Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2005-10-28
  A way bigger screen
So I was all excited when I started working at forterra to upgrade all my computer hardware, and I was especially jazzed to get a new screen. My old Sony W900 hidef tube had served me faithfully for years, but besides fading due to its age, it was just this giant 130 pound monster taking up about four square feet of my desk. Its power usage was impressive, pulling about as many watts as the rest of my electronics in regular use; and despite my demonstrated ability to reproduce at will, I wasn't that excited at having a giant electron gun aimed at me whenever I was puttering around online.

[ibm t221] While the IBM T221 looked exciting with its ridiculous 3840 x 2400 resolution, there were a few downsides besides it $7,500 price tag. To drive a 9MP display over a bandwidth limited digital interface required four channels in parallel, striped across two physical cables. The cards out there that could drive this thing were a pretty exclusive group, adding another $1,800 to $3,600 in cost to whatever system I'd be putting together. Even then, the top end refresh rate was something like 40Hz, not the greatest for the occasional wide screen movie viewing or the even more unlikely game playing. The final killer was the fact that this display wasn't any bigger than what I had before. In fact it was a little smaller (22 inches vs 24 inches, though CRT dimensions are not to be trusted). Still, I'd be looking at the same amount of space, just four times the number of pixels.

While I put a premium on resolution, technology has improved itself over the years enough for me to reach my limits. Back when laptops finally made the jump from XGA to SXGA+ (1400x1080) I was ecstatic, and I rushed out to buy an IBM A20p the minute it was available. When they made another jump to UXGA, I immediately dumped my A20p and rushed out and bought a A21p (manufacture refurbished this time, my wife was still shaking her head about the previous $3,600 purchase). I don't exactly remember what my excuse was for the A22p, except that 22 comes after 21. In any case, having 2MP in my backpack, ready to go at a moment's notice was pretty cool, but as I tried to read 6pt text on a 160dpi display while the airplane was shaking my seat and the computer up and down; I realized the falacy of pursuing higher and higher screen resolutions without also gaining additional physical space to use them.

While there were a multitude of 20" LCD displays offering UXGA resolution on the desktop, and a few even offering UWXGA (1920x1200), I wasn't that excited about purchasing a new setup that offered the same (or worse) resolution as my old display. Friends suggested getting a setup with two displays, but we had used something like that back in the old days at Mr. Film, and having dialog boxes popping right up in the "middle" of the two screens was really annoying or on those machines were a video display was stuck between the two screens, just about unusable. Imagine trying to read a sentence where half of the line is off to your left, and the other is off to your right. No thank you.

So it had to be a single display, fairly large, and hires. Pretty much the only thing fitting the bill was the Apple CInema 30, and thanks to a note on Mac Deal Watch I discovered they were selling them refurbished. That got the price down from $3,200 to only $2,500 which I couldn't really afford, but I decided to get it anyways. (They've gotten even cheaper recently, he price this week is only $2,100--the bums.)

As I was setting things up, I also threw in a small 19" CRT on the side (handy when trying to get the right settings for the LCD panel). Just to be funky, the CRT sat on its side in portrait mode where it fit a bit better, and also provided some useful space for extra lists and such. It was working out so well having a second display, that I decided to keep the side screen permanently, and replaced the CRT with a low cost LCD panel (also turned sideways), so I ended up with 3760x1600 spread across about four feet of real estate. Pretty sweet I thought to myself. At least until I browsed by the Make: blog today.

[hiperwall] If one Apple cinema 30 is good, then fifty must be better, right?

Those crazy scientists at UC Irvine got the government to buy them 50 Apple cinema 30 displays and 50 computers to drive them.

"The Highly Interactive Parallelized Display Wall project (HIPerWall) will provide unprecedented high-capacity visualization capabilities to experimental and theoretical researchers. Visualizing these multi-dimensional, time-varying dataset is both a challenge to computational/storage infrastructure as well as current display technologies. With HIPerWall, researchers will be able to see both the broad view of the data and details concurrently, enabling collaboration and shared viewing of complex results. A visualization cluster of high-performance commodity computers will transfer and manipulate data displayed on HIPerWall's 50 display tiles that will operate at a combined resolution of 200+ mega pixels."

"Scientists at UC Irvine have completed the world’s highest-resolution grid-based display for visualizing and manipulating massive data sets. The Highly Interactive Parallelized Display Wall (HIPerWall) is a room-sized display that measures nearly 23 x 9 feet."

I wonder if they can watch movies on it.

 
2005-10-09
  Can't even get change without some kind of technical difficulty
So we now have several ways to heat our house, crossing the gaumut of cost and difficulty. My personal favorate is wood, as I can often get the wood for free (I only have to cut and split it--which I will do, when I have time). The worst is propane, which, while very easy (press a button), has gone from expensive to worse. Its one of those rules that whenever there's a cheap fuel sitting around, they'll figure out how to run cars on it and pretty soon its just as expensive as anything else. When we first moved into our house propane was about eighty cents a gallon, which was lucky for us, as our house was partially unfinished, leaked cold air everywhere and didn't have any curtains. We used a lot of gas that winter (had to re-fill the thousand gallon tank in the middle of winter), and it was expensive.

Actually, before that, we didn't pay anything for heat. We were supposed to (as we paid our own gas bill in the apartment we were in), it just turned out that we didn't need any heat ourselves. We were in one of the inside apartments in a six-plex, so there were other apartments on three sides of us. And two of those were college kids, so they typically had their heat set at about 75F. I'd set our thermometer at about 66F and the heat leaking through the walls would keep us warm all winter. Pretty sweet. At least for us.

[wood pellet]

So anyways, my wife has pressed for a third data point, and this winter we're putting a wood pellet stove into operation. Cheaper than propane, but easier to run than a wood stove (and she hopes, less mess as well).

So far so good, except that she bought the wrong pellets. According to the stove guys the pellets she bought were not a good brand, and gunk up the stoves; so somehow she talked Ace Hardware into coming out and picking upt he pellets and taking them back. Which should be fine, except that my dad need to measure the tow ball height on his new truck with 400# and 600# of weight on the tail of his truck, so we used the pellets for weight (10 bags at 40# each is pretty easy to figure out), and well, now one of the bags has a hole in it. I don't know if it already had a hole in it, or we put the hole in it, but there's a hole now, so there's a problem.

So this weekend, I had to go over and buy one bag of pellets, so that they could come back and pick them all up and everything would be fine. My wife didn't want me to use a credit card, just in case someone was paying attention, so I had to use cash. Luckily a bag of pressed sawdust is pretty cheap, like $4.10 after tax. Fine. I pull out a $5, and the clerk counts out my change:

Sigh. That's not right. Its just wrong--in so many ways. So I give the clerk back a dime and head home, determined to check my kids' math homework extra careful whenever they have any.

 
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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