Early Father’s day

The kids aren’t going to be in the same country as me for US father’s day (I get two this year!), so they gave me my present early. I now have a complete set of UK police riot armor — the helmet, shield, and leg protectors. This has already come in handy whilst parenting hyperactive children. I wonder if its legal for me to own such things in Australia?

Digging a bit further, it appears:

  • Possessing soft body armor (for example ballistic Kevlar) is illegal in the ACT except for those employed by licensed security organizations — PROHIBITED WEAPONS REGULATION 1997, section 12.
  • In fact, the Commonwealth customs regulations mostly seem concerned with the possession or import of armor intended to stop bullets — CUSTOMS (PROHIBITED IMPORTS) AMENDMENT REGULATIONS 2005 (NO. 4) (SLI NO 249 OF 2005)

    I can’t see any mention of riot armor (which wouldn’t stop a bullet) though, nor a reference to militaria, apart from militaria fairs needing a permit. I wonder if anyone else has thoughts on this?

  • CCD Barcode Scanner

    I just picked up a CCD barcode scanner cheaply on eBay. The plan is to use it to bulk enter a bunch of books into my book database. Many US books don’t have bookland barcodes, but instead have something which looks like this:

    So, the barcode has no problems with the big barcode on the left, however it doesn’t recognize the little barcode on the right. So, does anyone know what format that little barcode is in? What mode do I need to put my barcode scanner into to get both barcodes read, either at the same time or individually?

    Update: once again the Intern has earn his Intern-chow (or whatever it is he eats when he’s allowed out of his cage). The deal was I needed to scan the magic “make all possible barcode types work kthxbye” barcode in the book of exactly 1 billion configuration barcodes. It all works well now. I wont mention the Intern’s name, because I want to hire him and need more security through obscurity in my life.

    Roomba Battery Repack 1

    I bought two different versions of the Roomba battery repack kits from ebay and the first one arrived today. This is the nicer of the two versions, because it includes pre-soldered tabs on the battery wires. It cost me an extra dollar, and was about $26 including shipping. To be honest, if I’d found this one first I probably wouldn’t have bought the one without the tabs.

    Here is the contents of the kit:

    Note that there are no instructions in the kit.

    The first step is to open up the battery case. The screws are pretty obvious, although the triangular screw driver than the kit ships with sure made this easier. Then you need to crack open the case, which for some reason is glued shut. That took a bit of patience, a jewelers screw driver, and in the end a hammer. I started out not wanting to bash the case too much, but it was glued pretty solidly. In the end it opened up just fine though:

    Now you just need to put the new pack in, making sure to get the tabs in the right places. Screw the lid shut, and go for it. My roomba is charging at the moment, and I’ll let you know how it goes once that’s done.

    (You might recall this means that I now have two fully functional roombas. I’m thinking of building the serial control cable, hooking up arduinos, and having some sort of swarming vacuum system. Its a pity I don’t know anything about swarming algorithms…)

    New Roomba batteries

    For some reason I am the Roomba battery kiss of death. I’ve been through two batteries in about three years. Last time I just bought a new Roomba on special instead of replacing the battery. Its hard to justify three Roombas in the house though, so this time I’m trying something different — I’ve bought replacement cells for the batteries from ebay, and will install them in the yellow shell myself. This sounds like its pretty easy to do, and there are several supplies who sell these cells.

    I’ll let you know how I go.

    Via M10000, video, and a Belkin wireless USB thing

    I’ve had a Via Eden M10000 literally lying around since soon after I moved to the US two years ago, and I finally decided that it was time for a full blown home workstation the other day, having got fed up with the small screen on my laptops. Sometimes I really miss my 30 inch monitor at work, and the 24 inch I am using at home is a much better substitute than a laptop screen.

    Anyway, getting the machine working was surprisingly difficult given its a three or four year old design. The problems:

    • The PCI 802.11g wireless card didn’t work. In fact, the machine wouldn’t boot with it installed. I suspect this was a PCI version problem, as I have had pain with this card in the past.
    • The PCI 802.11b wireless card I tried next wasn’t much better. The connection would drop out randomly, and the machine would occasionally lock up. This was the card I used as my first access point about six years ago (using hostap), so perhaps its just old. It got swapped out as well.
    • The Belkin USB 802.11g thingie didn’t work reliably. It would stay connected to the network for five minutes before something went wrong. This made me annoyed, especially when it turns out this is because the latest release of Ubuntu (gutsy) installs an old version of the rt73usb driver, which is known not to work with this card. Following these instructions from the canonical wiki which tell you to install drivers from here fixed the problem. Its annoying that Ubuntu ships with known broken drivers though.
    • Next, video. The video card built into the mother board sucks. I’m running a t24 inch LCD at 1920×1200, and there was significant ghosting on the monitor. Additionally, I couldn’t run at 24 bit, I had to use 16 bit because the video card was running out of RAM bandwidth.
    • Not to worry, I installed a Matrox G450 I had lying around, and now the monitor works nicely as well, with no ghosting.
    • Finally, the whole thing is much louder than I expected from an Eden machine (there is a fan on the board, a fan in the case, and the hard disk). Then again, given I built the entire machine for $90, I can’t complain too much.

    Dell e310 upgrade

    I’m starting to get annoyed with the reliability of the USB chip sets in my external disks (of which I have six), so I am considering upgrading to a home theatre style case for my Dell e310 so I can have room to move the disks to inside the case. There are of course warts — the Dimension e310 appears to have a BTX mother board (


    ). Additionally, no one seems to make a BTX home theatre PC case, which sucks.

    So, I might end up having to replace the entire machine, which isn’t so cool. I’m gonna put all of this on hold until I can apply more thought to it.

    Free on demand from Comcast

    Catherine and I have had analog Comcast cable TV in the US since we moved into our apartment here. We’ve resisted going digital because of the brain dead requirement that you use the Comcast set top box (which sucks), and therefore it not working with MythTV. If they shipped a digital decoder card which worked in a PCI slot with Linux, I would upgrade right away.

    I’ve told them that a bunch of times, and they’ve offered us free upgrades about four times.

    In the end they must have got the hint, because they just gave us a free “on demand” digital box for our analog cable. It’s free for a year, and appears to be a Motorola DCT 700, which seems to just be a embedded computer which uses a two megabit connection to Comcast to deliver programs.

    Now I’m meant to be activating the device, but I’ve been on hold with Comcast for 15 minutes. The user documentation even promises the call should only take three to four minutes. Of course plugging the MythTV box into the back of the Motorola box also broke our existing analog reception, so I might end up giving on the call and backing out the cabling change until Comcast gets with the program…

    More device gossip as it comes to hand.