My schedule for this semester!
Lookit! Ain't it clean?

It's been a long time since I've written here. Nine weeks interning, two weeks in Colorado and three weeks camping put me away from this site for a while. I've made many things between then and now, and now I can write about it! On to the projects. 

As the school year began, I found myself frustrated with scheduling. My schedule is simple enough. I plugged it into my calendar, memorized it, and voila. (Except that I keep going to the wrong room. Someone put one of my SparkE classes on the CivE floor.)

But, I'm living in a house with a few others and want to keep track of their schedules, too. I want to know when they'll be free for events and whatnot. 

Launch Timer

The countdown, showing a positive time.
Doesn't it look cool?

Last night, NASA sent LADEE, an atmospheric observation satellite, to the moon. Satellites are pretty cool. It launched from Virginia, about 100 miles from Lafayette college. A satellite that I can see going to space is much cooler. 

Last night, some friends and I headed to Pardee, a great big building with a tall south-facing windows. We burned a few hours playing games and waiting for the launch. I decided to code a little something. 


The time of day occupies almost the entire screen.
I'm just not _that_ into the time of day.

Roundcube is the email client for In addition to being functional, it's very pretty (as opposed to, say, SquirrelMail) and extensible. I thought it'd be neat to add a to-do list to the client, and found a calendar while I was at it.

Unfortunately, the calendar was very, very ugly. Not a poorly-styled sort of ugly. A something-is-wrong sort of ugly. (See before and after pictures, above.)

Enter Puck

Earthbound is sick. That's my laptop - two years old now. It's been through many unreasonable adventures, and is a little worse for wear. The backlight's flickered out twice (fixed by whapping the left wrist rest), the power plug broke off (fixed with hot glue), a few screws have gone missing (fixed by hoping for the best), and the CD drive is sticking 2mm out of the case (not fixed).

I'd like to be more gentle to the computer, but I also need a machine to take to classes and around campus.

Enter Puck. Puck is a not a moon; it's T41 thinkpad that my family bought at a government auction. As a thinkpad, Puck is built like a rock. As a T41, Puck is also fairly light. Its only weakness is processing power: an 800MHz CPU with 40G HD space is underwhelming.


I'm a little bit obsessive about my computer's performance. To some extent, it's weak (well, a midrange laptop). To some extent, I do a lot with it (programming, remote file management, internet, development). But mostly I like making the computer get out of my way so I can work.

Until recently, I was using XFCE. It's a wonderful desktop environment, with nice integration - all of its applications play nicely together. Earthbound (my laptop) boots to a commandline login. After I enter my credentials, .bash_profile runs startx, which starts XFCE. It works well, except that Earthbound takes fully ten seconds to start X and all the tray applications. I wanted faster. (And yes, I know I'm being absurd.)


You know how sometimes, you have a big pile of sawdust to suck up, but you don't want to use a broom? How you'll pull out the shop vacuum? And how it'll breeze through the first bit of sawdust, then gradually choke and wheeze?

Even in normal use, a shop vac's filter gradually clogs with fine-grain sawdust. Eventually, the vacuum loses suction. The air filter isn't too hard to clean, but it'd be nice to keep it clean longer.

That's the idea behind dust separators: sawdust and air go into a cyclone. Sawdust is thrown to the outside edge and removed while the clean air exits to the vacuum in the middle.

Spring Cleaning

Escapades dropdown menu
Check it out! Animation! On a site! is a year old. A year and three days, in fact.

Since I set up the domain, I've been using it to document projects - a reprap over the summer, coding games in the spring, a wooden lock, and some really weird stuff. All that writing took a toll on site organization.

(This post has a lot of big words. Instead of worrying about them, take a look at the brand-new Escapades menu above!)

Lighting the Way

Schematic for the light
Isn't it beautiful?

Something's been bothering me for a while: I don't have a proper tail light on my bicycle. I used to, but it fell off. That was sad, but didn't faze me too much; I don't ride much at night, so I didn't really need the light.

Yesterday, I went on a ride around Easton in the dark. Yesterday, I figured out how to push code to AVR's. One and one makes two, and I decided to fabricate myself a taillight based around the ATTiny85.

AVR Adventures

A while ago, I decided that microcontrollers were interesting. I understate. They're cool. Very, very cool. For a few dollars, you can have yourself a tiny computer, capable of driving surprisingly advanced projects. Windowsill menorah? Check. Wandering pumpkin? Check. LED display? Check.

I decided that I should learn about them, especially after working with the Motorola 68HC12 in Digital Systems II. So, a while back, I bought myself a USBTiny programmer and a pile of AVR's. Weeks back, I soldered the board together and wired myself a target board. I got as far as talking to the chip before classes overwhelmed me again:

[ben@earthbound test$] sudo avrdude -c usbtiny -p t85

avrdude: AVR device initialized and ready to accept instructions

Reading | ################################################## | 100% 0.01s

avrdude: Device signature = 0x1e930b

avrdude: safemode: Fuses OK

avrdude done.  Thank you