For God’s Sake Slow Down!

Related to yesterday’s driving-related post, here’s another. I’ve discovered the best way to get people to slow down on motorways and it involves the combination of two things I saw on the M1 the other day.

We were driving along and the overhead gantry signs started flashing “40”. Obviously everyone just ignored that and continued down the M1 at 70mph+. Business as usual then.

A few miles later though (once the signs had stopped flashing), I noticed an advertising hoarding in a farmer’s field advertising some church-related thing. Unfortunately I only managed to read the headline before attention was needed elsewhere.

It did give me an idea though: how about combining the bible message with the modern motorway technology? Imagine coming round a bend and being faced with a flashing sign which simply read:

Prepare to Meet Your God

I’m sure that would slow down a lot of people if they thought death was imminent.

Road Markings

If you do any distance driving up and down the country’s motorways, then you’ll know about the “keep apart two chevrons” markings that are being painted on the roads these days.

M1 Chevrons

(Picture taken from the City Transport web site)

When driving along, these look reasonably small and square, but it’s actually an optical illusion. We stopped alongside some of these markings on the A34 northbound last week. What you don’t appreciate at 70mph is the fact that they’re actually over 7ft long and very much longer than they are wide.

Have a look next time you’re driving over them – they certainly don’t look that big.

E-mail Fix and Disk of Doom

We returned home on Saturday having spent a nice long week away in the North East with parents – hence no blogging. Unfortunately, I’ve been without e-mail since Tuesday because something had broken with my PC at home (which manages my e-mail and runs 24×7). That meant I’ve been without my e-mail fix for about 5 days now. 🙁

I first noticed something was wrong when I couldn’t connect with my usual webmail access. My mini-ITX PC fetches my mail and stores it locally, which I can then access from wherever I am in the world via a web interface. Something broke with this and I couldn’t work out what it was without physically accessing the machine: I couldn’t get any sort of remote access and being the security-conscious type that I am, there’s no “back-doors” to the system.

Unfortunately, on returning home I find that the PSU for the USB external drive on my mini-ITX PC has given up the ghost. It’s a laptop-style brick power supply, which is now failing to give any output. That meant the machine wouldn’t boot at all. I tried taking the disk from the external enclosure and installing directly into my mini-PC, but that had its own problems.

Normally the system boots off a CompactFlash card, which then passes control to the USB storage device. Now the USB storage device was missing, but the bootstrap on the CompactFlash card didn’t have the necessary modules to boot from an internal drive. The disk itself had an old, old version of the bootstrap code, which meant I could boot the system (of sorts), but it meant I couldn’t access anything USB or network. So that was a catch-22 situation. The only system I could successfully boot was running a kernel for which I had no modules available.

I’ve finally now fixed things by creating a new bit of bootstrap code and booting from the hard disk using all-sorts of mkinitrd hackery. At least the system is now up and running, if not necessarily exactly how I wanted it.

Life for sale

You get some strange stories in the news. This one on the BBC site took my eye the other day: New challenge for life sale man.

Dido sang about having her Life for Rent: this bloke went and put his life for sale. Apparently he tried to eBay his whole life, but didn’t attract sufficient serious interest:

… The 44-year-old, who left Darlington for Australia six years ago, decided to sell everything, including his house, job and friends when his wife left him.

No sufficient bids materialised and he has returned …

Why is he surprised he didn’t get any serious bids? Even his wife: the one person on the planet who has some legally-binding reason to be with him, didn’t want to hang around any longer. Surely that can’t be a good omen for any potential investors?

So your life is crap and you up sticks and leave for foreign lands. Fair enough. Some men buy a motorbike or a small sports car when they suddenly become single again. Some, like our Mr Usher, decide to move to a distant place. It’s an acceptable thing to do.

But he’s now back, fulfilling a “lifelong ambition”. And thus we reach what may hint towards a deep-rooted problem. Bearing in mind this bloke could move anywhere and dip his toe into some of the most heavenly waters on the planet, swim with dolphins, or serenely swallow-dive off some of the world’s most beautiful natural cliffs into tranquil ponds miles away from civilisation. What does he come back to the North East for?

… he has returned to carry out one of his ambitions, diving from the top board of a swimming pool in Darlington.

Reading the story a bit closer, we find that Darlington wasn’t even his first choice:

On his return to Darlington he said: “I wanted to dive off the top board at Bishop Auckland swimming baths but they don’t have boards anymore so I went to the Dolphin centre in Darlington.

So what next for our intrepid explorer? Going out in the rain without an umbrella in South Shields? Could it be driving down the A19 at 75mph? Perhaps eating a piece of brie a day past its use-by-date? There’s three for starters matey.

Ranulph Fiennes must be wetting himself.

Pico PSU

As part of my ongoing Mini-ITX hobby project, I decided that it needs to be quieter because it lives in Lucy’s bedroom and is powered-on 24×7. With today’s energy prices, I also wanted to make sure it was as low-power as possible.

The existing PSU was the one supplied with the case: an already low-power (110W) job with a single quiet fan. The motherboard itself is a fanless-design Epia SP from VIA. There were also two small (40mm) fans in the case to keep some airflow moving because of the standard-size DVD writer and a belt ‘n braces 80mm fan to keep things nice and cool elsewhere. The fans were software controlled based on CPU temperature, but they still ran about 20% of the time keeping things cool.

I decided to have a re-think and get rid of the DVD writer – I can always create the ISO images on the Linux machine and then transfer them to my main PC for writing at a later date. That’s a huge power drain gone (upto 31.5W peak). Taking the fans out dropped power consumption by another 2W.

I also decided to ditch the original power supply and bought a picoPSU. This is a nifty little device which is tiny and plugs directly into the motherboard ATX header. As you can see from the picture below, there’s very little to it and crucially, no fans in sight. The main thing to note is that it’s tiny. Two 50p pieces would easily cover it. The whole unit is powered by a “brick” which is a bit like a laptop power adaptor: again a fanless component.


It arrived the other day and later that night I took the system apart and after some fiddling, installed it into the case. The DVD writer was removed, along with the power supply, the three redundant fans. Even for such a small case, there was a lot of room. The other surprising this was that I found the whole PC was so much lighter than I had been expecting.

Anyway: time for the big test. I plugged everything in (minus a monitor: it never uses one anyway), pressed the power switch and some lights came on, but nothing seemed to happen. Bugger: I must have got a faulty one. And then the system beeped it’s usual happy POST complete beep. Eh?

Ah yes: I’m so used to building regular PCs I was used to various fans spinning up and hard drives whirring into action. The whole mini PC boots Linux off a 256MB compact flash card, with main storage on an external USB hard drive. So with a fanless motherboard, fanless PSU, and no hard drive, the thing is totally silent. It’s a little unnerving at first to build a PC which is completely silent, but I was suddenly very happy with how quiet things were.

It’s been running continuously for over 2 days now and the internal CPU temperature is quite happy hovering around the 52C mark – up slightly from 43C previously. That might sound high, but it’s well within the standard operating temperature guidelines. Overall, power consumption dropped from 32W to 21W. In real money, that equates to a saving of about a tenner a year in electricity.

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