Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bribing the computer guy....

It occurs to me that it's way to cheap to bribe the computer guy. Here's how that usually goes:

Friend/Customer: "My laptop is broked. Yes, I know this is the third time this week. Please accept the pizza taped to the computer as a peace offering."

Computer Guy: "OK."

(Customer leaves, munching ensues)

Computer Guy: "And you shouldn't tape pizza to your computer any more. In fact, just don't put tape on it at all."

The "Sweet! I just got a pizza!" thought lasts for the first slice or two, then the realization sets in:

The pizza costs $7.99 + tax. The bad news is that it came taped to five hours of work. So I'm making $1.75/hr, with no chance for tips, because the pizza was the tip.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

PIC Programming...

I've been working with Microchip PICs, which appeal to me because of the ability to choose what features I want in a chip by choosing a different chip, and they're super-cheap. But the IDE leaves everything to be desired. They fixed the "C costs $600" problem by including a lite version for free with the latest IDE. Haven't tried it - don't program C. I've been using Pic Basic Pro. First it doesn't integrate into the IDE at all. It has these DLLs that have to be registered every time you boot and no script to do that for you. Then you have to figure out which of the badly named executables you want the IDe to compile with. I don't know, so I had to guess my way through the list. Which one was it? PBPW.exe. As of version 8.0, the Project Wizard, needed to create the 6 or so files required by the IDE to compile and burn to chip, is broken. No error messages say this - oh no, they say "Error Cannot Open .MAC". No problem - I'll copy a project I created in an older version of MPLAB and it worked fine. Next up is the issue of the Oscillator type on your dev board. RC is marked properly. EC, LP and XT aren't. And you have to choose this option every time you write to the chip. No compiler directives here. Then when you go to burn the chip, you can't just select the programmer you want to use. Nope. You have to run the programmer wizard, which has no choices at all, just walks you through what it's doing in eight easy steps. When you finally get to choose the programmer you want to use, MPLAB updates the firmware in the programmer, consuming another few minutes or so.

The Arduino uC boards may not have much going for them - a slow chip with fewer outputs and fixed frequency PWM come to mind - but they do have an easy-to-use programming interface and a free language other than Assembler. It might not seem like much, but the ability to program the thing without special expensive hardware, and the availability of a free language, and the free USB interface and preprogrammed bootloaders clearly appeals to way more people than the PIC does.

It won't be long until PIC goes the way of the 6502 dinosaur. At least that's what they deserve.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Memories of Showbiz Pizza Place...

See that bear in the top right corner? That’s the one that started me down this path.

There was this birthday party (my birthday party) a long time ago. This bear kept playing the same song over and over again. It was singing Happy Birthday to the kid that was there before me. And everyone in the place looks at me and my party and claps and yells Happy Birthday to Adam every time he finishes. And but it was my birthday now and he’s still singing about this other kid. After like eight times, I get tired of this and It’s Go Time! So I jump the only thing separating me from the bear – the Velvet Ropes. And I try to take away his banjo, but it was screwed on or something. So I just start wailing on this bear. And he’s still playing Happy Birthday to the kid, who’s probably moved on to Skeeball by then but I hope he was totally traumatized by the whole affair, because I sure was.

Did I mention I was traumatized by a bear when I was a kid? Oh, yes, a couple of them. The first one was this story book they made me read over and over again. The bear has these big claws and he’s like leaping out of the page, and it’s like 3D of the 70s or something, so it looks totally real. Got so bad that grandpa had to tape a bank check over the bear so I wouldn’t freak out and stay awake for three days. Then someone else in my family goes out and buys me this bear shaped rocking chair, with the bear as the back of the chair and the arms of the chair are the arms of the bear. So not only can you not see what the bear is up to because your back is to him, but he’s got his arms around you. That messed me up for years. He’s still sitting down in Grandpa’s basement with a black trash bag over the bear part. Like I don’t know he’s lurking, waiting until I’m asleep. Like I’m dumb enough even as a three year old to believe that a black plastic trash bag is bear-proof. Yeah.

Long story short: I got the whole birthday party thrown out of the Showbiz Pizza. And there’s no one to drive us all home – we’re just standing out in the Venture’s parking lot. In the rain.

Look closely at the bear in the top right corner. His name is Billy Bob. He killed my birthday party.

Balloon 2.0...

Been doing some work on the electronics for Balloon v2.0. It's scheduled to go up on 03/29/2008.

It will have a lighter battery, a lighter and higher resolution camera with a separate battery to power the cam through the flight.