Sunday, 27 December 2015

The only pleasure I get from moving house is stumbling across books I had forgotton I owned

I have to agree with John Burnside on that statement, after having recently moved house again rediscovering our book collection has been a salve for an otherwise exhausting undertaking. I returned to Cambridge four years ago, initially on my own and then subsequently the family moved down to be with me.

We rented a house but, with two growing teenagers, the accommodation was becoming a little crowded. Melodie and I decided the relocation was permanent and started looking for our own property, eventually finding something to our liking in Cottenham village.

Melodie took the opportunity to have the house cleaned and decorated while empty because of overlapping time with our rental property. This meant we had to be a little careful while moving in as there was still wet paint in places.

Some of our books
Moving weekend was made bearable by Steve, Jonathan and Jo lending a hand especially on the trips to Yorkshire to retrieve, amongst other things, the aforementioned book collection. We were also fortunate to have Andy and Jane doing many other important jobs around the place while the rest of us were messing about in vans.

The desk in the study
The seemingly obligatory trip to IKEA to acquire furniture was made much more fun by trying to park a luton van which was only possible because Steve and Jonathan helped me. Though it turns out IKEA ship mattresses rolled up so tight they can be moved in an estate car so taking the van was unnecessary.

Alex under his loft bed
Having moved in it seems like every weekend is filled with a never ending "todo" list of jobs. From clearing gutters to building a desk in the study. Eight weeks on and the list seems to be slowly shrinking meaning I can even do some lower priority things like the server rack which was actually a fun project.

Joshua in his completed roomThe holidays this year afforded me some time to finish the boys bedrooms. They both got loft beds with a substantial area underneath. This allows them both to have double beds along with a desk and plenty of storage. Completing the rooms required the construction of some flat pack furniture which rather than simply do myself I supervised the boys doing it themselves.

Alexander building flat pack furniture
Teaching them by letting them get on with it was a surprisingly effective and both of them got the hang of the construction method pretty quickly. There was only a couple of errors from which they learned immediately and did not repeat (draw bottoms having a finished side and front becomes back when you are constructing upside down)

Joshua assembling flat pack furniture
The house is starting to feel like home and soon all the problems will fade from memory while the good will remain. Certainly our first holiday season has been comfortable here and I look forward to many more re-reading our books.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

I said it was wired like a Christmas tree

I have recently acquired a 27U high 19 inch rack in which I hope to consolidate all the computing systems in my home that do not interact well with humans.

My main issue is that modern systems are just plain noisy, often with multiple small fans whining away. I have worked to reduce this noise by using quieter components as replacements but in the end it is simply better to be able to put these systems in a box out of the way.

The rack was generously given to me by Andy Simpkins and aside from being a little dirty having been stored for some time was in excellent condition. While the proverbs "never look a gift horse in the mouth" and "beggars cannot be choosers" are very firmly at the front of my mind there were a few minor obstacles to overcome to make it fit in its new role with a very small budget.

The new home for the rack was to be a space under the stairs where, after careful measurement, I determined it would just fit. After an hour or two attempting to manoeuvre a very heavy chunk of steel into place I determined it was simply not possible while it was assembled. So I ended up disassembling and rebuilding the whole rack in a confined space.

The rack is 800mm wide IMRAK 1400 rather than the more common 600mm width which means it employs "cable reducing channels" to allow the mounting of standard width rack units. Most racks these days come with four posts in the corners to allow for longer kit to be supported front and back. This particular rack was not fitted with the rear posts and a brief call to the supplier indicated that any spares from them would be eyewateringly expensive (almost twice the cost of purchasing a new rack from a different supplier) so I had to get creative.

Shelves that did not require the rear rails were relatively straightforward and I bought two 500mm deep cantilever type from Orion (I have no affiliation with them beyond being a satisfied customer).

I took a trip to the local hardware store and purchased some angle brackets and 16mm steel square tube. From this I made support rails which means the racked kit has support to its rear rather than relying solely on being supported by its rack ears.

The next problem was the huge hole in the bottom of the rack where I was hoping to put the UPS and power switching. This hole is intended for use with raised flooring where cables enter from below, when not required it is filled in with a "bottom gland plate". Once again the correct spares for the unit were not within my budget.

Around a year ago I built several systems for open source projects from parts generously donated by Mythic Beasts (yes I did recycle servers used to build a fort). I still had some leftover casework from one of those servers so ten minutes with an angle grinder and a drill and I made myself a suitable plate.

The final problem I faced is that it is pretty dark under the stairs and while putting kit in the rack I could not see what I was doing. After some brief Googling I decided that all real rack lighting solutions were pretty expensive and not terribly effective.

At this point I was interrupted by my youngest son trying to assemble the Christmas tree and the traditional "none of the lights work" so we went off to the local supermarket to buy some bulbs. Instead we bought a 240 LED string for £10 (15usd) in the vague hope that next year they will not be broken.

I immediately had a light bulb moment and thought how a large number of efficient LED bulbs at a low price would be ideal for lighting a rack. So my rack is indeed both wired like and as a Christmas tree!

Now I just have to finish putting all the systems in there and I will be able to call the project a success.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

HTTP to screen

I recently presented a talk at the Debian miniconf in Cambridge. This was a new talk explaining what goes on in a web browser to get a web page on screen.

The presentation was filmed and my slides are also available. I think it went over pretty well despite the venues lighting adding a strobe ambiance to part of proceedings.

I thought the conference was a great success overall and enjoyed participating. I should like to thank Cosworth for allowing me time to attend and for providing some sponsorship.