Wii fixed it (even though they didn’t want us to)

December 28, 2012 at 12:13 pm (kids, moan, odds) (, , , , , , )

Do you get fed up with today’s “the bonnet is welded shut” mentality to consumer electronics?  I do.

Part of the issue, is that the drive for compactness is making the designs optimised for size rather than maintenance – so you get circuit boards shaped and interleaved around larger components, small ribbon connectors and carefully routed cables and so on.  You also find that you need to know the exact order in which to unscrew things and pop them apart, and then work out if something is fixed by a clip, glue, screw or something else.

But it doesn’t need to be as hard as it is.  There is also an annoying trend for hidden screws (often behind rubber feet or blanking panels that pop or stick on/off), speciality screws and one-way plastic fixings which makes the whole thing a lot more complicated than it needs to be.

But there is some hope.  The excellent site ifixit.com has a massive range of guides for many popular consumer electronic devices.  It is practically the haynes manual for electronics.  Haynes themselves do have some computer related manuals, and a wide range of novelty manuals (sold ‘for kids’ – but they don’t say how big or small the kids have to be) – including Bob the Builder, Thomas the Tank Engine, the Millenium Falcon, Thunderbirds and a few others.

But the nice thing about the ifixit.com website is the community around it – you can see comments from fellow fixers and see how many people have rated and attempted the fix.  It also lists the tools you need, and if you don’t have any you can help support the site by buying tools through them.  You can also buy spare parts.

So, with a slight twist of irony, whilst my car is wide open to home mechanics, I’ve long since got fed up with getting my hands dirty, and seeing what look like simple steps in a haynes manual, which are performed on prestine, clean, non-rusted-up parts, turn into hours of frustration and finding out I’ve not got the right replacement washer or something.  So today, I rely on a local, small garage round the corner and pay for their expertise and collection of tools and parts.

However with consumer electronics, I have most of the tools, already have the ‘well if its broken anyway I have nothing to lose’ mentality and enough of a background in basic electronics and computers to challenge the consumer electronics industry attempts at stopping me having a go.  And the parts are rarely rusted shut or covered in oil (the odd exception being something whose last moments might have been spent left in a rainy sandpit!  That tends to be fairly terminal).  With a little dust to clear here and there and some basic static precautions I’m quite ready to have a go.  In fact the most risky part is keeping the kids away from the carefully laid out screws and fittings as the thing comes apart – especially if something has to be taken apart and then left until a new part is sourced and delivered from some speciality online store or ebay.

And so, courtesy of a new drive from ebay. a tri-wing screwdriver, a range of small phillips screwdrivers, the ifixit.com guide for replacing the drive on a Wii, and some peace and quiet from the kids, we have a functioning Wii again and can now try out some of the new games the kids got for Christmas.

It’s not as hard as you might think but naturally you will void warrenties and everything is done at your own risk – but as I said, if its broken, you can either pay for repair (cash for someone else’s time), just buy a new one (what a waste) or at least see how complicated it will be to have a go yourself.

Viva the maker culture of repair not replace!


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Some Quirky Videos

December 24, 2012 at 12:16 am (art, interesting, internet, music, odds) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’ve recently got into Twitter, after having an account sitting unused for around 5 years and in that time some rather interesting, but slightly quirky videos have wandered past my twitter feed.

The Christmas Almost Number 1

First of all, a great candidate for a Christmas #1, but unfortunately they didn’t make it. They should have done.  Funny, slightly tongue in cheek, a little humble, and musically very accomplished, is “Christmas Gets Worse Every Year” by ‘The Other Guys’ – 12 students from St Andrew’s University, in Scotland.  See it for yourself here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YvZn1hgIvo

Thanks to the QI Elves (@qikipedia) for that one.

A Pale Blue Animation

This is a nice animation to accompany Carl Sagan’s monologue ‘A Pale Blue Dot’, itself inspired by the most distant photograph taken of Earth – a photograph from Voyager 1 from a distance of almost 4 billion miles away .  A thought provoking, perspective giving monologue with a slick animation to nicely drive home the meaning. See it here: http://vimeo.com/51960515

Thanks to Robin Ince (@robinince) posting in Brian Cox’s Twitter feed (@ProfBrianCox).

A Father-Daughter Yearly Pilgrimage

This is a nice story – every year Steve Addis takes his daughter to the same street corner in New York and takes a photo of him holding her.  Something that started when she was a year old.  This is a TED talk he shares his 15 most treasured photos from doing this, and the experience of getting a random stranger to take their picture – and how no-one has ever declined.  See it here: www.ted.com/talks/steven_addis_a_father_daughter_bond_one_photo_at_a_time.htm

I can’t remember where I first saw that one retweeted, but now I subscribe to TED Talks (@tedtalks) to make sure I don’t miss any more.

Don’t Assume Anything

This is another one that I saw courtesy of a retween from someone and then followed up.  It took me to the site of Richard Wiseman, that contains a number of very well done videos that challenge your views of the world – this is a particularly nice optical illusion.  See it here: http://richardwiseman.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/do-you-make-assumptions/

Now I follow Richard Wiseman (@RichardWiseman) too.

The Boy and His Robot

This is a lovely tale about a boy and is robot companion.  It combines the imaginary with the real, an idea of a fantasy future with the here-and-now and love, hate and dependency.  You might be tempted to click back after a couple of minutes to whatever you were doing before, but don’t – I thoroughly recommend watching the full 12 minutes.  Its sensitively surprising.  See it here: http://io9.com/5970839/a-lovely-short-film-about-a-boy-and-the-robot-he-cant-get-rid-of

Thanks to IO9 (@io9) for that one.

So a very interesting first few weeks on twitter – long may it continue.



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Creativity during mundanity

December 14, 2012 at 8:59 pm (art, interesting) (, , , )

Inbetween dozing on the train today, I happened to notice the person sitting next to me was typing on a laptop – as many often do.  Then I noticed that rather than something that looked like an email or a formal document, she was typing raw text into notepad, so I looked a little closer and then saw what she was doing.  She was writing a story; part of a narrative about a relationship.

Intrigued I then noticed the title of the document she was writing, and made a mental note, as I wondered if she was writing it to publish it anywhere or just writing for her own personal curiousity.  Well it turns out that the story is part of a series of fan-fiction writings being published via a LiveJournal.

Now, I have to say I am not a fan of the specific subject in question, but then I seriously doubt I am her target audience either.  But what really intrigued me though was to see a small glimpse of the creativity at work.  How the author was using the time as part of a commute (I don’t know if its a regular commute or not) to escape from the mundanity of the day into her own private fantasy world, using that time to turn that private world into a publicly visible fantasy world for others to enjoy too.

The LiveJournal blog contains the prolific writings of two authors, and it would appear that for a small moment, I stumbled across part 7 of a 9 part series being created right there and then.  It was interesting to see the care over writing, thinking, editing, deleting, writing some more and so on – the time taken to construct just a few phrases until they appeared to her liking.

I do wonder how many times during the day the author’s mind was with her fantasy world when it should have been on the real world and how long the entire work will take in terms of hours consumed to bring it to the public.  How many more train journeys it will take.

In interesting short insight into the act of creation as it happens.  I’ve made a mental note to check back in a month or two to see if the series is complete.


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No Ordinary Genius

December 13, 2012 at 9:36 pm (science) (, , , , , )

I have a DVD recorded off a video recorded off the TV of an old Horizon TV programme about Richard Feynman called “No Ordinary Genius”.  I have read Feynmans two books “Surely you’re joking Mr Feynman” and “What do you care what other people think?” and they are fascinating stories in their own right.  But they don’t really touch on his central work around physics.

From my university days, I still have the Feynman Lectures on Physics (my electricity and magnetism lecturer was a Feynman fan) and always have it in my mind to read them again one day (and see if I can remember any of my physics).  But the Horizon programme is great at giving a really good overview of his work, character and just quirkiness.

Now there are Feynman quotes a plenty on the Internet, but here are two that I particularly like from the series:

In the opening of the series, there is a now famous clip of Feynman talking at some student event or something and someone asks him about UFOs.  his response is that he can’t prove that they don’t exist, but that using scientific principles, he can say:

“From my knowledge of what I see of the world around me, I think that it is much more likely that the reports of flying saucers are the result of known irrational behaviour of terrestrial intelligence rather than the unknown rational characteristics of extra-terrestrial intelligence.”

And then a story recounted by one of his colleagues that I particularly liked too:

Dick acted as a consultant for a company in Switzerland, which took him there every summer. About 1982 or so, I had business in Europe, and I met Dick in Geneva.  We decided to kick around for several days.  We did the shops and the countryside on the first day, and on the second day, he asked what I’d like to do.  I said, “Well, if it isn’t too much like a postman’s holiday, I’d like to go over to CERN,” which is the European particle accellerator, where so much particle physics is done, and where Dick used to work a number of years before.  He said, “Sure.”  So we went over there, and Dick couldn’t find his way around because the buildings had changed.  We finally found our way in, and looked into a room where there were some physicists doing work on the blackboard.  One of them spotted Feynman, and pretty soon there was a crowd gathered, and the director came in.  He decided they’d take us on a tour.  We went into a 007, James Bond cave underneath the ground, with all this wonderful high-technology equipment.  There was a giant machine that was going to be rolled into the line of the particle accelerator.  The machine was maybe the size of a two-story building, on tracks, with lights and bulbs and dials and scaffolds all around, with men climbing all over it.

Feynman said, “What experiment is this?”

The director said, “Why this is an experiment to test the charge-change something-or-other under such-and-such circumstances.”  But he stopped suddenly, and he said, “I forgot!  This is your theory of charge-change, Dr. Feynman!  This is an experiment to demonstrate, if we can, your theory of fifteen years ago, called so-and-so.”  He was a little embarrassed at having forgotten it.

Feynman looked at this big machine, and he said, “How much does this cost?”  The man said, “Thirty-seven million dollars,” or whatever it was.

And Feynman said, “You don’t trust me?”

Well worth watching again if you have a spare hour or so – its now available in its entirety on YouTube.



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December 10, 2012 at 8:55 pm (interesting, odds, science) (, , , , , )

There is a lot of talk of “big data” – but I quite like the idea that big data means “more data than you have the computing power to process”.  And that isn’t new.  I particularly like this talk by John Graham-Cumming about big data – describing a big data problem they encountered … in the 1950’s.  The blurb for the conference describes it thus:

It’s 1951 and you’ve got the world’s first business computer and you’ve just been handed a Big Data problem. Go! With 2K of memory it was  powerful enough to run the then massive Lyons business.  But it wasn’t long, in 1955, before Big Data came calling in the form of a request from British Rail to calculate the shortest distance between every one of their 5,000 railway stations.

So why mention it at all?  Well there is an interesting discussion going on at the moment that we might soon be running out of metric units to describe big data.  Andrew McAfee’s blog describes the problem:

Yotta- , signifying 10^24, is the only metrix prefix left on the list. Only 20+ years ago, we didn’t anticipate needing anything beyond yotta. It seems safe to say that before the current decade is out we’ll need to convene a 20th conference to come up with some more prefixes for extraordinarily large quantities not to describe intergalactic distances or the amount of energy released by nuclear reactions, but to capture the amount of digital data in the world.

Yotta?  See wikipedia for the full list:

  • kilo = 1,000
  • mega = 1,000,000
  • giga = 1,000,000,000
  • tera = 1,000,000,000,000
  • peta = 1,000,000,000,000,000
  • exa = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000
  • zetta = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
  • yotta = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

Yes, that is 1 followed by 24 zeros.  But even that might not be enough.

So what is being considered?  Well some have suggested hella for 1 followed by 27 zeros, but I think that is missing a great opportunity.  I think it should be helluva.  Then we can have distances that are a helluvameter, really heavy things that are a helluvagram and if you are into really big data then obviously you need storage that has a helluvabyte in it.

But, seeing as Google already recognises hella, we might have missed that chance.  But then Google also already knows about googols too.



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Just in time Society

December 5, 2012 at 8:41 pm (kids, moan, odds) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Sometimes it seems like everything has to be ‘just in time’ or ‘on demand’.

Businesses don’t want to keep stock longer than they have to, so want to go for ‘just in time’ delivery to still deliver products ‘on demand’.  Food is getting faster, but we want more choice ‘on demand’.  Television is going ‘on demand’.  We use our Internet bandwidth to send us a personalised schedule of programmes to watch when with a little planning and upfront preparation we could just catch it as it streams through the air.  It is (currently at least) broadcast through the airwaves regardless of if we watch it or not – doesn’t it seem a little wasteful to then get it downloaded digitally using power, bandwidth, energy on a person-by-person basis?

But then that is kind of the point – people don’t do ‘up front’ anything anymore really.  We like our cars, partly because we don’t have to attempt to plan a journey up front.  In fact have you tried to negotiate you way around the complex mess that is the British rail system?  Fine if you want to go somewhere on the same line as your town – but just try to even work out what lines you might need to get somewhere else – its very hard work.  And forget attempting to browse to see if a short car or bus journey will take you cross country to a line that gets you somewhere more direct.  No, for the most part the ‘system’ will suggest a 60 mile trip into a major city to change trains to bring you back those 60 miles, but passing within 10 of your original starting point.

There is the promise of a future integrated transport system.  Or intelligent transport.  Or smart cities and towns and smart cars (and I don’t mean those quirky cars branded ‘smart’ – I mean cars that talk to each other and the road network).  There is the promise of an intelligent alarm clock that will know that your train is delayed by 10 minutes and so let you have an extra 10 minutes in bed, telling the coffee machine and water heater for the shower to adjust their timings accordingly.

There is the idea of fully intelligent and integrated transport systems, where buses, trains and road congestion is managed such that people pass through the system as efficiently as packets traversing computer networks.  Of course, when timetables are planned by computers down to the minute, what happens when a key dependent node is delayed by a minute and a half?

We talk of intelligent software agents that will know what you like to read and collect and order the day’s news for you, so your time is spent only on the things it has worked out you think are important.

So in order to have a ‘just in time’ and ‘on demand’ society, something is scheduling, planning and organising everything to a high precision at an ever increasing macro level.  It just won’t be people.  People are forgetting how to plan.

Or at least how to plan for themselves.  We hire ‘services’ to plan parties, weddings, meals, events.  We use ‘on demand’ media to stop worrying about reading TV schedules in advance.  We use ‘on demand’ films to not consider if we will watch a DVD enough to warrant purchasing a disk outright.  We use online shopping when we decide we need to (or want to) to not bother planning a trip to the shops.

And much of our social communication is becoming ‘on demand’ too.  In an era of mobile phones, there is much more ‘last minute’ decision making.  Don’t know where to meet up?  Txt when you arrive.  Not sure where to eat?  Use location based services to find a restaurant near your current location.  Want an impromptu coffee?  Just pop it up on Facebook and see if anyone turns up.

And messaging is going this way too.  In times of (practically for many) limitless text messages, why bother thinking too hard about what you might need to say.  One-word, non-thinking, ‘it’ll do’ answers are the norm.  Take communicating with your teenager these days.

The ‘thinking ahead’ conversation:

  • “Are you out tonight?”
  • “Yes.  Can I have a lift back?  I’ll be at xyz and finished around 10pm”.

The actual conversation (each taking up a txt message):

  • “Are you out tonight?”
  • “Yes”
  • “How are you getting home?”
  • “Can I have a lift?”
  • “Where are you?”
  • “xyz”
  • “What time will you be finished?”
  • “10pm”

Ok – actually, I lie – this is just teenagers and has been since time eternal.  I remember responding in exactly the same way myself to my parents.  The difference is each prompt and sentence costs another text.

Thinking ahead?  Who needs it.  Messaging and communications bandwidth are plentiful.



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Colossal Artistic Discovery

December 2, 2012 at 10:03 pm (art, interesting) (, , , , , , , , )

I just stumbled across this blog today – http://www.thisiscolossal.com. In the owners own words:

I like to describe Colossal as a blog that explores the intersection of art, design, and physical craft, specifically artwork that is tactile, physical and non-digital in nature. Each week you’ll find roughly 20-25 posts on photography, design, animation, painting, installation art, architecture, drawing and street art. There are frequently posts about things far out in left field, but generally Colossal is a reminder that in this digital age there are still countless people making incredible work with their bare hands.

Naturally there is a wonderful irony in using the tools of the digital age to promote art work that is firmly placed in the physical.  It is great that these works can reach such a large audience, and the owner of the blog appears to live up to his word when he states that he spends a lot of time considering what to include.

If you have the time, I strongly recommend browsing through the visual gallery (a visual index to all the posts).  If you want a quick taster, you could check out the top 20.  Otherwise, here are some of my favourites from the most recent entries.

Birds on Twitter – Someone has attached bacon and fat to a keyboard, and when birds land to peck at it, the result is a series of rather odd looking tweets to the @hungrey_birds twitter account – interspersed with various tweets about the project and a bit of this and that too.  Go back to March to see the tweeting birds …

Anamorphic Illusions – These are superb.  Paper based 2D illusions that look like 3D objects.  You just have to watch the video expose to appreciate what is going on here.

Cardboard Stop-motion Animations – This is a video where frames have been turned into paper cut-out frames which themselves have been stop-motion animated.  Again, you have to see the videos to appreciate this wonder.  Very, very clever and quite effective.

Cloned Video Animations – These are a set of animated gifs that give the impression of one of those repeated patterns you’d get on a zoetrope.  They are a bit large and slow to load, but well worth the effort and very slickly done.

Flawed Symmetry of Prediction – A time-lapse photography film that includes lots of amazing skylines, elements of graffiti and some perspective based optical illusions.  It’s very well done.

Slit Scan Photography – what a great effect!  And there is a classic moment where someone wanders by in the back corner of the video and goes a little wobbly too!  This had me wandering off to wikipedia to read more about the technique – although I must admit I’m still not really any the nearer in understanding it …

Moleskine Notebooks Stop-motion Animation – an interesting idea, just take notebooks and animate a scene or several.  Very smooth and inventive.

… and that just takes me back through a single month of the posts!  I think this website will keep me busy for some time to come.


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