Category Archives: Hardware

Nothing to do this weekend? Here’s ideas for a weekend project.

There’s nothing worse then being bored over a weekend. So in case you’re looking for something to do this weekend, give one of these a try if you have the time and parts sitting around.

Build a Raspberry Pi Buggy – One of the milestones of hobby robotics is a vehicle that is controlled with a Raspberry Pi.

Build an air quality monitor – Great way to get started with Sensors and detecting the world around you.

How to Set Up a Safe and Free VPN on Android – You know to use a VPN on your computer over public wifi, but we should all be doing the same with our phones as well.

So try your hand at building something or just try and make your phone a little bit safer on the open internet.

-DH

Status Report Captain…


So everything has been pretty busy recently and here’s a quick update for some projects. I had some hardware problems with my home virtual server project. I think it came down to a motherboard that went bad, so I changed out the internals and then had some “less than graceful” shutdowns. I think this might have caused some trouble with terabyte drive, but interestingly the RAID 10 setup seems to be fine. In switching out the hardware I did have to downgrade as well, so I bought another Core 2 Duo from my university’s surplus sale recently and upgraded it back to original specs. I’ve also thought that I would dedicate the mass storage into a NAS build from another surplus computer. I’ll have some more about each of these in the near future.

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Thoughts on the Raspberry Pi board


You may have heard about the Raspberry Pi, which is a low cost ($25 – $35) ARM based computer that has been making the rounds with some geek/technology enthusiasts. Their stated goal is to get more kids interested in programming and computer science by creating a low barrier to entry as possible. There’s been a huge demand for the board from the community and some really cool projects have already been started around them. If I get any, these projects are what I have in mind for them.

  • As an “HTPC” probably using Raspbmc. I’ll probably want to use this as a receiver for a more powerful media streaming server.
  • Driving a wall mounted LCD as a digital signage type display
    • An upgrade would be to drive a touchscreen and make it a “Control Center”
  • Home monitoring and automation
  • Data Acquisition system – I don’t know what this means yet, but it sounds cool…
  • Car computer
  • Kitchen computer
  • Weather Station
  • Of course there’s always the option of using it as an actual computer too…

I think it would be a good fit for any of these type projects, and the low cost makes it ideal for specialty purposes. I’ve seen plenty of people say that they would use it as a NAS and while it would be able to function like one, the performance on it isn’t going to be good at all. The mass storage will be limited to the USB (2.0?) speeds. It could work if you’re wanting to play around with some concepts or as a Pogoplug replacement, but you’ll quickly want a more robust full blown NAS solution when you inevitably scale past the Raspberry Pi’s performance.

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Running a Home Virtual Server – Part 1: On Hardware and Hypervisors


In this last post I talked about picking up a computer at my university’s surplus sale to use as a replacement server in my home setup. The plan is to use this machine to run several virtual machines on, mostly to play around on but also as my home server. I didn’t go into to much detail in that first post, so I’m going to break this down into multiple posts that can go into more detail. I’m not sure how many parts there will be as of now, but I’ll be sure to try and link all the posts together so they should be easy to find. First up is a discussion about the hardware and my final decision about what virtual environment I decided to go with.

Continue reading Running a Home Virtual Server – Part 1: On Hardware and Hypervisors

My Computer is How Old?


I came to a sad realization about a week ago now. My university will occasionally have a surplus sale about once a quarter and at least once a semester. They usually sell stuff like desks, chairs, and old couches from the dorms (disgusting). They also use this way to unload computers that get replaced and can’t find a home somewhere else in the school. I’m lucky because they sell computers individually (monitors separate), where a lot of other schools I’ve seen will bundle a pallet and sell them at surplus auctions. In order to sell them individually they have to sell them really cheap ($2 per desktop, $4 per LCD monitor, $10 per laptop) and this will draw quite the crowd. People will camp out the night before in order to be the first in line to get some computers/laptops, it’s a bit like watching footage of Black Friday shoppers.

Continue reading My Computer is How Old?

Setting up a FreeNAS Box Part 1: The Install


FreeNAS is a task specific operating system designed to be used in Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. It’s built using FreeBSD as the underlying OS which lets it have some fairly low power hardware requirements. For example the Dell I used is an old Pentium 4 1.7 GHz with 512 MB of RAM and it runs like a charm, granted I don’t put a lot of demand on the box in the way of concurrent transfers or running processes. It’s worth mentioning that the recommended way to install FreeNAS is to install to, and boot from a USB thumb drive. This is the recommended method so it can save as much hard drive space for data storage, but even though it looked like I could boot from the thumb drive like a hard drive in the BIOS I had trouble getting it to boot so I installed the OS to the 160 GB hard drive with partitions for the OS and data. Here’s the parts list with some specifics after the jump.

Parts List:

  1. Old Dell Dimension 4400 – bought at university surplus sale, $5
  2. Various old IDE hard drives I had sitting around – two ~20 GB; one 160 GB, probably cost me something at some point…
  3. USB thumb drive – “borrowed” from family, free

Continue reading Setting up a FreeNAS Box Part 1: The Install

My DD-WRT setup


I upgraded my Linksys WRT54GL with the DD-WRT firmware a while ago and used it as a wireless bridge for internet access in my bedroom where there aren’t any ports (yet). I was using an old D-Link wireless router as the main router, but wanted the upgrade in functionality that DD-WRT provided. So I reset it back to “Factory” default and set it up as my main wireless router. This is mostly for my reference if needed later, but if it helps anyone who happens to stumble upon it later than even better. Continue reading My DD-WRT setup