2004-09-30

Man ticketed for landing helicopter

A man landed one of his work helicopter at his Conneticut home. Police gave him a $75 ticket to him when a neighbor complained. There is a law on the town's books that doesn't allow landing at a residence. Probably about the same as it would cost him to land at a commercial airport.
Maybe he should have just jeft is running, hovering a foot off the ground? :)
ABC7Chicago.com: Man ticketed for landing helicopter in yard

2004-09-29

Bush's Hometown Newspaper Endorses Kerry

In the town where Bush has a ranch he visits regularly, Crawford, TX, the local newspaper has come out in support of Kerry. This is the opposite of 4 years ago where they supported Bush. They suggest people vote based on where they think the country is headed, not by a hometown or political party.

Reuters.com -- Bush's Hometown Newspaper Endorses Kerry

'Spaceballs' Sequel In The Works

No History of the World Part Two [yet?] - but a Spaceballs sequel is underway. Based on Mel Brooks' comment, he wants to tiw it in with the mania for the final Star Wars movie due out next spring.

Slashdot | Mel Brooks Says 'Spaceballs' Sequel In The Works

Where I've Been

Where have I been?
My family took road trips occasionally. One time we made it all the way from NY to Mt. Rushmore. The next year I went on a teen bus tour to CA and back.
As an adult I've been from coast to coast by car. I've also visited outside the country a few times.

* - Visited by car, stayed and did at least some touring
@ - live(d) there for years at a time
+ - Drove through without staying
# - Flew
% - Visited by car and plane
~ - Boat trip

@ New York (Long Island; @Queens; @Manhatten)
@ New Jersey (@Northern; @Central; Shore)

* Massachusettes (Cape Cod, Near Boston, Berkshires)
* Conneticut
* Puerto Rico (San Juan and South Shore)

+ Rhode Island
% Gerogia (Atlanta)
% Florida (Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Orlando, Sanibel, Ft. Myers)
* Pennsylvania
* Ohio

+ Indiana
* Illinois
+ Wisconson
* Minnisota
+ North Dakota
* South Dakota
* Vermont (Skiing Killington)

+ Deleware
+ Maryland

* Washington DC
+ Virgina
+ North Carolina
+ South Carolina
+ Missouri
+ Kansas

@ Colorado %@(Colorado Springs)
+ Oklahoma
* Texas (Near Houston)
* New Mexico (Alberquerque)
* Arizona (Grand Canyon)
* Nevada (Los Vegas)
* Utah (Salt Lake City)

+ Wyoming
% California (San Francisco, Los Angles, San Diego)
+ Kentucky
* Tennessee

* Canada (World's fair; Skiing)
*~ Mexico (Tiajuana; Cozumel)
# St. Martin/St. Marteen
~ Jamacia
~ Grand Cayman
# Israel (4x, many places)
#+ France (Airport stop)
#+ Ireland (Airport stop, stayed on plane)

Meme from Wife Talks
Via Floopie

He With Irk To Oz

Anagrams! See what possible words you name can rearrange into. It gives you a giant list to look through very quickly!

'He With Irk To Oz' was the first interesting anagram for my name. It made me laugh!

As found on Floopie! - Anagrams

More interesting anagrams of my name:
HE HOOK RITZ WIT
HE ORTHO KIT WIZ
HE TOOTH IRK WIZ
HE HOT I RITZ WOK
HITHERTO WIZ OK
HIKE WITH ROT OZ
HIKE WHIZ OR TOT
HIKE THROW IT OZ
HIKER WHIZ TOOT
THEIR HOT WIZ OK
TITHE WHO IRK OZ
WHITE HOT IRK OZ
HERO WITH KIT OZ
HERO HOT KIT WIZ
HOTTER WHIZ I OK
HER WITH KIT ZOO
THE KITH I ROW OZ
THE HOOK TRI WIZ
TREK HI WITH ZOO
ROTE HIT WHIZ OK
ZERO KITH HIT OW
ZERO HIT HOW KIT

2004-09-28

Updated Game Boy Advance Movie Player

Plug in a compact flash card and you can watch movies, play backed up games, listen to music, and read books. You can even listen to music and read books at the same time! Comes with software to convert DVDs to GBA player format.

Game Boy Advance Movie Player updated - Joystiq - www.joystiq.com

2004-09-27

Secure Login Out Through a Firewall

A friend asked me about being able to login to a machine outside of work securely, but going through the firewall. Many companies have firewalls with proxies, that only allow web traffic from client machines. So to be able to login to a remote machine, and do it with encryption, you would have to have some software that can go through a web proxy firewall. I found a few links for him that I posted on TechChatter

Google May Enter Browser Wars

Some recient developments make it look like Google may be coming out with its' own browser. Read more on TechChatter

T4

In T3 (Terminator 3 - Rise of the Machines), Skynet came online, and launched nuclear weapons upon humanity. What can be left? Seems we will find out, as T4 has been announced. While Schwarzenegger might be able to spare a little time from being governor to appear in the film, it is pretty obvious that he will not take a core role as he has in the previous 3 films. This does not bode well for the film. While it doesn't meen it has to be a flop, it does have a lot already against it. One can only hope that the plot and special effects can some how make up for loss of star(s) and a storyline that is past its' prime. Perhaps if they can find some plot complication where they can bring back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor or some robot form of her, I'd give it a little better chance.

Empire - I, Robot? Schwarzenegger mulls Terminator 4

2004-09-24

Ring Tones That Can Increase Bust Size?

MDN: WaiWai

Silly Anti-Ketchup Movement

Yahoo! News - Anti-Ketchup Comments Draw Fire From Heinz
Seems some Republicans think using Heinz Ketchup will give money to Kerry's campaign. While there is a link, it is rather weak. Kerry's wife's father is from *the* Heinz family. But Kerry and wife have no holdings in the Ketchup company.

And do you remember that ketchup was a favorite of a past republican president? Reagan signed a bill that ketchup was legally considered a vegetable.
The fruit tomato is a vegetable when place in a container?
This ranks up there with making PI legally equal to 3.0 .

And while we are on the subject of tomatoes being a fruit: it seems to me there is a dishonestly named product on the market: V-8. I figured out a long time ago that it should more honestly be named V-7 + F-1. Besides, a V8 is what eats up gas in an SUV. :)

Women Allegedly Try to Force Man to Wed

Yahoo! News - Women Allegedly Try to Force Man to Wed
A 4 month pregnant 16 year old and 3 of her female relatives tried to force her ex-boyfriend to marry her. They were not charged with kidnapping. And there has yet to be any filing of statutory rape.

Robot Skin

Read more on Roboton

Picture Theme: Furry


Picture Theme: Furry (click for larger image)

Our Sugar Glider Named Fuzz in a friend's hair.

For Photo Friday Challenge Furry

Microsoft Robots?

Read more on: Roboton

2004-09-21

2004-09-20

Picture Theme: Success


Picture Theme: Success

Making it to the top of Pikes Peak, a 14,000 foot mountain in Colorado.
I had just finished hiking to the top a few minutes before this.

For Sunday Shoot

Picture Theme: Mixed


Picture Theme: Mixed
A bunch of colorful plastic Tinker Toy in a plastic bin.

For Moody Monday

HAL 9000 on EBay

eBay item 3840166200 (Ends Sep-26-04 22:00:00 PDT) - HAL 9000 from the Movie "2001 a Space Odyssey"
Well, it seems it is the lens and case from the move 2001: A Space Odyssey. While it might just be ligit, with all the documentation included, $150,000 starting bid seems a bit steep to me.

Reverse Case mod

Found on Boing Boing: Reverse Case mod - Picture guide to this person taking an old PC server case and turning it into a bookshelf.

2004-09-17

WindowsFormsParkingWindow

This app kept coming up as not terminating on my Windows XP system. Read more on TechChatter

EBay: Buy a Racetrack

eBay item 4320977266 (Ends Oct-17-04 00:00:00 PDT) - Auto Race Track!! SANDIA MOTORSPORTS PARK

A multi-use racetrack and rec area in Alburquerque. Another amazing thing on sale through EBay.

Cockroach-like Robot

Picture Theme: Domestic


Picture Theme: Domestic

The planting bed, Koi fish pond, and rock wall in front of our house. This picture was taken Jul-13-2001. The same 2 Koi are still living in the pond. They have survived 3 Colorado winters so far. The area is a lot more grown a lot. The little Japaneese Maple has gotten so big we need to trim it seriously back this year. I even had to replace the pump this summer, as the old one was only pushing out a tiny trickle at best.

For Photo Friday

2004-09-16

Marketing is Overdone

I was reading Do I Have "Sucker" Written Across My Forehead? on the Some Girl blog.

She was talking about how both during a manicure and then at a fast food place they kept trying to get her to buy more.

I started writting a comment on her blog about the entry. But when I realized I had written 2 long paragraph, and that I still could say more, I knew it was time to make my own blog entry about it...

I know they have to do their marketing, trying to sell you something extra. The bosses make it part of their jobs. But I don't like it. And maybe it really isn't worth it.
And all those salespeople who keep asking if you 'need help?'. No I don't want your help. Not yet at least. I want to try to find it in my own. Does that sound so strange? Look, I didn't make eye-contact with you. I was looking at your products, not looking for a salesperson. I went deep into the store, purposely going right past you. If I'm looking for a salesperson, you will see me walking around looking at each person, trying to see if they have a name badge or uniform or some-such. If you see that, then that is a good time to ask if I want you help. Of course that is usually when they are all busy. Especially at HomeDespot or CompOoohsa. But I know how to find the customer service counter and have one of you paged to help me.

No I don't want you following me around the store to see if I need help. Here is a clue: I might just be trying to familiarize myself with you products and layouts, so I feel comfortable coming back. If you rush me into getting exactly what I want, I might not know you have other things I want to come back for. I might not feel like coming back if I'm in a rush and if I haven't had a chance to get a feel for the layout. And here is another one: if you get me exactly what I'm looking for right away, you are reducing the chances I make some impulse buys. I often buy other things at the supermarket that I think we need at home.
But you should know that I almost never, ever buy something from the overpriced convenience racks at the checkouts. What do you find on these convenience racks? Dumb magazines and dumber tabloids. Candy positioned at the height to entice a kid to annoy their parents until they never want to come back. Junk food that will do it's best to push my cholesterol over the line. Does this sound like stuff I would buy? Does this sound like it will make me want to buy more, or to come back if I feel annoyed? No.

Sometimes it seems like the part I hate most about looking at cars has moved into more and more areas of our society. Walking onto a car lot, I can just hear the music from Jaws and the salesmen come over with their toothy grin. Not just come over, they verbally pounce on you. It is enough to make me want not to come to your sales lot. A lot of cars dealers lost our business that way. And then there was the Honda dealership in Freehold that wouldn't take my wife seriously. Another one who lost our business. But we bought twice from Freehold Toyota. They didn't pressure us or pounce on us. They were very helpful when we asked. They were willing to make much better deals than the Toyota dealers that were closer to our house. So they got our business twice. And we recommended them [and I still am ;-) ]. And even though I live in Colorado, I'd seriously consider buying from them during a trip East when thinking about a new car.

It was interesting that in the local paper today, they were talking about over-marketing. They were talking about how commercials and advertising is changing on television. It is getting more aggressive and insidious. Some of it is to fight the TiVo-factor, skipping commercials. But a lot of it has to do with just stuffing more marketing in our faces.

Yes, marketing stronger make give you some extra brand recognition, and some extra sales. In the short run. But do you really want to push the marketing so far that I am annoyed with it? I don't think you do. It just makes people question marketing and avoid it. My sons are already commercial critics. Oh, they are wooed by some of the commercials. But they also have learned to question commercials. If it looks so good on TV, then that product must not be anywhere as good, and just cost a whole lot more. It doesn't take many times of being disappointed to get the idea.

Let me give you some really concrete personal reasons why over-marketing is a bad idea. Lets talk about Pop-up and pop-under ads. They must have made some money for some sites for a while. But I found them pretty offensive, very quickly. I won't click on them. I will occasionally click on banner ads - if they don't flash too much. And these new pop-in ads! Boy do I hate them. I hit reload as soon as I see one. But going back a few years: I used to have Yahoo as my startup page for my browser. But they had all these pop-ups and pop-under ads. I wrote to Yahoo and complained. They responded: they said they had to do it for the money. They also gave me a link to stop the pop-ups. For a month. A month! Well that month was up pretty quickly. It didn't take me long to get really sick of the pop-ups again. Then Google announced that they do not have pop-ups and will not add them. So I switched my startup/home page to Google, and I haven't looked back.

So Yahoo lost me as a regular search engine customer. Yahoo lost respect from me as a company. But they are not the only losers. Because I also remember what all those pop-up ads were for: X10 cameras. Just lately I was thinking I could use a remote switch for some of the lights in my basement. The kids are always leaving on this one set of lights down there. And it is a pain to have to go downstairs to have to turn off the light because it is when I'm ready to go upstairs, and who wants to go down a flight of stairs and then up two when you are tired and heading for bed? Well, it isn't really possible to rewire the switch to work from upstairs without putting in a huge amount of effort. So I thought that an X10 remote switch would be a good solution. I was just thinking about it last night. And I decided I didn't want to buy an X10 switch because of all those annoying X10 camera pop-up ads. I might eventually look for a non-X10 brand remote switch. Of figure another way to wire it. But I won't give X10 my money because of all those pop-up and -unders.

So Yahoo loses. X10 loses. All because of over-marketing.

Who wants to lose my business today?

2004-09-15

ArtBots: The Robot Talent Show

Found on BoingBoing A show in New York this weekend: ArtBots: The Robot Talent Show I wish I could be there for that. A neat direction for robots!

Picture Theme: Tears


Picture Theme: Tears - The water dripping from this pipe like a teardrop from an eye

This was a tough assignment - to find a picture with tears - how often do you want to take a picture of someone crying? I might even have one or two pictures of my kids upset, but I don't think I have any good ones of them crying, thus an artistic teardrop.

For Sunday Shoot

2004-09-14

Picture Theme: Lonely


Picture Theme: Lonely - Lonely football field

For Moody Monday

2004-09-13

Picture Theme: Blossom


Picture Theme: Blossom - A small flower along the sidewalk near my house

For Photo Friday

Pokemon Returns

cover covercover

I bought the 2 new Pokemon games for Gameboy Advance this weekend. My eldest son chose FireRed. I got LeafGreen.

These games seem to be based on the original pokemon cartidges. Same old town, pretty much the same old challenges. But it is supposed to be compatible with the Ruby/Sapphire versions of the pokemon game, so that should be good. They did update the game a lot. You get genders that were added with the Silver/Gold series games. So that make you think that breeding will be possible later in the game. If nothing else, you should be able to trade to Ruby/Sapphire to breed.

So we both started playing. The first night we got about 15 minutes into the game, just to the point of being able to trade with each other. The overnight I completed a plan that I had thought about with previous versions. If my son was willing to hold pokemon for me, and willing to give up some simple pokemon, there was a way we could have all the starter pokemon. All that would have to happen, is that one of us would have to restart the game a few times, choosing the other start pokemon. So I did that. I handing off my starter pokemon for my son to hold. Then I restarted. I picked a different starter pokemon. I did this 5 times. It took about 10-15 minutes each time. I also decided to make sure that he and I wound up with opposite gender of the starter pokemon. He had a male. I had a female of a different character. So that only left the pokemon we both hadn't chosen. So I decided as I was already going to have 2 female starter, I might as well make it 3. So I did.

Everything went smoothly. Each time I restarted, I got the opposite gender. It was perfect. The on the last one, when I was trying to get a female squirtle, it kept coming up male. I tried 4 times from a save. Then I restarted and put in a different name for the rival. 2 more males. I restarted and chose a pre-built rival name. Another male. I changed my player name. Another male. I restarted with the new name but a different pre-built rival name. Another male. I was starting to think that you couldn't get a female. But I had saved just before choosing. So I just restored and chose again. To my surprise, finally a female!

Well, during this time, and some other happenings, my son managed to get a few hours ahead of my in the game. When I first started, my pokemon seemed to train up pretty quickly. But this new starter pokemon seemed to take longer. But I was finally getting through the challenges later in the evening.

Oh yeah, we used the new wireless adapters that come with the cartridges. Sweet! No wires to tangle. You don't have to be right next to each other. We easily traded with about 10 feet between us. The only problem came once when I went out to the garage at the end of one trade session, and my son came after me and said I went out of range. But by the time I looked down at my screen, it had synced back up and was fine! Nice going! I wonder if you could hack into it with an 802.11 card? :)

DVD: Cold Mountain

I watched the DVD Cold Mountain last night. I found the movie was a bit long, and the scene changes got a bit tedious. But overall it is an interesting movie. It is set in the war-torn South during the civil war. You get a real feel for the emotional upheaval during the time. While the level of violence wasn't as strong as Saving Private Ryan, there was still quite a bit of graphic violence. There is a lot of value to the DVD version: the second disk has quite a bit of cut scenes. In spite of the final movie's length, the cut scenes add a lot of value. There is a lot in the deleted scenes linking the characters even more completely. You get an even deeper understanding of the deaths of others that the male hero experiences.

2004-09-10

Tasty Marker?

This morning, I was working on packing up some lunch to take to work with me. I look up, and notice something a little odd about my youngest son. His chin looked somewhat jaundiced. Yellow.

I looked closer, and assumed he had decided to draw on himself with marker again. Just a little bit earlier in the morning, he had shown to my wife a picture he had drawn last night. It was very good work for him. Heads, arms, faces. He even did a rather good, for him, version of his name on the back. Last night he told me it was his teacher and himself. This morning it was my wife and himself.

He has been know to draw on himself before. Usually he draws on his arm. He is trying to write Chinese on his arm. He is playing at being Mulan, from the Disney movie. Mulan want to make sure she remembers all her answers for the match-maker, so she writes them on her arm.

I look at his arm. I see yellow and brown. It looks like he has been drawing on himself. Not good, but not too bad. They may look a little oddly at him at school, but not that big a deal. But often when he draws on himself, it doesn't stop there. Sometimes he draws on the walls. Or at least leaves the markers open and lying around.

SO I ask him where the marker is. He doesn't answer. I keep asking. Then he lies and says it is dirt from outside. Do I have stupid written on my forehead? I keep asking. I tell him I know it is marker. He still doesn't tell me. It seems he had a reason he didn't want to tell me.

It seems there is a reason he didn't want to tell me. He did just draw on himself. He did just leave a marker uncapped. He didn't just get some marker on a wall.

I found some yellow marks on the carpet going up the stairs. And then I noticed a yellow puddle at the bottom of the stairs. And there is tiny pieces of yellow in and on the toilet in the kid's bathroom. He gives me a nervous grin. His teeth have yellow on them too.

I pieced together the events, that most have happened in just a couple of minutes. He bit into a yellow marker. He got a mouthful of it. He didn't like the flavor much. He spit out a bunch on the floor. He headed to the bathroom to spit out the rest. He stepped in the puddle with on foot on his way to the steps. His foot, with yellow marker proceeded to leave an impression on over other step on the way up.

When I asked him where the rest of the marker was, he indicated that he ate it. I have trouble believing it, but I saw no other signs of it. Maybe he flushed the pieces. Maybe he swallowed some. I just hope I don't find more of it someplace else.

I washed his hands and face with soap. It faded by about half, but did not come off. This is not a good sign. I managed to get his shirt wet. His second shirt of the morning. I had already sent him to change one shirt. Now he had to change another. Maybe he will remember not to make a mess on himself.

So I get a cup, and fill it with water. I dump water on each spot on the way up the stairs. Hmmm - it seems his foot was pretty dry by after marking about 5 steps. The final step that should show stain, and the hallway leading to the bathroom show no obvious signs of yellow. So it looks like I have a little less to clean up. I know that the key to getting carpet clean is usually to get water on a spot to dilute it as soon as possible.

I get a kitchen dishcloth to sop up the water. The water sops up, but the yellow doesn't. I wipe up the puddle on the floor. The puddle comes up, but a lot of the yellow stays on the floor. What did he find that would stain a coated hardwood floor?? This does not bode well for the carpet either.

I go down to the basement for the shampoo/vac. I am reminded that I can't seem to go more than a month or two without needed to get the wet-vac out to deal with my sons. And it is almost always my youngest son that is the cause. I fill up the water canister about halfway with hot water. I add the carpet shampoo. I am almost out of shampoo. I wet down the yellow areas on the stairs. I spray some water on the floor spot. I start vacuuming. More yellow comes up.

But the problem of spot cleaning with the wet-vac is that it can make some really clean spots. And the steps are a pretty high-traffic area. So I have these really clean ovals areas on the steps, with yellow stains in the center. Boy have the steps gotten dingy. Well, if I can get some more yellow out, the yellow should fade into the dinginess as spots get dirty again.

Well, I needed to get the two younger boys off to school. So I turned off the vacuum, and got the boys ready to go. I walked them down to school. Then I came back. I tried the carpet spot cleaner spray. That got a little more yellow out. I got some laundry detergent, and treated each yellow spot. Still more yellow. The top two yellow steps didn't seem yellow any more. The first two yellow steps were still a little yellow. I needed to get to work, so I tried to wrap it up. I decided to hit the two remaining spots with Shout - laundry stain remover. I left it, and then wrote a note to my wife.

My wife just let me know that the Shout seemed to have worked very well on the yellow. But now she wants me to clean the entire staircase with shout! I was afraid of that. Well, maybe it wont take shout. Maybe I can do it with a strong solution of laundry detergent.

2004-09-07

Excel Scroll Problem - Scroll Lock

I had a problem this morning with Excel not moving the active cell with the cursor/arrow keys. Turned out to by my Scroll-Lock was on. And it turned out to be harder to find the answer than I expected. To read more about it, see my entry in TechChatter: Excel Scroll Problem - Scroll Lock

2004-09-05

Sprinkler Controller

Looking through the kitchen window this morning, I noticed that the basil in the garden looked a bit wilted. I also noticed that the ground looked rather dry for a day that the sprinkler should have run in the morning.
The first thing I thought was that I, or someone, had turned the sprinkler system off and forgot to turn it back on. So I went to check it in the garage.
I was greeted with the view you see in the picture. The same view I had seen once before. The last time it looked like this was when lightning had taken out the first sprinkler controller. I was not happy.
I wondered if perhaps the wall wart had gone on the Fritz. It felt warm. I unplugged it and plugged it back in. No response from the controller. I checked the fuse, no problem there. I checked the specs on the wall wart. It was 24v AC. That means it was exactly the right supply to drive the sprinkler valves. I jumpered the wires for the garden zone. It turned on. I set a timer in the house so I would remember to turn it off.
This was good news for the wall wart, and bad news for the sprinkler controller. I was sure it was burned out. I started wondering if I could make my own controller from my left over robot parts. I wondered how much it would cost to buy a new controller. Checking online, I found a few under a hundred dollars. So I was not as worried. Under a hundred wasn't too bad. Certainly cheap enough that I didn't have to worry about reinventing the wheel with robot parts.
But first I was going to see if there was anything obviously wrong with the unit that I might be able to fix. I unwired it and took it off the wall in the garage. I started taking it apart. I undid the screws on the back, and prepared to pop off the cover and look at the circuit board. Then I noticed a RJ11 (phone-type) connector on the side. I wondered what it was for, so I looked around online. I saw a few references to a remote control for the system. I also stumbled across the full manual for the sprinkler in PDF format. I was wondering if it listed the pinouts on the RJ11. I read through the manual and hit the troubleshooting section. It said that for a dark display you may have a dead battery and not hooked to the line power. I knew I had it on line power before, so it being a dead battery didn't make sense.
Still, I decided to check the battery anyhow. I did the tongue test. It seemed like a good battery. But I could tell it was the battery that came with the unit a number of years ago. So I got another battery. I plugged it in, at to my surprise, the LCD display turned on! I tried plugging in the wall wart. The AC-power missing icon went off. It seems the unit has to have a good battery or the unit doesn't work. Or perhaps it had glitched and it wasn't until I disconnected all power and put on new power that it was happy. Well, I hooked it back up, and reprogrammed the system. It seems to be fine now.
Whew. I prefer being able to fix it with a little time than having to buy a new unit!

Photo Theme: Cheap


Photo Theme: Cheap

Picture of a cheap Yam-throwing machine I built for a contest. It did pretty poorly - but it was funny how it worked and how short it sent the yams. It wound up just chucking a yam about 5 feet, and spun around humorously.

For Moody Monday

2004-09-03

Morning of the Zombies

A friend of mine asked me about old laptops the other day. It seems he had a project in mind. He wanted to create a digital picture frame. I knew I had some old ones in my junk box, but I didn't know if any of them were of any value. My friend managed to find just what he wanted on eBay, so it is good he didn't wait for me.

Well, after reading the work he has been doing on his smart-frame, and some of the pages that gave him inspiration, I was interested to see if I could follow suit. My friend had some extra ideas for his system already: he was thinking of video, and perhaps live updates from web sites, such as weather. I've had a few extra ideas myself, thinking about being able to hook up a microcontroller to feed data to the laptop. Things like temperature in the house or outside, or perhaps some sort of special input buttons, as no keyboard will be available when it is mounted.

So yesterday, my eldest was sick, and I wound up picking him up from school in the morning. So he was home recovering and I was home, undermotivated to log into work. So I unburied the junk laptops I had. I had 5 old laptops that were thrown out from a job I worked at in Denver. The same place I got the main body parts for the Frankenstein computer. 2 laptops looked older and smaller-screened. One was an AST an the other was a different name brand. The other 3 were basically the same model: ARM brand. I had previously checked the web for any documentation on ARM laptops, but came up with nothing useful about the systems. None of the laptops from Denver had a power supply. One of the ARM's even had a post-it saying dead screen. I already have another one of those: an IBM thinkpad, 486 era, that the LCD burned out.

I thought about using the Thinkpad's power supply to see if I could get any of the other computers to power up. But I was worried about jumpering the power backwards and shorting out the power system - like I had done 8 years ago with a portable VCR. But I gained two things since the last time I had played with these laptops. I had gained a Dell laptop power supply, that had been thrown out at the job I am currently at. And I thought up the idea of hooking the negative side of the power supply to the frame ground instead of guessing which point on the power plug was which input. That way I couldn't reverse the polarity.

At some point while I was setting up testing the power supply, my eldest wandered in. He seemed to be feeling a bit better. He showed a lot of interest in what I was doing. He decided he wanted to help. So I gave him the ARM laptop with the dead monitor label, that I had previously started to disassemble. He had a lot of fun opening it up and looking at parts. He kept asking about how to get off different parts. Eventually I got him one of my old Swiss army knives so he could do more work, or perhaps more damage :) . As I told him, they had already been thrown out once, so the worst that happens is they get thrown out again. And I figured if nothing else, some pieces might be useful for robotics. He had a huge amount of fun popping off all the keycaps from the keyboard. He was ready to try to turn it into a robot right away.

I took the Dell power supply and determined which pins had power. When I jumpered it to ARM laptops and the odd-brand laptop, I got no response. But when I applied the Dell power supply to the AST laptop, I got some green lights! So I rigged the wires a little more securely, and tried the power button. It beeped and whirred! I made noises like it was booting up! But the screen remained dark. I powered it off. Then I pulled over the P2-200's monitor I had lying on the floor nearby. I plugged the monitor into the VGA port of the AST laptop. I rejumpered the Dell power supply to the AST laptop. Green lights. I pressed the power button. The monitor's status light stayed orange for a moment, then flickered to yellow as I heard the monitor charge up. As the screen brightened, I saw that familiar Windows 95 boot screen. After adjusting the time for only about 5 months of lost time (it had been unpowered for over 2 years), I got to the desktop. It seemed to run fine. I rebooted, and found the status telling me it was a 486-DX50, with 16M of RAM. No very powerful, but I think it would be enough to run a lean version of Linux. But the problem was the LCD was burnt out.

Well, perhaps the LCD wasn't burnt out. Not the display itself that is. I suspect that the LCD on the old thinkpad is broken the same way as the AST. I explained to my son that there are two standard ways that LCDs are built. One type expects light to reflect off the front of the LCD screen. The other type is built for the light to come from behind the LCD. This is known as backlight, and almost every LCD for PC display uses this method. It is interesting that some gameboys are frontlit, and some are backlit. So they key factor in the laptop cases is the fact that the backlight might be burnt out, not that the LCD is non-fuctional.

But how to verify that the problem was the backlight and that the LCD display itself was fine? One possible way was to open up the LCD and see if the screen showed something when a different light source was placed behind the LCD screen. This was something I wasn't brave enough to try previously with the Thinkpad. But after reading the related websites from the other people making smart-frames, I was feeling braver. Also the fact that the laptops I was working on were already considered garbage gave me a little more bravery. But before I tackled the AST, I decided to try my hand on the ARM laptop that was already in pieces, and marked as a dead LCD.

I pried apart the screen panel. I unplugged the LCD and backlight connections. I carefully worked the back off the LCD itself. This mostly required straightening about a dozen little metal flanges that were angled about 30 degrees to hold on the back, along 3 edges. After the back came off, I could see all the different layers. The back was an electronic insulator, with some extra light blocking insulation. Then there was a layer of plastic, probably to transmit the backlight from the long, thin fluorescent bulb at the top, to light up evenly along the whole back of the LCD. There were polarizing sheets and the LCD glass itself. I didn't see anything that I didn't think I could handle.

So I slipped the ARM LCD back together, at least holding together, if not quite putting all the parts back. Then I more carefully approached the AST. It was about this point that my son announced he wanted one of the laptops for his own computer. While I might consider letting him use it a little bit, I think he will be very disappointed. It cannot play most of the games he likes, and it doesn't have a working battery. The AST doesn't even have a CD drive. So we will have to see what happens. I didn't even know if the LCD was any good.

Well, I slowly and carefully pulled the LCD out. There were more screws holding the LCD together than the ARM. I was surprised to see the same pink and white wires going to the backlight. And the LCD was also held by a bunch of familiar looking 30 degree flanges. It makes me think that both LCDs were from the same manufacturer. Well, I finally got the LCD apart. It had a similar set of layers of insulators and plastic. I jumpered the power back on again. I pressed the on button. Good lights and booting noises. I held up the LCD with the back off.

I didn't see anything. Maybe I was wrong about the backlight being the problem. But then I noticed the edge of something. It was text! It was a little hard to see, but it was there. Then I tried to show my son. At first he couldn't see it. But then he saw the Window 95 boot screen! I proved the LCD display was fine, it was just the backlight. I powered it off, and carefully reassembled the LCD panel.

So the question becomes, what is wrong with the back light, and how to fix it. I noticed that on both laptops there was this board along side the screen, with the pink and white wires plugged in at the top. I assume the backlight is some sort of fluorescent bulb, and the boards are the high voltage systems for the bulbs.

So then I wondered if the problem was the high voltage boards or the fluorescent lamp. After powering the AST back on, with the LCD ajar, I probed the high voltage board with my multi-meter. I found some interesting voltages on the lower half of the board. But the upper half of the board, near the pink and white wires showed no voltages. That suggests to me that the problem is in the high voltage boards. And I bet that is the same problem in all the laptops I have.

I was hoping to try a little swapping of the power boards and LCDs, but they all have different plugs. I might be able to jumper the power to the bottom of the boards, but it will be hard, tricky work.

I wish I could have gotten one of the ARM laptops working. Not only do the have much larger LCDs, they have CD drives and Pentium CPUs. (Yes, Pentium - not Pentium MMX not Pentium 2, just Pentium).

I think there may be some options on replacing a high voltage board, what with fluorescent tubes for case mods. But if nothing else, I might have the ability to use some other light source to backlight the AST's LCD if I decided to build it into a digital picture frame. I think I'd want to do something along those lines, at least temporarily, to test the display resolution on the LCD. If I can't get at least 640x480 with hopefully above 256 colors, it may not be worth making into a picture frame. But I suppose it might make a neat base of a Linux-based, wall mounted home information system. Especially if I hook it up to sensors and controls.

More hacking to come!

Picture Theme: Simplicity


Picture Theme: Simplicity - A simple ponytail from the back of a girl's head

For Photo Friday

2004-09-01

Talking About Music

coverThe other night when our friends were over, we were talking about music. My wife mentions that our song when we got married was One Good Woman by Peter Cetera.

So I reach for my Toshiba Laptop and say: 'Let me find it on my T-Pod'. About 30 seconds later, I have it playing. Then there was some question about when the song came out. It took a few clicks to find that the album came out shortly after we started dating, but about a year before we got married.

coverOkay, so a laptop with a 15" screen isn't exactly a hip-wearable portable music player, like an I-Pod. But it does have a decent collection of music on the hard drive. I mostly listen to it when I'm at work. It helps keep me motivated.

I have been known to use my laptop as a portable music player. The carrying case I have for it also has a backpack mode. When I was warming up to
Hiking Pikes Peak, I had put it on my back, and plugged in earphones for the Hike up the Scar. I wanted the extra weight of the laptop and it's accessories to help be in the right mode for hiking the peak with a pack.

I do have a clunky MP3 CD player I can use too, but I used it mostly for longer drives in the car.