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My Whole House Music System

My Whole House Music System

I’ve long been interested in the concept of whole house music systems. Basically, you can start a playlist, streaming radio station, whatever, and have it play throughout your home. The music is syncronized and you don’t have to blast one set of speakers just to hear it. Why would you want this? Imagine if you were throwing a party and had people hanging out in the living room and on your back deck, or your upstairs living space and downstairs recreation room. If you want to play music, but don’t want to run speaker cable all over the place so everyone can hear it, a whole house wireless audio system is the answer. You can even let your guests browse your collection and add music to the playlist. With some systems, they can even play songs from their phones that you don’t have. there are other scenarios for this. Playing music while you do chores without having to wer headphones being one that comes immediately to mind.

You might have heard of systems like Sonos, or the Bose SoundTouch Wi-Fi Music Systems, these are great systems, but didn’t quite do what I wanted for a couple of reasons:

  1. They’re kind of expensive. At a cost of several hundred dollars per room.
  2. At least in the living room, there’s already a sound system connected both to the media PC and the AppleTV. I didn’t really want a solution that would require either a new receiver or another random speaker hanging about. Sonos does have a Sonos receiver that connects to an existing amp, but it’s $350.
  3. I had the idea that this is something that could be combined with a home automation system and the whole house audio could be used for providing alerts from your security system, IP/landline phone, etc. You could even tie it in so when a certain scene is started in your automation system, the lights dim, romantic music starts playing, and the fire in the fireplace turns on ((depending on the extent of your automation system).

For people who want a system that’s set up and go, these are great systems. I’ve played with the sonos and think it’s absolutely wonderful. I figured though, that there was likely a way I could build a similar system with parts I already had, or could obtain pretty inexpensively. Plus, the extensibility and integration mentioned in #3 above.

Warning: the following is extensively geeky, and you might not want to read it if you don’t care about such things. 🙂

Discover how I built a whole house audio system

Public Safety Christmas Carols, Part 2

Public Safety Christmas Carols, Part 2

I already picked on the dispatchers in my last parody. So, here is the as yet untitled EMS Day carol (to the tune of Jingle Bells). It needs some work in parts, so feel free to chime in in the comments.

Sliding through the snow
in a rig that’s got no breaks
there’s been no time for coffee
we’re both getting the shakes.
Dispatch is on our ass
to clear for another call.
I just wanna clean my rig of this puke and alcohol.

[chorus]
Pager tones,
dispatch drones
tell us where to go.
No time to eat or drink or pee
we’ve gotta hit the road.
L O L says she fell,
your basic lift assist.
My partner’s getting really sad
for the lunch we’re gonna miss.

Restocking in the bay
the Charge Nurse stares us down.
“Get back in your rig
and drive out of my town.
All your bringing me
is crackheads, drunks, and liars.
If I see you two again
I swear I’ll slash your tires.”

[chorus]
Pager tones.
Dispatch drones,
tell us where to go.
No time to eat or drink or pee
we’ve gotta hit the road.
MVC, she tells me
the callers are all pissed.
My partner just broke out in tears
for the lunch that we just missed.

Roll up on the scene.
No patients to be found.
Just some ugly marks,
and a road sign on the ground.
Clear on the MDT.
Head off to McDee’s
Then the stupid robot sqwalks at me
“Incident Assigned!”

[chorus]
Pager tones.
dispatch drones, tell us where to go
No time to eat or drink or pee,
we’ve gotta hit the road
You call we haul
is what we tell ’em all
Not just something that we say.
It’s been fun
now I gotta run.
Hashtag my EMS Day

What Are Twitter chats? A Fireside Conversation With…Myself

What Are Twitter chats? A Fireside Conversation With…Myself

I’ve been participating in, or monitoring, a few Twitter chats lately (#brlchat and #a11ychat to be specific), and I’ve observed some people have questions about what a Twitter chat is, how to participate, and why you’d even want such a thing. So, here’s one Geek’s thoughts on the subject.

My Thoughts on Twitter Chats (long post, it’s behind this link)

Moving Lessons

Moving Lessons

I’ve learned a few things in the cross-country move I did back in February.

1. When the pod that shows up is a whole 105 cubic feet smaller than the website claimed (I read 5x8x7, I got 5x5x7) emergency “do I really need this?” must take place.
2. A third flor walk-up is great, until you have to haul things up said three flights of stairs. Thanks friends for the help!
3. It’s hard to decide whether the crok-pot surviving the move, only to be destroyed in a three foot fall when the box topples over is sad, hillarious, or a little bit of both.
4. Bringing an unassembled piece of furniture with you, only to have it self-destruct (read gravity and I have different beliefs about how that assembly process should have worked) while being put together makes you want to cry.
5. And probably the most bizarre lesson. Hanging file folders can shrink.

See, I was unpacking boxes to clear out my bedroom so the furniture people have somewhere to put the new bedroom set. When I emptied the box of files into the filing cabint… they didn’t fit. Who knew you could starve cardboard?

McDonald’s Is Anti-Pedestrian

McDonald’s Is Anti-Pedestrian

It was a dark and stormy night in the lnk. [Yeah, yeah, it’s a clichet, but it’s the truth, deal.] I’m hanging out with Karen: she studying, me alternating between homework and the job that pays for the homework. I’m also monitoring the #lnk hashtag on Twitter and listening to the scanners when @bburket21 innocently asks, “McDonalds or Amigos?” which plants the seed of “I want a chocolate strawberry shake”. I, being the wonderful and thoughtful friend that I am, plant a similar seed in Karen’s mind.

Once we both wrap up our respective projects we decide to run over and get a shake and some fries. However, the storm really decides to cut loose and we go back inside. See, we both paid attention that day in elementary school when they told you not to play outside in the lightning unless you wanted to find out what becoming KFC extra crispy felt like.

An hour passes, the storm warning expires, the clock hits 1:15. We’re still wide awake and both ridiculously hungry now, so we venture out again.

The rain has tapored off, and there’s only a litle lightning far off in the distance. Nothing to worry about.

We walk the half-mile to our local McDonalds only to find that the 24-hour restaurant has locked both its doors. Not being ones to give up and go home quite that easily, we decided to try this experience from the prospective of your average motorist. We wander around the building a bit, locating what I think might be the drive-in speaker, but apparently the little scensor dealy is smart enough to realize that making haunking and vroom-vroom noises doesn’t make me a car. Which begs the question “If computers are really that smart, why can the Amtrak lady never understand a word I say?” As it turns out, we weren’t at the speaker, blind fail.

After locating the drive-in window and not receiving any kind of acknowledgement of our presence from inside Ronald’s Nugget Castle, we proceeded to stand there like two monkeys trying to figure out how to open a can of baked beans:

*knock* *knock*
“They’re not answering us.”
“I know they’re in there, I can hear them.”
“Me too. I want my food.”
“I did not come all this way to be denied my chicken nuggets and shake.”
*knock* *knock*
“*growl* Heeeeeelllllllloooooooo?”
“Do ou feel that?”
“What? The water drippping from the sky? No, I refuse to. Fore I do not yet have my chicken nuggets and shake”

Finally, a nice young lady slides open the window.

“Weeee,” says me.

“Hi, walkups we do not take,” says she.

“But your lobby is locked,” points out Karen.

I, being full of snark and, well at this point nothing else because I am hungry, simpy hold up my white lance and smile, “yeah, I tried that. didn’t make it out of the garage. Also, i tried to be a car, but your censor didn’t like my impression.”

“Oh, no,” bubbles the Nugget Princess, “that’s because you’re not big enough.”

I manage to bite back the obvious, “because I avoid the super size,” and simply smile.

She tells us she’ll make a one-time exception, but the specialty drink machine is closed for the evening. So no chocolate strawberry shake.

We leave with our food, and a great deal of bafflement. How is it that a 24-hour restaurant can ignore the possibility of walk-up clients. I realize there are some security concerns, and they may not want to keep the lobby open and encourage anyone to hang out all night. However, we cannot be the only people interested in a late-night snack who don’t have a four-wheeled conveyance with which to lower the magical drawbridge that apparently gets erected at the witching hour. So, McDonalds, I’m willing to be reasonable. I suggest that we sit down at the big MacTable of Chicken McCompromise and work out a fair and equitable solution. I propose one of the following: a( you allow your employees to take walk-up clients unless they are feeling unsafe or threatened by the individual; or b) you buy me an NFB Blind Driver/Google Car and two chocolate strawberry shakes.

No, seriously. we want our shakes.

So.. I Did This Thing

So.. I Did This Thing

and I’m pretty proud of it.

Our local transit agency Startran has a website where you can track buses. Take a look at that and tell me what you see. I’ll give you a hint, it’s a map. A map with no textual data. Bad for blind users. Sure, if you’re using IE, turn on the reading of untagged graphics, and hunt around you can kind of find the pop-up label for the bus you want and see what the next two stops are, but seriously, that’s annoying, stupid, and not everyone knows how to do it (also, that trick doesn’t work on my iPhone). There has to be a better way.

After my e-mail to the company who makes the AVL software went unanswered, I did what all good geeks do: I solved the problem myself.

Enter, the Startrancker (an awful Portmanteau of Startran and tracker, the renaming contest begins now in the comments.

Basically, I repurposed some of the code from the original scripts to get the data (a fake json object that is converted into a real json object in the scripts) from the Startran website, pull it into an array, and display the WebLabel for each vehicle. The WebLabel contains the route name, and the next two “time marking” stops, along with the estimated time of arrival. I took this a step farther in order to provide blind users an idea of the vehicle’s actual location. After each vehicle’s WebLabel there is a link to track that specific vehicle. If a rider locates the route they want to travel, then the vehicle on that route (some routes have more than one vehicle running them at a time) and activates the tracking link, the display changes to show the WebLabel of the vehicle, and the approximate street address provided by reverse geocoding the latitude and longitude. Both displays refresh every 45 seconds and are only approximations of actual vehicle location, so I’m not responsible if you miss your bus because you were only relying on my interface :).

This is still very beta, and there’s probably improvements that can be made, but it seems to be working decently for now.

If you go to the site when there are no vehicles in service (like say between 19:00-06:00 central Mon-Sat and all day Sunday) the site will just show a heading for the title, because I have to add in a handler for no data.

I had originally tried putting the locations of all vehicles on the single display, but the Google Maps interface got pissed off at the number of requests. I decided also that I could use an ARIA alert (if a screen reader user leaves their browser open on a tracking screen, the updated vehicle location will be automatically announced) if I did it this way.

There’s also some weird bug with my anonymous function doing the reverse geocoding that wont let me update the array with the vehicle’s location, so it’s simply appended to the div and not put in the array (lazy, but it works until I figure out why the real thing isn’t).

it’s ugly, I know, it’ll get styled later.

Oh, and finally, all the code needed to trigger the single display of a vehicle is an onclick and not a registered handler the way I wanted. This:

$(‘.trackVehicle’).click(function() {
…code goes here…
});

failed to attach a click event to every member of the trackVehicle class the way I intended.

All-in-all, I’m happy with the way the project turned out. I learned a bunch of stuff about a few things I didn’t know before, and I’m still going to be learning as I debug the parts that i’m not happy with.

Head, Meet Desk

Head, Meet Desk

Some of you who are intimately familiar with my eating habbits routinely mock me for not trying new places/foods. You want to know why I don’t? Because of things like this.

I have some time to kill before my first SxXSWI panel, soI ran into a random restaurant… that serves nothing but seafood. I had already ordered a drink and felt awkward leaving. So, I’m eating a hot dog, that I garentee you is off the childrens’s menu.

I don’t ever want to hear another mocking comment about my food preferences from any of you, ever again!

Update

Update

Thank you so much to everyone who chipped in to help our family member out with her medical expenses. We have gathered enough to help eliminate a couple of months worth of payments (they managed to come to a reasonable payment plan with the facility). We are all greatful for your support!

Thanks again!

Helping Family

Helping Family

Normally the posts here are about humorous incidents or contain long
rants, but today I’m coming to you with a serious issue. Late last year
our sister-in-law was diagnosed with Anerexia and Bolemia. She has been at an in-patient facility for treatment for the past three and a half months. Her insurance company has paid for 90 of her required 120 days of treatment, but is resisting the payment of the last 30 days. The facility is fortunately working with her family to help with payment options, but they are looking at several thousands of dollars in
remaining medicalbills. Our family has done what we are able to do to
help, but there are still remaining expenses, so we are humbly asking
for your assistance. We ask first for your prayers for the situation. Prayers for healing and strength for both her and her family. While her time in the program has brought healing, she will face challenges once she comes home and will need to rely on God’s strength. Please also pray that the remaining expenses are covered and that our brother and
sister’s financial needs will be met. Next, we’re asking for financial
contributions. It took a lot for our brother to come to us and ask for
help, and we want to do what we can to support our family. While we
realize that none of our fabulous readers are independently wealthy, if
any of you would be willing to donate the cost of a cup of coffee or a
meal out, it would really make a difference. If you would like to
donate, please click the paypal button at the bottom of this post. We
would also appreciate it if you would spread the word. Thanks for your
prayers and support. We are greatful to you all.

(If anyone would prefer to help out and not use PayPal, please contact me at anthony[at]olivero[dot]us. You’ll have to insert the appropriate punctuation marks)