Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Wednesday, September 12, 2007

  Out of disk space in a foreign land

There are at least four theories regarding having computers in the third world.

1) Buy junk. Replace it in 9 months after it melts. Repeat in 9 months. The flaw in this scheme is losing a computer costs a lot of time and money to replace. Labor is cheap down here, but your data isn't.

2) Buy a (cheap) laptop. Laptops are designed to tolerate extremes of environment that desktops do not commonly have to deal with. Also, the battery acts as a built in UPS for the inevitable power failures. Still, I highly recomend getting a laptop cooler, as the heat fries the laptop's batteries quickly - a 40 dollar cooler can mean life or death for a battery - and as the typical laptop battery costs 150 bucks, the cooler is well worth the investment. I've tried several now, the one I like best is the coolermaster Notepal, which in addition keeping the thing at a good typing angle - is pure aluminum (so it won't rust), and has two usb fans that keep a laptop remarkably cool.

Note: I didn't learn this trick until AFTER I'd fried two batteries. Live and learn....

3) Build something low power and hermetically sealed. There are several options for this - the Koolu looks pretty darn good - so good, that they are backordered for the next month. I think they are missing the boat by not producing one that can boot from a 2GB memory stick, though.

4) Try to build something powerful that can withstand the environment: Heat, salt, humidity, power spikes and power failures... not to mention theft.

Me being me, I chose options 2,3 AND 4. After frying my laptop's last battery, I made one last trip back to the US Sunday, and splurged on building myself the best computer I could build. It's a quad core, and liquid cooled. Most people doing liquid cooling are into overclocking, me, I just want to move the fans out of the case, and under the air conditioner (when working), where they might keep the thing below 130F, on average. I also put 3 graphics cards in it, for at total of 6 displays possible. The 3 displays I have so far hang off of 25 foot cables (so the computer is safely locked up in the back)... the theory here was "one computer to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them". With keyboards in both rooms of my apartment I should be able to keep my context no matter where I am - and, theoretically, one expensive computer in a cybercafe divided by 6 keyboards and displays, e.g. users - is cheaper to maintain than 6 cheap computers.... Not that I intend to do anything cybercafe-wise, but schoolwise... maybe. This is a grand experiment.

Add one good 1800va ups for power spikes and backup...

Put your hard drive on external sata in a sealed case...

Filling the cooler was a bit of a pain. It took me half a day to find distilled water. Then it leaked at the processor, rendering the thing unbootable. Now, after drying out a bit, it boots as far as POST, but doesn't recognize either of the two keyboards I have for it... I sure hope option 3 works out, I have a huge backlog of video and music and interviews and stuff like that to edit down, and I have a ton of time, now, to get caught up and started working again.

hmm... maybe I should get a hair dryer in Rivas... ah... civilization....

I would still like to build a hermetically sealed unit, but the purely sealed power supplies are kind of rare, and certainly powering a quad core with one is unlikely. Also, the video cards are too tightly spaced to liquid cool, so there's a fan on those... I may step down to 4 displays just for that reason....

Still - I now have all the basics a geek needs to telecommute from Nicaragua, I just gotta make it all work now. (yea, I also fixed my laptop)

But surf's up the rest of the week, and it's a holiday here for the next few days, and I blew most of the last week putting together the last pieces of infrastructure (though I still need lots of furniture), and I'm going to enjoy a few days off.

... Unless the darn uberbox dries out on its own....

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Comments:
Just so you're aware, the Koolu can boot from most USB devices including USB keys and USB CDROMS. Currently they do not include one that boots from a 2GB USB stick because the stock Ubuntu install is larger than that.

Koolu also just got stock and haven't updated their website yet. Order one and you'll be surprised.
 
Rubbing alcohol (from the local Nicaraguan Walgreens?) binds with H2O and evaporates quicker than plain H20. I accidentally drowned a Sony notebook once with a glass of water. The notebook turned itself off REAL FAST when hit with the water and, thereafter, wouldn't do squat. After several days of futzing about, I called Sony. They wanted $900 to "fix" it (by replacing motherboard and disk drive). Nuts! So instead, I bought two bottles of rubbing alcohol at Walgreens, disassembled the unit and drenched the motherboard with alcohol and left it out on the patio in the summer in Phoenix AZ for 24 hours. When re-assembled, it worked fine and has continued to do so for several years hence. (It's running Debian Sarge at the moment.)
 
If you wanted to try the off-the-deep-end approach, there's always the mineral oil submersed system...
 
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David Täht writes about politics, space, copyright, the internet, audio software, operating systems and surfing.


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