Merging modern software development with electrons and metal
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Category — Personal

Blog Notes: Slow Progress, Trac, and Svn

My blog improvement project is still going, just very slowly.  I have done more research on trac, Redmine, gitlab, and such, and after some thought I’ve decided to do the following:

  • Migrate my trac site to Redmine.
  • Create an account at gitlab and move my svn projects to gitlab.
  • I will also update my WordPress installation, including fixing issues such as extra characters all over the place on old posts.

Some notes on these choices:

  • I’m using Redmine to replace trac because it seems to have better import abilities, and is much easier to install on Webfaction (my hosting provider) than gitlab.  Also, gitlab can use a lot of resources.  Redmine also looks like a better match for my wiki style.
  • I want to move from subversion to a distributed version control system.  Although there are advantages to systems such as mercurial, git has by far the largest mind-share and support.
  • I like the fact that gitlab supports both hosted (for here) and local (for work) servers, unlike alternatives such as github.
  • Howerver, projects on github seem to be more visible and more easily found.
  • Finally, if I run into some big road-blocks, I might change my mind.

November 28, 2016   No Comments

Blog Notes: Why look at trac alternatives?

I’ve been using trac for about a decade, and overall it’s worked well.  But I have found some annoyances over the years, such as:

  1. I have found it difficult to install, often requiring some searching for answers.
  2. I have found that upgrading to a new version can be an exciting adventure (but not an easy one).
  3. I have found migrating a trac installation to a new server to be difficult.
  4. I feel that trac development has been slow, and the trac interface has not kept up with recent advances in web interfaces.

Since my current trac installation isn’t perfect on 64-bit Linux, I will have to upgrade trac yet again or switch to something else.

If I switch to something else, it will be similar project management software with a wiki and such, because I will switch both here and at work.  Another requirement is that I need to be able to easily migrate my trac wiki to a new system, which also rules out most wikis.

I have been investigating Redmine and Gitlab.  Redmine is the most likely choice, but I need to do some more research and actually play a bit with both.  Another similar, highly regarded, project is Phabricator, but it doesn’t appear to have good support for importing trac projects yet.

November 4, 2016   No Comments

Blog Notes: Purpose of Trac Wiki Server

Since I already have this main WordPress site, why do I have a trac site too?  It’s because I’ve found that trac works better for some of the things I like to do.

Let’s take a look at where some of my content fits best:

  • Typical blog posts, which describe what I am doing (like this one).  These are a perfect fit for WordPress.
  • A series of related blog posts.  I could do this on trac (by continually updating the wiki), but WordPress feels like a better fit.
  • Directories, such as my piezo motor page or my MCAD software page.  I’ve tried both WordPress pages and trac wiki pages; over time, I’ve decided I prefer these topics on trac.
  • Reference information on topics such as my motors and my cabling standards.  These fit trac best, with its easy hyperlinking and table support.
  • Repository viewing – only trac does this well, although I haven’t made much use of it (yet….)
  • Bug tracking / project management – I haven’t used this yet, but this is where trac shines.

Why use trac instead of a dedicated wiki?  Well, I originally picked trac for use at work, and since I knew it, it made sense to use it here.  Also, I wasn’t expecting to use the wiki as much as I have.

November 3, 2016   No Comments

The End of WiMax: What I Did

Since Sprint turned off WiMax last November, I had to make a change.  LTE was one choice.  I’ve done some LTE testing; with newer MiFi units such as the ZTE Z915 device it can be faster than DSL with excellent voice quality for VoIP.

But LTE performance is still much more variable than DSL or Cable Internet, while the cost is comparable to DSL/Cable, and more than WiMax.  With WiMax, I could go cheap, fast, and limited (10G for ~$20/month) with FreedomPop or cheap, slow, and unlimited with Clear (~$35/month).  Average LTE rates are around $40/month for 5GB at decent speeds.

My choice is’s PHLO+, which is around $51-$55/month (including all the annoying taxes) for unlimited DSL as fast as you can get, and an analog phone line (I didn’t want the analog phone line, because it’s the reason for all the taxes, but I didn’t have a choice).  It is very similar to’s Fusion service, but since I had already had good experiences with LMI as a previous DSL customer I went with LMI.

I also liked that LMI was open to bringing or buying your own modem, while Sonic emphasizes rental.  So after discussing which modems LMI preferred, I bought a Smart RG SR510N for ~$20 from eBay.  The Smart RG  has worked perfectly so far.  I highly recommend both companies; Sonic does have its advantages, such as more service options (FTTN, FTTH).

My peak speeds are about 18Mbps down and 1.25Mbps or so up using my favorite speed test from DSLReports.

Since PHLO+ comes with a full featured POTS phone line, I bought a ObiLine for my Obi 202.  Some people complain about echoing on the ObiLine; I have noticed occasional echoing but overall the quality has been acceptable.  However, I found I didn’t like how it handles incoming calls forwarded from Google Voice.  (To be fair, I haven’t tried much troubleshooting on these issues, but since I’m happy with my setup, that’s a low priority).

Some other service changes from my last update:

  • I dropped Anveo.  Anveo still has excellent rates for E911 service and unlimited person DID (incoming phone numbers), but I wanted CNAM and didn’t care about Anveo’s features such as advanced call flow.
  • I ported the Anveo number to, which was quick, easy, and free.  I’m not using that number a lot, but I value it so it’s a good match for with their new usage restrictions (but since is free, no complaints from me).
  • I dropped VestaLink after my contract ran out.  VL did work well for me, and since they offered a great deal for a 2-year pre-pay I thought about renewing, but I don’t need it now, and it’s hard to commit to 2 years to a company that isn’t actively looking for new customers.
  • I added CallCentric’s free New York DID, which includes CNAM (Caller ID name lookup).  It’s working well so far, and I’m fine with paying $1.50/month to CC for E911 service.
  • I played around a bit with; right now I’m not actively using it, but there’s a good chance I will in the future.  I also thought about trying out CircleNet, but decided against it because they don’t offer California DIDs.

So my current Obi 202 setup is:

  • Callcentric DID for primary incoming calls.  Both Google Voice and forward to CallCentric, which provides CNAM.
  • Google Voice is the primary line for outgoing calls.
  • Localphone is the backup line for outgoing calls (so I have two outgoing lines).
  • The Obiline (LMI analog line) is used for 911, and backup.
  • One Service Provider is currently empty; I might put back in here.

The system is working well enough, but my “I’ll do it someday list” includes:

  • Different ring tones for different incoming lines.
  • Automatic switch over (ring on one phone first, switch to second if first line is busy).
  • Maybe add a PBX such as Asterisk.

I know it’s not that hard to do these things, but they just aren’t a high priority.


April 29, 2016   3 Comments

KickStarter Pens

KickStarter pens don’t get me excited.  Well, that’s not quite fair, since I like do the Tactile Turn pens by Will Hodges, but everything else I’ve seen have left me uninterested.  I’m not saying there aren’t many good pens on KickStarter (and the other sites), but when I start paying more than $2 for a pen, I want a pen that really attracts me – and a higher price tag means the pen has to be that much more special to me.

So far I have a blue Mover (mentioned here), and am backing the Gist fountain pen.  What’s so special about these pens for me

  1. Will’s aesthetics really match mine.  I love the proportions on the Mover and the Gist.  I like their spiraling grip.  I like the clips.    They’re classy, and simple but not boring.  I don’t care for the appearances of pens with big bolts or nuts, for pens that are inspired by airplanes, for cylinders pens with sudden discontinuities, for the Pilot Vanishing Point, or the Lamy 2000 (somehow the Lamy 2000 looks all wrong but the Gist looks all right to me).
  2. Will puts in practical features.  Both pens feature his spiral grip.  The Mover has a nice Schmidt knock so it’s a classy retractable.  The Gist has acme threads for the cap – and the cap posts.  The Gist is customizable, with interchangeable nibs and grips.
  3. Tactile Turns are made with fun materials, such as anodized aluminum (Mover), brass, copper, titanium , zirconium (Gist) and Damascus steel (Gist).
  4. Will does his own work – and his work is good, which makes his pens extra-special for me (side note: we have a machine shop at work, and I love being seeing what comes out of there – machined metal is cool!) compared to buying a “designer” pen, where the designers are featured, but the pens are made by who knows…or buying a normal, non-hand-crafted pen.
  5. Will delivers on time and his prices are reasonable for what you get.

So, yes, I do highly recommend checking out the Tactile Turn Gist Kickstarter page – it has about a week to go (ends 11/5/2015), and prices will be substantially higher afterwards.  I’m sure these pens doesn’t appeal to everyone, but take a look, and if you like the Gist, now is the best time to get one.

Note 11/5/2015: the Gist had a very successful Kickstarter campaign, ending up with $129,796 from 997 backers.  I will talk more about the Gist when I get mine in January 2016.

October 26, 2015   No Comments

DSL Internet Speeds Vary A Lot

I’ve recently moved back to DSL since WiMax is going away.  I’ll have some more notes about my DSL service in the future, but today it’s all about how much my apparent DSL speed can vary, based on running a variety of speed tests.

So what makes my “rated” DSL speed (as rated by a speed test site) vary?  Factors include:

  • The speed test site used; I saw definite differences (in Mbits/sec) between DSL Reports, SpeedOf.Me, and Ookla’s  I decided to standardize on DSL Reports’s speed test (partly because of this)
  • All upload speeds were roughly the same, around 1.25Mb/sec
  • The fastest download speed was direct Ethernet connection to SmartRG SR510N modem: ~18Mbps down (Asus T100TA, USB 3.0 1G Ethernet adapter)
  • Using the SR510N’s WiFi connection, the T100TA speeds varied between 10-15Mb/sec
  • However, when I tried an old but still usable Acer A500 Android 4.0 tablet with the modem’s WiFi, speeds dropped to ~3.0 Mb/sec with a weak wireless signal, and ~8 Mb/sec with a good signal.
  • The A500’s speed with my longer range but slower Netgear WNR1000 via a set of Netgear 85Mb/sec Netgear powerline modems is pretty consistent at ~6 Mb/sec; the T100TA clocks in at 7Mb/sec.  I suspect the bottleneck is the powerline modem.
  • Speeds seem pretty consistent over time when I hold the other variables (test used, PC used, connection used) constant.

BTW, my T-Mobile 4G LTE MiFi can get similar or better speeds.  Its results vary dramatically with the signal type (LTE is much better than HSPDA, and EDGE is painful); typical download range seems to be around 8-18 Mb/sec, and upload around 1-6 MBb/sec.  However, despite the good raw numbers for LTE, VoIP quality is typically much better over DSL (partly because DSL still has much better ping times).  And, of course, there are no affordable LTE options for large amounts of data, while my DSL is unlimited.

September 29, 2015   No Comments

Awesome Pen Swag: Frixion Ball 05 from NEC/Tokin

NEC Tokin Frixion Pen

NEC Tokin Frixion Pen

NEC Tokin Frixion Pen

NEC Tokin Frixion Ball 05

I swiped a lot of pen swag at the Photonics West 2015 Exhibition, but NEC/Tokin’s giveaway deserves to be highlighted: a Pilot Frixion Ball 05 retractable erasable pen with 0.5mm tip.

NEC/Tokin makes an interesting mix of materials, sensors, and components such as capacitors, chokes, and relays.  Somebody there must like pens, because the Ball 05 isn’t a cheap pen made to be customized.  It’s a cool pen that’s not even available at retail in the US (and is currently $3.80 at JetPens).

My theory is that NEC/Tokin has been infiltrated by a secret pen addict – and I’m very thankful 🙂

Now onto the pen…this is my first retractable Frixion, but not my first Frixion.  I still have mixed feelings about Frixions, but this one is definitely a keeper.

I’m still getting used to the knock being the clip – half the time I still press the eraser, but nothing happens….of course, Pilot’s choice makes sense, it just takes a little getting used to it.

I like the tip size (05=0.5mm).  I also like the tip size of my Frixion Point 04 (0.4mm), but I find the US market Frixions to be too big for my normal writing.  On the other hand, the black ink isn’t as dark as a gel, and the tip isn’t as smooth as a gel either.

Frixions do have a reputation for running out quickly; I felt my US market Frixions didn’t last very long, but my Point 04 is still going strong, so I hope this Ball 05 will be similar.

March 8, 2015   1 Comment

Daiso Adventures

Over the past few months, I’ve had fun checking out the Daiso Japan store near Mitsuwa marketplace in San Jose.  The good side is that most items are $1.50, so when I see something new and cool, it’s hard to resist the temptation to add it to the basket to try it out.

Recent temptations have included

Daiso B5 Grid Notebook

Daiso B5 Grid Notebook

Daiso Grid Notebook - Inside

Daiso Grid Notebook – Inside

This red notebook has paper with a grid design.  I’ve never seen a grid notebook at retail, but I’ve been curious to find out if I’d like it, so I couldn’t resist the temptation of a mere $1.50 for 80 sheets of B5-sized grid goodness (the grid’s dots are at 5mm intervals).  My initial impression is, yes, I like it a lot.


This graph notebook with a translucent blue plastic cover was a no-brainer, also at $1.50 for 60 sheets of A4-sized paper.


My kids love these funky pencils with cute designs and a bunch of tips.  They’re a bargain at $1.00 for a pack of 8.

Daiso A4 Copy Paper

Daiso A4 Copy Paper

A4 paper comes and goes at Daiso, so I jumped at the chance at grabbing several 110-sheet packs for a miserly $1.50 each (A4 paper is double that price at Staples or Amazon, and is stratospherically priced at Kinokuniya/Maido).  Since it’s copy paper, I’ll have to see how does in my inkjet printer.


I might prefer LED light bulbs, but at $0.50 for these 32W, 2100 lumen CFL bulbs, I couldn’t resist picking up a bunch.

The Downside of Daiso

I’ve seen lots of cute and neat things at Daiso over the years (such as brush pens, cute stationery, cute sketchbooks, affordable handy storage boxes, made in Japan dishes, unique egg timers, and more), but it’s kind of like Costco because:

  1. It’s so tempting to add “just one more bargain” that you get surprised at check out time.
  2. Many items are here today, gone tomorrow.  Just of the items I’ve shown, last time the blue notebooks were gone, and the cute pencils have been replaced by boring pencils.  A4 paper has always been hit or miss (sometimes nothing, sometimes only colored paper, sometimes great selection, and so on).
  3. It’s not always a bargain.  Some items aren’t worth a $1.50.  Some items are sold in such small quantities (such as the wire frame storage) that when you add up all the $1.50 items you need, it’s not so cheap.
  4. Inventory can vary a lot store to store.  Daiso has a wide of items, but many of the stores are pretty small, so they get a different assortment of what’s available at the moment.

January 17, 2015   No Comments

Favorite Tools – Fall 2014

Pens And Pencils

I use pens and pencils quite a bit.  Partly it’s simply because I like using them; I also feel that they are better for notes and initial drafts (sketching out software or electrical ideas and such) – you can quickly draw anything anywhere without constraints.

Gel pens are my favorites for their smoothness and solid, vivid lines.  Overall, Uniball is my favorite brand (Signo DX, Signo 207, Jetstream, etc).  I really love the Pilot G2 Limited body; it’s comfortable, attractive, reasonably priced, and takes Uni Signo 207 refills with ease.  In general, I’m not a Pentel pen fan, but the 0.35mm Energel Needlepoint is really sweet.

I didn’t use pencils much until I bought the Uni Kuru Toga Roulette; it’s still my favorite pencil, but I’ve been having fun testing out the Pentel Orenz 0.2 mm pencil.

When I’m doing sketches that require color, I use my Staedtler triplus fineliner 10-color set.  The only issue is that I can’t erase it; however, I haven’t found an erasable colored pencil or colored mechanical pencil lead, so sometime I plan on testing out a set of Pilot’s erasable Color Pencil Like Frixion pens.  I do have mixed feelings about the Frixion pens; they’re great for an erasable pen, but aren’t as nice (smoothness, color, line quality, refill life) as a decent pen.

Smart Phone

I’m not a big phone geek; I loved my old Palm Centro with its keyboard and excellent PIM apps.  I’m feeling a lot better about Android since installing DejaOffice; it’s not perfect, but provides integrated PIM functionality (Tasks, Memos, Calender, etc), synchronization (including to Palm Desktop/Pimlical), and is cross-platform (Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Win 8.1).

My phone is a Samsung Note 2.  I really like it: battery life is great, there’s a micro-SD card for affordable storage, on-screen keyboard is good, the display is nice, it’s fast enough, it’s barely hand-holdable, and it’s affordable used.  If I ever really use my phone for business, I’ll take a serious look at the Blackberry Passport, but it’s currently too pricey for just personal use.

I also have to put in a plug for my provider, Ting.  Their prices are competitive for my usage, and their service is the best I’ve experienced.


I’m currently using an Asus T100TA 2-in-1 tablet with keyboard.  It’s not perfect (keyboard is a little small, for example), but it’s a good fit for me now because:

  • It’s cheap (<$250 refurbished) so I’m not worried about losing it
  • Powerful enough (quad core Baytrail; the browser seems to handle complex web sites better than Android or BB Tablet OS)
  • Can run standard Windows software (like LibreOffice) and screen resolution is low enough the menus aren’t microscopic
  • USB 3.0 port on keyboard, micro-SD card on the tablet part
  • Great battery life (except sometimes it doesn’t go to sleep when I tell it to) and quick boot times

In summary, I find it’s a lot more productive than an Android tablet, and smaller and more convenient than a notebook.  Most of the time I use it with the keyboard, but I do take the keyboard off when I’m doing more tablet-y things (like exploring in Maps).  I’m surprised that I use the touchscreen a lot, even with the keyboard attached.  I think that’s because it’s so small.


For getting work done, I still find there’s no substitute for a good ergonomic setup with a desktop: mechanical keyboard (Cherry Blues, Cherry Greens, or Buckling Springs depending on my mood), big 24″ 1920 x 1200 monitor, octa-core CPU, 16G RAM, and a fast Samsung SSD.

Keeping Everything In Sync

I believe in using what works for me, not keeping up with fads.  I’m still sorting out what works best for what tasks.  I’ve played some with Dropbox, and I have mixed feelings about it (including their security record), and don’t want to go all-Google.

So I’ve setup an Owncloud server for an affordable price ($15/year for 15G storage).  I’m still working out what I want to put on Owncloud in what formats, what I want to put on trac, and what works best on WordPress.

For example, LibreOffice Calc is much nicer for tabular content, but doesn’t share well; trac is probably next best.

Obviously, WordPress is best for public blog posts, but for public directories and content I update over time, I’ve shifted between using WordPress pages and trac pages; right now, I’m learning towards using trac most of the time.

Blog Notes

I’ve still been quite busy at work and home this month, but I promise to get some more posts up before end of the month.

Postscript 11/25/2014: I really like the Note 2’s form factor (biggest display that’s barely hold-able and slim), and can see why the Note family as created a new category.  I also just received my 12-color set of Frixion color pencil like pens; my initial impression are positive, and I plan on donating my Staedtler tri-plus set to a more artistic family member.

October 20, 2014   No Comments

Recent Pens and Pencils

It’s been too long since I’ve discussed pens and pencils, so it’s time to highlight some recent acquisitions:

Uni Kuru Toga Roulette 0.5mm

Uniball Roulette

Uniball Roulette

My favorite mechanical pencil.  It’s gorgeous, affordable, and sharp.  I love the way it looks (especially the silver model) and the feel of the aluminum.  Its Kuru Toga mechanism rotates the lead every time you advance for sharper lines.  Considering all that, the price is reasonable; I only wish it was available in 0.3mm.

Pentel Energel Euro 0.35mm Needle Point

Energel NeedlePoint

Energel NeedlePoint

I’m not a big Pentel pen fan, but this one has won me over: sharp lines with an incredible smoothness.  I don’t like the normal medium point Energels you can buy at retail; they’re actually too smooth and go flying all over the place if you’re not extra careful.  But I like this model so much I’ve already ordered a second so I don’t run out.

Uni Signo RT 0.28mm Black

Signo RT1 0.28

Signo RT1 0.28

OK, it’s ugly, but on the other hand for a super fine pen (< 0.30mm) it’s pretty smooth, retractable (I believe it’s the only super-fine retractable pen), and cheap ($2.50 versus $3.00 or more).

Pilot FriXion Point 04 Blue-Black

FriXion Point 04

FriXion Point 04

The original Frixions are good for an erasable pen, but not great pens.  In my experience their lines are wide and blotchy, and they seem to get worse with age.  This model, however, has been writing smoothly with a much finer line – and I like the color.  On the other hand, at $3.75, it’s pretty expensive, and I’ll have to see how it writes as it ages.

Tactile Turn Mover

Dark Blue Mover

Dark Blue Mover

All the other machined Kickstarter pens have left me unmoved; a pen has to be really special for me to pay the typical asking price.

But when I saw the Mover, I really liked it: a beautiful retractable pen, available in gorgeous colors (I like the Blue, Teal, Green, and Sand colors), with a price that was within reason.  I’m very happy with my result: a dark blue Mover that’s perfectly built and can take many different gel refills (I’m not enamored of the 0.38mm G2 refill).  The grip is sweet, and the pen is well balanced.  If you appreciate hand crafted pens and have the budget, I enthusiastically recommend this pen.

May 29, 2014   No Comments