Archive for the ‘Computer / Tech’ Category

Because I can.

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

I’m simultaneously hacking the installer for the 1997 classic X-Wing vs Tie Fighter so it will run on my 64-bit Windows 7 machine[1] AND preparing another machine for a Windows 8 upgrade.

So for the new year I’m looking forwards while enjoying the past.

How’s your day?

  1. Thanks to Markus Egger []

Fault Logic

Friday, June 1st, 2012

A few weeks ago I had a recurring problem with my 2010 Jetta TDI which caused the check engine light to turn on. Fearing the worst I contacted VW only to learn that this merely indicates an emissions issue. Apparently, its only when the engine light blinks that the driver should panic stop the vehicle for fear of imminent doom.[1]
Once I dutifully delivered the vehicle to the dealer they hooked up the magic diagnostic computer. As far as I can tell this mystical device is essentially a USB dongle and a laptop computer. This modern oracle revealed that one of the injectors had failed to deliver its due share of fuel to the engine. Diagnosis: “You probably got some bad fuel.”
So the next day, yes, that’s right, the light is on again. Another trip to the dealer and the same diagnosis. Solution: Finish the tank of fuel and run another one through it. If the injector is bad it will continue to be bad, if it’s fuel it will probably go away. Next day, light comes on again, but I ignore it. Fast forward to last week and about half way through the new tank of fuel… light goes out. [2]
After speaking with the service manager, we agreed to monitor, but that it probably really was just bad fuel.
Through this whole adventure, I found myself wondering why the multifunction display in the middle of the dashboard can’t provide this information directly? Why can’t I push a button and have the car show the code information right on the screen? “No”, you say, “if they did that, then we wouldn’t be able to pay the dealer $75 to do it for us.”[3]
So today, I’m on my way home, and what do I discover the German engineers have decided is worth my immediate attention:

There’s no need to inform the user about the inner workings of the engine, that ancillary system that MAKES THE CAR GO. The license plate lights: yes, a special light-shaped indicator and diagnostic text.

  1. At the time, I was about 10 miles from where I was going and decided to keep driving anyway, since the engine showed no signs of having any difficulty. []
  2. It resets after three ‘warm up’ cycles without an error. []
  3. I paid nothing because I’m still under warranty. []

Whirly Update

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Well after about 24 hours and nine complete battery discharge cycles[1], I’m yet to do any serious damage. There have been a few pretty gnarly crashes… the kind that sounds like a mix between a weed-whacker and an over-taxed wind-up toy. Or even worse a single sharp metallic ‘whack’. I’ve had several walks to the ‘landing site’ with the sunken “about to consult the parts list” feeling. So far, so good.
I’ll admit the main and tail rotor tips have some pretty good “grass”[2] stains and a couple of visible nicks, but the spare set I bought are still mint in packaging. The canopy has a few Darlington Stripes and the skids are a bit scratched up, but well… that’s why they’re called skids.

So far I’ve learned:
1) Flying in the garage is nice because there’s no wind. Unfortunately, it has much tighter control requirements… and more rigid penalties for failure.
2) Flying outdoors is great for (relatively) soft landings in the grass, but even a slight breeze can make things really complicated.
3) If all else fails, throttle back and wait. This will probably be a less helpful technique as I start to get into more forward flight.

  1. The bird came with one battery and I bought two extra. One of those was free from Walt’s. Thanks guys! []
  2. And maple leaves, and spruce tips.. []

Whirly Bird!

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

I jumped into the RC hobby world with this fun purchase:

Thanks to the friendly help at Walt’s Hobby I decided to go for the Blade 120 SR instead of the smaller coaxial Blade MXC2. Both are 4 channel((Throttle, yaw, pitch cyclic and roll cyclic)) birds with yaw gyros for stability, but this one uses the conventional tail rotate for anti-torque. It’s about 50% larger (main rotor is 12.5″ in diameter), so it does pretty well outside even in a light breeze (as I proved tonight). It could fly indoors, but you’d need a pretty big space…. maybe once I get to be a better pilot.

At this point I’m proud to report I exhausted three rechargeable batteries (each about 7-8 minutes of actual flight time) without breaking anything, so I’m off to a good start. It’s certainly going to be a challenge to fly in a well controlled manner, but it’s awfully fun right out of the box.

Cable-less… 1 Year Review

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Thanks to Stephen for reminding me to write this post. His timing is excellent as it was _exactly_ one year ago today that I posted about our Adventures in Digital Media.

The best summary is probably simply: We’re still not paying the cable company for television.

From this you can probably conclude that our experiment was not a complete disaster. There have been some pitfalls, but I think we’re smoothly in the groove of our new media lifestyle. I don’t see us switching back any time soon, particularly since more and more content creators are:
a) providing shows directly to the internet
b) providing a way to watch shows on mobile/network players.

Details follow…

Camels lay eggs?

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

No? Perhaps figuratively? Ok, this thought is going the complete wrong direction.

Perhaps I’m late to the party, but I tripped over a site called CamelEgg that has historical pricing information for NewEgg products. This rocks, because NewEgg is my primary site for purchasing computer and electronic equipment. It’s probably a close race as to whether we spend more through NewEgg or CamelCamelCamel does the same thing for Amazon products, with CamelBuy for CamelCamper and CamelSounds.

Here’s an example of what you can get (and a sample of the current hard drive price hysteria):


Friday, November 18th, 2011

For documentation I do at work I occasionally use LaTex to format formulas for display or print. Like most markup languages, LaTex is extremely powerful, but requires a certain level of programmer-esque skills to use. I use it rather infrequently, so I’m constantly looking at various sources for reference on how to make a certain symbol or format a certain function.

This is a classic example of when a typical text based (e.g. Google) search falls short. How do you search for a symbol who’s name you don’t really know… or has such a common name that it’s hard to distinguish the one you want?

Well Daniel Kirsch made it happen. Today wasn’t the first time I used Detexify but in a moment of work avoidance I played around with it a bit more than I had in the past.

Here’s an example of what it does:

So yeah, you draw a little skull and cross-bones and it uses the power of some kind of (probably) neural net examination and finds the symbol you needed.[1] Try it out, it’s sort-of fun just to play with. You can also go to the symbols page and pick one to ‘train’. You then draw the image by hand (mouse?) and it adds it to its training pool.

He’s working on a new version that also does Unicode characters. It will also offload some of the searching by running the algorithm on the client side using Java. Pretty impressive that such a search can be done in a reasonable amount of time using Java in a web browser.

  1. No, I did not have a particular reason to put this symbol in my documentation… but boy did I want to find one! []

ISS Timelapse Videos

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

If you liked my previous link to the International Space Station (ISS) video, you’ll like this montage even better. 18 separate passes with shots of city lights, atmospheric glow, aurora, and thunderstorms. Thanks again to the Bad Astronomer for pointing this out.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

Make sure to select HD and full screen. There’s a list of where the passes are below the video, but see how many you can identify without the list.

But does it go to 11?

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

At the rather arbitrary time of 11 seconds past 11 minutes past 11 hours[1] on the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year after the (end of) the last millenium, I was transferring files to my new PC.

What? You weren’t staring at your digital watch, glorying in the one-ness!?

Nope, I was in the final throes of the several iterations of recovering backup files that were eventually required to get the new box up and running.

For the bit-heads, here are the stats of my satisfyingly powerful knee-of-the-curve modern PC:

Reused Components:

  • GIGABYTE GV-N98TSL-1GI GeForce 9800 GT 1GB Silent
  • 250GB Western Digital SATA HDD
  • Windows 7 Professional 64 bit

At this point the previous machine is idle, and probably will be for a while. Although it still contains a 60GB SSD and a 250GB IDE drive that I haven’t incorporated. I stuck one of my older silent video cards in it, in case I need to boot it up, but the Win7 license is no longer legal (since I’ve reactivated with this hardware).

Windows tells me my “Experience Index” needs to be updated, so here goes the before/after:

Component Before After
Processor 4.9 7.5
Memory 5.4 7.8
Graphics 6.8 6.8
Gaming Graphics 6.8 6.8
Primary hard disk 5.9 7.9
Base (lowest) Score 4.9 6.8

Not surprising that the video card, now the oldest component analyzed, is the limiting component. I opted not to buy a new one at this time with the Thanksgiving and post-holiday sales forthcoming. The card I have is pretty robust for an older model,[2] and dropping $150-$200 for only a ~2x improvement in rendering speed didn’t seem a priority. I’m hoping that the significantly improved memory and bus speeds will keep the GPU better fed, so it can really be the bottleneck it never was before. It’s also impossible to get a faster card with a passive heat sink. Perhaps I’ll buy a second on eBay and link them instead.

It’s also pretty obvious that the “Experience Index” upper ranking of 7.9 will quickly need to be increased if this sub $1k build could come so close to maxing it out. Perhaps they’ll increase it to 11.

  1. past noon! []
  2. FWIW, it was the highest rated component based on the previous cheesy Win7 benchmark. []


Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

And I remember when these things were not only _useful_ but actually an improvement over the alternatives.