Tag Archives: Toys

Ubuntu On The EeePC, Part 2

See Part 1 here.

Inspired by Flesh’s new Acer Aspire One, I decided to have another go at getting Ubuntu on my EeePC. This thing is now a bit old by netbook standards, being a first-generation 700, but it still makes me smile.

I’d had some problems getting Unetbootin to run on the EeePC, something to do with legacy dependencies, glibc and the like. A question was asked, and answered, and now was the time to try the new version. Also, my desktop is now up and running, so I should be able to run it there.

Unfortunately, when I downloaded the latest deb file from sourceforge for the i386, the package installer complained it was the wrong architecture, “amd64”, despite my having downloaded the i386 file. Another brick wall. I tried the amd64 version too, and that gave the same error.

While looking around the Ubuntu Eee wiki (which has no link to the “How to install” page on the front page by the way – it’s here)  I saw that there are many issues with Skype, sound and wireless networking, and lots of forums activity to get them all fixed. At least, it looks that way and the wiki doesn’t seem to reflect reflect the most up to date situation.

I’d also noticed in the Google searches that there is another Ubuntu for EeePCs, Eeebuntu, which appears a lot slicker, apparently works out of the box, and seems to make it clear how to install it. Kind of.

I got as far as torrent-downloading the ISO file, before I realised I should really be packing for my Xmas trip. I’ll get back to this after the new year. Have a good one!

San Diego Comic Con 2008 – Photos

About time too. Still need to get round to writing about it, but here are the photos.

Geek Bonfire Burny Burny Fun Time

Went to a San Diego Geek Bonfire last night, organised by Mitch Wagner of Information Week, and Gina Trapani, editor of Lifehacker (which I comment on sometimes). We met at one of the concrete fire pits provided by the city in this lovely little cove. When I arrived, there were already a bunch of people there, and there were a couple of families with children playing in the water.

I stuck on a ‘Hello my name is…’ badge and dived in to talking to people. I met several nice friendly geeks, many of whom were told about the High Speed Rail link I’m working on – some were even interested. (joke) Vote yes on Prop 1a!

Among the new people I met and swapped geek info (Twitter usernames, moo cards etc) were the above mentioned Mitch and Gina, A Kovacs, Lightwave Will, and many more. (I left the cards I collected at home today, soz)

Small World Update – one of my current crop of blogs I read is Bad Astronomer, which I mentioned the other day, and it turns out A is a friend of Phil Plait, and was lucky enough to be on the recent Galapagos trip. It was fascinating hearing about that, especially the sea lions.

We hung out, ate toasted marshmallows and drank soda-pop-drinks, and discussed all sorts of stuff. Short incomplete list below.

  • What is a geek?
  • Ringtones
  • Cartones (I reserve a TIE fighter sound for me)
  • Twitter on iPhone vs Palm (iPhone wins because of weird code on the site)
  • Spaced
  • Doctor Who
  • Marine Boy
  • Speed Racer
  • Battle of the Planets / Gatchaman
  • Daleks
  • The Clone Wars
  • Trains
  • Maglev from LA to SF, suspended over the 5, and why it won’t happen
  • California High Speed Rail
  • Vote YES on Prop 1a this November
  • … and many other geek topics.

One set of photos is here. After the beach got a bit too dark, despite the roaring fire, I drove to O’Connells Bar for some “Tech Karaoke”, which was pretty good fun. Despite a huge range of songs, I couldn’t decide what to sing, and ended up doing My Life by Billy Joel again. I left before I was due to do Veronica by Elvis Costello, which is probably a good thing.

More geek fun please!

Whither the Micronauts

Neatorama has this funny post about this guy in the US who has modded his Honda Gold Wing motorbike to look like a miniature F15 all-weather tactical fighter jet. It looks amazing, but to me it looked like a toy I had as a kid – the Micronauts Photon Sled. It brought the memories back, I can tell you.

I had a couple of these toys, and they were quite common in the shops where I grew up. I remember visiting Debenhams in Bedford with my Mum, and wandering around the toy department, which I remember felt like it was in a different building, almost like an extension with a couple of steps up into it, and different lighting.

Anyway, one Xmas, probably 1977 or 8, I got the Time Traveller figure. It was a little poseable toy figure (knee joints and everything, better than the first Star Wars figures), about 8cm high, and made of transparent plastic. It had shiny metal-plated parts, and could be taken apart and reassembled, so you could swap parts between figures if you had more than one. I think I had one extra figure – I wasn’t the kid you were jealous of down the road who had not only all the Star Wars figures, but had the AT-AT, the Millenium Falcon and the Star Destroyer playset.

I got the Photon Sled the same Xmas, I think. The little guy sat in it, and it had a wind-up motor which would propel it at speed across the gorgeously patterned 70’s carpet. This too was modular, allowing you to remove the wings, use the wind-up module in a different vehicle, and so on. Excellent replay value.

A year or so later, I got the Star Searcher vehicle, which was frankly awesome. It was a modular planetary excursion vehicle, with a crane, a cockpit, missile launcher, tractor and bulldozer, and you could rearrange these elements in any way you wanted. I had so much fun with these things.

Some friends had similar toys, including one who had the Battlecruiser, and the Stratastation, and several Acroyears (which look like those flying guys from Quake 2). Hmph. But this did mean we could all bring them together and set up some pretty spectacular scenes and inevitably, battles. Some of the vehicles were powered by the wind-up modules (all interchangeable) and others were driven by battery-powered motors, but in a head-to-head pushing match, the wind-up always won. I think it’s time for a return to wind-up toys. At least some form of wind-up recharging mechanism, like in the Freeplay radios and torches. How many batteries do toys get through? Parents! Instigate a rechargeable battery regime in your household now!

This was all around the time Alien came out, and there was a toy Alien figure released, which I remember seeing in this one toy shop in Bedford. It had a transparent dome on its head, which ties in with Giger’s original plan to have a transparent creature in the film. He was overruled, but Giger got his way for the creature in Species. Apparently the Alien toy had to be withdrawn, due to parental complaints that it was too scary. Perhaps in the US, but I don’t remember what happened here.

The transparency of the figures was carried into other toys too. I was lucky enough to have another couple of toy figures called Cyborg and Muton (warning, Geocities). It appears these came out before the Micronauts, and they had a fantastic comic-book backstory on the boxes. These also had interchangeable bits and pieces, including an arm-mounted rocket launcher which could fire a plastic projectile directly into your eye.

Just to complete this whole thing, I read a couple of books from the Micronauts series (written by Straw Dogs author Gordon Williams, of all people), which had nothing to do with the above, but were about miniaturised people, getting lost in a garden, only to face the horrors of the tiny world of insects and so on. I remember one gruesome scene where one of the team is eaten by a whip scorpion. Nasty.

Hipster PDA Mini – A Cry For Help

Now that I’m a member of the IEE, I had to have some new business cards printed. These are exactly the same as my old business cards, except they have the letters ‘MIEE’ after my name. Oh, and the fax number is now correct – thank goodness!

Seeing as I give out business cards at a rate of approximately 3 per year, I tend to have a lot left over when I get new ones. So howzabout this: The Hipster PDA Mini, based on the original Hipster PDA.

For those who can’t be arsed to click through, I’ll summarise them here. A Hipster PDA is a few 3×5 index cards held together with a binder clip, and used like a Filofax, or similar personal organiser. You can add and remove cards, have a calendar card, a to-do list, jot down notes, whatever. Quick, cheap, simple, powerful. The Hipster Mini is the same thing, but using business cards instead of the larger 3x5s. So, I’m using my obsolete business cards as a miniature Hipster PDA. Tada!

Is this madness? It could be. But it could also be a cry for help, a sign that I have an unrealised addiction to – Productivity Pr0n!

Maybe I should make a note to do something about it…


Now it’s June 2010, and I have another set of cards. In fact I got new ones in 2008 when I moved to San Diego, and now I have ones that say San Francisco on them. I will be using the old ones as a shopping list. One card per item.

My Gadgets

No real reason for this post, other than the fact that I have these objects lined up on my desk at the moment, so I thought I’d describe them.

Palm Tungsten E PDA

More details here. I love this thing. It’s slim, powerful enough for me, and does lots of things in a small package.

Nokia 6810 Mobile Telephone

Provided by my work, so I didn’t get a choice of model. This thing has a fold-out QWERTY keyboard, so I don’t have to bother with the predictive text thing. It does make it a bit chunky though. I have got it set up with GPRS, so I can read this website! Remember to use the mobile version, with no graphics, and simpler layout [edit – no longer available]. Good battery life, and a loudspeaker for hands-free calls (untried as yet), and an FM radio for listening to Radio 4 (are there other stations?). One major gripe – the headphones use this wire coated in a nasty feeling plastic, kind of sticky, which makes them very hard to untangle after they’ve been buried in your bag. Sometimes I get on the train, and by the time I’ve extracted the headphones from their ‘kabelsalat‘, I’ve arrived at my destination.

Sony MZ-R700 Recording Minidisc Walkman

Ah, this thing. Got it in 2001, after a friend gave me a detailed explanation of how it all works. It’s been great. I make MP3 compilations by setting up a playlist in Winamp, with the Pause Between Songs plugin running to ensure track marks get inserted, then record in MDLP mode to fit over 3 hours of music onto one disc. I spent £150 on it 4 years ago, and see no reason to spend the same amount on an MP3 player now. OK, the convenience, the cool factor, yadda yadda. By some clever hackery (not my clever, I just followed the instructions), my MZ-R700 thinks it is an MZ-R900, with added features! w00t!

Well that concludes the gadget roundup for today. Fascinating.

Book Of Dreams

Bill Bailey calls the in-store Argos catalogue the ‘Laminated Book Of Dreams’. With my birthday coming up in June, why not take a look at these catalogues full of lovely things…

  • Manufactum – fantastic items, traditional materials
  • Screwfix – more tools than you’ll ever use, the next day!
  • Muji – cool simple household gear
  • Novatech – computer bits
  • Mother Earth News – how to knit your own yoghurt
  • Lakeland – kitcheny gadgets and posh snacks

Palm Tungsten E Lego Sync And Charge Cradle

I’ve had my Palm Tungsten E PDA for about 6 months now, and it’s great. I got it 2nd hand off Ebay, and it’s given me no trouble. Here’s what I do with it… (read on, it’ll be worth it!)

  • I keep all my contacts, calendar, and tasks synced with my home PC, and backed up on my work laptop. For both I use the included Palm Desktop. I don’t want to mess up my work stuff, and I don’t want Outlook on my home PC.
  • I’ve used IR to connect it to my work Nokia 6810, by using the included software. I had to select ‘Nokia 6610’ from the available phone settings to make it work, but it works fine.
  • I play a few games: GG’s Blocks, Yahdice, Dope Wars, iLarn, iRogue, kMoria.
  • For a while I used the included VersaMail to keep track of my email, but I’ve stopped now.
  • I use DiddleBug, a Note Pad replacement for everyday notes and jottings. It’s better than the built-in app because it makes it very easy to attach an alarm to the note. I tend to scribble a note in DiddleBug, then attach an alarm to remind me to transfer it to a proper to-do or calendar item.
  • I use Plucker and Sunrise to grab web newsfeeds to read later.
  • I’ve got loads of texts from Project Gutenberg and Memoware to read on the daily commute, especially H P Lovecraft and H G Wells.
  • I use VD Image Viewer to view images like the tube map, as well as Palm Photos to keep a few personal pics on board.
  • Z’Catalog, Mass Transit and FileZ are all very useful.
  • … and finally, I use the included RealOne player to play mp3 files off a 512MB SD card. I remapped the Notepad hard button to switch to the player, and the Navigator pad performs the Volume and FF/RW controls. This way I can slip it in my pocket, and reach in to play and navigate my mp3s. Great stuff. The RealOne player is pretty good, considering how atrocious their Windows player is.

But there is a problem with the TE. It doesn’t come with a charge/sync cradle, and because it doesn’t use the Palm standard Universal Connector, you can’t buy one. No-one makes a TE-compatible cradle.

Until now.

Visiting my father over Easter, and getting some boxes out of his loft to put in my loft (books we’ll never read, vinyl we have on CD, CD’s we have more than one copy of, for example Joy Division Substance, etc), I thought I’d check out the big Lego box, and see what I could make.

I got pretty far too, but pressures of time, and the realisation that my nieces and nephews play with the Lego when they visit, and may resent Uncle Matt stealing it for his own geeky uses, forced me to give up for the time being.

It gave me some ideas though, so I’ll be figuring something out. I want

  • simple ‘drop-in’ action
  • connect to Sync and Charge
  • ability to easily remove cables for travelling

Watch this space…

Amaztype – Typographic Book Search

This is way cool. Head on over here, select your locale (.co.uk for me), select your media type (I’ve been doing music), enter some search terms, select author/artist or title, and off you go.

What happens then is that this nifty little page goes off to the Amazon database, grabs all the images that match your search terms, for example all of The Frogs’ CD covers, and writes the name in a collage of those images. It works equally well with music as with books, or even videos.

Now, all I need to do is create something, and I’ll see my name in images

Psion Siena DUCT-Xtreme Skinflint Casemod

Avoiding spending money on a new PDA! Take that, consumerism! Rar! Why spend money on a new PDA when you can spend it on gaffer tape? And then on a new PDA?

There’s a lot of sites out there which describe how the owners of high-end computer systems strive to make them even faster and more powerful by overclocking, installing liquid cooling systems and the like. They also do a lot of work to make the machine more stylish, funky, rugged, or any other style of box. Not one to be outdone, I decided to try it myself. I had an old piece of hardware that worked fine, but just needed some TLC on the case to bring it up to date. The machine – a Psion Siena 512k electronic organiser. I had been given this thing by a colleague when they bought a better model in December 2000.

Him – “Do you want this? I’m replacing it.”
Me – “How much?”
Him – “Well it’s not actually worth anything, so it’s yours”
Me – “Jurassic Park!

The system worked fine, but due to some design idiocy on the part of Psion*, after a few months of use, the flimsy casing around the hinge broke. This meant the ribbon cable connecting the main keyboard to the upper half, containing the screen and the number keypad, was exposed and vulnerable.

So, I got out my trusty roll of gaffer tape and set to it. You can see the futile struggle against reality here: Gallery in new window.

* Psion no longer make PDA hardware – this comes as no surprise when you’re confronted by the Siena. However, they did come up with Symbian, which I’m told is pretty good.