New TiVo Desktop

TiVo has finally released version 2.3 of their TiVo Desktop software for the PC. Additons to the software include the ability to perform auto-transfers of recorded shows from your TiVo to your PC and the ability to auto-convert programs to various mobile playback formats. While some formats are free, such as Windows Media, MPEG-4 and H.264 conversion (e.g. for iPod and PSP) require that you pay a US$25 (one-time) fee to unlock this capability. TiVo is allegedly charging this ’cause they had to pay a licensing fee. (Of course, you could always continue to use free conversion utils, such as AutoPilot, Videora or VEMode.)

[Via Zatz Not Funny]

Thanks for Nothing, Comcast!

This adorable viral video is such a hoot (LOVE the Eels soundtrack). It shows a Comcast tech who’d come to a guy’s house to replace a cable modem and then fell asleep on the couch after being on hold for over an hour with the home office. As the vid puts it:

Thanks Comcast for:

Two Broken Routers
Four Hour Appointment Blocks
Weeklong Internet Outages
Long Hold Times
High Prices
Three Missed Appointments
Promising to Call Back and Then Not Calling
Thanks for Everything

The sad thing is that, the cable guy probably got fired for sleeping on the job (and embarrassing Comcast), while their customer service will likely do nothing to change as a result.

[Via Boing Boing]

DC Dorkbot Trundles to Life

Last night, Street Techie Alberto Gaitán and I attended a planning session for a DC area “chapter” of Dorkbot, the loose confederation of electronic arts groups where artists, geeks, and gadget weenies of all stripes get together to confab, demo, and socialize. This first coffeehouse klatch was small, but we’re planning to expand, maybe adding YOU to our roster. If you live in the DC area and want to get involved, go to the Dorkbot DC webpage and sign up for the mailing list. I’ll also be posting notices here on Street Tech for upcoming meetings and events.

True to the Dorkbot spirit, even though this was a planning meeting, we still did a little show and tell of cool widgets. Among other casual demos, the meeting’s instigator, Thomas Edwards, showed off his newly acquired RVHE MCU, a teeny and feature-rich US$90 microcontroller. He also showed us a vid of his “Differential Touch” project, where he’s going to have virtual hands that can communicate touch over the Internet. It was great to meet Thomas. He was the artist who created my two favorite pieces in last year’s Art-o-Matic, the Sycophant (pictured here) and the School of Fish Pain. Hysterical and poignant geek art.

Definitely consider joining up if you’re in the area. We’re planning to have guest speakers in the future, demos, ongoing projects, and larger events. It should be a lot of fun.

Steampunky Bot is Best in Show

When we started blogging about steam-power robots a while back, they seemed little more than a cool curiosity. But we keep seeing builders showing off new steam-powered creations (okay, so many of them are from the same guy, but still…).

And now, two steam-powered bots have brought home the gold from the recent RoboGames. The Trilobite Tank (pictured left) won gold in the Best in Show category, while the Steam Walker got a gold medal in the Kinetic Artbots category. Images of both bots in action can be seen on the Crabfu website. Congrats to Crabfu’s I-Wei Huang on the victory. BTW, we recommend watching the NBC Tech Now vid linked from his site for background on this fascinating hardware hacker.

Microsoft Enters Robot Arena

As you may have already heard, yesterday, Microsoft announced its foray into the robotics marketplace/hobby community with the release of their free (for now) Windows-based environment for creating robotic control applications. Concurrent with the Microsoft announcement (at RoboBusiness Con 2006), Carnegie Mellon University announced its plans to open a Center for Robotics Innovation (with funding from Microsoft). The Center will maintain a website for hobbyists, academics, and commercial companies to share robotics ideas, technology and software.

At Street Tech, we’ll reserve judgement on whether this is ultimately a good thing for robotics or just another area of technology where good wares and real innovation is going to be paved over by the MS juggernaut. The fear is that robotics could be the next area of technology to fall victim to Microsoft’s tendency to “embrace, extend, and extinquish.” It’ll be interesting to see what roboticists (who aren’t on Microsoft’s payroll) think of these new tools as they make their way into the real world.

Here’s Robot Mag’s coverage of the announcement.
Here’s the MSDN Site
Here’s where CMU’s Center for Robotics Innovation will end up.
Here’s an article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
And last, but not least, here’s a video from Channel 9, an interview with Tandy Trower of the MS Robotics Group.

More BEAMbotish Goodness

Doing a search on Flickr, to see if anyone else had put up pics of the two BEAM projects in Make, I found this builder’s amazing BEAM creations. He does really beautifully designed critters, most of them fashioned from techno-junk. After the jump, you’ll find his take on the two types of bots I covered in the Make piece, Symets and Solarrollers. He made his Roller out of parts from an old Walkman and the Symet from a CD-ROM drive.

I used a picture in the Beginner’s Guide to BEAM article of Harold Ilano’s incredibly cool Black Vermin, his take on Mark Tilden’s infamous VBUG 1.5, built from a Sony Walkman and an oven timer (among other parts). Harold has a bunch of other cool bots on his site, including the recently built Hermit, a wee-little four-legged walker that uses five micro-servos. Check out the vids of it in action.

Warren Ellis and Desolation Jones

On Friday, we brought you the news that Warren Ellis has been contracted to develop a TV show for AMC. More recent Ellis news is that, starting with issue 7 of his current comic series Desolation Jones, he’ll be working with a new artist, Danijel Zezelj, a relative unknown to the American comics market. The artist for the first six issues was the amazing J.H. Williams III. Look for a trade paperback of the Williams issues, entitled Desolation Jones: Made In England, this fall.

Newsarama has a fairly lengthy interview with Ellis on Desolation Jones, working with two very different artists, etc. If you were as big of a fan of Transmetropolitan as I was, you’ll want to check out Desolation Jones. I think it hits (and hits and hits some more) a similar vein.

How-To: Free Up Space on Your Mac

We’ve really been enjoying the tips, tricks and solutions to every day computing problems that On Zen and Computing have been putting up on their site. The latest item covers using Disk Inventory X, a free OS X disk usage utility, to help you identify and heave out all of the space hogs and unused crap you don’t need any more. It’s never too late to do a little virtual spring cleaning.

BEAM Trimet Symet

This Make reader did a really nice job of building the three-cap Symet (a.k.a. a Trimet) from my BEAM projects piece in the latest Make (No. 6). His build is almost identical to mine, but his discharge time and the amount of spins he gets is a bit less. Mine got a pretty satisfying rotation on each charge. Not sure which value of voltage trigger he used. His is so neat and beautifully soldered. Mine was messy and I solder like crap. Maybe that had something to do with it. I had more weight in lead shot. Here’s a link to a few more Flickr pics, and here’s a link to a YouTube vid showing the little robo-top in action.

Here’s another builder’s bot. He ingeniously added little flange/fin thingies and it looks like a ball on the bottom (known in a BEAM trade as a motivator) to the motor axle. I’d like to see this one in action.

Mad On Video Games

Last September’s Mad magazine had a hysterical piece on the “50 Worst Things About Video Games.” The copyright-defying fiends over at Destructoid have put up page scans of the entire article. Some of our faves:

* Game designers who can’t understand why more women don’t play video games, especially since they feature such outstanding female role models as a globetrotting archeologist (with big boobs), world-class volleyball champions (with big boobs), and of course, easily murdered hookers (with big boobs).

* Video game magazines that spend months hyping a game as the second coming, lavishing it with praise and eagerly counting down to its release date, only to dismiss it when it comes out as third-rate, over-hyped crap.

* Racing through the Grand Canyon in a super-charged 350Z with ARC spoilers and HKS turbochargers… then turning off Gran Turismo 4 and driving to work in your 1988 Honda Civic with AM/FM radio and manual windows.

* Donkey Konga, which combines the ‘60s-era art of bongo drumming with none of the mind-bending hallucinogens that made it tolerable in the first place.