All of a sudden my Treo 650 locks up hard when I try to enable Bluetooth. You have to do a hard reset (wiping all data) to get the phone feature to work again. I was able to back it up before doing this, but… What gives? I can live without Bluetooth, but I kind of like it, when, you know, all of the phone’s features work.

Steve, is this a sign?

Sit in the Corner

I started a blog post about this, but it talked about terabytes NASs, HDTV DVRs, VoIP / SIP, LDAP, DNS caches, NTP strata, and a bunch of acronyms.

So instead I’ll be incredibly precise. This PC, seemingly sold only at Walmart, is really cool. It’s not that fast. Its specs are bad any way you look at them. Unless you look at power consumption. 20 Watts peak power, 2 Watts average. By comparison, my desktop machine has a 300 Watt power supply. For someone who wants to set up an always-on Linux server, this thing is screaming your name. I’m strongly attracted to the idea of setting this thing up with handful of 500 GB drives, to build a network fileserver with a terabyte or two of capacity. And doing software RAID across them. (I’m fairly certain that the hard drives would draw more power than the whole system… Although you could set up power-saving features, since a home fileserver could surely power down the drives periodically.)

There’s also a cheaper one that seems to be the same, except it comes with 512 MB RAM instead of a gig, and comes with gOS instead of Vista. I’m dying to play with OpenFiler, a Linux-based “appliance” software package for some superb fileserver tools.


Now that Comcast has vowed to quit arbitrarily blocking services on their Internet service, they’ve decided to shift the degraded quality to their HD offerings. This article talks a bit about how Comcast is running some heavy compression to fit more HD channels into finite bandwidth, but it has lots of words. So check out some pictures of screen captures of identical footage from FiOS versus Comcast. Slashdot has the story here.


Are you familiar with the Shotspotter system? I’d seen it on a National Geographic TV show, and remembered in the back of my head reading about it being deployed in parts of Boston. It’s actually very cool how it works — it essentially has a big array of microphones, and when it “hears” a gunshot, it’ll compare the exact time of arrival of the sound at each location to triangulate a position, which then pops up on a dispatcher’s screen.

So I’m listening to Boston PD on the radio, and maybe five minutes ago the dispatcher called out for a reading on the ShotSpotter system. “Five, six, seven, looks like eight shots fired.” She figured out the location from the map (apparently, an alley), and started a couple cars. In maybe 60 seconds an officer was on the scene, reported a car leaving, and had confirmed that shots were fired with a witness.

About a minute later, the dispatcher said that they had received a 911 call for shots fired from the same location. (Which means that they had an officer arriving on scene by the time the call came in!) They’ve just pulled over a possible suspect, and another officer found the shell casings. Detectives are en route now for forensics processing.

I’ve got to say, this seems like a pretty impressive system.

Write It Out

I’ve seen this suggested before, but only half-believed it.

When you’re stumped by a question, write it out. We’re hosting a video game tournament tomorrow, and I was thinking about scoring. I got stumped by some technical problems with the way the bracket would work.

So I decided to burn my weekly Ask MetaFilter question. Except, three-quarters of the way through writing out the question (in great detail), I realized exactly how you solve the problem.

The thing is, if I sat here and tried sketching out how the bracketing would work, I never would gotten it. For some reason, writing it as a question caused me to be able to answer my own question, in a way that starting at it didn’t.

Seriously, try it next time you come across a tough question. It obviously doesn’t work 100% of the time (“How many escalators are in Wyoming?”) But something about writing it out causes the mind to look at it differently. And sometimes that’ll solve your problem!

Also, an Excel hint… How do you do “Best 2 out of 3?” in Excel? There’s no native function to do it. And if you asked me to write code, I’d overthink it and write some contrived thing that would take the best x of y items. But let’s say that cells A3, A4, and A5 (thus A3:A5) contain the three scores, and you want the best (highest) two of the three. =SUM(A3:A5) - MIN(A3:A5) does it. Best two out of three is the same as “All of them, discarding the lowest.” This doesn’t scale: if you wanted the best six out of eight, it’d be much harder to compute. But here, you’re just dropping the lowest.


One thing I find interesting about technology is that sometimes a trivial technological thing has huge differences to the end user.

I’ve been playing Grand Theft Auto a bit in my spare time, on the Xbox 360. After re-arranging some things, I’ve run into a strange problem where, when I power it up, it loads older game files, not the newest. I know exactly what’s wrong, but it’s kind of like the “roger tone” to “FRS” leap–intuitively understanding what’s wrong here borders on savantism.

When I rearranged things, I didn’t bother to plug the Xbox back into my switch. I think the cable it was using is out in another room right now. So the Xbox has no Ethernet connection. Are you seeing why my game loads really old saved data yet? Hint: the game doesn’t use the network in any way, shape, or form.

The Xbox, when it’s connected to the Internet, will grab the correct time via the web. (I’ve wondered about this, actually: is it using NTP? Is it syncing to I’ve been tempted to try packet sniffing, but it would basically require ARP poisoning, which I’m reluctant to do right now, as both the Xbox and my laptop are essentially on the school’s network, so it wouldn’t be too easy to “safely” do it.)

For some reason, though, when shut down, the Xbox never runs a “systohw” call (or at least, that’s what it is under UNIX) — the system clock, which was just synchronized and is quite accurate, is never written to the hardware clock. So two weeks ago, when I booted my Xbox, it was March 14, 2008. I saved a game, shut down the console, and went to bed. And then I rearranged stuff and realized that there was no reason for my Xbox to be online, so I moved the cable to the common room.

So the Xbox, now booting with no Internet connection, thinks it’s November of 2006, since the software clock never got committed to hardware. And the game, not anticipating bizarre things like this, automatically loads the game with the newest timestamp. As far as it’s concerned, the game I saved two weeks ago is a year and a half “newer” than what I saved earlier today.

So there you have it — whether I have an Ethernet cable hooked up or not changes the year on my Xbox, which causes it to load old games. And it’s all because the Xbox, for reasons I can’t understand, never writes the time to the hardware clock. (To me, this is a bug, and one that would require adding one line of code.) And it shows something neat (or scary, depending on your perspective) about programming — trivial details (like whether you sync the hardware clock to the software clock when you shut down) manifest in entirely unexpected ways, like which save file my video game opens.


So my building here is one in a “set” of three dormitories. There’s a walkway, and another building on the other side of it. (And the third is to their side.) As I came back from class, I noticed a rope running from a room on the floor above mine across to the room pretty much opposite mine. It was extremely nice out today, so even those of us not creating improvised clotheslines (?) had our windows open.

We took a partial interest in whatever they were up to, but mostly about our business, just periodically looking to see what they were up to. We could also hear everything they were saying. So I sat at my desk working on something or other, when I heard a “roger beep.” I instinctively knew that it was from an FRS radio. It’s one of those silly noises they make at the end of a transmission. (As compared to things like MODAT [.wav] or MDC1200 [.wav], which are useful for ANI.) I’ve only ever heard it on FRS, so I “just knew.”

Of course, merely thinking, “They must be using FRS” because of a sound I overheard wasn’t geeky enough. So without missing a beat, I picked up my ASTRO Saber and switched to the “Zone” I’d created for the FRS band, and threw it into scan mode. A couple minutes later they transmitted again, and the scan stopped on Channel 2. Sadly, they didn’t discuss the actual purpose of the wire, only the difficulties they were facing on one of the ends.

It was tempting to radio back, “What exactly are you guys doing?,” but I didn’t want to blow my cover just yet. And besides, this thing puts out five Watts, ten times the power allowed on the band. (And the deviation/bandwidth is probably wrong, and it’s not type-certified…) Oh, and I think I probably have it set up to send an MDC PTT-ID.

It really concerns me how my mind works sometimes.

Nightmare Playgrounds

ExcerptMetaFilter, the parent component of my beloved Ask MetaFilter, is quickly earning its place as one of the sites I check daily.

A post there today links to a priceless photo gallery, Nightmare Playgrounds. They’re photos of actual playgrounds, surely designed by people who had disturbed childhoods and wanted to ensure that generations of children to follow would have the same.

What’s scary isn’t just the photos of the playgrounds… It’s that people actually thought it was a good idea to put these things in playgrounds. And that kids actually play at playgrounds with these freaky things in them.

Stopping Blogger Spam

It’s very common for spammers to create blogs on Blogger ( There’s a survey out there that found that 74% of blogs on the site were spam.

It turns out that you can report spam blogs pretty easily on Blogger: they’ve got a form for it here. You won’t find it linked to on their site (or at least, I didn’t), but it’s available. Use it and make the Internet a better place!