Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Fine Tuning Monitor Performance

Back in in the age of steam and the Intel 80286, after graduating MIT Katherine set off with friends on their bicycles to ride from Boston to Santa Barbara. She left behind with me two plush creatures (Binkley & Gunther) to help me track her progress.

After Katherine's ride, Binkley & Gunter joined her at UCSB; the staff shortage in Boston was corrected that Christmas by the arrival of Snuffles, the Plump Plush Platinum Programming Polar Bear (or Snuffles P. Bear for short). Snuffles was a happy resident of my (ever bigger) CRT monitors for ten years.

The Tribble, Snuffles, and an assistant on duty ~ 1997

Alas, in ~2000 we moved to LCD monitors, and her position was literally eliminated (she is a plump bear); Room was made for her elsewhere in my office, but no creature bigger than Thomas Tech Bear could balance on the thin LCD monitors since then.

Until this month, that is. I discovered that one can buy stands for LCD monitors. Thus, she able to reclaim her time-honored position, joined by a few senior friends.

The Tribble, Seymour Crayola,Thomas Techer Bear, and Snuffles P. Bear
(click for a larger image)

The 2023 monitor creatures, briefly:

  • The Tribble (1983): Since he arrived during my mainframe era, the Tribble has graced every primary monitor I've used; that has included two mainframe terminals, ~ four PC CRT's, and ~ five PC LCD monitors.
  • Seymour Crayola (2000): Our Patron Bear of High-Performance Computing; he missed the 64-node Thinking Machines CM-5 I used in the early 1990s (upper right in the photograph), but more recently he constantly wanted to use my Google credentials to borrow a datacenter or three.
  • Thomas Techer Bear (1978): The Dean of our Plush Faculty.
  • Snuffles P. Bear (1990): Our Patron Bear of Chocolate (those are Thin Mints at her feet), and the Kendra Electronics Wonderworks Directbear of Marketing.

In Her Own Words

I just program for Drew because Binkley Bunny (who is as snowy white as I am) and Gunther Bear used to help Drew program from the top of kendra's monitor. They went west in September [1990] with Mom so that Mom and Binkley could work on their PhDs. That made the Wonderworks understaffed, so at Christmas [1990] Mom asked me to live with Drew.
— Snuffles P. Bear
My mom is very proud that I'm a computer literate bear. She also thinks Drew has gone off the deep end, although she doesn't mind.
— Snuffles P. Bear

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

New! Improved! Revisited!

One of the exercise pedals needed to be revised a week after our last visit.  

With my bow-legged feet, there is a certain amount of toe-out stress on the pedals. This means sooner or later the straps with their hole can slip out of the friction fitted pegs on the pedal. The right pedal slipped out three times on two rides, so I took action.

I added Gear Ties under the pedal; they counter the toe-out force by pulling the bottom of the straps together; like a cotter pin on an axel, they don't apply force in the main (vertical) direction of the force on the strap, but keep it from falling off.

Problem fixed.  I hope.

(The left pedal may need the same treatment. Not today.)

Underside View of Pedal with Gear Ties

Sideview of Gear Tie on Pedal

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Throw Another Brick on the Fire

Headline: Syracuse woman wins award for oldest furnace

Pity the oldest furnace contest was not in the Boston area when we first moved there; the winner in Syracuse had a furnace only from 1910. The Stoneham house was over a 100 years old when we bought it in 1995, with a oil fired steam-heat furnace which may have been older than the house.

The Original Jurassic-era Furnace in Stoneham
The Original Jurassic-era Furnace in Stoneham

Our furnace service person thought it was a conversion from coal, and we privately thought it was originally fueled by dinosaur guano. Not fossilized guano, but rather fresh guano straight from the  living source.

Around 2000 we had replaced the tank, which was leaking; we found a previous repair had been done with fiberglass … and oil eats fiberglass. When we replaced it, the 1500 gallon tank had to be replaced with two smaller tanks; I think they had to cut the old tank up to get out it of the cellar.

We already had gas service for the stove and hot water; in 2004 we replaced the furnace with an gas fired one. Not only did was it quieter running, the company figured out why our steam pipes banged (a low spot in a pipe), and we smoothed out our utility bills by going on a budget plan.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

New! Improved!

My exercise bike is ~ 19 years old; the threaded posts (in photo) pushing the pedals away from the cranks so the heels of my bow-legged feet don't hit them, are more like 29 hours old. 

Exercise Bike Pedal Extender Post

They became far more important as I tried to extend my ride time from 48 to 64 minutes. The problem was not the increase in overall length, that but it divides into 16 segments; going from 3 minute segments to 4 minutes on "hills" made me tired and therefore sloppy about keeping my feet straight. (Much banging of heels then occurred.)

The extenders work, too. I wish I'd found them years ago (It seems I wantedneeded to search for "pedal extenders" not "crank extenders"), but I've got 'em now. 🙂

My first 64 minute ride is now in the books.

My thanks to my usual bicycle engineer, Katherine! 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Tombs of Technology

I went through a lot of technology during my first 12 years years of PC ownership, where I iterated through computers every two years and constantly updated our voice and network connectivity. In 1995 we moved into our first house; after two years we had a basement full of accumulated techno-crap, which I cleaned up and out. I re-organized all the spare gear I kept in the dungeon into four storage tubs:

  • Computer cards and peripherals
  • A/C cords extension, and assorted gizmos like suicide strips 
  • Telephone and Ethernet supplies
  • Audio and Video

They labeled were with a sequence number and year, as in:

I thought I would be at adding them in the following years.  That didn't happen, which is a good thing. The reasons are subtle, but obvious in hindsight:

  • I had moved four times in the ten years of and after my first computer, but after 1995:
    • We lived in Stoneham 12 years, and 
    • We have been here in Kenmore for 15 years (and counting). 
  • We now call professionals to run new phone, network, and video drops.
  • Technology has stabilized and better packaged:
    • Our two year upgrade cycle of computers is now six+.
    • The gigabit Ethernet network I installed in 2007 is still running.
    • External connectivity via USB, HDMI, WiFi, and BT are (mostly) past their teething problems, and (usually) just work.
So I've still got the four cartons, but things go in and out of them far less often.  This may be first I've reached in that box for a coax cable since we moved here.

Of course, my office closet is several times the size of the one in Stoneham, and has everything from backup drives to (many) flavors of USB and other cables. Now if I could get it cleaned & organized …

… maybe there is a fifth tomb, the size of a small room.  Sigh.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Where No Drive Has Gone Before

When I started at Clarkson in 1978, they had a IBM System/360 65J. Announced in 1965, it was obsolete long before I laid on eyes on it, but it was far faster than anything I had touched, and best of all, it had video terminals with erasing backspaces.

Physically, the machine required five full size frames (hence the term "mainframe") for the CPU and 1 MB main (core) storage.  There were also frames for 3 MB of Large Core Storage, which was bigger but slower than the main storage. The IBM System/360 Installation Manual-Physical Planning runs 161 pages.

For disk storage, the S/360 had three IBM 2314 direct access storage facilities with eight online disk drives each. Each drive had 11 14" platters holding a total of 29.2 megabytes. With 24 drives (each the size of a commercial washer) across the 3 banks, the system had 699 megabytes online total.  (By the mid-1990s, that storage would fit on a fraction of a single Windows 95 5.25" hard disk.)

Now? CPU, memory, and disk drives are even smaller, to say the least:

Kingston 240 GB M.2 drive measuring 80 mm by 22 mm

The interesting thing is that these drives are small enough to fit in new places. Formerly, if one wanted to put better drive than an SDXC card on a single board Raspberry Pi, one had to use an external 2.5" drive with a USB cable; that's a tad smaller than a 2314 drive, but still annoying. 

But now, people such as Argon 40 are building quality cases for the Raspberry Pi 4b (compare the below to the plastic cases I used for Raspberry Pi 3b units).  The Argon 40 cases look great, act as large passive heat sinks, and have thermostatically controlled fans for when passive cooling isn't enough. Better still, they have added similar cases (and adapters for existing cases) that hide the M.2 drive away. 

On the right: An Argon One case exposing the bottom of the installed Raspberry Pi 4b 
On the Left: a simple base for the case (no drive)
In the Center: the Kingston M.2 drive from above installed in an expansion case base

Two Argon One cases, with & without
the higher expansion base for a M.2 drive

The Argon One expansion base uses a U-shaped USB3 connector
to make the electronic connection between the base and the case.

NoteClick on any of the photographs for a larger image. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

A Time To Cast Away …

I learned to ride a bike when I was nine years old, the spring before we moved from Cowlesville to Skaneateles.

My sister had gotten a new banana bike for her 11th birthday, and I got her old one as a hand-me-down: A green girl's Huffy with 20" Balloon Tires and training wheels that my father had painted blue and put a hand-cut top tube on to make it boys bike. I needed only a couple weeks to lose the training wheels.

In my teens, I took possession of another hand-me-down, a 3-three speed from my brother which was a little too tall for my diminutive height.

In 1982, I got my first new bike while living in Endicott NY, a Miyata ten speed racing bike. (Yes, it later shared garage space with our Mazda Miatas.) The highlight of that bike was in the summer of 1985 before I returned to Clarkson for my final tour of duty when I sold my car and put over 1500 miles on the bike. I also used it for commuting in Potsdam and Kingston.

After 20 years, we replaced the Miyata with a Trek hybrid. The Trek never got the heavier use of the Miyata, especially after it was supplemented by Schwinn Airdyne (upright) and Vision Fitness HRT 2200 (semi recumbent) stationary bikes. The Schwinn Airdyne didn't last; the HRT 2200 has, and is the bike which moved up to my office last summer.

The Trek has not been touched since The Before Time. Sadly, with my mobility/balance issues, which especially cause problems mounting and dismounting bicycles, this spring I decided the Trek has zero future with me. Yesterday, we sold it to Play It Again Sports for a pittance.

That makes me sad, but I am heartened because the HRT 2200 has gotten used this month; I've already beaten last year's total (and seven other years since 2004), and it's only early June.

Maybe there is an adult tricycle in my future. We'll see.