You might be a Geek Fogie if…

With a nod to Jeff Foxworthy, I hereby present a couple ideas on how to tell if you might be an old-fart geek fogie…

  • If everytime you hit CTRL-ALT-DELETE, you expect to see Sidekick pop up for a second.
  • If you ever owned a a paper punch specifically for double-siding your floppy disks.
  • If you remember your amazement at copying a diskette using ONLY four disk swaps.
  • If you find yourself thinking that a Telebit Trailblazer would really speed up your internet use.
  • If you ever rented a truck to get a computer that someone was ‘just giving away’.
  • If you have to fight the urge to make FWEEEEE SCHHRRKKKRRRK noises whenever you hear an ATM or a Fax machine in use.
  • If you have ever uttered the phrase “Yeah, but the Newton was better.”
  • If you refuse to throw out disks for machines that haven’t been manufactured in over two decades.
  • If you know what ^X^Cc means.
  • If you remember the first time you bought a color monitor. Double points if you’re still paying for it. Special bonus points if you still have it.
  • If you find yourself in the middle of a problem, and being tempted to type ‘S..TILTOWAIT’
  • If you have ever personally owned an entire DEC documentation set, and thought it was the coolest thing in the world.
  • If you remember getting your first hard drive, and amazing your friends with comments like “This thing can hold as much data as FIFTY floppy disks!”
  • If you remember when disks WERE floppy.

Feel free to contribute any additions you might think of…

Rockin in the Workshop

So there’s this house we’re calling Interlude. It’s a rental, we’re living in it since we sold Homeport and is our home until Mosaic is ready for us, sometime late next year.
It has a usable basement, with a high ceiling and dry floors. Not particularly warm in the winter, but usable.
I’ve moved my workbench, my tool chest, all my tools and parts and other debris into a nice little work area, and have been slowly working on various projects (such as the Mame cabinet – see that post for a picture of my workshop space).
But something was missing.
Broken RokuThis past weekend, I finally gathered together all the pieces of the Roku Soundbridge M500 I won from Radio Paradise two and a half years ago. Not long after I got the Roku, it broke in a funky way – part of the LCD display went blank. I contacted Roku about getting it repaired, they said to send it in and they’d look at it, but I never got around to doing so. Ah well.
This past weekend I powered it up again, just to see if I could get it useable in the workshop. Oddly, it came up fine, even connected to our wireless network. With 3″ of the left side of the LCD out of action, I had a hard time navigating the menus until I found the ‘brightness’ function, cranked all the way up, gave a sort of ‘shadow’ on the LCD where the text was. A few updates later, and I was up and running with RadioParadise, listening through the old stereo I had installed a while back.
I really wish these devices (that stream audio either via wireless or network) were less expensive or easy to put together by hand. I could totally see having a bunch of these for Mosaic for public spaces around the community. “I’ll be out in the workshop, I’ll run up RP there.”

Dimmable Compact Flourescent (CF) bulb test

IMG_2467.JPGThis past weekend I decided to take the plunge and replace the bulbs in our recessed lighting in the kitchen with dimmable CF bulbs. We had been using these huge honkin 150watt floodlamps, which were great for getting a tan, but didn’t handle the constant vibration of folks walking around upstairs very well, not to mention chewing up gobs of power when running.
I hadn’t actually seen dimmable CF bulbs in action, so I was curious how well they’d work. Flourescent lights can’t take the same electrical route that dimmable incandescents can (if you lower the voltage in a flourescent light, the ballast that regulates the power into the bulb can’t pass enough power to make the bulb actually light up.
I saw the dimmable bulbs in our of our regular visits to Target, and picked up a handful.
Our lightswitch has one of those little sliding tabs next to the switch that lets you adjust the brightness. I installed all the bulbs, flicked the switch on, and lo!
But would it dim?
The answer is… “Sorta”. The dimmer switch does in fact lower the light level coming from the bulbs, but not in the range the older bulbs could do. I’d say we can get a 25% reduction in light output from the bulbs before they go out.
All in all, this is just fine. We can’t have that sort of glowing nice ‘1/3rd’ light mode that is handy post-dinner (we can sort of do that by turning out most of the ceiling lights and just going with one lamp over the stove), but the dimmer is handy for taking the lights from “bright enough to do real kitchen work” down to “comfortable to live in day to day”.
So why is this relevant? Well, aside from the bit that the 5 bulbs now in the ceiling use as much power as only one of the old bulbs did, apparently the new energy bill that just came through congress is mandating that all incandescent bulbs be off the market by 2012. (If that link fails you, see the article on Slashdot and the same on Engadget).
According to the article:

The new energy bill signed this week makes it official. When 2012 hits, stores can no longer sell the cheap but inefficient incandescent light bulbs that are fixtures in most homes.

Personally, I’ve already switched all our bulbs to CFL’s, and we have a lot of them (an off the cuff count puts it at about 30 for our 4br house). We’ve been here 2.5 years, and I was just trying to think of the last time I had to replace a CFL that had gone out. I think it was once, using a very old bulb we had brought from the old house, but I hadn’t until now replaced the ceiling lights in the kitchen yet.

Apple continues to lose my respect.

Update 15:23pm.. – THIS BLOG ENTRY IS REFERRING TO A FAKE POST ON THE FAKE STEVE JOBS BLOG. I was duped, hook line and sinker. I’m annoyed at being deliberately mislead, but relieved that my rabid furniture-chewing has no real basis. I’ll leave the post here as an example of my own duplicity.
It’s been a hard fight for me.
I’m completely taken by Apple’s designs, platform, and technology. They’re the only company to take Unix seriously enough to put a front end on it that WORKS. Their hardware is sexy as all git out, and for the most part, works very well.
I have considered seriously going the Apple route more than once. Ditching this Linux thing and embracing Cupertino.
There’s always been this nagging, though. Apple is very lawyer-heavy. They tolerate no smack-talk from the little guy, and have a tendency to go all Corleone on anyone who even HINTS at revealing their deep dark secrets.
But now I think they’ve overstepped their bounds.
In the past, when Apple threatens a writer or publisher, the contents of the negotiations are kept secret. A site disappears, the negotiations are private, and we assume they reached some amicable settlement.
One fellow isn’t going quietly into the night. Daniel Lyons, the author of the “Fake Steve Jobs” blog, which has been a satirical poke at the head of Apple, is being attacked by a pack of rabid lawyers. While there may be a small bit that they disagree with, Daniel has gone the unusual route of publishing exactly what the lawyers are saying to him. The most recent exchange has said lawyers saying, in essence, “You should play nice with us. Here’s a list of your assets you own. Here’s where your family and your home are. Would be a shame if something were to, like, you know, happen to any of them….

And then, I swear to friggin God, there’s a list of my assets with an estimated value for each and I suppose the implied threat that I stand to lose them. Which kinda scares the living shit out of me, to be honest, since they’ve got a pretty thorough list, which means they’ve been doing some research on this and the offer didn’t just come out of thin air. Their lists includes my home address, most recent assessed value of my house and all the information about my mortgage; a rental property that we own; my bank accounts and investment accounts, including the college funds for our kids, whose names are used; and our boat and two cars.

This is disgusting. The Fake Steve Jobs site is satire. It’s amusing, entertaining, and does nothing to harm Apple. But Apple is coming down on Lyons like a pack of wild dogs, and no ethical, moral, or financial boundary will stop them from destroying Lyons.
This is not a company I can, with any real conscience, support.

Well, Dang.

We just got mail saying that the XO Laptop for Zach won’t arrive until at least January 15th. On the one hand, I’m glad they let us know so I can stop frantically hitting <refresh> on Fedex’s website, but I’m sad because he won’t have it for his vacation.
I am consolidated knowing that our contribution is still helping the OLPC project, and somewhere in central or southern America, a child -will- get a laptop because of our contribution, but I still wish Zach had his for the winter break.
He’s happily spending time working with Scratch on his desktop machine anyway, so at least when the XO does get here, there’ll be an environment he’s already familiar with on it.


Extrapolating from a conversation on IRC today…
I swear OkCupid is the place budding ‘web 2.0’ programmers go to see how badly they can screw up a busy site, and still stay in business.
They’ve gone through a dozen site ‘overhauls’ in the last few years, rewriting the entire thing into some new funky dynamic design that not only fails to implement features they had working in the old design, but also tends to breaks most browsers. Then they spend the next few months ‘fixing’ problems with the new site, until most folks have forgotten about the missing features…
Dear OkCupid. We know you’re a site that caters to up and coming jetset socialites and the like, but please… Stabilize your site, lock down a feature set, and stick with it. When you roll a new site? Make sure all the features still work? It’s really not that hard.

Know a foreign language? OLPC needs you!

According to OLPC News, the OLPC project is enlisting help translating software for the XO laptop into other languages using Pootle :

How it works is that you go to the localization server for the One Laptop per Child Project. Register by creating a username and password and providing your name and email address. Choose the languages you wish to contribute to, and then the specific file of the project, like “XO Core” or “Terminology.”
Pick a word from the list on the left and write a suggestion in the box on the right. Clicking “Suggest” sends the translation to the server. If your Amharic is rusty, and you’re not quite sure about your suggestion, check the box beside the word “Fuzzy” to let the program know that too.

I’m a dumb ‘murrican, so I’m no help here, but maybe others can chime in?

Battle for Wesnoth : A free turn based strategy game

While sitting around waiting for Starcraft 2 to be released, why not try out some of the other excellent offerings out there? Personally, I’ve been itching for some “You, move there, you kill him, you, build that” action for quite a while, and I was not particularly up for reinstalling Warcraft on the windows machines.
I had taken a look at Battle for Wesnoth about 2 years ago, and while I found it ‘interesting’, it didn’t really grab me. I checked the project page, and saw a lot of work had been done on it, so decided to give it another try, and boy am I glad I have.
I won’t go into details about the game. There’s a very nice Youtube trailer here that shows some basic gameplay and highlights the amazing artwork that has gone into the game. Artwork tends to be the achilles heel of many opensource games. Getting good artwork (and in the amount necessary) is very difficult. The Wesnoth folks have filled in their entire tileset, characters, and dialogs with very clean, professional artwork. It’s a joy to play.
Check out the Youtube video of the trailer.
Sure, by World of Warcraft standards, this game looks primitive. But the gameplay is intricate and detailed, no rough edges nor incomplete implementations. There is a decent music soundtrack, and sound effects in the game are amusing and bolster the enjoyability.
And it’s free. And runs under Linux, Mac, or Windows.
What more could you ask for?

Oh, the weather outside is frightful…


Originally uploaded by eidolon

This past week, as previously noted, I was down in NJ visiting my client. As such, I managed to miss the first snowstorm that came through on Thursday night.

Hahahhaha. I was not to escape so easily!

It’s still snowing out. The cleared driveway and path are nowhere to be seen. I’d call it another 11″ of snow has fallen, and it’s still going. Forecasts are saying it’ll turn to rain this afternoon, but it’s awfully chilly right now.

The kids next door are trying valiantly to bounce on their backyard trampoline, while it’s covered with a foot and a half of snow.

Zach’s curled up on the couch reading Harry Potter.

I miss my snowblower.


A few times in the past year I’ve commented to my lovely wife regarding coffeemakers, and gosh-wouldn’t-it-be-nice if we had one that had a timer on it. I generally make a pot of coffee each morning, which involves the standard wash out the pot and gold filter, grind a new set of beans, fill up the tank, and hit start cycle. I’ve almost got my morning routine timed perfectly – I know how long the pot will take to brew, and I know when I need to be back downstairs.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if I could set a timer and have the pot ready the next morning?”
Well, it being Channukah and all, Cat got me a new coffeemaker, but went far beyond the pale and got a SUPER GEEKY coffeemaker.
The machine is a Keurig B-60 ‘single cup brewer’. Now, don’t let the ‘single cup’ thingy scare you. This isn’t some weeny little device that makes weak tan colored coffee and requires a half hour with the kitchen drudges to get clean.
The Keurig uses the little puncture-cups that have pre-measured coffee (apprently known as ‘K-Cups’). I’ve been skeptical of these puppies for a while, but I have to admit the first cup or two has come out just fine. The machine avoids a lot of the pitfalls I’ve seen in other automated machines. It has a ‘time on’ and ‘time off’ setting that changes when the reservoir is kept heated (I set mine to start at 7am, and turn off by 1pm – avoiding the machine keeping the heating element on all day). A full cups’ worth of water is kept inside the machine when idle, so you can change out the big tank without affecting the next cup of coffee. If the tank is empty, the machine lets you know on it’s little LCD screen.
The K-Cup approach to prepackaged coffee is fascinating, and allows the machine to make dozens of different types of coffee, or tea, or hot chocolate, without requiring a change of hardware between uses. For shared machines (like in our house), this is wonderful.
My only mild complaint about it is the noise. It uses a water pump to cycle water out of the tank into the internal heater, and that can be pretty rattly. I tend to make coffee after everyone has left the house, but my roomies may use it at early hours. I suppose it’s really no noisier than a coffee grinder, but it was a little alarming when it first started.
And. It has a cool blue glowing effect on it. I can have my cup of nuclear waste!
All in all, a vast improvement over the old Krups standard filter / pot. It served me well, and will most likely be used for social gatherings still, but my daily 2-3 cups are now coming from this puppy. Thanks Cat!

XO Laptop environment – Try it yourself!

I can’t help it, I’m too impatient. While waiting for my Zach’s XO laptop to arrive, I wanted to get a feel for what the environment was going to be like.
The XO uses a modified version of Redhat’s Fedora operating system, with a custom written ‘desktop’ called Sugar. Coupled with Sugar are several tools, including a music editor, video application, several programming tools, a web browser, etc etc. The environment had to be built in a way that non-english-speaking children could pick it up easily, and if the early reports are true, the team has done a great job at this.
But I wanted a chance to work with the environment before the laptop arrived. Fortunately, there’s a great series of pages on the OLPC Laptop wiki that describes how to set up an emulator, and run the laptop OS on your desktop machine.
After a little fiddling, I got it up and running, and was able to play around with the environment for a while.
First note – the emulator runs things -slower- than the laptop itself does, so I had to take into account I was seeing things at about half the speed a typical user would. But even with that, I was able to get a good feel for what the user experience was like.
I recommend anyone interested in this system to follow the emulator steps and take a look at it. I’m of the opinion that with several million of these going out to kids all over the world, the environment and tools are going have a major impact on the net at large. Opensource code (all written in Python, very good visual programming tools (like the Logo environment pictured here) – all will contribute to a new digital landscape over the next few years.

Our home.


Originally uploaded by eidolon

Yesterday I went over to the site for our once-a-month allowable visit onto the property while construction is going on. It was a nippy 18 degrees out, and the sky had that slate gray of “I’m a-gonna snow on you!” look (and in fact, did drop about 2″ of snow later)

The changes that have gone on there are quite amazing. Foundations are complete on about 70% of the buildings, and in Camelot’s case, they even have some of the framing in progresss on two of their units.

This particular picture is actually of the unit Cat, Zach and I will be living in. It’s a “large 3 bedroom + 2 1 bedroom flats” configuration, in this shot, our ‘side’ is on the right. If you’d like to see what it’ll look like when done, we have floor plans and exterior elevations available.

But there’s other wonders. The common house basement is in place, foundation poured and all the forms removed.

Seeing most of the foundations in place is really giving me a sense of what the space will be like. Our narrow walkways are… well, narrow! And the ‘upper lobe’ of buildings is going to feel more like a courtyard than anything else, an unexpected pleasure, to me!

After almost 8 years of working on this project, seeing it finally coming to life is a wonder. Walking down the north path toward the common house… pacing the actual walk from where the workshop (eventually) will be to my front door… it was stirring.