logo Ming the Mechanic - Category: Technology
An old rigid civilization is reluctantly dying. Something new, open, free and exciting is waking up.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007day link 

picture I didn't get around to mentioning it, but a couple of weeks ago I was at the LeWeb3 in Paris. A huge, very well-run conference, organized by Loic Le Meur. Just about anybody who is anything in the web tech community was there. Over 1800 participants. Which is so many that I didn't even succeed in running into all people I knew or wanted to meet.

The videos of the presentations are all available now, here. In excellent quality. That's pretty much the best video archive I've seen from any event.

Noteworthy presentations I particularly remember are Joi Ito talking about what one can learn from World of Warcraft guilds that might be applied to other types of software or collaboration, Evan Williams, the creator of Twitter (and Blogger) talking about designing software based on discovering what one can take away, just like an sculptor would take away parts of a rock to reveal what's inside. Philippe Starck, famous design genius, talking about a bunch of things, and in passing revealing principles of great design. Hans Rosling about visualizing big world changes. Doc Searls is always good. And, well, there was much good stuff. And now you can see the videos for yourself, if you feel like it.
[ | 2007-12-26 21:19 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, July 4, 2007day link 

 Orbo free energy
picture A lot of people have been following these guys for a while. The most promising proposed free energy technology so far. The most likely to actually be real, that is. They have an announcement today:
London, 4th July 2007. Steorn, an Irish technology development company, will publicly demonstrate a real-life application of its Orbo free energy technology for the first time. The demonstration will take place in the Kinetica Museum gallery, London UK on Wednesday 4th July. People around the world will be able to watch the exhibit via a live web stream.

The real-time streaming of the Orbo free energy technology demonstration can be accessed via steorn.com/orbo/demo from 6pm Eastern Time (ET) today. People logging onto the link can select different camera angles so they can see the exhibit from various positions. The Kinetica Museum exhibit will thereafter be open to members of the public from Thursday July 5th until Friday July 13th.

Steorn's Orbo technology is based on the interaction of magnetic fields and allows the production of clean, free and constant energy. The exhibit on display will demonstrate work being done by the spinning of a clear polycarbonate wheel with no recourse to external energy. Orbo technology is fully scalable and can be applied to virtually all devices requiring energy, from cellular phones to cars.

On 18th August 2006, Steorn placed an advertisement in The Economist to attract the attention of the world's leading scientists working in the field of experimental physics. The advertisement issued a challenge to the world's scientific community to step forward and prove its claims wrong.

Several thousand scientists stepped forward to take the challenge, but only 22 were appointed to test Steorn's claims. The review process began in January 2007 and is still ongoing. Steorn will publish the results of the process following its completion.
The demonstration doesn't seem to be live yet. Thursday, they're saying now.

Anybody wants to bet whether their technology will work or not? I'm betting it will.
[ | 2007-07-04 23:14 | 10 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, June 28, 2007day link 

 Wide-angle Immersive Stereoscope
picture Pink Tentacle
A research team led by Susumu Tachi from the University of Tokyo has developed a rotating panoramic display that immerses viewers in a 3D video environment. The Telexistence Wide-angle Immersive STEReoscope, or TWISTER, is the world’s first full-color 360-degree 3D display that does not require viewers to wear special glasses, says professor Tachi, who has spent over 10 years researching and developing the device.

Inside the 1.2 meter (4 ft) tall, 2 meter (6.5 ft) wide cylindrical display are 50,000 LEDs arranged in columns. As the display rotates around the observer’s head at a speed of 1.6 revolutions per second, these specially arranged LED columns show a slightly different image to each of the observer’s eyes, thus creating the illusion of a 3D image. In other words, TWISTER tricks the eye by exploiting what is known as “binocular parallax” — the apparent difference in position of an object as seen separately by the left eye and the right eye.
Cool, I want one. Quality doesn't look great, and it isn't live, but it sounds promising.
[ | 2007-06-28 22:03 | 0 comments | PermaLink ]

Sunday, June 24, 2007day link 

 Spy box
picture Neatorama:
Artist Tim Knowles sent a package from his studio to an art gallery. The box contained a camera, which took a picture every ten seconds, recording its journey through the postal system. The 6,994 images were later made into a slide show. link
That's interesting. Not that it is that interesting to see the inside of various postal vans, but because it evokes the idea that objects might be able to record their journeys and their history.

Sooner or later cameras and GPS tracking and wireless access will cost nothing. Or, rather, it will be cheap enough that you easily could apply them to any package you send, or to most objects you own. Pretty much anything can eventually have a full history of where it has been and what happened.
[ | 2007-06-24 16:51 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, June 14, 2007day link 

picture Wow, indeed. This video from TED. Mindblowing technology. I don't get how it is possible, but I want it. Photosynth can apparently both navigate gigabytes of photos, of any resolution, extremely rapidly, and also piece together random photos of places or objects into 3D collages. For the first part, the guy shows an iPhoto kind of thing, where you can zip through thousands of pictures, but you can also zoom in to any level of detail, if available. So, you see what looks like a microfilm, and you can zoom in, and it is a whole book, you can read the pages, and all the way to a blowup of a single letter. And then he shows a collage of photos from Flickr tagged as being of "Notre Dame" in Paris. And their software can apparently figure out their relations, and piece them together in a 3D model, where you can zoom in on any part that anybody took a picture of. Only downside in sight is that Microsoft bought the company that invented this. I noticed there was a Firefox plugin, but it immediately let me know that it would only work on Windows. (Via Ben Hammersley)
[ | 2007-06-14 01:00 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, April 25, 2007day link 

 Open source hardware
picture Make Magazine has a nice overview article of what open source hardware would look like, and what different layers we'd be talking about. They're focusing on electronics, which probably makes good sense as one of the first fields where it might work. The different layers they're talking about are:
  • Hardware (Mechanical) diagrams
  • Schematics & Circuit diagrams
  • Parts list
  • Layout diagrams
  • Core/Firmware
  • Software/API
  • Projects
Obviously it is more complicated to open source hardware than software, where you just need to download some code. So, there are many possible projects that open source just some parts, but not others. If you have the diagrams and parts list for some device, you can in principle go and buy the parts and build it, but the components aren't open source, of course. Until the point where you have a nanotech matter compiler, it will always be a bit incomplete. But it sounds like smart people are expanding what is possible.
[ | 2007-04-25 14:01 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, March 22, 2007day link 

 The Air Car
picture GizMag:
Many respected engineers have been trying for years to bring a compressed air car to market, believing strongly that compressed air can power a viable "zero pollution" car. Now the first commercial compressed air car is on the verge of production and beginning to attract a lot of attention, and with a recently signed partnership with Tata, India’s largest automotive manufacturer, the prospects of very cost-effective mass production are now a distinct possibility.

...Most importantly, it is incredibly cost-efficient to run – according to the designers, it costs less than one Euro per 100Km (about a tenth that of a petrol car). Its mileage is about double that of the most advanced electric car (200 to 300 km or 10 hours of driving), a factor which makes a perfect choice in cities where the 80% of motorists drive at less than 60Km. The car has a top speed of 68 mph.

Refilling the car will, once the market develops, take place at adapted petrol stations to administer compressed air. In two or three minutes, and at a cost of approximately 1.5 Euros, the car will be ready to go another 200-300 kilometres.

As a viable alternative, the car carries a small compressor which can be connected to the mains (220V or 380V) and refill the tank in 3-4 hours.

Due to the absence of combustion and, consequently, of residues, changing the oil (1 litre of vegetable oil) is necessary only every 50,000 Km.
Sounds great. So, what are we waiting for?
[ | 2007-03-22 16:33 | 9 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, March 9, 2007day link 

 Web 2.0
What is Web 2.0? Ideas, technologies and implications for education is a long paper in PDF format, written by Paul Anderson, giving probably the best overview I've seen, of what Web 2.0 is, and the various components that connect into it. The super-condensed executive summary would be that these 6 points are the main traits of Web2.0:
1. Individual production and User Generated Content
2. Harnessing the power of the crowd
3. Data on an epic scale
4. Architecture of Participation
5. Network Effects
6. Openness

[ | 2007-03-09 23:44 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, February 7, 2007day link 

picture Talkr is a service that will read blog postings aloud to you. In a pleasant female voice that isn't half bad. Obviously mechanical, but one can stand listening to it. You find the feel for my blog here. Although you wouldn't get to hear it before creating an account and subscribing to my feed. Obviously the idea is that one then can listen to blogs in a podcast format, which is interesting.
[ | 2007-02-07 16:09 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, January 12, 2007day link 

 Open Source Desktop Fabricator
picture New Scientist:
A cheap self-assembly device capable of fabricating 3D objects has been developed by US researchers. They hope the machine could kick start a revolution in home fabrication – or "rapid prototyping" – just as early computer kits sparked an explosion in home computing.

Rapid prototyping machines are already used by designers, engineers and scientists to create one-off mechanical parts and models. These create objects by depositing layer upon layer of liquid or powdered material.

These machines typically cost from $20,000 to $1.5 million, says Hod Lipson from Cornell University, US, who launched the Fab @ Home project with PhD student Evan Malone in October 2006.

The standard version of their Freeform fabricator – or "fabber" – is about the size of a microwave oven and can be assembled for around $2400 (£1200). It can generate 3D objects from plastic and various other materials. Full documentation on how to build and operate the machine, along with all the software required, are available on the Fab @ Home website, and all designs, documents and software have been released for free.
Very cool. Fab@Home is the main page for the project. They hope to spark something like the revolution that happened when the first home computer kit, the Altair 8800, was made available in 1975. It didn't really do much, but thousands of people started tinkering with it and finding useful things to do with it, and devices to add to it. So, if lots of hobbyists have a DIY fabricator at home, the same thing might happen. Certainly they would at least want to share the blueprints for stuff one could build with it. But most likely they'd also help make it better. Like, somebody has already figured out how to print chocholate bars with it.
[ | 2007-01-12 00:15 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Tuesday, January 9, 2007day link 

picture Ah, I want one. It's an iPod, it runs OSX, it has WiFi, touch interface.
[ | 2007-01-09 23:37 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, January 8, 2007day link 

 Second Life Open Source
picture Wow, as of today the client software for Second Life has been released as open source under GPL.
Stepping up the development of the Second Life Grid to everyone interested, I am proud to announce the availability of the Second Life client source code for you to download, inspect, compile, modify, and use within the guidelines of the GNU GPL version 2.

A lot of the Second Life development work currently in progress is focused on building the Second Life Grid — a vision of a globally interconnected grid with clients and servers published and managed by different groups. Expect many changes and updates in the coming months in support of this architecture. Much of the recent work has centered on securing the code against potential threats. More recently and still in development, we are moving more of the communications to reliable and cryptographically strong secure channels.

At Linden, we have always been strong advocates of the use of open standards and the advantages of using open source products. Though Second Life makes abundant use of non-standard technologies, our basic UDP protocol message system for example, we rely on open standards and open source implementations when appropriate and available. Since many of the components that will make up this network are not yet done, we are not publishing long white papers or RFCs at this time — instead, we are giving everyone what we have along with a goal of producing those open standards with the input and assistance of the community that has brought Second Life to where it is now.

Releasing the source now is our next invitation to the world to help build this global space for communication, business, and entertainment. We are eager to work with the community and businesses to further our vision of our space.
(Via BoingBoing). Yes, that is potentially HUGE. If you no longer have to be tied into just one company, which can ban you, go out of business, etc, that changes everything, and this might start working like another standard piece of the web. I can't wait to have my own world. At this point it is only the viewer software that can be downloaded, but hopefully I understand correctly that it will become all of it. ... More from CNN. Aha, they say that "eventually" everything will be open source, but that could be a while, of course.
[ | 2007-01-08 15:00 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, January 3, 2007day link 

 Nano factory

Cool animated video of a matter replicator at work. It sort of presents itself as if it were a real machine, and that's really how it would work. Maybe it will be like that, in 20 years or so. Would be great. Print out your own billion CPU laptop on your kitchen table. It helps with a visualization, of course. I want one. (Via Metafilter)
[ | 2007-01-03 19:47 | 0 comments | PermaLink ]

Sunday, December 17, 2006day link 

Wengovisio is a little widget one can have on one's webpage, which should allow others to call you, without having to download any software. I'm giving it a shot here, to see if it works. It is part of the wengophone project, which is run by a French company, but which is basically open source. I don't particularly feel like having another IM application running on my desktop, as I already have several, but let's see how this works. So, this is just a test. I'll probably remove it again later. I'm not sure I really want blog visitors to call me all the time. But, somebody, give it a try.

..[later] OK, I won't remove it, but as it turns out, it just turns off when I reload the page. So, I'd need to both go and turn it on, and then watch my own page for when somebody calls. Which maybe makes it a bit cumbersome to keep active permanently on something like a blog. But it seems to basically work. At least for 2/3 of the people I spoke with today, which was quite a few. Both video and audio quality was quite good.

[ | 2006-12-17 12:49 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Saturday, December 9, 2006day link 

picture The OScar Project:
It is the goal of the OScar Project to develop a car according to Open Source principles. In our opinion, a car is not a vehicle full of high-tech gadgets. Instead, we are looking for a simple and functional concept to spread mobility. Form follows function.

Apart from that, OScar is not just a car. It is about new ways of mobility and the spreading of the Open Source idea in the real (physical) world. On this website, you will find a great community of developers and drivers who want to invent mobility anew and together.
Yeah, an open source car. Not that they've gotten that far, but it is a noble project. Read an article about it here.
[ | 2006-12-09 22:19 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Tuesday, December 5, 2006day link 

If you're in the market for a Content Management System, and OSCOM or OpenSource CMS are too complicated for you, then maybe you just need the complexity translated into terms you can understand, like in Content Management Systems I Would Or Wouldn’t Fuck, by Jason Stratham:

  • Vox - The Japanese schoolgirl of content management systems, practically begging for you to stalk it on Myspace or rub up on it in the subway.
  • Drupal - The exotic foreign exchange student. If you can figure out what the hell language it speaks, it’ll be so greatful for the attention it’ll bend over backwards and let you do whatever you want to it.


  • Blogger - Really popular, and consequently has every virus known to science.
  • Wordpress - High maintenance; you have to read a lot of documentation in order to do it right. Always leaves you wondering if you should have used different plug-ins.
  • Movable Type - Looks like it used to be a lot of fun when it was younger; now it just sort of lays there and doesn’t do much. Takes forever to refresh. Spends most of its time changing in and out of different outfits.
  • Livejournal - The CMS most likely to be into Harry Potter bloodplay.
  • Textpattern - Looks very attractive and willing, but beware. Textpattern whispers in your ear “I’ll do whatever you want. Come on, touch me here,” and you touch it there and it DIES.
Hm, but what if I just want a candlelight dinner and snuggle in front of the fireplace kind of thing, what's my CMS?
[ | 2006-12-05 18:08 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, October 27, 2006day link 

picture Sometime last month I was bored and decided to check what my mobile phone actually could do. It is not an expensive phone, but a rather recent one with 3G. Which means it can access the net with a useful bandwidth and it has video and stuff like that. So, it can be a video phone for one thing. But actually I didn't run into anybody I had a chance to try that with. But it can also just play videos. There's a bunch of TV channels, and there are music videos and stuff like that. So I watched some of those, and clicked around a little bit to see what was there. I think I spent an hour doing that. Pretty crummy on a small screen like that, but I thought it was cool that it could do that. Until I got the bill, that is. I had accepted a €4 charge for some categories of videos, all I want, all day, which sounded ok, and I expected to see that on my bill. Plus, I imagined I might be using up my calling minutes. But, no, that hour of poking around in stuff I thought was largely free cost me over 100 euros. The killer was the billing by kilobyte, at a ridiculously high rate. Which means one has to be pretty insane to sit and watch crummy videos at several euros per minute. So, one thing is to have fancy technology. Another is that it might be billed in such a way that it is totally useless. Having a 3G phone essentially gives me nothing.

Sometimes it is the same thing with WiFi accesss points. Recently, when I didn't have my internet connection yet, I drove around and looked for public WiFi access points. And there's one close by, at the Comfort Inn in Ramonville. It is run by Orange, which is my cell phone provider, so in principle, it should be no problem. Except for that it bills at cell phone per-minute rates. Which means it would be around €15 per hour. Might make sense for an emergency, to quickly check my e-mail. But useless if I have to, like, work. Several hundreds euros per day for how how I use a computer. Pretty wacky seeing that anybody with a €30/month DSL connection can make themselves a public access point.
[ | 2006-10-27 11:41 | 0 comments | PermaLink ]

Thursday, October 26, 2006day link 

 The next big VR thing
picture The Next Big Thing is an article by Patrick Cox about how maybe 3D Virtual Reality finally is the Next Big Thing. Which has been long coming. I thought, and many other people thought, that it would happen shortly, back in 1995.
The milieu was a seditious, infectious expectation that an unrestrained Internet would liberate information from the control of the philosophically monolithic media. Others daydreamed of landless tax-free sovereignties where citizens chose their allegiances based on personal preferences. Serious thought was going into issues like encryption and private money along the Austrian economists' model. Behind it all, of course, was the long game -- the Metaverse.

There seems, ironically, far less discussion of VR today than there was then and the very term has a distinctly cheesy ring to it now. VW for virtual worlds, in fact, seems to have replaced VR among serious researchers, as has been pointed out by one them: Edward Castronova. Similarly, the libertarian dominance of the net world no longer exists, though its imprint persists as a bias in favor of an unregulated Internet among activists such as EFF and net celebrities such as Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds.

As an example of that initial Silicon Valley culture, I remember a party in a private home somewhere in the Valley held about the time Netscape launched. It was attended mostly by people who were working on immersive VW systems, and had been well before Snowcrash or Lawnmower Man. Timothy Leary was there as well as a Japanese television crew, interviewing developers for a market already obsessed with its own cyberpunk anime like the 1987 classic Baburugamu kuraishisu, or Bubblegum Crisis.

As far as I know, none of those VW projects survives today, but not because the technology did not exist to allow their success. While processor speed and bandwidth were not ready for a fully-blown real-time metaverse, the more important limiting factor was the market. People, even the early adoptors who downloaded Navigator betas, were simply not ready for such a radical transition. It is largely forgotten, or was never known by most people, that some of Netscape's earliest browsers contained incredibly advanced and visionary groupware and 3D browsing features that have not yet appeared in Microsoft's IE or even Firefox.
Well, what it had was several VRML plugins, for one thing. I had a 3D homepage back in 1995, with clickable billboards rotating the earth, and you could fly around in it. OK, I haven't missed it very much, but I have taken notice a couple of times in between that such plugins no longer seem to exist and that nobody has VRML homepages.

AlphaWorld was very cool back in .. 97, I think it was. It looks exactly the same 10 years later, and all my buildings are still there. But it didn't really catch on. Today there's Second Life, which IS catching on. It works pretty much the same as AlphaWorld, except for some improved features and an economy, and that somehow it has become very cool.

And, in the meantime, Massive Multiplayer Online Games happened. That they are positioned as games gets millions of people into them.

So, yes, maybe more and more stuff actually will be happening in Virtual Worlds, and sometime soon that will be where all the action is. Just maybe.

Patrick Cox points to Multiverse, a startup company that some big names seem to believe in, which also develops virtual world software, but they might just have a model that makes it work on a bigger level. Like, the idea that you can go to any of the worlds with the same client software, and that you can build worlds for free, and do revenue sharing with them when you sell access.

Although, what we rather need, I think, is an online multiverse/cyberspace thing that is a matter of protocols, not of who owns the server or the software. Just like the web is the sum of everybody's servers and sites, owned by millions of people, but all talking the same protocols, the virtual multiverse should be the same. I should be able to put up as much virtual reality on my own server as I want, and you should be able to walk into it by opening a door somewhere totally different.
[ | 2006-10-26 18:12 | 0 comments | PermaLink ]

Monday, April 18, 2005day link 

 The flying cars are coming
picture CBS has a feature on the status of flying cars. I only knew about the Moller Skycar, which they mistakenly thought is a new entry. He's probably the veteran in that arena. But there are several other promising projects, apparently. Like the Air Scooter, which is vertical take-off ultralight thing. Not exactly as comfy as the Skycar, but it might happen sooner. And the CarterCopter, which is a little plane/helicopter combination, which already flies. And there's Skyblazer, but that doesn't seem to be much more than a concept. Alright, the Moller Skycar still seems to be what looks most like a flying car that actually, sort of, can fly at this point. And what we really need is anti-gravity. That would make it much easier.
[ | 2005-04-18 18:57 | 10 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Saturday, March 19, 2005day link 

 3D printer that can copy itself
picture Via BoingBoing, an article about a scientist who's working on a 3D printer that can reproduce its own parts, at least most of them.
A self-replicating 3D printer that spawns new, improved versions of itself is in development at the University of Bath in the UK.

The "self replicating rapid prototyper" or RepRap could vastly reduce the cost of 3D printers, paving the way for a future where broken objects and spare parts are simply "re-printed" at home. New and unique objects could also be created.

3D printing - also known as "rapid prototyping" - transforms a blueprint on a computer into a real object by building up a succession of layers. The material is bonded by either fusing it with a laser or by using alternating layers of glue. When it first emerged in the mid-1990s, futurists predicted that there would be a 3D printer in every home.

But they currently cost $25,000 (£13,000) and so have not caught on as a household item, says Terry Wohlers, an analyst at Wohlers Associates, a rapid prototyping consulting firm in Fort Collins, Colorado, US. Instead, they are used by industry to develop parts for devices such as aircraft engines, spaceships and hearing aids.

Now Adrian Bowyer hopes to change that by making the first 3D printer capable of fabricating copies of itself, as well as a wealth of everyday objects. He reasons that prices would plummet to around $500 if every machine was capable of building hundreds more at no cost beyond that of the raw materials.
And he's planning on making everything freely downloadable. So, if we can avoid that HP somehow gets to control the market for the equivalent of ink cartridges, it sounds like a winner.

For computer languages it is a big milestone when one first succeeds in using the language for writing a compiler that will compile the language itself. So, it is only really full-featured once you can write it in itself. Would be splendid when that really spreads to hardware.
[ | 2005-03-19 15:13 | 9 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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