Saturday, 02 July 2005

07worksI have a couple of hobbies that have stuck with me for a few years. And one of them culminates yearly on the 4th of July. I have a license to blow up stuff granted to me by the State of Oregon - a pyrotechnician operator's license. Thanks to some friends at a commercial fireworks display company near me, I get to have some fun now and then by shooting their shows.

On Monday, a bunch of friends and coworkers of mine will be meeting me in a town near here, where we'll be setting up the public fireworks display show to be launched later that evening. Then we'll clean it up. It will be a blast. Pun completely intended.

It's not a huge show or anything, but it's more work than you might realize. While the sponsoring city has a backhoe dig an 18-inch trench about 150 feet long, everything else is done by hand by the pyro crew. We will be unloading and burying over 400 individual mortar tubes, all of them 4- and 5-inch diameter sizes. We'll set them in the trench, backfill the trench to hold the mortar tubes securely in place, and prep the area. It's quite a bit of work.

And by the way - the crew is made up completely of people who are interested in doing the work. I just ask people I know if they're interested and see who wants to help. The only qualifications I put on my crew are those placed on them by the state - you have to be old enough (21), sober (duh) and not legally banned from handling explosives (the ATF cares about this a lot) - plus my own additions of "must not be crazy and must be able and willing to be very, very safe." It also helps if you can bear some fairly acrid smoke and don't mind getting dirty. Sometimes very dirty. In other worlds, it's open to most people who show an interest and want to give it a try. Some people even come back for more.

20040709_fireworks2Anyhow, after we get the mortars installed in the ground, we'll unpack the explosives - the fireworks shells that is - and carefully load them into their individual mortars. We'll check and double-check them, and if necessary we'll prep the whole thing in case of weather problems (wet fireworks simply don't work very well). We'll have time to be meticulous and make sure everything's just right. By the time we're set up, everyone working will be more than ready for a break. We'll break for dinner, followed by an evening of hanging around keeping the curious gawkers with cigarettes away, while waiting for 10:00pm to come around.

Then, in a total of about 15 or so minutes, we'll light some fusees and destroy what took us several hours to prepare. After the excitement is over, we'll spend an hour or so cleaning it all up, digging out the mortar tubes in the dark and putting them back on the truck. And then we'll finally get out of there.

It makes for a long, fun day - you're worn out by the time it's all over with. Because I have some pretty nagging back problems, I can't really do any of the heavy lifting or twisting this year, so I am quite grateful there will be a good crew of people there to share in the fun. I'll just focus on the requisite safety teaching and making sure no one does anything that could get them hurt. It's no fun anymore if anyone gets hurt, after all.

Once you've smelled the smoke, there is no return. Fact is, there's nothing like lighting several hundred big-bore cannons you've stuck in the ground - firing out loud concussions of kaboom and hurling colorful stuff into the sky - to get your blood pumping. Travis (in his typical colorful blog entry style) put it this way last year:

"An exhausting day, to be sure, but there's something about it that, once you've done it, you can't not do it again. It's all of the scariness and loud bang and fire of war with the safety of proper setup and equipment (and the knowledge that no one is actually shooting back at you). You smell the gunpowder smoke, you feel the impact, and you're hooked.

"We'll definitely be back next year. Hopefully it won't be at the sewage treatment plant."

Umm, sorry dude - same misty city as last year, applicators and all. Heheh...

Happy 4th!

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Saturday, 02 July 2005 11:30:27 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I've been using MS Tablet PC powered computers since Compaq came out with the TC1000 a couple/few years ago. After that I switched to the Acer C300-series devices. I've had a couple of the Acers, because they don't wear quite as well as one would have hoped. Thank goodness they have a reasonable RMA/repair policy. As it turns out, the Acer has pretty much everything I need and want: A big, bright, contrasty display; built in DVD burner; touchpad and decent keyboard. What it lacks is frustrating, though: Durability of the pivot hinge with significant use is bad; the case's surface finish wears off; battery life is fair; screen resolution is typically marginal (it's the standard 1024x768). I use the Acer as a laptop more than I do in tablet mode. but when I want tablet mode it's there for me in a matter of a couple of seconds. Oh, and the Acer's a bit heavy. There have been others. I carried around a Toshiba M200 for a while. I didn't like it. The display was flat and dim, and performance was mediocre. No built in optical or removable drive. It just didn't work for me.

Anyhow, yesterday over at Engadget they asked "How would you change the Tablet PC?" There are pushing 100 comment responses as of the time of this post, and while some of the answers are not that helpful, some of them are quite interesting. Check it out over there.

What do I think needs to be in every Tablet PC? Here's my own quick list:

  • Greater than 1024x768 resolution (I can change font and icon sizes if I need to)
  • Display must be bright and contrasty (I like the Acer and Sony bright displays for this)
  • Included high-end docking station
  • Optical burner drive built in (DVD+RW, dual layer even better, make it so I can replace it in a year when the "standards" change)
  • OneNote included (like Toshiba does)
  • Extra pen built in (like Toshiba does)
  • Use a power source readily available on the market so I can plug it into my generic Car/AC/Airplane power adapter
  • Up to 2GB RAM (or more would be fine)
  • Touchpad (I really don't like the red rubber eraser nub thing)
  • Microphones everywhere, high gain, noise canceling
  • Built in camera on the top edge that can rotate/flip to point at the user or away (like Sony's portables) - at least a couple megapixels with a glass lens
  • Biometrics - a fingerprint reader that works

That's for today. What do I want to see in the future?

  • One button, two-second power-on-to-available capability
  • Roll-up computer
  • Gesture tough control support
  • Whatever input recognition they choose, it sure as heck better not be T9...
  • Brain input must not require use of the Microsoft ImplantTM (nor the Apple ImplantTM for that matter)
  • Media center, personal media center, tablet, etc all in every device: Desktops, notebooks, handhelds, etc.

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Saturday, 02 July 2005 08:33:12 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 27 June 2005

Steel Battalion ControllerI got a wild hair a week or two ago and picked up a Steel Battalion game and uber-controller on eBay.

Oh. My. God.


This game - and it's incredible game controller setup (detail here, image at right) - is pretty darned cool.

At, they essentially say that Steel Battalion and Steel Battalion: Line of Contact are both "daunting games to be a novice at, even for very experienced gamers." That's an understatement. 

Line of Contact is the XBOX Live multiplayer sequel to the original single-player game: "The level of complexity entailed in the game is on a par with PC based massively multiplayer role playing games, but with a challenging controller interface, live voice-based communication and a stiff penalty for inattentiveness (eject or lose your pilot)."

Line of Contact Screen-ShotIt's an awesome simulator game, where you "pilot" a futuristic vertical tank (VT - basically like in Mechwarrior) and the controller has (get this) something like 40 freakin' buttons, and they all actually work! Mastering this game will be nearly impossible. So sweet!

I hooked it all up this evening, and immediately failed to make the thing drive very well, so I focused instead on shooting the heck out of stuff. And since I did not eject in time, my player got completely wiped out. Yep - you have to eject if your VT gets shot up bad enough, in order to keep your player alive and available for the next round. Talk about simulators, heheh...

If you've never seen this game, especially if you like simulators, you should check it out any chance you get. Heck - Call me and drop by (if you happen to be in the Middle of Nowhere anytime soon), I'll let you play this one.

It's a great addition to my pile of Microsoft XBOX stuff.

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Monday, 27 June 2005 20:20:19 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 25 June 2005

Uh oh – GoogleFight is something I’d already forgotten about, somehow…

Someone make it stop. Three of us are here are running battles to see who wins, Greg Hughes or Brandon Watts? Matt Hartley or Brandon Watts? (by the way, Matt’s blog here and Brandon’s blog here) Hmmm…

More fights:


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Saturday, 25 June 2005 15:04:56 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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What is WeatherBug? As a piece of software, it puts the weather on your desktop. It’s live, updating every two seconds. NOAA doesn’t do this – they update every 15 minutes at best. As a company and a bunch of people, here is how they describe themselves:

“WeatherBug is the ultimate geek-ified company. We are about creating cool and fun technology, teaching children, and saving lives.”

RSS weather feeds accessible by ZIP code will be available in July – that will be cool. They will also be shipping WeatherBug for the Mac.

Controversy – because what would a good conference be without it? Lots of discussion here at Gnomedex about the presentation in which this company is being highlighted. About how WeatherBug used to have spy/adware, but that was a long time ago, and now it doesn’t – Seriously. It doesn’t. Also, the fact that I am writing about their product at all (actually I am mostly interested in the 2–second differentiator) is exactly what some people are complaining about here, because Steve Rubel (according to some of the crowd) used this presentation as a vehicle to do PR for one of his clients. So what. Decent example of PR, short time to fill, interesting info.

Whatever. Heh. I still like the every-two-second data update thing. That’s sweet.

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GnomeDex | RSS Stuff | Tech
Saturday, 25 June 2005 14:05:43 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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If you live around Portland, Oregon or somewhere kinda-sorta nearby so you can get here, and if you're interested in coding, put the PDX Code Camp event on your calendar. It's free, but you need to register so they can plan for you to be there.

What is Code Camp?

Code Camp is a new type of community event where developers talk with—and learn from—fellow developers. All are welcome to attend and speak. Code Camps have been wildly successful, and we’re going to bring that success to Portland.

An original Code Camp organizer, Thom Robbins, wrote a six-point manifesto: Code Camps are (1) by and for the developer community; (2) always free; (3) community developed material; (4) no fluff – only code; (5) community ownership; and (6) never occur during working hours.

What can I expect at the Portland Code Camp?

Two full days of talking about code with fellow developers, on the scenic Reed College campus. Sessions will range from informal “chalk talks” to presentations. There will be a mix of presenters, some experienced folks, for some it may be their first opportunity to speak in public. And we are expecting to see people from throughout the Pacific Northwest region.

To create a little structure, we’ve proposed a variety of one- and two-day tracks including Hobbyists, Mobile and Tablet PC, Architecture and Patterns, Databases, Web Development, Client Development, Games Development, Tools, Methodology, XML and Web, and “Alternative Lifestyles” (Ruby on Rails, Python, Squeak, etc.)

Watch this site for more details and schedule as we firm things up.

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Saturday, 25 June 2005 13:18:14 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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