Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2004-03-31
  Another hardware meltdown
After being dragged out of bed at an awfully early time (if Boohbahs are still on, its too early), I headed downstairs to get an early start on work. However, when I got to my desk, things were too quiet. It wasn't perfectly quiet, just less noisy than usual. My win desktop machine was off.

After determining that there hadn't been a power outage and that all my other computers were functioning still, I set out to figure out what was wrong with the Kayak. It had a yellow light on (whatever that means), and wouldn't power up when I hit the power button. So, I un-plugged it and then plugged it back on. That got me some weird blurps from the internal speaker, two chirps, and then a flashing red light. Ok, so its not happy.

First step, pull out recently installed hardware: the bad pioneer CDR drive and Adaptec SCSI card. Not much hope here, but what the heck. Try again. no change. Hmmm, that's annoying. Time to take a break and get some breakfast.

Now one thing I've learned over the years it that working on hardware is much harder when something like this has happened. Even if its a different machine, my patience is gone, and I'm likely to take shortcuts (and break things), or get further frustrated when something doesn't fit or work. That in mind, I set about pulling the hard drives out so that I could put them into my IBM xServer and have access to the data. There wasn't much that I didn't have replicated in other locations, but there were a few files that it would be inconvenient not to have.

In the Kayak case, the hard drives look like they should come out without tools, but they actually snap into brackets and you can't get access to the releases without unbolting the entire front end of the computer. I suppose you could probably add a hard drive without tools, but who would ever want to remove one... Tools in hand, I disassembled the entire front of the machine and extracted the hard drives. Looking over at the cover afterwards, it turns out there are directions, and not every fastener has to be removed. Too bad.

Open up the xServer which is truly a tool-less chassis (pull one lever and the side panel comes right off), and take a look around. Plenty of room for two more hard drives ever since my dual 15,000 RPM SCSI RAID 0 array ate itself. Stick the IDE in, and then the SCSI. Of course I'm too lazy to put the drive sleds on the IDE drive, but for some reason I put some on the SCSI. Bend one of the pins the first time (hurrying too much), so then I'm sitting there with pliers and a knife trying to push the pin back into place. Why not leave it? Because its touching the pin next to it, probably not a good idea. Straighten it out and plug it in again (more carefully). I probably should have used another connector, but what the hey. What's the worst thing that could happen. The pin could break off and be stuck in the drive socket? Hush.

Power the server up:
Boot partition not found.

Ok, so that's worse. Start trying different things: mess around with the scsi card settings and unplug the new drives in different combinations. Its always a good idea to mess with settings you don't understand when things aren't working and you're frustrated. Unplug the SCSI drive, no change. Unplug the IDE drive. Also notice that the old SCSI boot drive is sitting on a metal ledge which is shorting out all of its pins along the front of the circuit board. Maybe that's not such a good thing. Stick some cardboard under the drive and it boots up ok. Shutdown and plug in the SCSI drive. It still works. Ok, lets stick with this for a minute and get some data off of it.

Ok, so I've backed up everything of interest on that drive to my laptop, and I'll leave the server up for the time being. It was only a 6GB drive, so its not much trouble to replicate. The IDE drive is 80GB so there's not much hope backing it up. The server already had a 120GB drive, but I think there's less than 20GB free on it. Too many videos from my DV camera and years of accumulated artwork/animations/data.

Just for fun, dig around on the net for beep code errors. Find some data here, but nothing for two warbles, and then two beeps. Try booting the machine again just to verify, but now it won't even power cycle at all. When I plug in the power cord it shows a yellow light and I get a very high frequency whine from the power supply. Try unplugging the power to the motherboard. Still get the whine, just no yellow light now. Wonder how much a replacement would be. Check the HP parts store for an 0950-3959: Part Not Orderable, oh that's just great. Looks like I'll be ordering a IBM workstation off of ubid sometime.

 
2004-03-29
  Digging out other missing pieces
Ah, I found ftp, I think. Its vsftpd, otherwise known as the very secure file transfer protocol daemon. Hmmm, still works with regular ftp clients which pass the password in cleartext. Doesn't sound *that* much more secure to me.

For a non-routable machine living deep within my firewall this is all completely overkill. Unfortunately there is no insecure plain vanilla FTPd, which would be more than sufficient for my needs.

 
2004-03-27
  I just wanted to know how much a dumpster cost
I have these plans to corner the local market on aluminum, and eventually steel. See, I figure I can buy up the local scrap pretty cheap, and then smelt it down, and maybe run a micro mill here for the steel. (The aluminum I'm just going to hoard.)

Now, normally a steel mill or an aluminum smelter is this big industrial mess, burning up all kinds of fuels or sucking up megawatts of electricity, not to mention the costs and zoning fights just to build. But I've got a crazy plan that doesn't use any fuels or electricity. One thing we have in abundance up here in Flagstaff is sunlight. I figure on a small scale, I should be able to get a medium sized crucible up to several thousand degrees in short order and melt through a ton or so of metal in a short time.

So the first stage of this plan, is collecting the scrap. I was thinking that steel dumpsters would be a good start, something I could stick around town at strategic locations, and collect aluminum to start. But I can't find out how much they cost. Froogle doesn't help, and neither does a straight on attack on Google. About the closest I can get is shipping container vendors, and they want to "contact me to discuss pricing". They seem to have a lot of containers though.

So much for the efficiency of capitalism. Maybe I should just make one.

 
  A look way under the hood
So I got Redhat 9 installed last night with David's help. I had pulled apart the machine and ripped out zip drive so that maybe the machine would boot from the cdrom before the hard drive. I also blew away the BIOS, taking care of the stupid SETUP password, and then at the last minute I thought to myself, "lets make sure the hard drive can't boot before the cdrom, lets pull its power."

So the first distro disk booted, and we got a RH screen up. Now someone at RH had done some thinking about what a user might be thinking if they put the distro disk in a machine without a harddrive, so the script had actually sidetracked us into the "verify the installation" tool, which was interesting. We decided, what the hey, and did the verify, which confirmed that yes this was a functional cdrom. At that point we backtracked in the menus, powered up the hard drive, and proceeded on our merry way doing the install. There was some question as to whether this would work, since as we had just blown away the BIOS settings, the BIOS didn't even have a record of the hard drive, but not to fear, it all worked just fine.

After playing around with the custom install settings, doing my own weird partition setup, and diddling install packages; we sent it on its way and it proceeded to install everything for the most part. (I thought I told it to install FTP, but we haven't seen any signs of it yet.) It finished, did its little reboot, and we were left with a brand new RH 9 install. Tada.

So I logged in from my PC where I do all my real work (not that I do real work on windows, but my best screen, a Sony W900, is hooked up to a windows 2000 machine, where I run the hummingbird extreme X server), and I fired up some xterm's after changing the default background color so I could tell the windows for grub apart from handspring. They came up just fine, but backspace wasn't working. It would blap, *beep*[3~ at me, and put more crud on the command line instead of covering up my typographical slip-ups.

Obviously, the problem was X11R6, since RH 7.3 was working just fine. Great, somebody decided they needed to *fix* something, and now I can't backspace, except by typing ctrl-h (which I can do, it's just more work). Do some quick checks on my xserver kbdmap, and also check xmodmap but everything seems fine there. Off to the web to waste my afternoon figuring this out.

The first page I found, didn't actually exist anymore, but the snippet on google looked so promising that I pried it out of its cache. The first thing I found is that because of the ultimate evil in the universe (emacs) wanted to use ctrl-h for help, they got everyone else to change what was a perfectly good coding standard. Ok, so now backspace is supposed to map to 0177 (which was delete), and delete is supposed to map to 'ESC [ 3 ~'. Well, I'm getting the escape sequence just fine, so clearly xterm has already been corrupted. I'm not seeing a 0177 or a BS, so something is still messed up. The article goes on to suggest a bunch of xterm keybinding settings, like:

! Fix xterm's keybindings
*VT100*translations:	#override
      BackSpace:    string(0x7F) \n
      Insert:       string(0x1b) string("[2~")\n
      Delete:       string(0x1b) string("[3~")\n
      Home:         string(0x1b) string("[1~")\n
      End:	    string(0x1b) string("[4~")\n
      Page_Up:      string(0x1b) string("[5~")\n
      Page_Down:    string(0x1b) string("[6~")
but like I said. I was already seeing that goofy sequence, so the problem was further down.

Switched over into digging into my code to check the routines that normally convert keysyms to ascii. The routine in question is XLookupString(), and you can sample both the raw event and the translated result with xev, so I tried that next. They were doing the right thing, getting BackSpace and Delete keysyms and translating BackSpace into a single character; so the problem was further down.

The next suspect was terminfo, but unfortunately the files in /usr/share/terminfo are no longer human readable, so that wasn't a lot of help. Back to google with some new keywords, and end up here: Consistent BackSpace and Delete Configuration. Sounds promising.

First neat trick, checking the terminfo data with infocmp. Turns out kbs=^H and kdch1=\177 which is what I would have expected before learning about the GNU corruption. Check what it was on my working system: kbs=\177, kdch1=\E[3~ Aha. So now I have three choices on fixing things: 1) unwarp the keyboard bindings, which would then break handspring; 2) hack the terminfo block, or 3) try and deal with the shell mapping layer.

Now the original paper had info on hacking bash through /etc/inputrc, but I don't use bash. I am a died in the wool csh user (though I have migrated to tcsh for a few modern conveniences, like command completion), but luckily the second document included the same instructions for tcsh. Basically there is a shell builtin bindkey which you can use to both dump out the current configuration and make changes. Its recommendations were:

      bindkey "\e[1~" beginning-of-line  # Home
      bindkey "\e[7~" beginning-of-line  # Home rxvt
      bindkey "\e[2~" overwrite-mode     # Ins
      bindkey "\e[3~" delete-char        # Delete
      bindkey "\e[4~" end-of-line        # End
      bindkey "\e[8~" end-of-line        # End rxvt
which would have been ok, except delete-char isdeprecated. Ok, search the existing list of 120+ lines for delete: its now called backward-delete-char, obviously so you don't confuse it with forward-delete-char, I guess. Hmmm, but there's no forward-delete-char in the list. Ah, it must be the new delete-char-or-list-or-eof. Is this making sense to anybody else? Never mind, fix delete and end (which was also messed up, but for some reason home wasn't). Now I can get back to my regularly scheduled attempt at getting paying work done.
 
  Breaking down and doing something responsible
I've been avoiding setting up a source control repository for my code, because I'm way too lazy and up until this point, I was the only one working on the server code. But now I've got two local machines, and two clusters of remote servers running, and we're going to start getting customers as well. I had to do something.

Normally, I would have gotten CVS up and running, but now there's a replacement for CVS called SubVersion. Cool name. Ok, so some of the new features are pretty cool, so that gives me the geek bonus points to help push my enthusiasm up into the do something range.

Since its not likely that there is already a solaris version built, I'll probably have to build it myself. Check the binaries: nope, no free version. Quick side trip over to sunfreeware, no, not over there either. Ok, lets take a look at the build requirements:

This may take longer than I thought. Keep reading, Some of the libraries that Subversion depends on themselves have dependencies that ... , oh yuk. Building The Documentation, haven't you guys heard of man pages? Yes I know that troff is an ancient language, but I don't have to "install" it. Sigh.

Stay tuned, this may take a while.

 
2004-03-26
  Yet another hole in my head
I had a tooth pulled today, which is not a pleasant thing, but I've survived worse. Its pretty amusing, that despite years of science and practice, when push comes to shove, the solution to difficult dental issues is the same as it was 100 years ago: yank it. The tools haven't changed much either. Its about the same pair of pliers as they used before, just sterile this time. The drugs are better too, for which I am thankful.

Actually, I was thinking that dentistry is not much more advanced that auto body work. Little problems can be ground out and covered over, and on critical joints you can x-ray or use other non-destructive tests to check integrity, and you've got various coatings to help prevent rust. But in the end, you junk it if the problems are too bad.

Just recently out of the lab is laser drilling, which replaces mechanical grinders, and can be used to zap decay areas more precisely and with less good material loss. But the exciting stuff is still to come: toothpaste that reverses decay, enzymes that fight plaque buildup, and laser polymerization which could allow doctors to reformulated the tooth dental shell to be harder and less vulnerable to decay.

Of course the holy grail of dentistry is still cavity vaccines and tooth replacement through cloned tooth buds. Maybe some day I'll have my lost teeth back.

[links]
Tooth decay and the future.

I'm not sure how I did it, but I managed to go from dental implants to urban houses made from steel shipping containers (in just a step or two).

, .

 
2004-03-22
  A road trip to vegas
So last week there were a number of different things (each of little consequence), that conspired together to build critical mass for a road trip to Vegas. The idea was to head out Friday morning, but then on Wednesday, I got a call to come to the bay area for a meeting the following day. Looking at the schedules, I realized that there was just enough time to catch a flight out of Vegas to the Bay Area that evening, but it was going to be close.

First I had to get my car out of the shop. The alternator belt was still squealing, but I didn't have time to go back and ask them to tighten it some more. Then I had to stop by the autoparts store and get a headlight, as the drivers' side light was out, and I had told the mechanics I would do that myself (it takes five minutes--ok ten minutes to change and I'd rather not pay someone else $40 to do it). Then home to get ready and show Max how to change the headlight on a car (ok, it takes fifteen minutes when your four year old is helping you). Finally, throw some clothes into a bag, grab the laptop, shut down the other computers, say bye to the family, and hit the road.

Driving to vegas is pretty easy. I40 from Flagstaff to Kingman is pretty straight, and either flat or downhill. The cops hang out in the strip between Ashfork and Seligman, but they follow a pretty simple set of rules:

under 75What are you, a space alien?
75-84Yawn
85-90Pull over, give you a warning.
above 90Ticket

So I got to Kingman, stopped for a burger, and then headed up to Vegas. There are two routes from Kingman to vegas. The first heads north to Hoover Dam, then over to Vegas. The second crosses the colorado at Laughlin, then heads north in Nevada, connecting to the same freeway just west of Bullhead city.

Back in 1999, you had to consider your options based on the time of day, and what you knew about traffic patters, to figure out which way would be better. The route up to Hoover dam is marginally shorter, but traffic at the Dam could be a mess. See, there is no bridge at Hoover dam, you drive right across the top of the dam. And between the trucks and RVs carefully navigating the switchbacks leading down the mountain on either side, and all the dam tourist, it could take 30-45 minutes just to cross a three mile stretch.

That all changed with 9/11 though. Now the route is closed to big rigs, busses, RVs, trailers, etc; and its pretty quick getting across there, with only a slight slowdown in the middle of the day for the dam tourists.

So I zipped right the highway, on approach to the dam, and hit construction for a new dam bypass they are creating. Turns out the people in laughlin don't really appreciate all the extra traffic, and since the phoenix-las vegas route is a pretty heavy shipping route, the budget was finally approved to build a real four lane bridge over the canyon. That's going to be some bridge when they finish with it.

,

At nine at night, the arizona approach was already impressive. Large cement pillars extending more than a 100 feet in the air. When lit with those outdoor construction lights from the ground, it looked very alien. Like someone was digging in the rock, and found the relics of an ancient advanced civilization. Its going to be pretty cool when its done. I'm glad there aren't any earthquakes in this area though.

Made it into Las Vegas, and made my flight despite further construction troubles on the 215, and having to figure out the difference between short term and long term parking at the airport. In Phoenix, short term parking means "within walking distance of the terminal". Long term parking is where you ride a bus to catch you plane. In Vegas, short term parking is where you feed some coins into a parking meter and have just enough time to go wait for someone else arriving at the airport. Oh well, it only took a couple of trips around the airport to find a parking spot.

[links]
The Boulder Canyon Project, an extensive history of area, but without one dam picture.

 
2004-03-21
  Thinking outside the bun
Well, in the latest effort to drag Flagstaff into the modern age, we have been inflicted with a Long John Silvers. These things don't exist stand alone any more though. After merging with A&W Rootbeer, they then were subsumed by YUM which is basically Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC smashed together. (All brought together by pepsi, back when making corporations twice as large and ten times harder to manage was all the rage). So you'll only find LJS as part of the new standalone mini-mall-less food court. Ours is packaged with a Taco Bell.

The food hasn't changed much in the twenty years since the last little town I was living in grew enough to get its own Long John's. (That would be Clovis, in 1978) Its still greasy, and low budget, though the decor is has been upgraded slightly. The cool thing was my wife could stay home, as she had used the web to perused the menu online and made her selection. Ah, the wonders of modern technology. She had a fish basket, and I had the sampler platter:

 
2004-03-20
  Massive unrest in Korea and you wouldn't even know it
About a week ago, the South Korean president was impeached on very flimsy legal grounds. In fact, its fairly obvious that this was probably politically motivated by the established party as President Roh had been shaking things up some and cleaning up corruption.

The backlash in South Korea has been phenomenal, just take a look at the turn out for a candle light vigil on Saturday:


That's a huge number of people, and that's just one shot of several.

What is the most depressing though is that when I went and scanned Google News, the NYT, and other sites; there's absolutely nothing about Korea on any of them. Zip, nada. Its like its not happening, or the fact that the entire country is up in arms over corruption in the established power is just not important in the grand scheme of things.

The typical American doesn't really know what's going on in the world, and the regular news channels are happy to keep the population in the dark. You've got to work pretty hard to really understand that there are serious conflicts all across the planet playing out on a daily basis. I agree with Joi Ito that giving the international community a voice may be one of the best things that Blogging accomplishes.

[links]
Candle Vigils in Korea, as mentioned by Don Park.
Original article (in Korean) at OhmyNews.

 
2004-03-15
  Dave Barry Classics
Just doing some cleanup and ran across this snippit from 1993 (part of his wedding season preparations):
Wedding season is again upon us, and you brides-to-be are busy as bees, finalizing arrangements for your dress, flowers, catering, clergyperson, shower-curtain-pattern selection, eyebrow- tweezing appointment and the 17 million other details that make planning a modern wedding far more complex than building a space station. Meanwhile, you grooms, for your part, have been entrusted with the responsibility of locating a pair of dark socks.

As some who was a groom at one point (just ask my wife), I had far more responsibilities than that. Yes sir. Not only did I have to dress myself that morning, but I had to get myself (and the best man) to the wedding. Luckily our wedding turned out to be in the second place I looked, and my wife was too busy worrying about bride details to notice that I was a few minutes late.

Boy, with that kind of responsibility, I sure hope I don't have to go through that again.

[links]
Dave Barry's columns, and web log, also known as more links than you can shake a stick at.

 
2004-03-14
  Beware of wheelchairs and alligators
Apparently this is where people take their elder parents in Malaysia when they want to "visit with the alligators".

[links]
Brought to you by, Signs of danger.

 
  I'm so glad I'm not a double e
This is exactly the kind of lab report I would have been writing had I not bailed on EE and gone into CS:

I sifted through the box of germanium crystals and chose the one that appeared to be the least cracked. Then I soldered wires onto the crystal in the spots shown in figure 2b of Lab Handout 32. Do you have any idea how hard it is to solder wires to germanium? I'll tell you: real goddamn hard. The solder simply won't stick, and you can forget about getting any of the grad students in the solid state labs to help you out.


great data

His conclusion? Going into physics was the biggest mistake of my life. I should've declared CS. I still wouldn't have any women, but at least I'd be rolling in cash. Um, ya, right.

[links]
Electron Band Structure In Germanium, My Ass, via web-heads, via maps and legends.

 
  Spending the afternoon melting metal
The local community college offers some metalworking classes through the local high school at night. I took the general metalworking class last semester, and this time I'm taking the welding class. It really takes both to get anything done. One side has the cutters, benders, punches, drill presses, lathe and milling machines. The other side is where you stick the pieces together. So far we've done gas, MIG and we just started stick last week.

I really like gas welding (acetylene), and I'm really good at it, but its slow as heck, and dabbing the rod into the puddle is an imprecise and messy task. Plus, even with a #2 tip, we were still only joining 14 gauge steel plate (pretty thin stuff).

So next was MIG, which is welding made easy. The machine does everything for you. All you do is press the trigger and the electricity turns on, the gas comes out (unless you're doing flux core), and the wire starts feeding into your work. The electricity heats up the wire when it touches the plate and it melts it. That's about it. You can have the tip really close to your work, or pull it off a bit (or even a lot), and it still pretty much works.

That's not to say you can't screw it up. If your power is too high, you just melt through the metal, instead of welding to it. But you have the same problem with gas if your flame is too hot, or you go to slow. If the wire feed rate is too high, you tend to pogo stick a little, but its an easy fix; and if its too slow it can stutter, but that's pretty obvious too (instead of the consistent BZZZZZZ sound, you get it going BZAP-BAP-BAP-BAP). Ok, so one time I welded the wire to the tip and had to take the gun apart and replace the tip, but now I know better, so that's won't happen again.

The good thing about MIG (besides being easy), is its fast. It really lays down filler, and any type of electric welding (MIG/ARC/TIG) heats up the metal much faster than gas (and also produces one heck of a light, you're talking a #10 or #11 helmet with full UV protection, vs some lightweight #5 goggles for gas). Unfortunately, you've got to move fast to keep up with it, and if you're not smooth, the results aren't pretty. That's kind of where I'm at with it. Under ideal conditions I can do pretty good, but in the real world things are still a little rough.

So when I found out that this coming week was spring break and we wouldn't be having class (sad), I asked if I could borrow a MIG unit from the loaner pool. So now I have a MIG unit all week (happy happy, fun fun), though its flux core which is a bit messy. Hey, its for practicing anyways. Its just an old cricket 130, not quite as nice as this unit:

but its managed to melt everything I've tried so far. Lesson 1: you cannot weld thin sheet metal. You can however cut sheet metal with a MIG welder, though its probably not recommended. I think the hardest part is going to be finding enough scrap to keep busy with.

After this week, its back to ARC (SMAW) welding which involves holding a 14-16" welding rod on one end, while trying to keep the other end on the work piece while it blasts a hole through the steel leaving a puddle its its wake. Then there's trying to keep all the different rod types straight: 6013, 7018, 6011, 7024, 8010, etc. And these machines sure have a lot of dials on them:

 
2004-03-13
  The lack of practice effect
I haven't had to burn a CDR in two years (at least). I just don't make them very often. I have a few burners tucked away here and there, but nothing has been hooked up in quite some time.

So yesterday I finally needed to burn a CDR, actually a couple, as I need to install RH 9. I've been running RH 7.2 but the compilers are way out of date, and its pretty hard to bootstrap that kind of thing. So out with the old, in with the new; sort of.

First I had to find my CDR drive. This took much longer than I thought it would as I had filed it away with a bunch of empty external cases. Wandered around quite a while looking for that. Finally found it: my Pioneer CDR 8X SCSI recorder.

Then I had to figure out how to hook it up. Now my main machine, a HP Kayak has a SCSI card in it (quite a nice one in fact), but its dual channel wide SCSI2. Not a common interface format for old CDR drives. But, having at least two boxes of SCSI cables, I figured maybe I'd get lucky. Nope. No W-SCSI2 to anything narrow. I did find one W-SCSI2 to this really high density connector that SUN uses on its PCI cards so that they can get two connectors side by side in the space of one card. Hmmm, not much use for that. Remember to file that in my useless technology box (along with my Truevision Targa-16 cards, Radius NUBUS 24x display cards, AAUI to thin-net COAX network adapters, and some cisco 60-pin to V.35 CSU/DSU cables). Nothing helpful in my adapter box either.

Ok, so the way I used this last time, was with an Adaptec narrow SCSI card. Had to go looking around for that. Not on my desk, not sitting around on the cabinets, not in my box of parts where the ethernet cards, graphics cards (anybody need a Matrox G450?), parallel port cards, modems, answering machines, and old hard drives all were. I don't know why I'm still storing 250MB hard drives, I just bought a USB pen drive that large last month for $50. Maybe I'll let the kids take it apart when they're bigger and pull out the magnets.

Can't find the card. Ok, this is getting too difficult, switch to plan-B. The laptop. My laptop has a CDRW/DVD drive, though the drive itself is in my wife's machine at the moment so she can watch DVD movies. Go get the drive upstairs. Side detour as I've left the air open to the woodstove and its now running at 650F which is a little above DANGER. Bring the drive downstairs and plug in it.

Now, there's no software installed on my laptop for the CDRW because I lost a harddrive last summer and had to have it replaced and re-installed the OS at that time and of course the CDRW wasn't in the laptop on the re-install so it doesn't have any of the software for it that came with the laptop. Ignore that and try to install the software which came with the Pioneer recorder. Hmmm. First program won't work on XP. Second program complains because the CDRW is not a pioneer drive, plus it wants to reboot before it will run. Bleach.

Also notice that I don't see any blank CDs around. I have an entire spindle somewhere. Now I had already hunted through the basement shelves and boxes and drawers and general clutter for the drive, cables and card; so things were looking pretty bleak, but I'm persistent. So I kept looking. I dug into one particularly large junk box and after digging past about fifty anti-static bags I did find the Adaptec SCSI card, so that plan was back on. Then I remembered that I still had the original CDR media that came with the first CD recorder we bought at Twin Forces back in 1996. It was to author our first CDROM game, Psychasm, a cross platform first person hybrid maze, shooter, explorer (like Myst), side-scrolling puzzle game. Don't feel bad if you've never heard of it, it never came out. But that's another story.

So, certified 4X media in hand, I set about taking apart my PC. Now the HP Kayak XM600 series implements that great invention: the tool-less chassis. This means that its supposed to be taken apart with your hands. However, lacking the strength of ten men, it means that you'll need to use tools to take it apart, but because it wasn't designed for the use of tools, that you'll scratch it up doing so. Anyway, with a screwdriver and pliers, I managed to get it apart and plan my attack. I decided to put the CDRW in the second bay (instead of leaving it as an external device so that there would be less mess to deal with), so I removed the face plate and slid it in, then I inserted the card, and hooked up the cable.

Now, on one edge of ribbon cable is a red mark to signify line 1, and the connectors are usually keyed. It turns out that neither end was keyed in this case, and I plugged the drive end in backwards so I just plugged the other in upside down as well. Ready to try it out, I put the cover back on, and prepared to fire it up.

After working on hardware for more than twenty years, one thing that you learn that you often forget something. So you learn that its better to pause and quickly review things, than it is to rush forward and try it out. This will even save you from the occasional disaster, such as leaving a pair of uninsulated pliers sitting on top of a motherboard. Did I forget anything this time? Um, yes. I didn't plug the CDR drive into the power. Ok, peel back off the cover with the tools that you aren't supposed to need, plug in the power, and lets give it a try.

Fired the system up, booted into W2k and no new hardware found. That's not good. Decide to tell it about the hardware manually, but that didn't work. Another reboot, just in case, but still nothing. Power it down and open the case again. Ah, the PCI card is not in all the way. Really give it a good shove this time and try again. Ok, it found the new hardware, and for some reason wants to install drivers for AVA-2910/15/20 even though its an AVA-2906. Whatever. Reboot.

Yay! It found the drive. Spend a few minutes wandering around in the Win2k admin tools looking for the storage manager so I can assign it a drive letter that won't bump around every time I play with USB devices, then I'm set to try it out. Oh, the CDR software wants to reboot my machine again. Ok, fine. Reboot. Again.

Things are going good now. The software even has the option for burning ISO images. Fire it up and let it go at 8X. It fails. Hmmm. Ok, try it again at 6X (test first this time). Still fails. Gahhh. Spend the next thirty minutes playing with various SCSI IDs, termination, parity, different ribbon cables (no it didn't make a difference when I switched the cable around so that the red line was on pin 1).

Try to read a CD just for fun: "The disk you have inserted is unformatted, do you wish to format it?" Its an Adobe Acrobat install CD, so go ahead. "Format Failed." Big surprise. Ok, maybe this drive really is dead. How annoying. Three hours gone, and no recording capability.

Sometimes, despite my best efforts, technology is not really that much fun.

Trackback: Team Murder

 
2004-03-10
  Great free stuff.
craig's list not only has just about the best job listings you can find (way better than those monster boards), but it also has great Free Stuff.
Like this:

Hi, I have a Free 35" Mitsubishi TV. The TV has sound but no picture, might be the power supply. Model# CK-3502R Come take a look (3250 Geoffrey Dr. San Bruno), or call me 650-359-6237. Thanks, George.

And if that wasn't enough they've also got:

Aquarium Gravel
bench seats from an Aerostar van
Cement Blocks
Interior Doors
the utility bed of a 1986 ford ranger truck
a funky long yellow couch
and a bag of rat food from Petco

Man, if I wasn't 800 miles away and married; I'd be all over this.

[links]
free dead tv

 
2004-03-09
  Very strange ads
Part of blogger's business model (for hosting these blogs for free), is to look at the contents of my ramblings and come up with Google Ads that go with them. Well, obviously I've been wandering off in very strange territory. The ads were for Oxalic and Hydrochloric acid, as well as this guy's web site.

At leapsecond.com, what started out as a hobby building digital clocks, has turned into a quest for the best time money (and time) can buy (short of what you can get when the taxpayers are footing the bill). As he says,

This simple goal resulted in a most interesting journey into electronics, horology, astronomy, test equipment, quartz oscillators, rubidium and cesium atomic clocks, hydrogen masers, frequency counters and phase comparators, GPS, Loran C, GOES, and WWV / WWVB radio receivers.

, ,

Definately some pretty strange stuff.

Of course, my favorite time site is nist.time.gov where you can click on your state and get the time to within 0.1 seconds (depending on your ISP jitter), and if that wasn't enough, you can go check out the NIST Physics Laboratory where they maintain a number of Cesium clocks, including the new NIST-F1 Fountain Atomic Clock (with accuracy to 2 x 10-15 seconds).

There's a problem with using cesium though, because the atoms are moving and measuring atoms that are moving is naturally an imprecise endeavor, research continues on the Trapped Ion Frequency Standard (I'd explain more, but I'm a bit behind on my Penning traps and non-neutral plasma reading).

, ,

[links]
More on time, from the Why Files.

 
  More economic activity
Another old contact of mine emerged from the woodwork with some new projects. Hot dang.

You know, another twenty years of making contacts and I could almost make a living this way.

 
  When life gives you lemon solar cells, make an ark?
Sanyo is probably one of the bigger names in solar panels. Their cells have the highest effeciencies (18.5%), and they make a ton of them (5MW just for US use alone in 2003). However in 2000 they ran into trouble when their Japanese customers discovered that the modules were not meeting government mandated negative tolerances (ok, I'm not sure what that means).

Anyway, they had to take all those solar cells back. But instead of dumping all the bad panels which they could no longer sell, they made an ark.

Hmmm. Think of all the defective Pentium chips that could run...

[links]
Sanyo Solar Ark

 
  Honda looks at going solar
As if building jets weren't enough for Honda, they've also been experimenting with solar cells.

They are currently making thin film devices, and has board approval for further R&D. Existing cells are currently generating 2.8MW on the roof of one of its plants. They're excuse this time? Creating a solar hydrogen generating station for hydrogen powered cars.

[links]
PHOTON article
Honda Press Release

 
2004-03-07
  Travelling back in time
Hmmm. 1985, that's a pretty easy year to remember. I graduated from high school that year. (Man, I'm getting old.)

Reagan had just crushed Mondale in the last presidential election (with largest electoral vote majority: 525 to 13). Reaganomics was on a role, and fading Presidency of Jimmy Carter was still a bad joke. Gas prices were down to under a dollar (on and off), and I was packing up my life into a toyota pickup to head down to LA for college.

Computers was the area of study, though it was a far different field than today. Computing was either done on mainframes like the PDP-11 and its bigger brother the VAX 11/780, or this new thing called the microcomputer (best represented by the Apple 2, though there were rumblings about a new offering from IBM, called the IBM PC). Chip venders were pushing the envelope, integrating tens of thousands of transistors, producing such notables as the NS32032 (national), the Z8000 (zilog), the 68000 (motorola), and the 8086 (as well as its low cost trailer-park cousin the 8088 which was being used in the new IBM PC for price reasons).

Local networking was accomplished with the high tech "serial line" which ran as fast as 9,600 baud under ideal conditions. Modems were used to connect to bulletin boards, usually at 300 baud, or at 1200 if you were really rich. The fax machine was still not very common, probably more people were still using telex. High tech wireless communication was alphanumeric paging, but forget about two way. War Games had come out about a year back, and had popularized much of this. The geek's magazine was Byte Computing back before it decomposed, featuring such notables as Jerry Pournelle from Chaos Manor, and Steve Ciarcia's Circuit Cellar. Steve was my favorite and had I more than a few dollars at my disposal, I would have gladly spent them all trying to build those circuits. (I already was blowing what limited funds I had buying project kits and grab bags of parts from Radio Shack and occasionally Jameco.)

As I came over the grapevine (Interstate 5), I was rewarded with quite a spectacle. The edges of the LA basin were impressive as a start, with air easier to see than to breath. Unfortunately, I started off with the wrong impression of the LA freeway system, which is to say a good impression, because I was taking a brand new section of the 210 from I5 to pasadena and no body else had discovered it yet, so it was smooth sailing.

I got to college, and immediately discovered that there were a lot more people smarter than me than I had first realized, and that I should have just left my Atari 800 back in Clovis, as we were inundated with technology. The computer equipment I had in my own room that first year represented more than twice my tuition, and some of the computers over in the computer center that I had access to were worth more than my house is. It was great. I'm amazed I was able to tear myself away from all these toys and actually get to class once in a while.

1985 was a much better year than 1990, or 1995, or 2000. Things were simpler, the world was on a more even keel. The Russians were still the bad guys, but nobody was taking them very seriously any more. America seemed to have the upper hand. A lot of it was just ignoring the signs of changes to come, and some of it was being 18 and having no real idea what was going on in the world; but it was a golden age for business, technology, and a great backdrop for the start of my college education.

 
2004-03-05
  A little call center humor (fiction)
What if zen monks worked in call centers and could answer your questions. Make me one with everything, shows the elation, frustration, and ultimately the costs of such a service.

Trackback: Hold everything

 
  Web Information Overload
I have too many windows open, and its not getting better. In fact every once in a while I loose everything when netscape crashes, and yet I am still in trouble hours or a day later. I have more than 1,200 bookmarks; and spent two hours the day before yesterday just sorting new ones that had accumulated so much that the unsorted list wouldn't fit on my overly-large screen. I discovered (by accident), that if you open more than twelve windows in Netscape, it collapses all the tabs at the bottom into one hierarchical list. Lets not talk about all the PDFs I've downloaded, including articles, newspapers, and books.

Its information overload to a serious degree. At some point you have to start drawing the line. Ok, so I found a site called "daily Kos" that has really good political analysis. But so what. Let it go. If I find it again a year from now, maybe I'll have time to read it then.

There's always been more information available then any one person could absorb. But now I can access it from my desktop, and in fact easily find closely (or sometimes not so closely) information along the lines of what I've already accessed. And it doesn't help that weblogs are ongoing and require repeated return visits to keep up with.

I feel like the chimp in The Uplift War , who because of galactic struggles quite beyond her comprehension, is suddenly granted unrestricted access to the primary planetary branch of the Galactic Library. There, on her computer, she has unfettered access to quantities of information that quickly overwhelm her (things that have long interested her, but are not critical to her immediate task). It takes great will power to turn away from those other bits of knowledge, and focus on the course at hand. Alas, at the moment, I lack that focus.

For now, its hack and slash. One step forward, two steps back. Hmmm, about this two year backlog of EE Times.

[Links]
David Brin, author of Startide Rising, The Uplift War, and other Uplift Sagas.

. .

Update: looks like Rick has fallen in and is trying to find his way out. Good luck rick.

 
2004-03-04
  Neat chemicals you don't want to mess with
Another Derek (Derek Lowe) was talking about chemicals he never wants to work with again (he's an Organic Chemist), and mentioned his attempt one time to make fluorosulfonic acid from scratch, starting with concentrated hydrofluoric acid and KOH pellets. Sounds dangerous, not because of the sulfuric acid which is noxious, but because of the Fluorine, which has to be the nastiest element (chemically) in existence.

Why is it so nasty? Well, its the most electronegative element, so it will rip off whatever other element is stuck to a metal and replace it with its own. It'll eat through concrete or glass, spontaneously combust with chocolate, and is very toxic to most life.

I had a chance to work with HF (hydrofluoric acid) in APh 9, a freshman integrated circuit lab class. Its used for etching the chips, so we were all going to be working with it. We got quite a stern safety lecture, because despite its dangerous properties, HF dissolved in water (even in moderate concentrations) doesn't seem dangerous. See, because its already stuck to a hydrogen atom, it doesn't let go very fast and so it reacts very slowly and quietly. No dramatic bubbling or toxic fumes, just a slow silent etching of the exposed Si to create the chip features.

So what invariably happens, is that someone can't get their chip out of the little plastic cup with the tweezers that we're supposed to use. Instead, they look at the chip sitting there in the bottom and think, "hey, I can just reach in there and get it out." When they do that, nothing happens immediately, but a chain of events has started that can be deadly.

HF acid won't burn your skin even. Instead, the F ions start digging down into your tissue, poisoning enzymes and other doing other havoc, till it gets to your bones and starts binding with the calcium there. This continues for the next 24 hours until you loose a limb, or worse, die. It doesn't really take much as these safety reports show:

A dermal exposure hydrofluoric acid over a 2.5 percent total body surface area resulted in death. The serum calcium level was 2.2 milligrams/deciliter.

A patient with HF burns died from intractable cardiac arrhythmia secondary to the depletion of ionized calcium.

Estimates of the lowest lethal concentrations for hydrogen fluoride range from 50-250 ppm for 5-minute exposure and are based on accidental, voluntary and occupational exposure information.

Luckily, in our lab, another student or the TA usually noticed this act of stupidity, and would call 911 while having someone rinse off the area affected. The "stupid frosh" would then be whisked to the hospital for burn treatment and calcium injections (in an attempt to bind all the loose F before it got to the bones and to prevent heart problems). As of 1985 when I took the class, there had not been any fatalities yet.

In any case, I'll agree with the other Derek. Fluorine is not something I have any desire to mess with again.

[Links]
Derek Lowe's, Things I won't touch (part 1)

Trackback: Abort to orbit, 0xdecafbad, Bob Congdon, Maps and Legends

 
2004-03-02
  And I thought my electric bill was too high.
The wife of a New York City VC was talking about a gallery charity event she went to which was suffering from over popularity, and had plunged in value. Instead of spending the evening looking at work from emerging artists, picking out works that were appealing, and purchasing one or two after reviewing the showing; it had turned into some kind of assembly line nightmare--long lines to get in, long lines to purchase art, and when it got to your turn, you could pick the artist, but you got whatever "piece" was on the top of the pile.

So this time around, she passed on making a purchase. She had this to say about it:

$300 is a nice chunk of cash. You could buy a cashmere sweater, have an incredible dinner in NYC, you could pay part of your electric bill or phone bill, buy 25 new cd's (based on the price), you could even buy an ipod. So, i basically said, thanks but no thanks.

A (one) sweater?
Dinner?
Part of your electric bill?
Part of your phone bill?
Egads.

I complain when my cell phone + land line + electric + water adds up to $300. And electric is a big part of that. It goes from $75-80 in the summer to almost double in the winter. I was looking at putting in some solar just to get that down under a hundred (and be able to use the electric heat in the basement without feeling so guilty). I'm beginning to suspect that a normal year's income wouldn't last me a month in New York.

[links]
Original Article from Gotham Gal.

 
Life in the middle of nowhere, remote programming to try and support it, startups, children, and some tinkering when I get a chance.

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Blogroll
Paul Graham's Essays
You may not want to write in Lisp, but his advise on software, life and business is always worth listening to.
How to save the world
Dave Pollard working on changing the world .. one partially baked idea at a time.
SnowDeal
Eric Snowdeal IV - born 15 weeks too soon, now living a normal baby life.
Land and Hold Short
The life of a pilot.

The best of?
Jan '04
The second best villain of all times.

Feb '04
Oops I dropped by satellite.
New Jets create excitement in the air.
The audience is not listening.

Mar '04
Neat chemicals you don't want to mess with.
The Lack of Practise Effect

Apr '04
Scramjets take to the air
Doing dangerous things in the fire.
The Real Way to get a job

May '04
Checking out cool tools (with the kids)
A master geek (Ink Tank flashback)
How to play with your kids

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