Alternative to Google Custom Search

Google Custom Search is really, finally coming to an end in just a few days. If you’re looking for an alternative, may I recommend AddSearch, which seems to do do everything GCS did, with a few nice bells and whistles added on. It starts at $30 a month, with annual discounts, so it’s cheaper than many of the alternatives, but still affordable for a smaller site.

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View DWG

Check this website out if you need to view or convert DWG or DXF files: View DWG.

Double Skeumorph Lightbulb

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I noticed that these flame tip light bulbs are a DOUBLE skeumorph.

Obviously the shape of the glass outer container is supposed to bring to mind fire from a candle or gas light.

But this is also an LED bulb whose light elements are arranged to bring to mind an old fashioned incandescent bulb.

Upgrading Joomla, Recommended Extensions

I’m in the middle of upgrading a bunch of stuff on the website to the latest versions. The website is Joomla based, because at the time I created it, Joomla looked like the best option for integrating a CMS with a shopping cart. Of course, nowadays I’d probably use something WordPress based, as it seems to be improving much faster and has a larger community than Joomla.

Of course, as part of that process, I have to do a bunch of testing. It amazes me that there seems to be very little use of staging environments  for common CMS and shopping cart platforms. The attitude seems to be: “install the software or update on your production server, then go back to a backup if there’s a problem.”

(Also, much of the Joomla/Opencart documentation suggests uploading by FTP. I’m not sure if people are really still using File Transfer Protocol in this day and age, or if the meaning has drifted (like GIF), and people really upload stuff to their server over an encrypted channel, the sensible way.)

Some Joomla extensions I use and can recommend:

Recommended Mijoshop/Opencart extensions:

I’ve got a few others that I’m evaluating to help regain some of the functionality lost in the upgrade process.

New Printer: HP M506dh

I just bought an HP M506dh printer after spotting it on Slickdeals. It normally retails for $1300+,  but this was only $300 with free shipping from MacMall. Plus HP is offering $150-$200 tradeins. Since my old Brother laser had leaked toner all over the inside (cheap aftermarket cartridges), this was a no-brainer for me. It was speculated on the Slickdeals thread that this HP model is some sort of government surplus.

It’s really nice compared to my old Brother laser, in a lot of small ways. The setup was simple, and made good use of the LCD display and input buttons. There’s little guide icons and instructions for all the adjustments like on the upper paper feeder and the paper tray. All the adjustable tabs are in light blue, making the adjustments easy to find.

The upper paper feeder can hold a good amount of paper in reserve; I’m using that just for shipping labels, and keep plain paper in the lower tray. The feeder can be used as a tray; the printer seems to be happy grabbing the top page off of a stack, again, unlike the Brother where the feeder was one sheet at a time only.

The lower tray holds more than a ream of paper. There’s a paper level indicator on the outside of the tray. My Linux desktop recognized it right away on the network. It prints on both sides of the page, which should save on paper.

My favorite part is that the removable pieces like the paper tray and toner cartridge slide in easily, unlike with the Brother, which had to be slammed in place and required a few tries to get it right every time. Though everything slides in and out smoothly, I still feel like you get a positive lock when sliding things in.

Sadly, these are no longer in stock.

Power outage and extension cables

We had a power outage this week due to inclement weather. When hooking up some critical appliances to the portable generator, I noticed that I was using way too many extension cords and power strips in 2 areas: the home office and the aquarium. I managed to free up at least 2 power strips, 3 extension cords, and 1 power splitter by mounting power strips on the wall and routing the cables more cleanly. this inspired me to order some power and network cables of the correct lengths from Monoprice in order to reduce the snake’s nest of cables, as well as some hook-and-loop cable tie material.

Robot Battles 2017

I competed at Robot Battles 2017 this past weekend at Dragon*Con. I drove the bot, Flipper, and my son operated the weapon. Here’s a video showing our best fight, the rumble, where we outlasted about 10 opponents.

Some lessons learned:

  • The spot where the topmost round bar passes through the center lifter claws needs to be thicker. This area broke during testing on both claws. There should also be some sort of shock absorbing material for when the claws slam into the ground after a lift. I may also want to switch to #8 screws on the clamp to reduce the hole size.
  • I need to be careful when tightening the clamping screws on the weapon claws; one broke during testing.
  • A separate clamp piece on the weapon claws is probably more useful, rather than a clamp with a single slot. It distorts the claw geometry less, and makes it easier to get out broken screws.
  • The general construction technique for the lifter of clamping waterjet cut 3/8″ 7075 aluminum claws onto 1/4″ round 6Al-4V titanium bar was good enough.
  • The lifting claws shouldn’t come out so far. I had to add an outrigger bar in the center to prevent the robot from faceplanting. Few robots got way up onto the claws anyway. Plus shortening the claws should save some weight, desperately needed in other sections of the robot.
  • The claws should be thinner in the front, with a smaller tooth.
  • The inner teeth on the claws looked cool, but didn’t do much. I’ll probably have 1-2 teeth at most on the next version.
  • This outrigger bar worked OK as a wedge itself, but prevented the lift mechanism from being able to move 360 degrees. This would have been very useful when Flipper gets stuck on top of another robot.
  • The single center outrigger did its job OK when lifting a robot using the center claws, but the whole robot tended to go over on one side when lifting using the side claws.
  • Both the center and side claws are useful in a fight.
  • I can create an attachment point for a side outrigger on the idle side of the lifter, but alignment might be tricky. No idea how to create an outrigger yet on the driven side that will allow 360 degree movement.
  • I need to be able to push while lifting. Right now, the front of the robot comes down too far when lifting to make this work well.
  • The lifter works great with a load of 12 pounds that’s siting still and positioned just right. On a moving robot, with just a small section hooked, not so much. We only managed one full lift/slam of an opponent.
  • The rear wheels can probably afford to come back another 3/4 inch or so. This will make lifting better by moving the center of gravity toward the back and reducing the angle of the baseplate of the robot.  But if I do this, the wheels will stick out proud of the back. I noticed several robots at this event with wheels proud of the back side, and most seemed to have no problems. In the past, I have seen this become a problem when robots attempt to push backwards on another robot, and just end up running over the opponent.  I may have to extend the side plates to create a sort of bumper.
  • Pushing power and traction were adequate. I figured out a few driving tricks to get around being high centered, stuck, or pushing a stubborn opponent.