DIY Currency-Circulation Tracking

Remember when your momma used to tell you: “Wash your hands after touching that money. You don’t know where it’s been!” Well, now you can reply: “I do so! Let’s see: it first showed up in Dayton, Ohio, five years ago, at a Sonic drive-thru, then it headed south, then west, spending a lot of time being handed around amongst Texans. It was even found on the floor of a Dallas strip joint!”

Okay, maybe momma was right. Go wash your damn hands!

Such is the circulation tracking fun to be had at Where Is George?, a volunteer currency tracking system where participants who find bills with “Track this bill at” stamped on them can log on, find the history of the bill (by entering the serial number), and record the circumstances of finding it themselves, before re-releasing it into the wild.

This morning, on the DC Metro, I was feeding a dirty dollar into the farecard machine when I noticed such a stamp. I yanked the bill back before that money-grubbing, ticket-dispensing robot got its steely grippers on it, took the bill to my computer and looked it up. It started out life (as a marked bill, anyway) two years ago, in Honolulu, Hawaii. The sender wished a fond “mahalo” to the next recipient. It hadn’t been tracked since, so I took my Pacific island thank yous, added my own info to the record, and finally feed it into the hungry farecard machine on my way home. I will definitely keep an eye on the bill’s log to see where it shows up next. It’s weird, with all of the money that mindlessly passes through my mitts, I’m now strangely invested in one shabby dollar that I fond a long way from home. Mahalo, George!


Gareth Writing for the Make Blog

I’m going to be a regular contributor to the Make blog. I’m psyched! I think it’s, hands-down, one of the best ports o’ call in cyberspace. Phillip Torrone consistently does a bang-up job. So I’m honored to be asked to contribute.

My first item is up. It’s a How-To on telling temperature using crickets. It’s a follow-up to a piece that Robert Krulwich did on ABC World News last night (6/2/07). It’s currently a very cool and comfortable 37 cricket chirps here at Street Tech Labs.

Roll Your Own External Drive for HR20 HD DVR Upgrading

My posting of the WeaKnees upgrades announcement for DirecTV HR20 HD DVR boxes sparked a response on DBSTalk, the sat TV forum. Apparently, it’s not hard at all to upgrade with an external e-SATA drive, and high-capacity drives and drive enclosures are pretty cheap. This post summarizes the general thoughts on the thread fairly succinctly:

“With the Weaknees upgrade you 1) may lose the warranty, 2) you lose the original drive so who knows what you do if you ever need to return your HR20, 3) if you ever need to switch HR20s, or upgrade to D*’s next DVR (whenever that is), you’re back to square one. A Weaknees benefit is that you don’t need to assemble anything.

“With the e-SATA upgrade, you need to buy two parts (the Seagate DB35 750GB HD + MX-1 Enclosure), takes literally 5-10 minutes to install, plug it in, and re-boot. No issues with the warranty, can easily upgrade later to another HR20 or successor to the HR20, and can easily replace the drive if it ever fails (5-year warranty).

“While Weaknees has been great in the past, doesn’t seem compelling at this time for the HR20.”


ToM Sucked Under by Giant Squid, Ectoplasmosis Emerges

The diaspora of writers from Wired’s Table on Malcontents blog is complete as the plug is pulled and John Brownlee and Eliza Gauger make the leap to their new home ectoplasmosis, where the tentacular weirdness is sure to continue. They describe ectoplasmosis as “a wonder closet of fringe art, culture, and ephemera.” Sounds like fun to me. But will we see Cthulhu Cthursdays? I mean, how else are we going to learn about things like the Cthulhoid Case Mod or Cthulhu Kitty?


Jerome Demers Brainless But Brilliant Beetle Bots

Jerome Demers is the designer of the single-motor walking machine featured in Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. I’ve been a big fan of Jerome’s ingenious designs ever since I discovered the walker, but his sites (and he’s had several) were either in French or site components were frequently broken (or both).

So I was thrilled to discover that he’s started putting his bot projects on Instructables. His first is so cool. It’s a two motor/two switch (SPDT) “Beetle Robot” that has the switches/motors cross-wired so that the switches trigger the opposite motors to reverse while that switch is being depressed, creating a basic obstacle-avoidance behavior, with no chip brain of any kind (analog or digital). This is the simplest type of “real” robot (with a sensor-(processor)-actuator chain) that one can build.

Let’s hope that Jerome puts up more how-tos for building his bots. Instructables is a much bigger and better platform for his wonderful ideas.

[Via Make]


WeaKnees Now Offering DirecTV HR20-700 HD DVR Upgrades

The fine fellows over at WeaKnees, who did the Tech Editing for my TiVo book, emailed to tell us that they’re now selling high-capacity versions of DirecTV’s HD DVR (non-TiVo). This is significant because, until now, it was impossible to get more capacity into this box. Michael writes on their blog:

“Since the HR20-700 was released, people have come to us looking for upgrades. And now we’re ready to upgrade the HR20-700 units! We are now selling two upgraded HR20-700s: a 100 hour HD unit, and a 145 hour HD unit.

We’re still TiVo fanatics at heart, but since the TiVo HR10-250 is out of production and DirecTV’s new channels can only come through this new DVR, we’re upgrading it also.

Finally, if you already have an HR20, and you want to send it to us for an upgrade, we’re doing that too. Just find the HR20-700 upgrade that you want, and once you checkout, we’ll email shipping information. Send us your unit, and we’ll turn it around within two business days (most often the same day, in fact). Due to various complexities, we are not offering self-install kits.”

Phooey on that last bit. But the rest is good news for DirecTV owners, and if you’re going to send your precious box to anybody, you can’t do better than these guys.


Plenty o’ Emerging iPhone Hacks

My pal Brian Jepson is posting a lot of very interesting and useful info and hacks for the iPhone on Hackszine, like this one:

If you’re a heavy iTunes and iPhoto user, you will probably quickly overflow the limited storage in the iPhone. You could dedicate a day of curatorial work to sifting through your photos and music to pick the ones to put on your phone, but if you want a quick and dirty solution, try creating a Smart Playlist and Smart Album that favor recent music and photos.

Read the rest of this post.