Some Stuff #

August 16th, 2014 3:36

VimR is a new OS X native vim app. Pretty cool.

Interesting looking affordable hand position tracking/future haptics interface (discussion:

I mentioned in my last post buying a crappy keyboard to use. It’s been making me itch for a better travel keyboard. There are some good 60% keyboards…

I’ve spent a bunch of time the past couple weeks diving back into node.js and into node-webkit. I started building a prototype in “native” node-webkit, but went back to separating the core app as a traditional (express-based) web app so that it can be used both online and locally more easily.

Between that and work, I haven’t been exploring Berlin as much the past few weeks (plus the weather has been sort of wet and cold), but I’ll try to be doing some of that the next couple weeks before I end up back in the US.

Lunix, Still Just Works #

August 12th, 2014 5:07

In anticipation of my DK2 arriving in Berlin (Oculus refused to update the shipping address to Berlin, so it had to make a stop in my office in LA first; it’s currently in transit), I booted up the Linux dev box I’ve been carrying around. One problem became apparent booting up: I have a Bluetooth keyboard, but the Linux bootup sequence requires a USB keyboard because I set it up (on a whim) to run a cryptfs, and also because on an unsuccessful boot (like a powerdown) the default configuration for GRUB is for it to hang on the GRUB selection screen indefinitely (you can fix this by adding GRUB_RECORDFAIL_TIMEOUT=X to /etc/default/grub and then running update-grub).

OK, I ordered a cheap keyboard on Amazon.de. Got it.

So I’m able to boot now, except now I’m getting (this is new), kernel panics while booting… something related to the rtl8821ae wifi module… This is a little strange because this didn’t show in the office, but probably had to do w/ some combination of not being on a wired network…

Turns out, there are indeed some problems:

In the meantime I’ve blacklisted (you’ll need to remount,rw / from recovery) the rtl8821ae module. This took a lot of reboots/futzing, all told an hour+ of my life I’ll never get back.

Lunix, after a couple decades, still just working!

Location Set By GPS #

August 8th, 2014 7:18

For those that are interested, I’ve launched a new travel blog: Location Set By GPS where I should be updating more regularly.

I haven’t been writing as much as I should, but a couple short notes:

  • I wrote my first Slack bot and am convinced that it’d be a killer app (and they’re not so far away) if they would implement a way for non-technical end-users to easily create their own. (think Excel Macros, IFTTT, Pipes)
  • I’ve been working with inline editors. Currently Raptor, but saw two interesting WP related things. One, a pay-editor called Barley that looks pretty slick, and the other being the WordPress Front-end Editor in development
  • My DK2 finally arrived in Los Angeles, now it just needs to be shipped to Berlin…

Featured on Flickr #

June 9th, 2014 1:43

Late last night I started noticing something funny – I was suddenly getting a stream of Flickr notifications on my phone (I’ve actually since temporarily disabled notifications since they got a bit out of control). I jumped onto the site to see what was up, and to my surprise, there was one of my photos sitting on the sidebar. A click through lead to the blog post (the only CC licensed one!). Even neater, it’s also currently the splash image on the main blog. Here’s the pic btw if you’re too lazy to click:


While I’ve had some links from the dev blog in the past, this is actually the first time I can recall any love from the main blog (after 10 years, finally! :) This also coincidentally coincided w/ hitting 1M views (not sure if this was just counting from when the stats system started) total.

While I rarely look at the stats, I figured this merited some special attention, so after a full day (Flickr’s internal stats segment on UTC), here’s some tidbits:

  • Total traffic was about 25-30K views
  • Less than 100 visits came from the Flickr blog! Most of the rest (~25K) came from the Flickr site itself (sort of makes sense but the sidebar links to the blog post so who knows what’s up)
  • Only 1,088 of the views went to the specific picture. It acquired 233 likes. (21.4% of people who saw it liked it?!?)
  • Probably most interesting, is that over a dozen other photos had 300+ views and over 50 other photos had 200+ views that day – this is an incredibly long tail, and I think while there’s been much bellyaching about the new Flickr design, I think that sort of engagement has a lot to do w/ how quick/easy/rewarding it is to page through streams.

It’ll be fun to see what all these new followers think about my China pics (I’ll be uploading in the next couple days).

The Future of VR #

March 26th, 2014 2:01

I’ve been pretty excited about the future of VR for the past few months (I’ve been gathering notes here). I was an original DK1 Kickstarter backer and have been following Oculus’ growth and development pretty closely lately. While an eventual acquisition was always a possibility (after a $90M B round at the end of last year), today’s announcement of a $2B Facebook acquisition came as a bit of a surprise, if only for the timing.

You can read Palmer Luckey’s announcement on the Oculus sub-Reddit, which doesn’t inspire much confidence, or Palmer’s comment responses, which are is a little more interesting. cliffyb and tycho have written interesting counterpoints/rebuttals to some of the knee-jerk responses.

Notch (Minecraft) has written a pretty insightful commentary, as has Max Temkin (Cards Against Humanity), which do a good job of summing up some of the unease/issues, particularly among enthusiasts and developers, are experiencing. cliffyb wrote an interesting counterpoint/rebuttal.

Rather than write something cogent and expressive, I’ll just collect some thoughts:

  • From Facebook’s perspective, buying Oculus right now for $2B is a steal. As Chris Dixon tweeted, it’s the equivalent of Google’s investment in Android. It’s quite clear that VR is likely the next big computing platform. Honestly, it’s about time Facebook got some ambition about the future. (Google’s been making everyone besides Musk look pretty shortsighted) What’s unclear right now is what Oculus has to gain, especially when there are reports of not just other bidders (which probably would have been much worse for Oculus) but also that investors had offered Oculus more funding. It’s unclear whether “more” in this context means more than the FB sale, but assuming the same $2B valuation, Oculus should have been able to pick up at least another $200M. Beyond the exit price (which goes to investors and the team), the question is, what did FB offer Oculus in terms additional resources to make this worthwhile – $1B? $2B? The Oculus team certainly left money on the table, so the question really revolves around FB’s value add beyond the costs that all acquisitions entail. Hints are being dropped, but we’ll have to see what pans out.
  • Part of the cringing I have reading Palmer’s announcement, of course is how familiar it is. Heck, I remember writing one very much like it about 10 years ago. I don’t doubt its authenticity/everyone’s best intentions, but having seen the cycle play out many times, I do think that the Oculus team may underestimate what the loss of independence means. Obviously enthusiasts will find it hard to root for Facebook, and developers should be justly worried (terrified, really) about Facebook’s developer/platform track record and manifold conflicts of interest, but beyond that, even though Oculus has assembled a fantastic team (the best team of creative technologists in field, and possibly across all of tech), what is the appeal for the best and brightest to work at Facebook? (That being said, I’m sure there are many bright people working at Facebook that would be excited to work on the Rift) While autonomy has been promised, maintaining focus as a subdivision of a large, publicly traded tech company has its own pressures/constraints and maintaining focus and drive requires a huge and different type of commitment over the long term.
  • That all being said, people canceling their DK2 orders are being irrational. The current hardware is locked in. It’s awesome. There will be drivers available, and almost assuredly open alternatives will emerge if the worst happens. There are cross-platform APIs available, and while there’s a concerns with patents (if Facebook is serious about creating a new VR market, a commitment to FRAND licensing, open standards, and open source would do much to settle everyone’s nerves). As of right now, all the components for compelling VR are known/available. Future developments like virtual retinal displays, foveated rendering, inside-out tracking are open to whomever has the resources, vision, and willingness to invest.
  • There’s no question that Facebook, Google, et al will want in on the Metaverse. Owning Oculus will give FB a big advantage and all but guarantees a seat at the table (make no mistake, this is the endgame), but I think everyone’s smart enough to realize that a walled garden will end up leading to AOL, not the Internet. No one wants the former (sorry, Shingy ;) and there’s a lot more money to be made with the latter if there’s enough patience/vision.

Having slept on it, I think a lot of the knee-jerk reaction has merely been about the perceived “cash out”, but also that it feels a bit like giving up before actually taking a shot. While Palmer mentions partnership multiple times, at the end of the day, it’s an acquisition, which carries a lot of existential and practical baggage (and pitfalls) related to autonomy/agency/execution. Here’s hoping there’s enough momentum to carry things through.

Some links:

The Wirecutter Is Always Wrong #

March 22nd, 2014 5:33

A lot of my friends are big fans of the The Wirecutter, and I am too, at least in concept – a site that focuses on doing the research to simply find the best gadget, what’s not to like?

I’m a bit of a gadget-head, and my goal is typically the same (to find the “best” product in a category), and unfortunately, I’ve found over and over again, that in areas where I’ve done personal testing, the Wirecutter’s recommendations have been, without exception, wrong.

This year I’ve instituted a bit of a one-in-one out policy and plan on publishing more on the tools I use (and what I end up replacing). For now though, I’ll just start off with a list of things that the Wirecutter recommends and my personal findings.

  • The Best $100 In-Ear Headphones – The “final straw.” Wirecutter recommends the Sony XBA-C10IPs and commends them for having outstanding audio quality and being quite cheap. They were cheap, however, the audio quality was, to put it frankly, awful. My mind is boggled by their recommendation.

    As background, I enjoy my headphones/IEMs and was looking for a quick/cheap replacement for a pair of
    Phonak Audéo PFE 232′s (these are fantastic, BTW) I lost while traveling. I was looking for a cheaper stopgap replacement, and I’ve owned many IEM’s in the $100 range, so my expectations were set realistically – for that price, you can definitely get very decent sound.

    I picked up the XBA-C10′s unheard due to the recommendation in Taipei’s Guang Hua Digital Plaza, but was pretty much forced to get another pair immediately due to how terrible the sound was. I ended up going to 音悦音響有限公司 in Taipei (highly recommended) later in the evening to audition some headphones.

    Both the HIFIMAN RE-400 and the Shure SE215 Special Editions were far superior at the $100 price level. It wasn’t even close. I bought the Shures because I’m a big fan of Comply Foam tips. Note: the Shures have replaceable cables with standard MMCX connectors. People don’t seem to like their iPhone cables, but using the UE900 cables seem like the cheaper & better way to go.

    Note: I subsequently auditioned a bunch more headsets in Singapore at Jaben Audio (also highly recommended – they have some serious gear) and ended up picking up a $150 pair Etymotic HF3s – typical Etymotic lack-of-bass, but the clarity, isolation, and iPhone controls made it worthwhile. If I lose my saving throw against shiny I may end up picking up a “good” pair of IEMs.

  • The Best Travel Power Strip (with USB) – Wirecutter recommends the Accell D080B-011K. Their recommendation/review is just plain wrong. Do they even travel? If they spent any amount of time in airports/hotel rooms even domestically (not to mention internationally), they’d realize that the cable-less form-factor basically makes it useless in many situations. Which might be fine if you didn’t need the power strip, but if you did, then you are now fucked. They note that the strips they tested weren’t rated for 220V/international use as well, which makes the definition of “travel” pretty limited.

    While they’re a terrible company, I have yet to find a superior alternative to the Monster OTG400 (there is a 3-plug+USB OTG300 but I don’t recommend it since the USB is only 1A and I’ve found that I almost always would rather have the extra plug). The only other cabled alternative is the Tripp Lite TRAVELER3USB – it has the advantage of surge protection, but is also 1A USB and does not have 220V support. It’s also twice as large.

    Here is the uber-compact international travel adapter I use. Besides supporting most countries (basically everything except UK plugs actually UK plugs supported via clever use of EU plug; tested in HK), it also serves as a 2-prong adapter. I haven’t seen this for sale in the US. Note: I’ve also upgraded this in HK to a version that has a 1A USB plug built in.

  • The Best USB battery pack for travel – while we’re talking about power, the Wirecutter’s recommendation isn’t particularly offensive, there are just better options. The Anker Astro 3E 10000mA is 2/3 the price and otherwise equivalent. I’m currently carrying the Anker Astro 3 12000mA which is a bit heavier but has 3 USB ports (up to 4A) – the Astro Pro looks better if I were buying today. (Note: I’ve just bought an Astro Pro and a Limefuel and will write up a comparison shortly).

    In Tokyo, I picked up a cheapie 100g 4000mA battery for carrying around everywhere since my iPhone battery tends to not last at all out here.

  • The Best Mirrorless Camera Under $1,000 – The Wirecutter recommends the Sony NEX-6 (and the NEX-5 before it) even though it has the worst lens selection ever. There are other issues (handling for example), but I wouldn’t recommend a NEX camera to someone unless I hated them.

    While there’s a good argument for the Fuji X-Series (especially w/ the X-T1), but if you want an X, you should know. For people who actually need camera advice, I’d recommend m43 in general, and the GX7 in particular for <$1,000.

My Amnesia Fortnight 2014 Picks #

February 9th, 2014 12:22

Today’s the last day to vote, so figured I’d post my picks for the 2014 Amnesia Fortnight.

It’s not the most ambitious idea, but I think this is the most likely of Pendleton Ward’s pitches that will be a fun game in 2 weeks:

There are tons of great pitches (wish I could vote for more than 3!) but here were the ones I ended up picking, weighted against cool Rift experiences.

byobu on Mac w/ MacPorts #

January 14th, 2014 12:56

byobu has a Homebrew package, but sadly, there’s no MacPorts port. Luckily, byobu is Mac friendly, and only requires a few dependencies (gleaned from an old portfile and crosschecked w/ the homebrew formula):

port install python27 gettext libnewt coreutils gsed

Then it’s just a matter of grabbing the latest tarball, and running a configure && make && make install.

2013 Review in Tech #

December 31st, 2013 10:06

I’ve been a bit under the weather the past couple days (the dangers of hanging out near other peoples’ little germ factories (aka kids)), but I wanted to post some of my thoughts about the year in tech. The last time I did that was probably a few years ago (related).

Over the weekend a friend was going on about how this year was a crappy one for “tech” (echoing the sentiments of those crappy articles floating around, but more along the lines of lack of ambition/innovation) which I strongly disagreed with. I think the kernel of truth there is that the SF/SV tech scene is definitely caught up in a weird spiral of chasing/making less and less interesting mobile/social apps, so of course from that vantage point, it’s going to seem terrible, but from the outside, things are… pretty interesting.

  • NSA Leaks – In some articles, this was cited as some negative development, but Edward Snowden’s leaks revealed (and continues to reveal) how much the world has been changed by technology and hints at some of the implications that both as technologists and end-users, we’ve been oblivious to. It’s certainly the biggest tech story of the year, and has profound/deeply unsettling implications. It’s also kicked off a number of new projects, and made a lot of techies think harder about the things they’re working on. I think that in coming years, the world and the tech industry in particular will be better for it.
  • Bitcoin – Bitcoins, alt-coins, cryptocurrency. While it’s been building up steam, this is the year that it boiled over and it’s another development that’s more than a little world-changing. I mentioned it briefly in a rebuttal comment I made on Charlie Stross’s blog post Why I want Bitcoin to die in a fire (I don’t know about his conclusions, but on just about every point of fact supporting his reasoning, he cited inaccurate/just plain wrong sources), but regardless of what the eventual value of BTC ends up as (which this year was driven mostly by the Chinese, not media hype), whether it’s $10K/BTC or $0/BTC, Bitcoin has not only served as a solid proof of existence for the viability of truly P2P digital currency, but has also laid down a protocol/framework that makes it trivial to create your own. The classes of problems that can be solved by a distributed public ledger are numerous… There’s some more thinking I need to put on that.
  • Tesla – Finally, something out of the Valley. Between Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity, this was a huge year for Elon Musk, and they seem to all be converging into some techno-utopian vision that’s quite honestly, a rather refreshing respite from the totalitarian surveillance state, increasing economic disparity and general grim meathookiness going on elsewhere. If you aren’t excited about what Tesla has been up to this year, maybe you just aren’t that into tech.
  • Robots – Google’s buying spree was pretty well reported, but less well covered was Schaft’s (one of the Google acquisitions) performance at the DARPA Challenge. It scored 27 out of a possible 32 points on the challenges. That’s 84%. This year has shown some tremendous accomplishments in robotics on just about every level, most interestingly/disturbingly in drone-tech. If you haven’t read this recent brief, but intense editorial in the Guardian this past week, btw, please do: I worked on the US drone program. The public should know what really goes on
  • Kickstarter – I’ve been active (maybe a bit too active, seeing as I started getting KS spam this year) on Kickstarter this year. It’s not new, but it’s certainly gained even more steam in 2013, and I don’t see it decelerating. Kickstarter seems to be increasingly, one of the more important tools helping the Maker/DIY movement grow.
  • 3D Printing – speaking of which, another not quite new, but thought I’d mention it, we finally got our Replicator 2 in the office this year, and it’s been incredibly useful. It’s also very close to being consumer friendly/ready. Like, say if the platform would self calibrate and if the prints were a little easier to peel off… But still, getting a 3D printer is now cheaper than an office laser printer was a decade ago.
  • Quantified Self – In some ways, still nascent, but I got my Basis Watch, and I’ve been trying more than a few autologgers/aggregators released this year (Saga, Memoir, Heyday among others), but I think we’re seeing some really interesting first steps into pulling together both the data exhaust we’re already generating and combining that usefully with other things we’d like to track (beyond fitness trackers, things like the Automatic car tracker). One thing’s for sure though, things are just getting started
  • VR – I admit, my Oculus Rift Devkit sat unloved and completely unopened for months. It’s been a hectic year. I did finally get around to break it out and try out about a dozen demos, and it was great, and also left me motion sick the rest of the night (I’ve played FPS/TPS’s for decades w/o problems). Carmack’s full time commitment and the news coming out of the community has me hopeful that they’ll have that problem licked, but it’s been pretty exciting following along. For those interested in what’s going on, I recommend Road To VR
  • Open Hardware – this is an ongoing thing that isn’t new in 2013, and has also been greatly helped by Kickstarter, but there’s just a ton of interesting stuff happening in the cheap microcontroller world akin to the early web days. I’ve been poking around with a lot of this stuff, but this year, got pretty serious about it, doing a fair amount of soldering, exploring/evaluating pretty much every single ARM dev board around, and getting my first PCBs printed. Again, we’re going to see a continued proliferation of interesting hacks/automation/sensors as it gets increasingly cheaper and easier to program the world

I think most of these things point to how wrongheaded talking about these things in context of a year are though – tech is incremental, and it’s hard work. You can bet anything that’s being announced, let alone making a big splash probably took quite a bit longer than a year to get there.

I’ll also link to Some Notes on Labor, Technology and Economics that I wrote about earlier this year. 2013 started out on sour note and what’s been going on in the world this year has definitely given me some pause.

We’re none of us getting any younger, and the pace of innovation continues to increase though, so here’s to the next year. Let’s hope we can make it a better world.

ADDENDUM: Putting this here since it’s related. Not really an innovation per se, but a tech problem that may be reaching a breaking point – we continued to see bigger and bigger data breaches (Adobe, Target, SnapChat) by cyber-criminals. Will 2FA finally replace Passwords? Is there a different security model that can more effectively handle APTs/inevitably compromised networks? Is there a way to expire/invalidate leaked data or will fraud models improve enough that it’s OK that black-hats and script kiddies around the world trade your personal info? In traditional security, the deck is always stacked against the defense, but it makes me wonder if there’s not a way of changing that – after all, the physics of software (if not software engineering) are malleable…

2013 Geek Reading:

Snowdrop Engine #

December 21st, 2013 1:41

I’ve been following game engine development somewhat (keeping an eye out on tech demos at least). The way the Snowdrop engine is being used in the upcoming game The Division, is the closest to photoreal environments that I’ve seen. I’m impressed:

And here’s a “gameplay reveal” from earlier this year: