from the desk of Colin Nicholls

Category: Computers

Switching switches

It isn’t truly yours until you have taken it apart and put it back together again. This could be one of Dad’s Laws I think.

I own two of these keyboards, which I ordered with different switches (blues and reds) to see which I prefered. I did not expect to prefer the Cherry MX Blues so much more than the Reds…. So here I am, changing out the Cherry MX Reds for Blues:

Two by two, switch to Blue

The God Program

Some of you may have heard me mention the program “EarthViewer 3D”. It’s by a company called Keyhole and the free version runs on PC’s that have an NVidia video graphics card.

Anyway, my main computer (Pollux) does indeed have an NVidia graphic card, so some time ago I followed the links and downloaded the 30-day trial. It’s an awesome program, if you have generous gobs of CPU processing power, and NVidia graphic card, and broadband access to the Internet.

Here’s what it does: You fire it up, and you get a window showing a small representation of the globe of the Earth floating in space. Around the sides of the screen you have controls for changing your viewpoint, but you can basically grab your mouse and start viewing the earth. Depress the left mouse button and push to the left: the globe spins to the left. Push to the right: globe spins right. Down, up, the globe rolls under your touch.

Hold the right mouse button down and push up: the globe rushes closer, closer, closer….. closer! You’re floating over a section of the globe. You can get as close as you like – the program downloads image data over the web, and if a detailed resolution image is available, it is served up to you and displayed on the screen. These are satelite images, and in some cases you can zoom in to images resolving objects 2 inches long.

You can overlay country borders; turn on “terrain mapping” so that the satelite pictures are rendered on to a 3-D grid using geographical height-above-sea-level data; you can even enable an overlay to show major roads.

A couple of things prevent this from being a true God Program: The satelite images vary in how up-to-date they are (our housing development in Las Vegas is still shown as un-built, for example); and detailed resolution images are only available for most cities in the USA, plus selected international areas (central London, Paris, etc).

Even without real-time viewing and global coverage, it’s impressive what you can do. You can enter an address and if the program recognizes it, it’ll take you hurtling over the globe and zooming in on the exact building. I remember zooming into downtown Seattle and identifying the Paramount Theater where we were going to see YES in July.

Eventually the 30-day trial expired and I decided not to renew.

Which brings me to the point of this: Seeing as Lisa and I were about to take a road trip to Phoenix tomorrow, through unfamiliar territory, I decided to re-install Earthviewer and see if it worked. It did – but required me to register, $49 for an annual subscription. So I said “what the heck” and did so.

I used EarthViewer to do a virtual aerial fly-over of the route from Las Vegas to Phoenix. I could see the terrain and cross-reference to the map and get a feel for the up-and-down and windiness of the roads we intended to drive on.

It’s a very useful tool. Now I’m a little less nervous about the drive.

Oh, and at 11:00 this morning we had a meeting with our Business Unit Leader and the Associate Developer, who informed us that both Lisa and myself would no longer have a job with Acme as of January 17.

DawnTreader gets a sidegrade

We’ve had Stan’s computer with us for the last week. Actually, it’s Dawntreader, one of Lisa’s old work computers. Dawntreader had this habit of playing “Fur Elise”. No – it’s not a virus. It’s a built-in tune that the motherboard plays as a warning when it detects that the processor is overheating, or a rail voltage is fluctuating, or something. (If you do a Google search on “Fur Elise”, it is interesting that a reference to a “Damage Free Intelligence” PC motherboard feature is one of the links on the first page of results.)

This tune was driving Stan and Jeanne wild with its incessant noodling. For a while we suspected a voltage problem, because whenever we took the PC back to our house and cleaned it out and kept it running for a while, we never heard the music. Finally last week we took it back again and checked it out, and this time we heard the music more than 50% of the time.

We had a choice – we could try replacing the power supply, which after all was quite old, or we could try replacing the processor. More research revealed that the processor chip currently installed in Dawntreader, an AMD K6/233 in fact, comes up often in online reports from people complaining of PC overheating problems. So we decided on option 2 – we’d replace the chip with an alternative, assuming we could still find someone who sold Socket-7 processors.

The rather ancient Pentum MMX 233MHz seemed like a good candidate, as it runs at a lower core voltage than the AMD, which can’t hurt. Compuvest.com would actually sell us one online, and so we bought one from them earlier this week. Which brings us up-to-date with today, which is when the UPS man dropped off a small brown box containing the processor and associated fan unit.

So, this afternoon after work, I took the page of motherboard jumper settings that Lisa had prepared, and opened up Dawntreader on the kitchen table. I had to remove the RAM to get at the existing processor fan clasp, and when the fan popped off I could see where all the themal paste between the process and the heatsink had all oozed out. Bleh. Clearly less than optimum cooling was going on here.

I lifted the socket lever and the AMD chip slipped out easily (zero-insertion-force sockets are great), put the new Pentium chip in, and unpacked the new fan unit. Then things got stupid. After smearing some fresh themal paste  on the top of the processor, and lowering the fan unit into place, I found that the clip that was supposed to apply pressure to hold the heatsink firmly in contact with the processor was applying it off center so that the heatsink would pop up at a slight angle, contacting the processor on one edge only. Not good! Reversing the clamp seemed to work, but put the clasp in rather close proximity to the RAM slots. Luckily the RAM chips slid into place with only slight gap between them and the clasp, and the heatsink seemed securely attached to the processor.

The jumper setting changes must have been correct, because Dawntreader booted up without problems, and we haven’t heard “Fur Elise” once since then.

We’ll drop Dawntreader back to Stan on our way to the Rush concert tomorrow.

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