brainwagon "There is much pleasure in useless knowledge." — Bertrand Russell


Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia

Black Tailed ParoquetToday's gem is Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia, which is not only interesting because of the subject matter, but also because it has a number of really nice bird prints like the black tailed paroquet reproduced on the right. It's really great that Project Gutenberg is reproducing more and more illustrated books with beautiful artwork.


An Audioblogging Manifesto

Thanks to Cory Doctorow for pointing out An Audio Blogging Manifesto, both in text format and as an mp3 file with inspiring background music.

Filed under: General Comments Off

XM Radio pulls PC hardware amid piracy concerns | CNET

Sigh. XM Radio pulls PC hardware amid piracy concerns | CNET

Guess they aren't interested in taking my money.

Filed under: General Comments Off

Apple – iMac G5

New iMacApple has just released a new iMac G5, and damn, it does look awfully cute. I like the trend of shrinking the footprint of computers, and in the grand scheme of things, the prices aren't terrible considering it includes a 17" LCD monitor and a new 1.6ghz G5 processor for only $1300. Very cool stuff.


Limits to Growth in Energy Consumption?

Sometimes a single sentence is enough to kick your brain into thinking about things in a different way than you have before. This rant was keyed off the sentence "There is no limit to the amount of energy an industrialized society will use per capita". I'd never really thought of it in precisely this way before, nor did it seem to me to be obviously true or false.

It is certainly true that I consume more energy than my father did, and his father, and so on back to the formation of industrialized society. The availability of inexpensive electricity and fossil fuels, and the general usefulness of them make their use almost obligatory. The food I eat isn't grown locally: much of it is shipped from hundreds of miles away.

As I thought about this, I tried to consider myself as a single energy exchanger. A human might expend about 2000 kilocalories of energy in a day. If we sum up the total energy consumed as we go about our day, and we look at the ratio of energy burned by our bodies to those expended on our behalf, is there any real lower bound on this ratio? If so, then what factors affect this ratio?

The limits are mostly economic. If energy is expensive, we realize that we can make due with less. We tend to conserve resources which are precious. We begin to make tradeoffs:
we buy smaller cars, more efficient appliances, and turn off lights. We also try to improve the efficiency of energy generation, storage and transmission to lower the overall cost.

What this means for the future is the interesting question. If one believes that breakthroughs in energy technology will mean the continued growth of cheaper energy sources, then it seems likely that society will continue to develop new means to use that energy to do work, even if the work is only marginally useful. On the other hand, if you believe that the increasing population will cause us to exhaust our non-renewable energy resources and breakthroughs in renewable sources aren't able to keep up, we will begin to reach our limits of energy growth.

When I first read The Limits To Growth in the eighties, it didn't really click with me that there was this indisputable growth in the desire of industrialized societies to use energy. If populations are climbing and simultaneously energy use per capita is climbing, but most of our energy resources are non-renewable, then something has got to give. The interesting question becomes: how can an industrialized society place an upper bound on the amount of energy it is willing to expend on behalf of individuals, and what quality of life will be represented at that level?

I don't have any answers, just questions. It was therefore not surprising that some googling
turned up some interesting ideas.

The Wikipedia turned up the work of Donella Meadows on leverage points to intervene in systems. The work of Joseph Tainter on Complexity, Problem Solving and Sustainable Societies seems to be most directly applicable.



Warning: not for the especially squeamish: eMJA: Myxoedema and a lost wedding ring


XM Radio and Time Trax

During one of my many explorations of the net, I found mention of a program called TimeTrax, a program which converts songs broadcast over XM Satellite Radio into mp3 files that you can play on your computer. This is especially nifty since XM radio doesn't have DJ's or the like, and you end up with nice, clean MP3 files.

Not surprisingly, the RIAA is a bit upset about this. Quoting:

A spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America said his organization had not reviewed the software, but said that in principle it was disturbed by the idea. "We remain concerned about any devices or software that permit listeners to transform a broadcast into a music library," RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy said.

Not surprising, but just what do they expect to be able to do about?

The program matches digital information including the artist name and then takes the analog music and encodes them into a properly named and tagged mp3 file. This is another instance of time shifting: a type of fair use established in the case Sony Corporation v. Universal Studio Productions, 1984. This Supreme Court decision (5-4) held that non-commercial home use recording is fair use. If I want to record every episode of a show, I can do so, for my own personal home use.

It's also completely unclear that this program represents any kind of DMCA violation, since you are required to purchase service from XM radio. No copy protection is being circumvented: you are merely re-encoding the analog stream produced by the XM PCR radio.

The most damning thing against XM PCR is the XM Radio service agreement, which includes the following:

b) Use Limitations.
You may not reproduce, rebroadcast, or otherwise transmit the programming, create unauthorized recordings of the programming, charge admission specifically for the purpose of listening to the programming, or distribute play lists of the Service. Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 9, we or any of our programming partners may prosecute violations of the foregoing against you and other responsible parties in any court of competent jurisdiction, under the rules and regulations of the FCC, and other applicable laws. Subscription to the Service does not grant you the right to use any of our or our partners' trademarks.

In other words, they can claim that you aren't allowed to timeshift. But can they really have any legal standing upon which to base this restriction? HBO thinks they can enforce similar restrictions. It's vaguely possible that XM could sue their customers for their unauthorized home recordings which are in violation of their service agreements, but I (and I am not speaking as a lawyer, so my opinion is worth zilch) fail to see how the RIAA can involve themselves in essentially a licensing dispute. If my understanding of the law is correct (again, caveat reader), they can't even deny XM radio access to their material, as such licensing and its cost are set by statute, not by negotiation.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.


RNC protests: Bikes Against Bush organizer arrested

Dot Matrix PrinterBoingBoing reports that Joshua Kingberg was arrested at the RNC in New York for operating his bicycle mounted dot matrix printer. It's an enormously cool hack: you basically ride the bike and it leaves a message in its trail in the same way a dot matrix printer works. The message is written in a water soluble chalk solution which washes right off. A very cool idea, and a pitifully sad day for free expression that he was both arrested and his cool gizmo confiscated.

But then the RNC is not known for its humor.


Kenneth Snelson

Thanks to the gents on Metafilter for calling my attention to Kenneth Snelson's exposition on Tensegrity. He has a nice presentation that shows the relationship between traditional weaving and tensegrity structures. Great stuff!

Filed under: General Comments Off

My Weekend

Well, it's Monday, and I'm back from my weekend trip to Disneyland. With the wife, son, and two of his friends in tow, we conquered California Adventure and the classic park. I must admit, I had a great time. Despite my 40 year old state, I decided that I would try to go on as many gut wrenching rides crowded with teenagers as I could, and for the first time went on California Screamin', the Maliboomer and the infamous Tower of Terror. It really was a blast, and helped to reset my psychological clock a bit.

Still, it was hard not to post to the weblog, and I did spend a bit of time thinking about it, even while slurping down water in an attempt to stay hydrated. I'm taking the week off, so I suspect I'll catch up with a couple of projects and maybe even write down some of my ideas about where I see blogging (and brainwagon in particular) going in the next year or two. Stay tuned.

Filed under: General, News Comments Off

Hamster-Powered Night Light

Summoning the power of the mighty hamster!Hamster-Powered Night Light is a really nice school project that the people at helped an eight grader realize. They modified a hamster wheel to be a custom generator, and also rigged an ordinary bicycle computer to give them "telemetry". Neat stuff, and definitely helps student learn about motors, generators, and magnetism.


A’s over Baltimore, 3-0

Baseball NewsJust a quick note after a memorable game. Rich Harden and Bruce Chen battled and each gave up no runs. Chen had a no-hitter into the sixth inning, when it was broken up by a single by Eric Chavez. Chen left without giving up a run in seven innings, relieved by Ryan, who pitched a perfect bottom of the eighth. Harden gave up no runs through eight, and Macha brought in Dotel to pitch the ninth, who got through the top without any serious trouble.

The left handed Ryan made short work of Hatteburg and Durazo in the bottom half of the ninth, and we were braced for extra innings. But Miller managed to eek out a single, and Crosby walked to put men on first and second with two outs. Scutaro knocked a fastball to deep left, and the unlike every other ball that died short of the wall, this one had just enough to clear it for his first walk-off homerun and a 3-0 victory.

I was home by 10:30. Awesome game.

Filed under: Baseball Comments Off

Audio and Video Blogging


I'm irritated today because I realize that there are magic djin inside my computer, and I don't know how to harness them to do my evil bidding. Well, or at least my bidding. Or maybe I just haven't had enough caffeine yet.

I'm trying to figure out how I can use video and audio to enhance blogging. Toward that end I've been reading a bit, experimenting with open source tools I have like mpeg4ip and ffmpeg, and pondering using devices like PDAs and Bluetooth to slog media files from their origin to the destination on the web.

Today's experiment concerns using Darwin Streaming Server to stream MPEG4 video files. I thought that if I created some very low bandwidth media files, I'd be able to stream them adequately even in the anemic bandwidth provided by my cable modem connection. But so far, even 28kbps video isn't streaming off my server with any adequate speed. More investigation is clearly needed.

So, I've been looking at gadgets lately. Adam Curry's wrote a little chunk of applescript which reads RSS feeds and scans them for mp3 files, and then will automatically download them to a playlist on your iPod when you dock it next. Others are duplicating the same idea in perl as well, so it seems like a nice idea, and particularly well suited for distributing audio blog information.

And speaking of the gadget front, Dan Lyke has apparently gotten his hands on a ZVUE: a portable mp3/divx player which costs $150. Neat little gadget. It ships with some software called ZFLICKS which is really just a repackaged version of VirtualDub (nobody should be without this program). ZFlicks is set to compress video to 300kbps, with a resolution of 160x120 and 128kbps audio. Apparently it's a little linux box underneath, which is very cool. A software updates gives it the ability to play OGG and WAV files. Neat, and cheaper (if not as versatile) as a PDA.

Dan also pointed me to VSPAN, a blogging site that specializes in video blogging. They have some nice attractive playback technology based upon Flash, and appear to have the whole ease-of-use thing down pretty well. I'll be checking it out more too.

Oh well, off to the baseball game tonight. Oakland vs. Baltimore. I doubt I'll have an opportunity to post more, but I'll be thinking as I BART over to the game. Ciao!

Filed under: Blogging 1 Comment

Twilight Zone meets Planet of the Apes

Twilight Zone, or Planet of the Apes?One of the cooler things I've seen in a while is this remake of The Planet of the Apes as a Twilight Zone Episode. An interesting bit of trivia was that Rod Serling was the writer of both. The production notes are actually quite illuminating: the editor read the introductions and closing narrations for every Twilight Zone episode to find one that thematically matched the description of Planet of the Apes. He then trimmed POTA down to thirty minutes and three acts. I think it works very well, and is a testimony to the quality of the original movie. Good stuff.


How-To Tuesday: Make 3-D photos

Those lads at have a nice tutorial as part of their How To Tuesday series on producing 3-D anaglyphs using free software. It's not rocket science, but it's a nice link.