November 2007

Kindle playing the game backwards?

My coworker Steve Savitzky has some interesting musings on the Kindle, Amazon’s new ebook reader:

If you want everyone else’s opinion, see the links after the cut. Here’s mine: interesting play, but it’s in the wrong game.

You see, Kindle is Amazon’s attempt at an iPod for books. They’re using what they hope is an elegant, convenient, and reasonably-priced piece of hardware (which I’d guess that they’re selling at pretty close to cost when you factor in the pre-paid data plan) to sell digital copies of books (which are fairly expensive considering all the atoms they don’t have to handle compared with their dead-tree counterparts).

Apple, on the other hand, is using convenient access to an extensive collection of audio tracks (which they sell at pretty close to cost) to sell a particularly elegant and convenient, but overpriced, piece of hardware. Apple isn’t even in the hardware business, really: they understand that they’re in the fashion business, and have made it really easy for other companies to sell accessories for iPods.

Hands up, who’s going to build fashion accessories for the Kindle? Don’t all speak at once… How many people are going to buy a Kindle for each of their kids? Is anybody going to let their kids loose on a piece of hardware that lets them buy books at $10/pop at the click of a button? That’s what I thought.

Sounds pretty spot-on to me…

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Installing emacs23 with X11 support on Leopard

For some reason Fink has not yet updated their version of GNU emacs. While there are several other options, including Aquamacs, xemacs from Fink and the terminal-only emacs that comes pre-installed on OSX, I missed my traditional GNU Emacs running over X11. Luckily, with a few tweaks to this guide, the process was pretty painless — assuming you’ve already got Fink installed, just do the following (all from the Terminal):

 mkdir tmp cd tmp cvs -z3 co emacs cd emacs fink install libungif libjpeg libtiff export LIBS="-lresolv" ./configure --without-carbon --with-x --prefix=/usr/local make bootstrap make sudo make install cd /usr/local/bin/ sudo ln -s emacs emacs23 

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Book chapter in “Extending Intelligence”

Back in 2001 I was a guest speaker at the Third International Spearman Seminar on Extending Intelligence, a seminar hosted by the Educational Testing Service’s R&D Division and Sydney University’s Department of Psychology. Most of the other speakers were either from the field of education or psychology, but I and a couple other speaker were brought in to provide a view from outside the field. I’m pleased to say those talks have finally been turned into a textbook, Extending Intelligence: Enhancement and New Constructs, including my own chapter “Challenges and Opportunities for Intelligence Augmentation.”

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Steampunk Chicken-Walker Mech Costume

I have a long history of biting off more than I can chew when it comes to Halloween costumes. It’s in that tradition that, when my friends suggested Star Wars as a theme for costumes this year, my first idea was to go as an AT-ST, the 2-man chicken-walker mech that the Ewoks beat up on in Return of the Jedi. After several design iterations I had left the Star Wars Universe behind in favor of a steampunk flavor, and thus was born the Steam Walker.

The idea is to make it looks like I’m sitting in a chair riding atop a steam-powered mech that walks on two robotic legs. In reality my seated legs are false, and my real legs power the robot’s legs. This is basically a variant on the age-old circus-clown costume where someone looks like they’re riding a horse, and is also inspired by Ben Hallert’s APU costume and the paintball mech costume called Steel Dawn.

While not fast enough to keep up with 6-year-old trick-or-treaters as they went from house to house, I was still able to walk down the street and show off to passers by. The most common reaction was along the lines of “Wow! That’s the coolest costume I’ve ever seen — what the heck are you?!? (Best answer so far: Luke Skywalker: The Later Years.) I also got little kids (and some older kids, who really should know better) asking me how the thing was powered, several adults admitting they couldn’t figure out how the thing worked, and at least one little girl bursting into tears as she saw me ambling towards her. All in all, I’d say it was a big success :).

For more information on how I actually built the thing, take a look at my Instructable.

steam-walker-front-small.jpg steam-walker-left-side-smal.jpg

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