J. Peterson's Writing About Electronics, Reviews, 3D Modeling, etc.

Tingbot Review

chumby_pandora

One of my more prized positions is was a Chumby prototype, right off the desk of it’s hardware designer.  I won it in one of the designer’s monthly Name That Ware contests. The idea behind the Chumby was to have a box on your desk or nightstand running casual applications to tell the time, weather, photos, or other entertaining data. A back-end service made it easy to download new apps, which were written in Flash (this was in the late 2000’s, Flash was still a thing then). It was beautifully designed, featuring graphics by Susan Kare and a classy soft leather case.

But Chumby, Inc. died. A combination of bad timing (missing Christmas in 2007, followed by the global economic meltdown in 2008) and the introduction of the iPhone – the gadget to end all gadgets – made it tough for Chumby to find a market. Kudos to Duane Maxwell for keeping the remaining Chumbys on life support.

Recently Tingbot introduced a Raspberry Pi based computer with a small LCD display in a nice desktop case.  It immediately reminded me of the Chumby.

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Why? (Fire, Part 3)

Everybody asks that.  Figuring out what happened wasn’t easy.

Suspect #1 – The Intercom

Immediately after the fire, the firemen pulled out this item from where the fire took place, and casually suspected it as the cause:

It’s a home intercom unit. It’s designed to use the house’s power wiring to communicate. They’d never worked all that well, and several months before we threw out two of the three units. I had an idea for an improved design, so I kept the remaining unit thinking I could re-use the plastic case and put my own workings in it.

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Reality Check (Fire, Part 2)

Siren chasers

Before heading to the hotel, we’d gone into the house briefly to retrieve a few items – some clothes, phone chargers, etc. It was well past 1am by the time we settled in hotel. I couldn’t sleep at all; anxious to figure what was going on, I got up early. My cell phone rang, I instinctively answered.

Caller: Hi, I understand you need a clean up crew at your residence for a fire…

Me: Uh, I contacted the insurance company, I think they’re taking care of that.

Caller: Oh no, you don’t want to use them, insurance just uses the cheapest people. We’ve got a crew of pros that can get right out there and…

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Fire (Part 1)

We’d run an errand, then gone out to dinner. We were out for maybe three hours, returning a little after 10pm. Our teen-age twins, eager to get home, ran up the steps from the driveway to our front door. “Fire! The house is on fire!” they called out. I ran up to see what was going on. Smoke was pouring out the front door.

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3D: Replacement Stove Knobs

knobsonstove

We have an aging Thermador gas range.  One of the original plastic knobs broke. Surprisingly, it was hard to find replacements.  Thermador no longer supplied them, and the 6mm D-shaft was an unusual size for generic replacements.  The closest I could come was some generic knobs off ebay.  But these didn’t have the proper stop inside the sleeve, so you couldn’t push the shaft in before turning it (a safety feature of the Thermador knobs). I kludged some stops with chopstick pieces, but it was clumsy.  Time to roll our own. read more »

Book Review: Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath

What would happen to a major metropolitan area – say, NY or LA – if the electric power grid completely failed, for multiple weeks at a time? The result isn’t pretty, and this is the topic long-time TV journalist Ted Koppel covers in Lights Out. The book claims the electric power grid is subject to a uniquely new threat: Attack by cyber criminals who can disable huge portions of electric power supply remotely. read more »

Czurtek ET16 Scanner Review

Czurtek ET16 scanner

This post originally appeared on Medium.com.

I like scanners. See, at one time I was really into books. But after a decade or two, you come to the conclusion books take physical space. Lots of it. So when my tax guy showed me his Fujitsu ScanSnap I was hooked. Mine ingested most loose papers, statements and documents. This cleared a shelf or two. I also scanned many books by sawing their spines off, and feeding them to the ScanSnap fifty pages or so at a time. It works great, and this cleared several more feet of shelf space.

However, there are some books I just can’t bear to saw up to feed to a sheet-feed scanner, and this is the niche the Czurtek ET16 falls into. I also had fantasies of using it to replace my slow, clumsy flatbed scanner. So, I signed up to the Indiegogo campaign, for $234.

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