Tech Misadventures Part 2

Macemore

Circumcised pineapples
Aug 26, 2011
1,668
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Well no need for an intro, see if you're looking for something like that.
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At this point the BlackBox project is all but dead, power long being disconnected and the services offloaded to a server I've been running for my business. All the hardware lies dormant but otherwise ready for use. Here's one of the last pics before it was moved into the garage. The pictures at the end of Part 1 are actually of the server in the garage. I like this picture because it shows how massive the rack is, nearly 9ft tall.


During the time of this post's images the BlackBox will begin it's descent into hibernation. Soon I'll be entirely decommissioning it and possibly turning it into a desk.







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At this point I'm doing freelance computer work for two guys who run their own business, they used to be associated but things got complicated and they eventually split up. Due to this one of them had a garage full of computer stuff, a lot of it literally new in the box, only a few years old, or viable sever chassis ready to be deployed. I think he was just looking to get out of the business entirely and retire, and didn't care about the value of the stuff more the space it took up in his garage. This is an 9' truck bed with a toolbox in it making it roughly 7' long of computer stuff, with the cab full too that's probably closing it on the equivalent of a cord of wood in computer crap. As you could imagine packing this into the truck was only the beginning, as finding suitable storage and testing all these unknown components would take a lot of space and time. Luckily, I had help!

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I've always loved this photo, but never realized the potato quality until posting it. I guess love really is blind.

Here you can almost see diskpart on the left cleaning the drive's partitions. We were also running crystaldiskinfo and crystaldiskmark to ensure each drive individually was viable (and therefore worth keeping). We took apart a lot of hard drives for fun, and perhaps I'll be able to find pictures of all the disks we collected. It's very interesting to see the varying thicknesses, and colors of disks between manufacturers and even individual models. Older disks tended to be much more brown and once the surface finish has been tarnished (like from finger oils) you'll never get it back. The newer ones tend to be much thinner and silver in color, but their reflection is less clear. If you were to use one to do your makeup with, I'd say an old Maxtor drive would do the trick. Around 250mb.


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On the lower right is the replacement motherboard for the first server in Part 1. That never worked out though and the server remained dead until being donated. Unfortunately the motherboard didn't support our CPUs and we couldn't get the BIOS to update. Probably operator error. Supermicro uses IPMI for their baseboard management controller and it's really nice due to being opensource and easily scripted/programmed but the available interfaces and management programs are so bad that it almost requires you to make your own management system. Truly awful. The alternatives are going with HP or Dell, but each of those come with their own respective problems. They certainly don't like people using used / old equipment and almost always require you to buy a support subscription just to download firmware updates, or operating system images customized to work on those systems. Dell's ESXi is excellent but getting it without a support subscription is a pain in the ass, if not illegal. My bias has swayed toward HP, who seem more open to sharing their stuff with me as long as I have a valid serial number of a relevant product to what I'm requesting.

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(yes the drill came with the stuff!)

So with all this, I could see people asking things like "Why" or "what are you doing with all this crap" and I can confidently say everything! After methodically testing every RAM stick, CPU, Motherboard and hard drive we spent the first few days putting together "minimum spec" systems that had 8gb ram, i5/i7 CPUs and a 250gb+ drive that wasn't slow as molasses. Many of which were sold to local businesses and friends, workstations actually still working today. Running QuickBooks or a machine shop, point of sale system and even a few servers I regularly check in on. The house I did all this at, my best friend's, had a room called "The Den" that is in the background of the photo above, also the point of view from the photo with the dog. There we had 3 desks setup for me to bring over my desktop, and another desktop we had setup for him to game with a special software that split his desktop into two (Windows 7 days, I don't remember the name of the software but it was really good actually, but if you changed your PC parts you'd have to buy a new license) so that our friend (person #3) could game as well, basically 2 gamers 1 cpu before it was cool.
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With all these computers though, we finally had enough parts to upgrade his system, and make two more so I didn't have to bring my main one over anymore. I also didn't have to bring screens over, we had more peripherals and such than we knew what to do with. It was truly a glorious age.



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Shortly thereafter I moved out, and decided to start playing around with certificates and figured the best way to do that was complicate my computer setup at home. To achieve this I brought in two managed switches, a dumb switch, two business firewalls and a consumer grade AP. Oh, not to forget the supermicro 1U, custom built 4U and the glorious Dell XPS. One of the best cases ever made honestly. I used this to make all kinds of test environments and make theoretical scenarios with actual hardware instead of hoping things would work the way they should (protip: they never do).


Of a UPS now being used by servers, thing weighed nearly a hundred pounds. Listen to that 100amp contactor, contacting! Such a satisfying THUNK.



I'm sure this seems rather tame, with all that has lead up to this... well you're right! There's always more! My closet had already received a similar treatment prior to this:
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At the time of the photo, I think this was actually after I moved the above setup into the image below. My girlfriend at the time was not thrilled about all the cables and clutter in the bedroom, including the immense amount of heat and fan noise if this system was on. You'll notice most of these pictures are taken strategically prior to cabling up the system.
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Ahh, a long Saturday leading into a busy Sunday. A firelit night of organizing cables and assembling computer parts, packing boxes of stuff to be shipped potentially cross country. Nerds don't care about shipping, they know what they want and they'll pay to get it, and for that I love them. Hours spent gently pulling on cables, unlooping them repeatedly in hopes to release them from the rats nest they've been entangled in. Untold quantities of rubber bands only measurable in hundreds of pounds used to bind an even greater sum of ubiquitous C13 power cables. Hoarded like found cans of food in the apocalypse, certainly still good and certainly useful. For some reason Office Depot likes to charge $30 for an almost six foot power cable, only rated for 5 amps! What kind of bend-you-over-the-table-and-stick-it-in kind of fuckery is that?! You're goddamn right I'm going to keep a bin of cables so heavy I actually needed to reinforce the bottom with wood because that's less costly than depending on THE ONLY STORE IN TOWN that carries them. Oh why don't you go to Home Depot, Mace? THANKS I haven't thought of tha- oh what they charge the same amount for the same cables? Fuck me nevermind! I will continue my hoarding and when you come crawling to me in your starvation of C13 NEMA 15P cables, my mercy shall shed no light on you from my throne made of cables. I will laugh as I point you in the direction of the nearest Best Buy or Office Depot.

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I don't really have much else to share from a personal perspective, I have more stories than I could write in a day but the images are either long gone or on a phone somewhere buried in my closet. I'll probably make another one of these with even less direction, I like sharing photos of all the stuff I've collected over the years. Above is a server setup before/after I finally got 24hours to bring them offline. Each office has 2+ workstations, but only one ethernet cable running in. You'll also notice there's a bunch of switches and routers, the whole thing was a terrible mess, hidden behind one of those fancy cloth and wood frame dividers. The OSB on the wall wasn't even mounted to studs, luckily I tested before chucking a rack on there and finding out the hard way. This actually has a UPS for the network + UPS for the "server" (You might notice it's the one from my closet earlier). This still runs today, albeit as a dedicated backup server instead of hosting QuickBooks on the network.

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Here's another deployment I did, I couldn't get enough downtime approved for all the stuff on the wall to be migrated into the rack at the time of the pic, but a new Gen10 HP and a startech rack is always a fun day in my book.
Here's a of what a typical server startup sounds like, if you didn't know this is also the same sound I had to deal with until we figured out why the Dell 1950 had it's fans stuck at 100%. That was fun... turned out to be a small plastic piece. Two years of hellacious whirring and it was something stupid simple I never bothered to check causing a fan to not spin. If one of multiple dozens of fans has any issues, the system defaults to 100% fan speed for protection. Each fan capable of 500+CFM and tens of thousands of RPM, will happily cut your finger off if caught in the wrong spot. I think it's not so bad when you're in the datacenter though. Instead of just one localized point of high pitched awfulness, you're inundated with a loud birring as if the entire building itself is making the noise. The sound actually almost seems peaceful after a little while, and I can happily tune it out.



So this kind of brings us to the current day / end of post. I can't really share any photos beyond this due to active deployments and not having anything interesting to share anyway. I will say, before anyone asks, I certainly have not changed over the years:
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Restoring ancient laptops and all in ones for purposes they were never built. That one is an X100e with the extended battery, quite a collectible in my book. Sitting under it is a T60 or T61, classic square screen.





















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As always, filling it up to the brim with computer stuff :)


Thanks for reading.
 
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