Moving Up in the World

A couple of weeks ago, in a telephone conversation, my older son mentioned that it would be interesting to see if we could measure the Doppler shift in a satellite radio beacon as it passed overhead. He suggested, if I was interested, that he could bring along a radio and we could try it when they came home to visit at Christmas. Of course I was interested!

After supper on Christmas evening, he found a candidate satellite and set up the radio. We fed the audio from the radio to the line input of my MacBook to make the recording and do the analysis. The long and the short of it was that we picked off a nice Doppler shift on two passes, one on the evening of the 25th and one on the evening of the 26th. The Raven Lite software was great for monitoring the signal, both visually and audibly but it had the shortcoming of limiting the recording time to only a minute. For the pass on the 26th, we split the signal and used his MacBook to record the full pass of several minutes into one file using Audacity while keeping Raven Lite running on mine. Since the frequency shift was greater than the radio’s passband, it had to be retuned a few times.

I picked several points off of each file and manually adjusted each point for the time and any retuning of the receiver as needed. Then I used my linear path model for the curve fit after replacing the speed of sound with the speed of light. The first pass data fit very nicely. I haven’t done the fit on the second pass yet. Once I do a little more analysis, I’ll put up a page on it.

My son reminded me that there was a docudrama on PBS’s Nova many years ago (December 1989) called “The School Boys Who Cracked the Soviet Secret” about a science class in a private boys school in England that did a similar analysis on the Sputnik satellite right after it was launched. It would be interesting to watch that again.

This is a very interesting subject that has lots of avenues to study in more detail. We’ll have to see what develops as time passes. For right now though, the basic process was pretty easy, gives me a lot of things to think about… and was very cool.

Home Page Hijacking

Is it my imagination or is Home Page Hijacking increasing?

I went to the Dell Support pages looking for information on an old Dell computer. They loaded up several tabs and windows. When I tried to go to my Home page it had been replaced by a Dell/Google page…kind of like stepping on someone’s discarded chewing gum. I replaced it with my preferred Home Page, this one of course, and then deleted all of my cookies, history, and temporary files…you know, like scraping your shoe on the first sharp edge you can find. I have already vowed not to buy another Dell computer due to their poor handling of the Vista fiasco. Now I may never even look at their website again.

Is there a setting buried deep within Internet Explorer that says “Disable Home Page Hijacking”?

Power Woes…

It seems that on an increasing number of days technology is conspiring against me. When we purchased the Dell computer with Windows Vista, lambasted in an earlier post, I also purchased an APC UPS to provide clean power and backup power long enough to shut it down gracefuly. I have run APC UPS power supplies for a number of years without incident. I assumed that this new one would be the same way. I had noticed that it seemed to act a little peculiar during its self-test sometimes when I turned it on in the morning but I was preoccupied with the Vista problems. Then it didn’t hold the power during a couple of power outages. I asked for assistance from APC and after several email exchanges they issued an RMA and replaced it, presumably with a refurbished unit. OK. After a few months it started showing the same symptoms. Now it does a random self-test during the day and shuts down. Today we had actual power outages and it dropped the power on both of them. There is no indicator light warning of a depleted battery; it just doesn’t work.

I have an older, very large, “professional”, UPS at work, also APC, that I have been using for several months. It has all manner of LEDs on the front of it showing the load, battery charge, operating mode, etc. Everything was green on Tuesday. I was working away when without warning it shut off too. No one else in the office lost power, the lights didn’t flicker, it was the UPS. I replaced it with a surge protector.

I used to think APC was the best name in UPSs but I am not going to buy another one. My older son gave me an old unit that needs a battery. APC wants $70 for one and they don’t give the specifications to allow me to go buy one at the local battery house. I guess I’ll try another brand.

I could just put the computer on a surge protector but, and this is my third tale of woe, our power goes off fairly often at our house. It was off for about five hours today. The weather was sunny and calm. Evidently, a pole caught fire near one of their substations. The last couple of years, I am guessing our average yearly outage would be several days to a week. It occurred to me today that I could wire a battery operated clock to keep track of the total time the power is off during a year. I need one that keeps track of the date too so it can count days as well as hours.

So what is going on? Has APC value engineered themselves into worthlessness? Is it a poor circuit design? Cheap components? Poor quality control? If the batteries are dead, why doesn’t it tell me that?  Whatever, it is a shame.

And American Electric Power…our part of the power grid is very fragile. Maybe its that way across the whole country. I’m usually pretty optimistic but I wonder if we haven’t downsized, deregulated, and value engineered the whole country to the verge of collapse.

Sorry for the rants. Sometimes it just seems like technology is conspiring against me…

Windows Frustrations…

I read an article the other day, quoting Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, as saying they were more concerned about Linux as a competitor than Apple. Perhaps they should be. Today my wife and a coworker both got a zipped archive from a colleague. Neither one could open it…that is how I got involved. I saved the file to a directory on the desktop, a good place to start. Then I “Open”ed it and tried to extract the files. The wizard opened, suggested a folder name to extract the files to, and said it was done. I closed the wizard and thought that was easy. I went to look at the files; the wizard had created an empty folder. I tried again, but this time I read the last dialog of the wizard, the one that said it was done, more closely. It said something to the effect that some of the files had been blocked. They were dangerous because they had come in over the internet! There were instructions that supposedly indicated how to unblock them but they didn’t work. I told my wife I didn’t know how to do it.

She had a meeting so she left. I went back to my desk. Hmmm? I have a notebook with the latest LTS version of Ubuntu running on it. Let’s see what it does. While it booted up, I transferred the zip file to my flash drive. After I logged in, I plugged in the drive and dragged the file to a folder on the desktop. I double clicked it to open it and told it to “Extract All”. Two pdf files appeared. Wow! It did what it was supposed to do. I copied them back to the flash drive and then copied them to my wife’s computer.

Microsoft and their cohorts, Lenovo, Dell, HP, etc. know what you want and force you to take it. They are so helpful that it is almost impossible to get anything done anymore. We have changed the home page on my wife’s computer countless times and the Lenovo helper changes it back to its webpage every time. Do they not understand that she bought it for her use, not theirs? Linux can be frustrating but you can do what you want/need to do with it…and it’s getting better all the time. Ubuntu is very impressive, not as pretty as Windows Vista but it works…actually maybe it is more beautiful than Windows. One of the things that used to make Windows attractive was that the user interface was consistent from one application to another. Not anymore. Microsoft violated their own principles with the new MS Office 2007. Open Office is more Windows compatible than Office 2007. I could go on…I have many more tales of woe, but you get my drift. I have a couple of Linux machines. I now have a MacBook. I like to use them. I still use the Windows machines but I usually end up frustrated or disgusted with them.

At least you can still put the picture of your choice on your Windows Desktop…productive stuff like that. Microsoft should be worried…

Moving towards Linux

Ubuntu Desktop

Ubuntu Desktop

I am moving toward becoming a Linux user. A little over a year ago my wife and I bought a brand new Dell Dimension desktop…dual core processor, 2 GB of RAM, and the latest Windows operating system, Vista Home Premium.

What a mistake! I thought the complaints about Vista were just from a bunch of whiners. What I found out was that Vista is really bad. Now part of the problem could have been with the “Dell Recommended” McAffee Security Suite or maybe the dial-up internet connection but in the end Windows Mail, Vista’s own email program, became unusable and apparently unfixable except by a total reinstall. So I setup to use Outlook 2003 for our email client. Vista will not recognize it as the default email client and offers no way to select it as such. After six months of trying to make Vista work, I tried to get Dell to let me trade it back in for Windows XP; They credited my account $100 so I could purchase it myself, which I did. When I tried to install it I found out that there were no drivers included. I don’t mean a few unusual drivers, I mean for things like my modem. I never activated the copy of XP. I asked my older son to download a copy of Ubuntu and send it to me.

The long and the short of it is that Ubuntu installed pretty easily. It found my network and my printer…both worked. It had problems with my modem…a WinModem. When we went to DSL that problem was resolved. Ubuntu is loaded with installed applications…all free of charge.

Over the winter I worked with the gumstix computers, also Linux based, and started to get the hang of using the command line and knowing where to look when things go wrong, which they do occasionally even in Linux. I have installed Linux, all versions of Ubuntu, on four different computers now and I am moving toward making it my standard operating system.

For the mundane computer uses like email, web browsing, word processing, and spreadsheets, Linux is not much different than Windows, except that it is more reliable and is considerably faster. But I have found the real power of Linux is in the command line. Yes, you can run “cmd” in Windows but you can’t do much there. In Linux, you can do so much…play and record audio files, build complex scripts to do almost anything you need done, log into another computer on your local network (or one on the internet) and run programs on the remote machine, and a lot more.

Linux isn’t perfect and most folks are happy with Windows, maybe because they don’t need anything more than that. And maybe because they don’t know what they are missing. Linux fits my needs in a computer right now much better than any flavor of Windows. I still dual boot three of the four computers I have installed Linux on with Windows for specific tasks as needed, but I am spending more of my time in Linux now.

The Vista machine? We still use it mostly in Vista for my wife’s benefit…email, browsing, word processing, spreadsheets. Oh, I had to pull the WinModem out of the box for Vista too…it was causing Vista to blue screen…a lot. Since I did that it is relatively stable…as long as you don’t try to do too much with it.