The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for June, 2005

Flotsam

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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Scott and Ryan’s Wild Ride – Part 3

Posted by Deliverator on 27th June 2005

Scott and Ryan are back on the road after a few days rest. Their last known location was Ayer, Massachusetts, a small town best known for its association with Robert Frost, the poet. Ayer has a population of around 7000. Scott and Ryan are staying away from Boston and urban sprawl as much as possible, in part to avoid fighting with cars and trucks (trucks always win), but also to take the road less traveled

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Coins

Posted by Deliverator on 25th June 2005

Stopped in at Vetco the other day to pick up some odds and ends for a project I am working on for one of my clients, a nice guy named George. George was layed off a few years short of retirement and rather than sitting around decided to live out one of his dreams and start his own wine store. His store – George’s Wine Shoppe – opened up about a week ago in the Lake Hills Shopping Center (his store is a few doors down from the DMV – good combo, right?). The store carries a good selection and price-range of wines from around the world, as well as a couple refridgerators of import beers. George is very knowledgeable and is a lot of fun to chat up, so if you are looking for some good wine (or just 3 Buck Chuck) check him out. He is going to be doing a number of wine tastings in the near future, so if you want to be notified, send him an email at info@georgeswineshoppe.com

While at Vetco, a guy walked in and proceeded to show off a number of coins that he had shrunk using an electromagnet and some super-capacitors. He had 3 or 4 of the coins with him. One was a quarter that had been shrunk to around the size of a dime. While I had seen this sort of thing online, previously, this was the first time I had seen one in person. He intends to sell them on eBay once he refines the process. One customer in the store proceeded to argue that defacing currency is illegal. Actually, to the best of my knowledge, defacing money is illegal only in such cases where the defacement is an attempt to defraud. For example, in the past, some coins were made of precious metals such as gold and silver. The metal in such coins was valuable, in and of itself. So, unscrupulous persons would take a sharp knife and shave a little bit of metal from each coin that passed through their hands. In the case of businesses with a lot of currency “churn,” one could accumulate a pile of shavings rather quickly. This led to coins shrinking more and more, until someone would refuse to accept it. This was a big problem for our and other governments. One method of trying to stop this practice was to put ridged edges on larger denomination coins. Thus, if a coin was missing its ridges, it was obvious that it had been shaved recently (likely by the person trying to give it to you). Once the US moved off the silver/gold standard and let the currency float, coins started being manufactured out of less precious metals like zinc and nickel. The ridges on coins like the quarter are thus there largely out of tradition, rather than any functional purpose. Thus, seeing a shrunken coin with its ridges intact is both a curiosity and a bit of an inside joke with coin collectors.

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I like things that spin fast

Posted by Deliverator on 25th June 2005

Got a new DVD burner the other day. The previous burner, an Emprex 8x, started producing bad sectors at the end of disks. I tried a cleaning disk with fluid, took off the front bezel and sprayed it out with compressed air, flashed the firmware to the latest revision and tried the drive in a different computer. Finally, I was tired of wasti ng my time (and media) and decided to get a new one. It has been my experience that most optical drives (for no apparent reason) turn to mush after a few years. If you would like to have the Emprex drive, it is free for anyone local that wants it. Anyways, the new drive is a Plextor PX-712SA SATA drive. With this addition, my system is now totally SATA based. The only ribbon type cables remaining in my case is one for the “live drive” (front panel plugs and knobs for my soundcard) and a rounded floppy cable. I have done a bunch of test burns with the new drive at various combinations of media/speed and they have all burned flawlessly. I like to renew my collection of diagnostic/troubleshooting disks every couple months from ISOs, as I tend to be very hard on them, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Another recent SATA addition to my case is a 74 GB Western Digital Raptor 10,000 RPM hard drive. It is by far the fastest hard disk I have used in a personal desktop system (I have used 15k RPM drives in server), with throughput of 72 MB/sec at the leading edge of the disk and 55 or so MB/sec at the trailing edge and super fast access times. Even its worst performance is on par with the best performance my 250 GB WD 7200 RPM SATA can produce. I moved my 20 GB boot partition to the Raptor drive and created a 50 or so GB partition in the remaining free space. This I have mounted as both drive “R:” and as a folder on the “D:” drive. Thanks to the li nkd.exe utility and the miracle of NTFS junction points, I have been able to move a bunch of programs to the new drive without changing their paths. This means that I don’t have to update shortcuts, backup procedures, etc. Cool beans! Another neat thing that linkd is change the storage location of things that are hardcoded within applications. For instance, I recently found out that Second Life places all its cache files in a directory deep within the “documents and settings” hierarchy. Using linkd, I was able to move all these to the raptor drive for improved performance, while the application continues to think they are located at that long and very nasty URL. The location for things like this really should be specifiable in an .ini file or in the registry, but for those rare (and very frustrating) cases where they are not, Linkd can be a lifesaver. So far, I am really impressed with the Raptor’s performance. I may pick up another and stripe them at some point for some very extreme performance, but for now I am pleased with the speedup it has given to Windows and my applications. About the only real downside to this drive is head thrashing is quite noisey. It is something I can live with, as I usually wear closed-ear headphones while listening to music or playing games, but quiet freaks may want to stear clear.

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Scott and Ryan’s Wild Ride – Part the Last?

Posted by Deliverator on 25th June 2005

Spoke with Scott yesterday. He and Ryan are layed up in a cheap hotel in Windham, New Hampshire (about 20 miles SE of Manchester) and are likely to be there for a few days more. One of Scott’s knees started causing him pain a few days ago and it got acute enough that he decided to see a physician. The only one nearby was the emergency room, so he went there. The doctor pretty much told him to stay off his feet for a few days, ice it and take an ibuprofren once in a while. So, they are waiting a few days to see if they can continue their trip by bike. Scott and Ryan sent some things back by post that they found they didn’t need, so they have a lighter overall load. If they decide to continue they will throw more of the weight on Ryan’s bike and try and set a slower pace. Carolyn (my Ironman cousin and very experience outdoorsman) voiced some concern before the trip began that the gearing on their bikes was somewhat abnormal for load carrying road bikes. Whatever the cause, the next few days will reveal whether they continue by bike, pack it in or turn the trip into something else entirely.

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OS-X coolness

Posted by Deliverator on 22nd June 2005

Lots of interesting stuff going on with OS-X and emulation these days. Over the last few days, I have seen some full motion video (much more difficult to fake than a static screenshot) of OS-X running on generic Intel hardware. While there is no driver support for a lot of video cards, chipsets, etc., it is running and in the wild! In other news, Pear PC continues to mature in terms of compatibility and there are some efforts well underway that will provide major speed increases. In particular, host-provided graphical acceleration could be released for public testing as soon as this weekend. By offloading various video functions to the host, rather than doing them on the emulated processor architecture, you not only greatly accelerate the graphics subsystem, but you free up the processor to emulate other functions more quickly. The more things you can offload to the native host system the better! I figured out a similar trick that resulted in a good performance boost. Disable the pagefile in OS-X and then set the ammount of ram allocated to pearpc to an absurd ammount like 1.5 GB. This effectively places all the burden of memory management on the host operating system, rather than the emulated platform (which runs at effectively 1/10th the speed of host). By doing this, I experienced an appreciable increase in overall performance and application fluidity.

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iRivercasting doesn’t have quite the same ring, but is much more fun

Posted by Deliverator on 22nd June 2005

Been getting into the whole podcasting thing lately. Of course, rather than an iPod I have been using my far superior iRiver H320. So far, I have been using it mainly to listen to various geek/technology shows like Make Audio and some of my favorite NPR shows, but I have also been using it to watch episodes of various TV and online syndication only shows. I have a script set up for virtualdub that allows me to drag and drop convert video to the iRiver’s native resolution and a more appropriate bitrate. I may try to achieve better integration (for the video conversion step) with my RSS reader at some point, so that I can just pickup my iRiver at any point and be assured that I will have something new & (hopefully) interesting to listen to or watch. I am pretty happy with the “ease of accessability” of most of my media, but in the long run I have plans in the works to create a more robust media sharing architecture so that I will be able to access all my media fairly transparently from any of my myriad devices (Tivo, PC, Jornada, iRiver). I rearchitected my network a bit this week to allow data to be more readily exchanged between devices (particularly for the purposes of synchronization while on the go), but at the cost of more of my boxes being directly exposed to the internet. I am somewhat nervous about this, as it puts more administrative burdens on my back. There are some ways I could have rearchitected the network that would have left it equally accessible, but more secure, but would have necessitated additional hardware purchases, and my budget has been pretty blown of late :(

Posted in General, iRiver, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Silverfir Saga Continues

Posted by Deliverator on 22nd June 2005

Spoke to Ryan about the recent server downtime on Silverfir. He hasn’t confirmed it yet, but believes the downtime was due to a remodel of the kitchen in his home that is occuring while he is away. He thinks that the contractors had to shutdown the circuit that his cable modem/router is on in order to install a stove or something, and that is the reason for the downtime. Silverfir is set to reboot on power restore, so it should come back up automatically if further electrical work is necessary. If, on the other hand, the problem is kernel panicks, Theo has root and can investigate and build a new kernel. A preliminary examination on his part did reveal a lot of stuff in the kernel marked experimental that seemed unnecessary, so who knows at this point.

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Scott and Ryans Wild Ride – Part the First

Posted by Deliverator on 22nd June 2005

Heard from Scott and Ryan this morning. They arrived at the bus station in Portland, Maine more or less on time. The station was closed and they didn’t want to incur the expense of a cab (nor did they think all their gear would fit), so they sat outside and reassembled their bikes and then used Ryan’s bike to ferry their gear to a nearby hotel. They bought their panniers (the assemblage of racks and bags that you sometimes see on bikes making serious trips) in Seattle, but found out the night before that they had been given 3 left side bags and one right, so they had to return one and pick one up in Maine. I guess they found a bike shop and were able to purchase one for Scott’s bike, but Scott thinks it is a bit too weak (structurally) for all the gear they are carrying and he keeps needing to “adjust” it. Scott has had pretty rotten luck so far with his gear on this trip. He has had to stop to patch/repair tubes 4 times so far and had to replace the actual tire this morning. Tubes are small enough that they have spares along, but a spare tire would be too unweildly, so Scott spoke to me for a while from a cafe while Ryan biked to the nearest bike shop for a replacement. Ryan’s bike has had no serious problems thus far, but it is brand new, whereas Scott’s has seen some heavy use prior to this trip. I kind of wonder if having all the weight of their gear over the back wheel (instead of balanced over both) is partially responsible for all the trou ble. Anyways, they are in New Hampshire now and will be updating me on their progress every few days. Stay tuned for more updates on Scott and Ryan’s Wild Ride.

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Dear Lazyweb – Windows mailing list software

Posted by Deliverator on 21st June 2005

Anyone care to recommend a simple, free or cheap mailing list manager for Windows? I have a client who would like to send out a monthly bulletin to a small list of (opt-in) customers. He needs something that is very simple that runs on Windows (I thought about setting up Mailman for him on his server, but even that would be too much for him).

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