Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Graphics fun

I was watching some paintings by Chuck Close and I thought of doing something in that direction but, of course, letting the computer do the hard work. I'm not yet finished as my initial goal was to create a GIMP plug-in (as Photoshop is not my thing), but I started using Perl and the GD library to get results like the one in the photo.
If you are interested in the perl code just drop me a line, it can work with any photo file (once you convert it to a GIF file). If you are familiar with GIMP plug-in creation you might want to help out finishing the work!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Time to switch away from Microsoft?

I have been testing Office 2007 and its new user interface. I did like it. But at the same time I did have some trouble finding some options (like the Save As ... --a hint: press the circle on the top left--) but the general feeling was that it should be easy to get use to it. However, another idea came to my mind: Over the years I have heard people from different companies saying that while OpenOffice was kind of ok they did not want to incur on the extra cost of re-train employees to learn how to use OpenOffice. The bottom-line now is that I find much easier to switch from previous versions of Microsoft Office to OpenOffice than to Office 2007. And I have not yet mentioned that file formats have changed too for Office 2007!!

This fact considered alone might be addressed by not switching to Office 2007 anytime soon. This is what all the companies I know are doing. But the second most amazing thing I can see happening is that no companies are switching to the much-hyped and secured Windows Vista. In fact I can see a few days ago that Dell is switching back to Windows XP on computers for corporate customers.

Microsoft two flagships products (and cash cows) have been Windows and Office. While there is still a lot of momentum to claim that they are in the red, it seems that Vista (which means sight for those of you unfamiliar with Spanish) and Office 2007 are going to be a difficult sale but for different reasons. The former because of the lack of hardware support and excess of DRM and the latter because of being "too innovative" I would say.

I did my personal choice back in 1999 when I switched to StarOffice and since then I have been a happy camper with what OpenOffice project has been delivering (though I use many other software; from gnuplot to texmacs, from GIMP to Inkscape, etc). If only the OpenOffice that came with Ubuntu 6.06 did work with the PhotoAlbum macro without crashing ... but one can dream, can't we? (of course it works with almost any other version of OpenOffice, including those available for Windows).

I cannot coment on Windows Vista because, for the first time, I haven't tried the new version of the Redmond OS. But I haven't tried the latest Ubuntu's either. I think the mantra here is "don't fix it if ain't broken". Yes, you guessed right: I do not work for the marketing dept!!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Better video

When I built the vertical plotter I mentioned one week ago I realised the video I was posting was not very good. I have received no complains but as I was painting something else over the weekend I decided to shoot it better and to fast forward a bit so as not to bore you to death. This is the result:

And before you ask me, this is the photo it is coming from:

Friday, April 13, 2007

Windows Log Files

Today I needed to dig on a client's set of log files. I'm happy with text-based log files, but this time most of the research has to be done on Windows 2003 Server Event Logs. The problem is that in order to view this files you have to be running Windows 2003 Server and you have to use the Event Viewer program (or so I thought).

After having some trouble because I was not aware that Event Viewer is not happy when your files are read-only (as when you are handed over a copy on a CD-ROM) I decided it has to be a better way. Unfortunately, Event Viewer error message just said "wrong parameter" which is not telling you much about the cause of the problem.

A bit of Google and I discovered a software gem called LogParser, which can parse most of the different log files Microsoft OSs and applications create and, to ice the cake you can present your queries using SQL sentences on the command line. Many input and output formats are supported and it can also deal with your Apache server using NCSA format if you are running Linux.

Given that LogParser is a command line tool, there are certain things a GUI-based tool might seem more appropriated (especially when you are planning on browsing the log contents as opposed to be looking for an specific piece of information). A bit more Google and I learned about Event Log Explorer which is exactly a more user-friendly version of Microsoft Event Viewer, with several nice search and filtering options. This program is not free but you can download a trial version for free to see if it fits your needs. BTW, be warned this program (as MS Event Viewer) won't work if your log files are on read-only media.

Event Log files tend to get quite large if you monitor many activities (or if you have many users, or just a few but very active ones) but the good news is that these files are highly compresible. A quick test revealed that WinRAR packed in just 18 MB more than 536 MB made of several .evt files (almost a 30:1 ratio). Next time you are told the system will be wasting lots of harddisk space because you are keeping the logs for a while you know the answer to fight back.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

New article published

April 2007 Circuit Cellar #201 features an article about my research on the inner work of ECP bus that has been used in ADEMCO alarms for many years.

Note: It is not available for general download but for subscribers only.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Yet another shameless copy

Once I get one project running I tend to focus not on creating a polished version of it but on the next project to do. This time I am planning to build a 3D scanner for body parts (i.e. hands, arms, head) so I can create a polygonal version of them like an sculpture. The good news is that it's been done many times before: like this one, or this other. Some people even took the time to create an open source project to develop the software for such a homemade 3D scanner.

As I am yet in the early stage of the project I can only tell you that a line laser and a webcam (or photo or camcorder) are needed. The line laser is a laser that creates a line shape instead of a single spot. The cheapest alternative if you do not have one is to buy one of these straight line levels. Alternatively you can create a line laser from a laser pointer by inserting a cylindrical lens on the laser beam (any solid cylinder shape of plastic or glass can work here).

Once you have the laser line you also need a rotating or shifting table so the object is scanned on different slices. A photo of each is taken and a 3D model is built afterwards.