Here’s my latest DIY project, a smartphone based on a Raspberry Pi. It’s called – wait for it – the PiPhone. It makes use an Adafruit touchscreen interface and a Sim900 GSM/GPRS module to make phone calls.
Dave Hunt doesn’t just do photography, he’s a Maker through and through. And the components are out there, you just need to know where to look to buy them. Once purchased then you get down to brass tacks of what IS a cellphone anyways. And that’s what Dave has documented in his write-up of the PiPhone. Hopefully an effort like this will spawn copycats enough to trigger a landslide in DIY fab and assembly projects for people that want their own. I think it would be cool to just have an unlocked phone I could use wherever I wanted with the appropriate carrier’s SIM card.
I think it’s truly remarkable that Dave was able to get Lithium ion gel battery packs and TFT displays that were touch sensitive. The original work of designing, engineering and manufacturing those displays alone made them a competitive advantage to folks like Apple. Being first to market with something that capable and forward expansive, was a true visionary move. Now the vision is percolating downward through the market and even so-called “feature” phones or dumb-phones might have some type of touch sensitive display.
This building by bits and pieces reminds me a bit of the research Google is doing in open hardware, modular cell phone designs like the Ara Project written up by Wired.com. Ara is an interesting experiment in divvying up the whole motherboard into block sized functions that can be swapped in and out, substituted by the owner according to their needs. If you’re not a camera hound, why spend the extra money on a overly capable, very high rez camera? Why not add a storage module instead because you like to watch movies or play games instead? Or in the case of open hardware developers, why not develop a new module that others could then manufacture themselves, with a circuit board or even a 3D printer? The possibilities are numerous and seeing an effort like what Dave Hunt did with his PiPhone as a lone individual working on his own, proves there’s a lot of potential in the open hardware area for cell phones. Maybe this device or future versions will break somewhat of the lock current monopoly providers have on their closed hardware, closed source code products.
“We need to become more solid and get back to basics, to sharpen our manual skills and further develop them,” said Kawai, a half century-long company veteran tapped by President Akio Toyoda to promote craftsmanship at Toyota’s plants. “When I was a novice, experienced masters used to be called gods, and they could make anything.”
It’s not a Luddite reaction to eschew the new technology in favor of the old, not always. I still do work on my own gas powered lawn equipment. It takes me longer, I’m less skilled generally than a pro, but I learn a lot every time. And part of that learning is helping me diagnose problems or hopefully in the long run get more life out of the equipment I have. In some ways, if we don’t practice those hard won skills we become victims to the status quo. If you delegate tasks to robots because they can do them “better” and for less pay, then what you get is a high tech version of the status quo. A robot will not see the inefficiency in what it’s been tasked with doing. It’s not going to notice the room for improvement. It’s not going to suggest to the line manager, “Hey this bolt needs to be mechanically hardened, it seems like it might sheer off easily”. Same is true for the Engineers and Designers who make the production lines, if they aren’t well versed in the steps or willing to take feedback from the production line, how long before we call an end to innovation? One of the great strengths of Japanese car manufacture after World War 2 was the W. Edwards Demming method of statistical quality control. Part of that is not simply always getting zero defects out of a production line. Some of that is gaining input from the workers as the whole car is put together. If you don’t have a feedback loop, and that’s what this article is pointing to, then you’re going to be making the same car at the same price for a very, very long time. Statistical quality control implies continuous improvement not just in the product but for the experience of the workers too, including safety, and doing a great job, enjoying what you are doing. All those come into play and are lost when as much of the work as is possible is turned over to the robots. Let’s not lose those hard won skills of knowing how to be a machinist, fabricator and assembler. Let’s exercise them, and become better at what we’re downing now, and what we’re doing in the future.
Wow this has gotten my brain to working overtime. How small can you go with System on Chip like fully integrated Raspberry Pi modules? Could you fit this not just on an SO-DIMM but also maybe an SDXC sized memory card? Or a Micro-SDXC card? Imagine that. And if you want to see an even better write-up of this announcement, go over to Make magazines online website here:
They’ve got Vimeo video and other great analysis looking at this system on an SO-DIMM board. Very interesting stuff.
It’s not just photos. I want the same for my whole expanding set of digital objects, including medical and financial records, commercial transactions, personal correspondence, home energy use data, you name it. I want all of my lifebits to be hosted in the cloud under my control. Is that feasible? Technically there are huge challenges, but they’re good ones, the kind that will spawn new businesses.
From Gordon Moore‘s MyLifeBits to most recently Stephen Wolfram‘s personal collection of data and now to Jon Udell. Witness the ever expanding universe of personal data. Thinking about Gordon Moore now, I think the emphasis from Microsoft Research was always on video and pictures and ‘recollecting’ what’s happened in any given day. Stephen Wolfram’s emphasis was not so much on collecting the data but analyzing it after the fact and watching patterns emerge. Now with Jon Udell we get a nice kind of advancing of the art by looking at possible end-game scenarios. So you have collected a mass of LifeBits, now what?
Who’s going to manage this thing? Is anyone going to offer a service that will help manage it? All great questions because the disparate form social networking lifebits take versus other like health and ‘performance’ lifebits (like Stephen Wolfram collects and maintains for himself) are pointing up a big gap that exists in the cloud services sector. Ripe pickings for anyone in the entrepreneurial vein to step in and bootstrap a service like the one Jon Udell proposes. If someone was really smart they could get it up and running cheaply on Amazon Web Services (AWS) until it got to be too cost and performance prohibitive to keep it hosted there. That would both allow an initial foray to test the waters, see the size and tastes of the market and adapt the hosted lifebits service to anyone willing to pay up. That might just be a recipe for success.
I’ve seen the future, and not only does it work, it works without tools. It’s moddable, repairable, and upgradeable. Its pieces slide in and out of place with hand force. Its lid lifts open and eases shut. It’s as sleek as an Apple product, without buried components or proprietary screws.
Oh how I wish this were true today for Apple. I say this as a recent purchaser of a Apple re-furbished iMac 27″. My logic and reasoning for going with the refurbished over new was based on a few bits of knowledge gained reading Macintosh weblogs. The rumors I read included the idea that Apple repaired items are strenuously tested before being re-sold. In some cases return items are not even broken, they are returns based on buyers remorse or cosmetic problems. So there’s a good chance the logic board and lcd have no problems. Now reading back this Summer just after the launch of Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion), I read about lots of problems with crashes off 27″ iMacs. So I figured a safer bet would be to get a 21″ iMac. But then I started thinking about Flash-based Solid State Disks. And looking at the prohibitively high prices Apple charges for their installed SSDs, I decided I needed something that I could upgrade myself.
But as you may know iMacs over time have never been and continue to remain not user up-gradable. However, that’s not to say people haven’t tried or succeeded in upgrading their own iMacs over the years. Enter the aftermarket for SSD upgrades. Apple has attempted to zig and zag as the hobbyists swap in newer components like larger hard drives and SSDs. Witness the Apple temperature sensor on the boot drive in the 27″ iMac, where they have added a sensor wire to measure the internal heat of the hard drive. As the Mac monitors this signal it will rev-up the internal fans. Any iMac hobbyist attempting to swap out a a 4TByte or 3TByte drive for the stock Apple 2TByte drive will suffer the inevitable panic mode of the iMac as it cannot see its temperature sensor (these replacement drives don’t have the sensor built-in) and assumes the worst. They say the noise is deafening when those fans speed up, and they never, EVER slow down. This Apple’s attempt insure sanctity through obscurity. No one is allowed to mod or repair, and that means anyone foolish enough to attempt to swap their internal hard drive on the iMac.
But, there’s a workaround thank goodness and that is the 27″ iMac whose internal case is just large enough to install a secondary hard drive. You can slip a 2.5″ SSD into that chassis. You just gotta know how to open it up. And therein lies the theme of this essay, the user upgradable, user friendly computer case design. The antithesis of this idea IS the iMac 27″ if you read these steps from iFixit and the photographer Brian Tobey. Both of these websites make clear the excruciating minutiae of finding and disconnecting the myriad miniature cables that connect the logic board to the computer. Without going through those steps one cannot gain access to the spare SATA connectors facing towards the back of the iMac case. I decided to go through these steps to add an SSD to my iMac right after it was purchased. I thought Brian Tobey’s directions were just slightly better and had more visuals pertinent to the way I was working on the iMac as I opened up the case.
It is in a word a non-trivial task. You need the right tools, the right screwdrivers. In fact you even need suction cups! (thankyou Apple). However there is another way, even for so-called All-in-One style computer designs like the iMac. It’s a new product from Hewlett-Packard targeted for the desktop engineering and design crowd. It’s an All-in-One workstation that is user upgradable and it’s all done without any tools at all. Let me repeat that last bit again, it is a ‘tool-less’ design. What you may ask is a tool-less design? I hadn’t heard of it either until I read this article in iFixit. And after having followed the links to the NewEgg.com website to see what other items were tagged as ‘tool-less’ I began to remember some hints and stabs at this I had seen in some Dell Optiplex desktops some years back. The ‘carrier’ bracket for the CD/DVD and HDD drive bays were these green plastic rails that just simply ‘pushed’ into the sides of the drive (no screws necessary).
And when I considered my experience working with the 27″ iMac actually went pretty well (it booted up the first time no problems) after all I had done to it, I consider myself very lucky. But it could have been better. And there’s no reason it cannot be better for EVERYONE. It also made me think of the XO Laptop (One Laptop Per Child project) and I wondered how tool-less that laptop might be. How accessible are any of these designs? And it also made me recall the Facebook story I recently commented on about how Facebook is designing its own hard drive storage units to make them easier to maintain (no little screws to get lost and dropped onto a fully powered motherboard and short things out). So I much more hope than when I first embarked on the do it yourself journey of upgrading my iMac. Tool-less design today, Tool-less design tomorrow and Tool-less design forever.
Whenever you need to work with data, don’t overlook the Unix “hand tools.” Sure, everything I’ve done here could be done with Excel or some other fancy tool like R or Mathematica. Those tools are all great, but if your data is living in the cloud, using these tools is possible, but painful. Yes, we have remote desktops, but remote desktops across the Internet, even with modern high-speed networking, are far from comfortable. Your problem may be too large to use the hand tools for final analysis, but they’re great for initial explorations. Once you get used to working on the Unix command line, you’ll find that it’s often faster than the alternatives. And the more you use these tools, the more fluent you’ll become.
This is a great remedial refresher on the Unix commandline and for me kind of reinforces an idea I’ve had that when it comes to computing We Live Like Kings. What? How is that possible, well think about what you are trying to accomplish and finding the least complicated quickest way to that point is a dying art. More often one is forced to follow or highly encouraged to set out on a journey with very well defined protocols/rituals included. You must use the APIs, the tools, the methods as specified by your group. Things falling outside that orthodoxy are frowned upon no matter what the speed and accuracy of the result. So doing it quick and dirty using some Shell scripting and utilities is going to be embarrassing for those unfamiliar with those same tools.
My experience doing this involved a very low end attempt to split Web access logs into nice neat bits that began an ended on certain dates. I used grep, split, and a bunch of binaries I borrowed for doing log analysis and formatting the output into a web report. Overall it didn’t take much time, and required very little downloading, uploading,uncompressing,etc. It was all commandline based with all the output dumped to a directory on the same machine. I probably spent 20 minutes every Sunday running these by hand (as I’m not a cronjob master much less an atjob master). And none of the work I did was mission critical other than being a barometer of how much use the websites were getting from the users. I realize now I could have had the whole works automated with variables setup in the shell script to accommodate running on different days of the week, time changes, etc. But editing the scripts by hand in vi editor only made me quicker and more proficient in vi (which I still gravitate towards using even now).
And as low end as my needs were and how little experience I had initially using these tools, I am grateful for the time I spent doing it. I feel so much more comfortable knowing I can figure out how to do these tasks on my own, pipe outputs into inputs for other utilities and get useful results. I think I understand it though I’m not a programmer, and couldn’t really leverage higher level things like data structures to get work done, no. I’m a brute force kind of guy and given how fast the CPUs are running, a few ugly, inefficient recursions isn’t going to kill me or my reputation. So here’s to Mike Loukides article and how much it reminds me of what I like about Unix.
Professional network LinkedIn has just introduced the beta launch of a new feature LinkedIn Skills, a way for you to search for particular skills and expertise, and of course, showcase your own and in LinkedIn’s words, “a whole new way to understand the landscape of skills & expertise, who has them, and how it’s changing over time.”
It may not seem that important at first, especially if people don’t keep their profiles up to date in LinkedIn. However, for the largest number of ‘new’ users that are in the job market actively seeking positions, I’m hoping those data are going to be more useful. Those might be worth following over time to see what demand there is for those skills in the market place. That is the promise at least. My concern though is just as grades have inflated over time at most U.S. Universities, skills too will be overstated, lied about and be very untrustworthy as people try to compete with one another on LinkedIn.
There is no easier or more complete way to keep your mower in good shape than to remove the metal carburetor bowl. Let all that gas drip out, take the bowl off and look inside. I once did this for the first time on our snowblower the first season I was running it. To my shock and horror there was a small pile of black fragments sitting in there! It appeared to be bits of vulcanized rubber or a similar substance. I freaked out knowing that any debris in that area can affect a motor adversely (especially a small 3.5hp one). I cleaned it out and it helped a little. But what I really needed was a good new accurately gapped spark plug. Ultimately it was that spark plug that made a bigger performance difference than any other. But it never hurts to remove that bowl and wipe it out. For good measure I will leave a little bit of carburetor choke cleaner in the bottom of the bowl when I reattach it. That way anything that might form there will stay in solution until the following season when I first prime and start the motor. Doing this, I usually get one big puff of grey smoke out the exhaust until it warms up. Then everything is free and clear and runs great.
Even if you’ve run your equipment dry as part of your usual end-of-season maintenance steps, some fuel can remain in the bowl of the carburetor. If you don’t drain the bowl, you might see some of the telltale white residue and related corrosion associated with ethanol blends. Four-cycle engines in particular seem prone to the buildup, although two-cycle engines can also suffer from the problem.
I own a very large metal file, and I use it to sharpen my lawnmower blade. Everything I’ve ever read about sharpening a mower blade indicated you don’t ever use power equipment. By that I mean something that spins at a high rate of speed with a sharpening wheel attached. The reason given is always the same. The steel used in lawnmower blades is hardened along the edges to hold the sharpness longer. When you try to resharpen the blade using a high speed spinning sharpening stone, the metal in the blade heats up. Sometimes it can heat up so much the metal turns color. When you see that color, you have effectively removed the hardening of the steel. It will now be just as soft as a wire coat hanger and not hold the sharp edge for very long. However today I read in Consumer Reports blog that they use a Dremel tool with a blade sharpening attachment. How is this different from your average cheap bench grinder? It’s hand held, but other than that, does it heat up the blade any less? I also have one of the electric drill attachments they mention in the article. I don’t use that tool for the same reason why I probably wouldn’t use the Dremel attachment, it’s going to heat up the blade as the sharpening progresses.
Another good sharpening option is Dremels Lawn Mower & Garden Tool Sharpener attachment about $8 is. Peter Sawchuk, our outdoor-power-equipment expert, uses this attachment at our mower/tractor-testing site in Fort Myers, Florida, where we check out several dozen models every year. “I see value in the attachment for homeowners,” says Sawchuk, noting that the nylon guide holds the blade at the right angle for maximum sharpness. In Sawchuks experience, the only drawback to the attachment is that it cant grind out major nicks. You can also get similar drill attachments for sharpening a mower blade. Properly clamping the blade in a stationary position and using two hands to guide the tool will help you get a uniformly sharp cutting edge.