How to waste a weekend

December 4, 2004 | Comments Off

For some reason that I can no longer recall, I decided that I needed an RPN calculator for my cell phone. The calculator that Nokia provides is ok, I guess, but I thought I could do better. So I spent the weekend brushing up my J2ME and hacking away at it. Upon sharing this information with my coworkers, who I thought would be at least *curious*, the response I got mostly consisted of them staring at me and trying to figure out why I would bother.

Although I did find another j2me calculator Stak, I didn’t the UI would work well on my cell phone. I’m sure others would find my UI cumbersome, but the primary consumer of this application was designed to be myself.

If you want to try it out, you can point your cell phone to or download the jar file here. If anyone wants access to the source, just contact me.


November 21, 2004 | Comments Off

One of the many items on our todo list for the house has been to (re)decorate the first floor. Leigha likes to see what the room would look like in various colors which means I get to spend some time in my graphic editor. I’m posting the before, concept, and after pictures so you can judge how well we did.

Rack redux

October 31, 2004 | Comments Off

I was doing some work on the website today and started reading back through the archives and I saw that in 1999 I had mentioned wanting to buy a rack to organize the computers. It turns out I did end up doing that at the end of 2003.

Vlad came to visit in December 2003, and since we always need a project, I suggested building a rack. The only thing that we couldn’t get locally was the rails, so I ordered those ahead of time. I designed the rack in CAD to help us along. In the end, the mostly-finished product looked convincingly like the CAD rednering. We also made a dark, grainy video(DivX/10MB) of us assembling the frame.

In the end, the project cost about $100. Most of that cost was the 2 sets of 12U rails I bought for $50. The rest was lumber and hardware. It’s also on wheels and mostly self contained so it’s easy to push around.

More pictures here.

Keeping up the pace

October 30, 2004 | Comments Off

I wanted to post before October ended to continue the unprecedented streak of updating my blog/page reasonably frequently.

On September 25 I was involved in an automobile collision which left me unscathed but without a car for a little over a month. Progressive has been impressive to deal with. There was a person who was responsible for my claim (Jenny) who was very helpful in explaining the process and the options. They towed my car from the accident to their service center, and handled all the repairs from there. They sent me a very detailed estimate of the damage including part numbers, part costs, labor costs, etc. The total was approximately $7000. Additionally they called me once or twice a week to let me know where my car was in the process and if the expected delivery date had changed. They offer lifetime guarantee on all the work they perform, and as an added bonus, they also asked me if I wanted some cosmetic damage that was not related to the accident to be repaired, and handled the billing for me. Overall, I’m pretty impressed.

Yesterday, (Friday) after having my car back two days, the engine started making a funny noise. I opened the hood and saw a hose that had seemingly popped off or broken. I asked my officemate who knows a bit about cars to take a look and he said somebody had done a very naughty thing and had “fixed” the hose with electrical tape.

This morning I called Jenny at Progressive and informed them of the issue, and as always they were helpful. They checked the estimate to see if any work with hoses had been done. Apparently, there was an A/C hose that was supposed to be replaced. They asked me to bring it back, they would give me a rental and take care of it.

This reminds me of a story I learned once in a business class in which a audio installer purposely improperly connects a wire such that a few days after the customer drives off, the radio fails to work. When the customer returns, they offer him a partial refund and give him the white glove treatment to make up for the oversight. Customer than leaves and tells all his friends how fantastic this car audio place was, giving the installer some great advertising.


September 12, 2004 | Comments Off

Being the lazy individual that I am, I don’t bother too much with playlists. I like them in theory, but the problem is music is rather complex. For example, my playlist for dinner music would probably be very similar to my ‘mellow’ playlist, except without all the offensive/offbeat things I enjoy (Kermit singing “It’s not easy being green”). On the other hand, there’s a lot of music to choose from, and it’s hard to think of what things might be good in a playlist.

Tonight I wanted to see if I could find some pre-engineered playlists to save some brain power, and I realized two drawbacks with most implementations: first, it’s very easy to create a playlist and many silly monkeys have done this, so there’s just as many playlists as there are songs, and second, no one has come up with a good way to search playlists. In my mind there’s two ways to search playlists, which should work in conjunction with each other. 1) Let me search by title of the playlist (“dinner” being a good thing to search for, and 2) since your concept of dinner music is probably very different from mine, let me specify some songs, and you tell me which playlists include these songs. So, for example, I want to find playlists that contain Rufus Wainwright and Penguin Cafe Orchestra. If that results in too many hits (ha!), filter it down by lists that contain ‘dinner’ in the title. That should get me somewhere near people who have similar tastes in dinner music.

If anyone is aware of a site that has something similar, feel free to inform me.

[UPDATE] I did find a single playlist with both Rufus and P.C.O. here.

Wiring Hell

September 8, 2004 | Comments Off

I’ve had a bit of problem for the last year. I like keeping the servers in the basement of the house because it is cooler and I can’t hear their constant roar; I also like having my office upstairs because I don’t have to traverse 2 staircases to get to my desk and I like the view of the trees from the office. There was never decent connectivity between the two for various reasons; I’m convinced that my life is better if I secure my WiFi from phantom wardrivers, there was no existing wiring to the office or guest bedroom (not even telephone), and the solution I had chosen — over powerlines — wholly sucked. This caused me great consternation as the PowerLine stuff could only sustain approximately 2mbps.

Fortunately all this went away this past weekend. My brother and my father came for a visit and while he was here I roped my brother into helping me run cat5e from the basement to the office. Leigha had concerns about us making great big wholes in the wall and leaving them as an eyesore — we did make large holes, but Roger took care of patching them. Overall the project was a success although not without its hurdles, and in general I’d call it a pain in the ass. Next step is to upgrade to gigabit ethernet.

Unnatural solutions

August 8, 2004 | Comments Off

Once in a while I find myself with Mac envy. iDVD is something I really wish existed for PC, only because it seems genuinely QA’d unlike all of the PC options I’ve tried, but I digress. Recently I’ve been lusting for a way to make Windows iTunes talk to the Tivo. Mostly because I just want to point tivo at a playlist and let it play, and I don’t want to sync playlists manually.

This weekend I spent a great deal of time finally coercing them to talk. It’s been a long journey that has involved various kernel modules along the way, but that’s all in the past. The first working solution I had involved using Net::DAV::Server, Filesys::Virtual::DAAP, davfs, coda, and byRequest. This worked but byRequest tries to decode the id3 on every mp3 when it opens a directory, and since this is happening over a network, I had to remove that code, but it *worked*, I just didn’t have ID3 information. That led me to the second (and third) solutions.

I hacked at the module released by TiVo themselves to add support for a new TiVo::Container::DAAP class, and a TiVo::Item::MP3::DAAP object. In the first version I used HTTP::Daemon, which worked fine, but I rewrote it using POE::Component::Server::HTTP as a final solution.

I’m very happy with how it worked out. The only real problem I have now is that the link between the box running the proxy and the iTunes computer is too slow which I’ll solve either by finally running ethernet or getting an 802.11b bridge, but it’s entirely functional.

Tablet PCs and Navigation

July 30, 2004 | Comments Off

On the principle that my dad needed a new laptop, I thought it would be a good idea to upgrade myself and let him have my current laptop. Not that there’s anything wrong with it; I’m rather fond of it actually. But ever since I saw a Microsoft employee with one, I’ve been itching for a tablet notebook, especially since it seemed like a good accessory for the GPS unit. I ordered a used Toshiba Protege 3500 off an Amazon “associate” vendor and was very pleased with the transaction. Additionally, I did some research on navigation software that I could use on the laptop with the assistance of GPS.

Based on what I read, “CoPilot Live” by ALK seemed like the most featureful but very expensive. Microsoft Streets and Trips has a *very* polished interface, but it lacks many useful features, like real-time turn-by-turn instructions (e.g., “Turn left at US-50 in 1 mile”). I settled on DeLorme Street Atlas USA and am reasonably pleased with it. It uses the Microsoft Speech Engine for voice synthesis and it definately sounds synthetic, but entirely understandable. It also uses a speech recognition engine so you don’t have to reach over and fiddle with it. The UI could use a bit of help, but once you get the hang of it, it’s very fun.

distcc & Clustering

June 9, 2004 | Comments Off

Like many things I do, this project began out of paranoia. I’ve become paranoid about these Linux rootkits that include a kernel module that make the root kit largely undectectable. The only two solutions to the problem I could think of were 1) GPG signed kernel modules or 2) monolithic kernel. Since the former does not exist (to my knowledge) then I have to go with the latter.

The other thing I’ve realized is that no two boxes I have run the same kernel. So I decided to roll my own monolithic kernel and standardize on it across all my boxes. This got me thinking about how much I hate compiling kernels, and worse, monolithic kernels. I haven’t built a monolithic kernel since the 1.2.x series. Additionally, since I have to support very different machines with the same kernel, it’s going to require a lot of trial and error.

I had a few computers that weren’t doing anything overly important, and I decided to put them together for a build cluster. I didn’t want to blow away everything that was on these boxes, so I decided to go with a live-cd type solution.

After looking through the available options, I decided to go with Knoppix since it had most everything already installed, I just need to change a few things, shouldn’t be that hard, right? Right?


May 30, 2004 | Comments Off

On Friday I decided it was time to jump into the venerable world of GPS and GeoCaching. I went to Circuit City intending to buy a Garmin ETrex (base model) but they didn’t have the PC cable for the base model. Instead they had the “Legend” model which included the PC cable so I opted for that instead.

Overall I’m impressed with the unit. I broke it in by geocaching yesterday and today. Both days looking for the same cache. I could easily blame the GPS unit for my trouble finding the cache but mostly it got us very close to it. Mostly, we just didn’t spot it for a long time. It took three visits to find the desired cache.

I also managed to hook it up to the laptop and get it working with my mapping software. Pretty straight forward. However, the PC cables for GPS devices seem to be stuck in the 90s and generally come as Serial. There are Serial->USB converters but they are surprisingly expensive (minimal searching, ~$30-40).

The device itself feels very sturdy and the screen resolution is quite good. It has a backlight and the reception is decent although I have nothing to compare it to. It also has maps of all the major roads in the area, although it is incapable of calculating any route other than as the crow flies (but this is why I have mapping software). It also has a surprising amount of information it can calculate it, I could definately see its usefulness for real outdoorsmen (of which I am obviously not one).

As a side not, Leigha intends to use it to track her daily walks, since it’s well suited for this purpose. It has a screen that displays distance, time, avg speed, which are helpful to know in this case.