Tag Archives: hardware

Mmmm… floor pie….

I bought a Raspberry Pi. I know there are faster, more powerful “System on a chip” computers, but the wealth of knowledge and information on the pi made it an obvious choice. I bought the “Model-B”, that features an Ethernet network port and lashed out and got a clear plastic case for it. I like to think it gives it a mini-Orac look…

I’m planning on using it to write basic web services to suit my needs. The first one, is going to be as the “back-end” (or “cloud” if you will!) for an Android app I have been thinking of.

Any app-store with half a million apps or so in it, is bound to have already covered the ideas I am likely to come up with. So, it is strictly a case of “done for the fun” combined with “not-invented-here” syndrome. Ultimately, I am planning on learning something away from what I do and know from work.

Like all true home projects, it runs the risks of being abandoned half-way through. However it goes, I’ll endeavour to blog about it as I go…

Tales of a lucky escape and a worthwhile purchase

Ker-boom!I have always been a bit blasé about thunderstorms.  It is not my fault!  I grew up in an area prone to them and as such have become desensitised to their awesome fury.  I know the dangers are real, I have respect for their power, but at the same time I look forward to the light-show more than fear the possibility of damage and destruction.  A resident of Los Angeles probably feels the same way about minor earth tremors – whereas I would be scared witless by them.
A while back I replaced my aging ADSL modem/router in an attempt to fix drop-outs in service that I was experiencing.  The replacement did not really fare any better and eventually I traced the fault back to an under-spec line filter.  I kept the new modem/router as it had features useful for VOIP, but I was slightly annoyed at myself.
Recently, we experienced a heavy electrical storm.  Remember how I said I was blasé about storms?  Well, when the lightning is so close that there is no distinguishable gap between lightning and thunder, and you here arcing on the power lines, even I tend to duck and utter expletives in shock!  The roly-poly-cat took fright too, and wouldn’t be comforted by someone who was visibly shaken.  It has been my experience that electrical equipment doesn’t get damaged in storms as often as you may believe.  Most equipment just keeps on keeping on!  YMMV!
Of course, this time was different.  The new modem/router lost the Internet connection. I could still “see” the device, it could still report line attenuation and signal to noise ratios, but using it to access the Internet was beyond its post lightning strike capabilities.  So, it was time to drag out the old modem, which was now reserved for “emergency backup duties”.  Sure enough – it worked and so did I. (I had been working from home at the time)
The silver lining to my grey thundercloud turned out to be that the purchase of the newer modem had been necessary after-all. Whilst the new modem had not cured the dropouts until I upgraded the line-filter, the old modem still suffered from them – even with the new line filter.  So, I declared that the new modem was a “worthwhile” (if somewhat short-lived) purchase.  That night, having soldiered on through numerous drop-outs, I decided to have a closer look at the new modem.  It was worth the effort!  It turned out that the lightning strike had simply erased the settings of the new modem.  Having re-established these, I performed my lucky escape!  And everyone lived happily ever after!
Living without surge protectors in an area prone to thunderstoms may seem risky or careless to some people.  I do not know much about high-voltage, but do know that the close proximity of unprotected and protected wires on most “domestic” surge protector boards is likely to be insufficient to prevent arcing between them.  Still, when a horse points at an open gate and says “next time I’m bolting” I pay attention.  I have since bought myself an eight point surge protector, complete with phone line and coaxial cable shielding.  I will let you know, if lightning strikes twice. :-)

The Network N00b

I am a network n00b.  I remember when networking on Windows (and DOS for that matter!) was fiendishly difficult and I am truly glad those days are behind us.  Although it is not really related, I was reminded of those days recently when I was trying to determine why my home internet connection would sporadically drop out.

I used these drop-outs as motivation to finally replace my ADSL modem / router with a new one.  I have wanted one for a while now, but couldn’t justify replacing a working one.  The world has finite resources after all, and we really don’t need the extra land-fill!  The drop-outs commonly took the form of firstly losing the VPN connection to work followed by extraordinarily long times to resolve web addresses.

The only way I had found to correct the problem was to power-cycle the ADSL modem.  Once I had bought and installed the new ADSL modem / router, I was horrified to discover the problem had seemingly become worse!  Now, a power-cycle was not always sufficient to recover from the problem.

Fortunately, diagnosis of the problem became much simpler with the new modem.  Once “the problem” occurred, I discovered that I could still ping the gateway machine, but I could not ping the primary or secondary DNS servers of my ISP.  The new modem has a less cryptic web interface.  This was able to tell me diagnostic information such as line attenuation and signal-to-noise ratios.  (The old one probably could do this, but I had a bad “hunt-to-peck” ratio – clicking on random links before I found the page I was looking for!)

Armed with a few statistics, I turned to the Internet for possible answers (when it was available!) It did not take long to find an answer and I am annoyed with myself for not starting the problem resolution here!  Recently, our local exchange had upgraded from ADSL to ADSL2+.  I had upgraded the firmware in my old ADSL modem/router for this change but did not upgrade my line filter.  The solution to my problem was to replace my existing splitter box and line filter with a new combined splitter/ADSL2+ filter.  Since then, things have been going swimmingly!

In the end, I probably did not need to replace the ADSL modem.  But I did want some features that my old modem did not have.  Also, the old modem had a quiet high pitched whistle which I’m glad to be rid of.  You live and learn!

The Trailing Edge

It does not sound as exciting as “the leading edge” does it?  I have been inspired for some time to build a PC.  I do not think it will give me an intimate understanding of how a computer works. I do not think that it will make me a better programmer.  I am not predicting a career change from software to hardware.  It just seemed like a fun undertaking.  Put that down to lots of formative years spent building Lego and a genuine interest in computing.

Whenever I have purchased a PC in the past, I have spent a fair amount of time researching and deciding what parts went into it.  I blame my programming career for making me want the best equipment that I could afford.  As a result, MTBNPC (Mean time between new PCs) tends to be fairly long. 

As technology changes quickly, this means my home computers tend to be as long in the tooth as a sabre-tooth tiger.  (And almost as current)  Because they started out close to the leading edge, they do tend to age fairly gracefully, but in the end they are old and far below the spec of anything you could get off the “bottom end” shelf by the time I replace it. 

My parents recently had a PC failure.  Their current machine has had a myriad of issues. (Probably around 3 and 4 – but as it rarely gets used for more than hour or two a day, that seems quite a lot!) As I live about an hour away, most of the times it fails, they simply take it to their local computer place to get it fixed.  From their dealings with the shop, it appears the shop staff are competent and parts are reasonably priced.  If you lived in the area that my parents do, I would have no drama in recommending them. (Apart from the fact I don’t know the shop’s name!) 

This time though, I have volunteered to fix it for them.  Given that they run Windows XP, and an old version of Office, they aren’t exactly in need of a high performance system.  As a result, the replacement parts I have chosen are at the “bargain basement” end of the spectrum.  Exact specifications and prices do not date well, so if you discover this blog in twelve months time know that the components I have chosen represent the cheapest, what I consider to be decent quality, parts my favourite shop currently sells.  A generic 500W power supply, 2GB RAM, 2.6GHz AMD Dual core processor and Gigabyte motherboard (with on-board graphics card) for under $260 AUD.  Those stats won’t make any PC-gamer excited, but unless you are running something as “hard-core” as games do you really need any more? 

I have never been much of a PC gamer.  I can seriously appreciate the talent and skill that goes into games programming, but my other hobbies and family life are such that the time I have left over for such pursuits is somewhat limited.  Given that a bit more RAM would probably see the PC comfortably run any developer environment I choose it has dawned on me that “the trailing edge” is really where I should be aiming my next home PC.