Dvorak Keyboard

I noticed the other day that my life was far too easy and that life was simply too much fun. To this end, I accepted a challenge from a friend that has shown me levels of frustration that I never imagined possible. I’m speaking, of course, of switching to the Dvorak keyboard layout. Although taken as a challenge, the level of difficulty is much greater than I expected. It feels like the keys are constantly moving about the keyboard making it impossible to hit the intended keys. I’m getting a little better at it than when I first started a few days ago, but I have a feeling that it will take months to get back to a normal typing speed. My goal is total immersion into the Dvorak layout, so I have rearranged my work and home keyboards, leaving my Thinkpad the only unmodified keyboard that I use. I want to rearrange those keys as well, but the laptop keys aren’t exactly the easiest things to take on and off.

Well, now that I want to throw my Model M keyboard out the window from writing this, I think its time to get off the computer.

Windows is Back

Now that I’ve had some time back from vacation, I decided to do a full investigation into what could be causing my primary Windows machine to fail. After a few hours of experimentation, I’m quite certain that the power supply is what was causing the issues. I currently running it from another 500 watt power supply that was being used in a different machine. The old power supply works, but doesn’t seem to be able to output the same amount of power that it used to, thus causing the problem.

Since I enjoyed using Ubuntu with my flagship hardware, I instituted a dual boot setup on my primary machine, using different hard drives for each OS.

On a different front, I’m contemplating buying a decent video card for the Myth box so that I can get that up and running again with decent hardware. Looking at current prices, one of the fanless GeForce 7600 cards looks appealing. Depending on how the cash situation turns out (aka need a car), that may not happen anytime soon.

Lunar Eclipse

On Saturday, March 3, there was a lunar eclipse that was visible from my area, however, I was on a flight to Florida at the time as discussed in my previous post.  I had assumed that I would not be able to see it due to being stuck in airports all evening and clouds along the eastern coast of the US, but, as it happens, the eclipse was fully visible from my seat on the plane being above the clouds.  This would not have been possible had my flight been on time, but a 2 hour delay for mechanical problems was perfect to give me a full view of the second half of the eclipse.  Like most airplanes, the windows do not allow for a clear view and the cheap digital camera I have for travel made imaging the eclipse useless.  At the least, I can say I saw the lunar eclipse while cruising at 30,000 feet.

Flying Without ID

In addition to technology, politics and privacy are two areas that interest me as well, and although this blog does not encompass those areas, I recently had an opportunity to fly without showing ID of any kind and wanted to share the experience. The process was quite painless, although from what I hear it varies from airport to airport.

On my first flight, the lady at the United desk was quite helpful and didn’t ask any questions about why I did not have ID. She printed me new tickets with bold “SSSS” printed several times on the ticket and told me that I would need to go through extra security. The TSA workers were also quite friendly and did not pose a problem. They bumped me to the front of the line to go through the metal dector machine, and then took me to a side area for a hand search of my carry-on bag. The first thing they did was use a hand metal detector and wand me again, and then did a quick pat down on my arms and legs. A frisk seems quite unecessary to me, and the only saving grace was the fact that the guy didn’t seem to want to do it any more than I did. The agent was very nice and told me exactly what he was going to do beforehand. After the frisk, the TSA agent swabbed all items in my carry-on and ran the swap through a explosive detection machine. Every item was swabbed individually, making this the most time consiming part of the search. The last item that the TSA agent swabbed was my TI-89 calculator, which, unfortunately, set off the explosive detection machine. A simple rerun through the x-ray machine satisified the supervising agent and they sent me on my way. Overall, the first flight security was OK, and took about 10 minutes total. My returning flight, however, proved to be a little more difficult.

Since the flight out was rather smooth through security, I didn’t expect much of a problem on my return flight. Flying Delta this time, the agent at the desk did not want to let me check my bags. She kept insisting that it was federal law for me to show ID and that she can’t let me check bags without it. After arguing with her for about 10 minutes, I demanded to see the supervisor. She left for a minute and, when she came back, printed my tickets and took my checked bags. When handing me my tickets (with SSSS boldly printed), she claimed the only reason they were letting me fly was because this was my returning flight. If that was true, getting on a plane would be as easy as claiming you were returning home. Other than that, getting through security was easy. Again, they bumped me to the front of an, admittedly short, line, and did similar procedures as my first flight. The TSA agent was very nice, did a quick frisk, and a quick look through my bag. He did not swab everything in my bag this time, doing only the zippers on the bag, my cell phone, my shoes, and my laptop.

All in all, I did not run into any major problems going through security, with only a small snafu with a Delta representative. My main issue with the entire process is why its necessery for such a search simply because the person does not have ID. Whether I have ID or not does not change what I am trying to carry onto the plane. I completely fail to understand what safety having ID brings to air travel. With the completion of this test, I think my next step is to fly with no identifying items whatsoever. By this I mainly mean buying my ticket with cash, since I did buy the ticket with a credit card, thus giving the airline a traceable address. My goal of true anonymous travel may have to wait a while, as I do not have any air travel plans in the works at this point.

Bye Bye Windows!

The motherboard in my one and only Windows machine (aka ompy) has threw in the towel after a few months of agony. The Asus A8N-SLI Premium motherboard has had problems coming online from a cold boot. When I try to turn the machine on, it only stay on for about 5 seconds and then shut off. It will keep doing that , but once in a while it will start. Once the computer boots, everything is dandy, which makes me wonder if theres a flaw in the motherboard itself causing a short early in the boot sequence. Its also possible that the system is drawing too much power too quickly, causing an in-rush current spike, and tripping the built in short circuit protection. I haven’t had the time for do a proper investigation of the problem, but from what I’ve been reading on various forums its a problem with one of the motherboards power regulation transistors.

Since that machine is down and out, I decided to give my main Ubuntud Linux machine (aka gizmonic) a little boost with the EVGA GeForce 7900GT video card that was in my Windows machine. Gizmonic was using a very old PCI video card that was laying around, but after experiencing Beryl with a good video card, I may just have to buy a new card for Linux use only.

Of course the main reasion I was anxious to get a computer up and running was the fact that I just bought Supreme Commander and was really looking forward to playing. Wine was the next best thing, but the install would error after about 95% with the cryptic “Error 25”. I’ve looked around Google, but no one else seems to have tried to get it working under Wine. The only good news is that I sucessfully got Counter Strike Source working.

Since I don’t know when I will have a Windows machine running again, I’m going to take this opportunity and work exclusively with Linux. At the very least, I’m going to turn my main desktop into a dual boot machine so that Linux too can bask in the glory of dual core FX-60 goodness. I plan on putting all my media onto a network storage machine, so that my music, movies, and other fun stuff will be available to both systems, as well as my servers. I want to implement RAID 5 for my network storage, but the good RAID adapters go for $350+. More on my homemade NAS in a later post.

Successful Bluetooth Transmission

After putting off working on this project for a bit, I’ve taken in up again this week and successfully used the bluetooth chips to send data between two computers.  I set up one of the chips on my server (using a RS-232 adapter board), and used my D-Link DBT-120 bluetooth adapter on my desktop.  Using hyperterminal, I was able to send ASCII characters and small files between the two machines without too much trouble.  One of the issues I noticed is the inability of the two bluetooth devices to reestablish a connection when one of them is turned off.  I think the problem lies with the settings on the ACODE-300 bluetooth chip that I’m using but I am not sure.  I need to do more testing, but I’m pleased with the success of the chips so far.

After getting the bluetooth to work between two computers, the next logical step was to test it with the microcontroller that will eventually be placed in the car.  I was unable to get the microcontroller to communicate wirelessly.  The only reason for this that I can think of is the serial cable may need to be a crossover cable.  I have a crossover adapter, but I can’t connect it until I get a male to male gender bender.  I’ll probably run down to Radio Shack (they’re not big on carrying useful stuff anymore…) tomorrow to try get one so I can get this thing going.

Philips SPC900NC Camera On Linux Is A Go

In researching information about using a webcam as a low cost camera for astrophotography, many people recommended the Philips SPC900NC camera due to its use of a good quality 1.3 megapixel CCD sensor at a decent price. I bought mine from ebay, but its also available on Amazon and Newegg. My first attempt at playing with this camera was on my main desktop running Windows XP x64. This proved useless, however, as the drivers will not work. The Philips software will install fine but it cannot recognize the camera. Windows detects that a USB device is plugged in but can’t do anything with it because of the incompatible driver. I currently do not have a 32 bit version of Windows XP, so the next course of action was obviously Linux.

My laptop currently runs Ubuntu (was running Xubuntu until yesterday, just did a little swap of GUI’s) and was a prime choice. The camera did not work “out-of-the-box” as can be expected, but a little searching netted me a working driver for the camera, known as pwc. The pwc driver works for many Philips cameras, including the SPC900NC that I’m using. Installation is very straightforward for anyone who has compiled programs. Once the driver was installed, Camorama didn’t have a problem detecting the camera and capturing images from it. Next step is to work on capturing video from the camera, which mplayer may do for me.

Since the camera is working, I took a few pictures to test it out. Image quality is pretty good and should work perfectly for my astrophotography plans. Here is a picture of my Tele Vue Pronto refractor that I’ll be using for this project:

tele vue pronto hires

LED Display

A while back one of my roommates bought 2 LED displays as part of a project idea. The signs kind of fell on the backburner as other things came up, but I thought that I could start playing with one of them since it shouldn’t need much work to get it operational again. The display is an Alpha 210A, and is missing both its power supply and controller. Normally a missing power supply wouldn’t be a problem, however this sign uses 7.5VAC. Finding a transformer with a secondary rating of 7.5VAC proved to be rather difficult, but I finally managed to find a place that had something usable. Herbach & Rademan carry a transformer that provides 7.5VAC at 1.5 amps, so I need 2 of them, as the sign is rated at 2 amps, but for $3.95 a piece I can’t complain. They do have a $15 minimum order but they had other items that I needed anyway. Their site does not have a secure checkout, so you might want to consider calling or faxing your order.

The next issue, of course, is the programming controller. According to the Alpha website, the displays use either RS-232 or RS-485 to communicate with the controller. I’m not sure which standard my sign uses, but if its RS-232 conectivity will be easy. RS-485 shouldn’t be a problem but will require an adapter. I’ll look for the specifics of the communications once the transformers come in and I can verify that the sign actually works.

Webcam Astrophotography

An article in the December 2006 issue of Astronomy magazine about using cheap webcams for astrophotography got me quite interested.  After doing some research this evening, it seems like it can be a cheap and fun project to undertake.  I think I have my heart set on a Philips SPC900NC webcam, which goes for about $50-$70 on ebay.  It would require a telescope adapter which goes for $20 shipped on ebay.  My plan is to use this webcam and experiment much more fully with astrophotography than my past musings, which consisted mostly of taking an occasional film photograph of the moon or other easy targets.  By shifting to a digital medium, I’ll be able to experiment a lot more without the guess work of traditional film, plus the webcam is cheap compared to specialty cameras.

My first target will most likely be the moon, as its easy and provides a good starting point to developing the techniques, starting with single pictures, and then moving on to mosaics.   Images are  captured by  taking an AVI video for a length of time, using software to turn the AVI into a series of stacked images, and then combining the stack to reduce noise and provide a much clearer image.  I’ll be able to provide more details once I get going with the project, but two popular programs used for this kind of photography are K3CCD ($49.00 after 35 day free trial), and RegiStax (free!).  I hope to use my dad’s 8″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope for most of the images, however I’ll probably have to use something a bit smaller (like a Tele Vue 76) most of the time.  This might have to turn into a spring project to take advantage of warmer weather…

Internet Out Again

Time Warner just can’t seem to give me an internet connection for more than a few days.  The longest streak of constant internet acess stands at 7 days.  Then, it will go out for at least 3 days… just long enough so that when the guy comes to look at it it works fine.  This is the 3rd time in less than 2 months that it has been out for an extended period of time, not to mention the countless periods of a few hours.  They have no idea what could be causing it.  Good thing being forced to use Time Warner for internet is only temporary.  I will definetly aviod Time Warner service in the future, I would definetly rather pay more for a service that actually works.  Good thing Arby’s has reliable free wifi…