Arduino Resources for the n00b

Lately I’ve been entertaining myself by building a rebreather loop controller using the Arduino micro controller. This little open source board is really nice to work with for a number of reasons. Unlike many of the alternatives which employ proprietary programming languages, the Arduino simply uses “C”. It also has an IDE that runs the my Mac, and it enjoys an enormous development community.

I’m pretty new to this kind of thing, so I’ve been using web tutorials to work my way up from the most basic blinking LED to something that actually monitors oxygen sensors and populates an LCD with information. Some of the more valuable resources I have used are as follows:

The Banana Slug is not a Mythical Creature

OK, so I never actually believed that they were a mythical creature, but it took me so long to actually find one after moving to Santa Cruz that I had great fun telling those who didn’t know better that they were figment of the collective local imagination. Courtney, who had seen them before, always sighed, rolled her eyes, and reassured whatever unwitting soul I happened to be talking with at the moment that they did exist, and that I should absolutely not be taken seriously. On this point, I cannot disagree with her, but I must have been somewhat convincing because her mom actually sounded surprised when a friend finally pointed one out to me and I managed to snap a picture of it. She actually made me send her the picture because she didn’t believe me.

A few banana slug facts:

  • They are native to the Northwest
  • The are HUGE! Some have reached 10 inches in length, and weights of a quarter of a pound.
  • They were almost the official mollusk of California. Yes, the legislature actually voted in the noble slug, but the Governor vetoed it.
  • They are the official mascot of UC Santa Cruz.

Banana Slug

Banana Slug


World’s Coolest Datacenter

Ever since coming to work at UC Santa Cruz, I have been feeling pretty lucky to work in a well engineered and managed datacenter. So lucky, in fact, that I’ve been cultivating hatred towards me in my former coworkers by regaling them with stories about how wonderfully designed everything is here. The problem with thinking you have it made though, is that someone will always point out some greener grass in another field.

This is exactly what happened when I saw this article about the Pionen datacenter, owned by Bahnhof in Sweden. Located nearly 100 feet beneath the city of Stockholm, this epic datacenter has been compared (fairly I might add) to the secret layer of a James Bond villian. It’s got backup power provided by twin submarine engines, triple-redundant internet backbone connections, and can reportedly stand up to a Hydrogen bomb. We spend so much time and effort trying to make our servers comfortable when designing datacenters, we often forget about the Human element. Even though these guys are literally working in a cave, it’s nice to see that Bahnhof is trying to make its people comfortable as well.

Move to Santa Cruz

Well, after five years living in Vermont, and something like thirteen years living in New England, Courtney and I have gone and moved to Santa Cruz, CA. There are a lot of reasons for this; the very hard winters and extremely rainy summers in Vermont were starting to wear on us, but mostly we just wanted to live in a young and vital place that has a larger population. Courtney had some experience with the area during her brief stint working at Land of Medicine Buddha, and I had always enjoyed The Monterey Bay area when my family and I would camp here as a kid, so Santa Cruz seemed the perfect place for us.

I applied for a UNIX Systems Engineer position at the University of California Santa Cruz, and was offered the job back in July. After some serious soul searching, I decided to accept, and we started the process of relocating a full 3,000 miles from home, which I can assure you is no simple task! I’ve been here just under two weeks, but Courtney is still tidying up our affairs in Vermont before she starts the long journey out here in our car. Yep… That’s car, not cars. The public transportation system is so good out here that we can finally be a single car family. For my part, I’ve managed to move clear across this country twice and not driven it a single time. This is fine with me, however, since I have very little interest in seeing middle America.

Casey and I managed to find Paula’s Breakfast Shack while he was out for WordCamp 08. Home of the $1.99 Basic Breakfast, this place is so good, that I simply can’t imagine going anywhere else for eggs and home fries! I’ve tried a number of taquerias, but the jury is still out on which one is best. Once I find it I’ll have to freeze some tacos and burritos and send them out to Matt, who has strongly indicated that he hates me for having such easy access to good Mexican Food.

Bare Metal Linux Restore

Several weeks ago we started seeing some pretty scary errors showing up on the main system disk for our Blackboard server. We had an extra server hanging around, so we decided to move all the data off the failing disk and onto our spare server. The only question was how to make the new server as close to a perfect copy of the old one as possible. Simply restoring all the filesystems failed for a variety of reasons, mostly related to GRUB and the kernel, so I had to find a way of excluding only the files and directories that were tied to the specific model of server.

To do this, I started by installing a minimal copy of RHEL 4, making sure to lay the filesystems out in exactly the same way as they were on the old server. I then went through several experiments, leaving just the bare minimum files and directories required for the hardware and booting, but formatting all other filesystems and restoring the data from our old server. In the end, the below process resulted in system that worked perfectly, and very closely mirrored the original server.
Continue reading

Darkness Beckons

All next week I’ll be taking a cave diving class on my CCR down in North Florida. Cave diving has been a dream of mine since reading an article about Sheck Exley’s exploration of the Nacimiento Mante cave system in Mexico. At a time in my life when I almost bought into the idea that divers should not venture deeper than 130 feet, there I was, reading about a man who had plunged to a world record depth of 881 feet and returned safely to the surface after 14 hours of decompression. It was as if the wool that had been pulled over my eyes by the recreational diving agencies had suddenly been removed, and I was left totally inspired. I remain inspired to this day, and I am honored to have the opportunity to learn cave diving from legendary cave and technical diver Tom Mount.

iPhone Hacked; No Longer Bound to AT&T

George Hotz, along with a team of hackers have come up with a method to break the chains binding the iPhone to AT&T, allowing it to be used with any carrier. The complete method can be found here on George’s blog. It does take some soldering skills and a bit of familiarity with UNIX and modem commands it should be pretty easily accomplished by most techies who have some tinkering under their belts.

Even though I still feel the iPhone is too expensive, and that it is lacking in some basic features, this might just be the thing that gets me to buy one. After all, I love hacking hardware!

I heard an interview with Hots on the way home from work Friday. When asked to respond to internet rumors that former phreaker Steve Jobs was mad at him, he said “I want Steve to call me up. Let’s he and I have a man to man about it.” It was wonderful! If Steve Jobs can’t remember his days hacking the phone system and respect Hots and the team for their accomplishments, he truly has lost touch with what hacking is all about.

Wonderful job guys! Congratulations.