grinning conny conny at robs conny moto grinning conny

I'm happy she's turned out to be a good person :-)

[ published on Wed 31.12.2008 19:36 | filed in brainfarts | ]

I haven't got a clue, but I can tell you what I did.
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Wed 31.12.2008 11:32 | filed in interests/tinkering | ]

A few days ago an appeals court in the US has substantially reduced the amount of patentable non-things: business-method patents were flushed down the drain. To-be-patented thingies are to be scrutinised a lot more before a patent can be granted. Software gets harder to patent.

More on this quite interesting issue at groklaw.

[ published on Fri 14.11.2008 12:05 | filed in interests/anti | ]

(Somewhat) apropos yesterday's article on tinkering: I wanted a simple setup to mount my Treo phone/pda in the car. None of the kludges for sale impressed me favourably, all being expensive/clunky/both or worse.

Being the Dismantler and Recycler Of Crap that I am, I have a few dead hard disks sitting around. Dead hard disk = two large and strong magnets, iff you manage to get them off their backing without breaking the brittle material. Sometimes I do manage, sometimes I don't.

So here's my ghetto mount: a fat magnet in heatshrink tubing, embedded in the back of a slab of coreflute which is stickytaped to the car dash. The Treo-side consists of a bit of thin sheet metal (was once part of a floppy drive housing) taped to the back of the treo with super-thin packing tape.

 mag ghetto mount mag ghetto mount mag ghetto mount

The hard disk magnet is easily strong enough to work through one layer of heatshrink, coreflute, the silicon glove and the packing tape. With the packing tape no irreversible mods to the Treo are necessary.

Simple, neat and zero-cost. I like that.

[ published on Tue 11.11.2008 12:26 | filed in interests/tinkering | ]

It's Conny's laptop and I'll paint if she wants that.

Actually, she does, and not surprisingly, I did. She wanted a skull and crossbones design and who am I to object to that Sound Sensible Choice :-)

 conny laptop deco conny laptop deco

I found a tiny image on the web and used that as an inspiration to come up with this design. Then I reused an old conference presentation slide and cut that for a mask, and went shopping for paint: fluoro pink.

 laptop painting laptop painting

The mask I fixed to the lapdog lid with spray glue (sprayed onto the mask, of course), and then I rattlecan-sprayed four layers: plastic primer, a thin coat of silver as a lightening base and two layers of pink.

 connys laptop painted

Removed the mask, cleaned the glue residue off and neatened some of the spots where I had been too generous with the paint (raised edges). The stupid pink paint decided not to be very fluorescent (even with the silver base), but pink it is. Another coat of gloss enamel for the whole lid is forthcoming, but Conny is pleased with the result - and so am I.

[ published on Tue 11.11.2008 12:11 | filed in interests/tinkering | ]

I just saw a really interesting article, titled reflections on tinkering. Recommended.

[ published on Mon 10.11.2008 08:49 | filed in interests/tinkering | ]

My newish Treo 680 has blue teeth, which is better than a kick in selfsame (but not very much as shoddily as it was implemented by Palm). Being only a moderate gadgeteer (and far from rich) I've been lusting after a good/cheap/simple (yeah, I know RFC1925) navigation setup for the car - and cable-less as much as possible.

So I got a cheap Bluetooth GPS receiver which is branded "HP iPAQ Bluetooth GPS BTG-10H". Interestingly that model seems to have been orphaned by HP and is now sold under the name Siraya. $20 for a new 12-channel receiver with data logging, some other goodies and a car charger; not bad I think.

A bit of digging determined that it uses an iTrax03 GPS chip made by Fastrax, a Finnish company.

Now I don't know about Finnish attitudes towards the Dutch in general, but this Finnish piece of electronic wizardry absolutely killed the Dutch fount of navigational wisdom. (Apropos nothing in particular: the Dutch have a reputation as lousy drivers all across the mountainous parts of Europe.)

Tomtom Navigator 6 works quite well - when it works at all. Specifically Treos and Bluetooth receivers are well known sources of horrible interoperability problems. Same here: my receiver gets a fix moderately quickly and the TomTom shows the way, but after no more than 10 minutes the TomTom locks up my Treo completely - until the GPS is switched off or the BT connection is lost.

This obviously sucks, and is a tale of woe oft repeated elsewhere on the intertubes.

I am, however, really stubborn about fixing problems. So I started digging through all the horror stories, tried all kinds of suggested things, learned a bit about NMEA, to no avail - until the really simple, really stupid cause dawned on me: During a session with a serial terminal reading the NMEA data from the iTrax I realized that the volume of stuff it sends is quite..substantial.

The FasTrax docs about NMEA and their chips are quite good. NMEA has a bunch of required and optional messages, and I learned that for barebones navigation one only needs RMC messages as often as possible; if one also wants to know things like satellite positions and fix quality, one needs GSA and GSV.

Other GPSs seem to have configurable separate output rates for these messages; most tips I found mentioned setting RMC to 1/sec and GSA/GSV to once every 5 secs - which makes a lot of sense, because there will be multiple GSV messages depending on the number of satellites in view.

Not so with the iTrax: you can configure the output rate very precisely (up to 5Hz) but only one rate for all messages - and by default it spews its (nonstandard) figure-of-merit message as well as a full set of GSVs every second. At least on the Treo this overwhelms TomTom after a few minutes (which sounds like very shoddy programming to me) and everything locks up hard.

The fix? Get rid of the GSV messages: you do lose the per-satellite signal quality and azimuth/elevation info, but that's all. The satellite status screen simply shows blank bars with the satellite number and the GGA and GSA messages still tell the TomTom enough to know how many and which satellites are in use and how good the nav fix is, so all is well.

FasTrax has made configuring the iTrax very simple: you send it ascii (nonstandard-but-NMEA-formatted) commands over the serial/BT connection and it stores them persistently in flash, done. I used BT Serial on the Treo, which works very well.

The online docs have all the necessary configuration info and the only thing you'll actually have to do is send it this one message, once:


22 is the SYS_NMEA_MASK parameter, controlling which messages you want, and A002 means "send only RMC, GGA and GSA". (The default mask is A023, which includes the above plus FOM and GSV. Sending $PFST,CONF,22 shows you the current value of that parameter.)

Wasn't that easy?

[ published on Tue 04.11.2008 23:00 | filed in brainfarts | ]

So you have a nice, nifty RC car which is shiny and very fast (and therefore cool) or dirty and really slow (and therefore cool) and yet you are unhappy with its turning radius?

You might consider rigging it for four-wheel steering, which is very nice for tight turns but not so much fun or stable for high-speed runs. Which do you choose, stability and 2WS or tight turns and 4WS? Can't one have both?

Indeed you can. Faced with this very challenge for my Wheely-King-based rock crawler, I've built a four-wheel steering controller (4WSC) which gives you that choice and lots more, provided that you have a radio with one free channel: with that channel you can switch between proportional four-wheel steering, two-wheel steering front or rear and crabbing, on the go and without stopping. Your one steering wheel controls both servos appropriately, based on your chosen mode of operation. The 4WSC also includes a servo reversing cabability for your year servo and is configured/programmed using your rc transmitter.

You might have a look at the manual to see what other goodies I managed to program in.

Here is what the 4WSC looks like: tiny (that's a 1cm grid) but quite capable and cool.

 4wsc production model

As always with my stuff, it's open source software: the commented source code is available right here for your perusal/modifications/other weird applications. Share and Enjoy. You might almost call the 4WSC an example of "open source hardware": I'm also providing a printable circuit board design, ready for making your own pcb's with the toner transfer method.

The hardware side of the 4WSC is really simple: it is microcontroller-based, uses a PIC12F635 or 12F683 or similar, and because PICs are great devices it does not need any external components (except for plugs/leads and a buzzer). All you need to build your own is such a microcontroller, a PIC programmer interface for programming it, soldering gear and either some protoboard or minimal PCB-making skills.

If that sounds too tedious/complicated, you can simply pay me a little money and get one finished and ready: I made a few of the controllers and am sufficiently happy with the outcome to sell them. Contact me here and we can discuss the details; I might also do custom firmware for your specific requirements (for a fee, mind you).

For the do-it-yourself afficionados (like me) here are the goodies:


[ published on Tue 04.11.2008 13:44 | filed in mystuff | ]

Haider ist tot. Sehr fein. Ich verspüre haufenweise Schadenfreude (und keinerlei Gewissensbisse: die braunen Ärsche dürfen ruhig aussterben).

Leider ham die Österreicher aber genügend wählende Deppen daß die nächsten braunen Arschlöcher ganz bestimmt bald wieder an der Macht/in der Regierung landen. seufz

[ published on Sat 11.10.2008 19:18 | filed in interests/anti | ]

You know that you live in a Banana...well, non-Republic if the exchange rates between your lifeblood and real money looks like this:


Source: Werner Antweiler's Exchange Rate stats

[ published on Thu 09.10.2008 08:17 | filed in still-not-king | ]

Last Thursday Conny, Rob and I went for a day trip to Nth Stradbroke island, with a bit of fun (of all kinds) in the preceding afternoon.

click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Wed 08.10.2008 10:28 | filed in still-not-king | ]

I've got a netvista thinclient serving as jukebox in my bedroom. Recently I wanted to switch to a faster wireless adapter, which required moving to the 2.6 kernel series. This is especially painful for the netvistas, but nevertheless possible (despite some sources claiming that it won't work). Here's the rundown.
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Thu 10.04.2008 21:01 | filed in interests/comp | ]


For some unfathomable reason I found this gem in the pikiwedia entry on ducks highly hilarious.

A classic example of this problem....

[ published on Wed 17.09.2008 21:05 | filed in interests/humour | ]

(I know it, she knows I know it but still it can be said publicly ;-)
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Mon 15.09.2008 22:32 | filed in brainfarts | ]

...of blue bread here in Oz, it seems:

"AGB International...has recalled 13 brands of garlic bread after learning that the bread turns blue when heated."

Come on! Finally you've got at least some fun bread in this dreary place (dreary where Real Bread is concerned) and you do what, recall it?!? Spoilsports.

[ published on Fri 22.08.2008 11:17 | filed in interests/au | ]

I've got a new toy,
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Thu 21.08.2008 13:19 | filed in interests/comp | ]

I hate udev. It does not work in settings very crucial and important to me (ldap-nss) and it's a huge step back from hotplug in terms of useful functionality. Stupid complicated config environment, bloated and it does not load modules on demand. Dear udev authors: you can keep that crap and i'll stick to what works, is small and almost semi-elegant: hotplug.
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Mon 18.08.2008 13:40 | filed in interests/comp | ]

The object of my repair efforts this time: a Coleman Instant Hot Water system for camping. The product is nice, the company is lousy and unwilling to sell any spare parts; but that kind of plot does not work with me.
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Fri 01.08.2008 23:23 | filed in interests/tinkering | ]

damn this conroy idiot. not only will the stupid "cleanfeed" mandatory censored internet idea not work technically, it also makes no sense.

oh how i despise and hate these bastards! couldn't somebody pretty please invent a good tailored plague that kills off politicians and all the other power-lovers?

[ published on Wed 30.07.2008 10:09 | filed in interests/anti | ]

One thing I really dislike about Subaru is that they've changed the distance between the roof rails almost every model year - and that the precise distance is not stated anywhere publicly accessible. (The factory service handbook lists all kinds of measuring points but the roof rails aren't among those.)

Together with the fact that the cheap bastards sell the rail-equipped cars without crossbars by default, you get aftermarket hell: subtly different gear to be sold for every model year.

I resent that. A lot. And I'm certainly not willing to pay $270+ for a set of factory crossbars (or similar money for a non-sooby rack).

So looking for secondhand gear for your soobyroo is more annoying then necessary as you'll have to match the model year - or buy bars that are longer and cut the alloy part down a bit. For those who might consider this and want to know what you'd get with MY99-03 Outback/Liberty crossbars, here's the info: The front bar is longer, the alloy profile is 75.5cm long. The plastic/resin endpieces (screwed in) add up to a distance outside rail-outside rail of 90cm (inside-inside 84.5cm). The rear bar is 1.5cm shorter.

We now conclude this publice service information announcement.

[ published on Sun 27.07.2008 14:01 | filed in interests | ]

What a pity, it could have conveniently lost the Christian Chief Tosser out that nice, big hole. Instead they had to make do with losing some luggage, when the aging 747 lost a fair bit of its fuselage structure in a Earth Shattering Kaboom.

[ published on Fri 25.07.2008 22:06 | filed in interests/au | ]

keine ahnung ob diese Rosa Riedl auch ein schutzgespenst ist; den nervigen hausmeister-posten und gschau und gwand teilen sie ja eh schon - nur die strassenbahn zum drunterfallen fehlt uns hier...

[ published on Thu 24.07.2008 11:00 | filed in interests/humour | ]

If you got a spam with the above subject, which contains only the following lonely line

this is the proof, watch: http://someshitesite/video1.exe

would you visit that site? Yes? Really? Now that is what I'd call a self-fulfilling prophecy: you must be a total moron indeed to trust a spamster feeding you an executable. A slightly circular proof, but still QED; no pity from me and you deserve all the mess you'll get into.

The annoying bit is that there are sufficiently many morons out there to make this kind of crap work for the spamsters...

The human gene pool really needs a lot more chlorine.

[ published on Wed 02.07.2008 19:39 | filed in interests/anti | ]

I really hate working with visionaries, most specifically The One Whose Stuff Always Changes. To be more precise, I hate having to base production environments on TOWSAC's ever-morphing APIs and semi-complete implementations of things.
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Fri 20.06.2008 11:30 | filed in interests/anti | ]

I dislike throwing away repairable things. Like this old, very cheap but quite good knife (originally from Ikea): after more than a decade of daily use and the associated dunkings, the wooden handle had finally rotted away and split.

So I made a new grip: reused some wood reclaimed from a door frame, shaped it with my router, glued-and-screwed the grip halves on, sanded and lacquered the thing multiple times.

 new knife handle

Why? Because I can, because it is fun to (re)make things and because a well-made thing gives me satisfaction.

[ published on Sat 14.06.2008 17:36 | filed in interests/tinkering | ]

Rob gave me some promising (i.e. ring of fire) chili seeds a while ago, for planting behind my house. I successfully got them to sprout (I have anti-green thumbs and can kill off most types of plants, without meaning to but still easily), and a few days ago I planted them in 14 or so small batches.

 chili plants chili plants

This is how they looked like before I planted them. I'll keep you updated on how this planting experiment fares.

[ published on Sat 14.06.2008 17:04 | filed in interests/au | ]

Ebaypal are not allowed to go forward with their paypal-only scheme, says the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission aka the consumer watchdog. Schadenfreude is what I feel right now; in my opinion ebaypal deserve all the flak they get.

This pending ruling is welcome news, because (as I mentioned a few weeks ago) the extra mandatory fees make ebay vastly more unattractive to sell one-offs like I do occasionally. (What also sucks is ebay's sugary political correctness bullshit but that's a separate story.)

In the meantime I've gotten me an account at Oztion, the biggest(?) local alternative. As they only charge fees on successful sale (so far) and offer auto-relisting that's a vastly nicer environment for people like me who sell only odds and ends occasionally.

[ published on Sat 14.06.2008 16:19 | filed in interests/anti | ]

My Wheely King RC toy was a tad fast for crawling over obstacles and also lacked torque and endurance with the stock motor and batteries. Simple fix: I cooked up a cheap brushless motor setup.


  • one cheap Chinese 2830 outrunner (850KV, 58g, 3.17mm shaft): $20 with shipping
  • one fairly cheap Chinese/German ESC (speed controller) for brushless motors, $35 plus $15 shipping
  • smaller pinion gears, 12, 13, 14, 16 and 17 teeth: $20 plus $10 postage
  • some time for filing down the motor mount: dusty but free

Install the 14 tooth pinion. Mix and stir well. Season with absolutely incomprehensible Chinglish instructions for the ESC. Simmer on "Medium Angry" for a week. Find the German partner company who's responsible for the design of the ESC, and who has a manual in Real English. Turn off the heat, install, enjoy the slooooow speed at full blast. Up the pinion teeth, to 16. Reinstall, enjoy both the torque and fast-walking speed on full throttle.

 wk modded tranny plate brushless wk modded tranny plate brushless

Mounting the brushless dwarf was interesting, because it doesn't have the same screw pattern as the big 540-size original motor. It comes with a converter plate but using that the shaft is too short. So I made do with the smaller screw spacing. I simply filed away a fair bit of the motor mounting plate and then used a drilled steel washer as counter-piece for fastening the motor.

Getting the ESC to stop beeping and start working was almost as horrible as having to learn vi without a clue and a manual (ie. it beeps a lot but doesn't work, no matter what you do). Extremely frustrating. The thing being a very no-name non-brand, I even cut off the heatshrink to have a peek at the circuit board looking for manufacturer clues, but to no avail. Eventually and only because of a few really odd, happy circumstances I finally found out that it's one of these and got a working manual. Wohee, this actually works! I glued on an old heatsink block to the ESC's metal back plate and then closed it up again with transparent heatshrink tube. Looks neater than the original.

 wk brushless esc heatsink

Overall the result is very pleasant. Torque is way up, this ESC has a proper brake (which the original didn't have) and with the tiny brushless motor (a powerhouse despite weighing only a measly 58g) I get very nice long run times even with the old original nicad battery. The reduced weight up top helps too.

 wk brushless wk brushless
[ published on Fri 13.06.2008 00:06 | filed in interests/tinkering | ]

As mentioned a few days ago I've just escaped the clutches of our telco monopolist - successfully I should say. Here are my experiences with the Telstra Elimination Project.
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Thu 12.06.2008 23:15 | filed in interests/au | ]

We're back, connected once again: some techie must have been in the neighbourhood saturday night, because Saturday 2138 line-sync suddenly reappeared, and today I finished setting up the remaining bits (e.g. inbound POTS-to-VOIP etc.) and verified that Internode didn't make a mess of their part of the service conversion.

Looks all mostly good, except line attenuation has jumped up 10dB (without the previously required inline filter), which makes little sense, and sits now at 50dB downstream. This sucks as it severly limits the achievable sync speeds and makes things a tad more brittle. Ticket open, we'll see.

[ published on Sun 08.06.2008 19:44 | filed in still-not-king | ]

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