My bed frame comes to life in France

You may remember my post on the sturdy king-size bed frame a while back? It’s inspired many people to build their own frames at home, saving $$$, avoiding the purchase of cheaply made furniture and learning about carpentry in the process.

This time, Jérôme Tirolien from France wrote to thank me for the article and he also sent  pictures, which he graciously agreed to let me post here:

“I want to tell you THANK YOU for your article ‘Making the custom bed frame’. I based on it to build mine. In March 2011 I asked which size of beam you used.
So for now I almost finished it. I have to build the drawers. In attached files, some pics.”

Alexandra Fits in concert in Medias

A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of attending a concert given by Alexandra Fits in Medias, as part of the seventh edition of the annual Medieval Festival. Alexandra sang French songs, in a style reminiscent of Edith Piaf and Georges Moustaki. We were thrilled to hear and see how good she was, especially since we’d never heard of her before.

If you do a search for her on the internet, only a few hits come up. In an interview with Mircea Hodarnau (from Radio Ring) after the concert, she admitted she needs to work on her internet presence, but knows little about how to do that. She has a MySpace page, where a few of her songs are posted, and there are a few videos on YouTube as well.

Thanks to a collaboration between Mircea Hodarnau and the nice folks at Nova TV, I’m thrilled to let you watch what we heard the night of the concert. They’ve posted the full length concert on YouTube, and I think you’ll agree that Alexandra Fits has a talent for music that more people ought to hear.

Let’s hope we see and hear more of her! I for one would love to buy a CD of her music, but she hasn’t yet published one.

Romania Through Their Eyes – Laura Tonlaveur

I promised it, and kept my word. Just launched a new show of my own that’s been in the works for some time. It’s live, right now, on my YouTube channel.

The show is called “Romania Through Their Eyes”, and it’s a series of interviews with foreigners — people who visited Romania, spent time in the country, and wanted to share their thoughts with me.

Episode RTTE-001-FR-HD
Released 2/1/11

The purpose of the show is to get their impressions about the country, and start a dialogue which will lead to a greater understanding of the issues facing Romanians and Romania. I’m hoping this will have an impact on the leadership of the country, and help them to focus their attention on issues that are of international relevance. Because, let’s face it, Romania’s reputation in the world isn’t exactly spotless…

This first interview is with Laura, who is from the South of France, and spent two and a half months in Romania in the fall and winter of 2010.

Thanks to YouTube’s CC option, I can provide two language tracks (English and Romanian) for each show. You’ll have to excuse my translation, I’m doing my best and it may not be as accurate as I want it to be, but at least it’s there. If there’s a need for subtitles in another language, get in touch with me and we’ll work together to get them up there.

My current plans are to put out one episode per month. As you know, I already film, direct, edit and produce my wife’s two shows (Ligia’s Kitchen and Quilling – The Art of Paper Filigree). There’s a significant time commitment already devoted to them. And you wouldn’t believe how much work goes on behind the scenes for one of these interviews… But, as I say in the video, if there’s enough interest, I’ll be glad to roll up my sleeves and get to work on more frequent episodes, like bi-monthly ones, or even once a week, who knows. It’s up to you — so if you like it, spread the word, like it, fave it, share it, etc. — get the word out!

Thank you!

120th Anniversary of the Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower under construction, 1878

Built between 1887 and 1889 by French engineer Gustave Eiffel, the tower has since become the most recognizable landmark (and the most visited) in the world. For its size, the tower is amazingly light — its mass is less than the mass of the air contained in a cylinder of the same size. For its time, the system for joining the metal girders together was truly innovative, and was inspired by the design ideas of a Romanian engineer named Gheorghe Panculescu.

Eiffel Tower Girders, 1889

The shape of the tower was dictated purely by mathematics, and the primary design goal was wind resistance. Eiffel and the other engineers wanted to make sure it could withstand strong winds, being at the time the tallest building in the world. Being a very tall building, made almost entirely of metal, it’s also a very large lightning rod, which attracts amazing lightning bolts, as you can see in this photo from 1902.

Lightning striking the Eiffel Tower, 1902

Also interesting is the use of the tower as a radio antenna. Over time, antennas were mounted to the tower, or the tower itself was used as a large antenna for radio communications. In 1910, the first cosmic rays were observed with the aid of the tower by Father Theodore Wulf. Nowadays, 9 radio and TV stations broadcast content with the aid of the tower.

This year, the French celebrated the tower’s 120th anniversary on Bastille Day. A concert by Johnny Hallyday was held at night, while fireworks blazed forth from the tower. It was an amazing lightshow, captured fittingly by Alta Media Productions and Toys Prophet, two Vimeo users. You can see their videos below. Taken from different vantage points, one focuses on the Paris nightscape and the tower lightshow, while the other captures the interaction of people with the evening’s events.

http://vimeo.com/5621455
Eiffel Tower on Fire from Alta Media Productions on Vimeo.

-SPEED OF LIGHT- ….. ESSAI N°5.1 from toys prophet on Vimeo.

I haven’t yet visited the Eiffel Tower, and I look forward to doing it someday. It’s a structure unlike any other. When you think of it in the context of architectural design, it fits into no category. Its design is pure engineering, with no allowances for the niceties of normal architecture. Sure, it’s been adapted for human use over time, and you can even eat there now, but these are all add-ons, insignificant to the initial design goals. It didn’t fit within the times when it was made, in spite of some of the Victorial wrought iron work it faintly resembles, and it still doesn’t fit within any normal design constraints today, even in post-modernist times. And yet it has become a symbol of architectural design, of Paris, and of French culture, odd as it may be. If nothing else, Gustave Eiffel had serious guts to undertake such a work and to withstand all of the criticism leveled at him during and after the construction of the tower. He was right all along.

Eiffel Tower by briandeadly on Flickr.
Eiffel Tower by briandeadly on Flickr

Historic photos of the Eiffel Tower used here are public domain, obtained courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Glad to see Nabaztag is still around

It’s coming up on three years since my original review of the Nabaztag. In 2006, it was just getting introduced to the US market. It was a new product from France, and the editors of the “I Want That! Tech Toys” show on HGTV approached me to see if I wanted to review it. I said yes, because the concept intrigued me, and I wasn’t disappointed. I thought it was a pretty cool gadget, in spite of the learning curve involved in setting it up.

nabaztag-1

nabaztag-2

A few months after being taped, the segment featuring the Nabaztag aired on HGTV. The rabbit did just fine, but I was way too serious. Note to self for the next TV interview: lighten up!

In December of that year, Violet (the makers of the Nabaztag) launched the new Nabaztag:tag, which could read RFID tags, had a built-in motion sensor, and could do a bunch more things. Since then, they’ve been busy improving the Nabaztag experience and introducing new things, like the Mir:ror, an inexpensive RFID reader ($50) that works in conjunction with RFID stamps (they call them ztamp:s) to do all kinds of neat things, like tell you the weather, update your Facebook status automatically, read books to your children, etc.

I have to say the new Nabaztag:tag looks a lot better than my original 1st gen Nabaztag. It has a shiny white finish and a better user interface. It’s probably easier to configure, too. I had some issues getting mine to go on the Internet back when I did the original review, which were thankfully sorted out.

All in all, I’m glad to see a product I reviewed and found cool is still around. Kudos to Violet!

Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-05

Nabaztag: the smart WiFi bunny from France

I’ve been playing with my Nabaztag bunny for the last few days, preparing to review it for the I Want That! Tech Toys show on HGTV, which launches this summer. It’s a very cute little bunny with ears that can move. It’s constantly connected to the Internet by WiFi, and you can program it to do various neat things for you.

It communicates with you by speaking, and by flashing lights of various colors in different sequences. The Nabaztag website explains very well what each of the flashing color sequences means, so you’ll quickly understand what it’s trying to tell you.

The Nabaztag is a cool little gadget that endeared itself to us in no time at all, and Ligia and I found ourselves wanting to hear its voice more often.

We chose to place it in our living room. The setup was really easy. I just plugged it into an electrical outlet, and it soon found my WiFi connection and it was ready to go. Violet, the maker of Nabaztag, did something very smart when they shipped the bunny. They included an adapter, with interchangeable prongs for Europe, the UK and the US. It’s reminiscent of the newer Apple laptop adapters, for which you can buy a set of adapters to make them work in multiple countries, except Nabaztag ships theirs for ready use with each bunny.

Once it was connected to the Internet, I went to Nabaztag.com and registered it, using its MAC Address, which is also its Serial Number. It’s conveniently listed on its bottom. Once I registered it, I got to pick a name, age and sex for it. We decided our Nabaztag was a boy, and called it Pugsley.

After we completed the account setup, Pugsley came to life and said hello. We used the Services section of the site to choose from among the free services available, and there are many:

  • Talking Clock: Pugsley says the time on the hour, every hour, unless he’s sleeping. See below for more info about sleeping.
  • Tai Chi lets him stretch his ears in the funniest ways. He also makes cute noises and flashes multi-colored lights.
  • Recap of the week gives Pugsley the chance to say how the week’s been, whether he liked it or not, or whether it was eventful or not.
  • Nabaztag News allows you to pick from the New York Times, BBC, Slashdot, Wall Street Journal and People. You can also set the time when your Nabaztag will read them to you. We programmed Pugsley to read all of them to us at certain times. Of course, he doesn’t read every article, only the headlines.
  • The Air Quality service allows you to choose your city and get the air quality delivered to you both as a little sound blurb, and with luminous language. Air quality info is only available for certain cities, and the website explains how to interpret the flashing lights. The lights are blue, and if three of them flash slowly and in unison, the air quality is good. If they flash faster and not in unison, it’s not so good.
  • The Alarm Clock allows you to program the Nabaztag to wake you up at a certain time every day by playing your favorite sound or song. You can choose from a pre-selected list on the site, or you can upload your own MP3’s and configure it to play them. I programmed Pugsley to sing “Cheek to Cheek”, a song composed by Irving Berlin and sung by Fred Astaire.
  • The Weather Forecast allows you to get the weather twice a day in audio blurbs, and throughout the day through its luminous language. You can set which times you get the audio blurbs, and the Nabaztag also flashes lights to let you know how things should go. It uses a combination of yellow and dark blue lights to do it. All yellow means it’ll be sunny. Rain is all blue, flashing intermittently. Smog is flashing blue in unison. Cloudy is blue on the sides and yellow in the middle. Snow is flashing blue once again, and thunderstorms are fast flashes of yellow and blue.
  • You can also keep an eye on the Stock Markets. For the States, your Nabaztag can tell you how the S&P/TSX, Dow Jones Industrial, Nasdaq Composite, Nasdaq Industrial and S&P 500 are doing. You can set a time for an audio flash, or you can look at the flashing yellow lights. If only the center light is flashing, the market’s stable. If the lights are flashing from left to right, the market’s going up. If the lights are flashing from right to left, the market’s going down. The speed of the flashes tells you how fast the market’s going up or down.
  • If you live in Paris, the Nabaztag also has the Paris Traffic conditions. I turned this service on just for kicks, and it’s pretty funny. You can choose your itinerary based on the different gates into Paris, then it can play an audio flash for you, and it’ll also use its lights to tell you how things are. If things are completely packed, it’ll flash two red lights, simulating the brake lights of a car in front of you. If things are picking up, it’ll flash the center button red, then the two side lights, also in red. The speed with which it flashes this sequence tells you the approximate speed of the traffic.
  • You can also program your Nabaztag to tell you its mood, and you choose how often you want him to do it: whenever, often, from time to time, or seldom. I have Pugsley set on whenever, and really, he doesn’t do it that often, only about once a day.
  • There’s a service called Ear Talk, which I think is the coolest by far, because it involves human interaction, through the bunny. You can pair up the smart bunny with another, then when you move its ear up or down, the ear of the other bunny moves as well. So if you’ve got a sweetheart, you can both get bunnies, and communicate with each other throughout the day this way, just to let the other know you’re thinking about them.
  • You can set your own Nabaztag to alert you every time you receive a new email, by voice and light flashes. It will flash three purple lights to let you know if you have three or more messages, two lights for two messages, and 1 light for one message. You can program it to check POP3 (the most common), IMAP (.Mac) and SSL accounts (Gmail).
  • You can also set the bunny to go to sleep and wake up at certain times. You can even choose different times during the weekend. This is useful because you don’t want to be startled in case you receive messages at night. You see, you can set a theme music for every bunny, and it gets played before and after every message that gets sent, to identify the sender. Some of the theme sounds are pretty strange, and would definitely ruin my sleep if I heard them.
  • You can choose from a growing directory of Nabcasts, which are little audio recordings (like podcasts, but for the bunnies) that people can subscribe to. They’re organized by categories, and the directory is fun to explore. You can listen to the last episode of a Nabcast right on the Nabaztag website, to decide whether you’d want to subscribe to it, and once you do, you’ll get it delivered to your bunny every time a new episode is published. Everyone can publish Nabcasts, but you have to subscribe to one of the paid plans first.

Now is a good time to talk about the various subscription plans for the Nabaztag. There are three:

  • Free Style Rabbit (FREE)
  • Full Rabbit (about $5/month)
  • Full Friend Rabbit (about $7.5/month)

As you can see from the list of services above, the Free plan is pretty generous. In addition to the list above, you can also send Little Words messages through the Free plan, and you also get a limited number of web and email messages. Just log onto the Nabaztag website, go to Messages, Send, and select the Little Words tab. Type in the name of the rabbit to whom you want to send a message, choose it from the list, and you’re done.

The difference is that with the Full Rabbit plan, you can also produce and publish Nabcasts, and you can get unlimited emails and messages to your rabbit, whereas you’re limited to Little Words messages with the Free plan. The difference between the Full Rabbit and Full Friend Rabbit plans is that your friends aren’t charged for messages they send to your rabbit by web and email. Both the Full Rabbit and Full Friend Rabbit include the Full Services in addition to the Free Services, and these include:

  • RSS Feeds: set your Nabaztag to read you feeds you’re interested in. May I recommend my feed?
  • Stock Portfolio: set the bunny to tell you how your favorite stocks are doing.
  • Google Talk Alerts: have the bunny tell you when one of your friends is online.
  • Personalized Email Alerts: your Nabaztag will be able to tell you who the email is from, by defining simple rules.

Now for the bugs… Yes, there are a few, but that’s to be expected. The Nabaztag is a new product, and it’s brand new here in the States. I have one of the first units that got shipped here. As with anything new, there are bugs to be worked out, and when you’re an early adopter, it’s part of the game. So, with that in mind, here they are:

  • Pugsley didn’t wake up from sleep for the first couple of days. I had to reboot him in order to wake him up. I contacted Support and was told they had some server issues, which were resolved by the third day, when Pugsley was indeed able to wake up on his own. This glitch is understable, they’re probably working on setting up different servers for the States.
  • Pugsley couldn’t connect to the Nabaztag servers this past weekend (Saturday and Sunday). I contacted Support and was told this was related to the server problem. They fixed the problem right away on Saturday, but on Sunday, when it resurfaced, they were off. That’s something you’ll have to keep in mind about the Nabaztag. It’s made in France, and the French way of life is different than ours. If you can’t get them during the weekend, that means they’re home, taking a break. Don’t freak out, just wait till the next business day, they’ll get back to you. First thing on Monday morning, the connectivity problem was resolved, and Pugsley was back in business, happy as ever.
  • The weather feed for Washington, DC gave the wrong info. I contacted Support, and they said they’ll fix it.
  • The email alerts won’t work correctly for Gmail. That’s not Nabaztag’s fault, it’s just a quirk in the Gmail servers. When you’re logged on through the web, the servers will correctly indicate which emails are read and which aren’t, but when you log on by SSL/POP3, every message in the Inbox will show up as new. Therefore, if you set your Nabaztag to check your Gmail account, unless you’ve deleted everything from the account, it’ll always tell you that you have more than three messages. But it should work correctly for traditional POP3 and IMAP accounts.
  • Because the Nabaztag service for the States is brand new, they won’t have air quality information available for many of our cities. Plus, the traffic info is only available for Paris at the moment. Perhaps they’ll make it available for other cities in the future as well.

Finally, you’ll find the following guides very useful as you begin to use your Nabaztag:

I found the Nabaztag Advanced Configuration guide particularly useful as I troubleshooted my Nabaztag’s connectivity issues. But, I do have to say this: for probably 95% of the users out there, you won’t have to worry about pulling out any guides. Just take your Nabaztag out of the box, plug it into an electrical outlet, and you’ll be good to go! In those cases when you have to contact Support, their response time is really good. They got back to me within 2 hours during normal business hours, which is great!

If you’d like to purchase a Nabaztag, here is a list of vendors. The shops that have stars next to their names can also sell additional ears for the bunny, in case you’d like to customize it.

I hope you enjoy your bunny, I know we love ours! If you want to message our bunny, feel free to do so. Send your messages to Pugsley at nabaztag.com.

In France, politicians still listen to the voice of reason

The New York Times is running a piece on a French teenager by the name of Aziz Ridouan. He has managed to convince the politicians to listen to him when it comes to digital music. He’s only 18 years old, and he’s already founded the Audionautes, a non-profit organization that provides legal assistance to those accused of illegally downloading music. Aziz says most politicians don’t even know what downloading is. That’s shocking, and when I say this, I doubt that only the French politicians are clueless. I think politicians the world over have no real concept of digital music, and iPods, and streaming music over computer networks, or downloading stuff from the Internet and sharing it with your friends.

Yet – and here comes the shocker – they’re making laws about this stuff! It’s no wonder the stuff they put out here in the States is so inane. They’re getting only one side of the story – from the RIAA and organizations like it, NOT from their constituents. At least in France, the land of political paradoxes, they’re willing to listen to a child, an immigrant, and a poor one at that, all rolled into one. Amazing! Kudos to Aziz for helping them get it!