Archive for March, 2007

Wii Fixed!

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that my Wii was barfing dots onto the display. The response indicated that this was most likely a hardware problem and that I should contact Nintendo. I did and they sent me a UPS tag to slap on a box — not the original carton, they advised! — for service.

I received the repaired unit this week and, sure enough, it was a hardware problem. Totally fixed. Display is completely solid and dot free. As well, the optical drive is much quieter now (I’m sure it is probably a new or refurbished unit and they simply transferred assets between the two).

Nintendo transferred all data between the two units except the data that could be downloaded from the shopping channel.

So, one software update later, I had the news and weather back. A few minutes of re-downloading various software from the Virtual Console and I was back up and running, with all saved data and purchased content restored!

Throughout the process, Nintendo’s web site provided excellent feedback as to exactly what was happening. While there are aspects of Nintendo’s web site that make me want to hurl, it does the job.

iTunes Store: Complete My Album subtly much much better than expectedd

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

I saw the announcement of the Complete My Album feature on the iTunes store.

“Neat”, I thought, “but I doubt I’ll use it.”

I launched iTunes and clicked through. Listed with a bunch of albums for which I have no interest in the rest of the songs, was Hybrid’s Wider Angle: Special Edition.

Huh? I bought that whole album!!

Looking into, there have been two additional tracks made available that were not available when the album was first released*. Not only that, but the two tracks are both 10+ minutes and, as a result, are not offered as singles. And I could– and did– complete the album for $1.17, well under the $.99/track that they would have cost if they hadn’t been album only!

Awesome! So, Complete My Album also works for album purchases where tracks were missing when originally purchased. I will clearly be checkin the Complete My Album section of the store on a semi-regular basis.

*Some may complain that iTunes should have had the complete album in the first place. It isn’t Apple’s decision to make. The record labels make available what they can and want. Sometimes, they hold back content for marketing reasons. But often it is because of rights issues related to the sound recording. Every single performance of an individual song creates a set of sound recording rights for that particular performance and, as a result, any given single performance may have a set of rights limitations that prevent distribution.

This is also the same reason why you see songs disappear from being available in downloadable channels. While you can’t easily recall and replace all the CDs in the sales channel, it is trivial to turn off a digital download and, as a result, if someone raises a rights related stink, the song will disappear until the situation is resolved.

It is all about rights exploitation (yes, that is what the record companies call the sales of music — exploiting the rights granted under the contracts governing the sound recordings). Actually, I wrote about this very subject right after the iTunes store was launched:

Slight digression: In particular, every unique performance of a song is an individual sound recording that may carry its own intellectual property characteristics that can be different than the other songs on the album. Every time a song is performed at a live show, that performance of that song is a new sound recording. Given guest musicians, union rules and venue, the set of property rights associated with a particular sound recording may be quite complex to resolve and achieving the rights to distribute might be prohibitively expensive. The ℗ symbol means “sound recording copyright” and implies that the particular performance of the particular song carries its own set of intellectual property rules that may be different than any other performance of that song. To further complicate matters, the song’s lyrics and score may have different copyrights that affect the sound recording copyright. Playing live ain’t all about jamming on stage with your closes friends– if some random person hops on stage from the audience to play two notes on a harmonica and you suddenly might find yourself without the ability to actually sell a recording of that portion of the performance. (Yes, I did spend some time in the distribution end of the recording industry).

Fatblogging: Huh?

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

Fatblogging: what the hell is that?

As far as I can tell, Jason Calcanis coined the term Fatblogging. The basic idea is to public post on your weblog your weight every day or week or something, then track your progress with pats on the back from the “blogosphere” or a bit of… um…. encouragement if you start to head in the wrong direction.

Whatever. I like the idea. I’m overweight — fat, even — and I know it. I can’t hide it without hiding from the world. Not my style.

I know it affects my health and that I need to change my lifestyle to fix it. And I know I can do it.

So, there you have it. Two weeks ago, I was 240 lbs. On a 6’1″ frame — not good, but better than a little over a year ago.

And that is what this is all about. I got here over the course of 15 years of slugitude and I ain’t gonna fix it overnight. That would be stupid. Some dumbass beach or named diet isn’t going to fix this. It is a lifestyle change. I already made a change to go from “in shape and underweight” to “slugdom” and I simply need to make another one to get back to being a healthy weight again.

Anyway — I’m not going to post my weight every week / day or whatever. This weblog has never been about schedules (hell, neither has my life). But I will post when I find things that work (and things that don’t).

Things that work:

– cut out food that is both bad for me and not a spectacular taste-gasm.

– bike to work, dig in the garden, fix up the house, go hiking, etc…

– cook my own food or, if too lazy, just eat raw veggies

(3lbs down so far…)

Digicams with five second exposures?

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

On the spark post, K asked:

Are digital cameras with five second exposure times really that common?

It always pays to have lots of cash and expensive gadgets when you’re making all these money-saving Make projects…

Good question. But lots of cash and expensive gadgets are not needed.

Of course, all of the Digital SLR style cameras can do this. Most even have a “bulb” mode where you can manually click the shutter open and closed at will. I usually just stick with a 5 second or 2 second exposure and use my little homebrew remote trigger.

If the $500 or so entry point into the DSLR market is too steep for you (or the cameras are just too damned big), then you can go with any of a number of compact and sub-compact cameras that can do multi-second exposures.

I quickly bopped over to and used their buying guide (link on left nav bar — can’t direct link it due to Ajaxian stupidity) to do a Features Search on:

  • Min Shutter: 30+ seconds
  • Price: < $200
  • Only Current: YES

Thinking that there might be one or two. Wrong. There are at least 10 cameras that match the above. There is even a camera that can do timelapse photos — can be programmed to take a photo every N seconds/minutes — for under $200 that can also do 30 second exposures!!

(BTW: The fun factor payoff and collaborative creativity that all of this has fostered is awesome! Thanks to the Make folks for catalyzing this hack oriented age of enlightenment.)

Stop motion ‘splosions are cool, too.

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007
Party Popper Dude

I finally picked up a Snap Shot II Strobe to play with some more hi-speed photography. Instead of the 1400th of a second or so of a disposable camera flash, the Snap Shot II generates about a 7000th of a second flash of light that is considerably brighter.

At left is a snap of the stuff in a party popper flying out. That it looks like a little exploding paper dude is happy coincidence.

I was hoping to be able to do multiple flash based photography. You know — the falling hammer shots where the hammer shows up a dozen times in a single frame?

Unfortunately, either the Snap Shot II or the Make Flash Photographer Kit doesn’t cycle quickly. I don’t think it is the strobe as it can do up to 15 flashes/second in automatic mode. While I can throw it in automatic mode, that isn’t nearly as much fun as triggering at certain points in an event sequence.

A problem for another day; the Strobe is clearly superior to the hacked up disposable camera. More light and faster, as can be seen when compared to this photo (strobe was much closer and, as can be seen by the motion blur, slower).

‘Cause splosions are cool.

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007
Capacitors are Fun
  • Take a part a disposable camera, desolder the capacitor and rig up a charging circuit.
  • Charge the capacitor
  • Turn off the lights
  • Set your digital camera on a 5 second exposure*
  • Use a bit of metal to discharge capacitor at the focal point of the camera
  • Upload photo to flickr

That is all.

*Digital is key. You want to have zero guilt about wasting a shot or 10 doing silly things. Oh, and get one of them null glass filter thingies that screws onto your lens in front of the front element. Much better to have that shatter when a stray bit o’ something hits the lens than, say, the front element.

Magnetic Finger: A Sixth Sense

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007
Magnetic Sensor Digit

Ben, Adam and I were having a random chat today and, somehow, the conversation turned to magnets. Maybe it was because I got called a complete idiot by the clue impaired.

Anyway, a bit of free associating later and I mentioned that some folks had embedded magnets under their skin to add a “sixth sense” (link heads off to a wired article).

Sounds neat. The ability to quite literally feel magnetic fields? …. to find out how “live” a circuit really is just by running a finger over insulated wires? … to be able to navigate the magnetic field lines present around motors and permanent magnets by waggling a finger in the air?

Sign us up! But, then again, slicing open a frozen finger to insert a potentially toxic magnet under the skin sounds just a wee bit uncomfortable.

So, could a half baked magnetic sixth sense be achieved without the use of a scalpel?

The answer is an unequivocal yes and proved also to be a great excuse to erase some more hard drives. Read on for simple instructions on how you can quite literally feel magnetic and strong electrical fields….

Read the rest of this entry »

Left our mark on Google Earth

Monday, March 26th, 2007

The Google Earth Blog posted a story about how Google Earth is encouraging folks to fix up their gardens and yards in case GE grabs a picture for their database.

It really is true that you can leave a mark in GE. My family inadvertently did so.

The picture on the right is of our backyard (and surrounding houses) in the first house we lived in when we moved to California. That red splotch just below the virtual thumbtack was my son’s large, red, inflatable fire engine that doubled as a ball pit.

It had been punctured for a while and my son had been dragging it around the backyard because slugs liked to live under it and, well, slugs are fun. That, and I hadn’t gotten around to throwing the damned thing away.

And GE happened to capture my little bit of backyard procrastination!

ClampTite Tool: A must have….

Saturday, March 24th, 2007
clamptite tool

Update: A couple of folks of asked where I bought my tools (I have two). I picked it up at Gemplers, which has proven to be a great company.

I’m a higher primate. I like tools. Can’t stand bad tools, though.

The clamptite tool is an amazing tool. One that every tool oriented primate should have.

With this tool and a bit of wire, you can create wire clamps of any size or tightness. I find myself using it for all kinds of tasks, ranging from emergency fixes to craft projects to gardening to permanent repairs. I use it so often that I picked up a 1,000 foot role of 19 gauge galvanized wire specifically for use with this tool.

Seriously, this thing is amazingly versatile. I have used it to:

  • Attach vinyl tubing to a copper pipe. Zero leaks. Super strong.
  • Fix wooden handles. Simply wrap in a little duct tape to keep things aligned and then use the clamptite tool to add a few wire clamps around the duct tape.
  • Fix loose tool heads. I had a rake that kept falling apart. I drilled a hole in the handle and made a wire clamp through the holes and around the head of the tool.
  • Connect posts together. For the crab party, I needed 8 foot tall posts for the corners of the tent over the back yard. Ben and I drove 6 foot metal posts deep into the ground and then used the clamp tool to tightly bind 8 foot tall wooden posts to the metal posts.
  • Brew beer. Ben created his own counterflow chiller (pain in the ass, btw) and one of the ends was leaky. To seal, we wrapped it tightly in duct tape and then added tight double-wrap wire clamps at either end of the tape. Not a single drop leaks now!
  • Repair my car. The silly little plastic wing thing on the back of my subaru forrester broke. I drilled a couple of small holes in it and used the wire clamp to tie the two pieces back together. Works great and looks neat (as in neatly done, not “cool”). The wire clamps can be used quite effectively to pull the ends of things together.
  • Make Stuff. I used the clamp tool to tie together 4 candle holders to make a candelabra that hangs over our table in the back yard.

Excellent tool.

Maker Faire

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

The best conference ever will be held May 19th-20th, 2007 at the San Mateo Fairgrounds.

I will be bringing fully restored pinball machines — Addams Family, Cyclone, and Dr. Who — and will have them on hand for everyone to play and to answer any questions folks might have about finding, buying, restoring and maintaining pinball machines.

See you at the faire!!