Filter: hardware,software, code, computer science, tech, life, robotics

iPhone Tracker

Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden have put together a great piece of software which nicely displays where your iPhone has been over it's lifetime. Below you will find some impressions of my coverage...

Switzerland

Zurich

Zurich Detail

I love the fact that Apple has this tracker built in to all it's iPhones. Yes, I know the privacy implications, but look how interesting this is! The way Apple implemented it is also very smart: they use triangulation from cell towers (thus the low resolution), which doesn't impact the battery consumption. One question remains: how do they know where the cell towers are?

If you are curious where this secret file from Apple is, search for consolidated.db on you jailbroken iPhone.

Tags: tech

Pixelation

I recently came across photographing some close-ups of several iPhone/iPad Apps we developed at Nerves. Fore some reason, I had forgotten how wonderful our back-lit LED displays are. Isn't it amazing that these screens work for countless hours with hardly any visible error.

Below are some impressions of our photo-shoot.

Pixels at Large 1

Pixels at Large 2

Pixels at Large 3

Tags: life, tech

Welcome to the Digital Age

I was recently interviewed for a documentary film about life in the digital age. Below are some excerpts which might be of interest.

What aspects fascinate you in the digital worlds in which you live in? Which opportunities do they offer?

Since I was a young child I was completely fascinated by electronics. My parents were always afraid to leave a calculator or such lying around, because they knew that if I found it I would surely take it apart, inspecting all the insides thoroughly. When I finally got my first computer at age 10, I discovered the internet, which instantly became my new passion. I was absolutely captivated by the idea that I could publish something online which would be instantaneously reachable from all corners of the globe! Today we take it for granted, but 15 years ago this was groundbreaking in the way we communicate with each other as well as with whom we communicate to. The digital world has progressed, where now I am always connected in some manner to multiple services spread across the globe which provide information in a constant stream. To me, the digital world is an (almost) unlimited resource, where information is easily obtainable. If I want to know who ruled England during the 18th century, I only need to grab my phone and type “18th century king england” into Google. Before the digital revolution, gaining this knowledge was considerably harder. This is what fascinates me: the wealth of obtainable knowledge. That's why I co-founded NERVES, where we develop digital services and applications and constantly try to redefine how we communicate digitally.

Could you say that the digitalization of technology has changed your life? How?

Yes, definitely. Probably the most astounding change is the way I interact with people. I'm sure I spend more time interacting with most people through a digital service, such as E-Mail, SMS, Networking, et cetera, than actually talking with them in person. This has both positive and negative effects and my daily life. In some senses I feel more productive (it's faster to Twitter a birthday party than call everyone), but at the same time I also feel much more disconnected from many people, especially in the professional world. I grew up in Africa, Asia, Middle East, Europe, and America, so I have many friends spread out all over the globe. Since the widespread use of the internet and social networks, I now have daily contact with all these friends again. So there are definitely positive benefits from the obsessive digital revolution.

How does your social circle react to your active digital life?

My curiosity makes me a typical early adopter. Most people react well to that, showing a similar interest in much of my digital life, just at a different (lower) level. My family have all slowly joined in on the digital world. We now commonly communicate with Skype and SMS. Even my mother has a Facebook profile now, and tries to promote her art on the internet. My deeper passion with computer science is not understood well by the people around me, neither are they interested. I mostly keep that to myself and a handful of fellow nerds.

Tags: life, tech

My Very Own Soft-Bodied Robot

Everybody that knows me knows my fascination for robotics. Recently, I have been fixated by the idea of a soft-bodied mobile robot - more precisely, a teddy bear stuffed with electronics and a small brain. You see, I believe that simplicity is key to jump starting the robotic revolution. Instead of mimicking every human joint using mechanical devices to build a humanoid, I find it much more effective and efficient to look into design techniques which yield similar results but by a heavily reduced complexity factor. This is why I am stuffing a teddy bear with a simple skeleton made up of six moving parts. For the last few nights I have spent some time realizing my design for a robotic teddy bear. After a few hours of work the teddy is already stuffed with all the necessary electronics and I have created my first prototype.

Below some impressions:

Empty Teddy Bear without its Stuffings

The Mechanical Skeleton

Robotic Skeleton and Its Soft Body

Stuffed Teddy with Electronics Skeleton

Front View of the Teddy Bear Robot

Tags: computer science, tech, robotics

Introduction to Robotics

For all those interested, below is a copy of the introduction in my Bachelor Thesis...

What happened to the robotic revolution? Looking back at old technology and mechanics magazines from the 1950's, one cannot help but muse at the wild expectations people had regarding the future of robots. Often portrayed was a bizarre mix of people and machines, living together in a society with the robot as man's new best friend. Some went to the extent to predict a new race of slaves which would serve mankind by the 1960’s – as did the 1957 Mechanix Illustrated article You’ll own Slaves by 1965 (Binder, 1957). The predictions from last century are far from reality. Not only has the progression of the robot been much slower than expected, traversing a very subtle path, but also its role in society has been completely redefined from the original conceptions. Instead of serving us breakfast in the morning, cleaning our living space during the day, and taking our hat and coat from us when we return in the evening, as depicted in the 1940 film Leave It To Roll-Oh (Handy, 1940), robots have found their birthplace in the factory. There they toil away all day, and sometimes night, performing mundane routine tasks over and over. Looking at such a machine, with its precise movements and repetitive activities, its hard edges and vacuous appearance; it has little resemblance of ourselves. Is not the robot supposed to be mankind’s birth-child?

Illustration in Mechanix Illustrated, 1957

The robotic revolution has not yet undergone in the scale and realm so many thought it would. What then has kept it? Does the robot just need more time to develop and grow, or is our concept of the robot fundamentally flawed? A long standing problem in the field of robotics is the perception of the environment. To us humans, this is a trivial task. We see, hear, and touch our environment around us, combining these senses to form a somewhat indescribable organic perception of the world (Thorpe, Clatz, Duggins, Gowdy, MacLachlan, & Ryan, 2001). It is here, at one of the most essential parts of our defining quality, where the robot has stumbled. The ability to perceive the environment and comprehend its implications is the first step in actively being a part of it. Only then can a robot take it’s prematurely crowned role of being mankind’s helper. For thousands of years we have tried to understand our perceptions, starting with primitive cave drawings and slowly mastering perception with realistic paintings. However, teaching robots to understand perception has proven very difficult, even though a robot can easily imitate its environment through the form of radar, sonar, lidar, or visual images.

After forty years of dedicated efforts on a global scale, robots still have trouble recognizing our face, they move carefully through our world with a slow pace, and are shy to interact. They just barely have learned how to walk (Webb, 2001). In many ways, the robot is still a toddler – unable but eager to explore the world. However, they are growing faster and faster. Each year we are introduced to new robots that are superior in perception and mobility. Each year new robots join our daily lives in some fashion or another. Our question remains; when will we be able to christen this century as the Century of Robotics?

Tags: computer science, tech, robotics

Making Windows Beautiful and Useful

I have never been a big fan of shiny interfaces, however, after so many years of staring at computer screens, my eyes have become a little wary and sore of hard cornered rectangular windows and such.

The default Windows interface in my opinion is lacking a lot of useability features, and in general could use many visual improvements. Luckily, there are a lot of tools to compensate these missing features.

Let me present you with how I tweak my Windows in under 50MB of RAM - a small price for a beautiful Windows.

The Desktop

I will explain the technical details later, but in short my Windows has a hacked shell which allows 3rd-party native themes, such as this Ubuntu Human theme. These themes are low-memory and run just as smooth as having no theme. Additionally, all my system files have had thier built-in icons replaced by the very infamous Tango theme.

I keep my taskbar on top, which has proven to be a whole lot more useful and user-friendly. To start my most important and frequently used programs, I use a lovely dock bar at the bottom which works just like the one in Mac OSX.

The Window

The Menu

Using a lightweight application, shadows are glued to all my windows and menus. I think this gives an overall freindly feel to the OS. Of course, the shadows can be customized to your personal preferences.

The Taskbar

The Start Button

The taskbar and start button have been slightly modified to provide a more compact view.

Tango Icons

Tango Icons

Hacked Shell

The Tango theme is not a distint set of icons, but rather a guideline on how to style icons and images. The Tango icons provided for Windows are absolutely beautiful. I don't understand how an open source community can create nicer icons than the Microsoft shop. Actually, I do understand.

Virtually every single icon in Windows has been replaced, including common images seen through the OS.

Native Widgets

The Human theme has upgraded all the Windows Common Control to the standard presented by Ubuntu Linux. Not only do they look very nice, but they also render extremely fast and provide a small amount of improvements over the standard Windows controls.

More to follow on how to get your own Beautiful Windows in Part II...

Tags: tech, software

Silly Inkjet Printers

I can't stand it when my printer at home starts to spit out the same configuration print-out over and over - wasting that precious, precious, ink which costs even more per gallon than Starbucks Coffee.

Silly Inkjet Printers

Tags: tech

History of Networking and the Hadron/Multiverse Design

Switched network designs have gradually evolved into a scalable structure which we use today.

Here is quick recap on how we built networks:

1995-1996: Flat Design

1996-1997: Router-on-a-Stick Design

1997: Collapsed Backbone Design

1997-1999: Layer 3 Distribution Design

2000-2003: Layer 3 Distribution Design

Today: Multi-Layer Network Design

From 1995 to today, we have toyed with VLAN's, FDDI, Layer 3 Switches and so on, up to Cisco's super-scalable CMSN (Cisco Multilayer Switched Network) design. However, we need to be realistic and realize that we cannot scale forever with this design.

Here is what the future will (most certainly) look like:

Tomorrow: Multi-Multi-Layer Network Design

Tomorrow's Tomorrow: Hadron-Layer Network Design

Near Future: Multiverse Network Design

Designs from 1995 to today are based on Prof. Andreas Steffen's literature.

Tags: computer science, tech

Crysis Sandbox Editor

I rarely every get to play games, mostly because I just don't have time, but also because PC gaming has become so expensive (I don't want to pay USD 80.- for a game I will only every get to play at most one or two hours). However, that doesn't mean that I am not interested and very fascinated by what game developers are producing.

The new Crysis Sandbox Editor is a great example of how gaming is being upped and brought to new levels. Everything within a level can be edited in realtime, and at any point a designer can step into a gameplay mode. There is a great video on Stage6 demonstrating how the new editor works (DivX AVI link below). I will let the images speak for itself.

http://video.stage6.com/1154056/.divx

Daylight Engine

Daylight Engine

Rich Terrain

10km View Distance

Vegitation

Buildings

Lighting

Water

All the images shown are snapshots taken within the editor. I bet you didn't notice :).

Tags: software, tech

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