Hard Drive Bites the Dust

On Thursday, March 26th, the 1.5Tb hard drive in my primary development box bit the dust.  Based on the diagnostics and sounds emanating from the drive, I believe I had a head crash. My first thought was “Oh no, when was the last time I backed up the data”. After a mad scramble I realized I could recover everything up to a point 2 weeks prior to the crash. Not bad. Could have been much worse.

My second thought was “Ok now what do I do with the machine?”. The machine is a few years old, but still has a lot of life left in it. It has an AMD 6-way processor with 16Gb of ram. I have been toying with the idea of using a SSD drive to speed up the machine. Just could never bring myself to take the plunge and rebuild the box from scratch.sandisk_ssd

I decided to purchase a 256Gb Sandisk SSD drive and a traditional 3Tb Seagate Hard Drive.

On my dev box I like to run Linux. Usually its one of the Fedora versions. Rebuilding the box, I decided to go with Centos 7.0 distro. The production websites that I have running are all on Centos 6.5 and it was time to start solifying on a common distro.

After researching the best partitioning method for SSD drives, I ended up putting the “/” and “/boot” partitions on the SSD. The “/swap” and “/home” partitions went on the Seagate drive.

Obviously I don’t have a way to benchmark the performance improvements with this set-up, however anecdotally, I do notice applications are very quick to start up and respond. Interestingly when I retrieve data from the network, there is very noticeable delay in getting the data. That is with a 1gb nic. With the old setup I couldn’t really differentiate between the application start up delays and the network delays.

Overall I very happy with the end result. If you have a box that is “mid-life”, installing a SSD drive can definitely improve the performance. Also this has reinforced the requirement to backup regularly.

Reprogramming the Comcast Remote

Universal Remotes

Comcast swapped out my cable box to resolve an intermittent problem that has been occurring the past few weeks.  They gave us a Cisco/Scientific Atlanta box.  The universal remote that came with the cable box was platinum colored. The universal remotes that came with the old box were silver colored.

I wanted the old remote to work with the new box so I have a fair chance of finding a remote in the house when I wanted to watch the TV.  It was easy to find instructions to program the remote to work with the TV and Stereo.  It was a bit more difficult to find out how to change the cable box.  The key was to unlock the remote.  After the remote was unlocked it was just a matter of finding the right 5-digit code.

I also wanted to change the default mode for volume control.  The remote uses the TV for the default volume control.  To change it I had to first perform a global volume unlock and then lock the default volume control to the right device.  In this case I wanted my stereo that was programmed under the Aux button to control the volume.

I’ve documented the steps and codes below to hopefully help someone else with a similar issue as well as document the steps for my future use.

 

To unlock / lock the remote:

  1. Press cable button
  2. Hold the Setup button until the cable button blinks twice
  3. Press 982
  4. The cable button will blink 4 times if unlocked.
  5. The cable button will blink 2 times if the remote locked.

 

To Program the Silver Remote to work with Cisco RNG cable Box:

  1. After unlocking the remote
  2. Press the cable button
  3. Hold the setup button until it blinks twice
  4. Enter a 5 digit code
  5. cable button will blink twice if the code is valid
  6. cable button will blink one long blink if the code is not valid
  7. Press the power button to test the code entered

 

Codes for the Silver Remote & Cisco RNG Cable Box:

  • 01877
  • 00877
  • 00477
  • 00008
  • 00237
  • 01982  <- This one worked for me

 

 Global Volume Unlock

  1. Hold Setup until the mode light blinks twice
  2. Press 993
  3. Press Vol+
  4. The mode light will blink 4 times confirming unlock

 

Restoring Global Volume Lock

  1. Press the mode that you want the global volume lock enabled on
  2. Hold the setup button until the mode light blinks twice
  3. Press 993
  4. Press the mode key
  5. The mode key will blink twice confirming global lock enabled

Bluetooth Headsets

I’ve been wanting to get a blue tooth stereo headset to complement the Droid.  I really like the sound quality the Droid has, but hated the dangling wires that came with the ear buds.  Wired headsets were worse, because they would slide off my head when I was in a middle of an activity.

Last month for my birthday the kids bought me the Motorola S9 headsets.  I have to say it was a great birthday present.  They work great, they sound great and they are very light weight.  There are three buttons on each side of the headphones to control music play, volume and to answer incoming calls.

When I go jogging, biking or hiking, the head set stays firmly in place.  Ever try jogging with ear buds?  Forget it, they were constantly falling out.  These headphones stay in place.  If your looking for a new toy to add to your Droid, this headset is definitely worth the money.

Droid Performance

Now that I’ve been using the Droid for a week, an update is in order.  My love affair with this device is still strong as ever.  I’ve got my contacts fully organized, loaded a few GB’s worth of music and found a few apps that are really great.

I have found that using the “glass” keyboard is just as easy as using the slide out keyboard.  In fact it is easier to some degree to use the touch screen keyboard for some of the applications.  The touch screen keyboard is readily able to determine which letter I wanted, even with my big fingers covering multiple letters.

I’ve been some what surprised by the battery life.  Especially after hearing about the iPhone 3G’s dismal battery performance.  If I use the Droid as a mini-PC, entering contact data, heavily browsing the web, loading and running a lot of different applications, the battery lasts me about a 24-hour day.  The screen depletes the battery faster than anything else that I do.  In a typical day where I use the phone for about an hour, the music player for 3 hours and perform a few searches with the browser, the battery life would last me about 2 days before needing a recharge.

I found the easiest way to load music onto the device is to plug it into the USB port and mount the device as a drive on my PC.  The SD card is fully accessible as a mounted device.  The one snafu I found is that earlier versions of the Droid had thier music directory on the root of the SD card.  The current verision expects the music directory to be in the \DCIM directory.  The snafu is not with the Droid device itself, but with all the personal websites that exist that provide directions.  Once I had the correct directory it was an easy process to drag-n-drop the music files.  The music application itself takes a few minutes to index the first time you run the application after every time new music is loaded.  I noticed when music is added I have to be patient and give the software a minute or two before I look for the new titles.

The one application that is a must load for everyone is aptly titled “Where”.  This app allows you to search for just about anything based on where you’re currently located.  It will pull up news, weather and even gas prices in proximity to you.  I’m heading to Chicago tomorrow and am looking forward to a real world opportunity to try out the application.

The one draw back to the device is the quality of the speaker during cell phone usage.  The speaker is on par with the everyday cell phone, but is no where near the quality you get with the bluetooth headset.  In hands free mode the speaker is serviceable.  But overall quality is worse than when used as a traditional phone brought up to your ear.  99% of the time I use a bluetooth headset, so this isn’t really an issue for me.

Overall, I’m very happy with my purchase.

The Droid

220px-Motorola-milestone-wikipediaAfter 5 years using a LG flip cell phone, I’ve upgrade to the Droid.  The LG phone has been great and has done well by me, but it was really way overdue to upgrade to the 21st century.

Here’s my review of the phone on the first real day of usage.

Activating the phone you need a Gmail account.  At first I was scratching my head to understand why a Gmail account is needed just to activate the phone.  After a second the light bulb went on, hey this is using Android, the Google OS. So it just makes sense that Google would want to drive usage back to their applications.  The reason they gave at the store is the Gmail account unlocks some features.  Outside of being able to view the email in my new Gmail account, I haven’t found anything that really ties back to Google.

The touch screen took about an hour to get comfortable with the feel and how much pressure to use.  It is fun to use the flick feature to quickly scroll through lists.  (Its the simple things that I like!)

The keypad is totally flat.  Like the touch screen is takes some time to get used to the feel.  I’ve been on the phone for a few hours and it’s getting more comfortable to type.  I’ve heard from a few women that their nails give them trouble with the keypad.

Interestingly the desktop does not utilize the motion sensor to detect the phone’s orientation.  If the keyboard is closed, the desktop will display long ways.  When the keyboard is open, then the desktop will display sideways, like what is shown in the picture.  Within applications, the motion sensor works and the application will display accordingly to the orientation of the phone regardless if the keyboard is open or not.

Configuring my Comcast email addresses were a snap.  I entered the email address and password.  The phone figured out all the server and port settings.  By default the phone will ring every time an email arrives to notify you.  Through the night we would hear the phone ring out the default metallic sounding “Droid”.  First thing this morning I reconfigured the phone to vibrate for inbound emails.

Configuring the Facebook application was interesting.  After I configured the application and logged in, I was able to select whether or not I wanted to sync my local contacts with my friends in Facebook.  I choose to sync and only show the contacts who had phone numbers.  Its quick and easy to change the display to show all my friends in the contacts.  Now if only I can get my Facebook friends to add their phone numbers to their profiles.  It would eliminate the need for me to add phone numbers.

I set up the bluetooth headset to work with both the Droid and my company’s Blackberry.  Fortunately the headset was new enough to allow pairing with two devices.  The Droid plays nice with the Blackberry over which device has the link.  When making a call on the Droid it takes over the link to the headset for the duration of the call.  The headset is relinquished back to the Blackberry after the call is done.  If I have a call on the blackberry with the headset in use and a call comes in from the Droid, the Droid doesn’t interfere with the existing connection.

Over the course of this weekend, I’ll finish setting up my contacts and entering phone numbers.  I purposely didn’t want to port my contacts over from my old phone.  There are a lot of numbers that are no longer valid and the organization of the contacts needs to be redone.  I’m more than happy to enter the numbers manually and start fresh.

Call quality of the phone is good.  I notice a very slight hollow echo, but it is not annoying at all.  I haven’t had enough calls from different locations to determine if it is due to the phone or the connection I’m getting. Comparing the quality to my old cell phone, the Droid is way above that phone.  The call quality is comparable to the Blackberry.  You can mark certain contacts to be part of your favorites list by highlighting the “star” for that contact.  If you have a large contact list, this is a must use feature.  The phone app also tracks your frequently called numbers making callbacks a snap.

Battery life is another feature that I will be keeping a close eye on over the next few days.  I have heard from a few people that they easily get a full day plus on a single charge.  If the phone is not being heavily used, the charge can last an entire weekend.  This is a lot better than the 6 hours of battery life you get with heavy usage on the iPhone.

I’m very happy to have waited in replacing the old phone.  The Android operating system is going to give Apple a run for it’s money.  The one feature I have yet to test is the music playback.   Also I will be looking into the Droid Apps to see what is interesting.

The Home Network

Lately I’ve been on a kick upgrading the computers in the house.  Most of the machines are dual Xeons with 4Gb or 8Gb of ram.  I just added a 1.5Tb drive to one machine that was running out of space.  It had a 40gb drive in it and it was full.  I went through looking to dump what ever I could, but it only amounted to a few Gb free.

I also had to add a 8-port switch.  I have a 16-port switch downstairs where I have the server gear, but I need more ports in the den.  I’m wondering if it was a good idea to go with the 8-port switch and not the 16-port switch.  At the time the store I was in only had the 8-port switch and I didn’t feel like driving around.

The one purchase that I made that has just proven itself to be so valuable was a D-Link print server.  It can handle up to 4 printers.  I know, it was a simply thing to add, but what a difference to be able to print from anywhere.  I’ve got the laser printer and the Epson photo printer attach to it.  The only bummer is that I have to go into the den to turn the printers on if I want to print.  A lot of the times I’m in the family room with the laptop and have to walk to the other end of the house. Yes, on occasion I get lazy and yell for one of the kids to turn on the printer or retrieve the printouts for me.

The one box that I haven’t upgrade is the Apple G4.  I did add some ram to bump it to 4Gb.  That box has found some new life with my daughter.  She likes to play her games on it.  She likes the idea of having a machine that is basically only used by her.

That leads me to another thought.  I am amazed at the kids.  I have XP, Vista, Mac OS X and Fedora Linux in the house on various machines.  Majority of the boxes run Linux, from Fedora Core 5 to Fedora 10.  But it doesn’t matter to them.  They jump from box to box without thinking about the operating system.  Most adults I know have issues running a single operating system.  Not them.  Its seamless to them.  I cant help but wonder what the technology will be like when they are adults and start having difficulty adopting to it.