Theremin

Holy geez, I wan to build a theremin something fierce.   I have ALWAYS been fascinated by this.  I also want to build my own RDS-TMC traffic receiver.  It can’t be that hard.  Probably the hardest part is finding the right parts.

Leon Theremin playing one.

Leon Theremin playing one.

i feel like a new man

Wow, it’s been a crazy couple of months.  I’ve been settling into my job, (which I am so happy at), I’ve been wrapping up some projects, and I’ve been finishing up with some clients AND trying to develope some new business leads.

My job is going great.  One of the things we were really lacking, (my department) was a robust ticketing system.   Someone suggested RT::Request Tracker.  I had never heard of it before, and I am very impressed.  The best thing, I believe, is that every browser works with it, and works well.  It’s all Perl based so one can grock it fairly quickly.  But it’s also very powerful and configureable. It was a bitch to install it since it required so many Perl modules, but I stuck with it and got it going.

I might have mentioned before that I am a big fan of Drupal.  We set up a departmental portal recently using Drupal.  I like it.  I used Drupal for our son’s school and was very impressed with it:

One of the things I would like to try to promote is the social networking tools like Drupal or Twitter at work.  I would like to have a departmental blog.  I feel it is very important to communicate the work we are doing, (which is nothing short of excellent).  I’m not sure how my reports will feel about it.  We’ll just have to see.  If you got some ideas or thoughts around bring social networking into the office, please let me know.

On the productivity side of things, I’ve been loving Remember the Milk.  They just release a Firefox add-on that integrates with Gmail.  It’s pretty slick and I use it quite a bit.  I see they also released some clients, but I haven’t had a chance to monkey around with them, yet.

I also spent some time tending to my long neglected WordPress installation.  I need to read documentation more closely.  I got my tags issues all straightened out and things are humming along nicely.

R.I.P Mio, Hello TomTom

First off, let me first apologize for not posting more frequently.  I’m sorry.  I’ve been really busy with my not-so-new job, (which I love and am thankful for), but the our son is already back in school and I’ve been wrapping up some consulting gigs that I had lingering.

Having said that, you might remember that I posted that my Mio c310x died.  The touch screen stopped working.  Mio said it would cost $100 for repairs.  Honestly, that’s a tough pill to swallow so I decided that I will sell my old Mio on Ebay for parts.  I got a bunch of Mio-specific accessories.

So I was in the market for a new GPS.  My Dad had a Garmin, which was okay.  I still like the MioMap software better, so I was still looking at my options.  I didn’t really care for Bluetooth, or even Text To Speech (TTS), so I settled on the TomTom XL 330 that was on sale at Fry’s.

I’ll do a full blown review later, but the one thing that I think is really neat, is that there is both Mac and Windows TomTom software.  I have died and gone to heaven!  The first night I got my TomTom, I really messed it up.  I had to go in and delete files and restore the core OS on it, (it runs linux) and other than that, I am really happy with it.  My only beef with it, is that there is no SD slot and I am wondering what will happen when I want to install European maps on it.

I would also like to try to make my own RDS-TMC receiver for it.  I don’t think it would be too hard to make since it sounds like a slightly more complex crystal radio.

I’ll post here when I list my Mio on Ebay.  I also want to thank all of you who come here looking for Mio hacking tips and other GPS related info.  I am glad you have all found it useful.

Don’t get me wrong, if Mio had fixed my c310 I’d still be using it, but $100 is alot when I can get newer technology for just a little more and there seems to be some thing afoot that may prevent any updates to MioMap.

Thanks everyone for being patient with me.

biking to work

Okay, I couldn’t really come up with a fancy or catchy title for this post. But this is great.  It’s actually a dream come true.  It turns out it is really easy for me to bike into my office.  This is an added bonus and I’m so happy about this.

Where we live, we live very near the Silver Comet Trail.  In fact, from my garage to the local access point to the trail is 2.5 miles.  Now, the Silver Comet Trail is cool in its own right, but what’s really cool is that the city of Smyrna, GA has build the “Cumberland Connector.”  Sadly, or suprisingly, there is hardly any info available online about the Cumberland Connector and where it goes.

So, door to door from home to office is going to be just around 10 +/- miles.  That’s totally doable.  So far, I’ve been parking at a grocery store / shopping center which makes my commute about 6.5 miles and I have the option of finishing my morning ride on part of a trail that goes into the Chattahoochie National Forest.  It’s really great.

I have a good friend who has a bike shop right near the trail head of the Silver Comet Trail.

I bought a new set of cycling bibs, (which I highly recommend) and a new bike computer.  So right now, my ride is around 6 miles (as I said) and it takes about 30 minutes to ride in.  And I typically burn 480 – 640 calories, (remember, I’m a big fan of hear rate moniters, HRM’s).

As I mentioned, it’s been hard to find any good resources online, but I did find a nice PDF that explains the new and proposed trails in the area.  I’ll include it here in case it helps you.

trails-in-cobb-cumberland-galleria-area-2007

R.I.P., my Mio c310x…

sniff, sniff…

Good bye, Mio c310x…

My Mio is dead.  Well, sort of.  This weekend I turned it on and the touch screen wasn’t working.  I did a soft reset, no dice.  I did a hard reset and no luck.  Everything else seems to work, and the buttons make sounds, so I called into Mio Tech Support.

Their call center is outsourced to the Phillipenes and I got a nice girl on the phone.  We tried some things and she said the last thing to try was to make sure it was charged all the way and do a hard reset.  If that didn’t work, she said I can do an RMA for it.  She asked me when I bought it (it is just a little over a year) and she asked if I had the original receipt and I said I did and she said that was good and they would replace it under warranty.  Or that’s what I thought she said.

So I called back because the charging of the unit didn’t make a difference, (c’mon, you and I both know that wasn’t going to help) and I called back.  I got another guy who’s English wasn’t as good as the other person and he said that it couldn’t be replaced since it was out of warranty and I can send it in for a repair fee of $100.  Holy geez, that’s a lot.  I told him I needed to think about it

$100 seems like a lot considering what I paid for the unit and since you can get even  more advanced units now for just a little over $100.  I’m not sure what I am going to do.   I might call back in and see if a different  rep tells me something different.

Related but different, when I called in about our Harmony remote breaking, it was about two months outside of warranty, (I didn’t know but they kept track when I signed up for my account) and they gladly sent me a warranty replacement.  Now that’s customer service and they made me a customer for life.

you gotta have a tool box

So, I’ve been settling in at my new job.  I love it.  The company is great, the people I work with are great, and everyone wants to work hard and I feel appreciated.  It’s cool.

But in my six months off in between jobs, I’ve learned some things.   Sure, I’ve read Getting Things Done and tried to put the methodology in place, but with most things, I want to use a tool; either web based or an application.  Sure, I also have a Moleskine, but I consider that a portable utility.

While I was off, I did some contracting, or perhaps consulting is the better term.  I needed a new set of tools to help me be successful.  Now, what I learned and have used is helping me in my new job.  I wanted to write about some of them.

Here’s a quick list of my current toolbox:

Remember the Milk is a slick web app that allows you to keep track of todo items and assign them a context to them, a due date, tags, and keep up with recurrences.   I like it since since RTM has a Twitter account, so if I got to add a todo item quickly, I can send a direct message to rtm via IM and it ends up in my inbox to be processed.  I can even do it via SMS so I don’t have to be around a computer to put those distracting thoughts in their place.  The site is slick, well done, thought out, and sort of fun to use.  I am considering upgrading to a Pro account.

IWantSandy isn’t a porno site.  Rather is is a PIM that is interactive.  I don’t use it much but I do find it handy every once in a while.  For example, I used it today.  IWantSandy also has a Twitter account, so you can direct message Sandy with commands.  Today, I direct messages Sandy via IM like this:

d s remind me in seven days to email Doug about lunch

To which Sandy replied:

Merhaba, Jpabian!

I scheduled this for you:
#1
Thu, 5/29 2:54pm Email doug

  • email and sms reminders at 2:54pm
[ Archive ]
[ Forget ]
[ Mark to-do ]
[ Download ]

Here when you need me,

Sandy

FYI: If you need help, just ask: help

So now I don’t need to think about it and I get a remind to do it.  And if you follow the GTD methodology, you know this will take less than two minutes and I can fire off an email to Doug.  Pretty handy.

PBwiki is simply a personal wiki site.  I like being able to get to it from anywhere and I have a place to keep thoughts, notes, contact info, and other random tidbits of information.

Both Thinking Rock and iGTD are pretty cool apps to help manage a ToDo list within contexts and projects.  I was first using Thinking Rock, but found the integration with Mail.app with iGTD to attractive to resist (I found iGTD2 not quite ready for Prime Time).   If an email comes to me, while I am on my Mac, I can simply hit F6 and that email is put into iGTD.  Then I can process it and put in the right context.  It’s really been helpful for me.

I also like Thinking Rock.  There is a little learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really powerful.  You can also keep your .xml file on a thumb drive and use it on any system, (Thinking Rock is a java app and cross platform).

If you got others I missed, please let me know.  I know that in the past, I changed my time management / todo list proceedures around a bit, but this so far seems to be the most successful way I’ve come up with.

it’s overwhelming sometimes

I like to check out new things on the Internet especially some of the new services out there, like SocialThing and Ping.fm. I’m on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, blah blah blah…

But, sometimes it’s hard to keep all of them up to date, or updated or even to just check in. I have a Pownce account, but only visit when I get a notice sometime has happened, (like a new friend or file). I have a SocialThing account, but I think I’ve only been there once or twice. What else?

With all of these services, I feel like the spinning plate guy, trying to keep up with all of them. Sure, it’s getting better as more ideas become reality. Services like Ping.fm let you update Twitter, Pownce, Facebook, etc all at once.

But then you have to decide if you are going to use IM to update your status or post message, or use a desktop client or the web UI or your cell phone…

I don’t want to be the plate spinner, I want to be like Cardini. If you have not seen the video of Cardini, you’ve missed out. He was so masterful, he took slight of hand to a new level.

Don’t get me wrong, I love these sorts of things. I am enjoying Remember The Milk and Grandcentral. I’ve been using the heck out of my Pbwiki account, and LinkedIn has helped me make new contacts, but the daily routine of checking in everywhere gets old, and some of the newer services don’t seem to have much value for me at this point, so I’m likely not to visit them as much as the others.

So yeah, I want to be like Cardini of the Interwebs. I want to have such mastery of these applications, it looks beyond natural.

one too many cabanossi

Yesterday, Valentine’s day, was a good day. After I dropped off the twins at pre-school, I wanted to find the German butcher and bakery near our house. We had been going to one European butcher nearby that we loved. In fact, it’s just like I remember growing up in Chicago. Patak Meats in Austell is unbelieveable. If you haven’t been you got to. Now, rumor has it the ex-butcher from Patak went to open his own place, called Weinerz. Our German friends said they prefered it to Patak so I have been wanting to check it out.

So, I found it. I stopped by Bernhard’s, the Germany bakery and picked up a loaf of German Sourdough Rye bread. The loaf weighed about 5lbs. Then I went over to the butcher and picked up some cabanossis, German ham, and a couple of beer brautwursts. I spent less than $10.

Then to top off the German morning I was having, I went to Aldi’s to pick up some other stuff. I got home, gave my wife her roses, and we both ate cabanossi’s and had a ham sandwich with some mustard; what a great way to start the day.

But I digress. I have been spending most of my time over the last few days becoming something of Drupal expert. I have volunteered to be the webmaster for our son’s school’s website. The website has potential to be a very effective portal. The PTO, teachers, and administration want to be able to post items to the site and have blogs. I looked at Joomla for awhile and finally I happened to see Drupal mentioned somewhere. The more I read about it the more I was convinced this could provide the solution I was looking for.

The last few days, I’ve been getting into theming Drupal. I modified an existing theme using mostly some heavy CSS. Remember when I said I learn best when I have a project? So, I was surprised to see how much I’ve learned about CSS in the last three days. Being obsessed and not having a job helps, but I have learned tons. I also found a whole bunch of great resources, but not just on CSS but also web design and XHTML. It’s been a great time.

When I was in art school, I love typography. When I was in art school, it was before computers were common place. When I was in art school, the Mac Quadra 800 just came out and was over $5k. But I still loved type and type faces. I was really good at kerning and even today, I like to do my own kerning in Photoshop. So one of the things I am really excited about is doing interesting things with type utilizing CSS. I think this is going to be very exiting for me.

In my reading of SEO one of the things that is recommended against it using images for content. To put it another way, if you have text in an image, that text will not be indexed by the search engines.

In my mind, using CSS will allow me to do some of the things I enjoyed about type in the print media, but have it rendered in a web browser.

My stomach still hurts after finishing off that last cabanossi; I don’t eat like that very often.

Ruby, SEO, and CSS… or how I spent my time off…

If you have been following along, you’ll know that I’ve been out of work since October.  I’ve been really busy, though.  I’ve enjoyed spending time with my children and my wife.  I’ve worked on projects around the house, (I made a bench out of scrap lumber), played around with technology (getting around to all those software updates I’ve been putting off), and I’ve been hitting the books.  Oh yeah, I’ve been doing some consulting on the side, too.

One of the things I really wanted to sink my teeth into was the whole Ruby on Rails things.   It’s been a while since I did any heavy lifting in Perl or even shell scripts for that matter.  I used to be into PHP before version five, but with most things, if you don’t use ’em, you loseWeight Exercise them.  Now, it’s not completely wasted.  I can open a script in Perl and PHP and quickly figure out what’s going on and make changes to suit my needs, but writing something from scratch really made the rusty gears turn and cobwebs fall away.

One of my biggest challenges is coming up with a project to do.  There are so many “solutions in a box” out there by fantastically smart people released as Open Source.   It’s an easy temptation not to reinvent the wheel.  Okay, so back to Ruby on Rails.  I bought a book, that turned out to be pretty crappy.  Except I didn’t know it was crappy, I thought I was too dense to grasp it.  Then I had a friend explain the whole MVC framework.  A light bulb went off and I began to understand concepts that I hadn’t seen before.  The book was still a crappy book, but now I had better direction in trying to find a book that I would personally find useful.  I did.  I found two both by the Pragmatic Programmer series. They got to me.  I understood it.  And while I lack sheer experience, I know enough to be dangerous.  I know where to look in a reference to do what I want.  I also know how to search for answers based on my questions, (sometime you got to know how to ask).

In a completely unrelated conversation with a new friend, we were talking about web design.  He said, “Oh yeah… we use CSS for everything.  You know, instead of using tables and frames like they used to in the old days.” Like in the “old days?”  Was I really living in the old days?  HTML was one of the first languages I had learned.  I think that was around version 3.2 and I had one of those “Teach Yourself HTML” books.  And while I wouldn’t consider myself a complete master, I had chops.  But… this comment made me rethink myself… What did he mean “instead of tables and frames?”  I stopped using frames years ago.. but tables?  I used them all the time.  What on earth did he mean?  I became obsessed.  Now, I knew about CSS and how to change colors and fonts and alignments… but what was this… what sort of wizardry was he talking about.

Seriously, I became obsessed.  I tried to read all I could on CSS.  I found more crappy books.  Nothing gave me the answers I wanted.  Until, that is, I found the O’reilly book and that changed my life.  I got it, it was clear… crazy and zen-like webpages polluted my mind.  I can’t wait to get into some hight-art CSS’ing.  I have found what I was looking for… the missing piece in my webdesign toolbox!

This is all very exciting for you, I am sure.   If you manage to stay on this page, then you are in for a real treat.  One day, when I was the bookstore, a guy came up to me and asked if I knew anything about the Internet.  I smiled sheepishly and said something like, “Yeah, I know a little about it…”  It turned out, he was a contractor, like a handyman-type of contractor and he had a website.  He was interested in SEO (Search Engine Optimization).  His “web guy” didn’t know anything about it, so he decided to take matters in his own hands.   We talked for a while and I tried to recommend him a book.  I found one, leafed through it and said it looked pretty good.  He asked if I had a card, and I said I didn’t and we parted ways.  I was worried I had given him a bum steer so I looked up the book on Amazon and I was surpised to see it was one of the highest rated books on SEO.  I felt good that I gave him some decent advice.

Since then, in my job search, I’ve seen posting after posting for “SEO Experts” so I figured this would be a skill I should learn about.  I was able to find the recommended book at the library and I just started reading it.  You know, I thought I knew a lot about that, but I was very happy to see  that I had lots more to learn.   I’ve enjoyed this book and am going to make some changes to my website, (as it is, I wasn’t far off.  When I view my stats for my website, I was surprised to see how highly I rank in the search engines for topics covered here!).   Am I an expert yet? No, I’m not.. but I think I know a heck of a lot more than a lot of people… read on…

Another thing I have been enjoying, is that I took over my son’s school’s website.  I didn’t do the initial design, which is very good and using CSS, but I did have to get up to speed on it and understand someone else’s code.  I got in the habit of using Subversion to keep whatever I am working on.  The few websites I have been working on, are all stored in my Subversion repository.   I make my edits and then upload my new pages, and then commit everything to subversion.

Now, to gain some additional features, we are moving the school’s website to a new hosting provider, and the new provider allows ssh/shell access.  I’ve used this before, but I had one of those “A-ha!” moments.  If I have shell on the server, why can’t I use subversion to publish my changes on the site?  Sure enough, it works!  It works like this:

  • I have a separate SVN server.  On my laptop, I keep a local copy.  I make all edits on my laptop, verify my changes, (since my laptop is LAM(R|P)), upload my changes to the remote site via FTP, and then commit my changes to SVN.

Since the new provider  has SSH access, I just realized my life is so much easier.

  • I make sure I have the latest revision on my laptop. I make my changes, test them, and commit to my SVN server.
  • On my new webhosting provider, I SSH in and change to my site’s DIR and run “svn update” and viola! Site updated!

Okay, I am sure there are a ton of people doing this and I didn’t make any sort of breakthrough discovery.  But, this IS cool, since I am midway in migrating between providers.  It does make my life easier.

I also got into CMS (content management systems).  I have committed to moving the schools website to a CMS system since so many parties need to updates specific sections.  But that’s another topic entirely and I am going to have to do some hand-holding on this one.

Oh, and I did mention I was doing some consulting.  I enjoy it.  I’ve made some people really happy with my contributions.  So much in fact, my wife and I are in the baby steps of starting a business.  I think for right now, it is on the back burner until I find a steady job; we need benefits.

My final point on is that my experience is somewhat unique.  I worked with some of the smartest and creative people I have ever met in my life.   I’ve been inspired by them and learned from them, but back in the day, I did some hump-busting, too.   In my time off, I’ve discovered that my sweet spot is some balance between creativity, technology, and problem solving.  That’s what I like.

And in case you are interested, I am listening to “Ian Brown” right now.  He’s great!

Sound on Fedora fc8… SOLVED!!!

I apologize for lack of a snappy post title. I am just giddy to get my sound working… better than I had before. In my last post regarding my sound issues:

I mentioned how I finally got the OSS sound driver to work. It worked okay… not perfect. No where near perfect. Finally, I had enough. I finally figured out how to get everything working natively.

In my previous post, I mention that I have an Azalia SB600 and it has an ALC268 chipset. I read somewhere that you can recompile the kernel modules for the ALSA drivers. I began searching for some more specific clues and found this:

# yum groupinstall “Development Tools”
# yum install mercurial
# cd /usr/src

# mkdir alsa && cd alsa
# hg clone http://hg-mirror.alsa-project.org/alsa-driver alsa-driver
# cd alsa-driver
# hg clone
http://hg-mirror.alsa-project.org/alsa-kernel alsa-kernel
# ./hgcompile && make install

reboot!

I also modified the following line in modprobe.conf:

options snd-hda-intel index=0 model=toshiba

It worked! I couldn’t believe it. How easy! I spent hours on this in the past. Granted, finding this solution took some work, but I am very thankful.

Edit: 01.16.08: I happened to see others with Toshiba laptops that had sound problems over at the Fedora Forums. For reference, I have a Toshiba A215-S7411 with the ALC268 chipset.