The aRSSduino in action

The aRSSduino in actionThe aRSSduino is a simple project for the Arduino microcontroller, designed to display RSS feed entries on a 16×2 LCD.  It’s still in the early stages, with the following outstanding:

  • To Do: Support for larger LCDs
  • To Improve: Better UTF-8 character handling
  • To Do: Multiple RSS feed support

For now, however, it’s a pretty neat hack – and an alternative back-end allows it to display Twitter @ replies instead, with the person’s username on the top line of the display and the message below.

The aRSSduino relies on a USB connection between the Arduino and the host PC – it’s not a stand-alone project.  Currently, the Python back-end is written to run on a Linux-based host – although it should be relatively simple to port to Windows, I have no plans to do so at present.

You can download the project source code – both for the Arduino sketch and for the Python-based back-end here.  If you improve upon it, let me know!

Amazon Kindle 3G

Amazon Kindle 3GI’ve written an – in my not-so-humble opinion – interesting post on the cost of e-books for the recently-released Amazon Kindle and other eReader devices, which I’ve published over on my Freelance Site.

This week culminates in the launch of Amazon’s latest Kindle eReader,which means that thousands of gadget fanciers and avid readers alike will be getting their hands on a pretty special piece of kit – only to find that the surprisingly cheap price belies an expensive habit: electronic books can cost.

You should read it. It’s good. Honest.

Toshiba has confirmed its plans to offer a dual-screen notebook similar to Microsoft’s Courier concept, to be added to its Libretto ultra-mobile range.

The Toshiba Libretto W100 was launched as part of the company’s 25th anniversary celebrations – its first laptop, the Toshiba T1100 was launched back in 1985 – with the company’s Phil Osaki quoted by VentureBeat as stating that the company is aiming for the back-to-school season in the US.

The Libretto W100 ditches a traditional keyboard in favour of a second display with multi-touch technology – when you want to type, an on-screen keyboard with haptic force-feedback functionality appears. It’s unlikely to be comfortable for typing long documents, but it should be no worse than typing on an Apple iPad.
Both displays are 7in and 1024×600 resolution, and can be addressed independently – it’s possible to have a web browser on one screen and a word processor on the other, for example – and used in both portrait and landscape mode.  Interestingly, despite its small size Toshiba hasn’t opted to use Intel’s popular Atom processor, instead using the more powerful 1.2GHz Pentium U5400 chips along with 2GB of RAM and a 62GB hard drive to power a full installation of Windows 7.
Sadly, Osaki has been cagey on pricing details: the current run of the Libretto W100 is to be limited, as the company wants to get feedback from a small number of users before planning a wider launch of an updated mass-produced version later in the year.

Fujistu's curved displaysFujitsu’s display division has teamed up with Shinoda Plasma to create impressive curved displays which the companies believe could be used to turn building support pillars into information boards without taking up any extra floorspace.

Demonstrated over on Tech-On, the displays are based around Shinodo’s Plasma Tube Array technology, which allows the display to be created in a smooth curve rather than the more traditional flat plane.

Using the pre-curved display panels, the pair were able to come up with a single display – made from a pair of 1m x 1m panels – which fit around a pillar of 1m diameter, capable of showing full-colour full-motion video.

The companies admit that the the displays are still in the early stages of production – with the demonstration models, showcased at the Fujitsu Forum early last week, being produced merely to gauge market response prior to mass-production – but explain that “we expect that [the displays] will be used at railroad stations and public facilities” to provide advertising and informational displays around pre-existing support pillars.

Okay, so the title is a misnomer – it’s more of a kitbox.  Still, it’s my new toy and I’ll love it and hug it and never let it go.

The kitbag – designed as a one-grab container for everything I’m likely to need if I have to cover a story, excluding pen and paper which I always have on or about my person anyway – contains:

  • The contents of the Freelancer's KitbagA: Pentax K100D Digital SLR with 18-55mm kit lens. It’s crap – and just 6MP – but it does the job.  Just about.
  • B: Wind filter for F
  • C: 75-200mm telephoto lens for A. It’s slow, but when you just can’t get close enough for the 55mm lens it suffices.
  • D: Desk stand for E/F.
  • E: Medion 720p h.264 solid-state camcorder in 5m-waterproof case.  Fixed focus, but works in the rain.
  • F: Zoom H2 audio recorder.  Uses four mics to record four-channel surround sound in 96KHz WAV format to SD.
  • G: Hand grip for E/F.
  • H: Batteries galore.

All the above is wrapped up nice and securely in an aluminium flight case with foam lining from Maplin.

The bag isn’t finished quite yet – I’ve got a replacement flash unit for the K100D arriving next week, after I carelessly broke mine, but once complete it’ll do quite nicely for covering events.

Amazon Wish ListFor a while now I’ve been experimenting with a little karma boosting project based around Amazon’s Wish List service – and now I’d like to get more people involved.

The idea is both simple and more or less selfless, and revolves around a single core concept: getting things for free is awesome.  While I have no control over whether I get stuff for free – short of taking up shoplifting as a hobby, and even then the only freebie I get is likely to be a lift in a shiny police car – I can control whether other people receive free gifts.

So I do.  Every so often, I log on to Amazon and type a name into the Wish List search.  I scroll down the list and pick someone at random – before buying them an item that they’ve been wanting but never got around to buying.
Read More →

Sony HD Camcorder peek shotNot content with shaking up the bridge camera market with its new EVIL NEX 3 and NEX 5 mirrorless cameras, Sony has snuck out a sneak preview of an up-coming camcorder using the same APS C-size CMOS high-definition sensor.

Described as still “in development” over on Sony’s official blog, the un-named device will feature interchangeable lenses just like its still variant cousins – with promised support for both the Sony E-mount lenses used by the NEX 3 and NEX 5 and the A-mount lenses used by Sony’s range of Alpha digital SLR cameras, albeit via an adaptor.

Full details of the device are still held closely under wraps by Sony, but using the specifications of the NEX series as a base it can be expected that the camera will record to MemoryStick or SDHC card in the AVHCD format in – most likely – a full 1080p high-definition resolution at an expected 30 frames per second.

The use of interchangeable lenses will offer videographers a wealth of options for changing the capabilities of the camera, with options including macro, wide-angle, and telephoto lenses – and with the pre-existing A-mount lenses as options, the camera will enjoy a wide selection from launch.

Sadly, Sony has yet to announce a firm release date – or, indeed, pricing – for the camera, beyond a vague commitment to an official launch some time in Autumn.

Roof with three swallowsIt’s not often I bother to write a post describing my good experiences with a company – especially when it comes to my quite frankly abysmal experiences getting my roof sorted a while back – but I wanted to publicly thank Jackson Roofing for their sterling work recently.

Originally contacted to replace some broken guttering on the roof of my worryingly tall house, I had to call Jackson Roofing on the Bank Holiday Sunday just gone – très gauche, I know – after a neighbour across the road pointed out that a slate on my new shiny roof had become dislodged and was inches away from ruining someone’s day.  As the slates are the modern, thick, heavy concrete type it would have really made an impact had it fallen.

Heh.  Impact.

Jackson Roofing – in contrast with the pitiful Roofing Group UK, who should have repaired it under the terms of the twenty-year guarantee I was promised – quickly came round, ventured up a stupidly long ladder, and repaired the damage for a sum of money I wouldn’t even consider worth unpacking the ladder from the van.

Okay, so the money is in addition to that promised for the guttering work, but still – I certainly wouldn’t be clambering up a ladder to my crazy-high roof for such sums.

In short, if you’re looking for a roofing firm in or around Bradford, I can wholeheartedly and without reservation recommend Jackson Roofing.

Image provided by Wikimedia Commons user Nieuw.

Today, I was wandering around Halifax during lunch.  Nothing particularly exciting about that – it’s pretty much a daily occurrence.

While out and about, I spotted an amusing sign of which I wanted to take a picture.  Again, nothing special – it’s something I do quite a lot.

Holland & Barrett - Bye Bye Plastic Bags signThis particular sign was located in the window of the Halifax Holland & Barrett store, and proclaimed that the store was a “plastic free zone” that proudly used no plastic bags.  This time, I wasn’t pulling it up on grammar – instead, it was the factuality of the sign that amused me.  You see, in the window alongside the “plastic free zone” sign were plastic bags.  Oodles of them.  In fact, the vast majority of products in the window were pre-packaged in either plastic bags or plastic pots.

Camera – well, cameraphone – in hand, I snapped the sign.  Moving to the front of the window, I prepared to take a shot of the plastic bags.

Then: the lone shop assistant – a girl in her early twenties – ran out and positioned herself in front of me shouting “You can’t take photos – it’s against copyright!

Let’s review: I’m stood on public property, causing no obstruction, quietly taking a photo of something visible from a public place where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, for non-commercial use.  Clearly, she’s off her rocker.

Holland & Barrett - plastic bags in the windowWhen I corrected her and continued to take the picture, she went inside and called the security guard on a two-way radio.  Quite what she thought he’d do – given I had at no point entered the store – I’m not sure, but it’s a moot point: apparently Halifax’s security guards were “out of town” and unavailable to attend.  After waiting for a friend to finish shopping in the store, I walked off to find some lunch.

Tomorrow, I’m going back with a group of people – including an ex-policeman – and we’re all taking photos of Holland & Barrett’s storefront.  We’re also taking photos of each other taking photos of Holland & Barrett’s storefront – and if any copyright ‘experts’ fancy telling us that we can’t exercise our rights on public property, it might be time to exercise the cheapo HD camcorder I bought a few months back.

Oh, and I think that the Advertising Standards Authority would be interested in the false claim regarding the plastic bags.

TL;DR: Don’t fuck with a photographer.  We’re more than aware of our rights.