21 December 2005

Hello Kitty USB key from iodata

You can now get a Hello Kitty USB key from IOData.
I think I know what inspired them -- Han Solo encased in carbonite.

Hello Kitty USB key

12,000 yen
IOData Corporation

(Tip to Akihabara news for the USB key info)

Digg this story.

15 December 2005

Web 1.0 Summit: My Garage, San Francisco

Merlin Mann takes back the buzz. It's not about Web 2.0, it's about bare HTML, baby!

09 December 2005

Will Wright on success and Failure in the Sims

Success and Failure in the Sims
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
See my earlier post on part one of the talk.

In the second half of his talk at When 2.0, Will Wright talked about success and failure in the game the Sims. Players don't mind failure, as long as they understand why they failed.

In the Sims, as in real life, there are lots of ways to fail. The slide shows what can happen on the road to success.

The game designers spent a lot of effort illustrating the failures, and players enjoy exploring them. I thought back to SimCity and how you could have traffic jams, crime, fire, earthquakes, and even Godzilla stomping on buildings, and I remembered how it was fun to actually push the limits of the game to explore how to make things break, and then how to make them work.

Good games allow people to explore and think about things more broadly than they might have otherwise. Failure in a game world is OK, and by failing, you can make a better model of how things should work.

07 December 2005

San Francisco street sign

Originally uploaded by Jef Poskanzer.
San Francisco is political, and it extends to the Department of Public Works.

Will Wright's presentation at When 2.0

Will Wright, creator of SimCity and the Sims, gave a great talk yesterday at the When 2.0 at Stanford.

He described how he designs games, and how a building a model of something can help in understanding the relationships between the objects.

To illustrate this, he described the following problem. Let's say I want to invite you to my home. I could show you a satellite map of the area and let you find your way.

But this isn't very useful. There's much more detail in the image than you need to find my place, and it gets in the way.

Instead, I could give you a map like this.

This isn't as realistic, but as a model it captures the important information and presents the relationships clearly.

When he was designing the Sims, Will started with a physical model of the environment. Little model houses on a green hilly surface with paper streets and blue water. The physical design allowed him to think about the sort of interactions that could occur in the game, before he started writing algorithms. He said that Robert Louis Stevenson took this approach with Treasure Island. First, he drew a map of the island, with places and currents charted, and then he imagined himself at each point on the island, to see what it would be like to live there. Stevenson spent three weeks doing this before he began writing.

Will then talked about game design, and how many games (linear board games, chess, Myst, Doom, and the Sims) have topologies that a gamer quickly recognizes.

For instance, a board game like Life has a linear path, with the game state explicitly displayed on the board.

Chess, however, has a tree-structure, where every move you make, and every counter-move your opponent makes, leads to a complex branching topology that eventually leads to an end.

Myst too has a linear sequence. You must solve a sequence of puzzles in order to proceed. Doom and other level based games allow more freedom, but this collapses at the end of the level (you can do whatever you want, but you have to kill the Boss, or get the key, and the new level starts cleanly from that point).

In the Sims, he wanted players to pursue a balanced approach to the game. If a player pursues a solely social or material path, they eventually reach a local maxima where they can rise no further. In order to get on to a balanced strategy, the player actually takes a hit (the yellow area in the diagram represents a lower score than the light blue) before they again progress.

It was a great talk. I'll post more from it tomorrow.

(Digg this story and read the followup)

06 December 2005

Coke, soda, pop.

One of my contacts on Flickr posted this great map. It's a county-by-county breakdown of the preferred term for "soft drink."

Click through on the image for a larger version.

When 2.0 conference

When 2.0 conference
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
I'm at the When 2.0 conference today. In this photo, Esther Dyson is hosting a panel discussion on Time and Functionality. The speakers are Munjal Shah (Riya), Tantek Celik (Technorati), John Arenas (Worktopia), and Ben Cruz (Demand ID Systems).

Riya is doing some interesting work in applying face recognition to auto-tagging photos. Even with inexact algorithms (the best face-recognition software is far from perfect), the problem becomes much easier when you only have to deal with the hundred faces that a particular user might have photos of.

Tantek Celik of Technorati spoke about applying microformats to online organization of information. This is one of those places where a simple solution might work better than the best-designed semantic web system. Microformats are simple enough that you can use them on a web site without having to adopt XML, new publishing software, or in fact, anything beyond what you're already using.

Worktopia has a really interesting business model, providing on-demand meeting and workspace to groups that need it. Their premise is that workforces are increasingly mobile and distributed, and so traditional (fixed) office space does not serve the needs of these new workers. Instead, they occasionally need space (for meetings, kickoffs, and such) and Worktopia is aiming at the heart of this niche.

Finally, Ben Cruz of Demand ID talked about better ways of reaching people who would like to see live events. In the current reality, for many events, including live music, most tickets are not sold, but are given away in the week before the show as the promoter realizes the show isn't going to fill the venue. Promoters do this because news of a half-full venue, if it made it down the line to later tour stops, would be a self-reinforcing failure.

24 November 2005


Originally uploaded by the earthling.
On Flickr's Guess Where SF group, "the earthling" posted this grea Tow Away picture.

Flickr now has Guess Where NYC, Guess Where LA, Guess Where London, Guess Where SF, and even a group I started, Guess Where Berkeley.

I love these groups. People submit pictures they've taken of local unusual and recognizable places; the other members then try to guess where the pictures were taken.

Following the SF group, and occasionally posting a picture or a correct guess, has made me pay more attention to the city. Now, when I walk down a street, I'm looking for interesting images and also for places that someone might have posted to the group. I notice the details and colors of buildings and alleys.

23 November 2005

Just an ordinary BART commuter

Atypical commuter
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
I took this picture a few months ago on BART on one of the trains out of San Francisco. This guy was asleep and had an electric lawnmower. He must have gotten on before San Francisco, maybe in one of the stations south of the city. I can't imagine him pushing this mower into the Powell St or Montgomery stations.


Originally uploaded by ptufts.
The car was beautiful.

They say that AJAX is in great demand

AJAX is in demand
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
AJAX is the hot programming buzzword right now. It's a good way to create a responsive application without putting too much burden on either the client or the server.

In the tech world, the term AJAX is used so heavily, I'm sometimes surprised to see it in other contexts.

07 November 2005

US Tech Productivity to drop precipitously

Amazon now lists a 212 DVD set of every Star Trek movie and TV show ever made released on DVD (no Star Trek Animated Series for you). It goes on sale Nov 15.

For people who call in sick for a 24-hr marathon or a convention, this release is going to be a serious blow to their accumulated personal days. Amazon doesn't list the total number of hours, but it's got to be over 100hrs of Star Trek goodness (and badness, lest we forget Star Trek V).

04 November 2005

FEMA director emails during New Orleans crisis (pdf)

A congressman published some of former FEMA-director Michael Brown's emails during the crisis. Here's an exchange between Brown and one of his people on the ground (pdf):

From: Marty Bahamonde
Date: Wed Aug 31

Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical. Here some (sic) things you might not know.

Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food and water, Hundreds still being rescued from their homes....we are out of food and running out of water at the dome ...

Brown's response? "Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?"


Full email here: brown.emails.pdf (pdf)

03 November 2005

Free the Dictionary

Free the Dictionary
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
Jimmy Wales, co-founder of the Wikipedia spoke at UC Berkeley this afternoon. Wikipedia is now the largest encyclopedia. In terms of number of entries and number of words, it is larger than the Encyclopedia Britannica and Microsoft Encarta combined, and has more readers than the web sites for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, the LA Times, combined.

The Wikipedia runs on 120 servers across multiple data centers. The main one is in Florida, with the others in the Netherlands, France, and South Korea.

All of the hardware is managed by volunteers, with no formal schedule and no hierarchy. All coordination is done via IRC -- whoever's on takes part. In an emergency, the admins have each other's phone numbers.

Like most open-source projects, there's a core set of users who do most of the work. 615 users (0.7%) account for 50% of the edits. I believe 0.7% means of all editors. Anonymous users account for 18% of all edits.

Wales says that one of the key features of the Wikipedia is real-time peer review. The recent changes page is watched by hundreds of people daily, and users have created tools to monitor these feeds and automatically detect likely problem edits.

He then talked about the decision-making process, pointing to the Votes for Deletion page. While users "vote" for whether or not to delete a page, the vote is actually a dialog where they come to an understanding of whether the page has merit or not. The vote isn't automated or formally counted -- there's no 2/3rds majority rule -- instead the process is flexible and reasonable.

Wales says that almost every programmer who sees this wants to automate it, but doing that would lose the human dialog and community while at the same time making the process easier to game.

01 November 2005

The photo so nice, they had to print it twice

Alan Greenspan is so photogenic, not only does he makes the covers of Smart Money and The Economist, but it's the same photo.

I can hear the editors doing the "D'Oh!" smack now.

25 October 2005

If Chaucer wrote the lyrics to Shaft

A Townie's Tale: "Wha be tha blake prevy lawe
That bene wantoun too alle tha feres?
Ya damne righte!"

More here.

24 October 2005

EX: A vocabulary for describing former relationships between people

Insane specification, or RDF geekery? You make the call.

The other week, I found RELATION: A vocabulary for describing relationships between people. It's a proposed language, in full RDF glory, with definitions for "siblingOf" and "knowsInPassing" and helpful examples of encodings in HTML.

I passed it along to a few friends, and one of them, who runs the Questionable Utility Company created "EX: a vocabulary for describing former relationships between people".

noLongerOrientedTo -- property

No really, I'm glad our relationship helped me realize that I'm really gay/straight/furry/celibate. Because you're great! And if something so good didn't make me happy, it must have been something about me. It's not you, it's me.

More here.

16 October 2005

Cassette belt buckles rule

In the Flickr discussion of the bgirls pic in my previous post, several people thought the gold cassette belt buckle was particularly hip.

I tracked down several sources for this crucial fashion accessory.

First, there's Billabong, with a lovely die cut and embossed cassette belt buckle of some random metal for under $10.

Then, there's the White Trash Boogie Cassette Buckle for $17. Note to aspiring bboys and bgirls, do not purchase fashion items with the words "WHITE TRASH" stamped on them.

Never content to leave well enough alone, the same source has a Cassette Player Belt Buckle. OK, now that's cool, but only if I can play my Devo mix tape while walking around the office.

Finally, Urban Outfitters lists a discontinued recycled cassette buckle. For the DIY crowd, they include a picture that shows how it's done.

Urban Buckle

Human beatbox flutist

This is somewhere between wonderful and weird. I was looking at this picture of two bgirls and searched on the "Fillmore Rocks," the name of their crew.

From this, I found Tim Barsky's page. He's associated with Fillmore Rocks. He's a human beatbox and flutist, and he does both simultaneously. Check out his video (mov) or his mp3.

More wonderful weirdness is here on his downloads page

08 October 2005

It's made of people!

Soylent Web
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
Stewart Butterfield (Flickr) gave a presentation at Web 2.0 in which he used the line "Web 2.0, it's made of people." He said he got this from Ross Mayfield.

Stewart asked the audience if anyone knew where the phrase originated.

From my seat, I said "soylent green".

Here's the soundclip of the original use.

Teens and online shopping

Teen panelist, Web 2.0
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
During the teen panel at Web 2.0, the interviewer asked this panelist "do you buy shoes online?"

She said "no, I'd go to True in the Haight."

For most of the panelists, the web wasn't a place to shop. And when they did, they used comparison shopping tools like Froogle. There was almost no mention of Amazon.com, and only some reference to eBay.

07 October 2005

Scott Cook on the secret of Intuit's success

Scott Cook of Intuit at Web 2.0
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
Take something complex, and make it simple. It's sounds so obvious, but great businesses like Intuit have been built on it. Certainly, simplifying the US tax process isn't easy, but when you can do it, you get a huge and loyal customer base.

Bram Cohen, BitTorrent's creator, on the Internet OS

Bram talked about the Internet Operating System (a big buzzword) and the overwhelming unsolved technical challenges it faces, ranging from OS misfeatures in the most common platforms, to hardware, to little things like entire states going offline due to power outages (how does a distributed OS deal with that?).

Mena Trott of Six Apart at Web 2.0

Mena Trott talked to John Battelle at Web 2.0 about how Six Apart got started and how they're doing now. They set out as a services platform and now have around 10m in VC funding.

Sergey Brin of Google at Web 2.0

Sergey Brin of Google at Web 2.0
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
Sergey Brin was a surprise speaker at Web 2.0. John Battelle interviewed him and asked, if Google is now really a portal site, among portals it's #4. Does this make Google the underdog?

Sergey responded that Google's cafe probably is in the top 100,000 and that there's room for improvement.

It's pretty clear -- others want to measure Google as one thing, while Sergey views it as another.

06 October 2005

Philip Kaplan of ... Adbrite!

Philip Kaplan of ... Adbrite!
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
I met Philip Kaplan of Adbrite at Web 2.0 in San Francisco. Philip's mantra for Adbrite is openness - ad buyers know what they're getting and what Adbrite is doing, and site owners have more control over what gets placed on their property. Compare this to Google's Adsense, where no one really knows what's going on, and the whole thing is supposed to be secret (Google forbids site owners from sharing performance details).

I first met Philip shortly after he started Fucked Company, and I still have his autograph ... on a Pets.com visitor parking sign.

05 October 2005

Mashups session at Web 2.0

Mashups session at Web 2.0
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
The topic of this session is "Mashups, what's the business model." But we all really wanted to see the cool mashups. Some of the neater ones:

Analygis, Google Maps Mania, Yahoo maps mashups, Ebay + Google Maps, SimplyHired, London terrorism maps, and Trulia real estate search

Data on the move: Web 2.0 session

Data on the move: Web 2.0 session
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
The panel for "Data on the Move" talks about the data - what it can tell us, who has it, and some of the issues around using it and making it available.


Originally uploaded by ptufts.
Musicbrainz is a free and vetted source of information on music and bands. It's the non-evil alternative to Gracenote's CDDB. Here, Robert Kaye, one of the prime movers behind Musicbrainz talks at the Microformats session at Web 2.0

Tomi, Tom, and Esther at Web 2.0

Tomi, Tom, and Esther at Web 2.0
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
Tomi Pierce, Tom Gruber, and Esther Dyson at the Web 2.0 conference. We talked about organizing information by time and place and how to give users a sense of order and narrative to all the things they might want to see.

Web 2.0 discussion

Web 2.0 discussion
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
Kaliya Hamlin, Danah Boyd, and two others meet outside the Web 2.0 morning sessions at the Argent Hotel in San Francisco.

01 October 2005

Search & Destroy and Kenka, St Mark's Place, New York City

I took this picture while traveling in New York. I walked around the East Village and St. Mark's Place and found this. Upstairs is Search & Destroy, a punk rock clothing and accessories store. Downstairs, with the weird raccoon-like statue (a tenuki) is Kenka, an Izakaya-style neighborhood Japanese restaurant. I had never seen one before -- it's neither a sushi bar nor a tempura / noodle place. Instead, it's a kind of casual get together with friends and have a good time restaurant. They have lots of odd appetizers, beer, and you get a cup of sugar at the end of the meal and pour it into a cotton candy machine. How cool is that?

I was in New York for a wedding and reception earlier in the day, and found this restaurant after getting some amazing pierogies at the wonderful Veselka, just a few blocks away, so there was no way I could fit another meal in. Next trip, though, I will certainly come here.

02 June 2005

How to replace the spindle motor on a Panasonic DVD-S35

Two years ago, I bought a Panasonic DVD-S35 dvd player. Nice features and cheap as anything.

18 months later, the player died.

Being a resourceful kind of guy, and having a lot of experience fixing things, I thought I'd take on this challenge.

It turns out this DVD player has a known weak point, the spindle motor. This is the motor that spins the DVD. The motor tends to start flaking out after 12 to 18 months of use. The symptom is that, one day, some DVDs won't play, and eventually, DVDs aren't recognized at all because the motor can't spin them up to a speed where the optical head to read the data.

So, most of you might toss the player at this point and move on. I did not.

I tracked down the part number for the spindle motor (Panasonic RXQ1016A Spindle Motor Ass'y) and ordered it from PartStore.com.

I got the part after having looked at disassembly instructions for a similar model dvd player. It looked like I'd have to open the case, undo two screws, put the unit back in, and hit play.

I was so, so wrong.

First, the DVD-S35 turns out to be a particularly fiendish unit to work on. So I tracked down an on-line copy of the service manual at a Russian service manual database.

Now, a service manual for this player is part fact, and part fiction. Fact: there are a few codes you can enter to see how worn out the player is. Fiction: parts are replaceable.

Getting the case open wasn't hard, but getting to the spindle motor assembly required taking out approximately: five ribbon cables, seven normal screws including two fiendishly tight jeweler's-type phillips screws, three springs, two axles, one gear, two plastic holder pins, two boards, and four solder points.

Yes, Panasonic uses solder as a structural element.

This was the case from hell. I spilled blood opening it. Following the disassembly instructions, it became clear that I was the first person to QA these. The instructions were obviously wrong in a few places.

Eventually, I removed the four solder points. I pulled the first plastic holder pin.

I pulled the second of the plastic holder pins.

The head snapped off.

Gah. Enough is enough. I curse the day Panasonic put their good name on a disposable home DVD player.

And I promise never to try to repair a $35 DVD player again.

Until the next one breaks.

Update: The replacement is a Yamaha DVD-5750. It's built like a tank and has been around long enough (over a year) that people have had enough time to really beat on it and review it. I am quite happy with it.

06 May 2005

Finish line

Three sprinters for Houston at the 2005 Golden Bear Invitational at UC Berkeley.

Sprinting at this level is measured in hundredths of a second, and relaxing even a half-step early can mean missing a qualifying time or record.

The runner in the center has crossed the finish and is decelerating. The runner on the left is a few steps from the finish and concentrating on following through to the end of the race, while the runner on the right is crossing the finish and checking to make sure he's done before he slows down.

29 April 2005


Elizabeth Mayeda, a Cal distance runner, warms up before 3000m race.Track meet at UC Berkeley on Cal Day, 16 Apr 05.

After the sprint

After the sprint. I took this at the UC Berkeley 2005 Golden Bears Invitational. The rest of the set is here.

I photographed the Men's 200m sprints and the Women's 3000m distance race.

24 April 2005

Looking for Miranda Kathleen Tufts

I'm doing some research into my family history. I'm looking for Miranda Kathleen Tufts and her mother, Myra Jane Conerly Tufts. The only information I have is that they once lived in Bexar County, Texas. Myra Jane is the mom, John Marshall Tufts was the dad, and Miranda is the daughter.

If you are Miranda or Myra, or know them, please let me know.

18 March 2005

Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia

Etech05: Jimmy
Originally uploaded by etech.
Jimmy Wales, of the Wikipedia, spoke at O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego earlier this week, and I got a chance to talk to him afterwards.

He's very down-to-earth about his project. It's not about technology, it's about being nice to people and encouraging them to participate.

I've been contributing to Wikipedia for two years. When I first started, I made a half-clued edit. Another user, rather than flaming me, thanked me for contributing and showed me what to do next time. Two years later, I'm still contributing.

Jimmy said that most of the edits come from between 600 to 1000 users. At my rate, I'm probably in the top twenty-thousand in terms of contributions.

But it's not about rank, it's about the outcome. Plus, he was nice to me. So I'll keep contributing.

17 February 2005

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence DVD

Yesterday, I went to Rasputin Records and bought the DVD of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. It's a great movie, but the US import DVD (Dreamworks Home Entertainment) sucks.

What's so bad about the import? The subtitles are for the deaf. Every character name is spelled out. Every sound effect is spelled out! Atmospheric scenes are broken up by jangling subtitles announcing "[background chatter]", "[female voice on loudspeaker]". A major character gets shot and the subtitles helpfully add "[screaming in agony]".

"[Batou] At least this holo isn't subtitled"

The annoying subtitles take away from a great movie and make amateur fansubs look professional. I wish Dreamworks had taken the tiny extra step of, say, watching this DVD before shipping it. I mean, this must have been an error -- all Dreamworks had to do was strip out all the [words] [in] [brackets].

I'm tempted to rip this DVD and download a fan-created subtitle track. No, even better, I'll rip the DVD and write a dorky Perl script to strip out the bracketed words. Then, I can recombine this track with the movie and burn a new DVD and ...

If you want to see this movie, wait until Dreamworks fixes the subtitles.

On the plus side, the video on this DVD is quite clear, and the audio (Japanese and Director's commentary in Japanese) is crisp.

And, of course, the movie is great.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Director: Mamorou Oshii
$22 Amazon

01 February 2005

Pepakura Designer

This is so cool. Pepakura Designer is a program that takes a CAD file as input and prints out paper with the folds and cuts indicated so you can make your model.

Pepakura Designer software

"Pepakura Designer allows you to create a development for paper craft easily from 3D data used in 3D CG software.

This software is open to the public as shareware....You need to create own 3D models with another 3DCG software (ex, 3D Studio, LightWave, Softimage and so on). If you don't have any 3DCG software..."

Runs on MS Windows. Free trial download. ~$40 if you continue to use it.

Here are some models people have made with Pepakura Designer.

Images from http://www.ne.jp/asahi/to/n/ and

21 January 2005

Poppin' and Lockin'

It's Dance Dance Revolution, only cooler and dorkier at the same time. Check out Battle mode. (Flash)

07 January 2005

Tsunami - Kalutara Beach, Sri Lanka

Amazing before and after pictures of the Tsunami. For each image, you can click on the button at the upper left to switch between the before and after versions.