Dodo Birds Of Linux History

I was sorting out a pile of old CDs this morning and found my first linux install discs, in spiffy looking cardboard:

They were researched, greatly wished for, highly anticipated, and a huge letdown. Continue reading


Consumer Fake Out: Your Nightlights Are Lying To You

This past week I picked up a couple of cheap LED nightlights at Marden’s ($1.99 for a two-pack) and had to take them apart, of course, as I am a self-respecting geek, and because I was at one time mildy obsessed with running LEDs off line power. I guess that hasn’t quite worn off.

This all has led me to two conclusions:

  1. American consumers are suckers
  2. Chinese are either idiotic electrical engineers or brilliant social engineers, or both

Actually, both of those are not entirely deserved, nor totally fair, but read on for the full tear-down. Continue reading

The Joys Of Deleting

There is an odd social pressure to collect stuff. This may be due to our tendency to buy the latest and greatest in good consumer fashion, and it may be due to our belief that more information is good information and you can never have too much (not true). It is likely a combination of both and a variety of other factors which I have overlooked.

In any case, we both consume and store more and more information every day and most technology is concerned with getting it to you faster and cheaper, whether it be your smartphone, your media server, or Gmail. I think that is wrong. Continue reading

Rotary Encoders Are Mostly Awesome

Rotary encoders are awesome because they function like knobs – a staple of user interface which needs no explanation – but  electrically they generate discrete button presses, like pushing the Up or Down tuning button. They are reduced to mostly awesome by some designers who apparently don’t know how to use them correctly.

Case in point: the Kenwood VR405 surround receiver I recently picked up from the side of the road.

It’s a cheap and basic surround reciever, but it works (other than missing the volume knob), it was free, and it has a cool-looking rotary encoder on the front panel. Rotary encoders are like the bling of tactile input devices. Buttons are nice and all, but things that spin are just so much cooler. They also happen to work really well for linear controls like volume and tuning, for which they have been used for decades and still should be more than they are. (I’m looking at you, designers of 1980-s electronics-with-no-knobs and of infernal-car-stereos-with-button-densities-approaching-infinity.)

However, Kenwood got it completely wrong on this model: the input selector is rotary and the tuning/everything else “Multi Control” buttons are Up/Down buttons. Unlike rotary selector switches of yore this input selector wheel has no detent to tell your finger it has reached the next setting. This makes changing inputs quickly is very easy but stopping on the right one is very difficult. And tuning? Click, click, click, click, click, as fast as your finger can push the button you can change to the next frequency. Tiring. Why on earth didn’t they use the up/down buttons for the input selection and the rotary for tuning, like, you know, old-school tuners used to be? Some of the pricier models in the V/VR series were slightly better because they had a rotary encoder for both the Input and Multi controls, but Kenwood could have saved a couple pennies and given users a less frustrating UI at the same time by just using rotary for the Multi Control and buttons for the Input Selector across the whole line.

Heavy Weather

I don’t think I’ve ever seen that orange icon, until yesterday, at which point it was novel. Now, if I look carefully, I think I can see R2D2 and C3PO wandering across dunes. I never thought I’d look forward to 90° weather in Maine.

Gravely wins, Ice loses.

No match for the big metal after a two-day thaw. We love our machine.

The Machine Has Arrived

I moved the big Gravely up from my Dad’s this afternoon, and am now fully equipped to defeat snow. There is power in driving a full sixteen horse-power of Kohler iron through a snow-bank with a snow-thrower of caliber to remove most snow as fast as you care to wish.

This is to “snowblower” what “humvee” is to “truck”; gear drive, cast iron, and built to last.

Score! (The Free-From-The-Roadside-Furniture Edition)

On Tuesday I was on my way to work, about five minutes down the road, when I spotted an orphaned desk chair at the end of somebody’s driveway leaning a little drunkenly on three wheels. The fourth was thoughtfully taped on, though I mostly noticed the “FREE chair” sign, and mostly the “FREE”.  I, naturally, demonstrated to an empty road my car’s braking abilities and stuffed said chair into the back seat.

I don’t usually pick up desk chairs, I already have two good ones. But when a good oak desk chair shows up on the curb – patent 1918, in fairly good condition except for one leg the caster busted out of – I heed my primordial Yankee instinct to save good things from needless waste. That, and I’m pretty sure I heard it calling my name.

Score! The Goodwill-For-The-Win-(Again) Networking Edition

Once again we bring you news of great bargains, this time from the newly-opened South Portland location. Exhibit A is a Belkin N150 wireless b/g router, sans wall wart.

Most reviews I’ve found so far question the usefulness of this router’s existence, but for $4 I can’t complain too much. I’ll just set it to access point mode and leave the heavy lifting to my Netgear brick.

I also picked up a(nother) cheap meter, one I don’t feel bad about gluing to my workbench to always have a voltmeter handy. I felt obliged to pay all $2.99 after I broke the knob clicker in the store. (Subsequently fixed, though I’m still missing a part somewhere.)