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May 30, 2010


As someone who sometimes gets money for internet ads, I don't mind ads on websites, but I hate pop-ups and pop-unders. So I keep those blocked. And I also don't like the ads that expand over the content of the web page. Usually these ads only expand if your mouse is over them and once you move the mouse out of the way, the ad shrinks back down. So I never did anything about that. But today I was looking up information about HDTV receivers that could also record (my HDTV receiver doesn't work anymore and my TV can't unscramble HD by itself). I was on a discussion area and there was an ad that would expand all by itself every now and then. You could click close, but you had to keep clicking on it. I thought I would block traffic from doubleclick.com who were producing the ad, which I remembered being pretty easy, but I couldn't do it in either Firefox or McAfee after looking around a little. I did a search and found software called AdBlock, but then found something called Flashblock which only blocks content made for Adobe Flash player. The good thing is it replaces the ad with a Play icon so if you run across Flash content that you actually want, you can hit play and see it. I found it on Mozilla's website, so I figure it must be okay.

May 27, 2010

Flashlight Rebuild

Previously I wrote about building a P60 drop-in from some different component parts. The P60 format is designed for that kind of tinkering. But when I bought the LED for that drop-in, I also got a second one just like it and looked around for a home. I thought I could put it in the AKOray K-106 3-mode programmable light I got earlier and had already taken out its LED and installed a brighter Cree XP-G R5. But when I did that I found a hole in the "pill" that the LED is mounted to and the XP-G R4 is on a smaller chip that barely covers that hole. That makes it harder to glue the LED in place but also greatly diminishes how fast heat can be transferred to the pill and then to the body of the light. This is very bad because even though the LED is very efficient, it produces more heat than light and if that heat has nowhere to go, the LED will cook in place and burn out.

So I looked around some more. On the Budget Light Forum, one guy is crazy about stainless steel flashlights and in particular loves the Aurora SH-034, a light that takes a CR123A battery. I have a light that takes a CR123A, but I feel like it is too small to get a good grip on, plus I don't want to worry about another battery size to keep in stock. A very similar light is the single AA Ultrafire C3, but the budget dealers change the designs of the lights without notice and lately they have been using lower quality parts. But then a new Aurora SH-035 was introduced that took a single AA and came with a pretty decent XP-E Q5, the same LED in the tiny flashlight. That LED is also in the same family as the XP-G I have so the reflector should be designed to work pretty well with my extra XP-G whereas reflectors for the XR-E that is in the C3 and SH-034 would not focus the beam as well. Not only that, but at $13.78, it was a couple of dollars cheaper than the smaller SH-034 ($17.08). I thought it might be a pricing error. So rather than wait for reviews of the light (which takes at least a few weeks after the light is introduced since it takes that long for them to be delivered from Hong Kong), I went ahead and ordered one.

It arrived a few weeks later, before any reviews were posted. I took the light out and played around with it. It seemed decent but had a few problems. There was a loose piece of shaved metal still connected to the threads in one place and there were only a few threads to hold the head onto the body of the light. Also the beam was a very tight spot of light. Generally that means the reflector is doing a good job of focusing the beam, but I wondered if the reflector wasn't actually blocking part of the beam. Anyway, a decent light on a AA battery. So then I tried a 3.6V 14500 lithium-ion battery which was supposed to work in the light. Last time I did this with a Uniquefire S10 that was not advertised to work with a 14500, I wound up burning up the driver and later converted the light to direct drive, bypassing the burnt out electronics and powering the LED directly from the positive and negative ends of a lithium ion battery. Although the SH-035 is advertised to work fine with a 14500, this time it worked much the same way. I got no light and a few minutes after opening the package the light was in, the light was dead. Even worse, when the driver fried, it created a dead short which effectively connected the positive end of the battery to the negative end, which means all the energy in the battery starts draining out as quickly as possible, which can cause the battery to explode or catch on fire. Yikes! I avoided catastrophe by removing the battery before that could happen. Then I wrote to DealExtreme where the light came from and told them the light was defective. I also put a comment on the product page that the light could fail on a 14500. However, a couple of other people at the forum also ordered the light and said it worked fine on a 14500, so I must have just gotten a bad one.


Whether I got my money back or not, I wanted to try and fix the light. So I tried to get the driver out of the pill. A driver is usually held in place with a couple of blobs of solder, but once you remove those there is usually a notch where you can pry it out of its place. However this light didn't have any notches. But on the opposite side of the pill where the LED mounted are two holes where the positive and negative wires to the LED go down inside the pill. I tried poking through the hole with a stick and applying pressure to the board to pop it out. This wound up working, but the wires from the LED into the driver were very short so when I poked the driver out of place I also pulled so hard on the lead to the LED that it pulled the LED loose from the pill and then the wire pulled loose of the driver board. Now it was broken pretty good.

I looked for a possible short, but didn't see anything. Then I tried to put the LED back in place. It is critical to put the LED back in the exact center of the pill so that it lines up with the hold in the reflector when everything goes back together. An off-center LED will cause an ugly beam. And in this case, I glued the LED off-center and because the hole in the reflector was so tiny, I wound up shearing off the clear plastic dome over the LED. That is very bad. Whereas before the LED was still working and only the driver was dead, now the LED was dead too. To make things worse, I wound up messing up the rubber tailcap on another light, so I needed the 035's tailcap.

Fortunately DealExtreme did not ask me to return the light (though if I had been able to repair the light, I would have canceled my RMA, so it was kind of in their best interest that I tried to fix the light).

I had a new driver on the way from DealExtreme that I was going to use in a P60 drop-in and it turned out to be just my luck that SH-035 uses a standard 17mm driver just like a P60. And of course I still had my extra XP-G R4 LED looking for a home. So this seemed pretty obvious. I could put the driver and LED in there and get a new tailcap and have a decent light. Because I really didn't want to ruin my XP-G LED, I used a drill bit to make the hole in the reflector a little bigger and did a better job of centering the LED (it's still a little off). I put the driver in place and the light worked! But the driver was only for 14500 batteries and wouldn't work on the lower voltage of a AA battery. So I took a driver from a P60 drop-in (usually P60's are only used with lithium-ion batteries) and put that in there instead. At some point, DealExtreme gave me a refund for the $13.58, but I had paid $8.60 for the LED, $5.02 for the second driver (the first driver was only $3.19, but I found a good home for it), and a new rubber tailcap (which just arrived today) was $0.18 except that I had to buy 12 of them and only needed two (I didn't like the smooth black tailcap in my Ultrafire WF-502B), so realistically it cost me $1.05. The total damage was $14.67 to fix the $13.78 light.


But this light rocks! The XP-G R4 is significantly brighter than the original XP-E Q5 and the neutral tint is much more natural-looking. The old driver was 5 modes, including SOS and a strobe, whereas I set the new driver to just two modes: High and Low, which is about all you need. The new black tailcap looks a lot better than the pale green glow-in-the-dark one the light originally came with.

May 24, 2010

Lost Series Finale

This morning a friend of mine e-mailed me, knowing I had been keeping up with Lost and asked me to explain how it ended. He had only watched Seasons 1 and 2. So here's what I wrote:

I'll see if I can sum it up. At the end of last season they nuked the magnetic source and seem to have created an alternate reality where the plane doesn't crash and everybody ends up getting reunited in that alternate universe. When they are together they will suddenly remember they were on the island together. So Sawyer ends up with Juliette, Hurley with the girl that got shot, Sayid with the blonde chick that got shot, and Jack with Kate.

The island was being run by two immortal type guys and has a cork in the bottom that if you pull it out, all of the good things in the universe will drain out. So Jacob (good) is one of the guys and the smoke monster is the other guy (evil) but he can take a human form and ended up taking the form of Locke who had died (he was also all of the other dead people that showed up on the island). Jacob gets killed by Ben and then Jack takes Jacob's place and kills Smokey Locke [whoops, Kate actualy kills Locke], but not before Desmond pulls the plug (not realizing the consequences) and the island starts to sink. So Jack goes in and puts the stopper back in place and saves the universe.

In the very last scene Jack crawls out of the stopper place, dying, and then collapses on the ground. The dog comes up and lies down next to him and the camera focuses on his eye, which closes (the series started with his eye opening) just as an airplane with Sawyer, Kate, Claire, Miles, Eyeliner Dude, and Lapidas flies off. With Jack's death, Hurley is in charge of keeping the island safe. Also remaining on the island are Ben (who has become good, probably), Desmond (who will probably return somehow to Penny), and the older black and white couple who have been living the good life separate from everyone else (with the dog) the whole time.

A lot was not expalined, like what Dharma was doing (just studying magnetic fields I guess),what Whitmore was trying to do (he wound up getting shot on the island), who the immortal type guys were, who built the 3-toed statue, or why the island could disappear or appear invisible.

It was nice seeing people in the alternate universe run into each other and then suddenly get that moment where they remember. And Jack was able to help Locke walk again.

Also everyone in the alternate universe was revealed to be dead or would be dead someday and this was an afterlife they had created for themselves even though some of the people in the afterlife weren't dead yet.

May 22, 2010

Back to the Aquarium

I went to the Georgia Aquarium the first month it was open in 2005, then again on Mom's Christmas outing that December. But I had never been back. One thing I had been wondering about was the tropical reef which they had said back then would get better every year as the corals actually grew and created a real reef. Also the whale sharks should be getting bigger except that the two biggest ones died.

At work we have been taking one furlough day without pay each month because of the budget shortage and it always seemed like it would be good to go to the aquarium on a furlough day. During the week it should be less crowded, plus state employees get a 10% discount. So I figured I would go yesterday, before most of the schools let out, but maybe too late in the year for a field trip. I found out about a great deal for Friday nights where you can get a ticket for $15 ($16.25 after a fee) instead of $26, but the ticket time is restricted to Friday from 5 to 8 PM (the aquarium stays open until 10PM for jazz nights). I'm not a fan of jazz, but nothing is more relaxing than saving money, so I bought a 5 PM ticket.

I think it was a good call. There were still a lot of people there, but it was pretty reasonable. Security wasn't as tight. The first time I went I had to hide my keychain knife, but this time they were just checking bags and I didn't even have to take anything out of my pockets (I remembered to leave my knife at home though). The biggest new thing there (literally) is this enormous manta ray named Nandi that the aquarium got from South Africa. She has to be 10 or 12 feet across, and is the only manta ray on display in the US (except that apparently there is another one there too). The groupers in that tank are still big and I didn't count how many whale sharks they have now. There didn't seem to be as many smaller fish in the giant tank anymore. I wonder if they have been getting eaten?

I couldn't see much difference with the tropical reef exhibit, though I'd like to know if it is growing like they said.

One good thing is there seems to be a lot more information about the all the different creatures now. I remember when I first went they didn't tell you that much. Also they seem to be emphasizing conservation and education more whereas before I think Bernie Marcus just wanted a place you could go see fish.

They are working on a new wing for dolphins and I guess as part of that they had part of the Cold Water exhibit closed which featured sea lions, penguins, and sea otters. There were two beluga whales there on display though. I updated Wikipedia's article so they had the turnover in Belugas correct. The three remaining Atlanta belugas had been transferred to San Antonio during construction where one of them died, leaving two females. They brought one of the females back with a San Antonio male and left the other female in Texas.

Friday night jazz kind of copies Fernbank's martini nights I think, but whereas Fernbank is smaller and there have been fairly young people dressed up, this was more of a casual crowd and still a lot of families and tourists. It was cool jazz, but they didn't seem to be playing all the time. I was gone by 7:00 so maybe they hadn't really gotten started yet.

At the beginning they took a picture of me in front of a blue screen. I was not actually standing in the big tank with fish swimming in front of me.


May 20, 2010

My What Big Dogs You Have

When I'm out walking the dogs, I try to always go around people instead of passing them on the sidewalk because I never know if the dogs will nip, growl, or lick someone. I especially try to give black people a wide berth because they seem to worry more about the dogs than most people (I don't think this is racist, this is just kind of how it works, primarily with black people who you can tell aren't usually in the neighborhood). So anyway, I am going around a black guy this morning and after we get by without incident (as usual, my dogs aren't racist, they just don't like postmen and garbagemen), the guy asks me what kind of dogs I have. I say they are black labs. He said Really? I didn't think they got that big. I pointed to Katie who is a little bigger than Austin and I said yeah I've seen bigger and a lot of times broader dogs (Katie is pretty lanky) and we moved on (neither of us had stopped, we were just passing).

This seemed to be part of trend or maybe just a coincidence because this past weekend I was outside when the postman came to deliver mail and had a chance to talk to him while the dogs were barking at him from inside. I said something like Sorry about the dogs. And he said it was no problem, but those sure were BIG dogs. He said he told people at work about how big the dogs are at my house, their heads halfway up in my windows. I said I don't think they're really that big, but they do have a stool near the window that lets them get a better view out the window. He laughed and seemed relieved that they didn't tower 4 feet off the ground. I'd never thought about the stool making the dogs seem bigger but it also might help explain why last week my phone books were left not on the doorstep but about 10 feet out into my yard. That must have been about when Katie or Austin scraped on the inside of the door.

May 15, 2010

Wine With That Ubuntu?

I am still working on Jenny's Gateway laptop. I got her HP laptop working pretty well using Windows 2000 and she reported that they were able to surf and get a paper written for school this week, though they couldn't print from the laptop. But the Gateway is the one that eats up hard drives and the fourth hard drive is now showing problems. The laptop just won't boot. For some reason it did boot a couple of times for me and I was able to install her copy of Office 2007 on it, but then I opened Word, the computer froze and I've never been able to get back into Vista again. I can use a Vista installation disk to boot the computer and I can boot it using Ubuntu, but Vista won't reinstall because it doesn't think there is a hard drive there. Interestingly, Ubuntu sees the hard drive and installs no problem. I even tried installing Windows 2000 by formatting the hard drive, but Win2k wouldn't recognize the hard drive either. I tried different partition schemes involving Ubuntu and Windows and then formatted the whole drive with Ubuntu and tried to install Windows over it and still nothing. Ubuntu does say that there are some bad sectors identified on the hard drive.

So I don't think any version of Windows is going on there. With Ubuntu, at least she can use the computer to surf the net wirelessly. And she could use OpenOffice to edit MS Office documents I think. But I know she would rather have Office available and I'd also like to install some of the bridge programs from work.

I know Macs can run Windows from within the Mac OS, so I wondered if there was something like that for Linux. One thing I found that was intriguing is software called Wine (it stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator, so it's another obnoxious recursive acronym) which doesn't run Windows, but actually lets you run Windows programs in Linux. The challenge there is that a Windows program uses all kinds of other files called DLL files that have pieces of code that can be shared among different programs, so the Wine developers had to write a lot of DLL's from scratch rather than port copyrighted Microsoft DLL's from Windows. They also seem to have a way of letting you import your own DLL files if necessary.

So I thought it was worth a shot to install Wine and see if it would let me use Microsoft Office in Ubuntu. First I tried Jenny's copy of Office 2007. It started installing but hung up on something without explanation (could be the hard drive). So I tried again with a copy of Office 2000 I had. It asks you for the security code and everything, just like if you were installing it in Windows. And this went all the way through and installed. I opened it up and it seems to work fine.

Wine seems to be geared towards using setup.exe files or other installers in order to get some of the needed DLL's. But the bridge programs are just compiled Fortran programs, each a single .exe file, so I don't think they have or need DLL's. I'm not sure if Wine needs to register the .exe files or if I can just open them using Wine and they will work.

This is pretty neat though.

May 8, 2010

Win2k All Over Again

My friend Jenny has been having problems with her computers. She has 4 computers in her house and only one of them was still working. So I went over there last Saturday to work on them which is when I found out about heat pipes. That computer was still overheating some, but the bigger problem was that a virus (or something) had associated all .exe files with Windows Media Player and they wouldn't run anymore, just open the media player (which in turn couldn't do anything with the .exe files since they aren't music or video). Since all anti-virus software is an .exe, this prevents fixing it. And I couldn't re-associate .exe since Windows Explorer wouldn't open (it's an exe too). So I wound up taking the hard drive out, scanning it in my desktop computer that I brought over there (I actually brought my new and old desktops over since one has SATA hard drive connections and the older one has IDE and I wasn't sure what kind of drive the affected computer had in it; it turned out to be SATA and mounting it was no problem except that in the BIOS I had to enable that hard drive port instead of the computer just recognizing whether a drive was present or not). A scan turned up 79 viruses or threats, at least some of which were trojans (sometimes browser "cookies" are considered threats, but they don't really do any damage, unlike trojans). So Kaspersky got rid of all of the viruses. The computer would run and could browse the web, but you still couldn't open executables and it would overheat and shut itself off in a few minutes. But I found a Microsoft online wizard named Mr. Fix It that would reset the .exe association and that worked perfectly. There are also a lot of shady website out there that offer fixes like that, but I didn't want to try anything like that with a site I wasn't familiar with.

So anyway, we started addressing the overheating issues and that computer seemed okay, but by that time I had to leave. I took her two non-functioning laptops home with me to work on. Her older laptop is an HP that originally came with Windows XP but won't boot now and she lost (or never made) recovery disks that would reinstall Windows. I had an old Windows 2000 disk at home that I could use. Windows 2000 is good because you don't have to actually register it with Microsoft like XP and Vista: you just enter a CD key. But Win2k is pretty old and I wasn't at all sure it would do everything it needed to. After I first installed it (using the option to format the drive and then install), it was set to VGA output with only 16 colors and it wouldn't even acknowledge it had a wireless card. The equipment was all newer than the software. I used Internet Explorer to do Windows Update, but it wouldn't work. It turns out I needed to download IE 6 because Windows Update won't run in older versions like the one that came with Win2k. Once I did that, I got software and driver updates and I had a decent display again. Jenny has a legit copy of Office 2007, but it won't run under Windows 2000. However, I also had Office 2000, which works and doesn't require online registration, and isn't limited to 3 installations like Office 2003 and Office 2007.

The biggest thing was getting the wireless card working and Windows 2000 with Service Pack 4 includes support for wireless. I was surprised Microsoft was still making updates and service packs available, but I downloaded all of that and then had to get a Wireless driver from HP. And the computer runs great, booting up quickly and being really responsive. I could only go to Internet Explorer 6, but the latest Firefox runs fine.

I wanted to get some anti-virus software, but it looks like most companies no longer support Windows 2000. But I think one of the Windows updates included Microsoft Defender, so it's not like there is zero protection.

As a backup, I also installed Ubuntu on a partition of this hard drive. That way if Windows fails, at least she could use the laptop for the web. Installing Ubuntu took me back to when I was first trying it out on my laptop a couple of years ago and gave up on it. It installed a lot easier this go around, but I still had a few issues with the grub loader. I was able to give this computer back to her on Tuesday but not before I copied the entire hard drive. This way if something happens, I can reformat the hard drive and drag everything back over without downloading and configuring everything all over again.

The third computer is more of a problem. It has a hard time finding it's boot record or something so it won't start (this computer is on its 4th hard drive; I don't know what keeps killing the hard drive). I put a partition with Ubuntu on it and that seems to boot no problem, so that may be as good as it gets. Even though she has the Windows Vista CD and this is a newer laptop than the HP, I just can't fix this one. I had it booting up a few times and got new drivers and BIOS installed, but it soon went back to its old ways and won't work. I've tried repairing it dozens of times and had Vista installed for the third time on it.

May 6, 2010

Building a New Light

Last year the big American LED maker, Cree, introduced a new LED called the XP-G. It was similar to their earlier XP-E, but had a bigger light emitter. I got a light with this LED in it recently and liked it. Then on the flashlight bulletin board someone was talking about ordering some of these LED's from a supplier in Australia. Cree will sell you LED's, but only 1,000 at a time. There don't seem to be many US suppliers, so this company, Cutter, is maybe the best bet. But they charge $12 minimum for shipping an order to the US. So a guy in Hawaii was trying to organize a US-based group buy to divide the shipping costs, even though he also had to charge us for shipping once the LED's were in the US (he bought 10 LED's total).

In particular he had his eye on some XP-G's in a neutral tint. Most LED's are "cool white" meaning they have a kind of bluish tint. But really the LED is very blue but has yellow phosphor on it that makes it appear white when the yellow and blue mix. If they put more phosphor on the LED, they can get a "warmer" tint, but it blocks some of the blue light and so the warms are usually not as bright as the cool tints. But these LED's were a neutral white and only one increment of about 5% below the brightest cool whites (the brightest being an R5 and these being R4). In the group buy we could get them for about $10 each, so I bought two. Oh, and by the way, Cree is in North Carolina, so the LED went from Raleigh to Atlanta via Australia and Hawaii. It is on a circuit board smaller than my pinky nail.

I thought I would put one of the LED's in a P60 drop-in. An empty drop-in needs an LED and a driver (circuit board, different than what the LED is mounted to). So I also bought a circuit board from DealExtreme that seemed like it would be okay, but it was only a 1-amp driver and I'd really rather have a 1.4-amp driver for more brightness. DX sells a board with 3 regulators soldered in place for 1050mA and they leave room for a 4th that would bring it up to 1400mA, but I don't have any regulators, so I picked one that had 3 and no room for a 4th. But before everything could arrive, a dealer in New York started offering a 4-regulator chip with 3 modes and no flashy stuff, so I bought one of those.

After a few weeks I finally had my empty P60, my LED, and my driver. So I glued the LED into place with some thermal glue that I had to buy, and soldered the wires from the driver to the LED and it worked! I put the drop-in in my WF-504B host that previously had a slightly less bright LED in it (an R2 brightness, some of my other lights, including the tiny flashlight, are Q5 which somehow is one increment below R2), but otherwise is very nice. This light did not disappoint. It is very bright (not as bright as my big light but brighter than anything else), the tint is like a regular incandescent bulb (which is supposed to render colors better than cool white). I have taken it when walking the dogs at night and it really lights up the sidewalk ahead. I really like having this light and it isn't something that I could buy already made unless I had it custom-made by someone else. Also the LED was the most expensive part, so it was also pretty economical throwing together the other parts needed.

Here is a picture with the neutral white LED shining on the left and the cool white LED on the right:

May 3, 2010

Heat Pipe

Heat pipes are one of those weird things that you don't realize are all around you until you start looking. It is a copper tube with a near vacuum in it. It also has some liquid in it (usually water or ammonia). The idea is that if the bottom part of the pipe gets hot, the liquid evaporates and the gas rises to the top of the pipe. Then you cool off the top of the pipe and the liquid inside condenses on the inside of the tube and runs down the side of the tube all over. It is like a refrigerator but without any moving parts.

Heat pipes are used in heat sinks that cool off computer processors. They are also surrounded by fins and a fan that help cool the top part, so even if you open up your computer you may not see them. I learned about these this weekend helping friends out with their computer which was overheating. I am still not exactly sure what was going wrong, whether the liquid had escaped the tube or the tube had somehow deformed and was no long making contact with the slab of copper that goes on top of the processor (or if something software-related was making the processor work too hard). I put in some small metallic disks (dimes) to shim the tubes down into making contact with the copper slab and got some thermal compound to put around them as well and hope that will work. But if the liquid has escaped then it will never work. You could also buy a new CPU cooler but this particular computer is very compact and it is hard to find coolers this small. It only has two L-shaped heat pipes in the heat sink. I looked inside my Dell and it has 3 U-shaped heat pipes with a bigger fan. Wikipedia says a heat pipe is more efficient at moving heat than a solid piece of copper.