Tag Archives: tech

Solar PV installed

Something I had been considering for a while was to up our solar PV power production. I’d always liked the idea of self sufficiency from an energy point of view, and the excess going to grid use is a bonus. We’d initially installed 1kw in 2005. How times change!

Then it was $13k. After some investigating this time, I came across the good people at Envirogroup. The  quote was for the same price for a 4kw system! This is our current (hah, electrical pun!) limit for north facing roof space and to be considered a ‘small’ generator for rebating purposes.

The only alteration we did was to up spec the inverter to a German one, our principle being that it’s the inverter that does the heavy lifting & your should get the best your budget allows, ending us up with a SMA SB4000TL Transformerless Inverter.

It’s an absolute delight to see the meter running backwards (as it were since it’s digital these days).

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Circular Quay

What can you say or shoot about Sydney that isn’t a cliche? Harbour views. Meh. Harbour Bridge. Meh. Ferry ride. Meh. Opera House. Meh. Centrepoint tower. Meh.

Still, it is all spectacular, not the least bit for the fact that people are expected to be tourists and are less suspicious with photography. The challenge I found was to shoot different aspects and angles, a few of which I’ve included. I especially like angles of ‘the coathanger’ which play tricks with your mind in 2 dimensions.

I do always find bare Windows desktops in public places (which I assume should be actually doing something other than displaying a desktop and tasktray notification) amusing…


Atomic MPC has been suggesting for a while that the best heatsink/fan for a HTPC build was the Scythe Big Shuriken. I’d seen one in April back in Osaka, but was not quite in the right brainspace to purchase it. So, I placed an order with PCCasegear http://pccasegear.com/ (whose excellent next day delivery to rural Vic arrived promptly at our PO box) as the smaller profile should fit.

Yes, it should.

Sadly, it doesn’t and the final configuration doesn’t allow for my 12GB of RAM. All the mucking around also meant that I had to clean off the thermal goop from the CPU.

Defeated, I’ve installed the stock Intel heatsink/fan.

even more HTPC

What’s a HTPC build without a hurdle or twenty? One of my concerns with a HTPC is reducing the heat as much as possibly whilst maintaining a low noise level. For the CPU, this means a whopping big heat-pipe finned heat-sink arrangement with PWM (or resistor throttled) fan.

Having done the research, I decided on the Noctua NH-C14. Large fins, low profile, throttled fans & 2 at low speed for extra heat removal. It also fitted in the dimensions read off the specs. The Level 10 as part of its beautiful design allows easy access to the back of the motherboard for mucking around such as this.

Unfortunately, even though the fan fitted, it caused 2 issues: firstly the size of the 12cm heatsink made contact with the RAM heatsinks (I had decided to go for 12GB of RAM in 3x 2x 2GB). Ok, simply workaround: live with 8GB for now and contemplate later. Second issue was that the case lid for the motherboard section was hinged and therefore did not close for the size of the heatsink/fan.

ARGH! Even though I’d like to finish the project, as the sun has now set I’ll put this in the further contemplation required basket.

more new HTPC build

I decided on the Gigabyte P55A UD6 because I wanted the maximum internal componentry for SATA connection. This board has 8 of them, 2 of which are SATA3. One for the boot drive (Vertex Turbo SSD, which I flashed up 2 firmware levels – much easier to do before installing OS!), one optical BD drive, one 2TB main drive for recorded TV, and 5 drives for saved videos.

I’d had some prior experience with RAID and have been fairly unhappy – the implementation of RAID-0 just did not justify the risk of complete data loss for marginal speed increase. RAID-1 gave internal mirroring, but at the cost of space and speed. RAID-5 might have been a go-er except that I have been reading that in the event of a single drive failure, the likelihood of the other drives rapidly following suit is quite high. RAID 10 didn’t suit, again complexity but definite lact of space.

I wanted bang for buck, so formatted 5x 2TB drives under GUID and connected them as JBODs. I’ve then used my Drobo-s for a Sync-toy backup.

New HTPC build

One of my going away present future projects when I finished up last year was to build new state of the art computer as technology would have it back in January of 2010. The last time I attempted this was at the Pentium-4 level on a Gigabyte INXP mobo. I know that tech moves quickly, but I had hoped then to have the fastest, latest, greatest for more than 1 week! Yes, a newer faster processor came out 7 days later.

I had thought this time to get the best of what I could build rather than the fastest of componentry. A HTPC of course needs to be quiet & preferably unobtrusive. Fail one out of two as the BMW designed Thermaltake Level 10 case weignhing in at over 20kg of pressed steel is hardly inconspicuous.

I debated with myself as whether to make this the new home server but needs must as the old, several times evolved HTPC was truly on its last legs.


Well, I finally got a functioning HTPC (home theatre pc) going.

Hardware: I had 2 leftover Athlon XP 1900+ (2.2GHz thoroughbred core) and a spare Gigabyte 7N4002 (nvidia2 chipset) board so I thought that would be a good start. I purchased a Coolermaster Caviar desktop case, Zalman 460w quiet PSU, 1gig OCZ 3200 (value) RAM (matched pair of 512s to enable DDR), CPU cooler, 120gig SATA HDD and Logitech radio wireless keyboard & rechargeable laser mouse.

Setup: I wanted to get one of the earlier zalman CPU coolers that look like a peacock tail but the current ones on the market only suit the current chips. Athlon XP 1900+ was the top chip only 4 years ago. So I settled on a Thermaltake Polo which has a heat sensor speed control which I didn’t implement. At full speed the thing sounds like a buzzsaw. I used the variable control to tune the thing down to 4000RPM which is tolerable soundwise and keeps the cpu going at about 55 degrees.

I was concerned that the stock Coolermaster PSU wouldn’t produce enough juice for my machine so I settled on the Zalman (150 watts more). Even though I measured the dimensions to fit the Zalman PSU in, I didn’t take into account the orientation. So of course the things doesn’t fit. I will save it for a later project as it is an excellent PSU.

Got the hardware assembled and running but found a problem post boot.

My initial thought was to run MythTV on a Linux distro as that was what everybody was going on about.

The BIOS would read fine, but then at Linux setup it would give me a fatal error which no amount of googling would solve. I resorted to trying a windows install cd just to prove to myself that I wasn’t mad and got the blue screen of death for my troubles.

Hardware problem. I set about underclocking the cpu and ran it at a FSB frequency of 100mhz instead of 133. solved the problem – something about my config didn’t like the cpu running at full (normal) speed.

i spent several nights downloading linux. Fortunately anna was away, so I could set the thing downloading all night and all day while I was at work & be ready for me when I got home. The DVD distro is about 4 gig so about 15 hours downloading. I started with Knoppix, because that’s what everybody goes on about. Sadly I couldn’t get the thing to be happy with my setup. So I tried downloading knoppmyth (fortunately a CD iso of 700meg) which is a 2 year old special distro of knoppix specially tailored for knoppix & mythtv. No joy. I had played with Ubuntu a while back and found it to be quite easy & intuitive. Ubuntu’s goal is Linux that just works and indeed if you just want a computer that plays some music, some media, a bit of internet & freeware Office apps compatable with M$ Office then Ubuntu’s great. 15 hours later I discovered that I had indeed downloaded Kubuntu (a KDE version of Ubuntu) so back to the drawing board. 15 hours later, again I was finally installing Ubuntu. Except that the hardware froze.

I thought that the vid card might have been flaky so I pulled that out and stuck it in my other computer. Nope things were fine. I wasn’t even getting a POST boot signal so I switched out the CPU for the other and things were fine again. Hmph.

The next week was a blur as I would get home from work, then start googling, downloading, installing and cursing until exhaustion crept in at 1am. There are a few good guides out there if you google the right words, but because Linux is fairly “immature”, programs required you to pull specific bits of cope off the internet, if not write them yourself and then compile them in order to install! No simple “click here” to install. And you need to do that for your specific bits of hardware, so good luck finding the right drivers.

I finally gave up and did a windows install. Not that one of those is so much fun either. An hour to format a 30 gig hard drive followed by an hour install & another hour or 2 downloading drivers & updates.

I forgot the rules of install which state that at critical points thou shalt make a backup. So I gaily installed everything I could think of and ended up with an almost stable system which taunted me by almost working.

Back to the drawing board for another full install, this time backing up.

I recorded last Wednesday’s “spics & specs” while we walked the dog and that worked fine.

The boot drive was a spare 30gig so it “only” holds about 10 hours of tv. I changed the output of the TV card to record onto the second hdd (I bought a SATA for the speed & performance over regular PATA but you do have to do a few mystical low level things in order to get it recognised). This (I discovered after another 2 days tinkering) produced a max headroom effect.

Quite humorous unless you’re the missus watching “the bill”.