Building a Tower PC – one month on

The tower PC has found itself sidled up next to the desk in my office.  It’s not actually the best placement of the beast as you can’t really admire the innards from that position.  It’s really cool though because it’s fairly silent, causing a faint rumbling in the floor from the cooling reservoir.  You don’t really notice it until you turn it off.

As this thing is fairly quiet, even the occasional click click noise of the disk actual spinning rust disk drive becomes noticeable, and slightly annoying.  So, I decided to make my first mod to this beast.  I took out the Western digital 2TB drive, and put in a Samsung SSD 850 EVO 1TB.  There are a couple reasons for this replacement.  SSD drives are great for speed and silent, and low energy usage.  All good things.  They’re still a bit spendy though.  The 2TB version would have been twice as much, and then some.  So, 1TB is fine for now, as this machine is not intended to be a storage power house, just enough to handle local stuff fairly fast.

It may not seem like much of a change, but how has it worked out?  Well, when I had the spinning rust in there, I put all my repos on the D: drive, so downloading things from GitHub had a noticeable lag.  So too, compiling stuff with Visual Studio felt a bit sluggish.  My thinking was, why on earth would my laptop (all SSD all the time) be much faster at fairly simple compilation tasks, when this desktop beast is so much more powerful.  We’ll, I’ve just done a totally subjective test of compilation after installing the SSD and putting my repos on it.  Conclusion:  The snappiness level now meets my expectations.  I conclude that SSDs truly are a beneficial thing.

Now that I’ve got the snappy beast humming along, I’ll need to reconfigure my home office, build some new worktops, so that I can better display it, and have a much better work surface than my currently crowded desk.  One thing leads to another…


Not all media is good – climate trumped

During the mid 1980s through the 1990s, Apple was very interesting.  Going through swings of almost bankruptcy, to launching the all new Macintosh, to losing their illustrious CEO, and the birth of NeXT Computers.  During that time I was closely affiliated, either because I was selling a lot of those Macs, or because I was writing software on NeXT Computers.  The one thread that ran through the era was Steve Jobs, and the always present news story.  Steve had a way, and Apple has kind of gotten away from this a bit, of being in the news.  Whether it was because of tantrums in the engineering org, or his stylistic choices in architecture, Steve, and thus his companies, were always in the news for good or bad.  As such, Steve Jobs is a world renown name, and Apple is Apple.

Dare I say, the modern day Steve Jobs is Donald Trump.  This is how a modern political campaign is won.  He was always in the news, and everyone, especially his opponents, was always reacting to whatever he said or did.  That’s just the way it is, and now he’s about to be in the White House.

As humans, we are often afflicted by a fascination of all things human, and sometimes that leads us to believe we are all important, powerful, or penultimate if not on this planet alone, then in the entirety of the universe.  Then things start to happen that are far beyond our control.  Mt Pinatubo erupts, and suddenly atomic bombs look smallish.

While I was running on the treadmill this morning, I was watching some video “Earth in 1000 Years”.  It’s basically a 45 minute expose on what’s happening with the polar ice caps and iceland.  I found it to be just factual.  Satellite photos, x-rays, ice core samples, and the like.  Explanations of what ocean currents are doing, what happens with tons of fresh water sliding into the oceans, how carbon is trapped and released, and how it all correlates to climate change, ice ages, thaws, and the like.  Nothing political, no exhortations to drive an electric car, no brow beating about how environmental accords need to be agreed to.  Just cold hard facts of what’s happening to our planet today, and what it will likely mean over the next couple hundred years.

Then, I read this story about how Miami Beach is losing its sand.  Once again, this is a cold hard fact.  The people who live their and manage the beaches know full well what’s going on, and the risk associated with a sea that is rising by .24″ per year.  It’s not the actual rise that’s killer at the moment, but that the surge is upward, so the sand is getting washed away.

And this got me thinking on the Trump connection.  There are any number of stories on Donald Trump’s beliefs when it comes to climate change, like this one.  Basically “ah phooey, that stuff is a bunch of bunk…”.  Yep, heard it before.  Perhaps the only debatable point is the level to which human activities have any affect on the climate, but changing it is.  But, here’s Donald Trump, in the media, saying anything to stay in the minds of the masses.  It doesn’t really matter what he say.  Facts, half-truth, made up reality.  As long as he says it, and people are listening, it will get spread, and we’ll all react.

I understand why people say “there’s no climate change”.  Because, invariably, they think the restrictions we impose on ourselves to deal with it are taking jobs away, suppressing profits, and generally just a bunch of governmental overreach.  Yah, ok, I can understand the sentiment.

So, at least for the next 4 years, the US govt. might not be a world player when it comes to driving climate change initiatives.  But what does that mean to me the average schmoe.  Do I have to return all my newly installed LED lights and reinstall wasteful incandescent bulbs?  Do I have to purchase an American made muscle car that gets 15 mpg instead of an electric?  Do I have to invest in coal mines to ensure that my electricity comes from the good old fashioned “when America was great” method of electical generation, or can I go ahead and install those solar panels and battery pack at my house?

At some point, we all think, “this is a big problem, what difference does it make what I do?”, but these problems are all actually locally modifiable.  If everyone on the planet could ditch their incandescent bulbs in favor of LEDs, at the very least we’d be using that much less power, which leaves more for other uses.  If companies like Tesla make great looking cars at affordable prices, then we can buy them, and reduce by that much.  These are tiny things, but they do in fact add up.

Politicians are so important when it comes to setting an agenda, and driving in a particular direction.  We as individuals and societies outlast them, and operate on a personal level every day.  No matter what is said in the media about climate change, I’m going to continue to purchase LED lighting, because it’s a fairly economical thing to do, and it just makes sense.  I’m desperate to make my next car an electric one.  I’m going to ride my bike to work more, when it’s not quite so rainy and dark.  I’m going to try and support companies that are like minded and creating products that are friendly to the environment, not because they were forced to by government regulations, but because it seems like a good idea to take care of the place we call home.

Donald Trump is in the news a lot, for all sorts of things.  He’s a media hound, and thrives off the attention, and ultimately it will suit his needs, whatever they may be.  He is no oracle when it comes to understanding climate change.  He’s just another human.  I’m not going to get trumped by his view on climate, and I’m going to do the best that I can as a human to try and make our planet a better place.

 


Home Improvement – LED Lighting

Every few months or so, I get this thing in the mail that shows me a comparison between our home’s energy consumption vs our nearest 100 neighbors.  Every time I get this thing, I see that we’re at 75% or more.  Meaning, we use 75% more energy than our closest 100 neighbors.  I look around the neighborhood and I think “really?  I’m sure we don’t use that much more energy than THOSE people over there…”.  There is a distinction though.  It shows us using a lot more electricity, but about the same or less in natural gas.

Well, being as home competitive as I am, I thought to do an inventory and try to improve things where I can.  As far as electric goes, our house is mostly electric, with the exception being the gas stove top.  Our water heater is one of those “instant on” kind, which is actually constantly heating a much smaller reservoir than a typical home heater, and gives us a continuous stream of hot water, even with two simultaneous showerers (which is rare anyway).  The home heater is one of those heat pump things.  That’s basically an air conditioner running in reverse.  It does have gas fired heater as well, but that doesn’t kick in unless the temperature outside is below 40 degrees, which only happens in the dead of winter.

We did have one of those instant hot water things installed under a sink in the kitchen.  That thing is probably a huge consumer of electricity because not only is it constantly heating water, but it’s constantly keeping it near boiling so you can have hot tea at the twist of a knob.

Then there’s all the lights in the house.  This is a modern house built in 2008.  The sheer number of lights is daunting.  In my office where I’m typing this right now, there are 4 recessed lights in the ceiling, each one an incandescent flood light of 60 – 75w.  That’s a lot of wattage to light a single room.  There are 4 other rooms on this level that are similarly configured.  Then there’s the kitchen with 9 of the same!  So, if this floor is fully lit, that’s got to be enough electricity to run a small city!

Our local utility is running a special lighting rebate right now.  The replacement lights for those floods cost roughly $5 apiece.  That’s quite a savings, and you get LED lighting, which should last for 20 years, and cost roughly $1.30 to run for a year.  Well, I’m all green about that, so I went out and got a bunch of Sylvania Ultra High Output LED flood lights (BR30).

sylvaniafloodSome of the lights in our house are way far up there, and probably will never be replaced, but I did replace all the ones that were readily at hand.  Downstairs, first level, upstairs, it must have been about 40 lights in total.  I also did external balcony, and outside garage.  Knowing the wattage and yearly cost of the lights replaced, I’ve got to think this is going to make some sort of difference.  The lights have what’s known as an “Edison” base, which just means they have that regular sized screw in type of base.  Luckily all these floods were also Edison base, rather than something more exotic.

Next came the entrance to the house.  Currently 3 60 watt bulbs, Edison base.  These stay on all evening, activated by an external light sensor.  The originals were not flood lights, so not a ton of energy to begin with.  I replaced them last year with low energy CFLs.  Since I’m going all in with LED lighting though, I’m going to replace those with Sylvania Ultra LED 75w bulbs.  the package says 1100 lumens, 22+ years of life, and $1.14 per year to operate.  that’s all good right?

Then come the bathrooms.  Each bathroom has at least 3 lights at the vanity mirror.  These are not Edison base, but rather a GU24 base.

gu24cfl

This base has two pins, which you give a half turn to in order to secure in the socket.  Apparently this connector is all the rage, as it allows a much shorter socket compared to the Edison twist connector.  Problem is, the lights with this base are not as common, so choices are more limited.  I’m putting A19 sized bulbs rated at 60w, at 2700K (supposedly soft white).

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I bought 3 of them at the local Bulbs + Batteries (Duracell ultra, 800 lumens), just to try them out.  They seem to work, so I’m ordering some more through Amazon.

The last kind of light that I have is in the bathroom as well.  These are tiny halogen flood lights for walls in nooks.  They are also pin type, but not the same size as the GU24 base.  These are smaller.  I haven’t found any LED bulbs for that as yet, but I’m sure I will.

I replaced the garage bulbs last year, so that’s all set.

The bedrooms are a different story.  Each room has this dome like fixture, and I finally got around to taking a dome off to see what was needed to replace the light.  Well, it’s a hard wired fluorescent bulb!  I’ve never seen a hard wired bulb in any home I’ve ever lived in.  So, this is rather strange.  I’ll have to shut off the electrical, unwire that thing, put in a twist or GU24 socket, and go on from there.  Surely that won’t happen for quite some time, but since our bedroom lights aren’t on that much, I’m not too concerned with the energy reduction just yet.

Overall, I’m quite happy with our step into the modern era with respect to our lighting.  It’s quite expensive to replace all the lights in our house.  So, it’s not just a matter of cost savings.  Each bulb will pay for itself over the course of our ownership of the house.  Reducing our overall energy consumption is a bigger deal.  Of course, I’m counter balancing with the usage of a massive computer, 3D printers, and CNC router, but those are all occasional usage.  I’ll ride my bicycle more in order to compensate my carbon foot print.

It’s been a fun adventure.  All the different kinds of lights, the balancing act on the stairs with the ladder, and generally contemplating lighting color temperature and the like has been quite an education.  We’ll see if we get our energy usage down around our neighbors with these changes.  Of course, they’re all doing the same, so it’s kind of a race to a coleman lamp fueled bottom.  We’ll see.


Things that make you go Hmmm – Cranes

I saw this notification in an email: Fri 11/18 Crane in parking lot 11/19-11/20 Building Closed

Now, it might be a sign of the times, or where I live, or my general gullability or stupidity or both, but this what my first thought:  Oh, there must be some rare bird which landed in front of that building, and they’re shutting down the building for a few days so it doesn’t get hurt.  I had visions of a rare bird, perhaps with a broken wing, maybe a whole family of cranes…

Then I thought, oh, wait, they’re talking about a construction crane, not a bird…

Just goes to show you the breadth and depth of knowledge, the openness, the empathy, that I as a programmer must possess…

Or, I’m just going senile.

 


Why is that ape wearing heels?

On this day, the interwebs brought me an interesting story.  There is this song from the C&C music factory: Things that make you go hmmm.  This story is one of those things that make you go hmmm.  You can look up the names “Pamela Ramsey Taylor” and “Beverly Whaling”, and get the general idea of what this story is about.

It’s basically about a woman freely expressing her relief that there will be a first lady in the White House who is more suitable to her sensibilities.  She uses very interesting wording, which may lead you to believe she’s some racist, or at the very least kind of clueless.  She gives apology, and the common refrain of “ask my friends, I’m not a racist!”.

Not wanting to get into all that name labeling, I just thoughts I’d drop a few words here to remind myself what really beautiful classy strong women look like.  So, here’s my short list of beautiful, strong, classy women who I would not have minded seeing in the White House over the past couple of hundred years.

  • Sally Hemmings
  • Harriet Tubman
  • Josephine Baker
  • Wilma Rudolph
  • Rosa Parks
  • Marie Daly
  • Diana Ross
  • Maya Angelou
  • Florence Griffith Joyner
  • Condolleeza Rice
  • Serena Williams
  • Rihanna
  • Michelle Obama

A slave lover to a president, a slave emancipator, entertainers, sports figures, scientists, poetic and prophetic thinkers, and world tinkerers, beauties, and sports beasts. They’re all there and tons more like them exist. They might be ‘apes’ if by that we really mean “primate”, meaning “prime, of the first order”. These ladies are all of the first order, top of the top, and any one of them could be fit to be in the White House.

I don’t think it’s helpful to shame such people that make what feel like politically incorrect statements. It just drives them underground, and in private, with their like minded friends, their echo chamber commentary will self reinforce, and erupt later forms more destructive and extreme. Rather, I would like to meet such commentary with open arms and say “what really bothered you about that? I want to understand…”

But alas, this is the day of Twitter, and; squirrel…. distraction. This story will pass, the echo chamber will exist, and everyone will run along to their next distraction.

In the meanwhile, I’m going to continue to think about which guy will look good as a first husband, when we finally get around to electing a woman to the White House.


3D Printer – Prusa i3 MK2, first impressions

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I wasn’t really looking for a new 3D printer, the Afinia H800 in the garage has been doing duty for the past year, and it’s been fine.  I have generally liked the Up! printers over the past few years, primarily for their ease of use as it relates to support material removal.  I recently took a look at a couple of reviews of this latest Prusa i3 MK2.  Prusa is a well known name in the RepRap community, and I built an earlier version of a Prusa machine, before he actually created a company for them.  That earliest experience (circa 2011) was very raw, and typical of the machines of that day, it wasn’t that great compared to the Up! of that day.

This new one caught my eye for a few reasons.  Number one is the auto bed leveling.  It has this probe thing checks 9 spots on the bed for distance and whatnot.  It does this check before every print, so it stays accurate no matter what.  Then there’s this ‘live z adjust’, which essentially is a micro adjustment that tells the distance from the probe tip to the tip of the hot end.  This allows you to really find tune the first layer of filament as it’s being deposited on the bed.  That’s really great.  It makes height adjustment really easy, as compared to trying to slide a piece of paper under the nozzle, and doing mechanical height adjustments while you do it.

There are two things about the bed that make it especially nice.  First is that the bed itself is the heated element.  There’s not a separate heating element and then the bed.  The bed is the heater.  The bed is covered with this PEI material, which seems to be better than build tak, which I use in the Afinia machine.  So far, I guess it works.  If you really need to get super sticky, you can use a glue stick, for printing PETG or Nylon I guess.  Haven’t done that yet.  After Z height adjustment, I have found that PLA sticks just fine.  I did notice curling at the edges on a few prints though.  I’ll micro adjust some more, and it should be fine.

I purchased the pre-assembled machine.  I noticed right out of the box there was a slight problem.

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Those 4 zip ties are meant to be holding the linear bearings in tight to the orange carriage.  In my case, all six of them (4 on the top bearings, 2 on the bottom) were broken.  At first I thought “oh, exercise for the reader, I’m supposed to put this final bit together”, but no, they were just broken, and needed to be replaced.  The box comes from the Czech republic, so somewhere along the line, this carriage must have really been tweeked to put enough pressure on these ties to cause them to break.  No matter though.  I had some zip ties left over from the PC build, so I was able to repair and replace.  I did not notice anything else out of whack, so I went ahead and started printing.

One of the other reasons I went with this printer is the supposed support in Windows 10s 3D Builder application.  I haven’t actually gotten that to work yet, but I should be able to print directly from whithin Windows without requiring any additional software.  That will be nice, as then I can stay within the sweetness of that Windows app.

Other than the broken ties, this machine is a good basis for playing around with a lot of stuff.  Filament loading and ejection is nice and easy, and Prusa now has a multi-color option they’re experimenting with.

At roughly $900 shipped, this printer might make for a good solid inexpensive and reliable option to build a print farm of perhaps 6 printers.  At this price, I could put together 6 printers for roughly the price of a single Type-A machines printer ($5,000).  That would give tremendous print capacity, and a solid high quality no-nonsense printer to boot.

We’ll see.


Building a Tower PC – Final assembly

Well, it’s finally done

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I began this journey with creating the excuses for doing the build in the first place, and then purchasing the various parts.


Building a tower PC – 2016


Building a Tower PC – 2016, part 1

Now here is the fully assembled thing.  Some final thoughts.  The scariest part was doing the water cooling piping.  I practiced tube bending on a waste piece before embarking on the final pieces.  Like a plumber, it’s helpful to plan out where the pipes are going, do some measurements, then do bending on cutting.  Really I was afraid that once it got assembled, it would be springing leaks all over the place ruining the fairly expensive electronics.  When I first put the tubing together, I tested by running some distilled water through the system to flush things out.

In the end, there were no leaks, and everything runs beautifully, and cool.  Having done this once now, I can see redoing the tubing at some point to make it more fancy, but for now, it works just fine, and looks cool.

One thing of note, this thing is really quiet.  You literally need to almost stick your ear into the various fans to hear them at all.  The power supply fan is dead quiet.  This is dramatically different than the power supply on my shuttle PC, which I thought was fairly quiet.  Now the Shuttle PC sounds like a jet engine in comparison.

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The fans on the cooling radiator are whisper quiet as well, and provide those cool lighting effects to boot.  Really this thing shows off best in a fairly dark room where the various glowing light effects can be seen.

The noisiest part of the entire build is actually the disk drive.  You wouldn’t normally think of that, but when things are absolutely silent, to the point where the AC fan in a room is way louder, in a quiet room, the steady rumble of the disk drive is the most notable sound.

I’m loving it so far.  I feel a sense of accomplishment in putting it together.  I got to use it as a visual aid for the latest cohort of the LEAP class.  Having a transparent case makes it easy to point at stuff, and the liquid cooling just adds a nice wow factor.

As far as the OS is concerned, I installed Windows 10 Pro.  I figure even if I want to run Linux, I can simply use Hyper-V to create Linux VMs and go that way.  Given that the graphics card can run 4 monitors at a time (I think), that’s more than enough to give me the illusion of a common desktop, with two Windows screens, and a third with Linux on a VM.  So, it’s a sweet combo.

As for the excuse to be able to run the Vulkan API on a modern graphics board, that’s coming along.  I had to install Visual Studio, build a LuaJIT, and dust off the cobwebs of my Vulkan ffi binding.  All in due time.  For now, the screaming machine is being used to type this blog post, and otherwise sitting beside my desk looking cool.  I’ll have to design a desk specifically for it just to add to the DIY nature of the thing.