Hamfest! and Jacob's Ladder

So, I went to the hamfest again this year. (Big surprise, eh?) Lots of neat stuff, but most of it not stuff I'm willing to buy; I generally go more to look at the old stuff than to buy it. But this year, something caught my eye...

A 15KV 450VA neon sign transformer, set up as a Jacob's Ladder! I've always been a bit fascinated by high voltage, so I bought the thing. And it's been fun to play with!

Here are some time exposures of it in action. The exposures range from one second to about four seconds. What basically happens in a Jacob's ladder, is you have two wires, one on each output of the transformer, arranged in a V so that the wires are very close at the bottom and farther apart at the top. When power is applied, an arc forms at the bottom, where the wires are closest, then the hot air in the arc moves up, carrying the arc with it until the distance is too far and the arc breaks, starting the cycle anew.

It is mesmerizing to watch, and makes a really cool bzzzzzz sound as well. By adjusting the position of the wires you can get different effects, too.

In the time exposures, the arc leaves a trail that looks like a big flame. You'll notice horizontal striping; this is due to the AC waveform; the arc extinguishes and restrikes 120 times per second as the 60Hz AC waveform varies the voltage. Jacob's ladders that use DC are even more impressive, because the arc is continuous and much brighter.

I also had some fun subjecting a few random materials to 15kV to see how they'd react. Paper is no match for this much voltage, the arc goes right through and quickly ignites it. Neither is plastic from a CD case; instant ignition there as well. My favorite so far is an anti-static bag of the type used to package computer equipment. I put it across the two electrodes at the top and applied power; it immediately lit up with blue streaks and ignited in an impressive display of mindless electrical destruction. I'm glad I was doing this outside. Electricity is fun!

I'm thinking of someday building a Tesla coil with the thing. The hardest part to find will likely be a high voltage capacitor, but it'd be worth it!

Anyway, that was my adventure for this year's hamfest; I might go back on Sunday to see if there's anything else cool.

C++/g++ sucks!

I hate having to compile C++ code. It's like a gamble every time I do it. We keep about eight different versions of g++ on site; whenever we have to compile some old code, we end up having to try at least three or four versions before we find the one that compiles the code correctly.

This seems to be becoming less of a problem with newer code, but it's still very obnoxious that the C++ standards have been changed so often in non-backwards compatible ways!

It makes Java actually look bearable in comparison...

Sorry for the tech rant, but I just had to. I feel better now. }8)

RP on FM, Winbl0ze, and insane amounts of disk space

I've started RPing more on FurryMUCK lately. I dunno if it's that a new batch of fun and interesting players has joined the system, or what, but it seems more fun lately than it's been over the past few years. I'm glad FM is doing well; in this age of flashy web graphics and Second Life and all, text-based systems have fallen into the shadows and only the most hard-core people seem to like them anymore. It's a community with a strong history and I'm glad to have been a part of it for so long.

On the other side, though, I'm thinking of actually building... *gasp*, a Windows box. For games, of course. The thing is, when the MacBook Pro comes out in Februrary, if it can run Windows in a dual-boot configuration, that would be the ideal solution, as it would kill two cockroaches with one stomp. There's lots of games that have come out in the last few years that I'd like to try, many of them already in the bargain bins. A Windows box is a sad necessary evil to be able to play them, though.

Other than that, not much. Been dealing with lots and lots and lots of disk storage at work, backup strategies, pricing out an array of like 36 flat panels and pricing out hardware to drive it, and so on. It'd be neat if they'd buy that LCD array, that must be some sight.

Some cool 1980s radio clips

I was digging through some old tapes and found some neat bits of radio from the 1980s, preserved for all time.

When I was a kid I got a tape recorder for Christmas, and would sometimes record the radio. Of course, being a kid, I did it the only way that came naturally, putting the microphone near the speaker, so the quality isn't all that great. But it's still a fun bit of nostalgia, as you will see.

Unfortunately, I don't remember the exact year. If any music buffs can pinpoint it more accurately, let me know!

  • "105.9 Waxy FM..." - Those who don't or didn't live in South Florida probably won't appreciate this short one very much; 105.9 was called "WAXY" in the 1980s, before they became "BIG105.9 Classic rock". It was kind of neat to hear that plug again.
  • Some 80s "Rick Dees, the weekly top 40!" - Namely, an ad break for Lee Jeans, Oxy Clean, Blue Nun Wine, and some random DJ chatter. If you were a fan of the top 40 countdown in the 80s, when new music didn't suck yet, this one is for you! This was recorded from what used to be WINZ I-95 94.9, "Bumper to Bumper Hits". At one point, you can actually hear my mother asking me to brush my teeth in the background. I was probably around 6 years old at the time.
  • Some Rick Dees song announcements - This is a continuation of the above.Guess who was at number 4 back then? Also includes an ad at the end, which might be seen as politically incorrect these days. You decide. };)

    Well, that's it. If I find more I'll surely post it!

  • Whoo! IBM tape library!

    We received an IBM 8583 LTO3 tape library today. It's a pretty nifty gadget, having 73 media slots, two LTO3 tape drives, a bar code reader, and a 2Gbps FibreChannel interface. It also has an I/O door you can open to insert and extract tapes without interrupting operation of the unit! And each tape stores a mind-blowing 400GB. Too bad we don't have the media yet, and I was only able to test with 200GB LTO2 tapes we already had...

    I set up a temporary machine named "kitsune" to figure out how to get it all working. Unfortunately, I could get nothing but lots of errors from the Linux kernel concerning the Emulex LP9000 FibreChannel host adapter. No matter what I did, I couldn't get it to see the attached tape library!

    After tweaking settings for a few hours, I decided to upgrade the firmware on the card to see if that would help. Everything suddenly started working perfectly, and the library detected as a SCSI device with two LUNs!

    Host: scsi0 Channel: 00 Id: 00 Lun: 00
      Vendor: IBM      Model: ULT3580-TD3      Rev: 57F7
      Type:   Sequential-Access                ANSI SCSI revision: 03
    Host: scsi0 Channel: 00 Id: 00 Lun: 01
      Vendor: IBM      Model: ULT3583-TL       Rev: 6.03
      Type:   Medium Changer                   ANSI SCSI revision: 02

    Each drive has its own FibreChannel connection, so to use both drives you need to connect each one to an HBA port. The Library's configuration has an option where you can actually assign the medium changer to either drive, so it shows up as an extra LUN on that particular drive.

    "Kitsune" is a pathetic Pentium III 550MHz with 256MB of RAM, so it is way too slow a machine to really test the drive's throughput (60MBytes/sec peak, supposedly); that's going to have to wait until we receive a set of SFP transceivers from IBM so it can be hooked up to the Bladecenter. After that, the next step will be to set up one or two of the blades as backup server(s), and set up a new Amanda configuration for the library.

    Fibrechannel is pretty spiffy! It's just like SCSI, only the cables are a heck of a lot more manageable and it's a heck of a lot more expensive. You can also set up SANs, or "Storage Area Networks", in which you can assign individual devices to individual servers using software, and make changes without having to physically reconnect anything. Neat stuff; I just wish it were cheaper!

    Some more Internet pet peeves

    I think some of us have seen my classic web pet peeves list at this location. Well, I just felt it needed some updates. So here's some of the latest annoyances on the net that I bet we've all hit once in a while.

    • People who use unnecessary unicode/xml/etc. in E-mail -- I mean, come on, folks. This is a quote: " You don't have to use quot; or other bizarre quote-wannabes. Use standard ASCII quotes. Some mail programs are badly behaved and replace every normal " you type with these abominations; disable that. If you are speaking in English, use ASCII. The same goes for apostrophes ('). The world need not be artificially made more complex than it already is!
    • Sending word documents as attachments that contain nothing but text or images -- This sort of jives with the above peeve, in that it's unnecessary, wastes bandwidth, and causes needless annoyance having to open up a bulky application just to read your message. If you must have it page-formatted, generate a PDF instead; it'll be smaller. If you need to send an image, attach the actual image to the message; don't send it embedded in a word document! Another problem with Word documents is that they can contain macro viruses and potentially compromise the machine! Oh yeah, and not everybody runs Windows or uses Word.
    • HTML E-mail -- HTML E-mail is unnecessary. Just use plaintext and write actual URLs as links; the vast majority of mail clients will make the links clickable. There's two problems with HTML E-mail; the first is that it looks like crap when viewed in plain text, and the second is that most SPAM is sent as HTML E-mail, so spam filters tend to spam-score HTML messages higher than plaintext messages. Your fancy HTML email might be filed away as SPAM and your recipient may not even see it! If you must send someone a web page, just send them the URL to it. It's much faster. What's funny is that 99% of the people who send HTML E-mail don't actually use any HTML features! The message would look exactly the same in plaintext.
    • Using Java for images -- I don't know how this idiocy got started, but I've come across several sites where the images were actually displayed by Java applets. Not only is this slow, but it prevents viewing of the images on any browser that isn't Java-enabled! I happened to like one of the images and wanted to save it, and ended up having to take a screen-capture and crop the image out. Needless to say, unnecessary annoyance. Stop it! The same applies for Macromedia Flash being used solely to display a static image.

    Well, that's it for now. If anyone has suggestions, feel free to comment! Remember, just because an application has a feature doesn't mean you should be obliged to use it. Features do not get lonely from disuse and do not need your pity. };)

    Realistic CG Critters and More!

    So last night I met up with a bunch of folks at a friend's place. We sat around watching a few episodes of Freakazoid, then went to go watch "The Chronicles of Narnia" as one big group. It was loads of fun!

    The movie was amazing. I don't think I've ever seen more realistic CG animals in my life. The story was also enjoyable, though the movie could have benefited from a bit faster pacing in some places. I just couldn't believe how good the animals looked; the facial moments when speaking looked incredibly realistic! One thought that came to me is that they could theoretically remake "The Lion King" in this sort of "live-action" and it would actually look good! (Though actually this would be a bad idea, Disney, so if you are reading, don't try it. };) )

    After the movie, we returned and watched a couple more episodes of Freakazoid (duhhhhhhhhhh I am Mo-Ron!) for good measure. I miss cartoons like that; they managed to be funny without having to resort entirely to shock factor and gross-out (like South Park and Drawn Together).

    And that's a wrap!

    Rode my bicycle to Downtown Miami and back!

    So for a while I've been promising myself to go on a bicycle ride to Downtown Miami and back when the weather gets cooler and a day without rain is predicted. Today was the day! So I said "what the heck" and did it!

    I rode from around SW 137th avenue all the way to Bayfront Park. That's about 15 miles each way "as the crow flies", but due to the nature of the city I had to take lots of side streets and such, so the total trip distance ended up being 40.44 miles.

    I stopped at a downtown Subway and had a roast beef sub before returning. Overall it was a rewarding experience to get to Bayfront Park and back under my own power. Of course, 40 miles is nothing to an experienced cyclist, but I'm far from that; I'm a computer geek who has this unusual (for a geek) urge to go outside sometimes!


    Total distance: 40.44 miles

    Average speed: 12.0MPH

    Maximum speed: 26MPH (down a hill, so it was sorta cheating ;) )

    Total time in motion: 3h:23m:10s

    Best part of the trip: Subway. Food feels so good when you're exhausted.

    Worst part of trip: Inconsiderate motorists.

    Biggest complaint: "Bike path" appears to not be in the vocabulary of Miami-Dade city planners.

    Random tidbit: Cute kitty sleeping in the window of an apartment across the street from Subway. Grey and white with some tabby-ness. Yes, I'm hopeless!

    Will I do it again: Maybe. Legs still hurt like hell!

    Oh no, I better disinfect my system!

    So I saw a link to "www.updateyoursystem.com"... Curiosity got the better of me, of course...

    Check this out...

    Holy crap! I'm infected with a Windows virus! Even though I run Linux!

    Also amusing is the contradiction on that page; it says I'm running Linux Firefox, but also claims I'm running Windows...

    Of course, the IP address that's attacking me is a multicast address! So whoever wrote this page doesn't know much about IP addressing. At least they didn't use a 10.x.x.x address...

    OH NOS IVE BEEN HAX0R3D!!!!!!!!!1#!##!#!!#!#!oneonepoundone

    Gotta love these scamsters. I can see your typical Windows drone falling for it, and then paying for this useless software...

    Drupal 4.6.x and some other stuffs...

    Just updated this site to Drupal 4.6.x (it's about time, right?) and the upgrade seems to have gone smoothly, but if anyone sees any bizarre quirks, please let me know in a comment!

    The quirk with logging in resulting in a blank page appears to have gone away. Other than that, I don't see any cosmetic changes or major changes on the admin side...

    On other notes...

    I got the p690 going at work a while ago. It is one hell of a beast of a box; right now it is partitioned entirely for Linux; all 31 usable CPUs and 256GB of memory.

    It's hard to fathom a machine with 256GB of memory. I mean, this is so much memory that EVERYTHING you ever access on the machine's disk ends up in cache and STAYS in cache pretty much permanently! This causes the machine to always feel incredibly snappy once you've been using it for a bit.

    I also managed to compile an entire Linux kernel in a bit less than two minutes. Normally compiling a Linux kernel takes about 20 minutes! "make -j 31" scrolls like no tomorrow, and the CPU time reported is around 23 minutes (since it adds up the time used on all of the CPUs)

    It's a pretty fun machine to mess around with. }:)

    Oh yeah, I was also at MetroZoo last weekend and took some photos. Well, I took a lot more, but these are the ones I'm showing off. The otters were a real blast to watch; they're totally adorable!

    Oh yeah, this, and also this! Servals can jump pretty high.

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