2019: New Year, Same Problems.

Experimenting with proximity and remote control with @anki Vector.I’ve managed to avoid the deluge of end of year posts by people, as well as their bright and shiny posts of what they expect in 2019. After you’ve seen enough of them, you know the recipe and you can make your own – even if it’s not a very good recipe, even if it typically doesn’t stand the test of time.

A ‘New Year’ is just another date on the calendar for me these days – and truth be told, it has been for some time. So I spent this ‘holiday’ running some experimental code associated with the Anki Vector I picked up.

As a way of tracking what changes and what doesn’t, years are fickle. As an example, when it comes to code, the thing we sent that is furthest is still running 8-bit code, and it still seems to be working well. Looks like hunspell (that’s what you call it for pip) is the droid I was looking for, though the documentation on that… well…

Things that haven’t changed that much is the acceleration of technology – because it continues to accelerate, and documentation on it is simply horrible in some areas. I spent roughly an hour delving into replacements for PyEnchant, as an example, reading all sorts of the same thing that Google thought would be useful – and which wasn’t.

And this is, sadly, the sort of detritus that software projects leave behind. As a friend mentioned today, a lack of documentation is better than bad/misleading documentation – and when it comes to documentation, a lack of date tagging condemns people to whatever algorithm the search engine uses when college students are trying to find hardly known authors to plagiarize from.

It goes beyond that. There’s a trend where technology gets disposed of so fast that there is almost no documentation on any of it, or if there is, it’s dated and/or misleading.

This is why we’re not fixing things as much, those of us that have that mindset – because there are always a few people, statistically, that can fix things – remember repair shops? And then there are the people who pay to fix things. The way intellectual property – really, copyright – has gone in a legal sense keeps a space between people who would repair and the owners of copyright. And the contracts, threats about warranty… even more space, starving the ability for products to be supported by third parties.

Heaven forbid you reverse engineer something to fix it. That can get you in trouble with people have chain-linked bracelets and lawyers who love killing trees.

That’s where Open Source and Free Software were supposed to step in, at least in the context of software – but after a few decades, it’s all relatively young and the documentation is done largely in crayon hieroglyphics. The successful projects are documented, at least to some degree.

If there’s one thing that I’d like to see change this year, it’s people getting better at documentation. It’s as if they think what they do isn’t worth that investment.

And when they don’t, it isn’t.

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Retrofitting Cars: Electric.

83 RX7-GSL
One of my old RX7s – a 1983 Mazda RX7 GSL, which at the time was stock. (2012)

We all know that cars pollute, even if we don’t like to think about it when we hit that accelerator.

We also know that new cars generally pollute less – sometimes, even down to zero emissions.

What no one talks about is how many older cars are out there that will continue polluting, largely because of socio-economics. I’m pretty sure given the opportunity, everyone would buy a Tesla at this point, but could they afford it? In making the Tesla brand necessarily exclusive to gain traction, it also put it out of reach of the people who own possibly the worst polluting cars on the planet. They’re working on that, I’m sure.

As far back as I can remember, I have been passionate about cars. I never had a car profile picture, but there’s a part of me that loves staring under a hood at what makes it all work.

And I always have loved getting more and more out of any machine. Even when I worked at Honeywell, I’d play with the gum machine and get almost double out of it for my 25 cents. Why? Because it was a challenge, and because it was a machine.

And what I always wanted to do was improve on the RX7 by adding an electric motor to it – something that was already done with a newer model.

And then there’s the Teslonda – a 1981 Honda Accord retrofitted with a Tesla motor, with a Raspberry Pi in the mix whose acceleration gives supercars pause.

It’s clear we have the technology to deal with the socioeconomic gap.

My Old Plan

Anirudh 'Joseph' Rampersad
Joseph Rampersad, founder of Rampersad’s General Electrical

I had a plan at one point. The family business was rewinding electrical motors, established in 1936 by my paternal grandfather in Trinidad and Tobago. I’d even reached out to Tesla when they were first starting to see about becoming a distributor and/or repair center for the Caribbean and Latin America.  They weren’t interested in the market at the time, and I was considering a project to get something off the ground. After all, local taxi drivers might prefer charging their battery to go 300 miles on a small island to make their runs back and forth.

In Trinidad and Tobago, that’s roughly 18 runs back and forth between San Fernando and Port of Spain. On one charge.

Instead, they use diesel for a variety of reasons – and should you be behind one, you’ll see them coughing black, some more than others.

Sadly, because of what I could only classify as myopia of those who had control of the family business. They closed it down after a 73 year run, bankrupting it and selling off things.

There were other challenges, of course – such as how to license the vehicles, creating a standard charging interface, and getting a hold of good battery tech that is light and efficient but can generate sufficient power.

It just didn’t happen. I’m just not in a position to do it myself, anymore. Yet it’s not a bad idea at all for someone else to explore, a reason why I’m publishing this now.

We Have The Technology.

Around the world, we could implement this sort of thing instead of waiting for billionaires to do it for us. It’s not as hard as it used to be thanks to advances in technology, and there’s no shortage of cars to work on – the lighter, the better.

So, why isn’t it being done? I know I’m not the only one with such ideas – in fact, that’s how I know now that this crazy idea I had decades ago is a good idea now, because others have been doing it.

It’s time to start retrofitting some cars with electric motors – and then let everything else get sorted out.

It can be done.

People are already doing it.

And if you’re curious about resources, I can – with enough interest – follow up on this with more articles from my research over the years.

Bricking Machines: The Microsoft April 2018 Update (1803) (Updated)

LeaveEverythingToUsMSI’m leery of updates. Experience over the decades has taught me this, from my own code to those of others who worked with me, from using content management systems to operating systems.

Updates can break things.

This time, Microsoft broke my Dell laptop – one of my favored machines for dealing with the rest of the world because so many people are tied to their operating systems. Or chained. It’s a matter of perspective.

I put off rebooting after the update for reasons obvious to many. Despite my cautiousness, my Dell laptop still sits there quietly after 24 hours. There has been no official word from Microsoft on this. One shop, The Computer Cellar, had a useful link that mysteriously no longer works. One article indicated that this bricking during the update had something to do with Avast, saying it only happened to a ‘few’ systems – but on Twitter, someone told me that they heard Microsoft representatives say, ‘millions’ on two separate days.

There’s room for some thoughts on conspiracy here, about keeping things quiet to minimize the public outcry. The hashtag on Twitter, #Windows10April2018Update, doesn’t show millions and isn’t representative of anyone but those with a system they could still tweet from to complain about the update.

So, how does one fix it? People have reinstalled Windows, blowing away their previous applications and data. It seems really bad that no restore points could be found with this bug – that’s exactly what restore points are for.

I’m not done fixing my system yet, and I’m not sure that I can, but here’s some tips to help you survive and perhaps get your system back up and running:

(1) Get some media, like a USB stick, that you can boot from. Under the ‘troubleshoot’ option, you’ll find the command prompt. Use XCopy to backup your files directory by directory. I simply did the stuff under my Profile. This way, no matter what happens, you have your stuff.

(2) Get the latest Windows Media Tool. Some well intentioned IT person handed me an older version of this yesterday and we both mistakenly thought it would work for all versions, but as it happens every major release seems to have a corresponding tool. Which would be fine….

(3) If your system doesn’t have a CD/DVD drive, or you lack a burner to the appropriate media, when you run the Media Tool you need to use the USB stick option. This is grotesquely slow – overnight it has managed to only get 80% done for me. I read somewhere it’s faster if you run the Media Tool from the USB stick you’re using it on, which sounds a bit like witchcraft to me, but if you think it will work… This is an annoyance that is simply bad UX on the part of Microsoft, IMHO. Such a large download is… ugh! With better bandwidth, it’s not a problem, but most of the world doesn’t have access to the Big Pipes.

(4) When your USB key is done becoming bootable media – read some books or something – you’re now ready to deal with the violated system.

(a) Let the violated machine boot and do the Update dance until, eventually, you get to the black screen and the errors.

(b) Open up the Task Manager, either by right clicking the taskbar and selecting it or by CTRL-ALT-DEL. Do this only once, despite how unresponsive your system is… or you may end up with more than one task manager. Also, add your hard won USB stick.

(c) Based on what little has been shared on the Internet, I have already disabled Avast’s tools in the startup processes. I’d make sure that they’re not running for the update.  They have a tendency to show up again when the machine restarts for updates, so always check. Allegedly, there’s a fix for it, but I did not get it at the time I fixed my machine.

(d) From the top menu in the task manager, you’re going to add a process from a file. You can attempt to browse for it, as painful as that is. On my system I will only have to type D:\setup.exe. And from there, with the latest tool, it will probably fix things; it did for me after loading again broken, then updating again. With older setups, you end up having to wipe the data.

This was an annoying experience. Microsoft needs to work on doing things better for the people who choose to stay with their operating systems, needs to work better with software manufacturers who support their platform, so that ultimately, they don’t screw over their consumers as they did with an indeterminate number of people with this last update.

Me? Linux is on the horizon for all future machines. I can’t pay people to brick my machine. It’s against my good sense. I can brick my on machine for free.

 

Smartphone As Dashcam

Down The Road #Mojave #California #vanishingpoint #igersThis is not new. Plenty of people use their smartphones as dashcams, which I have now gotten into the habit of here in Trinidad and Tobago – mainly because there are a subset of drivers that take chances, and my vehicle has a pretty solid bull bar in front. For those that don’t, or think this is a new thing and want to save a few bucks rather than buy an imported dashcam… here you go.

In other words, I’m covering my posterior. Or what happens to the car in front of me’s posterior when they try to cut me off (most don’t when they see the bull bar), or when they suddenly hit their brakes, or when they swerve in front of me, or… you get the idea. Should anything happen, presto magico, I have actual video.

It also serves as a video blog (vlog) when I’m driving through my land; it gets uploaded to the cloud so I can note things that change in my absence, or document what is happening.

What You Need

A smartphone. I have a Huawei P10-Lite, something I’ll be doing a review on now that I have already beaten the snot out of, but any smartphone with video capability can do. This article mentions some dedicated dedicated apps for Android that I don’t use (I simply use the video), and it also mentions the smaller field of view – absolutely true – as well as wear on the smartphone.

Given smartphones are outdated pretty quickly anyway, I’m not worried about the latter, but you have been warned.

You’ll need a mount for the windshield. I have a pretty solid one since I’m offroad, and roads in Trinidad and Tobago are effectively routed around potholes.

You’ll want your air conditioning on to keep your phone from overheating.

That’s all you need, really – but it is a lot better to have external memory for your phone. My phone will take 256 Gig microSD, but I just picked up a 64 Gig microSD. You’ll want to change your default storage to the microSD, which you should find in your user’s manual that you threw away – but there are plenty of pages on the Internet that explain how to do it for your phone.

What to do

Plug your phone into the holder, and I suggest you charge it at the same time (common sense, really). Start recording video, drive around – and, regularly, back the videos up from your phone to a computer at home from which you can store it in the cloud or other storage options for as long as you want. Keep your phone memory as clear as you can – the less memory used on the phone, the better.

Pulling My Photos From Flickr: Lessons Learned, More.

nsb SunriseI wrote ‘Risk and the Photo Cloud‘ as a first stab at identifying the problem I am having with mitigating risk with my Flickr stream as well as new needs I have from my collection of images.

Bear in mind, this is a ‘one off’ problem for me, and I approached it as such.

I was a bit more focused on what I wanted to do with them – I have people willing to buy prints – and I may not have made the best choice by paying $25 for Bulkr Pro. The trick was to get the tags, etc, and in doing the initial research on the Flickr forums, I saw nothing better. In writing this today, I found FlickrDownloader which I probably would have chosen given that it’s open source, available at no cost, etc. I may give it a spin anyway. Try it out and let me know how it differs. 

When using Bulkr Pro,  you can opt to have the full information being saved to text files.  This is generally not a bad idea, but it’s certainly not a great idea when you have over 19,000 files on Flickr as I do (only 18,000 or so are public). So, the general idea is to get them into a database.

I opted not to directly import them into the database after some thought because I need to do some manual editing of which files I want to keep, etc – and in doing that, a spreadsheet would be easier for that part of the process. So that’s what I did.

The text files generated by Bulkr are mildly annoying in this regard because their format isn’t meant for what I wanted to do. However, the line numbers for the specific information is constant, as is the labeling, so I was able to whip together a Python 3.x script that reads all the text files and writes them all to a CSV. I tossed it up on my GitHub; you can check out https://github.com/knowprose/BulkrTxtFilesToCSV

So now, I have the information in a CSV and, as time permits, I’m working on choosing which images I am getting rid of (with Flickr, I was lazy about space). Let’s just be clear and call it ‘dirty data’; when I uploaded I did it as a hobby and I now have a professional use.

From there, it’s a simple matter of uploading the CSV to MariaDB, which is extremely fast.

Having spoken to a few professional photographers I know, there are professional tools out there that do what I want with image management, etc, but I’m not too pleased with them. I may end up spinning my own image and file management system in Python, or not – I’m undecided at this point because I’m moving from a ‘one off’ to a more consistent system that will suit my personal needs.

Why Python? Honestly, I like coding in Python, but the job market has always been more interested in my C, C++, C#, VB, VB.Net, PHP/MySQL, etc. This is a low priority project for me, and it’s something I want to be fun while getting used to Python 3 a bit more. 

At this point, the system I’m thinking of will create resized images for the web, as well as allow me to edit based on tags. Pillow will allow for much of that, and more.

SunTechRamble: Right to Repair and Modify

copyright-hackingThere’s a new advocacy group lobbying for the right to repair everything. It’s not so odd that I found this the same week that Apple will brick (make useless) your phone if you get non-Apple repairs.

It’s not a coincidence. There’s a quickening. Just recently, General Motors (GM) told consumers that they don’t own their cars. They license them.

Why? Because profit. Share prices. And maybe even that 401K you’re letting someone else manage is applying the pressure to the companies to make larger decisions like this. Or maybe it’s just the way things go, like when Dell was nasty enough to make sure that it’s computer components were compatible with off the shelf components. I don’t know if they still do it, but I still won’t buy a Dell. Sadly, I use one at work because… low cost. Warranty. Convenient for companies.

Most people who don’t fix things may not understand why all of this is important. Most people run screaming from anything that blinks 12:00 at them – which is kind of understandable because that was a horrid design from the start (what, no battery? Really?). But non-technical people don’t want things that blink at them expectantly.

People want their cars to run. They want their computers and software – to them, they are sometimes the same thing – working so that they can do whatever it is they wish that apparently includes malware. They don’t want technology, as Douglas Adams wrote. They want stuff that works. So why is this so important?

What people need to  understand is that the idea that you could pay for something and not have anyone but the seller repair it could be a win for everyone except for one thing: Things inconveniently break, and warranties aren’t always as long or as inclusive as those that paid expect them to be.

Ask anyone who has been to a car dealership with a problem, or has had to return a device they got.

Repairing things, be it on your own or in your local area, is a handy thing that enhances a local economy, develops intellectual capital in a geographic (and geopolitical) area. Sure, Cuba’s been embargoed so long that many people don’t know why – yet they have cars from the 1950s driving around. Why? Because they fix their own stuff.

For those of us from the the 70s and before, that was simply a fact of life.

Now we have manufacturing life cycles.

The life cycle isn’t, ‘built to last’. It’s ‘built to last this long’.

Probably before the moment you started hearing about a life-time warranty, this was reality. The days of building things ‘to last’ had passed into the days of manufacturing things ‘to last this long’. Really, it’s not all bad, but in doing this in conjunction with Copyrights and Patents assures that no one can repair but those that are authorized.

To those of us in the software world who have been paying attention, this is nothing new. Famously, the Free Software Movement began when Richard Stallman (RMS) was unable to fix someone else’s code. The Open Source Initative splintered over distinctions in defining whether people could lock the source code away or not. There are plenty of opinions on that, and I do have one, but suffice to say that while distinctions are made between the two, the overall philosophy is largely the same. Both sides would argue with me.

Software itself suffers entropy. It gets more complicated no matter how hard you try for it not to – except maybe Solitaire and Notepad.

So people fix software if it’s worth it to them. Like a car, if they want to spend the money to get something fixed, they can – except maybe in the near future. I wonder how they’ll handle the performance market, the tuners, etc.

I won’t even touch patents in this post.

The point is that what started off as just software has become seen in just about any field. And it’s why Repair.org exists now.

What Repair.org focuses on.

The focus is on a few different industries:

 

I just joined as an individual member. I’m not going to make money off of my membership, and neither will you. But you may be able to help make legislation such that you’re not stuck with items that can’t be repaired or modified.