[Update: 2012-08-30] One more time — Te…

[Update: 2012-08-30]
One more time — TechShop is opening (near) Austin: http://www.techshop.ws/austin_round_rock.html!

[Update: 2008-03-29]
Unfortunately, I just got word that TechShop Austin, and six other planned locations, have been delayed until 2009. It’s a bummer for Austin makers, but the schedule was a little too aggressive for the TechShop crew; instead, they’ll be focused on a new headquarters in Sunnyvale, and bringing up the Portland and Durham locations.

[Original post]
Just saw this last night, TechShop Austin is scheduled to open this summer (2008)! I haven’t had access to a decent shop in a few years. I can’t wait to play with all the toys a TechShop should have!

Recovering deleted images from a Nokia N90 (Symbian OS)

Over the holidays we had an accidental deletion of every image on one of our phones (a Nokia N90, Symbian OS device.) Mild panic was quickly replaced with a gentle pondering on the difference between what a normal person would do in this situation vs. what a geek would do. The geek process goes something like this:

Step 1: Get the memory card out of the phone as quickly as possible

Either shut the phone down and pull the card, or use the super-secret combo hidden within the profile-switching shortcut to have the phone un-mount the card.

Step 2: Obtain a USB memory card reader

I’ve needed a reason to buy one of these for a long time. Good thing I had a gift card left from the holidays. I went with a Dynex gazillion-to-one card reader, not for it’s technical superiority, but because it was the only thing the shop nearby had.

Step 3: Stick the memory card into the reader, and plug the reader into your Linux box

Mine happens to run Ubuntu at the moment, but the results will likely be similar on other distros.

Step 4: sudo apt-get install testdisk

Testdisk “was primarily designed to help recover lost data storage partitions…” and includes a utility called “PhotoRec“, which is what you want.

Step 5: Run photorec

PhotoRec is a data recovery tool designed specifically for recovering files from digital camera media. It supports a number of file-system formats, including the FAT format that Symbian OS uses on it’s memory cards. PhotoRec is a text-based, terminal application, but it does the job perfectly.

Select the mounted memory card from the list of drives (which should be easy to spot given how small memory cards are relative to modern hard drives), and send it scanning. PhotoRec can be told to look for specific file types (you want JPG’s, in this case), but by default it will look for just about any media file format that you’re likely to have on your phone. Files will be recovered and written to a local directory.

Step 6: Sigh in relief when you see your beloved cat pictures returned to you

PhotoRec isn’t going to restore the images to the memory card’s file system such that the phone can see them again, but you’ll have the pictures on your Linux box now, and can copy them back over if you choose to. The naming scheme will be different, but that’s an acceptable compromise.

Touchscreen keyboard (could be killer with tactile feedback)

The Optimus Tactus keyboard:

Optimus Tactus keyboard

…a programmable, touch-screen that acts like a keyboard. Pretty amazing potential for experiementing with user interaction interfaces. Could be even better if merged with some of the haptic/tactile feedback work that Apple and Nokia have been doing. Ex:

Interface design on Sparkfun’s new GeoChron

Interface design on Sparkfun’s new GeoChron

Sparkfun just released a new, stand-alone GPS logging device, which looks to be a slick alternative to all the “mobile-device + Python + bluetooth GPS” hacking I’ve resorted to for similar tasks. It’s a pretty tempting package if you need dirt-simple GPS logging. However, I’m a bit confused by the switches. Take a look at the picture of the device below:

There are two toggle switches: one for on/off, and one for standby/run. Take a minute to look at the switch diagrams and labels, and think about how to use this device. How do you turn it on? How do you make it start logging?

Now that you’ve thought about it, was it clear? What does the ‘1’ on each switch mean to you? What does the graphic under each switches label mean? Ignore the ‘1’ and ‘0’ and look just at the diagram. Based on the graphic alone, which switch position should “on” be?

I used to get the ‘1’ vs. ‘0’ on switches backwards when my mental model was of the ‘0’ indicating a completed circuit. Now I use a binary metaphor, where a ‘1’ bit is on, and a ‘0’ bit is off. That seems to be what the switch means. But if I take that approach on the GeoChron, then the standby/run switch is installed backwards. Personally, I think I’d drop the graphic under the switch labels (I think it’s more confusing then helpful), and flip the standby/run swtich so that ‘1’ means ‘run’, and so that the switches are both pressed in the same direction when the device is on and logging. With a device this simple, you really shouldn’t have to think about how to turn it on. (I still want one though ;-)

Arduino says Hello


I finally got my first Arduino board last week (a Diecimila, to be specific.) It’s been on my list of “things I want to hack on” for awhile, so I eagerly awaited it’s arrival. It’s been a good ten years since I’ve built anything in the Art Installation / Physical Computing genre — which is ten years way too long.

In preparation for my first weekend with the Arduino, I hit up SparkFun and a local electronics store for a handful of little gizmos to wire up. I’m still a newbie when it comes to designing electronics (though to be honest, that’s part of the fun), so I started off by following the “Spooky Projects – Introduction to Microcontrollers with Aurdino” lessons. With the Spooky Projects built (minus the glowing skull, unfortunately), I wrapped up the weekend experimenting with potentiometers as the controls for animation timing in a few late-night, generative-art pieces I’ve built using Processing.

So far it’s all good fun — and something I’d definitely encourage folks to try.