Thanksgiving 2014–Travel from hell but worth it

Greetings folks,Tire damage shown

It’s really been a while since I have updated. Thought I’d give it a go with the trip up to Sioux City from Omaha this weekend.

Keep in mind, I’m safe, no real damage done to anything, but the following is true in every way I can think of.

Friday I started to travel toward Sioux City. I started early because I wanted to meet up with a friend, but not early enough to be honest. I get about 25 minutes away from Omaha and my vehicle starts shaking. Considering I’ve needed an oil change and back brakes for a long time now, I thought that it was one of those things. Turns out my back passenger tire blew out, the side of the thing shredded like a popped balloon. I got the spare tire out, a jack I didn’t even know I had (thankfully I did), then turned around and got it jacked up. Problem now was that I couldn’t get the tire off. Thankfully it was a day that it was above freezing in  Nebraska/Iowa. I’m sitting there kicking the tire, doing what I can to get the tire off without hopefully damaging my own body. It wasn’t coming off. Years of rust built up and cemented the thing.

Thankfully, George from Missouri Valley stopped, while I had a friend of mine on his way as well. This is a complete stranger that stopped for me as well. I want to take a moment and note that I try to stop, but rarely can help, when I’m on the road because people need help or like to be helped here and there. Thankfully I’m not alone. After a few minutes of trying to use a sign post that was in the grass next to the rode to hit the tire off, he decided to drive the ten minutes or so to get a proper hammer. When he returned, we got it off and the spare tire back on in minutes. I was on my way to Sioux City shortly after.

I get to Sioux City, visit my friend that I’m staying with and we have a good rest of the day. Not much productive accomplished, but still pleasant. The next day, we go to leave and I realize I don’t have any heat coming out of my vents. There is heat, but there’s no thrust behind it, sort of like when steam comes off a pan but goes nowhere. I’m thinking great, fan behind it or something isn’t working (there are other, more educated theories behind this, but my inexperienced non-mechanical mind things fan). At this point it went from 60’s to about 10 degrees in less than 24 hours. Normal for the region, but still miserable.

Alright time for me to return to Omaha on Sunday. I’m paranoid already for the two failures. I go check my tires, sure enough one was down to 10 psi. The others were low as well. As I was filling the last one, I noticed a slice like mark on a tire. I’m thinking, “Great, it’s going to blow on the way home, and I have no other spare.” I stopped by Sears, thinking I don’t have money and could possibly apply and receive a Sears credit card to get replacement tires and pay off the bill with my tax return. Automotive was closed. Sundays are not the best times to need any help. Either way, I decide to say oh well, nothing I can do. I start driving home.

The temp isn’t that great, 10 degrees again, high winds. I find out that if I hit a few bumps, I actually get some push behind my heat, and so it takes the edge off the cold for me. This makes it bearable, but I also am paranoid because of that slice on the tire. Really gambling here, because I don’t want the tire to pop, but HEAT! Oh well, I grit my teeth, keep driving at 55 miles per hour, because of my spare being a donut that shouldn’t be much higher than that. I’m monitoring my engine heat, just in case I’m low on coolant (thus lacking heat?). I get home fine.

A few things I want to mention at this point. My back brakes needed to be replaced (emergency brakes?) and I’m at least +500 miles on this oil, due for an oil change (scheduled for Tuesday), and now I need two tires, would like to replace the hub cap on the shredded tire (damaged it with the sign post), fix my heat, my power steering isn’t that great at retaining fluid, low washer fluid even though I just put some in, transmission has something wrong with it, and I’m missing knobs for my heat on the dashboard. After all repairs, I’ll have a brand new car effectively.

I debate selling it, but who says I’ll get better on the next car? Live and learn. I still consider the trip a success. Worrisome, but what’s life without worry? I’ve had a lot of fun.

How’d your Thanksgiving go? Not American? How about your general weekend? Or tell me about your worse travel experiences.

Divorce, School and Projects, Oh My.

Greetings readers. I wanted to post an update as to what’s going on, my current projects, et cetera.

July 31st is fairly easy to remember, and even more so since that’s when the judge signed the decree dissolving my marriage. I believe I have to wait 30 days yet before it’s official, but this date is what will be marked down as far as divorce. That being said, I still haven’t seen my soon to be ex-wife for more than a year and a half, which she claims to have seen me at a Wal-Mart in my home town when I was visiting a friend. I wish the best to her, she is still an excellent woman and while we may not get along, she is far from deserving a horrible life and I hope she finds her happiness.

With the end of that chapter, I also have the start of another chapter upon me. August 25th is the start of my next semester of my college classes. I’m excited because it should be a mixture of easy classes but also classes that, while challenging, will be classes I want to learn. Data structures to improve my programming, composition II to improve my writing, and over all it’ll be a leap in the right direction as far as my degree goes! Computer Engineering is always challenging, but what can one do? If it’s worth doing, it wont be easy.

Admittedly, however, I am looking for another job. I had the opportunity to work as a civilian contractor, but with the divorce not being anywhere near final, I had issues for the security clearance. I emailed the folks that direct the position, so we’ll see. It’s been a while since I’ve “turned it down” reluctantly. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had it filled.

While my personal life winds down back to a normal, my professional life needing a change, and my schooling continuing on the path of success,  I also want to detail some of my hobbies. As far as programming goes, I have wanted to update the program used by many EVE Online players, called EVEMon to use the new EVE Online API calls, since it is open source and the maintainer is busy. I’m having a hard time doing serialization with XML objects in Visual C#, but that’s what learning is for. I also have updates I want to process to my BLUBoT app, which is a Bluetooth control app on Android for the CEENBoT I work with. It’s been open sourced, but it’s got a few bugs that, while not show stopper, becomes annoying. I also have a few ideas for a few more Android apps, but they’re simple enough that it just takes some thought and searching.

What have you been up to? Anything you got going on?

Procrastination – How to Solve It?

procrastination6

Hello all,

It seems that I have yet to update any time recently so I thought I’d upload my thoughts here… primarily as procrastination to my real task today.

I’ve been invited to do a third beta test for the Elder Scrolls Online. I’ve recently grown tired of this as the content available is limited and I’ve been through the majority of it in the first test, except PvP which I have little to know interest in.

On another game related note, I’ve been streaming my games sometimes at Twitch. Most of my gaming antics can be found at http://ptg.demortes.com.

I’ve gotten my taxes back, and partially paid some bills while wasting the rest of my money. Weeks before my taxes, I was notified that I had WON a Google Glass (MSRP $1500 USD). I’m sure you would think like I did and say hey… that’s a scam. Thanks to the folks at MakeUseOf.com however, I received it and it works and legit. I vetted the email, remembered entering into the contest on their website, and I actually won. Then after I got my taxes, I told myself I’m going to buy one thing I’ve had my eye on relentlessly but never had the money for. I bought myself an Oculus Rift. The technology is amazing! I’ll have to do a full write up, but keep in mind that its a developer version. I really want to get my hands on EVE Valkyrie. You can find more information about it at their website.

Otherwise, I’m still in school. I’m procrastinating homework at this time, largely because I did a good chunk of it yesterday (Homework on a Saturday? Unheard of!) Also it’s a topic that I am not confident in at all. Calculus I. Why am I not comfortable in it? Largely because I can’t seem to wake up these mornings to go to class and can’t bring myself to do homework that isn’t collected. I don’t know why this is a problem for me. I worked 9 – 5 some days, or even earlier and had few issues waking up. Perhaps because I’m paying to be there instead of getting paid to do so. Either way. It needs to stop.

As a part of the school system, I was asked to co-found a robotics club. Partnering with Luke, a freshman this year, we have it recognized by student government and have had a few meetings. The interest, however, seems to have waned from our first meeting. Going from about 15 in attendance, we are now down to three at one meeting, and four at another, including myself as VP, Luke as President, and then a couple of people that we’ve given them roles for Secretary and Treasurer. We brainstormed on how to get members involved again. Most of the problem is likely the time we’re choosing to meet, which no one is answering our questions on when it would be best.

As far as work goes, the lab I work in is winding down. Not without a final project however. I’ve been tasked to complete the project that interfaces a Bluetooth module with the CEENBoT. Doing this in the form of an Android app that controls the robot. I’ve been running into difficulty, primarily with the Android side of things, but the hurdle I’m at now is trying to find out why the serial communication seems to misalign, so to speak, the messages. Unfortunately I should start looking for another job. Perhaps I’ll post my CV up on the website as additional exposure.

That’s my life as it is right now. My question to you is how do you stay motivated for tasks you don’t otherwise find fun? Leave a comment below!

Updating

Greetings all,

It’s been a LONG while since I posted. I thought I’d go ahead and add a little bit here. I’d be interested what you might want to see here, what brought you here, etc. Analytics can’t only do so much.

During my summer, I’ve been working on bettering the CEENBoT through software development. I’ve been hired to do this of course, which is a great experience in itself. I start school back up in late August, assuming nothing soul shattering happens.

As far as personal life, I’m still living in Omaha, more or less on my own. I’m on school campus dorms. Right now, I’m living with two other guys (the apartment houses 4 total, the fourth position is open until August I’m assuming). This has been interesting in itself. I’ve never considered myself closed minded and whatnot so I’ve enjoyed alternative viewpoints. I have a Korean roommate (South, of course). He’s a little bit much for my liking, but tolerable. He keeps clean, expects others to as well. His expectations have led to some hostility. Anyway, I also have a Saudi Arabian living here as well. Great guy. Very understanding and interesting. He’s extremely pleased to be here. The Korean has been gone most of the summer, went home until his summer classes started. The Saudi (I really should give these guys false names…. if I continue to write about them that is) has helped me out tremendously this summer with various things, dishes etc. He’s kept things clean, offered up his dishes to use and so on. Unfortunately my two roommates don’t get along with each other, causing some small drama.

Other than the above, it’s video games and sometimes laying in bed bored out of my mind. Straight forward, nothing earth shattering and so on. I’m hoping to add more content to the internet through various channels, like twitch.tv for broadcasting some of my games, YouTube for broadcasting the games as well as the CEENBoT stuff I am working on outside of work and some project ideas, http://ptg.demortes.com for some game related news that other gamers might find interesting. I’m also looking at some coding on BitBucket, but it’s primarily work related and private repos. As always, day to day activities can be viewed at Twitter (@demortes) which pulls my Facebook stuff into it, or of course Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/demortes). Smile

Not a gamer…. but I am? Xbox one, PS4 and Wii what?

The Xbox one was announced recently, and shortly before then, the PS4. The Wii U has been out for some time, and really don’t consider Nintendo’s contender into serious gaming, but I digress.

With all the great new features announced, I’ve still pretty much decided that unless I have some extreme excess cash (and as a college student going through a divorce, I doubt that’ll be anytime soon), I will not be buying these next gen consoles. Nothing seems amazing about them to make me want to. Don’t get me wrong, the technology they’re using is amazing, they just don’t “Wow” me. Let’s consider, right now, that I’m a little upset at the Skyrim differences between PC and Xbox 360. The textures and capabilities are far from each other on each platform. I bought the Xbox version because I know I’d be tempted to cheat with mods and whatnot on the PC. Now that I beat the game, however, I hardly play it. Where mod’s would certainly add a replay ability. Also, textures. PC had a an HD texture pack and various other useful hacks like a real time map.

Let’s talk about the features I see on the Xbox One (I’m more of an Xbox fanboy than a Sony fanboy, so I haven’t paid close attention to the PS4 outside of the desire to play Dust514. Blame Sony’s reaction to Geohot and their regression of removing Linux capability from their platform). Three operating systems to facilitate separate functions, media, TV and gaming. Lacking backward compatibility (I understand why, but if I can’t play my old games on my new console, it still removes some of the desire). The controller looks like it’s been sent through Notch’s Minecraft generator. As does the console itself. Is that a freaking VCR? I like the look of the Xbox 360 myself. Cloud rendering of video games? And with slow/no internet, you get the crappy graphics that game makers put on the disc. 

If they were to add backward compatibility somehow, with little to no cost to me (preferably no cost), I might reconsider it. Do what Ultraviolet is doing. Trade in your disc games for downloadable. I have yet, as well, to see processor specs, video card, etc.

Let’s compare to the PC now. I can play my old games, sometimes requiring hacks, but for the most part not so much. There are also more free to play games coming to PC than on Xbox. Rift recently announced a new business model of Free to Play, Lord of the Rings Online, Diablo III has a certain free to play, etc. Most games I’m interested in aren’t console exclusive. Battlefield 3 wasn’t, Skyrim wasn’t, and I believe Fable and that series is somewhere on PC but I could be wrong. I also like the feel of the keyboard better than the controller sometimes, but I do have a controller dongle to use the 360’s controller when wanted. I can now hook up my PC to my TV and get HD quality and run not just what Microsoft wants me to run, but any OS, any application or game, any video. No gold subscription to pay for.

Console will likely never be my main gaming platform again, now that PC’s are rapidly becoming less expensive, more capable, and I don’t have to drop 500 bucks on one PC right away, I can build and upgrade my existing one. I might own a console, but with disposable income and spare time.

What features are you looking forward to? Is one feature over them all going to make you move to a next gen console? What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below!

Combat Boredom

I’ve been mildly disinterested in games recently, mostly because of school. However, these days, I’ve been bored of them. EVE Online is still a great game if you find a great group of friends to do what you want. As I don’t like mining, which is effectively doing nothing in my opinion, my group of friends are not as exciting as I am. I have let my subscription to EVE Online lapse.

Recently I have received a free 60 days of subscription time to Rift, along with the expansion pack. This is a different game from EVE entirely, so it was a welcome break, for a few days. Unfortunately it became mundane for the most part. The guild is what kept me on for hours, again to a point. You still quest and grind a lot. The one thing they did that I liked over WoW was what they called “dimensions”, which is basically a player/guilds house.

So now, I’m sitting here having woken up less than 12 hours ago, bored. I’ve worked on other projects of mine, but I really want something to do as far as gaming. I could go play Pirates of the Burning Sea, but recently I have revamped my econ to where I’m not making any money it seems. Part of this is because of the lacking player base in my society, which one person was to supply me with goods to build up the most profitable item in game. My play style and time is so off, I can’t rely on him.

I could also play Rift, but the grind seems too mundane right now. How about Guild Wars 2? I’m stuck on a quest which I can not complete myself, and once again I’m not a social player.

I think to myself every now and then what the perfect game is. My views are pretty simple, I think. I wish I had the willpower and time to dedicate myself to it, however. With the release of occulus rift and some of these ideas would be best executed in VR, I wish so even more so.

So here’s how I envision my perfect game:
First you start of with a detailed character creation, much like EVE Online. You start off in a world that you learn your basic combat skills. This would be post apocalyptic in nature. Once you learn some basic skills, you then learn you can captain a spaceship and discover new societies. This would take the EVE Online aspect one further. You can sell that ship, buy premade ships, or you can design your very own. Specify what it might look like, how many crew quarters, etc. Guilds, corporations, or whatever you would call the group of like minded players, would then be able to help you on your ship for bonuses, like an extra pilot, or a mechanic, or even just a diplomat for navigation through alliance controlled space. Now this is all good and fun, and for the most part can seem dull once you’ve done it the first time. Next thing I’d like to add to it is being elected a ruler or owner of a planet. Now you can build a sim city like style setup. Buy land or excavate it, build buildings that have purposes, protect civilizations on that planet or terrorize it. Then when your world or land is invaded, take it into a FPS kind of game. You buy weapons, “clones” or lives, ammo and vehicles. You can be supported by your friends in space, or you can leave and let your civilization fend for itself.

The above game would be epic, and adding aspects like political revolutions against you or your enemies could add so many other parts to the game. Unfortunately to be multiplayer, it would require massive servers and be too big to keep track of. Also interfaces would likely be clunky and require specialized tutorials to even scratch the surface. Then add some of the limitations of other technologies, like Oculus Rift. For now, I guess, I’ll play them in parts, in different ages, and just hope…

 

What game would you want? How would it be different than what you’ve played?

CEENBoT Flashlight Project – Setting up the IDE (Atmel Studio 6)

WARNING: Windows 8 users – While installing, you will need to be in a special boot mode of Windows. This is called “Disable Driver Signature Enforcement” in your advance boot menu. I suggest doing this now! Click here for how.

Today, for my seminar class, I was assigned “fun” in the form of developing a program on the CEENBoT I assembled in an earlier class. This was designed to have some “fun” over Spring Break. Nerdy, I know, but it does sound fun. I was given instructions on some addition functionality of the CEENBoT that I acquired and assembled. I’m going to try and detail various things about the project just for blogging purposes and to document what I might need to remember later. Who knows, you might like it to?

The original idea was given here. The idea is to create a circuit on the breadboard that consisted of two photo-resistors, and allow them to control the turning of the robot. For those not familiar with the CEENBoT product, you can review it here.

The first thing to note is that Atmel, the provider of the programmable logic controller, upgraded from the studio suite used in class (Typically Atmel Studio 4 at University of Nebraska Omaha, or CEENBoT Commander which is a visual drag and drop interface to allow certain programming capabilities to younger generations) to Atmel Studio 6. There are large differences in this suite, not just graphical. The studio suite is now based on Microsoft’s Visual Studio programming IDE. This is great to get closer to professional development of desktop applications, not so much for those that are just starting out.

First, you need to download the IDE. Click here to go to Atmels website. At the time of this writing, you want to download “Atmel Studio 6.0 with Service Pack 2 (build 1996) Installer – Full”. Once downloaded, you should be able to run the program file to get it installed. Run the program once installed.

You will now be given a screen like:

IntroScreen

Next you will need to download the API library and header files (here). You will need to use a utility to “unzip” this anywhere. Windows typically allows you to right-click and “Extract All”. Once this is done, we now need to create your first project! Back in Atmel Studio 6 (or Visual Studio or VS for short), click “New Project”. You’ll get a screen like this:

NewProject

You can name your project anything you like and store it anything you like, otherwise keep everything else the same. Next you’ll be presented with a screen asking for the controller you’re programming for. Mine is the ATmega324P, you can confirm which yours is on the board of the CEENBoT.

ControllerSelect

You’ll now be given your main programming code. We aren’t done yet though. We have to tell VS to use the libraries you downloaded. Right now VS thinks you’re just programming the controller, when the CEENBoT has all these nice features, like wheels, LCD screen, switches and IR boards. You’ll want to go to the top, click Project –> <Project Name> Properties. Now you’ll get something like this:

ProjectProperties

OK, now here’s where it’s hard to understand what’s going on, so follow along with the pictures if you get lost. On the left hand side, click “Toolchain”. A new window populates on the right hand side. There is a list of options within it, to which you want to click on “Libraries” under “AVR/GNU Linker”. The window will look like this:

LinkerLibraries

Click the circled add button. This tells VS that we want to point it to an external library, a collection of code given to us by the makers of CEENBoT. Point this to the CEENBoT API folder you extracted earlier, not the lib-includes. You’ll see this file system path show up under Library search path. Next click the top “Add” button, identical to the first one you clicked, just above it. You want to add “libcapi324v221” in the box. After all is said and done, you should have a window like this:

FinalLibraries

We’re almost there! Now we need to tell VS how to use the library and give us the ability to use it in our code! Click “Directories” under “AVR/GNU C Compiler”. Click the “Add” button identical to the ones we clicked before and point this to your “lib-includes” folder that was extracted earlier.

IncludeDirectory

OK! Now we are ready to program the CEENBoT! To test this out, go ahead and edit your .c file to look like this:

#include "capi324v221.h"
void CBOT_main(void)
{
while(1)
{
//TODO:: Please write your application code
}
}

This is a simple program that does nothing. This programming is explained in more details in the getting started guide, downloadable from the page above where you got the API headers. Once this is in your .c file, you can now save (Control S, I find, is very useful.) and then go to Build –> Build Project (or hit the F7 key.) Once your computer is done working, you should see

Build succeeded.
========== Build: 1 succeeded or up-to-date, 0 failed, 0 skipped ==========

If there are any errors listed, you might be able to Google the error to find out what happened, but most likely you clicked on something incorrectly and send the wrong folders to the wrong parts of the configuration.

Next article: How to flash your CEENBoT without making it a paperweight!

Poor Customer Service – Verizon Wireless

It’s times like these where I wish I hadn’t done the jobs I have, tried to help the most I could in my roles as customer service.

My mothers car broke down and she didn’t have a phone to call from, she was forced to wait outside in the freezing car that wouldn’t start. No heat, nothing. McDonald’s, which was right next to where the car broke down made her feel all sorts of unwelcome and bothersome when asked to use their phone to even get in touch with my step-father, her husband, to help her out. That made me shake my head already.

Then, after talking to my wife about it, I decided a free basic phone for 10 bucks a month is a small price to pay for her speedy safety in times like this. I tried to order her a phone, nothing special. Free for a two-year contract, an LG Extravert, was to be delivered in two days. Now the first time it was cancelled, I would have said it’s my fault. The second time I ordered it I updated my physical address, at which point I figured was the problem. I had moved to go to school and I don’t think I updated their records. The old isn’t invalid, my wife is living there for the time being until she can get things moving and move down here to go to school as well. The new phone was to be delivered to the new address for my mother, whom I am living with. Wednesdays came and gone, but no phone. I called to find out why, they said it was cancelled due to potential fraud. I should have received a call, so I am told. The only calls I have received were from some people I can’t understand a single word and had to fight to get them to tell me which company they were associated with (and they couldn’t even say my name)… but I doubt that was them. Why? Because I called the day after making the second order… my order was cancelled yet again. No calls. AFTER I updated the address, made sure everything was good to go, they still cancelled it. Now I would have just gone to the store, but the phone wasn’t free in the store, so I’m told.

Now here’s what pisses me off. It wasn’t the physical address that was blocking the order. It was the EMAIL address that I had on file. Let me say it again. EMAIL address on file since the beginning of my account was marked fraudulent. An address that had nothing to do with my service, which was where my bills have been sent dozens of times FROM THE SAME COMPANY, was marked fraudulent.

So I’ve went through three departments in one call, three days worth of calls, I have finally ordered a phone. The same phone? NOPE. They are now sold out of the phone that I wanted. No I’m getting Samsung Intensity 3. If this order gets cancelled, I will not only file a BBB complaint, I will seriously think about cancelling my service and go to AT&T or something like that.

Not only did the situation piss me off, it’s the way it was handled as well. I had no calls, nothing. This is how customers feel like just a number to a company. This is outrageous. If I were told an order I placed was cancelled, I would have called that customer immediately. For those nay-Sayers, you don’t know me or my history with business, but I’ve proven this time and time again. As a matter of fact, for a company that I worked for, it was policy.

Verizon, learn something here. Your first-call-resolution on this sucked, as did your second. And you bet your ass I’ll be calling to try to get rid of the activation fee for satisfaction, especially if I have to return the phone because it’s crap.

 

Update: Once again, the order is on hold. “Third time’s the charm” is obviously a myth.

Update: Placed a new order at the recommendation of chat support. This was done online. It asked for my SSN, drivers license number and my credit card number… if they don’t know who I am, I’m going to be pissed.

Update 3: Order has been placed on hold. Requesting fax of driver license and SSN card….

Update 4: Order is still on hold. Called in, they stated the address I am having the phone shipped to (Current residence) is blocked, can be unblocked, but the order has to, yet again, be resubmitted. At this point and time, I refuse to give them any business. If they make it so hard for me to give them my business, I will remove my business. I filed a BBB complaint requesting all ETF’s to be waived so I can freely cancel and transfer my service elsewhere.

Update 5: Looks like everything worked out. Rather than wait for the BBB complaint to force Verizon to contact me, I went to the store for one last attempt to resolve it. I got the phone I want, got the activation fee waived, everything is good. Glad to have had this resolved, but wish it didn’t take so much.

Funny Moments in Life

I thought this was funny enough to share…

Wife: I have eggs and ham
Me: are they green?
Wife: no but they are fluffly
Me: how is ham fluffy?
Me: ham = http://fluffyguy.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/banner-gabe.png (Random Image of Gabriel Iglesias)?
Wife: well he ate a lot of ham and he’s fluffy they say you are what you eat, ergo if he is ham and he is fluffy then ham by default is fluffy ergo fluffy
Me: ……
Wife: ?
Me: I’m half tempted to send that to Gabrielle Inglesias and see if he responds to that……..
Wife: I would take one l and the last e off of that otherwise he will have bigger issues than fluffiness, then he will be a female fluffy
Me: LMFAO
Me: gabriel iglesias

 

Got any random moments of hilarity with your significant other? Please share!

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