I'll never be an Apple partisan
Tuesday, October 13 2015
Gretchen wasn't feeling well this morning, so I took the dogs for a moderate-sized loop in the forest, one that dumped me out on the Stick Trail a little less than a half mile from home. I cut up 101.25 pounds of downed skeletonized trees that looked to be mostly Red Oak and then hiked it home without much difficulty. The woodshed is reaching the point where it's hard to find a place to put any more wood, at least on the four and half tranches that stretch out as far as the trunk of the White Pine that grows in front. I don't want the wood at the top of these tranches to block all the light from the lightbulb pointing outward from the woodshed's front girder. That bulb already has piles of wood on either side of it making it illuminate much less ground than it normally would.
There have been a number of large pieces of a White Ash trunk that have been sitting in front of the woodshed for months. Some of these have been there for over a year, back when I salvaged them from the bottom of Dug Hill Road. Today I finally got around to splitting up all but the one I use for landing when I bring in my heavy backpacks full of firewood (it's much easier to land such a load onto a stool than onto the ground). As you might imagine, underneath these large pieces of wood were teaming diverse communities of life: centipedes, millipedes, pillbugs, grubs, earthworms, and salamanders. Lots of salamanders. I try to be as kind as possible when disturbing such communities, but it still must suck for the disturbed. They're forced to seek out other places to live, though nothing so perfect exists nearby (except that chunk of wood I land on). I carried a bunch of the salamanders over to the little rock pile beneath the west end of the dog house, hoping they'd find a home somewhere in there. But I didn't do much to help the invertebrates.
Later when I split up the pieces, I found more critters, including more salamanders, living under one of the pieces I was splitting. Splitting with a hammer and a wedge is an energetic process involving a lot of repeated thrusts of violent downward momentum, and I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to find that one of the wriggling salamanders I grabbed by the tail to pull out of the gap between the wood and the bark proved to have a completely flattened head. That was an image that haunted me for the rest of the day.
The other day when Mark came over with his brother, he brought a number of pieces of equipment to donate to my hoard. This included an old Macintosh HD Cinema display and a plastic tub full of wires and various odds and ends. The display would be nice if it didn't have the kind of proprietary connector that makes it almost worthless (it's for reasons like this that I could never become an enthusiastic Apple partisan). As for the tub, the most exciting thing in there was an old iPhone, maybe a 3G or 3GS (it had a white plastic back). But try as I did, I could not get it to enter restore mode, and it couldn't do anything except make 911 calls as it was. Eventually I determined that it must have a defective home button. So then I tried to open it up. What a disaster! Everything inside seemed to be glued together, and as I tried with increasing frustration to separate the two halves, one of the flat plastic cables inside tore in half and the thing died with the violent sustained thrubbing of the vibrate motor. Looking inside there, it was clear it had been built as an entirely disposable piece of consumer electronics. Yet again, I was reminded why my temperament does not compel me to crave Apple gear.
On my clock project, today I focused mostly on getting the sound to work reliably. To the audio board I'd built yesterday, I soldered in a couple pairs of jumper pins. One of these, if closed with a jumper, would supply power to the PAM8403 amplifier. The other pin pair connected to the speaker output on the WTV020SD. With the power to the amplifier disconnected, I could now just hook the speaker up to the WTV020SD and avoid the power demand issues of the PAM8403. This, however, opened up a whole new set of problems. It seems that when the WTV020SD is driving the speaker directly, it is much more sensitive to the nature of the audio file it is playing, and if its amplitude gets too high, it suddenly quits playing the file. It's hard to say at what point this happens, and my experiments were inconclusive. To get Led Zepplin's "Immigrant Song" to play all the way through, I had to use Audacity's normalize function set at -10 decibels. But for an explosion sound effect I'd found online, I had to normalize at -18 decibels. After much work, I had about 13 sound effects on a Kingston 2GB micro-SD card (SanDisk 2GB micro-SD cards do not work with the WTV020SD). Finally I could implement some fun features, like the ability to select which sound accompanies the visual "explosion" effect on the clock's screen (an homage to Ahmed Mohamed). I also added an hourly chime that can be set to use a sample of Big Ben. Or it could be set to issue eight of Robert Plant's "Ayeeeah...ah" at 8 o'clock. All of these configurations have to be set over a serial connection. I don't know how much of a configuration interface I can possibly support using the buttons on the clock itself.
(Here is the latest sourcecode: gus clock 151013.ino)
This evening Gretchen and I watched the first Democratic primary debate of the 2016 election season. I expected it to be a bit of a bore, what with the absence of people with stunted emotional development and a psychopathic drive to lie. I thought Bernie Sanders did a great job, and he came across as the most charismatic and thoughtful man on the stage. But Hillary Clinton surprised me with her good answers and her skill at deflecting nonsense such as anything related to her homemade email server or #BENGHAZI. She definitely wins the prize for most exceeding my expectations.
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