Archive for the 'Technology' Category
“It’s like Deja Vu all over again.” – Y.B.
There has been a lot of talk lately from the cable broadband providers (Comast, TW Cable, etc) that they are looking to implement bandwidth caps on their cable internet customers. Some will begin capping your download to 5GB a month in the fall, which is a VERY small amount of data when you consider your download pipe is around 10Mbps! That means you would hit the cap in about a half a day if you were downloading at the max speed. So much for unlimited internet for $50/month.
The cable companies have been saying caps are needed because of a very small percentage of people using 80% of the bandwidth. And we have been led to believe these evil people are also breaking the law as it is mostly P2P traffic (bit torrent, etc) and music/video steeling.
But me thinks the caps are for a little different reason….
Basically, if you look at what the major TV networks are doing lately, you start to realize that you can watch shows online more conveniently than ever. If you have a computer hooked up to a TV, you can simply visit abc.com or nbc.com, etc and stream the show you want to watch. And even smaller cable only stations are doing streaming shows too. And it’s free (ad supported).
And you can also stream and download movies from iTunes, Netflix, and many others. And there are more and more set-top boxes available now to allow you to stream or download movies and watch them.
Well, as you might guess, our Cable companies don’t like this and are scared we might actually ditch their Cable TV service and just subscribe to their internet service….which of course we will. So what do they do to preempt becoming a dumb pipe provider? Implement bandwidth caps to make the whole thing useless.
Yet more companies in the long list of companies that have tried to stop technology from moving forward instead of seeing the trend and adapting. Cell phone companies will be next. No one wants voice connections. They want data so they can do voice, video and data how they want.
Now, if Cable operators instead embraced the coming age of IPTV, they might be able to become more efficient at providing massive amounts of bandwidth, while charging more for it, and being more profitable. But the issue, I suspect, is that they have so much invested in the old system which is highly profitable. So even though they have other revenue streams (VOIP and Internet data), they want to keep everything. Sounds like a company I used to work for.No comments
I bought a pair of Audio Engine A5 speakers and they arrived today. I like music a lot and I enjoy good quality sound. I have tried a number of things to find something reasonably small with a self contained (self-powered) amplifier that sounded great. While there may be some competitors out there with good sounding boxes which I have not heard, I can attest that these are fantastic speakers. $280 shipped from Provantage.com.
They build quality is excellent and I also like a few thoughtful features included on these. They have a 120VAC outlet on the back which could be used to power an Airport Express. They also have a USB port on the top (power only) which could be used to charge an iPod. Very nice design.
Only thing I would have wished for is a cloth cover over the drivers for a little “kid finger” protection. But my kids are old enough and these aren’t that expensive that the risk is that high.No comments
A few weeks ago, I borrowed a robotic DVD/CD duplication machine (made by Primera Technologies) from one of my clients. As of the first of the year, Primera released some software that would allow the machine to be used for CD ripping (instead of burning). I thought this was great and I could finally rip the rest of my 4000 CDs into iTunes. Over a period of 2 weeks or so, I ripped everything at a fairly high bit rate. Great! I was almost done….well, not quite.
So over the years, my wife and I have purchased music online, ripped books on tape, and accumulated a fairly large library of music that was in addition to our tangible CD collection. So now that I had the CD’s ripped, I needed to combine the libraries somehow. I knew that some of the music in our current iTunes library had been ripped from our CD collection originally so I could not just combine them straight away. So what I had was a big mess of stuff which if I just consolidated them in iTunes, would result in many duplicate songs.
What I did was a multi-step process which I think could be streamlined if I had some more time and/or was a bit stronger in Unix. But here it is if it helps someone with the same issue. One note: I thought about trying to use iTunes and the library file structure for this, but I could not find a way to do it due to the issue I had on my hands. I was trying to stay away from duplicate songs which iTunes does a poor job of managing unless you are actively ripping a CD where itunes does warn you. Too bad they don’t have this for moving files around.No comments
One of my clients wanted to download the front page of several newspapers each day and make them easily accessible to the entire staff. When they asked me for help, they were doing it manually by visiting the Newseum’s website and downloading the front page of each paper manually (via bookmarks in their web browser) and then using PDF Combiner to output 18 front pages as a single PDF. Then they would email the 10-20MB file to everyone.
Well there were a number of issues with that approach including the manual process (time consuming) and the large file which was filling up outboxes and inboxes. At first we explored how to make the PDFs into smaller files…perhaps a JPG of the page instead of a PDF. But this was problematic as it was then hard to read the fine print if the reader actually wanted to read an article as opposed to just seeing the headlines.No comments
A box was sitting on my front porch around noon today. I opened it and inside was a cute little OLPC which I bought back around Christmas last year as part of the get one/give one program.
My first experience with the machine was like most people. The wireless drivers do not work very well. I was able to get on a neighbor’s open access point, but I had a lot of trouble getting on my network. Instead of re-programming my system, I just added another access point for testing. I had to upgrade the firmware in the Netgear access point and also upgrade the OLPC software to version 652 before I could get on my access point.
But from there it has been a fairly good experience. My son found SimCity (the original version) and installed it without much trouble. And I have been reading about how to install Java and Adobe Flash (it comes with an open source flash implementation but it is not current enough for many things).
Anyway, more to come but so far it looks like a neat little computer to play around on. And it has some nice opportunities for my kids to really learn about computers, programming, etc. It’s not an “easy, simple” machine….so it will require some learning which is not a bad thing!No comments
We got rid of our home phone (landline) about 4 years ago now. We just decided the cell phones were more convenient and if we applied the cost of the landline towards the cell phone bill, we could make everything work out.
Anyway, now that I am self-employed and doing some technical support for my clients, I find one issue with the cell phone. Several times a month I need to talk to a technical support, sales, or customer service department. This can use up cell minutes quickly as they are usually during prime time and usually last 30 or more minutes.
A neat solution to this issue is SKYPE. What I learned recently is that even without a SKYPE-OUT account, you can make FREE! 1-800 (or other toll free 1-888 or 1-877, etc) calls. I don’t know why this is, but it is free. Since most of these calls are toll free numbers, using SKYPE means I don’t have to worry about eating away my minutes.
I also have a “pay as you go” SKYPE-OUT account which I use to pay for non-toll free calls. Some tech support is not a free call and SKYPE-OUT is very inexpensive at 4 cents for the call connection and just 2 cents per minute. Compared to my overage per minute fee on my cell (likely around 35-40 cents/min), this is attractive.
Of course you can also just do SKYPE PRO and get unlimited calls and no connection fee per call for just $3 a month. That is likely a good choice. But for now, I am just experimenting with the pay as I go plan.
Lastly….I also have a Phone as a Modem (PAM) plan with Sprint for an extra $40 a month. I use it to get on the Internet whenever I need to. But I also find that it is a very good connection for doing SKYPE as well. Even an older 1xRTT connection is plenty fast enough for SKYPE which only needs about 3-4 KBps. So I sometimes even use that instead of my minutes. Someday they may make some sort of network device that has SKYPE for calls….someday. I wonder if the software engineers can ever figure out how to do it. Must be hard ;-)3 comments
Wanted to add one more thing to the story on how to do off-site backups using RSYNC. Once you get the set-up running you may find that some of your back-ups run into the day time hours. This can interfere with the speed of your Internet access as the back-up will typically use 99% of the uplink pipe at your house. (Don’t worry about your friend’s house as their download link will hardly be affected by the traffic since downlinks are usually 5-10x faster).
If you uplink is saturated with RSYNC traffic, it will be difficult to get your mail, browse the web or related things. I mean these things will still work, but they will have a lot of latency. Even if you are just trying to DOWNload a file, it will be slow as the file transfer does require a small amount of uplink capacity for ACKs and similar traffic.
So we need a way to allow the rest of the machines on the internal network to have full use of the uplink path while still allowing the RSYNC backups to happen. We could just constrict the RSYNC traffic to a small percentage of the uplink path but it is actually just as easy to dynamically allow other hosts to use what they need, when they need it. In this way the other hosts have a priority over the rsync traffic. So when the other hosts are idle, rsync goes as fast as it can. But when I want to do some work, rsync takes a back seat to my traffic.
Luckily doing this with a DD-WRT flashed router is fairly simply. You go into the NAT/QOS tab and the QOS sub-tab and do all the settings in that area. Basically you have to tell the router what your uplink and downlink speeds are in the first place….what does your broadband company cap you at. For me, it is 1.5Mbps (bits per second) uplink and I think 8Mbps downlink. Check here for your speed if you don’t know it. You will want to enter about 90-95% of the max numbers.
Anyway, after you program these figures (as Kbps so divide by 1000), you move on to the other areas. The first thing I did was configure a new protocol called RSYNC on TCP port 873. I prioritized this as BULK which is the lowest priority. Then I added in a number of common protocols we use in the house which are pre-configured in the DD-WRT software. I made all of these the highest priority which is EXEMPT. I went one step further and fully exempted the MAC Address of my primary work machine from all traffic shaping (just in case I forgot a specific protocol).
After hitting apply, any NEW TCP connections will have the traffic shaping applied to them. Be aware that if you are doing this WHILE an RSYNC backup is ongoing, the changes you make will NOT affect the current TCP connection.
Below is a graph which shows the RSYNC backup traffic running at a max of about 1.66 Mbps. The dips in traffic are due to an FTP upload that I started and stopped and started again. Basically the FTP gets priority over the rsync when it needs it.
Below are my configs in DD-WRT (click for larger)No comments
So even as I published my last post on FreeNAS and how to backup your data to an off-site location I started seeing some errors in my FreeNAS logs. Eventually the errors got worse and worse and then the whole operating system started dying and the FreeNAS box was rebooting itself and failing during backups.
The errors were disk related. Failures to write. Failures to read. Everytime the system crashed and rebooted, it would run FSCK and eventually things would check out. But these errors were at a minimum causing the RSYNC backups to fail regularly.
So I bought a RAID SATA PCI card online. It arrives next week. I thought that might be a possible solution as maybe the FreeNAS software RAID solution was not as reliable as it should be.
To hedge my bet on the HW RAID, I also decided to buy two new 1TB drives. This time I would buy Seagate drives. I had been using Western Digital 1TB drives and something in the back of my mind reminded me that the Infrant.com site mostly recommended Seagate drives for their NAS units. So I bought the Seagate ST31000340NS Barracuda ES.2 SATA 1000GB (32MB Cache) that they listed.
Turns out the drives arrived first. So I installed them and set-up my software RAID in a JBOD configuration. I started the RSYNC backups again and they have run flawlessly for a day and a half now (its a lot of data). And the speed of the backups is going even faster now….not the throughput over the network, but the overall wall clock time is noticeably shorter. I am guessing that the errors I was seeing were actually when a read or write had been retried multiple times and eventually failed permanently. But that there were many more errors which were slowing down the transfers using the Western Digital drives. Now that I was using Seagate and things were happier, backups are completing much faster (maybe 2-3 times). It’s not the WD drives were defective….I just think there is something in their firmware which causes issues in RAID configurations…and if you read the Infrant site page, it seems that several manufacturers have problems in this area.
So the moral of the story? Not all hard drives are created equal when it comes to RAID storage (even just JBOD if you call that RAID). I don’t know why the WD drives had issues and why the ST drives work well. But even the Infrant guys seem to say that ST works well and very few other manufacturers work properly. I bet most of the compatibility issues are the firmware on the drives. Wonder why these manufacturers don’t figure out their issues? I guess until then, Seagate can go on charging a 10-15% premium for their drives….I am happy to pay it :-)2 comments
So I know you are good about your data and backups and all (right?). But I wonder if you have any of your data off-site? Do you worry about fire, theft, flood/water (burst pipe) or similar disasters? Do you have all your data backed up but still within 10 feet of the original? Maybe you do what I used to do and take the back-up off site periodically and store it in the bank safe deposit box. But that is a pain and the frequency of that process is poor at best.
Well, I believe I have proven out a great and very inexpensive system to not only do backups, but get the backups off-site. And it works completely automagically….no need to even remember to hook up a USB hard drive and run Carbon Copy Cloner (great Mac OS software for cloning your hard disk).1 comment