Posts in category 'hacking'

  • Taking Control of Chat

    Documenting my absurd journey to bridging an IRC client to a bunch of messaging services. Totally nuts and totally worth it. #selfhosting #hacking #technology

    IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, is unquestionably the progenitor of modern online chat systems. IRC preceded instant messaging platforms like ICQ or AOL Instant Messenger, and in doing so connected people in real-time in a way that would lay the groundwork, not for just those instant messaging platforms that would follow, but for modern social media platforms as we know them today. And today, while certainly diminished, IRC still plays an important role in connected communities of people, particularly in the IT space.

    But IRC isn’t without its flaws, and those flaws created openings for many competitors:

    1. Chatting is ephemeral. If you’re not connected there’s no way to receive messages that were sent while you were away.
    2. Text-based. No images or giphy animations here, and file sharing is direct, client-to-client only.
    3. The mobile story in general, and notifications in particular, are weak.

    Now, the IRC community has worked hard to address the first problem with bouncers and changes to the IRC protocol (I’ll dig into this later).

    Issue two… well, bluntly, I actually view that as a benefit rather than a drawback, but obviously that’s a matter of personal taste.

    As for issue three, it’s still true that the mobile story isn’t great, though there is slow steady progress (Android now boasts a few pretty decent mobile IRC clients).

    But IRC also has some enormous benefits:

    1. It’s open and federated. Running a server yourself is trivial.
    2. Clients are heavily customizable for power users.
    3. It’s fast and lightweight.

    And these various other products (like Slack, Signal, etc) have some mirror image drawbacks:

    1. Closed walled gardens.
    2. Zero ability to customize.
    3. Heavy, memory- and CPU-intensive clients.

    And then there is the fragmentation. My god the fragmentation. Every app is its own beast, with its own UX quirks, performance issues, bugs, and so on. Even the way they issue notifications varies from product to product. And some (I’m looking at you, Whatsapp) don’t offer a desktop client product at all.

    I spend every day working with these messaging products, and I wanted to find out: Is there some way I could use an IRC client of my choice to interact with these various walled gardens (recognizing that, yes, that would come with some loss of functionality)?

    Well, with a lot of hacking and elbow grease, I can definitely say the answer is yes! Though… this is, as is the case with many of my projects these days, probably not for the faint of heart…

    Continue reading...
  • Astronomy Hacks

    Tonight I decided to get my Red Green on and hack together a really crappy camera mount for my telescope! It’s made from various pieces of vacuum tubing (which happens to be 2” in diameter, the same diameter of the eyepiece holder on my scope), some hardboard, and much tape (unfortunately not the duct variety… yes, I am ashamed. I had to settle for electrical). The end result was this thing:

    Camera Mount

    Yes, it’s as hackish as it looks. The idea is that it sorta fits over the eyepiece holder and has a separate sliding component which allows the mount to adjust for the camera lens position, differing eyepiece lengths, etc.

    So, with it, I decided to take another crack at lunar photography. I captured the following image with my wide-field 25mm eyepiece (for about 60x magnification) (in this image, north is to the left):

    I’ve sharpened the image to adjust for some atmospheric turbulence and poor focusing on my part. In addition, there appears to be some blurring toward the left edge of the image which is probably a result of the camera not being evenly positioned against the eyepiece.

    After staring at a Lunar Map for quite a while, I managed to identify some of the more interesting features. Among them, toward the right edge of the image you can see the famous crater Tycho (it appears smaller than some of the others, but has a prominent central protrusion). This particular crater is the epicenter of a set of lunar rays which, while not incredibly prominent in this image, are visible.