vehicle update

I don’t think I’ve blogged about it much, but you may have heard already, either from Natalie’s blog or in person. Anyway, about a month ago, I was on my way to work and I got rear-ended. The other driver had insurance and pulled over with me after it happened, so already this was much better than the first time I was rearended (summary: hit-and-run at a red light, probably drunk driver, totaled my car, my uninsured motorist coverage paid for it).

About 2 weeks ago today, I dropped my car off to be repaired at a body shop owned by the dealership where I got my car. The rear bumper and most of the rear door needed replacing. Overall a nice place, professional staff, mostly painless. Even had a rental agency on site, which was good since Natalie was out of town when I dropped it off.

The rental I got was the 4-door version of the Mazda 3 (mine’s the hatchback), with a 4-speed automatic (mine’s 5-speed manual). Interesting comparing the two, but I was glad when I got to pick up my own car last Friday.

Unfortunately it’ll be going back in soon, due to a couple of new “features”:

  • The hand-hold on the bottom of the hatch (where you grab to close it) was installed backwards.
    I can fit my hand in it, but it angles up instead of down, so it’s harder to grip
  • The rear window wiper was also installed backwards. Natalie and I hopped in the car Saturday morning to head to the farmer’s market, and since it was raining I hit the front and rear wipers .. front worked fine, rear disappeared from the rear-view mirror and attempted to clean the bottom (metal) half of the back of the car. Yes, instead of swinging right to left (and up) over the window, it swung left to right (and down). Looking at other 3’s this weekend, we noticed they all had the rear wiper on the right side when idle .. not mine .. oops.

UPDATE: took the car in Monday morning and they fixed both problems in less than 15 minutes. Car is back to normal now – yay.

Network-enabled Garage Door

This has been in my “to-blog-about” queue for a while, and seeing this post on the Make blog tipped it into the “must-blog-now” category. Summary: combine a wifi adapter, some sensors, and some electronics and you can monitor your garage online.

A few months ago, I had a similar idea but took a different approach. I was a bit more speed-oriented (some might say lazy) and decided to use the X10 system I already have going in the house. Maybe not as elegant or robust as making a circuit from scratch and hooking it directly into the ethernet, but


I used an X10 Powerflash module connected to a reed switch mounted on the overhead door. When the door changes state, it sends an X10 code of on or off, telling if the door was just opened or closed. The signal is received by an X10 CM11A attached to the house server, which triggers a short script that logs the time and status in a text file (again, “speed-oriented” .. as in speed of completion). Another script generates a (SSL and password protected) web page displaying the current state of the overhead door and time of last change: “Garage was opened at 8:00 am”.


Now I have webpage that tells me I left the garage door wide open when I took off for work … if only I could close it remotely! Once more, with ease-of-installation in mind, I grabbed another X10 product from Fry’s, the Universal module and wired it to the same contacts that connect to the wall-mounted door-opener button. A small addition to that web script, and a click will use the heyu program to generate the proper X10 signal, causing the relay to fire and close the door.

Side note:

Our garage door has an “electric eye” to detect an object (or person) in the path of the closing door, and will reverse and refuse to close if something’s in the way. (I believe this is required by state law.) It’s still possible to close the door on your car if the bumper and the beam are at different levels, but at least it makes it harder 😉 There’s an LED on the sensor itself, but it’s hard to see from inside the car without adjusting the side-mirror to an odd angle. So there’s a possible enhancement to my version of the garage monitor: use the signal from the original obstruction sensor to drive a second better placed LED.

[tags] house,homeautomation,x10,nerd,geek,make,diy,garage,sensors,control,remotecontrol[/tags]

headphones and felines

A cautionary tale for cat owners. Hide your headphones! (yes, this is a blog post about cats 😛 )

A certain cat at our house (who shall remain nameless … except for “Furry B&%#[email protected]$!”) has developed a taste for headphone cables.

The first time it happened, I had just bought a new pair of Sony earbuds .. I forget the model, but they poke into the ear canal a bit more than most earbuds. They had a weird rubberized cable that was hard to bend or coil too tight, making the cord less tangle-prone. However, this rubberization did nothing to protect agains cat teeth. I woke up one morning and found them on the floor next to the bed, the plug-end completely separated from the ear-end. %&$!% The cat was lucky to live through the day. Since this was the first time the Cat had eaten any earphones and these were a new pair, I suspected there was something tasty about the special rubberized cables.

I made another pilgrimage to Fry’s, where I bought another pair of earphones. A different pair. Sony MDR-EX51’s to be exact. I know because I still have them and use them. But no, they did not escape the Jaws of the Cat. I was more careful and made sure to keep them in a backpack or on a table, but tables are no match for The Cat. Again, one morning after getting out of the shower, there were the headphones on the carpet next to the bed … all in one piece, this time, but with a throrougly chewed spot in the cord midway between plug and earbuds. *&^[email protected]$ing *&(@#% CAT! Tested them .. no sound, at least one wire completely severed.

You’d think I’d learn, but no, I went back and bought another pair (of the same kind this time). Promised myself I’d take extra precautions, never leave them anywhere in reach of cat teeth. And I tried, I really did. Yet again, one morning (why is it always in the morning?), there’s The Cat, headphone cable in mouth, chewing away. %[email protected]#%&‘ing !#%*&% CAT *#&@^er!

So I dug out an old pair of slightly uncomfortable but cheap and easily replaceable earbuds. The Cat recently devoured these as well, gnawing through the cord to only one earbud this time, leaving me with a working but now monaural headphone.

I took the remains of Headphones III (or Headphones II? one of the nice Sony’s, anyway) and soldered on a new plug. They work fine now and still sound great, but whatever they’re plugged into has to stay in my hand or shirt-pocket, with the cable now half of its original length. I am keeping them out of reach of the Cat.
I also found and purchased at Fry’s a more comfortable pair of five-dollar earbuds made by Phillips. The Cat has not eaten them, yet.

But this is not the end!
The Cat, being deprived of his headphone-cable-based nourishment, decided to go after … well, let’s just say The Cat is probably in cahoots with “this dog”: . The Freaking Cat chewed through the power supply cable to my iBook. (Un?)fortunately, he managed to eat the cable without electrocuting himself, possibly because he’s smart enough only to chew on the DC cable instead of the one plugged into the 120V mains.

old email

Wow .. I just found a bunch of old backup files with emails from 1996 ! That’s like .. *counting* .. about 6 computers and 10 email addresses ago. Now I just need some scripts that will convert messages from Eudora and Juno (! when all they did was free dialup email!) into some nice normal unix mail format.

I was a big dork in 1996. 😉

a sample:

Hey. howzit goin?
Would like to win a laptop? I found this contest on the web where you have to solve all these puzzles and when you finish, you get yourself entered into a drawing for a pentium 75 laptop with a 28.8 PCMCIA modem.. here’s the URL

A modem — how quaint! 28.8 kbps no less!

Also found backups of old webpages, but I’ll spare you the horror.


We’re in Houston for the weekend. Also, we went and picked blueberries near Livingston today. So we have several pounds of blueberries in a cooler now. And many (many many) more pounds of red-larry’s due to defective or not-enough sunscreen. oops, ouch. Isn’t it convenient that a plant like aloe which is so good at counteracting sunburn happens to grow where there is a lot of sun?


We went camping in Big Bend a couple weeks ago. Lotsa fun 🙂 Pre-national park stops included the McDonald Observatory and Prude Ranch, both in the Davis Mountains. Once in Big Bend we hiked all over the place, slept in a tent, ate good food, played cards, spotted wildlife (road runners, bluebirds, deer, javelinas), and generally had a great time (except for the blisters, sprained ankles, boots falling apart, dehydration/foodpoisoning(?), and other perils of the outdoors).

“Hiking all over the place” included: some nature trail near our campsite; Pinnacle something trail -> Colimas(?) Trail -> Laguna Meadows (9 miles, 11 with a side climb up Emory peak (not me)) ; some Rio Grande overlook near our campsite; Boquillas Canyon; and Hot Springs.

Of course, took lots of pictures (if you want to add comments to any of those, find the register link and make yourself and account .. and if that doesn’t work, just bug me about it 😉 )

hippo! gnu! deer!

Happy 2005! We are back from our Christmas Tour of Texas (2 weeks, 8 cities (4 overnight, 4 brief stops), 2000 miles!), had fun seeing everyone, had fun being back in Austin for New Year’s Eve.

In other news, I’ve been breaking things lately .. glass things. I hope this is a get it out of the way at the beginning type of thing and not a sample of what the rest of the year will be like. Also, forgetting things at relative’s houses seemed to be a theme for the trip (hopefully not another sign).

No resolutions for the new year .. a change of calendar doesn’t increase my chances of getting things done. 😉

Weekend Update

.. for two weekends ago 🙂
So yeah, went to Maryland, got to see friends and babies (ok, just one baby); saw Dar Williams (and Ana Egge) in Easton, MD; watched the Incredibles (I think I posted that already?); visited a couple of Smithsonian museums in DC.
Anyway, lots o’ fun. 😀