Gadgets

BikeBerrying

by Joey deVilla on September 26, 2007

“Bicycle accident” clay figurine.

Say hello — and probably goodbye — to my friend, Globe and Mail writer Jeff Gray, with whom I worked at the Queen’s Journal (a.k.a. “The Urinal”), the official student paper of Crazy Go Nuts University. He BikeBerries — that is, uses his BlackBerry while bicycling:

As a columnist who has suggested that cyclists should wear helmets, and shouldn’t use iPods in downtown traffic, I can’t very well come out in favour of using cellphones and BlackBerrys on the roads. Of course you shouldn’t. And it seems that sensible people have figured this out.

Still, gliding on your bike on a little side street, with no one coming, typing “ok” and pressing send? No harm done.

Dude, it’s even easier to pull over when you’re on a bike. Just do it, or else I’m posting those photos from the Journal staff party. You know, the “tongue” ones.

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Zune logo upside down (appears to read as “anuz”)Back when I lived closer to Toronto’s downtown core (I was a five-minute bike ride from the financial district), I saw New City Hall bathed in the glow of a half-dozen large floodlights one night. I went to take a closer look and saw a stuntwoman attached to a line, running right down the side of one of the buildings. It was obviously a movie shoot.

I walked up to one of the crew who appeared to be on a break and asked if she could tell me what movie they were shooting.

Resident Evil 2,” she said.

She must’ve seen the surprised look on my face, because she quickly followed it up with a “Yeah, enough people saw the first one to justify a sequel.” (Little did we know back then that there would be enough interested in the second to justify yet another sequel.)

The “leak” about an upcoming generation of Zunes as reported by Engadget leaves me with pretty much the same feeling. They’re to be released on October 16th and two types are expected:

  • Draco, the smaller flash-based Zune, which will come in 4GB and 8GB versions
  • Scorpio, the larger hard drive-based Zune, which will have an 80GB capacity and a screen that is supposed to be “awesome” for video.

Both Zunes will feature the not-quite-square, not-quite-circle user interface called a “squircle”. You may be tempted to scream “stupid marketing/branding made-up word!”, but apparently such a term exists in mathematics.

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Back when I was a kid in the late 70s and early 80s, I loved the Usborne series of books about life in the future. Now that I’m living in the future, I’m trying to find these old books and see how many of their predictions of life today came true. The Usborne Guide to Computer and Video Games, which I pointed to in an earlier entry, was rather accurate in its predictions of what was in store for video and computer games. The future home tech featured in Usborne’s Future Cities: Homes and Living into the 21st Century (whose cover appears below) isn’t too far off the mark either; most of it would be easily found at your local Best Buy.

Cover of the book “Future Cities”

One section in Future Cities is titled Computers in the Home. It describes a home of future, as seen through the eyes of a British author dabbling in sci-fi in the late 1970s. Here’s its introduction:

Computers in the Home

The picture on the right takes you into the living room of a house in the future. The basics will probably be similar — windo9ws, furniture, carpet and TV. There will be one big change though — the number of electronic gadgets in use.

The same computer revolution which has resulted in calculators and digital watches could, through the 1980s and ’90s, revolutionise people’s living habits.

Television is changing from a box to stare at into a useful two-way tool. Electronic newspapers are already available — pushing the button on a handset lets you read ‘pages’ of news, weather, puzzles and quizzes.

TV-telephones should be a practical reality by the mid 1980s. Xerox copying over the telephone already exists. Combining the two could result in millions of office workers being able to work at home if they wish. There is little need to work in a central office if a computer can store records, copiers can send information from place to place and people can talk on TV-telephones.

Many people may prefer to carry on working in an office with others, but for those who are happy at home, the savings in travelling time would be useful. Even better would be the money saved on transport costs to and from work.

Pictured below is a scan of the two-page spread in which the Computers in the Home section appears. It points out some features in a future home, most of which you might find in your own living room today.

Preview image of “Computers in the Home”, as pictured in the late 1970s.
Click to see the full picture at full size.
Image courtesy of Miss Fipi Lele.

Here’s the accompanying text, with my commentary in italics:

The Electronic Household

This living room has many electronic gadgets which are either in use already or are being developed for people to buy in the 1980s.

1. Giant-size TV

Based on the designs already available, this one has a super-bright screen for daylight viewing and stereo sound system.

(Came true and even was surpassed in some ways. 42-inch plasma screens sell at Costco for about $1000 and TV isn’t just broadcast in stereo, but 5:1 surround.)

2. Electronic video movie camera

Requires no film, just a spool of tape. Within ten years video cameras like this could be replaced by 3-D holographic recorders.

(The bit about tape came true in the 80s and is surpassed today by recorders that write to magnetic and optical disk as well as solid-state memory. Holograms, a “science news” favourite that seemed to crop up in the news once a month, don’t have the future-appeal they did back then.)

3. Flat screen TV

No longer a bulky box, TV has shrunk to a thickness of less than five centimetres. This one is used to order shopping via a computerised shopping centre a few kilometres away. The system takes orders and indicates if any items are in stock.

(Strange how they separated “giant TV” from “flat screen” TV, as if it were an either-or-but-not-both choice. It’s come true, all right: the LCD monitor with which I’m making this entry is a mere 3 centimetres thick, and the head office of Amazon — this entry links to Future Cities in its catalog — is about 3000 kilometres away.)

4. Video disc player

Used for recording off the TV and for replaying favourite films.

(Came true and surpassed with DVDs, Tivo, movies-on-demand and the merging of disc players and videogames.)

5. Domestic robot rolls in with drinks.

One robot, the Quasar, is already on sale in the USA. Reports indicate that it may be little more than a toy, however, so it will be a few years before “Star Wars” robots tramp through our homes.

(Things didn’t turn out as predicted. The Quasar, pictured below, was much less than a toy. In fact, it turned out to be a hoax:

Two photos of the Quasar robot, purportedly doing housekeeping.

We do have the Roomba, though, and we do live in a world where a robot gladiator contest is a viable TV show.)

6. Mail slot

By 1990, most mail will be sent in electronic form. Posting a letter will consist of placing it in front of a copier at your home or post office. The electronic read-out will be flashed up to a satellite, to be beamed to its destination. Like many other electronic ideas, the savings in time and energy could be enormous.

(Two areas in which retro-future predictions break down are how we’ll communicate with our machines and how we’ll communicate with each other. Most models of electronic mail as perceived around 1980 was always some form of tele-copying, where you’d write or type your original letter, which would then be scanned into electronic form and then printed at the post office closest to the receiving party. Even the U.S. Postal Service envisioned this model, since they saw mail, whether physical or electronic as their rightful domain. Remind me to post and article about this sometime.)

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I Wouldn’t Want to Try This With an iPhone

by Joey deVilla on July 30, 2007

It was the geek party trick of the evening. I was standing by the beer fridge at Friday’s b5media office-warming party when someone asked where the bottle opener was. Not seeing one in sight, Chris whipped out his Blackberry and used it to open a beer bottle. I had my camera handy and shot this video:

Chris says that Blackberries are tough. Once, in a fit of anger, he hurled his Blackberry into his truck — he cracked his windshield, but the Blackberry was unahrmed. After opening a couple of beer bottles, he showed me his Blackberry: it had some gouge marks where it had made contact with the bottlecap, but it was working just fine.

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Graphic: Flying GNU and Penguin
Free as in godawful design.

In case you hadn’t heard (or, in case you actually cared), the Free Software Foundation is releasing version 3 of the GPL today. As you might expect, today’s iPhone release is eclipsing GPL v3’s release, but the FSF are undeterred in their mission. In fact, they’re using this coincidence to remind you that the iPhone is a proprietary device with proprietary software created by a proprietary company:

Peter Brown, the executive director of the Boston-based FSF, is also anticipating that the iPhone will include some free software licensed under the GPL. “On June 29, Steve Jobs and Apple will release a product crippled with proprietary software and digital restrictions: crippled, because a device that isn’t under the control of its owner works against the interests of its owner,” he said.

“We know that Apple has built its operating system, OS X, and its Web browser, Safari, using GPL-covered work. It will be interesting to see to what extent the iPhone uses GPL’d software,” he said.

Version 3 of the GPL fights the most recent attempts to take the freedom out of free software, and attacks “Tivoization”—devices that are built with free software but use technical measures to prevent users from making modifications to the software—which could prove to be a problem for Apple and the iPhone, he said.

Of course, if Free Software were the deciding factor for consumers, the GP2X would be the hot ticket in handheld games, not the Nintendo DS. And the hot console would be the…well, the Free Software console that someone will work on, as soon as they’re done with the HURD.

As much as I love and use Free Software, I’ve become quite cynical about its major proponents and figureheads. Whenever I hear someone say “As a card-carrying member of the FSF”, I automatically equate it in my mind with Grampa Simpson’s declartion, “I am not a crackpot!” [MP3 link]

Graphic: Grampa Simpson yelling at someone
Click the image to hear an MP3 of Grampa Simpson saying “I am not a crackpot!”

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You Know What Big Hands Mean…Smaller iPhone!

by Joey deVilla on June 21, 2007

My co-worker James “Yes, that’s my real name” Koole pointed this out to me earlier this week, and now BoingBoing is pointing to a blog entry that does a bang-on comparison of earlier and later iPhone ads. In the later ads, the iPhone looks smaller because the hands holding it are larger. Almost freakishly so, in fact:

Animated GIF comparing the iPhone’s hand models.
You know what big hands mean…

Here’s what we imagine the hand model for the “Rev B” iPhone looks like:

Giant-handed guy with iPhone.

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What, Isn’t “Gizmodo Editor” Good Enough?

by Joey deVilla on June 4, 2007

Verbotomy comic for “Gearoused”.

Verbotomy, the site that challenges its readers to create new words, has this as its current challenge: come up with a word for this definition:

DEFINITION: v. intr. To obsess over, and fantasize about electronic gadgets even though you can never figure out how they actually work. n. A beautiful but useless gadget.

My friend, Kat, asks that you vote for her submission, the word gearoused.

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