Sunday, August 10, 2008

Microcontroller projects

My first ever project, is hosted on
There is not a lot to say besides what you can see in the video. To get the source code login to - (you will have to. If you are programming an Atmel micro already that's a given) and to find a schematic.... Hmm maybe I will paste it up here too.

(diagram drawn 'ona' copy of the spec-sheet for the AVR microcontroller)

See also this digital solar powered clock done in basic on 2 CPUs:

Monday, July 21, 2008


Check out this cycle route, about 25 miles which is a nice circular route: the bits Cottenham-Histon is road, as was Rampton to Longstanton mainly, but the good bits are above Swavesey. I completed it using a hybrid with only a piston in the seat although more suspension was needed for the bits over broken up concrete encountered around Swavesy/Earith. I also have road tyres with no knoblies. Since I do not go to a gym or anything equally defeatest as running to nowhere particular and then right back again, and hate looking at people - some sightseeing which is really great in the area is good. If only one could get a robust camera or camcorder to take a long to capture more of it.
My next bit of bike-work will involve getting knoblies and securing my water-bottle better. actually I loaned my eldest son's Power-rangers bottle. It is cheaper than one from the bike-shop to do it this way; although you do need to drink a lot if you are going quite so far.
A month odd ago we followed a really nice route that have a tea-break in the middle, something we missed out on this time. Once again this rode was fun, and no major problems - I believe that something for the stinging-nettles is probably in order esp. if you cannot jump into a bath afterwards, since the stingers will not just fall off it seems, but maybe that's because I am a hairy bugger.
Kudos to nick for arranging the mapping and finding the route. Right now I try to cycle a few days a week to the office which is only 5 miles away. But since you cannot cycle more than 2 miles without starting to sweat, it's best done as a 'run' with a shower afterwards. I will have to map it out sometime.

Friday, June 27, 2008

This time it will not take 4 weeks

... to count the vote in the Zimbabwean elections. I can only wonder why that is. But I suppose the answer is a dirty white-lie. Is that an oxymoron, or deos it take one to create this situation. I am not sure that the MDC are a party that is really it is baked up to be sometimes. If I had a vote, I would rather have stayed away or spoiled my vote, because neither party is fit to rule, least the MDC at this point. So what can we do? nothing Zanu hold the peoples best interests in mind and their priority to feed the masses of loyal citizens who are leaving in a steady stream as we read this. Can MDC actually run a country, I doubt they have the guts.

Why do we even bother sometimes? is the world a fair place? It's at times like this where going home to RSA is just so senseless.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Comedy of errors

One is never too sure whether you get your moneys worth, but for a laugh, it's got to be a string of things going wrogn . It starts with
  1. Register new game online, registration screen wants my street-address, so I fill in the normal -number "1234" -street "icicle lane" -state "south pole". Never ask me for my address unless it really is your business or you are a cop.
  2. Next, the form crashes telling me I made a SQL error, normally users are not interested in: see dictionary (sql = school, shortcut to a word school)
  3. ...I send off a mail to their support, the auto-response has a subject-line "2K Games USA Techncial Support", this is only getting sweeter. so I am at least laughing now.
  4. The support login screen has been designed for visual impaired computer-gamers, see where I filled in my e-mail address in some kind of yellow. (browser = IE, with the form auto-fill on).

I log in, and get to manage my support query no problem, one more happy user.

Please do not get me wrong, I think they are a great crowd, and I want to do business, just not on the comedy-circuit. If you had a good chuckle recently why not decipher the little yellow box above and drop me a line.

Sunday, June 15, 2008 is land-filling

I am inclined to think they have shares in a disposal company. Why do we need such a big box for some solid-state electronics like a USB wifi dongle? The original Belkin box (contents and inner-box shown) can surely fit into the 'container' about 10 times over. My biggest worry is how does the postie deliver these? By van of course, its not safe to carry huge junk like this around on a bike.
It's not all evil mind you, I just ordered some more stuff of Amazon today, lets see if they are going to add a 'save-the-planet' delivery option next to 'super-saver' and 'express'. I really would like it if other mail-order stores could take up this challenge too.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Last day at work

(image: copyright zaphodikus)

Some thoughts on my last day at work. It's a strange feeling to be 'unemployed' for a few days. I must say it is not the same as a bank-holiday at all. I have 2 boys to look after every bank-holiday, it's no party I tell you. Deja vu? not-really I only ever did this twice before, the first time was packing all my stuff into a 2L ford station-wagon and driving from Cape Town to Johannesburg. I battled a bit in Johannesburg, but at least I had a job to go to, and I must admit there are always things I would have changed. But one thing I would not, I was not glad to be rid of the old place at all. You always think to yourself, at last I am getting out of this wretched place, and away from all the work that I hate. Hey, for some of us, work is fun, challenging, learning or stretching and something I generally want to enjoy 50% of the time. The other 50% is pure hard work (normally mental effort for most of us).
(image: copyright zaphodikus)

When the fun things get less, or you see something where you can do more - that's when you need to move out of the comfort-zone. At heart I am a comfort-zone man. I like to tune my environment to suite me. I have learned lately that it really is more and more 'who you know, not what', and this pushes the work-focus onto working with people more often, and doing it better. Strangely most engineers are right-brain thinkers, not left-brainers getting all creative on you, as a right thinker, emotions in the workplace is not my forte'.

Leaving my Job in RSA at Adroit was hard (doubly because I was leaving the country too), and as always the last day still feels funny - it's not something I want to do again and again, so last Thursday was hard, luckily my login is supposed to lock me out after 4:30, so I had a hard deadline (well I assumed that even if my network account is still working, that it's a bad time to be working hard). So I was lucky to have some code to prototype and hack together and keep me busy on my last Symbian day. I would have been disappointed if I got pushed to do extra work-things in a hurry, I mean what motivation is there to build something of quality?
Bad things in my experience at Symbian were the total flood of people to deal with, the difficulty in getting help and documentation, and then the huge open office. Day 1 was overwhelming to be honest. I mean working at Adroit was not easy either, we did not have as much easy access to training - but we had a lot of code-ownership responsibility over time. Chance to grow was less, but the tools all worked without complaint - something I never experienced while working with the arm tool-chain script was a feeling of peace when hitting that compile->link->rom button. Sure, App-level development on Windows is no cakewalk either, but the support is so much more accessible.

(image: copyright zaphodikus)

I like to keep the work door open if possible, I have met lots of very clever people (I am told I'm also clever, but I'm actually lazy so it cancels out) at Symbian. It's quite scary when you have all the clever guys in one room, and Clear Com will be no different I imagine. Next posting is all about how great sometimes is.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

New Timed Posting Test

OK so this is simply a test-post, it should not count, but it will. Now does that count? Hmmm anyone got good guidance on creating help-files that can squash into a small file?

Going just a tad Batty

Yesterday we took the boys off to the Donarbon waste management site open-day. Getting a bit of info into my skull about 'friends of the earth' , Cambridge county etc., and generally technical detail on how things work - they have an annual open-day, it was pretty good display with lots of agencies putting up demos, and a site-tour, which seemed a strange thing, but the site is right next to our village, and hey, it's batty really, I will be working in the office-park right next door in a fortnight. Managed to get a replacement green box! Yay. Must go again next year, the site-tour sounded like great fun.

We have a bat-box, I have a bat-book by Phil Richardson, and well that and trying to build a basic bat-detector is turning into a bit of a mission of fun and learning. I have a lot to learn about the maligned creatures that inspired the vampire legend. UK bats munch mainly insects, not fruit, and there is really a lot that we have been misinformed over these tiny night-time clean-up squads.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Weekend project - nightlight

It's a simple project, build a night-light because the bathroom lights are blown out and I am renting so not included to climb into the ceiling and DIY. The boys need a night-light to get to the bathroom with, so I normally leave just 1 globe on in there. I broke-up a 'power-saver' downlighter with about 50 leds in it, not a bad price for superbright leds which can cost 80p each; if you do not count all the time and fussing with broken glass, splinters, serious desoldering etc.
(above picture looks blue on account the camera, and the leds being on very dim)
OK Drilled holes 5mm into the enclosure, wire them up with 1KOhm dropper, but in a series parallel network - all connected to a dumped phone-charger wall-wart i found as the supply.
Next we drill a hole in the back of the enclosure to allow the ~12Vdc cable in, and epoxy the enclosure to the top of the wall-wart. Normally this would create a heating problem, but I'm in a cold country.Since it's proved the PSU is good enough for the light-output need (tested on Saturday night as a burn-in), we move to the automatic light sensor - all prototyped on the project-board. You can see how I decided on a double-decker circuit arrangement. I only did this because I have a mental disease, no other reason at all. Besides the easy way was too easy.

Finished assembly with transfer of components to the veroboard. Because the LDR is a very flimsy model, I soldered a paperclip into the board on one side, covered it in heatshrink, and bent it to make a kind of stand-off before soldering the other leg of the paperclip into the far side. It made a very strong handle to which I epoxied the LDR - you can just see the 'window' on the right at the bottom of the enclosure. Lastly to stop junk and anything poking into the enclosure I stuck a clear window into the box to cover the hole from inside.

One assembly trick I also like to use when moving stuff from project to vero is to use a IN4007 diode clamp or similar across everything - I find that the 1 in 10 times that you work on the circuit while live and inadvertently cross power wires it will save your (I assume you do not use a 10Amp PSU. LOL) semiconductors.

The prototyping; you can see the flimsy LDR sticking up on the left. Apart from junkbox, recycled and bulk-bought resistors the onlybits I paid for are the LDR, LM741 and the enclosure.
Want a diagram?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Search plugin update

My idiots-guide search plug-in how-to-add-search-engine-to-ff in 15 minutes was great, but missing an icon. THe problem was FF stores the icon in a base64 text tag - needed to convert my bmp to a base64 text - if you have a codeproject login, go here image-base-64-converter - download the sample app, run it, paste the output (there's even a nice button in the demo that pastes the text to your clipboard).

Paste it into the XML file in the right place, (the IMG tag) and viola!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Goodest job news

I will be starting at in a few weeks. I am really looking forward to contributing in a small company again. No more falling asleep waiting for the perforce server to check out a single file. Sometimes I look at the network perforce request Q, and think that it looks like a stock-indicator, will it go up, will it go down - either way, your request is going to take 8 minutes. I suppose that's where you get a minute to read that chapter about code-refactoring. It's a plot I tell you!
Jokes aside now, Symbian Ltd has been a great learning curve. I suspect everything can look like lemons when you get swamped by 1000 developers, almost as many tools and twice as many processes; but I have worked with a really neat team. I doubt that all the teams are as much fun in reality, so I will miss a few friends, but some I hope to hang onto from the Cambridge office as well. The kind of quality needed in Open Source, and how one gets there has been most interesting to me and it's no walk in the park. I believe I am now a better reviewer and able to balance the bigger picture better, well time will tell. It has been good.

Holiday pics

OK, so this is where I sit and upload pictures of inane things we saw. Well I promised.

Rhys has started to take pics of his own, most of them are of favourite objects. But here is a pretty well composed one or two:

OK enough about my lack of image positioning control/ it's not like I have time on my hands is it? Oh, and here is another good one.

Aunt Claire baked this number. Count the candles Greg.

Still need to get the happy youngster to get into a learning gear :-).

Friday, May 09, 2008

There is no 'away'

Next time you throw something out, try to work out where it goes. It's actually not possible to throw things away, because away is actually somewhere else in the end.
BBC News: Food waste on 'staggering' scale

It's out of mind, but only for you - the planet still has to live with it. So how are we supposed to live in the age of away? It's not easy to pollute less; I had to drive 50 miles to work for 6 months (the alternative was 1.5 hours one way and 2 hours back) and now I drive only 5 miles Travelling 500 miles a week is no healthy, so being closer to the office is welcomed, but now I live closeby, I still cannot go by bus (alternative to driving 15 mins, is about 50 minutes on 2 buses) just to cover 5 miles direct. It is increasingly difficult to access effective bulk-transport, especially if all buses are one size: huge and half-empty half-of-the-time. Do the world a favour, go somewhere by bus tomorrow, it's really not a problem most of the time; and you will probably enjoy the view from the upper deck too.

Finally, those photies, we did not take any (lesson, it takes 3 adults to run a party for 16), but I will post a few recent ones anyway.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Arggggh! Laptop recovery

I have only had 1 successful virus attack against me after near on 20 years of computing, where it actually took me 2 days to get rid of a rootkit. So I consider myself pretty savvi when it comes to keeping a PC going.. Last week my Toshiba laptop finally lost some kernel drivers and would not boot, so before I slaved the drive (which is difficult to do since it's not normal SATA) to my Man desktop and rescue it, I let the manufacturer rescue-disk run. Arghhhh, the rescue-disk is an automated formatter, which right-away ghosts your machine without even prompting. Unfortunately I had no way of knowing until the Norton-ghost on the boot-CD started to run already. IMHO, this is better than a virus, because 30 minutes latter with no intervention at all I had a brand new Laptop setup. Toshiba need a lesson (so do I) - anyway - nothing much lost in that 'upgrade' so it's birthdays as usual tomorrow.

Rhys and Greg both have a party over the weekend. Cake photies to follow.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

LAMP or Socket?

Been playing with an Ubuntu distro lately to start setting up a LAMP to host the domain where I keep my modbus protocol simulator program. My current gripe is that Linux is not overly difficult to learn, is nice and cheap, but just takes time. This is just much more fun than work at the moment, so I am rushing home in the evening to find all the FAQ and a HOW-TOs that all the apache dummies like me can follow. Once I can write some PHP to talk to the SQL-DB, I will effectively have some live website content to publish and maybe have a live "TODO" page that shows people what bugs are being reported, fixed and what features are being added.

A great fan of the self-learnt-man, this exercise generally takes time.
Now all I need to work out is how to get this thing to print out edible choc eclaires.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Peak District Holiday over

So what is it like going away for 6 nights on £350 self-catering? If you are not in the peak-season, you can (pun-intended) because everything opens at end of march, and although the weather is well, 'English'; you can see most everything. The boys had a good time, we say Chatsworth house, some ruins above Castleton, the 'Blue-John' caves nearby. A cable-car ride up Heights of Abraham, and a visit to the lead-mine on top of that hill.
The cable-car is not huge by Cape-Town standards, even the trip up lions-head in the new proposed cable-car is longer, but the green countryside is awesome, and you get slung over a river, complete with canoists doing a slalom. If only it was not sleeting.

If only? well, if only it did no pay to lie and manipulate. I enjoy a bit of manipulate and lie myself, but twisting the truth is all good, while subverting a national election for Zimbabwean president is another matter altogether. I tire of this problem now, and am amazed how it fills the english media at the moment - probably just unlucky to be at a time when the most interresting things for papers to publish is about one of the royals catching a serious bout of flu. I actually tire of the media and the total lack of depth that comes about when you get stuck in 'PC' land and are too lazy to publish more than one side of the story. I mean what happened to opinion? New rules mean we cannot publish 'opinions' just-so anymore and have no idea how to interpret what goes on around us. I am not saying please tel me how to read, on the contrary, please tell me how I could read this story, and for Pete's sake come back 2 weeks latter and finnish the job. I am too often left wondering what hapenned to that fellow who was on the front-page last week, did he become nobody, or is the contents of someones gut suddenly more important?

Is there life? or is it only intelligent life?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Civilization "ona stick"

Just think about the way we go about getting what we want for a moment. Centuries ago, you banged the bloke who had something you wanted around the head with a club until unconscious. A few centuries later, we devise a way to randomly hack bits off of the guy who gets in our way, I think they call it a sword. Today we can do this all remotely not get involved and obliterate a town in a matter of minutes using an air-born device.

...I am not so sure going from 'unconscious' via 'dismembered' to 'detached' is a civilized achievement.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Man Cold

Why is it that guys get it sooo bad? I mean, it's not just a cold, it's the blocked ears, sinus and general need for sympathy. I remember getting ill when I was still single - man those were suicide days. But it is great to have the missus look after you now. I would say it speeds up the recovery, but in reality, it's getting some rest, vitamins, some pain medication and keeping warm that does the job.

I am trying to formulate a theory on how stress leeches vital minerals and electrolytes until you feel bad, and actually become susceptible to the bug. I am just curious, because I am not in the habit of getting ill just as winter pulls in, I am a late-winter or spring catcher. And strangely (this is why I ask), it seems to always have a few days warning. Whatever the code says, man-colds suck!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Why Big Sux

I get a whole lot of e-mails telling me how big is better (if only e-mails were like texting)... anyway, bit only if there is any money in it, but when it comes to real service, big SUX.
Hotmail have done it again, not only is the vie to kill yahoo making miocrosoft punch-drunk, they now let advertisers put pop-ups into their sponsor adds! This sux and is really dragging the whole ecosystem down into the drain. I know it's free, but does it have to be 'ugly-betty' too?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

How to add Search engine to FF

I wanted to do Google searches for a keyword + list of sites. Simple? Not really, so I will save myself the trouble of all the typing of something like:
When all you want is NE555. Adding a new engine to the FF bar is simple, or you could spend 30 minutes to try finding a plug-in that does not do what you want.

Not scared of editing a bit of XML? Read on.

Find your firefox install folder, the default is C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\searchplugins - you want the searchplugins sub-folder. Next make a copy of your fave engine file, I copied my google.xml file, and called the new one data.xml.
Open in a text-editor, and find the line:
Give your 'engine' a name, (keep it short-ish) next go to the line:
<Description>Google Search</Description>
You can add a description, which I think gets used only in the properties to manage (add/remove) your engine. Next find the line:
<param name="q" value="{searchTerms}">
This is where the magic starts, and depends on which engine you copied, since other engines will not have a 'q' parameter for instance.

If you are lost now, use your engine to do a proper search, and then inspect the resulting location or URL to see which is the parameter is you actually want to modify.
To search only for datasheets I used this line
<Param name="q" value="DATASHEET {searchTerms}"/>
You could add a site or list of sites by adding the strings to your query.
The search-parameter tag might look a little strange to some of us who are new to XML, but you will notice the / slash in the closing, this is a space-saver telling an XML parser, that there is no 'closing' of this tag. If restarting FF does not give you a new engine, try double-click on your new file to open it in your browser, which should reveal what you broke.

Viola! (Fluit-fluit, my storie is uit.)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Christmas 2007

Pretty good holiday 3 weeks, starting out just loafing (actually playing at being Santa's elves) and I must admit, this year, the Kid K-NEX was a bit overkill, too many small parts to go missing all over again; I would have done better getting the LEGO with a boat that goes in the bath or something similar. Unwrapping pressies was great, Rhys wants to help, and wants to play with whatever Gregory gets, like his kitchen-set. Greg wants to be a Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsey fan because he is always happy playing with the pots, pans and playing at making tea-parties. Then came Xmas down at Ross& Carron, we played Jenga for hours, I enjoyed videoing the towers collapsing. (Click below for pics)

Lastly some fun over at Alex and Mirek, along with little Sophie, whom Rhys actually enjoyed entertaining, which was unusual, since Rhys like to just control the play, and he kept her happy chatting and tickling away nicely. Just goes to show, the little people are sensitive and go through phases all the time.

Scotland : Last leg of the holiday, we extended this one a little over, since it is 600+ kilometers, and 7 hours of driving and stopping along the way so 2 days away was warranted. Left on new-years, but our return on 4-Jan was not nice on account the snow in Scotland. We stayed in Perth, at a little B&B, photo of the contact-card is in the web-album linked above. Caroline and Alistair run Albert Villa, it is one of about 8 B&Bs all packed closely a few blocks from the high street.

Satnav : Crashed again 3 times in total over the holiday, and I am beginning to get a idea that it is related to the bluetooth pod, or to navigating away from the intended route or something. Have to write a support mail to navman. Still the device saved the holiday, with at least 3 long trips into the no-where, and relying on it pretty much to save me the 30 minutes preparation-time normally needed for every journey, just long enough for me to write this posting up I suppose.

Electronics: Ordered some parts from RSH electronics, prototyped the amplifier circuit with a TBA820M amplifier, and the boys played with it like a mini PA. As usual, Rhys Giving the orders.