Posts tagged ‘USB’

Got My Raspberry Pi Up and Running

I say that as if it was hard.  Actually, it was pretty dang easy to get the OS (a Linux variant) loaded on the memory card.  Seems to work fine -- you can see I have Coyote Blog up in the browser.  I am playing with it because I am looking for something to control signaling and other systems on a model railroad.  I am more likely to use some kind of Arduino setup, but I wanted to play around with Python on Raspberry Pi as well.

Here is the card.  The top wire is a micro-USB 5v power connector.  Clockwise from that is a 32GB SD card (for memory), a bunch of empty programmable pins for I/O on the upper right of the board, the composite video connector and audio headphone out, two USB ports with my wireless keyboard connector, the network cable, and on the left the HDMI cable for video out  (don't know yet if it has audio out over HDMI).  As in the Arduino community, there are already daughter boards for the pin-outs with breadboards, motor controllers, and other gizmos.

CFL Bulbs Suck. However, I Like LED's

A number of years ago, there was a push by many Leftish technocrats for the government to mandate a standardized cell phone power cord.  Beyond demonstrating that there is no personal irritation too trivial for some to demand government action, this would have been an awful idea.  Why?  Because when these demands for action came, cell phone power cords were just that, power.  If a standard cord had been mandated, then current designs that use a USB connection for both data and power would have been illegal, at least without the vendor also putting in a connection for the government standard connector as well.  There is always danger to the government setting arbitrary standards, but these dangers are an order of magnitude higher when the technology is still in flux.

So enter light bulbs.  The government has decided to ban incandescent light bulbs and while not mandating them, it has actively encouraged people to purchase expensive CFL bulbs.  The only problem is that CFL bulbs suck.  The light from them has bad color qualities, many take a long time to warm up, they are hard to dim, and they contain toxic substances.  They also have nothing like the multi-year life we are promised.  I have tried CFL bulbs of many, many brands and none have consistently achieved their promised life.

But as much as I hate CFL's, I am coming to love LED-based lights.  LED lights use even less energy than CFL's and last a really long time.  The technology allows for color tweaking better than CFL's, and already the warm white LED's I am buying (color temperatures around 2900K) are better to my eye than CFL's, and there is no fast-flicker problem that gives some people headaches.  Dimable versions are coming out, and prices are dropping but they are still expensive.   About half my house is LED now, and I am told that landscape lighting is quickly going all LED.

The main cost to LED's is that they all have to have a transformer.  LED's run at low voltages, like 5v, so house current has to be stepped down at every bulb.  LED's in theory should run cool and be cheap, but they are expensive and run hot because of the transformers.

Which leads me to wonder whether we may start wiring houses for 12v in parallel to 110v.  When I grew up, nearly everything I plugged into the wall -- lights, motors, appliances -- ran on 110V.  Now, most everything (other than appliances) that I plug in the wall actually needs 5-12v  (computers, cell phones, all my audio equipment except big amps).  I don't know enough about power lines to know if this is feasible.  I am pretty sure the resistance losses for 12V DC would be too high, so it would have to be 12V AC, but a diode bridge and some capacitors is a hell of a lot smaller and cheaper than a full blown transformer.  I know my landscape lighting has long runs of 12V, that seems to work OK.  It is also a hell of a lot safer to work with.

Much Needed Competition for Windows

Just what Windows needs - a bit of competition.    I don't consider the Apple real competition, because it requires proprietary hardware to run.  And Linux is way too geeky and not packaged well for the average NOOB, though some netbooks have done surprisingly well with it.  Today, however, Google announced a browser-based OS built on top of Linux and entirely open source.  Might not be my cup of Darjeeling, as I am skeptical of a browser dominated OS for anything larger than a phone, but it sure may keep Windows honest.

Google had a low-key event today to preview Chrome OS, its new operating system based on Linux and the Chrome browser. Things are still pretty early -- it's not even in beta yet, let alone on shipping products -- but that's the first official screen shot right there, and the big features are all roughed out. The entire system is web-based and runs in the Chrome browser -- right down to USB drive contents, which show up in a browser tab, and the notepad, which actually creates a Google Docs document. Web apps are launched from a persistent apps panel, which includes Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, and Hulu, among others, and background apps like Google Talk can be minimized to "panels" that dock to the bottom of the screen. Local storage is just used to speed up the system -- everything actually lives in the cloud, so all it takes to swap or borrow machines is a login, and you're good to go. Google also said it's "very committed" to Flash, and that it's looking to hardware accelerate whatever code it can -- although Google didn't have a solid answer to give when asked about Silverlight. Overall, Google was upfront in saying that Chrome OS is focused on very clear use cases for people who primarily use the web, and that it's not trying to do everything: "If you're a lawyer, editing contracts back and forth, this will not be the right machine for you."

The Technocratic Standard-Setting Urge

The Thin Green Line writes:

But other problems have such a straightforward solution the only question is, why haven't we implemented it already?So it is with the phone charger (H/T Mother Jones). How many old ones do you have kicking around in a drawer? If you're loyal to a particular phone, you may even have several identical chargers. Because they're electronic, you're also burdened with disposing of them properly lest they leach their toxins into some poor, unsuspecting landfill.

Not only that but chargers use a good bit more electricity than they need to and are vampires"”meaning they continue to draw power even when they're not, you know, charging.

Now imagine a world where not only did phone chargers use less energy, but they were universal, meaning any charger fit any phone. That would mean about 600 million fewer chargers each year stashed in drawers around the world and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 to 24 million tons a year"”not even to mention e-waste.

The UN's International Telecommunication Union has approved this universal dreamboat of a charger. It will use half as much energy on standby. Samsung, Nokia and Motorola have already agreed to use it. Of course, they're hemorrhaging business to BlackBerry and Apple...no word yet from those guys.

I wrote:

There are at least two problems with this.  The first is that consumers are all different.   A lot of cell phones (and other devices like my kindle) are standardizing on a mini-USB connection.  Should I use the UN's solution, which is likely inferior?  Why?  Most of the time I don't even travel with a charger, I plug the mini-USB into my computer to charge.  That way I only have 1 charger on the road, for my computer.  You want me to carry 2, in the name of having fewer chargers?   You might say, "well, I hadn't thought of this situation," and I would say, "that's the point - you can't, there are 6 billion of us individuals out there."

The second problem is innovation.  Who says that innovation won't demand a different type of connection in 2 years?  Do you really want your technology gated to some working group at the UN?  Go back in time and imagine the government locking in a standard on something.  We still would have 801.11a wireless only, or cars would still all have crank starts (but they would all turn the same direction!) or cars would all have the same size wheels.  If the UN had invented something 3 years ago, it would have been power only and not data.  Today, most cell phones have power connections and connectors that double as data ports.

There is always a technocratic urge in messy changing technology markets to swoop in and mandate a standard from above, even while the technology is still evolving.  The problem is that neither you nor anyone else knows everything.  Hayek described this information problem well but you make it abundantly clear on this site you have no familiarity with Hayek.  You extrapolate what seems to be a good solution from your narrow knowledge, but cause many of us to sub-optimize because you did not anticipate how I use my charger or what technology some cell phone manufacturer today may be developing that requires a different kind of charger standard.

Necessity is the Mother of ... a Great Kindle Gadget

Today I found myself out-of-town with my Kindle almost out of battery life, no Kindle charger, and a long plane flight tomorrow.  Passing a Radio Shack, I went in, with the intention of buying yet another charger for it  (I knew from a similar experience that I needed 5 volts with an "A" plug).  But I knew my charger was at home, and was hesitant to pay $20-30 for what would after today be an extra.

So I bought the following:

  • The cheapest USB cable I could find
  • An "A" plug
  • A short wire Radio Shack sells with a socket for the plug on one end and bare wires on the other (both the last two of these are located in the store near the replacement transformers)
  • A small roll of black electrical tape

I realized something key:  I already had a 5v power supply, in my computer, with a handy outlet, called "USB."  All I had to do was get all the plugs to match.

I borrowed some scissors and cut the USB  cable about 8 inches from the flat end, throwing the rest away.  I stripped off the insulation, and found the red and black wires - these are the 5V and ground wires (just search the Internet for USB pinouts if you want to be sure).  I then twisted one wire from the plug wire to the red and the other to the black, and taped the whole thing up (a bit of soldering would have been better, but I forgot my handy MacGyver construction kit). 

And what do you know, I now have a USB charger for my Kindle  (When I first plugged it in, the charge light did not go on, but I reversed the plug in its socket and that did the trick).  This will now charge my Kindle on the road from my laptop or when I am driving from my 12V car charger that has a USB connection.

I think this is a pretty handy accessory, and a quick Internet search did not show anyone currently selling one.

Update:  OK, someone else already thought of this, and has pictures of the procedure.  He notes that the supplied Kindle usb cable will not charge the device as well  (the Kindle cable goes from USB to a special miniature USB port, like the ones on a camera -- my cable goes from USB to the power inlet).  My homegrown version charged it very quickly.

Hot Product

Yoggie makes a Linux computer that performs 12 network security functions, including firewall and filtering. The cool part is they put the whole thing on a USB key.

Computer-Building Lament

At the risk of being way to geeky here, I would like to ask the computer world if they could find some way for me to have a RAID disk drive array on my custom built PC's without having to also buy and install a floppy disk drive that I only use once.  For those who don't know, a RAID is an array of multiple, usually identical, hard drives that can be combined together for redundancy.  For example, two 250GB hard drives can be combined in a RAID such that they appear to be one 250GB drive to the system, but all data is mirrored on both drives, so if one fails, you still have everything, even without making backups.  I usually build RAIDs into my computers, either for redundancy or, if that is not needed, at least to combine multiple drives into one drive letter.  You can even build a raid where all files are split between the two drives, which is a reliability problem but makes for wicked fast drive access (kind of like splitting calculations between two CPUs)

Unfortunately, on most motherboards, the only way to install the RAID drivers if I want to install Windows onto the RAID is to load them with an old 3-1/2 inch floppy.  Which means I usually install a floppy drive on every build -- OK, its only $20 or so, but it still seems like a waste.   On my own computers, I just have one redundant floppy I pass around, but when I build for others, I don't want to leave them hanging if they have to reinstall the OS. 

I would think that this should be doable via a USB key, but I have never tried it.  Anyone out there know a better way?

</geekiness>  OK, I will now return to economics and business.

Channeling my Grandparents

You know how when you grew up, your parents and grand-parents always said stuff like "I remember when I was a kid, we didn't even have X", where X was airplanes, or TV's or ice or whatever.  I actually found myself having one of those moments in the OfficeMax store today.  I remember when I got my first hard drive for my IBM PC in the very early 80's.  It was 10MB, cost about $500, and my one thought at the time was "I'll never be able to fill up this thing".

Today at the office supply store at the register I made an impulse purchase for a new USB memory key.  My son stole mine to use to take stuff back and forth to school, and I wanted a larger capacity drive anyway.  So here I was buying a 1GB key, with 100x the storage of that first hard drive in a package about 1/100 of the size of that hard drive, and I was buying it at the cash register from a rack next to the gum.  Pretty cool.

However, I am not going to let scientists totally off the hook.  I am still waiting for my hover car, my jet pack, and my vacation on the moon, which I expected to have long before now.