Tag Archives: Technology

The end of the world

Well, maybe it wasn’t quite the end of the world but sometime last night, my web server crashed.  The whole computer didn’t die, just the actual program that is the web server.  Did you know that’s how the web works?  Individual machines run programs that receive requests for certain web pages.  The web server program finds those pages and pushes the information back to the requester.  My web server machine resides in my office at work.  It’s pretty cool to manage my own system in a lot of ways…but not always.

Anyhow, my web server machine was fine but the program stopped for some reason.  It’s not supposed to do that.  It rarely does that.  I was bummed that hundreds of spammers could not assault my machine all night long as I slept.  I hate to let those folks down, but alas, software is fickle.

Well friends, the web server is back up and running so let’s hope the spammers can catch up to meet their quotas!

Tap…Tap…Is this thing on?

I have been pretty out of touch lately…but I have an excuse, honestly!  We went to the beach at Topsail Island, NC!  We typically go to a beach somewhere in NC but this was our first year at Topsail (pronounced Top-sul).  Anyhow, I’ll get to the pics of me in a bikini later but first, let me tell you about the trip there.  From Charleston, we have to travel south on the WV turnpike which is a toll-road.  Typically we pay our 6 bucks each way and forget about it, but this year, we discovered something new…E-Z Pass!  I always figured those lanes that nobody used were for decoration only…or maybe WV got extra booths because they were on sale.  My sister-in-law educated us about the E-Z Pass system which is what those always-empty lanes are really for!

Emily went on down to the West Virginia Parkways Authority and bought our transponder.  Basically we just had to load a $20 credit on our device (which required a $5 refundable deposit).  The device hangs on the windshield behind the mirror and is out of sight.  Now get this, it took Emily mere minutes to fill out the paperwork (at a government agency) and walk out of the building with our very own you-can-use-the-empty-lane-on-the-toll-roads transponder.  Instead of the typical $2 per stop, with the E-Z Pass system, the toll is only $1.30…so on our trip, we saved$4.20 which almost covered my recommended daily allowance of Mountain Dew for the trip down.

Do you ever feel that special happy feeling down in your belly when you get to do something cool that puts you in front of other cars, saves you some money and speeds you on to the beach faster than normal?  Yeah, me too.  We took pictures of cars around us and the empty lanes each time we came upon a toll booth…I was like a kid in a toll booth shop!

My patents

A long time ago in a land far, far away, I worked on some projects from which some colleagues and I applied for a couple of patents.  We were doing some pretty cool software development and had the opportunity to be officially labelled as  “inventors”.

The most recent patent was just awarded last week and I have since been inundated with mail from companies ready and willing to help me bring my new invention to market.  Though I am very appreciative of these folks trying to take a cut of whatever money I might make from it, I would prefer that they stop sending me mail.  They say, “hurry, you need to get <insert your invention here> to market as soon as possible!”

The funny thing is that it has taken four and a half years for this most recent patent to be awarded.  I wonder how many things are out there that could be saving lives or cleaning up oil spills, etc that are stuck in the big patent machine.  There are tons of silly patents and mean patents and patents that will have a profound impact on people’s lives.  I can’t imagine patenting human genes (which is quite a scary mess).  Seeds are patented and patent owners may do all sorts of evil enforcing those patents.

My patents are not evil and will not ever make me a single cent but I often wonder why some patents are awarded and who in the world thinks it is ok to patent some stuff. I am pretty proud to have been awarded these patents but I can’t imagine being so proud of a bit of work I might do that I would be willing to withhold treatment for someone’s illness because I own a patent on some gene. I cannot imagine forcing third-world farmers to buy my genetically modified seed (or suing them if their seed crosses with someone else’s seed for which I owned a patent).  I just can’t imagine!

I guess I am rambling as usual…of course, maybe if I owned a patent on a gene, I could afford to buy one of the plaques that the aforementioned “take your product to market” companies was selling and I might actually have something to take a picture of so I could do a proper picture-filled post. Until then, I will be content with having my name buried in the records of the US patent office.

By the way, if anyone is interested in tattooing my patent numbers on their bodies, I am willing to sell the rights to the numbers for a small fee…

(oh yeah, none of the pics are my patents…though I wish!)

And…we’re back!

So, we’re back and up to date (mostly anyhow).  My Dell server (the last Dell product I will own) that I got 14 months ago died sometime over the weekend.  I had the techs at my company take a look and they just shook their heads and handed me the box of tissues.  RIP Dell piece-of-crap!

Incidentally, I also discovered a great stress reduction technique and took a picture of the “process”.

I feel very tranquil now…

Oh Rats!

freakingoutMy dang server blew up sometime this weekend…I have this old backup up on a clunker machine for now but it is certainly not up to date. The extra hard drive that has a good backup is in the dead server so I can get it back to where we were, but just not instantly…so, for now, sorry for the pain in the butt…we’ll be back soon!

In the meantime, isn’t this a cool picture?  Of course, I, being calm cool and collected, did not freak when I saw my server was toast…my 14 month old Dell POS server was toast.  The motherboard and processor for it are not cheap so I will be replacing it soon with another brand…

I am Apple (or my experience with several Apple products)

So, I have become “that guy”. You know, the guy with the phone the size of an old-fashioned walk-man cassette player, strapped to his belt.  I am that guy who walks with a funny gait because the extra weight of the thing has totally rearranged his spinal column.  I bought an Apple iPhone and it is currently strapped to my hip.  Yes, I know, you thought I was so hip that I already had one of these modern miracles.  But actually, I have always been a phone-luddite.  Some friends have shamed me into entering the modern wireless age and I have to tell you, I am already hooked!  Yes, three days in and I am hooked!

I am "that guy"

I set up connections to Facebook and to this blog, to my personal and work emails and my personal connection to Barry Manilow’s fan club is in progress.  I can find the closest dollar store wherever I am driving and it will even allow me to text silly stuff to my wife annoying her greatly!  It’s genius!

Being the benevolent husband that I am, Emily also got a new iPhone and, while she doesn’t have a connection to Barry Manilow, I think she is just as excited to be able to check her lotto numbers and order more kippered herring at the touch of a button from wherever she is!

My Macbook running the Mac OS

I got a macbook awhile earlier also.  I have been tinkering with writing iPhone apps for awhile but I have always had to “try them out” on the emulator that comes with the development tools.  I earn my living writing software on Microsoft Windows machines right now, so I will always be prone to Windows evangelism, but the mac is a lot of fun and may make me a little more “computer-religious-war” tolerant.

Now, then topping to all of this is that I absolutely hate the touch of my new HP laptop.  Most keyboards have a certain feel to them and one can get used to them pretty quickly.  Even so, the differences are typically minor.  Laptops take some getting used to but they typically are “do-able” as well, but this new HP is awful.  To register key strikes, one needs to absolutely pound the keys.  With the amount of time I spend on computers, I need to be able to touch a keyboard and move on.  I do not need to get finger calisthenics each day as I try to do my job.

Windows XP running in a virtual machine on my Macbook

Now the mac laptop, on the other hand, has a  brilliant touch.  It’s sort of like giving my fingers a massage each time I type on it.  Imagine the possibilities then, of running Microsoft software on my Mac…and it is possible.  I bought a copy of VMWare Fusion which allows one to install any operating system into a “virtual space” while running the Mac operating system at the same time.  I was skeptical at first, but I am now a believer.  I installed Windows XP and all of my database and development tools and it runs brilliantly!  I can share folders between my Mac desktop and my XP desktop.  I can print and hit the Internet and do absolutely anything I can with a typical XP machine.  The coolest part is that I can switch between Mac and XP instantly…both systems are running simultaneously!

Don’t tell my wife, but I think I am in love.  I am Apple!

(but don’t worry Microsoft, I still love you too…I swing like that!)

Hot and bothered…or frigid?

Shortly after we received our first gas bill after moving into our house in WV, we started on the path towards reducing our energy usage.  The house was built in 1939 which is apparently before anyone invented insulation as our house had absolutely none.  I have been tearing things apart and installing new insulation in every nook and cranny.  We have replaced and sealed most of the windows and all of the little entries into the house, we replaced the ancient furnace with a new, high-efficiency one and we have installed CFLs everywhere.  It has made a significant difference in our energy bills so has been well worth the effort.

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The family room, office and lower bathroom are the worst as far as cold goes.  The walls are solid masonry…outside->brick->block->plaster->inside…basically a huge cold conductor into the house.  We demolished the office and bathroom first and have studded out new walls from the masonry and added water-proofing and insulation.

Uninsulated wall
Uninsulated wall

For my birthday, my brother-in-law and his wife bought me a thermal leak detector…one of those devices that can take instantaneous  temperature readings from a distance.  So, now that I have the office studded out and insulated, I thought it might be fun to compare the wall temperature of the new area with the uninsulated space of the rest of the area.  The entire area is basically unheated now as we are working so I suppose the difference would be more significant if we separated the areas a bit more and actually heated the area properly.  Anyhow, in the new area, my temperature reading was 64.7 deg F.  Not more than 5 feet away, I took a reading on the uninsulated part which was 54.5 deg F!  So, without separating the areas much at all, I can still see a 10 degree difference!

Insulated wall
Insulated wall

I took some additional readings which I thought were interesting.  In our bedroom, we suffer the same problem as the other rooms…the walls are uninsulated.  Although the are made of different materials, none of those materials is warm!  So, I took a reading on the bedroom wall which was 64.9 deg F.  I then moved to the new insulated window that replaced the old fashioned original windows.  The temperature of the window (windows are generally considered not to be great at keeping cold out) was 70.8 deg F!  I couldn’t believe the window was a better insulator than the wall!

The wall
The wall
The window
The window

So, I am certain now that the insulation projects I am doing are beneficial and the new windows I installed are well worth the money!

So what about you?  Ever quantify changes you’ve made to your place?  Have any good insulation stories to tell?

Got my motor runnin’

I volunteer a bit of my time each week at Emily’s school.  There are a number of folks who work with individual kids on numerous topics.  I met a student who is interested in green energy so we are studying green energy topics.  In particular, we are building green energy sources or projects that use said sources.  In other words, we are building a generator like what might be used in a windmill.  We also plan to build a solar battery charger to keep my student’s portable video game system charged.  Part of my goal, of course, is to teach my friend about electricity and windmills and solar power, but a part of my interest is expanding my understanding of the topics as well.

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I remember back when I was in 4th or 5th grade.  We were messing with electricity (and not in the back of the classroom with paperclips and the wall socket) and learning how it works.  I remember one assignment for extra credit was to build an electric motor.  My Grandpa and I spent hours trying to figure out how to make one work.  We tried all sorts of combinations and variations but could never make it spin.  So, as a part  of learning about electricity and generators, I decided we needed first to build a motor.  A motor, of course, is sort of like the opposite of a generator.  Put power into a coil and it will spin.  Manually turn the coil and it will generate electricity.  Anyhow, it seems that building a motor is relevant to learning about generators.  This had nothing to do with my long-standing feelings of inadequacy regarding motor building…no indeed, this was all about educating my student.  It’s about the kids, right?  Ok, so I think it is pretty neat too.

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As I looked at electric motor plans, I quickly discovered what Grandpa and I did wrong…it’s all about ease of turning the motor.  Our motor turned pretty smoothly by hand, but there was a great deal more friction than what our set-up could handle.  I found all sorts of ideas on how to make a motor, but I wanted to make something that looked as close as possible to the one that Grandpa and I tried to make…I mean, I wanted one that my student and I could learn from…

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So…here’s what we did.  I bought magnet wire from Radio Shack (now, they are calling themselves “the Shack”…yeah, that’s more hip).  Magnet wire is just copper wire with super thin insulation.  We used a middle weight wire…the green stuff.  The package that The Shack sells has three colors/weights.  We left a six inch tail and then wrapped 30 turns of the wire around a AA battery that we were planning to use to power the system.  We left a 6 inch tail on the other end as well.  In order to make sure the coil stayed together, we wrapped each tail around the bit of coil on each side.  Basically, I just took the tail on each side and ran it through the middle and back out 2 times to hold the coil on each side.

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We bent a few paperclips (you could use any conductor) to hold the coil and put a few magnets between the paperclips.  Since our motor has magnets vertically placed (i.e. not on the side), we had to hold the coil straight up and down with the tails sticking out to each side.  I stripped the insulation off of one tail the entire way around the wire.  On the other tail, I stripped only the top half of the wire.    We hooked a few beads to each tail to dampen vibration (which we learned was necessary).  Regarding magents…I just bought run of the mill magnets at a big-box home improvement store.  Bigger, badder magnets would change the dynamics of the motor for sure!


(or try this version if you have trouble with the one above)

Once we hooked the battery pack to the paperclips, we dropped the coil onto the paperclips and gave it an initial spin.  It quickly “catches” and starts spinning like crazy!  You can imagine, I danced like Brittney Spears…only without the nastiness.  I made a motor!  I made a motor!  I mean…We made a motor!  We made a motor!  No longer am I burdened by 5th grade motor-failure-angst!  We both had a good time just watching it spin and it was educational indeed as it was a perfect segue into generators (I knew it would be!).  Next week, we’ll start tinkering with our first generator.  I am so excited!

Meet Steve…he’s green

We’ve been a 2 car family for some time. I typically drove the tan colored Dodge man-van and Emily drove a green Chevy Lumina. The van was fairly new but we had the Lumina for awhile…it was 10 years old and starting to get wrinkles and excess gas. I mean that…the old girl had a few dings and started smelling like gas. We did our duty and took her to the mechanic to find the gas leak problem. They spent all sorts of time (and all sorts of our money) looking for the problem to no avail. We coped for awhile but finally decided that our family going out in a fiery car crash was not the way to go (at least until I get much older).

We started doing our homework and decided we needed a few things in our new car. First, we needed space for Isaac to grow. He’s becoming gigantic with no signs of a slowdown in the near future. He wears the same size shoes as I do (he’s 9) and he’s approaching Emily’s height. I didn’t want the backseat to be too large though. Isaac will be driving before too long. Enough said. We also decided we wanted a car with all-wheel drive. Winters here aren’t awful, but we do definitely get snow and it can be a problem at times. Safety was important because we figured Isaac will learn to drive on this car. By the way, 15 year olds should not drive. It’s crazy! And boys especially should not drive until they are 30. I once was a boy and I remember some of testosterone induced stupidness of 15 to 30 year olds. Finally, I wanted a car that polluted as little as possible and got good gas mileage, etc.

We looked at the Honda CR/V, the Toyota Rav/4 and the Subaru Forester. We didn’t like any of those options for various reasons. While we were at the Subaru dealer, we spotted an Outback that was beside the Forester on the showroom floor. It looked cool.

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We decided to drive the Outback and that was all she wrote as they say.  It had all those things I mentioned above plus heated seats!  There were a few other cool features that made it even better…it is a PZEV car (partial zero emission vehicle) which means there are times when it runs that it release no emissions.  It also has a continuously variable transmission (CVT).  The details are fairly interesting but let’s just say it is heavy on cool and also enhances fuel economy.

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So we drove Steve home.  You see, like many people, we name our vehicles and this one is named Steve.  He’s green and he’s green.  We like Steve!

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And of course, in typical fashion, the man-van (Bessie) started slipping out of gear right after we trade the car.  Mind you, this is not an old van.  We bought it new and have had all of the maintenance done on it since day one.  It is a serious heap.  We’ve had one problem after another but keep thinking, “this will be it…once we fix xyz, it will be fine.”  I will never buy another Dodge again (sorry to all my Dodge friends).  We may go have a look at Steve’s twin Ronny…

I Flipped

As I have mentioned before, I check woot.com about every day to see what sorts of things they have that I can’t live without .  The other day, they had a Flip video cam on sale for $79.99.  That’s somewhere around half what one would usually pay.  Awhile back, D.A. wrote a post over at Farm Natters where she recommended the camera.  So, woot + recommendation =  “it’s cheap and you can’t live without it”.

There are a couple of really nice features about the Flip cam:

-It is very small and easily fits in my pocket.
-It uses AA batteries which I like since my previous camera is out
of commission with a bad (and expensive to replace) battery.
-It has a slick little usb connector so I can connect it straight to
my computer to download the videos.
-It takes really nice video and audio, especially for $79.99.

There are a couple of things that aren’t so nice, but are absolutely acceptable to me for the price:

-It has a slick little usb connector so I can connect it straight to
my computer.  That’s a plus but the connector is hard-line
connected to the camera (read: it is not flexible so hangs by
the connector.  It seems like it could break if I let go of it as I
download videos).
-It records only one hour of video at a time.  I am not too torn up about that as there is little worth recording that is that long I think.
-It only has 2x zoom

I just received it yesterday and it is, as D.A. puts it “hella fun” to use.  I took a bunch of silly videos including the ones below.  I’d say it is even worth paying full price for one of these cameras if you need something quick and easy to grab quick videos of the kids doing fun stuff or the goat climbing on the roof of your new car, etc.

Note:  If you have trouble viewing these videos, please let me know.  Emily said she couldn’t view them without an upgrade to her software.