bodger: (Kim Possible)
I've been a fan of some Nickelodeon shows for quite a while. The Amanda Show, Zoey 101, iCarly, and Victorious. One big thing these shows have in common is they're directed by Dan Schneider, who aims to produce good TV, not just "kid TV". This may be why I like them, or perhaps I'm just a kid at heart.

That said, [profile] fizzygeek and I were hanging around in an airport waiting for a flight, and I was browsing Dan's facebook feed when I saw an announcement: he was having a charity meet-and-greet to support St. Jude's Hospital. Dan had asked the casts of both iCarly and Victorious to participate, and they all agreed!

Hoo boy, I wanted to go to this shindig! I asked [profile] fizzygeek if I could go, and she said I should probably think about it first, see if it would be feasible. I considered it for a while, and decided that this would be a popular event and would sell out quickly. I could either pounce on it immediately, and take the chance of paying for it and not being able to go, or think about it on the plane ride and take a chance of wanting to go, but all the slots being gone. Additionally, Andrea couldn't go anyway. I pounced on it anyway, to her vague surprise.

When I got home, I started making arrangements. I booked a room at the Peabody, the hotel where the event would be held, and found an affordable flight to Memphis, connecting through Charlotte.

Then I got another notification - NASA had freed up some additional VIP tickets for the (then) final space shuttle launch. I had tried to buy tickets earlier, but they were sold out, so I got on the bus company's mailing list. This mailing included a URL to buy the tickets, but the URL was mangled in transmission. I reverse-engineered what it should have been and bought the tickets pronto. I remember Spider Robinson writing in one of his books that seeing a shuttle launch from the VIP area was an incredible experience, and it was worth going to a large amount of effort do do so. I had seen the Apollo moon shots go up from across the river, those were awesome, and I'd seen a shuttle launch from on top of the bridge, which was wonderful, but not like a Saturn V. However, a shuttle launch from close up was something I wanted to experience, and chances were running out.

Then I realized it was the same weekend! Now what am I going to do? Okay, calm down, they're not the same day. I can fly to Memphis, meet Dan and his TV show casts, then fly to Florida and catch the space shuttle launch with Andrea. So I went to the USAir web site and tried to modify my flight. Unfortunately, USAir's reservation system isn't too bright - I have to work with the complete flight between Memphis and Dulles, I can't just delete the Charlotte-Dulles segment. And I can't convert Memphis-Dulles into Memphis-Orlando, because there are no more seats on the Memphis-Charlotte segment! Even though I'd be on that plane either way, the computer simply can't accept that I'd be vacating a seat that I'd then occupy. Okay, I'll just call the airline directly and deal with a human instead. No dice - the human uses the same broken reservation system, and can't accomplish it either.

Fine, I'm not going to miss out on the shuttle launch. I went to another airline and bought a ticket from Charlotte to Orlando, and one from Orlando to Dulles. I'll just get off the USAir plane in Charlotte and board a plane to Orlando, abandoning the Charlotte-Dulles segment.

I'm not sure what I'm going to wear - I'm tempted to wear a Gibby's Ice Cream T-shirt, as one of the characters on iCarly is called Gibby. But it might be a fancy shindig, so I also pack a really nice but somewhat outrageous striped shirt that had once listed for $200, but we found on a clearance rack for $20 or so. I emailed the event coordinator asking if there's a dress code, but hadn't heard back.

I get to the hotel and unpack, and find that I have a reply to the dress code - it's supposed to be reasonably fancy, no jeans. And I somehow neglected to pack nice pants. Time to go shopping! I call a cab to the mall. The cab driver takes a phone call on the way, and speaks a language that sounds faintly familiar, but I can't place it. When he gets off the phone, I ask him about it. He explains that he's speaking Ethiopian. No wonder it sounded familiar, I love Ethiopian food, and have learned several of the terms for the dishes. He and I have a great time discussing Ethiopian food.

I get to the mall and do some power shopping, picking up a nice pair of slacks, a belt, and some cufflinks. I'm going to look good. I also scarfed down some food, as I didn't know when I'd have another opportunity to eat, as I'd be getting back to the hotel not long before the event began, and I still had to change.

I have a nice chat with another cab driver on the way back - he's curious as to why I'm in town, and I explain that I'm attending a fundraiser for St. Jude's Hospital. He says they're a wonderfully deserving place, and tells me a tale. There was a boy who'd gone to a conventional hosptial with cancer, and they told him he had maybe two months to live. His parents took him to St. Jude's instead, where he had done quite well. After a year, he was well enough for a trip to the zoo - and that cab driver had driven him and his parents to the zoo.

When I got back to the hotel, there was a huge crowd of people in the lobby. I figured the TV stars had showed up and I was missing things! Out by the elevators was mobbed, so it would be problematic to even get back to my room to change. It took a while for me to figure out what was really going on: the Peabody hotel has a tradition where a family of ducks lives in their fountain during the day, and the ducks march back to their home on the roof at night - via the elevator. Once the ducks had made their journey, the lobby cleared out and I was able to go back to my room and change into my fancy duds.

bodger: Squidward in a wad of gum with eye showing (Squidward gum)
Recently, while enjoying some breadsticks, I heard a little cracking noise in my mouth. A little exploration revealed that I now had a chunk missing from the side of a molar. So I called the dentist. Even though the whole dental office had been on vacation since July 4, they made room in their schedule to see me. It turns out an old crown had failed and needed to be replaced. Amazingly, they said they could do the job then and there. Having the previous crown installed required a couple of visits, with a couple of weeks in-between for the crown itself to be custom made.

But technology marches on, and things are much improved today! It only took a little while to remove the old crown and prepare the tooth for the new one. At that point, technology took over. They puffed some blue powder on the area and took a bunch of measurements with a miniature 3D scanner, both open jaw and closed jaw. Then the computer chewed on it for a while, and generated a 3D model of the new crown, designed to fit neatly between the existing teeth, provide a good match to the attachment point, and meet the opposing teeth properly. The dentist fine-tuned the model slightly (of course, I watched), and pressed the "go" button. At that point, a little precision CNC machine carved the new crown out of a "green" ceramic blank. The green ceramic was actually lavender, amusingly enough. Then the crown was test fit, and some very fine adjustments made, as it was nearly a perfect fit to start with. Then it went into a kiln for firing, and once it had cooled, they cemented it in place, cleaned up some stray cement, and sent me on my merry way.

Yay technology!

bodger: girls in photo booth (photobooth girls)
I've had a Kiron macro zoom lense for quite a while. It's not a fancy sort, but it works nicely - especially for macro shots where I want good depth of field. Most macro lenses are close-focussing ones with a razor-thin depth of field. This beast works in macro mode at a fair distance, with the attendant advantages in depth of field. Granted, it needs a lot of light to work, and shooting faraway subjects with magnification makes vibration an issue, but these are dealable with - an off-camera strobe helps enormously. These days, that's mostly what I use it for. I was trying to get a good picture of the character matrix of a monoscope, and realized the zoom macro would be the tool to use. It took me a while to find it, it had ended up in a camera bag in the basement, where it had lain for quite some time. Unfortunately, it's damp in the basement, and it had gotten fungus or something on the back of the front element. To clean it would require disassembling the lense.

I have a lot of good camera and lense tools, so I grabbed the lense spanner and the lense and peered at it for a while, realizing that the lens retaining ring didn't have spanner grooves. Some research on the internet revealed that some people simply saw grooves into the front ring and remove it that way, but I didn't want to, as it's really easy to ruin something in the process, and the front of the barrel had been dented at some point in the past, so the threads were in poor shape. However, the same research revealed a downloadable copy of the repair manual for it. It turns out this is a popular lense, and has been offered in a variety of versions and configurations over the span of a few decades. The one I had didn't match the repair manual, but it was close enough for me to realize the tiny dimples at the front were actually tiny setscrews covered over with (essentially) black nail polish. With the setscrews removed, the front lense element assembly should simply unscrew.

I rounded up my Wiha precision screwdriver set and selected a bit that would just fit in the setscrew opening. A few turns abraded away the black nail polish, exposing the head of the setscrew. Some careful digging cleared out the slot, and I was able to back out the setscrew nicely. It's a really small screw, about the size of a grain of pepper. There was one each in front of and behind the line delineating the front lense assembly. So I removed both of them. Then I tried to unscrew the front of the lense. It didn't budge. So I found one of those grippy pads used to remove stubborn jar lids, and cranked away at it with that. Success! The front unscrewed smoothly. Now that I had access to the back of the lense, it was simple enough to carefully remove all the fungus without damaging the antireflection coatings (as far as I could tell, anyway). Then I screwed it back on. Replacing the tiny setscrews was tricky, as they wanted to lie in their openings sideways. I finally ended up lightly magnetizing the screwdriver and using it to place the screws in position. That worked a treat, I replaced the screws, and the lense works properly!

With it, and the last sunshine before this afternoon's thunderstorm, I got some good shots of the character matrix, in acceptable focus from edge to edge (I have to photograph it edge-on due to the construction of the tube).

bodger: girls in photo booth (photobooth girls)
Back in 2009, I discovered I had some video editing software on my computer and used the "find video" function to find any video I had happened to shoot with my camera. I just stuck 'em together and tacked on some music, and chopped it off when I ran out of video. It was amusing, but awfully rough. In the intervening time, I've learnt how to actually use the software, so now I have things right side up, cropped, brightness and colour tweaked, audio ducked appropriately, have a semi-coherent arrangement, and even have some semblance of sound synchronization.

As before, several of you appear.

157MB of clippy goodness @ 960×540

Vimeo version.

bodger: (What terrible problems you have)
When I was watching The Dark Knight, I figured the description in the movie of a purported CIA invention called "Skyhook" wherein a person is yanked up into the air by a cable held aloft by a balloon and grabbed by a passing airplane was simply a Hollywood invention that made for a good stunt. But then I was reading a book about declassified CIA technologies, only to find that Skyhook really existed! There was even a tale where a high-ranking official wanted to give it a go, but the pilot figured he'd give a less rough ride by going slower, resulting in the poor guy getting dragged along the ground instead of yanked up into the air.

Another time, I was watching The Sarah Conner Chronicles and one plot point was that cyborgs had been sent back to the past to stockpile "coltan", a material used in making said cyborgs, which was hard to obtain in the future. I hadn't heard of coltan, so I figured it was just a Mineral MacGuffin. Again, I was mistaken. While reading up on a company that sells metals internationally, I saw a disclaimer on their web page, explaining that their coltan was obtained in a humane, legal, free trade fashion. Reading further, I discovered that coltan was an industrial shorthand for "columbite-tantalite", an ore containing columbium (an earlier term for niobium) and tantalum. Further research revealed a large, nasty underground trade supplying high-tech industries. Somewhat disconcertingly, one paper on the subject actually contains links to a site hosted at a domain.

More recently, I read about a new treatment that could theoretically eliminate any virus from the body, by causing those cells hosting viral genetic material to destroy themselves by triggering apoptosis. This is an intriguing approach, but it also sounded all too much like the opening scenes of a "science gone bad" disaster flick. And, thinking about it, I realized that prime targets for this treatment are viruses that are difficult to eradicate, such as herpes and HIV. And these, it turns out, like to hide out in nervous tissue. Which, given the horror movie frame of mind I was in, got me to thinking. The result would be the selective removal of parts of the human nervous system. And when you selectively delete parts of the human nervous system, you get ... zombies.

bodger: (What terrible problems you have)
As I'm susceptible to kidney stones (I've had a few), I live in the "kidney stone belt", and the water here in P'ville is laden with minerals, I distill my drinking water. I use ordinary countertop stills that can process a gallon at a time. I wear them out. I think I'm on my third or fourth one at this point. However, I don't tend to give up the first time they break down. The current one started making unhappy fan noises a while back. For a bit, we could get it to shut up by whacking it just right while it was running. Then it was time to take it apart and have a look. This was delayed by the need to find a long, thin T-10 driver to get at the deeply recessed screws holding the thing together. The fan motor is the usual common shaded-pole synchronous fan motor. However, for use in this unit, a fairly specific type would be required (constrained by width, height, lamination thickness, shaft length and diameter, and connector type and orientation). And the lam thickness isn't a common one, this is a pretty thin motor. However, the fan is just a (tough) press fit on the shaft and the bearing assemblies (cheap sleeve bearings) can be removed by simply removing their mounting screws. So I took the thing apart, cleaned the grime off the shafts, lubricated everything, and put it back together. Worked a treat.

That was maybe a year or two ago. Recently, it developed a new quirk, where it would leak water all over the counter. It wouldn't do this every time, and some of the water ended up in the pitcher where it belongs, but it was enough of a leak to make a thorough mess of things. When I had enough time to watch it closely in operation (the cycle time is a few hours, and it didn't always leak), I was able to tell it wasn't any of the external seals, it seemed to be leaking from within the mechanism. So I finally took it apart and carefully studied the steam/water path. I figured it was sealed all the way down and a seal had failed. Nope, it's not sealed. There's a riser tube, an L-shaped plastic connector tube, the spiral heat exchanger, which drains into a plastic assembly integrated with the pitcher-detector plunger/switch. At first, I suspected the connector tube, which felt as if it may have cracked along a seam. I snipped off the tie-wraps and had a close look, and realized two things. One was that it wasn't cracked. The other was that there's a neat hole drilled in the top of the heat exchanger. It isn't pressurized, and is designed not to be. A good idea – see the Mythbusters "exploding water heater" episode for a graphic depiction of why (the high speed footage of the water heater pretty much destroying a whole house really drives the point home). I opened up the plastic assembly and saw that the lower end of the heat exchanger is simply positioned above the top of the output assembly; it's open to the air and drains into it by gravity.

Hmm, not obvious what's going wrong. The design isn't what I expected, but everything seems to be in place. So reassembled it, except for the top cover, plugged it in, and watched it carefully while it was running. Eventually, I could see steam in the L-tube, and then water coming out of the heat exchanger, but there was a longish delay before it actually came out into the pitcher. Curious. But no obvious leaks. I carefully jiggled and poked things (mindful of both the hot steam and exposed mains voltage), to no avail. So I kept watching, and sure enough, I saw some water start to dribble out of the ring vents around the output assembly. That isn't supposed to happen. So I opened it back up (which deactivated the pitcher-detect switch), hot-wired the switch, and waited for it to heat back up.

The water started to dribble into the output cup, as expected, but started to pool up. Odd. Why would the water pool up? It should just go to the lowest point and run out.

Then I finally realized what was actually going on. There's a little gasket at the bottom of the output cup that the pitcher detect plunger engages to shut off the water if you remove the pitcher while the unit is running. What I had missed was that the gasket was supposed to stay with the plunger, not sit on the output opening! In that position, it blocked the output, and the pip on the plunger (that's supposed to hold the gasket) merely plugged the hole in the gasket (the plunger doesn't rise very far). To put it back to the original configuration, I'd attach the gasket back to the plunger. But it's made of one of those "low surface energy" plastics that's difficult to adhere to, which likely led to the problem in the first place. What if I just removed the gasket? The water would have a clear path to drain, the pitcher detection switch would still work, it would just leak water if I removed the pitcher while it was running. No problem, neither Andrea nor I do that anyway. So I left the gasket out, reassembled the thing, and fired it back up.

It shut down after maybe a third of a gallon. NOW what was wrong? Oh right, we had shut it down partway through because it was leaking, and emptied the pitcher. The boiler only had part of a gallon to start with. So I refilled it, set it running, and observed it until it started dispensing water into the pitcher like it's supposed to. Seems to be working again, yay!

bodger: xkcd android girlfriend arc weld cherry stem (arc weld)
I decided to buy SparkFun's $10 Heaterizer XL 3000 Heat Gun to try for heat stink and desoldering duties. I'm getting more and more opportunities to remove surface mount parts from boards, and this looks like a more cost-effective approach than a surface mount rework station with a bunch of nozzles for different size and shape parts. Hey, it's only $10 and the instruction manual is a hoot! Seriously, give it a read.

I gave it a try today )

I am quite satisfied with this little beast. It does a lovely job at melting whatever I point it at.

bodger: (Kim Possible)
A worry with the laser cutter is fumes from the cutting condensing on the focussing lense, leading to all sorts of badness. Additionally, cutting materials like acrylic is improved by having an air stream to blow the melted plastic away. Accordingly, I decided to add air assist to the laser cutter. In short, this consists of adding a nozzle to the cutting head, and running an air line to it. Lindsay Wilson did a similar modification.

First, I had some shopping to do )

Since the new head will require a new mirror bracket, and another method to hold objects to be cut at the correct height, I haven't yet given the new air assist system a tryout. I'll need to realign the optics once the new mirror mount is fabricated and installed, then I can give the new air assist system a test drive.

bodger: (What terrible problems you have)
I went to put together my mill, only to realize that the "CNC ready" version didn't support manual operation without having dual-shaft motors installed. Oops!

I considered buying the motors from Sherline, but they want $65 apiece for their stepper motors. I knew I wanted NEMA 23 size motors, with reasonable torque, voltage, and current ratings, and dual shafts (the mill handwheels attach to the other shaft). So I checked the usual suppliers, and ended up buying a set of three from a seller on eBay.

they got here today (pictures) )

bodger: (Bap)
Phone call made. Email sent. More later. Film at 11.
bodger: (What terrible problems you have)
When I got home Friday night, there was a medium-sized box waiting for me on the porch. It was very heavy for its size. have a look ) Yup, a Sherline 5410 vertical mill with all the trimmings! w00t! This is nicely made in the USA, and not a piece of crap like the cheap Chinese drill press I got from Electronics Goldmine.
bodger: (What terrible problems you have)
While poking around on facebook, I noticed an event for the STS-133 space shuttle launch. This reminded me that I'd always wanted to see a shuttle launch, and there were only two launches left. I had, actually, experienced a shuttle launch a while back, from the Kissimmee/St. Cloud area, halfway across Florida from the cape. It was a dawn launch, and I was to the west, so I couldn't see anything at all other than the rising sun.  I listened to the radio and waited for a bit, but I couldn't see or hear anything, so I turned around and headed back to my hotel room. At that point, the sound reached me.  It had been attenuated and delayed by the distance, but I was still impressed.

So I clicked on the "I'm attending" link, not really sure whether I'd be able to realistically do so. However, some friends of mine noticed and I started getting messages asking if I was going, and if I had an event pass and so forth.  I explained that I didn't have a pass, and hadn't yet made any travel arrangements. One person mentioned on FB that she might have an extra pass, so I requested it, but it went to someone else. I poked around on the airline sites, but the nearby airports only had expensive flights at inconvenient times, so I didn't pursue it. Then I started hearing from [personal profile] aramintamd and [personal profile] vvalkyri that they might still have an extra pass (providing an interesting illustration of a social networking site actually yielding a real benefit). At this point, the launch was in a few days, but I tried at the travel sites again, and managed to nab a workable flight into Orlando.  I was unable to choose a seat, but that wasn't important.  I realized that this was a basically insane quest.  I was going to fly down in the morning and back in the evening. If anything went wrong, I'd miss the launch. I already had plans to see the Mummers Show of Shows that weekend, so I couldn't stick around.

But I figured any chance to see a shuttle launch was better than none )

bodger: girls in photo booth (photobooth girls)
Now that I have the EiBot board running the steppers, I'd like to have it turn the laser on and off too. Normally, the Egg-Bot this board was designed for has a servo to raise and lower the pen. This is controlled with a pulse width modulation (PWM) output. But I needed an on/off signal to feed to the laser. Looking at the documentation, I noticed references to a solenoid output, which sounded like just what I needed. Looking at the earlier versions, I could see the circuitry to drive the solenoid, but that circuitry isn't present on the board I have. Looking at the schematics, the I/O pin that drives it is now used for another purpose. I downloaded the firmware source code and tried to dope out what the current code did, but I wasn't able to figure it out. So I sent a note to the designer and asked him about it. He sent back a prompt and helpful reply, stating that the RB4 output should have the solenoid signal. I soldered a header on the appropriate pins and hooked up an LED (and current limiting resistor). At first, I had the LED hooked from +5V to RB4, but that voltage isn't supplied by the board when it's running from just USB, so no joy. So I hooked the LED between RB4 and ground, and sure enough, it followed the pen up/pen down state.

Sweet! )

bodger: xkcd android girlfriend arc weld cherry stem (arc weld)
The controller board that the laser cutter came with is designed to connect to a PC with a parallel port. I planned from the outset to replace this. The board I chose to use instead is the EiBot Board, a derivative of the UBW (USB Bit Whacker) board. This board was designed by Brian Schmalz for the Egg-Bot, a little robot for plotting on eggs, lightbulbs, and other small round objects. It's available from Evil Mad Science and SparkFun.

My interest in it was as a stepper motor driver I could control via USB from any modern computer (it appears as a serial device, and it is controlled by sending it simple ASCII commands).

The trick is to connect the EiBot board to the laser cutter )

bodger: (What terrible problems you have)
I didn't get a reply to my email for a couple of days, I assume because they were celebrating the New Year. Then I got a note reading:

1. NOw we comfirm your machine is 110V

2. Please check the laser tube has the broken or not inside.  and then tell us, because we think it is mostly the laser tube broken

Much apprecaite

I explained that the laser tube was intact, and I was convinced that the laser power supply was broken. They replied:

Can you please return the problem laser power supply and we will send you a new one


So I removed laser power supply from the unit, and figured it was worth a look before sending it halfway around the world for replacement. Since the supply appeared totally dead, not even the fan running, I suspected the problem was something pretty basic, and perhaps something I could fix.

So I took the cover off the power supply, and found this:

It's unplugged!

The power supply had an internal connector that was unplugged! It is a locking connector too, so it had never been fully engaged at the factory. I plugged it in firmly, buttoned up the supply, re-installed it in the cutter, powered it on, and the fan spun! Thus encouraged, I fired up the cooling pump and hit the test button. Nothing. Maybe the tube doesn't strike at minimum power. I turned up the power a little and tried again.

It worked! )

I did a few other tests, and determined that the laser was emitting plenty of power (even unfocussed, the beam burns through a sheet of paper immediately).

I wrote the manufacturer and explained that I had repaired the power supply and wouldn't need a replacement.

Next step is to replace the control electronics with something more useful. The existing controller only works with nasty ancient software on an MS-DOS PC with a parallel port.

bodger: (Bap)
I decided to buy a cheap Chinese laser cutter, with the intention of replacing its electronics so I could use it with a Macintosh. It is intended for use with a DOS PC with a parallel port, and comes with DOS-only software. I asked the vendor if it was available without the software, and found it would be only $40 cheaper. The vendor also stated the unit would not operate without the software. Yeah, right.

I elected to buy it from the eBay listing, even though it cost me $40 more, so I'd have the eBay feedback process to use as leverage if the unit was DOA. I told them I preferred the engraving software, as that seemed like something I would be able to resell. I also told them I wanted a 110V unit.

When the unit arrived, it showed up in two boxes completely covered in yellow tape, pretty banged up by EMS/DHL. The small box contained the smoke fan, which was a 220V, 50Hz unit (oops). Its motor was also loose on its mounting. It also contained the software and some clear plastic tubing.

The large box contined the laser cutter itself, double boxed with styrofoam spacers. It also contained the (crushed) smoke vent pipe, an aquarium pump (for cooling the laser), a UK style power cord, two UK-US adapters, and a combination "surge suppressor"/ adapter with no ground prong.

The laser cutter was in fairly good shape after its journey halfway around the world. The orange plastic viewing window was cracked (no big deal, I planned to replace it with a clear one, the orange plastic is of no benefit for a 10.6µm laser, it just looks cool or something). There was a loose screw rattling around, and the fuse had fallen out.

The laser tube was intact, but the water cooling channels had some cruft in them (so much for "use purified water"). The water tubing also had random cruft in it.

I hauled it down to my lab, rounded up a bucket and US power cord, hooked everything up, and turned it on. The fan spun up, and the steppers zipped to their home positions. So far, so good. Then I pressed the "laser enable" button, and the "laser test" button. No result. No glow in the tube, no current on the current meter, nothing.

So I had a good look at the innards. The unit has two power supplies, one for the logic (and fan), and one for the laser. The logic supply had a sticker warning "make sure switch is set for the right voltage", and pointing to one end, where there was no switch.

I tried powering it up with the electronics access door open, and could see that the laser power supply fan wasn't turning. I got a voltmeter and determined that the laser power supply was indeed getting power. I also measured its 5V control output, but that only yielded 0.69V. Looks like either the laser power supply is a dud, or perhaps it's a 220V one.

The unit was packed with a polite note requesting that I contact them if there's anything wrong, not to leave negative feedback. I'd do this anyway, naturally. So I sent them email detailing what I'd found. We shall see.

I got back a response:

Dear friend

1. YOu machine is 110V verison and also all the accessary is 110V. please do not plug to 220V or it will damage

2. can you please check the back of the machine and see it is mark as 110V or the 220V

I replied that the machine is marked 110V, the laser power supply still doesn't work, and asking what to do next. No reply yet. I have found the power supply manufacturer's website.

bodger: (Kim Possible)
With all the snow on the ground, I decided not to go in to work. I tried working from home, but there was a limited amount of stuff I could really do. After that, I figured I may as well get something useful done with the free time.

When I bought my cell phone, it was the latest and greatest. But it didn't support tethering (using the phone as an internet connection). There was a software update for all the other phones to support tethering, but none had appeared for mine. There was some payware stuff, and I'd tried the trail versions on the train in Massachusetts, but they didn't work very well.

So yesterday, I decided to try one of the open-source ones. There wasn't a working binary for my phone, but I had the Android SDK up and running and figured I'd compile it myself for my phone. This took a fair amount of research and tweaking, but I finally got a clean compile. I rounded up the appropriate cables and my phone and uploaded it. While I was uploading, the power failed (this tends to happen when there's interesting weather afoot). I didn't know if the process had completed or not.

I rounded up the laptop and tried pairing the phone with it and connecting to the internet. I didn't know all the right parameters for this lashup, and things had changed somewhat since the last time I'd done this (I have no idea what Bluetooth DUM and PAN are, for instance). But I tried various things until I got a connection. It took a while to negotiate, but hadn't failed, so I let it be. I went to make a sandwich, and then curled up with a book by the window to eat.

When I got back to the laptop, it had made a connection. So I tried firing up AIM (a utility that doesn't use too much bandwidth) to test it out. It connected, slowly, but I didn't see anybody I knew on. I figured my ISP might be having connectivity issues too, and didn't worry about it. Then I got a message. I didn't recognize the sender, and figured it was just a scammer, but had nothing better to do, so I accepted it. Yeah, looks like junk. In Korean. But a few seconds later, I got another message. Usually the garbage messages send one URL then disconnect. This wasn't a URL, and didn't disconnect immediately. Probably someone trying to talk to someone with a similar AIM ID.

I tried using the Systran widget in my Dashboard (much less bandwidth than firing up a web browser and using Google Translate or somesuch) to make a short message in Korean, explaining that I was probably not the person they wanted. I cut and pasted the result into the chat window and sent it. I immediately got back several lines of text I couldn't read. So I cut and pasted that into Systran, and asked it to translate Korean into English. No joy, the symbols stayed unchanged. Maybe it wasn't Korean? I can recognize many of the scripts used around the world, and it did have that blocky, phonetic look like Korean, but closer examination revealed it was something else.

Oho! A mystery! The sort of mystery my language-loving friends like [profile] ayasdollz and [personal profile] dcseain would enjoy. Too bad I couldn't reach them. I tried launching the Facebook app on my phone, but it crashed as usual (I really wish Froyo could come out for this phone, I suspect a lot of things would work better).

I sent some English text, and received a few more lines back that I couldn't read. Maybe it was someone's secret code?

I cut and pasted some into some cryptography software I'd written and did the basic analysis on it. Yup, looked like language, character distributions were consistent with a phonetic language, and several short words occurred more than once. Didn't look like English, however.

With nothing better to do, I chose a few of the short words, pasted them in the chat window and sent them.

There was a bit of a delay, then a brief response. Also short words. Probably useful, but I was out of my element. So I sent a few short words in English.

Another pause, then a very brief response that looked to me like punctuation. Were they asking for more of my text to analyze?

I cut and pasted a couple of simple children's stories and some stuff I'd written, chunk by chunk.

Eventually, I got two foreign words back. I guessed it was "hold on" or "that's enough" or somesuch and waited.

I got back "what is". Okay, sure looks like they're trying to use my language, but don't have a lot to go on. Are they asking what language I'm using, or what? I sent back "I am speaking English."

After a little while, I got back "send more". So I started grabbing whatever text files looked likely and sending them, piece by piece.

Then I got back "Where speak English". English is pretty well known around the world, but maybe they just want to know where I'm sending from. "I am in the United States."

Another long pause, then "Not hear of", followed by "Sun up".

Were they telling me the sun is up where they are, or asking if the sun is up where I am? Sort of like the old Star Trek ep where the Horta writes "NO KILL I", with similar ambiguity.

I replied "The sun is up here. It is snowing. Where are you?" There was no reply to this, and I realized that while they can apparently puzzle out what the words mean, they don't have a workable phonetic mapping, and can't tell me something like "We are in uhzbekeestan" or whatever.

So I sent "What time is it where you are? It is 2:30PM here."

No reply. And the phone battery is running low. Apparently, the local cell site is down and I'm burning transmitter power talking to a more distant site.

I had no idea how distant.

bodger: xkcd android girlfriend arc weld cherry stem (arc weld)
My latest idea to discourage (in the sense of extirpate) stinkbugs is to deploy UV-C lamps in the attic. These are low-pressure mercury arc bulbs that emit a bunch of mercury lines from blue to the far ultraviolet, with special glass or quartz envelopes that don't block the shorter wavelengths (253.7nm and 184.9nm). I'm hoping the bugs are attracted to the light and are then attacked by a combination of nasty UV (which wrecks biological molecules) and ozone (which also wrecks biological molecules, and will vanquish the residual stink). If this doesn't attract them, I'll add some phosphor (BaSi2O5:Pb or SrB4O7:Eu) to downconvert some of the UV-C to UV-A, which is known to attract the little buggers (it's the same phosphor used in bug zapper bulbs).

pic of apparatus )


Jan. 9th, 2011 10:24 pm
bodger: xkcd android girlfriend arc weld cherry stem (arc weld)
So it seems [personal profile] werewulf wanted an appropriate-looking custom sound player for her Cassandra setup.

She found a cheap toy at a thrift store that looked likely (pictures) )

bodger: girls in photo booth (photobooth girls)
When I was a kid, I got in trouble for drawing mustaches on pictures my sister had hung up in her room. Really, Melissa Gilbert and Marie Osmond looked happy to have skinny blue mustaches! My sister was less happy.

It seems, I never grew out of it )

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