Wi-Fi Antenna from a Soup Box

Jeff Duntemann has a really nice how-to on building a Wi-Fi waveguide antenna from a “Tetra Brik” type container (the kind of foil-lined packaging that Swanson Chicken Broth and Kitchen Basics Beef Stock comes in). I like the first part of this intro:

A lot more has been said than written about the legendary Pringle’s Can Wi-Fi antenna, and a lot more people have talked glowingly about them without ever actually using one. Look closely, and you’ll see that you have to add various things to it to make it work even so-so. Unless you have a can with a foil lining (not all Pringle’s cans that I’ve seen do) and unless you can make good electrical contact to that foil lining (not a slam-dunk, trust me!) the can won’t act as a waveguide antenna and thus won’t throw your signal very far or bring in anything from a distance… Don’t obsess on the Pringle’s solution. There’s an easier kitchen-trash antenna to be had: The Tetra Brik Soup Box.

[Via Make]

Availabot: Kinda Cool, Kinda Silly

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of visual representations of data and actions in Cyberspace since the late ’80s when I heard William Gibson describe an idea for rendering the stock market as field crops, where you could gauge the health of the market and individual funds by the visual health of the plants, harvesting to sell, planting to invest, etc.; Wall Street brokers becoming croppers of a different kind of share.

So I like the idea, in theory anyway, of real-world avatars that physically indicate online presence. That’s the concept behind the Availabot, a USB-powered action figure that goes limp when you’re not on IM and ah… stands erect when you are. Each Availabot represents a specific user, so you need one (and an available USB port) for each user you wish to represent. This makes it impractical. Woulda been smart if they’d been designed so you could daisychain ’em, not that you’d likely want all of your Buddies loitering around on your desktop. This is really nothing more than a proof of concept (dreamt up by a UK design firm), and maybe a cool gift for a paramour you want to give a little something visual to remember you by. They can even be customized so that they look like you. No word yet on cost or when Availabot will be availaBLE.

Killer Mutant TV-B-Gone

You’ve likely heard about TV-B-Gone, the universal OFF button for television. While this thing is little more than a gag gift, and at US$25, a rather pricey one, it has gained something of a cult following among pranksters. Trying to listen to a singer in a club while drunks at the bar are hooting it up over a game on TV? TV-B-Gone! Wanna mess with the Blue Shirts in the TV dept at Best Buy? TV-B-Gone!

To extend the range of TV-B-Gone from between 20-50′ to some 90′, m_jake, the same DIY guy who did an Instructables for my Mousey the Junkbot, has created the Ultra TV-B-Gone, which has a 20-bulb array of ifrared LEDs and a 9v battery. M_jake also brought us the TV-B-Gone hat. This geek is a one-man TV terminator.

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a… Flying Houseplant?

According to a piece in Science magazine, resechers have discovered that cellulose is piezoelectric:

Researchers have discovered that cellulose, the ubiquitous building block of the plant kingdom, will flap when exposed to an electric field. Delicate sheets of cellulose with electrodes attached could be used to make microrobots, biodegradable sensors, and paper airplanes that flap like birds.

Read the piece here.

[Via /.]

More Customer Service From Hell

On the heels of last week’s Comcast customer service (and public relations) debacle, the Sunday NYTimes had another “fun” tale about AOL. A guy called to cancel his service and got a badgering from the CS rep worthy of a cult recruiter. Luckily, the customer made a recording of it and posted it on the Web. The MP3 page got hosed after the Times piece and a Digg item, but it’s been mirrored here.

After the Comcast story, I was talking to a friend on the phone and we were sharing harrowing customer service stories. I was saying that crappy customer service has become so pandemic, we need to figure out a way of using the leverage of the Web to fight back. This is how we can do it — use audio and video recording of our CS experiences and post them to the Net. You know how we always have to listen to that recording on THEIR end telling us that the call may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance, I want to make a similar recording on MY end and I want to start recording the calls to Comcast, Verizon, Carefirst and some of the other companies that I’ve had frequent troubles with. If lots of us did this, I bet things would change pretty damn quick, don’t you?

Thanks, Kate!

PayPass RFIDs Coming Your Way

Citibank has begun sending out MasterCard PayPass RFID keyfobs to their customers in some markets. Dan Costa at GearLog got one. Took him a while to find someplace where he could take it for a test debit, but he finally found one — in a long concession link at Yankee Stadium.

Like online shopping before it, there are a lot of irrational fears about this technology, not that it can’t be exploited — like bricks and mortar use of credit and online payments — it ceratinly will be, but just as with ANY credit card transactions, YOU are not liable, the credit card company is, and as Dan points out, you still have to sign receipts on purchases over US$25, as he discovered with his $42.25 payment for three beers, three dogs, and a bag of nuts. Yoiks!