Archive for the Computing Category

She’s the last of the G5s!

Posted in Computing, Projects, Tech with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2011 by badhex

“Kick it in the guts Barry!”

Okay, okay – so some of you won’t know what I’m on about, and some of you will – but I’ll explain.

I have just recently acquired and set up… wait for it… another machine.

This is probably not that surprising – but what might be surprising to people who know me is that this machine is a Mac. A PowerMac G5 2.5GHz Quad Core: the last of the G5s, in fact.

I’m a big fan of Mad Max – at least, the first two films anyway – so upon hearing myself say to Clare that it was “the last of the G5s”, I immediately thought of that great piece of dialogue referring to the iconic black Pursuit Special in the first film.

I love the naming process for new acquisitions, and I always try to think of something that is in some way apt; thus, the obvious choice for a name had become clear – the Pursuit Special.

After sticking in as much PC2 4200 DDR RAM as I have spare (5GB), I’ve given it fresh install and updated it to OS X 10.5.8 which is the highest version PPC based Macs can handle. I’m currently pissing about with SSH access and tunnelling VNC protocols, and have it set up in such a way that I can use Wake On Lan via the Internets to remotely wake it up using this great utility, which is fun. Sweet magic packets. I’ve gotten hold of a few nice free utilities, plus a nice chap has given me a paid copy of TechTool Pro which comes with the AppleCare support plan. I also plan to put in a second-hand airport card if I can get my hands on one for a few quid.

Of course, this is not entirely necessary as it has a wired gigabit connection, but I want to pimp it out as much as possible. It’s an old machine and has undoubtedly been worked very hard during its life, but despite this I want to make the best of it. No point having a Mac if I’m not going to soup it up as much as possible, right? Just like the (real) Pursuit Special.

As I have previously written, I currently dual-boot my netbook into Ubuntu and WinXP. The point really of all these OS shenanigans is that I need to work on my Mac and Linux/UNIX skills. OS X uses Darwin as the UNIX underbelly of the beast, so ever the fan of the humble CLI, I hope that it will help me with both in a sort of two-pronged learning attack. I’ve been working more and more with the Macs at work in an attempt to become the sort of go-to guy for Mac support, as previously it’s always been a hole in my knowledge. My career in standard Windows desktop support looks increasingly bleak, so it’s high time I did something about that.

So, that leaves us with just one question:

When do we go for a ride?

I Love Being A Geek: New Techy Projects

Posted in Computing, General Chang, Projects, Robots, Space, Tech with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2010 by badhex

Being a geek is sweet. I get really excited about often quite simple stuff, and moreover stuff that most other people really don’t care about. This usually prompts me to start some sort of techy project, but, alas,  I’m the first to admit they go on a seemingly never-ending, possibly never-completed wishlist. I’d like to change that, and I reckon blogging about stuff might just give me more impetus to make good on my thoughts – if not less time to do them. Irony.

Anyway with that in mind, here’s a couple of mini projects I have on my mind, some in various stages of completion, some merely seeded. Hopefully I’ll do something about them, if I haven’t already.

Reappropriating a LaCie FireWire CD-RW

This little project is now complete, and although really quite simple in the end, it was exactly the kind of thing I love doing.  You can read the full post about the process here.

Telescope Refurb

As per my previous post, I’ve been donated an old Charles Frank 6″ Reflector telescope, which needs a little work. I find any sort of techy work really fun, but don’t get as much opportunity to do much other than computer work, and even that is more limited than I like. This should be a fun little project, once I’ve persuaded my parents to ferry it 200 miles form its current location to my house.

Fitting a hard drive to my old Amiga 600

I’d been thinking about cracking out the Commodore Amiga 600 I’ve owned since being a kid and never got rid of (I still have all the disks!) at some point, possibly looking into a few things I could do to it upgrades wise. I always, always wanted a hard drive for it when I was younger (it was something like 100mb, I think, and external), so I had a little delve. Fortunately for me, it turns out there’s actually a hard drive bracket and IDE connector for a 2.5″ IDE hard drive, ready and waiting inside the thing. Bonus. Thanks to some fantastic resources such as, The Extreme Commodore A600 Upgrading Page and English Amiga Board I’ve prepared an old 1.2gb drive I had kicking around using the awesome but complicated WinUAE and a nice preconfigured Workbench setup called Classic Workbench and now I’m just waiting for the 2.5″ IDE cable, which is taking approximately 17 years to arrive.

[UPDATE: Between writing this bit and posting, the IDE cable arrived – it’s now installed and working. I will write a post about the whole thing soon]

Finding a purpose for new kit

I’ve just acquired a Dell Poweredge 1750 blade server, plus a really gorgeous, well-engineered case with an Intel SE7505VB2 motherboard and dual Intel Xeon 2.4gHz chips, either Prestonia or Gallatin flavour, and I need a purpose for them. I probably need to get a bit of thermal paste for the processors, as the heatsinks had been removed and although I did my best with the paste that was left on, one of the chips is running a good 5°C hotter. I’m really not a  fan (heh heh) of re-using paste anyway, it’s not exactly expensive stuff.

Building a home-made NAS

Easier than you think. I’ve come across a lovely Linux distro called FreeNAS which is brilliant. Extremely easy to install, can live on a bootable memory stick and after a minimum of setup, you can configure the whole thing through a web interface. I’m not really sure why they have a little devil thingy on their logo.

Unfortunately, I’m now of the opinion it might have to wait. Realistically, I can’t really house another box. I’m up to my eyeballs in tech – but then again, I am a kit monster!

Setting up an OSX Server

I acquired a Mac XServe G5 blade some time ago and have been looking for something to do with it. Lovely piece of kit, really just bit too nice to get thrown away. I’ve been thinking of getting some sort of internal web server up and running, at some point – this may be the ideal candidate.

Setting up a Windows Server

See above. Most likely on the Dell, I think. I want to play with/learn Microsoft’s WDS for work, and this would be a great opportunity. I have a couple of spare machines kicking around to act as client machines as well, so I can get the hang of it.

Hackint0shing my Samsung NC10

The original section I started writing here turned into a massive rant/homage to my Samsung NC10 netbook so I ‘ve actually split it off into a new post here. Anyway basically at some point I plan to hackint0sh it. For those of you who don’t know what I’m on about, it means to install Mac OSX on a computer not normally supposed to run it – i.e. not a Mac. Although it’s strictly speaking a bit naughty, I actually own various genuine copies of OSX, so it could be worse.

I’ve done it before to an old Dell, and the principle is the same, so it shouldn’t be too hard. The major issue was that the wifi/network adaptors will not work once OSX is on there, which makes it pretty pointless, but I’ve fixed that by buying and installing a Dell wifi card, which is compatible with OSX.

I currently dual boot it into WinXP Pro and Ubuntu 10.04, and I’ve come across a couple of great articles (gotta love the Tinterweb) about triple booting and hackint0shing the NC10, so with a bit of lateral thinking I think I can meet them in the middle somewhere (read: hope).

Right, that’s it for now, I’ve rambled on for ages, 952 words is enough for today.

Peace out technophiles!


My Samsung NC10 Is Frickin Awesome

Posted in Computing, General Chang, Tech with tags , , , , , on September 13, 2010 by badhex

A year or so ago I bought my lovely little Samsung NC10 netbook and a 2gb RAM stick for it,  and I have to be honest, it is  basically the best £300 I’ve ever spent; I take it almost everywhere and use it most days (and on which I have composed most of this post). It’s amazing.

But  – let me give you a precursor, if I may. When I was at secondary school about 10 or 15 years ago, the first tiny Sony Vaios came out, the one with the separate floppy/CD drive (which infuriatingly Wikipedia and google image search won’t let me find) and I immediately knew what I wanted from a portable computer. Of course, they were incredibly expensive, and there was no way I could have afforded one. (Side track, because I’ve just been reminded – my first computer was a Pentium 133mHz with 16mb RAM, 1gb hard drive and a 1mb VGA card. It was 1996 and it cost just under £1000. Madness.)

So, the principle was there all that time ago, exactly how I wanted. A small, very portable computer that just computes. Seriously, how many times do you actually use a CD drive on a laptop these days, unless it’s the only computer you have? Most applications are either downloadable or can go on a memory stick and let’s face it, the humble floppy disk (sweet, noble floppy disk) – as lovable as it is – was always going to be replaced by something (Zip Disk anyone? No, didn’t think so). So, all you really need is the computer itself and some sort of network connection, and a USB port or two – and it only took 10 years for my wishes to become commonplace and affordable.

Anyway, it’s brilliant, and as far as the variety of netbooks I have seen on the market are concerned, it definitely feels like it’s one of the better ones. It feels sturdy and well manufactured, the keyboard is a joy to type on (although Clare is positively disgusted that the keys are italicised. See what I did there?), the screen is clear, and I much prefer the matt screen to a shiny one. The biggest improvements to be made would be the touchpad being made bigger and a longer battery life (although I am actually more than happy at around 6 hours) – both of which were addressed in subsequent revisions. As far as upgrading goes, it was as easy as you’d expect to pop in a new 2gb stick, and in anticipation of possibly hackint0shing it I’ve also swapped out the MiniPCI-express wifi card for a Dell one. Might even stretch as far as an SSD one day.

So yeah, netbooks are awesome. Love using it, love having the ability to compute on the go, or just crack it out to watch a film on long journeys.

Owning a netbook really is absolutely, totally and utterly joyous. Go out and buy one, you won’t regret it.



Reappropriating a LaCie D2 FireWire CD-RW

Posted in Computing, Projects, Tech with tags , , , , , , on September 9, 2010 by badhex

Greetings, fellow Earthlings!

I had a couple of old LaCie FireWire D2 CD-RWs knocking around which had been thrown out from work, and I had put them to one side on the basis that they might prove handy at some point, mainly with a view to cannibalising or reappropriating them. A couple of weeks ago, I finally found a use.

Separately I’d had a growing concern of late about backing up some of my data, and had finally installed my old data drive, a 750gb SATA Samsung Spinpoint F1 HD753LJ, into a Maxxtor USB caddy I had acquired (What?! I’m a kit monster!) and set up my backup schedule, but it occurred to me that I could probably combine the LaCie caddy with the previous previous data drive, a 320gb IDE (not sure of the model without looking, to be honest), and donate it to Clare. What with her having a Mac, the FireWire made perfect sense.

I set about stripping down the caddy, searched through my bits and bobs to find a 3.5″ to 5.25″ mount and put it all back together again. The drive immediately fired up in Windoze, but unfortunately, as a CD-RW. To be expected, I suppose. This rendered the setup useless, as writing to or formatting the disk was impossible. Never happy to be a quitter,  (and secretly excited by the prospect) I decided there may be some way to reprogram the ROM to stop it thinking it was a CD-RW. In this respect I was really lucky.

A couple of searches later, it transpired that the particular FireWire – actually, sorry. I have to stop there to make a point. Okay, quick sidetrack.

FireWire, if you don’t know, is the Apple name for IEEE1394. I’m always torn between giving it what I see as it’s ‘proper’ name, IEEE1394 or even just ‘1394’, and FireWire. I’ve no overt love for Apple, but I do have love for standards, and they did do a lot of the pioneering work for said standard, and paved the way for its creation. Kudos. It’s arguably better than USB in many ways. Anyway, back to the plot.

A couple of searches later, it transpired that this particular FireWire to IDE bridge (which as a generic component, are not that common) utilised one of the most widely used chips of its kind, an Oxford Semiconductors 911FW. Some instructions and a nice utility found in this brilliantly helpful post allowed me to reprogram the configuration information within the ROM to read any IDE device. Bingo. I duly changed the neccessary settings, uploaded them to the ROM, and restarted the system.

It worked like a charm. The drive was up and running, and after formatting it to MacOS Extended, now serves as an external backup drive.

Awesome. Fun, and useful!