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Archive for the ‘Toys’ Category

Apple’s iMessage encryption trips up feds’ surveillance | Politics and Law – CNET News

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

The DEA has figured out that getting a wiretap order for an iPhone, executed at the phone company, doesn’t get them iMessage content. It’s pretty obvious the various TLAs engaged in law enforcement will use this as a concrete example to push the “Going Dark” initiative to get CALEA reinterpreted (or legislated) to cover various internet based communication services. And designing a service to use end-to-end protection will be right out.

iMessage is a special case here, since it inserts itself into the normal text message user interface. It’s the phone’s preferred way to send messages, and from the user’s (and law enforcement’s) perspective, it’s a native feature of the phone rather than an app.

I’m worried this will bring up yet another concern–even if they get what they want with CALEA, they are going to discover that they have execute multiple, maybe even many, wire tap orders to track a single subject. How long until we require each ISP to be able to MiTM attach every TLS connection? Or another clipper chip initiative?

Apple’s iMessage encryption trips up feds’ surveillance | Politics and Law – CNET News

(Via MacRumors.)

Drones toss and catch inverted pendulum – Boing Boing

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

The research drones are at it again. This video is really impressive, if not as showy as some of the previous ones. I can imagine the CIA drones go from blowing up suspects with hellfire missiles to just apprehending them Spiderman style.

Drones toss and catch inverted pendulum – Boing Boing:

iRobot Looj First Mission

Monday, September 7th, 2009

I just completed my first use of the iRobot Looj™125. The bottom line is, it was better than I expected.

When iRobot first announced the Looj, my reaction was along the line of “what were they thinking?” I couldn’t imagine that there was enough market in home gutter cleaning robots to warrant the R&D cost. But then we had new landscaping installed, and found a section being damaged by water overflowing the corner of one of our gutters. Candace said she’d fix that section of the flower bed, but not until I cleaned the gutters.

The Looj had reached its second generation by then, and they’re not that expensive, so I ordered one. Due to too many hands on my time, I only managed to deploy it this weekend.

Guess what? It works pretty well. It was not perfect, but it sure beat having to move the ladder every few feet. It plowed through the real debris with gusto. It was great for tree matter, etc. It was not quite as good with the several years build up of fine silt–it got most of that but left quite a bit behind.

This model is rated for 150 linear feet of gutter. I didn’t measure my gutters, but it handled the whole house on one charge. Now, it’s not a big house, and most of the gutters on the south side were mysteriously clean.

The unit had plenty of power. It would occasionally hang on something and flip itself over–but this model can run just fine upside-down. The only significant downside was that a lot of the spacer rods in my gutters were angled down too far, and blocked the Looj from its duties. I don’t blame the Looj for this; it was typically shoddy work on the builder’s part. On the other hand, if the Looj was made a little thinner, it would have fit under most of them.

Some other minor issues:

I don’t think the handle-remote was the best idea. It becomes difficult to remove and reinstall once the unit gets dust and grime on the handle rails. This is complicated by the need to hold onto the ladder while messing with it. The battery cover on the remote comes off too easily–I had to climb down the ladder to find my batteries more than once.

It sprays dirt all over the place–but I don’t see much way around that short of a built in shop-vac. You will need eye protection and a hat with a brim.

The NiCad battery needs too much babying–I thought we were past the days of having to pull the battery off the charger to avoid overcharging, and having to guess when the battery was fully charged instead of having an indicator.

But overall, it was a clear win over doing it by hand. I’m still not sure about the market for home gutter-cleaning robots, as I imagine I would use it once a year at the most. But I expect a single visit from a professional gutter cleaner would cost me more than the entire unit.

Kicking Myself…

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

… for forgetting that my new iPhone will do video until the moment was past.

I pulled into our alley tonight at 9:38 CDT, to the sight of a family of raccoons running directly towards my car, until they had an attack of good sense and turned and ran the other direction. By other direction, I mean straight back down the alley so that I could follow slowly and keep them in my headlights for a good 90 seconds.

By family, I mean 1 adult (I assume mom) and 5, count them, 5, juveniles. Mind you, I was in the Miata with the top down. They probably could have taken me, had they not been awed by the glory of my HID headlights.

iPhone Keyboard

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

In the process of setting up the new iPhone 3.0 note sync feature, I ran across this relic from my first day with the original iPhone:

This is a test to see how fast I van go with one fibgerJpq alpirr rjiimba so they qpekj sow doingmirao fast


I’m somewhat better at it now.

Get ‘Em While They’re Hot

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Tesla Motors is now taking deposits for their über-cool Model S sedan, which is planned for production in 2011 — they’ll be sold off in first-come-first-served order. The claims are 0-60 mph in a smooth 5.6 seconds, with seating for 5 adults. And 300 miles on a charge. Base models start at $50,000 — which seems quite the bargain, when you consider that it’s likely to compete with luxury sedans for amenities.

For a mere $5,000 ($4,950 of which can be refunded, at least as long as Tesla remains solvent), you can get your place in line.

IETF Power Strips

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009


Homebrew Rocket Reaches Space

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

This is wicked cool. A 17 foot homebrew rocket phones home with this picture. Click through to read the details in the flickr comments.

Space, the Final Frontier

(Via Wired)

Lots more details: Pyro Geek Hobbyists Experiment With Homebrew Rockets

Edit: Lots of cool amateur rocketry pics in the same photoset.

Use all your speakers under OS X 10.4

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Something that had been bothering me for a while is that I have a full 5.1 setup hooked up to my MacBook Pro (via a USB SoundBlaster Live sound card), but generally end up using only two of the speakers. While native 5.1 content (DVDs, HD trailers) does play out all six speakers, any stereo source (like music in iTunes) uses only the two front speakers. Most annoyingly, the subwoofer just sits there doing nothing.

I finally figured out how to make stereo sound sources take advantage of the entire setup, with the help of various tools. Luckily, these are all free.

The most important tool is Soundflower. Soundflower adds two input/output sound devices (one stereo, and one 16-channel). These are actually very simple pass-throughs — any sound routed to the inputs appears at the outputs (For example, you can set default output to the stereo Soundflower device; and another to takes its input from the Soundflower device — viola! Instant full-system sound recorder!). It’s pretty simple, but very powerful. (Caveat: installation requires a reboot, since it’s creating new sound devices)

Another very useful tool (although not strictly necessary for what we’re doing here) is Soundsource. Soundsource sits in your menu bar, and allows you to select which output device is currently active. You’ll be changing this around quite a bit as you get this whole setup working, so I’d suggest you install it.

Finally, if you haven’t installed the OS X development tools, do so now. They’re on the disks that shipped with your machine.

Got all that installed? Good. Now the fun begins.

On the “SoundSource” menu, select “Open Audio MIDI Setup”. (If you haven’t installed SoundSource, you can find this in “Applications”, under “Utilities”). On the “Audio” menu, select “Open Aggregate Device Editor”. Add an aggregate device, and name it something useful (I called mine “Soundflower Stereo + SB Live”). Select the new aggregate device, and check “Soundflower (2ch)” and whatever your 5.1 soundcard output is (look for a “6” in the out column). You’ll want to make sure the soundflower appears first in the list. You probably want to select the soundcard as the clock source. You can now close the Audio MIDI Setup application.

The newly created aggregate device should show up in your AudioSelector menu; and it will probably be selected. We haven’t routed the sound anywhere yet, so any sounds your machine wants to make now won’t come out anywhere.

Now, open up the “AU Lab” program — you’ll find it under /Developer/Applications/Audio. You should be in the “Create New Document” window. Make sure the “Audio Device” is set to the aggregate device you created — there should be 8 channels indicated. If you don’t see 8 channels, try changing from the aggregate device to a real device and back again. Now, click “Add Output” three times — you should have four outputs total. Select output 3 and change it to mono. Drag it to channel 5 (this is your center channel). Select output 4, set it to mono, and drag it to channel 6 (this is your subwoofer). Now, grab output 2 and drag it to channels 7 and 8 (this is your rear channel); and, finally, drag output 1 to channels 3 and 4 (front channel).

Don’t worry — we’re almost there.

Now, under “Inputs,” there should be one input. Sometimes it creates it automatically for you; sometimes you need to add it. Click on “OK”, and you should get a window with a bunch of sliders on it. The lower-left slider should have four little boxes along its left side, labeled “1” through “4”, indicating which outputs this input is routed to. Click on “2”, “3”, and “4” to light them all up. As long as your output is still set to the aggregate device, you should now have music coming all all 6 speakers. Save this document before you close the AU Lab program.

One thing to note: the AU Lab program needs to be actively running to route sound from the Soundflower inputs to the outputs on your 5.1 soundcard. If you close AU Lab, your sound is once again routing to nowhere — but this is easily remedied by selecting a real device in the SoundSource menu.

You can play around with various effects on the channels to differentiate them. For example, I put a low-pass filter on my subwoofer; added a “Matrix” effect to the center channel to “enhance” the stereo; and put a 0.016 second delay on the rear channel.

One last troubleshooting trick that might help if you can’t get the audio flowing: soundflower and your soundcard need to be set to the same sample frequency or things just won’t work. I also had trouble converting 24-bit samples to 32-bit samples, but 16-bit to 32-bit seemed to work just fine. You can tweak these settings in the “Audio MIDI Setup” application.

As an aside — you don’t want this configuration active when watching actual 5.1 sources, as it will not only route the front channels to all six speakers; it will also send the center channel to the left front speaker; the subwoofer channel to the right front speaker; the rear left channel to the center speaker; and the rear right channel to the subwoofer speaker.

New User Interface Metaphor: The Wiggle

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

I just updated my iPhone to 1.1.3. On restart, it popped a window telling me how to use the new feature allowing me to rearrange icons on the home screen. You simply touch and hold an icon until it, get this, starts to “wiggle”. Yes, it actually used the word “wiggle.”

Sounds disturbing? You have no idea. (Unless of course you have one.) All the icons start wiggling. But it’s a subtle wiggle. Just enough to wonder if you’ve had a bit too much rum or something.

Not that I ever have that problem.

Anyhow, finally getting the “find yourself” function in Google Maps is way cool. Even though all the Nokia E6x users have had it for months. Heck, the freakin’ MDA users have had it for a while. But I bet my user interface for it is better.

(btw, FIRST post for 2008!)

iPhone: Who needs security?

Monday, August 27th, 2007

There are an increasing number of jailbroken applications that can be loaded onto the iPhone — so many, in fact, that someone has thrown together a nifty package manager for installing and managing all of them.

One of the more interesting things to do, of course, is run an SSH client so you can perform remote administration of other machines. Apparently, the installation of SSH from the package manager is a full-fledged OpenSSL install — including the server side of things.

And yes, it does start up the SSH service.

Combine this with the well-known passwords for both “root” and “mobile” accounts and what do you get?

orthrus:~/ adam$ ssh root@
The authenticity of host ' (' can't be established.
RSA key fingerprint is 7f:c4:18:1d:08:63:6c:04:0c:14:30:b2:09:f4:ee:17.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)? yes
Warning: Permanently added '' (RSA) to the list of known hosts.
root@'s password: 
Warning: No xauth data; using fake authentication data for X11 forwarding.
Last login: Mon Aug 27 17:34:23 2007 from
# ls
Library  Media
# uname -a
Darwin Q40 9.0.0d1 Darwin Kernel Version 9.0.0d1: Fri Jun 22 00:38:56 PDT 2007;
root:xnu-933.0.1.178.obj~1/RELEASE_ARM_S5L8900XRB iPhone1,1 Darwin
# df
Filesystem           1K-blocks      Used Available Use% Mounted on
/dev/disk0s1            307200    193116    111012  64% /
devfs                       18        18         0 100% /dev
/dev/disk0s2           7622368   6624600    997768  87% /private/var

Hmm… methinks the potential for havoc may be high here.

“It just works” – yeah right

Friday, January 12th, 2007

Sometimes I just don’t get the apple(computer) universe.

I loved my PPC laptop – almost anything I tried that was anywhere close to a mainstream use just worked. I could wave my hands at the machine and mutter vaguely and the result I wanted just happened.

I waited for awhile after the Intel macs came out so they could work out the “first run” bugs. I got a very nice Intel laptop just before the new year. It compiles things much faster, and for the most part runs the apps I need to run more effectively, BUT:

This thing is _far_ less stable than my PPC version and I find myself losing 10s of minutes a day (sometimes up to 6 of those) to getting it to do what I want to do.

– The wireless card and driver quality is _far_ below what I’d become used to. Connection management intrudes on my life daily now.

– It randomly (usually after being up for a day or more) refuses to sleep. I’d gotten so used to this “just working” that I got out of the habit of looking. My new laptop’s already had a really hot ride in my bag.

– I use a bonjour connection to a printer in the office. On the PPC version this was really stable. On this box, 1 time out of 3 that I try to print, it doesn’t “Just work”. (The most frustrating version of failure involves it deciding to use a different driver than it did last time – resulting in pages of “that’s not my printer language” showing up on the printer.

I’m watching my friends and coworkers (many of whom have new intel macbooks or macbook pros) going through similar pain, and I am alarmed at how quickly the “wave the chicken at windows” behaviors are becoming ingrained. The nice thing about OS/X (up to now) is that you didn’t have to have chickens – you could look at logs and figure out what was going wrong and _FIX_ it in the very rare situation when things didn’t “just work”. Those same logs are very silent on the above problems.

I’ve been moving my family and my lifestyle machines (I have a mac pro now too, and I _really_ like it when I’m not trying to print to freeBSD CUPS ipp queues). I am beginning to dread the probability of a new stream of family support issues that I can’t address without giving hours over to it. In particular, my boasts of the last couple of years about how living on a mac really lowers your frustration-with-the-machine pain are ringing hollow in their ears.

Apple – you are letting me down.

How did this happen?

A Cheaper Eco-Sport Car

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

It certainly doesn’t approach the allure of the Tesla Roadster, but there’s another set of high-performance, alternate-technology cars in the works as well: a Brazilian company is poised to launch a line of cars under the name “Obvio!” next year.

The low end model, the Obvio! 828, starts at $14,000 for a hybrid version that runs on gas, ethanol, or any mix of the two; it gets mileage of 33 MPG city/44 MPG highway on gasoline (30/40 on ethanol) with a top speed of 100 MPH. It also comes in an electric-only version with a 200 – 240 mile range for $49,000, which increases the top speed to 120 MPH and has a 0-60 of 4.5 seconds. It has a lot of rather eccentric options, including an in-dash general-purpose touchscreen Windows XP computer featuring GSM/GPRS and 802.11 connectivity options. (And you know it’ll be in the US less than one week before somone blogs about their experience putting Linux on it).

The high-end, “microsport” Obvio! 012, which starts at $28,000 for the hybrid, keeps the same mileage as the 828, but raises the top-end speed up to 160 MPH. Specs for the electric-only 012 ($59,000) remain the same as the 828.

Hypercolor Monitors in the Works?

Saturday, September 2nd, 2006

In an earlier post, I discussed the difference between purple and violet, and explored some of the color limitations of electronic display technology. Phil recently pointed out an article in Wired that discusses the use of adjustable diffraction gratings to produce arbitrary colors. (In practice, the gratings don’t produce the colors; they diffract a white light in such a way that the desired color can be made to pass through a pinhole). In theory, an array of these can be constructed to produce vivid-color televisions and monitors.

There’s something I find a bit suspect about the article, though. I mean, yeah, it’s full of the traditional Wired-style junk science (e.g., using relative voltage to compare power efficiency without taking current into account — plus, it includes a diagram of all the colors monitors can’t display [pause two beats here to let that sink in]), but in terms of color rendering, it says one thing that stands out as really bizarre.

The researchers are quoted as saying they intend to use white LEDs as the light source for this technology.


LEDs are diodes made with materials specifically chosen so that electrons crossing the p-n junction cause a photon to be released. The wavelength of these photons (color of the produced light) depends on the exact materials being used. Note I said “wavelength,” not “wavelengths” — LEDs produce a single color out of the spectrum at a time. (Strictly speaking, they produce a very narrow range of wavelengths, typically about 20 to 30 nm wide, with very steep drop-offs — but this is as close to a pure color as to make no difference for this conversation).

White LEDs can be produced by mixing together two or more carefully chosen single-color LEDs, but this is rarely done. Almost all white LEDs produced today use a blue LED as their base (gallium-nitride based, with a wavelength of ~460 nm); on top of this LED, they layer a phosphorescent substance (cerium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet) which absorbs part of the blue light and emits a yellow light centered around 580 nm.

If you take the light from one of these LEDs and pass it through a prism, you’ll get a very thin, bright line of blue, and a slightly wider beam of orange/yellow/green.

By now, you should see where I’m going with this. If you use a white LED as your color source for a monitor that uses a diffraction grating, the results will be no better than today’s color display technologies, and arguably worse. Not only will you lack the ability to display colors below 460 nm (keeping in mind that s-cones peak at 420 nm: no violet for you!), but you’ll have gaps in the lower green and upper red spectrum as well.

Nonetheless, the adjustable diffraction technology is fascinating, and I hope something like this eventually gets to see the light of day — hopefully using something more wide spectrum than what the article implies for a light source.

Now all we need is a CCD that can record a full-spectrum scene, and we’re good to go.

Got a spare $100,000?

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

Ben brought to my attention a new breed of electic car that Tesla Motors is producing. The vehicles themselves are styled and manufactured by Lotus.

The first car out the gate is the “Tesla Roadster” — a two seater with a trunk that can be described only as “vestigial.” It’s a soft-top convertable with a hard top option. So it’s an electic sports car? Yep. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise: the Japanese have been outperfoming gas-powered cars using electric prototypes for years. (According to Wired, Tesla Motors has other cars in the works as well).

This car is as different from the electric cars of yesteryear — most of which were glorified golf carts — as is possible. With a 200 kW powertrain (that’s almost 270 horsepower for you luddites), it can go from a standstill to 60 miles per hour in 4 seconds. It has a top speed somewhere north of 130 miles per hour. Under normal driving conditions, it can go 250 miles on a single charge. And while previous electric cars required exotic charging stations, this one has an optional “travel charger” that allows you to plug it into a normal wall outlet. (It does come with an exotic charging station that you install at your house that charges it up more quickly — empty to full in 3 1/2 hours).

And, for Ben’s sake, I’ll point out that the iPod dock comes standard.

At $100,000, I’m not quite putting in my down payment yet — but it’s really promising that someone can make a batch of these (1,000 for the 2007 year model) for a price that’s almost on par with gasoline cars in the same class. At this price, the first batch (limited edition) of 100 sold out — prepaid — within two weeks. They’re taking orders for the second batch right now.

Gastronomique at 2-Billion degreez

Sunday, March 19th, 2006

There are several fun new devices coming out for those who like to explore in their cooking.

Add a little more science and things could get really  interesting:


Wednesday, March 30th, 2005

This reminds me of a Mobius Strip.

Dart Mail

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2005

It occurs to me that this technique could be adapted to other carrier media. Anyone want to help me write an update to RFC 1149 for large content indirection?

Hellz yeah I roll 20’s

Saturday, February 12th, 2005

Sorry I just have to counter the dice bag with my own pic from tonight’s D20 Starwars game.

Critical strike!


Friday, February 11th, 2005

Skysa App Bar