Monday, 2 July 2001

Some lucky people get a five-day weekend this week. Not me. I’m off Wednesday for Independence Day. About 30 years ago, my dad and his med school buddies used to go to the Missouri River and shoot bottle rockets at barges to celebrate. I’m not sure what I’ll get to do yet. Last year I had to work the 4th. That was a very nice paycheck, since I worked 60 hours that week anyway, on top of 8 hours’ holiday pay.
I found a use for absurdly high-speed CPUs this weekend. My Duron-750 can simulate a 30-team, 162-game baseball season in its entirety in roughly 3 minutes. Of course a faster CPU will do it even faster. Baseball simulation is very CPU-intensive and very disk-intensive. This 750 has a SCSI disk subsystem in it too. It’s old, but I suspect SCSI’s ability to re-order disk requests for speed helps. I haven’t swapped in an IDE drive to see if it makes a difference. So if you’re a statistical baseball junkie, you can actually justify an insanely fast CPU. It feels strange to call the cheapest CPU on the market today insanely fast, but for most things, the Duron-750 really is.

The other use I’ve found for these CPUs is emulating a 50 MHz 68060-based Amiga at full speed. A Duron-750 isn’t quite up to that task.

I talked about PartImage last week. I used it over the weekend to clone 7 PCs. My church’s sister congregation bought 8 Compaq Deskpro EXs earlier this year and just finished the room they’re going in. So I went in, set one of them up (and tweaked it out, of course–the first reaction of one of the members: “Wow, that sure boots fast!”).

Sadly, many companies seem to use non-profit organizations as a way to just get rid of their junk. Here are some of the jewels this church has been “blessed” with: two 386sx laptops with dead batteries and no power adapters, two XTs, two 286s, a pile of 386sxs, and three 486s. Two of the 486s are old Compaq ProSignia servers with big SCSI hard drives, so I can slap in an ISA NIC and install Linux on one of them and make it a file server. The only thing remotely useful that anyone’s ever given them is a pair of Pentium-75s. But one of the 75s had a 40-meg hard drive in it. That’s the better of the two, though. The other had no hard drive, no memory, and no CMOS battery.

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget the large quantities of busted monitors. They’ve got a room full of monitors. About three of them work. What’s anyone going to do with a bunch of monitors that don’t work? Legally, the church can’t throw any of this stuff away (and shouldn’t) because of all the lead content, which makes them hazardous waste. But the church can hardly afford to pay someone to take it away and dispose of it properly either. We’re talking an inner-city church here. Can you say, “blaxploitation?” I knew you could.

The Pentiums did at least come in standard AT cases though, and nice ones at that. They look like Enlights, but they had Sparkle power supplies in them, Whatever the make, they’re nice and thick so they don’t slice you, there’s lots of wide open space inside, and they have 7 drive bays. So I grabbed the diskless Pentium to make into a router/Squid server/content filter. I ripped out the P75 board and dropped in an AT Soyo Socket 370 board with a Celeron-366 on it. It’ll be fabulous.

The best I can do with most of these systems is to try to make X terminals out of them, assuming I can find a machine beefy enough to host StarOffice for a half-dozen systems. It may not be worth the bother.

One of the 386s had a 420-meg hard drive in it for some reason, so I pulled that drive, hooked it up to the first of the Compaqs, and used PartImage to dump it. I used 480 megs on the drive, so with Gzip compression, the image left just 12 megs free on the drive. Tight fit, but we were OK. Then I just ran around to each of the others, hooked up the drive, and pulled the image. I took the drive home with me so I could burn a CD from it.

That’s good use of free software.

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