Category - Uncategorized

OT: Century III Mall, not quite a dead mall, but sure heading that way
Something old, something new: building a NAS with a few older parts
New project: modifying Logitech C920 webcam for PCB inspection
Minor problems on email
My Custom HP Logic Analyzer 16700A Cart
My new i7-4790k Desktop build
$28 Gonbes GBS8200 Scandoubler for use with Commodore Amiga
Kickstarter: Commodore, The Amiga Years Book
DIY 115 watt flexible LED Task Lamp
migrated website to a new host

OT: Century III Mall, not quite a dead mall, but sure heading that way

Century III Mall is an ailing enclosed shopping mall located in the southern Pittsburgh suburb of West Mifflin, Pennsylvania.

I lived nearby this mall, and this was definitely “our” mall for kids like me growing up in the 1980s and 1990s. I visited the mall in July 2017 because I had heard it wasn’t doing so well, and here are my thoughts and observations.

Approaching the mall and the exterior

As you approach Century III from on top of the hill, the first thing you notice is everything in the general area is run-down
  • The stop lights feel like they are 20 years old. Just old infrastructure. I suppose I never knew that there was such a direct correlation between how the businesses in the area were doing, and how updated the surrounds would actually be.
  • The roads have a ton of potholes, and it’s clear that no one has put money into the approach areas in quite some time.
  • Some car entrances are blocked off with Jersey barriers, and have gone completely overgrown vegetation
  • Many of the signs are weathered or just contain outdated information
  • Some of the pedestrian Entrances to the physical building are closed, papered, with lease signs up.
  • The parking lots, covered parking spaces, are just old and deteriorated. If this was clean,and new, I’m not sure I would have noticed, but definitely notice the opposite
  • The actual buildings themselves are old and filthy, and just need a good cleaning.
  • There were a half dozen crew of workers outside taking care of the very limited external greenery.


  • Only certain entrances are accessible. Dick’s looks like the best of them.
  • The overall appearance inside is dated, but relatively clean.
  • While there were stains visible on the carpets, they were clean. They didn’t bother me.
  • There was some excessive wear on the carpeted steps.
  • There were essentially no customers anywhere. I don’t see how this place can subsist on this small amount of foot traffic.

Some highlights

  • Not all of the inside lighting was on, or turned up.
  • Despite this, the natural lighting was really nice inside the mall. I loved the way the sun shone through the skylights. This place really used to be something, and I can still feel the potential of the building.
  • The fountain was really very nice, but it’s been shut off and drained.
  • The two-story carousel was really awesome, and seemed to be one of the busiest places. Besides my own, there were easily 6-8 kids riding that thing. That was more customers than I saw in most of the other stores.
  • Dick’s was by far the most modern store there, and everything inside that store was as it should be
  • The elevator looked and worked fine.

Other notable things

  • Italian Village Pizza shut down on Friday June 30th. It was definitely closed on Saturday. This was the last food place open in the food court.
  • Many of the tables and chairs were put away in the food court.
  • Auntie Anne’s Pretzels are still being made fresh every day, and their lemonade is still tasty!
  • The food court area and beyond is one of the desolate places in the mall, there’s simply nothing happening over there. I will say that I absolutely love all the nooks/crannies/ramps/steps in that general area. Radio Shack and AT&T Wireless was over in that general area, if memory serves me correctly.
  • While I can’t quite place it, there is something quite compelling about the wooden top railings used all over the mall. They feel very unique to me. I was so glad to see that they survived any remodeling.

Video Panning Tour

Thee and half minutes of no audio, with simply panning of the camera to show different areas of the mall. Some slow walking video. It’s boring, but does give you a sense of the place a little better than still images. You’ve been warned.

While my online ordering habits and general hatred of crowds have likely contributed in some infinitesimally small way to this place’s demise, I can’t help but think it’s a darn shame that places like this have to die. During the summers of 5th through 8th grade, Century III mall was my stomping ground. My younger sister and I played endlessly there. My mom worked there for a time. We did our Christmas shopping there. We bought at least two of my earlier computers from JC Penny’s and Radio Shack. These computers were the ones that helped shaped who I am today.
I have a fair number of foreign visitors to the site, and I’m not sure how much they can relate. In America, our malls were our cultural centers. Despite being reachable by public transportation, the malls were a close, short drive. Plenty of free parking. We did everything there — we shopped, we ate, we met our friends, we played in the Videogame Arcades — before the world wide web, if you wanted to go learn about a new video game, or a new console, or a new computer —- you did it at the mall. I bought my first modem from the Radio Shack at the mall.  They were climate controlled cool place to go during a hot summer. While I didn’t, you might have kissed your first girlfriend at the mall, maybe in the theater at the mall.
Parents would drop their kids off at the mall. We kept a quarter in our pockets to call home and ask for a ride back.
The memories of running around that place with my kid sister are so tangible, I can still remember it as though it was yesterday. It was 30 years ago.
I can’t help but wonder if this is just an artifact of getting older. The people you knew, the places you went, the things you did as “youngsters” — slowly fade away. You talk about how “things used to be.” And hear stories from your parents about what used to be in that parking lot, or where you rode your bikes.
Because I heard about the Italian Village Pizza closing, I took my two under-10 kids to the mall. I asked them what they thought about this faded relic? They thought it was a great place. The worn carpet they noticed, but they loved the Merry-Go-Round and they too, thought it was shame to be closing.
I have no information about when or if the whole mall is going to close. Given the state and lack of foot traffic, it sure feels like the end is near.

This is an off-topic post for my blog, but I felt it was important enough to post. Future posts will resume with retro electronics goodness!

Something old, something new: building a NAS with a few older parts


About eight years ago, I bought a Dell XPS 420 pictured above. This was an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 running at 2.83ghz. With 8GB of ram. Despite running reliably for over 8 years, the main problem was that the case was a piece of crap. The ventilation on it was horrible, and the (2) supported hard drive slots were just ran too hot. I modded the case adding multiple 120mm fans for an improvement, but this case was never going to support more than a couple drives. Never mind, also, that the motherboard was a BTX format. You’ve read right, BTX. Not ATX. Not microatx. Not ITX. BTX. As in the supposed next gen motherboard format. It didn’t pan out. Despite being (8) years old, this processor still ran like a champ, though, and due to previously virtualizing the physical Windows 10 machine with VMware Workstation, I had no other use for the hardware.

Now enter These guys are my heros. I feel at home with other people storing tens to hundreds of terabytes. at home. for no reason other than to do it! I was in heaven! This was my inspiration.

Here were my goals:

  • Use my existing processor and 8GB ram. There’s nothing wrong with them, plus this processor can be OC’d, if necessary.
  • Build something with reasonable performance and obvious bottlenecks removed.
  • Make sure that the solution that I implement can be upgraded at a later date. Don’t spend money that will simply be thrown away.

Here’s what I ended up with:

PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant

Type Item Price
CPU Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 2.83Ghz Quad-Core Processor Purchased For $0.00
CPU Cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO 82.9 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler $24.88 @ OutletPC
Motherboard Intel DQ45CB Micro ATX LGA775 Motherboard Purchased For $22.50
Memory Wintec Value 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2-800 Memory Purchased For $0.00
Memory Wintec Value 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2-800 Memory Purchased For $0.00
Storage PNY CS1311 120GB 2.5″ Solid State Drive $39.99 @ Best Buy
Case Cooler Master Storm Scout 2 (Black) ATX Mid Tower Case $96.99 @ Best Buy
Power Supply Antec 550W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply $89.99 @ SuperBiiz
Other SAS9211-8I 8PORT Int 6GB Sata+sas Pcie 2.0 $99.35 @ Amazon
Other iStarUSA BPN-DE340SS-RED Red Color 3×5.25 to 4×3.5 SAS / SATA Trayless Hot-Swap Cage $91.00
Prices include shipping, taxes, rebates, and discounts
Total (before mail-in rebates) $474.70
Mail-in rebates -$10.00
Total $464.70
Generated by PCPartPicker 2016-11-30 17:28 EST-0500

Rationale for new parts:

CPU Cooler: Pretty popular one, and could easily dissipate the 95W from that processor. I might overclock, so that cooler gives me headroom.

Motherboard: It was $22.50 shipped, supported my processor, supported my DDR2-800 RAM, had (5) onboard SATA II’s which should support most hard drives just fine. I don’t think new compatible motherboards are made any longer for this processor. Onboard video is nice because then I can use the PCI-e 2.0 x16 slot for the SATA card below. Gigabit LAN. This part would be thrown away (along with the CPU and RAM) once I decide to upgrade.

Storage: PNY1311. This is basically the cheapest SSD that still got decent reviews. It was about $40 for the 120gb model. I’m planning on running linux. I think my current install takes around 9gb. I’ll have plenty of room. Besides, I’m not actually copying any large amounts of data to or fro on it. I don’t want to use a spinning drive for the OS boot device.

Case: Although I’m not a big fan of the shape, it has a few things going for it. It has a nice carry handle at the top. It has plenty of venting including room for (9) fans — (3) included with the purchase. It has a side window. The INTERNAL hard drive slots number about 7. The hard drive slots face OUT of the case which makes AMCs very good. The (3) external slots are very useful for the drive cage below. Supports both 2.0 USB on the front panel AND 3.0. This is perfect — 2.0 for now, 3.0 for later!

Trayless hot-swap cage: This is very nice feature. I bought the 4-banger instead of the 5-banger because the 4 inserts better than the 5. It’s great to add, move, change a drive without taking the case side off. It fits because it has specific support for rails in between the three external slots. The other versions will likely require you to mod your case! Pay attention to the slots cuts into the sides of certain units.

Power Supply: 550W should be sufficient. The processor takes 95W. I wanted to add plenty of headroom for powering drives. Fully modular is really nice for cable management.

LSI 9211-8i SATA card: This card supposedly has great Linux support, and many people in the datahoarding community recommended it. I sent an email recently about support and got emailed a useful answer back within 5 minutes!! This card supports (8) SATA ports at 6.0gbps each. I’m willing to bet this interface is faster than the on board ports!


  • (4) hot-swap trayless drive bays available with easy in/out. I’m a little worried about the small 80mm fan on the back of this. I’m going to monitor temps on these drives.
  • Physical support for about (10) drives. I’m using one of the bays for the OS boot drive SSD.
  • Proper power supply. Those drives might take as much as 250 watts PEAK on startup.
  • I think a 2.83ghz quad-core (non HT though!) should be beefy enough for a NAS box. We’ll see!
  • 8GB of RAM should also be sufficient for a mostly headless Ubuntu install.
  • While this is the physical SETUP, what’s the logical one going to be? I’m not sure. I think Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, SnapRaid, mergerfs, with rclone/crypt going to Amazon Clone Drive.

Wish list for next upgrade

  • USB 3.0 for fast flash drive access. I might buy a PCIe 2.0 x1 card for this soon!
  • Modern hyperthreaded processor. I have to learn where the bottlenecks for this current/new system would be!
  • Maybe dual gigabit with some bonding capability. Yes, I’d have to upgrade the switch too. Not sure how cost effective this is. I can see how 125MB/s isn’t going to cut it if I end up striping somehow.
  • ECC RAM for sure. Again, how much does that increase my overall costs?
  • I’d love to have most/all drives be external drive cages. Support for 10-12 drives externally!

Please feel free to comment below. Especially if you have ideas for how to provision this box. My LSI card comes in a couple days.

UPDATE Dec 2016

I had major compatibility problems with the DQ45CB motherboard and the LSI 9211-8i card. The main problem was that the mobo detected the LSI card as a video card, and shut off the needed onboard video. When I added a PCIe x1 video card, then Ubuntu started throwing a bunch of errors. And Windows 10 wouldn’t even boot. After days of fighting to resolve the various conflicts, I simply ended up buying some new stuff. More expensive, yes, but simpler with a better end result. I ended up adding:

  • Intel E3-1275v5 processor at 3.6ghz. Quad Core / 8 Threads. Supports ECC RAM
  • Supermicro motherboard x11ssh-F-O. Supports ECC, 8 onboard SATA ports, plenty of PCIe slots, USB 3.0, and everything else you’d expect
  • 32GB of DDR4 ECC. It’s the slowest DDR available, but this is what’s supported with the CPU/mobo combination
  • A couple WD 4TB Gold drives, and a couple WD 8TB Gold drives. These are probably the best drives in the world for my application, have long 5-year warranties, high MTBFs, and I’m really hoping I get the ROI I think I’m paying for.

This is now probably more than just a NAS. It could easily host a few VMs, with processor time to spare.


  • Windows 10. Ubuntu 16.04 LTS isn’t directly supported by my motherboard, and again, I’m taking the path of least resistance. Windows 10 is fine and supports my preferred pooling solution.
  • StableBit DrivePool. Really sweet software, and it’s driving my OS choice. mergerfs on Linux seems to still have many issues to work out, and StableBit (despite being ~$56 commercial) just seems more reliable with tons of configuration features to really dial in what I need. Love it so far.
  • rclone with encrypted Amazon Cloud Drive for backup. This is my current backup solution, although it’s lacking in many ways. ACD will accept my full 150mbps pipe, which just kicks butt for fast uploading. It’s free. I still have to come up with versioning and better backup support. rclone is fantastic, but it just lacks some key features that I’d like to layer on top.
  • SnapRaid for my hashing, silent bit corruption detection, and repair needs. This software seems plenty mature, and it essentially works but I’m simply not happy with how it’s working with the rest of my setup. Maybe my setup needs to stabilize a bit before SnapRaid will make sense?


New project: modifying Logitech C920 webcam for PCB inspection



I’ve recently spent some time modifying a Logitech C920 webcam for PCB inspection and soldering. Head over to the page for project pictures, links to the various components, tricky gotchas I found during the project, and more!

Modifying Logitech C920 webcam


My Custom HP Logic Analyzer 16700A Cart

So after looking at the high priced real HP logic analyzer cart that didn’t look that great to me, I decided to build my own incorporating a ton of features that just really makes my life easier. This is optimized for use over cost.

The physical make up

  • It uses solid 2×2 poplar posts as the overall frame. Easily available from Home Depot.
  • The surface is 3/4″ birch veneered plywood. I use this plywood for a bunch of projects. It’s pretty solid stuff, and the birch really looks nice on top.
  • The surface is treated with Polycrylic. Polycrylic resists damage from abrasion, scuffing, chipping, water, alcohol and other common household chemicals. This is nice stuff, but expensive. Nice topcoat.
  • The visible layered plywood sides were wrapped with birch veneer that I ironed on with a clothes iron.
  • The overall dimensions are 24″ Wide, 27″ Deep, 35″ High including the 4″ high Casters.
  • This thing is built like a brick shithouse. Even with the Heavy LA on it, it’s really sturdy.


Labeled Features

  1. The monitor is a 20″ 4:3 Samsung. It was an older one, but that’s exactly what I wanted. I don’t think it will do the 1600×1200 max resolution, but the next one down (1280 x 1024?) It’s connected to an Ergotron(love this company’s stuff) monitor arm so that I can push/pull/adjust/spin/raise the monitor over top of DUT’s.
  2. This is a 115 watts of light DIY flexible task lamp that I built myself out of spare strip LEDs. It uses less than 20 watts of power. Look here if you’d like to see the full design for it. It works very nicely.
  3. The static dissipative naprene rubber mat from 3M 8831 is beautiful. It’s a great tough surface that really works. I have a wrist-strap (w/ 1M resistor) attached to the corner. The mat is fully grounded through the power strip on the rear.
  4. This custom sliding keyboard shelf is almost 20″ wide and includes a Cherry ML4100 keyboard that is compatible with the LA. I also added a Kensington trackball M01082 which is much more practical given the space limitations. I like this solution better than trying to jam a full-sized keyboard in there. The shelf was put at an ergonomic height.
  5. This is the HP LA itself. Right now, it’s outfitted with a 16752A, (2) 16715A’s, (2) 16717A’s.
  6. I found a generic storage bin that really fit the space underneath the cart. Perfect dimensions. I use it for storing cables, CDs, manuals, and everything related. Nice to have it all in one place.
  7. These are 4″ Black 4″ Black locking Polyolefin Wheels, model L3PB4X. Support up to 250 pounds. I originally used 2″ casters, these are so much better.

Other things that are nice to have

  • A 12-outlet Belkin Surge Suppressor with a 10-foot cord. This is nice because everything attaches to the strip which is zip-tied to the frame, and then just one cord leaves the cart to the outlet. This means I can wheel this thing around my make-shift lab and have it exactly where I want with minimal mess.
  • A wireless bridge that connects the wired RJ45 network port to 802.11 wifi. The brand is IOGEAR, and it simply does the job beautifully. This prevents me from running an ethernet cable over to the LA.

My new i7-4790k Desktop build


I needed some more horsepower for my FPGA compiles, and because it’s been so long since my last PC build, I decided to take advantage of some free time I had, and build a new machine.

This machine is a quad-core i7 build with 32GB of DDR3 and (2) 240GB SSDs.

PCPartPicker part list:
Price breakdown by merchant:

CPU: Intel Core i7-4790K 4.0GHz Quad-Core Processor  ($279.99 @ Micro Center)
CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-C12P SE14 65.0 CFM CPU Cooler  ($63.97 @ OutletPC)
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z97X-Gaming 5 ATX LGA1150 Motherboard  ($129.99 @ B&H)
Memory: (2) G.Skill Sniper Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-1866 Memory  ($104.78 @ OutletPC)
Storage: (2) Sandisk Extreme Pro 240GB 2.5″ Solid State Drive  ($129.88 @ OutletPC)
Video Card: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2GB WINDFORCE Video Card  ($109.99 @ Newegg)
Case: Corsair SPEC-03 Red ATX Mid Tower Case  ($69.99 @ Newegg)
Power Supply: Rosewill 500W 80+ Gold Certified Semi-Modular ATX Power Supply  ($69.99 @ Amazon)
Optical Drive: Asus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS DVD/CD Writer  ($18.75 @ OutletPC)

Here are some photos from the build, enjoy!

nerdporn justcpu finished_outside finished_closeup cpu_wpaste before_cpu_fan

$28 Gonbes GBS8200 Scandoubler for use with Commodore Amiga


While I probably would have preferred to order an Indivision ECS scan doubler, a really nice alternative is a Gonbes GBS8200 video converter off of ebay. I had bought version 2.0 sometime in 2010 or 2011, and could not make it work in any fashion. I think, at the time, the limitation was the ability to handle a combined horizontal and vertical (composite) sync signal at a low refresh rate ~15khz, like the Amiga puts out.

I decided to try a new version, version 4.0, from the first quarter of 2014. I bought this on ebay for $28.00 shipped which is an awesome deal. I received the board three days later in the mail, which is impressive for free shipping!

Here’s the ebay item number and description in the case where the number will change:

Genuine Gonbes GBS8200 CGA/EGA/YUV/RGB To VGA Arcade Game Video Converter Latest

Luckily, I already had “stock” at my house of DB23F connectors, and I’m glad I bought some extra when I did. It seems there are still some sources around (in mid-2015) for some connectors, although prices seem to be going up. Worst case, you could hack an existing cable, or buy a replacement video cable off ebay, and use that.

For pinouts, you only have to connect (5) wires to get this working:

DB23 pin to VGA converter wire color

3 to RED

4 to GREEN

5 to BLUE

10 to GRAY (Composite Sync signal)

16 to BLACK (GND)

When the video converter powers up, press DOWN/AUTO button to get the unit to sync up. You may need to modify the horizontal position(I needed X position: 57) or adjust the zoom.

My unit powered up in Chinese. You need to select option 4 (bottom option) for language, and then choose English on the next menu.


I powered this with my Rigol DP832 power supply and measured the current draw at various voltages. Note that you should NOT power this thing off of the Amiga’s DB23 video port. It simply can’t support the current draw.

Current draw in idle mode(no video): uses about 1.6 watts or +12v 133ma, +8.5v 180ma, +5v 300ma

Current Draw in active mode: uses about 2.4 watts or +12v 200ma, +8.5v 276ma, +5v 468ma.

So if you use a +5v regulated power supply, you need to be at least 625ma if you wanted a 25% safety margin. A 1 amp supply would probably be better. Note that the official specs call for 2 amps of current at +5v. My field testing doesn’t really prove that number out. I’ll keep it running for awhile, maybe something goofy happens like as it heats up, it draws more current, or something.

This blog here helped me, but remember, it’s not safe to power it off the video port!

Update: I’ve tested this on two different models, a Widescreen Samsung S22C300 monitor, and an older square Samsung SyncMaster 204B.

DIY 115 watt flexible LED Task Lamp


ledtask_headSo I wanted a very bright flexible LED task Lamp that didn’t break the budget. I had a few feet of 7020 LED strip lighting left over from my undershelf LED lights, so I decided to put those to the task. These LEDs give off about 33-35 lumen per LED, and I’m using 54 LEDs for the task. That’s about 1836 lumen which translates to roughly 115 watts of light. The best part is that it’s very efficient, only using under 20 watts of power, including power supply losses, measured by kill-a-watt.

Shopping list:

  • 120mm x 100mm x 18mm Heat Sink: The mounting base for the LEDs is an aluminum heat sink. All these LEDs give off a bunch of heat in a small space, so a heat sink is crucial. While I could have done the thermal calculations to determine exactly which heat sink to buy, I had a hard time even finding a suitable size and shape of heat sink I wanted, that could be delivered in a reasonable time frame. $12 prime-shipped.
  • The 7020 LED strip lights from ebay and China: These things are freakin’ awesome. Really bright, really easy to use. You power them with +12v using a regular off the shelf adapter. The LEDs feature a positive and negative rail that runs down the length of the super flexible PCB. They include adhesive on the back. $23 for (16) feet of the stuff shipped from China, via the slow boat, seriously.
  • 18″ flexible gooseneck and desk clamp: I could have ordered a 24″ for just about the same price, and I think that would have been the better choice. This gooseneck is really high quality and the stiffness makes me think it will last a long time before I need to replace it. This is NOT the cheap quality stuff you get on IKEA/Walmart/Target lamps. This company’s website is a little hokey and my order errored out the first time I placed it. About $32 plus shipping is fixed around $13 for the two items, which is sort of ridic, but whatever. The most expensive part of the lamp.
  • A cheap 12v power supply: Provides +12v at 5 amp which is more than enough. This lamp only draws about 1.3 amps, so you could get something smaller. $8 prime-shipped.

 Installation Notes:

  • Notice that there is a positive and negative rail that runs lengthwise down the strip. On one side, notice that I cut the negative rail short, and on the other side, I cut the positive rail short. This is so I could run my own power bus straight down and connect all the strips together. +12v rail on one side, GND on the other.
  • Both the center of the strips and the edges are insulated off of the aluminum heat sink. While there is some separation with the adhesive, I wanted to make sure this stuff didn’t short!
  • I used a smaller stranded wire (24 gauge) to connect the strips but only for 6 or 7 inches. I convert quickly to 18 gauge which should be much more sufficient.
  • I used heat shrink tubing extensively to add better protection for the wires.
  • I drilled a 3/8″ hole in the bottom of the heatsink to mount the gooseneck. The gooseneck didn’t have much metal to “grab” so I used two different JBWELD products. Their stuff is awesome. I used SteelStik (soft, flexible, steel-fiber, epoxy putty) to form a top cap. I also used their ClearWeld at the base of heatsink which rests on the top lip of the gooseneck. Is this overkill? Probably. Will this connection break in my lifetime, almost certainly not! See pictures below.
  • I added an inline switch to the AC side of the power supply figure-8 cable.
  • These LEDs are on the blue end of the spectrum and produce a very very white light. This is completely different from Incandescent light, and you if you photograph under it, make sure to adjust your white balance accordingly.
  • I’ve made a huge leap of faith with this heat sink. I could be entirely underestimating the amount of heat dissipation required. I can tell you that after an hour of running, some parts of the LEDs are close to their maximum operating temperature(170F), while the rear of the heatsink (average temperature) is around 85F. The fins are much hotter.


migrated website to a new host

Over the last week, I migrated this blog to a new hosting provider. GoDaddy was such a pig and the site just ran like molasses when hosted by them. I couldn’t be happier with the switch that I’ve made, but I could very well have broke something that I haven’t realized yet. If there were resources that you were using but are no longer available, please leave a comment, and I’ll fix them up.