The Carpet Gremlins

I subscribe to two weird magazines. One is Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The second one, as I learned right now is defunct. So I subscribe to one weird mag.

In any case, the magazine was called “Listener”. It was a renegade audiophile magazine. This magazine was against Home Theater and solid state electronics in general. They concentrated on vacuum tube (valve if you are British or thermionic if you are really old) technology and analogue sound in general.

You see, there is this group of people who believe that analogue technology is far superior to digital in sound reproduction. They say that solid state devices will never replace the vacuum tube and CDs will never replace LPs. Those who do use CDs prefer to use tube amplifiers.

It may surprise you to know that there are literally hundreds of companies that manufacture only turntables. There is a bunch of Russian and Chinese companies that still manufacture and sell vacuum tubes, Sovtek being the most famous. Lots and lots of companies are making vacuum tube amps. And I am not just talking about DJ equipment and guitar amps. No, they are making honest to god consumer stuff. Somebody even made a motherboard with vacuum tube based sound card or something.

Of course vacuum tube stuff is expensive. There are systems that cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are cheaper ones, going for just mere thousands. And then, on eBay, you can purchase old cheap equipment for hundreds.

But some audiophiles don’t stop at that. No, no, no. Once they get going there is no stopping them. They purchase vibration free platforms not just for turntables, but for ALL of their equipment. They say that vibration muddies up the sound. They buy cables made of exotic materials. They buy special power supplies that “scrub” the electricity. See a hilarious cartoon about this here. Oh, but some even run their equipment entirely from batteries.

There is no stopping this maddnes. Check this out:

This made me laugh hard.

Watch Out, Radioactive Man!

Ok, since we are on the subject of things that fascinate me. How about radium glass?

When I was little, I’ve read in some book about special red glass from which the red star on top of Kremlin was made of. It turns out that a little bit of radium must be added to the glass mix in order to get a deep red color.

From here:
When seen from below, from the ground, the stars do not seem particularly large, yet the points of each one are 3 to 3.75 meters apart. The lighting inside the stars is controlled from a room in the Troitskaya Tower. The framework of the stars is made of stainless steel and they are faced in special three-layer glass which is ruby-red on the outside and milk-white on the inside. Each star is lit by a 3,700 to 5,000 watt bulb and, to protect the bulbs from overhearing, cooled air is forced into the stars through hollow rods 24 hours a day. The stars are so designed that they can revolve smoothly in the wind.

Oooh, oooh, look at this picture of the star being installed. Man….

Anyways, back to my rant.

Turns out that besides being popular as an ingredient in all sort of “medicinal” remedies, from enemas to pills, radium was used in many sorts of glassware. The color of radium impregnated glass has a very distinctive look. These days such items are called “Depression Glass” because it was very popular during the Great Depression or “Radium Glass”. A very distinctive feature of such glass is that it glows when exposed to uv light (aka black light).

Here is what green radium glass looks like with and without uv light.

Freaky, huh?
My cigar ashtray is made out of the same greenish glass.

There is also “Carnival Glass” that was popular in the 1920s. It is sometimes made of radium glass, but with a glaze made of iridium and other unobtaniums.

There is not too much radioactivity in this glass, so it’s pretty much considered safe. I would not reccomend eating off it, but for collecting it’s ok. There are tons and tons of this stuff on eBay.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I want to add a radium/phosphorus paint to the hour and second arms and numbers on my watch. The modern “glow in the dark” paints suck.

WML: Dude, I Am Getting a Dell

Guess what? This post is going to be about microcomputers. PCs.

I never owned a computer in the Soviet times. Not even a programmable calculator. I did have access to some old Wang clones called Iskra (Spark) in an after school program, played with a programmable calculator of a neighbour, played games on a frien’d PC, played games at my father’s friend’ work computer ( also PC), paid to play games on Sinclare computers that some enterprising people set up as a pay-per-play arcade, etc. Oh, I still remember the horror in the eyes of my teacher when I found a set of programs that calculated the level of contamination from a nuclear blast given the input of wind speed, bomb yeild and some other variables. Those Iskras were donated from the Red Navy.

In the US, my father purchased a 386 for a humongous sum of $1300. It was put together in some computer shop on avenue U. That was in 1993 or 1992, I think. Since then, I’ve been upgrading my computer on the average once every three years. I think In all, I went through 3 cases, 6 motherboards and 2 monitors (not counting my wife’s computer). I never owned a brand name computer. After the second computer I’ve learned that I could be putting together myself.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, putting together my own stuff. What could be simpler? Pop in a motherboard, a videocard, a modem, some ram, some hard drives — and you’ve got a box!

I’ve become thoroughly familiar with what cuts from a ragged computer case feel like. I’ve learned how hard it is to be without the Internet when your computer is in pieces on the ground (and a driver needed to make the new hardware run is on the Internet, of course). There are very few types of flashable hardware that I did not have to flash. I accumilated a huge collection of computer screws, cables, cards and thermal processor grease.

The questions that went through my mind were:
Why are jumpers so tiny? (these days they have jumpers with little tails that can be taken out with just fingers)

Why ide cables are so hard to deal with? (there are rounded cables available now)

Why it’s so hard to find 0th pin on the hard drive connector? (newer ide cables come with a little peg that doesn’t allow it to be put in the wrong way)

Which idiot came up with PS2 plugs? (one word – USB , well, ok, three words).

And most importantly: WHY ALMOST NO PIECE OF HARDWARE, PORT OR CABLE COME WITH A LABEL THAT WOULD CARRY MANUFACTURER’S NAME AND A MODEL NUMBER????????????????????

This is all slowly changing, of course, but the much bigger problem of minor factory defects and incompatibilities between chipsets still plague individually bought components.

My last self-put together box – a dual processor PIII 1000 sucks ass. I could not get a single AGP video card to work with it. An IDE raid controller that worked ok on my previous motherboard wold cause all OS to crash. And finally, two little pegs that held the cooler on the processor broke, and I can’t keep PIIIs from overheating.

I’d like to say, that after I’ve removed the raid card and put in a PCI video card, the system ran extremely steady for a year. Now it’s time to think about the future of my computers.

So my resolution is this:

1) Throw out the crappy dual processor motherboard and the crappy coolers. Buy a nice cheap and super steady single processor PIII motherboard + a stock Intel coolers and turn that computer into a file server. Four 120 Gig 5400 RPM drives (I don’t need the speed, and those drives run much cooler) should do the trick. The case of that computer is very nice and cool looking (it’s a square. It looks like this:

Maybe I’ll even make the drives removable, but so far all removable racks that I’ve tried sucked ass.

2) Buy a nice Dell workstation. That will be used for image manipulation and coding.

3) Buy a big ass LCD monitor (or maybe one of those Sony 27″ CRT monitors) for use with the workstation.

4) Buy a tablet pc for myself and a laptop for my wife.

5) Donate or sell on eBay all the crappy hardware still sitting in my drawers.

I think all the money I saved this year on rent should easily buy me this hardware.

Speakeasy, I love Eu!

Speakeasy service is rockin’!

When the TT was closed, they asked for feedback. More than that, they’ve replied to it!
I’ve got my money back for the eBay modem and an apology.

Wooo hooo!

So the moral of the story is – use Speakeasy DSL!.

Now I can go back to writing something more interesting.

This EU would like to take a TT and DSLAM somebody

My trials and tribulations with Speakeasy DSL reminded my of an old phone prank which goes like this:

Part 1.

Prankster#1: Hi, I am a phone technician, Do you have a minute to help me test your phone line?
Victim: Ok
Prankster#1: Fold your phone cord in half. Can you hear me?
Victim: Yes
Prankster#1: Fold it in half again. Can you hear me?
Victim: Yes
Prankster#1: Fold it in half again.
[long pause]
Victim: What do I do with this now?
Prankster#1: Stick it up your ass. [hangs up laughing]

Part 2.

Prankster#2: Hi, I am investigating some complaints about phone pranks. Did somebody call you recently?
Victim : Yeah, yeah. Somebody called me pretending to be a phone technician.
Prankster#2: And what did they tell you?
Victim : They told me to stick phone cord up my ass!
Prankster#1: Well, now you can take it out!

So, back to my DSL trouble. I got on the phone with a very cheerful technician who asked me to turn the DSL modem on, tested something, then asked me to turn it off and again tested something. After a few rounds of this she told me that my modem is finally busted after 3 years of service.

She said that I have 3 options: to have a Covad tech install one for me ($$$), purchase a new one from Speakeasy ($$) or get one on eBay ($).

I won a bid for a modem on eBay (which set me back ~40) and proceeded to take apart my own modem (to see if there is an apparent short from dirt backup). Turned out that inside it was wrapped in some sort of metallic wrapper (I guess for shielding). The circuit board said that it was made in Mexico. Interestingly it said “made” and not “hecho”. I wonder why.

In any case, next day I tried to connect with my supposedly busted DSL modem, and surprise-surprise: it worked. I went straight to Speakeasy support center web page and it said “Waiting on covad to replace the DSLAM card. It was not responding to testing requests. I will update this in the morning” – exactly the opposite of what the cheerful tech told me.

Well, I guess Covad’s “DSLAM” – “Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer” was causing the outage.

I Speakeasy support again and told them that I’ve already purchased a new modem. I’ve been told to sell it back on eBay.

While going through this shit I learned a few interesting acronyms:

EU – End User (that’s me) and not European Union. I guess it’s pronounced “E-uuu”.
BERT – Bit Error Rate Test, and not the evil muppet of the same name
TT – Trouble Ticket , and not the TT (Tokarev Tula) handgun
CPE – Customer Premise Equipment (a fancy name for a DSL modem), and not Continuing Professional Education

Now I have a fun task of grading my tech support experience. Hmm, I think I’ll send them a link to this post. Ha.

Oh, by the way. Speakeasy still rocks. I do like their service. I think it’s the Covad people who are at fault here. If you want to get DSL, get Speakeasy.

Are You Proud of Your Workplace?

I like decorated workplaces. And I don’t mean a cube with a swimsuit calendar and “motivational” posters from http://www.motivational-posters-animal-posters-sunset-beach-photos.com/ (that’s a real address too). I don’t like Despair, Inc Demotivators TM, although I wish I came up with that idea myself. It’s a big business, as illustrated by this spooky picture of their warehouse:

What I do like, is when an office has some artifact or artifacts that everybody is extremely proud of. For instance in Boston office of defunct company iXL they had an Aibo dog (the expensive first version), which they’ve got for creating http://www.aibo.com. I worked in New York office of iXl.

A company that I worship, iDEO, has an office which has the ultimate office decoration. Some engineers went to the airplane scrap yard and brought back a huge WWII bomber wing, which they polished and hung above a meeting room.

Art. Lebedev Studio, a company, which I think will become Russia’s iDEO, and which I also worship, has the coolest collection of old technology

Fog Creek Software (yeah, I worship a lot of companies) strives to provide the best working enviroment possible. From their website: ” … That means the nicest work environment we can get. For now, that means an historic brownstone in an exciting Manhattan neighborhood full of caf├ęs, bookstores, ethnic restaurants, movie theatres, and a rather disproportionate number of Persian rug shops. We have a real garden out back, a full kitchen, a pinball machine, and natural light… ” And that is even more amazing than an airplane wing.

Me? Well, I have a small collection of old vacuum tubes (or valves as Brits call them) in my cube. But I think a nice jet fighter’s helmet and a nice jet instrument panel from eBay’s fine selection would be much cooler.

Ok, I am off to install a 120 gig drive (a bargain at $130) in my Tivo. Wish me luck.

Backwash

This morning I remembered a funny idiom that an Australian friend taught me – “backwash”. It the remainder of a soft drink left in a bottle or a can, presumably mixed with original drinker’s saliva. Used in a sentence: “I don’t want the rest of your soda, that’s just backwash.” There is no idiom like that in Russian, probably because sodas were not commonly sold in cans or individual sized bottles in USSR.

So, I decided to take a look on the web and see if that was a strictly Australian expression or not. What I found instead was “Backwash Magazine“. And there I found a link to a very cool book – “Found on Ebay“. Schweet.

I always wondered if Ebay preserves all the logs for their auctions. I wish they gave them all to Google – it would be a catalogue for everything. From a shuttle to raccoon penis bones.

By the way, I’ve read somewhere that Ebay used to be an abbreviation for “Echo Bay” (now it’s explained as “Electronic Bay”).