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Old-Fashioned Drone Video

April 24th, 2016 No comments

Back in my early Sony days when I worked at RedZone Interactive, a friend and I got into RC planes. Since the rest of the studio didn’t generally roll in until about 9:00 or 10:00, we had the opportunity to take our planes out in the lot behind the office in the mornings while the winds were quite gentle. It’s a fond memory.

About the same time, I saw online a wireless video camera that was about the size of a matchbook and immediately thought of attaching it to the plane to get a cool POV video while flying. I should note that this was 2004. GoPro didn’t exist yet let alone the whole ‘sports camera’ category. Neither did drones that are so common nowadays. Am I a trend setter? Not really. I just thought it was a fun idea.

Not surprisingly, it was very jerry-rigged. The camera with built-in transmitter was mounted on a stick protruding from the side of the canopy attached to a 9v battery for power. The receiver was on the ground attached to a video camera recording the results. My friend had to spend the entire flight watching the small screen on the camera while constantly adjusting a tuning knob on the receiver to keep the signal usable. The results are pretty poor by today’s standards, but I think it turned out pretty good, all things considered:

 

Fun times. I still have the plane, though I haven’t used it in years. I just may have to pull it out and see if it still works. I probably won’t bother with the camera.

Categories: Friends, Geek, Links, Thoughts, Work Tags:

Starting a new chapter

August 23rd, 2015 No comments

Since my life-changing event back in March, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many different people and learn about several organizations, each one different from the others. I have also spent a significant amount of time determining who I am professionally (my strengths, weaknesses, and motivations). That combined with my belief that technology can truly make a difference in people’s lives and it has helped direct my search.

Through a most interesting series of events that I’m unable to adequately explain here, I learned of an opportunity at Edify which is a very special non-profit organization that is best summarized from the website: “To improve and to expand sustainable, affordable Christ-centered education in the developing world.” They achieve that by supporting private schools through small loans, training, and technology. To date, they have partnered with over 1,600 schools and have impacted the lives of over 300,000 students.

After many conversations it became more and more clear that there was a unique match between their needs and my background and skills. I’m happy and proud to say that they have invited me to join with them in their work and start tomorrow as their Vice President of Information Technology. I cannot convey how excited I am for this opportunity and look forward to making an impact in ways I surely couldn’t have previously imagined.

Having the Summer off to enjoy my family was a significant blessing. In light of having just taken my oldest child off to college for the first time yesterday, it all couldn’t have worked out better. Yet another sign that the Lord’s plans are the best.

Categories: Christian, Family, Geek, Thoughts, Work Tags:

Watching a log file in a bash script

August 9th, 2015 No comments

For the last few months, I’ve been doing some contracting developing automation scripts in bash. It’s been a fun diversion from my job search and leverages my sysadmin background. It has also improved my command of vi and several tricks in bash scripting. I wanted to share one that may be of help to others.

In the scripts that I wrote, it was necessary to kick of a long-running process and then act on entries written to a log file. I created a watcher routine to accomplish this:

01  successfulRun=0
02  keepRunning=1
03  while [ $keepRunning -eq 1 ] && read -t 3600 line; do
04      case "$line" in
05          *completion string* )
06              echo "Completed successfully. Exiting monitor."
07              successfulRun=1
08              keepRunning=0
09              ;;
10          *error string* )
11              echo "ERROR entry found in log. Exiting monitor."
12              keepRunning=0
13              ;;
14          * )
15              echo "Just another line. Monitor continuing."
16              ;;
17      esac
18  done < <(tail --pid=$$ -n0 -F ${logfile})

It’s a general while loop, but there are some useful features. First, in line 3 is “read -t 3600” which allows the loop to break if nothing gets written to the file for an hour (3600 seconds). After the loop, if keepRunning is 1 and successfulRun is 0, I know it timed out.

Lines 5, 10, and 14 allow for cases for any strings encountered. For my uses, I was looking for a success string which meant my script could continue on. Similarly, if an error string is encountered, I exit accordingly. The last one (line 14) is the default case, which probably isn’t needed unless you want to provide feedback of progress.

The last feature is in line 18. The –pid=$$ option allows the tail command to close the logfile when the parent script completes. That allows for a very nice wrap-up no matter what happens. Nice, huh?

Categories: Geek, Links, Thoughts Tags:

Enjoying doing the geek thing

July 26th, 2015 No comments

Since I have time on my hands, I have been enjoying working on a handful of projects to scratch various ‘itches.’ Some have been long-standing items on my to-do list and others are areas of interest that would normally be relegated to the “someday/maybe” list.

A geek’s closet

All my various tech do-dads and thingamabobs have been in drawers in the den or elsewhere and were reasonably organized but still a hassle to access and dig through. My wife ran across an interesting picture on Pinterest and showed it to me asking if I’d like to do the same with our hallway closet. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance. It also allowed an opportunity to work with my son on installing the shelving.

All organized

There’s some more work still to go into it before I’m done. The two cardboard boxes need to be replaced with something better and I’m going to install some LED strips on the inside of the door frame for better lighting.

Amazon cloud

I’ve worked with Amazon’s web services (AWS) both professionally and personally but only to a limited degree. For PlayStation, I generated various financial reports based on usage and personally I’m using their email service to handle outbound email from my mail server.

To address the task that follows and to satisfy my own curiosity, I spun up an instance in their Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). EC2 is very often what is being referred to when someone uses the overly-used “cloud” term. It’s just a virtual machine that is running somewhere in one of Amazon’s datacenters. Nothing mystical, but quite convenient when you need to set up something like…

A secondary mail server

For various reasons, I really like being in charge of my own services. The web server hosting this very page you’re reading also handles my email. I hardly have much email traffic, but the server is offline from time to time so it’s appropriate to have a secondary mail server available that can receive incoming messages relaying them when the primary server comes back online. With my newly-minted EC2 instance, I was able to get that going in just a short while and checked-off a big to-do item.

Raspberry Pi 2

For father’s day, my family got me a Raspberry Pi 2 to upgrade the previous model I’d been running upstairs (as a secondary DNS server). It kinda amazes me how capable a machine it is for only $35.

Monitoring

The Raspberry Pi 2 is considerably faster than the previous generation. Having some available computing overhead, as well as a slightly-more complicated infrastructure at home (due to the EC2 instance), I wanted to get some monitoring going. I dabbled a little with Nagios, but quickly remembered why I don’t care for it. After researching alternatives, I settled on Zabbix and just got it running this afternoon. It’ll take some time to get everything configured just right, but that’s part of the fun.

bash scripting

Due to a somewhat strange set of events, as I write this I’m making my living on a short-term contract developing some automation scripts in bash (a command-line shell on UNIX/Linux systems). It’s drawing on my older SysAdmin skills and has been really fun made even better by the fact I’m doing most of it from home via VPN. Not too shabby.

I have other projects I want to get into so I may write a follow-up with how those go. Now, back to Zabbix…

 

Categories: Apple, Family, Geek, Links, Work Tags:

A Retina Desktop is Possible

September 11th, 2014 No comments

Retina LogoI now have a working retina display on my Late 2012 Mac mini at work. I previously wrote about it late last year and occasionally experimented with normal HD LCDs but really wasn’t going to be able to do anything without an UltraHD display to test with. Recently, I asked the desktop team and they happened to have one that wasn’t in use. I was able to borrow it and worked more seriously on seeing if this was indeed possible.

The quick-and-dirty how to can be found at the mac-pixel-clock-patch page on Google code. You have to patch a single file to enable the higher 3840 x 2160 resolution, but that, plus a UltraHD display, and you’re in business. Having 3840 x 2160 (UHD) display rendering a 1920 x 1080 (HD) screen makes for a nice experience, indeed. Look at the picture on the right or screenshots of my previous article.

For work, I got a pair of DELL 2414Q 24″ LCDs. They’re nicely made and look quite good. I run one in landscape and the other in portrait so I can display content as appropriate (e.g. spreadsheets vs. web pages). If I were using only a single display, the story would be over. The problem is that the Intel HD 4000 video hardware on the Mac mini isn’t up to the challenge of driving two displays at that resolution. It just can’t throw that many pixels out that fast (just shy of a half billion pixels per second). I would get close, but it would result in the video flickering with pixel ‘junk’ over large portions of the screen. I could get one looking great over mini DisplayPort or HDMI (3840 x 2160 @ 30 FPS) but the moment I connected the second display, problems. I tried customizing lower FPS modes to reduce the total pixel clock demands, but no luck.

The DELL UP2414Q I use at work

My workaround is driving the portrait display at 1920 x 1080 (1080 x 1920, actually) over a USB to HDMI adapter (via DisplayLink). It’s only HD with a variable refresh rate, but it does allow me to have both displays active.

Rumors are that Apple will be revising the Mac mini next month which should improve the video hardware enough to work. We’ll see. For now, though, I’m satisfied and enjoying the experience.

Categories: Apple, Geek, Links, Macintosh, Work Tags:

Looking for Retina for my Retinas

December 24th, 2013 No comments

I’ve had my current MacBook Pro at work for over a year and I have really become enamored with the retina display. For the unfamiliar, Apple started the concept back with the release of the iPhone 4 which replaced the previous 640×480 display with a 1280×960 display in a resolution-independent 2x mode. The beauty of the option is a display that looks that much more sharp that normal. Last year, they added retina to the MacBook line which extends the concept to the full suite of OS X applications.

For comparison, here’s a screenshot for normal mode (scaled ~200%):

Finder-non-retina

And here’s a retina version (also scaled ~200%):

finder-retina

At work since I use my desktop setup for the majority of my work, I’ve been researching what options exist for having a retina mode on a desktop system. Normally, retina (also called HiDPI) is prevented from the screen settings, but it can be enabled with the following command:

sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/com.apple.windowserver DisplayResolutionEnabled -bool YES

Then after a reboot or logout/login you can check the options in the Displays System Preference:

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 7.11.54 AM

If you want even more options, you can download Retina DisplayMenu (RDM) from Paul Griffin. On a normally full HD display (1920×1080) I’ve enabled 1280×720 (HiDPI):

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 6.16.41 AM

If you’re willing to trade screen real estate for sharpness, it’s a nice usage experience. So now, I’m anxiously awaiting CES next month and the likely release of (semi) affordable Ultra HD/4k displays which have a native resolution of 3840×2160 which will allow for 1920×1080 at full retina (2x). That’d be pretty sweet.

Categories: Apple, Geek, Links, Macintosh, Thoughts, Work Tags:

How A Car Engine Works

September 7th, 2013 No comments

I’ve always enjoyed the complex-yet-simple mechanical design of a combustion engine. This infographic by Jacob O’Neal does a really nice job of explaining how one works.

(click for full size)
How A Car Engine Works, by Jacob O'Neal
Infographic designed by Jacob O’Neal

Categories: Geek, Links Tags:

Validation of being me

July 20th, 2013 No comments

As can be easily learned as you look through my blog, I am a productivity-minded geek. I have been ‘doing’ geek for nearly my entire life and have become increasingly interested in productivity over the last 5-or-so years. That combination worked out perfectly this past weekend.

As a IT professional, I know that backups are important. If you don’t have any (or recent) backups of your data, can you really say that it’s important to you? As a serious GTD‘er, I don’t trust my memory and create repeating tasks in OmniFocus to help remember what I need to do when I need to do it.

Those two things came together to my advantage on Saturday. Friday night, OmniFocus reminded me that it’s been six weeks since I had backed up my PlayStation 3. No problem, hook up a spare USB drive, kick off a backup, and go to bed. Saturday afternoon the system died. The dreaded flashing red LED which indicates there’s a hardware component problem. Bummer. No worries, though. At work, one of the perks is being able to get a dead console repaired or exchanged for free. In about a week’s time, I should have a replacement restored and back up and running.

If you’re going to have something fail, see if you can have a recent backup of it, first.

Categories: Family, Geek, Links, Work Tags:

OmniFocus: Learning Japanese

April 14th, 2013 No comments

At work, I’ve been taking Japanese classes and have been using OmniFocus to help me with daily practice. Here’s a screenshot of a typical morning:

OF-Japanese

Learning Japanese in OmniFocus

So let me explain the setup. For each word or phrase I want to study, I create a separate task that is set to repeat every two days. In the task name, I have the english word and in the notes I have the word in Japanese with the romaji. When I study, I don’t look at the notes until I want to double-check my answer. If I’m right, I increase the repeat of the task by a day. If’ I’m close, I leave it as is. If I’m wrong, I decrease the repeat by a day. That way, I practice words I’m not learning more frequently and words that I do know naturally move out to show up less frequently.

I’ve been using this system for a couple of years and it’s working pretty well. Currently, I have hundreds of words that in my rotation with anywhere from 30-50 on the list for each day which keeps things manageable. The romaji text is deliberately in a light color so that I focus on the word in Japanese (hiragana or katakana). The only downside is that I’m only focusing on English to Japanese. I need to reverse the many of them to increase my recognition of the Japanese words themselves. Any other ideas for improvements?

Categories: Geek, Macintosh, Thoughts, Work Tags:

OmniFocus: Using Emoji

April 7th, 2013 No comments

This is the first in a series of posts about OmniFocus that I’ve been thinking about for ages. I’m going to keep them short to eliminate excuses for not getting to them.

For the unfamiliar, OmniFocus is a OS X application based on the Getting Things Done methodology by David Allen. I’ve been an avid user for over five years and it is central to my productivity both personally and professionally. These posts will presume you’re generally familiar with the software. If not, they may not make complete sense.

Read more…

Categories: Geek, Links, Macintosh, Thoughts, Work Tags: