Sunday, November 27, 2011

"I'd like to watch some TV ..."

"... could you please bring my phone?"

The wonders of Mythmote.

Friday, November 25, 2011

When something goes wrong ...

... it usually happens in more than one place at a time.

The laptop I use as train computer developed a memory problem. The BIOS disables any memory above 88M due to a failure during POST. Yes, that laptop was quite slow, but it did the job, and has a beautiful, huge 1900x1600 display. Evaluating my options:

  1. I can go out and buy a cheap desktop computer, put it in the server rack, and run VGA/keyboard through the KVM to the 15" monitor at the rack. That would likely work out to be a DualCore or low-end i3.
  2. Ditto, but get just a low-end, low-power motherboard, and memory. One of the current pseudo-embedded CPUs, or Atoms, should do just fine. Install it in a spare computer case and put it into the rack.
  3. Try and make do with the 88M memory, convert the laptop to a dumb X-Terminal, (potentially remote boot it), and run JMRI on the server with a remote X session to the laptop. Technically a bit more interesting, a bit more involved, and actually not really something I'm particularly keen on. I get enough overly complicated setups at work.
I think I'm going to throw hardware at the problem, and go with either option 1. or option 2. and give up on the nice display.


The Emsingen power district of the layout developed a short circuit some time in the last 48 hours and I have no idea what caused this. The PSX circuit breaker is solidly reporting a short. All 3 PSX's LEDs flicker roughly  every 2-3 seconds, and the amp-meter shows an inrush of current at the same time. Evaluating my options:
  1. When I installed semaphores yesterday, something got on the track and is causing a short. I brushed down all tracks in Emsingen. No dice.
  2. Maybe a locomotive has a shorted out decoder, or some car is derailed. Removed all rolling stock from Emsingen. No dice.
  3. When I cut and glued down the north stub track next to the loading ramp on Wednesday, I somehow caused a short. Unlikely, but I ripped out this piece of flextrack anyways. No dice... Now that's annoying.
  4. I somehow jumbled track wires underneath Emsingen. No idea how that even could have happened. Did a visual check, and all connections look good.
  5. Powered off everything. Maybe the PSX just got confused. Nope, problem still there.
  6. Maybe the PSX is bad. Put the district on another PSX for testing. Still to do.

Patricia's computer developed an interesting file system problem. It appears that when the system stats some inode linked from her home directory, the operation hangs forever. This causes process like Nautilus or ls to go into state D+. I can kill -9 the process from another terminal, and get back the prompt. I can do tab completion (e.g. type ls .[TAB] and get a list of all files starting with '.'). I haven't tried every character yet. There are no hard disk related errors in dmesg. smartctl reports the hard disk recorded no internal errors either. I'm suspecting ext4 file system corruption, and will try an fsck next.


Bottom-line: What the hell is going on today?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wireless stopped working ...

Out of the blue, wireless networking stopped working on our Dell Inspiron 1440. It runs Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, and no system update was performed before things stopped working. The Network Manager menu in Gnome shows Wireless Network Disabled, and Wired Network as Disconnected. Meanwhile other laptops in the house have no problem connecting to the wireless network, so this must be something local to this laptop.

In digging through Network Manager, iwconfig, iwlist, wpa_supplicant and friends, all I could come up with was that /var/lib/NetworkManager/NetworkManager.state lists WirelessEnabled=False. Manually setting this to True and restarting NetworkManager gets us plenty of log messages that show the device exists, and then gets disabled.

Finally, I realized that someone must have pressed the Disable Wireless button on the keyboard. Pressing it again resolved the problem. Sometimes it's the simple things ...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mickey's Fantasmic! vs. World of Colors

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of watching both the "World of Color" show at Disney's California Adventure, and "Mickey's Fantasmic!" show at Disneyland back to back.

Both shows are very well attended outdoor evening shows, so getting there early (and getting the Fastpass for World of Color) is highly recommended. Both shows are good and fun to watch.

What struck me more, though, were the differences both in style and execution.

World of Color - California Adventure
Let's start with "World of Color". This show transforms the big lagoon at California adventure into a colorful spectacle of water fountains, mixed with movie scenes projected on screens made out of water. The execution was flawless. The color effects are mesmerizing. The fountains fantastic. However, to me it felt like this show was "built by committee".

World of Color - Movie projected on water fountain
The show started off with a season appropriate opener involving a Christmas theme. The fountains were colorful and impressive. From then on short sequences from well-known animated movies, old and new, played back to back with fountain sequences. Some sequences where upbeat, funny, others a bit scary, or dark. I'm still scratching my head why a segment from "Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides" was included. The mermaids in the segment are really not Ariel-style family fare... At the end of the show I was both impressed and disappointed. The technical part of it was fantastic, but the whole thing lacked ... heart.

Mickey's Fantasmic!
After a mad dash from California Adventure we made it just in time to Disneyland's Rivers of America for "Mickey's Fantasmic!" . This show also uses water screens for movie sequences, but uses the Pirate's Lair island as a very effective stage for Mickey directing lights, fireworks, and fountains, as well as acting as background for the witch's magic potion scene and even a full-size dragon.

Mickey and the Dragon

Some movie scenes mix with live action of dancing princesses, Peter Pan fighting Captain Hook with the crocodile on their tail... and generally, compared to World of Color, less computer-controlled, more hand-made action. Even though (maybe because) Fantasmic! was a bit less polished, to me it had a lot more charme.

Bottom-line: Try to see both shows, especially when you're in the parks more than one day. Watching the shows back to back is probably only feasible during a slow week outside the summer months, because the viewing areas fill up quickly. Even last week, on a somewhat rainy day, many people got there over an hour before the show started to reserve good spots.

Oh yeah, it's very hard to take any halfway decent pictures of either show...

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Is that going to work?

On the workbench
Building a Timesaver in N scale is a little side-project. Above is the result of one long evening. The track is cut, and partially glued down. Let's see how this develops further ...