The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for the 'SWN Hacknight' Category

Seattle Wireless Hacknight – 12/13/05

Posted by Deliverator on 14th December 2005

Tonight’s Seattle Wireless Hacknight was held at Redline, just a few blocks away from Rob’s place. Despite this fact, for some reason Hacknight has wandered far and wide without ever holding a meeting there. Hacknight has been hopping between venues the last month or so, after the sudden and inadequately explained closure of the Capitol Hill Internet Cafe. The only public notice of the closure was a sign on the door saying (more or less) “closed due to electrical problems – hope to open Monday.” Several Mondays have passed and CHIC remains closed, so this explanation really doesn’t hold much water. Casey hit on a likely explanation after a search revealed numerous escalating health violations. The Redline on the other hand has a pretty clean record. So far, I really like Redline. The food and drink was good, tablespace adequate, wifi reasonably stable for a Linksys box, etc. Outlets up front were scarce, but were plentiful in the back.

Tonight’s Happenings:

Eric Butler showed off some of the work he has been doing to visualize SWN node links & perspective links using google maps.
– Casey and Rob discussed possible hardware configurations for the new tower node. The current though seems to be to use a omni with an electrical downtilt in conjunction with a 400 mw Senao WiFi card.
-Rob was interested in whether a magnetic motor/battery utilizing only permanent magnets (not eletric) could be formed. His interest in this controversial idea that some say borders on “perpetual motion” was peaked due to more powerful Neodymium magnets becoming available to the public through companies like United Nuclear.
– Joe Towner proudly donated the last $100 needed to make the tower node possible.
– I monkeyed around with the wireless camera on my Vex trike, checked out application (in)compatibility with Win CE 4.2 on my new Branium WiBook. Everyone found the WiBook quite comical, but what do I care IT PLAYS DOOM!
– bumped into several people that we had met previously at Seattle Mindcamp. They were meeting to discuss/work on Ruby on Rails development and offered to share with us their cushy backroom with its plentiful power outlets (albeit malfunctioning ones).

Branium Wibook Joe Triumphant in Giving!

Posted in General, SWN Hacknight, Windows CE | No Comments »

New Seattle Wireless Project

Posted by Deliverator on 29th November 2005

Last week’s hacknight was spent, for the most part, on discussion and exploration of a new, major project that SWN is embarking upon. I was sworn to secrecy (we have a handshake and everything), so couldn’t write about it at the time. Matt has taken the wraps off the project with his announcement of the fundraiser for the project. The short of it is, SWN has managed to get some space donated to it 150′ up one of the huge radio towers on Capitol Hill. We spent a good deal of the meeting consulting pictures, topographic maps and using Google Earth to establish sight-lines. A node at this location can see a LOT, including significant lines of sight to the Eastside and Kirkland. This node represents a chance to seriously build out the network and bring nodes on the Eastside into the SWN fold. I went over to my Grandmother’s house and took some pictures, which establish a clear line of sight to her location. I believe I should also be able to see the tower from the top of the pine tree in the front yard. My grandmother’s house can see a good deal of downtown and my house can see Factoria, Summerset, College Hill and some of Issaquah, so there is very good potential to get these areas on the network as well. Although the space is being donated, it will cost some money for the antennas, node hardware and a certified tower tech to mount the gear. Please consider a donation.

Posted in General, SWN Hacknight, Wireless | 1 Comment »

Eat a Burrito and help build a robot!

Posted by Deliverator on 15th November 2005

Has a day chock full of robotics. The TRC had a general meeting this afternoon and there was quite a turnout. I would estimate close to 30 people were there. After general announcements, the group split in two, with one group working on fundraising and the other group working on resurecting a robot from four years back that had been partially stripped for parts.

The fundraising group is getting ready for its first fundraising event. The event is tomorrow (Wednesday, Nov 16th) at the Baja Fresh located at 120 Bellevue Way near Bellevue Square. If you come in and treat yourself to anything on their menu tomorrow and mention the Titan Robotics Club when you order, we will get 15% of the gross proceeds. The TRC is in dire need of funds this year. So, come order a tasy burrito and help some kids (over 50% girls!) get inspired about engineering!

The other group of kids worked on Chronos. The TRC recycles a lot of parts from year to year, but has recently recognized that large working robots have great fundraising value. So, we are going to attempt to rehabilitate Chronos for public relations purposes. The roller assembly that scoops balls into the robots large hopper will need to be replaced, as will some of the pneumatic systems. We were able to power up Chronos and hook it up to the operator interface via a serial tether, but were unable to get it to do much more this first time around. The operator interface board indicated a problem with one of the relays, but Kevin thinks that will be easily remedied.

After the TRC meeting, I headed to Seattle for Hacknight, only to discover that the Capitol Hill Internet Cafe, where we usually meet, is still closed, ostensibly due to electrical problems. I happened to meet up with Rob while walking down broadway. He had just received his $300 Vex robotics kit by mail, so I headed over to his place to check it out. It looks to be a very versatile and thoroughly documented kit of parts, although I would advise spending some extra dough on the programming module and some additional sensors. If you are looking for a good way to get your feet wet in robotics or are looking for a fun and educational xmas gift, I highly recommend picking one up.

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Hacknight – Oct 25th 05

Posted by Deliverator on 25th October 2005

Tonight’s Hacknight was unusually animated tonight, or perhaps I just had the proper dose of caffeine in my system. Last week I was an absolute zombie and didn’t have much fun as a result.

Casey was present tonight with his kiddo and wife in tow. Casey’s CVS camera (which I got for him on my recent trip to Cleveland) appears to have a different firmware than mine. Both my camera and his have revision B3 hardware, but neither of the two “pinch” techniques to reveal the firmware seemed to work on his camera. Having a different firmware than mine may be a good thing, as my particular revision (3.62) requires a hardware hack to get working, whereas some other firmwares just require a interface cable and software. If he doesn’t have a cable built by next week, I will bring mine, so that we can attempt to unlock it at the next meeting.

Matt and Rob are putting the finishing touches on their OLSR add-on for Metrix Pebble. The meshing seems to work really well across many different hardware/software platforms, and they have cooked up a neat mesh visualization system that can generate network maps in near realtime. They are also working on a self-propagating hostname system that will allow any device in the network to reference other devices by hostname, and not just ip. I look forward to seeing their work in action at Mind Camp.

Rob recently purchased a monster multi-monitor system comprised of three ultra low latency Viewsonic 19″ LCD panels that have a single central mounting pedestal. I have never been much impressed with Window’s handling of multimonitor systems, although some video card manufacturers (Matrox in particular) have their own utilities to augment some of the more glaring deficiencies in Window’s handling. Ultramon is one of the best chipset agnostic utilities that I have used, but that only covers the Windows world. Knowing that Rob is primarily a Mac user, I was curious to know what he was using. Turns out he has been sharing the displays between his Mac and Windows gaming boxes using a cross-platform keyboard and mouse sharing application called Synergy. Using this application, it is possible to use a single keyboard/mouse to control multiple computers running different operating systems. I have two primary machines that I use for my day to day work. My workspace is limited, but I have prefered to keep seperate keyboard/mice for the two systems rather than use a hardware kvm (although I have a hardware kvm hooked to the secondary for when I have to hook up a third machine, temporarily). I have a compact keyboard and a Cirque trackpad for the secondary machine and a high refresh USB mouse and ergonomic keyboard for the main machine, on which I do a lot of gaming. Now, with the use of Synergy, I should be able to eliminate this second keyboard/mouse set, or at least move it more out of the way. I highly recommend anyone with multiple monitors/systems check out this excellent free utility!

Posted in General, SWN Hacknight, Tech Stuff | 2 Comments »

CVS Video Cameras – Back to Being “One Time Use” ?!?!

Posted by Deliverator on 11th October 2005

I purchased a few $30 CVS video cameras while in Cleveland, one for myself and one for Casey Halverson. I knew that these cameras had been hacked for a few months, but hadn’t done much reading as quite simply I didn’t think I would ever have an opportunity to pick one up (there are no CVS stores on the west coasts). I spent a little time time reading how to make a connection cable from a palm m100 sync cable, which I just happen to have – I know I saved that old PDA for some reason! Considerably more time was spent reading how to enable downloading of video off the camera. The hack has definitely matured and it is now fairly trivial to download videos off the camera. You simply need to install libUSB-Win32 and a program called OPS and you are good to go. Unfortunately (and as many predicted), a new firmware version has been developed that is not as easily hacked. If your camera has version 3.40 fw, you are good to go. If you have 3.62…not so much. I, being the favored son of the gods, was lucky enough to have the blighted 3.62 fw on my unit. I hope Casey fares luckier. There is already a hardware hack that enables you to unlock a version 3.62 camera, but it is quite risky. Even when performed correctly, there is a definite risk of “bricking” your camera. This new hack involves applying battery power to pin 9 of the flash memory chip during a specific short window during the camera boot process. If you get the timing right, you can corrupt an area of the flash forcing the camera to use a simpler backup copy. The backup copy once used is subject to the same flaws as were exploited in v3.4, so you can unlock the camera once and for all and use the ops utility to replace any non-critical files you might have corrupted with known good copies. The problem is that the “battery and wire” trick can potentially corrupt files critical to the boot process, leaving you with a bricked camera. I think I am going to wait a few weeks to see if a less damaging means of hacking the camera emerges. If one doesn’t emerge, I may try my luck, as the camera won’t be of much use to me if I can’t unlock it.

Posted in General, Photography, Portable Computing/Gadgets, SWN Hacknight, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Free Voicemail and Web Based Fax

Posted by Deliverator on 13th September 2005

Casey and Rob clued me in to a neat free service called K7. K7 offers users of the service a free phone in the 206 area code through which they can receive faxes and voicemails. Any faxes/voicemails received on the number are forwarded as email attachments or can be accessed via their website. So, how can they afford to provide this service? Well, because of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, CLECs get paid by other providers for the termination (answering) of a phone call. Thus, every time you pickup the phone, your phone company gets a small amount of money from the carrier that originated a call. Normally, carriers are constantly making calls that terminate at other carriers and vice versa. But, K7 is a service that only receives calls and does not generate calls to other carriers, so all those termination fees, which would usually flow both ways end up flowing only into K7’s bank account and not out! This one way flow of money was distressing enough to most carriers that they protested strongly and got the law rewritten somewhat, but there is a grandfather clause for companies like K7 that were already in operation.

Anyways, I signed up for an account (a very simple process that didn’t require me to divulge any personally identifiable information) this evening. You can send faxes of your derriere and dirty voicemails to my number at:


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Something Fishy

Posted by Deliverator on 7th September 2005

Hacknight this evening was quite interesting with the main topic of conversation being VOIP over Wifi. Rob is back from his extended roadtrip across the south-west US. He got as far as Texas and headed back around the time that Katrina hit, staying just ahead of the more sensible (and car equiped) evacuees from Mississippi and Louisiana. We discussed the latest goings on in Second Life – my arcade, limitations of SL’s scripting language and an interesting project called “Deep Teal” which overcomes many of these limitations by allowing SL objects to communicate with programs outside of SL for their data processing needs. We also discussed a persistent problem that myself and others have encountered with Rob’s virtual fish, namely that they keep going AWOL. I have tried “catching them in the act” by purposefully introducing conditions thought responsible for their unapproved leave taking, but have been unsuccessful. Sometimes the problem does not manifest itself for weeks at a time, but inevitably I will log in to an empty (or partially empty) Koi pond. One possible solution to this problem is to have an invisible “fish rezzer” object that sits at the bottom of the pond/tank and scans the area for the presence of the fish. If the fish goes awol, it rezzes a fresh copy and feeds it a list of waypoints. Currently, one must lay out a series of waypoints, rez a fish from inventory, move all the waypoints slightly so that the fish “sees” them, wait until the fish has discovered all the waypoints and then delete the waypoints. This can be a time consuming process, especially if it has to be repeated every time a fish goes AWOL. Rob’s fish are amongst the best I have seen in SL. If he can only iron out a few kinks I think his fish could be quite popular, perhaps enough to substantially supplement his income from Metrix. There are a number of people I have learned of (and a few whom I have encountered) who earn their RL (Real Life) living through the sale of SL objects.

In real life fish news, my gene spliced fish seemed to be acting a little stressed in their six gallon world. I have been contemplating a bigger tank for a while now, and my not wanting to kill these (expensive) wonders of modern science made the decision much easier to justify to my wallet. After hacknight, I went out and purchased a 20 gallon tank. It is shaped like an extruded hexagon and is far more vertically oriented than any other tank I have owned. The “column of water” look and distortion from the angled glass panels takes a little getting used to, but all in all, I like the effect. The Ikea quality table that I was using for the six gallon tank could never have bourn the weight of ~160 pounds of water, so I purchased a matching stand for the tank as well. Oh, and of course a tank needs a hood, so I added that to the pile as well. I also purchased a couple ghost shrimp to help clean the gravel in my tank, a niche left vacant with the death of my Albino Cory. Fish, like many a hobby, can get expensive, fast. Thankfully, a longer than anticipated consulting job today resulted in today being “a wash” – haha :)

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Hacknight – 08/30/05

Posted by Deliverator on 30th August 2005

I have been in pain all day due to some oral surgery performed yesterday. I have been clenching virtually every part of my body that can be clenched, punching walls and swearing (not so much) under my breath. I have found it difficult to concentrate on anything and articulate myself in meaningful way, in part due to the pain and near constant taste of blood in my mouth, but also because I didn’t sleep much last night – due to the pain and blood in my mouth. After a few handfuls of over-the-counter pain killers, I shuffled off to hacknight. I arrived almost an hour and a half after hacknight’s usual start time, and half expected the meeting to be over. Casey and Matt were both there with new projects brewing in their evil minds. The evening’s conversation was brief but productive.

  • Matt and I discussed cobling together some recent freecycling finds into a web controlled wireless camera sniffer. The basic idea is to use some stepper motors to precisely (and reproduceably) point a high gain parabolic dish that overlooks a good deal of Seattle. This antenna will feed the video receiver unit of a 2.4 GHZ video sender/receiver device that Matt has had sitting in his closet for quite some time. This unit has a bad reputation for causing interference with nearby unlicensed 2.4 GHZ gear, so has sat unused for quite some time. The video receiver will be wired to one of the spare analog LCDs that are in my closet for local viewing, and a video capture card that will stream any video this contraption picks up to a web page. The idea is to have the whole thing controllabe from a web page and allow web users to create a database of found cameras (i.e. baby monitor at x=134.2 degrees y=-25.82 degrees). In some strange way, this reminds me a bit of google maps sightseeing and some of the internet “hunting” sites. It should be a fun project and will let us do something constructive (in the artistic sense) with all the weird gadgets we have filling our respective closets.
  • Casey is researching WiFi VOIP phones for possible use in an entrepreneurial venture to bring cheaper phone service into remote, small communities in Alaska. I am going to loan him some older PC boxen to set up a prototyping environment. Broadcom seems to have a wifi phone reference platform that may be just the ticket. Matt had a Zyxel WiFi phone that I got to play around with.
  • Some random pedestrian’s came up to our table towards the end of the evening and asked us if we knew how they could get online through nocharge. Nocharge is a free (as in beer) dial-up isp that has come in handy in a pinch in the past. They have an interesting business model, whereby they give away free dial-up access and offer pay as you go phone support for $10/call. They get their revenue in a few other ways as well, but for the most part, it is free to the user.
  • I have resolved to byte the bullet and sign up for cellular internet access from either Sprint or Verizon within a couple weeks. I am still mulling over some of my options for what to use for an access card, but will order something off eBay shortly.

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Posted by Deliverator on 28th June 2005

  • Ryan has posted a big update on his blog. He has been keeping a dead-tree diary over the course of his and Scott’s roadtrip and was able to post it from a public library. The biggest news is that they have now crossed over into Connecticut and are veering from their planned path in order to reach New York more quickly. No update on how Scott’s leg is doing, but they seem to be putting on miles.
  • Second Life continues to astound me. Rob is really getting into it as well. He is currently in the midst of constucting the first Sushi bar in SL. Rob has dug into the scripting and modelling tools much more than I have, so far, and is creating his virtual restaurant more or less from scratch. The most advanced scripted object that I have created thus far is a picture frame that displays a slideshow of my family photos. I do have some plans for more advanced objects, with which to outfit my SL “home,” but will probably take a formal scripting course in world before really digging in. Rob, however, has already set out with much more ambitious plans. In true TCP/IP over Carrier Pigeon style, he is working on implementing TCP/IP by firing “physical” objects that have a data packet encoded inside between “routers.” Thus, you have a data network whose packet delivery mechanism consists of physical objects simulated inside a virtual world. It is all enough to make your head spin.
  • Played around with a $30 One-Time-Use Digital *** VIDEO *** Camera that David McDonald brought in. The cameras are being sold by the CVS chain of drug stores on the east coast. The idea is that you buy one, use it and then bring it back to the CVS store where they give you the video on a DVD and then resell the camera. Well, in (not unexpected) hardware hacker fashion, people have already figured out how to download the videos directly, thus making it into a $30 video camera that you can use over and over. This is a great little gadget to use in situations where you wouldn’t want to risk breaking something more expensive, or where the physical mounting would be difficult. I am going to pick one up for use on next year’s FIRST robot
  • Had a couple students show up on Monday night to work on the ROV project. We spent most of the evening going through Autodesk Inventor tutorials, learning how to model parts. By the end, we had created a nozzle and a few threaded parts. In other ROV project news, our motors have finally arrived at West Marine and I will be heading over there in the next few days to pick them up. This is really exciting, as we can get back to actual hands on working on the ROV.
  • My replacement 7″ SVGA touchscreen for the Carputer has arrived, so I will hopefully have it installed and everything up and running by sometime tomorrow. Once again, I have to compliment mp3car on the quality of their service. I seldem encounter companies that start with the motive of being a service to the community first and a profit making enterprise second, but mp3car has really impressed me in my several interactions with them.

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Second Life

Posted by Deliverator on 15th June 2005

Went to hacknight this evening and was pleased to see that Casey Halverson was present for the first time in quite a while. Casey is the man behind such cool projects as SnowNet and TrainNode and is always good for an interesting conversation. Casey showed off the hardware for TrainNode and its captive portal system. The captive portal has a really neat feature that displays the im usernames of all users logged onto the system. This is a great way to help users of a system connect up and start interacting. I wish internet cafes would have such systems. As usual, conversation at hacknight covered a wide range of topics and was highly animated.The highlights of the evening for me were: Casey’s OEM cellphone-on-a-chip, a system for storing data using pings and the two Matt W’s demos of Second Life. I have been hearing a lot of good things about Second Life of late, so decided to plunk down $10 to check it out.

The concept of Second Life is probably a bit baffling to most people. It is at its essence a virtual space and a set of tools for interacting with that space, building objects, environments, etc. In short, it is an online virtual world. Massively multiplayer online role playing games have been around for quite a while, so the idea of virtual worlds is nothing new. The thing that confuses most people about Second Life is that it is not a game (well, unless you choose to make one…), but rather an environment created entirely by the users of the system. You can create anything your imagination (and increasingly robust tools) are capable of envisioning. I haven’t tried my hand at creating object yets, but do intend to checkout the modeling and object scripting system in the near future. I spent a few hours checking out various publicly accessible environments and found that they ran the gamut from mundane and mediocre to fanciful masterpieces of both art and code. I particularly liked a soaring aerodrome filled with airplanes, hovercars, balloons and every flying vehicle imagineable. I tried my hand at piloting a publicly accessible hover-taxi and went skydiving. I have created a small gallery of pictures from my adventures in Second Life.

Posted in Gaming, General, SWN Hacknight, Wireless | 1 Comment »