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Time to Move Colocation Providers?

For a few months now I’ve been considering replacing the mid tower server currently hosting nuxx.net, rowla.nuxx.net, with a new 1U box. After Waveform moved my server between facilities, powering it off hard without warning, I’ve been thinking that I should really look for other colocation facilities in Southeast Michigan.

Thanks to some folks [info]niteshade introduced me to via IRC, I seem to have two options, both in Southfield. One of the facilities I’m looking at is a privately leased rack in 123.net‘s facility and would cost around US$80/mo for 1Mb, billed to 95th percentile. The other option is Clear Rate Communications colocation facility, and that would run $99/mo for the same amount of bandwidth and no-charge access during business hours.

While Waveform has generally been good to me, I have noticed some issues with customer service since I moved in there a few years ago. Response to support tickets is very slow, and it’s almost impossible to actually get someone on the phone. I’ve also received a handful (two or three, I believe) of unsolicited pieces of email from individuals who are looking for some way to contact anyone at Waveform. It seems that their boxes had gone down for whatever reason and they were unable to get a hold of anyone to reset them, ship them back, or even tell them what was wrong for multiple days.

This all brings me to my thoughts about a possible replacement server. Ideally I would buy a new 1U server, put that in the new facility, move the data away from Waveform, transfer all services, then shut down the box at Waveform. I’m fairly sure I know what I want server-wise, but I don’t know if I can (should) afford it. Ideally I’d get something like the following:

· Supermicro SuperServer 5015M-MT+ / 5015M-MT+B ($629.99 at Newegg)
· 2x Seagate Barracuda ES.2 SATA 3.0-Gb/s 500-GB Hard Drive ($131.99/ea at Newegg)
· Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 ($188.99 at Newegg)
·
Supermicro AOC-IPMI20-E IPMI Card/BMC ($55.95 at Amazon)
· Crucial 2GB kit (1GBx2), 240-pin DIMM, DDR2 PC2-5300 memory module ($63.99)

This is $1070.91, plus around $35 in shipping and taxes. Of course, I could just move the box from Waveform to Clear Rate (or wherever). That would cause a few days of weirdness, but it’d be a lot cheaper. I could then wait until the current box becomes a bit more questionable and get a new machine at that time.

I’m just not really sure what to do for now, so I think I’ll just wait a bit. Hopefully Waveform (and my box) will at least remain stable.

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75V of LR44

Last week I found that the battery in my cheap Harbor Freight special digital caliper had died. Upon the suggestion of some people on IRC I grabbed a set of them from eBay; 50 batteries for US$6.48, shipped.

So, now I have a whole bunch of LR44 batteries if anyone needs any. I don’t think I’ll be using 50 of them any time soon.

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Good Customer Service

Those of you who know me know that I’m not particularly shy about complaining about poor products, poor customer service, or other things which I’m not too happy about. While I also will mention products and companies I’m happy with, I don’t make particularly permanent record of it.

Recently I’ve had a couple good customer experiences and I wanted to make note of them, so I started a page on nuxx.net called Good Customer Service. The three which I currently have listed are Cateye (replaced a broken part, although it’s arguable if this is good or just acceptable), VG’s (who put in a bike rack on request), and Cequent (who sent me a new bolt after I stupidly broke the last one).

On a slightly related note, I received a fastener kit from Cequent today which included the U bolt I broke, and I had no problems fitting it on to the car. I even torqued it down with the questionable wrench, but only after first exercising the wrench to be certain that it’s appropriately clicking when reaching the desired torque. Now that I understand it and it’s shortcomings, it’s a reasonable, but cheap torque wrench. I don’t think I’ll be returning it.

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Riding to River Bends

After work today I decided to try riding to River Bends Park in Shelby Township, just west of here. I wanted to get there safely using as most pavement as possible, and I did, going as far as one of the old buildings from when the park land was a Nike Hercules missile site. The military standard yellow paint can still be seen on some of the steps above.

Lots more about the Nike program can be found at Wikipedia and Ed Thelen’s Nike Missile Web Site .

Riding there with 20 MPH winds right in my face was a bit challenging, and they caused me to swerve whenever I’d be riding perpendicular to them, but they made riding home nice and easy. I then wound my way home for a total of about 13 miles, put the basket on my bike, then went up to the store for some groceries. All in all I think I rode just abotu 16 – 16.5 miles.

Hopefully another day this week, or maybe this weekend, I can try to make it all the way to Stony Creek via a reasonably safe route.

Here’s two KMZ files, one from yesterday when Danielle, [info]replika, and I rode a bit over 10 miles on one of the local converted railroad trails, and one from today when I went over to River Bends:

· 06-Apr-2008.kmz (Google Maps)
· 07-Apr-2008.kmz (Google Maps)

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Broken U Bolt On Hitch

This is what happens when one uses a torque wrench expecting it to work right, without a understanding of what 20 foot pounds feels like. Before heading off to the park with Danielle, I decided to take my new (and admittedly cheap) Michigan Industrial Tools torque wrench and check the torque on the bolts on my hitch.

I set the wrench for 20 foot pounds, put it on the bolt, and pushed. Since the torque wrench is supposed to click when it reaches the amount of torque specified, and I didn’t hear any click, I figured it had to be tighter, so I pushed a bit more. The bolt turned, then I pushed a bit more. Suddenly there was a BANG and the bolt clattered to the ground having broken off.

Later in the evening I hooked the torque wrench to another wrench and tried it out, applying force every way I could think of, and it wouldn’t click. I played with it a bunch, turned the adjustment all the way in and out a few times, applied more force to it, and after about 20 minutes of playing it finally freed up and started working. I then found out how little force 20 foot pounds actually is.

It took my working the adjustment part of the tool back and forth a few times, and then applying a solid amount of force opposite the direction the torque wrench should be used in (that is, against the arrow) before I felt something loosen up inside the tool and it started working.

So, it turns out that the problem seems to have been caused by my lack of knowledge and the torque wrench’s generally being crap. I’m still torn as to whether or not I should return it. Sure, it only cost ~$30, but if it’s not reliable it’s not particularly useful.

The bigger problem is finding another bolt. What I need is a 3/8-16 u-bolt, for 9/16″ outside diameter pipe, but I can’t seem to find it. Checking both McMaster-Carr and Grainger, all I can find is 1/4-20 parts at that spacing. McMaster-Carr lists the 1/4-20 stainless steel part as having a working load limit of 435 pounds, which is probably 4x or 5x what the bikes and hitch weigh. I’m not sure if it’s enough, but it might be my only choice.

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Route to Metro Parkway

After shipping off Mark’s P3 yesterday I decided to go for a bit of a bike ride. With the finally-like-spring weather here in SE Michigan (57°) I was actually able to wear a light shirt, biking shorts (baggies), and proper biking shoes while riding.

I first headed down Schoenherr with the intention of riding to Metro Parkway, but I soon found that sidewalk / pathway abruptly ends just north of Clinton River Road. That means that one of the largest north / south roads in the area misses connecting to one of the biggest east / west roads by about a mile. One can’t really ride in the road because it’s 50MPH with no shoulders, and riding along the side of the road means going through muddy grass, and crossing rivers while riding in traffic. So, I decided to head west along Clinton River road. Right after passing under the large set of high tension power lines I saw the entrance to the trails along the Clinton River.

Riding through there I eventually passed through Dodge Park, past the nature center, under M-53, and to the very muddy end of the trail next to the Social Security office along VanDyke. Riding along the trail was nice, as it’s a very curvy bit of occasionally mud covered (it is a floodplain, after all) asphalt, with not-huge-but-fun hills. There were a good number of people and dogs out on the trail, but for the most part no one was a problem and I was able to easily pass by just slowing down and saying excuse me if they hadn’t already seen me.

After hitting the end of the trail I turned north along VanDyke, but the first 1/2 miles or so there is only a well worn dirt path clearly used by other people taking the same route I did. I then headed along there and wound my way through neighborhoods and parks, across one of the new(-ish) M-53 pedestrian overpasses, through some more neighborhoods, and back home.

If you’re interested, here is a KMZ of yesterday’s route, and here it is right in Google Maps.

While I didn’t make it all the way to Metro Parkway, being able to easily get to Dodge Park showed that there’s a long, fun route which I can take to reach the trail to Metro Beach and possibly further than that. Now I just need to find a safe way to reach the Paint Creek and Macomb Orchard Trails.

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Sequentix P3 #008 Is Complete

Well, that’s it. Mark Pulver’s Sequentix P3, serial number 008 is complete. I spent a good part of the evening tonight finishing it up. The biggest part was making this custom, reversing DIP28 to DIP28 cable so that the MemX expansion which was giving me problems yesterday could instead be mounted next to the main PCB. I then stuck the MemX down to a freshly cleaned case with two layers of foam adhesive.

I also replaced all of the mounting hardware for PCB which holds the MIDI ports with some slightly taller pieces. This made it so that the DIN5 / MIDI ports are properly centered in the cutout in the enclosure.

After being sure it was working I closed it up and gave it some final tests using a Radium 49 and MIDIbox SID-NUXX for testing the MIDI inputs and outputs. Everything is working, so this means its done and is ready to go back to Mark. That’ll be tomorrow’s task… Hopefully the post office won’t be too crowded.

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Sequentix P3 #008 Is Working

It works, it’s running with one of the v4.00 beta OS’, and it’s almost done.

Tonight I did most of the final work on Mark Pulver’s Sequentix P3. This included making the cables, connecting the display, mounting the pots (complete with washers for support as mentioned yesterday, hooking everything up, and fixing any mistakes.

It turns out that I had two small errors which caused me some stress and parts of the P3 to not work, but they were easily sorted out. The first problem was an unsoldered pin 1 (OE) on one of the 74HC573 ICs. This made the whole thing act quirky, almost as if buttons were randomly being pressed. There was even odd garbage appearing on the LCD.

The second problem was that I put the 1N4148 diode on the pot function switch backwards. You can see the error here. The misplaced part is D9. This caused the button not to work and was real easy to troubleshoot.

I also found that the DIN5 MIDI ports on the back of the enclosure sit too low, making plugging and unplugging cables difficult, if they can even reach. Putting an extra M4 nut on each post beneath the PCB raises it up enough, but shorts me on M4 nuts. I’ll see if I can get some more tomorrow.

Upgrading the firmware to the v4.00 beta 26 to support the MemX memory expansion module was a bit of a hassle, simply because I kept receiving a BAD DATA error every time I tried. I originally thought the problem was due to some MIDI routing weirdness caused by new MIDISPORT drivers or MIDIOX, but in the end it was simply a firmware version compatability issue. This was resolved by using a bootloader update found in the analogue-sequencer file section.

After getting to the v4 firmware I ran into two other problems. First, capacitor C3 was tall enough and located in such a place on this old version of the PCB that the MemX board simply wouldn’t plug in. This was resolved by replacing C3 with a new 10μF 25V electrolytic cap, but mounting it on its side to be lower profile.

Then, while putting it all back together, I ran into what’s probably the biggest actual problem of the whole assembly: the case won’t close with the MemX board fitted. The place where the MemX board sits in the enclosure just happens to be directly below an IDC connector and the pot board. With the MemX fitted the case stays open about 1.5cm. With this large of a gap I can’t move the board sideways to avoid the connector because then it’d just hit another PCB.

As you can see above I was able to finish up the knobs and get the case mostly complete. As soon as I talk with Mark and figure out what he’d like to do with the MemX board (leave it out and sell it, or see if I can find another way to fit it in, which may not be possible) I’ll be ready to finish up testing and ship it out. All the buttons and pots work as expected. The display does its thing, and MIDI in works. I just need to test MIDI out and maybe sequence a couple things with it just to be sure it’s working and it’ll be done and on its way back to Mark.

Per usual, there’s a bunch more photos to look at. The ones taken tonight start on page 3, so help yourself if you’d like to see them.

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Sequentix P3 #008 Continues

Last night I did a bunch more work on the Sequentix P3 that I’m building for Mark Pulver. Unfortunately last night was the time where I started to see issues with the project. In short, I now understand why Colin moved away from not very many people used this case design for the P3. On top of the poor button / pot / LCD layout, the tolerances on the case just aren’t very good.

Here’s a rundown of the problems:

Step Switches: I fashioned a jig to hold the 1-16 buttons in place on the step switch / LED board, and that worked rather well for aligning all the buttons in a nice row, and they automatically lined themselves up with the holes in the PCB. Unfortunately, the screw holes for mounting the PCB aren’t perfectly in line with the slot cut out for the buttons themselves. The end result is that on the left side of that row the buttons are about 1mm lower than on the right side. The buttons all work fine, but they just look a little off.

Function Switches: The way the holes are drilled for the function switches, along with the alignment of the screw holes, the red (key function) button rubbed a bit in the hole. A little bit of filing cleared this up.

LCD Alignment: With the stock LCD for this original P3 enclosure fitted, it doesn’t quite line up with the hole cut for it, leaving the bottom and left side of its bezel visible. This may not be an issues as the actual displayed data will likely be centered, but it doesn’t look as good as it could. Additionally, the mounting holes are not physically compatible with one of the PLEDs used in later P3s. It may be possible to get the PLED to fit, but this would require a bit rigging, possibly involving cutting the corners out of the PCB and fashioning some sort of mount.

Potentiometers: The P3 uses analog pots for a number of inputs. This works very well, except pots (as seen above or here) have small tabs sticking off of them. These tabs are normally fitted into drilled holes and they keep the pots from rotating during assembly or use. The subpanels for the newer P3 enclosure have holes for these tabs, but the original enclosure on Mark’s P3 doesn’t. Because of this, if I were to tighten down the pots they would be bent to the side. To work around this I’ll just snap off tabs (a trivial process, really) and then stack some washers between the panel and pot body to space things as nicely as possible. This will allow the mounting hardware on the pots to be properly tightened.

Now, that out of the way, the good things: I had no problem getting all the LEDs fitted / mounted / nicely aligned in the panel. These are all soldered into place and the PCBs holding them can pretty much be removed at will. All ICs have been fitted into their sockets, and things are progressing quickly towards the ever-so-scary first powerup.

Oh, I also had no problems making a jig out of cable ties and an old heatsink and blue masking tape to handle alignment of the keypad. I’m really happy with how it came out, and thankfully its mounting is not misaligned in the front panel like the other keys.

Next, and hopefully tonight, comes the boards and pots and switches and such together, finalizing mounting of the pot boards, and hopefully getting it running for the first time.

After making this post, Colin Fraser corrected me with regards to the case design. This case is actually the Maddox design. The original Sequentix P3, of which only four exist, can be seen here.

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Another Sequentix P3

Thanks to the analogue-sequencer Yahoo! Group, a discussion group for individuals interested in the Sequentix P3, I ended up getting in touch with a guy by the name of Mark Pulver who was in need of having his Sequentix P3 kit assembled. I sent him a link to my Sequentix P3 page at nuxx.net and photos of my P3 assembly and I imagine he liked what he saw because he asked me to assemble his.

After languishing in transit for a week and a half between his place and mine, I stopped off on the way to work and picked up the package from the post office. It was a quite large, well-packed box which should be just about right for safely shipping it back to him once it’s assembled.

Before getting to work I had to dig around for a while and locate the old Sequentix P3 assembly instructions. See, Mark actually has a kit for one of the original P3s, serial number 008, before the restyled and rackmountable case. These older versions also had a different PCB layout and BOM, so I couldn’t use the normal DIY instructions. I find this quite interesting because I’ll now have built both versions of the P3. I’m not sure how many people besides Colin Fraser, the creator of the P3 have actually gotten to see both of them in such detail.

Tonight I managed to assemble most of the easier parts of the PCBs. As can be seen above (or here full size) I fitted the sockets, resistors, caps, diodes, sockets, and other small parts. Tomorrow I hope to get to the pots, switches, LEDs, and other parts which are considerably more particular about placement. Since they are what the user actually interacts with I want to be particularly careful about them. After that it should just be a matter of completing the major component assembly, testing everything, ensuring that the firmware upgrades work as expected, getting the MemX memory expansion working, testing it all thoroughly, then sending it back. Hopefully by the end of the weekend that’s where it’ll be.

After this I may be doing some similar assembly work for another P3 (newer case style), an ASM2, and possibly some Blacet modules.

If you’d like to see all of the photos from this P3 assembly, check out this gallery: Sequentix P3 for Mark Pulver

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