Sony panoramic mirror makes for a cheap omnicam 
Sunday, June 27, 2010, 10:13 PM - Misc TechnoToys
Sony sells mirror assemblies designed to turn their cheap video cameras into omnicams. The widget contains an appropriately-shaped mirror with a plastic casing that fits around the lens of small cameras. It costs $83.00, which is about 5 times cheaper than the nearest competitor. The part number is X25467051.

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AT&T Wireless "Unlimited" plan was not unlimited at all 
Monday, June 7, 2010, 09:10 AM - Misc TechnoToys
I don't know if I should call this "false advertising" or "bait and switch".

Last year, I got a family plan from AT&T Wireless, with cheap/free phones for the whole family. I explicitly asked about the cost of unlimited data plans and was told it was $15/month. A few months later, I bought a Google Nexus One, and went to the AT&T Wireless website to activate the "unlimited data plan". I clicked the "AT&T recommended unlimited data plan" for $15/month.

The plan does have a fine print that says "data unlimited is not available on PDA/Pocket PC, RIM devices, or laptop connect cards". But it says nothing about Android phones.

In any case, the service worked great for about 9 months. Then a few days ago, I got a notice by SMS and by email saying that I had a "smartphone" (whatever that is), and that they would just switch me to the $30/mo unlimited data plan for smart phones. I went to the AT&T Wireless website and looked for their definition of smart phone, but I could only find a list of smart phones that AT&T distributes, which (obviously) doesn't include my Nexus One.

They say their $15/mo plan is "unlimited data" but it really isn't. It is limited by the phone hardware they allow it on. In you opinion, is this false advertising? Is their forceful switching of my service from $15/mo to $30/mo "bait and switch"?

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iPhone vs Droid, XKCD style. 
Friday, December 25, 2009, 11:22 AM - Misc TechnoToys

link to more XKCD.

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Another foam cutter CNC kit 
Thursday, August 27, 2009, 03:18 AM - Misc TechnoToys
RCFoamCutter has a number of kits of CNC machines for cutting foam costing $400 for a basic kit to about $1300 for a complete kit (including electronics, hot wire power supply and such).

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micRo CNC kit 
Thursday, March 26, 2009, 03:00 AM - Misc TechnoToys
Lumenlab proposes the micRo CNC kit for $500 for a partial kit and $1000 for a complete kit. You can also get a low-end Dell PC to control the CNC machine for $330, pre-configured with Ubuntu.
The total travel dimensions are 34cm x 25cm x 8.9 cm.

[via Makezine blog]

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WRAM show 
Monday, February 23, 2009, 01:28 PM - Misc TechnoToys
The WRAM show is an R/C modeling trade show that takes place every February at the Westchester county center in White Plains, north of the New York City. The show usually occupies two floor and the booths are filled with manufacturers, importers/distributors, and retailers showing their exotic gear. This year however, the show was rather disappointing and occupied only one floor. Many of the manufacturers that usually have a booth were absent, and many of the big on-line retailers like Hobby Lobby and BP Hobbies were absent. It looks like the economic crisis is having an impact.

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Random fun links of the day 
Monday, February 23, 2009, 01:03 PM - Misc TechnoToys
- Box2d-js is a physics engine written in Javascript. It's automatically translated from the popular Box2D engine which is written in Flash.

- Trace En Poche (which could be translated as "pocket plotter") is an amazing on-line tool geometry, kinematics, and plotting tool. It allows you to enter descriptions of geometric figures using a GUI or a simple description language, and to plot and animate the result. The tool is available in a number of languages (French, English, Spanish, German, and Arabic). Thanks to Bertrand for the pointer.

- Command-line-fu: a bunch of random semi-non-obvious Unix/Linux command-line idioms to do various useful tasks. These simple tricks will occasionally aleviate the need to plow through the man pages of find, awk, egrep, sort, and such.

- Diamonds in the Sky: a collection of scientifically correct astronomy-related science fiction stories (sponsored by NSF).

- GPS homing device: Hammacher-Schlemmer has a simple GPS homing device for $80. Press a button when you are at a particular location, and the device will keep track of the distance and bearing to that location. It's small and simple to use. It integrated a self-calibrating digital compass in addition to a GPS.

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Using the Minoru stereo webcam under Linux 
Saturday, January 31, 2009, 04:29 PM - Misc TechnoToys
I just received one these brand new Minoru stereo webcam, which I bought at Amazon from 90 bucks (a steal considering the price of the closest competitor).

Naturally, I'd like to use it under Linux for robot vision, so I was crossing my fingers that one of the webcam drivers on Linux would recognize it.

As soon as I received the camera, I plugged it into my laptop running Ubuntu 8.10 Interpid. There are good news and bads news.

Good news: the device is detected by the uvcvideo driver, and the left and right cameras appear as /dev/video0 and /dev/video1. My video grabbing software was able to grab frames from both camera separately. I tried my own video grabbing test program written in Lush for v4l2.

Now for the bad news: it seems impossible to grab video from the left and right cameras at the same time :-(

It looks like uvcvideo assigns more than half the USB port bandwidth to the first camera, and there is not enough left for the second. I've posted a question about the problem on the uvcvideo developer mailing list. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Laurent Pinchart, maintainer of the UVC driver is looking into the problem. It looks like the camera reports a higher bandwidth than it needs (at least, that's what how the driver interprets the data). The Minoru people are interested in making their camera work with Linux and are helping out Laurent (sending him a free camera and such).

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Neural Net in JavaScript 
Sunday, January 25, 2009, 11:06 PM - Misc TechnoToys
[via Hack A Day] Shaun Friedle has written a simple neural net code in JavaScript (forward prop only, no learning) and uses it as an OCR engine to break badly designed CAPTCHAs from within the browser. The script is here, and the demo home page here.

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cheap video gear from ChinaVasion 
Sunday, January 25, 2009, 12:10 PM - Misc TechnoToys
China Vasion (not China Vision, oddly enough) has a slew of cheap video gear such as wireless cameras and receivers for $25, and quad-camera systems for $100.

They also have rather unusual widgets, such as this underwater remote camera which comes with an MPEG recorder and costs $250.

The also have this radio-controlled car with a built-in wireless camera and a transmitter-mounted LCD screen. Things like this have been available for some time, but not for $90!

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Fry your retina for $50 
Monday, January 12, 2009, 12:22 AM - Misc TechnoToys
Steve Crandall from Tingilinde pointed me to this 150mW blue laser diode available for $50. An ideal way to fry your retina in the blink of an eye (actually *before* the blink of an eye, and way faster than it).
With proper precaution it might be used to build a CNC laser cutting machine to cut foam (Depron) and such.

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Minoru 3D webcam 
Thursday, October 16, 2008, 04:04 PM - Misc TechnoToys
The Minoru3D Webcam is a stereo webcam soon to be released by its British manufacturer. The website is a single front page with almost no information, beside a few pictures and the address of a marketing company Promotion and Display Technology Ltd. The big questions are the price and the date of availability.

Another British company Nvela, which is sponsored by the Microsoft Research Lab in Cambridge, UK, has produced a stereo webcam called the Hydra, but at 300 pounds ($600) it's way too expensive, and (so far) their SDK is for Windows only. They have been promising versions for Linux and Mac, but since the SDK was developed by Microsoft Research, I wouldn't hold my breath.

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Screwy screw gauge 
Monday, August 25, 2008, 01:54 AM - Misc TechnoToys
Recently, I was looking for 2.0mm wood screws, As it turns out, these little things are horribly difficult to find in the US. So, I tried to look for the closest thing to a 2.0mm wood screw in the US "system".

I stumbled on this Wikipedia page that contains a curve and a table that maps US drill bit gauge numbers to millimeters.

This makes you realize how screwed up the US drill bit system is (like many other US measurement systems I might add).
The curve that maps gauge number to mm is monotonically increasing, but other than that, it has no regularity that I can identify: it's non-linear, non-convex, and it's full of wiggles.

Now for the best part: the gauge scale is unrelated to the gauge scale for screws. However, the scale for screws, at least, is piecewise linear with only two pieces. Naturally, the coefficients aren't anything logical (that would be too much to ask). Since a number zero screw is about 1.5mm, the non-intelligent designers of this devilish systems decided to use a different notation system for smaller screws. Instead of simply using negative numbers (which would have been the least illogical thing to do), they chose to add multiple zeros as the screw gets smaller. They must have thought that simply using negative numbers would confuse the hell out of the average American machinist (then again, they didn't seem to understand the decimal notation to begin with). The formula for converting screw number to diameter is:

mm = 0.03302 x N + 0.1524

For your convenience, here is a table of US screw number to mm:

00000 0.2032
0000 0.5334
000 0.8636
00 1.1938
0 1.524
1 1.8542
2 2.1844
3 2.5146
4 2.8448
5 3.175
6 3.5052
7 3.8354
8 4.1656
9 4.4958
10 4.826

Incidentally, a 2.0mm drill bit is close to a number 47.

How could the US build an industry around this? I'll never figure out....

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Build Furniture from LEGO-like blocks 
Monday, June 16, 2008, 12:28 AM - Misc TechnoToys
This French furniture store sells what looks like oversized LEGO blocks called LunaBlocks, with which one can build furniture. Cool concept.

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Korg USB mini music controllers 
Sunday, June 15, 2008, 06:37 PM - Misc TechnoToys
Korg-Japan has come up with three new USB music controllers that are the same width as a typical laptop: nanoKey (keyboard), nanoPad (drum pads), and nanoKontrol (control knobs).

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Jeff Han's Multi-touch panel at Neiman-Marcus? 
Monday, October 8, 2007, 12:51 AM - Misc TechnoToys
My friend and colleague Jeff Han has been getting a lot of attention in the last year or two with his amazing multi-touch display panel (see various videos here and here, and
his August 2006 TED talks)

Jeff has started a company in New York City called Perceptive Pixel.

The funny thing is that the upscale department store Neiman Marcus is offering Jeff's "online media wall" in the "fantasy" part of its Christmas catalog. The price is "starting at 100,000". If you have to ask.....

There is a nice video on the Neiman Marcus site too.

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