Archive for the ‘Computer / Tech’ Category

Discovery

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

We recently spent Spring Break visiting Washington, D.C. One of our ‘must-see’ locations whenever we go is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is an extension to the Smithosonian’s National Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport. It contains anything and everything that they just can’t squeeze into the facility on The National Mall.

We’ve been several times, and there are many many pictures of past trips (2004, 2007, and 2011).

The particular highlight for me on this trip was that the space shuttle Enterprise, previously sited at the museum, has been replaced with the shuttle Discovery. This was special to me, because the space shuttle, more than any other vehicle, was the spacecraft that symbolized space flight as I grew up. The heyday of the Apollo program was over before I could walk, but the Space Transportation System… this would bring us bus-service to the stars. As we know, STS never quite turned out to be the low-cost, airline to orbit it was purported to be, but that won’t change it’s place in my mind. So to stand (literally) in the shadow of a vehicle that traveled 149 million miles and spent a year in space… this had emotional impact. The Enterprise was interesting to look at but with wear evident on the hull, tiles that had clearly been replaced, scorch marks and stains on the nozzles… now this was a , real spaceship.

Here are some highlights of the pictures I took.

Fathers’ Day at the Schierer’s

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Went fishing with N on Saturday. We caught three of the tiniest bluegills you’ve ever seen.
On Sunday, I did this:

Note that my cockpit comes complete with lap warmer.

Little Bit of Awesome in Red

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

If I had more money than I knew what do do with, I’d have $400 less now because I would have just bought a Lytro Light Field Digital Camera.

If you haven’t heard of this optical awesomeness, it is a camera that captures not just the amount of light and its frequency, but also it’s direction. Yes it is a vector imager. This technology was announced a few years back, but I hadn’t realized that it was commercialized already.

Why is this made of bacon flavored awesome? it turns out that if you know where the light is coming from, you can, in fact apply depth of field and focus _AFTER_ you’ve taken the picture. So having the wrong focus, or aperture is a thing of the past.[1]

  1. I assume that there is a dynamic range limit to this adjustment, since the camera itself does not have an infinite aperture. []

Go Surfboard Go

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Just got my Motorola Surfboard 6121 cable modem last night.[1] Called Time Warner and actually had quite a pleasant phone support call once I got to the right person.[2]
The gent I spoke with was friendly and fast, and was actually ready to turn the modem on before I even managed to attach the cables. Kudos to the broadband overlords. Once I gave him the MAC he set it up on that end, changed the account to remove the monthly rental. It connected right up and showed a bonded down-link right off the start.
We’re paying for the standard service which is rated at 15Mbps, and should be a single channel, but we seem to be getting 2-channel service at 30Mbps. I’m not complaining though.
30Mbps Down, 1Mbps up

  1. $55 after rebate which will pay back on our $4/month fee in 14 months. []
  2. Unfortunately the auto-voice detecting phone menu that insisted that “cable modem” sounded like “phone” and “no” sounded like “yes”. []

“Ring of Fire” and Don’t Forget Your Towel.

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Two very blog-worthy things today:

First, SpaceX continues to wow with their latest flight and intentional return to earth of their Grasshopper test vehicle. The flight profile reminds me of the early rocket videos that suffered from pogo oscillation. I do NOT recommend the following experiment if you wish to experience this yourself:

  1. Sit in a running car in an area free from obstacles.
  2. Ease off of the brake/clutch so the car is rolling along at idle.
  3. Pull the lever for your seat forward-back release. (Electric adjust need not apply.)
  4. Gently press the gas pedal.

Anyhow, check out their fun video, which will explain the title reference above. Make sure to look closely at 1:14 and it will all make sense.
Update: And now, with an actual link to the video!

Second, all hail the king of British science fiction humor, Douglas Adams. he would have been 61 today. Google has honored him with an interactive doodle.

Geek Chic?

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

For the Tux wearing spy? Or just the geek that has everything?
Stainless Steel 4GB USB Cufflinks

PS. Don’t buy these for me. I don’t think I own a single shirt I could use them with.

Apparently I’m not the only one…

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

I’m a regular reader of John Scalzi’s blog. He recently bought a snazzy new computer that, of course, came with Windows 8. He’s been posting his reactions, and today he added the following opinion about the Windows 8 workflow, and the Start Page in particular:

You have to stop what you’re doing, fire up a separate screen that obscures everything you’re working on, and locate a program in a tile (you can also type in the program name and then click on the result, but you still have to first leave your work environment). It’s a hassle, but more than a hassle it’s an arbitrary imposition of the UI on actual workflow. Or to put it more bluntly: Windows 8 is wasting my time, and for no good reason.

It’s not the sparkly computer’s fault, it was Win8. So now I’ve fixed that part of Win8 that was annoying me.

He’s using Stardock’s “Start 8” program to serve this purpose. I will probably be checking this out (or some similar alternate) myself.

8 Days of Windows 8: Part 2, GUIs Gone Wild!

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Technically we’re up to 12 days now, and no, this isn’t some sort-of voyeuristic post for graphics designers. It is, as before, a few comments on my initial take on Windows 8.

Any readers who’ve had a cell phone longer than they could drive, probably won’t understand this analogy, but for those who do, consider for a moment Windows 3.1 (aka “Windows for Workgroups“).[1] Remember when you tried to find your programs (before they were called applications, let a lone “apps”), and you sort-of visually searched around for a little rectangle that represented the thing you wanted? Sometimes though, it wouldn’t work quite right until you exited to DOS and ran the program from the real operating system hiding in the background? Sure there were a few snazzy programs (mostly written by Microsoft) that would actually work within the Windows environment, but most of the really powerful stuff (or really good games) left Windows behind and lived elsewhere. This, my friends, is pretty much how Windows 8 feels to me.

If you want some examples of why Win8 feels more like a colorful paint-job than an operating system, keep on below the fold. Otherwise, there is some good news which I’ll save for the next post.

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  1. For what it’s worth, I have Windows 3.1.1 floppy disks in my lower left desk drawer. They are, in fact, the beginning of the long chain of Windows OS upgrades that leads my upgrade licenses all the way to this post. []

8 Days of Windows 8: Part 1: Quiet, too quiet?

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I installed Windows 8 on my game computer. A few weeks prior, the Win8 pro upgrades were on sale for $40. Inevitably, they were on sale for even less (perhaps $25?) a week or so later. In any case, I’m sure that over the long run they’ll cost more. So I picked up to upgrade licenses, one for my machine, and one for another of the three Win7 boxes we have in the house.

I also picked up a free (until the end of January) Windows Media Center add-on since this is a feature we use on K’s machine currently to record broadcast TV.

The install was, well, mostly-harmless. Not exactly a glowing review, but I think appropriate so far. Details on the install follow. More on what works and what doesn’t work (so far) tomorrow.

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How to Make CH Products Controllers Wake Up in Windows 7 (and 8)

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

A while back I picked up a set of CH Products game controllers on eBay. This set included the Pro Pedals[1], the Pro Throttle, and the Fighterstick [2].

They are very well built and I expect them to last essentially forever (or at least until USB is obsolete). There was only one problem, when my PC[3] woke back up from hibernate, the controllers wouldn’t work. I discovered that I could use the CH Control Manager to rescan for them to workaround the problem, but this was still a bit annoying.

After contacting CH Products about the issue, they told me that if I sent them the controllers they would update the firmware to resolve the issue. The charge was only $10 per controller (for return shipping), but having just gotten used to them, I didn’t want to be without them for several weeks. Instead, I did a bit more troubleshooting.

My workaround is quite effective and involves four parts:

  1. USBDeview.exe: An application which allows you to view, enable and disable any USB attached devices.
  2. resetChProducts.bat: A batch file which uses USBDeview to disable, then enable all CH Products devices by product ID. (in attached zip file)
  3. runResetChProducts.vbs: A VisualBasic script which runs a batch file without opening a window[4] (in attached zip file)
  4. wscript.exe: A built-in component of Windows which allows execution of Visual Basic Scripts.

I installed USBDeview and used it to determine the Product ID of the CH products devices (0x068e). The scripts expect the install location to be C:\Program Files\USBDeview. I also put them in the same folder. The VB Script simply invokes the batch script without creating a window. The batch script disables all the devices which match this ID, then immediately enables them again. The final piece of the puzzle, was to use the Windows Task Scheduler to run the whole shebang automatically. In this case I used “On workstation unlock of any user” as a trigger for the command: wscript.exe “C:\Program Files\USBDeview\runResetChProducts.vbs”

Now every time I log in, the lights on the controllers blink once, and they’re good to go.

Update:
I discovered an issue in Win8 I didn’t have in Win7, which is that my devices seem to enable in an arbitrary order. As a result, the joystick mappings (i.e. numbers) in my games change from one start-up to the next. To work around this, I change the bat file to enable the devices in an order I prescribe. As follows:

REM Disable, then re-enable all devices with the CH Products VendorID
"C:\Program Files\USBDeview\USBDeview.exe" /disable_by_pid 068e
"C:\Program Files\USBDeview\USBDeview.exe" /enable_by_pid 068e;00f3
"C:\Program Files\USBDeview\USBDeview.exe" /enable_by_pid 068e;00f2
"C:\Program Files\USBDeview\USBDeview.exe" /enable_by_pid 068e;00f1

  1. Replacing a heavily worn, but still working set I’ve had for over a decade of the old game-port variety. []
  2. Replacing a MS Precision 2. []
  3. Running Windows 7 Pro, 64-bit. I’ve since determined that this continues to work for Windows 8 Pro 64-bit. []
  4. Thanks to Hey, Scripting Guy Blog for the code I generated this from. []