Susan and I are still trying to find homes for our bounty of unexpected kittens. We found a home for one of them with Lacey earlier this month. I made an overnight trip down to Houston to deliver her little tortoise-shell-colored kitten in person. I’d been wanting to visit the huge IKEA store down there so this worked out well. Overall, I can’t recommend making a 4 hour car trip with a small kitten. The kitten was in a large pet carrier with a dish of water and a small cat litter tray. It spent the first hour of the trip meowing and then discovered that is was fun to roll around in water dish and then in the litter box. By the time I got to Houston, it had turned itself into a scary looking mud-covered cat. I stopped on the outskirts of Houston and cleaned it up using a bottle of water and a towel and, by the time we arrived at Lacey’s house, it was dry and looking like a proper kitten again.
The kitten took an immediate liking to Lacey. She has two other adult cats, so the kitten got its own room until it became accustomed to the new surroundings. Meanwhile, Lacey and I spent a couple of hours wandering around the vastly huge Houston IKEA building. I picked up several catalogs and bought a few things we needed for our new office space.
After that, Lacey took me to The Artery, an eccentric little Houston outpost for the arts. Stationed in a converted house, the Artery is place for local artists to hang out, learn from each other, and show off their stuff. The yard around the house has been turned into a sculpture garden. After dinner we sat around for a good part of the evening trying to think of a name for the kitten. After much debate and flipping through art books looking for interesting names, she decided on Moxie Picasso.
After a healthy breakfast of Pop-Tarts, we visited the Menil Museum, where John and Dominique de Menil’s private collection of art is exhibited. It’s an amazing assortment of things ranging from Paleolithic artifacts to 20th Century works. We spent a little time looking for an elusive historical salvage place that Lacey needed to visit but we never found it. However, along the way, she showed me one of the strangest things you’re ever likely to see in Houston.
We pulled into a parking lot in a typical, Houston warehouse district and, lined up along one side of the lot, we saw the giant busts of the US presidents. They were at least 20 feet high and there were 30 to 40 of them lined up. We were looking at the parking lot of the warehouse where artist and sculptor David Adickes does his thing. He is the creator of the huge, 67 foot statue of Sam Houston that can be seen from I-45 north of Houston. Most of the presidential sculptures looked a bit beat-up as if they were old (except for the one of Reagan which was in pristine condition and sat opposite all the other presidents). There was no obvious explanation of why they were there but I suspect they may be alternates for the ones at the Presidents Park in South Dakota. The heads are even famous enough that they’ve turned up in a Zippy strip.
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.
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
) 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?
Sophie’s new batch of kittens has arrived. We thought she’d need a comfortable place to park the new cats, so we cut a cardboard box to what seemed like a good size and shape and put some old quilts in it. Sophie didn’t seem too interested when we placed the box in a protected area of the garage. But when the time came she apparently decided it was the best location around. There are six healthy little critters; five appear pure white and one is sort of a calico. Right now they look more like tiny little fur-covered pigs than kittens.
Our move to the new office proceeded without any major catastrophies. The changeover in Internet providers has proceed as well as can be expected too. The Planet has provided excellent technical support so far, including some onsite help at late hours on a weekend to help with a T1 issue. They even got a Southwestern Bell tech to show up onsite at 11pm one night when one of the new smartjack cards died. Most of the logistical issues have been solved and we’ll be spending the next week or so unpacking boxes. We’ve been exploring the Deep Ellum area and there’s certainly no shortage of resaurants here. We’ll be trying new places to eat lunch for weeks.
The abandoned mother cat and two kittens previouly mentioned are not only still with us but a new twist has developed in the story. I noticed the other day that Sophie, the mother cat, seemed to be gaining a bit of weight and I kidded Susan about feeding her too much. A couple of days later we realized something was up and Susan took Sophie to the vet. It turns out there are more little kittens on the way. We had been planning on having Sophie fixed but because the two kittens we found her with were so young, we didn’t think she should be away from them for too long. It hadn’t occurred to us she could generate a new batch so soon. The vet said it was unusual but not unheard of it and, in all likelyhood, Sophie was already pregnant when we took her in. Yikes.
NCC will definitely be moving to new offices. We’ll be moving to a renovated loft area in the old Studebaker Building located in the historic Deep Ellum area of downtown Dallas. We’re going to be switching our upstream Internet provider at the same time, from Verio to The Planet. We’re planning two weeks of overlap to allow time to migrate all our servers. The next few weeks should be interesting.
After prototyping a cell-balancing circuit for my robot power supply based on Maxwell 350F Ultracaps, I discovered the original choice of the TI TLC25L4CN low-voltage op-amp was not a good one. The little chip just couldn’t deliver enough current to balance the cap voltages in any reasonable amount of time. The peak output of the prototype was about 4 ma. So after spending a couple of hours searching for an op-amp that could operate at low voltage and put out a substantial amount current, I came up with the TI TLV4112IP high-output-drive op-amp. At last week’s RBNO, I built a second prototype and… it works! The new op-amp outputs up to 300 ma easily. Using the test circuit, I set it up with one Ultracap at 1v and the other at 2v. In little over a minute, the system balanced with both caps at about 1.6v. Next Tuesday, I’ll put together a more complete prototype with four Ultracaps and three cell balancers.
The cell-balancer has also proven to be a good way of trying out the GPL Electronic Design Automation (GEDA) package. I’ve been using the schematic capture program gschem primarily (screenshots) and have been asking lots of stupid, new-user type questions on the mailing list. They’ve been very patient with me so far and I’m begining to get the hang of it. It turns out good-looking schematics. Once I finalize the power supply, I’ll post a link to the GEDA files for anyone who might want them.
Cats in the garage
The abandoned mother cat and two kittens we brought home a few weeks ago are still with us. We know a lot more about them now. The kittens were much younger than we first thought. We’ll probably hang on to them until the kittens are a bit older. Susan has settled on names. The half-siamese mother cat is Sophie, the black kitten with the missing toe is Zippy (though she insists on spelling it “zippie”), and the tailless calico kitten is Callie. No luck finding a home for any of them yet. Callie is probably too emotionally disturbed to make a good pet but we have located a group called Barn Cats International that assists with finding homes for problem cats on farms and ranches where they can live with minimal contact with humans. Hopefully we’ll be able to find good homes for the other two. If anyone in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area needs a cat, let me know!
Nigritude Ultramarine contest outcome
The contest ended on July 8th. Thanks to everyone who linked to my site, especially, Bram. His link resulted in more hits on my site during the contest period than anything except Google itself. Feel free to remove those links now. I’ll probably leave the page up until the domain expires. I ended up in position 6 in the final results. The winner was a blogger who apparently won primarily through old fashioned Google bombing. Oh well, my site received a sort of honorable mention prize, the Judge’s Choice Award. My prize is one of those teeny, tiny “James Bond Stealth digital cameras” like you see on ThinkGeek. I’ll post a photo as soon as I get it talking to my Linux box (it only comes with Windows software but it has a USB cable so I’m hoping I can just mount it like a little USB drive).
We’ve been pretty busy at the office doing website design jobs. The lease on our office space is up soon and we’re deciding whether to stay put or move to new space. Even if we move, we’ll stay in Dallas and probably in the same general area.