Archive for the 'engineering' Category

D-Link Routers have Admin Backdoor

Reading this short article, over your D-Link router, you might think that you’re in serious trouble.  But you’re not.  All routers (or virtually all) are shipped with external admin access disabled.  This means you can’t reach the admin config screen from the outside.  This is a good thing.  This means that the standard home user, using an affected router, isn’t affected by this exploit at all (unless they’ve got their wireless wide open or something).

Also note that the affected routers are quite old, and you’d have a hard time finding one in use today.

Hawk’s Shirt of the Day 2013-09-24

Engineering: it's like math but louder

Engineering: it’s like math but louder

I got this from Thinkgeek because I think it’s really funny.  If it’s still available, it’d be here:

Battery Backup

I’m using a TrippLite SmartPro NET 2200 connected to four large deep-cycle external 12V batteries wired up to be one big 24V battery:


There are two batteries in one shelving unit, and two in the other. Each 12V pair is wired in series to be 24V (because the TrippLite 2200 is a 24V system), and then both of those pairs are wired parellel to be one double-gigantic 24V battery. I drilled half-inch holes in the plastic side of the UPS unit (UPS = Uninterruptable Power Supply) and fed the cables to the internal connectors.

Obviously, the original batteries are not in there. I haven’t used the originals since they stopped taking a charge way back in… many years ago. This TrippLite UPS unit was designed to power a heavy load for a short time. But I’m using it to power a light load for a long time. I haven’t tested to see how long it will run my workstation, but I’m guessing many, many hours. Possibly days.

When I save up the money to replace the batteries, I’ll run a load test and time it to see how long it’ll go.

How to turn your mill into a miter saw

This is how to turn your $3,000 milling machine into a $50 miter saw:

It screamed like a banshee, but it did the job; made a nice perfectly straight cut.

Fukushima’s toxic legacy: Ignorance and fear

A very well-written article by Lewis Page:

Fukushima’s toxic legacy: Ignorance and fear
Hysteria rages unchecked as minor incident winds down

Little flying machines

I think this stuff is cool:

Why computers will never become intelligent and take over the world

I can watch a sci-fi movie like Terminator where Skynet becomes “self-aware” and intelligent and then proceeds to attempt to destroy all humanity. I can watch it and enjoy the movie because I can enter their “universe”, just as I can enter the Batman “universe” where explosive grappling hooks can fly across a distance, embed themselves into a concrete wall, support 200+ lbs (riiiight). I can dive into the universe and have fun.

But a computer system, no matter how advanced, will never become intelligent. Two basic reasons for this:

1) humans work with concepts, machines work with zeros and ones (only).

2) humans think in gradients, computers “think” in absolutes: true/false, on/off, yes/no, one/zero.

With a computer, you have a finite storage capacity. It can only hold so much data, and no more. Additionally, that storage capacity is decided upon by the designers. With a human, there are no known limits.

With a computer, their basic datum is one of two things: on/off, true/false, yes/no, one/zero. There is no gradient between the two data. With humans, there is (almost) nothing but gradients. How full is the glass? Is it absolutely full? Exactly 90% full? There are gradients and everything is relative. Not so with a computer.

Additionally, a computer cannot be programmed to “care”. Why does Skynet attack? Why not just continue running things as it was programmed to do? Because the writer (a human) decided that it should (to have a story). But Skynet, even if intelligent, wouldn’t care one way or the other. Human’s want to survive, they have a built-in urge to survive and continue. Computers don’t have this “want” or “urge”; they just don’t care and cannot be made to care.

So rest easy, computers will never take over the world.

PHP 5 test

I took a PHP 5 test recently. I was actually looking forward to it. I had forgotten what it was like to take a test (it’s been a long time).

The first question went something like this:

$a = 1;
echo (++$a * $a++) + $a;

What is the output?

I thought, “This is CAKE!” I got it wrong. That set the theme for the whole test. Throughout the entire test, I was trying to do bit-shifting, modulus, and other math equations in my head. I got ’em all wrong. I did not get all the questions on the test wrong, just the ones about stuff I don’t use and the ones requiring me to do math in my head. I was never all that great at math, but I understand formulas pretty well. As it turns out, it was a suppressive test. Let me explain…

If I were to go through the documentation for PHP, pick out the most obsecure and difficult items, and then build questions and queries around these, requiring the person to do math in their head, then I would have a suppressive test. Does it test if the person can use PHP to do something useful?

To be fair, not all questions were like this. In fact, I got a simple one wrong. It was the one about the function which converted an array to a string with a string seperator between each element. I chose explode() instead of implode(). I totally got it wrong and realized my mistake after I had hit the submit button. I made this mistake because I was so upset about failing most of the test.

After this test, I began to doubt my own abilities with PHP. I thought to myself, “Well, maybe I don’t really know PHP…” Then I took a look at my products. A “product” is that thing which you were trying to create (or a service), which is complete, and is valuable (can be exchanged for something).

I get products almost every day with PHP. I built a full singles website in L.A.M.P. (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP). It works, I just haven’t done anything with it. I wrote it all from scratch. I wrote a mailing list manager in PHP from scratch for work and they love it so much they wrote me a commendation. I wrote a database interface for a specific application in PHP and it works wonderfully. In fact, I can think of about 6 I’ve written, from scratch, in PHP, and they all work. I wrote an online focus-group system composed of about 38 scripts, MySQL on the backend, and about 17,000 lines of code, and it all works. I wrote it all from scratch over many years. I have created web-based systems in L.A.M.P. (from scratch) which I can’t talk about, but which are products. They work, are complete, and are valuable. So I can get products with PHP.

I’m getting so good these days that I can write something, a function, for example, from top to bottom, including an SQL query, make it return the data properly, and it works the first time.

After thinking about my products with PHP, I realized it was a suppressive test. The average for this test is 50%. I got 33%. Some of the ones I got wrong, I should have gotten right. I was upset that I was getting so many of them wrong, and I was on a timer. Being under the gun on a time schedule is always annoying. It’s like playing chess with a time limit; my mind is on the clock, not the game. As it turns out, I should not have been concerned with the time as I had plenty of it.

Much of the test was about bit-shifting. I don’t use bit-shifting except in the config file. I don’t use it in every-day programming. It would have been better to focus on aspects of PHP which were in every-day use. Some of the test was about modulus. I don’t know how to do modulus in my head. Here’s how I use modulus in every-day programming:

$alternating = ( 0 == $count++ % 2 ) ? 'alt_1' : 'alt_0';

… which alternates the background colors of rows so that they are easier to differentiate. Here’s another example:

if( 0 == $row % 10 ) echo $table_header;

If you do a database query and get 10,000 rows of results, then throw them all into a table, you’re going to have a very long webpage. If a person is scrolling down this mile-long list of results and stops on a certain row and says, “Wait a sec here… which column is this?” Now they’re going to have to scroll all the way back up to the top of the list to see the table header and the column names, then scroll all the way back to where they were. To solve this problem, I repeat the table headers every x number of rows (usually 10). This is very useful, I use it all the time. But if you look at the results of my test, you might say to yourself, “This guy doesn’t even know how to use modulus!”

To find out if someone can get products with PHP, give them a task and let them do it in PHP. This is how you find out if someone is competent in PHP.

When in school, I met a guy who could practically ace any test. He did this by memorizing. He’d memorize any datum he could, any datum which might be on a test. He tested very well, got high scores. I never did that, instead focusing on using the material.

This guy I’m talking about, he had a hard time using his material. This is because he didn’t really know it. Instead, he memorized it. So if he were asked to do a task with the material, he could not do it. But he could ace the test! He had trouble applying his memorized data.

When at SpeedyClick (a dot-gone), a network admin was hired to help maintain the internal network. This guy had certifications all over his resume. It was very impressive. No one gave him a task to see if he could do it or to see how he would handle it. He didn’t know his stuff, didn’t know his data. When we asked him to handle a problem, all he could do was restart the server. One time, I witnessed him daisy-chain a bunch of hubs together in a rack. That’s the most inefficient way to connect up a series of hubs, creating the most number of hops and the most collision-prone network path. He probably tested well, but he couldn’t apply his data. We let him go within his first month.

This is the difference between memorizing data, and knowing it. When the rubber meets the road, you should understand your subject, not just memorize the data so that you can pass the test.

While at SpeedyClick, when I was hiring a Perl programmer, I did not give the candidates a Perl test. Instead, I had the person sit down at my station and bang out a Perl script which would output a 10 x 10 grid of random numbers to a browser window. This script only required basic Perl skills to complete. And the random part wasn’t even important. It could have been consecutive numbers. That was not the point. The point was to see if they could perform a simple task in Perl. Some could do it, some couldn’t. Some got up and walked away.

So… if you know your stuff and take a test on it and don’t do so well, don’t get upset. Realize it was a suppresive test and move on.

If you can create products (that work, are complete, and are valuable), don’t let a test shake your certainty. Rock on.

New Gaming Machine: New CPU Cooler

This post has a lot of images. Why? Because I wanted to show what is involved in installing a CPU cooler like this one. Actually, once I started, it didn’t take very long; did it in one evening and finished before bedtime. Who knows… maybe this will be useful to someone!

CPU Cooler prepHere, I’ve removed the original plastic bracket which surrounds the CPU socket. This bracket was used to lock down the original heatsink & CPU fan. See previous game machine posts for detailed pictures of the motherboard and CPU as I assemble them together into the case.

CPU cooler prep, back of motherboardHere, I’ve removed the metal bracket which lays across the CPU on the back of the motherboard. When buying this CPU cooler, I had no idea it would entail removing the entire original brackets. Well, live and learn.

New CPU cooler, partsHere are the parts, old and new. Near top-right are the old back-bracket, front-bracket, and heatsink with fan. The new brackets are below, and the new heat-sink is the huge tower of heatpipes and heatfins near center, the Thermalright Ultima90. Bottom is the new fan, way too big but what the heck, let’s see if it fits anyway. It glows evil red, you’ll see, keep reading. That screwdriver, by the way, is one of the most useful screwdrivers I’ve ever used; you can find it at Thinkgeek.

new back-plate installedHere, I’ve got the new back-plate installed. It was easy. The instructions which come with it are pretty good, but the stuff they’ve got online is better.

new_game_machine_red_cpu_cooler_06The new support posts are visible here. I’ve already removed all the old thermal paste from the CPU. I used paper towels or small squares of toilet paper to get it off. Be careful with the stuff, the tiniest spec may short out your motherboard There is no new plastic bracket which surrounds the whole CPU area. You’ll see, keep reading…

thermal paste on CPU Arctic Silver 5Here, I’ve put the new thermal paste on, Arctic Silver 5. Good stuff. I used the flat edge of the knife pictured here (it’s not good for much else as it has a tendency to close on your fingers when prying with it). Be sure to spread it nice and thin. Also, you may notice that the two new side-brackets are installed on the posts from the back-plate.

thermal paste on CPU heat tower Thermalright Ultima90Here, I’ve got the new thermal paste on the bottom of the CPU cooler tower of heatfins and heatpipes. Spread it nice and thin, as even as you can. Use a square of toilet paper or tissue paper to wipe up any excess.

CPU cooler Thermalright Ultima90 installed on CPU using Arctic Silver 5Finally, the new gigantic tower of heatpipes and heatfins (Thermalright Ultima90) is installed on the CPU with plenty of thermal paste, (Arctic Silver 5). I call this tower the “Tower of Coolness”. Makes the motherboard look small. Hell, it makes everything else in my case look small! I had concerns that the side of my case wouldn’t fit. As it turns out, this is sort-of true. You’ll see… wait until I put the huge CPU fan on!

new_game_machine_red_cpu_cooler_10Here’s how the Tower of Coolness is fixed to the top of the CPU. Those two side-screws are connected to the two brackets on either side of the CPU, and those two side-brackets connect to the back-plate. So there is lots of good, solid, non-damaging leverage here. The two side-screws hold down the base of the tower using springs which push down upon a flat cross-bar. The flat cross-bar pushes down upon the top of the base of the tower. This cross-bar piece has a pointed dent in the center, visible in the previous picture, which seats perfectly into the top of the base of the tower. This is the only pressure on the Tower of Coolness, and the only thing holding it onto the CPU. All of these components are visible in this shot. If you look carefully, you can see some of the thermal paste squishing out between the top of the CPU and the bottom of the cooling tower (maybe I put too much on).

CPU cooler fan 120mm glows redHere’s the new CPU fan! It’s huge! It’s taller than the huge stack of heatpipes & heatfins which make up the Tower of Coolness. I think I’m overdoing it a bit here. Oh well, gonna be cool!

new_game_machine_red_cpu_cooler_12Here’s another angle of the new gigantic CPU fan.

new_game_machine_red_cpu_cooler_15Once it’s installed, it will blow air straight up into the power supply’s huge 120mm fan. Perfect.

new_game_machine_red_cpu_cooler_16Here, the mobo has been re-installed in the case, the power supply is also in place, and I’m almost done. Those of you who work with fans like this one may notice that I’ve got it installed backwards; it’s facing down, so it would be sucking air down instead of blowing air up. I realized this mistake and turned it around later on, but didn’t get a picture of it.

new_game_machine_red_cpu_cooler_17Oooo, coool! It’s back in operation and glowing with fantastic red evilness! Everything still works perfectly.

new_game_machine_red_cpu_cooler_18The evil red CPU fan is directly under the tower of coolness, blowing air straight up, where the heat gets sucked through the power supply and out the back of the case. The side of the case no longer fits; the huge 120mm CPU fan sticks out too far. I’ll replace it with a smaller, 80mm fan soon.

new_game_machine_red_cpu_cooler_19OoooOOO! Evil red CPU fan spinning away, good evil glowy red goodness. Just to the right you can still (barely) see the lights on top of the high speed gaming RAM. The blue fan to the left is the one that came with the case, and I’ll be replacing all the original blue fans with red ones soon.

I sure don’t have to worry about my CPU overheating!

An open letter to Jeff Bezos (of

Dear Jeff,

I have a lot of respect for you. I think you’ve done amazing things with Indeed, truly remarkable things. When idiot investors were walking away from your presentations, you were creating the amazing future which eventually became

Example: You started as a book store, then just took it to the moon. Outstanding!

Example: Amazon created wish-lists. I don’t know if y’all were the first, but was the first site I found that did wish-lists. This made it easy for me to keep track of the items I was saving up for.

Example: Amazon One-Click. It’s very convenient, fast, and easy to set up. Makes shopping on a cakewalk! No one else did that, and not many other sites do that now either.

Example: Amazon Associates. Made it possible for me to have an online bookstore without the actual bookstore (or moviestore, etc.).

Example: Amazon Marketplace. I’m not saying eBay hadn’t hit the mark first, but you guys there did a bank up job on the Marketplace and I still find amazing deals there, when I don’t want to pay full price, or when it’s out of print.

Example: Amazon MP3. I like being able to buy the songs that I like on an album, instead of being forced to buy the whole thing. In the past, I have purchased CDs for just one song on the disc. The downloaded MP3 is high bit-rate, and not DRM’ed. This is a big point, as I can put it on any of my audio player devices (like my phone).

Example: Amazon Unbox. I just may use Unbox for all my video purchases. I’m kinda undecided on it, but it’s still intriguing. I can buy a movie and start watching it within about 10 minutes (sometimes less) right on my big-screen computer. Nobody beats 10-minute shipping. Plus, it’s there for me forever (can’t lose it); that’s a big plus.

And finally… The Amazon Kindle. Wow! I love it! I just LOVE IT! This is the device that I want all my stuff on. This is the one. It’s just the right size, in my humble opinion, because I can slip it into my side pants pocket (even with the cover on). I love all it’s features, except the DRM’ed books. I can only read ’em on the device, not anywhere else; that’s a minus.

From my perspective, it looks like you are giving us people/consumers what we want. I think this is exactly the right thing to do. How do you know what we want? Do a survey. Doing surveys with enough people will give you a very accurate picture of what we want.

In a Charlie Rose interview with Marc Andreessen (creator of Netscape), Marc spoke about the Kindle. He said something like, “Oh, Kindle, I mean, it’s just–it’s gigantic.” He then went on about form factors… “The iPhone with a sort of three or four inch screen… a laptop or netbook with a 12 or 14 inch screen… and now you’ve got the Kindle with a sort of seven inch screen.” He and Charlie Rose go on to talk about others making a bunch of little “pads”, or “net pads”… Marc continues: “Somebody will figure it out. That thing, I mean, the Kindle does books and magazines and newspapers, but that form factor and that shape of a device and that weight in a couple of years is going to be doing video, it’s going to be doing music, it’s going to be doing video conferencing. It’s going to be doing telephony. It’s going to be doing Web browsing. It’s going to be doing everything, right? And so that’s the next — one of the fascinating things is that’s the next screen size and the next killer device, I think, is what’s going to happen.

In a recent interview, you were asked about putting other media (such as video) on the Kindle, and you said something like, “Would you use a Swiss-army knife at the dinner table?”

Actually, I would. But that’s because I’m a geek. And I have used a Swiss-army-knife-style spoon-and-fork thingy for eating a whole meal. It worked quite well, no problemo.

Anyway, here’s my point: I (the consumer) want a device just like the Kindle, which can do e-books (just like it does now), play my MP3s (with all the features of an iPod), full color e-paper, play movies (e-paper is almost there, you can watch demos on YouTube of video-capable e-paper now), with a big SSD (Solid State Disk) to hold my entire library (of everything, audio/video/ebooks/PDFs/etc), two additional SD card slots for my own SD cards, wireless access to the internet (just like it does now), GPS services (just like it does now), longer battery life, and a good internet browser for web surfing & email (such as Mozilla Firefox). You could even hook it in to Amazon Unbox and sell me movies directly to my Kindle. Cha-ching!

I would pay a lot for a device that did all that. I’d bet others would, too.

Cell phones come close, but they’re too small to read whole books on (plus they don’t use e-paper), and they’re also too small for movies/videos. The best a cell phone has going for it is that it’s already networked. I can do a lot with my little flip-phone: web, Gmail, Google Maps, Yahoo Mail, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, texting, IMs, take pictures (and post them to Flickr), listen to my MP3s with sterio Bluetooth headphones, and so on, but it’s not a good e-book reader, and it doesn’t have a fast-enough processor for video.

Now, let me go back a step, back to before there was a Kindle. Sony had a pretty good e-book reader, but it wasn’t networked, you needed to have a computer to put the books into it, there were not a lot of e-books available for it, and it cost a friggin’ arm and a leg.

I would bet I could not have convinced anyone to put any money in to a project to create a cute little e-book reader which used e-paper, ran for days/weeks on a single charge, was networked (for free), had a deal with a big book-seller such as for all of it’s content, ran on a free, open-source operating system (Linux), and did all the other things (such as note-taking) that the Kindle does… and make it affordable. No way, bub. I would have been laughed at, all the way out the door.

Then Jeff Bezos creates and releases the Amazon Kindle. Bam!, now it’s possible. Before that, it was not within the realm of possibility. Now that it’s been released, the Kindle has shown that such a device is actually possible… and is really what people want.

NOW I could convince someone to make such a device. Indeed, I could convince someone (with money) to invest in a project to create the all-my-media-needs device described above, the one which is fully networked over the existing Sprint wireless network, portable (with long battery life), color e-paper, full-motion video, MP3/music player, with lots of storage, web browsing, email, VoIP, everything.

Google may already be working on such a device. Google has money to throw around, and they’ve got talent as well. Just look at what they did for cell phone operating systems with Android. They’ve also got a huge e-book project already in production, and one for the iPhone & G1.

The guy who owns that big news network, Rupert Murdoch, he’s got money to throw around. And he loves the Kindle. I’d bet he’s working on a device to do what you, Jeff Bezos, won’t let the Kindle become.

Let the Kindle fulfill it’s destiny. Create an API for it and let people play around inside it and create with it (just like Google’s Android OS for cell phones).

If you don’t, you will lose the market to devices which do what we want them to do, not necessarily what you want them to do. And if you lose the market, your dream of “everything ever printed available in the Kindle” will not happen.

Thanks for your time.

Humble Kindle owner

My new gaming machine: Mobo, CPU & RAM

game_machine_red_mobo_ram_partsTime to put all this new stuff in the case! Here’s all the stuff I had at the time. Power supply, motherboard, 4G RAM kit (2 x 2G), AMD CPU, cables, connectors, manuals, stuff… see pic.

The Motherboard is an ASUS M3A79-T DELUXE, AMD 790FX chipset, ATX form factor, 4xPCI-E(x16) / 2XPCI / 4XDDR2, SATA2 RAID, 1GB lan, 1394 (firewire), lots of USB 2.0, and amazing audio capabilities. CPU type: AMD Socket AM2.

game_machine_red_mobo_in_casePower supply and motherboard installed in the case. I popped out the connector plate which came with the case, installed the one that came with the motherboard, and it all fits perfectly!

game_machine_red_mobo_cpu_ram_in_case_1The RAM installed in the motherboard, and the CPU is ready, along with the CPU heatsink & fan.

The RAM is a CRUCIAL 4GB KIT (BL2KIT25664AL80A), high-speed gaming RAM set.

I like this motherboard because I can simply add two more 2G RAM sticks and double it. I’m not saying Windows XP will be able to use it (as of now, not all of my 4G is used), but I can expand it easily. This ease of expansion is important to me.

game_machine_red_mobo_cpu_ram_in_case_2CPU installed. It went in easy as pie.

The CPU is an AMD ATHLON X2 7750 2.7G – Black. It was just under my pricepoint for this system. I can always upgrade.

game_machine_red_mobo_cpu_ram_in_case_3And finally, the CPU heatsink & fan. Now I almost have a working computer.

I’ll probably replace this heatsink & fan with the kind I’ve got in my linux server; it looks like a tower of heatfins with a fan on the side.

Most of this stuff has been discontinued, but you can find suitable replacement components at

So far, so good! More to come.

New Server: Video Card and Hard Drive

Here’s the new motherboard, RAM, video card and hard drive installed into the new case.

At this point, I still had the original heat sink and CPU fan. Later on, I swapped it out for a better one. More on that later.

It’s almost a new machine! I just need to add some power and I’ll be ready to boot it up for the first time. Also notice the position of the RAM; I started with it in the first two slots, the yellow ones. Later on, while I was debugging (what I thought was) a RAM problem, I moved ‘em over to the two red slots. More on that later.

New Server: the motherboard

This is my new kick-ass Gigabyte GA-MA69G-S3H motherboard. It’s a Socket AM2 with dual-channel DDR2 800 RAM (four slots), integrated ATI Radeon X1250-based graphics adapter, Dual PCI-E graphics interfaces which supports ATI CrossFire (though I probably won’t be using it here in my server… then again, I might), integrated SATA 3Gb/s (with RAID support… if I wanted one), 8-channel hi-def audio with S/PDIF in/out (and support for Blu-ray/HD DVD), and a gigabit ethernet adapter. I got it from

The processor is an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core 5000+, and it also kicks ass. See that CPU fan? That came with it, and the CPU came pre-installed on the mobo because I paid an extra $10 to have it assembled and tested before shipping it out to me. BUT… that CPU heat-sink & fan is not the one I’m using now. More on that later.

Here it is installed into the case. I put insulator washers on both sides of the motherboard, just to make sure it was a good, snug, isolated fit. When one builds his own computer, one can use as many insulator washers as one pleases. 🙂 As mentioned in the [previous article](, the connector backplate doesn’t fit, so I left it off.

Here’s one stick of the Crucial RAM, BL12864AA804 Ballistix 240-pin DIMM DDR2-800 PC2-6400, Unbuffered, non-ecc. I got this as part of a “kit”, meaning two sticks of 1Gb RAM sold together in it’s own cute little box. This is good because you need two sticks of RAM to take advantage of the “dual channel” feature of my mobo anyway. I got this from also.

More to come.

New Server: the case

I finally decided to upgrade my server. My server is also my primary workstation. It’s the one on the left when viewing my desk. This thing is so old that I’m a little surprised that it’s still running. I got it back in the late 90’s when I was working for (now a dot-gone). It’s a dual Pentium 2 running at 600MHz with a little over half a gig of RAM. Back then, it was really impressive.

Anyway, here’s my new case. It’s a Logisys clear acrylic CS888CL case, and I got it from

The only problem I had with it was when I tried to install the motherboard with the motherboard’s own connector backplate; it didn’t fit. At first I thought it was a problem with the case. I thought the mobo standoffs were too tall (a standoff is the cylindrical screw-receiving connector which holds the mobo to the left side of the case). Then I learned it wasn’t the case that was out of alignment, but the mobo’s own connector backplate. It was about 5mm off. I know the case isn’t to blame because the video card seated perfectly.

So I just left the connector backplate off and all is well.

There are two main types of connectors used in holding this case together: the L-shaped metal connector, and the cubical acrylic + metal threads connector. I think the L-shaped connectors should all be replaced with the cube-type; they’re much better and much more solid. The L-shaped connectors bend easily with your fingers. On the plus side, only the cube-type connectors are used when good structural support is required.

I’m very satisfied with this case and would recommend it. But I’d recommend you get it from, they’ve got lower prices than and they’ve got a fantastic support forum.

More to come.

My new milling vice

Yes, I am kinda addicted to milling and metalworking. No, that’s not what this article is about.

This article is about my new kick-ass Sherline milling vice and rotating base! Check it out!

These little guys are awsome. The rotating base is easy to set down onto the milling table, easy to lock into place, and it’s easy to rotate to virtually any angle. Both items are highly accurate and very well made.

In this view, the vice is mounted directly to the mill table. I do not recommend this setup because the milling vice is not firmly fixed to the table. When used with the rotating base, however, it is much more firmly fixed and has virtually zero chance of movement. It doesn’t wiggle at all.

I tried cutting an aluminum bar with just the vice fixed to the mill table. This worked okay, but the angle was a little bit off. See how messy my mill is? This is because my kick-ass 4-inch carbide-tipped saw blade really rips through aluminum like it were wood. Even though I’ve got the vacuum positioned right behind the saw blade, it still manages to throw little bits of aluminum all over the table.

Here, the milling vice is mounted to the rotating base, and the base is fixed firmly to the mill table. This setup works very well for cutting aluminum bars down to size. I’ve also got the vacuum positioned about as close as I can to help catch the aluminum flecks.

This is just a slightly different angle on the same setup.

This is a close-up of the saw blade doing it’s magic on that small aluminum bar.

The mill vise with rotating base:…Product_ID=74

Just the mill vise:…Product_ID=71

Just the rotating base:…Product_ID=73

By the way, it costs less to get ’em both together than it would to buy ’em separately.

In summary: I’m very impressed with these two items. I have confidence that I can cut and drill virtually anything small enough to fit within the vice jaws.


As in: My new 4-inch carbide-tipped saw blade!

This little sucker rocks! It cuts better and faster than any of my previous saw blades. I finally got the right tool for the job. Ohh soooo nice.

Bonus: It doesn’t stick to aluminum. All of my previous saw blades stuck to the aluminum (for some reason) when I would get 20 to 30 mm into my brick. This was so annoying that I wanted to break up those saw blades into little tiny bits and eat them, just out of spite.

But this 4-inch carbide-tipped saw blade just kicks ass all over the place. The only way that I can stop it is to feed too quickly. And, after cutting straight into a brick of aluminum for 10 or 15 minutes at a depth of about 25 to 30 mm, I can turn off the motor and grab the blade as soon as it stops spinning; it’s cold.

This saw blade just may last me a very long time. I’m very happy with it, and I got it from a nice store called MicroMark:

Their website ain’t the best thing out there, but their catalog is fantastic, they update it at least four or five times a year, they have good customer support, and they have a fantastic selection of really cool tools for the guy working with small stuff (like me).

My new wet/dry shop-vac

I got a shop vac to help me clean up after I make a mess, and also to help control the small aluminum flakes I make when cutting.

This little guy is the Craftsman wet/dry shop-vac Clean ‘n Carry, with a 5.0 peak horsepower motor and 4 gallon capacity. I got it from OSH (Orchard Supply & Hardware) for about $70 or $80. I also got the extended warranty, just in case it breaks within the next few years. I do plan on using it a lot, after all.

It’s small enough to easily fit under my desk. It was the smallest 5.0 peak H.P. vac I could find in the store. I am quite satisfied with it.

Here, you can see how I’ve got the hose rigged up. The hose runs up from the vac on the floor, around the front of my workbench, and into a little hobby vice. The hobby vice is attached to the forward-backward slider of my milling machine, and it’s almost perfect for holding the vac hose in place. This way, when I’m cutting, the little aluminum flakes get sucked up by the vac rather than collect on my workbench or float around in the air.

I am very happy with this little shop vac. One might even say… it really sucks. 😀 Sorry, I couldn’t resist!

My new vice

Literally: my new table vice. No, I haven’t started smoking anything, and I haven’t joined the millions of addicted World of Warcraft players. If I were to win the lottery, however… I may consider getting a WoW account, because, hey, at that point, I wouldn’t even need a life.

Anyway, this is my new table vice and I love it. It cost me a whopping $20 from Home Depot.

I mounted it to the side, near the corner, of my workbench. I couldn’t mount it on the corner as the workbench leg is fixed there. And I couldn’t mount it on the end because there are a few steel rods which run the width of the table right where the two left-hand supports would have gone. I discovered this the hard way: by drilling into the table and meeting steel.

Here it is, mounted on the long side, near the corner. It’s a good location as I can rotate the thing around 270 degrees and it hangs off the edge of the workbench nicely. It’s wide enough for just about anything I’m going to be doing; the box says 4 1/2 inches, but it’s more like 4 3/4 to 5 inches wide. I know because I ran it out far enough for it to fall off.

Mounting the vice

First, I drilled some holes. The holes in the four corners of the vice base were huge, so I grabbed the largest drill bit I had: 3/8″. I made sure it fit within the holes of the vice base, then went to my local hardware store, OSH (Orchard Supply & Hardware) and bought some bolts, nuts, and washers. I had measured the thickness of the top surface of my workbench, and I made some allowances for the vice base and the washers, but the thickness of the edge of my workbench is a half inch greater. So I got several different lengths of bolts, just in case my measurements were a little off.

Here you can see I was pretty close with my length measurements. Well, close enough. It’s fixed good. One of the holes that I drilled was a little off, and I had to grease the bolt to get it down into the hole. I gently coaxed it down into the hole by hitting it repeatedly with my hammer. The bad part about this is that I was off in my placement measurements. The good part about this is that the vice ain’t moving. At all. Nadda. It’s tight and it’s fixed but good… even if the bolts and nuts weren’t tight. Now I just hope I never have to remove it!

Here it is holding a block of aluminum I’ve been workin’ on.

The first real use of my vice

Here’s the first real use of my new vice. The part you see mounted came from under my vacuum. This part is responsible for raising up the fromt of the vacuum, to adjust the brushes for different heights of floor/carpet/etc. The problem with my vacuum was that it didn’t go high enough for our carpet. So it was always grinding away needlessly. Recently, it began to overheat easily, so I thought I’d better do something about it.

Near the top-right of this part is a raised piece of plastic. This raised part slides against a wedge-shaped slider which is accessible from the top of the vacuum. This way, the operator can slide the slider, adjusting the height of the front of the vacuum, because the slider is thicker on one side than the other.

In this picture you can see the small screw I installed. I drilled a guide-hole in this piece of plastic, then drilled a hole which was the exact size of the screw core. I used a wood screw so that the threads bit into the plastic. Now, because the screw is there, the front wheels press down lower than before, and additional height is attained. And it’s adjustable because the screw is very tight.

Could I have done this without the vice? Of course. But the vice made it much easier.

EvilGeniusHawk continues his quest for world domination.

Water Distiller Update, 2006

Well, it’s been almost a year now and my little water distiller is still distilling water like crazy!

As you can see from the picture… sort of… I kept a log of the number of gallons that I distilled. I marked one tally for every gallon, month by month. It was just coincidence that all of 2006 fit on one page. Well, almost all of 2006; from Feb 2006 until the end of Dec 2006, I distsilled about 166 gallons. That’s about one gallon every two days.

Cleaning it has not been much trouble. I even let it go for a month or so because I ran out of cleaner, but it works well even if it’s really nasty inside. Now I clean it once a week, sometime over the weekend.

If you don’t want to buy the cleaner from the distiller guys, you can get some from Urnex. I found some good cleaner from these guys:


The product is called Dezcal:


Works well, but if your distiller is really nasty (like mine was), you’d do well to use two packs (or more) per gallon until she’s clean.


Step Block Hold-Down Set

Here is Sherline’s Step Block Hold-Down Set in action… or, rather, inaction. The whole idea of a hold-down set is to keep your part fixed in place to the mill table so that you can work on it. In this picture, I’ve got a 70mm x 70mm x 147mm block of aluminum fixed to the table with the step block hold-down set and two blocks of wood. I needed the wood because the block of aluminum is much taller than the two included step blocks, and I didn’t have two more step blocks to stack. In fact, with the current threaded studs (3.5 inch), this is the maxiumum height that I can hold down. I could go taller, but I’d have to get some longer threaded studs and some bigger blocks.

Here’s a better look. I’m not using an endmill for this, just a regular drill bit that I found in an accessories kit for my Dremel. It’s the smallest drill bit I’ve got. You can see the bits of aluminum which have been carved out of the block. Also, in the lower-right, under the X table, is an additional step-block included in the set. This one is uncoated aluminum and is intended for me to cut to specific size. I think that’s pretty cool.

Not too long after I started, I rotated the whole mill so that I could get a better look at what I was doing. “But Hawk, _what_ are you doing?” you may ask. Let me take a moment here to clarify something: I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. But it’s fun!

Actually, I’m trying to cut a smaller block out of this large block. After quite a bit of grinding, I did put a good notch in the side of the thing. But this tiny drill bit is not designed to do what I’m trying to do; it’s the wrong tool for the job. It’s not even an endmill. It took about an hour to do the first notch, and about a half an hour to do each hole.

Here you can see that I’ve made four additional perfect holes. A note about the handwheels on this mill: they’re _excellent_! I can easily adjust my part in either X or Y direction to 1/100th of a millimeter. And this is only if I stick with the markings on the handwheels. I could turn a handwheel between the markings, and get half of a hundredth of a millimeter travel.

Notice how the additional holes are exactly spaced? I advanced the X handwheel exactly two millimeters for every additional hole. Same thing applies to the Z axis, which moves the drill bit up and down. I was able to make good progress using this tiny drill bit, by advancing down one millimeter, then pulling out to remove the excess shavings, advancing one millimeter, puling out, and so on. When I reached 12 or 13mm depth, I had to pull out every half millimeter. It was easy to tell how deep I was going just by turning the handwheel and counting revolutions: one revolution = one millimeter. I went to 14 millimeters depth.

I’ll make better progress once I get a circular saw blade. Then I’ll turn the headstock 90 degrees, change the orientation of the block, and be able to cut straight down the whole block. That’ll be fun!

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