Pat's Log
Sun, 30 Jan 2005

One Year
20050129 This past week marks one year of this weblog. While it is truly remarkable how quickly time appears to pass, looking over all of the text and images accumulated over this last year shows me that the year was much more than the blink of an eye. I am particularly happy that almost every entry has a photo, as it really helps find specific events or thoughts that the words only help describe. I shall continue this trend. At 124 entries over the year, with 93 images, the average is approximately one every three days, with exactly 75% containing a picture. My grandfather maintains a log of events as a memory aid. In time, this should fulfill that function and exceed it. I see this database of entries as more of a time capsule.

This last week of school has been fairly hectic, with this upcoming week promising more of the same. During DSP class, the professor mentioned a very interesting point: apparently, the human eye samples on average at 28 times per second. I never occurred that eyes could process information in a discrete fashion.

As of this morning, a part of the enamel on one of my molars has fallen off, right at the gumline. The hole it left feels enormous, but the tongue exaggerates, as usual. Besides being disconcerting to my ever-curious tongue, what is now exposed is extremely sensitive; even carefully applied Sensodyne causes pain. I blame the dental hygienist, who during last week's cleaning worked the enamel loose. Damned densits. Now I have to visit them again to patch this up.

My brother's Enterprise model is progressing well. Today, the basecoats of paint were applied. Pictured is the stand, which was painted black and stippled with copper. I think it created a very nice finish. I'm doing this whole buildup with my brother as a present for his upcoming birthday (nothing is worth more to me than my time, he knows that), because I intend to move out soon and want to spend some quality time with him, and because it's a good diversion from schoolwork. I estimate completion next weekend or the weekend after that.

I replaced the motherboard in the laptop with the newly-purchased unit. Although the new board is the same part number and revision, the laptop now thinks it is a Latitude D600 instead of an Inspiron 600m and refuses to let me reflash it as such. Not a big problem. It is nice that all of the plugs are stiffer, buttons are less worn, and the unit as a whole is more rigid since its screws were all tightened. And, of course, the display is clear, which was good for the 4th year project presentation a few days ago.

[] | posted @ 04:57 | link
Mon, 24 Jan 2005

A Possible Interface
xbox/20050123 When this project began, there was a fairly clear vision of what the interface to the car computer could look like. Seeing as the presentation is coming up this week, I felt it was high time to put the idea into a format where it can be shared with others. This touch-screen would stow-away in the slot designed for optional cd-changer units, and would slide out like a drawer, then hinge down so that it could be easily usable from the front seats.

While I had initially intended to build this unit into a car, I am having difficulty locating a reasonably-priced touch-screen that has a diagonal of 6 inches or less. The units I found generally tend to be for medical equipment or factory equipment purposes, and as such, are far more expensive than common sense would indicate. Understandable, seeing as the general consumer would not find such equipment very useful.

The difficulty in obtaining a screen coupled with the Xbox's green-tint VGA output are making the unit look less and less appealing for car-pc purposes. The initial benefits of low cost (~$200), good durability (designed to be handled by children), and fairly low power requirements (~100W) seem to be offset by minor annoyances that make it impractical to build a fully-functional in-dash unit. The very cold weather of this January has not been helpful either. Would it even be safe to spin up a hard drive at -30°C temperatures?Would the electronics be able to handle the condensation that would follow shortly thereafter?

For the project, it should be possible to work without actually building the computer in. For the poster-fair/demo I have come up with a simple method of exporting the display to a touch-screen laptop that should show how things are to work. This model may even be considered as an alternative to VGA output, using a PDA mounted on the dash to interact with the car computer. Still, I was hoping to have a fully-functional car computer in the end.

[/xbox] | posted @ 04:07 | link
Fri, 21 Jan 2005

Earth Continues to Revolve
20050120 Indeed, Planet Earth continues its constant cycle of change. Last week the temperature was over freezing point, and everything was a slushy mess. This week, with windchill, the temperature is less than -40°C, with everything frozen beyond the ability of salt to melt, and the smokestacks on buildings downtown seem to have plumes that extend several hundred metres. At the same time, the days are getting longer and causing spectacular reflections from the glass buildings around the time I wait for the bus to take me home at night.

Many of my recent online purchases have come in. Two days ago, my hundred-pack of white LEDs arrived. Yesterday, my self-indulgent phaser kit has arrived. This unit is mastered from the same molds that they used on Voyager, and the quality is certainly not lacking. Unfortunately, that incurred $63 dollars of border fees. Today, my Badger airbrush compressor arrived, also from the States. With this, another $23 of border fees. Finally, today, my new laptop motherboard came in. This one had no border fees.

There are two things that are a complete mystery to me, having dealt with 4 packages over the last few days:

  1. Taxes: Why am I charged tax on a used item? Moreover, why am I paying tax to the Canadian Government on used items I purchased from the States? Should I not be paying the taxes to the U.S.? It seems strange that I'm paying for used items purchased over the border when I don't have to pay them on my motherboard, purchased in-province, where the tax would have some meaningful representation.
  2. The post office usually delivers mail to a community box down the road from my house. However, when parcels come in, they come up to the door and leave a note on the door to pick up the package at the post office. If they already come to the door to leave the note, would it hurt to ring the doorbell and actually deliver the item?

All of this buying has taken a much larger toll on my credit card than expected. This is the first time I have to do creative things to ensure payment can be covered. I had no idea one can have negative credit...

Finally, school is starting to ramp up again. Next week promises to be interesting, with several assignments and 4th-year-project oral presentations. The end is starting to become clear. In just over two months I will be scrambling to hand in final papers and whatnot. Then, I shall be free.

[] | posted @ 04:53 | link
Sat, 15 Jan 2005

Expensive Times
The past several weeks have proven to be unpleasantly expensive and plagued with misfortune.

The first event of annoyance is that my car failed the mandatory emissions testing requirements, as I wrote about earlier. A possible cause was the catalytic converter, so 250 bucks was put toward a new one. However, the mechanic said the old one looked clean. A retest failed again, even with the new catalytic converter and premium gas. So, another 200 was expended to have the emission mechanic look more closely into it. In the end, the only apparent symptom is that it actually passes when the engine is cool (just started) and fails when it is hot. This is opposite of most cars, so a cooling problem may be the issue. Still, only a conditional pass was allowed, so the issue has to be re-examined next year. And it was expensive.

Next, last Saturday morning, I was woken at 0830, which is at least 3 hours too early for a Saturday. There were several centimeters of water in the basement; the hot water heater had blown up and was spewing water everywhere. I blocked off the heater and spent the rest of the day draining the water, cutting up old carpet, and generally cleaning up old junk. Luckily, the water did not get to the computer room. A new heater was installed promptly by the gas company.

The final bit of unpleasantness comes from my concern over my laptop still not being acknowledged. I was told the Dell repair people would give me a call once they knew what to do. They did not. When I called them, it was the same 900 dollar speech that the parts department gave be. They would not fix it under warranty, so I told them to fuck off and send it back. I bought the replacement motherboard on eBay for $340. Still don't have the laptop back, though.

[20050115] The week was not all bad. Kyle set up a for fun, so this thing is finally syndicated somewhere. I doubt a lot of people read it, but I still felt like creating a "hacker-head". They are meant to look silly, so I figured the clichéd sunglass theme would work.

Also, my brother bought a Polar Lights TOS Enterprise model. I've been putting it together with him today. It certainly is a well-designed kit. In fact, he is doing most of the work, and it works well enough that I don't think he will lose interest before we get to things like proper painting. He may have himself a very nicely built model in the end, by mostly his own doing. That would be an accomplishment for a first model.

[] | posted @ 18:56 | link
Tue, 11 Jan 2005

DashUI Progress
Tonight was dedicated to adding configuration file parsing to DashUI. I decided to use the standard IniFile format, as it's easy to understand and easy to parse.

The C parser is about one hunded lines in length, and handles comments, whitespace, any field order, and the various data types that would be found in a configuration file.

The format is extremely simple, For example, to embed the xlogo program:

# This example swallows the xlogo program [X Logo] program = "xlogo" window = "xlogo" icon = "applet3-48.png" resize = 1

However, the main problem with the approach to DashUI is that it still requires a window title to swallow any application. This is problematic for some programs because of either synchronization, or unpredictable window titles. That should be the next problem to solve.

[/xbox] | posted @ 06:03 | link
Thu, 06 Jan 2005

The Home Stretch
20050105 Today was the first day of classes in this semester, my last semester. Some would call this the home stretch. One would think I could see the light at the end of the tunnel by now, but I cannot. I simply assume the cables lead somewhere.

Already I have a problem with the software engineering class this semester. Then again, I would have a problem with any class that forces UML-RT (better than plain UML!) using Rational Rose RT, Powerpoint, and eMail only accepted from the cruddy Carleton Connect system. The plus side is that RR is supposed to output C++ rather than Java, which is all we've been using lately. I nearly burst out laughing when someone a few rows back, upon hearing this, commented with disgust: "but C++ sucks!"

In the end, all of the things on the to-do list for the break happened. My last item, cleaning up my old AMD K7/700 and converting it to a RAID machine for permanent storage just got finished a few minutes ago. The second hard drive I was using worked perfectly until about five minutes after I copied the last file from it prior to making it part of the disk array. Good timing, though it took me hours to realize that the fault was with the disk, rather than a mistake of my own.

Another unfortunate event is that my car failed the mandatory emissions test. It passed with a huge margin on all tests except the part where they test the parts-per-million concentration of NO. The maximum allowed is 526, while the car was putting out 890. This is surprising, since at the last test, the number was in the 300 range. Possible causes are timing issues or a faulty catalytic converter. It's too bad they make us do the tests in the winter when the junkyard is a most unpleasant place.

[] | posted @ 04:59 | link

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