Innocent Bystander

A little tech, a little current affairs, and my view on whatever has my attention at the moment...

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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Yummy and Delicious?

I've heard of video rentals and other snacks from vending machines, but pizza? We're not talking about a machine dropping a frozen lump of dough and processed cheese in a bin that you then have to free from it's plastic cocoon and zap in a neighboring microwave. Wonderpizza claims to offer 9 inch pizzas cooked and ready to eat in just 2 minutes, it features "delicious" (their words not mine) Connies Pizza of Chicago.

The machine is supposed to be able to hold three different varieties of pizza and is divided into two sections, one for storing and refrigerating the pizzas and the other is a high intensity toaster over to cook the pizza. Wonderpizza's pizzas have a suggested retail price of $5 to $6 each.

So, has anybody actually had a Wonderpizza?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Gizmodo Taking on The Man!

Or at least Sony-Ericcson's lawyers...

It all started with a leaked photo of Sony-Ericcson's follow-up to the P910. Photos of the new phone (named Hermoine) were leaked on the web and gizmodo picked up on them and placed it here.

Well, apparently Sony-Ericcson's legal team didn't appreciate it and sent the owner's of Gizmodo a confidential Cease and Desist letter, which Gizmodo promptly posted here. You can also see the follow up letter that Gizmodo received after posting the first letter.

Honestly, I think S/E should be more concerned with beefing up their internal security and determining the source of the leak instead of going after the various sites that have picked up on the leak. Face it Sony, the damage is done here. Damage control really needs to be keeping it from happening again at athis point...

Can't Find It? Fabricate it! Maybe...

I first heard about this concept a few months ago.  Wired magazine carried a short story about efforts to create Star Trek like “replicators” allowing you to essentially design and create any product or part that you might need.  The article predicted that in the next few years, you might be able to have a setup in your own home (maybe your garage) that would let you design, fabricate, and build anything that you needed.  The impression I had from reading the article was that this was total science fiction being played with at some university science lab.

The concept sounds great.  Need a new handle for your refrigerator, or may just want one that looks a little retro?  Design and fabricate it yourself.  How about a rare engine part for the hot rod that you’re building in your garage?  Not only can you design and fabricate it yourself, but you could even throw in a few customizations to make that part uniquely yours.  The article compares the process to creating a document on your computer, only instead of printing out your creation on a laser printer, you’re doing it on a laser cutter, machining the parts that you need.

In the September issue of Wired, they revisit the story.  The author claims that the future is now, and that services today allow the average person to replicate their own items.  In the story, the author visits and downloads a CAD/CAM program, designs a guitar with it, has e-machine shop fabricate it, ship the parts to him, and he assembles it.  Viola! His very own custom designed guitar.  

So I tried it myself, I went up to and downloaded their program.  Like the Wired author, my initial experience with the software my have been much better if I had some experience with CAD/CAM software, however after some cursing and some general trial and error I did manage to get the project I had in mind going.

Now before I go on, a quick word about  They appear to be a complete fabrication shop, able to produce parts in a wide variety of materials from plastics, to metals, to wood.  They can work on the materials you select using various methods like laser cutting, machining, vacuum forming, polishing, power coating etc.  They can even to some electronics work as well including manufacturing custom circuit boards and other tasks.

I decided for my experimental project that I wanted to do something simple I choose to make a new badge for my car. Nothing too complicated, just 7 letters and here I ran into my first issues.  I had to figure out how to get the program to place letters in my design, something I figured out, but couldn’t figure out how to change the font.  In the end since I wasn’t intending on actually producing this I decided that the font wasn’t important.

Next up was selecting the material I wanted this to be made out of.  All I knew going into this step was that I wanted metal with a highly polished chrome look, this was intended to be the badge on a car after all.  The software itself gave me a list of all of the materials that works with and in many occasions gives some information on the material.  I choose aircraft grade aluminum because it was the only one that the software said was good for outdoor use.  Next was the thickness, and at this point my inexperience with design really showed, I had no idea how thick my badge needed to be, and while the software gave me a list of available thicknesses, it wasn’t much help.  In the end I just randomly selected one that I figured wasn’t too thick or too thin.

Then I had to figure out how to actually create my badge, laser cut, acid etching, milling etc… There were several options to choose from, I choose laser cutting because it seemed to be the right solution for what I was looking for.  Finally I had to choose the finish, since I knew I wanted a polished surface that was easy, but I could have also selected powder coating among other finishing options.

Now you tell the software to verify that your job is actually possible and to price it out for you as well as to project your delivery time.  At this point I had to deal with more problems, the software said I couldn’t laser cut the badge and had to come up with a different manner of making my letters, then it told me that the letters were too small to polish so I needed to come up with a different finish too…  At this point I was so frustrated I just randomly selected different cutting and finishing options to finish the exercise, at which point it the price it gave me was $226 and it would take 21 days for delivery!

In the process it got me thinking…  Just what is so revolutionary about this?  There are machine shops all over, I’m sure they can accept plans and drawings done on CAD/CAM software for parts, so what’s the difference?  Other than the fact that offers more than just metal or wood what is some impressive about them that this is the wave of the future?  I’m sure I could go and get a part for my car custom fabricated at any local machine shop…

The article also mentions something that I experienced.  Just because something looks good in the program, doesn’t mean that the finished product will be as intended.  It might be too thick or too heavy, or it might just not work.  In many cases an experienced designer might be able to figure this out without sending the item to be produced, but the average person may not be able to spot these issues, and as I saw above mistakes can be costly.

The promise of being able to fabricate anything you need with just the click of a mouse is terrific.  But I just don’t think we’re any closer today than we were 10 years ago.  

For the time being when it comes to do it your so fabrication… I think the future is still later…

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

New Fuel Economy Standards.... Big Deal!!!!

This has been breathlessly hyped on a lot (maybe even all) the news outlets today, the Bush Administration via Secretary of Transportation Minetta is proposing new fuel economy standards for minivans, light trucks and SUVs. The talking heads on all the news outlets teased this story as relief from the high gas prices we're suffering from...


The reality is that this story isn't worth the time it took for the intern to type it into the teleprompter. So why, you ask, am I bothering to write about it if it's such a worthless story? Education, to make sure that you get all the facts, and not just the attention grabbing ones that the reporters jumped on....

Reason 1 why this story is unimportant:
The new standards are for NEW cars, not the ones we're driving now. You can't retrofit what will need to be done to the new cars into your current car. Which means the new standards have no effect on you now. They won't lower oil prices and they won't help you get better mileage now.

Reason 2:
The first vehicles effected by this will be built in 2008 however the automakers don't have to be in full compliance until 2011!

Reason 3:
It actually lowers the requirements for full sized pickups and all the models by Hummer will still be EXEMPT from these requirements!

What the new proposal does:
Currently federal standards require manufacturers to have an average fuel economy of 27.5 MPG for passenger cars, that won't change.

Currently, minivans, pickups and SUVs should have an average fuel economy of 21.6 MPG (remember these number are an average across a manufacturer's entire product line in that class and not for a particular model.)

Under the new standards, minivans would need to get 23.3 MPG by 2011.

Currently light trucks are required to get 22.2 by the start of the 2007 model year, the new proposed standard would require 28.4 MPG by 2011.

While these are significant improvements, they're still many years off. Plus older cars that don't meet the new requirements will be on the road for quite a few years after the new standards are supposed to go into effect.

Wake me when they propose something for the present....

Your New Friend GIM?

Another piece of Google's plans for world domination may be starting to take shape. The LA Times and MSNBC are reporting that Google may be getting ready to launch their own instant messenger program.


What could Google possibly bring to the table that isn't already offered by everything that's been out there for a bazillion years? (in internet time that is...)

File sharing? Got it.
Photo sharing? Got it.
Audio chat? Got it.
Maybe videoconferencing? Nope everyone does that too...

The only thing I could possibly think of is maybe an im program that can send an im to somebody using ANY im software? I know that there's software like Trillian out there now that does this, but it's not perfect. When I used it, I couldn't get it to transfer files to AIM users, nor could I get it to log onto Yahoo Instant Messenger... ever.

I'm sure that Trillian has gotten better since my days of agravation with it a few years ago, but there's another thing that Google would have to overcome if it was to release an IM client... They've got to get people to use it. AOL is THE leader here, and nobody's been able to touch them. Heck Microsoft has been sticking Windows Messenger (now MSN Messenger) on every Windows XP computer since the OS was released, and they're still a distant second with Yahoo scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Maybe Google can come up with another viral marketing scheme for GIM like they did with g-mail? Heck, maybe Google will refuse to publicly open up GIM and leave it as an invite only system just like g-mail? You know, only the "internet cool people" have invites to GIM... Of course if GIM doesn't talk to the other im programs, you'll be stuck just talking to the few GIM subscribers that manage to get invites.... And will any of the "internet cool people" really be people you'll want to talk to?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Your Very Own Communicator (Maybe)

Up until now (or at least September 30th) die hard Star Trek fans who dreamed of having their own communicator like that used by Captain Kirk had two options.

One was to imagine that their clamshell cell phone really was a communicator, of course you couldn't do the cool wrist flick that Captain Kirk did to open his communicator with your cell phone.

Option two was to try sometype of mod like this one on the right. This one appears to have been done by disassembling a Bluetooth headset and a garage door opener of some sort, then putting the parts together into some form of frankendevice. This particular device was up on e-bay last year.

Option three appears to be coming on September 30th through a partnership with Sona Mobile and Viacom. Sona's website touts all kinds of Star Trek content for the new device... But no hardware or carrier information. For that matter, Sona is a mobile content company and not a hardware company so just what will this device look like?

Based on the story on Wired News this should be a "Star Trek Communicator Themed Mobile Device" which leads me to believe that all this content will be platform specific to a device that Viacom and Sona will be marketing. But there's no other information out there. Since there's no mention of specific carriers (at least not yet) invovled with this, I'm assuming the device will be an unlocked GSM phone... but who knows?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

This is just wrong...

Funny as hell... but just wrong!

You can get your own for just $7.50 on e-bay

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Bizarre Tech Story of The Week...

This comes from MSNBC, and is truely the most bizarre thing I've seen in quite a while...

The Henrico County school system decided to sell 1,000 iBooks at Richmond International Speedway for $50 each. These weren't last weeks models that they were selling, but 4 year old used machines. My guess is that they were used by the school system for the past 4 years, so they were running older versions of the Mac OS, outdated processors, and were probably a bit road weary too...

But that didn't stop more than 5,500 people from showing up, some waiting since 1:30 AM to try and get their hands on one of these machines. Sadly though, that's not the bizarre part...

When the gates opened at 7AM the crowd quickly became a rioting stampede. 17 people were injured and 4 of those required hospitalization as the crowd rushed inside pushing and screaming. Reports on MSNBC say that a baby stroller had been crushed, an old man pushed to the ground, somebody in a car actually tried to drive THROUGH the mob.

One woman waiting in line relieved herself in her pants instead of giving up her place in line. A 20 year old claimed that he used a folding chair to beat back people who he felt were cutting in front of him...


I've said it before and I'll say it again, people suck!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Your Windows is running on My Treo! No Your Treo is Running My Windows!

There's been a lot of furor over the past several days throughout the gadget community, with a lot of passionate posts on HowardForums, PocketPCThoughts and elsewhere over these pictures...

If they are authentic, and right now there's still some debate as to whether or not they are, you are looking at a Palm Treo running Windows Mobile 5 Phone Edition. We're not talking about a hacked device either, if the photos are authentic this is looks to be an evaluation device headed to Verizon.

There have been rumors for the past several months that the recently reconstituted Palm (after re-merging Palm One and Palm Source which were created when Palm decided to split into two companies, one doing software development and the other hardware) was developing devices based on both the Windows Mobile OS as well as Linux.

The very idea that Palm was looking to move away from the OS that it developed and was looking to move to a new platform sent ripples throughout the mobile community. That Palm was looking into Windows Mobile was a bombshell.

Since Apple pulled the plug on the venerable Newton, Palm has been a driving force in the PDA market. For years there was Palm... and then there was everything else. When people thought of PDA's they immediately thought of the Palm Pilot and to this day many people still use the name Palm Pilot to refer to any PDA. Until 1999 Palm was the one and only manufacturer of PDA's. Then Microsoft and it's partner's got into the game.

Palm devices featured monochrome screens, basic sounds and really good battery life. Microsoft and company though brought color and better sound to the PDA world, at the cost of battery life. Ever since Microsoft has been slowly chipping away at Palm's market share, and Palm has been paying the price ever since.

Microsoft has licensed off it's Windows Mobile software to a variety of vendors since Microsoft doesn't do hardware. Palm licensed off it's software to two vendors, Handspring which was formed by ex-Palm engineers and later bought by Palm, and Sony who has since completely left the PDA market.

It hasn't helped Palm that in the last few years they've really only had one device that they could call a success, the Treo 600 smartphone. Their PDA only devices have taken a beating on the market, and from what I'm hearing the Treo 650 isn't nearly as stable or as well liked as the 600.

So the news that the only remaining player in the PDA OS business was possibly looking to Microsoft was a big deal. Pictures of a device have been earth shattering for some.

Typical responses on the forums:
"Windows Mobile on Palm... I'm so there!"
"It's the end of the world. Windows is going to ruin the Palm."
"Microsoft Sucks!"
"Palm Sucks!"
"I'VE GOT TO HAVE THIS! RIGHT NOW! THIS IS THE PERFECT DEVICE, THIS IS SO AWESOME! WHEN IS IT COMING OUT!" and right about now the person who typed this suffered a crippling stroke and collapsed on their keyboard...

Honestly, I'm not conviced that a Treo with Windows Mobile really is handheld nirvana.

Yes, the Treo line has been extremely popular, especially the 600. However, the 650 isn't that great, the Tungsten and Zire lines are nothing special either, which to me doesn't equal instant fantabulousness for the next Treo to be released, no matter what it's running.

Palm has ZERO experience building Windows Mobile devices. So what makes anybody think that they're going to pull off a good Windows Mobile phone right out of the gate? HTC which made the old T-Mobile Pocket PC phone did a decent job their first time, but they've been hit or miss ever since, some devices have been very good devices, and others have been just ok.

HP has been making PDA's since Microsoft first came out with the OS in 99, and completely blew it with the Ipaq-6315, the jury's still out on their latest device the 6515 which hasn't been released in the US yet. (the rumor mill has it that Cingular will be getting this in select markets soon) That phone is running Windows Mobile for Smartphones which is a derivative of Windows Mobile.

Motorola has come out with three devices so far, it's first the MPX-200 was a pretty decent device that ran Windows Mobile for Smartphones. The second the MPX-220 was an update on the MPX-200, and was an unpopular buggy dud. The third was the Motorola MPx, this promising looking device died a quick death after being released in a few Asian markets. It was underpowered, unstable, and uncheap... Needed something to keep on theme there.

It took Eten three tries before it came close to releasing a decent device. But even it's latest, the M500, has some reception problems that need to be worked out.

Since some pretty big players in the handheld market have blown it with Windows Mobile (you might not have heard of HTC, but their HUGE, Eten however is a smaller company.) what makes anybody think that Palm can pull this off?

My prediction is that the first of Treos to hit the market running Windows Mobile (if they ever do hit the market) will be ok devices. They won't suck outright, but they will be pretty buggy. If Palm is responsive, they'll release a firmware update or three and fix most of the problems and the device will be pretty good 6 to 8 months after it's release. If Palm isn't responsive, then we won't see a decent device until Windows Mobile Treo2 gets released...

Either way, if/when the first Treo running Windows Mobile hits shelves.... I won't be running out to buy it....

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Yet Another Person With Way Too Much Time on Their Hands!

This comes to me from, seems somebody has come up with a plant whose future depends on the performance of Home Depot's stock.

Ok, it's a planter with a rubber tree purchased from Home Depot (an important piece of the equation as you'll soon see), and the planter controls the fate of the rubber tree.

And now you're saying, gee now that's about as clear as mud...

In the words of creators Douglas Easterly and Matt Kenyon:
"Home Depot is responsible for the plant in two ways: first, an unconditional guarantee to replace any plant they sell, for up to one year; secondly through an implied cybernetic contract. This second responsibility is the creative content for the work, where Home Depot's economic health is transitioned through a series of physical computing techniques to a mechanism for controlling the watering of the plant. An onboard computer uses a Wi-Fi connection to access Home Depot stock quotes once per week, keeping a database of these week ending stock values. From the fluctuations in Home Depot stock, various programs and circuitry are controlled accordingly. As the company does well, so does the plant - if the company suffers losses, Spore 1.1 does not get watered. If the plant should parish, due to poor stock performance, it is returned to the Home Depot and replaced with another-at no additional cost."

If you buy this...

WiFi Speed Spray

You might was well write me a check for a few hundred dollars... I mean you're just going to blow that money on worthless crap...

There's a whole community of some sort on e-Bay that seems to just thrive on posted bogus listings like these. I just don't see the attraction to it.

Yes, it's pretty sad if some schmo really is dumb enough to actually bid on and buy junk like this. But considering e-Bay charges for these auctions whether you make a sale or not, it just doesn't make sense to even bother putting something like this together...

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Where Was This When I Needed it 6 Years Ago!?!

So 6 years ago I lived in a little garden style apartment not far from Mount Vernon. Lived there for a year and even though we were invited to Mount Vernon, we never went.

The floors and ceilings of this place were paper thin. Luckily we couldn't hear what our next door neighbors were doing in their apartments (although from the slamming doors we knew when they came and left) however we could hear what was going on in the laundry room below very well. So well that from our bed it sounded like we were in the room next to them. While not as clear as those in the laundry room, we also could hear what our upstairs neighbor was doing too... Especially around 1:30/2:00 AM on a Friday and or a Saturday night, and honestly who ever she was... I think she didn't go home satisfied...

Well I find this via (which seems to be a questionable site in it's own right) For around $20 you can purchase from the "Noise CD" including earplugs. 20 Tracks of sounds intended to test the sanity of even your noisiest neighbor.

Included tracks for their irritation:
1. Drill.
2. Party (at least 200 People).
3. Orgasm (Outstanding).
4. Train.
5. Drum (Played by a Child).
6. Inhuman Screams.
7. Walking (High Heels).
8. Domestic Squabble.
9. Doors Banging.
10. Bowling.
11. Unhappy Dog.
12. Practicing a violin.
13. Traffic Jam.
14. Garbage Truck.
15. A screaming newborn baby
16. Phone Ringing.
17. Ball Game.
18. Pigeons.
19. Spring house cleaning.
20. Cock-a-Doodle-Do!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Balloon Bazooka

Now, I like a good water fight was much as the next person. Some water guns, some water balloons, women in wet t-shirts, hoses the whole nine yards...

But this, this takes the water fight to a whole new level.... A level that I'm just not sure water fights needed to go to.

Presenting the Balloon Bazooka:

As you can see, they have 3 different models for your balloon launching enjoyment...
There's the basic 6 ft long entry level model capable of launching a balloon 300 feet or 12 balloons at once but not as far.

There's the 7 foot long standard model that can launch a balloon 400 feet or 20 balloons at once.

And, if you want to fire a water balloon clean through your buddy's chest then you want the 8 foot long magnum model. This thing can shoot a quality latex balloon (they say the cheapies can't take the pressure) 500 feet or 24 ballons at once! Ok it might not really be able to shoot a balloon through a person, but then again who knows?

Should you buy one of these things... Just remember this important safety tip from the manufacturer's web page:
"Caution: Do not operate Balloon Bazooka ™ while impaired"

Check Yourself Out

I really like those self-checkout things that have been popping up at my local supermarket, Home Depot, and now Costco.

It's not that I don't like interacting with a pimple faced teenager or some other minimum wage cashier that couldn't make change if it wasn't for the cash register telling them how much to give me (and even then it's a stretch). But I find that when unobstructed I can check myself out faster than most of the cashiers I've had to deal with.

I know, not everybody likes these things, many people think they're cold, impersonal and even confusing. The thing is, like most devices (computers, cell phones, PDA's, cash registers etc...) that have been out for the last 10+ years I think people would find them significantly less confusing and easier to use if they just read the screen in front of them or listen to the messages that the device is telling them.

We're not talking about complicated stuff like changing out the receipt roll or anything here (although I did once show some girl at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg how to do this many years ago.... and I've never worked at Busch Gardesn), but how about figuring out how to complete a sale with a gift card? I actually had to show a cashier at my local Target how to complete my sale when I paid with a gift card, I've never used a cash register at Target myself. Yet amazingly by reading the screen I knew how to process the transaction where the cashier didn't...

Anywho... my local Costco has completed a COMPLETE transition to these self checkouts. There's not a single human cashier other than the one at customer service in the entire place! Last time I was there, they only had 3 cashiers and the rest were self-checkouts... Now there's none.

After my experience today, I would hope that their having problems with some of the lanes. I don't say this because I wish ill of Costco, actually I say this because they only reason why I could come up with that they would have half of the self-checkout lanes closed would be because some were broken. Otherwise it just doesn't make sense to not have every single lane open whenever the store is open. You don't need to worry about lunch breaks, potty breaks etc for cashiers, so why not have every single lane open... Yet this morning, just short of half the checkout lanes were open...

Monday, August 01, 2005

WiFi Distance Record

I first heard about these guys last year in Wired Magazine. A few bored teenagers took some old satellite TV dishes (the big hokin ones, not the small ones used by DishNetwork and DirecTV) and headed off to Las Vegas for the annual BlackHat Hackers Conference.

They setup the dishes outside of town and set a new world record for transmitting a WiFi signal. They actually smashed the previous record by sending the signal 55 miles, it was thought they could have gone futher, but they ran out of room. The thing is, other than the antennas, everything they used was standard off the shelf stuff. The used relatively low powered WiFi cards and no signal amplifiers.

To put this in perspecitve, the average WiFi access point is rated for a range of just 300 feet although you typically get a bit less than that. With a directional antenna you can actually get close to a 15 mile range.

This year they went back to Las Vegas and tried again, and destroyed the record they set just the year before. According to WiFi toys, this time they setup just south of Las Vegas NV and shot the signal all the way to St George UT, 125 MILES AWAY! This time they used more powerful network cards (although still pretty low power) and larger satellite dishes, but no amplifiers.

Just as amazing... This was done by a bunch of teenagers!

Who Keeps Messing With the Termostat?!!?

Did the earth move a few miles closer to the sun or something? What is up with the weather?

Did the county re-zone my neighborhood as a sauna?

How hot is it?

So hot that last week there was a power outage nearby because some of the electric distribution
equipment melted!

So hot that the media is doing their stupid fluff pieces on the weather... You know the ones, where they try and bake cookies in a closed car and fry and egg on the sidewalk...

Heck it's even too hot for the neighborhood punks to head outside and vandalize stuff...

It's so hot that a goose walking along the side of the pond just burst into flames! Luckily he could just hop in the pond on put himself out, but still it could have been ugly... Flaming goose feathers everywhere!!!

Alright, it's lame... But it's too freaken hot to come up with a good post...