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New Hardware

So, there have been a few amazing deals recently for various bits of hardware, and I have taken advantage of them, so I now have new toys to play with:

OfficeMax 10-page crosscut shredder, normally $80, on sale for $40.

I have needed a shredder for a while now, especially since the dorms are apparently no longer doing the (paper-only) recycling program they did last year, and I go through a lot of paper waste per week. Shredded paper waste takes up less room and is more secure than non-shredded waste.

APC Back-UPS XS 1300, normally $170, on sale for $110.

I have a UPS already, but it is a small one (around 600VA), yielding less than five minutes' runtime under the load I was putting on it, and furthermore, had no data cable for communications. Plus, the old one will go back home either at Christmas or at the end of the school year to run the server and other devices down there. This new one is much larger (1300VA), giving me 20-35 minutes' runtime, and has a data cable, allowing me to intelligently shutdown my computers if necessary, as opposed to delaying a power-loss halt for x minutes.

450W PSU, guy down the hall selling for $10.

I was formerly running my server (see specs below) on a 135W PSU, which was a little too small. So, I got a bigger one.

CPU, RAM, motherboard combo, guy on Barkboard selling for $145.

One of the difficulties with running a webserver (among other things, but the data draw from my Apache share is the biggest drain of performance) is that every connection made to the box takes memory, and larger files take more memory to transfer. My old motherboard had 384MB of RAM, which was not enough. Trouble was, the board would not support anything more than that, and so I was stuck using a very large (4GB) swap partition to try to cope with the performance load. I have been looking at getting a new motherboard for more memory a while now, and this just kind of fell into my lap. I now have an Asus P4P800SE motherboard with 3GB of RAM across four sticks, and a 3.0GHz P4 with Hyperthreading, and a really nice aftermarket CPU cooler to boot. Granted, the processor is overkill for what my server does, but the RAM is very, very nice to have. Also, this extra power allows me to start thinking about projects to automate my room (see below).

I am done buying things now for quite a while, as that totaled to roughly a week's paycheck, and that is about as much as I budgeted for this semester's discretionary spending. However, with my new motherboard, SATA drives can be added to my wish list.

Also, I have been learning LaTeX, which is an awesome typesetting language, producing wonderfully-formatted documents for my Discrete Structures homework assignments. It is marginally faster than doing the homework and scanning it in to be submitted electronically, it looks much more professional, and is considerably more enjoyable.

Server Specs


Asus P4P800SE (formerly Asus P3B-F)


Intel Northwood Pentium 4, 3.06GHz clock, Hyperthreading enabled (formerly Intel Katmai Pentium III, 450MHz clock)


3GB physical, 768MB swap (formerly 384MB physical, 4GB swap)


WD WD200BB 20GB IDE OS disk, swap
WD WD400BB 40GB IDE future OS disk, swap (not had a chance to switch over yet)
WD WD800BB 80GB IDE webroot
Seagate ST3500830A 500GB IDE BackupPC data directory
Seagate ST3500830A 500GB IDE currently hot standby for previous


450W RaidMax (formerly 135W unbranded)


2 X 80mm (case enter/exit), 3 X 40mm (drive coolers), 1 X ThermalTake Big Typhoon CPU cooler, DigitalDoc5 manager

Removable Media

3.5" floppy, 4X 3-disc optical changer, 52X/24X/52X CD-RW

Room Automation Ideas


The thought is that I have my fan (or multiple fans about the room) connected to a few relays, controlled by temperature sensors, such that an overall room temperature can be selected.


The thought here is similar to that of ventilation, such that my desk light is controlled by both time (or possibly computer activity) and local light level.


At its simplest, this would be a microphone near the door which would listen for knocking and, if no one was in the room, would ask (via Festival or other program) for a message to be left, either as audio recording or on the whiteboard. At the other end of the spectrum, all of that plus a webcam looking through the peephole to take a snapshot of inquirers, and possibly face recognition paired with an automatic door opener for hands-free passage.

Plant Waterer

I have a nice little plant sitting on top of my computers. It is a happy little plant, and it keeps my air clean. However, plants like water once in a while, and I would like to have a couple moisture sensors in the pot controlling an automatic pump, so all I have to do is refill a two-liter bottle of water every few weeks or so.

Remote Printing

The thought here is that, I have a laptop. However, sometimes I want to print something out during class, so I can have a hard copy of it by the time I get back to my room. I could use a flash drive and the labs...but what fun would that be? Instead, I have set up scripts that allow me to print a document to my HP LaserJet II printer by way of my server from my laptop and my laptop only. However, the printer mixes toner or cools the fuser or something that generates noise every five or ten minutes, and it draws a lot of power. Thus, I want to add a little bit into the script that will turn on the printer (again using relays and my Serial Wombat interface device), wait a bit, print, wait until the job is completed, and then turn the printer off again.

Voice Recognition/Voice Output

OK, come on. What computer person has not ever wanted a computer that they could talk to and be responded to in kind? Well, using Festival and Sphinx, or other text-to-speech and speech-to-text engines, I am going to try to get that to work. If successful, I would like to tie it in with some chatbot like A.L.I.C.E., and eventually command much of the above devices via voice, as well as get information and control software in kind:

Me: "Mariko, please turn on the fan in the window and turn off the desk lamp."

Mariko: "Will do, 'lego. Desk lamp off, window fan on."

Me: "Mariko, please play my 'Mood Music' playlist at 25% volume."

Mariko: "Aye. Playing track one, 'Hotel California', by The Eagles, at 25% volume."

Me: "Thank you. Mariko, what will the weather be tomorrow?"

Mariko: "You are welcome. According to the METAR forecast for KCMX for tomorrow, Sunday the 14th of September, 2008, it will be cooler than today, and cloudy with a 70% chance of showers in the afternoon. High around 15 Celsius. Winds will be 4 to 13 knots from the northwest in the morning swinging to the north and increasing to 8 to 15 knots in the afternoon."

Me: "Good night, Mariko."

Mariko: "Good night, 'lego."