finger painting on wall warts
Tuesday, December 9 2014
The weather was rainy but not too cold this morning. Still, word from Gretchen's employer at the literacy center was that it was too treacherous to drive and it would be closed today. We took advantage of Gretchen's unexpected day off by drinking decaf in front of the woodstove, just because that's a fun thing to do in midlife. Gretchen was worried the weather would prevent her from going down to the City this evening to participate in a Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) event, but temperatures continued to warm and the roads were clear, so there was no problem.
Because Gretchen would be coming home tonight, my new drinking rules dictated that today would be one of total abstinence. I have eight delicious Little Sumpin Sumpin beers that I simply cannot drink until we have guests, Gretchen goes somewhere for the night, or a national holiday arrives. I've actually come to regard this recent run of relative temperance as liberating. In the recent past, drinking alcohol served more as a signal to myself that now I'm having fun than it was a means of actually having any fun. And once I'm drunk, then what? I'm too bleary and unmotivated to do anything useful and the only way to kick things up a notch is to smoke some pot, after which I'm useless for anything. Mind you, both drinking and smoking pot have their place. But I don't want to feel obligated to use them as a way of communicating things to myself.
For some reason today I decided to dig around in my old WiFi routers, some of which I bought for certain jobs they didn't prove worthy of doing (though, theoretically at least, they should have worked fine). One of these routers was a Hawking H2WR54G, one of the few consumer routers that came with two WAN ports. I bought that soon after realizing I could get on various WiFi networks in the neighborhood, and I thought it would be good to be able to route traffic out through two different WANs. This was back when our DSL download speeds topped out at around 1.2 Mb/s (upload was 0.3 Mb/s as I recall) and a doubling of that speed would have made a noticeable difference in our internet experience. But that router never really worked, and eventually I abandoned the idea (particularly after our DSL download speeds went up to 3.4 Mb/s and upload speeds reached 0.9 Mb/s). I didn't actually try to power that router up today, but I did look on dd-wrt.com to see if an open source firmware exists for it. It turns out that there's no support for anything made by Hawking, whose Google legacy appears to be mostly one of disgrace. Instead, I powered up an old router made by Compex called a NetPassage 26G. It had stood out for its two USB ports, and I'd bought it to serve as a low-power print server and also (perhaps) to drive a remote webcam somewhere. I managed to get both functions to work, though neither were ever reliable enough to actually use. Today when I powered up the Compex, it managed to serve an IP address from its onboard DHCP server, but that was the extent of the functionality it retained after the years it has spent on the shelf. And even that didn't work very well; the only times it was able to serve that IP address was immediately after a hard reset, the kind that restores factory settings. I tried a number of wall warts with power from 5 to 9 volts (the wart it had came with was rated at 7.5 volts) and the best performance I got out of it came at 6 volts, but it was clearly unusable. That was too bad; there are a number of dd-wrt.com firmwares for Compex routers available, and wanted to try one even if it risked bricking the device. The possibility of having a dd-wrt router with two USB ports is just that tempting. But if I'd known how fruitless my attempts to coax it back to life would be, I would have left it on the shelf (and written "dead" on it Sharpie marker, which I always do now when devices become scrap; I can always scavenge LEDs and connectors off otherwise useless equipment).
Mind you, I have a router right now with a USB port ("Katydid") that is effectively serving as the local network's NAS, and with the addition of a hub I could perhaps get it to do other things. But my head started aching as I researched what it would take to attach a USB webcam to it. Perhaps it would need drivers recompiled into its kernel, which is not the sort of thing I have ever done. But I saw support in the dd-wrt configuration pages alluding to "USB over IP," that is, using the network as USB cable.
My experiments with USB over IP ("usbip") started on a bad note when I inadvertently attached a 12 volt wall wart (it was attached to an outlet hidden in the shelving along the south wall of the laboratory) to a perfectly-good USB hub. There was a sickening pop and a bad electric smell that caused me to immediately open it up and assess the damage. One of the two ICs inside it had a crack in it and a tiny surface-mount component appeared to have vaporized, leaving a greenish-white smudge. My recently-acquired negative Midas touch with electronics was continuing. I threw the damn thing into to my USB scrap container and immediately went on a jihad of labeling all my 12 volt wall warts so that even in low-light conditions I could tell from glancing at them that they're not to be used with five volt equipment. Since wall warts are almost always black and impossible to label with Sharpie markers, I achieved my labeling by first finger painting them with white acrylic paint and then, once that was dry, writing on the white part in Sharpie.
As for the usbip stuff, all I had to do to get it working on the router was to follow instructions found here. Windows was trickier; the stock version of usbip didn't work on my machine and I had to download a customized version created and posted by some helpful stranger contributing to the banter on sourceforge (I scanned it for viruses before using it, of course). But once I got the IP pipes set up, I was able to look out through a webcam attached to the router. Theoretically, I could hang other fun equipment off the router as well, including Arduino-controlled mechanisms and sensors.
Today as part of my ongoing cinematic tour of alcoholism, I watched most of the Sandra Bullock vehicle from 2000 entitled 28 Days. Aside from the first eight and half minutes, I found it was formulaic and dull. In this way, it reminded me of my experience watching episodes of Intervention several years back. The depiction of alcoholism in all its messy horror is much more engaging than the redemptive story of a drunk cleaning up his or her act and rejoining the society of functioning adults.
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