Monday, September 22, 2008

Nobody Knows You're a Chair

Seems there is something called the IP for Smart Objects as reported here. The concept is to focus on the issues around getting objects onto the network. It sounds a little crazy, but I really think that more and more objects will be network enabled.

I recently ran across a little device called the Arduino. It's an open source microcontroller that can be had for around $40. Basically it's a little hardware device that you can easily program from any computer. It allows the hardware-naive folks like me to actually build little devices that can sense and actuate. For instance, you could create a device that senses temperature and then updates your twitter feed if the temperature in your office goes above or below some limit. Ok, tweeting your office temp every 5 minutes is probably not the best use, but you get the idea.

The Arduino itself doesn't have the power of IP. Meaning it can't connect to the internet directly. You can use the built in USB connector and your computer can be the conduit to the net, or you can get a variety of other connectors, called shields in Arduino speak, that will connect to the outside world in various ways. I've seen WiFi, Ethernet, and Zigbee shields so far.

Zigbee is an up and coming home automation networking standard. Zigbee is cool because it's low power, cheap, and can do things like multi-hop messages. Low power is good because we don't want all our smart objects sucking down a huge amount of power to stay connected. Multi-hop means that if devices can't reach each other, then intermediate devices can forward the messages. WiFi doesn't do this, that's why adding more laptops to your home WiFi network doesn't make it more robust. Adding more Zigbee devices to a network actually increases it's coverage. Essentially each device can act like a router.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Netflix: You Suck at Streaming

We signed up for Netflix so we could use the "Watch Instantly" feature and catch up TV shows we missed while in Vietnam. Ah, this was going to be great. No dice. It seems that the streaming doesn't work on Mac.

Ok, so they're in bed with Microsoft so deeply that Macintosh households are out of luck. I dug an old XP laptop out of the bottom of the electronics drawer in my home office. After waiting 10 minutes for it to boot, I fired up Firefox and logged onto the Netflix site. I started getting excited about all the great streaming shows I was going to be able to watch on Not so fast: Netflix doesn't stream with Firefox (even on Windows XP). Oh, great.

Luckily I hadn't removed IE from the old XP laptop. So I fire up Internet Explorer and try to watch the third episode of Weeds, Season 1. This takes about 20 minutes of software updating and installing of various media player components. Finally I get the media player running from Just before the show starts I get a message that says my account is on hold and that I can't watch instantly until I update my account. Sure enough, we have a new billing address so I update my account information so Netflix has my correct billing address and try again. Nope! Same error. I try logging out and back in to my Netflix account. No luck. I try restarting Internet Explorer. No joy. I try restarting Windows, always good for a half hour of meditation. Nope, that's not it. I try calling Netflix customer support. The very polite customer support representative informs me that Watch Instantly servers update once a day. Turns out they update at midnight Pacific. Not exactly instant is it? Maybe tomorrow I can actually start watching instantly.

I understand that movie studios love their DRM. But if any of the Netflix gods are listening, you've got some work to do. In the meantime, I'll just cancel my subscription and check back in a year or so to see if they start supporting MacOS. Maybe Blockbuster will have that Weeds DVD in stock. I bet I can even watch it on my MacBook Pro!

Strange Sign

This is across from Giant Stadium. What do you think it means? Not

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bob Lutz on Colbert

The GM Chairman talks about the new Chevy Volt, their electric car.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Databarge: Offshore Different

Wow, just saw this article about Google putting their data centers out to sea. It's a cute idea. You wouldn't want to put it into the Gulf of Mexico or any other hurricane prone area.


  • No property taxes
  • Free wave energy
  • Carbon free computing
  • Natural disasters (tsunami, hurricane, etc.)
  • Environmental impact (could interfere with marine life)
  • Hard to protect from the bad guys (pirates!)
  • Difficult network connectivity (satellite or undersea cable)
This might be good for some long term compute project that doesn't require a lot of bandwidth. Maybe some genetic algorithm number crunching...

Retro Future

This bike would make George Jetson proud.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Truveo iPhone App

Using the Truveo app, you can now watch a lot more internet video on your iPhone, not just YouTube. Sure, they include YouTube video too, but it's not all about YouTube.

One feature request though: a sort by runtime button. I've been using this to watch videos while working out at the gym. (My gym now has WiFi coverage...) I would like to have a button to show me videos over 5 minutes long, or perhaps do a descending sort by runtime.

Truveo is now my favorite app for the iPhone. Hats off to the folks at Truveo.

Here's a nice review of the Truveo iPhone app from Business Week:

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Mail Problem Post-PwnageTool

Yesterday I took the plunge and upgraded my 1st generation iPhone to 2.0.2. I've been anxious to start exploring all the great iPhone Apps out there. First off, you want to make sure you're using of the Pwnage Tool. I got mine off of BitTorrent. Make sure you check the sha1 hash for the file. You don't want to run a program that masqerading to be pwnage tool. Wouldn't want your Mac to be pwned by someone else.

To check that you have a legit version, you can run openssl dgst like this.

$ openssl dgst -sha1 Pw*
SHA1(PwnageTool_2.0.3.1.tbz)= a3faf5c074d5556a40ce4c7678a51995b5767073
Make sure the hash is a3faf5c074d5556a40ce4c7678a51995b5767073. If it's not, then you may have a hacked or corrupted version. Generally it's not a good idea to run anything you download form Bit Torrent.

After going through the pwnage process, everything seemed fine. I was able to download the Pandora and Truveo apps, which are very cool. Unfortunately I was not able to get the email app to run at all. After hearing all the bad press on MobileMe, I thought maybe this was the problem. Turns out it's not.

I found the solution on this post. The combination of pwnage and restoring messes with the file permissions. Luckily, BossPrefs, another great app, has a button to fix this. After running BossPrefs, email is working fine.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Flavia Hack

We've been fans of the Flavia for a number of years. Our first experience with Flavia was when we joined Dream Catcher Retreats (now Quintess) and all the homes were equipped with Flavia machines. These machines are great for making coffee, tea, or hot cocoa by the cup. A couple of years ago our friends the Bronders bought us a Flavia machine for our house. Now we can't live without it.

We recently moved to Incline Village and of course needed another Flavia machine. We ordered one online and it arrived this week. When reading the setup instructions, I learned a new trick. If you hold down the left and right buttons while turning on the power switch, the Flavia machine will dispense hot water until you release the buttons. Normally the Flavia won't dispense water unless a drink packet has been inserted. The drawback to this method, is that you have to continue to hold the buttons down until your cup is full. An alternative hack is to keep one of the used tea packets and simply reuse them. (Don't use a coffee packet, as they have a built in filter, the tea and cocoa packets are simply foil and have no integrated filter). The advantage of re-using a packet is that the machine automatically shuts off after dispensing one cup full of water. The disadvantage of the old packet method is that you have to have an old packet around.

As an aside, Quintess replaced all the Flavia machines with more serious espresso machines. I like the new machines at Quintess homes as well, but they don't make tea for the wife, nor cocoa for the kids. I'll just have to stick with my nouveau riche Flavia machines in our own homes and go upscale when staying at Quintess.