The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for June, 2006

Electric Vehicles

Posted by Deliverator on 13th June 2006

As part of SIFF, I recently attended a screening of Who Killed the Electric Car? at the Egyptian. The film was a good high level overview of electric vehicles, but glossed over some of the technical details and paid little attention to some of the motives of those involved. All in all, I felt the film was a bit too focused on the past. Afterwards, I stayed for the Q&A and after that, headed outside to see a production model electric truck, brought by a member of SEVA, the local group of electric vehicle enthusiasts. There was quite a crowd gathered around the truck, with a few SEVA members answering questions and getting dangerously close to being run over by all the traffic on Pike Street. The SEVA members answered questions for close to an hour before heading off. I enjoyed speaking with them enough that I decided to attended their month meeting, held today at one of the members homes in the Wallingford area.

I arrived a little late, but had no trouble finding the place due to a big vinyl banner out front. I walked around the back to find a group of close to 30 people crowded around a few of the club members vehicles, in particular taking stock of recent improvements to converted Vespa style scooter and an electric sports car. Electric vehicles can accelerate quite quickly compared to vehicles with internal combustion engines. There was a good deal of discussion of White Zombie, an unassuming, street legal converted 1972 Datsun that can do 0-60 in 3.5 seconds and can do the quarter mile in 12.15 seconds, smoking many of the fastest production sports cars in the world, including the $86k+ V10 Dodge Viper.

White Zombie

I had a fun time speaking to Don Crabtree, vice-president of NEDRA, the National Electrical Drag Racing Association. Don looks a bit like rip-van-winkle, which has earned him the nick-name of “Father Time” but races elongated “drag” motorcyles for fun.

Father Time

After a few minutes everyone moved inside and gathered in a big circle and introduced themselves. I was one of only a couple newcomers at the meeting, but everyone made me feel very welcome. Most of the people there seemed to have an electric vehicle under their belts, or were mid-project. After introductions had been made, a bunch of new business was discussed. Most interesting to me were the groups plans to attend the Greenwood Car Show on the 24th. Sounds like they will have about a dozen electric vehicles to show off. My dad and I attended the show a few years and had a great time. It is free and open to the public. I will definitely put it on my schedule. After the formal meeting stuff, people broke off and had side-discussions. Aside from Don Crabtree, I also spoke to Dave Cloud and Steven Lough, two guys who have each been building electric vehicles since long before I was born. A couple people offered to stop by the International School to show the TRC their electric creations. Electric vehicles and robots share a lot of fundamentals in common and I am sure the TRC membership would get a kick out of the engineering. I am going to try and bring it up if I ever can drag myself to another leadership meeting.

Posted in General, Movies, Tech Stuff, Titan Robotics Club | No Comments »

I heart spindles!

Posted by Deliverator on 8th June 2006

Managed to win a fully populated drive array on eBay, for use with Silverfir’s new server. The array contains fourteen 18.2 GB 10K RPM hard drives, giving a total capacity of around 200 GB (bb definition) in a Raid 5 configuration with one drive sitting out of the array as a hot spare, should one of the drives in the array fail when neither Ryan or I have time to deal with it. The array also comes with a nice Smart Array 5300 caching raid controller, which unfortunately I don’t think can be used in the DL 380 that we intend on using. I will have to pick up a Smart Array 4200 or something similar, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. I am looking forward to playing around with it. I am glad I was able to pick up an array with a full load of drive caddies. If we ever decide to upgrade the array capacity, we can simply replace the drives in the caddies. For some reason, matched, bare drives are much easier to find in quantity than drives in caddies.

Posted in General, Tech Stuff | 2 Comments »

Half Life 2: Episode One

Posted by Deliverator on 4th June 2006

Valve recently released the latest installment in the Half Life series, Half Life 2: Episode One. Valve has done something quite different this time around. Instead of making you wait six years between installments (the period between Half Life 1 and Half Life 2’s release), they are switching to an mini episodic release cycle of a year or two. Source Engine, argueably the best gaming engine around will receive technology bumps with each episode’s release, but the focus is going to be on generating the high quality content that has made the Half Life series argueably the most successful in FPS history. Each episode will cost about as much as your average game expansion pack, and can be purchased and installed through Steam, or purchased on cd. The cost on Steam was $20. Frys had it on cd for $12, but I decided to go the Steam route, as I dislike cd checks, greatly.

Spoiler Alert!!!

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Posted in Gaming, General | No Comments »

Hawking HWU8DD 802.11g USB “Dish” Client Adapter

Posted by Deliverator on 4th June 2006

My brother wanted to check out Frys before heading back to Cleveland, tomorrow, so off we went. I always like to peruse the wireless section of the store to see what new WiFi gadgets have made it to market. I was thinking of purchasing a client bridge to try and establish a better connection to my mini media center box, but couldn’t find much. Ethernet to WiFi client bridges have almost disappeared from the brick and mortar stores. There are still a lot of situations in which an Ethernet to WiFi client bridge is the only workable solution, so it is frustrating that they aren’t more readily available. In some cases, bridges have been replaced by “gaming” bridges, designed to network your overpriced console gaming system of choice, but I have found these inadequate for most general purpose scenarios. So, what is a bridge needing geek to do?

I am still not sure of the answer, but I found a solution to my immediate need (to find a better solution for pumping high bandwidth data to my media center) in the form of a $70 USB WiFi client adapter (with a rather novel design) from Hawking Technologies. Most USB client adapters fit into two basic categories: a USB dongle similar in size/shape to a USB flash memory stick and a little rectangular box with a flip up omni antenna. The commonality to both these designs is their abysmal range.

Mini Dish

Enter the Hawking HWU8DD. This device is essentially a USB 802.11g client device with a small, integrated dish antenna, which can be oriented to a variety of positions. The antenna, according to the manufacturer, provides 8 db of gain. The box also advertises the device as “high power,” but doesn’t clarify what it means by that in terms of mw/dbm. The base of the unit includes an LED based signal strength meter to assist in centering the antenna on the strongest signal path. Driver installation was a breeze in Windows XP. The site survey application is fairly basic, but functional. I turned it off and used XP’s built in “Wireless Zero Config” application, instead. I was impressed by the HWU8DD’s receive sensitivity and power. I was able to connect to my access point at the next to highest possible speed setting in “g only” mode and stay connected through large file transfers.

My previous solution, an old Orinoco USB adapter hooked up to a small panel antenna, had difficulties punching through the floor and two walls between it and the target access point. The reliability of the connection using the Orinoco was marginal at best, at any speed. Most Orinoco products (at least the ones based around the “classic” silver/gold pcmcia card) have always had a good reputation for receive sensitivity, so its low 30mw transmit power may have been to blame. Its tought to punch through a building, especially one as ill-suited to WiFi as mine. My house is sheathed in aluminum sideing, making for a “hall of mirrors” effect.

As I indicated earlier, I was very impressed with the Hawking’s ability to deal with a difficult environment and deliver consistent, top-notch performance. I’ve been streaming high-bitrate video to my media center all night long and haven’t experiencd so much as a hickup. If you are in the market, I highly recommend it. My only complaint is the inability to aim the dish downward much, relative to the base. This was easily fixed by propping up the rear of the unit a bit, so not a show stopper, but it might be nice to incorporate in future products/revisions.

Posted in General, Media, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff, Tivo & PVR, Wireless | 3 Comments »

Mariners Fluke?

Posted by Deliverator on 3rd June 2006

So, the Mariners haven’t exactly been playing stellar ball lately. In fact, they haven’t won better than 50% of their games in the last 14 months. Every game I’ve dared to watch this year has been a disappointment, except for today. Ryan, Scott and my parents headed down to the ballfield early. Theo was supposed to come, but we have been unable to contact him all day. Anyways, I don’t know whether it was because the Mariners were playing the worst teams in baseball, the Kansas City Royals, whether they started eating their wheaties or what, but something was clicking. Despite not getting many stikeouts, Jamie Moyer managed to hold KC to just two hits and pitched all 9 innings of what ended up being a shutout. I think Moyer owes a lot to Betancourt, who, with the exception of a poor glove to glove flip attempt, turned in one solid defensive play after another. The Mariner’s bats weren’t too hot at first and the crowd was in a bit of a malaise until the 7th inning, when Ibanez and Lopez hit back to back solo homeruns, one of which landed just a few rows away from our seats in left field. The Mariner’s turned in another two runs and then quickly retired KC batters during the next two innings to end the game with a 4-0 victory. My dad commented that this was one of the quickest baseball games he can recall seeing, with only 213 pitches thrown during the game. The game ended so early that I had time to go home for a few hours before heading to my midnight SIFF movie at the Egyptian. Anyways, I will soon see tonight’s game was just a fluke, as I will be catching another M’s vs KC matchup at Safeco this Sunday with my father.

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Server Hardware Options

Posted by Deliverator on 1st June 2006

As I mentioned in this post, Silverfir is currently hosted on ordinary desktop computer hardware, which has proven problematic at times. I spoke to Ryan and Theo and they are both amenable to shifting Silverfir to server hardware. I have a nice Compaq DL 380 running Debian laying around, but if we decide to colocate this server somewhere, it will cost significantly more per month than if we bought a more modern 1u server. Chris Flugstad, whom I know through Seattle Wireless, runs a wisp called Cascadelink. He is willing to provide SWN members with colocation at well below market pricing. Split 3 ways, hosting the 3u DL 380 would only cost us each $25 a month. I would want to do a few upgrades to this server before colocating it.

-Upgrade to at least four 36 GB scsi hard drives, preferably six. To upgrade to six, I would need to buy the optional bay adapter which provides space in the server’s face for an additional two drives. Silverfir is increasingly hosting pictures, video and other media content which eats up space quickly. I want to ensure we have enough space to grow, and would like to keep at least one of the 6 drives on standby as a hot spare. Another option would be to use higher capacity 72+ GB drives, but these are much more expensive and less commonly available on the used market. I can probably get all the drives we need for under $150.

-Upgrade the ram to 4 GB. The server currently only has 640 MB of ram, as much as the current silverfir server. There is some discussion about giving everyone their own virtual server to administer as they see fit, which would compound memory requirements. The official ram upgrade kits are currently commonly available on the used market for around $200.

-Get a RILOE 2 card. The server currnetly has a 1st generation RILOE card, which works fairly well. The chief problem is that the RILOE 1 cards seem to need special cursor drivers in order to smoothly track the cursor in realtime. Without these drivers, mouse movement is pretty laggy. There is an officially supported cursor driver package for Redhat and Suse and they appears to contain source. I saw mention in at least one forum about a script to convert the .RPM package for Redhat to a .deb package that can be easily installed. The RILOE 2 card is significantly faster and so having the custom cursor packages installed is much less important. In this way it is much more platform agnostic than the RILOE 1 card. The RILOE 2 card also supports the ability to remotely mount a cd-rom drive over the network, allowing for easy OS installation in colocated scenarios, without needing to visit the colo facility.

-Rails. My DL 380 didn’t come with any, and I presume that Chris is a stickler for that kind of thing…

— nice to have —

– The server currently has dual PIII 733 processors, but can accept as fast as 1 GHZ. If server load warrants it, it would be nice to upgrade. I believe anything over 933 requires more potent voltage regulator modules.

– Caching raid controller. The current raid controller in the box is the raid on a chip solution which came with the server. It would be nice to get a faster, caching raid controller for better disk subsystem performance.

I have more thoughts on possible server configurations, but I am off to see The Hidden Blade this afternoon. This movie is the sequel to The Twilight Samurai, an excellent film I saw at SIFF a few years back.

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