Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fan Fiasco

For some time now the 92mm case fan in my girlfriends computer has been loud and obnoxious. I notice it most as it fan undulates in my ear when I sit in my recliner that is next to her computer. Yesterday we both felt we had enough and proceed strait to Altex without passing 'Go' or collecting $200.

Altex is generally a little over priced when compared to just about everyone else, but here in Corpus it is about the only place left you can buy a case fan. Their selection is limited as well. Makes me think I should open a Fry's here in Corpus.

After standing in the case fan isle for a few minutes I made my decision and went to check out. The nice lady rung up $16.18! Really?

Altex also had no selection of rubber washers or case fan silencers (you know those rubber things that go all around the case fan). Then we went to Lowes. The place I knew we could find rubber washers, perhaps not of the perfect size, but at least some thing that could work. Another $5.06 later we were successful.

We get home, solder a plug to the Altex fan because apparently a freakin $16 fan can't come with a plug. Then plug it in to realize it spins way to slow to make since. Another look at the cryptic sticker on the fan shows this is a 24volt fan. Why Altex? Why do you even carry 24volt fans? Google [] doesn't even know.

I hung an 80mm case fan in her case with a single screw while we wait for the one from It's what we should have done in the first place. It's one of the best 92mm fans you can buy (opinion alert) on, it comes with a 4pin plug, rubber washers, it's 12 volt, and even with shipping it's $2.00 less than Altex.

For the record, nothing against Altex. I get it, if I want it now I'm willing to pay a little more. Really my complaint is the voltage. Of course it's my fault for not looking, but who would have thought to even look for that? True I could wire it to make it work, but the computer is a Shuttle and I don't think it would be a good idea to put more strain on it than necessary.

I will make a note on whether or not the new fan is worth a flip when we get it.

UPDATE Feb 25 - Got the new fan and so far so good. It spins at about 2050RPM and is quiet. The only thing that makes noise in it now is the Power Supply fan, but it's one of those 40mm fans. I hate 40mm fans.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


The idea of building a computer from an old Nintendo Entertainment System is not a new one. While I may not be boldly going were no geek has gone before I took the opportunity to build one of these with no cost to myself (other than time).

I did look at a lot of other NES PCs before I started construction of this one. The primary goal of my NES PC was to make one that didn't feel flimsy. There are a lot of NES PCs out there that look like they'd fall apart if jostled too much. I wanted something that felt solid when you picked it up. I didn't want parts to rattle around.

The most notable thing left out of this NES PC is an optical drive. The owner wants to put in a blue ray drive, but it was cost prohibited at the time of purchase. The design left a place just big enough for one to be added in the future.

I divided this post into two parts. Lessons Learned, basically things I'd have done different in hind sight. The Cool Parts is the section of what I think worked really well.

There are some pictures on this post, but you can see a whole lot more here. Yes I know I can't take pictures worth a flip and I am sorry for that.

Lessens Learned
Power Supply - The one we chose is small, but a few months after the parts purchase I found much smaller ones.

Motherboard - A couple of lessons here. First of all, the memory slot, it's for standard size memory and it sticks way up. There are boards that support smaller laptop size memory and it lays flat. Second, no HDMI. While this was a factor taken into consideration when we chose the parts, I would have personally preferred an HDMI output. The owner has a TV that supports RGB input, so he saved a few bucks here. Last but not least, size. While the mini-ITX format is damn small, I couldn't mount the motherboard all the way on the bottom of the NES. If you've ever opened an NES you know there are three ridges that stick up and make mounting a board all the way on the bottom impossible without serious cutting. In my case I had planned to mount on top of those ridges, but it was the power and reset button that didn't allow me to lay the motherboard there. I used 1" mounting posts and a few brass washers so the board would clear the power and reset button assembly. Doing this gave me little head room inside the NES case.

Heat - Even with the low power of an Atom CPU it gets hot. The 40mm Fan was a decision made in hind sight.

The Cool Parts
Power and Reset buttons - I was able to use the original power and reset button assembly. For those with fond NES memories, you will know the power button stays in when pressed and the reset button is a momentary switch. PC's need momentary switches for both power and reset. To fix this I just had to remove a little piece of plastic on the power button that held it in when pressed. Then all I had to do is a little testing with a multimeter and some soldering, and we were in business. I even kept the original LED so when it's powered on it looks as authentic as it can get.

Controller Ports - RetroZone sells a USB chip to mod NES controllers so they can be plugged into a PC. Great idea, but I don't want to mod a bunch of controllers. I modded the controller ports (hey they were there). I was worried at first that Windows wouldn't pick up controllers plugged in after the PC was booted up. As far as the OS is concerned the controllers are always plugged in. After much testing I realized it was going to work perfectly. It's just awesome to be able to plug in an unmodded NES controller and play games. I even added software to move the mouse with the controller.

The less expensive option was to wire them to the parallel port. I've found this method to make the controllers feel sluggish. That, and the fact I didn't want a bunch of ugly wires running from the parallel port back to the inside of the case, made these USB converters a great idea.

Motherboard and Power Supply Mounting - Although I didn't get it exactly where I wanted it in the end, I really like the way the motherboard mounts. It feel solid and secure, just like mounting a motherboard in a real case. The ATX I/O plate even snaps in place.

Future Optical Disc - Raising the motherboard left little room between the top of the NES and motherboard, but there will be just enough room for a slim blue ray drive when the time comes. The hight of a slim blue ray drive is 13mm, there is 15.5mm to spare.

GnuCash Personal Finance Manager

For years I've used a spreadsheet to manage my personal finances. Over the years my spreadsheet has gotten prettier and more complex with grander formulas that tell me exactly how I am wasting my money.

Last November I discovered GnuCash. Once I got my head wrapped around it I decided to ditch the spreadsheet for my daily finances (but not all together--I'll explain).

I am no accountant, but after a little self teaching I learned rather quickly that I was reinventing the wheel with my spreasheet. In my spreadsheet I used a "transaction type" column so I could sort my transactions and make neat little pie charts that tell me things like, how much I blew going to lunch every day. Or, how much it cost me to have a car.

GnuCash can do all that too, but first I had to figure out that every thing is an account. (see double-entry bookkeeping) For some things this makes since. My Checking account is an account. My credit card is an account. My investments are accounts. Where I had trouble with this, at first, was expenses.

Expenses all fall under one account (cleverly called 'expenses'). Then everything you spend money on goes into it's own sub account. I buy gas, it goes under Expenses:Auto:Gas. The more you divide things up the more specific you can be with reports. For example; I can bring up a report that just shows all the gas I bought last month by drilling down all the way to Expenses:Auto:Gas.

If I choose, I can also bring up a report that just brings up Auto. Then I can see a pie chart of all the Auto sub accounts. I'll have a wedge for Gas, Maintenance, Insurance, Fees, and Parking. These are just examples. I can make sub accounts for anything I spend money on, or delete the ones I don't need. GnuCash comes with a set of expense accounts you can use, or you can make your own from scratch.

Personally I started with theirs, and then added and deleted as I saw fit.

The beauty of the system is you can be as detailed or as lazy as you want. If you are a real obsessive compulsive tightwad, you can enter every receipt and even divide them up by what was spent on lunch and what was spent on sales tax (for the record, I put sales tax under Expenses:Taxes:Sales Tax I don't believe it was one of the default categories).

On the other hand, you can trash receipts and download the Microsoft Money or Quicken file from your bank once a month. They can be imported in to GnuCash almost just as easily as they can the expensive counterparts they are supposed to be imported into.

Which brings me to the last thing I love about GnuCash. It's open source, which means it's free, but it's better than free.

I did mention I still use a spreadsheet for somethings, and it's true. Perhaps I haven't completely embraced my new methods. There are just some things I still find easier on the spreadsheet. Specifically, future planning. I can just copy and paste rows of information and see where I'm going to put my tax return. In my spreadsheet I also have sheets with formulas that help me with other financial aspects. The one I use most helps me divide up my income by percentages, but GnuCash gave me a reason for a new one. A formula that calculates sales tax from the total on a receipt (for those generic receipts that don't give me sales tax).

I haven't posted here in a while, so I apologize if this is just a blarg of information. There are a few new posts I've been meaning to work on and get up here. In part I must blame Google Buzz for reminding me that I have a neglected blog. In the not too distant future I plan to write about tools and procedures you can use to easily keep your GnuCash data safe and secure.