BURNCARDS: Reno music, food, opinion, technology, news. » Tech
Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Today in pretty cool ideas: A digital trailhead for Reno

One of the great things about Reno is that it’s full of people who know how awesome it is. One such person is Eric Hatch, who wants to build a digital trailhead for downtown Reno. The vision: Anyone with a gps-enabled device could sync that device to this trailhead, and the trailhead would draw maps showing the pedestrian activity patterns of those who had synced up to the trailhead.

The video is great and highlights a very important point: Reno is a great pedestrian environment.

Better yet, there are a lot of locations around downtown that would be perfect spots for the trailhead. The one that springs to my mind immediately when I see the drawing of the trailhead is the train trench cover at Virginia and Commercial Row.

Eric Hatch recently presented this idea to the City Council (link). The reception was good, but the project could still use some actual financial support.

A few words of unsolicited advice for Michael Dell

Techies who follow the news have no doubt heard that Michael Dell has partnered with Silver Lake to take the computer company bearing his name private.

Dell is in a tough spot right now, and it’s good that Mr. Dell is trying to salvage the company that he started in a college dorm room and turned into a powerhouse of PC manufacturing.

Nobody's made a better desktop machine than this.

Nobody’s made a better desktop machine than this.

Dell’s initial claim to fame was build-to-order, high quality, competitively priced computers.  Things really heated up for Dell when Windows 95 and Windows NT 4 transformed the way PC’s were sold into enterprise.  Dell was on the spot with extremely high quality, very innovative corporate PC’s like the Optiplex line.  In 1997, I was working in IT and the only computers I wanted to use were the Optiplex machines.

They were solid as a rock and incredibly easy to service.  They had a hinged case that opened with no screwdriver required.  Processor and memory were tucked neatly under a hinged power supply.  All the expansion cards were in a detachable carriage that also took no screws to remove.  Nobody has made a computer so easy to work on since, not even Dell.  I had one of those Optiplex machines powered on for 6 years straight acting as a web server, and I still have it.  It still works.

Dell must have garnered a considerable amount of loyalty amongst IT people like me, who must have proceeded to recommend Dell products to less computer-savvy people.  Sadly, Dell would spend a whole decade squandering that loyalty, putting a lot of us recommenders in a tight spot.  Those of us who bought Dell machines for ourselves were also caught with egg on our faces.

When it came to building computers for business, Dell never really messed up too much.  But their failure to build anything of quality for the consumer market, especially in the laptop form factor, didn’t make them any friends in the ’00s.  Loading up the machines with tons of so-called “crapware” didn’t help, either.  Their OS images were in many cases not very well tested.  By 2010, under almost no circumstances would I have recommended Dell products to anyone.  All this, without mentioning Dell’s ill-advised forays into smart phones, media players, and the like.

Here’s where the unsolicited advice comes in.  It’s pretty straightforward:

1. Computers aren’t dead.  People still need them.  Lots of people still want them.
Build only solid, well-tested portable machines with rock solid no-BS OS installs, and take them on the road to show the people who are still buying computers.  What’s not accounted for in this talk of “post-PC” this and that and the other thing is that a considerable percentage of people still rely on computers for lots and lots of tasks.  Computers aren’t going away.  Macs attracted such a large share of the market of people still buying computers because they are innovative, high-quality, and no BS.  Don’t copy the Mac, but build an innovative, high-quality, no BS computer, and make sure everybody knows about it.  Now that consumer desires are driving corporate IT, make a computer that appeals to the former and is engineered to withstand the needs of the latter.

2. Build an awesome tablet
Take Microsoft at their word.  The Surface is a signal to the market of what is possible to build.  A considerable share of people’s “computer use” outside of getting things done will be on tablets.  So build a great one.  And make sure everyone knows it.

3. Don’t take on any new work until you’ve nailed those two things
Let’s assume you can do these two things I am suggesting and that you’re not having any trouble also doing servers, storage, consulting services, workstations and desktops for enterprise.  Take a step back and marvel at all the things you’re doing.  If you can recapture your formerly unparalleled reputation for mass-market quality, you’ll be in a strong position.  The people in the back of the house will like the same stuff that the people in the front of the house are demanding.

I’m probably not alone in wanting to see Dell make a comeback.  Whatever the company ends up doing, it will start with winning the hearts and minds of the right people, and not squandering that goodwill again.  Good luck.

The New Synth With No Home: Roland Jupiter 80

I really wasn’t sure what to think when I saw the mincingly lame Guitar Center ad come in my mailbox with this weird cover artwork, quasi-patriotic, somewhat propaganda-like attack squadron ala 1940’s poster art, with guys in long hair and mohawks attacking with guitars rather than guns. Further in, I see a spread on the new Roland Jupiter 80.

Everyone knows I’m famous for reviewing synths without actually playing them, because I haven’t had the time to go to a proper music store and play one, nor the cash to faithfully plop down almost $4,000 for something to really whisper sweet nothings into its ear in my own home.  Synthesizers are a unique musical instrument for at least one reason:  sitting down and playing one in a store is not always the best way to really get to know something about them.   Largely, the staff won’t know a damn thing about them, and if you have to figure them out yourself, are you going to read a 300 page manual and jump right in?  Not unless they start charging you rent.  Nope, synths are not like a guitar, bass or drums:  they are not all intrinsically the same, and no, you can’t just sit around playing five minutes of Sammy Hagar licks and nod at the store, buy the thing, go fire up your bong at home, and continue playing Sammy Hagar licks.

After some research on the trusty World Wide Web,  people are pissed at this here Roland Jupiter 80.  Why?  Well, let’s check out this promo video and I’ll go into further detail as to why:

Besides the narrator’s voice making me want to hollow out my ears with an icepick (synth ad narrators are notoriously bad), it’s quite obvious to me why this machine, as cool as it could be, is making other people upset.  Let’s have a proposed list:

A)  Using the “Jupiter” name.   Old Jupiter 8 (6,4)’s are big, impressive, expensive and rare.  Those out there with them are very proud of them, proud of themselves, and a poseur coming along, Roland or not, cheapening their image or their ego, will not sit well.  Then there’s the issue of everything on the planet being a re-run or a re-make of something in the past, because we’re in the End Times and have finally run out of real ideas—-okay, that was a bit dramatic, but really.

B)  The thing is almost $4,000.  What did I say about the Kronos?  Korg was there, did that, and as much as I bitch about the fact with our current technology we can certainly make a reasonably affordable synthesizer that isn’t a toy for $800 or less, here Roland is flopping its synth-dick on the table next to Korg with a proud grin.  Meanwhile, you could get an original Jupiter,  mint, for about this much money.

C)  It looks super cool.   Don’t get me wrong, it really does look cool.  Why would anyone hate something that looks cool?  Because they styled it after the old one.  The old one also looked pretty cool.  A rainbow of synthy fun!  See “A” above if this isn’t making any sense.

D)  It is a lot of things, but it ain’t analog.  Referring back to “A” again, and I have to kind of side with the naysayers on this one, the old Jupiter line was a tour-de-force of what made synthesizers cool.   Now, this new one could easily do the same thing—-from what I can see, there’s literally options for everyone.  Presets to complex programming.   It has something reminiscent of a virtual-analog programming structure.  It still ain’t analog.

This is the main list of what I can tell is irritating people, and things I myself was wondering finding information on this beast.  Here’s what I think:

*  Roland, as well as other companies, are desperate to reinvent themselves, but are refusing, like other companies, to listen to the public.  They are used to being worshiped on any pedestal they lay down, and the public isn’t buying it.

*  The Jupiter 80 looks fucking awesome.  Potentially, with all the specs I’ve looked up on it, it should SOUND awesome.

*  The Jupiter 80 has a screen:  a screen that IS NOT dedicated to being a workstation, and we all know how I feel about workstations:  I don’t like them.

*  Contrary to “A” above, people kind of did want a new Jupiter—-or at least to bring back the old one the right way.   This attempt pleases me, even if it may be misguided.

*  This “superNatural,” thing is perplexing me, and I hope spirits and phantoms burst out of it like the failed storage machine in the fire station in the original “Ghostbusters” movie.

*  Everyone’s brash hate will cause them to fall out of favor.  Which means I can get one,  because everyone is too worried about soiling their precious image.  That, and they’ll hopefully bottom out in price.

*  It’s just too fucking big—-but I shall forgive it.

* I finally hope it is more like a V-Synth than anything.  The V-Synth was cool.  Real cool.

See?  I don’t hate everything synth that’s new and coming out now.  I also think this thing is a future flop and synth buyers are going to cross their arms, pout, bitch and moan about it all the live long day.  It isn’t exactly what people want.  It is, however, closer to a synthesizer and the thing that I, Kyle Weiss, wants in an instrument, and am willing to go give it a more serious look.

PS3 Fix: Yellow Light Of Death

Our PS3 just died.  It ate our Netflix, and we were pissed.  We tried the ghetto hair dryer technique, and it didn’t work.  This, however, did:

My only variation on this fix was the use of a hair dryer rather than an expensive heat gun. Use 1/4″ inch from each area for 80 seconds on each area — that will make sense if you watch the video.

Keep in mind that even if you do this fix, it isn’t a 100% fix or solution to the problem.  “Reflowing” (re-heating) an overheated chip is a safeguard to fire and to protect other components.  Others that have used this technique have noted it can work for a day or for a year.  It is the death call of your PS3 one way or the other.

Use at your own risk, and as I always say, don’t lose your screws. It made our PS3 work, and for how long, who knows, but considering a post-warranty fix is $150, and usually for a refurbished model that won’t last long either, this is a method you could try.

If it’s just enough to get the disc out, so be it:  otherwise, you’re tearing into the Blu-Ray drive.

Good luck!


The Novation Xiosynth: Two Tricks, One Mod/Pitch “Boob”

Well, as luck would have it, our local Guitar Center had a parking lot swap meet, and while I was attempting to make some cash getting rid of things I didn’t use a.k.a. taking up space, I ended up trading a bunch of my in-the-way stuff for a Novation Xiosynth in need of some TLC. I give to you the short-and-skinny of what I did.

Before, though, I’ll give you a brief rundown of what the Xiosynth actually is. Prior to the Xio, there was the X-Station. Prior to that, there was the K-Station. Prior to that there was the A-Station. Many of these little Brit microsynths were referred to as the “K-synths,” or “K-series,” I’ve noticed. Though I think the A-Station runs on something a little different than the later three. I’m not really sure—-I’m not a Novation nut or anything. All I knew is I wanted to try one. Boasting smaller size (if that’s something one can boast about) and a more portable interface, the Xiosynth 25 has much in common with the X-Station 25 (they also have a 49-key version). The X-Station, having a few more sliders, MIDI interface, control and sure, a bigger overall footprint, I would have chosen either: I have a thing for powerful battery powered little synthesizers. I also am a fan of Virtual Analogs, for one, because everyone hates them and I don’t have to get into “…MY Jupiter 8 is a 14-bit DAC and YOURS is a PALTRY, WORTHLESS 12-BIT…” type conversations, and I like the way they sound. Any time I can avoid a how-big-is-my-synthgeek-penis contest the better.

So my new-to-me little Xiosynth 25 had a few problems. One, it was dirty. Two, the mod/pitch boob (I can’t for the life of me think of any other way to describe it… it’s a very round X/Y control with a big nipple in the center—-thus, a boob) was out of whack, especially regarding the pitch bending. It would trigger inappropriate pitches, and required a total detune in the patch parameters to even sort of get the thing to genuinely play in tune.. No, the calibration function in the Global Settings didn’t work either. Apart it came.

I have to give credit to the Novation folks for simplicity and robustness. One of the common gripes about this particular model was how flimsy/cheap/wonky it felt. To me, sure it gave that vibe, but the way they put it together was just right. Even if it did break, it’s a cinch to get into and fix.  The other major gripe about most things Novation was the interaction with the touch pad.  Yeah, if you’re used to Korg pads, this thing requires a real heavy hand to function.  Nothing I could do about that right now.  Maybe I’ll rig an old Atari joystick up to the thing later?

The mod/pitch boob in question wasn’t unseated, that was my first trick. Everything mechanically seemed just fine. This was a good news/bad news thing. Novation parts are notoriously hard to find, and then if you do, hard to acquire. Could be months, years and all that. Fortunately, I noticed the small potentiometers controlling the X and Y planes on the boob were exactly the same. Some kind of thin, Spanish-origin deal. My thought, modulation can be triggered if the pot is off, and probably wouldn’t be noticed, and why not try and swap them? Solder/desolder, reseat, a quick DeoxIt flush, and poof. Now, to recalibrate on the global menu, yep, it works. Something occurred to me, though.

I hate the snap-back modulation feature on the mod/pitch boob. I have an Alesis Ion, and I have not one but TWO mod wheels that when I turn them up to “11,” both stay put. They do not snap back on a spring. Perhaps I wanted a particular sound, but wanted to use both hands. Oh sure, it’s a 25 key, what’s the point? Well, I’ll tell you the point: I have 10 fingers, and there’s 25 keys, sometimes I use both hands with 25 keys. That’s the point. Easy enough, I deconstructed the guts of the mod/pitch boob (again), and popped off the clothespin-style spring on the mod side, but left the pitch bend spring. That’s much, much better.

Now when I’m destroying people’s ears with the aliasing in the upper regiments of the frequency range I can spike a little LFO or panning delay on the suckers… much to the chagrin of little silver-eared analog-only pedigree musicians. It’s another thing I don’t have to physically control on the little unit to get some solid sound.

While the Xiosynth isn’t the most control-heavy VA out there, it’s easy to program, apparently easy to fix, and with six AA batteries, you’re rockin’ off the grid. If you are having trouble with your mod/pitch boob, try removing the spring on the mod side, and if you’re not sure why it’s constantly detuning itself, there’s a quick, easy and possible fix built right inside. I imagine this approach can be used for any similar Novation setup, not just the Xiosynth.

Have fun, don’t lose your screws.

(image courtesy musicradar.com)

Natty Narwhal’s Still Ubuntu: Still Interesting, Still Linux

Ubuntu Natty Narwhal showing Workspaces

If you haven’t heard, there’s a new version of Ubuntu Linux out:  11.04 Natty Narwhal.  They have such cute animal names.  Natty Narwhal brings a new desktop user interface named Unity and connectivity with the Ubuntu One online service.  For people who are looking for a change in their computing experience, or someone that has a slow chuggy computer without the Windows hookup, is Ubuntu a usable alternative?

The answer is “not really” and it’s also “sure, I guess.”  Linux has come a long way, Ubuntu in particular.  But just getting your computer up and running might be a huge headache, and the system isn’t terribly stable if you push it too hard.  Still, there are a lot of interesting things you can do with your computer with Linux on it – for free – that you’d have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars in pro software to do with Windows or Mac.  And it’s always good to have options.

Read the whole insanely long review here.

The Man Who Twittered the Osama Attack

Sohaib Athar's Twitter feed of the attack on Bin Laden.  Taken from twitter.com/reallyvirtual

Sohaib Athar's Twitter feed of the attack on Bin Laden. Taken from twitter.com/reallyvirtual

A man in Abbottabad (an interesting place itself, named after a Major Abbot of the British Army, and still a military “city” today), twittered the attack by Navy SEALS on Osama Bin Laden’s compound. Here’s a story from Mashable about the man, and what he did.  The man, Sohaib Athar, a.k.a. @ReallyVirtual, on Twitter seems really humble about it: “I am JUST a tweeter, awake at the time of the crash. Not many twitter users in Abbottabad, these guys are more into facebook. That’s all.”


Like I said in  comments elsewhere, Emmanuel Goldstein is dead.  Now what? I just hope nothing worse will come from this.  I think, and most people in the world hopefully agree that Bin Laden was a really, really terrible guy: a criminal, a murderer, and terrorist.  One man’s criminal or terrorist is another man’s patriot as everyone’s tastes are slightly different.

It’s amazing how information has been coming and going through Twitter, Facebook, and all the new websites that have sprung up the last five years or so. I just wonder how long this freedom will last?  After all, what if Osama’s men had had internet (they didn’t in his nice million dollar mansion in a slum), knew this guy was Twittering and found out about this? People in high and powerful places are taking notes on this and probably having meetings about this, along with all the fallout from the attack.

Today in Pretty Sweet Tech: iCade


e762_iCade_largeThinkGeek has taken an April Fool’s joke from last year and made a product out of it, the iCade. $99 gets you an enclosure for your iPad that turns it into something resembling a classic arcade machine, complete with retro joystick and buttons.

The iCade works with Atari’s Greatest Hits to seal the deal and deliver that true retro gaming effect.

Living in the future sure looks and feels a lot like living in the past sometimes.

Cell Phone Data – Latest 4th Amendment Infringement?

According to this article, Michigan police have been using devices that can extract a disturbing amount of information from your cell phone, including but not limited to:  GPS tracking, phone call/text history, files, images, applications, use of those applications, frequency of use, even potentially finding deleted information to recover.

The technology is called Cellebrite  using  “UFED.” This is not necessarily an exclusive police/law enforcement/forensics tool, either–it might just be illegal if you use it rather than them.

Now, the scenario was presented to me in a “…so a cop pulls you over for speeding, and asks for your cell phone.”  I imagine it isn’t quite that simple, nor fast.  I’m assuming this will not be normal traffic cop investigation procedure, but who is to say left unchecked, that it wouldn’t be?  Cell phones are amazing devices these days, capable of tons of information gathering and processing.  Like all data gathering and processing, to get to that data, it would require equally as powerful equipment, and depending on the hardware/software constraints of that equipment, would mean how fast a cop could get your phone, tap into it, download data, amass some kind of “reasonable cause,” and proceed to infringe your 4th Amendment rights.

It doesn’t sound like a terribly efficient use of our tax dollars, but again, these days, tax dollars are both shirking economically and being spent at an alarming rate.   It is something we have to keep in mind with potential freedom-damaging instances like this–especially when the Michigan department being accused of running rampant with this new technology offered to divulge the program for the sum of $544,680–why the exact amount, I’m not sure.

This could be a tinfoil-hat-wearing-scare, or a legitimate concern, but from my angle, nothing has happened yet.  We live in a world where politically, government-wise and especially police power, we don’t trust one another.  The Internet also makes it quite easy to spin yarns around “what if” scenarios from the earth broiling to a crisp because we club baby seals to Robocop becoming an oppressive reality.  Regardless, there will be some future instances of this becoming a bone of contention for some folks, notably right now the ACLU is going after them (probably one of the better things the ACLU is managing to look into) and they won’t be the last.

(photo courtesy yourdaddy.net)

Who Says We Don’t Make Anything Anymore?

Our gadgety lives sure are neat.  Today lots of us are carrying around little devices that gives us all kinds of fascinating powers.  But at what cost are these powers granted to us, and on whom do those costs fall?  Monologist Mike Daisey, an avid technology enthusiast and Apple fan, decided to find out.  He went undercover pretending to be a businessman in need of getting some devices manufactured and checked out the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China.

It turns out the costs mostly fall on people in China.  Those people get what in China is considered a good job, and they also get to work double shifts standing the whole time, and sleep in factory dormitories when they aren’t working.  The standing causes their spines to fuse and the constant manipulation with their digits causes serious repetitive stress injury.  Not to mention the fact that many of these Chinese people I’m referring to are 12 years old…

“So what,” you might say.  “The people suffering here are the Chinese, and they are also making what for them is good money.  And they’re making something we want, at a price we can afford.”  And you’d be right.  Plus, hey, it’s illegal for them to form a union, but then again, they’re already part of the union.  The Communist Party sanctioned union!

Back to the headline of this post however, I have concluded that we do make things in this country.  We make miserable Chinese factory workers.

Also, it’s news in the US when McDonald’s announces it’s going to hire 50,000 people nationwide.  Know how many people work at the Foxconn plant in the one Chinese city of Shenzhen?  400,000.  Welcome to the 21st century!