Monthly Archives: November 2005

Gadget Stuff

I like to read the gadget sites like Engadget and Gizmodo. Being an engineer and a geek (and proud of it!), I am always fascinated by the stuff that people can come up with. For all of the faults of humanity, and there is definitely no shortage of those, people can be so incredibly creative and resourceful. Of course I often wish that they would direct some of those efforts, toward making the world a better place to live. But I am still amazed by the ingenuity of people. I like gadgets and I have my fair share of them, although there are plenty, that although they are fascinating, I still think are dumb and useless. Over on Engadget they have an item about a treadmill bike. treadmill bike Someone attached a treadmill to a bicycle frame to create a bike that you walk on to move instead of pedalling. Engadget’s caption says it all, “You know, you could also just walk.”

Meanwhile on Gizmodo they have been having a running joke about people’s ipod shrines. Now I love my ipod and take it almost everywhere with me. But I wouldn’t build a shrine to it. It is a device that I use all the time. I love the design and the user interface. I don’t worship it. I have also love legos since I was a kid and my son max loves them too. Having said all that, I still this particular ipod shrine is very funny. leog ipod shrine

Car parts can be profitable

A Detroit Free Press story yesterday proves that auto parts can be profitably manufactured in Michigan. More importantly this is being done while workers are being paid good wages. The interesting thing here is that this is a privately held company. It seems that if the management of a company doesn’t have to worry about showing analysts constant growth every three months, they can invest some money in the company and people and actually grow more and make money. Instead of taking all the money out of the company they put some of it back in. Three cheers for Chuck O’Brien and Ring Screw works!!! We need more people like him to help revive the Michigan and US economies.

Diebold still trying to corrupt the election process! 2

After the fiasco of a major digital voting failure in Carteret County, North Carolina during the 2004 elections, the NC legislature passed a particularly restrictive new law governing electronic voting systems.

The new bill establishes stringent requirements for voting technology selection, requires election officials to use voter verified paper ballots for recounts and audits, mandates random hand-to-eye audits of paper ballots, and establishes the necessity of post-election voting system tests. North Carolina’s new voting machine requirements are unique, and unusually restrictive compared to similar laws found in other states. Under the new law, which received widespread public support, manufacturers must provide the state government with complete access to voting machine source code during the bidding process so that state officials can evaluate the reliability and integrity of the technology.

Diebold, the company that manufactures a particularly notorious voting system, is fighting these new requirements. They don’t want to provide the source code for their system and have gone to court to request a permanent exemption from these new rules. Diebold seems to prefer protecting their code in the courts than they do on their servers. In 2002 a copy of their source code was downloaded from one of their ftp servers that was left wide open. Subsequent analysis showed that it was running on microsoft windows, and used excel as part of the mechanism for tallying the votes. Now anyone who has used a windows based pc in recent years knows, it is a ridiculously insecure operating system and very easy to hack. As it turns out the diebold system was so poorly designed that someone could easily go into the system and change the vote tallies, without anyone being able to trace back or detect that it had even been modified. Internal memo’s and e-mails from diebold have also documented unauthorized changes they have made to software in voting machines. More information on Diebold voting system problems can be found at Well now that someone is really trying to crack down on the abuses of Diebold, they are claiming that they can’t reveal the code because it based on windows.

Well this is bullshit! These rules were put in place for the public good. They are not unreasonable. In fact I don’t think they go quite far enough. I personally believe that any software used in voting machines should be open-source. If a company can’t or won’t play by these rules they should just take a hike. They should not be given any exemptions. This goes for not just Diebold but any other company. Governments should use these rules and only purchase systems that follow these rules. Fortunately the Electronic Frontier Foundation has gone to court to try and prevent this exemption and we should all hope they are successful. If they are not and Diebold is allowed to keep there code secret we will never be able to ensure fair and honest elections in this country again. Ars Technica is a really good site and they have a good write-up about this and it is worth reading.

I do buy music 10

For anyone who has been reading my recent rants on sony and drm, I just want to clarify something. I don’t have a problem with paying for music. I think musicians should be compensated for their work. I just don’t believe in supporting overpaid executives and lawyers for big media companies. In fact in recent months (coinciding with listening to podcasts) I have purchased more music than I have in a long time. It’s just that I now get it either directly from artists through their websites or from online stores like that sell mp3 files with no drm and give a much bigger share of the proceeds back to the musicians. I have purchased music from Brother Love, Brad Sucks, the Arts and Sciences, the Black Furies, Jukebox Zeros and others. Demonstrate to the world that we don’t need drm. Buy non-drm music and boycott anything that is copy-protected.

Boycott Sony products!!

On top of all the other bullshit and lies from Sony over the past 2 weeks regarding their DRM rootkit (see my previous posts here and a good timeline summary from BoingBoing), it now appears that Sony themselves have violated a copyright. It looks like some of the software sony used is ripped off from the Lame mp3 encoder. Lame is an open source software project published under the GPL, which allows anyone to use it for free, but you have to acknowledge it and return any modifications back to the community for further use under the same license. Well it appears that Sony or one its DRM suppliers used the open-source Lame code and neither acknowledged nor gave back the modifications. For a company that makes so much noise about protecting their intellectual property, they don’t seem to have any qualms about stealing others work.

Sony in general is very consumer unfriendly. Ever since they release the playstation portable last spring they have constantly been releasing firmware updates for the thing. While they have added a couple of new functions most of the updates have done nothing more than disable the hacks that people have done to allow them to create and play their own games on the device. There are people out there creating there own games or emulators to play older games. Sony doesn’t like this because they don’t get a cut like they do when people buy new games from the store. So they play cat and mouse, but each time they do this it is defeated again within a couple of weeks.

I will no longer purchase any Sony products of any kind, including hardware, software, music, anything! I urge anyone reading this to also boycott sony. Clearly this company does not deserve to be in business any more.

Update: Boing-boing is keeping a running log of events in the Sony rootkit drm debacle here

Blister packs must be BANNED!!

I would like to find the people who concieved the blister pack package and for them to spend the rest of their lives just trying to open these packages and extract the contents for people who buy stuff in these packages. You know what blister packs are. Those clear plastic packages that are sealed all the way around. And of course the only way to get these things open is with a knife or a large pair of scissors. And even if can cut the package you end up with sharp edges that cut your hands as you try to get it open. And if you get the item out and it turns out to be defective and you have to return it, you have now destroyed the package. Blister packs are just evil.

Is Condi a hypocrite or just stupid? 2

In the Washington Post yesterday they had an article about the State Dept’s annual report on religious liberty. In the piece secretary of state Condi Rice is quoted as saying:

“The United States has stood for the values of human decency, of a government that respects the religious freedoms of its people, that respects the individual rights of its people, for its entire history,” she said. “And let me just be very clear. We hold . . . those values today as strongly as we ever have.”

That’s fine as long as we don’t apply those rules to our own government. The shrub administration seems to have no qualms about enforcing religious freedom as long as you choose to believe in a monothiestic religion. If however, you prefer to eschew religion altogether, you are an outcast. When is the last time, you saw an athiest elected to a high political office in the United States? When is the last time you saw an openly athiest judge or cabinet member appointed? There are plenty of people who are athiest or agnostic in this country who are emminently qualified and vastly more moral than most of the people in the executive or legislative branches of our government. Why are they always ignored? Why does someone have to be “god-fearing” to participate in our government? We may not have an officially established religion, (yet!) but we do seem to have an unofficial ban on the non-religious in government. And this “In God We Trust” thing, who is this “WE”?

Morning Light

I so wish I had my camera with me this morning on the drive to work. As I was heading east on Huron River Dr, I looked toward the horizon. The sky was overcast above me, but there was a gap between the eastern horizon and the clouds. As the sun rose above the horizon it was a golden disc that spanned that gap. I turned north on Superior Rd and after crossing the river the road is lined on both sides with trees. Because of the way the sunlight was reflecting off the cloud cover from the east, the trees were bathed on their eastern side in a golden light. It looked just amazing. It was one of those magical moments that only lasts a couple of minutes before the sun rises a little higher and then it’s over. Fortunately I got to see it even if I didn’t to capture it to share.

Working with digital images 14

Yesterday when I came home the sun was shining and it was beautiful out. I grabbed the camera and started taking some pictures. I decided to do some experimentation with working in raw mode. Higher end digital cameras can save images in what is called a raw mode. In raw mode the image is saved exactly as it comes off the sensor with no adjustments for white balance, sharpening or anything else. There is also no lossy compression that you get when you save to jpeg. Here is one image of a tree in my front yard exactly as it came out of the camera.

Unretouched tree

Then I played around with the Image in Gimpshop, an open-source free clone of photoshop. This is what I eventually got.

Modified tree

I took some photography classes when I was in high school, and did a lot of darkroom work. But I can do so much more now with images than I ever could them. And all without the smelly chemicals.