Upcoming Speaking Gigs

It’s that crazy time of year again, the one where I run around like a lunatic llama preparing slide decks and sample code. There’s a bit of added spice in the form of Intergen Dynamics Day, and a trip to the USA there too. Good times!

Here’s what’s on the cards:

Then in September it’s off to Seattle and Los Angeles for a visit to Microsoft and the Build Windows conference – which should contain the big reveal on Windows 8 development. We so excited!

Following on from Build, I’m hoping we can get a road-show happening to teach New Zealand developers about the Windows 8 development frameworks. We’ve actually put a couple of cheeky pre-emptive Intergen Twilight place-holders in for Windows 8 already!

Hacking for Parental Sanity

This is one of a series of “classic posts“. Resurrections of old posts that I enjoyed writing, and you might enjoy reading.

There is a company somewhere in Asia that manufactures small speakers. Small piezoelectric speakers that can put out a surprising amount of noise. I would one day like to visit this company, and spend a little bit of time pressing each button on all of my son’s noise-making toys that no doubt contain the spawn of this hellish company. Small demons no less, screaming nauseating 8-bit music at the top of their lungs.

More than once I have worried about my son’s hearing. One such toy is a cartoon-like telephone. Apparently designed to be held to the head in a similar manner to Dad’s cellphone. This would be fine if the little phone didn’t pump out something in the region of 70-80dB of noise (I’m not joking – louder than conversation, and approaching a food blender in volume).

Thankfully I am not afraid of hacking. In fact hacking electronic devices can easily be a life and sanity saver. Hacking these noisy little beasts generally falls into two categories, named in suitable serial-killer chic as Muffling and Exterminating.

The Muffling hack is useful when you have a toy that is designed around the sounds it makes (e.g. the toy cellphone in my case), and also has a bit of space inside it. The approach I take is to find some decent compressable material (e.g. lightweight foam or dacron), open the toy, find the baby demon speaker, and wrap the fucker in a couple of layers of your material. You can usually then stuff the speaker back in its original location, and close up the toy. I find this technique can knock an easy 20dB off a noisy toy, making it comfortable to listen to at an arm’s length.

The Extermination hack is a more robust hack for those toys that are just plain obnoxious, and have no place emitting the noises they do. My example is a cool little firetruck that drives along and pops up a water-cannon. Great, except it also screams “Matchbox to the rescue!” at 80dB, which would be supremely ironic for a firetruck if it weren’t manufactured by Matchbox. The hack is simple: open the toy, find the speaker, and detach one or both wires from the speaker. A hard yank will usually do the trick (and is very satisfying), but you could use wire cutters or a soldering iron if you are a poof want to do it right.

There is probably a third hack that involves reducing the volume of the speaker through passive electronics, possibly by soldering a resistor in-line with the speaker. I shall leave that as an exercise for the reader. If you have any other suggestions (not counting the impact-with-concrete hack), then feel free to comment.

Update: Dan Rutter has a good writeup (second question down the page) on how to use electronics to quieten these offensive toys.

Switching to Mac

I can’t remember how old I was when I used my first IBM PC clone. If I recall, it was a ‘luggable’ Panasonic with an orange plasma CGA screen. I played an ancient version of Ghostbusters, and Microsoft Flight Simulator, perhaps version 1 or 2. My whole world seemed to involve hacking config.sys and autoexec.bat to clear enough of the 640k memory to load games.

Time moved on, I gained an education, and continued hacking on PCs. I’ve developed and managed developers of Microsoft software. I spent quite a bit of time running Linux servers, but still on PC hardware. I spent more time than I’d care to remember hacking various config scripts and iptables commands in Vi.

Throughout this time, I’ve been completely aware of Apple. I remember playing Dark Castle on a friend’s Mac Classic. I remember distinctly when Steve Jobs announced the Intel switch. I think I blogged it in fact. It was at that point that I seriously considered a Mac as a genuine option for day-to-day work. I never went so far as to buy one for myself, but here I sit tonight, typing this on a 15″ MacBook Pro, kindly supplied by my new employer.

I’m not sure if I was expecting some sort of epihany, but here’s my conclusion after several days of using a Mac: It’s a computer. That’s it. A computer.

I like having a Unix-esque terminal. I like the industrial design and the interface design. I don’t like the tendency to end up with a cluttered mess of windows and running programs. I like VMWare Fusions “Unity” mode. I like the clean behaviour of sleep and shutdown versus Windows Vista. I LOVE the easy way that programs are installed and uninstalled.

There’s a lot to like. But there’s also random System Preferences windows that never appear until you close and re-open System Preferences. There’s also still crashy and flakey iTunes (or perhaps the iTunes mobile manager thingy) just like on Windows.

So yeah, just like any other computer, it runs, and it crashes, and it computes stuff. But it’s a hunk of aluminium and silicon that can cause rooms full of geeks to cheer, queues around the block, and incredible online fanatacism. That’s what makes it special.

ESky Honey Bee King 2

20072007Look what the tooth fairy delivered today:

I’ve haven’t even written a proper review for the last one yet, but I’ve unfortunately been entirely bitten by the bug. This new helicopter is much more advanced than the Lama, with a belt-driven tail rotor, and full CCPM head control.

Truthfully I’ve battled with the Lama and its co-axial setup. It seems that no matter how hard I try, one motor is slightly more powerful than the other, so it’s always slowly rotating one way or t’other. I put it down to the cheap design, fixed pitch, and cheap electronics. In comparison, the Honeybee King 2 is about as technically complete as you can go in electric helicopters. You can go bigger and more expensive, but as far as the CCPM head and belt-driven tail, these things remain the same right up to the monster 4 stroke nitro helicopters.

Wish me luck. Hopefully the next post won’t be a picture of a helicopter in a thousand pieces.

Improve Your Life

Like so many things I read, I find cognitive therapy to be basically codified common sense. The same thing applies to project management, money management, negotiation, ad infinitum. The market for books on the subjects makes me reconsider if these things are in face common sense.

Still, I find a lot of excellent stuff when I read about cognitive therapy, and this latest post over at Lifehacker has distilled most of cognitive therapy down into some sort of 100-proof cognitive moonshine. Go there to read the detail, but in summary:

[quote]

  • Stop jumping to conclusions.
  • Don’t dramatize.
  • Don’t invent rules.
  • Avoid stereotyping or labeling people or situations.
  • Quit being a perfectionist.
  • Don’t over-generalize.
  • Don’t take things so personally.
  • Don’t assume your emotions are trustworthy.
  • Don’t let life get you down. Keep practicing being optimistic.
  • Don’t hang on to the past. This is my most important suggestion of all: let go and move on.

[/quote]

If we could all apply these principles the world would be one hell of a dull place, but I definitely know a few people who could do with consuming a wee bit of this kool-aid. Yours truly included.