Tag Archives: Technology

Stupid computer

I have mentioned before I think…I host this blog on a machine in my office.  There is no real reason why I do that, other than to say that I do.  In reality, it would be smarter, cheaper and safer to host it like most people do…on a server somewhere out there in the cloud on a  machine that other people manage.  I am not too smart though so I am going the stupid, more expensive, dangerous route.


So, let’s assume for my vanity’s sake that anyone on the planet noticed that my blog has been sort of “up and down” the past few weeks.  It turns out that one of the hard drives in my web server machine was failing.  Some mornings, I showed up to work to find that the server had crashed.  At first I though there was some sort of magical power flicker or battery back-up hiccup.  Finally, after weeks of ignoring the death screen that presented itself after each crash, I took the time to read the error which clearly said the hard-drive was dying.

Luckily, I have a process where I take a snap-shot or image of the server periodically.  It’s a somewhat fancy way of taking  a backup that can be used to quickly restore a dead server’s data to a new machine.  I finally bit the bullet and got a new machine.  With the image I had created, I was able to create a virtual machine of the image…all that means is that I could basically make one machine run a sort of virtual copy of the other machine.  It’s as if the original dying machine still existed but is now running on a new machine.  The cool part is that if this new machine dies, I just have to copy the virtual machine to  a new machine and start it all up.  From now on, I can literally lose my server and be back in business 10 minutes after I power on a new machine.

Of course, the new machine failed this weekend too.  This was my fault though.  When you set up a new machine, the default setting is to let Windows Updates run automatically. That’s the safe and recommended thing for most machines/people.  It’s a drag for things like my web server though.  Lots of updates installed and my machine rebooted.  Of course, the virtual machine that runs was not set to start up automatically so while my host machine came back up, the virtual machine that runs on the host and that powers my blog did not.  So…I was down again all weekend…hopefully all of that is fixed now and we should be back in business…gee whiz…

Played it til our fingers bled…

I never really understood the Bryan Adams song, Summer of ’69 where he talks about playing his guitar until his fingers bled. I mean, first of all, how? And secondly, why? I just never understood what it meant to play a guitar I guess. Fast forward to this week. I have long wanted to tinker with playing bass guitar. I don’t know why but I just like the sound of bass. They say a lead guitar gets the girls but a bass guitar gets the gigs. I don’t really want either but I think I would prefer gigs over girls since I sort of like the girl I have. So, by dumb luck (the best kind of luck), I discovered Rocksmith 2014, a “game” that works on all of the various gaming consoles. I happened to have a little extra money that I had been saving up so I hooked dumb luck together with extra money and bought a new bass guitar and Rocksmith 2014 for the XBox!

Fender Jazz Bass
Fender Jazz Bass

We hooked it all up the other night and started playing. You see, the game comes with a cable that allows players to hook a real guitars (bass or 6-string)  into the system so a real guitar becomes the game controller.

Playing Rocksmith 2014 on new bass
The game screen

It’s pretty cool how game-play merges with guitar-play. Basically the player sees notes coming down the screen and has to adjust fingerings and hit the string at the right time. The system picks it up and measures tone, accuracy, timing, etc and adjusts the notes to the player’s accuracy.  There are a number of different songs that span the 80s through today.  It doesn’t teach players to read music but it does build experience with playing notes on a real guitar and teaches a form of tab playing for guitar (check out this guy playing).

Playing Rocksmith 2014 on new bass
Get outta my way Dad!

So, Isaac, Abigail and I played for a few hours the other night and had a lot of fun.  I kid you not, though…my fingers are still numb!  I stopped before my fingers bled (I am sharp that way) but now I definitely get that there is a painful part of playing guitar that I hope will be overcome with callouses and experience.  I don’t know if I will ever amount to much as a rock star, but I am sure enjoying the chance to play now and the kids and I get a lot of time to goof around together!  With my playing, it is more likely that our ears will bleed than our fingers!

Can you hear me now?

Isaac was born early and under very hard conditions.  You can read most of the details here.  We had to make many hard decisions and face many hard realities when he was born.  We were told that he would likely have a variety of issues that might present themselves as a result of his premature birth and the subsequent treatment to save his life.

Hearing aid box
His hearing aids came in a cool box!

As it turns out, Isaac does have one issue that resulted from some of his treatments.  During his time in the NICU when he was most critical, we had to sign several releases acknowledging that some of the meds they were giving Isaac may result in his being deaf.  In fact, he does have moderate hearing loss in both ears and it centers around higher frequencies…right where most voices tend to fall.  As you can imagine, that makes school and sports teams and even home life sort of interesting.

Hearing aids are not noticeable
You can barely see the wire into his ear

Now Isaac has never been a particularly organized kid.  He loses his shoes almost daily.  Sometimes he even misplaces his toothbrush if you can imagine.    We were hesitant to get him hearing aids when he was younger for that reason.  Now that he is in middle school though, he seems to be rounding the corner on keeping track of himself.  The school situation was becoming more of an issue as well.  The county had been making accommodations for him and provided in-school sound systems in his classrooms but it became hard to manage and he didn’t enjoy the extra attention that went along with it.

Hearing aid behind his ear
The only visible part and he may just grow his hair out some

So, we decided it was time to do something.  Last week, Isaac was fitted for new hearing aids for both ears.  They are very inconspicuous and work super well.  I think the best thing was when we first walked outside from the doctor’s office.  The office is near an interstate and Isaac stepped out and immediately looked around, sort of confused.  He asked me what the hum was.  He was truly shocked and neither of us realized how much he had been missing…I only wish his first “sound realization” had been something other than the traffic noise from the interstate.  Still, it sort of made me happy just to see that he was finally going to hear like me!

Tuned in

I was a weird kid…ask anyone.  Some would argue I am still am weird.  They are probably right.  Anyhow, when I was a kid, I had a small black transistor radio from Sears that Santa brought.  I listened to classical music frequently on it.  I also listened to Charlie Pride and CCR on 8 track so I had a diverse listening experience as a kid.  Anyhow, back to that transistor radio.  I loved that radio and loved the smell of the ozone it generated (or whatever that smell that old electronics make).  Surely I am not the only one who knows and likes that smell?  I (somewhat) understand how radio waves work but I remain amazed at how people talking somewhere in the world can end up talking through the little speaker in my hand.

Juliette shortwave radio
My $1 Juliette shortwave radio!

Fast forward to now.  I have a little bit of extra money now and then and my fascination with radios is being reborn.  I got my ham radio license a few months ago and that started me learning more about radios and antennae and stuff.  So, with that extra money I mentioned a moment ago, I went junkin’ a few months ago and found a 40ish year old shortwave radio…for $1!

Aircastle shortwave radio
My $7 Aircastle shortwave radio!

Just this weekend, I was driving by another pile of junk someone had for sale sitting out by the road.  I spotted another old shortwave radio and whipped the car around to check it out…for a mere $7 I bought another 40ish year old shortwave radio.  Both radios are in pretty awesome shape and tune very well.

Tuner on Juliette shortwave radio

Tuner on Aircastle shortwave radio

Aren’t those faces just beautiful

I have a third more modern shortwave radio which is nice and all but punching in frequencies on the keyboard just doesn’t have that old fashioned radio feel and the new radio doesn’t make that old radio smell.  I love to stoop in near the radio with my ear to the speaker as I slowly and carefully turn the dial listening for anything interesting.

Tecsun PL-380 shortwave radio
My modern but boring to tune shortwave radio!

I have all of my radios on a table in the living room and when the lights are dimmed a little and I can spend a few minutes tuning in the world, the world feels a little smaller…and a lot more crazy!  Seriously, have you ever listened to shortwave?  There are lots of crazy folks on there.  Still, there is even more awesome stuff broadcast on shortwave and I love searching for every bit I can find!

Does anyone else listen to shortwave (or any band in addition to AM/FM)?

J-pole II

After I did some looking around and talking to a fellow ham, I made some significant changes to my j-pole antenna.   You may say to yourself, “self, what did Warren change on that antenna?  It looks the same.”  Well dear friends, I made it flexible.  You see, an antenna is not naturally born tuned. There are fancy tools to let a builder know when the antenna is running on all cylinders.  A big part of what makes my antenna work is related to measurements.  In particular, that little wire that goes across from the long pole to the short pole of the antenna.  Moving it up and down makes a difference when tuning in Taiwan as the kids say.

soldering the center wire to the SO-239 connector on the j-pole antenna
The SO-239 connector on the j-pole antenna
BNC cable attached to the j-pole antenna
I can move the connections up or down the poles

My original version was wrong on many levels but one of the biggest issues was that the little wire between the poles was fixed.  Now, I can move the wire up and down when I get one of the antenna tuning tools (an swr meter if you care).  I am not sure if I will be able to tune in Taiwan but I may get outside of Kanawha county!

Another view of the j-pole antenna
Another view of the antenna...'cause it's pretty
Another view of the j-pole antenna
Sorry about the dog butt

I still don’t know what I am doing really but I am able to follow the FCC regulations and have met a number of folks on the air who have been fun to talk with and have been willing to help me with information and encouragement.  Emily ad I sometimes sit on the couch and text each other.  I think the next step is to get her licensed so we can talk over radio on the couch.  What do you think?

Where are you spaceman?

So I mentioned a few weeks ago that I passed my technician class HAM radio test.  It took me a few weeks to get my call sign and ticket (my paper license) but I am now on the air.  While waiting on the FCC to issue my license, I researched radios and decided on getting a Handi-talkie (aka HT).  Basically, it is a hand-held radio that is a typical beginner radio.  I ordered a Wouxon KG-UVD1P which translates to the cheapest radio that had fairly good reviews (There is your Chinese lesson for the day).

My new Wouxon radio

That’s my new radio…yes, it’s on a new beehive

It took awhile to figure out what I was doing with this radio but a lot of that was really just learning how HAM radio in general works.  I had to research PL tones and offsets and repeaters and then figure out how to translate that to my radio.  Luckily Wouxon provides free software to assist in programming the radio from a computer…if you buy their $15 cable.  It was a bargain I soon found out!

So, I have been talking to (and listening to) lots of local folks on the local repeater.  A repeater is a system that “listens” on a particular frequency and re-broadcasts the signals it receives.  My HT can only transmit over a fairly limited distance, especially in these WV hills.  The frequency band in which I am licensed to transmit typically only works with 50 miles or so max.  As I advance, I will get licensed to talk at the frequencies that people use when they communicate globally, but for now I must communicate through the repeater…mostly.

My j-pole antenna

I was listening on the repeater the other night when “they” announced that the International Space Station would be passing overhead between 6:06 and 6:12 am today.  My HT does ok with its stock antenna but I figured I would need to beef things up if I was going to hear the astronauts, many of whom are licensed HAMs.  I searched around online and found plans to make a j-pole antenna tuned for the 2-meter radio band in which I am licensed and in which the ISS would possibly be communicating.

Close-up of my j-pole antenna
All these pipes have to be just the right length

I bought copper and connectors and a candy bar and worked on my new antenna.  I even used the metric system!  Anyhow, late last night in the dark, I was outside soldering copper pipe to be ready.  I hooked my radio to the new antenna and tested it last night and everything seemed to work well.  I could hear locals talking loud and clear.

The alarm went off at 5:45 am so I hustled outside, plugged in to my new antenna and listened…and listened…and listened.  Finally at 6:20 I gave up.  I was pretty bummed…mainly because of all of the sleep I missed but I am still pleased that I was able to build a nice and portable j-pole antenna.  So, if you see a handsome bald man wandering the streets of Charleston looking to the sky, calling out to spacemen, it is definitely not me…do not make eye contact…take shelter immediately!

Ham it up

I was in grad school in computer science a bunch of years ago and one of the professors was into amateur radio (AKA Ham radio).  I went into his office early one morning to talk with him about how to get started in the hobby.  We were doing a bunch of electronics projects and some pretty cool stuff in his class so amateur radio seemed like a pretty natural step.  He pretty much said I shouldn’t bother…get a cell phone and forget about it.

Well I showed him!  Last weekend I went to a cram course for the technician class ham radio license and I passed!  I am now a licensed ham operator!  I do have a cell phone so it may seem pretty weird why I bothered getting into amateur radio too.  I think the best answer is because I can.  I also like the idea of being able to communicate with people all over apart from the cellular network.  I also still like the challenge of building electronic circuits and learning new stuff like I did in Professor CellPhone’s class.

My father-in-law also wanted to become a licensed ham operator since he was a kid and he is also licensed now too!  I figure we will probably talk to each other a lot at first as we try to learn how this whole process works.  There really is a lot to amateur radio and apparently the FCC takes a lot of it very seriously…I’ll have to be careful not to have an audio Janet-Jackson-in-the-Super-Bowl moment on air!

There is a lot to learn so I am in search of an Elmer – a ham willing to help a newbie learn the ropes.  Much like beekeeping, it seems that the number of people entering the hobbies are declining.  I do not fully understand why but I hope to do my part to keep both hobbies middle-age friendly!

Apple of my eye

I got a camera quite awhile ago (the beginning of December) and have tinkered some with it but never bothered to read the manual.  Having a full male chromosome set, that should surprise no one I suppose.  I had a thing I had to do for work that required a few pictures which were turning out terribly and I was sure it was because of the settings I was using.  The camera is supposedly decent (and it had better be for the price I paid) so I knew it was capable of taking ok pictures.

Macro picture of an apple Macro picture of Emily's eye

After I found the manual holding up the table leg in the basement craft area, I discovered that I was in fact using improper settings.  I also discovered that I could take macro pictures.  I also learned that many cameras have a macro setting (it’s the picture of the flower on the settings dial) that really takes nice close-up pictures.  It may not be as nice as a true macro lens on a fancy camera but I was pretty happy with the discovery nonetheless!

These views don’t really do the pics justice…click on each of them for the larger view…I was sort of blown away!

Solar Powered Electric Fence

Part of moving the bees to our place in the country is so they can be out of town and away from people.  Of course, getting away from people means getting them closer to good old mother nature herself.  For anyone who has read Winnie the Pooh, you know that bears like honey when they get a rumbly in their tummies.

Bears don't read very well...

Not much will really stop a hungry bear, but the official recommendation is to enclose all “country bees” in an electric fence.  When a bear attacks a hive, the bees always come out in great number to ward off the attack.  Bear fur is typically too thick to present a problem.  The only sensitive place on a bear is apparently their nose/mouth area.  While my electric fence is a little more “juiced” than a bee sting, most folks agree that a bear has to learn about the fence with their mouth or nose.  I’ll talk more about that another time, but it makes sense that an electric fence properly set up should deter all the Poohs out there.

So, you may be wondering how solar power can deliver enough juice to make a bear even notice it was there.  It turns out that the people who make electric fence controllers make a version that runs on DC (i.e. deep cycle batteries, not house current which is AC).  The controller I bought is designed to power up to 25 miles of fence.  All told, I have maybe 1000 feet of wire strung on a few poles, so the charger will deliver a good shot when it fires.  I won’t bore you with the calculations about the capacity of the battery but it is roughly the size of a car battery just for perspective (a car’s starter battery would not work here though…this application needs a long continuous  draw on the battery rather than the quick hit when you start a car)

The battery, fence controller, and charge controller

The instructions show that the fence will run for 2 weeks on a fully charged battery of the proper specs but I do not want to have to worry about whether the battery is still charged if I don’t make it out there for a few weeks.  Instead, I bought a solar panel and a charge controller to keep the battery full.

See? It's pointed south

I pointed my solar panel south and angled it to the optimal angle to get direct sun.  Output wires from the panel go into the charge controller which regulates the power going into the battery.  The charge controller makes sure the power is the proper voltage and that the battery does not get over or under charged. The charge controller also has a “load” connection so I connected the fence controller to that connection and we’re off and running!  All of the charging/controlling/shocky-shocky stuff is inside a beehive surrounded by my other beehives as a sort of a theft deterrent.

Oh, by the way, without thinking I tried to use a regular household switch at the gate to turn the power on and off.  Of course, the fence controller pushes somewhere around 10,000 volts which didn’t even slow down for the switch rated for household current of 110 volts.  If you want a switch, make sure you get one rated properly…same with any wire you may need to use (I only used fencing wire which handles the charge nicely)

So, I hope some of that makes sense.  So far it is alive and well.  Let me know if you want more details…

100% Kindle enabled

On Christmas day, 75% of our family was connected to the great bookstore in the sky…Amazon.com.  Emily and the kids each got kindles for Christmas.  I think we were all pretty skeptical when we first started thinking about this evil magic but Emily’s mom and my mom each got kindles and they seemed to like them.  The kids begged to read on theirs each time we saw them so we thought it might be worth a try.

Emily opened hers on Christmas morning and sort of gave a scowl…much like when I gave her a frying pan for Valentine’s day.  Rats…I blew it again.  Still, she turned it on and started reading the book that I had bought and installed.  She came out of hiding a day and a half later!  Maybe a kindle was better than a frying pan!  Isaac did the exact same thing so I knew his gift was a hit too!

Before Abigail had a chance to even turn hers on, I commandeered it and downloaded a bunch of books and hid from her while I read.  She finally tracked me down and insisted that I return her kindle so she could use her Christmas present.

Dang kids who read…well, I had to order my own.  Yesterday I received my kindle from the kind UPS driver and moved all of my stuff to it.  Of course, I had to take all of my stuff off of Abigail’s kindle.  She finally got it back right before bed last night.  Was that mean?  I think it will make her appreciate being able to use her Christmas present even more today!

Well, we do read a lot and I guess you could say we are 100% kindle enabled finally.  Thank you great bookstore in the sky.  Thank you for giving us cheaper books at the touch of a button.  But please great bookstore, please make it just a little harder to buy a book…we are becoming addicted and the credit card on file doesn’t seem to know how to say stop!