so many updates that it never
Thursday, July 16 2015
I need a proper modern laptop, one running current versions of applications, in order to do the things I do (professional and otherwise). In recent years, my laptops have run either Windows XP, some sort of Linux, or ChromeOS. I think Windows XP is everything anyone would ever need in an OS, but Windows XP is now so old that modern applications from Adobe (such as Lightrooms 4,5, and now 6) do not run on it. So today I took delivery of a subnotebook capable of running Windows 7 well enough for me to want to install it. I always get my technology well behind the bleeding edge, and in this case it was a HP Elitebook 2740p, which was released in 2010. It's a well-built machine with a magnesium frame and brushed aluminum (not silvered plastic) for the douchebag executive on the go, and it cost a fortune when it came out, but today it can be had used on eBay for less than $150. It features an Intel Core i5 processor, 4 gigs of RAM, and a 240 GB hard drive, and it is the first notebook I've had that can be folded so as to resemble a tablet, with its gorgeous keyboard hidden away. I wouldn't use it that way; I just want a conventional subnotebook which accepts an external monitor. Today I dedicated my spare human tasks to installing Windows 7 x64 on it, which is always a big job. Not only do all the odd little drivers have to be independently downloaded and installed (why can't they be provided in one big install?), but (as I've mentioned many times) Windows 7's stock look is, to me, garish, unhelpfully CPU-intensive, and distracting. I prefer the old Windows 2000 look (Windows XP's stock look is even more horrifying than Windows 7's), and fortunately that can still be achieved in Windows 7. The hardest part is decluttering and de-whitespacing Explorer windows.
Once I had the 2740p working well under Windows 7, I tried to take advantage of the new tablet features. Getting multitouch to work proved hopeless; evidently most 2740ps weren't actually shipped with that capability, though Hewlett Packard stressed it in all its mind-numbingly repetitive marketing (thanks, culture created by Carly Fiorino!). Instead, direct screen interaction must take place through a special stylus, which only seems like something I'd use if I needed to draw something in Adobe Photoshop (it happens, but not often). Then there's the clunkiness of how all of this is controlled by the Microsoft operating system. I suppose I can't complain too much here, as it's clear Microsoft was trying to graft a pen/touch paradigm onto a mouse-and-screen OS, but one would think there would be a way to centralize the configuration for all things tablet-related instead of spreading them out among several control panels with names like Pen & Touch, Touch Settings, Tablet PC Settings, and Mouse. None of this much mattered; for my needs, the 2740p was just another subnotebook of the form factor I prefer (12.1 inch screen), though it would have been nice for touch to work on it. Gretchen loves that shit, and from all her smartphone experience, she has come to expect it.
At around 4:00pm, I returned to that tree I'd bucked a couple of pieces from yesterday and bucked two more out of it. The pieces farthest from the stump started to seem increasingly marginal, as though the wood had been extensively mined by insects and perhaps fungi, but it nevertheless seemed reasonably dry. The pieces I gathered today were larger than those I had gathered yesterday, so I rounded out the load with a couple smallish pieces of Red Oak from a much fresh treefall that I'd picked at in the past. Today's load felt very heavy, particularly on the new steps of the mountain goat path behind the woodshed, and I wasn't surprised to find the load weighed 131 pounds, which is at the upper end of what I have carried, particularly over such non-trivial distances. Remember, I weigh 170 pounds.
This afternoon I made myself a pan of bean glurp so I could have a lupper burrito. Burritos are the one food I like to eat that contains a lot of lettuce, and we have a surfeit of bolting Spotted Trout Lettuce in our garden that it would be a shame to waste. Later Gretchen called to say she was coming home from work, and when I said I'd made beans, she had me also start a pot of rice. That's a kitchen task even I can reliably complete.
This evening I tinkered some with the software on my barometric windvane, making it so I could send simple one-character commands to it via serial to change the data it was sending back. This allowed me to switch from seeing the raw barometric data (which will have to be mathematically turned into a vector) to seeing the temperature data. But as I watched the temperature data scroll past, I realized that the AmbientWeather slave was no longer getting updates from the sensor. Was I being cursed by radio devils yet again? I turned off the 2740p on the chance it was causing radio interference and even went around removing batteries from all the useless Meade temperature sensors (whose data format has yet to be cracked and which, in any case, have terrible range, though they broadcast their incomprehensible data on the same 433 MHz frequency as the AmbientWeather probes). None of this seemed to help, so I wondered if perhaps the ATTiny85 acting as a slave had gotten confused and needed a reset. Unplugging the whole circuit and starting it up again seemed to help, so I actually went through the bother (and risky electronic surgery) of adding a new capability to the barometric windvane: the ability to reset the ATTiny85 by pulsing a low voltage on its Arduino digital pin 10. But even once I'd added the software support for this new feature and could trigger it by sending an "r" command to the barometric windvane via serial (something that worked the very first time without debugging, I might add), the ATTiny85 failed to gather updates from the AmbientWeather sensors. By now it was well past midnight, and I was really confused. But then I had an epiphany: perhaps my new "display temperature data" command was overworking the ATTiny85 slave, asking (via I2C) for so many updates that it never had a chance to listen for sensors. So I changed the code so that, during "display temperatures" mode, a line of temperature data would only be requested from the ATTiny85 and sent down the serial cable once per second, as opposed to, say, 100 times per second. That delay proved crucial, and once again the ATTiny85 could listen for and compile AmbientWeather temperature readings.
The "Arduino" that runs the barometric windvane is actually just an Atmega328 socketed onto a breadboard, and it communicates with Woodchuck (my main PC) via a USB-to-TTL-serial interface board. It's a simple system, and even lacks the tiny capacitor that normally has the effect of resetting the Atmega328 just before software is uploaded to it via the bootloader. To simplify the task of resetting the barometric windvane at the right time as new software is uploaded to it, this evening I built a little panel switch and screwed it solidly to the side of my desk. The wires from it can be connected to anything (I have a feeling I will find other uses for it in the future), but for now they connect to ground and reset on the barometric windvane, allowing me to quickly and reliably hit reset just as the latest version of its software compiles in the Arduino IDE. At that point, the barometric windvane slurps up its new firmware and I can see how well it works.
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