Thursday, May 19, 2005

Old Parts: Power Supply

I originally wrote out a long and drawn out article for the uses of dead power supplies, but then I remembered pictures are worth at least two words each. Here's to simplicity. Safety first: I recommend letting the old power supply unit sit around unplugged for about a week. The guts of a power supply contain some crucial capacitors, and for some electrically minded safety conscious people this step is unnecessary. I, for one, am not going to loose sleep over the anticipation of tearing apart old power supplies so I usually wait

Wires - If you're lucky your dead power supply will have a nice long section of 18 AWG wires. You can purchase this wire in rolls for fairly cheep, but it's been my experience that when wire is needed for case mods and such I've never needed rolls of it.

Fan - Usually a boring black 80mm case fan with a weird plug (if any). The ones with the weird plug I like to save for those power supplies that work but lack a good fan. A lot of times the fan is gross and covered in dust. When I was young and new at salvaging old parts I would keep them if they still worked. Now that I'm older, and not pressed for any new 80mm fans, I usually chuck them if they rate high enough on my universal intergalactic scale of yuck. The upside to these fans is they're easily wired into different setups because most of the time they lack a plug anyway. I hate to cut perfectly good 3 pin fan plugs off.

Molex - I like to have some extra Molex power connections around just in case. They can be useful in case mods. The easiest way to remove the Molex connections with a Molex pin remover. If you don't have one I've used a paper clip (someone remind me to update the paper clip tools article).

Switch - With all AT power supplies and some ATX power supplies there will be a switch involved. The AT's switch is easily to find because it's on the end of a long thick black cable. The ATX switch is usually a master power switch on the back of the unit. Both are useful as switches, the ATX one is aesthetically pleasing albeit simple.

Often times bad power supplies are completely useless and have no where to go but the trash. Other times you might find something you’ll need one day. As always, it’s hard to throw away computer parts.

Additional: Quick guide to testing power supplies.

AT - Plug it in and press the big, usually marked, power button.

ATX - To check if it comes on or not all you have to do is connect the green wire (pin 14) and any black wire. Use a little electrical common since/safety when doing that. The other options is pick up a nifty ATX power supply tester (pictured below). The top one is the easier to find Antec tester that can be picked up from just about any computer parts store. The bottom one is a tester we got at work when we ordered a bunch of Powmax power supplies. This tester is surprisingly useful because it has a green or red LED for all the different voltages a power supply puts out.

Star Wars Day

Today is Star Wars day. Today everything is different because of a movie. Some may think I'm speaking metaphorically about the end of the Star Wars story, but I'm not. Today is really different all because of Episode III. My friend and co-worker, John, is off today because he went to the midnight showing. My boss asked me to come in early this morning so that he and his son could go see it. For the first time in a long time the entirety of my normal day has been effected by a movie. I have no problems with this.

Also, this post marks the first time I've done something useful on a Linux install. I've used some Linux Live CD's such as Knoppix to retrieve data from a computer that wouldn't boot, but this is the first time I've successfully installed Linux onto a computer and the did something other than get frustrated and put Windows back on it. I even installed Firefox. I couldn't live without the "ctrl+enter" Firefox offers when typing in an address in the address bar. In all I'm a little proud of myself today too.

For the record, despite what Mr. Lucas says, I believe there will be an Episode VII, VIII, and even IX. Lucas may not direct it, it may have all CGI actors, and it might not happen for another 30 years, but I believe it will happen. When it does I hope we don't have to wait until Episode IX for something decent.

Monday, May 16, 2005

How to Deplicate a Rubik's Cube

Deplicate - Fictitious word that means to render a puzzle unsolvable.

To completely understand the inner workings of deplicating a Rubik's cube, one must first understand how to solve a Rubik's cube. Fortunately, to deplicate a Rubik's cube there is no need know how to solve them.

Generally the deplication of a Rubik's cube requires no tools. Sometimes, especially on newer Rubik's cubes, they can be tight and the use of a flat head screw driver or key is helpful. It is advised to have read through this document before proceeding to deplicate. It is not necessary to have your cube solved before it is deplicated, but for the purposes of this "how to" documentary all of the figures are of a solved Rubik's cube.

To start, turn one face of the Rubik's cube at a 45 degree angle, as shown. At this angle it is easy to pop out one of the center blocks of the angled face. If it is not this is where a flat head screw driver, key, or other small thin sturdy tool comes in handy. Once one of the center blocks has been removed be cautious, for this is also the first step in the disassembly of a Rubik's cube. From here the cube can easily turn into a small pile of colored blocks. Ideally deplication of a Rubik's cube is done on a table or other surface that is free of clutter.

Once the piece is out deplication occurs simply by turning the piece around and placing it back in the hole it came out of, thus transposing the two colors. The deplication, if the cube is unsolved, will go unnoticed to even the experienced cube master. Deplication detection doesn’t generally happen until the third stage of the solving is attempted.

A companion of mine once aided me in creating an animated gif that portrays a deplicated Rubik's cube being solved. I included this to help show why a deplicated Rubik's cube is unsolvable. The final move to solve a rubik's cube requires at least two pieces be in the wrong place. A deplicated cube only leaves one piece wrong and there is no move to fix this.

Deplicated Rubik's Cube

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Analog CD Extraction Device

I dedicate this entry to my homies up in NC, because they're crucial and came up with the name.

The analog CD extraction device is probably the most common tool created from a paper clip (see figure 1's red circle). Most don't realize that when they take the time to make an analog CD extraction device they have also made a make-shift ATX power switch (see figure 1's blue circle). This is a brief description of some useful analog CD extraction device's and other paper clip tools.

figure 1: analog CD extraction device w/ make-shift ATX power switch

Over the years I've created some interesting and some not so interesting variations of the analog CD extraction device. As one can see in figure 2 this is the "Travel analog CD extraction device w/o the make-shift ATX power switch." It lacks the power switch portion of the normal analog CD extraction device due to it's non conductive blue external coating. The blue coating does serve a travel purpose and that is it makes this paper clip stand out over others. I really hate it when I get my analog CD extraction device confused with other tech's analog CD extraction device.

figure 2: travel analog CD extraction device w/o the make-shift ATX power switch

The next figure is a paper clip tool that has nothing to do with CD extraction at all. This is a paper clip tool that was meticulously created with a pair of needle-nose pliers to make the monotonous tasks of bending pins on the Nintendo 72-pin cartridge connector pass quickly and smooth.

figure 3: NES cartridge connector pin bender

Another paper clip tool I made to hold IDE cables in place. In an ideal world, IDE cables are out of the way to allow for better air flow in a computer case. Sometimes that's easier said than done, but this can keep folded up IDE cables well...folded up. It's ten times manlier than using a bobby pin.

figure 4: IDE cable holder

Figure 5 is neither something I made nor a paper clip, but I thought it would be interesting to include a real manufactured analog CD extraction device. This particular model comes with some CD/DVD drives, and I have found in most cases they are too big to be used in any other CD/DVD drive other than the ones that come with. Essentially, they are useless for most analog CD extraction needs, and on top of that they aren't very good ATX power switches either.

figure 5: manufactured analog CD extraction device

These are the paper clip tools I use; I'm sure other people have come up with other/better paper clip tools. I'd love to hear about them so feel free to leave a comment and preferably a picture.

Friday, May 13, 2005

My Reflections on Star Trek

A lot of what I do here in my blog and in my life came from watching Star Trek. I don't consider myself a Trekkie and you'll never see me dressed up with pointy ears, but of all the influences in my life I can think of none better than Star Trek. If anything for the morals and values I've gained.

To me Star Trek is not just a television show. It's not about Klingon's and Romulan's and how the Captain is going to out wit them this time. It's not about warp drive or hand phasers. It's not even about space exploration like the title implies. It may be a bold statement, but I don't think Gene Roddenberry wanted it to be about these things either. It's simply about humanity.

Bizarre that a story that takes place in the future filled with aliens would be about humanity, but when you step back and look at the big picture it makes a lot of since. Roddenberry told us a story about a future where we don't worry about things like war (at least on Earth), hunger, or even money. Economics without money...that's a concept and a half. Even the aliens are humans. They're humans that lack something and in the process of finding it gain something more. Spock put it best in Star Trek VI, "We must have faith that the universe will unfold as it should." Faith? Spock is that logical? I don't think so, but it was Spocks missing link. It was the balance between his Human and Vulcan side. Data, the android from the next generation, turned out to be one of the most human characters of them all. In his search to discover humanity he showed us all what we lack as humans. Simple things like compassion. Data made it so painfully obvious how simple and "logical" it was to do the right thing in out day to day activity it's a wonder we don't all do what's right all the time.

The Trek universe is a nice fantasy, and I believe it is a realistic goal for mankind. Television and movies make it easy to get a point across to others I only hope Roddenberry's message doesn't get lost. I'm disappointed Enterprise will air it's last show this evening. Out of all the Trek series I believe Enterprise was one that really went back to what Star Trek was all about. Deep Space Nine was the soap opera set in space. Voyager was Lost in Space. The Original Series, Next Generation, and Enterprise all had something fundamentally in common; what it is to be human and how we can make the future better together.

Note: In writing this I learned's spell checker knows the word Klingon.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Old Parts: Motherboard

A little part of me dies when good hardware goes bad, so I decided to start a section called Old Parts to share with the world what I do with old computer parts. Hopefully I'll get some creative feedback on what other people do with their old parts. Bad computer components are always complicated. It's not like they explode; to the naked eye they look just like they did when they were new apart from a little dust and the occasional carbon score. Sometimes dead and dying parts are just a good reason to upgrade; other times they bring tears. Like in the case of this motherboard (I refer to Geek Memorabilia #3).

This motherboard is one of many I've had to put down. Despite the emotional attachment I had to it I see no reason to treat it any differently than any other board that has laid down it's life in the line of duty. Once everything has been tested twice and removed, CPU, cards, and memory I get down to business. To your average person all that's left is useless PCB, but to your average uber geek there are still useful components here.

The first of these useful components are jumpers. Unless you're dead motherboard is brand spanking new odds are it will have a jumper or two...surprisingly even the jumperless ones usually have some. Spare jumpers are always good to have around. They can be used on just about anything, and I've lost plenty of jumpers behind the workbench. If you're really picky it's nice to have a variety of jumpers around in case you're the kind of person that likes to have all your jumpers match.

Second on the list of what to take before throwing the motherboard out is the CMOS battery. It's amazing that almost every motherboard ever made has a CR2032 retaining the CMOS settings of your BIOS. Granted it's used, but odds are the battery had been replaced during the life span of the mother board and will likely have much life left in it. CR2032's have an average life span of 5 years. Depending on how the computer was used they can last quite a while. I like to have a little drawer of used CR2032''s ironically next to my jumper drawer.

Newer motherboards have heatsinks and sometimes even fans on their chipsets. These are always good to remove. Heatsinks can be reused on just about anything that generates heat, and who doesn't like to have extra fans around? You can squeeze a 40mm fan in some awkward spots and alleviate hard to fix hot spots in weird case mods. Some motherboards have special parts that are removable. In this case we can remove the plastic retention arms that hold the slot processor in place. The newer Pentium 4 and AMD64 motherboards have removable plastic or metal parts that the heat sink mounts too. These kinds of parts are always useful because you never know when you might get a working motherboard missing some of the parts. Often times they can also be rigged for functions that were never intended.

Finally there is only one thing left to remove. Can you guess what it is? I'll bet not because removing these may sometime require a Dremel or maybe just a flathead screw driver. Never the less you're looking at tools the pull these bad boys off because you got to be some kind of man to pull a Quad Flat Pack off a board with bare hands. Personally I prefer a nice flat head screw driver for everything but the Ball Grid Array style chips (usually north and south bridge chipsets). If I want those I use my Dremel and cut them out taking a square chunk of the PCB with it. I've tried to remove them with a flat head, but they usually break in the process. The next question here is why? Why do you keep those James? To be honest I don't have a good reason yet, but some day I know I'll be able to use all those chips for something extremely geeky. When it happens you better believe I'll post it here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Birthday Blog

9:14 this evening marks one year of using Blogger. I thought I would take a moment to say some nice things about Blogger and Google in general. I chose Blogger because it was part of the Google Tools. Over the years I've learned Google is the Midas touch of the internet. For those of you who dare to attempt to keep up with Google and all the cool things they do I highly recommend their blog (how cool is that, Google has an offical blog). Blogger is just one of the many cool things they do. Gmail, Picasa, Code, and Maps are all just the tip of the iceberg of cool Google toys. Perhaps in the future I'll go into more detail on all of these, but today is my blog's birthday.

I started a blog to practice my writing skills. I'm no real writer, but maybe one day. It is my dream to write articles for magazines like Maximum PC and CPU, or for websites like Tom's Hardware Guide and Arstechnica. I doubt my writing skills are on par with those guys, but everyone has to have goals. I do intend to go back to school for a journalism degree, and maybe by then I'll stand a genuine chance of achieving these goals. Until then, I'll be here throwing out my two cents on the topics I find interesting; waiting for the comments that remind me constructive criticism is a good thing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Geek Memorabilia #3: Motherboard from Jeff

A long time ago, trading hardware ran rampant between my friends and I. I traded a KVM switch complete with cables for this motherboard. It came with a processor too, and it wasn't just any processor it was a Pentium 3 on a slocket. Not only did it have a rock solid overclock, Jeff had flashed the BIOS so that it would make use of the High Point HPT370 Raid controller. This board was the back bone of my file server for many years before it died. Which leaves me with the task of finding a new HPT370 controller so I can get all my data back. This board served me well I raise my glass high. This one's for you Jeff.

Its been a while since I did a Geek Memorabilia segment so I thought I'd post links to the first two.

Geek Memorabilia #1: Half a Stick of 64MB SDRAM
Geek Memorabilia #2: My First GHz

Next time on my blog: What James does with old motherboards before he throws them out.

Will the Real Steven Hawkings Please Stand Up

It all started when my co-workers, John and Richard, returned from infiltrating the rat's turd nest. John and I go way back to at least the seventeenth century when they used floppies to back up data. Richard remarked that when those rats got back to the hide out it'll be like Goldie Locks went through there. This immediately put the image of an little girl holding an over sized round rat turd and proclaiming, "this rat dung is too hard!" We proceeded to figure out all the variations of that phrase; by far the best is still, "This rat dung is just right." "Someone is sleeping in my rat dung and there she is!"

Neo : What are you trying to tell me? That I can...pirate software?

Morpheus : No, Neo. I'm trying to tell you, that when you're ready... you won't have to...

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Open Source: Classic Gaming

My new found love for Open Source has made it's way into my blog. Today I want to take the time to write about two great Open Source programs related to classic gaming.

First on the list is Exult. Exult is a program that allows "Ultima 7: The Black Gate" and "Ultima 7 Part 2: Serpent Isle" to run on modern hardware and operating systems. Exult still requires the original Ultima 7 files, and the programmers encourage purchasing. Personally, I'm inclined to agree even though the Ultima series is now owned by the evil Electronic Arts instead of the beloved Origin. Exult has made leaps and bounds the past few months in terms of playability. Hard core geeks that have kept their Ultima 7 saved game files on floppies for years will be bumed to learn they'll have to start all over using Exult, but that's a small price to pay to bring back such a classic. Exult is more than just a means to play a great game with a funky memory manager on todays PC's. It's also well on its way to becoming the first useful Ultima 7 editor. The programmers have appropriately dubbed this function Exult Studio. According to the studio FAQ it started as an Ultima 7 map editor and has progressed to the point that anyone can create an entirely original game, albeit with a lot of work. Exult Studio even comes with GIMP plug-in's so that original artwork can be added. Exult Studio still needs a bit of refinement, but fifteen minutes changing the familiar Ultima world will have you thinking about creating your own island add-on that gives the Avatar his own horse drawn Airstream...or maybe that's just me. For those of you trying to remember your way around Britannia, or new to the Ultima world I've found a few useful links. has a great map.
The Bards Library has plenty of mood setting music from U7 and SI.
There are also plenty of
walkthroughs for all parts of both U7 games.

Next on the list of Open Source classic gaming is The Ur-Quan Masters; basically an Open Source remake of Star Control 2. They had to change the name because an organization known as Toys for Bob made the source code of the EDO version of Star Control 2 available, but they did not own the rights to the name "Star Control." Which is fine because, unlike Exult, you don't have to purchase a thing to play. Down side is there are no cut scenes, like the name, those are still owned by someone. The programmers of The Ur-Quan Masters did think ahead and made it so that owners of the original game can easily place the copy righted material into the remake. Like Exult, this Open Source project brings a classic game to modern computers, so it can be enjoyed by older gamers who remember when this was the bleeding edge of technology and younger gamers alike. Granted I played the PC version back in the day, but in all honesty I cannot see the difference between the PC and EDO version of the game. The Ur-Quan Masters is only at version 0.3 of their developmental stage, so it still has some time before the programmers call it an official release. Even still the game is playable in the Super Melee and story line mode. There are no in game settings to play with yet, but there is plenty of documentation that explains how to change things up. There are also remix packs that can be downloaded in case you get tired of the original repetitive music. Just like with Ultima there is plenty of information on the Internet (mostly put there by fans).

There is a SC2 Wiki known as
As usual plenty of
walkthroughs too.

Both of these games were released in the early 90's on 5.25" floppies. Even today they are wonderful games because they gave the player the power of choice and freedom. There aren't many games today that don't make you strictly follow a story or some liner path. Both of these games do have plots and many subplots and if some events are over looked there could be problems, but it was this level of detail that brought replay value to games. Something most modern games lack. There is a lot still to be learned from old games such as Ultima & and Star Control 2, and it has nothing to do with graphics, cool effects, 3D physics and modeling, or even sparely dressed women (Syreens excluded of course).

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Up and coming

My good friend John made a new icon for Thunderbird because on the Mozilla page of free advertisement buttons they didn't have one that matched all the other buttons.

I'll be posting about all new and improved open source gaming such as The Ur-Quan Masters and Exult sometime in the near future. Two classics no one should be without.

Also it was pointed out to me when I wrote about Flickr I never posted a link to them anywhere. Now you'll find links to Flickr in a few spots.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Quick Laugh

Quick entry tonight. I wanted to share a picture that made me laugh...a lot.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Trailer Upgrades

Trailer upgrades progress slowly but smoothly. MVC-550FStage one of the painting project is finished, that would be the refrigerator panels. The long and drawn out stage two, the cabinets around the refrigerator, is underway. I say long and drawn out because I'll probably be painting one cabinet door at a time.

MVC-553FThe other day I got this letter from the IRS and, apparently, it's been bumming me out a little. To cheer me up my girlfriend bought me a new toilet seat to go with the toilet of my dreams. It's all soft and cushiony on my tushiny. I must admit a perfect match the toilet and the new seat, but what excites me just as much as the new seat is what to do with the old one. I'm so thinking case mod!