Thursday, June 30, 2011

It's only 90

I'm sitting out on my back patio, where the thermometer on the brick column (which has been in the shade all day) has dropped to 90 degrees. At nearly a quarter past eight. Guess that's what I get for moving to south Alabama, huh? That's OK, though... it's not terribly unpleasant, especially with the ceiling fan on the patio roof running on high. Crickets are chirping (in stereo, from the vacant, treed lots on either side of my house); occasionally the sound of a car or motorcycle wafts past my ears; clouds are slowly making their way across the sky that's beginning to darken, the sun having dropped below the horizon before I stepped outside. One dog is sitting at my feet while the other roams the yard, occasionally coming over for a toe-licking visit. Mosquitoes seem unaware of the citronella plants that we've strategically placed at each corner of the patio; of course, those plants are looking a bit weary, probably from lack of watering (at least the garden is producing - we're remembering to water it). One I squished against my shirt, leaving a small blood stain there; fortunately it's a shirt that, while I like, I'm not overly concerned about (it was a gift for donating my life force to the American Red Cross once upon a time). My eyes strain to make out the letters on the keyboard, when necessary, only the soft glow from the laptop screen dimly illuminating the characters that indicate what each key represents. While not really a "touch-typist," I'm familiar enough with the keyboard, not from training but from years of use, that I can generally find my way around without having to rely on looking at each key as I type.

Whoa, wait a minute... sounds like I'm trying to write some intro to a fantastic novel, or maybe a 2-nu song. (Click the link... it's ponderous, man... really ponderous!) Just fired up some Pomplamoose via Google Music (which is free for some amount of time... hopefully it'll be like GMail, free forever, and they'll have some "paid improvement" instead of charging for the basic service in the future). All on a laptop that I got for free from my mom because "it's running slow" - dad got her a newer one, so she had no use for this one. I like free stuff. I don't think my wife does, because I tend to accept anything that's free. In fact, we have a 10' by 15' storage place full - literally - of all the stuff we did not want to bring with us when we moved to the new house. (We still need to get that cleaned out sometime or other to get rid of the monthly storage fee.) At any rate, reloaded the OS on the laptop, and it seemed OK. Tried loading Windows 7, but no joy - way too slow to run that one (I guess it's the "mere" 512MB of ram in this puppy). Looked at a Linux, but was unable to get the one version of Ubuntu I tried running correctly. (Might try some other flavors of Linux at some point, but for now it's Windows XP.)

What am I doing out here? Well, obviously I'm writing a blog post. Besides that, though, I'm (planing to be) researching various guitar info for a potential pet project. Assuming I actually get it started, I'll be sure to keep you updated via my blog (this thing you're reading). Oh, and just enjoying the wonderfulness of God's creation. Creation, mixed with man's technology (computer, fan, rocking chair, lights...). Enjoying a Diet Dr. Pepper. Listening to Pomplamoose and crickets.

And wishing you a wonderful evening.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Interesting Statistics & "easy tech"

I was gandering (which the red squiggly line informs me is not a word; funny, as "gander" is a noun, informal, meaning "glance," but apparently it's not "verbized" and shouldn't be used like I just used it!) at Google's Webmaster Tools (which I usually forget about, but every now and again remember to take a look at my blog's statistics under), and found some interesting "here's the queries where your blog shows up" entries (and, again with my own self-policing grammar correction, that should be "here are" not "here is" - but "here're" just doesn't look right). For instance (italicized text in the following list is my own notes, not part of the query):

brain lapse (makes sense, given the blog name!)clash of the titans alternate endingelmo is deadwhat color is the old chevy pickup in justin moore's if heaven wasn't so far away video?history of "quiet zone" sickness signsnannerpuss ihopchopsticks instructionsa computer has been relocated and all the cables reconnected. when the computer is powered on, the correct post audio signals are heard and the hard drive led shows disk activity. however, the monitor fails to display anything. what are two possible causes of this problem?alien visit1984 renault fuego (note that I once had a 1983 Fuego)die in a holetg&y (really used to enjoy "TG&Y" days with my Grandmom B, who's now surely enjoying much more than TG&Y in heaven!)mcdouble nutrition factsguinea pig habitsxena x1noelle escort

First interesting thing: proof that you never know what you'll end up reading when you visit LBD! Second interesting thing: what in the world are some of these people searching for?

Anyway... in case you have forgotten, "Scratch" is a pretty neat little thing. You can see some of one of my son's efforts here; "Star Wars Lightsaber Trainer" and "Kill a Zombie" are some examples. Basically, Scratch allows you to "program" by connecting various blocks, sort of like building with Lego Bricks (they don't like you to say "Legos" - even though we all do it!). Well, Google now has a similar concept for Android Application Development: the "App Inventor" - a web- (or browser-) based application development environment that provides a similar, "building-block-based" programming approach. In fact, some of their tutorials include apps like games, painting apps, and "where'd I park my car?" All in an application development environment that is attainable even by (somewhat-) non-techy folk. That is, you don't have to have a computer science degree to understand it and make usable apps (well, in theory, assuming that it can do the things that the tutorials promise - I haven't gone much past looking at the very basic intro tutorial myself, and I do have a computer engineering degree). All in all, pretty cool, I think.

Until next time... a topato!

Saturday, June 25, 2011


My son calls and says, "Dad, I have a flat tire." So I head out to assess and assist. Sure enough, really flat, with steel belt showing on both sides of the tread (I guess that whole "check these things before you drive" from driver's ed didn't take, huh?). The other front tire is in similar condition, and the back tires aren't much better. Looking like a new set of tires is needed. Anyway, we put on the spare (after moving the car to some more solid ground vs. trying to jack it up on the soft shoulder, and, yes, i brought the floor jack with me instead of trying to use the scissors jack that was in the trunk) and find it's low on air. Should have thought to being the air compressor with me, but of course I didn't. Back home and back to the car, inflate the temp spare, and then head to the Goodyear shop to get some new rubber.

Guess what? The OEM size on the 9 year old car is obsolete (despite the fact that Tire Rack, I check later, has Goodyears in the original size). Anyway, the cheapest set they have there is $500. Really? Some steel and rubber, in mass-manufactured quantities, is $500? You can buy a computer, or a modern tablet or super smart phone, for less than that. And you can't tell me it costs more to design a tire than it does a computer, and the components in the computer are certainly difficult to manufacture.

Anyway, got me thinking, what can you buy for $500? Four tires, a computer (desktop or laptop) or tablet or smartphone, a nice TV, a month's rent somewhere, a really nice push mower or possibly a cheap riding mower, a really nice gas grill. What else? A pretty decent bicycle? A sofa? A cheap fridge or freezer? What about an 80-gallon water heater? A decent acoustic-electic guitar? Why are some of these things priced so expensively, while others, some seemingly more expensive to develop or manufacture, exist at the same price point?

Really, how long have we been manufacturing tires, consisting of rubber and steel (these days), and yet the price equals (or exceeds) that of the latest computing gadgetry, consisting of the latest innovations in silicon, displays, etc. Granted, there is "more" of the stuff in the tires, but it's still just some rubber and steel, and it's mass-manufactured in molds that are not as complex as the manufacturing processes of, say, your average notebook computer or smartphone.

Something seems amiss. Are we, the dependent consumer, being fleeced by the tire manufacturers? Just wondering.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Plus (and more) for Free

If you're a Sony Playstation Network member (and were before they got hacked), you get 30 days of Playstation Plus for free. Plus two free games to download (on up to five PS3 systems attached to your account) and keep forever. (Now, those games, first, they're not very stellar games, unless you count Super Stardust; second, in at least one of them I get advertising when it's loading - the Civic commercial plays in a screen inside my "loading" screen - that's a little weird.) Playstation Plus content you download, for free, is of course only "loaned" for as long as you have your PS+ subscription. (Supposedly this free trial is a non-renewing subscription - guess we'll see on that.)

Now, I also recently came across this little thing for Facebook: "auto facial recognition and photo tagging suggestions." Now, I'm not really sure what the big deal is about FB trying to help people organize the photos. I mean, Google's Picasa web album (free) has had facial recognition capabilities in it for quite a while, but I don't recall any uproar about that. In fact, that should be more of a privacy concern than this Facebook thing - imagine, Google Street View doing facial recognition to pinpoint who is where all over the globe! Speaking of which, I recently passed a Google Street View car on I-10 West leaving the George Wallace tunnel - I'll post a link to it if/when my car shows up in street view. Anyway, back to Facebook - they don't have all the live geospatial info in their system (not yet, anyway, although sometimes that data is contained in EXIF data in JPEG files). Maybe I'm being simple, but I'm not really sure what the big deal is about Facebook trying to help suggest image tags for you. (Please feel free to comment if you have an opinion one way or the other on this.)

So, I'm looking at getting back into FPGA and CPLD programming as a hobby (really enjoyed doing that while I was at UAH). Problem is, my dev kit includes a "parallel JTAG programming cable" - that is, the "old" connection you used to plug your printer into. Tough to find a computer these days that has a parallel port to connect my JTAG cable! (JTAG is "joint test action group" - unfortunately, the acronym became synonymous with the programming cable spec that defines how to connect to, enumerate, program, and debug various programmable hardware devices, such as FPGAs, CPLDs, microcontrollers and DSP chips, etc.) Unfortunately, the USB to parallel adapters aren't suitable for this type of parallel connection, as the JTAG programmers typically use a low-level access that the USB "parallel emulator" can't provide (those cables are really only useful for printers and not much else, like scanners or other parallel connected devices). The Xilinx USB-JTAG cable is pretty expensive ($200 from Xilinx, $130 or so from Digilent), and while other USB-JTAG cables exist (e.g., Digilent has their own, priced at $40), they typically don't work with the Xilinx software (they have their own interface). Probably not an issue, but I'd rather just use the Xilinx suite of tools. Granted, having the USB-JTAG cable is the "right" thing to do, but still.

Another option is a parallel port card for my desktop computer... but then I'm limited to using that computer. And I'd like to have a laptop with a parallel port to use for "playing" with my FPGA and CPLD dev kits. Looking on eBay, can probably get something in the $100-150 range. Still, I'm cheap, and I have four kids, one of which is in college, and another who's a senior in high school this year, so funds have to be carefully directed. Ah, the joys of technical "junk."

Anyway, probably no one cares about this last half of my blog post, and I'm getting tired, so I think I'll terminate this entry now...