Solar cells reach 40% efficiency

From the article:

...a concentrator solar cell produced by Boeing-Spectrolab has recently achieved a world-record conversion efficiency of 40.7 percent, establishing a new milestone in sunlight-to-electricity performance. This breakthrough may lead to systems with an installation cost of only $3 per watt, producing electricity at a cost of 8-10 cents per kilowatt/hour, making solar electricity a more cost-competitive and integral part of our nation’s energy mix.

This is pretty exciting. Keep an eye on this technology to see when it goes commercial. This, plus the ability to resell power to the grid is going to mean good things in the near future.


mail server ip changing

mail.phauna.org, smtp.phauna.org, and imap.phauna.org are all changing from to This is so that I can get reverse DNS working for the mail server IP. Sorry for any inconvenience.


everydns getting pwnzd

everydns, our free DNS provider, seems to be getting pwnzd by a botnet. The attack started last Friday, and the guys at everydns thought they had it fixed by Sunday. They were down again this evening. It's starting to look like maybe everydns is just flat going to lose, so I'm moving DNS to my server. I would expect some service outages due to this.

update 2006-12-06@11:00am: All domains have been switched over to ns1.phauna.org. We're no longer affected by everydns' problems.


are you ready for peacecow?

There will probably be some intermittent issues this weekend as I move things to a new virtual host I rented.

The major plus side is that after everything is moved, it will all be much faster.



a real plan for spam

Spam sucks. It especially sucks for me because:

  • I can't punt by using gmail or hosted gmail--I need to host phauna.org email myself for reasons not related to spam.

  • As a bit of an idealist, I like to think I shouldn't have to hide my email address from the world, so it's posted in a number of places around the internet.

Fortunately, there are decent solutions to those willing to spend the effort. I've recently spent the effort, and decided to let the rest of the world know how I did it.

I've divided the report into big-picture theory and the specifics of my implementation on a 64-bit linux gentoo server running exim.


political video night

here's some of what i'm watching on this eve of the elections:

a quick take on the military commissions act of 2006

Michael Badnarik on the Constitution

Debate on the military commissions act

warrantless wiretapping discussion

what's wrong with this picture?

let () =
Arg.parse specl anonfun usage_msg;
match List.rev !anonargs with
| [] -> Arg.usage specl usage_msg; exit 1
| args ->
match !conf with None -> () | Some conf -> do_config conf;
let string = "world" in
printf "hello %s\n%!" string;


Review of Practical OCaml

At work, we're always interested in interesting OCaml developments. This is why we were very excited when a new book on OCaml came out, in english no less! (The O'Reilly OCaml book was originally published in French, but now there's an english translation online). The prospects were great. How did it actually come out, you ask?

Title: Practical OCaml

Author: Joshua B. Smith

Technical Reviewer: Richard Jones, of Merjis
Publisher: Apress, part of the Practical series (which published, notably, Practical Common Lisp)

Pages: 456

Published: 2006



Here's a simple, but sweet idea: ordinary batteries that recharge by plugging into a usb port.

I like it; having all that specialized apparatus to recharge your rechargables was always a big downside.


hdd suspension in my Antec NSK3300

I ended up getting the Antec NSK3300 after all. Here's how I suspended the drives.

The NSK3300 comes with two metal trays with silicone grommets for mounting the hard drives. One is on the bottom of the case:

And the other is in the top compartment where the power supply is:

I took these out, thinking maybe I could use their structure for my suspension mount, somehow. Here's a better picture of exactly what this piece looks like:

The grommets come out easily, and if you reposition them so they're right on top of those funny looking bumps in the metal, they end up in exactly the right spot to mount a laptop hard drive:

(to strap the drives on, I used some elastic bands I found at the local dollar store.)

It turns out, these laptop drives I got are really quiet. So quiet that I probably didn't even need to suspension mount them to get rid of vibrations. However, the power supply that comes with the NSK3300 has exactly two SATA power cables: one long one that can reach all the way to the tray on the bottom of the case, and one short one that is intended for the tray in the top compartment of the case. Both cables do reach the upper front area of the main compartment, which is where it's easiest to suspension mount. So I decided to stack the drives and suspension mount them together:

The elastic works as a nice soft-separator between the upper tray and the lower drive, leaving a small strip of air between (not sure if that's better or worse for airflow, though they seem to be staying cool enough--keep reading). Zip-ties on the corners keeps this contraption in one piece:

From here it's just straight mounting using more of that handy elastic stuff you can get at the dollar store. Here are pictures of something close to what I ended up with (ignore the blob of white goo on the right corner of the tray, that was a failed experiment):

If you actually tried to do this, you would note that removing the trays leaves four little holes which could disrupt airflow. To fix this, I used some gooey earplug stuff I had laying around, and just plugged them up:

A note about the NSK3300: The power supply cabling sucks. The cables are generally too short, and there's this black plastic gizmo that's supposed to guide them from the upper chamber to the lower one, and it's basically designed bass-ackwards. It wants to push the cables towards the left side of the case, but the cables want to go toward the right, closer to the motherboard where they plug in. This leaves you two options: you can remove the black plastic gizmo altogether, or you can invert it and use it backwards. In order to invert it, you have to do something about these plastic grooves on one side:

I just took a sharp knife and carved them off. I also had to chop off another piece of it so it looked like this (it's normally rectangular--the top right is what I chopped off):

Here's a picture of this black plastic thingy installed backwards from how they shipped it:

That's basically all the modding I had to do to get this beautiful case to work for me. I have some concern that the elastic on my suspension mount might eventually wear through, or (more likely) slip, leaving the drives at a funny angle (just getting it level initially was tricksy enough); the actual suspension is the part I struggled the most with. I haven't yet figured out how to read the temperature sensors in my hard drives (if I have any), but they are always cool to the touch when I check on them, so I think temperature-wise they're fine.

In reality, if you had a performance rig you might have to worry a lot more about airflow than I do.  I'm running a mobile-on-desktop motherboard with onboard everything and a mobile core 2 duo processor.  At the wall the whole computer draws 30-38 watts.  So far I've never been able to get the cpu fan past the lowest speed, and the lowest speed on the 120mm case fan is sufficient airflow for the whole case.


up and running

The switch to new hardware has been going very well. Currently email and most web sites are working on the new server. One exception that I know about is webmail, which is currently borken.
The only thing users should notice is a bunch of new certificates/keys:

  • there is a new ssl certificate for IMAP, that you have to tell your client to accept

  • once webmail comes up, there will be a new ssl certificate for https

  • for those that use ssh on warchicken, there is a new ssh key

I will post any complications that arise here.

Update: Webmail should be fixed.  There was also an issue with smtp authentication that was discovered and corrected this morning.  Pretty soon we can turn off the old, noisy, power-sucking warchicken.

maintenance this weekend

I'm planning to switch warchicken to the new hardware this weekend.  I expect mail and www to be down this evening starting around 5 or 6.  Hopefully everything will also be back up this evening, but it might take into tomorrow.


let's try this again

  • Antec NSK3300 MicroATX tower [~$100 w/shipping]

  • Gigabyte GA-8I945GMMFY-RH (Mobile on Desktop motherboard) [~$165]

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T5600 1.83Ghz CPU [$250]

  • 1 GB super-fast RAM [$170]

  • 2 new 200GB SATA drives [2x$70 = $140]

  • Reuse my current DVD writer

Total moneys: $825

This is a real computer. Unlike the VIA stuff, it can actually compute. Plus, if I wanted, I could put a real video card in it someday.

Granted, it's not as small as mini-itx, but it's still way smaller than my current setup. And the power usage rivals mini-itx setups (I expect the setup to use well under 100W, probably around 50W).

The catch? The NSK3300 doesn't really have room for two well-cooled soft-mounted HDDs. So I'll have to hack up my own HDD suspension mount, something like this (but with two drives):

hdd suspension mount

One minor downside is that because there's only a single IDE channel, I have to buy two new SATA drives. This isn's strictly true, but I think with the drives being so far from the DVD burner, one IDE cable probably won't reach. On the other hand, it might, which would allow me to use one of my current drives. I could also look into getting one of these nifty devices.


a snazzier solution

Total cost: $750
And there we have a smaller, quieter, sexier solution.  The only fans are the 60mm case fan and the optional CPU fan (if I got the CN10000, there we be no CPU fan).


  • With the newer C7 chip and 533Mhz FSB, I'm not worried about being able to keep up with the current warchicken.

  • It's probably pretty quiet, though it's hard to gauge exactly how much more quiet it would be than the aforementioned lowest cost solution.

  • It's small.

  • It's going to use less power than the Venus.


  • It's getting up there in price.

  • There are a couple more powerful CPU setups out there I could be using.  For example, I could get a Core Duo [$183] setup [$315] for a total of around $1050; or I could upgrade slightly from the CN13000 to the EN15000, which is the fastest VIA chip out there (and it brings a premium of $75 over the CN13000, for a new total of $825 plus shipping).

My current feeling is to go with the Venus because the reuse of parts is just too tempting.  Even the huge Venus case is going to be small compared to what I've got.  And a lot quieter & lower power.  But I probably shouldn't get too frugal and skimp on the mainboard and ram.  So the current favorite is the $402 solution discussed in the "lowest cost solution" post.


the laziest solution

I could just get a mac mini. I don't have to put it together then. Plus I get a speedy core duo. The major drawbacks are:

  • cost: at least $874 the way I would want it configured.

  • only one hard drive. that leaves me buying an external drive and powering it, which is ugly and another $100 at least.

  • mac hardware: this could just be superstition, but as I'm definitely running linux on whatever I get, there may be more difficulties with mac's hardware than with the VIA stuff.

the lowest cost solution

The cheapest way to go, of course, is to buy as little as possible. The Venus case makes this possible:

  • Ram: 1GB DDR266 [$0 -- I already have one]

  • Ethernet: onboard 10/100 [$0]

  • Audio: onboard 6-channel [$0]

  • Video: onboard (has hardware MPEG-2 accelerator) [$0]

  • Hard drives: Already own 2x suitable drives which will fit into the Venus [$0]

  • DVD burner: The Venus also has room for my drive. [$0]

Total cost: $252 plus shipping


Wow that's cheap. Of course, this stems from the fact that I already have a bunch of the components. Other benefits:

  • The M10000 is a well-tested and well-loved board. It's been around for a while. Of the VIA EPIAs, it's the one with the least surprises to uncover.

  • It's undoubtedly quieter, and lower power, than what I'm currently running.

  • I don't even have to move my data from the old warchicken. Since I'll be reusing the hard drives, I can just install the OS on the root partition, and leave the other partitions untouched (though I might take this opportunity to reformat anyway with something other than reiserfs, because it scares me).

The drawbacks:

  • Performance may actually be somewhat worse than my athlon XP. How much worse is tough to say, though it's doubtful that it will be too slow for most of the stuff I run. This stems from both the mediocre CPU and the slow memory bus speed. One upgrade that could alleviate this would be to replace the M10000 and the free ram by the VIA EPIA CN13000 or CN10000 (fanless) [$185] and a new stick of DDR2 533 RAM [$122]. We're still at only $402, and much faster because of the newer chipset and cpu (the CN boards have the C7 processor, while the M10000 has the previous generation C3).

  • Of all the mini-itx cases at logicsupply, the Venus is the largest and probably one of the loudest. It has 2x40mm fans and a beefy 200w power supply. The larger power supplies tend to be less efficient and put out more fan noise.

  • These hard drives will be louder and require more power than similar-sized laptop hard drives.

teh requirements


  • at least 100 mbit ethernet

  • decent 2 channel audio (or better), or room for my pci sound card

  • cpu that's not much slower than what I've got (athlon XP 1800+ (1100Mhz))

  • at least 1 gig ram.

  • reliability. I don't want to go through this process again for at least another 4 years.

  • 2 hard drives. I've questioned a number of times whether this is really a need (because it makes things more complicated), and decided it really is. I'm far too paranoid about my data, and I want extremely short term backups (e.g. multiple times daily). If the backup can't be automatic, it won't happen frequently or consistently enough. Technically, one of the hard drives could be external, but then it would have to be plugged in all the time. Also, the backup drive doesn't need to be more than 20 gigs or so. (the primary drive should be at least 60, preferably 80 or more.)

  • < $1000. While I'm not strictly on a budget, you gotta draw the line somewhere. And I'm not asking for much here, so $1000 should be able to buy a hell of a machine.

  • Low power

  • Quiet.  To pull this off, I definitely need a better case.

  • DVD burner (for backups). I already have one, so if the case has room for a full size 5 1/4" drive, that's dandy. On the other hand, it's old and slow, and the new ones are not all that expensive.


  • Small. From the research I've done so far, it looks like this quite often goes hand in hand with low power and quiet. However, it's not an absolute requirement.

Not important:

  • Speedy video card. As long as it do 2d decently well (1280x1024 @ 85hz w/24 bit color should be a bare minimum) I care not. I have an old AGP card that does what I need (and is fanless), so an AGP slot could be considered a small bonus here, if only because it has potential to save a buck.

  • SATA vs PATA.


  • 64 bit? Am I really going to care for this server? It's not doing anything very performance-intensive, and it's not going to need to address more than 4 gigs of ram, so I tend to doubt it. On the other hand, I might be able to get more bang/watt out of something like a dual core opteron or core duo running in 64 bit mode. The obsolesence argument really doesn't hold up here, because I'm not planning on needing to upgrade this machine (In fact, it's over 4 years old and doesn't need upgrading now. It's just breaking.) So this question should be answered purely based on bang/watt and (to a lesser degree) bang/dollar considerations.


emphasis on seemingly

I thought warchicken was in a stable state, but it's really not. This evening I tried to build some packages and it threw everything into a nasty state. I got a bunch more of those glibc errors, and the root filesystem got mildly corrupted.

After some 30 minutes of fixing, the system is usable again, but still flakey. Perhaps the problem is that I'm overheating the cpu every time I use it a lot, like for compiling. Come to think of it, maybe it kinda melted that one week when I was on honeymoon and it was 100+ degrees here..

warchicken is dying

Recently warchicken has been behaving badly. Programs have been crashing randomly, and I've been getting errors such as: "gcc: your hardware sucks" and "glibc: this is probably a hardware error."

I haven't yet figured out exactly what the problem is, but I suspect something fairly brainy is involved, such as the cpu, motherboard, or ram.

I've managed to get it into a seemingly stable state, but I did a number of things at once:

  • stop using binary nvidia driver

  • changed ram modules to one i had laying around

  • stopped using ram slot #2

  • stopped using ram slot #3

  • slowed down the FSB

  • turned off a bunch of stuff in the bios

So I'm not exactly sure which of these has made things better, and I'm pretty lazy about trying to figure out which, especially since figuring out which requires (1) shutting the machine down and (2) intentionally breaking it.

But even though it's seemingly stable now, it would be nice to get new hardware so that I can be more confident. Also, quiet and lower power would be nice. I'm learning about mini-itx stuff, which could well be the answer.

I shall post ideas for new hardware here as they formulate.


One awesome post by Andi

Owen is hungry. He is getting food. No, wait, he's getting some water first. Ok, that's better. I'm writing his blog post for him. Isn't it awesome?


selling out

At long last, I'm moving on. We've spent many wonderful years together, gone through many ups and downs, but this is finally the end. That's right, you guessed it: I'm selling my classic video games. Mostly. Technically, we've still got the gamecube and we have a couple of "classic collection"-type games for that, but it's not the same.

Every once in a while I go through phases where I decide it's time to get rid of stuff that has some sentimental connection to some part of my life. This time is even tougher because I actually still play the games some times. But frankly there's a lot of other things I would like to be doing these days, and I don't really have the time to play these anymore--yet I still find myself wasting a lot of time with them. So now they're gone, and we'll see what happens!

On the plus side, classic games have been booming lately so there are a lot of bidders out there. I might even make some mad bank while I'm at it!


we're rich!

This site thinks the domain name phauna.org is worth 16 grand.  Sweet.

our legislators are hard at work

Recent Senate Votes:
Border Fence amendment
Vote Agreed to (83-16, 1 Not Voting)

During the immigration debate, the Senate approved this plan to build 370 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

To declare English as the national language
Vote Agreed to (63-34, 3 Not Voting)

This amendment to the immigration bill declares English to be the national language.


I looove lightning bolt dsl

And here's my review to prove it. I can't decide which I like better, the great customer service, the geeky way Brent sounds when he answers the phone, or the fact that the name reminds me of this sweet larping video.


new jersey stinks.

clean power sun

Literally. It's nasty polluted, and lives up to the reputation as an armpit quite well.

We're trying to do our part, by supporting renewable energy.

The program is surprisingly cheap (last month it cost us an extra $1.21), probably because it's heavily subsidized. Just think how much easier we could breath if everyone in our area used clean energy!


it's alive

All your phauna.org are back up.

I'm moderately confused, but apparently we've got the same IP address after all.

Edit  new IP:


new downtime plan

Because Lightning Bolt dsl is sweet, the new hookup should occur on Monday afternoon. Thusly we will be down Monday (and possibly Sunday evening as well), and back up by Monday evening.

I have just received confirmation that the IP address will permanently change.


upcoming downtime

We're finally out of stinky bar-land. phauna.org will be down, possibly twice, in the coming weeks--starting this weekend. Probable scenario: temporarily move to a friend's network (6mbps symmetric!) for a couple of weeks--this will result in an IP address change, so expect ssh host keys to freak out. Then when the internet finally gets hooked up over here, we'll switch back to the original IP.



it turns out the cops are pretty busy

..on a Saturday night in Jersey City. So I'm still up.

never move in to an apartment above a bar

The bar wasn't open when we moved in, and there was no indication that it would open soon. 8 months later, it happened, and here I am having to get up in 6 hours for a long day of driving, but I can't sleep because of the noise.

I know the guy running the bar, and he asks me to call whenever the noise bothers me. But when he doesn't answer, what recourse do I have?

Bukt found the Jersey City municipal code online. Chapter 222 Article 1 says:

A. No person shall make, continue or cause to be made or continued any loud, unnecessary or unusual noise or any noise which either annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of others.

B. No person on property owned by him or her or under lease or other arrangements shall allow or give permission to any person on the property to utter or make loud, unnecessary or unusual noises or any noise which either annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of others.

That looks promising. While I'm usually anti-law, this one makes me happy. In a libertopia, I'm not sure what course of action I'd have to take.

So we'll see how the cops handle it. Sadly, even if the cops do get the bar to shut up, I'll still be short my sleep.


buffer overflow in tar

In this day and age, it seems insane that so common a program would have such a bug. Arbitrary code execution, just by opening a tar archive?

It's time to rewrite gnu in a real programming language!


ocaml wish

Let's say I have a function with some optional arguments and some mandatory ones:
let f ?a ?b c = ...

And let's say the b argument should only be used inside this module. It would be nice to be able to just put
val f : ?a : 'a -> c -> 'b -> 'c

in my mli, to restrict the outside world from seeing the optional b argument. It seems that this might be tricky to implement from the standpoint of separate compilation.

Right now the best workaround I can come up with is to make a separate function to export to the outside world which simply calls the internal one appropriately.


tax season strikes again

H&R Block, a company whose primary business is preparing people's tax returns, screwed up their own taxes! The income tax is so confusing that even tax experts don't understand it. One more reason to support fundamental tax reform, such as the fairtax.

Oh well, back to H&R Block's website to work on my taxes..


Wired's hollywood affliction

What's the deal with Wired magazine becoming an advertisement for the movies? Over the past 8 months or so, I feel like 4 cover stories have been about the movies or hollywood, and every issue has at least one hollywood-related article. What gives, mateys?

how to make a gazillion in the market

It's easy! This ad makes it plain as day:

advertisement for brookshire raw materials fund

20.28% omfg!!! Over 7 years!!! and the last 3 years are way better than that! Since we all know that the past 3 years' performance is the best indication of future performance, this is a clear buy.

And they use fancy industry terms like "Basis Points" and "Sharpe ratio".. clearly they know what they doing!

All this for a measly 1% of my money! I'm sold!

This ad appeared in a magazine for financial professionals. Does that not seem completely insane?



Potentially a neat idea:


This site lets you look at home values in your area. It already surprised me to see how prices were in my area.

Needs work on the map interface and the firefox support.

And what a wierd name.. wtf is a zillow?

Ah, here we go:

Why "Zillow"?

Once they hatched their idea, they needed a name. "Zillow" evolved from the desire to make zillions of data points for homes accessible to everyone. But a home is about more than data - it is where you lay your head to rest at night, like a pillow. Thus, "Zillow" was born. They knew they had a winning name when employees began talking in Z-language and newly-minted words starting with "Z" popped up everywhere (e.g., Zestimate?, Zindex?).


The Sketch Guide

Super geeky, and highly entertaining:

the (final fantasy iii/vi) sketch guide!

This guy makes an entire FAQ devoted to what is basically the worst ability in the game. And he isn't afraid to admit it. In fact, he talks about it like it's a red-headed step child.

Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite:

See, if Blitz is the popular jock all shallow people love, if SwdTech is the bitch without any real qualities who is adored for her looks and if Rage is the scrawny kid with glasses few people like to talk to who'll later make more money than the rest of class '96 combined, Sketch is the poor kid who, besides being lactose-intolerant, suffering from asthma AND having the worst case of acne known to Western science, lacks any kind of charm, quality or potential.


why the cartoons and their reaction are good for america

If the world didn't understand before how screwed up the fundamentalists are, they should now. The torching of the Danish embassy is so far from a reasonable reaction that only the truly whacko could have done it.

I never really believed GW when he stood up and said that the terrorists fundamentally opposed our way of life--and I'm still not certain, but it seems that at best they fundamentally don't understand it.

The world is now exposed to a refreshing debate about freedom of speech and religion. Newspapers are rightfully publishing the controversy just because they can. People who really don't get it are being exposed, e.g. this random guy who wrote an editorial in the local paper:

We understand the concept of freedom of expression, but that does not mean it is a chance to hurt the feelings of millions of people.

Actually that's exactly what it is; or at least, it's the chance to say stuff without worrying whether or not it will offend someone. A big chunk of the world is showing the rest of us just how poor they are at basic tolerance.

And I think all this is good for the world and for America. It makes what America is doing look better. It helps the rest of the western world separate the good guys from the barbarians.

Hopefully the West will not respond to the violence by caving in. In fact, I think the most beneficial response would be to continue publishing the cartoons in more promininent places, and simply wait until the crazies discover that the sky isn't falling as a result.

..in other news, it's been a profitable week for flag peddlers!


if you can't beat 'em..

Enough crappy perl script blog (blosxom). I'm moving on up, to a crappy php script blog!

It's a shame that the state of web programming is still as bad as it is. Perhaps the problem is that people who are good at/enjoy web development aren't really good programmers, and vice versa.