Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Game of 1000 Blank White Cards

My friends and I started playing 1000 Blank White Cards (or 1kbwc for short) at the beginning of 2007. If you don't know, 1kbwc is a game where everyone has a pen, and as the game progresses, if you draw a blank card from the deck, you get to turn it into a new card. Everyone takes turns playing cards on each other until the deck is emptied, and whoever ends up with the most points win. Obviously, if one really wanted to win, they could just play a +1,000,000 point card on themselves, but everyone else would make sure to get them back for it. For a more complete rundown of the rules, wikipedia is a good place to start.
After we had been playing for a year, and had collected a few hundred cards towards our goal of 1,000, we decided to pick out our best 100 cards and make a poster out of them. Lucky for us, one of our players, Lizzie, is an outstanding digital artist, so our poster turned out great.
CLICK HERE for a full size image of the poster (7MB)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Calcium Tablets

Our family was sitting down to have our wholesome dinner together, when dad gave mom one of the new calcium pills we bought for her while shopping. She acted a little intimidated by how big they were...
Being the good engineers that my father and I am, we pulled out a postal scale, and a periodic table, and between weighing 10 pills (for high accuracy) and calculating the molar mass of Calcium Carbonate (otherwise known as chalk), our calculations showed that 1.5 grams of the 2.6 gram pill is chalk, so it's at least of the same order of magnitude. Most of the rest of the mass is the fat coating that made the pills, apparently, go down relatively easily, so says my mother.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

First Day of Spring Break

Finals are all over, and I drove home this afternoon to home sweet home. So what's the first thing I do? Re-setup all my computers, of course...

But it's actually for a good cause. My sister has a summer job working for a local daycare, so she gets to prepare lesson plans, and generally entertain 8-10 children a day while still being educational. She approached me this month and asked if it would be possible to put together a computer lab for her with all the computers I have laying around (it's a real problem for me!).

How could I turn down a challenge like deploying an entire lab of computers with Linux on them for her class, right? So I've been experimenting with how to setup the computers so it's easiest for her to supervise and the kids to use. I've finally decided on setting up one of my computers as the server, and taking the hard drives out of the rest of them and using them as thin clients. As thin clients, all these computers have to do is deal with displaying stuff on the screen, and the user typing and moving the mouse. Then the server handles running all the programs in one place and storing all the files on its hard drive. This will be really nice because I'll only have to setup Linux once, and then the desktop will be exactly the same on all of them at the same time. Then, when we want to add another computer, all we have to do is tell it to boot off the network and plug it into the network.
So here is Kristina trying out some of the educational games for Linux.

I've been trying to get powerpc thin clients working, but have been having all kinds of problems with it (if it was easy, would it be as much fun?). It would be cool if I did, since there is two imacs in her classroom already, so it'd be another two computers to add to my three before we have to start leaning on friends to borrow old equipment.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Facebook Chat Problem Solved!

My past rant about how much I dislike web-based chat clients has been answered. There is now a libpurple/ Pidgin plugin for Facebook Chat. For those who don't know, Pidgin is an IM client that allows me to use one program to log into AIM, Y!M, MSN, Google Talk, Bonjour, and now Facebook!

Sahas is my hero of the day for relayin that on to me.

Monday, March 16, 2009

TCP Congestion Control

Dude, check it out, it's TCP congestion control. This was while I was uploading and downloading unthrottled at the same time. Upload is saturated, so the download rises until the acks can't keep up, and it drops off again. That's how the internet keeps from killing itself.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Real Vector Space Symbol in TeX

I've been working with my Linear Algebra professor this weekend to figure out how to print the real vector space symbol in TeX so he can use the same notation as the textbook does for the final.

To make it, install the bbm package, add \usepackage{bbm} to the TeX preamble, and inside of math sections, just type \mathbbm{R} to get this:

Procrastinating and Working at the Same Time

While messing around with my new camera, I realized that I can take time lapse videos with it, so here I am procrastinating and getting work done, at the same time. This was Thursday night, and I got about an hour of video before the battery died. I'm first working on an essay for ENL3, take a break, then start an essay for IST94.

Upgraded the Hard Drive in Powerbook G3

Finals are descending upon me, so I'll keep this short.

The initial practice run for a future Linux project left me with a working BOOTP server, which is a pain in the ass to actually get working, and exactly what you need to install Linux on a certain Powerbook G3 with a broken CD drive, so I figured, why not? I had a few hours last night after studying, so I swapped out the 6GB drive for one of the 30GB drives I failed to get working over Winter break. It definitely didn't work (50/50 chance I pick the broken one first), but one more swap later, and I've got a Powerbook with a *working* 30GB hard drive, and another 30GB drive marked as bad.

6GB was a little tight. I will eventually post instructions for it, just not yet. I can't get it to consistently work...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Motorola Modem for ATT DSL Firmware Hell

You want to experience the cheesiest, most useless help site ever? Visit, then try and find the answer to any question more involved than "How do I power cycle my modem?"

I just spent half an hour trying to figure out if there was a firmware update for my Motorola 2210-02-2001 modem. Motorola tells you to check with your ISP, but AT&T literally lists the manufactures and links to their main websites. Useless.

So 20 minutes of digging through forums later, we find a link to AT&T's training material, with what I was looking for. Long story short, they haven't updated this buggy thing since they released it. The internet light is almost never solid green, alternating between flashing green, red, and dark. So to hopefully save someone else the trouble:

Motorola 2210-02-2001 Style:MSTATEA DSL modem firmware update. The page also has the 2210-02-2006 version, but long story short, these firmware images aren't useful.

UPDATE: Apparently the firmware images are gone. What was at first a 404 has now become a "no images are available," so it seems they might come back. Thanks Mike for pointing that out. Sorry folks.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Powershot SD1000

So Travis, one of my fellow Mechanical Engineer buds, found a camera last week. He looked through it and couldn't find anyone any of us recognized, or any kind of name. He was interested in the 2GB SD card in it, but had no use for the camera itself. I on the other hand, have SD cards practically used an miniature coasters (just can't throw anything away!), and would love a little point and shoot to compliment my want-to-be DSLR behemoths [1] [2].

He remembered to bring it today, and man did I hit pay dirt on this one. It's a PowerShot SD1000, list price $200. All I need to put into it is $11 for a battery charger since it uses a funky li-ion battery. This thing is FAST! It turns on in 0.8 seconds, which is mind blowing after the 10 second warm-up my other cameras take. It is also puny compared to my other, but a side by side picture is a chicken and egg problem: what do I take it with?
It's almost spooky how lucky I got on this, considering this camera was on my short list for buying for myself, since it supports the CHDK firmware, which allows you to run scripts on it like time lapse or long exposure or even motion triggered pictures.

Update: I have gotten CHDK installed on my SD card, and it works! This thing has pages upon pages of settings, which for the hacker type like me, couldn't be better. What is more cool than being able to play mastermind on my camera? For the serious photographers out there, it also means I can take RAW photos now, which saves every piece of information captured by the CCD, allowing me to do crazy processing later on.

Linear Algebra Midterms

The grades were posted today for our second linear algebra "midterm," if one could call it that, considering that it was less than two weeks before the final for the course. I haven't seen mine yet, so I'll say nothing of that, but I will post the graphs of the two.
Midterm 1: Average 55% with a 17% deviation (low of 12, the 0 is a glitch)

Midterm 2: Average 74% with a 14% deviation (low of 43)

Now I beg the question: Which one of these test is more "fair" or "better," ignoring all considerations of content and adequately preparing for it. Midterm 1 was a near symmetric bell curve, yet I've been hearing rumors that he is considering even throwing that one out. That may not be entirely unfair, but imagine if they were legitimately thought provoking questions. Wouldn't it prove to be a better evaluation if the average was closer to 50 than 100?

What does everyone getting 100% on a test mean? We all equally know the material?

So which one is better, the one where knowing the material from class gets you a 74%, or the one that requires true insight into the material to get past 55%? Which one is better considering that this is a lower division math class required for a plethora of BS majors? (Consider the meaning of BS for what you will. I'm heading straight to Grad school)

Which one would you rather take? The second one was quite a bit easier to take, but really, if I wanted to kick back and take a midterm in 30 minutes with a cool glass of lemonade, I would have saved all the money, and trouble, and stayed in high school... (or gone back to last week and taken my Electromagnetism physics midterm again. ZAH-ZING!)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Tried Out FreeNAS

Wow. Things have been pretty crazy this month. Classes all worked out so I've been running 1-2 midterms a week for a month now. Took the last one today, so only two more weeks and I get a week off before plunging in again.

The craziness means that I haven't gotten to work on anything too exciting lately. One thing I've been testing out this week is FreeNAS. This was my first serious foray off my well beaten path through Debian-based Linux, and I was pretty impressed.

FreeNAS is a BSD based system that you install on a computer and then log into it's web interface to configure all the different ways to make its hard drives available to the network to back up and share files. I loaded it up on KWF4, with its 100GB and 120GB hard drive. Samba and FTP worked just as I liked it to out of the box, which is contrasted with Linux, where things are a little lacking. A system like this would be outstanding at any kind of LAN party for game patches, music, etc.

The one thing that bothered me was a lack of an easy lvm-like system. It very well may be buried somewhere in the RAID system, but I've mighty used to having a 220GB virtual drive in this computer when I'm running Linux. As it stands now, it's two seperate samba shares, one for each drive, which is fine, but I know that better can be done.

More than anything else, my ignorance of BSD is showing. As an appliance operator though, I'm having a good time.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Link Dump

Interesting links I've found on the internet:
Amateur Radio
A video of F2FO hand making his own triode vacuum tubes.
Man who maintains high voltage power lines while they're still running.
Negative feedback in amplifiers finally makes sense. (In case you're wondering, the output from the third circuit with the original 11MV input is 92MV)
Outstanding introductory book on building your own radio equipment.
Regen receiver using 3 2N2222s. (Credit: KB6NU)
The Amazing 1 2N2222 transceiver, the Gnat.
Super cheap bottle and tin website. This would be really useful if you sell homemade liquid products. The prices are just mind blowing. They also have Altoid-like tins for 74 cents. (Credit: Cool Tools)
7 Ways the Recession Will Improve America.
Donald MacKenzie on Hedge Funds. I've always enjoyed economics. It all makes some kind of brutal sense.
Amusing jab at religion ignoramus.
Perl library for a "smart" text interface.
7 pieces of advice on notebooks.