dylan tweney

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Floating gently into space.

Imagine taking a 3-day ride into space, floating up underneath a massive air balloon. Sounds like Jules Verne, but it could be reality in the next few years. Although there’s a lot of excitement over the news that a private vehicle operated by SpaceShipOne entered space today, an intriguing alternate space program is also underway. JP Aerospace is developing gigantic balloons that can float all the way up to the edge of space — 140,000 feet — and, with some additional propulsion, can even get into orbit to dock with huge orbital space stations. The company is currently testing its designs, with help from a DoD investment, and says that it is about 7 years from completion. Sounds incredible, but its test flights have already reached almost 100,000 feet of altitude. As a bonus, the company sends ping pong ball-sized space experiments, developed by schoolkids, on every test flight.

ascender3.jpg

Google is a mystery.

For the past month I’ve been trying to get my daily haiku site, tinywords, a bit higher in the Google results when you search on the word “haiku.” I did this the usual way: By asking people to link to tinywords.com using the word “haiku” in their links. Results were good: Within a few weeks, tinywords rose from #35 to #9 in the Google results.

Then, suddenly, last Friday I noticed that it was back down at #23. By Saturday it was at #29. This morning it’s at #20. Throughout, its PageRank (as indicated by the Google toolbar) has remained unchanged, at 5 out of 10. What’s going on? tinywords is still behind deserving sites such as Kei Grieg Toyomasu’s excellent introduction to haiku and Jane Reichhold’s amazing site, but behind such inanities as the periodic table in haiku form and an automated “haiku” generator in javascript that doesn’t even exist at the linked URL any more. Plus, none of these sites have risen more than a step or two in the rankings–it’s just that tinywords got busted down. Does anyone have a clue what’s up here?

iPod resurrection!

The iPod whose ribbon cable I accidentally punctured last week has been restored to complete health, thanks to a replacement cable from PDASmart.com’s iPod Parts Center. I got the new cable today, spent some time plugging it in (and reseating connectors when it didn’t work immediately), and voila–the iPod works now. Total cost: $10 plus $8 express shipping.

Although the part I needed wasn’t listed on PDASmart’s site, they responded quickly to an email inquiry, and sold me the right part, cheap. I’m impressed!

Mobile PC July issue.

Mobile PC July cover

The July issue of Mobile PC is on newsstands now, and I think it’s our best issue yet. There’s a huge roundup of 33 digital cameras, a terrific guide to taking better digital photos, a primer on keeping your data in sync across multiple devices, and a roundup of portable audio players — and, of course, lots and lots of mobile product reviews and news. Check it out!

Note: If you can’t (or don’t want to) get the print version, you can buy an all-electronic version of the mag through Zinio.

Rustlin’ Unix.

“We went out one day and our Unix cows were missing,” [SCO CEO Darl] McBride said … “We looked in the Linux pen, and there’s a bunch of them in there that have our brand on them . . . in this case the copyright. Someone took our cows and we want ’em back — it’s as simple as that.”

Linus Torvalds: cattle rustler! Who knew?

Showdown With The Linux Gang (Washington Post)

Quicken must die.

Intuit’s Quicken is the only software product I’ve used in the past ten years that gets consistently worse with each subsequent version. I started out with Quicken in 95 or 97, when it was a pretty stable, usable app, although it did have its quirks. Each version since then has been more complicated, more unstable, and slower than the version before. At the current pace, I’ll be back to balancing registers by hand in about 2006, I estimate.

But things have really hit their low point with my recent switch to the Mac. Everything about the switch went pretty smoothly, with the exception of moving my Quicken data. For some obscure reason I never quite understood, I couldn’t access my online balance and transaction info via Quicken for several months. I spent literally hours on the phone with my bank’s long-suffering and patient (but often totally clueless) customer service personnel, until they finally straightened everything out. Sort of: I can download transactions into Quicken now, but a whole bunch of the past few months’ transactions got duplicated in the process, and I’m still not sure we’ve eliminated every duplicate. The result: my Quicken balances can’t be trusted.

And, it turns out, Quicken for the Mac is a completely retarded program–and I mean that in the literal sense of “held back,” “slow to develop,” “retrograde,” and “dumb.” You can’t sort by the cleared/uncleared status of transactions–which makes it next to impossible to do a quick, back-of-the-envelope reality check of your balance vs. the bank’s balance. You can’t manually clear or unclear transactions by clickig in the “clr” field. It’s slow. There’s no one-line-per-transaction view. The only columns you can sort by are “date” and “number.” Who programmed this thing? A class of sixth graders could do better.

Sadly, this hell that I’m locked into is inescapable. There are simply no alternatives on the Mac. Sure, there are a few alternative money managers, but it’s not clear they’ll interface cleanly with my bank’s online system–a feature I consider completely essential. Also essential: being able to sort and search transactions, being able to track where money is going by category, and being able to track loan payments and amortization schedules. Oh, yeah–and being able to import the past few years’ of my Quicken financial data, cleanly and accurately. That’s about it. This is not rocket science, folks. How come no one is going after this market? Intuit’s only real challenger is Microsoft Money, which is PC-only, and that program, too, is excessively big and complicated. Someone needs to kill Quicken — and soon. Please?

iPod deconstruction tips.

iPod deconstruction photos
I took apart a nonfunctioning 15GB iPod that had been hanging around the Mobile PC offices for the past few months. I pretty much just went right in, using a pocketknife to create a gap between the front (white) plastic and the metal back, which are joined together extremely tightly; once I’d created enough of a gap I worked a small standard screwdriver in and wedged the thing open. Reseated all the connectors, put it back together, and it worked! Mostly. In the process, I learned a number of things:

  1. It’s nearly impossible to open an iPod without doing some cosmetic damage to the case–usually minor, but noticeable. There may be a special tool or technique which would simplify this, but I don’t know about it.
  2. Even after the hard drive has been disconnected, the iPod continues to function, playing music from its cache–see the photo shown here.
  3. If you’re going to open your iPod, start on the left side of the unit — about 2/3 of the way down the right side, there’s a thin ribbon cable connecting the scroll wheel/touchpad to the iPod’s motherboard, and it’s very easy to puncture this ribbon cable with your screwdriver
  4. If you’re lucky, a punctured touchpad ribbon cable will leave the iPod and many of its buttons functional — and even if the scroll wheel doesn’t work, you can still use the iPod, albeit without the ability to select songs or menu items or to adjust the volume
  5. Replacement touchpad ribbon cables are not easily available.

I’ve posted a few pictures of the iPod disassembly for your edification & entertainment — including a slightly blurry shot showing the hole I stupidly punched in that cable. D’oh!

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