Friday, March 21, 2003

Heat Pipe. Wicked.

I bought a fancy new machine a couple weeks ago, and I must share.

I've been lusting after Shuttle's little SS51G case for a while now. It's about the size of a toaster, and comes with a small form factor Socket 478 motherboard. The motherboard has integrated video, audio, and ethernet, and there are USB and firewire sockets on the front and back of the case.

Because the case is so small, heat management is a challenge, and so Shuttle has a very cool liquid-filled heat pipe that conducts heat from the CPU to a fan on the back of the case. That fan and a small one on the power supply are the only fans in the system, which (they claim) makes it a fairly quiet system.
The small size, built-in ethernet, and clever heat management have made me eye this as a replacement for my aging Pentium-Pro 200 server (which currently runs this site). I finally got around to buying one recently, along with a 1.7 Ghz Celeron (the slowest, cheapest CPU available for Socket 478), 256MB DRAM, a cd burner, and a super-quiet Seagate 80 Gig Barracuda drive. The grand total, including shipping (from Tiger Direct): $582.
The system is up and running Redhat 8.0, and I'm in the process of migrating MonkeySpeak's services over to it. (Everything's moved now except for the websites, which are still on the PPro). It works great so far, with only two real issues.
First, it's not as quiet as Shuttle made it sound: the fans are pretty quiet, but there's a fair bit of case rattle. Pressing my hand on the case quiets it down, which makes me believe that some strategic padding may solve the problem.
If I can resolve the case rattle, I think it'll be hard to hear the machine from more than a few feet away.
Second, the integrated (SiS 651) video has had issues. In XFree86, It's only recognized as Generic VESA, and runs at 56Hz. That's headache territory for me. The image is also distorted on the edges of the monitor. I know Shuttle's early cases had video issues, but I'd heard that they'd been resolved in recent models. To be fair, I haven't spent any time trying to resolve the video issues, so it's possible that some driver fiddling and monitor tweaking would set things right.
In any case, I'm running the machine monitorless (and keyboardless and mouseless) as a server, so the video issues don't affect me at all. And if I were using it as a desktop machine, I'd probably use the case's AGP slot to put in some real video hardware. (Though I hear that the 200W power supply may not be enough for today's power-hungry video cards. So it may be this case isn't cut out for real video work.)
All in all, I'm very impressed with the system. Except for the case rattle, I'm in awe of the construction. Everything is machined beautifully, everything aligns flawlessly, and the internal layout is very well thought-out. If you're in the market for a little server machine, I highly recommend it.

I suppose it's better than rounding down.

I have a question for you smart people.

I've written a clever little script that takes an ordered inclusion/exclusion list of paths for backup, then figures out how many cd's it would take to back the whole thing up, partitions the data, and burns that many cd's. It puts an index file on every disk, so you can always tell which disk to go to for any given file.
Later I'll write a script that can read the index file and restore a subtree, prompting for each relevant disk as needed.

It's very straightforward, but there's one problem. I'm currently accumulating file sizes in bytes to figure out how to partition files onto cd's, but I know some sort of disk block rounding will occur. (Every file, no matter how small, will take 1k or 4k or something). Plus I'm sure there's some amount of ISO 9660 filesystem overhead which I should account for too. If I don't account for these things, I'll end up trying to fit more on each cd than can actually fit.

So my question is this: Is there any principled way for me to account for block size rounding and filesystem overhead when I'm working out how many files I can cram on a CD? Or should I just give up and just leave a 10% buffer for "overhead"?

Friday, March 7, 2003

Housing. Why else smile at the words "double pain"?

[Posted by Noah:]

Hello, this is Noah. I bought a house recently and mentioned it on this forum.

I'll be having another party at the Disaster House on March 14th. If you've got the URL from the last party, hit "reload" there and you'll have all the information for the new one plus some nifty new disaster pics. I plan to continue announcing parties at the same URL, so you can hit "reload" for the next party's info in a couple of weeks.

If you don't have the URL and want to be invited then e-mail me at my Yahoo address, or as angelbob at Tom's domain name. It's a very open sort of affair and you're welcome to forward the information liberally to folks who might want to show up.

We'll be continuing our tradition of a mystery guest from Pittsburgh showing up at the party, and possibly our host-in-a-Utilikilt tradition as well.

Tuesday, March 4, 2003

It makes my brain feel all tingly.

Today I finally got around to setting up a wireless network at home. With no evidence that brand makes a difference, and with mostly positive experiences with LinkSys in the past, I opted for the LinkSys WAP11 access point and WPC11 PCMCIA card for my laptop.

Yes, I know I'm several years behind the curve. But I like it that way, in part because hardware tends to work in Linux several years after it comes out. As usual, I benefitted enormously from google-gleaned expertise. I never would have figured out the obscure /etc/pcmcia/hermes.conf stuff on my own, but after that incantation, things just worked. As we speak, I'm basking in the warmth of 2.4Ghz radiation.

Mmmmmm... 2.4Ghz...

Saturday, March 1, 2003

Fred Rogers on fair use.

From Boing Boing, the late Fred Rogers on fair use, in his congressional testimony defending the VCR:

Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been 'You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions.' Maybe I'm going on too long, but I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.


I went to school at CMU, which is a couple blocks from the studio where the Neighborhood was filmed, and we'd even hear of Mr Rogers sightings in our neighborhoods (Oakland and Shadyside) from time to time. It always felt good, knowing he was around.

What a great man. He will be missed.