Full-on digital overload

Surprise: Sometimes Analog, “low-tech” solutions can work best

The thought that comprises the title came to me when I saw xkcd #1495:

Randall Munroe says in the alt-text that he learned the problem is a bug caused by his current preferences. The implication: fixing it properly at code level isn’t worth the trouble.

I thought of my friend Jack Yan next.  Specifically, I recall a conversation we had– something about PDAs and use of mobile devices for organizing calendar information.  He said something about using a paper desk calendar being the easiest and best solution for him.  (Jack: you’re welcome to clarify in the comments if memory doesn’t serve me well; I am paraphrasing our Tweets as well.)  Of course, I would say Jack has a properly analytical mind; since he understands the algorithm of the Gregorian calendar, he sometimes uses old calendars, even if the year isn’t current, because the calendar nevertheless matches.

I never asked Jack if he had a perpetual calendar chart mounted somewhere in his office; yet, if he has memorized this data somehow, I’ll be doubly impressed. Image credit: ancestry.com

When we were discussing this, if I remember right, my wife Cimmorene was using a Palm T|X PDA, and I was using gnome-pilot to synchronize her data to my box running Ubuntu.  I’ve said it here before, that I am a client-side kind of guy, but when she moved to a tablet device, it seemed easiest to move to Google Calendar, and that’s what we’re using now.  Yet, we still have paper calendars about the house, and we decided to put a desk calendar on the hallway that leads to the bedrooms, that is, we chose a large paper calendar that everyone would see and use at their leisure.  It is indeed used often, sometimes for things we don’t record digitally.

For a time, I experimented with calendars on dry-erase surfaces.  That didn’t remain a lasting solution, but, we regularly use dry-erase boards to note locations of family members, to track household tasks, and sometimes for shopping lists.  I confess to using paper notepads for shopping, although Cimmy found a good app to do the same thing.  I could never profess to be a futurist– I refuse to declare that print is dead (although I notice some of my favorite periodicals in print are thinner than they used to be), and I just enjoy some analog solutions.  I rarely carry a cell phone around, and since I grew weary of wristwatches years ago, I gratefully accepted a gift of a pocketwatch from my in-laws last Christmas.

Pocket watch 2

I generally prefer to have pockets in all my clothes; there is no such thing as too many. I told a friend of my side of the family that he could call me Captain Kangaroo for all I cared.

I am also one that believes bringing mobile computing devices camping or hiking is sacrilege.  To be more precise, I wouldn’t begrudge others that option if they so choose, but, that’s not my choice.  Doing such activities, for me, is leaving a certain amount of technology behind to better commune with nature and my natural self.  I’ll come back to it, eventually, but– well, I need some introspection sometimes as an introvert, and much of the technology comes with enough noise that I need a break from it now and then.

On a different note, but coming back to xkcd #1495, I would conclude that sometimes, fixes, repairs, and the like can be more intuitive.  I’m not a fan of jury-rig solutions, but, sometimes, it works out for the best.

re-mortising the door frame

My son destroyed his hollow-core door and so we replaced it with something solid. Because we messed up some measurements cutting it to fit, we used part of the replacement door’s frame and screwed it to the old frame.

No matter how technical I get, I’ll never shake my creative roots.  I am just grateful that technology allows me to be more precise with such creative expressions.


What is a Mashup?

Today I’m going to get technical, so the Monday Monster Mashup (normally at jak & Cimmy’s Journal Jar) is at TechsWrite.

What is a Mashup?

I love how Sue Teller described it:

I’m going to stick to the song definition of the term, for now.  To sum up (especially if you skipped over the video, tsk tsk), a mashup is taking two or more recorded songs and putting them together in such a way that you get something new.  It came from the disk jockey (DJ) culture, and can be considered a form of remix. Sometimes, the mashup is considered part of what’s come to be called the bastard pop genre.

Flyer for Bootie, the first bootleg mashup clu...

Flyer for Bootie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I’m sure that there were remixes of this sort floating around years prior, it seems to me that the beginning of the Bootie club night (created by DJs Adrian & the Mysterious D, a.k.a. A + D) in San Francisco in 2003 is what brought the mashup to the public consciousness.  Adrian explains one form a mashup can take- vocals from one song, plus instrumentals from another, in this documentary.  (It’s a little over nine minutes long, so watch it when it’s convenient.)

Some have been playing fast and loose with the definition

I’m no hipster.  I really don’t mind if the appeal has become mainstream in some shape or form.  What does bother me, though, is applying the term to performances that don’t fit the definition I described above.  I don’t mean the cover bands that started playing live interpretations of songs mashed together in the studio.  No, I mean stuff more like this:

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m amused that Kenny G is putting his smooth jazz flourishes on a track categorized as G-funk.  (The 213 that Warren G refers to is his old hip hop group with the late Nate Dogg and Snoop Dogg, although Snoop doesn’t appear in “Regulate.”)  Ironically, “Regulate” samples instrumentals from Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin'”, and a lot of Mike McDonald’s music is categorized as yacht rock (possibly because of his collaboration with Christopher Cross on “Ride Like The Wind”, and Cross is well-known for “Sailing”.  Hall & Oates is considered part of the genre as well, however, when not categorized as blue-eyed soul).

Then there’s this:

No, Billboard.  That’s just a cover tune.  Granted, you have artists here giving them a reinterpretation in a style they are known for… but that’s still a cover, something very well defined for decades before the mashup was even a regular idea.

Let’s wrap it up with what you came here for

What I choose to share for the Monster Mashup (generally) are mashups that have a clean blend of at least two audio tracks, and have a video component that matches (i.e. pulls from the music videos made for the two songs).

Here’s one I shared years back on VOX, and I think that Cimmorene presented again when she was carrying the idea along with her Monday Morning Mashups:

(To read some articles I did on mashups for the music blog We Heart Music, follow this link here and look for “written by jaklumen” or posts with “jaklumen” amongst the tags)

Going big guns on Net Neutrality

Things are quiet here at TechsWrite, but if you’ve been reading, you know that Net Neutrality is very important to me. Bryn Greenwood has provided a direct link to petition the FCC on an ongoing proceeding (14-28, Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet) as well as instructions on how to formally file your thoughts on it. This is the very best advice I’ve seen so far to be involved in the campaign for Net Neutrality. (Thanks, Bryn.)

See also

Net Neutrality Matters, Now.

Bryn Greenwood

I keep seeing people posting images in support of net neutrality, but beyond making people more aware that big money interests are trying to create fast and slow lanes on the internet, those images don’t do much to stop it from happening.

What can you, as a lone private citizen, do to protect net neutrality? The answer is surprisingly easy. You can tell the FCC that you want net neutrality. Courtesy of my friend Lucy Pick, here are the simple instructions for doing that.

1. Visit the FCC’s website here: http://fcc.gov/comments

2. Look for Proceeding 14-28

3. Enter your personal information. Yes, you will need to speak up as a citizen, and that means the FCC wants your name and address. Don’t be more scared than you are any other time you divulge this to the federal government.

4. In the comments section write, “I want internet service providers…

View original post 140 more words


iPhone ATM PIN code hack- HOW TO PREVENT (thermal IR-based)

The gist of Mark’s video is that infrared scanners have been miniaturized enough to fit as a case on an iPhone.  The hack is scanning the thermal heat signatures off a keypad, which reveal which numbers have been pressed, and in which order, effectively giving a thief about an 80% chance of guessing a Personal Identification Number (PIN).

The solution is to cover the rest of the keypad with the pointer and middle fingers of your other hand, while you’re entering a PIN.

The thing to remember is this is most important for plastic/rubber keypads, which are often on card readers at paypoints.  Bank ATMs tend to have metal keys, which dissipate heat much more quickly.

I may elaborate on security in this context more in other posts– in a broad sense, preventing hacks and vulnerabilities is largely for people to inform themselves about what’s being used, exercising common sense, and utilizing best practices.

I’m not strict about copyright, but I do want to be credited.

I haven’t really taken the time to write very much on the subject of copyright, but I firmly believe that copyright and patent law in the U.S. is horribly broken.

I could write an entire post just about that, but, this post is more about what I did when I found out my work was used without permission.

Actually, to be strict about it, the photo technically wasn’t captured by me, but an old work colleague.  This is the photo in question:

Tulsi solar-electric oven at the house

This is a photo of our Tulsi solar-electric oven, right on the front porch where I do solar cooking on hot summer days.

The oven isn’t made too durably, and it looks a little more worn than it did when this photo was taken by our friend.  I figured I’d look to see if I could get replacement parts.  I didn’t buy it directly from the manufacturer– I bought it from a company called EarthEasy.  But, I happened on the manufacturer’s site, and imagine my surprise, dear reader, when I saw this:

Hey, how'd that get there?

Hey, how’d that get there?

Well, I’m glad that Rohitas Electronics, the manufacturer of the Tulsi oven, decided this photo was so nice, but… I do want credit!

It took a month and a day to get results, but after some gentle persuasion conversing with the son of the founder, we did get credited:

Tulsi Solar Oven 2

While some of my fellow Americans may grumble about U.S. corporations choosing to exploit India’s cheap service labor market, I would have it be known that my e-correspondence with Niharika Rohatgi was the epitome of courtesy and professionalism.

And while it would have been nice to have been compensated, if the company is facing hard times, the credit is enough, and I said as much.

I might have considered a solar oven manufactured in the U.S., if I had to do it again, but my web searches did show that it would have cost me more.  Sure, it would have been better constructed, but, so far, I’ve been getting my money’s worth.  I fully expect that in the years to come, Tulsi quality might actually get better.  Jack Yan told me once that Indian made suits were of comparable quality to Italian, and for a better price.

India, I think, has much to teach us about customer service.  And I have every reason to believe that if I had been dealing with a U.S. company, my request for credit (if not copyright acknowledgment) might not have been honored.  And while India does not get as much exposure as China does in our import market (thanks to Wal-Mart, primarily), I think that they will yet come into their own, even if my experience is primarily with customer service and a solar oven manufacturer.

For now, thank you, Niharika Rohatgi and Rohitas Electronics.  It was a pleasure and I appreciate the time and attention.


Arcades: It’s All About The Controls! Part 1: Spinner/Paddle Controller

This is a post I’ve been trying to write for a while, now.

Let me start with my most recent purchase and modification: GroovyGameGear’s TurboTwist 2 spinner controller.  See, mouse input is fine for a lot of things, but, there are some games that do so much better with a paddle/spinner controller that moves on just one axis, instead of X-Y with a mouse.  If you’re around my age or otherwise have fed a lot of coins to video arcade game machines, you know what sort of games I mean: Arkanoid, Tempest, and so on.

For a long time, I was considering the SlikStik Tornado Spinner:

There are more styles of knobs than what’s pictured here. Image credit: http://www.robotron2084guidebook.com/

I was going to build a separate controller cabinet for it, much like the X-Arcade and HanaHo HotRod controllers I have.  I figured I’d have the color scheme be inversely proportional to the HotRod: the T-molding, buttons and the knob top for the spinner would be purple.  I wanted a skirted knob assembly- just like the purple one in the photo above.

But I had my doubts.  The spinner assembly looked beastly in size.  And the assembly alone costs a cool 100US$, with the knobs at about 20US$ (I’m rounding up).  And unless Suzo-Happ has modified it recently, it’s only compatible with USB 1.1.  So, I looked at Ultimarc’s (short for “Ultimate Arcade”) SpinTrak:

Click on the image above if you want all the gritty technical specifications.

The SpinTrak is more reasonably priced at 70US$, and it takes the same Tornado-style tops.  They didn’t have purple, but, I figured I’d just order from Suzo-Happ, and pay a little more.  It might have evened out in shipping costs, as Ultimarc is based in London.

But then I saw this video:

and I figured I should use a setup like DarthMarino’s instead- to use my X-Arcade Trackball controller with a TurboTwist 2 spinner.  What sealed the deal was this line on the website page:

USB HID compatible operation… allows for perfect functionality on any USB capable system, and is not limited to only USB 2.0 based systems like some other spinner controls. Just plug and play!

I figured that to mean it was compatible with the new USB 3 standard.  The TurboTwist 2 costs the same as the SpinTrak, and if I didn’t need to build a new cabinet for it, it seemed like a no-brainer.

The spinner fits into a 1″ hole, which is the same size as an arcade pushbutton. Image credit: GroovyGameGear.com

Most spinners, or paddle controllers, like the TurboTwist 2, operate on very similar controls as mouse inputs.  X-Arcade uses Happ-style controls, and the Happ trackball is basically a giant analog mouse with two parallel, duplicate sets of three buttons.  The spinner/paddle controller itself operates on just one axis– usually the X-axis.

I was still going to get a purple knob for the spinner:

Cimmy chose this dome shaped knob specifically, priced at $10

but I couldn’t get purple pushbuttons installed, and I decided to save money with the red rubber knob.

This actually matches X-Arcade controller colors better and was only $3 extra

I think it looks spiffy.

I think it looks spiffy.

Note that the spinner is installed replacing one of the buttons on the right side.  I’m right-handed, so I use the buttons placed on the left side.  Now, I’m not sure if my son is left-handed, or ambidextrous (he seems to be ambidextrous), but this setup isn’t ideal for a left-handed user that would rather use the buttons on the right.  We’ll see.  The middle button (on either side) closest to the trackball is Mouse Button 1, and the spinner controller replaces the Mouse Button 2 input on the right side.

Now, I wasn’t sure how to daisy-chain the TurboTwist hardware with the X-Arcade Trackball hardware, so, I figured I’d make a separate hole, and the controller would just wind up using two USB inputs.  Since I don’t have this controller plugged in all the time, I’m usually plugging into the front of my desktop.  For now, that’s not a problem.

I also bought and installed some microswitches from GroovyGameGear that are quieter and have a better response time.

Besides arcade games with MAME, I found the modified controller works really well with some more contemporary games.  One of them is  TecnoballZ, a game for the Commodore Amiga that was ported to several platforms, including Linux (and is open source).

I just use the spinner for the main game… Image credit: TLK Games

…and use the trackball for the opening menu (as shown here) and the power-up menu.

I know Arkanoid/Breakout style games are obvious, so I’ll give another example I think is a little more intriguing: DUO by Binary Zoo Games.

This game is intense.

Here’s a video to give you an idea of the gameplay:

I’m assuming Eddie is using a mouse– this game is just so much slicker with a spinner.  I guess I’ll have to make a video of my own to really show off the difference.

Please note that X-Arcade no longer sells the Trackball controller.   I did buy mine from them, but as a refurbished unit (presumably when they were phasing them out).

X-Arcade still sells a trackball assembly kit for 50US$.  The four buttons are for one set of mouse click input buttons and for the “Horizontal Disabler”, which is a cheat for golf and bowling games (disables the Y-axis).  You’d have to build the cabinet housing yourself.


Yes, I’m stodgy in some respects– I found Code in headstone brings memories to visitors’ phones in my printed newspaper.  It’s about a woman that included a Quick Response (QR) code on her father’s grave headstone.

Photo credit: Paul Rodriguez/Orange County Register


English: Version 4 QR code example

English: Version 4 QR code example (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do I think this is exciting?

  1. I am LDS (Mormon), therefore
  2. I value families, and see genealogy as part of keeping family ties together regardless of life or death, and
  3. I think QR codes will make work much easier for future genealogists and future generations that are interested in knowing about their families.

This was further entrenched in my memory yesterday as I was with my in-laws doing proxy ordinances for deceased members of their family.


Microsoft News | Do You Want Microsoft To Open Source Windows Live Writer? Show Your Support To Make It Happen.
I don’t use Windows very much myself, but Cimmorene does and she very much enjoyed using Live Writer as a blogging client. She’s currently using BlogDesk but would prefer to return to Live Writer.

Please consider retweeting Scott Hanselman’s tweet on this project.  I realize that the industry is moving more and more towards mobile devices, and also that solutions are more server-side, or in the cloud, but I’d like to see more options for blogging clients.  It won’t likely help me out much– the state of blogging clients in Linux is atrocious– but it would be a boon to the majority that are Windows users.