alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
I aten't ded yet, but am very busy. I needed to work for most of the weekend after working for too large a proportion of my waking hours last week.

Yesterday I went to a seminar setup by Arrow Electronics, to learn how to use LTspice better, and in the afternoon a useful revision of fundamentals I learned about at University, Johnson noise, shot noise, the effect of sampling jitter on effective resolution on ADCs, that sort of thing.

The presenter in the morning made a believable case as to why LTspice is the best analogue electronics simulator available. I have certainly found it useful, because testing ideas in simulation is much quicker than actually building a model to test. The first design I prototype is then a lot closer to the production design than it would be otherwise. I hope my customers appreciate the efficiency gains :-)
alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
...and I feel happier for having the holiday.

I am still concurrently working on two large projects for two different customers, and they both seem to need at least 60% of my time - plus there is some admin I need to do. It beats being without work or income. Still, between years I had too little to do, and years when there is too much, it is like saying you are comfortable on average with your feet in the fridge and your head in the oven.

I think I am doing some really good electronics design work, though, and I hope that is actually true. If only there was enough time to do the admin and get the invoices out in a timely manner...
alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
Happy new year to everyone.
alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
That says it all!
alitalf: (Bugrep)
Those of you who knew her will be aware that she was an old cat, probably at least 18 which is very old in cat terms. We adopted her as an adult cat, so do not know her exact age. She had a cancerous growth under her jaw, which had been growing for some weeks.

Today her behaviour was sufficiently different from normal that we decided to take her to the vet. Cats usually don't make it clear when they are in pain, but this suggested that she probably was. The vet concluded that she was almost certainly suffering serious pain, so we asked for her to have the lethal injection forthwith. She had not got very long in any case, and with no hope of recovery, there wasn't any sense in keeping her alive to be miserable and suffer.

People have to endure that, but cats don't.

She was a good cat, and I think she had a happy life with us. She started out rather jumpy and nervous (and covered in fleas), and gradually relaxed and became calmer. After a while she became confident enough in her position in the household to start trying to boss us around.

She was our fourth cat, and I imagine that after a while we shall again look for a cat who needs a good home.
alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
I have been using KiCad for electronics designs for a while now, partly becasue it is free open source software and I can install it on as many computers as I wish, and partly because it is developed for Linux as well as for windows.

Every now and again I experimentally try to use Linux rather than Windows for a while, to do my day's work. This is now more of an issue because the thought of having to use Windows 8 for the sort of work that windows 7 is good for on a desktop computer fills me with fear and loathing. Win 8 might be good for a tablet, but I am not going to be able to design complex electronic equipment efficiently on a tablet. OK, the tablet with CAD might still save time compared with pencil and paper, and manually taping a PCB design using a lightbox and layers of drafting film, but still...

So, I opened my latest project in KiCad on Ubuntu 13.04, and found that the version of KiCad in the repository here was not the latest, and won't open the files. (Yes, I had installed the most recent stable release on Windows 7, and it was easy! It has extra functions that are very useful.)

There is an explanation of how to install the latest version on the website hosting KiCad, using, of course, command lines with long strings that it is easy to mistype. I did very carefully type in the correct version (trying to follow the directions in, and ran into error messages that don't make sense without a good understanding of the OS. Realistically, I don't have time to learn the OS very deeply, because keeping up to date with the areas of electronics that are my core skills must take priority.

So, what is the best way forwards? Possibilities include waiting to see if future developments of windows do not render it almost useless to me, installing a different version of Linux that may allow me to install up to date versions more easily, finding out what was wrong either with the instructions or the way in which I implemented them, and learn how to deal with this problem for now and for the future.

There are still other programs I need to use that are only available for Windows, but if Windows becomes less useful for people doing technical work, not solely using wordprocessing and spreadsheets, then maybe some of the software will be ported to Linux. Not so sure about Atmel Studio, which is central to a lot of my work now, because it seems to have been built on tools from Visual Studio. [sigh] So, in order to write software for embedded processors with down to 1k of program memory (but I have used ones with a massive 16k!), in a reasonably efficient editing and debugging environment, it is necessary to use parts of Visual Studio which is designed to produce software for systems in which 1k of memory is too small to take account of.

In the short term the probably only correct response is to keep using the programs I work with on the copy of Windows 7 which I have. As and when I need to buy a new computer, there may be a choice of paying to upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 7, or if that is not available, then Linux of some sort, or a version of windows that is designed to be increasingly difficult to use for programs that don't sit behind Win8s brightly coloured icons (and which you have to pay Microsoft for).

Any bright ideas, anyone?

alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
For those who have enjoyed The Lord of the Rings or other books by JRR Tolkien, would you like to drink a toast to him on his birthday, and leave a message on the Tolkien Society Birthday Toast page?
alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
The interesting project I have mentioned to a few people, that I could not tell anyone details of, is a bike light incorporating a laser. I designed the electronics and hand assembled the PCBs for the demonstration models. A video is on Kickstarter:

The laser shines through a lens which projects an image of a bicycle on the road ahead. In situations where the cyclist may not yet be visible, for example when entering a major road from a side road, the image on the road gives advance warning.

I expect to improve the energy efficiency, add battery charge level indication, and increase light output on the real one, if the project gets full funding and goes ahead.

This is not the most difficult short project I have worked on, but I have enjoyed it more than most.
alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
Not so long ago I asked [personal profile] sally_maria if she knew of any good music that I might like and had overlooked. She sent me a link to Nighwish on Youtube playing Elvenpath. That was instantly attractive to me so I listened to more of their music over the next few weeks or months. Sometime early in this process Hibernia asked if I wanted to go to a Nightwish concert, but I was uncertain back then.

Later she asked again, and by then I had listened to much more on Youtube, downloaded a few tracks, and then bought some CDs. Then I said that if tickets were still available I definitely wanted to go, no doubt at all.

Nightwish have a big sound, but they have superb control of it. I have experienced bands with a less “big” sound who, by a combination of how the music was arranged, and the sound quality, end up with a somewhat blurred and muddy result.

Nightwish, by contrast, made the big sound really work for them. It helped that the vocalist has a powerful voice, so that she didn't end up being too far back in the mix.

There is some argument among Nightwish fans about what singer is better. I think that the majority of comments I have read preferred their first vocalist, Tarja Tarunen, to the second one, Anette Olzon. It seems to me that almost any vocalist might suffer from the comparison with Tarja, but it is also important that Anette's vocal range is not the same as Tarja's, and when the band was writing material which matched her range that worked better. Certainly Imaginaerum, their most recent album, with Anette singing, works for me. The material is not quite as compelling as a couple of my favourite songs, Wish I had an Angel and Planet Hell, from earlier in their career, but that is totally failing to damn with very faint criticism.

Anette has left Nightwish, reportedly due to health issues, part way through the Imaginaerum tour. I read somewhere that she had intended to leave at a later date, in good order, so I surmise that she will not now return. We had these tickets, and I had looked forward to seeing Anette on stage, because from the Youtube videos she seems to have a strong stage presence and be full of energy and bounce. Who would stand in for her? The answer is; a stunningly good Dutch vocalist, Floor Janssen. She seems to have the majority of the good points of both the previous vocalists. She is billed as a visiting musician, and she has her own band, but I really hope that she and Nightwish will discuss a longer term musical collaboration.

That she used to earn at least part of her income doing vocal training, and that I remember reading somewhere that someone was very good, and had been trained by Floor Janssen, maybe gives background support for my impression of her.

The set started with Storytime, one of my favourite tracks from Imaginaerum, then Dark Chest of Wonders and Wish I had an Angel, which I reckon got them off to a very good start.

Sadly I can't remember the whole setlist, but they finished, not unexpectedly, with The Last Ride of the Day. That concert cheered me up more than anything that has happened to me recently. Nightwish have impressed the wossname out of me.
alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
I set the computer into sleep mode when I had to go out, so that I could take up typing the email I was part way through later. But, when I came to start using it again, pressing the power button made no difference.

So, I switched off the output of the UPS until the blue light stopped flashing, then switched it back on again and hit the computer's power switch.

It returned to the state it had been in before I set it in sleep mode, half-written email and all. Not that I am complaining, but I wish I knew how that happened. Could it have anything to do with having upgraded to a solid state drive recently?
alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
"Remember what I said about the [no spoilers here]."

"Which part?" asked Maggie. "The scary part, the really scary part, the legitimately terrifying part, or the part that makes suicide sound like an awesome way to spend an evening?"

Yes, I am reading Blackout, the third book int he Newsflesh trilogy. I will have to stop reading it soon and get some sleep, but I'd rather stay up all night reading.
alitalf: (Bugrep)
It is appearing as if the present difference of view over the rightness of American media corporations having the power to shut down any website they believe may contain a copyright infringement, and, apparently, to have anyone in the world associated with such a website arrested, may be a microcosm of a larger issue. It seems to me that the larger question is how large a difference the people who actually rule the world, in whatever respect, can sustain between the wishes of the rulers; a powerful and generally rich minority, and the average or consensus wishes of the ruled, the less powerful people who livein, but largely do not control, the world.

Clearly the level of difference they can sustain is significant, but the protests against Sopa and Pipa, not to mention the attacks on media websites in response to the closure of megaupload and the arrest of the owners of the site, seem to suggest that there is a finite limit.

At the is stage, the effect is minor, but it may be one of the early indications of a definite, if substantial, limit to what has been the growing power of the rulers over the ruled. Historians may see this more clearly in a century or so.

I'd prefer to see it all from a safe distance myself, and about 100 years might suffice.
alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
I have just finished reading THIS I$ NOT A GAME by Walter Jon Williams. It was a rollercoaster ride, for want of a better description, and I found it difficult to put down.

At the end, I wanted to know what happened to the viewpoint character afterwards.

Chapter one, which is only two pages long, explains little until much later. It raises more questions than it answers. A page or two in to the second chapter I was I was beginning to empathise with Dagmar, the viewpoint character, and I never looked back.

I have enjoyed a number of Walter Jon Williams' books in the past, but if you haven't read anything he has written so far, this is a good place to start.
alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
I hope y'all have a good 2012 - and specially anyone who didn't have such a good 2011.

Story rec

Oct. 28th, 2011 09:16 pm
alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
There is an online magazine called The Edge of Propinquity, where there are many good short stories. The one I want to recommend just now is Uncle Sam by Seanan McGuire. She has rapidly become one of my favourite writers, since I read Feed, written under her nom de word-processor, Mira Grant.

A good day

Oct. 7th, 2011 12:20 am
alitalf: (pic#963070)
Today has been a more interesting than average day, making progress on the lithium ion powered underwater propulsion device for divers project, for which I get to design all the electronics.

Now I am, going to award myself a celebratory drink.

Book rec

Sep. 6th, 2011 07:50 pm
alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
I'm taking a break before I return to my work. I am trying to duplicate, and then find the cure for, an intermittent fault which occurs on my customer's premises, but not in the manufacturers nor, so far, in my own lab. I have seen the gadget crash, but so far, no matter how I mistreat it (even running it outside the spec.) it doesn't crash. I can't follow the XKCD approach, I need to find a way to make this thing function dependably before the end of the week.

It is time to think about something else for a few minutes. I've posted before about Seanan McGuire's books, particularly the ones under her pen name Mira Grant. Well, I enjoyed FEED and Deadline so much that I decided to find out what else she had written. The series written as Mira Grant is best described as science fiction thriller, while the "Toby Daye" series written under her own name is urban fantasy. I have often found that if I like a writer's science fiction, I am less enchanted with their fantasy, and vice-versa. Maybe one type of story benefits from a different writing style than the other. I don't know, because I haven't been able to spot the difference so far.

Whatever, I bought the first of the series at worldcon, and after the first couple of chapters I was sure I was going to enjoy the story, so I bought the other books in the series published to date, chased Seanan McGuire down, and asked her to sign them. As I said in my other post, she gave me a copy of the latest in the series, One Salt Sea, prior to its publication date. At the time I hadn't finished the second book, but a few days ago I finished the last one.

At least in some parts of the world One Salt Sea has been published. I can highly recommend it, and the rest of the series. When reading the first two books, I could put them down if necessary. By the third, I was reading it when I should ideally have been doing other things, like sleeping. Since that book, to my mind the series has improved, and One Salt Sea is the best so far. Not every series gets better as it progresses. A few have done, and this is one of them. cut for length )
alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
His nickname was "Quarter inch Whitworth" on account of the bolt through his neck.
alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)
...wrote the Hugo nominated novel Feed under the nom de plume word-processor Mira Grant. It was included in the download available for people eligible to vote for the Hugo awards, which are science fictions premier awards. Obviously all the novels, novellas, and so on are in one or another e-book format, so it was convenient to read them on my e-reader rather than on the computer.

As best I can describe it, Feed mugged me and didn't let me put down the e-reader for long until I had finished. By then I had the second in the trilogy from Amazon. The third won't be out for about 10 months <sigh>. I voted for it as my first choice in the Hugo ballot, although perhaps it is not a big surprise that Blackout/All Clear actually won. The works nominated were all very good, so an excellent novel won, and other excellent ones didn't, but all are worth reading.

Because I had so much enjoyed the novels written under a pseudonym, I went to the dealers room and bought the first of a series written under her own name, Rosemary and Rue. After reading a couple of chapters, I was confident that I was enjoying this different series so I bought the others in the series. Soon after that Seanan McGuire was on a panel I went to, and after it finished she signed the two that were not already signed when I bought them.

Today I went to a reading (typically half hour sessions in which an author reads from a work in progress or not yet actually released), which was from the latest in the series. After the session I asked when it was to be published. The answer was September in the USA, then, seeing my membership badge showing I am from the UK, she gave me the copy she had been reading from, because it won't be published so soon there (soon to be here).

Hibernia said that is the way to gain a fan, but I pointed out she already did that by writing stories I enjoy reading. I do like the attitude that Seanan McGuire demonstrated, though, and I'd certainly offer her a drink if I noticed her in a bar.
alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)

We are investigating having solar panels to generate electricity fitted on the roof. I am administrating the project at present, and I am intending to get quotations from three companies, and then pick what seems to be the best value for money. That is likely to be the lowest cost, but only if other important factors are comparable.

For example, comparable means that the peak power specified is the same, or very close. Because the maximum size of installation eligible for the domestic feedin tariff is 4kW peak, we want an installation as close as possible to that figure. Spirit Solar, the first to quote, offer 3.92kW.

There are several factors I think relevant, and I'd be grateful if anyone reading this could tell me of anything I have overlooked.

First of all, adding solar panels must not damage the house in any way. Spirit Solar said they would survey the roof, and recommend work to strengthen it if necessary before fitting the panels. Such strengthening work would be guaranteed for 50 years.

They also fit the panels spaced from the tiles, on brackets screwed to the rafters, fitting between one tile and the next so that one of the tiles just has to be ground down to allow it to fit flush. That would seem to me to be as unlikely to cause damage as reasonably possible, but what to *you* think?

Secondly, the installation must make financial sense. I have been very unsure on this point in the past, but I have a draft spreadsheet, soon to be updated with real figures, to compare the return on investment of buying a solar installation, or keeping the money that would have been spent in that, in the best ISA rate of interest currently available. I intend to update the spreadsheet and make it visible on Google docs, but in broad terms:

  1. I assumed that interest rates rose a little in two years time, and that the increase of the price of electricity rose faster than the rate of inflation figure. (It does seem that prices are rising much faster than the figure given as the rate of inflation would lead one to expect - at least if one trusted government statistics.)
  2. I assumed that money received for the feedin of electricity would be saved in an ISA every year at the same rate as the money saved in the notional comparison ISA.
  3. I used the government approved figures, widely claimed to be slightly on the safe side (good!) to calculate the possible feedin tariff income.
  4. I assumed that it will be necessary to fit a replacement inverter during the life of the installation. The one that Spirit
    Solar fit is guaranteed for 10 years, so one might hope that two of them would last for a total of 25 years.

On sample figures that I believe to be close to reality, we would expect to have equal sums of money in savings by the middle of year 11 from the date of installation. I would have expected to work for at least 8 years from now in any case, and having the savings available to draw on is less important while working than after (and if) I retire. Since nice Mr Brown has taxed away a proportion of the pension I might have had, working for at least 15 years if it is possible would seem to be required.

The feed in tariff is set to continue for 25 years from the date of installation, and that, coincidentally, is approximately our statistically expected lifespan.

It is possible that we may wish to move house before the breakeven date, though that could be so disruptive of my work (for anyone who doesn't know, I work as a freelance electronics designer) that it might be very tricky. If we did move house, it is possible, but not certain, that we should get enough extra for the house to make it worth having fitted the solar installation. What do others think?

Then there is the question of how much extra the house insurance would cost. I haven't got a figure for that yet, and I suppose it is barely possible that there would be no increase in cost, but that could increase the payback time or even make it not viable. I need to investigate.

On one hand, the government may try to rescind the commitment to keep paying the feedin tariff, or change its inflation linking to make it less viable, in future years. I don't think that is very likely, but they might. On the other hand, the present energy policy seems set to give us power cuts, in which case there might be an official change, or a hack, to make the solar energy power the house even when the grid is switched off in an area. That will be of *some* help, though the times it is most likely that there will be long power cuts is in winter. Last winter there was a 3 week period of little or no energy generated by the windmills, just at the time when there is least daylight for the solar panels.

There is also the possibility that, if enough people install solar power, then power cuts during the day may be less likely. This is a benefit we may not ever be able to assess, but if it did make a difference it could lessen the economic slump that such power cuts would cause.

Can anyone think of any other questions I should ask myself before taking this costly step? I have asked for three quotations, (Spirit Solar, recommended by, SolarMerge, who did a solar power installation for Geekette8, which she said she is pleased with, both for how the job was done and its functionality, and Solartricity, who fitted a solar power installation for my half brother. He also seemed happy with how it works, and with the efficiency with which the fitting was carried out.


alitalf: Skiing in the 3 Valleys, France, 2008 (Default)

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