Posted on November 21st, 2016 No comments
One Kickstarter product I’m awaiting with eagerness is the Lumos Bike Helmet, a snazzy-looking high-tech helmet with built-in brake and signal lights. The brakes are controlled by accelerometry, while the turn signals are manually operated from a wireless switch mounted on the handlebars. An optional smart phone app is available to control braking preferences and monitor life of the USB-rechargeable battery. Both helmet and switch are water resistant.
Some 6,000 backers kicked in $800,000 for the helmet. The lowest pledge level was $85 USD for the helmet, which is set to retail at $179 USD. This is not outrageous; my Specialized helmet cost $120 CAD (about $85 USD).
The Lumos has received a lot of attention in various media, and is being tested by the City of Ottawa as part of a road safety program. The goal is to make cyclists more visible to motorists, with the signal lights being more noticeable than hand signals in low-light conditions. Apparently some elitist cyclists diss the unit as being “car-like”. Nobody will force them to use one, I guess.
Reviews from those who have already received their Lumos are almost universally positive, 5-stars all the way with lots of praise in the comments. Once I get my Lumos, I’ll post a review here.
LucidBrake, a Kickstarter Alternative Brake Light
Another cycling brake light I backed, the Intelligent Brake Light called LucidBrake, cost $100 USD, the same as my pledge for the Lumos. The LucidBrake will mount on all of my bikes, and I also made a helmet mount for it (on a $40 Bell helmet). I think it was a bit pricey for what I got, but it does its job — being bright, letting people see me, announcing that I’m slowing down — quite well. However, I have lost three of them (the method of attachment is not as secure as the inventor would like to think). The company has graciously replaced the unit in each case, but it’s still not the best solution. I have to tether it to my bike to retain it in case it falls off, yet I really don’t want to leave a $100 light attached to my bike when I park it. Hence the helmet attachment — when I take the helmet with me, I also take the light.
A Couple of Issues
- The Lumos has white front LEDs and because of this it lacks a visor. Wonder how that will be in the summer sun. I might just pick up a cheap used helmet and transfer the visor. I imagine I can rig up some magnets for snap-on use during the day.
- On a road bike, when I’m riding “head down”, my helmet-mounted LucidBrake points to the sky and is less visible, the same way a traditional right-turn hand signal is hard to see in that position. Here is where a rear-rack-mounted signalling system has an advantage. I think the Lumos brake and signal LEDs will be similarly hard to see when head-down. I have to remember to sit up a bit before a turn so the signal is visible.
The Lumos is due to arrive within a month, only seven months later than the promised April delivery (not bad for a KS project, actually), so I’ll have it by Christmas.
I bet the lights will look pretty in the snow.
Posted on November 20th, 2016 No comments
Over the past year, I’ve had fun backing some Kickstarter projects. So far, I don’t think I’ve backed any duds. Two games, For the Birds and Wombat Rescue, eventually came, though months after their forecast shipping dates.
This seems to be common with successful KS campaigns. In the technology area, the creators are technicians or engineers whose focus is on designing and prototyping a successful gizmo. Once their campaign is funded, they come up against new challenges in terms of suppliers, production, warehousing, and shipping–things they’re not trained, prepared, or equipped to handle. Finding yourself with several thousand more orders than you expected is a pleasant surprise, but it’s still something that has to be faced and coped with.
The Trinus 3D printer, the first I backed (the others are the M3D Pro and the 101Hero), was originally expected to ship in August, 2016. Only three months later, in October, they started shipping. A three month delay is not too bad. Apparently, Canadian orders are due to leave the warehouse in China around now, and arrive in Canada in two or three weeks. I might conceivably get the printer by Christmas.
Ho, ho, ho.
Posted on November 20th, 2016 No comments
I love crap like this! Health sites are spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) and outright misinformation about instant noodles. Eat them and die, fast-food freaks!
For example, http://www.metaspoon.com/instant-noodles-health-warning…, and you’ll find it at the ever-popular Dr. Mercola’s health misinformation site. No doubt Dr. Oz has already weighed in.
However, the actual study shows a CONNECTION between instant noodle consumption and metabolic disorders but doesn’t prove that one causes the other.
I eventually tracked this down to the Journal of Nutrition at http://jn.nutrition.org/content/144/8/1247.full. It appears to have had nothing to do with Harvard except that some of the authors studied there. If you read the study, you’ll learn that that Korean women who eat two or more packets or ramen a week have a slightly elevated chance (p < .04, which means a slight statistical probability) of having metabolic disorder compared to women who don’t eat noodles. Korean noodle-munching men had no statistical difference over non-noodlers.
Instant noodles was only one of 63 foods studied, and was involved in a “non-traditional” fast-food-heavy diet. The study’s authors concluded that “Our study had several limitations. First, we cannot infer a causal relation given our cross-sectional study design.”
In plain English, they can find a CONNECTION between instant noodle consumption and metabolic disorders but can’t prove that one causes the other. As we used to say in the lab, “correlation is not causation.”
It pays to do a little research before you believe the stuff you read.
Posted on November 19th, 2016 No comments
I was a fairly early backer of the Trinus 3D Printer on Kickstarter. The project was wildly oversubscribed by 3147 backers and raised $1.6 million. While this does not quite match the wildly enthusiastic support for the M3D Micro back in 2014, where close to 12,000 backers put up $3.4 million, it’s still a solid response to what looks like a solid product.
My son and I had jointly owned a Cupcake, an early (2005?) consumer printer kit made from laser-cut plywood. It worked, sort of, but was always a bit finicky and problematic. It cost about $800 USD at time. I think assembling it was more fun than using it.
The Trinus, at $349 USD in its base form, is all-metal, with a straightforward industrial-style design. Where the Cupcake had a zillion little bits to assemble, the Trinus comes in 11 pieces, four of which are identical single-axis slides. The version I backed has a heated bed, an enclosure for printing ABS, a laser engraver head, and some filament. My deluxe package cost $629 USD including shipping and handling.
That’s a lot more printer (and laser engraver) for a lot less money and assembly.
How times change.
Posted on November 4th, 2016 1 comment
A few weeks ago, for a variety of reasons, I was seriously considering giving up calling. I just wasn’t able to get enough practice to get to the level of delivery I want. And I realized that in six years of doing this, I have never called a dance in Alberta. California and BC, but never in Alberta. So I was ready to call it quits.
Three things have changed my mind, at least for now.
First, we had a wonderful time at Wolf Creek Community Church in Lacombe, with three squares of enthusiastic young adults. They had fun, and I had fun. They reminded me why I got into this in the first place.
Second, I got fed up with the feeling of being compared to the 30-year callers in our area, so started preceding all of my tips by explaining that having a tip here and there makes it really hard to learn. “Can you imagine learning to square dance if you could dance only one tip a week?” Then I thank the dancers for their cooperation in helping me to practice and learn. “Thank you for being my guinea pigs! Tonight I’m practicing Magic Modules, moving from corner boxes to partner lines.” Somehow, this took a bit of the pressure off.
Third, I’m getting repeat business from word-of-mouth. The Wolf Creek dance was a referral from a wedding I called last summer. Last night, a fellow who was at an event in 2014 called to invite me back. One young adult group has had me call every autumn for the past four years. So whatever failings have kept local clubs from having me call, my outside events (“one night stands”) are clearly successful. Since these are the moneymakers, I need to focus more on developing this part of my calling.
Posted on October 31st, 2016 No comments
Some years ago, my son and I partnered to purchase a Cupcake 3d printer by Makerbot. It was one of the first kit printers for home use.
Fun to assemble but a bit of a bear to use, it was fiddly to calibrate and finicky to operate. Still, we made a lot of stuff with it.
In the fast-moving field of additive manufacturing, the Cupcake quickly became old-tech; in an attempt to keep it up to date we hacked it, modified it, tweaked it, added new parts, loved it, hated it.
It recently found a new home at a local high school, a donation to their Fabrication Program. The teacher was excited that his students would now have access to this technology.
If nothing else, they have a good set of parts, and can rebuild the printer to more modern standards.
The mystery of the vanishing engine!
Duke Engines in New Zealand. Google them, you’ll find material on their unique five-cylinder axial engine…from back in 2011 or so. it was said that this engine was lighter, more compact, and more powerful than an equivalent standard engine. Touted as ideal for aircraft, motor cycles, outboard engines and the like, the motor attracted a great deal of attention.
Apparently a well-funded company with solid investors and shareholders, Duke had working prototypes independently tested in the UK and USA. Yet, neither their web site nor their facebook page has anything later than March, 2013. As far as the Internet is concerned, they’ve vanished.
A check with the NZ Companies branch shows that they’ve filed regular updates and annual reports since their incorporation in 2001; their latest filing was July 28, 2015 — so they’re still around…maybe. NZ white and yellow pages don’t have a listing for them under the name Duke Engines. A reverse search for the phone number on their home page leads to Helensville, Warkworth, Hibiscus Coast, Great Barrier Island rather than to the registered corporate address in Auckland.
Strange. I wonder if they found some military applications and were sworn to secrecy?
This article suggests that they simply ran out of money. http://idealog.co.nz/tech/2014/04/thankless-quest-build-engine-future
In the end, it turned out to be not such a mystery after all. I emailed the company and received a reply confirming that they are out of funds and looking for an investor to help them go into production.
If you have a spare $6M, they’d love to hear from you.
Posted on May 14th, 2016 No comments
I almost never recommend products or brands. But I recently tested the mobile porn free version of InPixio PhotoClip 7 and was so impressed that I bought the full version the same day.
PhotoClip consists of two components: Eraser and Cutter
Photo Eraser lets you remove unwanted elements from a photo. Depending on how much you want to remove, and how much time you want to spend at it, and what the background is behind the removed bit is, the software works well and often amazingly well. “The technical features of Photo Clip automatically identify the sections of an image that need to be filled in and make your new photo look natural and seamless,” says the InPixio site. What that means is that you can just click on or outline the part to be removed, then click Erase.
This works best when the background is fairly simple, such as sand or water or sky. The examples on the InPixio site are all of this type. Certainly, these are quick and easy to do.
Here are two photos, before and after, done with Erase: The background of the dancers was really busy, so this took some work. First, I cropped the photo to only the central couple. Next, I removed parts on the floor, which left “floor colored” background on the bottom. Next I removed the photos on the wall (which left a “wall colored” background. Finally I removed the man in the white shirt and jeans, then the fellow in purple shirt and black pants. I couldn’t just click the white shirt, because the software then removed the lady’s white blouse. I had to “lasso” each part I wanted removed. Took a while, but you see the result at right, the isolated dancers.
Yes, you can do this in PhotoShop or Gimp, but this is single-purpose software that works.
The second part is Photo Cutter. Inaptly named, this lets you take what’s left after you’ve finished erasing (or any other image) and superimpose it onto another image, creating a photomontage such as my dancers at left, placed over a romantic golden haze. The foreground image can be manipulated – resized, inverted, reversed, etc. -
The montage at right was created using both parts. First, I removed the doggie (a real photo bomb, that!) with Eraser, then superimposed the “bombed” original over top of the cleaned version with Cutter, so that you can compare the two. This particular image took only seconds to create. With a quick glance at the corner where the dog was– and possibly even after some careful study–you’d never know the image was reworked.
Because I so seldom review or recommend a product, I think you can safely conclude that I like this one, and have used it often in the week I’ve had it.
Posted on April 30th, 2016 2 comments
Allow me to grumble for a moment. What is there about self-published authors that leaves them so vulnerable to egregious errors of spelling, punctuation, and grammar? Is the Alberta education system so deficient that English is not taught?
Here’s a sample of writing from Eric J. Brown of Magnolia, Alberta, posted as part of his biography on Author’s Den: “My name Is Eric Brown, [sic: comma error] I was born raised and still reside [sic: comma error] in teh [sic: the] Canadian province of Alberta. I began writing when I was 13 years old, and self published [sic: self-published] my first novel, Ginny, in 1998 adn [sic: and] have sicne [sic: since] published, [sic: comma error] Ingrid 2000, Anna 2002, The Promise 2004, and To the Last Tree Standing 2006″. Is the man dyslexic? Can he not see those errors?
Another reviewer of Brown’s work, Erica Maidment, wrote on Amazon of Anna–Her Odyssey to Freedom (2002) , “…My main complaint with this book is that it suffers from very poor editing. I am willing to overlook minor and occasional errors, but the errors were rampant and marred the text. I liked the content so much that I would really like to read some of the author’s other books, but I am apprehensive if it means slogging through so many missing quotation marks, incorrect words, incomplete sentences, and spelling errors.”
I’m currently reading Third Time Lucky, another self-publication (Magnolia Press, 2009). It’s a formulaic love story involving mail-order-bride Jane Brody and crusty suitor Ethan Phillips, set near the fictional town of Grimstad in rural Alberta, Canada, in 1925. City-born Jane needs to adapt to life in the backwoods; curmudgeonly Ethan needs to learn more civilized ways; both are socially backwards and unable to communicate. Will they be able to share their feelings? Will Jane succumb to the blarney of the lovable Irish moonshiner on the next homestead? Will she use her return ticket back to Ontario? Well, duh.
The writing is a bit flat, but it is readable, with interesting characters and enough plot movement and character development to keep me engaged.
Anachronisms abound, making me wonder just how much (or how little) research Brown did.
- Despite the story being set in 1925, Brown’s characters generally use a 21st century vernacular, such as having Jane refer to Indians as “bad guys”; an educated woman of the time might say “savages” or even “aborigines”.
- “Nonetheless, Jane was wary of her first contact with First Nations people” (p. 130) — the term “First Nations” was not in use until the 1980s.
- Brown has his characters talk of Prohibition as if it were current, even though Alberta repealed it in 1923.
- Jane is from Montreal, where Prohibition never really took hold; even so, she is a “temperance woman” (though she spent some time in Ontario, where it took hold deeply)
- The WCTU in Canada was closely associated with various churches, yet Jane is of no particular faith.
- Alberta women got the vote in 1916, and the hope was that with suffrage, women would stand firmer for temperance; yet by 1925, both Prohibition and the temperance movement had lost force, especially in Alberta. Had Brown been aware of these social and political overtones, he might have used them for a further layer of depth in his novel.
These are minor issues, and not unexpected from a self-published author, though IMO a good editor would catch them.
The run-on sentences, missing punctuation, poor construction, and misused homophones (“wrapping his fist on the table” instead of “rapping”, for example) detract significantly. All the flaws noted by Maidment in the earlier work are present in Third Time Lucky. Did the author learn nothing from his earlier novels? Did he not seek further help with proof-reading and editing?
Yet this book had not one but two editor/proofreaders: celebrity porn the author acknowledges “Lillian Ross, fellow author and proof-reader…” and “Eileen Harrigan for her work as principal editor”. If the published manuscript is “cleaned up”, the rough draft must have been ghastly! In their defense, I will mention that the spelling is generally acceptable (although I take exception to “Whiteman” for white man). At least the spell-check is turned on in whatever word-processor he is using. Perhaps using the grammar-checker as well would help.
The characters, by the way, are always grinning. They never smile, beam, smirk, simper, or give a wry twist of the lips — they just grin. This struck me about halfway through the book, and for every page after, a character that grinned made me wince.
I don’t entirely blame the author for the book’s shortcomings; I’m sure many good writers are poor spellers and grammarians. In fact, I admire Brown for producing not only one but at least eight novels. I admire him even more for producing decent, readable prose and entertaining characters. It’s just too bad that his proof-readers can’t proof, his editors don’t edit, and his word-processing software doesn’t flag homophones for review.
A Post-Script: I had the opportunity as working with another Alberta author, Dave McKenzie, on his novel Calypso. We went through several revisions and edits, and in the end Dave produced a well-written and tightly-plotted book. Still, despite the careful work of several proof-readers, I have no doubt that we missed something, somewhere. It is our hope that whatever errors we left were minor.
Posted on October 12th, 2015 No comments
We pay really low electrical rates at our little cabin in the woods – an average of about 9 cents per kilowatt hour. So we started wondering why our power bills are are so high. There were months when we never even went out to the cabin, and used absolutely no electricity at all, yet we paid almost the same as for months when we did use power. Couldn’t figure out why we were paying for not using power.
When I phoned to ask about this, our electricity provider explained that the charges are “our share of the distribution costs”. In other words, they charge us a bit each month for the use of their power poles and wires, as well for a share of salaries, maintenance, etc.
Seems fair enough in a way, and clearer than rolling it into the cost of electricity. Our bill shows that, beyond a few bucks a month for electricity, we also pay for
- Administration – for the cost of billing us, I guess
- Distribution – poles & wires, I suppose
- Transmission – a small fee for shoving electrons along the wires?
- Riders – black porn various little charges and rebates that come and go
Now, here is our average monthly electrical consumption for each of the past four years, along with all the surcharges, and the totals:
YEAR kWh Usage Energy Surcharges TOTAL 2012 128.63 11.30 74.48 85.78 2013 74.33 6.91 74.55 81.46 2014 43.75 3.56 83.60 87.16 2015 30.83 1.43 90.23 91.66
Notice that the power usage (kWh) and energy costs have declined substantially over the past four years, while the Surcharges have gone up, especially during the past three years. We’re approaching $100 a month, just for having the power lines come to the cabin.
With power costs over $1000 a year, even when we don’t use any electricity at all, off-grid solar is starting to look more attractive. A couple of years ago, I looked into it. A simple system could pay for itself in 5 to 10 years. Will we be using the cabin for that long? Would a solar system add any resale value to the place?
The main power guzzler is the water pump; a solar system to handle that would cost a lot. I can get a small auto-start generator to run the pump (and recharge the batteries if needed) for a few hundred dollars. But the biggest issue was the size and mass of storage batteries; I would have to build an addition to the cottage, specially heated and ventilated, to hold a dozen stinky acid-filled batteries.
Now, with the release of Tesla’s PowerWall, I’m revisiting the idea. Good to -20 Celsius, the thing is only about 3′ wide, 4′ high, and 7″ deep, it has internal temperature controls, is maintenance free, and would mount inside or outside the cabin. Pricey (about 4 years worth of power bills), but dang, it looks like a sensible alternative to standard bulky batteries.