Archive for May, 2008

One Very Beat PIN-BOT

Friday, May 30th, 2008
PIN-BOT: Backglass & Playfield

I recently acquired a new pinball machine. Got it in unrestored condition for a decent price; low enough that I could make my money back and then some by parting it out. Don’t want to do that, though, as it is always sad to see something of limited production be destroyed.

Specifically, a Williams PIN-BOT. PIN-BOT was a very popular– 12,001 units made– pinball machine manufactured in 1986.

As always, the Internet Pinball Database has a complete set of information, manuals, ROM images, and pictures of PIN-BOT. Love that site.

Now, this particular PIN-BOT is a rather odd machine, when it comes to unrestored pinball machines.

Notably, the machine is beat to hell. Detailed pictures of exactly what I mean on the click through. It is missing the arch assembly entirely (the purplish plastic thing normally found on top).

The playfield has quite a few bare spots — heavy wear — and it is obvious that mylar was put onto the playfield after a number of spots had already worn through.

However, just about every lamp works. And all of the mechanics work just fine. Sure, it needs a flipper rebuild, but that is too be expected!

Hell, even the plastics are in good shape. The only plastic with damage is the spiral ramp and that was quite competently repaired! I have never seen a PIN-BOT with an intact spiral ramp.

Finally, all of the displays work and the ground-fault noise is present, but minimal. A couple of new capacitors and the audio should be clear as a bell. Beyond that, there are a couple of switches out, but that is it for electrical faults.

Once I replace all rubber rings, do a flipper rebuild, and fix a few switches, there is nothing about this machine that should negatively impact play. And a great machine this is!!

Of course, nothing beyond these photos will happen until post WWDC.

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Cannon Multimedia PC: Design Over Usability

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

From the press release, this device contains features such as “a 28-in-1 media card reader, front IO, USB and fire wire connections, dual NTSC and HDTV tuners (with CableCARD shipping soon), 8 channel HD audio”, etc.etc.etc…

Sounds neat enough. Especially with the six terabytes of potential storage. Put some decent multimedia control software on it and… well.. not bad!

Except who the hell designed it? Clearly not someone who actually thought through how to use it!

Anything that sticks out at all from any of those “front IO” ports is going to obscure the screen! Can you imagine trying to download photos or video with your video camera balanced somewhere — because, most likely, this behemoth will be inside a big old media center cabinet — while trying to deal with a touchy/feely UI with cables constantly flopping on the screen?

And, of course, you’ll probably want to plug in a keyboard and/or mouse to be abel to properly annotate and edit whatever media you capture into said unit. That’ll be convenient.

I wonder if it is even smart enough to know not to open the DVD drawer when the screen is in the retracted position (assuming, of course, the screen retracts).

Bubble Fun!

Sunday, May 25th, 2008
Bubble Action!

While out and about today, Christine picked up a Turbo Bubble Machine.

We tossed the bubble solution into it and set it up on a pot in the middle of the backyard.

Roger and Ruby had a blast chasing bubbles, popping bubbles, eating bubbles….

Bubble Nose

Ruby is obsessed with anything that refracts light. To the point where she will ignore food if there is a shadow, point of light, or something shiny to chase.

So, of course, she was completely enamored with bubbles.

She needed a good long drink of water after playing to get all the bubbles out.

Mmmm... Bubble Flavor!

“Mmmmm.. bubbles are tasty!”

Shell Script to Control iTunes

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

For mother’s day, one of my wonderful wife’s requests was to have a bit of a Ms. PacMan marathon.

So, out came the ghetto arcade controller and, a bit longer than expected later, a Ms. PacMan marathon she had! (A bit longer because a nasty latency bug has cropped up in MAME OS X somewhere along the way. I found a workaround. But, yuck.)

Now, MAME is full screen and pausing the game just to deal with iTunes shuffle play song selection suckage (since iTunes on the MAME machine sends tunage to the garage workspace) is not considered good gaming etiquette.

Clearly, I need a shell script to control iTunes. Remote Buddy is cool, but it is too slow, requires too much configuration, and, after much use, has proven a bit flaky. A simple, straightforward, shell script is sufficient and, certainly, I cannot have been the first too think of this.

I wasn’t! I found this ancient hint on

David Schlosnagle — who seems to have disappeared — wrote a very useful little shell script that can play, pause, go to the next track, and set the output volume. The script, as posted, doesn’t quite work all the time due to (I presume) shell changes between 10.0(?) and Leopard.

So, I grabbed a copy of the script, dropped it in my hacques repository, and have updated it for Leopard. I also added the ability to set ratings from the command line (and the status command will show the currently playing track’s rating). Minor changes, really.

The latest version can always be had at

Thanks to David for doing this in the first place!!

The Great Internet Migratory Box of Electronic Junk [TGIMBOEJ]

Friday, May 23rd, 2008
Red 7 Segment Displays

Over the weekend, I received one (1) box of electronic junk. Not just any box of electronic junk (as I have many of those, as it is), but one Great Internet Migratory Box of Electronic Junk.

As per the TGIMBOEJ rules, I took some junk treasures and replaced it with a bunch of my own junk stuff.

And, as per the rules, I took a handful of photos of some of the stuff I pulled out. Not all.

I did not take photos of the stuff I put in. That is for the next person on the list to discover fully. Some vague clues, though: I added some antique semiconductors, some power management related componentry, some completely random small bits of goodness, a working caseless gigabit switch, and a purely mechanical device that is gloriously elegant in its implementation. And some other stuff, too.

More TGIMBOEJ pr0n on the click through….

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Fatblogging: Wii Fit @ 238 pounds

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Quite a while ago, I wrote about fatblogging and, as of about a year ago, that my attempts to get myself below my then 240+ (247 peak in years past) lbs. Not a healthy weight for a 38 year old, even at a relatively tall 6 foot+ in height.

Well… I did. I dropped below 230 briefly and have since climbed back to 238. Why? Not keeping track of my weight on a daily basis diligently enough, not responding appropriately when my weight was heading in the wrong direction, and not exercising with any consistency.

I had been using Google 15 to track my weight. Neat. Basic. Flash. Yuck.

Now? I’ll be using a Wii Fit to, at the least, track my weight. Not only is it a fun little set of mini games that are focused on various dimensions — strength, flexibility, balance, endurance — of exercise, but it has a great user interface for tracking your weight over time.

But I’ll also be using to track much more than my weight. It actually has an awesome set of random exercises that appear to be really well suited to keeping on top of flexibility, balance, and basic strength training.

Does the Wii Fit replace going to a gym? Hell, no. But I never go to a gym. I hate gyms. And, if statistics are any indication, most of the population hates gyms, too. I’ll hike and bike instead, thanks.

We did find a few bugs in the Wii Fit’s “health quantification” algorithms. The Wii Fit assigns a “Wii Fit age” to each user based on performance, age, and BMI.

The initial set of tests don’t so much capture your initial physical condition as they do your ability to comprehend instructions for a wildly foreign user interface quickly.

My wife (who is nearly the same age as me) ended up with a Wii Fit age of 54 and my 7 year old son, Roger, turned up a 23.

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5 years @ Apple

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Hey! Today is 5/19.

Five years ago today, I was sitting in Apple’s employee orientation with a big glass o’ the kool-id in front of me.

Still having fun and making cool stuff.

Yellow Prickly Pear (Opuntia unknown) Blooms

Saturday, May 17th, 2008
Yellow Prickly Pear Cactus

I have always had a soft spot for cactus. They are really quite remarkable plants, after all.

A plant that has figured out a way to exist in some of the harshest climates on the planet while also producing massive growth.

Even more impressive, cactus often produce just flat out stunning blooms.

I have one barrel cactus that is less than 10 inches in diameter that still produced a bloom that was well over 1 foot tall and a good 4″ in diameter! All from what looked to be some little fuzzy growth nubbins in the spring. Better yet, it looks like this cactus is going to do the same again this year!

Like orchids, Cactus often rely upon non-bee pollinators and, thus, it isn’t altogether surprising that their blooms are not really optimized to making the pollen as accessible as possible.

Yellow Prickly Pear Detail

I found this particular cactus on someone’s yard clippings pile while driving home one day. I stopped and grabbed a big chunk.

I figured that I would throw it in the ground and it would either take root or turn to compost.

Take root it did! Last year it didn’t do much, but it didn’t rot either. Apparently, it was setting down roots.

This year, though, it decided to grow what I thought were a bunch of new leaves.

It turns out that they were, in fact, buds and the cactus was going to flower!

This cactus is some kind of prickly pear (Opuntia) and the flower buds are very likely growing on top of what will turn into fruit. All the better because prickly pear is quite delicious with a unique flavor.

And, if the spine are not obvious enough, prickly pear is often one of the more painful fruits to clean unless you are very very careful.

Yellow Prickly Pear Blossom Detail

The blossoms are compact, but just loaded with pollen. I haven’t seen anything visiting them yet, but they may be a flower optimized to some kind of night flying pollinator — typically a moth or bat.

The prickly pear (Opuntia) is one of the few cold tolerant cactus species. They are commonly found throughout the southwest US and Mexico.

Given that they grow very quickly, it is common to see piles of prickly pear cuttings at the side of the road. They sprout easily and, thus, it is trivial to start your own pear garden.

I have another species of prickly pear at the other corner of the house. It looks like it is setting blooms, too, which amazes me given that I just dropped cuttings — found on the side of the road — in the ground last fall!

The two that I have aren’t particularly spiny, but their looks are misleading. The little tufts of what look to be hair on the pads are actually needle sharp, hair thin, spikes that will get into your skin and are quite irritating.

Definitely to be handled with gloves! Or just leave ’em alone and enjoy the interesting growth and occasional flowers!

American Express Blue

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

Update: Embedded the BoingBoing TV segment on reading AmEx blue cards.

American Express decided to “automatically upgrade” my plebeian green card to an American Express Blue card.

Beyond giving me the “privilege” of paying AmEx a monthly exorbitant interest rate if I don’t pay the full balance, the card has an embedded RFID chip that is used to “wave and pay” at a bunch of locations.

Hell, AmEx is so proud of the RFID feature that the card is transparent such that the chip and antenna are clearly visible.

How incredibly stupid.


Because this is the exact same chip that can be read and decrypted with about $8 in hardware and a some freely available software.

Without touching the card.

From a distance, even.

Better yet, AmEx embeds a bunch of personal information in the card.

Now I have to call American Express and demand a replacement non-RFID card. Others have done this and been stymied. Or, alternatively, I think I’ll just take a drill to this one and apply some rotational entropy to the RFID chip.

Sadly, I’ll have to renew my passport in the next couple of years and US passports now also embed equally as insecure RFID accessible chunks of personal information.


Thursday, May 15th, 2008

I coined a word today — perpendicunormal. I was trying to describe some of my friends in NYC as “definitely perpendicular to normal” on twitter and I ran out of characters.

A bit of deletion yielded perpendicunormal, which is a far more apt description than originally intended.

One such friend is DJ Bojan, who lays down some awesome NYC trance beats.