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Electronics


Electronics seems to me to be more fun as a hobby than it used to be. Back in the 70's-80's you had to build everything from scratch, so you had to spend a lot of time crawling before you could walk. Now there are a lot of black boxes available. Need an ultrasonic ranger? Black box. A micro-controller? Black box. LED array controller? Ethernet interface? Video controller? Scrolling LCD display? All black boxen. I still remember having to build a LED array controller from scratch, that was a project in itself. With all the hassles, I eventually gave up--when you spend all your time building the boxes you never get to the interesting projects. In some sense, maybe I learned more, but in the end it is not a good trade. Sometimes learning less detail and achieving bigger projects is better--with those sorts of successes behind you, you are much more likely to stick with it. Building voltage dividers, hand wiring LEDs to transistors to control their blinking, and getting a 7-segment LED to show the number 8 are all achievements, but boring ones.

On top of all that, there is the internet with a lot of information, more electronics manufacturers than back then, cheaper components, plentiful micro-controllers (often at $30 or less when buying them individually), and a much larger community of people interested in electronics. This community is more diverse, too. Back in the 70's it was all late-night tinkering by electrical engineers building devices for model trains and airplanes, or just building gadgets that looked cool from a technical perspective. Now there are so-called makers looking to control things they make, artists building interactive art, and people sick of waiting for obvious problems to be solved by someone else.

Kids not playing with all this junk today had better be doing something else creative. There are just fewer and fewer excuses every passing day.

Committer


I guess I am a committer to open science as an idea. Software that cannot be inspected for internal problems has no place in science. Software that costs so much to obtain that many people cannot use it to replicate or analyze results in the literature is wrong. Literature that we cannot all read equally should should not count fully as science. Science depends on complete openness and the ability to inspect all the ideas and results.

I actually have no problem with companies doing research they keep confidential or proprietary, but that can't be science. And it should not be called science. Maybe we need a new word.

Twitter API


Made my first, direct, manually-constructed calls to the Twitter API today.

There is a great disturbance in the Force.

Question about Email and Data Liberation


Does anyone know of an email client program that does the following:

[1] Folds multiple email accounts into a single stream of email
[2] Manages the single stream in a meaningful way that preserves the individual accounts--for instance, if an email is addressed to xxx@somewhere.com replies go there automatically (while other accounts are treated similarly)

This problem is closely related to another problem involving social networking that I have been thinking about lately. On the off chance something has changed, does anyone know of a CLIENT program that folds all your social streams into a single composite stream? I have asked this before and so far no luck, but since I was asking about email anyway...

Freedom


Freiheit ist immer die Freiheit des Andersdenkenden.

--- Rosa Luxemburg (1917)

eBooks


So where are we on eBooks? I want to migrate to this technology (especially every time I have to pack about 100 boxes of books!) but it seems to be the wild west now. Every bookstore has a viewer; catalogs of books can be inflated by cheap, draft-quality Project Gutenberg texts; some viewers support PDF, some don't; some titles and genres are moving in wholeheartedly, some are not; technical books, effectively made for eBooks, seem to be the least present; conflicting standards are a nightmare; markup technologies vary dramatically; some allow "lending" some do not; etc.

But clearly this is the way to go, so are any of you already going to eBooks or using any of the eBook formats a lot? What is the experience like? Can you give some advice on putting the house in order? How safe are your purchases? Do you have to back them up or does the seller provide that for you? Does it even work as a comfortable reading technology at all? (I've seen viewers that are great and awful, so I have no sense of the average.)

Any ideas or advice?

Fun with "culture"


What is the unspecified referent that makes the following make sense:

"Phil Collins is the Chris De Burgh of South Park."

If you can, I love you.