The Big Think

December 13, 2007

Dumb House

Filed under: Apple,Hobbies,Technology — jasony @ 5:42 pm

Well, the dang home automation system is on the fritz. And then it’s not. And then it is again. It seems that the other day some uncoordinated rube ran his or her car into a telephone pole with an attached transformer a mile from here. The resulting explosion and fiery incandescence managed to knock out power for four thousand north Austin residents. What that much power was doing coursing through a single transformer I have no idea, and the fact that my wife drives by the cursed thing every day on her way to work gives me pause. The image of the tiny green box overloaded with electrons suddenly erupting and causing a temporal anomaly, trapping everyone in the area in a time loop where thy have to repeat the last thirty seconds of their commute, only to pass by the tiny green box overloaded with electrons suddenly erupting and causing a temporal anomaly, trapping everyone in the area in a time loop where thy have to repeat the last thirty seconds of their commute, only to pass by the…. you get the idea.

Anyway, the box went blooey, but first I was treated to the spectacular sight of all the lights in our house suddenly ramping up to 200% brightness. Wowsers. I think this is what they mean by power spike. Luckily, I’m a smart lad and have invested a substantial portion of my retirement savings on Uninterruptible Power Supplies. These have the benefit of not only allowing you to continue surfing the internet when the zombie hordes destroy civilization (leave YouTube please!), but also regulate the electrons like a bouncer at a night club. Only the cute and well-behaved ones get through.

So every expensive piece of electronics in the house made it through just fine, and I really think the hundreds of dollars I’ve spent on super-duper UPS’s paid for themselves right then and there. There was the bright light and the horrific squeal of a half dozen units beepeing NO POWER, followed by darkness and continued beeping (none of the lights are on UPS’s, of course). I ran around and shut down/unplugged everything and was treated to that very rare modern experience… a silent house. Man shouldn’t live this way.

Unfortunately, the UPS that’s on the home automation computer is old and decrepit, and failed in its task. When the power came back on four hours later (yes, it took them four hours to replace the transformer, rendering an area about 3 miles in radius powerless… including the neighborhood grocery store and the Best Buy. What’s a Best Buy without power but a sad silicon graveyard.), I rebooted the 10 year old Mac that serves as the brain of the house. However, after a suitable period of time I realized that the hard drive never spun up. I kicked it and rebooted it a few times and managed to get it working again, so the first thing I did was back everything up. You want to hear me rant? Imagine if I lost a few years’ worth of programming to the house controller. I might have to actually touch a light switch!

This morning I went back in to visit the computer and it was still working, but when I rebooted it again (yes, there was a good reason), it quit on me again. So I took it apart and tried to replace the hard drive with an even older drive. No dice. Tried a second drive. Nothing. Tried the original wonky drive again, kicked it, spun in place, and spat a few times for good luck, and rebooted it. It worked! But I think the drive is on its last legs. It’s a SCSI drive (that old Mac only takes a special kind of extra-loud, extra expensive SCSI drives), so replacing it would cost more than I want to spend just to keep an ancient machine running a while longer. See also: supercentenarians with pneumonia.

So the plan right now is to see what happens over the next few days. If it keeps working we’ll keep our fingers crossed, but when/if it goes down for sure, instead of spending the money on a big U/W SCSI drive I think we’re just going to spring for a new low-end Mac Mini. This will get the HA server into the new millennium and allow me to do cool things like port our music and video around the house. It should speed up the performance of the HA system significantly, and run silently and more efficiently. In fact, I’ve been running a Kill-a-Watt on the old H.A. computer for a while and determined that we’ll save enough in electricity cost by replacing it with a Mini to completely pay for the Mini…. in 12 years. Of course, the way Macs last, it’s entirely possible that it’ll still be working then.


  1. You could also get by with an older Mini for that use… be sure to check the Apple store closeouts and refurbs. Plus there’s smalldog and the other “dark grey” sources for last gen minis. Our 1.66 duo (not 2 duo) is quite the peppy, quiet little buddy.

    Comment by Redbeard25 — December 14, 2007 @ 12:11 pm

  2. Well, I’d agree with you, but Mini’s are so cheap already, and hold their prices so well, that the price difference that I’ve seen between brand spanking new and used is only 10-20%. Heck, I’ve seen used ones go on Ebay for $400, and when you consider that we’re getting Giles’ Friends and Family discount (15%), it’s not that much of a premium to pay for the newest tech.

    I want to run Democracy, El Gato’s EyeTV, Xtension, X2Web, and a few other things, so performance might be an issue, especially going forward.

    Comment by jasony — December 14, 2007 @ 2:16 pm

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