Congratulations CERN!

Epic, magic, creative, wonderous – There probably aren’t enough adjectives to describe what has been going on in the world of high energy particle physics.

I watched, with wonder, the CERN webcast on the 4.9/5.0 ? results on the discovery of a new boson at 125 Gev. It’s the Higgs of course! Watching those hundreds of dedicated physicists, engineers, technical and support staff being riveted to the presenters and the data being shown was amazing. Peter Higgs losing it with the emotion of the announcement was just icing on the cake. This is up there with Chadwick discovering the neutron and Rutherford finding the proton.

From a small, insignificant watcher of the amazing world of science – Congratulations! and congratulations to the thousands of physicists who have laboured tirelessly over their blackboards and apparatus over the last 100 years.

Thank you CERN for letting us all watch this incredible journey unfold in real time. It’s almost like being at the Cavendish is 1931!

Tony’s rules of data

I’ve been copying some large data sets around lately and have formulated 2 rules of data

1. Data will ALWAYS expand to fill any available storage
2. Moore’s Law is irrelevant as data is ALWAYS conspiring to bring the apparent speed of a system back to that of a 386.

There you have it – 30 years in the IT industry condensed into 2 statements

Spot the difference

More of the same here. Just spent $80 on a new detergent dispenser for our Dishlex DX 302 dishwasher. Spot the difference in these 2 parts, apart from the fact they are different colours.

Hard to spot but the tiny little catch on the light grey one is broken. Why us this an issue? The door won’t latch close, so unless you hang around waiting for the pre-rinse cycle to complete, most of the detergent disappears in the a fore mentioned rinse.

Now my real gripe is that the cover door is removable but NO, you can’t buy the door, you have to buy the complete detergent dispenser assembly – complete with 2 solenoids.

Surely, considering the door is removable we could just buy the door and not the rest of the assembly. If anyone needs a new detergent dispanser (sans a door). Just drop me a line.

Chucking stuff out 2

My wife reported our little Sunbeam coffee maker was no longer working. It wasn’t pumping water etc. Here we go again I thought. Another unrepairable appliance!

We have had this Sunbeam for about 5 years and it made OK coffee, as long as you gave it plenty of time to heat up. There was also a lingering problem with puddles of water under it but I always assumed (that word again) that the problem was related to the removable plastic water tank on the back.

Totally ignoring the warnings “no user serviceable components inside” I pulled the back off and immediately noticed rust on several components –

Now that wasn’t cool. Rust doesn’t happen the moment something gets wet and this looked long term. I could understand rust on lower components getting there from a leaking valve but the bracket holding the pump (blue component on right) was rusty. Could see anything spectacularly wrong so I plugged it in and watched. Once I started the coffee cycle, the problem was obvious almost straight away. The union on the hose above the pump sprayed water over most of the innards of the machine. Why it hadn’t tripped a earth leakage breaker was unknown.

That accounted for the leaks and the rust. Once the coffee cycle starts the pump starts a rhythmic thumping and this had loosened the union.

20 seconds with a spanner, 2 minutes to put the back on and its as good as new. Made my day as for once, I didn’t have to “Chuck it out” Yay!

Arduino 2!

Well the Arduino project has grown again. I think Arduino must be Italian for spontaneous growth! Here a picture of the latest state.

It now sports a few additions.

– Freetronics Ethershield – It has an integrated prototyping area which holds a “Dead on RTC – DS3234” which is running (as is the Ethershield) on a SPI bus. I had minor moment when, while testing, either the ES or the RTC ran (not both). A bit of digging and the ES needs SPI MODE 0 while the RTC needs MODE 3. The RTC now means that my wife can turn the system off when it rains. Previously you had to turn it back on around the time you started watering but now its agnostic about the startup time.

– Freetronics LCD shield. The buttons on the shield are used to manually start the watering cycle if required.

The stuff which was on the Sparkfun prototype area has all moved to the breadboard including the run LED and the water on LED as well as the driver for the relay. I ran out of digital pins on the Arduino, the LCD uses 7, but the analog pins work fine.

Naturally, if you add ethernet to anything then a web server is required. You can check out the status of my watering system at The other great use of an ethernet interface is you can sync the RTC to NTP on the *net. Its REALLY important that your watering is synced to UTC.

What next? I think a rain sensor is coming as well as the aforementioned connections to the staghorns. Biggest issue there is hiding the ugly black Irrigation pipes!.



Now this is fun. Bought an Arduino / Sparkfun  UNO experimenters kit from Little Bird Electronics. Talk about easy to get running. The little workhorse is now driving the irrigation system in both the upper and lower greenhouses. Here is a pic

I built a 240V -> 24VAC transformer into a jiffy box – its 72VA so I added a 6A fuse. This drives the bodgy little power supply on the left and is switched by the relay into the . 24VAC becomes 12VDC and this then drives the Arduino and the relay. The heatsink on the 7912 voltage regulator is an old Pentium 1 heatsink. Most of the wiring on the breadboard is to

  • accept input from the single switch which either starts or stops the timer
  • drive the piezo which plays a small tune on water on and off
  • drives the servo on the right which provides visual indication of the timer cycle
  • drives the flashing “power (yellow)” and “water on (red)” LEDs
  • holds a single transistor to drive the relay

This is the business end

$19.50 24VAC solenoid from Bunnings and some poly pipe fittings. This irrigation setup is fed by a tank and the valves work OK with this pressure. The fine solenoid cable back to the Arduino is just inserted 100 mm underground using a spade to cut the turf and (this is important) a “stick” to shove the cable to the bottom of the cut. Its not really terminated with insulation tape, there is some soldering and heat shrink under that.

At the moment the Arduino is simply turning it on for 15 minutes every 11 hours and 45 minutes. Future improvements will include

  • A more permanent board for the interfaces
  • LCD for cycle indications
  • A RTC (real time clock) for timing.
  • More relays for different circuits. I need to connect Jacq’s staghorns on the eastern deck into regular watering.

Most of this, of course, is dependant on me not sacrificing the Arduino into the next project……   THIS! Muah-ha-ha

Chucking stuff out

I’m getting depressed about this. Lately we’ve had a spate of electronic failures. Most of it is not repairable and even though its (comparatively) cheap – especially compared to 10 years ago – I’m getting jack of just “chucking stuff out”.

The recent casualty list is accentuated by a freak lightning hit but I just can’t fix this stuff and the cost of professional repair is more that buying new stuff.

The DEE (Dead electronic equipment) list includes

Panasonic SA-DT100 home theatre system. Its almost 10 years old but it now says “F61” when it starts and this means the audio amplifier board is toasted. Problem here is I now have 6 speakers (inc subwoofer) which are now virtually useless.

Netgear EV100 – the NIC is dead and won’t go online. I could use it for USB playback but I bought it for TWIT and YouTube.

CABAC ADSL router – all NIC ports now dead. + El Cheapo 8 port 10/100 only has 2 working ports.

I just hate just throwing this shit out. I can’t reclaim any of it, even recycling is tough. About the best I can do is keep the power transformer (for copper) and cases from the Panasonic for the steel. The rest just chucked in the garbage.

I’m getting a real feeling that someday, we as humans, are going to pay for this, one way or another.

PC Skill Drought?

I have a gut feeling that we are about to enter a PC skills drought. I work with other grey headed headed guys who feel the same way.

Reading my previous post about cheap PCs, It makes me think, no wonder we can’t get young guys interested in PC’s – these devices (in real terms) are 10% of the prices that we paid for PCs in the 1990’s. They are just raw commodity items and are seen as “old tech” by the young ‘uns. All the vibe in computing is around mobile and I can see a generation arriving where mobile (Android, iPhone etc) coupled with console gaming provides all their needs. Most mobile users, (x)Pad users included, don’t seem to need a PC at home. This includes Macs too.

From a business perspective, skill sets in PC level devices need to be maintained but unless PCs present themselves as “new and sparkly”, I don’t see this happening. Unless the kids build an initial skill set on their home PC then the entry level abilities needed to get on the Helpdesk, the usual first rung on the ladder, becomes that much harder to obtain.

This is compounded by the reality that business level computing is becoming MORE complicated that ever. Have a think about what virtualisation is doing. It adds enormous flexibilty for medium to large business environments but it also adds, using VMWare for and example, a whole new new layer between the hardware and the OS. We have now introduced VMWare skills as a requirement. This is the same for storage virtualisation as well. The network layer has has virtualisation as a core skill for 10+ years (think vLans – Layer 2 virtualisation) but now the top line network devices have virtual routers as well.

In the VMware world (where I spend a lot of my time) it also facilitates a proliferation of servers. Where in the past you would try to aggregate functions, Its simpler and despite needing more O/S licenses, to just create a new server for that application you want to roll. In the end you manage more servers.

I suppose its good for old farts like me as business depends on PCs for day to day operations (and I will probably be able to get work forever) but eventually we will all want to retire and someone needs to maintain these systems. Someone is going to need to address this skills gap.

Interesting times ahead.

PCs as commodity items

Did an upgrade for an old customer of mine last week. Their 15 YO computers were well beyond it (Gotta love that 486 technology – it never quits) so we drifted over the road to ARC Computers (They really are over the road) and bought 2 x Intel Celeron E3300 based machines for the princely sum of $AU238 each.

These boxes included a 500GB SATA and 2 GB of fast DDR3 RAM (I think it was about 1033 MHz). Ran XP Home up and they fly! They are running a basic ASRock M/B with GMA Graphics (DX10!) and have a bucket load of USB ports and a 10/100 Ethernet. On top of that ARC supplied a great little black FOXCONN cases which look great and fits easily into the desks provided.

I needed to assemble them – no sweat (damn Intel Push-Pins), I enjoy a bit of screwdriver work occasionally but really.. these prices are just a “race to the bottom”.

I have an August 1988 issue of Australian Personal Computer (APC) in front of me. A 10 Mhz PC/AT / 640Kb with a 20MB HDD from a clone manufacturer was…… $2290. No NIC, monochrome graphics or USB (whats that?) etc. 386 class machines started at $5K.  Back in the bad days, those computers didn’t even have a real time clock. Every time you booted it, you had to enter the correct date and time.

How about the adjustments for inflation. Using the RBA inflation calculator

A computer worth $2500 in 1988 is actually worth $4700 dollars these days. On raw figures alone = 1/20 th the cost Amazing if you were to factor in the raw MHZ performance as well (10 mhz vs 2.5Ghz – 250 times!) the new computer is about 1 in 500o (th?)  the price. No multitasking, RAM = less than a 4000 th of current norms. No network (NICS were > $500 each) Makes my mind rattle.

Really – how stupid do they think we are?

Latest in advertising. A battery powered dispenser for “anti-bacterial” hand wash. The kicker? “germs can live on the top of an ‘ordinary’ dispenser”…… For SHIT Sake – your skin has a million more ‘germs’ than the top of dispenser bottle. On top of that, you are dispensing anti-bacterial hand cream which should KILL everything in site.

Are people really so insecure about the normal stuff that has inhabited our world for the last 3 BILLION years?

When is this sort of mindless CRAP going to end?

Some random stuff from an old computer fart.