Designing my lair

First draft

I'm planning an office/shed in the garden of our house, to provide an office for me and storage for the household. I've been mulling over the design for quite a while and now need to finalise it and get plans into council. Above is my first draft which has windows in the space between horizontal and the sloping roof, similar to this building. The finish would be similar too, with either these kinds of boards or possibly weatherboard.

Barker pod

Yesterday while flicking through architecture books at Kinokunya yesterday I discovered these Gilbert Barker Pod buildings. I quite like this look too, particularly the way the glass frontage is recessed back from into the building. Angled the right way, this could be a passive solar element.

So any ideas on this shed? Inspiration to share? I have a whole gallery of inspirations. The actual space looks like this photo and we're looking at dimensions of about six metres by four metres. I hope to have a wall down the middle to separate the "office" and "shed" parts of my lair.

Silence at last!

The new machine

Having shamelessly stolen Danny's excellent research I've finally finished building my new quiet server for MythTV, Squeezecenter and other serverly duties. It's brilliant!

The Antec Mini P180 case and Antec NeoHE power supply provide the core noise reduction. The case is solid and with an enormous, but slow, fan at the top of the case providing quiet cooling. The mounts for all the drives have little silicone grommets to cushion their vibrations. Seems to work very well with my four 7200 RPM SATA drives, which previously resonated inside the case and made a very loud, high-pitched hum that was audible from the lounge room.

I don't yet have the CPU heatsink, as my supplier sent the Xeon version instead of the 775 socket version. The supplied Intel fan is bloody quiet anyway, only moving at 800 RPM. I'm sending the heatsink back and will see if they'll give me a refund instead of a replacement.

The result is that unless you put your head almost inside the cupboard, you can't hear the computer. This contrasts rather well with the previous systems, which had quite the roar going on. Cooling is okay, though I'm gonna have to keep an eye on it. Running two burnP6 processes sees the temperature (presumably CPU, but lm-sensors labels it core 0 when another is CPU temp) shoot up to 61 °. Perhaps that big mama heatsink will help there, as it's not the ambient temperature in the case that's the problem. See the graphs.

In fact it's so quiet I'm tempted to move it into the lounge room so that we can use the MythTV software for playback, rather than the PS3 which has plenty of problems with file formats (though has spectacularly good picture quality). If I can convince the boss of the merits, I might buy one of the more-appropriate HTPC cases and move all this hardware into it. Then I'll build myself a nice quiet desktop. I'm sure she'll claim this was my cunning plan all along...

I'm very happy with this system. Total cost around $650. Thanks for letting me steal your research Danny!

Tories are kinda right on the NBN

There's a bit of a furore over the costings of the Notional Broadband Network, with the Conservatives claiming $150 a month or more. I thought I'd do someback-of-the-envelope calculations.


Number of Australian households: 8,321,000 (projected for 2009, series 1 which was lowest)

Number of households covered: 7,488,900 (90% coverage, assuming they all take it up)

Ten year government bond rate: 4.605% (though I'm not sure I understand the terms "Coupon" and "Yield" here so using the lowest number)

Cost of NBN: $43,000,000,000


So the interest on $43 billion is $1,980,150,000 per year. Divided by the number of households that's $264.41 per household per year, or $22.03 per month.

So without factoring in any payment of the principle, it looks a whole lot like the Telstra tax (line rental), which you must pay today to get xDSL-based broadband. Of course you'd need to pay back some of that money, or at least the half that isn't being stumped up by the government, at a commercial rate of return. But even doubling it to $44/month to give some payment of the principle and if you get a few services over it (phone, pay TV, broadband internet, smart electricity grid) that's still okay.

But part of this whole process is to preserve the competitive tension between the new NBN and existing ADSL1/2- and cable-based broadband services. Keeping the NBN honest, so to speak. So what happens if only half take it up? Well then we're looking at $38.25 a month per household, only paying off the interest.

Assuming more numeric minds than mine, who know the fudge factors for "commercial rate of return" and understand what bond rates are, it sounds like the Tory claim of $150/month upward would be at the wide end of the calculations (say your Internet provider was BigPond), but aren't out of this world.

The basic fact of the matter is that we shouldn't be expecting this thing to pay for itself directly. Roads don't, nor does any other infrastructure project. At best we should expect to pay the interest on the bonds, and make the project a gift to the people of Australia. The sooner the ALP has the honesty to say this (hell, did the Hoover Dam pay for itself?) the sooner they can shut down this attack on the project.

Here's my spreadsheet. Feel free to point out my mistakes.

Cops kill man in London

After Jean Charles de Menezes was murdered by London police in 2005, you'd think the press would be more skeptical when the Police make claims. But no, when Ian Tomlinson was assaulted and, ultimately, murdered by London Police last week, the press reported "police were bombarded with bricks, bottles and planks of wood" as they assisted him.

Ian Tomlinson after being attacked by police

The Guardian has video footage of the brutal Police assault that ultimately killed the man. He was walking away from the cops, back turned to them and with his hands in his pockets: not exactly threatening behaviour. A cop whacks him on the back of the legs with a truncheon, then pushed him to the ground where it appears he may have hit his head.

I've seen the brutality of these cops first hand, and seen the ridiculousness of their tactics. In my case they herded protestors into Oxford Circus and then held them there for hours without food, water or toilets. I fortunately was far enough back in the crowd to see what was happening and managed to stay out of the encirclement. I was threatened with arrest for taking photos of coppers who had removed their identification, and for asking for their numbers.

Pricks. Don't expect any justice for Ian Tomlinson, just like Jean Charles.

Notional Broadband Network smells of fail

So we've finally got the non-announcement of the winner of the National Broadband Network tender, and the winner is... everybody loses! Thanks for playing kids.

So instead of awarding the tender to the best bidder, or bidders, they've decided to go it alone and do it themselves. Because the last time we had a government telecommunications monopoly, that worked great. Low prices, great innovation. Why I even recall being told that that government monpopoly wouldn't investigate data faults until they reduced throughput to 300 bits per second. (Though that scenario is eerily close to the privatised government monopoly's treatment of faults that affect anyone except Telstra retail customers.)

You might expect the tenderers, who put enormous effort into scoping and costing their proposals, might be a little pissed off. Particularly given the government set them the pretty well unachievable target of 98% coverage, while they've set themselves the much more sensible 90%, meaning the NBN will cover the cities and large regional centres only.

Worse yet, the person in charge of the whole proposal is someone who has spent the last 1.5 years alienating the entire telecommunications industry. A man so unable to understand his portfolio that he can't even explain his plans to filter the Internet without constantly contradicting his own statements, and reacting to any criticism by claiming his critics are child pornographers. I would have a lot more faith in this project if they put someone competent in charge. Someone of the Lindsay Tanner calibre, rather than talentless backroom numbers hacks.

Next interesting part will be whether or not Conroy releases the expert panel's recommendations. I suppose that depends on whether or not it agrees with the decision he's had made for him.

I've got a very bad feeling about this whole project. Governments have a very bad record in building technical infrastructure, and of managing giant projects in general. Anyone who's been around telecoms in Australia from before the privatisation of Telstra will remember the ISDN fiasco.

Crotchety old buggers

Now I thought I'd become suitably curmudgeonly with age, what with still using a text-mode email client and grumbling about HTML posts. But it's always good to know there's someone better at something than you. Gives you something to strive for.

Enter Tom Ellard's Soggy The Sailor rant. I bow before the master.

The search for quiet

I've had some big hardware failures of late in my computer infrastructure. My previously rather good and quiet IBM Intellistation (dual Xeon) MythTV server's power supply died. The PSU, being IBM, is completely proprietary and so the machine is now essentially defunct. Real shame as it was a nice piece of kit.

I ended up buying a Dell Precision workstation as its replacement. This is another dual Xeon machine, but this one was rather noisy, with two big, loud fans drawing air over the CPUs. I tried replacing these fans (which required me to resolder the proprietary Dell connectors) with two 92mm Zalman fans and a potentiometer. Unfortunately these Zalman fans are absolute crap! The idea with this kind of mod is you can turn the fan speed down and get dramatically less noise while only slightly less airflow. These Zalman fans basically can't have their RPM reduced by anything significant, so they only run at full pelt, producing more noise than the fans they replaced!

Holly got the shits with this situation and authorised me to spend some bucks on the problem. Fortunately Danny had recently done all the research I needed and so I, somewhat cheekily, nabbed much the same setup as him. Only difference with my kit is a different, and cheaper, motherboard and a slower CPU. I also have the hard drives I need.

I'm still waiting on the power supply and passive heatsink, but as soon as they arrive we'll have silence again in the back half of our house. If this is successful, I'm tempted to build myself a similar box as my desktop.


Well it had to happen, I suppose. Julie was talking about using Twitter to find out the buzz around what your company is doing. And so I searched a little and intrigued me enough to sign up.

So you can now read my incoherent and depraved ramblings on Twitter. Yes I know, I'm a little slow, but it just seemed overhyped to me. We'll see how long I last.