In A Windowless Room

April 4, 2012 at 11:38 pm (Cool Tech, Internet tech, Rent Me) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Hey, bloggy-types and Internet trolls! I’m back again, making a bit of an effort to “feed” the blog. (And hoping to drive my traffic back up!) But in this installment, the content isn’t quite as poetic as the title might lead you to believe…

A recent post on e-week caught my eye. “Microsoft: 10 Fascinating Facts About Windows, Other Products”. I’ve got Fascinating Fact #11, kids. I am successfully and happily living my life without any of those products. Okay, without most of them. We’ll come back to that in a few paragraphs.

To begin – I’m not using Windows much any more. (My Windows machine is down, but when it runs, it’s running XP.) I’ve been on Linux almost exclusively (something like 99% of the time) for the past year or so, and very seldom do I run into an issue with it. I do have a couple apps that can only run on Windows, but – I’m getting along just fine, thanks. It’s surprising just how much work you can do on Ubuntu Linux, loaded on a second-hand Acer netbook. (Good-natured Bronx cheer, Mac and Windows adherents.)

As for Windows 8, (mentioned early in the e-week slideshow) I wonder how that new approach to the user interface will work out. People tend to resist change, even if it’s “good” change. The Redmond Rat Pack may have shot themselves in the foot here. I read a recent article to the effect that Windows may have one foot in the grave already, and if Win 8 goes over as well as Vista did, well – it’s not going to be pretty. Though – as a veteran Computer Tutor – it may mean more work for me. I can’t tell you how many thousands of dollars I have earned because Microsoft’s OS is such a P-O-S. Maybe I should send a “Thank You” card to Bill Gates.

Gaming – the X-Box is also featured in the slideshow… Since we are talking about my lifestyle here, bluntly, I have so little time to play games that an X-Box is about as much use to me as a skateboard is to a duck. I can just about manage a few games of Klondike before I fall asleep at night. Beyond that, gaming is an undiscovered country. A bit like me and any sports, to be frank. But I hear the X-Box is a well-regarded gaming system, though they do seem to die rather often and unexpectedly.

Bing – don’t get me started. Seriously? A search engine whose name is an acronym for “But It’s Not Google”? Nah. I’ve been Googling almost since there was a Google. So are 76% of the world’s Internet search engine users, as of Feb. 2012. Sorry, Bill. Nice try.

Zune. Yeah. (Trying not to laugh.) Another “me-too” product conceived in Apple’s shadow. I’ve had 3 or 4 MP3 players, none of them a Microsoft product. (No iPods, either. Overpriced, IMHO.) I’ve carelessly managed to kill all of them, sadly. There are times when I really miss them. Like when I am shopping during the holidays, and wherever I go, there seems to be some truly dreadful Christmas music playing on the store’s PA. “Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum” indeed. I’ll have to see if I can get a replacement before Hallowe’en this year…

Phones. Windows Mobile / Windows Phone? Not a chance this year. Or next. Currently, I don’t even have a smart phone. In fact, my phone couldn’t be any dumber, unless it was a rock. But in the future, given that there options such as the iPhone iOS, or the Linux-based Android, what do you suspect I would choose? Good guess.

Finally, we come to slide #10. Skype. Well, you got me, Microsoft. Guilty of being a Skype user. But only because I’ve been using Skype for personal and business calls since 2007. Microsoft bought Skype in 2011, mostly to keep it out of Google’s hands. Redmond only wins that one by default. And hey – Skype works fine on Linux! (I love this slide, below. Ballmer looks like some sort of gnomish version of a guy you might encounter in the waiting room of the oil-change place, getting fresh fluids poured into his Lexus. Big thumbs up there, Steve. Oh, and I will readily admit that I’m no beauty queen myself. In fact, I look increasingly like the comic book store guy on The Simpsons. Sigh. What ya gonna do, eh?)

We’re now at the end of the slideshow, and I’ll have to be done taking snarky pot-shots at Microsoft. Although, e-week didn’t mention Office Live (soon to be replaced by SkyDrive), the MS version of Google Docs. Or MSN. Or Hotmail. Maybe that’s because they are more or less invisible in the marketplace.

Nor did they mention Internet Explorer. Yet another “Billy-come-lately” product, and the stuff of which antitrust lawsuits were made. If IE didn’t come bundled with Windows, I kind of doubt it could hold its own in the browser marketplace. In fact, one startup recently took the audacious step of dropping all support for Internet Explorer. And it saved them over $100K, plus countless hours of development time. Pretty gutsy move, but one that I understand completely, as a webmaster. IE is a pain in the neck, because Microsoft insists on implementing Java, CSS, and HTML in their own special way, even though standards exist that they can follow. They simply choose not to. (Heh heh, you thought I was done being snotty, didn’t you? Okay, I’ll quit now. Rant over.)

Not sure what I’ll post next time. There’s a fair number of things rattling around in my old fat head. Come back soon, and see what fell out first. And don’t forget to comment below, if you are so moved. Thanks for reading!

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Back To My Roots

December 13, 2008 at 1:59 am (Cool Tech, General) (, , , , , , , , )

mai_tubeBefore I was dragged by circumstances into the world of Web 2.0, I started my geek life as a hobbyist. And I am terribly, terribly ancient; when I started being an electronic hobbyist, there were no “software” hobbyists. I was totally hardware. Soldering iron, screwdriver, and pliers, baby.

So last weekend, feeling a bit of a lack in my life, I decided to get away from the keyboard for a bit, and take up tools to craft a charger for my MP3 players. I find it tiresome to have to charge them off my PCs, and since I have all these parts lying about in my junk boxes and in the shed, why not build my own USB charger?

Let us begin…

…with an empty Altoids tin. This lovely, inexpensive steel box is easily drilled and cut, provides mechanical protection, electrical shielding, and heat dissipation, all in one. Plus a curiously strong minty freshness for the project.

usbcharger1parts
Here you see the pile of parts I collected for the project, including the aforementioned Altoids tin, a USB connector salvaged from an old PC motherboard, a cheap cell phone charger, a solid state 5 volt regulator, a socket for the regulator (that’s the green & silver whatsit), a red LED for the little pilot light (letting me know it’s on and functioning), a couple capacitors (to smooth the voltage a bit), and a couple parts I didn’t use – a rectifier and a smaller 5 volt regulator. I included them in the pic for reference. Click here for a complete parts list. And click here for a schematic.

I started building up 2 of these USB chargers. The 2nd one isn’t finished yet. My engineering and design is done “on the fly” and I had to change course a little as I went. This photo shows the regulators mounted with their sockets in the Altoids tins.

usbcharger4
The next image shows the mounting of the USB connectors. Using a utility knife, I was able to cut a rectangular hole in the sheet metal, in a sort of sideways “H” pattern. This left me with two tabs I could bend back into the tin, which I could use to attach the USB connector. You’ll see how in a subsequent shot.

usbcharger5

Now, with the cover open, you can see the major parts installed. On the left, a small power jack – same size as a headphone jack on an MP3 player. To the right of that, you see the regulator and socket, and on the right, the USB connector, soldered to the tabs I mentioned. Nice and sturdy!

usbcharger6regulator

Sharp-eyed visitors will note that there seems to be something funny with the “input / output” labels. They look Photoshopped, and that’s because… they are. When I first used my Sharpie to mark the terminals, I got them swapped because the data sheet I downloaded was a little unclear. I got it sorted out later. But the ground symbol was on the correct terminal all along! 1 out of 3 ain’t bad. Same average I am currently running with “Sex, drugs, and rock & roll”. You figure out which one. Here’s a hint – the radio is on.

usbcharger7thumbnailAnd here it is – the finished project! The cell phone charger was replaced by the wall bug from an old answering machine. The cell charger didn’t have enough voltage or current to “git ‘er done”, so – course correction. On the left side of the box, you can see the plug-in jack for the adapter, and on the bottom of the box, you can kinda see the pilot light peeking out.

Next pic shows the final project, cover open, adapter connected. You can see the capacitors in place, all the wiring, the LED pilot light, and its 270 ohm dropping resistor, connected to the 5 volt output. Looks simple, huh? Well, try this at home – I dare you! Don’t burn your fingers with the soldering iron. I generally pick it up by the “cord end”, sort of thing.

usbcharger8inside
This final image shows the unit under power. The pilot light is glowing merrily and a laptop light is plugged into the USB jack, to demonstrate that the unit is, in fact, delivering a well-regulated 5 volts to the USB device plugged into it. You can also see the regulator mounted to the outside of the tin.

usbcharger9

And there you have it! The project gave me about 4 hours of very enjoyable hobby time overall, not including some time hacking on the little cell charger, trying unsuccessfully to get more “oomph” out of it.

No uneaten Altoids were harmed in the creation of this project.

altoidsthumbdrivethumbnailAnd it makes a nice companion to my Altoids USB thumb drive. I had a nifty little USB MP3 player which I accidentally fried during another hardware project, but the flash drive part was still working. So I stripped off the display and its PC board, and wrapped the memory stick part in electrician’s tape. But that’s not a very sturdy solution.

Eventually, I decided to use an Altoids gum tin as an enclosure. First, I cut a slot at one end for the USB connector. Then some double-stick foam tape and hot melt glue mounted the thumb drive circuit board to the box, and we’re good to go.

altoidsthumbdriveopen

I marked the capacity inside the lid, and as you can see, there is still room left over for some Post-It flags and a place to store the protective cap from the connector.

Altoids style, my friends! Go thou now, and do likewise. Make a project with an Altoids tin, or some similar metal box, for yourself or a loved one. It’s a lot of fun, and it can take you back to your creative roots.

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