Recently in Technology Category

Simply put, my iPhone's GPS appears to be unable to figure out where I am when I want it to (when I'm at home it usually puts my location out in the estuary near Coast Guard Island; apparently I spend a lot of time on a boat. Or floating). Using it to navigate around a city with it is fraught with peril (the other day I was trying to find a small street in the Bayview -- I was only a couple blocks off but just wanted to know whether to turn right or left -- and it insisted I was in the Richmond). Even when it does by some miracle place my location roughly correctly -- say, within a block or so -- moments later my locator will jump a half mile in another direction as if I were driving a quantum vehicle.

I'm sure it's some freak thing about my phone, since this is not something my friends with iPhones complain about, but basically, if somebody were to steal my phone and download my location, they'd get a set of locations that are exactly NOT where I ever go. So good luck with that.

Cutting Plastic is Endless

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There's no artful way to say it, and if there were, I'm too tired to come up with it. Cutting plastic on the laser cutter takes forever. Here's the laser cutter in action on some 1/16" acrylic. This much cutting took two hours, and as you can see in the photo the plastic curled from the heat.

Sloooooow laser cutting

I spent three sessions on plastic cutting and got, well, barely anything actually done. That sucked. Of course, had I been trying to make this stuff by hand I would be nowhere near as done as I am, but that is small consolation.

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Laser Fun


I spent some time today at Techshop, working with one of the laser cutters there. On Friday evening, Noel and I took the intro to laser cutting class and I had spent much of the weekend working on some drawings to try out.

Techshop has two laser cutters: an Epilog Summit and an Epilog Helix. The Summit has a 22" x 17" cutting area (although larger materials can fit into the machine; I was using 24" stock), while the Helix has a 24" x 18" cutting area (and that's about as large as the material can be). The Helix is a newer, more powerful, faster machine. The Summit is more often available, and as I happened to need a lot of time, it was the one I used today. I spent about six hours on the system, and stopped because I was going to go crazy if I had to spend another minute there watching the machine sloooooowly cut the wood.

What follows are some of my notes on the Summit and the materials I was using.

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Credit Where Credit is Due


I'd seen other people mention the phenomenon, but it wasn't until the last few months that I noticed it in my own site stats: people on other sites hotlinking my photos then, oddly enough, claiming that they were their own.

(Hotlinking, for the non-geeks in the audience, is the practise of putting an image on a web page that refers to the copy on my server, so I have to serve it up for them. The other option is for the offender to copy the photo and put it on their own server, which I must assume happens often enough, but it doesn't show up in my web stats, so whatever.)

This confuses me because a) it's patently obvious to anybody that those images don't belong to those people because I don't serve images to other sites, so they get a broken image on their page, b) my life is far too lame to be imitated.

I mean, seriously. Monday through Friday I am in school all day and into the night. Saturday and Sunday I race home and basically spend the entire weekend working on the house. My pictures are really not that interesting, except for the occasional weekend trip to the beach. But those are not the photos people link to. I could totally get it if people were all over my starfish photos or some of the plant stuff or even the cuter piccies of the dogs. But what gets linked to are photos of: some dirty dishes after a dinner party, Noel's car stuffed with insulation, and Rosie with peanut butter on her nose (inexplicably popular in Belgium).

I could understand people pilfering the better pictures (maybe they do it by copying and I never know), and I know at least one person has been caught passing one of my drawings off as his because his teacher e-mailed me about it (to verify that my drawing was mine, actually; fortunately I was able to send him a photo of myself holding the original drawing). I understand why people cheat. Every one of these people must be living a life more interesting -- or at least interesting to 15-year-olds -- than I do. So why are they pretending my stuff is theirs?

I really do not understand people.

Something I'm Not Understanding

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I must be missing something somewhere, but I keep reading articles about the iPod that say things like "well if you want unlimited music, no version of an iPod will work with that."

I have an iPod. Actually, I have two iPods, though one is mostly used as a data storage device. I put my music on them, I can take it off (well, remove it; actually moving the files from the iPod back to the hard drive on the computer is more complicated, though possible). There are no limits on this. Sure, we had to rip all our CDs to MP3, and that took a while, but using them on an iPod doesn't change that, and if it did, we could restore them by, well, re-ripping the CDs.

An iPod is not the iTunes Music Store. You do not have to use iTunes to fill it with music, though if don't own any CDs you want to listen to and you're not into buying albums, that might work great for you. For me, not so much. I'm a big fan of the album. Back when it was possible to search the net and listen to music other people had mentioned or I thought I vaguely remembered liking when I was 14 without being sued into poverty by the RIAA, if I liked the song I would still delete the (usually badly ripped) MP3 and buy the album. I'm old fashioned that way. Nowadays, the whole idea of subscribing to a music service with "unlimited" music available is unappealing because ninety-nine percent of what they have there is not of interest to me -- I either already own it or don't care for it. It's like a vegetarian going to an all-you-can-eat steakhouse. Kind of a waste.

I guess the big difference between me and those guys is that I use my iPod to listen to my music, not to buy music. I own hundreds of CDs already, and I'm not a huge consumer of music any more; the tactics used by record companies in recent years offend me. And the music available online through these music stores is still produced by those same guys, which is why it comes with lots of entanglements in exchange for the lower price; even on the "unlimited" services. So I've really stopped spending money on music lately. Not that anybody seems to care, of course, but at least I feel better.

Plus, now that I've found that podcasts of NPR shows (not to mention BBC, ABC [Australian Broadcast Company], and CBC podcasts), the shows I download use up all my listening-to-anything time. I can't listen and design at the same time, can't listen and write, or listen and do engineering calculations. I don't feel any need to have a constant soundtrack to my life. That leaves me my daily exercise walk, driving between the Bay Area and SLO, and occasionally an evening around the house. I also listen to radio shows when I'm slaving away over a model in the studio, or while drafting. I hardly ever listen to music any more, and when I do, it's one of the albums or playlists I already have. My old friends.

So I don't get how limiting an iPod is supposed to be. I have more stuff than I can listen to: I often have to go through and purge things I won't have time for or that don't quite make the cut any more. Even if I were listening to music all the time, I have enough music on my iPod to last more than a month without repeats. Noel and I did the iPod challenge on our cross-country road trip in 2004, letting it randomly select from the entire body of our shared music collection while we drove from California to Maine and back. That barely touched ten percent of the music there; since then I have deleted a lot of horrid folk music of his to make room for more of my stuff. I also have more than 24 hours worth of podcasts (Forum is two hours a day all week, so it piles up fast) on the iPod, and more than a week's worth of podcasts waiting to be put on the iPod when I've listened to what's there. None of this is bound into a DRM system that keeps me from putting it on any MP3 player I want.

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I have a regular iPod, on which I keep all my music (and radio shows I've downloaded as podcasts -- kind of like Tivo for the radio, except I listen to a lot of stuff from Australia that's just not available here), so forth. I also have an iPod Shuffle, which I use for listening to a smaller number of things while walking around campus or when carry the full iPod is unwieldy. I use half the Shuffle as a flash drive for large files for school: right now it's loaded with CAD files for a project I'm working on.

Usually I leave the regular iPod attached to the laptop docking station at home, where it feeds into a pair of speakers so I have a little stereo. I used to have it disconnected, but I like having the flexibility to listen to things I have on the laptop or things on the iPod without having to move the cable from the speakers around all the time.

Here's the kicker: If I want to move files on and off the Shuffle, I have to remove the regular iPod from my system, because for whatever reason the Mac won't allow both to be connected at the same time. Which means that instead of being able to plug in the Shuffle and quickly add a few files or move stuff around, I have to go through this detach-attach-detach-reattach rigamarole with the two peripherals.

I have to do this because lots of people are afraid that I will copy music from one device to another, whether that is totally legal or not. I don't copy music: I have all the music I need (in fact, I'm not likely to buy much more because I'm sick of being treated like a criminal because I want to use the music in a completely legal way the seller didn't anticipate). What I copy are my own CAD files, which I own completely, or podcasted radio shows, which is pretty much the point of podccasting.

I'm not very happy with how the Shuffle works in that way: it's nice to have a small MP3 player to carry with me, especially one that is also a flash drive for school work. But being reminded every time I want to connect it to my laptop that Apple assumes I have criminal intent is kind of irritating. The major problem is that everybody assumes I'm a criminal when it comes to MP3s (for the record, my MP3s are legitimate backup copies of CDs I own; I don't have any music I didn't pay for or have given to me by the rights holders). So no matter what other system I buy, I'm going to run into this problem.

In many ways, I miss the days when nobody knew what the internet was.

No, Seriously


I re-enabled comments. Glad to see that made so many of you happy. However, I've got comments set to be pre-screened, and unless you give me a VALID e-mail address, and yes, by valid I mean one where I can send you an e-mail and you will respond to me, I'm just not going to put your comment up. Don't give me that BS about spam -- I don't post e-mail addresses, and I don't spam or sell addresses to spammers. They are for my own assurance that you are who you say you are, and because it's a policy I'm enforcing it uniformly, no matter how benign the comment might be. I don't think it's too much to ask that commenters identify themselves at least to me on my own website.

So thanks for all the comments. Consider sending me e-mail telling me who you are so I can actually post them here.



I upgraded Movable Type, the software that I use to handle the data on this site. This is part of my grand effort to fix my broken comments, and I am almost there, except that my preview template is broken. But you can now post comments, as long as you're OK with not being able to preview them.

Because of the massive amounts of spam, all comments are screened before posting. And I need a valid e-mail address, which will not be posted online. I don't think that's an unreasonable requirement, but just FYI, those e-mail addresses will never be rented or sold or whatever people do with data these days. They're basically there to give me a way to contact you.

What Business are You In?


I have been doing some material research for work this week. This is pretty simple stuff: go through a specification, find products named there, get data sheets on them, and organize them in a binder. It's a bit easier than it used to be because all that stuff is available online, or it should be.

So here's my peeve of the week: when I go to the web site for a roofing tile manufacturer, in order to get product information for use in a multi-million-dollar project, I have to register and give the company complete contact information and data about the company where I work in order to download the PDF of their brochure.

I mean, what the hell? I have two options for getting this information: I either download it myself and print it out at my own expense, OR I call the manufacturer and have their paid representative mail me a four-colour glossy brochure. Which one do you think is cheaper and easier for the manufacturer? So why do they try to restrict my access to that method? They're in the business of selling ROOFING TILES, not brochures. All they are doing is making me less inclined to save them time and money -- I'm an intern, so having my contact info for a summer internship is not going to help them market to me should I ever end up in a position to choose roofing tile. They're being stupid and stingy about their marketing materials, which is about as short-sighted as you can get.

Businesses that forget their core business plan lose in small ways over long periods. If you sell roofing tile, then you should be letting anybody download your product information who wants it. And giving away CAD details like it's going out of style. Architects and engineers find that sort of thing way more useful than coffee cups or logo caps, and they use it, and when they use it they end up using your actual product. Save yourself some money by telling customers, "Yeah, all that data is on our web site: there's a link right on the home page to a special area for you."

The only people who should charge for CAD details are draftsmen, and the only people who should charge for a brochure are brochure salesmen, should such a profession exist.

Cameron Marlowe is finishing up his PhD at MIT, and I filled out his relatively simple survey on my blogging habits just to ruin his nice, clean data.

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

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