Archive for the 'doohickies' Category

Armageddon cell phones

February 25, 2011

I’ve been obsessing over this for a year now, and the monkey on my back is growing.  None of these ideas can possibly be new, but I haven’t yet met them all in one place.

I’m not posting this today to show off how smart I am.  Rather, this is me asking for help with better understanding and appreciating how and why the following scheme is hard.  ‘Because surely it is.

Like most pre-to-post-middle-aged people, I’m just shocked by useful text messages are, and by extension low-bandwidth services like Twitter.  Between them and a few slick Ajax websites, I can conduct nearly all of my daily communicating business through a very slow internet connection.  56kbit on a high-def iPhone 4 Retina display beats the heck out of megabit broadband on a dingdang Treo.  Believe me.

The fact that I pay $90/month for an iPhone just to access these low-bandwidth services (and the occasional voice call) just drives me crazy.  But I pay it because it’s worth it!  Still, that’s no excuse for not trying to reduce that cost for myself and others.

So.  Fast-forwarding to the end, ask yourself:

Would you accept a $0/month cell phone bill if it came with these restrictions:

  1. When in a Wifi hotspot (near your or anyone else’s home or workplace) everything works: voice calls, web and text/voice messages.
  2. When not in a Wifi hotspot, you’re limited to slow web (no flash or pictures) and text/voice messages only.
  3. When there’s no Wifi hotspot anywhere between you and the person you’re messaging, you’re limited to text/voice messages only, between the two of you, and no voice calls or web at all.

As for me, my answer is: “heck yes,” and I’m a relatively rich person.  If I were a seamstress in Calcutta, hustling to make connections to survive, it would be “hell yes.”

So.  What I’m effectively describing/proposing is a “cell phone” that doesn’t have a cell connection at all, but instead hacks/hotwires Wifi and Bluetooth (and some 2.4GHz medium-range protocol?), through some crazy-genius protocol, to effect these three operating modes, downshifting from one to the other when necessary:

  1. When in a Wifi hotspot, it uses that connection to do everything though that fast connection: voice calls, fast web, text messages, etc.
  2. When not in a Wifi hotspot, it does the message-passing ad-hoc-network thing, each message frog-hopping from one phone to another until reaching a wifi hotspot.  Those frog-hops are done over phone-to-phone password-free Wifi or Bluetooth (or some other 2.4GHz protocol?) connections.
  3. When there’s no Wifi hotspot in town at all, it frog-hops all the way from one phone to another, not touching the internet at all.  So, as long as the guy I’m contacting is in town, I can still text him.

In everyone’s home and workplace is a $50 wall-wart from China.  This wall-wart knows the local Wifi password for that establishment and is the “gateway” between this proposed phone-to-phone network and the real-deal internet.  The trick is that the wall-wart allows full-speed internet access to its owner and his buddies, but “leftovers” throttled/slower access to everyone else.  There has to be a reason why the owner bought and paid for it, and that’s my best guess as to what that reason could be.

Another guess as to why the person bought and installed the wall-wart is that access to this network isn’t $0/month, but rather $10/month, and he is compensated when data comes in/out the internet through his wall-wart, so that it pays for itself eventually and then some if it’s in a good location.

(Of course eventually, if this scheme were successful, this technology would be just built right into people’s routers with no need for secondary wall-warts at all.)

And then sometimes, like when you’re trying to overthrow the government and they shut down the internet and cell network altogether, the phones just pass messages to each other and that’s the whole story.  So through this minimal do-it-yourself local-Twitter text-message capability, people in a city could still pass information to each other and organize.

That’s pretty much the story.  I need all the help I can get with figuring this out, and and also learning who’s doing it already.  This is something I can believe in.

SkypeBot, a video telephone appliance

October 9, 2008

This would sure help us include people in meetings when they’re far away.  Further, it helps someone “take a look at something” from afar.

UPDATE: It occurs to me now that instead of the robot arms, which are great but horribly impractical, it instead have the screen on a super-quick motorized pan (left/right), tilt (up/down) AND rotation (leaning to left/right) control, so that all the ways one can move his head around is translated into the screen’s movement.  That’s a whole lot of expression right there, and it could theoretically be controlled via pattern-recognition wizardry on the picture of the person’s face.  That can work.

Oh yeah, and a motorized laser pointer, so the remote person can reach out and point to stuff: that button right THERE.

RAMbox, a cheap computer speed-up trick

September 24, 2008

When your computer’s RAM is maxed out, then what?  How about some RAM in an external box that the computer swaps to over USB/Firewire?

Further, maybe it’s worthwhile to recycle old RAM SIMMs and DIMMs that are taking up space in coffee cans and shoe boxes accross America.  Doing a buy-back “amnesty” for old RAM could be a cheap way to get a whole bunch of gigabytes in a hurry.

MultiLane, a multi-redundant internet thingie+service

September 23, 2008

Surely this exists already, but I can’t figure out how to even search for it.  Eric was right about my Google-fu being weak.

It’s just a thingie+service that lets me pretend that my internet connection is in a data center somewhere.  The trick is that it can use (“load-share”) multiple internet connections (DSL, cable and wireless, for example) while doing this, and is ready for any one or two of them to break and still do its thing.

(As for what’s going on between the thingie and the data center along the colored lines in the video, I have no idea.  Maybe it’s iptables wizardry, or maybe it’s something else entirely that’s IP-based but weird and proprietary.)

So really, this is my naive best guess at how an ideal load-sharing redundant interent connection scheme would work for small-timers such as myself.  ‘Sure seems obvious enough from here.

LapHead: using a laptop as a mouse+monitor+keyboard

September 20, 2008

Here’s a USB device that lets your laptop (or more specifically, a special computer program running on your laptop) to serve as the monitor, mouse and keyboard of another normally-headless computer.

I’ve needed one of these on at least twenty separate occasions, like when a computer crashes and I need to see what it’s trying to display on its monitor.  Further, being able to take screenshots (of even screencasts) of what a failing computer is doing as it fails, without special/crappy software needing to run on said failing computer, would be the bomb on many occasions.

I could sure use one, I’ll you that right now, and my desire for it will scale with how many computers we’re sitting on and trying to keep working all at once.

Frankly, I’m still a little baffled by this thing’s continuing non-existence.

Sandwich camouflage to make it unattractive to lunch thieves.

September 16, 2008

Let’s hear it for standards again.  I wish it were my idea, but nope.  Give it up.

A solar-charged travel light that screws onto your Nalgene bottle.

September 15, 2008
A solar-powered light that uses your Nalgene bottle as a sort of diffuser.

A solar-powered light that uses your Nalgene bottle as a sort of diffuser.

Standards standards standards!  Let’s hear it for standards!

This is a solar-powered LED doohickey that you hang from your backpack or whereever to recharge during the day.  At night, you screw it onto your Nalgene bottle and it uses the bottle as a sort of diffuser/desk lamp.

What a trick.  I just had to pass this one on., a business idea about cables

September 15, 2008

(BTW, Sorry about the annoying noise at 3:23.  It only lasts ~20 seconds.  It’s my cellphone RF-interfering with the microphone, sheesh. –Craig, aka Mr. Production Values)

PS (Sept 16): I forgot to mention how the snap-in connectors at the ends of Cat5 cables are pretty small, and not wide like DB connectors.  Ergo, Cat5 cables are easier to push/route/yank around/through holes and constrictions.  (In fact, there’s a new class of Cat5 end connectors that are specifically designed to be yankable without getting caught on things.)  Once the ends are in the right places, the fat and clunky adapters are clicked on at the last minute.  The bigger/nastier your cabling situation, the more convenient this is.

USB Flashdisk + Flashlight!

September 2, 2008
Diggit, it's a USB flash disk (aka thumbdrive) and also a super-bright LED flashlight.  It communicates and recharches through the USB port!  I could use one of these.