General

Posts that fall into all or none of the other categories.

Short-range vehicle intercom

Throwing this out there. Approaching a stopped vehicle is fraught with problems, but today we have ways we could defuse/address some of that.

The first element is a very short-range communication link with assorted restrictions and security features, targeting the scenario where a car is stopped with a second vehicle stopped directly behind it, perhaps 3-6 feet away. Encrypted, not for privacy but to ensure range-based negotiation.

Second, we need some way to talk to the occupants of the vehicle.

I would start with a simple voice link, a microphone, and speaker near the driver but with proximity to the passenger(s) so that emergency responders can be talking to the passengers on arrival, while obstacles are being cleared that would otherwise make communication difficult.

Your heckles are probably raised at this point. So let me interject some protections here.

  • Complete system disabled when vehicle is in motion,
  • Microphone disabled by default and connected to a light that clearly indicates when the microphone is powered,
  • Require the “caller” to speak for > N.n seconds before enabling microphone,
  • Allow the user to choose between manual activation and automatic activation based on (a) turning on the blinkers, (b) deployment of one or more airbags,

In the US this would potentially defuse a tension-laden pull-over for a tail light from a dark figure holding a gun approaching your vehicle to a preliminary conversation.

You could also address additional issues by providing the option to have the device “call in” when it is activated and register the contact with its location, the details of the “caller”, and perhaps validate that the caller is legitimate.

I personally wouldn’t have a problem with (optionally) enabling video and an automatic drivers-id field as part of the handshake. One reason officers approach cars is the opportunity to visually ID for wanted people, and some officers might actually prefer the mark-1 eyeball over a quick voice chat.

So I’d have no problem with being able to allow the officer to see me/my vehicle, check my ID and everything, without having to approach me with his gun.

But this system won’t ever be perfect, there will be exploits, from the media spying on people to nefarious and potentially dangerous/lethal stuff.

So the system needs to be very optional, from not having such a device at all and requiring good-old approach the car, being able to buy a voice-only system to having a bells and whistles system and having everything definitively and impenetrably turned off.

Further, this system should in no way to be tied to control of the vehicle. In the first version of this idea on Facebook, someone had suggested the officer might need to be able to stop a “drive off”. Except the officer is still behind the wheel of his car and can just give chase.

While this is mostly about making the pull-over less dangerous for everyone, consider the dangerous situation of a car stopped in the middle of a freeway/motorway. Now it’s possible for 2-way communication with the occupants who might be in distress or trouble.

A driver with a heart condition might reduce response time by critical seconds; Firemen could communicate with trapped occupants and give them life-saving advice…

This isn’t intended to be a complete ready-to-go design, but perhaps enough inspiration for someone to put something like this together.

Save some lives.

I’m actually happy with Win10.

There are several ways you can make Windows 10 more bearable/comfortable.

I like the start screen because I’ve organized mine: got rid of everything MS had put on it and just put my stuff in groups that make sense to me. It’s essentially just like most people used to have their desktops but with some structure to it.

If you have it set to be a start menu, that might be annoying. I would encourage you to instead get Stardock or something and give yourself a win7 program menu.

Tip #1 – Start -> Search
Pressing the Windows key or clicking Start opens the menu/screen but it also opens an input box. This isn’t always obvious to everyone. You don’t have to click anything at this point – just type, and it will search for what you’re typing.

e.g Hit Start and type cmd.

Tip #2 – Start +
Few people know that you can access the items on your taskbar based on their position. My left-most icon is my browser, and I can launch it with the keyboard by pressing Windows+1. The next icon is my email, that’s Windows+2. The third is Windows explorer, that’s Windows+3. And so on.

Tip #3 – Hidden taskbar, crouching start.
I keep my taskbar auto-hidden for a little extra screen space, and the annoyance of having to mouse for it is gone for me now because pressing Start brings it up along with the Start menu/screen.

Tip #4 – Pin
Tap Start and type calc. The top entry will be “Calculator”. Right-click on it. Your options will include Pin (or unpin)to Start, and Pin(or unpin) to Taskbar. If you have the option to Pin to Start go ahead and do it. Then try moving the tile to someplace you’d like.

Try right-clicking the tile and see what your options are.

Most things that have icons – from Control Panel to Folders can be pinned to the Start Menu or Task Bar. Have folders hidden 300 deep somewhere? Pin ’em.

I use a combination of things pinned to the Taskbar (for Tip #2) and everything else pinned to the start menu.

The beauty of this: My desktop now has very little stuff on it – a few folders organizing data, files, etc. I actually keep urgent bookmarks on the right side of my screen – something I couldn’t do before because of clutter.

The taskbar is less cluttered, just stuff I want to access with a Windows key and develop muscle memory for.

Everything else is nicely grouped and organized on the Start Menu.

As much as I hate live tiles, I actually make use of several of them on the left-most side: News, Weather, Mail, and Photos. These form a great little change-of-context summary if I want to look to the top left of my screen when pressing the button, and I ignore them otherwise.

Tip #5 – Windows Keys
There are a whole bunch of things that I’ve learned have Windows Keys associated with them, that I make heavy use of.

My favorites:

  Windows + D => hide windows and show Desktop
  Windows + H => screensHot + sHare this window (!!!)
  Windows + I => Settings
  Windows + R => Start -> Run
  Windows + S => [Cortana] Search
  Windows + W => Windows Workspace (checkout Screen Sketch!)

Misc/useful ones:

  Windows + A => Action Center
  Windows + E => Explorer
  Windows + G => Game Bar (when a game is running)
  Windows + L => Lock (avoid pressing if you don't know your password)
  Windows + T => Cycle thru taskbar items
  Windows + U => Accessibility options
  Windows + X => Alternate Start Menu

Landmark cancelled

Daybreak just announced cancellation of EverQuest: Landmark. This is part 2 of the death of EverQuest Next.

 

The idea was that EQ:N would have a voxel-based world (like Minecraft) where the buildings and terrain were destructible. I figure this requires such a radical change in the art pipeline that they built the engine early, and it just naturally lent itself to a sort of EQ:Minecraft which they went on to reveal as EverQuest:Landmark. The PR behind this was that the community would have chance to experience it and to provide feedback to the tools, and to contribute designs and buildings that would eventually become part of EQ:Next.

It always struck me as a bit insanely ambitious for an MMO; flash backs to the landmines EQ1 discovered that most modern MMO players don’t know about. Griefing factor 11 much?

Landmark was cute. I can’t speak to how the game has shaped up because we stopped playing it a long time ago. You probably have to have some passion for 3D art to enjoy it – not even Meg’s decorating/housing stuff was enough to get past dealing with the controls.

When they announced the cancellation of EQ:N, I couldn’t see a long future for EQ:L. You really have to be good and/or lucky to release your game more than once, including beta and alpha. There are many more dead fish in the MMO/online game sea than there are successful, thriving ones, and running your game in beta/open-beta can be a real risk. Plenty of potentially good MMOs disappeared into obscurity because of unsuccessful beta runs, with a team slaving away under the impression that “it’s just beta”.

The days when the internet was populated by geeks who actually gut-understood “beta” are long gone. Today’s players treat a “beta” the same way that restaurant goers understand a “Grand Opening”… Launch accordingly.

Challenge to Assistant developers

Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon are all competing in the digital assistant field. There are pros and cons to each. Yesterday I received an Amazon Echo Dot (2nd gen) and I’ve been dabbling with it. So far Alexa reminds me more of the command-driven voice apps I tinkered with on the CBM Amiga decades ago than she does of Hal, but there is promising progress.

You’ve heard me rant about Cortana, I don’t have a Siri to tinker with and while I’ve had a highly positive experience with Google’s voice recog, for some reason I just haven’t used it in anger – I’ll try and remedy that in the next week or so.

But having the discrete device like this finally gave form to the notion that’s been percolating in the back of my head this last year or so of watching the assistants emerge: Makers.

One of these assistants needs to cross the bridge for home enthusiasts that empowers them to interact with their devices and applications in their terms.

I should be able to rustle up a few dozen lines of code and create my own little agent that transforms into a feature of my assistant exclusive to me and my ecosystem. Once I can do that, someone will build tools to make it easier and more accessible for idea people who aren’t interested in learning to program.

The problem is that to thrive, it’s going to have to be open. Hold your horses there, I’m not anti-proprietary, I’m just stating this simple fact. Apple and Siri aren’t contenders because the winner is going to be enabling a farmer who got his kids to write a raspberry-pi controller to check on his irrigation system from 10 miles away.

I don’t see Alexa being the winner, because her value in is selling Amazon Prime and Amazon Prime Music subscriptions. I suspect anything beyond that is gravy of the cold, lumpy kind from an Amazon perspective, but I’m happy to be proven wrong.

That leaves Google and Cortana.

Google sells advertising, but they have a history of open APIs. Bringing makers into the fold and enabling personalization has all kinds of value potential to Google, starting with bringing you into the android fold, disinsentivizing you from using Apple or Amazon, etc.

Microsoft is built on the success of open architecture and they’re making a large push to support IoT stuff, so this would be a return to roots for Microsoft that could really make WinIoT attractive, so long as they can manage to focus on the role of a driver and not try to restrict it to “must run on Windows”.

There is one more potential contender, though: Facebook.

Mark has shown an interest in exactly this kind of field with Jarvis. They’ve invested a lot in AI, they like releasing the stuff they build into the community. Their mission statement is “to make the world more open and connected”. This notion fits in with the ideas behind Facebook’s internet.org

It’s not that it’s currently impossible to do these things, but there’s a huge barrier to entry. For example, the simple task of turning on (or off) my PC? Voice control is largely going to be about inter-action; set the heating in another room, check on the house while you’re away, remind me of something in 30 minutes when I might be in a different room or building or vehicle…

(*Edit: You can actually build your own Alexa skills. But it’s definitely not entry-level stuff)

Pi for kids?

Last year I gave my nephews an arduino starter kit as a present. They’re really bright, so it just made sense to them. Faster than I could demonstrate that wiring up the button and the lights let them create a control they’d already figured it out and wanted to know what else it could do.
 
I realize now it was handing someone of my generation a battery, some cash, and saying “you can power anything with this”. It fuels the path of creativity without nurturing it.
 
This year I was going to give them a raspberry-pi starter kit but it’ll just wind up being a way to run games if there’s not something to fuel and guide their imagination a little.
 
“It can do anything electronic”. “Like what?” “Uh, like, uhm, drive a motor” “Oh, to do what?” “Look, this is why I’m a programmer, just imaginate some stuff, squirt!”
 
And they’re too young for me to point them at “forums”. So:
 
I’m hoping some of you might be able to recommend maybe some kits, books, perhaps online courses or guides for a variety of beginner, entry/kid-level projects that include the programming but perhaps focus on the more physical aspect of doing things. They’re *not* gonna want a series of tutorials on how to make different patterns of blinking lights, they’re going to want something that demonstrates practical potentials and – ideally – gives them reason to go to the store with their parents and see the aisle of potential components they might tap into to fire off their little imaginations.
 
Ideas?

Drone registration

Have you registered your drone? It turns out you actually register yourself as a drone owner – rather than your individual drones. You get a single, 10-digit, UAS Certificate Number that you can put on all your drones.

It costs a hefty $5 unless you register before the 20th, in which case you save $5! o_O

Happy new year

To the random individual still tuned in, a happy new year to you.

I’m still at Facebook, no evidence of it being the evil empire folks want to believe it is. Rather, a collection of folks who worry about the same things you do, who care about privacy not least because their mom is on Facebook too.

I’ve been playing Crypt of the Necrodancer, Faster than Light (which I didn’t play when it was hot and new) and a lot of Kerbal Space Program.

I’m starting to feel I’m done with KSP now, though; I can launch to orbit, even recover small payloads from orbit with a recovery ship, I’ve built a (crappy) station.

I squeezed some extra longevity out of the game with mods including MechJeb (an autopilot, so I could focus on building rather than flying, because I just find the flying part tedious key-holding). But I haven’t flown a rover, built a base on another planet, manned mission to Duna etc.

It may be because I don’t feel “free” to experiment with stuff before I launch it into space. I’ve built rovers and driven around KSC with them but I’ve no clue how I would get it into space and drop it anywhere useful. (It doesn’t help that stock fairings are broken in 1.0.5 and turn any rocket into Tippy McSplodey).

Development-wise, nothing exciting to report at the moment. I’m building up a hankering to get my teeth into C++14 and ++17 properly, but I’m lacking a good project to work on and a good description of what the changes are to actually rustle up a project.

Talking with the new team at CRS/Playnet, I’m filled with a lot of confidence. I think the clean break is going to prove good for the guys, they’re clearing away the dead bodies that the old team — self included — were stumbling around. I’m really looking forward to them having a successful 1.35 launch. We left them a lot of landmines, so … be gentle on them.

Yes, Klesh

Enough? :)

Why not to buy the Surface.

I’m writing this on my Surface 3, I’ve found it amazingly robust, rugged, adaptable and insanely portable. I’m relatively excited about the Surface 4.

One thing will keep me from upgrading, a foot MS have chosen to keep firmly in the laptop ballpark:

No USB charging.

I’m not faulting the inclusion of a custom charger connector, but the lack of a way to feed the device power via it’s USB port or a USB-to-charger cable.

It’s precisely because the device is so adaptable and handy that this becomes an issue. USB ports are everywhere these days. But for power, the Surface is utterly reliant on the custom charger brick.

Star Citizen development: Training.

(I’ve been writing this over the last week or so, and I’m no editor so apologies if it’s a little jagged)

I got into the take-off training in Star Citizen. It made the hairs stand up on my neck and arms.

Let’s put the first card on the table: It’s alpha or pre-alpha or something. Early development.

Ok – the experience should be gauged accordingly.