Random News Updates


We didn’t have many trick-or-treaters stopping by our house to stock up on candy last Halloween, so we’re not planning on much activity this year. And we don’t have any Halloween costume parties in our plans either. You won’t even find a pumpkin with a candle inside at our house this year. But even if Halloween isn’t a busy holiday in Dallas this year, it looks like others are going all out. Take a look these Halloween decorations (and if you think that’s cool, check out his Christmas lights).


Our unexpected collection of kittens has reached the age where they’re ready for adoption and we’ve already found homes for a couple of them. Mother cat has now been upgraded to prevent anomalies in the kitten population. We briefly gained a baby squirrel in addition to all the baby cats. It just appeared in the garage with the kittens last Saturday. The Humane Society provided us with the number of a local squirrel and opossum rehabilitator who took the little creature in. They said thunderstorms frequently blow the babies out of their nests and cats sometimes mistake them for kittens and bring them home, which appears to be what happened in our case.


Time for another mod_virgule release. One of the downsides to the growth of robots.net has been the inability of mod_virgule to handle the rapidly expanding user list. Mod_virgule had very inefficient user list code which had to parse the entire user list, sort it in memory, and then do additional lookups for each user. And it could only display it as a single page. With over 6,000 users, trying to display it brought the whole site to a crawl for 15 to 30 seconds. I’ve now completely recoded the user list functions to be many times faster and to provide the results in a nicely sorted, multi-page format. Care to see the results? Compare Advogato’s user list (which still uses the old mod_virgule) to the new Robots.net user list. As a side-benefit, the new user list pages are completely configurable through an XML file rather than hardcoded in mod_virgule itself.

Free Software

I’ve also been catching up on a couple of free software projects the last couple of weeks. I’ve posted a new version of my fork of the mod_virgule code that includes the latest patches to the official version. It also includes several new features from my ToDo list including a configurable sitemap and article index page. Both of these elements are hard-coded in the official source making it difficult to use mod_virgule without editing the source code and recompiling. I also added a simple include function to the XML markup (suggested on the mod_virgule development list). For a full list of all the goodies in my version, like UTF-8 support, password reminders, libxml2 support, etc., see the web page. Keep the patches and suggestions coming…

I’ve also posted a new version of dumpcheck, the program I’ve been using to help debug the weekly ODP data dump generation problems. In this case, I got a nice pile of useful patches from Andreas Steinmetz including a few fixes for compiler warnings and a couple of new features. Thanks!

Robots, robots, robots

Between the recent office move and keeping up with herds of cats, I’ve fallen a bit behind in reporting news in other areas. Work is still progressing on the Ultracap power supply. After some further testing of the cell-balancer circuit based on the TI TLV4112IP high-output-drive op-amp, I decided that, while working flawlessly otherwise, it was drawing too much current. I’ve been rethinking the need for dynamic cell balancing and have re-read a lot of the Maxwell technical documents. My new theory is that balancing may not be as essential as I originally believed in a very low current application such as a robot power supply. I now think it may be possible to get by without dynamic balancing provided I protect the cells from over-voltage conditions during the charging cycle with something simple like some zener diodes. Finding very low voltage zener diodes proved a bit of challenge but I finally found some 2.7v 1/2 watt devices made by Fairchild that may work. I’ve ordered a few and will post results of the new tests soon.

Meanwhile, the DPRG received word from the IRS that our application for 501(c)(3) status has been approved, so we’re an official not-for-profit corporation now. And it only took 20 years to get to this point. I missed a couple of weekly meetings because of the move and during that time, Ron and some other members have been working on the A/C compressor at the warehouse and managed to getting it running, so we should have cool air for the next few meetings. We may have heat too shortly, which will come in handy in a few more months.

Cats, Cats, Cats

Sophies six kittens

Somehow, in a matter of weeks we’ve gone from no fur-bearing mammal pets to having nine cats. We started out with just a mother cat, now called Sophie, and her two surviving kittens (Zippie and Callie) found abandoned in a park. But it turns out mother cat already had six more kittens on the way when we found her. Five of the new kittens were initially pure white but are now showing signs of mixed siamese/non-siamese coloring like their mother. They have blue eyes and dark ears like a siamese but otherwise show varying, random patterns of light brown on white. One kitten that looked a bit like a dark calico has darkened into a tortoise-shell pattern of black and light brown. They all seem to healthy and happy at least. Susan has become pretty attached to Sophie and Zippie at this point so they may stick around but all the new kittens must go. Need a kitten?