Atari 2600 controllers

Went through and checked out all of the controllers that came with the Atari 2600s. There were 5 Atari joysticks, 5 other joysticks and two sets of paddles.

The joysticks are pretty simple devices, consisting of a single PCB board with 5 metal dome button-type switches.

Atari joystick PCB

The joystick consists of a plastic piece with knobby bits that contact the domes. Pushing the joystick up, down, left, or right causes the knobby bit to press down on the switch, closing it and making a signal go down the corresponding wire.

One of the joysticks was broken. The other four joysticks work ok, but aren’t super responsive and the fire button on one of them doesn’t seem to be working.

The other non-Atari joysticks sort of work, but mostly don’t. Haven’t taken them apart yet to see if there’s anything that can be repaired.

The paddles are pretty simple devices, each consisting of a single 1 Mohm potentiometer and a push button.

Atari paddle controllers

After disassembling the potentiometers and cleaning them, they worked a little bit better than they did before, but there’s still a lot of jitter in the resistance measurement when the pots are turned, which translated to jittery movements in games. I’ll probably end up replacing the potentiometers if I can find any suitable ones.

Christmas Nativity 2020

The Christmas Nativity scene at Mah House continues to grow, with an expanded cast of visitors coming to see what’s going on.

A stable has been added to provide some shelter. An angel announces the news!

Christmas nativity scene 2020
Christmas nativity scene 2020

More shepherds have heard and brought some of their animals to join the rest of the visitors. A dog, another duck, and another penguin have also joined the pilgrims. The road to the stable is getting busy. I think next year we might have to extend the road.

Christmas nativity scene 2020
Christmas nativity scene 2020
Christmas nativity scene 2020
Christmas nativity scene 2020

Some new wise men and their camels have joined up with the wise men from the East and are continuing their journey. Commander Data has transported over to help guide them.

Cmdr Data has transported over to help guide the wise men from the East
Cmdr Data has transported over to help guide the wise men from the East

The newcomers are pieces we bought from a seller on Etsy and come from the same set as the other nativity pieces made and painted by Connie’s mom.

French Press coffee Mah way

It’s not difficult to find tutorials online for making French press coffee. I’ve tried a few, and settled on this method. It makes a cup that I enjoy black, or with a splash of cream.

My French press comes from IKEA, a 16 oz press (or a 32 oz press, depending on how caffeinated I want/need to be). You can find fancier ones out there, but these were reasonably inexpensive and do a perfectly good job.

Small (16 oz) on the left and Biggie (32 oz) on the right
Small (16 oz) on the left and Biggie (32 oz) on the right
New 16 oz Clemson alumni mug for scale.
New 16 oz Clemson alumni mug for scale.

I like to use an electric kettle to cook my water. Cooks the water quickly, pours nicely, and the one we have holds just enough water to fill the big press. Get one with an automatic shut off feature.

Electric kettle for cooking the water.
Electric kettle for cooking the water.

Most French press recipes call for very coarsely ground coffee and long brewing times. Since I don’t want to deal with having to adjust my grinder whenever I want to brew with the French press or Aeropress, I go with the same medium-ish grind that I use with the Aeropress. The grind size is pretty close to what you’d use for a regular drip coffee machine. I’ve found that one very heaping Aeropress scoop (17 grams or about 3 tablespoons) of coffee (double that if I’m using the big press) makes a cup of coffee that I like.

17 grams of ground coffee (about 3 tablespoons)
17 grams of ground coffee (about 3 tablespoons)

Dump the coffee into the press and add a tiny dash of salt (something I picked up from a Good Eats episode). I find it helps enhance the coffee flavour but doesn’t make it salty (unless you add too much).

Coffee into the press with a dash of salt.
Coffee into the press with a dash of salt.

Add water to about the top of the metal band, give it a bit of a stir, and put the press part on. I like to push the press down a bit so that all the grounds are submerged. Let it sit for about 3 minutes. Set a timer if you like.

After the brewing time, press the grounds all the way to the bottom, and gently pour into your coffee receptacle of choice.

Press the grounds and pour.
Press the grounds and pour.

The press uses a fine metal mesh to filter out the grounds, but really fine particles will still get through. Towards the end, I slow down the pouring and leave a bit in the press so that I’m not pouring all the fine stuff into my cup. That will help reduce the amount of sludge at the bottom of your cup. If you pour too quickly, the grounds get stirred up and you’ll end up with a bunch of sludge at the bottom of your cup. If you like sludge, then pour however you like.

Enjoy your coffee!
Enjoy your coffee!

Drink straight up, or doctor it up however you like.

First colonoscopy

Apparently, turning 50 activates several medical milestones.

My doctor says the colonoscopy is a rite of “passage”.

Yesterday was the prep for the colonoscopy. Everybody will tell you the prep is the worst part.

They’re all correct.

No food, only clear liquids for the whole day. Then it begins. The solution that cleans out your insides. Mine was a 4 liter jug of Gavilyte that I mixed up in the morning and let chill in the fridge. Pro tip: Before mixing, check to make sure the jug has no damage, holes, or cuts. I had filled mine half way and started shaking to mix it when stuff started leaking out. Found a cut near the handle, possibly from someone cutting too deep when unboxing.

The solution is not the most pleasant to drink, even with the included flavour packet (mine was lemon). Slightly viscous, tastes plasticky, and just down right icky. Some reviews I saw at WebMD suggested holding your nose and drinking through a straw to avoid the taste. Wish I had seen that before I started drinking.

I was only able to make it through just under half of the 4 liters of prep solution before I got to the point where it was going to start going out the way it came in. Seemed counterproductive to try to keep going at that point. The rest of the evening and night was spent sitting up in bed trying not to throw up, and napping in between trips to the bathroom. Fortunately, what I was able to get down was enough to clean out my innards well enough to go forward with the colonoscopy today.

Colonoscopy day was pretty uneventful by comparison. Arrived at the hospital, checked in, and waited a bit before they brought me back to get ready for the procedure. Then I got wheeled in to the procedure room. Closed my eyes to rest a bit while everybody was getting things ready, and then next thing I know I’m waking up and back in the bay I started in.

After about 15 minutes of waking up enough to stand and get dressed again, I was wheeled out to the main entrance where Connie was waiting with the car and two Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwiches for the drive home. After practically no food for almost two days, the chicken sandwiches really hit the spot.

Got a clean bill of colonic health, so now I don’t have to do this again for another 10 years.

Note to self: Think about adjusting my diet a few days prior to the next colonoscopy so that there’s less “stuff” left to clean out of me. That might make the prep easier.

Life in the time of COVID-19

Life for a lot of people has changed pretty drastically over the past few weeks as the COVID-19 virus takes hold in the US. Several states have enacted “Stay home” emergency directives, while others like South Carolina are trusting its residents to maintain social distancing. Based on what I’ve seen on the news and the few times I’ve had to venture out to shop, that seems overly optimistic.

A few weeks ago, my wife had us start monitoring our body temperatures twice a day, which seemed like a good idea. Then a few days later work issued a mandatory requirement for all employees and students to start self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms. Monitoring for symptoms at least gives people a window of time to figure out where and when they might have been exposed. I’m lucky to have a wife who’s so proactive and stays on top of things like this.

On my end of things work has encouraged anybody who can work from home to do so. Although the majority of my work can’t be done from home, I took advantage of being able to work from home to get caught up on writing up reports that should have been done a few months ago, but got put on the back burner so that I could get caught up on the equipment testing. Now that I’m finally caught up on the reports, I can move on to start getting caught up on other things like the mandatory annual training modules and earning more continuing education credits (didn’t get many last year because of being so busy and I’m starting to run low).

After discussing the equipment testing situation with my colleagues at work, I also decided to temporarily suspend the regular equipment testing to reduce the chance of me transporting COVID-19 around work and also to reduce my risk of exposure. It will mean scrambling to get caught up later when things start getting back to normal (whenever that ends up being), but I felt it was a prudent thing to do.

With a reduced work workload and working more from home, I now have the opportunity to spend more time on my PhD work. With the majority of my Monte Carlo simulations completed, I’ve been going through the data and doing some analysis on it. Now I can spend more time doing that and start writing up my results. I have until September or October to cobble my thesis together, and that time will no doubt go more quickly than I want.