Monday, May 15, 2006

Smart Clothing

The good folks at Sensatex are now advertising a new technology that allows sensing, monitoring and information processing devices to be embedded in textiles and networked together. The technology can be blended into any fabric without changing the look or feel. The sensors can monitor heart rate, respiration, body temperature and other vital signs.

The company's first offering will be the Smart Shirt System, which incorporates what they call the Wearable Motherboard Smart Shirt. This system will allow athletes to better monitor their performance, and can off load data to watches, PDAs, cell phones or computers. The shirts can also be used to easily monitor medically fragile patients, as well as keeping tabs on the health of fire fighters and other first responders in emergency situations.

For a chance to beta test their Smart Shirts send email through the Contact Us link under Press Room.

Replace Task Manager with Process Explorer

Sysinternals is a useful website created and maintained by Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell. You might remember Mark as the guy who broke the Sony rootkit story. They have created some amazing freeware utilities and tools for Windows. Two of my favorites are PsExec, which allows you to run processes on remote machines, and Process Explorer, which is a replacement for Window's built-in Task Manager.

Process Explorer can and should be configured to completely replace the Task Manager
. It provides much more information about the processes running on your computer as well as CPU activity history and allocated memory. Killing processes and changing priority are easily and quickly handled. Process Explorer also shows open handles and DLL and memory-mapped files for each process. This can help you quickly find which process has a file or directory locked.

These guys have made some really great tools and they are giving them away for free. Every one of their apps that I have tried is high quality and extremely useful. They provide source code for several of their tools, and Mark's Blog is also a wonderful resource for system administrators and users.

Tesla Coils aren't just for games anymore

This photo of a medium size Tesla Coil reminds me of my favorite series of games: Command and Conquer. The Tesla Coil was one of the best defensive weapons in the game, and just the sound of it charging was enough to send troops into retreat.

This model uses 450,000 watts for a 30 second charge, and the arc is easily strong enough to kill anything caught in its path. I think I would have put it a little closer to the street. You can view more Tesla Coil photos in this photostream.

Now if only someone would design the Advanced Guard Tower...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

How to Rip DVDs to Small AVI or MPG Formatted Files

WikiHow has a excellent tutorial on how to convert DVDs into AVI or MPG files. The tutorial is easy to follow and all of the software used is free.

For my personal setup I like to rip my DVDs to my hard drive using DVDShrink, then use DaemonTools to mount the ISO file in a virtual DVD drive. From there I use DVDx to create an AVI file, which I can watch on my Treo 650 using the Core Pocket Media Player, which I blogged about here.

Here are the codecs you need for XviD and DivX.

Google Gadgets

Google released a new version of the Google Desktop yesterday which included the new Google Gadgets. These are very similar to Konfabulator Widgets and can be docked to the Google Sidebar or float on the desktop.

My three favorite gadgets so far are gdpMetrics, which tracks website statistics; ShareIt, which lets you copy and past files, text and links to your Google Talk friends; and Adsense Status, which lets me track when people click on my ads and make me a little money. There are hundreds of gadgets currently available, and Google has released an API so thousands more should be available shortly.

Robot Roundup

This has been a big week in robotics. First, scientists are experimenting with tentacle-link manipulators for grasping oddly shaped objects (think bomb disposal). Second, Korea has developed the second humanoid android. Finally, scientists have been able to boost the performance of elastic metal "memory wire" by adding alcohol to the environment where the muscles are contracting.

Personally I think the last advancement is the most important, as it is a step towards creating everyone's favorite robot, the bending unit. I wonder if the alcohol they used was Olde Fortran?

Monday, May 08, 2006


I recently purchased the Logitech G15 keyboard and I have found it to be excellent in every way.
The G15 has a ton of features that make it the best keyboard on the market. The best feature for me is the backlit keyboard. I keep my keyboard under a monitor riser and it normally stays in the shadows. The backlit keys make it easy to see even in a completely dark room.

At the top of the G15 is a folding LCD panel that displays time and date, a now playing list for iTunes or Windows Media Player, a system resource display, and information in special games and applications.

The left side of the keyboard has 6 rows of 3 programmable "G keys", similar to the F keys at the top. Each of these keys can be programmed with single keystrokes, macros, application shortcuts and more. There are three G key modes, for a total of 54 possible functions, and a macro recorder button that starts an easy to use wizard.

The keyboard also includes media control keys with volume and mute, two built in USB ports with cord grooves, and a switch for gaming mode that turns off the Windows key.

I can't say enough good things about this keyboard. It is well worth the $100 list price, and you can easily find it for $80 at Best Buy or Froogle. It has been so useful to me that it has replaced my Belkin Nostromo n52 gamepad. No serious gamer or programmer should be without one.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Shape your own plastic parts

Recently I ran across ShapeLock, which is a plastic that can be shaped and formed at home. The company bills it as a "Ultra High Molecular Weight Low Temperature Thermoplastic". ShapeLock starts out as small plastic beads that when heated above 150 degrees melt and become malleable. Once a shape is formed and the plastic cools it is rigid and strong.

The cooled plastic is machinable and paintable, and looks like it will be perfect for creating custom plastic parts for a variety of uses. The material is also infinitely reusable, as it can be melted down and reshaped easily.

I purchased a 500 gram tub for $24.95 that I think will be sufficient to create dozens of small parts. The company also offers a free one ounce sample (plus shipping) so you can try before you buy. I have been very pleased with ShapeLock.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Optimizing Power Purchases

GridPoint is offering a commercial power appliance that reminds me of my thesis. It seeks to help business owners buy and store electricity at night when it is less expensive, and then use the stored electricity during the day when it would be expensive to purchase. The GridPoint Protect is aimed at businesses and runs $15,000-$20,000, but they do offer a unit for the home starting around $10,000. The company estimates a 15% savings on energy bills can be achieved, which would allow a business to recoup their investment in 4-5 years. For the consumer version you would need a very large home, high electricity needs or a long recovery period to make that initial investment up.

The unit also works as a clean backup generator that can kick in within 30 milliseconds, which can prevent data loss on computers and protect electronic equipment.

Cheap Tech T's and Schwag

Valleyschwag is offering a nice service to all the tech geeks that don't live in Silicon Valley. For $14.95 a month they will send you a monthly schwag care package full of high tech companies' stickers, freebies and at least one T-shirt. A decent T often costs $20, so this is really a steal. They also offer a money-back guarantee (minus shipping), so there is no risk.

You can check out some sample items here.