Archive for May, 2007

DIY Friday: Six-Axis Playstation 3 Controller

Friday, May 18th, 2007

I haven’t had the opportunity (read: hundred of dollars of extra cash) to get my hands on one of the new Playstation 3s, but, according to some people, the controller on the beast of a console leaves a little to be desired. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still damn cool with its six-axis control functionality (as we saw demoed at last year’s E3), but the design is over a decade old and could stand to be a little changing.

Enter DIY master Ben Heck.

Notorious for backwards engineering and recreating (himself!) portable versions of just about every video game console in recent memory, Heck, also frustrated with the new Playstation controller’s old design, last month announced that he had figured out how to stuff the cutting edge electronics into the (supposedly) more hand-pleasing Xbox form factor. It turns out Heck’s announcement released pent up demand for a modified Playstation paddle that it quickly outpaced his ability to produce the mod-ed controllers even at "consignment" rates.

So rather than keep the details himself, like a dedicated DIY aficionado, Heck, just a couple of weeks ago on Engadget, released an easy to follow how-to guide for the project that’s a lot less complicated then you would think.

More committed DIYers (especially those who don’t like to deal with consoles) should take a look at this post on building your on 6-axis controller for your PC and check out the fan-boy produced video below. It’s undoubtedly a harder project, but at least you’ll have bragging rights.


Friday, May 18th, 2007

Take a Deep Breath

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Breathing Powered USB Charger

Fwoevt6F1Oabqa8.MediumJmengel has built a USB charger from an old CD drive, a rubber band (from broccoli!), and a name badge strap. The device stretches when you breathe in and converts the motion into a five volt DC output.

The concept is simple but the making part is a little scary, involving the design of drive trains, circuit boards and lots of fiddly work. This first version only puts out 50mW, which means that you would take around a day to charge a cellphone, but the intention is noble, and there is a Version 2.0 on the way.

Head over to Instructables if you are feeling handy.

Breath powered USB charger [Instructables via Make]

Free Speech on Satellite Radio?

Thursday, May 17th, 2007



Well, sort of…

Via the Los Angeles Times:

Listeners shocked by XM hosts’ suspension

Many cancel the service. Some suspect a proposed merger with Sirius is a factor in the punishment.

By Jim Puzzanghera and Amy Kaufman, Times Staff Writers
May 17, 2007

WASHINGTON — Satellite radio bills itself as the Wild West of the airwaves, an uncensored outpost beyond the reach of federal regulators where expletives fly with impunity and the banter can get as raunchy as at a strip club.

But the decision this week by XM Satellite Radio to suspend shock jocks Opie and Anthony for 30 days for crude sexual comments about First Lady Laura Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Queen Elizabeth II has listeners wondering whether there’s a new sheriff in town.

Some XM listeners were outraged — not at the comments but at XM’s reaction.

"I signed up for XM because it’s uncensored. I like these guys because they are so unfiltered," said Placentia resident Paul Hebert, who canceled his $12.95 monthly XM subscription Tuesday in protest.

He wasn’t alone. Hundreds of angry subscribers have flooded XM’s operators with calls to cancel since the suspension was announced Tuesday. About 60 listeners smashed their XM receivers Wednesday outside the WFNY-FM studios in New York, where Gregg "Opie" Hughes and Anthony Cumia continued to air their tamer, over-the-air broadcast for CBS Radio.

"The reaction is mind-blowing," said Ryan Saghir of North Branford, Conn., who runs a blog about satellite radio called Orbitcast. "One of the main attractors to satellite radio is the unregulated content. Once you take away that … you’re going to have some upset subscribers."

But industry observers said XM might have been more worried about offending federal regulators, who can block the company’s proposed merger with its only rival, Sirius Satellite Radio, than staying true to its slogan, "Beyond AM. Beyond FM. XM."

Sensitivities have been heightened in Washington since the controversy over veteran shock jock Don Imus’ racially offensive comments about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, which led to his firing last month by CBS Radio.

"It’s hard to read anything into it other than that they’re catering to federal officials," said William Kidd, a media analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities in Los Angeles.

XM spokesman Nathaniel Brown would not comment on whether the pending merger was a factor in the suspension and would not say how many people had canceled their subscriptions. XM has suspended on-air personalities before, he said, but none with as high a profile as Hughes and Cumia.

It’s not the first time a skit has landed the two shock jocks in trouble. CBS Radio, then known as Infinity Broadcasting, fired them in 2002 for broadcasting two listeners apparently having sex in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Federal Communications Commission fined Infinity $357,000 for the stunt.

XM, which does not fall under the FCC’s indecency rules because it is a pay service, hired Hughes and Cumia in 2004. Their program, "The Opie & Anthony Show," airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. on XM and 24 CBS radio affiliates, which picked the duo back up last year.

It continues until about 11 a.m. only on XM, a segment that the show’s website touts as "uncut, uncensored and totally filthy."

On May 9, the XM portion of the show aired a skit featuring a character called Homeless Charlie, who graphically described having sex with Bush, Rice and the queen. Hughes and Cumia played along, laughing and asking questions.

XM issued a statement condemning the comments, and Cumia and Hughes apologized on the air Friday.

On Monday’s show, Hughes and Cumia complained about "dumb rules" and an "umbrella of morality and decency" that led Imus and some other hosts to get fired. XM officials suspended the pair Tuesday, saying the comments "put into question whether they appreciate the seriousness of the matter."

Satellite radio followers said the suspension was unprecedented. Some XM listeners were stunned and angry when they heard about it.

Ed L. Kelley of Wagoner, Okla., said he spent six hours on the phone Tuesday night trying to cancel. He’s talking to an attorney about a class-action suit, saying that because "The Opie & Anthony Show" appears on one of XM’s "explicit-language" channels, the company has violated its promise to deliver uncensored content.

"These guys make me laugh and they make fun of everybody equally," Kelley said.

Debbie Wolf, co-founder of People Against Censorship, called the suspension "outrageous" and organized the demonstration outside CBS Radio’s studios. Christopher Lewis of Glenmoore, Penn., quickly registered , and the message boards there and on other satellite radio sites have filled up with dozens of angry comments.

"I will not support a company that has decided the one true reason they exist no longer matters," wrote one poster on Orbitcast.

Howard Stern, who left traditional radio in 2004 after battling regulators, also weighed in from his new post at Sirius.

"If you want free speech," he told his listeners Wednesday, "walk in a closet and talk to yourself."

Kidd said the suspension could make it difficult for XM to attract edgy radio personalities who have viewed satellite as a haven for their outrageous acts.

"This will probably be a decision that XM will have to live with and, I suspect, likely regret over time," he said.

The suspension would be as surprising as HBO pulling "The Sopranos" for offensive content and will reverberate through the industry, said Tom Taylor, a former program director who edits the trade journal Inside Radio.

"People in the satellite world have felt safe … until this week," he said.

Dark Matter

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Dark matter makes up more than 90% of the universe, yet because it neither emits nor reflects electromagnetic radiation, it cannot be observed directly.

Yet a group of astronomers in Baltimore have used the Hubble Space Telescope "to map the dark matter billowing out from the long-ago collision of two galaxy clusters."

The photo released by NASA is quite extraordinary:


The Baltimore Sun explains: 

They’re calling it the strongest evidence yet of the existence of dark matter, and the first observation to separate it from its associated stars, galaxies and glowing gas.

"What we found is a very peculiar structure – a ring-like structure that surrounds the core of the cluster," said Johns Hopkins University research scientist M. James Jee, lead author on the study that will appear in the June 1 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

It’s not exactly a ring of dark matter, he said. Rather, it’s a map of where the densest regions of dark matter must be, based on measurements of how that mass and gravity are bending the light streaming by from galaxies far in the background….

Jee likened the ring (in three dimensions actually a flattened spherical shell) to a jam-up of dark matter particles hurled outward from the collision, like commuters headed out of town, backing up behind slowing traffic ahead.

The Sun article notes that there is skepticism among some astronomers, who would like to see the evidence captured from a second source to rule out "peculiarities" in Hubble’s camera. Perhaps the image above is simply the astronomical equivalent of refracted light on film appearing as a "ghost" in your family photographs. Nonetheless, the evidence for dark matter is there, whether we’ve observed it yet or not.

(Also be sure to click here for a related video simulation of two galaxy clusters colliding.) 

Watch this Hubblecast to better understand the significance of this finding.


On or Off? Intelsat Still Confused in Sri Lanka

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

According to the Sri Lankan Army, LTTE broadcasts continue via the Intelsat 12 satellite. Via the Asian Tribune:

THE SRI LANKAN EMBASSY in Washington has complained to the US Justice Department, State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) against Washington based Intelsat Ltd., for reneging its promise of removing the National Television of Tamil Eelam (NTT) channel and Pulikalin Kural radio from the Intelsat 12 satellite transponder and for continuing to facilitate and broadcast terrorist propaganda.

Before lodging the complaint, the Sri Lankan Embassy brought to the communication satellite company’s notice that despite its assurance that it has removed both channels from its transponder, it continues to broadcast National Television of Tamil Eelam, and Pulikalin Kural (Voice of Tigers radio) the official television and radio of the LTTE.

Intelsat Ltd., according to sources, laid down conditions to the Sri Lanka Embassy that talks with them should not be publicised or divulged to anyone which the Embassy refused even to consider.

Subsequently, the Sri Lankan Embassy alleged that the satellite provider is violating US law by continuing to broadcast the propaganda television and radio services of the foreign terrorist organisation LTTE, through the satellite they own despite public assurances given ago to the contrary.

National Television of Tamil Eelam, the official television channel of the LTTE is a free-to-air channel to Asia and an encrypted channel to Europe.

The four-hour daily programme of the NTT channel broadcasts propaganda material of the LTTE, a terrorist organisation banned in United States of America, Canada, India and in European Union countries.

The illegal transmission of the NTT channel of the LTTE was for the first time brought to Intelsat Ltd’s notice by Asian Tribune on March 10.

Dianne VanBeber, Intelsat Ltd Vice President in charge of Investor Relations and Corporate Communication, told ‘Asian Tribune’ that the LTTE is pirating the Intelsat’s 12 bandwidth without the company’s knowledge.

"Intelsat has notified the original customer for the capacity that they are in violation of their contract, and Intelsat has informed them to cease transmissions," VanBeber said.

Asked to identify the original customer of Intelsat, VanBeber refused to disclose the service provider’s name who has accommodated the LTTE’s media without Intelsat Ltd’s knowledge.

Asked whether Intelsat was not aware that the LTTE’s National Television of TamilEelam was using the Intelsat 12 satellite bandwidth since 2005, she clarified that Intelsat Ltd acquired PanAmSat only on July 3, 2006, and LTTE’s National Television of Tamil Eelam might have come to quietly share the Intelsat 12 satellite.

She said: "We are taking action to cease their transmission soon." Subsequently this issue was taken up by Bernard Goonetilleke, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington with Intelsat’s General Counsel, Phillip Spector.

A press statement was released by the Intelsat after the meeting.

In a press statement dated April 10 Intelsat Corporation said: "Intelsat officials, including its technical experts, met with Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States, Bernard Goonetilleke, on April 10 to discuss the steps Intelsat is taking to address the unauthorised use of one of its satellites by the LTTE.

During the meeting, Intelsat’s General Counsel, Phillip Spector, said:’ "Intelsat does not tolerate terrorists or others operating illegally on its satellites. Since we first learned of the LTTE’s signal piracy, we have been actively pursuing a number of technical alternatives to halt the transmissions. We are clear in our resolve to ending this terrorist organisation’s unauthorised use of our satellite’."

Later, the Sri Lankan embassy revealed that Intelsat Ltd., stated that during April 21-22 they switched off the transponder of the free to air NTTE channel beamed to Asia and the encrypted channel beamed to Europe.

The Lyngsat site confirms that both the television and radio broadcasts were up and running on 29 April 2007 — nearly three weeks after we first blogged it. The program can be found every day, from 18:00 to 21:30 GMT, on Intelsat 12, transponder 2 (downlink frequency: 11,504 Vertical; symbol rate: 2894; FEC: 3/4).

How did that happen? If you read, you’d think it was indeed turned off:


( By Walter Jayawardhana)

Sri Lanka’s envoy in Washington, D.C. said his office had been given an assurance by Washington based Intelsat Corporation that they have switched off the transponder used by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to broadcast its propaganda, during the last weekend.

“We were told last evening by Intelsat executive Phillip Spector that the transponder used by the LTTE was switched off during the weekend,” Bernard Goonetileke, Washington, D.C.’s Sri Lankan Ambassador told this correspondent.

However, Goonetileke said he was still not sure whether the banned terrorist group has made some other arrangements with a European satellite company to carry on with the broadcasts continually.

He said inquiries are made to check whether LTTE is continuing its broadcasts and whether they are doing it through another channel, suspected to be Globe Cast satellite of a European company.

A press release issued by the Washington, D.C. Embassy of Sri Lanka said,
“Intelsat Ltd., a U.S. based satellite company has terminated the “unauthorized” use of one of its satellites, Intelsat12, by the Sri Lanka based terrorist organization, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), for its TV and radio transmissions to Europe and Asia.”

The Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Intelsat Ltd., Mr. Phillip Spector, confirmed to Rajika Jayatilake, Counselor (Information) at the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington, D.C., that Intelsat Ltd. had, over the April 21/22 weekend, shut down the transponder, which the LTTE had used for its transmissions, the press release said further.

Whatever new channel the LTTE is using will have to be advertised through some means since the viewers and listeners of its propaganda have to be informed about the changes in the broadcasting frequencies. So far, no such advertisement has been found.

Following the meeting with Ambassador Goonetileke on April 10, 2007, Mr. Phillip Spector, of Intelsat Ltd., stated that the LTTE transmissions were “unauthorized.” Countering the position taken by Intelsat Ltd., speaking from Sri Lanka’s north to wire services in Colombo, the LTTE denied it was using the satellite services illegally. “We are accessing it legally and there is no signal piracy,” said an LTTE spokesman.

However, inquiries by this correspondent could not find out any evidence to confirm the statement of Phillip Spector, that the LTTE was a pirate of the satellite.

The Embassy press statement traced the history of the LTTE-INTELSAT connection as follows: “Since March 2005, the LTTE had been transmitting TV and radio programs through Europe Star 1 satellite owned by French satellite provider, Alcatel. PanAmSat, a satellite operator headquartered in Wilton, Connecticut in the U.S., acquired Europe Star 1 satellite in July 2005. In July 2006, Intelsat Ltd. acquired PanAmSat, following which, Europe Star 1 satellite was renamed Intelsat12. The programs that the LTTE had been transmitting through Europe Star 1, thus continued uninterrupted even after Intelsat Ltd. acquired the satellite.”

It is believed that it was the intense pressure used by the Washington Embassy of Sri Lanka and the U.S. State Department and the Department of Justice, together with press publicity, that was adversely affecting Intelsat that finally brought an end of the deal.

The Sri Lanka Embassy said, the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Justice had both been informed that a terrorist group designated by the U.S. as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), was using a satellite owned by a U.S. based satellite company to transmit their TV and radio programs to Europe and Asia. (EOM)


Sensor Flight Computer Anomaly

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

Launched in March, the Orbital Express mission has been progressing nicely. We blogged this cool space video last month, and I like the possibilities of this mission: on-orbit servicing of satellites. Potentially saving millions for all dependent on commercial space systems.

Then we read this from the DARPA Public Affairs Office, via

15 May 2007 Update from Jan Walker, DARPA PAO:

"During Scenario 3-1 execution on the evening of May 11, Orbital Express encountered a serious sensor flight computer anomaly on the ASTRO while stationkeeping at 10 meters separation distance from the NextSat. Onboard fault protection reacted immediately, placing the ASTRO into an abort trajectory which carried it to a hold-point 120 meters from the NextSat. The Orbital Express team has spent the past several days recovering from this fault and from problems associated with loss of relative navigation at the longer-than-anticipated separation distances for this scenario. The ASTRO has since coasted at distances of up to several kilometers from the NextSat. Both vehicles are safe. The ASTRO powered up its redundant sensor flight computer and is processing sensor data nominally. The team is in the process of developing a recovery scenario for ingress and remate, and hopes to execute this ingress in the next several days."

Editor’s 14 May 2007 note: At this point ASTRO and NextSat should be a few meters apart. Some observers are suggesting that they are kilometers apart. No word from DARPA.

OE observed with Nextsat, SeeSat-L

"… NEXTSAT appeared to trail by about 0.5 deg, when at a range of about 600 km, which indicates a distance of about 5 km."

The account by New Scientist was more alarming than that:

The US military’s experimental satellite mission, Orbital Express, may be in peril. The lead spacecraft ASTRO has drifted several kilometres away from where it should be.

No updates from Boeing yet, but they’ve got a great team of people working on this mission. I’m sure they’ll recover from this without a scratch.


Here Comes BPL!

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

"While DirecTV and fellow satellite TV operator EchoStar Communications have managed to keep increasing their subscriber base in the face of stiff competition from cable operators, Wall Street analysts have long questioned what broadband strategy the satellite operators will employ to counter competitive pressures," says USA Today.

The answer to that question may now be visible on the horizon, with the news that DirecTV may test delivering high-speed Internet service through power lines in a major U.S. city in the next year.


USA Today explains:

DirecTV and others are talking to companies that specialize in providing broadband through the electrical grid, Chief Executive Chase Carey said at the Reuters Global Technology, Media and Telecoms Summit in New York.

"We’re not the only ones talking to them," Carey said, in response to a question on whether DirecTV would consider a test in a major city. "I think you’ll see some meaningful tests in this arena."

DirecTV would like to test delivering Internet access on power lines in a "top 50 city where you’re covering at least half the city."

Indeed, DirectTV isn’t the only company exploring Broadband-over-Powerline, or BPL, as it is known. Intellon Corporation, a leading provider of HomePlug-compatible integrated circuits (ICs), will be demonstrating a "HomePlug AV-enabled home entertainment ecosystem" at WinHEC 2007 in Los Angles.

The HomePlug AV standards can move data around the house at up to 200 Mbps — including VOIP and HDTV. Rather than using WiFi or cat 5 cables for networking, the system relies on power sockets for your network connections, thus eliminating the rat’s nest of cables that lie behind most people’s CPUs and TVs.

BPL is also moving into government use: Telekonet just yesterday announced (PDF press release) that they have won a contract with the DoD to deploy their IP-over-powerline LAN (which, for you sticklers, is FIPS 140-2 validated).  

Nigeria’s NigComSat1 Launches in China

Monday, May 14th, 2007

 Nigeria’s NigComSat1 (which we reported on just a couple of weeks ago) lifted off successfully from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province just after midnight this morning. The Nigerian paper The Guardian had some of the most extensive coverage of the launch:

True to prediction, the much awaited launch of the Nigerian communication satellite, the first of its kind in Africa, took place and went on the 20 to 30 – minute trip into orbit where it is expected to provide robust and reliable satellite services to citizens in Africa and Europe.

The excitement at the site, according to Nigerian officials at the launch, was "electrifying."

Head of Corporate Affairs and Media at the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), Mr. Felix Ale, told The Guardian on phone that the launch was successful.

He quoted the agency’s Director General Prof. Robert Ajayi Boroffice, as saying that the 30-minute movement of the satellite went on without delay.

According to Ale, "Prof. Boroffice has also called President Olusegun Obasanjo to inform him of the success of the launch. The President was impressed and full of praises for NASRDA.

NASRDA is, of course, Nigeria’s national space agency, who, incidentally, also has a pretty cool PowerPoint presentation available about NigComSat1 online.

In addition to be the first communications satellite launched on behalf of an African country, the launch of NigComSat1 also marks a significant first for China, as the first time a foreign buyer has purchased a Chinese satellite and its launching service. The Chinese news service, Xinhua, also points out that the launch represents the culmination and beginning of a relationship between Nigeria and China that will likely continue throughout the life-span of the satellite (about 15 years)…

The satellite will be monitored and tracked by a ground station to be built in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, by Chinese firm Great Wall Industry Corporation, and a ground station in Kashgar, in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The satellite’s ground facility in Abuja "had the potential of making Nigeria a major traffic hub in the west and central African region" and will prompt Nigeria and neighboring countries to "expand their switching facilities to be able to handle international traffic", according to a Nigerian communication official.

The Chinese company will offer support services and training for Nigerian technicians.

China was awarded the deal in 2004 after it outbid 21 international rivals to secure the 311 million U.S. dollar deal.

And also, may point to China’s expanding relationship with the developing world.

The satellite represents China’s wish to cooperate with developing countries in the peaceful use of outer space and to promote a closer relationship between China and African countries, observers say.

China has signed several cooperative contracts offering commercial launching services for foreign satellites, said an official on space development, citing a similar satellite contract with Venezuela in November 2005 and adding that China has been commissioned to send about 30 foreign satellites into space.

Want more info on NigComSat1? Check out the photo gallery over at Xinhua and the Google Map’s powered realtime tracking at

DIY Friday: Build Your Own DVR

Friday, May 11th, 2007


I love my TiVo. My roomates love my TiVo. Pretty much everyone that has met it loves my TiVo. But TiVo isn’t cheap (especially if you want to record HD content) and I’m sure the $12/month I pay to keep up access to the TiVo service is going to get old when I start living on my own. So what’s a good RRS reader who loves TiVo — but just can’t fit the bill for it — to do?

Well, Duh. Make our own, of course.

Forutunately for us, plenty of people have beat us to the punch and begun building their own DVR (digital video recorder), whether its to save money or build the ultimate, tricked out HD-ready, multi-tuner beast they always wantend… that also just happens to fit into an antique television console (as seen above).

The best place to start your efforts to build your own DVR is Build Your Own PVR (the P stands for personal, but basically means the same thing) which has tons of how-tos, construction guides, and forums for sharing tips and tricks about building your own TiVo-like device. If you want to build something this weekend and have an old (but not too old) computer lying around, check-out this how-to to figure out how to build your own homebrew PVR for less than $200 and a couple of hours. The site also has a pretty cool wiki (although it could stand a little fleshing out).

Be prepared, however, to get a DVR you can really write home about (i.e. brag about to your neighbors), you’re going to need to spend some real money on a nice hardware decoder (Hauppauge WinTV PVR 250/350 seems to be the favorite) and some time tinkering with whatever software you chose run your box of digital delight (MythTV, is, of course, the free standard bearer, but other options — Sage TV, Snapstream BeyondTV — do exist).

But if you’re willing to put in the time (and a little dough), I’m sure anything you build will have even the most hardcore TiVo enthusiats asking for a spec sheet.