A working ELF 2K

by Chuck September 17, 2009

The new memory arrived in the mail right on time, and I could hardly wait to get one of the two new memory chips out and into the ELF2K to see if it would work with a new chip.

Of course, I had to wait, there are always things around the house that I need to do. But eventually I got a chance to head into the den and put the new RAM chip into the socket. Put it in, powered the ELF up, flipped the RUN switch up, and son of a gun the little computer worked on the first try.

Only I didn’t have a terminal hooked up yet. So I needed to download a terminal program (TerraTerm) and set it up (baud rate, port), hook up the serial cable (take the shield off the DB9 socket on the ELF, my serial-to-USB converter sucks), power everything up again – and it still worked.

I then spent a happy half an hour toggling programs into the ELF – starting with the one from page 66 of the March 1977 issue of Popular Electronics. That’s the one where when you flip the input switch once it turns the Q LED on, and when you flip the input switch again it turns the Q LED off. That’s the first program that I ran on my original ELF, and the one that I showed my Dad. I showed it to Katie – the nostalgia was thick in the air.

I’ll be playing with the ELF now from time to time, it’s a bit of nostalgia after all. I’m probably going to have to get the I/O expansion board so that I can hook it up to my Picaxe network, but that’s a project for next winter I think.



RAM test rig

by Chuck September 14, 2009

Picaxe-based RAM test rig For my birthday this year my wife got me a Spare Time Gizmos ELF 2000 kit, a re-interpretation of the original 1802-based computer that I (and many others) built from plans in Popular Electronics.

Just like the first one that I built, this one had a few problems when I first turned it on. Finding and fixing a bad connection in an IDC socket was fairly easy, and I found the cold solder joint on the switch panel after just a little more work. What was harder was the fact that some memory locations just didn't seem to be changing, and I couldn't figure out why.

So I built a test rig for the 32K static RAM on the ELF2K. I used a Picaxe 40X1 as the brains, two 74HC595 chips to latch the 16-bit address required, and a handful of LEDs to show me what's going on.

I used PortC to read and write data to the RAM chip. I had some difficulty getting the bi-directional data bus to work until I put dirs= statements in the code to explicitly change from output to input when writing then reading the test data.

Since PortC was in use, I couldn't use the hardware SPI port, so I used the simple bit-banged serial protocol from the manual.

Once I had the test rig up and running it started indicating memory errors throughout the RAM chip, but especially on the last page of memory, the page that the ELF2K uses for it's system data page, and where the OS on the ELF2K was indicating there was a problem.

I've ordered a couple more RAM chips that should be here tomorrow. Once I've got a known good RAM chip to install in the ELF2K I'll be one step closer to getting it to work.

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Cat garden

by Chuck August 23, 2009

Polly plays in the new cat garden. We built a new garden this weekend. We didn’t mean for it to turn into a cat garden, but the cats had other ideas…

The back side of new deck (the one toward the pasture) looked unfinished – we needed something to anchor the deck and provide a place for the eye to go. We decided that what we needed was another(!) garden, one with a water feature that we can hear on the deck and with a Japanese maple tree to stop the eye from wandering out to the pasture.

I went to Lowe’s in Silver Lake on Tuesday. I found a 91-gallon pre-formed pond on sale. We went back on Wednesday to buy it. Dana went to Mulbak’s on Friday where she discovered they were having a sale. She picked up perennial plants for the new garden.

On Saturday we started by cutting the sod out of the space where we wanted the new garden to be. Joey and Dana knocked the topsoil off the sod so we could use it later. Once the sod and topsoil was off the garden I used the roto-tiller to loosen the clay underneath. We dug out 4 inches of clay, then roto-tilled again to break up the next 4 inches. I added two tractor buckets of compost, roto-tilled, put another bucket of compost on and the topsoil we took off earlier and roto-tilled again. It took half the day, but we had almost 8 inches of good soil for the plants.

After taking a break I started digging out the hole for the pond. The clay around the house is pretty nasty – hard to break through and full of rocks. Eventually I had a hole I could use, but by then it was time to stop and go shopping for trees.

Dana and I went to Home Depot in Woodinville for the trees. They’re having a sale – we ended up getting two rhododendrons for the front yard, a maple tree for the end of the driveway, a willow for the other back corner of the house, and a Japanese maple for the new garden that we’re working on. Beautiful plants, lots of digging to get them in.

Sunday we finished digging in the pond, made two trips to Lowe’s for sand to put around the pond, and finally planted our new plants. We put a drip irrigation system in to water. After filling the pond we sat back to enjoy it – and to watch all the cats run around the garden, play in the pond, and play with each other. It’s pretty successful for all of us.



Afternoon sail

by Chuck August 16, 2009

Dana and I took Odyssey out this weekend even though the kids decided that they wanted to stay home and work on their posters and cages for the fair. It felt a little weird to take off to sail with the kids at home, but it turned out to be a nice trip for Dana and I.

Saturday morning was gray, so I wasn’t sure if we were going to have a comfortably warm day for being out on the water. We loaded up the boat with towels to use as blankets, sweatshirts, and wind breakers. Turned out once we were on the water that we didn’t need warm clothes, it was a beautiful sunny day out there.

The wind was blowing just about right – not too much to fly the genoa, but enough to make Odyssey lively. We consistently were hitting speeds of 4.5 to 5 knots over the ground most of the day. Dana and I, mostly Dana, pushed the boat harder than we have in the past. We found that we were pretty comfortable at 10 degrees of heel, and that as we got to 20 degrees things started flying across the cockpit. We mostly tried to stay under 20 degrees of heel.

The coolest part of the trip was seeing a gray whale only one or two hundred yards away. It would come to the surface, blow, then wave one pectoral fin in the air as it slipped back under water. We watched it for about half an hour as we sailed toward Port Susan. At one point we noticed we were on a slightly converging course so we tacked away. The whale looked like it was bigger than Odyssey, we didn’t want to be in its way – and that’s not including the whole marine mammals laws.

The trip from Hat Island back to the river was long and boring. It was downwind, so it was relatively calm even though we still made 3.5 to 4.5 knots over the ground most of the way. Downwind sailing isn’t the most exciting thing, and Dana took advantage of the calm to take a nap. I didn’t even have the VHF to keep me company – most of the charge was gone on the radio so I was saving it for emergencies.

Setting up and tearing down were almost trouble-free. We had a little trouble putting the mast up, one of the stays got stuck under the edge of a portlight and wouldn’t come free. Then once the mast was up it turned out the bolt we normally use to keep the forestay on was missing. We had to set the mast down and dig a replacement out of the cabin.

One the way in we were having trouble getting Odyssey onto the trailer. We needed it to move away from the pier, but every time I kicked the bow out the stern would swing in to the pier, and when Dana kicked the stern out it would pivot the other way. We couldn’t get the boat to move sideways through the water at all – until I realized that I hadn’t retracted the keel into the boat before we tried to put it on the trailer. Once I cranked the keel up we were fine.

The whole day was great, and Dana and I had a good time. I’m looking forward to more “adults only” trips out on the Sound.



Cleaning house

by Chuck August 11, 2009

Looked at my archive page today for the first time in a couple of weeks. There were almost 300 comments on the postings.

Every single one of them blog spam.

I enjoyed the "you need a new wordpress template" for my BlogEngine.NET site. Those were good. But I think my favorites were the ones that said "Beautiful! Amazing!" on posts that said things like "I had the worst day ever"; and the ones that said "you need to improve the look and usability of your site." That's right, encourage me to leave a post that insults me.

Anyway, I disabled comments on the site until I get a blog spam filter. Looks like Commenter is the one to use, so I'll be loading it and enabling it soon. 'Til then, sorry you can't comment. Not that anyone did.



Over the bounding main

by Chuck June 28, 2009

We went for the first sail of the year today. The wind was a little strong, but it was a great day on the water.

Katie and Joey helped me set up the boat, Joey is strong enough (and big enough) to help me lift the mast into position. Between the two of them Dana didn’t have to do anything but walk the dog. On this trip we did a lot more to get the boat ready before we put it in the water – bent on the sails, attached lines, etc. Once we were in we didn’t have to spend a lot of time on the dock getting ready

I had a brief scare when I put the boat into the water – I tried to lower the keel but there was a wrap around the outside of the winch drum and the keel wouldn’t go down. I put Odyssey back on the trailer and tried again to remove the wrap, this time it worked. I backed Odyssey back down the ramp and away we went.

The wind was strong enough that I didn’t put the jib up, we just sailed on the mainsail for the whole day. The kids steered us down the river and took the tiller while I put the sails up, but then I got to be the helmsman for most of the day. Dana would normally have done more, but Duchess wasn’t comfortable on the boat and spent the day on Dana’s lap.

On the way back we sailed up the channel, some of the best sailing of the day. We had a little trouble getting the sail down, there isn’t much room to turn into the wind when you’re in the river, but fortunately the keel got stuck in the bottom so we stopped drifting and I was able to get the sail down.

After I had the sail down I cranked the keel up off the bottom and we motored into the dock. We tore down and headed home.



Load out

by Chuck June 18, 2009

Hauled all the gear out of the barn rafters and loaded it up on Odyssey tonight. Since she's tucked into the barn it went pretty fast, didn't need to walk across the property or anything like that.

Spread the sails out on the front lawn, they're still OK -- not great, the jib is 30 years old after all, but serviceable for the coming year. For some reason the outhaul wasn't attached to the main sail, even though there was a loop still tied in it. Strange, that. I tied the old outhaul back on, but I think I'm going to buy a new one for this season. It's only 3 feet or so long, that shouldn't break the piggy bank.

Only a couple, three more things to do: attach the new anchor chain and rode to the new anchor, mix up some fuel for the outboard, and test the outboard to make sure that it works this year. Won't be sailing this weekend (need to go to Eastern Washington for my brother's 40th birthday party) but maybe the weekend after.



Late spring cleaning

by Chuck June 14, 2009

Trying to get Odyssey ready to go this weekend so I can go sailing next weekend. Usually I try to get ready on Saturday and sail on Sunday. It's usually too much.

I tried to finish the new hatch, but I can't get my epoxy to go off, and I'm about out of ideas. Instead I just bolted all the clean teak on and slid to original hatch down into the slides.

After everything was bolted back together and the dirt was all swept out, I hauled her over to the other side of the place to spend some quality time with a hose and a scrub brush. Earlier this year I heard about a product called "Purple Power" that's supposed to do a good job of cleaning the fiberglass. It does. It didn't get rid of the water and marks and streaks, but it did get the everything else. Dana says it's the cleanest that she's ever seen Odyssey.

I slid her back into the barn at the end of the day, next I need to load the gear aboard, rig my new anchor chain and rode, and re-rig the mast. It's not much more than half a day's work, so I'm betting I actually get out next weekend, weather permitting.



Work home

by Chuck May 28, 2009

Needed to work at home today – Dana is working late and Joey has a playoff baseball game he needs to be at by 4:30. Thankfully, both my manager and my company make it easy for us to work from home when we need to.

It’s pleasant working here in the den. I’ve got room on my desk for two laptops and my big monitor, the fish tank is just over on the other side of the room, there is a cat on my feet under the desk, and I can turn up my music on the stereo.

Without a commute I can start working early (today I was online by 6:30 a.m.) and quit when I get to 8 hours. No distractions, no stops by and talks, and for the most part I can stay in touch with my co-workers through e-mail and IM. Almost like I was at work with the door shut.

Here’s the view out my window – beats looking at Greg’s door across the hall like I do at the office.


Pasture in May



Decked out

by Chuck May 24, 2009

We finished the deck, a whole day ahead of schedule. Every day last week I came home and added 3 or 4 new planks to the deck, so by the time I started Saturday morning I only had half of the 20-foot side to finish up.

On Saturday afternoon Ron and Sue came up, and Ron helped me cut all the planks I needed for the 12-foot side. Dana and I put about half of them on before we gave up Saturday evening. 

On Sunday morning Dana and I finished planking the deck, and then while Dana went to visit her grandmother Katie and I put a facia board around the edges to finish it off. Dana and the kids moved the patio furniture onto the deck, and I hauled the barbecue back around, and Sunday night we ate dinner on the new deck.

I have a tendency to stand in the sliding door and look out at the deck and think: "I did that." 

New Deck



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