Category

PC

Pretty much anything computer related except for Apple Computers, which has its own category. I run a custom desktop computer with Windows XP for video gaming and anything requiring a lot of power, and an Acer Aspire One netbook that I take with me for work. I also sometimes talk about PC news.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Finally, an update!

Well, it’s certainly been a while, hasn’t it?  Am I even talking to anyone anymore?  My statistics page says 182 days without an update, which means half of a year.  :(  Terribly sorry.  I’ve obviously been busy because when I’m busy, I don’t update.  But I can’t really explain most of my time away.  My Bidding website certainly takes a lot of credit for my virtual disappearance.  It brings in actual money for me each month, so that is where my priority is for now.  I’m also creating a new website, CFI-Wiki that will hopefully mature over time and pick up the slack when the bidding website becomes obsolete (new bidding system in the works at the company).  Also thinking about a similar program that checks our paysheets.  Though the other sites have been using the excuse of “making money” to keep me away from DarkMercury, I like reading through my history and large gaps like this one disappoint me a lot.

So happy new year, and what’s happening with me since Quakecon?  Well Alison and I celebrated our first anniversary in October with a trip to Washington DC.  We went to DC a few times when we started dating to see the pandas at the zoo.  Traveled in our usual style this time though.  Flew into DCA and took the subway to the Grand Hyatt downtown.  The hotel sits right on top of the Metro Center subway station, making travel across the city pretty easy.  Well our hotel experience was not the best, but we were getting by at the employee rate, so I will not complain too much.  Worth the price, I guess.  We spent a lot of time at the Smithsonian museums, and some at the monuments.  I guess there is a Martin Luther King Jr memorial that we missed.  They were also digging up the Reflection Pool, which was a bummer.  But the Smithsonian is always amazing and I could spend the entirety of any DC trip there.  Someday we will get to Puerto Vallarta, I swear!  Also, I don’t know why my camera turns into absolute garbage as soon as the sun starts to set.

               
Christmas was pretty quiet.  We spent it in Texas by ourselves.  I think we both ended up with the flu.  I missed a lot of work because of it and got invited to the chief pilot’s office, but what can you do.  I’m almost a year in now on the Embraer 145 aircraft.  I noticed I haven’t really made any real post about it.  Maybe I will soon, but the ERJ is a good but boring plane.  It runs more consistently, which is nice.  I get home on time more often.  But there aren’t many good stories.  It hasn’t tried to kill me a single time, which is good but helps contribute to my lack of posts. 

American has declared bankruptcy, which is stopping the upgrades to captain.  I was pretty close, actually.  Besides getting to be the big boss of the airplane and getting to fly it the way I want to, it comes with quite a pay raise that I want.  A few months of captain time looks better on the resume than years and years of FO time.  When people ask me what’s going to happen with the bankruptcy, I don’t have much to tell them.  They are negotiating with the mainline unions right now.  What comes of that will affect whether Eagle grows or shrinks.  I’ve spent too much time at Eagle to give up my seniority by leaving, so I’m just going to stay put and see what happens.  I don’t think the airline will shrink to the point where I get furloughed or anything.  Eagle could end up growing to take over some mainline flying, or we could start competing with other regionals for American flying and shrink.  Until the mainline negotiations finish, I just don’t know yet.  I’m guessing that, like other legacy carriers, the unions will be stripped of their pay and pensions.  This makes the whole pilot gig less appealing in the long run and will hurt the industry.  I tell people I’m not afraid of losing my job, I’m afraid of losing my career.

           

In the beginning of this year, both Alison and I have gotten new cars.  It was awesome having her car paid off, but it was starting to get up there in years, and I didn’t want to have her break down when I was away on a trip, so we looked into a new car for her.  She wanted a Hyundai Santa Fe, so we found a good used one and traded in the VW Rabbit, plus some cash and got a low payment.  I still need to get a picture of her with it.

On Friday, we went down to the VW dealership to look at a new Jetta for me.  I’ve been going through cars pretty quickly in the last few years, but I really hope this is the one that sticks for a while.  I have good feelings about it.  I had a 2010 Jetta Limited Edition, and just traded it for a similar 2010 Jetta Wolfsburg Edition (WE).  Over time, the 2.5 engine and the transmission on the old Jetta was starting to bother me.  When I accelerated, the engine sounded kind of raspy, and it seemed to run at high RPM.  Was it trying to force me to drive slower for more MPG?  The actual car itself was very nice.  While Alison was looking for her car, we saw a Salsa Red Jetta Wolfsburg in the VW lot.  My cars have always been black or silver, but I was very impressed with the color(s).  That particular one was an automatic, but I started to casually look at other Wolfsburgs. 

                       

A 6-Speed in the right price range finally turned up, looking very cool in the same red color, tinted windows, the rear spoiler lip, and tan interior.  The WE has the better, turbocharged engine and it is quite an improvement over the old one.  The features of the new car are pretty much the same as my last Jetta.  It has the same dashboard and radio, although bluetooth audio finally works!  So it’s really an upgrade of style and engine.  I wrote in the last Jetta post that part of growing up was realizing your priorities and not necessarily needed the fastest car on the road.  So I must be growing younger again, haha.  That’s still true though.  Alison’s Rabbit had a 2.5 engine with the 5 speed, and I loved that setup, even though it was 20HP less than the Jetta.  Had the gearing been set up the same, I would have been happy.  But I was just not enjoying the Jetta’s engine the same way as the Rabbit and I couldn’t see myself owning it until it died.  Well I really like the new car, just hope that the previous owners were nice to it and it will last a long time.

On the computer front, my awesome 8800GT video card finally died after almost 4 years.  I bought an overclocked 560Ti to replace it, and Left 4 Dead 2 looks awesome at 2560x1600 res.  Both cards are made by evga and hopefully this one will last just as long.  I’d like to further replace the cpu/ram/motherboard before Quakecon time, but I’ll save that for a summer project. 

I sold my iPad1 to get some cash for the iPad3, which is coming out soon.  I think I’ll dedicate a separate post for that.  I also spent $25 and bought two G3 iMacs.  The graphite one is pretty decent and I’m going to keep that one.  The indigo one is slower, and scratched up so I’m trying to pawn that off on craigslist and make $20 back.  I remember middle school when the iMac first came out, and I didn’t like it.  I was very anti-Mac back then.  However, it did what it set out to do and changed the industry.  It was able to win me over eventually, so it is an impressive machine.  For $25 (potentially $5), it’s a cool piece of history.  It even runs OSX 10.4 Tiger pretty well.  You can browse the internet, do email, run some pretty recent software, etc.  Not bad for a 15 year old computer.

       

Hopefully it won’t take me 6 months to do the next one.

Posted by eclipse on 03/04/2012 at 04:51 AM
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Saturday, September 03, 2011

Upcoming Upgrades

Since the last post way back in May, my computer hasn’t changed much.  Back then I added the Razer Mamba mouse and Megaloden Headset.

The mamba has been amazing, like spectacularly good for a wireless mouse.  Its only problem is battery life.  I’ll often leave it on and leave for a 4 day trip at work and come back to find it dead.  It’s not a huge deal since it can easily become a wired mouse by plugging it in.  My only real disappointment is that as soon as I bought it they came out with a new mamba, all stealth-apple style.  I don’t think the new one is vastly different though, it has some fancy lights.  I will try to resist the temptation to buy another one.

The Megaloden headset is alright.  It’s bulky and takes up a lot of room in my suitcase when I took it to DasLAN.  I don’t like the fabric ear covers, compared to my Bose Triports, but the Bose has no microphone.  The mic is alright when I’m at home in a quiet environment, but was almost worthless in the noisy environment of Quakecon.  I’ll probably keep them because the market for them is pretty small.

My only big PC news is that, after 9 years, I’ve finally bought a new case for my computer.  Since high school, I’ve rocked an old school Lian-Li PC-60 or something.  I have pretty high standards for my computers, it turns out.  I wanted a silver case to go along with the Apple Cinema Displays which narrowed me down to about 5% of the total case market.  Go ahead and try to buy a nice looking silver case, I dare you.  You can’t do it anymore.  Your computer these days must be black, which is funny because in the past everything was beige and you could never find any black.  We kinda went past the goal of customization and ended up back where we started.  Anyways, I considered buying a dead Apple PowerMac G5 and gutting and modding it to make a PC from it.  Not only extremely troublesome, it would limit me to one DVD drive and wouldn’t be very upgradable. 

The bar by which I’ve always measured PC cases has been the Maximum PC “Dream Machine” for 2002.  The case is a Cooler Master ATC-110, which went out of production soon after.  I’ve occasionally searched for one, usually to never find one, or find one in bad condition.  However, I recently came across one on ebay in basically flawless condition and so I pulled the trigger and bought it.  I’m pretty excited to get it.  It’s almost a full tower, so it’ll be larger than my current computer, but it doesn’t actually go to LAN Parties anymore.  I have my Macbook Pro for that now, so I don’t have to worry about traveling with it much.  I like the way the door covers the drives, and I have plenty of USB ports on my keyboard and monitors so I don’t need them on the case.  Hopefully I can put up some images when I get the computer built.  It’ll be fun to rebuild the computer, I never get to do that anymore it seems.

I considered buying an i7 setup to make it like a whole new computer, but the Core 2 Duo is still fine.  Maybe next year for Quakecon (or whatever we end up doing).

Posted by eclipse on 09/03/2011 at 09:02 PM
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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

FreeNAS Update: Rsync and Unison

I've been using FreeNAS since the beginning of April, 2010, and it certainly has met or exceeded my expectations in that time. It still serves its purpose well, however the way I have it set up has changed quite a bit since April. You can find my original post here (FreeNAS Review). I wanted to take the time to describe my first thoughts when creating my NAS file server, and how it has changed into its current form.

My NAS's main purpose is to be a file server and store movies, tv shows, and music to be used mostly by my AppleTV, but also with all computers on my network. I had started in June/July '09 with an external hard disk plugged into my Apple Airport Extreme router. The disk spun 24/7 and eventually became unreadable by September and I was mad. Luckily for me, I still had most of my data backed up on the gaming desktop. But the backup was taking most of my desktop's HDD space and so I wanted it all on its own. For that reason, I bought a Linksys NAS 200 that featured RAID1. I thought a second disk would at least keep my data safe if the disk crashed again. It was waaay too slow for my needs and so I built the FreeNAS server.

RAID1 vs. Rsync

FreeNAS was set up with the same RAID1 as the Linksys and it was much faster, so life was good. But as I talked about it more and more, RAID1 sounded less and less secure. Sure, I was safe from a hard disk failing but there were other things that could delete my collection still, and I'd be SOL. I could accidently type a command wrong and accidently delete the entire /Movies folder with a hit of the enter key, and that would happen on both drives instantly. Or the flash drive containing my FreeNAS config could fail and my software controller would be erased. Without the software controller settings, you can't access a RAID array (at least not easily, like at the user level). So for these reasons I backed up, wiped the RAID array away, and changed to a local rsync service.

Rsync runs once a day in the middle of the night, and basically mirrors the entire Media Drive onto the backup disk. I have until 3:00am to undue any accidental deletions or changes to the filesystem made during the day. If the media disk were to fail, I'd only lose a day's worth of new stuff which is usually a tv show or two. I'd rather re-download two tv shows than 1.5TB of movies and stuff!

Unison

In addition to backing up my media, the FreeNAS server acts as a remote location for backing up important files from my other computers, including my macbook pro(music), Gaming PC(Pictures), and Alison's files. The Macs simply use Time Machine to backup their files, and I could use Windows 7 Backup to store my desktop's files. But, I thought it'd be nice to sync my Pictures between the desktop and the laptops. That way, when I go home or do imagework, I always have the latest, up-to-date images on all the machines. Having them on different computers protects them against being lost if a disk dies, and unison can archive deleted files if you want it to which protects against accidental deletion. You can think of unison as two-way Rsync, in that any change you make will be backed up on the server, but if the server data changes, the changes will be sent to your computer as well.
To use Unison in FreeNAS, you only have to enable the service in the webadmin. You'll want SSH enabled as well. Everything else is done from the client computers. Install Unison (http://www.cis.upenn.edu/~bcpierce/unison/download.html), and create a private SSH key so you don't have to type in your SSH password (http://linuxproblem.org/art_9.html). Windows users will need to install Cygwin for the unix shell.

Next, create a preferences file on each computer you want to sync files to. Probably looking something like this:

batchpref.prf
    # Roots of the synchronization
    root = /Users/username/Whatever/
    root = ssh://username@192.168.X.XXX//mnt/Disk/PathTo/Wherever/

    # Paths to synchronize 
    #path = current
    #path = common
    #path = .netscape/bookmarks.html

    ignore = Name {._*,.DS_Store,Thumbs.db}

Obviously, you'll want to change the username, IP address, and path to your own settings. You need to give it two directories to make the same. One local to the computer, and one on the remote disk or network location. "ignore" tells the config to ignore whatever files or regex you want. In my case, it's ignoring those annoying hidden windows and OSX files. You can set it to anything, even entire directories. And there are lots of other options you can do as well. See the User manual for all options (User Manual).

Once the config file is done, save it to the appropriate place.
In OS X, it's ~/Library/Application Support/Unison/batchpref.prf
In Windows (Cygwin), it'll be c:\cygwin\home\username\.unison\batchpref.prf
Linux is probably ~/.unison/batchpref.prf       (I dont have straight up linux, so I don't know for sure)

Now that the preferences are saved, you should be able to run unison from the command line. Type:
unison -ui text -auto -batch batchpref

This tells the computer to run unison, in the text-only user interface, in automatic mode (doesnt ask you what to do in errors), and to use the preference file we just made. From here, you can run it as a cron job in OSX/Linux, or make a .bat file in windows and run it with Task Scheduler. I have it run on windows at startup, and once a day on the macs. You can also run it manually when you want to make sure you're up to date.

Now, I guess websites like dropbox offer similar capability, but you're either limited in filesize or you have to pay for it. Paying isn't a bad idea, since I suppose if my house burned down I'd still lose everything. But I find unison to be a great way to back up and syncronize easily and for free. Especially if your data is the "nice to have" but not the most important memories of your life.

I'll finish the post off with a newer pic of my home network. It's clickable to view it a little bigger. I still have other FreeNAS updates I can write about, but since Rsync and Unison are so closely related, I thought I'd give them their own post.
Posted by eclipse on 12/01/2010 at 04:42 AM
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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Computer Room Pictures

I don’t have any real substance to talk about at the moment, so here are some new house pictures of the computer room.  The gray wall paint is awesome and we have shelves and curtains up now. 

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Posted by eclipse on 11/25/2010 at 03:08 AM
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

FreeNAS Review

I promised in my last tech post that this entry would continue, and hopefully conclude, my journey towards the perfect Network Attached Storage (NAS) system.  The primary reason I want to use one is to stream TV Shows and Movies to my Samsung 40” LCD TV in my Living Room by means of my AppleTV.  It also serves as a backup location for my important files, and is now capable of performing server related tasks that were previously handled by the AppleTV.  This is my 4th attempt at a NAS solution for the Spitfire Network, the most expensive, the most capable, and finally…the most likely to survive.  For a quick NAS summary:

NAS Solution
Judgment
Cost
Eclipse (Gaming PC)Too loud, power intensive, resource hog
no redundancy
Apple Extreme Wireless Station + USB HDDRan drive continuously leading to failure
no redundancy
Linksys NAS 200Ridiculously Poor Performance, Noisy
Atom / FreeNASBest of all worlds but expensive, large footprint


I tried all the cheap alternatives to buckling down and forking over the cash for a decent NAS / Server but in the end the only lesson is one we should all be familiar with already - You get what you pay for.  In trying to be cheap, all I got in return was lost data (Apple Base Station) and unusable performance (Linksys + hosting files on my gaming pc).  Not that a FreeNAS solution has to be expensive however.  These days many people have a spare PC in their garage or something.  All it needs to be given new life as a FreeNAS server is:

x86 Processor
128 MB ram
32 MB disk space
Network card

The catch is that your hardware has to be supported by FreeBSD, but I’d be willing to bet that if it’s anything similar to a commercial computer, you are all set.  I looked into the option of buying a cheap, used PC for under $100 on craigslist but in the end I decided to build a new PC specifically for a few reasons:

1. I knew exactly what hardware it would have, with warranties.
2. By using an Atom chipset it has power consumption comparable to a netbook, which is preferable to a power hungry P4
3. The Atom D510MO chipset is fanless, making the entire computer almost silent
4. Gigabit Ethernet (up from 10/100 on the linksys nas)

I bought a nice looking glossy black case from Newegg, which was running a pretty nice deal on it as long as I signed up for spam, and sold the Linksys NAS for $5 profit.  I had the disk drives already from the linksys raid setup, so in the end I just had to buy the case, atom board/cpu combo, and 1 GB of RAM for it.  Not too much cost to expand its use greatly, but if you were starting from scratch it might be a big investment.  So give it a try with your old garage PC first.  I paired the computer with a 23” Samsung 2333HD Display, which is kind of a misnomer.  The actual NAS is capable of displaying a typical Unix/bsd console, but it’s really meant to run in a corner or a closet without a keyboard or monitor hooked up.  In fact, there is no GUI display included.  The monitor is really displaying video from my macbook pro, which makes the computer give the appearance of a hackintosh.  It’s also a nice 1080p HDTV.  The actual Atom computer runs without being plugged into the monitor, unless I’m debugging something.

So I spent all this money getting decent hardware, at least the software was free!  You’ll need to decide between a “full install” or “embedded” install.  The full install is like a typical OS installed onto your disk.  The embedded install is copied to a USB Flash Drive which is then booted off of, and it runs FreeNAS in a virtual disk created out of RAM.  The full install is easier to customize, but the embedded install is blistering fast and allows your hard drives to spin down when idle.  I went with the embedded because it’s very important to me for the idle disks to spin down.  This saves wear and tear, heat (remember it’s fanless), and power ($).  You can’t repartition the boot drive, so I had to add another flash drive to run my custom server apps like rssdler and python.  Running these apps off the main data HDDs would prevent them from spinning down (they’d never be idle).  Flash drives are cheap SSDs and it works great for NAS purposes.

After the initial console setup, you can unplug the monitor and control the system via a web interface on any other computer on the network.  This makes it very easy to choose services, set them up, add disks and shares… You really don’t have to be a pro to get it to work reliable and consistently.  I followed a tutorial, added my two hard drives as a redundant software RAID 1 array[Edit 11/30/10: This has changed, see: FreeNAS Update: Rsync and Unison], and added windows and apple file sharing in less than 20 minutes.  Performance was a ten-fold increase over my Linksys NAS, averaging about 40MB/s transfers which I’m guessing is limited by gigabit ethernet.  But don’t take my word for it, here’s some fancy looking pictures:

Linksys                        vs.                          FreeNAS

My Atom server blows away any of my previous NAS attempts, and I’m finally happy and able to not worry anymore about my hard disks crashing and taking all my stuff with them like the great hard drive crashes of 2003.  It’s far quieter and faster than the Linksys NAS, and I can run apps like rssdler off the server alone.  This means the AppleTV, which is already slow, doesn’t have to use its few resources on downloading for me anymore.  It uses waay less power than my gaming pc did when it stayed on to serve files, and adds the redundancy of two drives, protecting against hardware failure.  The loss of one hard drive wouldn’t make me lose any data.  The web interface is easy to use, and since it’s a mini-atx form factor, it’s got plenty of room for additional hard drive space so I can expand it over time.  The Linksys and many other NAS devices only support a maximum of two disks.  And did I mention how quiet it is?

The only disadvantages I could think of was the additional cost for having an additional computer.  If you have an old PC and could throw it in the closet or something, this disadvantage may not mean much for you.  Also, the mini-atx form factor eats up some desk space for me, but I want to keep it close to my other computers.  Again if you threw it in a closet you might not care.  I’m decent enough with Linux/Unix/bsd commands that I didn’t have any trouble setting it up, but if you’re a windows lover then buying a commercial NAS might be up your alley. 

So in summary, I am totally blown away by FreeNAS and all it’s capable of.  I tried everything else, but sometimes when you need the job done right you just have to do it yourself.  My next tech post will probably be about AT&T U-Verse, how it’s integrated into my new house, changed my network, and reacted to my experiments.

 

Check out the free software at: http://freenas.org/freenas

Posted by eclipse on 04/29/2010 at 04:04 AM
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