Model Rockets: a blast from the past

One of my favorite hobbies when I was a kid was launching model rockets. I had a whole fleet of them, ranging from the four-inch Mosquito to the six-foot Mean Machine. In my teen years when I discovered the personal computer, I even wrote a database program to keep track of rocket flights. I advertised the software in a rocketry magazine and sold exactly three copies, if my memory serves me right.

Unfortunately, during my teenage years I lost interest in the rockets and in my early twenties I sold everything: rockets, launch pad, controllers, and parts. I even parted with a half-built three-engine cluster rocket. Sometime later I got married and started a family. Now, a few years later, I have three young boys in my family who would love to have all those rockets. This summer, I decided it was time to get back into the hobby.

As it turns out, the world of model rockets has changed bit since my childhood. First, there seem to be more companies making and selling model rockets. Back then it was mostly just Estes, but now there are many others. Secondly, there are some cool things you can do with rockets nowadays that were either impossible or expensive before. For example, launching one with a on-board video camera.

To get back into model rockets, the first thing I purchased was an Astra III Starter Set. This is from a company called Quest, and it contains everything that you need to get started. Unlike most of the similarly priced kits from Estes, this one even comes with a pack of engines. The launch equipment in this kit is very similar to what you’d get from Estes. Both the launch controller and the launch pad look almost identical. I did find that the launch pad was better-built than the Estes pad I used to have. Instead of the very rigid plastic, the Quest launch pad uses plastic that flexes slightly. This makes it easier to get the legs in and out, and the thing is almost indestructible.

The second thing I purchased was a key-chain spy cam. These things don’t give the highest quality video, but they are very cheap and light. Because of those qualities, they are commonly used for in-flight video on model rockets.

The videos below show the construction process, plus two flights from the on-board camera. I also recorded some instructional videos showing you how to use the camera (the manual is horrible), how to make your own recovery wadding, and how to design a stable rocket. Enjoy!

Building the perfect server for running Proxmox VE

In the old days, building a desktop computer was a way to save money over buying a pre-built one. Over time, that advantage has gone away. Now, the economics usually don’t work out unless you are building a PC for a particular purpose such as gaming or graphics design.

However, there is still an economic case to be made for building a server. At my place of employment, for example, I recently built a server for roughly half the cost of one sold by a major manufacturer with the same exact specs.

In addition to saving money, building a server also gives you a final product that is free from proprietary parts, so getting replacement parts is easy. With many servers offered by major manufacturers, the only way to to ensure that you can get replacement parts in a timely fashion is to purchase an expensive service contract.

The video you see on the right shows the process of building a server designed to run Proxmox VE and host virtual servers. I built this as a side project for a local non-profit organization. It hosts four Linux virtual servers, three of which run all the time and one that is used from time to time. Below is a list of the parts I used for the server built in the video:

Case/Chassis: NORCO RPC-231
Hot-swap drive cage: iStarUSA BPN-DE230SS
Power Supply: Topower Zumax ZU-650W
Motherboard: Supermicro Sever Motherboard H8SCM-F-O
Processor: AMD Opteron 4226 6-core, 2.7GHz
Heatsink/Fan: Dynatron A86G
RAM: Kingston ValueRAM 8GB KVR13E9/8I
RAID Controller: Adaptec 2260200-R 2405
SATA Cable for RAID controller: 3ware CBL-SFF8087OCF-05M
Hard drives (2): Seagate Barracuda 2 TB ST2000DM001

If you have questions or comments, head over the the video above and leave a comment or question on Youtube. I do a better job managing feedback on Youtube as opposed to here on my blog.

Coming soon to an area near you: widespread power outages

If you keep up with the news, you probably know about the recent power outage in the county of India that affected more than 350 million people. You probably also assumed that  you will never see something like that happen here in the United States.

Your assumption could very well be incorrect.

According to this National Geographic article, it is more a matter of when than a matter of if. A solar storm big enough to cause massive power outages already happened.  Fortunately, it was in 1859, long before electricity was an important part of our lives.  When we have another solar storm of that magnitude, the results could be devastating for  developed countries that are dependent on electricity for communication, transportation, and even for access to drinking water. Another storm like that one could cause widespread chaos, particularly in urban areas.  It could very well bring about the end of our way of life.

I have attached a video from National Geographic explaining this in detail.  Watch and learn.

Is Ubuntu Buggy?

The following question came from one of the readers of my blog:

Q. Does Ubuntu sometimes act buggy for you? It does for me. For example, sometimes on my Indicator Applet Session, my username partially repeats and covers up the power icon, so that I cant use that menu to lock screen, switch user, shut down etc. I’ve also had my screen re-lock just after I unlock it, forcing me to enter my password twice. I would like to think that these problems are my own fault. Otherwise, I could not convince as many users to switch to Ubuntu. (Where is is actually practical to do so) I’m using a computer that’s probably 4 years old, so I wonder if that has anything to do with it. I also wonder if I was not careful enough about verifying the hash of my iso, and checking the integrity of my cd. Those are the things that are somewhat in my control. I know you use newer hardware, so I was just wondering if you experience anything like this. I suppose on the server edition there is less to go wrong…

A. Interestingly enough, I occasionally have the very same problem with the power icon on my Ubuntu 10.04 laptop.  I’ve never had the issue on my desktop, which is still runing 9.04.  I don’t know if the problem is machine specific (such as a driver issue), or whether it is a problem specific to Ubuntu version 10.10.  I’ve not done any research on the problem, since tapping the power button on my laptop brings up the power menu with all the options that are missing from the top of the screen.  I think it is safe to say that the problem has nothing to do with not verifying the integrity of the CD or the hash of the ISO.
Although desktop Linux is commonly promoted with claims that it is more stable and faster that Windows, I’m not convinced that either is universally true.  The core of Linux is very stable and fast, but once you add X Windows, background applications and the like, it is comparable with other operating systems.  In some areas it is faster and more stable than Windows, but in other areas it is not as good.  The main reasons I use desktop linux instead of Windows are cost and security, and it has some other minor benefits as well.
However, in my opinion the server version of Ubuntu is definitely faster and more stable than Windows Server.  I’m basing this on my experience with the 2000 and 2003 versions of Windows Server.  It is possible that Microsoft has improved their server products in later versions.  In the years I’ve worked with Ubuntu Linux servers I cannot recall ever having something “strange” happen.  In other words, when something is not working it simply means I have not configured it correctly.  Ubuntu server is also faster and takes less disk space, letting you serve more people with less hardware investment.  At work we put several “virtual” servers on each physical server using a Linux-based product call Proxmox VE.  My estimation is that I can host six to eight virtual Linux servers using the same hardware resources required to host only two or three Windows servers.

Bernardotech moves to a new server

Bernardo’s Tech Blog has been successfully migrated from the server in my basement to a Ubuntu 8.04 virtual server at RackSpaceCloud.  All of the content was brought over from the old server, but you’ll notice that the theme has changed.  I may be doing some additional remodeling in the days ahead.

Having the blog hosted in the cloud will allow me to make some needed upgrades and changes to my on-site server, which in turn will hopefully allow me to speed up the development of Hunting Adventures, my second facebook application.  For those who have a Facebook account, you can check it out by clicking here.  It is fully playable already, but there will be many more features added before it is complete.

How to turn your child into a computer geek

memory1.JPGMy almost-three-year-old has gotten quite proficient at the game of memory.  You know, the one where you compete to find matching cards.  Not only is he good at remembering the location of the cards, but he can usually name the object or character on each of the cards.  So he now can correctly identify Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Goofy, and more.  While developing memory skills is a good thing, knowing who Goofy and Mickey Mouse are is not exactly a valuable skill.

memory2.JPGI figure if he can learn to identify useless characters, he can probably learn to identify useful objects such as computer components.  So I hunted down some sheets of blank 3.5″ diskette labels that had been in the cupboard for years, snapped a few pictures of computer components, and then designed and printed them using OpenOffice Writer.  Then I applied the labels to cardboard I salvaged from an empty cereal box.

CreativeTechs >> Training

I have attended a number of classes at creativetechs training and in general, have been quite impressed at their business model. They have classes on Lightroom, Photoshop, Photography, Dreamweaver and more. I recently finished the iPhone web apps course and today I attended the first class in the Android Java Apps course. They also have ongoing events like Retouch Live, and the John Greengo Photography Show. Now, I was not in Seatle, WA in person, but rather I was in the worldwide classroom on the internet. The live events are free, and they make money off the paid downloads. Rather than explaining it further, I’ll just send you there: creativetechs.com/training

P.S.
CreativeTechs also offers Seatle Mac support. creativetechs.com