March 30, 2005

Most mobile phone carriers offer camera phones as one of the new features to induce people to upgrade and commit to even longer contracts. Obviously camera phones have great appeal to many people for a variety of uses. From a mobile phone, one can send these images off to email addresses and other mobile phones via the MMS feature. MMS stands for Multimedia Messaging Service, which is a fancy way of saying a way to send images, sounds, and text.

While some phones can now handle true email, almost every cameraphone has MMS capability built-in. On paper this sounds great, using MMS to send photos from your phone to the phones of your friends and family. Unfortunately this is not the case.

MMS works well within a carrier, so I can send MMS messages with photos to other T-Mobile users (like my wife :) ), hell we can even record audio clips into the phone and send them along with the photo for a fully multimedia message. It’s funny and useful. More than once I’ve shopping and sent a picture to my wife for the go ahead on a purchase. We envision our daughters doing the same thing in the future as they get older.

Imagine this conversation:
Me: Hey Zoe, what’s up?
Zoe: I’m just hanging with Emily.
Me: Oh really, where at?
Zoe: Um, err, at the library, yeah, we’re at the library.
Me: Really, sure you’re not at the mall drooling over boys?
Zoe: Dad!
Me: Well if you are at the library send me a picture of some books.
Zoe: Dad!?1!! You don’t trust me?
Me: Humor your dear old father…
Zoe: [a photo of Zoe giving the finger arrives]

In another spectacular failure of American telecom policy, almost no major wireless carrier allows MMS traffic from outside their network. The glaring example of the ‘marketplace deciding’ technology issues make the American mobile phone scene dead last in the industrial world.

Here’s how US MMS policies don’t work. My phone is on T-Mobile. I want to send a camphone picture to my brother who has a Verizon phone. If I send him an MMS message of a photo, Verizon intentionally strips the photo from the message before relaying it to him. I have the same problem sending MMS messages to every other wireless carrier.

The carriers will tell you send the MMS messages to an email address that is invariably something like [yourphonenumer]@[yourwirelesscarrier].com. I have tested this extensively and it does not work from phone to phone. The carriers think that if they erect these information blockades, they will force you to get your friends and family to switch to the same carrier. Just like their position on number portability, they are wrong. If they opened MMS capability, it would be an advantage to use them instead of other carriers that block the MMS messages.

Have no fear; help has arrived in the form of The kind people at offer a free service to serve as a middleman for cameraphone pictures. If you sign up with PixToPix and give then the vital info about your phone, you get a [yourusername] email address. When you give that email address to your friends and family, they can send MMS messages from their phones to that address and PixToPix will convert and relay them to your phone. The service even works with emailing images from a computer directly without using a phone.

I’ve tested it and it works well. If you send a MMS picture to, it will pop up on my mobile phone. Now my brother and I can exchange photos even though T-Mobile and Verizon don’t want us to. :)

The system even addresses privacy issues. If somehow people start sending photos I don’t like, I can drop my current Pixtopix address and get another. Much better than having to change your phone number.

Looking toward the future, imagine an interface with Flickr or Textamerica where you could subscribe to pool image feeds and have them sent to your phone. Or parsing the Yahoo News Top Photos RSS feed and getting a daily dump of interesting photos. Or getting a regular photo sent to you from a nannycam. The possibilities go on and on.

Give it a try, I would bet that a high percentage of loyal Cruft readers have camera phones.

The service works for most major US and Canadian wireless carriers, but if you have one of the remaining small local ones, you may be out of luck.

Posted by michael at 09:30 PM
Three more books

Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman

Ever since I read American Gods, I’ve been a fan of Neil Gaiman. Michele bought and read this book before I did and said it was great. She liked it so much that she tracked down the DVDs of the BBC production of the book and watched that as well.

Needless to say, it moved to the top of my reading stack.

The story takes place in a Gaimanesque world where the world is oblivious to the magic world that surrounds and permeates it. After living a normal life, our protagonist, Richard Mayhew finds himself slid out of his reality and into the Underground.

His adventures take place in the world that exists in the under London. Below is a fantastic place of history, magic, and the supernatural where the base currency is one of ‘favors’. Each chapter gives glimpses of the world and then pushes you forward leaving you craving more about what is hinted at. Enjoyably, each new chapter brings more interesting things to ponder.

Like American Gods, the only problem with the book is that it ends. As you finish the book, you want more, much more about the world that Gaiman describes. The story touches on other places and people that you want to know more about.

Supposedly the upcoming book, Anansi Boys, is similar in delving into Gaiman’s vision of the supernatural. I look forward to it with baited breath.

The Merchants of Souls - John Barnes

This is that latest book in the Thousand Cultures/Giraut series that Barnes has created. In this series, humanity is mending itself back together after splitting to hundreds of planets with thousands of cultures. The idea being that planets were colonized based on specific cultures to allow harmony as they developed. Imagine cultures devoted to such varied ideals as Tamil Poetry, Occitan Chivalry, Calvinism, a pure military society, and even a pure hedonistic society. The invention of the ‘springer’ and instantaneous transportation device that can span the light years arrives to weave the culture back together in some fashion. Chaos ensues.

This book takes place mainly on Earth and involves the challenge of the OSP (the good guys) to face down the billions of Earth people living in virtual reality their whole lives. The bad guys want to use stored copies of people’s consciousness as virtual playthings fort their virtual lives. The OSP must stop this.

Barnes touches on several interesting ideas in a future world when machines do the work and all that is left for people to do is think and create. He touched on these ideas in the other novels, but examines then a little more deeply in this book.

Still, it’s science fiction and the story involves murder and misdirection in a hard sci-fi world. Barnes is good in this aspect, with consistency and refusing to solve the issues with miraculous invention in the nick of time. His inventions and culture are fully realized and you can understand the motivations of those involved event though it takes place in the imaginary future.

I enjoyed the book, but it’s for people that have read the first two books, A Million Open Doors and Earth Made of Glass. I’m sure you can find the first book for sale used for only a few dollars.

Idlewild – Nick Sagan

Last week when I was heading out to Utah, I asked Michele for a book to read and she handed me Idlewild. She said was good but not great. After finishing it I have to agree.

The story is a mashup of the Matrix, Stephen King’s The Stand, and a whodunit. Our protagonist wakes up with amnesia and we learn along with him about his world. A good literary technique, but the author won’t get away with using it again.

Central to the book is the concept of IVR, a form of Matrix-like virtual reality where much of the story takes place. Perhaps the Matrix has ruined the concept of virtual reality for sci-fi writers in the near term, since a lot of the ideas felt lifted, but probably weren’t.

I enjoyed the book and Sagan puts in enough red herrings and false leads that I was unable to deduce what was really going on until I read it. Most things follow but in the last couple chapters, things seem rushed with travel over distance happening way too fast and the death of a character happening in an almost unexplained way. I’d bet there are a couple more chapters that the author cut that would have made the story a little smoother at the end.

The book is good enough that I am looking forward to the follow-up, Edenborn.

Posted by michael at 09:01 PM
March 29, 2005

Feel the power of the Dark Side

Posted by michael at 02:55 PM
March 23, 2005

I don't often talk about my work here on Cruft. While I find professional television and computer technology a fascinating career, many are more interested in my adventures in my kitchen instead.

Here's a little tidbit to show you how my somewhat irreverant style surfaces in my professional life.

One of the trade magazines I read is TV Technology, a fairly good source for news and opinions. My favorite column is by The Masked Engineer, a TV engineer that hides behind a psuedonym while he/she writes about the FCC, industry players, and other TV trends in a humorous way.

In a column last year, The Masked Engineer wrote about cabling in facility. His/her viewpoint was so far out of whack with reality that I was forced to reply. I sent in my rebuttal soon after and was suprised to find it in the current issue.

(Loyal Cruft readers might recognize the use of photos and humor to make my points)

Of course, the Masked Engineer and Belden are full of crap in their idea that reasonable tie-wraps can hurt the signal quality. Belden is the same company that once advocated running SDI video over Cat 5 cable. If anything would be bad for signal quality it woud be running CCIR 601 over unshielded cable designed for ethernet.

We've had a fully SDI plant for ten years now, with tie wraps, and without any troubles with cabling. By far our biggest signal troubles are with RS-232/422 cabling long lengths and patchbay jack failure, neither of which have anything to do with tie wraps.

Perhaps we'll have an Indiana Jones style showdown at NAB...

Posted by michael at 09:29 AM
March 20, 2005

My main hard drive was 45% fragmented and I decided to defrag it.

Q: Do you know how long it takes to defrag a 250 GB drive?

A: 24 long effing hours

Posted by michael at 09:12 AM
March 18, 2005
More change to LA radio

This may be old news, but it looks like Arrow 93.1 'The Best Classic Rock' is now gone, replaced with 93.1 Jack FM 'Playing What We Want'.

More change to the LA radio scene is probably a good thing, but alas it is not a Top 40 station like Kiss-FM going away.

I'm listening now to it and it sounds like a mild rock station with 70s & 80s stuff.

There a few googleable articles on the Jack FM format here and here that shine some light on what to expect.

Taking a look at will give up the details.

This morning, they've played:

SUPERTRAMP - Goodbye Stranger
WAR - Why Can't We Be Friends?
BON JOVI - You Give Love A Bad Name
LONDONBEAT - I've Been Thinking About You
STYX - Too Much Time On My Hands
BONNIE TYLER - It's A Heartache
JOURNEY - Any Way You Want It
TALKING HEADS - Once In A Lifetime
CARL DOUGLAS - Kung Fu Fighting
ZZ TOP - Legs

Well, that is some playlist. I'll leave it up to the reader to decide whether it is good or bad.

Posted by michael at 06:32 AM
March 16, 2005
What to do at a party in Austin

The traditional end to SxSW Interactive was a party at Bruce Sterling's house on Tuesday night. With Bruce living in Pasadena for a year, this presented a problem in 2005. Thanks to the marvels of corporate sponsorship, the party was still held at the American Legion Hall.

One of the sponsors was Wired magazine. On every table were tons of little postcards about their Nextfest conference. Martin made a video about what I did with the cards.

Check out Martin's post and watch the House of Cards.

Posted by michael at 04:22 AM
March 14, 2005
Where did your domain name come from?

I watched a panel today at SxSW and the moderator, Lynne Johnson, asked a great question of the panel. She asked each of them to explain where the name of their weblog came from. Hearing their answers was great and I think everyone should explain where the name of their weblog comes from.

So, I encourage you to explain the origins on your own weblog and use the tag 'blognameorigin' to help people find our post.

For those new to posting tags, basically a tag is a kind of flag to search engine on how they can sort your post. If you put this code in your post, it should work.

<a href="" rel="tag">blognameorigin</a>

And then you should see a link like this appear: on your post. If you click on that link, you should see the posts of all others that used that tag.

With that said, back to the main idea...

The Story of

Back in 1997 I registered the domain name as a personal site for photos and stories. It served me well and in early 2000 I started using for my nascent weblog. The word cruft was a word I liked since I had first heard it in college.

To me the word represented exactly what my site was, random bits of unimportant crap.

In late 2001, I decided I wanted a site for the weblog alone, to keep the family stuff a little separate from my ranting weblog. I wanted as my domain name, but alas, it was taken.

John Walker, founder of Autodesk, had already registered, .net, and .org. I emailed him and asked about his plans. He said he wasn't doing anything with them, but that he was saving them for something 'good'. I apparently didn't count as 'good' and he didn't want to give me any of the domain names. (It's four years later, and e still hasn't done anything with those domain names...)

Back to the drawing board I went, trying to figure out what to do. After a bit, I came up with the idea that the site was realy a container for my cruft and not so much cruft itself. At that point, I started playing around with names like cruftcan, cruftstuff, and boxocruft. I finally settled on cruftbox, mainly because it was a easy to pronounce word and it ended with a X, the mark of all things high tech.

And so, was born.

What's your story?

Posted by michael at 02:53 PM
March 13, 2005
Neat use of Flickr Notes to tell a story

My friend Beth has used Flickr's notes feature to tell a story. Go check it out. Beth is wicked smart...

I need to do this myself.

Posted by michael at 09:30 AM

Giveaway, originally uploaded by Argyle.

If you find me at SxSW and say hello, I'll be happy to give you this fine, limited-edition Cruftbox can/bottle opener.

Michele made this for me and I've got a bagful to give away!

Posted by michael at 09:23 AM
March 12, 2005
SxSW ]I[

I'm sitting in my hotel room in Austin sipping on a cup of coffee.

This is my 3rd SxSW conference. It's starting to feel quite familiar.

Last night at Break Bread with Brad I talked with many people, drank beers, and even got into a discussion about metadata, nomenclature, taxonomy, and archival of assets with people that actually knew what I was talking about.

The conference shifts into high gear today with the Keynote kickoff.

If you're at SxSw, say hello!

Posted by michael at 07:36 AM
March 08, 2005
Ego Boost II

Yet another event is causing my already huge ego to swell to exceedingly large proportions.

I've been interviewed for an InformationWeek article on How five executives got blog religion. With a picture and everything. My mom will be proud...

I don't think they quite get my point about lunch.

My point about seperating work from my blogging was this: If there is an issue at work that I couldn't speak of openly at lunch with my staff like personal performance, my frustrations, future plans, it should not be on my personal blog.

Why? Because when I say something in a public realm, whether at work or on my blog, it affects my work relationships and the environment my staff have to operate in daily.

I cannot make my staff or co-workers uncomfortable or upset, just because I have the need to vent in my off-hours. There's plenty of other stuff to write about and I have plenty of buddies to vent to over the phone when the need arises.

Other than that, an interesting bit on the various ways weblogs are finding roles inside the business world.

Posted by michael at 07:43 AM
March 07, 2005
Why you should carry a handkerchief

One memory of my childhood that will stick with me always is the sound of my father blowing his nose. He always does it the same way with his handkerchief. Blow, rub nose, put the handkerchief away.

When I was a young man, I thought a handkerchief was for old people, like dentures, Ben-gay, and scotch. I mean really, a handkerchief was kind of a nasty idea and I didn’t have to blow my nose much anyways.

Over time, I came change my view. Like many young men, as I got older, I began to see the wisdom of my father, grandfather, and other men of older generations. By your late 20s, you begin to realize how foolish some of your ideas of your early 20s were about what you would and wouldn’t do in life.

So, for probably the last 10 years, I’ve carried a handkerchief in my back pocket. And you should too.

Before you dismiss the idea, give me a chance to discuss it a bit.

For those that don’t know, a handkerchief is usually a white cotton piece of cloth that is roughly a foot square. There are a few different kinds, like the handkerchief designed to stick out of a suit pocket, but the kind I’m talking about is the simplest kind.

The white cotton is soft and tightly woven to give it some strength. So people like them ironed, but I prefer the soft fold instead.

The main use is for blowing and wiping your nose. This may seem unhygienic, but actually it’s not. When you get out your handkerchief, you will see that it naturally unfolds and you don’t use the outside. You use the inside.

After a day’s use, it goes into the hamper with other clothes to be washed. I have dozens, they are cheap.

Now you young men, especially of the dating age, listen up. The handkerchief is key tool for impressing women. Yes, they will dig it the most. Not only will you appear to be older and wise to the world, you will be prepared for the ultimate smooth move.

It’s not untrue or demeaning to say that women cry, they are more in touch with their emotions than men. A young man will undoubtedly encounter a young women breaking into tears at some point. To score huge numbers of points, have that hanky ready. Offering it to her shows her that you are helpful, prepared, and the other Boy Scout laws. In other words, you are showing yourself to be a gentleman. Women love this kind of thing. Trust me on this.

There a ton of other things you can use a handkerchief for:

1) Blow/wipe nose
2) Dry a women’s tears
3) Cough into to avoid spraying others
4) Bind a wound
5) Cover your mouth from dust
6) Wipe up a mess (very useful as a father of toddlers)
7) Use in a magic trick
8) Tie the corners to make it into a small bag
9) Clean your pocketknife or other tool
10) Wave to get someone’s attention
11) Clean dirt off your hands
12) Wipe lipstick off your face
13) Clean your glasses
14) Use to avoid leaving fingerprints
15) Convince a man to kill his wife

And finally: Wipe sweat from your hard-working brow

Posted by michael at 12:11 AM
March 06, 2005
Griffin Radioshark

My Griffin Radioshark arrived on Friday and I quickly hooked it up to our Media Server in the front room.

The Radioshark is a FM/AM radio that plugs in via USB to a computer, Mac or PC. I love listening to the radio on the computer and this device is supposed to give me the ability to record shows automatically.

The quality of the unit seems high with a good feel to it. The software came up quickly and in a couple minutes the radio was playing through the speakers nicely.

The software is, well, eh, not my cup of tea. If I'm using a PC give me the standard PC look and if I'm using the Mac give me the standard Mac look. This look leaves me flat.

The app covers the basics of tuning and setting up a recording. There are a few issues like not being able to enter a duration for the recording and having to choose one of the predetermined one. When I record something I like to record a little extra at the beginning and end. With a locked 60 minute record, you can't do this.

You can easily schedule a recording based on time and station. The Windows version only record in wma (Windows Media) and wav files. Not the end of the world, but I would have paid $5 more to record directly in MP3, saving the hassle of conversion.

The radio reception itself was good but not great. I really want to record Indie 103.1, a Los Angeles station with a weak signal at my house. My car can pick it up, but the Radioshark couldn't.

There is an input for an external antenna so I decided to give that a try. I took a standard FM dipole antenna and soldered it into a 1/8th inch audio connector.

For those that don't know, a FM dipole antenna is specifically made to pick up radio signals and not much else. It's what we electrical engineers call a tuned quarter-wave antenna.

BTW, I highly recommend those new-fangled butane soldering irons. They are perfect for these quick little jobs around the house.

The antenna worked but I had to get it up pretty high to pick up the signal. After standing in the room holding the Radioshark and the antenna in endless positions, I found that placing it above the curtain rod was optimal and was least offensive to Michele's sense of how it should look.

The Radioshark was wedged up there and seemed a bit precarious. I couldn't have it fall down on the girls as they walked by.

I removed the metal based, drilled a hole in it, and was able to attach it to the ceiling, securing it against a tumble.


Overall, the device works as advertised and most people aren't going to be listening to weak stations. If you like radio, then the Radioshark is for you. It works, it looks good, and it's reasonably priced.

Posted by michael at 10:26 PM
2 days and 2 months

Friday I started having problems with my computer and it's taken two days to straighten it out. No huge loss, but in the file corruption trouble I had, chkdsk saw fit to delete my Outlook pst file.

That means to fix the problem, it deleted my email. The last back-up pst file I had is two months old. Two months of email disappeared in the whir of a hard drive.

I need to start using IMAP.

We had a good weekend and did a few things around the house. Zoe made a bluebird bird house and a bird feeder in class and we hung them today.

I'm proud of my little carpenter!

Posted by michael at 10:14 PM
March 04, 2005
Make Magazine

I keep hearing about Make Magazine over and over. I get emails about it, see posts about it. There are even pictures of it.

Well, I subscribed to it and they charged my debit card, months ago.

Where the hell is the damn magazine? If they want us geeks to like it, they better send it the hell out. I'm about ready to remove myself from the whole hoopla if it doesn't materialize soon.

The magazine looks great, but if your readers don't have it, you will fail.

Posted by michael at 12:37 PM
March 03, 2005
Ego Boost

A couple weeks ago I was interviewed for a podcast show called G'day World. The show is run by Mick 'Splatt' Stanic and Cameron Reilly, to Australian blokes who love podcasting. I meet Mick last year at ETech.

They posted my interview. If you want to hear me blather on for 45 minutes, here's your chance.

I'm not sure why they wanted to interview me, but I agreed because my ego is growing to an abnormally large size.

Posted by michael at 06:28 PM
March 02, 2005
What to know about SXSW Interactive

The SXSW conference starts next week. This will be my third trip, so I thought I would share a bit of my experience with others that have not been before.

Introduce Yourself - People are at SXSW because they want to meet people and see new things. Strangely, many of the blogger types that go are introverted types that are a bit shy. Do yourself a favor and say "Hello, I'm So-and-so" to that person you are sitting next to. (Don't say So-and-so, use your name...) I guarantee that they will be happy to talk to you.

ABC - Always Be Charging - If you bring a laptop, you need to be charging it every single chance you get. No battery lasts long enough. Try to sit near an oulet in the session rooms. Share power outlets with others.

Personal cards - Make up business cards with your name, email, and website info on them to hand out. Bring your regular business cards if you want, but what people really want is a card that ties you to your online persona so they can find you after SXSW.

Shiner Bock - Shiner Bock is a local Texas beer that you find everywhere. Often referred to as simply ‘Shiner’.

Sharpeners - There are no pencil sharpeners at SXSW. People think writing on a pad of paper with a wooden pencil is a bit strange.

The Backchannel - Be aware that there is a backchannel of real-time IRC discussion going on. Probably on, probably on #sxsw. The trick is to not make the backchannel into the front channel for you. It can distract you from listening to the speaker/session that you paid to see...

Comment Cards - At the end of sessions, people walk though and hand out comment cards you are supposed to fill out regarding the session you just sat through. It's strange the first time you see it. It's not mandatory, so don't weird out if you don't fill them out.

Secure connections - Wifi traffic is in the clear and people are sniffing packets all the time. Arrange for secure email, FTP, and if possible, secure browsing while at SXSW. It’s unlikely that a malicious hacker is gunna do bad things, but it’s best to be prepared.

Street Signs - For some reason, downtown Austin has few street signs. Get a map and study it before venturing out.

Hotels - Stay at a hotel in easy walking distance of the convention center. You don ‘t want to drive anywhere after a long night of partying. The word was that the Hampton was the best place to stay due to proximity and internet access. But since the Hampton lacks a bar, there is debate if ‘The Hampton‘ is ‘the new Omni ‘.

Night Events - The best night events are the Fray Cafe, 20x2, and Bruce Sterling ‘s party. Make time for these events. Update: Matt says there is no Fray Cafe this year. Dang that sucks.

Fray Cafe - If you are going to perform, practice beforehand.

Food - Eat food. Austin has a great bar scene. You will be drinking. Don‘t drink on an empty stomach.

Texas BBQ - IMHO, Texas BBQ pales in comparison to BBQ in other areas like Kansas City and Carolina. That chopped beef sandwich stuff just doesn't cut it, but people will want to eat it for lunch.

Sound People - The people who run sound for the sessions won ‘t leave the sound alone. They love to walk up while people are speaking, twiddle with knobs, and make the room go silent.

Clothing - Bring casual stuff, especially your witty t-shirts, but remember it can get cold and rainy in Austin this time of year. Make sure warm clothes and a good jacket are in your luggage, ready to wear. Last year we got hit with a massive thunderstorm and many SXSWians were soaked to the bone in their wet witty t-shirts.

Update: I forgot to mention that the Annual Kickball Game is on for Saturday morning at 10:30 AM. It's a lot of fun and you will me lots of good people.

Posted by michael at 06:43 AM