What's davintosh? Mostly just the random ramblings of a hopelessly distractible… Hey, what's that?

The Wireless Extension Cord

Filed under: Cool Technology,Fun!,Gadgets — dave @ 5:18 pm 2008/10/30

I was looking for a surge protector with an extra-long cord for a project at work, and bumped into this doozy at ThinkGeek; a wireless extension cord!

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, they describe the gadget thusly:

Just plug the Wireless Extension Cord (WEC) base unit into a standard wall outlet, and plug whatever you need into the satellite unit. The WEC uses microwaves in the 7.2GHz range, so it won’t interfere with wireless networks, Bluetooth components, etc. Now, all you need to do is adjust the antennae on the two units so they are aimed at each other. Turn everything on and you have the power! The distance the WEC units can broadcast differs from situation to situation (due to interference of such things as walls, power lines, and microwave ovens), but we’ve beamed power over 300 feet! The future is wireless – and the WEC’s are your ticket to the future.

The best part is the Warning:

Warning: Even though these microwaves are about as harmful as the leakage from an ordinary microwave oven (not much), do not put computers, televisions, other sensitive electrical equipment, food, liquids, paper, glass, flammable substances, magnets, or living things in between the base and satellite units. Just in case.

If only…

Windows Rant Of The Day: Removable Disks

Filed under: Computers,Work — dave @ 9:54 am 2008/10/27

When something on a computer works well and works the way it should — intuitively — it’s said to be “Mac-like”. Windows XP and Vista are said to have many “Mac-like” features. But in working with XP the last few years, I’m left to wonder how could something as simple as adding a removable drive can be so decidedly un-Mac-like. I’m talking about connecting and disconnecting a removable drive from a computer.

In the Mac OS, connecting & disconnecting any kind of external storage device to the system is painless & simple. Whether it be a USB thumb drive, a digital camera with onboard storage, or an external drive (connected via USB, Firewire, eSATA, or whatever), connecting it is a matter of plugging it into the appropriate port; the icon representing that volume (or volumes) appears on the desktop, and away you go. When you’re done with the device, you click on the volume on your desktop (or in a Finder window) and pull down in the Finder’s File menu to Eject (or hit Command-E, or drag the volume to the Trash). Once the device’s icon is gone, you can physically disconnect the device from the Mac. If there are files still in use, the system will complain by throwing up an alert; after you close whatever file is still open, then try again. Simple, straightforward, painless.

Using USB thumb drives and true removable media isn’t much more difficult in Windows, but it’s still far from “Mac-like”. When you plug in a storage device it’ll usually pop up several bubbles on the system tray telling you it recognizes the device, and it’s ready to go. Sometimes you’ll need to install drivers for it, which is for the most part painless, but still, it’s one more step. Pulling the plug on the thing is when it gets interesting. An icon for the Safely Remove Hardware applet pops into the system tray when the device is plugged in; right-click on that icon and you get a somewhat confusing series of two or three dialog boxes that allow you to stop access to the device so it can be disconnected.

Trying to do the same thing in Windows XP with a hard drive is a bit trickier, and so unMac-like it’s not even funny. I wrongly assumed that you could eject a drive from a Windows system like you could from a Mac; if nothing else, you could use the Safely Remove Hardware doodad for that. But not so.

Last week I tried setting up a hot-swappable SATA drive (a Diamond Hard Drive Kit from Addonics) and a pair of 1TB drives on a PC at work… My plan was to have Retrospect back up the servers and several desktops to the hot-swap drive, then once a week I’d pull the drive out and replace it with another identical unit, always keeping one offsite for safety. That was the plan anyway. But Windows is making life difficult for me.

Physically installing the drive tray in the PC and connecting it to the onboard SATA bus was pretty straightforward, as was setting up the disk after it was installed and the system booted up. But once the disk was mounted and accessible, what then? How do you eject it? With the Addonics unit, there is a key switch on the front panel that cuts power to the drive so that it can be removed. Nice feature and all, but Windows doesn’t allow such a thing to happen gracefully. In fact, hot swapping of drives is not natively supported in any current Windows product.

I did some Googling to see if there were any 3rd party solutions for getting around this, and found a few that promised help in the task, but all were basically trying to trick Windows into thinking the disk was removable. They weren’t very convincing, and the system caught it every time. It’s still possible to cut power on the drive & pull it out. The system puts an error in the log complaining that some corruption might have occurred, and from what I was able to find, corruption does happen. Not terribly common, but it does happen. And when I’m yanking a 1TB drive out, it’s fairly important to me that the data remain intact. On top of the threat of corruption, the system was running pretty funkily when I did hot swaps without the proper tools. It took forever to recover from a reboot, and it just felt sluggish. So I had to find another way.

Digging a little further, I found something on the Addonics website telling me what I’ve learned the hard way:

Q4. I want to swap hard drive in and out of my computer without restarting my computer, will the Diamond drive kit support this and what components do I need?
A. The Diamond Drive Cartridge System is designed for the hot swapping of drives without rebooting the computer. The Diamond Drive Cartridge System with SATA interface must be connected to a hot-swap compatible SATA controller. If this is not done, the removal or insertion of a Diamond enclosure will cause the system to freeze or reboot.

Shame on me; I should have seen that before. The Windows OS doesn’t support hot-swapping drives without the proper hardware. Although the computer’s onboard SATA controller hardware will accept up to four SATA devices, it won’t allow hot-swapping, at least not without the proper adapter card. So I went shopping for a card that will allow hot swapping & found a fairly inexpensive one for not a lot of money; the PNY SATA S-Cure RAID card for $35. It arrived yesterday, I got it installed, and it worked great until I cut the power on the drive and pulled it out. At first it didn’t seem that the drive was gone at all because the system showed it still active — must’ve been cached information. After a few minutes the controller’s software had a conniption fit about the drive being gone, even after the drive had been reinserted and powered on again. I finally had to restart the machine to get it back to square one. Sheesh. As it turns out, I should have bought a non-RAID card; the card I bought was a RAID card, and will add and release disks that are part of an array, but won’t allow standalone disks to be connected & disconnected at will. A non-RAID supposedly will allow the SATA disk to appear as a removable drive to the system. A-shopping I will go. Again. With crossed fingers.

For a short while I thought the solution would be to move the Addonics hot swap unit to a Mac, then share the drive over the network as a Windows volume. But the problem there is that native SATA support didn’t happen on the Mac until the G5′s hit the market, and none of the spare machines I have on hand or slated for semi-retirement (all G4′s) would be up to the job, at least not without adding an adapter card. The PNY RAID card might work in the Mac, but…

All in all, the whole removable drive thing was a learning experience for me. The Mac may have had a leg up on the Windows machine, but because the Mac lacked the hardware to make it happen, I won’t find out any time soon. A question that remains unanswered is whether the Windows OS is unable to make use of the hot-swap feature because of a hardware shortcoming or if it’s software; I suspect it’s Windows, and am happy to lay the blame there (unless someone can prove me wrong.) If I were to install the unit in a G5, an Intel Mac, or say, a Psystar machine running OS X, with a spare onboard SATA port… Would the OS have a hard time with the drive being ejected? I’m pretty sure it would happen there without incident.

As for using a plain vanilla removable drive on a Mac vs. a PC, the usability difference highlights one of the major benefits of using a Mac. A much superior user experience in that respect, and many more.

Bonus Hint: The Safely Remove Hardware app is tucked away for safe keeping (I guess) and launching it without inserting a removable drive, while not impossible, isn’t easy. I found a discussion thread where someone posted a trick to do it; just right-click on your Desktop to create a New Shortcut. In the Create Shortcut dialog box that comes up, it’ll ask you to type the location of the item; type (or paste) %windir%\system32\rundll32.dll.Control_RunDLL hotplug.dll into that field, click Next, and give the shortcut a name, then you’ve got handy-dandy quick access to the SRH applet. As handy as that can be, anyway.

BTW I’m Voting For McCain / Palin

Filed under: Fun!,Politics — dave @ 9:18 pm 2008/10/09

Here is the most awesome video… I won’t say anything; just watch.

Ok; just two words then. “Ballot Cattle” (about 4:30 into the video). That is just so right on.

I Found My Next Car

Filed under: Cars! — dave @ 11:55 am

Not one car in particular, but now I know what kind of car, and where I’ll likely be shopping.

Ian is getting close to driving age, and the old Suzuki is getting a little long in the tooth, so shopping time is coming up in the next year or so. I’ve been thinking of maybe picking up a project car that Ian & I can work on next summer to have ready for him to drive to school next year, so I’ve been browsing Craigslist looking for deals. I haven’t found that perfect project car, but I have found some very interesting deals.

What’s been really surprising to me is how cheaply some of the older luxury/sports cars are selling in some markets. I’ve seen a couple of 10-15 year old BMW 750′s selling for less than $5,000 — that’s a V-12 powered luxury sedan that sold for nearly $100,000 new. Austin Craigslist had a 1996 750iL with 112,000 miles for $4,500; it’s got some issues, but good grief! And I was just looking at this very decent looking 1999 740iL in Minneapolis for $4,995. $4,995!

In some markets it’s nothing to see 5-series BMW’s selling for $2,000—3,000 on Craigslist; not around here mind you, but they’re out there. And Porsches… My goodness. Seeing a 924 or 944 or 928 around here is a relative rarity, but looking in the listings from some of the larger cities, they are a dime a dozen. Amazingly, there’s someone in Madison who has an ’82 928 listed on Craigslist for $4,900. Wow. Cars that sold for $50,000 or more new 10-20 years ago selling for the same price as a Honda Civic of the same vintage. That’s just a little hard to understand.

I would imagine part of the reason some of these formerly high-dollar machines are going so cheap has to do with dealer maintenance being pretty expensive, and seemingly compulsory. But with the explosion of sites like e38.org and many others like it that provide tons of information on do-it-yourself maintenance for these machines… Well, who needs dealership service anyway?

I know it’s one thing to see something that looks nice on Craigslist and something else entirely to find something that is nice, but at these prices it’s fun to look. Also dangerous; I just spied a 1988 BMW 638CSi for sale in Phoenix for $4,500. Must. Resist. Siren. Call…. The 6-series coupes are my all time favorite BMW form factor. And one from the desert…

Kiwi!

Filed under: Fun!,Links,Movies — Tags: , , — dave @ 2:19 pm 2008/10/06

If you thought a Kiwi was just another flightless bird, you’ve got to watch this video.

It’s a flightless bird with a dream and determination. And a serious deathwish. Enjoy!

Hot Rod Diamond-T

Filed under: Cars! — Tags: , , — dave @ 7:17 am 2008/10/01

Caleb and I drove to Mitchell last Saturday for the Outkasts car show (Happy Birthday to Me!) Unfortunately I had things mixed up a little and we ended up arriving in town about the time the show was breaking up. Dang.

We did get there in time to see several of the machines before they drove off; one standout was this slightly modified 1948 Diamond-T truck. What a sweet machine! Since the Outkasts is mostly rat rods and classic rods, this thing looked a little out of place, but it was still worth seeing. (click on the photos to see the hi-res original versions)

Part of the engine was visible from either side; looked to be a modern 6-cylinder diesel with a turbocharger. Sounded pretty mean when it was started up and rumbled down the street.

One interesting thing was the rear wheels; most trucks would have dual wheels on the back, but this thing had huge singles instead. Plenty of rubber to put the HP & torque to the road.

There was a color-coordinated cover over the plate on the back, but it was pretty clear that this thing was built to actually pull a trailer. Doubt you’ll ever see it rolling down the highway with a working load on back, but it could.

The first photo includes the show placard, but I can’t quite make out the owner’s name… Tom Hansen(?) from Laramie, WY, maybe? The interior shot gives a little more detail, but it’s still not clear; I sure wish I could run it through that magic image enhancing software they use on CSI!

UPDATE:
I was browsing through eBay this morning and bumped into a beautiful example of another 1948 Diamond-T that had been restored to better-than-showroom condition by a guy in Colorado Springs. I thought it’d be interesting to throw his photos up here for comparison’s sake. Looks like the body of the one we saw in Mitchell was kept pretty much stock, with the exception of the hood sides.

Of course, the ride height on the stock Diamond-T is slightly higher than the hot rod version, and the engine is a bit different as well. The original looks to have a gas engine vs. the rod’s diesel.

Not sure how long the auction page will last, but here’s the link, for what it’s worth. Looks like the auction was just put up, and there are no bids on it just yet. Understandable considering the $15,000 starting price. Wonder if it’ll sell at all.

Interestingly, there’s another ’48 Diamond-T listed on eBay right now; this one is an unfinished project, located in Oklahoma, and priced a bit more reasonably. Bidding is at about $2,500 right now (reserve is yet to be met) with 3 days left. If only I had a shop where I could work on something like this…

When Mom & Dad lived on the acreage near Hartford, the neighbor down the road had an old Diamond-T sitting in the yard. I wonder what ever happened to that truck.