After a year out – is back

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I was shocked to discover that it’s been over a year since I posted anything to the blog. I got lazy if I’m honest, and Facebook and twitter were simpler.

Lately thought, I’ve been getting back into my technology and photography. I’ve been getting the change to travel a lot more with work and personal projects and so I’ve been missing the integration and @”glue-like” social features that WordPress gives me.

So I’ve given my WordPress engine the proverbial tune up, cleared 14K junk comments out of the engine, upgraded to 3.8, activated JetPack and given my knuckles a crack. Going social again in 2014 ūüôā


The home network shopping list: Servers & Compute

Apple Mac Mini 2011

One of my goals for my home network was to have an always on server – this would run the various tools that I’d accumulate over time- bittorent, media serving and perhaps remote access. ¬†The 1Gbit LAN infastructure meant that files and media can be shuffled around easily, and any downloads will automatically be placed on the centralised network store.

The main considerations for me were power usage, form factor, location and performance. ¬†My initial idea was to get an old PC box and put a vairant of Linux on it- and run it headless. ¬†I thought I would locate this box in the central cupboard,alongside my switching/cabling. ¬†The server would have VNC for remote administration, and run media serving platforms (Plex or such like). ¬†We’ll you know what they say- the best laid plans and all that! ¬†My final solution bears no resemblance to this.

I aquired a small form factor Dell box- a pretty decent spec: Pentium D, Dual Core 2.8Ghz with a decent 250gb hard disk- and most importantly a Gigabit LoM. I went through 3 itterations of software, starting off with Linux Mint, the Fedora and finally Unubuntu.  With each iteration of Linux I became more frustrated that the tool was getting in the way of accomplishing the task- and despite the help of some of my Linux orientated collegues- I was plagued by compatibility/service and performance problems.

Why was this so difficult, all I wanted was a box which had good network support, could run a few programs I wanted and give me remote access.  Whilst googling away one night on my Macbook- the solution became clear.  Rather than thinking of the Media Streamer/ Server as two separate elements, and remembering that all network points in the house had 1Gbit connectivity: why not merge the two, make the media player under my TV more powerful and make it the houses central media server!

And the box I chose: well XBMC runs on any hardware, so I went back to my beloved Macs. ¬†I’ve purchased a 2011 Mac Mini – this little beast has a Intel i5 Dual core processor running at 2.3Ghz and comes with 2GB of RAM as standard. ¬†I’ve installed XBMC onto it, utorrent and a couple of other apps. ¬†Remote connectivity : it just works: using screenshare I can control the box even with TV shut off from my Macbook Pro. ¬†Even better the Mini comes with HDMI output as standard, and bluetooth for keyboard and mouse should I chooose to have it.

I setup the box to automatically startup XMBC on reboot- this links accross the network to my Drobo box, and I created a share for TV, Movies, Music and Photos there, and made each of these network locations map and mount to the Mac Mini at startup….

Lastly, I went a little crazy and upgraded the memory of the Mac Mini to 16GB (which only cost 50 quid)… et voila, an always on, low power consuming, high performance, pretty and integrated TV solution.

How to overkill your media streamer with memory

It works so well that I picked up a second Mac Mini (a 2010 with Superdrive) from Glasgow Gumtree for my Master bedroom and have integrated it into my setup – you can find more about this in the media streaming entries for this project.

The home network shopping list: Storage

Drobo storage solutionsOne of the most important factors when considering what a home network can achieve in your house is to make sure that you nail your storage solution from the outset. ¬†For my house I’ve been a long time follower of Drobo’s line of NAS drives. ¬†Whilst there are many SMB NAS solutions on the market the Drobo for me beats them all with it’s implementation of BeyondRAID technology. ¬†BeyondRAID solves one of the main problems that RAID has: that being a capacity constraint: all drives must be of same capacity (or just as bad you’ll loose the capacity different in large drives). ¬†As an example:

If I choose to get a system from Synology for example: I can get a 4 bay system: great, now I need to choose my drives, so I’ll go for 2TB disks: I buy 4 disks, loose a little bit for overhead, and if I’m lucky maybe get 6TB usable.. great, but what happens when I fill 6TB? – well then: I’m screwed, I have to throw away all the disks and buy new 3TB or 4TB disks…. not a scalable solution, also I need to buy all my drives up front – to me in the age of ZFS and the like: this is simple not a workable way – especially for a home where requirements may fluctuate.

Drobo FSDrobo’s BeyondRAID solves this by replacing the idea of fixed RAID with an intelligent software layer which does all the mirroring for you. ¬†You still get failure protection, you can even protect against 2 drive failures. ¬†Even better, I can start with a couple of disks and scale up as I go. ¬†Even better: I can mix disk capacities. ¬†So in my case, I’ve started with 2 x 2TB HD, and an old 7200rpm 500GB drive I had lying down. ¬†This gives me 2.24 TB of usual capacity. ¬†I can add any other capacity drive to enlarge my storage pool.

Drobo - FS dashboard example

The amazing Drobo FS NAS solution

When I use all 5 drive bays up, I can rip out a smaller drive (500GB for example) fire in a 4TB drive and keep going, scaling at today’s disk sizes (4TB) to a usual 16TB. ¬†I would expect that as we go to 5TB + drives this maximum will also grow.


Canada – A country relaxed in it’s own skin

I’ve just returned from a trip to Toronto, Canada, and I think I might be in love ūüôā I already am in love with a part of Canada ( those of you know me, will probably smile when you read that).

What strunk me about the country, in comparison to it’s slightly more agressive /hostile neighbour is how welcome you are made. ¬†In America going through customs makes it feel as if you’re about to be hauled off for a cavity search by bubba and entered into a free draw for an all expenses paid trip to Guantanamo Bay! ¬†When I went through customs in Canada all I got was asked “please sir can I see your return ticket”. ¬†It does make you slightly more likely to return ūüôā

The friendliness didn’t stop there. ¬†Nearly every person I met without exception was friendly, helpful and genuinely interested in you. ¬†How can two countries bordering each other have such different views of the world? ¬†Makes you think! ¬†I realised that perhaps the best way to live the American dream is to move to…Canada?…. there’s something in that…..

Steve Jobs: one thank you in a billion

Few people will ever live up to their own goals, or be able to join the elite group that they consider their idols.

Steve’s idols weren’t businessmen, computer scientists or silicon valley success stories. ¬†No Steve loved artists, animators, renegades, the atypical Geniuses/madmen/visonarries.

Is it not ironic then, that after spending so long idolising them, perhaps he more than any before him, was the one to sculpt the world to be what he thought it should be.

RIP Steve Jobs: here’s to the craziest one ūüôā