Monday, November 24, 2008

Tour our new house ....

A quick tour or our new house (or at least soon to be new house).

Of course, I would be remiss without a Quicktime H.264 version of the video.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Summer in Review Video

A video review of our summer.

Of course, I would be remiss without a Quicktime H.264 version of the video.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Oktoberfest Video

A short video review of our trip to Munich, Nuremberg and Berlin.

And for the Mac or Apple people in the crowd, I have a Quicktime H.264 version of the video.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Heads Up on CD Labels

Just wanted to give everyone a quick heads up on using CD sticky labels. I created a series of DVDs about 3 years ago with some converted video. I then took the time to create labels for these DVDs using the aformentioned CD labels.

Now, 3 years later, I'm trying to make backup copies of the DVDs, but so far, no DVD drive I have will completely read the discs. Of the 8 I have to copy, so far I've only been able to back up 2 completely.

Just to be sure, though, I have may other DVDs burned from the same batch of DVD media and on the same burner and they work just fine. I've also read the same warning online (hence the frantic backup I'm doing now).

So a word to the wise, go with printable DVDs or a good CD/DVD marker and eschew the neat looking CD/DVD sticker labels -- unless your data doesn't matter to you.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Dumb ideas a'plenty

With gas prices now averaging over $4 per gallon for the first time, people are starting to look at ways to handle this. CNN recently listed 6 ideas on how to reduce the price of gas. The ways included the following:
  • Suspend the gas tax
  • Tax the oil companies and give the money back to consumers
  • Limit oil speculation
Unfortunately, each of these attack the wrong end of the equation. By not attacking the demand side, these "solutions" only postpone the inevitable: higher prices and higher pain. People need to drive less and when the drive, drive more efficiently. Until that happens, the pain of the price at the pump will only continue to get worse. As Americans we should demand better alternatives than just the usual bring down the price, to hell with the consequences non-solutions proposed. We should start demanding better options, including higher milage cars, electric vehicles and better non-car options like subways and light rail. The choice is ours to make. Will we repeat the failures of the past or will we learn from it and create a better tomorrow for ourselves and future generations?

Cue the Whining

Well, it's finally here. According to CNN, gas prices finally hit the $4/gal average. I can't wait to hear all the SUV drivers whining as I drive by in my 40-45mpg Golf (or even better walk my them or ride by on the bus)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Netflix Player by Roku

So, I got a new toy delivered by FedEx today: the Netflix Player by Roku. For those that haven't heard of it, it's a device that delivers Netflix streaming content directly to your TV. Finally, there's a good way to see the Play it Now content from Netflix in the living room.

From the short time I've used it already, it seems to be a nice device. The unit itself is a bit lighter than I would have expected, but with no hard disk or storage, there's not much to weigh it down. The array of connections are quite sufficient for my needs: composite, component, analog audio, optical digital audio and HDMI (which I'm using).

The quality on my 6Mbit Speakeasy connection is quite good. In fact, it appears to rival DVD and the AppleTV/iTunes content I usually watch. It scales quite nicely on my Philips 42" LCD TV.

My only complaints to this point is that the device doesn't let you browse all the choices, but is instead tied into your queue. Also, I seem to be hearing a bit of popping in the audio. Right now I can't tell if it's the unit, my TV or something else. I'll have to investigate more.

Michigan and Florida and the Democrats

Quick whine for the day:

I'm sick and tired of hearing about Michigan and Florida and the DNC delegates. To me, this whole thing is emblematic of the Democrats. The rules were set, Florida and Michigan broke the rules and now they're whining to not be punished as they were promised. I believe that in the end, the DNC will back away from their promise because it's politically expedient for them too. In the end it appears the Democrats do not belive in consequences.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I Couldn't Agree More

Just found this article on BusinessWeek that points out a good way to decrease our pollution from automobile traffic is to make them not necessary. The best way to do this is increase the development of infill housing and mixed-use construction.

See: Cities: A Smart Alternative to Cars Via: the Greater Greater Washington blog

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Darn You Nikon!

I tend to be loyal to companies that have treated me well in the past. One of those companies is Nikon. Over the years I've collected a decent amount of Nikon products. A couple of weeks ago Feli and I purchased a new D300 (which is a great camera, BTW). Today I decided to place all my Nikon equipment together just to see what it looks like. And when I did that, I figured I'd take a picture.

Of course, the hard part is taking a picture of all your camera equipment. You want to take a good picture, but the good cameras are the subject of the picture. Sigh.

So here's a picture from my video camera (the only non Nikon camera I have).

So why did I title this post "Darn You Nikon!"? That wasn't me, that was my wallet.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Netflix Player by Roku

Ok, so I've found yet another new toy to pick up (when will it end?). Netflix currently offers a streaming service for subscribers. It offers access to a growing number of movies and TV shows. The biggest limitation with the service to date has been its reliance on a computer for viewing. Or more specifically, it requires a Windows computer to view the content.

While I haven't really been paying attention (not sure how I missed this), apparently Netflix has been working with hardware manufacturers (such as TiVo or DVD player manufacturers) to build streaming clients into their hardware. The first of these is the Netflix Player by Roku.

Long time nerds may recognize Roku as the makers of the SoundBridge network music player (of which I have 2 already). Needless to say I'm a big fan of the SoundBridge and I'm a Netflix subscriber, so picking up a Netflix Player seemed like a no brainer. After it arrives and I get a chance to play with it, I'll post a review.

Coverage by other sites

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pretty cool music video

Pretty cool music video:

Zoundry Raven

Quick link for the day. I've started using Zoundry Raven as my blogging tool of choice. It's free (or a zero Alex pick if you will) and seems to work rather well at least with Blogger. Let me know if you're using it and what you think.

Communication and Organization

So a while back I had a yearly review with my boss. You know those meetings, the sometimes useful, sometimes not meetings where you discuss your future with your immediate supervisor. In my case, it was a very useful meeting (as have most of mine because of the succession of really good bosses I've had over the years). The primary takeaway from the meeting was that I need to work on my communication of ideas and better organizing my business relationships. I was told I have a number of good ideas, but no real, official framework for how to present them.

For work, I've been trying to implement some procedures and frameworks to help organize things, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it might be a good thing to do the same thing in my personal life. Hence this blog and my presence on Twitter, etc.

With that in mind, I hope to be a bit more prolific on this blog in just streaming my ideas for all to read (for better or worse). We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How Far We've Come

Just thinking back to when I was first learning to edit video. A simple 3 minute video could take a couple of days (especially if the footage was spread over a number of tapes). I remember spending a whole weekend working on editing a simple video for the youth group I was a part of. Today, by comparison, I was able to edit a 3:30 video in about 40 minutes. In HD no less. With titles. And transitions. And .. well .. you get the picture. We've definitely come a long way from a tape-to-tape editing system.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Gas Tax Moritorium

Sorry all. Gotta whine for just a second. There's currently a debate here about dropping the gasoline tax for the summer. McCain and Clinton both support it and Obama is against.

Let me put in my 2 cents worth. The only long term solution we have for solving the energy problem in this country is to drive less and when we drive be more efficient about it. Dropping the tax won't help this and in fact would work as a disincentive to driving less. So this is a brilliant idea.


DC vs the Suburbs

An interesting article in the Washington Post describing readers experiences in the city and the suburbs. The interesting thing it found is that despite living near the suburban ammenities, the residents were too busy stuck in traffic and dealing with life to enjoy them.

On the other hand, the DC'ites didn't have quite the libraries or schools of our suburban bretheren, but we have time to enjoy what we have.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Random video tips

I was thinking earlier about some of the random things I've leared about editing down video from trips that people seem to enjoy. So, I figured I'd try and distill them down to something that may be helpful:

1. Good videos start when shooting

This may sound a bit obvious, but if you get bad video to start with, you end up with bad video to finish. When you start recording something, be sure to think about how you're going to use it. For me, I tend to think in specific edits, so when I'm recording something, I already have a decent idea of what I'm planning on using it for.

2. 3-4 second clips are just interesting enough

My English teacher in high school always said that a paper should be like a skirt: long enough to conver the subject, but short enough to be interesting. I've found that a 3-4 second clip is just about right on average. Apparently, I'm not the only one as iMove 08 uses a 4 second clip size when selecting an edit in the timeline. Now, there are always good places where that "rule" can be broken, but it's always a good place to start.

3. Edit on action

I've found that for me, if I cut the clip on some sort of movement (like a person walking into our out of the frame) it seems a bit more interesting. If you have a video of your significat other walking along the street, look for that moment when (s)he turns into the cute little store, move back 4 seconds from there and you have your edit point.

4. Montage

There's nothing more boring than 30 minutes of badly focused or repetitive video. And your friends really don't want to see your whole trip. All they want are the highlights. I've found that the best way to approach this is to take a song you like and edit a montage. Take items 1-3 above and use those to create a 4-6 minute series of clips set to music. For the one's I've done, it seems that even people who don't know me very well find 4 minutes of decent video set to a good song interesting.

A couple of examples that I've done:

Try it and let me know.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Windows Whine of the Day

Oh, here's my real quick whine for the day. I really can't stand how random Windows programs can just jump up and take control of your desktop withou ... wait, excuse me Windows wants my attention ... as I was saying, grab control from the current application.

For example, I was trying to open a number of connections to multiple systems using Remote Desktop. However, each time something happened (initial connection or initial screen draw), for some reason the app felt it necessary to let me know my stealing focus from the new window I had opened. I ended up having to make the connections one at a time to get done.

While this may not sound like much, it took what could have been a 3 minute procedure and turned it into a 10 minute procedure (the connections were slower than ususal). To me that's unacceptable. Only the OS itself should ever jump up and take control of your focus and that had better be a damned good reason to do so (security, fault, etc)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Very interesting clock

Via digg, it's a clock that spells out the name of the hour using 150 analog hands.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ordering beer with a Nintendo DS ...

From Ars Technica:

Don't take it personally

I have a problem. I admit it, but don't really like it. I have this really bad tendancy to leave an e-mail in my inbox that I should reply to and then never reply. The longer it stays in the inbox, the more I know I should reply but don't.

After a while, it gets to the point where it just laughs at me every time I check my e-mail. So for all you out there (my brother-in-law specifically ... sorry Lucian), know I'm not insulting you, but I have a problem.

I wonder if there's a 12-step support group for this.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

All a Twitter

Ok, so I'm late again to the party ... This time it's Twitter, the microblogging, Web 2.0, whatever it is. My wife and I are both on there and she's dragging all her friends in there too. So now I get a constant stream of what's going on from tech-celebs and my friends a like.

Follow me if you want @uthanda. :)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Code Monkey

Ok, so I'm late to the party (but hey, what's new). Just listened to Jonathan Coulton's Code Monkey for the first time. It's great, but a bit too close to home. Sigh. Code Monkey gonna work now.

Monday, March 03, 2008

New toy ...

So, my old iPod Mini finally bit the dust (or in my case, took a flying header off my backpack to the hard concrete). Needless to say, it's now not coming back up. So ... I've been thinking for a while about whether an iPod Touch was worth the money, especially since the new 32Gb models were released. However, each time I looked at it and thought about it, I couldn't justify the money, as my old one worked just fine. Well, with the untimely demise of my old iPod, the time finally came to get the 32Gb Touch I wanted. Now, I'm just getting used to it and figuring out how best to make use of the new tool at my disposal. More thoughts on it in the future.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Really confused

Now I'm seeing a real interesting problem. The clock on the local system is drifting. In fact, it's running really slow (lost 6 hours in the past week or so). I'm kind of wondering if that's the issue here. Must investigate more.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Maybe not

It's now looking like there's something more fundamentally wrong with the system.  Just tried copying 2Gb of files from my old HP (with a 100Mbit connection) to the base system with a 1Gb connection.  The 1Gb connection on Mindy took longer.  That shouldn't be the case.  Need to spend some time with the base system doing performance profiling to confirm what I'm thinking ... that I have a fundamental configuration problem with the system.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Closer ...

So, I'm getting closer, but still not there. I'm still seeing I/O performance problems. They tend to manifest themselves in alternating bursts of speed and slowness. I can transfer a 2Gb movie in about 8 minutes, which isn't bad, but it seems to move in jumps, so something still isn't right. Guess I need to make a couple of posts on the VMware community and 3ware sites.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Promising so far ...

Ok, so I've only been playing with Mindy for about 24 hours, but this build is looking a bit more promising. Right now, I'm copying files to my file server, listening to music off my Roku (also from the same VM) and importing CD audio on a second and nothing seems to be bogging down like before.

I still don't seem to get the write performance that I would want from the network. It still seems to be writing in spurts (20-30 Mb straight and then a pause), but I think these can be fixed via filesystem fine tuning.

Once I have a good, working system, I'll post my complete settings.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

New (old) Band

Found a new favorite band (at least for now).  Tremolo is a band featuring Justin Dillon (and others, though he's the one I know) from the old Dimestore Prophets from the late 90s.  Well the new album Love is the Greatest Revenge is available on iTunes and eMusic (where I got it).  The album's growing on me and I'd tell everyone who knows DSP and / or likes good alterative-pop/rock/singersongwrit... well, just listen.

Yet Another Install Attempt

So, all my changes so far haven't resulted in a stable system. Well, stable yes, but performing ... absolutely not.

Now that I'm back from my business trip, it's time to try again. This time I had planned on using Ubuntu 6.06.2 LTS amd64 as it's supported (officially) by both the 3ware card and VMware Server. However, that seemed to not like something about my configuration. All I got was a hang after "Booting kernel ..." on the installer.

So, then I tried OpenSuSE 10.2 Community (the OS I was using before all this started). That booted, but it couldn't find the array.


So, I happened to have a Ubuntu Server 7.0.4 x86 32-bit CD and out of desperation, I tried that. An hour or so later, Mindy is back up and running. Now I just get to see if this solves my other problems. Sigh.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Clock problems ....

No, not that kind of clock problem. I just finished rebooting Mindy with the "nohz=off" kernel setting and that appears to have solved at least 75% of my problem. I can now play music with my Roku, copy data to the server, download a Podcast on iTunes and still hear basically unbroken audio notifications from my WinXP virtual machine over Remote Desktop. (Granted I have gigabit ethernet), but before any 2 of those would cause problems. Will it stay? If so, I'll post a bit of information on what I did for those of you searching for the same problems I'm seeing.

Friday, February 08, 2008

More Mindy ...

So, I guess I was wrong. Turns out the issue wasn't what I thought it was. It appears that it may be unrelated to the 3ware card after all. Brought everything back up this morning and I was still seeing the problem (sigh). So, I dug into the VMware community forums (gotta live the whole interweb community thing) and found this thread: Apparently the problem could be a slight change in the 2.6.20 kernel used in Ubuntu 7.10. Some people were reporting the same issue I'm seeing (intermittent freezing of the VMs). Their response was it could be the new "tickless" kernel setting in Ubuntu 7.10. So, I've edited the Grub configuration and added a new configuration for "nohz=off" to the kernel line. Hopefully that'll help. If not, I may have to revert to Ubuntu 6.06LTS. Sigh.

Mindy RAID!

So, I set about this weekend doing a long-needed upgrade to Mindy ... She was given the gift of
  • 3ware 9650SE 8-port SATA-II RAID card
  • 2 additional 500Gb Seagate Barracuda drives (well 1 for now, the other still contains my backup)
  • Replacing OpenSUSE 10.2 32bit with Ubuntu Server 7.10 64bit

Now, I picked the 3ware card because of the good reviews and good support for Linux. Also, I was looking for a reliable way to do RAID-5 on the system. A friend of mine scared me because he had a 50% failure rate on the same Western Digital drives I was using. (I'm still a WD fan, just not of these specific drives).

I assumed that when I launched into this project on Friday night it would be just a matter of bringing down the old system, backing up the VMs, installing the new hardware, reinstalling the software and off to the races.

Well, not quite ...

My first attempt seemed to be a complete failure. The I/O performance I was getting was terrible. It took 5 hours to copy 100Gb of virtual hard disks to the internal drive from a USB 2.0 external drive. In that same 5 hours before, I was able to copy all 500Gb of virtual hard disks. In addition, it appeared that the CPU utilization was tremendously high, so I knew something wasn't quite right.

It would appear that my first pass was a failure for the following reasons (though I'm not 100% sure on this):

  • I had to se my motherboard's video settings to use only the integrated video (my RAID card is PCI Express 4x)
  • Somehow in trying to enable write caching, the array had been left in a weird state (the 3ware BIOS Manager keep saying INIT ARRAY ... whatever that means)
  • I had used the wrong block size (64k instead of 256k)

So, after about 18 hours of copying data and mucking about, I decided it was time to cut my losses and try again, so I burned down the array and recreated, this time enabling write caching and setting a 256k block size on the array.

This time, I seemed to have much better luck. I was able to copy the VMs at near correct speed (hour for the 100Gb of data) or something like that anyway and I could do other things while the data was copying too. So it looked much more promising this time.

I finally got everything loaded and was ready to start copying my media (220Gb worth) from the virtual hard disk stored on my external drive to a newly minted 500Gb virtual drive on the array. Both drives were attached to Pesto my Ubuntu 7.0.4 32-bit server.

This process took about 14 hours. Definitely not right, but hey, at least I could copy things, so it was progress. Unfortunately, the interactive performance of the system was still abysmal. After booting Bobby, my Windows XP VM, it was horrendously sluggish and it seemed that the drive array was in constant motion, something I hadn't seen in the old system.

After whining to 3ware and mucking about with system tuning, I realized 2 things:

  • I had VMware set to allow VMs to be swapped out
  • I had the "swappiness" of the Linux VM system too high ... or more specific, I needed to instruct the kernel not to swap out until absolutely necessary by adding the following line to /etc/syscontl.conf: "vm.swappiness = 0"
That seemed to help, but I was still seeing unacceptable file transfer times from my Linux server VM to any machine on the network. It got so bad at one point that it would take almost 4 hours to transfer a 2.2Gb ISO image from the VM to my local desktop.More performance tuning ensued. This time, I took down all VMs and started with just the base system. Using that, the same 2.2Gb ISO file copied in 10 minutes ... much more like it. So it appeared that the problem wasn't with the hardware (thank goodness) and it wasn't with the base install, but was in the VM itself.So, I took a stab and started rebuilding the VM. Though instead of doing a rebuild and reinstall, I just rebuilt the .vmx file. And that seemed to work. On restarting the VM, transfers were back up to speed and the I/O wait states seemed to be much smaller now. ("iostat -d 2 -x" is your friend).
Once I get a chance to figure out what's different between the old and new .vmx files, I'll post what I found.  Or if I can't figure out what's changed I'll post the whole file to see if anyone can tell me what's the deal.
I really hope that this is the last issue I have. I'd like to add the 4th drive into the array and use the additional 400Gb of storage space to keep my lossless audio collection online.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Meet Mindy ...

So, meet Mindy. She's my VMware Server host that's become the cornerstone of my digital office / media / life. I started building her about a year ago after having a couple near hard drive failures on my older systems (morella, ultra60, firewall and plumb). Also, at about the same time, VMware started giving away their VMware Server product, so I started thinking seriously about server consolidation.

The end result was Mindy, an Intel Core2 Duo-based server running Linux and VMware. For you tech geeks, here are the "vitals"

  • Antec P180 case
  • Antec Earthwatts 500 watt power supply
  • Intel DG965RYCK motherboard
  • 4x Corsair 1Gb DDR RAM (originally 2x)
  • 2 Western Digital 500Gb SATA drives
  • OpenSuSE 10.2 32-bit Linux
  • VMware Server 1.0.4

Then running on top of it are a number of virtual machines, including (but not limited to):

  • Pesto: Ubuntu 7.0.4 server (file server, music server, Subversion server)
  • Bobby: Windows XP Professional (iTunes podcatcher, e-mail client, etc)
  • Morella: Slackware 8.1 (domain controller, imaged from the original machine)
  • DrPlotz: OpenBSD 4.0 SSH server

It took about a week to put together, but she's now an indispensable part of my life. And to make thins even better, I took what was a 600 watt power budget (at least according to my UPS) down to 185 watts and taken the wind tunnel sound of the old systems down to a much more manageable volume. She's still a bit noisy (need better fans and maybe a better power supply), but for now, it's way better.