The Equipping Your Maker Space Podcast

It’s easier than ever to become a maker. In today’s commoditized world, building something unique just for yourself has become a way to express yourself. Whether it’s a unique clock, your own personal weather station, the right costume for the next convention season, making your own offers greater satisfaction than buying. But how do you get started? My regular co-hosts Eric Klein and David Bryant are veteran makers in their own right. Their advice and insight into getting started, finding the right gear, sources for learning, and tools should get you going.


Eric and David mention some sources for learning, so I’ve added some links:

Instructables — Tutorials from people who make stuff. Since the site is user-driven, the quality of the tutorials vary, but you can find some real gems.

Adafruit — Adafruit will happily sell you stuff to get you going, but they also offer a great set of tutorials.

Make Magazineone of the oldest publications catering to the maker movement.

Other Resources:

Sparkfun Starter Kit, which Dave mentions as a way to get started with Arduino.

Boldport Club: a subscription service for DIY electronics projects.

Really Useful Boxes, where Dave buys his storage boxes.

Tools & Fun

I went to see the Wonder Woman movie and it’s fabulous. I’m going to see it again in the theaters. You should, too. I loved the way the story handled her development arc.

My older daughter, Elizabeth, brought her Mavic Pro drone with her on a recent visit. We flew it quite a bit, and I was so impressed I ordered one. Here’s one video Elizabeth shot of birds nesting on a small island near Mountain View.

My Edifier powered bookshelf speakers arrived — and they do sound sweet. I’ve also discovered a new board game genre: the Escape Room tabletop game.

Eric also liked Wonder Woman, though not quite as much as I did. But we both encouraged David to go see it stat. Eric’s also digging Luke Cage but agrees the first half is better than the second half. He’s also been equipping his home (yes, his home) with industrial-strength shelving from companies like Uline and Global Industrial. And Eric’s been on an in-ear monitor (IEM) kick recently and talks about what he’s discovered.

David took a leftover subwoofer from a discarded home theater system, picked up an inexpensive 2.1 digital amplifier, and built himself a powered subwoofer for making the big booms in Ghost Recon Wildlands even bigger sounding.  He’s still enjoying AMC’s Into the Badlands as well. He also talks about other maker stuff he’s discovered recently.

And finally, a little E3 news. XCOM2 gets an expansion, which looks pretty sweet, adding new factions and expanding the strategic layer. Bioware announced a new multiplayer co-operative shooter called Anthem in the same vein as The Division and Destiny. It looks very Mass Effect-like, but takes place in a different universe. And Microsoft announces the Xbox One X, a beefier Xbox the company claims will usher in 4K gaming for consoles.

We’ll close with a little gameplay trailer for Anthem.

 

 

 

The Road to Cycling Recovery Lies Inside My Office

Zwift

I love cycling on my Trek Domane road bike.

Cycling’s been a little limited lately, though. I wrote a few weeks back about my recent surgical experience. Removing a prostate, even when using less invasive methods, still means serious abdominal surgery. That meant three to four weeks of physical inactivity —  particularly riding. I vowed prior to the surgery, however, that I’d be back in the saddle within a few weeks.

I knew I couldn’t just hop on the bike and go for a twenty-mile ride. So I planned carefully, deciding to start with easy 15-minute bouts on the Domane. I also needed the ability to bail in case I experienced any serious pain or side effects. So instead of riding in our gorgeous Silicon Valley spring weather, I rode in my office, using a combination of a CycleOps Magnus Pro indoor trainer, my Domane 5.2 with a different rear wheel, and the Zwift virtual cycling app.

Cyclops Magnus with Trek Domane 5.2 for Indoor Cycling

The Magnus represents the modern generation of connected trainers. I mount the rear wheel slightly off the floor, locked in place by the Magnus assembly. The bike tire turns a flywheel which in turn activates an electric resistance motor. The CycleOps includes Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity, which means it interfaces with computers and Garmin-compatible training devices (like my Garmin Edge 810).

The Bluetooth connectivity enables me to connect the trainer to my PC. I use a virtual training app called Zwift, which puts the rider in a 3D virtual world specifically for cycling, as you can see in the screenshot above. Zwift offers a lot of capability; you can use if for serious training, virtual racing, and goal setting. Zwift not only receives data from the connected trainer but also can feed information back. If I started climbing a virtual hill, the resistance offered by the flywheel automatically increases, simulating the effort needed to climb.I simply wanted to use it to alleviate the boredom of indoor riding plus keep track of time on the bike. I’d used Zwift for indoor riding during our recent, very wet winter.

Domane mounted on Magnus for indoor cycling

This time, though, I’m using Zwift to gradually ramp up my cycling time. I just set the app for free riding and started with 15-minute rides, then 20, and most recently 25. Once I have a handful of half-hour or forty minute indoor rides, I’ll take the bike on the road once again. The combination of CycleOps Magnus plus Zwift turned out to be an invaluable tool in my return to normalcy.

Buy New Tech on Day One or Wait?

Welcome to the Improbable Insights Podcast.

You can almost smell it, feel it, taste it. The tech press and Twitter have been all abuzz about it. The longing to whip out your credit card and preorder seems almost too much to bear.  You know you want it, but a small, niggling voice in the back of your head tells you to wait. Wait for the inevitable bugs to be swatted and the promised features to be implemented. Should you wait? Or should you pull the trigger?

This is the eternal conundrum of early adopters. We so much want to be in on the latest new thing. But we’ve all been burned before. Eric, David, and I talk about whether to wait or not when thinking about buying shiny new tech. And boy, do we have opinions. Lots of opinions.


Tools and Fun

I’m prepping for my annual pilgrimage to Kublacon, the largest local tabletop gaming con in the Bay Area. I’m also reading City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett and find the characters engaging and the fantasy world unusual and well-drawn.  On the gaming front, I’ve fired up my XCOM2 Long War 2 campaign again just to take a little break from action games.

David just returned from a 100-hour whirlwind trip to China and found his Peak Design Everyday Backpack incredibly useful. He also goes into the challenges of traveling overseas in the modern era where personal privacy and corporate security make overseas travel more difficult. He’s also somehow gotten into the beta for Diablo III’s Necromancer class, the first new Diablo class since the expansion. Finally, he talks about all the movies he watched, and makes some hard recommendations.

Eric has wrapped up Caliban’s War by S.A. Corey, the second novel in The Expanse series. He’s trying to figure out where the story could possibly go from that ending. He also managed to acquire a Nintendo Switch, and shares the tale of how he found and bought it.

And just because the Wonder Woman movie looks like it will be terrific, I’m linking to the trailer. It arrives in theaters June 5.

The Ryzen 7 1800X Killer Production Rig Part II: The Build

Ryzen 1800X rig up and running

I talked about component choices for my new Ryzen 7 1800X system recently. Now it’s time to go into some detail about the process of building the system. This is not a step-by-step guide; it’s more a discussion of the overall flow of system building as it pertains to this particular PC. So let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?

Stripping the Glass, Adding Storage

 

Corsair Crystal 570 laid bare

Corsair 570X Wide Open

I stripped all the tempered glass panels off the Corsair Crystal 570X case, leaving the protective film on the glass. I carefully set aside the panels and took a look at the interior. The power supply mounts readily inside its little compartment. An LED-lit shroud covers the PSU on the opposite side of the case. The case includes a pair of 5.25-inch brackets for hard drives and another pair of 3.5-inch for SSDs. The case has no provision for internal optical drives, but I rarely need one these days and have a good external Blu-ray drive if the need arises.

I installed the 6TB Western Digital Black secondary drive and the 2TB Samsung 960 EVO into their respective slots.

Corsair Crystal 570X with WD Black 6TB and Samsung 2TB SSD in place.

In Goes the Motherboard and Ryzen 7 1800X

I’d installed the Ryzen 7 1800X processor prior to installing the motherboard. Given that AMD CPUs have pins on the CPU, installing it with the motherboard outside the case makes it just a little less likely I’ll bend a pin, which is much better for my blood pressure.

I remembered to install the rear I/O panel; I’ve forgotten it in past builds, only to have to remove the motherboard to install it. The Gigabyte GA-AX370 Gaming 5 motherboard slid into place pretty easily. Corsair cases now have the center motherboard standoff set as a pin rather than hex nut, which provides a nice guide for the board. You can now see the PSU shroud on the right of the photo, below.

Gigabyte GA-AX370 Gaming 5 Motherboard

The standoff screws go in pretty easily and everything lines up just fine. I connect up all the small interior wires: power button, power LED, main PSU connector, ATX12V connector, and interior USB 3.0 cable. So far, so good.

Cooler, DDR4, and Cabling

Before diving into the CPU cooler installation, I pop in the twin 16GB DDR4 memory sticks. As I usually do, use the second and fourth DRAM socket. This is probably superstition on my part, from an earlier era where installing the memory in some boards in slot one generated stability problems.

I mounted the Corsair H100i v2 radiator onto what would become the top of the case, followed by the cooling fan.

Corsair H100i v2 radiator

After making sure the radiator lines up like I want, I attach the radiator fans. The 100i v2 uses 120mm fans; I’d tried to install an H110i earlier, but a  heatsink on the motherboard prevented using the larger 140mm fans. C’est la vie.

 

Corsair H100i v2 fans

The bracket requires removing the standard AM4 plastic bracket and installing four standoff screws for attaching the pump assembly.  I hand-tighten the screws when attaching the heat sink to the standoffs.

Socket AM4 mounts for Corsair H100i v2

Note the four standoff screws

As usual, I need to play around with the orientation of the heatsink to minimize curves in the coolant hose. After several different tries, I finally find an orientation I prefer.

Ryzen 7 1800X, DDR4, and CPU cooler in place

Everything Else: Graphics, Audio, Routing, and Windows 10

The rest of the installation goes pretty smoothly. The GTX 1080 Ti slides into the primary PCIe x16 slot while the Sound Blaster ZX card goes into the outermost PCIe x1 slot. I carefully (well, carefully for me, anyway) route the cables, including PCIe power for the GPU plus SATA and power for storage. The Corsair case includes a removable cover which screws down over the main cable route which makes everything look neater than using tiedowns.

As always, I feel a little trepidation when hitting the power button for the first time. Everything lights up and the BIOS screen appears. CPU temps seem unusually high at 58 degrees C, but then I remember that AMD built in a CPU temperature offset. Interestingly, the latest BIOS update from Gigabyte seems to correct for the offset automatically; it now reports CPU temps hovering around 34 degrees C.

I do encounter one glitch when installing Windows.

Thank You Microsoft

Setup has always been sensitive to memory speeds. I ensure the memory is indeed running at the default PC2133 speed and restart setup. Windows installs flawlessly. Since that install, I’ve updated to Windows 10 Creators Edition, which went smoothly. Overall, the system seems to be running fine. I’ve installed most of the software I used. Microsoft Office and Photoshop seem to run without a hitch. I’ve also run several games including Prey, Ghost Recon Wildlands, Mass Effect Andromeda, XCOM2, and Endless Space 2. I did encounter one crash, which I can attribute to a failed attempt to push memory up to DDR4 3000 speed. Other than that, everything’s been smooth sailing so far.

Oh, yeah, and it’s sure nice having eight cores and sixteen threads.

 

 

The Ryzen 7 1800X Killer Production Rig Part I: Gathering Parts

I build a new production system every couple of years. This time around, I thought I’d use AMD’s intriguing Ryzen 7 1800X. I haven’t used an AMD CPU for my main production system, well, ever, as far as I can recall.

Let’s define what I mean by production system. I work out of my house almost exclusively, so I spend anywhere from four to ten hours a day in front of the system. My main production PC gets used for writing, editing, digital photography, a bit of video, and PC gaming. Given my predilection for loading up dozens of Chrome tabs while running Outlook, Photoshop, and a number of other applications, having great thread handling has always been high on my list.

So AMD’s new Ryzen, with its mix of affordability plus the CPU’s massive number of cores, looked like a winner. Since I’d never used an AMD CPU as my main system, I thought it would be a useful experiment. It’s one thing to build a PC, then hand it off to someone else, or relegate it to some secondary task. It’s quite another to use a system day in and day out. Only then do you really understand the quirks, pluses, minuses, and overall usability of a PC.

Another reason I decided on the Ryzen was to move just a bit off my comfort zone. I’ve been building and using Intel-based PCs for two decades now. I can almost build an Intel system wearing a blindfold. So it was time to give this newfangled Zen architecture a whirl.

This post focuses on component choices. I’ll have a second article on building the system. Later, after using it for a bit, I’ll write up impressions. So onto the parts selection!

The Case: Corsair Crystal 570X

You might think it odd that I’d put the case first. I’ve never been a fan of transparent acrylic panels on PC cases. They tended to make the case noisier and scratched easily. So I stuck with basic black cases designed to run quietly. The new generation of tempered glass cases have wowed me, however. Coupled with some LED accent lighting, these new cases look almost like works of art. The Corsair 570X has tempered class side, front, and top panels, with just a little dark tint added.

Corsair Crystal 570X PC Case

Corsair Crystal 570X all lit up

These cases require standoff screws to attach the side panels, which assists airflow and keeps the internals cool. You’d think this would increase the noise level but this case runs even more quietly than the Obsidian 550D I’d been using. Those glass panels don’t resonate or vibrate. The case includes a lot of nice touches, including a detachable cover that mounts on the underside of the motherboard tray to help conceal cable runs and nicely done 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch storage trays that mount the devices flat against the underside of the board.

The one relatively serious complaint I have about this case is the lack of a reset button. I don’t need a reset button often, but the occasional hard lock can happen. Holding the power button for five seconds does shut the system down, so it’s not a huge issue.

CPU: Ryzen 7 1800X

The processor doesn’t hold the position of prestige it once did in the PC universe. It now shares the stage with the GPU, arguably a more critical choice for gaming. One reason I’d been reluctant to use AMD CPUs in the past revolve around too much power consumption and lack of premium-quality motherboards. Ryzen 7 fixes the power problem; the CPU’s 95W TDP is right there with Intel’s mainstream CPUs and lower than the Extreme Edition processors.

Ryzen 7 1800X CPU

Ryzen 7 1800X

CPU Cooling: Corsair H100i V2 Sealed Liquid Cooler

I had to delay building the system because I needed to obtain a (free) socket AM4 bracket to support this Corsair cooler. This is the first dual-fan cooler I’ve installed in a system. The dual-fan radiator mounts nicely in the top of the case and is whisper quiet when the system idles (as when I’m typing). Note that a H110i, which uses dual 140mm fans, doesn’t fit with this particular case and motherboard combo.  Sharp eyes may note that the bracket shown in the photo below fits socket AM3; when I shot the photo I had yet to receive the socket AM4 bracket.

Corsair H100i V2

Corsair H100i V2

Motherboard: Gigabyte Aorus AX370-Gaming 5

The dearth of high-end motherboards is now a thing of the past. Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, and others now build high-end boards using AMD’s AX370 chipset.  I’d been using the Gigabyte equivalents in my Intel rigs, so it seemed natural to go with that company’s latest.

Gigabyte AX-370 Gaming 5 Motherboard

Gigabyte Aorus AX-370-Gaming 5

The AX370 Gaming 5 includes a high-end codec chip enhanced by the addition of Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi driver software. It also implements a lot of on-board fan headers, a little LED accenting, and dual Ethernet ports, including a Killer NIC E2500 gigabit Ethernet chip. If I have a beef with this board, it’s the lack of a Thunderbolt port, though it does include USB 3.1. Overall, this board provides a nice match for the Ryzen 7 1800X CPU.

 

AX370 Gaming 5 I/O Panel

Back Panel Ports

Memory: Corsair Vengeance LED DDR4 32GB

These Corsair modules include LED accent lighting. You pick which color you want when you buy them; I went with PC4-24000 (3000MHz) 32GB kit (2x 16GB modules) with basic white LED accent. I have no real plans to push the memory or CPU, so these should work fine with the Ryzen 7 1800X.

Corsair Vengeance LED

Corsair DDR4

Graphics Card: Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti

This particular GTX 1080 Ti comes from eVGA and is based on the Nvidia reference founder’s edition design. This isn’t Nvidia’s highest-end card, but it’s also roughly half the cost of a Titan XP, which only offers marginal performance improvements. At $699, it’s about 30% faster than the $499 GTX 1080. The 1080 Ti should do a fine job of driving games on my 38-inch LG 38UC99 ultra-wide screen monitor.

eVGA GTX 1080 Ti

GTX 1080 Ti

Storage: 2TB Samsung Evo 850 Plus 6TB WD Black

Storage proved to be a conundrum. Do I go for raw speed or relatively cost-effective capacity? In the end, I chose capacity. The 2TB EVO 850 cost about $650 when I originally bought it (prices have crept up since). A 2TB Evo 960 Pro nVME M.2 SSD would be faster  but cost almost twice as much. I could have opted for a 1TB 960 Pro, but in the end, capacity won out. I know from experience that 2TB is enough for a lot of games, plus Adobe Photographer’s bundle, Microsoft Office, and all the other apps I run.

As an aside, I brought over the 6TB Western Digital Black, 7200RPM hard drive from my old rig. The drive houses all my digital photos, a two-plus terabyte collection stretching back a couple of decades. I also use the drive to store software and driver downloads I’ve acquired over the years.

Samsung 950 EVO 2TB

Samsung 950 EVO 2TB

Sound Card: Creative Labs Sound Blaster ZX

What’s this? A sound card in today’s world of pretty decent integrated audio?

Yes. Creative’s done a pretty decent job with the drivers on the ZX line, including keeping them updated as new builds of Windows 10 arrive. What I really love about this sound card, though, is the volume control knob. The knob itself doesn’t do much unless you’re using a headset. However, the pod integrates a stereo array microphone with built-in noise cancelling. The Sound Blaster control panel lets  you adjust the listen cone for the array. Set to a narrow 28 degrees, the pod sits adjacent a desktop speaker, picks up my voice perfectly for online chats, and never generates feedback from the speakers.

Sound Blaster Z series control pod with mic array

Sound Blaster Z Series control pod

Power Supply

A good system deserves a good PSU. I ended up with a Seasonic 850 Watt Prime 80 Plus Titanium. I’ve used a lot of Seasonic drives over the years, and the combination of very low noise and reliable current delivery keep me coming back.

Seasonic Prime 850W 80-Plus Titanium

Seasonic 850 PSU with all the goods

So there’s the parts list. Note that I had a number of the parts on-hand when I began this project. However, I’ve put together an overall cost table for your perusal. I’ve taken the liberty of adding the cost of Windows 10 Pro OEM into the table. These cost reflect current prices; the prices I paid may have been different for the components I already owned when I launched this build.

Component Product Cost
Case Corsair Crystal 570X Mid-Tower Case  $180
CPU AMD Ryzen 7 1800X $465
CPU Cooler Corsair H100i V2 $102
Motherboard Gigabyte Aorus GA-AX370-Gaming 5 $195
DDR4 DRAM Corsair Vengeance LED 32GB DDR4 3000 $265
GPU eVGA GTX 1080 Ti Founder’s Edition $699
SSD Samsung 850 EVO 2TB SATA $695
Hard Drive WD Black 6TB 7200RPM $290
Sound Card Creative Labs Sound Blaster ZX $122
PSU Seasonic Prime 850W $170
OS Windows 10 Pro OEM $140
Total $3,143

That qualifies as a high-end system by anyone’s book. Next time, I’ll talk about how the build process went. Stay tuned.

New Nvidia GPU, Cortana, Net Neutrality, and Lots of Echo on the Improbable Insights Podcast

Welcome to a new Improbable Insights Podcast. Since we’ve been away a bit, David Bryant and I talk about some recent bits in the news, including Nvidia’s GTC, net neutrality, more Amazon Echo, and Microsoft late to the party once again.


Tools & Fun

David and I talk about the games we’ve been playing: Ghost Recon Wildlands, Mass Effect Andromeda, and Prey. We also discuss recent movies and TV, including Into the Badlands, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

In Which Loyd Meets a Surgical Robot But Forgets About It

Sometimes you get all ambitious about writing and blogging. Then life happens and you encounter a surgical robot instead.

I was diagnosed with relatively early stage prostate cancer in March. This would normally be a nuisance more than an issue of concern. In most cases, men die of old age long before prostate cancer could kill them. The biopsy analysis included a worrying bit about a relatively small amount of grade 4 cancer, which can become more aggressive over time. In theory, we could still just watch it. But my wife and I decided, to paraphrase Ellen Ripley, to nuke it from orbit to be really sure.

So on May 1st, I underwent what’s called a radical prostatectomy to remove my prostate. The surgeon was assisted by a robot designed and built by Intuitive Surgical right here in Sunnyvale, California. This is a clear example of overuse of a word because the DaVinci system isn’t really a robot. The system is more properly a Waldo, after the Robert Heinlein story. The system enhances the surgeon’s capabilities, allowing for greater precision and additional degrees of freedom, as well as including a tethered camera which allowed my surgeon to see what he’s doing.

Because of the vagaries of general anesthesia, I don’t remember seeing the DaVinci system. I recall being wheeled towards the operating room, then waking up in post-op. When we met with my surgeon a week after the surgery, he told us that roughly 6% of the prostate was cancerous, with about 1/4 of that being grade 4. Biopsies of local lymph nodes and other tissue showed no evidence that cancer had spread beyond the prostate.

Recovery has gone pretty well; I had to live with a catheter for a week, but I’m now up and about walking around. I expect a gradual resumption of bicycling and other physical activities in the next few weeks. I plan to write more as well as resume the Improbable Insights podcast. It’s all been a sobering experience, though. But even though life happens, I figure I’ll just keep moving forward. What else could I do?

Rose by Loyd Case

Improbable Insights Podcast: Should You Buy a Game Console?


Game consoles once ruled the roost when it came to AAA game titles. The major console companies vied for exclusive titles and had unparalleled ease of use.  Consoles even offered performance superior to the best PCs of the day. The PC looked like it would be relegated to more complex strategy games, with the big action games and RPGs taken over by consoles. Economic factors, Moore’s Law, and the incredible gains in PC graphics allowed the PC to catch up.

Eric, David, and I debate the merits and pitfalls of owning a game console today, and a spirited debate it is. Eric’s always owned a console, David came to PC gaming from the console space, while I just recently acquired a Playstation 4 Pro after a hiatus away from consoles. Do you own a game console? If so, why? If not, should you?

Tools and Fun

I discuss what may be the biggest damned lens I’ve ever owned — not its reach, but sheer bulk and size. I also mention a great budget PC case, Windows 10 Creator Edition gotchas,  and why I bought my wife an iPad Mini. David discusses his new favorite travel laptop, the Nanoleaf Aurora, Ghost Recon, and Slack for families. Eric finally closes out his Arrested Development run, reads some Neil Gaiman, and continues with Mass Effect Andromeda multiplayer.

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