Look what I found in the woods!

P5010027One of the things I like best about the Geocache caches is that they’re rarely placed in random places without anything interesting around them. Last week I visited a spot in Northboro where a storm in the late 80’s flattened 5+ acres of pine trees with a microburst.

Today’s hike and find involved going 2+ miles into the woods near Nobscot Mountain (it’s not much of a mountain, but it’s a great hike), not far from the famous Wayside Inn. There, buried deep in the woods with no markers or anything, I found… Fords Folly.

According to the geocache site, this structure was built in the 20’s by Henry Ford:

n 1923, Henry Ford stepped in to protect the Wayside Inn as a “splendid example of colonial America.” He purchased nearly 1500 acres surrounding the Inn, built a traditional New England style chapel, a field stone grist mill (rumored to be the “most photographed historic site”) and moved The Redstone School or “Little Red Schoolhouse” (of Mary and her little lamb fame) to its current site. In addition, Ford moved the old Parmenter-Garfield general store from Sudbury center to Marlboro and built “Ford’s Folly” (the 60 ft. dam up on Nobscott Mountain, so named for its refusal to hold water despite years of labor). Obsessed with historic authenticity, all construction and renovations had to be accomplished in “the traditional manner” using only man and oxen power.

Further information is available at Wikipedia about the Wayside and the abandoned dam.

When I saw the entry on the geocaching site, I was certainly NOT expecting to find a huge 30′ dam in the middle of the woods. The entire hike took about 3 hours total, including finding 3 geocaches along the route. gmaps-pedometer has the route, as best as I can map it. It clocked it out at 3.6 miles, but given all the twists and turns of the trail, as well as a couple forays to interesting vistas or other trails, the total hike was probably closer to 5 miles. It certainly ranks up there as one of the more tiring jaunts I’ve done, but the weather was perfect, the trees were all a-whistle with wind, and the bugs haven’t -quite- made it out yet.

Ubuntu Feisty Fawn Upgrade from Edgy Eft

Ubuntu installerBefore I scooted off on my last business trip, I got the little blinky notification on yawl that a full upgrade was available from Edgy Eft, the Linux distribution I was using, to the latest release, called by version number ‘7.04, but referred to as “Feisty Fawn“. I thought it would be a bad idea to do an entire OS upgrade just before I left on my trip, so I deferred the process until I had some more time this week.
On Thursday I decided it was time to hit the button, and off I went.

Continue reading “Ubuntu Feisty Fawn Upgrade from Edgy Eft”

Good things aligning.

It’s easy to gripe and moan and stone-kick when doing business travel. While it’s become routine for me, it’s really easy to fall into the “man this sucks. I miss my family” mindset. But this trip, I tried to schedule it carefully, work out what I was trying to accomplish, and stay focused on what needed to be done.

So here I am, on my way home, and generally, things worked out okay…

  • In three days, I got an enormous amount of JEE development and design done. Much code was checked in, it works, and the client is happy.
  • Designs I implemented almost two years ago in this project are coming to fruition. This week was the first time we discussed implementing the first application on the framework I designed. Everyone is excited.
  • Clipper continues to be a faithful companion, despite it’s handicap of running Windows.
  • On the way home, I’m able to stop at one of my favorite food establishments, and partake in a beef burger ritual.
  • Double bonus – said restaurant has an open WAP nearby. Thank you whoever you are.
  • From nowhere, a paying client has contracted with Stonekeep to do a series of large updates to Keystone. Wootie!
  • Mosaic is preparing for the final signoff on the design of our homes this Sunday. This is a huge step – it’s where we tell the architects “Go!” and step back to watch the fun.

All in all, a mighty good week. Now all I have to do is drive home in the rain. Fortunately, that’s what XM is for.

Windows USB Gripe dujour

A little further down the path spearheaded by my USB bus runneth over post, I’ve hit a snag that, while minor, is starting to infuriate me in that “little pointy bit in your clothing that keeps jabbing you” way.
When clipper is docked, the docking station links it up with the vast array of USB devices I have scattered about my desk. Windows usually happily gives me the ‘baDOINK!’ sound of “I just reconnected to something” and occasionally I’ll get the little popup window saying something has happened (like a network device came online).
Recently though, while the laptop is sitting idle, I’ll get the USB ‘baDINK…. baDOINK’ sound from Windows. This is the sound made when something disconnects and reconnects, usually via USB. Cept I haven’t touched anything.
Okay, fine, some USB device is in ‘marginal’ mode, or may not be powered properly, or I have a twitchy port. All I need to do is find out which device is it. So I went looking for how to do that.
And looked.
And looked some more.
There doesn’t seem to BE a way to find out what devices are connecting and disconnecting.
Sure, I can find out what Windows thinks is connected (My Computer->Properties->Hardware->Device Manager->USB), but that is a static reference. If the device disconnects while I happen to be looking at that screen, I’m not even sure if it’ll update dynamically. But remember, these disconnects are happening randomly. I’m not going to spend my day staring at a device screen. I have a life to live.
Okay, fine. Must be in the Event manager. A device being connected to the system or disconnected must log the event somewhere, right? Okay, off I go to the ever-so-easy-to-find Start->Settings->Control Panel->Administrative Tools->Event Viewer, where I see ‘Application’ ‘Security’ ‘System’ and ‘Internet Explorer’ (IE is apparently so important it ranks it’s own logging category. Go figure)
It was a good theory. These baDOINK / baDINK system events apparently happen without leaving any form of audit trail as to what’s happening. The Event Log shows things where I undocked and redocked the laptop, but there is no mention of any event around the time I -know- this sound was happening (Just after I went to bed last night, about 12:30am. It was easy to remember because it annoyed me, and I had to get up and turn the sound off on the laptop). Event log? “Nope, everything is COPACETIC man! Nothing wrong here!”
As a last slap in the face of Windows, how would I diagnose this problem in Linux?
$ tail /var/log/messages
No doubt Microsoft will come out, sometime in the future, with a USB Logging and Analysis tool for debugging missing USB events – furthering their pattern of system ‘improvement’ via the whack-a-mole technique.

Best Tech Decision in the last 10 years?

I’m beginning to think one of the most brilliant changes to come down the tech pike in the last 10 years is the realization that a USB port provides a nice steady 5 volts at 100ma of power to any device attached to it. The device can even request more current (up to 500ma).

Since just about every computer nowadays includes a USB port, most manufacturers of mobile equipment have made it so their equipment can recharge from an available USB port. For those of us who carry a lot of extraneous gear around, this has eliminated the need to haul a half dozen different power supplies along, and negated the need to invest in bulky and frequently twitchy “universal” power supply solutions.

For my part, here’s a list of gear I regularly carry around..

  • Treo 650 – with a retractible ‘sync / charger’ cable from Treonauts, I have one small cable I can use for hotsyncing and recharging.
  • Jabra BT500 headphone – Jabra thoughtfully provided a very short USB cable (about a foot long) that is perfect for just parking the headphone next to the laptop to recharge.
  • Sony MZ-RH1 MD recorder/player – This has been fantastic – though the recharging isn’t as fast as my Treo, the connector types are identical to my camera cable (and many other devices), so a special cable is not needed.

Because of this, the only ‘power’ supply I need to have with me is the one for my laptop.

All is not peaches and cream, however. My Olympus C-770 camera does not charge off the USB bus, unfortunately, and has resulted in me being stuck with a dead battery on more than one occasion. I chalk this to the relative agedness of the camera, and take heart in knowing that the NEXT camera I get will definitely have USB recharge capability.

Another spike in my Treo joy

As if the week couldn’t get even more enjoyable.
I’ve been frustrated trying to find free wireless hotspots during my travels. Frequently I find myself parked outside my son’s school waiting for him to finish up something, and would like to get online and do, you know, those things I do online. Mail… and stuff.
Glancing at my Treo the other day, I did the “Hey, wait a sec. I have broadband access on that. I should just be able to use it as my modem and connect up. Piece o cake!” realization.
Hah. Fool that I was.
Apparently the Treo 650 does not function as a broadband modem in ‘tethered mode’ (ala, via a USB cable). The Treo 700w and 700p do, but, ya know, I don’t have either of those. I could probably have used the Bluetooth DUN (Dial Up Networking) function in the phone, which was put there explicitly for this sort of operation, but Verizon, in it’s infinite… well, Verizon made a decision to deliberately disable that function (no one really knows why they’ve done this. One would assume it would drive -up- usage of the phone and broadband services, which would benefit… Verizon. )
I could also get one of Verizon’s PCMCIA broadband access cards, but that would require me to renew my contract for two years, fork over the $50 for the card (though this card is now outdated, I should get a newer one for $100), AND up my data plan to the ‘unlimited’ plan, which would increase my bill by $50 a month.
At the end of which, I’d still be stuck with a phone that is rapidly aging, and will most likely need to be replaced in the next 12 months.
Interestingly enough, Verizon is continuing this policy even with the 700-series, by disabling the DUN functions, so you’ll buy another 3g subscription. Can you feel the love?
I have little reason to think I’ll stick with Verizon for my phone and mobile data usage come mid-June.

Teeny wonderful games

I recently got pointed at an ongoing contest on Java Unlimited whereby folks are encouraged to write a game that compiles into less than 4k. The size is calculated based on the JAR file resulting from the build, and must include all graphics, sounds, and logic.
I recommend folks looking for some light entertainment go over and look through the various contest results (hint: sort the entrants by ‘DL’ (downloads), and look for the ones that have been downloaded the most – that usually indicates a good game).
The one that has me totally hooked is Miners4k (home page here). The feel of the game is similar to Lemmings and definitely has the “I’ll keep clicking for the next half hour and watch little guys moving” feel to it.
Other ones I recommend:
Pipe Extreme – Fly the pipe!
Cubis – A simple Cubis implementation
fuzetsu – Hard to explain, just try it.
As always, all these games run via webstart, so will work under windows, mac, and linux.

Boston and Boston Metro Coffeeshops

As part of my somewhat nomadic working style, I like getting out and about and spending time in local coffeeshops and restaurants. I can do 98% of my business from my laptop, therefore all I need is a comfortable environment, free wireless, and a good supply of coffee.The problem is, trying to actually FIND decent establishments to fill this need can be a real challenge. I’m not talking about Starbucks here – I’d rather support local businesses and encourage free wireless.

So in an effort to help out others with similar pursuits, here’s a list of free wireless coffeeshops and / or businesses that I’ve found comfortable for telecommuting or just ‘out of home’ work.

  • Continental Cafe
    Location / Website: Acton
    Private coffee shop, very comfortable, includes a deli.

  • Diesel Cafe
    Location / Website: Davis Square, Somerville (Warning: annoying flash website with sound :-/ )
    The current mecca point for Somerville / Cambridge area bohemians. Note – Diesel’s wireless is NOT actually free. But it’s a good place nonetheless.

  • Crown Plaza
    Location / Website: Natick, on Rt 9
    In-lobby comfortable seating, and a bar / restaurant along one side. Comfortable for meetings, work, and quietly getting things done.

  • Panera Bread
    Panera has many locations all over Boston, see this page to find one near you. Most have free wireless. I personally use the ones in Natick, Marlborough, and Burlington.

  • Bear Rock Cafe
    Location / Website: Leominster
    I found this place while over visiting my mom’s in Leominster. Interestingly, it was all of 40′ away from a Starbucks, but had free wireless and a full deli, and was doing good business.

  • Cafe Ziba
    Location / Website: Rt 2a in Acton
    I’ve never actually been here, but it was recommended.

  • The Java Room
    Location / Website: Chelmsford
    A nice shop out on 495, comfortable and good coffee.

If you know of others in the area, leave them in comments, and I’ll continue updating the list…

XM Advertising Execs – Ignorance is… something

The folks over at XM Radio really need to copy edit their advertising.
On the way home from picking up the kids in the carpool, I’m listening to XM, when I hear an ad for XM’s MLB channels. Now I’m all for baseball… it rocks, particularly when the Sox beat the tar out of the Yankees, but… when the ad copy says, and I’m quoting from memory here…

Coming to you from 22 million miles overhead… MLB Baseball, XM Channel 175

I had no idea that they were putting satellites well outside the orbit of the moon.
Snarks aside, XM provides services via two satellites in geosynchronous position over the equator (interestingly called ‘Rhythm’ and ‘Blues’. Geosync satellites orbit the earth at the same speed the earth is rotating, so they appear ‘stationary’ over one point on the planet. To do this, they have to orbit at an altitude of approximately 22,000 miles. (that’s thousand, not million).
I guess accurate copy just doesn’t make very interesting ads.

Build Your Own Electric Motor

This Sunday Zach comes into my room asking about how he can further his plans to build his own space ship. He was looking for motors and wings and combustibles. Boy is ready to go. After some discussion, he asked “Dad, I understand electricity, and how power gets to motors and batteries and lights, but how does the electricity make the motor turn?”
I hearkened back to my physics class days and remembered building my own motors out of nails, dowels, and simple power sources. A little digging on the net brought us to this series of pages, where you could assemble a small motor in about an hour using some wire, paperclips, a magnet, and a battery.
Zach was all over it, and about an hour later, we happily had a spinning rotor running on my desk. He understood how brushes are used to reverse the polarity of the rotor as it passes the magnet, and we had an example of a wire coil acting as an electromagnet. We also had a direct example of what happens when a motor gets power applied to it but is not actually turning, in the form of nice curling smoke. That was a nice object lesson, for sure.
All in all, a really interesting exercise, and I still like seeing the little spinning wire object whirring away. “I made that. Cool.”

Review: Bang! Howdy

A long time ago on a laptop far far away, I chanced across a new game called Puzzle Pirates. It was from a new outfit on the block calling themselves Three Rings. It looked fun, and even better, ran on Mac, Linux, and Windows without problems due to the wonderous portability of Java. I was impressed then, but stopped playing after a year or so and moved on.
Now ThreeRings has done it again with a new game called Bang! Howdy. Lets take a look…

Continue reading “Review: Bang! Howdy”

A smirk for the morning

From a conversation with Kevin about his final decision to punt windows and move on to better things…

nickhalfasleep sez:
Amazon users who bought a mac also purchased:
* Beret
* Black Sweater
* Smug attitude

While that certainly brought me a chuckle, the conversation definitely let me hash out bits about the triumphs and the pitfalls of abandoning the great satan (and I don’t mean the US government). The path away from Windows has always included Macs as a destination, but IMHO, until OSX was rolled out, that path could not be seen as a serious alternative.
What’s interesting now is watching how the bar has been raised on (dare I say) ‘both’ alternate environments. Linux and OSX. Both have matured enormously in the last 5 years, from ‘toys’ and ‘hacker student environments’ into true enterprise class platforms, while in all honesty, Windows has changed little.