Project Time – Step 1 The Raspberry Pi

A few years ago, I got a wild hair up my hind-side, and bought a Raspberry Pi to mess with. A small, fully functional computer, running a Linux variant, built around an ARM SoC, it was a pretty nifty bit of kit.

I connected it to my monitor, wired up a keyboard and mouse, added a wifi USB dongle, and had some fun. Did a lot of learning to program Python on it.

But then the move happened, it got chucked into a box, and ignored. With the move done, the house bought, and the project bug biting me again, I have resurrected it.

The first challenge was to actually FIND it. Alas, it was hiding in my monster box of cables and other items. Still connected to the powered USB hub that I had for it.

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Shit, blew through a milestone

You know you are an old time computer geek when you notice special numbers.

2^8 is something we geeks all know, it is the number of different bytes there are. 2^8 is 256, and the maximum value of a single byte of computer memory is 255.

2^10 is 1024. I am guessing that most kids today see that number and scratch their head wondering why the old fogeys didn’t just call 1000 bytes a kilobyte.  But us true geeks embrace these.

The next number is 2^16 which is 65,536, and is the maximum number representable as two bytes (256 * 256 for those counting). I am amazed at how often I stumble across this number int he real world.

Then there is the first CPU I learned to program, the Mostek 6502. Designed to be a cheaper version of the motorola 8800, it really drove the home computer revolution in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Two posts ago, I hit post 256. Makes me smile to mark off these milestones. I suspect I will make it to 1024, but probably not 65,536

(For the curious as to why 8 bits to a byte, and 2 bytes to a word, I encourage a google search into early computer architectures, some details on the early systems, and then try to relate it to your current laptop or tablet, and your eyes will be well and truly opened. Also read “Turing’s Cathedral” for a good narrative on the first electronic digital computer).

The good and the bad

I am back in the south bay for my high school reunion, and I visited two places that I have always loved.

The good: Guitar Showcase

The place to go to find the finest new and used stringed instruments for the discerning player
The place to go to find the finest new and used stringed instruments for the discerning player

Way back when I first started playing guitar, I was introduced to the legendary Guitar Showcase in Campbell. It is an iconic music store, and naturally has a wide selection of guitars (as well as other instruments).

They have greatly expanded the store, and added a lot of floor space. They still have their vintage room (they also put their jazz boxes there, and the PRS guitars, probably to keep us plebe’s from drooling on them) that is fun to browse. I know they will let you play many of them, if you ask, but I have never had the courage to ask.

One thing that has changed is that they have moved the acoustic guitars from the back room to upstairs. And they have a lot more. I played a cherry Taylor nylon string (felt a little strange, a steel string neck, with a radius and all), a genuinely awesome sounding 814ce (I have a 1996 vintage Taylor 814C (no electrics) that is pretty sweet), a dobro resonator, and a few of the spanish made classical guitars (I also played a mid range Yamaha classical guitar that was pretty sweet for $400).

Downstairs, I was looking hard at the Gibsons. They had a few cherry SG’s, the classic, light weight, ultra fast neck, and just gorgeous.  They also had a pretty good selection of Les Paul’s. One that caught my eye was a $2200 Gary Moore signature series. I love the simple finish, and the feel of that guitar. They also had a very cherry Les Paul standard custom for $1600 that was ultra nice. Very light wear, and a truly sweet guitar.

I did manage to walk out without dinging my credit card, but I have to admit it was hard.

The bad: Fry’s Electronics

Being a geek, growing up and living in the bay area, my first stop for tech product was always Frys Electronics. From the original Sunnyvale location on Lawrence Expressway (now a few blocks north of Lawrence) to the other Fry’s, they were always clean, well stocked, and helpful (even if their workers weren’t the brightest bulbs). I bought many a stick of Ram, CPU, motherboard, or power supply there.

SInce our hotel is only a couple blocks from the Hamilton Avenue Fry’s, we swung by this afternoon. I was horribly disappointed. Lots of empty shelves. Product that is poorly stocked, and outside the TV area, it just looked ratty.

I guess I can understand that they are no longer the preferred vendor for tech odds and ends. I suspect Amazon and other online resellers are matching and beating their prices, but I was shocked at how ratty Fry’s had become. An icon from my youth/young adulthood is in decline.

Ah well, 50% isn’t a bad batting average…

Fitness then and now

Back in 2003/2004 I lost a ton of weight. I went from a peak of about 265#’s to ~185#’s where I stabilized for a long time. I did it the old fashion way, by eating less and exercising more. I counted calories, targeting ~ 1,400 a day (give or take). I started exercising in a gym (because I was really out of shape, it seemed the safest way to get serious), but graduated to running and cycling (even completing a 100km fundraising event that summer).

While I kept at that low weight for a long time, the following year we took a two week vacation in France, and I packed on a few pounds (don’t judge me, the food was OUTSTANDING).  Then I turned 40 (and 45) and the weight was harder to take off.  Just cutting my calorie intake wasn’t enough. Throw in plantar fasciitis and it wasn’t possible to do my daily exercise ritual anymore.

Fast forward until now.  I got back up to 232#’s in early 2013, and I wasn’t happy. I decided to get serious about it. Fortunately, there are lots of tools available today that were just not an option in 2003.

Perfect Diet Tracker – Byoni Systems. A great program that helps you set goals, and track your intake. It has an amazing database that users contribute to, and in the event that something is not there, it is trivial to add it to the database from the nutritional label. I can also enter in my exercise, so that I keep a running tally. Setting goals is easy (and it will warn you if you are being too aggressive, or losing weight too fast), and takes the guesswork out of the process. It is reasonably priced, and it is cross platform, so I use it on my mac as well as my work PC to track while I am on the road (it also has a Linux version too). It syncs with Dropbox, so my data is wherever I am at.

Runkeeper – Application on the iPhone. I started using the Nike application, but it was buggy and crashed a lot.  A friend recommended RunKeeper, and I haven’t looked back. It has all the exercise types listed, and tracks your progress cleanly. It also integrates with a heart rate monitor so I can accurately track my cardio work. I use it for walking, hiking, and biking. There is a great website that you can use to review and track your workouts. It shares automatically with Facebook and Twitter. For what I use it for, it is free, but there is a paid version that will help you train for things like Marathons.

BlueWazoo Heart Rate Monitor – A chest strap with a blue tooth sender unit, it pairs with my iPhone and RunKeeper app. Instead of just tracking speed, distance, and elevation, this option adds a real time tracking of my heartrate. Something I am concerned about being a victim of coronary artery disease.

Excel – I take my blood pressure daily, and track it in an excel spreadsheet.  I also daily track my weight (I weigh myself first thing in the morning, and measure my blood pressure before I drink coffee. Excel is a great tool for this, as it lets me graph the results in a variety of ways that are useful to me.

The world has changed, and the technology has made the exercise portion of fitness and the nutritional tracking to be more exact, and relevant to the process.

To date I have lost 22#’s in 2.5 months. A good pace, and I am satisfied.  About 20 more to go.