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Ubuntu 14.04LTS

Posted: April 23, 2014 in Tech | Add Comment

As I've no doubt mentioned at least a hundred times by now, I've been using Ubuntu Linux as my primary OS since sometime in 2006.  I've gone through some ups and some downs with it, and have tried a few other distros (Mint for one) but somehow I keep coming back to the good old "U".

One hurdle that many Ubuntu users have is dealing with a desktop manager.  Ubuntu jumped on the Unity train a few years back, and it's pretty much gone over like the Netflix streaming/DVD split.  I've bounced around between desktops (Gnome3, Cinnamon, Mate) but Unity seems to be where all the development effort is focused, so I decided to give it a shot back in 12.10.

And 12.10 is where I've been stuck until now.  The geniuses at Canonical decided to depricate the systray while hundreds of apps still used it.  The result?  No tray icons for anything (chat, IM, music players, etc) rendering them all pretty much useless.  In 12.01 you could sort of bring back the tray, so my feet stayed firmly planted there.

Until now.

The beta of 14.04 started getting really good reviews.  Lots of bugs are fixed, and the look and feel has improved.  Most of the apps that used the tray now have indicators (most, not all) so that was good news.  It's also a LTS release, so I figured it would be a good one to try.  So far I was right.

"Trusty Tahr" as it's called has been pretty smooth since my install last weekend.  Indeed I have indicators, and a lot of annoyances were fixed.  I still have a few niggling problems (a shadow on my conky system monitor) and some designed-in bugs (window controls stuck on the left in a mac-like stupor) that are being rammed down our throats (I thought this was Linux?) but hopefully the former will be solved and if the latter isn't, I suppose I'll have to get used to it.

It seems more stable than my 12.10 install (I was always getting "Ubuntu has encountered an error" popup) and so far everything works.  The look and feel of the desktop is noticably slicker (I'm running the Numix theme with Moka icons), and the Nvidia video drivers installed without a hitch for the first time ever.  Ok, there was a hitch with the plymouth boot screen, but it took 3 minutes to fix.

So far so good.

Some new additions to the stable

Posted: April 19, 2014 in Slotcars | Add Comment

I've picked up a few new cars since last update.  Some of them are because I have classes to run them in, and some are because I just really like the car.

The McLaren M8D is an example of the latter.

McLaren M8D

I originally wanted to convert this car to an anglewinder and slap a Flat 6 RS into it for our unlimited class, but it can't be anglewound, so it has to stay as a sidewinder.  I might swap out the rear wheels/tires and try a better motor, but if not it's just a really nice car to look at.

Next is a BMW M1 by "Sideways by Racer", for our FIA Group 5 class.  This car has parts and is REALLY well balanced.  It just laps the track like a bandit with no complaints at all.  I swapped the stock motor pod out for a hard model to control the torque of the Flat 6 motor, and threw NSR rubber out back, but those are the only mods really.

Racer Sideways BMW M1

Racer Sideways BMW M1

Finally we have a Nissan R390 by  I LOVE the way these cars look, and have always wanted one.  I immediately converted this to an anglewinder with a Flat 6 S, but I'm having some tire clearance issues on the drive side.  Once that's solved (probably by wheels with shorter hubs) this thing should really hook up. Nissan R390

It'll need new rubber out back and some tuning of course, but the car is so low and flat it seems like it can only be fast.  We have a modern Lemans class that I can run it in, but currently I'm running my Audi R8C, into which I've just swapped a 25k S can motor, tweaked the gearing, and ditched the urethane tires for NSR rubber.  How fast that goes will determine how much work goes into the Nissan.

Doing my own livery

Posted: March 11, 2014 in Slotcars | Add Comment

The slotcar group I race with has been a fun bunch of people.  We race approximately twice a month, and always on a wood track with no magnets (which is why I'm thinking about building one).  One of the classes we run is late 60s/early 70's Trans Am cars.  Eligible care are Scalextric 67-73 Mustangs, Camaros, Dodge Challengers, and if Scalextric ever makes an AMC Javelin (do I even need to finish this sentence?).

Due to the dimensions of the actual cars, and the center of gravity of a slot car, you basically get your ass kicked if you're not driving a 70-73 Camaro in this class.  Unfortunately, there are only a handful liveries for this car, and only a few decent looking ones.  So, you can easily find yourself on a 3 or 4 lane track racing your clones.

I decided that I'm easily confused enough as it is without trying to figure out which car on the track is mine, so I decided to grab an all-white kit and do my own livery.  I chose Chevy Hugger Orange, and went with a flat black hood.  It took me some experimentation with the paint and paint can temperatures, but the result is so far pretty good.



I still plan to paint the rollcage silver, and I might try painting the driver's helmet or something, but for now I think it looks pretty good.  I went with a 21.5k orange endbell motor, which is the max allowed by the rules, and Paul Gage tires.  It hooks up pretty well, but I think the tires offer a little too much grip on wood, so I might try going back to rubber.

Time for a wood track?

Posted: February 14, 2014 in Slotcars | Add Comment

When I got into slot cars, I built a 2-lane plastic track for test and tune purposes (yes, you can tune slot cars).  While a fun layout (see previous blog entry), it had its limitations.  First off, racing only two cars at a time isn't much fun, and it's not enough lanes to host races.  Second, I used Scalextric Sport track, which is notoriously dodgy in the connectivity department.

But now there is another drawback.  Lately I've been racing with a club that races on routed wood tracks with no magnets.  This is a total BLAST, but now my home track is not only useless for tuning (wood and plastic are very different animals), some of my wood-tuned cars won't even run on my track.

So... I'm considering selling my current layout and building my own wood track, either 3 or 4 lanes.  I don't have a lot of space, but I still might be able to host races (which is fun!) and at the very least I'd be able to tune cars.  It'll be a fun project, and the guys in the racing club have offered to help me, so it shouldn't be too daunting a task.  I'll post pics of my progress.  Work should start once the weather warms up!

Getting active again

Posted: January 12, 2014 in Misc | Add Comment

Every year I end the summer in decent shape, and then the holidays come and I eat too much, move too little, and in the springtime I have 10-15 lbs to lose and I've lost most of my cardio.  I get on the bike and I feel like a slug.  It sucks, but it's the same every year.  You think I'd learn.

This time around I have another plan.  A few months ago I picked up a home gym machine on Craigslist for a song, and got it set up in the basement.  I've been at it between 3 and 5 times a week, so hopefully I'll be able to at least neutralize the weight gain between now and spring, or at least maintain some sort of physical conditioning.

It's a decent machine, and I can do 95% of what I used to do at the gym, so I have no excuse.  I can even get Pandora playing on the TV in the next room for some music.

The hard part will be getting the junk food out of my diet, which I've resolved to do, but I really like to eat, and I REALLY like anything that's chocolate, so I have my work cut out for me.  Maybe if I could translate a chocolate cookie into a number of reps I'd me more successful.  Or maybe I'd just never leave the basement. :P

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This is like deja vu all over again.

- Yogi Berra

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