Happy New Year

I’ve been quite distracted with end of year cleaning and partying.

But it’s a new year, so back to the blog.

This year: Erlang/OTP in depth. I was at the ErlangDC conference in December and was quite pleased. Erlang Factory is in March in San Francisco, but I’m not sure how I will swing the expense just yet. I really want to go.

My boy is a blast! He’s 6 months old now and doing great.

Bennett always smiles like this!

I named my fiddle Philip, after my great grandfather Philip Francis Nolan (b.1850 Baltimore MD) who played  fiddle for my mother when she was a child. I have a project to locate the violin, and it’s provenance.

There’s more of course, so stay tuned!


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Ale Möller and Aly Bain

Being a fiddle (violin) player I ran ran into Aly Bain (A fiddler from the Shetland (Scottish) tradition) through the old-time community, in particular, Clifftop. I regularly scan YouTube looking for old-time and other tunes, and the original players; which are showing up there more an more.

I came across a CD, which I bought on iTunes called “Beyond the Stacks” which is a collaboration between Aly Bain and Ale Möller: a traditional Scandinavian (Swedish) Cittern (and more) player. I found it quite inspiring and highly recommend it.

Here’s a video of Aly guesting in Ale’s band. There’s a great story that precedes the tune.

Ah… the Vikings!

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Crowd-sourced Hardware

Take a peek…


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WSPR anyone?

I’ve been working on Ham Radio lately with the hope of a cool demo at the HacDC show and tell. (I joined about two months ago and have been thoroughly enjoying my local engineering lab. — More on that later)

My initial choice is to construct a WSPR beacon for the club station W3HAC. I’m hoping to use W3PM’s work with the PIC and Arduino to create a waterproof stand-alone solar-powered box with a MFJ 1630T helical whip mounted to it that we can place on the roof and see who can hear us around the world on the 30-meter (10.140 MHz) ham band.

What will the results look like to the casual observer with a ‘net connected computer, tablet or pda/cell? Like this:

Eniire world view: 30 meter WSPR spots for WA1IVD on 10/28/2011Being built on Google Maps, you can expand around any point and use a roll over to get a quick idea of who hears who.

WSPRnet expanded around WA1IVDFor those that want more detail, there’s a searchable database of spots:

Searchable database of spots, view is of WA1IVD on 10/28To do this testing I have integrated my ICOM 7200 and computer using the radio’s USB interface for audio and control. The computer has full control of the radio: frequency, mode, power, audio levels… everything.Then I downloaded Joe Taylor’s (W1JT) WSPR program from his web site and installed it. The result looks like this:

WSPR program screen at WA1IVD

WSPR program screen at WA1IVD

So we’re off to a good start! More as I progress.






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What’s new?

Just back from a trip to visit my friend Gary in CT, then to Vermont/NH to spend some time staying in a cabin on Mascoma Lake. Rode my bike on the converted rail trail and enjoyed the free kayaks.

A little wrinkle: my car broke down. Fixed it in White River Junction, VT.

Next to my sister’s in Boxboro, MA and then to my Mom’s in Farmington, CT.

And back home. Next I need to “pull up my socks” and get blogging.

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New project – Software Defined Radio (SDR)

I just purchased a “RXTX Ensemble” Kit from Tony Parks, KB9YIG. From Tony’s web page:

The SoftRock RXTX Ensemble Transceiver Kit provides a 1 watt SDR transceiver that can be built for one of the following four band groups: 160m, 80m/40m, 30m/20m/17m or 15m/12m/10m. Components are included for all four options and can be assembled at the builders choice. The kit combines the functionality of the prior SoftRock v6.3 RXTX+Xtall Transceiver Kit, the USB I2C Interface Kit and the PA Filter Kit on a single circuit board with connectors along one edge for easy access.

Robby, WB5RVZ put together a diagram of what the system looks like:

The ensemble is the green circuit board. The display is from PowerSDR, a popular SDR program that is used with the FlexRadio series of SDR transceivers (but has support for the Ensemble board). There are many software options.

You can read quite a lot about the project at Robby, WB5RBZ’s web site, and extensive SoftRock SDR RXTX Ensemble compendium.

There is also a Yahoo group: softrock40 which has expanded to cover a whole series of boards.

Very good, you say, but I thought this was software defined radio and that’s a piece of hardware. Very true, think of this board as an interface adapter to a computer. The computer takes the data stream form and to the board and implements the entire radio in software. Performance is remarkable, if not spectacular and the feature set is amazing!

More about the software options next.

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Made it!

Walked up to the Richard Montgomery High School track this morning and ran three miles continuously at an average 150 BPM heart rate. After patiently working up to this I’m finally beginning running again. Very exciting.

As I finished Betty Smith was there, we spoke and she invited me to the Chi Running class at 6 PM Friday, same place.

Betty is our Chi Running “ambassador”, at 70 she is running 24 hour races and doing great!

You can learn more about Chi Running here. Betty Smith here.

Off we go….

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Meaning of life?

I came across a short clip on YouTube where Jack Palance’s character  shares his views on life in City Slickers. Seemed appropriate.

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How many of us are Makers?

Here’s a great TED talk about hat a Maker is — found on the Maker Faire website.

If You are interested here’s a list of Hackerspaces around the world — none in Montgomery County though. There is one in Herndon and in Baltimore. Enjoy!

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How much ceremony?

By now you’ve seen my preference for programming languages like Lisp and Python: interactive and not so strongly typed.

K&R C is like this also, but is not interactive (leaving aside C interpreters like CINT and Ch). Originally everything was an int.

So what does ceremony have to do with programming? A high ceremony language like C++ or Java (or ADA) involves lots of boiler-plate code, such as type definitions and wrappers that are required before the meat of the program can be written. COBOL seemed to start all this.

It seems to me that a lot of the Microsoft language environments have reams of boilerplate code to negotiate. Yes, there are large Integrated Development Environments (IDE) that will generate the boilerplate for you — but you have to master those.

There’s a place for high ceremony to be sure, especially when the tasks are well-defined, but if you wish to solve a problem and can’t afford the overhead then a low ceremony language can be a godsend.

Perl is a well-known “swiss army knife” that can be low ceremony (Careful! It can quickly become high ceremony when you start using the object system). Also Perl is not really interpreted (there is a debugger that can be invoked — but that’s nothing like an immediate mode) — Python and Lisp have a true Read-Eval-Print Loop (REPL).

BTW: Clojure has better concurrency support than Python just now, Python has great mechanisms but has a single interpreter lock which negates much of its concurrency support. I’m not sure why this hasn’t been fixed, Python has a wonderful community.

This allows for a much quicker development cycle on the front end as you learn what you’re up against. Functions and data can evolve on the fly until the tests pass.

(You ARE using test driven development including boundary/corner cases, right?)

My feeling on the matter is that solving new problems is hard enough and I prefer the language to get out of the way.

Easy to tell I started with ZetaLisp on a Symbolics Lisp machine, eh?

Finally, a little fun.

The Unix Haters Handbook was published in 1994  and is available online here.  Here’s a bit from the preface: an email from John Rose in 1987. (How far we have come, how much things remain the same 🙂 )

Pros and Cons of Suns

Well, I’ve got a spare minute here, because my Sun’s editor window evaporated in front of my eyes, taking with it a day’s worth of Emacs state.

So, the question naturally arises, what’s good and bad about Suns?

This is the fifth day I’ve used a Sun. Coincidentally, it’s also the fifth time my Emacs has given up the ghost. So I think I’m getting a feel for what’s good about Suns.

One neat thing about Suns is that they really boot fast. You ought to see one boot, if you haven’t already. It’s inspiring to those of us whose LispMs take all morning to boot.

Another nice thing about Suns is their simplicity. You know how a LispM is always jumping into that awful, hairy debugger with the confusing backtrace display, and expecting you to tell it how to proceed? Well, Suns ALWAYS know how to proceed. They dump a core file and kill the offending process. What could be easier? If there’s a window involved, it closes right up. (Did I feel a draft?) This simplicity greatly decreases debugging time because you immediately give up all hope of finding the problem, and just restart from the beginning whatever complex task you were up to. In fact, at this point, you can just boot. Go ahead, it’s fast!

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