Archive for August, 2006

On moving in with Susanne, I faced a minor problem. The purple cube that was holding my VIA Mini ITX PC blended in very well with what could be described as a bachelor’s apartment, but there was some resistance to its prominent placement in the new house. Given that I had burned all of my CDs to MP3 and decided that I quite liked never having to change the CD, this was a bit of a challenge. The computer obviously had to be located in close proximity with the stereo equipment, but blend in with it.

Serendipitously, at about the same time Susanne asked me if I could have a look at her CD player, as it was broken. I had a look at it, and confirmed that it was broken, and more importantly, it was beyond my abilities to repair & probably not worth paying someone competent to work on it.

At this point, I had the perfect case. Put the computer in the old CD player case, which by definition was suitable to put in the lounge. Now because I had only just moved in, I decided that I had better check whether it was ok if I trashed the CD player first, and got the green light!

First order was to pull everything out of the case & salvage anything which looked like it might be useful at a later point, leaving an empty shell.

As with my previous machine, I decided for simplicity and improved airflow, I would keep the back of the case open. Yes, this does mean that I need to be careful plugging & unplugging cables, as the motherboard is unprotected, but this happened infrequently enough that I decided that it would not be a problem. Yes it is ugly, but no it is not anywhere you look at with any frequency.

There is quite a lot of space in the case, but when I upgraded to a full size DVD burner, rather than the laptop size CD burner which was in there previously, things got a bit tight, and the layout needed to be adjusted.

The motherboard is mounted on standoffs, which unfortunately have to be different heights. When drilling these, do yourself a favour and use a slightly bigger drill than the screws need. That way you will have a little slack in case your marking was not 100% accurate.

The hard drive would not quite fit any other way so got mounted on its side at an angle. Not exactly asthetically pleasing, but it works. The hard drive is just screwed to the chassis using the normal mounting screws.

The only part which required special placement was the CD/DVD drive, which, as logic would dictate, was placed in front of the CD flap. As this was formerly a 5 CD cassette changer, there was a flap rather than a drawer to deal with. To allow me to open the CD flap to put a disk in, I needed to add a screw to the side to use as a handle. You also need to open the flap to reach the eject button for the CD. Not ideal, but it works.

So far so good. Now for the input device. If you are going to put a PC in your living room you need some flexibility with the input device. No matter how pretty or invisible the case, a great big beige keyboard attached by a cord is going to spoil the show. Wireless is the only way to go. The problem with this is almost every wireless keyboard about comes with a separate mouse. Perfect for getting lost. What I wanted was a keyboard with a trackpoint built in. Simple. Well, not so simple, but after much searching I found a no name keyboard fitting the bill. The only identifying marks are the model number – SK-7100. Best of all it was cheap. When the batteries get down, it is a bit erratic, but other than that it works very well. Ironically, the extra keys are not supported under windows, but are at least partially in Linux – in the Fedora keyboard setup, the model is listed.

It plugs into the standard mouse & keyboard plugs, and leads to a IR receiver with you put on top of your PC. Or pull it apart, shorten the cables, and glue inside the display of the case.

The CD case had a big ugly on/off switch which was not of the momentary type the motherboard wanted. That and the fact that while the button was at the front, the switch was at the back, made using the existing power button too difficult to be worth the effort. Instead I use two of the function buttons and with a little soldering and trace cutting, they now do the job. Unfortunately I can’t remember which is which most of the time, but if I am rebooting it, then something has gone wrong, so either one will work fine!

Externally, there is not a great deal indicating that the box is anything but an old CD player visible.

And when it is in place, it blends right in, just as required.

I set up the pause, play and fast forward buttons on the keyboard to work with the MP3 player (XMMS), so the majority of the time that is all that needs to be done. This is just as well, as the resolution on the TV is too blurry to be able to read any details, unless you know what the options are. It is easy enough to run a few apps to get things running again after a crash, but not good enough for much more. I go in using for maintenance, and when I need to use it.

I think it would be a good idea to set the thing up so that the play, pause & fast forward buttons on the face worked (though the serial port?), but I haven’t looked at this yet. Equally at this point you could use some unused functionality on one of the other remote controls with something like The other improvement would be for the mp3 player & VNC to start running as soon as it is booted. Then it could be playing again after a lockup with one button.

The only problem I have had is the stock fan started running very noisily, so I replaced it with one of the same size I bought from Radio Shack. This worked nice and quietly for several months, until it nice and quietly seized, resulting in a cooked CPU. The fan on the new motherboard is noisier than I would like, but I am loath to make any changes for fear of blowing the motherboard again – the machine stays on all of the time.

The specs of the box are:
Via M10000 Nehemiah
120 Gb HDD
Running Fedora Core.
NEC 16x Dual Layer DVD burner

In case you haven’t heard, I just got married. One thing that I have noticed is that the girls always want to know about the ring, and the guys are less interested. Well, call be a big girls blouse, but the engagement ring bit is interesting.
When it came to asking Susanne to marry me, I knew that just cruising down to the local chain jewellery store and pointing to something at about the right price just wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted something different.
The solution of course was to design my own. Now this is very cool. Rather than picking a very small yet curiously expensive bauble out of a display cabinet, a guy actually makes it just like you want. The only thing which would be cooler than this would be to make it yourself, but I figure that an engagement ring is not the best thing to learn lost wax casting on.
After rejecting multiple diamonds before selecting the right one, I gave Brian (the jeweler) a crummy sketch on a postit note which he then had to decipher. From that, he sent a mockup which was a photoshop of an existing ring and a photo of my stone. All very clever, and let you get a very good idea of what the ring would look like, along with a couple of variations to think about. Cleverly I deleted all trace of these files to avoid getting caught (it was a surprise remember), so I can’t show them to you now.
But I can show you the real thing.

Apparently the jeweler liked it so much that it is one of the ones which comes up when you enter his website. I have no idea if it will stay, but if you click the picture you might be able to see it (it is only on the front page sometimes)
Oh, the stone is a fancy vivid yellow diamond. The colour in the picture is pretty true to the colour in real life.
Cool huh?
Although the first sentence kindof gave the ending away, I proposed to Susanne while we were on a dive one night in Belize. Most importantly she said yes. And I didn’t lose the ring in the fumbling. And because I was underwater I didn’t have any lines to mess up. All of that was a relief.

If anyone wants me to design any jewellery for them, I will be happy to do it for a very modest fee (worth a crack).
We have designed our wedding rings to match. Not as spectacular, but I think pretty cool.

And thanks very much to Brian Knox, the man who made the ring happen.