Red Echo

October 30, 2010

My project this afternoon is a quick little record bag for my DJ costume. Record bag, that is, as in a shoulder-bag that holds actual vinyl records. I already have the big raver pants, and I got this puffy, fur-trimmed hoodie and a baseball hat this afternoon; add a pair of headphones and I’m all set.

But wait, the informed reader may ask: you say you are dressing up as a DJ for Halloween, but aren’t you actually a DJ in real life? And aren’t you, in fact, going to be performing as a DJ on Halloween itself? Wearing your… DJ…. costume?

Ah, yes: but it’s still a costume, because I am dressing up as a completely different kind of DJ. It will be obvious that my DJ outfit is a costume as soon as you hear the music, because I will look like someone who would be playing a completely different kind of music! Obviously.

Also, I will be a zombie.

October 26, 2010

Maybe it’s the return of grey, rainy weather; my enthusiasm for Radian is back in force and I am making what feels like rapid progress. I built one major component of the automatic parallelization system in one quick burst, and it worked practically the first time I ran it – I guess that thinking about it for so long meant I had a solid design in mind by the time I finally got down to writing the code. Why did I wait so long? Oh well – there’s plenty more to do, and I’m digging through it with gusto.

Tonight I’m doing a little debugging work on the new rhythm robot board. The microcontroller will not respond to my programming attempts – it appears to be dead. I’ve tested all the connections and they seem to be correct. Is it possible that I simply overheated the chip while soldering it in? Another instance of what appears to be exactly the same circuit works just fine in a breadboard. What’s more, I assembled just the microcontroller portion of a second board, and ran into exactly the same problem. It seems strange that I would have fried two chips in a row in exactly the same way, when I had no such problems building the bloom light boards, but the chips worked fine when I tested them in a breadboard beforehand. Oh, well, I’ll work it out eventually. In the meantime it’s tempting to just let the whole thing sit and work on something else, but I really do want to get this gadget running.

October 22, 2010

This completely awesome home-built searchlight incorporates an arc lamp, powered by a welder, using a trash can as the reflector. I want to take one of these to Burning Man.

October 21, 2010

a few samples from anti-jokes:

Your momma’s so fat that she should probably be worried about the increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Why was six afraid of seven?
It wasn’t. Numbers are not sentient and thus incapable of feeling fear.

So a Hispanic, African-American, Jewish, and Asian man were walking down the street.
They were involved in a parade that celebrated racial equality.

A duck walks into a bar, the bartender says, “What’ll it be?” The duck doesn’t say anything because it’s a duck.

October 20, 2010

Current projects: intelligent juggling balls, Radian, ski jacket.

I’ve been doing some board layout for the juggling ball prototypes. It’s a tricky problem: we want to stuff a bunch of SparkFun breakout boards into an actual ball and toss it around to see what the LEDs look like and what kind of data we get from the sensors. There’s so little space inside that we can hardly make room for physical wires, besides which it’s just a nuisance trying to cut, strip, and solder all those little bits, so I’m designing a simple PCB that will route signals between the various breakout boards. I have about three and a quarter square inches to work with – definitely a challenge, and so far a most engaging one.

On the Radian project, I’m finally digging into the crux of the system, which is the automatic loop parallelizer. The work I’ve done so far has given me a simple, unremarkable, unfinished programming language with a couple of minor syntax quirks and an unusual internal architecture; now it’s time to make all that preparation start to pay off.

I have moments of doubt, where I wonder whether I really understand this problem as well as I think I do, fearing that I’m going to get hopelessly stuck in the implementation, or – worse – suddenly realize that there is a fatal flaw in the whole plan. When I’m really feeling uncertain I imagine that this fatal flaw will turn out to be something that is old news in the CS literature, but which I’ve never read about nor been clever enough to figure out for myself. Oh, well: even if the venture did turn out to have been doomed from the start, I’ve learned a lot from it, and there would probably turn out to be something else I could do with the codebase.

But honestly? It’s going to work.

October 16, 2010

Things that bug me about Ubuntu

1) Sometimes, when I log in, the cursor is invisible. The trackpad still works; I just can’t see what I’m pointing at, and have to guess based on rollover hilights. The only thing that fixes this problem is to suspend/sleep/whatever it is and then wake the machine back up again.

2) Sometimes, when I log in, a message pops up telling me something about a “local network service” that is incompatible with something called an “Avahi” service, and that one or the other of these services – it’s not clear which – has been disabled. I have no idea what any of this means; none of the system configuration programs have anything to say about “Avahi”.

3) The computer does not consistently go to sleep when I close it. Sometimes it does; sometimes it just sits there, screen glowing and fan running, until it either runs out of battery or irritates me so much I go do something about it. This may be an Eee PC hardware problem, but I’m blaming it on Linux because it’s the kind of fit-and-finish detail the Linux people don’t seem to notice.

4) The updater system is complicated, confusing, and doesn’t even work. The “Administration” directory has a program called “Update Manager”, and a separate program called “Synaptic Package Manager”, both of which appear to do more or less the same thing. I might have a better idea what the difference was if either program actually worked; instead, whenever I try to install or update anything, I get a series of error messages about “”. What is, why does my computer’s OS depend on it, and what am I supposed to do to fix this problem? I have no idea. Thus my package information has not been updated in 356 days, as the update manager helpfully pops up and tells me every month or so, despite the fact that I turned the automatic “check for updates” feature off owing to the above problem.

5) Sometimes the network menu doesn’t show up when I log in, and it is impossible to tell whether the machine is connected to a wireless network,or to instruct it to log in to some new network. I have no idea why this happens. Restarting the machine usually fixes the problem.

I actually like this little computer quite a lot, and I think the Ubuntu people have done a pretty good job at polishing up the chaotic wilderness that is Linux. I am just frustrated by design misfeatures which leave me feeling like I am not the one in control of my own computer. Since I have no idea what to do about any of this, I’m posting it in hopes that people who work on the various components of this system may somehow, someday, perform some google search which puts them in touch with this post and thereby gain some insight into issues they might consider working on.

October 15, 2010

I’ve had a couple of Post Office failed-delivery slips kicking around for several weeks now. The place closes at six, so it’s nearly impossible to get there without making special efforts to rearrange my schedule. Having no idea what this package was, or who it was from, or why I should care about it, the errand just hadn’t seemed that important. Well, this morning I managed to scoot out of the house early, stop by the post office, and pick up these mysterious packages. It was just one package, which they’d tried to deliver it twice; a little tan envelope, addressed from Sofia, in Bulgaria. What on earth? I don’t know anyone in Bulgaria; why is someone sending me a tiny lumpy package which requires signature confirmation?

Turns out it is a pair of FND500 LED displays, which I apparently bought on eBay late one September evening. I really like FND500s; they haven’t been made since the mid-80s, and they light up with a gorgeous deep red semi-translucent glow. They’re not so great for long-distance readability but they look beautiful. I inherited a handful of them from an older electronics hacker’s stash, and bought another couple dozen on eBay once I found out how awesome they were – I periodically check eBay for more but had completely forgotten that I’d actually ordered any.

October 9, 2010

Finished “Orb of Awesome”

This space lander thing is a 48-channel LED light effect. There’s a USB port on the lower left which can be used to control it. I made this for my old friend and former coworker Aaron B., who wanted something cool for his desk.

October 8, 2010

Climbing wall at work is (finally) finished

This looks like astonishingly good fun: Jeb Corliss shows off his favorite wingsuit flights. The bit toward the end where he skims over a meadow and drops into a surprisingly steep canyon at the far side – wow!

End of an era: Microsoft is apparently going to stop offering 100% health coverage.

October 7, 2010

Project status

Three months ago I posted a list of the projects I had under way. Feeling like I am doing too many things and not doing them justice, I have been working toward spreading myself less thin. I’d like to let the project list shorten as I finish things, then refrain from taking on anything new for a good six months at least.

Finished since last update:
– Handbag for my sister Joanna
– Four more bloom lights, for Eva’s flower sculptures
– Blinking firefly costumes for Chris W. and his group
– Rhythm Robot v2 circuit board
– Flashy silver raver pants
– Blue/grey motorcycle-inspired modified jeans
– Reworked straps on a dress for Nika

Currently active:
– Radian (finishing the initial set of object model features)
– “Orb of Awesome” for Aaron B. (last remaining parts arrived today! finished this weekend, I hope)
– Steadyrocker midi clock device (circuit board layout done, next step is to get it printed)
– Rhythm Robot (updating firmware, designing a housing)
– Custom ski jacket (Martian styling, applied to goretex)

On the back burner:
– Sell the older two of my three motorcycles
– Tune up the Suzuki and install the Corbin seat
– Intelligent juggling balls
– Red shot silk dress w/gold lining
– Ballistic nylon motorcycle pants
– Groovik’s cube dimmer code
– Hammerbox percussion synthesizer

Finished handbag for Joanna

I sewed in the zipper panels and the lining tonight, then attached the handles (vintage bamboo!). It’s finished: I’m going to enjoy looking at it for a few days then send it off to Joanna.

Nice to check one off the list!

October 5, 2010

I’ve been pecking away at Radian again. I burnt myself out building the object system last winter, and haven’t touched the project in six or seven months. It’s still been ticking away in the back of my head, though, and during a plane flight a couple weeks ago I discovered that I am ready to dig in once again. I hope to reign my enthusiasm back a little this time around – this kind of work needs to be done at a calm, steady pace, with plenty of time to think things over.

I haven’t added any new capabilities to the language yet, but there have been plenty of loose ends to clean up, and in sorting them out I have been refreshing my memory of the architecture and the work yet to be done. This is a project which could keep me busy forever, of course, but I’m actually encouraged to see how much is already there.

October 1, 2010

Suppliers of various enclosures for electronic equipment:
OKW – wide variety, mostly plastic, lots of handhelds and a fair number of desktop-type console boxes
Hammond Manufacturing – industrial focus, wide array of plain metal and plastic boxes, more functional than pretty; they have some nice steel/aluminum + walnut boxes though
Protocase – custom metal boxes, only a handful of styles but they will make them to any dimensions, and will do custom panels and silkscreening
Bud Industries – also industrially focused, functional parts but not particularly pretty