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Last month a video was shared with me about this young man from Colorado named Easton LaChappelle who during high school taught himself programming and electronics because he was inspired to make something cool; A robot hand that could be controlled with a glove.  At a science fair he met a young girl who had a prosthetic arm that he learned cost about $80,000.  His hobby of cool became a mission. Through connections over the internet, learning 3D CAD modelling he kept persisting and iterating using all the methods he could as fast as he could. The evolution over such a short time is awe inspiring.

Easton is really an inspiration. He’s 19 and lives a life of curiosity and selflessness outside boundaries. Enjoy!

The video I originally watched about all this was shared on Facebook shared by a friend.  He makes a very special announcement at the end of it. Easton’s company that he founded at age 17 is called Unlimited Tomorrow.

February 11, 2015 at 3:58 pm | 3D, computers, gadgets, inspiration, interesting, learning, philosophy | No comment

Pro tip for Tax Time – download full report of items purchased from Amazon

Tax time yay!  Man, I always forget things I’ve bought that relate to work. It’s been a year for g’s sake. I’ve started scanning receipts ever since I got my little Doxie scanner. But wherever I archive those isn’t going to be the same place my online purchases are found.  But I recently found from digging for an old order of a product for warranty return that Amazon has some very nice tools for getting your purchase data archive.

You can get an archive download spreadsheet quite easily, once you log in:

Go to Your Account > Your Orders > Order History Report

Fill out the start and end date (it goes back up to 10 years too!).  After a few seconds your report will be ready to download. It will be a .CSV which can be opened in Excel or other spreadsheet software, or even a text editor.  Looking for that equipment you bought for tax deduction? Just search on the spreadsheet (Ctrl+F / Cmd + F) for “Shelving” or “Laptop” or whatever it was.  Excel will take you right to it. All the order numbers, dates pricing tons of info, all there. Screenshot below.  Now on to the tax deductions, Blech…

amazon-order-history-report

January 27, 2015 at 11:45 pm | business, computers, gadgets, interesting, media | No comment

On the eve of the Apple Tablet

Some would tell you that tomorrow the world will change.  I’ve loved all the coverage, I eat it up. As an ultra enthusiast of portables, this is a big year. And tomorrow is a significant day in the material world. Big player, massive expectation. Great potential no doubt.

Intrigue surrounds this thing, not just because it’s Apple. Not because of controlled leaks. People are looking for something. They want to do new things, or do old things better. Will this thing help people do things, or is it just a device for consuming?

Many of us have realistic expecations for this. Writing and drawing, taking notes, good battery life, durability, responsive UI, games, specialized programs, photo and video viewing, reading books.  A netbook or high end notebook isn’t enough for some.  They want to interact more naturally. Some, like me want to be able to create higher quality designs using their refined motor skills and talent, not just push a mouse around.

These gadgets are personal man, they spark all kinds of debate. For some of us, they seem to run our lives, they own us as Tyler Durden would say.  But they let us work in special ways, to share, to communicate. We scupt them through the programs we use, the shortcuts we deploy and what we throw out entirely.

I was disappointed with some writers covering or commenting on these devices, who insist that they know what people want, or more often what they don’t need. Stupid.  There are enough people in the world in all niches that you could make any kind of tablet product fly if you targeted it properly.  Medical, education, logistics,  and more.  And don’t forget the technique many use to market wares to people who don’t know about them. Create the need by introducing a problem, one that people didn’t know they had.  A 9-year-old understands this brand of persuasion.  It’s a mixture of What-if? and Don’t-You-Hate personal inquiries that lead to great answers.

The must frustrating statements made to me have been things like:

As obsessed as I get with wanting to strike back at these with my own strong feelings about the potential for the device here. I’d feel just as energized if Apple didn’t announce a tablet tomorrow. The ball is already in play buddy. Somebody is going to take hold and run with these ideas. We all know after the media storm what many people are after.   So it’s exciting, and it feels like anyone’s game to win.

Now for my speculative remarks.

God knows I’ve listened to everyone else on these matters.   I don’t care of Apple does any of this, it’s just a fun exercise.  But I do have some personal certainties here. Take it or leave it.

  1. I don’t see how it could possibly be called “Tablet”, “iTab” or iSlate or iPad”  Not that the name matters at all to me, but it’s going to play off the graffiti theme or will have a cool name like “Moses” just like the “Newton” was used for their first tablet, something strong. If Steve Jobs did say this is his most important work ever, why wouldn’t he break the standard and  give it a name with real pwnage.
  2. I think the screen will be different in materials than anything else we’ve seen.  Or if we have seen it, we’ve forgotten about it. It won’t be like the iPhone and it won’t be OLED and won’t be Pixel Qi either(unfortunately), I think it will be something else that’s been overlooked by everyone. I’m betting a 3rd party company has been developing the substrate quietly for a long time, and it’s a key selling feature that Apple would NOT allow a controlled leak on. It won’t be unbreakable, but durable.  It will be something that works for reading and writing in daylight better than we’re used to. The screen will perform well, but don’t get your hopes too high, too many compromises are in play.
  3. Lack of ports will bother me. Focus will be on wireless connectivity and against my wishes, there will be a lack of ports, thereby making the device less useful to hobbyists. Apple always does this to me, so I don’t see this changing. If there are more than 2 ports, I’m betting they will be non-standard and annoying to connect to. I’m very curious if it will have an SD slot. I’m thinking not, tragically.
  4. Apple will allow docking in vertical position for pairing with a keyboard easily, and will probably have a good docking station for it (look at logitech’s dinovo keyboard charger dock for example of what you’ll get with this.
  5. Screen will be 10 inches. That’s my guess. One size, 10 inches.
  6. In order for this event not to end too quickly, there will be a massive amount of use cases and software revealed where all sorts of problems are “solved” in the demo. The use cases will take up a large portion of the time. Videos and testimonials in areas like design, home entertainment, commercial use and media creation (photo / video / audio).  Education will get some time, but not enough, because Steve trimmed that part for the sake of brevity.  Those items ARE most important for the device to succeed though. They’ll be more evident when the microsite goes live.
  7. A few years ago, Apple changed iMovie so you could drag your mouse across clip thumbnails and it would shuttle through the video. That was killer and you will see nice UI features like that for plenty of oohs and ahhs. These things WILL get people thinking and it will drive more innovation.
  8. Some kind of iPod goodies will be part of the announcements to hold interest, the 2 devices will fuel each others’ progress.
  9. Special Mac software will be what sells this thing which is also where the other “failed” tablets and multi-touch didn’t grab the mass market.  Designers will get graphic software, students WILL get office. Learning software will be apart of this. This device will do more than just App Store stuff. It will allow for custom builds.  Because it has to appeal to commercial users who want to create their own lock-in for their company.
  10. Price will be $899 or higher. Look at Apple’s current offerings across the board. How could it be cheaper if they stick to their pricing as usual?
  11. 3G will be available, but not locked to a vendor like AT&T.  That will too easily hurt sales.  No contracts required.
  12. There will be exclusive partnerships which are made to sound cool, but really are just annoying. Something about these tablets and portables that brings out the old-world corporations and their attempt to control the future by creating a false scarcity on things. Extreme content and intellectual property fascism wrapped in the guise of the simple and convenient purchase and exclusivity.

Wrapping up, It won’t be for this guy =(

I’ve been disappointed before and probably will this time too. I’m doubting the Apple Tablet will be my choice of tablet in the long run. There’s a lot out there now, with the Entourage eDGe, HP’s offerings, and I’m really hopeful for Notion Ink’s Android tablet with the pretty Pixel Qi screen.  A lot of devices are using Wacom technology for pen recognition. I think I’ll be paying for the most flexible choice.  Apple doesn’t have that reputation of being flexible or open.  But I bet it will do a few things I’ll be jealous of when I see it in the field.

January 27, 2010 at 1:30 am | design, gadgets, mac, media | 1 comment

Dropbox – the perfect computer utility

Ever get tired of sending attachments to people? You write the email, click “add attachment”, browse, find, upload, wait, AND, send. Blah, that’s annoying just to think about.  I got tired of it a long time ago. That’s why I’ve been using this service called Dropbox for probably two years now, as soon as I heard of it. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it in this blog before, but anyway, you want to check it out and get it. It’s truly one of the best online services ever created. And it’s in both free and pay premium versions.

Simple instructions here, visit getdropbox.com and download their utility.  It works on Windows, Mac and Linux. Install and it makes a networked folder in your computer that will sync up with the Dropbox server. Files dropped in there are automatically archived on the internet for you. Dropbox let’s you share 2 Gigabytes of files free, and you can pay a small fee for even more storage.

To share a file, move or copy it into your Dropbox public folder (create subfolders inside if you like) right-click and choose to Copy public link. Paste this link URL into your email and you can share the file with somebody without having to attach anything, (and without them needing to detach it.)  Here’s an example of the public link you’d be pasting into your email:

http://dl.getdropbox.com/u/000000/foldername/filename.jpg

As a designer, it’s been a great tool to use because I can quickly update a file on my desktop and it re-synchronizes and my client can just revisit the original email I sent for the link. They will always be downloading the most recent file.  Just remember if files are big you’ll watch them sync with the server, the little icon next to the file will indicate when it’s done synchronizing.

Dropbox also archives versions of files and let’s you revert to them. It’s not infinite versioning, but it’s an added bonus that can help you in case of an accident.  If your PC goes down, you can also install dropbox on the new or refreshed pc and it will sync it back for you. Those files will only delete if you actually delete them from your folder.  I also use it to share files between my PC and Mac, so no worries if I’m on or off my home network.

Just get it, and start taking advantage of this perfect utility’s exquisite convenience. Oh and if you had the idea that you might be able to share files over the internet with a second person, you can definitely do that, you could share your login with a person, (which works but might not be what Dropbox intended) or add users within the service as documented.  The free service is great, the pay service is worth it.

getdropbox.com

September 29, 2009 at 11:19 pm | computers, design, gadgets, mac, tools | No comment

Apple finally gets a clue on memory cards

I’m happy to report, that Apple finally pulled their head out from underneath them by finally adding an SD card slot to some of its upcoming laptop line.  Research revealed to them that their customers liked using digital cameras and didn’t like using the USB cable.  What? People don’t like carrying a jumbled mess of cables in their bag?
Do me a big favor. Next time some fanboy Apple enthusiast says something like “Apple drives the industry” you will simply respond, “Yeah like that time they added an SD card slot 6 years after everyone else. Booyah!!!”  And of course they will say “That’s because nobody wanted it…blah blah” and at that point they have already shown themselves to be a hairy charlatan.

Apple is brilliant though. Shameless self-promoters. Imagine if Campbell’s soup held big conferences every year where they said things like, “Hey we’re even more awesome because we finally added a pull tab to our cans since we’ve determined that’s where the industry is going to go and we are leading the way.” Meanwhile, the actual smart platform-agnostic critics with a crinkled brows say “Steve, sardine cans have had that style pull tab for 90 years now…” and of course those voices are drowned out by a bunch of blue-jean wearing black shirted sycophants.  (Tee-hee I don’t even know what that word means I’m just trying to make my friends mad at this point. You hear me Matt and Susan?)

P.S. This post was written on a very flawed, nondescript, overpriced, feature-limited Mac that has not improved my lifestyle like the commercials said it would. In fact I’ve had just as many annoyances with it as I might expect with other computers. But it’s not all bad and kind of cool in it’s own way. In other words, it hasn’t solved all my problems, and introduced several new ones, which means it deserves very little fan-fare, certainly not the degree it has enjoyed.

P.P.S. Keep my rant in perspective. I’m just providing balance here because I’m being overwhelmed with too many flattering articles about Macs and iPod 3Gs’s today. Sometimes you have to introduce a little blowback and overstate the bad things. All in all, this is a good release for Apple. And I’ll give them a little more positive attention when the rest of the hardworking industry gets their credit when they release great stuff, which they do constantly and they don’t get the tickertape parade. Currently Apple enjoys an enormous mindshare that I feel it doesn’t deserve next to all the other innovators.

June 8, 2009 at 5:57 pm | computers, gadgets, mac | 1 comment

My New Favorite Pen: Tombow AirPress

My new favorite pen the Tombow AirPress, made in Japan. I picked it up at a bookstore for about 400 Yen ($4.00). They stole my heart by giving it the commercial industrial look, bright orange, rubberized tough design and perhaps most likeable of all, the perfect clip. I know it’s just a pen, who cares. But there is something rewarding about finding something on your own that you’ve always hoped for.  Pens are never my friends. I always break the clips, the plastic snaps from too much pressure. I can clip this Tombow pen to a hardcover book if I want to. It’s configured as a spring so it will cling to your shirt, portfolio or booklet and has a small hole if you wanted to put a lanyard around it or connect a cable to your belt.  The ink flow is also perfect. As good or better than the Fisher Space Pen. I like a fine point because I always write too small and because of that too many pens don’t work for me. They stop up, perhaps due to the way I create friction on the point. The AirPress feature of this pen, I don’t fully understand (packaging in Japanese) but my best guess is contents are under slight pressure.

A couple pics of the best pen you’ll see today. Damn good pen. A great pen worthy of a great man.

April 18, 2009 at 9:03 am | gadgets, Japan, tools, writing | 2 comments

Nice Primer Video on Digital Photography

A new favorite website of mine, Academic Earth is attempting to compile and make more efficient, the university open courseware sites video content. I was obviously interested in what kind of classes might be available in design and related computing. There is a category of computer science, but not design. Fortunately due to overlap, a few classes in my field are there to enjoy even though they don’t exactly hit the mark.

I think you’ll like this workshop on Digital Photography given by David J. Malan at Harvard University. It’s quite detailed, but not out of range of the novice.  I appreciated some of the examples and analogies given. It’s nice to be clear on technical equipment and it’s limitations. Particularly, since cameras are products nearly all of us buy, we all benefit from knowing a little more before we buy.

Workshop – Digital Photos by David Malan via AcademicEarth.org

Dear Universities offering open courseware. Please add design, typography and more. It’s fun, and valuable and useful for so many people. I suppose it would involve a lot of screen capturing which might not be as easy as video production, however, that doesn’t mean it’s not viable or not worth the resources to try.

February 1, 2009 at 5:12 am | computers, gadgets, graphics, photography | No comment

Cameras just aren’t there yet

This holiday season I was really wanting to treat myself to a new camera. Ever since the Current River incident, I’ve only had my massive SLR to shoot with and it’s just not easy to take it as many places as I want to shoot. But I decided that if I’m spending the money I’m getting something that will be a little more weatherproof.  Turns out, there’s hardly squat out there in that category. 3 cameras out of the ten-thousand out there fit the quality level and design category I’m looking for. But none of the three will work for me.

  1. My favorite one is just out of my price range. Plus it’s apparently not in the company’s interest to sell it here, so it’s hard to get.  The Ricoh G600 is a weather resistant, shock resistant, and sand resistant outdoor and emergency worker camera. It looks like it’s for the construction site, but I love that the controls are big and simplified that I wouldn’t need to take my gloves off.  Next time I go on the river, I’m putting a camera on a lanyard around my neck. I’m taking a ton of pics and not losing any of them. But this camera is close to $700 and I cannot justify that, even though it’s nearly perfect.
  2.  The next possible winner really just has one flaw. And it’s a silly unnecessary flaw. The Olympus Stylus 1050SW is a water resistant, shockproof and low temperature unit that has a great size to it. It’s not as glove-workable as the Ricoh, but it has a crush resistant body which is surprisingly rugged for the look of this thing. The problem? It uses the silly XD memory cards. Here’s the deal folks. We need to lock into just the two types of cards.  SD cards and compact flash cards. That’s it.  Even though this camera will take the MicroSD and has some kind of adapter, it’s just dumb.  SD cards are made by everybody and fit into tons of devices. Nobody going on a ski trip wants to carry the adapter that they’ll lose.  And don’t forget the WiFi SD card that’s available that be perfect to extend this camera.  Too bad, I’m probably not gonna get it.  Hopefully they wise up in 2009
  3. Pentax Optio W60 is the last weatherproof camera I was considering. It nearly seemed to meet the need, but the reviews turned me off. It’s not taking the best pictures and the advertized video playback is lacking. However it DOES use an SD card, so it’s almost right. You can kill yourself reading peoples review because people sometimes just get bad apples.  But I think given the look of it and that the battery level isn’t great, I’m going to pass.  But I wouldn’t stop others from going for it. But this and the Olympus could work well for somebody I think. I’m picky though, really picky.

December 1, 2008 at 3:57 am | gadgets | No comment

I bought two laptops today

My wife doesn’t know this yet, and she’ll probably punch me, but I bought two laptops today. This purchase was based on a long-term, well-thought-out impulse buy. So what’s up? Well I’ll tell you and maybe you’ll buy two laptops as well. But you don’t have much time to get this kind of laptop. Oh and it’s a $400 direct hit on the wallet.
One Laptop per Child

Over a year ago, I heard about an initiative called the “One Laptop Per Child” (OLPC) project created by a guy named Negroponte. His mission was to create a way to help educate children in 3rd world countries. He decided he could create a communications and learning device to do this. But he knew he’d have major challenges bringing this to fruition. A device would have to be electronic, but work with all the problems that poorer regions have. His idea became a laptop that would overcome as many of these difficulties. It would be low power and have a means to self power, with a hand or foot crank. It would be shock resistant, easy to use and a very open platform. His initiative grew to an organization and is working with governments to see about getting as many of these into schools as possible.

People, myself included have said that these countries need water and basic necessities, not computers. Not true. In fact, that kind of thinking is very one sided. You see, there are thousands or more villages that have school houses, they have systems in place where kids learn. But they can be given a great resource. I’m a bit concerned that this initiative will make the machines vulnerable to theft. This could be true, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tried.

The organization originally was only going to build the laptops and supply them in bulk. But they decided that the demand was so strong that it would be a great idea to allow western countries get them too. But with a limit. There is only a two-week window which the laptops can be bought. And the two that I bought, I only get one of them. The other is a donation to somebody. After reading about the laptop, it appears to be something I can use and may even solve a problem I’ve had lately with a project I’ll be releasing in the next couple months.

I like being as philathropic as I can, but I’m fairly selfish too. I’m of course writing off half of this purchase as a charitable donation. The other half will be written off under my company, as it’s a work related expense for special projects I’m doing. In particular as a communications device as well as the tablet stylus features I’ll need.

Some really cool features of this laptop:

There’s a lot more to it, and once there’s a hefty community here in the US, more things will be shared and configured among the techy and education crowd. Plus the world over using it will introduce more cool configurations and possibilities. If I can write articles from it in the car and on trips, it’s really valuable to me. It can also be a good platform to program learning games using flash for example. It might just be great to have in the living room to boot up and find out latest movie times.

If you want the best overview on this laptop, read David Pogue’s review in the New York Times and watch the embedded movie with the article.

This is a huge win of a purchase for me. I don’t know who’s going to get my 2nd laptop, but it’s an even bigger win for them. $400 is a lot of money and of course I won’t be eating for a few weeks. But how cool is it to contribute to a good cause, get a new gadget, change a few lives? It’s really cool damnit!

November 12, 2007 at 8:57 pm | computers, gadgets, learning, philosophy, tools | No comment

Lost my camera in Current River

 Juri and I went camping with my family this past weekend. We drove to St. Louis, and from there, down to Poplar Bluff (Van Buren) Missouri. I have quite a few memories of that place growing up. It was a spot we’d go to for vacation when I was little. Saying the Smick’s are outdoors kind of people is an understatement. I don’t do it enough, but when I do camp with family, I love it. You have the little nuances of the woods, creepy crawlies, animals that rustle the leaves nearby while you are trying to sleep, frying up potatoes and bacon outside over a flame.  A chill of the morning and warming up with a nice fleece and putting a few sticks on the fire.

The main purpose of the trip was a family reunion.  Dozens of family were there, some stayed in the park, some lived a few miles away. I got to talk to a lot of relatives, gave and received many hugs and kisses. Also, Juri and I went on her first canoe trip. I had my camera, safe and sound in a plastic baggie, even got some nice shots off with it.  Everything was fine until I neglected to take it out of my pocket when I was helping my cousin fish out his lost paddle and life jacket from the river. The current sucked the baggie with my camera and driver’s license right out of my pocket.  I try not to form attachments to things, but it’s hard you know.  That camera took really great macro pictures, even good video.  It cost me about 200 bucks, so I’m expectedly bummed. But the photos from the reunion including some nice canoe pictures were lost. That’s just heartbreaking.

But I noticed something kind of special.  For me at least.  As outgoing and goofy I sometimes can be, I’m actually pretty quiet.  Since I don’t remember names all that well, I always feel a twinge talking with cousins that I don’t see very often.  I’ll not know their girlfriend, or their married name or their kid’s names, so that bind makes me stay off to the side.  But those missed opportunities to talk to family are wasteful, even rude.   I was actually happy that my dad had told a bunch of people about the lost camera.  Some family members came up to me to sympathize a little.  And though I didn’t need sympathy, that loss was a perfect conversation starter. You wouldn’t think you’d need an icebreaker to talk to family, but you know how reunions are, there’s just as many strangers as close kin.

My aunt said that a cousin of mine lost his wallet on that same river and somebody found it a few weeks later and returned it. I won’t hold my breath, but if it does turn up, I might actually be able to get photos off the card. Flash memory is pretty durable. I’ve had a thumbdrive go through the laundry once or twice unscathed.  We’ll see if it turns up. So now, I have to decide if I want a replacement camera.

We did not have a good weekend for electronics for sure. Juri has also lost her electronic translator dictionary and that costs more than the camera to replace. On the bright side, I didn’t have any ticks dug into my scrotum this time. That is a good trade.

September 26, 2007 at 7:52 am | family, gadgets, photography | No comment

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