I enjoy technical challenges...if and when I succeed eventually. This posting may be a technical challenge for you, but watch me not care. Some of you may appreciate the information and that's good enough for me. So, if you're interested in homegrown MP3 music boxes, Linux on Netvistas, PIC microprocessors, RS-232, infrared remote controls, and what an obtuse idiot I occasionally am, read on!

(As always I also hand out the involved source code, which might come handy if you want to build something similar.)
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Mon 17.12.2007 13:30 | filed in interests/tinkering | ]

From cryptome:

A federal judge in Vermont has ruled that prosecutors can't force a criminal defendant accused of having illegal images on his hard drive to divulge his PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) passphrase. U.S. Magistrate Judge Jerome Niedermeier ruled that a man charged with transporting child pornography on his laptop across the Canadian border has a Fifth Amendment right not to turn over the passphrase to prosecutors. The Fifth Amendment protects the right to avoid self-incrimination.
[ published on Mon 17.12.2007 10:51 | filed in interests/crypto | ]

I have a new car (new for me, that is; June 2000 was its birthday).

 2007_12_16-subaru-side.jpg  2007_12_16-subaru-rear.jpg

As you can see the rego is "554 JTH", which I've decided stands for "Just Tell HAL": the car has a few very stupid gimmicks.

The first and foremost is HAL, the climate control system. It's a completely stupid FPOS and works only properly when lobotomized (aka non-auto mode). Asking gargle about HAL is enlightening.

Here's a pic of HAL de-brained, which is actually part of the major disassembly job that is required to install a car radio. HAL lives in that innocuously looking top box with the LED blinkenlight panel.


The radio install was...painful. First I couldn't get a matching wiring harness and had to solder up my own (cursing the idiots at VDO for mislabelling the ISO connector pins in their excuse for a manual), then I needed to make an antenna extension (the previous radio, a clarion with cd but no mp3 capability used an odd diversity antenna setup: there's two coax cables in the car, no idea if both are active - anyway, the antenna is in-glass, performs ok and one of the coaxes worked). Then of course the dismantling and reassembly job times two (because I ripped it apart yesterday but couldn't finish and put it back together then), plus trying to figure out where to put the UHF radio later on. Anyway, we have sound. And I'm in control of it.

The next gimmick I could do easily without, thank you very much, is the hill-holder. No, stupid car, I want you not to keep applying the brakes after I lift my foot and until I let the clutch go, I want you to roll. Roll, goddammit! ROLL! Do I have to push? ROLL! I can hill-start on my own (and without handbrake), and if I wanted such gadgetry I would have bought a bloody automatic! I don't and so I didn't.

Most of the other features are quite ok. What wasn't ok was that some idiot mechanic, wannabe or detailer had disconnected the fuel pressure regulator vacuum hose from the inlet manifold and left it to dangle in the wind: idle a tad high and slow to return on stopping, lousy starting behaviour. I found and fixed the dangling hose when hunting for the fuel filter (which this oz model apparently didn't get? Silly, as if this place wasn't dusty and dirty... And I had bought a replacement filter already, well maybe I'll retrofit it) in order to figure out the odd starting behaviour.

The 2652 pages of factory service manual that I sucked earlier came already very handy for figuring out where the hose should go. The result was immediately improved starting and lower/better idling. Very good.

As to HAL, well, at least there is the "Lobotomy, Now!" button. BTW, this is how the system is supposed to work; a fairly rotten setup if you ask me. Consequentially, this is how it actually works out for most Outback/Legacy/Liberty/Forester owners:

The Outer Limits Control Voice... "There is nothing wrong with your ACC. Do not attempt to adjust the settings. We are controlling operation. If we wish to make it warmer, we will bring up the heat. If we wish to make it colder, we will set it to 65. We can reduce the fan to a soft breeze, or sharpen it to full blast. We will control the vents. We will control the AC. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you feel and hear. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind of the Legacy Automatic Climate Control to... your rarely comfortable body."
[ published on Sun 16.12.2007 23:25 | filed in brainfarts | ]

Having two credit cards is fine. Paying them off in total every month is even better. Using them for big payments every now and then is convenient. But having done just that and transferring the (large) amount you owe on one to the other account hurts.

The hassle to get your money back out of the overpaid account is...priceless.

[ published on Sun 16.12.2007 09:43 | filed in still-not-king | ]

Toasting bread conducts more than 30mA.
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Sun 16.12.2007 09:01 | filed in still-not-king | ]

Robert Scheck suggested that I get rid of a (justified) compiler warning in pam_recent by logging only sensible things. Here's the updated version.

[ published on Tue 11.12.2007 21:37 | filed in mystuff | ]

...bank, that is. I just bought this mobile contraption. Should get it around Wednesday. Test-driving it was fine except for the noncooling aircon which will be fixed before I get the car.

[ published on Mon 10.12.2007 18:00 | filed in still-not-king | ]

The QLD Transport Authority was (or still is?) running one of those safety awareness campaigns, with the slogan "Rest or R.I.P.", complete with huge billboard ads showing a white pillow and said slogan.

(see pg. 5 of this flyer for an idea of how that looks).

Driving up to Ikea and rob's place yesterday, I went past the driver training centre at Mt. Cotton, which sports such a huge billboard ad.

It also has a neighbour/vis-a-vis, which is announced on the road signs around the place in the same size as the training centre: the neighbour is a crematorium. Driver training turn left, Crematorium turn right. Easy, but don't you forget it!

I wonder which institution was there first, and who decided to show that particular ad facing the road and the crematorium.

Apropos billboards and coppers:

[ published on Thu 06.12.2007 14:44 | filed in interests/humour | ]

No idea whether the new overlords will be any better than the old ones, but the gnome is certainly sulky: he's ordered his minions to take down the official website of the prime minister and replace it with a fairly childish bit of text. Defeated indeed!

[ published on Tue 27.11.2007 12:25 | filed in interests/anti | ]

A bit over a week ago I mentioned that my washing machine has decided to die - well, to forget how to spin-dry, which amounts to the same. The off-balance detection was stuffed: it would start the motor in high-speed mode but switch off after <1s, repeat 3x, give up and hand me soaking clothes. (Same behaviour with an empty tub.)

The two-year warranty ran out a year ago (no surprise here). So I dismantled the machine and checked sundry other things (like inspecting/reseating the motor brushes) but couldn't find any mercury switch or other obvious means of detecting a bouncing tub. Accordingly, I couldn't fix it directly.

I have no precise idea how they detect an out-of-balance tub, except that the motor has a hall-effect rpm sensor which I think could work (assuming that the tub slows down and speeds up asymmetrically if it's wobbling). Net result of X hours of ripping apart, tracing wires and so on: all inspectables are fine but it still won't work. The only remaining part was the part-mechanical-part-electronic control board, and these things usually aren't cheap.

After a long search I figured out the proper part number (the fact that the machine is a rebadged Electrolux didn't make that search any easier), and would have been able to buy it online at various overseas retailers...for about $150-200..

Luckily ebay came to the rescue: somebody sold one as new-old-stock locally for $50. Add $26 for express postage, 10min for installation and I have a washing washer again. Very nice.

[ published on Wed 21.11.2007 16:32 | filed in still-not-king | ]

This is not my month.
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Mon 12.11.2007 23:24 | filed in still-not-king | ]

This was actually quite fun to build, a quickly gratifying small job: how do you drive an LED from very little voltage (as in, a single 1.5V cell)? You can't do it directly because leds need more voltage (at least 1.6V for reds, above 3.0V for many/most whites).

So you need some booster circuit. Clive has a nice set of instructions for making what he calls a "Joule Thief", a simple inverter with three parts only: a centre-tapped inductor, a resistor and a transistor (He also has articles on other Must-Have Cool Things, like how to make a USB-powered turd).

For the ham-fisted among us, these guys show how to build the same setup with larger-sized parts.

I had a few minutes of nothing better to do this arvo, and built three variants with a fat 10mm white led: one hand-wound largish coil (2cm dia), one salvaged coil of similar size, and one smaller hand-wound one (0.9cm dia) with which the circuit wouldn't light up continuously.

For the adventurous, Dick Cappel has another set of really nice pages on similar projects, like the Rusty Nail LED inverter.

[ published on Sun 04.11.2007 21:03 | filed in interests/tinkering | ]

I mentioned the Wheely King toy I got recently, and that I can not leave it as it is; somebody like me simply must make things better and more fun. This is a recap of what I've done so far, with some notes as to what works and what doesn't.
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Mon 29.10.2007 23:04 | filed in interests | ]

A mnemonic I memorized once for recalling the layers of the OSI model. Unfortunately it seems to be true outside of the OSI/ISO academentia, too: I'm missing two recently acquired ebay bargains...


[ published on Thu 11.10.2007 01:48 | filed in brainfarts | ]

Not for me. For him, apparently.

And of course, here's the Obxkcd:


You should have a look at the title attribute (mouseover usually shows it) that Randall has come up with.

[ published on Thu 11.10.2007 01:42 | filed in interests/humour | ]

Daylight is fine, but darkness isn't to be frowned at. If you have LEDs, that is.
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Sun 07.10.2007 01:20 | filed in interests/tinkering | ]

Rob gave me a 1GB clonepod. Its Chinese designers made a number of...questionable design decisions, and as a result the player was somewhat broken when I got it.
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Sun 07.10.2007 00:51 | filed in interests/tinkering | ]

Just had the joy of having to deal with the backscatter of a spam run with addresses from my domains (nonexistent boxes though) as sender. And while my Mimedefang setup is reasonably sophisticated, that run actually showed yet another minor loophole.

Minor as in "nothing bad happens that affects the public" but not minor otherwise: I got postmaster-bounces of every single "thanks for your bounce of the spam, but there is no such address here anyway". About 200 of them every few minutes.

Well, no longer. Mimedefang now fully checks whether cyrus boxes exist before letting sendmail get its greedy paws on the stuff. Still, the effort necessary to keep the assholes out but the good mail arriving at the same time is quite annoying.

[ published on Thu 04.10.2007 13:27 | filed in brainfarts | ]

A few months ago, I made a simple PIC-based POV toy for my daughter. Here are some building notes, photos and code of course.
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Tue 02.10.2007 13:12 | filed in interests/tinkering | ]

Mucking out the garbage box, I saw this spam/scam/whatever junk today:

Subject: Not for oversmart people

I think so, too. :-)

[ published on Fri 28.09.2007 11:20 | filed in brainfarts | ]

When I was a kid, radio control gear cost lots, even toy-grade stuff; the one time I got a toy rc car was therefore quite a letdown: it was a horrible piece of junk.

Now I've got such a tinkertoy again, a big rc car. But this time it's far from toy-grade, and I'm already in the process of modifying it. This is so much fun! giggle
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Fri 28.09.2007 01:15 | filed in interests | ]

Geeks are suckers, perfectionists like me even more so. But even I learn: I've had enough of doing the web and registration backend work and hosting for the Canungra Cup, they can look for another idiot who does the work for nothing. Come the 31.10. and I will flush the site down the drain, and GOOD RIDDANCE! Well, SEP.

In other club-related news, they've decided to ban RC planes at Beechmont, for "safety reasons". Damn but this sucks!

[ published on Mon 24.09.2007 17:23 | filed in interests/flying | ]

The Ten Step program for a Happy Bright Future (the American way).

There's no chance in hell that I will be visiting these parts of the world anytime soon.

[ published on Mon 24.09.2007 11:55 | filed in interests/anti | ]

The Worst Journey In The World by Cherry-Garard, about Scott's Antarctic trips, courtesy of Project Gutenberg
Antarctic Conquest by Finn Ronne (and L. Sprague de Camp)
The South Pole by Amundsen
...lots of stuff by G. Dargaud about the French/Italian Concordia Station, and by Bill Spindler about the American Pole Station

plus Stanley-Robinson's Antarctica; which is (science)fiction but nevertheless very nice.

[ published on Mon 24.09.2007 00:53 | filed in interests | ]

Silastic RTV sealant is very useful, even if a third of the tube has already vulcanized...
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Sat 22.09.2007 17:56 | filed in interests/tinkering | ]

Rob gave me his surplus nice caliper (Thanks again, BTW!).
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Sat 22.09.2007 17:47 | filed in brainfarts | ]

It's amazing what they managed to squeeze out of that poor 6502...

[ published on Sat 22.09.2007 16:53 | filed in interests/comp | ]

Consider this: you have a nine or ten year old, originally fairly cheap vacuum cleaner, which has a busted floor head, a broken handle piece and a dud cable retract. Apart from those problems, it sucks, a lot :-)

Aldi/Hofer has a new vacuum on sale for $39. What do you do?
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Thu 20.09.2007 01:33 | filed in interests | ]

On my recent trip to Austria I got exposed to/fed a bunch of really nice musical stuff. Thanks go to Nina, Julia and Tamara (in no particular order).
click here for the rest of the story...

[ published on Wed 19.09.2007 16:07 | filed in brainfarts | ]

If you have a laminate floor, solidly installed skirting boards and a computer with rattly fans nearby, then a microwave termite detector may indicate movement where there is none (or at least nothing critter-caused).

I had the annual inspection and general spray today, and that reading made for a few interesting moments; I immediately ripped the skirting boards off in the relevant spot and as hoped we didn't find any indication of trouble.

[ published on Wed 19.09.2007 13:25 | filed in still-not-king | ]

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