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Revealing you get stuff for free

Dan Gilmor notes that he is concerned about a new program called the "Silicon Valley 100" in which a marketing company identified 100 influentical silicon valley folks with plans to give us stuff in the hope of generating buzz. Dan worries whether people will disclose they got the stuff for free as part of this venture.

Paired lights for lit signs

You see it everywhere -- signs on buildings where a light has gone out. It is often amusing where a missing letter changes the name of the company in some silly way.

They spend fortunes on these signs, but bulbs are hard to replace. So why don't they make them with a special unit that has sockets for 2 bulbs, and switches over to the backup when the first one burns out? It's not actually that much more expensive, as you are going to pay for the 2nd bulb eventually (especially incandescent) though here you pay for it earlier.

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Ultimate photographer's monopod

When you go out hiking and photographing, carrying a tripod can be too much, even my lovely carbon-fiber one. Besides, you want a good hiking stick on a hike anyway, you exercise more of your body. And most hiking sticks have a small tripod screw in them to use as a camera mount.

But here's a plan to make an all-out monopod/hiking stick kit to do a lot more than you can do with just the basic stick.

Ant-proof pet bowl

When you get an ant infestation here in California, you need to make sure your kitchen is clean with nothing to attact them. But if you have pet food out, they will find it.

In theory, ants won't crawl over some materials like vaseline. But if you coat the bowl rim with vaseline, it will get in the pet's hair.

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Better door to door shuttles

Just back from the nightmare of holiday travel, which started at 5:30am on Christmas morning and a security line snaking all the way to baggage claim. Coming back 6 days later, I braved the door to door shuttles from the airport.

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Make cheap ATSC (or DVB) RF-modulators

As I continue to play with HDTV, I found I had a horrendous time getting good output from my computer running the MythTV open source PVR into my TV. DVI, the uncompressed digital standard, just wouldn't work from the video card I had to the TV. The TV has Firewire/1394, which would allow me to stream mpeg-2 to it, and that would be really great, but as yet no software supports it because few TVs have such inputs.

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More on entertainment.com

In my quest over the leak/sale of the entertainment.com mailing list, I have some amusing updates.

After telling them you don't respond to a "You sold my name" complaint with a request for all of the person's personal information, I got back yet another stock message, "Here's how you can get off our mailing list." I'm getting a lot of companies who use customer service reps for E-mail who clearly never read the E-mails. Yes, I also get software that auto-responds, but amazingly we also get humans who auto-respond.

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Let's teach creation science in the schools

Creationists regularly complain that schools teach evolution improperly and should also offer creation science as an alternative. They went so far as to push one school board to put stickers on biology textbooks remindng students that evolution is a theory and should be critically viewed.

Some folks don't get it.

When I give an E-mail address to a web site, I give a different one to each site. I have many domains, including one where all addresses are forwarded to me unless I turn them off.

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HDTV wishlist for MythTV

I have been building an HDTV PVR with MythTV and the pcHDTV tuner
card. It's been a major adventure, not yet ready for prime time, but
it's lead me to have some thoughts about things you want to think about
in a PVR that particularly relate to HDTV.

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Let's re-see history in HDTV

For people of my generation, a great deal of history was seen on regular low-resolution TV. But a lot of it, up to the 70s or so (and often after) was shot on film, at higher resolution. Older generations saw some of this (once or twice) in newsreels at the movies.

So as HD sets become common, it would be great to see this old film footage of events like the wars, the Olympics, famous speeches, the moon landing and other space program material in high definition. I saw a DVD of the 1936 Olympics on a good screen and even that was surprising.

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One fiber does it all

A short note, as I've been busy with a number of things including trying out PC based HDTV recording and mythtv, which I will write about shortly.

In a VoIP pricing debate, I calculated an interesting observation. Today we have voice codecs that can do very fine voice quality in about 25 kilobits. FM radio quality. Cell phone quality can be done in 7 kilobits. Anyway, that means all 200 million adult Americans could be on the phone at once and it would use 5 terabits.

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Temporary split brain

This is a science-fictional idea, but strikingly probable. You are probably aware the brain is split into two halves, joined by a nerve bundle called the corpus callosum. People with severe epilepsy have had the callosum severed, and ended up having two brains in one body. A left brain controlling the right half, and a right brain controlling the left half. The left brain can speak and can lie, the right brain can write with the left hand to communicate.

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Linux live CD with network state, use of windows disk

There are a number of Linix "Live CD" distributions out there. These allow you to boot Linux from a CD and run it (somewhat slowly) without ever touching the hard disk in the machine. (They can access the disk however, which makes them good for system repair, both for Linux and Windows.) One popular one is Knoppix, and Mandrake makes one called MandrakeMove, which takes the important next step of letting you store your personal config choices on a USB thumbdrive or floppy.

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Henchman law for vote fraud?

David Brin, whom I debated on the topic of Transparency yesterday, has been putting forward for some time the general idea of a henchman's amnesty law. Namely that, in the event of a criminal conspiracy, the first underling who whistle-blows can get some level of amnesty, witness protection and/or cash reward. A serious reward, in the millions. Such a rule would make it harder to pick henchmen, since in effect you're making them a millionaire if they turn on you.

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YA Call for preferential ballot

We see the talk of an America divided in 2, but in fact it's not. There are more viewpoints than that. Normally a 2 party system tends towards the middle, this election was unusual in having a larger than normal difference among the candidates.

But perhaps now is the time to take the Democratic energy and try to push it into a movement for real reform. Not ballot recounts, not crazy dreams that can never happen.

Tradesports and exit polls give early sign of Kerry victory

Idea futures are interesting, so I went to tradesports.com to buy Kerry Futures contracts, since I believe pre-election polling is notoriously poor in quality. They were trading at 43 for a contract that pays 100 if he wins, and that seemed a good buy. By the time I could buy them (slow site, overloaded) they were 50 but now they are at 71. The bidders clearly have developed a strong reversal of feeling.

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How about a P2P web-hosting spike handler

Today the word went around about mypollingplace.com, a site that helps people find their local polling station, running out of bandwidth from their provider and needing somebody to help it.

At the same time I did an interview for opinions about bitTorrent, and the idea came to me that a really useful application would be a P2P generalized web hosting tool aimed at spikes.

Volunteers who have a reachable IP address (including people who can open holes in NATs) would install software to volunteer to help host sites in need during a spike. This could be client software in a browser or permanent server software.

Then a few different things could happen. Ideally a site would install a tool which activated the sharing network when their load got high (but well before their provider cut them off.) People fetching static pages that weren't sharing bandwidth would be redirected to a port willing to share. The page would also be modified to encourage folks to join the process. Folks who were willing to share might get access or be redirected, and they would cache the page, declare where it resides and serve it there for some period of time or number of hits.

If a site didn't install the fancy redirector, they could redirect all web hits to a volunteer tracker that would do a further redirect to a real location willing to host the item.

Finally, for sites totally unaware of this, a browser plug-in could notice when access to a page is very slow or gets a "bandwidth limit exceeded" message. It could then query to see if any of the P2P folks have cached the page, and fetch from there, or offer the user a button to check or fetch from that network.

This latter mode is good because it strongly encourages having the magic plug-in with your browser. If you don't have it, you can't get at the P2P cache.

I've been informed that Coral from NYU does some of this, though it doesn't do the "on demand" aspect that leaves the web in normal state when not overloaded, and switches to cacheing only when needed. With Coral and other redirects, your Google adsense doesn't show up either!

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On the merits of the Electoral College

There has been much writing (including here) about problems with the Electoral College in the USA, and I've even proposed solutions such as a tiebreaking system for close votes. I also noted the amazing coincidence that in the 4 times the winner of the college lost the popular vote, 3 were the 3 times we had a son or granson of a President elected.

But I thought it might be worth exploring the merits of the college, even though most individuals want it abolished. (Though no smaller states want it abolished since it gives them disproportionate power.)

Drive-by trick-or-treating

Tonight, I saw for the first time (for me) a drive-by trick-or-treating. I'm not talking about the growing phenomenon where parents drive their kids to wealthier neighbourhoods for a better class of candy. We had put out a ghost made from gauzy material with a very bright cold-cathode light inside, and hung it over the street. As I stood on the street a minivan pulled up and quickly stopped. Two children went to our front door and Kathryn gave them candy. Then we watch them get back into the van and it continued down the street, out of sight. The appeared to be cruising and stopping at houses with decorations they noticed, which can be found in many neighbourhoods.

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