My review of Google Glass

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 Posted by
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Disclaimer: despite being a Google engineer, this review DOES NOT represent the opinion of Google or reveal any interesting gossip about Google Glass. I obtained a “public invitation” from a non-Googler friend to beta-test the product, and I was treated like any other random citizen when I went to pick up the device. I have no special inside information about Glass, and this review is nothing but my own observations as a techie trying out an early-stage product. The fact that I happen to work for Google is entirely coincidental. Some of my observations and assertions are very likely incorrect — please don’t quote this blog post as authoritative!

After 2 weeks of using Google Glass, I thought I’d share my experience. It’s been incredibly fun and exciting for me. I’m not so much giving a deep philosophical opinion on the meaning or viability of the technology in this review, but rather a quick summary of what it currently does and doesn’t do, as a reference for folks who are curious or thinking about joining the beta-test program themselves.

What is Google Glass?

In a nutshell, it’s a smartphone you wear on your face like glasses. Usually it’s turned off and you see nothing; sometimes it’s awake and you see a ‘heads up display’ floating above your field of view.

It’s a full Android device, with a deliberately locked-down and restricted user interface. It has wi-fi, but no cellular connection or GPS ability. When you’re out and about, you have to tether to your phone for data and GPS.

Assumptions & Requirements

For the “maximum” Google Glass experience, a number of assumptions are made:

  • You’re somewhat extroverted, and ready to attract attention and questions from strangers. :-)
  • You’re already vested in the Google Cloud ecosystem: Gmail, GCalendar, Google Now, Google Plus (for photo backup), Google Music, etc.
  • You already own Android phone or tablet. Though not strictly required, the “my glass” app (used for configuring the device) works better as a native Android app than as a web app.
  • Your smartphone is ready to be tethered:
    • If you have an Android phone, then Glass tethers to it via bluetooth (yes, TCP/IP over bluetooth!), and Glass doubles as a bluetooth phone headset. You can do SMS via Glass too, and Glass “borrows” the phone’s GPS in order to do maps navigation.
    • If you have an iPhone, you have to turn it into a wi-fi hotspot when you’re out and about — otherwise Glass has no internet connection. Also, you won’t be able to do SMS over Glass, due to limitations in iOS. :-(

General things it can do

Imagine trying to use your smartphone without ever activating the virtual keyboard. :-) Many things are possible, but some things are awkward. For example, there’s no fundamental way to type in specific website names, or specific passwords for wi-fi or websites.

Basic information displayed as incoming “information cards”, much like Google Now: { clock, weather, stocks, travel times, news headlines}. But it also does cooler interactive things:

  • Google searches
  • Read incoming Gmail, and respond by voice dictation
  • Read incoming SMS text messages, respond by voice dictation
  • Take photos and record videos (from 1st person point of view!)
  • Video conferencing via G+ hangouts (!)
  • Take voice-dictated notes (which are then uploaded to Google Keep or Evernote)
  • Share/post things (text and photos) to Twitter, Facebook, and G+
  • Heads-up display for running & biking (speed, time, etc.)
  • Stream your cloud music from Google Play
  • Playback or record recipes when your hands are dirty in the kitchen

What’s awesome and works well

  • Surreptitiously checking messages. When in a meeting, or our to dinner…
  • Hands-free text messaging — both incoming and responses!
  • Voice dictation in a quiet environment
  • Amazing for candid photography, if you’re into that sort of thing. Great for making videos of your kids too — they’re not self conscious that they’re “live” on recording.
  • Instantly posting photos to social networks.
  • Great for Evernote people — dictate a note anytime, poof into your cloud inbox to deal with later. Visual notes are great too — e.g. taking a photo of a sign or piece of paper with instructions, to deal with later. (All photos, like notes, back up automatically into the G+ cloud.)
  • “Guest mode” for demonstrating to friends works pretty well… it prevents them from accidentally posting things as you.
  • Visual translation! Point Glass as a foreign-language sign, and watch it translate to english by replacing words on the sign in real time. The photo below is really what I saw!

What doesn’t work so well

  • It’s not safer than a smartphone. Instead of staring down at little glass rectangles in your hand, you now just stare into space, with eyes slightly to the upper right. It’s still rude in the middle of a conversation. You can still walk into things while using it (and I have!)
  • Voice dictation in a noisy environment. I’m still not sure what I said yesterday when the train passed overheard, but somehow the note got transcribed as “teach Kansas City to talk dirty.”
  • Visiting most websites: too tiny to read and scan around, for the most part. Each “card” is only 640×360.
  • You can’t yet read update-streams from your friends on social networks — you can only see comments on things you posted via Glass.
  • Every one of your posts is auto-tagged with #throughglass. Yes, yes, marketing and all. But it gets kinda old.
  • Battery life about half that of a smartphone. I get about 4 hours of use, assuming I “wake it up” about as often as a smartphone. But it charges in only 40 minutes or so.

Public reaction

I’ve worn it out in public quite a bit — in the subway, into businesses and restaurants. 95% of the time the response has been popular. People are curious and want demonstrations. In particular, adults are typically wondering what the heck they are, while teenagers ALL seem to know what it is (“OMG, is that Google Glass?!?”). People sometimes quietly point at it from a distance. The only one negative reaction I had was a vendor asked if she was being recorded.

Using with existing eyeglasses…

I don’t recommend it. I tried shoving them over my eyeglasses for two weeks; while it works, it’s really awkward and uncomfortable. I can’t go more than an hour or so that way. I finally gave up and just bought some daily-disposable contact lenses. It means when I wake up in the morning, I can choose between wearing normal eyeglasses or popping in some contacts to wear Google Glass.

If you search the web, you’ll find all sorts of articles about how Google is going to have a “prescription option” available in early 2014. Somehow you’ll be able to order prescription lenses for your device, turning it into an independent pair of eyeglasses. I wasn’t able to wait that long. :-)

The search for radio minimalism

Sunday, October 21, 2012 Posted by
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There’s something exciting about doing more with less — that’s the philosophy behind the low-power ham radio subculture known as “QRP”. Try to build the tiniest radio you can, using the least power, putting out the tiniest signal, and still use it talk to somebody across the ocean. That’s the MacGuyver thrill!

I like to be able to operate morse code when I go on business trips, or just when I’m at the park. My own search for minimalism breaks down into one central goal: how little can I carry with me, and still have a working radio station? Carrying less creates more clever thrill, but also usually means sacrificing things too. For me, my search has broken down into two parts.

The Radio

I started out with a Yaesu 817, which is a tiny radio that does everything. However, it’s quite heavy (2.6 pounds) and eats battery quickly (around 400mA just on receive!) This forced me to carry an external battery. And because I often need to tune my antenna, I had to carry an external tuner. All in all, the parts filled a camera bag by themselves.

I then moved to a ultra-minimal TenTec R4020, which was much lighter (1.1 pounds), and used its eight internal AA batteries an order of magnitude more conservatively (55mA on receive!). Of course, it lacked other options: no voice/sideband ability, cryptic controls, primitive keyer, no filtering or noise reduction, only two amateur bands, and still no tuner!

I finally settled on the Elecraft KX3, which is truly mind-blowing. With 8 AA batteries, it weighs only 1.6 pounds, has reasonable current draw (150mA receive) and is 100% software-defined radio. It operates sideband or CW on every single band, and even does digital (PSK31) right on the device. It has more digital processing and filtering options than my giant IC-7200 base station. The controls are a joy to use, with two VFOs, auto-spotting of CW signal, noise reduction, multi-memory keyer, frequency memories, …the works. I literally stopped using my base station when this radio arrived; my base station felt too primitive and limited. The killer features for me were a built-in recharger for NiMH AA cells, and a built-in tuner(!)

The Antenna

A year or two ago, it seemed necessary to lug a whole separate portable antenna “kit” wherever I went. The Buddipole was the kit, and a great kit it is. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty sizeable 2 foot long bag full of metal clanky parts: tripod, extendable mast, assembled 10′ arms, tunable coils, counterpoise wires, guying wires, etc. Plus an antenna analyzer to get the tuning just right. That’s a lot of junk to carry.

Later I pared the equipment down to a mere “Buddistick”, which is a smaller vertical version of the Buddipole: a single clamp for a railing, with a small coil and arms/whip attached, and a single counterpoise wire. This fit in a small purse-sized bag.

Then I got more minimal: a PAR “Endfedz” antenna. It’s just a 40′ antenna with LC-matching box on the tip, which plugs right into the radio. Chuck one end in a tree with a water bottle, plug the other end in. It wraps into a bundle the size of a ziploc bag. Not bad. Still a slightly bulky package, though.

Finally I noticed on Elecraft’s mailing lists that the founders/designers described their own favorite “trail friendly” antenna: nothing but a teensy 1 ounce spool (26 feet) of 26 AWG ‘silky’ wire, #534 purchased from thewireman.com, and attached to a Pomona 3430 connector. The 3430 connector allows a longwire to be directly attached to the radio’s BNC port, and a second 16 foot wire is attached as a counterpoise by wrapping around a radio chassis screw. Both spools are tiny enough to slip in my jeans pocket; they feel like nothing but a long, teflon-coated guitar string! And of course it all works because of the radio’s internal tuner — I was able to tune 17m, 20m, 30m, and sometimes 40m with these two tiny wires. Had a nice morse chat from Chicago to Alabama on only 5 watts. In the picture below, you see the longwire coiled into my palm. In the picture of the KX3, you can see the two wires attached to the radio, and how it can all nicely fit in the padded case.

This, at last, is the long wire that I can slip into the edges of the KX3 radio’s padded case — no more carrying an “antenna bag” as a second package.

A (Graphical!) Text Adventure

Monday, March 26, 2012 Posted by
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It’s that time of year again — when Jack and I write another open-source text adventure together!

Every time we do a project like this, we try to push our own boundaries and try something new. Rover’s Day Out was our first full-length work and was our first foray into taking advantage of the deeper features of the Inform7 programming language. Our second work, Hoosegow, was an attempt to create humorous and relevant non-player characters in a constrained environment. Our third work was a quickie challenge — we wrote 95% of Lobsters on a Plane in a single day for a ‘speed’ competition.

Our fourth and latest work, Narrow Your Eyes, was written as part of a ‘tribute’ collection for the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 18 album by They Might Be Giants. There’s a short interactive fiction game written for each album track, and I suggest you go play them all!

In this game, we decided to push the boundaries of the Glulx interpreter a bit by creating a puzzle that requires graphics and utilizes sound. It sounds a bit heretical, but we assure you that there is still important textual accompaniment to the graphics portion. For this reason, the game isn’t yet playable in a web browser. You’ll need to download a suitable interpreter for your operating system: either Spatterlight for Mac, Glulxe for Windows, or Gargoyle for Linux. You can grab the game itself from our downloads page and open it with the interpreter. Once you start, don’t forget to turn on your speakers!

Another challenge this game was an attempt to write some basic artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms in the Inform 7 language. If you’ve already played the game, you can read about that in the spoiler below.

Spoiler Inside SelectShow

350 miles per watt.

Saturday, March 10, 2012 Posted by

Today was our first near-60 degree day in weeks, so I excitedly went up on the new roof deck of our garage (completed last October, just in time to be too cold to use!) Time to try some ‘field work’ and see if I could contact anyone on 17m from my nice elevated view of the sky.

I grabbed the Buddistick, and in 5 minutes clamped it to the deck railing. It’s really no more than the HF mobile antennas you see attached to car bumpers: a balun, a coil, and twelve feet of collapsible whip. I leaned it tightly against the pergola to brace against the 30mph wind, ran a single 13′ wire radial along the ground, and poof — my analyzer showed a 1.2 SWR across the whole 17m band. No tuner needed!

I originally brought up my 100 watt base tranceiver out of the basement shack up onto the roof. Unfortunately, I discoved that the AC outlet up there was totally dead. The garage opener works, the lights work, but the outlets were dead; time to call the contractor and ask what’s up.

So I fell back on my usual QRP travel radio, the Yaesu 817ND, running on a battery. It only does 5 watts, but heck, that’s fine for CW.

My brother (an astronomer) told me that a huge huge CME hit the earth last Friday. Sure enough, I was getting an S8 noise floor across the band. Yikes. I heard a couple strong SSB conversations, but after a while I just ‘flipped’ the VFO to the local VHF repeater. I think I gave both Tom KB9AJM and Bob KB9SAR heart attacks — they never hear me on 440mhz. :-) Bob told me that HF is expected to be ‘down’ for the next few days because of the awful space weather.

Well heck with it. The solar flux was 140, so I called CQ anyway on 18.085 at a measely 10wpm. Somebody almost immediately came back to me at 5wpm! But holy cow, I could barely hear them buried in the noise — I’d estimate an S3 within an S7 noise floor.

I suddenly remembered to make use of the ‘magic upgrade’ I put on my 817 radio: the DSP circuit. Friends, let me tell you, this product sold by W4RT is astounding. It’s just a tiny pushbutton drilled into the top of the tiny radio, but it activates DSP noise reduction as good as anything I’ve heard on a huge base-station radio. It’s FAR more effective than the 500hz Collins mechanical CW filter I had installed. I turned up DSP to the maximum, and it sounded like I was floating underwater with nothing but pure CW tone coming from my responder. I simply couldn’t have copied him without it!

In any case, it turns out to be Frank WB7NZI from Washington State. We give each other 539 signal reports, but the QSB is rough, and conversations take a long time at 8wpm. But heck, 1750 miles on 5 watts? That’s 350 miles per watt — not too shabby!

Field QRP still gives me a thrill, for sure. I really need to give a demo presentation of the Buddipole kit at a monthly meeting sometime.

17m Buddistick and Yaesu 817ND

Connecting Android to my Ham Radio

Tuesday, December 27, 2011 Posted by

I finally conjured up an electronics project which scratched an itch of mine — while simultaneously allowing my buddy and I to design a custom hardware/software solution.

The Problem: ham folks use morse code ‘keyer’ devices to aid them. It’s basically a tiny computer that plays a morse code message in a loop. You program messages into a few memories on the device, then tell the device to play “CQ CQ CQ DE NN9S” in a loop while waiting for someone to hear your hail. Or maybe you program the device to give standard canned responses when you’re participating in a radio contest. Either way, I had this realization that the smartphone in my pocket was essentially a supercomputer; why on earth was I bothering to assemble little IC devices with 5 or 10 flash memories to do this job? My phone was infinitely more powerful.

So really, the question boils down to this: assuming we can write a phone app that plays any morse code we want, how do we convert a ‘beep’ sound into a signal that my radio thinks is equivalent to “pressing the straight key”?

The radio’s connector is quite simple: it sends a small current out of a jack. If the current comes back to it, it thinks you’re pressing down on the straight key (closing the circuit). The straight key is just a physical switch.

So Jack AI4SV (my mentor/elmer) designed a circuit below which uses a common NPN bipolar transistor as the switch; we simply need to tickle the transistor’s base with a bit of current from the phone’s audio, and poof, the transistor closes the radio’s circuit and the radio sends a ‘beep’ out the antenna.

As you can see in the circuit, we take the ~.5V signal from the phone’s audio output jack and transform it into about ~5V. From there, we use a full-wave rectifier to convert the AC into DC, then eventually send that current into the transistor. The capacitor is there to smooth things out.

The other half of the project, of course, was writing an Android app to act as a versatile memory keyer. The open source code is available on Google Code, and the application is freely downloadable from Android Market.

In the video below, you can see a live demo of the prototype hardware & software in action:

I then built a ‘permanent’ version of the hardware using a perma-proto board from adafruit.com, which you can see here sitting inside an old dice box:

AKA keyer project

And here’s a screenshot of the final Android app. I can confirm that the hardware/software combo successfully drives my Yaesu 817-ND portable radio!

Your Community is NOT Your Tools.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 Posted by

(Disclaimer: I’m one of the ‘old guard’ open source guys. I co-founded the Subversion project back in 2000 and am a proud member of the ASF. These opinions are my own.)

A very popular blog post has been going around lately called Apache Considered Harmful, which criticizes the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) for being impossible to work with. On the surface, it looks a bit like a culture war between older and younger generations of open source hackers: the older generation is portrayed as stodgy and skeptical of distributed version control systems, making the ASF inhospitable to a younger generation used to the fast-and-freewheeling world of git and Github.

One of the ASF’s leaders, Jim Jagielski, then wrote a blog response which seems to say, “We’re not irrelevant; we just have high integrity. We care about long-term health of open source projects, not passing fads or hip popularity contests.”

But I think Jim is truly missing the main complaint.

Backing up a bit: what is the mission of the ASF? Why does it exist? My understanding is simple:

  1. to be a legal umbrella of protection
  2. to foster long-term, healthy open-source communities

The first goal is achieved by putting all of a project’s code under the Apache license, and getting all code contributors to grant nonexclusive IP rights to the ASF. This guarantees that the ASF “owns” the code, and thus can legally defend it.

The second goal is about encouraging and preserving healthy culture. The ASF has a famous saying: “community over code”. In other words, the ASF doesn’t accept donations of code (or code thrown over walls), it only accepts communities that happen to work on a common codebase. The community is the main asset, not the source code.

The ASF has a great set of cultural norms that it pushes on its communities via political means and lightweight processes. For example, the ASF requires that each community have a set of stewards (“committers”), which they call a “project management committee”; that communities use consensus-based discussions to resolve disputes; that they use a standardized voting system to resolve questions when discussion fails; that certain standards of humility and respect are used between members of a project, and so on. These cultural traditions are fantastic, and are the reason the ASF provides true long-term sustainability to open source projects. It’s the reason I pushed so hard to get the Subversion project into ASF.

Let’s go back to the original “Apache Considered Harmful” post again. Yes, the blog post rambled a bit about the ASF becoming “irrelevant”, but I think that’s just random grumbling around the actual issue at stake: the ASF’s insistence on forcing their hosting infrastructure onto projects. We have repeated examples of mature open source communities trying to join the ASF, which already use git as their version control system — and the ASF is insisting that they convert to Subversion and store their code in the ASF’s One Big Subversion Repository.

I fear what’s happening here is that the ASF elders have tragically confused “be part of our community” with “you must use our infrastructure”. There is no reason for these things to be entangled.

The ASF has teams of people dedicated to running servers for Subversion, SSH, QA testing, email lists, and so on. Ten years ago, infrastructure hosting was a Hard Thing. Getting to use the ASF’s hosting services was considered an attractive perk. These days, project hosting is utterly commoditized: we have Sourceforge, Google Code, Github, and other sites. In a matter of minutes, any two people can conjure up a hosted source repository, bugtracker, wiki, etc. So is it really a surprise that newer communities, ready to join the ASF, already have functional (and possibly superior) tools and infrastructure?

So why oh why does the ASF demand everyone use their Subversion service? They don’t force every project to use the same bugtracker; I wonder if source code is different because it’s the “special” asset being protected. Perhaps the ASF elders think it has to all be in one place in order for it to be protectable and controlled? A simple solution here is to simply require that at least one canonical copy of source code be stored on ASF servers. If that means doing an “hg pull” or “git pull” via cron job every hour, so be it. Who cares where the real coding is happening, or in how many repositories it’s happening in? Irrelevant. As long as a community has blessed a central repository as Official, and the ASF is keeping a synced copy of that somewhere, we should be all set. The ASF’s job is to shepherd communities, not force everyone to use the same software tools.

Ironically, years ago I too was suspicious of distributed version control, and wrote an article about how it tended to discourage ASF-style project cohesion. But in this case, we have examples of communities that are already cohesive and high-functioning, despite using git. They don’t need ASF’s tools; they just need a nice place to park their community. If they ain’t broke, stay out of their development processes.

(Note the ASF isn’t alone in this insanity. Others have told me that FSF projects are forced to use the Savannah collaborative platform, whether they want to or not. Crazy! Repeat after me, folks: your community is not your tools.)

How to trick-out a portable ham radio

Sunday, November 20, 2011 Posted by

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m very much into the portable, low-power subculture of amateur radio. On business trips, I like to find random hilltops (just like my mentor does), set up a simple vertical whip antenna, and then use my tiny battery-powered radio to start chatting with people around the country. It’s really quite a thrill.

The Yaesu FT817-ND is a really popular radio for this kind of thing. It’s tiny, battery-powered, only weighs a couple of pounds, and puts out 5 watts of power. Backpackers and hikers love it. That said, there’s still a huge aftermarket of “mods” you can add-on to make it more pleasureable to use. I thought I’d share some of these mods here with other aspiring low-power hams.

Here’s a guide to the different additions:

  • A: Bulldog morse code paddles. These tiny paddles are made from sewing notions (buttons) and a tiny binder clip but work great and have a magnetic base that sticks to the radio. They’re no longer made, but a newer version screws to the side of the radio.
  • B: DSP noise filter. This is an internal module installed for me by the fine folks at W4RT, who specialize in 817 upgrades. It almost completely destroys the static noise floor, just like the noise reduction in my big radio. The change is dramatic and invaluable.
  • C: 300hz CW filter Just a standard mechanical Collins filter for making morse-code much more intelligible; offered as an accessory directly from Yaesu.
  • D: Speech compressor. Another W4RT mod installed within the hand microphone, it supposedly emphasizes the mids and trebles of the human voice, making my voice much more intelligible to others when using SSB over 5 watts. Others have told me that I sound really clear with it!
  • E: Kranker knob. Another W4RT mod which makes the main dial much more usable — both for fine and rapid coarse-tuning.
  • F: Peg legs. Cute little foldable feet from Palm Radio, which tip the radio upwards towards your eyes. It’s amazing what an ergonomic difference this makes.

Of course, once I’m actually in the field, I use an Elecraft T1 tuner (about the size of a deck of cards!), and an A123 nanophosphate 4.6AH battery for up to 8 hours of operation in the field.

The Chattering of Humans

Thursday, September 22, 2011 Posted by
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There are a lot of Sussmans out there, and every month I get emails addressed to ‘sussman@gmail.com’ but clearly meant for a different one. I always politely reply with “you’ve got the wrong email address”.

That said, when I search Gmail for such replies, it makes it easy for me to see every wrongly-addressed mail I’ve ever received. The email contents — coupled with the complete lack of context — provide a surreal look on the chatter that goes on between humans. In the spirit of textual surrealism, I picked out individual statements from these emails and composed them into a poem.



I've been thinking about you. How are you? Everything ok?

A partial lifetime has passed since we last said hello. Why does it
feel like only a few hours ago that I was struck by your beauty and
warmth?

My heart is so of joy full I can hardly stop crying, singing and
dancing...

I have come to several dances in Cambridge. It's a wonderful
experience and I am grateful.

But it is tiring to carry so many who will not produce themselves and
then struggle in my own life too.

My intent and prayer in this spiritual autobiography has been to
convey something of the magic, richness, and blessing of the journey.

I LEFT YOU SEVERAL PHONE CALLS AND DID NOT HEAR FROM YOU

Your fabulous face and style....and your quite unique and adorable
personality.

I am very proud of you. Your career choice and you are perfect
together.

May I please have the honor of adding your personally signed, dated,
and inscribed picture to add to my collection?

How to get paid to hike, ski, climb since it only meets two nights,
and what type of wages were you expecting?

Would you like to sit at the front desk for two hours on December 5
from 10-12 noon?

Can you please help with the flooding at the Blue Room?

I would have to wait a few days before picking up the racket again,
for I just twisted my wrist today.

I am very disappointed that I will not get to take the course with you
and Vicky.

DO NOT let anyone operate on you anymore because more spinal fusions
will most likely not give enough relief to risk the possible
complications of more procedures.

I will look for the tray and the ergonomics person--hopefully things
will get better.

Please find the proposed delegation from us.

I would like to cut down on costs and make the trip a 3 nights/4 day trip.

They must be directly tied to the FEMA contract and or company performing the work.

During school hours calls cannot go to classrooms. Messages will be
taken and given to teachers.

The executive chef is flexible in accommodating different dietary
needs and requests.

When should Susana begin to prepare on her own and begin one of the
programs you offer?

She wanted to speak with someone above Jason because she feels you are
doing something fraudulent.

We will however have recording equipment there and will record the
event.

Two more radio expeditions

Sunday, July 31, 2011 Posted by
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Well, after successfully carrying the Buddipole on a plane to Silicon Valley and making a couple of 2000-mile contacts on 5 watts (see this blog post), I’m happy to report that I’ve had two more happy expeditions: one to Iowa, another to Oregon. I’m going to start collecting location-specific patches and sew them onto the Buddipole bag as it travels!

During a lovely family vacation to Dubuque, Iowa, I had a chance to sneak out of the hotel after dark with the antenna and Yaesu-817ND bag. I walked down to the west bank of the Mississippi river, and managed to set up a 40m horizontal dipole about 10′ high just before the sun set. Luckily, the bank sloped down 20 feet diagonally to the water, and I think the entire surface of the river acted as a gigantic reflector for my horizontally-polarized signal. Using only 5 watts, I had a lovely ragchew with a gentleman in North Carolina. Only one quick smartphone-picture was made of the antenna’s base before it got too dark:

Last week I was at a conference in Portland, Oregon (very close to the Buddipole makers!) and did a quick Google Earth inspection of the terrain. I located the highest hill in town — Council Crest is over 1000 feet high — and then took a bus up there at dawn. Here’s the equipment just before I left the hotel room, the Buddipole bag and the radiostation bag (containing radio, tuner, analyzer, and 4.8Ah nanophosphate lithium ion battery.)

Once up there, the bus informed me it wouldn’t be back till 4pm, ugh. Oh well. So I took in the great view of the whole city and valley; it was easy to see Mt. Hood on the horizon.

Setup was fairly straightforward. I spent 30 minutes building a no-compromise 20m quarter-wave vertical, with two wire radials hanging down onto the stone walls. After fooling with lengths, I could get the SWR down to about 2:1 to 2.5:1 across the whole band.

The total height was close to 10m tall.

And then I quickly set up the radio station.

During my three hours of activity, I spent an equal amount of time trying to make contacts and explaining myself to all the passers-by. Most people thought I was trying to “sample” the atmosphere or something. Another person who was an EE engineer (but not a radio ham) seemed to think that 5 watts was a ‘huge’ amount of radiation, and I couldn’t seem to talk him out of it.

I did manage to make three contacts on low power — two via voice to Alberta and B.C., and one morse-code contact to Oregon. When the other guy said my morse tone was “drifting around”, that’s when I knew the battery was dying and time to pack up!

Since I was alone up there, I had to spend an hour hiking downward through thick forest trails. My favorite part was the four-way intersection.

…but eventually I made it to the zoo, and from there was able to hop on the light rail back to the convention center!

How Google+ Works

Saturday, July 9, 2011 Posted by
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I’m working hard to convert my social media life away from Twitter and Facebook and over to Google+ instead.

Why? Well, I work for Google and want to see Google+ succeed — the best way to do that is to actually become a daily user. Also, I want simplicity. I can’t deal with three separate social networks; I want just one, and Google+ is a superset of the other two.

A lot of friends have been asking me how Google+ works. “What’s the sharing model?” Here’s my explanation, to the best of my understanding:

  • The basic unit of reading and writing is a circle. You need to spend some upfront time defining these circles, but the UI makes it easy to do and the payback is well worth the effort. (And due to Google’s Data Liberation Front, you can take your circles with you if you decide to leave!)
  • Reading: You only see posts from people in your circles — nobody else. You can either look at all the circles at once (“your stream”), or you can look at posts coming from just a single circle.
  • Writing: Any post you create can be published to 1 or more circles. This provides nuanced sharing — something that’s really hard to do in Facebook. For example, in real life, you wouldn’t necessarily share the same stories with your parents, your co-workers, or your drinking buddies. :-) Remember, however, that the people you post to won’t actually see your post unless you happen to exist in at least one of their circles!
  • Being public: Circles can be totally circumvented by publishing to the “public”; in which case, everyone in the world could conceivably see your post when they read “incoming” messages rather than their stream.

This model is nice, since it captures both the Facebook model and the Twitter model.

It captures the Facebook model of sharing via reciprocal friendship, but without explicit friendship requests in either direction. If two people happen to have either other in each other’s circles, then they see each other’s posts. Very simple. No more hurt feelings from unanswered friend requests; no more posts from people you don’t care about.

It also captures the Twitter model. You can do a public post to the world. You can also “follow” the posts any famous person you want (without bothering them) by simply adding them to a “people I wanna follow” circle.

If you haven’t signed up at http://plus.google.com yet, you really should. The Android app is awesome. Any photos I take with my phone are instantly available for posting; no need to explicitly upload them. It’s amazing how big a barrier to entry this used to be!