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Month: April 2008

Southern Tier’s Back Burner

Souther Tier's Back Burner Barley Wine poured into a glass.

Things have been a bit boring around here lately, with me working at my job, working on the new server, riding my bike, and trying to relax a bit, so I just thought I’d post this photo of Souther Tier‘s Back Burner, a decent (and quite hoppy) barleywine which I drank while watching The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou with Danielle on Sunday night.

Today I got GEOM-based disk mirroring working on, but in doing so I realized that the on-board SiI3114 controller only supports SATA/150 (aka SATA I) and thusly no NCQ, which disappointed me. To remedy this I ordered part number N82E16816104007 from, a Koutech PSA421 4-Channel Serial ATA & Serial ATA II 64-bit PCI Host Controller which appears to be a reference (or very standard) implementation of the SiI3124 PCI/PCI-X to 4 Port SATA300 chipset. This should fit in the one usable slot in the case and provide the SATA interface that I really want. I just wish it’d arrive sooner.

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Loud and Fast

The two Opterons 885 CPUs, seated nicely in the sockets.

Yesterday I received very kindly sent FedEx package containing some spare computer hardware a friend of mine had, a pair of Opteron 885 dual-core 2.6GHz CPUs and 8GB of registered RAM, to be used in my new server.

I’ve been having some problems with it all, but I’m not quite sure what the cause is yet. With all 8 DIMMs fitted the machine kept hanging while installing FreeBSD 7.0. Per my friend’s suggestion I’m trying the install again with only one DIMM per CPU installed, as he said he’s seen problems with a fully kitted out machine installing some OS’, for som reason. For the first half of the memory things have gone just fine, so I’ll finish running through the pieces two at a time. After those tests I’ll run Memtest86+ on discreet pairs of DIMMs, then on the full 8GB.

I might also install XP on it so that I can run SiSoftware Sandra on it for a while, as it’s really good at eating a machine alive.

Unfortunately I can only run these tests during the day because the server is simply too loud to do otherwise. I measured it at 74dB while standing next to it at the keyboard, and the noise seems to be three distinct tones (low, mid, and high) caused by the different fans in the box. It’s really not much different from a siren. The noise is enough to bother me a bit while just sitting around the house doing other things, so trying to sleep while it is running would be just awful.

Oh, and some quick testing last night showed that it ran most things in openssl speed faster than my Mac Pro. Hopefully I’ll be able to run the whole DB from RAM.

Hmm, I just dropped the full 8GB back in there, turned on PowerNow! and ACPI 2.0 and I’m building ImageMagick to see how things go. While that runs I think I’m going to go for a bike ride.

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Trail at River Bends

Riding from my house to the trail at River Bends Park, out to Ryan Rd, around the old Nike site, and back home.

I actually managed to leave work early enough today that I was able to go for a nice bike ride after work. It was only 1:16 and just over 16 miles long, but it felt good. I made my way from home over to River Bends Park in Shelby Township, then headed down the foot / bike trail through the woods. This is a 2.5 mile winding trail with some nice hills, sharp turns, and interesting things to look at. I found that the tires I have are pretty okay for this sort of trail riding, except on parts of the path. Oh, and I also found that moving quickly through a swarm of bugs while breathing heavily through one’s mouth is not particularly pleasant.

Since I’m uncomfortably stinky, and because I finally stopped at Trader Joe’s on the way home and purchased more deodorant (I’ve been out for a week), I think I’ll go shower. Oh, and my new server was actually delivered today, so I think I’ll unpack it and grab photos of it post shower. I also might try a new (to me) Southern Tier beer called Back Burner, but I’m not sure… Maybe I’ll just let that wait for tomorrow. I’ve already got enough things I still want to get done tonight.

Oh, want the KMZ of today’s ride? It’s here: 24-Apr-2008.kmz, and here it is in Google Maps. Please excuse the two tracks. Google Earth can’t merge tracks (I imagine there is a good reason for this), my GPS decreased the resolution when saving the current log to a file, and it seems that multiple Active Logs had to be created to deal with the number of points I was generating today. Oh, yeah, I decided to try doing one-per-second points which, as you can see, has resulted in a much smoother route plot. It’s too bad this relatively short ride filled 49% of the memory on the GPS. Maybe I really do need an SD based GPS data logger…

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/mode +w #beer

Victory's Hop Wallop poured into a glass. It's a somewhat syrupy, very hoppy beer. I like it.

Tonight I ended up staying at work until about 8:20pm helping a coworker out with something. It’s not set and he’s on vacation tomorrow, so I’ll end up working on it too. Ah well.

Since I got home too late to go ride my bike I ended up boxing up Ivan’s P3, making a frozen pizza, then watching some TiVo’d stuff and WTVS-HD before wandering back up here to my computer. So, why did I box up the P3? Well, remember the failing PLED post? Yep, it’s bad. While the first one didn’t display very well, the second doesn’t display at all.

I had actually emailed the pictures of the questionable display (1, 2) to the tech support people at Crystalfontz to see if what I was seeing really is indicative of a failing PLED. One of the tech support people replied, confirming that it is what I thought, and suggesting a replacement display. If you’d like to read the whole thread between the tech support person and I, it’s archived as a PNG here.

So, now Ivan is sorting out grabbing a new LCD and then I’ll get back to work on his P3. For now I’ve boxed it up and it’s sitting in a safe place, above ground level, not below any water pipes.

My next (current?) project is now a set of PCBs similar to the RS232 to Eaton Leonard Level Shifter boards which I did last year, but instead accepting ~7VDC – ~40VDC (or straight 5VDC) for the power, with the conversion being handled by a reference implementation of a switching supply. (This is the supply whose ripple is shown here.) The parts are ordered for the first run of them, I just need to wait until they arrive, confirm the footprints, order the PCBs, test, and build.

But for now? I rest.

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Tyan Transport GX28 (B2882)

I just hit submit at to complete the purchase of a Tyan Transport GX28 server with a Tyan Thunder K8S Pro (S2882). As item number N82E16856152008 the barebones server was only $409.99, with $31.24 shipping. Thanks to a friend helping me out with some RAM and some disks which I’ll be able to make redundant I’ll likely end up with a 1U server with a pair of Opteron 800-series CPUs, 8GB of RAM, and mirrored 500GB SATA disks.

This all brings about an interesting question of where to host the new box. I’ve discussed this before, and the more I think about it the more I want to get my box out of Waveform. Things are working fine for now, but I question what will happen if or when the box does start to have problems. The provider I’m most seriously looking at would run $100/mo

So, now I just have to wait for things to be shipped and delivered and then I can start assembling it all. I imagine I’ll let it cook for a few weeks to a month before installing it. It’ll be running FreeBSD 7.0, likely with a custom kernel and world rebuilt specifically for the CPU. I think I’ll also want to give the new ULE scheduler a go, particularly after seeing this presentation (PDF) about where FreeBSD is going.

I’ll continue to stick with lighttpd, although I hope that the OpenSSL bug in 1.4.19 is fixed in ports soon. Disks will likely be mirrored with gmirror, although I will investigate the on-board hardware RAID. I’ll probably also stick with MySQL for the db and Postfix for mail. Basically, nothing will change in that regard.

I may opt to eliminate some individuals I currently host from the box, mostly because I never have contact with them. I don’t mind hosting people, but when the sites sit mostly unused and I have almost no contact with the individuals who use them (except when there are problems, of course), it’s a bit frustrating to keep up maintenance on apps running on the sites. Also, this new provider has stricter limits on bandwidth (1mb, 95th percentile), and I need to be a bit more careful about how it is used. Anyway, if I’m opting to remove your site from hosting I’ll contact you outside of here and provide you with a chance to get your data.

For now I wait, then build. This could be pretty nifty. Oh, and the colocation provider offers IPv6 at no extra charge, so that ought to be fun to play with as well.

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Failing PLED?

Two lines of display on the failing PLED during bootloader update. Note that the second line is more faint than the first, pixels are smaller than expected, and there is distinct fading around the edges of the display.

Last night I made quite a bit of progress on Ivan’s P3, getting it up and running, but I did run into a few problems. First, as can be seen above, the PLED which came with the enclosure seems to be failing. It will either display no text, one line of text, or (rarely) both lines, and every time pixels seem small and dim, with the edges of the display fading to nothing. Only a power cycle of the P3 seems to (re-)activate non-working parts of the display. As the P3 still functions even when nothing appears on the display, I believe that it’s actually the display elements of the PLED which is failing.

Here is the PLED in my P3 from 2006, and when it is compared with these two images (1, 2) of the PLED from Ivan’s P3, it seems pretty obvious that something is wrong.

Thankfully there was a spare PLED in the package of parts I received, so tonight I’m going to try that one instead.

Second, I’m not happy with the cables I made for connecting the tempo and data pots to the mainboard, so I’m going to remake them. The tempo pot connection seems to be a bit flaky, so I’m not sure the pins are properly seated in the connector. The cables are also short enough that they are difficult to connect, so I’ll probably redo them with braided 24 gauge hookup wire or something like that.

Finally, the v1.5 mainboard construction notes indicate that when the P3 is being set up for MIDI sync, D2 and D3 should be replaced with 220pF caps in order to add a bit of extra capacitance to the lines to work around false triggers. I didn’t have any 220pF parts, and none came with the kit, so I instead used 330pF parts. I don’t believe this will be a problem, but I made a post to the analogue-sequencer group asking for confirmation.

Beyond those three problems, the build is going quite well. I’m very happy with how both the step board and keypad came out. The IDC ribbon cables, their connection, and power input stuff also worked out great.

I was also able to get the latest bootloader and v3 firmware on the P3, which means that as soon as the other issues are sorted out I can get the MemX and latest v4 beta installed. After that it’ll just be time to install the knobs, test it out, and ship it back to Ivan.

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Good Progress on Ivan’s P3

Detail of the bank of 12 resistors in the lower right corner of the mainboard PCB. I like how these look once fitted.

Today I made a bunch of progress on the Sequentix P3 I’m currently building. Before today I’d only checked out the parts to be sure most of them were there, looked over everything, and did some general setup to be sure assembly could progress. Today I started fitting pieces, and I’m definitely more than half done at this point.

Because this P3 uses a slightly older board set (v1.5) I had to use this set of older DIY Sequentix P3 directions, but this didn’t prove to be too difficult. While I was able to complete the mainboard, I had to make some slight modifications. It seems that the v1.5 P3 board set only supports MIDI sync or DIN sync. One must read carefully through the main board and IO board pages to figure out what extra components to add, which to leave out, and what to do differently. In short, I had to leave out some parts from the mainboard and fit two capacitors where diodes once went and add in an extra pullup resistor on the bottom of the board.

The two capacitors on the top of the board are intended to add a bit of capacitance to the input lines of the PIC which handles MIDI sync. It is suggested that 220 pF parts be used, but as I didn’t have any of them I fitted some spare 330 pF parts. I don’t think this will cause any problems, and hopefully it won’t. The extra resistor on the bottom of the board is to help work around slow rise times on the MIDI output caused by additional capacitance brought about by the inclusion of RFI filters on the IO board.

I’m hoping to be able to power it up for the first time either tomorrow or Tuesday. How late I get home from work will determine how much I’m able to get done each night.

Here’s a few more photos of parts from tonight:

· Completed Mainboard w/o ICs: Top / Bottom
· Completed upper and lower pot boards.
· Pots for the P3, plus spares, with lugs removed and thick 1/4″ washers fitted for spacing.
· Completed IO board, set up for MIDI sync.
· Completed function switch board.
· Twelve resistors.
· Incomplete keypad board with 1N4148 diodes fitted.

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GPS Logger and Bike Riding

As shown earlier and resulting some KMZ files, I will frequently clamp my GPS to the handlebar of my bike and log where I’ve ridden. The problem I’m finding is batteries… The older Garmin eTrex Legend that I have will chew through a pair of disposable AA in an hour and a half, and good rechargables don’t last beyond three. This is short enough that it’s starting to become a hassle to use the thing. On top of that, dumping the data into a computer sucks down even more battery.

I’m thinking that my next electronics project should be a low power GPS logger that either writes to some local flash, or to a microSD (or whatnot) card. I think that one of the random modules from SparkFun, a PIC, a off the shelf FAT library, a FT232R could make it all work nicely. It could recharge via USB and have a couple basic buttons and LEDs for resetting saved logs or whatnot. All I’d need to do is ensure that it’s in a standard format (shouldn’t be hard) and GPSBabel will be able to make it anything else I’d want.

Now, since I just rode ~21 miles, I’m going to go shower then get back to work on Ivan’s P3.

Oh, and look at this: FTDI’s USB to USB null modem cable (PDF Flyer). I could really use one of those too.

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Beginning Ivan’s Sequentix P3

Most of the parts for Ivan's P3 laid out on a table next to my workbench for easy selection.

This afternoon I ran by the local FedEx depot at the intersection of Brown Road and Giddings Road in Auburn Hills to pick up a box containing the next P3 I am to build, for another person from the analogue-sequencer Yahoo! Group. It turns out that this facility doesn’t normally receive in-person pickups, as I had to enter through the employee entrance (metal detectors and all), enter the office, and just sit in a waiting area until the person brought out my package.

After a nice bike ride around Dodge Park with Danielle I opened up the package containing the P3 and started sorting through all of the parts, laying them out on the table for easy access. On initial glance everything seems to be there, except for a couple small screws for holding the enclosure together.

This is actually a slightly older enclosure design than I worked with on on my P3, as it doesn’t include niceties like the subpanel to help with the pot assembly, and the clearance around and mounting of the PLED leave a bit to be desired. That said, I imagine assembly will go pretty smoothly.

I’ll get started with the actual assembly tomorrow, although I might take a break for a bike ride if the weather isn’t too threatening.

Oh, and (per usual) there are a few more photos of Ivan’s P3 here in this album in my gallery: Sequentix P3 for Ivan

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Things I Learned Today

Today after work I rode to Rochester, then a little ways down the Paint Creek Trail, then back to work. It was a total of just over 16 miles, but they were particularly tiring. I also learned a bunch of things during the ride, and here are some of them:

· Auburn Hills and Rochester Hills are named that way for a reason. What is a fun, hilly area to drive is hell under one’s own power. A few miles of uphill with no trees gets tiring quickly.
· The gates at work will not open for a pedestrian or a person on a bicycle, regardless of if a person is swiping a badge or the guard is pressing the button. There seem to be hall effect sensors or something similar in the pavement, and my bike is too small, too non-ferrous, or both. Thankfully an AT&T guy was pulling into one of the data centers behind me, so I just pulled forward until the gate opened for him.
· The sort of crosswalks Rochester has installed on the Clinton River Trail are crap. Here is one. It has a raised median on which it is too small for a bike to stop, but it is ringed with plastic posts making it difficult to traverse in one go. These should be replaced with crosswalk signals and flashing yellows which turn red when someone presses a button. It’d then be easy to cross in light traffic, and easy (despite stopping) if traffic is heavy.
· I could ride to and from work in a reasonable amount of time, but the area near work would make it pretty unpleasant. I’d also be quite stinky and there aren’t showers at work. As I’ve now ridden this route in two separate pieces, one day when I have more daylight available I’ll do it in one go.
· Armhair, particularly mine, is very good at trapping gnats and other small insects when riding through swarms.
· I still don’t feel very comfortable on non-paved areas nor around other people while using pedals which attach me to the bike. I may need to loosen the tension, and I definitely need to work on the positioning of the cleats themselves on the shoes.
· Way, way too many people don’t know how to handle themselves around bike. When someone says “passing on your left”, don’t stop and turn around. Yes, you have the right of way, but you should be reasonably comfortable with where you are as well. You also should be courteous and not take up the whole width of the path with strollers, dogs, or your desire to ride two or three abreast at all times, particularly when you can see people coming in your direction.

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