Archive for November, 2005

Comment Spam Filtering

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

Various rotting bastard spammers and their stupid spambots had recently discovered my weblog. In the last week, I have gone from one or two bits o’ comment spam a week to upwards of ten or so. As with all spam, I’m sure the trend will only be in the wrong direction.

Stupid asshats.

So, I have installed Spam Karma. We shall see. If you have any problems posting a comment (and aren’t a spammer :-), send me an email. (I long ago gave up hiding my email address).

Here is a business plan for someone:

Create a company that does nothing but create false business leads for the products advertised via spamming. Use offshore labor to ensure that “human element” is involved in the process.

Update: Wow. Just in time. 20+ spambot posts in less than an hour already today.

Canon Digital Rebel Remote

Sunday, November 27th, 2005
Canon Remote Complete

Tonight, Ben Holt and I hacked up a remote for the Canon Digital Rebel XT. Instead of paying $20+ for a fragile remote on a short cable that has less features, I picked up about $10 in parts from Fry’s.

The basic plan came from Hacking Digital Cameras book. If you follow this link, there is a link to download a free chapter that happens to include the discussion of building the remote trigger.

Canon Remote Wiring

After drilling a few holes and soldering a few connections, Ben and I whomped together a tough as nails remote on about a 9ft cord. The wiring is rather simple, as seen in the photo. The toggle switch locks the shutter open and is used for time lapse photos independent of camera settings. The push button closest to the toggle triggers the shutter program as selected on the camera. The other push button triggers the autofocus feature, if enabled on the lens.

Update: I added a couple of photos taken with the remote and some more commentary. Split the story because it was getting long…
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Desktop Clown

Saturday, November 26th, 2005
Cyclone Backglass Clown

I find that the clown image makes for a very nice desktop image. The full sized version can be downloaded, too.

The economy of pinball manufacturing…

Saturday, November 26th, 2005
Addams Family's Thing

There is another half of the pinball economy; that of the manufacturing.

A pinball machine is a very complex electromechanical system controlled by a comprehensive state machine implemented in software. The implementation is complicated by such fun little details like making sure that no two coils fire simultaneously on a single power supply section. If they do, a fuse blows.

But a pinball machine has to do more than just make noise and fire coils at the right time. A successful machine has to have some kind of a theme that is tied together into the grand package. Furthermore, game play has to “flow” in that certain shots need to play off of each other.

A pinball machine must also be designed such that the novice player can achieve rewards fairly easily without understanding what they doing. At the same time, a well designed machine will offer unique challenges to an advanced player, frequently with some kind of “super bonus round” that can only be had by collecting all other modes or challenges.

While any two pinball machines made by the same manufacturer around the same year will have a number of components that can be interchanged, every machine has many unique components ranging from specially shaped custom printed plastics, to particularly shaped pieces of metal, to molded plastic ball guides under the playfield, to custom wire ramps, and so on.
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Giant Tomato Plant in Late November?

Saturday, November 26th, 2005
Giant Tomato

I’m still getting used to the growing seasons in California. Pictured at left is the (yes, 1) cherry tomato plant that I planted in early May. It produced many a yummy tomato, though the damned rats got most of them.

Now it is late November and the plant seems to think it is spring! In late September, it mostly died back. That seemed to simply be a prelude to insane growth. And it has flowered and set fruit!

I’m betting that the first hard frost will kill the plant. Yet, the vegetation is dense enough and it is sheltered by the fence to the point where it wouldn’t surprise me if it survived such a frost.

Other than adding some really good compost from the city of Sunnyvale and watering the plant regularly, I didn’t do anything special. Largest Tomato plant I have ever grown.

The Young Widow (A Book Review)

Saturday, November 26th, 2005

I just finished reading the Young Widow by Cassandra Chan. It is a murder mystery set in London and the surrounding countryside. A quick read without a huge amount of complexity, though the characters are well developed. Overall, it was an enjoyable book if completely out of character with the typical horror, fantasy, or science fiction that I enjoy.

So, why the heck did I read it?

It was Ms. Chan’s first full length novel. She is a friend of a friend and I helped her buy and configure the iBook she used to write the book. She was kind enough to thank me in the acknowledgments.

Google, being the ever efficient beast that it is, has already scanned the book, including the acknowledgments. Kind of amusing to be able to search for “Bill Bumgarner” and come up with a murder mystery along side a couple of technical books.

The economy of pinball machines in the field…

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005
Cyclone Pre-Maintenance

Even those who have never played pinball, remember seeing a machine or two in a random bar, restaurant, airport, movie theater or some other random location. The profile of a pinball machine — from front or side — is unmistakable.

Now, anyone who has played some random pinball machine more than once has run into a machine that is in less than perfect condition. The flippers might be extremely weak. Or maybe a switch or two (or ten) doesn’t register the ball’s passing. Commonly, some random rubber ring somewhere is broken and bits of it are floating about the playfield. Maybe a ball is stuck somewhere or some random solenoid just doesn’t work any more.

Anyone with any mechanical sense will immediately ask, “How the hell can someone leave a machine in this condition out on location?”
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Pinball Project: Cyclone Restoration

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005
Cyclone Backglass Clown

The good folks at Make Magazine have asked me to write an article on pinball machine restoration. After a bit of research, I found a Cyclone that is in need of restoration.

Cyclone is an excellent pinball machine made in 1988 by Williams. Full details can be found in the Internet Pinball Database. At a time when every machine had to have multiball, Cyclone is single ball all the way. The game play is brilliant, with lots of really well done kitschy state fair style sound track.
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Cory Redux (or Why I’m Giving $$$ to EFF)

Saturday, November 19th, 2005

Cory Doctorow had another post about DRM, iTunes and — as is all the rage in the weblog community (funny, have yet to see it in the mainstream press) — the recent Sony rootkit debacle.

But, as some might be surprised, I’m not going to pick apart what I find to be a rather inane, incorrect and misdirected post.

Nope. Actually. I’m here to explain why I’m ponying up some dough to the Electronic Frontier Foundation [EFF] after having previously stated that I would not do so because of Cory’s position on DRM, etc.

A little bit ago, I tore into Cory about a post he made to Boing Boing and specifically stated that I could not in good conscious give money to an organization that has such an outspoken representative with whom which I not only disagree, but feel that there are some serious factual errors in their line of thinking.

Cory was kind enough to respond intelligently and patiently to said post and we exchanged a number of emails over the following days.

I asked Cory quite poignantly where the line between “EFF” and “Cory; EFF Spokesman” was drawn. That is, when Cory drops a “DRM Is Ultra Evil” bomb on BoingBoing, exactly who is he speaking for? Is it an EFF statement or a personal statement? I’m certainly not the only person asking this question.

Cory’s response:

As to EFF v Boing Boing. If I speak at a conference on behalf of EFF, or submit a paper on behalf of EFF, or post to one of EFF’s blogs, or send email from my address, I am speaking on behalf of EFF. Everything else I post, write and say is in my own person

Excellent. Given that very precise response (which, yes, Cory gave me permission to post), I have no problem supporting the EFF and berating a handful of posts to Boing Boing.

Given the bullshit that is going on these days, figuring out that I can support EFF without being a hypocritical bastard brings me a little bit of comfort.

I don’t agree with all of EFF’s positions, but I would be disturbed if that were not the case. Funding an organization to represent your personal views to affect the greater good should involve some conflict– some deep thought and analysis– unless you have surrendered yourself entirely to your inner sheep.

In closing: Cory — thanks — I may not agree with you personally, but I recognize the strength of your convictions and the value of questioning the status quo.

Keep it up.

Panasonic “Design is Really Tough” Book

Friday, November 18th, 2005

Panasonic makes some coolstuff.

And sometimes they don’t.

I ran across a banner ad on Hack a Day that caught my eye. Why? Because it showed an otherwise unremarkable laptop with a round trackpad.


Round trackpad?

It is a Panasonic Toughbook. That particular page has its own bit of design humor. Roll the pointer over the laptop picture and it moves around. Sorta neat. Now, roll slowly to the right to try and click the virtual showroom. I can almost hear the text scream “No! Please! Don’t click me!” as it turns red and shuffles right out from under my mouse pointer.

So, chase down that text and click on it. Then click through to the photo gallery.

Yup. A circular trackpad. Because, you know, you never really need to track diagonally or, like, do some kinda scrolly-wheel simulation along the edges. Overrated, that.

Better yet, the optical drive is accessed through a lid like thing to the right of the trackpad. Well, almost to the right. The lid lifts a chunk of the funky surround around the pad. But, wait! The lid only exposes about 60% of the media. For protection, the whole area is surrounded by little pointy bits to give you some nice tactile feedback as you grind that disc into place. Because, of course, when I’m shoving a hunk o’ Pixar goodness into my laptop at 30,000 feet to keep my kid quiet on that cross country flight, I really want to slide that disc right across plastic pointy bits so my son can enjoy a scratcheriffic custom remix of Monsters, Inc.

For added convenience, the audio jacks are placed just to the left and right of the latch along the front of the computer. Nothing like typing and padding with a nice cushion of coiled up headphone cables to cradling your wrists. If this laptop is anything like just about every other piece of electronic equipment ever made (including some early models of iPods), the audio jack will probably break pretty fast from all the wrist slams thus eliminating the need to have cables in your way.

Battery life and weight is pretty sweet, though. I definitely have batt life envy about now.

And the laptop marketing chick is hot. The Tough Dude looks sorta fireman-esque, and my wife tells me that’s hot. So, bonus points for marketing, but they could have scored more if it had been a fire axe instead of a big wrench.