Archive for July, 2007


Repurposing the Wii — check your car’s performance

31 July 2007

Why not use the wiimote’s built in 3-axis accelerometers to measue g-forces, acceleration and even calculate my own 0-60mph times?



23 July 2007

No, I don’t have an iPhone. Yes, iPhones are great and cool. I have a T-Mobile Dash which, believe it or not, is also great and cool, just in some different ways. 🙂

Lots of people I know are surprised that I don’t have an iPhone yet. After having played with one a bit, I didn’t need to run out and buy one. Here are the primary reasons.

  • I don’t need a new phone.
  • Visual voicemail is very cool and useful, but it doesn’t trump SlingPlayer for Windows Mobile.
  • I type on my Dash’s keyboard without looking. Can’t do that on an iPhone.
  • I type on my Dash’s keyboard with these. I tried typing on the iPhone with them. I can’t. Tapping with the tip of a fingernail doesn’t work — you need skin-to-screen contact. I thumb-type, primarily with the inside corners of my thumbnails. That doesn’t work on the iPhone. And while I have quite small fingers, the pads of my fingers are, apparently, larger than the input expected.
  • I already use an EDGE network. 3G would have been tempting.
  • I was confused by the web interface. Yes, perhaps it’s just that I’m an idiot, but I couldn’t figure out how to get to the screen where you type in a URL…there were several missteps in my first attempt. Does that mean that the iPhone’s interface is necessarily BAD or not worth using? No. Is it a reason to not get an iPhone? No, so I don’t know why I actually added it to the list. But I personally didn’t find it as intuitive as I’d expected for an Apple product.
  • Really surprised that there’s no IM. Of course, you can use the IM-to-SMS gateway codes and such (I’m pretty sure AT&T has them), or use email, but meh. I’ve got my buddies, Buddy.

I have to admit, though, it’s great fun to take a picture of someone, blow it up, and then PINCH HIS HEAD with your fingers. And the convergence of the two devices (iPod and phone) will probably make it worth it to me, eventually, to get one. Especially as I get older and my fingernails become more brittle. 😉 By that time, maybe iPhones will work on a network other than AT&T Wireless.


Cable HDTV, HDMI, and closed captions

19 July 2007

We just got a new TV. I’ve had the same 20-something inch tube for enough years that the cabinet has yellowed for being in the window. We got an insanely good deal on a 50-inch plasma, so it was really impossible to pass up.

Get home, hook everything up just so. Plug the new HD cable box into the HDMI port on the back of the TV. And, no captions. Not even an option on the HDMI menu. *sigh*

I did a bit of research on the intertubes, and there were some vague references to a few things…but one stood out. A guy talked about his cable box that had settings for captions. It seemed weird, but not outside the realm of possibility that there was such a setting. But I couldn’t find it. Whenever I hit the ‘settings’ button for the cable box, the DVR screen came up. So I called Cox. They are generally very good with their customer support. Well, what do you know? The guy told me to hit settings. When I told him the DVR screen came up, he told me that there was nothing else he could help me with. So I asked him to escalate me to level 2 support. He said sure. And then promptly sent me back to the main menu. JERK.

While I was holding, my husband asked to see the remote. He hit the ‘menu’ button on the cable remote, and VOILA! There was a menu. There was a menu item for captions! Apparently there’s a cc-decoder in the cable box. It reads the captions from the signal, and overlays them directly onto the video before sending it out to the TV through the HDMI port.

So, if you have an HDTV and an HD cable box, and you want to use your HDMI port, check the settings on your CABLE BOX. With any luck, it’ll have a decoder, and you’ll be able to see captions on all your programs, in high def! The quality of the captions depends on the cable box — the box’s captions aren’t as good-looking as the ones directly from the TV, but they definitely do the job, and that is a GOOD THING.


Better isn’t always better.

13 July 2007

“Welcome to the Delicious Generation. Where guys who can’t get a date get drunk and argue about frameworks.”

I know there’s a digital divide, and of course, I’m squarely on the digital side of it. One might say that, since I’m a programmer, and someone who loves gadgets, and someone who loves logic puzzles, and someone who has trouble thinking *inside* the box, I’m teetering near the far edge.

That makes me kind of uncomfortable.

I feel like I, and lots of other folks on this side, are involved in a strange anthropological experiment or something. “Let’s take the hu-mans, and we’ll put some of them in front of screens, and create idols, make shiny things, things that beep at them and make them feel important, and then let them tell everyone else how important they and their likes are. Then they’ll get so much validation from these computers and these devices, they won’t NEED to interact with people, with the land, with social issues. They won’t care all that much about the emotional health of their families — they’ll just provide them with beeping gadgets, so their spouses and children can be validated by beeps, too. They won’t see beauty unless it’s displayed in pixels.”

The far-reaches of the digital divide are something I used to strive for. I needed the coolest, fastest, newest thingie! Only losers don’t have it! But it’s a lonely Siberia out here. Spend the day in front of your computer, and then go to a school committee meeting. Serve on a commission where most of the people only check their email once a day. Talk to your carpenter about biscuits and glue. Imagine being those people. I don’t think I was ever one of them…I was geeking out on Apple ][s in high school, marveling at how I could make Eliza say dirty words.

These days, I’m as likely to have my face in the bobbin race of an antique sewing machine as I am to be in front of a computer — during non-work time, that is. The action of the ruffler foot. The smell of the old steel. The regular oiling. The absolute MECHANICALNESS of the whole thing. Not only is it not digital — there isn’t even any PLASTIC! And the beauty is not in the preservation of the machine. It’s not about what the machine will be like in 50 years. It’s about now. What can I do with it now? What can I make? What can I learn about fundamental things such as physics, and fabric, and what it was like to be a mother 75 years ago, making a quilt for her son so he’s warm at night…because she HAD to. Because if she didn’t, her child would be cold. The practicality of darning a worn sock (rather than throwing it away and getting a new one). Who CARES if it’s a sock that now has a seam in it? Is it still a sock? Does it serve the functions of a sock with no detriment? Then use the damned sock! Don’t throw it away!

*sigh* I don’t know. Maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe I’m jaded. Or maybe I’ve just been sold a bill of goods one too many times, made to believe that my life really WILL be better with this one last thing. But grabbing for the squeaky-clean, always new, top-of-the-line, tweaked-to-perfection-and-beyond thing is not, in my opinion, something to be proud of. Sometimes, when I do it, I actually feel sort of pathological. There must be something in the DSM-IV about it. It’s not OCD. It’s a well-bouyed belief that better is always better. And that just ain’t so. Sometimes, ‘better’ makes things worse. Go darn a sock. Go drive a nail. Go dump your inbox, and only go near it once a day. Maybe you’ll see what I mean.


Whither captions?

3 July 2007

I’ve been appalled that iTunes movies and TV shows, Amazon UnBox videos, and most online network content feeds don’t have captions for audio. I understand that there are reasons — just like there were reasons that I didn’t clean my room when I was a kid, or why I didn’t get my project finished on time, or what have you. But the ‘reasons’ are of no consequence to someone who pays good money for a film or video, or sits through an (often captioned!) advertisement, only to find that the media isn’t captioned. So if I want captions, I’ll have to set my TiVo, or rent DVDs (the vast majority of which are captioned).

But how bad is this? I checked the web sites of some well-known presidential candidates: Romney, Clinton, Giuliani, Obama, McCain, and Edwards. Each of the candidates has dozens of videos on their web sites. Some candidates have podcasts.

Romney has, as of today, more than a hundred videos, and none is captioned. I couldn’t find a podcast.

Clinton has, as of today, about 35 videos, and none is captioned. None of her podcasts has a transcript. (Her husband uses hearing aids.)

Giuliani has, as of today, 63 videos, and none is captioned. I couldn’t find a podcast.

Obama has, as of today, about 35 videos, and 7 are captioned. None of his podcasts have transcripts.

McCain has, as of today, about 75 videos, and none is captioned. I couldn’t find a podcast.

Edwards has, as of today, about 75 videos, and none is captioned. None of his podcasts have captions.

I find it mindboggling. Candidates will do anything to get their message out to as many people as possible. Flying hither and yon, press conferences, the whole bit. But there are more than a million people in the US who have hearing loss bad enough that they need captions to understand video, or transcripts for audio. There are services that will caption or transcribe for pennies per minute (sure, all the way up to a couple of bucks a minute for 24-hour turnaround). So, it would cost, what, ten bucks per video clip to open your audience by A MILLION PEOPLE. This is the simplest economics you can imagine. Even it if it’s only a hundred people, heck, that’s only a few cents per voter — way less than they spend on those shiny brochures that are filling up my mailbox.

Now for the technicalities. Federal funds can be spent on these campaigns, right? That little box that people check on their tax returns, that allocates federal money for election campaigns? Well, remember this little ditty?

“Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a national law that protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disability. The nondiscrimination requirements of the law apply to employers and organizations that receive financial assistance from any Federal department or agency[cite]

And this one?

“Public funding of Presidential elections means that qualified Presidential candidates receive federal government funds to pay for the valid expenses of their political campaigns in both the primary and general elections.”[cite]

Now, is any one (or more) of the following statements untrue?

  1. Campaigns are run by ‘organizations’.
  2. The FEC is an ‘agency’ of the Federal government.
  3. The FEC provides ‘financial assitance’ to presidential candidates’ organizations who request and qualify.
  4. People who are profoundly deaf have a ‘disability’ and cannot access audio without captions or transcripts.
  5. Campaign organizations are disseminating audio information without captions or transcripts.
  6. Campaign organizations are discriminating against deaf people by refusing access to candidates’ messages by providing them only in audio format, with no text equivalent. (A little hint on this one — Section 508 makes it pretty specific in 1194.22[a] and [b].)

So, candidates, if you’re planning on accepting federal funds (and, sure, some of you have already said you wouldn’t), you’d better hop on the bandwagon. But even if you won’t take public money, the economics are undeniably in favor of textualizing your audio message, whether or not the law requires it. Keep that in mind.