Friday, October 31, 2008

Dr. Horrible Makes Time's List of Best Inventions of 2008

In Time's roundup of the Best Inventions of 2008, they list Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog as #15
The write-up touched on the content of the show and it's success, but oddly didn't really talk about why it's important.

I think many observers think the importance of Dr. Horrible lies in that it represents a new model for program production that doesn't rely on studios or networks. The popular channels on YouTube, independent productions like Dr. Horrible and The Guild, and video podcasts are all showing that an independent producer can create a quality product and find an audience online.

No one is getting rich in this new media world yet, but the potential is clearly there.

As a viewer, I know my favorite online shows are MORE important to me than the stuff I watch on broadcast television.


And one point: Time.com earns a FAIL by not providing embeddable video.



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Monday, October 27, 2008

Neocube


Originally, I saw the NeoCube on geekbrief.
I ordered mine immediately!

The NeoCube is 216 spherical high-energy rare-earth magnets.
NdFeB to be exact. Incredibly strong for their tiny size.
I know... the nerds are already sold!

Don't let the videos fool you, this is really a wonderful puzzle. Because each magnet has a North and South pole, not every configuration will "stick" together.
It took me a few weeks of playing around before I was able to create the cube shape.

The Good:
  • Years of entertainment.
  • High-tech.
  • Compact.
  • Jewelry! (Cali Lewis of geekbrief has appeared wearing one; my nieces made a number of pieces of jewelry out out of mine.)
  • Just plain cool. Everyone who visits my desk wants to play with it.

The Bad:
  • Finding a lost sphere. They don't become detached too easily, but when a ball goes rolling, it will often find its way onto metal chair legs, appliance faces or other unusual places.
  • Because of the incredible strength of the magnets, you'll want to keep them away from electronic devices, pacemakers, and cards with magnetic strips.
  • Not safe for children who might ingest them.
  • Callouses. I've actually developed callouses on my thumb and index finger from "pinching off" spheres.
Check the website, or YouTube.

Here's my creations to date:


I'll do a posting in November on some of the basic techniques.

This is the perfect gift for that nerd in your life.

* UPDATE *
I just found video tutorials on the NeoCube web site. This will save you tons of time in learning the basics!


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Thursday, October 23, 2008

More Help for Your Wrists and Hands


I've already discussed the keyboards and other input devices I use to keep the wrists working after 8 hours of coding and 12 hours of gaming. (Hey, 4 hours of sleep is plenty!)

But that wear-and-tear still adds up and you need recuperation time for things to heal.
I noticed a few years ago that I tend to clench my left fist when I sleep, which really stops the tendons in that hand from recovering after a long week of keyboard activity.

The solution is to immobilize the wrist and prevent the fingers from curling up.
I tried sleeping with a wrist brace on, but that didn't solve the curled-fingers problem.

Eventually, I found the IMAK Pil-O-Splint Adjustable. It's basically just a padded rectangle with some plastic splints and velcro wrap. Thumb slots on both sides allow you to use it on either hand.
It does a good job of keeping the fingers flat and the wrist straight. It's also soft, comfortable and washable.

The only complaints I have about the product are that it can get warm in the summer, and that asymmetric wrap doesn't lie smoothly when wrapping very narrow or very wide hands.

IMAK came out with a "consumer" model (I didn't realize the Pil-O-Splint was supposed to be "medical grade") ealier this year called the SmartGlovePM.
It's less expensive, wraps straight across, and appears to have support for the thumb. This product (and the Pil-O-Splint Standard) aren't as adjustable and probably won't fit people with particularly narrow or wide hands or forearms.

I recommend this sort of night-time brace for anyone having wrist or tendon issues.


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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The 18th Loebner Prize for Artificial Intelligence


The 18th Loebner Prize for Artificial Intelligence was held this weekend in Reading, UK.
This formal Turing Test pits a number of programs against each other.
For those not familiar with the test proposed by Alan Turing, it simply involves a human in a text-based conversation with a machine. If the machine can fool a significant portion of the humans it interacts with into thinking the machine is human, then it has passed the Turing Test.

The BBC got to send an interrogator and has excellent coverage of the resultt, including some video and audio interviews.

No program has crossed the 30% threshold set by Turing, but Fred Roberts' Elbot managed to fool three of the twelve judges.

You can talk to Elbot yourself , or read his blog!

And just to tie this into yesterday's post, Alan Turing appears in the Neal Stephenson book, Cryptonomicon!



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Monday, October 13, 2008

Anathem

I took a couple days last week to read Neal Stephenson's latest: Anathem.

Cryptonomicon is my favorite book, so I always have high hopes when he cranks out a new one.
While I enjoyed portions of The Baroque Cycle, overall, I didn't recommend it. Just too dense and the detailed historical political machinations left me cold.

Cryptonomicon and The Diamond Age were filled with topics I'm familiar with, so I loved those books.

Similarly, most of the subjects in Anathem are things of interest to me, so I had no problem following along. For those not up on their quantum particle theories or Existential schools of thought, Stephenson provides entries from The Dictionary and often has characters engage in Platonic Dialogs on these topics.

Being a word nerd, I enjoyed his playing around with language. Again, The Dictionary is frequently presented for those who don't enjoy ferreting out the meanings of strange words.

So, what's it about?
As with all good literature that's hard to define.
Superficially, it's an adventure story. A boy leading a (literally) cloistered life finds himself leading a group of people from different backgrounds on a journey to save their way of life. A terrific story in a great setting.

Of course, it's also about some Big Ideas like the intersection of quantum mechanics and philosophy. Sort of Schrödinger's cat in the many-worlds model meets Nietzsche.

It's also about how society's relationship with technology.
A love story! Space ninjas! Magic balls!

Let's just say it's epic, contemplative, educational and most of all, entertaining.
It IS a lengthy book, so if you're not used to plowing through 900 pages, pick it up on CD or downloaded audiobook.

Like most of Stephenson's "speculative fiction" it is absolutely grounded in history. Because of this, everything has a realism and believability that draws us into the world of brother Erasmas and the journey he is about to begin.





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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dr. Horrible in Pumpkin Form


Sure, the Dr. Horrible in My Little Pony Form was creepy, but now you can put the bad Doctor on your doorstep this Halloween.

John over at Pink Raygun has created this terrific pumpkin carving template.

I always assumed Pink Raygun was all girls. That's what I get for not reading the FAQ.

If you're looking to live the dream and dress as a character from Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog, check my rundown of costume part sources.

The Little Folksinger Performs for Billboard.com

I dragged the usual suspects out to an Ani Difranco concert this weekend.
We got all folked up and filled with positivity!

Here's a recent performance Ani did for billboard.com. I think it really demonstrates the incredible charm of The Little Folksinger.





If that makes your day, be sure to pick up the latest album, Red Letter Year or dig through the whole discography.

Being a "Folk Singer" means there will be progressive politicking going on. But don't be afraid! Plenty of songs of unrequited love, songs of joy, and songs about the music biz as well.


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Monday, October 6, 2008

Input Peripherals

My coworkers comment (OK, complain) every time they try to use my computer at the office. My online gamer friends are often interested in my gaming keyboard rig. So here's the poop:



Office Rig
Left-to-right:
Contour Designs ShuttlePro
Used primarily for web browsing (combine with SmoothWheel for scrolling bliss), video and audio editing.

PC Concepts i-MMT

No longer produced, this ancient PS/2 (Running an old Belkin USB-PS/2 adapter) keyboard has one of the best layouts of reasonably-normal QWERTY keyboard I've seen. Nice wide separation of left and right hands. Raised BACK end. Inverted-T arrows, and a full numpad and function keys.

Gel Wrist Pad
Most manual input devices allow your wrist to bend too much, so I use a lot of these crescent gel wrist rests. I believe the one on this keyboard is from Belkin. I have some others from off-brand manufacturers.

Microsoft Natural Wireless Mouse 6000
Excellent for "work." Decent mass-market mouse for reduced wrist pronation. Not as aggressive as the Evolent mouse, but readily available.

On the video riser: VXI USB headset. This is used for MacSpeech speech-to-text input. Best way to save wear-and-tear on the fingers is to just type less.




Gaming Rig
Left-to-right:
Belkin Nostromo n52te
This is my third Nostromo. The n52te is well worth the extra money in my opinion because the buttons require much less force. Unfortunately, it's not as programmable as the SpeedPad n52, but I took the tradeoff of comfort over programmability.

Kinesis Advantage keyboard

Nearly perfect layout. I'd prefer the center gap to be a bit wider (I'm a pretty wide guy) and the keys to angle in slightly, but otherwise just a terrific keyboard. Although it's basically a QWERTY layout, friends and co-workers find it intimidating and generally refuse to even try it.

Gel Wrist Pads
Again, I think the extra height reduces wrist deflection and the fabric-covered gel is very comfortable.

Microsoft Intellipoint Optical Mouse
The classic. I find this the best mouse for my gaming style. It's not too tall; it's light; and it has 5 properly placed programmable buttons. My problem with the Razer mice is that they generally put buttons #4 and #5 on the same side of the mouse. I prefer to have them on opposite sides so I can use my ring finger.

Yes, that's a Kim Possible mouse pad... And No: I don't know where you can get one.


Things to Look For in a Keyboard
Slant. Most "ergonomic" keyboards actually slant the wrong way! If you are concerned about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or Tendinitis from keyboard entry, then you want your wrists as flat as possible. Any deflection is going to cause the tendons to rub and cause injury.

"Vertical" angle: When you move your fingers forward or backwards off of the home row, do they line up with the keys? That's the big advantage of a "split" keyboard layout: the keys for each hand can be rotated to be more comfortable.



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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dr. Horrible Costumes for Halloween

Yes, yes.
You liked the WoW Costumes, but really want the Dr. Horrible evilness!

What I've found so far:

Terrific resource at DoctorHorrible.net. Multiple contributors maintaining a list of known vendors, as well as documenting costume projects.

MyDisguises also did an excellent job.

Doctor Horrible:

Goggles:
The consensus appears to be that the Goggles are from Fibre-Metal Products, model FIBVG800sH5.
A web search will give you a number of welding and safety stores where you can purchase them for under $20.

Lab Coat:
The Lab Coat appears to be Firefly prop.
In the real world it is a Howie Coat with a Chinese Collar.
I found an online source for disposable ones at Specialty Textiles in the UK.
Iron Gate Gallery is producing an excellent replica but booked up for Halloween 2008. Get your order in for 2009!
Otherwise, there are a number of Mad Scientist costumes that can be adapted by painting/replacing buttons and such.
The caduceus logo is a custom work as well. I searched online for pre-made embroidered patches, but it looks like all that sort of thing is made-to-order nowadays. The good news is that you can take your coat to your local embroidery shop have it done perfectly.

Gloves:
The gloves are white welding gloves.
All roads seem to lead to the Tillman Elkskin.

Boots:
The white lab boots:
White Polymax Ultra Knee Boot
Or the budget versions:
"Shrimper" boots at Ace Hardware
A PVC chemical boot at allsafetysupplies.com



Captain Hammer:

Shirt:
The Official Shirt from J!nx.

Gloves:

Plain black gauntlets from Excalibur Leather.
These black gauntlets on Amazon have the buckle.




Or you can just be a groupie:







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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Felicia Day on techzulu

Techzulu cornered Kent Nichols (Ask A Ninja) and Felicia Day (The Guild, Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog) at The New Media Expo.

Fun banter about the nature of Internet Celebrity, valet parking in LA, and updates on Ask A Ninja and The Guild.

Is Felicia more famous for the Cheetos commercial or The Guild? Watch the vid!





Related links:
The Guild
Ask A Ninja
techzulu
Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog



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World of Warcraft® Officially Licensed Halloween Costumes


Are you nerdy enough to dress as your favorite WoW character for Halloween? Need to get your Blood Elf ears? How about a full-head Tauren mask?

From the World of Warcraft Site:

Blizzard Entertainment and Rubie's Costume Company are proud to introduce a new line of Warcraft-themed Halloween goods. From deluxe tauren masks to full night elf kits, there's something for everyone to equip -- and it's all perfectly tailored for looting epic candy drops. Visit the retailers below to check out the new gear




These and other cool masks, makeup and prosthetics are available online from:






For those more crafty folks, the Simplicity patterns are out of print, but available on eBay.







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