 2005

Data Stores

Just as a general curiosity I was wondering if seperate data stores would be applicable in today's computing architectures? For example, processors sometimes would have a separate i- and d-cache standing for instruction and data. The i-cache would be for processor instructions, i.e. application logic while the d-cache would be for data, or the stuff that got manipulated as the processors instructions went along. Generally i-cache could be considered relatively read only, while the d-cache was quite random access read/write. My question is if this architecture can prove valid on a larger scale, specifically a read only and read-write split architecture for general purpose computing?

I would see this implemented as a read-only data store containing applications and support libraries while a separate data store would be an analogous d-cache. Just curious.

Posted by Guy at 7:54 PM | Permalink

December 22, 2005

Classic Funny

This [youtube.com] is just classic funny.

Posted by Guy at 5:49 PM | Permalink

Squid Annoyances

After having to deal with Doubleclick annoyances for more than a few years I have had enough. The cookies, the ads, it all had to stop! I had tried AdBlocker for Firefox, but for some reason it kept blocking some Flash movies that I didn't want blocked, what other alternative did I have? There are these pieces of software called proxy servers that can be used for any number of reasons, some legitimate, some not. I did some hunting around and found a port of Squid for Windows [acmeconsulting.it].

I installed it and after some headache I was able to get it to run. The first problem I ran into was an abnormal program termination that killed the process without any other error messages, even with full debug turned on. I did some playing around and just for giggles I tried passing in the -D switch. This switch tells Squid to not perform initial DNS testing and you know what? That did the trick. Super, so now I just needed to tell the Squid not to do any initial DNS testing in the config file and everything would be dandy, I could load it as a Windows service, money would fall from the sky, women would through themselves at me , well you get the idea.

No such luck. You can't turn it off in the config file, but what you can do is give alternative hosts to resolve. I gave it localhost and everything is working just dandy now. But the adventure doesn't stop there, no that would be too easy. When content is blocked an error page is displayed in it's place, which is better than the advertisements I was looking to block, but still made the pages I was looking at ugly.

Now, there is a mechanism in Squid to set your very own error page, but what they don't really tell you is that whatever error page you create Squid will tack some more stuff onto it. What I had wanted was a black spot where advertisements normally go and now I have what I consider an advertisements for Squid instead, I was not a happy camper. There must be a way to make the pages appear blank I said to myself. CSS, yeah, CSS is always the answer! Just put some CSS styling into the head and voila!, blank pages. This is what my error page ('ERR_BLANK') looks like:

<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/loose.dtd"> <HTML><HEAD><META HTTP-EQUIV="Content-Type" CONTENT="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1"> <style type="text/css"><!-- address { display:none; } hr { display:none; } --></style> </HEAD><BODY>

Posted by Guy at 9:39 AM | Permalink

December 21, 2005

Yeah, I'm Rated

I blogged a couple of days ago that I was going to finally perform in a TopCoder competition and I did so here's my thoughts. Everything went fairly well considering it was my first contest, but Ido have some tips for first-timers.

  1. Watch the timer!
  2. Practice with past challenges
  3. Practice challenging on past submissions

Any more advice as I go along I'll be sure and pass on.

Posted by Guy at 6:48 PM | Permalink

December 20, 2005

Dell Laptop Battery Woes (and Oranges)

For work I have a Dell Inspiron 5150 that I've only (!) had to call Dell support on twice. The first time was for the DVD drive, it just wouldn't read my porn application discs. The second problem, a little more recent was my AC adapter, it just sort of crapped out. When it was connected the BIOS power display page showed it as an unknown AC adapter type when normally it should say '130W'. Called Dell, part shipped, no problem.

Then all of a sudden yesterday I got the dreaded Flashing Orange Battery Light™! Some Googling around found a couple of really pissed off people [west-wind.com] that all claimed to have their own fixes. My particular problem was the battery light flashing orange 4 times then green 1 time. The boards and collected wisdom of hardware hackers out there suggested that either (1) get a replacement battery or (2) a fuse has blown within the battery and I could (with my mad skillz) fix it.

I decided to go my own route. First, I drained the battery to about 1% though this is easier said than done. I had to chug Windows XP along until it finally went into hibernation, well when it does this the laptop won't boot by itself under battery power alone. I plugged in the AC adapter to boot into the BIOS then removed the power and let the battery run down as much as possible. Next I removed the battery and AC adapter and left the machine for about 10 minutes. Plug everything back in and no flashing orange! Good job Guy!

Posted by Guy at 8:26 PM | Permalink

December 19, 2005

TopCoder

Back when I was in college I joined this thing called TopCoder [topcoder.com] and I have yet to participate in a competition. Well, tonight's the night. Wish me luck!

Posted by Guy at 7:41 PM | Permalink

December 18, 2005

Little Bots

I saw this article [hackaday.com] the other day and immediately thought of my college Senior Design project. In the years before I was at college line following robots were all the fad, but my partner and I wanted to go a different route, we decided on a 3D scanner.

Well, it works great in theory, but we just couldn't finance the $2k laser that we would need to do the actual scanning. That totally sucked! In fact, we couldn't do that project and needed to switch to something else. Our project turned out to be a line following bot that avoided obstacles. But the kicker was that we only had 3 weeks to design the hardware, order it, program and test it. We went down to the wire! But, everything worked out in the end.

Posted by Guy at 9:27 PM | Permalink

December 17, 2005

Alternative (?) Energy

I first read this article [jalopnik.com] on Jalopnik about a "Power-Generating Ramp" that was actually pulled from a BBC article [bbc.co.uk]. Great idea for "free" energy, but is it really free? Now I didn't read any claims about it being free, but I don't know if the average motorist will realize the implications of these devices littering the road systems.

The whole concept of these devices is that motorists won't mind a loss of efficiency (aka a lower mpg rating) for helping to generate some energy to power signs, lights, etc. Brilliant when there are only a couple of devices, but with enough devices people will definitely start to notice this loss of efficiency. A couple of small pricks won't kill someone, but enough small pricks and you can bleed out.

Posted by Guy at 7:30 PM | Permalink

December 16, 2005

Time to Get a Life

There is no such thing as time. There I've said it, but bear with me here. The commonly accepted definition of the past is that which has happened before the present. The future has an analugous commonly accepted definition as that which has yet to happen after the present. And completing the trifecta is the commonly accepted definition of the present, which is the current moment or, more specifically, now.

So these are the three definitions that codify time, right? It seems that the definitions of past and future hinge on the definition of present, such that the very definition of present can be incorporated into the definitions of past an future. What if there was no such thing as the present? Given these commonly accepted definitions then the answer is no.

How can we get rid of the present? Simple, just try and rationalize what a moment is or specifically a point in time. Is a second a moment? No, because that can be split into milliseconds, which in turn can be split into nanoseconds which themselves can be split into (I think) femtoseconds and so on and so on. At what point can someone say that it is indeed the present? Time is immeasurable due to it's infinitely splittable nature. Accepting this premise allows one to see that there is no such thing as the present, thus no past or future.

Personally I think the quick fix is to say there is no such thing as the present, but only the future and the past. Of course the definitions would have to be altered to reflect a more cyclical relationship.

And no, I've never done any drugs before in my life (unless beer counts).

Posted by Guy at 3:58 PM | Permalink

December 15, 2005

The Playboy Philanthropist

Yesterday I was browsing the latest Apache news feed and came across an announcement for Geronimo 1.0. So I went to the Geronimo site and the announcement was bogus, but I checked out the mirrors anyway. And, getting to the whole point of this post, I saw playboy.com as a mirror host! Truly this couldn't be THE Playboy. It sure as hell was! It turns out they host a whole slew of open source projects, quite speedily I might add. I think it's great when a company gives back to the community, I mean I've always been a fan of Playboy, but now I have a karmic reason to support them. The best part? The bunny icon when downloading my apache stuff.

Posted by Guy at 8:32 PM | Permalink

Anonymity...Yeah Right

I caught this article [slashdot.org] this morning about the next great threat to our computing anonymously and had a weird acid flashback. The gist of the article was quite familiar from a couple of years ago when Intel started putting in processor serial numbers. It was such a hot topic back then, everyone was up in arms screaming about their personal liberties and what if someone else was using their computer?

Well, the only two things that came out of that whole debacle was (1) Intel saying they would allow users to disable the serial number and (2) the serial number could only be used to identify a particular computer, not user. Hmm, I wonder what's going to happen this go around? My guess is that the same arguments will be made for and against a computer id and not much will change.

Besides, why do you think no matter what measures you implement you can be anonymous on the internet anyways?

Posted by Guy at 10:47 AM | Permalink

December 14, 2005

Embedded GUI

I came across a new windowing system package [linuxdevices.com] today that looks like an almost drop in replacement for XWindows. It claims that the system will work on a broad range of output drivers including the Linux framebuffer device. Hmmm, I wonder how well it will handle xvids via mplayer (which they have a port of)? Quote pick of the article:

Project co-founder Ali Caglar Oral said, "The project's range is embedded systems to desktops. It might be a good choice for embedded systems."

They also have a downloadable ISO that supposedly boots in seconds. Looks like I might have something (other than beer) to do this weekend.

More info can be found on the project's main site [xynth.org].

Posted by Guy at 8:54 AM | Permalink

December 13, 2005

Finger Me? Finger You!

When perusing the webternet today I found this little gadget [fingergear.com] in a VMWare blog post. I thought to myself, oh cool, something I can carry around with me with a cross-platform platform. But wait, I then asked myself "um, how does it work?" And behold the mighty engdget! They had a whole bunch of comments [engadget.com] on this very product.

It seems that it's nothing more than a USB boot drive. And someone made the astute observation that 1. this could be done for next to nothing but some personal time and 2. the utility of this is limited in that most public hosts cannot be rebooted let alone boot off of a USB drive.

My opinion: Great idea! Poor implementation. :-(

Posted by Guy at 8:13 PM | Permalink

December 12, 2005

DIY Batteries

I love DIY stuff. Ever since I started building electrical/electronic circuits in college I've been an avid fan of this stuff. That's why I was so happy when I saw something (relatively) simple that could be of such use in lots of different scenarios. The thing I'm talking about is the SuperCap 9V battery [hackaday.com]. Obviously a light load draining the capacitor in like 3 hours sucks, but the recharge time is great, 20 seconds! I wonder how this setup would fair with different caps?

Posted by Guy at 7:55 PM | Permalink

December 11, 2005

Computer of the Future

A while ago I had this idea for a computer. Actually it wasn't a computer, but more of a new paradigm in personal computer hardware architectures. Let's start a couple years in the past, maybe 2000 or 2001, a friend of mine was working as a sys admin for a small computer company. They had the need of switching computers from developer to developer. For example, developer A would be working on workstation A, but the next day he would be working on workstation B. For some reason they couldn't deploy a dumb terminal or roaming profile architecture, I can't remember why so what my friend did was make all the workstations the same hardware wise and use removable hard drives. So these guys could keep their work secure when not using it and they had the option of moving around different workstations.

Now something like this could be replaced with USB drives (solid state or otherwise) to achieve a similar effect. However, the problem I see with this kind of architecture using USB drives is the reliance on a computer with the exact or very similar setups.

My idea is to have something like a PDA that can act as a platform host for raw computing resources. For example, this PDA-like gadget would provide a limited interface (touchscreen, small LCD, networking, etc) much like today's PDAs and SmartPhones. However these would "plug" into a system providing a keyboard, mouse, additional resources such as coprocessors, additional networks, etc.

These plugin platforms could be hosted throughout homes, cafes, even businesses. Using these concepts a user would literally have 24/7 access to their work only limited by the input/output interfaces they have available to them. Of course the operating system running on the host PDA would need to be dynamic enough that it could cope with a core set of hardware and a dynamic set of extended hardware.

I'll see if I can come up with some concept sketches (a picture's worth a thousand words). BTW, this idea (right now) is Public Domain, but I might decide to patent it.

Posted by Guy at 4:06 PM | Permalink

December 9, 2005

War of the Worlds

I just saw the remake of War of the Worlds [netflix.com] starring none other than the great Scientology spokesman Tom Cruise. Man, what a piece of crap! There was no plot line outside of stay alive, run, stay alive, run, etc. That's it. Better luck next time.

Posted by Guy at 9:43 PM | Permalink

Snow Driving Tips

I just read these tips [weather.com] on how to drive in the snow on weather.com. It's funny, but I guess most people don't realize most of these common sense tips and scenarios. My favorite has to be

  • Don't use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.

It's just sort of a Duh! thing to say.

Posted by Guy at 6:34 AM | Permalink

December 8, 2005

National Leadership Award

Looks like I won the Natioanl Leadership Award as mentioned here [hackwriters.com], here [theperspective.org], here [aggressive-voice.com] and of course here [jim-frizzell.com]. Personally I can't decide if it's a scam or just a shady operation. You be the judge.

Posted by Guy at 8:19 PM | Permalink

December 7, 2005

Misconceptions?

So there's this article [cio.com] on CIO.com that says the whole thought that there's a lack of IT jobs is a total misconception. Okay, there might be more IT jobs that there have been in the past, but I think that the IT sector as a whole has become more granular than ever. For example, back in 2000 I was offered a job as a glorified IT manager for Citibank. Of course my degree was in Computer Engineering, but that didn't make a difference because they just wanted a "technical" person. Now that same position wouldn't even be considered to an engineer but would go to someone who has a degree in Information Technology or a related field. I think one of the biggest reasons for this granularity in the job market is smarter management and smarter human resources. Now when a manager asks for an applications developer they'll get someone who can develop in a language like C++, Java or C#, not a Perl Monger [pm.org] or VB Junkie.

Posted by Guy at 7:48 PM | Permalink

December 4, 2005

Human Computer Interface

A couple of days ago I read a really interesting article on HCI [intranetjournal.com], but their HCI was entitled Human-Centered Intranet (Design). At my last job [rl.af.mil] we had a whole directorate developed to the study of human effectiveness [afrl.af.mil], so at least the Air Force thinks this stuff is important. I think the best stuff out of the article are two of the tips mentioned at the end.

  • The human mind works linearly, so organize content structures by context. Don't spread related information all over the screen, bury it under multiple levels, or interrupt it with other, less relevant content. This causes users to break their train of thought.
  • Arrange content to promote at-a-glance absorption. Layout should be arranged so that users can understand the context of the page with only a cursory glance.

I can definitely relate to these tips and I wish that more UI designers would take them to heart.

Posted by Guy at 3:11 PM | Permalink

December 1, 2005

Terminology That's Not

From Dictionary.com [Dictionary.com]:

file1   Audio pronunciation of "file" ( P )  Pronunciation Key  (fl)
n.
  1. A container, such as a cabinet or folder, for keeping papers in order.
  2. A collection of papers or published materials kept or arranged in convenient order.
  3. Computer Science. A collection of related data or program records stored as a unit with a single name.
    1. A line of persons, animals, or things positioned one behind the other.
    2. A line of troops or military vehicles so positioned.
  4. Games. Any of the rows of squares that run forward and backward between players on a playing board in chess or checkers.
  5. Archaic. A list or roll.

So let me get this straight, a file in the physical sense is a container or collection of data (either hetero- or homogenous). And this concept is the analog we use to describe an image? I've always had this thing about the terminology that has been applied to computer concepts, I don't really like it. Especially the whole desktop concept and the terminological baggage that came with that crap! Don't even get me started on terms like Desktop and Folder!

Now of all people I understand the need for an analog to computer concepts that lay people can associate with and when Windows 3.1/95 was around most people could identify with the whole office concept. However, the current generation of computer users is a little more technically savvy than the previous workforce. Maybe it is time for new, more descriptive terminology. Terms that don't necessarily have a physical analog, but describe what the concept is. For example, the file concept is a defined as A collection of related data or program records stored as a unit with a single name.

I don't necesairly agree with this. In my mind the computer file is just a data container. It generally has a name, some attributes (creation time, etc.) and contains data, duh! Maybe data container isn't the best term, but I think it better represents what a file truly is. Of course this can be abstracted even more if you take directories/folders into consideration.

Posted by Guy at 9:42 PM | Permalink