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The Obsessive Mike Davis March 16, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Brain, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Mutants, Photography, Publishing Tools, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys, Video.
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Every once in a while you happen upon someone or something so fascinating you just have to stop and see, hear or read more. I found this guy’s webpage, and have to admit I read the whole damn thing.  Like Boy Genius, Mike Davis probably started out with only one hobby in mind: astronomy.  Of course, that sort of hobby is an open-ended sinkhole of time and money.
And genius.
Or, at least obsessive improvements.  He apparently got into grinding lenses and casting mirrors (because that’s how the big kids do it.  A high-quality telescope is an enormous expense), probably got into LINUX for governing the scope, recording the images and putting them on the web.  But wait, there’s more.
I am guessing he bought a property in Arizona far out into the boonies to avoid light pollution.  Since it is utterly remote, it is unsurprising that it’s got no electric service, so he made a windmill and later a sunmill (you know, solar panel system) to power his equipment and such…then put a cabin around it all (he didn’t build it but bought it, presumably because it had to be on-site and he doesn’t have that much vacation time available).
Go kill some time at his website: Mike’s World and you can thank me later.  I am still reading things from his Miscellaneous Projects page, like

  • Cutting Circles out of Glass
  • Home-Built Pen Plotter
  • Quick and Easy Car Laptop Tray
  • Making My Own Soap
  • New and Improved Charge Controller Design
  • improvised DC generator (lawn edger plus permanent magnet DC motor)
  • Home-Built Biomass Gasifier
  • Raspberry Pie based all-in-one computer
  • home-made swamp cooler (see also cabin in Arizona)

I’m not sure, but I think I met him at a star party on Mt. Lassen last year (~August 13).

Break Time March 6, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Photography, Publishing Tools, Toys.
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On the roof a block away, two guys take a lunch break.  My new camera took this beautifully.

Kindle Paperwhite September 11, 2013

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New Kindle Paperwhites are on sale (kind of permanently, I think) at Amazon for $119. This is the lit-up-easy-to-read-in-bed-or-camping version.

I am not hinting; my old one works quite well. The only thing I would do differently is to make the Kindle easier to browse through the titles, since I have like a thousand books on mine.


EXCITING UPDATE:  Best Buy has ’em for $99 today.  02-10-2014, that is

Photoshop Milestone August 10, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Photography, Publishing Tools, Toys.
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Well, not so much for Photoshop, but for us poor suckers who believe faked photos.  Dartmouth and UC Berkeley researchers created a software program that can tell if a photo is faked by testing whether the shadows within are consistent with a single light source throughout the photo.

"Our method shifts the dialogue from ‘does the lighting/shadow look correct?,’ which is well known to be highly unreliable, to a discussion of whether an analyst has correctly selected the location of cast and attached shadows in an image, a far more objective task," says senior author Hany Farid, a professor of computer science and head of the Image Science Group at Dartmouth. "In this regard, our method lets humans do what computers are poor at—understanding scene content—and lets the computer do what humans are poor at—assessing the validity of geometric constraints."

The study, titled "Exposing Photo Manipulation with Inconsistent Shadows," was presented last week at the Association for Computing Machinery’s SIGGRAPH conference, to be published in the journal ACM Transactions on Graphics in September.
I wonder how many fakes this technique will catch.

Clever Little Vampires, They Are September 14, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Publishing Tools.
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Stuffilike.net has an RSS feed app for your Android phone…actually, anyone can make one from their RSS feed at appyet.com.  It ‘s a clever way for the appyet.com people to get lots of other folk’s RSS feed to show ads for them and make a bit of money.  Pretty nice business model, if you ask me.  I may try it myself.

The app creation that their website does is actually a painless introduction to how to publish an app on play.google.com, so I recommend you walk through it just to be able to say you did.

I Should Explain This to Normal People April 10, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Publishing Tools, Video.
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I test (other people’s) code for a living, which often involves boring, repetitive keystrokes, mouseclicks and other user actions before producing a desired result (i.e., showing me where it’s broken).  This can be automated in Visual Studio 2010 easily, but checking that the desired result has been achieved can be somewhat more difficult or at least non-intuitive.  The process of checking a result or condition is nicely described in this video.

Win CE Audible Spanish Flashcards January 20, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Publishing Tools, Toys.
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This is an update of previous work on the Win CE Spanish Flashcards program I wrote earlier.  I find that driving while using this I would look away too often from the road, which is stupidly unsafe. The new and improved program here will speak the word displayed in a sexy Spanish lady’s voice while displaying the word.  You can turn it off by pressing the Options button on the bottom left of the screen.  Everything else works as before.

I ran into a nasty little problem while creating the .CAB file which contains the installation, since I have a thousand sound files, which is more than the cabwiz.exe which comes with Visual Studio 2008 can accommodate…and the error code for this defect is completely unhelpful, in the grand Microsoft tradition:

Error: File c:\users\[me]\appdata\local\temp\wizbbe1.inf contains DirIDs, which are not supported

ERROR: The Windows CE CAB Wizard encountered an error.  See the output window for more information.

It turns out that VS2008’s cabwiz.exe chokes on more than 998 included files, and this application has 1057.  The workaround is to download the SDK for Windows Mobile 6 and use the cabwiz.exe (and the cabwiz.ddf) from that version instead (C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio 9.0\SmartDevices\SDK\SDKTools\CabWiz.exe and CabWiz.ddf with the ones under C:\Program Files\Windows Mobile 6 SDK\Tools\CabWiz). No problem once I had done this.

Here is the all-new singing and dancing Win CE Spanish Flashcards App.

Monthly Donations To Wikipedia January 4, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words, Publishing Tools, Uncategorizable.
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Monthly donations to Wikipedia can be done through PayPal, if you don’t want to use your credit card.  I have said this before, but this project probably has benefitted mankind more than any other literacy project other than the web itself and deserves to have full funding. 

Where your donation goes:

Technology: Servers, bandwidth, maintenance, development. Wikipedia is the #5 website in the world, and it runs on a fraction of what other top websites spend.

People: The other top 10 websites have thousands of employees. We have fewer than 100, making your donation a great investment in a highly-efficient not-for-profit organization.

So, you can afford a buck a month.  Best value on the planet.

Win CE 5.0 Dictation Application December 15, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Publishing Tools, Toys.
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I never found an application which would automatically take a note for me when I would just talk to it (without having to push a button first), so I wrote one.  Be happy for me; this is my second useful application for WinCE and I’m actually quite thrilled.  I have a long commute and often think of little notes I should jot down, and have no hands-free way of doing this…until now.

Dictation gives me sixty seconds of WAV-file goodness, with the recording beginning as soon as it opens.  I used the “Voice Speed Dial” in the Settings menu to record my voice saying “Dictation”.  This device opens the application for me, and the app does the rest, leaving the WAV file with a timestamp-based filename in the Dictation directory when the Save button is hit (take your time; it won’t go more than sixty seconds).  I can then restart the recording and get another WAV file with the second button for the next result and so on, but this requires button pressing.  A third button closes the app, which is oddly enough required for this application so Voice Speed Dial can automatically reopen the application later1, when inspiration and/or regret strikes.


1 WinCE applications do not usually close by themselves, which can eat up a lot of memory if you don’t manage that yourself.  Of course, this comes in handy if you want the FlashCards application to keep your place, as I do.

Adventures in C# .NET Programming November 4, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Publishing Tools, Toys.
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I promised a while ago to write a review of James Foxall’s Teach Yourself Visual C# 2008 in 24 Hours and I meant it at the time.  Instead I have found that I learned enough from his first book Teach Yourself Visual Basic 2008 in 24 Hours: Complete Starter Kit.  The two languages are much alike and the .NET framework supports them both.  I am probably going to stick with C# since my company uses it in its various scientific applications.  The other reason is that I need to learn a heck of a lot more than how to use the interface, so I started to program a flashcard program for Spanish.

Like all frail, elderly types I have real trouble learning a new language so I looked for a flashcard program with mixed success.  Professional programs for my (also frail, elderly) phone (a WinCE 5.0 job) cost a pile and had really tiny fonts.  I decided to make my own.

I don’t know that I need to tell you how hard this was or how many times I had to ask for help from wiser minds (thanks Ben, Shabnam and Mark!) with the requisite 10000 hours under their belts.  But I muddled through somehow and even figured out what went wrong on the last few things without help from my cow-orkers (hyphenation intentional).

Here’s how it looks on the emulator:

image image

You can see that it’s set for the second set of flashcards (twenty words a set, fifty sets).  The top button flips to a new Spanish word.  The bottom will show you the English equivalent if you press it.  My phone and the emulator have trouble with accented Spanish characters, but that’s a job for the future.

I learned to parse files from WordsGalore, a free flashcard program for PC which I strongly recommend, with support for Spanish, Chinese and Korean.  I haven’t included much of WordsGalore’s marvelous functionality such as the elimination of words in which the student is already confident, but the phone probably can’t handle it (not just that I can’t program it, yet).  I learned the basics of debugging using Visual Studio 2008.  I learned to plagiarize by examining other’s code (“only please to call it ‘research’”).  I learned how to make .CAB files for easy distribution (look here).  I learned that my cow-orkers are very patient with me, for which I am truly grateful.

Exciting update:  I modified it to include a switch button which allows the English words to display first instead:


A Sunset Cruise October 10, 2011

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An excellent excuse for playing with Autostitch.

A Cloudy Day September 15, 2011

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Bitcasa is a startup which installs a small utility on your drive, making it possible to have infinite storage in the cloud ($10/month for infinite, that’s infinite, storage). "We will be the last storage device or service you ever buy."  Mac only, but follow the link to sign up for the beta and wait for the PC version (like me).  I am seriously getting this for my daughter and her film classwork.

Cupric Calligraphics May 23, 2011

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This guy makes copper printing plate the same way we make circuit boards (ferric chloride).


The prints come out really nicely.  I didn’t ask him what ink he uses, but I suspect it’s a standard oil-based one.  This can be a nice method: you can print delicate traces using this kind of technology just like circuit boards.

3D Scanning on the Web! April 25, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Brilliant words, Photography, Publishing Tools, Toys.
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A website (http://www.my3dscanner.com) has a nifty little service that allows you to create a pointcloud (and therefore potentially a fully-realized 3D scan) from a series of photographs taken ~60 degrees apart.  You walk around it rather than rotating the object, so this can be used on a statue in a park, or a person holding very, very still.


Still very tricky, but the idea is great.  They have a helpful set of instructions on how to photograph correctly and another on how to make a 3D model out of the resulting point cloud.  Also, it’s all written in a friendly and cheerful tone, which is even better.

Sunset Parking Lot Panorama April 25, 2011

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pano of parkinglot second

I can’t help it if I like sunsets.  The only way to share this one with my wife is for her to click on the photo for the panorama view.  I like this one because it is closest to the real colors that evening.

Stinson Beach from Mount Tamalpais April 21, 2011

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Click on the picture to see the panorama widget.pano of Mt. Tamalpais view of Stinson Beach

Another Low-cost 3D Scanner April 13, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Publishing Tools, Toys.
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David Software makes a suite of 3-D scanning tools with a low-cost (and probably low-resolution) hardware.  You make a little video clip of a laser-line scanner flashing over the object you want scanned against a 3-D calibration box and feed it into their software and a point cloud is generated.  Then you use DAVID-Shapefusion to make exportable files to plug into your RepRap or MakerBot.

david laserscanner
Cute, huh?  I’m guessing it doesn’t work nearly that easily without a lot of tweaking.  One reason I’m guessing this is that there is a wiki, which implies a lot of wiggle room and need for lots of (unpaid?) folks to help write the documentation.  Looking at the wiki, it’s pretty clear that this is the case.  There are problems with lighting, scan angles, different colors of objects, different colors of lasers, etc…but it still seems like a cost-effective way to scan something for 3-D manufacture.  I wonder how large an object can be scanned?  Be sure to buy your laser from here instead from David Software…it’s about ten times cheaper, and I’m assuming my readers are in the USA.

David Software is downloadable in the trial form here.

Getting There, One Bit at a Time April 12, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Publishing Tools, Toys, Video.
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Trimensional, a 3D scanning application for the current incarnation of iPhone (the one with the user-facing camera), can create a 3D model of an object held close to the phone using the light from four corners of the screen and assembling the video images into a 3D model in STL, OBJ, or PLY format.  It’s an app you have to purchase and it’s only for iPhone right now.

Still, it’s another important (because it’s among the first easy to use) application in the chain of innovative methods to create or copy 3D objects with 3D printing.

Poor Helpless Creature February 15, 2011

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It’s PhotoShopped, but the little guy looks purrfectly forlorn.

Optimism February 15, 2011

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Agile development is a software project development method (and other types of business activities, as well) which organizes small, efficient groups around short-term goals like making a working software product on a (say) two-week cycle.  The included software features are usually expressed as “user stories”.

burn-down chart1

This is a burn-down chart for the user stories of one of my company’s newest products…and this image is an excellent way to find out if anyone I work with reads my little blog, as I could catch hell for this (note the careful use of the blur tool above).