Rack blueprints

I’ve had quite a lot of requests now for the plans for the rack. It has always been my intention to share the designs, but they are hand drawn and I don’t currently have the ability to scan them. I am hoping that I can digitise them manually (draw them in something like Inkscape) and upload them to here. As with everything though, it will depend on me sitting down and doing it and not getting distracted by another idea!

I fell out of a plane at 12,000ft and survived

After 4 attempts, the weather has finally allowed my sister and I to complete our first ever sky dives in aid of our chosen charities.

We arrived at the centre in the east of England at 7.15 am and got in line to make sure we’d be near the front of the queue when it came to jump orders. Less than 2 hours later we were called into the hangar to suit-up and slide into our harnesses. After a plane ride of maybe 10 mins or so, and allowing one guy to jump out at 5,000ft, we were at 12,000ft and I was first in line to accelerate to terminal velocity in the direction of our host planet.

When the door is slid open, the first thing that hit me was the view. The second was the cold air. The third was the realisation that I was about to go out that door and entrust myself to the friendly Chris and his complex arrangement of fabric and string.

The pictures below pretty much explain the rest!

Finally, a massive thanks to all who sponsored my sister and I. Your donations are greatly appreciated.

Another sky diving update

The first jump was supposed to happen on 7th April, but was cancelled due to high winds. We went along to the airfield today to re-attempt the jump, but once again the weather was not entirely in our favour. Therefore we will be trying again at an unknown date – booking will be left until the last minute so that we can at least have some idea of what the weather will be like.

Sponsorship update

There’s just over a week to go before my planned sky dive in aid of Alzheimer’s Society. So far sponsorships are at a pretty impressive 200, thanks in part to some very generous individuals. The target I set is just 50 away, so if you haven’t done so already please, please sponsor me for whatever you can afford through Just Giving! I’m paying for the full cost of the jump, so every penny donated goes to the charity (plus a bit more if you opt to give Gift Aid).

KillerLight theme released

KillerLight screenshot

My first WordPress theme, KillerLight, has been released on wordpress.org. The theme is a slightly altered version of the one used on here.

Like this site, it has a javascript-based animated header which fades slowly for a lovely faux-lighting effect. All current WordPress features are supported, including widgets and gravatars.

One important thing to note about the theme is that IE 6 is not supported – it’s just not worth the effort. Instead, a message is displayed to users of IE < 7 informing them that they should either upgrade or get a different browser.

Would you like a fried drive with your Windows 7 install, sir?

One day I decided to try out Windows 7 public beta. I had a spare 500 gig drive lying around, so I thought I’d put that in my main machine and disconnect the normal 2x 250gb drives which house my day-to-day Vista install.

So I hooked up the spare drive, got Windows 7 installed, played around for a little while then got bored with it.

Reverting my computer back to its normal configuration was easy. Just remove the spare drive and re-connect the old ones. So I did that, and powered back up and glanced at the side of my perforated case. ‘Funny’, I thought, ‘I don’t remember having an amber LED inside the computer… and what’s that sound? Cables hitting a fan?’. Then came the smell. ‘F^&*ck!!’

After the reflex move of yanking the power cord, I removed the side of the case and extracted one of the drives to find the scene below.

Fried drive power connector

Fried SATA power plug

I think there may be a flaw in the design of the SATA power connector, which means that if it’s slightly dislodged then the 5v rail and ground can short out quite spectacularly. And when you have a high-power PSU, the over-current cut-out threshold is set too high so there’s no protection from things like this.

The drive which was damaged is part of a RAID 0 array, meaning that half of the data of my running system was on it. I have 2 independent methods of backup for my main computer: daily file backups of all important files (photos, source code, documents etc.) and a manual perdiodic backup using Norton Ghost. If the worst came to the worst, I should eventually be able to recover all my important stuff and theoretically a complete system image. However, last time I tried to restore from Ghost, the result was very unreliable and had to be dumped.

So, before I considered going down the route of backup restores I thought I’d have a go at repairing the drive.

It looked like only the board had become damaged, and at that only the connector and nearby soldering (the copper tracks had melted into balls) was affected. Ebay is your friend when it comes to finding rare parts, so I started there. I needed an exact match to the drive that I was trying to repair, since I needed a controller board which would work with the internal drive mechanics which should still be working fine.

The first order was a disappointment. The listing was slightly misleading, as it listed the exact model I wanted but the model I received was an equal size but completely different configuration.

The second order wasn’t as bad, but didn’t work. It was manufactured at a different plant, and used slightly different chips and a different firmware version. Although the drive spun up, none of the computers I tried it with would recognise it at all.

2nd replacement drive - didn't work
2nd replacement drive - didn't work

After wasting a chunk of money, I looked at the corner of my desk and whaddya know … an excact matching drive! Lesson: look around for things hiding in plain sight before wasting money. The matching drive was originally paired with the damaged one, but got replaced when it sounded like it was dying (turned out to be something else).

The identical drives which provided the solution
The identical drives which provided the solution

So, swapping the board from the twin drive to the broken one solved the problem. 2 weeks later I had a working machine again.

My big jump – Phase 1: Sponsorship

A mock-up of me skydiving

My sister and I are going to be jumping out of a plane at circa 13,000 ft (weather permitting) to raise money for charity on 7th April.

I’m raising money for Alzheimer’s Society, and she’s collecting sponsorships for Cancer Resarch UK.

If you would like to sponsor me, I’ve set up a Just Giving page at http://www.justgiving.com/simonsbigjump

The image above is just for illustration. Since this will be my first jump, I have no photography of me falling out of the sky, so I used the GIMP to make something.

KillerLight improvements

If you haven’t noticed already, I’ve made a few improvements to the KillerLight theme.

  • There is now a JavaScript-driven header animation, which has the ability to detect a slow computer and disable itself. You can turn it on and off manually with the button at the top-right.
  • A few more icons have been added here and there
  • The ‘read more’ link is now styled
  • The footer can expand vertically instead of being fixed height

I’ve taken a look at it in IE6, and it’s not as badly broken as I feared. At the moment the animated header screws things up royally, and the top horizontal navigation doesn’t display horizontally. I hope to at least get things looking reasonably presentable soon, by disabling the animated header for IE6 and changing the way the top nav is styled.

As for a future release of the theme, it’s all planned out in my head. A non-branded version of the header images will be included, so anyone can have that fading animation. The name of the blog will be overlayed in standard text.

I also have a few ideas for spin-off themes, which are a slightly different take (new graphics) on the same structure. Watch this space!

Computational Heating

This morning I really struggled to get out of bed. Being very tired still, in a nice warm bed while outside it was -7 C and my room probably wasn’t far off that, it took some convincing that I really did need to go to work. While laying there, between drifting in and out of consciousness, I got to wondering if I could make my room a little warmer without changing the central heating settings or adding another heater. I had the idea that I could set up my computers to respond to temperature.

Continue reading “Computational Heating”