Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Motorcycle Mania!

I found a great new show on my satellite the other day! It's called "Twist the Throttle" and it's on Discovery HD Theater. From my research, the program is an eight-part series on some of the most well-known motorcycle manufacturers. Lots of good history, neat old bikes and some seriously cool new ones! Videography is great, especially in HD, and the gentlemen involved in making the program (Dylan & Milt Weiss) are well-known and respected in the cycle community.

Check out the link above on for a schedule of showtimes.

If you've got an HDTV and like motorcycles, this is definitely one show worth checking out!


-- Sundown, Out

Another Geek Side-Project - Part Two

Well, this didn't quite work out like I figured.

After loading Windows Home Server on the former Mini Google, I started to do some testing with the box. I found that it was actually a bit slower than my current Linux server. Not bad, but definitely slower, especially in file copying. I had half-way expected that, since the former Mini Google would only take ATA-100 IDE hard drives and the drives in my Linux box are SATA-300. That's a huge jump in terms of speed and bandwidth.

So, after doing all the work, I find that I do not currently have a use for that server. Again, not a big deal. Geeks (or maybe just me [grin!]) will sometimes work on things they ultimately have no use for, just to see if they can fix/build whatever it is. This looks to be, somewhat unintentionally, one of those times.

If anyone out there is interested in the box, and willing to pay the shipping, I'd be happy to work out a deal. The only thing that changed since my last post was I swapped out the 120GB IDE hard drive for a 40GB one.  However, I have a second 40GB I could throw in for good measure. Post a comment below if you want to deal.

Here is my next option for a new server. This is an older Dell GX260 that my wife was using as a workstation while I found time (and courage!) to fix her Mac Mini. That's a story for another post...

This is a Pentium 4 (2.53GHz) with 1GB of RAM. Definitely a step up from the former Mini Google and from my current AMD Linux server. I loaded Windows Home Server on this box and found it runs WHS like a champ! Speed, even with the IDE drive in it, is plenty fast. And, I get a gigabit Ethernet port on it as well!

I think this will work out better for me, since my one big complaint of having Linux as a server was the lack of a decent media serving application that would work with my PS3. I have my PS3 set up in the family room with my HDTV and stereo, so that is the logical place to watch movies, listen to music and of course, play games. But, all my music, pictures and videos are on the server. And without a media sharing app that I could get to work reliably, that has been a sore point for me. No longer!

WHS has a media server built in that is based on Windows Media, so it works with the PS3 just fine. I tested it with MP3s and DVD resolution video. My 320kbps MP3s work great, and though the video had a few hiccups, it was not really distracting. All in all, I feel pretty good about it's performance so far. Since I have WHS on a 120-day evaluation, I don't have to make a decision right away...but unless something ugly rears its head later on, I think this may be a winner.

Hey, I don't think I told you WHY I wanted a new server. I guess I should elaborate a little. My current server (shown at left) is built from an old workstation of mine. I built it back in 2003, and at the time used it as my primary workstation and gaming machine. The computer was replaced in 2007 when the motherboard went south, but I kept the case and some other parts around. When I built the server, I put an older M-ATX board I scavanged into the case. I later found the AMD on it ran a bit hotter than my old P4, so I was forced to add a couple of 80mm case fans I had in my parts stash. Problem was, the motherboard was old enough it would not control their speed, so the fans ran full-throttle all the time. The noise isn't unbearable, but is louder than I like in my office while I'm listening to music.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking..."buy a fan controller!" I just really didn't have the budget at the time. Remember, I built this thing from parts I had around, except for the 250GB SATA drives I added in. And those were expensive enough when I bought them, I couldn't ask my Everlasting SoulMate / accountant for any more money. So, I accepted that I would have to live with the noise for a while.

The Dell is like a ray of sunshine for my ears! It is SO quiet! Even with the addition of the two extra SATA drives, I'm expecting it to still be much quieter. Mostly, I'm just looking forward to some music without all the white noise.

-- Sundown, Out

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Another Geek Side-Project - Part One

As I've said before, geeks always have a tech project or two going.  Well, this one is more of a side-project, but still an interesting one.

Where I work, we had a couple of Mini Google search appliances for use with our web sites.  What's a "Mini Google" you ask?  It's a server appliance that will crawl and index internal web site(s) and provide the same type of search capability on a small scale that the Google web site does for the Interwebs. Pretty nifty. But, there is a small catch...

Google really only supports the devices for two years from purchase.  After that, if anything goes're on your own.  No extended warranties, no purchased support, no nothing.  And that is exactly what happened to me recently.

We had a typical Colorado spring snowstorm blow through week before last.  During the storm we had power blips at work, due to the heavy, wet snow.  Even though this device and the network switch it was hooked up to were on a UPS, one of the brownouts caused the UPS to trip it's electrical breaker and shut down both devices hard.  When I got to work after getting notified of the outage, I tried to bring the system back up.  The sudden loss of power had caused a hard drive file corruption error severe enough that the device refused to boot.

Now, here's the fun part.  Because this is an "appliance," Google had installed all the covers with tamper-proof screws, locked out the BIOS and USB ports and did not provide even a software reload disc on their site.  So I had no way to even begin troubleshooting the problem, to say nothing of being able to fix it.  Basically, the Mini Google became a large, blue doorstop.

Since the device was obviously headed for the "e-cycle" (electronic recycle) pile to go out in the next go-round, I decided to ask my boss if I could have it instead.  I received official permission to take the device home.

I had a plan in mind to possibly repurpose the unit to replace my current home file server.  I currently run Ubuntu 8.10 Server on an older AMD Athlon 1600+ workstation with two 250GB SATA drives in a RAID 1 mirror.  The Mini Google is not quite as powerful, but has two advantages.  One is being a server-class device designed to run 24x7.  Second, being rack-mountable, I could mount it vertically to a wall and take up less room with it.

The first thing I needed to do was get past the tamper-proof screws and get inside the unit.  There were two screws on the back to hold down the top panel, and four on the sides that held on a "security" panel that prevented anyone from accessing the hard drive trays, CDROM drive and power switch.  I decided to tackle the two on the back first.  They had small washers between them and the case, so I just used pliers to twist the washers and loosen the screws a bit.  I was then able to use my fingers to get them out.

At that point I hit a snag.  The top panel normally should slide backwards and come off, but it wouldn't budge!  After a bit of fussing, I discovered the neat "Google" logo on the top of the server was a piece of rigid plastic with adhesive on the back that was stuck down to the top of the case.  It was also stuck to the front panel of the server and was preventing the top from sliding backwards.  I carefully peeled back the front part of the plastic panel just enough to get the top off.

After a quick inspection, it was clear this was an off-the-shelf unit made by Gigabyte.  I, somewhat ironically, Googled the motherboard model number and found Gigabyte's informational page and a link to the manual.

Then it was time to take on the front panel screws.  All the screws had a small, round hole in the end of them already, so I used a drill to widen and deepen the hole.  I then used one of those damaged screw-removal tools like they show on TV to back the screws out.  Took a bit of time, but I won out in the end!

My next task was to get past the BIOS password Google set and get into the settings.  A simple CMOS battery removal and reset was sufficient to get in.  Now we're getting somewhere!

During my tour through the BIOS and boot screens, I learned this unit contains dual Pentium III 1.26GHz processors, 2GB of RAM and a 120GB ATA hard drive.  Not a bad machine, but definitely not a screamer!

I then had to make a choice...which OS to load.  Ubuntu Server would run just fine on this unit, but I've been reading a lot about Windows Home Server lately and decided this was as good a time as any to give it a try.  I downloaded the trial version .iso (900MB) and burned it to a DVD.  I then hit snag number two.

The optical drive in the Google was an old Mitsumi CD-ROM.  It had no DVD read capability.  And, the drive slot is one of those for slimline laptop drives.  I was beginning to think I'd have to shell out for a DVD drive and suffer through a several-day delay, when I suddenly remembered I had a drive in my parts bin left over from another project.  And I was pretty sure it was at least a DVD-ROM unit.  After some digging I found it and sure enough, it was a DVD.  YES! [fist pumping air]

I removed the hard drive cage on the left side of the case and after some judicious cussing, got the optical drive out.  I then swapped in the DVD-ROM and reconnected it.  The drive I put in is a slot-load unit, but since I won't be putting the security cover back on, that shouldn't be an issue.

I booted the former Mini Google up, and it saw the new optical drive and worked like a charm.  I am now in the process of loading Windows Home Server on the unit.  I will provide more detail on that in my next installment.

-- Sundown, Out

Monday, April 20, 2009

Delays, delays...nothing but delays!

Sorry for the delay.  The large amount of snow we received somehow caused me to suffer temporary amnesia, and I forgot I was supposed to post!

I’ve been working on my interactive fiction some, however not as much as I’d hoped.  Seems like work has been occupying more of my brain lately than I’m happy with.  But, I’m just glad to have a good job right now, so I guess I won’t complain…much.

Anyway, I have made some progress in my map and rooms, but mostly in working with the language and getting all manner of “gadgets” to operate correctly.  I've also been experimenting lately with what the Inform folks call extensions.  They are previously written scripts that extend the basic syntax and functionality included with Inform.  One can include these in their own projects by simply placing the extension file in the appropriate folder and adding an Include statement.

I have been working with two extensions specifically, the first of which adds a ton more things you can do with objects, like cleaning, breaking, throwing, kicking, climbing all over, etc.  The second is for dealing with liquids, like filling containers, drinking, putting out fires, etc.  These are the kinds of things I really enjoy!  The more realism I can bring to my story, the more I like it.  I know there is an eventual limit to what I can include, however right now I am in experimenting mode and this is my opportunity to see how much I can cram in and still make the story functional.

I think I have a few beta testers lined up as well.  As soon as I get something to a playable stage, I’m going to let these folks start beating up on it and getting feedback.  We’ll see how that turns out.

In other gaming news, I signed up on Friday for the open beta of CitiesXL from Monte Cristo.  It’s a PC city-builder simulation in the grand tradition of SimCity.  But, this thing is a quantum leap forward for the genre.  Instead of just building your own city, there will supposedly be online “planets” where you and others can build your cities, trade with each other and interact as if you were on the same planet together.  And, it is a persistent world, so even if you aren’t there, things continue to move forward. The graphics look awesome and the amount and depth of customization is amazing!  I would be so stoked to get on the beta and give it a shot.  Here’s hoping…

The Rockies are playing like the club I remember…unfortunately.  We’re 4-8, have lost the last four, and we’re tied with San Francisco for the bottom of the NL West.  I know it’s early in the season, so I’m not getting really depressed yet.  This is just a slump, I hope.  But, it was just getting too depressing watching them lose to Arizona, so I came down to my office and put on “Rock Star” with Mark Wahlberg.  Haven’t seen that movie in a while, and while it’s definitely not Oscar material, it is fun to watch and the soundtrack gets the old metal-head in me going!  I guess I need to get on Amazon and find the CD.  If you remember the hair-metal bands of the 80’s fondly, check the movie out sometime.  It’s decent entertainment, even if you aren't trying to hide from bad baseball!

-- Sundown, Out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"A Wild and Crazy Guy!"

Do you remember Steve Martin?  Of course you do.

Did you remember he played banjo?  Maybe not.

Let me refresh your memory with this little video.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Just Play Ball!

If you spend any time around myself and my Everlasting Soulmate this time of year, you will undoubtedly witness one of our shared passions in action.  No, not *THAT* passion!  Get your mind out of the gutter!

I'm talking about BASEBALL!!!

Now, ES and I are not some of those people who can quote baseball statistics as some people might quote the Bible.  We both have a reasonable understanding of the rules and statistics of the game and can read a box score, but memorizing facts like what years Mickey Mantle was the AL MVP really doesn't excite us (’56, ’57 & ’62 for those of you who care. [grin!]).

I have heard baseball described as a game of symmetry.  I can see that.  You have the symmetry of the infield, the exacting form and dimensions of the baselines, the geometrical positioning of the players.  But, then you also have the asymmetry of the outfield walls in different ballparks, the outfielders sometimes seemingly random shifting around to deal with particular hitters, the infield offset to cope with runners or anticipating the bunt, even the human foibles of all who have played the game.  I see it as both symmetry and asymmetry, coming together in a sort of weird, wonderful harmony.  Baseball definitely strikes a particular chord in me that no other form of human or mechanical contest does.  The game itself is simply beautiful.

I also treasure the chance to be out at the ballpark.  I relish (pun intended) the sights, sounds, and smells (hot dogs!) of being there.  Coming out of the concourse into the stands for the first game of the season and seeing the field laid out there in front of me, with its wide expanse of green grass glimmering in the sunlight and the clear blue sky holding court above…it fills me with an indescribable joy.  I am instantly a kid again, ready to go outside and play on a warm, spring day.

However, there are two things that will spoil my good baseball mood.  First are those people who go to a game seemingly for the singular purpose of disrupting the experience for others around them.  I hate these humans with a black, oily passion that cannot be truly expressed using the meager words of the English language.  If you’ve ever been to a game, you have surely seem them.  The ones who show up only to get drunk and be rowdy.  Or the ones who show up and spend nine-tenths of the game talking loudly on their cell phone, or to their idiotic companions for no particular reason other than to hear themselves talk.  Or my personal favorite…the fans of the visiting team that can’t seem to get it through their thick skulls that if they stand up and scream and dance around for their team in a loud, obnoxious manner, maybe the local fans are going to take exception to that.  And then there are those who are some combination of the above, plus still other atrocities which I have undoubtedly blocked out due to the pain.

Let me deal those three general types in order.

Drunkenness at a game is inexcusable.  I will enjoy an adult beverage at the game occasionally, but never to the excesses of some of these yokels.  You want to get drunk and be rowdy?  Go to a bar.  Guest associates/ushers, please, when you see them: warn them once, then throw them out.  Very simple.

Those who come to the game to yak...  I certainly do *not* sit stoic and silent, especially if my team is doing well!  I'll stand up and cheer just like baseball fans do!  However, if I desire to reflect on a particular play or thought with ES and/or others around me, I try to do so in a quick, courteous and friendly fashion while play is not going on.  If I have something to say while play is going on, I lean over and say it *quietly* so as not to disrupt others around me who are watching the game.  I learned that lesson very early as a child, going to double-A games with my father.  My parents did not tolerate such behavior in public from me, and I have a difficult time tolerating it now from grown adults who, IMHO, should know better.

Finally, I have been a visiting fan in another team’s ballpark.  I understand the feeling of isolation...still wanting to cheer on your team, regardless of the fact that you are surrounded by the home team crowd and definitely in the minority.  I do cheer my team on in those situations, but I am not obnoxious about it.  I try to keep my enthusiasm localized to my seat only.  It is possible to be very happy about a play and not have to scream or dance around to show it.  Just remember, to the home fans their team is the most important thing at that moment, just as your team is to you when you're in your home park.  You want to hoot and holler about your team no matter where they are?  Get a TV and watch at home.  The food and booze are less expensive there, too!

For the most part, these are all attributable to a systemic lack of personal responsibility in this country.  I remember getting the 'appropriate public behavior' lesson drilled into me very early in life, but it seems some folks have either forgotten or missed out on that while growing up.

For those of you who go to games and are responsible, do *not* fall into those categories and do not step on the enjoyment of the game for those around you...I thank you from the bottom of my white, cowhide with 216 red stitches heart.

Uh oh, I got up on my soap-box there for a bit...sorry. [climbs down]

Anyway, I am very thankful that ES and I share a love for the game because it can be so much better to experience it with a good friend.  I really do enjoy spending the time together at the ballpark...generally.

Easter Sunday was one of the rarer, second mood spoilers for me.

That afternoon was in the running for the top three coldest times I have spent in my life!  Cold (low 40s), windy, rainy...just generally yucky!  We went dressed and provisioned for the weather, but it was still miserable.  Now, I'm o.k. with sitting in the stands freezing my Easter eggs off *if* the team does well.  But when they have the lead from the beginning through the ninth inning and then give it away...that's not cool.  Then, to add insult to injury, as we were walking the two blocks back to where we parked, the sun came out...  I said words that even New York cabbies don't know or have rarely used.  ES then quipped to me that, as far as days go, it was better than working.  I guess working where she did for the last few years, I can understand her thinking.  I, however, might reserve judgment.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Am I Getting Too Old???

You know, I used to be better than this. I used to keep up with all the newest tech trends. I remember when telnet, ftp and gopher were the best things going. I was learning HTML before most people had heard of the Internet. I've had an email address continuously since 1992. But somehow, this whole Web 2.0 social thing just got away from me.

It's not like I didn't know it was happening. You'd have to have been seriously off-planet for the last several years not to see/hear/smell it. But I just chose to resist. I'm not even sure why... I believe I even said out loud at one point, "Young fools! Don't they have anything better to do!" [shakes head in disbelief]

Now, let's be clear. I have not begun to text wildly at anyone/everyone I know. I'm not trolling FaceBook or MySpace, looking for people I went to high school with. And I'm certainly not walking around the grocery store with the cell glued to my ear, talking about absolutely nothing (though that is not strictly Web 2.0-related, I had to vent...sue me.) But I am trying to embrace some of the "more worthwhile" changes that have happened. That's why you will notice the Twitter widget on here, and the link to the RSS feed.

Posting here is something I feel strongly about not letting go of. I have finally heard the siren call of the blog, and I was curious enough to turn the ship towards the rocks...I just hope I don't hit them. Although, I could just get close enough to gawk at the sirens. But, I digress... I will do my level best to post on a regular basis. At this moment I am leaning towards every Monday, Wednesday and Friday...with the occasionally odd day thrown in to keep y'all on your toes. If I can keep this to a regular schedule, it makes it easier.

Twitter seems like a good way to get some short, random thoughts out of my head without having to do a full post about them. Some of them may, from time to time, end up as posts...but don't count on it. And an RSS feed is just good blogosphere etiquette. I use them extensively to keep track of the sites I read, so why not return the favor.

Ok, subject change... A quick update on my IF project. It has a name...sort of. I gave it the name "The Testing Dungeon" early on, just as a placeholder. But the project is actually turning into something that might be of interest to more than just me, so I am percolating on other possible names. One that popped out of my head the other night was "Careless Caverns." Don't know if that'll stick or not. We'll just have to see what other nuggets might lie buried in the detritus that is my imagination.

-- Sundown, Out.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ok, Here We Go...

For better or worse...everything must start somewhere. And this is where it will start for me.

I'm not a professional writer...nor do I play one on television. But, I will do my best to keep any loyal readers out there disgusted, disinterested, disenfranchised...or maybe just plain ol' entertained.

"So, we're here...what are you going to write about?", one might ponder. Well, I'm glad you asked!

Almost all geeks have at least one "geek project" going at all times. I am no exception to that rule. My current project is working on writing interactive fiction using
Inform 7. What an interesting experience this is turning into! For those who are not aware, Inform 7 is a sort of IDE (Interactive Development Environment) which uses a very plain-english programming language to create interactive fiction (I.E. text adventure) files for use with most z-machine version 5 or 8 interpreters. I've been having a ball!

The plain English syntax is easy to pick up compared to other programming languages I've used, both successfully and not-so (BASIC and Pascal to Perl and C#). The amount of coding that went into creating this natural language syntax Inform 7 uses must have been an undertaking of monumental, nay almost biblical proportions. And the result is nothing short of astonishing in its simplicity. So, to the developers of Inform (you know who you are), thank you. [and...salute!]

I wanted my first IF project to be something simple, so I could get used to the new language and capabilities before tackling some bigger ideas that I keep rolling around in my head. So, I decided it would be best for me to start out with a concept from my youth that I still find enjoyable...a basic dungeon-crawl. I've been working for over a week now, at least a couple of hours a night, and I'm only about seven rooms into it. Why? I haven't gotten farther into room creation because I've been spending most of my time creating a ton of "gadgets!" I can't seem to get away from creating machines, obstacles and various other scenery that the player can interact with (or more likely be frustrated by!). I don't know if or when I'll get more rooms built...but hey, I'm havin' so much bloody fun, who cares?!?

I also wanted to give a Sundown-ShoutOut in this first post to my Everlasting SoulMate, also known as my wife. She recently used her enormous powers of persuasion to get me to go get a sleep study done. You see, amongst my several other sleep issues...I snore. And when I say I snore, I don't just mean a little snort and honk now and then...I can destroy windows at thirty feet! And because my father was recently diagnosed with sleep apnea (which is normally genetic), that was the final straw in her battle to convince me I needed to go. I relented and went...

If any of you are thinking about having a sleep study done, let me say this. Go. Go now! Call your doctor, get it scheduled, and go. It's one night out of your life, that in my case changed mine forever. I indeed have sleep apnea, and worse than my father. No one in my family thought that was even possible! I was, for all intents and purposes, "dead" for several hours every night. Scary.

I have now had a CPAP for about two weeks, and lovingly call it my "sleepy-bye machine." What a difference!!! I look back on how I was before, especially in the few years leading up to my diagnosis, and I now feel I can appreciate what zombies must go through constantly...minus the brain-eating, of course. I am so much more awake, aware and alive than I have been in a long time. I know my wife appreciates having me mentally "here" again, and I must say I appreciate her persistence, and sometimes-not-so-gentle prodding to get me to finally go. I luv ya, hun!

So, again I reiterate to all of you out there in the multiverse...if you think you may have sleep apnea...Go. Get. Tested. Don't wait. Get your life back. Please.

-- Sundown, Out.