2004-08-31

Alien in 30 Seconds with Bunnies

Look out Energizer Bunny!
Alien in 30 seconds with bunnies.

Found on ElectricBugAloo Blog

Latest Home Movie Viewing

We watched a couple of rented DVDs lately.

At the beginning of the weekend, we rented one of Mel Brook's best movies: Blazing Saddles from the video store to share with some friends. My eldest son's best friend's parents. It seems the friend's mom had never seen it. I had been quoting from the movie earlier in the evening, so we decided it was time to share.

My wife was surprised that it wasn't in my DVD collection with Young Frankenstein and History of the World Part I. It belongs in my collection, but I just haven't gotten around to it. I thought about buying it a couple of times, but for a while there I wasn't sure which one I was missing!

Well when I opened the DVD case, I was interested to see the shiny side of the DVD facing me. Turns out this is one of those double-sided DVDs. In a lot of cases, including this one, the two sides have to do with TV formatted or letterbox (aka widescreen). Well, it was the widescreen side facing me. Also facing me was the blue sharpie of the store we rented from. While, in some cases, it is possible for a DVD to read through marker, in this case it wasn't. I tried to see if we could watch the film, by fast forwarding through the widescreen side. But it froze a few scenes down the movie.

Hey BlockBuster! Most people prefer to watch the widescreen version! Figure out some way to identify your videos without ruining one side of the DVD!

After watching the movie, we checked out the extra DVD features. We were hoping to see the extra scenes, which show up in the broadcast TV version, such as all the extra Mongo-baiting scenes (yes, there is more than just candygram!). But this version doesn't have it. The Special Edition is supposed to have these scenes and other things. I was surprised that the version we saw was not the highest quality. There was one point near the end, I could see where about half a second was lost to a splice.

The other movie I saw this weekend on DVD was Hidalgo. A story about an person in the Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show who rides a special horse. A Mustang named Hidalgo. The movie's primary plot is about the rider and horse having to come out of the show and prove their racing skill in a deadly cross-desert Arabian race. There are some very interesting people and relationships evolving during the film. It is an exciting, feel-good movie. The quality made me think the budget was a tiny bit small, but it moves nicely. The movie has some of the feel of Lawrence of Arabia. It is a slightly longer than average film, at about 2 and a quarter hours.

My wife and I watched it on our little time away. We went on an overnight to a bed-and-breakfast a couple hour drive away, in the general vicinity of Brekenridge. The rooms each had a TV and VCR, and there was a nice selection of videos in the main room. But we brought Hidalgo on DVD. So I happily loaded up my laptop, and got out my video cable. I couldn't get it to work with the TV input, but it worked fine on the VCR input. One of these days I'll have to setup an audio cable. The movie played on the slightly larger screen of the TV and the audio played from the laptop speakers. For some reason, DVD playback is not as loud as regular audio playback on my laptop. I think this has to do with the DVD drive, and the audio from it not going through the amplifier section of the audio circuit. But in the B&B it was a fine volume. Pictures from the trip to follow.

The Mummy Returns

No not the movie. This is a continuation of my mad scientist story, trying to get my computers working.

Yesterday, I recieved the new P3 that I ordered, to replace my cranky P3-450. I had paid for 2 day shipping. It got there on the fouth day. Annoying, but mostly it was bad timing for the weekend. I don't think it would pay to make a fight about it.

It came well packed. There were static warning stickers on the plastic box and the the anti-static bag inside. So I made sure to touch the frame of the PC lots of times while I was working with the CPU. In theory I should get a wrist-grounding strap, but I'm pretty good about discharging before I handle chips. (Watch, next time I handle a chip, I'll burn it out with static, just to prove me wrong!)

It turns out the CPU I bought was a P3-733 with a 133 bus speed. That means that the CPU expects the bus frequency is expected to be 133Mhz. My old PC is set to a 100Mhz bus. Well, I hoped the fact that the CPU was for a faster bus wouldn't cause a problem. I figured that I had two different machines to try it in too.

Well, I put the new CPU in my old desktop (Mobius) last night. I powered it on. I think I was holding my breath until I heard the heard the monitor react and the built-in speaker beep. I was still worried until I actually saw the booting messages. I forced it over to the older, non-default windows 98 system, as I have a CPU speed/temperature utility installed in w98. The CPU showed a normal temperature. The speed however didn't show 733Mhz. The speed showed 551Mhz.

I guess being on the 100Mhz bus means that it comes up at a slower speed. It makes sense. It is faster than the 450Mhz it was before. And it means that the CPU is running slower, thus cooler, than it is rated. I wonder if the kid's computer is also fixed at 100Mhz bus? I also have the doc from the motherboard, and it has the option to jumper up to 133Mhz bus speed. But it warns that the bus chips are not rated about 100Mhz, and may not act well if they are run over 100Mhz. I may have to try it anyhow, just to see.

I left the computer on last night, to make sure the new CPU was solid. It seems to be happy. I'm happy to get my backup machine back online. I'm able to have a hot backup for my laptop data - especially important to me with my pictures. And I can burn DVDs again. I can also think about running some services on it again.

And I should be able to get the old P2-200 to run again. To use it for the kids or for Linux? Tought choice. I think it will be Linux soon!

2004-08-27

Picture Theme: Modern


Picture Theme: Modern - Picture of one of the Denver Tech Center monuments, through a chain link fence of a bridge over I25, close to the I225 interchange.

For Photo Friday.

2004-08-26

Mentioned in LockerGnome

Well, it seems that I managed to get noticed by some of the internet big guys.

I had written an entry about Embedding Web Fonts on the blog TechChatter I set up with a friend to post techie stuff. The kind of thing we used to occasionally share by email with each other and sometimes with other friends. The two of use get a lot of 'how does that internet thingy work' kind of questions a lot.

Well, I noticed that we were getting a lot of comments (relatively speaking: 3 from people I didn't know) on the entry. So I checked the sitemeter. I thought the counter had jumped up about a hundred since the last time I had checked. I didn't think that sounded right. I checked the details on the sitemeter for TechChatter. It had jumped up 110 since this morning! I was amazed. I checked the references. Almost all of them were coming from LockerGnome. So I checked the link that kept coming up: Pirillo's Weblog mystifies 'Net citizen.

It was a whole entry referencing back to what I wrote about the font used on Chris Pirillo's Blog on LockerGnome.

Wow - pretty wild! LockerGnome is a pretty widely read site with a bunch of great email lists. I've gotten a large amount of good information reading their newsletters and sites. For them to quote me and link to me is quite an honor!

But wait a second....

Mystifies??

They make me sound like I don't know what is going on! At first glance, I didn't know how he did it with fonts, but I looked under the covers, figured it out, and shared it on the TechChatter blog. If I wasn't so honored by the reference, I might be a little pissed or embarrassed by being called mystified. :)

I'm glad the site is on a server that can handle the link. It isn't quite the level of being slashdotted (at least not yet), but it is pretty impressive!

LockerGnome - keep up the good work! Next time I want to be 'Smart' instead of 'Mystified', ok? Hmm - maybe I should shoot for my own service where I can by mystified, and then reveal some of the mystery! :)

Son of Frankenstein

Well, the brain transplant turned out to be a failure. Frankenstein couldn't handle the Abby Normal brain.

I had an old computer that I took in a few months back. It has a P2-200. I had tried the P2-200 in my desktop (the one I call Mobius) a few weeks back, but it wouldn't boot. I tried this in the Frankenstein yesterday. It booted up! It took a bit longer to boot up. When my son went to play Age of Mythology, it became pretty obvious that the mini-me brain was not a good option either. The deal was sealed when it crashed. So I took the 700 back out of Mobius and put it back into Frankenstein. My son is happy. But I'm not very happy. I tried the P3-450 (Abby) in the P2's case. No luck. I tried the P2-200 in my desktop again. Still no luck. But it may not be working due to jumper settings on Mobius' motherboard. I wondered if a P2-200 would be good enough for what I use Mobius for. I use Mobius primarily for a file server and CD/DVD burner. So it might be good enough, if barely. But it is also my backup system, in case my laptop ever was having trouble (say if it wouldn't act right after a certain Service Pack is eventually installed).

Well, I decided enough playing around. I had gone online to look at newer P3's when it was pretty obvious that Abby wasn't happy in Mobius. I saw there we some good prices out there. So I went back out this morning to look for a newer CPU for Mobius. It took a few tries. I finally found a link to a site called compgeeks.com, which had a pretty good selection. I decided since Mobius seemed to like a P3-700 (even though the doc only 'allows' for up to 600Mhz), that I would see what I could get that was a little faster. They had a 733 that was listed at $25. Just what the [mad] doctor ordered! But I also perused the P4 options. I considered buying a P4-1.6G, a motherboard and 512 memory for $200. I figured I could pop it into Mobius' case, and be running with CPU that was a little faster than my laptop. It was very, very tempting. I still had enough birthday money that I could seriously consider it. I even considered getting both the new P4 combo and the P3-733, putting the P4 into Mobius' case, and moving the P3 setup into an older case.

But in the end, logic prevailed. I realized that I do almost all my computing on my laptop, and there wasn't a good justification to paying for a fancier CPU for my old desktop. At least not right now. I figured it made more sense to save the money. I could use it to buy a better computer for the kids someday if it is needed. I can also use the money to pay for more robotic things.

So I ordered the P3-733. It is a 133Mhz system bus, vs the 100Mhz bus that Mobius has. But I figured that even if Mobius has a hard time with the 733, I bet Frankenstein will take it. And I know the 700 in Frankenstein works well in Mobius. I even decided to pay extra for faster shipping: 2 days.

2004-08-25

Another Waste of Time Online

I wound up joining another online survey site. This one is called MySurvery.Com.

This one looks to be points based. Hopefully I won't be slammed with annoying emails. If I do, it should be easy enough to block. As usual, I made up an email alias on my domain. If they get annoying, I just filter that alias at my domain.

Blog Theft

I ran across a blog entry. It seems there seems to be a few people out there creating blogs, and posting entries from other people. As in copying an entry from someone else's life, and posting it as their own. In the case described in addressing the theif, it seems a woman has created a blog that is filled with plagiarised work. Not only did she steal a few from tequilamockingbird (who has successfully fought plagiarism before), but she stole from some commercial sites too.

It is a sad, sad thing when someone has so little to say for themselves that they steal life from others.

I guess I need to add a copyright to my blog and check that noone is stealing my work. Or maybe I'm kidding myself that my writing is worth stealing. Of course there is that one site that copied text from an entry I made - but I was mostly flattered at the time.

As found on

New Web Site

You may have noticed that I haven't written all that much in the last few days. I've been spending time working on a web site for a friend. It is for their class reunion. I had a little fun playing with CSS (Cascading Style Sheets - a way to set the font and layout on a web site, potentially using a single control file for the site). In the end I would up just putting the style inline.

But I did have a little fun. I set up the main page with rolling updates. I did this through blogger. But I didn't call it a blog :)

You can check out the work at Coronado Class of 1975

2004-08-24

Embeding Fonts on Web Pages

I found this ability to put custom fonts in a web page. Read more about what I found on TechChatter

Picture Theme: Bird


Picture Theme: Bird

For Sunday Shoot

Picture Theme: Clean


Picture Theme: Clean
For Moody Monday

2004-08-23

Revenge of Frankenstein

Well the new brain isn't working quite as well as I thought.

What kind of brain did I transplant into the kid's Frankenstein computer?

Abby.

Abby what?

Abby something.

Abby something??

Abby Normal.

Abby Normal? Abby Normal??

You mean I put an abnormal CPU into the Frankenstein???

Yes, the 450 is not acting as nicely as it should. Or more accurately, it is acting about the same now as it did in the other computer.

Why should it work fine when it is freshly put into a computer, but get crabbier and crabbier when left in?

One possibility is that there is some sort of build up that is causing the pins to misbehave.
Another possibility is that the board is not seating perfectly, and heating and contracting is causing shifting in the socket until it becomes unreliable.
Perhaps there is solder joint that isn't quite right, and reseating the board is temporarily making the circuit work better.

I tried cleaning the contact on the CPU, but that by itself didn't solve it. The I tried the CPU without the heat sink (only for a few seconds :) ) and then it booted right away. I did notice that the small surface mount resistors on the back got hot very quickly. Maybe they need a heat sink of their own! When I put the heat sink back on, and put the 480 back in, it wouldn't boot. Tried playing with the seating of the CPU. Eventually that seemed to help. I think that CPU is just not a healthy unit.

If the 450 CPU is still giving trouble in the Frankenstein, I'll take it out. First I will see if it will run with a celeron I have handy. If that doesn't work, I'll put the 700 back in. At least until I can purchase a replacement P3.

Puttin' on the Ritz!

2004-08-21

Mad Scientist

I realized today that I'm a bit of a mad scientist when it comes to computers.

A while ago I built up a computer for the kids to use. I called it a Frankenstein. It was built of parts of many of my old computers. Most of the parts were from a couple of dead computers that were thrown out at a job I worked at. The main case, power supply and motherboard were from a Gateway. The memory was a spare from another computer. The first hard drive came from small, dead rack mounted computer. The video card came from an old Pentium 1 computer I had around. The CD drive was a 2x CD writer that was an original drive from my main desktop. The monitor and speakers were from my dad's old computer. The sound card was from an old 486 I still had. And the network card I had lying around from some other project. It turned out to be a pretty good system. Eventually, I transplanted a hard drive as I'd upgraded my desktop unit. I also bought a cheap DVD reader drive, $10 after rebate, so the kids can play DVD movies downstairs. It is a pretty good system. It actually has a better CPU than my desktop. My desktop is a P3-450. The kid's computer is a P3-700. I even considered swapping CPU's, but the heat sinks were rather different, and the 700's didn't want to come off easily. Last year I got a new laptop that is now my main computer, and my old desktop is mostly a file server. It is also now my DVD burner.

But that isn't the latest bit of mad scientist. You see my old desktop stopped working a couple of month's ago. At first it just crashed all the time. Then after leaving it off for a little while, it wouldn't turn on again. This meant I didn't have a hot backup of my laptop and my pictures anymore. And I couldn't burn DVD Roms. This didn't make me happy.

I wasn't sure where the problem was in the system. So I tried a few different things. Swapping power supplies. Leaving most of the devices unplugged. Nothing helped. Eventually I tired the CPU from the Frankenstein. It didn't fit very well, but I made it work for a test. And it worked! So that pointed at the 450 being the problem. But as a sanity check, I tried the 450 in the Frankenstein. To get it to fit, I had to take off the heatsink. The system booted with the 450! I turned it off after the POST screen, as I didn't want to overheat the CPU. When I swapped the 450 back into my desktop, it worked. So I put it back together. Windows 2000 didn't want to boot up well, but windows 98 came up ok. Then I left it off for the night. It wouldn't boot up the next day.

I left the problem alone for a while. But last night, I decided to try something new. I had purchased a nicer video card for the Frankenstein so my Eldest son could play Age of Mythology. But to me, part of the deal would be trying to swap CPUs in a permanent sense. So I pulled the 450 back out of my dead desktop. It's heat sink came off pretty easily. But the 700's heat sink was a real pain. It had 4 plastic press on ridged pegs going through the CPU to hold it on. It took some careful application of force to get them off. I wanted to avoid cracking the CPU's circuit board, for obvious reasons. We swapped the heat sinks. I put in the 450 into the Frankenstein case. I checked that it would boot. Then we put in the new video card and got it configured with a little bit of complexity, and about 8 reboots.

Then I put the 700 into my desktop. It worked like a dream. It both cases, the computers recognized the new speed of the CPU with no configuration changes. I was surprised with my desktop, as it had a large collection of DIP switches on the mother board for selecting all sorts of speeds, including the CPU.

I got my system to boot up. Even Windows 2000 was happy. One of the first things I did was to burn a new DVD Rom of data I wanted backed up. Then I slowly synchronized data from my laptop to the desktop. My son and I played a few games of Age of Mythology, both separately and together. We enjoyed playing the Titan's upgrade I picked up the same time as the new video board for the Frankenstein.

But I realized early this morning what a mad scientist I had become. Yes, I had built a Frankenstein computer in the past for my boys. But the real mad scientist bit was the fact that I had effectively done a brain transfer from the Frankenstein to my old desktop to get it to work. And both seem to be running well!

It reminded me of the plot from Young Frankenstein. Of course, one might ask what each computer got in exchange from the transplant. Hrrrrrrrrr! :)

Picture Theme: Painting


Picture Theme: Painting, for i-gizmo

Doing schoolwork with my son 2 years ago, he painted this for his online art class.

2004-08-20

Cola Wars Continue


As you may remember from a recent entry, I mentioned that I have switched sides in the Cola Wars. For somebody with partial heritage in Atlanta Georgia, switching off Coke is a bit sacrilegious.
Yes, I admit: I've gone to the dark side -- I've been drinking Pepsi. Diet Vanilla Pepsi, to be specific. Of course I was already a bit let down by Coke way in the past with the whole 'New Coke' debacle.
And now with the new flavor wars, Coke has again let me down. I think they worried too much about keeping the core Coke flavor, and just kept the flavors too muted to be valuable.

Hey Coke - here is a hint: 15 years ago I perfected the art of flavoring Coke -- 2 parts Coke, 1 part Sprite = Lymon Coke - perfect.

Well, switching to Pepsi was a double-sided switch. I had switched off sugar too. It happened when I was trying Atkins. Atkins made me too cranky, but drinking diet soda is the one habit I've kept from Atkins. I found that both Dr. Pepper and Vanilla Pepsi had a strong enough flavor to help hide the diet flavor. But there was still one thing wrong with these diet sodas: they have Nutrasweet. Maybe it doesn't bother you, but I don't like the side effects very much. I have actually noticed getting a bit of a headache from it.

But then Diet Rite, in the last few weeks, came out with diet soda with Splenda instead of Nutrasweet. Yes!

But I still have a problem. You see, being a programmer, I need that caffeine to help be in a good programming mode. And to my shock, all versions of Diet Rite are caffeine free. Even the Cola! Hello! Diet Rite: cola should have caffeine! Okay, so you can have a caffeine free cola, but the main cola needs to have caffeine! Why do you think techies have been known to by Jolt? To get more caffeine!

I've switched sides again, but I'm still searching for the holy grail for canned soda. For now, I get my soda boost from Diet Rite, and I get my caffeine from Lipton tea. Hot Lipton tea. Good thing it is getting cooler for the fall. Hot tea isn't as appealing when it is 90 degrees outside. Of course, working in a very well air conditioned building helps offset the effect :).

So Diet Lymon Coke with Splenda, where are you? I might just switch back!

WEBoggle

A free web based version of boggle on WEBoggle.
You can play 4x4 3+letters or 5x5 4+letters.
Totally free - no ads. Only a link to donate. Very neat!

Found on This blog.

2004-08-19

Scary Personal Documents

I found a blog where all that is posted are images of documents. What is scary about it is that the documents that are posted are not the blogger's own documents. These documents, which have critical identifying information blurred out, were documents the blogger found on P2P networks. P2P is a peer-to-peer network. One of the most famous peer-to-peer networks was Napster. Peer-to-peer networks, are applications that let users share files, like music, between computers, without having to load the files up to a central server on the internet. Effectively, what is on See What You Share site is a warning to anyone who uses a file sharing program to be careful that you aren't sharing personal documents. Because there are likely less scrupulous people on the internet who would be glad to use the bank and credit card information that is obviously available on documents shared out by some P2P file sharing programs.

This link originally found on Chris Pirillo's Blog.

2004-08-18

Train Picture


Larger Image

20040807 - Train Picture

On the way back from Denver, I found trains backed up along the highway. So I took advantage of the trains being stopped to take a bunch of pictures. I took a couple with my camera along the rail. I think this picture turned out very well. I think the reflection of the train in the rail looks really neat. I think the other details that came out in the picture really add to the composition: Pikes Peak in view directly behind the train, the surrounding foothills and route 25 highway traffic, and the phone poles along the other site of the track.

2004-08-17

Unsafe Picture Site


www.safetycenter.navy.mil


Doing a little web surfing, I came across a web site with a whole bunch of wild pictures. It is a US Military Safety site. But the pictures in this section are showing all sorts of unsafe things. A lot are funny. Some are sick. Most will make you shake your head. And the descriptions, being for a safety site, can get a little trite.

2004-08-16

Picture Theme: Addictive


Diet Vanilla Pepsi Can, on my desk at work - Picture for Theme: Addictive at Moody Monday. I am a long time Coke fan, but since switching to diet soda, I've fallen in love with Diet Vanilla Pepsi. I have to admit, that Pepsi got the balance of Vanilla a lot better, and it helps hid the diet flavor. Now if only they would switch to Splenda!

Weekend Projects


This weekend I worked on a few different projects. Saturday and Sunday morning I worked some more on prototyping a circuit with a bunch of LED displays. I am using the same CPU as I have on my Tuna-can wheeled Robot. I've gone through a lot of different designs. The last time I worked on it, I realized that I might be overloading the circuits to drive so many LEDs. So I had researched using transistors. I had a bunch of small transistors in a grab bag, so I had started wiring up the circuit using 8 of them. But during initial testing, I saw that hooking up more than 2 LEDs caused a significant browning out on the light coming out of the LEDs. So I decided to check how a circuit on a microcontroller board I had drove 4 of 5x7 LED displays. They drove directly from the latch chips, without any transistors. So I went back to my prototype circuit, and wired it up directly to the chips without the transistors. On the second morning, I got the whole circuit put together. I had a little trouble getting my PC to program the chip, but it turned out to be a couple of my own errors in wiring the CPU (MCU). I managed to get the circuit to program with a little bit of debugging, just testing how it looked to run different segments on the LED displays, and the loose LEDs. Well, when I was just driving one to three LEDs at a slow refresh, it looked pretty good. But as soon as I got the rate up to run all the displays or even more than 3 of the displays, the LEDs just faded way out. I even took a chance overdriving the LEDs by bypassing the resistors. It helped a tiny bit, but it sure shows the problems with the circuit the way I have it laid out. The only thing I can think of right now, is that I'm running off a 9v battery through a 7805 voltage regulator. Perhaps the 9v battery or voltage regulator cannot handle it. I will have to look at changing those before I decide to go a different way with the circuit. I may have to find heftier transistors to get the circuit to work the way I want. Once again, my lack of EE (Electrical Engineering) background is showing. But sometimes, this is the only way to learn.

I also got around to mowing the front lawn this weekend. It is a pretty small patch, so it didn't take very long. Even with watering the lawn twice a week, and all the rain we have had, this is only the second time I've mowed the lawn this summer. The heat, sun and overall dryness just keeps the grass from growing very quickly. The only place the grass grows relatively quickly is where it is in shadow under the kids playstructure - where I cannot get the mower for the most part!

I took some time to use liquid weed killer to hit all the weeds growing around the house. I had done this once before about a month ago, but a few weeds didn't die off, and a whole bunch more have grown in. The worst spot is the uphill side of the driveway, where we have a bunch of rock over weed prevention cloth. Well we have a huge amount of grass moving in there. I think a lot of that is a side affect of all the rain. Amazing how grass grows so well where you don't want it, but gets all spotty where you do want it. I decided to hit the weeds that were growing in the street too, where the concrete and asphalt join about 6 inches out from the curb. I thought I had more lawn fertilizer with weed killer left, but I couldn't find it. The weeds are starting to move into the front yard. Especially along the sidewalk. So I will have to pick up a small bag soon. Heck, it is the right time: it may only be mid-august, but it already is feeling like fall. We are getting a bunch of cool days, and the kids are back in school.

This weekend, I also got around to a little plumbing work. The pipe that comes out of our house to feed the lawn sprinklers has had a long time problem with a pinhole leak. The leak originally happened a few weeks after the sprinkler was installed. We had called the installer about it, and he fixed it, and it managed to hold until the next year. But eventually it returned. It has even caused a little staining around the pipe. I had turned off the water, so there would not be an active leak when our house was inspected. I had purchase a propane plumbers kit a while back, meaning to get around to fixing the pipe. While, the time was ripe: the water was already off, and it was a nice sunny, cooler day, with some time to work on the pipe. This was the first time I had done copper soldering. I had seen it a bunch of times on TV, and felt pretty comfortable with the idea. But I've always seemed to have a little trouble getting pipe properly sealed, at least the first time. Well, I was determined to do the best job I could. I managed to unsolder the problem joint, where the copper pipe came out of the house and attached to a 90 degree curved pipe. It looked like there was a big triangle spot where solder never flowed. I suspect the original installer didn't properly clean the pipe, and the time he 'fixed' it, I think he just flowed a tiny bit more solder on the joint. After I got the pipes apart, I tried to heat and clean a little of the extra solder off the joints. Then I spent about 15-20 minutes cleaning the joints with fine sandpaper. I was a little unsure at how well I covered inside the 90 degree turn pipe, as I couldn't get a good angle on it, as it was still attached and facing the house. After sanding, I wiped and dried the joints. Then I applied a liberal amount of flux from the plumbing kit. Then I forced the pipes together, even using a rubber mallet to get a solid connection. Once again I wrapped a wet paper towel around the pipe against the house, to reduce the chances for problems with heat or flame affecting the house. The directions say heat the joint until the flux sizzles. I heated it a bit more than that. I applied a liberal amount of solder. Then I heated and added a little bit more. I closed off the relief valve outside, then went inside, down to the basement to put on the water to the sprinkler pipe. At first I put it on low pressure and went outside to check. It looked like it was holding. Then I went back down and turned on the value to fully open. When I went back outside, it looked good. It also seemed to hold up well to Sunday morning's 5 zone cycle of watering. It would appear that my first try working with soldering copper pipe was a success! (Pats self on back :) ).

Also this weekend, we took the kids to see Yu-Gi-Oh! the movie. My eldest son, who is interested in this, enjoyed the film. The rest of us found it loud, and not great. It was a oriental animation about a character from a kid's card game. That means the film was filled with low action animation, mostly just pans and zooms of a static cell, with the occasional mouth movements, and rarely fully animated scenes. I remember as a kid liking speed racer, which was the same animation style. But then the plot was about reawakening of an ancient battle of Egyptian gods played out in a card game. Which made it pretty hard to watch if you aren't into the genre. And then the narration was pretty hard to take too. It was trite, pretentious and dumb. A number of times my wife and I just looked at each other with exasperation, or even corrected the narration, it was so contradictory. So while my eldest son liked the movie, I found it overwhelming and filled with drivel.

After the movie, we took advantage of it being an even-water ration day and washed the cars.

Picture Theme: Head


Head of a dandilion - for picture theme: Head on i-gizmo

2004-08-15

Picture Theme: Drops


Water dripping off the roof and ice - for sundayshoot Theme: Drops

Picture Theme: Tranquility


Relaxed Snakes for Photo Friday Theme: Tranquility. From the local Zoo.


2004-08-12

Wild Sunset Cloud Pics


Photoblog of the pictures


During the summer, it is not unusual for storm clouds to come over the mountain in the late afternoon. This week there was some spectacular looking clouds at sunset.

On Monday, near sunset, the sky was filled with different clouds, and the sky went from a dark pink to a wild purple.

On Tuesday, the weather was even wilder. All of a sudden the wind picked up very strongly and there was hail and rain. I went around the house, looking out different windows. I saw up to 2 inch hail. Considering the wind and hail, I scanned in all directions for funnel clouds. Eventually, I noticed the weather radio flashing red, and displaying a thunderstorm warning message. I turned on the radio, and it warned of rotation, and that rotation had been spotted in my section of town. Rotation is a precursor to a tornado. And considering how the clouds looked and the sudden speed of the wind, I wasn't surprised.

After a short while, the hail stopped. I went outside and took pictures. The clouds and the sky just seemed so amazing. You could see how high the sky went. The special effects from the storm beat out the special effects from 'The Day After' which I had just seen this past weekend.
There were these high, white, fluffy clouds. But they weren't your normal fluffy clouds. They were big and round, like rows and rows of gigantic fingers.
Then in the middle, there were these dark, edgy clouds. The dark clouds went off to the south and looked even darker to the south. To the north was somewhat clear and blue. The upper two layers of clouds were moving steadily east. To the east, the clouds became a wall of darkness, where you could see some rain, and occasional bolts of lightning to the ground. Above me I could hear an almost regular, but distant growl of thunder, but no sign of lightning.
And then low down there were clouds too. Small wispy clouds. They were whipping along very quickly, not far about the houses. And they were headed west: the opposite direction of the clouds above. While taking pictures, I kept watching for funnel clouds.
I noticed that as the wind would gust west at the ground level, the clouds above would seem to roil. A few times it looked like the middle-level clouds started to curl in a half turn during the roilings. I could just imagine one of those curls continuing and becoming a funnel.
But we were spared any tornados by us. There was a small one about 50 miles south, but no real damages. By a rule of thumb, we are too close to the mountains to get a real tornado where we live. But tornados don't always follow the rule of thumb. We did get a lot of spectacular clouds and colors. While I think my pictures came out pretty darn well of the clouds, they just don't do justice to what I saw. I hope you enjoy what I was able to capture with my pictures.

Back to School, Job News

Yesterday was the start of school.

Yes, they start a bit earlier in the year out here than back East, but they end much earlier too. It takes some getting used to.
Taxes are much lower here too. But when it comes to sending kids to school, you find out some of the impact of lower taxes. The schools send a list of supplies for you to bring in for each kid. Yes, I know back East, you get a list of supplies. A list of school items each kid needs for themselves. No, out here this list is the list of supplies the parents have to provide to the teachers for the year. Things like dry-erase markers, paper towels, storage bags, etc. There is quite a list. The teachers stock this away for the year, and have to make it last, as there is no budget for supplies if they run out.

I guess there is some sense to this method. It means that the families with kids actually going to school have to bear a little more costs. And the cost for supplies is a lot less than how much more we were paying in taxes back East. The schools also provide a way you can use a company to buy the supplies for you: write them a check and you are done. But if you have a little time and are a good shopper, you can buy the stuff yourself. I'd guess about half the parents chose each way.

So it was back to school for my boys. For my little guy, it meant moving to a new school, and going to full day. But he is familiar with the school, as my middle boy went there last year, and it is just down the street from us. So my little guy has been in the building a lot of times. And the fact is that the two different schools are actually almost identical, a square around the library in the center. Just things like bathrooms and water fountains seem to be different. So my little guy moves up to full day kindergarten. Turns out we have to pay extra if we want him in more than half day. But considering he could use the extra instruction time, and it leaves more hours open for my wife to work, it makes sense to pay for it. My middle guy moves one room to the left going up to 1st grade. Here it is, one day into the school year and his lunch bag is missing already. :) Checking it out at the school this morning, I think another kid grabbed his lunchbag, and left their similar one behind.

And my big guy is off to the middle school. In his case, back to school has a much deeper meaning. He has been homeschooled since the middle of 1st grade. So for the last 5-1/2 years he was homeschooled. Well, technically last year was charter school as home. He was part of the public school system, but was got his schoolwork at home independently. Unluckily this charter system meant his schooling went from hard to too difficult. There were many days before the charter school that he was very resistant to doing his schoolwork. Which was a shame, as he could get through it in no time those rare times he really applied himself. The charter school work was really way too stressful for him and us. The subjects were just overwhelming, and we couldn't give him the attention he needed to get through it all.

When I was unemployed, I became his primary teacher. That was about the only rewarding thing about being unemployed. Even though it could be frustrating to get him through his schoolwork at times, it could be very heartwarming too. I like to be able to share knowledge. The fact that he seems to have a lot of the same special needs with learning that I did and do, I think I was able to give him a lot of value as his teacher. I know I enjoyed being able to give him lots of extra details when he asked questions. I think he thought he was avoiding doing his schoolwork, getting me off on a tangent by asking questions. And it did take us longer to finish some days. But sometimes the best knowledge is gained by expanding on topics beyond the written text. We had a number of discussions about the difference between knowledge and wisdom. The more good knowledge you have, the more likely you are to make wise choices. But you have to apply your knowledge positively for it to be wisdom. I was really proud of how well he had done with the math program we had before the charter school.

My big guy was very anxious about going back to school. We took him over to his new school about a week before it started to get his classes arranged and to get him familiar with the school. Well, he wasn't very happy. He complained that there was too many bears, the school's mascot, found all over the building. But of course, that was just him latching onto something he could reject. Eventually he started to get very anxious and wanted out of the building. We had to hold him back. It has been a long time since he had been that out of control. Eventually he settled down. But I think he really made some of the staff very concerned about him.

When we went to the social event a few evenings before school started, he was rather grumpy. But the staff there was very accommodating. Eventually he moved from rejecting-grumpy, to complying-but feeling a little down. At least this time, even with all the noise are confusion, he didn't panic and try to leave.

Then there was one more day before school started. He was to go back there with my wife to check his locker, get his pass and his safe room. This was the best thing I'd heard so far. I know from my own school years, that big, loud rooms could be overwhelming, and I would escape the schools. No one ever seemed to notice that I left. And when Lev was starting to do this in first grade, that was when we switched him to homeschooling. I took some time out one evening to talk to him about being overwhelmed. I told him that he could not leave this school - if he was overwhelmed he could go to the office or school nurse and tell them he was claustrophobic.

Well it seems the school already has something in place for this. He gets a special pass that he can show if he feels overwhelmed. It lets him go to the resource room. I think this will be the key that lets him succeed. When my wife told him it was time to leave the house to go see his safe room and get his pass, he was rather resistant. He said he wouldn't go. He said he didn't want to go to school. My wife asked me to call him and talk to him. So I called him from work, and we talked for about 20 minutes or so.

It seems he still had a lot of anxieties; a lot of fears. And I couldn't really blame him for most of them. Fears of being teased and failing are real concerns. But not ones that should stop him from going. He was also afraid that we, his parents, were going to be very upset at him if he failed. Of course we won't be happy if he failed, but we have told him as long as he shows he is trying, we will understand. I also pointed out a lot of values of doing well. And I pointed out a lot of problems with quitting school. But I also told him we weren't the kind of parents who put academic achievement above all else. I told him we didn't sit him down when he was a baby and force him to learn his letters by flash card. We always expect him to do good work, and to really try. I explained to him that he should go in hungry for knowledge with a positive attitude.

He didn't sound all that happy at the end of the conversation, but after telling him that I would rather reward him than punish him, he did seem willing to go to the school. Well, by that evening he had a better attitude. Then next morning he got up early and seemed really happy! My wife reported that he had a good day. It seems it went better than he thought it would. This morning he was a little sluggish getting started, but he still had a pretty good attitude as he headed down the block to catch his bus with a lot of other kids from the neighborhood.

I walked my little guys down to their school a few minutes later. I think most days my wife will be getting them all to school, but she had to take her massage license exam this morning. Luckily my current job is not a problem to come in a little bit late.

One other thing about supplies. When we were at my big guy's school for the social, it seems they weren't quite done with us. They had the parents standing on lines for a half hour to pay for a geography book required for the school year. This was definitely not like schools back East!

And on my job, I had some slightly relaxing news yesterday. I thought my contract would run out in the next couple of weeks. I figured I would know when my last day was when they patted my on the back on the way out the door. The last I had heard, my contract had only been extended to sometime this month. I figured it would go through the 20th. But my boss stopped by yesterday: it seems the finally told him he could tell the contractors the current deal. It turns out they will let me know by the end of September whether I will have a contract until the end of October or to the end of November. 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 more months of pay to find another job. That notches the pressure down a lot.

It still isn't great that I have to find another job again. But it certainly makes me feel that I did make the right decision with not pursuing the job an hour away for $5 less an hour. Which would have been like taking a $10 an hour cut, and not for such a great position. At this point I'd take a job that paid a bit less, if it was a position that sounded interesting, and let me learn more of the more marketable skills in the process: such as dot net, Java and XML.

Oh, in case anyone wonders, the title link points to the High School where my Wife and I went back East.

2004-08-10

My Tunabot Robot Pictures


Pictures of the more-complete Tunabot


You can see the pictures I took of the Tunabot as it exists today.
The pictures show the wheels with the full rubberband tread treatment.
The new alignment of the IR sensor system.
The new second battery for driving the drive servo motors.
A closeup of the optical line sensors hooked up to the analog inputs.
A closeup view of the paperclip frame, and the servo-horn wheel attachment.

2004-08-09

Photo Theme: Cat


Construction Cat Road Grader, Briargate, C.Springs, CO


The photo theme for i-gizmo this week is 'Cat'. I figured most people would have cute pictures of pets. Instead, I chose a non-pet pictures of 'Cats'. I remembered that the road grader had the word 'Cat' on the side, from the manufacturer.

2004-08-07

Denver Robot Meeting Aug08


August 2004 Meeting of DARC

Today was a slightly smaller meeting, but that can be expected during the summer months. Most of the working robots were actually just remote control vehicles and not autonomous. But some of the techniques were pretty neat. There was a remote control robot that was designed and built by a 13YO niece of one of the participants in just 2 days. It was very neat.

Another participant brought in legs that he is prototyping for a walking robot.

There was a Handy Board, which I recognized as being a 68HC11 based board.

We talked a bit about my need to get a [working] USB to RS232 solution for my laptop for robotics.

2004-08-06

Photo Theme: Perfection


Artistic Black and White picture of a young girl at the top of her arc on a swing
I took this picture last summer. The picture is 'perfection' to me because on the fifth try I got what I thought was a perfect artistic picture.

Submitted to: Photo Friday

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Flooding in the Basement

Wednesday I stopped at home depot on my way home from work. I needed to pick up some hardware and board to repair the gate in my backyard fence. The latch, then the hinges had been broken loose by I assume strong winds. Only the closer spring was holding it to the fence. I needed to fix the gate before our home inspection tomorrow for refinancing.

I was waiting online forever. They only had one regular cashier. Of the other two cashiers, one was for contractors only, and the other was at the self-checkout. I like to use self-checkout at the supermarket. But I had some bolts that had no lookup number, so I figured it would make more sense to be online to a full service cashier. We the person two in front of me had some sort of special needs. It must have taken 15 minutes to check him out (well at least ten, it felt like an hour!).

While I was standing on the line, the sky grew darker and darker. I had seen a thunderstorm brewing over the mountains as I drove from work. As the cashier finally finished helping the long-time customer, I heard the wind picking up, and the sound of rain or hail starting to hit the roof. As I moved up to take my turn checking out, the wind picked up to an amazing level. The rain started coming down.

As I finished checking out, I moved to the door to look at the wind and rain. It looks like a full-force hurricane. I could not see all the way across the parking lot. I remember having rainstorms a bit like this back when I lived in New Jersey. Then it could go on for days raining hard. But this was a Colorado rainstorm. There was some serious lightning. But I figured it would let up in about 5 minutes. Well, it took more like 15 minutes. I couldn't help but think that if I hadn't been held up in the checkout, I might have been able to make it to my car before the storm had hit. But amazingly, I wasn't anxious about it. I called my wife to let her know the rain held me up. Then I just calmly waited, watching the rain.

Finally the rain just suddenly cut back to a light rain. It reminded me of an eye of a hurricane. I took my stuff, and braved my way to my car. Hoping that the lightning part of the storm was far enough away. My sneakers got a tiny bit wet from all the water in the parking lot. The whole lot was a puddle.

Driving home was a challenge. As I pulled out onto the main road, I saw cars backed up going the other direction. The road dipped just a little shortly past the light for them. The cars were driving through 9-inch deep water. I thought about my route home, and didn't think I had to go through any depressions. It was mostly uphill.

I turned at the light, heading East on another main road. About a block up the road, I was driving through 3-inch deep water. The odd part was the fact that it was not a depression - it was just before a hump in the road! There was so much water coming down the hills, and across the street, that the water was about 3 inches deep. Effectively there was a stream running across the road. This was repeated a number of times as I drove the mile to my next turn.

The rain picked up again. My wipers were going full speed. When I drove through some of the puddles and riverletts, the water would splash up on my windshield, blocking my view for a few moments. The turn to go uphill was a little nerve-racking. The water was pretty deep through the intersections, and there was a lot of water coming down the road.

While I was driving up the hill, I went through some deep water - maybe 6-8 inches. Twice while I was doing this, my battery light came on, and my engine made noises like it might consider stalling. Between these two times, my wife called me on my cell phone. She said she hoped I was close to home. I said I was - as I was about a mile downhill at the time. The she told me the reason she hoped I was nearly home: she said there was 2 inches of water in the basement.

Well, believe it or not, 2 inches doesn't sound all that bad. If it was 2 inches through the whole basement, it could be a problem. But we have already had water in our basement before. I've had to clean out water in this basement 3 times before already. And I'd seen signs that the basement had a little water leak in during strong rainstorms before. But in each case, most of the water stayed in the unfinished area of the basement.

Two of the little floods in the basement had been caused by my 5 year old. He had left the faucet on outside in the back yard. The kids had started to use it for water balloons and wetting down their sandbox and filling water guns. After the first time, I told them not to leave on the water, and not to use that faucet on anymore. The lesson did not work, because it happened again. Good things I decided to investigate the sound of running water the second time. After the second time, I took the knob off the faucet. This way the water could not be left on by accident.

The water comes down a window well. It fills up the window well, and it overloads the french drains. So each time I've had to take an hour using my shop vac to empty the window well first. Then I have to deal with the unfinished area of the basement. Then I deal with the bathroom and the hall carpet. Unluckily the slope of the basement takes the water away from the drain in the floor, and towards the finished area.

There had been a bunch of erosion from the last few times the water leaked, leaving a significant cut of dirt from around the uphill side of the window well. This concentrated the problem of the water coming in each time. But this time it was not good. We had a house inspector coming the next day to appraise the house. And the time I was supposed to be fixing the gate, I was vacuuming up water.

My eldest son insisted on helping. I really appreciated the help. While he didn't do that much work, the fact that he was willing to help meant a lot to me.

So, cleaning up the water took up most of the evening. I spent a little time after a late dinner straightening up a little on the main floor. The next morning I figured I'd fix the gate and mow the lawn. I figured I go into work maybe an hour or so late.

The next day I got started on the gate. But not right away. I knew I'd be using some power tools, so I didn't want to start too early and make any neighbors mad. I decided to not only put the gate back on its hinges, but also put in a new latch. The latch I had put in was fine for inside the back yard, but outside I just had some wire to open it, and it was not all that reliable about staying in place. Also the gate had started to jam a little when closing, so I hoped to fix that too.

I took out the new latch, with a handle to go on the outside. I got it all nicely lined up. I cut out a spot in the post where the latch plate was mounted. I got the pilot holes drilled for mounting the latch. Then I realized, as I was about to screw the latch in, that the latch was wrong for the way the door swung. If the door swung into the backyard it would be perfect. But the hinges had the gate swinging out. Luckily, I was able to reverse the mounting without too much trouble. The only thing is that it puts the part of the latch I wanted inside on the outside of the gate. I'm tempted to move the hinges to the inside of the gate. But that would mean putting another 2x4 on the gate. So I was not going to do it that morning.

Well, putting the gate back together took longer than I expected. Projects like this usually do take a lot longer than I expect. And not much of the extra time was due to the wrong side. Well, then I thought about the mowing. But it was still a little damp from the previous night's rain. So I took a look at the erosion at the window well that had caused the flooding.

First I worked on drainage. One of the problems that lead to the water going down the well was the fact that some of the brick edging we had added to separate the rock from the grass was higher that the window well. I had gone out and pulled the lowest brick to allow drainage as the first step when I had gotten home the night before. I knew I couldn't leave it that way for the inspection. So I grabbed one of these PVC tubes the kids had lying around the backyard, from a disassembled toy. It was about 30 inches. I cut it into 5 unequal pieces. I stuffed 3 of the pieces through the grass and under where the missing brick would go. Then I added one each under the adjacent bricks, to help kept the height consistent. I pushed the missing brick back into place. I think that should seriously help with the water problem. I moved some of the rock back to cover the pipes a little.

Then looking at the gully that had been cut by the water going down the window well, I decided I had to address that too. So I started moving rock. A lot of rock. The rock was hesitant about moving, what with the dirt packed in with the rock. This spot of the rock we had added to the landscaping was from the bottom of the pile, so it had a lot of dirt mixed in. After quite a bit of work, I managed to clear the spot of the gully of rock, as well as an adjacent area where I wanted the water to flow instead. Then I cut one end of the ground cloth that keeps down the weeds. I folded back the ground cloth, and was able to deal with the gully.

The gully actually went below the line of the window well, as the water found a slot between the window well and the foundation. The gully was about a foot deep along the window well. It was about 3 feet long, and about 2 inches deep at the shallow end. The good news is the dirt around this area was mostly sand. So it was pretty easy to move around. I built up the area around the window well, and created a gentle gully to move the water away from the window well.

Then I put the ground cloth back, and moved the rock back. This time I tried to keep the dirt in the rock back from the area where I wanted the water to drain. When I was done, it looked pretty good. I was tempted to go inside to get the faucet knob to test my work. But I decided that could wait. Besides, I though it might get tested that evening, as the forecast warned we might get the same kind of rain again.

Then I cleaned up the back yard. The kids really like to leave their toys all over the back yard. That took a while too. It was getting late. It was after 11. So I let my boss know I was going to be in late - but within an hour. I decided I was not going to mow. Good thing the lawn wasn't too bad. I popped into my second shower of the morning, got changed, packed some lunch and headed off to work.

It was not a great day to be in late for work. Not so much because of missing something at work, but because of missing hours at work. My week was already short from taking Monday and Tuesday off for camping. Wednesday I had popped out for a long lunch to watch the kids while my wife worked, and we went out to lunch. So my hours for this week are going to be about half of normal. That will not be a very nice check. But you do what you can! :)

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As found on Glimpse of a Grrl

2004-08-05

Pictures From Camping 2 of 2


Hiking Black Canyon - Butterfly closeup



Closeup of a cactus - stopping for a picnic on the way home


Select the title or one of the pictures to see all the pictures, and to be able to select larger versions of the pictures.

Pictures From Camping 1 of 2

We went camping for a long weekend in Gunnison Colorado.

We got in late Friday night, so all we did was unpack and go to sleep.
The first day was my birthday. We are suppsoed to do more of a celebration this weekend. Right next door to the Gunnison KOA where we stayed was the smallish airport. Saturday there was an airshow going on at the airport. We saw a lot of planes flying around. There were a bunch that were flying right over the campground. I got a really neat picture of a biplane flying right overhead. Just at the moment I clicked the picture, I noticed the sun glaring in the camera. When I checked the picture, the sun glare made it a really neat picture, with a little rainbow glare in the picture.
Select the picture to see all the pictures from the first two days. You can see larger versions of all the pictures by selecting the pictures on the photo blog.


Sunday we went rafting. We took a 'mild' rafting trip, level 1 and 2, so all of us could go. My little guys actually fell asleep the last 15 minutes of the trip. Rafting down the Gunnison has a lot of great vistas. As we were only going on level 1 and 2, I took a chance and brought my digital camera on the raft. At first I had it in a plastic bag. But I grew brave very quickly, and had it out for most of the trip. On the rare cases it looked like I was going to get splashed, I would slide the camera around to my side and protect it with my arm. Through some of the bigger rapids, I put it in it's case, but didn't worry about putting it in the plastic bag.


More pictures in the next entry.