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Friday, May 22, 2020

The Best Dog in the World





Sophie was an amazing dog. I have had all good dogs in my life but Sophie was different. From the minute she picked me as her future dad she was a devoted best friend. I never had to "train" her, she just figured it all out by herself. A simple glance or hand signal and she knew what was wanted. Sophie didn't necessarily agree with what I wanted her to do but if it was important, she knew. Occasionally we had to discuss things a little.  Sophie got along with almost everyone but had a good sense for people to be avoided. She didn't need to be leashed very often. At about 6 months we had the opportunity to add Sophie's sister Lily to our family. Sophie and Lily were the best of friends. When we rescued Elliot (a problem child but sweet) the family dynamics changed a lot but Sophie took it in stride and did not get jealous. She knew she was my special soul mate and that no one could take her place. I am not exaggerating this. Everyone who knew Sophie knew how smart and perspicacious she was and what a special relationship we had. She was an amazing cuddler and got me through many scary nights alone with just the dogs. Lily and Elliot are good dogs (Lily is one of the sweetest and most sociable dogs I have ever known) but Sophie was something else. She was incredibly smart but not obsessed or neurotic as smart dogs often are. It was amazing to watch her analyze a situation and make a decision. She always knew where to position herself so she could keep track of dad. She knew the consequences of running through a field of sticker burrs and chose alternate paths unless there was an irresistible temptation. Sophie was always thinking, always loving and always caring.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sweet Lillums

Sweet Lillums has joined her beloved sister Sophie. I'm sure they are tearing up the turf in doggie heaven. Lily never met a dog or human she didn't like. She was just 100% sweet by nature. She is immortalized as the Poodle silhouette adorning our gate in Mendocino and  the Poodle Christmas lights I made with her image.




Monday, December 2, 2013

STL files for 3D printing from image files

I finally figured out how to make STL files for 3D printing using a variety of sources for drawings. I am not good at freehand drawing, especially on the computer with a mouse or a crappy digitizer which I have. So I am stuck with tracing art from other sources. I have screwed around with 123D design and it is so terrible in windows 8.1 that I finally gave up and swore to never open that program again until i hear that the many many bugs have been fixed.

So I have been looking for a way to make an occasional 3D print without paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to buy software that I might use a few times a year. Here is what I want to do and what I finally succeeded at doing:

Create a 2D drawing using ordinary image files as the source and to extrude these into 3D models and edit then in the normal ways. 123D documentation says it will do this but the PC version does not allow import and if you have win 8.1, it will not connect to the cloud based program. It works with my win 7 computer but I hate that computer for other reasons and 123D has such crappy documentation that I am probably best avoiding it for a while anyway. OReilly is supposed to publish a book in February 2014 or so which might change the documentation aspect of things but I am afraid that the reason the book's release date has been pushed forward a few times is that 123D is still in development and is sort of a mess of features that don't really work. O'Reilly published really good books and probably does not want to be associated with a product that doesn't work.

Here is the procedure that actually works. I have tried several others that don't work for a variety of reasons:

Google Sketchup is now a for sale program sold by Trimble but they have a trial version that seems to work. I forget what the limits are or how much a full version costs. Hopefully I can use the trial version indefinitely. It may be possible to use an old Google free version of Sketchup but I don't know where to find one or if it does export .dae files which is necessary for this method. Sketchup allows the import of a variety of standard image files, jpg, png, gif, etc etc and allows the export of COLLADA (.dae) files. You can import almost any image file, trace it with the freehand draw tool (not available from the toolbar icons, you open it from the draw dropdown and selecting freehand) and then export as .dae which can them be converted with another program, MeshLab http://meshlab.sourceforge.net/  This is a great program that allows the import and export a a variety of file formats and will produce STL files that can then be used in your 3D printing program such as Repetier Host.

If you have a recent 64 bit version of windows, don't bother with the 64 bit version of MeshLab. It requires an old version of the Microsoft Visual C++ whatever they call it. MeshLab will not install if you have a newer version of the C++ plus on your computer. Fortunately you can just install the 32 bit version.

I tested this method and it does actually work and produces an STL file that is correctly opened in Repetier Host. Will make a real test file soon and print it to make sure there are no errors in the file that I don't yet see.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A great sound card

I am posting this mainly for my own reference but also for others who want a good sound card to use with a media server running Media Monkey. I have heard the results and will be getting one of my own as soon as I can afford it. Here is the link at NewEgg for the Asus card that I like:

ASUS Xonar D2X 7.1 Channels 24-bit 192KHz PCI Express x1 Interface Sound Card


It uses a PCI express X1 slot so make sure you have one.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Olive Opus Goodbye for good !!!

The next two paragraphs of this entry are background. If you just want to learn how to get audio files off the Olive Opus version 4, you can skip to paragraph four.

A few years ago, a good friend bought an Olive Opus version 4 with a 1 TB hard drive. His intention was to rip his entire CD collection. This seemed good until he realized how tedious the process would be with the Opus and once accomplished, how terrible the user interface would be. After investing a lot of time he finally gave up and gave me the unit. We put together a system based on Media Monkey and a high quality sound card that works flawlessly. Other entries on this blog cover some of this but I do need to cover this some more.

I also wasted a bunch of time ripping CDs to the Opus assuming that I could deal with the interface and other issues as I do not listen to CDs as much as Richard. Once I was done, I soon realized that the interface options are so horrible that I would never use the system. I tried to find a way to get all of my files off the Opus and contacted support for their help. They had no solutions other than one suggestion that was a total waste of time for reasons I won't bother with here. Typical well meaning but useless support. So, the rest of this entry covers how to get your audio files off the Opus when you decide to give it the hefty heave.

The Olive Opus version 4 (and probably other versions, so please let me know if you have a newer or older version and if these methods work for you ) runs under Linux and uses Linux partitions on the internal hard drive. If you are a Linux person, you will have an easier time getting your files from the drive but for Windows people, it is also possible.

The Opus is a UPnP compliant device and can be accessed through a network for access to the files but as far as I can tell, there is not utility for accessing folders of files in a way that will allow you to download thousands of files all with names such as track 1 track 2 etc, while keeping them from overwriting each other. I could write such a utility but have other things to do. Therefore, it is necessary to temporarily disconnect the internal hard drive and connect it to another computer in order to copy the files. This is also much much faster than UPnP access.

The Opus hard drive is SATA (serial ATA) so you will need a computer that has a SATA drive interface. You can physically remove the drive and temporarily install it as an additional drive in a desktop computer that has a SATA controller. You can also connect it via USB with a suitable adapter or you can use an E-SATA connector. If you use E-SATA you will also need to provide power to the drive so it is best to buy an adapter that does this. Another option is to use an external hard drive that you probably already own and have outgrown to provide the interface. This is what I did because I could not find my other adapters. I had an old 250 gig external drive with USB 2 which I now use as an interface. Before you hack apart an old external drive, check to be sure it uses SATA internally. The universal USB, E-SATA,firewire interfaces that come with power supplies are pretty cheap and useful so it probably makes sense to just buy one of these and try to not loose it. I have two of them somewhere.

If you have a Linux computer, all you have to do is connect the drive and access the relevant partitions. The Opus drive has 7 partitions with the OS and other stuff you will not need on the first 6 of them. It is the 7th partition (may be called partition 6 if a utility is calling the first partition number 0) contains your ripped files. These will be in a folder called "Library" if I remember correctly. I have the Opus back together so I can not verify this but it is the largest folder in partition 7 if you have more than a few CDs ripped. Within this folder are individual folders for each ripped CD. These are named as CD_ and a unique number that was generated by the Opus. Look in any or these folders and you will see a file for each track in the format you ripped to such as MP3 or Flac. These are the files you need to copy. I have not been able to find where the Opus stores its database because of silly computer problems. Since I had all Flac files with metadata within I did not bother to look further and try to find the database. There was one large file named blahblah.dat that looked like a candidate but I could not copy it (silly reasons for this so go ahead and try it if you have WAV files and need to get the metadata some other way) that is probably an Sqlite database or some other accessible format.

If you do not have a Linux computer, fear not. There is a wonderful utility that allows you to "mount" Linux partitions on a Windows computer and copy the files within them. This is "Extsfsd" and is available at http://www.ext2frsd.com There are other utilities also available but this is the first one that I got to work so I know it is a good choice. Unfortunately it did not work on my Win 7 64 bit computer so I had to use an old XP machine. I have Win7 pro and have virtual XP but I have never been able to get USB support for hard drives to work so I did not even try the program in virtual XP. Others may have better luck. Some of the other Linux to Windows PC tools might work under Win 7. If anyone finds one that does, please let me know.

So now, you have an XP machine with either a SATA drive controller and the Opus hard drive connected to it or an external adapter such as a USB to SATA adapter. All you have to do is install Ext2Fsd and give a few waves of your magic wand and you can copy your files to the Windows hard drive. There is a help file that explains all you need to do to access Linux partitions and also a web site with faqs in case the following is not clear enough.

After installing Ext2Fsd and running it you wil be presented with a screen that shows all the attached volumes. Hopefully your Opus hard drive will be shown with all the volumes it contains. Select the largest of the Linux partitions (number 6 or 7 depending on how you like to count) and select "mountpoint management" from the "tools" menu. An "add a drive letter" box will appear. Choose an appropriate drive letter and other options if you wish but in general, the default choices will work fine. If you now check your windows explorer you will fine a newly listed drive letter. Be sure to refresh the "my computer" window if it was already opened. If you double click this letter, Windows will probably tell you that it is not formatted. If this is the case, it is because the "management service" is not running. If you see your folders under the drive letter, all is well, if not, you need to start the "management service". Choose "service management" from the "tools" menu and click the "start" button. If you do not fiddle with default settings, the service will be started each time you run Ext2Fsd. If at any time Windows does not recognize the partition, check to make sure it has an unambiguous drive letter assigned and that the "management service" is running.

Once you have access to the files from the windows browser, you can copy them anywhere you want. For some unknown reason I had copy errors when copying my 6500 tracks. The windows copy system is unforgiving and stops at the first error leaving you to figure out what was and what wasn't copied on your own. I therefore use "Beyond Compare" to do all but the most trivial copying. This is probably the best Windows program ever written. If you don't have it, get it and thank me for recommending it. Get it at http://www.scootersoftware.com/

Be sure to read my blog entries on using Media Monkey and Team Viewer for remote audio file serving. I really should add some more on this and will in time.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Insurance Claim Hints

I recently had a fire in my workshop caused by a powerline surge. My AAA homeowners insurance paid for some of the loss and a lot of cleanup. In the process I learned a lot about what to tell the insurance company when submitting a claim and how they determine payment. I am sharing this information so that others might have a chance to be less screwed.

First I need to mention that it is my impression that insurance companies will do or say anything to delay and minimize payment. Do not trust anything said to you by an agent. Anything you do not have in writing (e-mail does seem to have the power of paper today) is essentially worthless. Agents will intentionally mislead you and or make promises they have no intention of keeping. You may make decisions based on this information and find later that you made a bad choice but that it is too late to change. So get everything in writing and write down the name of every person you speak to.

Property loss compensation is subject to some very confusing rules intended to minimize payment, however (with AAA at least) the need for documentation is minimal affording an opportunity to influence the eventual payment. I was unaware of these rules and lost quite a lot of money.

The two most important considerations are "replacement cost vs. actual value" and depreciation. If you have a replacement cost policy you may be paid the cost to replace your lost property with equivalent items but you will need to replace the items within a fairly short period of time. If you can not replace an item or have no place to house it because your house is gone or uninhabitable or if you would rather have cash and not a replacement item, you should consider taking "actual value" instead.

Actual value has little to do with the actual value of an item. Actual value is based on purchase price minus depreciation. There are some exceptions for things like art and possibly some collectibles or antiques so ask your insurer in advance as to how they treat these items and be prepared for a a bunch of double talk and confusion. Get everything in writing or fight your way through your policy declarations with the help of a lawyer or two to make sense out of it.

Depreciation can be considerable. For tools (including ones that suffer no wear in time and actually increase in value) the depreciation may be 5% per year with a maximum of 80%. That wonderful Starrett tool you bought 20 years ago for $400 will be compensated at $80 even though it costs $1500 to replace today.

Now for the most helpful hints:

The insurance company is not likely to require proof of purchase price especially for an item purchased 20 years ago. They took my word on everything I claimed. I made the mistake of being honest. If you got a great deal, do not tell the insurance company, it will only reduce your payment. Present the highest reasonable purchase price for every item and set the purchase date as close to the present as is believable.

Take pictures of everything you own and keep copies where they will not be destroyed in a fire or other disaster. This may be your only proof that you actually owned the items.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Rural Cell Phone Fix? change home SID

I live in a remote rural location where cell phone coverage is marginal at best. The mountains make it especially difficult to receive a signal in some places. My house is the worst cell reception location on my property. I have a signal booster, sold by Wilson Electronics that makes it possible to use the phone at the house. Previously I used a "yagi" antenna pointed at the closest tower but this required an external antenna connection on the phone and these are very rare on new phones today. The Wilson U-Booster "Sleek" is only about $100 and works with all phones.

The remaining problem is that I have Verizon as a carrier and all of their phones are programmed to switch to Verizon equipment whenever it is available, instead of roaming on another carrier's system. This would be fine if the connection worked. The phones only seem to check the receive signal strength and don't bother to test the connection before switching. I have used various techniques such as trying to shield the antenna from the Verizon signal but this has pretty much stopped working especially with my new phone.

It seems that one key to choosing a connection is the use of preferred SID. Every carrier has a SID number for each area they operate in. Boundaries are often county lines but not always. When a phone checks for available services, it compares the SID of the available signals to the preferred roaming list in the phone. I am not sure how to change this list if it is in fact a list. This is what "updating roaming" seems to do.

For me, changing the "home SID" seems to help the phone stay on the carrier of my choice. You can get lists of nationwide SIDs from the following three pages.



If you know the carrier that provides better service to your area, you can change your home SID to this number if you can access your phones settings. For my phone, this requires "manual programming" mode. I have listed the procedure below but it probably works only for some LG phones. I got the secret procedure from Verizon. They will not tell you anything other than their own local SID but you can probably get them to talk you through the procedure for manual programming on you phone. Pretend that you can not update roaming because there is no Verizon equipment in your area. They will be glad to help you change the SID to one that will not work. I changed my SID from 1076 (Verizon Mendocino) to 1075 (US Cellular Mendocino) To accomplish the same, you will need to find the SID of the best facility in your remote area.

HOW TO CHANGE THE HOME SID NUMBER:
This works on an LG Accolade. Other phones will probably require different manual programming access codes. If anyone knows the codes for other Verizon phones, I will make a list and publish them all.

Key the following as if you were keying a number. ##77647265600 and then press "send" Enter 000000 as the "service code" From the menu that displays, choose the first option "service pro" Click OK until you get to the "Home sid" display. Record the number shown in case you need to restore it. After editing the number, click "OK" until the phone re-boots.

I will maintain a list of manual programming access codes if I am able to get them for other phones. Please contact me if you have any codes to add to the list.

Monday, August 2, 2010

My Web Site Editor

A few months ago, I wrote a program to simplify the editing of basic HTML web sites. A couple of artist friends were having problems maintaining their sites due to the complexity of available programs or the cost of hiring "experts". I put a lot of effort into making the program as simple and automatic as possible. After configuring the program for a specific site, there is virtually no thinking to be done. All the complex stuff is handled by the program. I wrote both a PC and Mac version and learned a lot in the process.

The most difficult part has been getting anyone to try it. I set up a test site that anyone can try. Just download the program and it runs in test mode accessing the test site. The Mac version virtually installs itself. The program was designed for people who have existing HTML (CSSS is fine but flash content and other complexities can not be edited)sites and want to substitute pictures and text easily. Clink on the "check it out here" link below to give it a try and please let me know what you think. Be sure to view the "video demonstration" that shows the program in action.

check it out here

Comparing E-Mail Clients

Now that I have switched, I realize that I have been suffering with garbage for many years. I was an early adopter of "The Bat" for an E-mail client. I was attracted by the many advanced features such as the ability to use "regular expressions" in searches and the availability of a portable version that I could run from any computer using a thumb drive.

"The Bat" started out as a pretty good program with a few annoying bugs such as the world's worst text editor and the inability to properly display HTML in received e-mail.

The editor was the worst problem. Inserting copied text was nearly impossible without destroying formatting. Jumping all over the document was common and I thought it was my doing, hitting hot keys or something. I spent more time correcting an e-mail than writing it. Now that I have a better program I realize that the problem was with "The Bat"s editor, not me. It interprets certain key combinations or sequences as commands to do things like jump to the end of the document or some other place that I can not even describe.

No matter what configuration choices I made, I could never properly display HTML in received e-mail. The rest of the world seemed to have no problem but I had to deal with garbled text in an HTML world.

Rit Labs never answered my support questions. I figured they would eventually sort out the bugs. They had no problem adding useless features and charging for upgrades but they never fixed the basics.

I had heard that Mozilla "Thunderbird" was pretty decent so I gave it a try. There is a little to get used to and a few features that could be better but I am generally impressed. I can't believe the time I wasted with "The Bat".

I have made a new rule and hope to remember and stick with it. If something looks like it has problems, don't give it too much time. I suffered with "The Bat" for over 7 years. It was the advanced features that kept me hooked but I never used them enough to justify the daily suffering.

Of course, "The Bat" uses its own format for e-mail and a address book entries and their feature for exporting to standard formats does not work so saving my 100,000 email was a bit of a challenge. Together with "Thunderbird"s transition tools and an inexpensive (for one user personal use) program called Aid4Mail, I was able to get all my mail into "Thunderbird". I can not get the folders arranged exactly the way I want but that is a minor issue. For some reason, copying or moving between folders takes foreeeeeeeeeeeeever. Various solutions found on the internet for creating folders and moving messages just do not work. I might let the computer take the four days that it will take to copy the messages or I might just learn to live with things the way they are.

GOODBY BAT, I WILL NOT MISS YOU.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Interfacing to the LX Reproducing Piano

I have been promising to write an article on a digital audio file serving system that can be built for very little money and that produces excellent quality audio. I have gotten sidetracked because a simplified version of the same system makes an excellent interface for the LX piano. It can also work for the Yamaha Disklavier, Pianodisc and Pianomation systems.

All of these pianos can be operated with specially coded audio files by connecting an audio source to their appropriate inputs. Each system has its own requirements, some accept audio from an MP3 file while others use decoding systems that do not work well with MP3.

Fortunately, the LX piano works perfectly with MP3 files. Although the system to be described here works with WAV and FLAC, MP3 is the most convenient for those who like to perfect the metadata displayed in libraries and playlists.

Previously I used Itunes and an Airport Express to send data to the LX piano. This worked fairly well but there were problems. My intermediate method switched to WinAmp and finally to Media Monkey still using the Airport but the new method does not require an Airport and its associated problems.

The new system allows the piano to be controlled from any computer in the house (or on the internet for that matter) as well as from an Ipod, Iphone, or I pad. The key to the system is a small dedicated computer connected to the piano with an audio cable and a few very reasonably priced and free programs.

The computer can be almost anything. It can be a notebook, a small form factor computer or just about any old piece of junk that you can hide somewhere. It is even possible to set it up without a monitor or mouse. The computer can even be configured to boot to the necessary programs without having to see anything on a monitor. It is necessary to have a small keyboard hidden somewhere as the computer will not boot without one. Some computer bios will allow you to boot in spite of a keyboard error so it may be possible to eliminate even the keyboard. If you have room for them you might as well have a small monitor and keyboard for maximum flexibility. Just want to cover the various options.

The key to the system is a media playing program called "Media Monkey". It costs less than $50 and is by far the best program of its kind. There are many plugins and extensions that allow you to do amazing things with it. One of them is an Iphone/Ipod application that lets you control the program remotely. I do not have an Ipod but borrowed one and tested the app. It works!!! IN the future, I will blog about some of my favorites plugins for "Media Monkey". Some day, I might even keep my promise to explain how to use MM as the basis for an excellent digital audio file server.

"Media Monkey" can be used to rip original LX cds to MP3 files which are added to the library. MM can also play files from shared network locations including a shared network drive. When ripping files from LX, and other piano CDs,no metadata is imported as it would be with audio CDs. This is because the data is not available on the internet sources such as FreeDBD. You have to add the data to the MP3 files yourself. I have written a utility that makes this easy to do from a tab delimited text file. It is available from the LX tools page of my web site. I have a ready made listings for all of the CDs available from "Live Performance" which are also available from the LX tools page of my web site.

In order to lay the piano from any other computer in the house or the world, you can set up a remote desktop connection between the dedicated computer and any other one. This is why you do not even need a monitor on the piano's computer. The computer can set up to boot to the remote desktop application with "Media Monkey" also running. Then you view it from any remotely connected computer.

A remote desktop configuration would be very complicated and unreliable using Microsoft's "remote desktop". In addition, you need to buy a professional version of Windows just to use remote desktop. "Remote Assistance" can be used but it is a royal pain to set up and use. Fortunately, there is a program that is free for personal use. "Team Viewer" is very easy to set up, is well documented and works flawlessly. No need to worry about firewalls, proxies, encryption, security etc., "Team Viewer" handles it all. It does depend on an internet connection for each computer in the shared configuration so you may want to set up the dedicated computer to run on its own if you have frequent internet outages.

"Team Viewer" is also available as an Iphone/Ipod app in case you prefer this to the "Media Monkey" Iphone/Ipod app. It is also available for the Mac so you can "run" "Media Monkey" on the Mac but you do need a PC connected to the piano to actually run the program. Many people are hoping for a Mac version of "Media Monkey" but it might not happen since most Mac users "like" Itunes for some reason.

Please contact me via blog comments or through the e-mail link on my web site if you think I should write a complete document on how to set up this system. My web site is linked on this blog but here it is link for the LX tools page. http://www.spencerserolls.com/LX_tools_information.html and the LX Music page http://www.spencerserolls.com/Live_Performance_LX.html