2013-05-12 18:55 - General
I posted last weekend about the window perch I made for my cats. They're enjoying it. But the stool beside it was not enough. So this weekend I added a ramp, which rests on top of the stool for height and folds down on hinges when not in use. Hasn't been up for long, but they seem to deal with it much better.
2013-05-04 14:35 - General
There's a rare few beautiful weeks in New York's spring and fall where its nice outside, and it's nice opening the windows. When I do that, my cats climb up into the jamb of the open window and cram themselves into that far-too-small space, they enjoy being there so much. I've been meaning to improve this space for them for a while, and never gotten around to it. This morning I finally did. I took the old already-carpet-covered plywood plank that was a ramp from the window sill up to the loft bed in my old apartment. Cut it to length, cut out some space in the corners to fit around the window jamb (which this perch rests on across the whole width for support), and screwed some cleats to the walls next to the window.
I think I need to also provide a better way for them to climb up there, long term. But they've stayed put when I placed them there for the past half hour now, so I'm already pretty sure this was worth the effort!
2013-04-26 21:28 - General
Today I almost perfectly completed two little DIY mods.
First, to a toy helicopter. My favorite model has removable batteries and an external charger, and I've gotten extra batteries so a charged one is always ready when I'm in the mood. My second favorite is the cheaper sort, with a hard-wired battery, which must be tethered to charge. So it ends up fly a few minutes, charge an hour .. fly a few minutes, charge an hour .. repeat.
I took a spare landing skid for the favorite model, which includes the connector and holder for the battery, and attached it to the bottom of the other model. This moved the weight of the stock battery, near the nose, to the middle. So I also removed the purely decorative (I thought!) tail boom to balance the weight out. This worked well. But the side effect was to move a fair deal of weight from the outside to the inside. It seems the gyro system doesn't deal with this now, the corrections it make work too fast, and it jitters in the air. If I replace the tail boom it hovers cleanly, but it can hardly move forward anymore, because it's off balance.
Second, I did a complete DIY mod to my automatic cat feeder, to operate off of wall current rather than batteries that always need replacing. This mostly worked fine. The idea was old, I had it back when I was using the previous (now broken and replaced) model in this line. But the new model has a totally flat bottom; the extra cord sticking out has it just slightly off balance. Oh, and it's got a jack to plug an A/C adapter into on the side! I think the old model didn't have that. So this could have been much easier!
I've got a small handful of Android apps where I prefer something older than the latest version. Some change was added that I don't like. But the Play Store has a tendency to auto-update, and then I no longer have the old version I prefer. I do this rarely enough that I can't memorize the steps, but often enough that it's annoying to go look them up again. So here they are. You'll need apktool. Plus keytool and jarsigner, which just happened to be installed for me already (in Ubuntu).
$ apktool d WhateverApp.apk
# Now edit some files, especially "versionCode" in AndroidManifest.xml.
# I like to change app_name in res/values/strings.xml just a little bit too.
$ apktool b WhateverApp/
# First time only:
$ keytool -genkey -keystore $USER.keystore -validity 10000 -alias $USER
$ jarsigner -keystore $USER.keystore -verbose "WhateverApp/dist/WhateverApp.apk" $USER
Voila! If you set versionCode high enough, you've got an old app's APK which you can side load, and the Play Store will never overwrite.
2013-04-23 22:16 - General
As mentioned, Google Reader is going away. I'm not as upset as I was at first. There are possible replacements out there. The question now is, which? Here's my opinion for likely candidates.
First, a quick overview of some of the things I consider important. Things that power important use cases to me, in Google Reader terms because that's what I'm used to.
- River of news. I want every feed's items to be mixed into one giant list, in some sensible order. I just keep tapping keys and getting new content. Ideally in something like Google Reader's "sort by magic" order, but that's probably going to die with Reader.
- Folders. Really, I want one folder. A small subset of my feeds are time sensitive. I need to read them first. I put them in a special folder, and read them when they're available.
- Strong keyboard shortcuts.
- A web site I can navigate to, from any machine.
- Very nice to have: a good Android client. Or a web view so good it works well from mobile. Feeds are a good way to fill a few idle minutes here and there.
I tried Feedly briefly a while ago. They're a quick disqualification; while they have the mobile clients, they have no "web site". Or, they do, but they block you from accessing it if you don't have their extension installed in your browser. And it's repugnant. I don't want crap overlaid on every page I ever visit. It's optional, but we're already down the wrong path. What's their business model? Ads, I think? Why won't they disappear soon?
The Old Reader
It might be a hot topic for some, but The Old Reader's first strike for me is federated login only. I don't want your service tied to another like that. They do some sort of crazy styled scroll bar, which is also invisible most of the time; I dislike those. They're not super fast. Keyboard shortcuts fair. Folders, which I got via OPML import, but I can't (immediately?) figure out how to move feeds in/out. Meh. Missing revenue source seems even worse than Feedly
Tiny Tiny RSS
One of the first open source tools I learned about was Tiny Tiny RSS. Rather than a hosted service, this is just a program which you host yourself. There is an android client; they want $2 for it but I think its sources are available, too.
I know there's Taptu (I want a feed reader, not a "magazine"). There's 1kpl.us which looks kinda nice, pleasingly minimal, but closed and disappear-y (where does the money come from, if any?). Rssminer has a nice simple design, but too few features I think. I'm coming pretty close to scraping the bottom of the barrel...
NewsBlur is real open source with a permissive license. It's second behind Feedly on ReplaceReader. It's apparently a labor of (mostly?) love by one guy. It didn't fare with the original announcement well, but he's caught up as far as I can tell. The interface is a little busy, but workable. It does river of news correctly, plus folders for when I need to escape that. Keyboard shortcuts aren't perfect, but close. And there's an android client (which is also open source). And a real revenue stream. Plus, some more unusual features; some seem useful.
I think I've made my decision. My early gut feeling seems to have been correct.
2013-04-11 19:54 - General
I've mentioned my toy helicopter hobby which has taken off well. The tail motor on my V911 (a surprisingly awesome copter!) broke a while back. Apparently this is common. I've been waiting for a replacement to repair it with, which arrived today. The repair went off without a hitch.
Since I was placing the order anyway and an entire spare (just the copter, no accessories or transmitter) was only $20, I picked one up and it works well also. Hurrah!
2013-04-08 22:16 - General
This year has been busy. But it's finally calmed down. I'm getting back to video games, starting with Zelda: Majora's Mask.
2013-04-07 22:11 - General
I spent the better part of this weekend using the Takeout data to finally replace the crappy imports I had done from Buzz and Google+. Now all my great posts (and not so great) from over the years are mine again.
2013-04-06 20:42 - General
As I posted briefly earlier, I've gotten into flying miniature helicopters recently. It started with a cheap impulse purchase. And I had fun so I kept going. The V911 model in the linked article was broken, and I'm waiting for parts to arrive to repair it. Along the way of ordering those parts, I also picked up a Syma S800G helicopter, for under $20 from Amazon. I didn't realize at the time, but it came through a seller from China. It just arrived today after about three weeks.
If you look for reviews online, they'll be right. The controls aren't very good, there's a wide dead area in the center, and a small active area at the edge. Since I already have a V911, I know that this copter's controls aren't great. They're great for a $20 toy, but clearly not as good. So if you want to get into the hobby, I still suggest this as a first buy. It's so cheap that you don't have to worry about breaking it at all, it's a great trainer.
So here's where I geek out talking about how helicopters work. The first cheap helicopter I got was a co-axial model like this: two blades, which rotate in opposite directions to counteract each other's rotational torque. Changing the relative speed of the two blades lets the copter turn (yaw). Changing the speed of both lets it climb. Finally a vertically oriented tail rotor will pitch the copter, allowing flight forwards and backwards. Common simple three channel models use this scheme.
This copter is different. It uses a swashplate to move by using "cyclic control". It alters the pitch of the blades as they rotate (cycle) around the main rotor, changing when they offer lift, and thus the pitch and roll. You can still control the speed of each rotor, and thus you get a lot of control added with the fourth channel. The V911 I've already had fun with uses "mode 2" controls: both cyclic (forward/back or pitch, left/right or roll) controls on the right stick, throttle and rudder on the left. The S800G is "mode 4", however, and thus the sticks have different meanings. It's tough to learn how to fly while also switching between controller modes.
I heard that it's possible to modify the S800G transmitter to do mode 2 style control, both through posts on rcgroups.com, one from user FlyingTape and the other from user Kurt. It was enough for me to go on. But I recorded my progress with bigger/more clear pictures.
That's the back of the un-modified circuit board inside the transmitter. Click full size to see the four highlighted areas. Since we're looking at the back, flipped twice it's worth mentioning: area number 1 on the left is the horizontal axis of the right stick, it connects to area 2 which is both pin 6 of the IC and connected to an un-used pad right next to it. Area 3 is the horizontal axis of the right stick, connected directly to the nearby IC on pin 14.
Since throttle is already on the left stick, and pitch already on the right, all we need to do is swap the rudder and roll. Do this by cutting the traces that connect area 1 and 2, and the same between area 3 and 4. Be careful! Circuit boards are delicate, and it's easy to cut the wrong part. I used a Dremel tool on low speed with the narrow grinding bit, taking off very small sections and going slowly. I verified with a multimeter before that the pins I expected did connect together, and that they did not after I was done. Be sure to check, so that you don't short both controls together.
Then solder wires in to re-connect each stick to the opposite pin of the IC that it used to connect with. In this case I sent the right stick straight to the IC pin 1; being on the edge it was easy enough to reach. And the left stick to the mentioned unused pad which already connects to the correct IC pin. Note that there are a pair of pins from each stick which are already shorted, so you don't need to be too careful on that side. But don't short anything that shouldn't be: especially those close-up pins on the IC!