Number Pad Layouts

Has anyone ever noticed how telephones have 123 on the top row whilst calculators have 123 on the bottom row?

According to How Stuff Works, the calculator layout with 123 at the bottom actually came first.

One theory was that touch tone telephone¬† engineers reversed the layout deliberately so data entry professionals, who were used to the calculator layout, would take a greater amount of time to enter the numbers. This was necessary as the tone recognition in old telephones wasn’t fast enough!

Wii Infrared

I recently got a Nintendo Wii console, which is super-duper amazing. I must admit I do get the reaction of "OMG you bought the only console with crap processing power, graphics and lack of HD output", but the main thing is it is what any games console should be: fun. (see comic at bottom of post)

Sensor Bar

I had some problems getting the position of the wiimote to be sensed correctly but I quickly realised that was due to the fault of background light. It seems that the sensor bar emits infrared light which the Wiimote picks up and "triangulates" to measure change in position, etc.

Anyway, if none of you believe me: here’s a picture of the Wii Sensor Bar with Infrared: 


Infrared Photography

For those of you who aren’t trained in physics – light comes in electromagnetic waves. The visible light we see has a wavelength of between 400nm and 700nm. When the wavelength is longer than red (which has a wavelength of 700nm), it is infrared.

We can’t see infrared because it is beyond the spectrum our eyes can perceive, but we feel it as heat. TV remote controls use infrared.

Camera CCDs

Digital cameras have "Charged Couple Devices". These are designed to pick up light and to convert it into a series of 1s and 0s, so we can view them on a computer. The problem is that CCDs are generally made with a wavelength range of about 350nm to 1000nm so they will pick up infrared (heat), which can give strange photos as our eyes don’t percieve this part of the spectrum.

To get around this, camera manufacturers put filters to block out infrared light. Because mobile phone cameras tend to be of a poor quality and are very compact, they only have a thin film of filter, meaning it will pick up infrared. This is one of the reasons why photos taken on mobile phones are inferior to real digital cameras.

However, we can harness this problem with mobile phones and take images in infrared. If you put a phone cam in front of a TV remote control and press some buttons, you should see a succession of rapid flashing. The same happens with the Wii sensor bar allowing you to take an image of the infrared emitted from the bar.

Clever, eh? 

Wii Comic 

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @

Downloadable Coffee

The Coffee Replacement MP3 file is a sound file which claims to "keep you in an energizing state giving you a ‘caffeine’ energetic boost". There is an explanation to how it works; and it does sound pretty new age to me. I’m not sure if there is actually any scientific proof of how it works. According to the website:

When the brain is given a stimulus, through the ears, eyes or other senses, it emits an electrical charge in response, called a Cortical Evoked Response. These electrical responses travel throughout the brain to become what you "see and hear". This activity can be measured using sensitive electrodes attached to the scalp.

When the brain is presented with a rhythmic stimulus, such as a drum beat for example, the rhythm is reproduced in the brain in the form of these electrical impulses. If the rhythm becomes fast and consistent enough, it can start to resemble the natural internal rhythms of the brain, called brainwaves. When this happens, the brain responds by synchronizing its own electric cycles to the same rhythm.

See the theory page

Brainwave Generator

You can make your own brainwave sounds using the BrainWave Generator. It comes with built in brainwaves such as creativity increase, meditation, headache control and sleep induction.

If you want, you can also generate your own brainwaves – you can add things such as background sounds (I used the Yes No Yes sound from Even Stephens) and customize all kinds of parameters such as frequency and type of wave.

Brainwave Generator 

From the programme, you can then export your brainwaves as a WAV file. The website does make some pretty silly claims such as that it can help you quit smoking or drinking. I’m certainly not a big believer in solutions such as this but, regardless, it’s a bit of fun.

Disclaimer from Website

The following people should not use brain entrainment:

  • People subject to any forms of seizures or epilepsy
  • People using pacemakers
  • People suffering from cardiac arrhythmia or other heart disorders
  • People taking stimulants, psychoactive drugs, or tranquilizers

Take note…

Via Download Squad.

Recording sound output in Windows

I can’t believe I didn’t find out about this trick until today. It would have prevented the need for all these hacks and placing the microphone next to the speakers to record sounds.

Download Squad:

If you’ve ever tried to record streaming audio in Windows, like a Skype call or a webcast, you may be aware of a simple setting that allows you to record any sound playing through your computer’s sound card. All you have to do is:

  1. Select your sound properties through the control panel or the sound icon in your system tray.
  2. Click on the properties tab.
  3. Check the recording box.
  4. Make sure Wave Out Mix is selected (It’s sometimes called stereo mix, or mono mix).
  5. Now you should be able to set Wave Out as your default for recordings made by Audacity or other audio recording programs.

This is a fantastic and dead easy way to make short sound clips from Youtube or DVD videos, or maybe you want to broadcast music to a friend over MSN Messenger or Skype. Or Google for some soundboards and randomly insert clips of Tom Cruise or Darth Vader breathing in the middle of one of your phone calls.

The possibilities are endless. 

I can’t imagine what would happen if both of you were using this trick though… I take no responsibility if your speakers end up on the other end of the room. 

Uneasy Silence – Blog of the Week

Uneasy Silence is a really great blog about technology, gadgets and random videos on the internet. It’s not easy to describe the target audience of the blog besides "geeks" as it really is quite a diverse blog but there are around eight to twelve posts a day so there’ll almost always be something for everyone.

Cool Mac applications, sign generators, USB eye warmers, cars, "Web 2.0" sites and quirky stories – it has it all.

A fresh supply of stuff to spam your friends on MSN with every day.

Chromatabs for Firefox

There is a really interesting extension called Chromatabs at Mozilla Labs today. Mozilla Labs is Mozilla’s ongoing project to develop some innovative and new techniques of presenting information to users and to investigate new technologies.


Chromatabs is an extension developed by Justin Dolske which aims to make tabs a lot easier to locate by colourizing tabs to provide a strong visual indication. To demonstrate the concept, there is an example on Mozilla Labs which asks you to locate all letter Ks and all red letters. Locating red letters is a lot easier.

The blog entry also discusses existing solutions and problems. At the moment, tabs in Firefox all essentially look the same, so finding that page when you have 20 tabs open requires a deep visual inspection of all your tabs. Favicons can help, but not all sites have them.

Mozilla Labs also points to Colourful Tabs which attempts to implement a similar concept:

Its solution is to simply assign each new tab a color from a fixed list, in sequence. First example, the first tab will be blue, the second is yellow and the third green. The tab remains that color until it is closed. Each time you browse the web, you’ll have to remember what a particular color means at the moment.

Chromatabs is different. Rather than giving each site a different colour each time, it’ll take a hash of the sites domain. This means every time you visit a site, it’s tab will be the same time. The idea is that as we visit these sites again and again over time, we’ll develop a strong connection between the colour and the site.

At the moment, it’s still a proof of concept extension. One of the concepts discussed in the further work section:

It might be more intuitive if Chromatabs analyzed each page to determine the most prominent color on the page, and then used that color for the tab. You would then see Slashdot tabs in their distinctive green, Fark tabs in purple, and tabs in, uhhh… oooooo….

I do see several problems from Chromatab’s current implementation. Probably about half the sites I visit I’ve never actually been on before, or don’t visit very frequently. I won’t have any mental relationship between that site and the colour of the tab. Various sites can also end up with the same colours e.g. my blog and Mozilla.

If you want to try it out, download the extension from Firefox Add-Ons. This extension is definitely one to watch.

If you’re interested in finding out about how the extension was developed, check out this blog entry

BSOD Screensaver

The blue screen of death is one of the most annoying screens you can get on Windows. I think I’ve only seen it on my computer once in about the 3 years I’ve got it but I saw a computer at the weekend with BSoD-ed whenever somebody logged in and tried to use it for more than a minute or so. I think the computer was infected with a virus but we hypothesized some other possible reasons, such as the proximity of a stand selling Apple products just next door.

For those of you who don’t see the BSoD enough, you can get a Blue Screen of Death screensaver at the Microsoft website. The screensaver is designed to be quite realistic and to adapt depending on the operating system. It even shows the bootup screen!

Bluescreen cycles between different Blue Screens and simulated boots every 15 seconds or so. Virtually all the information shown on Bluescreen’s BSOD and system start screen is obtained from your system configuration – its accuracy will fool even advanced NT developers. For example, the NT build number, processor revision, loaded drivers and addresses, disk drive characteristics, and memory size are all taken from the system Bluescreen is running on.

A bit of fun for LAN parties I suppose. 

Pandora's Box

I’ve written about Pandora before, a free internet radio station which is customized to your musical tastes. It’s made by people who really love music and rather than using social recommendations, Pandora looks at the style of music (instruments, vocals, etc.) to find music you’ll love. It works really well.

Pandora Radio has almost replaced my music collection in some ways – I now listen to Pandora almost as much as I listen to my own music in Windows Media Player. It was annoying to have to keep a Firefox window to listen to Pandora and Pandora’s flash client didn’t like the multimedia keys on my keyboard.

Pandora’s Box is a desktop Pandora client I came across a few days ago and I’ve used it ever since. At it’s heart, it looks like it’s just an embedded web browser control which shows the Pandora client (I assume this because you get the annoying click sounds you also get on IE). The client works exactly the same as the one on the Pandora website. It sits in the system tray, minimized. From the tray, you can rate songs and switch radio station.

Pandora's Box 

It also implements a few extra features which are really cool:

  • You can display the song you are currently listening to on MSN Messenger.
  • Support for browser multimedia keys (makes it a lot faster to pause when phone, etc.)
  • Easy to use, fast lyrics browser to instantly find lyrics for the song you are listening to. No popups!
  • Notify on song change: A little popup notification which lets you know what song is playing so you don’t have to switch to Pandora. And since Pandora is all about discovering music… 

Pandora Internet Radio

Pandora is a cool internet radio service where the music you hear is tailored to what you like. I’ve been a member for several months now but I’ve only really been getting into it recently.

When you first start out, it’ll ask you for the name of a song or artist which you really like. It can sometimes be quite hard trying to think of one artist or song but you can specify a few if you wish.


I’ve been getting really into Nightwish and DragonForce recently so I used these two bands as the initial input for my radio station. Pandora then found similar artists who made similar music and played them on my radio station – often bands who I’ve never even heard of but make some pretty decent music. It’s a great way of discovering new music.

The Pandora interface tells you why it decided to play the song which just came up e.g. "hard rock roots", "subtle vocal harmony", "electric guitar riffs". There seems to be quite a lot of musical stuff behind the scenes to find similar music, but it seems to work really well.

In some ways, it’s similar to and Yahoo’s Launchcast. In my experience Pandora is the best out of three. requires you to install a plugin to your media player to "scrobble" your music. The player will then play music which it thinks you will like. In my experience it hasn’t worked too well and keeps on playing me some random foreign music.

Launchcast used to be pretty good but the limited skipping and adverts became annoying. Additionally, it didn’t work in Firefox (I’m not sure whether things have changed). 

Pandora is really great – it’s flash so works in any browser, it’s ad-free and sounds great (I believe it streams at 128k mp3 quality). You don’t have to rate music; You don’t really have to do anything but to leave it running in a tab and to enjoy the music. Strongly recommended. 

Free Winks and Animated Avatars for MSN Messenger

One of the sillier features of MSN/Windows Live Messenger are the winks and animated display pictures. Winks especially can be quite funny and quite a nice way of saying happy birthday or congratulations to someone. Along with dynamic display pictures (which are animated) , they also have a bit of the "wow, how did ya do that?" effect.


Via, Kiwee (requires IE) is now offering all of it’s content for free (probably for a limited amount of time). This includes:

  • Dynamic Display Pictures which can be customized to your look and which react to the emoticons you use in your instant messages. They animate too!
  • Winks some of which you can customize and add your own message. Some of them you can upload your own photos too!
  • Custom Emoticons, Backgrounds and Regular Display Pictures – these are normally free to use anyway.

So why not: download a few winks and annoy the hell out of your friends!

P.S. I had to think long and hard about the social implications of this post. I trust that this information will not cause the collapse of civilization as we know it from the amount of junk which is going to be flying around on MSN in the next few days.