Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

I wasn’t expecting that

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

A couple of weeks ago, my sewing machine (an ELNA from the 1970s – very nice, durable machine) broke – the lower bobbin stopped turning, which meant that stitches were no longer being made. I found out where to take it for repairs (surprisingly close to my home) and they sent it off to the repair center. Repairs and refurbishing were going to cost a little under $200.

I have it back now, with no money out of pocket. The part that broke was a plastic gear, and that gear is no longer available. I haven’t decided what to do – I seldom have a real need to sew anything, but I do have some things that need sewing now, and a machine would be a lot easier than hand-stitching.

I don’t even know if the broken gear was returned with the machine. I think what I’ll do is try to find or make a replacement – there may be something available that’s close enough, or perhaps I can swing some time on a 3D printer, but in either case I’ll need to know what the dimensions, teeth, etc. are for the gear.

And if I can’t find or make a replacement gear, I’ll at least have a motor with a speed control foot pedal available.

You can’t trust anyone anymore

Sunday, January 21st, 2018

I’ve known for years that email addresses can be spoofed, and that phone numbers can be hidden such that you can’t tell who’s calling you – all you see is “Unknown number” or “000-000-0000.” What I hadn’t known is that phone numbers can apparently be spoofed, also.

Just now, I received a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. It was local, but I get a fair number of local calls from numbers I don’t recognize. I never answer them; I figure they’ll leave a message if it’s not a robocall. Sometimes, even if it is. Either way, I’ve got some screening.

This one, however, had a woman’s voice saying, “Hi. I see that you’ve been phoning my cell phone several times and I would like it to stop. That number is XXX-XX-XXXX. Do not call that number again.”

Unless she dialed a wrong number, someone has been making calls to her, presumably without leaving messages, and making it look as though it was coming from my cellphone.

That’s not a thought that makes me happy. I’m torn between calling or texting her back to explain the situation, but what reason has she to believe me?

Serendipity, or, The Troubles That Come With Age

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Marion and I went cross-country skiing in Frisco last Sunday. It was a beautiful day, but the skiing was a hell of a workout. The temperature was in the upper 30s, and it had been snowing all day. Because of the snow and overcast, it was hard to see the tracks in the groomed trails. I had trouble seeing them at times, depending on the light, and Marion found them by following behind me. Because of the snowing and the relatively warm temperature, the snow was “slow.”

Even going down the steepest parts of the Frisco Bay loop, I had very little glide and no carry. On the steepest downslope near the end of the trail, I couldn’t even coast to the bottom, and Marion was able to shuffle down slowly with her skis pointing straight downhill.

It took us roughly two hours to go around the trail once, which is about twice what it normally takes. As I said, a hell of a workout.

The serendipity comes in because I decided Sunday morning that I was going to need a backpack, so that I would have somewhere to put any layers I removed while skiing. It wasn’t a problem Sunday, but I’ve ended up wearing just a t-shirt above the waist more than once while skiing. The backpack I grabbed is one I’ve used for exercising while walking, and had 20 pounds of weights in it. When I removed the weights, I noticed something else in it as well. It was the 18-55mm lens for my Canon camera, which I’ve been looking for for almost a year. That just goes to show how diligent I am about getting my exercise, I suppose.

In any case, I’ve been looking for it for a long time, because I backed a Kickstarter project over a year ago for the Pulse camera controller from Alpine Labs, and I received it last May or so. Since the only lens I could find was the 70-200mm zoom lens that was on the camera, I really didn’t do anything much with the Pulse until this week.

Today, I tried taking a time-lapse sequence of photos. It worked, but stopped early, and I need to determine why (I have a few ideas). However, I did get over 150 RAW photos of the foothills in Golden that I need to figure out how to stitch into a movie. It wasn’t the best weather for anything that looked impressive, but it was good enough for a first try. I’ll be trying more soon.

Yesterday, all my troubles …

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

… were dealt with, but not always well.

I mentioned last week that I had a growth cut off my nose. They finished the biopsy and called me to say that it was a fibrous papule, and benign. More or less what I expected, but still good news.

However, I also dropped my car off at 8am yesterday for a recall service (ignition problems with Saturn Vue). They provided me with a loaner, because they said it would take most of the day. Around 4:30pm, I called to ask if it was ready. They said it was, and that they had left a message with me around 11:30am. Since I’d received no messages, I asked what number they called.

It wasn’t mine.

It was one digit off, which, because I went over my number three times to make certain they had it correctly, was disappointing. The dealership that had to do the service was more-or-less at one point of an equilateral triangle, the other points being my home and my work, and now I had to go through the evening rush to pick up my car.

Oh, well. At least I’ve got the car back now, and everything is working.

I think.

I’ve also been working on an SDCARD interface. It’s worked, at least mostly, a few times, but not reliably. I’d determined that the code was apparently ignoring whatever signals that something is deleted, and reformatting the card seemed to help. Now, it’s looking more like it’s the card itself that’s the problem, or at least contributing to the problems I’m seeing. I’ve been explaining things to the stuffed moa on my desk, but that hasn’t helped me come up with a solution yet.

There’s a joke here somewhere, and I think it’s the code

Monday, September 19th, 2016

I’m working on systems software for a new ARM Cortex-M3 board, and right now, I’m trying to get the SDRAM interface working. I’ve never done SDRAM interfacing before, and it’s pretty complex, compared to most processor subsystems I’ve worked with before. There’s a lot of detail you have to handle. The library that came with the compiler includes initialization routines for most, if not all, of the processor subsystems, and the external memory controller (EMC) is one of them.

I’ve taken the configuration for an existing board (one that I don’t have) as my starting point, and modified it for my hardware. It hasn’t worked.

I’ve starting taking a “deeper dive” into the code, and I have a lot less trust in it than before. I’m not certain the configuration for the existing board actually works, now that I’ve looked at things in more detail. Part of the problem is that some comments are inconsistent with the code, and others are just plain wrong.

For inconsistency, there are three places where the comment says that a delay is needed. They’re implemented with busy-wait loops, with a comment that it would be better to use a system timer. For a 100 microsecond delay, an empty loop is executed 1000 times. For the first 200 microsecond delay, an empty loop is executed 1000 times. For the second 200 microsecond delay, an empty loop is executed 80 times. I’ve got some calculations ahead of me, it seems.

For being out-and-out wrong, another section of the code has a comment that if the external device has a 32-bit bus, use a burst length of 4. If the external device has a 16-bit bus, use a burst length of 2. According to the processor reference manual, the EMC will use a burst length of 8 for a device with a 16-bit bus (which my hardware has).

Finally, some of the values in the configuration structure are populated using predefined constants combined using shifts and ORs. When I work through two of the key values manually based on the predefined constants I’m combining, I come up with values of 0x27 and 0x1380. When I look at the structure in memory, it contains 0x23 and 0x280. I haven’t figured out yet how that’s happening.

I’ve only just found these problems; I haven’t determined how they’re occurring. I just needed to rant about it.

DirecTV has just lost a customer

Monday, September 12th, 2016

I’ve always had occasional reception problems with DirecTV, in this house, anyway. Their website claims that on rare occasions, extremely bad weather can cause very short losses of reception. My experience is that anything more than a light drizzle will knock out reception completely, often for hours.

Back at the end of July, I started seeing my video go blocky on all channels, with accompanying audio garbling. It’s the sort of thing you see when you lose sync in decoding a video file. My initial suspicion was that the antenna had become misaligned, and the receiver wasn’t getting a full data stream. I called their support line, and we went through various fixes for about an hour. I had to cut the call after an hour because I had to get to a class, but the last thing they recommended was doing a local reset of the receiver (they’d already done a remote reset). That apparently cleared things up for about a month, but it could have been coincidental, because the problem came back about a week ago.

It started with messages stating that the receiver was looking for a satellite signal, but that would go away after a few seconds, and nothing was affected, anyway. After a day or two of that, my video became blocky, with garbled audio, just as before. Tonight was the first time I had a long-enough block of time to call for support, because if your problem isn’t addressed by the FAQs on their website, you have to call them on the telephone.

After explaining the situation to the person who answered, I was told that I had to provide my cellphone number so that I could receive AT&T texts and other notifications. I didn’t realize that I had AT&T services, because I don’t, but they’ve apparently bought DirecTV, and you can’t get help without giving AT&T your cellphone number.

She did a remote reset of my receiver, which didn’t help, and I didn’t expect it to. While that was in process, she tried to upsell me on NFL Sunday Ticket and an $8/month warranty to save $50 if a service call needed to be made. I declined both. I like football, but I’ve been watching it less in recent years, and the last service call I required was when I had DirecTV installed when I moved here almost a decade ago. It’s also pretty tacky to try to sell me premium services when I’m asking for help because basic services aren’t working.

She then asked me to disconnect and reconnect all of the cables, which I had done back in July, and which had no effect. Next, she told me that I needed to get a technician from my television’s manufacturer to make a service call and determine what the television’s problem was. I told her that it was not a television problem, because shows that I’d recorded on the DVR prior to the problem’s recurrence could be watched without problem, the over-the-air antenna did not show the problem, and watching DVDs did not show the problem.

She reiterated that the required next step in troubleshooting was to have a technician from the manufacturer examine the television.

I hung up. I’ve been contemplating getting rid of DirecTV for a while, and the fact that I can expect neither reception nor service has tipped the balance for me. I’ll drop by the local office tomorrow after work and let them know – I’m not going to sign up for a new account on their website just to cancel service. Probably can’t do it online, anyway.

Been busy recently

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

At work, we’ve been trying to get a new product out. We’ve got the design and layout done, and are in the process of getting prototypes set up. We’re also working on an add-on board for it, and that’s still in the schematics stage. Even though I’m not a hardware engineer, I’ve been heavily involved in reviewing the schematics and suggesting changes. One of the reasons I’m useful at it is because I’m familiar with what we’ve done in the past, so I know what worked and what didn’t in our previous designs, so I have some ideas about what to watch out for.

For various reasons, I had to have my Christmas dinner yesterday. I fixed a rib roast, roasted root vegetables, Yorkshire pudding, and homemade bread. For dessert, I’d made mince pie and chocolate rum balls, and one of the guests brought a steamed chocolate pudding with hard sauce. I had a nice cabernet and some non-alcoholic sparkling cider available.

A good time was had by all. Particularly my daughter, when we passed presents around during the lull between the main meal and dessert. I gave her two presents. The first was a cookbook. I recently bought a copy of the cookbook for myself, and I knew she’d enjoy it. The second, though, had her gasping in excitement – it was my set of Samurai Cat art prints, which I had bought at the 1984 Worldcon from Mark E. Rogers at his booth. They’re in good shape, but I had never framed and hung any of them, so, since she’d been threatening to kill me for them since she was 7, I figured it was time to let her have them.

Tonight, as the second part of her present to me, we watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was a good movie, and I enjoyed the sly references to earlier movies that I caught (my daughter caught more, but she’s seen the animated series and I haven’t), but there were a few things that offended me. As they’re spoilers involving physics, engineering, and common sense, I won’t say anything (yet), because it’s just past opening weekend. Maybe later.

Throwaway tech

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

I took my iMac in to the local Genius Bar on Saturday. It no longer boots, and I was having display problems before the “won’t boot” condition occurred. I’d looked into the display problems, and they were apparently caused by overheating damaging the RAM chips on the logic board. Presumably, leaving my system on for long periods (among other things, I used it as the main server on my home network) was what led to the problems.

The RAM can’t be replaced, of course, so I presumed repair would require a new logic board, and I wanted to find out just how much that would cost.

Well, the tech at the Genius Bar did get it to boot a couple of times, and the sensor diagnostics indicated no overheating problems. Trying to run some of his other tests didn’t work, though, and he couldn’t boot/run the more in-depth tests that may have isolated the problems. Therefore, replacing the main logic board is the minimum that seems necessary to get the system running again. Unfortunately, my iMac is a “late 2006” model, and Apple no longer manufactures replacement parts for it. If I want it fixed, I have to go to an aftermarket repair facility. Looking on line, used logic boards run about $500, and labor charges can only add to that.

The tech at the Genius Bar suggested that my best course of action with the old iMac would be to sell it to one of the local aftermarket repair facilities for parts, because there’s still a demand for iMacs like mine. I imagine I’ll end up doing that. Although my company did send me for training in surface-mount soldering last year, I have no way of determining what to replace to solve the problems, and scattershot replacing of parts is likely to be expensive, with no guarantee of success.

For a system with 1GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive, that’s not worth it to me. A new iMac runs about $1100 for the low-end model, which would give me a system with better display, 8GB of RAM, and 1TB of hard disk. I’m not sure I’ll do that, though. I have a “late 2011” MacBook Pro I’ve upgraded to its maximum RAM capacity and a large flash drive that serves most of my needs quite well, so I can get by for the foreseeable future without buying anything new. For file server purposes, I may see how well my Beaglebone Black works.

Miscellany 23

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

My posting has been sporadic for some time, so it’s time to dump the accumulated links.

The Younger Generation

Not all is lost, as shown by this Google science fair winner.

Fun/Funny Stuff

Personally, I don’t think synchronized swimming should be part of the Olympics, but I recognize that some people enjoy watching it. With that in mind, I’d like to present the Russian synchronized swimming team.

I had no idea that lab techs had such fun on the job.

I have a lot of problems with President Obama, but I’m amazed and horrified to learn that he’s covering up jump-gate technology to Mars.

British boy’s comics are not doing well. I used to read a number of them when I was a young boy in England, and for years I kept my copy of the 1962 Eagle Annual, but I think I lost it years ago.

So, this guy in the Netherlands had his FaceBook page hacked by his younger brother. He got revenge.

There’s a song to teach you how to pronounce Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

Want to be a financial backer for a horror film? Here’s your chance. There’s even a pun in the title.

Here’s another Kickstarter project (music this time), but I must say that this one seems a little “off” to me.

Some people have interesting jobs.

Sometimes, a product will garner all sorts of interesting reviews. The “Bic Crystal for Her” pen is one such.

These pens, however, need no amusing review comments. Probably safe from borrowing, too.

Max thinks our society is doomed. I don’t disagree, but I do see the need.

I may have to spend some time at the Museum of Unnatural History.

This is a cruel joke.

Science project genius!

Learning Japanese? Mangajin was a good resource.

I’m not into baseball, but this is a fascinating story.

Cats don’t seem reliable enough for the CIA to use them in surveillance. That appears to have been borne out.

There are no dangerous weapons, only dangerous people.

There are, however, ludicrous weapons.

Some logo designers need to be supervised.

Science and Technology

A dynamic periodic table of elements is a fun toy.

How to make an abacus in an Altoids tin.

A Chinese noodle-slicing robot. Fun, useful, and fascinating to watch.

A hoverbike? I’d love one, but I’d have loved it more when I was younger.

How the Navy taught people about computers in 1962.

Graphene is a fascinating material. It appears that molybdenum disulfide is similarly attractive, and is more useful in certain areas.

Wind energy is not a good deal.

Renewable energy in general is not a good deal.

Printing images at 100000 dpi.

MPEG-H is the new compression standard for video.

Two mammoth skeletons have been found on an Iowa farm.

It appears that fathers (or, more specifically, older fathers) contribute significantly to autism and schizophrenia.

Convergence in inheritance.

Science toys you can make with your kids.

Telepresence with iPads.

Celebrities often get science wrong. Someone has decided to do something about it.

Pickled brains.

This is a fascinating graph on technology adoption rates.

I’ve backed a few projects on Kickstarter so far. Not any of the most successful ones, though, although I did consider backing the Pebble watch.

Harvard scientists have encoded a 53000-word book in DNA. Evolutionary literature?

Underwater living is becoming possible.

The fraternal organization of chimpanzees. No evidence of funny hats, though.

I’m a touch typist. I also have (and occasionally use) Dragon Naturally Speaking, which is a speech recognition input method. Soon, we may be able to dispense with that, also.

I’ve long been interested in 3d displays. I still have a pair of Haitex X-Specs tucked away in my garage. I’m concerned about the durability of this one, however.

Could this have been the source of the stories of Atlantis or Noah’s ark?

I’d be interested in seeing this lecture on safes and safecracking.

I’m absolutely amazed by the size of fairy wasps.

I gave serious consideration to placing this discussion of women’s breasts and a general theory of ogling in the “Fun Stuff” section.

I was aware that we shared most of our DNA with chimpanzees. I was not aware that most of the differences are on the Y chromosome.

I used to have a t-shirt that said, “Montserrat: Land of Beautiful Women and Mountain Chicken. I had not known that Mountain Chicken is a breed of frog, though … I thought it was a nickname.

I’m going to have to watch this film.

This is a neat (and heart-warming) use of 3D printing technology.

Something tells me that this guy isn’t impressed with Windows 8.

Matt Ridley isn’t too fearful of a looming apocalypse.

A lost species has been brought back to life.

And, wood pulp is finding new use as a high-tech material.

Politics and Society

Don’t expect much in this section. This is already a long post, and this section could make it much longer. I don’t see the need to do that, particularly since anyone following politics on the internet has probably seen much of this already.

So, about those nonexistent Iraqi WMD

Do you know how much you’re paying in taxes? Some myths and misconceptions about tax rates are addressed here. Meanwhile, taxes are about to go up. The Democrats have no plan, and the White House says that the only plan out there doesn’t balance the budget fast enough for them?

Larger cuts than are currently proposed can’t balance the budget. The necessary cuts would be incredibly massive, such that nobody would propose them, and nobody else would accept them.

Then again, the Senate hasn’t passed a budget since April 29, 2009. The federal budget hasn’t been balanced at all since 1969.

Taxs aren’t the only thing going up; energy prices are, also.

Media bias is evidenced in many ways. In many ways. Many. Ways. Many. Many. (I feel like I should add “Tekel, Upharsin” here, which is probably more apropos than I originally thought.)

I guess this shows who Obama considers important.

What might we expect if Obama is reelected?

What could possibly go wrong with government control of your personal networking equipment?

What could possibly go wrong with the DOJ preferentially hiring dwarves, schizophrenics, and the intellectually disabled? That’s not the only problem with federal hiring/appointments. Not by a long shot.

Interesting discussion on the gender orientation of television shows.

Those “lice-infested, dirty murderers” … like me?

Another failure of zero-tolerance. The kid gets some geek cred for the claim, “my name is a weapon,” though.

What happened after guns were banned in Australia?

Missed anniversary

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

I didn’t realize this until today, but Monday was the 35th anniversary of the Apple ][ computer. I bought one in 1978; it was the first electronic computer I owned (I owned a Digi-Comp I when I was younger).

My Apple was serial number A2S1-2174. I bought it used for $1000, and it came with 16k of RAM and only the cassette interface for mass storage. I eventually got it upgraded to dual floppies and 48k of RAM, but it took a couple of years. Most of that time, I was in the West Indies, and computer parts and peripherals weren’t available. I felt good about it because I managed to get two floppies while they were still in short supply, and I only paid $150 for each 16k RAM expansion when Apple was charging $300 each.

I had a lot of fun with that machine. I had one program distributed by the 6502 Group, and I had another program published by the Apple Puget Sound Program Library Exchange (A.P.P.L.E. – I guess the “S” in “Sound” was silent). I also had an article published in Dr. Dobb’s Journal of Computer Calisthenics and Orthodontia (the October 1979 issue), but they weren’t able to print the source code listings I submitted, which was very disappointing to me. At the time, though, I was in the West Indies, and the printouts I sent were from a huge, heavy, line printer, and I had no floppies, so I sent them hardcopy on green-and-white fanfold paper, as well as a cassette with the code. I believe that they’d have been able to handle a floppy, but they couldn’t deal with the cassette, and retyping from my listings was, I’m sure, quite unappealing.

I’d ordered a computer before the Apple, though. There was a company in the Boston area called ECD, which was started by some MIT people, if I’m remembering correctly. They were offering a computer called the MicroMind, which sounded incredibly advanced for the time. Unfortunately, they produced very few of them. I think it’s because they decided to go head-to-head against DEC in the business market. I consider myself lucky to have gotten my money back from them before they went under.

I’ve never been big on games, but there were a few I enjoyed, and would like to still have available. One was called Ricochet (no relation to the PC game). It had paddles that would flip, and launchers in the corners of the screen. When it was your turn, you could move one or more paddles (all in the same direction), or you could launch a ball from either of your launchers. When a ball hit a paddle, it would be reflected at a 90 degree angle, and the paddle would flip from vertical to horizontal, or vice-versa. You’d also get a point for each paddle the ball hit. If the ball hit a launcher, it was disabled for a few turns. It was a lot of fun. I don’t have the game anymore, but I think I may still have the documentation that came with it.

There was also a space shoot-’em-up game called Alien Ambush (I think – it’s been a long time). It had a basic similarity with Space Invaders, in that you controlled a ship at the bottom of the screen, and would shoot at alien ships that entered from the top. However, instead of marching ranks of aliens these ships would swoop and swirl and launch bombs toward you. The advertising catchphrase for the game was, “You haven’t lived until you’ve died in space.”

I remember staying up one Friday night until about 3am with a friend, working together until we beat the chess program Sargon II. There’s no way I’d have beaten it by myself; I’m not that good a chess player.

I kept that Apple until around 1990, then gave it, and almost all of my magazines and software, away. I did keep a few things, such as my copy of the “big red book” that’s signed by Steve Wozniak and Randy Wigginton. Sometimes, I wish I’d kept the rest.