Maker Faires

Maker_FaireI’ve been narrowing down the when and where of my travels, and I think I’ll be able to attend a few key Maker Faires in the next few months!

Pretty sure

Miami Fl Mini Maker Faire, 20-21 Feb 2016


Charlottesville VA Mini Maker Faire, 26 March 2016

Burlington NC Mini Maker Faire, late April, should be held again

It’d be either-or on the last two, depending on how fast I get up the coast.  There are a lot of other ones I’d love to get to, especially the New Orleans event, but the timing’s just a bit off.

Making it on the road

Are North America’s Makerspaces the future of technology and manufacturing?  Starting September 22, stay tuned to for updates on a major project to organize, categorize, publicize the movement to share tools and technology among individual inventors, technicians, and artisans!

Along the way I hope to visit Fab Labs, Hackerspaces, and Maker groups of all stripes. My tentative plan will leave my old base of Grand Forks, via the Twin Cities, Detroit, the Canadian Core, and New York City. If there’s support by the time I make it to the Research Triangle, I might make it farther around the continent — Fingers crossed!

Aside from the blog, there will be much multimedia generated along the way, and I do plan to write a book as well.  If you have a question, resource, suggestion, etc — post a comment!



The Malware Scanner Lifecycle


You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

Malware comes and goes [mostly comes], but good malware scanners are few and far between.

Very big names have gone into this arena and come out emptyhanded; the battle to keep the computers of the world safe and infection is a three-way fight between platform builders who battle to patch mounds of buggy code, security experts who monitor for plagues and vectors, and bands of rogues who want to keep exploits secret and nefariously useful.

In the midst of the second group lies the home of the malware scanner.  Having largely supplanted the virus scanner over the last decade, malware looking to turn any given network node into a quick buck has faced off against a small army of independently produced scanning systems.

Essentially, they rely on detecting rogue software and feeding a database shared with all other users of the software.  It might be more obvious to develop a unified response (like WordPress’ Akismet spam-blocking agent) — but Microsoft has always taken a hands-off approach to security, save for a handful of years it mounted a half-hearted effort with the Windows Defender program.

Malware scanning is left to the wider market, where the story always goes like this: idealistic IT student makes malware scanner, does it for fun and donations, then slowly sells out as the software gets popular and too big to manage.  And then comes the point where you insist on receiving payment before users can remove malware.  Now your software has itself become ransomware, and rounded the circle from hero to villain.


A Flag for North Dakota

Copyleft C008-2015  CC-BY-SANorth Dakota’s flag got some rather unsightly changes a few years back.  The long and short of it was the switch to unheraldric blue-on-red lettering and mandatory fringing.  To this day, you can’t find a correctly proportioned 33:26 copy of the flag on store shelves, but to be honest, North Dakota’s flag hardly stands out among the 56 territories and hardly says anything besides “Hey, we’re American too!”

In the 1950s, the North Dakota National Guard stated about as plainly as possible that the North Dakota flag was properly an army unit banner.  They made a Coat of Arms of North Dakota, which they hoped would form the basis for a new state flag, but that didn’t go according to plan right away.

That doesn’t mean that it was a bad idea, though.  My design inherits the core symbolism of the Coat of Arms, on a Canadian pale, adding a nod to North Dakota’s friends and neighbours.  It also looks like a Big N, which is sure to clear up any ambiguity.  The change to green or yellow alone will pop out from the bizarre uniformity of blue state flags.

Vert on a Canadian pale or a bend of the first charged with three mullets of the second

Not geting the Oscars in Grand Forks, ND

ABC doesn’t get a lot of major events anymore, but the Oscars rate among the handful of key live events still held by the network.  In this neck of the woods, you’d have to get ABC affiliate WDAZ on cable, or attempt to nab it over-the-air.  Despite the fact that Grand Forks is the home city for DAZ, because its city of licence is still technically “Devils Lake”, its tower is way west of town.

The result is a weak signal that requires $70+ in antenna equipment and a clear view of the western horizon.  Or in my case, $40 in antenna equipment and 20 minutes of setup before viewing.  If only there was a way to get decent in-town reception of WDAZ.  A DTS node at the top of WDAZ’s microwave tower would do the job nicely.

While WDAZ’s minimal effort in investing in OTA viewers is disappointing, it is also unlikely that they will reap any dividends in the 2016 spectrum auction.  VHF spectrum like DAZ’s channel 8 is not all that desirable any more, as mobile devices and TV alike clamour for medium-UHF frequencies that strike a balance between small antenna size and good building penetration.

The big winner in North Dakota from the spectrum auction is likely to be the station flipper who currently owns KRDK (ex-KXJB, channel 38), which seems highly likely to shut down its minor tragedy of blank air and reruns with a big sack of cash from Verizon or Sprint.  Depending on how much of the UHF band goes up for grabs, much the same may go for KNDB and KNDM — if they can get back on the air in time for the money to fly, that is.  KCPM in Grand Forks is off the air again, BTW — after dabbling with a test pattern on 27.2.

Fixing the click of death in Western Digital Black

I like using laptop hard drives in my desktops.  Something about the lower latency.  Call it a poor-man’s Raptor, if you will.

As it happens, I bought another drive from Western Digital, the WD Black WD5000BPKT, that had a decent 5-year warranty, but one constant and annoying issue:  the onboard power-saving features create an annoying *click* more or less randomly, as the drive seems to attempt a spin-down at strange moments.

I’ve had this issue since day one with this drive, and I’m still not sure I’ve fixed it.  Here are my workarounds so far:

Automatic Disk Access

Directory Listing

No joke – the way I fixed this under Ubuntu 12.04 was to add a directory search to my crontab, scheduling a disk use before the about 4 minutes or so it would take for the disk to spin down.

sudo crontab -e

*/3 * * * * ls /home/

Random Sector Access

I tried switching from this to having the disk read from a randomly selected sector, since I was concerned all those reads from the same place were going to do stress damage of a different kind.  So I thought perhaps I could get the disk to read random sectors on the plate with something like this…

*/3 * * * * sudo dd if=/dev/sdx of=/dev/null bs=4096 skip=$(( -1 + ( disksize * $RANDOM / 65536 ) ))

the command appears to work (that is, do essentially nothing) but the clicking returned rapidly.

Power Management Settings

Under Ubuntu 14.04, neither of these options appears to work.  So I dug down under the system settings to find the disk utility, which Trusty Tahr now simply calls the “Disks” program.


A few clicks later and I can set the disk’s APM setting to ‘254, Spin-down not permitted’,  You have to do it that way because setting the power management level to ‘255, disabled’ causes the drive to say “LOL, O RLY?” and still spin down anyway.

GNOME Evolution 3.2 e-mail database recovery

Missing e-mails?  Nothing showing up in your folder, but the “Properties” for the folder says you still have hundreds of messages in there?

If, like me, you’ve ever tried to mark 3000 messages as read all at once, you may have crashed the SQL database at the heart of Novell GNOME Evolution.  If your Inbox is suddenly “empty” — don’t worry!  Evolution is capable of rebuilding the database on its own with only a little prompting.

If this happens to you, I’d recommend making a backup before proceeding.  Use Evolution’s backup option ( File > Backup Evolution Data ) or make a tarball out of your e-mail folder [ The default location on Precise Pangolin is ~/.local/share/evolution ]

Also to keep things neat while you mess around, you ought to take Evolution offline ( File > Work Offline ).  This way, you don’t have any new messages filtering in to gum things up.

Now navigate to your Evolution folder [ in this case, the location is ~/.local/share/evolution/mail/local ] and wrench your database file.  You can delete it, but renaming will suffice.


Now Launch Evolution. You won’t see anything to begin with, although some of your messages may trickle in.  You’ll see a small new folders.db file reflecting the rebuild:dbrebuild

Wait a minute or two until Evolution seems like it’s finished.  You shouldn’t see too much.  Now, to really get things rolling, quit Evolution.

Your disk activity will spike as Evolution syncs with all the files still located on your computer, and folders.db will grow in size too.

dbrepopAll your messages should be restored, but e-mails previously moved to the Junk folder will now be back in your Inbox.  Sorry.

I’m still using Ubuntu Precise with Evolution 3.2, so this may be different in a newer version.