Tuesday, December 29, 2009

[books] ragamuffin

I'd heard about Tobias Buckell when he showed up on Dead Robots Society to do a podcast episode, and from the interview he sounded like exactly the kind of creative little monkey that makes stuff I like reading about. He'd mentioned a couple of his books, but the one that stuck out in my mind was "Ragamuffin".

As a result, that was the first I ended up snagging after I got my Kindle online.

It turns out that this is book two in a series that has 3 entries so far ("Crystal Rain" being the first, and "Sly Mongoose" being third) which means I've once again been introduced to a universe in the middle of the story. But the way the book is structured, you're eased into the history of the universe while being started off with some pretty brutal action in the story. I also really enjoyed the pace of the story and found it to be pretty well crafted overall.

I'd highly recommend this book, and have already snagged the other two in the series.

now with 20% more kindle flavor

I scored a Kindle for Christmas, and have been busy catching up on a bunch of reading that I have neglected. Most of it is sci-fi stuff so far, but I'm also planning on ganking stuff from Project Gutenberg (as in "printing press", not "Police Academy") and some other interesting/educational texts.

The big hassle is that the Kindle's PDF reader is kind of limited. Specifically, it can't resize fonts at all, which makes reading some of the books I've got rather difficult. I've snagged Mobikit's Creator Publisher version and managed to convert both The US Army Ranger Handbook and all 24 of the NEETS modules into kindle format. Conversion seems to do great for text, but messes up formatting of stuff like tables and the placement of artwork.

Pretty slick stuff so far. Amazon did a good job of integrating their store with it and making it easy to acquire content.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Ok, so mentioned it briefly in another vanity tool that allows self-promotion 140 characters at a time, but I didn't get around to writing up anything on it here. Time to fix that.

At my orc place, we recently had a few folks move to Windows Vista (now 7) desktops at home. This was ok, until they attempted to connect to the VPN only to discover that it no longer worked. The problem is that Microsoft removed support for the MS-CHAPv1 protocol and only MS-CHAPv2 is available, but the VPN appliance we were using doesn't speak MS-CHAPv2. One option was to setup L2TP on the appliance, but that ended up being all kinds of fail due to some funky routing stuff that had to be preserved and was beyond my capabilities (the best I can do is smash the device with a hammer and swear a blood oath to track down all those responsible for producing it).

So. Fsck it all to hell. We started looking at Linux based solutions that could handle L2TP, and that's when I stumbled across OpenVPN (which supports Mac/Win/Lin). Easy enough to setup, but at the last minute got the added constraint that the solution should be generic enough that someone else could manage it (ie, the company could find a networking monkey to come in and make sense of it).

While getting ready to install it on an Ubuntu box, I noticed that they had "ebox-openvpn" and did some digging on that.

It turns out the eBox is one of those "appliance distros". It's based on ubuntu, and comes with a web config utility which seemed to satisfy the "normal people can use it" requirement. We ended up just downloading the distro that eBox offers up on their website and installing that without any major hassles.

eBox is actually a pretty cool little distro you should check out if you need a small intranet server for a hub office or a small, decentralized startup. It comes with not only a well laid out iptables system and OpenVPN, but also includes stuff like a mail virus/spam filter, file server, and ability to do the BC thing for active directory with samba/kerberos/ldap. Handiest of all, though, is that it's got a certificate management system that lets you setup your CA, and issue X.509 certs pretty easily.

There are some rough edges, though. Because it's an appliance distro, it's guilty of the same thing stuff like Plesk is guilty of. It considers its own internal database to be authoritative for all configurations on the system: if you hack a config file by hand, prepare for the changes to get blown away when the service or server is next restarted. That wouldn't be a problem, except for the fact that the web interface is by no means comprehensive when it comes to configuring the services. For example, we needed to add in some extra options to OpenVPN to tell it to force the client to set default route to the VPN, who the WINS and DNS servers, etc... fairly straightforward to do in the openvpn.conf, but there wasn't anyway to set those in eBox. Finally, my last gripe is that you have to "save" all changes before you can exit a config screen. This makes mass tweaking of the interface kind of tedious and slow going.

There was also a problem with the client openvpn package that ebox generated for us. The zip file had the right certificate, but the client didn't work. We ended up having to replace it with the .exe directly from openvpn's site.

As for solving the original problem, I'd suggest just nutting it up and learning how to deal with openvpn through it's config file. The config is actually pretty straightforward (and short). The main reason we decided to keep eBox installed and in place, however, was because of the certificate management feature and because we didn't want to spend anymore time re-installing a distro onto the server.

I'm not sure I'd recommend eBox for a large, more established network, but it definitely seems like the way to go if you need to get a small shop up and online in a couple of hours.

Monday, November 16, 2009

moar laz0rs

So, got the table bits lashed together and working properly now. Ugly end product that looks like a 7th grader put it together:

And the end result is thus:

Unfortunately, one of the lasers is misaligned, so you still get bright light shining off your thumb when it's not touching the screen unless your hand is at a (completely unnatural) 90 degree angle to the table.

Support is the next thing to work on, then it's time to look at the projection stuff. Ouch.

What I ended up doing:

1) just using the clay to hold the laser and adjust the pitch and yaw, then striped some hot glue across the top to control roll.
2) stapled the wires up along the sides to the top of the frame
3) hacked up quickcam for the shots as noted in previous posts

It turns out that the grooves that I cut were pretty much unnecessary.. the light seems to shine fine if the laser is flush with the acrylic. We slapped wet modeling paper clay into each corner and used some guides to calibrate the beam, and pushed the laser down into the clay until it just about dug a channel out from the front of the laser to about half way back. Then we left the clay to dry for about 20 hours before gluing the lasers in place.

For calibration, we simply used 4 red Solo plastic cups to provide markers for the beam and adjusted the beams by using a webcam with the lights turned down low. We didn't use the modified logitech because I wanted to be able to see where the beam was in relation to the cup. Some stuff I learned during calibration:

1) if the beam appears to be V shaped, it means you've got one side angled up and the other side is a reflection from the table top.
2) the just above the white lip of the cups is about where you want the line to be, or right below the bottom crease on the cup
3) for the line splitters on the laser, you want to make sure that the rough side is facing towards the laser lens, and the smooth side is pointed out. :( Instead of a focused 89 degree arc, we got a 150 degree arc that dimmed the closer you got to the center
4) don't be afraid to drop the camera down under the table to make sure that you've got the laser shining at the right place... ie, test each laser from the under the table POV

Sunday, November 8, 2009

laser table update

We ran into a problem with the lasers, or more specifically a problem powering the lasers a couple of weekends ago. Last weekend was still unable to solve it and was getting kind of frustrated... especially since construction time is limited to weekends and actually building this thing isn't nearly as interesting to me as starting work on the software/API.

I'd ordered a 3.3V/5V regulated breadboard power supply from sparkfun and a 5V/1A wall wart. After a couple of minutes of operation, the circuit would drop to 1.9V. Did some checking and found out that a heatsink on the thermal regulator could be applied, so we tried and got the lifetime up to 20 minutes. When I tried rewiring the lasers to share a parallel circuit to the power supply (like how I'd planned on rigging them up when it was time to deploy), the fsckers immediately started dropping voltage to 1.9 again.

Last night, we played a hunch and replaced the voltage regulator with a new one, and lo and behold, the lasers ran for 2 hours with nary a hiccup. We'd also swapped out the 22 gauge solid wire for 18 gauge threaded speaker wire, and hooked up each laser to a plug that could fit on the bread board. The end result is that all this can nicely be transferred to a PCB and mounted fairly easily. We also ended up replacing the 5V wall wart with a selectable voltage wall wart set to 7.5V... it just wasn't delivering the current at 5V for some reason.

On the actual acrylic side of things, I swung by Home Depot and picked up some 1x1x36 molding pieces, spray painted 3 sides satin black, and cut them down to size (along with a 45 degree angle on the corner) in order to use them as a safety rail for the lasers. The plan for calibration will be to use the modelling clay idea abratrarious suggested, and just glue the fsckers in place.

End result, the table looks more and more like some middle school shop project, but meh... that's what prototypes do.

Also started to notice that some of the superglued acrylic pieces are falling off. it's possible that I might end up having to just yank them entirely and bolt the table together. I think I see how this can be done without a problem now. I superglued the guard rails on to the acrylic, and we'll see how long those hold.

For the support, I'm thinking about just hacking together a dorm room table (some plywood, metal pipe, and metal fasteners), but instead of trying to cut a hole in the plywood, just flip the table upside down so the acrylic will be resting on the table's feet.

Finally, also worth mentioning the IR filter on the webcam. The webcam is a Logitech Quickcam for Notebooks, and it turns out that after you've remove the IR filter it's unnecessary to put your ambient light filter in the same spot. I was able to refocus the camera, and drop the little square of floppy disk material down into the lens well without having to remove it's assembly and wedge it into the other side.

The plan is for laser calibration in the clay on Wednesday (holiday), and maybe take a stab at building the support system. After that, it'll be testing the effectiveness of the camera to see light blobs, and then finally figuring out what to do about project. Was still considering the fresnel thing, but it turns out that it's hard to find a 15" LCD on a shelf these days... will probably start scouring used comp stores around here to see what they got.

Minus the PC and the aggravation so far invested, project is still under $200 for materials, if the fresnel thing works, could probably beat $500 for the total.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

massive software design fail and why a $1.2T health care bill is doomed to the same thing

I found out about the existence of this project when the company I work for was tasked to do some clean-up work on the training videos (note: the opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone and not those of my employer). For some background on AHLTA, I'd point you to this article. While the author wants to pin the blame on the "Bush administration", it's really the same story that's been played out time and time again in the quixotic quest to develop an electronic medical records system for a government run health care system (the military). The "Obama administration" is just as likely to launch the same failures (if not larger ones due to the increase in willingness to expand federal spending by adding to the deficit and creating more bureaucracies).

Today it was finally announced that the Army is halting deployment of the system, and my guess is that it's going to be scrapped.

Bottom line: around $30 Billion and almost 5 years for something that has absolutely zero utility, is completely user hostile, and cannot be re-used in any way. The money and time spent on the project are just gone. Poof. Game over, man. Game over.

The reason this boondoggle got to be so bad? Each time someone stepped up and said, "This is crap and it doesn't do what it's supposed to do" they were stamped back down by superiors who were afraid of how it would look if they admitted defeat and wrote off the money already spent on the project. Yeah, I'd be pissed off (as a taxpayer) if they had canceled the project in Sept 2008 when the price tag was $20 billion... but at least they would have saved a year and $10 billion off the effort.

But here's the problem. Technically, nothing went wrong with the development process of this system. Studies were done, requirements were gathered, development schedules were created, and contract officers signed off that the requirements were met. The contractors did exactly what they were told to do and produced exactly the software that the Army asked for.

Not the software they needed.

This is a $30B illustration of the absolute failure of old design philisophies, specifically the ones that rely on the end user to know both what their requirements are and what the language should be to describe them. Agile development techniques have cropped up in the private sector over the past decade and have found success in smaller businesses (or divisions inside of larger organizations) where the developers can maintain contact with the end users and subject matter experts to address design issues. Requirements-based development, however, forces developers to guess on design issues, or worse, leave the question to be hashed by a committee of people who won't be using the system, don't know the subject matter, and commonly don't even use the same terminology for the various parts of the system .

Because government contracts (and large enterprise projects) are so large and so much money is at stake, the decision to use agile development techniques is usually discounted. The bias seems to be, "Well, that's not the method we used to develop this other $10 billion project" and completely ignores the fact that that other project also failed to deliver software that the users truly need and has only succeeded because employees were ordered to use it and work around the problems.... if the project is lucky and isn't scrapped entirely after launch.

AHLTA isn't the first example of this, either. The FBI was forced to give up on a $10 Billion project to improve their information infrastructure. The IRS blew $20B. Even the concept of electronic medical records itself isn't new... it's been attempted many times under many different initiatives by various groups in the DoD since at least the 1980's.

The endemic problem here isn't the contractors, it's the fact that there is a bureaucracy that's left in charge of the project. There is no single person with the power to say, "This is fail. Try again," until the project is completed and the money is spent. Both structure of the contract -- and in the case of government project, laws -- prevent shifting the focus of software development from simply implementing a laundry list of pre-determined features into a user-needs oriented development model. That's why I believe it's a fallacy to pin it on any "administration". It's the mid-level officials who keep the same jobs between administrations that are jacking things up and sheltered from the consequences of failure to act.

What I find truly scary about all this is that we now have a bill sitting in Congress that allocates $1.2 Trillion for spending on health care for the public. A large portion of that money is meant to fund a switch to EMR for the public and its premise is that we can reduce the cost of health care if we can reduce the cost of managing health care information.

If we can't get this right for just dental coverage of 3 million people in the Army, how in the hell is this method supposed to work for 330 million across 50 states? Just at the IT level... forget the adminstrative stuff.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

bsg: the plan

Just got finished watching BSG: The Plan. Pretty good. Ties up some loose ends from the series, offers up the Tricia Helfer Variety Pack (my vote's for trashy brunette), and introduces a new minor character for one of the subplots. Lots of the show splices in footage from the series in with new scenes, so it's kind of a retrospective as well. The 2's (Simon) get a more prominent role, and Leeoben is still pretty freaky but a lot less spooky once his story is revealed.

Also, Dean Stockwell is either an exceptionally evil man or a bad ass actor, and that's all I'm going to say about that.

This is definitely worth checking out if you're a BSG freak like me.

amazon now offers cloud mysql

Just got some spam from Amazon announcing the availability of their RDS (relational database system). The idea is that they basically manage a mysql server for you, and data transfer between RDS and EC2 machines in the same zone is free.

Scratching out some rough numbers, that's about $85/mo for their low end db server.. backups included. They're also dropping the rate for linux EC2 instances, and that works out to about $63/mo.

Monday, October 26, 2009

plexiglass sucks

Spent the weekend cutting up a sheet of plexiglass for the table top. I hate cutting the stuff, but it seems to have worked out ok (aside from my complete inability to cut a straight line).

Ended up snagging a sheet of 36"x30" sheet of 0.203" acrylic from Home Depot for about $43 (total cost of project so far is around $120). Since 0.203" is about 5mm and the diameter of the laz0rs is 12mm, I decided to just cut 4 grooves at 45 degrees in each of the corners, then glue on a 1"x1" base plate on the bottom to support the lasers. I then cut about 8 3/4"x1/2" blocks to glue on the top side of the plexiglass on each side of the groove in order to something close to the top of the laser that I can bolt a cap on to.

The extra bits (baseplates and blocks) came from the scrap I had after cutting 3" off the sides and 5" off the top so that I ended up with a 33"x25" piece (32"x24" for projection area, 1" margin for mounting lasers and the frame later on). I also use a piece of scrap to do some test cuts and to check out the laser to make sure it was sitting about right down in the groove.

My previous experience was with much thinner plexiglass, and the only viable way to cut that was with a scoring tool. With this thicker stuff, so I was able to put masking tape on both sides of the sheet, draw the cut line, and move a jigsaw through it at about 1/2 speed without any melting or the sheet cracking. I did a test cut on some of the scrap I had left over without the tape and the blade made it about 2" into the cut before the melted plastic jammed the jigsaw blade.

And speaking of the blade... I went with a carbon blade designed for cutting metal.

For the 45 degree grooves, I cut in with the jigsaw, tried to round out a corner cut, and then just cleaned out any left over with a dremel.

Testing out with the laser showed revealed something I hadn't accounted for in my earlier designs -- the fact that lasers are very precise little bitches, and that while the grooves I made for them gets them pointing in generally the right direction there still needs to be some way to do fine grained calibration. Namely, elevate the rear end of the lasers and make sure that they're throwing the beam parallel to the glass.

Next tasks: rigging up power for all 4 lasers, doing tests to find out how far away to mount the camera, and figuring out how to mount the lasers so that they can be adjusted.

For the support frame, I'm kicking around just getting an old vanity cabinet or something to hold everything. Still ignoring the project problem for the time being.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

math fail

So it turns out that if you want to like, play with electricity, you have to do some of that math crap. It also turns out that when you see numbers like "3.2V 25m" the "m" doesn't stand for milliamps, it means milliwatts... and using that math stuff, that works out like 7.8 mA.

P = V * C (power [watts] = voltage * current [amps])
V = I * R (voltage = current [amps] * resistance [ohms])

I was testing the lasers out by simply hooking the power leads up to my cell phone 5.5V cell phone battery, but later we rigged up something a little more stable with a 9V battery, and some alligator clips on a 270 ohm resistor. Turns out that's pushing 33 mA on 300 m.

Whups. It still worked, but apparently overclocking the lasers means you lose some of their life.

In other news, I snagged a Logitech Quickcam for Notebooks (yes, that whole thing is the product name... no version numbers or anything.. "for Notebooks) for around $40. The cam is way easy to disassemble as everything is screwed together, and driver support for Linux is in most current distros. IR filter popped out easily enough. For the regular light filter, I tried cutting out a square from an old floppy disk, but it severely dims the IR light at a distance of about 3 feet. Going to try an exposed negative next.

Still trying to figure out what I'm going to do about mounting the lasers on the acrylic. The diameter of the laser (including the casing) is about 1/2 an inch which is about 13mm, so just sitting the laser on top of the acrylic is going to be about 6mm above the surface (and it needs to be at one). Thinking about just getting the acrylic so that there's an extra inch on each side and cutting 4 1/4 inch wide slides at 45 degree angles in each corner. That should let me sit the laser so the beam is just right above the surface, make it easy to secure with some tape, and allow me to easily remove them from the board to make adjustments.

Now I just have to find a way to deal with the nightmare of cutting acrylic... :(

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

IR lasers finally arrive

So it only took 11 days, but the lasers are finally here. Was talking with TheDude about how I'm going to power them, and he suggested a USB hack and pointed me towards this maximumpc article that covers the basics. Have already checked them out to make sure that the light is visible on the webcam I'm thinking about snagging by simply hooking them up to the cellphone battery for a test run.

The numbers: I got 4 lasers, 3.2V each, 25 mA, currently unknown resistance. The plan is to appropriate the USB cable from a dead MS Intelliexplorer mouse and use that for USB power source. The USB port runs 5 volts at 100 mA in lower power mode, so I shouldn't need to worry about asking it for more power or anything.

The shopping info: I ordered 740 nm lasers with 89 degree line splitters from aizix.com for $11 each ($8 for laser, $3 for splitter attachements). Not entirely sure I would recommend them, but as of right now I don't know of anyone else who isn't selling just the diodes or the laser already as part of some other device.

ToDo list:

1) obtain the acrylic sheet and figure out how I'm going to mount these suckers (estimating $20 for the sheet)
2) acquire a camera (thinking about a $20 gigaware cam from The Shack) and modify it to remove the IR filter and possibly in a regular light filter by butchering a floppy disk
3) splice work for the lasers and make sure that the camera can see the touches
4) clean install of linux on an old PC and see if I can't get the nuigroup software up and running

Projector and the frame to hold all this remains question marks for the time being.

Friday, October 9, 2009

it's poetry in motion

So. I'm doing research on MT stuff this week. Got a friend who's pondering his own high altitude photography project based on the MIT stuff. The inventors of CCD are finally getting the credit they deserve. We're bombing the hell out of the moon. We've found out Europa's water is oxygen rich and Saturn has yet another ring. And we now know that T. Rex had feathers.

Yessir, I think we can safely break this video out for this week.

leaning towards laz0rs

After doing some more reading and watching the arbitraious's laser table demo, I'm pretty much sold on trying that out first. Aside from the fact that mounting 4 lasers sounds like a much easier task than 40 LEDs, it also sounds like the laser approach offers up better responsiveness. The lasers are slightly more expensive (around $8 per, whereas the LEDs are about $2.63 for 10 for the high end ones), but that's not really the major cost center of this project.

Plus, I'm sure that by simply ordering lasers online, your name automatically goes on some FBI watch list, so... +notoriety, amirite?

For the video camera, I'm planning on grabbing a $20 Gigaware 1.3MP cam from The Shack (looks like a flat disk... avoid the one that looks like a mini-quickcam-eyeball-with-a-bump-on-it) simply because it's so low profile.

The sticking point is what to use to actually project the image. I don't want to waste money on another projector, but TheDude pointed out that some of the pico pocket projectors are around $200 and designed explicitly for short throw distances. The other approach might be to just tear apart an LCD and get a fresnel lens. Still mulling that part over. It'll affect the height of the enclosure.

I'm also mulling over the construction of the frame to hold the acrylic sheet. Trying to decide if there's a way to have it hold the lasers in place without having to muck with the sheet itself, and looking for some IR absorbing material to line the insides with (for that token nod towards "safety"). Will probably start ordering parts tomorrow and see how it goes.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Ok. Admission time. I don't know a damned thing about electronics, aside from the fact that capacitors are round and the big ones can probably kill you so just stay the hell away from them.

But it's become clear that some electrical work is going to need to get done in order to pull of the MT screen. The usual strategy of wait helplessly until New Egg sells isn't going to work this time.

So my new strategy was turning to Mr. I Grew Up MacGuyvering Radios Together with Bobby Pins and a Potato and Have an EE from the Air Force Academy -- aka, "Dad" for advice. But that went something like:

"Well, you'll need to get a couple of 82 ohm resistors."
"Wait. How'd you figure that out?"
*incredulous look* "You just take the voltage, add up the fronkus coefficient, and then subtract that from the average magnetosphere reading for the location where you'll be using the device."
"That doesn't sound right."
"And be sure you pick up a Henway with the breadboard at Radio Shack. You need a Henway, or this is going to blow up."
"What's a Henway?"
"Ohhhhh, about the same as rooster! HAHAHAHAH!"
".... You are so screwed when we start talking about whether or not to put you into a nursing home."
"Go do your own homework."
"Seriously. I'm going to watch 60 Minutes to make up the list."
"And get a haircut."

So I googled "electronic training that will really piss of my dad", and up came a link to:


Google for the acronym if that link is dead... there are lots of places that carry mirrors of it.

Navy Electrical and Electronics Training Series. It's basically about 20 "modules" that take you through simple DC stuff, converting mechanical energy to electrical, radio waves, logic gates, and wraps up with radar. It's targeted towards enlisted personnel, so it's written for someone with a high school level education and slants more toward the trade side of things than dipping too far down into the theory.

In short, if you've ever been curious about electronics but cringed in horror at the thought of going through a college level EE textbook, this is TFM you should R.

and now for a word from someone who's not so hot about steam

In plenty of previous posts, I've gushed about how Steam makes getting games painless and how cool the service is, but here's an article with the opposing viewpoint from some guy called Randy Pitchford.

His big thing seems to be that he simply doesn't trust Valve and that he thinks currently Steam is taking an unfair percentage of the game sale.

Which might be true.

But I tell you, I probably never would have bought CoD4 or Bioshock if they hadn't been on Steam and playable in a few hours. I know for a fact that I never would have jacked around with Titan Quest or the Oblivion games if they weren't on Steam and sold as cheap bundles as I wasn't about to drive out to Best Buy and go sifting through the bargain bins just to find copies of them.

I think the power of their distribution system is how easy it for games to keep selling beyond the initial launch window.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

nuigroup and diy multitouch

Ho'k. It's no secret that I hate the mouse the way Skynet hates John Connor. If I could, I'd be sending California governors back in time to blow up Xerox PARC, but fscking physics just has to be a party pooper about that. The mouse is here to stay, and I'm just going to have to deal with it.

But there is one bright spark of hope for the human interaction with computers, and that is multi-touch. It's not revolutionary in the sense of dot-com Super Bowl commercials with some jackass in a black turtleneck staring off into distance at all the great things ordering printer paper online will let him accomplish kind of revolutionary, but more in the sense of "Hey, maybe if we like dig a shallow trench between these two towns and fill it with rocks and then some sand to smooth it out, the wagon trips won't be so bumpy" kind of revolutionary.

There are some amazingly cool things we can do from a user interface perspective beyond the simple pinch-to-zoom-in and ooh-look-I-just-threw-a-photo-across-the-desktop stuff we've seen so far. The folks over at NUI Group have a similar vision, and have started amassing information about what a MT interface should look like, how it should act, and all that good stuff.

And so, I started looking around for a multitouch screen I could buy so I could get in on the action.

The problem comes in with the fact that there's not really a whole lot of consumer stuff out yet. Windows 7 will include support for MT devices, and there's a few laptops that are beginning to show up on the radar, but stuff like MS's Surface display is in the $10K price range. If you're looking for something large but cost effective, the only solution appears to be building a FTIR device yourself.

I've started doing some research on how to put this all together, and it doesn't look too difficult. I'm planning on doing some research on the way and making notes somewhere to answer some of the questions I've had (ie, just how many IR LEDs do you need to get this working, can you sub in cheaper display technologies than an off the shelf projector, can I trick Krak into rubbing some peanut butter on his monitor, what sort of machine specs will be needed to run this smoothly, etc).

Until then, here's some links:

Maximum PC's DIY MT Table
Wired Article on Yotam Mann's DIY Laser based MT system
Gizmodo's coverage of Multipointer X
ENAC's MPX based project
arbatrarious's DIY Laser Table project (which I'm now leaning towards instead of FTIR)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

killer cyborg robots don't kill people... engineers who decide to give them chainsaw arms kill people

Krak pointed out this article about Noel Sharkey's take on AI. I have to agree with him about the "no evidence of that" stuff and that AI is mostly about making the automaton look intelligent enough.

So.. we probably won't ever see a cylon.

Unless some crazy genius out there makes a breakthrough with fuzzy logic, or something.

In his loft.

Late on a Thursday night in October.

And is just waiting for some more cash to order parts from Newegg.....

wolfenstein... wow

So I says to myself, I says, "Self. You haven't heard any news about that RtCW2 game since the trailers back in like January, and by the way wouldn't it be interesting to find out what Carmack talked about in his keynote at Quakecon this year?"

I says, "Yeh. Let's go see what google has to say about it."

Well, it turns out that one of the key announcements at Quakecon was the release of Wolfenstein. They'd dropped the "Return to Castle" and "2" part. I took a look at some of the trailers, and.. it looks like a prettier version of the same game I already beat, but with a couple more weapons and the Veil gimmick thrown in. Not terribly compelling.

So I go out and look around at some of the community sites of clans I knew were just aching for this release, and the situation sounds pretty grim. Less than 3 weeks after a launch I didn't hear about, the game has less than 50 players online. Apparently there was (still is?) a massive memory leak that kills the multiplayer version after 4 maps, and the single player version is buggy. This is the most underwhelming case I've seen a company make for a $50 product ever. Even the demo looks like it'd be a waste of time.

Which is really surprising to me, since id pulled off such visionary stuff with RtCW.

Another big announcement from Quakecon was a game called Rage using their next gen engine. Again, looks beautiful, but I swear I've already played the game before in Fallout 3. I hate to admit it, but it looks like one of the icons of the industry isn't doing the needful any more. There's something wrong when Infinity Ward and their heat-seeking dog missiles offer up a more compelling game play experience than a Quake/Wolf title. :(

Sunday, August 30, 2009

ebook insanity

So, the other day I noticed that I hadn't read any fiction in quite a while. I'd fallen into a rut of tech manuals and online howtos as my only reading, and my prime source of entertainment coming from hulu/netflix or video games. I decided it was high time on catching up on some good sci-fi, and with the memory of recently lugging around boxes of novels after the move a few months fresh in my mind I decided to check out the ebook route (since O'Reilly's Safari has been absolutely kick ass for me).

I was shocked (shocked!) to find out that the publishers wanted about $20 for an ebook. That puts it on the same price level as a hardback book (which I rarely buy). Paperback novels are in the $10-12 range, and the mass paperbacks (what shows up in the airport or along that back wall at Barnes and Nobles) are about $7. That's assuming you buy the book new... which means the publisher gets a cut of that. If you buy it used from Half Price Books or from Amazon, the range is about $2-5, and the publisher makes zero dollars.

You would expect the ebook to appeal to the lowest common denominator... that the publishers would be using it as a way to snipe at those $2-5 transactions they aren't getting a cut of. But you'd be wrong. They seem to think that ebooks are competing with hardcovers. It's like they don't understand that people who already buy hardcovers do so because they like the big print, extra art, and the fact that you have a good, solid book in your hands, and that these people wouldn't be likely to purchase only the ebook, anyway.

If the story is the key piece of intellectual property that they're selling, I find it highly amusing that I can go download and watch The Hunt for Red October in 2 hours from Amazon for $6, but if I want the pdf version to spend a week reading that'll cost $18. And then the publishers have the nerve to bemoan the fact that no one reads anymore....

Sunday, August 23, 2009

call of duty 4: modern warfare

Snagged CoD4 from Steam and spent some time playing it. It's yet another installment of the good old Call of Duty series.. nothing much has changed except for the setting.

As usual, the game itself is more about immersing you in a cinematic experience than anything else. A lot of the one-liners are pulled from iconic movies. Bad guys will keep swarming out of spawn points periodically until you finally figure out you're supposed to move up and take the house they're coming from in order to stop the script trigger. You're squadmates' main job seems to be running directly into your line of fire and blocking doorways so you can't run back through a door to find cover from a grenade. And, if you happen to run out of ammo, just pick up one of the 7,000 guns laying around on the ground from previously conquered enemies to keep bringing the pain.

The game has added in some new mechanics, such as stealth movement in the SAS episodes and guided missiles in the form of firing a Stinger and a Javelin. And I've got to admit that the opening level is really well done (I'm on a boat!) from an immersion standpoint. Haven't tried the multiplayer stuff yet, but that's on the todo list.

Overall, not bad entertainment, but I wouldn't say it's groundbreaking in anything other than scriptwriting and the fact that it's not yet-another-WWII game. :)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

arma 2

So, what, with the WoW boycott and all, I've got some spare time these days during the chunk of my calendar for gaming. A friend of mine who I used to play Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory with mentioned that he was getting into Arma 2.

The basic concept is that it's another Battlefield style game, where you get to play anything you want (infantry, drive tanks, fly choppers, fly jets) except it's supposed to be more like a simulation than a game and offers you quite a bit of freedom in what you can do in the game. Modding has been made super easy and even though the game was released in late June, there's already a plethora of mods out for it.

The other big selling point is that it's one of the few games out there that supports the TrackIR head tracking system, which allows you to move your head in real life to look around in the game. Providing that turning your head while keeping your eyes locked on a point straight in front of you feels natural to you.

I decided to snag the demo off Steam (I swear, Valve should be paying me for how often I mention Steam in a positive light here) and install went fairly smooth. After spending about an hour putzing around with the game, I'm going to have to pass on it.

My big problem with it is that there are controls for everything. There's a button to go prone. A button to stand up. A button to kneel down. A button to zoom your camera in at some point, a button raise the weapon so you can stare down the site, another button to lower the weapon, a button to use the scope, and another button to switch to binoculars. I gave up on the game during the first aid training where you are instructed to go grab a wounded soldier and drag him 25m back to the instructor, but just hitting the button to interact with the soldier isn't enough, and you are prevented from moving until you discover which button must be pressed to hoist your buddy up on your shoulder and take him where he needs to go.

That might not be so bad, except for the fact that every single control option for all the different play modes are listed on a single screen. You have to wade through control options for FPS/infantry movement, driving vehicles, flying aircraft, multiplayer team communications, and managing your AI squad in single player. "Daunting" doesn't even begin to describe it.

The graphics aren't really anything special, but these days everyone's first task with a new game is to turn down the level of detail so they can squeeze out as much performance as possible so that's not really an issue. The "radio" alerts from your squad mates are also stitched together from various samples, which makes the incoming messages from your buddies sound like when you call one of those automated time/weather phone numbers... again, not a deal breaker, but it is a tad annoying.

Actually shooting the weapons is pretty good, though. They have bullet fall-off, so you get a kind of America's Army feel to firing the guns. Unlike AA, you're allowed to carry a Quake-sized armament (pistol, M-16, and rocket launcher... woohoo). If you're one of the folks who wants "realism" in their games, then this is definitely worth giving a look.

Overall, I'd say I might stick with the game if it wasn't for the UI. I'm tired of having to memorize arcane combo sequences to pull off the simplest of actions. ET (and ETpro) did a pretty good job of streamlining different activities into as few controls as possible in order to make it so players spent more time worrying about shoot'n'scoot rather than engaging of weeks of training just to have the muscle memory to avoid whipping out a pair of pliers and waving them menacingly at the bad guys.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

escape is never the safest path

Not really a video, but the song's worth it.

introducing... goblin 2.0

My tablet died a few weeks ago, and rather than spend the $100 on ebay to fix it, I decided it was a good excuse to get a newer, more up to date laptop. After spending 45 minutes in Best Buy and trying to convince them to take my money yet still leaving empty handed, I ended up snagging an Acer Aspire from Altex.

Dual core AMD X2 proc, 3GB memory, ATI video card, and more hdd space than I'll need.... I forget the exact specs, and tbh, I really don't care about anything beyond the dual core and the memory. What blew my mind was that I picked it up for under $600, which is roughly half of what I paid for the Dell Infuriation 4 years ago around this same time. I can't believe how cheap hardware has gotten. But I'm not complaining.

Any rate. I've got a new dev platform that can actually run vmware without too much of a hassle, thus allowing me to parallelize between winders and linux development. The proc is also beefy enough that I don't have to reconsider building stuff on it, be it a sendmail or a MSVS project. Pretty happy with it so far.

The dark cloud looming on the horizon is that from what I've seen of other Acer users, the laptops don't last long and don't stand up well to repeated abuse (which is unfortunate because I'm pretty much the monkey from the Samonsite commercial when it comes to expensive hardware). I'm not sure how long this poor piece of silicon and plastic is going to last, but even if it only makes it for a couple of years it's done as well as the Dell.

Oh, and final bit of advice to anyone else thinking about getting an Acer laptop. The first thing you must do is find the Control Panel setting for the touchpad and disable ALL of the gesture and window scrolling stuff. You will go nuts with the mouse jumping around everywhere due to inadvertent brushing against the touchpad. Spent around 30 minutes trying to figure out why my machine was acting possessed, but once I got it straightened out it's been smoothe sailing.

XNA 3.0

Yeah, yeah, long time no type. Got caught up with that twitter stuff, which makes it unbelievably easy to be cryptic. There's no room for parentheses or excess verbiage inside of the 160 character limit of an SMS message.

But this isn't about twitter, it's about XNA, so let's to it.

Basically have started working on a project "seriously". The alleged goal is to end up producing a game, but in reality I'm using it as a chance to apply what I've learned so far and to see how to emulate some features from other games that I might like. The upside to XNA is that it makes developing and dealing with a 3D world hellah easy from a software architecture standpoint. The downside is... the devil's always in the details.

One challenge I find myself facing is what the best way to handle something like the pulldown console in Quake3. There are a few people who have appeared to have created their own XNA classes to handle this, but they just doesn't feel Right(tm) to me, and I'll probably end up writing my own. As I've said in the past, one of the pitfalls of OO programming is that the whole "code reusability" thing doesn't apply because you find as your code develops and evolves that you didn't really understand your objects in the first place and didn't see what was going to be required.

And all that is a long way to say that, despite the awesome shortcuts XNA provides, at the end of the day you're still going to be writing your own windowing systems for the environment.

Which is what I was trying to escape from by getting into game programming to starty with. \o/

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

treasure these moments

So, it's been over a month since my last post to this blarg, and that was for a Tears for Fears video.

The only logical assumption to be made was that I soon realized just how gheyz0r that was and that I must have shortly thereafter hanged myself out of shame. I won't blame you for jumping to that conclusion and I give you points for critical thinking, but I will say I'm disappointed in you for first of all using "gay" as a pejorative and secondly for spelling it like a cracked out 13 year old counterstrike player.

Any rate, I'm currently sitting in what's basically the eye of the hurricane of a software project. It's one of those rare occasions where you not only have the ability to put something legitimately useful out into the market, but something that could shake up your little niche and set a standard for others to chase for the next couple of years. True, it's not a very sexy niche (it's not like chicks dig guys who wrote the most awesomeful debit card transaction system EVAR), but a win's a win, and things feel like they're lining up for this to be a dominating win.

Of course, the money isn't in the bank yet. We still have yet to show the stuff publicly, and there's always a chance that we're going to get dinged for something, that we solved the wrong problem, or that we're more excited about the product than we should be.

But tonight... ah, tonight the work is done, the interface looks good, the most severe bugs are squashed, testing hasn't found any new problems, and there's naught left to do but to head off to sleep with visions of what I'll do with the $74 billion we make from the product dancing through my pointed little head.

Probably buy a Dairy Queen so I can get lifetime free Blizzards whenever I want them.

Or maybe a fridge full of Hot Pockets.

Hell, I might even get both.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

nothing ever changes when you're acting your age

OK. I've long since dropped the ball on the Friday videos thing and I won't waste time apologizing for it yet again.

But here's a little bit of awesomeness in both song and cinematography that I'd completely forgotten about until imeem tossed out the band name tonight:

"Head over Heels" by Tears for Fears

This was one of the first tapes that I owned when I was a kidlet, and I used to drift off to sleep to this song and the slow mellow groove that followed it up on the way high tech Sony personal cassette player that I'd ganked from my poor father's ever-shrinking gadget collection. I recall finally catching the video on a Friday Night Videos run (not sure why MTV never really picked it up and ran with it), and it's got plenty of amusing, surreal WTF? moments even now that I watch it again decades later.

Absolute favorite part: Around 1:28, where the synth dude (dressed in biker leathers) steps up to the counter, the chick ducks, a keyboard flies down from the rafters, and he engages in a one-fingered solo performed live from The Uncanny Valley.

Monday, April 6, 2009

liquid breathing

I ended up watching some of the old Seaquest DSV episodes online via Netflix this weekend. Yeah, it's corny, but Bob Ballard showed up at the end of each show to give a 30 second "how this applies to real life ocean exploration" pitch. The man has got some interesting ideas... check out his TED talk to get an overview.

In one of these talks, he mentioned that someone had recently been down to 2200 ft (presumably he meant in submersible), and that kind of caught my attention.

Recreational divers usually call it quits around 100-130 ft because after that, oxygen actually starts to become toxic at the 80% nitrogen/almost-20 oxygen mix we breathe. Going deeper means having to use a "trimix", where a 3rd gas (apparently helium) is substituted in to reduce the oxygen to nonlethal levels. The depth record for this was set at 1100ft (330m) in 2005 by Pascal Bernabé (check out his account of the trip). The next record depth requires the use of an Atmospheric Diving System, which is basically a hardsuit... 2000 ft (609m) by a Navy diver in 2007.

It all reminded me of The Abyss and how liquid breathing had been a scifi idea for a long time. The official name is perfluorocarbon, and it turns that it does indeed work and mice have been able to breathe in it for long periods of time. The downside is that it strips out another liquid that's in your lungs and you end up basically suffocating if it's ever removed. The other problem with "The Abyss" scenario is that at high pressures, other biological process in the body start to do whacky things... protiens go nuts, tissues start ripping. Not good.

So while that might cap the ability to dive to 6000m and meet alien lifeforms, the perfluorocarbons are still medically interesting in other ways. It's got potential for use as artificial blood, accelerating flushing out of nitrogen after decompression sickness (the bends), washing out the lungs, and it's currently used in eye surgery in several different ways.

That's some interesting stuff discovered for a 10 second quip about diving records. :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

vmware setup

Probably worth talking about the vmware setup here, too.

First off, I'm using VMWare Player. I snagged images for Debian 5.0, Ubuntu 9.whateverthehellthey'reonnow, and Fedora 10 from ThoughtPolice. Gave each one of them static private IPs, and setup their net interfaces to use a bridge instead of NAT so I could have full network access to them directly from the Debian "ohmygodit'sstillrunningetchtesting!!!" laptop. I also setup a shared folder on the host XP machine, and have each of the images smbmounting it on boot so I can easily move files around. Currently considering setting up Active Directory on the host and mucking around with pam_ldap auth off of it, but not motivated enough to find the XP64 install cdrom at the moment. Machines are using a MySQL 5.0 server running on the XP host (and, by the way... MySQL admin on windows is an absolute pain in the butt).

The Q7760 proc seems to be handling it all in stride despite being a tad old, and 4GB mem appears to be sufficient for the Rube Goldbergesque virtual network I've created. Disk space usage has gone up, but with 1.5TB drives at $120 now, expanding that shouldn't be a problem.

Yay virtualization. :)

back to rails

So, back to rails. Got yet-another-project that seems like it should be right up rails' alley. Did a little bit of refresher reading tonight, and it seems like if I'd understood helpers, routing, and js templates better I might have avoided painting myself into a couple of corners during the last explorations in RoR-land.

Or maybe it's just because now I have a better understanding of javascript and don't regard partials as dark voodoo anymore.

Any rate, we'll see how this works out.

For the dev environment, I've decided to keep the XP64 desktop, but am currently running a series of VMware instances through Player to find a distro to work on. Will probably stick with Debian. I think I'm going to run with Netbeans as the IDE for now, but we'll see if that starts cramping my style and gets the hose or not.

bb development

So, it turns out that you have 2 choices for blackberry development: java (j2me) or javascript (Blackberry MDS).

The Java option gives you access to various features on the phone, one of the big selling points being backgrounded threads, which means you can do something similar to what the G1 does via XMPP (theoretically, I haven't dug too far into the doco yet). The MDS option basically allows you to create a browser application that relies on a web service to operate (ie, you could create a BB MDS app that basically manages an Amazon Web Services account).

Both options open up some interesting prospects for applications.

The big question now is do I want to control my cylon army from the phone through XMPP or a web service?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Finally managed to get it working on the BBB.

The main problem is that the BB helpfully wants to capitalize the first letter of any input field. Extremely useful when you're entering in contact information, really sucky when you're trying to enter in case-sensitive usernames and passwords. The quick hack I found to get around it is you hit the key you want, backspace over the capital letter, then hit again and you get the lowercase. And, no, holding down the shift key doesn't work.

I had to go with the "latest development" version 1.7.3 because it supported SSH2. Also had to twiddle around with the fonts (8x16 seems to be readable).

By default, midpssh wants you to open up a seperate screen and enter in any commands there as a kind of batch deal, but it's possible to type directly to the console by setting the input type in the options menu. It's kind of clunky and I'd hate to have to try and use vim with it, but it's good enough for restarting services in a pinch.

blackberry bold

I was starting to look at other phones after getting fed up with the limitations of the VZW phone I had and not really impressed by their smart phone selection. The two candidates I was looking at was the iPhone and the HTC G1 (google phone). I was putting off making a decision and waiting for my contract to run out when Krak mentioned he'd scored a Blackberry and was happy with it, and suddenly the Bold was put on the table as a third option. The rest of the smartphone field was discarded after checking the out in store and through video reviews from phonescoop.com.

I ended up going with the Bold, mainly because of all the choices, it's got the least encumbered development platform.

Sure, that development platform is Java, but just because I hate everything about a language is no reason to be closed minded. AT&T was offering up refurbs for free with a new contract, and that didn't hurt the decision, either.

As for the device, I'm pretty happy with it. Better phone qualities than the Treo 600, the screen is fairly nice, can latch on to WiFi instead of 3G (and the 3G ain't bad), and the trackball is much better than sliding out a stylus any day of the week. The software itself seems decent enough, but the user interface is pretty rough when you go off the beaten path (ie, midpssh config is a freaking nightmare atm).

After fiddling around with it for a few hours, I think it'll do ok. I've currently ganked the Google Mobile stuff for maps, mail, and calendar and plan on using that instead of the native BB software (I don't need push messages). I ganked TwitterBerry from http://www.orangatame.com/products/twitterberry and will be giving that another shot (don't expect much different results, though) and I'm still struggling with midpssh (http://xk72.com/wap/) which appears to be the only free if not functional ssh application for the BB available at the moment.

Next up is locating some IM software.... might end up checking out Jive's Spark stuff for that.

Oh, and maybe, like, getting the contacts imported at some point.

But that's secondary.

Friday, March 27, 2009

to be in england in the summertime

Ah.... God bless the 80's. \o/

Art of Noise - Close to the Edit

So I get the part where they're destroying symbols of classical music as a kind of in-your-face way of saying AoN is a musical revolution. And I can kind of see how the creepy stop motion little girl in heavy eye makeup is supposed to be like some evil muse encouraging them to rebel and destroy the old gods.

But I still don't get the sausage and the dachshund. Any theories?

Friday, March 20, 2009

you'll never see me fall from grace

Cool video, good song.

KoRn - Freak On A Leash from KornBrasil on Vimeo.

or not aptana /o\

Steve tried to warn me, but I was, like... hopeful.

Turns out Aptana is basically Eclipse in disguise, and although some of the stuff that drives me nuts about Eclipse has been shaved off you can still see its heritage.

Why, java people... why in the name of all that is holy can't any of your tools "import" a directory that's already in the project target space? Other things it lost points for: the code view areas for HTML, js, and CSS files were whited out (ie, no text showing up) until I previewed the document, preview freaked out a couple of times, and the nasty editor habit of dropping ".tmp*~" files all over the workspace.

The insanely awesome good stuff: the CSS and js editors supports intellisense like code completion AND error highlighting. Strip the rails support out, and that alone is enough reason to keep it on the hard drive. CSS is my kryptonite, but Aptana just handles it beautifully.

I've decided to check out jEdit and NetBeans as well.

jEdit's got some nifty plugins that enable it to do stuff like editting files over SFTP, SVN integration, theming, but at the end of the day it's more of a text editor than an IDE. Still, it has potential to replace the trusty vim on Linux and notepad++ on Windows.

NetBeans offers up a Ruby-only install that seems extremely well integrated into Rails development. It even went so far as to call the rails command to setup the project and ferret out the database info the db.yml file up front. It's also sporting code completion for JS, so... I'm feeling hopeful about it (despite Steve also warning me about this one, too).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

checking out aptana

Discovered that Aptana Studio can run in standalone mode, supports rails and javascript dev, and offers up a way to publish to Aptana's cloud system.

This strikes me a superior solution to continuing to beat my head against the wall with Express Editions from MS, playing in GAE's sandbox, or figuring out how I'm going to wire up my own maintenance system for EC2 images.

Yeah. Sold. \o/

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

checking out slicehost

Given the fact that I'm no longer running game servers, email, a blog, and have yet to spend any time rebuilding any of the sites, I've decided to try out a Xen-based VPS from slicehost with an eye towards retiring the dedicated swerver.

The upsides are basically:

1) cost - a VPS is about 25% the cost of a hosted server, with roughly the same access level
2) software based - that means the provisioning of the server was pretty much instant, managing it will be a matter of flipping a switch in a web interface and getting near real-time response
3) size - I can basically back the important bits of the server up to a USB stick. Limited space means I won't be wasting anything on silly stuff like half-compiled projects or stupid videos you could just easily link to ebaumsworld, and that I'll be pushing the big files off onto a storage system like S3 or JungleDisk (where there's a pretty good chance they'll be backed up or at least distributed Enough(tm)).

Haven't looked into whether or not I can rebuild the kernel, but to be honest, I'm at a point where if I need something that requires that, I'm probably not going to stick with it.

I chose the Debian 5.0 install, which was absolutely barebones except for SSH. apt-get the needed services, tar up the appropriate directories on the old server, and then it's just a matter of waiting for DNS to propogate. Pretty easy stuff.

And by way of a review, I'd have to say that I really like slicehost so far. Minimal interaction... just enter the needful data, and stuff happens. I absolutely love it when providers stay out of my hair. :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

a sample of my recent google searches

inventor of javascript
brendan eich
brendan eich location 1983
time travel technology
time travel technology hackaday
T-1000 cost to build
capturing and training velociraptors
sending velociraptors back to 1983

Saturday, February 28, 2009

wix now on the resume

Due to a project at work, I've been forced to spend a considerable amount of time digging through the WiX documentation. I highly recommend that you use wixedit to build up the XML, because it's not very intuitive.

Some quick notes on what I found:

* you can specify multiple "media" tags to build up different cabs. The "DiskPrompt" value is what WiX uses to figure out if they should go on the same disk or if the installer should ask the user to drop in another disk.
* you can specify the 's id as the DiskId attribute for the Component in the Files section. This will let you split up multiple files across install media without a hassle
* filenames get converted to URL encoded strings if you use the Folder Import feature, and WiX will look for the URL encoded name on the filesystem (so, like "c:\foo%20bar.txt" instead of "c:\foo bar"), and this will be failurificious. Either remove spaces, or bundle it all up in a cab/zip/whatever ahead of time
* you can wedge in binaries and run them in CustomActions section, then pick which stage of the installer they should be run.
* everything you plan to put on the hard drive needs a reference in the features section... boo. This means you need to import files, and then create refs for each of them.

Not too bad, but it would have been nice to have some more examples out there.

Other tools for win devs that might be interesting/helpful:

MS's cabsdk program includes CABARC.EXE that lets you create/extract/look inside cab files

ilmerge let's you combine multiple assemblies into one (useful for include libs your software might need when dealing with people who can't handle heading to sourceforge... be sure to check the license, though)

7Zip is a free zip utility.. can create self extracting zip files (but they annoyingly have a popup prompt for where to extract to that I can't seem to figure out how to disable)

a dog with two bones

Quit WoW (again.. for real this time!!) and was punished by The Fates to find the car alarm on the Purple Rain limited edition F-150 going off. Turns out that the truck had been neglected too long, battery was draining, and the alarm's fail safe had kicked off. Only way to shut it off was disco the battery, so I did that and have left it sitting all week (along with the flat tire). Neighbors tattled before I could get it squared away, and thus paperwork was created in the office and I was given 10 days to make the truck purty again.

I'm half tempted to prop it up on cinder blocks and take the tires off 9 days at a time for the rest of the lease just to be a pain, now.

Any rate.

Finally got a chance to get a new battery in there and get the tire pumped up with a fix-a-flat enough to get it down to the shop for new tires. I might be imagining things, but it seems to be riding like a new truck (well, aside from the worrisome rattle when you accelerate, but the grease monkeys will be taking a look at that on Monday).

I know I don't need 2 vehicles, but after getting the Purple People Eater roadworthy again, I have to say I like driving both of 'em. :(

stand steadfast beside me and see...

That love is the province,
of the brave.

One of those mellow grooves that still sounds good when you crank the volume up.

Monday, February 9, 2009

free tech books

In talking with the little bro (who now suddenly is interested in comp sci /o\), he mentioned that he'd run across freetechbooks.com. Basically, it's free PDFs/HTML zips of college level math, engineering, and comp sci courses.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

i accidentally the whole irs

I can't stop cracking up. :)

The US tax code is apparently so convoluted, 3 cabinet level executives (and their CPAs) can't figure it out. With one of them being an ex Senate-majority leader, and another being in charge of, like, running the IRS.

Can we just do the Fair Tax now? That seems easier.

and while we're on the subject of dropping MS stuff..

I also took a peak at Azure. Some interesting extra info about it: they have set it up to allow you to use it as a stand-alone platform. The idea is that the the services Azure provides on MS's server farm are replicated on your desktop, so that you can create a standalone desktop app that could be moved Into The Cloud(tm) later on.

Like, say you were creating an application for your HR person at your 10 person company to manage vacation requests, salary info, emergency contact information, certifications, etc, etc. Then you walk in one day to find that the company's grown to 200 people, and your HR person is crying softly in the corner begging for some help, so you hire a few more HR folks. If the app is Azure based, you can move it off the one desktop that the original HR person was using and onto your own internally hosted stuff (SQL server, SharePoint, and use AD for permissions) or you could push it out onto MS's Azure hosting hardware without having to rewrite the code.

In theory. In reality, I'm guessing that it's a lot more rocky of a transition.


I won't be finding out any time soon. The SDK requires Vista on a 64bit system (not gonna happen), and can't run in 32 bit mode on a 64 bit proc under XP. Ah well. :)

dropping F#

A while back I wrote about my discovery of F# and interest in monkeying around with it.

After spending some time reading up on it, I realized that this was going to be more messy-headachey than chocolatey-awesomey. It just doesn't seem smoothly integrated into .Net... and that some of the syntax is just weird (even for a functional language). The other problem was that I'm already jumping around between 5 different languages in personal and professional projects and have already hit that annoying point where I'm having to check reference books and library APIs to remember the right syntax on how to do something ("Wait, was is it elsif, elif, or else if in javascript? Was it that python didn't have a case/switch, or was it that ruby did case/switch in a weirdway? Is the command to make lightning arc out of the monitor and zap the user for entering a text value when I clearly asked for a string part of the .Net core library, or did I need to import something?")

At the end of the day, it seems like a better strategic decision to just keep functional stuff out of the way altogether and if I need to use it then simply contain it to a seperate service/program.

MS, on the gripping hand, has decided to try and push it into .Net 4.0. /o\

Monday, February 2, 2009

super bowl was good for a change

I will admit it. I haven't tracked NFL (or even 'merican football in general) since... forever. I had trouble watching games without trying to dissect defenses and predict plays, thinking about how I'd handle blocking in certain situations, etc. End result is that I've kind of not paid attention to anything but the big games.

Which has been a problem because the big games in the NFL usually suck. One team will run out of go-juice in the second half from either being demoralized or maybe from getting tuckered out by pre-game partying after 4 months of intense practices. Either way, result was basically a blow out.

Not this year, though. This year the game was much better than the commercials. It was an all-out fight all the way up until the last 5 seconds of the game. Both the Steelers and the Cardinals had several opportunities to lose the game to self-pity, and instead of collapsing both teams just strapped it on and got back down to business. It was an amazing contest of not only athleticism but sheer willpower and raw determination that I haven't seen at the professional level in quite a while.

Awesome job, guys.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

the morsewhisperer

So, I was dinking around with morse code some more and have come to discover that although there is a wealth of free trainers that most of them want to spew out random letters and give you zero control over the input.

I hacked together a quick python script that lets you input a letter or phrase and echoes it back in morse. It's using winsound, so... windows only (I know, I suck) and you'll need to install ActiveState's Python to run it.

Here's the zip file.

Credit for the dit/dah wav files goes to acclivity on freesound for posting a sample I could chop up. :)

Friday, January 16, 2009

quake live beta and the mystery of the reappearing invites :o

So, the bad news is that I just sent out the last 3 of the 5 invites I had.

The good news is.. when I logged in to do that, I noticed I had been given 2 new invites to replace the ones I'd already sent out. \o/

So, it looks like the beta invites might be an unlimited resource, but you can only add 5 people at a time. Will find out if I get 3 more back after the monkeys I invited accept tommorrow.

The other good news is that I used the invites for 3 of my friends from Doomcast. They should have their own set of invites to hand out in a short while, and I'd point you to this thread on the Doomcast forums if you're looking for one.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

quake live first impressions

Haven't had a whole lot of time to bang on the account, but here are the important points from the little time I've spent with the beta:

1) the game runs via a browser plugin, and as far as I can remember, it's exactly the same as if you were playing on the PC. Graphics seem to be better than what I remember of q3a, and the game runs suprisingly smoothly considering the environment it's in.
2) the main difference is scripts/aliases... not sure if it'd be possible to load up my old complex key bindings
3) when you create a new account, you go through a "tutorial" with Crash (the easy-kill chick from the first level), but there's a twist. As you keep fragging the bot, it subtly notches the difficulty up to figure out where you're at skillwise. I didn't notice this until the bot suddenly side-strafed a rocket that should have gone straight into her face, and she ended up just chainsawing my lead down in pretty short order. :(
4) right now, it's kind of hard to find matches because there aren't many folks in the beta. It looks like when everything is live (or when more invites go out), though, getting into a decent game with folks around your skill level should be a piece of cake.

And yes, there does appear to be a way to send out invites to others. No, I don't seem to have any at the moment.

Personally, I think this is going to fill the "I just want to shoot something in the face" niche quite nicely.

Update: Found the invites \o/ and got 3 left. Drop me an email or IM if you want one.

communicating at the speed of morse

So for some reason, radio (ham, not AM/FM) has been a recurring theme for me since Christmas. The last straw has been the discovery that SiX is learning morse code with an eye towards getting a ham license... and if that knuckle dragger can do it, how hard can it be?

I haven't really committed to, like, getting the ARRL study guide or looking into where to go to do the exam. But I have started dinking around with morse code (which you don't need for the technician's license), and I've manage to get A-0 down pretty reliably at 5 wpmin about 2 days (with J and G being the only ones I'm shakey on).

I'm hoping that, at the very least, I'm able to figure out what the hell is being tapped out in the opening credits of Jericho pretty soon. ;)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

quake live beta invite

Just got an email for a Quake Live beta invite. Going to check it out later on tonight and see what's up. It might be interesting to see if there's anything different about the game beyond the scoreboard and account stuff.