Saturday, June 27, 2009

Media Server & NAS project - Part 2 Hardware

I've always liked buying new hardware and assembling new computers, it is my favorite part of a new build. Doing the research and figuring out the right components for my particular situation, just something about it that I have always liked.

I have been formulating my requirements for this particular project for quite some time. Mulling over the benefits of pulling the trigger sooner, or waiting and doing it later.

The Server

The server has always been on the agenda, it is shameful that I don't have a better way to keep my valuable data (read porn) safe from drive failures. As it stands I'm vulnerable if one of my drives fail, sure I may have backups someplace... but I'm not sure how current they are etc. Suffice to say I need something better.

For these reasons mostly, and also for the speed benefits RAID is one of the fundamental requirements for this project. I went back and forth with my self over weather I would be doing RAID in hardware or software, from the research I did it seems that for all but the most taxing scenarios software raid works as well and can be significantly less complicated when it comes time to restore your broke ass system. Add that to the fact that a true hardware raid card with capabilities of handling 4+ drives runs $600+ depending on your features and the choice was pretty obvious.

Originally I had intended the RAID setup to be something we could expand into a bit, however the addition of the media center and the plan to keep archival .ISO files of all of my DVD's means that I'll probably not be able to get by with the 4x1TB hard drives setup in a RAID 5 array (3TB of effective storage). So I added another 2 drives to the 4 giving me 6x1TB drives in a RAID 5 (5TB of total storage). Since the SATA capacity of my board is 6xSATA drives I needed something more for my 1 boot drive, and my 1 DVD drive. I had to pick up a separate SATA expansion card in order to accommodate. So I shall have a total of 8 SATA devices in my setup.

This puts me in a tight spot, I'll probably need to reconsider my setup if I plan to expand any farther. My options become somewhat limited, 6 is my maximum capacity, my original plan of dropping in a few more 1TB drives to expand my capacity doesn't work much past 6. There are other options but they might be a bit overboard.

Luckily for me I found a 4 port SATA adapter that has 2 external eSATA ports. This means I can use an external enclosure in the future to put my extra drives. I've seen these for around the $350.00 range for enclosures that house 8 drives in addition to what I already have.... DAYM that is a lot of hard drives. I'm not there yet, but it is good to know I have those options if I need them.

The rest of the setup is mostly mundane a pretty basic system. One area I did spend a little more was to upgrade the processor a few notches. This was mostly to allow for the ability of trans coding the video into another format at some point (iPhone version anyone?).

Total Cost for the Server:

  • ASRock K10N78 AM2+/AM2 NVIDIA GeForce 8200 ATX AMD Motherboard: $67.99

  • 6x Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EADS 1TB 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive $539.94 (6x$89.99)

  • CORSAIR CMPSU-400CX 400W ATX12V V2.2 80 PLUS Certified Compatible with Core i7 Power Supply $59.99

  • G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory $54.99

  • AMD Phenom 8650 Toliman 2.3GHz 3 x 512KB L2 Cache 2MB L3 Cache Socket AM2+ 95W Triple-Core Processor $78.99

  • SAMSUNG Black 22X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 16X DVD+R DL 22X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 12X DVD-RAM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 32X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM 2MB Cache SATA 22X DVD Burner $25.99

  • Rosewill RC-218 PCI Express x4 (x8 and x16 slot compatible) SATA II 3G Controller Card/ 4 internal SATA with 2 external eSATA Design $69.99

Total: $897.88

Media PC

One of the main reasons that got me excited about the media center concept was the very exciting stuff I was seeing out of the NVIDIA VDPAU project on the MythTV mailing lists. Essentially it allows you to lower your overall hardware costs by using your capable graphics chip to do the heavy lifting when it comes to the High Definition Video formats. Traditionally these tasks were pushed onto the CPU which was not optimal and often meant that if you wanted to play HD content you needed a pretty beefy machine.

Well with the new VDPAU technology you can divert your funds of purchasing a beefy machine towards purchasing more hard drive space, or more HD content ;).

To compound the coolness Intel recently launched the ION platform that combines the Atom processor in a super small form factor which should allow you to play HD video without breaking much of a sweat. AWESOME!

One of the major factors in the construction of such front end systems is often the amount of sound that it makes. The ION package will surely help with that, but in addition the other components of the system should be selected while spending close attention to the amount of noise produced. Things like fans, power supplies, and hard drives all make noise when they are operating, so keeping that in mind is important.

Ultimately I went with a disk-less system which I plan to network boot from my server. The front-end should have minimal cooling requirements and pull all of its content from the back-end server.

At this time I decided to NOT get a remote control for the Media PC, maybe that is a mistake, but I figure I can use the keyboard for most everything, and if I find out I truly need a remote then I can pick one up later.

Here is what I came up with for the Media PC:

  • ZOTAC IONITX-A-U Atom N330 1.6GHz Dual-Core 441 NVIDIA ION Mini ITX Motherboard/CPU Combo $206.99

  • JETWAY JC-300-B Black Mini-ITX Tower Computer Case 60W Power Supply $69.99

  • G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory $46.99

  • i-rocks RF-6572-BK Piano Black 104 Normal Keys USB 2.4 GHz RF Wireless Slim Keyboard/Mouse Combo w/ Travel Pouch $42.99

Total: $366.96

Not bad

Closing Thoughts

The prices I listed above do not include shipping & handling or any rush order processing fees I had applied in order to get all the parts before my long weekend from work over the 4th of July holiday. They also do not include mistakes in ordering that I may or may not have made. On a side note, know anyone who wants to buy an extra 3 core Phenom II AM3 processor? :D (hmmm maybe I'll be doing a PC build here soon.

I'm excited to actually get it all put together and fire it up for the first time. I'm worried that with the amount of time it is going to take for the raid array to build that if (when?) I muck it up it could take me a really long time to do over again. We will have to see. Next will be basic setup tasks of the back-end... I have a feeling that is going to take the longest. It may have to wait until I have the time off from work, though I probably will try and get started to see how it all goes when I get the parts in.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Media Server & NAS project - Part 1 Background

My house has modest computer needs. We have a few computers with what I consider quite a bit of data (maybe 1.5 TB total). Our computer sittuation looks like this:

  • Laura's Computer: Mainly used for day to day tasks as well as Photoshop work for her business and her hobbies. She shoots with a Canon 5D and has been doing so for a while. When you figure in scans from her film days she is quickly approaching the 1TB storage limit on her computer. Laura's data is stored on Striped (RAID 1) array of 2x 1TB drives, she is rapidly approaching full on those. I should note, it is Windows Raid, and her desktop runs Vista Ultimate x64, which if my experience with windows RAID means it could be difficult to recover if, for example, we were forced to reformat and reinstall everything. Though it is protected against a single hard drive failure. She does NOT back up her data (I know begin the boo's now).

  • Larry's Computer: This is mostly used for day to day stuff. I too dabble in photography, but to a much lesser degree then Laura. I have probably 100-200 GB's of photos. I also have a lot of music. I like to buy CD's and immediately rip them to my computer (I've been bitten before by the random car theft leaving me musicless). Because of my anal retentive OSS nutcase nature I tend to rip things in a lossless open format, so my cd's are ripped into FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec). I have some .MP3 files, but for the most part I'm a FLAC man. My music Collection runs about 100GB's. Throw in my willingness to support the Ubuntu project by seeding torrents of the latest various releases, as well as other .iso's I have accumulated over time and you can see I have a mish mash of data, running around 300GB). Most of this data is spread accross 2x 250GB hard drives that operate completly independently of each other. I occassionally backup the pair to a third 400GB drive that I keep in my case, but it is only irregular and manual backups. This is just on my main computer!

  • My Laptop: There is not much stored here, because I am frequently reconfiguring and reinstalling things to tweak it a bit, i'm a glutton. I do on occasion copy things down from my main machine to play around with them, so lets say... 100GB here (an overestimate I would say). My laptop has one 250GB SSD drive in it, it is not backed up at all.

As you can see your storage needs are not insignificant. And adding some data redundancy via a recoverable RAID solution seems like a good idea. So that is what I decided to do!

I decided to setup a NAS for our storage needs. I was thinking something that could cover our storage needs for the next 6 months without buying extra hardware, but would allow us to basically drop in extra disks to expand capacity.

I looked at a lot of different options, some ready to go NAS solutions from different companies (DROBO, Netgear, DLink, etc) and finally decided to build my own using a tower case (should give lots of room to add drives) that a friend has been storing for me for a while (Thanks Luke) and some new hardware.

We have been enjoying the Instant watch thingy on Netflix the last few months and I had been thinking how cool it would be to have the same functionality for my own personal DVD collection. So I got to thinking about adding a Media Center PC to the project. I looked at different projects like MythTV ( as well as XBMC ( and decided I would try and throw something together using XBMC, since it did everything I wanted it to do.

Once I decided what I wanted to do I just had to figure out how to make it happen. Next you will see my shopping list for both projects :)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

How NOT to turn the opinion pools around

Every company wants their products to be the best. They want people to use what they have made and be amazed that it works so well that they tell all their friends and the theory of capitalism is proved once again. That is all good and fine until you resort to shady methods in order to produce information that pushes the masses in your favor. There is a difference between putting your best foot forward (read: marketing) and making false comparisons (read: deceiving).

Busting IE8’s Mythbusting

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Opera Unite: Will it change the web?

The makers of the Opera web browser have released an Alpha of their new technology to change the landscape of the internet. They call it Opera unite and the basic idea is to decentralize the content of the internet so that every connected computer is a server providing content for its users. It is certainly an interesting concept, but I'm not sure it will revolutionize the web the way Opera is intending. Here is a video that explains a bit better:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Obama speach to the American Medical Association

The Atlantic has up an article covering President Obama's address to the AMA.

Did your concious lose its way?

It is a difficult thing to forget the betrayal and deceit. I am an avid subscriber in the time heals all wounds philosophy of recovery. So far it has proved an effective method in dealing with the trauma of divorce. However recent events have made it obvious to me that while time does indeed heal my wounds it definitely does not remove the scars from said wounds.

Two years ago was an interesting time in my life. I had been attending college on and off for 7 years and my time of my formal education was coming to a close . Graduation was around the corner and within weeks I would be finished. All of the money, time, and effort that I had put into improving myself was finally going to be paying off. There was one final push, a large capstone project, remaining. The project deadline was fast approaching and I was starting to feel the weight of the week bearing down on me. It was a stressful time in my academic life to say the least.

The culmination of my efforts (not just on the project, but also to an extent my graduate degree process as well) was to be displayed at a single event, the capstone event. My day of triumph, my day of success. In some regards it was more important than walking down the isle at graduation, because it was proof that I have what it takes to succeed in this career.

In my personal life, things were less exciting. I was still married to Alison and we were experiencing some tough times. There were many factors contributing to the stress in our relationship at that time. Nothing that needs to be drudged up here, but suffice to say it was not good times in my house. What is important is that we were both stressing out about it, which was NOT helping us to solve any of the issues.

Right before the capstone event the shit hit the fan. A series of events lead me to suggest that she leave, both our home, and my life. It was a phrase uttered in the passion of a moment, clouded by stress and compounded by the fight of the hour. She asked if I were serious and upon my affirmation she left our home.

Understand that this series of events was a lot like a water slide at a water park. The previous months or years we had been in a spiral, one event after another driving a wedge between us. Our relationship was sliding through the pipes of the system, sloshing left and right, through the dark and light, but always down to the impending drop into the water. It was this moment, this exorcism of her from my life, this giving in to the devil conscious in a moment of weakness when we both realized (I theorize) that our relationship was beyond repair, and that the rest of our time together was not about coming closer, but distancing ourselves from each other.

We had passed the event horizon of the water slide, and were now in the free fall before we plopped into the water below and were able to go our separate ways.

I write this in part for back-story, in part for my own therapy. The importance to glean from this is that this was the first traumatic event that, for me at least, signaled the point of no return in the end of my marriage.

It came on the day of my capstone event, early in the morning as she was getting ready for work and I was sleeping in. I spent the rest of the afternoon in my bed in a fetal position, horrified that I had made the single most horrible mistake possible. I was wracked with fear and guilt, and I was completely incapable of moving. The time of the event eventually came and I showed up. I am not sure how I made it through honestly. I put on a smile, and stood by my poster and explained what an iPeep was to those who were interested. It was painful and exciting all at once. I felt lost and found all in the same moment. I wanted to cry, but was not sure if they would be tears of joy or sorrow, it was very confusing.

We went out to celebrate that night after the event. We went with the friends we had shared the previous two years with, and I went without the only person I wanted to be with at that moment. I had often wondered how people could escape into substance abuse, and that night I got my answer. I dodged the questions of “where is your wife?” with answers of cheap beer. I made my body feel numb but my brain remained painfully aware of my situation. I walked home that night, alone, along the Burke Gillman trail crying at the irony of spending 10 years of your life with someone waiting for the day when school would be over and the rest of your lives together would begin only to have the film melt at the critical moment, the future of those events gone in that moment.

This was a painful time, however the human condition (or at least my condition) is such that we persevere. We continue on. In the coming months we attempted to bail out our relationship with a teaspoon, while we were taking on water a gallon at a time. Suffice to say within months we were officially not together anymore.

This capstone event has come to signify the moment in my life where I ceased to be Larry + Alison and started to be just Larry. For better or worse.

I have attended both the capstone events for the years proceeding me. They are a place to meet up with old friends and meet a lot of new people who share similar interests as you do. Year me+1 went very well. I attended, I brought a friend and things were good, many of us went to dinner afterwards and it was not until several days later that I realized just how nonchalant I was about the whole event.

Year me+2 was not quite so easy. I went alone, it was in the same space as it was in year me. I had a really tough time with it all. Being in the same space, brought back a flood of emotions and feelings that I was not prepared for. It got me to thinking again about the events of two years ago.

It sucks to drudge up the past and agonize over details that really don't matter. Who am I trying to convince, why do I need to place blame, why can't I just accept the fact that our paths diverged and we are two people leading two seperate lives? Maybe I have trouble with the fact that I feel like I can't be friends with her. That I feel too betrayed by her. Two years is a long time to have had these feeling bottled up and have the suddenly explode.

How much of what she told me was a lie, how much was not? Why was I never able to understand what she needed from me? Why was I never able to help her? Why does it all fucking suck still after two years. Two years, most of which I spent believing that I was fully over her. That she held no hold over me. Yet after two years there is a part of me that wants to reach out to her to reconnect on some level. Maybe I desire a resurrection of the friend I used to have, maybe its the lover I miss, maybe it is both.

I wish this could be finished, but somehow I don't think it is. What other monsters are hiding behind corners ready to jump out and scare me when I least expect it? I don't know... and that is actually scarier then the monsters.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Where is the shift from OS 1.0 or 1.5 to OS 2.0?

I'm going to geek out on everyone for a bit. These are not well thought through ideas, just random thoughts. Any glaring holes in logic I blame on anyone else but me ;)

I have a bone to pick with makers of Operating Systems. It applies to everyone in the game, the makers of Windows, to the people involved with the Linux movement and everywhere in between. For a while now we have been involved, immersed if you will in the Web 2.0 movement. There are a lot of different variations on the differences between the Web 1.x and Web 2.0, let us assume for the sake of argument that the Web 2.0 phenomenon involves partially, or mainly the difference between a web that is content driven, and a web that is user driven.

In thinking about this shift and how it has impacted the ways in which I use the internet it got me to thinking, as many things often do, about the implications in user design and user experience design. Mainly in the ways that the role of the architect in Web "System" has changed. It used to be that the act of creating a site and regularly adding content used to be a difficult task. Then the web evolved a bit and server side scripting languages (PHP, ASP, etc) connected to databases came into fashion. They made things easier, but things like adding users, or changing site design quickly/easily were still challenging.

You see where this is going, many evolutions later and we have entire management system that make the types of things that Architects usually do to sites incredibly easy. Take for example this site ( it is the first domain I ever registered and a site that I have managed since 2001. Some of the advancements in the site are easy to see, and a lot of them are direct results of my own learning associated with web technologies like css and html and php. At some point however I discovered a content management system (Joomla at the time) and it changed the way I thought about the web and the way as I as a sight owner interact with it.

Fast forward a few years more and I'm still using a CMS, one that works a bit better for me (Drupal, which is the same CMS I use for this site). Looking back I would have been crazy to include a tiny fraction of the features I have on this site or on onto my old 2001 site. With Drupal I can create content, add features and change the look and feel of the site all within a few moments, where with my limited skills as a programmer would have taken me weeks or months (or lets face it years) to implement. As cheesy as it sounds the CMS allowed me to focus more on what I put on my site and not how to put it on the site.

So what is my point right? I man the title of this post has something vaguely to do with Operating Systems right? O.K. I'll get to the point. In the same way that the Web 2.0 has revolutionized the ways that we interact with the web we need a similar kind of revolution allowing people to interact with their computers. Gone SHOULD be the days where I spend 70 hours in a weekend setting up Active Directory. Gone SHOULD be the days where after 70 hours I am still running down permissions issues (seriously, share permissions Vs. NTFS Permissions WTF?). Why do I feel like the girl in Goonies who is playing the playing the music and her every mistake brings the death of her friends ever closer.

Where is my nice interface, where is my UX? Why do I HAVE to have a degree (not any of the ones I have obviously) in order to understand the settings? Why does it seem like the Web is ahead of the OS market when it comes to giving users what it wants? This is NOT an OS specific issue by a long shot, Linux I knows carries many of the same problems, if not exactly then in close proximity) and I can only assume that a Mac has similar issues, if not I could probably find them.

I know that the setup and configuration of Active Directory is a complicated task meant for system administrators. I also know that MS has come a long way in progress to make the steps necessary to setup Active Directory much easier then it used to be, but come on people, these technologies were introduced in the late 1990's and the mechanisms to manage them remain stone age tools.

I know people will say I should have used this version (likely small business server, or the Linux equivalent) and I would have but those tools are honestly too broad and general for me. I don't WANT Exchange on my system... we use hosted email, I don't WANT WSUS, we only have a few PC's and WSUS is as prone to muck things up as it is to make things easier, I don't WANT a database on here, If I needed a database I will install one. I prefer to start from a clean base and add the few components that I need. Simple and clean. I want to be able to interact with the system quickly and efficiently, without feeling like a hacker.

My needs are simple, why aren't my solutions?