Mar 032011
 

Astonishingly, you can install MS-DOS 5.0 on a virtual machine, “upgrade” to Windows 1.0 and then follow the Microsoft upgrade path through all the major Windows versions — including 3.1, 95, Vista and 7 — to get to a fully functional Windows machine.

Your Win7 install will have some remnants of older Windows installs (Reversi!) but it tends to function just fine.

Colour me impressed.

(via tdw)

May 052010
 

There was a bunch of confusion when Apple announced the iPad, because they’d unilaterally decided to embed it with a custom microSIM card, instead of a regular SIM card. That meant that your cellular info, essentially, was locked into the iPad, and couldn’t be shared with your cell phone.

Until now, when a clever, um, hacker, showed that you can just snip your regular SIM card down with a kitchen knife and a pair of scissors, and it’ll fit nice and dandy into the microSIM slot.

Of course, I think this is a one-way trip. Cool, though!

Apr 082010
 

Introducing “Bedometer” — the iPhone app that tells you how many calories you’ve burned while having sex. Simply lay it on the bed beside you, start it up, then, when you and your partner start things up, the iPhone will measure the bed’s jiggles, and tell you precisely how, um, frisky you’ve been. It’s also iPad compatible.

Hey, it’s also for singles!

At 99 cents, it’s harmless and kind of cute, even. But as MomLogic puts it, “Shouldn’t having sex be one of the times we can stop fretting about the baby weight?”

(Via Daily Dose of Common Sense, who echoes the feeling: “if you’re worried about how many calories you’re burning during sex then you’re worrying too much.”)

Apr 082010
 

I just wrapped up teaching a couple of intro journalism classes at Brandon University, and the best part of it (besides the inquisitive, engaged students) was the time that I got to spend delving into internet-based journalism. There’s a ton of really exciting ideas floating around out there, and the students and I spent the last few weeks of the semester brainstorming and debating what the future might hold.

So I can only imagine how awesome it would be to get involved with a new course at Columbia University that is offering a half Computer Science, half Journalism degree.

Yes.

The hope, according to this piece on Wired.com, is that these graduates will be able to bridge the gap between tech and journalism. Sure, many journalists love playing around with multimedia, video, and interactive websites. But who’s going to build the next generation of such technologies:

“Some people coming out of high school or college possess technical savvy, but more often than not, the skill set is bordered by an ability to use Wikipedia, Facebook and Gmail,” said Grueskin, noting that while Columbia journalism students are taught to edit multimedia and maintain websites, “almost all of those skills rely on using existing software or programs to do digital journalism. We hope and expect that graduates of this program will be more able to innovate and create the solutions the news business so sorely needs.”

Wired has a list of technological solutions that the grads might apply themselves to, including automated journalism, data visualization, deep data mining and something they call “digital trust.”

It sounds awesome. And I can’t wait to learn more about this course’s curriculum, and then to incorporate some of what they’re exploring into my own class discussions.

(Oh, and also I hope that it filters out into my day job.)

Jan 272010
 

And now I have a repository to download them from. Check out SimpleDesktops.com for a selection of highly usable desktop backgrounds, like the one above

Frankly, I just don’t understand how people can use super-realistic futuristic cars, or hot chicks, or movie stills or whatever as a desktop background. How do you find your icons against such a busy backdrop? I much prefer the simple approach.

Oct 232009
 

magic-mouse

Well, I happened to stop at an Apple Store yesterday, specifically to take a look at the 27″ iMacs and even more specifically to get my grimy little fingers on a Magic Mouse. I’ve had lengthy thoughts about those touch-pad mice, and I was curious to see what the real thing was like. Because, honestly, I felt they could be AWESOME, but I also had serious doubts about them.

In the end, the salesguy (Amy liked his glasses) pretty much sold me on the awesomeness of the 27″ iMac, but I left the store unconvinced about the Magic Mouse.

Here’s a review of my brief hands-on with it:

This mouse is gorgeous. It’s white and shiny and translucent and I wanted to touch it from the first time I saw it. Pictures cannot capture it. Of course, I suspect that two weeks of using it will leave it filthy and scratched.

Thankfully, the mouse actually, physically *clicks*. The left and right side depress with a satisfying snick. I worried that it was like a touchpad, and you’d have to lift your fingers off the mouse and then just touch it to click, but it’s got a mechanical click, so that’s okay. I like to drum my fingers on the surface of the mouse, and a fully-touchpad-mouse wouldn’t work at all for me.

There are two buttons on this mouse. No more, no less. So, if you’ve got a customized something-or-other set up with the side buttons on your current Mighty Mouse, you’re out of luck. (I don’t — I have never found those side buttons possible to use.)

The scrolling is effortless, and works well through almost the whole top of the mouse. I liked it. A lot. You can also scroll side to side, which is like the little ball on the top of the Mighty Mouse does, and I find that exceedingly useful in my day-to-day life.

The swiping (using two fingers side-to-side) was also effortless, and I liked it a lot as well. I just don’t think I’d ever use it. You can swipe back and forth to go “back” and “forward” in Safari, but the backspace key works just as well (perhaps better) and I hardly ever use the “forward” button. Do you?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a middle button. On most mice, you can click the scroll wheel, and that just might be my most-used button. I click the middle button to open new tabs in Firefox for browsing, and I click the middle button to close those tabs. Living without a middle button drives me so nuts that when my mouse when on the fritz recently, I surreptitiously traded mice with the guy at the desk beside me.

The salesguy with the great glasses told me that Apple was able to add functionality to the mouse just through a software update, and there were rumours of the pinch-to-zoom gesture being added as well as possibly a three-finger click to replace the middle button. That’s not ideal, but it might work for me. I worry that pinch-to-zoom would be accidentally triggered by a finger plus the ball of my thumb, resting on the mouse.

I’m also disappointed that this is a battery powered mouse. I never use my mouse more than a few inches from my computer — I don’t need the flexibility of a cordless mouse. It seemed responsive and snappy when I used it at the Apple Store, but I’m not going to be pleased that I have to dump new batteries in it every few months.

Verdict: Good, but not great. If you get it included when you buy a new Mac, you’ll probably do just fine with it, although some of the little annoyances I’ve noted above will bother some people more than they bother others.

But under no circumstances should you go spend $69 (!) to get this mouse as a stand-alone accessory.

Now, about the delicious 27″ iMac … did I mention that it’s as big as a TV, that it has more-than-high-def 2560 x 1440 resolution and that they sell wall-mount kits for it?

Jul 312009
 

SHREDDER_CUTTING_HEAD

Using an ordinary office-grade scanner and some simple character recognition, at least one company promises to recreate shredded documents. That’s just one of the things I learned in this Slate article about “unshredding”:

Before advances in scanning and computer technology, documents had to be reconstructed by hand. Assuming all the pieces are in one place, reassembling a shredded document is a bit like solving a jigsaw puzzle; the reconstructionist must painstakingly sift through the shreds, looking for matches. During the 1979 Iranian Revolution, students and militants who took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran turned to local carpet weavers to reassemble classified CIA documents they found that had been shredded. These pages were later published in a set of about 60 volumes called Documents From the U.S. Espionage Den. And in 2002, former FBI agent William Daly took about an hour to reassemble a shredded page from the dictionary on Good Morning America.

Other takeaways? Some “shredders” go way further than that — they pulverize the paper into dust, says Slate. I should tell my sister. She’s been a ferocious user of paper shredders since she was about a pre-teen. Anything — even junk mail — that has her name or address on it goes into the shredder. Once, we got her a crosscut shredder for Christmas, which cuts the paper into small squares, rather than long strips and is much harder to reassemble. She was delighted.

Jul 262009
 

Scientists have harnessed the power of bacteria to create a “computer” that’s capable of solving specialized math and logic problems. Explains the Guardian:

The research, published today in the Journal of Biological Engineering, proves that bacteria can be used to solve a puzzle known as the Hamiltonian Path Problem. Imagine you want to tour the 10 biggest cities in the UK, starting in London (number 1) and finishing in Bristol (number 10). The solution to the Hamiltonian Path Problem is the the shortest possible route you can take.

This simple problem is surprisingly difficult to solve. There are over 3.5 million possible routes to choose from, and a regular computer must try them out one at a time to find the shortest. Alternatively, a computer made from millions of bacteria can look at every route simultaneously.

As I understand it, the millions-strong bacteria are massively parallel-processing — actually, it’s somewhat akin to the promise they keep holding out of quantum computing, when every answer comes up simultaneously and instantaneously.

I’m not sure that I ever want a bacterial computer growing on agar in a Petri-dish desk, but I’m intrigued by the possibilities. You know, the bacterial computer was created by splicing different genes into the bacteria — some that glow red and some that glow yellow. When all this genetic engineering was still pie-in-the-sky, I don’t remember people saying, “Hey, if we can just do this futuristic gene splicing, we can get bacterial computers that instantly solve pressing tourism-related problems!”

So it seems to me this is one of those spin-off benefits that no one anticipated. Cool! Go science!

Jun 142009
 

newsbreaker

Like a grandparent’s worst horrifying nightmare of how kids these days will get their news, MSNBC now offers an online game called NewsBreaker. Ripped from any context, disembodied headlines float down from the top of your screen, but it’s difficult to read them since your goal is to run your paddle back and forth along the bottom, bouncing a ball up and down to break the brick wall at the top.

The headlines? Oh, you can collect 25 of them for a bonus life, but there’s no incentive to actually read the stories.

Jun 032009
 

watermachine

A blog post at the New York Times points me in the direction of the “Phillips machine.” Using water in place of cash, it is an intricate assembly of pumps, pipes and valves, mimicking the economy. But it’s not just a Rube Goldberg machine — it actually works! By adjusting various gates and flows, you can make the machine predict what would happen if you, say, raised or lowered interest rates. Or if you increased the money supply. Or changed the taxation rate — or any other of a dozen or more variables.

It was incredible for its time (it was unveiled in 1949) and it’s still pretty neat to think about.

You could easily write a computer program to do this today, but there’s something so visceral about seeing actual water flow which makes this better. Says the New York Times:

Though it’s tempting to view the Phillips machine as a relic of a bygone era, in one way it’s just the opposite; there’s something about it as fresh as the day it began gurgling. Look at its plumbing diagram. It’s a network of dynamic feedback loops. In this sense the Phillips machine foreshadowed one of the most central challenges in science today: the quest to decipher and control the complex, interconnected systems that pervade our lives.

Here’s a video of it, in action.

Jun 012009
 

microsoft

Apparently, this is a picture that’s been circulating through email forwards for a few years, but I’d never seen it until it was linked to as a throwaway citation in a Wired piece.

So, I know it’s the Seventies and all, but those are some scraggly looking people. Would you have thrown your cash in with their newfangled business idea to sell “virtual” “software” to help people run their “computers”? Or would you have said “Eff you, you longhaired nerds. I have better things to do with my hard-earned money than throw it away on your fancy typewritin’ machines!”?

Me, I probably wouldn’t have had any money to invest, so the question’s moot.

The picture’s real, though, at least according to the Museum of Hoaxes (and if you can’t trust the Museum of Hoaxes as to what’s real, then who can you trust?). They not it’s also featured in Bill Gates’ official Microsoft biography.

May 302009
 

Click “activate keyboard controls” and use your keyboard to play the, um, keyboard.

Here’s the code for Hey Jude:
LJ JLQH HJKE EWLQLKJ LQQ QREWEQL GHJQL LKJFG

And Star Wars:
…s h gfdl h gfdl h gfgd …s h gfdl h gfdl h gfgd …/ /gfdssdfd/8 …/ /gfdhdd …/ /gfdssdfd/8 hhh

You have to use the capitals or lowercase as indicated. There are many more songs (and it’s WAY easier to see) on the website:

buttonbeats.com