Archive for category Technology/Computers

Senior Project Done!


Finally! It is done! The weight of 50 pages of senior project in my hands make me happy. If you’re interested in reading it, it’ll be up on digital commons soon enough (keep an eye out for a link).




eWeek 2010!

I have not posted for a while, mostly because this quarter has been busy as hell! Most of it thanks to eWeek (Engineers Week). I’m on of the directors for eWeek and that means I’m responsible for overseeing and planning over 22 events over 4 days.

We did some pretty cool stuff for eWeek, the biggest thing in my opinion was our awesome barcode system! In the past, we used “passports” as a marketing tool to encourage people to attend our events. At the beginning of the week, people can pick up a passport and at every subsequent event they attend they get a stamp. The more stamps they collect, the more prizes they become eligible for (including a HDTV!). While this system was effective in increasing event attendance, I saw an opportunity to collect more useful statistics by using a barcode tracking system.

I developed a web application in collaboration with Brian Oppenheim which allowed us to track who came to our events and when they came to our events. This data allowed us to analyze the effectiveness of our publicity, popularity of events, the most effective times to schedule events, major (EE, ME, CSC, etc.) representation at events, etc. etc.

I’ll probably have to write a blog post about this system eventually… but for now… enjoy these photos!

(also a video to come).

eWeek 2010 Website:

Photos on Flickr:

Day 1 (Tuesday):

Day 2 (Wednesday):

Day 3 (Thursday):

Day 4 (Friday):

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Building a high-performance, energy efficient router

Modern home routers are getting progressively crappier as manufactures include less ram and flash in their devices to reduce cost. In SLO, I live in a house with 5 people, 4 of us are computer science (csc/cpe) majors. What this amounts to is quite a bit of load on our network and a home router can only handle so much. Torrenting, streaming YouTube, streaming Hulu, streaming pandora,, uploading photos to flickr, downloading linux isos and patches, etc… that adds up to quite a bit! We quickly realized that the puny linksys we started off with failed to handle the traffic… the quick solution to that was to get ddwrt. Since the linksys we had didn’t have enough ram to support a decent version of ddwrt, I bought an Asus WL500W router which featured 32 ram/8 flash allowing us to install the mega edition of ddwrt. Unfortunately, possibly due to some compatibility issues, heat, emi or whatever, the router kept getting bricked (we had to RMA it twice)… so we eventually abandoned this approach and tried virtualizing Untangled. Which is actually a really cool routing/gateway appliance. The only issue with it was that it was really processor bound in a VM. Untangled runs on Java and requires a TON of resources. While it performed well and had a lot of great features, Untangled was simply too beefy for us to run in a VM and lacked some routing features which would have been nice (considering it’s main propose is to be a network gateway).

So, after more research I came across Vyatta as a solution for our routing. It is an open source/open hardware routing appliance that runs on x86 hardware. I mentioned in a previous post that we’ve had issues with high electric bills at our house in the past so I’m going to rule out the option of running this on a virtualized server (because running that machine 24/7 would be too expensive). The solution then would be to use a low-power pc. For this project, I found a VIA mobo that apparently runs with 9w according to this site. That is provided the chip is running at 800Mhz, but for routing, I shouldn’t need much more. I’d use a CF card for disk which would consume a lot less power than a hard drive which has moving parts (motors spinning, etc) so hopefully the power consumed there is negligible (need to verify).

$130 – mobo/cpu
$10 – 1gb ram
$30 – psu
$30 – cf -> sata adaptor
$20 – cf card

Total: $220



On a power budget and building a file server

An issue our house encountered last year was high electricity bills. Among other things, a major contributing factor was probably the servers we all ran. While an easy solution to that problem is just shutting them off, it is rather inconvenient to have to boot a fileserver or an apps server everytime we need them, and in addition to shut them down when we’re done with them.

Perhaps the major issue is that these servers, even while idling consume up to 110W (need to check this number) and even more while under load.

Thus, to mitigate power usage, I plan to replace my server with energy-efficient hardware specifically set up to be a file server. (Noting that my current setup is a VM server which hosts my fileserver in a vm. This setup requires more computing power because of the overhead of running the vm and the lack of hardware control from the vm makes it difficult to implement effective power management schemes).

I’m currently looking at this Atom-based board:
ZOTAC IONITX-C-U Intel Atom N230 Mini ITX ION Platform Motherboard/CPU Combo with 90W PSU – Retail

I choose this board because it is the only Atom-based board I could find with 4 sata ports (3x internal + 1x eSata). It also has a mini pcie port which I could get a solid state drive for.

Based on this test (for a similar model) consumes 25w (idle) and 35w (load). Considering that the Atom processor’s specifications claim that it only consumes 4w, the other 21w presumably comes from the chipset. This board seems like it is a htpc board with its fancy gfx chipset and what not so I’m thinking that if I can turn off all these features, it should lower the power consumption of the board.

The next item then is the actual hard drives. Each drive hopefully consumes about 7W idle and 12W load (Based on averages of data found here).I’m considering doing a 3-disk raid-z (on zfs) to start. So 3 times those numbers.

Now hopefully I’ll also be able to optimize power here even further by spinning down my drives while they’re idle. It seems that I can use the sg3_utils to accomplish this. I’ll assume that the drives when spundown will still consume 1W.

Based on these assumptions (to get a general idea of what I’ll be working with):

Load: 35W + (3 x 12W) = 71W
Idle: 25W + (3 x 7W) = 45W
Idle+Spindown: 25W + (3 x 1W) = 28W

Note that these numbers are completely based on research and assumptions — I have not actually performed tests.

In terms of cost, what I’m looking at is:
$160 – mobo/cpu/psu
$89 – 32gb ssd mini pcie
$16 – 1GB ram
$89 (x3) – 1 TB hd (est)

Total $532.

Not bad for a 3TB file server.

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The coolest program ever!

Synergy is freakin’ awesome!

A Vista box w/ 23" samsung and MBP w/ 21.5" vertical.

A Vista box w/ 23" samsung and MBP w/ 21.5" vertical.

So I was setup with Vista box @ work today to do IAR/VC++ stuff… so that meant another keyboard and another mouse on my desk. Well that kinda sucks. I have this issue at home too.. I have my desktop and my laptop. I’m usually using both at the same time and I need to switch between keyboards… and blah, its just a mess. I had an idea I was considering for my senior project to develop something like this… because I had no idea it existed! But today one of my co-workers showed me this awesome program called Synergy!

So how does Synergy work?  It allows you to take the keyboard and mouse of one computer and over the network control any number of other computers as though they were additional monitors connected to your first computer.  So for example… I have my vista box on the left of my macbook pro.  As my mouse goes off the left edge of the macbook pro, it comes on to the right edge of the vista box.  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!

The cool thing about it is that it also works cross platform too! I’m so excited to set this up on all my computers at home :).

(The photo is a panorama shot before I set up Synergy, I’ll have to get another shot of my desk with the new setup when I go back in on Monday. The photo was shot using in-phone panorama mode)

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Vista Machine Initial Setup

I just got a fresh Vista machine for work… so I thought I’d make a list of programs I’d install for general usability on the machine:

I downloaded all the PuTTy clients (putty, pscp, psftp) to the C:\Windows folder so I can hit WIN+R and type putty (server) and go.

Installed a sane browser. Chrome doesn’t work on this machine for some reason, but I usually use Firefox on Windows anyway. But I also tried Safari 4 which runs surprisingly well on this machine (was sluggish on my XP machine at home) so I guess I’ll stick to that as my default browser.

I’ll continue to update this post with the core things I install.

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Maybe I should consider Lenovo?

What are you doing Apple?  It seems like your product lines are having an identity crisis.  It is my understanding that the MacBook Pro (MBP) was meant to be a “pro” quality laptop… and now some lower-end models with integrated graphics are being merged into the pro line?  And what’s up with the SD card slot replacing the ExpressCard/34 slot?  If your product is truly targeted at creative professionals as it seems to be a popular choice among photographers and videographers, why does your laptop not support the standard which is CF — or at the least have a multi-card reader?  SD cards are most prominent in lower-end cameras which a professional would not primarily use.  And what the heck is up with the built-in battery?  What benefit to the user could a built-in battery possibly provide?  Also… the ultra-glare-prone glossy screen is quite obnoxious — especially when you’re paying $2k for a laptop and there’s no option for matte unless you get their top-of-the-line 17″ model… but even then, they charge you extra for the matte option.

I love my current MacBook Pro but its getting kind of outdated after 3 years.  I hope Apple will fix their “pro” line by next year when I buy myself a new laptop.  Otherwise I’m really considering getting a Lenovo instead.

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Glow Printing

This seems useless in terms of practical application but its so cool!

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Lock Screen For Your Mac

For OS X.

In the dorms I used to have my mac lock itself as soon as it entered screensaver mode but now that I don’t have the constant mischievous pranks looming around the corner I don’t bother with that. So what I’m looking for is a way to lock my mac without having to ALWAYS enable it when in screensaver. The solution is in Keychain Access (Applications > Utilities). Launch the program and under Keychain Access:Preferences in the General tab, select “Show Status in Menu Bar”. Now a lock icon appears in your tray and the first option in the menu is “Lock Screen”. Sweet!

Note: you can move these icons around by holding down the apple key and dragging.

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What kind of emailer are you?

Found this cool little article on

Undoubtedly, I’m a Emailaholic :(  The cool thing they point out is that this research could be used to spot out spambots!

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