Category Archives: Projects

Projects:
Reports of what I’m working on and discussions of how or why I did it. Code, web, music, building, graphics, whatever. If it’s an avocation of mine, it’s here.

Surplus

Was just thinking about a guy I went to high school with. Boyd. He was a cool cat; we had mechanical drawing class together. Anyway, he was into model aircraft as a hobby. I was into model railroad. We bonded for a short few years, satellites to each other’s planet.

Funny that I remember him by full name almost 30 years later. But whatever; hope he’s doing well.

Got me thinking about my chosen hobbies. Strange, but it seems I’ve gravitated to the exact same sorts of hobbies that didn’t exist until the post-war period after 1945. Model railroads. Model planes. Ham radio. Home electronics. Hi-fi stereos. Electronic music.

Really, these are all a product of the post-war suburban ethic, that part of American culture, that part of the American landscape, that’s only made possible by a life of planned stability, of suburbs and highways and open space. That dream of owning a piece of God’s green earth, of being part of a community, of having enough free resources to dispose of that we’re allowed the luxury of committing ourselves and our talents to things that aren’t immediately necessary for survival.

I can eat just fine without a radio. I can get around OK without building my own engine.

This is all part of the American Dream, strange as it sounds. I like radio for the engineering aspect, for the technical problems, for the creative solutions, for the edification that comes from learning so much about physical laws. But I understand my privilege: I have enough disposable income to throw at these pursuits. I have enough free time to dedicate to it. I have enough time to craft it, build it, use it, enjoy it, share it, talk about it, and go to meetings about it.

Really, it’s the modern equivalent of pruning bonsai trees; it’s the human hope that we have enough, make enough, own enough, and aren’t too hungry and infirm that we can spend a few hours a week to trimming a few leaves and keeping a fruit-bearing tree so small that it doesn’t bear fruit, and we don’t starve because of it.

That, that right there, is the post-war American dream. The stuff that so many of the books that I checked out of my junior-high library showed to me. That I can have a life where I can do things that aren’t necessary for survival, that aren’t crucial to the continued existence of myself and those around me, that are fun. Fun! That’s the Dream.

I think it’s in that vast, breathless hope, that I enjoy my hobbies. And now, in repose, I understand why I do this.

Know your causes.

Slap Head

For those who are keeping score, I’m a dumbass.

So, I have a file server at my home that’s running FreeNAS, which is based on FreeBSD, a popular Unix distribution. I have around 7.4 terabytes of storage capacity across 5 disks; that’s a lot of personal files. I bought a single 8TB disk for the purposes of backing up this mountain of data. The problem is that my methods of making exact copies of files to the disk were failing or taking too long to complete, so the backups were slow and not always good.

When you’re dealing with terabytes of data, everything’s slow and insufficient.

Well, the problem is that I was looking at the problem from the wrong point of view. On my personal workstation, which runs Linux and uses the ext4 filesystem, I have a stack of scripts that basically run “rsync” to make exact copies to a portable 2TB disk. This method is what I tried on the FreeNAS box. Due to the way rsync operates under the hood, especially on complex filesystems where there are lots of hardlinked files, it was occasionally consuming all of the free memory on the fileserver and eventually dying after a few hours of churning, sometimes with no files actually copied.

“There has to be a better way to do this,” I thought. “I guess I’ll split the disk up into smaller chunks and make scripts to do it that way.”

And then, like a strike of lightning, it hit me: this FreeNAS box isn’t running on an ext4 filesystem — it’s running ZFS. What feature does ZFS have that ext4 doesn’t? That’s right — snapshots. Futuristic, amazing, wonderful snapshots. And what can you do with these snapshots? That’s right, you can replicate them, bit-for-bit, to another disk or remote system. Woah.

Just slap me now.

So, I did what any sane person would do: use the available tools as intended. I made a snapshot. I then wiped the backup disk clean, and am currently replicating that snapshot to the backup disk. Then, once the initial snapshot is there, I can take incremental snapshots at later dates and push them to the backup disk in a significantly shorter amount of time.

Use what’s available to you. That’s the key lesson here. This is liberating. Let’s hope this works!

Mobile Power Project: Ham Radio on the go! By KG5RHR

Mobile Power Project: Ham Radio On the Go!

Intent:

It seems minor, but installing the power cables for a ham radio in a car is a major project if you want it done right. After months of thoughts and tactics, I made good on my plan to install a 25 Amp circuit into my car to power my portable amateur radio equipment. I’ve been needing this capability for a while. It gives me another option for operating away from home, allowing me to drive to any convenient spot and make HF contacts, as well as allowing me to make VHF contacts while on the road. I’ll have radio power for as long as I have gas in the tank.

It took me a while to get around to doing it, but once I started, it was two evenings well-spent. Here’s the details. Continue reading

Licensed

Good news is good news:

This morning, I took my Technician Class license test for amateur radio and passed. Out of the 35 questions on the exam, I missed 1 question (I bet it was that question about transmitting in international waters). So yeah, I passed!

The examiners gave everyone in the test session the option — if they passed their intended license class exam — of taking the next license class exam up. The three classes, from lowest to highest privileges, is Technician, General, and Amateur Extra. So when I passed Technician, they gave me the option to take the General test. I’m like, “Ok, I’ll give it a shot. It’s not like double-or-nothing, right?” Everyone laughed.

Out of 35 questions, with a passing requirement of 26 correct, I missed it by 1 and got only 25 right. Goddammit, so close. So close! So the examiners gave me the option to pay another $15 testing fee for a retake of the General exam with a different printed revision, since I was so close. I threw caution to the wind and went for it. Missed it by 2. Dammit.

But, at least I still have a Technician classification. At least there’s that. So, once my call sign is published on the FCC directory, I can begin transmitting. I can finally push the Push-To-Talk button. The earliest they expect it to be published is next Thursday, so here’s hoping, yeah?

Y’know, it’s kinda like winning second place. There’s a particular psychology of winning that affects how you feel about your victory based on where you stand on the podium. First place winners are the happiest and feel the most victorious. Third place winners are happy and feel grateful for being able to stand on the podium. But second place winners? They are the least happy because they were so close to making first. So close!

My brain is now fried, but at least I’m on the podium. Time to study for the General exam.

First Listen with KD5RCA

This weekend, I had my first experience with a VHF repeater. Looked up the repeater operated by the Four States Amateur Radio Club in Texarkana at 146.620 MHz. Didn’t make any contacts (because I don’t have a license, obviously), but I did get to hear some actual chatter and get a better sense for the protocol of on-air contacts. Even managed to listen in on their club meeting held on-air — a total happenstance discovery, but there’s no reason why radio clubs shouldn’t have their meetings on-air. Neato!

Aside from the club meeting on Thanksgiving night (I assume that’s because it’s a Thursday), there was a little bit of chatter during the day and early evening, but after night-night time for these old grempers, the repeater’s pretty quiet except for the automated Morse and voice announcements.

I hope the radio clubs in Austin are a little more…active.