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.

Negotiating a Commercial Lease

Figuring out a commercial lease is complicated, way more complicated than residential. So I’ve been reading Negotiate the Best Lease for Your Business by Fred S. Steingold and Janet Portman, published by Nolo Press. I’ve got the Kindle version so it’s helpful to highlight the important points, then go back and compare them to the actual lease.

Despite the title, it’s probably best to look at this book before beginning your real estate search.

A Guide to the Symbols of the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, VA

After the recent violence during the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, I found that on Facebook, many people refused to believe that the Unite the Right was made up of fascists, Nazi sympathizers, anti-Semites, and the like. Despite multiple reports (e.g. CNN, LA Times) of slogans like “Blood and Soil” being chanted, some refuse, perhaps deliberately looking the other way, to admit the nature of the Unite the Right protesters.

So I thought I’d take at some of the news photos and see what signs and symbols the protesters are displaying to get an idea of what organizations and ideas they represent. I’ll focus solely on the Unite the Right supporters, not the counter-protesters.

Here’s a photo of a good chunk of the UtR protesters facing off with their opposites.


The flags that I’ve been able to decode are the classic Confederate battle flag, the League of the South, the National Socialist Movement, and “White Pride Worldwide”.

Let’s get the big one out of the way first. I’m wasn’t familiar with the symbols of the National Socialist Movement, but apparently they’ve got a big contingent there at Charlottesville. Their banner looks like this:


Their website had an announcement encouraging members to attend:

On Saturday August 12th. the National Socialist Movement will join Our Allies the Traditionalist Workers Party, League of the South and other Nationalist Front Members in Charlottesville, VA. This Rally is to defend Free Speech and our Heritage at the Lee Monument. This will take place at Lee Park, 201 2nd. Street NE #299 Charlottesville, VA 22902. This is a call to all NSM Members to be in Charlottesville and show support.

NSM Commander Jeff Schoep will be at the event!

For those who don’t get it: Nazi is a contraction of “National Socialist”. The viking rune in the middle apparently is a change from their old logo, which contained a swastika, which was apparently a little too on the nose, even for Nazis.

Flag of National Socialist Movement (United States).svg

Next up, we’ve got the League of the South. That’s the flag with the black X on a white field. Now, these dudes aren’t specifically Nazis, but they did put out the call to participate in  UtR, where we know there would be some Nazis floating around. See above.


What they’re really after includes a separate nation for the southern US. I gather that they want it to be led by white people of Western European descent. And that it would be a theocracy based on Sharia The Bible. I poked around their website, but can’t find out what the plan was for those not sufficiently pure of blood once Southern White Utopia was formed, but presumably things would just naturally sort themselves out peacefully. Oh, and apparently they’re not too happy about the “cabal of Jewish bankers” who direct US foreign policy.

I guess going full Nazi is too much for them. You’ve got to dial the Nazi back a bit, that way the audience can relate. That’s marketing 101!

We’ve also got this bit in the lower middle:


As far as I can tell, this flag and symbol isn’t associated with any particular group, but is popular among many “White Pride” groups.

For example, it’s used on the front page the popular Stormfront forum. UtR was also promoted there. Here’s what they say on their front page:

We are a community of racial realists and idealists. We are White Nationalists who support true diversity and a homeland for all peoples.

All right, maybe that’s OK. Click the Introduction link, and we get this:

The Jews have been working together behind the scenes to gain control of all the TV stations, schools, newspapers, radio stations, governments, movie studios, banks, etc. – an all encompassing “Matrix” of lies – to destroy all potential rival groups and rule the world.

There’s also a guy wearing a shirt that reads “VF/28”. I suspect that’s a reference to the now defunct Volksfront group.

This photo below has a Celtic cross on a white circle on a red field. As far as I have been able to dig up, this flag isn’t used by any particular organization, but is popular with a variety of neo-Nazi types. This has the great advantage of giving them some plausible deniability: “It’s just a Christian symbol. Its resemblance to the Nazi flag is just an incredible coincidence. Ignore those National Socialists I’m marching with.”


I decided to check out some of the tattoos of participants to see what I could make out. I found this guy:


“Valar Morghulis”. He’s a Game of Thrones fan! For those unfamiliar: the phrase comes from the book/TV series and means “All Men Must Die”. It can be taken more than one way. He appears to be holding a Confederate flag.

Here’s a supporter of the Dixie Defenders, part of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. They’re generally about preserving history while studiously avoiding talking about slavery.


Holy shit, is that a V for Vendetta mask? I guess he’s “vindicating the cause” while smashing the state.


A couple I haven’t figured out yet. If you can tell me what they’re all about, post in the comments.

There’s this yellow chevron on a black field:


[EDIT: this is a symbol used by Génération Identitaire, so presumably this guy came from France to help out.]

This guy has a flag with the Daily Stormer symbol on a field of red and white stripes. Note the 1488 on his helmet, numbers important for white supremacists (14 word slogan) and followers of Hitler (88 corresponds to HH in the alphabet, short for “Heil Hitler”).


[EDIT: this is a red and white striped flag with the Black Sun. This flag is used in the Vanguard America (see below) video seen on their Twitter page.]

Below is a screengrab from a video. There’s a bird in a circle in one flag, and a triangle subdivided into 3 smaller triangles in another.


[Edit: Found! The triangle thing belongs to Identity Evropa. They like to celebrate the “GREAT PEOPLES, HISTORY, AND CIVILIZATION THAT FLOWED FROM THE EUROPEAN CONTINENT”. Anyone can apply to join! Just make sure that you and  your spouse are of “European, Non-Semitic Heritage.” No word on whether the One-Drop Rule applies.



[EDIT: the bird in the circle belongs to Vanguard America. See details below.]

We’ve got Timothy Tuttle, White Nationalist, sporting the latest in White Nationalist fashion: a polo shirt with a bird in a 1/4 sun.


Another saltire cross variation on these guys’ shields:



This is reported in the press to be one of the symbols of Vanguard America. The cross is actually crossed fasces, the bundles of sticks with an axe head that give fascism its name. This one got a lot of press today because the guy who was arrested for running over those people was photographed carrying one of these shields.

Vanguard America also uses the bird in a circle logo from above. The bird is carrying a fasces, presumably taking it back to a tree somewhere to build a very uncomfortable nest full of axe heads.



My heart goes out to the the families of those hurt or killed in Charlottesville.

[EDIT: SPLC has a good article on this same topic which I used to fill in some blanks.]

Again, let me know if you can identify any of these symbols, leave a comment.

Automatically Posting to Google+

If,  like me, you use SmarterQueue to automatically schedule your social media posts, you may be frustrated by the fact that it doesn’t support Google Plus yet.  They’ve been promising Google+ support for a few months now, but it has yet to arrive. Now, I’m not particularly a big fan of Google+, but I’m a believer that when Google offers you something, you should take it, in order to improve your footprint and visibility in their search engine results and the rest of their software.

Google+ posting seems to be unsupported by several similar platforms: Meet Edgar, Viraltag, Autogrammer, and RecurPost all do not support Google+.

Fortunately, I found a free technique for scheduling Google+ posting that works with all of them. It requires the following:

  • A Zapier account at the free level
  • A Buffer account at the free level, with your Google+ page connected

Here’s how it works: Zapier will automatically detect when you’ve posted to one of your social media accounts. It will then take that post, re-format it, and put that post in your Buffer queue for Google+. Buffer will then post the content to Google+.

In my case, I wanted to re-post my Facebook content to Google+. I created a Zap using the “Add new Facebook Pages posts to a Buffer queue” template. Zapier mostly steps you through the process, but I did have to do some tinkering on the “Set up Buffer Add to Buffer” step to get things to come out like I wanted. This may require looking at some sort of “advanced options”, I don’t really remember. Anyway, the key changes I made are to the Text field, which brought in most of the text  and link from the Facebook post and made it look reasonable. Also, I set the post to update “now” instead of being added to the Buffer queue.


If you’re stuck waiting for SmarterQueue or any of the others to support Google+, this is a reasonable workaround.

Joomla upgrade 3.1 -> 3.7

It’s possible to upgrade a Joomla 3.1 system to 3.7 with only a few hassles. Here’s what worked for me.

First, use the Joomla Update (Components | Joomla Update from the administrator backend menu) component to update Joomla. This will get you to 3.2.x.

Update all of your plugins (System | Control Panel | “Updates are available”). Note at any stage,  some plugins may not work, may not be updated, etc.

Run the database fix tool: Extensions | Manage, Database, Fix button.

Unpack Joomla_3.5.1-Stable-Update_Package.zip in the Joomla root.

Run the database fix tool again: Extensions | Manage, Database, Fix button.

Log out from Joomla.

Auto update to the latest Joomla via update component (Components | Joomla! Update).

I was using an older version of Artio JoomSEF, so I had to manually update that via Components | Artio JoomSef | Upgrade | update button.

Some problems:

If you’re using any styles from JCK,  you will have to use a fix from the Joomla forum. In short,  edit the file plugins/system/jcktypography/jcktypography.php and comment one line :

// $stylesheet[$url]['media'] = null;

K2 seemed to have forgotten about the thumbnail image for each article, so this likely needs to be fixed manually.

Older versions of MijoShop don’t seem to support registering when checking out. There’s a problem with the “setDefaultEncryption()” function that I’m still working through.

At least once in the process, I needed to wipe my browser’s cookies for my website. I couldn’t log in, and this fixed that.

Other than that, most plugins seem to work, articles are displayed, users can log in, and SEF URLs are maintained.



Usetrace initial impressions

We’ve been using Usetrace to do real testing for about a week now. So far, so good. It’s uncovered a few actual bugs and some stuff with the website that’s just flaky or inconsistent. One problem we had was getting our own test files into the Usetrace virtual machine for uploading to the server being tested. The Usetrace people came up with the following solution: begin each session by downloading the test file using the web browser. It will the be available to upload in any subsequent steps.

To download the file in a way that works on multiple browsers, you need to create a Javascript step with the following code:

function (GLOBALS, callback) {

window.location = "/path/to/your/file";

callback(true); // <- To signal success and continue executing trace


The file needs to exist at the given path on the server being tested.