The Clever Monkey

Victor Echo Three Whisky November Alfa


As I mentioned in a previous update, I recently decided to re-restart getting my Canadian amateur radio operator certificate by joining an online course hosted by a club out East. Well, I can now report that after a few weeks of study I passed the exam with a final mark above 80% (99 out of 100!) which gives me access to the entire amateur radio spectrum here in Canada.

11-year old me is ecstatic. That was definitely on 11-year old me’s bucket list. Committing to an online course was definitely the way to go for me. I’m an excellent self-starter, but a terrible self-finisher.

The subtitle of this posting is a bit of a lie, though. I don’t know how to read or send Morse (or CW) yet. But I am taking a virtual CW course in the fall hosted by my local club, so it’s only a little lie. I suspect CW is going to be a bit more of a challenge, as in many ways it is like learning a new language. And, yes. I am already looking ahead to studying for the Advanced qualifications.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this new privilege to use the airwaves, but maybe I’ll take my H/T outside for a walk this evening and at least introduce myself on the local repeater. I do have some ideas about turning my bicycle trailer into a mobile station for lower carbon-load field days, but we’ll see.

VNA Awards

Another needless unboxing

This fancy box arrived in the mail today:

Needless Unboxing Entry

Here is an unboxing

Today I got this delivered via that web site named after the river and the jungle, but sent direct from the Rigol warehouse:

A box labelled Rigol

We decided to open it up and see what was inside.

Current Events

Oh look. Another abandoned blog.

Trust me when I tell you that when I posted regularly to the self-hosted Old Blog I would often comment on current events. Often those events were technical in nature, given the technical nature of the blog. But there were often little asides or longer mini-essays that had a more political flavour.

This blog isn’t going to do that.

Now that we are Post-Peak-Blog, no one needs to read my hot takes on world events, technical or otherwise.

The only current events I am going to discuss with anyone right now is one that has a mathematical relationship with voltage and resistance, as I have decided to renew my interest in amateur radio and finally get my Basic Qualification. This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was in grade school.


In a fit of pique, I’ve retired most of my social networking accounts. This is partially to encourage more writing. I also have a few projects on the go I should talk about.

Like, for instance, did you know I’m planning building a modular synth?

Boring Site Announcement

I’m in the process of switching registrars for the domain, and during the switch-over I might not get the DNS stuff updated in a timely manner.

So, if you can read this either it worked, or it is about to not work. Sorry.

I’ll try to update again when all is assumed well.

Update: It appears to have worked. Let the blogging commence.

Dance Like Nobody's Debugging

A. and I completed the Wigl dancing robot, but the results were not that exciting. It appears to move, and the LEDs are lighting in a somewhat appropriate manner. I should report that A. successfully soldered the motors to the motor wires, and only once found out that you shouldn’t hold the iron like a pencil, near the hot end. (Don’t worry: no one was seriously harmed.) But, after some experimentation with various instruments, it appears it is about a half-step off from the expected.

The idea is that certain notes with cause the robot to turn, move forward, etc. And certain combination of notes will cause mode changes. However, after some head-scratching it looked like it was sampling such that a B♭ would turn left, instead of a natural B. Not only that, but the movements seemed, well, really jerky and weird. Almost like the sample rate was a little too fast. It wouldn’t respond at all, and then it would take off in some random manner. Something was not right.

This was, of course, a little disappointing.

Anyway, since we have some of the tools to figure this out, the first step was to confirm through the Crowd Supply page that the code published in the GitHub project repository is actually on the ATmega328P shipped with the kit. I also made sure the pin header pads on the board were typical sizes so I could order a 90-degree 6-pin header so I can start poking at the chip via a serial port.

Wigl It, Just a Little Bit

One of the Crowd Supply projects I backed finally delivered, which means I am the proud owner of a Wigl dancing robot. We’ve been looking forward to giving this to A., and each birthday or gifty holiday that passes we were wondering if it would arrive on time.

Well, it finally arrived a little after Christmas (or, it arrived right on time for Orthodox Christmas, if we are keeping score) so we went ahead and surprised her with it.

There was a little bit of organizing to do in the computer shack necessary to get things to a state where we could make solder smoke, not to mention a fair amount of moving “treasures” onto her new workbench. But once we got that out of the way, things related to the electronics assembly progressed relatively smoothly.


As discussed earlier, I have indeed purchased a Windows 10 based ultrabook and I’m not immediately installing Linux on it. I cannot tell a lie: I have kept Windows 10 on it, along with the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) to scratch that Ubuntu itch.

And it’s just fine.

Even though WSL is in beta (and I’m compounding that by installing bleeding edge “Windows Insider” builds) it’s actually pretty solid. I might be losing all my hipster geek street-cred by saying it, but Windows 10 is just as good for me as OS X. Since I’m no avid fan of any environment, this means I think it’s better than any Linux UI. So that’s a win.

WSL seems to be a pretty complete command-line Ubuntu install, with all the trappings of a Debian-flavoured console. I haven’t really pushed it hard, of course, but as a sort of acid-test I moved my Ruby-Jekyll-GitHub blog stuff over to the new lappy and made the right gem and apt-get incantations until I was able to successfully run bundle exec jekyll serve. I also updated Ubuntu to Xenial last night with little trouble.

I didn’t think I’d care that much about the mechanisms by which Microsoft has done all of this, but I’ve been skimming the technical notes with some interest. They’ve really done a decent job of implementing the user and kernel spaces.

Windows OS X 10 Ubuntu Edition

Well, I finally bought a new laptop. The T460s seems to be the hacker weapon of choice these days, so after a little research I decided to go for it. So, I’m going to eventually be the owner of an “ultrabook”, and the first laptop that I’ve ever purchased with my own money that isn’t an Apple product.

According to UPS it’s on its way from China, so I don’t have it in my grubby paws yet. I suspect I’ll miss the giant screen on the old Macbook Pro I’m currently using. I won’t miss the tiny battery life or the way it acts like a little space heater.

I probably won’t miss OS X, at least too much.

The idea was to get a smaller upgradeable laptop with decent Linux support and run Arch or Gentoo, blowing away the Windows 10 install it comes with.

Art and Technology

It seems to me that we might be in the middle of a little art/tech Renaissance right now. Perhaps it is selection bias at work, but I keep running across references to folks putting together cool tech-based art projects that explore art in really interesting ways.

I may be slightly sensitive to this as a Canadian of a Certain Age, of course. A friend once told me about a class he took at university that suggested that Canadian visual arts heavily reinterpreted visual popular media, and even reincorporated image data in other works in a specifically Canadian manner. I’m hand-waving here because this was from a long time ago, and was probably the sort of discussion we would have over many beers. But I recall it really brought into sharp relief some of the things I’d been thinking about, say, Cronenburg films and Canadian body-horror cinema.

Groovy Android Rocks the Gradle

Embedded Android development continues apace, and I’m currently head’s down on an App Widget that needs an XML parser and some sort of datastore, which is a pretty good learning experience. We also ended up swtiching to a full-on Android Studio, Gradle, and jCenter environment, which has side-stepped a fair amount of Eclipse cruft. It has also introduced some infrastructure churn which I’m hoping settles down shortly. So, I am most definitely an Android developer now.

This has given me the excuse I need to think about using Groovy at work, though, which is a bit if a win. We need a fair number of custom Gradle tasks, and I think the best way to do this is direct functional Groovy. If this morphs into a full-on Spock unit-test environment I will call the whole thing a gigantic, play-off, Premier League level win.

The challenge is that I sort of promised a working demo of the app this coming week. So, I have my work cut out for me, I think. I was sure of this schedule on Friday, but then all weekend I’ve been remembering little things that need to be sorted before we really ship, so now I’m hoping I haven’t over-promised.

So, the Groovy Spock will have to wait until I bang out a few hundred lines of Android Java, including a semaphore controlled background executor.

Good thing I’m a senior developer. It says so right on my job description!

The Agony of Buying Power

For a few months I’ve been doing a little research to decide if I’m going to replace the aging Macbook Pro that is my main development tool at home with a more modern lappy. The idea is to get something that runs a bit cooler, lighter, and longer on battery that I can use for general purpose hackery. As I’ve mentioned before, I think I’ve gotten about as much life out of this Macbook as I can reasonably expect, so I should probably replace it.

I have no particular interest in staying with a Mac, though it is a decent development box. But I can get all that with Linux these days. Sure, I’ll have to resort to tinkering to get stuff to work, but this already happens with the Macbook regularly, so this is really shifting the problem around to a different flavour of tinkering. So, after learning what some of the new acronyms for computer equipment mean these days, I narrowed things down to a Lenovo Carbon X1, running some sort of Linux.

Rexx Fortis Vocat

So, I’m home sick from work today and, as one does, I’m idly playing around with some emulation stuff. Earlier I was researching my KIM-1 emulation project (which is turning out to be a bit harder than I thought).

Then, for some reason, I decided to get IBM PC-DOS 7.x/2000 working on VirtualBox. This is not for any particular reason, though I’ve occasionally needed a real DOS environment to mess about with abandonware. So, this image may be put to good use one day.

But for now, an almost-complete PC-DOS system. I haven’t figured out the networking stuff yet, but it has CD-ROM support, loads DOSidle so it doesn’t burn up my Mac, the usual assortment of high/upper/confusing/WTF memory settings that DOS requires, and so on. I don’t think networking will be that hard, but my Google-Fu is not finding the PCNet ethernet drivers that VirtualBox is emulating. So, for now I’m using sneaker-net.

PC-DOS 2000 on VirtualBox running Rexx

Yeah. So, that’s a Rexx script being called via the command interpreter via a pseudo hash-bang mechanism (think of /* ... */ as the shebang line). There’s a reason I liked to run PC-DOS instead of that other one.

What’s going to bend your noodle is that I actually paid for a copy of PC-DOS, lo, those many years ago. So, I’m technically not pirating anything, matey.

Well, that was easy. Started the PCNet packet driver and ran DHCP from the mTCP project. I was even able to annoy some people on IRC.

Oh no. Beta.

Well, the Retrocomputing StackExchange site I talked about earlier is now in open beta. So far, lots of chatter about old Apple and Commodore equipment, but nothing (yet) about truly old-school things like Altairs or KIM-1s.

I hope to remedy this in the near future.

Anyway, like many beta SE sites we are sorting out the scope of the subject we are going on about, which should be hours of popcorn fun.

It’s interesting to see how people define “retro”. There has been discussion about whether emulators, gaming consoles, or even coding (at all!) is on-topic. I’ve been surprised by some assumptions, because I cannot imagine retro-computing without emulators, coding emulators, and coding on actual retro systems.

Ironically, because of this sort of thing, it may turn out that my questions around emulating a KIM-1 with full RRIOT support may be deemed off-topic there. Which highlights both the great strengths and the great weaknesses of SE sites, in general.