Older blog entries for The Swirling Brain (starting at number 71)

14 Dec 2005 (updated 14 Dec 2005 at 05:53 UTC) »

I got my ROBOT magazine yesterday. While I was browsing, I came across this statement: "For ongoing robotics news updates, please visit robots.net. Selected news updates prepated by robots.net are excerpted in ROBOT with permission of robots.net." Woohoo, cool, way to go Steve!!! Robots.net is famous and in yet another publication!!! How many does that make now?

Recently, I got a call from an old work buddy. What was cool was he said that after I left the old company for more money that he's still been working there and what's more he'd gotten saved. I was so happy to hear that about him since I hadn't had contact with him in years. Well, anyway he said also that just recently he'd surrendered to the ministry too! That really made my day. So anyway, he said he was interested in my view of Escatology so he wanted to ask me a few questions. That's one of my favorite subjects so you can imagine the fun I was having on the phone with my old work buddy. So, anyway, we hung up and I sent him some emails that I promised. Next thing is he emails me asking if I'd be interested to work with them again. I've been without a job so long I almost had a heart attack! (not really) So I emailed back that I would be interested. Well, it's been several days now and I haven't heard back from him but I still have my hopes up. The company was Hematronix, but they got bought out by Biorad. What's cool is it looks like some of the cool code I wrote to do slick looking blood cell charting is still in use nearly 12 years later! I'd probably be going back and updating some of that same old code or doing something similar as before I'm guessing. The more days that go by the more I'm doubting they're wanting to re-hire me. I guess I'm losing faith, but it was good to hear from my old work buddy and what a blast from the past.

Well, last night I made a multitasking scheduler for a pic16f84 chip. It took about two hours. Why? I don't know, I guess I just wanted to. The problems I ran into were first of all I did a google search and didn't find any PIC multitasking kernel code or OS out there. Second, PICs can't push or pop to the stack. It has an inaccessible hardware stack for calls and interrupts only. That makes it aweful hard to have an interrupt switch processes since you can't play with the return stack. So, my solution was to make a scheduler instead. A scheduler is different than a real process switch because it's not seamless. A process has to "give up" control rather than let an interrupt "take" control to switch processes. But if you can tolerate that then it works ok I guess. An interrupt is running which ticks down sleep timers every ms, but that's about all the interrupt does right now. I have the following process functions: add_process, kill_process, & sleep. I wrote a quick program that starts a blinking LED process then kills itself leaving the LED blinking process to continue running. The kernel currently allows up to 5 processes to run, but I probably have data space to add a few more processes if need be. I compiled it and it's about 300 bytes but I could probably trim it some more if need be. That leaves plenty of room for some useful code. I hope to use the kernel for either some robot code or an RBS controller. I'm still trying to figure out how I can make the interrupt take control of a process, switch to another process and give back control later, but without PUSH and POP or stack access, I'm not sure it can be done other than to use a scheduler type scheme instead.

Well so far the part time job I previously spoke of is NOT a go. I went for my first day, and I did everything that the guy asked me to do, but the computer wasn't very forgiving. For example, he couldn't load some software so he asked me to do it. Well I couldn't load it either so that didn't look good on me. A few other things he couldn't do I couldn't either. He would give me a dead-pan look as if I was doing him wrong or talk condescendingly to me as if I was an idiot. Finally, I was ready to quit when I stood up and started with the, "I'm sorry it's not working out" thing. He interrupted me trying to save the situation with a to-do list of stuff he wanted, but I pretty much already had made up my mind. Anyway, I think that it was sort of mutual, he didn't really seem to like me and I didn't really like him much either. I'm sort of hoping he doesn't call me to come back again but that's still a possiblity. It doesn't look like he will since it's been a while. I'll probably tell him I'm not interested if he does call. Come to think of it, when I first talked to him, he told me about all of his previous computer guys that quit him for other jobs. I'm not thinking that wasn't a coincidence anymore. Not having a computer job for a couple of years now has sort of broken my confidence and that didn't help much. It probably IS me, I don't know. I just know I'm not interested in working with him anymore. In my heart of hearts, though, I know what I'm doing with computers so I don't really worry about it. Good luck to him and hopefully he won't call me back.

Well, at the RBS craft fair I only sold a few RBSs. Enough to make my money back and some, but not enough to justify all the work I had to put into it. I think I'll try one or two more craft fairs, but really ebay seems to be the only thing that works. I've sold a couple more RBSs on ebay, but nothing too exciting. I was hoping it would take off as it got closer to Christmas, but it hasn't really. Oh well.

On the food stamp deal, I found out that they put another $210 on the card. They said they would drop next month to $100 and then cancel it Jan or Feb because I wouldn't do the stupid 40 hours of community service a week * 4 weeks for $100 or 2 a month of food stamps. I'm still looking for a job and doing odd jobs around, but I'm basically ignoring TEC. They're help programs really aren't help, they're a hindrance and interrupted me or blocked me from actually doing the odd job I do have so I won't go to them anymore for their "help." They also told me go drive across city to some job fairs only to find out when I got their, they gave me bad info and the job fairs they recommended weren't there at all - a complete waste of time, energy, and gas money. A good portion of their info seems to nonsensical or outdated and useless. One of their grand suggestions for searching for a job was cold call through the yellow pages companies for an interview. Now I'm not an employment expert, but I would think it would have been better to promote services like head-hunters or job-websites than cold phone calling companies. I mean why waste your time with companies if you don't even have a clue that they may be hiring. I guess you could call thousands of companies before one may say yes we're hiring but nothing with your expertise. Seemed like very ignorant advice to me, but like I said I'm no employment expert.

Well, My dad and mom helped me film the wedding video. Now I just have to edit it and deliver it. Hope that goes well. I really need to get it done like a week before Christmas. I think I can.

I've been working on the Emergent Behavior comics. So far only a couple of comments from readers and all positive. I did also get a request to mention it in a magazine. That was very encouraging!

Somehow our finances have been holding out. I've been tracking it in MS Money and it consistently stays about two to three months out before tanking into the red. I have some theories: either God is graciously blessing me richly or torturing me slowly and terribly, or perhaps a little of both. :-) You decide. I shouldn't joke, but you know I can't explain it so it must be God helping me out somehow even through the trials! As streamlined as our finances are, I'm thinking whenever a good job does come back around our finances will be going through the roof!

Movies? Saw the corpse bride. I didn't care much for it, but Bethany like it. Madagascar. Can't say I finished watching it, but there again, the girls loved it. The Prophecy: Forsaken. It was a TV movie with some smut and weird religion thrown together. Garbage basically, but it did have a couple swirling brain moments what I could endure through.

Today, Steve posted the new Emergent Behavior comic strip! I'm very excited. I hope everyone likes it. I've made about 40 strips so far and they'll be posted about once every other day. I'm having fun with it! Sometimes I get a little silly with it but I do try to bring it back to the issues surrounding Robotics R&D now and then. Hopefully, robot builders can relate and get all my weird robotic humor!

I got a job today! Eric called me with a part time computer job that pays an OK amount an hour! I'm hyped! Perhaps with all my odd jobs: the rolling ball sculptures, robots.net, the webpages I update, and this part time job, I can make an adventurous, unusual and unique living! I'm encouraged. Thanks Eric and thanks to God!

Well the craft show was a bust. We made $75 of which the booth was $50 so we netted about $25! I was hoping for something like the $1000 range but I guess that was very wishful thinking. The GHS craft fair had construction going on and the signs were tiny so there just wasn't any foot traffic. All the vendors said that this was the worst show that they've ever seen. I'm guessing I just had a really bad first try at it. I'm going to try again this Saturday at the First United Methodist Church Bazaar. They said they advertised on a bunch of radio stations and a few newspapers. They estimated about 300 people. I thought that sounded a lot better! So hopefully, I'll have better news next time I post.

Here's some pics from the craft fair.

I sold a ball trail on ebay for $250! woo hoo. I figure if I can sell on ebay and also at some craft shows and perhaps one or two more venues, then this might actually turn into something that makes some money! Here's hoping!

I gave up on the foot stamp deal. They were making me sign contracts saying I would do community service and that I had to get in 40 hours a week of stuff, and lots of other hoops, etc. just for a measly $350 a month food stamps. I feel sorry for the people who only got $150 and still have to do all that. The class I was forced to go to had only 2 people from the previous week, the rest had already dropped out. Of our 20 or so people, the second day only 5 were left. The gov sure forces you off the program without any real help. Anyway, I'm really hoping the job market really is turning around.

We watched "Fiddler on the Roof". It wasn't at all like I remember it from my youth. Anyway, it was interesting to see it and the extra features all 70's-ish stuff.

Got a few garage door openers with the keypad code that you can install outside for walk up entrance. I got 5 for $25 off ebay, which one costs about $30 at home depot. I installed one on the wall outside the garage. One I put in Teresa's car and one in my dad's pickup. You still have to enter a code but at least it works for a cheap remote. The added bonus is that even if someone broke into my car they'd still have to know the code to get into my house. Anyway, never did I realize that these things would be such a hit. Both Natalie and Bethany leap from the car when it stops to punch in the code to open the garage door. They fight over who gets to enter the code. It's crazy what kids get excited about. My wife loves the thing too. Me, I'm just sort of glad I can open the garage door but that's about it, it doesn't do much for me other than being a kind of necessity thing. Like a scored a few points with the family over something so trival. I wish throughout my life that I had a book or a list that would tell me these cheap yet so wanted of things that would make the family so happy so I could do it more often. For me, I just stumble aimlessly upon them and smile when it works out.

We're sort of behing on remodeling the fellowship hall at my church. These next couple of weeks us guys have been asked to work as much as possible. It always happens that when I'm under the gun that other things such as the craft show and also a wedding video all hit at once.

Yep, I have a wedding video to do on Saturday. I had all but said I'd never do it again, but this lady is someone that Teresa works with and she agreed that I would do it without asking me. I would have said no, but since it's my wife and since she already got $100 out of it, there's not much I can do to get out of it. So I'll be doing the craft show in the morning until about 5pm then packing up as fast as I can so that we can get to the church by 7pm for the wedding video. ugg.

20 Oct 2005 (updated 20 Oct 2005 at 04:19 UTC) »

Well ball trail sales have picked up. I've sold two right back to back and another I have on ebay already has a bid on it! The problem is that all the ball trails I need for my craft show are dwindling because I'm selling them on ebay. That's a problem I don't mind. I need to really work hard this next week and a half to get a bunch made up so I'll have something to show. I figure as Christmas gets closer the demand for them will increase. I made one that is a christmas ornament that I'm rather pleased with, and another out of popsicle sticks that I'm also pleased with. Also, I made a sign for our booth that will hang from the tent. It's about 4 foot long by 6" high that says, "The Swirling Brain" with a brain in a circle that turns slowly by a gearhead motor and batteries. I'm pleased with that also! I'm hoping it will be a nice day.

We got our food stamps. We got about $350! Woo hoo! Maybe I'll sell enough ball trails that I can get off of it, or get a job. Anyway, we had a blast buying food on someone elses dollar. Is that evil to be happy about spending someone elses money when you really do need it? It's hard not to feel guilty or ashamed, but when you got the money, it sure is fun to spend!

We've been watching lots of movies by checking them out free at the library. We watched "Shaun of the Dead". Except for the language, it was very funny. I loved the ending. We also watched "Brother, Where Art Thou?" I thought it was hilarous and to me it redeemed George Clooney from his Solaris movie disaster. We watched "Fantastic Four" at the dollar theater in Mesquite. I actually liked it even though it got crummy reviews. We also watched Sharkboy and Lava Girl. Oh please, except for the 3d it wasn't worth watching, naw even for the 3d it wasn't worth watching. Natalie loved it, though, so that made it worth it! From blockbuster we watched a bunch of TV shows like Monk and Doogie Howser (wife wanted those) and a bunch of kid movies not worth mentioning. All in all, it's cheaper than cable, that's for sure!

Teresa seems to be doing better now since her father died. She doesn't cry anymore except once in a blue moon. Natalie brought home a fund raiser and I found Teresa crying. I gave her a big hug and asked her why and she said her dad had ordered one of the items. There's little things like that that will still trigger her to crying. I know when my brother died I went through the same thing for probably a year after. My wife seems to be recovering faster than I did, tho.

4 Oct 2005 (updated 4 Oct 2005 at 16:32 UTC) »

Teresa's father died Saturday. We've been dealing with that these past few days. She's been pretty broken up about it. I've been just trying to keep her talking and thinking foldly of her dad because when she stops she falls into deep depression and crying. Anyway, Teresa's mom said she may give us the old work pickup!

I still don't have a job yet. Although, several friends and relatives have tried their best to get me one (me included).

Sold a ball trail! Woo hoo! I'm looking forward to the craft fair at the end of the month where hopefully I'll sell a bunch more of my rolling ball sculptures.

I turned in my paperwork for food stamps. So far it has taken about a couple of months to get this help. I really exhaustingly long process. I'm convinced the whole process is designed to prevent people from getting any help when they need it. I'm sure terminating the help will go a lot quicker.

We got approved for CHIP insurance. However there again we have to fill out forms and turn them in and maybe we'll get coverage by Nov 1st. It has taken Months! unbelieveable. Again, I'm sure terminating the coverage will go a lot quicker. Good news is that name brand drugs will only cost us $5 on top of the $25 a month premium. For Bethany's Pulmozyme, which costs around $2000 we'll get for $5! For Tobi (aerosol tobramycin) which is around $2500 we'll get for $5! For the Creon which runs about $1 a pill which she takes 15 a day we'll get a 30 day supply (~$500) for like $5. woohoo!

Teldrug sent us Pulmozyme and Tobi when we weren't here. Teldrug is supposed to call first and notify us it's coming because it comes with cold packs to keep it from going bad. Well, they didn't call us and sent it on a Friday and when UPS redelivered on Monday the ice packs had already melted and ruined all of these 90 day supplies of medicine worth about $15,000! We called Teldrug and they were good enough to admit it was their fault and sent us another shipment! Wow! I wonder if someone lost their job over that one?

I've been watching rental DVDs of the Battlestar Galactica Season one. They're pretty good and I'm really enjoying it. Only I'm almost through and it'll be a while before I get to watch the next season.

19 Sep 2005 (updated 19 Sep 2005 at 05:14 UTC) »

Today I got another Stirling Engine working. So I was able to reproduce my procedure. My design is sort of a mish-mash of different designs that can be found on the web using aluminum cans. I sort of took what I liked from the various designs and made something I was happy with. Although the second doesn't appear to work as well as the first, it does at least work. It was kind of cool to see them both running at the same time. I've got three more in the works. I really don't know a good reason for making them other than I'm having fun doing it. I want to try to make a bigger one. Don't know when I'll get around to doing that, though.

So far, I'm not sure the small aluminum can stirling engine is powerful enough to run an elevator for a ball trail, but perhaps a few in series or a bigger one will be powerful enough. I think I'll try to design and build something that may work, now that I have a little experience with them.

I enjoyed the new comics page on the robots.net website.

We've started practicing our Christmas cantata at church. my choir is sort of small this year but I figure it will grow some as we get closer to Christmas. Everyone seems to like the cantata I've picked out.

Again, this year I may try to make some video for the cantata. If it works out it'll be the first time we've had actual video with the cantata even though we've planned it and planned it for years now. I give it about a 50% chance of me getting around to it.

Teresa and I went to a craft fair this weekend. We went more to check out how the booths were configured so we could figure out what configuration we may use when we sell ball trails at my first craft fair. Also, I need to build some sort of peg-board wall thing to hang my wall hanging ball trails on for display. I have a few metal shelves for the regular ball trails. I'll likely display a few stirling engines running and perhaps try to sell the plans in booklet or CD form (I don't know if I really will yet). My wife has started making some christmas tree ornaments that she wants to sell at the booth also. They sort of look like cloth pine cones. They're really a nice item. The craft fair is at the end of Oct so we still have about a month and a half to get ready. I need to make a bunch more ball trails if I'm going to make it worth while. I probably need to make like one every day or two. It's hard for me to stay with it because either I get distracted easy by other cool stuff I want to do or because I'm lazy (I'm not sure which I really am yet but I hope I'm the former).

Still no job. I've had several head hunter calls that either turn into nothing, they say I'm overqualified or they say they're looking for an SQL guy and when I say I know SQL then they say they don't want me because I don't have experience with their flavor of SQL or something. I mean give me a break - what's really the difference. SQL is pretty much SQL - you can learn the minor differences. Actually now I feel it's been a while and I've probably forgotten a lot. Programming is like riding a bike, though, you get a little rusty but you climb back on and get going in no time. I've had a few weird calls too. I had one the other day where a friend recommended me. I felt like the HR lady called me out of obligation but already had someone tagged for the job and was just calling me so she could tell my friend she called me but it didn't work out kinda thing. It was a weird call. Oh, and did I tell you about the call where this guy said, "My fellow HR guys say that you're not worth hiring but I want you to tell me why you are" I was polite to him but I wanted to tell him, "Well, I think you're an $#@$#@ but I want you to explain why you think you're not" is what I really wanted to say to him. It's amazing what dark weirdness really lurks in HR departments - I'm sure half of it I'll never know.

I got a reply back about the food stamps. They said call them on Sept 26th for a phone interview about it. I'm so amazed at what hoops you have to go thru to get some help. I'm wondering if taxes actually go for help or just go to pay people to deny help. Let's see, I can't get food stamps and I can't get unemployment benefits and so far I haven't been able to get CHIP insurance. Yet the gov throws around my tax money like there's plenty more where that came from.

Ok, yeah I guess lately I've been trying to fend off attitude and many other things. I'm really hoping I make some serious cash off this craft fair or I'm not sure what we're going to do. We'll probably have to sell the house if things don't turn around soon. I don't believe it will come to that, but I'm concerned that I'm starting to face that reality.

Some rental movies we've watched in the last couple of months?

  • The Sixth Sense 4.5 out of 5 swirling brains! I really enjoyed it. The kid can see dead people but it's not too gruesome and keeps you interested. It's more about how a Psychologist deals with the kid's reality. Pretty cool twist near the end. Leaves you with your brain swirling. Cool.
  • Saraha 2.5 out of 5 swirling brains. Mediocre at best but at least it was entertaining. Sort of a saturday afternoon matinee type movie.
  • Appleseed 4 out of 5 swirling brains. Great Japanese anime. A little violent but good. Runs long - could have been trimmed some but has great eye candy. Cool stuff about synthetic humans that protect mankind and how they deal with the two races humans and synth-humans. (forgot what they were called). This one has a few human brains in robot body stuff like Ghost in the Shell has.
  • Guess Who 4 out of 5 swirling brains. This one surprised me. For a race relations type movie I thought it was pretty fun and entertaining.
  • Steam Boy 4 out of 5 swirling brains. Great Japanese anime. Robotic steam stuff - you got to love it! Runs long - could have been trimmed some but has great eye candy.
  • Hitchhiker's Guide 1 out of 5 swirling brains. Don't bother. Rent the BBC video version it's tons better and that's not saying much.
  • XXX State of the Union. 3 out of 5 swirling brains. Another great entertaining movie for a boring saturday afternoon matinee. This is a sequal. It's missing vin disel. It was still ok and about as good as the first.
  • Epoch 2 out of 5 swirling brains. This is like a made for TV type movie sci-fi flick. It was ok for that type of stuff.
  • Ghost in the Shell. 3.5 out of 5 swirling brains. It has some great swirling brain moments. Great Japanese anime. The episode series is even more swirling brainish with human brains in robot body stuff taken to the extreme in every story. I think I like this series but like all japanese anime all the women are too racey. They could tone that done and it would make it better. No I'm not gay, it's just really out of place and makes it stupid.
  • Chronicles of Riddick. 4 out of 5 swirling brains. I really liked this but it ran too long and could have been trimmed quite a bit. You really need to watch Pitch Black first to understand some of the stuff about the cat girl but it was a pretty cool sci-fi flick. Vin Disel always acts overly macho overconfident bad guyish but it doesn't ruin the flick. I hope they have a third.
  • Chronicles of Riddick Dark Fury. 4 out of 5 swirling brains. This is an animated movie of riddick stuff. Has Vin Disel's voice. Great Japanese anime. It was a welcome next story for the Riddick stuff. Too dark and too violent but good. Still hope they have a sequel to Chron of Riddick.
  • Training Day 1 out of 5 swirling brains. Too dark too gritty and dirty. I wanted to wash it off me after watching it. Too much yucky to deal with for me. Don't bother unless you like bad street violence/drug stuff movies. I'd rather see something entertaining not a sick world.
  • Of course my wife rents chick flicks too but I'm usually on robots.net during those. :-)
8 Sep 2005 (updated 9 Sep 2005 at 03:40 UTC) »

I guess I should blog more often than once a month! Oh well.

Today I got a Stirling Engine working. I took a video of it with my cheezy digital camera that also does cheezy video. You can barely make it out, but if you squint you can see the Stirling Engine in operation (6.3mb mpg file). It took me several tries to get it going and I had just about given up but alas I put some ice in the top and it started turning all by itself! Wee! You can see a few pics on my web page. Update: I made some fixes, now it runs faster. (3.3mb mpg file).

I'm hoping I can make a Stirling Engine cheap enough, efficient enough, and powerful enough to run an elevator for a ball trail. I think it would be interesting. Maybe even strong enough to run a boat or a car or a tiny generator to run an LED?

I'm not sure why I'm so interested in Stirling Engines right now, but this is my current fad I guess. I'm having cheap fun and learing anyway so I guess that's all that matters for now.

Still don't have a job. I am still making ball trails (rolling ball sculptures) for the craft fair coming up at the end of Oct. I'm also listing the ball trails on ebay. Some sell on ebay and some don't but at least it's helping the finances a little.

I applied for food stamps. I guess that's an all time low for me, but I need to do something. :-(

I tried to make a stirling engine this weekend, but I never could get it to work, so I gave up. :-(

16 Aug 2005 (updated 16 Aug 2005 at 03:34 UTC) »

Well, I went and did it. I signed up for a booth at a local arts and crafts fair to sell rolling ball sculptures. The booth fee was $50 and I needed to have a Federal Tax ID. So, I went down to the state comptroller's office and got one. So now officially The Swirling Brain is my official company. So anyway I've been making a bunch of small ball trails and listed some on ebay. Two of the the three I've listed already have bids. I have a few others made up already. I'm hoping that within a couple of months I can have a gob of them made up to show at the booth.

At church I've been helping out with sheet rocking the fellowship hall. It's a big project. Since I've been out of a job I've been able to put time into it. The Youth Minister and myself have been a pretty good team. He holds the sheet rock in place and I screw it in, or vice versa. I've taught him all I know about sheet rocking and now he seems to have enough confidence to do it without me. Sometimes I'll arrive and he'll already have a sheet on the wall up and screwed! He's really gung ho about it and excited to have learned something new.

With my recent playing around with PIC chips again, my mind has been swirling on what all I can make with them. However, with all my current projects, it's sort of getting pushed to the back burner. :-(

My finances are really going downhill quick. Still no luck finding a decent job. I guess I'll have to learn how to say, "you want fries with that?" if something doesn't present itself soon. I'm really hoping my new metal sculpture business will help some.

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