Geeky Jewelry

Filed Under Funny, Geek | 2008-08-12, 14:41

@ necklace

Stumbled across this on this afternoon. It’s something special. And it even comes in yellow-gold and white gold. Yes, those are diamonds. Email Twitter replies not your thing? Well there’s also an ampersand and a question mark.


The Saga of a Carputer

Filed Under Gadgets & Hardware, Geek | 2008-08-11, 19:34

Carputer In Living Room

As technology advances, soon you find that your homegrown solutions are readily available in prepackaged purchasable form. Almost 10 years ago I started building carputers. They were exactly as their name sounds, a computer in a car. Back then it was absurd to think of mp3s in a car as many people didn’t even know what mp3s were. The only real in-dash product on the market back then was the Empeg Car, a linux based unit that payed mp3s off of a laptop harddrive to the tune of $1,000+. Rather than save up the cash for one of these units I decided to build my own based on what I had laying around. My carputer started as an old Packard Bell 66mhz machine that used DOS and a command line mp3 player to supply my car with tunes. It had no display and instead I had a list of songs in my library, and typed them in with memorized keyboard commands. It wasn’t fancy, but the fact that I could take me couple of gigs of music on the road with me was exciting.

Old Packard Bel Carputer

Over the years, I watched as the mp3 + car community grew. exploded and soon was a wealth of knowledge as others around the world had similar ideas. My carputer also grew and morphed as I upgraded things, still refusing to spend a ton of cash on it, and instead using what I could find laying around. Laptops, desktops, inverters, multiple cables, power inverters, and more random equipment passed through my car. At one point I had an old eMachine 400mhz machine and an 10″ IBM PS/1 monitor that I think may have just been able to support 640×480. When I turned on my car, the chorus of beeps from inverters, monitors, and computers was kind of ridiculous and the number of fuses I went through must have had the local auto shops wondering.

Of course all this hardware was sitting in plain view in my Honda CR-V along with a rather large bandpass box, and as to be expected my car was eventually broken into and someone made off with my equipment. Luckily the bandpass box, being too heavy to carry more than 15 feet was found at the end of the parking lot, intact. And with the help of insurance, I was able to upgrade my machine to the last revision.

This final revision was comprised of the following parts:

    Lilliput 7″ touchscreen
    An 80GB harddrive containing music, maps, and software
    A Buffalo wireless card with external attenna (for loading new stuff on the computer without running a cat5 cable out to the parking lot)
    A simple Deluo GPS receiver with a strong magnet so I could stick it on the roof when I needed a better signal

I went through various software solutions, ranging from stripped down Windows 98 + Winamp, to full-featured front-ends like MediaEngine and Frodoplayer. I always had a couple different versions of mapping software available, whether it was Destinator (nicely integrated into most front-ends) or Delorme Street Atlas.

When the motherboard came, I was so excited to get to work on this project, that I just used the box it came in as a case and had to repeatedly short the pins with a screwdriver in order to boot it because I hadn’t ordered an On switch. Eventually I realized a CD-ROM would be handy, so I upgraded from the EPIA box to the Kikwear shoebox. Four and a half years later and it’s the same shoebox (with some extra electrical tape to hold it together) that I’m retiring.

>Shorting the Carputer Motherboard to boot it
Carputer in Kikwear shoebox

In San Francisco, it’s highly unintelligent to keep anything of value in your car. Cars are broken into so regularly that you see signs inside windows stating there’s nothing of value. After making the long roadtrip moving here from Chicago and utilizing the carputer one last time, I pulled it out so that it wouldn’t be temptation to anyone walking down the sidewalk. Now I have phones that can stream internet radio, more handheld GPS devices that I can count, and should I ever want a full carputer back in my car, multiple options on the market.

Looking back though, it was less about having mp3s and maps in the car, and more about a project that was rewarding. Putting together a carputer was definitely not without it’s challenges and pitfalls. I remember embarrassingly having to pull over on the highway, somewhere between Ohio and North Carolina, to “reboot” my car because Windows had blue screened at 80mph. Shortly afterward, I wired a switch in the dash to power-cycle the machine so I didn’t have to do that again. The hours of frustration trying to reduce engine noise in the audio lines, struggling with horrible Lilliput drivers that occasionally allowed the touchscreen to work (if you were lucky it was calibrated right too), and of course always having to wait for my car to shutdown before I turned it off.

On the flip side, there was all the times that I got to show it off to people who found it fascinating, the hours and hours on the road that I never had to flip through a CD book to find the next hour of music, never being lost, watching TV on my lunch breaks at work, and of course all the chicks that I got. Well maybe not so much the last one. It was a great project and I kind of miss not having it to work on. Luckily I have other current and future projects to satiate these geek desires and occupy my time.

Unfortunately I can’t find a good pic of the actual carputer _in_ my car, other than this one from the roadtrip from Chicago to San Francisco and a couple taken by my Sidekick:

Carputer on SF Roadtrip
Carputer in Honda CRVCarputer in Honda CRV


Violet Blue and Boing Boing Debacle

Filed Under Geek, News, Pranks, SF Bay Area, Websites | 2008-07-02, 17:03

For those that don’t know, Violet Blue is a well-known sex educator and Boing Boing is one of the most(?) popular blogs on the internet. If you haven’t heard about Violet Blue’s posts getting pulled from BoingBoing, there’s more than enough press out there about it. Even the LA Times picked up the story. I don’t want to get into a long post about my thoughts on the matter, but I did want to share something I thought worth sharing.

I setup to house all of the Boing Boing posts that had been “unpublished”. These posts are all taken directly from where the old versions of the posts are kept. Boing Boing publishes their stuff under Creative Commons, so I am redistributing their work with attribution. I wanted this content to remain around and in a form that is easily locatable, i.e. not buried in’s wayback machine. If you have a blog post that previously linked to the post on Boing Boing, then feel free to link to its equivalent on VB2. These posts aren’t getting unpublished any time soon.

If I missed anything or made any mistakes on the site, please let me know. I make no claims to being perfect by any means.


Debating the QNAP TS-209 II vs building a PC

Filed Under Gadgets & Hardware, Geek | 2008-06-04, 00:42

So I’m at a point where I feel like I need a good solid server in my apartment again. Something that I can use for the following:
– Media storage for serving to PS3/xbox
– Backup storage for photos, files, and whatnot
– Version control system for website development
– ssh server for tunneling back through my network connection
– Download machine for large files and torrents
– General Windows machine for video conversions and and other CPU/harddrive demanding tasks

I have basically two options to go with in my eyes: Build a solution or buy a prebuilt one.

Build a solution:
– Completely customizable
– Upgradeable
– Limited only in price
– Can reuse existing IDE drives
– My choice of operating system (dual boot?)
– Significant time investment
– If it breaks I have to troubleshoot
– Possibly overkill for what I need
– It’s been awhile (5 years?) since I built a machine

Buy a solution:
– No building and only minor configuration needed
– Technical support available
– Minimal time investment
– Cheaper
– Limited in hardware
– Not customizable
– Probably stuck with a custom linux distro

As far as building a solution, I quickly spec’d out this setup.
– It has both IDE and SATA ports so I can use old harddrives and new ones
– It’s a pretty decent system as far as CPU is concerned
– It will be large and probably loud
– It will consume a significant amount of power

And for buying, I was thinking of going with the QNAP TS 209 II (feature lists)
– It’s preconfigured with just about everything I need (except version control) and has ipkg to install whatever else I need
– It’s small, quiet, and consumes very little power
– It’s a wimpy machine under the hood
– It seems to do everything I think I’d need and then some, and I don’t have to set everything up manually

For those not following along, my life right now is kind of busy as I juggle a job, a web business, a relationship, and a fire arts group. At this point I’m more willing to spend money than time configuring something, so the QNAP is looking enticing. But the thought of paying a few hundred more, putting in a bunch of hours, and having a much more powerful machine is tempting.

Thoughts/opinions/criticisms? Any other suggestions?


ShagOS is not the partition type

Filed Under Geek | 2008-05-29, 21:29

Once upon a time, many many years ago Ed bought a motherboard that didn’t support large harddrives. Apparently Ed installed some software called Dynamic Drive Overlay to get around this and was able to drop several 2-300gb drives in the machine. Now that it is finally time to move to a new machine that does support large harddrives in the BIOS, I really regret that decision oh so long ago.

See the thing is that Dynamic Drive Overlay fakes things via software so the entire drive is accessible. This trickery however requires that the DDO is installed, and apparently writes some nasty stuff to the MBR. After several hours of battling with the installation of Windows consistently failing, I realized this. I was getting odd error messages like:
“Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt:
\system32\hal.dll. Please re-install a copy of the above file.”

Turns out there’s not really a way to “uninstall” the DDO, so I ended up formatting the entire drive by writing zeros to it using Seagate’s SeaTools. That was great, I didn’t have any data on there anyways, so I was up and running in no time. Then it came time to drop one of the 300gig drives in the machine.

This 300gb drive (a Maxtor) shows up in the Disk Management in Windows, but is an “Unknown” but Healthy partition. Further exploration with various disk tools reveal that this drive thinks it is formatted in the ShagOS partition type. I had never heard of ShagOS before, but turns out it’s an operating system that was in the works over 10 years ago. Needless to say, I had never formatted this drive as a ShagOS partition.

So I’m stuck now, and hoping that maybe someone on the internet has some answers/suggestions/etc. I’m assuming at this point that it is in fact the DDO that’s causing the trouble, but it is entirely possible that it’s something else. This drive was working with zero problems in the old machine, and has never been recognized in the new one. I thought I might be able to use GetDataBack for NTFS to recover the data as the drive is really supposed to be NTFS. But GetDataBack doesn’t recognize it as an NTFS partition, so no go there. *sigh* I’m hoping that someone out there may have run into a similar problem in the past and has suggestions.

UPDATE: Well, in a bit of an embarrassing discovery, it turns out the harddrive in question had gotten swapped with another harddrive that I had attempted to use as a Time Machine backup drive. Setting up Time Machine had failed miserably, but had succeeded in formatting the drive in a weird way.


Zappos + Twitter

Filed Under Geek, Twitter | 2008-05-07, 11:36

Looks like Zappos is doing a Twitter experiment while they’re in town visiting the Twitter offices. Not sure what they’re up to, but I’m game.
The original twitter:

If you r in San Fran area, write “Zappos” on back of left hand w/ marker & twitter @zappos link to picture of it. Why? Details to come, 4 PM

And my response:


How to reset a Windows Vista password

Filed Under Geek, Hacks and Mods, Tools | 2008-04-14, 13:02

So you, er I mean “a friend”, forgot your password on a Windows Vista machine that you haven’t used in awhile. You would never forget a password, right? And now you need to get into the machine and don’t want to blast away and install Windows fresh. If you use Windows XP you can just boot into Safe Mode and use the built in administrator account, but if you’re in Vista that account has been disabled by default. Luckily there’s a tool that will help you reset that password in Windows NT and Vista. It’s called Offline NT Password & Registry Editor (pretty catchy name, eh?). Simply download the zip file containing an .iso, burn it with your favorite CD burning software, pop it in the drive and go. It will boot up a copy of linux off the CD and ask you all sorts of questions. When in doubt, hit Enter to accept the default. Before you know it, you’ll have a reset password and will be staring at your desktop again in no time. There is another way to reset Vista passwords, but it requires that you created a password reset disk before you forgot your password. You might want to do this now in case you forgot your password. There are instructions over on Microsoft’s site.

Of course all of this exposes just how easy it can be to get into a machine that’s password protected. In the end, it’s pretty safe to say that if someone has physical access to your machine, you’re just plain screwed.


Websites as graphs

Filed Under Art, Geek, Websites | 2008-04-08, 12:45

Here’s something that’s kind of neat, representing websites as a graph of points. There’s a nifty script that will make one for you by just providing it with a URL. Here is (click to enlarge): as a graph

You can also download the source code and run it on your local machine to create a larger, higher resolution image that’s suitable for posters, t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.
If you want to check out more of these, there’s a flickr pool of course. Some of them are quite aesthetically pleasing. If you’re wondering what each node stands for, here’s the legend from the site:

What do the colors mean?
blue: for links (the A tag)
red: for tables (TABLE, TR and TD tags)
green: for the DIV tag
violet: for images (the IMG tag)
yellow: for forms (FORM, INPUT, TEXTAREA, SELECT and OPTION tags)
orange: for linebreaks and blockquotes (BR, P, and BLOCKQUOTE tags)
black: the HTML tag, the root node
gray: all other tags

Thanks for pointing this site out exiva


Filling an office with packing peanuts, how to fake it

Filed Under Funny, Geek, Pranks | 2008-04-01, 16:05

Office filled with packing peanuts

I’ve always wanted to do the packing peanuts prank at work, but it’s usually prohibitively expensive and time consuming. Then I came across this page. A quick trip to the UPS store to purchase 28 cu ft of biodegradable packing peanuts (cost: $65), office supply store for paper and tape ($12), and a few beers later we were quite successful. The difficult part was that the offices here have a glass corner, so we had to setup some boxes inside to hold the paper in place, but in the end I think it really adds to the effect. Our coworker explained his thoughts when he came in the next morning as: “Oh my… they didn’t? no, they couldn’t, it’d take to much.. no, no way…”. For added effect we locked his door so that he couldn’t immediately confirm that it was a fake front. All of the reaction, a fraction of the time and cost. I love a good April Fool’s prank. There are a whole series of pictures of the whole process here (my photos) and here (photos by Mike Morris). Credit must also be given to Cristian Mueller and Mike Morris for being a part of this. Seems like three people are perfect to pull this off.

An Instructables on the simple procedure
More geeky pranks


Griffin Evolve Wireless Speakers Review and Unboxing

Filed Under Gadgets & Hardware, Geek | 2008-03-14, 12:25

Griffin Evolve Wireless Speakers

A few weeks ago a set of Griffin Evolve wireless speakers arrived. I had been needing to get a decent solution for listening to music when hanging around the house and my laptop speakers weren’t cutting it. I wanted something that would work with my iPod since that’s where my music lived and something that I could use anywhere in the house. The Evolve wireless speakers seemed like just the solution.

What are my thoughts on the speakers? I love them. Being able to come home and pull the iPod out of my pocket and plug it directly into a set of speakers and continue listening to the same song is a nice convenience. In addition to that I can grab one of the speakers and take it into any room I want. They’re small, light, and the sound quality is pretty good. I was mostly concerned that the sound quality would be crap, akin to my experiences with FM transmitters, but I am pleasantly surprised and have no complaints about sound quality. They don’t have a whole lot in the realm of bass, but for their use (background music) they’re fine and I’m sure my neighbors are appreciative. They do get really loud though. For the audiophiles in the crowd that spend hundreds of dollars on cables, these probably aren’t the right solution. But if you’re a casual listener (especially if you’re still using those awful iPod earbuds) that just wants to have some nice background music in the house with the convenience of playing from your iPod, I highly recommend these. The selling points for me:

  • They accept my 80gb video iPod in its protective case without needing an adaptor
  • I don’t have to worry about screwing up my stats since all my music plays from my iPod
  • They’re black and look nice
  • Charging them is simple and easy, just set them on the base
  • Range extends to anywhere within 150ft
  • Additional inputs on the back so I can use any audio source
  • Remote control is wireless and works anywhere the speakers work
  • iPod charges while docked
  • Switch on the base that changes from Stereo to Mono in case you want to have only one speaker in a room

My only improvements/complaints:

  • No way to control song playback other than using preconfigured playlists and Next/Back
  • It would be awesome to have a small LCD on the remote to view/control the iPod
  • It would be nice to have a 5.1 version for use with my media center too
  • A bit pricey
  • Not a whole lot of bass
  • While they aren’t nearly as bad as my PS3, they do gather some dust well
  • I worry that the dock might snap off because I’m not using an adaptor since my protective case doesn’t fit in with the adaptor

All in all, I highly recommend them if you feel like you need a wireless solution for casual music listening. I may even buy another pair of speakers to add to the set in the future. You can find pretty low prices from different sellers on Amazon. I went with ANTOnline who shipped incredibly fast. Below you’ll find pictures of the unboxing, aka geek-porn:
Griffin Evolve Wireless SpeakersGriffin Evolve Wireless SpeakersGriffin Evolve Wireless SpeakersGriffin Evolve Wireless SpeakersGriffin Evolve Wireless SpeakersGriffin Evolve Wireless SpeakersGriffin Evolve Wireless SpeakersGriffin Evolve Wireless SpeakersGriffin Evolve Wireless SpeakersGriffin Evolve Wireless SpeakersGriffin Evolve Wireless SpeakersGriffin Evolve Wireless SpeakersGriffin Evolve Wireless SpeakersGriffin Evolve Wireless SpeakersGriffin Evolve Wireless SpeakersGriffin Evolve Wireless Speakers


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