Building your own Annoy-a-tron with an ATtiny85

The annoy-a-tron is a little device that makes a small beep every X minutes. If you hide it well enough in a co-worker’s cube, it will drive him/her insane and will do almost anything to find it.

The annoy-a-tron is currently out of stock at ThinkGeek and I really wanted to prank someone at the office with it. So I did some research and decided to build one.

I decided to go with the ATtiny85 because I enjoy coding more than I do soldering. Instead of buying a 555 timer chip with resistors, capacitors, etc. like they are doing here, I just need to program the chip, wire up a battery and a speaker. I chose the ATtiny85 over the Arduino hardware because the ATtiny is cheaper and draws less power.

The final product looks like this:


And the software I put together makes a beep of customizeable tone frequency and length at random time intervals.

These are the parts you need to build the circuit:

The ATtiny85 is cheaper if you buy it in bigger quantities, I regret not buying more just so I can have different programs (different random intervals, tone, and tone length) loaded on the chips ready to go. SparkFun doesn’t have the best prices so look around if you will buy in bulk. I trust SparkFun and that’s why I bought most things there though.

You need a programming board to program the ATtiny85. I chose the Tiny AVS Programmer instead of the official one because I wanted to try out the Arduino IDE. To set up the IDE with the programmer, just follow the programmer’s hookup guide.

The Circuit:

The circuit is very straight forward. You just wire:

  • The positive end of the battery holder to the positive pin on the ATtiny85 (the solder tail).
  • The negative end of the battery holder to:
    • The negative pin on the ATtiny85
    • The negative pin on the piezo speaker
  • The chosen out pin (I chose pin 1) of the ATtiny85 to the positive end of the piezo speaker.


The Program:

I used the Arduino IDE (set up with the Tiny AVR Programmer Hookup guide) to program the ATtiny85.

Click this link to get the source code of program I loaded on the ATtiny85.

The program was deeply inspired by TinyTone to generate the tones and millionOhms to preserve power by getting the ATtiny85 to go to sleep.

I found that testing the program out takes a long time since you have to actually wait and see how the chip behaves. The program works like I want it to but I still have some questions that I’d like to ask an Arduino IDE (c++) expert or need a good amount of time to test out:

  • are the #include statements optional?
  • are the #define statements actually setting a variable or are they optional?

Testing those things would take time since removing them might not make compilation break but it might make the ATtiny85 not go to sleep properly and use more battery than expected. So I would have to see how long the battery lasts to really know if it is sleeping properly or measure the current being used by the ATtiny85 with an ampmeter.

Well, I hope you have fun with the ATtiny85! I’ve tried it with a couple of beta victims and I’m ready for a real one tomorrow.

git push hangs when windows git client pushes to TeamFoundation Git Server

Look at the bottom of this blog post for the solution to this issue.

I’m using the regular Windows git client (1.9.5.msysgit.1 downloaded from to push a repository with a 46KB file to a remote repository that is a Team Foundation Server Git repository.

When I do “git push” the console hangs for about 5 minutes (sometimes more) and then gives me a 401 error:

$ ls -la
total 29
drwxr-xr-x 4 pliska Administ 4096 Jun 22 14:02 .
drwxr-xr-x 13 pliska Administ 4096 Jun 19 11:40 ..
drwxr-xr-x 12 pliska Administ 4096 Jun 22 14:03 .git
-rw-r--r-- 1 pliska Administ 46157 Nov 19 2014 46KB.vsix

$ git push origin master -f
Counting objects: 3, done.
Delta compression using up to 8 threads.
Compressing objects: 100% (2/2), done.
Writing objects: 100% (3/3), 45.01 KiB | 0 bytes/s, done.
Total 3 (delta 0), reused 0 (delta 0)

The console hangs here for at least 5 minutes, after which I get these new lines:

error: RPC failed; result=7, HTTP code = 401
fatal: The remote end hung up unexpectedly
Everything up-to-date

I know my credentials are correct. When I enter wrong credentials I get an immediate error and don’t even see the first line from git push (the “Counting Objects” line).

I have been able to get this to work when

  1. (smaller file) The only file in the repo is 20KB in size, OR
  2. (use MS client and server) Instead of using the regular git client (1.9.5.msysgit.1), I use Visual Studio 2013, OR
  3. (use non-MS client and server) I push to a github remote (like this one).

From the three facts above. I’m thinking some of these things might be the cause of the issue:

  1. The TFS server does not like how the msysgit client sends the credentials. (But then why does it work fine for smaller files?)
  2. TFS does an extra credentials check for large files
  3. The TFS server has a setting that is not allowing large pushes into it. (But then why does it return a 401 error?)

After I commented on this Microsoft blog, Saeed from Microsoft suggested I use fiddler to see what is going on at the network level. I’m seeing the following:


We’re still not sure what this means, I need to research further. Saeed mentioned he has seen this when there is a misconfigured load balancer or proxy in the network, but my TFS server is not behind any of those. I’ll see if I can remote into the box and push directly to the local server just to see what happens.

I’ve googled this issue quite a bit and from this post’s suggestion, I ran the following command: git config http.postBuffer 524288000. Did this not fix it.

This page suggested this command: git config –global sendpack.sideband false . It also had a hex editor hack, I tried both with no success.


The latest stable git client that you currently get from is version 1.9.5 and is three months old. If you use the current release candidate version (you can download it here), things work fine.

I didn’t know this build existed, I don’t think a link exists to it from . Saeed pointed me in the right direction. Thank you very much Saeed! You were incredibly helpful!

Setting up ninject 3.2 on a WCF service

This is a step by step guide on how to create a WCF Service using Ninject to resolve (inject) its dependencies.

We start from scratch by creating a New C# WCF Service Project and end with an example of the service being instantiated with its dependencies resolved by Ninject. The code that resulted from this guide can be found here.

1. Create the WCF service project


2. Run Install-Package Ninject.Web.Common.WebHost from the package manager console.

  1. Make sure that you are using NuGet 1.6 or higher. Using an older version will result in missing references.
  2. Figured out this step after reading this.

3. Run Install-Package Ninject.Extensions.Wcf

  1. Figured this step out by looking at the Ninject examples on github

4. Teak your svc’s markup so the ServiceHost element has this attribute: Factory=”Ninject.Extensions.Wcf.NinjectServiceHostFactory”

<%@ ServiceHost
     Factory="Ninject.Extensions.Wcf.NinjectServiceHostFactory" %>

You’re all done!

To see it in action, let’s create something to inject:

public class Repository : IRepository
    public IEnumerable<Widget> GetWidgets()
        return new [] {
            new Widget {Name = "Widget1", Price=11},
            new Widget {Name = "Widget2", Price=22}
public interface IRepository
    IEnumerable<Widget> GetWidgets();
public class Widget
    public string Name { get; set; }
    public decimal Price { get; set; }

We now need to add the Ninject binding in App_Start\NinjectWebCommon.cs. This file was generated when you installed the Ninject.Web.Common.WebHost NuGet package. At the bottom of the file you’ll find the RegisterServices method, add the binding there:

private static void RegisterServices(IKernel kernel)

Let’s make Service1 (automatically generated when you created the new WCF Service project) use the Repository:

public class Service1 : IService1
    private IRepository _repo;
    public Service1(IRepository repo)
        _repo = repo;
    public string TellMeHowManyWidgets()
        return string.Format(
            "We have {0} widgets.", _repo.GetWidgets().Count());

Remember to add the new method to the service interface as well:

public interface IService1
    string TellMeHowManyWidgets();

We’re finally ready to see this working. Select the Service1.svc file on the Solution Explorer and hit F5, this will make the WCF Test Client appear. Double click the TellMeHowManyWidgets method and hit the Invoke button.


There it is! Our service replied with “We have 2 widgets”. This proves that the IRepository dependency was fulfilled by Ninject with a Repository object.

“Highlight all occurrences of selected word” extension on Visual Studio 2013

I love the Highlight all occurrences of selected word Visual Sutdio 2012 extension. But yeah, it does not run on Visual Studio 2013… unless you tweak it.

Download the tweaked version here.

Or if you want to tweak it yourself, follow these instructions:

  1. Download the extension from the official site. You will get a SelectionHighlight.vsix file.
  2. Rename SelectionHighlight.vsix to
  3. Extract the zip file
  4. Open the extension.vsixmanifest file in a text editor
  5. Edit <VisualStudio Version=”11.0″> to <VisualStudio Version=”12.0″>. Save the file.
  6. Select all the extracted files including your edited one (they are around 6). Zip the files.
  7. Rename the resulting *.zip file to *.vsix.
  8. Double click the .vsix file to install the tweaked extension.



Validating AD credentials when the user’s password “must be changed at next logon” using C#

We have several AD controllers in our setup. On controllers running Windows Server 2008 R2, this is not an issue. But if your code is hitting AD controllers running Windows server 2003, the PrincipalContext.ValidateCredentials method will always return false on users that have the “user must change password at next logon” checkbox checked; even if the username and password combination is valid.

The code below is a workaround for the Windows 2003 servers. It pretty much unchecks the checkbox, then validates the credentials, and then re-checks the checkbox.

var adContext = new PrincipalContext(ContextType.Domain, adLocation, adContainer, adAdminUsername, adAdminPassword);

var initialValidation = adContext.ValidateCredentials(username, password);
Console.WriteLine("Initial validation returned: " + initialValidation);

if (!initialValidation)
    // maybe validation failed because "user must change password at next logon".
    // let's see if that is the case.

    var user = UserPrincipal.FindByIdentity(adContext, username);
    if (user.LastPasswordSet == null)
        // the user must change his password at next logon. So this might be
        // why validation returned false

        // uncheck the "change password" checkbox and attempt validation again

        var deUser = user.GetUnderlyingObject() as DirectoryEntry;
        var property = deUser.Properties["pwdLastSet"];
        property.Value = -1;

        // property was unset, retry validation
        adContext.ValidateCredentials(username, password);
        Console.WriteLine("Secondary validation returned: " + adContext.ValidateCredentials(username, password));

        // re check the checkbox
        property.Value = 0;

Unlocking your Verizon phone

I currently own a Verizon HTC Incredible 2 cell phone.

I’m happy with Verizon (they’re the only ones that have good signal inside my house). But when I go outside the USA (I go to Guatemala often), I want to be able to switch the SIM card to one that works with a local mobile service providers. Otherwise I would have to use roaming with Verizon and that is ridiculously expensive.

I gave Verizon a call and they quickly gave me the  “unlock” code for me to enter in my phone. After entering the code, the phone was immediately unlocked! They only made me agree to a very obvious agreement that if I stick another SIM card in there I acknowledged that I was no longer using the Verizon service and Verizon could would not support me while I had that third party SIM card in my phone. But if I then switched back to my Verizon SIM card and ran my phone in CDMA (or Global) mode, I would be supported again.

And one more thing, Verizon uses CDMA. SIM cards are used for GSM. So I tried removing my Verizon SIM card from my phone and I was still able to get Verizon service. Nice to know.

I then stuck a SIM card from a friend that uses T-mobile and switched my Incredible’s mode to GSM, I could make and receive calls as him. Very cool.

SQL query results into Excel

It is easy to pull data from a MS SQL table or view into excel, the UI is very straight forward for that. But that is not the case when you want a custom sql query to be the one pulling data from the database. 

To do this in Excel 2010, you need to first set up the connection to the database and then set up the query:

Setting up the connection





This is where you set the server location, login, AND the database you want to query:


Leave the default table empty:


Double click your newly created data source


Building the Query

The screenshot below pops up automatically when you double click the data source (see screenshot above). We don’t want to add any tables:


We want to use our hand written SQL:


Enter your SQL:


Chances are you’ll run into this, hit ok


Your query has been built, hit the exit button:


Tell Excel where to put the data from your query:


You’re done!

You can now right click on any cell that has data from your query and hit Refresh when you want Excel to pull fresh data from the database:


LINQ query to CSV

The C# code below generates a CSV (comma separated value) string with the header row and data obtained from a LINQ query.

For example: A query like this:

dc.Users.Select(u => new
    user_id = u.UserId,
    username= u.Username,
    first_name = u.FirstName,
    last_name = u.LastName,
    creation_date = u.CreationDate

Would result in a CSV string like this one:


And now to the code:

var users = dc.Users.Select(u => new
    user_id = u.UserId,
    username = u.Username,
    first_name = u.FirstName,
    last_name = u.LastName,
    creation_date = u.CreationDate

var usersCsv = GenerateCsv(users);

And make sure the following methods are delcared:

/// <summary>
/// This method generates CSV data out an array of anything. The array
/// elements could be of anonymous type
/// </summary>
private string GenerateCsv(Array items)

    var rowType = items.GetType().GetElementType();
    var colNames = rowType.GetProperties().Select(p => p.Name).ToArray();

    // create the header row
    var retVal = new StringBuilder();
    retVal.AppendLine(string.Join(",", colNames));

    // now create the body
    foreach (var row in items)
        var rowItems = new string[colNames.Length];
        for (int i = 0; i < colNames.Length; i++)
            rowItems[i] = this.FormatCell(rowType.GetProperty(colNames[i]).GetValue(row, null));

        retVal.AppendLine(string.Join(",", rowItems));

    return retVal.ToString();
private string FormatCell(object item)
    if (item == null)
        return "";

    if (item.GetType() == typeof(DateTime))
        return ((DateTime)item).ToUniversalTime().ToString("s");

    return "\"" + item.ToString().Replace("\"", "\"\"") + "\"";

Customizing the Contact form in Outlook 2010

Most of my Outlook contacts are personal contacts, not business contacts. So I don’t have their business phone or address. By default the business phone field is the first on the list of phones on the contact form. And the business address is the only one that shows by default.

With a lot more work that what it should be, I was able to change the fields from this:


To this:


I was only able to do this on New Contacts, I did not continue trying to figure out how to edit my existing contacts to use this new field format.


To do so go to Outlook 2010 and add the Developer Menu Item by going to “File > Options > Customize Ribbon“ and select the Developer item on the tree view:


Hit the OK button to save your changes.

Go to your contacts and hit the “New Contact” button:



Change the fields to your liking by hitting on the drop down arrow next to the field name:


Go to the Developer item on the Ribbon and select Publish Form As:


Give your new form a Display Name and a Form name and hit Publish.


The form name is the one you’ll look for when setting the form as the default form, the Display name is the one you’ll see on the “New Contact” button.

Close the “New Contact” window you have open, if it asks you if you want to save changes say no.


We now want to make our new published form the default Contact form. To do this , right click on the Contacts folder:


Hit properties. Then update the “when posting to this folder, use” field to your new form and hit OK to save your changes:



Your new contact form will now be used on all new Contacts.

Sadly I could not find a straight forward way to make existing contacts use the new Form. If you figure out how to do this, let me know!

C# controlled lights via USB port

At work, we thought it would be cool if we could turn on siren lights when a server goes down.

Step #1 to make this happen was to be able to control simple electronics from custom code. I love C# and the USB port is what is common now so I researched and found the FT245RL “USB to FIFO” chip. This chip made it really easy for me. It plays well with drivers known by Windows.

I bought the FT245RL from SparkFun on a breakout circuit for ease of soldering. For details about chip, take a look at this DataSheet.

When I plugged in the chip to the USB port, Windows 7 immediately recognized it and installed the drivers for it. You can use a couple of drivers the default is the simpler one to use where it turns the USB port into a virtual serial (COM) port.

Writing to serial ports is really standard so this is the code that outputs a byte through the chip:

private static void WriteByte(byte byteToWrite)
    using (SerialPort vcp = new SerialPort())
        vcp.BaudRate = 9600;
        vcp.DataBits = 8;
        vcp.StopBits = StopBits.One;
        vcp.Parity = Parity.None;
        vcp.PortName = &quot;COM5&quot;;


        vcp.Write(new byte[] { byteToWrite }, 0, 1);