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July 23, 2011 02:20

Marquee is working!

This was no small project either. The sign itself is fine. However, when I returned from our road trip earlier this month, I discovered that computer was off. After trying to reboot it a few times, I hooked up a keyboard and monitor and found out that apparently the bios had decided to choke on itself while we were away, the end result being that the computer refused to boot. Ok, no big deal I thought. This problem has a very simple solution. Remove hard drive from old computer, insert hard drive in a differnet computer, boot and carry on my merry way. Well, at first it seemed to be working. The operating system was booting up, got to the point where it was checking the disk partitions, and then decided to choke too. Ok. The HD must have gotten corrupted in the whole process. Not very common, but not unheard of either. So I rig up myself a rescue disk so I can at least try to mount the drive under a working system to copy off the programs on it. Since that computer ran the sign and that's pretty much all it did, I just wanted to grab the code for the sign program and then I would reinstall the operating system. Well, I couldn't even mount it. It would appear the linux partition was completely hosed.

Very well. No big deal. I have a recent copy of the source. All I had done since then was a few minor tweaks that I could reproduce in a matter of minutes. Now that I was looking at a complete system reinstall ANYWAY, I figured I wouldn't bother scavenging my vixen box (even though it's not currently in use), and would instead bring back into service one of the 6 unused but (I thought) operable computers. One of them was the old spaz machine. I was pretty sure I had copied all of the old files off of it prior to shutting it down several years ago, but I was never absolutely positive about it, so I kinda kept it sitting around in what I thought was an operable state. It would appear that I had scavenged a video card and network card from it at some point, but after some further scavenging, I was able to get it booting. I was not, however, able to find a network card that worked on it. I KNOW I had one working in it before, but which one is quite the mystery. And it wasn't a simple matter to plug in another network card. Keep in mind, this computer was running slackware 3.6. It was released in 1998 and I upgraded the main DMI server from another box running 3.4 that same year. It flawlessly ran the site off of that box well into 2004, before I finally moved the site to a hosted server. It's necessity waned since then, and so I hadn't booted it in several years. Not until now. The point is, I wasn't using loadable modules back then, all drivers (including network drivers) were compiled straight into the kernel, and therefore I needed a compatible card. I was pondering the best way to deal with the current situation. Either I could find an old NE2000 network card, of which I knew I had at least one old ISA card somewhere, and as a practical use, I always compiled that driver into the old system, or I could recompile the kernel with a driver for one of the cards I had sitting around, assuming I could find a working card that was supported back then. While I was pondering this, the drive started knocking, solving many issues all at once. That computer wasn't going to work, that drive was dead, and I needed to seek out another one.

I had another tower here that was a box I had replaced on a job a while back. Apparently, ECS is NOT a good brand for motherboards, and the system had a habit of crashing every few days for no apparently good reason. I still had the box sitting here in perfectly working order (ignoring the crashing issue) and I figured at least I could USE it.. rebooting a couple times a week wouldn't be the end of the world; I was doing that already. I discovered, to my great dismay, that there was no parallel port on that computer. And I don't mean there just wasn't an integrated port for it, no, there was no parallel port available anywhere on the motherboard. I had purchased a couple of different pci parallel port cards for just such an emergency, but one is just a usb parallel port in disguise (and the drivers recognize it as such), and the other just plain doesn't seem to work at all (and I'm not sure what the deal is there). And no, I can't use usb parallel ports since my control over the paralell port is very low level, and the drivers for the usb based parallel ports operate at the character driver level. They're designed to be used with printers and nothing else.

Fine. Can't use that one. So I drag out my Akon box. I named it that because I dragged that computer to Akon last year so I could have a computer in the room. That was more of a pain than it was worth, so I just suffered with the laptop this year. I occasionally use it as a third workstation when the girls are occupying mine, however, I figured that happend rarely enough that I could do without if I had to. So I drag it out, check the back, and...... no parallel port. ARGH!!!

Fine. It's a compaq and it has SATA ports. I have anohter slightly older compaq that has a parallel port but does NOT have SATA ports. That computer, however, is currently in use, mostly for disk storage. With SATA drives. Ok. I know you're confused now, so I'll explain. 2 Christmases ago there was a sale on 1.5TB drives. However, it was a SATA drive, and I wasn't entirely sure that I had any linux boxes that had SATA ports, so I opted to also grab a SATA pci card just in case. Turns out my hunch was correct, I did not (at that time) have any available linux boxes with a SATA port, and so I couldn't use the drive natively, but I COULD use the card with the drive. And it worked. So now I figure I could just take that drive out of that box, put it in the other one, and it should just boot right up.


That didn't work. I have no idea why it didn't work. It just didn't work. I even tried disabling all onboard SATA and IDE connectors and brought over the PCI card and tried it that way too. Still wouldn't work. However, moving it back to the other computer worked JUST GREAT. I have no idea why. What I DO know is that I had probably better test mounting that drive on another system to be sure that I can even access it properly should that need ever come to pass. But I digress.

I had another box here, from whence it came, I don't know, but since a sticker on the front says it was designed for windows 98, and I had already partially gutted it, I decided attempting to use it wouldn't be worth my time.

So I finally tore into the vixen box again, put in the corrupted HD and tried again for a CENTOS installation. No dice, I'm getting I/O errors. So I start hunting for harddrives of sufficient size that I can use. Although I'm almost positive I had a nearly endless supply of older IDE drives in the 10+ gig range, this apparently is not so. I tried a couple of older drives but neither one of them would act properly in the system. I finally ended up with the old nova drive. Nova was the original box I originally repurposed to operate the sign, and the one who's bios had crashed. I installed a fresh OS on it at that time, but I kept the old drive in there so I could access the files on it. Well, right now, it's looking like the only HD I've got that I can actually USE that I don't need to keep around for some other reason. Great.

So I set up PXE on one of the linux boxes so I can boot the linux rescue disk and copy the entire HD over the network so I could reformat the drive. Yes, I could have used a boot disk, but trust me, at this point, if I didn't do it the horribly complicated way, it just wouldn't have made any sense. So I copy everything off, install CENTOS on that drive. do it AGAIN because it won't boot as quickly as I'd like and I suspect it never reinstalled the MBR. Anyway, THAT time it booted, got it up and running, plugged in the sign, gathered up all of the software needed for it.. spent a few minutes tweaking the code to get it working correctly again, ran it.... and.... it works!!!


That's when I see the sign is a glitchy mess. It looks like my first experiments with trying to build the sign, a history of woe you can read about on that howto page if you're so inclined. I spent a couple hours tweaking it some more, thinking that maybe I just have a timing issue. Nope. No matter what I do, it's still glitchy. In frustration, I give up on it, until today. Well, yesterday now, but who's counting. I realize that the computer that controls the lamps through the parallel port will work fine even with a glitchy parallel port, since I'm not trying to turn THOSE on and off 10000 times a second like the lights on the sign are. So I just swap the two computers, swap the programs, set everything up, turn everything on....


About damn time. Now I can start messing with the critter.