archive for June, 2005

Netflix Selling Used Movies

I’ve blogged a lot about Netflix in the past. There’s just something about them that I find interesting. It’s probably because they’re such a great example of how the Internet can change business in the “real world.”

Today I received an email from them letting me know that they’re offering previously viewed movies for sale starting at $9.99. I think they could probably sell them for less, but it’s a good starting point. They say that movies come with the original artwork and are guaranteed. None of the movies in the current list look like something I’d like to own, but I’ll keep my eye on it. I’d like to try out the process. From what I’ve read, it sounds pretty simple. You just click the buy button, and they’ll ship you the movie. It really couldn’t be easier.

The biggest problem I see is that their selection is extremely limited. All of the movies they’re offering are new, but it still feels like I’m picking through a bin at Blockbuster looking for something good. Hopefully as the program matures, they’ll offer a much larger selection. If they don’t have any used movies available, they should offer to sell new copies if they’re available.

Bonnie Plants

My brother, Kevin, worked for Bonnie Plant Farm for the season delivering plants to the Reno area. He just finished up and made a trip to Southern California to visit. He brought some left over plants with him to share, so now we have tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, and herbs. We just finished transplanting them into real pots, and in a few months we should be ready to harvest.

Flight Lessons: ground maneuvers

It was overcast at the airport today, so my instructor had to take us up under IFR. I did the taxiing of course, but he had to talk to ATC. Once we were over Simi Valley, we practiced ground reference maneuvers. First, we flew a rectangle course, then we did S-turns over the 118, then we turned around a point. I still need a lot more practice, but I think it went pretty well. There wasn’t any wind to correct for, so it wasn’t a full practice. I’m sure I’ll do more in the future.

Flying back to Santa Monica was all under IFR. I did a lot of the piloting, but Gino had to talk on the radio the whole time. We used VOR navigation, so I got some practice at that. It’s pretty much the same as what I expected, but this really help make it real. There was a lot of time to practice flying straight and level which wasn’t exactly fun, but it’s still useful.

Flight Lessons: flying slowly

Today’s flight was great. The weather was very clear and smooth, and traffic was light. I prepped the plane for take off, and did the checklist (with several pointers from my instructor).

Once the plane was checked out, I called ground control and got permission to taxi to the run-up area (again, with plenty of help from my instructor). I had trouble getting through the whole tail number, I think I need to practice saying it quickly and smoothly, and I forgot to include it in my read-backs a couple times.

I taxied to the run-up area (mostly on my own) and did the run-up check. I do it a little slowly because I’m really trying to understand why I’m doing each step. I should get a lot faster with time. Everything went well, so I called ground control once again and got permission to taxi to the runway. The tower owns the runway, so I had to talk to them, let them know what I wanted to do (take off and make a right turn at the shoreline), before I could actually do it.

I tried to control the plane as best I could as we were taking off, but the instructor handled the really fast part. Once we were in the air, I was back in control and flew the plane to the practice area over Simi Valley.

We practiced slow flying, and stalls (both power on and off). It was pretty easy really (I can say that because I was at 4500 ft.) The trick is keeping the plane nice and level side-to-side as you pull back harder and harder. Once it stalls, the nose drops automatically, so you really just need to level out and bring the power back (if you have any extra). I’m looking forward to more practice.

Our next flight should either be this weekend or early next week. We’ll be practicing ground reference maneuvers, and everything we’ve covered so far. It’s amazing how fast the time in the air goes. I’ll be broke before I know it.

Flight Lessons: the basics

Well, I went flying again today. I bought a log book, a plotter, and some charts at San-Val on the way to the airport. Traffic on the 405 was really bad, but luckily we left early enough that it wasn’t a problem. I need to do some more reviewing of the materials that we covered today, and the stuff that we’ll cover on the next flight (stalls!).

We worked on straight and level flying, turns, throttle control, taxiing, and not looking at the instruments (a weakness of mine). There was some turbulence flying over the coastal mountains that was pretty crazy and fun. It probably wouldn’t be fun for a passenger, but it kept things interesting. The up and down isn’t a problem it’s the rolling side to side that can catch you off guard. I didn’t feel nauseous at all though, so that’s a good sign. I need to work on the peddles (rudder) some more. I don’t feel like I’m doing it quite right. When you’re on the ground, you turn with your feet which I find very non-intuitive. Practice, practice, practice.

Link Roundup: Jun. 16, 2005

(Via BoingBoing) RepRap is a self replicating machine. Not only can it make copies of itself, it can build other machines. It’s pretty simple at this point, but technology like this could have a huge impact on how we build things in the future. Current rapid prototyping machines (machines that can make objects in much the same way a printer can make a picture) cost tens of thousands of dollars — well beyond what most people can afford to play around with. RipRap’s goal is to bring that cost down to just a few hundred dollars. Once this technology gets good enough, the price will rapidly fall to the cost of the materials. This means that the price of a lot of other objects (phones, forks, aquariums, etc…) will also drop to the cost of materials. With good recycling, things could get as cheap as a few cents for electricity. Can you fully imagine what kind of impact that would have on the world? I can’t.

This is such a great idea. On this website, you can pledge to do something with the condition that X number of people will also do it. Getting other people committed not only amplifies your pledge, but gives you an incentive to follow through. I’m thinking of creating a pledge to sign up for at least two more pledges in the next six months. I wonder if anyone would sign up.

Root Beer
I found this recipe for root beer via Make. It looks pretty simple, and it’s something I’d like to try. Now… to find some root beer extract.

Yet another wiki project, this one for online help manuals. It might take a bit of time to get enough content to really take off, but it could be good. They just need to put some effort into building it up, promoting it, and keeping it friendly (not go crazy with ads).

As I just wrote, I’m learning Japanese (studying Japanese might be more accurate). Anyway, I found this great flashcard application for learning Hiragama and Katakana. I’d probably add a few more features if I was writing it, but since I’m not it’s great. I wish I knew about more clean and simple software like this.

Learning Japanese

Since Monday, I’ve been studying Hiragana, one of four Japanese writing systems. Justin is learning Japanese in school and has agreed to teach me. It’s a really interesting language that’s pretty different than everything else I’ve dabbled in. The exact origin of Japanese is unknown, it seems to have its roots in other East Asian languages like Korean, but may even draw from Turkish.

They seem to have adopted Chinese writing for their first written language, Kanji. Many of the pictograms are the same, but since the language is unique, they are spoken totally differently. There’s also romaji that uses the Latin alphabet to write Japanese as it sounds. Katakana is used for foreign words and sounds. Hiragana is the standard way to write out Japanese words if you want to spell out their sounds. Typically this is because there isn’t a Kanji for the word, or when the Kanji is unknown. From what I understand, Hiragana is the first system of writing that Japanese students learn and is the proper starting point for learning Japanese.

So far I’ve learned about 40 of the Hiragana symbols plus 25 accented versions of the symbols that change the sound. Most of the symbols represent a combination of a consonant plus a vowel like ka, gi, re, etc… and correspond with a syllable of a word. There are several combinations of the symbols that slightly change the sounds by running them together. I still need to learn those, but I’m doing pretty good for one week in.

Next up after this is Katakana, then who knows. Some Kanji and some grammar maybe? Not many people speak Japanese outside of Japan, so I probably won’t ever become proficient unless I move there (not likely). It’s just fun to learn as much of it as I can before I become bored. I’m already doing much better than I did with Russian and Mandarin, but not as well as I did with Esperanto or French (of course, French was for school so it’s hard to compare).

New Blood at Work

We’ve got new people in the office for the next few months. Matt‘s brother Justin is working as an intern. John from CAI (one of our partner companies) is out to learn how to use our software. It’s pretty cool to have new people. I think having the new perspective on everything we do is really going to help us out. Ahh… fresh blood.

Mac on Intel

It turns out the rumor from last week is true. Apple will be switching to Intel CPUs. A lot of people were saying that this is a bad move for Apple because they figured it would break all of the existing software. Of course, Apple was thinking ahead and will be shipping software (and maybe hardware?) to make the move as easy as possible. The operating system itself (OS X) is already ready for Intel. They’ve also released a development kit to help people transition their existing code, and for the applications that wont be ported, they’ve created a “translator” so the old programs will keep working on the new hardware. So, I don’t see how this can hurt Apple.

I still have a lot of questions that’ll probably be answered in the next year. Will you be able to buy OS X without buying Mac hardware? Will it run on my existing PC? Technically, you can buy OS X separately now, but you can only run the OS X on PowerPC chips, so you’re pretty much stuck with Apple hardware. I think that’s going to change. I think that in the next year or so, you’ll be able to buy Mac OS X and install it on your PC. I don’t think you’ll be limited to Intel either; it should also run on AMD chips.

Of course, Apple’s big weakness is not that software for the Mac doesn’t run on Intel (most of it does), it’s that software for Windows doesn’t run on Macs. Unless Apple has another trick up its sleeve, I don’t see how this move will fix it. Apple will be able to take advantage of a lot of cheap hardware on the market, and make it easier for people to make the switch without taking a huge hit to their wallet. This could help grow Mac market share which would give developers more of an incentive to make software for Mac.

I wish Apple the best in the transition. Microsoft seriously needs some competition in the desktop market (they’re already feeling the heat from Linux in the server market). Now, all I need is a non-Microsoft platform for gaming. (Sony? Nintendo? Are you listening?)

Link Roundup: Jun. 4, 2005

The Darth Side
If Darth Vader had a blog, what would it look like? Well, probably not quite like this, but it’s still very well written and entertaining. I suggest you read it in chronological order

Google Translator
Google offered a sneak peak at their translation software to journalists last month. I’m not quite sure how accurate the article is (it’s still too early to tell), but it looks very promising. This will be especially important as non-English speaking countries (China, for example) come on-line. Not only will we be able to read what’s going on in other parts of the world, but they’ll be able to read about us too.

Nintendo DS Development
I haven’t tried it out yet, but one of these weekends I want to take a crack and writing software for my Nintendo DS. I’m continuingly baffled by the console makers not making it easier for the general public to build software for their hardware. It would just make their hardware that much more valuable.

11 Steps to a Better Brain
Start your day with beans on toast says New Scientist. Here’s another look at the future. Once people start improving how we thing, it could lead to a feedback loop of new improvements. If that’s not enough, Wired has a article talking about how IQ scores seem to be increasing at a few points per decade.

Qucs project
“Qucs is an integrated circuit simulator which means you are able to setup a circuit with a graphical user interface (GUI) and simulate the large-signal, small-signal and noise behavior of the circuit.” We used LogicWorks 4 in college to do circuit design and testing. It had a lot of bugs, but did the job (barely). I’m glad to see an open source alternative.

Morse Texter
There have been a small flurry of news stories on people comparing morse code to SMS (cell phone) messaging. Morse code is faster (if you know what you’re doing) than trying to key in letters in the traditional way. I (and others apparently) thought that it would be a pretty good idea to make cell phone software to allow you to type in morse code. Well, it looks like someone has done it. If this takes off, maybe it’ll become a standard feature in all cell phones. Note: I use a Blackberry with a full qwerty keyboard, so this doesn’t really apply to me today.

Apple Switching To Intel?
That’s the rumor this weekend. It’ll probably be confirmed or denied on Monday. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to install Mac OS X on your PC anytime soon, but it’s a small move in that direction. As long as there’s driver support (likely hijacked from Linux projects), I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. Currently Mac’s market share is hurting (less than 5% I think). If they made OS X available very cheaply, I think we’d see a lot of PC owners switch. If Apple could increase the number of people using their OS, they could probably increase their hardware sales. Of course, this is still just a rumor so take it with a grain of salt.

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