2001: A Space Odyssey on the Big Screen

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to view one of my favorite movies in a theater for the first time.  I was most impressed, as a DVD in the living room just does not give the proper justice to the movie.  I don’t think that a proper appreciation for the scope and impact of the film can be made on a TV.  The film was shown in its entirety, with the overture and intermission intact.  It was shown in 35mm format, which is to be expected since 70mm equipment is rather hard to come by.

I’m very happy that I was able to see the film in a theater, but too bad it was too cloudy to see the Perseids last night, as that would have been an excellent capping of an already momentous evening.

Ride to Rhode Island

Last weekend I rode out to Rhode Island on the Ducati to go camping with a few friends. I realize that this was not the most intelligent thing to do for having the bike for less than 2 weeks, but the opportunity was too much to pass. Despite it not being the best of ideas, I definitely learned a lot about the bike and, all in all, am glad that I did it.

In the car, its about a 5 hour ride to the park. Since I didn’t have much experience on the bike, I felt that it would be better to avoid the Interstate for the most part, which put my trip at an estimated 7 hours total. I did start out on the Interstate, but after about 45 minutes I was bored to death and started on my planned secondary road route. Everything was good for the first 150 miles when the position on the motorcycle becomes quite uncomfortable. The total distance is about 450 miles, so I figured that gas stops every 200 miles would be good to stretch my legs, drink some water, etc. I ended up stopping 4 times, as the farther I went, the sooner my ass and knees would start to hurt. What made the ride out rather miserable was the total of 10 hours that it took, primarily because of hitting snarly traffic in New Haven, CT on I-95 and on Rt 1. By the time I finally got there, I was quite tired but glad to be there. The stiffness from being in the same position goes quite quickly and I was able to enjoy the weekend. The way back was much better, taking 7 hours, because I altered my route to avoid the issues on the way out.

The main issue that I felt on the way back, and still feel right now, is tiredness in my right hand. When I first got back, my hand was quite sore, but the fact that I can still feel a little bit of that almost a week later is rather annoying. I think that my hand will get used to this with time, but its something I need to keep in mind at the moment. I also think that a windshield, even a small one, will make the highways much better. I didn’t like the turbulence and a windscreen should reduce that when at speed. A final thing I will change before my next trip is to add some soft saddle bags. I had a friend (who left a day before me) bring most of my stuff for me, so all I had was a small backpack with food, water, and rain gear (it was supposed to rain all weekend but didn’t… just had 95% humidity). Although the bag was rather light, it starts to get heavy after 5 hours.

The best part of the ride was Rt 7 through Connecticut. It was a beautiful area and had a good number of sections that were a blast to ride. If I ever ride that way again, I’m definitely going to take Rt 7 again. Hopefully, by the time I want to do another long trip, I’ll be better prepared and not be so tired when I return.

1999 Ducati Monster 750

After taking the MSF Basic Rider course a month ago and getting my license, I finally pulled up the cash for a motorcycle. My heart was set on a BMW, like the F650GS or the older Dakar model, but they seem to keep an extreme resale value. About the only ones I could afford were broken and from the 70’s. So realizing my limitations, I started to look at some Honda or Yamaha bikes to find something reasonably priced that I could comfortably afford. There are a million Honda’s around these parts, especially from the mid 80’s, but I wanted something a bit more modern and without the issues that can come up with a 20 year old machine. So when I came across a 1999 Ducati Monster, for a reasonable price, I figured it was at least worth a look. And what a look it turned out to be.The bike is in perfect condition, with 2800 miles, and an asking price of $3350. It was apparent that the bike had been stored for a number of years, which is rather obvious from the low miles. My guess was that it had only been ridden extensively recently, but the engine started without effort and the bike ran nice and strong. The seller had receipts for the battery being new this year and that seems to be the only thing that was replaced. The tires were good, but I will probably replace them next spring. A little ride down the street made me sure that this was a bike worth its price. The seller also had a center stand for the bike, which I talked him into including, so I took his asking price.
So with a down payment, the bike is mine. I should have the balance paid in full in tomorrow or Wednesday, and if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to hit the road this weekend. Pictures will surely come once I get the bike.

Switching to Linux

After several years of dabbling in Linux and a few months of server administration, I’ve decided to make the switch and use Linux, specifically Gentoo, on my primary machine.  Although I do still have my Windows XP x64 install, it will be used only when necessary.  Based on my experiences running Gentoo as a server, I think the transition will not be as harsh as some changes I’ve made recently (i.e. Dvorak, and still using it).  Since I already have a familiarity with Gentoo, the main issue will be learning alternative programs for what I used on Windows.  My current frustration is finding a music player that compares to iTunes.  Rhythmbox works, but lacks some of the features that I liked about iTunes, like automatically organizing my music library.  I’ve heard good things about Banshee but have not tried it yet.

In terms of games, two excellent games run natively in Linux: Unreal Tournament 2004 and Quake 4.  With Gentoo, installing them was easy as pie, just emerge ut2004 and emerge quake4-bin and follow the instructions.  I might try to install Counter Strike Source under WINE, but that will be a project for a later date.

Webcam on a Telescope

One of my previous project ideas, stemmed from an article in Astronomy magazine, was to use my low cost webcam (Phillips SPC 900NC) to take high quality images of the moon and other objects.  I have recently been putting more time into this, but have been frustrated by an inability to focus properly.  I had intended to use my TeleVue Pronto refractor, however this will not be possible.  When used together, the scope is unable to focus on objects more than about 30 meters away.  Hardly far enough to focus on anything useful.  I think the problem arises because there is no lens in front of the CCD sensor to allow the correct compensation.  If my thinking is correct, a telescope with a longer focal length should be able to allow proper focus at astronomically reasonable distances.

So hopefully I’ll be able to make use of another telescope soon, so that i can at least get some images to play with.

Edit (12-27-2008): As noted below, the problem is solved by using the camera adapter that goes with this particular telescope.  I do have it, and it does work as intended, but time constraints have prevented me from following my initial plans.  Maybe after graduation I’ll have some time to spare…

1TB File Server Complete

After many hours of configuration and frustration, my 1TB RAID 5 file server, named felix, is now complete (but not without some assistance). To gain maximum control over the server, I choose Gentoo as the OS, but perhaps the most prominent feature of the server is the 3ware 9650SE-8LPML controller being used. The 8 ports will make adding more space a breeze (do I hear 2TB by year end?) and a quick look around the 3ware website shows the the company fully supports Linux. There is a driver built into the kernel, however I compiled the newest driver from the 3ware website as it is open source. The next steps are to add CUPS functionality to share my printer, and add FTP to give me off-LAN access to the data.
Full server specs:

  • AMD Athlon FX-55 processor (overpowered, but better than sitting useless in a box)
  • 3ware 9650SE-8LPML RAID controller
  • Gentoo 2.6.20
  • 3, 500GB Western Digital RE2 SATA II hard drives in RAID 5

Ubuntu on a Dell

I was excited to learn that a major PC manufacturer is finally deciding to offer a Linux distribution on their machines and actually support it, however, there are some very disappointing aspects to the new offerings from Dell. Since I build all of my computers, the only PC’s I would be interested in are the laptops. My Thinkpad T30 is great, but theres a lot of times that I feel the need for a little more power, usually in the realm of a faster video card. So when I started to look at the Ubuntu laptops that Dell is offering, it was a bit of a letdown to see that only one model is available, the Inspiron E 1505N. The worst part about this offering is the lack of choice in terms of the video card that is installed, which is limited to a Intel integrated chip. This is made worse by the fact the the Windows version of the laptop has the option of a 256MB ATI chip. Hopefolly, this is just temporary, because limiting the graphics system in such a way does not place the system on an even footing with other products.

EDIT:  It seems that Dell has changed the system and now allows  the selection of a 256MB GeForce Go 7300 graphics chip.  I’m glad to see that they choose an nVidia chip over an ATI because of the far superior Linux drivers available.  So most of this post is now useless, but I still wish that they offer Ubuntu on more models.  I imagine the main issue with expanding the product line is lack of drivers for the hardware.  This, I hope, will change over time.

Bluetooth Comes Alive!

Despite my lack of posting, I actually have been working on my bluetooth hardware, and am proud to report that I have had my first successful bluetooth wireless communication between my Windows machine and my CB280 microcontroller (its based on an Atmega128). Using Hyperterminal, I connected to the outgoing COM port created when the bluetooth dongle makes a connection. The program running on the microcontroller switched LED’s and relays on and off depending on the ASCII character that was sent. Currently, the program only recognizes single character commands, and the next step is to expand that to include entire character strings. On the hardware end, I want to eliminate the use of RS232 as the communication method between the microcontroller and the ACODE-300 bluetooth chip. By using RS232, I am required to use a RS232 converter board for the bluetooth chip. If I eliminate that, I can use direct TTL for the communication, which will give me reduction in power consumption and in the amount of hardware needed.

Getting this far was not without its problems, however. I did manage to fry 2 of my RS232 conversion boards ($20 each) as well as one of my bluetooth chips ($60). First mistake was using what turned out to be a 9V AC power supply on the chip. This proved disastrous for the bluetooth chip, but also means that I now have a power supply for my Alpha 210A LED sign. Programming that will come later, since increasing the functionality of my bluetooth setup is my current priority.

Dvorak Thinkpad

In my quest for complete Dvorak immersion, I attempted to rearrange the keys on my Thinkpad T30 last night, the last refuge of QWERTY in my life. I was popping some of the keys off, when I noticed that IBM did something peculiar with the key mechanism. Its similar to a miniature scissor lift in its design and allows the key cap to snap on in only one direction. I didn’t expect that to be a problem until I noticed that some of the mechanisms are rotated 180 degrees from the others, making it impossible to fit many of the keys onto the Dvorak location. I have no idea why IBM did this to their keys and I am very disappointed to say the least. I could glue the key caps in the Dvorak location, but I don’t want something so permanent. I don’t think I really want stickers on the keys either, so I might just have to get used to using both layouts. Perhaps IBM/Lenovo fixed this giving me an excuse to buy a new laptop…