Sep 29, 2010

The Things We Do For Love: Part I

The adventure begins!
First of all, let me warn everyone. This a kind of a long post. So if you have to pee you should do it now. Once this train gets rollin' everybody gets a ride.

Have you ever undertaken a task for someone else because they lacked the time or ability to do it themselves? You figured that the project was more or less straight forward and relativity simple, so you were more than happy to volunteer. However, not too long after you began to work on it, you found it to take a lot more effort that you could have imagined? What's that? You've never had that experience? And you are physically stimulated by starting house fires? Well then, you are a bad person and should stop reading now to avoid a crushing sense of guilt. Go ahead, I'll wait.....

Okay, now that all the sociopaths are gone, I would like to relay my recent adventure.
As one of the tens of regular readers of this blog, you likely already know that another Arabic-language class began recently. As you can imagine there were, just like last time, dozens of files that need to be distributed to dozens of students. Several years ago, while my family started attending the previous class, this process was somewhat tedious for our long-suffering instructor. This time around it's not much better; usually involving the students bringing in a USB memory stick and the instructor manually copying the same data to all of them, one at a time. Now, I don't use the term 'crime against humanity' very often, but watching a person take such laborious steps to distribute information is, at the very least, enough to make a kitten cry. So I decided to provide another option for him and for the class.

From I have read on several web sites, there is this trendy new thing called 'The Internet'. Apparently these web sites need it so they can 'exist' or whatever. Point being, I wanted to leverage this amazing new technology to make a more efficient and more delicious file distribution system. I also wanted a sandwich. NOTE: if there are any lingering sociopaths still reading, the preceding three sentences were written as 'ironic humor'. Look it up. It's totally a thing.

Anyway, I volunteered to make some kind of web-based, simple to use, and (of possible) awesome file server doo-dad. Since I am not exactly a millionaire, I wanted to do it as cheaply as possible (i.e. free). After my sandwich-based solution proved demonstrably inadequate, I moved on to other possibilities. I had a 12 year old Dell desktop that's been sitting on the floor, unused, for several years. Plus, I knew my way around Linux pretty well. I decided to use those as a foundation and get to work right away!

Several weeks later, I got started.

Getting started
While this new/old PS had the right power output, it was not the name form factor as the old one. It would only somewhat fit in the case, and none of the mounting holes aligned correctly. No problem, I thought, I can just bolt it to the vent openings on the back of the case. All the wires could still reach to where they needed to go, and I could close the case fine. So I did just that and hit the power button. But, again, there was only silence. Then I plugged the computer in, hit power again, and it whirred to life. And it didn't even catch on fire. Just as I thought, I was awesome and we were good to go, right?

Not so much. After about ten minutes I started to smell heat (that sounds impossible, but I think you get the idea). I thought the PS was overpowered after all, and I had fried the motherboard. But the system kept running fine. I was in the process of installing Ubuntu by this time, so I aborted the install so I could examine this more closely. When I took the CD out of the drive it was, and this is no hyperbole, hotter than a million suns. Certainly too hot to hold in my hand. Something was certainly amiss with the system. I cracked the case and checked it out.

Turns out the box fan that pulled heat off the CPU had failed. There was this plastic cowl that directed the heat coming off the CPU toward the fan and the fan would exhaust it out the back of the system. But with the fan not working, all the heat was just building up under the cowl. I took the cowl off and powered up again. But, within just a few minutes, the system was still running way too hot. Without any spare fans, I was befuddled. Then noticed that new replacement PS I was using has its own (relatively) giant fan designed to keep itself cool. And that fan was working. If I could somehow mount it in such a way so its intake fan was pulling heat off the CPU, that might do the trick. Sure the PS would constantly run hot, but they are cheap, easy to replace, and far more durable than any CPU. So my dilemma now was where and how to mount the PS to make this happen.

Due to its odd form factor, the PS I was now using would serve this purpose particularly well. Most power supplies have a simple in-line air flow design:  air coming in through the vent holes on the front and sides of the PC case would be pulled into the PS by a fan on the front, and then exhausted out the back by another fan (see this diagram). My PS had the same two-fan setup, but in this 'case'(see what I did there?), the PS exhausts the hot air out its side. This allows me to point the intake fan toward the CPU heat sink and still have the exhaust fan exposed; a typical style would have had the exhaust fan blocked by the case wall. In short, I knew what needed to be done, but had not yet figured out how to do it. Since mounting the PS into the case the normal way was not possible, I was unsure how to move forward. So I played a game on the XBox for an hour or so while I thought about it (I do that a lot when I am works surprisingly well).

My folly
After about the 12th wave of monsters, it came to me. I could drill a hole in the case! I would just need to make a hold big enough for the power cord to fit through. There was no way this was not an awesome idea. And, of course, it would work flawlessly because that's just how I roll. So I grabbed my Milwaukee V12 cordless drill, the biggest bit I had, and went to town. My little drill did surprisingly well punching holes through the metal of the case. My plan was to drill a bunch of 1/4" holes very close together and create an opening  ~2" x 1" in size. After about 30 minutes I was very pleased with my progress. But I also noticed everything nearby (including the inside of the PC) was covered with thousands of metal bit ejected by the drill. That would not be good if I powered up the PC. What's more I started getting this metallic taste in my mouth. So I grabbed our little shop vac and sucked up all the little bits. I also chugged some Pepsi to get that horrid taste to go away.

I then put the PS in the proper place. Only then did I realize my folly. While the hole looked all nice and tidy from the top, underneath it was jagged and very sharp. If I put the PS in there it would indeed fit, but there was so little clearance for the wire bundle, it would have been only a matter of time before all those tiny knives cut through the wire insulation and shorted out the entire system. I guess it wasn't such a flawless plan after all. Now what?

Perhaps, instead of aiming the PS intake fan the CPU from the side, I could aim it at the top. But the would require mounting the PS to the opposite side of the case. While the outer shell of the case was all plastic, the inner housing was a soft aluminum. I had an old bottle of Gorilla Glue around somewhere and I was somewhat certain knew for sure it would work. As it happened, I also had this fancy clamp thingie that I bought on a whim over a year ago. I think I had only used it once. But it just might work for me now. I remember what my old junior high wood-shop teacher always said: "So, Mike, have you ever been attracted to men?"**. When I would tell him he was a cool teacher, but that I didn't like him 'that way', he would look somewhat flustered and then say: "Remember Mike, measure twice, cut once!". Taking that advice, I made double sure the PS would fit. I taped it to the side of the case and then closed it. Huzzah! It fit perfectly! Now, where did I leave that Gorilla Glue??

I found in the most logical spot. On the floor. Under an old t-shirt. That I had been using as a dust rag. For over a year. Now that had the glue bottle in hand, the next task was unclogging the bottle. That took like 15 minutes and I got glue all over my hands. Gross. They can put a man on the Moon but can't make glue bottles out of some glue-proof material? I mean honestly. But I digress.... I put five little blobs of glue on the PS and clamped it to the side of the case. I wasn't really sure the glue would hold, but I figured I had nothing to lose.

It would need all night to dry so I went to bed. I dreamed of weird computer-shaped monsters speaking only in Arabic. They all had names. The ones that spoke to me were named Dusty, Sticky, and Rick. It was kind of disturbing. For Part II of this story, I will continue this saga and relate what happened when I actually did get the system working. Stay tuned!

**This did not actually happen. It was my elementary school math teacher

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