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DMI News

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First week

January 04, 2009 18:43

In the interest of promoting my renewed spirit (for as long as it lasts anyway), I'm going to lay out some of the projects I hope to accomplish this week. No guarantee I'll accomplish them all... or.. ahem .. any of them.. But here's to hoping anyway.

First off, completely unrelated to the site, but entirely related to my comfort and that of the resident beautiful girls.. I need to patch up some of the gaping holes that let wind get under the house. Ultimately I'll need to insulate completely under there, but can't really do that until I'm completely finished with the house. For the time being however, just making sure I dont' get a good 30 mph crosswind under the house will help significantly.

I need to reimplement the projects page, spamproof and enforce account registration to use it. It might help me with keeping on top of the many projects I'm constantly trying to work on if I have a convienent place to check. I just took it off the page when it was getting spammed constantly. I'll probably wipe it clean and start it over from scratch.

Music control needs administrative control to let me disable changing of songs when I actually want to listen to something, while still letting people view the current playlist.

Critter control needs more administrative control too. I'll implement queuejumping and owner overrides of the locking. Too many times I want to make a quick adjustment to someone who's trying for the 30th time to drive past a corner and not quite making it. Right now, that requires me to get up and move it. Laziness demands a better option.

Going through some of my dad's stuff I found a PIC programmer, and at least one PIC. I need to get that assembled and start playing with it. I have schematics to create a servo controller using a PIC. Having control of a servo will allow me to add a panning sonar to the critter and start the process of mapping the environment. Still going to need to do something about encoders, but one crisis at a time. I've also found a schematic for a PWM to voltage converter. The TS7200 on the critter has an ADC and one of the other sonars I have puts out a PWM signal, so I'll be able to read that one as well.. .maybe as a rearview sensor to avoid running into things while backing up. Also found some tapeswitches that need investigating to use as a bump sensor that can completely surround the critter. Ok, yeah, I'm rambling, but most of what I need to do here is R&D. That way the next time I make a trip to tanners I'll have a list of components to purchase.

I need to get a server working that has a functional soundcard. I currently only have one, and that's the video server, and it needs its sound output for the TV channel. Nova used to be the voice of Jeeves but the onboard sound device quit working. I used a usb sound device for a while, but it has quit working as well. Tried to purchase a soundcard and stick it in there, but neither the new card nor another one I managed to find will work. I'm considering moving nova to a new machine, maybe upgrading it in the process. I have an old windows box, which incidently is a more recent CPU with more ram, that I uprgraded from last year and it's currently sitting in a closet. I could get a fresh version of fedora, and move over the drives. Nova used to handle all of the cams in the house, but since I switched my main cam to an IP cam and I'm not using any of the analog cams anymore, I don't really need it in its current configuration anymore. The only thing it currently does is run lampmaster (which any server with a serial port can do) and some file storage, which is also not a problem migrating to a new(er) machine. In any event, this will solve my soundcard issue, which is the ultimate goal anyway.

Ok, that should do it for the week. I'm off to work now.

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2008 Year in Review

January 03, 2009 13:03

Not so much a review, as a plan for the future, as news always tends to be. However, one must look at the past as well. DMI in 2008 had two major setbacks, one of which is typical, and one not so much. The common issue I face frequently is a simple lack of quality time to spend on the site. And what do I mean by quality time, you might ask? It's not a lack of time period. I have PLENTY of free time. The utlimate problem I face is that not all of that free time is useful to me. I'm either tired due to my work schedule, or my time is split up such that I don't have any lengthy periods of time to spend focused on one task. Much of the needed work on this site is programming based. I'm good at programming, I really am. However, for me it requires a certain amount of time to get focused on the task. And that IS my problem. Part of it is motivation, part of it is laziness, and part of it is simple routine.

I'll give you an example. Think back to younger years when you were doing homework for school. Ok, maybe you LIKED doing homework for school. Some people do. I wasn't one of them. It would be time to do homework, and I would suddenly be extremely interested in doing anything BUT homework. Cleaning my room sounded like a great idea at the time (a task for which I would otherwise be completely uninterested in). Mowing the lawn seemed like a great idea as well. Anything but homework itself. And likewise, there were times I wanted to do homework. These usually occured at times when it was inconvienent for me to do so... like, say, 6 minutes before the class started in which it was due. I could really crank out some homework in that period of time. I solved that problem for the most part by making sure there was a study hall early in the day, such that I could wait until the last minute to do my homework, and still have an opportunity to do so. It worked for me.

So now I'm working on DMI. I sit down at my computer. I check Slashdot. I check Fark. I check Digg. I'll then want to cool off by playing a little WC3, or HL2, or D3. Horribly outdated games, I know, but I can play them for a few minutes and then get bored and move on to something else. Hopefully, by this time, I'm ready to start working on DMI. By this time, something in real life will happen. I'll get a phone call, or I'll have to go take/pick up kid from school, or eat dinner, or deal with any number of other interruptions. It's not like these interruptions are frequent. It's just that they happen just often enough to disrupt my routine before I actually get to the task I was trying to get to in the first place. And 10 minutes.. 15 minutes... 20 minutes later when I get back to my computer, guess what I do? Time to check Slashdot again.

Now, while I'm at work, 8-11 hours a day, driving a forklift around, pushing boxes, etc, I have plenty of time to think. Granted, I have to be sure I'm not running into stuff while driving, but I have a lot of time where, while I'm working, it's not mentally exhausting. I can think about DMI, or some other project. I can imagine to a great detail exactly what I want to be working on. How exactly I'm going to implement it. The design, the testing, the implementation. Everything. However, by the time I get home, I have forgotten not only about what I was thinking about, but that I was even thinking about it at all. In fact, I completely shut out work when I'm not there. And that's part of the problem I guess. To solve this problem, I'd start taking notes while I was there. To the point I might bring home 6-7 pages of handwritten notes on what I was thinking about. The plan was, once I got home, I'd be able to sit down with the notes and focus on what I had been thinking about that day. I get home, promptly misplace the notes, and go check Slashdot. I'd completely forget that I had taken notes at all.

It's not that I don't want to work on DMI, I do. I really do. And everytime I actually manage to get working on it, I have lots of fun and really make some good progress. Even if I only spend about 20 minutes really working on it, I make tremendous headway. If only I put 6+ hours a day on it. Imagine what I'd be able to accomplish. Believe me, I've imagined it. And it's great. But ideas and dreams aren't worth the paper they're printed on (or in my case scribbled on) if they're not implemented. So I really need to start implementing them.

So what am I going to do? What new years resolution shall I employ upon myself to force a change in routine that will result in me spending a majority of my free time on the site and giving slashdot and fark the shaft instead? To be honest, I don't really know. I just need to train myself to sit down and start programming. If I'm always programming, it won't take me an hour to get back in the groove everytime. It's just a matter of discipline, I tell myself. I just have to believe it I guess. :)

Now, the second issue.... go back, read the first paragraph... yes, there WAS something else I was going to mention. The server crash back in late May that resulted in the site being down for 6 days. Yeah, that sucked. Actually, it wasn't so much a server crash as an explosion in the building that housed the server. But the server wouldn't boot back up afterwards and I had to reload it, yada yada yada. The net result of this was a huge reduction in traffic. Check the Statistics page to see how we lost 2/3 of our traffic from May til June, and that wasn't just because we were down for 6 days, but because a huge number of regulars quit visiting in that amount of time. Downtime is the curse of any website. I've had another server set up.. in another datacenter, in a different city, to have a live backup in case something like this ever happens again. It's not actually set up and active. I just dump backups on it, but I could get it going in a day if I had to. Utlimately what I'm trying to do is set up a complete loadbalanced and fault tolerant solution. One that will allow me to handle traffic for the site from both servers simultaniously, and have one take over all traffic should the other one fail. The programming to make this work is complicated and extensive, and I've been working on it for 6 months now. Once finished, it will let me seamlessly add any number of servers to the cluster, and therefore let the site scale to whatever heights it possibly can. It also makes a lot of other issues go away. There are a lot of dirty hacks that I've implemented over the years that are still in place just because redoing them takes time and I don't have the framework set up to handle a more efficient and clean solution. This project aims to fix all of that at the same time. Right now, I'm still working on a single server prototype. Once I have completely implemented all features I want, I'll update all the other servers to take advantage of it and start deploying those servers for active use.

There is another reason for doing all of this. We can call this the third major issue if you like. There is currently a limit to how much traffic the site can handle. It's not a bandwidth issue, 100mbps will handle quite a bit. The site itself just has too much overhead in the efficiency of the programming, and while I could buy some time by upgrading to a faster cpu and more ram, it would only buy me time. While things are relatively slow, I want to make sure I get the functionality in place to handle traffic that's 10, 100, or even 1000 times what we have now. And why would I need this? I ALMOST had an opportunity to need it this year. Almost. I was in talks with a sponsor who liked my site idea. Had it gone through, I would have made enough to quit my day... well night job and work on the site full time. Of course, as fate would have it, an ill timed demonstration to someone's superiors went awry. Someone visited the chatroom for a few minutes and witnessed a conversation by designated authority figures (ops) of a nature for which which I had assured them would never happen. That torpedoed the entire opportunity. I was not very amused. Needless to say, we haven't had any such problems since, and I will be vigilant in my efforts to assure that it stays that way in the future.

So there you have it. My resolution for the new year. We shall see how it plays out.

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The New Server Cabinet

December 20, 2008 02:12

I wrote most of this several weeks ago, so if it seems like I'm referring to already completed projects in the future tense, just bear with me

Sometimes, it seems that I like to make things complicated. Of course, sometimes they just ARE complicated and you must play the game. No matter though. That's just how it plays out. Such is the case for my new server cabinet. I'll start at the semi-beginning.

My office is cold. Everything boils down to that. Well, it's also a mess, but mostly it's just cold. No problem, drag in an electric space heater or three, along with one to three 14 ga extention cords and the office feels moderately acceptable... while wearing long sleeve shirts and maybe a blanket... and all for the reasonable cost of $25 per heater, plus $600 a month in electricity. Installing central heat downstairs would help, as would insulating this room, but I can't do either until I'm done with the rough-in on the addition which I have yet to start building. So I need a shorter term solution. I could set up one of those nifty gas heaters that I already have and it wouldn't add more than $30-40 a month to my gas bill, but that would require me to rearrnage the office a bit. Problem, every wall is occupied by horizontal surfaces, and try though I might, I can't seem to justify eliminating anything that currently occupies those surfaces.

Enter the server cabinet. Since I have one table covered with 3 servers, a monitor, several USB drives, and a bunch of power supplies, wires, hubs, and a printer (some of this stuff actually encroaches onto other tables in the room as well), I figured I could solves some of the horizontal space issues by simply creating more horizontal space. With 10 ft high ceilings, I was able to build a server cabinet with a 2' x 2' footprint and 6 levels (if you include the very top). That gives me 12 feet worth of space that no longer needs to occupy the tables.

The yellow dresser will get relocated into the closet, where it should just perfectly fit, the one table on the east wall will move all the way back, the table on the north wall will slide over to butt up against it, and the heater can then occupy the now 4' of space on the north wall that will be available. In addition, the 6 feet worth of space for my workbench will now be 12 feet and I SHOULD be able to minimise clutter from that point on. I'll probably need to build some more shelves or maybe another cabinet. We shall see.

Now, zoom forward a few weeks. The dresser is in the closet and I've put a few shelves above it. I've got one side of the closet stacked to the ceiling with bins. The other side is filled about half high, but just stacked so far. I'll add shelves in there soon as well. The one gas heater is now installed in here as I've installed the gas line. There's room! And the tables are still cluttered, but much less so than they were. I actually have a bit of room to work over there now.

I wanted to do a nice Xmas display THIS year, but it once again didn't happen. Of course, doing an outdoor display depended on various other projects being completed first, and those projects haven't been accomplished yet either. Anyways, I'll shoot for next year. I HAVE solved the site based music syncing issue, even though I need to do some hardware for it. That part is no longer a mystery. Still looking for a decent way to do flash streaming, but maybe the new year will present a solution to that problem.

I've fixed some minor issues with the critter, so it's ambling around again. I'm now working on designing the next incarnation. Instead of wood, the next one will be designed with thick plexiglass. I'll also use a wheel configuration that won't cause problems with spinning. In this vein, I'm looking for a few things. First off, I need a combination of motor + gearhead + encoder + wheel all at a decent price (preferably less than $50 per unit). The wheels need to be at least 4" in diameter.. maybe 5", the motor needs to be 24V and have a gear ratio of preferably 1:100. It doesn't have to go fast. One revolution per second is plenty fast. However, it needs pretty decent torque. If it finds a ramp or bump, it needs to be able to get over it. And that's assuming it's carrying 20 pounds of weight. I need an encoder, or at least a decent shaft to attach an encoder onto.

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Anti-Spam Solutions

August 23, 2008 21:56

I'm currently working on a number of changes to the site, some of which will not be directly visible to the average visitor. I'm going to spend some time discussing each of the changes, or planned changes, as I'm working on them. The first thing I'm going to discuss, are some anti-spam techniques.

Everyone knows what email spam is. Pretty much everyone is familiar with various anti-spam software solutions to filter email for spam... or sadly, as is more the norm, to filter spam for legitimate email. However these filters work, they all suffer from one signficiant shortcoming; mainly, that you've already got the spam, and there's no way to stop receiving it. You might be able to filter out 99% of it, but some will always get through, and there is always the issue that you might lose legitimate messages. Filtering is very much an inexact science. You're much better off if you can avoid getting it in the first place, or, if you DO recieve spam, you can easily disable the source.

The first idea, which I've already implemented for myself, is to simply create a unique email alias for every entity you provide your email address to. My site lists one address, and everytime I register on someone else's site and they require an email addy, I create a new alias specifically for them. All of the email gets forwarded to a single address that doesn't get posted anywhere (and therefore shouldn't get any spam). Should I get spam from any of the aliases, I have two things working in my favor. First off, I know exactly where the spam came from, and secondly, I can disable a single alias and all of the spam goes away. If someone is selling email addresses, I now know exactly who it is. Of course, most spam comes from (or more exactly comes TO) the email address posted on my site.

Obviously, I can just change the address on my site whenever the spam level gets unreasonable, that IS afterall the whole point of setting up the aliasing the way I have. And it works well enough. But lets see if we can do one better. What if the email address is clearly displayed on the page for a visitor to see, but the spam harvesters can't grab it. One way would be to use a captcha (or any image) to display the address instead of writing it out in text. A human could obviously enter the address manaully, but an automated harvester would have no luck with it. However, this is tedious because now I no longer have a mailto: tag on the address, so someone has to type the address in manually instead of just clicking on the link.

So lets give them the link. The harvester is going to grab the page html code and search for email addresses. However, there is no reason the address has to be encoded in the page in a format that the harvester can easily read. An address that's encrypted can be decrypted with javascript and displayed on the page at the time it's loaded, and the mailto tag can be displayed normally. The harvester will only see jibberish. Alternatively, we can simply not include the address in the page code at all. After the page gets loaded, have some AJAX code grab the address off the website and display it realtime. Once again, the harvester won't be able to glean the address from the page code.

Lets take it one step further, and combine several of these ideas. When you visit the contact page, you get an address that has been specifically created for you, and you alone. Base it either on a cookie value or an ip address, but something unique. If a spammer sends an email to me using that address, I'll know the ip address of the harvester. From that point on, that ip address will always receive specially crafted pages. Whether it'll be a tarpit, or a page of spambot snacks of many many MANY invalid email addresses, that will yet to be determined.

Next time I'll talk a bit about my efforts at syncing databases over multiple servers.

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And the work continues

June 22, 2008 04:41

I've finally gotten a few days to work on the site, so I'm going to take it. Work continues apace getting everything functional on the site again after the crash. Almost everything obvious works now, but there are a few little bugs that have yet to get resolved.

I've started the process of reprogramming most of the backend servers to support a load balanced server cluster operation. Once I've completed this rather tedious project, the site will be load balanced on two separate servers, in two separate datacenters. Most importantly, they'll both be failovers for each other. If either one dies, crashes, etc, the other one can take over all operations. It will also scale well, so should I suddenly feel the need to add 4 more servers to the cluster, they'll handle the load properly, and if I get things working right, I should be able to deploy a new server in an hour or so. I really doubt I'll have to do this, at least not in the near future, but if the site traffic suddenly picks up again, and I have reason to believe it might, it'll be important that these changes are in place prior to such an event happening, as I'm usually too busy dealing with other issues at the time to bother trying to figure out how to sanely balance this very dynamic and heavily database dependant site over multiple servers redundantly. Yeah, try to say that in one breath.

Now I'm going to put you to work for me, if you feel you're up to the challenge. If you don't understand the technobabble I'm about to spew, feel free to skip a couple paragraphs. If you'll notice, the cams on this site are, in one form or another, reloading jpeg images. Any associated audio streams are mp3 based icecast streams. That's great and all, and I intend to continue using this basic setup, as it's easy, scales well, and well supported by various free applications. However, in the next few months I'm going to have need of a method of streaming a live media stream (both audio and video in sync) that can be viewed on most any webpage. The ideal player for this would be flash, as pretty much every browser comes preinstalled with it. It's certainly more common than java and supported more widely than wmplayer embedded. No problem, I could purchase Flash media server and I'm good to go. It's only $1000 after all. :) That wouldn't really be a bad deal if I planned to use it all the time, or if I was generating some type of revenue from this, but right now I can find better things to spend the money on.

Red5 appears to be a viable alternative. It's free, and I've managed to get it running, but I've yet to see a functional demonstration of it working in a way that I want it to, without having to do any major changes. I'm certainly willing to invest some time and programming on this project if I know there's an obvious target I can see. Right now, I can't see it. I've found no other free options that advertise the ability to stream to flash clients. I could use a service such as Justin.tv, but I'd rather run it all myself.

So, what I'm looking for is a combination of encoder, multimedia server, and flash client with the following features:

  • Free or very low cost, with no licensed limitations on # of users or bandwidth.
  • Server must run on linux. Ideal if the encoder would run on linux too, but windows will be acceptable.
  • I need support for a video/audio stream only. No attached chatrooms or other gizmos.
  • I need to see a working live demonstration of all of it in action.

I've cleaned my office, or at least the floor anyway. Now the critter can have some room to run around. And speaking of the critter, it needs some work. Three changes I'll be making to it before I have it running around often: First off, I'm going to fix the intermittancy issue with the transistors. I think there's a lead that's loose, but I can't see it, so I'm going to just try resoldering all the connections on that componenet and see if it fixes the problem. Secondly, I'm going to replace the linear voltage regulators with switching regulators that come in a similar sized package. That will cut WAY down on power consumption, and basically double the amount of time the critter can run around before draining the battery. Right now, on a new battery, it gets about 5 hours. I should be able to push that to 10 or more. I'm also planning at the same time to going to 24V instead of 12V. The motors are 24V and I've been running them at half power all this time. Hopefully that will solve the friction problem when steering. If it doesn't, my third major change will be to remove the back wheels and replace them with a caster or two. The critter will have no problems steering anymore after that, but it's possible I might lose some stability.

I'm also going to build a server closet of sorts. It won't be a full closet, more like a piece of furniture that holds servers. It will be 6-7 feet tall, 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep. It will have 4 compartments. The bottom two compartments will hold 4-6 servers in conventional tower cases. The third compartment will house the ups, hubs, cable router, UHF modulators for the home tv channels, and other misc components. The fourth compartment will consist of a monitor,keyboard, and mouse on a kvm switch. The closet will have plenty of ventilation and some fans to force airflow. I'll wire in my own outlet boxes instead of relying on power strips, and have all of that feed off a UPS sufficient to support everything, and provide power to the ups from a dedicated house circuit. Doing this will move all the computers off of one table and therefore free up a table for either an extra workstation, or another workbench for electronics projects. The workbench I have now currently is completely saturated with stuff. Of course, once I get a chance to remodel this room, all these problems will go away, but for now I need to make some temporary adjustments to make my life easier.

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OH what a week

June 06, 2008 22:40

Unless you've been on an internet free vacation or exceptionally drugged for the last week, you might have noticed the site was down. No, there was nothing wrong with your internet. The problem was my server. Or more specifically, the building in which the server is housed. My hosting provider suffered a minor explosion in the building. A tiny little incident in the electrical room where that small insignficiant transformer exploded and took out only three walls in the process. For reasons that will never be fully explained, the fire department decided that the explosion and resulting fire were sufficiently good reasons to not immediately activate the backup generators in the building... because the power infrastructure might have been damaged... and they wanted to wait until things were inspected before turning the juice (temporary at that) back on... but hey.. what do they know.. right? :)

So fine.. it takes a day before they can begin to power the building back up, using portable (and permanant) temporary generators. While the second floor of the building was up and running fairly quickly (in like 30 hours or so), the first floor was in far worse shape electrically. Yes, this is where my server is located. It took them a couple extra days to restore power to that part of the building, and encountered some sanfus with the generators they were using. Apparently, 2 megawatt generators are both hard to come by, and complicated machines that are prone to various problems.

Very well, they get power back to the servers. They then start booting them up. This takes a couple more days. At some point, I realize my server hasn't come up yet. It is eventually determined that my server won't boot and will require an OS reload. That was part of today's project. In any event, we're back.

I have purchased a second server at another datacenter in another city which will at first keep a daily updated copy of this server, such that in the event something major like this happens again, or even if it's something simple and stupid like the site crashing (which happens far too often in and of itself).... I'll be able to keep the site going. Eventually I hope to load balance the site so that both servers handle a share of the load, and either can backup for the other should one of them go down. This will take a while to get working, as it will require some rather major changes to some of my software to do live syncs over the internet. More to come later.

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So what's been happening anyway??

January 06, 2008 03:18

Yes, I realize it's been a LONG time since there's been an update. Believe me when I tell you, it's not because there's a lack of things going on. I'll attempt to summarize what has happened since the last update.

First off, my father died in October. This followed a 5 year on-off battle with prostate cancer. He was a wonderful father and a hard worker. Even when he more or less officially "retired" he kept himself busy with the Coast Guard Auxiliary. His various technical professions and the presence of computers and other electronics in our house from my early age has contributed greatly to my current interests and pursuits. I miss him greatly. I will eulogize him further in a later news entry.

Also, the kitten Zuro mentioned in the previous entry disappeared one day. We hope that he wandered off and, friendly as he was, found some kids to play with who thinking he was homeless took him home with them. At least, that's the scenario we're hoping for. It's certainly better than other alternatives.

In lighter news, we got our kitchen remodelled. Several pages of pictures of the process are available on the house project page. Unlike the rest of the work done on the house, we hired a contractor for the whole project, with the exception of the electrical work which I did myself. I can say with utmost certainty that this is not something we will repeat. The entire reason for hiring someone else to do it was to save time, with the downside of having a greater cost. Well, they upheld the "greater cost" part of the agreement, but the entire project took 3 months to complete. It took several months longer if you include the time it took just to get them to get started. If I knew that we would be without a kitchen for 3 months anyway, I would have done most of the work myself and saved half the cost of the project. For future projects, we will hire subcontractors only for those specific tasks that we flat out do not want to do ourselves. There aren't many such tasks, but all of them can be completed quickly by a professional.

Speaking of doing it ourselves, we built a 10x12 shed in the backyard. Pictures of this project are also available on the house page, and a set of pages devoted to the methods we used to build it will also be available soon. The purpose of the shed is to store all the stuff we don't want in the house... which is a LOT of stuff. We're filling it up quickly, and we haven't even begun to dig into what we collectively have. Marjorie still has a waning interest in a playhouse, so we will probably build her one with the expectation that by the time she's no longer interested in it, we will have ourselves a second storage building.

In addition to storage, the primary purpose of building the shed was to give myself experience in building a structure from the foundation up as well as giving myself the opportunity to make some mistakes on something that wasn't as critical as a piece of the house was. It is our hope that this year we will be able to add a downstairs bathroom addition along with a place to house the HVAC for the downstairs. We are going to build it in such a way that should we still plan to add a master bedroom downstairs, the layout will allow for it, but will be completed otherwise if we don't.

As we now have a new kitchen, Gertie has been having fun cooking meals again. We hosted both Thanksgiving and Christmas here this year for the first time. She also has been installing new kitchen appliances. Some of those she had saved from the wedding gifts, and some she got as gifts for Christmas.

I've been working long weeks for the last couple months as someone who works in the retail industry is likely to during the holiday season. As a result of this and time consuming factors with regards to everything else that has been happening, I haven't had much time to work on the site itself. Once the construction on the kitchen was complete, I let the tank loose again, but it has since developed some critical mechanical problems and I'm going to need to replace it with something else. Seeing how I've never been able to find a suitable toy to mod, I'm planning to build the next platform myself. It won't necessarily be pretty, but it will at least be more robust than anything that was supposed to be a toy that a child would lose interest in after a couple months. I've added an office cam, which will eventually replace the Restil cam (which BADLY needs to be replaced) once I resolve a logistics issue. Whether I rename it or just eliminate the Restil cam I'm not yet sure of. There were other projects I planned to tackle last year which just didn't happen, so I will plan to do them this year instead.

I made some configuration changes to the site statistics to not treat every deeplinked image access as a unique visit, instead only counting those who actually load a page on the site. This has reduced the apparent number of visits to the site by half. We also had a bit of drama which I couldn't properly deal with at the time because I had family issues to handle. Conversational activity on the site has since been substantially reduced, but I'm confident that with a little bit of free time on my part, we can easily reverse that trend.

Anyways, hope to have more frequent updates from now on. Thank you and have a nice day.

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Lots of Stuff

May 30, 2007 17:38

First off, school's out for summer, Tiffany got all gradumucated, received two scholarships and has been accepted to Texas Women's University where she's planning to attend next fall. Plans for the summer for her and Marjorie are yet to be determined, but Marjorie has cheer camp later in the summer.

Gertie got a new job working for a Denison, TX CPA firm, Joseph E. Madden. She'll be working with payroll for several local companies and small governments, monthly reconciliation, and of course taxes. She's been working there for almost a month now and enjoys it.

You might have also noticed some changes to the site recently. I've been making some changes to the layout to hopefully draw attention to the right places at the right time in the right order. I've put some common FAQ links right on the page and updated the FAQ as well. Several of the more content heavy pages now have automatically hyperlinked references to any mention of regular visitors to the site as well as other common terms. I have both links to more information as well as a popup reference window to give a brief summary. The lampmaster code has been updated to allow a lamp to be visible and controllable by up to 5 different cams. Lamps will now only show up on those cams that they're controllable from, to avoid confusion and save screen realestate.

The tank is currently broken, but a fix is on the way. A couple months ago, while in operation scraping against a wall, one of the segments of track broke. This is a tiny plastic piece which would be easy to replace if I had a supply of them, but I don't. I've tried frantically to find replacements parts short of purchasing an entire new tank. I ordered the first replacement from Hong Kong but it turned out to look exactly like what I needed, just about 20% too small. I've done more searching and I believe I've found the correct set, and I ordered it. It should arrive in the next few days. Assuming I got the right part this time, the tank will be operational 5 minutes after I get the package.

I've also got several rants. Well, rants may not be necessarily appropriate in all instances, more like... discussions... editorials. Much like I used to do on a much more regular basis. Something more blog like. Anyways, not that I'm trying to become a blog here, but I've got a few things to say and I'll be putting that out there over the next several days.

And last but not least, Marjorie got a new pet. Meet Zuro. He's a 8 week old black kitten. Despite some initial displeasure from Anabelle-Bob, they've been getting along pretty well. He's cute and playful and cuddly.. everything a kitten should be. Of course, he will someday grow up to be a cat, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. :)

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Trips, Birthdays, and Projects

April 07, 2007 05:19

Tiffany enjoyed a weeklong trip to London, England over her spring break, which she thouroughly enjoyed. She followed this trip up with a trip to San Antonio, TX a couple weeks later. This week she also got to travel to Lubbock, TX for her UIL theatre one act play contest "By the Bog of Cats". Her group performed it first last week locally and they advanced. Gertie decided to tag along at the last minute. She said she definitely wanted to go somewhere for the Easter holiday, although I'm not entirely certain that this is what she had in mind.

In other news, as of March 31, we now have two teenagers living in the house. Marjorie managed to make it to 13, and decided to celebrate by punish...er... rewarding us by having a slumber party with 7 of her friends... who were all perfect angels.... made no noise... didn't rampage around the house until 6 AM.... Well... I do recall hearing stomping around well into the morning... but certainly that was just ghosts.... I can find no other reasonable explaination. :)

The tank managed to develop its first injury and is currently out of commission. Despite what I had previously hoped, tank treads do not make for an efficient means of motion... especially when turning... on carpet. I didn't account for all that surface area against a surface that would encourage friction. It also seems less than useful on climbing over small obstacles than I had hoped for. Ultimately, this comes down to the power of the motors. I'm now planning for a new platform. However, all the work I did with the computer and motor circuity can be easily reused, so that effort will not have gone to waste. I'm actually now looking for a decent set of motors with gearheads and encoders built in, two large wheels, and a caster. It will have the same rotational qualities as the tank, without the surface area issues. As long as it has enough clearance, but is otherwise not topheavy, it should manuver well around the house. I've been working on sensor interfaces to aid with obstacle detection and avoidance, as well as positioning.

The site I'm going to be making a few minor changes and updates to. Most of this will be behind the scenes type of work, but necessary none the less. Like the cams, I'm going to probe ALL interfaces to detect if they're currently active before displaying them on the page. If my music control program is inactive, the option to control the music will not display, even if I say it is. I'm going to move all control options to an object type arrangement. I'll have the main cam, and then each object... be it a music control, lamp, rc controls, pan/tilt/zoom, music control, phone, desktop display, map, etc will have its own database pointing back to the cam. Lamps and other devices will also be able to connect to multiple cams. When viewing a cam, the other cams owned by that owner, and devices visible from that cam will all be prominant. Devices on other cams will not be visible from this page, giving more room for other features. Right now, displaying all the necessary links takes up too much room. In addition, specific howto links will be available along with the control links. If someone wants to know how I control the lamps, the link will be right next to the lamp controls, so their answer will be immediately availble to them, without having to hunt through the link farm in the sidebar. I'm also going to change the priority of the listed cams. Cams that have active motion in them will be elevated in priority over cams have none, so that cams with live people on them will show up first. Cams with no text overlay will be elevated over those that are covered with it. I'll also add more options to have additional notes from the cam owner appear on the page, ajax reloadable, to augment this. I'll be adding picture galleries, smarter capture/comment searching, and tons of other features.

Most of these changes I'm going to implement to help capture more people. Lots of people visit here every day. Most stick around a couple minutes, click a few links.. go... "ok.. that's cool. Next site.." and then leave. It's not that we aren't entertaining or that what we have here isn't interesting enough to keep them around longer, but it's simply too much to take in. We don't draw their attention in the right way. For many people, it's not immediately obvious what is going on, especially if they followed an old link where the site description is no longer entirely accurate. I need to make it obvious, at a single glance, what you can do with this site... and by the time they've spent a couple minutes messing with it, many of the common questions will have already been answered... And better yet... we want to provide them with information that will let them think of a great idea.... and discover a few moments later.. that their great idea is currently available on the site. In any event, I'm working on some design changes to fascilitate some of this. There will probably be multiple changes to the main theme in the coming weeks as I try different things.

Ultimately, I would like to be able to earn enough money working on the site to be able to at least supplement the income I can make from a regular job. I don't need a lot, and I certainly don't plan to become a dotcom millionaire... or a dotbomb millionaire either.. but if I'm able to spend the 60 hours a week I devote to my current job (which includes the actual time I'm paid to work, lunch hours, time I prepare for work, drive back and forth from work, rest after work, and related scheduling issues that end up wasting additional time..) on the site, then that income would be easily maintainable.

More about all this later. Now you have a news update. :)

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Several Things

March 15, 2007 11:55

First off, the tank is drivable by everyone who has an account, including those who create one solely for the purpose of driving it. I'll eventually let all Anons drive it.... probably, but for the moment, I want to keep in place the ability to control the driver through an account. If for some reason someone decides to systematically abuse the vehicle and creates new accounts to continue it, I have a simple solution to the problem. I can just fix it so only people with accounts several days old will be able to drive it. This stops the abuse while letting most regular people continue to drive it unhindered. Of course, new people will be unable to play immediately, but such is life.

And a public service announcement of sorts, a policy issue on captures. The cams on this site can be captured, and I require you to leave a caption to do so. People are going to leave comments. Most of the time the comments will be nice or at least a neutral observation. Other times, the comments will be downright rude or harrassing, in which case, the caption and/or capture can be removed. However, there seems to be some issue with regards to comments that are, for all practical purposes, the opinion of the viewer. It might simply be a straight-up observation, or a semi-stereotypical viewpoint which some people might find offensive if they try hard enough. Of course, some people, usually with only the best of intentions at heart, decide to take a kneejerk reaction and respond, sometimes with much more emphasis or force than the original comment called for. This tends to have no useful result.

If the original capper is a troll, which happens at times, you're feeding their behavior and encouraging him to continue. If the capper is simply making an observation, perhaps a bit miguided but an observation nonetheless, and you rush to the defense of the capture subject by deploring the comment, you give the caption author... and others who are watching, the impression that we overreact to absolutely everything that could be even remotely be considered negative. And, to be fair, it is usually not the owner of the cam in question that perpetuates this. Those of us who put ourselves on cam do so at the expense of what the world might want to offer up in response. Someone truely being rude certainly deserves a response, but it is the owner's place to do so. Commentary by others is certainly welcome, but if the cam owner chooses to let it slide, support that decision by not overreacting on their behalf.

And on another slightly related issue, if this community is having a problem with you and we choose to actually discuss the issue with you instead of outright banning you, try not to justify the complaints against you by responding in a childish way to honest critism. If we're talking to you about it, that means we'd actually like for you to stick around, we're just hoping for a slight modification of your behavior.

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