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I decide who lives and dies
Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb
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8th-Nov-2009 09:29 pm - Victory! VICTORY! (Also vengeance!)
In the last chapter of the saga of the neighbor with the non-stop radio, after leaving the radio on at full volume for four nights in a row (yes, four), I finally had enough and stormed over there and pounded on the guy's door. (This was around 10 in the evening.) It turned out the door wasn't locked and it opened. In a fit of pique, I turned the radio down myself, pulled his window shut, and made it clear that what he was doing was just plain obnoxious, and that not letting me sleep is a generally bad idea. ("You wouldn't like me when I'm angry," an so forth.) He nodded shakily and made some noises of agreement, and I left. I bumped into the proprietor of the SRO on the way out, who once again sympathized with my plight and reiterated that some of these people weren't right in the head.

The next few weeks for positively blissful. The radio was silent (or kept at a low enough volume that I couldn't hear it), and I slept soundly for the first time in months. It was glorious. I'm sure I overreacted by barging in like I did. I'm not proud of it. But damn it, being able to doze off in peace was worth it.

Then, last night (Saturday), he started up again. This time he had the window shut, but the radio was still loud enough that I could hear the chatter in my bedroom. Sadly, neither the windows in my building or the one next door do a good job of blocking sound. The radio was on again tonight too. (I think he left it on 24 hours straight.)

A week or so before the previous confrontation, I had ordered a low powered FM transmitter as a last ditch effort to neutralize the problem. This turned out to be a mistake, as I was disappointed to find that he was listening to KCBS AM rather than FM. I did get a chance to try the FM transmitter just once when he changed habits. (At least, I think it was him; he's not the only problem child.) I found that it actually worked pretty well, though the output power dropped off rather sharply near the bottom of the band. I played a cat and mouse game following him around from station to station and jamming his reception for about half an hour. Then, to my chagrin, he switched back to AM.

Tonight he was back on AM again, and I decided to try a slightly different approach. I have my HF ham radio transceiver set up in my bedroom (the cable for the antenna I installed on the roof is run through my bedroom window). It's a Kenwood TS-430S, a radio that dates back to the mid 80s. Mine was manufactured in 1987 and although the case isn't quite pristine anymore, it still works perfectly. It also has the "all-band transmit" mod done to it, which means it will key up on any frequency from 0.5 to 30Mhz. It's not really designed to operate effectively like that though: its filters and matching networks are tuned to work best on the various ham bands within the HF spectrum. It is designed to work as an all-band shortwave receiver, but you're not supposed to use it as an all-band transmitter. Nevertheless, with the internal microprocessor properly lobotomized, it will transmit everywhere.

Making it transmit on the AM broadcast band is vastly overreaching its capabilities. The AM band is not too far from the 160 meter ham band (1.8 to 2Mhz), but tune it down below 1.6Mhz and it can barely muster more than a few watts. To make matters worse, the antenna I have is horribly inefficient on such low frequencies.

I decided to give it a try anyway. The only AM/FM receiver I have is my Kenwood TH-F6 HT, so I grabbed that and set it to KCBS 740 on the AM dial (which is what he always seems to listen to), then I keyed up the transmitter on the TS-430. The resulting signal was barely strong enough to register: the broadcast signal was just too strong. I figured out a way to jerry rig the antenna to radiate a little better (don't ask), but that still wasn't enough to allow me to smother the broadcast signal entirely.

Then I nudged the frequency setting a little, and suddenly I started hearing a nice loud whine in both my receiver _and_ his. I turned my receiver off and listened to the high pitched squeal coming from his room. I'd forgotten about the heterodyne effect that occurs when two radio signals mix together -- I then realized that if I couldn't stop him hearing the broadcast signal entirely, I could make what he could hear very unpleasant.

So I started rocking the VFO knob back and forth to sweep the carrier up and down in frequency, and could hear the squealing change pitch as I did it. I kept this up for a minute or two, producing the most annoying effects that I could, before finally just leaving the VFO at 1.5Khz off frequency from the KCBS carrier, resulting in a constant and very irritating high pitched whistle.

Eventually, my adversary had enough of this and changed to a different station, KNBR 680. I used my own receiver to figure out just where he'd gone, and reset my transmitter to match. Again, I could hear the heterodyne coming from his room, and I amused myself swishing the VFO up and down in random patterns for a few more minutes. He tuned back to KCBS 740 in a futile attempt to escape the noise, but I followed him again. Another round of frequency swishing ensued.

Then he tried to throw me a curve by switching to FM. This time though, I was ready. It took me a couple of minutes to find him with my receiver again, after which I dug out the FM transmitter, set it to the right channel and fired it up. For some reason, even though the FM transmitter's signal wasn't much stronger than the AM signal, it was still able to overpower the broadcast audio entirely, so his radio just went completely quiet.

I think I heard him try to change the station again, but after a couple seconds I realized I couldn't hear the radio any more at all. Only blissful silence remained. I figure he either got the point, or he thought the FBI was sending signals to his brain and he fled in search of tinfoil. Frankly, I don't care. I'm just thankful for the quiet.

As a side effect of all this, I confirmed something that I wasn't too sure about, namely that the thermal sensors in the Kenwood HF rig and its matching power supply both still work correctly, as the cooling fans automatically came on when they should have. (I was concerned that age may have affected them, but that seems not to be the case.) The TS-430S cost me about $700 back in the 80s when I first bought it, and I spent even more later on accessories (the matching PS-430 power supply, narrow CW, SSB and AM crystal filters, MC-60 desk microphone, and Kenwood output power/SWR meter). At the time, the 430 and the Yaesu FT-757 were two of the most popular radios on the market, and the question of which was better was practically a matter of religious zealotry. (It was basically the "emacs vs. vi" argument of the ham radio world.) I swore I would never sell mine. I'm glad I didn't. I never did get my hands on an MC-43S hand microphone for it though. I wonder if anyone still sells them.

So, yeah. That was my night. Now I'm waiting for laundry to finish. Then I need to get some last minute apartment cleaning done before I collapse into bed. Hopefully radio guy won't go back on the offensive before then.

So what else is going on in my life, you ask?

You are going to ask, right?

Well, even if you aren't, I'm going to tell you anyway.

Actually, besides work, not much is going on. Unfortunately, things at work have gotten more stressful than usual. We have a customer (who I can't name, but rest assured, it's a big name) that wants to use the Freescale P4080 (8-core PPC processor with all sorts of network acceleration goodies) with both Wind River Linux _and_ VxWorks. I've managed to get my part of the VxWorks stuff up and running pretty well. (1Gbps ethernet, 10GbE ethernet, PCI Express, and all sorts of related sundries.) The trouble is that while we have VxWorks gurus and we have Linux gurus, we don't necessarily have a lot of gurus willing (or able?) to work with both at the same time. It's bad enough getting one or the other working well; using them both at once on the same hardware has all sorts of challenges on its own. Even worse, the customer is working with early-access (i.e. pre-release) software that isn't fully baked yet.

I think we've managed to work out most of the Linux/VxWorks bugs, but now there's a problem with the networking code in Linux, which was actually written by Freescale, not us. We've had daily conference calls with us, Freescale and the customer for the past couple weeks trying to get all these issues sorted. It's almost at the point where I have more meetings than actual time available to get any work done.

When I have managed to get work done though, it's been fairly spiffy. I managed to implement support for many of the goodies in the frame manager. I rigged up a sample fast forwarding test the other day threw the SmartBits at it: I was able to get it to run at line rate at all frame sizes. That includes 1.5 million frames/sec at 60 bytes per frame. (Translation: it runs like a bat out of hell.) The frame manager is supposed to be capable of handling 18 million frames/sec. I don't think I'll ever be able to test it at that rate though, because that would require 10 gigabit support, and we don't have the XAUI media cards yet. Even if we did, our Smartbits doesn't handle 10 gigabits.

I visited Wicked Grounds for the first time a couple weeks ago. I should go back; they make a decent hot chocolate. The sammiches aren't bad either.

Oh yeah. For kicks, I went and re-checked the rental prices on the Argenta again (that building on Polk that I looked at a couple months ago). The prices have come down a little since I was there last. One unit is priced just over $2K/month. This seems like a lot, but it's not as ass-rapey as the $2.5K they were after previously. Once again, I'm sorely tempted. Tempted enough to work up the momentum and a decent moving plan? We'll see. I don't want to have to wage radio warfare with my neighbor(s) forever.
20th-Sep-2009 10:07 pm - whargarrrbl
Today was princessdammitt 's surprise birthday party. damiondead rented a caboose on a steam train for a whole group of us, after which there was a picnic. Somehow he managed to keep the whole thing secret from her, which apparently is an impressive feat as Damion is not known as the king of surprises. Everyone was dressed up in victorian/steampunk attire, much the amusement of the other passengers and the railroad staff.

This past week, I finally conquered the P4080. This is the multicore network accelerator doohickey that I've been pounding on at work for the past couple of months. Originally all the work was being on using a simulator as real silicon wasn't available yet, but we finally got a couple of actual boards about 10 days ago. Naturally, the same code that worked on the simulator didn't work on the real hardware. It took a few days of poking around to figure out why, but it's finally done. There are a few minor issues left to smooth out, but all the really hard stuff is behind me. This is probably the most complicated device I've had to program so far in my career, and I'm kind of surprised I ever managed to make it work. (The reference manual is over 3000 pages long, and it isn't even the final version.)

The saga of the guy with the radio next door continues. After a couple of days of quiet, it started up again. Although it was coming from the same room, I'm not certain that it's the same guy: I went over there on Friday after I got home from work (and heard the radio blaring again) to ask one more time if he would keep it down. The guy I saw didn't look like the same one I'd seen previously (the haircut was different). His neighbor from across the hall tried to tell me he was a paranoid schizophrenic, and his arms shook a lot and his speech seemed a little slurred. I told him how he had the radio on all night the previous night, and he tried to tell me to just let him know when it was too loud and he'd turn it down. (This of course does me no good; I can't go over there every time, especially if it's in the middle of the night, and if I yell out my window it'll just wake other people up.)

So I finally decided to go for the nuclear option. I ordered one of these:


It's a very low power transmitter (25 milliwatts), but given his close proximity, I think it ought to be strong enough to overwhelm whatever station he's listening to. And if not, I can probably build a amplifier to boost the signal a couple of watts. If I wanted to be really evil, I could hook a microphone to it and do the whole "Kent, this is god speaking" routine, but that probably wouldn't help his schizophrenia much.

I've been toying with this idea for a while. I'd prefer not to do it, lack of sleep turns me into an ever bigger stress monkey than I am normally, and that's just not good for business. Anyway, the thing should be here in a couple of days. We'll see how it goes.
8th-Sep-2009 12:53 pm - Share and enjoy...
This morning, slashdot posted a link to this:


No, this is not a repeat from Windows 95. Well, ok, maybe it is. In any case, the exploit code is in Python. I don't like Python (or Perl), so I rewrote it in C:


Compile with:

% cc -o smb-bsod smb-bsod.c

Run with:

% ./smb-bsod [IP address of machine to clobber]

Supposedly this will clobber Win7, Vista, and possibly Win Server 2008. Have fun, at least until next Patch Tuesday.
30th-Jul-2009 07:38 pm - Well poo
There's a new apartment building at 1 Polk, about two blocks from me, called the Argenta (http://argenta.riverstoneres.com/). Originally it was supposed to be all condos, but that plan apparently didn't work out, so they're now all rentals. I figured at the very least it would be worth a look, so I signed up for a tour.

Sadly, the prices they're asking are higher than anticipated. For whatever the reason, units are more expensive the higher up you go, and the least expensive unit in the layout I was interested in was on the 10th floor. On the plus side, it's a high-rise (I can look down from on high, etc...), it's bigger than my current place, it's quiet, it comes with a washer/dryer in the unit, the view is pretty nice (it faces Civic Center) and there's a 24-hour fitness center. On the minus side, they're asking $2431/month. Add to that about $40/month more for water/sewer/trash. Also, they want you to take out at least $50,000 in renter's insurance. The only incentives they're offering are about two week's free rent.

Oh, and all of that isn't counting whatever money it costs me to actually move.

I also noticed a couple of strange things. One was that I could not seem to get cell phone reception on my Blackberry anywhere in the building. Another was a strange water dripping sound in the washer/dryer unit.

So basically, I'd be looking at an increase of about $1200/month in expenses (guessing, dunno how much renter's insurance is at this point). I was hoping for maybe $700-$800 at most. It's not beyond my ability to afford, but it's enough to dull my excitement about the idea. I am conflicted. There's still some temptation there, but my fiscal responsibility subroutines are sending out strong warnings.

15th-Jul-2009 01:46 pm - Two nights in a row...
...I've actually been able to sleep. Either the guy next door with the radio finally got the point, or he moved out, because the last two nights have been blissfully quiet. Not only that, I've actually slept the whole night through. It's glorious.

In other news, I ordered, and just received, one of these:


It's an upgrade for this one that I already have:


I've been using the 1000mW 802.11b/g card with the existing one, and by itself it works fine: I have a rock solid signal to the "Free the Net" node one block over. But I also want to run a second wireless interface that I can use to create a wifi network in my apartment. That part has issues: I have an atheros-based cardbus card (Linksys) that I can plug into one of the cardbus slots, and it works, but if I load the thing down with a lot of traffic, the board will spontaneously reboot. No warning from the OS, no nothing: just *pewf*, restart.

I suspect a power supply issue as the same setup works if I use one of my older, lower power cards in place of the 1000mW one. I don't know for sure if it will work any better in the new board, but I think it's worth a try. In nothing else, having a faster processor won't hurt. (The old board runs at 133Mhz. Yes, 133Mhz.)

I also ordered some new antenna cabling. I got a replacement 'pigtail' connector to attach directly to the 1000mW card, via MMCX port instead of the teeny, tiny U.FL port. The new cable also has a different panel-mount connector at the other end which fits exactly into the pre-drilled holes in the case of the Soekris board. This helped to reduce the insertion loss I was getting with the old setup. I probably only gailed a couple dB worth of signal, but the new setup is much sturdier.
Although I've tried to conceal it, for the benefit of those around me who are not at fault, I've been a seething little ball of angry lately. It bubbles beneath the surface, this angry does, just waiting for a chance at release.

I came home tonight (at around 12:30) to find that once again, someone in the SRO next door has the radio on. I can't fall asleep with a radio or TV on. The sound of passing cars I can stand, but voices and music drive me bonkers when I'm trying to doze off. I just can't tune them out, and my brain keeps focused on them, which makes next to impossible for me to fall asleep.

In this case, the radio was sitting on the sill of an open window, about 5 feet away from my window. Even with my window shut, I could still hear it. I looked over and saw the lights were out.

Luckily, the people who run the place seem to be sympathetic to my plight. I went over and walked upstairs to the offending room, and could hear the music out in the hallway. I knocked repeatedly, but there was no answer. The manager came up with the key, and we discovered that the room's occupant was not even home. Apparently he'd just turned the radio on and left.

I unplugged the radio and stormed back to my apartment.

These days, about the only good things I have to look forward to are spending time with friends, eating food that's not good for me, and getting a good night's sleep. Apparently that's too much to ask, which is a shame, because not sleeping is only going to make me even more irritable than I already am, which frankly I don't need.

I'm starting to feel like my life is just a giant cluster-fuck, infrequently interrupted by all too brief moments of sensibility, instead of the other way around. When I see how I've ended up, all I can think is that I don't want to be here. I'm not just talking about where I live, either, though I think that's a big part of it. I would like to live somewhere where it's quiet at night. Where I'm not constantly assaulted by the smell of pot in the hallways, or worse, outside my own window. Where they don't dump trash outside my building. Where water doesn't sometime leak through the ceiling from my upstairs neighbor's bathroom when he takes a shower. Where the garbage men don't leave a trail of smelly trash in the basement when they take out the garbage at night.

None of that crap really matters though. I could find the perfect home for the perfect price, and it would still suck, because at the end of the day, it would be just me living in it. Some days, coming home to an empty apartment just kills me. So by the time I discover that some schmuck has decided to keep me awake with his radio all night, I'm already plenty aggravated. The noise is just icing on the cake. A rage cake with violence frosting. And I'm just dying to serve it up.
11th-Jul-2009 06:19 pm - Bleh
I just realized that the Marquis Fetish Ball is happening next Saturday in SF, and of course I have no date.

3rd-Jul-2009 11:29 pm - Free the internets
I discovered recently that a "Free the Net" wifi node had appeared within range of my building in SF. This was fortunate as the access point that I had previously been leeching from now was no longer unsecured. (Took them long enough...) The "Free the Net" network is a basically the closest thing to free community wifi in SF. There's info about it here:


It took a bit of fiddling with my cantenna, but I finally found the right direction (straight out the window) and polarization (horizontal) to get a reasonably stable connection to the access point. It was still a little marginal though, so started looking into various options to improve the situation, hopefully in a way that would not require me to mount an antenna on the roof of the building. (I can get the roof, but I'm on the second floor of a four story building, and at 2.4Ghz, a cable run that long would probably introduce unacceptable signal attenuation.) My first thought was a higher gain antenna, though most of good ones seemed to be quite large and unwieldy. But then someone showed me this:


An 802.11b/g wifi card with 1 watt of TX power. I didn't think they made such things, or that you can buy one in the US, but apparently they do and you can. I ordered one and it arrived today. According to the client survey tool on the remote node, my signal strength more than doubled. (I had been using an Intel 2200BG card previously.) Unscientific web tests show I'm getting about 1.2Mbps download speed, which ain't bad for free.

Oh, and it's based on the Atheros 5414 chipset. It works with FreeBSD out of the box, and since it's Atheros there are all sorts of funky things you can do with it.

I am suitably impressed.
1st-Jul-2009 07:49 pm - Down time during down time
I'm off from work this week, taking my 3rd and final furlough week of the year. Technically, I'm taking advantage of a loophole in the furlough process: we're required to take a complete week off, but this Friday counts as a paid holiday, since the 4th of July falls on a Saturday this year. That means they're really only allowed to charge me for 4 vacation days rather than 5. A bunch of other WR people are taking this week off as well (though some are taking next week off too, in some cases because of pre-existing vacation plans).

The only problem with having the time off is that while it gives me the chance to catch up on lost sleep, it also means I get to spend a lot of time doing nothing, which is bad because when I have nothing to do, I think, and when I think, I get depressed.

The same day that the Intel acquisition of Wind River was announced, right before the start of my previous furlough week, things thoroughly fell apart with Tabby. I don't feel like going into detail: it just didn't work out. (I'm starting to think that will be my epitaph.) Since then, I've been stuck partway between angry and sad. There are times when I feel as if I could launch into a long, drawn out and overwrought introspective of the whole thing, but nothing much ever comes of that feeling because I know it would just be a waste of perfectly good time and electrons. And besides, that's been done to death.

That said, I am, quite frankly, at a loss. I keep thinking there's something I'm supposed to do next, but I can't get a handle on what it is. There is an overwhelming sense of malaise that I just can't quite see past. I don't have the answers, and I hate that.
25th-Jun-2009 08:08 pm - Just when I thought it was safe...
Most of the day at work was occupied by various discussions related to the sudden death of Michael Jackson today. For some, it's practically a national day of mourning. For others, it's an excuse to trot out every internet meme that's ever existed.

By the time I headed out of my office to meet up with the carpool group, I thought I'd seen it all. Then, as I get in the car, the following conversation with one of my decidedly mundane cow-orkers ensues:

Cow-orker: "You heard about Michael Jackson right?"
Me: "Yeah, I've been hearing about it all day."
Cow-orker: "Well I heard a rumor that Harrison Ford and Jeff Goldblum died too."
Me: *brief pause, followed by peals of maniacal laughter*

I had to explain the joke to her. I still don't think she quite got it.

The trip home took a little longer than usual due to some kind of traffic accident in the Posey Tube in Almeda, which required us to take the long way off the island. When I arrived home, I found a noticed posted outside main entrance to my building. It was a notice of violation from the city, citing the building owners for failing to provide heat in the building. I had actually noticed the lack of heat after I returned from my trip to LA, but I didn't really mind it because it happened to coincide with pretty nice weather here in the city. The problem with the heat is that when it's on, it's impossible to avoid: the steam radiators in the apartments can only be controlled by a shutoff valve, but the valves are so old that they've been ground down to practically nothing, making it impossible to really halt the flow of steam. I also suspect that the boiler only has a timer on it rather than a thermostat, given that it seems to come on at the same time every day, even during the summer.

According to the notice, a follow-up inspection is scheduled for next week, and each failed inspection will cost the landlord $170. This doesn't strike me as a terribly stiff penalty.

I noticed that Pidgin started having trouble with Y! Messenger again recently. It seems that Yahoo has once again jiggered their authentication servers, possibly in an attempt to force people to upgrade their clients. Luckily, there's already a new version of Pidgin available to fix this. I upgraded my setup at work an it's happy now, but I'm going to have to rebuild it on my home machine and my laptop too. Joy.

Last weekend was Gothnic 2009. Much fun, food and sun (booooo! hisssssss!) was had by all. I saw many people that I hadn't seen in a long while, which was nice even though it made me feel even more like an old fart. I even managed to drag Ceren out of her hermitage. Damion should consider this an organizational success, even though he may insist that he has all the organization skills of a pack of retarded gerbils. Luckily, with a group like us, who basically _are_ a pack of retarded gerbils, you don't really need much more.

Work has been eating my brains more vigorously than usual. The Intel merger/acquisition hasn't been finalized yet, so things are still mostly business as usual, though there's definitely an undercurrent of anxiety. I've been too busy to really think about it, but I know that in other departments there's been no shortage of gossip. For one thing, since we will now be part of Intel's accounting process, there's some question as to what will happen to our own finance and accounting people. As for me, I had just enough time after getting back from my first furlough week to finish up my latest project before having to take another one next week. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do with the time, but I did decide that I don't want to go to to Toorcamp. (Hey, Graziela, are you doing anything next week? *poke* *poke*)

My trip to LA was fairly relaxing. I stayed with Pixel again, and he hosted a party for his friend Amber the Saturday after I arrived. There were balloons, toys and snacks (the latter of which produced a photo labeled "two girls, one cupcake"). I also met this really cute girl who does some kind of database programming who, given my luck, I'll probably never see again. (And if I do, I'm sure she'll introduce me to her boyfriend.) I also got a chance to futz around with Pixel's brand new HP 2140 Netbook. Since he was going to trash the factory Windows install put Linux on it, he let me try it out with FreeBSD 7.2, since I happened to have the CD with me. The 2140 has Broadcom wifi and Marvell ethernet. Neither one worked exactly out of the box, but did work eventually with some coercion. The Broadcom wireless required Project Evil. For the ethernet, I had to grab the latest msk(4) driver from FreeBSD-current. It has Intel graphics, which did work out of the box with Xorg. So did the sound and bluetooth. I didn't do anything with the built-in camera. Unfortunately, video is one of FreeBSD's perennial weaknesses: Linux has a framework for it, but FreeBSD doesn't, so all camera drivers are pretty much ad-hoc.

The one thing I was really curious about was whether or not the Intel Atom processor in the 2140 is actually faster than the Celeron M in my existing laptop. The Atom has a higher clock speed, but from my experiments there didn't seem to be a huge difference in response and performance.

Oh, we also ran into some of HP's stupidity. Pixel wanted to replace the internal Broadcom wifi adapter with an Atheros one, for various sundry reasons. First of all, HP designed the laptop so that you have to take it completely apart in order to remove the wifi module. And I mean _completely_. Second, after going to all that trouble and reassembling the whole thing, we turned it on only to be greeted by a BIOS error telling us that an unsupported piece of hardware was installed, and that we had to remove the offending device in order to successfully boot. It turns out HP rigged the BIOS to check the PCI vendor/device ID on the wifi card, and it won't start the system up if you don't have a "supported" one. So we had to disassemble the laptop all over again to put it back the way it was.

I hope a lot of people complain to HP about this, though something tells me they probably won't, which is a shame. I'm still on the fence about getting an Atom-based netbook. I kinda want one, but can't really justify it while my existing laptop is still fully functional. Ah well, they'll still be out there if I change my mind.
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