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Tech

My interest in technology stems from computer gaming. I am and always will be, a PC Gamer. Trying to play multiplayer games brought me networking experience, new games required better and faster computer components, and so I learned out of necessity what it took to battle the demons of hell. While I was around, I got into AOL, website design, and programming as well. My first crappy job at the KSU airport brought me money to build my own computer from scratch, which is still the computer I use today. Even though every single part has been replaced at some time, its soul lives on.

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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Monday, October 25, 2010

The Macbook Air Experiment

I wasn't paying too much attention to the October apple keynote about OS X 10.7 but at the end of it, as everyone probably knows by now, Jobs announced the new Macbook Airs. I've always loved the macbook air, but with a 13" screen it's always just seemed like a crippled macbook pro. Despite rumors predicting it, I was honestly surprised when the 11.6" mini-air was announced. Anyone who knows me and my apple addiction knows how much of a fan I am of ultra-portable laptops and the 12" powerbook. I think this laptop combines the 12" portability with the form factor of the bigger air and that's what appeals to me. Now, you'll probably ask: didn't you just get an ipad? and yes....I probably don't need the air. And yes, it's not exactly a cheap netbook like the acer aspire (waiting to be sold atm). Yes the ipad is more portable to work since it can stay in the suitcase when I go through security. Yes, unlike the acer, I'm afraid the Air will get damaged or stolen if I take it to work too much. But in our short lives, sometimes logic needs to take a backstep to emotion. Do I prefer the Air to the acer? x1000!! Do I prefer it to the ipad? well....that's the test...

First impressions of the laptop are VERY good! Despite low system specs like a 1.4GHz processor and 2gb of ram, the laptop feels very speedy. Finally, the airs have high res screens! At 1366x768 resolution, the screen space still feels like a bigger macbook. It plays back 1080p youtube video in full screen when the atomized acer choked on fullscreen 480p. It plays quakelive at about 50-70 fps. I don't plan to install bootcamp or take it to lans as my primary computer, so that's the most intense use I have planned for it. The keyboard is the same as the new macbooks and BT keyboards, it's a pleasure to type on. The 64gb SSD hard drive is small, but it fits what I want it for, and it combined with the Geforce 320m make this laptop scream. This is no netbook for sure.

As for OS X 10.7, for a first look it's not terrible. I'm very happy with Snow Leopard, so I don't want too much to change. I like that the OS finally has a unified application look (besides iTunes 10 ugh), so I don't want any theme changes. My hopes for it would be resolution independence and zfs support. The app store is not a bad idea, but I'm not too interested in a push towards fullscreen apps. Everything else is stuff I won't use. When the G3 iMacs first came out without floppy drives, everybody cringed and predicted failure, but the gamble was that the internet would be taking over for file distribution. The macbook air and the OS X 10.7 app store reinforce this concept, especially with Steve Jobs' comment "All notebooks will be like [the macbook air] someday". That's not a bad thing. So far I really like the Air.

Bring on the pics!

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Posted by eclipse on 10/25/2010 at 01:02 AM
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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

iPhone 4 rant

Ok quick rant about the iPhone 4!

It’s new and shiny and people can’t stop talking about it!  Literally, this is all that is on the news.  Apparently if you hold the bottom of the phone a certain way, it loses signal and can even drop the call!  People are so worked up about this that there is even a class action lawsuit starting against Apple over this!  You bought a phone you had never seen or touched before and it didn’t live up to your expectations.  Someone call a lawyer.  You deserve all of Steve Jobs’ millions of dollars for this outrage!  If you don’t like it, then you can fucking return it.  You can hold it a different way, you could even buy a case for it.  You could use your iphone 3Gs.  No one forced you to buy an iPhone 4.  Sometimes things just don’t quite work as well as you’d like.

Here is a “funny” video poking fun at iphone 4 fanboys (or fangirls in this case).  It’s always easy to kick around the fanboys for a few good laughs, but of course the shopkeeper fails to bring up any of the features the iphone 4 IS actually better at, such as the high resolution retina display, the new gyroscope, the fact that it works with their numerous iphone ready accessories, and the big one:  It syncs with their iTunes. 

Actually, there is really nothing revolutionary about the iPhone 4.  What is revolutionary is still the iPhone.  Apple already has the music player market cornered with their iPods and iTunes, and when a phone was added to that: BOOM revolution in smart phones.  People like the iPhone because it’s easy.  Because it really does just work for them.  Other phones might let you install whatever app you want or have a slightly bigger screen, but until you can make the experience easier than the iPhone + iTunes, people will still want the iPhone because that’s what their smartphone experience is built around now.  If anyone wants to compete, they will have to tear customers away from their already established investment in iTunes.  It can be done, but you’ll need a prettier phone/mp3 player than even Apple can make.  Good luck.

For that reason, I still prefer my original iPhone to any of the new phones out today.  The iPhone 4 isn’t any more another revolution than a droid or evo or hero or any other iPhone killer.  But if someone wants to spend the extra money for the new iPhone 4, let them.  It doesn’t automatically make them a fanboy.  It just means they will be the first to find these issues and let the rest of us know.  That’s the risk you take with a pre-order.

Extra Bonus Rant:
It’s just a phone!  Who cares!?

Posted by eclipse on 06/30/2010 at 03:00 AM
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Saturday, June 12, 2010

New iPad Awesomeness

      

First impressions are just like the apple store.  It’s amazing to browse the web like this.  It’s going to be awesome to have this around the house.  Still feels a little bit heavy but i can rest it on my leg when I sit on the couch so it’s not a big deal.  I got the WiFi only version because I don’t want to take it everywhere, I don’t need to take it everywhere, and I don’t want to pay for it.  Anywhere I want to use the iPad should have wifi too.  Apps look great.  My iPhone now looks so small…

I actually left with the intention of buying a 30” Cinema Display but I couldn’t bring myself to spend that kind of money.  I’ll keep my eye on craigslist for the display.  A good one pops up now and again and I can have both it and the ipad for the cost of a new display. 

A real post with updated house pictures comes soon.
First image is a play off this pic from a 2003 codexlan.

Posted by eclipse on 06/12/2010 at 02:40 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
TechPC • (2) CommentsLink to this entry
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