27.2.08

Garfield without Garfield?

http://garfieldminusgarfield.tumblr.com/page/1

"Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life?
Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against lonliness and methamphetamine addiction in a quiet American suburb."

What more can I say?

26.2.08

iPhone keyboard haptics

Haptics mean touch feedback, basically.  The problem with the iPhone's keyboard, etc. is that the buttons are virtual, and so there are no edges that you can feel when you touch them and no feeling of actually depressing a button when you type.  This makes it more prone to spelling mistakes, etc. 

Enter some PhD's at the University of Glasgow:

http://code.google.com/p/iphone-haptics/

Right now, it's nothing but a proof of concept, but I wouldn't be surprised to see this show up in a future iPhone firmware. 

Just as a side note, I'm amazed at the amount of apps that have been created by hackers for the iPhone with absolutely no official documentation.  Impressive, iPhone dev community!

W00tness!!! New Macbooks and MBP's!

Yeah, I know, I should be doing school, but anyhow, this is too awesome.

Apple released today updates to their macbook and macbookpro lineups.  Speed bumps across the board, and MULTI-TOUCH in the MBP! 

And yeah, the 15" MBP is my dream machine right now. 

But for some dumb reason, Apple no longer gives out remotes with their computers!  What? I guess the stock on eBay will be quickly depleted =]

25.2.08

And you thought portables were big...

This was too funny to pass up:

http://improveverywhere.com/2008/02/25/mobile-desktop/

The only thing that compares is one of my youth group leaders who used to bring his desktop up to church before he got high-speed internet...

Rethinking the interface of a web browser

Here's a great idea for a web browser:

http://www.gosquared.com/liquidicity/archives/321

I think it's neat (and I'll be trying out some of the mentioned extensions, etc. for Firefox and following development, but it's not perfect.  I'm not even sure what perfection is, but I might have some ideas. 

Web browsing has always been a sticking point in my rethinking of UX (user experience).  I'm torn between my beloved tabs in Firefox and the idea of making the web seamless: no tabs, browser, etc.  Instead, you end up with a document-like window for browsing.  Bleh. 

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to seeing this released!

24.2.08

People have such good ideas

Ever have a shirt ruined by bleach?  I've always thought that the bleach marks looked kind of cool, but out of place.  Anyhow, here's a use for those bleach marks that I would really like to do:

http://cre.ations.net/creation/t-shirt-designs-created-with-stencils-and-bleach

The shirts look really cool =]

20.2.08

Imagine...

I want you to close your eyes for a moment.  (Still reading? HA! Cheater!  Ok, so don't really close your eyes, but close them mentally, you know, suspend belief in reality and all that stuff).

Imagine a world in which there were no computer programs.  You turn the computer on to work on your 40-hour project.  Instead of opening Word, then opening your rough draft from that, you click on a project folder marked "40-hour project" and a window would open, showing you all your documents for your project.  You click on your rough draft and it opens in a window similar to the one showing your project files, but the toolbars now show the icons for editing a text document. 

Suddenly, a little note appears in the corner reminding you of your Rhetoric work due soon, so you decide to work on that.  You stop to open the spreadsheet containing your hour log for your 40-hour project.  It opens in a window similar to that of your text document, but with spreadsheet buttons.  When you are done marking your hours, you lasso all your windows for your 40-hour project (rough draft, hour log, and project folder) and drag them into a stack at the bottom of your screen.

Then you open your rhetoric project folder and your paper for that project, and work a while.  You decide you have a question, so you click a button at the bottom of the screen, then click the email to show a blank message.  You type up the message and send it off.  You then decide to work some more on your 40-hour project. 

So, you press Alt+Tab and see all the windows for your rhetoric paper.  At the end, there's a picture of a stack of windows marked 40-hour project.  You release Alt+Tab when that is selected, and all the windows from your rhetoric paper slide automatically into a stack at the bottom of the screen.  Then all your 40-hour project windows jump out of the stack and you see your screen just as it was when you were working before your rhetoric paper. 

You work for some more, then decide that you really want to copy a sentence or two out of your rhetoric paper.  So you click the stack of windows marked "rhetoric project" at the bottom of the screen, and they slide out into a list.  You click the text document, and it pops open onto your desktop.  When you are done copying the few sentences, you click the minimize button, and it zooms back down to its stack. 

After writing a little more, you decide to check your mail.  So you click on the mail folder on your desktop.  It opens a window marked Inbox filled with all your new messages.  Your rhetoric teacher has written you back.  You open his mail (which opens in a window similar to that of your papers and spreadsheets) and decide to save it.  So you click on the Rhetoric stack and open your rhetoric folder.  You drag your rhetoric email into the Rhetoric folder, then minimize the rhetoric folder.  You have also received a spam email, which you promptly drag to the trash can at the bottom of the screen.  You're done with your mail, so you close the mail folder.

You want to check your Facebook and maybe do a little web surfing, so you Ctrl+click on the stack marked "Web life" at the bottom of the screen.  All your 40-hour project windows minimize to their stack and a couple of windows open with your Facebook and a few other sites open. 

Now, open your eyes.

Yes, I know that was mean.


(BTW: all concepts presented in this post are Copyright (c) 2008 Nathan Jarus.  All rights reserved.)

Mind Reading

I didn't realize the technology was this far advanced, but now that it is, it's somewhat scary:

http://www.engadget.com/2008/02/20/emotiv-to-make-control-games-a-reality-by-christmas/

Imagine all the bad uses for this which would be so easy to contrive:
Bug in software allows brain dump to hard drive
Hacker injects code that allows him to read your thoughts

Nonetheless, it seems we're getting closer and closer to the sci-fi ideas of the 1970's...maybe we should ban all hardware and software developers from watching those movies =].

Actually, it's a really cool idea that I might just buy.  Maybe.  If it's cheap enough =]

19.2.08

Oh my

What else can I say?

http://msdn.microsoft.com/events/hero/

I for one will be waving potatoes at Steve Ballmer from now on.

R.I.P. HD-DVD (2006 - 2008)

Yesterday came the official announcement from Toshiba that they would stop producing HD-DVD equipment, thus ending the format war in favor of Sony's Blu-Ray discs. 

This wasn't much of a surprise to me, because I've been following tech news over the last year.  However, as a Toshiba fanboy (their laptops are AWESOME), its still saddening. 

Its especially interesting to see how the tables turned from last year, when me and many of my friends were predicting another VHS vs. Betamax situation, where VHS won because it was cheaper although lower quality. 

Betamax R.I.P. (1975-2002)

Out of curiosity, please comment if you understood anything in the above paragraphs.

14.2.08

5.1 surround sound speakers: good or bad?

So I imagine that at least a few of you have 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound speakers and you're listening to me ranting on and on about how great mine are and you're just thinking, "Yeah, but you can't beat five speakers and a subwoofer!"  Right?

Anyhow, I was doing IT work today at a guy's house and he played me a few tracks on his Logitech 5.1 speakers.  He was really excited that the music sounded that good from the tiny speakers and that the bass was so powerful.

I, meanwhile, listened critically.

I'll describe the speakers first.  Each channel had a pair of 3" cones, except the subwoofer, which I didn't get to see very well. 

I listened and this is what I heard:

Bass: Loud, powerful, but undefined.  It was more boom than actual notes, even on the bass guitar.
Low midrange: not there.  There was a HUGE gap in the frequencies between the subwoofer and the mids.
Midrange: OK.  I felt it lacked some presence, but other than that it was fine.  Didn't get to hear electric guitars on it, which would have helped.
Highs: Nonexistent.  I mean, you could hear high notes, etc., but there was a definite frequency drop.  This took a lot of the 'air' out of the vocals.

And the results: I still like my CS-G403's better.  You knew I was going to say this =]

Note: I'm not against surround sound, just bad speakers.  Get me 5 CS-G403's or NS-10's and I'll have the most amazing surround setup ever.  However, most people assume that they have a lot of speakers and a subwoofer, so it must sound good.  That's what is not true.

11.2.08

How C.S. Lewis and Einstein's law of Special Relativity relate

C.S. Lewis, in the Chronicles of Narnia, says a few times that, "We are never told what would have happened, but only what happened." (my paraphrase).  Very interesting.  Aslan will not tell what would have happened if someone had acted differently. 

Last week, on my way home from Friday SIAW (at 11:30 PM after 15 hours of work), I was tired and watching the cars drive past us on the way home.  I thought, "If there is a large enough gap between two cars on the road, someone could run between the two cars without getting hit."  Then, I began to consider what would happen if the person was traveling forward at the same speed as the cars and then tried to cut between them.  I realized that it would be like the cars weren't moving.  (Amazing, I know.  Keep in mind that I was really tired at this point.)  Then I was thinking some more and realized that if the person went faster than the cars, it would appear to him as if the cars were going backwards. 

The I began to think about light.  We are traveling at a speed less than that of light, so it appears to us that time occurs as it does.  If we were to go faster than the speed of light, we wouldn't actually be able to go back in time, we would just perceive events before they happened.  But this was only our perception of events, not really going backwards in time. 

So how does this relate to C.S. Lewis?  Even if we could travel faster than the speed of light, we could never know what would have happened.  We can only know what will happen. 

My apologies if the above post was too metaphysical for you all.

10.2.08

iKalk 0.1 Beta

I've been working on a program for a while now, and it's finally reached beta state, so I'm letting it "go public" so everyone can criticize my programming skills.

http://silvatechnologies.googlepages.com

It's a graphing calculator written in Java, so you can run it on Mac, PC, Linux, or some other OS that is supported by Sun.  It requires Java 1.5 or later (sorry Panther users).

Other than that, iKalk has been in development for about six months.  Actually, if you count all the time between TempConverter 0.1 (iKalk's parent project) and iKalk 0.1 beta, it's been about a year.  I'm hoping soon to put TempConv 0.9 up on my site, too.  (why is it 0.9?  I'm going to roll some features of iKalk back into TempConv when iKalk reaches 1.0 status and both of them will bump to 1.0 at the same time.)

I'd post screenshots, but I'm too lazy and there's not much to see anyway. =]

8.2.08

Free Solaris DVD

Ok, so I guess approximately 99.9% of you stopped reading after the title.  "Solaris?  What is that, the sun?"  Well, actually, it's a Linux distribution (distro) put out by, guess who, Sun Microsystems (would never have guessed =]). 

Anyhow, if you're the kind of person who flinches at knocking a ~5gb chunk out of your hard disk to store a Solaris Express Developer Edition (sxde) image, fear no more.  For a limited time, you can get a free sxde DVD mailed to you  (although it takes about a week and a half). 

http://www.sun.com/software/solaris/solaris-express/get.jsp

I've got a copy or two in the mail, so I'll see how I like it. 

By the way, for those of you wondering why this is so great, the only other Linux distro that gives you free CD's at this time is Ubuntu.  I also have a few of their discs =]


Islam and Mormonism: more similar than you thought!

I've been doing research on Islam for a Humanities project, and ran across this interesting tidbit:

"Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last of a series of prophets that God sent to earth. While respecting the teachings of all earlier prophets, Muslims believe that Allah sent his final message to Muhammad in order to correct the corruption of the previous messages." (http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/islam/beginnings/index.html)

This interested me because the Mormons claim that Joseph Smith received revelation because the gospel had been corrupted.  I wonder what Mormons would say to Muslims and vice versa.  Both claim to have the 'corrected' version of the gospel.  Yet for some reason, they aren't the same.  Hmm...

Both of them also inherently claim that the gospel is corruptible and has been corrupted to the point where it does not save.  This means that the gospel could be corrupted again.  So how do we know the gospel hasn't already been corrupted?  After all, it has been more than 500 years after the revelation of Islam, so it's plausible that that gospel was corrupted by now. 

This is one of the great things about Christianity (I almost called it Xnty, for all the WCS students =]).  We know that the gospel is not corrupt.  It never has been, so long as we take the entire revelation of God into account. 

7.2.08

Are speakers the greatest loss of quality in music?

I suspect that if you took an mp3 file encoded at 64 kbps and one encoded at 256 kbps and played both through average speakers, the average person wouldn't be able to tell the difference. 

(In case you don't know what encoding and mp3 and kbps mean, basically an mp3 is a music format, encoding means to stick the music into the mp3, and the more kbps, the higher the quality of sound.  Why don't we encode everything at some insane kbps level, then?  More kbps makes the file bigger, so there's a tradeoff between file size and quality.)

Why is this important?  Because 64 kbps is absolutely AWFUL sound quality.  256 kbps is considered very high quality.  This means that even if we used high-quality encoding, etc. the average person couldn't hear it, because their speakers and computers can't recreate the sound accurately. 

This is significant because most people will go through their lives having not actually listened to the music, but simply having heard the tune.  While the tunes are great, there is another level of enjoyment one gets out of actually being able to hear the music. 

It's also significant because most people encode their mp3's at 192 kbps, whereas they could halve that and not hear the difference. 

Finally, many people not only have junk speakers, but they also listen to their music very loud.  This actually distorts the sound as the speakers are driven past full excursion (that is, the cones try to move farther than they physically can).  This distortion is not always bad; many guitarists and bassists use this phenomenon to make their 'signature' sound.  It's bad in this case, though, because the music was recorded, produced, and mastered to sound good without distortion. 

You can read about my experience with this phenomenon here.

So what do I recommend you do?  Go buy a pair of AKG K44 headphones.  With these, you'll actually be able to hear the differences between your iPod and your computer. 

If you've got a little more money to burn =] buy yourself a Behringer UCA202, a nice small amp (or do what I did, and get a small soundboard.  You can get them from Behringer for ~$30), and hunt around on Craigslist for a set of nice speakers (like Pioneer CS-G403's).  With this setup you'll actually be able to hear amazing things in the music.  In fact, they're so good I don't recommend you try to get anything else done while listening to them.  You'll find yourself stopping to listen to the music.  And you'll actually hear ALL the music.

6.2.08

An obvious choice for home lighting automation

Wow.  Hat's off to this guy for taking something sitting right under our noses and using it for a task that few would use it for, yet it is a near-perfect choice.

http://www.yourmissus.com/lighting/

Basically, for those of you not familiar with pro lighting terminology, DMX is a form of communication between the lightboard and so-called dimmers which are basically fancy outlets to plug spotlights into. 

So, Dan wants to do home automation.  Specifically, lighting.  X10 is slow and newish, and not that reliable.  What does he do?  He gets a serial to DMX interface, a couple of dimmers, and runs all his lights through that.  It's a really impressive setup, because not only can things be automated, but they can also be controlled by wall dimmers.  And the whole thing is run over CAT5 (aka regular Ethernet) cabling, which leaves him a ton of extra wires for other stuff, like his temperature sensors.

The unique thing here is not that he's automated his lights.  Its that he's done it with an obvious, yet unconventional method.  It's somewhat like my stereo: using a soundboard as your stereo is unconventional, yent nice to work with.

4.2.08

Apple Portable Unboxing

Ok, so this isn't mine, but it was still so awesome:

http://flickr.com/photos/dansays/sets/72157603835099525/

I would pay good money to see the faces of the Apple product registration people if this guy registered his machine!

2.2.08

SIAW: Days 4, 5, and 6

For those of you wondering why I haven't posted the last few days, here's why: they've all been one big mush to me and I've been busy all day working, sleeping, or eating (in that order). 

Thursday:

I set up the rotators to work properly with some cues.  This took most of the morning as I had to get used to how they worked.  I then taught Anthony how to program cues into the lightboard and went downstairs to help Colton and Julia solder together the lanterns. 

We then ate lunch.  I stole Colton's lunchbox and brought it down. =]

Afterward, I spent most of the afternoon running a follow spot and occasionally lending Anthony a hand programming cues while the actors rehearsed.  I also ran sound for the singing servants.

After the day was officially over, I stayed after with Mr. B, Mrs. B (no relation to Mr. B), DB, and a few others and rigged stage mics and taped down all the cords.  I also went into our 'National Treasure' room and unhooked the choir mics so they wouldn't feed back mid-performance.

Everyone else was busy painting the set, hanging vines, and doing other tasks.  I left at 6 PM!

Then, I went home, and was up past midnight getting all the lighting cues fixed (including fixing the rotators so they operated more smoothly).

Friday:

It snowed Thursday night, so SIAW didn't officially start until noon today.  However, for the 'SEALS' (according to Mr. C) =], it started like usual at 8:30.  The skeleton crew consisted of me, Colton, Mr. C, and Mr. B.

Colton and I hung spots, ran extension cords, taped down more wires, and created a fire hazard near the dimmer box (at least 12 heavy-duty extension cords plugged into one place!).  The spots were awesome. 

We had two to light the piano.  We used a couple of clamp lights to provide some cool downlighting effects on the set, and disguised them with leaves.  We rigged another lamp inside the balcony to create some effects in there.  We used a professional flood to light the majority of the set and hid it behind a tower.  It was very difficult to get to because the ladder couldn't get really close to it because it was so close to the edge of the stage!

We also hang the totally awesome lanterns with flicker bulbs. 

During the construction we listened to an entire Grateful Dead concert.  Awesome!

Everyone showed up around 11:45 and got to work so that by 1:15 we had a dress rehearsal underway.  That was crazy.  Colton ran around and followed a few ideas.  We managed to work out all the lighting cues we messed up, and got things ready for the show. 

Then we went downstairs and ate around 6 PM. 

We came back up and soundchecked the singing servant's mics.  Everything worked except Katie's.  We managed to get hers working after a lot of work involving opening it up and doing the old NES fix: smack twice, and blow on the contacts. 

Somehow we managed to get everything working on time and ran the show.

The show was a hair off perfection!  Woohoo!

The only big snag was that Katie's dress ripped, but a few safety pins over the intermission got it fixed. 

Afterward, I cleaned up a few things, got everything ready for the next day, and left about 11:30 PM: 15 hours of straight work!

Saturday:

I woke up about 10:30, having slept 10 hours.  This was rather impressive.  I showered, ate, and ran up to BBC to get ready for the Saturday performance. 

I showed up, got out the expensive mics, put them in place, loaded everything up upstairs, and was ready to go.  We soundchecked everyone, and everything worked fine. 

However, the opening song showed something was wrong:  In the hour after we checked Katie's mic, it had stopped working.  So we gave her a handheld and ran that way. 

Saturday was two hairs off perfection.

Right after the show, we got to work tearing down the stage.  Now I had to remember where every piece of equipment came from, where it went, and how it was set.  This was rather difficult.

First, we tore down the stage.  I helped pull all the wires we had taped down Thursday and Friday.  Julia and I s-wrapped all the mic cables and put them where they belonged. 

We were racing a deadline: there was a trivia night at BBC at 7 PM. 

After a LOT of work, we managed to wrap every cable, put away all the mics, reset all the stuff on the soundboard, and in general undo all the wreckage we had done to their system in the past five days. 

Colton, Mr. B, and I left at 6:40!

And that is what happened at SIAW.