Archive for the 'hobbies' Category

Brain transplant for my flagship computer.

January 4, 2009

I’ve been agonizing over what to do about my dying computer.  Normally, I would put it out to pasture as a backup and build a new machine from scratch.  I did some Core i7 pricing tonight.  While the processors themselves are quite comparable to the Penryn chips, the motherboard and memory prices are out of sight.

So I got to thinking.  Is this the right time to go crazy on hardware?  I decided that it’s not. So I just bought a new motherboard, chip and RAM with a Zalman cooler.  I’m going to replace these parts only in my main machine and keep the video card and raptor hard drives and everything else.

I did splurge on the Q9550.  I think with the Zalman, I should at least get 3.6 GHz.  It will easily be the fastest computer I’ve ever worked with.  It will be faster than my kids’ computers and the upgrade cost me less than $600.  It would have been over $2000 building a new Core i7 system.  I think, for now, this was the smart way to go.

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Computer Trouble.

January 3, 2009

Last night I tried to boot my flagship computer and had some weird trouble.  First, I got an overclock fail and then it just wouldn’t go completely into XP.  It also seemed very, very slow.  I tried resetting the factory defaults in CMOS, but that had the very undesirable result of knocking out the RAID zero boot disk.

So even though it’s back to factory defaults, I had to convince it to pick the RAID back up without trashing the windows partition.  This thing is old enough where you have to make a floppy to put the drivers on the system.  Around midnight, I remembered that there was a setting in the BIOS necessary for the RAID.  I flipped that back on and got it to boot (but very, very slowly).  Because the slowness starts with the post screen, I do not think this is a software problem.  I might try to flash the bios.  I also see that Norton has a program called Ghost.  I’ve never messed with imaging programs because I’ve always kept my data on a separate disk.  I’ve always felt that since I had program disks, I didn’t need to worry about programs.  Of course, now I’ve accumulated so much crap, I don’t even know what I have.  Plus, I’ve got a lot of codecs on this machine.  So, I want to try to do an image.

Something similar happened to two AMD boards that I had years ago before they died.  I fear this computer’s time grows short.  I detailed its creation on this blog.  You can see that it’s lasted a scant 2 1/2 years.  This is not typical for a computer that I build.  I usually get 3 to 5 years without any problems.  I think most would agree that it’s probably the overclocking.

Of course now, I know a lot more about overclocking and I know how far you can push components.  The price of my knowledge has been this computer’s potentially premature death.  I’ve been joking that this is just an excuse for me to build the I7 rig that I’ve been thinking about (and maybe I will in the next few weeks) but for now, I’m mourning the decline of something I created.

Becoming an Adobe fanboy.

December 27, 2008

On of my goals over my holiday vacation was to learn Dreamweaver, Photoshop and Flash.  Later I might learn more about Premiere but I’m told that Vegas Pro might be the way to go.  I’ve been sick, so I haven’t made the progress that I’ve sought, but I have made inroads on the Dreamweaver book.

I want to take the blog that I do for work out of free WordPress hosting and put it into an environment where I pay to host it but where I also have more control.  I probably don’t need to learn Dreamweaver to do this, but I think it may be a good start.

Also, learning new software causes me to make mental connections that help in ways that I have never considered.  I think that this whole software learning project is going to take several months now.  If I decide to buy the software after playing with it for a while, it’s going to be expensive.  I want to be absolutely sure that I’m going to use these tools.

You might ask why I don’t stick to open source.  Certainly, there are some alternatives.  Everyone knows about Gimp, for example, instead of Photoshop.  I’ve been using Gimp for a while for quick photo editing.  I want to get past superficial editing, though and really learn about the layering aspects that Photoshop offers.  I think that’s going to be the most fun part of the project (along with video editing).

Doing this for fun is also a real motivator.  Just starting the Dreamweaver book has made me think of some unrelated server projects that might be interesting.  So there’s real value in this and it could be engrossing too.

Laptop Convertible.

November 30, 2008

As with a lot of ideas I have with video, this one sat in my brain for a few months.  Additionally, I had a few surprises.  Sometimes when I plan a project, what happens in reality is exactly what happened in my head.  In this project, that could not be further from the case.  I think that adds drama to the video.  It certainly created some consternation for me!  But I also got to learn an entirely new skill set in the process, so it was all good.

For your entertainment, I present Laptop Convertible:

Building a 32 TB Server: a thought experiment.

August 31, 2008

Daniel Gimpelevich and Holden Aust built a 16 TB server for Christian Einfeld and his Digital Tipping Point Project.  See Linux Journal, Issue 173, September 2008.  I am impressed that these gentlemen built a server with four times the capacity of anything that I have ever attempted.  It’s funny because in Einfeld’s article he mentions it almost in passing.  My jaw was on the floor.  Also I think it’s cool that he’s a lawyer who is also very much into technology.  Moreover, his philanthropic efforts in San Francisco are admirable.

The server they built motivates me to try to build a 32 TB server.  There are three problems that I have not worked out.  One: fitting 16 drives in one box.  I would wait to build the server when 2 TB drives are obtainable.  I am assuming that I can find a case somewhere that will hold 16 drives.  If I can’t, I would have to have some sort of an external enclosure and run SATA cables to it.  Two: I don’t know if FreeNAS can handle 32 TB of storage.  If not, I’d have to use some other platform, but I suspect it could do it or could be made to do it.  Three: I don’t know if you can put three or four SATA cards on one motherboard.  Obviously these gentlemen figure that part out.  It must be possible, I just don’t know how to do it.  It may be as easy as plugging them in.

If I were to succeed, a RAID 5 FreeNAS server would provide 20.8 TB of usable space out of the 32 TB available.  Since you have to do backups anyway, it almost makes sense to have two raid zero 32 TB servers as you would get 27.73 TB of usable space each and faster performance.

At this point, this is just a thought experiment.  In terms of money, when the drives become available, we’re not talking about that much compared to other types of extreme computing.  For example some people will spend in excess of 14 or $15,000 buying an overclocked “ultimate” machine.  A 32 TB server would probably only cost $2-$3000 to build.

I have to admit it is exciting.  I don’t know what I would use it for.  I still have plenty of space on my 4 TB server that only has 2.6 TB of usable space.  Even with an HD TiVo and pulling HD content off of it and putting it on the server, I don’t think I would need anything close to 32 TB of space.  But it would be fun to build.

Playing with the TiVoHD and misc.

August 23, 2008

I’ve been playing with my TiVoHD. It has had a big impact on my life as it played a role in reacquainting me with old friends.

I used the TiVo desktop to move an HD recording of the Red Hot Chili Peppers to my server. I was able to watch it on my 30 inch monitor in my basement. Nice. Although my flagship machine manged this with no problem, another machine I have choked. This is very annoying. It is a 1.6 GHz dual core and it chokes on everything. It’s kind of useless. I’m not sure if it is the computer or if it is the fact that it’s running Vista. The flagship machine runs XP.

Anyhow, I like the idea of being able to watch HD shows down there. I’m not sure that it needs to be on my best computer though. I’m thinking that it might be time to build a new computer. As a stopgap, I’m using the quadcore that’s plugged into my HDTV to move the files to the server.

I am also playing with a wireless microphone and I bought a new webcam too. I’ll probably have more to say about that stuff in the future.

I feel like I needed to get some words going here, it’s been more than a little sparse lately.

FreeNAS Idiosyncracies.

July 27, 2008

I enjoy using FreeNAS. I have three FreeNAS servers. Why would anyone need three? It’s because of the idiosyncrasies associated with using the software. For one thing, Vista doesn’t like FreeNAS very much in certain configurations and I have 3 Vista machines. For example, if you set up one of your servers in a RAID 5 configuration, Vista will read it just fine. But it won’t write to it. It won’t write to it because it thinks the disk is full. Vista can’t get an accurate reading of the disk size. So it won’t write to it at all. XP does not have this problem, thankfully. If it did, I would not be able to use FreeNAS in a RAID 5 configuration.

I overcome this idiosyncrasy by having another server set up with its disks mirrored. Vista reads disk mirrors without any trouble. All I have to do is use an XP machine to sync up the data from the disk mirrors with the main server. This way I have all my data on one machine. I use the third server to back up the main server. In a way, it seems ridiculous. However, FreeNAS servers are cheap (the software is free). Moreover on a gigabit network, data transfer is fast. You could accomplish what I do with a Drobo. However, it wouldn’t be nearly as fast. Also I’m not sure that you could stream video from a Drobo. FreeNAS servers make excellent video servers.

I started out using Rsync to keep my servers synced with each other. This quickly crashed. I couldn’t figure out how to fix it either. So, I moved to Allway Sync. This program has worked wonderfully. Of course FreeNAS wouldn’t be FreeNAS with out idiosyncrasy here as well. You have to reboot the servers more than you should. Often, after transferring gigabytes of data, the server will drop out and need to be rebooted. I haven’t lost any data and the servers are fine once you reboot them. Sometimes, with Allway Sync, sinking directionally as opposed to bidirectionally works better.

The latest FreeNAS joy has been having two of the servers spontaneously switch IP addresses. I have no idea why this happened. I thought for a moment that maybe there was some malice involved from a third party. But no. My best guess is that IP addresses opened up and that the servers rebooted and picked those. I’ve been using FreeNAS for a long time and it has never done that.

You might think that is a lot of effort to use these servers. But I can tell you that that is not so. While I have identified the above issues, they are all manageable. The servers have great up time and I can move my data around quickly.  Plus, it is awesome to have all my data in one place.  It’s like having an old car that has problems but you know what the problems are and you know how to fix them. And in the meantime the car gets you where you want to go. With all the redundancy I have with these servers, I believe my data is safer than it has ever been (knock on wood).

Shopping with The Kindle.

July 12, 2008

I told my friend Howard (from FNPL) that the Kindle is a life changing device.  His response was “Oh yeah?  So was the 8 track player in my old Vega.”  It’s hard to top that, but if you read a lot, the Kindle really will change your life.

It’s not the screen which has fixed contrast and is not back-lit.  The screen seems to be designed to work best in bright light.  I’ve had it at the pool and it is perfect in sunlight.  In dim light, one blogger said it best:  “it’s like reading wet newspaper.”  Again, while quite functional, the screen isn’t the mainstay here.

The game changing aspect of the Kindle is the built-in wireless service.  This is wireless service as in cell phone data service and it is free.  More precisely, they probably get paid when you buy books, but you don’t pay them anything directly as a consumer.  This service lets you buy any book Amazon sells for the Kindle anywhere.  Want a book on how to keep your kids busy on a rainy day?  Done!  Want to learn about improving your focus?  Done!  Want to buy a romance novel?  Er, done?

You can also read sections of books before you buy them.  This has created a dilemma for me.  I’m cheap, you see.  So if I download a bunch of samples from books, I could figure out which ones I like and then request them at the library.  Sure it would take longer to get the books, but they would be free!  I have to resist this.  The whole point of the Kindle is that you get what you want immediately.  No bookstores, no libraries, no gas money to get you to these places either.  It’s the biggest bookstore in the world that you put in your briefcase.

The 1st book I bought was Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. I’m going to use it mostly for reference.  That’s another Kindle advantage.  It’s also a reference library anywhere you need it.

So yes, in 20 years, I’ll look back fondly on my 1st Kindle as the amazing device that it was, although probably not the same way Howard thinks about the 8 track in his Vega.
The Kindle

Building a 3 TB Backup Server Using FreeNAS.

July 6, 2008

My computer videos are the most popular thing that I do online for fun. Here is my latest.

Pencil Drawing and Motivation.

June 14, 2008

I like to do pencil drawings. It is especially fun when I draw with my kids. We’ll all pick a picture and talk about what we’re drawing. I’m self taught so I try to teach them what I know about shading and drawing what you see. The point is to spend time together doing something creative.

As far as talent is concerned, I have none. I am not able to draw a scene from my mind. I am only able to draw exactly what I see. I have no illusions about this.

I did this from a picture of a dragonfly.

I did this from a book on drawing dragons (which is an awesome book that I will shamelessly plug on Amazon)


DragonArt
The amount of focus and energy it takes for me to divert my mind to drawing is immense. Of course it might be like trying to run when you’re out of shape (like I’m also doing now). I might be able to work faster if I draw more. With everything else, it is a question of competing interests. If I draw more, I’ll play games less or I’ll work less or I’ll do something else less.

Remember how I said that I draw with my kids? That is a real motivator to draw more. Plus, I need to get it through my thick head that drawing is better than gaming because you’re left with something you can enjoy forever. I’ve been playing with pencils for a dozen years. It is great to go back and look at how I’ve made progress (even if it is meager). You can’t do that with a video game.

My latest project is a famous artist’s self portrait. It is one of the most ambitious pencil drawings I’ve undertaken. It is going to take weeks to finish at my pace.