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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in nojay's LiveJournal:

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Saturday, October 17th, 2015
10:27 am
Fast and Slow
Playing around some more with my New Toy, I added the old nVidia PCI video card back in alongside the ATI Radeon I blunged in last night. The system rebooted itself after detecting the hardware change but came up again with two displays afterwards with no problems. I then added some more utilities such as TightVNC, a remote desktop program I use to control other PCs from my regular desktop PC, while telling it to check for updates since it's a fresh Windows 7 SP1 instance and there were bound to be a few updates ready for it.

Okay, I've got 8 cores and lots of RAM, time to put it under the hammer. I downloaded POVray, the freeware raytracing program and set it up to render one of the standard library scenes, "woodbox" while monitoring the CPU utilisation in the other monitor. Setting the output to be 3840 x 2160 with anti-aliasing on, the 8 cores took up the slack and went to 100% utilisation in Task Manager, and a couple of minutes later it was done. It displays nicely full-screen on my main desktop 4k monitor at that resolution.

Oh, and the updates?

I think I'll leave the New Toy to get on with it...
Friday, October 16th, 2015
11:45 pm
New Toy (Well, New To Me...)
My eternal quest for MORE POWER!!! on a budget has been temporarily assuaged by the purchase of a second-hand server box from Gumtree for 70 quid. It has two quad-core 2.33GHz Xeons and 16GB of RAM which should be enough for anyone (tm), although a quick perusal on Ebay suggests that a pair of 3.40GHz Xeons wouldn't cost that much, ditto for another 16 GB of RAM. Hmmm...

This server, an Intel-based motherboard in a 2U high chassis dates back to 2009 and is therefore obsolete for regular use in modern data centres mainly because of its power dissipation. The modern trend is to minimise expensive energy consumption for each megaflop of processing power and this server signally fails that benchmark. It makes a fine, if noisy room heater though and winter is coming, as GRRM might say.

When I powered it up for the first time nothing much happened. It turned out to be a problem with the twin redundant power supplies; someone previously had attempted to fit the hot-swap supplies in upside down. They had only achieved this remarkable feat by bending the power module they plugged into internally to the point where they didn't make contact when inserted the right way up. A few whacks with a lump hammer fixed that, and the system powered up. Hurrah!

Did I mention the slight fan noise problem? I SAID, DID I MENTION... Ahem. It quietens down a bit as it goes through the startup procedure, thankfully but it's not the quietest bit of kit on the market. I'll work on that a bit as I plan for this to be a workstation system so noise would be a problem. A hushkit enclosure will be the first step in reducing the noise levels. I may eventually recase the motherboard and fit dedicated heatsinks, doing away with the server fans which cool the entire motherboard.

I added an SSD to the system as I don't have any 3.5" SAS drives, the server's normal hot-swap mass storage option. It's plumbed in loosely at the moment as I get the machine up and working. I installed Linux Cinnamon Mint on it to start with to give it a general checkout but as usual Linux failed me when I tried to fit an old low-profile nVidia FX5200 PCI video card to the system, causing the Mint install to blow out to a command-line prompt and some unhelpful messages after a reboot. Plus ça change, I've never had much luck with Linux in that regard.

Instead I installed Windows 7 Pro from a DVD I had to hand and it Just Worked. No blowout and after I had updated the nVidia drivers (the FX5200 card isn't officially supported under Win 7 but the 64-bit Vista drivers went on without complaint) I could set different resolutions via the GUI and no bloody command-line to be seen.

My next step has been to fit a better video card which I obtained this evening off Gumtree. It's nothing special, an old Radeon 3450 low-profile card but it's a PCI-e card (the older FX5200 card was old-school PCI). The problem is that this server doesn't have full-length x16 PCI-e slots, just a couple of shorter x4 slots and the Radeon video card is x16 as most video cards are. However by cutting out the back of the x4 slot the longer video card will fit although you have to be careful that there's nothing on the motherboard behind the slot that will interfere with the overhanging contact fingers on the card. The socket negotiates with the card and puts it into x1 mode which is slower than full x16 mode but it works fine for my purposes. There are a number of Youtube videos on how to do this slot modification without buggering up the rest of your system although any warranty is well and truly fucked by such actions as you might expect.

So what does 70 quid of server look like?

That's eight cores and 16GB of RAM, idling along but ready for work. My plan is to use this as a wheelhorse system when I'm hammering on graphics or doing renders, accessible via the flat's GigE network as a headless remote workstation. Hand off the workfiles, run some scripts and recover the finished files at my leisure.

Future additions will include more local storage space as the SSD I've got in there is already three quarters full with OS and programs. I'd like to get a couple of fast SAS drives so I can play with setting up a proper RAID store for it (the motherboard has built-in hardware RAID support) but another SSD wouldn't hurt as they're coming down in price quite nicely at the moment. I could easily add another regular spinning-rust SATA drive or two just to tide me over. It could do with some USB 3 ports too, another PCI-e card option for the other x4 slot. I'll think of more stuff later, I expect. The first thing to do is to get the Windows installation fully updated which will take a little time. I may also try to put Windows 10 on it if it meets the compatibility requirements, just because. Now pardon me while I find my ear defenders...
Sunday, July 26th, 2015
8:35 pm
Swords Versus Tanks
Someone I know wanted to write a story around the idea of swords versus tanks, magical weapons against modern military gear but he had to Munchkin the swords and armour to ridiculous levels of magical ability to make it anywhere near an even fight.

The new anime series Gate: Thus the JSDF fought there doesn't try to make swords versus tanks an even fight, instead it turns into a Curb Stomp Battle (TV Tropes). Tortoise-defense shieldwall versus 105/155mm artillery, ouch ouch ouch. Wyverns versus self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, same difference. The only battle in the early part of the story that comes close to even being considered a draw is Giant Flame Dragon versus Panzerfaust and that results in the dragon being driven off, not something the locals have ever seen happen before.

Itami, an 35-year old otaku fanboy desperately trying to get to a special event in the Ginza area of downtown Tokyo has his efforts thwarted by the appearance of a magical gate and an invasion of cod-Roman soldiers and armoured knights accompanied by wyverns and orcs intent on claiming this "new land" for their Empire. Itami helps get refugees away from the invaders and then organises the local police into an ad-hoc defensive line before soldiers from Japan Self Defence Force can get to the area. After that happens, see "Curb Stomp Battle" above. It turns out Itami is a second lieutenant in the JSDF, on leave for the day and he gets the usual reward for doing a good deed, he is promoted to first lieutenant and given more deeds to do...

The JSDF are sent through the Gate which has somehow remained in place even after the invaders were dealt with, to see what's on the other side, figure out how to stop another invasion happening and to arrest the people responsible for the first invasion and get them to pay reparations. Yes, really, arrest them and get them to cough up for the damage, mayhem and loss of life they have caused. It's Japan, deal with it.

What's in the other side of the Gate is the next invasion force, even bigger than the first one with the Empire's vassal states aligned with what's left of the original Empire's armies. Curb Stomp Battle no. 2 results although this time we get to see the battle from the Empire side of things, and it isn't pretty -- the Emperor has fed his vassal's armies into the grinder to prevent them rebelling after his own forces were beaten into a pulp, for one thing.


Now that the Gate has been secured the JSDF sends out reconnaissance patrols to find out the local situation and that's where Itami, our otaku hero comes back into the story, put in charge of a lightly-armed platoon and sent in search of catgirls, uh, intelligence about the indigenous peoples of this magical (literally) land. He doesn't find catgirls...

Gate is based on a manga which is itself written from a light novel series which is a toned-down expansion of a Japanese right-wing militaristic nutter's web novel. At each stage of reinterpretation the gore and violence and xenophobia has been de-emphasised and the fun parts (and there is a lot of humour in this series, sometimes incongruously bookending quite gory and horrific violence) brought more to the fore. Some folks think this anime series is actually underwritten by the JSDF itself as it paints a very rosy picture of their side of things generally. Even if they have I don't think it was someone in the JSDF Public Affairs division who came up with the concept of the grizzled old Top Sergeant shouting "The JSDF has a tradition of fighting monsters!" as they deploy to take on the Flame Dragon.
Saturday, July 18th, 2015
8:29 pm
Plug and Play
I've had an old PDA, a Palm Tungsten E wired up as a background noise generator at the head of my bed for a while now. It plays an "ambient" MP3 track from this site run by Canton Becker and helps me get to sleep at night (as well as masking noise from the neighbours). However for varied and arcane reasons it's not working at the moment (and when I say arcane I MEAN arcane). I "borrowed" another old PDA, an HP iPaq 214 off someone and set it up in the Palm's place but for varied and abstruse reasons it's high-maintenance (and when I say abstruse reasons I MEAN abstruse) and a bother to keep working.

Digging through a junk drawer (one of my many junk drawers, I should add) I came across an old MP3 player I had forgotten about, and figured I could probably rig it as a replacement for my noise-emitting PDA. It's a stick type portable player with a USB plug on the end which allows me to load and delete MP3 files just like a thumb drive, a bit like this one here. It takes a AAA battery to run it though, not actually a problem as I have a ready supply of rechargeable AAAs but it meant I'd have to keep on swapping batteries as it would only run for a few hours at a time on each charge. See "high-maintenance" as mentioned above.

"Ahah!" I said, "I'll bodge it to run off a mains 1.5V supply!" Except there's no socket in the player to accept an external power supply... so I made a dummy AAA cell from some plastic scrap and fitted it into the MP3 player's battery compartment. Hooking up a spare AA battery to the wires from the dummy cell made the MP3 player work. Great! Now all I needed was a 1.5V... power... pack... ummm.

5V power supplies? got plenty. 9V, 12V, 14V, 17V, 25V yep yep yep but nothing with a 1.5V output. I tried diode drops, resistors etc. wired up to a 5V supply but nothing worked for various abstruse and arcane reasons. I thought about building a regulated 1.5V power supply but the only circuits I could find were based around a regulator chip I didn't have, the infamous LM317 adjustable voltage 3-pin regulator device and I didn't want to buy something that I could fake otherwise from what I already had to hand.

It was only after I had another cup of brain stimulant (aka instant coffee) that I remembered this MP3 player had a USB plug... Sure enough, hooking it up to a USB power brick proved it would happily run as an MP3 player while powered via its USB connection so it's now playing ambient noise in the background. Problem solved.

Now all I have to do is find another USB power brick that I can use to charge the PDA...

Current Mood: Plugged in
Thursday, July 16th, 2015
6:25 pm
Something Amazing Happened in Space Yesterday...
as well as that Pluto flyby thingy that got all the headlines. This was probably more important.

Yesterday at 15:36 GMT an Atlas 5 lifted off from Canaveral carrying a replacement satellite to be added to the existing GPS constellation in preparation for the decommissioning of an older unit in the near future. Ho hum, another successful launch of several tonnes of hardware into space. But there's more...

Just over six hours later at 21:42 an Ariane V was launched from Kourou to put a replacement weather satellite and a commercial direct-broadcast satellite into orbit.

So, it's not just that successful launches are no longer headline news, it's that we're throwing them up at such a rate that the human race can launch two rockets on the same day and it's not a Big Thing.

It's also kind of noteworthy that both launches involved putting a replacement satellite into orbit, not for immediate use but because it was cheaper than storing them on the ground and only fitting them into a launch slot when their predecessors failed as was the usual way in the past.

The Future, we has it. Today (well, yesterday but you know what I mean...)
Tuesday, April 28th, 2015
3:23 pm
Gonna Be A Bright, Bright, Bright...
...sunshiney day.

Flying out to Japan at dark-o'clock on Friday morning, arriving Saturday morning 24 clock hours later. It's currently about 5 deg C mid-afternoon here in Edinburgh, and raining. Let's see what the weather forecast is for Tokyo when I arrive...

[Cut for large(ish) image]

Pardon me while I nip outside and turn a few cartwheels...
Monday, April 20th, 2015
6:25 pm
Bladrerunner: This Time It's Japanese!
Anime can make pretty much anything cute, so when it deals with the futuristic subject of "retiring" replicants a la Bladerunner the moe is dialled up to kyu-ichi (11).

"Plastic Memories" is an anime series currently showing on Japanese TV, set in a future world where Giftias (artificial humans) coexist with people, often acting as substitute family members. The Giftias are time-limited though and after a set period of just under a decade they are repossessed by the manufacturers, sometimes against the owner's will. Exactly why this time limit is so rigidly enforced has yet to be explained properly though. The artificiality of the Giftas is somewhat in doubt since they can eat, drink, bleed and they even need to use the toilet so they seem to be biological rather than mechanical in nature.

Our hero, Tsukasa is a ronin (someone who failed to get into University) who gets a job with the Terminal Services division of SAI Corporation, a major Giftia manufacturer, acting as "spotter" (support person) to the Giftia "marksman" whose job it is to actually recover the Giftia being targetted. He is teamed with Isla, a Giftia who has only a few weeks to go before she herself will be retired, something Tsukasa is kept blissfully unaware of by his officemates who are very protective of her.

Isla is no Deckard, to put it mildly. The only thing hard-boiled about her is the determined expressions she displays just before doing something outrageously klutzy.

This is an odd mix of comedy and tragedy, the sort of thing anime can pull off well sometimes. We see several Giftia recovery operations where the humans are obviously distraught at losing the Giftias they have been attached to for years, mixed in with pratfalls and odd moments of slapstick humour and of course over all of that hangs the time-limitation of Isla's own existence.

Anime and manga have played a lot with the disposable android theme, of course -- there was "Chobits" (loser picks up trashy girl, turns her on) and the similarly time-limited android heroine Mahoro in "Mahoromatic". I'll be interested to see where this goes, the usual pattern is for such a storyline to take a dark and dramatic turn around episode 6 or so. Nojay-Bob he say, check this one out.
Thursday, April 16th, 2015
3:07 pm
New Toy, First Impressions
I've just bought a second-hand HP Stream 7 tablet as a bon voyage present to myself before I fly off to Japan at the beginning of next month.

I've tried a couple of tablets in the past (an Android loaner and a Blackberry Playbook) but couldn't get on with them. The Stream 7 runs full-fat Windows 8.1 OS and it was a lot easier for me to make things work on it coming off using Windows for the past thirty-odd years plus being an early adopter of Windows 8. It was quite easy to set up a Wifi connection after firing up my wifi router (which announces itself to the student-occupied flats around me as a TV Licencing detector van) and connecting to my local network and accessing the shares on my main machine only required me to enter a username and password.

I've installed my favourite video player, CCCP on it and that works as well as the one on my desktop PC allowing for the smaller display (1280x720) compared to my desktop 4k monitor. More experimentation to come; next thing is to see if I can get cabled Ethernet working using a spare Ethernet USB dongle and an OTG cable I have handy. A lot of the places I'll be staying (hotels, hostels etc.) in Japan have good cabled Internet but indifferent Wifi.

Downsides -- The Stream 7 does not have GPS and the rear camera is not that good at only 2MPixels and no stabilisation.

Upsides -- it has a microSD card slot which will accept a 128GB device according to some blogs which means storage expansion is not a problem.

EDIT: it works perfectly well with a USB thumbdrive and a USB keyboard. What I'd like to do is to be able to charge it through a USB hub with a kbd and mouse and network adapter. More experimenting later.

EDIT 2: It works with a wired Ethernet USB adaptor I had to hand, after a bit of tapdancing to get it to accept unsigned drivers since this adapter is somewhat ancient and predated signed drivers. I'm impressed the way sixty quid's worth of tablet PC is keeping up with what I'm throwing at it. I do have the advantage of knowing a lot about Win 8 and being able to find stuff on the Internet when I need to, like the exact sequence of operations needed to use unsigned drivers on Win 8.
Saturday, March 21st, 2015
12:23 pm
Through A Glass Brightly
I decided to make an effort to shoot some pictures of yesterday's eclipse, and that meant SCIENCE!

I'm going to Japan in May and I found a good deal on a small superzoom bridge camera, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H300 which serendipitously would a) replace my need for a telescope with its 35x zoom and b) provide a large image courtesy of its 20 megapixel sensor. Of course that range of zoom, small sensor and high pixel count would mean the actual image quality would suffer but I wasn't aiming for detail or colour accuracy particularly.

I built a simple frame to position a welder's helmet green filter glass in front of the camera which, mounted on a solid tripod reduced the amount of light hitting the camera sufficiently to prevent damaging the sensor and generally allowed the camera's autofocus and exposure control to do its job. The filter meant the images turned out green though. A piece of cardboard thumbtacked to the top acted as a sunshield and allowed me to see the camer's display for positioning and focus. I used the self-timer to avoid camera shake as much as possible.

I found a location nearby with no trees in the way and a clear line of sight south at the front of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art along with a number of other eclipse-watchers.

The result (cropped and reduced to 60%)?

Cut for large imageCollapse )

I've edited together a sequence of the shots I managed to take over the entire eclipse, further cropping and reducing them and also converting them to greyscale as the green colour was rather distracting. Clouds rolled in during the eclipse and caused some problems shooting through the gaps when they appeared so the best images I have are from early on in the sequence.
Cut for large imageCollapse )

 I'll try and photograph the Lunar eclipse coming this autumn (six months after this solar eclipse, not coincidentally) and see if I can do better than my last attempt which was with a camera with a much shorter zoom range and smaller pixel count sensor. I won't need a welding filter for that though.
Thursday, February 26th, 2015
3:30 pm
Pulled the Trigger
 I booked the flights for my birthday trip to Japan last night. The price is surprisingly low, at only 500 quid return via Air France, changing in Paris Charles de Gaulle. It's costing me a lot more than the absolute cheapest flight at £393 but that was offered by Turkish Airlines, changing in Instanbul and adding up to about 17 hours bum-in-seat for the two legs which is a couple of hours more than I think I'd be comfortable with. The AF flight I chose operates via Haneda airport, a first for me as I've always landed at Narita up till now. The 6:00 a.m. arrival suggests I'll be hitting the Yamanote line at rush-hour...

 I'm not going to spend a month in Japan this time around as I was originally planning but it's still going to be a bit over three weeks in total, centred around eating tanjoubi (birthday) ramen (noodles) in Onomichi (Heaven on earth) on May 18th. Buying a JR pass is next, it's likely to be a 14-day pass but I could fit a 21-day pass into my stay. The extra cost over the 14-day pass, about 13,000 yen isn't that much given the way I abuse JR passes -- if I did two more overnight trips on the Sunrise Seto in the extra seven days then that would save me the cost of two nights in a hotel. Have to think about it but there's no rush, I won't be buying one for a few weeks yet.
Friday, December 26th, 2014
4:59 pm
State of the Nojay
This is a bucket-list update since I've not been, well, updating this Livejournal thing recently and besides it's traditional at this time of the year.

Firstly, I hab a cood. First one I've had for a while, not serious or disabling, just a dribbly nose and a raw throat. Strong drugs are holding it at bay.

I have a job at the moment, a temporary contract doing call-centre support for VeryLargeOnlineRetailerCorp. It will end pretty soon as they start to slough off their seasonal staff now the Black Friday and Xmas peaks are over. It's not particularly enjoyable but it's not soul-destroying work either. I'll be happy to leave but I'd go back again next year if I'm "at leisure". As Pterry says, it's indoor work with no heavy lifting. The pay isn't great but it's not minimum wage, quite.

Since I had some cash coming in I plowed a chunk of it into another computer upgrade for myself, a Dell UP3214Q monitor which I got on a cracking deal on Black Friday from NRG-IT, a company I've bought other monitors from in the past with exemplary service and prompt delivery. I recommend them if you're in the market for an open-box return/refurbished monitor at a very good price.

I have no peripheral vision left. As they say, "Once you've tried 32 inches you can never go back". Feeding it a 4k (3840 x 2160 @ 60Hz) signal required a video card upgrade too, something with a DisplayPort output but that wasn't too expensive to source or tricky to set up. I've got my original main monitor, another NRG-IT Dell IPS display set up as a sidekick second monitor in portrait mode, 1440 x 2560 fed from the same video card.

4k is, well... I went for an IPS/IZGO dsisplay because I've been spoiled by my previous monitors providing the good colour gamut IPS technology provides. The extra pixels are really welcome when looking at content that benefits from it, like pictures. Text and browsing require an upscale to avoid appearing teeny-tiny, not surprisingly with the sheer number of pixels on the screen. My eyes aren't getting any younger and they really benefit for the extra display real-estate -- my previous 27" monitor was getting to seem a little cramped in regular use.

I've downloaded a few 4k videos to test the screen -- yes it is awesome but unfortunately the CPU (a four-core 3.2GHz AMD device) is not capable of supporting the frame rate. There's no hardware decode circuitry for 4k content in commodity video cards yet as there is for HD video at 1920 x 1080. This screen is the equivalent of 4 standard HD screens tiled 2 x 2 and having no hardware acceleration puts all of the decoding load onto the CPU which frankly isn't quite up to the challenge. There may be another upgrade in my future, an 8-core CPU should be a drop-in replacement...

Loncon 3 came and went in August. It was a Worldcon, 'nuff said. I toted that bale and lifted that barge before, during and after the con plus artshow construction and deconstruction as is my wont in such circumstances. I am starting to consider I'm getting too old for that sort of effort but I survived this one with a bit to spare. Not "never again", quite but the next-but-one British Worldcon may well have to do without my inestimable services in that regard.

Future plans -- I hit the Big Six Oh in less than six months time and since I have some extra cash in my back pocket I've decided to carry on the hallowed tradition of the past few years and celebrate my tanjoubi with ramen in Onomichi. My plans are still subject to change but I'm considering spending about a month in Japan this time with more travel around the country to places like Mount Aso in Kyushu and down to Kochi in Shikoku.
Thursday, July 3rd, 2014
7:53 pm
Really Useful Box
 Just finished hacking on another long-term project, a really useful box. Nobody makes one of these as a retail product, you can't buy them in the shops. So what is it?

 Well, it started out in life as a computer power supply that died spectacularly one day. I kept the metal case, threw away the rest of the smouldering electronic entrails and then started drilling and cutting. The resulting Really Useful Box contains a 13A socket, a 30-minute clockwork timer I rescued from an old electric cooker three decades ago, a 10A circuit breaker from a scrapped minicomputer of similar vintage and a voltage spike suppressing varistor from the "this'll come in handy someday" drawer. This box is really useful for powering stuff that might blow up when switched on for the first time and means I don't need an infinite supply of spare fuses and the timer lets me run things like battery chargers or lights for a limited period. Like I said, really useful. I wonder what I should call it?
Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014
1:57 pm
Using the right tool for the job
 My landlord bought a coconut. He had some difficulties opening it. I had an idea.

 It worked. The end.
Sunday, May 4th, 2014
10:04 am
Order of Business
Note to self, in the morning its coffee THEN soldering iron. Nothing I can't rework but it's annoying, especially after reassembling the metalwork with its fourteen hold-down screws before discovering my mistake.
Saturday, March 1st, 2014
12:54 pm
 Ashinano Hitoshi, one of my favourite mangakas (Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, Kabu no Isaki) is back in the saddle again with a new series, Kotonoba Drive running in Afternoon magazine. It's not anything radically different to what he's done before but that's not a problem for me -- basically a girl on a small-capacity motorbike (a Honda ST70, I used to have one about 30 years ago...) riding around town and experiencing stuff.

kotonoba illo

 When I say "not anything radically different" I mean it. The first chapter of Kotonoba Drive is a reprise of one of the PositioN stories Ashinano-san published way back, set in a sudden sea-fog and the second chapter brings back the Glider Master from the same series. As yet there are no super-natural overtones to the series or at least not much and that was a feature of the original PositioN stories, a temporary disassociation from the real world that suddenly snaps back into place.

 At least it's not Endless Eight.
Tuesday, February 25th, 2014
9:45 pm
I'm Impressed
 I got a S/H last-generation video card for a bargain price at a boot sale a few days back, an Nvidia 8800GTS and I've only just got round to trying it out as I wanted to get through Problem Tuesday without shutting my machine down (I hibernate it at night as a rule.)

 The video card I had fitted previously was an ATI/AMD device (an entry-model 5450, about as cheap as they come) so I changed cards with some trepidation expecting a lot of driver installations and hacking around at lower resolutions to get it to work since I was not just changing cards but manufacturers too.

 In fact what happened was that It Just Worked. Windows 8 thought about it for a bit then brought my main screen up (a 2560x1440 Dell) in the same maximum resolution the old card had been configured for. It even remembered my second monitor's setup properly, a 1920x1200 display in portrait mode, no muss no fuss. Remembering the agony of configuring video systems in previous incarnations of Windows this swapover was almost... pleasant.
Saturday, February 22nd, 2014
9:22 pm
A Bit of a LISP
 Digging through the tidal wash of rubble in one corner of the living room we came across a pile of old circuit boards which were originally part of a Symbolics LISP machine, one of the desk-sized workstations from the mid-80s. If anyone has an interest in acquiring these/taking them off our hands or knows someone who might be interested in them please get in touch. Pictures and more details on request. We can bundle them up and ship them if someone will pay the carriage but note these are big heavy circuit boards. We may also have a couple of original Symbolics LISP keyboards to go with them.
Saturday, February 15th, 2014
11:09 pm
Green Light
 Just got a new toy, a small Arduino board called a Nano costing well under a tenner from the usual Hong Kong suspects via Amazon. It's about the size of a USB thumb drive with a ATmega328 CPU on board giving 32KB of program flash memory, 2KB of static RAM and 1KB of data EEPROM and running at 16MHz. It's powered by an on-board USB connector which also allows access to download and run programs. There's a lot of free support, example programs, coding help and simple tools to produce and test code (known as "sketches", based generally on C with Arduino specific extensions and libraries).

 It's sitting plugged into my desktop machine at the moment with a green LED pulsing gently, my first attempt to code for it. As with most beginning projects it involved some cut-n-paste programming from a code example, "Blink", the basic "Hello World" of Arduino programming. By the time I had finished with it the simple blink example was converted to pulse-width modulation on a rising and falling cycle; it still blinks but the brightness rises and falls gradually instead of being on/off.

 I have plans for it, another little project I've had in the back of my mind for a few months. I'll steal other people's code to get it working then tweak it from there -- my intention is to build an editing foot-pedal USB device that emulates a specific keyboard operation; press down to emit CTRL-C (copy) and release to emit CTRL-V (paste). Hopefully it shouldn't be too difficult.
Thursday, January 16th, 2014
1:58 pm
Only after I had typed it
 did it seem a slightly weird thing to say.

 "...measuring the LD50 figure for ingestion of octonitrocubane"

 Hmmm. Youtube, no hits. Damn.
Friday, November 29th, 2013
3:41 pm
'Nother Niggle Nobbled
 I'm somewhat parsimonious in respect of software purchases. I bought an OEM copy of the Corel graphics suite a long time ago and I've run it on various computers under various OSes, from Windows 2000 up through XP, Vista, Windows 7 and it's now currently on this desktop under Windows 8. The suite's image processing program, PhotoPaint works perfectly but alas the other major utility in the suite, Corel Draw wasn't so happy on Win 8 with an odd error popping up any time I attempted to use it. It's not something I wanted to use much though so it didn't cause me problems but the fact it didn't work did rather niggle -- after all I paid a whole five quid for this package more than a decade ago and back then that was real money.

 I investigated Windows 8's compatibility mode which is intended to support older software like the Corel suite and after a couple of attempts I found setting Corel Draw's launcher properties to "windows 7" mode fixed the problem and it now works again. Oddly enough selecting XP mode didn't fix the problem, don't know why -- after all I have run this program directly under XP mode in the past. Still, another minor success.
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