Monday, January 10, 2011

Holiday Lights Project 2011

This holiday season me and my son embarked on the project of making 'light show' that took us for quite some time to complete.

The idea was that Max will play lights along with music. So we wrote a Java application that would play a given mp3 file in a thread, then another thread of the application would paint 'lights' over photo of our house to provide visual feedback while Max is playing inside, yet another thread would play video effects like rolling windows or lines, and yet another thread would communicate to the Arduino board by converting light states into a command and sending the command over serial port.
Keyboard listener is responsible for converting keystrokes into light statuses, which are used by separate threads to paint, and communicate, and play effects.

On the Arduino side I wrote little program that read command from serial port, parses it into integer, and then turn on and off output pins according to bits of the given integer.

So, from the inside when Maxim was playing the show it looked like this:

Max Christmas Light Show project -p1 from Konstantin Ignatyev on Vimeo.

From the outside it looked like this:

Max Christmas Light Show project -p2 from Konstantin Ignatyev on Vimeo.

Maxim performed the show at the New Year eve for all the friend who came to our home to celebrate New Year:

That was the best holiday decoration ever - I was so happy to work on this project with my son and watching him doing all that work in the physical world (soldering and assembling) and virtual world - programming in Java and Arduino. He did not do everything, but a lot, and it was fun teaching him about programming, and binary arithmetic, and communication protocols, and low level devices, and multi-threading!

Below are photos of the project in the making: soldering solid state relays and assembling power outlets.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Grr, I am so frustrated that videos are now used as medium on technical sites like InfoQ - I do not have time or interest to spend 20+ minutes just to check if the material is worth anything.

In many cases it does not: who will give me the 20 minutes of MY LIFE!!! back?

But let us suppose that the presenter made few excellent points and the whole thing was awesome. Now I have other problems:
- how do I search for the precise moment he-or-she made the point?
- how do I bookmark the moment to point others to it?
- how do I copy a fragment and paste it as a quotation in another document or blogpost like this?

People, please please please write good old-fashioned articles - they are infinitely more useful, and we readers will love you for that!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

ATT - nothing but frustration

Today I have spent more than an hour talking to AT&T about extra charges they imposed on me without my consent, and actually agains my explicit instructions.

The situation:
  1. I have bought unlocked iPhone from private party
  2. Called ATT and instructed them to block data and messaging usage on my line zz37;
  3. Disabled ability of my iPhone to use 3G by specifying non-existent carrier;
  4. Put my old SIM-card from no-so-smart clamshell phone in iPhone;

hurray! I got all working fine: phone can make and receive calls, data is only over wifi, great.

All was well for few months till yesterday when I got bill that is $60 higher than usual! Upon examination I have found that ATT has added unlimited data plan to my zz37 line!!!

So I called and learned that ATT has policy to add data plan automatically when they sense that phone in use is a smart phone!!! Talk about big brother!

In other words they impose tax on type of hardware they do not own and did not subsidize in any way. They claim that smart phone uses data anyway, which is bogus - bill for the ‘service’ shows ZERO use of data - so they can meter usage, but claim that it is used anyway. Whatever - I signed contract for VOICE service, and they added data service and charge me it even I explicitly said I do not want it, and I do not use.

What is next? Cable company sensing that your TV has HD capabilities and automatically add charges for all the HD channels you did not subscribe to?
Police sends speeding tickets because your car is capable of driving faster than speed limit?

I seriously think about challenging AT&T in the court for breaking contract, charging me for something I do not use, and preventing me from using hardware I like.

August 10 2010 Update: I was traveling abroad and my iPhone was laying at home without SIM and without power, and still ATT automatically added that data plan. I stopped by Redmond retail store and one nice knowledgeable guy (thank you Peter) told me that actually it is possible to add exclusion on my line that I can use iPhone - grrr.

August 18 2010 update: bill still was not adjusted, so I called again... they made adjustments, but their payment systems do not see that yet.... even she told me that she pressed magic button 'apply immediately'.

September 20 2010 update: left AT&T - happy now! Stay away from that company if you want to save

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Russian kind of fun - DroWA

Last weekend approximately half of a thousand Russians got together for 3 days of sporting competitions, stage performances, and other fun things.

But this year all 3 days there was rain..... that has added certain flavor to the event.

That is how we looked after pushing cars from "parking lot" that became mad pool after 3 days of rain. More photos can be found here

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Little green thing

Last weekend there was big Russian community event near Eatonville, WA. That is fun (Russian kind of fun) event where we camp for 3 days and participate in various sporting competitions, stage performances, and do many silly things.

To reduce environmental impact me and my son made cup tree, he made poster depicting what nasty consequences has out... See More obsession with one time things, and we brought recycling bin to prevent recyclables from going to trash.

It was surprising to learn how many people did not even think about that, we got quite few bewildered looks, but also got a lot of praises for doing it.

I hope more people will reduce their use of disposables.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

So common that nobody notices that it is stupid....

Why so many sites require the precise formatting for phone numbers is beyond my understanding.

To make a call all one need is a sequence of 10 digits, nobody punches any separators and if back-end owners by whatever reasons want to store those digits with their favorite separators - please do, it takes one line of code to strip all but digits from the phone string, check that there are 10 digits present, and then format it to the (current) liking of back-end. I guess your developers and designers missed classes on usability of software.

Worst of all it is that 'internet' companies are doing that, and they are supposed to be technically savvy, right? I guess wrong, the snapshot above is taken on the site of one of biggest DNS service providers, grrrr.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Wet Olympic Peninsula ride

This memorial day weekend me and my wife went on ride around Olympic peninsula. It was supposed to be cloudy but no rain....

Well, that was the hope, Saturday started as planned - we boarded ferry early in the morning and it was light rain that subsided around noon when we have reached Port Angeles. From there we headed to Neah Bay ( Cape Flattery). Nice view, could of been much prettier if was not so cloudy. Then we rode to Forks. We never read that Twilight series our daughter is crazy about but heard of that craze, so decided to stop there for a night stay. There was no rooms available at all! By sheer luck we got last one available and went to the town for a dinner.

We were walking and checking out shops when we stumbled upon one where we were invited to listen to the Naive American women telling stories. After a moment of hesitation we said yes and entered back of the store where we found an elderly women from Quileute tribe and few folks around - the story time just began.

It turns out to be the best decision we made - it has started slowly with her introducing herself and what she is doing and then she told story of creation as it was told by her tribe. She explained that the she condensed the story that was told for 4 (FOUR) days in tribe's oral tradition to 4 pages. Then we realized that we are talking with one of the last people of rapidly vanishing culture. She can speak language of her tribe, but not fluently - they did not have writing and their language is too complex to be easily taught to kids, so it is gone. You could read that Quileute language is quite unique because of lack of nasal sounds (m, n), but that is not all. The lady told us that linguist who studied their language got it very incomplete because he was talking to men, but Quileute-s use different dialects: one for men talking to men ( that one was captured), another for men talking to women, and another for talking to kids, and another for men talking to young girls. Wow!

Quileute's "Creation" story is quite interesting - sort of 'string' theory for kids that explains that all the living things are the same (or rather were before 'time changed') - quite fascinating beliefs system that has deep impact on the way they live. They create no waste because they were sustainable for many thousand years - excellent example to follow.

Then we started asked questions and she started to talk about things which make not-so-distant past come alive: she is the first generation of Natives which was not forced to go to boarding schools to unlearn their language and culture. Then she was talking about whaling society and training to be members had to went through: swimming 10 miles in the ocean is just a beginning, then it need to be done with constraints.... Then she mentioned that Quileute are matriarchal society, and were thousands of years before whites at least recognized women as equal. By the time we fully recognized that we have rare opportunity to meet and interact with one of last representatives of ancient culture and nation that will likely to disappear during our lifetime.... She was talking about it too with attitude of acceptance that seemed to come from Quileute belief that everything changes. Central figure in their belief system is 'Changer' - the one who comes and changes things, although 'it' sometimes just seem to announce coming change, not necessarily causing it....

And she told about special relationships her nation has with cedar, how she would use even smallest pieces of cedar bark. Recalling all the clear cuts we were passing by I could not even imagine how sad she and her nation might think about it. I myself feel pain in my chest when I see those ugly scars on the face of mountains - next day on the way to Long Beach we passed A LOT of current and former clear-cuts - I think I will avoid that road in the future because I could not bear those sights and think that all those beautiful trees used to make throw-away staff or used to make paper for junk mail or single use cups...

The there was question about her and her tribe take on the issue of Makah tribe and whaling - her answer was 'no opinion' - they simply do not judge things which are not local to them. Interesting position.

She could of talk for hours but store owner who provided the spot came to remind that it is time to go - still we talked for a good deal more.

The next day we riding in the rain and when we passing all those cleat-cuts I was thinking about Natives, how they could feel about it....