Star wars day — May the 4th be with you

Yes, once again it is Star Wars day and it also happens to be my birthday. Kismet!

If every there was a year to sit down an binge star wars, today is the day. According to the Star Wars Alien quiz (yes, there is such a thing on the link directly above), I am a Wookiee.

Here is a link to a post a few years back on the topic of What if CIOs were Star War’s characters?

Hope things are going well there…

In my county there are 14 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and only one case in my zip code. That’s not too surprising though, since the folks in South Carolina took the governor seriously when he told folks to stay at home unless they needed to go out – even though he didn’t have a legal ‘stay at home’ order. I think we’ve been home now since the 2nd week of March.

My wife and I have been keeping busy for the last week, painting every room in the house. We are about halfway done, and I can say it is making time pass more quickly – but that’s about all I’ll say about the process. The paint used by the builder was sprayed on and likely had the consistency of skim milk.

I also replaced all the electrical switches with ones that were like what we had in our previous house (the wide ‘decorator’ style). Some folks wonder why I did all that work, but you know the saying “happy wife, happy life”.

I’ve not had much time to tackle any innovative tasks since the last post though I think the ham group is going to run a little direction finding experiment next week.

Christmas comes early to my CNC machine

Yesterday, I thought I’d tackle a quick project. Earlier this year, I designed a Christmas ornament based on the South Carolina flag and some other Christmas ornaments I’d seen. I modeled the design in Autodesk Fusion 360 using mainly splines and extruded it to 8 mm since that was the thickness of stock I had lying around. Then I used the software to generate G-code for the contour cuts, using a spiral cut going down about a millimeter every time around the design.

After the design was done, I used CAMotics to visualize what the cuts would look like on some virtual stock. I’ve found this to be a very useful step, ensuring that everything is where it is supposed to be and not wasting any wood in the process. It is still easy to miss something (like in this case, I missed the hole where the hanger should fit) but it is better than nothing.

The following is a picture of my first cut in progress on the machine. I was using a 1.5 mm flat end router bit running at 5000 RPM and a cut feedrate of 100 mm/min. This speed caused some burning (smoke), so I changed the feedrate for the second one I made to 300 mm/min and that took care of the burning (for the most part) — and I didn’t even break a bit.

Here is a picture of the final part, before it was sanded, to take off the whiskers.

I think I now have the 2D contour cutting down fairly well. The ornament is cut from 115 mm x 80 mm x 8 mm, so there are some tight tolerances in the design, but it worked out. I’ve now cut a second one out of walnut as well (this time with the hanger hole at the top). Now on to a more complex object that has both a silhouette, contour cut as well as more ornamental cuts.

Talk about having some bad luck with hard drives

About two weeks ago, my user drive began to run slow (I have an SSD for my system files and all my user files on a separate spinning hard drive). Later that day, it just failed — the OS couldn’t see it. When I took it out and put it in a USB enclosure, it just made some clicking sounds and couldn’t be seen from Windows Disk Manager. The drive was probably 8-10 years old, so it was about time. I have all my personal files backed up three different ways, two on the cloud (Google and OneDrive) and one with a physical drive using File History

I thought, “oh well at least I have a spare drive sitting around, this wont take long”. It was a 3TB drive that I was just using for storing media backups. This drive had not been used very much at all, but was quite a few years old. I piled it on the sacrificial pyre of system storage and installed it in my desktop, formatted it and then loaded on my backup files. This process probably took 4 hours and I had everything back working again.

This new drive ran great for about two weeks and then it also started to make a clicking sound. When I rebooted, the drive diagnostics stated “Hard drive failure imminent”. Foolishly, I thought “This is a new drive, it must be some kind of strange issue that can be fixed by a hard reset”. I powered down the machine and everything seemed to be working fine, until I ran the same program where I first heard the clicking sound and then down she came like a tower of bricks.

This time the computer could at least see that there was a hard drive, it just didn’t like the partition definition… So I pulled out my trusty copy of Spinrite and put it to work. No success, the BIOS and DOS could see the drive, but didn’t want to examine it (I hope the new version of Spinrite gets released soon so it will use a more modern approach to accessing the drives. This enhancement has been talked about for years).

Anyway, I went to Amazon and looked for a highly-rated but relatively inexpensive 3TB option. There are many of them out there. I chalked up the previous experience as practice and hoped that I’ll be up more quickly this time, once it arrives later today. Fortunately, I have a tablet running windows and OneDrive syncing my files so I can still function.

The lessons from all this is:

  1. Keep multiple backups – drives fail
  2. If you ever see a “Hard drive failure imminent” take it seriously

There is another lesson to keep in mind that has more to do with security and that is to have your user accounts run without privileges. Have a separate admin account where you do all the “system stuff”.

Visiting with Tom Hill

Yesterday, I had the honor of visiting with Tom Hill and his wife during their annual visit to Hilton Head. Tom is one of the greatest technologists that came out of EDS and one of the first EDS Fellows. He and I worked together for over a decade at both HP and EDS.

We reminisced about the various significant successes and unusual events over the years and discussed the current status of many of our co-workers. Now that I’ve moved to the Hilton Head area, the only way to tap into the flow of this kind of information is the push from Facebook… and most of the folks I worked with are to private to use that. I was saddened to hear of the passing of Jeff Heller (another great EDS leader).

I shared with Tom some minor woodworking items that I’ve made (One of these was a black-on-black ebony pen I was particularly proud of, that I made this week). We wish both Tom and his bride continued health and happiness.

Sang “We have seen the Lord” over the weekend

Even though this is not really an application of technology post, I did want to share that over the weekend our church choir sang We Have Seen the Lord.

From that link you can listen to or download the file.

The song is about the interaction between doubting Thomas, the disciples and Jesus after Easter. I sang the part of Jesus, which starts about halfway through the song.

It didn’t come off too badly for an amateur church choir just meet once a week for part of the year.

Thanksgiving 2018

It’s good every once in a while to think about being thankful for what we have and the possibilities of what we can do. That is at least part of the foundation for our Thanksgiving holiday.

This year has been a heck of a year. We’ve moved to South Carolina and I think I’ve come to grips with being retired. I am surrounded by a great community and learning new things all the time as well as continuing to pursue areas where I’ve had interests. That is the new meaning of the ‘Beyond’ in the title of this blog.

Our children will be here later today or early tomorrow and having them all together hasn’t happened in too long. Hopefully, they will feel the same way after the holiday.

Happy Holidays to everyone (and especially to those who read this).

Another update to QSOSender3

Back in June I wrote a post about releasing an update to QSOSender3 — an application for Android that simulates ham radio QSOs using Morse code. I had some requests for additional functionality and noticed a few odd user interface and grammatical behaviors by the program, so I’ve released a new version of QSOSender3.

This version will allow you to paste in text or save generated QSOs to retrieve later. I received a request by someone to add this functionality since somehow they used the program during contests, so I thought “why not?” The program can now store four text fields worth of information. I wonder if anyone will try and read a short story in Morse, if so they are better than me.

I can’t imaging what else the users of the program may want, but people keep sending in requests so I try to address them.

An SUV I couldn’t stand

This weekend, we rented a car to go to a high school graduation in Texas. When we arrived in Houston, I hopped out of the rental car bus looking forward to my choice of cars. There at the end of the aisle was a Mercedes SUV. I thought “I’ve never had one of those, now’s the Time.” We jumped in and off we went.

The first thing I noticed was that there were 4 (count them four) levers on the steering column. Who needs a porcupine for a steering column.

It was foggy. The first encounter with this little design gem was that one of the levers was located in exactly the same location as the wiper controls on my wife’s Chevy Equinox. The big difference in experience was that if you touch this lever, it drops you into neutral and one time even into park.

There is also a button on the console between the seats that when your hand brushes it, you are now in manual transmission mode rather than automatic. That happened twice before I figured out what was causing it. Flappy paddle shifting can be fun, but only when you expect it.

A bonus feature was that along my drive between Houston and Austin, the following screen kept popping up:

I like a leasurely drive as much as the next person, but to remind me to stop and take a break every 30 minutes is a bit much. I am driving across Texas, not to the grocery store. There is only so much coffee one can drink.

Another thing I found truly disappointing was the entertainment system. In the Equinox, Chevy has made it so the phone can display maps… on the large screen built into the car, allowing me to see the map that I am trying to follow or the progress in the podcast. Not on the Mercedes!

The final bow was when I was about half an hour from the rental return, the car decided it had enough of the Texas heat, and the window cracked, halfway across the drivers side.

I must say that for a car that costs as much as a down payment for a family home, I was a bit disappointed. Maybe that’s because the folks who buy this are looking for status and not convenient transportation. I’m out.

First flight in months

Headed to Round Rock, TX for a graduation. This is my first flight since October and after all the issues and controversy about flying lately, I am hoping for an uneventful flight.

Based on the level of traffic at the Starbucks in the Savannah airport, it should be a quiet flight.

Hopefully, I’ll be home before the first tropical depression of the year can make things interesting.