Team-Fate: UC Davis Plug-in Hybrid Electric Research Group

My friend had suggested I should start posting a list of projects that I have done. Another friend also suggested that I should post all the cars I’ve owned, but that’s for another post.

I will try and do this in a sort of chronological fashion. Here’s the first, as far as I can remember: Team-Fate, and Trinity, a plug-in hybrid converted 2005 Chevy Equinox, done by the students at UC Davis.
Continue reading

Posted in Cars, Projects | 2 Comments

Billiards Photography

Photography is one of my hobbies, unfortunately I’m not very good at it yet. This was a photograph taken for my final project in SAS 40, a course on photography offered at UC Davis. Looking back at it, there’s a number of improvements that can be done with the setup of the picture. A bit of image editing was used to black out the background to bring focus to the foreground. I’m not 100% satisfied with the picture but it was put on display in the Alumni Center on campus, got me an A in the class, and was admired enough that it was later moved to Kemper Hall (electrical engineering building/engineering dean’s office) to be put on display for a few more weeks. All in all not too bad I guess.

Posted in Photography | 4 Comments

Fluorescent Lamp Starter – Diassembly

Curious what’s inside a fluroescent lamp starter?
The one in my arcade cabinet was burnt out, so after I replaced it I decided to take it apart.

What it looks like:

Bend the tabs outwards:


It is surprisingly simple; it appears to just be a incandescent light bulb wired in parallel with an inductor. Gives insight to why these starters seem to burn out often at the arcade, the continual starting of the fluorescent lamps on a daily basis burns the incandescent bulb out, which renders the circuit ineffective. Slightly unreliable, but I suppose cheapness prevailed over reliability in this case.

Posted in Electronics | Leave a comment

JPac, DIY MAME Cabinets, MAME Emulator — some tips

The cabinet is still not working quite right, but here’s a few bits of info I discovered to be helpful.

J-PAC: This board emulates a keyboard and oddly enough it has been having problems trying to emulate it on the PS/2 port, and the keyboard pass through doesn’t work. I haven’t contacted the guys at Ultimarc but I learned that it is MUCH better to use the USB option instead. Unfortunately this requires me to reinstall my OS as I had managed to somehow mess up that feature (usb keyboard), but I tested it on my personal desktop and it works fantastic. Plus this lets you plug your keyboard directly into the computer, which is REALLY needed during the debug phase.

Arcade Monitors: I set mine to low-res and put the computer to metal slug’s resolution of 320×240, or something close to that. It works until I enable soft15khz to force 15khz output, which changes the resolution, which doesn’t fit on the monitor. No tried solution yet but if you go to their website, you can learn how to write a simple text file to disable resolutions which don’t work on your arcade monitor.

Windows XP: I tried to hack mine down with nLite, bad plan. Just do the typical install with the windows CD. Although this means more RAM eaten, it ensures the least amount of problems. Plus RAM is cheap nowadays.

More later, as always.

Posted in Arcade Cabinet, Projects | Leave a comment

Toyota 15 amp taillight converter – auto circuit protect

This was a bit of useful information that was sort of difficult to find.

When I first bought the trailer it had a smashed up driver side light module. This module actually caused a horrible short in the trailer electric system which ended up in blowing the fuse for my rear brake lights. I’ve fixed this and the car has no problems anymore, but after fixing the trailer lighting system I noticed I only had one functional light, and it would only turn on when signaling or braking, the rest of the lights didn’t work. I chocked this up to still messed up electrics but ultimately it turned out that the taillight converter in my tow vehicle was shot.

This happens to be a very common thing for the later model Toyota and Lexus vehicles with the 4 pin tow package installed (tail, brake, signal lights only). The old “15 amp taillight converter” with “auto circuit protect” would often fail. I’m pretty sure I fried mine which was the cause of it’s death but apparently others with the similar tow vehicle have had theirs die under normal operation. I also question the auto-circuit protect feature because I managed to burn out the fuse for the brake lights… I wish I could find a module in a junkyard and cut it open to examine the contents to see if it’s somewhat serviceable.

What’s the solution? These taillight converters come in a black factory sealed box, so simply opening them up and fixing them is not an easy task. I have yet to call a Lexus dealer but last I heard they are not in production/sold out/whatever. I do believe they are in stock, just a newer version, but they are probably expensive. Someone was quoted $180 for the module and harness (they are one piece). So in my opinion, the best a person can do is purchase an aftermarket replacement; the ones on eBay come with the factory plugs which will fit into the harness. Assuming they have the circuit protection (which is a MUST in my opinion) this is what I will probably do until I can figure out how to repair the factory module (which I doubt will happen).

Posted in Cars, Electronics, Projects | 2 Comments

DIY: Low power, low cost, mini-home-server – Part 1

Right… someone made a comment on how my last post indicated the fall of a quality blog… Hard to believe since this blog really didn’t have many quality posts. So maybe I should write one. For a few years now, I’ve had my server sort of sitting in the corner of my living room, serving only as a test machine. The main reason why I don’t really run it 24/7 is that with dual xeons and it’s other various bits, it takes a significant amount of power, even just idling.

Recently I went to the local Office Max and saw the HP media server and it inspired me. If I could build a physically small, low-power consuming, and quiet server, I could potentially run it 24/7 with little impact to my wallet and my roommates (while I am fine with listening to the incessant whine of my server fans, my roommates are not). With the relatively recent release of the Intel Atom processor, I figured that I should be able to build a HP media server-esque server of my own. I have to admit using dual xeons on my last server was overkill since I never came close to exceeding the processing power available. I felt that the Intel Atom should be plenty enough for powering my mini-server.

With a little bit of research I came across this website, which got me started on my own project. This particular article gave me a good place to start: Build a Green $400 Windows Home Server. While it was a very good write up, it was done in April 2008. It really wasn’t long ago, but in the computing world, a year (or 4 quarters) have already passed and the technology used in that build was considered “old.” My friend had recently bought an ASUS Netbook which has an amazing battery life. It uses the Intel Atom processor (which I mentioned previously) and with a little more research, I learned that depending on the core, the thermal design power (TDP) of the processor was between 2-8W. Don’t know what this means? Well in terms of processors, the TDP rating is the maximum power it will draw. So if I used an Intel Atom with a TDP of 8W, at max load it will consume 8W.For reference, my old server uses prestonia core xeons @ 2.4ghz each, which each have a TDP of 65W. Obviously it isn’t always drawing the full 65W per processor, but the max power consumed by the Intel Atom is significantly less than what a single Xeon consumes at idle.
Like the home server hacks article, I chose to use the smallest form factor that was still cost-reasonable, and this ended up being the common Mini-ITX motherboard form factor, used in Shuttle PCs.
The home server hacks article actually uses a Shuttle PC case, but I’ve seen them in real life and I wanted something smaller. So I opted to save money and build my own case (not a good idea, actually. I have some idea of what I’m doing and I have still yet to build a case… if you’re not mechanically inclined then buy a case… if you’re mechanically inclined like me, buy a case anyways because it’s nice actually having all the components sit inside a case, rather than on your desk).
The article also recommends using the eco-western digital harddrive, which consumes a few less watts during idle and operation. I like Seagate hard drives and I’ve always had good luck with them, and a lot of friends who also run their own servers (which have much more traffic than mine) have had great success with Seagate hard drives as well. So… Seagate it was. But if you want an all out minimal-power-consuming server, look into Western Digital.
RAM is well… RAM, I don’t think there’s low power versions since they all pretty much run with the minimum amount of power to function. On top of that, RAM really doesn’t take up much power.

I think that’s all the bases covered right? I happened to have an extra DVD drive laying around, and a friend of mine gave me his copy of Windows Server 2003. Normally I would run a linux distribution (I currently do with my old server), but I felt like trying something new, and I wanted to run some windows-only server applications. This later proved to be challenging as there were a lot of hiccups in the configuration process of my server. The article I mentioned above uses Windows Home Server which has a USB install option which will save you money if you have to buy an additional CD/DVD drive. Various Linux-distros can be installed via USB as well… I won’t be covering any OS specifics so I’ll let you fend for yourselves on that one.

Here’s the parts list, as of April 2009. If you’re reading this and it’s not within 3 months of April 2009, prices have probably changed and parts may have been discontinued, although in your favor stuff probably became better/faster/cheaper.

  • Intel BOXD945GCLF2 Atom 330 Intel 945GC Mini ITX Motherboard/CPU Combo – Retail – $81.99 ($79.99 when I bought it, but I mean it’s just $2, you probably can find enough change under your couch or car’s ash tray to make up the difference) – As mentioned before, I wanted an Intel Atom processor, but unfortunately they don’t sell the processor alone, yet. The processor is rated at 1.6ghz, has hyperthreading, and has dual cores. At the time of purchase, the difference between the Atom 330 and the Atom 230 was a bit of speed, dual cores, and a few dollars. A few dollars wasn’t hard to dig up, so I went and bought the faster 330. You may feel that in this modern day of dual and quad core 2-3+GHz processors, that a 1.6GHz processor may not be enough… trust me, this isn’t a gaming computer, most applications you’ll be running on this server won’t take up that much processing power. if it does then you’re not much of a entry-level server operator/hobbyist and this article probably doesn’t serve much purpose to you. This motherboard also has integrated graphics (pretty weak but again, not a gaming comp) which saves a few dollars and a lot of space.
  • Kingston 2GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 667 (PC2 5300) Desktop Memory – Retail – $19.99 – The motherboard only has one slot for RAM and if there’s one thing servers can do (if you don’t restart them often) is consume quite a bit of RAM. Between memory leaks from various programs and the applications I run, 2GB seems to be plenty. 2GB happened to be the max size for the RAM used by this motherboard so that was an easy answer. It’s not crucial what brand you get, or speed for that matter (as long as the RAM rated clock speed is the same or faster than the motherboard, it will work. This may be useful if the “slower” RAM you’re looking for is more expensive than the more common, “faster” RAM). As always it’s important that you at least match the RAM type (SD, DDR, DDR2, RDRAM – though if you’re planning to run this, don’t… it’s absurdly expensive and I don’t even think it’s being produced anymore). I’m not sure if ECC (error correcting code) RAM is common anymore, but I feel it won’t be necessary either. In general servers run ECC RAM because although ECC ram may be slower, the error correcting bit really helps.
  • SeaSonic ECO 300 300W SFX12V (v.3.1) 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Power Supply – Retail – $46.99 – There are cheaper power supplies out there. I looked for one with S-ATX form factor (small but still within cost-reason) with the lowest amount of power. Also looked for the 80-PLUS certification which means that the PSU operates at least at 80% efficiency (which translates to less power wasted in the form of heat). Honestly it doesn’t matter much but, I felt like buying it at the time. If you bought a 200W PSU that wasn’t 80-PLUS certified it would work the same and you’d probably save a bit of money.
  • – $64.99 ($59.99 when I bought it on sale) – As mentioned above, I picked Seagate. I choose 500GB because I didn’t want to spend the extra money for more space, and 500GB will be plenty enough for what I want. Western Digital sells 1TB hard drives for under $100, so if you want space, that’s a possibility. You theoretically could save some power consumption buy getting a lower speed harddrive, but I didn’t care much. Going from two processors that had a TDP of 65W each to a processor that has a TDP of 8W was enough of a power savings for me.

Right, the total cost was:
Subtotal – $206.96
Tax – $15.00 (I live in California, so tax applies to me, if you’re not in CA then that’s even more money saved)
UPS Ground – $11.88
Order Total – $233.84

A home server for about $240? Not too bad. Well it doesn’t include the cost of the case but that isn’t much more expensive. My friend keeps telling me to zip tie all the components to a milk crate. I’m not sure where you can purchase those, or legally obtain one for free, but if you happen to have something like it laying around your house, that’s a free computer case. Alternatively you could just re-purpose the cardboard box the motherboard came in. I’ll leave that one for you to decide. In the end it should be under $300 which is right around the cost of the netbook my friend purchased. Goes to show how much companies can get a discount from OEM manufacturers by buying in massive bulk.

Some pictures and more details to come in part 2, when I write it… eventually.

Posted in Projects, Webserver | 5 Comments

Mini^3 Amp – Finished

Fun project, only took a few hours.

Some notes to myself: On circuit elements with polarity, if not marked, the longest lead is the positive lead. I couldn’t remember this for the life of me and somehow this info is hard to find online.


Works pretty well:

Posted in Electronics, Projects | Leave a comment