Monday, August 14, 2017

Memorial Day Canyons pt 3


One more from Fry Canyon last Memorial Day. Think I'll get through those before Labor Day? Eh, probably not, but oh well.

Anyway, I like this one because it's a somewhat narrow section, but still manages to show the scale of things. It's hard to get all of those at once - usually the narrow sections don't supply good overlooks like this. Plus the light is nice and soft with no hotspots, another rarity.



This is from later in the same canyon - definitely a different feel. Obviously I didn't take one, since that's me impersonating a corpse in the pool. It was just a nice place for a rest, one of the first warm spots after a lot of cold water. Also our fourth canyon in three days (more for some of the others) so we were getting a little tired.

I think I'll probably quit going on about this trip after this post, but if you just can't get enough there are 125 photos here.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Memorial Day Canyons pt. 2

The advantage of only posting once a month (or quarter... or year...) is that I can make photos from one vacation last a really long time! See, there's a method to my sloth madness!

This isn't really a great photo, but I heard some comments about canyons being claustrophobic. Which is definitely true some of the time, but not all of the time. Although that log solidly wedged 30 feet up might cause one to consider what this looks like during a flash flood.



Since I'm already posting photos of questionable quality, here's a canyon selfie. I know you're all jealous of my high-class canyon duds!
Although now that I think about it, that wetsuit might be the second or third most expensive item of clothing that I own. Does that make it high-class? Either way, I consider that to be a true victory in life. The shirt, on the other hand, was two dollars at Goodwill - which is why it's being used to protect the aforementioned high-class undergarment.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Building a Computer

Years ago I modified computers on a regular basis, swapping pieces around and buying new components. When I was in middle school one of my birthday presents was a new motherboard - except my parents didn't know which one to get, so they used a chunk of 2x4 with "The Mother of All Boards" markered onto it as a stand-in. I pretty much quit messing with hardware after I got my first laptop. It's not practical to modify mobile hardware much, and I had switched to consoles for gaming needs.

The rise of Steam, with it's massive expansion of the games catalog and unmatched yearly sales, convinced me I should get back into PC gaming. But I still have some unusual constraints, in particular that I want to fly my PC back to Wisconsin every year. Since airlines are charging through the nose for checked bags, I wanted to be able to fit it in a carry-on.

It turns out that there are almost no pre-made PCs that are physically small enough to carry-on, yet have a full-strength graphics card. Cyberpower's Syber line, and OriginPC's Chronos seem to be the best options, but there are a few others around. Naturally you end up paying a premium to have someone else build them for you, so I elected to build my own.

Since case size seemed to be the biggest constraint, I started there. There are a number of crowdfunded options including the NCase M1, Sentry, and DAN A4-SFX, but they tend to be quite expensive. From established manufacturers there are the Silverstone RVZ line and the Fractal Design Node 202. I went with the Node 202 because it's the smallest, and I don't like all the styling and LEDs on the Silverstone cases.

One can argue endlessly about what to put inside that case. In fact I did that until Luke and Glenn were sick of it. I also read about other builds using the case to figure out what fans and coolers would fit. The upshot is this parts list. Most of it can be modified freely - the key points are to save space by using an m2 hard drive, memory chips with no heat spreaders, and a low-profile CPU cooler.

Getting Started


Eventually I got past my analysis-paralysis phase and actually ordered all the parts. Since I spent so long choosing a case, the first thing I did was check how big it is in real life, rather than just measurements. 
It turns out that it does fit in a carry-on - but only just barely. There's maybe an inch of space to spare total, and our smaller carry-on wouldn't fit it at all. 


Here's a comparison to an an XBox One (original, not the S version) and a 15.6" Lenovo Y510p laptop. They're all lined up on the left and back edges for this photo. The Node 202 is definitely bigger than the other two, but not by a huge margin


The Build

Case gawking completed, I got started on building the machine. Which I proceeded to screw up in nearly every possible way. The short list of things I would do differently is:
  1. Assemble all the components outside of the case and get them to the POST screen before putting anything in the case. It's much easier to do when you're not working inside that cramped case. 
  2. The m.2 hard drive slot on that motherboard is on the bottom.
  3. When putting the motherboard into the case, it's much easier if you take out the graphics card riser assembly first, despite what the directions say. That gives you easier access to the screws. 
  4. The case directions neglect to mention one of the screws holding the graphics assembly in - I'll show it later. 
  5. Be really organized about keeping track of which screws go where, especially the 4 different kinds of tiny black screws in the case. I did pretty well with this until the very end. 

Ignoring my own advice from above, I started out by opening up the case. Again, I recommend wiring up all the components outside of the case first to make sure they work. You should put the motherboard on something non-conductive, like the box or anti-static bag that it came in.

 Here's what it looks like fully disassembled. Getting the bottom off is a bit of a trick, because all the plastic tabs want to grab back on as soon as you release them. I found the best method is to stand the case on edge and use a flat-head screwdriver to push them open.

Following along with the case instructions, but not taking photos, I installed the power supply and motherboard. The motherboard mounting screws in the center of the case are really hard to access - in hindsight I suggest removing the graphics card riser before installing the motherboard. 

Which brings me to my next point - the instructions say that there are 3 screws securing the graphics card assembly. In fact there are four, with the last being on the back of the case just below the slots. The screwdriver is pointing at it in the photo. I almost bent the whole thing trying to get it out, before realizing there was a secret screw. 


Here's the machine reassembled. It's already getting pretty cramped, and I don't even have the power cables in yet. If we had a 2.5" drive it would go in the cage towards the front of the case (farthest from the camera) on the center strut, which would be really hard to deal with. You can see I put the case fan towards the front of the case, which may or may not be a good idea. I believe it would fit directly under the card, but I didn't try. This placement does make routing the front-panel cables a bit annoying, but it's doable. 

You can also see that the power cable runs awkwardly over the fan. I ended up snipping one of the cable ties so that it could lie flat along the bottom of the case instead. But as shown, that cable points out the fact that the only space to route wires between the two halves of the case is a small window in the center strut, right where you see that cable going. Consequently that section of the case, and the bit between the memory and the PSU, tend to be very full of cabling. 

Also, it's not visible in this photo but the graphics card supporter sits between the case fan and the graphics card. The GTX 1050 Ti is just barely too short to reach it, so the card is unsupported. But it seems to be small and light enough that it's not a problem. 

It was at about this point that I realized that the m.2 connector is on the bottom of the motherboard. I proceeded to remove almost all of this from the case to access that slot, shown below. 
Having done that, I put all the components back into the case again, which takes a little while. Then I flipped the case over to check something...

Yeah, there's a cutout in the case that provides access to the m.2 slot right there. So I did all that work for nothing. Doh! But while we're looking at the bottom of the case, you can see the dust screens. They're attached with magnets, which makes them easy to move by accident while you're handling the case. 

Anyway, after getting the whole thing reassembled, I went to plug in the power cables. Attaching the power cables to the power supply while it's in the case it really difficult - they all go in the small space between the PSU and the center strut. This is another reason to wire everything up outside of the case beforehand. 

After doing that, I went to attach the front-panel connectors. Mostly this is easy, but the cables for the power indicator LED and the power switch are tiny, and they connect to this pin block. The pins are really hard to access. You can see that the memory goes right above them in this photo - I removed the actual chips. The motherboard main power connector is next to it, and the PSU is right below. Bottom line, you probably want to do these before all the other stuff. 

Also, the indicator LED connects to the green pins, and the switch to the red pins. Or was it the other way around? If you get it backwards the LED will come on, but the power switch won't do anything. Ask me how I know that... or why I disassembled everything, right down to removing the CPU cooler, again. Yeah, good times. Don't get those two confused. 

Once I finally got the whole thing put together correctly it worked fine. The only BIOS tweak needed was setting the memory to use XMP Profile 1, which upped the memory clock to use the full potential of the DDR4-2400. 

I haven't run any formal benchmarks, but I did run Doom on Ultra settings for a couple of hours in a hot room (29-30 deg. C). The temps inside the case stayed very reasonable - the GPU was the biggest hotspot, but it topped out at ~70 deg C. So the whole thing seems to be running well. 

Overall it was a good experience, despite my many roadblocks. Hopefully I'm still saying that after the first plane trip with it. 

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Detour into some Canyons

It's been a busy couple of months (not entirely due to getting somewhat hooked on Factorio), so I didn't get around to posting. And now I'm just back from a Memorial Day trip into the slot canyons again, so I'm going to post a few photos from there.

This trip was a near-twin of the 2013 Memorial Day trip. Both trips took me to Cedar Mesa, and I did three of the same canyons: Cheesebox, Black Hole and Fry. This time the group was a bit faster, so we finished Black Hole early in the day. Also, camp was overrun by clouds of biting Cedar Gnats, which made hanging around the rest of the day an unappealing option. Instead we ducked into Duckett, so I got four descents in three days.

This photo is from Cheesebox Canyon, which we did first. We did a longer version of the canyon than the 2013 trip - the full west fork, instead of partial approach. I rather liked it, though it does make for a long day.

The photo is fairly typical of Colorado Plateau canyons - lots of banded sandstone and smooth curves. But I always like the subtle light, and sense of depth you can get from these kinds of photos. I also like the little reflection of sky in the water. It's usually tough to make this kind of shot work out due to the extreme variation in brightness, so it's nice when it does. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hohenschwangau Entryway

The previous post was the last long, article-style one for the Europe trip. They're kind of exhausting to write, which is part of why it took me so long to publish them, and I kind of wonder if anybody actually wants to read anything that long. I'm not sure I even want to read it! So henceforth I'll be going back to shorter "picture and a paragraph" style posts.

With that, a random photo of a lantern! I don't think there's any particular significance to this lantern. It's on the back side of Schloss Hohenschwangau, where the road enters the castle. Really I just liked the repeated lines of the ceiling and the light.
Full size in SmugMug

It's actually a very cool little part of the castle, down where the construct meets the underlying rock.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Castles!

This is Part 4 of our year-ago Europe trip. It contains two infinity times more castles than Parts 1, 2 and 3 combined.


After Dachau we had planned something a bit more whimsical - a trip down to F├╝ssen. Once again Bahn.de got us there with no problems, despite train track repairs and two transfers. With some positively idyllic landscape on the way, too. Fluffy clouds, rolling green hills, little farmhouses. The only way that gets more idyllic is...

Yep, there's the happy cows. This has gone from idyllic to positively picturesque. Quit it Bavaria, you're making the rest of us look bad.


After our idyllic overload, we arrived at Fussen, home of not one but two castles. Our first stop was Hohenschwangau, which goes back to the 12th century in one form or another. The interior of the castle is overwhelming - every surface is covered in historic murals and paintings. Sadly they don’t allow any photos inside the castle, because they want to sell tickets. It’s understandable – maintaining that place cannot be cheap, and they have to pay for it somehow. Still, it would've been nice to see without being shepherded from room to room in a group of 20 tourists.


After the tour I just had to check something... yep, still picturesque down there in the foothills. Nice job with the lake, as well. Keep up the good word, Bavaria.


After our first tour we had to get from Hohenschwangau over to the second castle, Schloss Neuschwanstein. Not pictured here: the several hundred foot depp valley in between. But we needed the exercise anyway.


The road up is narrow and twisting, so it's closed to cars. During the hike up the far side we ended up talking to another American couple. The guy told us about visiting the castles 20 years ago when he had been in the Air Force. Apparently that was before the castles were fully touristificated, so they would drive right up to the castle gates and camp on the lawn, then get a personal tour the next day. It's a bit of a shame - it would've been a better experience.

Schloss Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for the Disney castle. But it had a bit of a bizarre history before that. Construction was started by King Ludwig II in 1886, long after improvements in artillery had made militarily useless. He built it because, well, he just really liked castles. This one was supposed to be his private retreat, never to be opened to the public. But construction of this castle and several others had inflicted so much damage on the state finances that they were opened to paying customers within six weeks of his death. Once again we were not allowed to take photos of the interior. However, the Wikipedia article I linked earlier has a number of nice photos. The entire thing is just ridiculously detailed everywhere – at one point the project employed 20 painters full time to do the murals and interior detailing. Anyway, that’s about it for the narrative. Pretty castles, we saw them!



Wednesday, March 08, 2017

A German Resort

This is Part 3 of our year-ago Europe trip. It's less fun than Part 1, and not as pretty as Part 2, but I think worthwhile.


We headed out of Munich on the excellent transportation system to an old tourist town. (Side note: I highly recommend the Bahn.de website and DB Navigator app.) I probably have relatives there, who my parents actually visited about 40 years ago, but I didn’t find that out until I was already back in the states so I didn't try to look them up. We didn't spend much time in town anyway - we were there for the museum.

The locals are not entirely thrilled to be hosting an international museum of Nazi atrocities, but such is the fate of Dachau. We got weather more fitting for visiting a concentration camp than a resort day - solid gray overcast, cold breeze and lots of crows. Although we were aware of the camp in a general sense, nothing really compares to visiting in person. There's a psychological weight to the place that doesn't come through in a book. Obviously I can't do it justice in this little post either, but I want to put up a few of our photos anyway. I would encourage anyone to go visit - it's not a fun experience, but I think it's worthwhile.


The camp had psychological tricks right from the start. The words in the front gates (above), “Arbeit Macht Frei”, translates as “Work Will Make You Free”. The camp was initially billed as a work camp for slackers and deficients, so the implied promise was to set them free if they worked. That was, of course, a complete lie. It was never a straightforward extermination camp like Treblinka or Auschwitz, but neither did they set anyone free. Around 40,000 people died there, mostly from a combination of maltreatment, overwork or disease.


Inside the gates is the main assembly area of the camp. Here the inmates would stand at the end of each day for roll call. If somebody was missing, or the guards were just feeling malicious, they would keep them standing there for hours. In some cases they would stand there all through the night, during winter, in thin clothes. It was not uncommon for inmates to drop dead while standing there.


This is an aerial view of the camp after the war, showing some of the 32 barracks. In the aftermath of the war so much of the country had been devastated that it was used to house families for a time. They were all torn down eventually, but there are two replicas there now. Each building was originally designed to house two hundred prisoners. When the camp was liberated it was massively overcrowded, with some building holding up to ten times that amount – two thousand people living in one of those buildings.


Naturally the camp was surrounded by guard towers, barbed wire, and ditches. The grassy area outside of the path was considered off limits – stepping off that side of the path was would get an inmate shot. Suicide by guard was not unheard of, though less popular than I would have guessed given the conditions.

When the camp first opened they would send the dead inmates to be cremated in the nearby town. But as the number of inmates increased and the treatment deteriorated they had a growing number of bodies. During the early years it was supposed to be just a work camp, so they had to come up with excuses for the number of dead bodies. Eventually they couldn’t do it anymore, so they built their own crematorium. The ashes were buried on site. They don’t know how many people were buried here, but probably in the thousands.


They would also sometimes execute prisoners by firing squad, typically in a few places like this execution wall.


Memorials have been built for most of the major religions.
I don’t have photos for it, but I was surprised to learn that the SS jailers lived right outside the camp. In fact many of them moved their families into a small town that was within site of the fences. I cannot even fathom how you could walk home from that to your family. I suppose it shows that humans are amazingly flexible - not always in the most best of ways.
Visiting the Dachau museum was a powerful experience. Not fun by any means, but worthwhile. It’s one thing to read a book or watch a documentary about what happened there. It’s quite another to stand in the same room where they piled the dead to the ceiling, see the ash pits, and walk the grounds where such things were allowed.


A map of Nazi concentration camps. All the dots are camps, even the little ones. They just called out the larger ones with larger labels. Dachau was the first of them, and served as a model for the other work camps.


They have since installed a sculpture in the yard, a stark thing depicting broken bodies stuck in barbed wire.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Munich, With Sleep

Part 2 of our Europe trip, which I promise contains more pictures and fewer words than Part 1.

Having gotten some much needed sleep, we ventured out into Munich the next day. We had planned this day only very loosely, figuring we might not be too ambitious after the flight. We had some places we generally wanted to see, but no particular timetable.


Our first stop was the bakery closest to our hotel. Sadly the photo above is not that bakery. It is a bakery in Munich though, so that's pretty close!

Our normal morning fare is bagels, but we had no luck at all communicating that concept to the staff. We ended up just picking something out of the display case - a little squarish piece of bread that seemed similar. Then we tried to get some cream cheese but apparently this is an unknown concept as well. But they redeemed themselves with the butter - no stupid little cup of faux-butter but rather a quarter stick of buttery goodness.

It turned out that our bagel-like object was some kind of magical bread that must've had the approximate caloric content of an entire turkey. We each at a little 6 ounce chunk of bread… and then literally forgot to eat lunch. After that Wendy took to calling it “Dwarven stout bread.”


After that we wandered around town a bit, ending up in a local market. They had a brass band playing, which apparently does not preclude beer drinking. We stayed for a while and ended up talking to a group of tourists from Minnesota because they saw my Anoka State sweatshirt.


Then more wandering to several churches and buildings in the area.


Finally, back to the Neue Rathaus to see the Glockenspiel – basically a mechanized merry-go-round that reenacts scenes from local history.


By midafternoon the Dwarven stout bread was wearing off, so we headed out the famous Hofbrauhaus. It’s probably the classic beer hall, dating back to its origin as the royal brewery of the Kingdom of Bavaria. It’s actually still owned by the Bavarian state government, which says something about their priorities. They do a damn fine job of it too!


Like many of the restaurants in Bavaria, it’s basically a big room full of communal trestle tables. So we walked in, found a nice looking table and asked the occupants if we could sit there. In our ignorance we didn’t realize that it was a “Regulars” table, with a sign and everything, so tourists weren’t supposed to sit there. But they said we could, so we got a prime seat right in front of the band. The regulars at the table were all dressed in classic Bavarian outfits, and had wooden spoons that they played along with the band, and occasionally on the each other’s asses (see photo!) We got a big pork knuckle with potatoes, and a big stein of beer. Yep, pretty much a Bavaria overload.


After that we headed off to the Englischer Garden. It’s a pretty huge garden, sort of a Central Park style setup. The major difference is that the surfing is much better than Central Park.

It’s not the best surfing in the world, but then Munich is not very close to the ocean so I guess you take what you can get. It is quite popular. There doesn't seem to be any official organization, but the unspoken rules are quite effective. There's a line of people on the shore waiting to use the wave. Each person uses it for a short time and then washes downstream so the next can take a turn.


So that was about it for the day. But a few other random photos…

Home Alone, Munich edition


HI THERE!


Wendy’s maiden name translates as “Strength of the Wild Boar”, so we had to get a photo with this awesome boar sculpture.


So… Bacchus spitting endlessly on some poor kid? Sure, why not, sounds like a great fountain!


Big bike!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Europe 2015 Trip

So yeah, we went to Europe! Um, about, 5 16 months ago. I'm lazy, deal with it. Anyway had been 7 years since our trip to Peru, which was out last time out of the country, so it was time. I’ll just note ahead of time that part of why I’m writing this is to remind myself of the whole experience, so it might be overly detailed and a bit boring. Too damn bad, it’s my blog. Feel free to just look at the pictures, I won't be insulted.

Our first stop was scenic… Iceland!

Well, actually just the airport. Honestly it was not my favorite airport ever. That might have been related to the dense overcast, driving wind, rain, 40 degree temperatures, and firsthand experience we got with that weather while slowly stepping down a staircase on the tarmac. Also, the bathrooms are far from the gates. Really far. I suspect that they actually ran a tunnel to Heathrow so they could share bathrooms, but they keep it a secret because they want to keep selling flights. Ah well, I needed to stretch my legs anyway.

Soon enough we were crammed back into cattle class for a few more hours, and then arrived in Munich. I had heard that the best way to avoid jet lag is to not sleep on the flight so that you can adjust quickly when you get there. It seemed sensible, so when we finally landed in Munich I had been awake for about 24 hours straight. It was mid-day, but I really just wanted to find the hotel, drop my backpack, change clothes, and take a nap. I whipped out my copy of the trip plan, which conveniently organizes our whole trip for distracted and exhausted travelers, and looked up our hotel.

Whereupon Wendy says, “Oh no, that’s not the hotel. I changed it.”
I was nonplussed. ”You changed it but didn’t put it in the trip plan?”
She said, ”I thought I updated the plan, but I guess not.”
“Well, that kind of misses the point of the trip plan, but OK. What’s the new hotel?”
”I don’t know.”
”You don’t know... OK, where is it?”
”I don’t know.”
”Would you recognize the name?”
”No.”
”So we have a hotel somewhere in Munich, but the only thing we know about it is that it’s not the one we have written down?”
”Yes.”
”Great. That’s just great.”

Cue the giant facepalm. Regrettably there is no photo of that. I will say it took some effort to remain calm at that point. For lack of better ideas we hopped a train to Marienplatz, the tourist center of town, and spent the ride trying to figure out where we were going to stay. Thankfully there was an Apple store right at the Marienplatz train station, and we were able to use their free wireless to get into Wendy’s email account. After much dinking around she was able to ascertain that our hotel was… the one written down in the trip plan. So all of that running around and stress was pointless. Cue the second giant facepalm.

At this point we were both hungry, and I was feeling in need of a drink to drown the shame of our inauspicious start. So we plonked ourselves down at the touristy restaurant right in the middle of the plaza. This is when Wendy’s love affair with Bavarian cuisine began – it’s all meat and potatoes! I tried to out-Bavarian her by ordering beer and sausages. I think we both won.




The Marienplatz has the New Town Hall bordering it. You can tell it’s the new town hall because it’s only 107 years old. Really it’s just a baby, it might get up and wander off at any time. The actual German name for it Neues Rathaus. It amuses me to no end that they keep the politicians in a “Rat Haus.” I also has a mechanical glockenspiel in the tower - basically the 19th century version of a Disney ride. Thankfully they did not play It's a Small World on repeat.


That night we walked around near the river, and happened into a street festival with a number of bands and vendors. Surprisingly, all of the music was sung in English. In between songs the bands would talk in German, but then always sing in English.

We were lucky enough to wander up to one of the churches just as a Gothic choir was about to start singing. So we sat and admired the church, thinking that now for sure we’d get some classic German music. Nope, they sang in English too. You’d think it was an English language music festival! Anyway, after a bit of wandering about we headed back to home base for some real sleep.