Try these two weird old tricks for making circuit boards.

How I design and make circuit boards:

To design the boards, if I were starting from scratch, I think I’d try to get good at kicad or maybe the geda (GNU EDA) suite because they’re open source, but when I started, they were more confusing and fragile than they are now.  All the tools (not just the ones in this note) can produce gerbers (an industry standard file format), which any board manufacturer can accept.

Open source tools aside, Eagle seems to be the standard for little open source hardware projects.  (A “Light” version of Eagle is free.)  I don’t use the Eagle Auto-Router because it kind of sucks, but it’s good enough for small or low-volume boards or boards you aren’t going to etch by hand, and the thing I do instead is fairly complicated (freeroute plus Sikuli on my Mac).  I think on Windows PCs the CADsoft guys are now making it easier to use alternate routers.  If you’re making your own boards, it can be worth optimizing or hand-routing your layout if you can avoid double-sided boards and vias.  But if you’re getting boards made, double-sided and vias are usually just fine (until you’re making thousands of them).

There is a service in Portland, Oregon, OSH Park which makes excellent boards.


They do a lovely job of taking your Eagle files (or gerbers from any other CAD package), showing you what you’re going to get online, giving you a price based on the size of the board ($5/sq in. for three copies of the board, no setup fees!) then sending you boards in the mail a couple of weeks later.  They’re purple and gold, and really well-made.  (Holes line up, which isn’t necessarily true of Golden Phoenix or other Chinese boards, which tend to be cheaper for higher quantities.)

Good Luck!



Some notes on using Amazon EC2

Image representing MySQL as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

We’re using Amazon EC2 for some development work with potentially largeish MySQL  databases.  It was relatively convenient to instantiate up a cloud machine instead of potentially messing up one of our more stable physical servers.  We named our new little cloud server veyron.

I notice that the “spot price” for machines like veyron in us-east run about $0.18/hour while the Oregon or Norcal ones are $0.22, which I find really odd.  Wholesale electricity back East is three to nine times as expensive as in Oregon.  Actually, there’s a divide-by-zero error in that factor.  Electricity prices in the “mid-columbia” region are frequently negative, which means the electric company is PAYING YOU (OK, not you the reader, you the wholesale electricity purchaser) to use electricity.

Surely the cloud owners could come up with something important but not urgent to compute — protein folding? — to suck up the power they’ll pay you to use.  (Or make ice to cool the datacenter later.  Or pressurize air into giant underground caverns and run air turbines later.)

That still leaves me curious why market rates for Norcal and Oregon computer time are higher.  Besides electricity, I’d expect real estate, cooling, and any other cost you can think of in rural high desert Oregon to be lower than comparable costs in Virgina.   Is it just that demand for servers in the West is a bunch higher than the demand in the East?

I also figured out the big difference in compute cores from what we were expecting.  The m2.4xlarge instances have 28 “EC2 Compute Units” on 8 cores.  An EC2 Compute Unit is basically one slow Xeon core.  (1.2 Ghz, or something).  So they’re saying that you get “3.25 EC2 Compute Units” per core, 8 cores (4 of them look to be hyperthreaded to me) which translates out to 28 Compute Units.  So maybe an EC2 Compute Unit is equivalent to an 800 Mhz core, since we’re getting eight 2.67 Ghz cores, and 2.67 Ghz / 3.25 is a little over 800 Mhz.  All-in-all, $130/month seems like a reasonable deal for a machine with 8 cores, 68 GB of RAM, and a decent net connection, even if it is across-the-country latency.

For other costs, disk storage seems to run $0.10/GB-month, which works out to $100/month for a terabyte.  I just accidentally bought a terabyte disk (from Amazon, ha!) for $84 shipped the other day.  Seems pretty steep, since they’re also charging you for network data transfer, reads and writes, etc., above a certain (fairly generous) threshold.

Finally, don’t use MacFUSE.  It’s been dead since 2009.  Use OSXFUSE instead.  (Yes, you have to install OSXFUSE then SSHFS, then reboot.)

English: IBM 1311 Disk Storage Drive at the De...

English: IBM 1311 Disk Storage Drive at the Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

IBM 1311 Disk Storage Drive at the Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whoa, Software that got smaller.


A screenshot of the apt-get program of APT ins...

A screenshot of the apt-get program of APT installing MediaWiki on Ubuntu 10.10. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Shed” was overdue for software updates and a reboot.  apt-get upgrade outdated said:

The following packages will be upgraded:
firefox firefox-gnome-support google-chrome-stable icedtea-6-jre-cacao
insserv . . . openjdk blah blah qt something blah blah. . .
49 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 4 not upgraded.
Need to get 0B/141MB of archives.
After this operation, 1,147kB disk space will be freed.
Do you want to continue [Y/n]? Y

I don’t know which of the 48 packages I upgraded was responsible for reducing the space used, and this shouldn’t be notable, but I’m noting it.

Debian OpenLogo

Debian Logo


Flow Rates for the Russian River through Healdsburg

We paddled down the Russian River through Healdsburg on 120 Cubic Feet per Second today.  Once salmon start swimming up the river from the Pacific, the California Water Control People release 240 CFS (Cubic Feet per Second) so they can swim upstream to spawn.  You can see the flow rates over the past year here.  The river pictured flooding (on my birthday!) below had a flow rate around 19,000 CFS, similar to the peak flow of the Russian River earlier this spring (May 28).

Flooding of Greybull River near Basin, Wyoming...

Flooding of Greybull River near Basin, Wyoming, June 1963 (peak flow was 19,400 cubic feet per second). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Flow Rate (in CFS) of the Russian River though Healdsburg, May 2011 – June 2012
English: White sturgeon caught in 1998 in Russ...

English: White sturgeon caught in 1998 in Russian River. Poster is in King’s Sports in Guerneville, CA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spore for Mac: Worst Purchase Experience Ever

Spore Creature

Spore Creature (Photo credit: Liam Gladdy)

I bought Spore for Mac as a digital download from Amazon.  It was only $12, but it wasn’t worth it.

Step 1:  Download a 4 GB disk image.  Good thing I have a 50 Mbit net connection.

Step 2:  Open the .dmg, install Spore and launch.  Spore says there are updates available, so click Yes, download and install the updates.  This takes about as long as the original download.

Step 3:  Launch Spore.  Spore says there are updates available, so click Yes.  Repeat this twice more for a total of FOUR gigantic downloads and slow installs.

Step 4:  Finally, Spore doesn’t say there are updates available.  Yay!  I get to play my game now!  Wrong!  The splash screen comes up for about two seconds, then Spore crashes.

Step 5:  Root around the web a bit, find this good description of the problem (scroll down to “Nevoah” if you want to read it) and how to work around it.

Step 6:  Delete the entire freakin’ Spore installation and start at step 2, but SAY NO TO THE UPDATES offer.  This lets you enter the product keys that came with the game.  Once the game launches and runs OK, you can quit and continue with step 3 (seemingly endless downloading and updating).

Elapsed Time:  2 hours.

Image representing Electronic Arts as depicted...

Image via CrunchBase

EA:  You can’t afford to just bundle up all the stupid updates into one download that works the first time?  This is ridiculous.

Make Emacs Work with


Cathode (Photo credit: zcopley)

I’m trying to shed the habit of pointing out tiny flaws while failing to acknowledge the overall picture, so: Cathode is TOTALLY GREAT, and the only reason I care about these small flaws is that I want to be able to use it exclusively. (Yeah, iTerm has more great features, tmux, great ANSI color mapping, etc., but it doesn’t look anywhere near as good.) I’m even motivated to get one of the upcoming Ivy Bridge Macbook Pros because I think they’ll run with no fan noise with Cathode at higher frame rates. (I’m on a MacBook Air, where above ~20 fps the fans come on.)

In Cathode 1.2.0, there are a couple of xterm emulation bugs that affect me when using the Emacs and “less” that ship with OS X Lion (10.7). This video demonstrates the first bug.

To work around it, put the following code in a file (cathode.terminfo, f’rinstance), “tic” the file, then add “export TERM=cathode” to your .bashrc:

# cathode.terminfo -- version 1.2.0 Terminfo entry
# install with "tic cathode.terminfo"
# Use "infocmp cathode" to see the resulting full description
# This version (1.2.0) of Cathode has an overwrite vs. insert
# problem which xterm-256color exposes but rxvt-256color doesn't.  The
# remaining quirk is that Cathode doesn't understand [27m to end
# "standout" mode, but does understand [m, so we'll use that.
cathode|Mac 1.2.0,
        rmso=\E[m, use=rxvt-256color,

Open a new window and verify that Emacs and less work correctly.