Friday, 25 November 2011

Re-purposing an old laptop

I just rediscovered a draft post from 2011 that I had forgotten about..  may as well post it now.


Old laptops are dirt cheap on eBay these days, and while they may not have touchscreens, quad-core processors or gigs and gigs of RAM, they can still be used for a bunch of different purposes, depending on your needs.

I've been experimenting with an old Toshiba Tecra 8200 to see what I can get it to do.

First problem is that it doesn't have a lot of memory. 128Mb to be precise.
Second problem is that it's got a Pentium processor with not-a-lot of gruntage.

That limits options for what operating system we can run.  It was either something ancient, like Windows 98 (SE, of course), or DSL (Damn Small Linux) which at least has some modern functionality and networking.

So, I opted for DSL and sure enough, it installs and boots up straight off CD.  It detected the built in ethernet port, and the wireless straight away - although attempting to use the wireless connection causes a totally epic fail of a system lockup, complete with old-school graphics glitching..  Nice.

Still, on a wired connection it seems to work ok.  

The web-browser is basic, but functional, and of course terminal / SSH works just fine, so the machine would make a good terminal / basic web browser.  It's also a pretty reasonable resolution screen so it'd make a good digital photo frame, if the case was redone a bit.

Monday, 21 November 2011

A step towards proper "Help me ObiWan Kenobi" holograms.

So, I've seen this a few places now, some researchers in Japan have created a "True 3D" display similar in appearance to the holographic displays we've been promised in SciFi for years and years.

I am not entirely sure how air molecules can be excited to create plasma by targeting lasers, without the lasers being dangerously powerful. Perhaps it's a resonance thing.  Need to read up on it.

What I want to know is can I build one using two £2.50 laser pointers and a fish tank? :-)

Probably not, but it's a nice idea to add to the "I'll never get time to do this" pile.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Weekly Links #4

Ok, so I just realised I didn't publish this last Friday.
Time just sort of got away from me - slippery stuff that it is.

Anyway.. Some cool stuff that I found on the interwebs this week..

The Rolson 28600 Gaming Toolkit - A toolkit specifically designed for fixing games consoles.  This is a genius idea, and although, judging by the reviews, the quality of the tools seems a little bit suspect - it's still interesting.

On a similar tool related theme - Make your own handles for micro-screwdrivers - An instructable on how to make your own handles to improve the torque on micro-screwdrivers, so you can actually un-do screws with them rather than just get annoyed and jab violently at whatever it is you are trying to fix.
Looks good!!!

Nutella and banana ice cream. A food hack  (Or Recipe, as they used to be called)  Sounds really good and surprisingly low-calorie. I must try it at some point.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Weekly Links #3

Some interesting stuff this week, but not a huge amount as I've been pretty busy.

Microsoft Augmented Reality system - based on a bunch of Kinect units, some micro projectors, and some very clever code to link it all together - the projectors act as a kind of flash-light onto the virtual world, overlaid on top of the real world. The real clincher is at the end of the video, with virtual bouncy balls rolling around on a real desk, and into a real drawer.

First manned flight of an octocopter.  Quadrocopters are all the rage at the moment, for their size and maneouverability - however e-volo have taken it a step further, added more rotors and a seat, and made it flyable. It's very obviously a first generation prototype, made from wood, gaffer tape and a fitness ball, still controlled with a standard model plane controller, but it works and they lift off the ground.

"No, I don't know what
 you want for tea!"
Siri equivalent for Android - SpeakToIt Assistant is free, does a lot of the things that Siri does, and also appears to do some stuff that Siri can't do - "Where is the closest Sainsbury's" for example.   It can be used to write emails or SMS, search for music, answer random questions ("How big is Mars" was one we asked, and were very surprised when it told us the estimated mass of Mars)  It also can do searches, calendar related tasks, and in theory, translations, although we couldn't get that to work.   The developers appear very open to ideas, so suggestions for future features stand a good chance of being listened to.   All in all, pretty good fun.  Whether it's actually faster or more useful than the standard text-based interfaces, I don't know.

Make your own mini Arcade Cab - exactly what it says on the tin - how to make your own mini arcade cabinet!

"Do a barrel roll" - In Google Chrome, do a google search for Do a barrel roll.  It's pointless, but actually pretty funny.  In a really geeky way.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Weekly Links #2

Time for another bunch of random links to stuff that I heard about this week.

Historic watermill on the Thames reinstates an old turbine to create electricity for the National Grid. - An awesome story. It reads as if they used to have a turbine decades ago, which fell into disuse, and they had to dig it up from the riverbed in order to get it working again. I'd love to know more details, so at some point I'll go and quiz them to do a proper write-up as they're very local to where I live.

Microsoft create a "HoloDesk" - Microsoft have developed a prototype 3D projection interface. Can you imagine the gaming applications for this?  Perhaps their ultimate goal is something like their "Productivity Future Vision" video that was also released this week.

A farm in a shop - FARM:shop in London challenges the traditional nature of agriculture. It's a farm in a disused shop, complete with chickens on the roof. Not really a very technology based hack, but still awesome..

Commodore PET in an FPGA - FPGA stands for Field Programmable Gate Array and really basically is a chip that can be configured however you want, and can be used to create "soft processor cores" - or to simulate other CPU chips.  In this case, they've decided to simulate the original 6502 that was present in the Commodore PET, and then get it running as if it were the real machine.  Looks like they've got some games running on it already too.

Snow-ball cross-bow.   Yes, you read it correctly. It's a cross bow that fires snow balls. What more could you want this winter?

Nokia OLED flex-screen phone - Nokia have unveiled a concept phone using flexible OLED display technology, where you flex the screen to control some functions. I'm not sure about how useful that is, but at least it's innovative.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Skype steals port 80!

I spent about an hour this morning trying to fix someone's PC that was behaving very much like it had malware, running really slow and their local copy of Apache wouldn't run..

Turns out that it was Skype port-hogging, stealing port 80. Killed the process and took Skype out of startup so it only gets run when it needs to be - problem solved.

Apparently it does this to "get around firewall issues" - presumable with the whole grid-networking nature of Skype it needs to be able to get access to a node, and port 80 is the easiest way to do it.

Anyway, rant over.   Just thought I'd mention it as a heads-up so that hopefully people don't waste time like I did.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Weekly links #1 - Sites I read all the time

So, in an effort to actually update stuff on here, I'm going to try to do a bunch of interesting tech links every Friday..  I am under no illusion about how regularly I will *actually* do this, but it's a nice idea.

First up, some sites that I read all the time:

  • - Not just hardware hacks, lots of software information and sometimes "mind hacks", recipes, fixing furnature..  All sorts really, just the site for a tinkerer and putterer and fixer of broken things.
  • - Gizmag is an emerging and new technology blog.  All sorts of tech, from new kinds of nanobot to spacecraft, from e-paper to super-yachts. Very interesting if you want to see what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology.
  • - Retrothing - lots of lovely retro stuff. 

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The dangers for Celebs who TwitPic

I've known about EXIF GPS location tags for a long time, but only in the last few days have I realised that most people don't know they exist.

EXIF is a little set of information, almost like a mini database, built into JPG photo files from digital cameras and some scanners.  It says things like what make and model the camera are, how long the exposure was, whether the flash fired..  On some phones and cameras, it also logs GPS co-ordinates.

This, on the surface, is a really nice, useful feature.  But, imagine you are a celebrity on Twitter and you post a few photos taken at home of your pet dog / new hat / whatever.  Suddenly, without realising it, you've broadcast your home address to the world. Then later on, you broadcast that you're out for dinner - now people know where you live, and the fact that you're not there right now.  That's just asking for trouble.

I thought, surely, Twitpic probably strips this info off of a photo - right?


I've randomly clicked five celeb photos over the last two days, and three of them have EXIF location data attached.

The way around this - you can switch the feature off on the camera, or edit and resave the picture on a computer, making sure to filter the info out.

Just a heads up..

Monday, 28 February 2011

Surprisingly good game on very cheap mobile

Because of the massive problems with Vodafone this morning I went out and bought a very cheap Samsung  GT-E1150i on TMobile at lunchtime because I need a working mobile for work, and of course my main mobile is network locked to Vodafone, so I can't just pop in a different SIM.

Anyway.  While waiting for a package manager update to install on a linux box (yawn) I had a fiddle with the new phone and discovered that even though it's really really cheap (£12) it has apps, and even games!

There's Suduku, which I am awful at so didn't even attempt, and Super Jewel Quest - an actually rather good version of the classic Jewels game.

Concatenating CSVs the easy way

I was recently asked how to 'merge' a few CSV files into one, and if there was a script or tool that could do that. Lets say you h...