Archive for the 'Information technology' category

Home server

As I’ve mentioned before, I run a home server here. It has three main roles:

1) Redundant media store for music, video, and photos

2) Web server for Diane’s website development

3) Media sharing (playback) on the lounge TV

I’ve decided to go with a Linux solution, partially because I’m familiar with the OS professionally, partially because it is free, but mainly because I believe it is the way forward. As such I thought I’d document the process here.

This is the third time I’ve built this server in six weeks. That’s a pretty bad statistic, but I lay the blame firmly at the door of the HDDs I chose. I want as much redundant storage as I can get, and my chassis had room for 4 SATA drives. I found 4 1TB drives on eBuyer at a reasonable price, which at RAID5 gives me 2.7TB of storage where I can afford to lose any one drive at a time. This sounded great, but sadly a drive had bad blocks. So I replaced it. I then tested the replacement, and found that was bad too. This was still fine, but at that point I chose to test the other three drives and sadly one of those was wrong. The problem I then had was that the system marked two out of four drives as bad, and decided that as such it couldn’t continue.

I then rebuilt into a test configuration and finally (I hope!), I’m rebuilding it tonight on four discs that have checked out okay. There’s a difference with this install though. Thanks to Stuart Wallace, who has provided me with both the idea and the IDE to CF converter, the machines six drives are:

IDE 1: DVD rewriter
IDE 2: 4GB compact flash card

The CF card is a master stroke because I’ve carved it up into a 200MB /boot partition, and the rest is the machine’s swap space. Hopefully the machine should never need swap space as it has 4GB of RAM (although due to the hardware being a bit elderly it only sees 3.6GB). The great thing is that the machine can boot on the CF card, it should rarely need to write to it and so should not wear it out, plus I’ve got a spare CF card that I’ll back up to, so if the main one ever fails I can just swap them over and get going again. This may all sound unnecessary, but if you’ve ever had a knackered boot partition before you’ll see the value!

Let’s have a picture break. Here’s the machine with the spare CF card. As you can see, I’ve just finished installing FC10 (64 bit) and am now recovering my data from my external USB drive and my old server.

Boot partition

So while copying files across the LAN, and from the USB drive, building the RAID and doing a vast yum update, the machine gets a bit sweaty.


Annoyingly it has proved me wrong by swapping already, but hopefully this will rarely be the case! I’ve removed host and username information as a security precaution BTW. Good to see plenty of disc space available.


I’ve got a lot of work left to go before I get any real use from this server, but it’s good to know that matters are underway. Keeps the 40″ TV entertained anyway.


Finally, on another note we’ve got the 106R’s spare wheels boxed up ready for shipping. Doesn’t our living room look lovely!


Living Online – some insight into blogging, twittering, and domestic IT

Over the last few months my perception of online presence, both professionally and socially, has changed quite a bit. Everything is becoming more interactive, and from the point of view of someone who publishes content, it’s really great to know that people are reading your ramblings, and constructive feedback is vital to enhancing that experience. This can of course be taken too far – for instance my hatred of radio show phone-ins (I don’t care what Gary from Hounslow had for breakfast!), but in the case of the comment functionality on this site I think it’s marvellous.

So what’s next? I’m sure most of us are familiar with Facebook, but how many of us use it to its fullest potential? As Robin is getting married in California in just a couple of months, the UK visiting party is using a Facebook events page to organise the logistics of the trip. Diane has a Facebook page to promote herself as a Graphic Designer (go on, surprise her and become a fan!); the firm I work for has recently done the same. It’s viral marketing, and due to the friendly, permission based growth, it really works. Wouldn’t you rather work with an honest, open, independent professional rather than sending your work out to an unknown designer at Reproprint who you’re not allowed to communicate with directly? Or to put it another way, if you want to know more about an M5 clutch replacement, BMW Vanos or swapping engines, wouldn’t you rather talk to someone who has no agenda rather than a garage owner who ultimately is just looking to fill their wallet?

Presenting all this content on the world wide web in an easy to digest format requires effort though. It’s a bit of a chore having to take a camera everywhere you go, and the write-ups take time. It’s also embarrassing, as mistakes happen and in hindsight they’re so easy to avoid. It can be very postive though, but not only do I hope to learn from my mistakes (all the more painful when pointed out by a more experienced reader!), but I hope others will benefit too.

How do I do all this then? Diane is a keen photographer and I work for an internet based company. This means we tend to have most of the required tools to hand. Diane has two cameras – a Nikon Coolpix S210 (responsible for the pictures in this post) and a Nikon D40X (did all the M3 engine swap and M5 clutch/LSD photos).  When I get back in from a day out on the cars, I retire to my laptop which is normally docked in a corner of our kitchen.

laptop docked in the kitchen

Note how I sit in easy reach of all the booze! I guess that picture exposes my extreme desire for desktop space. The laptop has a magnificent 1920×1200 display, but I like to make good use of my spare 1280×1024 display too – so much easier to have all the pictures I’m processing on one screen, and my blog admin window on another. Also, when cooking or cleaning in the kitchen it’s great to use the extra monitor to watch TV on BBC’s brilliant iPlayer.

So that’s computer 1 of 3. Yes, that’s right, two more. We take a lot of photos and each picture, especially those from the D40X, can be rather large – a few Megabytes each. Also, in Diane’s line of work she generates huge image files – we need to store all of these somewhere. Just before Christmas Robin gave me an old PC, and I decided to turn it into a home server. Upgraded to 4GB RAM and 4x1TB SATA HDDs, I assembled a Linux (Fedora Core 10) server with 2.7TB of RAID5 storage. Sadly, this hasn’t gone smoothly. One of the four 1TB drives failed, so I had to have it replaced. Since then, the replacement failed, as has another of the originals. So the server tends to look like this:


Open for maintenance. In fact right now, it looks like this because I’m restoring a load of files from my old server.

Home servers

I bet you’re all pretty glad you don’t have this level of trash in your living room! So with this headache and a certain amount of laptop woes (not entirely unrelated to the BMW diagnostic kit I recently purchased – more on that when I know more!), I’m not having a good time of this high-tech life. Fortunately, as Diane is out I’m currently able to use her machine in her office upstairs – boasting two 1920×1200 displays. These things are GREAT! :)

Diane's office

I’m going to spend the rest of the evening getting all this sorted. I hope! My final topic in this meandering waffle is Twitter. I’ve mentioned in the past that my antipodean colleague Brenden convinced me that blogging isn’t such a sad thing to do any more. I follow Stephen Fry’s blog, and he is the man who has convinced me that Twittering is now socially acceptable too. To Twitter is to release a short (< 140 chars) statement that updates those who ‘follow’ you on your thoughts or actions.

Twitter was mentioned when Stephen was interviewed on Jonathan Ross’ comeback show. Twittering certainly gets plenty of negative comments, but I can’t see how it can cause offence given that one has to choose to ‘follow’ someone on Twitter; if someone you are following is Twittering in such a manner that it disinterests or offends you, simply stop following them!

The advantage it seems of Twittering in my context is that it takes me a day or so to put together a blog post with an update of car or adventure related activity. On the other hand, I can Twitter quick updates from my phone as the day progresses without the need for cameras, high speed internet connections and other paraphernalia. In the context of a football match, a blog post is the Match Of The Day review, where Twittering is live audio commentary. Sort of!

In any case, feel free to follow me:

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