iPod Nano

I received an iPod Nano yesterday and must say that it’s a pretty cool little device. The display is readable (however, the font is a little fuzzy) and the weight is amazing. Due to the small size, Apple sort of has you buy accessories…how can I hold this when I goto the gym? Had to plunk down $30 on an armband. The armband is just a piece of neoprene with some Velcro. I actually thought of using some duct tape and a plastic bag to fashion my own armband, but used by better judgement to spend the money on something that is proven to work.

Backup scheme

I think that I finally have my backup scheme worked out. My server meltdown had me re-think the strategy. However, my meltdown, while time consuming to get everything working again, really only cost me one day’s worth of data that I was able to restore from another machine. My backups sort of worked, except for the monolithic “dump” archive that I created. This archive got corrupted and caused the restore to fail. Luckily I had created tar/gzipped backups and had the files.

So my new backup strategy is quite involved. First off, I have 2 drives doing RAID 1 which will protect against hard drive failure (I hope). Next, I have a third drive in my server that every hour does an rsync of the main drive. Next, I every night, a nightly rsync is done of the main drive to the third drive. Next, I have a TrayDock that I do an rsync to every few days. Then I take the dock to my safe deposit box. I have a second tray for it and rotate those backups. I also do nightly tar/gzipped backups of important stuff to the third drive which then get copied to the TrayDocks. Lastly, I periodically copy the tar/gzipped archives to a TrayDock attached to my PowerBook (I have 2 trays for my PowerBook).

I think that I should be covered in terms of backups. While there is still the potential for downtime, I’ll sleep better knowing that I can restore any one file or files without having to rely on a massive dump file still working. Yes, I may be paranoid, but my livelihood depends on data on my server.


dspam is a great product for catching spam, but as I’ve complained about in the past, setting it up is a nightmare. I went to install the latest version today and wanted to install it “correctly” and have the web user interface operate how it was designed. I spent awhile futzing around, but ended up using my hacked up CGI to get the web interface working. Uggh.

Universal Remote Control

We now have 5 remote controls to control the TiVo, TV, Squeezebox, AM/FM Tuner, and Sirius. That’s a lot of junk to deal with, so I decided to try out a universal remote. The Logitech Harmony 520 got decent reviews and seemed to be one of the least expensive programmable universal remotes. After a few tries, I finally found it at Wal-Mart. At first, setting it up seemed like an immense chore with the devices mode, activities, etc. It’s nice that it recognized all my devices, but it is extremely confusing to setup. After playing with it for awhile, I think I am finally getting the hang of it and setting it up the way I want. The fact that you can configure the buttons differently in “Device” mode” vs. “Activities” mode had me really confused. In most cases, I want them the same. In addition, the automatic activities it sets up aren’t exactly what I want and there doesn’t seem to be a way to really customize them, so I have to setup a generic activity and start there. However, doing this, I have to reset all the buttons I already configured. I think after some more configuring, I’ll start to like it. The real question will be if my wife accepts it.


So I went back to The Chip Merchant to exchange my RAM. The guy said that it was unlikely that both RAM modules were bad and went off to talk to his tech.He came back and said that my report of bad RAM wasn’t the first and there appears to be an issue with the combination of RAM, motherboard, and processor they sold me, so they gave me a different type of RAM and told me that the DDR 400 could only operate at 333, but the BIOS’s setting of Auto should detect it. I popped the RAM in, set the BIOS to a RAM frequency of 333 and will cross my fingers. It only took me a few days of futzing around to come to the same conclusion.

Stable server?

Now that my server is rebuilt, my problem is that it keeps crashing kernel panicking and I saw segmentation faults all over the place. All roads point to hardware problems. So how do i solve this? Well, first off, my old memory modules work in the new machine. I installed one of them (512 MB) and the machine seemed to stay up all night with one exception. I noticed that it had rebooted at 5:32 am. In all the other crashing, it never once rebooted. That got me thinking that the UPS I plugged the machine into (an old one) wasn’t powerful enough and a surge that put the system on battery failed to move it to battery and the server restarted. At least, that’s what I hope happened. So I got to thinking, how could 2 brand new memory modules fail. I remembered that when I was handed the memory, they were in adjoining pouches. I checked the serial numbers and they were 12 apart meaning that they most likely came from the same batch and if a batch was bad, both modules could be bad. So this evening I used a program called Memtest86 which supposedly thoroughly tests RAM. I popped in each new RAM modules one at a time and after less than a minute, each module showed thousands of errors. Then I put both in and after 20 minutes I saw 500+ errors; I’m not sure why the results were different with 1 vs. 2, but it convinced me that there was a real problem. I then tested my 2 old memory modules (slower, but the same capacity) and after an hour, they showed no errors.

Now I’m running the server with the old RAM and will see what happens. On Monday, I’ll go back to The Chip Merchant and get the RAM replaced.

I wish all this just worked and I didn’t have to futz with it.

Server crashed again

This time, my backup was corrupted and the server seemed hosed, so I got a new one and started rebuilding from backups. Unfortunately the backup appears to be corrupt (I think it was the drive as I restored parts later from another backup from last week and the files came across fine). I still have a long way to go, but mail and web are back up. I hate computers.

TiVo – How could we live without it?

Last year before we got TiVo, I told everyone that said it was great, that they must be crazy as it couldn’t be all that good. My wife and I watch our fair share of TV, but have watched a lot of junk in our couch potato time. In the year since we got TiVo, we can’t really watch TV without it. The summer has a lot of junk on and it allowed us to catch up on some stuff. Now that the new season has started, our TiVo is filled with shows that we want to watch. Being able to skip commercials is great and we now watch TV on our own time instead of when the networks say we want to watch it. We record the news every night and don’t have to be home at 5:30 pm and can walk the dog without having to rush back.

I know that every company and his neighbor is coming out with a DVR/PVR, but I’m quite happy with my TiVo. My wife has accepted the technology (she was reluctant at first) and we’re both hooked.

Gigabit Ethernet

As part of my home audio system project, I decided to upgrade my network from 100 Mbps to 1000 Mbps (Gigabit). I installed 2 gigabit switches and a new ethernet card in my server. Luckily 3 of my other computers already had gigabit ethernet. I changed a few patch cables from Cat 5 to Cat 6 (Cat 6 is recommended for gigabit) and still have to replace the main cable from my office to my server. Hopefully this upgrade will speed up my backups when I drag down 65 GB of data from my server to my removable drive. I never thought I’d need/want gigabit and now I wonder why I didn’t do it before. Cost is pretty minor (~$60 for each switch and ~$70 for a new ethernet card).

Macs on Intel and DRM

I’ve seen rants lately that have been complaining about Apple putting DRM (digital rights management) into their Intel based Macs such as the Developer Transition Kits some developers have “rented”. The complaints are that Apple should allow people to run OS X on any old Intel based machine. I think that this idea is a complete mistake and am happy that Apple is going to lock down the OS to their hardware. There are a number of reasons for this. First off, by having Apple control the hardware and the software, things just work better. Second, from a troubleshooting point of view, there are already enough combinations of Macs and OS versions, that adding any old Intel hardware would make supporting products a nightmare (look at how much trouble Windows users have). The rants are just short sighted; who cares if Apple is moving to Intel from a consumer’s point of view? The consumer just wants a Mac and doesn’t care what processor it runs. Developers care as they have to do work to support it. All I can say, is “give me a break” and I hope that Apple doesn’t change its stance and let OS X run on generic Intel hardware.