30 June 2006

Air Force discovers blogs

Kyle Spector of ForeignPolicy's FP Passport found this gem:US Air Force discovers blogs: "In an effort to fight the war on terror, the Air Force is putting up $450,000 for a three year study of...blogs. One scientist involved in the project is already proving, with this revelation, that he is worth the money:Blog entries have a different structure,' Ulicny said. 'They are typically short and are about something external to the blog posting itself, such as a news event. It's not uncommon for a blogger to simply state, 'I can't believe this happened,' and then link to a news story.'

Spector and I are in strong agreement: we can't believe this happened.

28 June 2006

A Møøse once bit my sister

Tenser, said the Tensor: Norwegian Meteorite: "I found this clause orthographically entertaining:

...Norway's best known astronomer Knut Jørgen Røed Ødegaard told Aftenposten.no.

I think it could be improved, though. How about:

...Nørway's best knøwn astrønømer Knut Jørgen Røed Ødegaard tøld Aftenpøsten.nø.

Yeah...that's more like it."

27 June 2006

WindizUpdate: Windows Update for Firefox users

I switched from Internet Explorer to Firefox years ago, partly because IE had stagnated, but moreso because Firefox had fewer exploited security vulnerabilities.

I'm on Windows XP, which uses IE by default for everything. I configured XP to make Firefox my default browser, but there was still one place where I was required to use IE: Microsoft's Windows Update.

Windows Update is the source of security patches and critical updates for Microsoft's products. Given the popularity of Windows XP, and the frequency of new critical vulnerabilities, I visit this site regularly to keep my machine patched. But it doesn't work well with Firefox.

Now there's a solution: WindizUpdate. This site works with Firefox and provides a clean interface to the latest Microsoft patches. Just like in IE, you can scan for vulnerabilities and apply the needed patches fairly easily.


25 June 2006

Before they were stars

A nice compilation of pre-fame appearances: Kurt Russel, Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Aniston, Martin Sheen, all in cheesy horror movies, summer camp productions, aftershave ads, and cornflake commercials.

The best? Jean Claude Van Damme's debut as an extra in the 1984 movie Breakdance (3:54 in).

15 June 2006

Car GPS on an airplane

Do GPS devices work on airplanes?
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
Does a GPS unit designed for drivers work in a plane?

"Speed: 380 m/h."

Yes it does.

Green House's FingerMouse

I went to User's Side in San Jose (see below for address and hours) on Wednesday and got my new favorite mouse. It's made by Japanese company Green House and is the width of a finger. The mouse has a unique "two buttons in one" rocker switch - forward is right click, back is left click. It even has a tiny but usable scroll wheel on the side. I can operate all of the controls with my index finger.

I've had this mouse for two days, and I'm very happy with it. More details here:

Green House: FingerMouse (フィンガーマウス).

User's Side
San Jose, CA USA
Address 665 Saratoga Ave.
San Jose, CA 95129 USA
Store Hours 11:00 - 19:00 (Tuesday - Saturday)
12:00 - 18:00 (Sunday)
Closed Monday

Skype WiFi phone

I've been waiting for two years for someone to make a Skype WiFi phone. Until now, you needed an always-on PC to make Skype a real phone replacement. Now, with Netgear's Skype WiFi phone, you can make calls anywhere you can get a WiFi signal.

No details yet on what operating system the phone is running, but so far, Netgear says it will not have a web browser. You can pre-order it on Amazon for $250, with units shipping June 30.

More product info from Netgear: NETGEAR Skype WiFi Phone

> traceroute thepiratebay.org

Best. Traceroute. Ever.

A few weeks ago, torrent indexing site The Pirate Bay's servers were confiscated by Swedish police, presumably as a result of MPAA and APB (Swedish anti-piracy group) pressure.

The Pirate Bay opened up shop in another country a few days later, and this traceroute to their address shows the name of their new network gateway: hey.mpaa.and.apb.bite.my.shiny.metal.ass.thepiratebay.org

read more | tracert_thepiratebay.org">digg story

Nat and Brady

Nat and Brady
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
Nat Torkington and Brady Forrest closed out the Where 2.0 conference. Nat was the conference chair this year, and he's on site at every O'Reilly conference that I can remember. Brady will be conference chair next year.

How to peel potatos

Any cooking demo is much better with anime action-film music and sound effects. In this movie, we see a way to peel potatos by boiling them and then dunking them in cold water for a few seconds. It's a nice trick.

Where 2.0: Fun with GPS

Don Cooke, author of Fun with GPS, had some of the best slides in his talk at Where 2.0. His talk was about how GPS helped emergency responders navigate New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and the resulting flood.

New Orleans Flood Map

His company supplied several hundred Tomtom car navigational units, free, so National Guard helicopter pilots could find city locations (helicopter nav systems operate on lat/lon, not addresses) and boat pilots could navigate downtown.

In addition to this effort, Don also spends a lot of time hacking on and playing with GPS devices:

Don Cooke doing a differential GPS measurement

He showed some pictures of his fun side-projects such as: GPS-enabling his cat:

GPS-enabled cat

"In the southwest corner, she spent a lot of time looking for that mole in the flower garden."

Cat tracking

Here he is, using GPS on his riding mower:

Fun with GPS

And the result:

Fun with GPS

Doing side-by-side comparisons of Tomtom and a competitor's unit:

Which way would you go?

The two units show conflicting advice: "turn left" and "turn right." Don: "which way did I go? Straight, of course."

Describe this slide

Every slide tells a story
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
This is my favorite slide from the Where 2.0 conference. Ten points to the person who posts the most amusing comment describing what they think it means.

From the boingboing archives

bOING bOING DIGITAL: "5. Invest in lamb and mutton futures. Start a breeding program to create a Timber wolf/Border collie hybrid; let it loose in Yellowstone. Collect newspaper clipping about entire flocks of sheep being skillfully herded into the woods by 'MacLobo.'"

Let me call you sweetheart

Clips like this make me thankful for internet video.

Via: VideoSift

14 June 2006

Which way would you go?

Which way would you go?
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
Duelling GPS recommenations: "Which way did I go? Straight, of course."

Tilty Twisty Table at Where 2.0

Tilt table
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
One of the cooler demos at Where 2.0's Where Fair was Onomy Labs' Tilty Twisty Table. It looks like normal round four-person table like you might see in a restaurant. But it's set up with a video projector above it, projecting an image onto its white top. The table top is mounted on a base with a MEMS tilt detector and a high-resolution rotational sensor. As you tilt the table, you rotate the map. As you tilt it, you move in that direction.

It fills a similar need to Applied Minds' Touchtable. It's a very clever, cool device, and makes maps much more interactive and engaging.

13 June 2006


What would you get if you applied text analysis software and a mapping service to the classics in Project Gutenberg? You'd get something like Gutenkarte.

Gutenkarte is based on a location reference mapping service from MetaCarta. MetaCarta is able to analyse documents and extract location references. For each reference, they have an algorithm which tries to remove ambiguity and map that location accurately, based on the context of other geographic references in the text. Paris, Texas and Paris, France are no problem.

On Gutenkarte, they have taken several classic texts, mapped out all the action, and provided hyperlinks from each location reference to more background info such as Wikipedia articles.

The maps weight the location names by the number of references in the text. Some of the books they've analyzed are:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Bible, King James version, Book 1: Genesis

The History of the Peloponnesian War

War and Peace

This is a really cool demo. I recommend taking a look at their site.

Google Earth for Mac

Google announced a new version of Google Earth (Rev 4 Beta) for Mac and Linux at Where 2.0. See more about this application here.

Besides the new Mac and Linux ports, they've also made improvements on the data front. Google Earth now has high resolution photos of the Pyramids of Giza, the cities and villages of India, and even Mount Everest in sub-meter resolution. In 3D mode, they showed the area where climbers set up their final camp before the ascent.

Google also announced that they now have a free version of Sketchup for the Mac.

AP: Alzheimer's Vaccine progress

The AP reports that Japanese scientists, funded by Novartis and the Japanese Ministry of Education, have made progress on a vaccine that reduces the amyloid beta (ab) plaque caused by Alzheimers, and believed to be one of the key factors in the progress of the disease. In trials with mice, the scientists found a reduction of ab plaques by up to 50% in some regions of the brain.

The vaccine, while years from human trials, still gives me hope that we will one day find a cure.

Click here to read the AP article.

(via Forbes and Slashdot)

12 June 2006

PixieHunt @ Where 2.0

Jordan Schwartz of Microsoft ran a contest called a PixieHunt the night before the Where 2.0 conference. The contest was co-sponsored by Microsoft and Cingular.

A PixieHunt is like a treasurehunt, except you have to take pictures of certain things. Here's Jordan Schwartz's description of a PixieHunt.

On my team were Jamie and Tomi (my co-workers at Metaweb), and Pablos, Shimon, and Alec. We had a great time running around downtown San Jose, being rather silly and asking total strangers questions like "do you have a tattoo? Can I take a picture of it?"

Here are some of the descriptions and the photos we took:

the team frolicking in a fountain

Old Faithful

riding a dragon

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

a stranger's tattoo

Tattoo You

a face made out of vegetables

Mr. Potato Face

a team member in the back seat of a police car

COPS 98052

Spatialguru's team got the above scene captured for ...

counterintelligence - a picture of another team taking a picture


a team member holding a press conference

Press Conference

Cingular sends 231 page bill to unlimited data user

Customer has unlimited data plan with Cingular. Cingular sends bill. Cingular pays $5.15 in postage to send bill in a box because bill is 231 pages long as it includes a line for every instance where customer's phone checks for email.

From the article:

That's right, you're paying $5.15, every month, to send me my bill: a 231 page manifesto of stupidity. That's over 7% of what I pay you

Mutant ears

Not just any mutant ears, these are Totally Amazing Mutant Ears. Terence Arjo's weblog, ToyDesignWorkship, describes the toy design process from idea to prototype.

Now with video goodness.

Technorati Tags:

11 June 2006

Building 1, Demolition crew 0

Somewhere, an architect is smiling and a demolition engineer is looking for a new job.

Via: VideoSift

07 June 2006

Conkeror: Firefox for Emacs users

I don't think I've ever found a Firefox extension that is both so useful and so wrong.

Conkeror extension for Firefox:

Conkeror is a mozilla based web browser designed to be completely keyboard driven, no compromises. It also strives to behave as much like Emacs as possible.

Review of Conkeror
on Bill Clementson's blog:

Ok, so you've now got Conkeror installed. Let's say you've just started it up and are sitting on the "Conkeror User Manual" page. Here's an annotated example of a typical session:

press "g" or "C-x C-f": The prompt asks you for the URL.
Enter "www.google.com" RET.


06 June 2006

The future of radio is software

In Wired News, Quinn Norton has an article on software radio. He interviews Matt Ettus, creator of the Universal Software Radio Peripheral (USRP). This is the hardware companion to GnuRadio, free software that lets users build and tweak complete RF receiver out of software components, and most importantly, without having to know anything about electronics.

If you can detect a signal with the USRP, you can decode that signal, whether it's audio on AM or FM, or HDTV video. There are even projects to turn the USRP into a WiFi card and a GPS receiver.

The USRP is fully software configurable, using C++ for low-level processing and Python for scripting. How much can you do with just scripting? Here's a complete FM receiver in Python.

To the computer, USRP is a normal USB peripheral. The USRP samples a given chunk of RF spectrum and sends the digitized signal to the computer for further processing. While the USRP isn't a cheap peripheral - a basic setup including daughterboards is $700, the capabilities it provides would otherwise require much more expensive lab equipment or significant RF electronics skill and a lot of solder.

However, there are some limits to what you can do. Even with the USRP doing the sampling, a computer can only do so much signal processing in real time. Want to watch an HDTV broadcast as it's being received? Not yet, you'll have to save the digitized signal to disk first and then let your computer grind over it.

But I have an idea.

If the GnuRadio community harnesses graphics cards for their compute power, I think they could eliminate the PC as the processing bottleneck. Graphics cards are well suited
for high-speed signal processing, and there are some projects taking advantage of this compute power right now: GPGPU: General-Purpose computation on GPUs, FFT on a GPU, and the GPU-FFTlib.

I'd love to see what comes of this.

Update: There is work on making GnuRadio work with GPUs. FIR on GPU:

"The goal of this project is to implement a finite impulse response (FIR) filter on a GPU. A FIR filter is often used in audio processing applications .... We added our implementation of FIR filter to GNU Software Radio and evaluated its performance using a Pentium 4-HT 3.2 GHz processor and a Geforce 6600 video card. The results ... indicate that the GPU implementation has better performance then the CPU implementation for a large number of taps."

05 June 2006

Crossbow-launched rocket

File under "what could possibly go wrong?"

Wired 14.06: START: "There is no subtle way to say this: Brian Walker plans to shoot himself nearly 20 miles into the air aboard a homemade rocket ... modeled on spaceships from Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica."

The launch platform is a 24' carbon-fiber crossbow.

04 June 2006

Coke and Mentos

You may have seen videos of people dumping Mentos into bottles of Coke, and if so, you know that this turns the soda into a geyser of foam (if you try it, use Diet Coke - the mess is sugarless and easier to clean up).

But even if you've already seen people doing this, EepyBird has created the most impressive display of all: over 100 bottles of Coke and 500 Mentos mints.

See the video here.

02 June 2006

Google launches AdSense API

Google just launched their AdSense API. This API lets web site owners embed AdSense controls into their website. A web service like Blogger could use this to allow its users to customize their AdSense settings on their own weblogs, without forcing them to make a round-trip to Google's AdSense site just to cut and paste code into their blog template.

Here's an excerpt from the AdSense API page on Google:

The AdSense API is a free beta service that enables you to integrate Google AdSense into your website offerings. Using the AdSense API, you can enable users to perform a variety of AdSense functions without ever leaving your website. Users can create or manage their AdSense accounts, modify their AdSense ads, and view ad performance and earnings reports.

The AdSense API is ideal for developers whose users create their own web content through web hosting, web publishing, blogging, and social networking applications.

It's a great idea, making this available as an embeddable service. I'd like to see Amazon do this with its affiliate program.

via ProgrammableWeb