Category Archives: Uncategorized

Astronomy…the next Frontier!

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I’ve always been interested in astronomy, and have even owned a cheap Dobsonian telescope while living in Oakland (which isn’t the best Dark Sky site around, by any means). Lately I’ve gotten the bug again, and went looking for a decent ‘scope to start up with again (I have no idea what happened to the Oakland Dob).

I came across a 5″ Newtonian reflector for $199, which had great reviews. What I really liked about the product was that half of the cost was donated to education in third world countries. That made up my mind pretty much. So I bought it:

It’s not a bad little scope. It comes on an equatorial mount and uses a dovetail mount, which is kinda modern. I think the degree of coolness that sold me, technologically speaking, was that it was ultra compact, “collapsing” down to 14″, which makes it ideal to throw in the back of the car and head out.

After about 2 weeks I decided I needed an upgrade, so I bought a German equatorial mount: the Celestron AVX, which also sports a dovetail connector! This was a “sidewise” upgrade (not to the ‘scope directly) that opens the door to purchasing a larger OTA (optical tube assembly…a telescope that doesn’t include a mount). I’m already weighing the differences between an 8″, a 9.25″ and a gargantuan 11″ OTA from Celestron. Some of the imagery these massive reflectors can produce is breathtaking.

Besides casual observation, I’m also very interested in extending my photography hobby into astrophotography. To that end, I also bought a CMOS telescope camera:

This attaches where the eyepiece goes and plugs into a computer via USB. Then you capture video frames and stack them together to produce a nice, sharp image of what you’re after. There isn’t much in the way of stacking software for the Mac, but I’m going to keep on looking. More to come.

3D printer to the rescue!

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I bought a Prusa i3 Mk2s 3D printer last year, mostly just for personal fun and utility. I’ve printed a bunch of “junk” from thingiverse so far: small figurines, “jewelry”, game items, etc. But I’ve also printed a number of utility items that helped me accomplish something I would have not been able to do otherwise.

The latest utility part was a knob for the small tripod for my stenography machine. I had called the company and asked if they had any replacements, and they said the only option was to buy a whole new tripod, which is pretty expensive. So last night I decided to design and print my own knob.

After taking measurements and designing what I though was a fairly straight forward knob, I made it in 123D Design (which is no longer being maintained by Autodesk), sliced it for the Prusa, and printed a knurled knob for the tripod. I wasn’t sure it’d even work, but after the 20 minute print job finished, I popped it off the printer plate and tried pushing it onto the “stump” that was left from the previous knob.

 

I chose gold filament, just because. I made the dimensions of the slot the same as the dimensions of the post because I wanted a good, tight fit. I was pleasantly surprised that it went on without breaking, and was definitely nice and snug!

Problem solved!

I may see if I can get any work for things like this. It’d be a fun way to get some $$ back towards the price of the printer.

The finished tripod:

Goodbye, sweet Splanky

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Last night we said goodbye to our little Splanky. He’s our little warrior…our little goofball…our little furry folker. He was born in July 2009. One of my coworkers had some kittens he was trying to find a home for, and we went over and picked him from the remaining 2…the runt of the litter. We wanted a companion for Sophie, our other cat. They never really did develop a brotherly bond, but Sophie tolerated him…for us, I’m sure. The two of them mean worlds to us.

He succumbed to cancer at 10pm, as we tried to rush him to the emergency vet. We both knew this was coming. We both knew it’d be hard, but like many things in life, you can’t gauge the pain until you feel it. Fucking cancer…I hate you. This is our second pet that has crossed the Rainbow Bridge within the last year. Sophie (short for Sophacles because I thought he was a she at first, and the name just stuck) left us last July. That’s all I want to say about that. I miss them both tremendously.

Fly swiftly, sweet Splanky, to the arms of the Lord. Sophie is waiting for you, and we’ll see you both again after this world of pain has passed.

Super Elastic cat

Practicing his art of being adorable

His first day at his new home

This had to be his most adorable moment

Splanky was obsessed with shoes

Splanky loves his brother

Facebook and ad accountability

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This week I decided to take the bait and “boost” one of our company’s posts on Facebook. The interface is quite intuitive, and I was allowed to budget how much money I spend for having Facebook market my post. I chose $5, and was given a range of 497-1300 local people, which is great for us. So, I went ahead and started the process. The ad was to run for three days.

However, I didn’t really notice that much activity. We ended up “reaching” only 97 people, which was pitiful when you look at the purported numbers given.

So, I rated their “boost” at 1 star out of five, and left them some feedback:

You gave me a range for the money I spent on promoting my ad. The results were WELL below this estimate. You’re not really giving me much incentive to use your ad service. There has to be some sort of accountability on Facebook’s behalf. You need to either refund me the percentage of my cost based on the actual performance of your marketing (so, refund me $4), or you need to keep the ad running at least until it meets the minimum estimate. Otherwise, what’s to say you couldn’t promise a reach of 10,000, and then just saying “tough luck” upon reaching say, only 100. I get that it’s an estimate, but with no accountability for missing it, it’s a terrible deal for me as a seller.

I thought it was a reasonable argument. What do you think? I’m curious if I’ll hear back from them.

Why doesn’t Numbers support pasting CSV?

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This is really aggravating. I’d love to divorce myself from all Microsoft products if possible, but Apple is making it really difficult.

As you probably know, you can paste CSV data from the clipboard directly into an Excel doc and it gives you the option to parse it into separate cells based on the delimiter you choose (most often a comma or tab). This is REALLY very handy, as I usually have CSV data on a webpage that I copy and want to paste into a spreadsheet.

Numbers doesn’t support this almost expected type of behavior. I’m not sure what the authors were thinking, missing this core functionality altogether. Terrible decision on the product team’s behalf.

Hawks taking over Tracy!

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Well, not really, but we’ve had a couple hawks that have visited the backyard recently. Since Sheila’s taking an ornithology class it makes for interesting viewing. I bought her a nice pair of “birding binocs” to boot! Anyway, it’s a great distraction to have these majestic birds stop by.

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A juvenile red-shouldered hawk

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And here’s an adult red-shouldered hawk giving me the stink eye

M3D – Micro 3D printer

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I’ve been looking at printers for a while now, and after “inheriting” the Makerbot Replicator 2X from work, I was really excited about buying one for myself. Initially I was interested in the Printrbot Simple Metal from Adafruit, but they’ve been out of stock.

Then I came across the Micro 3D printer, a small and lightweight indie project that was currently shipping. After checking out a few reviews and YouTube videos, I decided to buy it for $349.

The printer is tiny! It’s about 8″ square. The filament spool actually sites under the print bed, making for a very compact arrangement. It’s also quite quiet, making watching the printer make it’s prints on the dining room table just dandy.

Printing with the new M3D

The M3D busy printing a support base (“raft”) for a piece of jewelry.

So I’ve been printing several things from Thingiverse lately, and it’s been fun. This huge nut took about an hour and 15 minutes to print, and as it turns out, fits on my ring finger just fine. 🙂 Next up is the accompanying big bolt!

The Big Nut

The Big Nut

The largest thing by far was this green dragon, which took the better part of 7 hours to print, due to the detail. I broke his front paw off when I was releasing him from the print raft, but still it’s pretty cool.

Golden Dragon

Golden Dragon

This is prior to cleanup. The filament is brass, and evidently has actual brass infused. Very shiny.

Print Server

So pretty shortly after discovering the printer, I found out about an open source print server that I could run on my Raspberry Pi. It’s called OctoPrint. The UI is great, and theoretically had all the functionality I needed to use it with the M3D. So of course I downloaded it and burned a quick SD card for the Pi.

The concept is awesome. OctoPrint is a web-based print server you can upload your 3D files to, set the parameters, view how it looks on your printer, then submit the job to the local Slicer process to begin slicing it up and printing it.

Unfortunately, OctoPrint isn’t quite ready for prime-time, at least not with the M3D. I’ve experienced some “incidents” while using it. Fortunately the printer wasn’t damaged. It appears that the calibration routines are a bit off. After calibrating the print head dug into the BuildTak cover on the print bed, leaving furrows where the first layers of the piece should have been. Also, there are several holes where the extruder head was pushed down into the tape.

Oops!

Oops!

This clearly shouldn’t have happened. I’m glad I ordered a 3-pack of BuildTak! Another weird thing that happened is that part of a raft didn’t adhere to the rest, leaving a “bubble” that raised above the rest of the raft. I noticed it because the extruder fan was rubbing against it as the extruder moved back and forth, making a loud “buzzzzz!’

Bubbles in the raft

Bubbles in the raft

So for now, I’m back to using the included software, which is the best, especially on the Mac (it uses the Mono framework, so the devs didn’t really spend the time to make a native app, they just ported over their windows one).

There is another print spooler I’ll probably try because I like the idea of leaving the printer run unattended. Both have the ability to attach a webcam (which I have for the Pi) so you can monitor the status of the print! Very cool.

ImageMagick convert for many files

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Have a slew of files you need to convert from one format to another? I capture a lot of screenshots from WW2OL, and they’re all saved as large BMPs by default. So I went looking for a quick and dirty way to convert them all to JPG. ImageMagick comes with _convert_, which makes it easy going from one format to another, but with almost 300, that meant a big loop with name substitutions, etc., etc.

In my search I came across parallel from Gnu, and gave it a shot:

parallel convert '{} {.}.png' ::: *.jpg

This was all I needed to do the job. It broke the task down to worker processes and zipped through it in no time flat! Add this one to your unix toolbox!

Twelve words to live by

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This week I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. It’s Holy Week, and for me, as a Catholic, it’s a time to reflect not only on my faith, but how I can be a better person through my faith.

I have four holy cards on my nightstand — the only four I’ve ever owned — which I picked up a couple years ago while we were visiting one of the California missions. Of the four, I reflected most on one that I had found particularly appropriate: an image of Jesus with a small group of Boy Scouts. I know, I was equally surprised such a thing existed. 

On the back of the card, where usually would be found an appropriate prayer, was the Boy Scout Oath and Law:

The Boy Scout Oath:

On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

The Scout Law:

A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

It got me to thinking about my promise to do more to be a better person, to live my faith through my actions towards others. Up to this point, I hadn’t really come across a solid way to pin that notion down, to engrain it within…to make it personal.

Being an Eagle Scout, it really hit home. The Boy Scout oath sums up what I  see as the most simple and concise path to being the person I want to be. The Scout Law embodies everything we should strive to attain, in 12 powerful words. I was humbled when I thought about it…I had known this all along, had memorized it as a boy, but had let it fade over time.

Life should be a balance of living your faith, working towards your goals and striving to become the best person you can be. I believe the Boy Scouts did an excellent job of embodying these principles, and I intend to embody them myself as I continue my journey.

May you all have a reflective and revitalizing Holy Week, everyone.

OS X Yosemite Email Lists made easy

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I run a small bunch of sites from my home server, and one of the tasks I’d undertaken was to provide a Mailman-type list for one of my groups. I run OS X Server, which I really do like. However, in the past iterations it wasn’t entirely clear just how mailing lists played into the admin suite. What I ended up doing was installing Gnu Mailman and trying to wedge it into the server’s configs.

Not the best idea.

Although it worked initially, upkeep was a pain as I had to be careful not to get in Server.app’s way when it updates the varied config files through the system. I also decided to use the postfix files found in the default unix-y location of /etc/postfix. Since Server.app uses /Library/Server/Mail for it’s config and data, the whole setup ended up a delicate balancing act which ultimately proved to be too tedious.

I decided to update the server to Yosemite after it had a chance to “burn in” for a while. I figured I’d take a “wait and see” approach to how mailing lists would fare after the upgrade. What I really preferred was to let Server.app take control of my lists so I wouldn’t have to suffer through another bout with Mailman (which by itself is wonderful).

After updating, I took the time to review everything in Server.app looking for if and how it had deployed mail list support. As it turned out, I found that there was (and probably has been in the past) a ridiculously simple and elegant list solution built right into Groups!

I’m not kidding about ‘simple’ either. OS X’s email lists don’t have the rich features of Mailman, like remote administration, list archiving, summary mail or by-user list preferences. However if your main use case is to quickly disseminate info to a group of people, then it fills the bill quite nicely, and even pops in a Mailman-style list title to the subject line.

My list requirements

Some of the lists I was interested in setting up included:

  1. A Mailman-type distribution list for a local organization
  2. A couple email alias distributions for my wife and I
  3. All the typical hosting email aliases for all my domains (hostmaster, info, abuse, etc).

First off, a couple assumptions. I’m assuming that you have OS X Yosemite installed and configured with at least one domain that you will be using for your email lists.

Setting up your users

I started with the group’s mail lists. There were two lists I wanted to create: an all-members list and a list just for the board members. The first step is to add in the users.

Add in a user through Server.app's User panel

Adding in a user through Server.app’s User panel

Note that I’m not giving Joe Shmoe a home folder since he’s just a list member. This way, Joe won’t be able to log in to the server at all, which is what I want. You could assign him a home folder if you’re extending those capabilities to your list users.

Next, decide if this user will log into your mail server for their mail, or if you’ll forward any mail to the list to an outside email address. If you’re interested in the former, you’re good. To set up a forwarding email address to an external email (makes it easier for some users to just check their Gmail account, for example), then right-click the user from the User list and select “Edit Mail Options…”

For local delivery, leave the options set as they are by default. To forward any list mail to their external account, just select “Mail should be forwarded…” and enter their email address!

Forwarding email to an external address

Forwarding email to an external address

Bam! Add the rest of your users and we’ll move on to sertting up the group.

Setting up the group

An email list in Yosemite is nothing more than an email address attached to a group of people. Pure and simple. So all we need to do is set up a group, add all the users and put in a group email address.

From the Groups panel, click the plus sign at the bottom to add a new group.

Adding the group

Adding the group

Add a user-friendly group name, for you as the admin to identify easily. Setting the group name sets up the initial email address for the group. You can change this now or later. I just accept the defaults to start with. After the group is created, double click it to open up it’s editor.

The group editor

The group editor

Now that the group is created, we can add users and set up the rest of the options! Adding members is easy. Just click the + under the Members section and enter part of the name. Server.app fills in the rest. Now notice the Mailing Lists section. This is where we enter all the email addresses we want to associate to this group. As you can see, I’ve changed is slightly to include a dash for readability. You can add any number of aliases here, and any mail to them will be distributed to the members in the Members list. Voila! Easy-peasy!

Important note: If you want people outside the group to be able to mail the group, you need to check the “Allow mail from non group members” checkbox!

That’s it! Server.app will amend the virtual_domain and virtual_users files for postfix and set up all the required routing. In our example here, sending an email to “bash-bombers@mycooldomain.com” will result in postfix relaying a copy to Joe and Jane’s respective email addresses, either local or external.

Summary

Setting up basic mail lists in OS X Yosemite is really quite easy, and although there aren’t a lot of features, it’s quick and intuitive to set up lists and assign email addresses to them.

I hope this little guide was helpful!

#mikec