Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Welcome Roombette, daughter of roombie

After the sad passing away of roombie our faithful blind and slightly clumsy cleaner I am delighted to announce the arrival of, daughter of roombie: roombette.

Before roombie was packaged up for his well earned retirement in our basement to spend his eternity in Silicon heaven we gave Roombette a chance to get to know her predecessor.

Roombette seems like a worthwhile upgrade and before the infamous 10 pm "be quiet" Swiss watershed she was running around the lounge doing her cleaning thing. How did she do?

  • More solidly constructed than before

  • There was a gap in the Roomba Scheduler body meaning that when the dust bin became full(ish) dirt would start to enter the Electronics area. This is now better sealed.

  • Yes she cleans very nicely just like Roombie did

  • Slightly taller, but only fractionally

  • Biggest upgrade is that there are infrared sensors on the front of the unit so that as she approaches a wall she does not blindly bump into it. Unfortunately for free standing obstacles, at least 50% of the time the infra red does not detect anything so for example she still bumped into the legs of our sofa and dumbell weights (ouch).

  • Much quieter

  • We got the 530 not the 560 as previously speced due to the much cheaper cost. The 530 comes with 1 virtual wall and no remote control. The remote control on the previous unit was for scheduled cleaning, say whilst you were on holiday. We never really used that feature so we think the new cheaper simpler unit fits our more basic needs better.

  • The existing walls from our old Roomba scheduler work with the 530, so actually we have 3 working walls now.
So Roombette is home and once more the Apartment will gleam as a daily clean is performed with only the touch of a button.

Dont take any nonsense kitty!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Upgrading to Home Server Power Pack 2

I am quite sure that all of us IT professionals can quite recall the first time we lost a significant amount of personal data. It might have been something as small as a intricate Xlib C program or a Hard disk containing a lifetimes work.

To this end we like to use backup servers.

So what could be really troublesome? Yes, to lose the backup server ! ...

For some months I've been trialing the Microsoft Windows Home Server. Like any good IT Paranoid Android I've switched off automatic updates. So this Monday , April 27th since I had heard that Power Pack 2 had been released I thought that I would press the above Update Now button.

Big mistake.

Afer sucessfully upgrading the server all cients became inaccessible from the server.

The icon indicates that each client should update its connector software but it just did not work for me.

Googling will give you the following tips. [My WHS (Windows Home Server) server name is customised to whs because I thought the default name of "server" well was quite ridiculous.] I mean is there only 1 server in your household?

When I tried to upgrade I would get error messages like:

The Operation cannot be completed at this time

So without further ado, the answer is to unoptimise the running servies on your WHS server. Having previously maximally reduced services that were not needed for Power Pack 1 I then liberally set many services to Automatic and started them.

This is just a small selection of the newly changed services.

So then on a machine that needed an upgrade:

And on another machine, where I had uninstalled the previously working version, only to find that the new version would not install at all :-( , I was now able to complete that installation

Waits a while then fails

The code goes to find a machine called server which fails. Having put whs entry into my C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts file it is now able to find the server whs.

So all is done and now time for a test backup

All's well that ends well

Although the 24 hours it took me to fix this problem almost resulted in me swearing I'd never touch that WHS server again, I have relaxed a little. WHS is still pretty good for bare metal backup and restores of your clients and a central store of shared data.

However just to remind you of some of the terrible flaws:

  • Your clients from Windows XP, Vista or even Server 2008 can back up to WHS. And they can bare metal restore.

    But this OS level data is NOT able to be copied so if your WHS server crashes you must rebuild the WHS server from scratch. All your OS client backups will be lost

  • WHS makes bare metal restores of the clients possible but not of WHS itself! To recover a crashed WHS OS level disk you would first re-install WHS from the base DVD, then apply fixpacks to get you back to the right OS level. Then you can recover all your shared data shares (i.e. everything except client OS backups) from the Copies of those shares that you have previously defined and let copy

    Finally you would redefine your clients machines to the WHS server and make what would then be an initial backup
These are indeed pretty terrible flaws so don't rely on this as your only backup server! I wonder if you can backup the WHS OS disk using Acronis for example? Must try that sometime.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The new 750GB door stops

It is now official, I am flushing all those tiny 750GB disks out of the house. Above we see the current best use for 3 of these disks. My eyes water just a little when I think about how expensive they were as new in 2006.

And it's not just the cost, software bloat and the move from text to graphics have redefined the amount of storage that I consider reasonable.

Here we see a box of 10, 8 inch diskettes circa 1981 that I'm currently using in the renovation of some Cromemco computers, with a newstyle 3.5" disk shown for size comparison. Each 8 inch diskette could hold a then massive 1.2M Bytes and my entire unique software collection for the Cromemco is close to 150M Bytes.

Compare this to a single Colour document scan of our yearly Swiss Flat reports. 40 pages and 140M Bytes!! now sitting on a 1.5 TB hard drive.

And it's not just data, Cromemco's entire UNIX like operating system Cromix could grow to an impressive 3MB of disk, whereas my Windows 2008 Server seems happier with about 21,000 MB of hard disk.

To complete this trip down memory lane I'd recommend old buffers reading this post to read the excellent book called
Fake Your Way Through Minis and Mainframes by Bob DuCharme, and should you enjoy it why not PayPal your appreciation to him

Lausanne 20K 2009

Our complimentary and all expenses paid complimentary G5
trip to participate in the London Marathon seems to have been lost again. So with reality more firmly in mind Agata and I entered the 2009 Lausanne 20K run

Here is the route:

So how did we do? Well both of us finished smiling with excellent times and a happy heart.

Agata's time was some 5% faster than 2008 and the beaming smile at the end of the run proved to me that this was an excellent result.

The almost daily runs down and then up to the beautiful lakefront office some 400metres down from home, and carrying a full rucksack had paid good dividends.

Meanwhile, even Marcus was happy! Although during this hilly course there were not many moments when I could be seen smiling, I did give it my 100%. I started the race over 2Kg overweight with some worries that a recurrent left knee pain might cause some aggravation. But fueled with adrenalin, glucose and an SIS bar I can honestly say that I could not have made it a second faster in my current condition.

As you can see from the cross section the course is not really flat so we are really quite proud of our achievements.

Post race we'd like to thank Lausanne service de Sports for another well organised event, and especially to our friends including Rashida, Jose, Franco, Jola, Ingrid and Tomasz for in race and post race support.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Zagg, Shag and Frustration

Note to self: My new career as a professional gift wrapper in stores like Saks, Harrods or Mitsukoshi may need to be put on hold.

This is my conclusion having spent about 1.5 hours trying to wrap my curvy Apple 3G iPhone with the Zagg invisible shield.

What is it? Well I'd call it a 2 part protective clear sticky back plastic covering that in the Youtube video takes the guy about 03:20 minutes to install. This will shield your iPhone from the rigours of daily life whilst adding minimal volume.

Here are some official Zagg words:

The invisibleSHIELD™ is a urethane polymer film that was originally designed to protect the leading edge of helicopter blades. Exceptionally clear and virtually indestructible, the patent-pending, full body application of the invisibleSHIELD protects your electronic investment and allows you to use your expensive equipment without worry.

I had wanted to postpone application until my 4 faulty fingers were in better shape. However my iPhone screen had at least 3 worrying surface cracks, so to prevent further damage and crack creep I thought I had to install it today.

Here are my tips so far:

  • Yes, the shield is now on, after 1.5 hours of huffing and puffing

  • Make sure there are no loved ones in the vicinity, unless they like listening to a variety of frustrating sounds, tuts, screams, and expletives.

  • The front cover has a punch out for the home button, which I thought I'd optimise by leaving it as one piece from the applicator paper. Big mistake: You need to apply the front, then the back, then to two edge strips, and last the button covering IMHO

  • Getting the main front and back accurately positioned will help keep the frustration level down. Otherwise if your piece is a little off centre you'll find at the edges it curves around some 90 degree angle of the iPhone over which it can't possibly stick (and then you're in trouble)

  • It's good to have a lot of light pointing on the iPhone so you can accurately determine where the edges of the plastic are. I used a head torch and a table light
I have to leave it alone now for upto 24 hours so that the applicator liquid can evaporate and so I won't know how I really did until tomorrow evening. So here is hoping then.

The case has hardened. Contrary to the cheerful video none of the air bubbles have shrunken, but there are not too many. Overall I'm very pleased, and should I be temped to purchase a further iPhone I'd definitely recommend a Zagg covering.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Rucksack review Salomon XA20 M

I really thought it was going to be practically impossible to find a more performant rucksack than my faithful Salomon Raid Revo 20.

First I'd stress that if you are serious about backpacks then I'd suggest you have a few different packs for differing functions. But this (or any) 20 litre pack has a chance of being light enough to run with, large enough to store the necessary tools and rainwear whilst cycling, and big enough to store the gadgets you might buy in the high street (not in Switzerland of course, there are no gadgets here).

Having had 3, Red, Raid Revos it was time for a change and 40GBP later from Wiggle the Salomon XA20 M was mine.

Is it any good? Well in comparison to Raid Revo 20

(-/=/+ means is worse, the same, better)

Inside is a single zip pocket. Previously inside there was one long pocket and a short top pocket against the back. This small single zip is less useful, if you put your relatively heavy (say) Phone + PDA + Keys in the top it's worse from a centre of gravity perspective and the zipped pocket is quite small.

The waist straps are a bit fancier but arguably are more complicated and don't really add anything

There are a set of clips on the front to attach a front bag

As before it comes in different colours, but nobody sells anything except red

As before there is a special woman's version, nobody sells that either

Before there was a mesh pocket on the back but items could fall out. The new mesh pocket is much much better

Viewed from the back is a single cord anchored to the left of the rucksack, connected via an extensible elasticated cord to a hook. I suppose the idea is that you can use that to squash down the rucksack. It was a bit complicated for me and I could not figure out how to use it effectively making me feel like an idiot. The old cord was simpler and straightforward but looked a bit ugly and could catch on stuff in the mountains.

As before waterproof zip on main compartment and some water exit holes on the bottom (new ones are meshed so creepy crawlies cant walk in)

As before, it is tough enough to be put into the washing machine to get it really clean

As before a zipped pocket on the left and right waist belt strap. But now on the right waist belt there is an additional sort of elasticated pocket contraption.

Bladder compartment is now zippable instead of previous velcro. It's now got velcro straps to hold the bladder to the top. As before this can be used as a top secret pocket, when bladderless.

Just like RaidLight rucksacks, Salomon now has a set of front clips allowing you to hang a custom front pocket. Good idea in principle but those extras make an expensive product even more so, and this is a very small rucksack. So barely a plus.

Overall, the XA20 is a small but worthwhile step up from the Raid Revo 20. It has the "Custom System" that I'll probably never use, better pockets, and is still under 500 grams. And as you know lightness is everything

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Converting from 8 to 3.5 inch floppy diskettes

Building on the recent success of using 5.25 inch HD diskette drives in place of 8 inch floppies, I'm now documenting the further success of using a 3.5 inch diskette drives in place of an 8 inch floppy.

The reason that we want to do this is that my old Cromemco computers primarily use 8 inch double sided, double density floppies with a formatted capacity of 1.2MB. Whilst in the last tutorial we saw that we could use 5.25 inch HD diskette drives, it would be even better to be able to use a 3.5 inch HD diskette drive and media because:

  1. This media is freely available (well just about)
  2. It is shielded and robust
  3. It should last another 25 years with ease

How is this going to work?

The Japanese have a standard format not used in Europe of using a 2MB, 3.5 inch diskette in a 1.6MB format. Selected 3.5 inch drives can be jumpered to operate in 1.6MB mode. Note that this format almost exactly mimics the 8 inch drive format and was clearly developed in Japan so that Japanese could move from 8 inch to 3.5 inch design with minimal software changes.

This chart shows the tech specs of the Samsung SFD-321B diskette drive

Notice that in 1.6MB mode the rotational speed is set to 360 rpm. That is important because Cromemco Cromix and later versions of CDOS check that the drive is revolving at around 360rpm else refusing to believe that it is an 8 inch diskette drive.

Here is the initflop Cromix source to show this:

if (verbose)

if (!print) printf(STDOUT,"\nTesting:\n\t");
printf(STDOUT,"Rotational speed:\t%ld RPM\n",speed);

if (!speed)
printf(STDERR, "\tNo index pulses or counter not functioning.\n");

if ((oflags & SMALL && (speed <> 306)) ||
(!(oflags & SMALL) && (speed <> 367))) printf(STDERR,"\tSpeed out of tolerance\n");


You will need the following

  • A Samsung SFD-321B 3.5 inch diskette drive

    Chosen because it is still freely available as a New drive from eBay or similar.

  • A watchmakers eyeglass magnifier or something similar so you can clearly see the diskette PCB

  • A soldering iron and some fine wire

  • A PC-AT style twist floppy cable

  • A Leatherman


First disassemble the floppy drive. This means pull off the plastic front, one screw for one side panel, 4 screws for the other side panel to expose the electronics.

This is how it looked before I changed anything

  • Take your Leatherman and rip out pin 2 of the floppy drive on the male IDC connector

Pin 2 is the density select pin of the drive. We will tie this low but we don't want it talking to anything outbound of the floppy

Now identify the 3 areas that need to be modified

  1. Unsolder the 0 ohm bridge on the DC disk change connector and put it back on the adjacent RDY ReaDY pad set

  2. Take some fine wire and connect between pin1 (ground) and pin2 (density select) to force it permanently low.

  3. Locate OPA pads and connect a wire between them

At this point I'll go for the sympathy vote. Since both my hands are still partially paralysed from my fall on January 10th these three steps took literally hours. Eyeglass installed, holding the soldering iron, and wire and drive, well it just wasn't easy. I'm sorry to complain but there it is.

Here we see the PCB after my 3 modifications

Now re-assemble the drive, and connect to the Cromemco 64FDC disk controller thus: You must use the 2 non twisted connectors. First drive is selected as A: (i.e. DS0) and this 3.5 inch drive is already preselected as DS1 (B:)

And it all works

Formatting the 3.5 inch diskette for Cromix, then making a filesystem on it, then checking that the diskette is 100% readable. Finally asking the Cromix Driver to show its reported diskette characteristics.

Copy Cromix 162 files to the formatted diskette, then writing the 162 boot program to the boot sectors of the diskette.

Booting Cromix 162 from a single 1.2MB, 3.5 inch floppy diskette

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Under Pressure

Never has the modest 15 pounds I spent at Argos recently caused me so much stress! For this money I purchased a bottom of the line Blood Pressure monitor.

I have always had low blood pressure, something that I had thought was good for sports (since during that activity your BP goes up). But some decades down the line I wanted to re-check the situation hence the purchase....

After a few rogue readings indicating Systolic pressure of over 150 I learnt how correctly to attach this budget IBP contraption, thus yielding the above results. I am simultaneously disappointed (and yet relieved) to find that I'm now in the normal category.

So what are the terms?

SYStolic pressure is peak pressure in the arteries, which occurs near the beginning of the cardiac cycle when the ventricles are contracting.

DIAstolic pressure is minimum pressure in the arteries, which occurs near the end of the cardiac cycle when the ventricles are filled with blood.

The all important reference table looks like this:

To celebrate I sat back and watched this video, although now I really should be searching for a video called "normal pressure"

Monday, April 13, 2009

Up North for Easter

So, To be clear we are just back from England where marcus talked to some business partners regarding the prospects of future work contracts in the UK. Only time will tell how this pans out.

Meanwhile Agata had come up with a brilliant idea of meeting up in Edinburgh over Easter. How did we do then ?

The tale starts in North Yorkshire:

I went looking for my sister Angela. The most likely place to start was at our local church where indeed as a woman of remarkable faith she was indeed to be found.

Willowbrook the family home is now almost the mansion that I never knew during our childhood. Here we see the brilliant extension that Joseph and Angela have just completed.

Finally a kitchen so large you can probably skate in it.

Far from reducing the odds and ends in the back garden the caravan that refused to die has been joined by a large tyre and another car.

I left Willowbrook and Agata and I converged on Edinburgh

Just outside the Edinburgh Waverley station this man of faith popped up. We ponder if people of faiths will stalk us during our visit to Edinburgh

We arrived at our hotel (not shown) and found it was located in the Lap dancing triangle of Edinburgh.

Church on the Royal Mile

Architecture next to Holyrood Parliament

Agata is very curious and finds her first kilt shop

We find Edinburgh castle. Note for future reference: If there are no people there, it is really closed.

A walk down to the Holyrood parliament to view the local architecture

Edinburgh boasts a very large street population of young girls wearing shorts skirts in pretty cold weather conditions.

Our first evening tipple and nightcap on Friday was at Saint Giles bar

An early Saturday visit to the ticket office at Edinburgh castle reveals a record breaking queue. We are not going to wait in that thank you!

We walk away but down the street from the castle we are lured into the Scotch Whisky Experience

No time to visit Camera Obscura but outside we find we are at last thin

This is short lived and a moment later our fat inner selves are revealed

We found the famous Pierced Lady on the Royal Mile

It is now Saturday noon and we have stopped for brunch. Scotland is the Porridge capital of the world and we are established Porridge connoisseurs

We find a petting zoo on the Royal Mile. Marcus however begins to think of three large and tender bacon sandwiches.

The monument to Robert Stevenson Civil Engineer

Edinburgh Castle viewed from Princes Street

Now it was time for our customary run, therefore we ran to Holyrood, past Dynamic Earth and then up Arthurs Seat

Agata says we made it!

Marcus takes a break too

The view down to Dynamic Earth

We paid our money to participate in the Edinburgh Science Festival and attended the talk:

Decoding the Heavens: Solving the mystery of the World's first computer by Jo Marchant

The discovery of an unknown machine in 1900 dating back to 70BC in Antikythera pushes back by over 1000 years the first evidence of a complex mechanical machine.

Nighttime relief map of Edinburgh

The Scottish National Gallery Complex

Sunday morning and after some cunning Internet booking we bypassed the Edinburgh Castle queue and began the castle tour

The Kings quarters

The Great Hall

Edinburgh Castle view

Agata meets a live Bagpiper

Later on Sunday afternoon we decided to walk North East from the City Centre along the Leith Walk to the docks

We passed a curiously large number of Polish shops

The second of many!

Eventually we arrived at Ocean Terminal. Whilst looking for the Royal Yacht we were ushered onto the Logos Hope

After sitting thru an orientation video which accidentally forogt to mention Religion at all we were prompted to visit a large Christian Bookshop with the option of a Payable ship tour. We left respectfully and did not accept the offered prayer booklet.

Ocean View

At last we did find the Royal Yacht Brittania but post hope there was no time for a tour.

Sore feet prompted a bus ride back to Edinburgh Centre

Marcus meets Malcolm, in the Blue Blazer another ex Cromemco enthusiast and we talk about the good old days.

Malcolm gave us part of his Cromemco 8 inch diskette collection which will be imaged presently. Check the change log for progress

Agata makes an important Perfume decision at Edinburgh Airport

Welcome back to Switzerland