Tiny Wireless Device

No Bigger Than Your Thumb

Well we finally got the iBook done. Possibly due to its habit of regularly becoming misconnected, the AirPort (WiFi) card had well and truly failed. You could tell this because if you plugged it back in and switched on, the computer wouldn’t boot or even beep. Its fan would just start spinning at maximum speed, and the card would become too hot to touch.

Generally, not a good sign.

Buying a new internal card from Apple would have been expensive, time-consuming, or both, so we went looking for a USB WiFi adapter instead. I was surprised – the shops were full of very reasonably-priced stuff from Netgear, Belkin and Cisco, absolutely none of which seemed to be compatible with Macs. You’d think it would be worth the small cost of developing drivers. Sure, all Macs come with WiFi built in now, but so does virtually every PC laptop.

We found a nice one eventually though, from a maker called Edimax. It was a bit more expensive than the others, but it’s cute as a button. The same size as the smallest Bluetooth adapter, yet it seemed to have no problem receiving a signal throughout the house.

Any catch? Well yeah… The drivers come on a CD. But to save on packaging – laudable as that is – it’s one of those mini CDs, maybe half the diameter of the proper thing. Not a size you see much since the demise of the CD single, which was the same day as they came out. These work perfectly in most CD drives of course, but Macs have slot-loaders. So basically you slide that little disc on in there, and… you start figuring how the hell you’re going to get it out again.

Except possibly by sheer luck once in a while, a mini CD is not going to play in a slot-loading drive. But no matter, you can download the drivers instead. Just connect to the Wi… Oh right.

Where there’s a will; I happened to have a 3G modem with me, though I suppose we could’ve dug up an Ethernet cable too. After that it was relatively simple. Except that the download link required you to enter an email address despite clearly saying it was optional – a double irritation this time. Otherwise though, it seems a lovely little product. And not only does it come with drivers for most versions of OS X and Windows, it even has them for Linux. One to remember.

How Abject Can We Get?

The Dail Eireann
What is the opposite of social welfare?

A Dáil committee debate; someone yet again makes the point that if we selectively burn lenders now, they will remember it if we ever want to borrow again.

The government’s logic seems to be that the bank debts taken on – but not created – by the State are just like all public borrowing now. But they’re not the same. It was money lent into an overheated credit market by reckless lenders. Just as our banks made loans they should not have, those international institutions lent money they should not have lent to our banks. They took unreasonable risks, they stoked a boom, and they helped collapse the entire Irish banking industry.

We want them to remember not to do that.

Legal Loop

English: Mr. Justice Edmund Sheppard, ca. 1874...
A judge this morning

This is precious. A judge in Kerry has been summonsed – to appear before himself.

He had, it is alleged, failed to display an NCT disc. (This shows the vehicle has passed a roadworthiness test.) A Guard issued a summons to appear in the local court – the very court said vehicle was parked outside of. Little did the officer realise that in doing so he was creating not merely a minor court case, but a dangerous instance of philosophical feedback.

Sadly the worthy took the safe way out, recusing himself from sitting in judgement on himself – presumably on the grounds that he might be prejudiced. I feel though that he squandered a marvellous opportunity. Could he not have dashed quickly from one side of the bench to another, or perhaps set a full-length mirror up in the dock? Or best of all, learned ventriloquism and arraigned a “Little Justice” glove puppet.

Honestly, some judges aren’t even trying to be funny.

[CENSORED]

"Wikipedia censored"
Image via Wikipedia

Update: It gets worse. Our government has an “Irish SOPA” in the works. More or less draconian? It’s hard to say – they seem content to leave the scope and force of this legal power entirely up to (whisper it: technologically illiterate) judges.

Many websites, US-based ones especially, shut themselves down today. You probably know it’s about legislation before the US congress to block websites linking copyright material. Someone on RTÉ Radio 1 described it as “The entertainment industry versus the technology industry”, but that’s quite wrong. The fight is between the entertainment industry, and all of us. Hollywood and the record companies on one hand, freedom on the other.

Yet they’re winning. It’s an incredibly wealthy industry, and it will go to ever more desperate lengths to stay that way. Its advantage is vast economies of scale: You can make a record or film once and sell it to millions and millions of people – often several times.

Its disadvantage? Mainly, a business model that is as dead as the mastodon.

This industry arose out of the application of mass production technologies to the arts – the reproduction and rapid distribution of vast numbers of music and video recordings. It made sense to charge handsomely for this when it was a remarkable technical feat that you could not possibly accomplish yourself. Now however the reproduction and distribution of such things is, quite simply, trivial. And it is hard to persuade people to pay for something they can easily do for themselves.

So instead, the entertainment industry has resorted to threats. Continually it lobbies for more and more draconian legislation. And they are getting it, and they will continue to get it, because they are rich, and politicians are hungry. Plus they share an interest. When freedom of information can bring down governments in the Middle East, government may begin to think that the entertainment industry has a point.

So after only a few decades of freedom from literary censorship here in Ireland, there are now websites I cannot reach – not at least if I use Eircom as my ISP. In the UK, British Telecom set up a filter system expressly to block child pornography. As a child could have predicted, and despite every assurance to the contrary, this filter is now being used to uphold the interests of Big Entertainment. And in the US they’re debating whether to give that industry the right to take down websites at will, a power that can only be called commercial censorship. To quote Wikipedia:

SOPA and PIPA are badly drafted legislation that won’t be effective at their stated goal (to stop copyright infringement), and will cause serious damage to the free and open Internet. They put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won’t have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn’t being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won’t show up in major search engines. And, SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.

Essentially the old medium is demanding the right to wreck the new.

But the world is not changing just for Big Entertainment. I make my living from creative work, I have had to adjust to reality. The publishing industry is transforming – not without pain, but at least without demanding protection. And it’s not like show business is going to disappear. People will always make money out of entertainment – just not the ludicrous fortune they make now.

The industry has had its day in the sun, the technology has moved on. Can it please just accept that gracefully, without further undermining the principle of freedom of thought and expression, without incarcerating any more teenagers?

Too Tired To Think Of A Headline

Windows Vista WOW - iBook?
Attention to detail is important

Oh God, I am now officially exhausted. That iBook proved more recalcitrant than expected. The fragile power connector came away from the logic board – again – requiring me to make a microscopic soldering iron out of the finest screwdriver in my kit. Even then though, the tiny soldered joint didn’t have enough physical strength. In the end nothing would work short of setting it in epoxy. Lots of epoxy.

So I didn’t get a lot of sleep – and I hadn’t recovered from the night I lost repairing someone’s PC. Or more probably, repairing the repairs somebody else did to someone’s PC. That was a weird one. It’s normally well hidden in Windows, but there’s a system of permissions telling it who can do what with every single file. So there was nothing much wrong with this computer – except for the fact that nobody had permission to do anything to anything. Thus while apparently running perfectly, it was utterly useless. You can guess how long it took to figure out what the hell was causing that.

So that’s two nights’ sleep missed in the last week. Meanwhile I have three cartoon commissions going on at once – about as many as I had in all of last year. The Christmas tree is still indoors. I have to seriously consider rewiring the kitchen. I need a shower badly. I haven’t seen my girlfriend in more than two weeks. Those last two are not connected. I’m not keeping up with this blog, I’ve had to put my play on hold, my website redesign on the hold that comes after hold, the other thing I really need to get done on too-depressing-to-even-clearly-recall.

You know what though? These are the good times.

OK, I’m going to bed.

No wait, wash dishes first. Then bed.

Once More Into The Mac

So Many Screws. So Many, Many Screws

Not for the first, not for the second, but for the third time, Niceol’s damn Mac has thrown its Airport card. I am now convinced that this¹ is the worst piece of shit that Apple ever made. Oh, it’s a fine design in some ways. More anonymous than the wild G3 generation, but more refined and cool – indeed the motif seems to be a 1960s fridge. But the attention to detail makes it all the more strange that there’s a huge flaw right at its heart – and getting into the heart means performing dangerous heart surgery.

Don't Try This At Home

Well never again. Not if a wooden splint and a load of impact adhesive have anything to do with it. That WiFi card is staying put.

It’s that grey rectangular thing on the left side there. The white stripe at the front of it is the wood I put in. To be honest, it’s a match – well, a section cut from a kitchen match, much chunkier than the usual kind. It turned out to be the precise thickness to fit between the card and a convenient ledge in the chassis above it. Held both by glue and the original clamp, it should keep this end of the card – the end with the connector that continually worked loose – pressed firmly against the motherboard for ever and ever.

Again.

  1. iBook G4 12″ 1.33GHz Model M9846LL/A, if you need to know.

More Fun With High Voltages

That can't be good

Or maybe the day after that. I’m sorry. I have so much to catch up on after Christmas, which basically punched a gaping hole in my time. People are clamouring for cartoons to be drawn and computers to be fixed. Some of them may even pay me. Various parts of my mother’s house have to be mended. Bills need to be ignored. The calendar therefore can wait. It’s what it’s good at.

For now, just a brief anecdote: I had to replace a venerable fluorescent light fitting in the kitchen which had taken to sticking at the flickering-to-come-on stage. Pretty sure it’s been in the family since the 70s, maybe longer. While I had little hope of being able to repair the thing – I barely understand how they work – it was easy to open it up in situ so I thought I’d have a look first.

Naturally I isolated it at the circuit breaker. To do that though, I had to establish which circuit it was on. As you may have seen in the photograph I took when our main breaker melted down the other week, almost none of them are marked. And as this place is an old cottage that my father spent decades gradually restoring, I could not depend on there being any rigorous scheme. It was time for adventures in ad-hoc wiring. Off goes every electrical device in the whole house.

The kitchen lights, it turns out, are on the same circuit as the immersion heater. Weird, if not quite as strange as the oven being wired to the outside light. And one breaker controlled… Nothing at all, apparently. Which is a little creepy. That one can stay switched off.

But having isolated the light (and the water heater) I undid the nuts and lowered its works down on the integral chains. Cool. Immediately I found that the ‘choke’, or ballast, was surprisingly hot. Have a look at the picture – that’s the mains wiring, which was run next to the ballast. It has very rubbery insulation which seems to have perished where it was exposed to extreme heat. It crumbled away as soon as I moved the wire. So, pretty lucky I disconnected the power before I went poking then.

It seems likely therefore that the ballast was not designed to get so hot, and that it was failing. It plays a vital – and slightly scary – role in a fluorescent. As you may be aware, these things work by applying a big voltage to a tiny amount of mercury vapour, which then glows not unlike the wire filament in an ordinary bulb. One thing that makes a vapour different though is that as soon as it starts glowing, it actually offers less resistance to the flow of current. Left to itself, it would keep getting brighter and brighter until something went horribly wrong.

Well this is AC electricity, so current flow is being reversed fifty times a second. That prevents a runaway situation occurring, Nevertheless the choke is necessary to prevent damage being done even in that brief time. Its role is to be a sort of anti-tube; the more current flows through it, the more it resists. If it’s not doing its job properly then the tube is probably getting too much juice and overheating – fifty times every second. Which would explain why two tubes had failed in fairly quick succession.

(This is at least my understanding of the situation. Perhaps Droog will be along later to tell me why I’m wrong.)

As the huge magnetic ballast was something out of electricity’s iron age, the whole device would need to be replaced. Not such bad news – fluorescent fittings are cheap enough now. I would hang the fitting back up and go to town for one.

And then I remembered the other main component of a fluorescent lamp – the capacitor. Which must be this thing about the size of an old milk bottle. Its function is to store electric charge. It was all very well turning off the power – this still probably held enough to kick me through the kitchen window.

Gingerly, I withdrew my screwdriver and backed away.