November 2005 Archives
November 14, 2005

Rolling Stones - A Bigger Bang concert


Wow, last night's Rolling Stones concert at SBC Park in San Francisco was awesome! Really spectacular!

Metallica performed in the opening of the show, then there was a half an hour break. When the lights turned off, a fireworks show started, with lots of loud bangs and cracks, and flames going up in the sky. Then an energetic Mick Jagger appeared and sang "Start Me Up", energizing the audience.

The first half of the show most of the songs they played were from their new album. In the second half they played their classic songs. At some point a moving platform moved the band in the middle of the stadium, while in the back of the scene a huge lip & tongue appeared.

Gosh, despite the age of these guys they managed to keep everybody on the stadium floor standing and dancing! And they performed for more two hours with a lot of energy. At more than 60 years old, Mick Jagger was running around like a teenager, really crazy. I wish I'll be in the same shape at that age ;)

Posted by ovidiu at 08:49 AM | Comments (6) |
November 12, 2005

Sun Fire X2100 server

Hardware | Linux

I bought a Sun Fire X2100 server to act as a back-up for the current dual AMD server I use for hosting this site.

If you decide to buy such a machine, get the basic configuration and buy the rest of the components yourself. Sun charges a lot of money for upgrades. The slim DVD internal drive is $95, but you can get one for as low as $50 (see this drive here).

The default configuration ships with a 512Mb of RAM. To upgrade from 512Mb RAM to 1Gb Sun charges $270. I used the 512Mb memory DIMM which I took out of my Mac mini after I upgraded its internal memory to 1Gb. I bought two additional DIMMs to further upgrade the memory to 2Gb (2 x Kingston 512MB PC3200 400MHz 184-pin ECC Unbuffered CL3 DDR SDRAM DIMM, ~ $78 each). Upgrading to 2Gb cost me $156 instead of the hefty $590 Sun would have charged me.

As for the hard drives, I got two Western Digital 160Gb SATA drives, which cost $95 each. Sun charges $150 for an 80Gb drive and $300 for a 250Gb disk!

As for the operating system, don't bother getting Solaris or one of the Linux systems they offer. I downloaded and installed the AMD 64 versions of both OpenBSD and Debian, and they both work just fine.

To conclude, from the savings described above, you can buy another X2100 machine! I wonder how many people are doing just this.

Posted by ovidiu at 10:35 AM | Comments (36) |
November 11, 2005

Remote controlled projection screen

Cool gadgets | Hardware

After spending two months researching, designing and implementing, I finally finished my home project: a remote controlled projection screen system. Here are some pictures of the whole system, as well as two videos, of the system extending and retracting.

What was interesting in this project is that it required a lot of mechanics, electronics and programming to be implemented. Since I've never studied mechanics or electronics (OK, I actually took some basic classes in high school and university), these have been the most challenging and fun parts of the project.

The basic requirement was to have the screen sit on top of the multimedia cabinet, slightly retracted. When I want to make a slide film projection, the system would extend the screen about 10" in front of the cabinet, and allow the screen to drop. The whole system would need to be remote controlled through a regular IR remote, as the cabinet is pretty tall.

The basic design started by choosing the projection screen. I chose a Draper Salara matte white 84" x 84". This was the only projector I found that had the screen attachments flexible, all others had them on either side of the screen. I got the screen from, the only company that allowed me to get the very basic package (screen only, no remote controls whatsoever).

The next step was to design the system to perform the horizontal movement. After investigating linear actuators, I decided to go with a much simpler, home-made rack and pinion mechanism. This needs to move the projection screen horizontally about 15" (~38cm), and is powered by a small DC motor. Here is a small program in bc that I used to size the motor. The actual mathematics used in the program comes from here (look for motor selection and sizing). I bought the parts from, an excellent source for mechanical parts. The DC motor, as well as most of the wires, electronic components and others I bought from

To control the movement of the whole system, I chose to use a BasicStamp system. This component receives inputs from an IR sensor from the remote control, two limit switches to indicate when a horizontal movement should stop, and an IR emitter/receiver to limit the movement of the vertical screen. Here is the program to control the whole system.

Posted by ovidiu at 08:40 AM | Comments (0) |
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