Monday, July 14 2003

Adventures with NAV

It’s been about eighteen months since I bought my new car, a Lexus RX-300. It was basically a storage-and-comfort upgrade from my eight-year-old Camry, but what technophile could resist upgrading to the DVD-based GPS navigation system? Certainly not me.

It’s an interesting mix of pros and cons, features and limitations, but on the whole it’s proven to be both useful and entertaining.

(Continued on Page 128)

Friday, August 8 2003

More on NAV

Just got back from another long trip in my self-navigating Lexus (to Bellingham, WA and back; sadly, I didn’t think about setting up a photo shoot with Lauren along the way until I was already halfway home).

I was surprised that the Hotel Bellwether wasn’t in the car’s database, until I learned that the place hadn’t existed until August 2000. Lexus gives out free update discs (when they’re in stock), so this is a problem I can correct sometime soon.

(Continued on Page 1508)

Saturday, March 27 2004

Fire good

Officially, my Weber natural gas grill (Silver B) is defective. They even came out and replaced the guts of it once, to try to bring it back into spec.

The problem? It’s too darn hot. Fantastic for steaks, miserable for anything that requires “low and slow”. The built-in thermometer gave out on medium, and with all three burners on high, I didn’t own anything capable of recording the temperature of the cooking surface. I just knew that it regularly burned the seasoning right off of the cast iron grates.

So, I picked up one of those spiffy non-contact thermometers, which even comes with a small laser sight to tell you what you’re measuring (toy alert! toy alert!). A friend came over yesterday for lunch, and just before we slapped the t-bones onto the grill, we took a few readings with it: 780° Fahrenheit.

Every time I think about having Weber come back out and fix it, I grill a steak, and change my mind. Who needs “low and slow,” anyway?

Friday, April 2 2004

Gadget roundup

I’ve been using Hunter QuietFlo HEPA air purifiers around the house for a while. They’re really only quiet at the lowest of the three fan settings, but they work quite well on dust, pollen, and “unpleasant household odors,” and unlike some other brands, they sit flush against the wall. Replacement HEPA filters are in the $75-$90 range, which is a significant percentage of the cost of the unit, but they’re good for about a year of full-time service, and the activated carbon pre-filter that you replace every three months is much cheaper.

I’m not as convinced that the Hoover SilentAir 4000 is worthwhile as a replacement. There’s a suspicious lack of air-quality test results in their packaging and FAQs, and a quick smoke-test suggests that it’s not particularly efficient at quickly removing particulate matter and odors from a room. The lack of a fan is touted as an advantage, but if incense and cigar smoke produced two feet away can linger in the air for hours in a closed room, I don’t see how it’s purifying my air. [note that both of these odor sources are normally banned inside my home, and were introduced purely for test purposes]

I am enthusiastic about my Fellowes PowerShred DM15C. I can’t link directly to a product page, because there isn’t one. Apparently the only place in the world that sells it is Costco, and they don’t list it on their web site. It’s a medium-duty confetti-cut office shredder that can handle CDs/DVDs, credit cards, and up to 15 sheets of heavy paper at a time (with staples and paper clips). And it’s on wheels. About a third of my snail-mail goes into it unopened, neatly disposing of all those unsolicited mortgage and credit-card offers.

I have mixed feelings about my Olympus DS-330 digital voice recorder. I do my best thinking while walking or driving, and voice memos are definitely the way to capture that, but the people who design these things are emulating the standalone tape-recorder user interface, and PC integration is a check-box feature added as an afterthought. The only reason I bought this model is because they ship software for both Mac and PC.

It’s not great software, mind you, and their failure to make it a mass-storage compliant USB drive means Linux users are SoL until someone figures out its interface, but at least its not Windows-only like the new VN-240 PC. If you can live with that limitation, though, the VN-240 PC looks like a good deal: half the price of the DS-330, twice the capacity, and a better control layout.

I’d love to spend about an hour locked in a room with Olympus’ design team so that I could explain to them how a modern voice recorder should work, but I may have to settle for blogging it. I’m trying to resist the temptation to pass my ideas on to the folks up north; while we have the power to make a kick-ass recorder, I fear they’d miss the point and turn it into a full-fledged CE device with wireless MSN service and DRM.

Sunday, April 18 2004

Garmin Forerunner 201

Garmin Forerunner 201

This is my latest toy, a GPS-based pedometer with calorie counting, lap timers, pace and distance alerts, interval training support, basic waypoint navigation, and even an animated “virtual partner” to compete against in a session. It tracks up to two years of workout data, with daily and weekly breakdowns, runs for up to 15 hours on a charge, and can be connected to a PC through the supplied cable.

(Continued on Page 1901)

Thursday, April 29 2004

Not livin’ the lifestyle

Food magazines are usually about food. Gun magazines are usually about guns. Computer magazines are usually about computers. Some of them creep over into “lifestyle” territory, but not as far as many car or motorcycle magazines. Mags like Cigar Aficionado are clearly about the lifestyle its readers would like to be living, making only a token effort to actually discuss cigars.

What brought this on? Yesterday, my mailbox included a stiff brown envelope containing the latest issue of Lexus, a free magazine sent to Lexus owners. The contents are equal parts lifestyle and advertorial: organic oysters in Scotland, what to do in the Maldives, concept Lexi, titanium bicycles, overpriced gadget “reviews”, wine-making classes, etc.

But the best part was a non-ad for one of the cooler features in new Lexi: the backup camera. Since they already had a color LCD display in most of the new models for the GPS navigation system, they went ahead and added a small digicam just above the rear license plate, to transmit video to the dash when the car’s in reverse. Very handy for getting in and out of parking spaces.

But how do they lead into the “story”?

Anyone who’s ever backed up over a hand-made Italian racing bike left casually in a driveway knows that awful crunchy sound, and equally awful feeling.

Just in case the table of contents had left me with any doubts, this confirms that I am not in their target demographic. I’m not sure which aspect of their opinion of their readers is worse: that they’re prone to conspicuous consumption, or that they’re stupid enough to leave a “hand-made Italian racing bike” behind a parked car.

Friday, May 21 2004

You don’t get what?

On the fuel efficiency of hybrids:

Hermance said drivers who slowly roll through intersections using “California stops” are decreasing their mileage. “If you don’t stop, you don’t get the free energy of regenerative braking.”

Apparently those hybrid engines are more advanced than I realized. Somehow the energy stored by the regenerative braking system exceeds the energy that the moving vehicle had, by enough of a margin to improve its mileage.

The next paragraph attempts to explain this unusual (thermo)dynamic, but ends up making it sound like the car is just poorly designed.

Tuesday, June 22 2004

Product Review: Zippo Z-Clip

I don’t have much practical use for a lighter, but I like carrying one around to assert my membership in a tool-using species (I also carry a pocket-knife, but have found no good excuse so far to carry around a wheel). So, when the folks at Zippo added a small cell-phone-style belt clip to their catalog, I was interested.

It’s crap. The clip snapped off of the damn thing within two days.

Friday, July 2 2004

New toy: Motorola v600

Okay, I don’t really have much use for the camera side of my new cellphone; I’m a quality snob who thinks his 5 megapixel digicam is adequate for 4x6 snapshots and web galleries and nothing more, and I’m more interested in switching to larger film than to digital. Still, when you buy a new toy, in this case replacing my Ericsson T68 to get better reception and MP3 ringtones, you should at least try out the features.

How’s the camera? Functional for quick, on-the-spot documentation, but nothing more. For instance, when I was leaving the Reno Hilton (lame casino, skip the steakhouse, eat at Asiana) Wednesday morning, I spotted a big Harley parked on the sidewalk next to a large sign that boldly stated “No motorcycle parking on sidewalk.” That would have been worth a quick snap.

It takes 640x480 pictures, and claims to offer a 4x zoom. Zoom, my ass. This is pure marketing-speak. The viewfinder is what zooms; the resulting picture is either a 320x240 or 160x120 crop. Quality is nothing to write home about, but sufficient for amusement.

Other than that, the phone’s features are quite nice. It has the usual mix of vibrate, speakerphone, BlueTooth, GPRS, games, messaging, etc., and adds MP3 ringtones with quite reasonable fidelity. The reception is also living up to its promise so far, giving me a much stronger signal inside my house, where the Ericsson was prone to dropping calls unless I stood in the sweet spot facing the correct direction.

Motorola doesn’t support Macs for their phones, and Apple hasn’t added SyncML support to iSync, but they still work together over BlueTooth. You can copy phonebook entries, MP3s, and pictures back and forth, and with Ross Barkman’s modem scripts and configuration database, it was easy to set up GPRS and configure my PowerBook to use the phone for wireless Internet access.

And if you call me, everyone nearby will be blessed with the sound of The Carol of the Old Ones. I briefly considered the orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally, a classic geek sound file, but I still remember what happened when we used it as the out-of-paper noise on our NeXT printer, and my boss tried to print a large document while carrying on a phone conversation with his very young daughter.

It’s easy to switch to a secondary ringtone, so I’m thinking the opening song from Hand Maid May would work nicely.

Tuesday, July 20 2004

Life with the Motorola V600

I like my new cellphone. The reception is much better than my old one, the MP3 ringtones are cool, and the built-in camera is… okay, the camera is pretty lame.

My biggest annoyance? Several times now, when setting a ringtone or alarm sound, I’ve paused on an entry in the list, and the phone starts playing it, and won’t stop until it’s finished! When this happens with a four-minute-long MP3 file, it’s a real pain in the ass. Even turning the phone off won’t work, because the music player refuses to shut down when the rest of the phone does, continuing until its buffer is flushed, which takes a while.

Not so bad when it’s, say, Cantina Band or The Shoggoth Song, but quite disturbing when it’s the orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally.

Sunday, October 10 2004

Zen koan nowhere

Creative Labs has announced their new iPod Mini killerclone, the Zen Micro. It comes in ten different colors (face-plate only, and they all have a blue border), is slightly shorter and thicker, adds an extra gigabyte of storage, and includes FM radio, voice recording, and a removable rechargeable battery, all for the same price as the Mini.

Oh, yeah, and it’s hideous:

(Continued on Page 2148)

Saturday, January 15 2005

Dear Apple,

Please take the iPod Shuffle design, and replace the headphone jack and shuffle button with a small microphone and speaker. Record in a standard audio format, save in a standard FAT32 file system, and please don’t make it a multi-function device. Just record voice memos really really well, for playback on any computer.

And make it a different color, so people don’t confuse it with the Shuffle.

Sunday, March 27 2005

Fear for the future

The latest claimed advance in stem-cell research is natural breast implants. On the one hand, their response to touch and motion would be realistic, and, being grown from the patient’s own cells, they would be free from the risks associated (true or not) with other methods of bust increase (which I will not refer to as “enhancement”, based on extensive familiarity with their unclothed appearance).

On the other hand, there’s no guarantee that they’d look any more realistic than current implants. If, as the article suggests, they’d be grown outside the body and installed in the usual way, patients seeking significant size increases would still end up with their nipples in the wrong place.

On the gripping hand, they’d pass the flashlight test, a first for breast-implant technology.

Thursday, April 7 2005

Epson PictureMate 4x6 photo printer

This is a great little product with one serious, annoying flaw. It prints extremely nice 4x6 borderless prints, with excellent color, but even if you send it a picture that’s been formatted to be exactly 4x6, something in the driver or the printer itself is increasing the image size slightly and cropping about 1/8th of an inch on all sides.

This is actually the same behavior people have been getting from traditional one-hour-photo prints for decades, but when you have complete control over the cropping on your computer, it’s a damn nuisance. It’s even more annoying when you’re printing out documents with narrow margins or pictures downloaded from the web.

A quick Google suggests that their tech support folks are clueless about this issue, and don’t actually understand the complaints they’re getting about it. [Update: those complaints must be old. I got a clear, correct response within a few hours. Sadly, it’s a “working as intended” feature, and they don’t mention workarounds]

My guess [confirmed by tech support] is that they’re fudging the image to cope with misaligned paper, so that a supposedly borderless print doesn’t end up having a border on one side. I’m going to create a numbered 1/16th-inch grid in a PDF file and see precisely what ends up on the paper.

Update: Printing this PDF (created by this Perl script) at various magnifications reveals that 95% is just about perfect, but small alignment errors may produce a tiny white border around the edge of photos. The print driver has some adjustments for paper positioning, which should allow you to get perfect, uncropped, full-bleed prints at 95%. Mac OS X applications that use the standard print dialogs should all work with this, including iPhoto.

Thursday, June 9 2005

And this Kills Shuffles how, exactly?

Gizmodo links to a review of the new Sony NW-E507 that they think is an honest-to-gosh iPod Shuffle killer. Features: “easy, one-handed controls”, “estimated 50 hour battery life”, and “integrated FM tuner” (still waiting for an explanation of why you want radio on a device that can hold anything you ever want to listen to). For only $50 more than a Shuffle, what a deal!

Choice quotes from the actual review:

The mirror-like Champaign gold fascia looks plain, but there is an OLED display hiding behind it.

The bundled ear buds that come in the box sound muted and muffled, while the cable is also a bit too short.

Sony claims 50 hours continuous playback, although that’s when playing ATRAC3 at 105kbps.

At the base of the NW-E507 is a plastic cover that hides the mini-USB port.

I found the clip to be less than confidence inspiring – twice I tried to attach it to my belt, and twice the player fell off while I was walking.

Software wise, you get SonicStage version 3.0, which is a definite improvement over previous versions, but still nowhere near as good as MusicMatch or iTunes.

So, it might have significantly better battery life, although the difference between 12 hours and 50 hours doesn’t impress me, since both units have to be plugged into a computer to charge or update, and the difference between charging it overnight and charging it every few days isn’t that significant in ordinary use. With the Sony, though, you have to carry around a mini-USB to USB cable; the Shuffle just plugs into any standard USB port.

The bundled accessories sound pretty weak, too; bad earbuds, bad belt clip, lame software. Sure, the Shuffle’s quick-detach neck strap screams “snatch-and-grab”, but at least it never just falls off. And I defy anyone to read the detailed description of the “easy, one-handed controls” without giggling. Press, press and hold, twist back and forth, and pull out one click or two, with buttons on front, back, top, and sides.

Conspicuously missing from the review is any mention of using it as a standard USB flash drive. The Sony site hints that you can store data on it, but doesn’t say how.

And, of course, the software is Windows-only.

Tuesday, March 21 2006

Torn between fear and desire…

I want this almost as much as I fear it:

Dear Ingo Task Lamp Chandelier

Tuesday, July 11 2006

From Point A to Point B

I am here, at the corner of Boronda and N. Main in Salinas. I wish to go here, to a parking garage in Palo Alto.

Yahoo thinks I should take US-101 to CA-85 to I-280 to Page Mill Road to Alma to University. 76.2 miles, 78 minutes.

Mapquest thinks I should take US-101 to University. 74.32 miles, 78 minutes.

I recently upgraded my car’s GPS navigation system, replacing the 2001 software with the 2005 version. Before the upgrade, it thought I should take US-101 to Oregon Expressway to Middlefield to University, which (perhaps accidentally) recognizes that University is a lousy place to get off the highway. It was a good route.

Imagine my surprise when the four-years-newer firmware proposed the following route: US-101 to Espinosa to Castroville Road to CA-1 to CA-17 to CA-85 to US-101 to University. 78.25 miles, 95 minutes.

the long way...

This is not a “scenic route” option; the car thinks it’s offering good advice, despite the fact that you can persuade it to admit that both Yahoo’s and Mapquest’s suggestions are both shorter and faster. They’ve significantly changed the way they weight different roads, and I haven’t figured out where the “don’t be stupid” button is.

And I need to, because this is a mind-bogglingly stupid route, starting with the very first turn. Espinosa is a two-lane highway with heavy farm traffic, and getting onto it from US-101 requires making a left turn across southbound traffic, from a full stop. When you eventually make it to Castroville, the speed limit in town is 25mph. CA-1 is two lanes of lovely coastal highway up to Santa Cruz, with lots of trucks struggling to navigate the hills and curves. CA-17 is a very pretty – and ridiculously crowded – drive through the Santa Cruz Mountains. CA-85 isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be, but even with the recent improvements, merging back onto US-101 at the north end can be messy during rush hour.

Unfortunately, my ability to control routing decisions is limited to flavor (“shortest”, “fastest”, “maximize highway”) and “avoid this road”. I don’t want to tell it to avoid Espinosa, because when it’s not rush hour, it’s the fastest route to the Borders in Seaside, and it’s always the fastest way back from the coast.

[update: when calculating the B-to-A route, the new version of the software agrees with the old one, and combining that with the Mapquest picture gives me a pretty good clue about what’s going on. I think US-101 between Salinas and Watsonville is being weighted as a non-highway road, making Espinosa/Castroville the shortest path to a highway. Either the old data gave that stretch of 101 a better rating, or the new software optimizes for starting road conditions at the expense of overall trip quality.

So, if I tell it to avoid the stretch of Castroville Road just before CA-1 North, it should change the weights enough to send me up 101 when going to Palo Alto without interfering with route planning to Seaside. The potential downside is that it might try to route me up 101 to CA-17 to reach Santa Cruz, but that depends on just how heavily it weights the “avoid this road” markers.]

[update: oh, this is getting good. I set an “avoid this area” marker on Castroville Road just past the 156 south exit, so it wouldn’t interfere with routing to Seaside and Monterey. The car recommended taking 156 south to the next exit to get onto CA-1.

So I moved the marker a bit further down the road, past that exit, and the car took 156 south a bit further to reach CA-1. So I moved the “avoid this area” marker onto CA-1, and the car routed through Hollister.

Along San Juan Grade Road. This is a paved goat path running through the Gabilan Mountains.

However, if I remove all of the “avoid” markers and set a waypoint along 101 near San Juan Batista, the car gives me a perfectly sensible route, which it admits is shorter and faster than all previous recommendations (74 miles, 69 minutes).]

Friday, November 17 2006

Microsoft Streets & Trips 2007, with GPS

I picked up a copy of this a few days ago at the Microsoft company store ($65 for alumni, $99 at Amazon). I’ve enjoyed hating this software in the past, and I think I’ll enjoy hating this version as well.

The difference is that I’m hating it on my Mac with Parallels, and the USB GPS works fine.

What’s to hate? Pretty much their entire workflow. It’s capable of being used for in-car navigation on a laptop, with a full-screen mode and voice synthesis, but the designers have apparently never seen an in-car navigation system or hand-held GPS unit. I’m all in favor of having people park the car before fiddling with the routing system, but not for ten minutes at a time. I’m sure that eventually you can get good at quickly navigating the search and routing dialogs, but the workflow is built around creating a new document for each trip, and sharing “pushpins” between documents requires constant use of either import/export or “save as…”.

On the bright side, it only took me half an hour of googling to find the universal driver and Info.plist modifications required to get the GPS working as a native Mac serial device.

Sony Reader: call me when it’s ready

I finally stopped in at a Sony store and checked out the Reader. The display is wonderful for reading (although I’d like to see kanji with furigana), the form factor is just right, and I estimate the battery would last through five complete novels worth of page-turning, but the control layout is clumsy, the UI is a mess, and it’s slooooooooow.

Waking it from sleep is quick, but obviously uses a trickle of power. A cold boot took nearly two minutes, and every UI operation takes nearly a second. Not just “navigate to sub-menu, redrawing entire screen”, but “move the pointer down from option 1 to option 2”. The real reason it has ten numbered buttons across the bottom of the screen is so you can avoid the ten second delay of moving the pointer from choice 1 to choice 10.

I love the screen, though. I didn’t have the patience to find out if you can shut off full justification for books, which looks awful in portrait mode, especially if you increase the font size. I also didn’t spend enough time with it to find out if you can reprogram one of those buttons to switch between portait and landscape modes; doing it through the menus involves six full-page redraws, so it’s not something you want to do often. And, of course, there’s no support for searching, which makes it useless for any kind of reference material.

In a few years, these things should be incredible, and worthwhile at twice the price. Today, not so much. Some of the limitations are technical (I suspect that moving the navigation pointer requires a full redraw), but the controls and UI are Sony’s fault.

On second thought, forget Sony. “Dear Apple…”

Monday, January 22 2007

Starting anew…

About six months ago, The Former Employer With Whom I Signed A Non-Disparagement Agreement decided to close their field offices and consolidate everything at the main office in Kirkland. Some folks were asked to relocate, some were laid off immediately, and a Lucky Few were asked to stay around for a while to manage the transition.

I fell into the third group, with the promise of a reasonable quantity of extra cash should I complete my tasks to their satisfaction. This cash was in fact received on schedule, so I have no immediate plans to test their tolerance for disparagement.

We said our goodbyes at the end of 2006, and I spent the first week of 2007 in Las Vegas, courtesy of a “three-free-nights” offer at the Luxor. While I was out there, Ooma, the company many former co-workers had already fled to, called me up to arrange interviews. I went in on the 10th, went back to meet the CEO on the 15th, accepted their offer on the 16th, flew home to Ohio to quickly see my family on the 19th, and started work today.

What do we do at Ooma? Can’t tell you. Ask again in (can’t tell you).

Friday, March 9 2007

Sony pre-announces pro and semi-pro SLR bodies

Sony’s first Minolta-compatible SLR was the A100, which was a rebadged and slightly improved Minolta 5D. They’ve now shown off prototypes equivalent to the old 7-series and 9-series bodies, which is good news for people like me with a significant investment in Minolta glass.

Thursday, July 19 2007


Our product is no longer a secret. Most of the tech blogs and news sites have something up today, although the quality of information varies. I won’t be commenting on it here much.

Monday, October 15 2007

Sony Reader 505

So I bought the second-generation Sony Reader. Thinner, faster, crisper screen, cleaned-up UI, USB2 mass storage for easy import, and some other improvements over the previous one. It still has serious limitations, and in a year or two it will be outclassed at half the price, but I actually have a real use for a book-sized e-ink reader right now: I’m finally going to Japan, and we’ll be playing tourist.

My plan is to dump any and all interesting information onto the Reader, and not have to keep track of travel books, maps, etc. It has native support for TXT, PDF, PNG, and JPG, and there are free tools for converting and resizing many other formats.

Letter and A4-sized PDFs are generally hard to read, but I have lots of experience creating my own custom-sized stuff with PDF::API2::Lite, so that’s no trouble at all. The PDF viewer has no zoom, but the picture viewer does, so I’ll be dusting off my GhostScript-based pdf2png script for maps and other one-page documents that need to be zoomed.

I’ll write up a detailed review soon, but so far there’s only one real annoyance: very limited kanji support. None at all in the book menus, which didn’t surprise me, and silent failure in the PDF viewer, which did. Basically, any embedded font in a PDF file is limited to 512 characters; if it has more, characters in that font simply won’t appear in the document at all.

The English Wikipedia and similar sites tend to work fine, because a single document will only have a few words in Japanese. That’s fine for the trip, but now that I’ve got the thing, I want to put some reference material on it. I have a script that pulls data from EDICT and KANJIDIC and generates a PDF kanji dictionary with useful vocabulary, but I can’t use it on the Reader.

…unless I embed multiple copies of the same font, and keep track of how many characters I’ve used from each one. This turns out to be trivial with PDF::API2::Lite, but it does significantly increase the size of the output file, and I can’t clean it up in Acrobat Distiller, because that application correctly collapses the duplicates down to one embedded font.

I haven’t checked to see if the native Librie format handles font-embedding properly. I’ll have to install the free Windows software at some point and give it a try.

[Update: I couldn’t persuade Distiller to leave the multiple copies of the font alone, because OpenType CID fonts apparently embed a unique ID in several places. FontForge was perfectly happy to convert it to a non-CID TrueType font, and then I only had to rename one string to create distinct fonts for embedding. My test PDF works fine on the Reader now.]

Monday, December 10 2007

Ooma update

Now available from Amazon.

Tuesday, January 8 2008

Touch my monkey

For the past few weeks, my mother has been calling to say, “we sent you a monkey for Christmas, has it arrived yet?”. Each time, she seemed disappointed that I didn’t have my monkey.

Last night, it arrived. The Powertraveller Powermonkey-explorer universal charger. It’s an external battery for extending the charge on your gadgets, and it comes with a bunch of adapter tips for different phones and toys, a charger with a set of international plugs, and a small solar panel for charging off-grid.

The only additional adapter tip I’ll need to buy is for the DS-lite, which isn’t quite a standard mini-USB. Can’t have my kanji practice tool dying on me!

Wednesday, January 30 2008

Dear Sony,

[Update: Thanks, guys; the check is in the mail. More new-camera-porn here.]

Now that you’re releasing a 24+ megapixel full-frame 35mm CMOS sensor, don’t you feel a little stupid for making some of your high-end Zeiss lenses for the Alpha line APS-C-only? I doubt you’ve actually sold many of them, given the price and scarce distribution, but still, you had to know that full-frame was a requirement for a serious player in the DSLR market, and your recent announcements show that you’re not just keeping the low end of the old Minolta lineup.

Just to be clear on this: if you put that sensor into a body that’s the equivalent of Minolta’s 7 or 9 series (pleasepleaseplease a 9!), you’ve got a customer here already waiting in line.

Wednesday, April 16 2008

Dear Google,

I like Google Earth. I even pay for the faster performance and enhanced features. A few things, though:

  • Why can’t I keep North at the top of the screen? I hate constantly double-clicking the “N” in the gaudy navigation scroll-wheel.
  • Why do you auto-enable new layers in my view, so that, for instance, I suddenly see every golf course on the planet, even though I had that entire category disabled?
  • Why can’t I switch between different sets of enabled layers?
  • Why is the “Google Earth Community” layer such a dumping ground of unsorted crap? For instance, what value does this have to anyone who’s not an airline pilot? Or this, where points scattered around the globe are all labeled, “here’s my collection of 4,728 placemarks”.

I’m sure I can come up with more if I think about it for a bit…

[update: ah, press ‘n’ for north, ‘r’ for a total view reset, and then figure out how to fix all of the KMZ files that were broken by the upgrade]

Thursday, May 8 2008

Kindle play

So, my mother has a shiny new Amazon Kindle, and before they continued on the next leg of their vacation, I helped fill it up with free e-books from Mobipocket’s web site. I also played with it for a while.


  1. Every time I picked it up, I hit a button by accident.
  2. There’s no reliable way to void a pending button-press, and it keeps a queue at least five clicks deep.
  3. The “like a book” way of holding it with the cover makes the “previous page” button awkward to use.
  4. Western European/American font support only. I didn’t really expect it to have kanji, but I was surprised that it was also missing things like “ō”, affecting things like the English-language Wikipedia entry for Toshirō Mifune.
  5. Web sites that can’t be rendered are falsely reported as down. I was all set to rush into the co-lo to reboot when I checked from my laptop and discovered that it was fine. The Kindle just refused to render it, because of the Japanese text.
  6. It always took a long time to connect to Whispernet, leaving me wondering if our hotel was in a cellular dead zone. No, it’s just that slow.
  7. Frequent ghosting on the display, something that’s less of a problem with newer e-paper displays and ones that do a full erase before a full redraw.
  8. Unlike the early photos they showed off of it, it’s not hideous to look at. It definitely needs some work in the human-factors department, but it looks much cleaner than I expected.
  9. The sidebar-slider UI is a reasonable compromise between clarity and responsiveness, but takes some getting used to.

Net result: I’ll hold off until Kindle 2.0, at least.

Tuesday, August 5 2008

Google Maps street view in Japan

The folks at Akihabara News pass on the good word.

Here, for instance, is the deer park in Nara. And here’s Togetsukyou, the bridge that crosses the river in Arashiyama. How about Kyoto Tower, and the much more interesting Tokyo Tower. This could be fun…

[it looks like they went through Akihabara before all the stores opened in the morning.]

Thursday, November 20 2008

Words I never thought I’d hear…

From the nice folks at Lexus, on their new in-car control system:

Remote Touch is as natural to the driver’s hand as a computer mouse.

So, expect to hear about a lot of car-pool tunnel injuries in a few years.

Monday, February 23 2009

Dear LG,

I’m not sure, but I think you’re trying to sell some sort of consumer electronics device in this picture. Power strip? Remote control? What is it?

Wednesday, March 4 2009

Shameless Pluggery

The Roku set-top box is supposed to be pretty cool. And you may be aware that in addition to their Netflix Watch Instantly support, they’ve just added Amazon’s Video On Demand service. If you hadn’t heard about any of that, then gosh-golly-wow, doesn’t it sound just spiffy?

And doesn’t this sound like a paraphrased press release that includes a sponsored link to buy the product on Amazon? It should, because that’s what it is! I just got email from Amazon this morning letting me know that I should take advantage of the buzz and earn money for every Roku Digital Video Player that I help them sell.

So, you know: $99 bucks; streaming video on your TV set; apparently doesn’t suck. Let me know how it works out for you.

Friday, March 13 2009

Dear Steve Jobs,

I like buttons.

Sony Discman

I know you think buttons and cables and ports are all bad things, and should be hidden from the user whenever possible, but you’re going too far again. The new Macbook Pro that you can’t plug two even slightly oversized USB cords into, even on the 17-inch model that has acres of free space along the one side you permit ports to appear on? Yeah, that’s pretty stupid.

And the new Shuffle that can’t be controlled without the supplied button-starved remote control that apparently has difficulty registering its array of clicks-and-holds when operated with sweaty fingers? Yeah, that’s looking pretty stupid too.

Now, I have to admit that you’re not alone in your hatred for visible controls. See that picture up above? Way back when, the retailer almost begged me to take it off his hands, because no one had ever bought one, and since they’d been discontinued, he couldn’t get it out of the store fast enough. Customers walked in, looked at the sea of buttons, and bought something else.

I, on the other hand, walked in, looked at the device, and said “Look, look! Logically different operations on different buttons! It must be mine!”.

Wednesday, March 18 2009

Now that’s sexy

Also overpriced and underpowered, but isn’t that always the way for sexy young things?

(Continued on Page 3293)

Wednesday, May 6 2009

Samsung U70 mini monitor

[Update 5/20: the beta driver broke under MacOS X 10.5.7. A reinstall briefly worked, but then stopped. This tip fixed it for me.]

[Update: one additional negative added]

Samsung’s been adding DisplayLink USB monitor support to their digital picture frames for a while, but none of those work with a Mac. DisplayLink has a reference driver, but Samsung added their own protocol for determining whether it should come up as a monitor or a flash drive when plugged in, which requires their driver.

Most of the other USB mini-monitors are either insanely overpriced, in very limited supply, or both. Samsung is slowly rolling out a dedicated mini-monitor, the U70, and DisplayLink’s latest MacOS X reference driver supports it. Sadly, the only importer I’ve found it at is geekstuff4u, which charges nearly twice what Amazon Japan does.

Amazon Japan won’t ship gadgets to the US, but I set up my Tenso reshipping account for just this sort of thing. Since someone else at work also wanted one, I ordered two. Tenso ships EMS, which charges by weight at a fairly steep rate, so they’re still overpriced, but a full $70 cheaper than geekstuff4u. That’s $70 each.

When Samsung brings them to the US for real, they’ll probably run about $90, but as a toy-loving early-adopting technogeek, my per-unit total came to $112 (including sales tax, free shipping to Tenso, and international shipping and handling).

Pros: compact 7” widescreen LCD display (800x480), decent brightness and color, works in portrait or landscape modes, great Mac support, runs on USB power (optional second USB plug if your machine doesn’t put out enough power with just one). Works great for video, chat clients, Photoshop palettes, status windows, etc.

Cons: picture-frame-style stand is not particularly stable in landscape mode (press photos are mildly deceptive about this…), no supplied carrying case.

I happened to have a little padded case that’s just the right size to transport it, so my only real complaint is about the stand, and I can solve that by using the Kensington security slot on the back as the mounting point for a second leg.

Is it worth it? Yes, if you want a little extra screen space that doesn’t require a power cord. I’ll find it extremely useful for running Photoshop and Aperture on my laptop. Large external displays are nice, but for some reason I never like using one with the laptop. I like the small side display, though.

[Update] Another con I just noticed: significantly higher CPU use when you watch video on it. Dragging an h264 DVD-rip from the main display to the little Samsung chews up a full core on my 2.93GHz Core 2 Duo. On the main display, QuickTime uses 20% of a core and WindowServer another 4%; on the U70, QuickTime uses 100%, WindowServer uses 20%, and DisplayLinkManager yet another 20%. This causes the fans to spin up to about 4800rpm, increasing the noise significantly.

Thursday, September 3 2009

Give this girl a Lens!

Until recently, I hadn’t investigated the Japanese file-sharing networks. They’re Windows-only, they require some configuration that is only described in Japanese, and, of course, all of the titles are in Japanese, many marked-up with keywords that will make sense only to followers of 2ch.

I’ve already mentioned gekiyaba. There’s also お宝, which means “treasure”, but on file-sharing networks it means “special picture of a celebrity, either photoshopped or interesting only to people who can fill in the naughty bits with their imagination”. ポロリ usually means “shedding copious tears” (derived from the mimetic poro-poro), but online it’s “accidental exposure”, pictures or video clips where you can almost see down a blouse or up a skirt (so, if you go looking for Yuuko Nakazawa’s porori, you’ll find a song about crying, but for anyone else, you’ll find voyeur pics). Another one to watch out for is 激似, which means “I think the girl in this amateur porn flick looks exactly like my favorite idol, but you won’t agree”.

There are a lot of obvious keywords as well, and many people seem to apply them to every video they upload, no matter how irrelevant. Some are fairly reliable, however, like 巨乳, which means “huge breasts”. Not really my thing, but when you see a video labeled 巨乳めがねメイド after just discussing such a creature, well, it needs to be checked out. For Science!

Turns out she has the cat-ears as well… (picture safe for work)

(Continued on Page 3407)

Monday, October 26 2009

Best. Cellphone Ad. Ever.

LG paid two Korean girl groups to record music videos for their latest ad campaign. I don’t know what the other group did, because I can’t seem to tear my eyes away from Girls’ Generation…

[link goes to the cleanest HD version I could find on Youtube, sadly tagged by some clown who thought his handle was so important it needed to be embedded in the video at beginning and end, as if he were the second coming of MTV]

Thursday, April 22 2010


Geotagging your photos is both fun and useful, and not just for big trips like Japan, where I often had no idea where a bus was taking us. I think it’s nice that they’re starting to integrate it directly into cameras, but there’s a problem with that idea: satellite acquisition takes time, especially if it’s been a while since the device was last turned on.

The problem with putting the GPS into the camera is that people turn their cameras off. So, either the GPS stays active and drains the battery, or your first half-dozen pictures at each stop may look like this:


Standalone GPS trackers have their own problems, of course. Some have poor battery life, some don’t show up as simple USB mass-storage devices for transferring logs, some have poor chipsets, and most do not have a screen that shows the current time. That last bit is perhaps the most important, because your camera and your tracker have to match up by timestamp. Most software supports adjusting the time to improve the match, but for best results, you want to set the camera to GPS time, every day.

[Disclaimer: this particular picture doesn’t actually demonstrate the cold-start location problem. In fact, the cluster of accurately-tagged images in the upper right were taken first, and the half-dozen trailing off to the lower left were the result of the tracker losing signal when we got into the car, and not getting another satellite fix until we were several blocks away. Because the clocks weren’t in sync, the software assumed the pictures were taken while the car was moving, and interpolated their location between the two points. Easy to fix, but still amusing.]

Sunday, June 27 2010

Eyeballing Google Earth

From 3,200 miles up, dots are visible representing the major population centers of Japan.

From 3,000 miles up, I can see the country’s name in English, as well as labels for the dots: Kōbe, 大阪, 神戸, Nagoya/名古屋, Yokohama, 東京, Saitama (yes, in this precise mix of kanji and romanization), and I gain one lonely dot in Hokkaido. Amusingly, I also gain two labels for the body of water to the west of Japan: East Sea, and Sea of Japan.

Just below 3,000 miles, that dot in Hokkaido gains the labels Sapporo and 札幌. Also, prefectural boundaries begin to fade into view.

At 1,700 miles, Chiba/千葉 gets a dot and two names. Since I’m centering the main island in the viewport, so does Fukuoka/福岡, and four islands get names: Shikoku, Kyushu, Hirado-shima, and Tanega-shima.

(note: mousing over any of the points highlights it for the renderer, so if my mouse passes over 大阪, it will gain the label Ōsaka, which will persist out to 3,000 miles until I highlight something else; after discovering this feature, I’ve been careful not to disturb GE’s natural selection mechanism…)

Just above 1,500 miles, the 東京 dot adds the name Tōkyō. The main island Honshu joins the list, as do Awaji-shima and Fukue-jima. We also pick up Seto Naikai, the inland sea.

Just below 1,500 miles, a dot and a name for 横浜, and off in the corner, lonely little Okinawa-jima gets a name. From here on in, I can’t keep everything from Okinawa to Hokkaido in view, so I’m going to center on roughly where I believe Kyōto to be. I can’t see it yet, but I know it’s near 大阪, whose label just disappeared. When I center it in the viewport, I don’t get 大阪 back, but the point is now labeled Ōsaka, so onward!

400 miles up, and still no sign of Kyoto. 300 miles, 200 miles, still nothing.

Just under 200 miles up, I get prefecture names for Osaka, Nara, Wakayama, and Mie. Perhaps if I shift the view a bit? Success! Moving Ōsaka to the bottom third of the viewport gives me prefecture names for Hyogo, Kyoto, Shiga, Fukui, and Gifu (and, yes, the prefecture names lack the long-o).

100 miles up, still no dot for Kyōto; the prefecture name is in the upper third of the screen, but it looks pretty sparse up there; that can’t be where the city is.

Below 100 miles, city boundaries start fading in, but still no new dots.

50 miles up, and the dots for Ōsaka and Kōbe are nearly offscreen, and the Kyoto prefecture name is soon to follow. Still no new dots.

40 miles up. Ōsaka and Kōbe gone, Kyoto prefecture name gone, no more dots, no more labels. There are two city-looking areas on the map, a small one near the center and a bigger one off to the right. Let’s center the big one in the viewport. Nope, still nothing.

25 miles up, and I’ve got ku! Within a single unlabeled border, I see Kita-ku, Kamigyo-ku, Nakagyo-ku, Shimogyo-ku, Higashiyama-ku, Yamashina-ku, Minami-ku, Kishikyo-ku, Fushimi-ku. Nearby bordered areas gain the labels Muko-shi, Nagaokakyo-shi, Uji-shi, Oyamazaki-cho, and Shimamoto-cho. I’ve got all the wards of Kyōto, but not the city itself.

12 miles up, and I’ve got new dots. Most of them add detail and kanji to my previously-known ku’s, but one of them actually says 京都市. Also, off in the corner, I now see Ōtsu/大津市.

As I pass the 10-mile mark and the display switches to feet, there it is at last, the label Kyōto. From this distance, I can see that Kyoto Station is neatly centered in the viewport.

Of course, I could have just typed “kyoto” into the search box and flown there in an instant, but where’s the fun in that?

Oh, and when I let GE find Kyōto for me, it took me straight to City Hall. When I zoomed in close and turned on the Panoramio layer, I found a photo insisting that City Hall looked a lot like Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion. I logged into Panoramio and suggested relocating that one 3 miles northwest.

Thursday, July 1 2010

The Lexmouse will kill you

When I took my car in for service this morning, they gave me a 2010 Lexus RX-350 as a loaner. It includes their new “Remote Touch” controller for the navigation system, climate control, radio-station selection, etc.

Lexus Remote Touch

This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in a car. It’s a mouse. A five-button mouse. That drives an honest-to-gosh giant hand cursor on the display. Your right hand naturally and comfortably rests on a goddamn mouse that is active while you’re driving. And the “intuitive” user interface it’s controlling? Draws your eyes off the road, because even though the mouse “clicks” when you pass over a button, you still have free X-Y movement that can take you off of the buttons. And the UI has modes. Buttons aren’t in the same place in different modes. Functionality isn’t the same in different modes.

When I first heard about this gadget, and Lexus called it “…as natural to the driver’s hand as a computer mouse”, I just made a joke about car-pool tunnel injuries, but they’re serious, and so is the risk of distracting drivers.

Do. Not. Want.

(and, um, if you see someone driving one of these things, “steer clear”)

Saturday, October 23 2010

Tera in my pocket

Current sale at Costco (brick & mortar only): Western Digital 1TB bus-powered, hardware-encrypted USB drive, $99.

I like this future we live in, but it still lacks catgirls.

Thursday, March 31 2011

Vacation substitute

The trip to Japan has been rebooked for late November, so no Kyoto cherry blossoms for us this year, but I know precisely how lovely Kansai is in Autumn, so we will certainly not be disappointed.

Unfortunately, this leaves me burned out and cranky, with no real alternative recovery plan. I have the usual three-free-nights offers in Vegas, but I don’t want casinos and crowds. California is finally warming up and drying up, so I could give my cameras some exercise at Point Lobos and other places, but there’s an air of been-there-done-that to all the nearby sightseeing opportunities, and they’re basically solo activities, where the Japan trip was built around sharing the experience with my sister.

Meanwhile, my 2002 Lexus had crossed the 280,000 mile mark, and despite its excellent health and promise of a long remaining lifetime, faced increasingly expensive service trips.

So I replaced it.

(Continued on Page 3754)

Sunday, September 25 2011

Japan photos

For fun, I’ve been playing with Google+ recently. I remain invisible on Facebook, but the Circles design makes organized sharing more practical, and the various Google services also integrate nicely with my shiny new Android device, the Sony Tablet.

(oh, did I forget to mention the new toy? Full review soon, but the short version is that the most negative thing I can say about it is that you need tiny little fingers to retrieve the full-sized SD card; otherwise, it’s great)

Anyway, I ended up copying a bunch of the pictures from my 2007 Japan trip into Picasa, for when I get the urge to share a random picture.

Japan, November 2007

This version was exported directly from Aperture, so it didn’t pick up the geotagging I did before Apple supported that properly. I still haven’t tinkered with merging existing geolocation data into existing albums, but maybe soon.

Thursday, October 6 2011

Begun, the IR Wars have

Sick of nitwits playing with a TV-B-Gone, or maybe you don’t think it goes far enough? Jam the IR spectrum to disable all remotes.

Sunday, January 1 2012

Sony cuts Tablet S price by $100

Nice. I’ve been quite happy with mine, largely because Sony didn’t try to cruft it up or lock it down. There are some bundled apps, but all the standard Honeycomb apps are still there as well.

Friday, March 9 2012

Never Buy A 1.0, Electric Car Edition

Consumer Reports bought a Fisker Karma. Two days later, the dealer had to tow it away on a flatbed, because it refused to go into gear.

Thursday, April 26 2012

I can haz Ice Cream Sandwich

[Update: two problems so far: 1. video codec eventually crashes, requiring a reboot (after a few days). 2. increased power draw in sleep mode, even with wireless and bluetooth off. So, I expect an update soon.]

Well, my Sony Tablet S does now, anyway; my doctor still frowns on gratuitous sugar for me.

Monday, October 1 2012

Security, Convenience; pick one

In the break room just now, someone was trying out the facial-recognition security feature on his new phone. So we took a picture of his face on another phone, and held it up to the camera.

It let us in.

Wednesday, January 2 2013


On my shopping list for Japan is a kiseru pipe and accessories for a friend. I picked up a few of the pipes as souvenirs last trip, one from a flea market and two from the ninja gift shop at Toei Studios, but now somebody actually wants to smoke one, and would prefer something purchased from an actual tobacco shop, along with a supply of the finely-minced kizami tobacco.

Which means I’ve been looking for Actual Tobacco Shops in Kyoto and Osaka, and evaluating their potential usefulness based on their online catalogs. Apparently the primary requirement for a pipe web site in Japan is Convoluted Navigation, so it can take quite a while just to find the store, much less all of its contents.

Which is a long-winded introduction to an item that is full of Fail: the Dangan Pipe.

(Continued on Page 4136)

Wednesday, January 9 2013

There are many legitimate uses for this new device…

…and just as many pervy ones, which shall be left as an exercise for the reader.

The just-announced-at-CES JVC GC-PX100 HD camcorder with full-resolution 1080p recording at up to 600 frames/second, with an f/1.2 lens, for $999.95, available in March.

Wednesday, May 8 2013

New logo

Why am I designing an artist’s chop for myself? Because, after assisting my Shinkendo instructor with getting proper seals made for the dojo, I found myself with fonts, templates, whimsy, and a web site that can turn an Illustrator file into a sturdy rubber seal. (they only ship domestically, but by some small coincidence, I’d recently updated my reshipping info at Tenso)

Dotclue rakkan-in

The font is Hakushu Tensho, the text reads 手掛 (“te-gakari” =”clue”), the color is Chinese Red, and the distressed effect is a quick Roughen/Expand/Simplify. The physical seal should be here sometime next week.

Side note: good fonts are pricy. I have a decent collection (read “shovelware CD”) of Japanese fonts from Dynaware, but Hakushu is one of the few foundries that makes a full line of professional old-fashioned fonts, and they charge professional prices. Fortunately, they offer free downloads of fonts containing just the grade-school kanji.

Actually buying their fonts is a bit tricky, because most places only sell them on CD, only take domestic credit cards, and only ship domestically. Amazon Japan does carry them, and if you’re lucky they’ll be in stock, but because font CDs are flagged as software, you have to use a reshipping service like Tenso. The only working source I’ve found for purchasing downloadable fonts is imagenavi; you have to be a bit creative fudging the address fields, but you can sign up for an account and use a non-Japanese credit card to buy things from them.

[Which reminds me: one of the many little adventures I had in Kyoto was helping my sister set up an account with Pizza-La so we could get dinner delivered to our hotel room. Worth the effort; I think we ordered the “Alsace-style Flambeed Onions and Bacon” pie three times. They actually have an English menu, but if you can’t read Japanese, placing an order is still tricky; she made it most of the way through the signup process with Chrome’s auto-translation, but got stuck when it insisted on having her enter her name in katakana.]

Thursday, May 16 2013

Google’s new wearable interface…

Burning question: does anyone else wonder if this device will bring back the obsolete tech-slang term “glass ttys”? Judging from the users I’ve seen accidentally taking pictures and accidentally forwarding things to the wrong contacts, I figure it’s just a matter of time.

Wednesday, May 29 2013

Wow, what a bad idea

Katana fast-draw competition timers, modeled on the sort of devices used in pistol competition.

I particularly like the fact that the scoring rules in the manual give a half-second penalty for splitting open your scabbard or bending your sword, but a two-second penalty for missing the target. Actually cutting yourself is a disqualification, at least, but This Will Not End Well.

Thursday, August 1 2013

Eternal sweetness on Amazon

One kilo of pure Sucralose powder, for ~$200.

This is either a lifetime supply, or a lifetime supply, much like the kilo of pure caffeine, which is about a hundred lethal doses.

Tuesday, January 21 2014

Generating hanko in Adobe Illustrator

A somewhat-belated follow-up to my earlier hanko braindump, here are two bits of ExtendScript (Javascript) for generating decent-looking square seals (kakuin) in Illustrator and then resizing them to see how they’d look at different sizes when sent off to an online dealer who has a laser engraver, CNC mill, or photopolymer (e.g. Brother) system.

sample square seal

The first, make-seal.jsx, takes a string of kanji/kana and formats it into a traditional-looking square or rectangular seal, with options for changing the font, spacing, etc. You need to have some sort of kanji fonts on your system, of course; the script goes looking for anything by DynaCom or Hakushu, and if all else fails, will let you use Meiryo and MS Mincho/Gothic. Overriding the font menu is on my to-do list, along with creating double borders and some other features used in real hand-carved seals.

The second script, seal-sizing.jsx, takes whatever artwork you have selected and creates a new document scaling it to various common seal sizes (by default, the ones offered by Inkan Honpo, who accepts Illustrator files directly; most dealers want black-and-white GIF/JPG). Useful for printing out and seeing how good your design really looks at different sizes, which is important for the seals I’m designing for some local martial-arts instructors.

For extra credit, here’s what I’m using to lightly distress the resulting seals, adjusting the outlines to look a bit less computer-generated. I’d save this as an Illustrator action, except that actions aren’t capable of recording everything any more, sigh.

  1. Select/Object/Text Objects
  2. Type/Create Outlines
  3. Effect/Distort & Transform/Roughen…
    0.15%, 67/in, Smooth
  4. Object/Expand Appearance
  5. Object/Path/Simplify…
  6. Select/Inverse
  7. Effect/Distort & Transform/Roughen…
    0.2%, 83/in, Smooth
  8. Object/Expand Appearance
  9. Object/Path/Simplify…

(I could rant about how Illustrator CC for Windows forces the pixelAligned property for all RGB documents created in ExtendScript, or how ScriptUI windows are mis-sized on HiDPI displays, but I’ll save those for bug reports)

I have some notes on making round seals, but automating those in a way that looks half-decent is actual work.

[Update: because it amused me…]


Friday, April 4 2014

Amazon Fire TV

Yes, I bought the Amazon Fire TV as soon as it was announced. It’s tiny, sleek, a pleasure to unpack and set up, and very responsive. I haven’t tried the optional game controller yet, but I did buy one, and you get a free game with it.

The voice search works quite well, in my limited testing. Sadly, while it correctly recognizes “Stargate SG-1”, it cannot directly navigate to “Stargate SG-1 Season 4 Episode 6”. Someday.

Also, it doesn’t appear that the Crunchyroll app has been ported yet, which means that the anime selection is mostly limited to dubs. I hadn’t realized how wretched the voice of Hermes was in the dub of Kino’s Journey.

[Update: I took it over to a friend’s house, and we couldn’t get any audio over HDMI, using two different cables. Works fine at my house, completely silent at his. We tried every option that was available on both his TV and the Fire TV, but no luck. I don’t see any mention of the problem anywhere yet, so it may be limited to a specific hardware configuration.]

Wednesday, May 28 2014

Skype auto-translation: this will not end well

Microsoft just demoed real-time translation in a Skype call. They wisely chose the relatively-compatible English and German languages for the demo, but there are so many ways it can go wrong even between such close cousins.

And when you think about expanding beyond the simplest cases, well, consider the following tray of meatballs:

Meatballs in translation

Monday, August 18 2014

Ninja Nonsense

This is just… kinda sad. It’s one thing to cater to the wannabe-ninja crowd by selling outfits and weapons that are as historically-accurate as the katana from Highlander, but $140 for this is pure sucker-bait:

This hand forged Shuriken set is not only made according to Meifu Shinkage Ryu specs but also include a certificate of authenticity signed by Yasuyuki Otsuka himself, Soke of Meifu Shinkage Rryu.

We are also glad to present with this Shuriken Set our original and unique carry pouch. Made from durable canvas and double layered in the Shuriken tip area this pouch is perfect to carry the Shuriken to your Dojo.

At least if you buy these, you’ll be getting hand-made iron spikes that are good for something. And that won’t get you unpleasant attention from law-enforcement.

I understand the need to cater to the wannabe-* crowd. It’s hard to stay in business as a martial-arts supply store that only sells to serious students, and the high margins on goofy/cool-looking stuff pay the rent, much the way Gil Hibben’s multi-pronged fantasy knives used to.

(I should also note that I have nothing against the various “ninja” schools; apart from their historical claims and taste in weapons, they seem to be legitimate modern martial arts, and there’s nothing wrong with being modern. After all, while Judo was invented in 1884, it didn’t really spread until it was made part of the 20th-century middle-school phys-ed curriculum (along with a newly-standardized Kendo, and Naginata-do for girls), and Aikido and Karate came after WWI. In fact, the art that Aikido is based on, Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu, may have been invented about the same time as Judo, despite claims to a 900-year history)

Wednesday, April 1 2015

Dash, Dash Button, and Dash API

Amazon has three new entries in the Internet of Things That Buy Other Things space. Dash is a wifi-connected magic wand that uses voice recognition and a barcode scanner to replenish your stock of household consumables. Dash Button is a wifi-connected magic button that orders a specific product when pushed. Dash Replenishment Service is an API that allows anyone to give their Internet-connected device the ability to order its own consumables.

At this time, I am not the target market for this. I buy an awful lot from Amazon, but I buy bulk consumables at the local Costco, so Dash wouldn’t do much for me. And I can’t think of any single item that I buy in bulk that would merit a dedicated Dash Button. Okay, maybe ammo.

What would be fun is a Dash Reward button, which purchased a random item from your wish list. “Hey Amazon Japan, I’ve been working out really hard this week; send me a Bluray from my ‘busty cheesecake’ list.”

Thursday, October 22 2015

I like the future

Amazon Prime Now has expanded to the SF Bay Area. While I doubt I’ll ever order the ice cream and frozen pizzas, there’s some comfort in knowing that if you really need a 1080p home theater projector before midnight, they’ve got you covered.

Or if you find yourself running out of candy on Halloween…

I expect it to mostly benefit people like my sister, who often finds herself in business hotels, frantically working on events and presentations.

Tuesday, November 10 2015

Old-school potpourri

Liberal repellent

It doesn’t say whether it’s an English or an Aromatic, but I’ve often thought that a good pipe tobacco would make a better potpourri than the usual overpowering seasonal mixes. People seem to like the room note of Captain Black; wonder if I could get away with a little dish of it in the living room when the family comes out for Christmas.

Or maybe I should sprinkle some on my incense burner.

Monday, April 18 2016


Best bouncy castle ever.


Saturday, July 2 2016

Of Mice And Men…

Boobie mousepads


Friday, July 8 2016

Kinda want…

I have no practical use for an 18-inch-long, eight-pound, 1.25-inch hex key, but it would make an awesome paperweight and conversation-stopper.

1.25-inch allen wrench

(via Amazon Prime)

Bonus: the 1.5-inch version is two feet long and weighs fifteen pounds.

Thursday, September 15 2016

Moa Time and Space

Because of the big power outage that we spent days cleaning up after, I decided I needed more protection at the office. Moa Metal couldn’t be everywhere at once. Until now.


Tuesday, October 4 2016

Dad’s Ugliest Pipe

I’ve been sorting through the (partial) collection of my father’s pipes that we found in the basement of his house. They were in an open rack, and between the oxygen and the walker he hadn’t been down there in years, so they were pretty filthy. In many cases I couldn’t read the markings until I’d scrubbed the stummels in diluted Murphy’s Oil Soap, and I’m still cleaning and waxing them.

We know we haven’t found them all yet. For some people, 53 pipes would be a lot, but when the University was out for the summer, he’d often work at a local pipe shop, and the pipe cabinets he made himself would fill up a little more. Most of what we have now are those pipe-shop specials, an eclectic mix of minor labels, store brands, seconds, basket pipes, and red-headed stepchildren, and he smoked the hell out of them all. Even the one with the bowl so big I can fit my entire thumb inside.

There are a few “name” pipes in the mix. Two Savinellis, a Comoy, a GBD, a Barling, and two Ropps (including their trademark cherry-wood), and one hand-made that he must have bought in France when he was running the summer abroad program, a Pierre Morel from St. Claude.

And then there’s this, with the hand-engraved signature “E. OSG”. I swear it was rusticated by earthworms.

I’m sure there’s a story that goes with it, but it’s one we’ll never hear now.

Sunday, October 9 2016

Seasonal Sisters

Amazon Japan’s Halloween Store has a full range of theme costumes, including the always-popular Sexy Nun.

Cosplay nuns

Miko costumes come in Straight, Sexy, Sexy Anime, Sexy Maid, and Touhou (Sexy). Lots of zombies and schoolgirls, too, of course. Not that these are strictly Halloween costumes.

Tuesday, October 18 2016

Smoking The Man Pipe

Not a euphemism!

There are web sites where you can figure out the origin of your pipes, such as Logos and Markings and Pipedia, and both link to other sites where aficionados of a particular brand have gone into obsessive detail. Even that’s not enough, though, and sometimes you don’t even have a name to google. In the case of one of Dad’s pipes, just a stem mark that looked sort-of like a fish-hook.

A sharp-eyed youngster (under 40) at the local pipe shop thought it might have originally been a nearly-vertical “♂” symbol where most of the white paint filling the stamping had worn off, and careful inspection confirmed it. But searching for “male symbol pipe” is a bad idea, even with SafeSearch turned on, and I gave up after a while.

Until a few days ago, when I happened to be looking at the history of Laxey Pipe Ltd, which specialized in making African Meerschaum pipes for other companies. If you’ve seen a Peterson or Barling meer, it’s probably a Laxey, and they were located on the Isle of Man.

Sure enough, one of the sample contract pipes at the bottom of the page is Comoy’s Man Pipe, with the same distinctive bowl carving and ♂ logo as Dad’s:

Comoy's The Man Pipe
Comoy's The Man Pipe

Thursday, January 12 2017

Acurite 5-in-1 Weather Station

So, someone got me one of these for my birthday, and I finally got around to building a stand for the outdoor sensor (basically an oversized tameshigiri stand made with pressure-treated lumber).

A promised feature was remote access to your data through an iOS/Android app, so I downloaded the app …and it didn’t work. Surprise! You have to:

  1. register your purchase online (and the form wouldn’t let me hit Submit until I added demographic data…),
  2. plug the USB cable on the indoor sensor into a computer,
  3. download and run their PC/Mac app in the background,
  4. and leave your computer on at all times to report the data.

I have two words for that, and the first one starts with “F”.

So, delete the Mac app, delete the iPhone app, unplug the cable, and now I have a standalone weather station. Oh, well, at least it wasn’t an Internet of Things Thing that sat on my wireless and took orders from The Cloud.

Update: now that the sun is down, I can report that the backlighting on the screen is bright. I won’t be needing a nightlight downstairs any more.

Tuesday, January 24 2017

Dangerous words…

I walked into TAP Plastics today. The sign on the door said:

“Scrap sale, 75% off”

I gained 15 pounds of HDPE, for $8. I think I’ll go back tomorrow for a load of acrylic.

[Update: another $20, another 38 pounds of plastic (~21 HDPE, ~17 cast acrylic); I may go back again if I can find someone working there who knows what some of the mystery plastics in the scrap bin are…]

Saturday, January 28 2017

First impressions

This is a 2-inch square seal created in Illustrator with my script, imported to VCarve Desktop, and cut from a mounted linoleum block on my Nomad with a 20-degree v-bit. The hardest part about getting a good firm impression on paper is that my stamp pad is too darn small; I’ll have to buy an uninked pad at an office supply shop and load it up with the good pigment.

Zettai Ryouiki Seal of Approval

Also making a good impression is glamour model Meru Tsujimura, who cannot be found at office supply shops…

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Sunday, January 29 2017

Second impression

I decided to see how much detail I could get with the 20-degree v-bit. This was carved out of the end grain of a generic hardwood 1-inch square dowel.

Update: I shined a flashlight onto the seal to get a better look at it.