Review quotes

I’ve often wondered if some review quotes (and the source of those quotes) are better off left off the DVD cover…


AlphaSmart as Bluetooth Keyboard


I’ve always thought it would be pretty neat to use an AlphaSmart Neo or Dana word processor as a wireless keyboard. AlphaSmart devices have long been able to connect to computers that support wired USB (or PS/2) keyboards, allowing users to upload text to Windows, Macintosh, and Linux computers, as well as new Android devices. But AS devices do not include Bluetooth, the wireless protocol that is about the only dependable way to connect a keyboard to an iOS device these days.*

Since becoming an iPad owner a couple years ago, I’ve become quite interested in the possibility of somehow converting a USB keyboard to a Bluetooth keyboard. Unfortunately, no amount of fervent Googling could lead me to such a solution, beyond finding a few mechanical keyboard enthusiasts who had hacked their old IBM model-Ms to send signals to a Bluetooth keyboard encoder. That solution wouldn’t work with an AlphaSmart device because it wouldn’t allow the transfer of text files that were saved to the internal memory. But recently I came across a YouTube demonstration of a little gizmo that claimed to do exactly what I’d been wanting to do: convert a wired keyboard to a wireless Bluetooth keyboard by translating the signals from the keyboard’s port. The “Bluetooth Keyboard Adapter” from a small company called Handheld Scientific was pretty pricey at $60, and there was no guarantee that it could handle the super-fast keyboard pulses coming from Neo. Still, I wanted to try, so I pulled the trigger before I could think twice. I ordered on a Saturday evening, and the little package arrived from California by Wednesday.

 Bluetooth AlphaSmart Neo2

So how does it work? Well, in a word: flawlessly. Really. Plug Neo into the adapter using a short USB cable, turn on the adapter, and then pair the new Bluetooth keyboard to your mobile device using the settings menu. (It’s the same process as pairing any other Bluetooth keyboard to a mobile device; you need to enter a code on Neo to affirm the pairing.) Once paired, Neo works just like any other Bluetooth keyboard. Typing, keyboard navigation, selection, etc all work great. Tapping a key on Neo will power on my iPad. But the best trick is that the “send” feature of Neo works perfectly, allowing me to transfer long or short text files very quickly into a word processor or email app on my iPad. You can even send text across rooms and around obstacles. (I was in another room, around a corner, and was able to squirt a long text file into Writings, my favorite text editor on iPad.)

Bluetooth Keyboard Adapter

The adapter has two keyboard ports, one for USB and one for PS/2. At the other end, the power button sits next to the mini USB charging port. Popping off the back cover reveals a basic BP-6M battery pack, used in a number of Nokia cell phones. (The pack runs at 3.7v, so I did wonder how easy it might be integrate the adapter into the case of my AlphaSmart Dana, powering it with the 3 AA rechargeable batteries.) There’s also a tiny speaker in the device somewhere, because it gives a loud beep when it’s waiting for one to enter the pairing code.


Anyhow, so that’s the Bluetooth Keyboard Adapter. Works exactly like the mythical gizmo I’d been searching for the last few years. (I almost can’t believe it’s real.) It’ll help anyone with a Neo or Dana connect to a mobile device, whether an iPad, iPhone or older Android device that doesn’t have USB keyboard support. (Newer Android tablets and phones have USB OTG support, which is a cheaper way to connect a wired keyboard.) Great little gizmo!

*iOS devices have a sort of love-hate relationship with USB, offering some limited support for importing photos from cameras and SD cards, but no official support for keyboards. The correct USB driver seems like it is still buried within the OS, and some users have been able to connect an AlphaSmart to their iDevice using a powered USB hub. Why is there a USB keyboard driver, but no real support? Best guess here is that it’s just leftover from when Apple released their wired keyboard dock for the 1st generation iPad. Later iOS updates cut off support for that accessory (and other wired keyboards) by limiting the power provided to the 30 pin port.


Farmhouse Bed

Here’s a bed I made, tweaking a set of plans from Ana White to fit some old wood I got for free from Craigslist. I was originally planning to stain the wood with a dark walnut color, but my wife liked Ana’s white-washed version so much that I gave it a go. It worked out pretty well. The oak nightstands are from a military/government used furniture store. I painted them white and added the new hardware.

Collision of Planets


surplus slippers

surplus slippers

survived by his parents


climbing wall


AlphaSmart Dana Power Hack


Here’s a little hack for the AlphaSmart Dana that will both improve battery life and allow you to future-proof your Dana’s power needs in the event that AlphaSmart someday stops selling replacement battery packs. Read more…

radish tails

radish tails

orange buckets

orange buckets

police scooters

police scooters

fallen cross


taipei apartment building




outdoor washer

outdoor washer

flooded tennis court

flooded tennis courts

difficult plumbing





shack lanterns

shack lanterns

concert hall

National Concert Hall - Taipei, Taiwan

temple flowers

Temple flowers, Taiwan

dragon fury

dragon boat race


busted scooter

ad truck

primitive sunflower

future site

future temple site

phoenix lantern

bai bai


telephone repair van

telephone repair van, Penghu, Taiwan


diorama of the end

diorama of the end

sunlit room

CG sunlit room

what a pill…

This is a cover illustration for Advanced Studio Classroom magazine. I did the main render for this cover using Maya and mental ray.

Here’s an unpublished illustration from the same project.

guardian of the shoeboxes

Taiwan-shoebox guardian

space coaster

Artwork for a magazine cover. I created the 3D image of the roller coaster with tracks. The layout artist patched it together with our photo of the coaster-riders, spiffed it up with some space effects, and then plugged the composite image into the cover layout.

Read more…

The Red AlphaSmart Neo

Red AlphaSmart Neo 

For whatever reason, the designers of the AlphaSmart Neo selected an ugly military green for the case. I suspect that AlphaSmart later regretted that decision, since none of the marketing photos for the device portray the real color.

After reading a few articles about vinyl dye being used on computer case mods, I decided to try the technique on my AlphaSmart. I used SEM Color Coat "Flame Red" for the top half of the shell and "Satin Black" for the bottom half. This stuff is usually used to re-color (or restore) automobile interiors. The SEM product is not technically a dye, but it behaves very much like one. It's inexpensive, too–about $8 a can. I ordered from one of the Amazon car parts stores, but you can probably find it at other shops that carry automotive supplies.

It really turned out well. The Color Coat completely covers the plastic case, seeping into every surface feature. (Spray paint often fills these areas, hiding the details.) The Neo truly looks like it was manufactured in this color.

Red AlphaSmart Neo

If I were to do this again, I'd probably choose a slightly darker red–one that doesn't scream, "Hey, look at me!" so much. SEM's "Portola Red" looks about perfect for my AlphaSmart Dana.

Note on the keyboard: Rather than try to come up with a tactic for dying the keys and then relabeling them, I used a replacement keypad for the AlphaSmart Dana. The keys are a very dark blue, almost black, so they seem to match the flame red quite well. The Dana keypad is 100% compatible with the Neo, although there are now a few Dana-labeled keys for which I've had to memorize the Neo-specific functions.

Red AlphaSmart Neo

fantasy illustrations

Here are a couple of older pieces created for the CG Society's art challenges. Both images were created using 3ds Max, mental ray, and Photoshop.


This page will be the final step-by-step guide and photo gallery for my Pixelbox micro arcade cabinet.

Pixelbox is a tiny, arcade game emulation cabinet. It will have most of the same capabilities as a full-sized arcade cabinet. The laser-cut acrylic box stands about 13" tall and is about 10" wide. The cabinet is powered by a 2GHZ Pentium M processor with 1 gig of RAM. The cabinet has a one-player control panel with Sanwa arcade parts and a Happ 1.5" trackball.

Here's a WIP image of the case:

Pixelbox arcade cab

In this picture, the LCD is plugged into my desktop system. I'm currently working on finishing the internals and artwork. More pictures and information coming soon!

big red tricycle