Visitors

We had some visitors this week. My sister and her husband came over from Utah for their oldest granddaughter’s high school graduation. And they brought along our oldest granddaughter so she could spend some time with us.

So we’ve been doing some ‘touristy’ things this week. We did a whale watch boat tour (it was two three-hour tours, with a stop in Friday Harbor in the San Jan Islands). We saw some Minkey whales in the first part, but all of the big orcas were out of our range somewhere west in the Strait de San Juan Fuca. But it was a nice sunny day, the water was quite calm, and we saw a bunch of other wildlife. It was a fun day.

We took a drive out to Fort Flagler, just north of our house a bit. A nice beach there, and it was a very low tide, so there were lots of empty clam shells to gather. There were a few dead crabs that had washed up on the beach, so those were also interesting.

We also took a drive out to see Mt Walker Falls in the Olympic National Forest. That was a nice drive.

We also had a visit from my cousin Dave and his wife. They are ‘homeless’ (by choice) and use a small van-based motor home to travel around the area. They stopped by for a short overnight visit (and a visit to our washer and dryer, along with a real bed). They headed off this morning to the north, then east into Washington and a short jaunt into Canada.

The weather has been really nice for our visitors. Highs in the high 70s [F] which is approaching ‘heat wave’ for the locals. A bit of clouds today, and a light rainfall that was short, but more nice weather coming up.

I replaced a hanging lamp in the dining room, which provides much more light. The old lamp was a Tiffany-style thing that Pam didn’t really like, so when I broke the lamp globe, she decided it was time to replace it. It hangs from a very tall ceiling, so I had to re-wire the light into the existing hanging wire. It worked out OK; no electrocution happened at any time.

And it provides more light in the evening when I sit in the adjoining living room, working on the computer (and a fictional story) or watching the ships go by on Puget Sound. I saw a submarine being escorted by two Navy ships on it’s way to the submarine base in Bangor. I see container and car ships all the time as they go down the Puget Sound to the Seattle and Tacoma docks.

It’s My Domain Name, So Don’t Wear It Out

I got a Rick Hellewell domain name many years ago. I used it for a job search when I moved to Utah years ago after 23 years of doing computer geeky stuff for my previous employer. It was useful to get my job in Utah.

And it allowed me to goof around with web sites and hosting, although I’ve worked on web sites since the late 1990’s, and had my own personal web sites since about 2001. Some of those web sites are still around, and some have gone away (without anyone noticing them, usually).

But you don’t give up a domain name that is named after yourself. And I don’t need a job-hunting web site anymore. So I spent a little bit of time today doing a quick, responsive redesign of RickHellewell.com . Not much content there, but it’s a bit more current than the old place.

Nothing earth-shattering in the design or concept. Took a bit over an hour to do.

But now there is something more current about the ‘there’ that is ‘there’.

Upgrades to WordPress Sites

I have spent a bit of time modifying several web sites that I own or maintain. Most are WordPress sites (as are this one). All use the same theme, but I have modified the theme a bit to make things look and work better.

The proper way to do that is with ‘child themes’, which I have done on most sites. But a few earlier site ‘builds’ didn’t fully implement the child theme concept. There was some customized content (mostly templates) that wouldn’t survive a theme code update. A new version of the theme that I use came out last week. So I had to set up a proper child theme configuration before I updated the theme. (The theme rather rudely gets rids of any customized templates. I have local copies of those templates, but it was a bit of work to get the site pages that use those templates back working properly.)

A bit of code reorganization, and those sites were ready for the theme update. This time, none of the customized pages broke, which is a good thing.

Any new WordPress site that I set up is done with a proper ‘child theme’ configuration. It makes it a lot easier when upgrades are needed — things won’t break.

(If you are interested in the other sites, start with the CellarWeb site at www.cellarweb.com . Then look at the “Things We’ve Done” page to see the various web sites I work on.)

Road Trip and Anniversaries

Just got back from a trip to Rocklin, CA. Had some great time visiting with Stacy and Justin McEwan, and their two children (Dominic and Audrey). Both are very cute and fun to be with (along with their parents, of course). We were able to spend some time with the grandkids while Justin was studying and Stacy was in training for her new RN job at Kaiser.

We went to the park for the swings and slides. We made a quick trip to the pool in their condo complex; the weather was nice enough for the kids to swim. Both are very comfortable in the water with their life jackets.

We had lunches and dinner together (Round Table Pizza; took Taco Bell to the park, and of course The Habit for burgers, fries, and crunchy onion rings).

The other main purpose for the trip was to visit our son’s Jason’s gravesite on the anniversary of his death. It is at the Newcastle (CA) Cemetery, which is a pretty and peaceful setting. Fresh flowers and cleaning off the gravestone, plus a few moment to contemplate.

Pam and I also visited our daughter’s (Erica) grave (she lived only a few hours) in Rocklin, also a nicely maintained cemetery.  And we had a visit with my 95-year-old mother, still doing well at her age (she still drives; the CA DMV extended her license another 10 years last year). Most say that she looks like a 75-year-old. She mentioned that there are 110+ children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren/spouses, and each still get a card from her on their birthdays and anniversaries. She keeps busy organizing photos and family history.

I finished up a redesign of Jason’s web site (www.jasonhellewell.com). The content is mostly the same, at the moment, but it has a new ‘responsive’ design so that it will be easily viewed on any device. There will be some new scrapbook pages put up later — Pam is quite productive in that department.

And I delivered my Raspberry Pi Media Server project to the McEwans. It was a fun project to do, and the Media Server part works fairly well. More info on that project later; I am building another one just for me.

A nice trip – although the long 13-hour drive is tiring, but we arrived home safely last night. It was great trip!

WordPress Plugin Project Done

I’ve been working on a WordPress plugin that stops comment spam from ‘bots’. It uses a technique that I’ve built into a package of custom programs that block comment and contact form spam. The technique is quite effective. When I put it on a web site that gets spam from ‘bots’ (automated programs), the spam immediately stops.

The details are on the FormSpammerTrap web site; that’s were spambots go when they try to submit their spam on a form that I’ve protected. The whole thing is free to anyone that wants it (details on the site).

It was interesting to write and debug (with those steps repeated). But I got it submitted to the WordPress overlords, and it is now available (here, if you are interested).  Of course, there are tons of other plugins that purport to do the same thing, but I think mine is more clever than theirs.

I’m thinking of some enhancements for it, but also thinking of a new project involving the new Raspberry Pi 2 . The RP2 is a small computer about the size of a deck of cards, but it can be quite powerful. Although Linux-based, Microsoft has announced that Windows 10 will be available for it.

There are lots of projects that use the RP2, and I have found some good (and some not-so-good) tutorials on the project that I am interested in.

The RP2 is not quite shipping yet, but I will be ordering one soon, and it might arrive before the end of this month. More later.

Weather Stations and USB Servers

A recent trip to Costco netted me a Acurite Professional Weather Station (model 0232C – http://www.acurite.com/environment/weather-stations/8-pro-digital-weather-station-with-pc-connect-01036.html, which lists for $169.99, available on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00NI57C14/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B00NI57C14&linkCode=as2&tag=chaosreviews-20&linkId=5SWQC6FMGKCJAMDU for $113); at Costco, the price was under $85. I have always been interested in getting a weather station, but most cost even more than $170. So when I saw the one at the local Costco (it doesn’t appear to be available on the Costco web site) at that price, I decided to get it.

Setup was fairly easy, although at additional cost. “Siting” a weather station is important, but I had a good spot in the corner of my yard – no fences, lots of open space around it. In my case, there was a solid tree stump at that corner, so a trip to the local Home Depot netted me a 1” galvanized flange, a 1” to ¾” adapter, and a five foot ¾” galvanized pipe, plus four 2 ½” lag bolts, and a can of beige spray paint (to help the post blend into the neighborhood, since it is visible from the street). The weather station is mounted on the ¾” pipe, although it does include mounting to a wooden post. All of that got the weather station installed in a great spot, and so far, the neighbors haven’t complained about the placement (there is an HOA involved, so don’t tell them).

The outdoor unit communicates with the indoor color display wirelessly. The display has a USB port to connect to a computer, and then you can send your data to a place like Weather Underground. You can also install an app on your Android or Apple device to display your data. But you do need to connect the display to your computer via the included USB cable.

And that was my problem that makes all of this related to computers.

In my house, the living room is the desired location for the color weather display. But the desktop computer is in the office upstairs. That computer doesn’t get used much, since my wife and I both have laptops that we use to connect to our home wireless network. But the desktop is connected to the laser printer (via a network printer device) so we can use that. The desktop is also used as the backup for our laptop files, which are backed up to the ‘cloud’ with Carbonite. (We use the Microsoft SyncToy to sync files from laptops to the desktop.)

In order to get the weather data to Weather Underground (WU), the weather station comes with an app that is loaded on a computer. The weather display is then connected to the computer via the USB cable, and then the desktop app sends the data up to WU. So my layout was not going to work, unless I used a 50 foot USB cable (which won’t work).

A search (with a bit of help from fellow CMR advisor Eric Pobirs) eventually got me to the Monoprice company web site, which had a USB server that allowed USB devices to connect to a computer via IP (http://www.monoprice.com/Product?c_id=105&cp_id=10521&cs_id=1052103&p_id=5343&seq=1&format=2). The list price at Monoprice is $24, but who pays list? A search on Amazon didn’t find a cheaper price. The listing there was $28 (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002JTR620/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B002JTR620&linkCode=as2&tag=chaosreviews-20&linkId=XT3ATAL62DXT2ZQT ), but there were a couple of used ones for under $10 including ground shipping (the used ones may not be available). The device specs and features looked good, and losing a sawbuck (for you youngsters, see http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=sawbuck ) was OK if it didn’t work, so I ordered the used one.

It arrived a few days later in a padded package: the device, the power supply, and the mini-CD with the device application). A simple installation process: connect the weather station USB cord to the USB server, plug the server into the router (which is in the same location as the weather display), and connect the AC adapter. Then upstairs to the desktop computer to install the device software from a mini-CD on the desktop. A few clicks, and a search via the app to find the USB server on the network, and the weather display was connected. (The device used DHCP to get its IP address, although you can assign an IP address with the app.)

I switched to the Acurite weather application, and it saw the weather display that was connected over my LAN. It all worked.

The USB server device can support a USB hub, so you could connect more than one USB device to your local network. You can also use it to connect a non-network type printer to your local network. If you have multiple computers, the USB server software will allow each computer to connect to any USB device, although not at the same time. The software does have a way to send a message from one computer to another to release control of the USB device.

The USB server might be most useful for sharing non-network-enabled printers at a reasonable price (although wireless-enabled printers are not that expensive). And, in my case, to connect my weather display to the desktop computer through my local network, which allows me to share my weather station on Weather Underground (here http://www.wunderground.com/personal-weather-station/dashboard?ID=KWAPORTL19 , if you are interested).

Web Sites and Weather Stations

The low-carb-beat-type-2-diabetes fight continues, with some success. My weight has gone down to 263, but bounces about 2 pounds higher. There is a steady but slow decline.

Walking continues, although the weather here in the Olympic Peninsula has been cold and rainy (go figure). We had a bit under 3 inches of snow last weekend, and cold (20-30F) before that. Today is warmer, mid-40’s, but overcast and a few showers. But I am still walking, at least once a day, and usually twice, on my .6 mile walkabout.

Working on a few interesting web sites, one for an author that I discovered and volunteered to help out. He has written fantasy novels before, but came out with a thriller of the  Jack Reacher variety that I really enjoyed. I went to his web site and saw a few things that could be improved style-wise. I volunteered my services – it is something that I enjoy, and keeps me occupied – so we’ve been working on a redesign of his site. Not quite ready for the public yet, some minor styling details to hash out.

Also working on a new site for the POS-FFOS group; the suicide survivor support group that I did several sites for. It is mostly done, just waiting for some final administrivia staff to get up to speed with managing the site.

And, I have been working on a bit of writing. It’s a story that may turn out to be novel-length. It starts with an interesting (to me) premise. I’m still on the first draft; I have about 210 pages done, but not quite sure of the overall direction and ending. I have a few ideas percolating about that. It is interesting, and something else to keep me occupied.

Coming up on the holidays, looks like there is a trip to see both daughters and their families (and grandkids). Some bit of driving involved (Utah first, then California), but don’t mind that. It will be nice to see the grandkids (and daughters) again.

I did install a weather station outside. Put it on a 5-foot metal pole for stability, and painted the pole a neutral gray color so the pole would blend into the background. A neighbor objected to the placement and complained to the HOA, which is quite active and has quite a few different rules, including getting approval for yard plantings and house colors. The neighbor complained that it was an antenna (the weather devices communicates wirelessly to an inside display), which are verboten according to HOA rules. The neighbor finally realized that argument was no good, and the HOA wasn’t inclined to agree with her. I agreed to paint the device (which I had offered at the very beginning) the same neutral color as the pole, which resolved that neighborhood dispute. I found the whole thing amusing.