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Learning to Fly

July 17th, 2016 No comments

As a belated birthday present for our daughter, we took a trek yesterday down to the glider port in La Jolla for her to participate in a falconry lesson led by Denise and Kirk of Sky Falconry. It was an absolutely great way to spend a Saturday morning and being an observer of these beautiful raptors is quite an opportunity to learn quite a bit about the birds and the history of working with them. It was almost as enjoyable as being able to interact with them. Almost.


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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:

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:

Teaching to the Test

June 5th, 2015 No comments

This Saturday is my daughter’s high school graduation ceremony. It’s a celebration of all of the hard work she has put into learning and preparing herself for adulthood. As my wife was going through various papers and projects of her school career, she found this from when my daughter was in first or second grade encouraging everyone to do well on the API test:

The API Rap

It really reminds me why we decided to homeschool our kids. In the five or so years since we took responsibility for their education, I am certain they have learned from more subjects, gone more deeply with ones of significance or interest, and developed skills to more fittingly equip them for college and beyond.

I’m exceedingly proud of both my kids and very much like the people they have become. Would they have become quality people if they stayed in public school? Probably, but I have no doubt they are even better for having not.

 

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A fun morning in the snow

January 1st, 2015 No comments

While continuing the relaxing break from work on this last day of 2014, we woke up to a dusting of snow at the house. Around town was much the same with up to 8-10″. Oh yeah, we live in Southern California at about 1,000 ft. elevation; Rare, indeed. It last snowed about 10 years ago but melted just about as soon as it hit the ground. This time, it closed down roads and even the freeway.


Image Sources:

Categories: Family, Links Tags:

This time, there were no exceptions

October 26th, 2014 No comments

I previously wrote about how I use an Automatic Link with my car. While it has been an interesting and useful device, it’s been exceptionally hard to get a perfect score for an entire week. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable consistently driving under 70 mph, but driving in traffic, it is exceptionally hard to not get ‘dinged’ for hard breaking.

After over a year of trying, I finally got a full week of driving with no events, exceptions, or gaps. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I don’t have to get annoyed whenever a little thing causes a blemish on my score.

I wonder if I should see how low a score I can get?

A perfect Automatic score

A perfect Automatic score

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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:

Support when you need it

May 18th, 2014 No comments

This week, San Diego suffered through far too many fires. Fortunately, neither my house or work were directly at risk. Not surprisingly, however, the air quality was quite poor. It was so bad on Thursday evening that facilities and senior management decided to shut down non-essential HVAC units which required the closure of our office for Friday.

There are advantages working in a high-tech industry like video games. One of them is that most of the work is on the computer and, as such, work can be performed almost anywhere. So, when the notification went out Thursday night that the office would be closed and that people should work remotely, if possible, I wasn’t concerned.

The next morning, I got a call from one of my guys that the VPN service (that we’re responsible for) had hit its 100 simultaneous user limit. We’ve never hit that limit before, but this was far from a normal situation.

I’m happy to say that after working with our reseller (CDW) and the vendor (Juniper Networks) they gladly provided a very generous license good for two months while we work out a more permanent solution. Support like this is exactly what one needs when the time comes. They both came through and that counts for a lot.

With the fires brought under control over the weekend, it’ll be work as usual tomorrow. Now to start a purchase for additional licenses…

Categories: Links, Thoughts, Work Tags:

A Perfect Week of Driving

April 13th, 2014 No comments

I got an early Automatic Link by Automatic late last year. It’s a very interesting device to track how you’re driving with the ultimate goal to improve your gas milage. To further encourage good habits, it maintains a score of how the week has gone. After many very close weeks, I recently managed a full 100% score:

Automatic 100 Score

Well, almost perfect. I did have one hard break and less than a minute of going over 70 MPH–I’ll work on that. Considering my car is only supposed to get 29/37 mpg, a 43.7 mpg average over 740 miles is quite impressive. Driving like this has certainly paid for the device!

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