Soundproof Server Rack/Acoustic Cabinet Wishlist

While Qubes will be moving to an architecture that allows you to run your AppVMs on remote machines, allowing you to employ an almost thin-client to mainframe-like architecture, when I first moved to Qubes from Gentoo as my daily driving workstation operating system the number of cores and amount of RAM available in a single system became of paramount importance on my human-interfacing edge devices. I had always wanted the reliability and redundancy features of rack mounted servers in my workstation and now an even better reason pushes me in that direction; you can get multi-socket systems just oozing with ECC ram for pennies on the dollar if you are willing to work with datacentre-focused servers that are just a few years older thanks to leasing arrangements, EoL policies and aggressive upgrading.

Soundproof Rack
Cheapest Retail 12U for ~CAD$1400 shipped

Having lost my house in the financial upheaval wrought by the COVID pandemic it's no longer a simple matter of running a bundle of actively amplified HDMI and USB cables up from my basement and into my office; if I want to use a rack mounted server or servers as part of my network operations workstation in any apartment I might find myself in while clawing my way back to financial contentment I would need to have them in the same room as me. Even modifying the fans of a typical rack mount server with resistors or throttling them though management interfaces - where that is even possible - still leaves me with a virtual jet engine next to me and this is not an acceptable proposition, especially for tasks that draw upon creative juices. The sound buggers with my chi, one might say.

The solution is to employ a soundproof rack, also called an "acoustic cabinet" but the problem is that the market for them is dominated by three companies and in an industry where brand new hardware is already overinflated in price the lack of competition has allowrd them to keep prices far above reason. Enough so that it makes sense for one to build one's own solution. While you might find it easier to start with an enclosed cabinet and seal its holes they tend to lack the kind of space between the outer panels and inner rack to do add much soundproofing material and more importantly, to construct air ducts that wind in such a way as to muffle sound while still permitting sufficient airflow that a few quiet brushless fans can provide adequate assistance to keep the now-stifled rackspace within optimal operating temperatures.

ATA Case Rack
16 space ATA Case with 19" Rack

Enclosed cabinets also tend to cost as much as half the price of their equivalently sized sounfproof options and that negates the savings necessary to make a DIY project like this worthwhile. Therefore I am leaning more toward incorporating a much cheaper open four-post rack into my design. Additionally, since moving again - and maybe again and again - is back in my future until a new house can be secured, mobility is important. I think it makes more sense to trust the selection of casters that a rack manufacturer has selected than to add another problem to my list and as such you will likely find more quater- to half-height racks and cabinets in this, my living list of potential materials that will be incorporated into my eventual work product.

An ATA Case (more commonly known as a "Road Case" or "Flight Case") enclosed rack may in fact provide the ideal starting point as they are designed with casters and substantial padding though not intended specifically for soundproofing and the enclosures are typically free from ventilation holes which otherwise need to be blocked if starting with a conventional enclosed cabinet. Replacing the material between rack and outer enclosure with materials engineered specifically for soundproofing properties may improve performance and would then only necessitate routing ventilation and adding an active ventilation system to ensure proper cooling while the devices are run inside the enclosure. In this context the term "space" is usually used instead of [rack] unit for the 1 1/4 inch standard equipment size unit and the depth of such cases are often expressed in spaces the same as their rack capacity, such that a 14 space rack in a case that is 14 spaces deep has installable dimensions of 24.5 (14*1.75) inches high by 24.5 inches deep with a width sufficient to accommodate "19-inch rack"-able equipment (approximately 17-17.5").

When (and if) finished you can expect a follow-up article, until then please enjoy and hopefully benefit from my brainstorming, note-taking and research as it grows below:


  • Though you will see pyramidal foam in professional cabinets this is mostly designed to absorb echo and high frequency sounds for improving recordings. A thin layer innermost facing the servers might be appropriate
  • An air cavity between layers of soundproofing material (any material) greatly increases efficacy and would make pyramidal foam as mentioned above much more useful than for its largely cosmetic effect
  • Bituminous foil applies a layer of this petro industrial product to aluminum or other metallic foil and was developed for the roofing profession before its excellent sound deadening properties were discovered.
  • Mass Loaded Vinyl is an extremely dense substance that provides excellent sound absorption and at least one layer should form the outermost soundproofing material layer in a soundproof enclosure.




It's Not Rocket Appliances: Selecting a Compatible Upgraded Car Battery

The 16 year running Champion

The 16 year old Interstate MT-101 Flooded Lead Acid battery installed in my Cadillac STS 4 was faltering in the face of a vicious Canadian winter that has already reached daytime lows of -18C in this particular desolate icy hellscape.I will first give Interstate due congratulations on creating a product that was able to last this long before berating them for not indicating on their site (as far as I am willing to spend time searchng) that this member of the MT series (unlike many others, so an inference was not possible) that this model is "maintenance free" which is a cute way of saying it's a Sealed Lead Acid battery with all of the drawbacks of a Flooded and none of the benefits of a Sealed - chief among my grievances the lack of a user-accessible entry point replenishing the electrolyte with distilled water as had been my initial intention to see how much longer the battery's life could be extended beyond its already borrowed time. I would note that according to Interstate's product information page the Group 101 fitment seems to only be used by two models of Cadillac. Looking at their price list and comparing the MT-101 to the notoriously similar and broadly substituted Group 78 model of the same series, one could be forgiven for assuming the 101 configuration was devised solely to impose a 100% snob tax on new Cadillac owners.


This ballache was of course escalated by Cadillac's tendency to play dress-up with their components; one assumes to hide its lowly GM origins but the net result is an unnecessarily tedious process to gain unfettered access to the battery. It should be noted that Cadillacs will tend to sound the anti-theft alarm during low battery voltage events so be sure to have your keyfob out and handy and brace yourself so you don't jump straight into the popped bonnet if and when it trips. Given the Group 101 is a side-posted battery you will, by tugging the battery cable downward and pressing the socket and bolt against the terminal as you disconnect it and then pulling both away from the battery in one deliberate motion once the fastener has completely unscrewed: avoid a lot of solenoid and relay chatter (which doesn't sound terribly healthy), intermittent alarm sounding and most importantly sparking which - I am told - is not a great thing to have happening in the vicinity of a lead-acid battery that could very well be surrounded by hydrogen gas depending on the severity of your battery's misery. Remember to start with the positive cable and then negative.

You can follow this video if a visual reference is helpful:

While the gentleman in the video uses a battery maintainer plugged into the accessory port to retain settings I can speak from experience and also from an owners' forum deep dive which included input from a Cadillac assembly line worker that it is not necessary; some owners report having to re-index the power windows per directions provided on the console but this was not my experience. For fun I rigged a similar device out of a 120V to 12V AC to DC inverter meant for powering portable cooler/refrigerators and an accessory port to accessory port cable salvaged from a device similar to his. Being capable of delivering up to 5 amperes instead of a battery maintainer's typical < ~2 one wold assume it might perform better but I chose to live without it when re-installing what turned out to be a battery impossible to re-hydrate and suffered no ill effects. While the video instructs you to push the ignition button to the "on" position it is not necessary in this particular model as all accessory ports in the cabin are always connected regardless of the state of the ignition switch. Since my dashboard/ashtray accessory port fuse frequently dies (likely from equally frequent use as a good-old-fashioned lighter, like god intended) I plugged into the port hidden in the centre console.

A search through relevant owners' forums will tell you that the preferred, tried, tested and true compatible replacement BCI group size for the 101 is Group 78. Models in this format are, according to the specification, up to an inch taller but, crucially, sport side-mounted terminals (leftmost: positive). This configuration is rather scarce among automotive batteries and I imagine for good reason. I generally find side-mounted terminals annoying, mostly for their tendency to spark while you are installing/removing the cables and in the case of my STS the way they lock the questionably designed battery cover in place, forcing you to remove the cables completely to reposition it and thereby necessitating sparky fun just to get a look at the battery. However, headroom is often an issue and with an additional inch in height (again, according to the specification...) - especially on my STS where the MT-101 had crammed its cover right up against the bottom of the cowl - I was expecting to have to perform some minor surgery or rearrangement just to fit a Group 78 anyway so top-mounted posts were ruled out.


Imagine my surprise when the MotoMaster Group 78 AGM I eventually settled on turned out to have virtually identical dimensions as the MT-101. Remember what I said about the snob tax? ....yeeeeeah. But now I'm slightly ahead of myself.

In spite of the practically unanimous wisdom of the masses I performed the battery replacement due diligence ritual I always do the first time I have to replace a battery in a vehicle that is new to me. After all, unless something goes wrong you only get one chance to upgrade your battery and when you have to cope with the kind of winters I do this isn't the kind of decision one makes with anything short of certainty that you are installing the best possible option available for your money.

The process is straightforward enough:

  1. Pull up a list of BCI battery group sizes which contains their dimensions. For this battery I used https://www.jegs.com/Sizecharts/bcigroup.html and google to fill in the blanks on some sizes that weren't included but were referred to during other research I performed.
  2. Determine which of your dimensions is the most restricted and which have wiggle room. Note how much wiggle room that is - if you are working with a solid box or sided tray then your absolute maximums have been defined and you must work within them unless you are prepared to make modifications to the vehicle.
  3. Compile a list of sizes that are within the limits of your most constrained dimension. For me this was the height of the battery, I allowed about an inch above the current model despite a tight fit under the cowl because I was already working with one of the shortest models.
  4. Eliminate those entries on the list that are too big for your more adjustable dimensions. Also drop those that are smaller than your current battery or substantially smaller than your potential maximum - we're looking for an upgrade not a disappointment and volume is the key.
  5. Rank the remaining size(s) by order of Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) and eliminate anything with lower CCA than your existing battery. CCA is the most important metric to anyone who experiences winter. CCA will vary for each size by manufacturer, chemistry, and model - even from the same manufacturer. To get a genralized idea of how sizes will tend to perform relative to one another it is helpful to find a manufacturer's listing of all their products which includes the CCA rating of as many sizes as possible. If they do not manufacture a certain size you can fill in the blanks with Google.
  6. Make your final decision, which may include considering other metrics like resilience to deep discharge or running capacity.

Starting with the Group 101's metrics, my table looks like this by the time I've run through all the steps:

Size Imperial (LxWxH") Metric (LxWxHmm) Terminals Appx. CCA (A)
Group 101 10 3/16 x 7 1/8 x 6 11/16 259 x 181 x 170 Side 650
Group 78 10 1/4 x 7 1/16 x 7 11/16 260 x 179 x 196 Side 675-800
Group 41 11 3/16 x 6 7/8 x 6 7/8 293 x 175 x 175 Top 650
H6 10 15/16 x 6 7/8 x 7 1/2 278 x 175 x 190 Top 615
- Group 48 12 1/16 x 6 7/8 x 7 9/16 306 x 175 x 192 Top 730
- Group 98R 11 3/16 6 7/8 x 7 1/2 283 x 175 x 190 Top 620
H7 12 3/8 x 6 7/8 x 7 1/2 315 x 175 x 190 Top 730-800
- Group 94R 12 3/8 x 6 7/8 x 7 1/2 315 x 175 x 190 Top 730-800
H8 13 15/16 x 6 7/8 x 7 3/16 354 x 175 x 190 Top 900

The sizes marked with a hyphen (-) indicate commonly recommended BCI group sizes substituted for DIN sizes (H*). Unfortunately all the extra work brought me was a little peace of mind; I determined that in my case the best size was in fact Group 78, for reasons not the least of which included four Motomaster variants in stock the next afternoon at Canadian Tires close to me and on the routes of already planned errands.

Crappy Tire™, Decent Selection.

Though I tend to buy Kirkland Signature batteries for Costco's amazing return policy I didn't notice any Group 78 AGM batteries on the photos I took at my local the other day (a necessary strategy if you are going to shop your local costco's battery inventory from home) and Canadian Tire's warranty and return policies on batteries are also excellent.

Costco's selection and pricing varies by store.
...and most of their AGM offerings are not for cars...
From maintenance-free Flooded Lead Acid to worry-free AGM

Among the most important and simplest upgrades you can make to a vehicle that operates in parts of the world that experiences the phenomenon known as "weather" is to switch from a typical Flooded Vented Lead Acid (VLA or commonly just "flooded") battery to an Absorbent Glass Matt (AGM) battery. AGMs, together with Gel Cells (commonly called "Sealed Lead Acid" or SLA) are one of the two types of Valve-Regulated Lead Acid (VLRA) format. These batteries - except under extreme circumstances of failure - do not leak, can be mounted sideways, are resilient to vibration, crank engines in the coldest temperatures, will rebound from deep discharge far better than any other lead plate format - even those that are not explicitly advertised as intended for "deep cycle" - and as with maintenance free batteries you can not (will not need to/will compromise the package if you) add additional distilled water in the future. While extremely old AGMs would benefit from that - as they do offgas hydrogen and decompose very slowly it is an entirely different context as conventional flooded batteries.

While AGM batteries cost tangibly more (from +CAD$60 and up) they are a sensible and worthwhile investment. It is not necessary to buy name brand AGMs like those manufactured by Maxima; the extreme premium they charge erases any advantage they might - and probably don't - have over more "generic" manufacturers like those that whitelabel for Kirkland Signature and Motomaster.

Even if you don't operate your vehicle in rugged, masculine climates - as your humble author does - it is still very often worth considering replacing your OEM flooded lead acid battery with an AGM when its time inevitably comes. Aftermarket electronics like an upgraded head unit, UHF radio or feeble compensatory sound-system can tax your battery especially if your alternator is older or declining. An AGM battery is particularly advisable if you find your sound system requires a capacitor inline with the power connection. Even without these additions, the longer service lifetime and higher performance can likely offset the steeper initial investment. Also, I've heard that at least once in one's lifetime it is common to accidentally leave the lights or some other component on or forget to unplug a device that has been connected to an always-on accessory port. That's never happened to me, of course. Despite what one may have heard. Yup.

My car is sarcastic.
My car is an arsehole, too.

Electronics Workstation Checklist (Wishlist)

I've moved and all my crap that is not in storage has been sacrificed. It's Christmas time so I'm determined to buy myself an all-new electronics workstation. I'm compiling a list of all the goodies I want to order here so I don't leave any off the list. I'll update with items as I think of them and links to what I settle on as I complete my window shopping and pull the triggers.

  • Soldering Station hakko fx888 hakko 926 936 weller, ursa
  • Decent assortment and stockpile of tips
  • Reflow/Hot Air Station (combo?)
  • Soldering tweezers, anti-magnetic anti-acid
  • Dedicated (cold) tweezer set
  • Component testing tweezers
  • and/or Component tester
  • Heating bed?
  • New gun or pencil (if I see anything worth upgrading for)
  • Lead fume de-breathalyzer
  • Microscope (also crappy usb one?)
  • Board s/levitators/mounts
  • Board flip frame
  • Silicone mat
  • Hot air gun stand/mount
  • Third hand upgrade?
  • Reasonable selection of different sizes of lead free and leaded solders, focus under .5mm
  • Solder paste
  • New flux pens, paste, etc
  • Voltage regulators
  • SMD component assortment
  • Brass sponge (if not included w/ station(s))
  • Isolation transformer
  • USB power isolator(s)
  • Hot snot gun and sticks
  • Digital calipers
  • Magnetizer/demagnetizer
  • Variboard, variboard cutter
  • Compontent grab bags/kits
  • Mounted ground binding point
  • Power supplies riden rd6006 360w, juntek 2000w 3000w
  • Wide range precision resistance substituter iET RS-201W
  • Packs of banana plugs, aligator clips, crimp on terminal connectors, butt splices etc.
  • Desoldering tubes
  • Ceramic tweezers
  • Spot welding wand for metallic strip/lithium battery spot welding machine
  • Nickel plated copper and aluminum strips for spot welding batteries

Obtaining Windows and Microsoft Installation Media (ISOs)

In the interest of having a centrally maintained, quickly accessible and easily referred-to URL for obtaining various Windows and Microsoft product installation media (generally in the form of virtual machine hard disk images or installation media (DVD/USB) not-so-optical-anymore disc images (.ISO)) for future articles I am breaking off the following segment of Add Missing Hardware Support (Drivers) to Windows Install Media (DVDs, USB Sticks) to create this perma-resource:

Oh... do forgive my hubris... >.>

...First we need to obtain our installation media. Depending on the version of Windows you wish to work with it may be available for download from the Microsoft website in the form of a direct .ISO image file download, a Media Creation Tool which will facilitate the downloading and installation of a bootable image to a USB stick or burnt to a DVD-R/RW and provide the option of downloading an .ISO image for later recording and/or intermediate modification.

NOTE: Always take special care to run the Media Creation Tool as Administrator! The tool alternates from crashing to working and back again seemingly with each version if you forget to run it as Admin from the top, but only after spending 20 minutes analyzing your existing system...

When Microsoft deep-sixes a product they really go out of their way to make finding it as obnoxious and difficult as possible, typically removing sources one at a time and leaving up many old pages and documents that contain dead links. This is, as far as I am able to determine, the case with Windows 7 which was EoL'd (End of Life'd) January 2020 and has more recently started happening to Windows 8 (though I'm sure everyone's feelings are less mixed here). I don't understand why they have to make such a point of it; they have sophisticated analytics and can tell where people are going on their sites. They know people are looking, they know the links are entirely unnecessarily dead, I don't think it's unfair to assume they are just being pushy dicks.

Rufus is an excellent option.


Perennial Windows USB flashing utility Rufus does the job you'll wish Windows Media Creation Tool did: it doesn't waste time trying to scope out your system regardless of whether you even want to install to that machine (nevermind without rebooting), save apps that you'd rather wipe clean (unless you're gross, I guess... :s) or fail after taking 5 minutes to set up because you forgot to Run as Administrator and it... forgot to be programmed to ask for that privilege... by engineers that designed the goddamned operating system whose security model revolves around that UAC feature... god damnit x.x It will also let you select versions of Windows all the way down to 7, download them direct from the horse's mouth (yup) and let you choose any of the official builds in each published Edition for every valid architecture. For bonus points you have the option of letting the integrated ISO downloader script do the magic or send the burden to your designated primary browser, which I appreciate for having the ability to use Firefox's resilient resume paused/failed download capability and visual progress indicator over Rufus' built in script which is essentially invisible until it succeeds (one hopes).



For suggestions as to what one might populate a fresh Windows installation with, please take a gander yonder: foxpa.ws/windows-software. Additionally, I have posted an AutoUnattend.xml answer file that automates the installation process and cuts install time down to under one half while eliminating all those silly questions asking if you'd like to enable Microsoft's spyware.