RadioShack

Over the years of travel and moving, our stereo equipment is consistently on the list of things-to-get-rid-of-before-we-move. This has left us with a nice music collection that can only be played through computer speakers or headphones. Until now. B bequeathed me with a RocketFM transmitter for Christmas, and it has allowed us to expand our listing to anything that will tune in FM radio. That expansion included walkmen, and a single shop radio that belonged to B’s grandpa that still has the saw dust filtering out where ever it is placed. This was not really a big upgrade, but recently a friend passed on a stereo that has 2 speakers, and some bass! So, now we can actually listen to some rumblings on the other side of the house, and tune in from any room (almost). I did have to hack the RocketFM to extend the range, but that was why B bought me that one, she knew that I would have (get) to hack it to make it work well. It worked!

So, if you happen to be driving in down Round Lake Drive, and hear Cake, Jem, KT Tunstall, U2, or B-tribe while tuned into 88.1, that is Shackelford Radio.

Frugal Photo

Let’s see, I was browsing WordPress sites and found myself at PhotoMatt, where I read a post about USF.edu using wordpress. In the comments some one mentions that Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism also uses wordpress, and I happed to notice on that site a link to Pinoy Top Blogs. A casual perusal of the list found Litratista, a Pinoy photo hobbyist site. This site had quite a few links to frugal-style photography. It is the Filipino way to make do with what you have, so these are a few of the sites that I found, in that round about way, from Litratista:

Home studio on the cheap – This really is cheap, coming at around $75. I am not sure I have the space for this kind of setup, but I think i could swing the light box below.

Small budget photography – How to use what you have to look like a professional. A few basic skills and available software is all you need. Personally I would recommend getting familiar with The Gimp. It will do most of what you need, and maybe more for hundreds less (free, actually).

Build you own light box/tent – This would be perfect for small studio shots and macros. It would also come in handy for all those pictures of B’s projects.

Portable Gimp – This may only apply to Windows users, but it could be very handy for touch ups on the road, or for those of you who travel the world with a camera… You know who you are.

Using old SLR lenses with a digital SLR – Very handy if you already have some of these lenses, or have easy access to them. I think you could find them cheap on eBay well, so maybe it really is a good way to fill out your collection of lenses if you do not mind the drawbacks of more manual fiddling.

Unusual photography tips – These are just good tips that you may not have seen/heard before.

I had a lot of fun looking through these sites, and thought I would pass them along. Strange how one hobby (web design/Wordpress) led me to another, in a culture that I understand (Pinoy photography)

Ruby glue

I have stepped back into ruby recently with a project to tie our portal to our network provisioning scripts. The portal is WebSphere running on RedHat, and the provisioning scripts are in VBScript, on Windows. It is the perfect opportunity to actually learn how to really program (maybe). I do some SQL magic (ok, not really magic), and send off some system calls in separate threads to check or setup Exchange accounts, web space, or home folders. The goal is to make it modular so that new services can easily be added, and to daemonize a part of it so that it does not need to be run by Windows Task Scheduler.

I have finished most of it, and it seems to do what it should. What is strange is that I am not even sure I programmed well. I do not have the experience to know if there are easier ways of doing things, or if I have written 30 lines of code that could have taken 5. I am sure I _could_ enjoy programming, but right now it takes quite a bit of effort and research to figure out how to do things (kind of like Linux for the first few months) and it is very absorbing. I have trouble leaving work at work when I am programming because all the troubleshooting is abstract and in my head. Since I can’t leave my brain at work, it keeps hammering away at the problems. I also get irritable when I am interrupted, and that is not so good at work, or home. So I am in a hurry to get this little app finished so I can return to normal life.

Over-all I have enjoyed ruby, and it is fun to create. I like the object oriented aspect of the language and find it pretty easy to understand when I read through it. I start to think in ruby sometimes when I think of attributes and methods… I mean adjectives and actions.

daniel = Programmer.new
if daniel.focused
     print 'Do not disturb'
else
     unless daniel.mood = 'bad'
          print 'Daniel is feeling kindly toward you.'
     else
          print 'Daniel does not exactly want to talk to you.'
     end
end

Some Co-operation

WARNING: Extreme geek sillyness directly ahead.

I have been using Linux as my OS of choice at home ever since I picked up a pretty good cast-off box from work for $25. It is a modest 1Ghz, with 384Mb Ram, and NVidia card (16Mb), and 40Gb drive. Really not too bad. Anyway, I run Fedora Core 4, and have all the usual programs that I am used to on Windows and OS X. I also have a 40Gb drive that has Windows 2000 on it that I have not really used much since… well… I think it was a well over a year ago that we had to give the loaner PC back to the Ballentines. I decided that I would like to at least have the option to play BG2 again someday, so I set about configuring dual boot. Last time I had tried this was in March, and it ended with the partitions confused, and no NTLDR. I had made it work before, so it was not to bad. Have to do some grub mapping magic to make Windows think it is still running on the primary drive, even when it isn’t. Egotistical OS.

An interesting thing happened. When I installed Fedora, all devices were detected and setup perfectly. When I popped Windows in, it choked on the integrated NIC and audio. I had to boot back into Linux to download the drivers for Windows. I remember doing the reverse not too long ago.

On a whim I looked into QEMU, and attempted to set it up. It actually started booting Windows, but hangs partway through the black and white boot screen. I will have to poke around some more. There is an accelerator driver, but QEMU would not compile correctly. I will leave that for another time. Or maybe I will try Xen. I have it installed at work… looks like the next version will work with Intel’s VT instructions to provide near native speeds. WithIntel (x86) chips being used for OS X , maybe it will not be long before I can run all three of my OSes on one piece of hardware. Not this current box, but maybe a cluster is in order…

Java rig

Java rig

Well, I have been roasting coffee for some time now (since Brother Nathan and family came up in March), but not until recenlty did I decide to eliminate or reduce the number of cramped muscles that are produced each 20-30 minute sessions per batch. First I set up the blocks on a military issue typing table and used c-clamps to hold them in place. That held the bowl, so that I am not as likely to lose the entire batch into the grass or gravel. Next I took a magnetic guage holder and rigid armature (can be found at McMaster-Carr), and used some bolts to cradle the heat gun. The armature has adjustment knobs, so I can aim the gun exactly where I want it. All that is left to hack together a stirring mechanism so I can just stand back and listen for evidence of a good roast…

Exg2Cal first release (v0.0.1 alpha)

I have just recently created my first useful ruby app (it is a class really). We run Exchange at work, and I felt some concern that those who use FOSS apps to get mail and calendar info would be out of luck if they wanted to do calendaring (not a word) within our organization. Currently that is only me. So I installed Ruby (v1.8) and Mondrian and started looking at Net::IMAP to pull messages from calendar folders. Exchange uses the vCal/iCal format for events and they are either attached to a message, or the content of a message. It works. It is not refined, and I know it could use some error handling, threads, and maybe just a good look-over, but here it is:

exg2cal.rb

It can be called like so:

require 'exg2cal'
jack=Exg2Cal.new("imap.server.com","folder","user","pass")
#this is a range
jack.extract(1..-1)
#this is the name of the ical file. Right now '.ics' is auto-appended
jack.write_cal("filename")
jack.finish

What it does:

  1. Connects to an imap server of your choice
  2. Selects the imap folder of your choice
  3. Looks at the messages (usually all of them)
  4. If there are messages that are not flagged
  5. It grabs the calendar part and adds it to a ical file
  6. And then flags the message

Possible problems:

  • It does not check to make sure the content is a calendar! This means that you have to make sure that the folder you aim it at is a calendar folder. I will be looking at this part next.
  • It can be slow. I will also make it threaded so that it can make some connections concurrently.
  • It is my VERY FIRST program written in any language, and therefore may just be a mess. I am not even sure it qualifies as a program.
  • No documentation. No too much to document yet, I guess, but it is still a problem, especially if I ever turn it into a huge bloated tangle someday.
  • The file that is created/used is in the same folder as the app. I would like to be able to put it up on a WebDav server so that other calendar clients can subscribe, etc. I think that before that I will make it so that you can choose where to put the file.
  • No interface, not even cli, yet. I will look at making one, but I do not want to create too many dependencies. Maybe I will make a rails interface…

I use it to update my Sunbird calendar for our department. I use Thunderbird for email, so I miss out on the outlook features, but I can now access both the email and calendar info on any platform. Admittedly this is a little silly because we do have OWA running…

Why’s?

A while back someone recommended I take up Ruby as my programming language of choice, and I thought I would have a look around. I did, and some of it interested me, and I tinkered but never really got into it. I wish I had known about Why’s Poignant Guide back then. Even if you have absolutely no interest in programming, or Ruby, it is a silly and hilarious adventure that just might get you to write a program or two.

I really do like Ruby, but have just never gotten into programming much. Scripting I have done now and again, but nothing too big. I think I will give Ruby another go…

renovation

Today was the official release of WordPress 1.5, and of course I could not just let it go without upgrading. Actually, when I started the upgrade I did not know that the announcement had only been out for about an hour. The upgrade process as documented in the wiki is pretty drastic. After a full database backup and deletion of all existing files, I uploaded the new stuff. It did not work. I tried this and I tried that, but all that was coming up was garbage. A tip to fellow Ftpers everywhere, check to make sure you upload PHP files as ASCII and image files as binary. I know, it is a silly mistake, but I still made it. Then there was the trouble with my template, and I found that I was using an outdated index.php file. I deleted it and stuck in the new one, and it looked better. I still wanted my own image for the header, but even though it was there before, and I copied it over to the new theme folder, it was not showing up. First I found that the image that I had used was corrupted (somehow), and then I found that the new default theme, based on Kubrick, has the personal header image commented out. Once I took care of that, every thing was fine. Whew! It still took about an hour or so to do the upgrade, but I was feeling a bit tense there (“Ethan, stop asking me what that marker is for!”).

Switch-back story

Some of you will be unhappy to know that I am running that other OS in our house again, after a break of seven months or so. Although I like Linux, and would love to use it daily, the amount of frustration in sharing things over the network (with OS X) and using a shared printer, was just too much for daily use when I do have other options that are easy for me. The problem was as much with OS X as it was with Linux, but I am not quite ready to trash our iMac workhorse, and I know that I can make that other OS do just about anything want it to. All that said, it still took me all day yesterday to get my computer to print to our Samsung ML-1740 connected to the iMac via USB. The solution invloved CUPS, Gimp-print, and ignoring messages that say “Accss denied”. In the end the most help came from MacOSXHints.com. Any of you ambi-OS-terous folks out there have some advice for running OS X, Linux and Windows on the same network and sharing everything in between? Just to calm some of you, I had another hard drive with that other OS already installed, and I simply added an entry in Grub to allow me to boot to it. My Linux install is alive and well, and I will just switch back and forth. I do have all my general tools installed in both places, so the transition is not that hard.