Get started developing with some free software from Microsoft

I have delayed continuing to work on FireworX-10 mainly becuase I have lost interest in the platform I originally built it on. I originally built it in Visual Basic 4 and later moved to Visual Basic 5 becuase those were the versions I had available at the time. What keeps me motivated to work on projects such as this is the opportunity to learn something new and VB 4/5/6 didn’t seem to provide that. Additionally, as part of the software development that I do at work, I haven’t had requirements to use VB since the days of VB5 so I don’t have access to the later versions. They have been too expensive to justify solely to continue to work on a freeware project. Together, these issues have kept me strugling for continued interest in the project.

It seems like that has changed. When I was browsing the Microsoft Visual Studio site to look at some .NET stuff, I noticed that the Visual Studio 2005 Express version is being offerred for free until November 6, 2006. I have downloaded and installed the express versions of Visual Basic 2005, Visual C# 2005 and Visual J# 2005.

These express versions seem like they have what is necessary to build a simple application such as FireworX-10. I rewrote the sample code I provide on this site in Visual Basic 2005 and it seems to work fine. I tried Visual J# but I think it suffers from the sample problems as traditional Java development; the threading model is too flexible and does provide the strict timing control that sending signals to the serial port requires. I am going to start looking into C#.

So, if you have been thinking about getting started with development on a small project or want to learn more about the latest MS tools, check out the free Express versions of the Visual Studio products.

Got a mid-winter Mustang “fix” with a rental

I just got back from Florida where I had the opportunity to rent and drive a 2006 Mustang. It was nice to get behind the wheel of a Mustang during the usual time of year when I don’t get to drive anything fun. Well, alright, 4wd in the snow when no one else is around can be fun.

Renal carI had reserved a convertible Mustang (or similar) through Budget. When I got there, all they had for convertibles was the Chrysler Sebring. I have nothing against that car but there was no way I was going to be happy with it when I had been expecting a Mustang. The guy at the counter searched to see if he could find one but came back and said it was either the Sebring or he could get me a hardtop Mustang for cheaper. I went with the hardtop. The going rate for it was more than what I had reserved the convertible for so he gave it to me for to the compact car rate. It was a pretty good deal!

Overall, I didn’t do a whole lot of driving but I think I spent enough time with it to determine that it’s a really great car and I wouldn’t mind having one. I enjoyed it alot and the V6 had plenty of pep. I drove it around the Orlando area so there were few opportunities to really get on it. Maybe in a couple years when I’m ready to get a new car, I’ll seriously consider one as a daily driver. The V6 might be OK in that regard as long as I have my V8 convertible.

My current home automation setup

My home automation setup has evolved since I started about 5 years. It did not happen overnight. At the beginning, I had a vision of what it could become and I am now feeling that I am close to achieving that vision. My vision was centralization. Instead of having various bits of home automation equipment spread throughout the house I wanted everything in one location. Perhaps that came from my experience in the corporate environment relative to telecommunications. Early in my career I spent time designing telecom. rooms.

One of my main governing principles was to keep the cost down. Since this falls in the category of non-essential spending (or at least that’s what my wife thinks) I could not go out and spend thousands on the ultimate solution. So, what you’ll see are sometimes creative ways to get the project done.


A cabinet was key to my centralization approach so it came early on. Also, it was the first area where I decided that costs could be controlled. I looked at some of the commercially available cabinets but they seemed not as flexible as I would like and locked you into a certain line of add-ons as well as being expensive (usually $100 +). So, I built my own from materials I had left over from various home improvement projects. My cabinet is made primarily from 3/4″ plywood. It has enough space for all my gear.

Communication cabinet front
Communication cabinet front
(note schematic for original plan taped to back)

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Looking forward: A “Mustanger” in the making

Last year, I wrote an entry titled “Looking back” in which I talked about my first Mustang. Now it’s time to write the companion entry.

Color comparison of seatsI’m pretty paranoid about protecting the interior of my car from further wear. Conflicting with that is a growing desire to share the Mustang experience with my young son. I haven’t approached this lightly. In early 2005 I started preparing for his first ride. I was mainly concerned about the impact of a car seat strapped to my nice leather rear seat. It is 12 years old and I worry about the durability of it. The solution came to me while I had the rear seat out to fix my top mechanism. I decided to get a second rear seat to use with the car seat and not be concerned about what might happen to it.

I monitored ebay for a while and finally settled on and acquired a white leather rear seat from a 1990 Limited Edition convertible. It is in really nice condition. The only thing is that the color of it is slightly different from my original one. The white has a more yellow tinge to it while my original looks gray in comparison. In the picture, my original is on the left. I gave it a good cleaning and installed it in the car. It looks pretty good and the color difference is not that noticeable. It will be sufficient even when I show the car.

Little MustangerIn the summer of 2005, we celebrated the little guy’s 1st birthday. What better way to celebrate it than with his first “pony ride” so we took him out in the Mustang. I can’t say that he really enjoyed it. The wind was a bit much for him since the best way to install the seat was in a forward facing configuration given the small amount of space in the rear. At very low parking lot speed he seemed to find it least irritating. At higher speeds he just kept looking to one side or the other since looking forward was too windy.

Enjoying the toy MustangSince his first ride he has been back in the Mustang once. The second time was with the top up. Since then he has also developed an obsession with cars. It was one of his first words and continues to be used regularly by him. All of his favorite toys are cars especially an electronic Mustang that his grandfather gave him. It is an ’05 Mustang that goes in forward and reverse and makes a variety of sounds. He even carries it around with him. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. Like father like son.