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  • Changing with the times: Tesla Cane electronics rebuild

    It’s been a busy few months without posts, but there is lots of stuff going on, some of it even coming off the back burner!

    Wild Wild West Con 4 is rapidly approaching…and since my Tesla Cane Mk II (with a copy of the Mk I electronics but with the original chip) is in the Sky Harbor Airport Steampunk Exhibition as I mentioned last time, I needed to rebuild the electronics for the Mk I cane itself. I somehow lost (or maybe they were …stolen by an Airship Pirate Gang?!?!) the original code for the flickering, I needed to recreate it. I actually found an earlier version I was fairly happy with in a separate backup, and it made sense to rebuild all the electronics using a Trinket instead of the barebones chip: easier programming (via the built-in mini-USB), battery/voltage management, easy reset, cleaner pinouts, etc.

    The Mk I electronics were very simple (see here): I used a bare Atmel ATTiny chip, a resistor, and LED. In the last few years Adafruit and other companies have come along and make really awesome low-cost ATTiny-based boards (I covered them in this post about what to do when an Arduino is too big for your project), and I’d pickup up a couple of the Trinkets to play with. Since a bare ATTiny chip is $2-4 individually and a Trinket is $8…that seems a decent deal.

    So, out with the old:

    Tesla Cane Mk I Electronics
    Tesla Cane Mk I Electronics

    And in with the new:

    Tesla Cane Mk II Electronics
    Tesla Cane Mk II Electronics

    The Trinket is slightly bigger, but being able to reprogram via USB is a great advantage!

  • Steampunk: The Exquisite Adventure now at Sky Harbor Airport!

    The Steampunk Exhibit from the Scottsdale Library from last year is being reshown at the Sky Harbor Airport’s Art Gallery! Yes, the airport actually has an Art Gallery in Terminal 3.

    My Tesla Cane (actually Mk II of the cane – I made a new version just for such displays, but using the original electronics) and the original prototype Vented Hat by myself and the Artist Wife (along with a pair of our friend Tim’s goggles) are on display!

    Even better, the Vented Hat is featured very prominently on their website AND is the cover of the Announcement Postcard for the Exhibit! Woohoo!

    The Exhibit is located in several display cases located just inside the Parking Garage of Terminal 3, around the Starbucks. It’s easy to park in the garage and go see it (it’s all before TSA Security), please do so!

    The Exhibit runs through May 2015.

    Steampunk Exhibition at Sky Harbor Airport
    Steampunk Exhibition at Sky Harbor Airport
  • Brace Yourselves: Vista doesn’t suck that much after SP1, and Windows 7 looks good too

    As most of you know, I’m a Linux/Unix System Administrator for a living. I’m not a Windows guy by any means, but I do run it at home, because mostly what I do is play games and use Word (and recently, Adobe InDesign). Yes, I realize there are free solutions (OpenOffice, others) but to be honest…they suck. When I need Word or InDesign, I don’t want to spend half my time fighting with buggy programs, etc.

    For servers, I just don’t see any reason whatsoever to run Windows, an entirely GUI-based OS, on a system that almost by definition nobody will ever see (or access) the GUI on. Its a waste of resources and just makes bloat. Add to that that Windows services (IIS, Active Directory, MS-SQL) tend to be laughable compared to the industry standard open source versions (Apache, OpenLDAP/MIT Kerberos, and Postgresql/Mysql).

    Desktops, however, are another matter entirely. I’ll be the first to admit that X Windows is a sad comparison to the OS X and Windows GUIs. Consumer grade OSes win here hands down.

    Now, on to Vista: Ugh. I have to say, every time I’ve used it in the past I’ve hated it. Microsoft’s “User Account Control” (UAC) in Vista is just horrible. Its only a slight exaggeration that moving the mouse causes a dialogue asking if its ok that you did that. Now, its easy to turn off but why should I have to? (According to the great geek site Ars Technica, its designed to annoy you). The first Vista Service Pack fixes some of this, but its still not “good.”

    So on to the scene comes Windows 7, referred to by some as “Vista Service Pack 7″…Gina Trapani, the creator of Lifehacker said at her new blog, “Its not as bad as you might think”

    …And its not! I’ve been running the Release Candidate for a while now, which is available free to download and test (at least until tomorrow). Guess what? Its much better than Vista. Major upgrade, less memory usage, better tools, lots of GUI improvements (many “lifted” from OS X and linux desktops) like window previews (see what a program is doing via a nifty popup when you mouse over its icon in the dock).

    Then, just as I was really pleased with Win7, I realized I’d accidentally installed the 32bit version instead of the 64bit version I wanted. I burned the 64bit (which Microsoft mistakenly calls “x64” instead of “x86_64” like everyone else does) and booted…and it doesn’t see my SATA controller. WTF? It looks like the issue is solved in the RTM (“Release to Manufacturing”) version, however, so once I can legally obtain a copy I’ll try it out.

    (Why 64bit versus 32bit? 64bit bit allows more than 4gb of memory, which is becoming common. Its pretty much the only compelling reason to move to 64bit on Desktops, IMHO)

  • Goodbye, my friend

    This weekend the SCA and my family lost a dear and close friend, Larry Baum, known in the SCA as Master Yehudah of Nuremberg. We had dinner Friday night with a number of friends, and he had a heart attack after getting home, and died Saturday morning.

    Words cannot even begin to describe the pain of losing this man, a pillar of the SCA in Atenveldt. He was a friend and mentor for 20 years, and was one of the people who kept me from quitting in disgust before I got my peerage.

    He was the consummate practical joker, up to and including putting a literal wall of haybales in front of my tent in the middle of the night while I slept.

    Godspeed, my friend. You are sorely missed.

    Left to Right: Xoff, Nootka, Raibert, Iain, Larry

  • Two technologies I was late to embrace, and now regret waiting so long to use

    I’m usually one of the first people on the block to try out new tech. Some of it isn’t quite ready for primetime (most of the “hand-held Internet devices” I’d tried before the iPhone, like the Nokia N series, the Sony Clie, etc) and some was fantastic but ahead of the curve when I tried it, but is mainstream now (Tivo, for example).

    Two technologies I never could get working to my satisfaction I now can’t live without: RSS Feeds and IMAP.

    RSS Feeds:

    RSS (“Really Simple Syndication”) is a nifty way to get updates from almost any website. Pretty much all blogs and content-driven sites now offer RSS feeds, and they simply make life a gazillion times easier. I’d tried RSS several times before, but a combination of poor readers and a lack of feeds always made it a mass of fail. Now-a-days, with readers like Google Reader and everyone offering an RSS feed (and with sites like Feedburner that let you make a feed from anyone who doesn’t) RSS is very ready for primetime.

    Put simply, a decent reader and a bunch of RSS feeds let me make a custom “newspaper” that aggregates all my periodic content together in one place. Its especially useful for sites that *occasionally* update (like a piece of software, for example) — I don’t need to remember to regularly check them for updates.

    I also cut about an hour per day out of my “check all my followed sites for updates” routine, easily.


    IMAP is the “other” common method for checking email on a client, the other being POP. POP is like checking real mail: it takes the mail from the mailbox and into the house (the client). IMAP is like keeping the mail in the box, but I can look at it from anywhere, and anything I do to it (like toss a piece of junk mail) means I don’t have to look at it again.

    When you access mail from multiple places (in my case, my iPhone and a web browser, as I’ve tossed any stand-alone client), its the only way to go. Shortest version: If you use an iPhone or other remote reader to check your email in a supplementary way, use IMAP. It’ll save you time and endless “Oh, did I reply to that?” and “Oh, I downloaded it to my phone!” nightmares.

    (Edit: the title was badly worded. I love RSS/IMAP, and regret waiting so long to embrace)