Pat's Log
Tue, 26 Oct 2004

Productive Weekend
20041025 The most productive weekend of the year started on a high note, when I got a new 17" flat panel monitor. It's not terribly fancy (actually scored quite low on many reviews), but I like it, and the price was definitely right. I was hoping for black, but all I could get was grey. That doesn't change the fact that the screen is infinitely better than the one it replaced.

At the time time, I took apart, cleaned, and reconstructed an old HP LaserJet 4. Aside from its fuser, all parts are in mint condition. The fuser works, but is starting to display signs of wear and tear. Still, it's amazing that a twelve year old printer replaced our five year old printer due to quality reasons.

Friday evening, I went to see Team America. It has to be the funniest movie this year. There were parts where I was worried about passing out due to lack of breathing due to hysterical laughing. In so many ways the movie was controversial and "over-the-edge." I suppose that's what I liked about it. That, and its more than passing similarity to the Thunderbirds.

On Saturday, I took my little sister to attend an orchestra show for children at the National Arts Centre. Last time I went, I was impressed with the level of quality, but I wasn't terribly entertained. This time was different, as the theme was "space", and the Canadian Space Agency's Marc Garneau was the special guest. He did a really cool presentation on his missions in space, in a way that the kids could understand. Best of all, a live, full-orchestra performance of Also Sprach Zarathustra and the ET theme.

Somewhere this weekend I also found time to do a lab report and assignment for school, clean my room, and cut my own hair... you know you don't have much hair left when you start cutting it yourself. Strangely enough, it turned out great.

Quote of the week: "Dyslexics of the world, UNTIE!"

[] | posted @ 03:34 | link
Tue, 19 Oct 2004

Integrated Circuit
20041018 Today was a momentous occasion, as after a two weeks of long, hard work, my IC design project came to a temporary conclusion. The conclusion is temporary, because although the design is finalized, there is a month-long fabrication process before students get to test their design in real NMOS silicon. Then there is also the project report, which is due soon thereafter.

Carleton has a small fabrication facility that can produce fairly simple chips. This project is NMOS simply because of the time constraints and the relative complexity of producing CMOS logic (several more masks and layers). Nevertheless, I find the entire process very exciting. The class associated with the project is definitely amongst my undergraduate favourites.

The chip design was permitted an area of 230λ by 230λ, where λ=2.5μm. This means that my whole project has an area of 5.75mm by 5.75mm. That would make it the smallest project I've ever completed. My tuny initials would only fit sideways in the bottom-right corner, and even then I couldn't close the "P" properly! My record for the longest time in a lab was reached today: I spent 11.5 hours with two 5 minute breaks finalizing this chip.

Edit (2005-12-14):
(230)(2.5μm) = 0.575mm. Thinking about this after the fact, the entire classes projects fit in an area smaller than 5mm by 5mm.

[] | posted @ 03:22 | link
Mon, 18 Oct 2004

Hacking the Xbox
xbox/20041017 I finally finished reading Hacking the Xbox by Andrew "Bunnie" Huang.

I consider this book to be the de facto textbook for getting anywhere with the project. Though all of the chapters were very interesting, only several will actually be used to develop the "CarBox," seeing as there is no reason or desire to further knowledge of the Xbox's security system. Regardless, the book covered many aspects of what will be required to have the unit operate with a touchscreen device, network device, and other peripherals.

Last weekend I ordered the original version of MechAssault, which is needed to install Linux on the Xbox. I was hoping to have it by this weekend, but it did not come in time. Hzopefully, it will be here soon.

[/xbox] | posted @ 03:39 | link

Fall Colours
20041017 I intended to go out this weekend and enjoy the fall colours. Unfortunately, since my IC design project is due on Monday, I spent all of Friday and Saturday at school. When I left Saturday morning, the trees were still rich in colour. When I got back in the evening, strong winds had knocked most of the leaves off.

Though the colours today were not as brilliant as a few days ago, I decided to go for a walk in the Beaver Pond park. By this time next year, the whole area is supposed to be obliterated in favour of constructing more houses.

I got a few nice photos of Luna the Dog. She turned one year old this past week.

[] | posted @ 03:31 | link
Fri, 15 Oct 2004

Hugin and Harvard
Shortly before leaving to Boston I discovered a very powerful panorama tool called Hugin. I thought I would give it a spin doing a 360° view from the corner of the courtyard between Memorial Church and Widener Library at Harvard University.


The image is made up of 17 separate photos. Some of the initial images were of drastically different different brightness. In particular, one of the photos of the three windows near the right was extremely dark. I am very impressed with how the program managed to even out the image.

I think the 'dip' in the middle of the panorama is due to me tipping the camera down toward the couryard. In the future, a tripod would probably be handy. Also, it would be very beneficial to have more overlap in the pictures. The recommended value is 20%-30% overlap; in some cases I only had 10%. Those are the seams that are more clearly visible.

The program also seems to be designed to make decisions on its own. Once enough reference points are placed, Hugin predicts where additional points will go. If you make a mistake placing a point, it warns you based upon its calculations. If a gap is left between two photos, and then the correct photo is placed in the gap, it seems to figure out the details fairly accurately and shape the added image accordingly.

Overall, the results are great. I can see myself creating more panoramic shots in the future with the help of Hugin. It really is a powerful tool.

Quote of the week: "Extrinsic semiconductors are intrinsically useless." (Professor Tom Smy, Carleton University).

[] | posted @ 02:27 | link
Thu, 14 Oct 2004

Two Difficult Days
20041013 The two days since the long weekend have been difficult.

Yesterday, while entering my Networking Theory class about 20 minutes late, it occurred to me that people were writing a midterm. I had no idea that there was a test scheduled. Due to the familiar subject matter, I probably achieved a decent score anyway. Later that evening, staying awake through the music elective was difficult.

Today, nothing went quite right. My morning lab was excruciatingly boring Object Constraint Language. Later, trying to finish my IC design I was stuck on a stupid PSPICE error for two hours. I didn't manage to solve it either. Then I skipped the silly Software Engineering class (yay, more OCL!). A four hour meeting in the evening was unentertaining; thankfully I brought a wireless access point with me.

The most interesting event of the day was in the morning, when someone discovered a small package full of white powder. Of course, the Hazardous Materials squadron was called in, as well as the Ottawa Police Explosives Unit. As the photo shows, there were at least two firetrucks, two ambulances, two police cruisers, a special police truck, and Carleton police vehicles. In the end, it turned out that someone accidentally left a packet of flour after performing experiments on various scaled-down thermo-dynamic storage containers, designed as part of an engineering design project. I, for one, was amused.

[] | posted @ 03:57 | link
Tue, 12 Oct 2004

Gnome Summit 2004: Boston
This Thanksgiving weekend was spent in Boston. I went there mostly because of the Gnome Summit, but also because it could provide me with the small vacation I needed.

I drove to Montreal, where I was supposed to pick up Kamil. He was forced to take a later plane, and by the time we left Montreal it was almost 22:00. By the time we got to Boston, it was 03:00. By the time we found MIT, it was 04:00. Boston is the most difficult city I've driven around. No use in getting a hotel at that point, so we slept in the car next to a graveyard.

In the "morning", we went to get breakfast at a local diner. The craziest thing happened: Chris Lahey of Novell, whom we both recognized, came in to have breakfast too. What are the odds? This was a good thing, because he gave us definite instructions on how to get back to MIT.

Just down the from the diner there is a YMCA in a very, very old building. It definitely had character. Showering after sleeping in a car is a good thing.

We arrived at the crazy new MIT Stata Center:

The "Dr. Suess Building"

Inside the main auditorium

The Gnome Summit Beacon

The day went by very quickly, there were several good discussions about how to make Gnome more attractive and marketable so that it remains competitive as software, as well as interesting to work on and use.

That Saturday evening, Kamil and I drove around to every hotel within 40km North of Boston. As a matter of course, all of the hotels were full. Not to make the trip too cheap, we made sure to pre-book a hotel room for Sunday evening. But Saturday sleeping was done in the car in a parking lot.

The 1994 Mazda Protege car-bed, through open trunk

Yet another trip to the YMCA for general bodily maintenance. One of the cool things on Sunday was a show-and-tell for what people have been working on in Gnome. A few interesting projects included Gamin, a new GUI editor called Stetic, and a very interesting poem generator by Jon Trowbridge. In the demo, he checked off several word-source books in the options, including something about sex, a Sherlock Holmes novel, and a Linux kernel book. Here is the great poem it generated:

Her hand. Remeber, too secure, a real
effect were to become a couple of
examples and converted to a stand.
The place? In fact, her hands. The boy, the whole
remaining shaft. A few descendant, and
recover it. The time. Sometimes the case
in more. The two devices to a mere
detail. The door behind her death began.

I presented Celestia. It seemed to make an impression on many people visually, though I tried to focus my presentation on how it's a true exercise in portability, seeing as it runs on so many platforms. Even keeping the autotools files in working order is a challenge. One way or another, it was a decent presentation.

That afternoon we took a break and went to visit Harvard, since the MIT campus really is not that breathtaking. Harvard's definitely is. The buildings are old and beautiful. I took many 360° panoramic shots of the courtyards. Hopefully I can get a chance to assemble them soon.

Sunday evening we slept in a hotel! A real bed!

Monday morning there were presentations on improving Gnome's performance and how the Linux kernel will help. Around noon, Nat showed up with his Sony Aibo robotic dog. It was fun to watch and interact with.

We couldn't stay for the closing event because of a need to drive back home. Stopping twice, it took me 7h22m from the Stata Center parking lot to my garage. The total trip was 1632km in length. I look forward to next year. Right now, I need sleep.

[] | posted @ 03:52 | link
Sun, 03 Oct 2004

Xbox and USB, Continued
xbox/20041002 With the remaining female end of an Xbox USB cable, as well as the male end of a broken cable, I decided it would be interesting to try doing the opposite of what I did last weekend. Upon soldering together the cable ends, I plugged a controller unit into my new PC.

The controller is a standard USB hub (since it has room to plug in other accessories), as well as a somewhat less standard joystick. Searching the internet, I quickly came across drivers and it worked fabulously. A quick game confirmed that everything works as it should.

This cable may prove helpful in debugging Xbox accessories in case they do not seem to work, when Linux is on the Xbox. The accessory with the standard USB end could plug into the Xbox adaptor, which could then plug into this new adaptop, bringing it back to standard USB. Though seemingly pointless, it might help find an error somewhere along the way. For now, it is fun to have a game pad connected to my PC.

My supervisor has asked me to keep a web log of progress on this project, so this entry is part of the new Xbox section of my log.

I am currently in the search for the MechAssault game needed to gain entry into the unit. Looking at the stores, the game sells for about 25 dollars, but is the fixed "Platinum Hits" edition. This one is patched to prevent the installer from working. There is also a strong possibility that my Xbox has firmware that makes this process more difficult. If that is the case, I will either have to find an older used unit, or go directly to the hardware modification. Either way, I will have to rent the original version of MechAssault from the rental store to find out.

I am over half way through reading Hacking the Xbox. The chapters get more and more interesting. I am currently reading about the internal hardware encryption methods the units use. I am glad that this part has alrady been figured out by others.

[/xbox] | posted @ 03:59 | link
Fri, 01 Oct 2004

The RAM! The RAM Is Here!
20040930 And so another month has gone by. The test was not as bad as I had imagined it. More importantly, the RAM finally came in. Of course, this happened the night before the test. That resulted in not much studying.

This RAM is crazy in every way. Very shiny. I have never spent over $500 on RAM. I don't know that I ever want to. Is it worth it? This stuff is heavy, weighing almost as much as my hard drive for the two sticks. It must be mostly because of the thick copper plates covering the chips. Even the name of the memory is big: "1GB Dual-Channel PC3200 DDR400 ECC Registered RAM". Let's not expand the acronyms.

Installing WindowsXP on this thing was painful. It actually required a floppy drive with SATA drivers. When F6 is hit as instructed for additional drivers, it gives no feedback for about 30 seconds. I must have tried 5 times before letting it sit for that long. And that was just me giving up. I installed Windows by giving up. Windows didn't support any of the hardware out-of-the-box, even though the motherboard design is about two years old. Games run amazingly: smooth, high-resolution... perfect.

Currently, Linux is installing. I decided to go with Gentoo for several reasons. Firstly, I need, as well as software that will work with as many multimedia streams as possible. Secondly, the processor was given to me by a Gentoo guy, so it feels right to have Gentoo on it. Debian's pure64 is very tempting, I intend to give it a try in due time. All hardware works out-of-the-ISO with Linux.

I'm very excited by the wireless project at school. It seems as much a social thing as it is technical. Basically, as we put more and more access points up, more and more people come to our door to ask about the network or offer to help out somehow. It's an interesting phenomenon. We seem to be piloting this sort of effort on campus.

[] | posted @ 06:21 | link

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