Wet Wipes for Keyboards

I found a new use for wet wipes today. Because of SARS, I’ve been collecting an overabundance of these things, and I finally put them to good use (other than for washing one’s hands before eating). It turns out they are very good for cleaning the grunge off of computer keyboards. If you use your computer everyday, your keyboard and mouse can build up a rather disgusting brown film on the surface of the keys after less than a year. So, before turning on my computer today, I gave the keys and mouse back a good scrubbing with a wet wipe. Now they look great. But the question remains, now what do I do with all the other wet wipes I have?!

Audio Tech

mp3 player as a USB key drive

I don’t really have a need or desire for a portable mp3 player. I’m quite happy with my Sharp Minidisc Recorder which I’ve had for over a year now. I’m not intending to go on a rant about the differences between the two devices other than to say that a Minidisc recorder is a portable digital recording studio, whereas an mp3 player, well, just isn’t.

But an mp3 player can be one thing that a Minidisc recorder can never be, thanks to Sony’s unwillingness to open the MD format: a portable file system that holds way more than a floppy disk.

I guess I’ve been in the dark for a while as far as computer hardware and gadgets go. But over the last year I’ve finally noticed and figured out what my colleagues were wearing around their necks. At first I thought these small devices they plugged into their computer’s USB port were wireless network cards. But it turns out they are what are called USB Key drives—tiny, memory-based “hard drives” the size of a key fob or a lipstick stick. What a cool idea. There’s been a need for portable, convenient digital storage that can replace the floppy (and hold more) for quite some time now. I think the USB key drive might be just that. You can even boot your computer off of the filesystem on IBM’s version of the USB key, I’ve heard.

So, when I was trying to find out what these devices were (once I new the function, I still didn’t know the name), I found out rather quickly on the Internet. But I found something better than just a plain old USB key drive in this article:

Creative Labs MuVo: The Singing Diskette.

In the article, you will learn that the people at Creative Labs have built an mp3 player which doubles as a USB key drive. Now that’s a cool idea! So you can store music and data, up to 64 MB or 128 MB. Not bad.


Loopy Weather

If you’ve been using my weather page recently, then maybe you’ve been wondering what’s going on. Like, why are days repeating themselves? It’s producing some interesting graphs, like the following:

Well my script actually broke a few days ago because the maintainer of the EAS weather station dropped a few variables from the output of the station. So, I noticed this and promptly fixed the script. But it seems that for some reason, the timestamps on the data are no longer working right. So my script, which relies on their data, happily takes the timestamps and sends them to gnuplot. The cool thing about gnuplot is that it will take date and time information as a variable and stick the data points in the right place. So, in a case like this, where the timestamps are messed up, you get interesting plots like the one above. I’m not sure if the maintainer of the EAS weather station will notice this problem since they only plot the last 24 hours on their web page. But it’s going to mess up their archives of the data.

Now I have been working on a pure Python implementation of my weather scripts which relies on METAR reports from airports. It’s working well, and since I’ve started using the PyMETAR module, I’ve been able to generalize my scripts to any airport around the world. But so far, it’s still in the testing phase and hasn’t gone online yet.


Annoying spammers with pf and spamd

Here’s an interesting article on spam—I like the author’s pro-active approach on fighting spam(mers).

Annoying spammers with pf and spamd

China Python

Post Holiday Rest and Relaxation

Well, Lily and I had an excellent holiday. We visited family in NE China, wore lots of clothes to keep warm, ate really well, and enjoyed the fireworks and the stars. (In fact, back in Beijing, people are still setting off fireworks for the rest of the week.) It was a great experience for me to celebrate the Spring Festival in China. One fun moment was buying ice cream bars from a street vendor at -20°C! At that temperature, a cardboard box is all you need for refrigeration.

Since coming home to Beijing, I’ve rested lots, and been working at home for the week since the office is closed. (I need to make up for all the work I missed since I took my holiday earlier than everyone else.) But I got it all done and it’s Friday night. I’m looking forward to going out and watching the sunset and then maybe I’ll go out for pizza.

Also this week, for some reason, I’ve gone crazy playing and hacking around in Python. Maybe I missed my computer lots on my holiday. (I think so!) I wrote a command-line equivalent to the Unix cal(1) command which prints calendars like this for any month and/or year:

   February 2003
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
 2  3  4  5  6  7  8
 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28

It’s not that big of a deal though since Python has this as a built in module. But it needed a command-line interface, so now my windows box has a cal command. I’m also working with a full-text indexer to index all the textfiles (and email messages) on my computer to aid with searching for stuff I’ve archived long ago. I am also planning to write a simple equivalent to the GNU locate command, to just help find locations of files (not their contents) on my computer.

Of course, when I come up with something useful, I need to stick it on my webpage to share with the world. Fun, fun, fun!