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Aaron Harper
Works at Issyroo Farms LLC.
Attends American Public University System
Lives in Walsenburg, CO
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Aaron Harper

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I have been limping along with my old PC for a while now.  What was once a high end Dell workstation, now a frankenputer, has served me well for years.  Last week it started having hardware trouble that indicates the fault is either the CPU or motherboard.  Additionally, my needs have evolved and will continue to do so.  

I need a new computer and I want to hear what others think I should use.

I am not married to any particular architecture or brand, but I use open source software and hardware where possible as both a cost control measure and for transparency.  I have a strong interest in reducing power consumption (the new lab will be off grid), but not at the cost of capability.  My current and future uses for a computer are as follows, in order of priority, not necessarily frequency of use:

1. CAD / CAM workstation.  My models have moved from simple geometries to multipart assemblies with articulations and structural analysis.  It is likely that I will add 3D scanning and vision processing within the next 2 years, increasing the computational and memory demands considerably.  I use dual monitors for this type of task.

2. Spreadsheets. Yeah, I know that this is usually no big deal, but the spreadsheets I make range from financial / economic analysis (no big deal) to communication link budgets for deep space probes and sensor data correlation and analysis (a big deal, especially if a fourier transformation is required).

3. Research.  When I am doing research I will generally have many PDF documents open, a word processor, a spreadsheet or two (see above), and a web browser with a ton of tabs, etc.  It adds up quickly and the longer it takes to get the data and move it, the slower the progress.  I use dual monitors for this type of task.

4. Coding.  We haven't done much coding for projects, but once projects reach a certain maturity this will change.  While compiling a program for the system itself or other platforms (I do embedded Linux work), I need the ability to continue working without a major slowdown.    I use dual monitors for this type of task.

5. Magnetic field and CFD analysis.  This has become much more complex over the last 2 years.  My current PC has been crunching the same 18-26GB dataset for 2 weeks and was only 30% done.  More analysis tasks with more detail are coming for future projects over the next 2-3 years.  This task usually runs in the background.

6. Virtualization.  Unfortunately much of the software I need to run is not available on the same platform as the other important software.  While much of this is a choice and preference, some is not.  As an example, I need to run GNU Radio and GPredict under Linux and AGI's Satellite ToolKit (STK) under Windows concurrently, sharing data.

7. Video processing.  As my projects mature, I would love to share the build, testing, and documentation in both written and video format.  Doing a little post production on the videos would make them better, and I would not mind publishing a weekly vlog.  I see this becoming a large amount of the work volume over the next year to two years.

8. Software defined radio and similar spectrum processing tasks.  While not terribly intensive over a long term, these tasks can be quite computationally intensive in bursts.  I don't anticipate a change in the moderate amount of work I do in this area, though the complexity may increase, and with it the computational requirements.

9. Communication and data entry.  My use of social media and email for communication is fairly typical.  Neither this nor data entry tasks are a major factor in the selection of the new PC since much of this will be automatic and/or involve a tablet, chromebook, or smartphone.

I am evaluating 4 different options in meeting my computational needs over the next 3-5 years.  The possibilities are as follows:

1. Do I buy a new PC, and if so, what?  I have a fairly generous budget in mind, but this would remove funds from other projects, delaying them further.

2. Do I build a PC, and if so, what specs / components?  I am no stranger to building a PC from components, having been a PC tech and modder since the original IBM PC.

3. Do I build a computer using a different architecture (eg. ARM / cell processing supercomputer), and if so, what specs / components?  I can do this, but the system's capabilities must be compelling to offset the time spent on learning curves and tweaking.

4. Do I build / purchase multiple PCs dedicated to specific tasks, and if so, how are the tasks split and how is the communications between them handled?  This is a possibility, but the increased cost and energy consumption must be offset by parallel speed and reliability.

Please cast your vote and comment below.  If you have another solution, please comment as well.  Thanks for the time. :)
21 votes  -  votes visible to Public
Buy a new workstation
Build a new workstation
Build a supercomputer
Buy or build task specific machines
shogun x's profile photoAaron Harper's profile photo
Cool. Then should all work.
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If you’ve watched the presidential debates and wished that you could quickly fact check the candidates’ statements, Google has you covered. Search results will now float candidates’ own words and quotes, right next to information on how to watch and keep up with what they’re saying now.
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See?  I'm not the only one lampooning DC for overreacting on this whole snowmageddon thing. 

h/t to +Sarah R 
To all my friends south who are getting some snow, with love from the Bangor Maine Police Department:

Dear Mid-Atlantic of these United States of America.

I think we all knew it could happen. Every year when you pack up your well tanned family and head back home from our tiny piece of paradise, you look back and see us raking up our leaves and putting our snow shovels by the door. You always sigh, knowing that we will be dealing with winter in a far different way than you will.

With lobster traps on your roof and pine cones in your carry ons, you think of us with with warm memories of fantastic sunsets, thick accents and great clam chowder. You talk to the family about coming back next year and enjoying all that Maine has to offer.

Down deep, you feel sorry for us. You know that we will be moving snowbanks, raking our roof, smashing ice dams off the shingles and stoking the wood stove with the dollar bills that you left behind.

Listen, this storm is going to miss us. This is not typical and we want to share a little advice of how to make it through an epic "snow event" unscathed. We want you to come back next year. Here are a few tips.

1. Don't panic. It's just frozen rain. It does go away so don't try to move too much at one time.
2. Don't shovel too early and don't wait too long. Pace yourself. Go out every few hours and move a little at a time. It can hurt your back, arms and legs. You always wonder why we all walk funny. It is not because of the clam chowder.
3. Heart attacks in big snow storms are rather common. Help out your neighbor who is older, out of shape or that has known health problems. Helping them move some snow (better yet, let your offspring do it) is better than calling EMS while you are doing CPR. Seriously.
4. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT buy all the bread on the shelves. As a lifelong Mainer, I recommend cereal. No better reason has ever been invented to eat Golden Crisp, Honeycomb or Captain Crunch (don't get the peanut butter flavored. That stuff sucks). You will need milk and of course a bowl and spoon. You probably already have that in the house. I have lived for several weeks on only Rice Crispies and Snickers. 
5. Get some batteries and flashlights that work. Nothing is worse than going through the junk drawer and finding only 1 D battery when you need two. LED flashlights are awesome, cheap and last and last. You might need one to find the cereal.
6. Charge your Cellphone. If you have a generator, you need gas. You look stupid trying to start a generator with no gas in it. Don't ask me how I know. Do not run the generator inside a basement or garage. Yes, people do that. Usually only one time.
7. Toilets flush without electricity. If you fill your tub with water, you can use it for all kinds of things, including flushing the toilet. Also, to wash cereal bowls.
8. Fill your car up with gas. If you get stuck somewhere and have to run the car, make sure you clean out around the tail pipe and do not fall asleep with the car running. We need you to come back next summer to buy more lobster and lobster traps. Pine cones are free.

Most of all, take care of each other. Be nice and invite neighbors to hole up at one location. Hide expensive things, but help them. (that's the cop talking).

You will be fine. We drink lots of coffee and complain when we get hit like this storm. It works ok. It makes us grouchy but that's why you come here in the summer. To hear stories from grumpy Mainers who sell lobster traps. Now, you will have some of your own to share with us when you get back.

Be safe and well and if you have any Cap'n Crunch left after the storm. It keeps very well. Bring it up this summer.

The men and women of the Bangor Police Department are rooting for you. You got this.

We will be here!
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Jim Carver's profile photoAaron Harper's profile photo
Ummm.  Real place.
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I understand that DC doesn't usually get blasted the way we do, but "monster storm" and "one for the record books"?  Puh-leeze.  That's a fairly normal winter storm around here...  a little heavy in the snowfall and a little light in the wind department.
Bill K (Wolfhound89)'s profile photoTed Driver's profile photoJim Carver's profile photo
I don't know, I saw eight inches completely shut down Colorado Springs one time back in the 80s. It dumped hard and fast and they were slow to get the trucks out.
It happened one time, about that same time in Denver, but I didn't live there at that time.
The snow in the East is much heavier, usually, than what you usually get in Colorado also. It sticks together in heavy masses that really do a number on power lines. It's not like a foot of fluffy powder.
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Okay folks, Today is the day I begin tackling the basement.  In addition to a large amount of crap, both figurative and literal, there is some stuff a collector of vintage PCs may want.  Note that this is not me, and if these items are unloved and unwanted, they will be processed with the remaining e-waste my business generates.

There are several Commodore-64s, disk drives, tape drives, and possibly a VIC-20 or two.  Most are PAL, (european standard, not NTSC), though it really doesn't matter since we'd use a composite monitor these days anyway.  

All are of unknown condition and free.  If you want 'em, all you pay is shipping.  As I drag them out of the storage area, I will post a list in the comments along with anything I find obviously wrong with them.  They will be gone, one way or the other by the end of the month.  Photo is for illustration only.
Richard S's profile photoAaron Harper's profile photo
By the way, +Richard S I need to be in Denver (Littleton) on Sunday... would you like me to bring it to you?
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Our readers thought these tips might come in handy if you’re new to Colorado and plan on driving in the snow this winter. Here is a list of tips...
Chuck Potchen's profile photoJim Carver's profile photo
I'm from Colorado, at least partly, and I lived most of my 57 years there.
I can tell you of some wholly escapades in the mountains. I guess that doesn't compare to what some idiots can pull on a Denver street.
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Aaron Harper

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Today was a good day.  After a late start (Slept in!) we hit the ground running.  In addition to painting the library, bathroom, and mopping the basement, I also replaced faulty components on the boiler and replaced switches and wall plates in the bedroom.

The electrical upgrades are safe and look good, and the boiler system hold pressure (NO LEAKS!!!)  I am rather happy with myself. :)
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Well, almost no leaks... The autofill valve leaks a little causing the boiler to overpressurize, thus leaking out of the new valve (at 40PSI, not 3 like the old one.  This is an easy fix though... just a standard gate valve.
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Okay folks.  This one goes out to all the folks affected by the big storm.  We live and work in Colorado, so we see a ton of snow and wind every single year.  Here is some advice from folks with experience, and each of these pieces of advice is based upon real screwups that could have cost people their lives.

1. Stay home, or if you have the cold weather clothes, walk.  Definition of cold weather clothes:  Layers of clothing which insulate and cover ALL of you.  The little bunny coat that looks so cute when you go clubbing that shows your midriff does not qualify.

2. Chains.  Studded tires sorta work, particularly on ice, but once snow starts to pack into the tire, they are useless.  Chains really dig in and will get you out of most things if you drive reasonably.  No, your $500 street tires are not going to cut it.

3. Driving reasonably does not mean doing the speed limit.  They are set for clear and dry conditions, not snow and ice.  Slow the hell down regardless of your vehicle's height, length, mass, power, or any other factor nature doesn't give a damn about.  Your lifted 4x4 pickup with 44" mud tires will look ridiculous in the ditch, particularly when I pull you out in my old subaru, or worse yet, a 1980 VW Rabbit diesel.

4. You will end up sliding.  Don't fight it, learn to control it and make the event as nondestructive as possible.  Plan to go around hills instead of straight up and over, even in a 4WD tractor.

5. Plan ahead.  This means to keep more than fumes in the tank (1/2 full or better is where you want to be), and plan lots of time to get there.  Bring clothes, food, water, and a small snow shovel with you in your car.  Extra points for bringing rope and knowing where your vehicle's tow hooks are.

6. STAY HOME if you don't need to go places, and there is a difference between want to go and need to go.  Fido goes to the park at 3PM every day is a want.  Mama is having a heart attack is a need.  The issue is that even if you know what you are doing in the snow, some other idiot will come along and ruin your day.

7. Don't try to fill your snow shovel with wet snow in an attempt to do less work or spend less time at it.  You will either break the shovel or yourself.  Smaller shovels more often will get the job done quickly without wearing yourself out as much.  Pro tip:  Unless you have shoveled already, don't walk on the driveway or sidewalk.  The packed snow where you stepped will be much harder to shovel out.

8.  Unless your roof is weakened (from leaks or fire damage) or relatively flat, don't worry too much about the snow on it.  36" of snow distributed evenly is not going to hurt a well built roof.  Much deeper, and you should start to clear it.  The easy way involves a rake (use the back side to avoid damaging the shingles) or a leaf rake.  Be careful not to fall off the ladder, particularly when you take a facefull of snow, and you will.

9. Wind and snow is a bad combination.  Not only will it knock you and your car sideways, it will also cause the snow to drift, making very deep areas.  Front doors, underpasses, and garage doors are always a favorite.  You will not be able to shovel it out quickly enough as long as it is still snowing and blowing, and the risks of being hit with something like a tree is fairly high.  Wait it out. 

10. Don't count on the power staying on.  When the power is on, check your email and charge your phone and laptop.  When it is off, read a book or go to bed.  When you go to bed, have ALL the blankets, duvets and featherbeds available since you will be without heat for a bit if the power is out.

Go with the flow and don't try to fight mother nature.  
Joy Wandrey's profile photoshogun x's profile photoJim Carver's profile photoAaron Harper's profile photo
I was born and raised in rural Montana, came to Colorado from Nashville, and lived in Baltimore while I worked in DC.  I agree that the snow is different on the coast, heavier for one thing, and packs down better (usually), and the ice storms in Nashville were impressive.  

My advice stands... particularly about the shoveling techniques (Numbers 7 & 9).  I reiterate, that these are based upon people's experiences, including my own.  If these can keep somebody alive, or even comfortable, my task is done.

Number 4 was me in a borrowed medium sized New Holland 4wd tractor on ice outside Nashville attempting to clear several people's driveways.  It would have been great if I could have gotten up the hill.  It took me 3 hours to get 2.5 miles to the other neighborhood.

Number 1 was a couple from California who I pulled out of a car 30 feet off the freeway and an hour after it was closed.  The highway patrol missed them small white car augered half way into a snow bank.  The weather was 33 below with winds gusting at 60 MPH.  

The driver had a windbreaker over his tee shirt and she was in a bunny coat.  The car was on fumes.  I just happened to see his brake lights when he moved around in the cab.  I miss that car.  '88 subaru GL wagon with chains on all 4 wheels.  Sounded like a little sherman tank going down the frozen freeway at 10 MPH.
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Worth a read.
With six Academy Award nominations, the celebrated film adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel “The Martian” has been the perfect tonic for rousing interest in human missions to Mars.
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thanks for sharing.
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Something about judging a book by it's cover...  for Christians, something about not judging at all.
Ted Driver's profile photoAlessio Sangalli's profile photo
Is there any evidence any of this is true and not just an invented story? At the mall I was this morning, it's the clerks and vendors that wear a scarf...
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I build things that makes science fiction a reality.
Electronic, Mechanical, Aerospace Engineering / Economics, Workforce, and Economic Development
  • Issyroo Farms LLC.
    Technical Lead, 2012 - present
  • Ahead Research Corporation
    CTO, Chief Designer, 1988 - 2013
Map of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has lived
Walsenburg, CO
Cut Bank, MT - Bozeman, MT - Tucson, AZ - Carmichael, CA - Worms, Germany - Hampton, VA - Nashville, TN - Lacey, WA - Cocoa Beach, FL - Mobile, AL - London, UK - Kalgoorlie, WA - Christchurch, NZ
Per scien et fortitudae ad plurum mundi inter astra.

My name is Aaron Harper, and I am self-employed. If this sounds like an Alcoholics Anonymous or other support group introduction, perhaps it is. What started out as a plan to create my own business has become a source of incredible opportunities.

As a young boy, my father took me to see the last Apollo launch. I can still remember feeling rather than hearing those five F-1 engines light off and watching those three brave men being accelerated through the night sky on a pillar of flame. So began my obsession with aerospace. I earned a degree in Electronic Engineering specializing in communications and robotics. During the eighties NASA wasn't doing much that I was qualified for and civilian aerospace didn't exist the way we know it now. I started a small aerospace company to address the needs of the civilian aerospace companies that I knew were just around the corner... but that took another 15-20 years to materialize. In the mean time, the closest I could get to space was the Air Force, so I joined. Up to this point, the business was largely used as an intellectual property holding company.

After I left the military, I moved to a sleepy little southern Colorado town in 2002. I brought that little aerospace firm with me and shifted gears. We reorganized in order to manage and develop the intellectual property I and others in the organization had worked on over the years.  The low prices in the area allowed us to expand more than we would have otherwise, using several buildings and resources in the area for office, lab, and test facilities. Once testing started we quickly discovered that the relative isolation of the town was a boon to research. Things progressed much more quickly than we had even hoped. Preliminary tests of our assemblies were overwhelmingly positive, and even the couple of catastrophic failures we had in the lab and on the pad gave us much more data than they cost.

Soon after, I was appointed to the regional Colorado Workforce Investment Board to represent my region to state leadership. While performing my duties I proposed “out of the box” solutions with clear and measurable results. I was elected chairman of the South Central Colorado Workforce Investment Board, and currently serve on the Colorado Rural Workforce Development Council on the Executive, Economic Development, and Technology committees.  During this time I studies economics, ran an IT shop, cultivated the aerospace business, and home-schooled my daughter through her high school years.

Finding that I need the knowledge of a Space Studies Degree, I enrolled in American Public University's Space Studies program. Over the next five years I will fully develop the aerospace products we have designed over the years into products and service offerings that will make spaceflight less expensive, less risky, and commonplace. My goal thereafter is to retire by age 60, which is coming up much faster than I had planned.  

In retrospect I find that I'm not doing all of this for my ego, nor am I motivated by money. When my state's unemployment numbers drop it makes me smile, thinking I was responsible for some small part of that. When a project I have been working on for a long time works better than I had dreamed, it puts spring in my step. These all pale to the times when my sixteen year old daughter, who is a biology major in college now, looks at me and says “Daddy, I am proud of you”. That makes it all worthwhile at the end of the day.

Bragging rights
I change my world.
  • American Public University System
    Space Studies, 2012 - present
  • ITT Technical Institute
    Electronics Engineering, 1985 - 1986
  • University of Arizona
    Electrical Engineering, 1986 - 1988
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Aaron Harper's +1's are the things they like, agree with, or want to recommend.
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When in haste I chose the wrong board, but didn't have time to return it and receive the correct one, their support staff went above and beyond assisting me in getting the OS and my proprietary application loaded. It worked, the customer is pleased, and so am I. A big thanks to Logic Supply and especially Jim Dines!
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