UPS Invent Time Travel

I logged onto my Amazon.com account today to discover an item of mine had been delivered early. What surprised me is when I tracked the package via the UPS website for more detail, I discovered they had invented time travel! They haven’t got it quite right yet though, because my package ended up in the wrong state.

In my mind, someone was very confused to open the package and find a Blu-Ray movie, before the format was even released…

Yay UPS!!

Imagine if you could send packages back in time (without altering the timeline, i.e. the parallel universes approach). I would send myself a top-notch laptop back to 1991, because I was still using a 10 year old computer back then. I would also send myself a friend who knows a bunch of martial arts back to 1988 to kick a few arses.

On the other hand, what could your past self send you in return? That one is a little easier… you could just put something in a drawer for a number of years and it would have time travelled (unless it is food). You could ask your past self for a couple of shares of MSFT or GOOG. I, on the other hand, would gladly exchange the laptop for just one curry from my favourite Indian restaurant in England, which sadly shut its doors last year. R.I.P. Mughal Dynasty.

Stupidly Expensive Crap

Following on from my rant about Monster Cables, here is the latest plight in my life. I got a satellite radio for my car in 2002 back when they were still pretty expensive, and I still have it now. It works, but the volume knob broke off. I glued it back on in only the special way I can, and now it is wonky (bent, for you US readers out there). So I called up Pioneer to get a replacement, and they sell one – for $35! This is for a piece of plastic – it doesn’t have the actual volume control included, just the little piece of plastic that you turn! They know you are not going to buy a whole new stereo over a matter of $35, so they can charge what they want.

Incidentally, I bought it.

This gets worse though. The radio comes with a little remote control for the most lazy driver who can’t even reach 24 inches over to the front panel to change the track. It takes one of those button batteries, and it has a small latch to keep the battery in. Note exhibit A:

This is a piece of plastic about 25mm across (an inch), and they charge $11.77 for it! It’s smaller than a freaking Lego brick! Hello people! You can hold the battery inside with a piece of tape!!

Psycho Hotel

A couple of weeks ago I went to San Diego on business.ย When I arrived, I waited for the usual eternity for my bag, before realising it must have gone missing. After that I had to queue up to speak to an airline official for ages, only to be told it was still in Denver. Great. I had left Denver three hours ago and my bag was still there.

This is where the fun begins. I arrived in my hotel room to be greeted by a large “P” scrawled on the mirror in some kind of grease.

Feeling brave, I decided to check what was on the menu for room service. I looked on the desk and there was nothing, so I opened the drawer, and instead of the usual hotel information booklet and Latter Day Saints bible, I found an odd proclamation:

This actually scared me a little and I looked behind me expecting to have my head lopped off. This is when I noticed the smoke alarm hanging off the ceiling, probably from the last bloody massacre that occurred in the room.

The only thing I couldn’t photograph was the smell of paint in the room, obviously still strong because they had just painted over all the blood.

I asked for a new room.

Monster Cables

Cookie Monster

I haven’t said anything yet and I’ve already violated two copyrights – oops. Last night I was in Circuit City buying a new TV. I needed a couple of HDMI cables, but declined to buy the “cheap” cables on offer – they were charging $74.95 for 6 feet! The expensive ones (Monster Cables) started at well over $100. What surprised me was that DVI cables (essentially the same thing) cost about $100 in 2004 when using them with TVs was relatively rare, so they have actually gone up in price.

I know better than to spend crazy money on digital cables when I can get certified HDMI cables for $7 online. I actually bought a $100 cable in 2004 and compared it against an equivalent el-cheapo one, and found there to be absolutely no difference. I promptly returned it. The guy in Circuit City claimed that the colours were washed out with the cheapo cables. I told him I was a graphics engineer, and that it is impossible for random bit errors to selectively wash out particular colours in images, but he didn’t believe me.

I’m wondering, do many people actually buy into the belief that if you spend $200 on a power filter, you will actually see the difference? Reducing the mains hum delivered to a good amplifier can be a good thing, but how many people can actually hear that hum to start with? It makes me laugh when I see that people have spent hundreds on these cables when they have those tiny 6 inch high cube speakers and are watching their DVDs in simulated surround because they didn’t know to operate their receiver. Oh well.

PS. Someone told me recently that the cookie monster is on some kind of a diet. Poor bugger.

RAID

RAID can

Two weeks ago I had a realisation that the server I rely on for hosting websites, handling the home security system (future post on that to come) and secure file transfer was running off a 10 year old hard drive. This is what happens when you build Franken-Puter from a bunch of old parts. I opened it up, and sure enough, the assembly date on the hard drive was sometime in 1998. It’s a 10GB drive, which was pretty big (and expensive!) back then. Incidentally, my first computer had a 4MB hard drive. Yes, megabyte. I also disabled a line on the power supply that prevents it from turning on if the voltages are not high enough, which probably wasn’t the best idea. $100 later and I had two of the smallest hard drives I could find (80GB) and a new power supply costing a whopping $12.

No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the OS to boot from the new drives in a RAID 1 (mirrored) configuration. On Linux with software RAID, you set up an md (multiple disc) device and add the drives to that, then boot off the new md device instead of directly from one of the drives. The problem, that I found out after many hours, is that Ubuntu Desktop edition cannot boot from md devices due to the md device driver being loaded after the OS starts. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem. I had to reformat with Ubuntu Server edition.

I’m happier now that I have a good backup (although it is on site) and that everything is running off a good (though cheap) power supply. Hopefully I’ll get another 10 years out of it!

New Knight Rider

New Knight Rider

I am going to be one of those nerds who watches a new SciFi TV show and then posts on his blog a day later poking holes in the plot. Their first mistake: they picked the Mustang GT500 as the new car (the original was the Pontiac TransAm). It is a slow, boat-like wannabe race car that cannot turn corners without flipping on its back faster than Paris Hilton. It evokes none of the “wow” response that the original car did in the early 80s to impressionable young boys. Why didn’t they pick a decent car, like the Koenigsegg CCR (below)? Probably because this show is just a marketing machine for Ford.

Koenigsegg CCR

In the original TV series, Pontiac refused to let the writers mention the brand of the car on air because they were getting so many requests for the car, which they didn’t actually sell. I thought Ford made a good decision when they announced they were selling the special Knight Rider edition of this vehicle, but then again, I discovered that the sheer amount of advertising for this car during the commercial breaks meant that the 2-hour slot had more commercials than actual show. So what did this spectacular car do during this 2 1 hour show? Well, it’s bullet-proof, like the old car, but only if it is switched on! In one scene, the computer was switched off, and one of the windows broke with glass falling all over the street during a chase. In the next instant, the computer was turned on, and the glass magically reappeared! So, the car has a reservoir of liquid glass that it can use to fashion new window panes at will? Excellent.

Also, in one chase scene, the car was driving up a mountain pass whilst being pursued by a Ford SUV. It was only barely managing to keep ahead of the SUV. For a moment I thought this was silly: an SUV should never be able to keep up with even an average car around such tight corners, but then I remembered the reason: this is a Mustang. In terms of gadgetry, what did the car have inside? We saw two things: an LCD screen (my wife’s car has one) and a pop-up gear shifter (the Jaguar XF already has one, see 1:55 in the linked video). Wow. “Back in the day”, the original Knight Rider had things that were never seen in cars before – tiny TV screens, GPS-like tracking and more buttons and lights than a 747.

Worst of all: William Daniels, the original voice of KITT, is still alive – so why use Val Kilmer?

New Router

ย D-Link DIR-655 Router

Hopefully my websites won’t go offline constantly any more. This router already seems far better than my old Netgear 802.11g router, in that it hasn’t crashed in the last five minutes. ๐Ÿ˜‰

(American) Football Picks

Football Picks

For the last 17 weeks I have been playing Yahoo’s fantasy pro football picks, and I came in first place in my group of 15! The lowest score of each player was dropped (I missed the first week so scored a zero), and in the last week I moved up three places into first! Is this a bad time to admit that I don’t know the slightest thing about American Football? I guess this proves that some understanding of statistics and a bit of luck is all you need.

Car Audio Upgrade

It’s about time I upgraded my car’s speakers. I have a very nice head unit (CD player), but the speakers in my current car are the worst out of every car I have ever owned (except for my 1978 Mini Mayfair, which didn’t have any). They distort with bass and the front doors vibrate like crazy. I bought two pairs of Polk DB6501 component speakers on eBay, and they finally came after 3 weeks of anxious waiting. Component speakers consist of separate woofer and tweeter speakers for each channel, and a crossover is used to separate out the signals for each. Here’s one of the woofers:

Polk DB6501 loudspeaker

Pretty. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I mounted two woofers on the rear shelf (parcel shelf, as we say in England), without tweeters. Putting tweeters there would only serve to pull the soundstage further behind the listener, and this is a bad thing, according everything I have read. Here’s one of the crossovers dangling loosely in the boot. Note to self: JPEG compression doesn’t work too well with images that consist mainly of noise-like areas.

Polk crossover

I bought some Dynamat squares for the front door speakers in order to reduce any rattling. Dynamat is a strange product that consists of black sludge that feels a bit like Silly Putty sandwiched between a piece of wax paper and foil. You pull the wax paper off and stick it on the surface you are going to mount the speaker on. You then screw the speaker into place with the Dynamat sandwiched between them. It’s stupidly expensive – $25 for two 10×10 inch squares – and I bet it costs them pennies to manufacture that amount. It really worked though! Literally all the unwanted vibration in the front doors is gone! Here is a speaker mounted to the rear deck:

Polk DB6501 in rear shelf

When all six speakers (counting tweeters) were installed, the results were impressive! I get more sound at the same amplification levels due to the higher sensitivity and the bass distortion is gone! On some songs it sounds like I have a subwoofer in the boot, which is what I was aiming for, because I don’t really like them. Bad news though – thanks to all the fiddling with settings I did, one of the knobs snapped off the stereo and I can’t find a replacement anywhere. ๐Ÿ™

Robots

Recently I visited another company on a business trip, and they had some cool robots put together by the employees! Some are from kits and some are ready-assembled. The Robonova-1 biped (pictured, in gold) is made from a kit, and contains 16 servo motors. They can even dance! Now I want to make one…

Robots