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Royal Game of Ur7 June 2020, 15:00 UTC

I've become slightly obsessed recently about a 3,000-year-old game found in the tombs of royalty excavated at the site of the ancient city of Ur, in Mesopotamia. I was initially introduced to it by this (charming, delightful) video, and decided that I needed to make a copy of it for my collection. I watched some other videos and discovered that it's possible to create an almost perfect transfer of laser toner from paper to wood, simply by painting the wood and the paper with water-based acrylic resin, pressing them tightly together, letting the resin dry, and then using water to enable the paper to be rolled off with your fingers. Armed with this information, I set out to draw replicas of the designs on the original, millennia-old board using Inkscape software. Once all the designs were complete (including intentional non-symmetries and other signs of hand-made objects) I laid them out and printed them, and then transferred the whole thing to the wood. (This is actually a test piece I did, using some 1/8" hobby plywood. On sanded solid wood, it works even better.) The game board itself was made by cutting wide strips of hard maple, and thinner strips of purple heartwood, gluing them together, then cutting them apart the other direction and gluing them back together with additional strips of purple heart between them.

I made playing pieces by resawing and planing a piece of hard maple to about 1/4" thick and then using a plug cutter to produce a bunch of identical wooden disks. I then dyed the disks black and blue, drilled the patterns for the requisite pips (see below) using a 3d-printed guide, and glued in 5mm hematite cabochons on the blue disks, and lapis lazuli cabs on the black disks, before finishing them with more acrylic coating. (Pictures to come.) I also made a set using powdered mother-of-pearl packed into the pip holes and anchored with CA glue.

I then set out to make "gambling" tokens, for the more complex version of the game using terracotta clay and some cuneiform stamps I designed and 3D printed. They represent the numbers 20, 10, 5, and 1, from right to left. I'm sure these bear no resemblance to the actual money or whatever they used to keep score, but I thought it was a nice touch anyway.

Ashes to Ashes, and Rising Therefrom7 June 2020, 14:31 UTC

I just watched a video about some folks who are working to restore the hardware and software used on the Apollo missions from 50 years ago. It's really quite amazing work. Having spent my share of time writing and debugging assembly code on the 8080 and Z-80, I'm really enjoying watching your process. Something that this makes me think about (and which has wandered around my mind off and on for many years) is how things that are of vital importance one day are considered worthless some time later, and later still are highly sought-after as rare, valuable artifacts. This applies equally to books, video and audio recordings, clay tablets, papyrus scrolls, software listings, and computer hardware. I always wonder how this happens. I suppose things are treated as having very little value because, "they're everywhere", or "everyone knows (this information)". Then, life and entropy proceed to eradicate the objects and the information, until one day someone stumbles across a reference that piques their interest, and starts digging for information and reconstructing things. Entire cities and civilizations have vanished from humanity's knowledge, and are often known to have existed because of an offhand reference in a document, or a strange pattern found in a satellite photo or ground scan. How does that work? One day, hundreds or thousands of people live and work in a place, and sometime later, it's all gone. Sometimes it's war, or famine, or disease or natural disaster, I suppose. And maybe sometimes resources are depleted and people leave looking for more fertile land, and eventually everyone is gone, and through the generations, surviving descendants forget what they've been told by their elders. The lesson is, I suppose, that life and everything involved in it is ephemeral, and things we cherish and ideas we cling to today will be so much detritus before long. I'm not sure what to do with this information except to hope that we can remember and learn from past (and current) mistakes. This is especially true today, with COVID19 reshaping how we live and work, and our awful "president" cowering behind fences in the White House while cities tear themselves apart over racism and police brutality. How much of what we do today will be remembered by future generations?

Fun with the WEMO D1 Mini23 March 2020, 0:09 UTC

I played a bit with the D1 Mini some time ago, doing things like an SMTP client, web servers, and so on. Today, I nearly drove myself to distraction trying to do a little simple I/O with it, but having all kinds of mysterious problems, depending on the I/O pin I chose. Example code to, for example, flash the LED on the board worked fine, but my code either locked up the processor, or just didn't pick up changes to the I/O pin. After a bit of web surfing and a lot of head scratching, I figured it out. My early experience with Arduino boards suffered from similar issues, until I figured out that the D1,D2,...etc.designations had no relationship to the actual pin numbers *or* the port/bit designations on the processors themselves! I'd been using CPU pin numbers, when I should have been using the D1/A1 designations (although I'd still like to slap the person who decided to be inconsistent and use A# for the analog bits, but only #, and not D# for the digital bits in the Arduino IDE!!

Accordingly, when I started plugging in wires to the Wemo boards, I thought, "Okay - I know how this works now!" and proceeded to refer to the pins by the D# designations *silkscreened on the PCB*, but NOOOooo! Those have *nothing* to do with the actual I/O bits you have to use for things like, "digitalRead(D1)"! Nor do you use the pin numbers on the chip. You have to look up the GPIO# designations assigned to the various I/O pins on the chip, and use *those*! Of course most of them serve double or triple duty and can't blithely be used for general purpose I/O, so there's that... But *why* for the *love of the FSM* didn't any of the many online tutorials I read bother to mention that little detail??? It's working as expected now, but holy cats, guys! Three levels of abstraction and you couldn't be arsed to say, "OH, AND BY THE WAY, YOU HAVE TO USE GPIO NUMBERS WHEN REFERRING TO THE I/O BITS!"??? I mean, REALLY? *sigh*

Oracle VirtualBox Shared Folder Setup28 April 2018, 14:21 UTC

I spent a number of hours trying to get a shared folder set up between a virtual machine running Raspbian and my host machine (Windows 7) but it just wasn't working. Finally, after pulling together instructions from several different web sites and trying the things they all seemed to agree on, it works. I made myself these notes in case I have to do it again later; I thought they might be of help to someone else as well. Please be careful to note which steps are performed on the *host* and which on the *guest* OS. That's part of where I was going wrong originally.


  • Install Virtual Box.
  • Install (on host) Oracle_VM_VirtualBox_Extension_Pack-5.2.10 (or latest version)
  • Create virtual machine and install OS


  • Devices/Shared Folders/Shared Folder Settings and add a shared folder. Note the name!
  • Install DKMS if not already installed
  • Devices/Insert Guest Additions CD
  • Open terminal window and run the following commands:
sudo -i
bash /media/cdrom/
sudo usermod -G vboxsf -a <your username on the virtual OS> (adds user to virtual box shared files group)
log out (of the virtual OS) log in (on the virtual OS)

Shared folder(s) should appear in /media folder.

Failure IS an Option - A screed on toxic masculinity6 November 2017, 23:21 UTC

There's just been another mass shooting in the United States, and it set me wondering where all this anger and angst comes from.

I think one of our biggest problems in the United States in particular is being told you can be anything you want/do anything you want with your life, only to discover far too late that it's a lie. Not everyone can be a doctor, or an astronaut, or a fireman, or a lot of those other things kids always want to be. Personally, I know my 12-year-old self would be bitterly disappointed to hear that he became, not the engineer on the Starship Enterprise, but rather just a fairly good electronics technician at a 2nd-rate company, working to make ends meet.

Those of us who were lucky grew up in a reasonably nurturing environment, being told that if we worked hard enough, we could succeed at anything. But then, reality intruded. College happened. Life happened. Outsourcing and downsizing happened. Suddenly one day, we wake up to discover we're over halfway to retirement and still don't really like what we're doing or know how to fix that. That's a very, very bitter pill to swallow. You're left with frustration and disappointment because you feel like you were lied to as a child, but “big boys don't cry” so you do your best to suck it up. You go to the job you hate every day, listen to people talk about how this or that person is doing so well for themselves, deal with your clueless boss, or your nagging spouse, or your disapproving parents, or needy children, or if you're really unlucky, all of the above. This can generate a tremendous amount of self-loathing, resentment and anger, and is, I believe, the driver for all sorts of bad habits – drinking, drugs, road rage, spousal abuse, child abuse, depression, self abuse. You name it.

Due to the bad information you were fed as a child to try to motivate you to do better, you internalize it all. (Remember, if you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything.) It must be something wrong with you! It can't be that the system is rigged against you, or that you were fed a line of bullshit growing up, or that most companies would throw you under the bus for a higher profit margin as soon as look at you. YOU must be broken. You did it wrong, or didn't work quite hard enough, or didn't want it bad enough, yadda yadda yadda. It's YOUR fault that your life didn't turn out the way the fairytales they fed you as a child said it was supposed to! BUT... you're a MAN so you're not supposed to be uncertain or unhappy or need a little help or a shoulder to lean on. Suck it up, semper fi, remember the Alamo! What would your father/mother/grandfather/brother/pet poodle think of you if you admitted to being imperfect and maybe even feeling a little lost?!? It's just not done. So you march off to work every day like a good little soldier.

Until one day, something snaps. Maybe you get cut off in traffic one too many times. Or your boss whizzes all over your ideas again. Or your spouse points out that the neighbors are getting a swimming pool/new car/exotic vacation and what's wrong with you that you can't provide those things?? All of that anger and fear and sadness and frustration comes boiling up in a toxic mess that clouds your judgment and tints the world an angry shade of red. You respond in the only way you've ever known how to. You “act like a MAN”. You grab a knife or a gun or the car keys and you go show those people who doubted you how much of a MAN you are until there's no one left standing, or you're cut down by police or some other gun-toting Dirty Harry wannabe. And people say, “But he was such a nice man!” or “He was so quiet, you never would have known there was anything wrong!” and try to find some kind of sane explanation for what you did, based on the faulty information we were all given as kids. If they could talk to your 12-year-old self, he would tell them how betrayed and manipulated he felt. How all their well-meaning lies twisted him up inside until he couldn't take it anymore. How, maybe if they'd only have been honest and said, “Well, that job isn't for everybody,” or “Hey – you gave it a try, and you failed, but that's alright because we all fail.” Or “Okay – maybe you're not cut out to be a rocket scientist, but the world still needs carpenters and bricklayers and bakers and mailmen and a thousand other perfectly honorable, respectable professions to be filled. Maybe you should lower your sights a bit.” Or even just hugged you and let you cry on their shoulder until you felt better about screwing up. If they'd told you that real men do feel scared, and uncertain, and inadequate, and sometimes just plain lost. If they'd told you that to be a man, you don't have to be a combination of Rambo, Dirty Harry, and Superman. If they'd told you that whatever happened, you could always come and talk to them, and that they'd do their best to help, without expecting you to be anything other than yourself. Failure is an option. And that's okay.

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