Move Your Money

December 30, 2009 at 2:39 pm | Posted in Economics, Personal | Leave a comment

There have been all sorts of ideas, most unworkable, about how to get the country’s economy back on its feet.  This is probably the best I’ve seen.  Get your money out of the global economy and invest it locally.

Disclaimer:  I have had my money in my local credit union ever since I was ten years old or so.  I recently closed my BB&T account and strictly work through my local credit union, except for my mortgage.

And, being that I’m a sucker for George Bailey, I ask that you sit back and watch this:

Learning Linkstation Linux

October 6, 2009 at 12:41 pm | Posted in Personal, Technology | 1 Comment

The hard drive on my Tivo Companion seems to be having issues, so I took it offline before I lost all our media.  I’ve been looking at bumping things to the next level, anyway.   I mean, a Windows server is cool, but nothing is as l33t as a Linux server appliance!  So, when I found a great deal on a Buffalo Linkstation on eBay (natch), I just had to take the plunge.

So, after we cracked the case to verify that it was in good working order, my Padawan and I set it up on its own subnet and flashed it to a Freelink distro of Debian Linux.  Then, it was time to put it on the network, roll up the sleeves, fire up a terminal emulator, and wade in.  Of course, none of the detailed instructions that we had found on line panned out, so I’ve been making up a lot of steps via trial and error.  So far, we’ve managed to get Java loaded and a Samba share visible on the network.  I was trying to load VNC when the root partition ran out of space.  Now, I’m trying to figure out how to repartition a remote server … way cool!

Getting the new Tivo Server up and running may take a bit longer than I had hoped, but the result will be worth it.  So, in the meantime, let me leave you with four Lessons Learned:

  1. GUIs are for wimps.
  2. apt is the coolest thing since sliced bread.
  3. The World Wide Web is really just an extended man page for Linux.
  4. vi is a practical joke on the rest of the world that Bill Joy is still chuckling about.  

And, I still haven’t hit upon the right name for the server yet.  Suggestions?

My Life According To…

September 14, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Posted in Arts, Off the Wall, Personal | Leave a comment

I got this “meme” from Rudy Mueller on Facebook.  He did his Life According to Led Zepplin.  So, in keeping with 11th grade English class, I had to try to do him one better….

 

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to 10 people and include me. You can’t use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It’s a lot harder than you think! Repost as “my life according to (band name)

Pick your Artist:
Weird Al Yankovic

Are you a male or female:
Such a Groovy Guy

Describe yourself:
White and Nerdy

How do you feel:
I Want a New Duck

Describe where you currently live:
Fun Zone

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

Your favorite form of transportation:
Unicorn

Your best friend is:
Gandhi II

You and your best friends are:
Six Words Long

What’s the weather like:
One Of Those Days

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called:
The Saga Begins

What is life to you:
This Is The Life

Your current relationship:
Girls Just Want To Have Lunch / She Never Told Me She Was A Mime

Your fear:
Nature Trail to Hell

What is the best advice you have to give:
Everything You Know Is Wrong

Thought for the Day:
It’s All About The Pentiums

How I would like to die:
Trapped In The Drive-Thru

My soul’s present condition:
The Check’s In The Mail

My motto:
I’ll Be Mellow When I’m Dead

Tivo Geek

August 29, 2009 at 9:37 pm | Posted in Off the Wall, Personal, Technology | 1 Comment

I will admit it publically — I am an Official Tivo Geek.  The other night, I hacked a sample Tivo HME “Hello World” app so it would put my son’s name and “Go Ravens!” in big purple letters on the TV screen.  I now have a basic idea for a Tivo version of the Weatherbug app, hosted on the low power server box that I built for the primary purpose of hosting movies to stream to the Tivo.  The family already uses the Tivo to listen to our digital music collection of ripped MP3s, and I hope to do the same with our DVD collection.

I think the Tivo has changed our family’s media habits more than any other device since I first installed an Ethernet hub.  We watch what we want to watch, when we want to watch it.  Looking for something on TV?  Take your choice of one of the two hundred or so of our favorites we have on tap, plus any one of the dozens of movies and episodes we have selected to stream via Netflix.  Commercials?  Skip over them.  Miss the begining of the Ravens game?  The Tivo is already recording it, so you can start at the opening kickoff and skip past commercial breaks until you catch up to the action.   Phone call?  Pause the show, then pick up right where you left off.  The Tivo will handle the rest.  Tivo is the new doughnut.

With the server, the Tivo also organizes and displays photos and home movies.  It provides a comprehensive TV guide, and you can even use it to order a pizza.  The dual tuners support HDTV and CableCard, so it handles the new digital formats without a hitch.  I really don’t see why anyone with a TV set doesn’t log on and buy one.

But true Tivo Geekdom requires taking things to a new level.  Hence Bopo, the Windows XP server that my sons and I hacked together out of a HP T5710 motherboard and some cheap parts from China.  The name comes from my son’s hamster — I’ve taken to naming our various computers after our household pets.  Bopo is small and cute and … well, so is Bopo.  It fits nicely in a wooden jewelry box that ended up in our possession a ways back.  I was planning on having Bopo sit on the shelf next to Tivo, so it had to look nice.  But, I abandoned that plan and just put it down in the basement utility closet with the rest of the network stuff.  Bopo still looks cool, and it runs cool too (if you leave the lid open), since it only sucks down 18 watts, which is about as much as the hallway light that my kids leave on all the time.  The main storage drive is 160 Gb, which I figure should hold about 100 DVDs worth.  I plan to upgrade it to a 1Tb drive after Christmas, if I can find a good sale.  The Tivo’s warranty also expires around then, so I’ll look at upgrading its internal drive as well.

But a good server needs good software, and I’ve been able to scrounge that off the Web.  I’m using Tivo Desktop for music and photos, though I may try Galleon as an alternative.  I crunch DVDs down to mp4s with Handbrake, then serve them up with StreamBaby.  I’m also playing around with KMTTG to archive Tivo’ed shows — I found Tivo Desktop Plus to be seriously disappointing in this area.  And now that I’ve got my hands on a .NET library for HME programming, I can write my own apps.  A Weatherbug client will probably be the first, but the sky is the limit from there.  Hmmm, what about an Atari 2600 emulator…..  Or maybe  — Space Ace!

I’m Published!

July 23, 2009 at 2:57 pm | Posted in Personal, Technology | 3 Comments

I finally got an article published in a major technical magazine!  No, it‘s nothing earth-shattering, and I actually wrote it over my lunch break one day, but I’ve always wanted to see my name in print in a “realperiodical.  The closest I ever came was an attribution in someone else’s column.  But now, I can read my own article!

Yeah, I know, this is rather white and nerdy of me.  But it is cool, sorta.  I mean, there has to be some geek cred for it, right?

By the way, the printed version was edited quite a bit from the original.  I’ve included my original submission below.  But, be sure to click on the link anyway so EDN knows how much you love me!

 

At a former employer, business had been going very well – our startup company selling microprocessor-controlled weather stations to schools and broadcast entities was taking off, orders were picking up, and we were finding our booth very popular at trade shows.  Always on the lookout for things new and different, our president had become enamored with scrolling LED signs, and he insisted we needed one in the booth at the next show.

 “Just imagine: right behind the presenter will be up-to-the-second weather readings scrolling and flashing in bright colors!  Who wouldn’t stop to take a look at that?”

 While I had reservations about the aesthetic appeal of barometric pressure readings blinking in rainbow hues, I did have to admit that it would be a nice challenge which would show off some of our company’s technical expertise.  So I agreed, then almost regretted it when I found out what our schedule was.  Ouch.  We had limited time to get this show on the road.

 The boss had already selected a vendor for the scrolling signs, so I took a look at the interface specification.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it supported a rich serial protocol for transmitting and updating messages to be displayed.  All I needed to do was convert our serial data stream from the weather station to the format that the sign understood.  The job was starting to seem a lot easier.

 We had decided that we wanted a standalone unit that we could market later, so we went with an 8051-family microcontroller solution which would receive weather data on one UART and transmit display data with the other.  To save time and effort, we ordered an OEM board from a vendor we had used before, and we recycled a number of embedded C routines to handle the serial data streams.  All that had to be done was to write some simple C code to transfer weather data from one stream to another.  We might meet our deadline after all.

 The initial work went perfectly.  I had hard-coded some test messages into the interface, and they displayed perfectly on the sign.  I set up the serial input buffer and state machine on the receiving port, and I was able to see the extracted weather data in the debug output.  All that was left to do was include the weather data in the output stream.

 I expanded the output buffer to hold the larger data, and reset the system.  Panic quickly set in.  Instead of my orderly flow of temperatures and precipitation counts, all I got was a garble of letters and symbols.  Something was seriously wrong.  Even though the serial code had been tested in a number of other applications, I began to comb through it, looking for any mistake I could have made.  I checked and double-checked every inch of the code, and after banging my head against the wall for a few hours, I chose a time-tested course of action:  I shut off my computer and went home.

 The next morning in the shower (where I have my best ideas), I realized what the problem had to be.  Arriving at work the next day, instead of reaching for the computer power switch, I reached for a small screwdriver I kept for just such purposes.  Prying up the main RAM chip on the OEM board from its socket, I found the culprit – one of the data pins was bent under the chip.  When I increased the size of the output buffer, the compiler had automatically moved the buffer from internal memory in the CPU to external RAM in order to accommodate the extra space.  With the pin bent, though, all the ASCII characters got scrambled before I sent them to the sign, which dutifully displayed the gibberish anyway.

 With the pin straightened, it was not long before we had a working sign interface module, just in time for the next trade show.  Even our president was impressed.  “Looks great!” he said.  “Now, I have this idea for a weather billboard…”

A Year in the Mirror

July 22, 2009 at 11:13 am | Posted in Faded Mirror, Personal | 2 Comments

To the two or three people who might view this weblog occasionally, welcome to the one-year anniversary of The Faded Mirror.  Yes, it was about one year ago that I started tossing random thoughts and web links to the general public.  There have been some popular posts, and some that were completely ignored.  And, over this time, my interests have undergone a bit of a change.

It’s not that there aren’t interesting topics to blog about, but that anything having to do with politics, culture, or economics these days is so goshdurn depressing, and I am increasingly finding that I am more and more  unqualified to write about theological topics.  “A theologian is one who prays,” which puts me at about the Kindergarten level.  There’s not much to say that others haven’t said much better.

And regarding my fascination with personal technology … well, I am so far behind in keeping up that I might as well be reviewing the Mellotron.  My time is so limited that it’s almost impossible to find time to dabble, let alone take pictures and write about it.  But, rest assured that I still have some projects in the works, and I’ll post about them … someday.

So, where does that leave this blog?  Well, my initial goal of  posting once a week has fallen by the wayside.  I might get to it once a month or so.  Also, I’ll probably limit myself to interesting minutia rather than global concepts.  There’s just too much to follow these days, it’s constantly changing, and very little is encouraging to me.  I think I’ll just keep quiet to preserve what’s left of my sanity.

So, if you are one of the two people who read this, please drop a note in the comment box!  And, if you have some trivial idea you want overanalyzed, toss it out — maybe I’ll read up on it and find fodder for a offbeat blog post.

Enjoy.

Forty Years Later

July 20, 2009 at 8:17 pm | Posted in Personal, Science, Technology, Workplace | Leave a comment

My dad sent me an email message reminding me how I, as a ten-week-old baby, was propped up in front of the kit-built Heathkit to see the historic landing on the Moon.  This reminded me of a scene from a great movie, The Dish, and I found myself tracking down exactly what a 1201 error in the LEM guidance code was, anyway.

That led to this little gem.

Apparently, not much has changed in the world of third level tech support….

Kosher Kola

April 10, 2009 at 3:15 pm | Posted in Off the Wall, Personal | 1 Comment

It’s that time of year again, when an ancient divine prescription for additive-free food makes healthy shopping more rewardable, if you know where to look. Yes, it’s Passover, and the Kosher food section at your local Jewish community’s grocery store is brimming with goodness.

I’ve written about Kosher soda before, so I just want to let everyone know that the Classic Coke and Pepsi with real sugar is now available for a short time only. I’ve made two trips so far. On the first, I got two dozen two-liter bottles for $1.66 each. But, on the return trip the next day, they had lowered the price to 88 cents! Score!!!

So, my year’s supply of Kosher Cola is now safely ensconsed within my garage. Look for the yellow cap!

Finding Nemo

February 11, 2009 at 3:38 pm | Posted in Faded Mirror, Off the Wall, Personal | 1 Comment

Our good friend Celine has asked us

Lotsa links but no new posts? What gives? Let’s find Nemo!

So, what has Nemo been up to?  Well, this, that, and the other.  A little too much of this.  And, let’s not forget that….

Any one of the above are blogs posts waiting to happen.  I know I started out commenting on world events, but frankly, they’ve all been too depressing lately, in more ways than one.  The only cogent comment I can contribute is “I told you so”….

Enough of that.

So, I’ll probably be focusing on things closer to home: a couple techie projects, random theological observations, and varied miscellany.  I’m still swimming, but I just need to angle the mirror a bit so I can see where I’m going.  Keep watching this space!

The Fame Spreads

January 29, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Posted in Faded Mirror, Personal | Leave a comment

My beautiful wife now has her own podcast appearance to tout!  Give it a listen, won’t you?

By the by, my second Generation Orthodox appearance isn’t up yet — but keep watching for it….

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