TweetTelegraph – Part 2 (XBee Hardware)

While waiting for the telegraph key and sounder to arrive I decided to tackle the XBee problem.  Because I have this unshakable belief that anything numbered “2” is better than a similar product numbered “1” I decided to get series 2 XBee radios.  This was my first problem.  Series 1 radios are point to point and relatively easy to work with (as I understand) but series 2 radios are mesh based.  Out of the box, two Series 2 XBee radios cannot communicate.  One of them needs to be reflashed into “co-ordinator” mode in order to set up the mesh.  Had I researched beyond the “2” part of the product description I may have realized that, but as I mentioned, glaring character flaw.  Anyhoo, now I was in a pickle.  Flashing one of these blighters requires downloading an application that doesn’t work on anything other than Windows.  There are some vague assertions that people have gotten it to work under Wine on Linux but not much in the way of experience running it under Wine on the Mac.   I gave it a go and got basically nowhere.  After setting up the Wine COM ports (the symlinks in the Wine dosdevices directory) I was able to attach to the device via the USB explorer in only a limited fashion.  If I attempted to connect with the default settings I couldn’t get anywhere – test connection would fail as would all the read/write and terminal operations.  However if I activated the “API” mode (which I was certain my radios were not running in) I could sort of connect.  It would give the OK message but declare that the hardware/firmware versions were empty.  Read/Write configuration options would fail immediately saying the version wasn’t available.  Interestingly however, the terminal worked fine and I could access all of the expected AT commands.  I struggled with this for several hours and got nowhere.  I tried as many permutations as I could think of:  I grounded out the DTR pin on the radio and wired RTS to 3.3V on the USB explorer, I popped the ATMega out of my UNO and tried writing via the shield, and I combined that with the earlier DTR/RTS idea.  Nada – all roads led to Advil City.

The next day I plugged into a proper Windows box and had both of the radios flashed, configured  and tested within 5 minutes.  Sigh.  I’m sorry Sunday – I’ll never waste you like that again.

Bottom line:  if you don’t need mesh networking give series 2 the pass, ESPECIALLY if you’re on OS X.  As far as I can tell you’ll either need to bum a Windows machine off a friend, dual boot, or possibly use a VM unless you can somehow make use of the USB drivers that can be found on the X CTU download page.  Utilizing drivers with Wine appears to be experimental, but I’m not that adventurous.   If anyone has had any success flashing these blighters on OS X I’d love to hear about it.

There’s a lot of half-baked and incomplete documentation out there when it comes to XBee Series 2/Arduino integration but this article over at plasticbit was by far the most concise and complete in describing exactly the setup I was looking for.

See also: TweetTelegraph – Part 1 (Shopping)TweetTelegraph – Part 3 (Telegraph Hardware)TweetTelegraph – Part 4 (Software)

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TweetTelegraph – Part 1 (Shopping)

[This was written several months ago but just posted now due to my laziness and a requirement to get the OK from my company legal department.  I managed to get the later long before I overcame the former.]

I’ve always loved the telegraph.  Perhaps it’s because I’m 100 years old (as my wife always reminds me) but there’s just something soothing about the tappa tappa tappa sound of a telegraph at work.

I also love Twitter.  I know, I know – a flash in the pan stupid fad for self-indulgant assholes – but still, I’ve actually managed to make a lot of friends (or at the very least least strong acquaintances) via Twitter and that’s important to me as someone who has an incredibly difficult time meeting people and making friends.

So, says I whilst drinking a beer and mulling over life’s problems, what if I married the two things into one beast?  Superficially the two mechanisms already carry a lot of similarities.  Specifically, they’re both suited for short directionless (or directed insofar as the message contents will allow) blurbs.  With this in mind, I began to plan.

First, what do use for the device itself.  On the backend I figured Arduino/Processing was a no-brainer but for the device I wasn’t so sure.  My initial thought was to simply hook up a Piezo buzzer and a push button but that didn’t appeal to me.  If I went that route the resulting construction would be interesting for a moment but then disassembled.  I wan’t something authentic, something attractive.  Basically I wanted a real honest to god Morse telegraph machine in my living room chittering away at me whenever someone @mentioned me on Twitter.

I hit eBay and discovered that authentic, working telegraph equipment from the turn of the century was actually relatively easy to come by at a reasonable price.  I found a vendor in Arizona that had a multitude of options to choose from.  There were standalone telegraph keys, sounders, and even pairs all of which were in restored and working condition.  Again my laziness attempted to assert itself.  All I really wanted was the sounder, right?  Well, kind of.  I don’t know Morse code and my prime motivation was to have the sounder as a curiosity in my living room.  But if I went and only did half the job I’d regret it in the end.  With this criteria in mind I narrowed my search to key/sounder pairs and started bidding.  My first auction was a bust with the price rising well above my comfort level.  The second attempt was successful – I secured a J.H. Bunnell sounder and key (which appears to be identical to the one produced in 1881 as found on the J.H Bunnell website).

My second stop was Sparkfun.  Sparkfun is a dangerous place.  You go there with a particular goal in mind and yet when it comes time to check out you’ve found you need to re-mortgage the house.  Dangerous, dangerous place.  Anyhoo, on the electronics side I wanted to be a bit clever.  As I mentioned I wanted this to sit in our living room somewhere.  The device would need to be connected to a computer and we don’t have one there (and dont want to put one there).  I began considering my wireless options – Bluetooth and XBee.  Bluetooth could be handier (perhaps interfacing with one of my BlackBerries) but it might be more expensive and by all accounts it’s a pain in the arse to work with.  On the other hand XBee is affordable, has a handy shield available for Arduino, and seems easier to develop for.  Plus, I like bees.  My decision was made:  an Arduino UNO, XBee shield, 2 XBee radios, an XBee USB interface for the computer, and a wall wart for power.  Oh, and a whole bunch of other awesome stuff I didn’t need for this project.  Any other bits and bobs I felt confident I could find at the local electronics store.

Now… the waiting game.  The Sparkfun order managed to arrive in my hands before the shipping notification email was even sent (I see you’ve mastered time travel Sparkfun.  Good.  Very good) but I’m still waiting on the telegraph.  This does nothing to sooth my impatience.  Without the hardware in hand I set about working on the software… which is where I’ll have to stop for the time being.  I’ll need to get the OK from the company lawyers to talk about the software or release anything resembling source code.  You never know – there could be valuable IP to be derived from modern applications of 150 year old technology.  Wait, what?

See also: TweetTelegraph – Part 2 (XBee Hardware), TweetTelegraph – Part 3 (Telegraph Hardware), TweetTelegraph – Part 4 (Software)

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Buh-Bye Jackie

It’s time to say goodbye to another furry loved one. Last week we had to usher our Jackie off to his maker after a long battle with cancer, diabetes, and being a bit of a jerk.

In all seriousness, Jack was an awesome cat. Almost always super chill and easy going, he was never anxious, neurotic or  downright weird like our other kids.  He took his insulin needle like a pro every morning and was always waiting for us at the door when we came in.  We’re missing him like crazy but it was his time – even in sickness he never complained and keeping him around was bordering on selfish.

G’night little dude.  Say hi to your sister.


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New Additions to the Fam

We’ve recently had some new additions to the family.  First up is Penny.  Penny is another rescue cat we decided to adopt after Tracey left us.  Her family recently had a baby and they were finding they weren’t spending enough time with her.  Unlike the rest of our mutts, Penny appears to be a pure breed Russian Blue.  She certainly looks the part but her personality doesn’t quite match up with the breed description.  There are some commonalities – the skittishness and enjoyment of play primarily – but beyond that she’s pretty divergent.  And by divergent I mean she’s a bitch.  She’s mellowed out a lot since she arrived but not long after she got here she gave me a WICKED bite on the hand that has left a permanent scar.  You can’t really approach her for affection – doing so results in a cry that’s a pretty firm warning that there could be blood in your future – but she will occasionally perch herself on you for a nap.  When napping, you can pat her all you like and she’ll purr quite loudly.  She doesn’t really get along with the boys.  Her and Jack have the most vicious brawls but for the most part they tolerate one another.  Cthulhu on the other hand hates her.  He hisses whenever he’s near her.  He’s not aggressive in any way.  In fact, it’d be fair to say that he’s submissive to her.  All the same, whenever they’re together there’s a good deal of tension.  Oh… when she came to us, she wasn’t known as Penny.  She was Pickles.  Anyone who knows me knows how much I detest those awful things and thankfully we both thought the name was pretty stupid anyway.  We’re both a fan of the human names for animals so we decided on one that was at least kind of close to her original.

Penny, as taken by elektrafying.

The other addition is less furry.  After almost 20 years of protest I’ve finally relented and we’ve purchased our first car!  We were finding that a lot of doors were closed to us, and we would opt out of a lot of activities that we’d prefer to do if the logistics weren’t so complicated.  We looked at several models but in the end we settled with a 2007 Honda Fit.  It’s a good little car with super responsive steering and really touchy brakes.  It’s been a bit of a learning exercise to not give us whiplash every time we have to stop but I think I’m getting there.  We’ve got a few upgrades in mind (better stereo, remote keyless entry, remote starter) but we’ve not moved on them yet.  It’s only been a few days. 😉  Oh!  Her name (as well as the first song played in the car) is Deanna.  This Deanna.

Oh Deanna (Oh Deanna!)

Both photos were taken by elektrafying, the only one of us who can be arsed to document events such as this. 🙂

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A Sad Day

It’s been an incredibly sad day in our household. Tracey, our elderly cat of 18+ years, went off to meet her maker today. She’s been losing weight for some time and has struggled with dehydration issues but recently it’s come to a head. Sometime over the weekend she had a stroke and lost the ability to walk properly. She also went blind and her weight loss accelerated to a dramatic degree. After discussing the options the only conclusion we could reach was the most painful for us but the best for her.

She was an incredibly gentle creature. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body and never, ever complained regardless of what indignities you inflicted upon her. She was always willing to curl up and sleep with or on you with her absolute favourite place being deep in your armpit. As receptive to affection as she was she also had the mischievous streak that seems so common with calicos. More than once I woke up in the middle of the night with her licking a hole in my side.  The pain did not end there either – her favourite thing to do in the morning was to jump on the bathroom counter and push the contents onto the floor or into the sink as you watched.  No matter what she did though it was impossible to be mad at her – she was just too damned sweet.

It’s not going to be the same here without you Tracey.  Sleep well little girl.  We’re going to miss you so much.

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Scott Pilgrim vs. Castle Crashers

A few weeks back I decided to download the demo for Scott Pilgim vs. The World for PS3. I used to love old arcade-style sidescrolling beat-em-ups and I was really psyched to play. After about five minutes I stopped playing and deleted the demo. The art style was quaint enough but the gameplay was horrid. It felt like you were moving in mud at all times, even when running. Saddened, I reflected that maybe my memories of the genre were suspect. I had read many positive reviews of the game and perhaps I had simply grown out of the genre.

I wasn’t quite ready to give up on the brawler though. Yesterday on a whim I decided to try the Castle Crashers demo. This was a game that didn’t really appeal to me at all but again the reviews were good and I still was riding a bit of nostalgia for the genre. Lexy and I sat down at around 2pm and I’m embarassed to say that 8 hours (and one purchase) later we had beaten the game. We couldn’t put it down. We gave up in the end only because our bodies were rebelling – our thumbs had been destroyed.

I’m relieved to discover that my memories of the genre are fine. They weren’t to blame for Scott Pilgim sucking – Scott Pilgrim was. Castle Crashers is about as much fun as I’ve had on a console in the past decade. It’s responsive, it’s got a fantastic pace, great style (and occasionally great humor, poop jokes aside) and some incredibly memorable boss fights. As soon as we finished we talked about how we were going to play through it again. We’ve made idle threats like this before but sure enough we were playing first thing this AM and only took a break for our neighbourhood BBQ. We now have 6 characters under development and if I had to wager there’ll be more coming.

I sincerely hope The Behemoth has a sequel or some DLC planned. I don’t think I’ve ever been so instantly enamoured with a franchise as I am with Castle Crashers.

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Another Contact Juggling Video

I got a bee in my bonnet the other night that that told me I had to make another contact juggling video.  After hours of screw ups here’s the result.

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Stuff and Things

I haven’t been posting here due to the fact that I’ve been extremely busy as of late. This is largely due to work which has had me on my toes for months now. Things on that front are mostly under control now however, which is a relief. Well, under control for at least a week or two at any rate…

We travelled to the US for a shopping trip a month ago and while we were there we decided to pick up an iPad. We opted for the 16gig wifi model (there were no 3G models in stock) and for the most part I’m incredibly happy with the device. The size feels just right, the weight isn’t too bad, and the responsiveness of the UI is great. It makes for a great casual laptop replacement for the most part although the lack of multitasking is a bit of a killer for me. IM (Adium) is one of the applications I use most on my laptop and not being able to do that while browsing is a serious pain. I can only hope that improves when OS 4 gets shipped for it in the fall.

Lost Marbles (a local toy store) is hosting a custom Munny show in August and I’ve entered into it. I have two Munnys on the go at the moment and I may start a third if time permits. I’ve been slacking on my Munny hobby as of late but I really hope this show (and associated deadline) can spur me into action.

As far as games go, I haven’t been playing many as of late. This can be partially attributed to how busy I’ve been but it has more to do with how few interesting games have been released lately. On a whim i decided to pick up Red Dead Redemption and it has kept my attention for a lot longer than I thought it would. I really don’t like Rockstar games very much but this one, despite its overwhelming Rockstariness, is really quite fun. It has generally allowed me to play without putting me into ethical situations I’d rather not play through (with one glaring exception in Mexico) which is usually how other Rockstar games lose me. Plus, OMG PONIES!!1!

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Heavy Rain

Okay, so.  Heavy Rain.  Best game I’ve played in a really long time.  In fact, if I had to sum it up, it’d be the game I’ve been hoping for … well, forever.   I love murder mysteries, and I love puzzlers, and I got my fair share of both from it.  I found the controls ideal for the experience they were trying to convey with the exception of the movement controls which could be somewhat frustrating (and reminiscent of Resident Evil <4).

That’s not to say it doesn’t have it’s faults, however.  First, right off the top, is the voice acting.  The accents of the voice actors were not well disguised at all, and I found them incredibly distracting.  Most of the main characters were okay but the secondary characters were really off.  I suppose this is a very North American complaint and I bet a lot of Europeans feel the same way when North American developers butcher their accents.

Second, eh… there are plot elements that really bother me.  I can’t really get into them in a lot of detail, but the biggest problem I have is the identity killer.  I didn’t find the choice of killer made a lot of sense.  There wasn’t nearly enough foreshadowing to allow you to figure him out earlier without a lot of leaps of logic.  There were several places where they could have dropped clues to at least hint at their identity but instead it all came together rather fast.  Beyond that, I just didn’t LIKE the choice of killer although I realize that’s an aesthetics choice.

I hope this game is a financial success so that we might see more experiments like it in the future.  I would play nothing but games like this if I had the choice.

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Birthday Surprises

So, yah. This years bday was pretty bloody awesome. To start with, I got to open one of the gifts that my love wify got for me. I chose at random and I got… a large Munny! One of the 7″ models. Accessory wise it comes with a rabbit hat so I’m going to make this one for the wife.  For years now she’s rabbit, and I’m owl so it’s only fitting. Then, shortly before noon there was a knock at the door – flower delivery from Lexy’s mom and partner!

After this we hurried off to art class where I finished off my first real portrait. I’ve done some simple watercolor portraits before but this was the first one with any real detail. It’s pastel on black board. I don’t think I got him exactly (there are sizing issues all over the place and his eyes are droopy), but I’m not entirely unhappy with the result either.  I liked it enough to get it matted and framed right away.  I THINK this is the first thing of mine I’ve ever felt strongly enough to preserve in some way.

Before leaving class, another surprise – more flowers!  This time from Lexy herself!

After art class we came back to our place where I opened some more gifts and boy did I make off like a bandit. To start with, Lexy’s mom and partner got me a Rooz (a new style of Munny) that I promptly decided to turn into Pinhead from Hellraiser – it’s a work in progress already . From Lexy I got some new PJs, an awesome book on the theory and practice of stage magic, and an airbrush kit! The whole deal, three brushes, hoses, and an air compressor. I’m DYING to use this on some Munnys!

We then headed down town to our best friends house for a relaxing and chill evening. The plan was to order some authentic NS donairs from the only place in town that makes them but they actually found a recipe on line and made them from scratch! Man oh man were they ever good! They were perfect, awesome meat and the sauce was spot on. Soooo tasty!  Then, we played some games, the winners of which were allowed to pop one balloon for the prize inside. Of course, the prize could be a head full of cold water as I was lucky enough to receive. 🙂 Then? More presents!  I was given some charcoal/sketching supplies and a huge pad of sketch paper so I can practice more portraits, a hand powered flashlight, and a pre-order of Heavy Rain for PS3!  Finally, there was a delicious raspberry cake.  Huzzah!

I’ve had a lot of great birthdays over the last few years but this one really takes the cake.  Thanks guys!

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  • About Me

    Hi! My name is Kimberly Horne and I have absolutely nothing interesting to say. Unfortunately for you I DO have an overpowering need to tinker with technology which is explains the presence of this journal. I mostly talk about games (video and tabletop), technology, tattoos, and my pets.

    If you're an Eclipse user you may find my Eclipse category more interesting.

    Similarly, if you're an Arduino nerd then maybe my projects might be of interest.

    Since I've discovered Twitter this journal has been neglected somewhat. If you really want to stalk me your best bet is to follow me on twitter.