A couple of weeks ago, I bought a Neuros OSD media player off eBay. The auction showed a “Developer Beta” unit. It showed up about a week ago, but I didn’t have time to play with it till tonight.

After much pulling out of hair, I finally realized that what I had been sent was a “Developer Sample” OSD unit; it has a green printed circuit board versus the tan PCB for the Beta units (that was shown in the pictures accompanying the auction).

The end result is that I have a unit that cannot be upgraded past the original 3.00 firmware, and for my purposes is basically an expensive doorstop. This is highly annoying, as I sold my AppleTV in order to buy this piece of hardware.

Neuros Technology had a trade-in program in 2006, where owners of “Dev Sample” OSDs could swap them out for “Beta” units at no cost, but I highly doubt they’ll still do that. I’ve emailed support but I don’t have my hopes up.

Update: The nice folks at Neuros Technology are going to send me a coupon code that lets me buy the current model with a good discount. That is, if they ever get around to it.

If not, I’m going to just buy an eGreat M34A “Networked Media Tank”.

Building the Perfect Router/Firewall for $45

I recently replaced my Linksys WRT54GL routers (running DD-WRT of course) with an ALIX 2c3 running pfSense. Not only is it faster, better-built, and has more features, it looks cool. Unfortunately, the cost for a refurbished 2c3, enclosure, and power supply was around $150.

For those of you wanting to build your own tiny pfSense system, I’ve found an alternative. It’s not as small, or as completely quiet, but can provide just about equivalent functionality.

First, buy a used MaxTerm MaxSpeed 8300 thin client off ebay. That seller has them for $45 shipped, buy-it-now. These were sold as XP Embedded thin clients, but are actually complete PC systems with 512M memory, a VIA C3 “Ezra” 800Mhz CPU, and a 512M Compact Flash card and reader standing in for the main hard drive.

Take off the stand and top cover, and they look like this:

System Front

System Back

System Side

In these pictures, I’ve already installed an Intel Pro/100 Server-S PCI 10/100 network card in the PCI slot. The CompactFlash card reader is below the PCI slot; you’ll have to remove the small cover concealing it.

As received, these systems (I bought two) have Windows XP Embedded installed on them.

Booting Windows XP Embedded

XP Embedded

You’ll want to take the 512M CF card installed in the system, and use your USB card reader and another system (you DO have another system and a CF card reader, right?) to write the pfSense image to the card.

CF Card Slot

If you boot the system without a CF card installed, the screen will look similar to this:

BIOS Boot Screen

Once the pfSense install image is written to the card, put it back in the system and boot.

pfSense Booting

At this point all console I/O switches to the serial port. You’ll need to connect another system (or a dumb terminal, etc) to the serial port on the back of the system and continue initial configuration there. The cable should be a null modem, the speed 9600 N81.

Once initial configuration (network port and IP assignments) is done via the serial port, you can continue final configuration and setup via the web interface, and do all further management through SSH or the web.

I’ve been running a pfSense box for about two weeks now, and am really happy with it. With these thin clients, I can now build a firewall for a friend, and have a spare in case of problems with my ALIX board.

Ink Review: J. Herbin Eclat de Saphir

Karen at Exaclair was kind enough to recently send me a bottle of J. Herbin‘s “Eclat de Saphir” fountain pen ink to test out and review. In addition, she sent a small Rhodia note pad.

I wasn’t able to get to it for about a week, but tonight was finally able to ink up a couple of pens and try it out on various kinds of paper.

Click on any picture to go to its Flickr page with larger sizes available.

The ink in (and out of) its package and the Rhodia pad:

01 Review Stuff

03 Review Ink

The pens used for the test – a Lamy Safari Special Edition with a Medium nib, and a brand-new Hero 329 with a fine/extra-fine nib:

02 Review Pens

The paper – Field Notes, Moleskine, Staples’ “EcoEasy” brand bagasse (sugarcane) paper, Rhodia pads, and a Doane Paper Idea Book:

04 Review Paper

First, the skinny Rhodia pad. This is 80gsm/21.3lb paper.

05 Test Rhodia

The Rhodia paper squeaked during the Q-tip swabbing; it seemed that the paper was so smooth (or had a coating on it) that the ink took quite a while to dry.

Next, the Field Notes notebook:

06 Test FieldNotes

This paper (Boise 50lb) soaked up the ink like a sponge. Drying was almost instant, but at times the Lamy Safari felt like I was writing with a felt-tip marker.

Third was a Moleskine pocket notebook. No problems with the ink or the paper.

07 Test Moleskine

Fourth was Staples’ “EcoEasy” brand of “bagasse” paper, which is made from sugarcane refuse instead of wood or cotton. It’s very thin, but has a decent feel to it:

08 Test Staples Bagasse

Last was a Doane Paper “Idea Book”:

09 Test DoanePaper

None of the various types of paper exhibited any feathering, or major bleed-through to the point where the back side of the paper would be unusable – even on the sections used for the q-tip swab test.

The J. Herbin ink seemed a little thinner / more “watery” than the Noodler’s ink that I’m used to working with. There were no flow problems in either pen, and no staining issues other than the my hands and fingers.

So far I like the J. Herbin “Eclat de Saphir” ink, and am thinking of putting it in my 1941 Parker Duofold when that pen’s current filling of ink (current Noodler’s Dark Matter) runs out.

Thank-You Notes Going Out Tomorrow

Tonight I hand-wrote, hand-addressed, stamped, and sealed sixty-five thank you notes. They’ll be hitting the post office tomorrow morning.

Again, thank you everyone for your contributions, moral support, kind notes, condolences, and everything you’ve done for me since Amy’s passing.

I wrote the majority of the notes with my 1941 Parker Duofold filled with Noodler’s “Legal Lapis” ink. When the fill of Legal Lapis ran out about 3/4ths of the way through, I switched to Noodler’s “Dark Matter” ink (because the bottle was right next to where I was working, and the LL was across the room).

The first 49 notes were on folded thank-you cards that I picked up at Office Depot today, and the last 16 were on nice G.Lalo stationery cards that Amy bought a couple weeks before she passed away.

They don’t make them like they used to

Digital Research CP/M 2.2

Digital Research CP/M 2.2 Manual

A still-sealed copy of Digital Research CP/M 2.2 from 1982.

You can find the rest of the set of pictures here.

I miss the days when you felt like you actually got something in return for your multiple hundreds of dollars – professionally-produced manuals, source code, complete details on internals, and a nice 3-ring binder.

A Home-Cooked Dinner

I made the 72-mile round trip to Magnolia, Texas tonight (it’s just past Tomball) where a friend fed me home-cooked spaghetti. It was better than sitting in an empty house and microwaving stuff out of the fridge.

DIY Pen Trays Done

I couldn’t find pen storage trays on eBay that I liked, so I bought some cigar boxes and made my own.

Box Exterior

Parker Pens

Parker Pens Closeup

Other Pens

Other Pens Closeup

These pictures don’t show my blue Lamy Safari or the Parker 51 that’s currently out for repair.

The slotted felt trays are from GoPens. Total cost for this project was about $30.

Sending out Thank-You Notes

I’ve finally got to the point where I feel comfortable sitting down and writing out (using my 1941 Parker Duofold filled with Noodler’s Legal Lapis ink) thank-you notes for everyone who helped out, sent money/flowers/food, or just expressed their condolences at Amy’s passing.

If you were one of these people and I have *not* contacted you yet asking for a postal address, please email me and let me know where to send the card.