Friday, June 29, 2012

Snicker No More

Lazy Post #679: I haven't spoken about this in awhile, but the GameCube Portable project lives on - albeit at a slower pace. Here's why:

It was done. We shoved its guts into place and screwed the case together. I tell you, it was done. Aside from a few clumsy bits of ergonomics, it all seemed to be working.

But we found a problem we had never encountered before.

After a few minutes of playtime, the controls - all the buttons, triggers, and sticks - just seemed to lock up. The game would continue to play, the audio and video continued unabated, but the controls would no longer respond. Why hadn't we noticed this before?

The problem seemed to be related to the type of game being played and the amount of screen rendering being done. For the Zelda game we had used for all our testing, the demands on graphics rendering are pretty light. To re-create the problem, we would have to get Link to run around constantly for at least 5 minutes. But for more demanding graphics (we tested with a Goddamn Tony Hawk skateboarding game), we could get the controls to lock up after only a minute or so of frantic Ollies and other skateboard trickery.

Based on these tests, I thought the issue might be heat related - e.g. the graphics processor heating up fast without adequate cooling. We'd seen this before in our early prototyping, although the result was always the GameCube turning off the video display outright. Never had the controls appeared to lock up. Nevertheless, I started disassembling and blowing more fans on the electronics, but no luck in resolving the control problem.

Since it doesn't seem to be heat related, then there's something amiss in the hardware. I'm not smart enough to figure out what the exact the problem might be, and neither are any of the Internet Beings we know who hobby in this world. So the next step is going to be brute force: swapping out old parts for new parts until the problem is resolved or I lose my grip on sanity and send the whole thing rocketing into a concrete wall. That would feel sweet - for about 10 seconds.

I hope it's the former.

I know it's the former.

Stay tuned, I guess.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Frogs. It Had To Be Frogs.

We've been losing sleep at my house. Literally - and all because of the frogs. Scientists have been saying for years that global frog populations are in decline, but I'd like to invite those scientists to hang out in my backyard for an evening and see if they don't revise their numbers.

Several years ago we built a backyard pond. It's nothing super fancy - a 10' by 12' oval with a rocky waterfall on one side. Over the years we've added lots of foliage along its banks and a stone sitting area on one side. It's deep enough that we can keep a few fish living under the lilies and hyacinth that cover most of the pond's surface in the Summer. It has become our little oasis - a place to enjoy a beverage and read a book while relaxing in a Muskoka chair.

So here's what we learned a few months after filling the pond: Frogs will find water. We don't know where they come from. Maybe they use airborne reconnaissance. Maybe they use magic. We just don't know. All we do know is that we had some frogs move in and we thought that was pretty cool.

Every Spring since then has included 2 or 3 frogs taking up residence beside the fish. They eat bugs and provide a certain ambiance to the whole pond experience. We like the frogs and it's reasonable to believe the frogs like us - at least for our small oasis. This year has been different.

Maybe it was the mild Winter or perhaps it was our very early Spring, but our frog population exploded. Where we might expect a handful of quiet Kermits, we had triple our usual number. And they are decidedly not quiet. For the past few months our frogs have put on a nightly concert - a chorus of frog-calls loud enough to interrupt our sleep, even through closed windows.

We've just put up with the noise figuring they would quiet down once they've found mates or marked out territory or whatever it is that drives frogs to spend every night yelling - a green clenched fist shaking at the sky (I just made up that last part). After all, it's just Nature, so who are we to complain?

Well it turns out that some of our neighbours are less at peace with Nature. Saturday morning there was a knock at the door. One of neighbours was not enjoying the nightly frog concert. It fact, it was Those Neighbours - the ones everybody has on their street. They're the neighbours that never offer up so much as a "hello', but will always let you know when they're pissed about something.

In this instance, they had a point: The frogs have been damn loud. And since they asked nicely that we look into the matter, I felt like I had to do something. So the plan was to cull the herd. We'd trap as many frogs as we could and relocate them to a nearby marsh. It would not be easy.

For a few hours on Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning, and again Sunday evening, we went hunting. Our 'system' involved my wife acting as spotter while I hopped(?) around the pond with a net on a wooden pole. I would quietly dip my net behind a frog and use a bit of a wrist-shot to either snare it or at least flick it onto the lawn. At that point it would be free-for-all trying to catch the slimy bastard, get it into a bucket, and get a lid on the bucket before it launched itself back into the pond.

We looked and sounded foolish. This I know. Frogs are wily, driven creatures and it would often take us more than one or two tries to catch and keep one. We shouted, we jumped, we swore - but the weekend tally stands at 11 captured and relocated amphibians. One or two remain in the pond, but things are a lot quieter so far. We'll give it a few nights and see if our mission is fully accomplished.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep looking over my shoulder, lest I end up like Ray Milland.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bambi Makes Some Friends

A few weeks back I was lucky(?) enough to spend most of a weekend not chaperoning the goings-on in our local Gomorrah. Sunday night, however, delivered a different brand of karma. Like all good stories, this one needs to start at the beginning.

Somewhere around the dinner hour, my cell rang. It was Sean, good friend to animals of both the two-legged and four-legged varieties. His Mom had spotted a young deer in her front yard and no Mama Deer was around. Sean remembered that my daughter volunteered at a the Salthaven wildlife rehab center and was looking for some advice on what needed to be done, if anything.

After a call to Salthaven, the advice was to leave Baby Deer where it was since Mama would likely show up by nightfall - this was normal deer stuff. If that didn't happen, we'd go to Plan B. Of course, nightfall came and my cell rang once more. Mama has not shown up to collect Baby. After some further calls, Plan B was that we should collect up the deer and bring into Salthaven for a look-see.

We had a mission! My daughter, my son, and I piled into our SUV and went to collect Sean. Then it was a short drive outside the city to his Mom's place where we would find Baby Deer nestled in some tall grass beside a rural road. While we expected to find a juvenile deer, this one was very small. My daughter figured Baby was less than two weeks old - the size of a small dog with very long legs.

Baby was not afraid of people and much too small to ride safely in the back of the SUV. We scooped it up in a blanket so that my daughter could hold it on her lap for the ride out to nearby Salthaven. The head of the rehab center, Brian Salt, met us in the laneway and performed in a sort-of physical on the deer, all the while educating us on how to determine the health of a deer (maybe that will come in handy someday).

A deer, an SUV, and an ugly old blanket.

The prognosis: Baby Deer was in in fine shape. It was strong and it had been fed recently. We learned that Mama Deer will often hide her baby and then leave it be for hours at a stretch - a tactic common in the first two weeks of a deer's life. The idea here is that Mama, being larger and more visible, can easily attract predators. By staying away from Baby Deer, she can outrun predators without endangering her offspring.

The Boy and a temprary pet.

We were encouraged to return Baby Deer since Mama would come looking again. As long as we put it somewhere within 100 yards of where we found it, things would work out okay. So it was back into the SUV for the five of us and back to the quiet country road where we started. Sean had the idea that we should put Baby further away from the road. Grabbing a flashlight, he led us through a farmer's field toward a nearby woodlot.

The Girl swears this is not a puppy, but still...

It was a little bit surreal - tromping single-file through field stubble late on a Sunday night with our new four-legged friend wrapped in a blanket. We found a good spot for Baby Deer, and watched as it explored the undergrowth until it found a reasonable bed of leaves for the night. After updates for Sean's Mom, we drove back into the city hoping that Mama Deer would do her job.

There were no further sightings of deer the next day. We took that as a good sign even though we all wondered whether Baby and Mama were okay. Nature would take its course - it always does. But I think we all felt a bit priviledged to give Nature a little shove in the right direction.