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New Project: A 68000-based tablet


Written by Stephen
February 20, 2020

My favourite retro-computing devices are those that are portable. The TRS-80 model 100 is especially interesting to me; it is a tablet computer released in 1983. I few days ago, I decided I should design my own portable computer.

Anyone who knows me in person knows that I am an avid supporter of the Motorola 68000, and other 68000-based CPUs. In my opinion, they are a much better design than the x86 architecture we are stuck with. For this reason, I decided to base my tablet around this CPU. Even though it was released in 1979, it is a very capable computing device. A 23 bit address bus and 16 bit data bus provides access to up to 16MB of address space, without having to use memory banking. Internally, the CPU is fitted with a large array of 32 bit general-purpose registers - 8 of them! That doesn't even include the 7 address registers and stack pointer register. Amazingly, this 40 year old CPU is still in production and used regularly; that's how good it is.

After pic...

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Proxmox Backups can be Dangerous


Written by Stephen
February 04, 2020

A few days ago, I learned that Proxmox automated backups can actually cost uptime.

For this post to make any sense, I should start by explaining how my servers are set up. I will only talk about my Proxmox servers, because the other servers are irrelevant to this story. I have a Proxmox cluster which consists of two hosts. One of the hosts contains an HBA, which is connected to about 20TB worth of disks. The HBA is passed through to a VM, which runs an NFS server, among other things. Both of my Proxmox hosts connect to the NFS server, which is used only for backups. It sounds pretty janky, but it's honestly not that bad.

Every night at midnight, a scheduled backup runs for most VMs. The way that it works in Proxmox, each host will back up 1 VM at a time to the NFS server. For me, that means 2 VMs are backed up at a time. Unfortunately, on Friday night the disk used for backups in the NFS server stopped responding. This shouldn't be a big deal - the backup would fail, o...

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CaaS - Cats as a Service


Written by Stephen
January 10, 2020

Imagine there was an API where you could get random cat pictures from the internet. This sounds like an amazing idea, but it doesn't exist! So I decided to build it myself.

The basic idea was as follows. First, train an AI to differentiate between cats and not-cats. Then, I could feed it random pictures off the internet, and it would discard non-cat pictures. The cat pictures would be saved, to be served by the API.

Most of the AI work was already done for me. I found this project, which is designed to classify cat and dog pictures. Nothing really had to be done to the code. When training the model, I just gave it non-cat pictures, rather than dog pictures. My computer is not optimized for AI training(I used my CPU) so I was not able to train the model as much as I would like.

I was also planning ...

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Interative Universe Map


Written by Stephen
January 08, 2020

This is another project from the backlog that I hadn't had time to post about. Written sometime in summer 2019 is my interactive universe map. It is a Google-Maps-like interface for browsing a 600MB image which was created by astronomers by stitching together many pictures from the Hubble telescope.

For the frontend, I am using Leaflet. It is a Javascript library for viewing raster maps. Essentially, it looks for 256x256 tiles at /z/x/y, where z is the zoom level and (x, y) are the coordinates of the picture. Zoom level 0 is the original image(scaled down, of course). Zoom level 1 consists of four images - one for each quadrant of the original picture. This pattern repeats down until the max zoom level of z=7.

Originally, I wrote a Node.JS server to dynamically generate each tile as it was requested. However, I was unable to manipulate a 600MB image quickly enough for this to be viable. I ended up writing a Python script to generate every tile, which could be served st...

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Victr - A Real Estate Site


Written by Stephen
December 10, 2019

This is not a new project, but I hadn't posted it yet so here it is.

Victr is a site that finds houses and apartments(and land) on Kijiji and makes it extremely easy to search through. The main feature is that you can put in an address, and filter based on houses within X minutes driving or walking distance. As far as I can tell, no other sites do this; probably because it would be expensive if using an API.

To get around the whole API issue, I'm hosting everything myself. Even the map tiles are generated by me. The address lookup and routing engine are running on Nominatim and OSRM, respectively.

The backend is written in Ruby on Rails, and the frontend is written in Angular. I'm not very good at Angular so the code base is a huge mess. I'm pretty happy with the backend, though it could still be cleaned up.

I originally started writing Victr over the summer, but I have not done much lately. The next big feature would be to scrape realtor.ca. I am not sur...

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A New Website


Written by Stephen
December 06, 2019

I have switched my website yet again.

The first version ran on Wordpress. Though it had many features, I found it to be bloated and slow - and very overkill for what I was doing.

The second version was entirely static HTML. Although much more minimalist and faster, it didn't look great, and it was tedious to maintain.

This is now the third version of my website. I have written a blogging platform entirely from scratch in Ruby on Rails. This makes it a lot more convenient to use. It also opens up the possibility of comments, which I am happy to have back (I have not had them since Wordpress). I call this new platform Pressr. It is open source.

I am still working to add features to Pressr every day. I would like for it to be a powerful platform, while still being lightweight and efficient.

Pressr on Git

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Dissecting a Kaypro II ROM from 1983


Written by Stephen
May 25, 2019

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an ad for a Kaypro II with dead floppy drives. For the cost of shipping, they were willing to give it away. As someone who loves luggables, I knew I had to have it. The Kaypro II has the following specs:

  • Z80 CPU @ 2.5MHz
  • 64KB of RAM
  • 2KB of ROM
  • Direct linear framebuffer access to VRAM

The seller was also nice enough to send a stack of 5.25" diskettes. I believe they have lost their magnetism, as (after fixing the Kaypro drives) the files on them were corrupted. So, I have to find another 5.25" drive that I can use to put images on the disks. In the meantime, why not hack the ROM?

Now, ROM hacking is new to me. I understand the concept, but do not have any of the required tools, such as an EEPROM reader. But I do have an Arduino, so I figured I could ...

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Gravitational Physics Engine


Written by Stephen
November 09, 2018

I have written my own gravitational engine! Although it started in python, I quickly ported it to C for a huge performance benefit.

The general idea is that it starts with a large array of 'stars'. Each is given some angular momentum. Then, the stars are gravitationally simulated over a period of time. This has led to some really cool effects!

Features:

  • Multithreading support
  • Customizable parameters through the command line
  • Autosaving and loading
  • Very low memory usage (Under 16MB for 100k stars)
  • High performance

Here is a simulation I did with n=1000 stars:

Here's another one with n=10k stars. This one turned out really well. The stars quickly form two galaxies, one much bigger than the other. Not only does the big one appear to be a spiral galaxy for a short period of time, but it also rips the small...

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IBM PS/2 - Steady Progress


Written by Stephen
October 16, 2018

First things first - I have sourced a CRT! It was delivered for free and works great. Since the PS/2 System 50 has a weird VGA port, which was common in this time period, I had to break a pin off the monitor cable.

Even though the plastic colours do not match, I prefer it greatly over the LCD I used before.

I also received a USB floppy drive in the mail. I tried both MS-DOS and an IBM initialization disk image I found, but it kept dropping me into BASIC. After more troubleshooting, it turns out the floppy drive in the unit is broken. It's a common problem, and should be fixable by replacing its capacitors. When trying to get the drive apart, however, I found out that a few of the screws were completely stuck, and made out of a very soft metal which couldn't handle my screwdriver. I will probably have to drill them out and find repl...

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IBM PS/2 - The Beginning


Written by Stephen
October 11, 2018

An IBM PS/2 model 50 computer showed up on Kijiji about a week ago and I knew I had to have it. For only 20 Canadian rupees, I got a 286-based machine with one megabyte of RAM. Its 40MB hard drive was blank, and I do not have a floppy drive, so I can't create a 16 bit boot disk.

Surprisingly, though, it still boots - there is a BASIC interpreter stored on ROM. I never learned BASIC, but the language was intuitive, and I only used a minimal amount of documentation. I manually retyped a mandelbrot generator I found on github, which worked perfectly! Unfortunately, the built in interpreter only supports 4 colours - which I configured wrong, resulting in a monochrome program output - and I only allowed it...

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