Red Echo

August 28, 2013

I haven’t really been working on any creative projects lately. I bought a house, and work got busy. I haven’t sewed anything in months or started any new projects.

I’m still grinding along on the massive LED chandelier. I made a PCB layout error which means it is going to be somewhat more difficult to connect the driver boards to the controller boards. I will probably just jury-rig adapters for all the boards, but I am thinking about spending the $381 to reprint them. Oof.

I have thought about selling the KZ1000 frame, since I haven’t touched it in a year, but I might still build an electric motorcycle some day, and it doesn’t really cost me anything to let it sit there at ALTSpace.

Kind of a bummer. I really bit off more than I could easily chew with this chandelier project.

I haven’t touched Radian in a while, either. The world went multicore, alright, but the high-performance desktop computing applications I anticipated just haven’t materialized. Our incredibly powerful desktop computers pretty much spend all their time running Javascript, and shared-memory multiprocessing doesn’t get you very far in a giant datacenter. Radian was an interesting experiment that proved a conceptual point, and it kept me sane during a couple of otherwise pretty frustrating years, but it doesn’t seem to have any practical applications.

Right, well, what I really wanted to talk about was the handful of projects I am thinking about working on over the fall & winter.

– strings of colorful walkway lights for forest festivals
– music-sensitive laser projectors that mount on the back of your hand (like a cross between my laser-projector backpack and the laserfingers)
– a new edition of the human-pedal-powered Skybeam, using LEDs instead of halogen bulbs
– walk-through laser dome, hundreds of beams shining down on the ground that you can play in
– organize a corporation to buy a piece of land to use as a big group campground for burner festivals and other events

this one will never happen, but wouldn’t it be fun?
– trampoline art car for next summer’s critical massive

August 24, 2013

Portland for Michael’s bachelor party

August 22, 2013

It’s that time of year: everyone is leaving for Burning Man.

I’m not going. Really! I made it stick, and I’m almost home free! There’s still just barely enough time to buy someone’s spare ticket, throw a bunch of gear in a couple of bins, chuck it on a truck headed south, motorcycle my way down to the playa, and find some friends to crash with… but it would be one amazing last-minute accomplishment, and instead I’m taking Amtrak down to Portland tomorrow evening for Michael T.’s bachelor party.

Yeah. I’m doing it. I’m such a bad-ass that I’m actually skipping Burning Man.

Oh well, I’ll be back next year. I have a few projects in mind…

August 21, 2013

A new social network called PRSM makes sharing your personal information easier than ever.

August 18, 2013

GPGMail 2 – a plugin for Apple’s which implements public-key encryption. Includes GPG Tools for general-purpose file encryption and decryption.

Ideas similar to the ones in my earlier monster post: The Internet: We’re Doing It Wrong

Centralized internet services are vulnerabilities. They can be co-opted for profit by short-sighted corporations, or they can be subverted through force by power-hungry governments. Distributed services are the solution: even unlimited application of lawyers and money accomplishes very little against a system which has no central control and no physical address.

What if we could take all those millions of computers racked up in giant datacenters around the world and distribute them among Internet users, creating our own global services less vulnerable to snooping and censorship? “Cloud computing” has come to mean little more than “rent your server time from our datacenter”, but there’s an older meaning in projects like Folding@Home: a big pool of computation power donated by people who want to help the project succeed. Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and the rest spend billions on their datacenters – but there are millions of us, and computers have become cheap.

Bittorrent is a resilient content-distribution network with no datacenter; it can’t be shut down, because it doesn’t live at any specific address and doesn’t operate under any single person’s or organization’s control; it is a network which emerges from the cooperation of millions.

Why can’t we do email the same way? Why can’t we do social networking the same way? Why can’t we give these giant corporations the finger, run our own services, ourselves, in distributed fashion, simultaneously crippling the Internet advertising industry and NSA programs like PRISM? How are they going to secretly snoop on your email if you and the people you correspond with all have your own private mail servers in your basements?

But nobody is going to run their own server, you say; only a few geeks like you will ever have the time or the inclination to do it. And that may have been true for a long time, but there’s no reason it still has to be true. We are very, very close to having plug-and-play home server appliances. Everybody has a furnace, but nobody expects to poke around inside it and understand how it works – you just leave it running and enjoy its services, and if it breaks you call the repairman.

It’s a software problem, basically. What we need is a turn-key home server product which comes configured with a distributed backup system – something like Bittorrent Sync with a bit of Usenet, some mesh routing via distributed hash table, all glued together with strong encryption… Even a distributed Facebook system wouldn’t be that hard; you could build it on top of RSS and email. The hard part, as always, is the network effect.

The technology just isn’t that far away. It is a software problem, not a hardware problem. There are no mega-profits in such a project, but it could be a good steady commodity sales business: figure out the right assembly of software and protocols, bolt it all together, lock it down tight, and bake it into a plastic box. Put a USB port and a “share keys” button right on the front of it so visitors to your house can stick in a thumb drive with their public keys…

I can just about see a bridge to this world through the emerging home-NAS business. Sell people turn-key storage devices which just happen to be loaded with a bunch of software that builds a distributed backup / email / query service mesh… people would buy it for what it would do for them personally, but the more people who buy in, the more useful it gets for everyone.

It’s a dream, anyway. It would be a better world for everyone who isn’t in the business of controlling other people.

August 16, 2013

12.5 kWh total, 2174W peak

August 15, 2013

random idea: what if you funded a music festival using Kickstarter, or something like it? Instead of selling tickets, you’d promote the fundraiser, and if commitments failed to reach the cutoff level, you’d just shrug your shoulders and the whole thing would vanish into a puff of good intentions.

The perk associated with the lowest contribution tier might be “we send you an email the day before letting you know where the venue is”…

Kickstarter is kind of a one-to-many escrow service.

August 11, 2013

Golden Gardens beach picnic

August 8, 2013

The encrypted email provider Edward Snowden used has been forced to shut down, for reasons they are prohibited from telling us. In this case, it’s not hard to guess, and I applaud its owner Mr. Levison for his conscientious and doubtless costly choice. How many other businesses have experienced similar demands from three-letter federal agencies, but lacked either the strength of character that required or the security of circumstances that allowed Mr. Levison to take the high road?

America is a country with secret police, secret law, and secret verdicts rendered by secret courts.

This is the kind of horror story we used to tell about East Germany or the Soviet Union.

August 7, 2013

Today’s stats: 13.0 kWh total, 2134W peak.

August 6, 2013

Today’s solar power production was 13.2 kilowatt-hours, with a peak output of 2145 watts.

August 2, 2013

The sky was dark grey and overcast today. The solar panels peaked at 562 watts, and today’s total production was 2.7kWh.

The inverter says all-time max output so far is 2900 watts – very surprising since the panels are only rated to produce 2650 watts!

August 1, 2013

I just swapped my fancy expensive desk chair with the mesh back for one of the much cheaper conference room chairs, because the conference room chair has a rigid, upright back. I hate the way normal office chairs encourage you to slump down as you sit! Is it supposed to be comfortable that way? I would rather have some help keeping my back straight.

I used to know this guy who had a real beef with traffic cameras (“outsourcing law enforcement to robots is fundamentally unjust”, he would say); he’d carry around an ordinary spray bottle, filled with one part white glue and one part water, set the nozzle to “stream”, and squirt the gooey mess all over the camera lens, temporarily and nondestructively blinding it.

From Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, here’s a more complicated contraption that can be used to disable overhead spy cameras: it’s like one of those overhead pruning poles, with a linkage set up to activate a spray-paint can, so you can stick the spray nozzle up next to the camera, then pull the cord to blind it.