The Big Think

December 29, 2007

Schwag

Filed under: Current Reading,Mad Science,Woodworking — jasony @ 12:33 am

Got a couple of late Christmas presents today (courtesy the UPS guy and Amazon’s special “we’ll deliver it AFTER Christmas for you” service). Truth be told, I actually kind of like getting the card with the printout in it on Christmas day, then have the package arrive a few days later. It’s like getting an extra present. It extends the holiday, and the UPS guy stopping out front always makes me happy.

Anyway, Erin got me a 150 piece Dremel accessory kit like this one. Amazon’s supplier was out of stock so she cancelled the order and we got it from Lowes (same price… shame on you Amazon!). I immediately put it to work out in the shop tonight for a few hours. Say what you want about 3hp 240v cabinet saws and pneumatic tools, when the chips are down there ain’t NOTHING like a Dremel.

Erin also got me this book on stop action filmmaking. I’m looking forward to working through it. It’s very informative and well written. Neat!

Speaking of fun books, she got me this one as well. I’m planning on making a totally dangerous finger guillotine with a surgical steel blade. My neighbors are going to drive me out of the neighborhood.

December 28, 2007

Cool Flash Physics

Filed under: Computing — jasony @ 2:22 am

Amazing what you can do with flash.

December 25, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — jasony @ 12:52 am

merry_christmas_by_dimant.jpg

December 24, 2007

Long Jumping

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 9:54 pm

Insane downhill slip and slide slide jumping.

Revenge

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 2:55 pm

I was out and about doing some last minute Christmas shopping when I came across what is probably the most hilariously incongruous product I’ve seen in years. I just stood there flabbergasted at the implications, and my brain immediately started spinning imaginary stories and outrageous mental images.

I mean, just imagine the reaction if you bought one of these for a four year olds’ birthday party.

lorem ipsum

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 2:50 pm

The history of lorem ipsum.

December 23, 2007

Mini Us

Filed under: Macintosh — jasony @ 5:05 pm

Last week a power surge brought down the whole home automation system. I managed to get it up and creaking again, but the hard drive was starting to hiss and smoke. It was obviously time for us to replace the thing and get the house up to date.

Giles let us use one of his three friend’s and family discounts on a brand new Mac Mini (Thanks, G!). I ordered it last thursday and it arrived 20 hours later on friday, even though I had chosen free shipping. Within a day I had up and running and happily loading movies and other content onto it. A day later I plugged it into our (analog) TV and installed/configured our home automation software (Xtension) on it. Unfortunately, the new machine comes with Leopard (OS 10.5), and Xtension isn’t fully compatible with Leopard yet, so there were some fairly hilarious and debilitating bugs with the setup. After I paid my upgrade fee for Xtension, I asked the one of the co-writers (the inestimable James Sentman) if he maybe had an alpha build of Xtension I could test. Boy! Am I glad I asked. I installed the alpha an it’s never run better. The HA machine has been rock-solid stable and doesn’t have the quirks that the older Xtension did on Leopard. The Mini is incredibly powerful and doens’t even blink when I ask it to run the HA machine, compress a movie, download content from Miro, and play back a hi def stream, all while hosting music and doing a few other things- simultaneously. And this is the low end machine. I got an Apple wireless keyboard and the bluetooth mighty mouse so now I can sit back on the couch and surf or watch a movie from the hard drive. Granted, the screen on our 28″ analog TV is only 28″ and very low res, and we’ll rectify that once prices drop a bit more, but it’s a game-changing thing for us to have easy access to so much content.

The other great thing about the switch is that the home automation system is much more reliable than it was before. The old system was relegated to the corner of an upstairs room and sometimes the signals didn’t get to the computer. The new system is relegated to the exact opposite corner of the house (downstairs corner by the TV), but for some reason signals seem to propagate much better. I haven’t had nearly as many collisions or failed triggers as before. We’ve been through several nights with the system watching over us and so far (finger’s crossed) we haven’t had any lights go on in the dead of night. I think I killed those logic errors several years ago.
Eventually I’d like to speed the system up by getting a wireless antenna so the motion detector signals don’t have to clog up the power lines, but that’s somewhere down the road. Oh, and the mini’s paltry 80 gig hard drive will be cleared up once we get a ginormous firewire drive. I’d love to get a dual terabyte (mirrored) drive, but those’re still out of the price range. I’d hate to get anything less than a 750 because we’ll be filling it up too soon (still don’t have the pictures or music on the mini). How much storage do we really need? About 50% more, it seems. I think in the meantime I’ll look for a cheap ATA to Firewire enclosure and repurpose an old hard drive. Enclosures are only $20-$30 and I can put a lot of music in the 160 gig that I have in the loose drive.

So Christmas came early to our house. Erin loves being able to surf on our TV, and getting rid of that noisy machine upstairs has been a boon. With so much power in the Mini I’m looking for ideas for ways to use it. I’d appreciate any suggestions.

Comp USA

Filed under: Macintosh — jasony @ 10:22 am

So Comp USA is going out of business. I wandered in there yesterday and spent an hour looking for a decent bluetooth mouse. Stupid me. I decided to save ten bucks and get an RF mouse with a USB dongle. Unfortunately, I got it home, opened the package, and discovered the killer: “Maximum range 3 feet”. Bummer. I need a range of about 12 feet. Stamped all across the receipt: All sales final, no returns. There goes $27. I’m going to go back in today and plead my case with the manager, offering up a win-win. Let me exchange this and pay the difference for a more expensive mouse. Hope it works.

UPDATE: The enlightened manager at Comp USA heard me out. His reply was “so what you want to do is spend MORE money with us, and all I have to do is bend the “no returns” policy? I’d be stupid not to do that.” I didn’t have to give him my big rehearsed spiel or anything. Very cool of him. He actually said “yeah, lots of businesses would stick to the letter of the law, but that’d be dumb.”

So I bit the bullet, applied the $27 to the Apple wireless Mighty Mouse, and now I can operate the Mac from 30 feet away. Erin’s used the wired Mighty Mouse for a year on the iMac and loves it. I can see why.

December 21, 2007

Seen at Best Buy today

Filed under: Games — jasony @ 5:43 pm

20 Nintendo Wii’s in the wild. I had the self control not to buy one, but asked the guy why there wasn’t a line yet. “They only just arrived and nobody knows they’re here yet.” Thirty minutes later while revisiting the store I asked him how many had been bought. About half. I saw online that you just cannot find a Wii for Xmas this year. We briefly thought of buying the whole stock and flipping them on eBay for $300 each for a tidy $1,000 profit. BB probably wouldn’t have let us buy them all. Ah well.

Silicon Nanowire Batteries

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 2:03 am

This looks promising. 20x the performance of regular batteries. Yes, please.

And You Thought Your Commute Was Bad

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 1:48 am

The scariest roads in the world.

December 19, 2007

Maker Mother Lode

Filed under: Mad Science — jasony @ 8:21 am

I just discovered McMaster-Carr. If you’re a maker, or if you geek out on looking at page after page of industrial, well, everything, do not go here. It’ll waste your morning.

December 18, 2007

Quoth

Filed under: Quoth — jasony @ 6:37 pm

I still find it hard to believe that the invention of the catapult preceded the invention of the computer and all its peripherals; nothing in human history exceeds the ability of the computer to make its user want to construct a device that hurls heavy objects as far away as possible.

Lileks

Shop Time

Filed under: Woodworking — jasony @ 6:12 pm

Over the past two days I’ve been heavily involved (like 27 hours in 2 days!) in building a few props for this years’ show. I’m incredibly excited about them. One in particular rivals even the 9′ tall ferris wheel. Again, I can’t post it until February because of secrecy rules and everything (not that anyone from Baylor knows about this blog… Hi Josh!), but I still want to keep these worlds separate.

But I can tell you that the item in question is 6 feet in diameter and one of the most detailed props I’ve ever built. I can’t wait to see it on stage. I also built a separate 9′s tall prop, and one that was about 10 feet by 4 feet, in addition to a bunch of little things.

It’s an incredible amount of fun to be able to take a break from working on the music and then use a totally different skill set to work on the props. Now that I’ve got the shop of my dreams (lucky me), it’s fun to be able to say “yes, I can build that” to just about any proposal.

December 17, 2007

Sail Boat

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 9:35 am

Brilliant idea. Put a giant sail on a cargo ship and save 30% on your fuel. Sound like science fiction? Skysail did it. Very cool video. Very cool idea.

December 16, 2007

Get great secret deals at Amazon

Filed under: Uncategorized — jasony @ 1:23 am

Check out this webpage next time you’re searching for good deals at Amazon.

Upgrade from Vista to XP

Filed under: Computing — jasony @ 1:13 am

To be honest there is only one conclusion to be made; Microsoft has really outdone themselves in delivering a brand new operating system that really excels in all the areas where Vista was sub-optimal. From my testing, discussions with friends and colleagues, and a review of the material out there on the web there seems to be no doubt whatsoever that that upgrade to XP is well worth the money. Microsoft can really pat themselves on the back for a job well done, delivering an operating system which is much faster and far more reliable than its predecessor. Anyone who thinks there are problems in the Microsoft Windows team need only point to this fantastic release and scoff loudly.

Ouch.

December 15, 2007

Pen Touch

Filed under: Apple — jasony @ 12:30 am

There are rumors afoot that Apple will release a tablet computer next month at MacWorld. All I can say is I hope so. If it uses this technology, all the better. I said I’d be first in line for a tablet based computer, but if we purchase the mini we may have to put that off for awhile. Darn money.

December 14, 2007

Do Not Taunt Happy Fun Ball

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 2:12 pm

Classic SNL (h/t Robert)

December 13, 2007

Dumb House

Filed under: Apple,Hobbies,Technology — jasony @ 5:42 pm

Well, the dang home automation system is on the fritz. And then it’s not. And then it is again. It seems that the other day some uncoordinated rube ran his or her car into a telephone pole with an attached transformer a mile from here. The resulting explosion and fiery incandescence managed to knock out power for four thousand north Austin residents. What that much power was doing coursing through a single transformer I have no idea, and the fact that my wife drives by the cursed thing every day on her way to work gives me pause. The image of the tiny green box overloaded with electrons suddenly erupting and causing a temporal anomaly, trapping everyone in the area in a time loop where thy have to repeat the last thirty seconds of their commute, only to pass by the tiny green box overloaded with electrons suddenly erupting and causing a temporal anomaly, trapping everyone in the area in a time loop where thy have to repeat the last thirty seconds of their commute, only to pass by the…. you get the idea.

Anyway, the box went blooey, but first I was treated to the spectacular sight of all the lights in our house suddenly ramping up to 200% brightness. Wowsers. I think this is what they mean by power spike. Luckily, I’m a smart lad and have invested a substantial portion of my retirement savings on Uninterruptible Power Supplies. These have the benefit of not only allowing you to continue surfing the internet when the zombie hordes destroy civilization (leave YouTube please!), but also regulate the electrons like a bouncer at a night club. Only the cute and well-behaved ones get through.

So every expensive piece of electronics in the house made it through just fine, and I really think the hundreds of dollars I’ve spent on super-duper UPS’s paid for themselves right then and there. There was the bright light and the horrific squeal of a half dozen units beepeing NO POWER, followed by darkness and continued beeping (none of the lights are on UPS’s, of course). I ran around and shut down/unplugged everything and was treated to that very rare modern experience… a silent house. Man shouldn’t live this way.

Unfortunately, the UPS that’s on the home automation computer is old and decrepit, and failed in its task. When the power came back on four hours later (yes, it took them four hours to replace the transformer, rendering an area about 3 miles in radius powerless… including the neighborhood grocery store and the Best Buy. What’s a Best Buy without power but a sad silicon graveyard.), I rebooted the 10 year old Mac that serves as the brain of the house. However, after a suitable period of time I realized that the hard drive never spun up. I kicked it and rebooted it a few times and managed to get it working again, so the first thing I did was back everything up. You want to hear me rant? Imagine if I lost a few years’ worth of programming to the house controller. I might have to actually touch a light switch!

This morning I went back in to visit the computer and it was still working, but when I rebooted it again (yes, there was a good reason), it quit on me again. So I took it apart and tried to replace the hard drive with an even older drive. No dice. Tried a second drive. Nothing. Tried the original wonky drive again, kicked it, spun in place, and spat a few times for good luck, and rebooted it. It worked! But I think the drive is on its last legs. It’s a SCSI drive (that old Mac only takes a special kind of extra-loud, extra expensive SCSI drives), so replacing it would cost more than I want to spend just to keep an ancient machine running a while longer. See also: supercentenarians with pneumonia.

So the plan right now is to see what happens over the next few days. If it keeps working we’ll keep our fingers crossed, but when/if it goes down for sure, instead of spending the money on a big U/W SCSI drive I think we’re just going to spring for a new low-end Mac Mini. This will get the HA server into the new millennium and allow me to do cool things like port our music and video around the house. It should speed up the performance of the HA system significantly, and run silently and more efficiently. In fact, I’ve been running a Kill-a-Watt on the old H.A. computer for a while and determined that we’ll save enough in electricity cost by replacing it with a Mini to completely pay for the Mini…. in 12 years. Of course, the way Macs last, it’s entirely possible that it’ll still be working then.

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