The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for September, 2008

Zenn Microcar

Posted by Deliverator on 29th September 2008

I recently had the opportunity to drive a Zenn Microcar owned by a neighbor of mine. The Zenn is a pure electric vehicle. It has an all electric drive train powered by six plain old boring lead acid batteries. The Zenn has about a fourty mile range and charges from empty overnight off standard 110v wall current. The major downside of the Zenn is that in most places it is classed as a “neighborhood electric vehicle” or NEV and is only allowed to go 25 or 35 mph depending on the area. In Bellevue, the max speed for NEVs is 35mph and Zenn vehicles sold in the area have a limiter. In my own experience driving the vehicle around Bellevue, I felt like I could get to most places comfortably, but there were a few places where I would have liked an extra 5-10 mph in order to better stay with traffic.

I found a couple pages which have instructions on how to modify the firmware for the motor speed controller to give you that extra little boost. It sounds like on the newer versions of the car this is quite practical, although on older versions the motor and other subsystems are more limited and you would be stressing them a bit more by doing the modification.

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The 21st Century Begins Now

Posted by Deliverator on 29th September 2008

It has been a good month for E-Ink. Earlier this month, I purchased a copy of Esquire’s 75th anniversary issue. This special anniversary issue of Esquire has a E-Ink display on the front and inside cover and marks the first time E-Ink has been used in a magazine. The front cover display blinks through the words “The 21st Century Begins Now” and also blinks from black to white in back of some color, overlayed graphics, which makes them appear to light up. It is definitely quite eye-catching and practically pulled me across the room to buy it when I caught sight of it. The interior cover display, which is behind an advertisement for a Ford Flex, is used to much less effect and somewhat ineffectually tries to give the sense that the vehicle is moving.

As you might have guessed, Ford sponsored/subsidized the E-Ink cover. Supposedly, only 100,000 of the E-ink covers were made, with the rest of Esquire’s copy’s for the month being decidedly conventional. I am very curious as to the present cost of such a cover. While probably prohibitively expensive at present, it is positively eye catching and I can imagine a lot of products incorporating small E-Ink displays in an attempt to get your attention on store shelves. How long can it really be before pervasive, attention robbing advertising like in Minority Report?

In other E-Ink news, Irex announced their next generation of E-Ink reader devices. Their previous generation device, the Iliad, already lead the industry in display size with a 8″ display and their new devices up the ante still further with a 10.2″ display. While the Kindle and Sony Readers are fine for reading novels, their smaller displays make them poor candidates for reading PDFs or other technical documents. Irex is targeting their readers at document heavy professions like Engineering, IT, Legal, etc., which is a smart decisions, as they can’t compete with the Kindle in terms of content availability or Sony in terms of consumer electronics name recognition. The new Irex readers come to market at several different price points ranging from $600 to $800 US. The higher end Irex models have active, Wacom style digitizers, enabling sketching and markup of documents and also feature Wifi and Bluetooth for wireless data transfer.

There is some skepticism about iRex’s new readers, based largely on problems in iRex’s previous generation of products.

– The iLiad had an exceedingly long boot time and didn’t feature a real suspend mode, meaning you couldn’t just pick it up and start using it.
– The new readers appear to support a pretty limited set of document formats. iRex’s own promotional material claims “Additional formats supported in the future.” Well, that same claim was made about the iLiad and those users are still waiting for their additional document formats to appear.
– I’ve seen several comments from people who have held the new readers that the construction is significantly cheaper and more “plasticy” than the iLiad. Additionally, without a cover, it is anyone’s guess as to how the brittle, easily damaged screen is going to hold up in a user’s day bag.

Plastic Logic, a spin off from Cambridge’s Cavendish Labs, recently demoed a new reader device, provisionally called “The Plastic Logic Reader” at the DEMO 08 Conference. Their new reader features an even larger display than the new iRex readers and is similarly targeted at document heavy professions. Their display makes use of a novel technology which allows for transistors to be printed onto a plastic substrate. Amongst other things, this makes their display physically flexible and quite difficult to damage. They have liked to demonstrate their displays in the past by hitting them with a shoe. Plastic displays may also prove dramatically cheaper to manufacture than current technologies and finally allow for truly ubiquitous use of displays.

The reader they demonstrated featured a gesture oriented interface that looked quite intuitive. I couldn’t help thinking of the Jesus Phone when watching their demonstration. Their reader will support a much larger set of document types than the iRex reader and will similarly support markup functions. This one is already being called the Kindle killer and it has generated considerable excitement. If the Plastic Logic Reader makes it to market at a reasonable price in the near future, their obvious technology lead just may beat Kindle’s early content lead. Here are a few videos to whet your appetite:

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Yet Another Bluetooth Headset – Jawbone II

Posted by Deliverator on 22nd September 2008

My brother purchased a Jawbone II headset for me for my birthday. I’ve really liked my Jabra BT3030 stereo bluetooth headset for use with my Nokia 95 phone, mainly as a way to listen to music and Podcasts hands-free. The BT3030 has generally worked well for phone calls as well, but I spend a lot of time talking while driving in my car and have received comments from some people about the road noise being distracting. I am still keeping my BT3030 for hands free listening while on foot, but have switched to using the new Jawbone II for most phone conversations.

The big selling point of the Jawbone II is it’s noise canceling technology. The headset has a little rubber probe that presses against your check. While talking, the Jawbone II uses the sound transmitted through your…jawbone, hence the name, and subtracts out anything that is significantly different than this signal profile from the device’s conventional microphone input. Interestingly, the effect of this is that your voice will always be heard clearly while speaking, but outside noises will be heard when you are silent.  This effect is pretty dramatic. I’ve tested talking while standing next to radios, air conditioners and while walking near an ambulance siren. In each case, the listener has been able to hear me clearly and while talking, background noise almost disappears, but will reappear as soon as I stop talking. This is a bit of an odd experience for the listener, but the net effect is positive. Your voice will be heard in almost any aural environment imagineable.

The Jawbone II is one of the few headsets on the market with any effective noise cancelation, so it is hard to make apples to apples comparisons with other products, so I thought I would just list its good and bad points and let you judge whether any of these would be deal breakers for you.

-The Jawbone II comes with three different ear loops and three different sizes of ear inserts, to allow you to use the one most comfortable for your ear anatomy. This is an improvement over the previous Jawbone model, which many people found uncomfortable. I found the Jawbone II to be comfortable to wear for up to several hours at a time.

-All functions of the Jawbone are accessed through pressing one of two buttons for various durations or tap patterns. This is fairly common on Bluetooth headsets, but it doesn’t make me like it any more. I’ve disliked this sort of interface on small devices before, as it basically forces you to memorize an extensive state table to make full use of the device, and judging duration accurately isn’t always easy. Thankfully, the simplest commands like “answer this call” and “hang up” are typically accessed by the simplest combos and I don’t really make use of the more advanced functions.

-The two buttons on the device aren’t physically discrete, tactically discernible buttons, but are instead activated by mashing down on the device casing. On several occasions, while trying to reposition the device in my ear, I have accidentally hung up on a caller. I think this particular issue is one that you will simply become aware of with use and will simply become accustomed to handling it with kid gloves while making calls

-It is possible for the probe which is supposed to make contact with your check to instead hover just above it, resulting in no noise cancellation. Whether you experience this problem is probably dependent highly on your own unique anatomy.  Most of the times where I have accidentally hung up on someone have occurred when I have realized that the probe wasn’t making contact and have gone to adjust the positioning of the Jawbone II mid conversation.

-The Jawbone II comes with a USB charging cable (yay) with a non standard mini dock connector at the end (boo). This mini doc has a magnetic locking system that keeps the Jawbone II in place while charging. While I like that it uses a USB cable to charge, I wish it had a standard USB mini end connector like most of my other portable devices. If you are a frequently travelling techy, you know that having to carry around a slew of charging cables and wall warts is a royal pain in the ass. The Jawbone II does come with an optional wall wart, but it is just a AC to USB adapter, which most laptop carrying travelers won’t need.

There is a lot to like about the Jawbone II. The noise cancelation is the first that I’ve seen that actually works effectively. It has about as attractive styling as you can get in a borg implant and is small enough to keep in a shirt pocket all the time. There is definite room for improvement in a future model or from a competitor, but if you need noise cancelation now, you probably can’t go wrong with a Jawbone II.

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Matinée Movies at Marsh’s

Posted by Deliverator on 19th September 2008

I’ve really enjoyed watching movies on my new home theater these last few months. One small area of displeasure has been that the system really only hits its peak after dark. During the day, enough light comes streaming in through the windows and double glass door that the image projected onto my Panoview white screen by my Optoma HD 70 projector becomes significantly washed out. White screens have many advantages over other screen types such as gray and micro-glass beaded screens, but do have a tendency to wash out much more than these other types due to externally incident light.

This isn’t much of a problem for me, as I mainly use the system to watch movies and TV after dark, but it really kills the ability to use the projector for watching daytime sports on weekends and similar best-during-the-day uses. After several months of waiting, long intended, custom fit blackout blinds have been installed on the windows and doors. Only the smallest amount of light creeps in around the edges now, and it is nowhere near enough to impact image quality. Marsh Cinema is officially open for matinées. The theater feels very near complete.

I’ve derived a great deal of pleasure from having my own home theater and it is something that I wish I had done years ago. Between Netflix, my Tivo/Directv and FTA HDTV I rarely run out of content to watch and find myself going to actual movie theaters less and less. It has been costly and time consuming to be sure, but it has all been worth it. I don’t miss wasting time and gas driving halfway across town, paying for parking and overpriced theater food only to see a film that will come out on Netflix 2 months later. About the only thing I miss is the theater food itself. I’ve been keeping a good selection of beverages and snackish foods on hand for movie nights, but I have strange yearnings for hot dogs, theater popcorn (microwave just isn’t the same) with fake butter substitute and even nachos with fake cheese and especially bagel-dogs. Mmmmmmm, bagel-dogs…..

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