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Journal Entries for November 2006
November 5, 2006 - 10:45 PM
Cake Mix

After spending most of this weekend lying in bed, sick, I decided that a chocolate cake was in order. Don't try to interpret the kind of reasoning that would start with sickness and end in chocolate cake, it made sense to me and that's all that mattered. :P So I did - I baked me a cake, the first one in my new house. I've only lived here a year and a half... In fact, I do believe that's the first time I've turned the oven on! haha And I hope it will not be the last. That cake tasted delicious (and no, I did not eat the whole thing as that last sentence could lead one to believe...) Believe it or not, I am trying to get in shape for Australia! I know it's going to sneak up on me...

Televisions: 10 - Microwaves: 8

A fun little game I've started playing over the past couple of months as I drive through countless alleys all around the city is to count certain items I encounter during my day. By far the most common item I see discarded in alleyways is tires, and I gave up almost immediately any hope of trying to quantify the quantity I see. However, the next most common item encountered would have to be the common television, followed closely by the microwave. So closely, in fact, that I have started marking down each one I see as a kind of competition to ascertain which appliance is abandoned more frequently. While doing my paperwork tonight, I found my last scorecard which showed a total of ten TV's seen that day, and only 8 microwaves. And if that seems like a lot, my current one-day-total-television-tally is a staggering 21 units! (Including (yes, I'm not making this up)) a big screen TV! I'm sure it didn't work, as I'm sure most of the televisions tossed out with the trash do not function properly or they would be inside dulling the minds of teenagers instead of taking up precious garbage-bag space by the proverbial curb. Some other items frequently encountered: Propane bottles, large appliances, (washers, dryers, dishwashers, & stoves) VCR's, stereos, (this one kind of surprised me garage door openers, water coolers, car batteries, and paint cans. I will keep you posted as my findings continue.

Me Studying

November 11, 2006 - 2:27 AM
Take a closer look inside my world

For years I have had this section on my website I've called the Window to my World. Inside it I've presented countless stories, pictures, songs, and ideas - it has proven a marvelous outlet for me to express myself, to showcase my creativity, practice my simple sentence structure, and display my photos and artwork. But this approach has a very biased format. You read what I tell you, how I tell it, and nothing more. I'm going to try a little experiment here and see what sort of response it gets. I've been playing with some new toys today, something I've been working on for a long time. Actually, if you'd have told me yesterday that tonight I was going to do what I am about to do, I probably wouldn't have believed it. But this morning I was looking through some online catalogues and came across an offer on an item I just could not refuse. I'll explain more about that later.

The viewer window that should open when you click the Open Viewer button will display, at one second intervals, live images from a newly installed camera mounted in the ceiling of my basement living room. But that's not all, folks! By using the arrow keys in the Open Control window, you can move the camera around in any of the four directions to see what's going on in my world! (Sorry about the mess... Hopefully tomorrow I'll get some cleaning done! haha) So take a look around, say hi to my birdies, and without further ado - I'm off to bed!

November 12, 2006 - 12:34 AM
Blur of a Night

Happy Birthday Isabella!

On my way home from the birthday party I stopped in to Mac's to buy some milk. For some reason I've been having milk cravings lately - they just pop up out of nowhere and attack without warning or mercy. When I entered the store, I cheerfully made my way to the back where the milk was, but I seemed to be drawing an unusual amount of attention to myself and for a moment I was at a loss as to why. Oh - wait a minute, I'm still wearing my Mickey Mouse Hat! haha The hat itself may not be magic, but it was able to bring smiles to the faces of many people this evening - as much for it's distinction as for my silliness in wearing it.

I don't know what it is, but I've really been feeling *blah* lately. Just a total lack of energy. I've got a lot going on in my life, but not a lot that really gets me excited. I discovered something about myself that (A) I've found quite interesting and (B) explains a lot - There is a particular characteristic that, generally speaking, I find very attractive in a woman. Now I know this might sound strange, and I sort of laugh even now as I type it, but I tend to like women with big foreheads! When looking back over all the girls and young ladies I've found attractive - many of them have had big foreheads. You learn new stuff about yourself every day.

November 13, 2006 - 6:31 AM

Another day, another dollar... This morning I go in for an ultrasound. I've never had an ultrasound before -- not really sure what to think.

November 14, 2006 12:02 AM
Ok, so I jumped the gun a little early on the whole ultrasound thing. I went in this morning and all they did was set up an appointment for me. Monday, November 27 at 8:20 AM will be the day I get the tests done. I'm not sure if they'll tell me anything right away or if I'll have to wait until the results go back to the clinic. I can't say I really have a family doctor although any time I've ever gone to a walk-in clinic it's always been at the same location. Whatever the case, I'm trying not to think about anything until then, because the mind can wander down far too many side streets and explore avenues that in all liklihood will never be travelled upon. Perhaps that's one of the gifts (or curses) of being Human - our ability to ask what if? and, using the imagination God gave us, try to answer the questions of the unknown - to wonder about things we don't have the answer to. Curious, isn't it?

Shauntelle. I wasn't sure what to think when I noticed your name in my inbox. Judging by the size of the email it appears to be a fairly long letter, which strikes me as odd considering the whole time we sat in the same room you wouldn't even look at me, let alone utter a word in my direction... I've decided not to open this email, just as I decided not to open the last one either. The protection, the security, the uninterruptable one-way communication and comfort sending an email offers gives people more courage than alcohol and I've come to the position in my life that if you really had something to say to me, you'd come right out and say it. I'm sure you still know my number, (I still remember your old Lakeview number, the one I spent that whole ride home repeating in my head so that I wouldn't forget it) - If whatever you wanted to get off your chest is important enough to hear, say it to my face, or at least to my ear.

November 16, 2006 - 7:53 AM
Bored, with camera

Fall Sunset

This little guy below is an old fashioned gas stove that I came across in a boiler room downtown. Undoubtably taken out of a very old appartment that had been renovated, the sight of such a stove reminded me very much of the one that was in Grandma and Grandpa's old rumpus room. (Do you guys remember that thing?) It never worked, that is - it was never connected to gas, but perhaps that's a good thing as I would imagine these units are fairly dangerous by today's standards.

Essentially you have a burner that allows the flames to trickle up over these little bumpie things, which heats them up and makes the stove act much as more modern ceramic heaters do, radiating the infrared heat out towards the room. But with open flames, no separate ventilation system and no protective cover, the breeze of a person walking past could disrupt the convection airflow and fill the room with potentially lethal fumes. Now little more than a decorative piece, these antiques serve to remind us of a simpler time gone by.

I ran into Pat -- TWICE yesterday! hahaha I first saw him and Paul working on the canopy of the 14th Street (South) Petro Canada so I stopped and said hi. Then after finishing the rest of my morning calls I phoned him to see if he wanted to go for lunch. There was no answer, so I figured he was busy. I pulled into the Boston Pizza on 17th Ave because I didn't want to go far since most of my jobs were close to downtown. After eating there, when I went to back out of the angle park'd stall I noticed his big lightbulb changing truck about a block behind me. Curious, I reversed up the street and sure enough, he'd gone for lunch at the Pizza Hut a block away. Too funny.

November 17, 2006 - 11:41 PM
What hurts worse than stepping on a nail?

The answer, of course, is stepping on TWO nails! How do I know this you might be asking? Simple. I just did it. Wearing my little rubber shoes, I stepped onto a board with some nails sticking through that punctured my foot in two places. Owwie. I'll definitely feel that one tomorrow!

So you might have noticed by now a new feature on my web site. In the top right-hand corner of the main page you can peer into my living room, and even control several of the electrical items you see. So far, my Christmas lights and my table lamps on either side of my pullout couch are controllable from this very web site! Perhaps a breakthrough in web-based home automation, perhaps one computer geeks' hobby gone awry, whatever the case, I think it's cool and oddly intriguing. I'll be sitting there when suddenly the lights will turn on and I'll see the camera moving around. So how does it work? Well, I'm glad you asked.

First of all there is the camera. I use a Vivotek PT1111M which is essentially a color camera with some motors and gears to move it around. Unlike some of the significantly more expensive cameras of this type, it does not feature the ability to zoom. However, it does come with an infrared remote control as well as (obviously) the ability to control it using a computer, and for $76.00 brand new, I could not refuse.

The camera has a couple of simple connectors on it, first of all a power connector to make it work. The video comes out in an analog format through what's called a BNC connector, common for security cameras. There is also a small connection block for connection to an RS-485 serial link -- This is what allows me to move the camera around using my computer and therefore also allows you to control the camera through the web site. Pretty simple so far, right? This stuff is really not that complicated.

I mentioned that the signal coming out of the camera is in analog format. That means that you could connect it up to any TV with a video line in connector and view the images captured by the camera. However we needed some way to get these images into the computer, some way to convert them into a digital format. This step is achieved by using a video server. In appearance it is little more than a small black box with several types of connectors on it, but in function it is a marvelous tool that provides many features and abilities. The video signal is inputted into the video server, which digitizes it and creates a series of jpeg images (the standard image format for any types of pictures on the Internet.) The video server also acts as it's own little web server, and whenever you visit this page, my web server simply asks it's web server for a snapshot from the camera. The video server takes a picture at that moment and transfers it to my web server which in turn transfers it to you. I've set the web site to get new snapshots every 5 seconds, so when you notice the hourglass appear on your mouse for a split second every 5 seconds as you read this - that's what it's doing. Getting a current snapshot from my living room.

Controlling the camera is pretty much the opposite procedure. When you click the button to move the camera to the right, my web server recieves that command and passes it along to the web server in the video server. Since the video server also acts as an RS-485 controller, it takes that command and encodes it into a series of hexidecimal bytes which then get transmitted along the RS-485 link to the camera. The camera constantly listens to the RS-485 link for packets and when it finds one addressed to it, it interprets the command and if it makes sense, performs the requested actions. In this case, it moves the camera to the right.

So how do the lights turn on and off? Simple. In addition to being able to control cameras, the video server also has the ability to control switches. By using 12 volts DC (the same kind of power in your car) the video server can control low voltage relays which can then switch much larger loads, in this case, my Christmas lights and table lamps. My first challenge was getting some relays that could switch 120 volt circuits. I had a project from my youth whereby I utilized a microwave controller as an electrical timer. By 'cooking' food in the 'microwave', one could turn on a device for the specified amount of time, accurate to the second.

My microwave timer

Microwave Timer RESET The project proved ingenious, a rousing success in it's day. However eventually the ribbon cable that connected the number pad to the circuit board of the timer cracked, so many of the buttons on the panel no longer functioned - rendering the microwave timer useless except to display the RESET message when plugged in, indicating that the power had been interrupted.

A heavy extension cord had been cut in two, and while providing power to the timer it also passed current into one of the timer's relays which switched on when the timer was trying to cook something.

While examining the timer I noticed that I had also attached a pair of wires to the 12 volt control circuit that activates the relay to turn on the extension cord. At first I thought this might have been for some external control, but then I remembered it's true purpose. Back when I was in grade eight or nine, I had used this timer contraption in conjunction with another relay that was tied into the phones in the house so that whenever I cooked food - it disconnected every telephone in the house but mine so that I could have *ahem* private conversations with girls. I remember one girl in particular, Christie Carr - who shared many naughty secrets of her life with me over the course of many phone calls secured from unintended ears by way of this little device. Good times.

With a little whisk of my desoldering iron I had removed these relays from the microwave timer (it had two - one for the fan, light, and tray turner and a second one to control the actual microwave element.) These particular units were quite compact, making them ideal for an inline splice as I was about to perform.

Here you can see the finished wiring. The neutral lead of the extension cord passes straight through while the hot leads are interrupted and passed through the relay.

After it was all taped up, one extension cord looked like this. Notice the pair of brown wires sneaking out of the left side. Those are the 12 volt leads that power the relay which, when activated, closes the circuit on the hot conductor in the cord and allows current to flow to any devices connected. The 12 volt leads are connected back into the video server and Bob's your uncle! By plugging the Christmas lights into one of the modified extension cords and the table lamps into the other, you are able to turn on and off devices in my house from anywhere in the world! Not only that but you can also watch the effect from anywhere in the world. I don't care who you are, that's pretty cool.

November 19, 2006 12:50 AM
Sorry guys, it's almost one in the morning, I've got to work tomorrow and I am just too tired to write. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves today and sum up by saying, "Maddy was cute, I built a new cage for my birds today, the Matt Hughes vs. Georges St. Pierre fight was phenominal, and I just got out of a wonderful soaking in our hot tub which now has new LED lighting!

Jolene Watching the Fights

Jolene watching the fights

November 25, 2006 12:00 AM
I have seen the light...

John Caught On Camera

Tonight was the first of two Shaw Christmas Parties at the Hyatt downtown. It was pretty good, although I really didn't know hardly anyone there. Man it's a big company! And most days, I work alone too so it doesn't do much for getting to know fellow co-workers! I was impressed though, by the fact that before they served supper, they said grace for the meal. I already thought very highly of Shaw as a company, but after seeing that gesture - it's esteem in my eyes increased even more so. There was, of course, also the infamous video... Apparantly they do it every year although since this was my first year at the corporate Christmas party, it was also the first time I saw it. It poked a bit of fun at a couple of our competitors, and we'll leave it at that. (One of the furry creatures featured in some other ads you may have seen got tired of waiting on hold so waddled over to a Shaw Phone Booth and switched to Shaw Digital Phone.)

Following a C-Train ride home I jumped in the hot tub with Bo and Maddy on one of the coldest nights so far... -12.2 as the thermometer reads it right now. Man I love that hot tub but our water level is definitely declining with this water ban preventing us from topping her up. I think we've mastered the chemical mix and have managed to keep our water pretty clean, but every time we get out we take away more water than was in it when we entered, so as it's use continues, it's level declines.

Much of the weekend has been spent brushing up on my c++ programming. I am, to say the least, rusty! But it is coming back and I am finding new ideas and methods for accomplishing the things I want to in writing my own "real" programs. Talk about a mountain to climb though! And I know a lot of what I want to do will be re-inventing the wheel, but for my own knowledge and understanding I think it'll be worth it to understand exactly how computers work on the level I want to program. So far, it's still a lot of smoke and mirrors. As I've exasperated before, The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know!

November 26, 2006 - 12:30 AM
Resistance is Futile!

As part of the Installer Technician course I've been taking at home I've been studying many of the fundimentals of electricity and circuits. This afternoon I came to the chapter on Ohm's Law, and I have to say - for all the years I've been working on electronics and power circuits, for the first time in my life it all started to make sense. Did you ever hear a joke as a child and not understand it at the time, only to remember that joke many years later but with a new understanding of it's humour? For me - (literally) - a light went on!


I've been conceptualizing circuits and devices to be part of my upcoming project, AutoHouse - a home automation & remote control system. It's funny, because one of the circuits I pondered for several hours this afternoon is actually for a device I concieved in a story I wrote in grade 6 - Underground Fort. In the story, my good friend Jason and I dug this elaborate underground fort and had all sorts of adventures - mainly centering on eluding our siblings as they tried to find out what we were up to. One time, Jason and I snuck into Blair's clubhouse and replaced several of their lighting switches with these special switches that would allow us to control them remotely. Ironically, today I came up with a working prototype for exactly that - a switch you could use normally or have controlled by remote. I have to say, this whole project has really got my wheels whirring and gears grinding. I don't know if it's more because it's always been something of a childhood fancy to design and build this sort of stuff or if it's a low-level human ego thing to feel the need to control things - especially things in one's own domain. In either case, I hope to have some interesting and innovative technology implemented in my house, allowing a remarkable degree of control and feedback from a variety of systems throughout the abode.


The other day Maddy found my colorful blanket and pillow set, made a bed for herself on my bed and then pretended to sleep there. Today she was sounding out letters on a movie case at the video store, recognizing the letters D - V - D and then realizing what they meant. She also sounded out the word family all by herself! Not bad for a kid who hasn't even begun preschool yet... She is going to blow everyone away when she starts school! It's so much fun to see her grow and learn new things every day.

Washing Madison

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