Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Homebrew Network Controllable PT Webcam

I received my USB Missile Launchers from Woot the other day. I ziptied a webcam to the top of the launcher and then started looking at how to control it. Fortunately, I found some open source software called SharpLauncher. It's coded in C# using #SharpDevelop and opened without a problem in Visual Studio 2005. It didn't take long for me to hack the code to add xPL support to support panning, tilting and firing the missiles. It works great, but since I used the developmental version of code, there's lots of crashes using the GUI - but I don't need it using xPL.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Taking the Plunge on Magic Jack

I saw Radio Shack was having a one day sale yesterday and they had the Magic Jack for $29.99 instead of the regular $39.99. Having recently cut the landline, I decided to give it a try (in spite of the horror stories). $29.99 covers the device and the first year of service, with each additional year costing $20 ($60 for 5 years in advance). For $29.99, I could pay for only 2 months of my AT&T landline service - and that was the bare minimum plan. (Half of the $15 monthly bill was the service and the other half was taxes!)

Installation was a breeze. I installed it on the Sage server, which runs Server 2003. It seems to work OK for the most part. However, I've run into a problem a couple times where I call someone and they pick up, but I never heard the phone ring nor them talking. I hang up and call back and it gets connected OK. Sound quality seems fine on both ends.

One annoyance is the MJ software is always foregrounding itself when you make a call or you get a call. I set up an EventGhost macro to automatically minimize the MJ window whenever it's activated:

Since it now comes with caller ID, I decided to turn HAL back on. I had to do this fix to get the caller ID working consistently. HAL's telephone VR works with MJ the same as with a landline.

I've got a little more playing around to do with MJ, but it's usable. It's definitely going to get used more than the landline did since long distance is free.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Not Much To Update

I spent Saturday morning fishing some wire between to adjacent rooms while my 6 year old daughter was running around with a Clone Trooper helmet shooting me with a dartgun. I pulled 3 runs of Cat-5e and now wonder if I should have pulled some RG-6 while I was at it. I also spent some time thinking about how to implement deadbolt sensors as the kids never lock the doors when they come in the house.

Since we just cut the cord to our landline, this article caught my eye. Having watched the financial meltdown before the cracks really appeared (thanks to the early heads up by Minyanville), I can see a telco bailout coming.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ubuntu or Windows 2000?

This weekend, I was re-purposing an old PC (a Celeron 2600, a former automation server) as a PC for the kids. It has a gig of RAM, 160 GB hard drive and an ancient GeForce2 GTS based video card. I had a few choices of OS - Vista, some flavor of Linux or Windows 2000. Vista would be too much for this hardware, but Linux should be good, right? Wrong. I tried the latest Ubuntu, but it felt like I installed Vista on it. The machine was so bogged down. Even browsing was slow. The graphics were laggy and xorg used a lot of CPU. I downloaded and installed the latest Nvidia drivers (at least I think I installed them correctly), but everything felt slow-mo. I tried Xubuntu since it has a lighter window manager, but not much better. Puppy Linux was peppier but I really needed Shockwave for the kids. I took out the trusty Win2k disk, loaded it up and scrounged up all the drivers off the net. I disabled a bunch of extra services. Very snappy. Even the graphics were smooth. I forgot how light Win2k is. I think this will do just fine for the kids.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Canceled Landline

I canceled our landline today. I should have done it a while ago, but was lazy. Ever since we got the Sprint AirRave, our cell coverage is perfect so we've used the landline even less. It's ridiculous that the lowest priced service is almost $8 and the taxes and fees nearly doubles the bill! I don't think I'll miss it much. I got tired of the dumba** carpet cleaning morons violating the do not call list with the automated dialers and recorded messages. I have been contemplating Ooma, but I'm just going to wait a bit.

Monday, May 4, 2009

XP SP3 RDP Crashes

Finally got around to installing SP3 on my automation server and was rudely greeted by a crash and reboot when I tried to RDP onto the machine. Reading the minidump confirmed RDP was somehow to blame. A quick Google revealed there's some incompatibility with some ATI (and Nvidia) graphics drivers and SP3's remote desktop. I installed the latest ATI drivers from AMD's site. We'll see what happens.

Update 5/5/09: Nope that didn't fix it. It still crashes when I RDP to it.
Update 6/9/09: It appears to have something to do with RDP color depth. 15 bits will cause a fatal, but keeping it 16 bits or higher doesn't.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Thin Client Deployed

After many trials and failures, I've got the T5700 running the way I want. The hardest part is installing what I wanted with only 256MB of flash disk while running 256MB RAM.

The first thing I needed to do was wipe the flash disk and reinstall XPe. I followed this guide here to do that, remove unneeded apps and get admin access.

Installing Perl was an adventure. I used the zip version (not MSI) of ActivePerl to install it. That way I could go step by step through the installer.bat file and figure out what broke. One problem I kept having was running out of RAM while the installer ran. I killed pretty much every unnecessary process I could even explorer.exe until I ran into an error that said "Can't open nul: No such file or directory." After some Googling, I found out the XPe install doesn't have a NULL driver. I stumbled onto this old post that seemed to address my issue, but like the poster, I couldn't get the registry script to run. Eventually, I figured out it was a permission problem. Once I got that squared away, I was able to get ActivePerl installed. I ran PPM to install the Win32::MultiMedia package, copied my gameport script over, ran it but it didn't work. It still couldn't see the gameport.

After trying a number of different things, including accessing winmm.dll from Perl, I was about to give up. Then I read this post that mentioned installing DirectX on the T5700. Turns out there was compact DirectX 9.0C install for the T5700. Read the install instructions, changed the TMP and TEMP environment variables and it installed perfectly. Fired up the script and it worked!

However, it didn't appear that the XPe supports DCOM, so I had to come up with a different way of getting the data back to the server. I went back to xPL, using the command line xPL sender and calling that from my Perl script whenever an input changed. Good enough.

Next I tried to install a webcam on it, but the Logitech drivers just didn't seem to work right. I have a QuickCam Express and a QuickCam Messenger and neither would come up. So I scrapped that until I can try some different cameras.

So finally it's deployed - my little digital input over IP project. It only has 3 contact closure inputs connected to the Super JoyBox 8 (which can have up to 16). Now, I can relax and figure out what other things I can monitor with it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Waiting for Thin Client

My thin client is sitting on a FedEx truck somewhere out for delivery. As I spent more time looking into it, it appears that .NET will not fit onto the thin client. That scratches my new gameport app as it was built with .NET and the xPL library is also .NET. I started looking at Perl and the Win32::MultiMedia::Joystick package. I wrote some code last night to test it out and it can do what I want. The only problem will be Perl fitting on the internal flash disk. Hopefully, I'll be able to install it and other apps on a USB flash disk.

The next part will be making the Perl script connect to the network. Rather than use xPL, I'm going to try to use DCOM to connect directly to starCOMUltra. I've got the Perl side figured out. I just need to get the thin client and see if DCOM will work on it.

I should add that there's always the possibility of getting a bigger internal flash drive, but I want to make do with what I have lying around.