Monthly Archives: February 2007

Decoding MDC Data

Many towns, counties and states still using analog based radio communications systems for public safety use Motorola MDC systems which emit a short “chirp” at the beginning or end of a radio transmission. If this is the case in your area you might be interested in the open source WinMDCD software. This software allows you to decode that chirp with a Windows based PC and see data such as date, time, unit ID or whatever else they’re transmitting. Note that if you’re interested in Motorola radio technology a great resource is BatLabs, in particular the BatBoard which has a great number of people who are extremely knowledgeable about Motorola radios.

I only wish I could have a room like this

Someone recently shared a link to this flickr collection where someone is showing off their basement Macintosh collection. I too have a basement vintage Macintosh collection but mine resides mostly on shelves and only gets pulled out for special occasions. I only wish that I had room and time to create as neat a display as this person has.

Finding publicly accessible journals online

As the internet continues to shake up the academic community more and more scholarly and scientific journals and associations are discovering their mission is best met through open and unrestricted access to information. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) aims to provide a searchable database of publicly accessible journals in order to promote the increased usage and importance of open access journals. In order to be included in the directory the journal must allow users to “read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts” of articles. It’s important to recognize that the journal not only provide free access but that it be open to the distribution of articles. This is especially important for instructors who want to utilize journal articles in the classroom and which sometimes have to jump thorugh any number of hoops to do so.

Open Source MATLAB Replacements

Many engineers, scientists and engineering students are familiar with the MATLAB product which is used for complex mathematics and mathematical modeling. I recently came across two open source (and free) alternatives. Octave was originally written as a companion to a chemistry textbook being written by professors from the University of Wisconsin and the University of Texas and has grown from there. Octave is available for a wide variety of systems from OS/2 to Windows, Macintosh and Linux.

Another option is SciLab. SciLab is about the same age as Octave but is clearly managed by a consortium and seems especially popular in European countires. Similarly, it is available for many systems such as Windows, Linux and Macintosh.

Multi-booting your Intel Mac without Bootcamp

I recently came across an anonymous Slashdot posting which claims you can multi-boot an Intel based Macintosh without the Apple provided Bootcamp software. The original posting is poorly written so I’ve paraphrased it here, note that more information is also available on this page.

Bootcamp does a few things for you:

  • It provides a GUI for the DiskUtil online partition resizer though the GUI is limited and supports fewer partition types than the command line based DiskUtil which can be used without Bootcamp in OS X 10.4.6.
  • It contains a graphical bootloader for selecting OS X or Windows upon boot, but other bootloaders are available.
  • It contains a diskimage with Windows drivers for the Apple hardware, but these drivers can be extracted without installing the Bootcamp software.

Because the Intel Macintosh platform uses EFI instead of a BIOS you need firmware on your Macintosh which supports BIOS emulation. All of the recent Macintosh firmwares do and simply updating your firmware to the latest version will add this capability.

The most critical compnent of a multi-boot Intel Macintosh system is the bootloader. Luckily an open source third party bootloader, which is much more configurable than the one provided in Bootcamp, is available. The rEFIt project provides a graphical boot menu and maintenance toolkit allowing you to create triple-boot scenarios such as OS X, Windows and Linux.

I’m quite impressed by rEFIt and would actually be interested in seeing this work and potentially using it on other EFI based systems.

DIY Rapid Prototyper

Those familiar with rapid prototyping (essentially 3D printers for computers) know that both machines and supplies can be extremely expensive. Now a group known as Fab@Home has published instructions and software for building your own rapid prototyping machine. The machine they propose is certainly not as durable or precise as the commercial offerings, but at a fraction of the cost it may serve your needs just fine. If all you’re looking to do is a bit fo experimentation or introducing students to what a rapid prototyper can do a less expensive system such as this might be all you need. NewScientistTech also has a story on the Fab@Home project.