Archive for category Sad

Idea: In perpetuity web hosting

When people die their web sites usually go down after a year or two, when nobody pays the hosting and/or domain fees, or due to uncorrected technical problems.

This is a problem a company could solve.

For example, my friend Sasha Chislenko died 16 years ago. One bit of luck (in an ultimately unlucky life) was that a group of his friends got together and decided to preserve his web page for eternity – or at least until those friends die off or forget about it.

On the other hand Chuck Moore, the inventor of the Forth programming language, had a personal website at that hosted lots of interesting historical and technical material. I don’t know if Chuck is alive or dead (I hope he’s OK!), but his website went down sometime in the last 6 months.

For the subset of humanity that maintain personal websites and blogs, those sites represent an intellectual legacy – I think most of them would like to think that while they may die, their ideas and intellectual contributions will live on, to some degree, on their web site.

Certainly I would.

Of course, the Wayback Machine already attempts to preserve the past web, (and that’s great and worthwhile), but it’s not as good as keeping the original site going. The Wayback Machine doesn’t serve links to the old site, doesn’t preserve the final version (just the last randomly sampled version before the site goes down), and doesn’t serve certain file types, large files, or execute server-side code as the original site did.

Nor is the Wayback Machine well indexed by search engines (for now anyway).

So – a service that does this for a fee would seem to be a viable business.

Like a cemetery or university, in-perpetuity maintenance could be funded by a conservatively managed endowment (a lump sum invested, with the interest/earnings used to pay fees) plus some insurance.

Given that web site maintenance is pretty cheap, this would be quite affordable, I think. Even cheaper if it can be funded by (essentially) a whole-life insurance policy (for younger people).

The main effort would be setting up a suitable legal structure – a technically-minded lawyer could probably do it. I think you’d want some kind of trust and trustees, who manage a central endowment fund (pooled for all customers) and hire technicians to do the work.

Yes, you have my permission to use this idea. My usual terms apply.

Use Office 2003 in Windows 10

I’m getting to that age, I guess – becoming a stuck-in-the-mud. I’m still using Office 2003 because…reasons.

Anyway, it works fine in Windows 10 except that the File Open dialog boxes won’t follow shortcuts (.lnk files). It did in Windows 7, but now it doesn’t.


No, this isn’t Word 2003. But it captures the spirit.

This is not a huge problem except when you want to do “Compare and Merge Documents…”. Then it’s maddening.

Here’s a workaround:

Use Explorer to find the file you want to compare the current file to. Select the file and press Shift-RightClick. This will offer “Copy as path”. Pick that.

Then click on the file entry box, and do ctrl-V to paste the path in.

You’re welcome.

Hewlett Packard > Agilent > Keysight … WTF?

What a way to ruin a great brand. For no apparent reason at all.

They could have called it “Pewlett Hackard”. Heck, they could have called it “Tektronix”. (Those guys in Beaverton seem to have no use for that name anymore.)

The monkeys are running the henhouse. (Or, um, something like that.)

Oh, and…get off my lawn!


My 11-year-old son asked me last night if there was an East Pole or West Pole.

I told him he should be able to figure that out for himself; I asked him the leading question “what is the definition of East?”.

It didn’t go well. Then he asked if it would be different on Mars if Mars was “upside down” compared to the Earth. That didn’t go well either – severe conflict of mental models.

They don’t teach geography (or in this case perhaps astronomy) very clearly in school.

But then dictionaries have huge trouble with this, too.

Here are my definitions:

East: The direction in which the Earth (or any planet) spins.

West: The direction opposite to East.

North: The direction 90 degrees to the left of East.

South: The direction 90 degrees to the right of East.

Compare that with any dictionary you like.


How to see a Google-shared location on the desktop

If somebody is sharing their location with you via Google, there is a way to see their location on a desktop. Most people seem to think you can only see the location on an Android or iOS device, but you can see it on any web browser.

Go to Google+, and search on the name of the person you’re trying to find. This will take you to their Google+ home page.

Look on the top left, just below their picture and name, and above the list of circles the person is in, number of followers, etc.

The last line of the little summary about the person (“Works at…”) is:

Currently in <place>.

Click on the <place>. It will take you to a Google Maps page with a pin showing their current location.

This works as of this posting (June 2014). It’s very obscure and hard to find – I expect Google will eventually rework the user interface to make it easier to find.




Back in 1996 I had an idea I called the “CreepAway”.

It was a device that would screen your phone calls – it would auto-answer (blocking the local ring), and then ask the caller to “Enter Extension Number” (really a password).

If the caller entered the correct password, it would ring the phone so you can answer.

If they didn’t, the caller would be sent to voicemail.

The idea is that you give both your phone number and your “extension” to your friends – they dial your number, enter your “extension”, and the phone rings.

Telemarketers and others calling at random only get to leave a voicemail.

I think this would be easy to do today with an Android app.

I’m sick and tired of getting robocalls offering me legal help with my (non-existent) IRS debt.

Somebody please build this.

Update, 2013-12:

I recently realized that not only would this be easy to do in an Android or iOS app (intercept the incoming call at the API level, assuming those APIs are exposed), but there’s an even simpler way.

Do it as a service.

Your phone company (Vonage, Google Voice, the PTT, whatever) would provide you with two numbers – a public one (to be given out) and a private one (known only to the phone company).

When people call the public number, the service provider (phone company) would prompt for the extension (or password, whatever). If the caller gives the correct one, the call is forwarded to your private number. If not, to voicemail.

That’s it. It would be trivial to implement in a modern SIP or H.323 based phone system. And they could charge for the service.

Hey – somebody – DO THIS.

What is it??

What is this?


This is not a quiz or a puzzle. I want to know what it is.

All I know is that it is something used in a biology lab. This thing was found loose inside a piece of used equipment.

It’s got 4 wires coming out – looks like a standard telephone cable. When I measure, I see 2218 ohms between black and red, 2267 ohms between black and green, and 4470 ohms between red and green. Yellow seems to be disconnected (open circuit).

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The knurled ring thing (above) tightens down a rubber stopper – looks like it was meant to go into some kind of bottle or flask. The stopper isn’t airtight tho (it’s not completely sealed against the metal tube).

Below are oblique, end-on, and side views of the “business end”. It appears to have two little glass bulbs at the end, each with something black or dark grey inside. (The little white circles in the photos are just reflections of the ring light on my microscope.)

What is it??

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Update, October 27 2013:

Looks like Bob was right.

When I wave a hot air gun at it (set at 100 C), the resistance between red and black instantly drops to about 1.4 k ohms, red to green goes to about 3 k ohms, and green to black goes down to 600 ohms or so. It definitely seems to be a temperature probe.

I suspect the two bulbs are arranged red – (bulb) – black – (bulb) – green, and that the two bulbs’ different responses somehow contribute to stability and/or linearization of the output. Probably it wouldn’t be too hard to calibrate it, but for now it goes on the shelf. At least I know what it’s for (even if I still don’t know who made it).

Idea: Waterproof RV roofs with air pressure

Here’s another idea I don’t want to bother patenting.

I’ve owned 2 motorhomes so far, and the roofs always leak. There are lots of holes in the roof for vents, wires, etc., and with all the jostling a motorhome gets on the road, after a while lots of invisibly small cracks open up (despite sealant) and the roof leaks – even if you apply more sealant every year.

Make the roof a hollow structure with air pressure inside. It could be a flexible inflatable structure, or rigid but with a hollow air-tight space inside.

Then pressurize the inside of the roof with air from a pump or tank.

When tiny gaps appear in the roof, the air will escape outward (being replaced by the pump or tank) and will push away water, instead of letting it in. So the interior will stay dry.

The pressure doesn’t have to be high – a few PSI (tens of kPA) should be enough to prevent water from coming inside.

How often the pump runs (or the tank empties) is a measure of how many leaks there are in the roof – when there are enough to bother with, you go and apply sealant. When the leak stops, you’ve found the spot.

You could even pump in colored smoke to help find leaks.

This would be a cheap solution – a molded (or inflatable) roof doesn’t cost much and a $20 electric air pump are all you need.

Email migration from Eudora (or Thunderbird) to GMail

Update November 17 2012: 

I started this post back on July 20 – four months ago – and have only finished the migration now. That’s because I found a lot of unexpected problems along the way.

The rest of this post is my new, improved, and corrected step-by-step guide on how to migrate email from Eudora (up to version 7) or Thunderbird to GMail, based on hard-won experience.


I’ve been using Eudora since 1995 (17 years). Before that I used Unix mail (Sun; early 1990s), CompuServe (back to 1981), and something called “The Source” (1979; I was ‘TCA818’). Disk space was expensive back then so I didn’t save a lot of email.

But since 1995 I’ve kept everything – disk drives got bigger faster than my mail archive. So I had about 14 GBytes of email in Eudora.

Eudora has been abandoned by Qualcomm since 2006 and is getting old; there’s a new open source version based on Thunderbird (“Eudora OSE”), which sucks.

As our company grows the job of administering Eudora users (plus myself) was getting too big for me, so I decided to outsource it to Google Apps for Business. Which means GMail, and migrating the old email.


In the following, I’ll use these abbreviations:

  • E7 – Eudora 7 (or any earlier version of Eudora)
  • OSE – Eudora Open Source Edition (used only for migration)
  • Tbird – Mozilla Thunderbird
  • Outlook – Microsoft Outlook 2003 or later
  • OE – Outlook Express

To save you time, here are some things that won’t work:

  1. Syncing E7 to GMail using IMAP
  2. Converting E7 to E-OSE, then sync E-OSE with GMail using IMAP
  3. Converting E7 to E-OSE, then sync Tbird with GMail using IMAP
  4. Converting E7 to Outlook Express, that to Outlook, then Outlook to GMail
  5. IMAPSize
  6. Importing E7 data with Outlook, then sycning to GMail
  7. Importing Tbird data with Outlook, then sycning to GMail
  8. Importing E7 data with Thunderbird
  9. Syncing Outlook with GMail via IMAP (use this instead; it works)

Trust me, don’t bother.

If you really care or don’t believe me, in the Appendix at the very end of this posting I’ve put some of my notes on why some of those don’t work.

(I haven’t the patience to describe all the problems…comments in the Python files give some more details.)


To do the migration, you’ll need the following:

These are only for the migration. Once it’s done you can throw away all of them.
Read the rest of this entry »

Slow-motion rocket videos shot with Nikon J1

On July 7 I shot some video with the Nikon J1 of the joint CMASS/MMMSC launch at the Tuckahoe Turf Farm in South Berwick, ME.

After my generally scathing review of the camera (more for missed opportunity than anything else), I figured I’d give it a chance to show what it can do with high-speed photography – specifically, I wanted to try the 10 Mpixel 60 frames/second mode as well as the 400 and 1200 fps high-speed video modes.

Here is the result:

I put it together in Sony Vegas. The blurry clips were shot at 400 frames/second (240×640 pixels). The blurrier ones are at 1200 frames/second (120×320 pixels). The video is at 30 fps, giving 1/13.3x and 1/40x speed. This video shows the full resolution output by the camera.

(To be pedantic, playback is at 29.97003 Hz (that’s 30000/1001); from what I saw in Sony Vegas, the Nikon actually records at 399.6004 and 1198.8012 fps – which makes an odd sort of sense if you know NTSC.)

As you can see, all the video is lousy. It’s poorly exposed (despite some fixing in Vegas), heavily overcompressed (in-camera) and oversharpened (again, in-camera). The 1200 fps mode is worse than the already bad 400 fps mode. You can’t control it. I don’t blame Nikon too much – the high-speed Casio cameras seem to have similar problems. On the plus side, most of the video was shot at a shutter speed of 1/5000 second, which is neat to do. A couple clips were at 1/10,000th (!).

The video is good enough for some technical purposes, but it’s not a joy to look at.

Finally, you’ll note that none of the clips are at that fantastic, promised, 10 Mpixel resolution (60 Hz). It turns out that although the Nikon J1 will record stills that fast (for 1/2 second), you can’t control the shutter speed while it’s doing it. I didn’t know that until I got there and tried it. The shutter speed it picked (on a reasonably bright day) was so slow that each frame had lots of motion blur in it. So I didn’t bother. Just another needless firmware-based disappointment from the Nikon J1.

I’ve put the camera and lenses up for sale on eBay. Such a shame, Nikon. Oh well – I’m getting excited about the rumors of the new Canon mirrorless ILC system; maybe they’ll do better.