Playing Dungeons and Dragons at DragonCon 2016

Logo for Dungeons and Dragons

Before DragonCon 2016 I had decided that I wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons at the convention. Even though I played D&D in high school and went to a lot of conventions where it was played, I had never actually played at a convention before.

In the early 80’s I played Dungeons and Dragons with my friends at lunch and on the weekends along with a bunch of other role playing games (RPG). Most of those games are not played very much anymore, but D&D is now on its 5th iteration which has apparently brought it closer to the first version which is what I remember.

At DragonCon I got to play 3 sessions, 2 of which were great and 1 of which was kind of meh. So much in an RPG depends upon the person running the game, the Game Master (GM) or Dungeon Master (DM), the player characters (PCs), and the module or adventure.

I tend to play “good” characters, with Lawful Good Human Paladins and Chaotic Good Elf Rangers being my preference, and in the convention setting that does not always work with the other players at the table. If everyone else is playing “not-so-good” characters like Warlocks, Thieves, Pirates, etcetera, a Lawful Good Paladin is kind of a stick-in-the-mud, which can actually be fun if the other players are into playing along, but it can also be really not fun if they want to play all serious. That last game at DragonCon was the latter.

Also keep in mind that I had not played since 1986 and never with anyone but friends. So at a convention with a hard time limit with a bunch of strangers was a very different experience.

D&D 5e is a lot like what I remember in high school, apparently previous versions, especially 3.5e, were a lot more complicated. Right now there are only a handful of books needed, actually you could play the game entirely for free using the Systems Reference Document (SRD).

If you are interested in playing D&D I highly recommend checking out gaming at a convention, it was a lot of fun and I was able to learn a lot about the fifth edition rules and how to play the game.

Blade Inductrix FPV

Blade Inductrix FPV

I have owned a few “toy grade” multi-rotors and I have to say that this is my favorite.

The Inductrix was a toy quadcopter by Blade that was special because it used inducted fan style motors and props which protects the propellers and may give a small power boost. Later, some guys created the Tiny Whoop was created by taking an Inductrix style quad and adding a small camera and transmitter to it so it could be flown FPV.

Seeing the success of the Tiny Whoop, Blade created their own version and named it the Blade Inductrix FPV. It is essentially the Inductrix with a tiny camera and 25mw video transmitter. You have to supply a transmitter and goggles or screen.

With 205mw batteries I bought off Amazon and the great STRIX Power Stix 1s Charging Board I get about 3 minutes a flight, which is ok, but not great.

Fatshark goggles with the Laforge diversity modules, a spiral antenna and a patch antenna, I can fly pretty much anywhere in my house and still get reception good enough to keep it in the air.

The frame is a bit fragile, I recommend buying a couple extra and using a carbon fiber or 3d printed x-frame to add some rigidity and reduce the chance of breaking the motor mounts.

I highly recommend the Blade Inductrix FPV to anyone wanting to fly FPV no matter what kind of flying they want to do!

The Spaceship Next Door by Gene Doucette

The Spaceship Next Door audiobook coverI really liked The Spaceship Next Door, it is the first of Gene Doucette’s books I have read and now I look forward to reading/listening to his other books.

I bought this book from Audible and listened to it using the Audible app on my iPhone.

The characters Annie, who is overflowing with teen energy, and Edgar with his G-man attitude are a wonderful mix that makes this a wonderful sci-fi story even though there is really nothing new or ground-breaking.

The narration by Steve Carlson works well, his voice is perfect for Edgar and he does a great job conveying Annie’s energy and nosiness.

From the publisher:

The world changed on a Tuesday.

When a spaceship landed in an open field in the quiet mill town of Sorrow Falls, Massachusetts, everyone realized humankind was not alone in the universe. With that realization everyone freaked out for a little while.

Or almost everyone. The residents of Sorrow Falls took the news pretty well. This could have been due to a certain local quality of unflappability, or it could have been that in three years the ship did exactly nothing other than sit quietly in that field, and nobody understood the full extent of this nothing the ship was doing better than the people who lived right next door.

Sixteen-year-old Annie Collins is one of the ship’s closest neighbors. Once upon a time she took every last theory about the ship seriously, whether it was advanced by an adult or by a peer. Surely one of the theories would be proven true – if not several of them – the very minute the ship decided to do something. Annie is starting to think this will never happen.

One late August morning, a little over three years since the ship landed, Edgar Somerville arrived in town. Ed’s a government operative posing as a journalist, which is obvious to Annie – and pretty much everyone else he meets – almost immediately. He has a lot of questions that need answers, because he thinks everyone is wrong: The ship is doing something, and he needs Annie’s help to figure out what that is.

Annie is a good choice for tour guide. She already knows everyone in town, and when Ed’s theory is proven correct – something is apocalyptically wrong in Sorrow Falls – she’s a pretty good person to have around.

As a matter of fact, Annie Collins might be the most important person on the planet. She just doesn’t know it.

The Spaceship Next Door is the latest novel from Gene Doucette, best-selling author of The Immortal Trilogy, Fixer, The Immortal Chronicles, and Immortal Stories: Eve.

©2015 Gene Doucette (P)2016 Gene Doucette

I rate The Spaceship Next Door a 9 out of 10 and recommend it anyone looking for a fun sc-fi story.

OctoPrint and the Prusa i3 MK2S

octoprint logo

I ran the Prusa i3 Mk2S for a couple of weeks by copying files to the SD card and then printing from there.I could have also printed directly from a computer plugged into the printer, but that computer would need to stay connected and powered on while printing. Either one of those solutions work well enough, but I really wanted to be able to print from multiple computers while not dedicating a laptop or desktop to printing, and most of all I wanted to be able to monitor the printer remotely with video.

OctoPrint is a web interface for 3D printers that can use a Raspberry Pi or similar inexpensive computer. With a Raspberry Pi 3 it allows for the sending of prints, controlling the printer, recording time-lapse videos, and viewing the printer in action remotely.

I used a Raspberry Pi 3 and installed OctoPi and connected a Raspberry Pi camera with a long ribbon cable along with camera and board mount that I found on Thingiverse. It all went together very easy.

I highly recommend watching Thomas Sanladerer’s “Getting started with OctoPrint” video, it will get you through most of the setup process.

I setup a domain name with No-IP so that I can reach the OctoPrint server from anywhere in the world, following the steps was very easy. There is even a Linux Dynamic Update Client that will keep my IP address updated.

I also installed the TouchUI plugin to get a better user interface when using OctoPrint on my phone, which is totally awesome.

The time lapses created by OctoPrint are very cool. By having the camera attached to the camera bed the point of view moves with the object being printed which makes it look like it is standing still while the printer and the room behind it are moving back and forth. I like this much better than having the camera stationary while the printed object is moving back and forth in the video.

If you are using a 3D printer and want to control and monitor it remotely and/or capture video of it printing, I highly recommend giving OctoPrint a try.

Prusa i3 MK2S 3D Printer

Assembled Prusa i3 MK2S

I spent a lot of time and energy researching 3D printers before finally buying one, and even then I am not real happy with the first one I bought, but that will be another post. This one is about the second printer I bought and love, the Prusa i3 MK2S Kit.

The Prusa i3 MK2 is a very popular and highly rated printer, Make Magazine gave it their Outstanding Open Source, Best Value, and Best Overall awards in 2017. Thomas Sanladerer says “The Original Josef Prusa i3 MK2: It doesn’t get any better than this!

You may have already done some reasearch and found that it takes up to 2 months to get this Prusa kit ship shipped to the states, I ordered mine on February 13 and it did not ship from the Czech Republic until March 31st and I received it a few days after that.

The total I paid for the kit with shipping came to $781.26. In the world of good 3D printers with auto bed leveling, a heated build plate, 8 inch by 8 inch by 8 inch (it’s actually bigger than that) build area, and quality components like the E3D V6 hot end, is an amazing price.

Prusa i3 MK2S kit parts

I could have bought it assembled for $200.00 more, but I believe you should have the experience of building from a kit as you WILL be taking it apart to maintain it if you are going to be serious about 3D printing.

Putting the printer together was not that hard, Prusa provides wonderfully detailed directions online in a format where you can ask questions and get clarification quickly. Many times someone at Prusa will even update the instructions based on feedback within a couple days of a comment being made. I used an iPad to view and follow the instructions, it worked great.

There are also many videos on YouTube, some as long as 12 hours, with people building their Prusa i3 MK2 kits. Also there are many video reviews, troubleshooting help, and timelapses of prints in progress.

After 6 weeks or so of printing about 18 hours a day, something went wrong with my printer. I am still not sure exactly what went wrong, because I bent the heat break tube while trying to fix it. I ordered a new tube, nozzle, and boden tube from the MatterHackers website. I then proceeded to make some mistakes when re-assembling the E3D hot end which triggered a chat session with Shane at Prus who patiently helped me troubleshoot the issue.

I led him down multiple wrong paths, I kept thinking it was an issue with the extruder motor, but eventually we figured out the issue was the filament cooling where it shouldn’t be. I spent some time with the E3D V6 Assembly instructions, figured out what I was doing wrong, took it all apart for the fourth or fifth time, and carefully assembled it following the E3D instructions to the letter. Then BANG! I was back in business.

If you are looking to get into 3D printing and want a printer that will last a long time, is easy to fix and maintain, will print almost any filament, and are willing to spend around $800.00 to get started, I recommend the Prusa i3 MK2S kit over anything else on the market.

P.S.
The MonoPrice 3D Printers are getting great reviews and prices cannot be beat. I have been tempted by them, but I think I would save up and get another Prusa with all of its features instead.

E-flite Radian

E-flite Radian

This Radian is the larger sibling to the UMX radian with a 2 meter wingspan, there is even a larger version, the Radian XL that has a 2.6 meter wingspan. So this is the middle sized, although still quite large, Radian.

After flying the UMX Radian for awhile I decided I was ready for its big brother. I have heard from many places that the larger E-flite Radian flies just like the little one, well as an inexperienced pilot I have to disagree.

I think the big difference between the 2 is the AS3X system in the UMX which provides a lot of stability and helps keep the plane flying level and smooth.

Radian battery compartment

With the larger plane and the lack of AS3X I find it much harder to control, to the point that I have put it nose-first into the dirt twice now. Yes, on my first maiden flight, about 2 minutes into the flight I lost control and put it into the ground at high speed. It broke the fuselage in half and crumpled the nose to the point it could not be repaired.

It is very nice that a replacement fuselage is available for less than $30. It took me about an hour and some E6000 to strip the parts I need from the old fuselage and get the new fuselage ready to fly. It was easy to do with some patience and care.

The second flight was even worse than the first. I did not keep it in the air much more than a minute when it felt like it was not responding to my commands. I think it was responding but I just had no idea what to do to get it to pull out of the dive it was in. So BANG, back in the dirt. At least this time I think I can glue it back together and not replace any parts, we’ll see.

My plan now is to find someone at the airfield who can buddy-box with me and give me some lessons in flying fixed wing planes. To tell you the truth I could use that kind of help with multi-rotors and ground RC.

Even though I have had my issues with the Radian, I would still recommend it to anyone looking for a starter powered sailplane, but not as a first plane.

E-flite UMX Radian

E-flite Radian UMX

After a couple of years flying multi-rotors I decided to give a fixed wing plane a try. At some point I built a Flite-Test Trainer which I never really got to fly due to my total lack of experience. Then I did some research and decided to buy an E-flite UMX Radian.

There are many versions of the Radian and the UMX is the smallest and cheapest of the bunch at around $90.00 for the Bind-and-Fly version, meaning you have to supply your own transmitter to fly it. There is a FPV version that comes with a camera and transmitter, along with much larger version all the way up to the Radian XL with a 2.6 meter wing span.

The UMX Radian has been a great plane for me to get started with, the AS3X system does an amazing job keeping it level and steady even in a moderate amount of wind. But I feel like the AS3X system is not allowing me to learn the skills I need to fly larger planes that do not include include it. More on that in a later post.

And most amazingly, this little plane is able to catch thermals and ride them until the plane is a dot in the sky. The first couple of times I caught a thermal and took it up and up it was a real thrill. Even with the 150mah batteries I regularly get 10 full minutes of flying and every now and then I get as much as 20 minutes.

The plane is so docile and easy to fly that I am usually sitting in a chair in the shade while flying it, but once it becomes a dot in the sky it is best to stand up and pay a bit more attention, but one of the really great things is that it is so light that even if you plant it into the ground you most like won’t break anything.

I highly recommend the UMX Radian to anyone looking for a small inexpensive docile flyer that can take a bit of wind and take some bad landings without breaking.

DragonCon 2016 Pictures

Alan Tudyk at the Firefly Guests panel at DragonCon 2016

Jason Isaacs in the Wait Until My Father Hears About This! panel at DragonCon 2016

Tori Belleci in the Confirmed: An Hour with Tory and Kari panel at DragonCon 2016

I had a great time at DragonCon this year, actually got to play Dungeons & Dragons Adventure League on 3 mornings in a row!

More pictures are over at my SmugMug site.

ZMR250 Multirotor Frame

ZMR250 Multirotor Racing Drone

ZMR250 Frame

My first 250 size quadcopter frame was a ZMR250 which I have been told is a clone of a Blackout 250. The Blackout costs $150 from GetFPV while the ZMR is available for as low as $20 from various sources. I got my first one from Banggood in May 2015, it required some drilling to get the 2204 motors to fit the arms and the SMA VTx to fit through the top plate, but I was pretty happy with it overall.

My initial build included:

  • Banggood ZMR250 Carbon Fiber Frame
  • SimonK 20Amp ESCs
  • SunnySky 2204/2300kv Motors (I think they were knock-offs)
  • 700tvl Sony Board Camera
  • ImmersionRC 600mw VTx and Spironet Antennas
  • Naze32 Flight Controller
  • Home-made Power Distribution Board

I chose black and orange as a color scheme using orange shrink-wrap and propellers. After making a lot of mistakes and burning myself with the soldering iron a dozen or more times I decided to name the plane “Orange Pain”.

Since May I have rebuilt the machine a number of times due to burnt out or broken parts. I have gone through a Naze32, two 600mw VTx, a very expensive board camera, a top plate, three motors, three SN20a ESCs, and a ton of props. I bought an FPVModel ZMR250 and built it as a second plane but have since parted it out.

The current iteration of Orange Pain includes:

  • A mixture of Carbon Fiber parts from the original Banggood frame and a FPVModel ZMR250 V2 frame
  • RotorGeek RG20A ESCs
  • SunnySky 2204/2300kv (I think these are real)
  • Fatshark 250mw VTx
  • 600tvl Sony Board Camera PZ4020
  • Naze32 Flight Controller
  • DYS Power Distribution Board

I think this is a great setup for an intermediate racer or daily basher. I am currently struggling to get the tune on it right and am ready to pay someone else to tune it for me.

After rebuilding the machine a number of times I have learned a few things.
The expensive FPV cameras are not worth it, stick with the $30 Sony PZ4020 or PZ4020M with or without a case.
600mw Video Transmitters are not needed and the extra heat can greatly shorten the life of the unit. A 200mw or even 25mw transmitter may last a long longer and provide a signal that is comparable to the higher-powered transmitters at racing and public park distances.
If you short out a flight controller it is probably ruined. It is good to have an extra on hand.
Spend the extra money on 2 sets of drivers, keep one set in a toolbox at home and carry the other set with you.

I really enjoy my ZMR and recommend them for people getting started who want to build their own. The FPVModel ZMR250 V2 is made of a much higher quality carbon fiber than the Banggood frame, but the cheaper frame is not a bad buy.

ImmersionRC Vortex Pro-Tunes

Vortex 285 – FPV Race Quad

Vortex 285 – FPV Race Quad


The Vortex comes with 10 “Pro-Tunes” that were developed by sponsored pilots before its release. I did a bunch of Googling after buying the Vortex to try and find more details about these varoius tunes and found nothing more than a short video from UmmaGawd about the Vortex.

So here are all the tunes as of October 2015. I hope they add some new ones soon that are specific to newer motor and prop combinations, especially DAL props.

Preset 1

Pilot: AntohonyRC
Props: Gemfan 5040
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 4S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Easy Rider

Preset 2

Pilot: BewweB
Props: Gemfan 5030
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 3S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Beginner

Preset 3

Pilot: BewweB
Props: Gemfan 5030
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 4S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Intermediate

Preset 4

Pilot: BewweB
Props: Gemfan 5040
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 4S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Race

Preset 5

Pilot: BewweB
Props: HQ 5x4x3
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 4S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Howler

Preset 6

Pilot: BewweB
Props: Gemfan 5040
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 4S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Freeride

Preset 7

Pilot: BorisB
Props: HQ 5045
Motor: Cobra CM-2204/32
Pack: 4S
Camera: GoPro
Style: Acrobatic

Preset 8

Pilot: Nocomp
Props: Gemfan 6045
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 3S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Freerider

Preset 9

Pilot: Porco777
Props: Gemfan 5030
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 4S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Extreme

Preset 10

Pilot: UmmaGawd
Props: HQ 50540
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 4S
Camera: GoPro
Style: Precision

In the next couple of weeks I hope to experiment with each of these tunes and see how each performs with the props described and with various DAL props.

Immersion RC Vortex First Flights

Vortex 285 – FPV Race Quad

Vortex 285 – FPV Race Quad


I have seen a handful of people flying Vortexes around the Atlanta area and after rebuilding my ZMRs like 5 times I decided to give the Immersion Vortex a try.

I bought it from Atlanta Hobby along with both the Carbon Fiber Crash Kit and the Plastic Crash Kit. I also got a cable to allow me to easily connect a Spektrum Satellite receiver without having to make a cable of my own.

I got it home, took it out of the box, connected it to a computer and installed all the updated and such, then was ready to fly. It took me a couple of weeks to have the time and place to fly it, it rained 3 weekends in a row.

Once I finally got to fly the experience was very good. I started out with the Gemfan 5030 props that came with it, Turnigy Nano-tech 3S 1300mah batteries, with a RunCam HD, and used BewweB’s Pro-tune number 2. It flew really well and was a lot of fun. Not what I would call fast or agile, but still fun.

Next up I put a Glacier 4S 1300mah battery on it with DAL 5030 props, it was much faster and a bit more agile. Then I swapped the props out for DAL 5045 Bull-Nose props, but they were too aggressive and drew more amps than I was willing to risk.

Right now I feel like the Vortex’s largest issue is the proprietary 12 amp ESCs. 12 amps is not enough to run 6 inch props on 4S batteries without burning them up very quickly, and right now you cannot get replacement ESCs and without doing something extreme you cannot use larger ESCs.

After 7 flights with a mix of 3S and 4S batteries the ground cable to the FPV camera broke at the connector. I fixed it by cutting up a cable from a RunCam FPV camera and soldering together with the Vortex FPV cable. I also popped the cap off the video transmitter’s antenna, found it and popped it back on, but I plan on gluing it on before my next flight.

Overall I think the Vortex is a decent quad, the trends have changed a lot since its creation and so it has fallen out of favor in comparison to smaller multirotors like the Shendrone’s Tweaker and Krieger, but that does not mean that it is not a good quad. I think it is suitable for fun-flying and even racing at a beginner to intermediate level.

Sorry about the lack of video, the RunCam HD was not at enough of an angle so about all you could see during my flights was the ground. A quick Google search will lead you to many videos of pilots much better than me flying the Vortex.

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher


I have re-listened to this series a handful of times now and it just gets better every time. I burnt through my credits on Audible faster than usual this year so to delay spending more credits I decided it was about time to listen to all 15 books in the series, I skipped Side Jobs this time.

Harry Dresden is such an amazing character and the world Jim Butcher has created is fantastic. But what makes the series so wonderful are the supporting characters, they are as unforgettable as Dresden.

James Marsters does an AMAZING job narrating these books, you owe it to yourself to listen to the audiobooks even if you have read the books yourself. He adds so much to them!

“PARKOUR”
“Polka will never die!”

I rate the series a 10 out of 10 and recommend everyone give Storm Front a try.

DragonCon 2015

We had a good time at DragonCon this year. It was a strange year and I felt kind of off the whole show. But I had a good time talking with friends and taking pictures.

The Costume Contest and Masquerade were great, seeing the BSG folks and Karen Gillian was great, and listening the Jim Butcher is always fun. Steranko was a crack-up and the American Horror: Freak Show folks were a blast. The Georgia Philharmonic Orchestra was amazing and Rasputina was delightful.

DragonCon 2015 Photos


American Horror: Freak Show


Costume Contest


Battle Star Galactica


Steranko


Georgia Philharmonic Orchestra


Rasputina


Jim Butcher


Masquerade

The Lost Fleet by Jack Campbell

The Lost Fleet is a science fiction series written by John G. Hemry writing as Jack Campbell and consists of 6 novels centered around Captain “Black Jack” Geary and the Alliance Fleet. This is good old military science fiction space war stuff.

I listened to these novels as audiobooks from Audible. Christian Rummel does a great job narrating all 6 of the novels and brings all of the characters to life. When adding up the playtime of all six novels you get 60 hours of space battles, political infighting, and military atmosphere.

This is not my ordinary type of reading, I usually go with something lighter, but The Lost Fleet had been recommended to me so many times that I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I am glad I finally picked it up, they are pretty great for what they are. Military space battles with some real military thought put into them.

I listened to all 6 of them one after the other, just couldn’t stop myself. And now I am on to Jack Campbell’s Beyond the Frontier series.

The books that make up The Lost Fleet are:

  1. The Lost Fleet: Dauntless
  2. The Lost Fleet: Fearless
  3. The Lost Fleet: Courageous
  4. The Lost Fleet: Valiant
  5. The Lost Fleet: Relentless
  6. The Lost Fleet: Victorious

What the publisher has to say about Dauntless:

The Alliance has been fighting the Syndics for a century, and losing badly. Now its fleet is crippled and stranded in enemy territory. Their only hope is a man who has emerged from a century-long hibernation to find he has been heroically idealized beyond belief.

Captain John “Black Jack” Geary’s legendary exploits are known to every schoolchild. Revered for his heroic “last stand” in the early days of the war, he was presumed dead. But a century later, Geary miraculously returns from survival hibernation and reluctantly takes command of the Alliance fleet as it faces annihilation by the Syndics.

Appalled by the hero-worship around him, Geary is nevertheless a man who will do his duty. And he knows that bringing the stolen Syndic hypernet key safely home is the Alliance’s one chance to win the war. But to do that, Geary will have to live up to the impossibly heroic “Black Jack” legend.

I rate The Lost Fleet series an 8 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone who loves science fiction and has a taste for the military.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

I really like the Borderlands series of games, they are the right combination of first-person shooter (FPS), customizability, and goofy humor. The mechanics have always been good and it has been much more fun than frustrating.

The story lines in the Borderlands series do tend to be thin, this is not epic story telling by any means, but there is a story and it stays pretty consistent throughout the franchise, and I really enjoy it.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is the third update to the franchise. There are 3 main games, Borderlands, Borderlands 2, and now Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. But each of these have a lot of downloadable content available that greatly extend the gameplay.

So far I have made my way through The Pre-Sequel with Nisha bringing her up to level 50 and now I am working my way through with Jack from the most recent DLC.

These games are solid fun if you enjoy FPS and the skill trees give you the opportunity to play the game using many different styles of play.

My only real complain right now is that the Mac and PC updates are not in sync so as a Mac player am having a tough time to find groups to play with. That is very frustrating as Jack is the perfect team player and should be most enjoyable with a full group. I think a group of 4 jacks would be a blast.

I rate Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel an 8 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone looking for a fun FPS to play.

Lock In by John Scalzi

Here is something new, an single audiobook with 2 performances. Not 2 narrators in the same recording, but 2 narrators with their own recording. Kinda cool.

I bought the audiobook from Audible as a pre-order that came with the added benefit of giving me the Amber Benson recording of the book.

I first listened to the Wil Wheaton recoding and really enjoyed it. Wil Wheaton has turned in some great performances as a narrator of audiobooks and this is no exception.

I am familiar with Amber Benson primarily from Buffy the Vampire slayer that I thought she was great in. I didn’t know that she is also an author and has narrated audiobooks.

After listening to the Wil Wheaton version of the book I decided to wait a month or so before listening to the Amber Benson version. During that break I read a blog post by John Scalzi that was pretty cool and shines a new light on the book. It makes the story kind of gimmicky, but I don’t believe it ruins the book.

WARNING: This link contains SPOILERS that will absolutely impact your enjoyment of reading or listening to Lock In. So don’t follow the link unless you have already read the book. If you have read it, please check it out, it is a cool aspect of the story you may have missed.

I HAVE READ THE WARNING, TAKE ME THERE

I enjoyed the story in Lock In and hope to read more stories that take place in the same universe. There is also talk of a TV series or a Movie, that could also be cool.

From the publisher:

"I love working with Audible, in no small part because they’re committed to doing what’s right, both for my books, and the people who listen to those books. There’s a really excellent reason for Lock In to have two entirely different versions, so when it came time to make the audiobook, Audible did an ingenious thing: they asked both Wil Wheaton and Amber Benson to record entire versions of the book. As the author, I’m impressed with Audible’s commitment to my narrative – and I’m geeking out that both Wil and Amber are reading my book. This is fantastic." (John Scalzi)

A blazingly inventive near-future thriller from the best-selling, Hugo Award-winning John Scalzi.

Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever, and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent – and nearly five million souls in the United States alone – the disease causes "Lock In": Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.

A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what’s now known as "Haden’s syndrome", rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an "integrator" – someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated.

But "complicated" doesn’t begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery – and the real crime – is bigger than anyone could have imagined.

BONUS AUDIO: Audible’s audio edition of Lock In contains the bonus novella, Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome, written by John Scalzi and narrated by a full cast.

©2014 John Scalzi (P)2014 Audible Inc.

I rate Locked In a 9 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone who enjoys police thrillers or science fiction.

DragonCon Photography Team Computer Setup

As a volunteer at DragonCon one of my current responsibilities is getting the computers setup for use by the photographers and the librarians. This year I had to re-learn a lot of what worked so well last year as my notes were not complete, so I decided to write them up more thoroughly this year and post them hear so that I will not loose them.

At the 2014 DragonCon we used a total of 5 computers, 3 for the photographers to drop off photographs at and 2 for the librarians to use for key wording. The computers were running Windows 7 and required a lot of Windows updates and video driver updates before they were ready to use, luckily the internet connection at the show was fairly fast on Thursday afternoon when I was setting them up.

We call the 2 librarian computers A and B; each computer has 2 external hard drives which we call the Piles, a primary drive and a backup drive. The primary drive on each library computer is shared on the network as Pile A and Pile B.

I don’t know a lot about Windows networking, so I winged it and believe I set up a Windows home network with file sharing turned on. I wasted a lot of time before I figured out that all 5 computers had the same network name so they could not share files, giving each computer a unique name fixed all of the sharing issues I was having.

On the desktop of each computer I made a shortcut to the shared Pile A and Pile B folders so that the photographers could easily find the correct place to copy their pictures to. At this point I was done with the 3 photographers computers, by the end of the show photographers had installed Infranview and other tools to help them edit and cull their photos.

On the librarian computer we install the latest version of Adobe Lightroom and use it in the 30-day trial mode. Next up is importing the keyword list provided by the show into Lightroom, this gives us a controlled vocabulary for keywording making pictures easy to find later on.

Then in Lightroom install the latest version of Jeffrey Friedl’s Folder Watch Plugin, this is the tool that automatically imports any new pictures found in watched folders into Lightroom, it is really amazing how quickly and reliably this works.

Then we use the Windows Sync Toy and Windows Task Manager to keep the primary and secondary drives in sync so that at the end of the show we can turn over the primary A and B drives to the show and keep the backup A and B drives for the photography team’s use.

Here is my updated checklist:

  1. Verify that each computer has a unique network name/id
  2. Run Windows Update and install all updates
  3. Update video card drivers if they are separate from Windows Update
  4. Verify that all computers are using the same type of networking so they can see each other, in Windows 7 a homegroup network is easiest http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/start-here-to-set-up-a-home-network-in-windows-7
  5. External Drives
    1. Attach the primary and backup drives to the librarian computers
    2. Format and name the external drives and name them
      1. Pile A
      2. Pile A Back
      3. iPile B
      4. iv. Pile B Back
    3. On the Pile A drive make new directories named Pile A and Lightroom A
    4. On the Pile B drive make new directories named Pile B and Lightroom B
  6. Sync’ing
    1. Here is a great article that walks through setting up sync’ing
      http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/it-consultant/configure-automated-backups-using-synctoy-and-windows-7s-scheduled-task/
    2. Install the latest version of Sync Toy
      1. http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=15155
    3. Set up a New Folder Pair in Sync Toy to keep the primary and backup drives in sync, use Echo so that changes to the primary drive are copied to the backup drive but not from the backup to primary
    4. Use Windows Task Manager to run Sync Toy every 10 minutes
    5. Verify at least once a day that the sync’ing is occurring successfully, but the primary and backup drive should have the same number of files in the Pile directories
  7. Lightroom
    1. Install the latest version of Lightroom and choose the 30-day version when launching it
    2. Preferences – “Lightroom > Preferences”
      1. General
        1. Uncheck “Automatically check for updates”
        2. Unchesk “Show splash screen during startup”
        3. Choose the correct DragonCon default library
        4. Uncheck the “Select the “Current/Previous Import””
        5. Turn off all completion sounds
    3. Remove all of the modules except for Library and Develop. Right-click the top toolbar and uncheck the unneeded modules.
    4. Then import keywords, “Metadata > Import Keywords”. Verify that the full keyword list is available in the “Keyword List” panel. More information about keywording in Lightroom is available at http://adobe.ly/148Icbo
    5. Setup Jeffrey Friedl’s Folder Watch Plugin
      1. http://regex.info/blog/lightroom-goodies/folder-watch
      2. Lightroom “File > Plug-in Manager”
        1. Choose “jf Folder Watch”
        2. Choose the parent folder on the Pile
          1. Defaults are good with the following exceptions (If desired “Apply meta data preset, covered elsewhere)
      3. Choose “Watch”
      4. Choose “Restart on Launch”
      5. Choose “Show Splash on Launch”
    6. f. Then create a new library named “dragoncon-2014-pile-a” or “dragoncon-2014-pile-b” and save it into the “lightroom a” or “lightroom b” folder on the attached primary external drive
  8. Testing
    1. Use a non-librarian computer to drop a couple of pictures into Pile A and Pile B
      1. Verify these pictures appear in Lightroom on the expected librarian computer
      2. After a period of time verify that the pictures and updated Lightroom library appear on the backup drives
    2. At least once a day check the primary and secondary drives to verify that they are in sync

We are always looking for better ways to handle the 30,000 plus pictures we collect at DragonCon, if you have any big ideas please let me know.

DragonCon 2014 Recap

We had a great time at DragonCon this year. The costumes were amazing, the photography staff did a great job capturing the event, and we actually got some sleep. Our son Eli stayed with the grandparents where he got to run wild and play with new toys.

My favorite costumes were How to Train Your Dragon, the Music Box Dolls from Chitty Bang Bang, and The Dreamer.

How to Train Your Dragon

Music Box Dolls from Chitty Bang Bang

The Dreamer

Bobbie made a great costume from a lost episode of Doctor Who named "The Celestial Toymaker".

Bobbie

The Celestial Toymaker

My favorite panels were Colin Baker, Ron Glass, Jeri Ryan, Terri Gilliam, Evanna Lynch, and Sparkfun.

Ron Glass

Jeri Ryan

Terry Gilliam

Evanna Lynch

Sparkfun

Remote Host Identification Has Changed!

After updating the operating system to Debian and plugging in your BeagleBone Black via USB you may receive the error message:
WARNING: REMOTE HOST IDENTIFICATION HAS CHANGED!

This is normal as the RSA key has changed when you updated the OS.

The easiest way to fix it is to run ssh-keygen -R then try connecting again.

When connected via USB
ssh-keygen -R 192.168.7.2
ssh debian@192.168.7.2

When connected via Ethernet
ssh-keygen -R beaglebone.local
ssh debian@beaglebone.local

You should then be asked to add the new fingerprint to your "known hosts", say yes and you should then be asked for your Debian password who’s default is temppwd.

And your in debian@beaglebone:~$.

Thanks to http://blog.tinned-software.net/ssh-remote-host-identification-has-changed/

Setting up Debian on a BeagleBone Black

This post is about installing Debian (BeagleBone Black – 2GB eMMC) 2014-03-27 and Flashing the eMMC using a Mac running OSX 10.9 Mavericks.

I decided to get a head start on using Debian with the BBB which is soon to tbe the default OS installed on them.

These are the steps I used today to get up and running:

  1. Download image from http://beagleboard.org/latest-images
     – BBB-eMMC-flasher-debian-7.4-2014-03-27-2gb.img.xz
  2. Use Unarchiver to extract disk image
     – BBB-eMMC-flasher-debian-7.4-2014-03-27-2gb.img
  3. Download PiFiller to copy the disk image to the SD card
     – http://ivanx.com/raspberrypi/
    WARNING: Do not insert the SD card yet, PiFiller will tell you when
  4. Run PiFiller and follow the directions
    1. Choose the disk image
    2. Insert the SD card
    3. Verify that PiFiller has found the correct device
    4. Some more verifying, click OK a couple of times
    5. Now wait awhile, it took about 20 minutes on my MacBook Pro
      Holy Cow! The dialog box opening and closing gets really annoying to watch!
    6. All set when you get the “Your SD card is ready” message
  5. Eject the SD from the Mac OS then remove it from the computer
  6. With the BBB unplugged, no network, USB, video, power cables, insert the SD card into the BBB
    WARNING: The SD card pokes out of the back of the BBB enough that it is easy to bump it and cause it to eject. Especially when plugging in a USB or HDML cable. It pays to be slow and patient when manipulating the BBB with an SD card in place.
  7. Get ready: When plugging in the BBB you will need to hold down the Boot button until all 4 USR lights turn on
     – While holding down the Boot button insert a 5V 2A power supply, release the Boot button when all 4 USR lights turn on
  8. Now the USR buttons should start blinking in a seemingly random pattern, this should go on for 20 to 60 minutes depending on the OS and SD card
  9. When the USR lights all light-up again the eMMC has been flashed with Debian
  10. Remove the power adapter
  11. Remove the SD card

You are now ready to plug-in the devices you want to work with and enjoy Debian

More information about installing operating systems on the BeagleBone Black:
http://beagleboard.org/Getting%20Started#update
http://learn.adafruit.com/beaglebone-black-installing-operating-systems/overview

BeagleBone Black Microcontroller

Boris, the BeagleBoard Logo MascotI recently bought a BeagleBone Black (BBB) and am having a great time with it.

From the website beaglebord.org:

BeagleBone Black is a $45 MSRP community-supported development platform for developers and hobbyists. Boot Linux in under 10 seconds and get started on development in less than 5 minutes with just a single USB cable.

What I Bought

I bought my BBB from Makershed as a part of a kit which included the book Getting Started with BeagleBone by Matt Richardson and a handful of electronic components. The kit is not bad, but I feel like it is overpriced, especially for someone who has a lot of components already.

I recommend the book as a good starting point, it does a great job of introducing the basics of the board and using Python and JavaScript to program it. There aren’t many other books out there, but I am not sure there needs to be.

I also bought a power supply, a very cool case, and a wi-fi dongle from Amazon.

The power supply is very basic one that provides the 2 amps necessary to power the BBB with a Wi-Fi dongle attached. Power Adapter DC 5V, 2A, 10W for BeagleBone Black at Amazon

I don’t have much to say about the Wi-Fi dongle yet as I haven’t tried to use it, I will write more about it when I do. It is small and was only $10 so I happy with it so far. Edimax EW-7811Un 150 Mbps Wireless 11n Nano Size USB Adapter with EZmax Setup Wizard

The case is pretty awesome. It is very well made and lets you see right into the board with risers for the buttons that make it much easier to press them. The BegaleBone Black should ship with a case like this. It looks like Laser Goodies has pulled their products from Amazon, or maybe they are just out of stock, here is the page on their website Beaglebone Black Slim Case – Clear

Laser Goodies Beaglebone Black Slim Case - Clear

Laser Goodies Beaglebone Black Slim Case – Clear

Why I Bought It

I regularly attend the wonderful Atlanta JavaScript Meetup group and a couple of weeks ago Tim Kadom of Thoughtworks showed us his Telepresence robot built with a BeagleBone black and an iPhone. All of the code was written on the BBB with the Cloud9 IDE in JavaScript. I was seriously intrigued.

I have been playing with Ardunio microcontrollers for awhile now and really like them. But they require that you program in their own C like language which I can muddle through but don’t really like. And it is not easy getting an Ardunio on a network, the code to make Ethernet, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth to work doesn’t leave much space for your own ideas.

The Rasberry Pi on the other hand just doesn’t speak to me. I am more interested in them now that I have spent some time with a BeagleBoard, but I still don’t think I have much of a use for a Rasberry Pi right now.

With the BeagleBone it appears that I get all of the inputs and outputs of an Arduino while having all of the network abilities of a Rasberry Pi that I can program using JavaScript. That really gets me excited!

In the coming weeks I will be posting more about the BeagleBone Black and the project I am working towards.

Getting Started with BeagleBone by Matt Richardson

After seeing a really cool telepresence robot using a BeagleBone at an Atlanta JavaScript Meetup I just had to get one.

I ended up buying a Beagle Bone Black (BBB) from MakerShed in a kit that included some components and a paperback of Getting Started with BeagleBone.

While waiting for the BBB to arrive I started reading the book on Safari Books Online and ended up never reading more than a couple of pages from the printed book. I was more comfortable reading the book on an iPad using the Safari Books Online app.

This is a very good “Getting Started” book. Its purpose is to build familiarity and confidence for someone who has not used a BBB before, and it does that very well. So well that even before I was done with it I had a ton of plans for my BBB including updating the OS from Angstrom to Debian, adding an NTP server, and a lot more.

Now I am planning on creating a remote home automation system for our garage doors.

From the publisher:

Many people think of Linux as a computer operating system, running on users’ desktops and powering servers. But Linux can also be found inside many consumer electronics devices. Whether they’re the brains of a cell phone, cable box, or exercise bike, embedded Linux systems blur the distinction between computer and device.

Many makers love microcontroller platforms such as Arduino, but as the complexity increases in their projects, they need more power for applications, such as computer vision. The BeagleBone is an embedded Linux board for makers. It’s got built-in networking, many inputs and outputs, and a fast processor to handle demanding tasks. This book introduces you to both the original BeagleBone and the BeagleBone Black and gets you started with projects that take advantage of the board’s processing power and its ability to interface with the outside world.

I rate Getting Started with BeagleBone a 10 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone as a first exposure to the BBB.

Metro: Last Light by 4A Games

I played the first Metro game, Metro 2033, and thought it was pretty good so when I saw Metro: Last light on sale at Steam I decided to give it a try.

The Metro games are based on books written by Dmitry Glukhovsky; which I have not read. After playing both of these video games I will probably not read them… It is not my kind of story. I am not really a big fan of the Horror-Survival genre but somehow I have found myself playing a few of them.

Metro: Last Light was ok but nothing great, I am surprised that it received Gamespot’s Editor’s Choice Award in 2013. I guess there weren’t that many good games in 2013.

In both of the games I was seriously annoyed by all of the cut-scenes and times that I was not in control of the character. It felt like there was very little time spent playing with a lot of time just watching, BORING!

To top it off there were no guns in the game that really excited me, they were mostly ok, but nothing special at all.

In 9 hours I played through the entire game at Normal settings and I really do feel like I spent as much time passively watching cut-scenes as I spent playing.

The graphics are gorgeous though, I played it on a Late 2013 27" iMac with very high settings and it was smooth and beautiful throughout.

From the publisher:

It Is the Year 2034.

Beneath the ruins of post-apocalyptic Moscow, in the tunnels of the Metro, the remnants of mankind are besieged by deadly threats from outside – and within. Mutants stalk the catacombs beneath the desolate surface, and hunt amidst the poisoned skies above.

But rather than stand united, the station-cities of the Metro are locked in a struggle for the ultimate power, a doomsday device from the military vaults of D6. A civil war is stirring that could wipe humanity from the face of the earth forever.

As Artyom, burdened by guilt but driven by hope, you hold the key to our survival – the last light in our darkest hour…

I rate this game a 6 out of 10 and only recommend it to the desperate.

Search Engine Optimization: Your visual blueprint for effective Internet marketing by Kristopher B. Jones and Jim Boykin

SEO BookLooking to hone my SEO skills I poked around inside of Safari Books Online for just the right book to show me the light.

I have been building web sites for 17 years now and know a fair amount about how the search engines work. By "Search Engines" I mean Google of course, as most of the others have fallen to the wayside. But I have not actively studied SEO techniques in a long time and I figure now is the time to brush up.

I really liked this book, it is 336 pages of no-nonsense advice and direction on the why and how of SEO including a lot of relevant information that the other books have left out.

From the publisher:

Your visual, step-by-step guide to search engine optimization, from an Internet marketing expert

Techniques and best practices for search engine optimization are constantly evolving. This visual guide to SEO is fully updated with information on the latest and most effective ways to move your website up in the search engine rankings. Internet marketing guru Kristopher Jones, a frequent keynote speaker at interactive marketing conferences, explains all the key concepts in a visual format so you can see how they work and what to do. Learn about keyword generation, internal linking, URL structure, content creation, using social media, and more.

  • More than 70 percent of businesses today have websites; search engine optimization is a vital factor in growing a business by gaining new customers while increasing business from existing customers
  • This two-color book is the only guide to search engine optimization that is presented in a visual format
  • Presents search engine marketing principles including keyword generation, on-site optimization involving website structure, internal linking, URL structure, content creation, off-site optimization, social media optimization and more
  • Author is a popular keynote speaker and panelist at interactive marketing and technology conferences
  • Search Engine Optimization: Your visual blueprint for effective Internet marketing, Third Edition helps visual learners master and maximize SEO techniques.

I rate this book an 8 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about search engine optimization and pay-per-click search engine advertising.

I read Search Engine Optimization: Your visual blueprint for effective Internet marketing on Safari Books Online using their app on my iPad.