Older blog entries for cdlu (starting at number 4)

23 Feb 2003 (updated 23 Feb 2003 at 01:03 UTC) »

Mmmm... nice new monitor.

I've taken up the hobby of railfanning, or if you prefer the British terminology, trainspotting, and my first 3 weeks of this activity have yielded over four hundred pictures and nearly 30 short video clips the camera I am borrowing takes.

But I kept missing something out there, on the tracks, often in good Canadian weather of 50 km/h winds and blowing snow.

What I kept missing was the trains.

So yesterday, I went to downtown Guelph to find a scanner. Freight trains emit a signal every 30 seconds from what's called an "end of train device". They also make extensive use of clear radio signals to communicate, relaying their positions to the trains in front and behind them and to dispatchers. Every so far along the tracks are detectors, devices that look for dragging equipment, overheated wheels, and even derailments. All of these broadcast in the clear, and I wanted a scanner.

After searching two pawn shops in town, not wanting to pay full fare for a brand new scanner, I stopped in at the sole remaining pawn shop and asked the employee (yes, there's only one - the employer and one employee run the store) if he had any radio scanners, not wanting a flatbed scanner which seems to be the first thing people think of.

He didn't but on the way over to check, I passed a couple of flat screen 21" monitors - Trinitron p1110 with Dell labels. After much ponderance, I bought them both - one for me and one for my roomate - at a combined total of some CAN$630 after taxes.

I never thought that I would find anything that would make my 17" monitors - or my television for that matter - look puny, but damn.

But I'm still without a scanner. I want to get a scanner and GPRS, plug the laptop into my inverter and camera into laptop and the gps on my dash to my laptop and scanner to line in and GPRS in... and then I can keep accurate audio-visual-scanner video and pictures with date/time/lattitude/longitude stamp and immediately upload them to my railfan web page. And I can work (telecommute) from the tracks at the same time.

Except that then I don't get to use my new monitor.

Them's the breaks.

An entirely uneventful month has gone by.

For the seven years I've had a webpage somewhere or other, I've never had any qualms about revealing personal information on the Internet. Why not learn who it is you're talking to or about? Why lie about who you are or where you stand? So what if someone knows where I live? Anyone with a registered domain is already susceptible to name/address/phone number searches and if anyone cares badly enough, they'll just stalk you and learn everything about you anyway in a far less pleasant way than by reading your web page.

So I've updated my web page to discuss who I am, where I stand, and what I've done, though I've left some of the lame humour that has been there for years for, er, historical purposes.

@echo off
mem/d|find/i "ANSI">nul
if errorlevel 1 goto :error
echo %0%1%2%3%4%5%6%7%8%9|find/i "/?">nul
if not errorlevel 1 goto :help

The opening lines to boggle, as I wrote it in DOS .batch in highschool.

Remember batch files?

They were the only redeeming feature of DOS. They allowed me to learn basic coding skills without getting any kind of compiler or trying to squeeze Linux onto my XT or my PS/2 (personal system, that is, not playstation).

There were only a couple of things you couldn't do without getting additional binaries not included in a basic DOS system.

Mainly, you couldn't sleep, and you couldn't read the keyboard once the "program" was already in progress. To solve these, I used a small file called "keytrap.exe" which was a whopping two or three lines long written for me by an acquaintance with a compiler named Chris Micali, and two small files called getkey.com and getscan.com which were 8 and 10 bytes respectively, and sleep.exe which I got off shareware.com eons ago, and have long since lost the associated license file.

With those tools I spent entirely too much time writing batch files throughout my years at NMH.

For the sake of sheer, morbid curiosity, I've posted a small selection of these batch files here. I strongly recommend NOT running any of them without backing up and quarantining your archaic little DOS box.

Note the existence of "random" number generation in some of those files, particularly the game of boggle.

alias.bat was my attempt to have something with similar functionality to alias in a variety of un*x shells. I had shell access from the computer labs and found this to be a useful little tool missing in DOS. Careful though, alias is a self-installer which makes sure ANSI.SYS is loaded and burrows itself in its own directory.

Once I finally bought a Linux-capable box, I was disappointed to learn that random numbers could be obtained across a large range using a single line in bash - rather than the 200 lines with a limited range of 1 to 100 found in batch - and that reading keyboard input and sleeping could be done without batting an eyelash.

It took all the fun out of scripting.

*sniff*

Democracy.

It is an interesting concept.

In two weeks time it will be put to the test one more time. This time it won't be a political jurisdiction up for grabs, a country choosing new leadership, or a province deciding its fate within a country.

Nope, this time it is a bunch of project members rating eachothers' performance and ability. Every member rates every other member between one and the total number of members of the project. Whoever has the lowest total number is the most trusted and seen as the most competent member, and becomes the project's leader. Whoever has the highest cumulative rating is assumed to be hampering the project based on his peers ratings of him and will be removed from the project.

There is no campaigning, there are no speeches, there is no publicity, it is simply a matter of the project members collectively deciding the future of the project.

When it is all over, the project's administration may look exactly the same as it does now, or the landscape of the project will look completely different and everyone will wake up scratching their heads.

Only time will tell.

43.50MHz.

2,400MHz.

They don't look very close to me.

Nevertheless I can listen to my 2.4GHz wireless telephone on my 43.50MHz walkie talkie. These items have nothing in common except that a) they use radio frequencies to communicate, and b) they both came from Radio Shack.

I'm still trying to determine which is worse...

At 43.50MHz anyone with a radio can listen to my conversation quite happily.

At 2.4GHz it risks interfering with the 802.11b network I am providing to my housemates.

Or perhaps 802.11b really runs at 43.50MHz too, and maybe I can listen to network traffic on my walkie talkie as well.

After all, I got my 802.11b nic at Radio Shack, too, and it does use radio frequency to communicate...

If that is the case, then perhaps I can learn to make ticking sounds into my walkie talkie and simulate network traffic.

It wouldn't be very fast though. I'd have to pretend I was at the outermost point of signal with my access point. I'd also have to learn the protocol...

Or maybe my walkie talkie really runs at 2.4GHz. But it says on it "43.30MHz-43.70MHz" and has five channels. My phone talks on channel C (well, sometimes. Once it showed up on channel B - 43.40MHz.)

Sometimes I can't hear my phone on the radio at all. I think that it spends that time interfering with my wireless network.

Incidentally my wireless network also seems to be interfered with by ... well ... me.

See, my access point is upstairs, and I have a nic plugged into an ancient ISA PCMCIA adapter sticking out of the drive bays in the front of the firewall - a full tower desktop box which really doesn't look like it should have PCMCIA cards in it. (This computer did not come from Radio Shack, however it does seem to broadcast on a very large number of frequencies, interfering with the walkie talkies, phone, shortwave radio, television, and just about anything else that dare attempt to use radio frequencies near it.)

That's fine and good and all, but if I stand up, I get between the nic and the access point, and that's just enough to block the signal and kill the connection.

Ah well. Some things just never seem to go the way you want them to.

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