Nerd Badge of Courage

So, I just signed up for an account on an OpenPower Project machine in Germany. Power as in PowerPC – the chips that have been powering Macs for the last decade+. It’s sponsored by IBM.

You are allowed to develop and run code on this platform pretty much as you like. They’re trying to get interesting development projects happening in an atmosphere of sharing and innovation. Pretty cool if you ask me.

What am I going to do with it? Who knows. Mostly just play with some test code and benchmark it with other platforms. Plus, it gives me a +5 in geek cred 🙂 Should be fun!


New Projects, old projects

Well, it’s been about 6 weeks (tomorrow) since A2C and I got married. Since then, it’s been a lot of moving stuff, cleaning stuff, adjusting to stuff, and enjoying time together. As things simmer down a bit, my mind is turning back to my various projects. I’ve got a lot on my plate these days, but I’m hoping to squeeze in the following old projects that I just haven’t gotten around to yet.

  • Soekris OpenBSD router(security)
  • Kerberizing network services(security)
  • Cleaning out old hardware, and making new machines from the parts

On top of all that, I’ve got a new project to add to the list. This will come as quite a shock to those of you who know me. I bought a TV. Yes, a real live Tel-a-vision. We have yet to get cable, but it’s coming soon. Anyway, this new screen will be one piece in the new home theater setup. I’ve decided to go with a Mac mini as the foundation for the system. Windows Media Center is not even a consideration. The Linux-based alternatives are even worse. For less money, and much less hassle, I’ll get a compact, powerful enough, quiet box that will serve out audio, play DVDs, and allow me to play emulators like MAME and Stella(Atari 2600).

“What about PVR?”, you ask? Well, I’m not so much into recording TV, especially since we don’t even have cable, but I suppose at some point I might decide to do this. I can always add that capability, and I think the mini should be able to handle it. If not, TiVo is a great solution 🙂

I’ll post updates to my projects page as things progress.

Wish me luck!

fixin’ maniac…

It all started with that old ADA preamp. Since then, I’ve fixed Ken’s Tobias bass (just needed to re-solder a wire to a potentiometer), and I’ve revived my old fretless bass.

Way back in 1992, I bought my first bass. I don’t even remeber what brand it was, but it had a cherry burst finish, and a small body. I really liked that bass. I had it setup by the one guy in my hometown who *really* knew how to set up a guitar. Dave Pickett was his name, and if Pickett couldn’t fix it, it couldn’t be fixed. Needless to say, when I got it back, it played like a dream.

Then a friend of mine, Jay, wanted to know if I’d trade him for his fretless. He needed a fretted bass to do some recording. He sweetened the deal by throwing in a Crybaby wah-wah pedal. This was an offer I couldn’t refuse. So, I traded my first bass for this fretless and the wah pedal.

Many years passed, and since I didn’t play enough to be good at the fretless, I really didn’t play it much at all. Eventually, I moved out to the east coast and got the itch to play again. Unfortunately, years of neglect had taken its toll on the fretless. The battery for the active electronics had corroded and took the battery connector with it. Also, the output jack corroded. I thought it was finished. “Maybe one day I could fix it”, I thought. And so, it lingered amongst my possessions until a few days ago.

With my new-found interest in fixing things, I thought I’d fix my gaze upon this old thing and give it a shot. I looked at the electronics, and it looked like I really just needed to replace the jack and the battery connector. Everything else seemed to be okay. So, this Saturday, I headed over to a local guitar shop and got the jack and the connector. A grand total of $12. I figured it was worth that much to see if it was fixable. If it didn’t work, I was out $12 and I could get rid of the bass with the knowledge that I had at least tried to fix it.

To make a long story short, after one failed attempt, I realized my mistake and rewired one of the connections. That did it! I plugged it in and I was in business. How cool is that?!


ADA MB-1 tube bass preamp

About 5 years ago or so, I purchased a bass preamp from my bass instructor/mentor/friend, Rusty Springfield. The ADA MB-1 was a real masterpiece of engineering, and had both a tube portion as well as a solid state portion that could be mixed together for that “perfect sound”. This unit had seen a lot of use, as Rusty used it in his travels with the Big Apple Circus, and it survived roadies, tent dust, and endless use. So, when I decided I wanted to do a little home recording, he was willing to sell it to me for a good price.

All was well until about a year and a half ago. For some reason, the little guy would just stop working and dump its programming. If I could get it to work, bumping it would upset it again. I searched for a place to repair it, and after much procrastination, took it in. The guy said it would cost around $60 bucks just to bench it, and then he still didn’t know if it could be fixed. And, since ADA had been out of business for some time, he didn’t know if it’d be worth looking at.

So, I went online. There were places that could repair and service it, but it was still going to be pretty expensive. So, for the time, I gave up, and chalked it up to “well, I got good use out of it while I had it”.

Fast forward to last week. As you know, I’ve started a new job, and in the course of 5 months, I’ve learned a lot about hardware, and much has been demystified. So, armed with these new learnings, I decided I had nothing to lose by at least taking a look at the preamp and see if it could be fixed. Worst case, I’d need to replace some parts. The guys at work could probably figure out what I didn’t know, so the prospect was good in my mind. So, I opened up the case and looked around. Lots of chips and lots of other electronics that I have no clue about. So, I decide that maybe a chip is loose. I start poking around with my fingers on all the chips that are mounted on sockets. There was a lot of creaking and flexing of the mainboard, until finally, one of the chips I pushed on gave a little. Hmmm, it seems it was loose after all. So, I plugged it in, and, “voila!”, the preamp ran through its normal POST, then warmed up the tubes, and displayed its normal screen. Needless to say, I was ecstatic. I immediately plugged in my bass, and there was nothing but sweet, sweet music 🙂



sometimes it’s too easy

So I took the Quadra 700 home yesterday. I got NetBSD running pretty quickly. I even installed MacOS 8. Kudos to the NetBSD/mac68k port maintainers. The install was really, really easy. So easy, in fact, it’s not worthy of its own project page 🙁 Oh well. There are other platforms out there.

I also installed a bigger hard drive. I happened to have a 9GB SCSI disk lying around (actually, it was in the recycle pile). Anyway, I replaced the meager 90MB drive. The biggest downfall is that the 9GB drive is about 10X louder than the 90MB one.

Getting the drive in there was really simple, too. I removed the cover, the power supply and the drive cage with 2 screws. Mind you, this thing was made in 1991-1992, so if any of you remember PC cases back then(think 486), it often took 4-6 screws to get the cover off. The other nice thing about the 700 is the size of the case. It’s a tiny mini-tower design. The floppy mounts vertically.

So now what? Well, I’m thinking of getting an ethernet tranceiver for it. Small Dog Electronics has the Asante transceiver for $4 USD. Once this puppy’s on the ‘net, then it’ll be infinitely more useful. I’ve been looking for an old machine to use as a serial terminal for my other *nix boxes. However, I wanted a machine with no hard drive, boots up in a matter of seconds, and has a minimal GUI. Unfortunately, the Mac Plus that fit this role perfectly died. I’m still looking for a solution to that problem. The Q700 doesn’t fit the spec. For now, I just plug in my PowerBook to the serial switch via a USB->Serial adapter.

Another thing I was thinking was that the case for the Q700 screams to be turned into a mini-itx project. I’d just need to lengthen the floppy slot and mount a slot-loading DVD-ROM/CD-RW.

Anyway, just pipe dreaming for now. Lots of other things to tend to at the moment 🙂


it’s like deja vu all over again

So my co-worker says to me, “Hey, you like Apple, right? Got any use for some older ones? I have one or two.”

“Sure”, I say. He shows up at the office with a Quadra 900 and a Quadra 700. The 900 is a honkin’ beast, so I probably won’t take it, especially since the specs are the same as the more petite 700. This thing is really cool!

So, what am I going to do with it? Run NetBSD, of course! It’s supported by the mac68k port. I’ll be sure to post something on my projects page when I get around to it. This little guy has 20MB RAM, a 90MB SCSI HDD, an external SCSI CDROM drive, and is really quiet. I may use this for my terminal server. If that’s the case, I may just run an old version of MacOS on it and use zTerm.

what a long, strange trip it’s been…

Whew! I finally got a bootable OpenBSD image on the Soekris Net4801. After many hours of looking at several how-to’s and adapting them to my specific setup, I finally got something working. The next step is to configure the services I need as well as properly configure all the onboard hardware.

The little Soekris boxes are really nicely made, and are made specifically for Open Source operating systems. I’ve ditched my old Pentium-166MHz box and am currently just using a cheap-o (i paid $10 after MIR) residential “router” that has really basic functionality.

The new box has 3 NICs, so I’ll be able to segregate my network traffic and filter out traffic to my internal network pretty nicely.

Omanomanoman, can’t wait to get this thing up! Of course, I’ll detail my steps once I get the thing finished.


low-level fun…

Man, this is great! I’ve started writing some programs for an embedded microcontroller at work. It has a row of 8 LEDs, so of course, I had to make them light up in the fashion of KITT from Knight Rider. Proving once again that Germans love David Hasselhoff. Man, this is so cool! Haha! A coworker just reminded me: it looks like a Cylon‘s eye, too!

waiting in vain

D’oh! Due to a minor error on the part of the sender, my Soekris box has not arrived yet. The flach card and PCMCIA – CF adapter arrived today, but they’re useless without the box. Well, actually, I can create my OpenBSD distribution so it’s ready when the box does arrive. Well, it’s home I go, then!