Brainings, Free Range Technology, Idiotic or Inspired?

3-Bit Video Abstraction Project

My employer makes a nifty little 12-volt LED light that contains separate RGB (red/green/blue) diodes. It’s  3/4-inch in diameter and intended for rugged, outdoor environments — specifically decorative use on carnival rides. The cool thing is that it can change color on command. It has four separate wires — one power plus three separate ground leads — so that the three colors are independently controllable. The result is that the unit can display the eight colors of the 3-Bit RGB palette by powering the diodes alone and in combination.

I began thinking about taking the technology for driving LED matrices and scaling it up to use this light. I thought an LED monitor of sorts made from the company’s products might be an intersting promotional tool, such as at trade shows. The larger lens size and greater viewing angle would make it more akin to an incandescent scoreboard than a desktop circuit board. That would be fairly well suited to scoreboard-style scrolling text and simple animations, but what if you want to display video?

Continue reading 3-Bit Video Abstraction Project

Moments in History, Technostalgia

The Sensible Calendar You Can’t Have

Did you know that calendar reform was seriously considered at the beginning of the 20th century? Proposals similar to the one above were were actually getting traction in the interest of efficiency during the Industrial Revolution. There were many combinations of proposed changes endorsed by various groups and individuals, but the one above […]

Communications, Free Range Technology

The $30 Cell Phone: Impressively Modest

The Rovan Q2/XP Moon

I recently spent a week using an ultra-cheap Chinese mobile phone I bought off eBay. I have an iPhone 4 that I normally use, and it’s truly a marvel of functionality and interface design. But unfortunately, my longtime cellular service provider is Verizon, whose phones utilize only CDMA network access. That’s a bit of meaningless technobabble if you’re in the US, but the CDMA protocol is nonexistent in Europe, which uses GSM mobile networks exclusively. So if you go overseas, a Verizon (or Sprint or Alltel) phone becomes a very handy paperweight. I spent last week in England. My options for mobile telephony on my trip were to rent a “tourist phone” for a week in the UK, rent a world phone from Verizon prior to my departure, or buy the cheapest unlocked GSM phone I could find. I went with that last option.

My iPhone supposedly cost me $149, but that was subsidized by a lucrative 2-year contract that absorbed much of the phone’s cost. The outright purchase of an unlocked 32GB iPhone 4 will land on the north side of $600. Just to calibrate, I bought the Rovan Q2 for one-twentieth of that cost. I wondered, would it have 1/20th the functionality? Would it drop calls, freeze up, or simply be DOA? It turns out I was pleasantly surprised how much I got for my money. Continue reading The $30 Cell Phone: Impressively Modest

Startup

Startup: Itsy Bitsy Bluewater Hell…er, “Hull.”

John Welsford's "Swaggie" Bluewater Microcruiser

I’ve never done anything more than daysailing, but I’ve been an armchair cruising enthusiast for many years and my older sister is an experienced live-aboard sailor. I have a secret fantasy of chucking the stress of jobs and a mortgage and selling all our belongings so my wife […]

User Input

User Input: Creative Repurposing II — Electrical Circuit Boogaloo

The head of our engineering department at work plopped 75 printed circuit board “trees” on my desk, each about eight inches square, still wrapped in cellophane packs from our supplier. He announced, “These are useless to us, but I hate to just dump them in a landfill. Can you think of something creative […]

Spy vs Spy Week

Know All The Codes!


Codes, Ciphers & Other Cryptic & Clandestine Communication by Fred B. Wrixon is a spectacularly thorough examination of how people communicate in secret. Its subtitle, “making and breaking secret messages from hieroglyphs to the internet,” is a very succinct description of a very verbose and wide-ranging book. To a layperson, Mr. Wrixon’s book could easily apppear to be a textbook from a military academy. It covers everything you’d ever want or need to know about codes and ciphers, in both theory and practice. But there is very few dry spots in his presentation. He smartly weaves history and technical theory together, using specific past examples of secret codes (both successful and not) to illustrate each of his discussions of specific code types.
Continue reading Know All The Codes!

Neutrinos with Syrup, Nibblers

TechSpeak: Sound impressive saying ordinary things.

When my older sister was in medical school, she taught me “MedSpeak,” which is supposedly a way to instantly sound like a doctor. I prefer to call it TechSpeak, because you can use the same technique to sound an expert about any subject, without knowing anything special about it. Okay, so it really isn’t […]

Communications, Tech Theory

The Deceptively Simple Limerick


Consider this humble submittal
Which poses a cumbersome riddle:
What’s rarely discreet
And has thirteen feet
With two shorter legs in the middle?

The limerick is usually derided as a bit of lowbrow, immature fluff. But penning a truly good limerick is actually quite difficult. It must effectively tell a compelling story, preferably one with multiple shades of meaning, within a framework that is so ruthlessly efficient and so structurally demanding that a haiku is a comparative free-for-all.

We don’t normally think of something as basic and non-scientific as a witty turn of verse as “technology.” But in the case of the limerick, it certainly fits the definition: accomplishing a practical task through the deliberate implementation of specific, repeatable techniques or methods. This deceptively simple form of poetry must adhere to a canon of rules that is at once rigid, sophisticated, and remarkably nuanced.

An in-depth look at what a limerick is, where it came from, how identify (and write) a good one follows after the jump.
Continue reading The Deceptively Simple Limerick

User Input

User Input: Affectionate Lightbulb Edition

I have a 75 watt, glare free, long life Harmony House light bulb in my toilet. I have been living in the same apartment for over two years now and that bulb just keeps burning away. I believe that it is fond of me.

I first read Affectionate Light Bulb, one of Hippie […]

Airborne Awesomosity, Military-Grade Awesome

AT-9 Jeep: Deliberately Being Difficult

This AT-9 is part of the National Air Force Museum collection. (U.S. Air Force photo)


As our nation watched World War II escalate in Europe, America’s armed forces felt more urgency to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. would be drawn into the conflict. The Army Air Forces were procuring an expanding arsenal of larger, more powerful and harder to handle bombers. This meant that training requirements for pilots increased, too.

Cessna responded to this need with the AT-17/AT-8 Bobcat, a fairly conventional advanced trainer (“AT”) based on their new civillian T-50 twin. Curtiss-Wright, however, developed the AT-9, a purpose-built, all-metal, twin-engined advanced military trainer that went into service just months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was notable for being notoriously hard to fly and land, and deliberately so. It was also, in my opinion, one of the absolute coolest-looking planes to come out of the WWII era.
Continue reading AT-9 Jeep: Deliberately Being Difficult

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